Saturday, March 17, 2018


I realize that most of my readers seek news and commentary
about domestic politics and public policy when they link to
this website. I think that most of them also expect occasional
posts about history, food and dining out, culture and the arts,
and even a few relevant personal stories from my life. I also
post reports and analyses about events outside the United
States, especially regarding global politics. The world is a
very big place, and with more than 200 sovereign nations,
there are obvious limits to what can be said usefully in a
short essay about foreign matters.

We Americans can be insular about the rest of the world
sometimes, and such indifference does not often work to our
benefit, nor does it contribute to a positive state of global
conditions. You don’t have to read spy thrillers or watch
disaster movie to know that life in the 21st century is full
of dangers from totalitarianism, terrorism, epidemics and
Nature’s assorted problematic vagaries.

There are global political disruptions now taking place,
and most of them began well before President Donald Trump
appeared on the international stage.

In particular, a ”mutiny of the masses” emerged in Europe
decades ago when a grass roots resistance began actively
opposing the attempt to transform the healthy economic
cooperation of the European Union into a single political
unit that would abolish the sovereign states created over the
previous millennium. In recent years, massive refugee
immigration poured into Europe from Turkey, the Middle
East and former colonies. This immigration was intended to
fill EU employment needs, but the refugee communities often
have not integrated themselves into their new host cultures,
and major local tensions have arisen.

The former Soviet Union peacefully disbanded in the early
1990s, and adapted to a more capitalistic and democratic
society ---albeit one reduced in size and population. More
recently, however, the Russian leadership has reasserted
some of its former aggressive and nationalistic behavior,
particularly directed at some of its former satellite nations.

With their huge populations (each now about 1.3 billion
persons) China and India are taking on an increasing
economic role in the world. China adopted many free
market economic strategies, but retained totalitarian
Marxist political rule. Now its former policy of changing
its leadership every ten years has been replaced by a
seemingly permanent one-man rule, and it continues to be
an aggressive player not only in Asia, but also in Africa and
South America. India’s primary conflicts are local, that is,
with Pakistan nd China, but its technological and economic
weight is now being noticed worldwide.

The Middle East, a seemingly perpetual “hot spot,”
continues to be unsettled, although some of the
relationships between its major player nations are now
going through rapid change as the hitherto universal
Arab conflict with Israel is now more complicated as Iran
as emerged as a regional power which threatens Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and several smaller Arab states.

South America’s chronic inability to escape its oligarchal
past, in spite of its tremendous resources, continues as
the major nations of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina remain
politically and/or economically unstable.

All of the above was happening before Donald Trump came
on the scene with his disruptions of U.S. domestic and
foreign policies. In particular, he has reversed most of the
more passive international policies of his predecessor Barack
Obama, and asserted a much more aggressive U.S. trade

Mr. Trump’s actions have therefore altered the strategies
on both side of the political chess board, and thus altered
many expectations of political, military and economic

The reader might agree with President Trump or disagree
with him. The reader might like or dislike what is taking
place now In Europe, Asia,  and South America. But
regardless of any of our opinions on these places and the
figures leading them, none of us, I think, has the luxury
of ignoring them.

There are no “distant” places on this planet of ours any more.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Election That Disappeared

The special U.S. house election in Pennsylvania just
held was, I believe, unique in the history of U.S. voting

No sooner were votes counted, the congressional district

To make this event even more ludicrous, the tally was a
virtual tie --- so that spinmeisters on both sides have
little that’s credible to spin the day after (although, of
course, they will try).

While this special election was taking place, the
Pennsylvania supreme court redrew the map of the
district. Neither of the Republican nor the Democratic
nominees lives in the district that will be on the ballot
next November, seven months from now.

There’s no point in having a recount, even if one is
merited, because by the time a recount takes place,
one or both candidates will be campaigning in another
district --- races they must file for with the filing
deadline looming in only one week.

To be competitive in this traditional Republican district,
Democrat Conor Lamb ran as a very conservative,
pro-life, pro-gun candidate who never criticized Donald
Trump (who had carried the district by 20 points in 2016).
This strategy might not sell successfully in the new
district Lamb is likely to run in. Reportedly, there are
more traditional liberals ready to run in the new
districts and who might defeat him in the upcoming
Democratic primary even before the November election.

The news story of this election will quickly be
overshadowed and replaced by some “real” news
orchestrated by the master media scene stealer --- and
you know who I mean!

There was a lot of hype, and a lot of money spent by both
sides, in this special election before it took place.

But now its story will be written in ink that almost instantly

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Soon Even To Guess?

The paradox of the 2018 election cycle is that the two
houses of Congress present such a different
opportunity for the two major parties to make gains.

In the U.S. house, which the Republicans control
241 to 194, there are about three times as many
incumbent GOP seats than Democratic seats rated
generally as competitive. The liberal party is therefore
hopeful not only to pick up net seats, but is counting
on a “blue” wave to bring them back into control.

In the U.S. senate, which the Republicans control now
51-49, twenty-five incumbent Democratic seats are up
this November, and only ten Republicans. Of these,
10-12 liberal seats are considered to be competitive
against only 3 conservative incumbents rated now as
vulnerable. The GOP is hopeful for several net
pick-ups, and that a “red” wave will give them a
veto-proof senate.

Historically, the party out-of-power (this cycle, the
Democrats) often makes big U.S. house gains in the
first mid-term elections of a new administration, and
gains in the U.S senate.

But 2018 could defy precedent, not only because of the
contrast in competitive seats in the two legislative
bodies, but also because the Trump presidency is so
politically disruptive and seems to break all the rules.

With more than seven months before election day, that
paradox is seemingly very much in play. Democrats
look strong in about three dozen GOP-incumbent  U.S.
house races (and GOP candidates strong in less than five
Democratic seats). In contrast, about six conservative
senate challengers are now appearing strong in serious
contests with Democratic incumbents. Only two GOP
seats appear similarly quite vulnerable.

However, since several senate party nominees have yet
to be chosen (in Wisconsin, Indiana and Montana, for
examples), and U.S. house redistricting in some large
states has taken place --- as well as the national
political mood being so unsettled --- the relative
partisan advantages exist now primarily only on paper.

Much could change over the next seven months.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seizing the
initiative (albeit in unorthodox ways) in trade,
immigration and national security issues, the stock
market is soaring, and unemployment sinks lower with
each new monthly report.

Preoccupation with gleaning political trends from
various recent special elections, and a few yet to take
place, enables melodramatic headlines and speculation,
but given the circumstances enumerated above, there is
little irrefutable evidence of what voters will think and do
on that still-distant Tuesday in November next.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Euroskeptic Italy

The national elections just held in Italy have turned out to
be an unexpected rout for that nation’s left political
establishment, and a clear rejection by Italian voters of
the status quo of European politics.

There were five major parties (and some smaller ones)
competing in this election, including the current ruling
center left party, an even more leftist party, a center
right party, and two populist parties on the right. The
center right party was led by former prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi who is attempting a political comeback,
but Berlusconi’s pro-Europe views did not help his party
which did poorer than expected. Two distinct populist
parties, Five Star, a party founded a few years ago as an
anti-establishment group on the right; and a more
nationalistic party, the anti-immigrant League, did better
than expected. Five Star was the party with most votes
(more than one-third of the total), and its leader Luigi di
Maio, 31, asserts he should be the next prime minister.
But the center-right coalition of three parties, including
Berlusconi’s party and the League, will actually have the
most seats in the new parliament, and this group is putting
forward League leader Matteo Salvino, 44, as the next
prime minister. This issue might not be decided for some

Although Five Star and the League are both euroskeptic,
and combined, received more than 50% of the vote, their
leaders so far indicate they are not ready to form a ruling
coalition .As happened recently in Spain, the current
government might be left in place, and new elections

It is difficult to draw exact parallels between the Italian
results and U.S. politics, but the strain of nationalism and
populism now active throughout European Union (EU)
nations can be connected to the blue collar “mutiny of
the masses” that upset the 2016 U.S. presidential election
and the victory of Donald Trump. More nationalistic
parties have not been successful in Germany, France and
The Netherlands until now --- although France’s new
president Emmanuel Macron, who defeated a French
right-wing challenge with his new centrist party, has now
initiated new and stringent immigration controls.
Immigration has been one of the major issues of
contemporary EU politics --- with nationalist populist
parties throughout the continent calling for limits and
controls on the recent flood of refugees to the EU
countries. More nationalistic anti-immigration parties
now rule in Austria, Hungary and Poland.

The Italian election will impact all of the EU, but
especially Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel
who has just won another term, but barely. She has
continued to champion unlimited immigration, but that
policy is facing increasing resistance throughout the EU.
The Italian election will also likely boost the effort of
Great Britain to leave the EU after its voters chose to do
so (Brexit). The Brexit negotiations, led by British Prime
Minister Theresa May, have not been going well recently,
but the Italian voters might have strengthened the
British hand.

European elites have done well in the long post-World
War II boom, and so apparently did most citizens. But
recent strains caused by immigration, high taxes, loss of
identity and sovereignty, and unemployment throughout
most of the EU have caused many European workers to
feel left out of the bounty and the decision-making. This
is at the core of the political unrest in Europe --- an
upheaval which apparently is far from running its course.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Hype, Omens And Errors

I think that a robust skepticism is useful, if not
necessary, in the early conversations about the
outcomes of the 2018 national mid-term elections.

It is especially valid in the current miasma of
media bias, so-called fake news, and an unusual
period of short-term volatility in the moods of a
great many voters.

The political cliche of this moment is to discuss
voter “intensity,” and many commentators have
concluded that the out-of-power Democratic voters
have the most intensity to go to the polls. Cited are
a few recent special elections at the local
and congressional level, and the historical rule that
the opposition party usually makes gains in the
first mid-term voting following a change in the
party that lives in the White House.

An upcoming special congressional election in
southwestern Pennsylvania is being given a build-up
and hype that it will be a harbinger of a Democratic
tide in November, one that returns control of the
U.S house to the liberal party. Friendly liberal media
will predictably conclude that whether or not the
Democratic candidate wins. But who is pointing out
that the district has been redrawn for November, and
that neither major party candidate lives in the new

In fact, Democrats could win back control of the U.S.
house this year, and it is possible that Republicans
could pick up 8-10 U.S. senate seats. But neither
scenario, I suggest, is portended by the omens of
special elections or current polling. Donald
Trump seems to break all the rules of traditional
politics. That could help him break the mid-term
curse, or it could lead to a Democratic landslide,

My counsel to readers is to be wary and skeptical of
politicians and pundits who make sweeping
predictions about 2018 and 2020.

This year, the political tide can turn on a Lincoln
penny or a Roosevelt dime. The future still depends
on small change and the wallet.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Jeremiads That Have Not Come To Pass

A jeremiad is not, as some might suppose, a disastrous event,
but it is a work of words that predicts disaster. It comes, of
course, from the biblical prophet Jeremiah who saw the
imminent fall of the kingdom of Judah. Soon after Jeremiah
made his prediction, Judah did fall in 587, B.C.

Since that time, self-proclaimed prophets and opportunists
have issued jeremiads to assert coming danger. Most of them,         
especially those who have announced the end of the world at
a date certain, were simply wrong --- to be charitable about it.
Usually, modern jeremiads are made with an ulterior motive.
Often, the false jeremiads are uttered just to get attention. On
other occasions, they are said to manipulate public opinion
to a moral or political course of action. Rarely, jeremiads did
come true, as in the case of the very few who saw Nazism,
World War II and the Holocaust coming long before it was
obvious. But most human-made disasters in history, like most
natural disasters, have been a surprise.

After the U.S. presidential election of 2016, a cascade of
jeremiads were issued by some surprised voters and those in
the media who did not even have pretenses of being prophets.

Among the predictions made then were those that asserted
Donald Trump could never be elected, and when he was, that
he could be prevented from taking office, and when he did
take the oath, he would soon be impeached, and when he
wasn’t, he would not run again in 2020. But the extreme
prognostications were not limited to the Trump personality.
Wars and financial collapses were also put forward.

To be fair, especially-ideological presidents of both parties
frequently provoke prophets of doom.  Franklin Roosevelt
and likewise Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama
each set off political jeremiads from some of their opponents,

Most jeremiads can be summed up in the four words I recall
seeing every time I went to the flea market in London at
Petticoat Lane --- a pseudo-Jeremiah in a white robe carrying
a sign which read: THE END IS NEAR!

But somehow we have survived the proclamations of doom.

The election of Donald Trump was so disruptive that it
produced a great many Jeremiahs wearing business suits and
designer dresses who now said and thought: “The end is now
truly near.”

Yet, fifteen months later, we are in a business boom with a
surging (albeit volatile) stock market, rising industrial
production, dramatically lower unemployment and
increasing economic optimism.

Of course, we live in a very provisional historical moment,
and disasters do occur, large and small, from time to time.
But the hysteria of pseudo-Jeremiahs forecasting imminent
disasters really can be tied to another biblical tale, the one
in the book of Jonah in which the prophet ended up in the
digestive system of a very large whale.

Now that was a fish story worth telling.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.