Tuesday, October 31, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Local Politics 2017 --- Any Portents?

The off-year elections of 2017 are almost all local elections,
i.e., for mayor, city council, sheriff and other municipal and
county races. They are often ignored by national pundits, but
in spite of the liberal hegemony of most urban areas,
especially in the northeast, midwest and far west, I think
some might offer some clues about next year’s national
mid-term elections.

A small number of congressional special elections to fill
unexpected vacancies, including a U.S. senate race in Alabama,
and two statewide elections, in Virginia and New Jersey, also
will take place. They seem to be receiving the most media
attention. Democrats are heavily favored to win in New Jersey,
less favored in Virginia, and the Alabama senate race is too
close to call. Democrats have made serious efforts in a series
of congressional special elections, but so far have not won any

The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are holding their
municipal elections in about a week, and since they are the
contests closest to me this year, I have been following these
races particularly for political clues and portents.

Although for the past three decades I have turned my
journalistic attention primarily to national politics. For 15 years
prior to that I edited and published a local newspaper that
had its focus on local Minneapolis elections and government.
I “cut my media teeth” (as the saying goes), on ward-by-ward
politics in this growing midwestern city, the largest in the

When I first arrived here, twelve of the thirteen city council
members were Republicans. Today, there are no Republicans
on the city council, and have not been any for years. The
Democrats (here called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party
or DFL) routinely win about 75% of the city vote; more
conservative and independent voters number about 25% of
the vote. There is a local GOP, but it is mostly a volunteer
effort, and the state party (unwisely, I think) pays it little
attention. The Twin Cities supply the DFL with large margins
in statewide races which, until recently, easily overcame and
GOP margins in the suburbs and rural outstate.

When I first arrived here, Minneapolis was primarily
Scandinavian-American, Protestant and insular. Over time,
large numbers of American blacks, southeast Asian refugees,
Hispanic-Americans, and Somali refugees moved to the city
to replace the hitherto largest minority population of Native
Americans. Today, Minneapolis has a distinct international
aspect --- its Somali and southeast Asian groups are among
the largest in any American city. Many of these recent
emigres have now become citizens --- and voters. The fifth
congressional district (mostly Minneapolis) is represented in
Congress by a black Muslim. Several local elected officials
are from the Somali and other minority communities. For
years, Minneapolis has been a center for women’s issues,
and numerous woman of all ethnic and religious backgrounds
have held, and now hold, elective office. The current mayor is
Betsy Hodges. A previous mayor was a black woman.

The city is also the corporate and financial center of the state,
and many corporate leaders are liberals, and contribute to a
long-standing booming preforming arts and socially tolerant
municipal culture.

Recently, however, tensions and problems have increased in
the city. Security in the downtown center and in some city
neighborhoods has become an issue. The very liberal city
council and mayor have enacted tough transportation, parking,
tax and regulatory policies that are making it difficult for small
businesses and restaurants to thrive. Many of them are closing
or moving to more welcoming areas. The city’s famed Nicollet
Mall has been undergoing repair for so long that many of its
prime tenants are leaving. The mayor has been held responsible
for the delays by many critics.

It is interesting that the incumbent first-term DFL mayor,
usually a shoo-in for re-election, has many serious DFL
opponents, three of which have a chance to win. In the 13 city
council races, some very liberal incumbents face upsets by
other DFL or independent challengers. Also opposed is the
excellent moderate city council president.

Minneapolis, like St. Paul, is continuing to experiment with
“ranked-choice” voting. This controversial method has
eliminated primaries, and if any candidate for mayor or city
council receives less than 50% of the November vote, a
mathematical process of counting second and third choice
votes eventually creates a winner by a series of eliminating
the candidates with the lowest number of votes. This system
has made predicting any outcomes difficult, since it is
possible that the candidate who comes in second or even third
in first choice votes could win the election.

There are many candidates for mayor on the Minneapolis
November ballot. But only four of them, the incumbent, a
current council member (in the ward where I live), a long-time
non-profit leader (who has had much to do with the thriving
arts revival), and an architect who is also a member of the
legislature. All are DFLers, and liberals, but only one, Tom
Hoch, has also spoken up realistically about downtown
security and as an advocate for the small business and retail
communities which now feel threatened and might continue
to abandon the downtown center. The mayor and the legislator-
architect espouse far left policies, The council member has
shown competence in his council term, but when push-came-
to-shove, turned his back on key small business concerns.

Tom Hoch, in my opinion, is the best candidate, and he has
run a professional campaign, but if he won it, would be a
(welcome) upset. In this election, ranked choice voting favors
the most well-known candidates. The city’s largest newspaper
endorsed the council member, but also recommended Mr. Hoch.

The more portentous races, however, might be in the city council

In my own ward, there are three candidates, A DFL-endorsee, a
far left independent, and a liberal independent. The latter, Tim
Bildsoe, is a former city council member (for 12 years) in a large
suburb with a strong background in professional municipal
finance. His background and policy ideas are head-and-shoulders
above his opponents --- so much so that the city’s newspaper
endorsed him above his DFL opponent.

In a neighboring ward, there are several candidates, including
an incumbent DFLer. Although this northside ward, like all
others now in the city is heavily DFL, it has historically been
more moderate than many southside wards. In this election, a
very interesting independent candidate, John Hayden, is
running as a “No Labels” independent. At first, it seemed a
hopeless effort against an entrenched incumbent, but when a
successful former Republican governor and a former DFL city
council president actively joined his campaign, and Mr. Hayden
put together a serious team effort, his chances improved. Like
Mr. Bildsoe in my ward, John Hayden is defying establishment
DFL orthodoxy, and proposing innovative and  pragmatic new
municipal policy ideas.

Like Mr. Bildsoe, Mr. Hayden is an underdog in a citywide field
dominated by establishment DFL figures. There is, however,
an anti-incumbent mood in the city this year, fostered by
failed public works, security and traffic issues. How strong
this mood is will be made evident on November 7, and perhaps
the voters will also signal what they will do next year in the
mid-term elections.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Common Phrases "Uncommon" Shakespeare Gave Us

In a time when some of our secondary public schools, and
so many colleges and universities, are attempting to ignore
or diminish studying history and literary classics in the
name of political correctness, I think it might be instructive
just to list some of the most notable phrases that first were
invented, read or said more than four hundred years ago
in the works of the greatest writer of all in English ---
William Shakespeare.

The “Bard of Avon” personifies why literary classics still
matter. Shakespeare, for example, dominates any book of
quotations. I simply went through his entries in Bartlett’s
Familiar Quotation
s for this little exercise and simple

The list below is not a complete one, nor is it meant to be
a list of his best lines and phrases. I have only selected
ones that have survived four hundred-plus years as
conversational commonplaces and perhaps now even
cliches. They were invented by a man who basically
created modern English, and who has no peer in our
language. No one else comes close to what he contributed
to his mother tongue:


“The golden age.” The Tempest

“To make virtue of necessity.” Two Gentlemen of Verona

“Why then, the world’s my oyster.” Two Gentlemen of Verona

“Neither rhyme nor reason.” Measure For Measure

“Comparisons are odious.” Much Ado About Nothing

“ The naked truth.” Love’s Labour’s Lost
“Lord, what fools these mortals be.” A Midsummer’s Dream

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
     The Merchant of Venice

“In the twinkling of an eye.” The Merchant of Venice

“Truth will come to light.” The Merchant of Venice

“All that glitters is not gold.” The Merchant of Venice

“The sins of the father are to be laid to the children.”
      The Merchant of Venice
“A motley fool.” As You Like It

“Neither rhyme nor reason.” As You like It

“Forever and a day.” As You Like It

“I’ll not budge an inch.” As You Like It

“All’s well that ends well.” All’s Well That Ends Well
“What manner of man?”  Twelfth Night

“My purpose, indeed, is a horse of that color.” Twelfth Night

“This is very midsummer madness.” Twelfth Night

“The westward-ho!” Twelfth Night

“Laugh yourself into stitches.” Twelfth Nightt

“Not so hot.” The Winter’s Tale

“Now my soul has elbow room.” King John

“He will give the devil his due.” Henry IV

“Exceedingly well-read.” Henry IV

“The better part of valor is discretion.” Henry IV

“The oldest of sins the newest kind of ways.” Henry IV

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” Henry IV

“There is a history in all men’s lives.” Henry IV

“Even at the turning of the tide.” Henry IV

“We are in God’s hand.” Henry V

“Men of few words are the best men.” Henry V

“Fight to the last gasp.” Henry VI

“The smallest worm will turn being trodden on.” Henry VI

“Both of you are birds of selfsame feather.” Henry VI

“A fool’s paradise." Romeo And Juliet

“Men shut their doors to a setting sun.” Timon of Athens

“But for my part, it was Greek to me.” Julius  Caesar

“Yet I do fear that your nature is full of the milk
     of human kindness.” Macbeth

“In my mind’s eye, Horatio.” Hamlet

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Hamlet

“The lady protests too much.”  Hamlet

“Some villain has done me wrong.” King Lear

“The prince of darkness is a gentleman.” King Lear

“Ay, every inch a king.” King Lear

O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”  Othello

“Tis neither here nor there.” Othello

“My salad days, when I was green with judgment.”
      Antony and Cleopatra

“The game is up.” Cymbeline


The above are only a selection of the phrases he invented or
introduced into English more than four centuries ago.. For
every one of these there are a hundred more lines he wrote
which still are equally or even more original and beautiful.

This is the writer that some self-appointed, self-described
“politically correct”arbiters have decided should not be a
visible image of the part of our literary literary heritage
that is taught and passed on to our young. No doubt these
literary charlatans will soon declare that Shakespeare is no
longer relevant, if not politically incorrect, and should not
even be in the curriculum.

At my own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to
illustrate this, a large local landmark image of Shakespeare
placed at the entrance of the building where much literature
is taught was removed to be replaced by the image of a
diversity-correct author whose writing will likely be forgotten
a few years from now --- in much less than four centuries.

My larger point is that there are reasons why some literary
works are "classics" --- including not only the skill with
which they are written, but also the fact that they resonate
beyond their own time. Humanity evolves over historical
time, and with extraordinary velocity in our time. But there
are timeless and instructive qualities in the human experience
that all art --- literature, music and the visual arts --- records
indelibly and helps nurture us through all the dangers and the
uncertainties of our own days and nights.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Recent Op Eds Update

There have been new and continuing developments in the
stories from recent Prairie Editor op eds, so I have updated
these pieces below:

Having pointed out the recent election of some very young
leaders of world democracies, the election of Jacinda
Ardern, 37, as the prime minister of New Zealand has just
taken place. She is the third woman to lead the nation, and
currently the world’s youngest elected woman leader.
Although she is more liberal than most of the other young
global figures, she is a firm opponent of more immigration
to the Pacific island nation.

With election day 2017 imminent, the outcome of the close
gubernatorial race in Virginia has become even more unclear.
A new poll has Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, eight
points ahead of Democrat Lt. Governor Ralph Northam. The
poll shows a very large number of undecided voters, and
some observers believe it might be an outlier, but other polls
show the race to b a virtual tie. Northam had been leading in
the polls by 5-14 points most of the summer and early autumn,
but Gillespie has campaigned aggressively, and in the 2014
U.S. senate race proved all the pre-election polls to be way off.
This race is considered a must-win for the Democrats going
into the 2018 national midterm elections.

Democrats have alleged that the Trump campaign colluded
with the Russians in the 2016 presidential campaign, but a
blockbuster revelation from the liberal Washington Post’s
investigation makes clear that the so-called “Russian dossier”
of information used in the campaign was, in reality, ordered
by and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the
Democratic National Committee. This Trump collusion
allegation had been a major rationale by the Democrats to
portray the Trump upset victory as illegitimate. The
president has heatedly denied all these charges. The Post
revelations support Mr. Trump and cast a further rebuke
to the Clinton campaign which predictably has denied any
knowledge of their own involvement However, since the
Post was a constant supporter of Mrs. Clinton and a major
purveyor of the Trump collusion allegations previously,
their new investigative story seems especially devastating,
and one more bit of strong evidence that the Democratic
strategy to cast doubt on the new president is failing badly,
especially with independent and previously uncommitted

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 23, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ending A Delusion?

I have written quite a number of columns about the
self-destructive response and consequential negative
campaign by many Democrats, the mainstream media,
and yes, some Republicans and conservatives, too, to
the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the 2016
presidential election.

It is, of course, not that they are critical of the new
president. He has said some caustic, personal, and
wrong-headed words about his opponents, and even some
of his friends. In the political marketplace, a president’s
policies and actions are always fair game for criticism.

But a cohesive, strategic and fair criticism is not what his
critics have made in the months since Mr. Trump took
office. Instead, they have relentlessly pursued an attack on
virtually everything he says or does, with an emphasis on
personal matters that is intended to undermine his
credibility and support among voters.

At almost every tweet and statement made from the Oval
Office, there comes a barrage of denunciation, overstated
disapproval and sometimes unfair or plainly wrong
interpretations. The result has been an unintended
backfire that has solidified the president’s political base,
and unexpectedly made many voters, who either did not
vote for him or did not  particularly like him, become
more and more sympathetic to him.

I have not been alone in pointing this out. At first, the
phenomenon was written off as an understandable
disappointment in the election result. When it continued,
it was justified by the president’s disruption of the
political status quo and his unpredictable verbosity.
When the president’s party in Congress (which had a
majority in both the house and senate) became stalemated
by disagreement, a true political opportunity occurred,
but instead  of pursuing a pragmatic strategy of political
criticism, many Democrats, egged on by a vituperative
media, continued their attacks preoccupied with personal
presidential words and manners. While they were doing
this, Mr. Trump and his administration quietly and
substantially began transforming the federal government
by canceling regulations with executive orders, changing
federal domestic and foreign policy priorities, and
appointing conservative judges at all levels of the federal

Democrats have a different view of many domestic and
foreign policy matters. Instead of articulating these views,
many liberals have chosen to fixate only on emotional
responses to matters much less important, with their eyes
and ears on “identity” politics which they feel composes
their voter base. Recent controversies have reflected this,
with the latest being a hue and cry over the president’s
reported remarks to the mother of a soldier who recently
died in the service of his country. The overblown
characterization and distortion of Mr. Trump’s remarks
by those with a political axe to grind did more harm to
the critics than to the president. Perhaps the president’s
private condolences (not meant to be made public) were
not perfect, but to fill the TV news and newspaper front
pages with this story while much more significant events
are taking place in Washington, DC and the world does
not, in my opinion, serve either the public interest --- or
even the Democratic Party’s real political interest, for
that matter.

I don’t think the Democrats and the media are going
to listen to common political sense. Their delusions about
Donald Trump and their loss in the 2016 election are
apparently not going to stop because of anything I or
anyone else says. Although some savvy Democrats and
liberals are now realizing more and more what really
happened in 2016, and is happening in the country now,
their voices will likely be shouted down. Even though press
bias is beginning to have a serious impact on TV viewership
radio listenership, and print media readership, the media
vendetta is not going to change on its own.

Just look at the weak ticket sales in the film industry and
the low attendance (and TV ratings) in the National Football
League that are resulting from their controversies. Do their
owners and executives get it?

Change will happen, but it will come, as it usually does,
from the consumers. In politics, it will come from the voters.
In 2016, the voters brought us Act One of a new politics.

In 2018, Act Two will be performed at the polls.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Virginia has been a political disappointment for Republicans
in recent years. The governor is a Democrat, and so are both
U.S. senators. The GOP leads in members of Congress 7-4,
and does control both houses of the legislature. Nevertheless,
Virginia’s modern reputation as a conservative bastion has
faded, primarily as liberal federal government workers and
their families have moved into the northern Virginia suburbs
of Washington, DC.

Although Donald Trump did win several key hitherto
Democratic southern and midwestern states in his upset
victory in 2016, he did not carry Virginia.

Virginia holds its statewide elections in the off-year. So its
race for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and
legislative races will be held on November 6, 2017.

Its race for governor will likely be the bellwether race of the
off-year cycle. It pits the current Lt. Governor Ralph Northam,
a Democrat, against Ed Gillespie, a Republican. The current
governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is term-limited and must

Mr. Gillespie was a well-known behind-the-scenes GOP
operative for many years, and then a lobbyist in Washington.
When he decided to run for U.S. senate in 2014 against popular
Democratic incumbent Mark Warner, virtually no one gave
him a chance, and he trailed badly in the polls right up to
election day. But when the votes were counted, he only lost by
a shockingly very tiny margin.

This year, he is running against a much less popular figure who
is not an incumbent. Mr. Gillespie has trailed Mr. Northam by
5-10 points in all polls until now. The most recent polls, however,
has the Republican leading the Democrat by 1 point (but another
has him trailing by 14). This possible turn of events goes against
the conventional political wisdom that Republicans are unpopular,
especially in northern Virginia where so many liberal government
workers live.

Mr. Gillespie has not been a supporter of the new president, but
Mr. Trump has endorsed him.

A victory for Ed Gillespie in 2017 would be a notable shock not
only to his opposition in Virginia, but to Democrats nationally.
It would rebuke not only the current liberal anti-Trump strategy,
but would be a blow to the fashionable Democratic Party
anti-conservative narrative.

On paper, Ed Gillespie is a weak candidate because of his highly
partisan behind-the-scenes campaign history and his recent role
as a corporate lobbyist in the nation’s capital. In reality, however,
Mr. Gillespie’s campaign savvy and experience is a major asset,
especially in a contest against a bland opponent such as Mr.
Northam. As he showed in his close race with Senator Warner in
2014, Mr. Gillespie is also a tireless campaigner. Although he lost
that year, his political reputation soared.

As happened in 2016, and in elections before that, most voter
opinion polls are underestimating the turnout of Republican and
conservative voters. The 2017 polls in the Virginia gubernatorial
race seemed to be doing this again as evidenced by Mr. Gillespie’s
late poll surge this year.

Democrats will not be indifferent to this possible upset. Already,
former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and
other top Democratic national figures are showing up in Virginia
to campaign for Mr. Northam. The Democrat should now see a
massive infusion into his campaign funds as the liberal
establishment attempts to salvage this key governorship. The
Northrup campaign is making its strongest push among the
many black voters in the state. Abortion and gang violence are
also important issues in this state. Gun control is an issue in
Virginia where many of its voters are hunters, but many of its
suburban DC voters are anti-gun. What to do about memorial
statues and names has become a hot issue in this former capital
state stronghold of the Civil War Confederacy.

With less than three weeks until election day, this race is too
close to call. Lt. Governor Northam remains the favorite, and
might well win in the end, but Ed Gillespie is a man of surprises,
and anything can happen in Virginia this year.

Copyright (c) 20017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 16, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Attention! The Young Are Taking Over

The American contemporary preoccupation with older
political figures at the national level in both parties, belies
a global transfer of political power to the young.

The election of a 31 year-old political prodigy, already his
nation’s foreign minister, to be chancellor of Austria is only
the latest and most dramatic evidence of this phenomenon.
Chancellor-designate Sebastian Kurz is not only young, he is
a conservative. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,, of Canada is
a liberal. President Emmanuel Macron,, of France is a
reformist centrist. There is no discernible ideological trend
so far to this new generation of leaders --- in point of fact,
the stereotypical left-right-center modality of democratic
politics seems also in transition.

Other elected heads of state under the age of 40 include the
leaders of Ireland, Estonia, Ukraine and Yemen.

On the other hand, the president of the United States is 70,
his opponent in the last election was almost 70, and the
prominent leaders of both political parties, excepting
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (47)) are each near or
above 70 years of age. The U.S. senate is an “old” boys and
girls club (most of the women senators are seniors) --- with
several members in their 70s and 80s (as is true in the U.S.

As an undeniable “old guy,”I might surprise my readers
with the admission that I gladly welcome this historically
inevitable transfer of generational power in the world, and
am eager for a very promising generation of young men and
women of both parties to take charge in my own country.

Chronological age and attitude, of course, are not always the
same. There are notable exceptions and examples of some
older political leaders who adapt to the times and do not
insist on outmoded policies and ideas. At the state level in the
U.S., for example, there are numerous very young and very
talented young men and women already serving as governors,
attorneys general, secretaries of state, and legislators.

It’s only a matter of time before they take higher positions.

Even in a federal administration led by a senior citizen, some
rather young figures, men and women, are playing a prominent
part, including Stephen Miller, 31, the president’s speechwriter,
and his very able young staff; United Nations ambassador
Nikki Haley, 45; counselor Ivanka Trump, 35; and senior advisor
Jared Kushner, 36. A White House staff, of course, is almost
always made up of young persons (who have the time for the
long hours of work required), but President Trump seems to
take serious counsel from younger figures around him --- as
well as the many senior military figures he has appointed.

Perhaps a problem for the U.S. opposition party, the Democrats,
is their almost exclusive leadership of men and women who
are in their 60s and 70s. The early 2020 liberal presidential
field is dominated by Bernie Sanders (76) , Elizabeth Warren (68),
Hillary Clinton (70), and Joe Biden (75). The voices of their party
are still House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (77), and Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (66).

As I have already said, youth is no guarantee of effective
leadership, nor is the experience of older age not without
important advantages. Newt Gingrich, 74, is perhaps still the
most forward-thinking. U.S. elder statesman, Henry Kissinger,
94, still has enormous “big picture” foreign policy wisdom.
Former Senator and Ambassador Rudy Boschwitz, 86, is still a
notable open-minded and principled political  figure. Bill Clinton,
71, was until recently mired in new controversies, the savviest
political figure in his party --- well past his leaving the presidency.

Nonetheless, the younger generations all over the globe are
almost invisibly assuming their rightful roles in public life.
The earliest signs of this in any democratic state come from
the younger consumers and voters. Soon after that, younger
leaders emerge. It might not be obvious yet, but this is what
is happening now. It’s truly breaking news.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 13, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2017 Weekend News Update 8

As 2017 comes to an end, incumbent U.S. senators are
announcing their 2018 election plans. In recent days,
California Democrat Diane Feinstein and Maine
Republican Susan Collins, both possible retirees,
announced they were running again. Both are expected
to win, although Mrs. Feinstein could have a primary
challenger from her left. In Tennessee, GOP Senator Bob
Corker surprised many in saying he would retire. His seat,
however, is currently rated likely to remain Republican.
In Missouri, GOP state Attorney General Josh Hawley
declared his challenge to incumbent Democrat Claire
McCaskill; and in Pennsylvania, GOP Congressman Lou
Barletta said he would challenge incumbent Democrat
Bob Casey, Jr. That’s bad news for vulnerable McCaskill,
but good news for Casey who might have had a more
serious challenge from Erie GOP Congressman Mike Kelly.
In Michigan, the much-hyped potential candidacy of “Kid
Rock,” a Republican, against incumbent Democrat Debbie
Stabenow is becoming more and more unlikely, although
conservatives have another candidate in the wings. In
Ohio, GOP State Treasurer Josh Mandel looks formidable
in a rematch against incumbent Democrat Senator Sherrod
Brown, as does Florida GOP Governor Rick Scott against
Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson. In New Jersey, Robert
Menendez, the incumbent Democrat, is on criminal trial
--- if convicted, he would have to resign. Races in Montana,
Wisconsin, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Indiana ---
each with Democratic incumbents --- are too close to call.
In Nevada and Arizona, incumbent Republicans are in
serious trouble, and might be defeated in their own
primaries. Conservative populist challengers could also
present a challenge for some otherwise safe GOP
incumbents next year, as the Republican Party, as does the
Democratic Party, faces a grass roots realignment. This
latter phenomenon is causing considerable recalculation
of possible outcomes in next year’s national mid-term
elections. A test for this is happening in Alabama where a
conservative populist defeated a GOP incumbent in a
run-off, and now will run in a special December election.

What reportedly began as a behind-the-scenes effort by
Minnesota’s two Democratic U.S. senators to gain some
leverage in federal judgeship and U.S. attorney
appointments, has turned into a national controversy.
President Trump nominated state supreme court
associate justice David Stras to the regional federal
appeals court. Although a conservative, Justice Stras is
widely respected. Traditionally, the senior senator from
each state has considerable say in such appointments,
except when the sitting president is from a different
party. Since President Trump is a Republican, and both
Minnesota senators are Democrats, that influence shifts
to the senior member of the state congressional
delegation Erik Paulsen (with some input from his
colleague Tom Emmer). An informal senate custom,
however, has in the past permitted one senator from the
nominee’s state to prevent the nomination to be voted on
by the whole senate (by failing to turn in a “blue slip”).
Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar and junior Senator Al
Franken have also made no secret of their anger at
Republicans for blocking a vote on President Obama’s
U.S. supreme court nominee Merrick Garland at the end
the president’s second term. Senator Franken has refused
to turn in his blue slip, and says he opposes the Stras
nomination. Hesitating at first, but seeing the bipartisan
outpouring of support for Justice Stras, Senator Klobuchar
turned in her blue slip. Reportedly, both Klobuchar and
Franken have been unable to make a “deal” to trade their
blue slips for increased influence on other judicial choices.
As a result, Franken has insisted on his blue slip veto be
honored by GOP Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the
senate judiciary committee. Although Grassley and
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are reluctant to
abandon senate customs, Franken’s intransigence threatens
to hold up the conservative judicial agenda, as well as
another senate tradition, i.e.. that new presidents’ judicial
choices are confirmed. Up for re-election next year, Senator
Klobuchar is now out of political harm’s way on the issue,
but Senator Franken, while supported by his liberal base,
risks backfire from blocking a popular judicial nomination.

The Catalonian separatist movement, led by the autonomous
region’s prime minister and his party, held a controversial
plebiscite in which less than half the voters participated.
This election, declared illegal by the Spanish government and
courts, was won by those seeking independence, but there is
considerable evidence that at least half of the Catalan voters
oppose separating completely from Spain. At a meeting of the
Catalan parliament in Barcelona just after the vote, the prime
minister declared independence, but delayed its actual
implementation until after negotiations with the Spanish
central government in Madrid.  Meanwhile, international,
especially European, support for an independent Catalunya
failed to appear. France, Germany and the European Union
declared they would not recognize a breakaway nation, At the
same time major banks and corporations announced they
would move their headquarters from Barcelona. Delay is
now likely fatal to Catalan secession hopes, and a face-saving
agreement between the parties is being sought.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 9, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senate Judicial Gamesmanship

[An earlier and shorter version of this article
appeared in the online edition of The Weekly Standard]

A local political squabble in Minnesota over the U.S.
senate confirmation of state supreme court associate
justice David Stras’ appointment to a federal appeals
court by President Donald Trump has drawn unusual
national attention.

According to recent tradition, the senators from the
nominee’s home state might block the appointment by
refusing to turn in a “blue slip” to the chairman of the
senate judiciary committee.

Justice Stras is one of the most respected jurists in the
state, and he has been publicly endorsed by numerous
prominent judges and lawyers of both political parties.
The obstacle to his confirmation is that both U.S. senators
from Minnesota are Democrats (called the Democratic-
Farmer-Labor Party or DFL here), and Justice Stras is a
conservative nominated by the Republican president.

Quite young (43) for a judge of his stature, he was one
of eleven judges listed by candidate Trump as potential
choices for the U.S. supreme court in 2016. A strong
conservative, he has a record for fairness and

The junior Minnesota senator, Al Franken, reportedly 
miffed he was not consulted on the nomination by the
Trump administration, has refused to send in his blue
slip, and he has come out against Justice Stras, only
citing the nominee’s conservatism. While this might be
a partisan justification to vote “no” for confirmation, it is
considered a lame excuse to withhold the blue slip, thus
preventing the nomination even to be voted on by the full

Democrats do cite that Republicans in the senate blocked
the confirmation of liberal federal judicial nominees by
President Obama near and at the end of his second term
(including supreme court nominee Merrill Garland) as
justification for such actions, but the fact is that
President Obama’s nominees through most of his
administration were confirmed. If this were the end of
Mr. Trump’s first or possible second term, Franken’s
argument would be much more credible.

The senior Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar, is up for
re-election in 2018. She initially expressed reservations
about the nomination, but after interviewing Stras and
observing the outpouring of bipartisan support for him,
she finally sent in her blue slip. In doing so, however,
she publicly assumed that Senator Franken’s veto
doomed the nomination.

In fact, it likely does not.

That is because  there is , senate sources say, another
(and also rare) senate procedure known informally as
the Biden-Hatch-(Ted) Kennedy (each former judiciary
chairmen) rule which enables the chairman of the senate
judiciary committee --- in this case,  Iowa Republican
Senator Chuck Grassley --- to ignore one of the home
state senator’s actions if the other senator turns in his or
her blue slip. This little-known procedure was created to
resolve situations such as this one, and Senator Franken’s
political pettiness could well cause it now to be invoked.

But even if the procedure mentioned above did not exist,
Chairman Grassley can simply ignore or discontinue the
blue slip tradition, and send the nomination to the full
senate for a vote because the blue slip “veto” is only an
informal practice and not a formal senate rule.

This outcome of this nominaton obviously could also
have consequences for the foreseeable future of the
federal judiciary.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Friday, October 6, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Catalunya: A Personal Note

[This article first appeared in Intellectual Takeout - see 
link to the right]

 For about a year, in the period 1966-67, I lived in Spain while
it was still under the Franco dictatorship. I arrived in August,
1966 and enrolled in the University of Madrid. The falangista
(extreme right wing) government had been in power for 30
years, and were celebrating the anniversary under the slogan
“treinta anos de paz” (thirty years of peace), but those three
decades had come at a great cost following the bitter Spanish
civil war (1936-39). The dictator Francisco Franco, known as
“el caudillo” (the leader) was an admirer and ally of Adolf
Hitler before and during World War II. Although no fighting
took place in Spain during that war, it sent a “Blue brigade”
of Spanish soldiers to fight with the Nazi armies on the
Russian front. After the war, Spain was politically shunned
by its European neighbors and by the United States. Only
Argentina, led by right wing dictator Juan Peron, sent
economic aid during and after the war.

By the mid-1960s, however, Spain was moving towards an
economic reawakening. An aging Franco decided to make his
successor the grandson of the last Spanish king, Alfonso XIII.
This young man, Juan Carlos, had been brought from exile
with his father (the presumptive but uncrowned king) in
Portugal to be educated at the University of Madrid where I
was enrolled. On December 14, 1966, at the Spanish parliament
(El Cortes), Franco personally brought his new Organic Law
for rubber-stamp approval. There was much pomp, music
and ceremony. I was there in the front row at the steps of the
Cortes taking photos and absorbing the colorful pageantry.
It was thrilling until the moment when Franco arrived in his
black limousine, and stepped out at the base of the Cortes
steps. As he did, virtually everyone in the crowd of about
30,000 made the Nazi one-arm salute and began singing the
fascist anthem. My mood of excitement instantly was
chilled by this live image of a Nazi rally that had existed for
me only as documentary footage from before when I was
born. It was truly scary.

Madrid in 1966 was very oppressive. The creative arts and
political free speech were cruelly repressed. Unrest at the
University resulted in extend periods of no classes. I then
decided to transfer to the University of Barcelona where I
was told there was a a better environment. In February,
1967, I moved to the Catalan capital. As promised, it was a
very different circumstance. A small region in northeastern
Spain on the Pyrenees French border, Catalunya was almost
a thousand years old as a distinct country, spoke its own
language (as old as Castillian Spanish or French), and had its
own cultural identity. Merged with Spain in the 1500s, it
was the commercial and industrial hub of the Iberian
peninsula (Spain and Portugal). A late holdout of the
brief democratic Spanish republic (1931-39), it fell at the
end of the civil war --- with many of its anti-Franco citizens
fleeing to southern France.

After World War II, the Catalan people felt increasingly
repressed by the Franco government in Madrid. The Catalan
language was publicly prohibited. As in Madrid, the arts,
especially new literature, were heavily censored. Spaniards
across the country who openly criticized the regime were
arrested and tortured. By the time I had arrived in
Barcelona, the city seemed in a state of siege.

But, unlike in Madrid, there was a much greater resistance
to the Franco regime in Barcelona. In private, most Catalans
spoke to each other in their own tongue. An underground
bookstore existed where you could purchase banned books.
I befriended an older muralist, Guillermo Soler, who was
part of a secret group of prominent Catalan painters,
musicians and writers called Estudi that met clandestinely
for discussions and concerts, some of which I attended with
him. He introduced me to Aurora Bertrana, then the gran
dama of Catalan poetry and pioneer feminist, when we met
at Oro de Rhin, a famous coffeehouse and artist hangout on
the Plaza de Catalunya.

Sr. Soler told me of his support for the Republic during the
civil war, and his flight to France after it was over. He then,
he said, returned to Barcelona to rejoin his family and
continue his career as a painter and muralist. I also met, at
the U.S. consulate in the city, a young Catalan woman who,
on learning I was an American poet (I was then on a sabbatical
abroad from my studies at the Writers Workshop at the
University of Iowa), told me she was the proprietor of a
clandestine bookshop in Barcelona where I could buy most
of the banned American and European books. Every night
at the pension where I was living, the Catalan innkeeper
stopped outside my room and said “Bona nit tingui! (“Have
a good night!”).

I felt part of the siege.

That was, of course, then. In 1975, Franco died, and the
young prince became King Juan Carlos. In 1981, the
falangistas staged a desperate, brief and unsuccessful coup.
The king bravely led an effort to put down the insurrection.
The new democratic Spain rose quickly economically, and
became part of the European Union. Regional tensions in
Spain remained, however.

Modern Spain is really made of distinct historic regions.
In addition to Catalunya, the neighboring Basque region
also has its own non-Indo European language and culture.
To the northwest, Galicia has its own history, and had a
language related to Portuguese. The region in the south
around Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada, still has a distinct
Moorish influence from its period when the Arabs from
North Africa ruled it. To the southeast, another distinct
region existed. In the center of the peninsula was Castille
where from Toledo, and later, Madrid, the feudal Spanish
kings conquered and reconquered the country.

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella not only sent a Genoan
ship captain, Christopher Columbus, with three ships to
discover a western passage to the Indies (and we all now
know what he did discover), but also inaugurated the
infamous Inquisition that forced conversion, death or
exile of Spain’s large and important Jewish community.

From that period until the beginning of the 19th century,
Spain played a major role in Europe and in global
colonization. By the mid-1800s, however, Spain declined
as it lost its North and South American colonies, and
Europe’s empires and monarchies faded into popular
unrest and revolution.

After liberalizing its society until World War I, Spain had
a brief dictatorship until a republic was established in
1931. As fascism and communism arose in Europe in the
1930s, Spain became a rehearsal for World War II, with
the far right brutally excising the far left. Dictator Franco
then ruled for more than three decades.

The new Spanish constitutional monarchy system has
made great strides. Parties of the center right and center
left have governed for its entire history. After centuries
of top-down rule, the nation has enjoys a healthy
representative government. Regional nationalism has
continued, but the central government has granted levels
of autonomy to them, especially to the Basque region
which can levy its own taxes, and to Catalunya which has
its own prime minister, parliament, and local laws.
Catalan is the de facto language of the region. The main
sticking pint is that this prosperous region complains
that it cannot levy its own taxes, and that it contributes
more in taxes to Madrid than it receives in return.

As someone who knows the history of Catalunya, the
sufferings it has endured, the great industrial and
cultural life its people have built and maintained, and the
beauty of its landscape and cities, I have much empathy
for the Catalan sense of identity and pride in its character.
In the not-so-distant past, Catalan independence might
have been a no-brainer. But today Spain is essentially a
nation of cooperating regions with a federal central
government. Should Catalunya become independent,
the Basque region would almost surely follow suit.
Economic chaos might well follow, as the European Union
to which Spain belongs is not likely to support or include
a break-away state --- this nationalistic tension exists
throughout Europe, and if secession took place
everywhere its impulse exists, the EU would almost surely

King Felipe VI is now the Spanish head of state, but has no
real power. He spoke to the nation calling for a unified
democratic Spain, and he denounced the separatists. Prime
Minister Rajoy is no Abraham Lincoln, but he faces the
same dilemma confronting the American president in 1860,
an illegal disunion. Several years ago, the artificial nation
of Czechoslovakia split into two sovereign states, the Czech
Republic and Slovakia. The process was voluntary and legal
on all sides. It created economic problems, especially for
Slovakia, but it was done within a democratic and legal

Sympathy and empathy for my Catalan friends aside,
Barcelona and Madrid need to come up with a far better
solution than the one now facing this historic and important

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


The new American president, Donald Trump, is the most
visible and discussed person in the world today, and yet his
political conduct remains mostly an elusive riddle for
observers both here and (especially) abroad.

This paradox is magnified by the apparent fact that
President Trump is one of the bluntest and seemingly most
transparent political figures in U.S. history --- a man who in
the hours between night and day “tweets” short emotional
(and politically incorrect) “let it all hang out” messages for
all to read.

These attributes caused virtually every political observer
to dismiss his candidacy at the outset of the presidential
campaign, then to belittle his chances of winning after his
unlikely nomination, and now for his legion of opponents
to be confident that he is unfit for office.

After controversial tweets, initial chaotic White House
office management, abrupt personnel changes, and
unprecedented disruptions in the American  political
environment, however, he is  still here, still the center of
attention, and seemingly getting politically stronger each
passing day.

I think it will take quite a bit of time before most of us can
fathom this man, and why his persona and his manner  
continue to have so much impact on his country and now
on the whole world.

The voters who ardently support him do not await pundit
explanations or analyses for his phenomenon. They simply
like what he says and does. His eccentricities, for them, are
part of his “deal.”

A few of those who came to support him have noted his
historic achievements and his role in contemporary
politics, but even they cannot fully “explain” him.

In recent days, more and more of those who oppose and
dislike him seem to be coming to realize that he is up to
more than they thought he was. They do not “like” him
more, or even agree with him more, but there now seems
a growing appreciation that they have chronically
underestimated him.

Even those who did not underestimate him, however,
remain at some loss for the person beneath the assertive
tuft of forehead hair, and behind the churning bravado.
The best explainers and the biographers will come later.
Urgent events, new controversies, confrontations and
political dilemmas lie ahead for Donald Trump.  As he
meets them, more of his riddle will likely be revealed.

Until then, this political reality show plays on.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.