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.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Political Houdini?

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary) was
the world’s most famous escape artist. Whether it was
handcuffs, strait jackets, locked chains,water tortures, being
buried alive or numerous other sensational predicaments,
Houdini always escaped -- to the amazement and delight of
his skeptical audiences around the world.

Houdini was also an illusionist, magician, actor, historian,
plane pilot, film producer, a debunker of spiritualism, and
one of history’s great self-promoters. Houdini passed away 
in 1926, but his reputation for amazing escapes remains
strong after almost 100 years.

Donald Trump is probably the most unlikely person ever
elected president of the United States, and remains an
extraordinarily controversial political figure. Since his
announcement that he would run for president in 2015, he
has continually been underestimated as an electoral figure.
Each time his opponents, critics and the establishment media
have pronounced his political demise, he has come back
stronger than before.

The latest example occurred just before his departure for his
first foreign trip as president. Democrats and the media put
themselves into a frenzy over still unsubstantiated charges of
Trump campaign collusion with Russia, and  many were openly
discussing impeachment. Mr. Trump’s poll numbers went
down. Government “leaks” seemed ubiquitous.

Then, as he has done so many times previously in the past year,
his successful performance in the Middle East and Europe (so
far) has quelled (for the time being) the anti-Trump clamor.
His poll numbers have risen notably, and media attacks have
been muted. A Harvard University study (hardly a source of
pro-Trump applause) just confirmed the overwhelming bias
against the president in the establishment media.

President Trump now will return to the domestic political
battlefield. Democrats are pouring cash and other resources
into upcoming special congressional elections for seats now
held by Republicans. DC pundits are speculating that more GOP
U.S. house incumbents seats are now vulnerable in 2018.
Congressional investigations continue. Major, but controversial
legislative goals remain unrealized.

There is, of course, no  guarantee that Mr. Trump will always be
successful in escaping the “handcuffs and chains” that the
derisive public relations war against him is attempting to
impose on him.

Harry Houdini always escaped (although he had some very close
calls), and amazed the world for decades.

Will Donald Trump continue to defy the incessant and
clamorous predictions of his political defeat?

Only the voters, perhaps, can answer this question, but it’s
quite a show.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Challenger In Minnesota Has Unique Geneology

Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) is once again being targeted
by Democrats for his suburban Minneapolis 3rd district seat.

In 2016, the liberal party (called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party or DFL) put up a well-known moderate in its effort to
unseat the popular five-term legislator in this upscale swing
district which voted strongly for Hillary Clinton in the
presidential election. Nevertheless, Mr. Paulsen won by 14 points
while Mrs. Clinton carried the district by 10 points.

For the next election in 2018, DFL businessman Dean Phillips has
announced he will oppose the congressman. Mr. Phillips is the heir
to a third-generation Minnesota liquor fortune, and he himself has
created and sold a gelato business. Although he has no electoral
experience as a candidate, he does have the unique distinction of
having perhaps the nation’s two most famous newspaper advice
columnists, Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) and “Ann Landers”
as his forebears.  Abigail and Landers were actually twin sisters,
Pauline and Esther Friedman, who became rivals in the newspaper
advice business. Pauline was Phillips’ grandmother, and Esther was
his great-aunt.

The “Dear Abby” column is now being written by her daughter
Jeanne Phillips, Dean’s aunt.

But DNA alone will not get Mr. Phillips past Congressman Paulsen,
a member of the powerful house ways and mean committee, and
the dean of the Minnesota delegation in Congress. Nor, does it
seem that President Trump’s fortunes next year will very likely
affect this contest. Mr. Paulsen did not endorse Mr. Trump in
2016, and has maintained a reputation for being an independent
conservative.

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

NOTE TO FIRST-TIME VISITORS:

THE ARTICLE YOU LINKED TO
APPEARS BELOW.

IF YOU HAVE LINKED TO 
THE PRAIRIE EDITOR WEBSITE
FOR THE FIRST TIME, WELCOME!

IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU READ, 
AND WANT TO READ THE PRAIRIE EDITOR REGULARLY, PLEASE READ ON.

THIS IS A SUBSCRIPTION WEBSITE, 
AND YOU ARE INVITED TO CONSIDER 
SUBSCRIBING.

A SUBSCRIPTION INCLUDES ALERTS AND
REMINDERS WHEN NEW ARTICLES ARE 
POSTED, SPECIAL SUBSCRIBER-ONLY 
BULLETINS AND OP EDS SENT DIRECTLY 
TO YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS,
AND OTHER FEATURES.

TO SUBSCRIBE, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN, AND 
ON THE RIGHT, CLICK ON THE "SUBSCRIBE" BUTTON. YOU CAN THEN USE YOUR CREDIT CARD TO PAY THE ANNUAL FEE ON PAYPAL.

THANK YOU!

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Siege Of Words

There is a venerable child’s saying that goes:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”


Today, five months into the new administration of President
Donald Trump, his opponents, especially those in the media,
have laid an ongoing siege to the chief executive who shattered
their predictions and preferences last November by defeating
Hillary Clinton in the biggest upset since Harry Truman won
over Thomas Dewey in 1948.

This siege, unlike those of medieval times, is not being enforced
by “stick and stones” --- or even arrows and mortars --- as were
those fabled, and often successful, military sieges of the past.

Instead, the strategy of those who wish to take down the new
chief executive is mere words, many of them simply not true.

As a serious poet, short story writer, essayist, as well as
political journalist, I have an inherent interest in the power and
utility of language. When I say “mere words,” I am not
deprecating language, literature or journalism. I am, however,
indicting the use of words which have no substance in them or
behind them.

Many Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. Many simply
do not like him or his politics. That’s o.k. It’s a free country, and
the way our system works.

We also have many institutions to balance off the actions of a
president, including two houses of Congress, lower federal
courts and the supreme court, the media, and the ballot box.

It so happens that Mr. Trump won the presidential election at
the ballot box (not a plurality of the popular vote, but in the
constitutionally-mandated electoral college). His political party
also won control of both houses of Congress. Many in the lower
federal judiciary were appointed by Democrats; the supreme
court is divided almost in half. Most of the so-called
establishment print and broadcast media is liberal, but there
is also now a significant conservative media, especially among
radio talks shows, a few major newspapers and magazines,
and among opinion journalists.

Public polling shows Mr. Trump consistently under 50%
favorable, but usually in the mid-40s. (Although former
President Obama had higher poll numbers initially, he was
under 50% for most of his two terms.)

There is a duty of an opposition party to oppose. It is not only
understandable, but necessary, for Democrats to oppose any
policies of Mr Trump and his administration with which they
disagree. That’s the way our system works best. It is the
responsibility of the federal judiciary to block any executive
branch actions which are unconstitutional --- with the U.S.
supreme court as the final arbiter. It is the responsibility of all
in the media to treat the actions of both political parties with
honest and healthy skepticism, especially those opinion
journalists who express a point of view of any kind.

But, as I have been pointing out for months now, the public
expects its “news” organizations to present a fair and honest
account of the news. As I have said again and again: “The
front page is not the editorial page.”

Let me very specific.

An ongoing narrative in the establishment (read: anti-Trump)
media is that there is a political, and even legal, “scandal”
regarding President Trump and his relationship with the
government of Russia. This narrative is continued on the news
pages and new programs in a series of news “facts” --- many of
them from unnamed sources. The latest example of this is the
story originating in The Washington Post that the president
personally gave classified secrets to Russia. Although this
allegation has been strongly refuted by top officials in the
government, including those “in the room with the president”
when the alleged act took place, it is being reported as news
“fact” by the establishment media. One of these top officials
is General H.R. McMasters, a national security advisor to the
president, who has an impeccable reputation for honesty. The
Post will not name its sources. Its news pages (and editorial
pages) are constantly filled with anti-Trump stories.

Is it possible that the allegations are true? Of course it is
possible, and the allegations may fairly be made by opinion
journalists and named sources in an editorial context. But
so far it is not “news” --- and considering the source, the
allegations are “fake news,” something which has been
proliferating since (and before) last January 20th.

Incidentally, as president of the United States, Mr. Trump
has the legal right to release any classified information he
wishes to whomever he wishes. Even if the allegations were
true, the media does not reveal that any wrongdoing has taken
place. Some reports now state that Mr. Trump might have
shared information about an ISIS terrorism plot originating
from a non-U.S. source. If so, that would be the president's
judgment call.

We are seeing tactics, as some have pointed out, used by
Senator Joe McCarthy decades ago, and now used by
Democrats, liberals, and some Republicans --- the very
persons who used to complain about McCarthyism.)

Beyond that, the whole Trump-Russian narrative has no
“facts” at all. Yes, campaign officials met with Russian
officials (as did Clinton campaign officials and Democratic
congressional leaders), but what are the facts of what
happened in those meetings? (In one case, that of General
Flynn, he failed to tell the president and the vice president
of his meetings --- and he was promptly fired.)

There are many policies of the new administration which
are genuinely controversial. The new president has made
some mistakes, as every president in both parties does.
There is plenty for the opposition to bring up, and for the
media, to examine skeptically. That does not, however,
justify a weak opposition’s reliance on “fake news,” innuendo
and spitefulness in their public responsibilities.

Fort White House and Fort Mar Al Lago are under prolonged
sieges, but they are so far only sieges of words. They will no
doubt continue until next year’s mid-term elections. Who will
pay the greater price for this verbal warfare?

The answer will come when the voter cavalry arrives in 2018,
and whom they rescue.

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




Friday, May 12, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Saudade" --- Should We Adopt It?

Here’s a foreign word most Americans would likely not ever
come across: saudade (sou-DAH-dthay).

It’s a word in the Portuguese language, and is often used not
only in its home country, but also in a land where Portuguese
is spoken the most --- Brazil.

In fact, it might surprise most Americans who speak English
as their native tongue to learn that about 270 million persons,
210 million in Brazil alone. speak this ancient romance language
derived, as most European languages were, from Latin. (The
Roman province where Portugal is located was called Lusitania.)
Portugal, with a population of about 11 million, isn’t even the
second largest nation speaking Portuguese. Two former
colonies, Angola and Mozambique, each with about 26 million
persons, have it as their official language. Portuguese is the
sixth most spoken language in the world.

So much for mere numbers.

Every language has at least a few words which are mostly
untranslatable. Saudade is one of those words in Portuguese.
Of course, there are a number of English words which hint at
its meaning, particularly “melancholy,” “nostalgia,” and
“longing for the past.” But those words don’t quite capture a
certain mood in the Portuguese/Brazilian character for the same
reason why popular American music, and the popular music of
any other ancient national peoples, have so many differences.

It is perhaps especially hard to translate saudade into English
which is so rich in vocabulary and diction, but not in emotion.

Nevertheless, in recent decades there has arisen considerable
popular American interest in the bossa nova and the samba,
those distinctive forms in Lusitanian-Brazilian music and
dance.

It should come as no surprise, that there is often much saudade
in the music of the bossa nova and the samba.

In fact, the rise of modern jazz and blues in American music
might be thought to bring new elements of emotion to our
popular music.

But why am I making so much about this one word?

Occasionally, a word usually limited to one country or one
culture, and not found anywhere else, captures a more universal
meaning and use because global circumstances have a use for it.

As an American whose family emigrated from northern Europe,
and a writer immersed in his own language, the emotional
nuances of more southern or even Mediterranean cultures are an
acquired taste. I do speak Spanish as a second language, but not
Portuguese --- and although derived from the same source, and
simultaneously, on the same ancient Iberian peninsula, Spanish
and Portuguese carry many different senses of feeling and
emotion.

As I’ve grown older, and particularly as I have passed through
probably the most dynamic period of global technological change,
I have found myself often thinking back not only about experiences,
and “things” and “places” which existed in the past, but no longer.
I find then there occurs feelings which are not merely “nostalgia,”
but something more. These are not just memories, as are often
called back to mind, but they produce also an intense emotion, a
powerful sadness ---as one might feel when something is
irretrievably lost.

If the reader is about fifty years old or younger, this might well
not be a something they share or recognize. Even younger folks
who are used to ever-changing devices, dynamic images, and
new and faster forms of transportation, the non-rhetorical and
emotive sense of saudade might seem like gibberish, or (OMG)
too poetic, or worse, an alien notion.

I think, however, that my older readers --- even those from
Nordic, Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic origins --- perhaps might have
on occasion a sense of saudade, and the extra-rational feelings it
invokes.

In another age, saudade might have easily been limited, as it
indeed was, to those who spoke a particular language and shared
some particular national experiences. Even in recent times,
memories of childhood and its objects, old films, old songs,
youthful adventures, persons known long ago and places visited
when young, have provoked conventional nostalgic feelings,
including their accompanying emotions, but I suggest that the
incredible velocities of change in almost every aspect of our lives
is now also producing a special emotion of loss as we recede from
the past so abruptly and so quickly.

In English there is no good word for this. Perhaps our
Portuguese-speaking neighbors have the right word for it.

Saudade.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Alternative Outcomes For 2018

We are now both close enough to, and far enough from, to
suggest three alternative outcomes to the 2018 national
mid-term elections.

The first is primarily a “paper” what-meets-the-eye outcome
that favors mostly the Republicans, but offers also some good
news for Democrats, especially at the state level.

In this scenario, the size of the GOP U.S. house majority is
likely to be diminished, but not by too much; the size of the
small GOP U.S. senate majority is likely to be moderately
expanded. On the other hand, in this “paper” model, the
Democrats would be likely to gain notably in governorships
and state legislatures now mostly led by Republicans. This
model assumes little impact from any Trump administration
success or lack of it, and neither a booming nor a sharply
declining economy.

The second possible outcome would be likely if the record of
President Trump and the Congress that his party now controls
is judged to be failing or unable to keep its campaign promises.
This could lead to sizable liberal gains in the U.S. house and
minimum GOP gains, if any, in the U.S. senate. Even should Mr.
Trump and his colleagues have some successes, if the U.S.
economy goes into another recession, the electoral prospects
for the conservatives would be likely more typical of mid-term
elections in which the party-in-power suffers net losses.

A third possible outcome is one not being much discussed
in the media, especially in the media hostile to Mr. Trump and
his party. In this scenario, the new administration breaks the
usual historical pattern of the first two years of a first term,
and succeeds in both transforming domestic public policy
while reestablishing U.S. military and political prestige in
foreign policy. At the outset of Mr. Trump’s term, this scenario
seemed “impossible” to Democrats, and even unlikely to many
Republicans, but as the new president “learns the ropes” of
Washington, and increasingly asserts himself on the world
stage, this outcome actually must be considered as a possibility.
But even should this transpire, the conservative party would also
need a continued upward motion in the economy, something
over which they more limited control. A program of tax cuts and
tax reform, however, would have notable impact, and this is
something the administration can do --- if it can successfully
negotiate the differences now existing in its own party.

These three general outcomes remain speculative at about 18
months from election day, 2018. On the other hand, this key
electoral moment is quickly approaching. In the contemporary
political environment, announcement of candidacies (previously
made at the end of the year before election day), now in most
cases must be made before the summer of the year before the
election --- well before many economic and issue trends are
apparent, and in this case, before it is clear whether or not the
new president and his administration is a success, a failure, or
something in between.

With so many international “hot spots” and crises, so many
domestic political forces pulling each major political party
apart, and now the clear sense of a global socio-economic
transformation taking place, there can be little doubt that what
lies ahead in U.S. politics will be robust excitement, surprises
and unexpected change.

Stay tuned in. Don’t change the dial.

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




Sunday, May 7, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No Surprise

The presidential election in France provided no surprise when centrist candidate
Emmanuel Macron won a landslide victory over nationalist Marine Le Pen.

The biggest news from this election is that the trend of the demise of established
political parties in Western democratic nations continues. Neither of the two
traditional French parties had a candidate in the run-off election. M. Macron has
formed a new centrist party in France, and Mme. LePen has now promised to
form a new party, leaving behind the controversial party her father founded years
ago.The French parliamentary elections which will come soon will test the
existence of the four now-major parties, and possibly a fifth one if Mme Le Pen
succeeds in creating her new party in time.

Political party mitosis has now occurred, or is occurring, in most of the major
North American and European countries, including U.S., Canada, Spain,
United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere.

President-elect Macron, 39, will take office next Sunday, and represents a belated
Gallic version of the model of left-to-center political figures that came to power
in the 1990s in the U.S. and U.K., Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. While both Mr.
Clinton and Mr. Blair were quite successful with their pro-entrepreneurial,
"third-way" liberal politics, their successors have moved decidedly to the left ---
and to political defeat.

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The House Does Its Job

The U.S. house of representatives, under its speaker, Paul Ryan,
finally passed the repeal of Obamacare, and replaced it with a
new plan for healthcare insurance. The vote was 217-213, two
votes more than necessary to pass the legislation.

An earlier version failed to gain enough support among the
members of the Republican majority, and was not even
brought to a vote. The reaction to this failure was considerable,
including censure from GOP President Trump who had
promised the repeal in the 2016 campaign.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare as it was known, 
was pushed through Congress in 2010 when the Democrats
held the majority in both the U.S. house and senate. The plan
incurred early and consistent criticism, and was a major
reason for Democratic election defeats in the mid-term votes
of 2010 and 2014.  After it went into full effect, it fiscal viability
quickly came into question, as costs rose and major insurance
companies abandoned the plan.

The revised GOP plan is considered by its advocates as a notable
improvement over the earlier conservative version, although
20 Republicans voted ‘no” on the final measure. All Democrats
voted “no.”

The legislation now goes to the U.S. senate where Republicans
have only a 52-48 majority. Some moderate GOP senators are
known to be unhappy with the legislation, and conventional
wisdom is that it will not pass there.

Even if the plan does pass the U.S. senate, any changes that
body makes must then go to conference (and, possibly,
reconciliation) and passage before it is sent to the president’s
desk for signing.

But immense pressure will now be on Republican senators to
okay the new legislation in advance of the 2018 mid-term
elections when conservatives have a rare opportunity to make
significant gains. Next year, only two GOP incumbent senate
seats are considered vulnerable, while 8-10 Democratic
incumbent seats are thought to be at risk. Should the GOP
senate majority fail to pass an Obamacare repeal bill, that
electoral opportunity could well be lost as national Democrats
would likely campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress
controlled by their opposition. GOP senate failure might also
harm efforts by the Trump administration to gain enough
votes for its next priority, tax reform.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who skillfully
guided the supreme court nomination of Neil Gorsuch to
confirmation, now has perhaps an even greater challenge
with the healthcare legislation just sent to the U.S. senate.

Speaker Paul Ryan, whose star had dimmed significantly after
the first effort to repeal Obamacare failed, has regained much
momentum, and President Donald Trump has achieved a
major short-term victory. Mr. Trump has also had a hard
lesson in the Washington, DC legislative process, and it will
be instructive to observe what he has learned in the months
ahead as he tries to play a key part in transforming his
Republican majority into a cohesive and cooperating
legislative body.

A true victory in healthcare insurance reform only takes place
when final legislation lands on the president’s desk and he
signs it.

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Resistance" Is Not A Strategy For Progress

As readers know, I have been writing a great deal recently
about international and national politics. I think it’s time to
discuss what’s going on in local politics at the city and
suburban level.

2017 is not a year for national or most statewide political
contests. There are two gubernatorial races and scattered
special congressional elections, but by far the political action
is in mayoral and city council races.

Forty-five years ago, I got into journalism by editing and
publishing two community newspapers, one of them in an
inner city for about 14 years. Although I now write almost
exclusively about national and global politics, I cut my
journalistic teeth on the rough-and-tumble politics in the
city of Minneapolis .

Actually by comparison, “rough-and-tumble” is a gross
overstatement of local political activity in the 1970s and
1980s when compared to what goes on in the nightmarish
urban political arenas in 2017.

When I first arrived in Minneapolis from the East Coast, 12
of the 13 city council members (then called aldermen) were
Republicans. It has been decades now since a member of that
party has been elected in the city. Democrats (here called the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) and Green Party
members make up the entire city council, and of course, the
mayor is a DFLer. The twin cities of Minneapolis and St.
Paul and their metropolitan areas make up about half the
state’s population and voters, and usually supply the DFL
with considerable net margins on election day. In 2016,
however, Donald Trump almost upset Hillary Clinton statewide,
and Minnesota is now a ”purple” state.

For an independent centrist, as I am, there is not much choice
these days in city elections. For more conservative voters and
Republicans there is even less choice since virtually all
candidates for city offices espouse far left and “politically
correct” views they do not share.

But I try to vote in every election, local state and national; and
this year --- with Republicans at the national and most state
levels the majority party --- I am taking a special interest in the
city elections of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

There are about six major candidates for mayor of Minneapolis,
the state’s largest city, although my guess is that only four of them
have a real chance to win. Complicating any assessment of all the
races in the two cities is the controversial electoral innovation of
“ranked-choice voting” (RCV), This process replaces the party
primary, Everyone who qualifies is on the November ballot, and the
voter can specify their first, second and third choices for each office.
If a candidate receives 50% plus one votes, RCV does not come into
play, but if the top candidate only receives a plurality, the system is
activated, and a formula for calculating the 2nd and 3rd choices is
applied until one candidate receives more than 50%. Although this
system has previously been in effect in the Twin Cities, so far the
highest vote-getter has won.

This year, however, RCV may alter some outcomes in Minneapolis
and St. Paul.

I have attended mayoral forums, meet-and greets, and campaign
events in Minneapolis. Realizing that all the candidates would be
DFLers or Green Party, liberal-to-far-left, I was curious to see if
any of the candidates had the imagination to try to appeal to more
moderate or conservative voters (who make up about 25-30% of the
total city-wide). Initial forays were disappointing, but at a recent
event for one major mayoral candidate, Tom Hoch, I was surprised
and impressed when he opened his remarks with the statement,
“ ‘Resistance’ is not a strategy for progress.” Mr. Hoch has not ever
won elected office before, but he has decades of work in a variety of
civic organizations and programs, and is perhaps the best qualified
candidate, based on experience, to be mayor of Minneapolis. He
also has impeccable liberal credentials. It was refreshing to hear
someone not pander to minimum wage and other ‘entitlement”
proposals, and to suggest that urban leadership is a complex matter
that isn’t merely about rhetoric and slogans. Two of the other
candidates have given hints of this --- perhaps Mr, Hoch’s boldness
will enable them now to follow suit. The fourth candidate, by the way,
is the incumbent mayor (who a national publication recently rated as
one of “America’s worst mayors”). Still in her first term, the fact that
several major candidates in her own party are challenging her would
seem to reinforce that claim. In any event, with six candidates dividing
the DFL vote, it might not be a bad strategy for at least one of them to
make some appeal to a bloc of 25-30% non-DFL voters (and to the
much-ignored urban small businessperson).

Mr. Hoch’s statement goes beyond just strategy, I think. It represents
something more than the hysterical response to the election of Donald
Trump by those who did not vote for him last November. The so-called
“Resistance” movement has perhaps been more counter-productive
than some Democrats thought it would be, It has no doubt rallied some
on the left, but more critically, it has likely gained little support from
centrist and independent voters, many of whom did not vote for Mr.
Trump.  It certainly has not chipped away Mr. Trump’s base --- which
recent polls show remain staunchly loyal to him. Mr. Hoch’s statement
further reveals what many years of civic experience has taught him ---
that mere melodramatic protest is not a real plan for accomplishing the
progressive goals that most city dwellers share.

I have not yet decided who I will vote for this year, but I am watching
the races more closely than usual. I am looking for signs that a
effective Democratic and liberal opposition is emerging from their
trauma of last November, and that workable and thoughtful solutions
for the nation’s cities (where most of the opposition voters live) can be
proposed, discussed, and implemented.

Unlike previous Republican presidential candidates, Mr. Trump
actually went into the inner cities, and among minority voters, during
the campaign --- and asked those voters if years of Democratic Party
political control and programs had actually made their lives better.
He didn’t get a lot of urban votes in 2016, but if Democrats can do no
better than mere “resistance” and more failing programs, they might
not like the response of urban voters in campaigns ahead.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Neo-Nationalism Rising?

A lot of commentators who don’t know better, and a few
who do, are talking about a pan-Atlantic rise in “fascism,”
citing recent popular resistance to the internationalism
and trans-nationlism which has been in vogue among
some elites in Western nations increasingly since the end
of World War II.

It is especially being applied by some to the stated policies
of the new president of the United States, Donald Trump.
This application seems to me outrageously misplaced.

Fascism was an early 20th century movement that arose first
in Italy, then in Germany, and finally in Spain. The leaders of
these countries, including Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler
and Francisco Franco, were self-proclaimed fascists. They
were each dictators who took and kept power under the
rationalization that a corporate state ruled by them should
dominate all aspects of public and private life with no
accountability and no recourse by individual citizens or
democratically elected representative institutions.

Freedom, rule by law, social and religious tolerance did not
exist in the fascist state. Fascist parties also existed at the
same time in other European nations, and when the Axis
Powers overran virtually the entire continent, these fascists
were placed in power. The result was the murder, persecution,
brutal violence and suffering targeting hundreds of millions of
civilians, especially in the period from 1939 to 1945.

There was also a fascist movement in Great Britain,
especially among its aristocratic class, and in the United
States, but they had no sizable following and at the outbreak
of war, they collapsed. They have not reappeared except for
tiny groups that are shunned by almost everyone today.

That was genuine and historical fascism. Any use of the word
that does not fit those descriptions is pure propaganda.

Nationalism, on the other hand, is an historical phenomenon
which has existed in various forms as long as there have been
modern societies and nation states. It is a movement which
prizes national identity and sovereignty. It can be misused if
it distorts democratic principles, but it can be applied in
positive and constructive ways if it enhances national pride
and accomplishment in democratic capitalist states.

Another movement that arose in the early 20th century was
totalitarian communism. Like fascism, it was in practice
intensely centralized, undemocratic and dictatorial. The
Soviet Union was the first example of this movement to
form a viable state. It existed from about 1918 through 1990.
The other major communist nation is China. This state was
created in 1949, following  a revolution, and continues to the
present time. It did, after 50 years of rigid Marxism, adopt
quasi-capitalist economic practices while at the same time
maintaining non-democratic central government political
controls. Between 1945 and the late 1980s, the Soviet Union
imposed communist governments in the European nations
its army had overrun at the end of World War II, including
Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania,
Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the former
Yugoslavia. Each of these nations abandoned communism
when the Soviet Union imploded and collapsed.

Fascist and communist states managed, in only a few decades,
to murder more than a hundred million persons in cold blood,
with the worst acts of this depravity done under the direct
orders of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Tse Tung.

Nationalism has historically been a widespread and pragmatic
point of view in virtually all democratic states, and was the
compelling norm for virtually all nation states in the
pre-democratic world before the the 18th century. One of the
natural and enduring characteristics of nationalism, in
addition to pride in language, culture and history, is the
notion of national sovereignty.

A nineteenth century movement of a utopian planet arose
with the notion of dissolving all national borders, and the
creation of a universal government on earth. First steps in
this direction were taken in the formation of the League of
Nations (which soon failed) and the United Nations (which is
in the process of failing).  On the other hand, steps to
advance cooperative economic activity, primarily global trade,
have led to the creation of the European Union, various trade
organizations, international treaties, worldwide economic
institutions such as the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund.

These financial and trade entities have been more successful,
albeit controversial, and have endured because they are not
primarily in conflict with the principal of national sovereignty.
But when they do, they begin to fail.

President Donald Trump’s “nationalist” philosophy is in
direct line with that of those who founded this nation. It is
not anti-internationalist, nor is it anti-global trade. It is, on
the other hand, a re-assertion of U.S. national interests in its
military and economic relationships, something that was
clearly weakening in recent years.  (Egregious examples
include proposals to cede U.S. sovereignty to questionable
international tribunals.)

It was the sovereignty issue which provoked the Brexit vote in
the United Kingdom, and which fuels the euroskeptic movement
throughout Europe. Although Charles DeGaulle supported the
European Common Market, he was no less bitterly opposed to
the loss of French sovereignty under the goals of what became
the European Union than are the euroskeptics of today.

In some distant and yet unimaginable world society, national
borders might finally disappear, but in the world we know now,
and the one we might foresee to an horizon of time, the utopian
notion of world government and the abolition of nation states is
nothing less than an open invitation to global totalitarianism and
the return to the depravities of new fascisms, new communisms,
and new terrorisms.

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two Aging Political Parties

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, the two U.S.
major political parties, are both showing signs of old age.

In Spain and France, both nations with parliamentary systems,
two-major party systems arose in their post-World War II
governments and until very recently, a party of the left and a
party of the right dominated their national political life.

Last year, there was a mitosis of the two parties in Spain, and
now the nation has four parties, two on the left and two on the
right. As of this week in France, there are now also four major
parties, two on the right and two on the left. Neither of the two
traditional parties were able to place a candidate in the
presidential election run-off. The next president of France will
probably be a former Socialist minister who has created a new
party of the center-left. The Socialist candidate came in a very
distant last --- this in spite of his party currently being in power.

After the 2016 U.S. election, the Democratic Party, shocked by the
upset defeat of their presidential candidate, a loss again of both
houses of Congress, and clear minority status in governorships
and state legislatures, was shattered. Democratic nominee
Hillary Clinton, representing the party establishment and its
liberal voters, ran an historically inept campaign, after a bitter
nomination battle in which she bested the insurgent leftist
wing of the party and its candidate Bernie Sanders. In the wake
of her defeat, the radical wing has moved quickly to replace the
liberal wing, but the views and programs of this wing are not
likely to appeal to independent voters, much less more moderate
Democrats. After years of holding their party together, the
Democrats are now aggressively divided.

This should be good news for the conservative Republican
Party, but the GOP has its own profound divisions, and they are
on flagrant display as its populist wing obstructs promised
legislation of the new administration of President Donald Trump
and the congressional leadership on behalf of the traditional
conservative wing of the party.

The incipient formation of four U.S. political parties might be
underway, as it has happened in France and Spain. In Germany
and United Kingdom, similar party tensions and transformations
are also taking place, albeit with different issues. In Germany,
for example, the political pull is to the left, as Chancellor Angela
Merkel, leader of the relatively conservative party, is facing an
unexpectedly challenging re-election from one party on her left.
In the United Kingdom, Conservative Party Prime Minister
Theresa May is flourishing because her Labor Party opposition
on her left  is divided and now led by the radical Jeremy Corbyn
who had taken his party into a nosedive, rejecting the direction
of former prime minister Tony Blair. The third British party,
the Liberals, has also faded, and the separatist Scottish National
Party now controls almost all the seats in Scotland (at the expense
primarily of the Labour Party).

In short, traditional major political parties in leading Western
democratic nations seem to be breaking apart.

Where this might lead in the U.S. is unclear. The new majority
party, the Republicans, faces likely angry voters next year in the
national mid-term elections if they don’t produce more results
and keep their campaign promises. The problem for GOP leaders
in the house and senate is that individual members and small
blocs on both the center right and far right are not compromising
on key legislation.

The problem for Democrats is the heady pull to the left threatens
to disappoint more moderate Democrats not only in the Congress,
but in the liberal electorate. The party of Bernie Sanders, Maxine
Waters and Elizabeth Warren is not the same as the party of
Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Jason Kander.

The wild card in the U.S. political equation is Donald Trump. A
former Democrat, with no history as a conservative, he has
adopted most of his new party’s program, but he is no ideologue.
If  ideological disputes thwart his political goals, he could reach
out to moderate Democrats and independent voters to pass
legislation. This is what President Bill Clinton did with
Speaker New Gingrich to conclude his second term successfully.
That was formally divided government, but the bottom line is
that, if the voters sent any message in 2016, it is that they wanted
action on the nation’s problems.

Before you know it, November, 2018 will be here. This is no country
for old political parties.

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


Friday, April 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Curious Parallels?

In the 20th century, there were volatile interim decades which
preceded periods of war and global change. In our 21st
century, it would appear we are in the midst of such an
interim decade in its “teen-age” (2012-19) years, although to
where and to what it will lead is far from clear.

The age from 16 to 17 can be particularly unsettling for a
young individual in our society, and so it would seem it is for
our whole planet in the years 2016 and 2017.

The world in the 1930s struggled to put itself together not
only after a violent and seemingly senseless world war, but
also after the initial blows of a global economic depression.
It also was marked by the rise of new and frightening
totalitarian ideologies, the genesis of global decolonization,
and the appearance of rapid new planet-altering technologies
in communications, transportation, consumer goods and
medicine.

Very few persons who were adults in the 1930s are now alive,
so our understanding of it, like all history, is second-hand.

As I write this in April, 2017, we have just seen an historic
upset in the presidential election in the United States, and the
introduction of many about-face polices as a consequence;
the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and its separation from
the European Union (EU); a populist uprising in post-Cold War
Europe; the political and economic rise of two largest nations
on earth, China and India (both in Asia); new instability
throughout most of the continent of South America; an
intensification of an earlier wave of terrorism emanating
from the Middle East; plus new and greater patterns of
intracontinental and intercontinental migration with
accompanying disruptions; and the continuing and numbing
faster velocity of new technologies.

That, to put it colloquially, is a lot to swallow in just one year,
and doesn’t even mention or detail other perhaps less “cosmic”
circumstances and events which have occurred --- or are about
to occur.

To further confuse or diminish our perception and understanding
of all this turmoil and change, the means by which we receive
this news has been compromised by the very media we depend on
to bring it to us. A hyper-subjectivity now permeates most
communications --- almost everything seems to be transmitted
with over-dressed ideological clothing. In other words, and also
colloquially, there is no “naked truth” --- or. we are told, no truth
at all.

I make two points. First, this kind of interim has happened
before, although the names and places were different. Second, if
history does instruct us, this interim is the “volatile” calm before
an historical storm.

In the interim before World War I (1904-13), and the one before
World War II (1929-38), the civilized world seemed to go like
sleepwalkers into catastrophe.

Are we, as a species, still somnambulists? Or do we, this time,
decide to wake up?

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The "Meddling" Media Get It Wrong Again

The special congressional election in Georgia, according to
the national “meddling” media, was heading to be a devastating
defeat for the current Republican majority, and particularly
for President Trump. It is difficult to remember an occasion
where so many one-sided resources were thrown into a
congressional race that failed in its objective.

To understand the magnitude of these one-sided resources, it is
necessary to note that the main Democratic candidate, Jon
Ossoff, a 30 year-old first-time candidate, spent between 8 and
9 million dollars on his campaign, while the four main
Republican candidates spent no more than a few hundred
thousand dollars each on their campaigns. In addition, Ossoff
received the support of thousands of out-of-state liberal
volunteers who came into Georgia to help him. Finally,
the neophyte liberal candidate received millions of dollars of
free publicity from the liberal national media as it made him,
in a matter of weeks, into a celebrity and the hoped-for
harbinger of voter rebuke to President Trump.

The Georgia 6th district is made of three counties in the 
Atlanta metro area. Since Newt Gingrich won this seat in the
late 1970s, it has elected Republicans, including the latest
incumbent, Tom Price, who resigned recently to join President
Trump’s cabinet. The district includes some of the most
affluent voters in Georgia, however, and polling across the
nation show clearly that some of the biggest Democratic
majorities come from rich urban voters.  Indeed, the most
affluent parts of the 6th district gave Ossoff about 56% of their
vote in the special election. Only months earlier, Hillary
Clinton had come close to beating Mr. Trump in this district,
and this gave national and local Democrats hope that, if voters
had truly soured on the president, and enough resources were
poured into this race, they could deliver an upsetting blow to
the Republicans in advance of next year’s national mid-term
elections in which the entire U.S. house must face the voters.

With all the votes counted, the Democratic hopeful received
48%.

To be fair to Mr. Ossoff, he had good credentials, was an
able and attractive campaigner, and was unfairly charged by
Republicans as an outsider because his current residence was
just beyond the district’s borders. In fact, Mr. Ossoff had
grown up in the district.

The race now goes to a run-off on June 20 since Georgia law
requires a 50%-plus-one win to take the seat. Mr. Ossoff could
still win, but Republican nominee Karen Handel now will
receive all of the Republican vote, and not have to share it. In
fact, it appears that Republican candidates received slightly
more total votes than Democratic candidates in the special
election. With two months to cool off, and the unlikelihood
that the resources will be so one-sided in the campaign ahead,
Mr. Ossoff now faces increasing negative odds in the
two-person contest.

So what happened in Georgia?

It is clear nationally that Democrats do not like Donald Trump.
In a recent Kansas congressional special election, the GOP
candidate won, but by a notably smaller margin than Trump
had carried the district last November. President Trump has
had a predictably uneven first 100 days in office (although the
recent confirmation of his supreme court nominee, and his
widely-praised airstrike against Assad in Syria, have boosted
his poll numbers).

On the other hand, national Democrats seem poised to move
sharply to the left with a takeover of the party by its Bernie
Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/MaxineWaters wing. Such a move
does not seem likely to enhance Democratic prospects in rural
America, and in rust belt and Southern states (like Georgia)
where Republicans and Mr. Trump have been so strong.

The Democratic message in Georgia was decidedly anti-Trump,
but it is clear that Republicans there were not swayed by it.
In fact, although President Trump stayed out of the race until
the end, he did tweet widely-publicized messages the day before
the special election denouncing Mr. Ossoff and urging Republican
voters to turn out in the special election. Since the Democrat fell
only two points short of the necessary majority, Mr. Trump might
even, rightly or wrongly, take some credit for the result.

What lies ahead?

There are a few more special elections this year, including the
Georgia run-off, but Democratic prospects in them are not
very promising. Mr. Trump’s popularity, according to the polls,
seems to be rising a bit. The stock market remains in an upward
motion, and congressional Republicans seem increasingly aware
of what will happen to them if they don’t fulfill their campaign
promises. Even the recent Obamacare repeal debacle could be
reversed in coming months.

Worst of all, perhaps, for the Democrats is that the “meddling”
media, so eager to help them, might be their unintended worst
enemy. That media, by creating unfulfilled expectations,
ultimately corrode the enthusiasm and energy of Democrats
who understandably want to do well in 2018  and 2020.

There seems to be palpable disappointment for liberals in the
aftermath of he first round of the Georgia special election. If
the media had not meddled so much, that disappointment might
not have been so great, and the result possibly even different.

Media not seen as fair and credible by the public at large, even
if they are on your side, might not actually be your friends.

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