Wednesday, August 28, 2013


As it was two to three thousand years ago, the region we
now call the Middle East has once again become, in recent
years, the principal “war” battleground in the Western world.

The nature of war and conflict in this region is indeed
“biblical” as the word is now used to describe something
which is so generic to the major religious faiths of the
West, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

To the other half of the planet, principally Asia and the
nations of the Pacific Ocean, there must be a certain
wondering how such a relatively small geographical part
of the earth can be the source of such enduring violence,
acrimony and war. Perhaps their puzzlement is similar to
ours as we perceive the enduring conflicts of the Far East,
rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism
and now also Islam and secular Marxism.

It is part of the ongoing story of the human race that the
ambitions and conflicts of its constituent groups (which
formed after the Ice Age when “modern” civilization
began) persist long after their geneses, long after the
“reasons” and “causes” for them seemed pertinent.

Warfare is as old as the small groups of early humans who
emerged from the caves and the steppes. Violence and
aggression, it should not be forgotten, has not ever been
absent from human history.

In our contemporary version, however, the crude clubs,
spears and axes of early warfare have been replaced with
devices of such “sophistication” and power that most persons
in the world today recoil at the very notion of war. The problem
is that “most persons in the world” do not have much to say
about whether wars are fought or not. That is because another
historic element of civilization, that is, the control of a group,
nation, religion or people, remains in the hands of the very few
(be they kings or emperors or dictators).

The introduction of democratic capitalism into human history
is very recent, and represents a possible alteration, in the long
term, of the phenomenon of war. Democratic nations, to be
sure, have been involved in wars during their existence, but as
former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (later U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations for human rights) and others point out:
there are almost no instances of true democratic nations in the
world going to war with each other.

There is only one true democratic nation now in the Middle East
(I exclude Turkey whose leader has become increasingly
dictatorial), and that is Israel. It should be no surprise that
Israel has been the principal target and scapegoat for the
other nations of the Middle East, nor should it be a surprise
that, since democratic capitalism is a product of European
Christianity, that the newer primary target is Christianity.

Syria is only one of the latest incidents of the seemingly
endless geographical conflicts in the Middle East. Europe and
the West tried to intervene in this region after World War I
when it attempted to construct artificial nations from warring
tribes. Time and again, Europe and the Unites States have
interfered and intervened in this region, including toppling a
Persian government, installing the shah, in Iran. More recently,
we intervened in Iraq, and most recently, we tried to play a role
in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

As a self-described “civilized nation,” we have declared that
certain lines of violence and cruelty cannot be tolerated. This
particularly includes the use of chemical warfare against
civilian populations. There can be no doubt that chemical
warfare has once again been employed in the Middle East (it
was widely and devastatingly used in the first Iran-Iraq war
a few decades ago) in Syria.

Seventy years ago, the U.S. introduced nuclear weaponry to
warfare in order to bring World War II to a close. There can
be no doubt that, as terrible was this cost to the civilian
populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (probably 200,000
deaths), that the use of the atomic bomb in August, 1945
saved literally millions of lives of American and Japanese
soldiers, and Japanese civilians, had there been a subsequent
invasion of the Japanese mainland.

The horror of nuclear warfare, furthermore, has kept it from
being used for seven decades, even though (disturbingly) more
and more nations have acquired its capability.

During most of history, wars were won or lost. After World
War II, we have seen the emergence of wars with no winners.
This has been particularly true in the Middle East, where in
spite of using tiny Israel as a scapegoat, the most violence
has been directed by one Arab group against another Arab

If the definition of the purpose of war is to “win,” what can
the purpose be of a war that cannot be won?

Senator John McCain and other self-proclaimed “moralists”
in both parties have urged President Obama to take action in
Syria. I have been a persistent critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign
policy, but for once, I am sympathetic to his “caution” and
hesitation. There is almost no support for such action in
American public opinion (polls indicate up to 90% opposed
to U.S. intervention).

What are our interests in a civil war in which both sides
detest the United States? What are our interests in a regional
conflict where chemical warfare is even contemplated, much
less used? What are our interests in the Middle East where our
every action, other than our historical support of the state of
Israel, has been a failure?

Punish those individuals responsible for the use of chemical
warfare if that is possible, but beyond that, anything we might
do promises terrible new wounds and unthinkable new

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can We Change Our Culture?

There is much recent discussion about a “decline”
in the American culture that has led to an accompanying
shrinkage in our national education, the dissolution of
the family, the alterations of the institutions of marriage
and child rearing, a recession of our performing and
other arts, the degradation of our civility, our language,
indeed, of the whole of the “quality” of contemporary
American life.

I myself have been writing about the diminution of
American poetry and fiction, which I know something
about, and even of other arts which I admit I know
much less about.

Lamenting this state of affairs, however, is one thing;
changing it is another.

Many analyses and diagnoses of recent changes of our
culture are accompanied, following the lamentations,
by calls to “fix” the culture, to reassert older values,
to make things better “again.”

The presumption is that through formal legislation or
regulations, or even through grand educational
programs and intellectual campaigns, that the culture
can be changed. (The former would be the more
“liberal” approach; the latter would be the more
“conservative” approach.)

I don’t think either approach has much affect. The
reason why this is so is that culture is not now, even if
it was before, a product of formal education, either
in secondary schools or colleges and universities. Nor
is it simply transmitted and shaped as much as it was
by religious, ethnic or even class backgrounds.

Instead, American culture is increasingly, in my opinion,
formed and altered by the post-industrial technologies
of communication, transportation, and medicine.

Some political theorists, mostly on the left, but some on
the right as well, have been decrying an alleged rise of
intellectual and economic elitism in America, of a growing
distance between the rich and the poor, of the educated
and the “non-educated,” of old and new citizen groups.

I take the contrarian view that this is not correct, or at
least, misleading as a cause of the decline of American

An honest and careful examination of American culture
of the past century demonstrates what a qualitative
economic and intellectual change in the differences between
groups in the nation has taken place. There has been a
dramatic increase in the very level of income, employment,
education, civil rights, health care and leisure time activities,
of resident citizens of the United States.

I repeat: a dramatic increase in the level.

Just take an honest look at the daily life and real
conditions of poor persons in general; blacks, Catholics
and Jews, other immigrants and workers, before World
War II.

The elite classes in America were, for almost the first two
centuries, very small. Post World War II, the so-called
middle class grew tremendously. Unlike our European
and South American cousins, we had no permanent
aristocracy or oligarchy. In fact, our culture, especially
through radio, television, films and literature, celebrated
the success of those who rose from suffering poverty and
discrimination to become rich, successful and powerful.

None of what I am saying denies that there is not
economic suffering today in the U.S., nor a total absence
of prejudice and domestic violence. But those who suggest
that the problems we have now are somehow a return to
the past or worse than the past, or not, evaluated fairly,
nontheless a great advance on conditions from the past,
are simply not telling the truth. (I realize that this is
heresy to those who now make a profession out of
exploiting class, racial or economic warfare.)

A culture cannot be legislated. You cannot intimidate a
national population to alter its cultural habits and
preferences with abstractions. Moreover, you can’t change
the American national culture without an honest appraisal
of what that culture has already accomplished, and an
appreciation of how the parade of new technologies form
what new generations think and do.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Course Of The World?

The United States has entered a period during which
its influence in the world has significantly been reduced.
Since the conscious design of this has come from the
White House, there can be little doubt that the Obama
administration considers this a major success of its
foreign policy.

But this circumstance could not have occurred if a
national mood of fatigue with international affairs and
military/economic interventions did not at the same time

The consequences, already set in motion, are for a reduction
of our military power, a diminished occupation with our
national defense, and a subtraction of interest in the
affairs of our neighbors and allies.

Seventy-five years ago this would have been cheered by
most in the Republican Party of that era, and resisted by
many (but not all) in the Democratic Party. Today this is
exactly reversed. Democrats seek more isolation from the
world, and many (but not all) Republicans oppose this

Since the Democrats control the White House and the U.S.
senate, there is very little that can be done until 2015 at
the earliest to effectively challenge this development, and
almost nothing that can be done to reverse it until and if
a Republican president is elected in 2016.

A foreign policy does, not, however, exist in a vacuum.
Those who disagree with President Obama have constantly
warned that a passive withdrawal from the world’s
trouble spots, and the diminution  of our military
capability will only endanger our national security by
emboldening our rivals and enemies to be more and more
aggressive on the world stage. President Obama and his
supporters see it in quite an opposite way. They believe
that our withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq, the volatile
Middle East as a whole, as well as a reduction in our
relationships with many of our traditional allies in Europe
and Asia, promotes an improvement in the international
environment.  Mr. Obama evidently sees our immediate
past engagement in the world to have been more of a cause
of global problems than an attempt to resolve them.

History and precedent do not support Mr. Obama’s
thesis, but he seems to be determined to press on with his
policy of disengagement. Only external  and dramatic
international events might change this direction, and the
president seems confident that his world view will prevail
in spite of history and precedent.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has been pointing out
recently that the U.S. house can only delay and perhaps
partly defund the domestic programs which Republicans and
conservatives oppose. If the Republicans would regain the
U.S. senate in November, 2014, that limit and control of
domestic policy could be expanded. Nontheless, it is the
executive branch of our government which controls foreign

American public opinion is traditionally preoccupied with
the nation’s domestic economy. Only in times of danger,
threat and crisis does it focus on world affairs. Those who
now warn of dangers and threats and impending crises
are not only unheard by the policy makers in Washington,
DC, they have little resonance with most Americans in the
cities, suburbs and farms across the country.

Short of some sudden change in public opinion, the isolation
of the United States, and the reduction of its ability to affect
the course of affairs in the world, will continue.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Centrists in the Senate

Much has been made in the conservative media about the
few remaining “moderates” who are Republicans in the
U.S. senate. Most notably, these are senators from the
Northeast, and they have become targets for so-called
Tea Party conservatives who challenge them in their
re-election primaries. Two of these “moderates” (who I
prefer to call centrists) are up for re-election next year.
They are Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Lamar
Alexander of Tennessee.

Not discussed much in the old (liberal) media, however,
there are many more so-called “moderates” or centrists
on the Democratic side of the aisle. They include, in varying
degrees,  Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Mark
Warner of Virginia, Senator Mary Landrieu of Lousiana,
Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Senator Kay Hagan of North
Carolina, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Senator Tom Carper
of Delaware, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Senator Christopher
Coons of Delaware, Senator Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania,
Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Senator Jon Tester
of Montana, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator
Jeff Donnelly of Indiana, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut,
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Senator Mike Begich of
Alaska and Senator Angus King of Maine (who calls himself an
 independent, but organizes with the Democrats). Democratic
Mayor Cory Booker of New Jersey, who almost certainly be
elected to the senate in an October special election to replace
a recently deceased liberal Democrat, is also very much a
liberal centrist, and will be added to this group.

Most of the above senators, it should be pointed out, are rather
liberal on social issues, as might be expected. They have also
been voting quite liberal on many economic issues, too, but that
has been primarily due to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
and to President Obama, both of whom have advanced a very
liberal agenda, and who have maintained a tight discipline on
all Democratic members, regardless of their personal views.

Just as centrist Republicans face primary challenges in 2014
(and did so in 2010 and 2012), centrist Democrats face serious
GOP challengers in their re-election campaigns. Their major
problem, unlike their conservative centrist counterparts, is
not with their party base, but with their statewide electorates.
Thus, Senators Landrieu, Pryor, Hagan, and Begich are
vulnerable in 2014 (although only Senator Pryor already has a
very serious GOP opponent).

I have pointed out that most of these liberal centrist senators
have been voting with the very liberal Democratic senate
leadership and with the White House, but a new question
arises if the Republicans should win back control of the U.S.
senate in 2014. Should the GOP win in 2014, especially if it’s
a wave election as it was in 2010, surviving Senate Democratic
centrists will face a very different environment in 2015.
President Obama will not only be a lame duck, he would also
be without the leverage to expand his very liberal agenda.
Not having a record of compromising, or any pattern of
relationships with the Republicans in the Congress during his
first six years in office, Mr. Obama would be on constant
defense, trying to protect his earlier legislation and programs.

Since more than 40 per cent of incumbent Democratic
senators would be centrists of varying degree, and a number of
them up for re-election in 2016 and 2018, the ability of any
senate Democratic leader to maintain voting discipline would
be very problematic. The ability to maintain Obama health
care reform, raise taxes, add new government regulations,
and increase government spending would be very much at
risk not only because Republicans would control both houses
of the Congress, but also because many Democrats might well
begin voting along more the centrist lines that they believe in,
and most importantly, that they can defend when they next go
before the voters.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Important Story Is.....

The important story about the critical national mid-term
elections 15 months away is that the party nominees
have not yet been selected, and in many cases, not yet
recruited or announced, in those races most likely to be
closely contested. With each cycle, of course, campaigns
for U.S. house and senate seats begin earlier and earlier.
This is primarily due to the increasing demands for raising
large sums of campaign funds, especially in senate races.
Most incumbents who do not plan to seek re-election
announce their intentions early (so as to enable their party
to find a suitable candidate to replace them). Already many
congresspersons and senators have announced their
retirement, but there will almost certainly be more. Some
who have announced they are running might also later reveal
they have changed their minds. Running for high office has
become more and more stressful. As we have also learned in
recent cycles, too-close-to-call races on paper can become
very one-sided if a nominee turns out to be too controversial
or obviously inept.

The important story about the current state of the so-called
Obamacare legislation is that its unpopularity remains as
strong as it has always been, notwithstanding the Obama
administration’s delays, modifications and executive orders.
The way this legislation was passed and signed into law
created a national public attitude that seems impervious
to any attempts to make it more palatable.

The important story about the poll numbers favoring
Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee
is that not a single rival has yet indicated their interest in making
a race against her. (Vice President Joe Biden is thought to be
interested, but he will be 74 years in 2016, and even though
well-known, does exceedingly poorly in polls.) As I have pointed
out before, Mrs. Clinton was in a similar position in 2009-10
when she also then seemed to be the inevitable nominee. Not
only is her indisputable high name recognition a major factor
in her current lead. The key point to remember is that
Democrats will want to retain the presidency in 2016 if they
can. Polls in late 2015 and early 2016, when more will be
known about the Republican presidential field, will be far
more instructive about whom Democrats will nominate.

The important story about the current immigration issue
is that a consensus appears to have been reached within the
Congress to legislate some reform this year. Those on the
left who want complete and instant “amnesty,” and those on
the right who want no reform and to send back undocumented
residents to Mexico, have very little public support. It is true
that the Democrats have a very different view of reform than
do the Republicans, but the GOP controlling the U.S. house
means that significant compromise will have to take place if
any reform is to take place. There will be two different bills
this year, and some Democrats are bragging that “if they can
get these bills into conference,” they will win. GOP House
Speaker Boehner points out, however, that there can be no
conference unless he agrees to it.

The important story about the recent birth of Prince George,
great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is that
the current monarch shows few signs of slowing up, George’s
royal great-great grandmother lived to be 100, and his
grandfather and father are slated to take the throne before
he does. Of course, nothing can be predicted, but this royal
family has a tradition of ruling as long as they live. It is
quite possible that Prince George will be the first king in
history to have his coronation as a centenarian.

And finally, the important story about so-called global
warming is that some serious scientists are now predicting a
new ice age instead. While there is evidence that the Arctic
polar ice cap has been melting, there has been new evidence
announced that the Antarctic polar ice cap is growing!
(Will this mean there will be a lot of illegal immigrants
showing up in South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand?)

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate Races In 2014: Take-over or Take-down?

Since it will very likely dominate the electoral drama
next year, the “war” for control of the U.S. senate has
an obvious and persisting fascination for the small band
of political pundits writing about the always changing
environment of power in America, not to mention for the
power brokers  in Washington, DC.

Electoral “waves” that occurred in 2006 and 2010,
each midterm elections with no presidential contest, have
produced notable imbalances in the party identification
of the number of seats at stake.  Thus in 2008 and 2012
there many more Democrat-controlled seats at stake, and
in 2016, there will be many more Republican-controlled
seats at play. The senate elections of 2014 resemble 2010
and 2012 in that there are many more incumbent Democratic
seat up than Republican.

In 2012, however, the GOP failed notably to make gains in
spite of their advantage, primarily because they fielded weak
or controversial candidates in at least five races they had
been expected to win. In 2010, Republicans did make gains,
but lost at least three races they would have won with better

All this is by now very well known by party leaders, party
operatives, and the White House itself which has a very
large stake in the outcome, that is, in preserving their

Indeed, if the expected continued control of the U.S. house
of representatives by the conservative party is joined by a
take-back control of the U.S. senate by the GOP, it would
reduce a by-then already lame duck president to almost no
control of the agenda of government, routine rejection of
his appointments (including to the U.S. supreme court) and
little say about his second-term legacy.

With 20 Democratic incumbents seats up and only 14 GOP
seats, once again a significant “paper” advantage goes to
the Republicans in 2014.

The trend since the beginning of 2013 has been heavily
favoring the conservative party, but a similar trend seemed
to have appeared in 2011, and the result, at the end, was a
disaster. Currently, the senate is 54-46 in favor of the
Democrats, but by election day, 2014, that will almost
certainly be 55-45 (after Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a
Democrat, wins election this year.)

Instead of triumphal optimism, as was evident in 2011,
GOP leaders and strategists are far more cautious about
2014 results in 2013. In fact, two of the fourteen GOP seats
up next year are now much more vulnerable than they were
only a few months ago. Senate minority leader Mitch
McConnell now faces a serious contest in Kentucky (he is
now trailing in the polls), and the candidacy of Georgia
icon Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter in the 2014 race casts
at least some doubt about a hitherto easy GOP win in the
open seat.

On the other hand, the vulnerability of Democratic
incumbent seats continues to increase. GOP takeovers now
seem likely in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia and
Arkansas. Incumbent Democrats in Alaska, North Carolina,
and Louisiana are very vulnerable. Republicans, if they can
recruit good candidates, have good prospects in Iowa and
Michigan. (There is a chance, especially if 2014 develops into
a “wave” election, for the GOP to pick up seats in New
Hampshire, Minnesota and Delaware, but as of now, and
lacking formidable challengers, Republicans are unlikely to
win in those states.)

As became obvious in the 2012 cycle, Democrats will play
very “hard ball” to keep control of the U.S. Senate. That year,
for example, they went so far as to boost the weakest GOP
candidate in the Missouri Republican senate primary and
helped him win. His extreme views then enabled the
Democratic incumbent, an almost sure loser, to win
re-election. Having succeeded in this tactic, Democrats can
be expected to play this card again in 2014.

Feeding into this environment, Republicans are currently
divided on the issue of immigration reform, and conservative
sub-groups are threatening to mount primary challenges to
otherwise safe incumbent GOP senators. As happened in
Delaware in 2010 and Indiana in 2012, this could lead to
unexpected Republican defeats in 2014, and make the
potential for a Republican take-over of the U.S. senate
virtually impossible.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten Critical National Problems That Are Not Being Solved Or Are Being Made Worse Now

With so many crises facing the nation both domestically
and internationally, it is curious and alarming that ten
of the most serious and urgent problems are not being
meaningfully addressed by the president, his
administration, nor the Congress. (I might add that
leaders in both national political parties share in the
responsibility for this.)

Here is my list of those imminently problematic issues
(not necessarily in order of importance):

PENSION FUND LIABILITIES, public and private, continue
to grow. The bottom line of this is that workers at some
time in the future will either not receive pension benefits or
they will be greatly reduced. New corporate pension funds
are generally being phased out, but many existing ones
significantly remain unfunded. There is some work being
done to repair local and state pension funds, but those for
federal employees often remain in perilous circumstances.

UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES are vastly underreported.
The current “official” number is about 7.5%. The true
number is almost certainly closer to 14.3%. This
misreporting of unemployment figures lessens the urgency
to resolve the chronic problem. The Old Media co-conspires
with various levels of government’s desire to disguise the
true dimensions of unemployment in the U.S.

is staggering. Although under-reported, even the reported
numbers clearly shows the profound damage to this
community. While smokescreens about alleged “racism” and
discrimination abound, very little is being done to actually
find meaningful jobs for these young Americans.

UNIVERSITIES is undermining the quality of higher
education in the U.S. Although some welcome reaction
to hitherto radicalization of much of the college and
university programs is now taking place, the value of
the “liberal arts education’ has dramatically declined
in most major U.S. colleges and universities.

INFRASTRUCTURE in the nation is being neglected
while endless debates about “global warming,”
boutique farming and hyper-environmentalism deflect a
much-needed discussion about the state of America’s
roads, highways, water availability and quality, food
production, and health conditions in the workplace is

ELITISM IN U.S. ARTS CULTURE is separating the
creative visual, musical, performing and literary arts
from a large number of Americans via government
aid programs and “official” arts criteria that encourages
elitist art programs. The result is an overall decline in
American culture, and reduced public participation in it.

GOVERNMENT INTRUSION into American private
life is increasing. Although headlines about government
surveillance is now frequent, this masks more serious
issues about increased federal (and some state and local)
regulatory intrusion in individual, small business and
general entrepreneurial activity.

are replacing common sense and genuine public interest
in the modernization of the nation. Excessively costly
high-speed rail and unnecessary local light rail systems
are being proposed, designed and built. The
overbuilding of public colleges and universities, local
takeovers of private utilities, delays of needed pipelines,
and other ultimately unjustifiable and unsustainable
programs are being implemented without proper public
review and approval.

OVER-REDUCED. While the Defense budget is very large
and a popular (and often justifiable) target for waste
reductions, current policies to drastically reduce the
nation’s armed forces, naval and international
strategic presence are increasing the nation’s vulnerability
and its vital interests in a time of heightened international
instability and overt threat.

a threat to American leadership in world innovation.
One area government funding can clearly contribute to
improved national well-being is through encouraging
and enabling new scientific research. This is especially
critical in the current era when emerging economic
competitors such as China, India, and Brazil are
aggressively challenging American leadership in this area.

Copyright(c) 2013 by Barry Casselman.All rights reserved.