Thursday, October 27, 2011

The World Goes On Around Us

While more and more Americans take more and more interest
in the domestic 2012 campaign for president and control of the
Congress, the rest of the world goes on at its own pace around us.

Events in the Middle East reached a temporary crisis recently
as the military/political situation was resolved in Libya with the
defeat of forces loyal to former dictator Qaddafi and his death at the
hands of the rebels. A period of reorganization will now take place,
as happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and will also happen in Yemen
and Syria when those regimes are finally toppled.

Optimist and pessimists abound in the U.S. in regard to the outcomes
of the "Arab spring," but if the elections now taking place in Tunisia are
any indication of the the post-revolutionary political landscape, the
geopolitical results will be somewhere nearer an unresolved middle.
Moderate Islamic forces are winning in elections in Tunisia, and that is
not necessarily bad news from a North American and European point
of view.

Meanwhile, our ally Israel is feeling more isolated as its truce with
Jordan and Egypt appears likely to replaced with more confrontational
regimes. Our total withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year also
has observers uneasy about the region's long-term prognosis.

In South and Central America, the despotic figures of Castro, Chavez
and leaders of Nicaragua and Bolivia seem muted recently, primarily
because of Castro's age and Chavez' illness. Brazil has emerged as a
world economic power, and Argentina, at least for now, is prospering
more than it has in the past.

In Asia, China continues to assert its growing economic power, and its
trade and military rivalry with the United States continues to expand.
Pakistan continues to be pulled apart by its powerful military
establishment, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, its
uneasy alliance with the United States, and of course its bitter
competition with India. The situation in Afghanistan, where U.S.
combat troops remain, is ambiguous. The yen seems to be doing well
in relation to other currencies, in spite of the terrible disasters that
recently occurred in Japan, and although the totalitarian regime in
North Korea has been out of the news in recent days, it continues to
be a destructive presence in the region.

The biggest news lately has come from Europe where the European
Union and its euro currency have entered a period of protracted crisis
as accumulated debt in many member nations is forcing draconian
economic and political measures for many in their populations who
had become dependent on welfare state policies that have expanded
since the end of World War II. Elections may soon bring changes in
government leaders in France, Italy, Greece and Spain, and immigration
issues and controversies are increasing in Great Britain, Netherlands
and Germany. In short, the evolving European unity model is now
coming apart, and its impact is likely to be felt worldwide.

Closer to home, chronic border problems with Mexico are becoming
more and more acute as Mexican authorities seem increasingly unable
to maintain internal order. The crisis in Honduras has stabilized as
democratic government has returned to this small Central American
republic, but extreme weather and earthquake activity continues to
wreak havoc throughout the Caribbean region.

The worldwide economic recession aggravates everything, and a sense
of weakening and unfocused U.S. foreign policy does not help either.

Otherwise, the world goes on as it always seems to, that is, from disaster
to disaster, crisis to crisis, threat to threat. In the past, it has always
seemed to muddle through all its problems, but on occasion, the
problems seem to intensify almost to unbearable dimensions. Whether
we are at one of those threshold moments in history remains to be seen,
but surely the coming weeks, months and years will test the entire
global community anew, and particularly the United States of America,
in unexpected and unsettling ways.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Qaddafi's Mussolini Moment

In late April, 1945, Italian partisans caught Italian dictator Benito
Mussolini, wearing a German Army coat and trying to escape the
advancing Allied armies in northern Italy. He was subsequently
executed by the partisans, and his body, along with those of his mistress
and more than a dozen fascist leaders were taken to nearby Milan where
they were strung up in an Esso gas station and deformed by angry local
crowds. The photo images of his brutal treatment made their way to
Berlin where the German dictator Adolf Hitler viewed them a few days
later. Vowing this would not happen to him, Hitler was reported to have
then decided to commit suicide with his long-time girlfriend, and only
their burned bodies were found by Allied soldiers a few days later.

Libyan dictator Qaddafi had been holding out in his home town of Sirte
with several of his sons and his most loyal supporters, but on Thursday
this last refuge of the 42-year totalitarian regime was overrun by
anti-Qaddafi forces, and the dictator was found hiding out from U.S.
and French bombers which had attacked his convoy attempting to flee.
He appears on videos to have been taken prisoner alive and wounded,
but shortly afterward videos show him fatally shot in the head. His
bloodied body was reportedly then dragged through the streets of Misrata,
a Libyan coastal city where his body had been taken.

The striking resemblance of Qaddafi's end to Mussolini's also brings to
mind that Libya was, during Mussolini's fascist regime, a colony of Italy.
In fact, Mussolini had used Libya as his base for attacking Ethiopia in the
late 1930's just before World War II began, and the failure of the forerunner
of the United Nations, then called the League of Nations, to come to the aid
of Ethiopia, proved to be its final failure. It did not meet again.

This time the United Nations condemned Qaddafi, but it was the old
World War I and II alliance of the the British, the French and the United
States under its NATO umbrella which provided vital air support to the
Libyan revolutionary forces that retook Libya from the Qaddafi regime.

Remaining Middle East totalitarian regimes, most notably in Iran and
Syria, should take note of what happens to most dictators in the end.

Like Tunisia and Egypt, and very soon Yemen, we do not know what kind
of governments will replace previous Arab dictators. The "Arab spring"
could quickly become another "Arab winter" if the forces of democracy
and freedom are not allowed to fill the vacuums of power that now exist
temporarily in this part of the world which has not ever known true
representative government and true freedom.

Let's hope the Libyan people, and the Egyptian and Tunisian people,
decide to stop repeating the mistakes of the past.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Some Quick Thoughts On The 2012 Campaign So Far

With the dates of the first primaries and caucuses still unsettled, the
next several days and weeks will likely produce a lack of drama in the 2012
GOP nomination contest for president. (But surprises do happen!) In those
days ahead, barring the unforeseen, The Prairie Editor will try to address
the current environment of political issues, with less attention to a
preoccupation with the candidates and the ups and downs of the individual

But first, some quick thoughts on what has transpired so far.

There have been a series of "political bubbles" in the GOP contest since
the campaigns began in earnest, beginning with Donald Trump, and
continuing with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and now, Herman Cain.
Mr. Cain's "bubble" seems to have peaked as this is written, but his
sympathetic temperment may mean a decline in his numbers in the polls
will not be as severe as happened to the other three. Mitt Romney
remains the so-called frontrunner, and his ability so far to outlast the
"bubbles" of his rivals has strengthened his early claim to the nomination.
But one formidable candidate remains. Initially a "first-tier" candidate,
Newt Gingrich made some serious campaign blunders, lost most of his
initial high octane campaign staff, and seemed headed for obscurity.
Unlike Tim Pawlenty, who showed much promise, but suffered similar
mishaps, Mr. Gingrich did not withdraw, but re-formed his campaign as
an untraditional one, emphasizing his own issues and political skills. His
poll numbers took a nosedive to low single digits, but now have risen to
low double digits, and he has clearly been the overall winner so far (along
with Mr. Romney) of the candidate debates. He seems to have positioned
himself as the next "anyone-but-Romney candidate," and The Prairie Editor
thinks his will be the next (and last) "bubble." Many commentators,
including young conservative ones, have written him off, and I have been
reluctant to suggest he has any chance to win, but poll numbers and
favorable comments about his debate performances have been so positive,
I am making this prediction (with the caveat that Mr. Gingrich can be his
own worst enemy). Provided that he will avoid rashness, and maintain his
new self-discipline, he has a small opening in the weeks ahead. He is still a
long-shot, but his sheer talent and experience is not to be underestimated.

President Obama's fundraising continues to be considerable, but there are
credible reports that it is approximately 20% below expectations. It now
seems unlikely that his financial advantage will overwhelm his Republican
opponent, as it did in 2008 and was predicted to be again in 2012. (It is
also dubious that millionaires are begging him to "tax us more." A simple
rejoinder is that if these rich voters want to pay more taxes, they are free
to do so voluntarily. There is no evidence so far of this largesse, so these
reports can be fairly assessed as propaganda and false.)

The Occupy Wall Street protests continue as the weather across the nation
is unseasonably mild. There is no evidence so far that they are producing
either their desired results or enhancing the prospect of Democrats who
have belatedly embraced them.

Early assessments of likely contested U.S. house and senate races indicate
modest gains for Republican in the house, and significant gains for the GOP
in the senate.

Foreign policy issues have played a minimal role in the presidential contest
so far, but international events have historically had a way of intervening in
purely domestic campaigns. Sometimes, the defining "last-minute surprise"
is a domestic event (as the mortgage banking crisis was in 2008), but often it
originates (or seems to originate) overseas. No matter how the campaign
goes from here on, there will be "surprise" possibilities all the way to the
first week of November, 2012.

Both Democrat and Republicans should already be doing some serious
thinking about the 2016 primary and caucus calendar. The game-playing
and uncertainty in the GOP 2012 calendar should be an alarum of likely
chaotic conditions in the future.

In a previous column, I made some suggestions for the remaining 2012
Republican presidential debate formats. It my be even more important for
both President Obama and his likely opponents to give some thought to
the presidential debates that will take place between the two nominees.
The Prairie Editor thinks a new format is long overdue.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What If There Were A Real Debate?

There have now been several debates between the major Republican
candidates for president, and they have had impact on the contest for
the GOP nomination. But they have not been true debates, and in many
cases the formats, the moderators or the questioners have been notably

The primary criticism that I would make is that the candidates are given
questions determined by the moderators or questioners, many of whom
are neither sympathetic to Republicans or are unaware of the issues from
the conservative point of view. The second criticism is that the candidates
are forced to reduce their answers to variations of "sound bites," and do
not have sufficient time to explain their positions, nor to answer criticisms
of their records or policy ideas.

Not all of this is "bad," since a successful presidential candidate, and
subsequently, a president needs to have a full ranges of communication
skills, and these include the ability to be succinct and clear with the
smallest amount of political rhetoric.

I also realize that a true debate format is difficult if not impossible when
there are numerous participating candidates.

What might be a "truer" debate, and one that would give voters a more
complete impression of a candidate's viewpoints, knowledge and political
intelligence as the "debate season" comes to a close before the individual
primaries or caucuses?

I agree that such a format is not practical early in the campaign process.
As voters get to know the candidates through the early debates, media
interviews and political advertising, however, the candidate field naturally
gets smaller. Some candidates withdraw; others receive very low numbers
in polls. Since polling is the standard for inclusion in even the earliest
debates, it seems fair and consistent that a debate of two to four of the
"major" candidates is reasonable just before the voting begins. Instead of
thresholds of 2%, 5% or some other relatively low number as has been the
standard so far, the percentage in a compilation of recent polls should be
set higher, say at 10%, 15% or another higher number that reduces the
number of participants to four or less.

Format is the next most important factor. While the sponsoring network
or organization should be able to determine the theme (e.g. economic
policy, foreign policy, taxes, immigration, etc.), after initial statements
by the candidates, they should be able to ask questions of each other,
with adequate time for replies and rebuttals. A moderator should only to
serve as a timekeeper and referee. Moderators or newspersons should not
ask the questions. (A debate is not a press conference.) Questions from
the audience might be permitted, but should be chosen before the debate
by a panel made up of representatives of the candidates or of newspersons
representing both conservative and liberal points of view.

After numerous candidate debates, as we have observed now, such a new
format might be very useful to voters in forming their opinions about
candidates and issues. It is not necessary to hold an overlong debate, like
the Lincoln-Douglas debates were. That format fit a time when there was
no radio, TV, internet or other modern communications. It was not too
long for a 19th century audience. Today, shorter formats are much more
appropriate, but in recent years, the presidential debate formats have
become too short and too confining.

In a campaign year when both parties have a true competition for their
respective nominations (as was the case in 2008), there needs to be a
sensitivity to each party's perspective when organizing a debate. This year
so far, only one party has an open contest. Media bias should not be allowed
to be a factor in presidential debates.

After each party has selected their nominee for president, there will be a
series of nationally-televised debates. Based on recent formats, I think we
can improve these as well.

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

Monday, October 10, 2011


The current demonstrations in New York City and other large cities
across the United States contend they are protests against Wall Street, large
corporations and " greedy rich" persons. Created and manipulated by tiny
far-left factions, they have now been supported by leading Democrats,
including President Obama and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, labor unions
and numerous celebrities. Clearly, part of their intention has also been to
demonstrate that there is a genuine leftist grass roots movement and
sentiment in the nation (in contrast to the already demonstrated and
significant grass roots conservative movement in the nation, also known as
the Tea Party).

The demonstration so far, however has been a parody of itself, primarily a
bad imitation of Woodstock (a genuine cultural expression of the 1968
youth generation) and a phenomenon inhabited mostly by the least credible
and most unattractive members of American society.

If conservatives are uneasy about this phenomenon, they should not be. In
fact, the ritualized leftist pageantry is becoming an unintended statement
of support of the authentic reaction throughout America against the radical
ideas and policies of the Obama administration, and its woeful attempts to
deal with and resolve the chronic current economic crisis. The Old Media
establishment, through the TV networks and the formerly repected print
media newspaper and magazine outlets, is ironically making matters worse
for their own cause by featuring the protests and the protesters. Middle
class America, and the huge bloc of independent American voters are thus
receiving an overdose of clueless students, doctrinaire neo-Marxists,
professional and perennial complainers and mindless celebrities looking
for publicity. The public parks where most of these demonstrators have
been congregating have portable toilets, but they are in need of public
showers. Sex, drugs and free food seems to be the draw to most who have
gathered, not public policy. Leaders of the conservative movements could
not have imagined or created a better public demonstration of the inherently
totalitarian and unsympathetic nature of left wing public policy and programs.

I say: Let this spectacle continue. Let the media cover them (I don't mean
literally) and let the voters of America see for themselves what and where a
left direction would take the country. Keep the free food for them coming, the
portable toilets in place, and the craven urban politicians supporting them.

But I warn against one thing. Do not introduce even one bathtub into this
radical convocation. Even one bathtub with hot running water interjected
into this crowd, and the whole spectacle might be washed down the drain.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Nobel Prize Worthy of the Name

The selection of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer for the 2012 Nobel prize in literature is the relatively rare instance, in recent years, of the Nobel literature committee choosing the best living author who had not previously won the prize.

The Nobel prizes in literature and for peace, in fact, have become so political in recent years that their reputations have begun to lose much of their previous luster.

Any thoughts that the literature committee showed national favoritism in the award should be discarded. In fact, the location of the prize should in this case be considered an advantage because if the committee had been made up of, say, Americans, Japanese, Brazilians or Nigerians, Mr. Transtromer might have been passed over. Great writers from small countries, and who write in languages which are spoken by relatively few persons, can easily be unfairly ignored for this prize. The Swedish Nobel committee could not help but know about Mr. Transtromer, widely regarded as the major living figure in the Swedish language.

As I see it, there are not many truly great writers alive today. Of course, there may well be some young writers whose work, already written or not yet written, may someday regarded as “great,” but among the established and well-known authors, there are very few whose work is likely to survive as important for generations to come.

I have long admired Transtromer’s work which has been ably translated into English since 1970 by poets Robert Bly, May Swenson and Finnish-born Anselm Hollo. Mr. Bly particularly has championed the poetry of Tomas Transtromer.

Mr. Transtromer was born in 1931 and was for many years a practicing psychologist. He is also a very accomplished amateur pianist. In recent years, he has endured illness and disability, and the Nobel committee likely took has failing health into consideration since a Nobel prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

The question I have is why the prize was not awarded to him earlier. Tomas Transtromer is not just one of the few truly outstanding living authors; he may well be one of the very few great poets of the past several hundred years. There is really no other poet quite like him. At least not that I have read. The power of his images and the way he juxtaposes them is so original and unexpected that he can literally take the reader’s breath away with only a few lines. I think of him as creating a new kind of architectural space in language as Le Corbusier did and Frank Gehry does now in their design of buildings. But unlike the fashion of recent years, especially in American poetry, Transtromer’s poems are not primarily derived from painting and the visual. Instead, they somehow combine space and music in such a way that they seem to come from
another part of the universe. They are mysterious and foreboding, but without conclusions, ideology or esoteric reference. You don’t have to be a scholar or a poetry specialist to read and enjoy this man’s work.

I do not have space here to detail a criticism of Tomas Transtromer’s poems. My intention was to congratulate the Nobel committee for doing the right thing, worthy of Mr. Nobel’s intention; and to provoke any my readers who might enjoy poetry at its very best. and most original to read his work.

Ultimately, Mr. Transtromer’s work is deeply unsettling. Almost instantly, his poems take us to new and much larger spaces in our consciousness than we are accustomed to visiting in our daily lives, or even in more routine artistic experiences.

In these anxious times, with so much daily crisis in the world around us. a visit to Tomas Transtromer's poetic locations might be a worthy and useful journey.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Change and No Change

Events during the past few days signal both change and no change in the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest.

Among the candidates, another bubble has burst, another third-tier hopeful is suddenly in the limelight, two major non-candidates are becoming increasingly distant from entering the race, and the long-time frontrunner, recently supplanted by a new face, seems to be back in charge.

Important changes in the nominating procedure, however, have taken place. In particular, Colorado and Florida have apparently decided to move their primaries up, and into the time period set aside by Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the official earliest GOP voting events. This will cause the aforementioned “official” states to move their primaries/caucus to earlier dates, presumably now beginning in early January instead of early February. The “penalty” for the early states is that they must now split their delegates proportional to the popular vote. States which schedule their voting in April and later may choose to have “winner take-all. allocations of their delegates to the national convention in Tampa in September, 2012.

This new circumstance would seem to benefit former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney whose political strength seems to be in most of the potential “winner-take-all” primaries and caucuses. On the other hand, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s apparent greatest strength lies in those states (mostly Southern states) which will hold their primaries before the deadline.

For some time, two potentially major contestants for the nomination (former Governor Palin and Governor Christie) have been “teasing” the media and their supporters with intimations they might get into the race. To be fair to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he has said “no” consistently and emphatically. But in U.S. presidential politics,“no” is often interpreted as “maybe,” no matter how emphatically it is uttered. In spite of pleas from supporters to get into the race, however, time is running out, and their candidacies would soon be problematic.

For the time being, Mr. Perry’s “bubble” seems to be losing air fast, although his poll numbers are still high. Close examination of his record and his public statements on some issues, plus a less-than-satisfactory series of debate performances have led to this circumstance, but it would be premature to write the Texas governor off. Businessman Herman Cain did well in a Tea Party Florida straw poll, and his poll numbers have risen since, An articulate man with lots of personality and charm, Mr. Cain is for now more a factor in the campaign.

Another candidate, once a first-tier contestant, but reduced to a lower tier by early gaffes, is making somewhat of a comeback by registering low double digits in some polls. That is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been widely applauded for his performance in all of the debates so far, and he has just introduced a new version of his 1993 Contract With America, the document that had so much to do with the GOP success in 1994, and which elevated him to speaker. The new version addresses most of the concerns of the Tea Party and others in the Republican base, including taxes, spending, defense, government intrusion, immigration and
foreign policy. It’s too soon to measure its impact, but if it resonates, it could make Mr. Gingrich the focus for party conservatives who are looking for an alternative to Mr. Romney, the frontrunner.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has redoubled her efforts to make up significant lost ground in opinion polls following her victory in the Iowa Straw Poll. She is concentrating her efforts with the evangelical segment of the party, a group which had seemed to go to Mr. Perry in recent weeks.

Although some commentators have contended that Mr. Romney is the favorite of the so-called Republican “establishment,” and that he may not be conservative enough, he has shown notable resilience in the campaign so far. For several weeks his frontrunner status was thrown in serious question after Mr Perry entered the race and went almost instantly to the top of the polls. But Mr. Romney’s self-confident and well-prepared debate performances, plus his large number of endorsements by GOP officials across the country and at all levels, has seemed to put him back on top. He does have a long way to go before winning the nomination, but the moving up of the early primary and caucus state votes has probably shortened that time-line and enhanced his chances.

Thus, the GOP campaign has gone through some notable changes, but its essential landscape remains the same. It should be remembered that after Ronald Reagan had secured his 1980 nomination, there were lots of doubts about him expressed by some GOP party activists, and the same phenomenon happened to Bill Clinton in 1992 by some of his party activists when it became clear he would be the Democratic nominee.

Names, faces. and issues change with each presidential election cycle, but it is uncanny how much the basic political psychology remains the same.