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?

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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.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Whither France?

If today continental Europeans consider off-shore Great
Britain (UK) the region’s “bad boy” for its Brexit vote, they
should recall that only 50 years ago the main troublemaker
was not the UK, but France under the leadership of Charles
DeGaulle.

DeGaulle had emerged suddenly in the early days of World
War II when, after France’s humiliating defeat by the Nazi
invaders, he and a small group of French soldiers fled to
London, and set up a government-in-exile. Always a thorn
in the side of President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime
Minister Winston Churchill who together were directing the
Allied war efforts, De Gaulle overcame rivalries with other
French generals not under control of the Nazis or the
notorious collaborationist Vichy regime headed by Marshall
Petain, and by the time in 1944 when Paris was liberated and
the Nazis were routed, he was the biggest Gallic hero of the
war, and the leader of the new provisional government.

There is very little that is admirable about much French
conduct during the war, especially in the Vichy regime
which was not directly under Hitler’s army control, but there
was a notable resistance effort by some courageous French
men and women, and there was the small but noisy (thanks
to DeGaulle) Free French outpost in London. This provided
much salve to the French psyche after the war, despite the
nation’s general cooperation in deporting French Jewry to Nazi
concentration camps and their eventual brutal murders, as well
as its hasty surrender to the advancing Nazi armies in 1940
and later collaboration with the Hitler regime.

DeGaulle, by his escape, had preserved for many of the French
their national honor, and although he soon retired in 1947,
it was he who the nation called on more than a decade
later when the Algerian civil war threatened to destroy the
republic. DeGaulle always had not only a powerful sense of
personal destiny, but also an excessive view of French grandeur
and importance in the world.

Returning to found the Fifth Republic in 1958, DeGaulle
redefined the role of the president, and settled the Algerian war
by allowing the North African territory (not exactly a colony
since it was considered an integral part of France) to become a
sovereign nation. He then embarked on his own desire to make
France apart from the NATO alliance, and establish his country
as a go-between in the Cold War pitting the Soviet Union against
the democratic nations of Europe and North America. This latter
effort failed because the Soviet leaders rightly saw that he had
little real influence. At the same time, France lost most of her
African and Asian colonies, including Viet Nam. In 1969, on a visit
to Canada, De Gaulle stunningly offended his hosts by declaring
his sympathy for Quebec separatists (“Vive Quebc Libre!”). and
was forced to cut his visit short. In spite of the sanctuary provided
to him by Churchill and Great Britain during the war, and its
efforts with the U.S. to liberate France, DeGaulle resented the UK,
and consistently vetoed its entry into the Common Market. By
1969, he had worn out his welcome in his native country, and
following a parliamentary defeat, he resigned, dying a year
later at age 80.

After De Gaulle, the French immediately approved British entry
into the Common Market, and continued the policy of
rapprochement with West Germany. France rejoined NATO,
and its economy soared. Nevertheless, it was West Germany (later
reunited with East Germany) which emerged as the dominant
economy in the EU. In recent times, French leaders have allowed
significant immigration of foreigners from North Africa and the
Middle East (as have the other EU nations), and the French
economy has declined under the current socialist regime. Attacks
against the largest remaining Jewish population in Europe by new
immigrants has raised the specter of the earlier Nazi persecution,
and French Jews are now leaving France in increasing and noticeable
numbers. French euroskeptics are calling for France to leave the EU
(“Frexit”), and many feel their French identity is being threatened
from within.

In this volatile environment, France is about to hold its perhaps
most significant national election since World War II. The
presidential candidates of the two major parties actually trail
the leading candidates. One of those frontrunners is Marine Le Pen,
a populist/nationalist who opposes more immigration and wants to
take France out of the EU. The other frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron,
is a former socialist minister who formed, he claims, a new centrist
party that is pro-immigration and pro-EU.  The socialist candidate,
Benoit Hamon, is in last place, and is not even gaining in he polls at
the end. That is because another leftist candidate, Jean-Luc
Melenchon,  who is pro-immigration but anti EU, has come much
closer to the leaders in the polls, as has the conservative candidate,
Francois Fillon, who had earlier been hurt by allegations of personal
scandal.

With the election only days away,  pollsters allege that the race
is tightening, and that any of four could be in the top two. A run-off
is typical of French presidential elections. It was thought that M.
Macron was a shoo-in to be elected president in that run-off if the
other frontrunner, Mme. Le Pen, were his opponent. But two very
important factors suggest that this conclusion might be premature.
First, it is now much more unclear who the final two candidates
will be, and second, an amazing 30-35% of French voters are
reportedly still undecided about whom they will vote for.

In addition to the many local and regional issues at stake in the
imminent French parliamentary and presidential elections, the two
biggest issues, the EU and immigration, touch on the very identity
of France and its republic. In the political time of Donald Trump
and Brexit (both of those elections also has an extraordinary number
of undecided voters until the end), the French vote has potentially
tremendous implications for Europe, the U.S. and the world.

The suspense about its outcome, once thought to be minimal, is now
growing.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Should Republicans Worry?

A special election in Kansas was just held to replace a popular
Republican congressman who took a cabinet post in the new
Trump administration. Many in the media glibly speculated
that the results, especially if the Democrat won or got close, 
might be an early omen for the mid-term elections next year.
As it turned out, The GOP candidate won by a clear but not
overwhelming margin. Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics,
always a smart and cool-headed observer, suggests that no
one should make too much about this election because the
overriding factor in 2018 will be later public perception of the
Trump administration and the Congress’s record of
achievement or lack of it.

There will be about a half dozen special elections over the
next few months, and this caution should be carefully applied
--- although upsets are possible, and Democrats will surely
try hard to make them happen where an incumbent GOP seat
is involved.

While it is obviously too early to assess what the public mood
will be more than a year from now, that does not mean that the
Republican house majority is inviolable. A current media mantra
is the possibility that liberals could win back the U.S. house in
spite of the currently comfortable GOP majority. The recent
split in the majority caucus recently the unresolved debate over
Obamacare repeal and replacement, a key issue that favored
Republicans in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, could have
a boomerang effect if the GOP majority does not deliver on its
promise by the end of the year. Demographics and redistricting
have given the conservative party a clear advantage in the past
decade, and that advantage remains on paper, but voters are
these days remarkably impatient with gridlock and vacuous
promises.

Inexperienced in the ways of DC legislation, President Trump
has deferred to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell to navigate the conservative legislative
program through the Congress, and to his desk. Mr. Trump,
as he repeatedly points out, likes to win, and he will not defer
forever. Mr. Trump is not up for re-election in 2018, but the
entire U.S. house is, as is one-third of the U.S. senate,

Ahead is important and promised legislation on tax reform and
tax cuts, infrastructure spending, the complex issues of the new
budget, and the overhaul of the government in Washington, DC.
If 25-35 Freedom Caucus members continue to thwart the
Trump-Ryan-McConnell agenda, Republicans would have every
reason to worry about their “impenetrable” majority in the
house, and their rare opportunity to pick up as many as 10 seats
in the senate.

GOP strategists would be well-advised not to be pre-occupied
with occasional special elections which might turn more on local
issues, and better be concerned about getting their political act
together, and soon.

The man in the White House is the most improbable, and perhaps
the most underestimated, political figure in a very long time. His
pedigree suggests action, surprise (some might prefer the word
“shock”) and a thirst for success. He is being respectful, for the
time being, of the ways of Washington, and seemingly prepared
to work in its environment.

But if Donald Trump discovers that the Capitol is just a decorous
and unyielding china shop, it might get a lot noisier than it is now. 

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: One Minnesota Congressman, and Perhaps Two, To Run For Governor

Minnesota’s first district Congressman Tim Walz has
announced he will not run for re-election for his southeastern
Gopher State seat, but will run for governor in 2018 instead. A
former school teacher, Walz had held the seat for six terms. A
farming region that also includes the booming city of Rochester,
it has traditionally elected centrist Democrats (called the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL here) and conservative
Republicans until Walz. In his first election, Walz promised
voters he would serve in the tradition of popular DFL
Congressman Tim Penny, a nationally-known centrist who
served from 1983 to 1995, but it soon became apparent that Walz
was voting more like an urban liberal than a rural centrist,
and his vote margins declined sharply in his recent re-elections,
narrowly avoiding defeat in 2016 as Donald Trump carried the
district by 15 points.

Jim Hagedorn, son of a former first district GOP congressman,
almost beat Walz with his second try in 2016, and now is the clear
frontrunner for the Republican nomination. But Walz’s retirement
is likely to bring other GOP candidates into the contest. No formal
announcements have yet appeared on the DFL side.

Mr. Penny, now the president of a regional non-profit foundation
in the area, and still a popular figure there, said, “The 1st district
is now in play, but Hagedorn may not be the strongest candidate
for the Republicans --- though he does have a jump start on the
others. Still, given recent trends, this district, in my view, leans
Republican.”

Current DFL Governor Mark Dayton is retiring after two terms,
and the DFL field of candidates to succeed him is large. Walz,
largely unknown outside his home district, will likely have an
uphill contest to win his party’s nomination against at least four
or five other DFL candidates who are more well-known in the
Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (where most of the DFL
votes are in the state). In fact, another incumbent DFL
congressman, Rick Nolan, who represents the northeastern 8th
district, is also reportedly seriously considering a bid for
governor. Congressman Nolan, much better known throughout
the state, might have a better chance for the DFL nomination
than Walz.

Donald Trump almost upset Hillary Clinton last year in this
previously reliable red state, and local Republicans are optimistic
they can win back the governorship in 2018 after winning control
of both houses of the state legislature in 2016. The GOP problem
so far, however, is that no major candidate has entered the contest
for its party nomination.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Historic 24 Hours

A 24-hour period of April 6-7, 2017 has proved to be not
only historic, but perhaps  a turning point in the nascent
administration of President Donald Trump.

Beginning with a punitive raid on a Syrian government air
base from which a chemical warfare attack on Syrian civilians
had been reportedly launched only days earlier, Mr. Trump not
only made the most dramatic assertion of his role as U.S.
commander-in-chief, he decisively assumed his, and revived the
nation’s, command of the free world. His action, a sudden
reversal of his words only days before, was welcomed warmly
by the leaders of virtually all U.S. allies, including those who
had previously been critical of him. It also shattered any
presumption that the new administration would not confront
Russia.

A few hours later, the U.S. senate confirmed Mr, Trump’s first
nomination to the U.S. supreme court by a 54-45 margin. In the
confirmation process, the last remaining filibuster procedure
was eliminated, thus making any future Trump nominations
confirmable by a simple majority.

In the logistics of the successful air raid, it appears that the
president deferred to the experienced military figures he has
appointed to advise him. In the confirmation process, he
deferred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who now
emerges as a particularly strong figure in the future course of
the administration’s legislative program.

So far, a pattern has appeared in Mr. Trump’s actions of
attempting to fulfill domestic campaign promises and of
maintaining flexibility in foreign affairs. There are risks in the
latter, including disappointing those in his own party who
bitterly oppose foreign interventions, and in changing the
dynamic in our relationships with Russia and China. The
military action in Syria was clearly very limited, but it is likely
to produce consequences, including whether or not the U.S.
military role in the region will be increased. It is  often unclear
what will happen when you alter the chemistry of international
circumstances.

Although the two developments in an unusual 24-hour period
might be counted a short-term victories for the new president,
many major and problematic issues remain ahead in the
domestic and foreign policies of the U.S. government.

If anything lasting might be gleaned from these notable
developments, it is the reinforcement of the advisory repeatedly
expressed on these pages --- it is much more important to pay
attention to what President Donald Trump does than just to 

what he says.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Poet Departs

Obituaries of poets are usually short, and they are of
interest to very few these days. Poetry is in a prolonged
depression.

But major publications this week feature prominently, often
on their front pages, the just-announced death of Yevgeny
Yevtushenko, 84, the Russian poet known in the non-Soviet
West as a dissident and troublemaker, as well as for his
verse. He was popular in the Soviet Union, too, and after
Nikita Kruschchev came to power, in the 1950s, briefly in
favor in the Kremlin as part of its effort to shatter the myths
about long-time dictator Joseph Stalin.

Perhaps his most famous poem was “Babi Yar” --- a searing
indictment of the Soviet government’s refusal to acknowledge
the site of the Nazi massacre of 33,000 Jews in the outskirts
of Kiev in 1941. Yevtushenko was a poetry rock star in Soviet
Russia, Europe and the U.S. (which he often visited) after that,
and drew huge crowds for his readings in the 1960s, 70s, 80s
and 90s.

It was on one of those occasions, when Yevtushenko came to
Minneapolis for a reading, that I had an interesting and
memorable encounter with him.

Before his reading, he held a press conference in a hotel across
the street from my office. I was publishing a local newspaper
then, so it was especially easy for me to go to this press
conference.

Yevtushenko was a charismatic figure who spoke English quite
well, and appeared before us with a characteristic cigarette
drooping from his lips and a diffident manner. He parried most
of the questions as if he had heard them all before.

Towards the end of this event, I raised my hand and asked him
a question that appeared to shock him. His cigarette fell from his
lips onto the table in front of him, and he suddenly became very
animated.

“What do you know abut the Russian poet Alexander Mezhirov?”
I asked him.

A moment for a backstory:  My family on both sides came from
what is now Ukraine, but which then was part of the Soviet Union.
Many in my mother’s family came here at the turn of the century
in the 1890s. Their name was spelled “Masiroff” at Ellis Island,
but it was really spelled “Mezhirov” in correct transliteration.
My grandparents came from large families in the shtetls (ghetto
villages) in the outskirts of Kiev. Immigrant Mezhirovs settled
in New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. It
was a family of folk musicians (“klezmorim”) --- although most
of the emigres went into retail trade after they settled in America.
My grandfather, who was a conductor and composer, went into
the furniture business in Erie. Cousins in Chicago (“Mesirows”)
went into the drug store business. Cousins in other cities went
into sales and real estate development.

My Aunt Sylvia, my mother’s sister, was the only Erie sibling of
that first generation to become a serious musician. She was also
the most cultural figure in my immediate family, and introduced
me to classical literature even before my teens. Like her mother,
she was very aware of her family tradition, and kept me posted
on the exploits of famous relatives such as jazz legend Mezz
Mezzrow (real name Milton Mesirow, the son of the Chicago
cousins), bandleader Eddie Dutchin, and pianist/harpsichordist
Rosylin Tureck. A prodigious reader, one day in the 1980s she
read a biography of the Russian novelist Boris Pasternak, and
discovered that he had befriended a young poet named
Alexander Mezhirov just before World War II. Mezhirov, it
turns out, survived his military service, and returning to
Moscow, became a protege of Pasternak. Surviving the Stalinist
era, Mezhirov wrote and published many books of poetry, and
became a literary household name in Russia. His poems, however,
were not translated into English in the U.S., and he was unknown
here. Aunt Sylvia wrote to me to be on the lookout for our
hitherto unknown cousin. (My grandmother once told me that all
Mezhirovs are related.)

Back in Minneapolis, I realized I might have an opportunity now
to find out more about my cousin, so I asked Yevtushenko if he
knew anything about him.

“ALEXANDER MEZHIROV!” the charismatic poet boomed,
coming suddenly to life. “No one has ever asked me about him
before.” Then he went on, “Alexander Mezhirov was my mentor
when I came to Moscow from Siberia as a young man. He’s a
great poet.”

After the press conference, Yevtushenko came directly up to me
and asked, “How do you know Alexander Mezhirov?” I explained
that I had reason to believe he was my cousin. I told Yevtushenko
about my family and the names of the two shtetl villages
(Bobrovits and Koselets) outside Kiev where the Mezhirovs had
lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. I also gave him a copy of my
own book of poetry which had recently been published. “You’re
in luck,” Yevtushenko told me, “Mezhirov lives in my apartment
building in Moscow, and I am going to tell him about you.”

About two weeks later, I received a telegram, in English, from
Alexander Mezhirov in Moscow. “We are definitely related,” it
said, “My father was born in Kozelets, and my family is from
there.” It turns out that the father had moved to Moscow (where
Alexander was born in 1933) before World War II, but that most
of the Mezhirovs who had not emigrated to the U.S. had remained
there. (Ilya Ehrenberg, another famous Soviet writer, wrote of
how the entire village of Koselets --- men, women and children ---
had been lined up in a field and murdered by the Nazis in 1942.)

Aunt Sylvia was overjoyed when I wrote to her about the
telegram.


[There is a fascinating postscript to this story. Shortly after
hearing from Mezhirov, I learned he was coming to the U.S. to
speak at Columbia University. I hastily arranged for him to
come also to Minnesota where we had a remarkable family
reunion. I then took him by train to Chicago where he met my
niece Tobi (also a writer). But all of that is another story.....)

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


Saturday, April 1, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Update 6

DEMOCRATS HEADING TOWARD 
FILIBUSTER
Democrats in the U.S. senate seem to be heading for an historic
confrontation over the confirmation of Neal Gorsuch to the
U.S. supreme court. Although liberal senators are in the
minority (and have only 48 votes to the conservative majority
of 52), current rules enable the minority opposition to block
confirmation if there are 40 votes to prevent cloture (which
stops a filibuster and allows for a final vote). In effect, the GOP
needs 8 Democrats to force a vote on the nomination. However,
under a precedent established by the Democrats when they had
control of the senate, the 60-vote rule to cut off a filibuster
could be abolished by a simple majority, thus guaranteeing Mr.
Gorsuch’s nomination this time, and making it easy for the
GOP majority to confirm any future supreme court
nominations. Making the filibuster-minded Democratic
senate leadership prospects even more problematic is that, if
as appears more likely than not, the GOP increases its
majority in 2018, and maintains it in 2020 and 2024, the
Democrats will not be able to reverse the filibuster abolition
even if they win back the presidency in 2020 or 2024, thus
perhaps thwarting the seating of any liberal justices in the
foreseeable future. Two Democratic senators have said they
will vote for Mr. Gorsuch, and for cloture. Although most other
Democratic senators are expected to reject his nomination, it
is unclear how many  are willing to vote for cloture.

IS INFRASTRUCTURE REPAIR A RARE
REMAINING BIPARTISAN ISSUE?

With the failure of Republican leaders in the U.S. house to vote
on the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and difficulty
likely ahead for passage of tax reform legislation in the house
and senate, the Republican-controlled Congress is increasingly
under pressure for some major victories for their party and the
new Trump administration. One of candidate Donald Trump’s
major campaign promises in 2016 was that he would propose
and implement significant infrastructure repair across the U.S.
Although some some conservative budget hawks might object to
this as a program that could increase the federal deficit, the need
for updating and repair is obvious, and would produce millions of
new jobs that would be popular among voters in the districts
and states. This is one area, at least, that leaders and legislators
from both parties might agree on for quick passage.

HUGE UNDECIDED VOTE IN 
APPROACHING FRENCH ELECTION
Although the election for president of France is quickly
approaching, and polls show the race is tightening slightly
between the major candidates, almost 40% of the voters say
they have not yet made up their minds. Further complicating the
race, which could have enormous consequences for the future
of the European Union (EU), of which France is a major member
state, the official candidates of the two major parties trail
independent and controversial candidates.

CHAOS IN SOUTH AMERICA
Many of the nations of South America are now facing immediate
crises. Brazil, which recently saw its president impeached and
removed from office, faces massive protests from the new
conservative government’s attempts to pass pension reform
legislation. In Venezuela, after prolonged political and economic
unrest, the Marxist government seems unable to reverse financial
and consumer crises. The nation’s supreme court suddenly
abolished the federal legislature last week, but an international
outcry against worsening dictatorship has caused the ruling to be
reversed. In Ecuador, with national elections only days away,
fears of the western South American country becoming another
Venezuela has provoked widespread violence, and made the close
election too close to call. In Paraguay, recently thought to be
establishing some stability, a sudden crisis and protests erupted
when an attempt was made to enable the term-limited, and
outgoing, president to run for another term.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Historic Global Moment

Our political cousins in the United Kingdom have once more
demonstrated why this tiny island nation has, for the past
millennium, provided some of our civilization’s most notable
moments in the quest for human freedom and self-governance.

Like all things “human,” the thousand year-old government
made by descendants of Angles, Saxons, Scots, Gaels, Normans,
Vikings and Picts (as well as many others who followed them)
has had its flaws and shortcomings, but at certain moments
this government of men and women has risen to astonishing
and indelible heights.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has just signed the formal
document which sets into motion irrevocably the withdrawal of
her nation from the European Union (EU). Her representative
has now delivered this document to the head of the EU.

There are many issues that were in play, and at stake, in this
separation that began after World War II with the signing of the
Treaty of Rome. That treaty led to the creation of the European
Common Market which, in turn, led to the European Union and
a continental common currency, the euro. The ideals behind
these events were laudatory --- to avoid the seemingly endless
pattern of war, human tragedy and violence on the European
continent. But the ambition of European cooperation and peace
was compromised by the process of its political evolution toward
a single governmental and bureaucratic state. That process was
marred by haste, presumption, and the lack of building a
democratic consensus of agreement in its member states. The
peoples of Europe speak many languages, hold different faiths,
have distinct cultures, contrasting economic conditions, and
varied political traditions. These are circumstances which
cannot be hurriedly eradicated or wished away.

A singular document in modern history was the English Magna
Carta (1215), perhaps the earliest moment of the journey of what
we now think of as political freedom. From that moment, English
history evolved from it feudal origins to popular representative
democracy, albeit it has maintained a symbolic monarchy.

Along the way, it became the world’s largest colonial power by
means of its naval domination of the seas, and inevitably, it
abused its power even as it settled in new territories and
conquered others. Perhaps the most consequential of these darker
moments was its treatment of its colonies in North America
which finally led to a local revolution and their independence as
the United States of America. There were also unfortunate and
indefensible actions of the British Empire in Africa and Asia
during the period when European superpowers controlled and
exploited most of the world. But when that colonial era had
ended, it was the former British colonies, far more than those
once owned by French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, German
and other European regimes, which were able more successfully
to flourish in the world of so many sovereign nations and peoples.
This was the United Kingdom’s great contribution to modern
civilization, its tradition of law and evolving freedom, and more,
as demonstrated by its unforgettable courage and resolve in
resisting Hitlerian totalitarianism in those dark moments at the
outset of World War II.

The United Kingdom has lost its colonial empire, and it is no
longer the dominant naval power on earth. Its component regions,
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,  still endure
long-brewing political tensions. Immigration, much of it granted
to those born in its former colonies, have introduced new conflicts
and challenges for it leaders and political representatives.

But this small island is apparently not quite finished as a
political identity, nor as an example to the rest of us.

Those who believe in so-called “globalism” are in too much of
a hurry to impose their beliefs on a still young, complicated and
developing humanity. Ultimately, it seems that the idealism of
world cooperation and peace might be, and should be, realized,
but as we learned from the horrific experiments of fascism and
communism in the 20th century, those who employ rhetoric as
a facade to impose the end of freedom and national sovereignty
do not represent the same ideals that are inspired by human
liberty and independence.

One more time, the citizens of Great Britain have expressed not
only their indomitable will for their own identity, but they have
stated again their historic message of what freedom means for
humanity.

We can all be grateful that this British lion still roars.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Part Of The Deal

The recent failure of the Republican U.S. house majority to
pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care
Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, has seen a
predictable public reaction. It was welcomed understandably
by Democrats who enacted and still favor Obamacare, and by
the establishment media who are hostile to President Trump
and heralded the failure as a “political catastrophe” for the
new president and his party (which now controls both the
White House and the two houses of Congress.) The failure was
also criticized by many, including myself, as a missed
opportunity to fulfill a top campaign promise made by most of
the Republican party candidates since 2010 --- responding to
the extraordinary unpopularity of the legislation passed when
the Democrats controlled the presidency and the Congress.

In my own criticism, I acknowledged that the legislation
fashioned by Speaker Paul Ryan and his colleagues was
imperfect, but I suggested that the so-called “Freedom Caucus”
faction in the U.S. house was ultimately being obstructionist.

In the end, the legislation was unacceptable not only to the
Freedom Caucus, but also to the more moderate house members.

Importantly, Speaker Ryan persuaded President Trump not to
demand a vote --- so that the legislation remains alive for further
modification and negotiation, possibly bringing in some
moderate Democrats (if necessary) to vote for it later in the year.
The key here is that Obamacare repeal is far from “dead,” and the
unfolding implosion of the ACA law and program (the true
disaster in this matter) will continue.

The recent effort by Speaker Ryan was a short-term failure, but
by no credible means the “disaster” now being heralded in the
hostile establishment media. In fact, it might have been a
political blessing in disguise for both the speaker and the White
House if they use the occasion to continue their legislative
program efforts more realistically and more effectively.

Major legislation in the U.S. is always complicated and
problematic as it makes its way through Congress to the desk of
a president for signature. There was clearly some overconfidence
by the house leadership in this legislative effort, and hopefully
this will not be repeated as it debates the next priority (and
campaign promise), tax reform. It also does not let the Freedom
Caucus off the political hook. They now see the damage and the
ammunition for the opposition a legislative failure can produce.

The first order of business now is the confirmation of Judge
Gorsuch to the U.S. supreme court. The next order of business
is tax reform legislation that will pass both the U.S. house and
senate. Healthcare insurance repeal and replacement can easily
be revisited (though perhaps not so easily resolved) later in the
year. President Trump, his comments on Twitter notwithstanding,
continues to change the political climate in Washington, DC and
in our foreign policy.

Mistakes and missteps will continue to happen. The exercise of
the people’s business in our republic is always a bit messy
because it is not resolved by measures which every voter agrees
with. It is, if you will, part of the deal. Through the electoral
process, the voters express themselves, and in 2016, they did so.

As always, the voters’ will was divided, but by electing a president,
both houses of Congress, most governors and most state
legislatures of the same party, they expressed general agreement
with that party’s program and promises. This mandate is not
timeless or even open-ended. It has perhaps only a two year limit.

This is where we are now. As I have been suggesting, it’s time
for action and results. More stalemate is not an option.

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Aftermath Of Failed Legislation

We now face two major failures of healthcare insurance
legislation.

First, we have the seven year-old Affordable Care Act
usually known as Obamacare. It was rammed through the
Congress, and was unpopular from day one. It precipitated
major electoral defeats for its sponsoring party, the
Democrats, in 2010, 2014 and 2016. Now in full effect, it has
failed in its purpose of providing healthcare insurance for
everyone (millions still don’t have coverage) and its financial
costs are imploding so fast that it will likely soon be unable to
function adequately for the millions it does cover. It is further
discouraging critical numbers of students from even entering
medical school, and it is driving the quality of medical care
down to unacceptable levels. It is a gross failure.

Second, the political party and its elected representatives
voted into power for the expressed purpose of repealing
Obamacare and replacing it with a better plan, the
Republicans, have tied themselves up into hopeless stalemate
by its own factions.

As much as I have stated my admiration for Paul Ryan in the
past, some of this failure has to be laid to his door. He insisted
on the Obamacare repeal and replacement as a first priority,
but did not write an adequate form of new legislation that would
win the votes of even a necessary number of his own caucus
which holds a large 40-vote majority.

President Trump, unfamiliar with how the Congress works, was
persuaded by the U.S. house leadership to make Obamacare the
first legislative priority, even though his (and their) tax reform
campaign promise had more support, and should have been the
first priority while, behind the scenes, a more acceptable
replacement to Obamacare could have been fashioned and
negotiated. To his credit, Mr. Trump went “all in” with Mr. Ryan
and his house leadership colleagues. The failure of the Ryan
plan was not his, but Mr Ryan’s --- brought about by the so-called
Freedom Caucus.

This is not the end of the world, but it could be the beginning of
the end of the “permanent” Republican majority of the U.S. house.

What happens now? First and foremost, the U.S. house and senate
must promptly tackle another major campaign promise, probably
tax reform, and deliver the legislation to the president’s desk for
signing.

Another failure in Congress, and it would be impossible to avoid
the conclusion that both major political parties are incapable of
doing the people’s, and the voter’s, business.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A "Stalemate" Caucus

There is a so-called “Freedom Caucus” of Republican members
of Congress, but it is obviously misnamed. It is really better
named the “Stalemate” Caucus because political paralysis is
the only result its efforts might produce.

This sub-group of the GOP house majority claims to have about
40 votes to block the repeal and replacement of Obamacare
legislation proposed and fashioned by House Speaker Paul Ryan,
and strongly supported by President Donald Trump. Most of
those who have spoken out against this proposal have claimed it
does not go far enough, and want a “pure” repeal with no viable
replacement. In effect, they want to leave millions of Americans
without any meaningful healthcare insurance. Tax credits in the
Ryan legislation are deemed by them as entitlements, and thus
unacceptable. What Speaker Ryan and his colleagues are saying
is that providing healthcare insurance to those who could not
otherwise purchase it is much cheaper and much more effective
than indigent Americans going to hospital emergency rooms for
care --- emergency rooms that are intended and needed for
emergency medical situations. Public health, they are also saying,
inevitably affects the entire community, not just those who have
healthcare coverage. The Ryan plan also devolves healthcare
decisions from federal bureaucrats back to patients and their
physicians under the aegis of the individual states. It promotes
free market choice over government mandate. The “Stalemate”
Caucus should be welcoming these major conservative reforms,
not standing in their way.

The passage of Obamacare repeal coupled with “Ryancare”
reform is the first major legislative test of the new GOP majority
in Washington, DC, and it is a test it must pass if the
conservative party is to govern successfully. It was the most
high-profile promise that candidate Trump and his congressional
colleagues made in the 2016 campaign, and if they do not keep
their promises, they will not deserve a favorable judgment by the
voters in 2018 and beyond.

The rhetorical rubber has now met the political road.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Update 5

THE DUTCH VOTE
With many nervous European Union (EU) member state leaders
watching, the Dutch electorate returned its current Prime
Minister Martin Rutte to office, but in their visible relief, ignored
the fact that Rutte’s party (which only has the largest number of
members of the Dutch parliament, and must form a coalition to
govern) lost about a quarter of its representation while his major
(and most feared) opponent, Gert Wilders, a conservative populist,
came in second, but increased his party’s total from 12 to 19. Mr.
Wilders, even if he had won the popular vote, almost certainly
would not have become prime minister since most or all of the
numerous other Dutch political parties oppose him. Also making
big gains was the leftist Green Party. It will probably take several
months for Mr. Rutte to form his coalition government. Mr. Wilders
has promised to remain in Dutch politics for the foreseeable future.
Much more ominous national elections coming up include France,
beginning next month, and Germany, a few months later.

MERKEL IN WASHINGTON, DC
Angela Merkel, the long-time German chancellor and preeminent
EU political figure, has arrived in Washington, DC for a meeting
with President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump warmly welcomed Frau
Merkel to the White House, but differences between the two,
including immigration issues and the future of the EU, were
evident in a press conference that followed their private meeting.
Each had been critical of the other during the recent U.S. campaign.
Although a small right wing party exists in Germany, Frau Merkel’s
main opponent in her re-election effort this year is from her left.

MINNESOTA GOVERNOR THREATENS
STATE SHUTDOWN

Minnesota DFL (Democratic) Governor Mark Dayton has threatened
to shut down the state government if the Republican-controlled
legislature sends him budget bills he doesn’t like. Many observers
feel the governor, who will retire after this his second term, is
bluffing because history shows that, both at the state and national
level, those who force a government shutdown usually pay dearly
at the polls.  Through most of his tenure, Mr. Dayton’s party has
controlled at least one house of the state legislature, but in 2016,
Republicans took control of the state senate as well as the state
house (which they had won earlier). Only house members are up for
re-election in 2018. In last year’s election, the GOP almost won the
state for Donald Trump, a huge shock for DFLers who presumed this
hitherto “blue” state would easily go for Hillary Clinton. Many
observers think the GOP could win the governorship in 2018, and
that possibility has the them wondering why Mr. Dayton is pursuing
such a high-risk strategy as a goverment shutdown in this high-tax
state. (One advantage the DFL has so far, however, is that no strong
GOP figure has emerged to run for governor.)

OBAMACARE COLLAPSING?
Congressional Republicans so far are not united for a plan to
replace Obamacare (though they seem agreed about its repeal),
but even as the debate goes on in the U.S. house and senate,
the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) appears to be
imploding nationwide as major insurers pull out of state plans
and premium costs rise precipitously. Although some
conservative strategists urge the Congress to simply let
Obamacare implode, the need to have at least a transition to a
different and better health insurance plan would seem politically
self-evident. President Trump has indicated his strong support
for the plan now being finalized in the U.S. house, but this plan
faces noisy opposition from some GOP senators. Failure to
enact a credible replacement to Obamacare, however, could lead
to a very negative voter reaction to Republican candidates in 2018.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Little Crisis At The Pennsylvania Gazette

The Pennsylvania Gazette is today the name of my college
alumni magazine, although the name has a lineage that goes
back to 1729 when it was first published as a newspaper by
Benjamin Franklin. Lest the reader assume the name was
somehow inappropriately borrowed from such a distinguished
origin, I need to point out that my alma mater, the University
of Pennsylvania, was founded by Mr. Franklin himself in 1740.

Like so many other Ivy league alumni publications, The Gazette
is quite a lavish, thick, sophisticated and well-written effort,
and I do look forward to reading its bi-monthly issues. Perhaps
like most college graduates of a certain age, I usually find
myself going to the back of each issue to read about the news of
my classmates --- and the obituaries. Decades ago, my class
would list numerous short notes of those who had passed away,
but the miracle of modern medicine has so far kept that number
quite low. In fact, I am constantly amazed by the number of Penn
men and women who make it past 100.

This winter, the magazine faced a certain crisis (the publication
is usually set up a month or two in advance of printing) that
would not only be peculiar to Penn, but would have confronted
all other Ivy League universities and most, but not all, liberally
minded colleges and universities across the nation. Like all
institutions of higher learning, Penn is proud of its distinguished
graduates, and employs its alumni magazine to boast not a
little about them. In my class alone, there are numerous figures
who are today quite prominent and accomplished, including an
award-winning best-selling novelist, a famous Broadway/TV
series star, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine.
(28 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with Penn.)

There is a certain rivalry among Ivy League schools, especially
in their alumni who become cabinet officers and justices of the
U.S. supreme court. As we know, Harvard, Yale and Princeton
have dominated these posts for a very long time. Columbia and
Brown have fewer, and Penn (until recently) trailed, along with
Cornell, its fellow Ivy schools.

On November 8, 2016, however, Penn hit the alumnus jackpot.
One of its own was elected president of the United States.

Of course, Donald J. Trump then appeared on the cover of the
next issue of its alumni magazine, with a glowing story of his
life and his time at Penn (where he received a graduate degree
from its acclaimed Wharton School of Finance and Commerce).

Not.

I must report that The Pennsylvania Gazette barely noted Mr.
Trump’s achievement, in spite of him being the only Penn
graduate ever to be elected president, and then wrote about it
only with a certain waspish ambiguity.

I now have received the second issue since the election, and its
letters to the editor pages were dominated with correspondence
from Penn alumni expressing both indignation at the slight, or
delight.

In full disclosure, I attended Wharton as an undergraduate, but
after two years transferred to Penn’s College of Liberal Arts
where I received my B.A. degree. I received early journalism
experience there as a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian
before reviving and editing its historic college humor magazine
under a new name. Penn today is usually rated in the top five or
ten universities in the U.S., but only its Wharton School and a
few of its graduate schools had such a high rating in those days.
(Nevertheless, it had then a distinguished faculty, including
preeminent guest professors. Economist Peter Drucker,
philosopher Arnold Toynbee, architect Louis Kahn, sociologist
E. Digby Baltzell and novelist Philip Roth taught there in my
day.)

I realize that most Penn alumni, many of them living on the
East Coast, did not vote for Donald Trump. I also know that
the Penn administration and faculty are overwhelmingly liberal.
I have been aware for some time that Penn, like most colleges
and universities in America, subscribes to what is usually
called “political correctness.” Penn President Amy Gutmann
recently affirmed the university as a “sanctuary” place (like a
“sanctuary city”).  Readers can draw their own conclusions
about all of this, and should. It’s a free country.

Recently, at another East Coast institution of higher learning,
Middlebury College, one of America’s most distinguished
thinkers, Charles Murray, was prevented from speaking
because of his conservative views. It was only the latest
incident in an alarming epidemic of anti-free speech
demonstrations at colleges and universities across the nation.

In its current issue, The Gazette proudly announced the
appointment of former Vice President Joe Biden to the Penn
faculty. It should be proud about that.

But the editors of The Pennsylvania Gazette can only mumble a
few ambivalent words about the election of a Penn graduate as
president of the United States.

Ben Franklin would be ashamed of their lack of courtesy to the
man and to the office he now holds.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Repeal Or Else?

The voters in 2016 not only elected Donald Trump president,
they returned  Republican majorities to the U.S. house and
senate. They did the former for a variety of reasons that
included candidate Trump’s promise to sign a repair to the
failing Obamacare health reform system. They did the latter
with more focus, to wit, a clear expectation that the Congress
would, with a GOP president ready to sign the bills, legislate
to reform unpopular and failing public policy, including
repeal the old Obamacare and come up with a workable and
reasonable replacement that would enable millions of
Americans to purchase healthcare insurance in the open
marketplace.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has, with his colleagues,
fashioned both a repeal and a replacement that not only goes
a long way to fix the current system, but also might pass with
the necessary majority in the U.S. house. It’s not perfect. Each
person might have a specific suggestion or two to make it
better, but as Speaker Ryan knows, an element of compromise
is always required for major legislation. Improvements on this
legislation could be made in future sessions. It is a work in
progress.

Real reform provides healthcare insurance for an individual
who is able to choose a plan he or she can afford with coverage
he or she wants from competing insurers. It takes healthcare
decision-making away from bureaucrats in DC, and puts it
back where it belongs --- with patients and their physicians.
The use of tax credits enables millions of citizens without
coverage to have healthcare insurance.

Obamacare did not cover everyone, nor can its replacement.
A “pure” insurance program would leave too many Americans
with access to no healthcare at all; but the public wants a
more humanitarian  program --- and for good reasons,
illness and disease affects not only individuals, but all those
around them, including the community at large. Admitting
indigents repetitively to expensive emergency room
treatment is actually more costly than providing healthcare
insurance. Lack of treatment, vaccines and other preventative
healthcare measures leads to epidemics and unnecessary public
health risks and expense. By offering a choice of reasonable
coverages, caps and limitations, adequate health insurance can
be made available to most Americans without the numerous
inherent shortcomings. of Obamacare, a program which not only
failed to fulfill its promises, but which immediately saw rapid
and unacceptable rising costs with no end in sight.

Those conservatives who are demanding a “pure” bill are
ignoring political reality. In fact, if they prevent passage of
the legislation, they will in effect be ensuring that Obamacare
will continue. Voters who voted Republican in 2016 because of
the promise of repeal and replacement will not be, shall we say,
pleased. They will have every right to express themselves in
2018  when the entire U.S. house will be up for re-election.

House passage does seem possible, but the legislation is more
problematic in the U.S. senate. More compromises will be
likely. Nevertheless, the tiny GOP senate majority faces the
same voter expectations as do their colleagues in the house.
That small majority would be expected to grow, even
substantially, in 2018 because so many more Democratic
incumbent seats are up for re-election, but this opportunity
would disappear if the GOP control of the federal government
fails to produce change and reform.  Conservatives could even
lose the senate in 2018 if they fail to fix Obamacare and keep
their other promises to reform public policy.

Since 2009, I have warned that Obamacare was a policy and
political disaster, and the mid-term elections of 2010 and 2014
proved that assertion correct. As I have also suggested, it was
one of the keys to 2016. Now the shoe is on the on the other
foot. No reasonable excuse could be made by the conservative
party if it fails to keep its promises. Ideological purists, both on
the right and the left, do not promote solutions. Instead, they
promote stalemate in the name of abstractions.

President Trump supports his congressional partners in the
promised fulfillment of fixing Obamacare. It’s time right now
for positive action on Capitol Hill.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Update 4

COUNTER-REACTION IN EUROPE
Most of the outspoken populist political figures in Europe,
especially those in France, Netherlands and Germany (where
national elections are scheduled in the next few months) are
seeing a recent decline in popularity as the voting approaches.
Marine Le Pen, the French populist nationalist leader, still
leads narrowly in most polls, but an independent candidate,
Emmanuel Macron is in strong second place (and one point
ahead in one poll). M. Macron is a former socialist who now
claims to be an independent centrist. Should these two be
the finalists in the second and final round of voting, Macron
would be the heavy favorite to be elected president --- since
voters from the other parties would be likely to coalesce
around him to prevent Le Pen from winning. Netherlands
populist nationalist Gert Wilders is no longer in first place in
Dutch polling, but has fallen behind current Prime Minister
Mark Rutte, the Liberal party candidate who, in response to
Wilders’ anti-immigrant campaign, has moved very close to
Wilders’ position. The winner in the March 15 election will be
asked to form a government (although should Wilders win, he
likely won’t have the votes in the Dutch parliament to form a
coalition successfully). In Germany, long-time Chancellor
Angela Merkel, once a prohibitive favorite to be re-elected,
now has a competitive race, but the challenge is not from the
right, but from her left. One reason radical candidates from the
right or left rarely succeed in contemporary Europe is that most
of its nation states have multiple parties, and when a radical
candidate rises, the voters usually get behind the more moderate
candidate. (One caution is that the above assessment is based on
recent polling, and as the Brexit election in Britain, and the
2016 U.S. election demonstrated, contemporary polls can be
misleading.)

BOWLING POLITICS
The Trump  administration seems much more engaged in
enlisting support for the Republican legislative program
than the previous Obama administration was when pursuing
its own agenda, even in the two years when Democrats also
controlled both houses of the Congress. Part of this seems
due to considerable GOP intraparty disagreement, especially
in the U.S. senate, and partly because most members of
Congress did not initially support the president’s candidacy.
The latest venue for wooing members of Congress has been
invitations for a night of bowling on the White House bowling
alley. This facility was initially built during President Harry
Truman’s term, and was often used by Presidents Lyndon
Johnson and Richard Nixon. Bowling balls and bowling shoes
are supplied to guests. A little known fact: the largest shoes in 
the inventory (size 13) were first used by President Johnson.

DELAY IN TAX REFORM?
The Republican house and senate leaders in Congress are
advising that there will be no immediate major changes in
the U.S. tax code, but that they are coming after legislative
action on repealing and replacing Obamacare is finished.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich argues that tax reform will
likely have more impact, but few would argue that the
action to repeal Obamacare has a political priority in light of
long-time voter opposition to the troubled program, and the
pledges by candidate Trump and GOP congressional
candidates that they would take decisive action on the issue.

WEBSITE INDICATES NATIONAL DIVIDE
The respected liberal website fivethirtyeight has just
published a very credible study of voter attitudes showing
the U.S. electorate is quite polarized on most of the political
issues of the day, and more so than in recent decades.

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: It's Going To Go On Like This

If you are wondering why each day seems to bring a new and
sensational political headline, it’s because this is what
happens when the political environment is disrupted
suddenly.

When there were transitions to Presidents George H.W. Bush,
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and even Barack Obama, there
changes in style, some ideology, and their casts of characters,
but not since Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter have we
seen so much abrupt change, so unexpectedly, and overseen by
such an unorthodox figure.

Change is always resisted, and sometimes it doesn’t take hold.
President Obama’s healthcare reform ultimately didn’t make it,
nor apparently does it seem that most of his foreign policies
will survive. We need to remember that, as Mr. Trump was in
2016, Mr. Obama was in 2008 the surprise winner of his party’s
nomination.

It has been 36 years since Mr. Reagan took office, so it is quite
understandable that younger Americans would not remember
the tumult that greeted his landslide victory over an incumbent
president --- and that most older Americans would forget the
circumstances. I am not saying that Presidents Reagan and
Trump are alike in either their personalities nor in their specific
political circumstances, but I am reminding that each were
change agents greeted with much name-calling and resistance.

History now tells us that the Reagan “revolution” did mostly
succeed, both in changing domestic economic and tax policy,
and in altering our approach in the Cold War. At this early
point, there is no way to know with any certainty that the
Trump “revolution” will succeed or fail, but a transformation
it does clearly intend to be.

For this reason, the reader, regardless  of whether they like
Mr. Trump or not, whether they like his policies or not,
should expect a great deal more of what we have already
seen in the first six weeks of his presidency.

Some matters are new since 1981. The establishment print
and broadcast media no longer dominate the public
communications scene. Computers, social media, cable
and radio talk shows now have larger audiences, and reach
more persons. As I have previously mentioned, President
Franklin Roosevelt, facing a mostly hostile media, made a
successful end run around that media through fireside chats
and innovative press conferences --- and spoke directly to his
political base. President Trump, both as a candidate, and now
as president, has achieved the same end run through Twitter.
There is zero chance, I think, he will abandon his tweets as
long as they work so well for his supporters.

Before 1981, the previous great political transformation had
taken place almost half a century earlier. The economy of
1933 had been in an historic recession.World trade was a tiny
fraction of what it is today. The quality of medicine and the
life expectancy of most individuals was dramatically less
than what it is now. Thus, voters in early 1981 were, as they
are now, surprised and upset by the turmoil in the early days
of the new transition.

So my counsel to all is be prepared for more of the same
(of what we are witnessing now). President Donald Trump
continues to be underestimated, and one of the reasons for
this is that his political opponents are paying too much
attention to what he says, and not to what he does.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: My Hometown In The News

As a native of Erie, PA who now lives in a large midwestern
city and metropolitan center, I try to keep in touch with my
hometown as much as I can. I do this not only out of
emotional loyalty, but also because Erie is a special place,
both in U.S. history and as an important early industrial and
transportation center.

Economically, Erie has recently had some hard times, as have
most other cities, large and small, in the nation’s Middle
Atlantic rust belt where so much of U.S. heavy manufacturing
used to be concentrated.

When I was growing up in Erie, its population was above
100,000 and growing, reaching a post World War II high of
about 135,000. In the latest census, it dipped just below 100,000
for the first time in almost a century --- although its total
metropolitan area population remained about the same
(because many of its emigrating city dwellers moved to its
suburbs). Some also left Erie County, PA altogether because
many heavy industries closed, and they could not find
replacement jobs. Most notably, such major factories as
Hammermill Paper Company, Zurn Industries, Kaiser
Aluminum, Bucyrus-Erie and Marx Toy Company closed,
and the area’s largest employer, General Electric Transportation,
reduced its work force drastically. Erie also was home to many
small industrial factories making tools, machine parts, and meters.
It was once as well, literally, the nuts and bolts capital of the
world. It was, and continues to be, one of the nation’s centers
for plastics manufacturing.

The major new employers in Erie are, first, Erie Insurance,
a Fortune 500 company that has had remarkable growth in
recent decades: local hospitals and healthcare facilities which
serve not only Erie, but the whole Pennsylvania-New York-
Ohio region: and its growing number of colleges and
universities (very few of which existed before World War II).
Erie’s historic shipbuilding industry, which goes back to the
18th century (and played a key role in our decisive naval
victory in the War of 1812) has been revived, and its
long-time tourist industry has recently been greatly expanded
with new hotels, a race track and casino, and numerous
family-oriented attractions. (Presque Isle is a magnificent
state park and wildlife sanctuary, a natural peninsula that
forms Erie’s shipping and boating harbor on Lake Erie. Its
miles of sandy beaches are quite world-class, but largely
unknown outside the region. The world-famed Chautauqua
Institution is located only a few miles and a few minutes
from Erie’s downtown. The city has Amtrak service and an
international airport.)

The net result of the past few decades, however, has been
increased unemployment (currently over 6%) and a sense of
dislocation for those out work. Especially worrying to
community officials is the possibility that General Electric
might pull out its major diesel locomotive facility (one of the
world's largest) entirely, thus leaving about 3000 highly-paid
workers suddenly unemployed.

Two national news stories have just featured Erie and its
circumstances. A Wall Street Journal story has examined the
major influx of refugees in Erie County and city In the past four
years, 3400 refugees from Asia, Mexico, South America, and the
Middle East have settled in the city itself, the largest number
in any medium-sized American city. The story was in response
to President Trump’s cutting back immigration from 100,000 to
50,000, and discussed mostly positively the impact of such a large
inflow of refugees. Erie’s welcoming spirit, however, is nothing
new, as it took in Irish, German, Italian, Polish and Jewish
immigrants in the late 19th century and early 20th century
(including my grandparents). In the late 1930s and early 1940s,
many refugees from Hitler’s aggression in Europe also found a
haven and work in Erie County.

A second news story was broadcast on CBS News, and suggested
Erie was like a sinking ship. What was shown was a very
one-sided view of Erie’s current circumstances. The images were
correct, but CBS chose not to show other images that were also
accurate, but more positive.  This has predictably upset not only
the local chamber of commerce, but  also many local residents
who are part of a  big effort to transform Erie in the 21st century.
In fact, the true story about Erie is that its problems are not as bad
as the CBS story purported to show, nor are they as easily solved
as perhaps the chamber of commerce and elected officials would
like them to be.

On balance, however, the City has many more reasons to be hopeful
about the future than not. The reason for this are the many resources
it already has. As I already have mentioned, these resources include
a long and positive record as an historical and innovative city, very
unusual new community tools for recovery, and an excellent
geographical location with extraordinary tourist and convention
facilities.

Just as examples, Erie County beyond its urban area is a major
agricultural part of the state, producing quality vegetable, fruit and
livestock products. It is one of the largest grape producing counties
in the U.S. (Welch’s), and in recent decades has engendered
numerous notable wine-producing vineyards. In recent years a
major race track and casino opened, drawing visitors from
all over the region, as does the Millcreek Mall, one of the nation’s
largest shopping malls. It has an historic amusement park with a
famous roller coaster, a nationally-recognized zoo, a large water
sports park, more than 25 museums, a stunning new lakefront
convention center, and a renovated historic public dock with new
hotels and boating facilities. It is a city with many public parks.
Three interstate highways pass through or terminate in its urban
area, as do major rail freight lines. Three national airlines use
its airport which recently added an extended new runway that can
accommodate the largest planes. It now has several colleges and
universities, including the largest medical school in the U.S. It has
good restaurants and coffeehouses, as well as multiple professional
theaters and ballet/modern dance companies, and a respected
professional philharmonic orchestra. Broadway show touring
companies and the nation's most popular music entertainers appear
in Erie regularly. It has minor league professional baseball, ice
hockey, basketball and soccer teams with a new baseball stadium
and sports arena.

Does this sound like a sinking ship to you?

Nevertheless, Erie does have problems. It needs aggressive and
imaginative development of its new non-manufacturing industries.
It needs to promote its considerable tourist facilities as it has not
done before. It must find ways to use its educational institutions
to train and re-train workers for jobs that will be needed ahead.
It must restructure its tax base, and find new ways to attract
regional business.

I know that some who are reading this are thinking I am just
indulging in mere hometown pride. But I am realistic. In the
past, truth be told, Erie and its leaders often acted with
parochial short-sightedness. Some great economic opportunities
were passed over and lost. These occurred, however, in eras of
constant natural growth. Today, that boundless growth and public
confidence is, at least temporarily, stalemated all over the nation.
The so-called “rust belt” of which Erie is a part is having the
most difficult time of adjusting and transforming. Now civic
leadership is vital as never before.

Erie is not a sinking ship, but it is not sailing under full power.
Innovation, hard-working new immigrants, and not a little civic
pride can be the fuel which repairs the latter. The Wall Street
Journal
story was a fair piece; the CBS News story was just another
example of the poor job the established media these days is
often performing in providing with accuracy the news which is
actually happening.

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Update 3

DEMOCRATS TO PICK 
NEW PARTY CHAIR

[UPDATE: February 25, 2017
Tom Perez was elected DNC chair Saturday afternoon
by a 235-200 vote on the second ballot. Mr. Perez had
been only one vote short of a majority in the first ballot.
In his acceptance speech, he designated Congressman
Keith Ellison, the candidate he defeated, to the largely 
ceremonial post of vice chair. Chair Perez now has the
problematic task of uniting the Democratic Party factions 
before the 2018 national mid-term elections.]
 
National Democrats (DNC) are set to choose a new party
chair as the liberal party heads into the 2018 midterm
elections as a distinct minority opposition to conservative
Republicans on the national and state levels. Several
candidates are in the race, but two figures have dominated
the contest. Congressman Keith Ellison represents the
Minnesota 5th district which is primarily located in the
city of Minneapolis. It is a safe Democratic (DFL) seat, and
Ellison has won re-election easily. He has pledged to resign
his seat if he wins. (A liberal DFLer almost certainly would
replace him in a special election should he resign.) He has
received endorsements from Senator Bernie Sanders and
Senator Elizabeth Warren, leaders of the more radical wing
of the party. Tom Perez is the former secretary of labor
under President Obama, and although also a figure of the
left wing of the party, he has been endorsed by former Vice
President Biden and others from the party’s establishment.
Since it is expected that the DNC election will go to several
ballots, it is possible that, as others drop out, DNC members
might coalesce behind a compromise third candidate. Most
of the candidates have tried to outdo each other to appeal to
the far left of the party. Mr. Ellison has called for the
impeachment of President Trump. Some have noted that the
apparent move to the far left by the party risks antagonizing
independent voters, as has happened in Great Britain. To
reinforce the latter view, two British parliamentary special
elections just took place to replace longtime Labour Party
members. In spite of both being long-time, solid Labour
ridings (districts), one barely re-elected a Labour member
and the other saw an upset defeat of the Labour candidate.

MAJOR EUROPEAN ELECTION TRENDS
France, Netherlands and Germany (in that order) are
scheduled to hold their national elections in the next few
months. With the European Union (EU) in such disarray
following a series of member nations’ economic turbulence,
and the British (UK) withdrawal from the EU in its recent
Brexit vote, these elections would seem critical to the
survival of the EU itself. This seems especially so because
leading candidates to head two of the EU member nations
(France and Netherlands) are anti-EU establishment critics,
and Chancellor Angela Merkel, once thought to be electorally
invulnerable, is the dominant EU figure on the continent.
The nationalist and populist fervor represented in Brexit and
the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. has been sweeping
most of Europe.

TRUMP NEW SECURITY ADVISOR
UNIVERSALLY PRAISED

President Donald Trump’s replacement appointment to be his
national security advisor, Lt. General H.T. McMaster, has been
universally praised, even by the president’s political opponents.
Mr. McMaster was selected after the president’s original choice
for the job, Michael Flynn, resigned after only a month in the
job, and following controversies involving his contacts with
foreign governments.

LIKLIHOOD OF FILIBUSTER
AGAINST GORSUCH FADES

Although Democrats, should they vote in a block, could delay
the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. supreme
court, the political risks of doing so has made such an outcome
more and more unlikely. First, several Democratic senators have
publicly indicated they do not support filibusters (although they
have not necessarily said what they will do in this case). Second,
thanks to the precedent set earlier when Democrats were in
control of the senate, the GOP majority has a proper procedure
for abolishing the filibuster rule, and could not only confirm Mr.
Gorsuch by a simple majority vote, but would have the procedure
in place for any future supreme court rulings. (Senator Ted Cruz
even recently speculated that at least one more vacancy might
occur soon.) Third, although clearly conservative, Mr. Gorsuch
would replace another conservative, and thus not change the
previous balance of the court. The next Trump court appointee
might provoke a bigger battle in the U.S. senate.

ANOTHER NEW MISSOURI POLITICAL STAR?
Along with Missouri Democratic Secretary of State Julian
Kander, the “Show Me” state seems to be breeding
bipartisan future national political stars. New Republican
Governor Eric Greitens is only 42, was a Rhodes Scholar at
Oxford University, a former Navy Seal, and a successful
author. As both parties look forward to 2020 and 2024,
and potential battles from now on for control of Congress,
they are searching increasingly to their political “benches” for
the younger leaders of the future.

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Candidate Still Matters Most

Early announcements of candidates for U.S. house and senate                         
seats in 2018 have begun, including challengers in both parties
and decisions about re-election from incumbents in both
parties. For now, it’s just a trickle, but it will pick up to a flood
soon enough.

Of course, most house races and a majority of contested
senate seats next year won’t be close, but for the dozen or so
competitive senate races and the approximately three dozen
house races potentially in play, early decisions are more
important than ever before. This is primarily due to the very
high cost of campaigns today, especially for statewide
campaigns in places with expensive media markets.

Campaign finances are quite important, as is the assembly
of effective campaign organizations, but as the mid-term
elections of 2010 and 2014 clearly indicated, the recruitment
of first-rate and appealing candidates to challenge incumbents
needs to be the first priority. Particularly, in competitive senate
races, Republicans in those two cycles found exceptional men
and women to run --- and they were rewarded with significant
gains. Those were cycles when many more vulnerable
Democratic than Republican senate seats were up.

It’s more difficult to make gains in presidential election cycles
such as happened in 2012 and 2016. In the former, GOP hopefuls
did not make gains when Mr. Obama won re-election, and in
the latter, despite many more conservative incumbent seats in
play, the Democrats only picked up a net gain of two when Mr.
Trump won.

In 2018, there will be 25 Democratic seats up, and only 8 GOP
seats. Most of the Republican seats seem safe, but about half
of the Democratic races could be close. Retirements could
change these numbers a bit, but the challenge remains the
same for both parties, that is, finding strong nominees in a
stressful and bitter political environment.

While I have noted the conservative party’s success in
recruitment in the recent past, some significant liberal party
successes should also be noted. In New Hampshire, the
retiring Democratic governor Maggie Hassan ran, and she
did narrowly defeat GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte. In Illinois,
Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth defeated
GOP incumbent Mark Kirk by a wide margin. Although
Democrat Jason Kander did not defeat GOP incumbent
Roy Blunt in Missouri, he was an impressive candidate
and made it close. By contrast, less-than-ideal liberal
candidates in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and Iowa failed to
win in races that might have become competitive.

In 2010, 2012 and 2014, Republicans also put up flawed
challengers in Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana and
others states where they might have won.

In the 2018 U.S. house races, more conservative seats than
liberal ones are competitive, and so the opportunity for the
Democrats to make big gains is greater. The question is
whether or not the minority party can find outstanding
candidates.

A contrary case exists is Minnesota. The Democrats (called
here the DFL) lead the congressional delegation 5-3,
but two of the districts they represent (MN-1 and MN-7)
could be won by a Republican if the party would put up a
strong challenger. In a third district (MN-8), President
Trump won by 16 points, but the liberal incumbent won by
a small margin. That incumbent might retire to run for
governor in 2018.

With both parties divided by factionalism, it might be in
many cases even more difficult for the strongest candidate
to win his or her party’s nomination next year. Elected
public service is not generally regarded as attractive as it
was a generation ago. First-time candidates of either party
face inevitable hyper-scrutiny.

Each race for seats in the Congress has its own character
and circumstances, but if there is anything common to the
expectation of victory against a vulnerable or retiring
incumbent, it is the immeasurable quality of political
talent. This has been the difference in so many recent
races, and in today’s tense and polarized atmosphere,
it is quite likely to be critical next year, too.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Sky Is Not Falling

Contrary to the incessant mantra of the establishment media
and most liberal (and some conservative) politicians, the sky
is not falling in Washington, DC. Nor is Donald Trump
mentally or emotionally unfit to be president. That is not to
say President Trump has not made mistakes, nor does it
affirm that he has been fully successful yet in keeping his
campaign promises.

An objective assessment of his first three weeks in office is
that he is energetic and clearly determined to do what he has
promised to do, but also inexperienced in the ways of the
Capitol and perhaps in more of a hurry than he needs to be.

The real chaos in the capital is in minds of those who oppose
him -- the same folks who determined he would fail even
before he began. The establishment media is in a fury because
he won’t recognize them at press conferences, even though they
blithely ignored the fact that his predecessor ignored the
conservative media for eight years.

Although most of his cabinet/staff appointees seem to be good
ones, albeit conservative, at least two were less than ideal. One
of them has now resigned, and the other has withdrawn. The
method of opposition to these two might have been unfair, but
the bottom line is that better (and probably more effective)
figures will replace them.

What is going on in the nation’s capital is that a major and
historic transformation is taking place. When that happens,
the losers always attack the winners with emotional arguments
that disguise the simple fact that they lost, and that the world
they believed in is being dismantled. (Republicans indulged in
this when Barack Obama was elected.)

On the other hand, the winners would not be well-advised to
assume they can, or should, transform public policy easily or
overnight. The number one specific issue of 2016 (and of
2010 and 2014), was Obamacare, and voters want it replaced.
But they want it replaced with a better healthcare reform that
includes some of Obamacare’s good features.

Another major issue was immigration reform. The initial
administration order was hastily and incompletely formulated,
as well as ineptly defended in court. Its ensuing controversy
and legal suspension was understandable. A thoughtful and
more carefully rewritten follow-up is in order.

Those who predicted President Trump would be out of his
depth in foreign policy have so far been proven wrong. He has
significantly reversed many of former President Obama’s
initiatives, and Mr. Trump’s new policies have yet to be proven
successful, but his renewed positive relationship with our
historic allies (neglected during the past 8 years), has been
overdue. The administration has an able secretary of state
and an articulate UN ambassador, but world affairs are
problematic for any president, even one who is globally
experienced.

The stock market is booming. That reflects the psychology of
investors who apparently are optimistic that conservative
policies of lower taxes, fewer regulations and reasonable
interest rates will work. We were told by establishment
economists that the reverse would happen. Nevertheless,
short-term market behavior is very subjective. Presidents
have less influence on the economy than most imagine, but
good and effective policies do have impact. This should be a
wake-up call to the Republican majorities in the U.S. house
and senate that, now they have control with a sympathetic
president, it is time to implement legislation that will reflect
the policies they believe in.

So the sky is not falling  in Washington, DC. The new president
is showing high energy and determination, and continues to
outfox and confound his political and media opponents. He
continues to employ the communications skills and techniques
that enabled him to win an historic upset. But it is way too early
to pronounce a judgment on his performance --- and on the
success or failure of his administration and the new conservative
majority in Washington and in the nation as a whole.

As my readers know, I reserve the right and obligation to make
judgments when they are appropriate. I made no endorsement
in the race for president, and I was unambiguously critical of
both candidates during the recent campaign when they said or did
something that I thought was clearly wrong.

Although the nation is unquestionably divided, and many still
strongly disagree with our new president, I think a majority
want to give Donald Trump a fair chance to prove himself as
president. He did not win the most popular votes, but then,
neither candidate won a majority. Most importantly, the election
is over.

The narrative that depends on ideology alone, and liberal and
conservative labels, is a faulty judgment of American politics
today. The truest majority of voters want fairness, transparency,
security and success. Let’s see what happens now.

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