Tuesday, May 22, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: France's Secret Asset

The nation of France is not the largest sovereign country in
the world in population or size. In fact, it ranks relatively low
in these key categories.

But it is the second largest nation in an important, yet often
neglected, category.

France controls vast areas of the world’s international waters
in virtually all parts of the globe. In fact, it legally controls
millions of square nautical miles in the Atlantic, Pacific Indian
and Antarctic Oceans, as well as in the Caribbean and
Mediterranean Seas. This means that it owns the resources,
including undersea oil, gas and mineral reserves

Until recently, this did not seem that valuable. But new
technologies now enable drilling and mining in deep waters ---
and such nations as the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico, Great
Britain in the North Sea, and Israel in the western
Mediterranean have reaped the bonanza of billions of dollars
from their offshore operations. Newer technologies for even
deeper and more complicated undersea mining are now
presumably being developed.

Like virtually all the great colonial powers in the 16th, 17th,
18th and 19th centuries, France had to give up its many land
colonies in North and South America, Africa and Asia in the
20th century. But while Great Britain, Portugal, Germany,
Italy, Belgium and the Dutch surrendered virtually all of their
"confiscated" territories, and gave them independence, the
French transformed some of its larger island colonies into
full-fledged departments (equivalent of U.S states) with full
French citizenship and voting representation in the French

Its shrewdest diplomatic gambit, however, was to hold on to
and claim several tiny (and sometimes uninhabited) islands
scattered in remote areas of the world’s oceans. With the
global agreement (not yet signed by all nations) known as the
Law Of The Sea, nations which owned small islands could
claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for 200 nautical
miles offshore in all directions. 

One colorful example, Clipperton Island (actually an atoll)
located about 700 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico in the
Pacific Ocean, demonstrates what a secret asset it might be
to France.

Clipperton Island (also known as Island of Desire) has only
about two square miles of land ringing a lagoon, is
uninhabited with almost no vegetation and little animal life
other than crabs and birds. It has a dark history --- it is
named after an 18th century English pirate who landed
there; was discovered by the French in 1711; and in 1906 was
occupied by Mexican settlers who, after being abandoned
during the Mexican civil war suffered one of the more
gruesome and depraved experiences of that era before its
few survivors were rescued.

It has no known resources, no tourist facilities, and is located
in the middle of nowhere, far from any shipping or air routes.

But Clipperton Island has one very big asset.

It entitles France to control the economic resources for
approximately 185,000 square miles around the atoll.
Until now, that did not mean very much. But it could mean a
great deal in the future when undersea resources can be
easily exploited.

By the way, I said that  France was the second largest nation
in area of international waters sovereignty. The largest?

Surprise! The United States of America.

For more than a century, the U.S. received trusteeship or
ownership of numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well
as in the Caribbean and Bering Sea, not to mention Hawaii and
the rights off its three coasts and Alaska --- and in the
Arctic and Antarctic.

Apparently, its small islands are mostly a secret, too.

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

THE PRAiRIE EDITOR: What If There Is No Wave --- Blue or Red?

The presumption has been --- in the lead-up to date to the 2018
mid-term election cycle --- that voters would turn out so heavily
for one side or the other that it would be a so-called “wave”
election with many U.S. house and senate seats being taken from
incumbents. Pundits and other political observers have mostly
forecast a “blue” wave for the Democrats who, inspired by their
anger about the Trump administration, would take back control
of the U.S. house and lose almost no net seats in the U.S. senate,
as well as make significant gains in races for state governors and

Fewer commentators have argued, to the contrary, that 2018 will
produce a surprise “red” wave for the Republicans, led by a
booming economy, continued lower unemployment, and a series
of President Trump foreign policy and trade successes over the
summer. Such a wave would keep U.S. house losses to less than
10, pick up 6-10 U.S. senate seats, and maintain the huge GOP
dominance in the states.

The optimism of these opposing forecasts might be assumed by
their partisans and their sympathetic media, but so far these
outcomes are not supported by much hard evidence.

Of course, 2018 might yet produce a wave election, blue or red,
as has happened with some frequency in recent cycles, but it
might be politically prudent to consider what would happen if
there was no wave this year, but a mixed result.

What would that look like?

I suggest it would result in continuing Republican control of
the U.S. house, but by a reduced margin. Democrats
would win close races where anti-Trump sentiment is strong,
but lose those where the president still has support. The GOP
would pick up a few U.S. senate seats, but far fewer than they
might have, considering the mathematical advantage they have
this cycle. Close races for state governors and legislatures
would be determined almost everywhere by local conditions
and the relative quality of the candidates in each contest.
Waking up the day after such an election cycle, it would be
difficult to assert credibly a clear pattern of the national voter

It is true that huge sums of money are going to be spent by
the candidates, their parties, and the proliferating PACS on
both sides. It is also inevitable that media coverage of the
election will be as bitter and biased as it has been for some
time. Everyone’s mailbox, TV screen, internet inbox and car
radio will be overloaded with voluminous political advertising.

These efforts could induce a wave, or they could provoke a
voter backlash.

If the quality of polling in recent cycles is repeated, it could be
quite difficult to discern a voter trend in close races until just
before election day. Even exit polls are now suspect.

Each party goes into the election with some serious problems.
Democrats are divided between mainstream liberals and those
who want to take the party to the left. Republicans are divided
in Washington, DC where they control the Congress by 
mainstream conservatives and those further to the right who
are preventing key legislation.

Behind it all is the extraordinary and disruptive personality of
President Trump who invokes passionate antipathy among
most Democrats and passionate support among most

It is likely, considering the powerful emotions felt by loyalists
on both sides, they will  predictably be voting for their own
party’s candidates in November --- all the coming political
gimmickry notwithstanding. It is also likely their turnout will
be strong.

But those voters who belong to no party, or have only weak
ties to one party or the other --- what will they do next

Are they 5% or 10% or 20% of the electorate --- or less or
more? How many are they and what they will do --- those
are the key questions of this political year --- and their
answers will tell us whether or not there will be any kind
of wave.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Any pundit is eager to be able  to alert his or her readers to news
of an emerging political trend, especially if the trend is credibly
to a big electoral wave, red or blue, The temptation is considerable
to be the first to herald a sensational outcome at the polls .

Most cycles the signs come relatively early. This was true in he
mid-term elections of 2010 and 2014 when voter dissatisfaction
with Obama administration policies (but not with Mr. Obama
personally) foreshadowed Republican gains. Of course, many in
the media turned their eyes from the voter signals --- and saw
only that the president was still relatively popular. In 2016, with
no incumbent in the presidential contest, the mis-reading by many
observers was epic and historic.

Now we are less than six months from the 2018 mid-terms, the
primary season is underway, and the irresistible search for
political omens is on.

So far, however, the omens appear to be mixed and contradictory.
Democrats have done well in most special elections, but have
actually won few of them, Their general opposition to the
Trump presidency does give them energy and motivation to go
to the polls. But Republicans seem to be sticking with their
support of the president, and the early primaries can be seen
to foretell strong conservative turnout in November as well.

The Democrats have a clear advantage to make big gains in the
U.S. house --- as the Republicans have a big advantage in expand
their now slim control of the U.S. senate. These advantages have
not so far been diminished by the early primary voting.

In  California, liberal prospects are complicated by state law
which requires the two top votegetters in a primary, regardless
of party, to be on the November ballot. This has put at risk
several likely Democratic pick-ups in Congress there because so
many Democrats are running in some primaries that it is quite
possible that only Republicans will be on the ballot in those
races on election day. The reverse is true in the race for
California governor in which there might only be two Democrats
on the ballot --- thus denying conservatives top-of-the-ticket
motivation for their voters. This would also likely dampen GOP
turnout overall --- a serious handicap to winning down-ballot

Primaries in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia heartened
Republicans generally as voters nominated strong U.S. senate
challengers, but the Democrats still have the advantage of
incumbency in those states.

Minnesota’s primary is not until August, but the state has
non-binding endorsing conventions before that, and this
process has muddied several races. The state has the unique
distinction nationally of having two U.S. senate seats on the
ballot in 2018 (one of which is competitive), four very close
U.S. house races (half the state’s entire delegation), and an
open contest for governor that could resound nationally.

Important state primaries are ahead. Montana, Wisconsin
and Michigan have key GOP senate primaries. A gubernatorial
controversy in Missouri still affects that potential GOP senate
pick-up opportunity.

President Trump looms over the 2018 election in spite of not
being on the ballot The North Korean crisis in on-again then
off-again, the Middle East is in perpetual motion and new
global trade agreements are yet unfinished.

The Democrats continue to be pulled to the left by grass
roots forces. Four members of the socialist party in
Pennsylvania, running as Democrats, just won state house
primaries --- and are likely to win in November. That has
excited the more radical wing of the party, but has not
likely helped more moderate Democrats running in other
Pennsylvania races.

Far right Republican candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin
and other states present their party with a similar

The vital difference, bottom line, can be put to the relative
quality of the candidates in competitive races this year.
The hype so far predicting a political wave, either blue or
red, may turn out to be just political smoke in the end.
The political party which does best might be the party
which recruited and nominated the better candidates.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2018


In only a matter of a few days, what was heralded as a coming
Republican electoral nightmare (a/k/a a 2018 blue tide) has
been awakened into another and contrary reality, a dramatic
political reversal on the horizon in the form of an incoming
Trump tide.

With unemployment falling to recent historic lows (especially
among hardest hit communities of blacks and Hispanics), a
rising stock market, early positive effects from the 2017 tax
reform legislation, and a remarkable series of potential
triumphs in foreign policy, President Donald Trump is leading
his party back from the edge of mid-term election disaster as
he takes command of the domestic and international stage.

While most of the nation slept on Wednesday night, the
president and first lady, and the vice president, welcomed
home from North Korea Secretary of State Pompeo and three
freed Americans from North Korean imprisonment. Thursday
morning, the world awakened to a remarkable diplomatic U.S.
triumph as the president also announced that he would meet
with the North Korean leader in Singapore in June.

In contrast with the two presidents who preceded him, Mr.
Trump did not declare “Mission Accomplished!” (George W.
Bush), nor did he fail to bring the Korean dictator to the
bargaining table (Barack Obama). Instead, the president
cautioned that the freed U.S. prisoners and the date and place
of the summit were only a beginning.

A day before, in several key primaries, Republican voters
avoided past political mistakes, and nominated their strongest
candidates in three key 2018 U.S. senate races against
vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Conservative turnout was
strong in spite of this cycle not holding a presidential election.
But again, no final result was achieved --- November is five
months away.

Coming up, the president will attend the formal opening of
his historic action of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to
Jerusalem --- something promised by many U.S. presidents,
both Democratic and Republican, but not done.

At the same time, the president ended a unpopular Iran deal
that wasn’t working --- in spite of opposition from many
European allies who who were placing their economic
interests above Middle East security. Once more, the aftermath
of this strategic move has not yet played out, but it is now
clear that U.S. passivity in the world is over.

Finally, in spite of almost universal criticism of threatened
U.S tariffs in readjusting global trade agreements, President
Trump’s initiatives are beginning to obtain concessions
and welcome changes from trading partners. Again,
negotiations are still underway, and it’s too early to declare

For months, I have been cautioning that the optimistic liberal
narratives of a blue wave that would lead to a Democratic
takeover of the U.S. house and widespread other victories for
the liberal party were premature. Not necessarily wrong, but

Now I caution Republicans and conservatives that current
good news for their party and their president does not mean
there will be a certain red wave in November.

Many days and many events are yet to take place before
Americans cast their votes this year. Dreams, media fantasies,
wishful thinking, polls, and nightmares do not make an election.

Voters do.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Very High Stakes Governor's Race

The third and final act of the Minnesota 2018 election grand
opera is the race for governor. National party strategists and
pundits will be paying much more attention to Acts I and II,
i.e., the close races for U.S. house and senate that are making
this state so important to whom will control Congress in the
next term, but the contest that will likely have the most
impact will be the one that will choose the next state chief

Both major parties face possible primary contests for their
gubernatorial nomination. Democratic (DFL) frontrunner,
retiring Congressman Tim Walz, faces two major challengers
in retiring State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Erin Murphy, a
state representative. The affable Mr. Walz is hoping for party
endorsement at the June state DFL convention, but might have
to face a competitive August primary. On the GOP side, former
Governor Tim Pawlenty entered the race only a month ago, but
has already raised far more campaign funds than his only
remaining major opponent, 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jeff
Johnson. Johnson has worked to gain support among party
convention delegates for months, and wins straw polls at the
district level, but these activists  represent less than 1% of the
state Republican electorate. Johnson failed to win this race four
years ago, but Pawlenty has won it twice, albeit by only a
plurality with a major third party candidates on both ballots.

With his early start, Johnson could be endorsed at the state
GOP convention, but recent past DFL and GOP endorsees
have subsequently lost their party nomination in the
statewide primary.

Republicans control both the house and senate in the state
legislature now, and are expected to keep control for the next
session. But their margin in the senate is only one seat (no state
senate seats are up for election this year). Their margin in the
state house is comfortable, but not necessarily safe should
there be a DFL wave this cycle.

There could also be a GOP wave in Minnesota in 2018.

Retiring DFL Governor Mark Dayton has raised state taxes
until very recently. Failures in state medical insurance and
auto license systems have plagued his administration. His
initial popularity has declined. As his would-be successor,
Tim Walz has to decide whether he will offer more of the same
to voters, or take his party in a new direction. As is happening
nationally, Bernie Sanders DFLers, personified by Minneapolis
Congressman Keith Ellison (one of the few in Congress who
supported the Sanders presidential bid), are lobbying at the
grass roots level to move the DFL even further to the left. But
much of Walz support comes from those who want to expand
the DFL base into suburban and rural Minnesota where the
party has recently been weak, and leftist notions are not

Tim Pawlenty has spent the years since he left politics (after his
unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012) as a highly paid
executive for a nationao financial services industry advocacy
group. His opponents are predictably trying to paint him as a DC
lobbyist. His defenders reply that this industry has a reported
200,000 workers throughout Minnesota --- and that this is a vital
industry in the economy. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
he denounced candidate Donald Trump after a controversial
video was a released. Pawlenty says he did this as the father of
two daughters, and who felt Trump’s remarks on the video were
extremely inappropriate, but that he voted for Trump and now
agrees with many of his policies. Do Trump supporters outstate
want an early Trump supporter or a later Trump supporter who
is much more likely to win? The answer to that question will be
key. Pawlenty’s first two terms had some mixed results. He will
now have to make the case that his third term will be better, A
veteran of the state legislature (he was once house majority
leader). Pawlenty argues he is a forward-thinking pragmatist
who knows how to get things done. He has come out swinging
against the failures of the Dayton administration.

Recent reports by state conservative think tanks allege that DFL
tax and education policies are driving families and businesses
out of the state. Public employee unions are also a powerful
part of the Minnesota DFL, and (as in neighboring Wisconsin)
this could be a major issue in the governor’s race. Mining and
environmental issues have helped turn northeastern Minnesota
(especially the mineral-rich area called The Range) from a past
reliably large DFL majority to giving GOP candidate Trump a
16-point margin in 2016.

The DFL still has large majorities in the state’s two largest cities
of St. Paul and Minneapolis. With labor union money and an
experienced GOTV organization, plus the natural energy from
liberal antipathy to Donald Trump, the Democrats in Minnesota
remain a formidable force, but Republicans now have a  strong
voter ID and GOTV effort. So many close races this year gives
them an energy of their own

Unemployment is currently low in the state, and other economic
conditions here, as will be true in the rest of the nation, will play
an important role in the 2018 election, especially in the race for
governor, because the two major Minnesota political parties have
such different visions of how the state should be run.

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

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Minnesota Political Opera

Like a classical grand opera, the 2018 elections in Minnesota
have three acts.

Act I --- the competitive U.S. house races were recently surveyed
on these pages. It is time to take an updated look at Act II --- the
competitive U.S. senate race.

There are actually two U.S. senate races in this state this cycle
because Al Franken unexpectedly resigned last year. The
Minnesota governor then appointed his lt. governor, Tina Smith,
to fill the seat until this November when a special election would
be held Franken would have run for re-election in 2020).

Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat (DFL), is normally up
for re-election in 2018. This would be her third term. As the most
popular DFL figure in the state, she is not expected to have a
serious contest.

But, as it appears now, Tina Smith is in for a competitive contest
from State Senator Karin Housely, a Republican. The question is,
with two generally unknown statewide candidates, just how
competitive will this race be?

Senator Smith has considerable experience behind-the-scenes in
local and state politics. She not only has been a successful
campaign manager, she has served as chief of staff to a former
Minneapolis mayor and to the current governor, Mark Dayton.
Her election at lt. governor in 2014 was as part of the DFL ticket
overshadowed by Dayton. Like many political staff members,
she works easily with the boss, and fellow staff, but does not
necessarily have an outgoing style of relating to voters. As an
appointee only months before the special election, she needs to
campaign heavily to become better known. Her dilemma is that
she also must appear to be working hard in her new job, including
casting votes that will keep her in Washington, DC most of the
spring and summer. (In 1978, a popular, but appointed, Minnesota
senator missed many votes in order to campaign, and it led to his
surprise defeat at the polls that year.)

If Tina Smith can be characterized as more private and a bit shy,
her likely Republican opponent, Karin Housely, could be described
as ebullient and outgoing. With a background in business and
experience in the state senate, she has local credentials, but a small
resume for national politics. When she announced her candidacy, it
was greeted by some skepticism among several GOP insiders.
Her initial efforts, however, including her recent legislative
efforts on behalf of the state’s elderly, has improved hopes of many
conservatives --- although Senator Smith remains, for now, a slight
favorite in November.

Other factors could affect the outcome of this race, especially if the
final vote is close. The DFL contest just added a challenger, a former
Republican who is very critical of President Trump. But neither he
nor any GOP challenger to Senator Housely is likely to win an
endorsement in June nor a nomination in August. A strong
independent candidate on the left or the right, on the other hand,
could be a factor in November if the race is tight.

The economy and President Trump’s’s popularity in late October
could be bigger factors, as could the relative merits of the two
campaign organizations and their fundraising. Senator Smith has,
so far, raised more money.

With so much at stake for the Trump administration agenda and
the Democratic Party’s hopes for 2020, there will be considerable
outside financial input from both national party campaigns and
national conservative and liberal PACs.

Finally. the Minnesota voters’ historic tendency for ticket-splitting
could be crucial --- with two senate seats up this cycle.

Act II of this electoral Minnesota opera, just as Act I, will also
draw plenty of national media attention for its numerous
possible pick-ups and national impact. But Act III --- a critical
race for governor --- could prove to be the state’s most
significant race of all. More about that soon.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A British Trump --- 175 Years Ago!

About 175 years ago, a political figure emerged in Great Britain who, in
many ways, could be uncannily compared to Donald Trump.

When it comes to earlier British political leaders, most Americans only
know a few names such as Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone and
Winston Churchill. A few more know the names of William Pitt and
Lloyd George. But there were many more distinguished leaders largely
unknown on this side of the Pond, including reformer and friend of
Abraham Lincoln, John Bright. (Bright did not become prime minister,
but had a huge impact on the mid-19th century United Kingdom.)

There was also an enormously significant leader who served for many
years as foreign minister and prime minister , and who had much to do
with Great Britain becoming  the world power after the defeat of

His name was Henry John Temple, the 3rd Viscount of Palmerston,
but he is remembered in history simply as Lord Palmerston. He lived
from 1784 to 1865. His public life lasted from 1807 until he died, and
from the 1830s on he was the principal foreign policy influence on his

His policy might be summed up as "make Britain great again!”
Partly as a result of his leadership, his small island nation became the
most significant sea power in the world, and its colonial empire the
largest in the world.

He was not universally popular, and had many political critics and
enemies. Although born into the British aristocracy, he disrupted the
British establishment of his time, and was not even a favorite of
Queen Victoria, the British monarch virtually all of the time he was
in power.

Although much of his foreign policy seemed belligerent and
controversial, he masterfully controlled British public opinion by
stimulating British nationalism.

He attended the University of Edinburgh (the Wharton School of
that time) where he studied under influential Scottish economist
Dugald Stewart, who wrote and lectured about Adam Smith (the
Milton Friedman of that time).

His characteristic strategies were brinkmanship and bluff, and he
frequently threatened war to achieve his ends. He was often
tendentiously outspoken.

Unlike John Bright, he did not support the North in the U.S. Civil
War, but Britain did not recognize the Confederacy in spite of
there being so many British sympathizers with the South.

The era which followed his death produced two great prime
ministers, Gladstone (who Palmerston brought into politics) and
Disraeli, the leader of the opposition party.  A peak in the power
and dimensions of the British empire was realized after
Palmerston left the political stage, but he had been significantly
responsible for its rise.

Perhaps what Lord Palmerston is most remembered for today is
not his foreign policy (nor for his octogenarian philandering,) but
for his masterful management of the British media --- which in
those days meant the newspapers. Although most Victorian
prime ministers seemed to ignore the press, Palmerston was the
first to recognize the value of the press in influencing public

Possibly it is the latter trait which most closely compares Lord
Palmerston to Donald Trump, the modern U.S. political master
manipulator of the media --- although, in Trump’s case (and in
contrast to Palmerston), most of the media are against him.

At about the same time, but slightly later, the first U.S.. president
to effectively use the media, Abraham Lincoln, appeared, but he
also took advantage of the then new invention of the telegraph, as
later, Franklin Roosevelt used the then new invention of radio, and
John Kennedy used television. Donald Trump, of course, uses the
internet and Twitter.

But it was an anti-establishment British aristocrat, Lord
Palmerston, who almost 200 years ago first disrupted public
opinion with controversy and bold headlines.

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A French Connection And Koreas Connecting

In the Trump presidency, it appears that foreign policy, as in its
domestic policy, is more about actions than words.

President Trump seemed to get off to a bad beginning in his
relations with many allied leaders, and particularly with the
top figures in the United Kingdom, France and Germany --- as
well as with the hostile leader of North Korea. A certain level of
unprecedented mutual name-calling ensued, and the international
and domestic establishment media were lurid and critical.

Although little is now settled, potentially significant actual
diplomatic movement is underway.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has policy differences
with Mr. Trump, but as a fellow political outsider and
businessman, he seems to have understood the U.S. leader better
and more quickly than his European colleagues. His just-concluded
U.S. visit was a clear triumph for both leaders --- although it is
important to note that some of their differences remain.

The dictator of North Korea has apparently changed diplomatic
directions, including moving to end long-standing hostilities with
neighbor South Korea, and expressing a willingness to end nuclear
weapon ambitions. Even Mr. Trump’s critics are now crediting
his blunt approach to contributing to this.  President Trump rightly
cautions about making any conclusions about this turn of events,
but there is not a little optimism now that significant progress
can be made.

Much has been made about the conflicts between President
Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In her current
U.S. visit, however, both leaders seem to fully understand that
some diplomatic defrosting is now in order. We might expect a
similar environment when the U.S. president soon visits the
United Kingdom.

Other international “hotspots” remain, including the Middle
East, radical regimes in Venezuela and Cuba, more problems
in South America, Russia, and of course, China. But a new
stage in the always dynamic world order seems to have been
reached. Much danger and potential violence are still present,
and will likely continue into the foreseeable future, but the
vacuum created by almost decade of  U.S. diplomatic passivity
has now been replaced with a more constructive and muscular
U.S. engagement.

The key notion, at this point is connection. In order to achieve
agreements, conflicting parties first must find a common
language of their real interests. That is what appears to be
happening now.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casseman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Minnesota Puzzle

As the 2018 national mid-term election head into its formative
primary season, the sheer range and variety of competitive
races in Minnesota signal this state will be one of the
most-watched and most-discussed political battlegrounds
this cycle in the nation.

Other states, of course, have individual bellwether and colorful
contests, but Minnesota has, as they say, the whole package ---
several close congressional races, an unexpectedly unpredictable
U.S. senate race, and an all-important contest for governor.

In spite of narratives recently that have presumed “waves” for
both parties in the wake of President Trump’s first two years
in office, the electorate this year, especially that large chunk of
voters who decide their votes late in the campaign season, is
seemingly very volatile and unsettled.

Examining the fascinating and large number of competitive
Minnesota U.S. house races indicates how much results in
November remain a puzzle and undecided.

Starting at the Canadian border, Minnesota has two
congressional districts. the 7th on the northwest and the 8th
on the northeast. Although MN-7 is very conservative and
voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, the house seat, held by
a Democrat (in this state called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party or DFL) Collin Peterson. Republicans repeatedly fail to
come up with a serious opponent to Peterson who is one of
the most conservative Democrats in Congress (and one of the
very few pro-lifers in his party holding office). But Minnesota
is likely to lose one of its eight house seats after the 2020
census, and MN-7 and MN-8 are likely in some form to be
combined. Peterson probably will retire then.

The 8th district, which includes the Range, has historically
provided the DFL with large margins in statewide races.
DFL incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan, after two close
re-elections, has retired. In 2016, this district was won by
Donald Trump by 16 points. (Mr. Trump shocked political
observers by almost carrying the state.) This year, the GOP
has an energetic likely nominee, Pete Stauber, while the
DFL failed to endorse a candidate and will face a bitter
August primary. Environmental and mining issues also
favor the Republican here, and MN-8 is probably the most
promising GOP house seat pick-up in the nation.

Conservatives have high hopes to pickup another DFL seat
on the state’s southern border. The incumbent DFLer in
MN-1 has retired to run for governor. The GOP has
endorsed early frontrunner Jim Hagedorn (son of a former
congressman here), but State Senator Carla Nelson (whose
base is in the district’s largest city Rochester) has said she
will go to the August primary. The endorsement helps
Hagedorn, as does the support of prominent GOP leaders,
but he now will have to spend critical resources in the
primary. The DFL-endorsee Dan Feehan will not have this
problem --- his opponents have withdrawn. Feehan also
appears to be the strongest candidate his party could put
up. The district still is conservative, but until the primary
is settled, this race goes from “Lean Republican” to

DFLers have high hopes of picking up the seat now held by
GOP incumbent Congressman Jason Lewis in MN-2. A
former talk show host, Lewis barely won his first term in
2016 against DFLer Angie Craig. She will be his opponent
again in 2018. Lewis impressed most Republicans in his
first term, but the district is even divided between the two
major parties, and this race is a “Toss-Up.”

Just as DFLer Collin Peterson won re-election in a district
carried heavily by Donald Trump, 3rd District GOP
Congressman Erik Paulsen easily defeated his DFL
opponent in a district carried strongly by Hillary Clinton.
With a self-funding and personable (but first-time) candidate,
Dean Phillips, the DFL would like to pick up this suburban
Minneapolis seat, but Peterson is a hard-working incumbent
who fits the district and will be hard to beat. Still “Lean

Five of Minnesota’s eight U.S. house seats are technically in
play, and three now could actually change hands. Three other
seats are considered no-contest. GOP Congressman Tom
Emmer in MN-6, DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum in
MN-4, and DFL Congressman Keith Ellison in MN-5, are each
expected to win re-election by large margins.

Congressman Ellison, however, is also the controversial and
openly radical vice chairman of the national Democratic Party.
Unpopular with conservatives in outstate Minnesota, he could
become a secondary issue in some of the 2018 statewide races,
including the special U.S. senate election caused by the
resignation of Al Franken last year.

Those other races, the U.S. senate race and the governor’s race,
will have to wait for another column, but like the competitive
U.S. house races discussed above, they are puzzling --- and
with uncertain outcomes.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Revisions Of Diplomacy

Most Americans are not involved directly, or even indirectly,
in foreign policy. What most Americans know about current
foreign affairs is what they read, watch or hear in the media.

Relationships between nations, regions and various alliances
are complicated matters which like individual human
relationships employ simultaneously two languages. The
first language is a language that promotes images and
deceptions --- and is usually spoken aloud. The second
language is one of self-interests and real intentions --- and is
often unspoken. Real diplomacy is the consequence of the
two languages, just as real individual relationships are the
understanding of the two languages spoken between two

The timeless difficulty of our species is the difficulty of
distinguishing between the two.

Just in the past century on the world stage, misunderstanding
what major powers really meant with their intentions has led
to unspeakable violence and wars. The Western democracies
mistranslated the Central Powers in Europe in the first decade
of the century, and they misread a German dictator in the
third decade. In the fifth decade, they did not misunderstand
the Soviet totalitarian threat, and a protracted Cold War
ended without global violence.

The latter experience demonstrated that international
communication failure is not inevitable. After World War I,
the Versailles Peace treaty helped provoke World War II.
After World War II, a plan of economic recovery for former
enemies, helped prevent another war. Resisting threats,
instead of ignoring them, proved to be vital to keeping the
peace and promoting prosperity and freedom.

But we are now in a new century. Mired in a series of costly
and seemingly unfulfilling local wars, the world’s democratic
powers grew weary, and a recent period of disengagement
took place.

History has a few constants. One is the endless rising of
new aggressive and violent forces --- arising always in
totalitarian states and groups. Much as the various
democratic states, large and small, might not want to have
to deal with these international pathologies, history
indelibly informs us that these malign forces do not go away
left unchallenged.

However understandable is the impulse in the democracies
not to have to constantly deal with threats, the most recent
period of disengagement in the world has quickly revealed
that new and dangerous threats did not fail to appear and
grow --- whether they came from the Middle East,Venezuela
and Cuba, or from North Korea. Russia has renewed a
certain belligerent series of actions. Even the inevitable
emergence of China (potentially a competitor and not an
enemy) obviously cannot be treated with indifference.

Just as Harry Truman foresaw the early Soviet threat and
Ronald Reagan saw the later Soviet threat, the new American
president is attempting to confront the threats of our own
time. He is employing a new language --- some of which is
unsettling --- but so far it seem to be working better than the
old language. He might not be successful in his disruptions
of the status quo, but even those who dislike him or oppose
his politics, have a vital stake in his being successful.

World movements move at their own speed. It is perhaps
a time for all of us to understand better the real languages
being spoken in our interests.

In our form of democracy,there is always time to change
those who speak for us, if necessary or merited --- at a
proper time and at the ballot box.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Our Oldest Ally Renewed

Before the American colonists successfully completed their 18th
century revolt, and established the United States of America as a
sovereign nation, they had a major foreign power as an ally, the
French monarchy. It wasn’t liberte and egalite that drew the French
to our side then (although they were intrigued and charmed by our
representative in Paris, Benjamin Frankllin); it was our fight against
our British masters that brought our struggle to their attention.‘The
British were then the principle enemy of France on the European
continent, and any defeat for the British king was a victory for the
French king and his interests.

Most historians would agree that ultimately the French alliance
was a critical factor. A few years, and their own revolution later,
the French under Napoleon sold  a lot of what comprises the U.S.
today for a few (but needed) millions of dollars. Still later in the
19th century, many French sympathized with the North in the U.S.
War (most of the British were on the South’s side), and three times
in the 20th century, France was our ally in major wars (WW 1,
WW 2 and Korea). Not to mention the Cold War.

Only in 1956 when U.S. President Eisenhower put the kibosh on
Franco-British attempt to take over the Suez Canal, did relations
cool. Although still bound as allies through the NATO Alliance
since 1949, the French have often taken their own diplomatic and
economic path since and up to the present day.

But a curious development has just occurred: the unpopular in
Europe U.S. President Trump and the maverick new French
President Emmanuel Macron have apparently formed what is being
called a “bromance” by some in the media. This is an unexpected
diplomatic turn when it is considered that the 70 year old Trump
might be the age of the 40 year old Macron’s grandfather, not to
mention M. Macron’s interests in elite French culture while Mr.
Trump is known for his affinity to American working class culture.

But their obvious differences belie more significant affinities.
Both are political outsiders who shocked their nations’ political
establishments, both are non-politicians who made their previous
successes in the business world, and both are disrupting national
bureaucratic orthodoxies. President Macron, it should be noted, is
fighting French labor unions and just established immigration rules
far more restrictive than any suggested by President Trump.

So once again U.S. interests and French interests coincide to bring
about cooperation and mutual benefits.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister
Theresa May are also leaders of nations allied in general with the
U.S., but they have apparently not yet discovered enough common
interests with Trump foreign policy to overcome their not-so-hidden
personal dislike of the American president.

It might prove costly for them not to do so --- and quickly. Only
France now has a friend in the White House.

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

Monday, April 16, 2018


The most recent American “new town” movement took place
in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is almost forgotten now as urban
centers are growing even faster today --- and with little of the
innovative planning and design impulses that were at the heart
of that episode of social demographic problem-solving.

Known as Title IV new communities, there were about twenty
of them, each a public/private collaboration whose private
developers’ loan financing was guaranteed by the federal
government under the stewardship of the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development. They were located near large
metropolitan areas across the nation.

They didn’t last long -- as most critics of federal bureaucratic
projects might have predicted. An unexpected economic
downturn in 1974, only five years after the first new town was
opened in Minnesota, upended the movement when the fragile
economies of these communities could not make their  loan
repayments, and the Nixon administration threw in the
towel precipitating bankruptcies and stalled development.

The idealism of the new town movement was also. on occasion,
opposed locally for imposing certain design and planning
standards that faced some disagreements on political and
environmental grounds. The first “new town-in town” (called
Cedar-Riverside near downtown Minneapolis) was such a case,
with serious grass roots protests about high-rise, high density
housing. The existing new town complex today serves primarily
as home to a significant number of Somali refugees who have
recently settled in the Twin Cities. Other Title IV new towns
have been assimilated into the suburban communities near
where they were located.

The first Title IV new town, Jonathan, has been integrated into
the city of Chaska, Minnesota --- Jonathan had been, prior to
1967, farmland within Chaska’s boundaries. Today, Jonathan
retains much of it new own planning design and a certain
amount of its original identity, but the earlier innovative
spirit has been mostly replaced with more traditional
suburban growth patterns and standards.

The new town movement is a global phenomenon, however,
and centuries old. All cities, it must be remembered, were
once “new” --- although in practice, modern new towns
have been planned and designed. Notable examples of this
include Brazil’s new capital Brasilia and Australia’s capital
Canberra. The U.S. capital of Washington, DC was a
planned new town in 1800. Prior to the Title IV program,
there were several U.S.new town experiments in the 19th and
20th centuries. Columbia, Maryland and Reston Virginia
are perhaps the most well-known, and still exist. Many new
towns were created in Europe, and the new towns are springing
up worldwide,

I moved to Jonathan when it was very new, and ended up
publishing Appleseeds, the first independent Title IV
new town newspaper. Later, I published and edited the
Cedar-Riverside newspaper Many Corners, a pioneer Twin
Cities community publication. (Many of the neighborhood
newspapers begun then survive to this day, covering local
news ignored by the daily establishment media.)

I was a witness to the growing pains, controversies,
innovative spirit, excitement and disappointments of these
early Title IV new towns. Its basic purpose of bringing
rational planning to urban and suburban growth has been
largely set aside.

Another attempt to accomplish this locally was the creation
of a “metropolitan council” that would oversee the
seven-county Twin City growth through coordination of
transportation and sewers, and later, zoning and housing.
But this, too, after initial successes, has become mired in
controversies and citizen protests against high-handed
regulation and planning.

In the 1970s, growth saw the continuation of the post-war
flight from the cities to the suburbs, and even to entirely
new communities in the exurbs. In 2018, that trend seems to
be reversing, with substantial new condo and apartment
construction in the cities bringing back suburbanites to
city centers.

But the dull architecture, randomness and high prices of 
new housing has little of the excitement and innovation that
was intended and begun by new towns. Combined with
increasing downtown traffic congestion, disappearing
on-street parking, heavy urban taxes of all kinds, and a
plethora of rules and regulations penalizing local stores,
restaurants and other businesses, this trend intended to
revitalize inner cities might be more short-sighted than
now imagined.

Perhaps another, and more creative, new town movement
is in order.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Paul Ryan Takes A Leave

Wisconsin Congressman and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
will deserve the indelible thanks of the nation when he departs
from Congress next January.

Democrats, of course, often opposed him, as did some of his
Republican colleagues, but he was the indispensable figure at
a very critical moment. His subsequent leadership during a
volatile time revealed that he was often one of the few adult
persons in the political room. His frequent selflessness and
constant integrity took the U.S. house through turbulent times.
It should not go unnoticed that, under his guidance, his body
has passed much legislation that remains unacted on by the
U.S. senate.

A former Republican vice presidential nominee, Mr. Ryan had
to have his arm twisted to take the speakership. He did take
the job which proved problematic and often thankless.

Some are interpreting his retirement as a concession that his
party will lose control of the U.S. house next November. There
is no dispositive indication yet that this will happen. It could
happen, but so far it remains wishful thinking by Democrats.

Kevin McCarthy is the likely successor to Mr. Ryan as speaker,
and Steve Scalise will likely take Mr. McCarthy's post as
majority leader. With a new majority whip  (Mr. Scalise's
current postition), this leadership team will faee daunting
challenges in the months ahead.

It seems entirely reasonable that Paul Ryan, a truly devoted
family man, would leave public life --- at least for a while ---
to spend much more time with his wife and children.

I don’t think we have heard the end of the political life of
this still relatively young man who has accomplished so
much with distinction in such a brief time.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2018 U.S. Senate Campaign Update

With 26 Democratic incumbent senate seats up for election in the 2018
mid-term cycle, and less than 10 Republican seats, these contests will
be a major political battle ground in November.

With some retirements and resignations, and several challenger 
nominations unsettled --- as well as the volatile voter mood and the
uncertain prospects for the economy, this battleground landscape is
changing with some frequency. Here’s an update:

MONTANA: Incumbent Democrat Jon Tester is vulnerable, but his
GOP challenger is unknown. Trump carried this state easily in 2016,
but Tester could be formidable. NET CHANGE: Slightly better for

ARIZONA: This is an open GOP seat (Jeff Flake retiring). This looked
like a sure Democratic pick-up, and could still go that way, but two
off-the-wall GOP contenders now face Congresswoman Martha
McSally, a more electable conservative. NET CHANGE: If McSally
wins the primary, much better chance for the GOP

NEVADA: Another likely previous Democratic pick-up, but GOP
incumbent Dean Heller has moved away from earlier anti-Trump
rhetoric, and his major potential primary opponent has withdrawn.
His strong role in the tax reform legislation is in stark contrast to
his likely Democratic opponent’s opposition to it in the U.S. house.
NET CHANGE: This race will be close, but clear improvement for
GOP incumbent.

MISSOURI: State Attorney General Josh Hawley is one of the
brightest new figures in the national Republican Party, and his
opponent, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is one of the
most vulnerable incumbent this cycle. A scandal involving the
GOP governor might cloud this race, and McCaskill always plays
hardball. NET CHANGE: Hawley remains a slight favorite.

NORTH DAKOTA: Republicans finally recruited their strongest
challenger, Congressman Kevin Cramer (the state’s sole U.S. house
member, he also runs statewide). President Trump carried the
state in a landslide, and incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi
Heitkamp is very vulnerable. She is also popular in the state and a
strong campaigner. NET CHANGE: Still a toss-up, but slightly better
prospects for Cramer,

MINNESOTA: Unexpectedly, this state has two senate races in
November. Incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar is a shoo-in for
re-election, but recently appointed Democratic Senator Tina Smith
(she was picked to replace Al Franken who resigned) has a contest on
her hands from GOP State Senator Karon Housely. Mrs. Smith has
seemed uncertain in her first few months, and Mrs. Housely is
beginning to impress earlier skeptics. NET CHANGE: Senator Smith
is still favored, but better prospects for her challenger.

WISCONSIN: Incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin is
vulnerable, but recent developments seem to improve her chances.
First, she still has no clear GOP opponent, and it is not yet clear if
either of her two likely opponents can mount an effective campaign,
Second, Democrats have done well in recent off-year or special
state elections. NET CHANGE: A possible GOP pick-up, but now
looking better for the Democratic incumbent.

INDIANA: Incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly was a surprise winner
six years ago, and is quite vulnerable in this usually GOP state. But
the Republicans don’t yet have a certain challenger to him, and it is
not yet clear that the GOP primary will produce a strong opponent.
NET CHANGE:  Donnelly still very vulnerable, but his prospects have
recently improved.

OHIO: Incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown was rated as very
vulnerable at the outset of the cycle, and  State Treasurer Josh
Mandel (who ran against him last cycle) was a strong challenger,
A family health crisis prompted Mandel to withdraw, NET CHANGE:
Brown will still have a major challenger, but a formidable campaigner,
he is now the clear favorite for re-election.

TENNESSEE: After the GOP incumbent unexpectedly resigned, this
was expected to remain a conservative seat, but the Democrats have
recruited a popular former governor, Phil Bredeson, to run against
GOP Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. In a recent poll, Bredeson
is ahead. NET CHANGE: A possible Democratic pick-up.

WEST VIRGINIA: Perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the U.S.
senate, Joe Manchin is highly vulnerable in this state that went
overwhelmingly for President Trump. The only statewide Dtemocrat
left, Manchin is a former governor and personally popular. The GOP
primary outcome is not clear. NET CHANGE: Manchin is vulnerable,
but don’t count him out.

FLORIDA:  Aging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is very vulnerable,
and Republican Rick Scott will be a strong challenger. NET CHANGE:
A close race, but Scott has now some momentum.

Other states were initially thought to be competitive, including
Michigan and Pennsylvania, have not yet materialized. A retirement
in Mississippi was unexpected, but there is no indication yet of any
pick-up in this conservative state.

All of the above is only an update. As we have already seen this year,
dramatic changes can occur. Republicans clearly have the
mathematical advantage, but it is far from clear how many seats
they will be able to gain in November.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018


An unsettling factor in this year’s mid-term elections
is the presence of extreme candidates in both parties
for competitive U.S. house and senate seats.

It is by no means unprecedented. These kind of
candidates appear with some regularity at all levels
of local, state and national campaigns. Some are
perennial candidates, and others run as third party
or independent office seekers.

In recent cycles, some of these candidates actually
won their party nomination --- and inevitably went
down to defeat in November even though their party
usually won their races.

Republicans particularly have paid a political price
for these candidacies. Most recently, a safe GOP
senate seat was lost in Alabama to a Democrat
because the Republican nominee was not acceptable
even to many conservative voters. But in the past decade,
conservatives have also lost likely wins in Nevada,
Missouri, Delaware, Indiana and elsewhere because
they did not nominate their strongest candidates.

This cycle, some Democrats with apparently more
extreme views, following the populist outburst of
2016, are seeking their party’s nominations in
house and senate races. On the other hand, as
happened in a recent special congressional
election, Democrats nominated a moderate and
atypical candidate --- and picked up a seat.
This is being repeated in other congressional
races where Democrats are running left-center
candidates in districts where more radical
candidates would fail.

In the senate races, Democrats are defending
about a dozen seats with vulnerable incumbents.
In many cases, Republicans are  putting up
attractive challengers, as they did so effectively
in 2010 and 2014, but in a few contests, their
potential success is muddled by more extreme
candidates. Two examples of this are Arizona
and Mississippi. Two extreme candidates are in
the Arizona race, and this might enable a third,
and excellent candidate, to win the nomination.
Otherwise, the Democrats will pick up a seat.

It’s a free country, and we hold free elections.
Anyone qualified to run can run, no matter
what views they hold. That is as it should be.
It is the responsibility of the political parties
to make sure that they put their best candidates
on the ballot. When they do not, as has been
demonstrated so often, they do pay a dear price.

Within liberalism and conservatism, there is a wide
range of views that have the potential of succeeding
with voters. Outside that range on both the left and the
right, it is far more difficult to assemble a winning

One of the reasons it is premature to assess
what will happen in November is that the names
of the candidates in so many competitive races are
still unknown.

The two major parties should be paying special
attention to their nominees this cycle.

Candidates matter.

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Like so many 2016 Trump campaign themes, the notion that
“America should win again” was largely ignored, or treated
as jingoism by most Democratic strategists, activists and
those in the liberal media.

Among many middle class elites and their establishment
educational/psychological values, the natural social impulse
to win at games, sports, business, and war had increasingly
been played down. “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how
you play the game’ was now a standard cliche expressed ---
at least verbally --- in certain circles. “Winning isn’t
everything” was another.

Since it’s genesis in the 1780’s, the United States was a nation
that usually won, and except for the grim tragedy of 1861-65,
the nation grew, prospered and increasingly played a winning
role in hemispheric and global affairs.

In the second half of the 19th century, there began to appear
a number of mostly indigenous competitive athletic events
that were played at all levels, but became what we today call
“professional sports.” Baseball soon became the national
pastime, and championship boxing was widely popular, but
American football, basketball, tennis and ice hockey also
drew large and passionate audiences. With television and
cable, even more sports drew more fans. In every sport,
teams that won aroused pride and celebration in their home
cities or in their schools and universities.

Individuals who won in their sports became national figures,
usually exceedingly well-paid.

The passion for local sports teams and star athletes remains
a staple of U.S. public culture --- as does popular fascination
for entertainment stars, colorful successful entrepreneurs, 
charismatic elected officials and assorted celebrities who ply
their trades through various public relations.

All of them have something in common -- they are winners in
what they do. Losers need not apply for public adulation.

Until the Korean War of the 1950s, and Viet Nam a few years
later, the U.S. was accustomed to winning as well.

A mood of anticipating disappointment and loss soon
developed thereafter, as America’s post World War II
global economic and military dominance began to deteriorate
into stalemate or apparent defeat --- first challenged by Soviet
Russia in a Cold War, later by terrorists, and now by a surging
aggressive China.

In 2008, recoiling from a mortgage banking crisis, and weary of
seemingly endless military excursions in the Middle East and
Middle Asia, U.S. voters elected Barack Obama president. It
was Mr. Obama’s intention, formed by his personal
background, to reverse U.S. foreign policies of previous
administrations, both Republican and Democrat, to play a
visibly active role  in much of the world.

The global community was so pleased by the prospect, Mr.
Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize even before he took
office. He did not disappoint them. The U.S. gradually, but
unmistakably, withdrew from many points of global conflict,
altered relationships with allies and competitors,  and turned
from acknowledging deteriorating trade relationships. U.S.
military readiness and capacity was, at the same time,
reduced --- although there was a clear build-up of military
force and activity by numerous potential adversaries.

Meanwhile, those who esteemed these policies were not
playing politically to lose. Forces allied with Mr. Obama,
seemingly indifferent to winning on the world stage, were
quite aggressive about winning politically on the domestic
stage. Their biggest legislative victory, healthcare reform
or Obamacare, proved not to be a winner, however, for
many Americans. This issue led to conservative victories
in the 2010 and 2014 national mid-term elections, and set
the scene for the 2016 presidential election.

That election seemed set to be a classic contest between
the liberal and conservative establishments, and their
well-known figures. What happened, however was that
insurgent figures in both parties stole the show. One was
socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders --- who very
nearly won the Democratic nomination from the early
presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton by speaking to the
populist base of the liberal party. The other was a real
estate developer turned celebrity TV show host who kept
shattering “political correctness” and talking about the
forbidden subject of America winning again.

Today, more than a year after his taking office, Donald
Trump is actively seeking a winning streak in U.S.
foreign policies. He has set in motion a military
build-up, as Ronald Reagan did after 1981 (which led to
the end of the Cold War), and more controversially, in
U.S. trade policy, he threatens tariffs to bring what he
considers unfair trade policies by our trade partners to
an end.

Recently, in the wake of President Trump’s controversial
trade policies and statements, his popularity suddenly
rose noticeably --- even to 50% in one major poll. This has
occurred in spite of relentless attacks on him by the major
media on both the left and the right, and of endless
negative stories about investigations into his past.

Yet predictions of his downfall continue to appear daily,
and a political wave is often forecast for his and his party’s
defeat next November.

Anything is possible, of course, especially in mid-term
elections, but Mr. Trump seems to be doing his own thing,
once again against the odds, and playing to win.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Silence Of The Center

Over four decades of polemical writing, I have discussed
many subjects. Much of my writing has been about
politics here and abroad, reflecting a lifelong interest in
how my country and other countries conduct their public

A certain fundamental idea has remained with me
throughout this considerable time.

That notion is that the American republic, almost 250
years old, was created to govern itself from a public
“center” that inherently resists extremism of any kind.

In a small city-states such as ancient Athens or Rome
or medieval Venice such a center was understandably
possible, albeit ultimately they were overcome by
monarchies, dictatorships, and other undemocratic

From 1776 to 1789, our republic was fashioned with a
relatively small population, and no true contemporary
precedent, by those who held quite different public views
among themselves. Their collective historic genius was
their common revulsion to tyranny and their shared
ambition to establish a lasting and evolutionary federal

Their initial constitution was an extraordinary but
imperfect document that was designed to be revised
and improved over time. In their deliberations, these
founders, individually limited by personal views and
biases, faced a revolutionary circumstance. This was
not the mere overthrow of a king, nor separation from
an occupying power --- that had been done before. Instead
it was a new circumstance, that is, creating a modern free
society. There were founders on the left  and on the right.
Many were slaveowners; some were abolitionists. They
initially gave the right to vote only to some white male
landowners. Some were still monarchists, and wanted
a new king, not a president. They had various religions.

In order to complete their work, these founders had to
achieve an unprecedented agreement, and in order to
agree, they had to find central points of compromise.

From its genesis as a sovereign nation, the United States
has been governed primarily from its contemporary
political center.

What does that mean?

It means that the U.S. electorate and its perceived public
opinion are majoritarian in nature. The political center
is where the majority of voters are. Like the north and
south magnetic poles, the center is always moving. It is
not the”middle.” Centrists are not necessarily moderates,
although centrism is a moderating force, naturally
employing negotiation and compromise.

At various times, the political center is overshadowed by
partisanship on the left and the right. The center is still
there, but it becomes temporarily silent in the din made
by the voices on either side of it.

I have noticed recently some commentary that puts down
the center, and asserts that it does not really meaningfully
exist. I think this kind of analysis misunderstands the
current “silence of the center” to be political laryngitis.

The true venue for the political center is the ballot box.
Those on the far right and the far left rely on the media
and partisan communications.

It is the political center that enables the nation to
move beyond stalemate, to pass needed legislation, to
resolve problems. It was the center, the weight of
majority opinion, that ultimately enabled  the end  of
slavery, the end of child labor,  trust-busting, the  right to
vote for women, desegregation, civil rights, free market
economics, and most recently, beginning to end “political
correctness.” Early voices for each of these came from
individual leaders and thinkers, but the major political
branches of government adopted them because the
political center demanded them..

When the political center becomes silent, as it has been
recently, divisive stalemate grows.  Signs of a
re-emerging political center, including conservatives and
liberals, are beginning to appear in U.S. politics --- both
in the states and in Washington, DC.

Some argue that Donald Trump has had the political
success he has had because he aims to respond to the
political center. Others argue that the Democratic Party
now needs o reclaim the political center if it wants to
govern again.

At the ballot box is where the center will speak. It will
not be voiceless.

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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two New U.S. Senators Named Smith

It’s just a coincidence, but two new senators have recently
been appointed to serve as U.S. senators following
incumbent resignations in their home states --- and their
names are both Smith. More coincidence --- each are
women and each of these choices have upset some of
their own party voters.

Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota is a Democrat (called the
Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL there), and Senator
Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi is a Republican. Each
were personal favorites of the governors who appointed
them, and that appears to be at the root of their popularity

Tina Smith was Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s
lt. governor, and before that, his chief of staff. She has not
previously run for office on her own. There were several
better-known DFLers who could have been chosen. Tina
Smith is closely identified with Planned Parenthood and
other liberal issues that are not popular in outstate

Cindy Hyde-Smith was a former Democrat who became
commissioner of agriculture under GOP Governor Phil
Bryant, and became a Republican. As in Minnesota, there
were several better-known conservatives who could have
been chosen. President Trump reportedly opposed the
appointment, and has so far refused to endorse her.

In Senator Tina Smith’s case, her situation is complicated
by the fact that she has replaced Sneator Al Franken who
was widely believed to have been forced to resign by
leaders of his own party following allegations that were
made against him. Democratic sources privately worry
that the Tina Smith appointment makes her an interloper
among some Franken Democrats. Senator Smith will
likely avoid a primary, but will face an energetic GOP
woman state senator. Karin Housely, in November.

This special election will accompany the regular election
of Senator Amy Klobuchar, so there will be two senate
races on the November Minnesota ballot. Senator
Klobuchar is a very heavy favorite to win re-election, but
ticket-splitting Minnesotans could make the special
election very competitive, especially if there is a “red
wave” in this state in 2018.

Mississippi is a strong GOP state. But Senator Hyde-Smith
faces a likely strong primary challenge, and as happened
in a recent neighboring Alabama special senate election,
the result could make the usually weak Democratic Party
candidate a serious contender in November.

Both these unexpected races, for all their coincidences, are
emblematic of the complexity and  unpredictabilty of this
national mid-term election cycle. The mood of the voters
is very volatile just now.

When the roll call of votes is made in January, 2019, it will
be interesting to see not only how many senators named
Smith are listed, but also how many incumbents in both
parties will still be there.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018


The presidential election cycle seems to begin earlier and
earlier these days.

The White House residence was for rent to either party in 2016
as the then-incumbent was finishing his second and last term.

Think back to those innocent days of 2014 when organizing
and speculation had begun. On the Democratic side, the
contest seemed to be over almost before it began. Former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed inevitable --- just as
she had been in 2006-08 until Barack Obama stepped onto the
political stage. In 2016, it was the unlikely socialist Senator
Bernie Sanders who interrupted the Clinton reverie,and if the
Democratic political establishment, in apparent collusion with
Mrs. Clinton's campaign, hadn’t been so heavy-handed, he
might have been nominated.

On the Republican side, there was a bevy of big-name hopefuls,
including still another Bush --- this time former Florida
Governor Jeb Bush, the early favorite --- and several not so dark
horses, including  Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio
Governor John Kasich, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal,
and eleven other serious candidates. Rumors of a Donald
Trump candidacy were treated only as a publicity stunt.

Oh, those were the days in 2014! The world was in its old order

Now it is 2018. The man in the White House is doing quite a job
of disrupting that old order, and he has already declared he is
running for re-election. He might face some token opposition,
but his renomination is assured --- as it stands now. A few
anti-Trump Republicans are making noises of primary
challenges, or even independent candidacies, but this is only

On the Democratic side, however, it is game-on for more
candidates than I can count. Not formal declarations, of
course, but much activity in staffing, early fundraising, and
inevitably, positioning. If this keeps up, they will need a
vast stage just to hold the Democratic TV debates. I can see
it now --- each candidate gets 60 seconds to talk, and it takes
four hours just for opening remarks!

There are  no frontrunners yet for the liberal nod, but a bunch
of septuagenarian figures, including Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden,
Elizabeth Warren, (and yes) Hillary Clinton again, are
prominently mentioned --- as are already a veritable slew of
younger and lesser known Democrats, including Missouri
Secretary of State Jason Kander, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of
of South Bend, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New
Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julian
Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Montana Governor
Steve Bullock, California Senator Kamala Harris, and former
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. TV personality Oprah
Winfrey also might run. The list goes on and on.

Usually, presidential aspirants wait for the national mid-term
elections to get started, but many Democrats have already
concluded there will be  a massive blue tide next November,
and that their nominee will win in 2020. So why wait?

I need not remind anyone reading this that incumbent
presidents are tough to beat, especially if the economy is
going well (which it is now). But there have been one-term
presidents before, especially when things are not going well.
2020 is more than two years away. Who knows what  conditions
will then be?

I have specialized in the early presidential prediction business
for four decades. I suggested Richard Nixon might have to
resign before the 1972 election; I called attention to the
unknown Jimmy Carter in 1ate 1975; I wrote that Gary Hart
would be the surprise of 1984; then in 1985, I predicted the
emergence of Joe Biden; and I was early and resolute in saying
Bill Clinton would win the presidency in 1992. I predicted
Donald Trump could win an upset in 2016. All of this is on
the published record.

Those were the ones I got right. I also got a number of
predictions wrong, I did not predict that Ronald Reagan would
become president. In 1996, I did not think Bob Dole would be
nominated. I made no good prediction in 2000, and in 2012, I
thought Mitt Romney would win. In 2015, I did not take
Donald Trump seriously. The presidential predicting business
can be hazardous.

On the other hand, it is addictive. So in this, my first op ed on
the 2020 election, I will offer a few thoughts.

As is obvious, barring the unforeseen, there is little to say
about the GOP nomination.

I will stick my pundit neck out and say: No one over 65 years
old will be nominated in 2020 by the Democratic Party.

That’s it. That’s all I’m going to predict at this very early
state of the 2020 cycle. Call me a coward, but there are so
many younger liberal men and women of some caliber being
mentioned now that I know better than try to make any
political prophesies. I reserve the right, of course, to change
my mind about this at a later date --- and I likely will.

First, I want to get through the coming tumult of the 2018
mid-term elections and the faux physics of determining
whether there will be a blue wave or a red wave hitting the
electoral shore. That voting is less than 8 months away, and
we still have little idea how it will turn out.

But don’t worry, 2020 will not be dull.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I realize that most of my readers seek news and commentary
about domestic politics and public policy when they link to
this website. I think that most of them also expect occasional
posts about history, food and dining out, culture and the arts,
and even a few relevant personal stories from my life. I also
post reports and analyses about events outside the United
States, especially regarding global politics. The world is a
very big place, and with more than 200 sovereign nations,
there are obvious limits to what can be said usefully in a
short essay about foreign matters.

We Americans can be insular about the rest of the world
sometimes, and such indifference does not often work to our
benefit, nor does it contribute to a positive state of global
conditions. You don’t have to read spy thrillers or watch
disaster movie to know that life in the 21st century is full
of dangers from totalitarianism, terrorism, epidemics and
Nature’s assorted problematic vagaries.

There are global political disruptions now taking place,
and most of them began well before President Donald Trump
appeared on the international stage.

In particular, a ”mutiny of the masses” emerged in Europe
decades ago when a grass roots resistance began actively
opposing the attempt to transform the healthy economic
cooperation of the European Union into a single political
unit that would abolish the sovereign states created over the
previous millennium. In recent years, massive refugee
immigration poured into Europe from Turkey, the Middle
East and former colonies. This immigration was intended to
fill EU employment needs, but the refugee communities often
have not integrated themselves into their new host cultures,
and major local tensions have arisen.

The former Soviet Union peacefully disbanded in the early
1990s, and adapted to a more capitalistic and democratic
society ---albeit one reduced in size and population. More
recently, however, the Russian leadership has reasserted
some of its former aggressive and nationalistic behavior,
particularly directed at some of its former satellite nations.

With their huge populations (each now about 1.3 billion
persons) China and India are taking on an increasing
economic role in the world. China adopted many free
market economic strategies, but retained totalitarian
Marxist political rule. Now its former policy of changing
its leadership every ten years has been replaced by a
seemingly permanent one-man rule, and it continues to be
an aggressive player not only in Asia, but also in Africa and
South America. India’s primary conflicts are local, that is,
with Pakistan nd China, but its technological and economic
weight is now being noticed worldwide.

The Middle East, a seemingly perpetual “hot spot,”
continues to be unsettled, although some of the
relationships between its major player nations are now
going through rapid change as the hitherto universal
Arab conflict with Israel is now more complicated as Iran
as emerged as a regional power which threatens Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and several smaller Arab states.

South America’s chronic inability to escape its oligarchal
past, in spite of its tremendous resources, continues as
the major nations of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina remain
politically and/or economically unstable.

All of the above was happening before Donald Trump came
on the scene with his disruptions of U.S. domestic and
foreign policies. In particular, he has reversed most of the
more passive international policies of his predecessor Barack
Obama, and asserted a much more aggressive U.S. trade

Mr. Trump’s actions have therefore altered the strategies
on both side of the political chess board, and thus altered
many expectations of political, military and economic

The reader might agree with President Trump or disagree
with him. The reader might like or dislike what is taking
place now In Europe, Asia,  and South America. But
regardless of any of our opinions on these places and the
figures leading them, none of us, I think, has the luxury
of ignoring them.

There are no “distant” places on this planet of ours any more.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Election That Disappeared

The special U.S. house election in Pennsylvania just
held was, I believe, unique in the history of U.S. voting

No sooner were votes counted, the congressional district

To make this event even more ludicrous, the tally was a
virtual tie --- so that spinmeisters on both sides have
little that’s credible to spin the day after (although, of
course, they will try).

While this special election was taking place, the
Pennsylvania supreme court redrew the map of the
district. Neither of the Republican nor the Democratic
nominees lives in the district that will be on the ballot
next November, seven months from now.

There’s no point in having a recount, even if one is
merited, because by the time a recount takes place,
one or both candidates will be campaigning in another
district --- races they must file for with the filing
deadline looming in only one week.

To be competitive in this traditional Republican district,
Democrat Conor Lamb ran as a very conservative,
pro-life, pro-gun candidate who never criticized Donald
Trump (who had carried the district by 20 points in 2016).
This strategy might not sell successfully in the new
district Lamb is likely to run in. Reportedly, there are
more traditional liberals ready to run in the new
districts and who might defeat him in the upcoming
Democratic primary even before the November election.

The news story of this election will quickly be
overshadowed and replaced by some “real” news
orchestrated by the master media scene stealer --- and
you know who I mean!

There was a lot of hype, and a lot of money spent by both
sides, in this special election before it took place.

But now its story will be written in ink that almost instantly

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Soon Even To Guess?

The paradox of the 2018 election cycle is that the two
houses of Congress present such a different
opportunity for the two major parties to make gains.

In the U.S. house, which the Republicans control
241 to 194, there are about three times as many
incumbent GOP seats than Democratic seats rated
generally as competitive. The liberal party is therefore
hopeful not only to pick up net seats, but is counting
on a “blue” wave to bring them back into control.

In the U.S. senate, which the Republicans control now
51-49, twenty-five incumbent Democratic seats are up
this November, and only ten Republicans. Of these,
10-12 liberal seats are considered to be competitive
against only 3 conservative incumbents rated now as
vulnerable. The GOP is hopeful for several net
pick-ups, and that a “red” wave will give them a
veto-proof senate.

Historically, the party out-of-power (this cycle, the
Democrats) often makes big U.S. house gains in the
first mid-term elections of a new administration, and
gains in the U.S senate.

But 2018 could defy precedent, not only because of the
contrast in competitive seats in the two legislative
bodies, but also because the Trump presidency is so
politically disruptive and seems to break all the rules.

With more than seven months before election day, that
paradox is seemingly very much in play. Democrats
look strong in about three dozen GOP-incumbent  U.S.
house races (and GOP candidates strong in less than five
Democratic seats). In contrast, about six conservative
senate challengers are now appearing strong in serious
contests with Democratic incumbents. Only two GOP
seats appear similarly quite vulnerable.

However, since several senate party nominees have yet
to be chosen (in Wisconsin, Indiana and Montana, for
examples), and U.S. house redistricting in some large
states has taken place --- as well as the national
political mood being so unsettled --- the relative
partisan advantages exist now primarily only on paper.

Much could change over the next seven months.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seizing the
initiative (albeit in unorthodox ways) in trade,
immigration and national security issues, the stock
market is soaring, and unemployment sinks lower with
each new monthly report.

Preoccupation with gleaning political trends from
various recent special elections, and a few yet to take
place, enables melodramatic headlines and speculation,
but given the circumstances enumerated above, there is
little irrefutable evidence of what voters will think and do
on that still-distant Tuesday in November next.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Euroskeptic Italy

The national elections just held in Italy have turned out to
be an unexpected rout for that nation’s left political
establishment, and a clear rejection by Italian voters of
the status quo of European politics.

There were five major parties (and some smaller ones)
competing in this election, including the current ruling
center left party, an even more leftist party, a center
right party, and two populist parties on the right. The
center right party was led by former prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi who is attempting a political comeback,
but Berlusconi’s pro-Europe views did not help his party
which did poorer than expected. Two distinct populist
parties, Five Star, a party founded a few years ago as an
anti-establishment group on the right; and a more
nationalistic party, the anti-immigrant League, did better
than expected. Five Star was the party with most votes
(more than one-third of the total), and its leader Luigi di
Maio, 31, asserts he should be the next prime minister.
But the center-right coalition of three parties, including
Berlusconi’s party and the League, will actually have the
most seats in the new parliament, and this group is putting
forward League leader Matteo Salvino, 44, as the next
prime minister. This issue might not be decided for some

Although Five Star and the League are both euroskeptic,
and combined, received more than 50% of the vote, their
leaders so far indicate they are not ready to form a ruling
coalition .As happened recently in Spain, the current
government might be left in place, and new elections

It is difficult to draw exact parallels between the Italian
results and U.S. politics, but the strain of nationalism and
populism now active throughout European Union (EU)
nations can be connected to the blue collar “mutiny of
the masses” that upset the 2016 U.S. presidential election
and the victory of Donald Trump. More nationalistic
parties have not been successful in Germany, France and
The Netherlands until now --- although France’s new
president Emmanuel Macron, who defeated a French
right-wing challenge with his new centrist party, has now
initiated new and stringent immigration controls.
Immigration has been one of the major issues of
contemporary EU politics --- with nationalist populist
parties throughout the continent calling for limits and
controls on the recent flood of refugees to the EU
countries. More nationalistic anti-immigration parties
now rule in Austria, Hungary and Poland.

The Italian election will impact all of the EU, but
especially Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel
who has just won another term, but barely. She has
continued to champion unlimited immigration, but that
policy is facing increasing resistance throughout the EU.
The Italian election will also likely boost the effort of
Great Britain to leave the EU after its voters chose to do
so (Brexit). The Brexit negotiations, led by British Prime
Minister Theresa May, have not been going well recently,
but the Italian voters might have strengthened the
British hand.

European elites have done well in the long post-World
War II boom, and so apparently did most citizens. But
recent strains caused by immigration, high taxes, loss of
identity and sovereignty, and unemployment throughout
most of the EU have caused many European workers to
feel left out of the bounty and the decision-making. This
is at the core of the political unrest in Europe --- an
upheaval which apparently is far from running its course.

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