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.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Congress Should Not Be Allowed To Recess Until It Passes Major Legislation

This will be one of my shortest op eds ever on this website.

Congress is now back in session. It has passed a number of
minor bills. The senate has confirmed Neal Gorsuch to the
U.S. supreme court.

Most of the responsibility for confirmations to sub-cabinet
positions and lower federal court nominations is due to the
slower-than-usual selections for these posts by the Trump
administration.

Major legislation on Obamacare repeal and new health
insurance reform, tax reform, tax cuts, spending reform and
other important issues has not taken place. The Republicans
control both houses of Congress and the executive branch.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell should not permit the usual summer recess
this year until at least some of these major legislative issues
are resolved and sent to President Trump for his signature.

No more delays and excuses.

---------------------------------------

UPDATE (July 11, 2017)
The U.S. senate has postponed its summer recess.

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Supreme Court Retirement Strategy?

Although he did not announce his retirement from the U.S.
supreme court at the recent end of the current term,
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy continues to let it be
known privately, according to numerous reports by those
close to him, that he could retire any time between now
and next year.

Appointed originally to the court by President Ronald
Reagan in 1988, Mr. Kennedy usually sides with the
conservative bloc on the court, but in recent years has
been the critical swing vote in close decisions which are
5-4.

President Donald Trump’s first appointee. Associate Justice
Neal Gorsuch, has already indicated he will be part of a
conservative majority, as was his predecessor Antonin Scalia.
Mr. Kennedy’s replacement, should he or she be named in the
next year or so, will also likely be a solid conservative choice.

A second sitting associate justice, 84 year-old and ailing Ruth
Ginsburg, might want to retire, but the veteran liberal justice
has made it clear she does not want to give still another
choice to the Republican president who she clearly dislikes
and disagrees with.

But if and when Justice Kennedy retires, it might be a best-case
strategy from Justice Ginsburg’s point of view if she retired at
the same time.

Let me explain. In the confirmation process which accepted
Justice Gorsuch, the senate rules were changed so that a
simple majority could confirm a nominee. Assuming that
President Trump would select a highly qualified conservative
to replace Justice Kennedy, there is little or no realistic hope
that the Democrats could block the choice (although they will
surely try to do so). But if there were two vacancies at the same
time, and one of them were for the Ginsburg seat, the Democrats
would be in a much stronger tactical position to insist that the
second vacancy be filled with a more moderate figure (albeit a
moderate conservative). That “deal” would be that both
nominations would be allowed to sail through the confirmation
process.

Admittedly, Democrats and liberals would prefer one of their
own to replace Justice Ginsburg, but they don’t have the votes to
require this. If Justice Ginsburg holds on past the confirmation
of a replacement to Justice Kennedy, but is forced to retire later
for health reasons (a reasonable possibility today), there would be
no incentive for senate Republicans to confirm anyone other than
a hardline conservative --- thus giving that side a powerful 6-3
majority for a long and indefinite period.

In the contemporary “them vs. us” political environment in
Washington, DC, there are no ideal outcomes for Democrats
in supreme court vacancies. If there were two simultaneous
vacancies in the next year or so, however, there might be some
genuine incentive for Mr. Trump and the Republicans to accept a
“deal” with the Democrats --- and avoid a bitter and prolonged
battle of confirmations.

Given the current partisan mood, it likely won’t happen that way.
Justice Ginsburg is demonstrating her determination to remain
on the court, and the retirement of Justice Kennedy might not
happen as soon as some might think. But, should it happen, it
might also be the best outcome for Democrats, who in 2018 face
the likely increase of the GOP senate majority in the midterm
elections, to have two vacancies to be filled.

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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Longest English Word's New Meaning?

When I was younger (several dictionary editions ago), the
longest English word was antidisestablishmentarianism, a
fact meant for TV quiz shows and spelling bees. Almost no
one knew what it actually meant. It’s meaning, in fact,
belonged to another century when some folks were trying to
abolish the Church of England’s official role in Protestant
Britain. Those who were “anti-” were opposed to this
“disestablishment” movement.

In recent years, this word has lost it title as the longest word in
English to a new medical term for a lung disease caused by
volcanos (obviously this new word is on the tip of everyone’s
tongue), although it still holds the title of longest non-medical
word.

Aside from occasional word games, the word has long reposed
in our language’s attic. Even quiz shows eschewed its
momentary use.

But now, I suggest, in a new and expanded usage (minus the
"anti-"), it’s back.

In the conversations about the recent 2016 elections, I introduced
two terms. One was “mutiny of the masses” and the other was
“media coup d’etat.” The latter was technically not quite
accurate since the object of this word was only then a candidate
and did not yet hold elective office. Today, he does, and the
phenomenon continues today as a quite an accurate term.

It is the former term, “mutiny of the masses,” that is relevant to
the new meaning of “disestablishmentarianism.” In the
presidential election, I was referring to the masses of voters who
were rejecting the elites and establishments of both major
political parties by upsetting all prognostications, and supporting
Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump against
a variety of establishment candidates in both parties.

One of those two candidates actually not only won his party’s
nomination, but also won the presidency.

The “disestablishment” theme of his campaign has now become
the daily theme of his administration (as well as his political
manner).

The awareness of most political and social transformations
usually occurs in stages, and I think this is true of the one that
our nation and society is going through, but appears also to be
happening in various degrees in many Western nations.

Those who are elites in our society, or consider themselves part
of political, cultural, religious or business establishments, are under
daily assault. It is inevitable that there would be a widespread
“antidisestablishment” movement and sentiment. It is also very
understandable that these persons would focus on Donald Trump
as the perpetrator of the disestablishing phenomenon.

To the contrary, however, I think Mr. Trump is only the temporary
agent and face of this movement which I would contend is much
more widespread and profound than his personality or his political
rhetoric.

I think those who wish Mr. Trump would go away probably think
(or hope) that would end the disestablishment phenomenon. I
suggest it is much more powerful than one person, and that we are
in the midst of the periodic replacement of one set of elites and
establishments with another.

I used the term “mutiny” of the masses (instead of the well-known
term “revolt” of the masses originated by the Spanish philosopher
Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1928) because I think what is going on is
not the overthrow of the established order, but instead a change, if
you will, in its officers and boards of directors. Should it happen, of
course, it would be the disestablishment of the old order of things.

The establishment media response, I also think, is a classic case of
the delayed understanding of what’s going on today. They obsess
on his mannerisms and his tweets (which are clearly an assault on
established political conduct), and ignore the substance of the
changes he is putting into effect. They not only enable him, they
also prolong his support among the very voters who chose him in
2016 --- and whom he will need again in 2018 and 2020.

A corollary to this is what would happen if Mr. Trump and his
Republican colleagues fail to keep their political promises.

I contend that U.S. voters only perceive Donald Trump now as
their agent --- not as their savior. Should the new administration,
now controlled by Mr. Trump and his party, fail to lead the nation
past the years of stalemate and inaction, especially in the face of
the ominous challenges and threats we all face today, it should
come as no surprise how fast and clearly the voters will replace
them with others.

Human ambition and aspirations being what they are, there are
always those ready and willing to become the new elites and the
new establishmentarians.

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




Monday, June 26, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Understanding "Understanding Trump"

Occasionally, a book breaks all the rules of what makes a book
important, and it perhaps it should not surprise us when both
the subject and the author of the book break all the rules, too.

In order to tell my readers about this book, I have to break some
rules myself.

Let me explain. The book I am reviewing is by a good and old
friend.  If I managed a large website with many co-writers, the
simple solution would be to assign the book to someone else.
I can’t do that so I will try to be as transparent as I can be, and
let the reader decide how to evaluate what I say.

I have known Newt Gingrich for more than three decades. When I
first met him he was a backbencher in Congress and a thorn in the
side of the then-Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright.

Newt and his “Conservative  Opportunity Society” colleagues
formed a small band of constant critics of the then Democratic
majority with daily house floor speeches on camera, and
broadcast on C-SPAN. That camera, incidentally, was fixed and
did not reveal that Newt and his friends were, other than the chair,
often the only ones in the chamber. (It was a canny and pioneer
political use of early cable TV.)

From being political nuisances, Newt and his group rose in
prominence at the Capitol, culminating in his being elected
Republican minority whip in 1989, and then his becoming
speaker of the house following the upset Republican victory in
the “Contract With America” mid-term election of 1994 that
marked a new direction in U.S. politics.

I did not ever work for Newt, but we collaborated on projects and
co-wrote an article on presidential debates for Real Clear Politics.
We lived in different cities,  but thanks to the internet and frequent
travel, we have remained in touch for more than 30 years.

I have had political disagreements with him, and he with me,
but I have made no secret about my admiration for him as one
of the nation’s few original political minds (in either party),
and a rare political survivor. He demonstrated this again in
2011-12 by becoming a serious presidential candidate (even
briefly, the frontrunner) in that cycle, partly through his
formidable debate appearances and grasp of the issues.

He has often been controversial in both his public and private
life, but he has demonstrated the knack of being pertinent and
trenchant through all the recent U.S. political cycles. How many
other American political figures can this be said about?

He has written and co-written several books, including ones on
public policy, American history, and lately, two fictional spy
thrillers. I’ve read them all. Now he has written something quite
different. It’s title is self-explanatory --- Understanding Trump.
It’s based on Newt’s first-hand experience with the new president
before, during and after the 2016 presidential campaign turned
American politics upside down.

There have been, and will be, many books trying to explain
Donald Trump, but this one is so good, in my opinion, that I am
going to review it for my readers. As I said previously, readers
knowing my full disclosure, and my own decades of commentary
writing, can decide if my comments are accurate and useful, or not.

In Understanding Trump, Newt makes no secret that his
realization of who Donald Trump was, and why he succeeded
in 2016, took some time. Newt’s analysis is deferential, frequently
partisan, and in some ways, self-serving. It is also on occasion
critical of his subject, and almost always incisive.

One point I can personally testify to is that Newt figured out
Donald Trump’s success and skill well before most others. I was
a skeptic about the man who is now president during all of 2015
and in early 2016, but in several private conversations with Newt
in that period and later, he argued forcefully that Mr. Trump would
succeed and why he would win the election.

Underlying Understanding Trump is the premise that most of the
new president’s opponents, much of the media, and even many of
his supporters have little or no comprehension of the man, how he
thinks and acts, and of his extraordinary skills in the public arena.

I have no intention or desire here of trying to persuade those who
disagree with Donald Trump to change their minds about what he
is doing or stands for --- or even to like him. What I do want to
communicate is that this book gives all of us, supporters,
opponents or critics, and uncommitted observers, a useful and
original perspective of who Donald Trump really is, and his
historic role in American politics.

Understanding Trump is now reportedly the number one best seller
on the New York Times list (interestingly, replacing Al Franken’s
new book as number one).

For forty tumultuous years, Newt Gingrich has remained at the
cutting edge of American politics and public policy. Like his
subject in Understanding Trump, he remains controversial,
criticized, and underestimated, but now in his 70’s, he is still
amazingly at the center of it all.

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


                  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The End Of A Road

The clear defeat of Democrat Jon Ossoff by Republican
Karen Handel in the Georgia-6 special election run-off is
the end of a road traveled by many liberals and the
establishment media now in its embarrassing decline.

Touted in this media as a “referendum on Trump,” the
race was unnecessarily nationalized on the faulty premise
that GOP voters don’t like the president. In fact, at the
outset local Georgia Democrats recruited an attractive and
young (albeit inexperienced) candidate (Mr. Ossoff) who
initially and smartly avoided making Mr. Trump the issue.
He almost won the initial special election, and might
have done so if national Democrats had not poured in so
much money and out-of-state volunteers into the race ---
something which usually antagonizes local voters.

The GOP nominee, Karen Handel, had little pizzazz. Donald
Trump had barely carried the district in 2016 against Hillary
Clinton, and the mostly upscale, educated district was no
longer reliably Republican. As Michael Barone points out,
Georgia 6 is just the kind of place outside a large urban area
where liberals and Democrats are making some of their best
gains.

The run-off wasn’t a landslide, but it also wasn’t close. Most
polls until the very end had Mr. Ossoff winning by 2-7 points.
Mrs. Handel won by 4%, a clear margin under the
circumstances.

The antagonism between the Democratic leadership and
Mr. Trump is now so toxic, and has been since the 2016 election
when he upset their expectations, that whether or not Mr.
Ossoff wanted the tens of millions of dollars in outside
money, and all the national media attention, was not an option
for the Democrat’s campaign. If indeed some Republicans in the
district were now feeling ambivalent about the man they voted
for last November, that was swept aside by the in-your-face
challenge to conservative goals by sneering Hollywood liberals
and biased media coverage. In short, GOP voters were actually
provoked into rallying around the president through Mrs. Handel.

If any proof of this is required, one has only to look at the other
special congressional election on the same day in South Carolina.
Pitting ultraconservative Republican Ralph Norman, a Trump
supporter, against Democrat Archie Parnell, the national media
and liberal donors ignored the race on the assumption it wasn’t
winnable. Mr. Norman was so hardcore, and Mr. Parnell was such
a good campaigner, that the Democrat almost pulled off an upset.
The margin was actually notably less than in the Georgia 6 race.
Under the political radar, Mr. Parnell quietly courted the district’s
black voters, and they came out for  him.

As I have pointed out previously, the national Democratic
leadership has struck out again and again since the 2016
election day when Mr. Trump turned their world upside down.
Doomed recounts, ill-fated appeals to electors, bitter tactics in
Congress, and collusion with the establishment media trying to
delegitimatize the president and his administration has produced
a shutout so far --- in fact, Mr. Trump is going into the late
innings with a no-hitter (but not a perfect game).

At some point, the Democratic leadership have to realize they
have taken the wrong road, and now are lost in the political
wilderness. It’s not that the Republicans, especially in the
Congress, have had so very many successes. In fact, they do
not. But by obsessing on Mr. Trump’s tweeting foibles and his
mannerisms, his opposition is actually enabling him to go
forward with his government reform and reorganization
program. By chronically attacking him personally, the
establishment media only confirms Mr. Trump’s bona fides
to his supporters and helps him keep their loyalty. By
attempting to ridicule the new president, Democrats and the
media only make themselves appear petty and vindictive to
voters, especially to conservatives and independents.

Republicans actually have some big problems ahead, and
President Trump has some serious challenges facing him
and his administrative team. If his opposition had taken the
road of debating and criticizing those issues, the political
landscape might now be much more favorable to them than
it is at present.

Trump-hating Democrats and journalists apparently don’t
know it, but they are Donald Trump’s best political allies
just now.

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


Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Commentary 7

CONSERVATIVE PROTESTORS DISRUPT
CONTROVERSIAL NEW YORK PLAY

Until now, most (but not all) public political disruptions
have been perpetrated by individuals and groups on the
left against conservatives and their events. But a
conservative group, Rebel Media, has now turned the tables
and interrupted a performance of New York City’s
Shakespeare in the Park controversial production of Julius
Caesar.
  The play is done in modern dress, and the title
character, who is assassinated, looks like President
Trump. Even before the horrific shooting at a Republican
congressional baseball practice in Washington, DC, the
production was labeled by many as grossly inappropriate,
but after the DC attack, calls have been made to close the
play’s run. Several of the theater’s major corporate sponsors
have reportedly withdrawn their support. During the
interruption, one Rebel Media protestor rushed on to the
stage. She and another protestor in the audience yelled
“Goebbels would be proud!” and saying to the audience
“You’re All Nazis!” One protestor was arrested and later
released.

ELECTION RUN-OFF IN GEORGIA
NEXT TUESDAY

The congressional special election run-off in the suburban
Atlanta 6th district is only days away. Democrats, needing at
least one victory in their bitter competition with Republicans
since their broad-based election defeats in 2016, have poured
more than $20 million into the race, and overwhelmed the local
radio, TV, cable and print media to promote Jon Ossoff, a 30
year-old first-time candidate against veteran GOP nominee
Karen Handel. The special election is to fill the seat vacated by
Tom Price who accepted a position in the cabinet of President
Donald Trump. Polls have indicated that Mr. Ossoff had held a
5-7 point lead going into the final week, but latest polls now
rate the race a toss-up. It is now the most expensive
congressional race in U.S. history --- and one of the most
publicized.

NEW CENTRIST PARTY HEADS TOWARD
LANDSLIDE IN FRANCE

President Emmanuel Macron, just elected in a landslide over
nationalist opponent Marine Le Pen, now stands likely to win
a large majority of the seats in the French parliament, shocking
his opponents on the right and the left. M. Macron, a first-time
candidate, ran as the head of a new centrist party, Republique
En Marche
, that he had created only months before. The
traditional conservative and leftist parties which had
dominated French politics for more than half a century did not
even have a candidate in the presidential election run-off, and
now these and other parties of the left and right are poised to
have their representation in the French parliament similarly
demolished by more than 400 last-minute candidates from M.
Macron’s new party. Nothing like it has happened since the
reappearance of General Charles DeGaulle when he returned
to power in 1958 during the Algerian crisis, and formed the
Fifth French Republic. Nominally a socialist, from his role as
a minister in the cabinet of his predecessor Socialist President
Francois Hollande, M. Macron has now identified himself and
his new movement as a pro-European Union, pro-business
centrist party. France, although having enjoyed general
post-Algerian civil war prosperity until recently, now faces
crises in its domestic economy and immigration. President
Macron now also faces the imminent negotiations over Brexit
with the United Kingdom. The second and final round of the
legislative elections take place on Sunday, June 18.

[UPDATE: With near-final results now in, President Macron
and his new party have won a landslide in the parliamentary
elections. His party and its party ally have won at least 350
seats, many more than a majority . Coming in second with 
about 137 seats is the conservative Republican Party. The far
left and far right parties have less than 100 seats between them,
and the socialists in particular went from controlling the past
government to electoral obscurity virtually overnight. The 
center and center right, at least for the present, now dominate
French politics.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Why The Democrats Have To Win Georgia-6

Many, but not all, Democrats have simply not accepted the
facts of the results of the 2016 election. Even some
Republicans, in their contempt for President Trump, are
also in a state of political denial.

As I say again and again, this is a free county, and it’s the
right of anyone to criticize or oppose a political figure or a
political party and it’s policies. But it’s another level of
consciousness to pretend what did happen did not happen.

We have observed, beginning on the day after the election,
a series of public manifestations of these fantasies. First,
there were actual challenges to the voting in the form of
improbable recounts in key states. When this failed, there
were unprecedented efforts to persuade state electors legally
obligated to vote for Mr. Trump somehow to vote for Mrs.
Clinton. This predictably went nowhere. Finally, some
Democrats tried to prevent the actual electoral count in
Congress. Even then Vice President Biden scoffed at this.

Next came efforts to sabotage the new president’s naming
of cabinet officers, and then of his first supreme court
nominee. This backfired. The cabinet is now full and Justice
Gorsuch is seated on the court.

A widespread “resistance” campaign then was begun
nationwide, and when that didn’t work, efforts were made
to demean the new administration with so-far empty
charges of Russian campaign collusion.

The last, and final, part of this campaign is perhaps the only
one which has legitimacy --- special elections for U.S. house
seats vacated by incumbents who have accepted presidential
appointments. Since most of these special elections involve
traditionally GOP seats, Democrats understandably are
making huge efforts to win them as proof the Trump
administration is unpopular. So far these efforts, too have
failed.

Now we are down to the special election in Georgia-6. This
has been a Republican seat since Newt Gingrich won it more
than thirty years ago. But this suburban district is really a
swing district with many voters who fit a Democratic voter
profile. In fact, Hillary Clinton almost carried the district in
2016.

It has, not surprisingly, received historic attention from
liberals and Democrats who want to embarrass President
Trump and the Republicans. It has become the most
expensive congressional race in history --- with more than
$40 million already spent on it (most of it by Democrats) as
well as unprecedented TV/radio/print advertising and the
influx of hordes of out-of-state volunteer campaigners.

The Democrats recruited well --- a young, photogenic and
articulate young man named Jon Ossoff who had not run for
office previously, but had some public policy experience. In
the original run-off election recently, Mr. Ossoff fell just
short of the 50% vote require for election, and now he must
face Republican Karen Handel in a run-off election. Mrs.
Handel is an able, but not a glamorous candidate.

Recent polls showed Mr. Ossoff with a clear lead, but the
latest poll showed the contest a tie with 6% undecided. The
Democrat skipped a debate with Mrs. Handel. The ugly
attack on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice
in Washington by a Bernie Sanders supporter isn’t likely to
help, but Jon Ossoff still has to be the favorite in this race
considering the resources he and the national Democratic
Party have put into it, and the allegation by liberals and the
national anti-Trump media that the president is very
unpopular.

If Mr. Ossoff does not win, the opposition party and its
hard-line resisters will have come up with zero victories of
note to satisfy their obsessive denial of what actually did
happen on Tuesday, November 8 last year.

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Just Happened In The U.K.?

The results are in from the so-called “snap” parliamentary
election in the United Kingdom (UK), and it is, above all,
clear that Conservative (Tory) Prime Minister Theresa May’s
gamble to enlarge her majority has failed, especially in the
short term.

But longer term pronouncements about British politics, based
on first glance at these results, are likely to be premature if not
possibly wrong.

In sheer numbers, the Tories won 318 seats, Labour, led by
Jeremy Corbyn, won 262, and other parties won about 70 seats
between them. Technically, a majority is 326, but since the 7
Sinn Fein (Northern Ireland) elected members do not attend, 
a majority is in reality 322. Since the 10 Union Party members
elected from Northern Ireland traditionally support the Tory
party in Parliament, Mrs. May clearly has enough (albeit
barely) to form a government.

The UK’s minor parties, especially the Scottish independence
party and the right wing UKIP, suffered dramatic losses. In fact,
the Tories best results came in Scotland where they picked up
seats. (Labour also gained seats in the north, but fewer than
the Conservatives.) The Liberal Party, formerly a partner with
the Tories, gained a few seats, but their overall number is
much-diminished from a few years ago.

Although I pay attention to British politics, and have often
visited there since 1964 (most recently in 2010 just after their
election that year), I am not an expert on UK voting, and
recommend my readers to my friend Michael Barone’s current
astute analysis ("Breaking Down Theresa May's Disastrous 
Night") in the Washington Examiner. Michael spent several days
in the UK during the campaign, and brings his legendary
statistical and analytical mastery to the other side of the Pond.

Bearing his and other voting analyses in mind, I would like to
look at the longer term view, the one which takes into account
the consequences of these latest election results.

That view, as I see it, is not necessarily as dire either for the
Tory Party, Brexit or Great Britain as headlines, anti-Tory
media, and Labour Party partisans might have us believe in
the immediate aftermath.

One matter, however, is clear. Theresa May’s political career
is now on life support, and might well be over soon. She will
likely form a government now, and open the Brexit
negotiations shortly scheduled to begin, but her political
performance, and that of her team, was so flawed, that she
will have to do something remarkable soon if she is to survive
as the resident of 10 Downing Street. Technically, her party
could govern for the next five years, but her Tory colleagues
might well put someone else at the helm. There are indeed
several figures waiting in the wings, perhaps most prominently
Boris Johnson and David Davies.

The Tory majority is clearly very thin, and some future crisis
could easily provoke still another election.

I think the prospects of British politics depend most on how
much and how well the Tory leadership learned from this
latest election. The pro-Labour media is now extolling Labour
leader Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the election as their narrative.
I would say, however, it was Mr. Corbyn who cost Labour the
opportunity to capitalize on the weak Tory campaign, and
actually win the election. A Labour leader with Tony Blair’s
skill and appeal, I think, would have done much better than
the radical and feckless program Mr. Corbyn offered British
voters. His foreign policy views alone (although he did say
he now “softly” supports Brexit) are not what most British
voters hold. Mr. Corbyn apparently did do well with younger
voters. If the Tories ignore this, they will be making a serious
error.

One of Michael Barone’s smart insights is that protest parties
usually fade after the object of their protest is accomplished.
With the Brexit vote, the rationale and energy of UKIP, the
right wing party, evaporated in 2017. Their constituency
melted away. But those who would have expected their voters
to automatically go the Conservatives would have been wrong.
The 2017 votes indicate that in the educated urban centers,
UKIP voters went to Labour. Only in rural area did the Tories
inherit the UKIP protest vote.

If the Tory Party is to recover and enlarge its majority in the
next election (five years from now or sooner), it will have to do
a much better job of understanding what are the concerns of
the British voters in an age not only of terror attacks, but job
insecurity, global realignments and much social change.

Theresa May gets a D-minus for her effort in 2017, but her
party has probably got a reprieve. Mr. Thorpe, like his
American counterpart Bernie Sanders, is thinking in a
political dreamland, and is not likely to reverse course,
especially now.

This is the potential good news for the Tories despite the
bad news of the 2017 election.

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Busy Fortnight

In 1944 has there was a consequential first two weeks in June.
That D-Day fortnight 73 years ago was historic, tragically
violent and suspenseful, but when it was over, it marked the
final turning point that led to the end of a catastrophic world
war.

Global violence is still with us, as are global efforts to improve
human lives and conditions, but so are conflicting global
opinions about how to stop the former and to assist the latter.

The United States, under President Donald Trump, pulled out
of the so-called Paris Accords, declaring the voluntary
agreement responding to worldwide environmental issues was
“a bad deal” and not in our national interests. The Accords had
been partly fashioned through the efforts of former President
Barack Obama, signed by him, but not submitted to the U.S.
senate (as every treaty must be) for ratification.

Then, Islamic terrorists struck central London (the third recent
major attack in the United Kingdom) just  few days before the
British parliamentary elections.

The elections themselves are to take place on June 8 in the middle
of this fortnight. UK Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had been
expected to expand her majority in the House of Commons, but
recent polls suggest the race was tightening, at least until the
terrorist attacks.

President Trump has announced he intends to privatize the
air traffic controllers across the nation as part of his infrastructure
initiative. President Ronald Reagan also made changes with this
group by confronting their union, but did keep their federal status.

Meanwhile, North Korea has tested another missile, and a top
administration official has declared this a “clear and present
danger.” Japan and Hawaii are preparing for the worst.

In the Middle East, four Arab Gulf nations have broken off
diplomatic relations with the small (but oil-rich) Gulf nation of
Qatar. Neighbors Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein and United Arab
Emirates took the unprecedented action, contending that Qatar
was aiding terrorism. Although Qatar has lots of revenue, it
depends on its neighbors for food and other basic supplies.
Complicating the move is the presence of a large U.S. airbase in
the emirate

In Minnesota, its governor did what many governors have long
dreamed of doing, but never dared to try. With a stroke of his
pen, he in effect abolished both houses of the state legislature
(controlled by his opposition) for two years by vetoing their
entire budget. This occurred at the climactic finale of a bitter
legislative session. Legislators have contended his action is
unconstitutional, and the outcome will now be determined by
the state supreme court.

Congressional investigations into alleged wrongdoing by both
Democrats and Republicans are now just underway.

All this and more has happened in barely a third of the first
June fortnight of what might have been expected to be a quiet
interlude in the otherwise contemporary 24/7 era of incessant
“breaking news.”

Conceding this eventful period is not as consequential as the
two weeks which included the preparations, landing and
successful beachhead battles of D-Day, however, it has not been
by any analysis a tranquil hiatus.

And half the fortnight remains to happen.

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




Friday, June 2, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The President Keeps A Promise

President Trump, after promising throughout his 2016
campaign that he would withdraw the U.S. from the so-called
Paris Accords, did just that.

Elections matter.

What are the Paris Accords? They are a non-enforceable and
essentially symbolic pact in which nations self-determine
their own level of environmental emissions. It is a “feel-good”
agreement in which primarily smaller nations declare their
commitment to protecting the global environment at little or
no cost to themselves while larger industrial nations are
expected to diminish their industrial capacity (and thus lose
many jobs and lower living standards for their own citizens)
in order to fulfill emissions standards which are temporarily
popular and fashionable in the scientific community, but which
remain controversial.

The Paris Accords, under the guise of being a non-partisan
environmental agreement, are, in reality, very political.

In the international media and the establishment U.S. media,
the Paris Accords pit those who want to “protect” the
environment and the planet against those who do not. This
was always a false division because a person can agree with
climate environmentalists and still oppose joining the Paris
Accords.

There are those in the world who are indifferent to
environment concerns. These are persons and institutions who
opposed removing lead from gasoline, controlling tobacco
smoking, protecting workers in the workplace, and promoting
clean air and water. Most Americans do not agree with this
indifference to environmental concerns.

But to equate those who oppose the so-called Paris Accords
with these “anti-environmentalists” is not only ludicrous, but
factually wrong. The claim that scientists are almost
unanimously agreed about climate science today is also wrong.
(The first error is the assumption that all scientists are experts
in climatology. That error is the equivalent of saying that a
medical researcher is also competent to pass expert judgment
on latest theories in sub-atomic particles or astrophysics.)

Is there climate change taking place? Of course there is.
Climate change is as old as the planet. It is always occurring,
and global warming and cooling are constant features of the
ecology  of the earth. Does human activity affect the
environment? Of course it does. There were measurable and
non-controversial results of removing lead from gasoline,
restricting public tobacco smoking, protecting workers from
toxic exposure in factories, and reducing industrial air pollution.

The last I observed, the United States is among those nations
which has made the most improvements in protecting its
environment. Although “smog” still exists in Los Angeles,
air pollution is much more prevalent, for example, in the cities
of China  and Brazil.

The real question in this matter is whether or not dismantling
long-term industrial capacity of the developed nations will
vitally and critically “save” the world from environmental
climate change conditions. That is a legitimate question. There
are reasonable arguments on both sides.

But it is not the question at stake in the issue of the Paris
Accords. I repeat, those “Accords” are a voluntary, self-defining
and symbolic agreement based on controversial assumptions,
and which would provoke very negative and immediate impact
on millions of workers in the developed industrial world.

That does not say that further research and accurate data cannot
lead to global agreements on the environment that most can
support --- and all would benefit from.

President Trump has stated that his administration is willing to
renegotiate this and other global environmental agreements. The
initial reaction from primarily European leaders is that they will
NOT negotiate.  Who then is the real obstacle to international
cooperation in this matter?

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Today's Contrarian Imperative

When Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the 2016
presidential election, the most common complaint against
him that I heard (including from Republicans) was that he
would be a disaster in foreign policy. These complainers
would then add that they were much less worried about his
domestic policy because the Congress, led by House Speaker
Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
would hold him in check.

As it has turned out so far, the opposite has happened.
It seems, in fact, that today there is a contrarian imperative
in U.S. politics.

In foreign policy, President Trump has performed quite well,
certainly far better than expected. His recent and first foreign
trip was a substantial success if you hold the view that the
passive and feckless Obama foreign policy had weakened the
nation and its allies. Mr. Trump has put the U.S. back to the
front and center of global affairs, and especially in trouble
spots in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

On the other hand, the new administration’s domestic policy
has so far been much less of a success --- but primarily
because Republicans in the U.S. house and senate are divided
and hesitant on promised reforms. Speaker Ryan was only
belatedly able to deliver a positive vote on Obamacare repeal
and replacement, and continues to have difficulty in assembling
his caucus for necessary votes on tax policy and spending
legislation. Majority Leader McConnell skillfully navigated
the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. supreme court,
and is methodically doing the same for secondary cabinet
positions. But now he faces a challenge to pass an Obamacare
repeal and replacement in the senate, and his slim majority so
far does not seem poised to agree on other major legislation.

Tweeting outbursts, and other distractions by President Trump,
have not helped. It is true that certain establishment media
attacks, and predictable Democratic Party opposition, have
not made matters easier for the Republicans, but that is not
a legitimate excuse. Those factors are a given today in U.S,
politics --- in fact, media and partisan criticism are always
a proper factor (although this does not justify egregious
news media bias.)

The bottom line is that Republicans were elected to control
the executive and legislative branches in Washington, DC on
promises to reform, transform and stabilize the federal
government and its bureaucracy. If they fail to deliver on
these promises, as I have repeatedly stated on this site, the
voters will employ their constitutional right and vote them out
of control in 2018 and 2020.

The majority of Republican legislators seem inclined to
fulfill conservative promises, but small factions within their
house and senate caucuses seem determined to thwart the
majorities. This then is the challenge to congressional
leadership --- and to the White House.

The Republicans in Congress are not the only ones divided.
The Democrats' Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren-Maxine
Waters wing wants to take the liberal party to places the
Clinton-Joe Biden wing does not seem to want to go. Mrs.
Clinton’s defeat has given the former much momentum, but
being now in the minority and out of power, most liberals
have common cause in opposing and defeating Donald Trump.
A large number of U.S. voters still agree with the liberals, and
remain skeptical about Mr. Trump and his conservative allies.

Foreign policy is always played out in a problematic and
unpredictable environment. As recently as January 20, there
was a reasonable question about how well the new president
would perform on the global stage. After George W. Bush, the
nation’s voters wanted respite from constant U.S. interventions.
After Barack Obama, the nation’s voters wanted the U.S. to
play a more central, albeit non-interventionist, role in the world
to protect our vital interests. Donald Trump has now signaled he
can lead this --- despite so many previous doubts about him.

(Nonetheless, global uncertainty is ahead.)

What Mr. Trump and his congressional colleagues have not yet
demonstrated is their ability to deal with the many domestic
problems the nation faces.

Voters care most about domestic issues. The state of business
and the economy, employment, healthcare insurance, education
issues, national security and tax policy --- these are what will
move voters most next year and in 2020.

The political clock is ticking.

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Corollary On Political Motion

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that “for every action
there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
His three laws of motion,
published in 1687, formed the basis of classic mechanics, and are
still useful today --- although they have been superseded by
principles of special relativity. Physics studies were not my
favorite subject in school, but I long ago learned that it pays to
honor the forces of nature.

What does this have to do with American politics?

Apparently more than we perhaps realize.

In recent years, a number of traditional political practices,
protocols and courtesies have been abandoned, especially in
Washington, DC, by both major parties and by many institutions.

These include abandoning the filibuster rule in the U.S. senate,
changing long-respected procedures in both houses of the
Congress; overtly trying to persuade presidential electors to
change their vote; not honoring a president’s established right to
nominate supreme court justices, lower, federal court judges and
cabinet officers; eschewing excessive leaks from government
officials; limiting the use of confidential media sources; confusing
the national “front-page”news with the free speech prerogative of
the “editorial page;” and the general debasement of the language
of debate and discussion.

I want to make it quite clear that I think that individuals of both
major political parties have done these acts. Nor am I, by any
means, the first to call attention to these phenomena.

At this particular moment, the “transgressors” mostly appearto
be Democrats because Republicans are in power. But when roles
were reversed, and the liberals were in power, conservatives
were often doing much of the same.

One case in point:  In 1965,  President Lyndon Johnson nominated
Abe Fortas to the supreme court after he had persuaded Associate
Justice Arthur Goldberg to resign from the court to be  U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Fortas, a long-time friend
and counsel to Mr. Johnson, was then confirmed by the senate.
Three years later, after Chief Justice Earl Warren’s retirement
and just before the end of his presidential term, President
Johnson nominated Fortas to be chief justice. Conservative
senators then blocked the nomination, and the following year,
new President Richard Nixon chose a conservative Republican to
be chief justice. Fortas was forced to later resign from the court
following  a personal controversy which had no part in his failure
to be confirmed as chief justice. When President Nixon then
attempted to replace Fortas, his first two nominees were
blocked by the Democrats. In 1987, chairman of the senate
judiciary committee Senator Joe Biden, then also a candidate for
president in 1988, led a successful effort to block Robert Bork’s
nomination to the supreme court by President Reagan on purely
ideological grounds (Judge Bork was then one of the nation’s
most distinguished conservative legal minds). In 2015, President
Obama nominated highly-qualified (but liberal) Judge Merrick
Garland to the supreme court to replace the late Anthony Scalia.
The Republican-controlled senate then refused to hold hearings on
the nomination which then died on the election of a new president.
When President Donald Trump chose Judge Neil Gorsuch, a
respected conservative, to fill the vacancy, senate Democrats
threatened to deploy the filibuster rule to block Mr. Gorusch’s
confirmation. This obstacle was overcome when the senate
abolished the use of the filibuster to block a supreme court choice
by the president, and Mr. Gorsuch was finally confirmed by a
majority vote.

A few years before, when the Democrat’s controlled the senate,
and Republicans were holding up President Obama’s lower
court judicial confirmations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
decided to abolish the filibuster rule for all but supreme court
nominations, and he further shut down virtually all opposition
debate on legislation --- both major departures from U.S. senate
tradition. Using an arcane senate rule to eliminate the filibuster
when his liberal party was in control, however, enabled the
conservatives to eliminate it a few years later to their advantage.

This illustrates my political corollary to Newton’s Third Law of
Motion --- which is:

“For every major new partisan political action, there will likely 
be an unequal and opposite reaction.”

In 1998, Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton, but failed
to convict him in the senate. Although Mr. Clinton had lied under
oath about a mostly private matter, the senate (and public opinion)
did not feel the matter was sufficient for removal from office.
Today, many Democrats and their followers in the media openly
discuss impeaching President Trump without even any evidence
of wrongdoing, but only unsubstantiated charges. Nevertheless,
impeachment is seriously treated in the anti-Trump national
media as if it were possible under what is now known.

The new chairman of the Democratic Party employs frequent
obscenities against his party’s opponents, and a Republican
nominee for Congress physically attacked a journalist questioning
him. On campuses across the nation, well-known speakers are
prevented from appearing by radical students and faculty under
the rubric of “political correctness.”

I suggest that these careless departures from comity, courtesy
and cooperation (perpetrated by some on the left and the right,
and in the media) will not go unanswered. But the reactions, as
intimated by my corollary above, do not necessarily lead us back
to where public discourse and behavior might best serve the
public interest.

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