Tuesday, October 1, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democracy On Edge?

These days, representative democracy seems on the defensive  in
many parts of the world. So it is worth examining some recent 
free elections to see if there are any specific voter trends with
particular attention to right-center-left paradigms.

In North America, ita largest nation, the U.S. is heading into a
national election next year to test the conservative upset victory in
2016. The two major parties appear to be each going through
significant transformation --- the Republican Party increasingly
appealing to blue collar voters, and the Democratic Party becoming
more “progressive,” that is, appealing to voters on the left. In
Mexico, its new government is populist and leftist, having replaced
a more centrist regime. In Canada, a center-left prime minister
replaced a center-right one in 2015, but conservatives have won
notable provincial elections since then, and an imminent national
election is too close to call.

In South America, the two largest democracies, Brazil and Argentina,
seem to be going in opposite ideological directions. A new center-right
president replaced a leftist in Brazil, but the centrist president of
Argentina faces a very serious challenge from the (Peronist) populist
left.

In Europe, long (especially post-World War II) a continent of left of
center social welfare governments, traditional ideologies are being
challenged by nationalism, conservatism and populism. Traditional
socialist and labor parties on the left have shrunk. In western Europe,
non-traditional parties have arisen. In France and Italy these have
recently won, and could win soon in Germany. On the other hand, the
left has recently won in Spain, replacing a center-right government.
The United Kingdom, attempting to break its ties to the European
Union (“Brexit”), has had a series of Conservative governments, and
remains in crisis over the issue, but polls indicate that the opposition
Labour Party and its controversial leader would lose an election badly.
In east and central Europe, a clear pattern of nationalist and populist
governments has emerged in Austria, Hungary and Poland. The
northern Scandinavian countries, fabled for their social welfare
systems in the past, are moving now in a more centrist direction.

A recent major election (mayor of Istanbul) in Turkey rejected
the efforts of its authoritarian president. In Israel, its multi-party
parliamentary system has produced electoral stalemate, but a
large majority voted for conservative parties. The original leftist
and socialist party that once dominated Israeli politics has almost
disappeared.  

The appearance of controversial and charismatic political leaders
in many of these countries --- Donald Trump in the U.S., Lopez
Obrador in Mexico, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Emmanuel Macron
in France, Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Sebastion Kurz
in Austria, Recep Erdogan in Turkey. Viktor Orban in Hungary,
Justin Trudeau in Canada, Benjamin Neanyahu in Israel ---
complicates any traditional ideological analyses. Each of them
have gained power in the special and often local conditions in
their nation. Left, right and center not only means something
different in different countries, it is even changing internally
--- such as in the notable cases of the U.S. and the U.K. where
the major parties are undergoing such significant internal
transformations.

Like the global climate --- warming in one place and cooling in
another --- democratic voter trends have no valid single label.
But voters almost everywhere are changing their minds, when
they are free to do so, to meet local and global challenges of
new technology, massive migrations, scarcity of resources, and
natural disasters.

Years ago, but not that far back, there was a widespread belief
that authoritarian ideologies such as communism, fascism or
religious fundamentalism were the inevitable wave of
humanity’s future. Set against them was only a relatively
recent and (some said) fragile system known as representative
democracy.

Unlike its nemeses, representative democracy is not just one
implacable and monotonous form of tyranny, but instead,a great
variety of electoral expressions of civic liberty, personal freedom,
enabled commerce and trade, and community compassion.

It is also often messy, contradictory and confusing --- just like
the human beings who compose it and live in it day by day.

Representative democracy is so far mankind’s greatest
communal achievement. If here is any doubt about that, just
ask those who don’t have it.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Sky Is (Not) Falling?

Most of us remember the children’s fairy tale about the chicken
who, after an acorn fell on its head, decided that the sky was
falling, and rushed to warn everyone of the imminent disaster.
At the end of the story, however, a wily and carnivorous fox saw
the resulting frightened herd of animals, invited them to his lair
for “safety” --- and then ate them all.

Since election day, 2016, opponents of Donald Trump. both
Democrats and Republicans, have attempted either to prevent him
from taking office, or once he was sworn in as president, tried to
remove him from office This has happened so many times I have
lost count of them. The latest is a verbal push for actual
impeachment --- although formal proceedings require a roll call
vote on a resolution in the U.S. house, and that, while it’s possible,
does not yet seem imminent. A slight majority of U.S. house
members, almost all of them Democrats, have said they support
impeachment. Fifteen Democrats say they oppose impeachment
(presumably all from districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016),
knowing impeachment would likely lead to their defeat in 2020. A
very small number of Republican governors and U.S. house
members, all of them long-time anti-Trumpers, say they support
impeachment. No Republican senators indicates they would vote
to remove the president from office, although Utah Senator Mitt
Romney, long a Trump critic, continues to be negative about the
man who succeeded in 2016 after the then-former governor failed
in 2012.

Polls indicate that the general public opposes impeachment,
especially those who perceive it as an attempt to undo the 2016
election three years after the fact.

Opposition to and criticism of Donald Trump is both
understandable and legitimate in our free system. Mr. Trump’s
style, tweets and statements have provoked a particularly intense
antipathy from many voters, including some traditional Republicans.

But his opponents have, in effect, claimed the political sky was
falling so often, and without real result, that the latest incident
heavily risks not his successful removal from office, but a bitter
voter backlash that could ensure Mr. Trump’s re-election next year.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted impeachment
until now for this very reason, and because she knows it would
almost certainly stampede Republicans and conservatives to the polls
next year to vote for Mr. Trump and against any U.S. house member
who voted for impeachment. As the 2020 congressional campaign
stands now, the Democrats are clearly favored to keep control, but
an impeachment resolution might reverse that dramatically.

The “evidence” against Mr.Trump so far is ambiguous at best.
Many legal experts are saying that, in fact, the circumstantial
evidence so far indicates no wrongdoing by the president, and many
Republicans and conservatives are alleging the reports and
disclosures of the controversy have been “set up” or manufactured.

As a political act, impeachment could take place, but it would almost
certainly destroy the presidential campaign of former Vice President
Joe Biden whose alleged activities while in office are central to the
whole controversy. Such an outcome would likely disillusion a very
large part of the Democratic base who continue to support and
revere him. Impeachment might make passionate Trump opponents
feel good. but its actual consequences could actually backfire
spectacularly on those who would make it happen.

Most impartial observers so far seem to agree that the Democrat’s
best strategy to remove Donald Trump from office is to defeat him
at the polls in November, 2020. Speaker Pelosi has seemed to be a
partisan who agrees, realizing that the U.S. senate is not going to
provide 67 votes to convict and remove.

Speaker Pelosi, under immense pressure from the radical wing in
her caucus, has now given some verbal support for impeachment,
but so far she has not made it inevitable. She might yet decide to
support actual impeachment, but there is no clear evidence yet she
intends to go through with something her considerable experience
and political intelligence tells her will not work to her party's
advantage.

I think she knows who the real fox is.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Monday, September 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Separating The Wheat From The Chaff In 2020

The 2020 presidential cycle is coming to the end of its beginning,
even as no votes have been yet cast --- and will not be for another
four months.

The cycle began with 26 “major” announced Democratic
candidates, many of whom participated  in the early TV debates.
Unlike previous cycles in which most candidates were current or
former governors or U.S. senators, the 2020 cycle has included
mayors, U.S. house members, business persons, a former cabinet
member and an author, as well as governors and senators. Perhaps
the precedent of 2016, when a real estate developer/TV celebrity
won the election, induced this quantity and variety.

Announcing a candidacy is the easy part. If you are relatively
well-known or already have a political base, you can quickly raise a
minimal amount of money.. Initial media attention is intoxicating. 
Then it becomes daunting. You have to put together an organization
and hire staff from a limited number of experienced campaign
managers as well as media, scheduling, transportation, financial,
strategy, issues development and other nuts-and-bolts staff. Then
you have to recruit and develop organizations in almost every
state --- and particularly in key early primary and caucus states.
You begin a very heavy travel period for speeches. local forums,
meets-and-greets, and debates. Every day also includes media
interviews. Presumably, you also have a regular day job, either an
elective or bureaucratic one, or a business position --- and you
must balance those responsibilities with time used for campaigning.
If you are a current elective official, you must weigh the cost of
missing votes, important meetings or any crises back home.

Of the seven announced candidates who have now withdrawn, most
have been elected officials, and one has switched to a run for the
U.S. senate in his state. Few had participated in any TV debates, and
none of them were putting up notable poll numbers. All of them
were running out of money.

There will now be at least eleven candidates qualified for the third
TV debate, presumably causing a two-session format once again.
One more candidate, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, has
signaled he might withdraw soon. Seven candidates who have not
qualified for the debates could withdraw later, although some of 
them could remain in the race until the first voting.

The establishment media story is that the race is now a  two-person
or three-person contest. There are a few suggestions that, in addition
to former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and
Senator Bernie Sanders, there remains the possibility that Senator
Kamala Harris or Mayor Pete Buttigieg could win. Non-politicians
Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, however, are getting some
attention, and businessman Tom Steyer is spending a great deal of
his own money o advance his candidacy.

Although Mr. Biden has already faced some criticism from his
opponents, Mrs. Warren has not yet faced the scrutiny of being a
so-called frontrunner. All three of them have an existing national
political base.    

I cannot repeat often enough that no votes have yet been cast, and
will not be for several months. Meanwhile, much of the 2020 drama
is coming out of the White House and the Democratic-controlled
U.S. house of representatives (where impeachment talk remains
active). President Trump is under relentless attack in the media,
and an attempt to revive the Brett Kavanaugh controversy has
backfired. Notable international events in he United Kingdom,
Israel, Kashmir, South and North Korea, Brazil and Canada
compete for daily news headlines. The domestic stock market is
volatile. Unemployment continues to hit amazing lows.

The 2020 presidential  campaign has barely begun.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Parliamentary Perils

From time to time, occasional voices in the U.S. are heard
lamenting our executive-legislative-judicial form of government,
usually accompanied by pleas to adopt a much more globally
employed parliamentary system.

No system is perfect, of course, but the long-range wisdom of the
founding American leaders is  being reinforced today as three of
the world’s democratic parliaments are facing profound crises.

(Historically,when one of the three U.S. branches becomes too
strong or too weak, another branch provides needed balance.
In recent years, Congress has become stalemated, but both the
executive and judicial branches have attempted to fill the
resulting vacuums. A case in point has been the use of executive
orders by both President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and
President Donald Trump, a Republican.)

Two of these parliaments are in nations which are our closest
allies, the United Kingdom and Israel. The third is in the world’s
largest democracy, India. Each of their crises highlights perils that
parliaments can face.

In the United Kingdom, the Brexit crisis has paralyzed its ancient
parliament, once the model for new nations across the globe. In a
national plebiscite two years ago, British voters narrowly but
clearly voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) and the
parliament-determined government was charged to bring about
the withdrawal (known as Brexit). But under Conservative Prime
Minister Theresa May it failed to do so. This was because her own
party was divided between pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit M.Ps, and a
negotiated deal to leave the EU was blocked in the parliament, thus
thwarting the voters’ decision. A new Conservative prime minister,
Boris Johnson, pledged to make Brexit happen, deal or no deal, but
he no longer has a parliamentary majority, and the current members
not only are blocking an October 31 withdrawal, they are preventing
Johnson from calling a new election (which polls indicate he would
handily win) thus, in effect, paralyzing the current British government.

In Israel, a new election was called, and the two largest political
parties and their allies are apparently virtually tied, with most of
the votes now counted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won
an election earlier this year, but was unable to form a coalition of
61 members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would enable
him to remain in power. Netanyahu’s center right coalition appears
to have 54-56 seats, His center left opposition coalition appears to
have 41-43 seats.  The third largest coalition, representing Arab
voters, has 12-14 members. Finally, a conservative but secular
party has 8-10 members. The latter, led by Avigdor Liberman, has
called for a “unity” secular government, but refuses to support any
government that includes the Arab coalition. Thus, a new majority
is stymied unless the religious parties are willing to compromise
on the issue of drafting Orthodox men into the Israeli army,
an issue that Mr. Liberman continues to insist on. Mr. Netanyahu
remains in power for the time being, and as Israel’s longest-serving
and most successful politician, cannot yet be relegated to the defeat
now being proclaimed by hostile media in Israel and the U.S.

In India, the problem is not one of stalemate resulting from a
lack of a parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Modi of
the Hindu nationalist party, recently won a landslide re-election,
saying he would revoke the autonomous status of Kashmir, a
mostly Muslim province in northwestern India. This status had
existed since 1947 when Kashmiri leader Sheik Omar Abdullah
had negotiated it with then Indian Prime Minister Nehru. At the
end of the British colonial period, both India and Pakistan claimed
Kashmir, but Nehru offered Kashmir the closest outcome to the
full independence that the Kashmiris sought. Kashmir’s leaders
today assert that Modi’s and the Indian parliament’s unilateral
action is illegal, but India has sent in troops to occupy the area,
and has arrested most of the province’s Muslim political
leadership, including Sheik Abdullah’s son and grandson, both
former chief minsters of Kashmir. While Modi’s revocation is a
fait accompli, the controversial action risks staining India’s
reputation as a genuine democracy which adheres to the rule of
law.

All three of the above crises remain unsettled for now, but the
lack of an accepted legal mechanism to easily resolve the disputes
only illustrates a key weakness which can arise in the
parliamentary system.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Early To Panic, But.....

The failure of the Democrats to win an upset in a North Carolina
special congressional election, establishment media reports
notwithstanding, combined with still another demonstration of
Donald Trump’s ability to rouse his base in that same contest,
must be giving hitherto optimistic savvy Democratic activists
and strategists some pause in their expectations for 2020.

Special elections have to be regarded with caution for the
signals they might display, but in the last cycle, the 2018
midterms, these contests were often a demographic bellwether
of what became a “blue wave” in U.S. house races.

NC-9 turned  out to be a narrow but clear win for Republicans,
winning the race by 4000 votes in spite of having a well-known,
well-financed, attractive and strong Democratic nominee in the
race. The GOP nominee was not as well-known, under-financed
until the very end, and he entered the race quite late. Yes, the
district was historically Republican (Mr. Trump carried it by 12
points in 2016). but the Republican nominee  only won by 900
votes in 2018 --- and that  election was thrown out because of
apparent fraud.

As it was, the Republican might have lost if the president and
the national Republican Party had not stepped in during the
campaign’s closing days, but the fact is that they did step in,
and were not only successful, but improved on the GOP
performance from 2018.

In the other special election, NC-3, the Republican won, as
expected, in a landslide.

As 10 of the 19 remaining Democratic “major” presidential
candidates walk on the stage for their third debate, Democratic
voters are faced with a field in which their three frontrunners in
the polls are each over 70 and strongly represent one of the two
factions of a divided party. 

If North Carolina, or Georgia (two states targeted by Democrats to
take away from the GOP in 2020) had Senator Bernie Sanders or
Senator Elizabeth Warren at the top of their ticket next year, the
results in NC-9 signal their prospects to pick up these two
Southern states, as well as defeat incumbent GOP Senator Thom
Tillis, would seem reduced. With the more moderate Joe Biden on
the ticket, their prospects would seem better, but the Democrat in
NC-9 was even more moderate than Biden, and he was defeated
by considerably more votes than when he ran in 2018.

On the other hand, we are speaking here of traditional Republican
territory. The victories in the two special North Carolina elections,
while good news for the president and his party, don’t tell us much
about the rest of the U.S., particularly the key midwestern states
that decided the 2016 election.

Perhaps the greatest cause for unease among Democrats now is the
recent demonstration in North Carolina and elsewhere of the
president’s continuing strong support from his party base, and his
ability to bring his voters to the polls. Others have pointed out that
NC-9 was the last chapter of the 2018 mid-terms. Coming  a year
later, and with the Democrats ideologically more divided than they
were in 2018, the special election speaks most broadly of a
time-tested political reality --- that each cycle has its own particular
voter landscape, and will likely reflect the new circumstances that
even only two years can produce.

Having only one debate session for the third Democratic debate,
might be only a brief respite. An 11th candidate has now qualified
for the fourth debate (and 1 or 2 more are close to qualifying), so
the prospects of two debate sessions again is ahead.

Some might suggest the sense of division is symbolic of the
Democrats’ greatest challenge in 2020. There is no need for them
to panic --- so much can happen in 13 months and Mr. Trump has
his own potential problems --- but.....

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Collapse Of The United Kingdom?

The news headlines from the British capital on the other side
of the Pond are unsettling to any admirer of British democracy
and sovereignty. That small island nation has played an outsized
role in modern global history, and although like all human
endeavors it has not been without its shortcomings, its current
peril should be of concern to all who have benefited from its
contributions to the rule of law, culture, human freedom and the
emergence of representative democracy.

For almost two centuries, the British empire through its naval
resources was the greatest world power. As a colonial power, it
exhibited arrogance and imposed itself on, and exploited, faraway
places. That included a period when the U.S. was a colony, and
ultimately felt the need to declare its independence. Even after
that was won, the British attempted to retake its American colony,
even sacking and burning Washington, DC before finally
withdrawing to its English shores and other colonies.

Its era of empire ebbed after World War I, and was finished by
the end of World War II. Most of its colonies became serious
representative democracies, including the U.S., Australia, New
Zealand, Canada, India, Nigeria and other nations. Unlike the
new nations formed from the lands of the colonial powers of
Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands,
Austria-Hungary and Germany, the British left important civic
legacies that were largely beneficial to most of its former
territories.

One of those legacies was the Westminster (parliamentary)
system which traces back about a thousand years to the Magna
Carta. English imperial rule evolved into a powerless (but
usefully symbolic) monarchy. The U.S. adopted a different
system, but kept many British traditions of law, language and
public conduct.

In the evening of its waning global power, in the desperate days
of Nazi aggression, the United Kingdom and its people
demonstrated remarkable resiliency, resolve and courage in their
”finest hour.”

Today, the U.K. is a shadow of its former naval and military
prowess. Yet the British pound is still an independent global
standard currency. The U.K.remains an economic presence in
international trade, but its long-uneasy membership in the
European Union (E.U.) has reached a crisis over sovereignty,
and the U.K.electorate has voted to leave the E.U. The process
of this departure, known as Brexit, has been quite complicated,
primarily due to minority and regional opposition to Brexit in the
Conservative (Tory) government and the parliament it has, until
now, controlled.

Two years ago, a new Tory prime minister, Theresa May, was
elected by the party to make Brexit happen in an orderly fashion,
but she failed to do so, and the formal break has been delayed.
A new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was chosen to finish the job,
and he has promised to do so, even if a transition agreement
cannot be reached with E.U. leaders by an October 31 deadline.
Such a “no deal” outcome is unacceptable to a majority of
members of Parliament, including several Tory members, and
Mr. Johnson’s efforts to finalize Brexit have been apparently
blocked. His parliamentary majority is now gone. Not only can he
now not make a no-deal Brexit happen --- and given this
circumstance, E.U. leaders have no reason to make a new deal ---
the Parliament also will not allow Johnson to call a new election
which current polls indicate he would win.

Further complicating this unprecedented impasse, Parliament so
far is unwilling to dismiss Johnson with a no-confidence vote,
and replace him with the minority Labour Party leader who is
widely disliked for what his opponents call his anti-semitic and
radical views.

An independent pro-Brexit party, led by nationalist Nigel Farage,
has already won dramatic local elections, and if Prime Minister
Johnson is unable to make Brexit happen on October 31, it is
poised to devastate the Tory Party in a national election --- just as
it did in the recent local elections.

All of this could precipitate not only a constitutional crisis,
it could lead to an attempted secession of Scotland and perhaps
other parts of the United Kingdom (which also includes England,
Wales and Northern Ireland).

In short, it is a colossal political mess with no apparent way out.
The fact is that the British electorate voted for Brexit, and failure
to make it happen could bring some very hitherto un-British
activity to the streets of the now not so United Kingdom.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 2, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senate Prospects Fourteen Months Out

In the past few months, the 2020 U.S. senate election cycle has seen
some significant changes, especially in the names of those who seek
to be on the November ballot.

Most recently, Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, whose
seat was not up next year, announced his early retirement. His GOP
appointed replacement will now have to run in 2020. Georgia is no
longer safe Republican territory, and the state’s other senator, David
Perdue, also a Republican, is up for re-election next year. The GOP
Georgia governor is therefore under pressure to make a strong
appointment to replace Isakson.

Two other GOP incumbents, in Tennessee and Kansas, have decided
not to seek re-election in 2020, and three GOP incumbents running
for re-election, Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, Senator Cory
Gardener of Colorado, and Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina,
are considered vulnerable.

Should the Democrats win four of these seven seats, and not lose any
of their own, they would regain control of the senate in 2021.

However, there are at least four Democratic incumbent seats up in
2020 that the liberal party might lose. One is in usually heavily
conservative Alabama where a controversial GOP nominee lost in
2018, and is running again in 2020 against the Democrat who beat
him. If Alabama Republicans fail to put up any other nominee, they
would probably lose an almost certain pick-up. Similarly, in normally
conservative Kansas, another controversial Republican is running,
and if the state party can’t find a better  nominee, they risk losing a
seat they now hold --- and otherwise should win.

In Michigan, the Democratic incumbent, Senator Gary Peters, is
considered quite vulnerable, and the GOP has an especially strong
challenger, John James, running in the race. In New Hampshire,
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is thought to be vulnerable,
especially if former Trump staffer Corey Lewandowki challenges
her. Finally, Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith could have a
serious race now that a damaging GOP primary battle has been
avoided, and former Congressman Jason Lewis is the probable
nominee challenging her in a state that the president wants to win.

The one Democratic Senator to retire so far is from New Mexico,
but this liberal state is expected to replace him with another
Democrat.

The Democratic Party has recruited likely strong challengers in
Arizona and Colorado. The Republicans are likely to recruit strong
challengers in Michigan and New Hampshire. Altogether, ten
senate races are currently considered in play in 2020.

But with unexpected resignations, retirements, and the course of
the also upcoming presidential election unknown. other senate
seats could become competitive in the coming months.

The GOP controls the senate 53-47. It is likely but not certain that,
14 months out, the Democrats will make at least some net gains.
Whether those gains will be enough to retake control remains to be
seen, but it is almost certain that, with Donald Trump at the top of
his party’s ticket, the Republicans will have a voter turnout asset
they lacked in the “blue wave” 2018 midterm elections. Less
certain is whether the Democratic nominee will be a greater or
lesser turnout asset.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.