Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Quick Notes - December, 2014

As we approach the new year, with a Republican-controlled
Congress, a cascade of announcements for president in
both parties (and some declines), new executive orders by
President Obama, oil probably at below $50 a barrel, new
machinations in the Middle East, and lots of surprises,
it’s time for a survey of some recent news stories.

JEB BUSH has now formally announced an exploratory
committee for president. In current polls, he is either the
leading Republican committee, or close to it. The cliche
about his surname being an obstacle to his becoming
Bush 45, now seems to be wrong. If he does run (more than a
50% chance of occurring), he will be one of the frontrunners.
With his Hispanic-American family (including his son
GEORGE P. BUSH, now a statewide elected officeholder in
Texas), a Jeb Bush candidacy would probably keep fellow
Floridian and U.S. Senator MARCO RUBIO out of the race.

HILLARY CLINTON continues to delay her public decision
about her candidacy for president. Although an overwhelming
frontrunner is all early polls, she has faced considerable
criticism from within her own party, and her poll numbers
have declined. A draft-ELIZABETH WARREN boomlet has
appeared from Mrs Clinton’s left, and Massachusetts Senator
Warren has been gathering strength in the polls, most of it
apparently in the Democratic Party’s most leftist base.
Although Vice President JOE BIDEN says he is considering the
race, his poll strength seems to be based on his name recognition
and little more. My old friend MIKE MCCURRY, formerly
President BILL CLINTON’s press secretary, has written a
suggestion that Mrs. Clinton be appointed to the U.S. Supreme
Court (should a vacancy occur in the next 18 months). Is this a
trial balloon? Who knows?

Perhaps the most extraordinary freshman class of new U.S.
senators in memory is about to enter the national scene in the
nation’s capital. BEN SASSE (Nebraska) and DAVID PERDUE
(Georgia) are replacing other Republican senators, and THOM
(Colorado), TOM COTTON (Arkansas), BILL CASSIDY (Louisiana)
STEPHEN DAINES (Montana), and MIKE ROUNDS (South Dakota)
are replacing Democrats, and thus have given the GOP control of
the new senate by a 54-46 margin. This exceptionally strong class
includes five former members of the U.S. house, a state speaker of
the house, a pig farmer/state senator, two active officers in the
military, a former governor, a physician, successful businessmen
and a conservative college president. The usual rules about senate
freshmen keeping quiet and a low profile might not apply to this
group. The new Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL
might have his hands full.

Rumors that former (2012) GOP presidential nominee MITT
ROMNEY might run again in 2016 continue to circulate, but now
that both JEB BUSH and New Jersey Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE
seem poised to run, this would seem to be much less likely. The
dark horse candidacy of DR. BEN CARSON, a black physician,
however seem to be the surprise at the early stage of the cycle,
as Dr. Carson, an outspoken and charismatic conservative,
shows up high in the polls despite being generally an unknown
national figure. The Republicans have a considerable number of
other big-name potential candidates, including the hard-charging
Senator RAND PAUL of Kentucky who was particularly active
helping candidates in 2012, including Majority Leader McConnell
who has virtually endorsed him.

Long-serving and highly popular Iowa Governor TERRY
BRANSTAD is leading an effort to scuttle the Iowa Straw Poll,
a fundraiser for the state Republican party and favorite event
of the national media, (but also a political graveyard for some
serious GOP presidential candidates --- most recently then-
Governor TIM PAWLENTY of Minnesota in 2012). This straw poll,
which traditionally takes place in the summer of the year before
the presidential election, has in recent years been the opening
salvo of the presidential campaign.

Prime Minister BINYAMIN (“Bibi”) NETANYAHU of Israel has
called for new elections, With its multiple parties in the Israeli
Knesset (parliament), the politics of the Jewish state are dizzying
in their permutations and complications, but few are betting
against the wily incumbent at this point.

Conservative and nationalist political parties and movements
are springing up and strengthening across the nations of the
European Union, most of it apparently provoked by the recent
immigration of workers from north Africa and former colonies.
Even Conservative Party Prime Minster DAVID CAMERON of
Great Britain is facing a strong challenge from a new party on
his right. Socialist Prime Minister FRANCOIS HOLLANDE of
France seems particularly endangered. 2015 could be a year of
considerable political change in Europe.

The decline in the price of oil is so far the biggest economic story
in the world, and the current price (about $55 a barrel) is
transforming economies, helping some (consumer nations) and
harming others (exporting nations). How far down the price of oil
will go is very uncertain, and it is likely to remain a very major
story in 2015. Economic columnist Robert Samuelson, one of the
savviest writers on the subject, says the fall in crude oil prices,
and subsequent lower prices at the pump, is a huge “windfall”
for consumers, and could help much of the world economy,
assuming consumers spend most of their fuel savings.

The Chinese economy appears to be in turmoil. As the now
largest economy in the world, its gyrations could have major
and hitherto unexpected impact across the globe.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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