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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Sudden Volatility In 2018 U.S. Senate Races

We pundits can’t help ourselves these days in prematurely
speculating about U.S. senate races; it is simply too
tempting given the political climate. But like the current
discussions about “global warming” and climate change,
the data of the present does not necessarily tell us what will
really happen in the future.

U.S. senate races, unlike most U.S. house races, are especially
prone to early miscalculation. This is because house district
demographics in most cases strongly favor one party or the
other, and particularly, incumbents.

Senate races, too, offer advantages to one party or the other,
and to incumbents, but as statewide races, they are inherently
more volatile when special circumstances arise. This is
especially true when incumbent senators run in states
where the other party has won the most recent presidential
election by a large margin.

I have already written about the potential “special”
circumstance of the impact of President Donald Trump on
the 2018 senate races, particularly if he and his party fail to
keep their 2016 campaign promises on legislation. That, of
course, could have a notable negative impact, and cost the
GOP not only to fail to enlarge their majority, but even (in a
worst case scenario) to lose their majority.

Over the many years I have been covering national politics, I
have observed that there always seems to be in every election
cycle some dramatic variances in races initially rated “safe”
for one party or one candidate. Death, other removal from
office, or late-breaking scandal is usually the cause of this,
but an unpredicted strong challenger is also often a cause.

In recent days, more than a year from election day, some
surprises already have appeared. Only two GOP incumbent
seats have been rated as vulnerable, and they still very much
are up for grabs --- GOP Senator Jeff Flake in Arizona and
GOP Senator Dean Heller in Nevada. Their continued public
opposition of their own party’s president has not helped
matters, and now each of them has a serious primary
opponent. In Alabama, the incumbent Senator Luther Strange
has been forced into a primary run-off, and is trailing his
controversial challenger. This is usually rated a very safe GOP
seat, but if Roy Moore wins the run-off, the race becomes more
competitive.

On the Democratic side, at least two races, previously rated
“safe” for their incumbents have suddenly also become
potentially more competitive. In Michigan, liberal Senator
Debbie Stabenow was thought to be a sure winner in 2018. But
a potential challenge by celebrity Robert “Kid Rock” Ritchie
could make this race too close to call by next November. In
New Jersey, liberal incumbent Senator Robert Menendez was
calculated to win easy re-election, but now facing a criminal
trial, and possible replacement by the GOP governor, this
“safe” seat is now in question. In Missouri, liberal incumbent
Senator Claire McCaskill was rated as only a favorite, but the
potential entry of the conservative state Attorney General
Josh Hawley into the race would probably make him the
favorite in this state carried by the GOP in double digits in
In Montana, liberal Senator Joe Tester also was rated
to have a potentially close race, but when his major
conservative opponent took a federal cabinet position, it
appeared his seat was safe. Now a major GOP opponent,
State Auditor Matt Rosendale has entered the race, and if
he wins the 2018 GOP primary, Tester could have a close race
for re-election. Democrats Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota
and Joe Manchin in West Virginia, already rated to have
close races in their conservative states, are perhaps even more
vulnerable now, especially in the case of West Virginia where
the Democratic governor recently changed parties. In Indiana,
the vulnerable incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly
might be helped by an unusually bitter GOP primary.

The political environment, needless to say, has considerable
time to change --- giving Democrats a big boost if President
Trump falters, or Republicans an advantage if the president
has a series of successes. There is also time for special
circumstances like those listed above to suddenly intervene
to change races for incumbents in both parties.

It should also be remembered that many incumbent senators
are quite old, and could choose to retire.

My counsel to readers is to withhold, at this time, judgments
about U.S. senate races in 2018. A year from now, the
political prospects might be quite different.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Fit Or Unfit, And Other Name-Dropping

One of the many absurdities being echoed today in the
establishment media by both politicians and journalists
is that Donald Trump is “unfit” to be president.

I am not speaking of those who oppose President Trump’s
policies, dislike his public persona, recoil at his tweets,
and generally disagree with him. All of these are quite
permissable and legitimate in a free country.

But “unfit?” What about liberal icons like Woodrow Wilson
and John F. Kennedy? President Wilson had a stroke on
October 2, 1919 while in his second term in office. He was
clearly physically and mentally “unfit” for the rest of his
second term during which his wife in reality ran the
government. In his first term, by the way, he promised that
the U.S. would not get involved in World War I. He then
led the nation into the war in 1917. Wilson was also a
notorious segregationist.

From the moment (and before) he was sworn in as president
on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was physically “unfit”
because he had, and knew he had, a rare fatal adrenal
condition (Addison’s Disease) which at that time had no
cure. He was in constant pain every day he was president,
was heavily drugged by his physicians, and wore a back brace.
He had been diagnosed with this disease before being elected
president, kept it a secret, and could have died at any time.
Some might also assert that he was morally “unfit” to be
president because it is now known that he was a serial
sexual predator throughout his presidency, including having
young women secreted into the White House. I am not even
speaking here of his early disaster from the aborted invasion
of Cuba or his complicity in the growing U.S. role in Viet Nam.

But do you hear today about either of these liberal icons being
“unfit” for office?

I am not here agreeing with, or disagreeing with, President
Trump. The reader can make his own judgment about
whether they like or dislike him and his policies. I have in
the past criticized him and praised him on different occasions.

But Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.
I think those who claim he is “unfit” for office are, intentionally
or not, attempting to cancel the 2016 election. I know of no
physical or mental condition which renders Mr. Trump “unfit”
for office, especially at the indisputable levels that made
Presidents Wilson and Kennedy truly “unfit.”

That does not say Mr. Trump should not be opposed or
criticized. The remedy for whose who feel that way, however, is
to defeat his party in the 2018 national midterm elections, and
then defeat him in his re-election effort in 2020.

We are also enduring today, primarily through the media, an
orgy of dropping names (and statues) from public view. The
discussion of which public figures from the past deserve to
be honored is a legitimate one.  But when ESPN removes an
announcer who happens to be named “Robert Lee” from its
programming, you know the discussion has become a form
of hysteria. As John Hinderaker points out on Powerline.
Coca Cola was invented by John Pemberton, a Confederate
Lt. Colonel from Georgia (and a slaveowner). Does that mean
no liberal can drink, Hinderaker asks, a coke? When business
institutions and their CEOs panic and cower in the face of
this hysteria, you know the discussion is out of hand. Should
my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, disown its
own founder Ben Franklin (and one of the great minds of his
age) because he was once a slaveholder? Should the
Democratic Party be dissolved today because it was, more
than a hundred years ago, pro-slavery and opposed to giving
women the vote?

Tiny groups on the far left and the far right who have no
widespread public support have deliberately tried to provoke
this hysteria. It’s time for all those, liberal, centrist, and
conservative, to call this hysteria out.

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: More Historical Facts You Probably Didn't Know

WINSTON CHURCHILL FIRST 
BECAME FAMOUS AS A JOURNALIST 
COVERING THE BOER WAR IN 
SOUTH AFRICA 
Only 25 years old, and recently retired as an officer in the
British army, young Winston had traveled had over the globe,
writing articles and books, but it was his exploits (including
capture and escape from the Boers) which made the young
aristocrat famous in his home country well before his first
election to Parliament --- and four decades before becoming 
his nation's wartime prime minister.

A CENTURY AGO, ARGENTINA HAD 
THE FIFTH LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE 
WORLD AND A VIBRANT DEMOCRACY; 
NOW IT’S 22ND, ITS BONDS ARE OFTEN 
IN DEFAULT, AND IS A POLITICAL MESS
It's perhaps the modern world's most notorious case (until 
Venezuela) of riches to rags. It is also a case study of what 
happens when the redistributionist economics genie is let loose.

GRAHAM GREENE’S COUSIN
Famed British novelist Graham Greene was a cousin of Robert
Louis Stevenson.

ALTHOUGH U.S. CRYPTOGRAPHERS 
BROKE THE JAPANESE “PURPLE” 
DIPLOMATIC CODE IN THE LATE 1930’S, 
THE VITAL MILITARY CODE WAS NOT 
BROKEN UNTIL 1942
The “breaking” of the Japanese “Purple” code by U.S.
cryptologists prior to the outbreak of World War II is well-known,
but unlike the similar “breaking” of the German secret “Enigma”
code by the British later, U.S. and Allied military intelligence
services had just a partial advantage in the Pacific because
“Purple” was only the diplomatic code. It had been decoded by
 the brilliant efforts led by Colonel William Friedman who along
with his wife  Elizabeth had been cryptographers even before World
War I. Friedman’s subsequent pioneering cryptological methods
had trained a whole generation of pre-war U.S. codebreakers,
including Captain Joseph Rochefort who had been assigned 
after Pearl Harbor to tackle the still unsolved Japanese naval
code. Captain Rochefort and his team did break this code in
early 1942, and their efforts assisted in the key U.S. victory at
Midway. As in the case of Enigma, the Allies successfully
kept their knowledge of the secret codes from the enemy. On
occasion this produced painful dilemmas for Allied leaders
because acting on information obtained from secret enemy
codes in certain circumstances would have given away the fact
that the codes had been broken. A notorious example of this
took place in 1941 when British intelligence learned from Engima
that the Germans believed that a Lisbon-to-London passenger
flight then in the air included a major Allied figure, perhaps
Winston Churchill, and that it would be shot down. The major
figure was actually famed English movie star Leslie Howard,
but to halt the flight would likely give away the fact that Enigma
had been broken by the Alllies. The Nazi Luftwaffe did
shoot down that plane , and Howard  perished. Although
Colonel Friedman was rightly honored and credited for his
remarkable codebreaking contributions, bureaucratic politics
prevented Captain Rochefort from any honors for his vital role
until after his death when the full story of his wartime activity
was revealed and published. and he received many high
honors posthumously. The different timetable for breaking the
two Japanese codes has also led to the mistaken belief by some
that President Franklin Roosevelt knew about the attack at Pearl
Harbor before it happened. U.S. intelligence did have messages
decoded from the diplomatic code, but they were carefully
worded to avoid mentioning the decision, time and place of any
attack.

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A History Lesson

There are two aspects to how we understand history.

One is history’s facts, especially those facts which can be
established by physical evidence such as photographs, tapes,
and recordings, films and videos, and written evidence. Most
of history beginning in the second half of the 19th century
can be so supported. Before that, physical evidence is usually
partial or incomplete. First-hand accounts are often very
helpful, but sometimes they are incomplete or biased.

The second aspect of how we view and understand history
comes from the interpretation of history’s facts, either
contemporaneous or, as is often the case, by historians and
other interpreters after the facts --- sometimes long after the
events.

The U.S. Civil war was one of the world’s earliest heavily
recorded events --- this due to the then recent availability of
photography and the telegraph.

The nation today is currently going through an orgy of trying
to reinterpret history --- despite overwhelming evidence and
facts that rebuke efforts to manipulate public opinion, primarily
through an uncritical media and mob tactics.

I will address here just one case in point.

Robert E. Lee was a career U.S. army officer who distinguished
himself over decades of service in early U.S. armed conflicts.
There is no dispute about this. In early 1861, with civil war
looming, the elderly Winfield Scott, then the top commander of
the U.S. army, told President Abraham Lincoln that he wished
that Robert E. Lee, a 32-year veteran of the army and former
superintendent of West Point (from which he had earlier
graduated second in his class), to take command of the Union
army. In March, Mr. Lee accepted the rank of colonel. He then
ignored offers of a command from Confederate officials in the
states that had already seceded.  Colonel Lee’s views opposing
secession were widely known. On April 18, Lincoln offered Lee
command of the Union army. On April 21, Virginia, Lee’s home
state, seceded from the Union, and Lee declined Lincoln’s offer,
saying that his highest loyalty was to his home state of Virginia.
He soon accepted a role as advisor to the new president of the
Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and in 1862, he was made
commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, a post
he held until his surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at
Appomattox in April, 1865.

During the Civil War, General Lee distinguished himself in
numerous battles and campaigns, although he made some major
mistakes and lost some major battles. He is generally regarded by
most military historians as an illustrious commander, although he
fought for a losing cause. During and after the Civil War, he was
the most admired man in the South.

His father, General Henry “Lighhorse” Lee had been one of the
heroes of the U.S. Revolutionary War.

His father-in-law owned slaves on their Virginia estate before the
Civil War, but late in life decided to set his slaves free. When he
died in 1858, his family (including Robert E. Lee) decided to honor
his request to set all of the family slaves free in five year’s time. In
a letter to the New York Times that year, Lee confirmed his and the
family decision to set the slaves free in 1863. There is a controversy
about the timing of this emancipation --- some say that on his death
bed, Lee’s father-in-law said the slaves should be set free
immediately. Lee said this wasn’t true.

Robert E. Lee personally opposed slavery, and letters to his wife
written before the Civil War, attest to this. On the other hand, he
did not ever publicly denounce slavery, as several prominent
southerners did do. In the end, of course, he took the side of those
who wanted to preserve this human evil.

Because he did fight for the South, which was considered at that
time an illegal and treasonous act, many then considered Lee a
traitor. Many do so today, although others contend that he was
guided by his stated principle that he was first a Virginian.
The Civil War settled that question once and for all, but in 1861
there were many Americans, citing states rights in the U.S.
constitution, who felt that state identity was equal to or higher
than federal identity. (The only reason he was not hanged as a
traitor, however, was because of the magnanimity of President
Lincoln and General Grant. He then lived in declining health as
the head of a small Virginia college, and died at age 63 in 1870.)

Those are the facts.

Robert E. Lee was wrong about the greatest issue of his day. 
His failure to publicly renounce slavery, though he personally
opposed it, was also a wrong choice. Moreover, his failure to
emancipate his father-in-law's slaves (of which he was now
part-owner) was by today’s standards a mistake --- and I will go
further --- even by the standards of his own time, inexcusable.

Like virtually every prominent figure in history, Robert E. Lee
was a flawed individual. His flaws, I think, also led to the tragedy
of a life that appeared headed to greatness --- and almost surely
would have concluded in greatness if he had accepted President
Lincoln’s offer. Instead, he died ultimately in failure.

However, to suggest that Robert E. Lee was not a great general,
and not adored by troops, and not an iconic figure of that tragic
national occasion known as the U.S. Civil War, is simply an effort
to erase history.

Those persons, for example, who deny the Nazi Holocaust of
World War II, or those who deny the barbarity of Soviet dictator
Josef Stalin, also want to erase history.

History cannot be erased without dangerous consequences.

Whether or not there should be statues of Confederate figures,
or other memorials through the use of their names, is a question
to be decided by the community where they exist. The idea that
small, unelected and extremist mobs (and egged on by some
in the media) should determine what we can remember is
unacceptable in our Republic, and no matter if one is a Democrat,
a Republican, an independent a liberal a conservative or a centrist,
any American should be offended when a mob, on the far right or
the far left, presumes to take away our rights and freedom.

Robert E. Lee is no hero of mine. He fought for the wrong cause,
and he shared in the responsibility of the deaths of thousands of
his countrymen. My heroes in the Civil War were Mr. Lincoln and
Mr. Grant. They, too, had flaws; they, too, shared the burdens of
responsibility, but they chose the right principle.

We should remember that when making judgments about our
own leaders.

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mitch McConnell Is Right About Being Wrong

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely correct
when he says that President Donald Trump does not
understand how the U.S. senate works. The problem for the
top GOP senator is that the way the U.S. senate works in the
past decade (under the leadership of both parties, it must be
noted) is not to do its work. The record of the senate, and of
the whole Congress, is almost entirely about stalemate and
inaction in the face of  so many very clear and present
national problems.

The U.S. senate has a strong tradition of not being the U.S.
house of representatives, the”people’s representatives” in
a body that number 435, and are elected from individual
districts across the nation. From 1789 to 1913, many
senators were not even popularly elected, but appointed by
the individual states. Their number is only 100, and their
terms are three times longer than U.S. house members. The
nation’s founders intended the senate to act as a check on
the “people’s” house, and so it has mostly (but not always)
functioned for two centuries. Over that time, the senate
adopted a myriad of rules which initially functioned as
intended, but over the years have become arcane obstacles to
the functions of the legislative branch, especially when one
party does not have a very large majority.

Both parties have taken advantage of these rules, but it was
then Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who
exploited their technicalities so as to bring the work of the
senate effectively to a halt after Republicans retook control of
the U.S. house in 2010. He constrained debate on proposed
laws, and made it almost impossible to make amendments
he opposed. When Republicans regained control of the senate
in 2014, and kept control of the house, they faced certain vetoes
from the Democratic president.

In 2016, Republicans not only kept control of the Congress, they
won back the White House. To attract voters, they made certain
promises to repeal Obamacare, replace it, and pass legislation
concerning major issues of tax reform, renewing infrastructure,
immigration, restoring our military defense and education to
name a few.

Except for a much-needed overhaul of how the nation treats its
veterans, very little has been done that requires congressional
action (the veterans reform was bipartisan).

The U.S. house, after initially faltering, did pass Obamacare
repeal with modest replacement. The senate has now failed
twice to do even that. We are also told that there are not enough
GOP votes to pass tax reform, much less deal with the budget.
A single senator can prevent a presidential nomination to the
federal judiciary from even coming to a vote. No, longer valid
rules exist that can hold up presidential appointments almost
indefinitely.

To be fair, Republicans often did this to President Obama,
especially later in his second term.

That, it seems, is how Washington works.

Mitch McConnell is an honorable and able man, and usually
agrees with President Trump on what should be done. He did
almost pass Obamacare in the senate, but was thwarted by one
last-minute grandstanding vote change.

Donald Trump was elected, however, to shake up the stalemate
in the nation’s capital, and apparently he won’t take “no” for
an answer. Whether or not he “understands” how Washington
works is not the point. The point is that the voters want action
--- and if it is necessary to change how Washington works to
bring about action, THAT is the point. Mr. McConnell’s job, Mr.
Trump contends, is to make things  happen in the senate, not to
complain that the senate cannot do it because “it’s not how the
senate works.”

Some might not agree with what President Trump wants to do.
In fact, it is the duty of the opposition party to “oppose” when
it disagrees. Fair enough. But this issue is not about the
Democratic Party. It is about the Republican Party, the party
now in control of the federal government and most state
governments.

No more excuses. No more complaints, Mr. McConnell.

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


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Doing Division

It is by now a commonplace that the nation’s voters are
acutely divided on ideological lines. One party temporarily
controls the federal government and most of the state
governments, but the other party controls the largest cities
and most of the largest states. The party now in power is
considered the “conservative” party; the other party is
considered the “liberal” party.

This circumstance has occurred with some regularity in
our political history. At the very outset, there was a strong
difference between the views of Thomas Jefferson and
Alexander Hamilton --- although the first two major parties
did not appear formally for more than a decade. The divide
between North and South then festered until the Civil War.
In the depression years before World War II, the contrasting
political philosophies hardened, and during the Viet Nam
War and its aftermath, the major parties once again felt
a greater divide between them.

Of course, each political era has its own character and its
own issues.   In the national campaign of 2016, forces
within each party arose to attempt to direct public opinion
to new thinking on the populist left and the populist right.
The outcome of that election, following years of stalemate
under presidents of both parties signaled the genesis of a
political transition to directions which are not yet clear, but
the accompanying public discourse has seemed especially
bitter and polarizing, reverberating with an intensity
reminiscent of earlier periods in the 19th and 20th centuries
already mentioned.

The notion, however, that the nation and its voters are
somehow divided in an unprecedented way is simply a media
and academic fabrication. Polar opinions about presidents
and political parties is a permanent condition of American
public life. The names change, the issues change, but the
division goes on and on.

We hear today pompous assertions that the current president
is “unfit” to hold the office. The very same word and meaning
was used against such presidents as Andrew Jackson,
Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman,
Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Somehow, despite those ominous contemporary judgments,
the republic survived their tenures. Most of them, in fact, left
an indelible political mark.

Bipartisanship is usually a good thing, but it is always
provisional and limited. At key moments, bipartisanship might
be necessary to pass legislation or make social change, but it is
always followed by a resumption of the timeless political
arguments which run through the history of any democratic
republic --- and especially ours.

We should not be fearful of admitting to, or participating in,
differences of opinion, political arguments, and divided
partisanship. They are as natural as breathing; they are the
aspiration and respiration of freedom.

It’s time to stop being obsessed with the mere fact that we
have disagreements. Instead it’s time to use our debates to
solve our problems, meet our challenges, and adapt to the
remarkable changes taking place all around us.

Vive les differences!

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Does The Party Switch By The West Virginia Governor Mean?

The announcement by Democratic West Virginia Governor
Jim Justice that he is now a Republican does not likely
portend a sudden series of prominent party switches, but
it does tell us something about the contemporary U.S.
political environment.

First of all, party switches are quite rare, and usually, when
they do occur, they are responses to very local circumstances.
West Virginia in the past decade has gone from being a
reliably liberal Democratic state to being a conservative one.
Except for Mr. Justice and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, there
were no other truly prominent Democrats holding office in the
state. Mr. Manchin, it should be noted, is probably the most
conservative Democrat in the U.S. senate, and has frequently
himself been mentioned as someone who could switch
parties.

Liberal Democratic Party policies precipitated West Virginia
political transformation from a blue state to a red state.
The Obama administration effort to replace coal and coal
mining was the most obvious factor in this coal mining
state, but a whole range of social and economic liberal issues
contributed as well. West Virginia was an early warning sign
of this trend which climaxed in the upset election of Donald
Trump in 2016 when he swept most of the hitherto Democratic
rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and
Wisconsin.

But GOP gains in urban rust belt areas, and rural areas,
were offset by Democratic gains in the urban coastal areas
and states. Just as Senator Manchin and his Democratic
colleague North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp serve as
conservatives mavericks in otherwise Republican states,
Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins serves as probably
the most liberal GOP in the senate, and along with Senator
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, often fails to vote with the GOP
majority on key issues.

Although it was not crucial to the presidential election,
there was a larger Democratic than Republican popular vote
in 2016.

It is not just that the nation has been divided politically; the
evidence from West Virginia is that this division will continue.

Not only that, but President Trump’s base is holding, even as
his political problems and challenges mount. Governor
Justice would not have made his announcement at a Trump
rally if that were not the case.

That does not mean this circumstance cannot change. Mr.
Trump obviously has repair work to do at the White House,
and both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential
election are ahead. But, as I have pointed out repeatedly,
writing off this president has so far been just wrong. The
primary reason, as I have also suggested, is that Mr. Trump
(notwithstanding his foibles) is also the agent for a major
political transformation that is slowly but persistently taking
place.

Governor Justice’s party switch in West Virginia was his
recognition of this political fact on the ground.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Would This be A Brilliant Move By President Trump?

We now live in a time when almost anything is possible in
the imagination of journalists. As someone whose
undergraduate university degree was in creative writing
(with honors no less), I don’t want to be left out of this new
media sport.

So I have come up, during lunch with a friend, with an idea
that, as far as I know, no one else has publicly suggested (I
would stand corrected if I’m wrong about that).

Since good writing often has some ambiguity, I’ll let the
reader decide how serious I am about this.

Here is my idea:

In the face of published reports that Jane Sanders, wife of
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (and very serious 2016
Democratic presidential candidate), is being investigated by
the FBI for her actions as president of Burlington College in
Vermont circa 2010, I suggest that President Donald Trump
pardon Mrs. Sanders before any investigation goes any further.
Inasmuch as Senator Sanders himself could be involved in this
matter, President Trump could pardon Bernie as well.

This would, of course, end any further investigations in this
matter. Since everyone is innocent until proven otherwise, and
no indictments have been made, I want to make it clear that I
am not suggesting that either Senator or Mrs. Sanders are
guilty of anything, But an FBI investigation does indicate that
something is awry, especially after the media reports it. Just
look at all the investigations and allegations about Mr. Trump
and his family --- without yet any hard evidence of wrongdoing.

President Trump, after pardoning Jane Sanders (and Bernie)
would hailed for his political magnanimity, and his popularity
among the populist left wing of the Democratic Party could
soar (although his favorability in his own party might take a
hit).

Oh well, there is always a trade-off in politics when you take
a bold action.

It would have the effect of enabling Mr. Sanders to freely
pursue the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, an
outcome GOP strategists might favor. It might also have the
effect of totally confusing the massive effort of the establishment
media to ruin Mr. Trump’s presidency.

I say, Mr. President, go for it.

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The New Restaurant?

In the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis there is a
significant new environment for their downtown, inner city
and neighborhood restaurant industry. As a result of a surge
in new regulations, local tax surcharges, minimum wage
and paid-leave laws, the very form of the restaurant and
dining-out experience is changing noticeably.

These changes are taking place across the nation, especially
in the largest cities, but I can only describe with some
precision the urban Minnesota experience.

So-called progressive (leftist) local government elected
officials, the bureaucracies they oversee, and union activists
are precipitating the changes in response to what they think
is a general urban mood that is unsympathetic to the small-
and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs which serve
the community.

The market system, however, is not indifferent to changes
imposed on it through regulations, taxes and required worker
conditions.

As a result, the dining-out experience in the Twin Cities is
rapidly changing.

Restaurant operators have limited options when new costs are
imposed on them. Sometimes, those costs have nothing to do
with local government intervention. Specifically, I am referring
to the always-occurring fluctuating prices for the fruits,
vegetables, meats, poultry and fish and other food products
they must buy for their kitchens which produce the food dishes
they sell in their dining rooms. In this instance, either menu
prices are raised or expensive food products are replaced on
their menus. This has always been a common occurrence in
this industry.

But whatever, the cause for increased costs in the food business,
the basic reality always remains, as it does for every other
business in our society --- the business has to make at least some
profit and/or enable the businessperson to make a living. It’s a
simple law of economic gravity that bureaucrats, elected officials
and political activists often try to ignore.

There are other basic laws.  One of them is the law of supply and
demand. As prices rise, fewer and fewer customers are willing to
pay for the products or services offered. When a restaurant 
raises its prices, it loses customers, especially in a highly
competitive industry like the local food industry.

As is true of every large urban area in the U.S., the Twin City
dining out experience has made enormous strides in recent
decades. The public demand for fresh produce, imaginative
menus, and attractive physical dining venues has precipitated a
food revolution that brings delicious and affordable dining
experiences for most residents. So-called fine dining, hitherto
available only to very affluent Americans, is now available to
almost anyone. Very high-end restaurants, with menus at very
high prices, still exist, but there are fewer and fewer of them.
There is, however, a larger and large group of Americans who
make large incomes, and for whom menu prices do not matter.
They, and a number of business and special occasion diners,
make the very high-end restaurant still viable, but these are
also very sensitive to changing diner habits and tastes. As a
result, many high-end dining rooms in the Twin Cities have
closed --- and very few new ones are opening.

As the clientele for dining out has expanded and grown much
more sophisticated, opening new restaurants has become very
problematic. Individual entrepreneurs are disappearing, and
are being replaced by groups of investors, many of them who
make their money in other fields. In the Twin Cities, new
quality restaurants have been opening and closing in days and
months rather than years. Recently, for example, a cluster of
ambitious upscale Italian restaurants opened in downtown
Minneapolis and its environs --- and a few months later, most
of them are closed.

Caught in the middle of this change are the food servers, the
wait staffs. Imposing dramatic increases in the minimum
wage and paid leave for these workers, as demanded by their
unions and sympathetic political activists, has produced a
predictable but negative consequence --- the disappearance of
the traditional dining out experience of ordering  a meal from
a waitperson. Virtually all major new restaurants opening in
the Twin Cities today, even some higher end ones, have diners
ordering from the menu at the cash register, and having their
meal delivered to their table or even being asked to pick it up
at the kitchen counter. Many diners, required to do this, are
either leaving no or much-reduced tips, and those tips which
are given are shared with both the wait and kitchen staffs.
Restaurants are thus reducing their wait staffs, and often asking
those who remain to do more work. Many already established
restaurants are also by necessity adopting this practice. This
can only produce a net reduction of service staffs, that is, fewer
and fewer jobs waiting on tables.

Part of dining out today is the whole experience, not just a
particular cuisine or menu, but the service and the decor and
the sense of a special occasion. Because food preparation is
so popular today, with myriads of cookbooks, TV food shows,
and increased private dinner parties, eating well at home is
definitely an option. The prices at the grocery store of
top-quality produce, meats, seafood, and wines also makes
home cooking by wives, husbands and singles increasingly
attractive. If you remove important elements of dining out,
such as table service, the incentive to prepare meals at home,
or else buy the food prepared for take-out is magnified
dramatically.

Thoughtful voices by some progressive public figures in the
Twin Cities are already sounding the alarm at the political
cave-in to demands for huge minimum wage increases,
costly paid leave and other requirements which small food
businesses cannot easily absorb. Former Minneapolis
Mayor R.T. Rybak, former Council Member (and now
president of the city’s Downtown Council) Steve Cramer,
and at least one 2017 mayoral candidate, Tom Hoch, are
counseling caution and common sense while so many others
just seem to nod their heads at every demand.

The same is occurring in St. Paul, Meanwhile, there is a
predictable exodus of restaurants from the center cities, and
often premature closings of those new ones which dare to open.
And everywhere, the restaurant experience is shrinking.

This is an ongoing story; let’s see where it leads.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Under The Surface Of A Summer Sun

Under the surface of the 2017 summer sun, a surface of an
orderly calm punctuated by provocative headlines and a
nagging awareness of some undefined disorder, the
significant disruption of an aging world order is taking
place.

I am one who doubts that world order is accidental or
casual. Incidents and personalities superficially might
seem random occurrences, but my reading of history
tells a different story.

The transatlantic world is now preoccupied with Donald
Trump and the agonies of European alliances while
simultaneously the transpacific world is notable for the
emergence of two new superpowers, China and India.
These two nations come from ancient and enduring
cultures that were then sublimated until relatively
recently by transatlantic powers. When a small but
ambitious Asian power, Japan, attempted to assert itself
almost eight decades ago, it set off half a world war. But
Japan, despite its presumptions, did not have the
resources to become a true superpower. Both China and
India, especially with their enormous populations, do
have requisite resources.

At the same time Japan made its historic power grab,
a malign and ambitious Germany made one of its own.
But, like Japan, the resources were not available to enable
a perverse Nazi ideology to impose more than a temporary,
albeit insanely murderous, domination of Europe.

The difference then was the nation in the middle of the
two oceans, the United States of America. Having dabbled
in colonial ambitions of its own, and found them
unsatisfactory, the U.S. reluctantly but forcefully entered
both theaters of the World War. It did have the resources
to make a difference and to restore a new world order. I
do not in any way want to diminish the contributions of
the valiant British, Russian (who took the greatest
military losses) and other Allied forces in that war, but it
was the U.S. intervention that made the difference.

In the Cold War that followed, it was the U.S. which
protected Europe and other parts of the globe from
ideological communist aggression, a role that eventually
led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As the world’s first capitalist representative democracy, the
U.S. gradually grew into its role as the global economic
model and protector of the universal notion of human
freedom. It made mistakes along the way, and had to
systematically rid itself of its own unacceptable
shortcomings of slavery, gender discrimination, voter
inequality, and human rights violations.

At the peak of its global influence, it must be said, the U.S.
did not do what superpowers had almost always done in
the past, that is, dominate and impose itself. In fact, as U.S.
power began to diminish at the end of the 20th and the
beginning of the 21st centuries, it continued in its role of
rescue and protection in the face of natural and man-made
global disasters.

There is a heated debate going on these days about the the
notion that the United States is an “exceptional” nation.
Those who attack this notion misunderstand it, I believe, and
do so against the facts on the ground. But, like all other
aspects of history, the role of the U.S. is changing. The
basic economic U.S. model continues to be the only viable
operating model in the world. To verify this, one has only to
look at the recent adoptions of it by the two largest Marxist
(China) and socialist (India) economies.  China remains
politically totalitarian, but its economy is now a market one.
Culturally, in music, films, and entertainment in general,
U.S. influence is remarkably global.

None of these facts on the ground, however, are static.
The world order increasingly dominated by the U.S. for about
a century is not what it was. The role of the U.S. remains as a
mediator and protector, but new powers in the world are
emerging. Those which are predatory will be resisted, and it
is unimaginable that this can successfully occur without the
United States of America.

Predatory forces are always at play in the world, but not ever
in human history have the tools for infamy been so available
to so many. If one see the human family as a global organism,
beneath the surface of daily life there are always forces at work
to keep a viable equilibrium, as there are forces in the human
body which protect from and fight disease and infection.

We still do not fully understand how the individual human body
works. Human civilization, now about 7.5 billion of us, not so
long ago a collection of relatively disconnected outposts, has
entered a stage of almost instant connection and awareness
through technology. There is no way this indelible circumstance
is not altering what we describe as “the order of the world.”

Under the summer sun this year, that fundamental circumstance
is reordering itself as it always does --- out of sight and under
the surface of our daily lives.

That is the real breaking news.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is It Time For A Serious Third Party?

The issue of creating a third major political party in the U.S.
is a periodic and traditional phenomenon. New third parties
have come and gone since the earliest days of the republic,
with Whigs replacing the Federalists, Jacksonian Democrats
replacing the Jeffersonian Democrats, Republicans replacing
the Whigs --- all of which cemented the U.S. as a two-party
nation. After the Civil War, a series of true third parties arose,
and occasionally affected the outcomes of presidential races,
but their nature as protest parties limited their shelf life as
the issues which provoked them passed.

Recently, in the post-World War II period, notable third party
efforts took place around individual figures, e.g. Strom
Thurmond (1948), Henry Wallace (1948), George Wallace (1968),
John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and (1996), and Ralph
Nader (2000). These candidates either received 5% or more of
the vote, obtained electoral votes, and/or affected the outcome
of that year’s election. Only Ross Perot, in 1992, ever had a lead
over the major party candidates in pre-election polls. Former
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, was in 2016
mentioned, and reportedly considering, a major third party
campaign, but it did not happen.

Today, in 2017, there is again increasing talk of forming a new
third party, as the two existing major parties, the Democrats
and the Republicans appear to be abandoning the always
critical political center, each moving toward the extreme wings
of their party bases.

The most egregious example of this is the Democratic Party,
now out of power in state capitols, as well as the nation’s capitol
in Washington, DC. A populist fever arose in 2015-16 in that
hitherto liberal party under the banner of the “progressive”
campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, and has only risen since
the election of Donald Trump. Moderate liberals are being
pushed out of the way in this party insurrection, even though
these left of center liberals continue to represent the heart of
this party.

The Republican Party, now in control of the White House, both
houses of Congress, most state governorships and legislatures,
and soon the federal judicial branch, is enduring a different
crisis. It has a moderate conservative wing, and a wing further
to the right, but this natural conflict was seemingly resolved
by the election of Mr. Trump who belonged to neither faction.
Soon enough, however, the differing policy points of view led
to inaction on legislation promised by the party in its 2016
campaign. Admittedly, repealing Obamacare, and replacing it,
has turned out to be more problematic than campaign rhetoric
said it would be, but with the votes they need already in their
hands, the public is no mood for alibis. The GOP dilemma is
further complicated by the fact that a significant number of
centrist Republicans feel alienated in a party led by Donald
Trump, their least favorite figure in the 2016 presidential field.
As with their Democratic counterparts, the populist wing of
the GOP has some momentum, but the right of center
conservatives still form the voter base of the party.

Mr. Bloomberg, now 75 and out of office, continues to be
sought out by third party advocates, as are former California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, West Virginia Senator Joe
Manchin, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Ohio Governor
John Kasich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others
who are publicly expressing disatisfaction with directions in
their own parties.

But I think we are still quite some distance from a serious
movement toward forming a significant new and centrist
third party. This distance and time might have to wait until
the results are in from the 2018 national midterm elections.
Nevertheless, both major parties need to be increasingly
aware, and on alert, of the risks they each take by polarizing
the ideologies of their respective party organizations, and
turning away traditional allies.

The biggest risk, of course, is for the Republicans. Their
party is nominally in charge at all levels of government (with
the notable exception of most large urban local governments.)
Voters put elected officials in their positions to solve problems.
Recently, they have rightly shown some impatience with those
who fail to fulfill their promises and practice their rhetoric.

Just because third parties have not succeeded in recent times
is no guarantee that it can’t happen here. It just did happen,
and in a big way, with our oldest ally, France.

And, oh yes, Donald Trump is president of the United States.

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


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Could Happen To The GOP Senate Majority?

Now that the Republican majority in the U.S. senate has failed
to pass Obamacare repeal and replacement, the future of
their majority in 2018, unlikely as it seemed only a few days
ago, is now in doubt.

Here is what can happen in the coming months:

Those GOP senators who are vulnerable in 2018, and balked
at supporting the repeal and replacement, did so in many
cases because of their fear of voter reaction in their home
states. That fear flies in the face of political facts on the
ground, established in 2016, when some GOP senate
candidates failed to support Donald Trump. In most, but
not all cases, conservative voters showed less enthusiasm
for these Republicans, and in two examples (one in Mr.
Heller’s own Nevada) they lost races they might have won.
Many conservatives who support Obamacare repeal could
stay home next year.

But the bad news for GOP senate hopes in 2018 does not
stop there. Major conservative donors might well hold back
much-needed funds for senate campaigns. Potential
volunteers might not show up. And most ominously,
conservative candidates might run as independents. This
would doom not only vulnerable senators, but some of those
now considered to have safe seats. There are now at least
ten Democratic senate seats considered vulnerable  in 2018.
The Democrats could retain all or most of them.

This is a worst-case scenario, but mid-term elections often
go that way. They went that way against the Democrat in
2010 and 2014. The went that way against the GOP in
2006.

The Democrats paid dearly for taking their own voters for
granted in 2016., and obsessing on the corrosive Beltway
mentality. The same might likely also happen to Republicans
in 2018.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Parallel Universes?

When I was younger, I read a lot of science fiction and went to
science fiction movies; I watched “Star Trek’ on TV, and
absorbed the futuristic notions and lingo of this popular genre.
I’m old enough now to be amazed by how much the best science
fiction has predicted the real world we now live in.

I didn’t buy two concepts, however. One was time travel,
especially travel back in time (theoretically, if a person
traveled in a space craft fast enough, they could go forward in
time). The other was parallel universes or different realities,
side by side, in space and time.

I’m ready to throw in the towel on my credulity on the latter.
I think I have discovered it right here where I live in the
summer of 2017.

In fact, the United States of America, once considered
“indivisible” (and it fought a brutal Civil War to keep it that
way) is now a living, walking and shouting nation of parallel
universes.

Can political science devolve into science fiction? Apparently,
for millions of Americans it can, and has done so. The election
of Donald Trump in November, 2016 sent a shock wave through
the American political psyche. Profound political trauma has
happened before --- in 1860 when Abe Lincoln was elected, and
in 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was inaugurated.
It also occurred, to a degree, when John Kennedy was 
assassinated in 1963, and when Ronald Reagan revived the
conservative movement in the 1980s.     

Living side by side in the cities, small towns, suburbs and 
farms of America, the adult population is living in two very
distinct worlds. Years from now, Americans might have
difficulty imagining this. Not only are U.S. folks living side
by side, even in one family in some instances, they appear to 
interact in conversation and commerce.

But don’t be fooled. They live in very different universes.
Those who voted for, still like and approve of President Trump
have a different consciousness of space and time than those
who didn’t vote for him, don’t like him and strongly disapprove
of the profound changes his administration is making.

There are also two parallel sets of media. The establishment
media, concentrated in three TV networks, some aging big
city newspapers, many national magazines, and a few cable
networks have devolved into virtually being totally anti-Trump.
One major TV network, The Wall Street Journal and some
smaller newspapers and national magazines, other cable
networks, op ed columnists and conservative radio talk show
hosts with huge audiences continue to explain, defend and
cheer on the president. In the past, many Americans read and
tuned into both media universes. That has virtually
disappeared today.

What is to be done? I have not the slightest idea. Captain Kirk is
a Canadian, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard is an Englishman, so
they can be of no help. Spock would be completely at a loss
since he has no human emotions. Worf is a Klingon --- need any
more be said? Modern medicine, on the other hand, is enabling
us to live longer, and the stock market is prospering.

Getting the two parallel universes together will be quite a trek.
When and how (and if) they meet again lies ahead. Meanwhile,
Americans are living in the summer of parallel universes.

We will meet again, but who knows when?

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

                                                                                                

Friday, July 14, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senator Kid Rock?

The latest celebrity who has indicated a serious interest in
a political run in  2018 is rap star Kid Rock (real name: Robert
Ritchie) who is from Michigan and could be the Republican
challenger to incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Until now, Mrs. Stabenow was considered to have a safe seat.

Sports and show business celebrities have run for major
political offices in recent years, and many have won. Most
notable, perhaps, were the elections of pro basketball star Bill
Bradley, U.S. senate; actor Fred Thompson, U.S. senate;
baseball star Jim Bunning, U.S. senate; pro wrestler Jess
Ventura, governor; actor Arnold Schwarznegger, governor;
football star Jack Kemp, congressman; singer Sonny Bono
congressman; football star Steve Largent, congressman; actor
George Murphy R-U.S. senate; and TV series actor Fred Grandy,
congressman.

The two most famous, of course, have been film actor Ronald
Reagan who was elected governor of California, and then
president of the United States; and Donald Trump, TV show
host and celebrity businessman, who is the current resident
in the White House.

Not all of them were distinguished, but some of them, including
especially Reagan, Kemp and Bradley, made their mark in their
adopted profession. The total list of sports and show business
personalities elected to office is much longer, and the incidence
of new candidacies is becoming more frequent.

Comedians and Olympic hockey players have run and won, so
why not rapper Kid Rock?

Although a sports or show business background is not usually
considered an ideal training ground for elective office, perhaps
the public relations and communications skills athletes and
entertainers often have made it inevitable that more and more
celebrities are throwing themselves (no one, except for Kid
Rock, wears hats any more) into the political arena.

In spite of the overwhelming bias of Hollywood and show
business personalities to the Democratic Party (in 2016, many
were for Bernie Sanders and some for Hillary Clinton, but very
few for Donald Trump), most of those celebrities elected to
public office have been conservatives. Kid Rock was an early
and prominent supporter of Mr. Trump, and might draw a
strong youth (and middle-aged blue collar) vote. (That was
primarily how Jesse Ventura, a political centrist in a then-liberal
state, won.)

Who knows, the Congressional Record might be on the verge of
becoming funky and hip.

And rhymed?

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


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senate Recess Postponed, Now What?

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has postponed the
traditional senate summer recess for two weeks.
Presumably, his intention is forge a consensus among
GOP senators to pass some major legislation.

Breaking the deadlock over Obamacare replacement is
an obvious goal. It will take all of Mr. McConnell’s skill
(and more) to achieve this, but anything is possible,
including repeal of the ailing Obamacare program, and
dealing with the replacement in the autumn (preserving
current coverage until the replacement is passed).

There is also the time-sensitive issue of tax reform and
tax cuts. As former Speaker Newt Gingrich has pointed
out, it takes many months for the impact of tax cuts to
be felt. Delay on this issue, he has correctly asserted,
would be self-defeating.

There has been a lot of grandstanding by individual
senators over needed and promised legislation. Some are
also understandably concerned about support in their
home states, especially if they are up in 2018 for
re-election. But promises were made in 2016, asking the
nation to give the Republican Party control of the
Congress and the White House to make specific changes
and reforms.

With Democrats and the establishment media obsessing
on chimeras of personal scandal, the GOP majority still
has time and opportunity to fashion major legislation to
put conservative policies back into government. Reform
of Veterans Administration policy (passed with bipartisan
support) has taken place, and shows that important issues
can be resolved. Concern for veterans, however, is not as
controversial as healthcare insurance and tax cuts. It
takes more boldness to resolve the latter issues.

It’s no time for grandstanding.

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