Thursday, October 31, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Forecasts Of The 2013 Off-Year Elections

The off-year elections of 2013, on their face, do not offer
much suspense or promise of trends for next year’s
very important national mid-term elections.

One of these elections has been already held. In New Jersey,
Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker won a U.S. senate
seat in a special election to fill the vacancy created by the
passing of the Democratic incumbent. Booker won easily,
but not by the margin many had expected in this usually
very liberal state. Next week, in the off-year general
election, incumbent Republican Governor Chris Christie
is expected to win in a landslide against a weak opponent.
That, of course, will be no surprise, but readers should
pay attention to results in the New Jersey legislative races
that same day. If Christie’s coattails lead to a pick-up of
one or both houses of the New Jersey legislature, that
could be significant news.

In Virginia, controversial Democratic nominee Terry
McAuliffe has been leading in polls for months.
Considering his campaign funds advantage (more than
ten to one), he is expected to win. But controversial
Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli has, in most latest
polls, been narrowing the gap. A third candidate,
a libertarian, has in polls been getting about 10% of the
vote, but that is expected to recede on election day, and
technically, Cuccinelli could win. The key to the polls
published in this race is the partisan make-up of the
polling sample. (This was especially true in the 2012
national elections.) Both former President Bill Clinton
and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
have been among the big national names who have
come in to campaign for McAuliffe, President Obama is
expected to come in before election day. Cuccinelli has
not been able to muster either the financial or big-name
firepower of his opponent. But what has perhaps made this
race a bit more competitive is the just-before-the-election
national collapse of the Democratic Obamacare reform.
If this diminishes Democratic turnout, and provokes
higher GOP turnout, and the third party candidate
receives less than 5% of the final vote, this race could be
closer than now expected, although a Cuccinelli win is

The race for mayor of New York City seems to be a
foregone conclusion. The eras of Republican Mayor Rudy
Giuliani and independent centrist Mayor Michael
Bloomberg will be over on January 1, and a very liberal
Democrat, City Ombusdman Bill de Blasio will take over
in the nation’s largest city. He has pledged to raise the
income taxes of higher income New Yorkers, he opposes
charter schools in the city, and he has been very critical of
Mayor Bloomberg’s housing, education and police
security policies. Some observers contend that if de Blasio
reverses many of the reforms and policies of the
two mayors who preceded him, and he has indicated
that he will, New York could be in for fiscal and community
security problems on a major scale in the next four years.
The polls, however, indicate a huge landslide for De Blasio
in the 2013 election.

There are other races of minor interest in 2013, including
the mayoral election in Minneapolis where the latest
ranked-choice experiment at the polls has provoked 35
candidates on the ballot, and not a little confusion among
local voters.

With no true surprises expected this year, political
observers will no doubt attempt to parse turnout nuances
for portents about next year’s election.

With the recent government shutdown and latest debt
ceiling deadline crisis probably already forgotten by voters,
primarily replaced by the news of the chaotic meltdown of
the initial Obamacare implementation, interpreting the 2013
elections for trends might be difficult and perilous.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

THR PRAIRIE EDITOR: Nostalgia And The Future Of American Cities

Most of my readers at The Prairie Editor live in various
parts of the U.S., and not a few come to the website from
all over the globe, from Europe, Asia, South America, not
to mention Canada and Mexico.  So I am going to ask their
indulgence while I relate a political story about where I
live that involves both my earliest political journalism
and perhaps some intimations about the American urban

Minneapolis is in some ways a typical medium-to-large
American city, and in some ways not so typical. I arrived
here several decades ago from Pennsylvania, and almost
immediately immersed myself in the city’s local politics
as a self-taught journalist, having begun to publish from
scratch a monthly tabloid community newspaper that soon
grew to a sizable circulation and was distributed citywide.

In that era there were, as there are today, thirteen wards,
each with a city council member. There was also a mayor,
but most of the real power rested with the city council.
(A similar structure exists in Minneapolis’ sister city, St.
Paul, but the mayor there has much more power.) When I
arrived, twelve of the council members were Republicans,
and only one was a Democrat (in this state, the Democratic
Party is called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL). 
Hubert Humphrey had been the DFL reform mayor
of Minneapolis about three decades before, but he had by
then gone on to the U.S. senate, and later the vice presidency
and a run for the presidency in 1968. Another resident of
the city was Walter Mondale who was state attorney general,
then U.S. senator, then U.S. vice president, and then, like his
mentor Humphrey, an unsuccessful candidate for president.

But in the early 1970’s, the general liberalism of the state had
not fully reached Minnesota’s largest city. Throughout the
period when I published my newspaper, however, the DFL
became increasingly dominant in the city. Not only did the
liberals command a consistent majority on the city council,
the new welfare policies of the time drew in numerous minorities
from outside the state, unemployed persons of all backgrounds,
and others drawn to the benefits offered by the city. At the
same time, many of the older ethnic residents who had lived in
the city since the turn of the century were moving to the
suburbs. In this sense, Minneapolis was typical of cities all
over the nation. As the background nature of the city changed,
the needs of the city to create infrastructure, employment,
and to provide for a growing population of senior citizens,
created political pressure that was temporarily resolved by
an increased dependence on city, state and federal tax revenues
and entitlements.

A growing city bureaucracy, aggressively unionized, provided
increased services, but also created a growing public debt,
especially in the cost of public employees pension funds.
By the outset of the new century, there was not a single
Republican on the city council, and no prospect for a
Republican to run successfully for mayor or other city offices.

In contrast to its twin city, St. Paul, Minneapolis had always
maintained itself as the primary entertainment destination
for the metropolitan area, and strenuous efforts, supported
by the construction and trade unions, were made to relocate
the major leagues sports stadiums and other facilities inside
the city. An unusually large state university campus, again paid
for by public tax revenues, was located near downtown, and
fed into the expanding bar, club. restaurant, cinema and
performing arts culture that the city provided. Unlike other
major urban centers in the U.S., Minneapolis was not a
manufacturing city, but had grown from a turn-of-the-century
grain trade and transportation hub to a high tech and medical
technology center, as well as the affluent regional commercial

In short, Minneapolis was able to avoid many of the economic
pitfalls that occurred in so many U.S. cities in the 1970s, 80s and
90s, and its DFL politicians and bureaucrats skillfully employed
public tax revenues to rebuild its infrastructure and to
enhance the various social and commercial amenities that
would maintain it as the entertainment and tourist destination
of the state.

St. Paul attempted to compete with Minneapolis, but although
it was the state capital and housed most of the state offices, it
was not able to attract enough  commercial employment,
especially in its downtown, to reverse its role of playing
second fiddle to its larger neighboring twin city.

Thus, the major league baseball (Minnesota Twins) stadium
was moved from a suburb to downtown Minneapolis in 1974,
and its replacement also to another downtown location in 2010.
The professional football (Minnesota Vikings) stadium was
also moved to downtown Minneapolis, and its replacement,
soon to begin construction, is being built on the same site. The
new professional basketball (Minnesota Timberwolves) arena
was constructed in downtown Minneapolis. Several university
sports facilities, including a large football stadium and a hockey
arena were constructed adjacent to the Minneapolis downtown.
At the same time, the state’s major new theaters and museums
were constructed in or near the downtown, and although St. Paul
sought to house many of these, only the professional hockey
(Minnesota Wild) arena, the state history center and the science
museum were located there.

Virtually all of the sports facilities were built, at least in part,
with state and local tax revenues (or guarantees), as was
a booming increase in the university infrastructure, including
housing, classrooms and faculty offices. However, with losing
sports teams and the prospect of a long-term transformation
of the university experience to online models, much of this
expensive infrastructure might turn out to be overbuilt and

At the same time, Minneapolis officials created incentives to
bring some of the those who had moved into the suburbs back
to the inner city to live. This has, in fact, temporarily stabilized
the city’s population which had been rapidly declining (as have
most U.S. cities in the northeast and midwest) since its peak in
the 1950’s (from over 500,000 to less than 400,000 today).

The city now has significant U.S. black, Hispanic, Somali, Native
American and southeast Asian populations which have grown
dramatically in the past few decades.

With the middle class flight to the suburbs, the Republican base
in the city vanished. Offering increasing welfare benefits, local
DFL officials have created a new and very large base in the city.
Today, there are no Republican or truly independent members
of the city council. In fact, the very liberal city council (which
includes Green party members), as well as the DFL mayor,
have been easily elected and re-elected for years, with the only
changes arising from retirements.

This brings me to this year’s city elections. In the inner city
ward in which I live, adjacent to downtown and including
two distinctive neighborhoods in both the northeast and
southeast, the incumbent city council member has served two
four-year terms, and is running for  a third. This pattern of
long-term DFL liberal incumbents running for re-election is
true of most of the rest of the city.

But much to most observers’ surprise, insurgent younger DFL
figures arose this year in this and many other wards, and they
either defeated the incumbents for their party endorsement or
prevented their re-endorsement. Some incumbents have already
prematurely retired, and many are running again without party
endorsement. Although there have no reliable polls in the wards,
it is believed that several of the insurgents might win, especially
if there is a citywide anti-incumbent “wave” sentiment.

To complicate matters, the three-term mayor has retired, and
city officials voted to conduct the city elections using a so-called
“ranked-choice” system in which voters are invited to list
their first, second and third choices for each office. As a result,
the candidate with the most votes does not necessarily win.
Calculating the 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices, a process is used to
produce a winning candidate who has more than 50% of the
vote. This system, unfathomable to most voters, has resulted
in 35 candidate for mayor, including two Republicans!
Many of these candidates are former or present city council
members,or have otherwise relatively serious credentials.
The complicated, hard-to-understand ranked choice
experiment has understandably created not a little confusion,
and could seriously dampen voter turnout in what is normally
a low-turnout off-year election.

In the city council races, the contests are not so much
ideological as they are generational. Most of the challengers
are as liberal, or more so, than the incumbents, but the
challengers inevitably have been critical of the incumbents’
fiscal priorities, including such issues as the public part of the
funding of the new Vikings stadium and a costly proposed
public new streetcar system.

In my ward, the challenger is a young man who has
attacked the fiscal record of the woman incumbent (who is
old enough to be his mother). He apparently has the support
of many of the younger voters, and other new voters, in the
ward, as well as of the public labor unions (most of whose
members live outside the city). Aside from his call for some
prudent public city expenditure, I can detect no ideological
difference between him and the incumbent. His support from
the public employees union suggests he will do little or
nothing about the public pensions issue (where a large part of
the city’s expenditures go.)

At a recent fundraiser for the incumbent, there was a sizable
turnout. The DFL governor has endorsed her (he is one of the
few statewide DFL elected officials who can defy a DFL
endorsement; he won the DFL gubernatorial nomination
by defeating the party endorsee in 2010), and was only absent
from the event because of a recent medical operation. But the
star endorser of the evening was none other than former U.S.
senator and vice president, Walter Mondale, and the crowd
was made up of many in the DFL establishment, including
two former city council presidents, the current president,
several former city council members, and numerous senior
DFL consultants, operatives, lobbyists. activists, and long-time
constituents, most of whom I first met in those halcyon days
decades before when I covered and wrote about Minneapolis
city politics, and many of whom I had not seen for years.

Since I have, for more than the past two decades, covered
only national politics, the reunion with so many local DFL
figures from long ago was laden with a certain nostalgia
for the passions of almost-forgotten battles and contests,
long-submerged or now-extinct issues, and warm
recollections of another political era. But at the same time,
I was able, beyond any of these emotions, to assess the current
campaign as, on the one hand, primarily a confrontation of
generations, and on the other hand, possible signals of the
intended directions of a new generation of urban liberals
and self-proclaimed urban “progressives.”

The outcome in this race, and in so many city races this
year, is uncertain. As always, turnout will be critical. and
as I have pointed out, this year’s turnout will be
complicated by an experimental voting system which
few understand.

What is absent here, and in so many cities in America, is
a competitive opposition party and a different set of
solutions to the challenges and the problems that these
same cities all face. This is NOT the fault of the DFL and
of those who now lead and control most urban centers in
America. Minneapolis is not Detroit, but it does potentially
have some of Detroit’s fiscal problems ahead. While some
government-sponsored projects have succeeded, others
have not (at, of course, the taxpayer’s expense). Some on
the current city council and some of the challengers even
support the city takeover of the electric utility, now
privately owned and run, a notion considered by many of
all parties in the state to be wildly irresponsible.

If a conservative or centrist economic vision of urban
governance is absent in Minneapolis and other U.S. cities,
it is because the many conservatives and centrists in the
nation choose to remain active exclusively in the suburbs,
exurbs and rural parts of the country. As the “progressives”
continue unchecked to govern in the cities, more and more
Detroits likely will appear.

If this continues, the current polarization and extreme
divisions in American politics will not only go on and on,
they will intensify.

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Lucky Lindbergh" And The Enduring Cult Of Celebrity

For some change of subject, I turn from collapsing
Obamacare and government shutdowns to a bit of iconic
Americana --- public obsessions with celebrities and
celebrity crimes.

The occasion of my discussion comes from attending a
play about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932,
sometimes known as “the crime of the century.”

First of all, this is a theater review of a production of
“Baby Case” at the St. Paul History Theater. This was
the regional premiere of a musical show by Michael Ogborn
which was first performed in Philadelphia in 2001.

I attended this play with more than a little skepticism in
advance, that is, many doubts that so morbid a subject could
be successfully treated in a musical production. From the
opening scene, however, my doubts quickly evaporated.
Under Ron Peluso, artistic director of the theater and of this
play, the subject was effectively condensed and skillfully
fast-paced. With the talents of Jake Endres, music director,
and Jan Puffer, choreographer, the story and drama was
tight and compelling. Most of all, a superb cast charmed
the audience with excellent voices and deft performances.

The lyrics and tunes were very good, though not extraordinary;
“Baby Case” is not an “Oklahoma!” or “Threepenny Opera,”
but a complicated saga was entertainingly presented.

Almost half the cast are members of Actor’s Equity, but all of
them are first-rate professionals As one might guess from its
name, this theater primarily presents productions with
historical themes.

There are 30 roles in this production, but only 11 actors. Most
of them performed as multiple characters, including the two
leads who portrayed both Charles Lindbergh and Bruno
Hauptman, Anna Morrow Lindbergh and Mrs. Hauptman.
A risky dramatic strategy perhaps, but it not only worked, it
drove home some of the playwright’s themes about perpetrators
and victims.

Peter Middlecamp portrays both Charles Lindbergh and Bruno
Hauptman, the accused kidnapper and murderer of the
Lindbergh’s baby.  The program lists only some of his recent
roles, but it does not tell the full story. Young Mr. Middlecamp
is something of a local renaissance man, having finished in
the top ten in the international barista competition a few years
ago, and also competing for several years as a professional disc
golfer. In his day job, he co-owns and manages a coffeehouse in
South St Paul, a coffeehouse acknowledged by almost everyone,
including his peers, as the probably the best in the state. He also
plays and teaches a rare musical instrument. As if this not enough,
Middlecamp has a fine tenor voice and not a little acting skill
which enable him to be credible and stellar in the double role.

Kendall Anne Thompson plays both Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
mother of the kidnapped baby, and Anna Hauptman, wife of the
accused kidnapper, with good voice and convincing manner. 
Everyone in this cast is excellent, but I should mention also
long-time Twin City veteran Gary Briggle who plays both Dr.
John Condon and another role very effectively,  Jon Andrew Hegge
portrays the narrator of the play, Walter Winchell, the famed
gossip columnist, with skill and even looks like him. Emily
Grodzik plays four roles well, but her Ginger Rogers was a
standout. Stealing the show on more than one occasion was
James Ramlet who played three sensational characters,
including William Randolph Hearst, Al Capone and Norman
Schwarzkopf, Sr. (the program does not mention that the latter,
the superintendent of the New Jersey state police in 1932, was
also the father of Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., the colorful
commander 70 years later of Operation Desert Storm). Ramlet’s
rich and distinctive voice, and deft acting skill, enables him to
take command of the stage in each of his roles.

The playwright and the production are not neutral about the
controversies surrounding Lindbergh, this case, and the
pioneer aviator’s evolving role in American culture in the
1920s, and for decades afterwards. “Baby Case” clearly
indicates that the kidnapping investigation was mishandled,
Charles Lindbergh interfered with it, that the accused Bruno
Hauptmann did not receive a fair trial. It also implies that
Hauptman, who was subsequently executed in 1936, might
have been innocent. I think most of this is actually quite fair,
as is the play’s closing scene with Colonel Lindbergh receiving
a medal from Nazi minister Herman Goering. Lindbergh, an
international hero and idol for being the first man to fly the
Atlantic Ocean solo non-stop in 1927 was overwhelmed not
only by the mindless celebrity status thrust on him, and
darkened by the kidnapping tragedy in 1932, but his rural
Minnesota isolationism led him to apologize for Adolf Hitler
and his Nazi regime, including voicing his opposition to U.S.
involvement in World War II (which led to destruction of his

As for Hauptman’s innocence, subsequent re-examinations
of the evidence have led most more modern experts to
conclude that Hauptman was indeed probably guilty, although
he might have not been alone in the crime.

This production has one more week to run at the History
Theater in St. Paul. For those readers, who live in the Twin
Cities, it is highly recommended by this reviewer.

Second, this play gives us the opportunity, however briefly,
to examine the iconic American cultural custom of
obsession with celebrities and celebrity crime. (Of course,
this is not only an American phenomenon, as sensational
British, German and other European personalities and
criminals from the Victorian era through the Weimar
Republic demonstrate.)

Celebrity cultism goes far back, but its modern manifestations
arise with the advance of modern communications. The
printing press sets the whole process in motion, but it is not
until the 19th century that the cult of the celebrity personality
and its media encouragement begins with full force. Dan Rice,
the first American clown, originator of the U.S. circus, and
model for “Uncle Sam,” was one of the first true celebrities, as
was newspaperman Horace Greeley (who became ultimately
the Democratic nominee for president in 1872). Mark Twain
was among the first literary celebrities, employing not only
his novels, but nationwide speaking engagements to promote
his fame. Even Abraham Lincoln was a pioneer in using the
media (including the newly-invented telegraph) to launch his
political career.

But it was Charles Lindbergh, a shy but very glamorous
aviator, who first electrified the whole world with his
transatlantic flight in 1927, and became the first truly modern
super-celebrity. His was a notable achievement, but nothing
compared with the discoveries of Edison, Bell, Madame
Curie, Einstein and so many other scientists and inventors of
the era. Yet its was Lindbergh who was mobbed wherever he
went. I think history has shown that he was ill-prepared for
his fame and its consequences. To be fair, few persons
probably are so prepared. His life ended in disgrace,
following the unspeakable ravages of Hitler and Nazism
which he had naively, but stubbornly, apologized for.

This, however, was only the modern beginning. The very
beginning, incidentally, might have been the opening of Erie
Canal in New York state in 1825. The ribbon cutting at the
canal's west end by the governor of New York was immediately
followed by a series of pre-arranged cannon shots fired along
the route of the Canal, and then along the Hudson River, to
New York City which by this method learned that the Canal
had been inaugurated a few hours earlier. By today’s standards,
of course, this speed is laughable, but in 1825, it was the fastest
long-range communication in world history to that point.

Radio, television, the internet, cell phones, 24/7 news have
made communications almost instant anywhere in the
world. The means exists with which to distribute news of
celebrities, their self-promotions, their pseudo-glamor and the
crimes and accidents which involve them are fodder for billions
on every continent and in every small village the world over.
The psychological bases for all of this are a subject for another
discussion, and by those who know the human psyche far better
than I do, but there will inevitably be more “Lucky Lindberghs, “
more celebrity crimes, accidents, narcissism, assassinations and
assorted media melodramas, in the years ahead.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Roll Up Those Sleeves!

Remember the government shutdown crisis?

You already barely do? Neither does anyone else. And if you
barely remember it now, by Christmas you won’t remember it
at all. That’s because there was no real crisis to begin with, and
secondly, because even if it had been as serious as some
politicians claimed it was, the public always moves on.

There will, of course, be another debt ceiling crisis soon
enough (because ALL the politicians kicked that issue only a
few weeks down the road), but the Republicans have (hopefully)
finally figured out they have neither the votes to change Obama
administration policy nor the communication skills (yet) to
exploit the high risk policies of the Democrats to promote
Obamacare, expanding federal entitlements, and federal deficit

So what is to be done?

If you’re a liberal and a Democrat, you want to pray (although so
many liberals are secular and perhaps no longer actually pray) that
the conservatives and the Republicans don’t figure out how to
deal with the situation until it’s too late (after the 2014 mid-term
elections, that is).

I am not so sure that such prayers or hopes by Democrats won’t
be fulfilled.

If you’re a conservative and Republican, it’s time to roll up your
sleeves and do the very hard work of preparing a national
campaign for 2014, acquire new communication skills, and go
to the voters with an alternative plan for the nation.

I am becoming increasingly skeptical that the opposition party
is capable of this, but I think it is quite possible nontheless
because of a number of reasons.

First, Obamacare (as I and so many others have predicted since
BEFORE it became law) is failing, and failing badly. Even the
Obama administration recognizes this, and is desperately attempting
to fix it. The U.S. house has consistently done its best to halt
Obamacare, but until the GOP takes control of the U.S. senate in
2014, and the White House in 2016, it will remain on the books.
Senator Ted Cruz and his cohorts have tried to stop it with political
guerrilla warfare, but that backfired. If Republicans try to revive
this strategy in the new year, they will only help their liberal
opponents prolong an unworkable law.

Second, there are smart voices on the conservative side who, if
the party pays attention to them, can enable the GOP to present
a credible and clear alternative to the social welfare ideology of
the liberal Democrats. These include, among others, Governor
Chris Christie of New Jersey, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin,
former Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana and his successor
Governor Mike Pence, Governor John Kasich and Senator Eric
Portman, both of Ohio, former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida,
former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and former Speaker
Newt Gingrich. There is actually quite a bit of talent on the
conservative side, including other members of Congress,
governors and public policy experts. No one of them has all the
answers, but taken together, a new alternative can be fashioned.

Third, a whole range of economic and foreign policies of the
current administration is failing. The voters are developing
Obama fatigue earlier than expected. Opinions are one thing,
and there are legitimate ones on all sides, but, as has been
pointed out so many, many times, there is only one set of
legitimate facts.

Rolling up one’s sleeves thus involves self-discipline (a more
effective opposition to Obamacare, etc.), integrating good and
shrewd political advice and ideas, and a bit of patience --- all
of this combined with the hard labor of going out to voters
and making a good case.

Mr. Cruz and his associates, however well-intentioned, wanted
to prevail on the cheap, i.e. with a few speeches, filibusters
and melodramatic events. Filled with a sense of being right,
they have confused sincerity with self-importance. It doesn’t
work that way in our republic.

The way it works is that one side goes to the country and
persuades a majority of voters that its cause is right.

That’s why democratic capitalism and the United States
are so “messy” in the short term, and so enduring in the
long term.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Go Win An Election!"

For once, I wholeheartedly agree with President Barack
Obana's political analysis. At a White House press
conference the other day, after the “showdown/debt ceiling”
crises were resolved by a congressional deal, he reportedly
said, “if you want to make changes in Washington, DC, go
win an election.”

Mr. Obama must have been reading The Prairie Editor
because that’s what I have been saying for many months
as various Republicans and conservatives have arisen like
acne pimples to advocate no-win political strategies to
reverse Obamacare and continued deficit spending.

Now I agree with the views of these conservative legislators
and public policy gurus that Obamacare and and raising
the debt ceiling are prescriptions for national disaster, but
instead of adolescent flare-ups and tantrums, I believe these
bad public policies can only be reversed by winning elections,
specifically the 2014 national mid-term elections and the 2016
presidential election.

Mr. Obama has been an amateur president, but he’s no
amateur at politics. He was able to win a U.S. senate seat
with little public policy background and minimal electoral
experience, and then was able to win the presidency with
less than a single term as senator. To make the point that
this was no accident, he won re-election as president when
his opposition thought he would be easy to beat. He has
continually outplayed and outfoxed his conservative
opposition in the national legislature, even though the
Republicans have controlled the U.S. house since January,

For once, Mr. Obama has shown his hand. He has revealed
why he does not compromise, and why he remains determined
to go forward with Obamacare and his “eurovision” of a social
welfare society for the United States.

He has won two presidential elections, and he has the votes
to block his opposition. In a rare moment of true candor, he
has revealed the only way to reverse him:

“Go win an election!”

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The "Sham" Is Over --- Until the Next Time!

With the signature of President Obama, the sham melodrama
of the government “shutdown” and the “debt ceiling crisis” is
officially over. You are allowed, then, to officially breathe a
sigh of relief. Everything, we are now told by the Old
(established) Media, is going to be o.k.

The problem with this scenario is that it wasn’t about real
public matters. The government was not “shut down,” and
the government was not going into default. Yes, there were
short-term consequences affecting a relatively small number
of persons, a few government services and some inconveniences.
President Obama, for example, to melodramatize the situation,
arbitrarily ordered national parks and public monument areas

The opposition, led by folks such as Republican Senator Ted
Cruz “stood up for principle,” but accomplished only the
diminishment of their party’s public image and the obvious
advance of their own personal ambitions. Speaker John Boehner,
who wanted to avoid this confrontation and understood that his
party did not have the votes to stop or delay Obamacare, faced
a revolt from his own members, and was unavoidably revealed
to be ineffective. He will not be replaced until 2015, but he has
been prematurely made into a lame duck by his own allies. No
“standing ovation” from his members will alter this.

Newt Gingrich called this a “sad day for America,” and he’s
right. The closing “deal” was made at the last minute without
any public input other than an hysterical stock market and the
portentous words of imminent doom by self-styled experts
who apparently didn’t read the Constitution, or know how
government really works.

Nothing was accomplished other than delaying the same kind
of confrontation until after Christmas.

The Old Media will now proclaim this a victory for the
Democrats, but if you are a serious liberal elected official,
you have little to celebrate. The issues of Obamacare and
public spending/deficits only get worse as time goes on. And
the time is going to be next year --- 2014 --- an election year!

Nor do Republicans have much to celebrate either. Their
party is now de facto leaderless, and once more revealed to
be inept in the ongoing contest of public opinion, a contest
which they lost in 2012, and could lose again in 2014.

I have been citing for a few years now the inability of the
member states of the European Union to face their problems
and take steps to resolve them. They have continually “kicked
the political can” down the road. President Obama’s desire to
imitate the worst of European public policy and practice has
now reached an apotheosis. (I’m surprised they didn’t give
him the Nobel Prize for economics this year.....)

Behind the scenes, some Democratic and Republican leaders
have been trying to end the self-destructive divide in the
country, but so far few of their efforts have borne political
fruit. I have stated over and over again that the next political
task is the 2014 national mid-term elections. All else is
self-aggrandizing rhetoric. The Republicans should have as
their focus winning back the U.S. senate. Democrats should be
concerned with taking back the U.S. house.

The voters should be concerned about ALL those who are
representing them in Washington, DC.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is History Entertainment?

I have been recently reading  a great many books about the
history of the past century, and I have come to what I think
is an astonishing conclusion, one that I hope does not
disappoint or deter my readers from reading about “history”
on their own.

That conclusion is that history is more entertainment than
we are taught it is supposed to be. Historians (that is, the best
of them) are intelligent and hardworking persons who feel
they are attempting to portray events of the past as accurately
as they can. Many historians, of course, have ideological and
political axes to grind, and the value of their work, although
sometimes filled with interesting and colorful anecdotes, is
of little value except to those who are seeking ideological and
political confirmation of their biases and predilections.

But many historians consider themselves to be relatively free
from biases, and sincerely seek to chronicle and interpret the
event of the past. Years of reading, however, have led me to the
realization that, however often the claim  by historians of
disinterest and no distortion, it is incredibly rare.

We speak of history as the narrative of events which have
passed, either recently or long ago, but there is also the
in-the-moment experience of living in and through what
becomes history, that is, the experience of events around us
and including us. This inherently contemporary experience
is always limited by the lack of full information about what
is taking place, the motives behind events, the deliberate
invisible and secret nature of daily life itself.

Most persons do intuitively accept the limited information
we have about the present, but there is an understandable
conclusion also shared by most that over time, that the facts
and secrets behind events will be revealed, and that historians
will be the ones to tell us what they are.

The "entertainment" of history should not connote mere
amusement. The great Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y
Gasset said in The Dehumanization of Art (1925) that
"When history is what it should be, it is an elaboration of cinema."

Let me be specific for a moment. I am reading a remarkable
book entitled “Armageddon: The Reality Behind The Distortions;
Myths, Lies, And Illusions of World War II”
by Clive Ponting.

Mr. Ponting was the Edward Snowden of his day in the U.K.
when he, as a senior civil servant, disclosed to a member of the
British parliament the true (and covered-up) facts behind the
sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano during the
Falklands War. He was prosecuted for disclosing state secrets,
but was acquitted by an English jury. As a result, the British
Secrets Act was tightened, and he would probably be convicted
today for the same act for which he was found innocent. Mr.
Ponting then left the U.K civil service, and wrote several books.
(Mr. Ponting is often labeled a "revisionist" historian by some.)
The sinking of the General Belgrano was similar to the sinking of
the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Viet Nam War
in that the public disclosures did not reveal the true facts. The
reader should not conclude from all of this that I am excusing or
praising Mr. Snowden whom I consider as someone who has
probably committed treason (his purpose was not primarily to
expose false facts, but to jeopardize national intelligence

I mention Mr. Ponting’s role in the Falklands War to emphasize
the themes in the many books he has written about British and
European history as a corrective to conventional wisdom, myths
and conclusions about recent events. I found his book on World
War II to be refreshing, reasonably fair, unusually factual, and
informative. I am  sure he has made some mistakes and
distortions of his own, but I found it not only expanded my
sense of what happened in the period immediately before I was
born, but it also reinforced my basic theme of this essay, which
is that virtually all of the discussions of history are subjective
and ultimately speculative.

There are “facts” in history, and over time we can have a
reasonable sense of what they were. Some of the individual and
more sensational events such as assassinations will probably
always have ambiguities about their perpetrators, but we do
know who “won” battles, who survived and who did not, who
triumphed and who surrendered in wars.

That there is a more or less permanent ambiguity in the truest
meaning and consequences of events an history, furthermore,
should not deter us from reading it, nor discussing it. History
remains, like great literature and other great art, a fascinating
pastime of human endeavor, and an entertainment. Reading
history is one way we pass through the time of our lives, and
one more way we find some meaning, each in our own way, in
what we think and what we do.

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Risk To Unacceptably High Risk

The current political risk taken by the Republican majority
in the U.S house in forcing a so-called “shut-down” of the
government becomes greatly, even unacceptably, magnified
later this month when a decision must be made about whether
or not to raise the national debt ceiling.

The reason is that while the essential government
services continue under a “shut down,” under a federal
default, some of these services may not continue, most
notably, the timely payment of social security checks, but
other essential services as well. Mr. Obama has already
shown a cynical willingness to stop services primarily
to make his opposition look bad.

As much as I oppose increasing the national debt ceiling,
the notion that the Republican-controlled house would refuse
to raise it now is clearly such a politically self-destructive act
that it would likely mortally wound the GOP’s opportunity to
win back the senate in 2014, and could even cause the
Republicans to lose control of the U.S. house, something that
would not ordinarily be easy to do.

This brings us back to the basic circumstance of the current
mood of confrontation which some in the conservative party
are so keen to embrace now. I have made the point for many
months that symbolic ideological acts can bear little benefit
(other than making some conservatives feel good), and might
cause devastating political harm.

The political truth of this moment is not complicated. It is,
in fact, quite simple, to wit: “Government policy cannot be
changed without political control.” It’s that simple.

Even the current “shut down” goal of the Republican
majority is only to delay Obamacare. It cannot be repealed
without majorities in both the U.S. house and senate, and a
conservative president in the White House.

I have argued that Obamacare should be allowed to be
implemented because its fundamental unsustainability will
be apparent from the outset. American voters will register
their opposition to it in 2014, as they did in 2010, in the midterm
elections. Obamacare is 100% the product of the Obama-Reid-
Pelosi Democrats. In 2014, Democratic candidates would have
to answer for their support of this unpopular and ill-conceived
legislation (and for many other ill-conceived new laws and

But if quixotic Republican attempts now to stop what cannot,
in the short-term, be stopped leads to a reversal of public
opinion about their party, the 2014 election will not be about
--- which it should be --- Obamacare and the bad polices of the

Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies have no motive to yield
on the debt ceiling issue. They hold the high cards for now,
but in 2014, the consequences of their policies almost certainly
will cause their trump cards to vanish.

Speaker Boehner should announce immediately that he and
his party have no desire to close the government down, as a
refusal to increase debt ceiling temporarily would do.

Conservatives who want to bring about change should take a
deep breath before undertaking a new and self-destructive
confrontation. Instead, they should roll up their sleeves,
continue to do the hard work of persuading voters to agree
with them, AND get those voters to the polls in November, 2014.

It’s that simple.

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Shut Down Or Slow Down?

The so-called government “shut down” is now in effect,
but as I have recently pointed out the government is not
at all “closed,” and only some non-essential federal
services are unavailable. The federal government has
been slowed down. (Perhaps something not entirely a
bad thing?)

Considering the hard line and rhetorical excess of
President Obama’s reaction to the Republican-controlled
U.S. house proposal to delay Obamacare (as a condition
for avoiding the “shut-down”), it would seem that the
Democratic national leadership is more worried about
the situation than they are letting on.

The presumption has been all along that an actual
“shut down” plays to the Democrats’ advantage. This is
based on what happened in 1995 when Bill Clinton was
president and Newt Gingrich was speaker of the house.
That impasse led to a brief “shut down” that helped the
Democrats (who won the public relations battle) in 1996.
It is also based on the fact that a Democrat is in the White
House (as was the case in 1995), and the sitting president
holds the “bully pulpit.”

Initial polls, in fact, are showing that early public opinion
slightly favors the liberal side.

But 2013 is not 1995. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton
(although the former president is cheering his successor on).

The challenge for Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans,
however, does remain in the battle for public opinion.

The medical healthcare reform known as Obamacare has
just formally begun, but it remains highly unpopular. As
predicted, the cost of health insurance for most adults, as a
result of Obamacare, is going way up, and the likelihood
it will be embraced nationally is low, in spite of the creation
of healthcare exchanges in many states.

In its latest form, the GOP legislation not only delays the
implementation of Obamacare, it cancels the highly unpopular
federal tax on the medical device industry, something which
many Democratic senators (from high tech states such as
Minnesota) strongly support.

Nevertheless, the Old (establishment) Media supports
Obamacare, and the reporting and commentary about the
“shut down” crisis has been largely favorable to the president
and the Democrats.

On the other hand, some GOP leaders appear to have learned
something from previous shutdowns and from the Obama
Democrats media tactics of the past few years.

Perhaps most notably, those GOP leaders include now-former
Speaker Gingrich whose public comments so far have urged
his party’s congressional members not to back down from the
stand they have taken unless there is significant compromise from
Mr. Obama and senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

It is President Obama’s unwillingness to compromise that is
becoming the major issue in this conflict. Unlike Mr. Clinton,
Mr. Obama has a tin ear in this stage of his presidency, a stage
in which he is not only increasingly a “lame duck” but also
sees his political amateurism and repetitive rhetoric reducing
his support in public opinion.

The initial news about  Obamacare implementation has been
steadily bad news, and public opinion not only is notably
unfavorable to it, it is understandably getting worse.

But the president still commands the news cycle, the Democrats
still control the U.S. senate, and the liberal “spin” machine is
still formidable.

The next several days will reveal where this “crisis” is going,
It is not a contest about substance. That battle is over.
Obamacare’s days are numbered. The struggle is now about
public opinion in the short term, and its consequences in the
medium-term for the 2014 midterm elections. That contest is

The American public has an important decision to make.

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