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.