Monday, November 28, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Loudest Noise Ever Heard On Earth

The loudest noise ever heard on earth did not come from a rock
music group, nor from a bomb exploding. It happened one
morning in August, 1883 in a part of the world thousands of miles
from the U.S. and Canada, and even thousands of miles more
from the then-dominant economic and military powers of the
world, all located in Europe.

That was 133 years ago, and although the intervening 20th
century held historic disasters, terrors, inventions, discoveries
and holocausts, there has really not been anything like it since.

It not only was the singular natural disaster of modern times,
it provided noteworthy turning points in modern political and
technological history.

No one now alive was alive when it happened, and there were
no recordings, films, videos, smart phone photos , or even selfies
of it, and perhaps most amazing, very few persons today know
anything about it.

Believe it or not, it could happen again.

Let’s start with the facts.

We now know the center of the earth is made of very hot molten
material. We know that hot center is surrounded by a thick belt of
rock-like material which, for the most part, keeps the molten
material, from reaching the surface of the earth, either on the
ocean floor or the planet’s land surface. But there are exceptions.

The earth is covered with geologic “plates” at the top of the
rock-like belt containing the molten center. These plates, under
pressure from the hot center are in constant, but very slow, motion,
and on occasion collide with each other along “fault” lines. The
movement of the plates and the faults is very, very slow, but also
results in huge pressures that, from time to time, are relieved by
land or sea earthquakes or through volcano explosions. There are,
in fact, thousands of small earthquakes taking place every year,
and numerous “active’ volcanoes spewing out steam and/or lava.
Scientists have learned much about all of this over the past
century, and have created some very sophisticated devices and
equipment not only to detect earthquakes and volcanic activity,
but also to try to predict them before they happen. Every year
or so, we observe major seismic events whose natural power is
measured by a Richter scale formula. Seismic events above about
5.5 on this scale are not only widely felt, they can cause major
damage, and injury especially above the 6.5 level. Each decimal on
this scale represents double the energy produced by a seismic event.
Thus, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale has ten
times the power and energy of a similar event that measures 7.0.
Seismic prediction, however, so far cannot be more than guesswork,
and probabilities of when new earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
will occur are expressed in decades or longer.

There were two major eruptions of the volcano on the island of
Krakatoa in 1883, and although the second one was by far the
largest, and the one known best in history, the first one made some
special history of its own.

The small island of Krakatoa is located in the Sunda Straits, a few
miles to the west of today’s Indonesian large island of Java. Java is
part of a group of geologic islands that then was then known as the
Dutch East Indies, and was located between Australia and the Asian
mainland that included French Indochina, Burma and Malaysia.
The great nearby British and Portuguese colonial port cities of
Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau were then in their heyday. The
Dutch had begun to colonize this group of islands in the early 17th
century, and had been cruel and exploitive masters  of the mostly
Islamic native population. On Java was located the colonial capital
of Batavia (now Jakarta) where the the Dutch governor general
ruled in the name of the Dutch king.

On Sunday, May 20, 1883, residents in the area nearby the small
island of Krakatoa first became aware that its volcano was
becoming active. A tall thin plume of white smoke arose from the
peak of its 2500-foot cone-shaped mountain, as ash and pumice
filled the air and settled on everything in its path. By May 23rd,
word reached the nearby colonial capital where recently installed
transoceanic telegraph cable ( a recent invention) was connected to
a Lloyd’s of London insurance agency office. At about 3:40 p.m.
that afternoon the telegraph operator sent a message about the
eruption at Krakatoa to London where it was received a few hours
later. In the next day’s edition (May 24) of the London Times
appeared a 19-word article:

Volcanic Eruption. Lloyd’s Agent in Batavia, under date 
of May 23rd, telegraphs “Strong Volcanic Eruption. 
Krakatowa Island, Sunda Straits.”

Thus, began humanity’s first real-time global communications
on the planet Earth, something which the whole world takes for
granted today, and which in its latest form includes satellite
television transmission and the internet. If you will, it was
civilization’s first true sense of globalization. Fascination with
the volcanic eruption in the little South Pacific island instantly
went, in today’s terms, viral. This worldwide interest was, it
should also be noted, eagerly promoted by the only international
news establishment of that time, Reuter news service.

But Krakatoa soon went silent, with only a small continuing
white plume rising in the sky to indicate that beneath its surface
something was still going on. In Java and nearby islands all went
back to normal. The world, and the neighborhood, soon lost

Until Monday, August 27, 1883 at 10:02 a.m.

Twenty hours and fifty-six minutes earlier, on a warm and sunny
Sunday afternoon, the first explosions at Krakatoa were heard,
and they continued throughout the night with smoke, pumice and
volcanic fire increasingly filling up the sky and sending huge waves
into the Straits.

But at precisely 10:02 a.m. there occurred something never before
recorded or experienced by modern human beings, a noise so
violent and loud that it was actually heard thousands of miles
away. This climaxing explosion utterly destroyed the entire land
mass of the island and the volcano, and sent it in billions of dust
particles for miles into the air, and then around the world. The
blast changed global climate for years. The resulting two
gigantic sea waves or tsunamis did most of the human damage,
killing most of the 36.417 fatalities and all of the 165 villages
destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were injured, and probably
millions were displaced. On the island of Rodriguez, 2968 miles
from Krakatoa, the explosion was heard. To this day, it remains
“the longest distance ever known between the place where
unamplified and electrically unenhanced natural sound was
heard and the place where the same sound originated.” A popular
science writer of that time explained to his readers what that
meant  --- someone in Philadelphia hearing a sound in real time
that originated in San Francisco.

The volcano of Krakatoa disappeared from view, but it did not
go away. Over the past thirteen decades, it has continued to be
active under the sea, and, in fact, has created a new Krakatoa
island with another cone-shaped small mountain, Since the 1883
eruption, seismologists has learned a great deal about the
ever-changing geology of the earth, the tectonic plates which
cover it on land and under the sea, and  much more scientific
understanding of earthquakes volcanoes and tsunamis.

There were also political consequences from Krakatoa. Simon
Winchester, author of Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded
(HarperCollins, 2003), points out that  Krakatoa helped inspire
one of the first Islamic fundamentalist anti-Western movements
in modern times, a movement partly provoked by a local cleric’s
earlier prophecy that a volcano would erupt, and partly by a
then-small group of radical Islamic figures in Saudi Arabia who
used the eruption as an opportunity to incite terror against the
Dutch in southeast Asia. The Dutch army suppressed this
movement at the time, but Indonesia gained its independence in
1949, and is today the largest Moslem nation on earth (total
population of 260 million). It still lies on major Pacific Ocean
fault lines, and a new Arak Krakatoa island still sends up a thin
cloud of white steam into the air.

(Winchester’s excellent book is recommended for those who 
want to learn more about the details of the Krakatoa event.)
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: For The Time Being, A Republican Nation, But......

The nation, after the 2016 elections, is now overwhelmingly
a Republican governed country at the state and national
levels. If there is any ambiguity about this, it is at the U.S.
supreme court, where there is a very temporary tie between
liberals and conservatives. This tie, and the direction of the
lower federal courts, however, will soon lean to the right as
the new president has promised to name conservative judges
for the next four years.

The U.S. house and senate, most governorships and state
legislatures are now in Republican hands, and appear likely to
remain so for some time. Only in large U.S. cities (and a few
states) are there islands of dominant liberal political control,
and these are, or have, urban centers facing continuing high
unemployment, growing crime, and rapidly increasing local
taxes to pay for fixing decaying infrastructure and expanding
public services.

Only eight years ago, it was almost the opposite. Then,
President-elect Barack Obama could look forward to a
Democratic Congress, many more Democratic governors and
state legislatures, and the eventual prospect of naming three
(and seating two) members to the supreme court --- and lots of
liberal judges to the lower federal courts. Books were written
smugly predicting an endless era of Democratic and liberal
majorities and control by “progressive” governments.

The first major domestic reform act of this liberal hegemony
(and it turned out, also its last) was the Affordable Care Act, also
known as Obamacare. But instead of the traditional ritual of
negotiation and compromise with the political opposition to
ensure widespread acceptance of a major reform, the new
president and his congressional leadership allies chose to push
the legislation through without even reading their own fine print.
It was an enormous mistake, and the opposition to Obamacare
did not ever go away. In the mid-term elections of 2010 and 2014,
the conservative opposition made large gains, and although
Mr. Obama won re-election in 2012, his party did not regain
domestic control as the federal government settled into
stalemate. As foretold even before its enactment, Obamacare
crashed and burned just before the election, and contributed
notably to the Democrats’ 2016 defeats.

At the same time, numerous conservative state governors and
legislatures took over and seized the agenda for domestic
reform. Their local successes stood in powerful contrast to the
stalemate in the nation’s capital.

Only through executive orders and unending new federal
regulations was the liberal Obama administration able to hold
any grasp on U.S. domestic policy, but these acts were also
very unpopular and contributed further to a growing antipathy
to progressive government and its philosophy.

This historic ideological failure and its brevity should be a
cautionary tale to the new president, his administration and the
Congress. No matter how right conservatives believe their cause
is, and how successful they are confident their policies will be,
there is no substitute for building and maintaining strong and
enduring grass roots support. The careful construction of this
support will require negotiation and consultation not only with
the opposition party, but within the conservative coalition itself.
This coalition finally came together for the 2016 elections, but
as we all now know, it could easily come apart when the hard
work of governing takes place after the election.

Speaking of cautions, the Democrats, now reeling from their
historic defeat, seem poised to choose a radical member of
Congress to lead their party. I suggest they take a hard look at
what happened when their equivalent British party, Labour,
chose a radical member of parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, to lead
them. Labour subsequently saw themselves marginalized in
British politics as the new leadership advocated unpopular
policies and measures that most British voters simply could not
accept. For the Democrats to marginalize themselves now, at a
moment when they are weakest, seems to be more suicidal than

There are no permanent conditions in the politics of a democratic
republic, Today’s victories can, and often do, lead to tomorrow’s
defeats. Rhetoric and ideology are easy matters when compared
to the hard work of actually governing. At the beginning of a new
era, and the end of another, both sides might well profit from
thinking themselves carefully through what they will do next.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Media In Tantrums

Many in the establishment media, having got 2016 wrong,
now are indulging themselves in an orgy of preemptive
rationalization of what happened on November 8, 2016. It
reminds me of a children’s temper tantrums.

Among their proclamations, they are contending that the polls
were not wrong, that the 2016 results are not a political
realignment, and everyone but the nominee herself was
responsible for Hillary Clinton’s epic loss.They have also
promoted a campaign of false information to attack one of
the new president’s first appointees.

As one of the few national journalists who got 2016 mostly
right, I have some contrary views to these assertions.

In early 2015, I wrote that then-presumptive Democratic
nominee Clinton was a poor candidate and a potential disaster.
I suggested that after two terms of President Obama, the U.S.
electorate was inclined to elect a Republican. Later in 2015,
however, I did not see either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump
emerging in their nomination contests, and only after Mr. Trump
kept upsetting predictions in early 2016, did I realize that he
would be nominated and could even win the presidency. I then
put forward the notion of a “mutiny of the masses” as the
explanation of Mr. Trump’s rise. These “left-out” Americans,
many (but not all) of them blue collar workers,  including
previously secure Democratic voters, were rising up against
the political establishments of both parties. In the face of an
unprecedented intrusion of bias into news reporting about the
presidential contest, I suggested that there was a “media coup
” Thanks to frequent citations by Newt Gingrich and
others, this went viral over the internet and the national news
radio and TV networks.

Now, in the aftermath of this extraordinary election, many of
those who got it wrong, I think, continue to misread the results.

I say again most polls were wrong. In some cases, they were
very wrong, but in other cases their final numbers were “within
the margin of error” so their apologists are claiming that they
were, in fact, accurate. I make this point: polls are not facts;
they are indications of what is going to happen. It was based on
these polls that most pundits predicted a Clinton victory. The
fact that they were “within the so-called margin of error” does
not take them off the hook. In 2012, most final polls indicated
that Mitt Romney was going to win. He lost. Most polls indicated
(many albeit within the margin of error) that Brexit would fail.
If polls give the wrong signal, and the public is led to  the wrong
conclusion because of that signal, then I suggest the polls were
wrong. No complicated arguments about margins of error and
mathematical nuances can fix this fact. Why were they wrong?
They were wrong because most of the polls made incorrect
assumptions about who would turn out to vote in their arbitrary
“weighing” of the raw polls results. Those few polls which got
the results right were regarded by most pundits as “outliers”
and likely wrong because they did not “weigh” their data as
the polling establishment did. It turns out that the outliers were
notably more accurate in 2016.

There was a small group of us who suggested that the polls
were wrong because the “mutineers” --- alienated from the
political and polling establishments --- were not being accurately
measured. Just before the election , a number of pundits
confidently predicted these “silent” voters did not exist, or if
they did, there were as many of them who would vote for Mrs.
Clinton as would vote for Mr. Trump. Notably, liberal pollster
Nate Silver commented uneasily just before the election that he
saw an unusually large number of “undecided” voters in the
final polls, but he concluded that Mrs. Clinton would likely win
anyway. To his credit, Silver forcefully rejected those polls which
gave Mrs. Clinton a huge margin, but in the end he proposed
three possible outcomes --- Clinton winning by a landslide,
Clinton winning by a smaller margin or Trump winning by a
narrow margin. Those, of course, were obvious outcomes, but
Silver opted for Clinton as his last call, and thus did not repeat his
success in 2012.

The New York Times, one of the charter members of the media
coup d’etat, has now more or less apologized through its
publisher, and promises to do better next time. (Let’s see if that
promise is any more reliable than those made by most
politicians.)  Most of the other major media outlets have not yet
even indirectly and publicly owned up to their improper news
coverage of the campaign, but readers and audiences already
know they got it wrong. I have stressed that editorial journalists
did nothing improper since they were understood to be expressing
their opinions and not offering news, Nonetheless, several
prominent op ed writers on both the left and the right went
overboard in their denunciations of the man who is now the
president-elect. Let’s see if they now give Donald Trump a fair

Beware of any more smug conclusions from pundits, especially
those who got 2016 wrong. In 2020 they might be right again, but
it won’t happen by interpreting 2016 wrong after the fact as much
as they did before the fact.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate En Route To 2018

The Republican U.S. senate majority has survived a very
potentially vulnerable election in which they risked 24
incumbent seats to the 9 risked by the Democrats. Although
their 54-46 majority was reduced to 52-48, they win on
any tie vote since Vice President-elect Mike Pence will now
also serve as the presiding figure of the senate with the power
to cast the deciding vote should there be any such ties.

The most sobering prospect for the Democrats, however, is
that in the next mid-term elections, in 2018, the circumstances
of 2016 will be reversed --- with 25 incumbent Democratic
senate seats at risk, and only 8 GOP seats.

Of course, any speculation now about individual races in 2018
is premature, since it is likely that there will be incumbents in
both parties who will retire. Furthermore, the dimensions of
any Republican pick-up of current Democratic seats will
depend in large part on the performance of the incoming
Trump administration in its first two years. Historically, it
should be noted that two recent successful presidencies,
those of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, suffered setbacks
in their first two years.

Nevertheless, (without retirements) a first glance at the 2018
races indicates that about a dozen Democratic senate seats
are likely vulnerable, including those in North Dakota,
Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana,
Missouri, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Washington and
Wisconsin. (Eight of these states were carried by Mr. Trump
in 2016.) Of the eight GOP seats up in 2018, only two (Nevada
and Arizona) seem initially at risk.

Should Mr. Trump be successful in his first two years, and
the Republicans continue to recruit outstanding challengers
(as they did in 2014), the Democrats risk occupying less than
the 40 seats they would need to block conservative

As I noted, it is quite early in the 2018 campaign, and only one
incumbent (in Missouri) has formally announced her intention
to run for re-election. But any liberal senators plans to block
the initial efforts of President Trump and the conservative
majorities of both houses of Congress have to be sobered by
the risk that their efforts would be perceived by voters two
years from now as obstructionist and prolonging stalemate.

At the same time, these GOP majorities will need to produce
reform and results. The voters, as only one example, clearly
signaled they want Obamacare repealed (AND replaced with a
better system). If internal squabbles prevent the new
administration and new Congress from delivering on their
promises, it is clear that voters will not shrink from
expressing themselves again with their ultimate veto power
in 2018.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Close But Epic Victory

It was a true political upset which will almost certainly have
a large impact on U.S. politics for some time to come, but its
shock to most (but not all) political observers, should not turn
any heads from realizing it was also a very close presidential
election in 2016.

The very fact that the losing presidential nominee narrowly
won the popular vote, and that the vote margins in several
states that went finally to the winning candidate were small,
underlines this caution.

On the other hand, the close election does not presuppose that
President-elect Donald Trump does not now have what is often
called a “mandate” to keep his promises, and for the
Republican Party, now in control of both the executive and
legislative branches of the federal government (and most state
governments as well) not to enact bold legislation and policies
to try to reverse the decline of the nation. In fact, the very
closeness of the vote compels the conservative party to act
boldly and quickly, because if it does not do so, and promptly, it
would be relatively easy for the liberal party to recover in 2020.

Promises were made, and voters expect the promises to be kept.
The so-called first 100 days in 2017 are as critical in many ways
as they were beginning in March, 1933 when a newly-inaugurated
President Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress acted
with so much resolve that an economic disaster (and probably an
actual revolution) was averted. Confidence in government was
restored then. Mistakes were made, and then revised, but the
voters who had fired President Herbert Hoover were not
disappointed or made to feel they had been fooled by political
rhetoric. The Republican Party of 1933 then lurched into reaction,
and leaderless, went into decades of political decline.

The early reaction so far from Democrats echoes some of this.
If defeat provokes the liberal party further to the left, as the
Labour Party did recently in Great Britain after its defeat by
the Conservative Party, they will marginalize themselves for
years. If the Bernie Sanders wing of the party takes over, with a
radical party leader, this is likely to happen. (Many forget that
in 2005, the Democratic Party turned to Howard Dean, who had
failed to win its 2004 presidential nomination, and who --- to the
surprise of many --- pragmatically put the party back on its feet,
and set the stage for its recovery in 2008.)

The suspense of the presidential campaign is now over. The
suspense of how the new president will form and conduct his
government in partnership with the two houses of Congress
which his party controls has begun.

When Jimmy Carter came into the White House in 1977 as a
fresh face, there was much hope for a new political era, but he
failed to act promptly and to work with the Congress. It was his
successor, Ronald Reagan who did and created a realignment.
President George W. Bush was bogged down by foreign wars,
but his successor thumbed his nose to Congress and failed to
satisfy even his own base of voters, and this has led to Donald

It will be interesting to observe what Mr. Trump, not known to
be a student of history, will do now. He was dismissed as a
political neophyte, but he pulled off one of the great political
upsets in U.S. history, so perhaps being a reader of history
is not as necessary as other qualities for a new president.

In any event, we will find out soon enough whether this is the
onset of a new political era or just another political hiccup.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mutiny Succeeded; The Coup Failed

The Prairie Editor brought two phrases into the 2016
presidential election. The first was the “mutiny of the
the second was a “media coup d’etat.” I was
correct about both of them, but neither of these phrases
was more than a diagnostic until the election was actually

Now we know that the mutiny succeeded, and the coup failed.

I did not endorse Donald Trump in print, nor did I, at the
outset of the 2016 campaign cycle, think he could be
nominated, much less win the presidency. But later in the
primary/caucus season, after Mr. Trump kept winning in
spite of widespread exclamations that he could not, I realized
that he was connecting to an authentic phenomenon, that is,
a profound mutiny among many voters who had reached their
limit of tolerance for the political and media establishments
on both ideological sides. I did not waver in this diagnosis, but
not until the final days of the campaign did I realize that the
mutiny would succeed.

At the same time, I became alarmed at what I perceived as an
irresponsible pattern in my own profession of journalism, that
is, what I considered an unacceptable bias in both major print
and broadcast news reporting for one presidential nominee
over another. I did not criticize editorial or opinion writers and
broadcasters, but I did perceive the news reporting side of
much (but not all) of the U.S. media was exceeding its proper
role and attempting to predetermine the election outcome.
It was, in effect, I thought, a media coup d’etat.

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United
States should be no cause for gloating by those who supported
him, nor for those who, like myself, sympathetically explained
and analyzed his candidacy. As I wrote in my election eve post
on this website, the next president faces enormous challenges
and obstacles, and now President-elect Trump must work
quickly to begin to deal with the problems and crises which
will surely come ahead.

The mutiny of the masses, in spite of having succeeded in the
election of Mr. Trump, is not concluded. He and the U.S.
Congress, now controlled by his party, must respond to the
legitimate grievances of the mutineers. Mr. Trump’s election
has been a shock to the system, and hopefully a catalyst for
transformation of a worn out system of ways to do the
public business. Government transparency is now an
immediate requirement. Failure to provide it will only provoke
another mutiny.

The media establishment, both on the left and the right, need
to take a hard look at how they perform their roles in a free
country. They have, for the time being, lost much of the
confidence many Americans have historically put in them,
especially the expectation that news reporting would have
fairness and balance. Print, radio and TV editorial journalists
should continue to express their opinions freely, but the media
establishments need to recognize that, in the phrase I have
consistently used, “The front page is not the editorial page.”
Only when this is observed will the American public
confidence in the establishment media be restored.

President-elect Trump and his incoming administration will
face a problematic world, domestic and foreign, when they
take office on January 20 next. Their brief celebration of
hard-earned victory is understandable, and Mr. Trump’s
historic achievement needs to be acknowledged. But now
comes the difficult part.

The voters have had their say. Now it’s time for action and

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Election Day, 2016

In a few hours, the polls will close across the nation, and the
tumultuous and unanticipated 2016 presidential campaign
will be concluded, a new Congress will be elected, and
several state legislatures and governorships decided.

It has been quite a ride.

I have not endorsed any candidate for president to this
point, and in the spirit of not presuming to tell my readers
how they should vote, I will not do so now. Nor will I reveal
which candidate I am personally going to vote for.

What I will say is that I am going to mark my ballot much
less for a personality, and more for a candidate’s party, what
it stands for, and whether it will advance the ideas, principles
and values that I believe in. I think such an approach might
be useful for any voter whether they are liberal, conservative
or centrist.

Whoever wins this election day will face obstacles and
challenges few new presidents have ever encountered. In
1933, Franklin Roosevelt entered the White House in the very
midst of an historic economic crisis which required, literally,
immediate attention. The crisis facing the nation today is
considerably less visible, but no less dire. In 1933, it was
primarily an economic catastrophe which had appeared. In
2017, the perilous circumstances of a transforming economy,
domestic and global, are accompanied by unprecedented
technological change, threats of terror, a dangerously weaker
U.S. military, a widespread failing educational system, a
looming crisis in American healthcare, and many more 
serious issues. No matter who becomes president, he or she
will face the inevitable loss of half the full-time jobs in the
nation (due to robotics) within the next decade or two --- with
no now known source of jobs to fill the resulting employment

The United States has survived and flourished by continually
reinventing itself politically, socially and economically. Doing
this has enabled us to make it through 228 years, and to become
the world’s most successful large nation, as well as the protector
of other, and smaller, representative democracies which face
natural and human-made threats.

We have reinvented ourselves with innovation and the practice
of liberty for two centuries, and now we must do it once again.
If we do not, the alternative is the unthinkable, but possible. 

That is what truly is at stake when the votes of more than a
hundred million Americans are counted on November 8, 2016.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Special Advisory