Thursday, December 19, 2013


Before and after the fact, each and all of us are subjected
to the opinions of “experts,” “authorities,” “mavens,”
“esteemed academicians.” and other assorted know-it-alls
on virtually every topic under our proverbial sun.

As we head into another next year, and following several of
them in which the know-it-alls have been particularly
wrong or considerably off-the-mark, I want to take the
opportunity to restate (perhaps to some) a painful observation:
to wit, virtually all the “confident” conclusions about the
future, and especially by the know-it-alls, are nothing more
than guessing.


That does not mean that some of the guesses won’t be correct.
Some of them will be. And a few folks will have, in any given
year, a higher percentage of “good” guesses compared with
their  “bad” guesses.

But they will be only guesses.

Of course, there are some subjects where certain actions will
almost always produce certain results. If you smoke lots of
cigarettes every day or drink lots of alcohol every day, you will
very, very likely eventually get very, very sick. If you jump off
a 30-storey building, you almost certainly will not survive. And
so on. But I am not speaking of these kinds of circumstances.

I am speaking of the countless other kinds of circumstances we
face every day in the economy, politics, international affairs,
the stock market, professional and amateur sports events, the
weather, buying clothes, and the like.

Just before the new year, and without any kind of partisan tilt,
I wanted to restate this simple fact of life:

No matter how many credentials, college degrees, testimonials,
past histories, and other qualifications, it’s all guesswork about
the future.

As I get older, I am also coming to the conclusion that most
observations about the past, incredible as it might seem, are also
guesswork. History seems to change with every retelling.

Rather than be disheartened, disillusioned or disappointed by
this, I think the incessant and inevitable guessing potentially
enables each of us to enjoy life more in the present, especially
knowing that it is our own guesses that might mean the most to
each of us.

Happy Next Year to everyone!

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Changing Warfare: No Sanctuary

One conclusion that can be obtained from reading about
the actual warfare in World Wars I and II, and then about
the much briefer military experiences in the Persian Gulf,
Afghan and Iraqi wars, is that the nature of these immense
physical and violent confrontations has changed with
astonishing velocity. The battles of 1914-18 now seem primitive
and thoughtless, and it is startling how little intelligence was
available to all sides as World War II began.

In the latter war, of course, the Allied side soon gained a
significant advantage by acquiring the Axis side’s secret
Enigma (German) and Purple (Japanese) codes. In spite of
the Gestapo’s and other Axis spy groups’ ruthless reputations,
their intelligence efforts, with a few and occasional exceptions,
were generally spotty or poor. As the German dictator
complained during the planning of “Operation Sea Lion”
(the invasion of England) to his top generals, “We are separated
from our enemy (Great Britain) by a ditch only 32 kilometers
wide, and yet we have very little information about what they’re

Likewise, on both sides, Axis fifth column efforts against the
Allies, and resistance efforts in the Axis-controlled European
continent, were much more limited than the spate of  romantic
and often exaggerated accounts and novels which appeared after
the war, and continue to do so in the present day.

Life in Britain during the threatened German invasion, including
the blitz, was frightening and dangerous. Life in occupied Europe
was even more so. (The courage of many who lived through these
events, however, probably cannot be exaggerated or diminished.)

Until late 1944, the U.S., heavily embarked on its own Manhattan
Project, had virtually no idea of the state of the German atomic
bomb efforts (they had been abandoned in 1941). The German
army did not know, until it had begun, where the Allied armies
were landing in France on D-Day in 1944. The German
leadership greatly underestimated the Soviet Union’s industrial
capacity after initial Axis successes in 1941-42.

At the outset of the Korean War, the U.S. misjudged the
Communist Chinese willingness to cross into North Korea,
and the Chinese subsequently did not calculate that the
United Nations forces against them could recover and return
the battle lines to the 38th parallel.

The U.S. misjudged the tenacity of the Viet Cong guerrilla
army in Viet Nam, and failed to put up sufficient forces to
overcome its enemy.

The atomic bomb brought World War II to an end, thankfully
prematurely (although hindsight critics of President Truman’s
order continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence that the
Japanese military was prepared to fight on after 1945, even if
their mainland were invaded, and were willing to sacrifice
millions of their own people’s lives as well as the lives of Allied

Since that time, military technology has advanced
logarithmically and frighteningly with its capacity to harm
civilian as well military targets. Above ground, it seems there
are few secrets anymore, and the nature of intelligence
gathering, the ingenious novels of the “alcoholic” James Bond
notwithstanding, has been fundamentally altered with computers,
infrared detectors and cameras, and many other devices now
doing most of the spy work.

The current outcry about U.S. government surveillance, while
perhaps justified in NSA overreach and abuse of the rights of
American citizens, is basically a national misunderstanding of
the new conditions of global intelligence gathering, The
experience of September 11, 2001 should have made most
Americans aware that there are no longer any “rules” generally
accepted in warfare in our time.

Nazi assaults on European civilians, not to mention their
unspeakable role in the Holocaust, were a shock to the
“civilized” Western world (still recovering from the traumas
of chemical warfare and the mindless waste of troops on both
sides in World War I). Although the U.S. and its allies won the
recent “military” confrontations of the Persian Gulf, Afghan
and Iraqi wars, their aftermaths are quite problematic, The
“enemy” in these confrontations did not simply surrender and
dissolve, as they had almost always done in the past.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons, actual use of new chemical
and biological weapons, and the testing of high-altitude
electromagnetic pulse devices indicate that human loss of
life and disaster can be obtained in hostile conflict on a much
greater scale than ever before in history, perhaps even putting
at mortal risk the human race itself.

Juxtaposed with the incredible advances in peace time pursuits
and humane interests of technology, including the mapping and
use of human genome DNA, sophisticated robotics, transportation
innovation, megacomputer capabilities, and so much else, it is
rather clear that the nature of daily life is about to include, much
more than even the recent past, unsettling new conditions,
anxieties and risks, and (hopefully) beneficial possibilities.

There will probably be no place to hide.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR; A "Deal" Is Not An Abstraction

The Ryan-Murray negotiation between the Democratic
majority U.S. senate representative and the Republican
majority U.S. house representative has produced a “deal”
that would end until 2015 the chronic and bitter
confrontations between the two major parties in
Congress over the U.S. budget.

Its details, clearly a compromise between the contrasting
goals and ideologies of the two major political parties
has been immediately greeted with denouncement and
scorn by various groups and individuals on both the
left and the right as a betrayal of principles.

There was even some question whether the opponents to
the “deal” would prevail in preventing its passage, so
loud and cantankerous were the criticisms of it.

But the U.S. house, with the outspoken support of
Republican Speaker John Boehner, has overwhelmingly
passed the “deal” and sent it on to the U.S. senate.
If it passes in that body, President Obama has said he
will sign it.

Everyone, including its designers, concedes that the “deal”
is not what they fully want. That should tell us that
probably the agreement is truly a genuine compromise,
something incidentally that the national Capitol and the
nation have not seen in the budget process for a very long

Of course the “deal” won’t be satisfactory to ideological
advocates and partisans of their political party’s stated
platform and legislative policies.  Ideologies and party
platforms are abstractions. They are “pure” in their
verbal forms and “ideal” in their goals. Over time, it is
true, good ideas and policies often do become laws, but even
then they are constructed from compromises and “deals.”

A recent exception to this fact of political life was the
passage of the “Affordable Care Act” (also known as
Obamacare)  which saw no true competitive hearings in
the Congress, and which took 2500 pages to be written,
most of which which were not even read or "proofed"
by the members of Congress who voted for it. Not even
one Republican in either the house or senate voted for it.
This legislation, now being implemented, has so far been
the most disastrous and ludicrous congressional action
in recent national history, is immensely unpopular among
voters, and could be on track to being repealed.

It has been a model for how NOT to conduct the legislative

For some time, there has been a lament, at an increasing
vocal pitch, that the laws and processes of the national
government are being advanced without genuine
discussion and compromise.  This lament began with
Democrats complaining during the administration of
President George W. Bush, and then continued even more
loudly by Republicans during the present administration of
President Barack H. Obama.

The national economy, reeling from years of high
unemployment, deficit federal spending, higher taxes and
more federal regulations, has observed the Congress to
seem to be unable to take actions to relieve the nation's
problems and restore the economy.

As the national midterm elections approach in 2014,
leaders of both parties know that voters are quickly
running out of patience with congressional stalemate and
inaction. As 2006 and 2010 demonstrated, voters will
abruptly turn out of power majority parties who do not
and cannot produce good results.

In spite of the ludicrous bluster of Nancy Pelosi and
Harry Reid, Democrats knew that further insistence on
their radical policies, with a conservative U.S. house
unwilling to go along, was self-defeating. In spite of the
"selfie" antics of Ted Cruz and his cohorts, Republicans
knew that further insistence on “pure” conservative policies,
with a liberal U.S. senate unwilling to allow it, was likewise

Thus we had a “deal.” Its details reveal concessions on
both sides. No new taxes, the end of overextending
unemployment benefits, restoration of much necessary
defense spending will please most conservatives. A higher
deficit from more immediate federal spending, ending
some sequester cuts, and no cuts in entitlements will
please most liberals. Each side will not be pleased by
what pleases the other side.

Each party and its candidates will now go to the country
and try to win a majority in each body of Congress.

No one is saying it’s a good “deal.” But I am saying that
a “real deal” is a good thing.

For the time being.

Let the voters now decide whether they want to go
more to what the conservatives want or more to what
the liberals want.

Let the complainers go on complaining. It’s still a free
country. Let the challengers go on challenging, not only
those in the other party, but even in their own party if
they wish. The voters will sort it out.

I’m betting that the voters will go with the grown-ups
this time.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Curious Unintended Consequence?

When the new administration pushed through its healthcare
reform in 2009-10, I did not agree with it, but I did understand
that from the president down to the leadership of the U.S.
house and senate, they believed they were bringing important
and necessary change to the American healthcare system.

The 2010 national midterm elections were, in part, a plebiscite
on this reform (usually referred to as Obamacare). I knew my
own opposition was shared by many Americans, and I openly
predicted in late 2009 that here would be a political wave
against the Democrats, primarily driven by voter unhappiness
with Obamacare.

The electoral wave did happen in 2010, and with Obamacare
implementation ahead, Republicans looked forward to the
presidential election in 2012, and Democrats viewed their
prospects with some trepidation.

The Democrats then took two actions, one very smart and
effective, and the other very risky. The former was to
organize President Obama’s re-election brilliantly, and
with focus on getting out their voter base to support the
president. The latter was to leave the Obamacare legislation
untouched, and set to go into effect in 2013. In that case,
they made, in my opinion, a very vital error.

With the real-life consequences of the Obamacare legislation
not yet realized by most Americans, and with their own
presidential candidate seemingly compromised by his own
healthcare reform in Massachusetts when he was governor,
Republicans  and many observers (myself included) deluded
themselves to think that 2012 would be a repeat of 2010
without a presentation of an alternative vision of government
beyond the usual conservative slogans.

When Mr. Obama won re-election, albeit by a relatively
narrow margin, he and his congressional colleague interpreted
it as their reform being somehow accepted by the public, polls
indicating the opposite notwithstanding, and furthermore,
they were tempted to believe they had created an historical
legacy, thus concluding they were right after all.

The current circumstances of a disastrous “roll-out” of
Obamacare are being likewise interpreted by them as only a
temporary glitch, and that when the system is properly “up and
running,” the nation will embrace it while their opponents will
be proven wrong.

As I have repeatedly stated, along with my criticisms,
Obamacare has some positive features and necessary changes.
But I have also stated that the overall system is inherently
flawed and unsustainable over time. There is no question that
some Americans will clearly benefit from Obamacare, and these
examples are now being trotted out and publicized to gain
support for the legislation. The basic flaw, however, is that the
system requires all Americans, young and old (until they reach
the age for Medicare) to participate. To pay for the benefits
of the few, the rest must subsidize them with dramatically
higher healthcare costs and reduced benefits. That means no
waivers, no exceptions, and no pay-a-penalty to opt out. Even
with “total” participation, there is no cap on costs over time,
with the likely result that healthcare insurance (while
“universal”) can and likely will go up to unacceptable rates
and diminished benefits in relatively quick order.

Furthermore, in order to try to control increasing costs,
Obamacare would inevitably lead to coercion  that would
either virtually "outlaw" the U.S. medical profession or have
healthcare in America conducted without sufficient physicians
and other trained medical personnel.

It is not the first time that politicians have buried their heads
in the political sand. Leaders of both parties have done this
with some regularity throughout the nation’s history.

In desperation, the Obama administration has tried to bring
about some unilateral (i.e., outside the provisions of their
authority in the legislation) delays and exceptions, including
putting off some of the most troublesome provisions until
2015 or later. Even if they could legally do this (the U.S.
supreme court will soon decide if they can), it only moves
the problems to just before the 2016 presidential election.
This, it would seem, is taking “political deja vu all over
again” to an ultimate form of electoral self-destruction.

The proponents of Obamacare did pass their legislation,
and the president signed it. Unlike almost any other major
U.S. legislation, not a single member of the opposition
party voted for it. Now that it is dramatically failing,
vulnerable Democrats are abandoning their once-solid
support for Obamacare. Others are holding on, hoping that
“computer glitches” were the only problem, and that the
system will not only work, but be redeemed.

There is a way out of the impending policy and political
disaster, but that would require the Democrats to reverse
field and abandon the legislation as it is now constituted.
They were not wrong to want to reform healthcare, and I
don’t buy the notion by some on the right that proponents
on the left did not intend to do what they felt was best for
the country. But the president and his congressional
colleagues decided to enact their legislation without
compromise and without any support from their
opposition. Republicans are not entirely blameless on
this, but Obamacare ultimately is not their responsibility.

If it seems unrealstic for me to suggest that the Democrats
reverse field on Obamacare, I point out that the
equivalent of this is what President Bill Clinton did after
his re-election in 1996. I also recall that his second term
ended more successfully than most second terms.

Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid apparently are
determined to see Obamacare through more or less as
it stands. They feel they have fulfilled an historical

There is an obstacle to their legacy, however. It is the
electorate in 2014.

If Mr. Romney had been elected in 2012, it would have
obviously made Republicans feel better in the short term,
but there is no certainty, partisan appointments, cabinet
policies, and regulations aside, that he would have solved
the fundamental problems of the nation subsequently,
nor that he and his congressional colleagues could have
repealed Obamacare. Nor was Mr. Obama’s re-election
in itself a prescription for political disaster. As every
second-term president, Mr. Obama had choices to make
and actions to take, especially at the beginning of his
new term, that could have a positive result.

George W. Bush ran into a political brick wall with his
priorities and choices after 2005, particularly in the
economy. In different circumstances and very different
choices, Mr. Obama appears to be going down a path
that will, unintended, likewise result in frustration,
disappointment and the eventual defeat of his party
at the polls.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Confusing The Future With The Past?

As my readers know, I write a great deal about political
change. This is not always just in terms of the political
parties, nor limited to existing contemporary ideologies.

Even as I attempt to understand the current forces of
international politics, I am simultaneously trying to do the
same in terms of domestic U.S. politics. Before continuing
a discussion I recently have begun about the former, I would
like to begin a new one about the latter.

I believe there is little doubt that American national politics
is going through the throes of another pivotal transformation
of its voter decision-making. Conventional wisdom has the
contending forces to be Republicans vs. Democrats, and
conservatives vs. liberals. I have also always paid attention
to those voters who consider themselves independents or
centrists. These latter voters are not much in journalistic
fashion today, as so much discussion is about the “polarity”
of voters to the left and the right, and because so many
elected officials who hold varying degrees of centrist views
are increasingly wary of self-identifying themselves as such.
Not only that, we can observe objectively that many such
persons in the U.S. house and senate have recently been
defeated either for re-nomination and re-election as the
so-called polarity to the left and the right continues to

Throughout American history there have erupted, and
then subsided, third parties, but in spite of some short-term
influence of these parties, they have not becoming national
institutions. The U.S. is a majoritarian nation and society,
and although this sometimes provokes tensions and
problems, majoritarianism is inherently a feature of our
American republic.

Behind this discussion of polarity are certain commonplace
assumptions. Some leading advocates on the left call
themselves “progressives,” and believe that the U.S. is
moving, and should continue to move, to the redistribution
of wealth, imposed forms of equality, and an increased role
of government in the private lives and choices of American
citizens. Some leading advocates on the right believe that
the time has come, not only to halt the current drift to the
left in national politics, but to restore the nation to many
previously-held views about the most controversial issues
of the day, including immigration, healthcare, taxation,
government spending, education and the status of family

The polarity suggested by the above does not frequently bear
much resemblance to the aspirations and beliefs, stated and
unstated, of many other Americans. But this polarity has been
taken up by the media and academia in such a way that often
shuts out a larger and more innovative discussion on both the
left and the right.

As much as an outspoken few might wish it, the U.S. is not
going to welcome a socialist (redistributionalist), or even a
European social welfare, state. This “progressive” view is in
a bit of a fashion just now, but every two and four years the
American voter expresses his or her view on these matters,
and fashions by definition do not last long.

At the same time, there is a view held by some on the right
that we can go back to the way it was in terms of immigration
policy, health care, education and family life. The world,
whether you are on the left or the right, is always changing,
and so must politics.

On the left, there are many articles trumpeted by “experts”
that federal deficit spending, taxing the rich, abolishing the
traditional family unit and status quo education systems
are the way of the future. I do not think any of these are

On the right,  there are many articles trumpeted by “experts”
that we can ignore the consequences of past immigration
policies, and even “expel” millions of persons now living in
the U.S. There are advocates, as well, of returning the family
unit and its relationships to what they were in the past by
some (unstated) form of imposition, that taxation can be
virtually eliminated, and that the government has no role
at all in regulating and enforcing public health and education.
These, too, are not truly sustainable.

Meanwhile, discussions of what would be workable,
sustainable, and, dare I say it, even advisable are almost
non-existent in the Old Media and by most in the current
leadership of both parties.

It cannot go on this way without consequences,
consequences, I might add, I don’t think most Americans
on the left or the right would welcome if they actually came
to pass.

I lamented the fact, in discussing international affairs,
that we have Neville Chamberlains today, but no Churchills.
Alas, on domestic policy today we have many on the far left
and the far right shouting down the useful national
conversations, but too few voices of the kind who really
changed our country, and made it the political light of the

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Power In The World - Past, Present and Future

Before we can assess the dynamics of international matters
of economy, and of war and peace, both in the present and in
the imaginable future, it would be useful to know who are the
meaningful players, who might they be, and what do we know
about those who, in the immediate past, were major parties in
the events which have occurred in the past century.

One hundred years ago, the major military powers were
Great Britain, France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia,
the Turkish empire, and (only coming into its own) the
United States of America. China was in a chaotic
pre-revolutionary state; Japan had surprisingly defeated
Russia in their 1904 war, but was isolated; and although
Argentina had the 9th largest economy in the world in 1900,
it was absent from the world stage. Brazil and India, two
nations whose populations and economies would grow
enormously in the next ten decades were in post-colonial
or (in India’s case) still a colony of a world power. The
Persian empire was a force of the distant past, although oil
had been recently been discovered on its lands.

The above powers, many of them still ruled by self-involved
autocrats, managed to stumble their way into a colossal world
war in 1914, set off because a chauffeur took a wrong turn on
a downtown Sarajevo street and his royal passengers were
shot by a lone anarchist assassin who happened to be on the
spot. Such are the vagaries of history, that the immense
violence and suffering of a whole ensuing century could be
ignited by such a small accidental mistake. It might be argued,
of course, that World War I would have eventually happened
anyway. There was already in place not only an arms race
between several of these powers, but also even more critically,
a pathology of naked territorial and economic expansionism,
a rabid spirit of militarism, blatant religious intolerance and
rivalry, and a scandalously historic misappreciation of the
intrinsic value of the tens and hundreds of millions of persons
who made up the individual nations of that time.

One hundred years later, the world’s major military and
economic power, the United States of America, is being
challenged and checked by a new set of aspiring powers.
Great Britain and France are no longer major powers, although
each have a sizable army and nuclear weapons. Europe, as the
European Union, is a world economic and military power,
but does not easily act in a unified manner. Turkey, now a
smaller secular republic, is only a regional and unstable player.
Russia has gone from a despoiled autocracy to a Marxist
dictatorship, and then to a nominal republic. Russia has played
a significant role in both world wars, and was the antagonist in
the ensuing Cold War. Although its territory and population has
now been drastically reduced, its natural resources and natural
ambitions, and its renewing military forces, have again made it
a major power. China, following the world wars, became a
Marxist dictatorship with a huge population. When the socialist
model failed, as it did in the Marxist Soviet Union, the current
regime has adopted a modified capitalist economic model. It has
military and economic resources which, while not yet matching
the U.S. and other western powers, make it a major player in
Asia and on the world stage. Ancient Persia has become modern
Iran with a society more advanced than most other Middle
Eastern states, but controlled by a fundamentalist Islamic
leadership that is hostile to Europe, the U.S. and those Asian
nations influenced by the West. Its nuclear (and other) ambitions
are currently at the center of major international dispute.

Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and India’s
population at 1.1 billion matches China, but its fledgling
capitalist economy, complicated with its perennial conflicts
with neighboring Pakistan, prevent it from playing a more
suitable global role at the present time. Other nations hold
large populations (Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico),
 others possess nuclear weapons, and still others contain
undeveloped resources which might dramatically increase
their power in the world in the future.

Indeed, if the size of potential economic markets come to define
“power” in the century to come, India, Brazil, Indonesia and
Nigeria might well  be world powers in a later era.

Reconfigurations of Europe, in the Middle East, central Africa,
South America and in the Pacific Rim, now unanticipated,
could also emerge as unified world powers. It might be of
interest to speculate about some of these, but I think a more
pressing need is to understand the endlessly changing dynamics
of the present time when population size is not nearly as
important as national and regional ambitions, strategic location
and level of industrial (and military) development.

These latter conditions, and those who are the major players
with them, are of more urgent interest. The experiences of the
recent past, and its major powers, should be instructive, but as
the human species now walks through contemporary time with
all of its promising and stunning technologies, its atavistic
depravities, and the intrusive vagaries of Mother Nature, we
just might need to be prepared for much more than our history
has so far has led us to believe lies ahead,

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is It "Obamacare, Stupid!" Or "Time For A Woman President" in 2016?

As the 2012 presidential campaign began to form seriously
in 2011, some conservatives suggested that the by-then
commonplace slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” would be
replaced by a new slogan “It’s Obamacare, stupid!” as the
emblematic theme of the Republican attempt to replace
the president, then in his first term, the next year.

It was based, quite understandably, on the performance of
the 2010 mid-term elections when the Republicans  regained
control of the U.S. house with a pick-up of 60-plus seats,
and a significant pick-up of U.S senate seats, primarily due
to negative voter reaction to the just-passed medical care
reform law known as Obamacare. Republicans, it should be
remembered, became increasingly confident that they could
win the 2012 presidential election, and they nominated
someone who, because of his support of a comparable program
when he was governor of a northeastern state, was going to
have a difficult time making Obamacare a dispositive issue.
Mitt Romney had other political problems, to be sure, and
the election was close, but the GOP slogan did not materialize
as the difference.

Going into the 2014 mid-term elections, Obamacare is once
again driving voters away from Democratic candidates. In
fact, it is potentially more serious than in 2010 because the
legislation is now being implemented --- with disastrous early

I am suggesting that a focus on Obamacare by Republicans
beyond 2014 is a very bad strategy. The reasons are simple.
If voter dissatisfaction with the legislation does resonate in
the 2014 elections, it will be repealed or dramatically altered
whether or not President Obama agrees to it. Members of
Congress of his own party, having seen the writing on the
electoral wall of 2014, will vote to override any veto. It will be
a matter of political survival, and Mr. Obama will be a very
lame duck. If, somehow, Obamacare miraculously succeeds
suddenly in 2014, including getting by its inaugural technical
glitches, and its implementation is not put off until 2015,
there will obviously no issue. In either case, Obamacare will
cease to confront voters after 2015.

At the same time, Democrats are developing, as their prime
slogan for 2016, “It’s time for a woman president!” This, of
course, presupposes that the current Democratic frontrunner,
Hillary Clinton, is their nominee. There are two problems
with this slogan-as-strategy. First, in spite of her huge lead in
current polls, the election is almost three years away. Mrs.
Clinton enjoyed a similar “insurmountable” lead in 2005, and
three years later, she came up short when Mr. Obama won
the party nod. Second, and perhaps more important, relying
on an abstraction, albeit a sympathetic one, is a very risky
strategy, and not ultimately complimentary to Mrs. Clinton’s

I happen to believe it IS time for a woman (from either party)
to be elected president, but I certainly would not want to vote
for a woman primarily because of her sex. The nation leads
outstanding leadership, now more than ever, and the only true
major consideration should be a vote for the best person, either
liberal or conservative, to serve in the nation’s highest office. It
was theoretically time for a Catholic to be president in 1928
when Al Smith was the Democratic nominee, but it did not
happen until 1960 when John Kennedy was elected. It was time
to have a Jew on the national ticket in 2000 when Joe Lieberman
was the Democratic vice presidential nominee, but he did not
win. Jesse Jackson ran twice for president, and many said that
Republican Colin Powell could have won if he ran, but it was
Barack Obama who was the first black president.

Today, notably more women already vote Democratic, and
notably more men vote Republican. It is illusory to think that
primarily just because she is a woman, Mrs. Clinton will win
in 2016.  Nor will her “resume” alone give her victory. 
American voters historically don’t vote for “resumes,”
including most recently in 2008. If she is her party’s nominee,
Mrs. Clinton will have to give voters very good reasons to vote
for her, especially after two terms of a president of her own
party, the inevitable Obama-fatigue that will exist in 2016, and
despite her own many controversies, personal and political.

It is, of course, a long time until 2016. In addition to the 2014
elections, many events, most of them unanticipated, will occur.
Hillary Clinton could indeed be elected president in 2016, but
I suspect the main reason will not be simply that she is a
woman. (What if, for example, the GOP nominee chooses the
talented New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez as his running
mate?) A Republican might indeed be elected president in 2016,
but I suspect the reason will not be only voter dissatisfaction with

Slogans, or other short rationales, do not often win national
elections. Long before it was verbalized by the Bill Clinton
campaign, the “economy” was almost always was the major
factor in a presidential election.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Future Potpourri

The new year approaches, and the usual (brief) quiet news
time has arrived. The world, however, seethes with activity,
change and uncertainty. Here is a potpourri of news stories
gestating to the new year ahead:

Having declared a flying zone over disputed
territories with Japan, the U.S. air force has ignored
a “requirement” that the planes of other nations
register with Chinese authorities. Japan has likewise
said it will ignore the “declaration.” A Ukrainian
ship refashioned into a primitive “aircraft carrier” for
the Chinese navy is also cruising around the Pacific,
presumably for self-congratulatory public relations
on TV back in China. At the same time, when the huge
typhoon disaster hit the Philippines, China only sent a
tiny donation for relief while many other nations
poured in food, other supplies, medicine and
personnel. The new Chinese leadership apparently
has not formulated a lucid foreign policy.


A six-month arrangement intended to slow down
Iranian development of nuclear weaponry capability
has been signed over the protest of Israel, Saudi Arabia
and other Middle East nations not allied with Tehran.
Ignoring its long-time Israeli ally, the U.S., led by President
Obama, is apparently rearranging relationships in the
region. Very few observers expect Iran to keep its end of
the “deal” in which it has received some relief of the
economic blockade from which it has been reeling. By
executive order, Mr. Obama also released about $8 billion
in Iranian assets seized previously by the U.S. Some
unintended consequences, however, are bringing Israel into
potential cooperation with “enemy” Saudi Arabia, as already
exists between the Jewish state and the new military regime
in Egypt (another former ally of the U.S. apparently being
abandoned by the Obama administration). Turkish ambitions
combined with the ongoing Syrian civil war,  as well as
emerging Kurdish assertions, should make the Middle East
region quite eventful in 2014.

Website and computer sign-up “roll-outs” were, and continue
to be, a public relations disaster. Assuming that these technical
problems will be “fixed” by early next year, the program itself
faces inherent economic contradictions as reactions from
insurees, drug companies, hospitals, physicians and other 
institutions could threaten the sustainability of the legislation.
Beyond that, the political aftermath already is signaling a
negative election “wave” against the national Democratic
Party which pushed the legislation through. Their plan has
not ever enjoyed  public popularity. Almost overnight, and
following a government shutdown forced by the Republicans
(which caused GOP prospects in 2014 to fade), incumbent
Democratic senators thought to be “safe” for re-election are
seen as suddenly vulnerable in polls. Initial conservative
hopes that its party could pick up 6-7 senate seats, were
subsequently scaled back to 2-3, but now that the focus in on
Obamacare, the number of pick-ups could reach 10-12 seats.
(Recent polls in Colorado [Udall] and Virginia [Warner] are
signaling the dimensions of the potential disaster for the
Democrats at the polls in 2014.)


The impact of this likely will alter the American previous
dependency on Middle Eastern, Venezuelan and Mexican
supplies, the geopolitical consequences of which could be

Nanotechnology, graphene development, genome research,
and numerous other areas of innovation are about to
“change the world” once again, and at a much faster
velocity than earlier patterns of change. How this change
can be absorbed and integrated in so short a time might be
the greatest challenge. At the same time, precipitated by
earlier innovation, new dangers and threats have arisen,
including most seriously, the so-called “post-antibiotic”
era in which the ability of antibiotic medicines are no longer
able to control or cure disease. As humans develop
resistance to virtually all the antibiotic medicines of the
past, the possibility of serious outbreaks of hitherto
curable diseases and plagues become problematic. The
question to be answered: Will the developed world, with its
immense scientific resources, be able to develop and
distribute “post-antibiotic” medications in time?

In the year coming, and beyond, there is ALWAYS the
unexpected.”  Sunspots? Comets heading our way?
Earthquakes, volcanos, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves,
even the shocking possibility of global cooling (in place of
its now ballyhooed opposite), national revolutions in unlikely
places--- there are always surprises which our little planet and its
inhabitants manage to spring on us.

All we can do, then, is be thankful for the many blessings we
now have and enjoy. Hope and resolve are the best antidotes
to fear of the future.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Dictators" And Demagogues Ahead?

For whatever else he is, Democratic U.S. Senate Majority
Leader Harry  Reid is not stupid. So when he set into motion
the “nuclear option” of removing the more than 150- year-old
tradition of the filibuster from the senate rules, he had to have
a very good political reason to do so.

I think the Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus said it best when he
pointed out that the partial elimination of the filibuster was
in large part designed to get through President Obama’s
appointees to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals,
the powerful court that decides issues of federal regulation,
and is second only in its impact to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kaus points out that bureaucratic regulation is now the largest
employer in DC, surpassing lobbyists and congressional staff.
Mr. Obama’s appointees have been blocked so far the
conservative majority on this Court, but when his appointees
are confirmed, the liberal members will have the majority.
This will ensure for some time that the current “progressive”
regulation mania perpetrated by the Obama administration
will likely be upheld, and that the thousands of regulation
lawyers now working in DC and environs will be at their posts
long after Mr Obama and his cohorts leave office.

Although Mr. Kaus mentions it, I want to stress the insight that
Mr. Reid has inevitably come to the conclusion that the future
is not bright for his party and his philosophy past the 2014
elections, and that time was running out to have the president’s
appointees confirmed and at work on the Court.

The political truth is, and Mr. Reid knows it, there is now no
short term recourse to having a “progressive” majority on the
DC Court of Appeals. For the time being, the filibuster is still
operative for Supreme Court nominations, but as many have
pointed out, should a vacancy occur between now and 2016,
Mr. Reid and his “progressive” comrades will be tempted to
change that, too (if they still have a majority), especially if it
is becoming clear that a Republican will likely be elected
president in 2016.

Federal court appointees are “life” appointments, and this
circumstance works to the advantage of whichever party
controls the White House. When a Republican is president,
he or she will also work to put his or her choices on the various
federal courts, low and high.

This brings us to the central point that elections matter VERY
much (in spite of the complaint by many on the right and left
that their vote doesn’t really count). It is also a rebuke to those
in both parties who want to vote only for candidates who agree
more or less completely with them, and in so insisting, cause
their party’s candidates to lose otherwise winnable elections.

There are “right wingers” and “left wingers” in both parties
today who are intent on sabotaging their own real interests by
defeating incumbents and candidates who are not “pure,”
who (Heaven Forbid!) seek to legislate and lead by compromise,
negotiation, and conciliation with the support and interests of
the nation’s always largest constituency, the political center.

Elections count. Winning elections counts. Harry Reid has been
the “dictator” of the senate of the past few years, but now as his
power begins to recede, he is trying to add tools to his power. If
the political center, both right and left, does not reassert itself
next year and in 2016, “dictators” and demagogues will continue
and increase their domination of the national political
conversation at a time when, in this observer’s opinion, we will
need primarily critical problem solvers in the nation’s capital.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten Amazing Facts You Probably Didn't Know About

      ON JANUARY 30, 1945.
      The Wilhelm Gustloff, built as a Nazi passenger
      cruise ship (and named for a Swiss Nazi demogogue)
      in 1937, had been stranded in the East Prussian port
      of Gotenhofen on the Baltic Sea since the outset of
      World War II. As Soviet troops overtook East Prussia
      in early 1945, over a million ethnic Germans, whose
      families had lived in East Prussia for centuries,
      attempted to flee to the German mainland a few
      hundred miles away via the Baltic sea route to avoid
      the pillaging and raping by the Russian soldiers as
      they reconquered the area. The Wilhelm Gustloff,
      built to accommodate 1500 passengers and 500 crew,
      was overloaded with about 11,000 men, women and
      children (some of whom were German soldiers), and 
      began a 200-plus mile sea trip in a storm. (The trip
      was no longer possible by rail or truck.) A Soviet
      submarine spotted the ship, and sent four torpedoes
      at it, sinking the ship in a brief time. Approximately
      9400 persons died in the sinking, making it it the
      largest loss of life from one ship disaster in history.
      [Further reading: Death in the Baltic by Cathryn J. Prince.]

      Although his name is a household word in the United
      States and in much of the rest of the world for his
      role as president of the United States during the nation’s
      Civil War (1861-65) and his assassination, it is much
      less known that Abrham Lincoln is considered by
      some today as the father of the modern American
      English language. This role is usually assigned to
      a major literary figure (e.g., Shakespeare in British
      English, Dante in Italian, Cervantes in Spanish,
      Pushkin in Russian, et al). The only American writer
      who even comes close to Lincoln, and came after
      him, was Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”).
      Lincoln’s major speeches are still considered today
      as the finest examples of their kind by an American,
      and his collected speeches and letters form a unique
      body of the English language spoken and written in
      the U.S. as it was being transformed from its British
      origins. Lincoln’s language, almost alone among his
      19th century contemporaries (including Hawthorne,
      Emerson, Melville, Longfellow, et al) remains fresh
      today without the “dated” quality of almost
      everyone else in his era. Amazingly, Lincoln was
      entirely self-taught, and did not ever attend a school
      in his childhood.
      [Further reading: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
      Rutgers University Press]

      Japanese noblewoman know as “Lady Murasaki” (but
      whose real name is unknown). A lady-in-waiting to the
      Empress Shoshi of the Heian period  of 11th century
      Japan, she wrote her extraordinary fictional account of
      life, manners and personalities of the contemporary 
      Japanese court in an unprecedented work entitled The
      Tale of Genji. It is also described today as the first
      psychological work of fiction. The novel form did
      not truly emerge until more than 500 years later in
      the West. Remarkably, The Tale of Genji is even 
      today a highly readable, fascinating masterpiece.
      [Further reading: Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki (trans.)]

      was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which
      inundated most of the mid-Mississippi River Valley
      following an unprecedented period of rain beginning
      in August, 1926. At its peak, months later, the flood
      covered 27 thousand square miles and dislocated
      millions of persons. More than 240 persons are known
      to have died (although the total death toll is not known).
      Cities such as Nashville and Memphis were under water.
      Damage estimates at the time were approximately half
      a billion dollars (in today's dollars, many hundreds of
      billions). The Flood changed the nation in many ways.
      Large numbers of black residents, many of them
      descendants of slaves, were put in concentration camps,
      and subsequently emigrated to large cities in the North.
      President Coolidge did not visit the area, but put his
      secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover, in charge.
      (When Coolidge decided not to run for re-election in
      1928, Hoover, as a result of the publicity he received
      overseeing flood relief, was elected president.) Contending
      that the individual states could not adequately deal with
      the disaster caused by the Mississippi River which ran through
      them, the federal government assumed overriding powers
      through the Army of Engineers, and this marked the
      beginning of the rise of federal bureaucratic power in the
      U.S. The whole story of this disaster, now largely forgotten,
      is filled with colorful and extraordinary figures, many of
      whom became major national figures in the years that
      [Further reading: Rising Tide by John M. Barry]

      Known as the Uraic family of languages,
      Magyar, Finnish and Estonian have no roots in the
      much larger Indo-European family of languages
      which are spoken in most of the nations near them.
      Although their exact origins are not yet fully known,
      philologists, in fact, trace these languages partially
      back to Siberian Asian (Chuvash) roots and to those
      who came to the region more than two thousand
      years ago. Magyar, the official language of Hungary,
      is the largest non-Indo-European language spoken
      in Europe.
      [Further reading: The Story of Hungarian by Geza Balasz]

      The Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer suffered a
      stroke in 1990, and has since been unable to speak
      or write. Nevertheless, he received the Nobel Prize
      for literature in 2011, and is considered by many
      to be the greatest living poet in any language.
      His short and austere poems, critics say, create
      stunning images and spaces. Before his stroke,
      he worked professionally as a psychologist in a
      prison while at the same time writing poems and
      publishing several books of Swedish poetry. He has
      since been translated into many languages.
      [Further reading: Twenty Poems by Tomas Transtromer, 
      and Windows & Stones by Tomas Transtromer; (both 

      The 18th century Brazilian sculptor Antonio Lisboa
      was the son of a Portuguese carpenter and a slave
      mother. While relatively young, he developed either
      leprosy or sclerodoma, and lost all the fingers of his
      hands as well as his feet. He became known as “O
      Aleijadinho” (or “The Little Cripple”). Most of his
      scupture in the Brazilian province of Minas
      Gerais were created after he was disfigured, and
      through truly remarkable efforts, he created many
      masterpieces, most of which survive today.
      [Further reading: O Aleijadinho by D.G. Ferreira (in 

      Until 1924,the Arabian peninsula had no fixed
      national boundaries, no formal nation states, and      
      was inhabited primarily by nomadic Bedouin tribes
      that went back thousands of years. It technically was
      part of the Ottoman empire under its sultan who then
      ruled the Islamic world. Ibn Saud, a young leader
      of the Wahhabi tribe and 6 foot 4 inch warrior prince
      who grew up living in tents and moving about the
      southern Asir region of Arabia with his family,
      began his unification of the various tribes in 1902
      by seizing the ancient Wahhabi capital of Riyadh,
      and then by systematically eliminating in battle the
      usually more powerful rival sheikhs in the region
      over the next two decades. After the sultan was
      deposed and the Ottoman empire dissolved
      following World War I, Ibn Saud was declared king
      of the new Saudi Arabia. Short of cash, he made
      deals with the British, and then the Americans, to
      allow exploration for oil and gas in the peninsula
      which led to major discoveries in 1937. Because of
      breakout of war in Europe and Africa in 1939-40,
      the huge profits from the oil fields did not appear
      until after World War II, when Saudi Arabia became
      the world’s largest producer and seller of oil.
     [Further reading: Ibn Saud by M. Darlow & B. Bray]

      Morris “Moe” Berg played for American League
      teams for most of his 15-year baseball career, and 
      was called “the brainiest man ever to play baseball.”
      Casey Stengel, of all persons, even once called him
      “the strangest man ever to play baseball.” An
      impoverished son of European Jewish immigrants,
      he received degrees from Princeton and Columbia
      law school, and became famous early for his highly
      successful appearances on the national radio quiz
      show “Information Please.” He spoke seven
      languages, and when war broke out, he became a      
      U.S. spy sent to Italy and Central Europe to assess
      the Nazi atomic bomb program. After World War II,
      he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. In
      spite of his extraordinary and colorful career and 
      life, he died in obscurity in 1972.
      [Further reading: Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers]

        The (shortened) name of this country is officially
        Sovrane Militare Ordine di Malta or S.M.O.M.
        It is an important worldwide Catholic philanthropic
        entity known traditionally as the Knights of Malta,
        and it once ruled the island nation of Malta, and was
        a major European naval power. Today, its size has been
        reduced to two villas in the city of Rome and some land
        in the outskirts of the Italian capital. It has an official
        population of three persons.  Only the upper floors
        of one of the villas is considered the sovereign territory
        of S.M.O.M. It is therefore the only nation on earth which
        can only be entered by elevator.
        [Further reading: Report From Practically Nowhere by
        John Sack]
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 18, 2013


There are certain ironclad corollaries in U.S. political lore
that are reinforced again and again in the saga of American
politics. One of the most enduring is that notion that timing
often trumps most everything else.

Two months ago, the nation was caught up in a government
shutdown brought on by some Republican members of the
U.S. house and senate seeking to express themselves about
the impending implementation of the new healthcare reform
legislation known as Obamacare. President Obama and
Democratic leaders in the Congress welcomed this exercise
in futility from the opposition because they knew that the
public would blame their opposition for the shutdown, and
turn attention away from the disaster of their “progressive”
handiwork on healthcare reform, the poorly formulated new

The shutdown came and passed. Polls showed that indeed the
public blamed the conservatives for the shutdown.

Then came Obamacare, the reality not the hype and promises.
It is an unmitigated economic, political and public relations
disaster. That we already know. But what are the consequences?

I have said for some time that the big prize for the conservative
party in 2014 was control of the U.S. senate. Control of the the
U.S. house, barring the unforeseen, was not likely at stake because
of the redistricting advantage of the GOP across the country.

Impatience from some conservatives forced the shutdown, hurt
the Republican Party generally, and specifically reversed a
promising trend for the GOP to take back control of the U.S.
senate. But it was not only the shutdown action by some factions
of the conservative party; it was also visible in efforts in various
senate races where incumbent Republicans were up for re-election.
These incumbents, headed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell (Kentucky), but also including Senators Lamar
Alexander (Tennessee), Mike Enzi (Wyoming), Susan Collins
(Maine), Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), and potentially a few

As 2010 and 2012 demonstrated clearly, defeating your own
incumbents, especially with ill-prepared ideologues, is an
invitation, even in so-called “safe” races, for defeat. But, as if
nothing had happened in those cycles, some extreme factions of
the Republican Party continue their “crusade” to purify their
senate caucus. During and immediately after the shutdown, it
appeared that these factions might have some success not only
against GOP incumbents, but also by placing inferior nominees
in races against vulnerable Democrats. This virtually guaranteed
that the GOP would not take control of the senate in 2014.

End shutdown. Begin Obamacare. Suddenly, races that seemed
out of reach for the GOP, in North Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska,
Michigan, Iowa and New Hampshire are back in play. Montana,
South Dakota, and West Virginia continue to look like GOP
pick-ups. Other “safe” Democratic seats could become
competitive as the consequences of Obamacare continue to

Nothing of this sort and magnitude exists in a vacuum, however.
Democrats, like everyone else, want to survive politically, and in
the case of the senate, to maintain their control. Current
conditions of incessant bad news about Obamacare will not
likely be allowed to continue without some actions by the liberal

What might the Democrats do? What can they do?

They could make the problem go away by agreeing to repeal
Obamacare, but the prospects for that are close to zero.
They could attempt to “repair” Obamacare, but that would
require the cooperation of the Republican majority in the
U.S. house. Very unlikely. They could also attempt to delay
implementation, now underway, until after the 2014 elections.
Again, they would need GOP cooperation. But President Obama
has been trying to do some of this via executive order (which is
probably illegal, and which is certain to be challenged in court).
Any unilateral effort by the president to “fix” Obamacare
almost certainly would make matters worse for his party.

With Democratic senate candidates, including incumbents,
challengers and those running for open seats, in virtual panic,
the “progressive” leadership may not be able to control the
senate on this issue. After all, we are speaking about basic

Of course, certain Republicans might want to have another
confrontation over the debt ceiling (coming up in January)
that could lead to another shutdown. That would be an
enormous gift to the Democrats for 2014. Again, this is not
very likely, considering the hard evidence of what happened
only recently when this occurred.

After several years of docility under Pelosi and Reid, there
still are many center-left Democrats in Congress who do
not seem to share the full philosophy of the far left Obama
administration, including Joe Manchin (West Virginia),
Mark Warner (Virginia), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota),
Tom Carper (Delaware), Ron Wyden (Oregon), Mark Pryor
(Arkansas), Mark Begich (Alaska), Angus King (Maine
independent who votes with the Democrats), Bob Casey, Jr.
(Pennsylvania) and others. Facing elimination by the voters,
however, and a lame-duck incumbent president, watch for
many of them begin to speak out not only in opposition to
Obamacare, but also on a variety of energy, education and
foreign policy issues. (Their first real impact might come
in the run-up to the 2016 election.)

There are also those Democrats who still strongly favor
Obamacare, and want to “tough it out” on the issue,
believing voters will come to love the healthcare reform.
President Obama is showing no signs of ay willingness to
abandon this “legacy” of his terms of office. Mrs. Pelosi
and Mr. Reid are saying to their members, in effect, “we
will go down with the ship, and you will go with us.”

The Democrats have been much more self-disciplined
recently on their issues in the Congress than their GOP
opposition have been. Yet there are unmistakeable signs
of this coalition collapsing during the next ten months as
the GOP moves in to surround the wagons of those who do
not give up.

The upcoming battles will take place in the “Old” New
West, as well as in the Midwest, South and East. It is almost
certainly going to be quite a spectacle.

Get your tubs of popcorn now (before they ban them.)

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

Friday, November 15, 2013


Since before and after the passage of Obamacare, I and
many others have warned it was an unworkable concept, a
bad law, and sure to implode if it were passed. It was
not ever popular, in spite of some attractive and seductive
aspects, because ordinary Americans knew intuitively
that’s not the way the United States does its business.

In 2010, voters clearly and unmistakably signaled their
disapproval of Obamacare, turning the U.S. house back to
the Republicans, and giving the opposition party notable
gains the U.S. senate. But with the healthcare legislation
still not implemented, the G.O.P. frankly not well-prepared
for the 2012 election, and not having sent up the best
candidates to the voters, the message of 2010 was lost
to a superb Democratic campaign that deflected the
nation’s critical economic issues of unemployment,
federal deficits, rising taxes, and a moribund fiscal

In the past year, the Democrats, either knowing full well
that the imminent implementation of Obamacare was
a disaster-to-be or self-deceiving themselves that it could,
defying gravity, somehow succeed, willingly played a shell
game  with the Republicans over repealing Obamacare
(which the GOP did not have the votes to pass) and
increasing the national debt limit (which to prevent the
GOP would have to close down the government, an always
unpopular strategy).

GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner seems to have
seen this political environment clearly, but a young and
restless group of his caucus forced him into a corner,
and new and ambitious members of the U.S. senate,
employing the filibuster, made the conservative party
seem to be disruptive instead of what they intended.
A shutdown followed, and the American public’s attention
was averted from the imminent reality of Obamacare.

Finally, the short shutdown was halted, the debt limit was
raised temporarily, and Obamacare was allowed to begin
to be seen in full and clear view.

There are no surprises here. When you pass major
legislation that intends to transform a large part of the
economy without full legislative hearings, no opposition
on the floor of the Congress, and it requires 2500 pages
which the sponsoring legislators admit they have not read
its details, much less its fine print, you are going against
the American grain. When you complicate that with fiscal
assumptions that simply do not add up, and you set out to
turn one of the nation’s largest industries upside down in
a very short period, you have zero chance of success.

I repeat: there are no surprises here. At the very beginning,
the transition and enrollment process was a fiasco. This
was blamed by its promoters on mere technical deficiencies,
i.e., website problems and so forth and so forth. Now it is
becoming clearer and clearer that computer glitches are not
the problem. The whole Obamacare program was sold with
false promises and assumptions. Even if the websites worked
perfectly, Obamcare would be a failure.

Meanwhile, hitherto docile Democratic legislators in the
house and senate, knowing they will have to face VERY angry
voters in less than a year in the 2014 midterm elections, and
remembering the historic political debacle of 2010, seem
suddenly awake to the unfolding catastrophe (millions of
voters losing their insurance, even more millions having to
pay higher rates with less coverage, and insurance companies
simply pulling out of a market now in turmoil).

The U.S. house has taken a first vote to alleviate the problem.
All Republican members voted for it, and 39 Democrats joined
them. This is only the beginning. The Harry Reid “dictatorship”
in the U.S. senate might hold for a while more, but with about
8-10 vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next
year, an insurrection is inevitable.

I don’t know what will happen next, the legislative
circumstances of Obamacare are unprecedented, but I
do know that Americans don’t like and don’t want
this radical transformation of their healthcare system.
No one can reasonably deny that the previous system needed
reform, but President Obama, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi
and Majority Leader Harry Reid went much too far in their
radical ideas of a solution.

They did pass their legislation. President Obama signed it.
Its implementation is currently an ongoing debacle. Now it’s
the voters’ turn to speak.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Newt Gingrich is one of the amazing and enduring phenomena
of the past three decades in American politics and public policy.
Most well-known for his time as a congressman from Georgia
that culminated in his tumultuous years as speaker of the house
(1995-99), and for a remarkable, if unsuccessful, run for the
Republican nomination for president (2011-12), Gingrich, a
former professor of history, a PhD in his field, and one of the
most idea-oriented elected officials in American history, has
under a somewhat lower profile, written and co-written a whole
library of speculative historical novels, public policy books,
biographies, and futurist volumes. I count almost 30 books since

The acme of Gingrich’s political career was his leading an
insurrection in 1994 that brought his party back in control of
the U.S. house of representatives. Following this upset triumph,
Gingrich was elected speaker of the house, the third highest
office in the nation. He became an often effective leader of the
opposition during the two terms of Democratic President Bill
Clinton in the White House, forcing the centrist chief executive
to adopt many conservative economic policies that, in many
ways, completed the earlier Reagan “revolution” which had
first occurred more than a decade before Gingrich came to
power in the U.S. house. (Many of Gingrich’s and his GOP
colleagues’ ideas were not only adopted by Clinton, but in his
inimitable fashion, he also took credit for them!)

Gingrich, if the truth be told, was however an erratic,
temperamental  and controversial manager of the house, and
eventually he retired rather than face defeat by his own colleagues.

Almost instantly slated for oblivion by the media, his opponents,
and even many of his friends, Gingrich soon demonstrated a
political resilience that is rare in American politics. Employing
a seeming endless capacity for spotting new public policy ideas,
he regrouped with several non-profit organizations/think tanks,
and quickened the pace of his political writing which had been
sporadic when he served in the Congress.

In 2011, with the incumbent Democratic president facing
increasing national economic problems, Gingrich entered the
contest for his party’s presidential nomination. The field that
cycle was initially relatively large, but not so distinguished that
Gingrich’s entry was not significant. Nonetheless, few thought he
could win, much less be a major factor in the primaries the
following year. It turned out to be a curious nomination contest,
with almost every major candidate winning a primary or caucus,
and (however briefly) topping the national polls. Gingrich won
only two primaries, but one victory, in South Carolina, for a few
days made him a very serious candidate. In the next primary,
Florida, Gingrich’s campaign organization, by now whittled down
to bare bones, was unable to keep up his momentum, and his
moment passed. (A unique aspect of the 2012 GOP primary season
was the number of debates that were held, and Gingrich established
himself as the best political debater in the nation, coming up short
only in the debate before the critical Florida primary.)

Facing a large campaign debt after 2012, Gingrich regrouped by
closing down several of his organizations, and settling into
becoming the elder idea statesman of his party and national

This brings me to Newt Gingrich’s new book (written with Ross
Worthington), just released, entitled BREAKOUT: Pioneers of 
the Future, Prisoner Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle 
That Will Decide America’s Fate.

In many ways, this is the apotheosis of all of Gingrich’s public
policy books that began in the 1980s. It is also the most
futuristic and optimistic, something perhaps unexpected in the
current national and international political mood which is filled
with anxiety and a lack of political imagination. Breakout is like
a world’s fair in print, with samples of future inventions,
technologies, trends and other innovations on display.

The book, in less than 250 pages, covers education, health,
energy, transportation, space travel, overcoming poverty, and
combating excessive government bureaucracy and intrusion.
What makes the book such an interesting read is that it does
not dull its topics with dry theories, data, and rhetoric, but
tells numerous anecdotes and inspiring personal stories of
those already innovating and changing America. These stories
about “breakouts” in finding new cures and drugs for healing,
emerging online education, 3-D printing, driverless cars, new
energy sources, citizen action and public transparency and a
panoply of American characters who are thinking and acting
“outside the box.”are the heart of this book.

The best tradition of American politics, practiced by its best
politicians of its major political parties, are the themes of
optimism, renewal, pragmatic idealism and basic hope for
the future. These were, in various forms, the themes of George
Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison of the founding “fathers,” and continued by Abraham
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald
Reagan. It is also the tradition of many who did not become
president, but who have had so much impact on our American
republic, including Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, John Dewey, Milton Friedman, and Peter
Drucker among many others.

This is the tradition in which Newt Gingrich wrote Breakout, a
tradition that goes beyond ideology and partisanship (one of his
heroes of the future is a young liberal Democrat), and seeks
to understand the great forces of technology, science and human
aspiration which endlessly form and re-form how we live in a
society of democratic capitalism with its essential components
of liberty,  justice, equality before the law, free markets, open
competition and compassion.

Most of us lead lives primarily concerned with the past, the
present or the future. Newt Gingrich, historian, futurist and major
political figure of his time, somehow has managed to lead a life
of all three.

I have known Newt for almost three decades, and on occasion
have disagreed with him  (and said so), but I know no one more
capable of publicly renewing himself, nor anyone who so
continually can put his finger on what is so unique about America.

This book is a classic the day it was published. But it is not a
book just to buy, only to be put on a shelf unread.

It’s a book to enjoy being read.

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Off-Year Election Clues

The results are now in for most of the races in the 2013
off-year elections, including contests for two governorships,
one senate seat, a congressional seat, numerous mayors,
and assorted other offices and referenda.

What clues, if any, do these results portend for the 2014 national
mid-term elections and beyond to 2016 when a new president
will be elected?

One result was unmistakeable, that is, the re-election of
Chris Christie as the governor of New Jersey. Christie, already
a charismatic and significant figure in the national Republican
Party, won so overwhelmingly in a traditional Democratic state,
and with such a broad base of voters, that his role as one of the
frontrunners for the GOP nomination for president in 2016 is
assured until further notice. He is, of course, far from having
that nomination secured, but only two or three other GOP
figures now can try to match him in appeal. He clearly now
controls the center of his party, and the center-right of the
American electorate. (But three years lie ahead of any quest
for residence on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, and
many issues, challenges, and circumstances stand in his way.)

In Virginia, a much-flawed and controversial Democrat, Terry
McAuliffe, narrowly won the governorship, a race he was
predicted to win by a much larger margin. His opponent, a
much-flawed and controversial Republican, was outspent eleven
to one, and could not match the “star” power of President Obama,
Vice President Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, all appearing
for his opponent. It was a pyhrric victory for the Democrats.
McAuliffe’s prospects, based on his past record, indicate a likely
controversial term of office ahead. The consequence of that
might likely help Virginia Republicans in 2014 and 2016. To be
fair, defeated gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli would have
likely been as controversial and unpopular a governor as
McAuliffe might now well be, but the bottom line is that the
Democrat will occupy the office.

The question is: How did Cuccinelli, so controversial and
flawed get so close in a race where he was outspent eleven to
one, had little support from his own national party, and had
the biggest names in the Democratic Party appearing against
him. The answer is quite simple, and was verified by exit polls.
Cuccinelli finally figured out the one issue that might salvage
his campaign, and that issue was the huge unpopularity of the
Democratic Obamacare legislation now beginning to be
implemented. That is the indelible clue from the 2013 off-year
elections for 2014, i.e., voters are powerfully angry about
Obamacare, and will, as they did in 2010, be motivated to go
to the polls to say so.

Although few Democrats will admit it publicly just now, any
shrewd candidate, incumbent or challenger, of that party in
2014 is extremely nervous about this issue, especially so since
its perhaps worst news (higher healthcare rates for most
Americans, cancellations of current policies, enrollment
confusion, etc.) is ahead, and will unfold during the first ten
months of 2014, the worst possible time.

The third clue, and strike two against the Republican Party, is
the consequence of nominating extremist, far right or
unqualified candidates for office. Mr. Cuccinelli was chosen
by the Virginia GOP state convention, and not in a primary.
Most observers contend that, had there been a statewide
GOP primary, a much more electable candidate would have
won.  An even more weird GOP nominee for lt. governor had
been chosen in that convention, and he was crushed on election
day by his Democratic opponent. The GOP nominee for attorney
general, a mainstream conservative, holds a small lead before a
recount, in his race. (As they say, case closed.)

Strike three for the Republican Party nationally would occur if
it allows candidates like Mr. Cuccinelli and his lt. governor
running mate to either defeat Republican senatorial and
congressional incumbents, or otherwise become GOP nominees
in the 2014 midterm election competitive races, particularly in
the U.S. senate races where the conservative party could regain
control in advance of the 2016 election. Most recently, in 2010 and
2012, Republicans indulged themselves with extremist, obviously
unprepared, and otherwise inappropriate senate nominees who
subsequently lost races the Republicans should have easily won.
A political party, like a baseball batter, I suggest, is out after
three strikes.

There were other results in 2013 that might be noted, including
a referendum in Colorado in which the voters of that state clearly
refused to raise their taxes to pay for government programs.
Democrats joined Republicans in that state which leans to the
liberal side. Common sense, I am glad to report, can be bipartisan.

With the ill-fated government shutdown imposed by Republican
U.S. house legislators behind them, and continual bad news
likely ahead about the implementation of Obamacare, the worst
bad news ahead for the conservative party would be if it indulged
itself in more “can’t win” unpopular acts of self-important
ideological symbolism (like defeating their own party incumbents
in primaries) to gratify the “feel good” emotions of a party base
that cannot deliver victory at the polls.

Mark my words.

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

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.