Monday, November 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Synchronous News And Other Perils

Friends and others I speak with regularly (who are also smarter
and wiser than I am) tell me that the recent emergence of
synchronous communications is a growing peril in our society
today.

“Synchronous” is a fancy adjective (derived from two Greek
words meaning “together” and “time”) for which we might
substitute the simpler word “instant.”

This advanced velocity of communications appears in many
aspects of contemporary life including science and technology.
economics and commerce, psychology and medicine, and
politics and public relations

I only feel competent to speak about the latter, alhough I note the
recent claim for a breakthrough in quantum computing in which
data speed is taken to levels beyond what our mere minds can
fully understand.

Synchronous communication has been developing for centuries,
beginning perhaps with the invention of the printing press, and
picking up speed with advances of the telegraph, telephone,
film, radio, television --- and now, the internet.

The internet, and its social media derivatives, have now brought
us and our devices (computers, smart phones, etc.) to virtual
and near-universal “instant” communications.

The plus-side to this phenomenon is the potential for better
transparency in our public life, including more honesty and
accountability.  The minus-side appears in the potential for a
critical loss of credibility of communications of all kinds,
particularly those concerning public policy, public interests,
and politics.

It is timely that I raise this discussion now because we have
begun the campaign cycle of the 2020 presidential and other
national-state elections.

The modern pathologically manipulative techniques of news
and public information can be traced to early in the last
century under totalitarian regimes in Germany and Russia.
The word “propaganda” came into usage. Today, we have the
notion of “fake news” (although ironically, some who assert
certain news is fake are not themselves being honest) as a term
covering misleading and plainly wrong information distributed
over various media (and by word-of-mouth).

Without attempting here to specify from the innumerable
examples of ”fake news” now circulating, I caution all readers
--- be they on the left, right or center --- to treat the political
news they receive over the next year with heightened skepticism
and care. Media reporting bias is at (unacceptably) high levels,
and hitherto respected media venues are no longer dependable
in reporting events, quotations, and statistics.

Politicians and political parties, of course, have always
promoted their issues and points of view. In the past, however,
the media and other public referees have acted as a correcting
force to the public discussions. In my view, this is no longer
dependably true.

This places unprecedented responsibility on each of us to use
our critical faculties, common sense and open-mindedness in
the next year --- if we want to get it right and make the best
choices at the ballot box.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Does Bloomberg Change The Game?

The possibility now exists that former New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg could enter the contest for the Democratic
nomination president soon --- well after those already in the race
(17 of them), and after 9 others who entered and later withdrew.

It was a record-large field to begin with, and three official
nationally-televised debates have already been held. So what has
changed the mind of the pragmatic Bloomberg about running for
president?

He was well-known for his outstanding record as mayor of the
nation’s largest city. Years before that, he was a successful
businessman culminating in his becoming a billionaire.

At the same time, he is not a long-time Democrat, is 77 years
old, and is known as an outspoken moderate in a party that in
recent years has been moving to the left.

It was the latter, in fact, that motivated Mr. Bloomberg earlier
to organize for a 2020 presidential run. But when former Vice
President Joe Biden entered the race, Bloomberg closed down
his campaign. Although Biden and Bloomberg are very  different
political personalities, they appeal to many of the same
Democratic voters.

Now that Biden’s early frontrunner status is being seriously
challenged from the left, and some observers say he is fading,
Bloomberg sees himself as the only political figure that can
prevent he nomination of a redistributiomist leftist such as
Senator Elizabeth Warren or Senator Bernie Sanders, the
currently two leading challengers to Biden.

What makes the Bloomberg candidacy feasible so late in the
game is his virtually unlimited access to campaign money, his
organization previously put in place, and his moderate and
pragmatic problem-solving national reputation.

At the  same time, he faces eertain drawbacks: his age, the
unpopularity of big city mayors outside urban America, his
paternal liberalism (he banned carbonated beverages in New
York City), his wealth, and his bold antipathy to the radical
progressives in his adopted party. 

The Democratic Party, all polls and surveys indicate, currently
is severely divided by gradations center-left to radical left.
Party activists lean to the latter, but all indications, lacking any
actual voting, are that moderate liberals still make up a sizable
percentage of the Democratic electorate.

Michael Bloomberg knows this, and believes that if the
Democrats nominate Elizabeth Warren or another "neo-socialist,"
Donald Trump will be re-elected.,

Persons purportedly speaking for him say. if he runs, he will
skip Iowa and New Hampshire --- and concentrate on Super
Tuesday and subsequent primaries. Because of his huge
financial resources, he can seriously compete in most states
and begin to accumulate delegates --- and thus block Warren or
Sanders from locking up the nomination before the July
convention. In Milwaukee, he therefore could play a decisive
role in the outcome.

So far, it’s a lot of maybes, but the extraordinary 2020 political
atmosphere and environment suggests that this cycle, as in
the last one, could see some unprecedented unlikelihoods
become political realities.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 8, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Parties Change Clothes

I have been suggesting for some time now that our two major
political parties are each undergoing a political transformation.

If we employ the traditional imagery of a Republican wearing a
three-piece suit or a designer dress, and a Democrat wearing
blue jeans or an off-the rack skirt, I say the two parties are
changing their political wardrobes. Today’s Republican is more
likely to wear working clothes, and today’s Democrat likely to
dress upscale befitting his or her new upper middle class status.

The fact is that more blue collar, rural and small town voters,
many of whom voted Democratic in the past, are now populist
conservatives responding to the call “to make America great
again.” A the same time, many suburban women, new-rich
urban entrepreneurs, university-educated millennials, and urban
ethnic voters, many of whom might be considered more
conservative in the past, say they are now distributionist
progressive voters responding to the siren of “tax the rich.”

The top political agents for this transformation currently, in
great irony, are a former New York City liberal real estate
developer (and  TV personality), Donald Trump, leading the
populist conservative surge --- and two millionaire politicians,
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, leading the distributionist
progressive surge.

We are witnessing in recent elections,  more union members and
other blue collar voters voting Republican. Simultaneously, more
and more new-rich high tech billionaires and millionaires,
educated urban professional young persons and upscale suburban
females are moving sharply to the left.

Some might be tempted to explain this in terms of differing
responses to Donald Trump. While the highly controversial and
disruptive president does provoke deeply-felt  reactions, the
political transformations began well before he appeared, and
likely will continue after his presidency ends (whenever that
might be).

The always thoughtful Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics has
written a useful piece on his subject at the American Enterprise
Institute (“The (18)70s Show”) in which he illustrates another U.S.
political party transformation that took place 1870 to1900, and
which paralleled our national transition from an agrarian to an
industrial society. In that era, the agrarian Democratic Party
which had been unsympathetic to blacks, city dwellers and women
began its transformation into a party which championed workers
(a transformation, I might add, not fully realized until the New
Deal). At the same time, the abolitionist and pro-women’s suffrage
Republican Party, as the nation retreated from Reconstruction in
the South, increasingly identified with the new industrial
establishment.

The post-Civil War era and extended depression beginning with
the Panic of 1873 are given as catalysts --- although, I note, in 1859,
the pre-presidential (but so often prescient) Abraham Lincoln saw a
political transformation coming when he wrote in a letter citing
the reversal of political principles of the “party of Jefferson” and
the “party of Hamilton.” Trende asserts that the political parties
in the late 19th century, and today, adjusted to the changing tensions
felt by voters.

A more detailed and longer term account of U,S. political party
transformations has just been published by my friend Michael
Barone in his excellent new book How Political Parties Change 
(And How They Don’t). Barone has been for some time an
incomparable political demographic commentator. In his new book,
and in an article in Washington Examiner Magazine (“The perils of
downscale political parties”), he makes a persuasive case not
only for the various transformations, but also of their frequent
resilience:

“.....(Franklin) Roosevelt’s downscale Democrats did win five
straight presidential elections.”


It seems to me that many opponents of Donald Trump think that
if he went away, political parties --- particularly the Republican
Party ---would revert to their old selves. An underlying message
of Barone and Trende (with which I concur) is that the changes
are irreversible --- until the next transformations (which could
take decades). Trump, Sanders and Warren are the faces of their
parties today, but new personalities, I think, will emerge soon
enough to speak to most of the same voters of their respective
parties.

Barone also makes the interesting point of the parallels between
the changes in the two major U.S. parties, and what’s going on just
now in the United Kingdom where Boris Johnson is taking his
Conservative Party to more working class voters, and the Labour
Party leader is taking his party more sharply to the left.

That election is only four weeks away, and thus might be worth
special attention from those of us on this side of the big old Pond.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Impeachment Polling

There are now new kinds of polls, impeachment polls, for 2020. 
But like national polls for president, they are basically flawed.

First, historically and now, impeachment is political, not judicial.

Members of Congress in 1868 and 1998 were primarily politically
motivated to impeach (indict) Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton,
but U.S. senators in both cases were unwilling, based on the
charges, to take the draconian action of removing (convicting) a
president. In both cases, there were valid issues (such as Clinton’s
perjury), but none that the senators felt reached a level justifying
removal from office. So far, this circumstance seems applicable in
2019 as the U.S. house considers another impeachment.

In the only vote taken so far, one to formalize the U.S. house
impeachment inquiries, the vote was along nearly pure partisan
lines. Nor has any evidence yet been brought out publicly that
unequivocably justifies impeachment --- especially because the
“inquiries” to date have been secret and partisan (unlike in 1998
when members of both parties participated).

Donald Trump is a controversial figure who has disrupted
conventional notions of the presidency. He is loved and hated.
I have previously pointed out that it is entirely legitimate to
dislike and oppose him, and to wish to replace him with another
person. The way to do it is to vote him out of office in an election.
But to do so by impeachment on the eve of the next national
election using secret inquiries, unnamed “whistleblowers,” and
ambiguous evidence --- and without widespread voter support ---
is simply as attempt to conduct a presidential election with only
a few hundred members of the national legislature.

The Democratic leaders in the U.S. house fully know, while
they do have the votes to impeach (indict) because they have a
majority in their body, they do not have the necessary 67 votes,
nor even a majority, in the U.S. senate to convict (remove). The
only reasonable conclusion from this is that the Democrats are
simply acting out a very partisan political scheme.

Which brings me to the impeachment polls. The national
presidential polls only reflect  the popular vote of all the
states which include California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts,
and other large states with big Democratic majorities. They do
not reflect the electoral college state votes which are the actual
election. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost
the election.  In 2019, national presidential and impeachment
polls mostly show Mr. Trump behind, but polls in the competitive
states show the opposite. Furthermore, by coming so close to the
2020 election, the two kinds of polls, in reality, have merged into
one --- in short, they reflect whom the electorate currently thinks
they would vote for --- and not, I would suggest, the merits of
impeachment. Furthermore, many observers suggest that the
partisan impeachment process actually helps the president
politically with voters.

Not only that, the current impeachment process is having the
unintended consequence of distracting Democrats from their
own presidential nomination contest at a critical time. The many
serious candidates find themselves upstaged daily by sensational
impeachment headlines. This could contribute to the upcoming
primaries and caucuses failing to produce a Democratic nominee
before the party convention in late July --- leaving Democrats only
three months to raise enough money, heal convention residual
bitterness, and conduct an effective campaign against the
Republican incumbent.

I have argued that President Trump’s re-election has been far
from certain. Yes, economic and international conditions ahead
will play their part. Of course, Democrats have their divisions,
and must decide whether to go to the electorate with a center
left or much further left nominee. But why should that party
tie its own hands with a perceived partisan process that risks so
much backlash from those key voters who are genuinely
undecided or independent?

At the very least, misleading polls do not justify this dubious
political risk. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it correctly
only a few months ago when she stated explicitly that
impeachment is not good for her party nor for the country. She
is now being pressured by radical colleagues to proceed with
impeachment --- although it might result in the loss of her
party's U.S. house majority.

As we all learned in 2016, the Democrats can give away an
election they are supposed to win.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Brexit Breakhrough?

With the announcement of the British Labour Party leader that his
members of parliament will support Prime Minister Boris Johnon’s
effort to hold a new national election in early December, the long
and bitter battle over Brexit (U.K. withdrawal from the European
Union) appears to be getting closer to a conclusion.

The parliament has just voted to adopt a December 12 election
date. If confirmed by the House of Lords, as expected, it will be set
Johnson’s governing Conservative (Tory) Party against not only
the Labour Party, but also several smaller parties, including the
Liberal Democratic Party, the new Brexit Party, Scottish National
Party, Irish Union Party and the Green Party. No party currently
has a majority  in the parliament.

Delays in implementing Brexit following a national plebiscite to
leave the EU brought down Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May,
and it appeared that he would also fail until, at the last minute, he
brokered a deal with a parliamentary majority that would set an
orderly Brexit withdrawal acceptable also to the EU.

With only five weeks to campaign, British national elections are
much shorter than U.S. ones, and with so many parties the outcome
is uncertain. Although a controversial figure, compared by many to
Donald Trump, Johnson’s stubborn efforts to complete Brexit
made him increasingly popular with the British electorate. Current
polls indicate Tories have a double digit lead over Labour, its main
opposition.

However, the Liberal Democrats, an anti-Brexit party, seek to make
gains on December 12 primarily at the expense of both Labour
and the Conservatives. Nigel Farage’s hardline Brexit Party might
take away Tory votes. How Ulster (the U.K. part of Ireland) will vote
this time is uncertain. Wales and most of England outside the largest
cities likely will vote Tory, and the urban areas likely will back
Labour. The leader of the latter promises a “radical” campaign
to take U.K. politics to the left, possibly bringing back wavering
Labour voters. Scottish Nationlists could take away otherwise
Labour seats. Finally, there are Green Party voters. They could
be part of a parliamentary leftist coalition with Labour, Liberal
Democrat and Scottish Nationalists.

Polling at 35%, the Tory lead over Labour (25%), Liberal
Democrats (18%), Brexit Party (12%) and Greens (4%) does not
translate necessarily into a majority of seats in the British
parliament. “Snap” elections, especially just before Christmas
in December, are notoriously unpredictable. 

In 1945, just as Allied victory over Nazi Germany was to take
place, British voters rejected Boris Johnson’s political hero
Winston Churchill (who had led them so eloquently through the
war) and made socialist Clement Attlee of the Labour Party
prime minister.

Boris Johnson has seemed to accomplish the impossible by
crafting a last-minute Brexit deal and then getting a petulant
parliament to agree to a new election just before Christmas. Yet
these accomplishments pale before his challenge of convincing
the U.K.electorate to give him a majority of seats so that he can
finish the Brexit job.

In fact, if Johnson loses, and the Labour leader becomes prime
minister, Brexit would likely be scrapped, and the U.K. could
return to a controversial socialist agenda as it did in 1945.

We have only seen Acts One and Two of this current British
eccentric political melodrama. Act Three might even be more
bizarre.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Oh? Canada!

Too many Americans have the bad habit of either ignoring or
taking for granted our neighbor to the north, Canada.

Many are unaware that Canada is our largest foreign trade
partner, or that Canadians have contributed so much to our
U.S. cultural life in popular and classical music; actors in our
theater, films and on television; artists and performers in the
visual and dance arts.

Canada historically, once we broke off from Great Britain,
became one of our most dependable allies in two world wars,
Korea, Viet Nam, and various peacekeeping efforts around
the world.

The longest (and probably most peaceful) border in the world
between two nations is between the U.S. and Canada.

Canada is thus vital to the economy, culture and security of
the U.S.

The Canadians just held their national elections, and their
charismatic and controversial young prime minister was
returned to office (he was first elected in 2015), but his Liberal
Party no longer has a majority in the Canadian parliament.

Queen Elizabeth II is the titular head of state in Canada which
is completely independent. Canada, formerly a colony of Great
Britain, is now a member of the British Commonwealth of
Nations (made up of countries that were formerly colonies).
The queen appoints a governor-general who is chosen by the
Canadian government. All of the executive powers rest with
the prime minister who is chosen by the parliament.

Mr. Trudeau’s party just won about 15 seats less than a
parliamentary majority. He has just announced he will not try
to form a majority coalition, but will instead lead a minority
government. Fortunately for him, he can assemble often a
majority on legislation from other left of center parties which
won seats, but such a government can be a problematic one.
The second largest party, the Progressive Conservative Party
won more popular votes across Canada than did Trudeau’s
Liberal Party, but Canada, like the U.S., does not hold a popular
vote election to choose its executive leadership.

The concentration of Liberal voters is primarily in the eastern
provinces and Ontario, the largest province. Conservative voters
dominate the western provinces. In 2015, Mr. Trudeau’s party
also won Quebec, but in 2019, a nationalist Quebec party made a
dramatic increase in seats won --- at the expense of the Liberals.
This helped cost Mr. Trudeau his parliamentary majority.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are centrist parties,
center-left and center-right. Two other parties which won seats
are to the left of the Liberals (but will support Mr. Trudeau’s
election as prime minister). The issue for the Quebec party is
Quebec independence --- although it leans to the left, too. This
large and primarily French-speaking province is the reason
Canada is officially bi-lingual --- although outside of Quebec,
most Canadians speak primarily English.

The population of Canada is 38 million, but most of its citizens
live in a few large cities near the U.S. border. Ottawa is the
capital, but the largest cities are Toronto, Montreal and
Vancouver. It is the second largest nation on earth in area (after
Russia) but only the fifth largest in land mass (large parts of it
include bodies of water). Like the U.S., it has a notable
population of native peoples. It has substantial natural resources;
yet much of its land cannot be cultivated, and is located in cold
climates where few persons are likely to inhabit.

It was settled by the English and the French about 400 years ago.
In spite of its relatively small population, it has the 10th largest
economy in the world.

Recently, Mr. Trudeau and his government signed the North
American trade agreement, as did Mexico, at the initiative of
President Trump, but the U.S. Congress has yet to ratify it.
Although they have somewhat different political ideologies,
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump appear to get on well. President
Trump warmly congratulated Prime Minister Trudeau on his
recent re-election.

The destiny and well-being of the U.S. and Canada are vitally
linked, by language, location, economic and security interests.
Each has a pride of its own, but the larger nation has long
often undervalued the smaller nation, creating a certain
tension and resentment in the latter.

In the difficult global period likely ahead, when the U.S. will
need and rely on its friends more than ever before, an increased
interest in and greater appreciation for Canada might be a wise
investment.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Are We Waiting For?

My mantra for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination
contest a year before the election and three months before the
first primaries is “Wait for the voters.”

So far we have only speculative opinions from editorialists,
pundits and unreliable polls (the latter mostly have had small
samples and include “registered” voters instead of more
credible “likely” voters)

Looking at similar speculations in 2003, 2007, 2011and 2015
(each the year before the actual election).we see that most
editorialists,pundits and polls did not then successfully predict
the outcome of the race to nominate the challenger to the
incumbent (in the case of 2015 the identity of the GOP nominee).

This year, there are two early frontrunners, Joe Biden and
Elizabeth Warren, and a tenacious third serious candidate,
Bernie Sanders --- each of whom have a notable and loyal base.
In addition, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and
Kamala Harris now have bases of heir own. The other twelve
candidates, it needs also be said, have not yet been measured by
actual voters.

The punditry is now alleging that Mr. Biden is going down, and
Mrs. Warren is ascending. After a heart attack, Bernie Sanders
returned to the fray with the reported largest rally of all so far.
And, although he suspended his campaign  months ago, Michael
Bloomberg is dropping  hints of getting back in (that’s why
candidates say they are “suspending” their campaign instead of
saying they are “ending” it).

It is fair to say we are now past the “name recognition” stage of
the campaign. Media coverage, candidate campaigning and the
TV debates have put the identities of the candidates before at 
least the “activist” Democratic voters. There is no compelling
evidence, however, that the general Democratic voters, most of
those who will vote in the primaries beginning next February,
are yet paying much attention to the contest or have made up
their minds about whom to vote for.

It is fair to say, however, that most Democratic voters have
made up their minds that they very much want to defeat the
re-election of Donald Trump. This would suggest that
“electability” will be a primary concern for them next year.

I did note in previous columns that Elizabeth Warren was
suddenly attracting large crowds to her rallies, and that was  at
least a sign of her strength. But now Bernie Sanders is drawing
even larger crowds. (And so is Donald Trump.)

The two major political parties always have factions, and do
now, but in the present tense, the Democrats have the more
widespread divisions

What does it all mean?

I think it means: Wait for the voters.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 14, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Chronic Stalemate Everywhere

We seem to be in, and surrounded by, political stalemate.

The global variety takes many forms. In Israel, no one can form a
government. In Great Britain, the government cannot fulfill a
national vote to leave the European Union (Brexit). In Hong Kong,
China cannot end protests. In Venezuela, the citizenry cannot
overthrow a destructive dictatorship. In the Middle East, its
neighbors cannot stop Iran from building nuclear weapons.
Europe cannot manage out-of-control immigration. Brazil cannot
stop a failing economy. South Korea can’t get along with Japan.
Central America cannot halt runaway emigration. Spain cannot
end the Catalan secession movement. And Italy, as always, cannot
be governed.

In the U.S., the attempt to undo its 2016 presidential election, an
effort begun on election night, does not stop. The latest effort is a
renewed effort to impeach the president.

Before that election, I came up with the phrase “media coup d’etat
to describe the effort to PREVENT Donald Trump’s election. Now
others are calling the U.S. house of representatives impeachment
inquiries a legislative coup. One writer described the environment
as a “permanent coup.”

Nothing in politics, however, is permanent. I prefer to call our
present circumstance as “chronic stalemate.”

In democracies, the remedy for stalemate is an election. (Although
the British and Israelis seem to be defying this!) In totalitarian
nations, the remedy is much more problematic.

In the U.S. variety, the current effort for impeachment is almost
purely a political strategy --- although it masks itself as a judicial
process. It is highly partisan and very risky politically. At the same
time, the two major political parties have begun the regular process
of a national election to take place a year from now. The two are
inextricably linked.

Not only are disruptive political leaders at work in the U.S.. They
are at work around the world in may nations. Their personalities
make individual headlines, and establishments everywhere resist
them, but the phenomenon of chronic stalemate is a signal of a
more universal transformation provoked by technology, ideologies,
natural forces and the distribution of resources.

Chronic stalemate is not going to end any time soon. In fact, we
might not have seen the worst of it. Be alert. Be prepared.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democracy On Edge?

These days, representative democracy seems on the defensive  in
many parts of the world. So it is worth examining some recent 
free elections to see if there are any specific voter trends with
particular attention to right-center-left paradigms.

In North America, ita largest nation, the U.S. is heading into a
national election next year to test the conservative upset victory in
2016. The two major parties appear to be each going through
significant transformation --- the Republican Party increasingly
appealing to blue collar voters, and the Democratic Party becoming
more “progressive,” that is, appealing to voters on the left. In
Mexico, its new government is populist and leftist, having replaced
a more centrist regime. In Canada, a center-left prime minister
replaced a center-right one in 2015, but conservatives have won
notable provincial elections since then, and an imminent national
election is too close to call.

In South America, the two largest democracies, Brazil and Argentina,
seem to be going in opposite ideological directions. A new center-right
president replaced a leftist in Brazil, but the centrist president of
Argentina faces a very serious challenge from the (Peronist) populist
left.

In Europe, long (especially post-World War II) a continent of left of
center social welfare governments, traditional ideologies are being
challenged by nationalism, conservatism and populism. Traditional
socialist and labor parties on the left have shrunk. In western Europe,
non-traditional parties have arisen. In France and Italy these have
recently won, and could win soon in Germany. On the other hand, the
left has recently won in Spain, replacing a center-right government.
The United Kingdom, attempting to break its ties to the European
Union (“Brexit”), has had a series of Conservative governments, and
remains in crisis over the issue, but polls indicate that the opposition
Labour Party and its controversial leader would lose an election badly.
In east and central Europe, a clear pattern of nationalist and populist
governments has emerged in Austria, Hungary and Poland. The
northern Scandinavian countries, fabled for their social welfare
systems in the past, are moving now in a more centrist direction.

A recent major election (mayor of Istanbul) in Turkey rejected
the efforts of its authoritarian president. In Israel, its multi-party
parliamentary system has produced electoral stalemate, but a
large majority voted for conservative parties. The original leftist
and socialist party that once dominated Israeli politics has almost
disappeared.  

The appearance of controversial and charismatic political leaders
in many of these countries --- Donald Trump in the U.S., Lopez
Obrador in Mexico, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Emmanuel Macron
in France, Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Sebastion Kurz
in Austria, Recep Erdogan in Turkey. Viktor Orban in Hungary,
Justin Trudeau in Canada, Benjamin Neanyahu in Israel ---
complicates any traditional ideological analyses. Each of them
have gained power in the special and often local conditions in
their nation. Left, right and center not only means something
different in different countries, it is even changing internally
--- such as in the notable cases of the U.S. and the U.K. where
the major parties are undergoing such significant internal
transformations.

Like the global climate --- warming in one place and cooling in
another --- democratic voter trends have no valid single label.
But voters almost everywhere are changing their minds, when
they are free to do so, to meet local and global challenges of
new technology, massive migrations, scarcity of resources, and
natural disasters.

Years ago, but not that far back, there was a widespread belief
that authoritarian ideologies such as communism, fascism or
religious fundamentalism were the inevitable wave of
humanity’s future. Set against them was only a relatively
recent and (some said) fragile system known as representative
democracy.

Unlike its nemeses, representative democracy is not just one
implacable and monotonous form of tyranny, but instead,a great
variety of electoral expressions of civic liberty, personal freedom,
enabled commerce and trade, and community compassion.

It is also often messy, contradictory and confusing --- just like
the human beings who compose it and live in it day by day.

Representative democracy is so far mankind’s greatest
communal achievement. If here is any doubt about that, just
ask those who don’t have it.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Sky Is (Not) Falling?

Most of us remember the children’s fairy tale about the chicken
who, after an acorn fell on its head, decided that the sky was
falling, and rushed to warn everyone of the imminent disaster.
At the end of the story, however, a wily and carnivorous fox saw
the resulting frightened herd of animals, invited them to his lair
for “safety” --- and then ate them all.

Since election day, 2016, opponents of Donald Trump. both
Democrats and Republicans, have attempted either to prevent him
from taking office, or once he was sworn in as president, tried to
remove him from office This has happened so many times I have
lost count of them. The latest is a verbal push for actual
impeachment --- although formal proceedings require a roll call
vote on a resolution in the U.S. house, and that, while it’s possible,
does not yet seem imminent. A slight majority of U.S. house
members, almost all of them Democrats, have said they support
impeachment. Fifteen Democrats say they oppose impeachment
(presumably all from districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016),
knowing impeachment would likely lead to their defeat in 2020. A
very small number of Republican governors and U.S. house
members, all of them long-time anti-Trumpers, say they support
impeachment. No Republican senators indicates they would vote
to remove the president from office, although Utah Senator Mitt
Romney, long a Trump critic, continues to be negative about the
man who succeeded in 2016 after the then-former governor failed
in 2012.

Polls indicate that the general public opposes impeachment,
especially those who perceive it as an attempt to undo the 2016
election three years after the fact.

Opposition to and criticism of Donald Trump is both
understandable and legitimate in our free system. Mr. Trump’s
style, tweets and statements have provoked a particularly intense
antipathy from many voters, including some traditional Republicans.

But his opponents have, in effect, claimed the political sky was
falling so often, and without real result, that the latest incident
heavily risks not his successful removal from office, but a bitter
voter backlash that could ensure Mr. Trump’s re-election next year.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted impeachment
until now for this very reason, and because she knows it would
almost certainly stampede Republicans and conservatives to the polls
next year to vote for Mr. Trump and against any U.S. house member
who voted for impeachment. As the 2020 congressional campaign
stands now, the Democrats are clearly favored to keep control, but
an impeachment resolution might reverse that dramatically.

The “evidence” against Mr.Trump so far is ambiguous at best.
Many legal experts are saying that, in fact, the circumstantial
evidence so far indicates no wrongdoing by the president, and many
Republicans and conservatives are alleging the reports and
disclosures of the controversy have been “set up” or manufactured.

As a political act, impeachment could take place, but it would almost
certainly destroy the presidential campaign of former Vice President
Joe Biden whose alleged activities while in office are central to the
whole controversy. Such an outcome would likely disillusion a very
large part of the Democratic base who continue to support and
revere him. Impeachment might make passionate Trump opponents
feel good. but its actual consequences could actually backfire
spectacularly on those who would make it happen.

Most impartial observers so far seem to agree that the Democrat’s
best strategy to remove Donald Trump from office is to defeat him
at the polls in November, 2020. Speaker Pelosi has seemed to be a
partisan who agrees, realizing that the U.S. senate is not going to
provide 67 votes to convict and remove.

Speaker Pelosi, under immense pressure from the radical wing in
her caucus, has now given some verbal support for impeachment,
but so far she has not made it inevitable. She might yet decide to
support actual impeachment, but there is no clear evidence yet she
intends to go through with something her considerable experience
and political intelligence tells her will not work to her party's
advantage.

I think she knows who the real fox is.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Monday, September 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Separating The Wheat From The Chaff In 2020

The 2020 presidential cycle is coming to the end of its beginning,
even as no votes have been yet cast --- and will not be for another
four months.

The cycle began with 26 “major” announced Democratic
candidates, many of whom participated  in the early TV debates.
Unlike previous cycles in which most candidates were current or
former governors or U.S. senators, the 2020 cycle has included
mayors, U.S. house members, business persons, a former cabinet
member and an author, as well as governors and senators. Perhaps
the precedent of 2016, when a real estate developer/TV celebrity
won the election, induced this quantity and variety.

Announcing a candidacy is the easy part. If you are relatively
well-known or already have a political base, you can quickly raise a
minimal amount of money.. Initial media attention is intoxicating. 
Then it becomes daunting. You have to put together an organization
and hire staff from a limited number of experienced campaign
managers as well as media, scheduling, transportation, financial,
strategy, issues development and other nuts-and-bolts staff. Then
you have to recruit and develop organizations in almost every
state --- and particularly in key early primary and caucus states.
You begin a very heavy travel period for speeches. local forums,
meets-and-greets, and debates. Every day also includes media
interviews. Presumably, you also have a regular day job, either an
elective or bureaucratic one, or a business position --- and you
must balance those responsibilities with time used for campaigning.
If you are a current elective official, you must weigh the cost of
missing votes, important meetings or any crises back home.

Of the seven announced candidates who have now withdrawn, most
have been elected officials, and one has switched to a run for the
U.S. senate in his state. Few had participated in any TV debates, and
none of them were putting up notable poll numbers. All of them
were running out of money.

There will now be at least eleven candidates qualified for the third
TV debate, presumably causing a two-session format once again.
One more candidate, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, has
signaled he might withdraw soon. Seven candidates who have not
qualified for the debates could withdraw later, although some of 
them could remain in the race until the first voting.

The establishment media story is that the race is now a  two-person
or three-person contest. There are a few suggestions that, in addition
to former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and
Senator Bernie Sanders, there remains the possibility that Senator
Kamala Harris or Mayor Pete Buttigieg could win. Non-politicians
Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, however, are getting some
attention, and businessman Tom Steyer is spending a great deal of
his own money o advance his candidacy.

Although Mr. Biden has already faced some criticism from his
opponents, Mrs. Warren has not yet faced the scrutiny of being a
so-called frontrunner. All three of them have an existing national
political base.    

I cannot repeat often enough that no votes have yet been cast, and
will not be for several months. Meanwhile, much of the 2020 drama
is coming out of the White House and the Democratic-controlled
U.S. house of representatives (where impeachment talk remains
active). President Trump is under relentless attack in the media,
and an attempt to revive the Brett Kavanaugh controversy has
backfired. Notable international events in he United Kingdom,
Israel, Kashmir, South and North Korea, Brazil and Canada
compete for daily news headlines. The domestic stock market is
volatile. Unemployment continues to hit amazing lows.

The 2020 presidential  campaign has barely begun.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Parliamentary Perils

From time to time, occasional voices in the U.S. are heard
lamenting our executive-legislative-judicial form of government,
usually accompanied by pleas to adopt a much more globally
employed parliamentary system.

No system is perfect, of course, but the long-range wisdom of the
founding American leaders is  being reinforced today as three of
the world’s democratic parliaments are facing profound crises.

(Historically,when one of the three U.S. branches becomes too
strong or too weak, another branch provides needed balance.
In recent years, Congress has become stalemated, but both the
executive and judicial branches have attempted to fill the
resulting vacuums. A case in point has been the use of executive
orders by both President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and
President Donald Trump, a Republican.)

Two of these parliaments are in nations which are our closest
allies, the United Kingdom and Israel. The third is in the world’s
largest democracy, India. Each of their crises highlights perils that
parliaments can face.

In the United Kingdom, the Brexit crisis has paralyzed its ancient
parliament, once the model for new nations across the globe. In a
national plebiscite two years ago, British voters narrowly but
clearly voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) and the
parliament-determined government was charged to bring about
the withdrawal (known as Brexit). But under Conservative Prime
Minister Theresa May it failed to do so. This was because her own
party was divided between pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit M.Ps, and a
negotiated deal to leave the EU was blocked in the parliament, thus
thwarting the voters’ decision. A new Conservative prime minister,
Boris Johnson, pledged to make Brexit happen, deal or no deal, but
he no longer has a parliamentary majority, and the current members
not only are blocking an October 31 withdrawal, they are preventing
Johnson from calling a new election (which polls indicate he would
handily win) thus, in effect, paralyzing the current British government.

In Israel, a new election was called, and the two largest political
parties and their allies are apparently virtually tied, with most of
the votes now counted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won
an election earlier this year, but was unable to form a coalition of
61 members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would enable
him to remain in power. Netanyahu’s center right coalition appears
to have 54-56 seats, His center left opposition coalition appears to
have 41-43 seats.  The third largest coalition, representing Arab
voters, has 12-14 members. Finally, a conservative but secular
party has 8-10 members. The latter, led by Avigdor Liberman, has
called for a “unity” secular government, but refuses to support any
government that includes the Arab coalition. Thus, a new majority
is stymied unless the religious parties are willing to compromise
on the issue of drafting Orthodox men into the Israeli army,
an issue that Mr. Liberman continues to insist on. Mr. Netanyahu
remains in power for the time being, and as Israel’s longest-serving
and most successful politician, cannot yet be relegated to the defeat
now being proclaimed by hostile media in Israel and the U.S.

In India, the problem is not one of stalemate resulting from a
lack of a parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Modi of
the Hindu nationalist party, recently won a landslide re-election,
saying he would revoke the autonomous status of Kashmir, a
mostly Muslim province in northwestern India. This status had
existed since 1947 when Kashmiri leader Sheik Omar Abdullah
had negotiated it with then Indian Prime Minister Nehru. At the
end of the British colonial period, both India and Pakistan claimed
Kashmir, but Nehru offered Kashmir the closest outcome to the
full independence that the Kashmiris sought. Kashmir’s leaders
today assert that Modi’s and the Indian parliament’s unilateral
action is illegal, but India has sent in troops to occupy the area,
and has arrested most of the province’s Muslim political
leadership, including Sheik Abdullah’s son and grandson, both
former chief minsters of Kashmir. While Modi’s revocation is a
fait accompli, the controversial action risks staining India’s
reputation as a genuine democracy which adheres to the rule of
law.

All three of the above crises remain unsettled for now, but the
lack of an accepted legal mechanism to easily resolve the disputes
only illustrates a key weakness which can arise in the
parliamentary system.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Early To Panic, But.....

The failure of the Democrats to win an upset in a North Carolina
special congressional election, establishment media reports
notwithstanding, combined with still another demonstration of
Donald Trump’s ability to rouse his base in that same contest,
must be giving hitherto optimistic savvy Democratic activists
and strategists some pause in their expectations for 2020.

Special elections have to be regarded with caution for the
signals they might display, but in the last cycle, the 2018
midterms, these contests were often a demographic bellwether
of what became a “blue wave” in U.S. house races.

NC-9 turned  out to be a narrow but clear win for Republicans,
winning the race by 4000 votes in spite of having a well-known,
well-financed, attractive and strong Democratic nominee in the
race. The GOP nominee was not as well-known, under-financed
until the very end, and he entered the race quite late. Yes, the
district was historically Republican (Mr. Trump carried it by 12
points in 2016). but the Republican nominee  only won by 900
votes in 2018 --- and that  election was thrown out because of
apparent fraud.

As it was, the Republican might have lost if the president and
the national Republican Party had not stepped in during the
campaign’s closing days, but the fact is that they did step in,
and were not only successful, but improved on the GOP
performance from 2018.

In the other special election, NC-3, the Republican won, as
expected, in a landslide.

As 10 of the 19 remaining Democratic “major” presidential
candidates walk on the stage for their third debate, Democratic
voters are faced with a field in which their three frontrunners in
the polls are each over 70 and strongly represent one of the two
factions of a divided party. 

If North Carolina, or Georgia (two states targeted by Democrats to
take away from the GOP in 2020) had Senator Bernie Sanders or
Senator Elizabeth Warren at the top of their ticket next year, the
results in NC-9 signal their prospects to pick up these two
Southern states, as well as defeat incumbent GOP Senator Thom
Tillis, would seem reduced. With the more moderate Joe Biden on
the ticket, their prospects would seem better, but the Democrat in
NC-9 was even more moderate than Biden, and he was defeated
by considerably more votes than when he ran in 2018.

On the other hand, we are speaking here of traditional Republican
territory. The victories in the two special North Carolina elections,
while good news for the president and his party, don’t tell us much
about the rest of the U.S., particularly the key midwestern states
that decided the 2016 election.

Perhaps the greatest cause for unease among Democrats now is the
recent demonstration in North Carolina and elsewhere of the
president’s continuing strong support from his party base, and his
ability to bring his voters to the polls. Others have pointed out that
NC-9 was the last chapter of the 2018 mid-terms. Coming  a year
later, and with the Democrats ideologically more divided than they
were in 2018, the special election speaks most broadly of a
time-tested political reality --- that each cycle has its own particular
voter landscape, and will likely reflect the new circumstances that
even only two years can produce.

Having only one debate session for the third Democratic debate,
might be only a brief respite. An 11th candidate has now qualified
for the fourth debate (and 1 or 2 more are close to qualifying), so
the prospects of two debate sessions again is ahead.

Some might suggest the sense of division is symbolic of the
Democrats’ greatest challenge in 2020. There is no need for them
to panic --- so much can happen in 13 months and Mr. Trump has
his own potential problems --- but.....

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Collapse Of The United Kingdom?

The news headlines from the British capital on the other side
of the Pond are unsettling to any admirer of British democracy
and sovereignty. That small island nation has played an outsized
role in modern global history, and although like all human
endeavors it has not been without its shortcomings, its current
peril should be of concern to all who have benefited from its
contributions to the rule of law, culture, human freedom and the
emergence of representative democracy.

For almost two centuries, the British empire through its naval
resources was the greatest world power. As a colonial power, it
exhibited arrogance and imposed itself on, and exploited, faraway
places. That included a period when the U.S. was a colony, and
ultimately felt the need to declare its independence. Even after
that was won, the British attempted to retake its American colony,
even sacking and burning Washington, DC before finally
withdrawing to its English shores and other colonies.

Its era of empire ebbed after World War I, and was finished by
the end of World War II. Most of its colonies became serious
representative democracies, including the U.S., Australia, New
Zealand, Canada, India, Nigeria and other nations. Unlike the
new nations formed from the lands of the colonial powers of
Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands,
Austria-Hungary and Germany, the British left important civic
legacies that were largely beneficial to most of its former
territories.

One of those legacies was the Westminster (parliamentary)
system which traces back about a thousand years to the Magna
Carta. English imperial rule evolved into a powerless (but
usefully symbolic) monarchy. The U.S. adopted a different
system, but kept many British traditions of law, language and
public conduct.

In the evening of its waning global power, in the desperate days
of Nazi aggression, the United Kingdom and its people
demonstrated remarkable resiliency, resolve and courage in their
”finest hour.”

Today, the U.K. is a shadow of its former naval and military
prowess. Yet the British pound is still an independent global
standard currency. The U.K.remains an economic presence in
international trade, but its long-uneasy membership in the
European Union (E.U.) has reached a crisis over sovereignty,
and the U.K.electorate has voted to leave the E.U. The process
of this departure, known as Brexit, has been quite complicated,
primarily due to minority and regional opposition to Brexit in the
Conservative (Tory) government and the parliament it has, until
now, controlled.

Two years ago, a new Tory prime minister, Theresa May, was
elected by the party to make Brexit happen in an orderly fashion,
but she failed to do so, and the formal break has been delayed.
A new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was chosen to finish the job,
and he has promised to do so, even if a transition agreement
cannot be reached with E.U. leaders by an October 31 deadline.
Such a “no deal” outcome is unacceptable to a majority of
members of Parliament, including several Tory members, and
Mr. Johnson’s efforts to finalize Brexit have been apparently
blocked. His parliamentary majority is now gone. Not only can he
now not make a no-deal Brexit happen --- and given this
circumstance, E.U. leaders have no reason to make a new deal ---
the Parliament also will not allow Johnson to call a new election
which current polls indicate he would win.

Further complicating this unprecedented impasse, Parliament so
far is unwilling to dismiss Johnson with a no-confidence vote,
and replace him with the minority Labour Party leader who is
widely disliked for what his opponents call his anti-semitic and
radical views.

An independent pro-Brexit party, led by nationalist Nigel Farage,
has already won dramatic local elections, and if Prime Minister
Johnson is unable to make Brexit happen on October 31, it is
poised to devastate the Tory Party in a national election --- just as
it did in the recent local elections.

All of this could precipitate not only a constitutional crisis,
it could lead to an attempted secession of Scotland and perhaps
other parts of the United Kingdom (which also includes England,
Wales and Northern Ireland).

In short, it is a colossal political mess with no apparent way out.
The fact is that the British electorate voted for Brexit, and failure
to make it happen could bring some very hitherto un-British
activity to the streets of the now not so United Kingdom.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 2, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senate Prospects Fourteen Months Out

In the past few months, the 2020 U.S. senate election cycle has seen
some significant changes, especially in the names of those who seek
to be on the November ballot.

Most recently, Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, whose
seat was not up next year, announced his early retirement. His GOP
appointed replacement will now have to run in 2020. Georgia is no
longer safe Republican territory, and the state’s other senator, David
Perdue, also a Republican, is up for re-election next year. The GOP
Georgia governor is therefore under pressure to make a strong
appointment to replace Isakson.

Two other GOP incumbents, in Tennessee and Kansas, have decided
not to seek re-election in 2020, and three GOP incumbents running
for re-election, Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, Senator Cory
Gardener of Colorado, and Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina,
are considered vulnerable.

Should the Democrats win four of these seven seats, and not lose any
of their own, they would regain control of the senate in 2021.

However, there are at least four Democratic incumbent seats up in
2020 that the liberal party might lose. One is in usually heavily
conservative Alabama where a controversial GOP nominee lost in
2018, and is running again in 2020 against the Democrat who beat
him. If Alabama Republicans fail to put up any other nominee, they
would probably lose an almost certain pick-up. Similarly, in normally
conservative Kansas, another controversial Republican is running,
and if the state party can’t find a better  nominee, they risk losing a
seat they now hold --- and otherwise should win.

In Michigan, the Democratic incumbent, Senator Gary Peters, is
considered quite vulnerable, and the GOP has an especially strong
challenger, John James, running in the race. In New Hampshire,
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is thought to be vulnerable,
especially if former Trump staffer Corey Lewandowki challenges
her. Finally, Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith could have a
serious race now that a damaging GOP primary battle has been
avoided, and former Congressman Jason Lewis is the probable
nominee challenging her in a state that the president wants to win.

The one Democratic Senator to retire so far is from New Mexico,
but this liberal state is expected to replace him with another
Democrat.

The Democratic Party has recruited likely strong challengers in
Arizona and Colorado. The Republicans are likely to recruit strong
challengers in Michigan and New Hampshire. Altogether, ten
senate races are currently considered in play in 2020.

But with unexpected resignations, retirements, and the course of
the also upcoming presidential election unknown. other senate
seats could become competitive in the coming months.

The GOP controls the senate 53-47. It is likely but not certain that,
14 months out, the Democrats will make at least some net gains.
Whether those gains will be enough to retake control remains to be
seen, but it is almost certain that, with Donald Trump at the top of
his party’s ticket, the Republicans will have a voter turnout asset
they lacked in the “blue wave” 2018 midterm elections. Less
certain is whether the Democratic nominee will be a greater or
lesser turnout asset.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Elizabeth Warren: Harbinger Or Throwback?

The extended interval between the first Democratic presidential
debate in late July and the first actual voting in Iowa (caucus) and
New Hampshire (primary) in early February next year has already
provided some apparent movement between leading contenders
--- and is likely to provide much more before we have the decision
of the voters.

After that first debate, Senator Kamala Harris (who had sharply
confronted former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader in the polls)
garnered media attention and rose in her polls. Biden took a dip
in the polls and became a target for his rivals. Then Mayor Pete
Butigieg got some media attention, and rose in the polls. Senator
Bernie Sanders, the only candidate returning from the 2016 cycle,
maintained a high media profile and poll numbers --- although at
some distance from Biden. Senator Elizabeth Warren issued several
position papers, was strong in the second debate, but often trailed
Biden, Sanders and Harris in polls.  Biden throughout this period
maintained a substantial poll lead over the others, and Sanders’
numbers declined a bit.  After the second debate, and issuing some
policy positions, the Harris poll numbers declined sharply, and
she received some criticism.

Another “tier” of the 26 candidates deemed “major” by the media
received some attention, but rarely exceeded 5% in the polls, and
many of them have not exceeded 1% in any poll. Twenty did qualify
for the first two debates, and ten have already qualified for the next
two (with a few more close to doing so).  At least five candidates
have formally withdrawn, but several of those who will not likely
qualify for the next debates have indicated they are nevertheless
remaining in the race.

One very recent poll suggests the Biden, Sanders and Warren are
now in a three-way tie for the lead --- with Biden’s poll numbers
down, Sanders somewhat up, and Warren making the biggest poll
gains. But several polls released after the one with the three-way
tie have Biden back in a double-digit lead. Polls, at this stage, with
so many different standards of the persons they sample, sample
size, and subjective interpretation of data, are simply often
unreliable.

Perhaps more of a bona fide signal, Warren has in recent days
drawn very large crowds (12,000 in  St. Paul; 15,000 in Seattle).

Elizabeth Warren, 70, professorial, tenacious, and ambitious, 
for several years now, along with her senate colleague Bernie
Sanders, 77, has been a loud and persistent voice for Democrats
to move much more to the left. She proclaims herself a
“progressive” --- Sanders proudly accepts the term “socialist” ---
but on most issues it is difficult to tell them apart. The question is
whether Warren and Sanders are harbingers of some imminently
new redistributionist U.S. policies or throwbacks to old leftist
notions that American voters have rejected in the past.

So far, as I continually point out, we have had no evidence from
actual voters. Americans have had to depend on the very subjective
views of the media and on early polling, usually of “registered”
voters (and not the more credible group, “likely” voters). With
Warren’s recent crowd-drawing, we have an additional useful
metric for evaluating how the various candidates are doing. It is
not a dispositive metric, of course, because a particular crowd can
be staged, but if any candidate can routinely draw very large
audiences, it might well mean something. We need only recall that
Donald Trump’s huge rallies beginning in 2015 were early clues to
his political appeal. (His continued ability to draw large crowds
indicates that his political base is intact.)

Already, Biden, Sanders, Harris and Warren have had fractions
of momentum --- with Warren currently having hers --- but as we
saw so vividly (as a recent example) in the 2012 Republican
nomination contest --- Mike Huckabee (who led in early polls but
did not run), Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum,
Newt Gingrich, and finally, the winner Mitt Romney) --- many
candidates rise and fall in the course of a long and tough contested
campaign. The voters of the Democratic Party are still divided in
their ideological direction --- and those who lean very “progressive”
have yet to fully explain and make credible their controversial
policy programs and positions.

“Decision” 2020, as some might label it, remains a distance away,
but that does not mean we cannot take note of certain signals from
those who will likely actually vote.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Premature 2020 Conclusions?

There is a growing media consensus that the 2020 Democratic
presidential field has already narrowed to only three candidates.
Those three are Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Each of them is a senior person. Biden and Sanders have seen their
poll numbers drop very recently; Warren’s poll numbers have been
rising.

This triumvirate allegedly excludes Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg,
Julian Castro, Cory Booker, AndrewYang,  Tulsi Gabbard and
Marianne Williamson --- each of whom have attracted at least some
notice --- as well as Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke,
Steve Bullock who have also had some attention.

Aside from Biden, there has been no candidate considered a true
frontrunner. Five lesser-known candidates have already dropped
out, and a few more who have not qualified for the next debates are
expected to do so. About a dozen or more, however, might be
expected to remain in the race until actual voting begins.

Although the presumed triumvirate includes the party’s current
range of ideology, center-left to “progressive” left, it does not include
any of the candidates of the party’s younger generation.

It’s very important to remember that we have not yet heard from any
voters --- there are four months until the first caucus and primary.

The presumption that the race is down to three --- or even the five
(including Harris and Buttigieg) who maintain somewhat elevated
poll numbers --- seems obviously premature. Yes, the eventual
nominee might well be one of the three or five, but relying primarily
on polling at this stage is essentially speculative. What if some
well-known (self-funding) billionaire or celebrity enters the race?
What if these still early polls do not accurately reflect actual voter
sentiment? What if one of the now-leading candidates stumbles
badly?

With domestic and international events and circumstances
producing new headlines daily, drama in the economy and stock
market, and Donald Trump disrupting the political scene with
regularity, it would seem much too early to decide even the final
stages of the Democratic nomination contest.

We need to see what actual voters think.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Certain Uncertainty

Kashmir and the Straits of Hormuz are not familiar places to most
Americans, nor are the names Kamala Harris and Peter Buttigieg.
They are among many other “new”names and places suddenly in
the news. Most of the unfamiliar places and names will soon fade
from the news, but the events associated with them will continue,
creating more and more uncertainty until they are resolved ---and
a new set of unfamiliar names and locations will then replace them
in the news.

These are days of a certain uncertainty about economic, political
and diplomatic circumstances. There are crises, large and small,
seemingly everywhere and involving matters at home and abroad.

Unsettling moments such as these occur with historical regularity,
just as periods of apparent tranquility also take place, but most of
it is a kind of illusion because the world we live is always changing
out of daily sight.

Recurring events often provoke what we do see --- elections,
revolutions, natural disasters, technology innovations --- humanity
and nature dancing together on a kind of global petri dish.

Key elections are ahead not only in the U.S, but also in Great Britain,
Germany, Argentina, Austria and Israel; recent key elections have
occurred in Mexico, India, Australia, Brazil, Italy, France and Turkey.
Major events are occurring in western and central Europe, Hong
Kong and the South China Sea, Venezuela and Central America.

As if all this isn’t enough, President Trump is reportedly thinking
about the U.S. purchasing Greenland!

(Incidentally, President Harry Truman originated the idea.)

I don’t know if such a purchase would rise to the historical
importance of the Louisiana Purchase or  “Seward’s Folly” of buying
Alaska (both in the 19th century), but it is a curiously newsworthy (if
also a diversionary) idea. For a mere $60 billion, every native
Greenlander could become a millionaire, Denmark (which owns the
frozen territory) could wipe out its national debt, and the U.S. would
not ever run out of ice cubes.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can A New 2020 Candidate Get In?

The possibility of yet another Democratic candidate for president in
the 2020 cycle is being raised by some Democrats unhappy with the
choices now available in the already historically largest field.

Beginning most notably in 1896, significant late-entry candidates,
some of whom went on to win their party’s nomination (William
Jennings Bryan, James Cox,Wendell Willkie, George Wallace, Ross
Perot) have appeared, but none won the presidency. Abraham
Lincoln was a little-known figure, but he was not in 1860 a late entry,
and Donald Trump (who was known as a celebrity) did enter the race
when most of his 16 rivals did.

Yet, as Mr. Trump and Barack Obama have recently demonstrated,
precedents in U.S. politics can be upset.

It is likely that the eventual Democratic nominee will come from
the list of the current list of 24 contenders. Part of the problem for
the liberal party is that it has so much time to fill between now and
the first caucus and primary, and the other party controls the White
House and the U.S. senate. It does control the U.S. house, but
controversial figures and factions in that body often overshadow the
presidential contest. Secondly, their Republican opponent not only
has the “bully pulpit.” he is a master of political scene stealing.
All of the above takes away attention from the Democratic
presidential candidates who have overfull schedules of flying hither
and you for speeches, town halls and meet-and-greets as well as
personal telephone fundraising and endless media interviews.

The general voter, and even the Democratic voters, are not paying
much attention yet,and the lack of a charismatic frontrunner makes
the large field of candidates, probably unfairly, seem less
distinguished than it really is.

This leads, among other consequences, to calls for more
candidates. In reality, there are only a limited number of figures
who might do this. Such a list would include former First Lady
Michelle Obama, TV icon Oprah Winfrey, former New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and businessman Mark Cuban. The
latter three are billionaires; only Mrs. Obama is a mere
multimillionaire. She and Oprah, however, are universally known
and enjoy wide popularity. All four either were mentioned as
possible candidates or considered running earlier. Mr. Bloomberg
almost announced, but when Joe Biden got into the race, he
demurred. If Biden somehow were prematurely out of the race,
Bloomberg might reconsider, but the most probable answer to the
question of new candidates is: VERY UNLIKELY.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 9, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Other 2020 Elections

While it is understandable and inevitable that the 2020 presidential
race will receive top voter and media attention, there will be other
critical and vital election contests next year --- and they should not
be, even now so early in the cycle, overlooked.

I particularly call attention to the races for one-third of the U.S
senate seats, and consequently, control of that body. Control of the
U.S. house will also be at stake, as well as state governorships and
control of state legislatures --- each of which are very important ---
but it might be that the outcome of the U.S. senate races will have
the most impact in 2021 and beyond.

Whether Donald Trump is re-elected next year or he is replaced by
the eventual Democratic nominee, the control of the U.S. senate
will be key to the exercise of presidential power in the next term.

There are several permutations.The two which will produce the
least drama and conflict would be a Republican sweep or a
Democratic sweep of the executive and legislative branches. Under
those circumstances, executive branch appointments, including
judges, would proceed relatively unimpeded. With the historic
tensions between these two branches, and the divided policy
factions in each party, legislative action might not go that smoothly,
but there would not likely be the stalemate that now exists with
the current divided Congress.

Another set of permutations exist should the new (or re-elected)
president  be of a different party that controls the senate. With
new rules, begun under Democrat Harry Reid and expanded under
Republican Mitch McConnell, a simple and consistent senate
majority is a decisive factor in cabinet, sub-cabinet, judicial and
other presidential appointments being approved. Until a “nuclear
option rule was adopted, Democrats were able to hold up any of
President Trump’s appointments, and often did so. A Democratic
president in 2021 might well have the same experience with a
GOP-controlled senate. Conversely, should Mr. Trump win
re-election, but his party lose control of the senate, he could face
a stone wall blocking many of his appointments, particularly for
the U.S. supreme court and lower court federal judges.

Much of the nation’s day-to-day business occurs at the local and
state level, so I do not mean to minimize the impact of elections
of governors and state legislators. Nor do I mean to diminish the
work of the U.S. house. Under Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
the current U.S. house has often been an effective counterpuncher
to he White House. But Mrs. Pelosi, like GOP Speaker Paul Ryan
before her, faces divisions within her own caucus that reduce the
ability of that body often to act successfully.

Republicans only narrowly control the U.S. senate today (53-47).
Almost twice as many GOP incumbents than Democratic
incumbents are up for re-election in 2020 --- although relatively
few incumbents in either party are now vulnerable. Many senate
races are already well underway, but many others could see new
retirements or challengers.

Presidential politics, especially in this phase, present more drama
than even highly competitive individual senate races, but that does
not reduce their importance to what will happen at the ballot box
next year.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No 2020 Exit?

A self-described progressive faction seems to be driving the 2020
Democratic campaign bus, but some shrewd and candid liberal
strategists and pollsters are warning that this faction is navigating
the field not only without a road map, but without even any GPS.

As with any dense map of political streets, there are cul de sacs
everywhere.  The result, these veteran liberal savants suggest,
could be that the eventual Democratic ticket, no matter who is on
it, will find themselves and their party without a viable avenue to
victory well before election day.

Many observers don’t yet quite fully fathom the impact of these
possible unforced errors of the Democrats.

This has happened before. In 1964, it was Barry Goldwater. In
it was George McGovern. In 1984, it was Walter Mondale (an
otherwise conventional liberal, but who promised voters he would
raise their taxes). Each of these elections ended in a landslide
against them.

The Democrats do have alternative transportation, Such a political
“Uber” ride would have Joe Biden at the wheel. But this isn’t
apparently acceptable to the progressive faction which has
numerous candidates in the party’s presidential field, including
first and second “tier” aspirants Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren,
Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro and Cory Booker.

While Biden continues to lead clearly in the polls, the political
discussion seems dominated by the progressive faction. (Only
Bernie Sanders eagerly accepts the label “socialist.”)

In 2015, Donald Trump emerged quickly from the TV debates of a
17-person Republican field. By the time of the first caucus (Iowa)
and the first primary (New Hampshire), he was the candidate to
beat. All through the autumn and the early winter of 2015, he
outraged many in his own party while at the same time he built a
base at the grass roots level. Like him or not, he was not boring.
Meanwhile, the incumbent president, then a lame duck, was not
much of a political presence in his own party’s nomination
contest. Most observers concluded Hillary Clinton would win the
Democratic nomination, and in November, the presidency.

2020 is a much different political environment. The incumbent is
running for re-election, and so far had not been shy about being
the commenter-in-chief about the ups and downs of the contest on
the other side. He is also the national scene-stealer-in-chief --- and
refuses to let the Democrats put him on the defensive.

Of course, events and circumstances beyond his control or any
Democrat’s control could alter this race --- still 15 months away.
Foremost of these is the economy which is now booming, but
which many economists and market observers say is ripe for a
correction or downturn. (A minority of contrarians, however, see
this widespread economic pessimism as evidence the economy
could remain robust through next year.)

In the meantime, most voters, especially those not fully decided
about which side they are on, are not yet apparently engaged in
the presidential race. Perhaps ominously, they are not yet engaged
in the Democratic nomination contest.

This could change, but Democratic Party leaders have not only
their ticket to worry about, but equally important, a credible
map for their ticket to win in November, 2020.

Phantoms of past landslides always haunt the dreams of
political parties.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Brexit Might Mean To The U.S.

Americans have heard and read much about the British political crisis
called “Brexit,” but not much has been written about what the British
exit from the European Union (EU) might mean to the United States.

The idea of a union of European nations has a history initially going
back to the 19th century, but gained notable impetus after the 1918
armistice of World War I’s catastrophes of wasteful soldier casualties,
its demographic displacements and the suffering of civilian populations,
as well as its eruptions of religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts ---
which are still very much felt today. The first institution of its kind was
more global, a League of Nations, but that failed to halt the violence
between European states.. Only in the wake of World War II, were
most of the European nations able to agree to an economic union. The
intention of its founders, but not all of it member states, was to evolve
from an economic union with a common currency and no borders to a
political union that would ultimately eliminate the individual
sovereignty of its member nations.

Behind this thinking was an idealistic desire to avoid militarism,
violence and the chronic disruption of the continent’s peace,
commerce and well-being which had raged for centuries --- and
which, at various intervals, had been primarily initiated by Germany,
France, Spain and Great Britain against each other both on the
European continent and throughout the world as these and other
European states attempted to claim colonies and reap global
economic spoils.

An economic union, called the Common Market, made much political
and economic sense, but too rapid adoptions of a common currency
and political union were not shared, particularly by Great Britain which
declined to use the euro common currency that did appear, and
increasingly resisted EU attempts to diminish its sovereignty.

It needs to be remembered that the various European nations began
to organize in their modern forma more than a thousand years ago from
competing and warring barbarian tribes to the north of the Roman and
Greek civilization centers and capitals which had emerged more than a 
thousand years before that. The Roman empire soon had moved north
in conquest, subduing the barbarian tribes, bringing the Latin language
and Christianity with them.

But midway in the first millennium, A.D. , the tables were turned on
the Romans, and their empire was ended. The barbarian tribes which
they had subjugated by invading their territories became feudal states
of kingdoms, duchies and fiefdoms with their own languages, cultures
and character. When Catholicism (still led by the pope in Rome) was
challenged in England and northern Europe during the Reformation,
religious conflicts further complicated the imperial ambitions of the
local royal leaders, and centuries of aggression, betrayals and
territorial resentments followed --- leading to Napoleon in the 19th
century, and, as mercantile, industrial and mass societies arose, to
world wars, Nazi fascism and Soviet communism in the 20th century.

I have simplified and condensed much in the above, but it illustrates
why trying to impose a political union of Europe in only a few years,
while historically understandable and idealistic, is so problematic ---
especially in nations and societies which have becomes inherently
democratic.

The desire to impose an order determined by self-appointed and elite
arbiters is, in spite of its idealistic rationales, ultimately a totalitarian
impulse.

The British empire was created not only by imposing itself militarily
and economically through maritime dominance of places far from its
small island nation, but by the presumption that it had the right and
destiny to do so. The 20th century and its brutal conflicts cured the
British of these illusions, but did not diminish its enduring
contribution to certain global systems of democratic politics, the
rule of law and national sovereignty.

Once Europe overstepped its ambitions of denying British
sovereignty, the experiment was off. The United Kingdom was
scheduled to leave the EU in April. An agreement between the
parties delineating the separation was preferred, but not necessary.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit terms, which she awkwardly
negotiated, were not acceptable to a significant number in her own
Conservative (Tory) Party in Parliament. These euroskeptics, long
opposed to the EU, and others in the Parliament, ended Mrs.
May's feckless premiership. She has now been replaced by the
controversial former mayor of London, and later foreign minister
Boris Johnson.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Now what?

As Sir Bill Cash, the godfather of euroskepticism and the senior
figure of the backbencher euroskeptics, has repeatedly pointed out,
Britain will continue to trade with  Europe, albeit on some different
terms. Great Britain and continental Europe are inextricably linked
by proximity and trade, and no serious Brexiteer is suggesting
otherwise.

For the United States, Brexit presents the two leading
English-speaking nations with new opportunities for economic
trade and cooperation. Britain still leads its voluntary global
Commonwealth which includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and several smaller African,
Asian and South American nations --- a quarter of the world’s
population, but it could increase its trade with the U.S. via new
arrangements outside the former constraints imposed by the E.U.

Perhaps equally consequential for the U.S. side of the Atlantic
would be the British successful resistance to the loss of its
sovereignty, a threat the U.S. also faces in certain international
courts and global environmental institutions which seek to
by-pass U.S. legal procedures, standards and customs --- and
U.S. public opinion.

On October 31, 2019, Great Britain is scheduled to leave he EU
--- with or without a separation deal. The new prime minister
has pledged to try one more time to negotiate a deal with EU
leaders, but he has also asserted that if those negotiations fail,
Britain will leave the EU on that date anyway.

With Brexit concluded. the U.K. becomes potentially even
more important to the U.S. with possible major new trade and
other economic relationships. The ingredients and the incentives
are already in place, but it will take initiatives from both
President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson to make them
happen and succeed.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Monday, July 29, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Joe Biden's Moment?

 As we go to the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit,
it is becoming evident that frontrunner Joe Biden is at a critical
moment in his long quest, begun in 1986, to occupy the White
House and lead the nation.

Mr.Biden has been on the national stage for a very long time, first
elected to the U.S. senate in 1972, the youngest person to ever serve
in that body. By 1987, he had announced his first run for the
presidency, but it was short-lived when he developed a
life-threatening double aneurism. When he recovered, he returned
to the senate and became, at different times, chairman of the
important judiciary and foreign relations committees. In 2008, he
made a second presidential run, also unsuccessful, but the eventual
Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, did choose him to be his vice
presidential running mate. For eight years he was U.S. vice president,
but following a family tragedy, decided not to run for president in
2016, although he likely would have been eventual nominee Hillary
Clinton’s most formidable rival.

Her major rival, in fact, became self-styled socialist Senator Bernie
Sanders who lost, but managed to draw much of the party activist
base to the left, especially in the ensuing 2018 mid-term elections
in which the Democrats won back control of the U.S. house.

Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in an upset
that has sent shock waves through both major political parties.
President Trump has now solidified his support in the Republican
Party as he heads toward his re-election campaign, but the
Democratic Party is only united in its fervent opposition to Mr.
Trump --- otherwise it is divided between traditional liberals and
more radical “progressives.” Mr. Biden has emerged as the
standard bearer of the former --- while Mr. Sanders (who is back
for another try) has had to share the leadership of the latter with
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, as well as Mayor
Pete Buttigieg and others in the historically large field of more than
twenty candidates.

As might have been predicted, Mr. Biden was a target in the first
debate, especially by Senator Harris, and his debate performance
at best was lackluster. Nevertheless, he has maintained a lead in
most polls, albeit understandably somewhat reduced as voters
have been able to observe the other candidates, most of whom were
largely unknown nationally.

Mr. Sanders, who also has a big existing national Democratic voter
base, also has seen his numbers decline a bit. He remains a major
contender along with Senators Warren and  Harris --- and Mayor
Buttigieg. A “second tier” of candidates includes Julian Castro and
Beto O’Rourke --- and perhaps Cory Booker and Tulsi Gabbard ---
with about two dozen other candidates so far trailing in the polls.

Although some in the media have suggested that the Biden and
Sanders campaigns appear to be in some decline, I continue to
point out that each of them have loyal voter bases that just might
defy some pessimistic pundit prognostications.

The challenge for Biden and Sanders --- and all of their rivals --- is
somehow to maintain voter interest for the next seven months until
actual voting takes place in the caucuses and primaries. They must
also do this with their eventual opponent currently in the White
House. Not only does Donald Trump have the “bully pulpit,”  but
he has demonstrated a certain mastery of stealing media attention
(even though much of the media is hostile to him).

One Democratic strategy has been to keep alive old allegations
from 2016 (e.g. The Mueller Report), and to press for impeachment
proceedings in the U.S. house. “Old pros” such as Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and Joe Biden so far have seen these tactics as self-defeating,
inasmuch as the voting public (especially undecided voters) seems
to have moved on to 2020 issues.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden has issues to face, including his age and the
charge that he wants to return to a pre-Trump era. Should these
issues take hold, his frontrunning position could be vulnerable ---
and one or more of the other candidates could overtake him.

After a disastrous first debate with Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan
used his own age the basis of a comeback in their next 1984 debate.
Barack Obama did not have a good first debate with Mitt Romney,
but was able to recover in the next one in 2012.

Joe Biden probably will be a central focus of both evenings of the
next debate in Detroit. How he and his rivals handle this internal
drama could be important --- and should be fascinating to observe.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.