Friday, April 29, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Sooner Rather Than Later in Ukraine?


The current crisis precipitated by Russian dictator Vladimir

Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is turning into a surprise 

standoff as the vastly outnumbered and under-equipped 

Ukrainian armed forces are proving to be’ courageous,,

stubborn and ingenious defenders of their young democracy

under attack from its much larger and more powerful 

neighbor.


This has many observers wondering how this crisis and

invasion ends, given Mr. Putin’s reputation for not retreating,

his rationale for invading in the first place, and his 

determination to restore the boundaries and power of the 

old Soviet empire that was assembled during most of the 

last century.


Putin’s new strategy of shifting his invasion effort

from taking Kiev, and concentrating on controlling more

territory in the east have left in his army’s retreating wake

horrific evidence of war crimes. Despite Russia’s military

superiority, the plucky and resourceful Ukrainian army has

stalemated the Russian invaders who have evidently

treated Ukrainian civilians with unacceptable brutality.


Warfare has been profoundly changed not only by military

technology, but by communications technology as well.

The 19th century invention of the camera enabled Matthew

Brady to convey the horrors  of the U.S. Civil War 

battlefield to the public. Subsequent inventions of the

motion picture and television brought the devastations of

the 20th century wars soon after occurrence to the public.

Now, the internet and smart phones bring the images of’

war to public view as they happen. War is ugly, violent

and frightening —  gains on the battlefield can be at the

same time nullified in the global communications arena.


This is what has happened to Vladimir Putin’s “special

operation” in Ukraine.  No matter how much territory he

has temporarily conquered, he has acquired the reputation

of being one of contemporary history’s bad guys — and 

that is likely to be permanent. 


His presumed quest to reassemble the old Soviet and

Czarist empires is a backward-looking mirage which has

cost him any legacy of statesmanship that two decades in

the public eye might have otherwise provided.


The weakness of his army’s performance in Ukraine, the

West’s sanctions against his already troubled economy

and regime have also changed his leverage in his

relationship with China, his ally in the competition against

the Western democratic market economies.


in spite of its still-large land area, 160 million inhabitants,

and major natural resources, the Russian Federation today

is not a first-rank economic power as the U.S., European

Union, China and India are. The reputation of its hitherto 

vaunted military capability has been diminished in the 

Ukraine episode.


Mr, Putin has some strategies and some allies with which 

he can deal with the stalemate in Ukraine and the growing

diplomatic and economic sanctions, in the short term, but

there are long-term limits to what he and the Russian 

Federation can endure, and already his new strategy in

eastern Ukraine is encountering some of the delays and 

obstacles which thwarted his initial strategy.


Sooner rather than later, Putin will have to reconsider

his goals in Ukraine, or he can try to outlast Western resolve.


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.



 

Monday, March 14, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Global Reapportionment And Redisricting

 


Unlike the U.S process of reapportionment and redistricting of

congressional seats that follows a formal national census

every ten years, and is limited to population patterns, a global

reapportionment and redistricting takes place with an 

irregular timetable, and is based primarily on economics and 

military power.


This global reordering has occurred constantly throughout

history, and often takes decades or longer to settle. This 

appears to be happening now as the U.S., Europe, Russia,

India and China attempt to assert their various roles and 

claims to territory, power and influence in the post-pandemic

world now forming.


The current crisis in Ukraine is only one of several episodes

of the international challenge to the latest state of global

order already traumatized by an historic pandemic experience.


There are now more than 200 sovereign states in the world.

Some are tiny in area, others are very large; some have only

a few thousand residents, while two nations have populations

of more than a billion each. Some are islands; others have no

access to the sea. Most were once kingdoms, or were colonies

of kingdoms; today most of those with monarchs give their

royals little or no power. Many today are representative

democracies, but others have various forms of dictatorship.

Many nations are capitalist, others have a socialist structure.


This variety in size, number, and form is accommodated by 

global trade, transportation, communications, and tourism.

Very few nation states today are as isolated as often

occurred in the past, including relatively recently the examples

of Albania, Cuba, Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, various African

countries, and Pacific Ocean island nations.


As long as history has been recorded, the “reapportionment

and redistricting” of global borders, sovereignty and power

has occurred primarily by armed force, violence and war,

climaxing in the 20th century with two horrific world wars.

This was then followed by localized conflicts, “cold” wars,

and international religious jihads, but the consequences of

weapons of mass destruction have restrained the scope of

these confrontations, especially between the major 

national nuclear weapon powers.


Technology has always played role in the dynamic of global

power. The internet, as well as new military weaponry, is 

very much is part of the new strategies of warfare. 


The expansionists seem always with us. Putin is only the

latest version of geopolitical avarice. Russia’s very brief

attempt at democracy following the collapse and

dissolution of the Soviet Union has been followed by an

increasing dictatorship guided by old dreams of its

previous empires.


As former U.S. Senator and U.S. Ambassador to the

United Nations Human Rights Commission Rudy

Boschwitz likes to point out, no two true democratic states

ever went to war with each other. Representative 

democracies try to settle their differences by economic, 

political and diplomatic means.


After Putin, there wiil be, and already are, others who

want to reset the boundaries and forces of global power. 

Violent disruptions, like earthquakes and volcanos, occur 

in irregular intervals.


Those who now direct and oversee global power must be

prepared to defend it, and nourish the democratic spirit,

or they will lose it.


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: History's Events, Like Trees, Have Roots

I was speaking with a European friend recently, and we were

lamenting the world’s numerous political crises, and the

seeming inability of the various global democratic leaders to 

resolve these crises.


It occurred to me in the midst of this conversation that part of

the dilemma in such a discussion is our natural inclination          

to assume that the events of history can be turned from their

course in a matter of a few days, months, or even years  — or

that elected political leaders can easily, except in relatively rare

instances, alter or resist history’s most malign conflicts.


In the past, I have illustrated history’s negative longwindedness

with the example of the protracted consequences of World

War i. This war technically began in 1914, and formally ended

in 1918, but the upheavals and disruptions it caused or

provoked have endured over more than the past century in

new wars, violent conflicts and other aggressions.


(I have always marveled that this enduring event in history

had its immediate cause in a chauffeur’s wrong turn in a

crowded Sarajevo street. Perhaps if he had made the correct

turn, and thus no assassin would  have shot the archduke,  

history would  have found another event to begin that

calamitous war. or perhaps then the kaiser and his fellow

warmongers would have simply found another excuse to go

to war.)  


Democracy, as Ben Franklin and others have pointed out, is 

seemingly a fragile form of government — although our U.S.

version of it has survived and flourished through a variety of

crises and challenges from the War of 1812, the Civil War and

its aftermath, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold

War, and 9/11. 


But as Japanese Admiral Yamamoto so presciently

observed after he launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor

1n 1941, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.”

Democracies, including our own, live passively until they

face danger.


Malign totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, are inherently

aggressive, and seek to intrude on political vacuums 

democracies allow to fester.


Neo-Marxists, certain religious fundamentalists, and others

today seek to challenge and replace democratic governments 

with totalitarian authoritarian regimes. Where democratic    

states are new, they are especially vulnerable to these efforts.

The 1930’s saw a similar phenomenon, and it took decades

to put down antidemocratic regimes — only to have new ones

appear.


For over 300 years, this political wrestling match has been

taking place.


There is no guarantee, of course, that the sleeping democratic

giant will awaken in time to renew and refresh itself in time to

meet the internal and global challenges it now faces. 


These challenges and threats have contemporary issues and

a new  cast of characters, but it should not be forgotten that

the national entities, in most cases, have had historical

experiences going back centuries which also instruct us about

the present. 


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.










Thursday, January 27, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Age of Disintermediation?

The word “disintermediation’ is a mouthful, and a fancy term

used usually by academics and economists, but it seems the 

right word to describe some significant behavior of American

consumers in these volatile times.


The word is employed in a discussion of how consumers make

their purchases in the non-traditional way of “cutting out the

economic middlemen,” and purchase goods more directly from 

the producer or manufacturer.


The word seems to have first appeared in the 1960s when the

government’s actions changed some of its policies, causing

some banking customers to purchase bonds and some

other investments directly without the agency of the banks.

By the 1990a, the word had become applied to any direct

transaction which bypassed traditional middlemen such as

distributors, wholesalers, and/or retail stores.


The rise of the internet in recent decades has accelerated

the practice, providing both a platform for disintermediate

transactions, and the transparency of pricing often previously

unavailable to consumers to provide incentive to bypass

traditional supply chains of products.


Innovative manufacturers and retailers began to employ

more direct transactions with customers, Walmart and 

other very large retailers were able to buy large enough

quantities of goods to bypass distributors and wholesalers

and thus offer them at lower prices to their customers,

as did Amazon. Manufacturers such as Apple and Dell

sold their products through their own retail stores, and

now Tesla is doing the same selling cars from its own 

outlets without large on-premises inventories.



Distributors, wholesalers and retailers add to the cost of a

product, but they also provide necessary services in

getting a product to a customer, including advertising,

transportation, stores, sales and other personnel. If a

manufacturer or producer wants to eliminate the

middlemen, it must replace most of their services with its

own, and thus raising its costs.


Some firms abandon direct customer sales, thus producing

reintermediation or a reversal of the otherwise growing

commercial trend.


There is also an age-related aspect to more direct consumer

transactions. Older persons, used to traditional retail stores

and less accustomed to shop on the internet, are more 

reluctant to be disintermediators, and younger persons,

having grown up with computers and the internet, are more 

likely to embrace new economic practices.


Whereas FDiC limits led to early disintermediation by bank

customers half a century ago, today banks see diminished

savings accounts because of low interest rates. In the short

term, interest rates are set to rise, but the need for traditional

banking services is in long-term decline, and banks are

expanding into new areas in order to survive.


Supply chain disruptions primarily caused by the response to

the pandemic are also causing economic uncertainty, and

consumers, in order to obtain the products they want, now

have incentives to try disintermediation strategies.


The economic future is always uncertain, and is especially

so as the nation and its economy go into a post-pandemic

mode and more political turmoil — with even more impact

on how and where consumers obtain their goods


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Restaurants Are Back, But.....

[NOTE: The Prairie Editor, from time to time

asks the food writer Leo Mezzrow to comment

on food issues and trends, restaurants, and

dining out. Here is his newest commentary.]


by Leo Mezzrow, guest columnist


Following the nadir of the 2020-21 global and national 

health crisis and its disastrous impact on dining out, the

restaurant industry is making a recovery, but still facing

challenges of staff employment, food supply, national

economic inflation and diner psychology.


As I have suggested might happen in past articles, there

are noticeable changes, innovations and lingering

questions about prospects. Many restaurants have closed

permanently (but most of their restaurateurs will stay in 

the business), and others, temporarily shut down, have

reopened in stages from take-out only to dining-in.

 

Menus are generally smaller, wait service often reduced or

eliminated, and prices are up.  Some restaurants no longer

use printed menus, and rely on smart phone ordering or

ordering from a counter. Kitchens are open fewer days 

and fewer hours. How these changes will be received 

over the long term is unknown, but many of them are

irreversible for the majority of restaurants if they are to

survive.


A positive sign is a surge of new restaurants, some of 

them by those who had to close down their old ones. 


Dining out is now a vital part of American culture and its

economy. Lockdowns, shutdowns, customer restrictions

and inconveniences are not going destroy this important

industry, but the pandemic has already changed it.


For those with neither the time nor the inclination to cook

at home, there is a new appreciation for going to their

favorite nearby restaurants for take-out or delivery. Those

with budget limitations, and lots of children, will go back to

family fast food restaurants — although they probably 

will find that their prices, too, have gone up.


Perhaps most of all, however, we might be entering a

period of the home amateur chef, not only including wives,

but also husbands and singles who previously took their

daily meals for granted. If you have the time.you can serve

at home some superb meals that would cost  a great deal

more in a fine restaurant — especially for those who enjoy

wine with meals (most restaurants mark-up wines

substantially.)


Hone cooking devices and ware should see new consumer

interest. One pot and crockpot recipes, always popular,

likely will surge, as will soup and baking recipes. Cookbooks,

always a bookstore staple, will be in even more demand.


Notwithstanding the inevitable increase in home cooking, the

restaurant experience will continue to be part of daily U,S,

life. How long pandemic limitations will linger is anyone’s

speculation, and how permanent its adaptions will be is  

unclear, but it seems certain that the U.S. restaurant

industry has changed and will not be quite the same as

before.



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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.