Saturday, April 26, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Newer World To Come?

I have previously written about my belief that World War I, now
about to mark its centenary, did not ever end. It did not end at
the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th
month in November, 1918 when an “armistice” was signed, nor
did it end with the ill-designed Versailles Treaty three years later.
When World War “II” supposedly began on September 30, 1939,
it was not a new war, nor was the so-called Cold War which
allegedly ended in 1990. The War on Terrorism, still in full force,
did not begin on September 11, 2001, nor did it begin a few years
earlier with a series of less dramatic incidents. The Korean War,
the Viet Nam War, The Persian Gulf War, and now the current
conflicts in Ukraine and Central Europe were not new bellicose
eruptions. Each and every one of them arose directly from the
unfinished “business” of World War I, an “accidental” conflict
set into motion by a chauffeur driving the heir to the throne of
Austro-Hungary, and who made a wrong turn in the streets of
downtown Sarajevo in Serbia to where a teen-age assassin had
mistakenly gone, and thought his chance to strike a blow for
his extremist views had been missed. History is full of these
“impossible” coincidences and mischief, and it is the enigmatic
tragedy of of our species in modern life that so much unspeakable
violence, death, destruction, self-immolation and, yes,
“inhumanity” can be set into motion by what seems to be trivial

But here we are in 2014, and we have not been able to shake off
or leave behind the consequences of that July day in 1914, and the
unexplainable futility of what the “statesmen” of Europe did in its
aftermath. (Some might persuasively argue that these "statesmen"
made Sarajevo incidental).

Nothing comes close in all of human history to the scale of waste
in human lives and property that has occurred in the past 100 years.

With more than 7 billion living persons today, and the complex
cities of settlement now created, the industries of human
enterprise and the unbelievable (by 1914 standards) technologies
in medicine, transportation, manufacture and information
transfer, however, we are quite capable in a matter of a few
moments, by our own hands, or by natural forces beyond our
control, or both, to make the catastrophes of 1914-to-2014
seem almost like nothing.

I want to suggest that we are imprisoned by modes of thinking
about the world that have been confined by a century of a world
at odds with itself, bound by a no longer useful vocabulary, and
conceptual forms which no longer work.

In 1914, and in 1939, and even in 2001, human catastrophe could
be somewhat geographically contained on our little planet. Our
follies could be at least temporarily repaired, our depravities
could be suppressed.  We always had a “newer world” to look
forward to, even if we kept repeating the practices of the old
world, especially a world so carelessly constructed after 1914.

Those who predict “doom” or “the end of the world” have
always been proven wrong, and I suspect will continue to be
proven wrong. But the time has come to put the “Hundred
Years War of 1914” behind us. We must break its loathsome
hold restraining  a “newer” world we have also been trying to
compose and inaugurate for the past 100 years.

Asteroids and microbes might challenge us; the sun’s fury
might incinerate us in an instant, other unpredictables in
nature might catch us unawares, but nothing is more futile for
our curious species than what harm we seem able to do ourselves.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


In 2007, I thought the best  Democratic candidate for president
was not Hillary Clinton, nor was it Barack Obama. After looking
over the possible serious candidates, I came to the conclusion
that Senator Mark Warner of Virginia would make the better
president than the other Democrats. He had been a very
successful businessman, and an excellent governor of Virginia.
He was a thoughtful liberal and a centrist, a good speaker, and
he had a fine grasp of the nation’s issues. He was, and is, the rare
Democrat who is a proven and successful executive.

For a variety of reasons he did not run. If he had, I’m not so sure
he would have won the nomination. In 2008, he instead ran for
U.S. senate in Virginia, and he won.

Since that time, Senator Warner has served his state well, but
he has perhaps disappointed some, myself included, who thought
he was destined for greater political heights. He voted less as
a centrist as he voted for Obamacare legislation and often
followed the Harry Reid line. Two newer senators, Joe Manchin
of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp, have emerged as the leading
and most independent senate centrists. At the same time, however,
Senator Warner became one of the few figures in either party in the
senate to advocate and practice bipartisanship. In 2013, he introduced
the Digital Transparency and Accountability Act which would
standardize reporting of federal spending on a single website, a major
step forward in government accountability.

Mark Warner is now 61 years old. He might continue to serve in
the senate for one or two more terms. He is favored to win in
2014, although he faces a serious and first-rate Republican
opponent in Ed Gillespie. It is not a good year for senate
Democrats, especially those who voted for Obamacare, but
Warner remains popular and probably would win. If he does run
and win, he will probably be in the senate minority in 2015.

I still think that, more than his potential Democratic rivals for
the 2016 nomination, however, he would make the better president.
This would be his last chance to make an historic mark in
American politics. As it stands now, he will be a footnote in the
senate, and soon forgotten.

He does have an alternative, however. If he chose to retire now
from the senate, he could wage a serious campaign against the
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. She does look
unbeatable now, but her star has already begun to fade and her
poll numbers are beginning to recede. She might not run. I’m
not saying he would defeat Mrs. Clinton if she does run, but if
she does not, Mr. Warner would instantly be a very formidable
candidate.  Although his national poll numbers are low now, he
does register on every current poll.

If Mark Warner runs for the U.S. senate this year, he will almost
certainly be asked if he will pledge to finish out his term.
Assuming he does run and wins, he would also not likely have
enough time to put together the organization and campaign he
would need to wage a successful presidential campaign.
Admittedly, Mr. Warner might have to make some hard political

The question is: What does Mark Warner want? He once made a
lot of money, then was elected governor and senator. He has a
good family and a good name.

That’s more than enough for most. Those who become president,
however, want more than just enough. They want to have some
positive impact on American history.

I once thought that Mark Warner wanted to do just that.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate --- Point Of No Return?

The political news about the 2014 U.S. senate races has
been consistent for months --- that is, bad news for
Democrats, especially incumbents who voted for
Obamacare legislation. I have reported and discussed
much of this, and have been amazed by the steady
degradation of the liberal brand in the senate that has
been accompanied by so little effort by Democratic
senate leaders and their vulnerable incumbents to
reverse this political trend.

What has emerged is a call for liberal candidates to
re-state and reinforce their votes on Obamacare, and
to endorse the administration’s whole liberal energy,
tax, education and foreign policies --- none of which
seem to be working very well. The latest, and perhaps
lamest, attempt to reverse their political fortunes has
Obama, Reid, Pelosi and various administration
spokespersons warning that it is only a matter of weeks
and a few months when Obamacare will suddenly be
perceived as a great success, i.e., “Woe to you Republicans
and conservatives (and centrist moderates) for doubting
this landmark change in American healthcare policy!”

At first, only the most vulnerable seats (those where the
incumbent Democrats retired), i.e. Montana, South Dakota
and West Virginia, were considered certain “takeovers.”

Then a second tier of seats (those in which incumbents
chose to run for re-election), i.e., Arkansas, Louisiana,
and Alaska, seemed headed for Democratic loss.

Subsequently and surprisingly, a third tier of senate
races seemed to point to Democratic loss, i.e., Iowa,
North Carolina and Michigan.

Now still another tier of incumbent Democrats, once
considered invulnerable, now appear to have tight races,
i.e., Colorado, New Hampshire, and Oregon, and cannot
be considered safe for the party which now controls the
U.S. senate.

Finally, and shockingly, there are three races that were once
thought iron-clad, Delaware, Minnesota and Virginia, which
although now comfortably leaning to the Democrats, could
become competitive, primarily because the Republicans
seemed to have found strong challengers, or because the
Obamacare debacle might become even worse.

On the Republican side there were also vulnerable
incumbents in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Tennessee and a vacated GOP seat in Georgia. But the races
in South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee are now less
likely to change to the Democrats, and the two remaining
vulnerable GOP seats remain the conservatives to lose.

The latest explanation of what will happen in November,
2014 from the Democrats is that the economy will be fully
recovering, the stock market booming and unemployment
will be down dramatically --- and these will offset Obamacare
problems, and rescue the party’s senate control.

It could happen that way, but there is so far no evidence other
than a very slowly  recovering economy. Wall Street appears
nervous that stocks are too high; and tax, regulatory and
environmental policies are doing little if anything to boost

President Obama has just delayed the Keystone oil pipeline
still one more (and unjustifiable) time, apparently to satisfy
some billionaire supporters --- thus giving Republicans
another strong issue.

I have learned from experience that political fortunes rarely
go for long periods in one direction, up or down, and that is
usually because political parties can diagnose their problems
and act to counter them. But we are now only six months from
election day, and that is often the borderline for how long
economic trends can begin to appear.

One pundit wrote a column showing that Democrats could
even gain senate seats in 2014, as they surprisingly did in 2012,
but that seemed more a technical op ed fantasy than anything
which is likely to happen.

In 2016, the advantage on senate incumbency shifts to the
Democrats. They might even lose control by a few seats in 2014,
but be likely to win back control in 2016. On the other hand,
if the GOP gains a net of 9 or more senate seats in 2014, and
their prospects for winning the presidency are good in 2016,
the hopes of Democrats to regain even partial control of
Congress might be lost for a very long time.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Our world is a very busy place. There are more than 7.3
billion persons now living in it. There are more than 200
sovereign nations with borders, and perhaps at least as
many areas within those borders which desire to break
away and form their own new nations. The surface
of the earth is a vast area covered by land and seas and
ice. Underneath the earth’s surface are many layers of
substances, many of which are very hot, that routinely
erupt. At all times, the climate of the earth and its
weather are changing, distributing clouds, winds, rain,
snow, heat and cold. From time to time, small objects
from space enter our atmosphere, and occasionally land
as meteors. All living things, as well, create in their
daily existence changes on the land and in the atmosphere.
Trillions of electrochemical transactions are taking place
virtually everywhere at every moment, night and day,
year in and year out. Our world is a very busy place.

Human beings superimpose a rational explanation and
description of as much of this as they can. In spite of the
age of our planet, and the age of human life on it, which
is measured in millions of years, so-called recorded
history is only about five thousand years old, and so-called
modern history is less than a thousand years old.

Before human recorded history, our ancestors lived in a
daily consciousness that noted natural patterns seen and
heard from the earth and the sky, in the seasons and the
nature of the geography where they lived. We now label
these ancestors as primitives. Their incipient cultures were
created not only from perceived natural patterns, but also
from their perceptions of irregularities, upheavals, and
unexplained phenomena.

One response  to the unexplained by many of these early
peoples and their first societies was, each in its own way,
to transform the unexplained into omens and divine signals.
Out of these came much of ritual, tradition, religions, and
finally “science.”

There is a curious reality about what we call modern science.
On the one hand, it works most of the time in a very practical
way. It was employed to create the industrial age. It enabled
human beings to fly (even to the moon and beyond), to extend
their lifetimes dramatically (including curing illnesses and
other pathologies), to create machines and devices which seem
to work amazingly (especially judged from the standards of
the past). On the other hand, science so far seems not to be an
absolute matter. Our most complex sciences, including
physics, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, chemistry, etc.,
always seem “unresolved” as our understanding of these
becomes more and more refined, and each frontier of our
perception of them presents inevitably still another frontier
and then another, sometimes even contradicting what was
perceived previously.

We still do not “know” the full structure of the atom, of the
universe, or even of the simple planet on which we live.

It is today considered superstitious to try to connect natural
omens to human events, although human beings have apparently
done this since the beginning of their time. We are now, of
course, very “sophisticated” because we have contrived
computers and “miraculous” forms of transportation, not
to mention weapons and other devices of demonstrably
immense power and force.

And yet it is curious that, at preliminary moments of great
historical transformation, there always seems to be a notable
confluence of omens and unexplained phenomena which
precede these transformative moments.

Of course, our worldwide “instant” communications have
heightened our awareness of unusual events. In the past,
all omens were local. Now they are global. Invention and
innovation, always a human trait, now occurs at dazzling
velocities. But as the ancient philosophies of the East remind
us, very few things are what they seem to be.

So how do the unusual weather patterns (both warm and cold),
the recent chains of earthquakes along many of the world’s
faults, the spate of droughts and floods, the appearances of new
and diseases and plagues, the extinctions of various species
(and the survival of others), the sudden intensities of human
nationalisms, religious activity, and the unprecedented large
number of human beings in the world connect to each other
(if at all)?

No one yet knows the answer to this question. But you don’t
have to be paying very close attention to daily news and events
to sense something curious and momentous is going on.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Those of my generation consider the word “resistance”
to be a domestic political term, usually applied to those
who opposed government policies from the left. Some of
my generation were once part of it, some disagreed. Of
those who were part of it, most went on to less radical
views, a few remained on the extreme edge of political
discourse. Today, that meaning of “resistance” has a
quaint and distant tone to it.

For the generation before us, the word “resistance” was
considered an heroic term, usually applied to those brave
European men and women who, at total risk of their lives,
fought invisibly against the unspeakable Nazi degradation
of the whole of Europe, and later opposed clandestinely
the oppression of Soviet communism during the Cold War.

Currently, the term “resistance” has lost much of its
serious cachet, and instead is applied domestically to the
mindless and superficial pseudo-efforts such as “Occupy
Wall Street” and its related ilk.

But the word “resistance” can also be more profoundly
applied to a timeless and natural aspect of human behavior,
the natural resistance to innovation and change.

In an age of unprecedented velocity of technological
change in the worldwide human experience, resistance is
a predictable fellow traveler to the initial awareness of
amazing inventions and scientific breakthroughs.

As matters stand now, individual human life duration will be
extended not only a few years every generation, or even a decade
or so (as in the recent past), but close to the limit our physical
bodies can accommodate --- certainly past 100 years of age.
Our abilities to communicate with each other, to travel to see
each other and the rest of the world, to understand the
stupendous complexities of the world we live in and the
worlds far beyond us --- each have a truly and temporary
numbing effect on our consciousnesses. In terms of behavior,
most of us, in varying degrees, resist the new as we perceive
and less consciously, attempt to translate and integrate its
impact on what we do, how we think, and what we believe.

This is a very big subject, and much of it is beyond my own
understanding, so I want to concentrate here on “political”
transformation, particularly American political transformation
in the near future. We have many “wise” men and women,
high tech “gurus” and savvy writers who have been discussing
innovation and transformation in very recent years, but almost
no political figures.

Part of the reason virtually all innovation is resisted is that the
status quo includes many forces which stand to “lose” from
new technology and new thinking. In American political life,
this is intensely true, especially in today’s highly partisan
atmosphere. One of the most interesting new concepts now
being introduced to the whole range of government bureaucracy
is the notion of “transparency,” that is, the ability using the
internet to view almost instantly the conduct of how tax money
is spent, and government programs applied, at the local, state
and national level. The technology exists, but the application is
being resisted at all levels by bureaucracies either jealous of their
“invisible” power or, in some cases, their corruption taking place
outside public view.

One of the very few American political figures who is talking
about innovation, and talking about it outside a partisan context,
is Newt Gingrich. He is speaking about it, writing books about it,
and promoting it. He has even publicly lauded liberal Democrats
(such as the lieutenant governor of California Gavin Newsom)
who are doing the same.

But, as in the case of transparency, it’s tough going with the
general public and the established interests. This, however, is
as it always is. We should be neither surprised not disappointed.
It is inevitable impulse of human resistance at work.

The other side of resistance is the speed with which it is
overcome when the resistance evaporates. I used the word
“evaporates” because the transformation is almost always sudden
rather  gradual --- resistance does not slowly melt, it quickly
evaporates. (Think of how rapidly the internet has transformed
modern life.)

I do not know exactly when the technology that will enable
virtually total transparency of American public life will take
over from the past, but it’s only a matter of time. And when it
does come, everyone will ask “How did we live without it?”
and “Why did we live without it?”

The same is true of all the innovations Gingrich, Newsom and all
the prophets of the future are now trying to tell us about. It might
be in time for the 2016 elections, or it might be a few years later.
Young politicians in both parties might well take note now,
however. History always treats the future more kindly than the
past, and however slow it might be, the same is true of the

Those who are fixed on the orthodoxies of liberal vs. conservative,
Democrat vs. Republican, class warfare, religious conflicts, etc.,
will sometime soon feel like the person  today whose only
communication is by a landline telephone, watches network TV,
and writes on a typewriter.

[In full disclosure, I know personally some of those whose work
I mention above. I do not think that prevents me from discussing
the principles of human innovation, but my readers can judge
for themselves how useful and accurate my observations are.]

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 3, 2014


The problem with those self-styled idealists in both
national parties who want to limit the increasing volume
of money in U.S. elections is that they could not, and
cannot, devise legislation which would accomplish their

As we have seen, following the passage of McCain-Feingold,
the so-called “special interests” always find legal ways to
get around the law’s restrictions. Furthermore, the U.S.
supreme court continually has ruled that contributing
financially to a federal political campaign is a form of free
speech, and can be limited only when there is a clear and
present risk of abuse.

Behind most of the rhetoric about money in politics is a
game of seeking partisan advantage. Liberals denounce and
condemn affluent Americans and corporations for trying
“to buy” elections. Conservatives denounce and condemn
labor unions for trying to do the same.

The historical fact is that money has played a role in American
elections from almost the outset of the Republic. It is fair to say
that special interest groups once did have an unfair advantage
in promoting their candidates and causes. But the 20th century
brought much more of an equilibrium to the financial aspect of
elections, especially after 1936, and today both parties each
have ample numbers of rich donors and large organizations
participating in financing their election campaigns.

One of the most ludicrous and demonstrably false assumptions
made these days, usually promoted by liberals and Democrats,
is that rich persons and corporations are uniformly conservative
and Republican. In fact, most of the “new rich” are liberals and
Democrats. A new study shows that most of the millionaires in
Congress are Democrats. Some of the richest Americans, many
of them billionaires, give exclusively to Democrats and liberal
causes. One hundred years ago, it was true, “big” business and
corporate moguls were almost entirely Republicans, but that has
long ceased to be so. Today, many of America’s richest citizens
and largest corporations create a liberal public image about
their politics, and routinely choose to support “progressive”
and left-leaning candidates over conservative ones. They respond,
furthermore, to politically-correct pressure from the left much
more often than to conservative interests and principles.

Liberals like to single out such individuals as the Koch brothers
(who contribute to conservative candidates and causes), but
conveniently fail to mention George Soros, the Rockefeller family
and many of the newly-created billionaires of the high tech
industry (who contribute only to liberal candidates and causes).

In short, the discussion about money in politics has become a
shell game devoid of honest debate.

The bottom line is that money does not buy most competitive
elections because good candidates from both parties either have
enough resources of their own, or can raise them from their party’s
supporters. Character, personality and ideology still matter more
in most elections.

Rich liberals and conservatives should be able to contribute to
the candidates and causes of their choice. Yes, unions should be
able to contribute to candidates who support their interests, and
both liberal and conservative organizations should be able to assist
those who share their political views.

If there is an unfair advantage in elections today, it might be more
likely found with those incumbents of both parties who remain
in office long after they make their most useful public contributions.

That is a genuine political issue that neither party today is prepared
to debate.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.