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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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