Saturday, September 19, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Court Change

The departure of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg from the U.S.
supreme court just before the 2020 national elections will
initially be regarded as more significant politically than it
really is. Justice Ginsberg, whether one agreed with her
decisions or not, deserves the tributes she will now receive
for her formidable contributions and service to her
profession, and for her gritty endurance in her final years.

Her departure, however, was already known to be imminent,
and the choice to replace her already a major issue in this
election cycle.

The court now has eight members for its new term. The
political division now is five conservatives and three liberals
--- although Chief Justice John Roberts. a conservative, has
on rare, but high-profile, cases sided with the liberals. His
role as a swing vote on the court is now reduced to perhaps to
an occasional tie vote (although he is known to dislike such
votes).

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates might now suggest that
their base voters will now increasingly vote this year, but
behind that partisan rhetoric is the reality that the two
opposing bases were already close to maximum intensity,
and turnout based on this and other social issues which are
likely to come before the court was already certain to be
very high.

Although Republicans control the U.S. senate 53-47, they don’t
visibly have the votes now to confirm Ginsberg’s successor.
Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and
two or three (or more) GOP incumbents in tight re-election
races might balk at a vote before the election.

As I have already pointed out, conservatives now have a
stronger majority on the court, and don’t really need an
additional vote for the current term.

President Trump has already made public the list from
which he would make his next nomination; Joe Biden has
strategically refused to do so, but now will face  much
pressure to disclose his own list.

Republicans also established a precedent in 2016 of
refusing to confirm then-President Obama’s supreme
court nominee because it was an election year. It might
be problematic to try to explain what was different now in
2020 with the Ginsberg replacement.

It would seem to be an unforced error, then, for
President Trump and the Republicans to try to push
through a supreme court nominee before the election.
They don’t need it, they probably don’t have the votes to
do it, and they would risk turning off undecided voters by
trying to do it before November.

President Trump will almost certainly nominate someone
for the vacancy soon. The confirmation process will begin.
The nominee would be an issue in the presidential
campaign and would distract voters from other issues.
This might provide a net benefit for Mr. Trump, or it might
be a net benefit for Mr. Biden.

In any event, the court vacancy is one more complication in
a year already overflowing with complications.


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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Origins Of U.S. Intelligence Services

[THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED

ON THE PRAIRIE EDITOR WEBSITE IN 2015] 

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In  early June, 1942, a few days after I was born in Erie,
Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army requisitioned a private girl’s school
named Arlington Hall near its World War II military
headquarters in Virginia. The original facility was soon greatly
enlarged to accommodate about 5100 civilians and more than
2000 military personnel. Many of these men and women worked
for the Signal Intelligence Service (S.I.S.), the code-breaking
branch of the U.S. Army which specialized in “cracking” the
Japanese military codes, and intercepting Japanese secret
communications. (An equivalent site called Bletchley Park in
England similarly specialized in “cracking” the German codes.)  
Soon after the German “Enigma” code was deciphered by
British cryptologists at Bletchley Park, U.S. cryptologists, led by
legendary U.S. cryptologist William Friedman initially broke the
Japanese “Purple” diplomatic code. Later, in 1943, S.I.S.
cryptologists at Arlington Hall deciphered the Japanese military
code. These code-breaking achievements, it is generally agreed,
had much to do with the Allies winning World War II agains the
Axis Powers.

President Roosevelt asked General “Wild Bill” Donovan to create
the Office of Secret Services (O.S.S.) in 1942, and many of his
personnel were stationed at Arlington Hall. There was a great
deal of “top secret”Arlington Hall activity during World War II,
but there was also a small military hospital facility located there
which provided medical services to U.S. Army nurses, S.I.S. and
O.S.S. personnel, and to U.S. Chief of Staff General George
Marshall and his staff.

I hope the reader will excuse my mentioning this post hospital,
but it will explain my special interest in this location as the
center of World War II U.S. Signal Corps intelligence service
and partly the early days of the O.S.S. (which later became the
Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.). The commandant (post
surgeon) of this post hospital was my father, then Major
Hyman Lawrence Casselman, and I think I might say
accurately that I was among the youngest persons ever to visit
this secret site during wartime. By November, 1942, my
mother, my older brother Tom (he later grew up to be the
physicist who became one of the fathers of post-war top-secret
infrared detection technology), and I had moved to the
recently-constructed military officers family housing (today
converted to upscale condominiums) in nearby Fairlington,
Virginia.

S.I.S. chief Colonel William Friedman and his famed
cryptologist wife (also Colonel) Elizabeth (she helped the
British break the Enigma code) lived nearby, and became
good friends of my parents during their time in Fairlington).

Spending the first four years of my life there became a central
experience of my immediate family’s history, and although I
have only a few fleeting memories of that time, its narrative,
especially of my father’s fascinating experiences, has created
my lifelong interest in the origins of U.S. intelligence services.

The lore from World War II often construes the creation of the
O.S.S. as the beginning of the American spy system. It was true
that the U.S. had no organized or official spy network prior to
Pearl Harbor, (the FBI was supposed to do only domestic police
work), but we did have spies working for us in previous war
periods, including the Mexican War, Civil War,
Spanish- American War and World War I.

But what about before that? Particularly, did we have an
intelligence system in the Revolutionary War? The British
colonial army certainly did under the dashing Major John
Andre, who among other feats, lured Continental Army General
Benedict Arnold to defect and become our nation’s most
notorious traitor. (Major Andre was caught behind Continental
lines, and subsequently hanged as a spy.)

What did our commanding general, George Washington, have
to keep him abreast of secret British military movements?

Until relatively recently, we only knew about isolated individuals
such as Nathan Hale (hung by the British as a spy at age 21 after
declaring “I regret I have but one life to give for my country.”)
Scholars and historians, however, have unearthed a large-scale
and very secret spy network that reported directly to General
Washington and his staff throughout most of the Revolutionary
War.

Known as the “Culper Ring,” a relatively large number of
patriots and apparent “loyalists” were recruited by Major
Benjamin Talmadge beginning in 1776 in Setauket, New York.
The fascinating story of this important part of the
Revolutionary War has now been told in books, documentaries
and a partly fictionalized TV series called “Turn: America’s
First Spies” (available in its entirety on a DVD set). [The TV
series, based on a novel, is centered on the character of
Abraham Woodhull, one of Talmadge’s actual first recruits
in Setauket, who is portrayed as a married man having an
affair with another man’s wife. The real Abraham Woodhull
was actually unmarried through the period of the series, and
is not known to have carried on any affairs, but that’s show
business.]

Operating initially without organized military intelligence in
1776, Washington was at a distinct disadvantage. There were no
modern communications then --- no telegraph, no telephones,
no computers. no radio or television, nothing but handwritten
or verbal communication carried by foot or horseback. Major
Benjamin Talmadge organized, at Washington’s order, not only
a true spy network, but developed a secret code for its
communications. (Washington did not ever know the true
identity of most of his spies, and some of their identities are
still not known today.) It was nothing like the vast operation at,
and emanating from, Arlington Hall more than 160 years later.

This Revolutionary War spy network had failures and tragic
losses, but it also had notable successes hat enabled General
Washington and his Continental Army to turn the war around
and ultimately succeed against the formidable British army.  

Cryptologists in 1942 or today would have little trouble
“cracking” our earliest secret code (General Washington was
known, for example, by the numbers “711”) but it worked just
fine in 1777-1781.

We live in a time when codes, spies and intelligence operate
technologically “light years” ahead of those earliest days of
our history, or even of those days not so long ago during
World War II. We also live in a time of global and national
threats when good intelligence might well mean the difference
between survival and annihilation.

That is why I think the very brief history recounted above is
worth telling.

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Copyright (c) 2015 and 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 11, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: New Poem "Ceremonies Of Delay"

CEREMONIES OF DELAY
by Barry Casselman


On occasion, delay is the best way to go faster.

Not everything is a contest, although contests are everywhere.

When the body digests, it is also an instruction.
The body is lifelong a teacher in a voiceless conversation
with our worldly distractions.

Hesitation travels by helicopter,
hovering for overview before trying to land.

Our unending battle is with so many details,
the details which are our own private atoms and molecules.

We sleep on a furious planet
which wakes us periodically.

Now let’s get serious, we proclaim before bedtime,
ignoring the fury.

We simply do not understand speed,
but it stirs us like an anthem.

Going faster slows us down
long enough to hear our exasperation
and our pretended confidence in confidences.

A daily dashboard gives us some more velocities,
but no explanations, and no postponements,
change the destination.



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

Sunday, September 6, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How Does The House Divide?

While control of the U.S. senate in 2021 has been an ongoing
question since the current campaign cycle began, few if any
pundits have suggested that control of the U.S house is in
doubt. Indeed, at least one major political newsletter is
currently suggesting that Democrats might be headed to
increase their majority.

There is only one presidential race and only 35 senatorial
contests (only a third of them competitive), but there are 435
U.S house races --- and about 50 of them have serious
contests. Thus, control of that body gets less close popular
attention, although it is not less important in its impact on
national governance.

Democrats now lead the GOP 232-198  --- with 4 vacancies.

Democrats picked up enough seats in the 2018 mid-term
elections to take control, but more than 25 of those pick-ups
were in districts Mr. Trump had won in 2016. Now that he is
again at the top of his ticket, the question is whether these
first-term Democrat can be re-elected.

House races are often decided by local issues more than
national trends. Presidential and senate races are on
statewide ballots; house races appear only on district
ballots. The GOP needs to pick up 18 seats to win control.

Normally, incumbents win re-election, and there are usually
a limited number of retirements.  Also, usually almost all
incumbents in both parties are renominated. This cycle has
seen a larger number of retirements, and an unusual
number of successful and near successful primary
challengers to incumbents in both parties. All of this tends
to create more uncertainty, as does the pandemic's social
and economic impact. The uncertainty would have been
even greater had this election taken place in 2022, following
the census and redistricting that will take place in the next
national election cycle two years from now.

Most congressional predictions have so far been based on
political polling --- as usually does happen. But this kind of
polling has become less and less useful in recent cycles as
voters have become less and less willing to respond when
contacted by pollsters. Small samples, non-use of likely
voters only, and questionable “weighting” of raw data,
also compound a distortion of the results. In 2020, we are
seeing polls taken in the same race at the same time by
different pollsters with significantly different results.

As I always point out, polls tend to become more accurate
just before election day.  Pollsters do not want to look silly
when he results are known, and make more effort for
accuracy late in the cycle. We are not quite at that point
yet, so I will not discuss individual close races here, but
I will do so in my next U.S. house races post.

But what seems clear is that several competitive house
races are tightening as the 2020 election approaches its
final laps. In some cycles, such as in 2010, the voters
intentions are signaled early, but in 2020, with its
unprecedented circumstances, the signals have been
contradictory, provisional and ambiguous.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnewisowa: 2020 Bellwhether?

When I invented the megastate term “Minnewisowa”
(Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) in 2004, and identified it
as a bellwether for that year’s national elections, I could not
have known how would it play a similar role in the elections
that would follow.

Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Minnewisowa went for Barack
Obama, and in 2016, two of the three component states
went for Donald Trump (and he almost won the third).

Not so long ago, I wrote that initially it appeared that the
2020 Minnewisowa would likely to go into the Democratic
Party nominee’s electoral college total --- partly because the
opposition party had  done so well there in the 2018 mid-term
elections, and partly because Mr. Trump’s popularity was at
least temporarily seeming to decline in the region.

Then the pandemic, urban unrest, and a sharp economic
downturn hit the nation and the region. At first glance, this
would seem to increase the movement towards the liberal/
progressive party, but latest events and polls indicate
otherwise.

As one of the main epicenters (another being Oregon and
Washington state) of urban unrest and violence, Minnesota
and Wisconsin with their Democratic governors and mayors
have seen outstate voter backlashes that have halted the
political momentum to the left, and possibly reversed it to
the center right.

In fact, down ballot in the U.S house and senate races, the
greater initiative for pick-ups in Minnewisowa seems to be
conservative (Iowa CD-1,CD-2 and CD-3; Minnesota U.S.
senate, CD-2 and CD 7) --- although Democrats have
serious challengers to GOP incumbents in the Iowa U.S.
senate race and in Minnesota’s CD-1.

Disturbing headlines and news stories from Minneapolis
and Kenosha not only are attracting national attention,
but the attention of rural, small town and suburban
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. If polls and on-the-ground
reports are accurate, the current news for Democratic
candidates in competitive races on the 2020 ballot is not
good.

This, however, does not mean Democrats are going to lose.
There are two months left --- time enough for possible
countermeasures and recovery.

Whatever happens on election day, nonetheless, the results
in Minnewisowa, with such similar demographics in its
adjoining component states, are likely to be a bellwether
for the national results. With its 26 combined electoral
college votes, both parties are taking it very seriously.

This is the beginning of the homestretch, and voters
are now paying much more attention.

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