Saturday, February 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Sky Is Not Falling

Contrary to the incessant mantra of the establishment media
and most liberal (and some conservative) politicians, the sky
is not falling in Washington, DC. Nor is Donald Trump
mentally or emotionally unfit to be president. That is not to
say President Trump has not made mistakes, nor does it
affirm that he has been fully successful yet in keeping his
campaign promises.

An objective assessment of his first three weeks in office is
that he is energetic and clearly determined to do what he has
promised to do, but also inexperienced in the ways of the
Capitol and perhaps in more of a hurry than he needs to be.

The real chaos in the capital is in minds of those who oppose
him -- the same folks who determined he would fail even
before he began. The establishment media is in a fury because
he won’t recognize them at press conferences, even though they
blithely ignored the fact that his predecessor ignored the
conservative media for eight years.

Although most of his cabinet/staff appointees seem to be good
ones, albeit conservative, at least two were less than ideal. One
of them has now resigned, and the other has withdrawn. The
method of opposition to these two might have been unfair, but
the bottom line is that better (and probably more effective)
figures will replace them.

What is going on in the nation’s capital is that a major and
historic transformation is taking place. When that happens,
the losers always attack the winners with emotional arguments
that disguise the simple fact that they lost, and that the world
they believed in is being dismantled. (Republicans indulged in
this when Barack Obama was elected.)

On the other hand, the winners would not be well-advised to
assume they can, or should, transform public policy easily or
overnight. The number one specific issue of 2016 (and of
2010 and 2014), was Obamacare, and voters want it replaced.
But they want it replaced with a better healthcare reform that
includes some of Obamacare’s good features.

Another major issue was immigration reform. The initial
administration order was hastily and incompletely formulated,
as well as ineptly defended in court. Its ensuing controversy
and legal suspension was understandable. A thoughtful and
more carefully rewritten follow-up is in order.

Those who predicted President Trump would be out of his
depth in foreign policy have so far been proven wrong. He has
significantly reversed many of former President Obama’s
initiatives, and Mr. Trump’s new policies have yet to be proven
successful, but his renewed positive relationship with our
historic allies (neglected during the past 8 years), has been
overdue. The administration has an able secretary of state
and an articulate UN ambassador, but world affairs are
problematic for any president, even one who is globally
experienced.

The stock market is booming. That reflects the psychology of
investors who apparently are optimistic that conservative
policies of lower taxes, fewer regulations and reasonable
interest rates will work. We were told by establishment
economists that the reverse would happen. Nevertheless,
short-term market behavior is very subjective. Presidents
have less influence on the economy than most imagine, but
good and effective policies do have impact. This should be a
wake-up call to the Republican majorities in the U.S. house
and senate that, now they have control with a sympathetic
president, it is time to implement legislation that will reflect
the policies they believe in.

So the sky is not falling  in Washington, DC. The new president
is showing high energy and determination, and continues to
outfox and confound his political and media opponents. He
continues to employ the communications skills and techniques
that enabled him to win an historic upset. But it is way too early
to pronounce a judgment on his performance --- and on the
success or failure of his administration and the new conservative
majority in Washington and in the nation as a whole.

As my readers know, I reserve the right and obligation to make
judgments when they are appropriate. I made no endorsement
in the race for president, and I was unambiguously critical of
both candidates during the recent campaign when they said or did
something that I thought was clearly wrong.

Although the nation is unquestionably divided, and many still
strongly disagree with our new president, I think a majority
want to give Donald Trump a fair chance to prove himself as
president. He did not win the most popular votes, but then,
neither candidate won a majority. Most importantly, the election
is over.

The narrative that depends on ideology alone, and liberal and
conservative labels, is a faulty judgment of American politics
today. The truest majority of voters want fairness, transparency,
security and success. Let’s see what happens now.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some More Amazing Facts You Probably Didn't Know About

A FILM WITH 300,000 EXTRAS
Until Gandhi was released, the world record for the number
of extras in a film was a 1954 Soviet folk tale film with its
battle scene using 106,000 extras. The funeral scene for the
epic about the life of the famed Indian figure, however, used
300,000 extras, of which 200,000 were volunteers and about
100,000 were paid a small fee.

CHURCHILL WASN’T THE ONLY BRITISH
POLITICIAN WHO WARNED ABOUT HITLER

There is a myth that Winston Churchill was all alone in
giving an early warning to his country men and women
about Adolf Hitler and the threat of Nazi Germany to
Europe and the world. In fact, there were a number of
prominent, mostly young, political figures who tried to
sound the alarm as well. They included Harold Macmillan,
Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, Anthony
Eden, Violet Asquith, and Lord Robert Cranborne. Both
MacMillan and Eden, after World War II became prime
minister, and Violet Asquith, the grandmother of movie
star Helena Bonham-Carter (Queen Mother Elizabeth in
The King’s Speech) was the daughter of World War I prime
minister Herbert Asquith). [Further reading on this in
Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson.]

JASCHA HEIFTEZ PLAYED THOUSANDS 
OF CONCERTS, BUT ONCE STOOD UP
AN AUDIENCE BECAUSE HIS MOTHER
DIDN’T LIKE THE HALL

Jascha Heifetz was one of the word’s two greatest classical
violinists, and arguably the most famous. From his debut in
St. Petersburg, Russia at the age of seven until his death in
1987, Heifetz literally performed in recitals, concerts and
recordings thousands of times in cities large and small
across the globe. On January 12, 1922, he was scheduled for a
recital at the historic Park Opera House in Erie, PA.  By that
time, Heifetz was world renowned, but all of his affairs were
handled by his parents (since he was not yet 21 years old). The
group which arranged the recital in Erie had a contract for the
space now renamed the Park Theater, but the demand for
tickets was so great that the event was moved to the Erie
Arena several blocks away. Instead of the few hundred which
the Park Theater could accommodate, the Erie Arena had a
capacity for 2500, and it was sold out. Heifetz’s piano
accompanist, Samuel Chotzinoff (he later became a major
U.S. music figure, and was personally responsible for
persuading Arturo Toscanini to come to America and conduct
the NBC Symphony), was sent to check out the original venue,
but was told the concert was moved. After then visiting the
Erie Arena (where boxing matches were  sometimes held), he
reported back to Heifetz’s manager-mother Anna who was
the third person in the entourage. Claiming her son would be
humiliated by appearing where prizefighters fought, she
adamantly refused to let Heifetz perform. Some contemporary
observers suggested that the real issue was money --- that
Mrs. Heifetz wanted a share of the bigger crowd revenue, but
the bottom line was that Heifetz didn’t play. The story has a
happy ending, however. On March 1 and 2, 1949, the great
violinist returned to Erie to play with the Erie Philharmonic
under its conductor Fritz Mahler (nephew of the composer).
A violinist in the orchestra reported later that the virtuoso’s
playing was “so perfect and inspiring that we played better
than we ever have, before or since.”

THE GREATEST BASEBALL BATTER
IN HISTORY COULD HAVE BEEN ONE 

OF ITS GREATEST PITCHERS
Most will agree that Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball
player ever, and he achieved his fame from his great
prowess with the bat, hitting far more home runs than
anyone else until recent times, and for having one of the
highest lifetime batting averages ever. But Ruth did not
begin his career as a batter. For the Boston Braves, he was
an ace starting pitcher. He even won 23 games in 1916 and
and 24 games in 1917. His lifetime pitching record was
93-46, and he pitched primarily for only six seasons. (He
pitched only five games for the Yankees and won all of
them.) But in one of the most disastrous and one-sided
trades in baseball history, the cash-strapped Braves
sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees in 1920. In
his new home, Ruth quickly became a batter and fielder,
and changed the sport indelibly with home runs and a
iconic public personality.

DID THE ANCIENT ROMAN EMPIRE 
FALL BECAUSE OF LEAD POISONING?
There is a widespread notion today that the Roman empire
came to an end because of lead poisoning. This theory arose
from the archaeological evidence that many ancient amphorae
and other containers of wine, water pipes and cosmetics
were made of, or with, lead. Bone samples of ancient Romans
show varying, but high levels of lead. Although there is no
doubt that many Roman subjects, especially its aristocracy,
were exposed to high levels of the toxic metal, scientists now
doubt that lead poisoning brought the mighty empire and
civilization to its end. Most compelling evidence is that the
Romans knew that lead was poisonous, and often took steps
of coating the insides of lead containers, and employing clay
or ceramics as alternative material for transporting or
carrying water. Water transported through lead pipes did not
pick up toxic levels of the heavy metal. Most Romans did not
drink wine with high lead levels. (The highest levels of lead
were found in the expensive additives used to preserve wine.)
While actual lead poisoning might well have occurred among
lead miners and smelters, and very heavy wine drinkers in the
aristocracy, there is no evidence that lead was the principal, or
even major, cause of the downfall of the Roman empire.

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



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A New Crew On Board

The political spectacle we are now witnessing in the nation’s
capital is a not unexpected “afterparty” to the recent election.

Since each presidential election, especially one that results
in a new chief executive, has its mostly its own cast of
characters and personality, the aftermath of each will be
somewhat different.

When a national election brings not only a new president and
administration into office, but also a notable historical
transformation, it is inevitable that some political fireworks
will be on display.

This is what we are now observing. The losers, still in shock
from their upset loss, and many of their friends in the media,
still smarting from the voter rejection of their widespread
media bias, are attempting to unnerve and discredit the
winners.  No one should be surprised at this phenomenon,
losers in both parties have tried to do it to winners before.

Winning an election is only the first step in governing. In
order to be successful after the votes are counted, winners
need to have immense focus, strength of purpose, and
discipline to put their policies into law. They also need to
formulate good policies that work well and bring visible
positive results to the public political marketplace.

One presidential appointee has now resigned after three
weeks in office. Some in the media waged all-out campaign
to make this happen. The Democrats, thwarted in defeating
President Trump’s cabinet choices so far, and facing defeat
in the confirmation in the new president’s first selection for
the U.S. supreme court, joined in and are now gloating at
this small victory.

It is only a small victory unless the new administration fails to
learn from it. If leaks and innuendo are allowed to intimidate
a government, it will have been a bigger victory. The appointee
in question might or might not have deserved to resign, but there
is no question, by his own admission, that he was not candid
enough with his president and vice president.

Democrats who gloat over this incident should be careful what
they gloat about. The appointee will be replaced with another
appointee with the same views. Delaying and besmirching the
reputations of virtually all cabinet appointees before they take
office will  not likely win support among voters outside
Washington, DC, especially among those who either voted for
him or now agree with his policies. Most Americans agree that
any new president has the right to name his cabinet and staff.
There is the senate  consent oversight, but when a party opposes
virtually everyone, it is perceived as political retribution and
revenge, and not the proper function of consent.

Ahead lies the confirmation of a supreme court justice. It seems
likely that a bitter campaign against Mr. Gorsuch, an obviously
qualified person, will backfire. His opponents, if they insist on
a filibuster, could well lose not only the vote, but the filibuster
itself --- something they might want to keep for battles ahead.

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




Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2017 Weekend News Update 2

BOLTON DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE?
With Eliott Abrams clearly out of the running for deputy
secretary of state, attention now shifts to former UN ambassador
(under George W. Bush) John Bolton. Many conservatives wanted
Bolton himself to be the secretary, and would welcome him
warmly to the deputy post.

WHO IS NOW THE HEAD OF THE
DEMOCRATIC PARTY?

Democrats are now in the position of the post-2012 Republicans,
that is, a party without a generally acknowledged leader. Bernie
Sanders appears still to be the spokesperson for the left wing of
the party, along with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren,
and through the election of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison,
they are attempting to take over the national opposition party. But
Hillary Clinton has not entirely disappeared, nor have Barack
Obama and Joe Biden, and this liberal wing also is competing for
party leadership.  A centrist wing, led by West Virginia Senator Joe
Manchin and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp is beginning
to emerge, but is clearly still in the heavy minority of party policy
conversations. Reince Priebus, the GOP chair after the 2012 defeat,
demonstrated the value of having a skillful consensus party leader
as he engineered the conservative party through the 2016 primary
and caucus season to what became an upset victory.

IN 2017-18 GUBERNATORIAL RACES,
THE GOP IS ON THE DEFENSE

Republicans have a distinct advantage (on paper) in the 2018
midterm U.S. senate races --- with only 8 incumbent GOP seats
at stake versus 25 Democratic seats --- but the reverse is true in
the 2018 races for governor. In the contests for state chief
executives there are only 8 incumbent Democratic states up
while there are 24 incumbent Republican states at risk. Unlike
senate seats, however, several states have term limits for their
governors. In 2018, only two Democratic governors are
term-limited while 11 Republican governors must retire.
It’s still early, but there are at least 7 GOP states (6 open and
1 incumbent running) which appear vulnerable; and 6
Democratic states (3 open and 3 incumbents running) which
could change sides. This would seem to suggest that liberals
are not likely to pick up many state capitals in 2018, but several
GOP open seats and incumbents, now considered safe, might
have their elections imperiled if the Trump administration goes
into the mid-term elections without much success under their
belts. Two governorships are up in the current (2017) off-year, and
one of them, in Virginia, could be very interesting. The current
Democratic governor is term-limited, and the man who almost
upset Mark Warner in the 2014 senate election, Ed Gillespie, seems
likely to be the GOP nominee in 2018. Virginia has trended “blue”
recently, but Donald Trump did much better than expected here in
2016, and with conservative executive branch employees now
flooding into this neighbor-to-DC state, it could become a “red”
or "purple" state once again.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Gestation And Anxiety

I was almost certainly conceived in the last days of August,
1941, perhaps as part of the celebration of my mother’s
birthday on the 23rd of that month, and for the next nine
months I grew inside the body of another person, someone
who was going through perhaps the darkest, most anxious
days of what we call the civilized world. At no time in that
entire period was there a genuine moment of generalized
hope and optimism, including for the sentient being who
was carrying me and nourishing me to the initial climactic
minutes of birth and first breathing free air.

In those autumn months, Nazi armies were marching
through Russia, and had occupied virtually all of Europe.
Japanese armies had conquered China, the most populous
country on earth, and was threatening India, the second
most populous. New and ominous totalitarian ideologies
were suddenly taking control of most of the world’s land
mass and population.

Only three months later, in December, my home nation was
attacked, bringing us into the world war exploding around
us. We now might be invaded on any coast, lethal spies were
known to be among us, and one by one, the independent
countries of Europe and Asia and Africa were falling to
forces so unthinkable that no one then could imagine the
violence, perversion and death they would soon impose on
a civilization barely recovered from another world war, one
that had frightened and demoralized most of the planet only
twenty years before.

My father, a few years earlier, had been a young refugee
from European terror; my mother only a generation from
persecution and flight, and now the whole edifice of
humanity, so carefully built over millennia, seemed
collapsing in full sight and sound of every eye and ear.

Throughout that winter came further news of defeat and
overrun in Europe, retreat and brutal surrender in Asia,
and the first small leaks of news about strange internment
camps where men, women and children in unspeakable
numbers were disappearing overnight in ghastly columns
of dark smoke.

The spring brought no better news, only gruesome
details of armies that murdered civilians, and planes that
flattened ancient and beautiful cities.

I finally came out into the open at the end of May, 1942. It
was perhaps just about that time that the global trial run
of human freedom, still so young and promising, was
perceived as possibly coming to an end once and for all.
On the day I was born, there was no good news from
elsewhere in the world. In nearby Detroit, the largest test
blackout in the U.S. took place. In the Caribbean on that day,
Nazi submarines sank two Allied freighters. In Japan,
Axis carriers set sail for the Aleutians (Alaska). In Europe,
the German army was on the verge of a major victory in
Kharkov. My gestation had occurred in a world of
unrelenting anxiety and fear.

Does anyone know yet what is the impact on fetal existence
of such an environment of pervasive global threat?  What
about those now waiting to be born in our current world of
new incessant threat and anxiety?

My mother stopped smoking during her pregnancy, did not
drink any alcohol and ate carefully during the whole period.
She had borne another child ten years before. She had the
best medical advice available at the time. Her husband, my
father, was a physician who had already delivered thousands
of babies. My birth, which took place after midnight, I am
told was without difficulty.

It was a difficult world I had entered, however, but just like
everyone reading this, I got here.

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Contests For The Soul Of Two Parties

The two major U.S. political parties are undergoing internal
competitions for their ideological bases, and these contests
are likely to continue for some time without full resolution.

The Democratic Party, after the campaign disaster of Hillary
Clinton’s candidacy, is being pulled to the left by those who
Mrs. Clinton defeated for her party’s nomination. The
Republican Party, after Donald Trump’s upset victory for the
presidency, has been divided by a new working class base and
its old elite establishment. Both of these parties face this
ideological division, and its disruption, with no “winner” in
sight.

Democrats generally were traumatized by Mr. Trump’s
unexpected victory, and understandably continue to oppose
the new president actions and initiatives. Conservative
opponents to Mr. Trump continue to be unnerved by his
electoral success, and remain relentless in their criticism of
him.

Underneath this political behavior, however, both parties are
undergoing transformational alterations that are likely to
change elections in the near, intermediate and long-term
campaigns ahead.

As I have pointed out numerous times, this kind of political
upheaval is happening throughout North and South America
and Europe. Brazil, the largest nation in its continent, is
moving rightward after a period of lurching to the left.
New polls in Germany, long the most powerful and most
stable European partner in the European Union (EU), indicate
that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s relatively centrist coalition
is breaking up as a new national election approaches. Mrs.
Merkel still leads, but a credible scenario for her possible
defeat (once unthinkable) has now appeared for the first time.
A similar phenomenon has occurred in France, whose
presidential election comes very soon. The third major power
in Europe, the United Kingdom, has already opted to leave the
EU, and the major opposition party to ruling UK Conservatives,
the Labour Party, has dramatically withered in national support
as it moved strongly leftward. In these countries, and in many
other Western nations, the major political parties are undergoing
protracted ideological “mitosis” (a term from biology describing
cell division).

The U.S. version calls to mind a similar transformation 150 years
earlier, and change so indelibly described by Abraham Lincoln in
remarks (in the form of a letter) to Boston Republicans in 1859:

“Your kind note inviting me to attend a Festival in Boston,
in honor of the birth-day of Thomas Jefferson, was duly
received, My engagements are such that I cannot attend.

Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago, two
great political parties were first formed in this country,
that Thomas Jefferson was the head of one of them, and
Boston the head-quarters of the other, it is both curious
and interesting that those supposed to descend politically
from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be
celebrating his birthday in their own original seat of
empire, while those claiming political descent from him
have nearly ceased to breathe his name everywhere.

...... I remember once being much amused at seeing two
partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their
great-coats on, which fight, after a long and rather
harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself
out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two
leading parties of the day are really identical with the
two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed
the same feat as the two drunken men......”

(Mr. Lincoln’s remarks might be especially uncanny because, like
the pro-slavery Democrats of his time, the Democrats of 2017
have also recently tried to erase Mr. Jefferson, a one-time
slaveholder,  from their history.)

It took another seventy years for the Democratic Party to regain
its liberal character (while the Republican Party reverted to its
conservative character, abandoning the progressive Theodore
Roosevelt). And now, seventy years after that, it is the Republican
Party which is appealing to working class Americans while the
Democrats increasingly appeal to the ideological plutocrats.

But there are elements in both parties which are resisting these
trends, and openly competing for new voters. This complicated
competition, it would appear, will not be concluded soon.

It’s likely going to get noisier and more confrontational for much
time ahead. Representative democracy is not a quiet pastime.

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2017 Weekend News Update 1

FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL 
ELECTION HICCUP
France will elect a new president in a few months, and the
French voters’ choice could have much to do with the future of
the European Union (EU). The political contest was proceeding
predictably until a few days ago when two surprise
developments took place. The race had been a showdown with
Francois Fillon emerging as the right-of-center candidate after
he defeated a former president and former prime minister;
socialist Benoit Hamon; and Marine Le Pen, the nominee of the
very conservative National Front. Mme. Le Pen was leading in
polls, but Fillon was expected to win the presidency after a
run-off with her (gaining most of the left wing votes). Then,
however, M. Fillon found himself in a major scandal over hiring
his wife when in office. His poll numbers have dropped, and
many in his party are pressuring him to drop out. Second,
former socialist minister Emmanuel Macron quit the leftist
party and formed a new maverick centrist party En Marche
(“On The Move”). A new poll shows M. Macron now in second
place, behind Mme. Le Pen, but slightly ahead of M. Fillon and
way ahead of M. Hamon. In an almost certain run-off, the
maverick Macron wins by an even larger margin than the now
fading Fillon. With four major parties,  France’s politics are
resembling those in neighboring Spain where, after decades of
a two party system, there are also now four major parties
dividing the votes and producing stalemate. Should nominee
Fillon drop out, it could bring back controversial former
French President Nicholas Sarkozy (who had retired after he
recently lost the nomination), a development that further would
confuse an already unexpectedly unpredictable Gallic
campaign. Although Mme. Le Pen has been claiming to be the
French “Trump” candidate. it might be Emmanuel Macron
who provides France with its biggest upset since World War II.

2018 U.S. SENATE RACES 
BEGIN TO FORM
The 2018 national mid-term elections, now less than two years
away, are already taking some shape, particularly because there
are so many vulnerable incumbent Democratic seats at stake.
In fact, 10-12 (or almost half of those running) liberal senators
could face serious GOP challengers. On the Republican side,
only 8 incumbent seats are up, and most of them are secure.
The reverse circumstances were true in 2016 (24 GOP incumbents
and only 10 Democrats), but conservatives held their net loss to
two seats, and maintained their majority. Of course, the outcome
next year will depend in large part on the performance of the
Trump administration, but a senate race these days usually
requires challengers to spend almost two years in assembling a
campaign organization, fundraising and establishing a critical
narrative about the incumbent. So far, most of those who have
either declared their candidacy, or are seriously considering it,
have been GOP members of the U.S. house. Exceptions to this
are Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel who is challenging
incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown for the second time, and
Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke who might be the challenger to
incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin Several of
the vulnerable Democrats, including Brown and Baldwin,
represent states that were carried by Donald Trump in 2016.
The senate races will be the biggest political story next year.

2017 MAYORAL CONTESTS
There are only a few special congressional elections scheduled
for 2017, and two state governorships, but there are numerous
big city mayoral contests. This is one of the few geographic areas
where Democrats dominate the political market, and it is of interest
because, lacking currently a formidable national reservoir of
political leadership, big city mayors could now begin to supply
many of tomorrow’s liberal members of Congress, governors and
even presidents. Republicans, trailing badly in inner city precincts,
will need to improve their urban support over the long-term if they
intend to maintain current national majorities.

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