Wednesday, September 20, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Guess Who's The Boss?

We live in an American era in which “the boss” is rarely
popular. It’s a time when some focus on the economic
“inequalities” they perceive, though they almost always
ignore other inequalities which don’t fit into their political
agenda.

For example, selectively using statistics, they point out the
income differences between many corporate executives
and their employees at various levels, but they conveniently
ignore equally great inequalities between most Americans
and, say, professional sports personalities and so many
entertainment industry personalities. The CEOs and the
entrepreneurs are villains, but the baseball player who
makes eight figures a year, the rock music star who makes
even more, or the overpaid film celebrity who parrots their
political bias --- well, those economic revenue imbalances
are either o.k. or not for public discussion.

Actually, bosses historically have not been very often
popular figures. They have always been an obvious target.
Some bosses, of course, deserve the criticism. The
economic question aside, some persons do not manage
others well or fairly. And some CEOs of publicly-held
companies are grossly overpaid. Lots of persons, as well,
are not paid what they are worth. It is an evolving but
timeless contest.

But in spite of my discussion so far, the headline above
is neither an economic nor a management question.
Understandably, we naturally focus on the human
dimension in our daily lives.

The answer to my question, as we have once again been
reminded, is not about men and women.

The real boss has no human form. We usually call it
“Nature.” It has immensely more force than any device of
ours, even usually much larger than our super bombs.

It takes the form of earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes
and cyclones, volcanoes, extreme cold or hot weather,
storms, floods, droughts and epidemics. While we debate
our human impact on climate, it rebuts all our theories and
our presumptions of controlling it.

Our planet is very old in human terms, but rather young in
galactic terms. Our planet is a moving, internally and
externally dynamic body hurtling through the vast space
we only barely perceive.

The daily organic and natural life of our planet is the real
boss. Our petty disputes --- between persons, groups and
nations --- are dwarfed by this real boss who apparently
views any inequality as the very nature of things.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Annus Mirabilis Or Annus Horribilis?

Numerologists and kabbalists will no doubt make something
of the fact that the digits in 2017 add up to ten. I wouldn’t be
surprised if his followers come up with a prediction from
Nostradamus for this year. Inevitably, someone will see a 2017
prophecy cloaked in a verse of the Old Testament, or the
New one.

I don’t know if anyone, recently or long ago, thought that the
current year would be very remarkable, but we are now
past the half-way mark, and it is becoming apparent that this
calendar unit of 365 days is going to be quite memorable.

Our cast of characters is not without a certain controversial
and even occasional flamboyant pizzazz: Donald Trump.
Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Emmanual Macron, Kim 
Jong-un, Binyamin Netanyahu, Bashar al-Assad, Pope Francis,
and Nicolas Maduro --- to name only some of the notables.

Nature has not been shy. Four (and now five) very big
hurricanes in less than a month. A major earthquake in
Mexico at the same time.

The dark side of hitherto amazing internet and social
media technology erupted into planetary consciousness with
realizations of massive hacking, pervasive snooping, and
extreme consumer vulnerability.

A century of growing audiences and gigantic profits for
Hollywood celebrities and the global film industry has
turned unexpectedly sour. Most are explaining this as
Hollywood offering a poor selection of movies --- which is, in
part, no doubt true. But I would add that the intrusive
interjection of so many show business personalities into the
partisan national political conversation has exacerbated
public negative attitudes to Hollywood and Broadway. It’s a
free country, of course, and celebrities have a right to express
themselves, but when they do, they have to be willing to
accept public backlash to their often ignorant, ill-informed
and thoughtless views. Just as the electorate expresses itself
at the polls, filmgoers express themselves at the box office.
The just-held Emmy Award show not only had low ratings,
it was a profound embarrassment to the television industry.

Nature, the folly of men and women, history’s timeless
ability to surprise --- all these have already made this a notable
and probably memorable year. There have also been positive
events, too, including discoveries in technology and medicine,
advances in the character of life for many (as well as,
unfortunately, declines for others).

More than a quarter of the year remains. On balance, will it be
mirabilis or horribilis?

Next year promises to be no slouch either.

Life day-to-day is the greatest spectacle.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casslman. All rights reserved.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Bipartisan Shock Therapy

President Donald Trump has “shocked” many conservative
Republicans by negotiating with congressional Democrats
over some key legislation. From their reactions you might
think the Republican chief executive has abandoned his own
party after only eight months in office.

In reality, it’s the other way around.

To be fair, most Republicans in the U.S. house and senate are
supporting the administration’s agenda, but a sufficient
number of them are blocking passage of legislation promised
by their party and its candidates in the 2016 election.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has tried to unify his GOP
members, but about 30 who also belong to the so-called
Freedom Caucus have prolonged the congressional stalemate
inherited from the Obama administration terms. Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been burdened by
archaic senate rules and procedures, and could not even pass
a modified Obamacare repeal bill. Tax reform in both houses
of Congress has also been reportedly blocked by dissension
in the GOP caucus. As if that were not enough, a few
“anti-Trump” incumbent GOP senators have been openly
attacking the president.

President Trump is not only an anti-establishment
“disrupter,” he, as a lifelong businessman, is not used to the
compulsive inaction of Congress. There are those who
sincerely disagree with his agenda for change (and that
includes most Democrats), but he was elected on several
policy promises to voters who expect him, his administration
and the Congress his party controls, to deliver on those
promises.

Speaker Ryan finally did pass an Obamacare repeal and
replacement bill, and has also passed other legislation that
has not yet been passed or, in many cases, not yet even been
brought up for debate in the senate. Majority Leader McConnell
has been reluctant to bypass old (and past their due date) rules.
His majority is very small, and when 2 or 3 GOP senators fail to
vote with him, he cannot pass legislation.

An arcane and thoroughly indefensible rule also permits a single
senator to block a federal judicial confirmation, as egregiously
illustrated in Minnesota where Trump appeals court nominee
David Stras is prevented from taking office because two liberal
Minnesota senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, refuse to
return a “blue slip.” Currently a highly respected state supreme
court justice, Mr. Stras has been openly supported by virtually
the entire legal profession in his home state, including most of
his liberal and Democratic colleagues. Mr. Franken opposes
Justice Stras on the grounds he is a principled conservative,
and not for any other stated reason. Senator Klobuchar has
soiled her previous bipartisan reputation by also withholding
her “blue slip” --- although so far without explanation.

The overriding constitutional tradition is that the president
who wins the election gets to appoint federal judges, subject to
a confirmation vote in the U.S. senate. The rule that permits a
single senator to block this can only be described as contrary
to constitutional intent.

President Trump is only one among many conservatives and
independents urging Mr. McConnell to abandon the “blue slip”
rule. So far he has not done so. So far, Justice Stras has not
even had a senate vote.

Faced with stalemate in Congress, and time running out in the
national mid-term elections next year. what can be done?

Apparently, “Dr.” Trump has decided to apply some shock
therapy to his own caucus in the Congress. Not a political
ideologue, and a inherent “deal maker,” he has opened
conversations with the opposition to see what legislation can
be passed. The national interest is pressing us for action, Mr.
Trump is saying, and if you in Congress don’t unify behind
your own leaders, the administration will deal with those who
will act.

All members of the U.S. house and one-third of the U.S.
senate are up for re-election next year. Mr. Trump does not
run again until 2020. Since beginning his conversations with 

Democrats, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have jumped
dramatically.

Republican legislators are right to be concerned about
President Trump’s bipartisan moves, but they should not turn
their alarm on him. They should simply look in the mirror.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 11, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: George Orwell Returns

[This essay first appeared on the Intellectual Takeout
website --- (see link at right)]

There is something ghostly and ghastly about the
resurrection of British author George Orwell in
contemporary politics, especially in the reaction to
the disruption and transformation of public policy now
taking place.

Orwell was a mid-20th century journalist, essayist and
novelist who was an early anti-fascist of the far left until
the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 in which he fought on the
anti-Franco side. During that period, living side by side
with the defenders of the democratic Spanish republic,
many of whom were radical anarchists and Stalinist
communists, Orwell got to see the brutality of the far
left up close, and so his passionate anti-fascism was
augmented by growing anti-communist views as well.
During and after World War II, Orwell increasingly was
alarmed by totalitarian Marxism, and wrote two iconic
satiric novels depicting the consequences of  Stalinist
totalitarianism, 1984 and Animal Farm. Their themes of
dictatorship and imposed political conformity were
meant to expose Marxism in allegory, although the
international far Left attempted to defuse the satire by
trying to interpret 1984 in particular as a condemnation
merely of modern technology. It was, of course, nothing
of the sort, but by reversing the date of 1948 (when it was
written) to 1984, the author gave his novel a futuristic
flavor. In these books, Orwell introduced some terms
such as “doublespeak,” “Big Brother,” “newspeak,” and
“thought police” which have now become part of the
language we routinely use today.

Orwell wrote six fine novels and three acclaimed books of
non-fiction, but Animal Farm (1945) made him famous,
and 1984 (1948) established him as one of the iconic writers of
the century. His essays, criticism and letters are still
highly regarded. Unfortunately, he died at age of only 45
from tuberculosis in 1950.

My generation in the English-speaking world, and those
in subsequent generations, read his books as much-touted
classics until soon past their “due” date when the Soviet
Union and its Marxist system collapsed --- and many of us
believed that the dangers it prophesized were past.

It turns out that our optimistic relief was premature, and
while international totalitarian states, Marxist and
otherwise, continue to arise and fail, new forms of 1984
and Animal Farm have arisen domestically from within as
well as outside today’s democratic societies.

These new forms  have overtaken many, if not most, U.S.
college campuses where large numbers in the academic
faculties, particularly in the liberal arts departments, are
teaching and imposing neo-Marxist totalitarian ideas and
myths on a whole generation of college students. Hiding
behind the epithets of “racism,” “anti-feminism,” “economic
exploitation” and ‘imperialism,” these efforts are effectively
choking out genuine free speech, honest scholarship, and an
open discussion of ideas by employing the bullying tools of
"political correctness".

The essential technique these academic and radical forces
employ is, in fact, very much in the tradition of Orwell’s
1984 in which propaganda is insinuated and then imposed
as a pure opposite of what it objectively is --- the
doublespeak that “black” is “white,” “right” is “wrong”and
so on. In today’s doublespeak versions, those accusing others
of “racism” are often the real racists, those alleging
“anti-Semitism” are often the real anti-Semites, and those
asserting their free speech is being curtailed are usually the
ones who want block open discourse.

Orwell wrote many essays, reviews, and novels --- and was
justly popular among pre-World War II English-speaking
(as well as many non-English-speaking) liberal readers,
and then in the Cold War, among many conservative readers.
With both Nazi fascism and Soviet communism defeated,
however, George Orwell came increasingly to be regarded as
a writer of only a certain past, and because his literary
style had not been avant-garde, he was studied as primarily
a sociological figure. He did remain a democratic socialist
and an atheist (who observed Anglican rituals), but his
greatest passion was his opposition to totalitarianism in
any form and pretense, and his writing is always lucid.

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, it is becoming
apparent that Orwellian literary reach is much greater than
perhaps originally thought by readers and critics. In fact, the
news headlines and TV images of almost every day in our
present time seem to confirm George Orwell as some kind of
uncanny prophet of human behavior --- and, long after his
passing, a palpable if invisible writer-in-residence of our own
time.

______________________________________________________
Copyright (c) 2017 by Intellectual Takeout and Barry Casselman.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Early U.S. Senate Departures?

At least two U.S. sitting senators, one Democrat and one
Republican, might not be in office by the time the 2018
national mid-term elections take place, and at least two
incumbents, both Republicans, who intend to run for
re-election next year might not be on the 2018 ballot.

These are not big numbers. but because the GOP controls
the senate by only 52-48, and the majority caucus is now
divided on many issues, the political implications could be
very significant.

The Democrat among the two senators in the most
immediate danger is Robert Menendez of New Jersey
who has just gone on trial for an offense, if he is convicted,
that would force him to resign. Of course, he is innocent
until proven guilty, but the charges and evidence appear to
be very serious. Since the governor of New Jersey is
Republican Chris Christie, a conviction would lead to a
GOP appointee should Mr. Menendez have to leave office.
Technically, even if convicted, the senator could refuse to
resign until all his appeals were exhausted, but that would
be exceedingly unpopular in the Garden State since Mr.
Menendez would be occupied with his criminal case and
not likely able fully to fulfill his public duties during an
appeal.

The Republican incumbent is Luther Strange of Alabama
who faces a run-off race shortly for his party’s nomination
in this year’s election. Mr. Strange was until recently the
state attorney general, but was appointed to the seat when
Jeff Sessions accepted the post of U.S. attorney general under
President Trump. The president has endorsed the incumbent,
but he trails the controversial former state chief justice, Roy
Moore, in the run-off. Mr. Moore is a strong supporter of  Mr.
Trump and a vocal critic of the Senate GOP leadership. If
Mr. Moore does win the run-off, as now expected, the
November race against the Democratic nominee might be
more competitive.

Although his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are hoping
Senator John McCain of Arizona has a quick and full recovery,
he has recently undergone surgery for a brain tumor that is
usually life threatening and fast-developing. Should his illness
force him to resign, the Republican Arizona governor would
appoint his successor. This replacement would also be a  
Republican, but almost certainly not the maverick Mr. McCain
has been, and this could then alter the chemistry of the GOP
senate caucus.

Several incumbent senators from both parties, although in good
health, are more than 80 years old, including Orrin Hatch (R) of
Utah, Diane Feinstein (D) of California, Charles Grassley (R) of
Iowa, Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama.
Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi, James Imhofe (R) of Oklahoma,
as well as John McCain. (Almost a quarter of all senators are
more than 70 years old.)

GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has written a book highly
critical of his own party’s president, and faces a Pro-Trump
conservative challenger in next year’s senate primary His main
opponent, Kelli Ward, leads him by a wide margin in early
polls. GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada has opposed the
president and most in his own caucus on several key issues.
He trails his 2018 primary opponent Peter Tarkanian who
is a strong supporter of President Trump.

Should Pro-Trump challengers replace or defeat these GOP
incumbents in the next year. it won’t change the numerical
party margin in the senate, but it would likely change the
ideological tone in that body, giving the president, for
example, more support for his programs. It also could
significantly influence the choice of GOP challengers to
vulnerable Democrats (currently about ten members) next
year, and dramatically alter the policy character of the new
2019 senate, perhaps resulting in new senate leadership.

Both major national parties face internal ideological tensions
and pressures. The recent trend of the Democratic Party to
the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren-Maxine Waters populist
wing has upset more moderate liberals in the caucus and
the party --- and risks turning off potential support from
independent voters. On the Republican side, there is growing
tension between traditional conservatives and the new populist
conservative wing which provides the base of support for
President Trump.

In 2020, and even before, it will probably be necessary to scrap
the old political scorecards to tally up who is winning and
losing.

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Copyrigtht (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 4, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Idiopaths

Many in the establishment punditocracy, both on the left and
right, seem intent on an idiopathic critique of the nation’s new
president and his administration, a quest they began before
his election on November 8 last, continued after his election
and before his inauguration, and now ad nauseum to the
present and seemingly beyond.

Unlike my criticism of media organizations’ bias in reporting
"news," I defend any pundit’s or opinion journalist’s right to
say what they please in interpreting that news. In fact, political
criticism is necessary. It’s one of the defining hallmarks of our
old and enduring republic. I not only defend the freedom of
political opinions that I agree with, but also of those I do not
agree with in whole or in part.

Like so much else in our representative democracy, political
criticism occurs in the marketplace of public opinion.
Politicians go to great lengths to measure that opinion, and
it has quite understandably a certain impact on what
politicians say and do. Public opinion, of course, is frequently
transitory. Like “conventional wisdom,” it often is the result
of emotional over- or under-reaction.

I opened this essay with the term “idiopathic critique.” The
adjective is borrowed from medicine which employs the term
to describe conditions which either appear suddenly or without
explanation. Mr. Trump and his political movement certainly
appeared visibly without much warning from the establishment
punditocracy. Some observers, however, did see it coming.,
although few saw Mr. Trump coming as the agent of that
movement.

Now there is a myriad of explanations of why and how
“Trumpism” appeared, but it is too soon to tell which of them
is most apt.

While political opinion of all kinds is both a right and to be
encouraged, it is also true that all political opinion will be
judged, especially for its accuracy and usefulness. All pundits
who offer commentary and predictions, be they on the left or
the right (or in the center), must meet tests of accuracy
in both the short term and the long term (a passing grade in
one might not pass in the other). The “wise”and “iconic”
pundits of the past can be quickly forgotten if their arguments
fail to explain or anticipate actual events.

The ablest diagnosticians of our national politics do not
mistake idiopathic conditions to be without understandable
cause. Like medical diagnosticians who look for the body’’s
signals and symptoms to determine cause and treatment, those
who try to explain the political and electoral must approach
the mystery of events, especially those which are unexpected,
with forensic care.

Otherwise, we only have media malpractice.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is Minnesota In Play In 2018?

The mega-state of “Minnewisowa” (Minnesota, Wisconsin
and Iowa), includes states that had voted for Barack Obama
in 2008 and 2012,  but in 2016 Donald Trump carried Iowa
and Wisconsin, and even traditionally Democratic Minnesota
was in doubt until late on election night when it became
known that Hillary Clinton had won the Gopher State, but
only by a few thousand votes.

Minnesota is a state which then had two Democratic (called
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL in Minnesota)
U.S. senators, the governor, five out of eight members of the
U.S. house, and control of the state senate.

But historically, Minnesota rides a political roller coaster.
During the 19th and early 20th century it voted reliably GOP.
Post-World War I populists then dominated state government,
and, after the DFL was created in 1944, the state began sending
liberal DFLers to Washington, climaxing with the careers of
Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, both of whom became
vice president and then their party’s nominee for president.
But in 1978, the conservatives won a statewide upset, electing
two GOP senators and the governor. By the early 1990s,
Minnesota had turned to the DFL again, and then GOP again,
and now after the first decade of the 21st century, the DFL
holds statewide elected offices one more time.

2016 brought still another reverse, with the GOP keeping
control of the state house and retaking the state senate. Most
revealing was the closeness of the presidential race. The
much-heralded DFL GOTV organization almost came up short
in delivering the votes for Hillary Clinton (who had lost the
state to Bernie Sanders in the primary/caucus season).

Donald Trump’s strong showing in Minnesota came in the
state’s rural and blue collar exurban areas which responded to
his antiestablishment message, and in the usual DFL
stronghold on northeastern Range area where the vote was as
much anti-Clinton as it was pro-Trump.

This chronic political confusion leads Minnesota into its next
statewide and congressional mid-term elections in 2018.

The race for governor is heavily populated, especially on
the liberal DFL side with at least five major announced
candidates who want to succeed DFL Governor Mark
Dayton who is retiring after two terms. At least one more
major DFL candidate is still expected to enter the race.

On the Republican side, there are fewer major candidates, but
that could change because at least one ‘household name”
conservative figure is reportedly considering the race. The 2016
results and the state’s history of changing gubernatorial parties
after two terms gives conservatives some reason for optimism.

In the southeastern MN-1 district, incumbent DFL Congressman
Tim Walz has decided to leave Congress to run for governor.
Walz’s last two re-elections were very close, and in 2018 the
open seat will likely go to Republican Jim Hagedorn who so
far has no serious GOP primary competition. Nor has a
strong DFL replacement for Walz yet appeared.

Walz, a former school teacher, is not very well-known in the
rest of the state, but is a strong campaigner. He will face
numerous liberal figures for the gubernatorial nomination.
This large field  which also includes State Representative Erin
Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, former State Speaker of
the House Paul Thissen, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and
State Representative Tina Liebling, probably means there will
be no DFL party endorsement. Even if there were, there would
likely be a bitter primary contest.

The Republicans likewise now have no frontrunner. A major
potential candidate is current Speaker of the House Kurt
Daudt, but he might not run. Formally in the race are 2014
gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson, State Representative
Matt Dean, and former state GOP chair Keith Downey. Other
state legislators and two prominent businessmen say they are
also seriously considering the race. Most of the candidates
are not very well-known statewide although Mr. Johnson was
the party’s gubernatorial nominee in the last cycle. Mr.
Downey has been endorsed by former Senator Rudy Boschwitz,
the much-respected and still active party elder statesman.

One candidate who might clear the GOP field at this point is
former Governor (and 2012 presidential candidate) Tim
Pawlenty who has been a highly paid industry association
executive in Washington, DC. but is known to miss politics.
Pawlenty won two terms as governor in St. Paul with a
plurality in three-party races. The third party then is no
longer considered a major Minnesota party. Mr. Pawlenty has
maintained his residence in the state. With the now fluid GOP
field, the former governor is likely to delay his decision until
later this year.

While Minnesota has an unusual number of competitive
congressional races, including at least one likely GOP pick-up,
some races could be affected by President Trump’s standing
in 2018. Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen represents a
suburban swing district, but he did not endorse Mr. Trump in 2016
and won re-election by a wide margin even though Hillary Clinton
carried the district. First-term GOP Congressman Jason Lewis in
the Second District could be vulnerable next year. He represents a
swing exurban district. GOP Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-6)
and DFL Congressman Collin Peterson (MN-7) both seem to be
holding safe seats for next year, although “blue dog” Peterson
represents a very rural and conservative district that will likely go
Republican when he retires. In MN-8, Republican Stewart Mills,
who twice came close to defeating Mr. Nolan, can easily wait until
the end of the year before deciding if he wants run for the third
time. A local GOP county commissioner (from the DFL stronghold
in the district), Peter Stauber, has already announced he is running.

DFL U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is running for a third term in
2018, but is not expected to have a serious opponent. 

Republicans control both the state house and senate. No state
senators face election in 2018, and the GOP margin in the state
house indicates they will likely, but not certainly, keep their
majority.

Minnesota has a national reputation for being a dependably
liberal “blue’  state. Donald Trump’s candidacy challenged
that assumption last year. As the president is also doing in
rural regions across the nation, polls indicate he is holding that
support seven months in office and despite many controversies.
How Mr. Trump will influence voters in next year’s election,
however, is unknown at this time, but in the perennial
vagaries of Minnesota politics, he might not matter quite so
much in an election in which he is not on the ballot.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.