Monday, January 28, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Great Britain Questioning Europe?

Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest statements about the
European Union, indicating he favors a referendum by British
voters on whether or not they want to be part of the EU, especially
in its current direction towards the political unification of Europe,
is good news for British democracy. I suspect that Bill Cash, the
leader of the euroskeptics in the House of Commons, and the most
persistent and articulate critic of the EU, was cheered that his fellow
Conservative and leader is finally getting off the shilling (as close to
the dime that I can get), and  standing up for the sovereignty of
Westminster (the British parliament), and thus for the citizens of the

In spite of our little spat circa 1776-82 with that kingdom,
and our necessary formal separation from its colonial control,
Americans  have a profound debt to Great Britain, not only for
our common language, but our legacy from them for our laws,
customs and civic ideals.

King George III may have been a bit overbearing from our point of
view then, but his successor Queen Elizabeth II is now well-regarded,
and her grandson and eventual heir, Prince William, is quite popular,
as is his lovely bride, on this side of the Atlantic Pond.

The European Union, begun as an economic alliance of many nations
of Europe after World War II was a dream of a Frenchman who
understandably wanted to avoid the tragic political patterns of
Europe in the 20th century, including two world wars that brought
unspeakable violence and death to tens of millions. In the early
20th century, there were three major European nations, Germany,
France and Great Britain. France, which had dominated Europe
in the early 19th century, had re-emerged as a democracy at the
end of that century, and with her colonies, was a major economic
and military force. The British empire, whose navy controlled the
world’s seas, was the world’s largest economic power, and a German
empire, put together in the late1800s was an ambitious rival to
both. The other European empire, Austria-Hungary, was a natural
ally of Germany, although the tensions between its member states
was by the early 20th century pulling it apart. After World War I, it
ceased to exist as a unified empire. Still another empire, vast
Russia, half-European and half-Asian, had a key role in the tinderbox
that existed in Europe as the year 1914 began.

Europe had suffered a long series of wars in the 19th century, but now
endured carnage and depravity on a greater scale. It is no wonder, after
150 years of this violence, that Europeans would seek some structural
relief. Following World War II, and in the midst of the Cold War that
followed it, the remedy seemed to be some sort of formal cooperative
union. The founders of this proposed union, however, put it in place,
piece by piece, primarily thorough bureaucratic fiat. Instead of building
the Common Market with a grass roots appeal, admittedly a difficult
task, the Market and its successor, the European Union, was
constructed from the top down. If it were a physical building, this
would have been, of course, impossible. Less obviously perhaps, it
did not work politically, either.

Euroskeptics such as Bill Cash are not against an economic Europe.
They recognize the efficacy and necessity to create an economic
structure for the states of Europe, their obviously best and closest
markets, and to work cooperatively.

So what is the problem?

The problem is that the founders, and most of the current leaders,
of the European Union, want to unite the continent politically.
Germany has re-emerged as Europe’s largest nation and most
successful economy. Some argue that the threat of another malign
Germany is at the base of those who desire to transform Europe
into a single political entity. In any event, the process of
de-nationalizing is taking place gradually and insidiously. The
current economic crisis in Europe is even being employed as a
reason to hurry up the process. The fundamental flaws of
political union, however, are being revealed by this crisis. Many
of these flaws are deeply cultural, such as the difference between
the Greek work ethic and that of much of the rest of Europe.
Spain now has 27% unemployment, but it has a had relatively
high unemployment throughout its recent history, levels that
would not be tolerated  in Germany or Sweden. What of the
inevitable efforts to homogenize European agricultural products,
removing standards now set by French wine growers, Dutch
cheese makers, Italian meat producers, et al? Will the distinction
and character of European products be rolled over into uniformity?
Will French champagne, Dutch gouda, Italian proscuitto, English
tweed cloth, Czech pilsener beer, Belgian chocolate, Greek olive oil,
Hungariian tokai wine, and innumerable other distinctive food
products of European nations lose their character through
bureaucratic, unappealable regulation?

Another flaw is the attempt to undo, in only a few decades, the
national identities, languages and customs that are centuries (and
even, in some cases, more than a thousand years) old, even preceding
current national borders.

Bill Cash has recently written a book about his cousin, John
Bright, who served in the House of Commons for many decades
in the 19th century. A great orator, Bright was considered in his own
time one of the greatest British political figures along with Disraeli
and Gladstone. Almost forgotten today, Bright became famous for
opposing the protectionist Corn Laws in the 1840s, and then turned
his attention to enabling more Englishmen to have the right to vote,
opposing capital punishment, and speaking out against slavery.
At a time when many British citizens sympathized with the
American South, John Bright cheered on Abraham Lincoln.
(A printed speech of Bright’s was found in Lincoln’s pocket the
night he was assassinated.) He was also a great champion of the
sovereignty of the English parliament. Bill Cash, in making the case
against European political union, has taken up his cousin’s legacy.
For many years, however, Cash’s own Conservative Party has been
split on the European question, and Cash has been relegated to the
back benches (except for a brief interval, 1991-93, when he was
named shadow attorney general). Immensely popular in his own
constituency, Cash has served as an M.P. since 1984, and has
continued to speak out forcefully for British sovereignty.

It would appear now that the Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron, hitherto ambivalent on the subject, has joined the cause.
As soon as the prime minister announced he intended to call a
referendum on Europe, his party’s poll numbers (which had been
trailing the opposition Labour Party badly) took a significant jump.

It has always been the assertion of the euroskeptics that, while
British voters wanted their nation to be part of the economic
European Union, they will not agree to surrender a thousand years
of British sovereignty to it. Now, presumably, the voters of this
venerable and great island nation will have the opportunity to say so.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013


If you keep up with politics in Europe these days, you might have
noticed that one of the candidates for president of the Czech
Republic is Karel Schwarzenberg, currently the country’s foreign
minister. Mr. Schwarzenberg narrowly trailed frontrunner Milos
Zeman, a former leftist Czech prime minister, in the first round of
balloting. One of them will win the largely ceremonial post of
president in this weekend’s final election round, and it could be
Karel Schwarzenberg.

What makes this otherwise routine election so interesting is that Mr.
Schwarzenberg, who is 75 years old, was born a Czech prince, and
comes from a fabled, very rich, and powerful family. At the age of 12,
in 1948, he fled with his family from their palace in Prague. After the
Czech revolution in 1989, he returned to then-Czechoslovakia, became
a senator, and took an active role in Czech politics, culminating with his
being named foreign minister. A self-described conservative now, he has
been part of several local political parties, and is considered pro-European
Union in contrast to retiring conservative Czech President Vaclav Klaus,
a leading critic of the EU. (President Klaus, formerly the Czech prime
minister after Vaclav Havel, is one of the few great and truly conservative
figures remaining in Europe today. I briefly interviewed him recently in
Washington, DC after he spoke at the Cato Institute.)

Mr. Schwarzenberg. emerged as a serious contender late in the
current campaign, largely through a creative public relations effort
that has portrayed him with a Mohawk hairdo and a Punk Rock
image inspired by the Sex Pistols rock band. An elderly aristocrat
who speaks the elegant but archaic Czech he learned in his youth,
Mr. Schwarzenberg’s maverick and independent politics has enabled   
this otherwise incongruous image to be credible to many young
Czechs who now amazingly form his political base.

Mr. Schwarzenberg’s royal heritage has reminded me of an encounter
I had many years ago with another member of a Czech royal family
member prominent in that nation’s political history. From 1916-18,
Count Ottokar Czernin, heir to one of Bohemia’s noblest families, was
the influential foreign minister of the Austro-Hungarian empire
(Czechoslovakia was then part of that empire). Those were the last years
of World War I, and Czernin played a significant diplomatic role in that
period. He was an architect of the pivotal Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918,
in which the new revolutionry Russian Soviet government headed by Lenin
and Trotsky signed an armistice with the Central Powers of Germany,
Austria-Hungary, and their allies, and withdrew Russia from the war.
This treaty was a major coup for Czernin and his Central Power colleagues,
since it removed the Eastern front from the war. Russian Czar Nicholas II
(overthrown in 1917) had, in fact, precipitated World War I hostilities in
1914 when, then an ally of England, France and Serbia, he mobilized the
Russian army,  forcing Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side, and
England, France and Italy on the other side, to do the same. The whole
world has not been the same since.

Of course, the actual cause of the war had been the assassination of the
heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at
Sarajevo in the Balkans, and a series of responses to it, including an
ultimatum to Serbia by Austria-Hungary a few weeks later (before
Czernin became foreign minister).

In 1966, when I was still a student, I began a year abroad, studying and
living in Madrid, Paris and London. In my Paris sojourn of that period, the
summer of 1967, I lived in a youth hostel in the Paris suburb of Clichy.
I had financed the trip with savings from my youthful stock investments,
and had learned (during my first visit to Europe in 1964) to use my
American stockbroker firm as a bank while traveling. That firm was
Bache & Company (now Prudential Bache), and it had a large office in
Paris that served primarily European clients (and also American clients
living in or traveling to Europe). I had invested on my own in stocks since
I was 14 years old in Erie, PA, and so keeping up with stock prices while
I was in Europe was important to me. (It was also a time before the internet,
and the broker's office teletype was the quickest way to get breaking news
in English in Paris.) 'On arriving in the French capital, I quickly found my
way to the Bache office. I was assigned to a broker who was an American
expatriate living in Versailles, and who was the grandson of the founder of
one of the early American automobile companies. He lived a very
fashionable life in Paris, and he soon invited me to a dinner party at his
home that was followed by an art auction at the  nearby Versailles
Palace featuring works of legendary European painters. I think the
broker had the mistaken impression that I was heir to a great U.S. fortune
because I knew so much about the stock market, used Bache as a bank,
and had recently attended the Wharton School in Philadelphia. (I was,
in fact, only a middle class kid who had been lucky in some of his early
and modest market speculations).

The evening was quite elegant, with important Parisian guests at the
dinner party followed by the exciting auction in the nearby
maginificent Versaillse Palace of Picassos, Braques, Derains, Klees,
Miros, Van Goghs, Matisses and many other masters (at incredible
bargain prices by today’s standards). The dinner guests that evening
included a French Bourbon duke living and working in Paris. Another
guest I was introduced to was a Mr. Czernin, himself also a broker
at the Paris office of Bache & Company. Mr. Czernin, a man then
in his sixties, spoke with an accent, and was very charming,  I made a
mental note to stop by his desk the next time I went to the brokerage office
in Paris.

Mr. Czernin’s name also struck a bell in my memory, but I could
not quite place it. A few days later, at the Bache office, I asked my
broker about Mr. Czernin, and he told me, “Oh, he’s some kind of
count. You should go talk to him.” I was quite a history buff even
then, and suddenly I realized why I had remembered the Czernin
name. Count Ottokar Czernin was the legendary foreign minister
of the Astro-Hungarian empire who had negotiated the historic
Treaty of Brest Litovsk at which Leon Trostsky, representing
Lenin and the fledgling Soviet regime in Russia, signed an armistice
with the Central powers and ended the war on the Russian front.
It turned out, of course, that Mr. Czernin was the son of Count
Czernin, and had grown up in the famed Czernin palaces and
estates in and near Prague at the turn of the century. Over the course
of the next several weeks, he told me fabulous stories, including his
account of his meeting, as a boy, Archduke Franz Ferdinand who had
come to hunt at the family estate with his father for a few days circa
1910. Just before I left Paris to return to the U.S., Mr. Czernin told
me he had something very special to show me which he had gotten
out of his vault. It was a very large photograph I had seen before
printed in a history book, a famous photo of all the participants at
the meeting in Brest-Litovsk. In the front row was Count Czernin,
Leon Trotsky,  and the German foreign minister. Behind them,
several other diplomats and legendary Central Powers generals and
figures. What made this photograph so extraordinary was not
only its large size, but that next to each face, in ink, was the
signature of all the participants! It took my breath away.

I don’t know if Mr. Czernin, his children or others in his family
went back to Czechoslovakia after 1989 to reclaim their family
palaces and hereditary estates, as Mr. Schwarzenberg did, but it
is fascinating to observe how so many exiled members of 19th
and early 20th century European royal and noble families are
reappearing in various roles in their native countries in the early
21st century. Only one of them, King Juan Carlos of Spain, has
actually been restored to the throne, but many others, two and
three generations from their families’ former glory and power,
are popping up in various contemporary European states.

Take the fascinating case of Simeon II, boy czar of Bulgaria (1943-46)
and later exiled to Madrid. Half a century later, in 2001, he returned
to Bulgaria not as a royal monarch, but as the democratically chosen
prime minister. He served in that post for four years.

Mr. Schwarzenberg, if he becomes the democratically-elected
president of the Czech Republic, would write a new chapter in
the extended and fateful royal history of that continent.

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR : The Luxurious Travel Adventure Availble To Almost Everyone

There is one form of travel which preserves the luxury and opulence of the previous century while, at the same time, 
enables a person or family with limited means to use it to 
journey all over the world......


To read the rest of this article, please subscribe by mailing a check
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The History Of Nations

The history of nations is entirely a recent story. After so many thousands
of years in the caves and plains and mountains of the earlier human
planetary experience, when our forbears increasingly organized themselves
into tribes and kingdoms, and unpremeditatedly formed the social and
political structures to which borders and languages and families adhered,
the account of nations, large and small, is very short.

Roving tribes became kingdoms, and only in the briefest interval can we
set down authentically national histories. Of course, a few millennia or just
thousand years might sound to each of us of like a very long time, and a
world population now exceeding seven billions might seem difficult to grasp,
but to understand the current evolution of the world’s nations, we need to keep
in mind how quickly modern human history occurs.

Perhaps this enables us to realize that after only about 10,000 years of
recorded history, in spite of our inventions and technologies, how truly
primitive human civilization is today. Some who read this assertion will be
scandalized and outraged by this description. “Have we not split the atom,
identified human genomes, flown through the air at great velocity, cured
problematic diseases, and constructed great structures?” such persons
 would no doubt ask.

Yes, we have done those things, but it is not our resume of physical
achievements which make us a true advanced civilization. Our greatest
true advance as a species was very recent, i.e., the creation of democratic
capitalism, but today even its very constituent parts are everywhere threatened
from within and from without. Barbarism still threatens most of the planet,
and a large part of humanity is under no less totalitarian and inhuman
rule than that of warlords, tyrant kings and cruel dictators of the past. Violence,
persecution of minorities, mistreatment of women and armed aggression are so
widespread today that only a persistent self-denial of those persons who consider
themselves “free”and”civilized”enables them to see the human species in a
“progressive’ light.

The United Nations, the world’s largest international organization, born in the
spirit of cooperation, peacekeeping and promoting human rights, has been
kidnapped by international thugs who are aided and abetted by the remaining
democratic governments and their self-aggrandizing bureaucracies.

After the brutal and chaotic 20th century, with its two “world” wars and violent
other struggles between the democracies and totalitarian forces, the new century,
recently begun, signals various shifts in international power, including assertions
of military and economic force by two huge nations, China and India, and by
transnational regions in the Middle East and Asia. It is difficult to see any clear
direction of this global trend away from humanity’s persistent primitive impulses
and patterns. To think otherwise is to think, as George Orwell so acutely and
presciently observed, that what we perceive and say is the state of the world is, in
fact, its uncivilized opposite.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The State of the Union

In this interim period between the first and second administrations of
President Barack Obama, there has not been much to be said of the
post-election political environment, and even less to be said about national
prospects. New cabinet nominations have signaled that the administration
will likely be much of the same, only with a new aggressiveness, especially
in its relationship to opposition Republicans, few of whom seem to have
caught their breath after the November elections.

One word that cannot be fairly used to describe Republican congressional
leadership is “inspired.” Members of the U.S. house and senate seem to have
adopted a pose as “independent contractors.” and their leaders have adopted
a strategy of “making the best bargain we can” in the short term negotiations
which lay immediately ahead. Prior to the 2012 national elections, the GOP
was profoundly factionalized, and this circumstance, unfortunately for the
conservative party, still prevails.

Some of those conservatives who seem likely to throw their fedoras into the
2016 ring are already making noises, including Senator Marco Rubio of
Florida, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Governor Bobby Jindal of Luisiana,
new Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and of course, Governor Chris Christie of
New Jersey. Others, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush of Florida,
former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, South Dakota Senator John
Thune, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio,
and Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, are, for now, in much lower profile
(but not to be forgotten).

Most of the serious 2012 contenders, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney,
former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, seem to be
politically past their moment in the presidential campaign sun. Only Mr.
Gingrich, an intellectual fountain of his party for the past two decades, is likely
to continue to matter in the political fortunes ahead of the Republican Party.

On the Democratic side, most of the 2016 conversation is about Vice President
Joe Biden and retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Biden will be 74
years old in 2016, and Mrs. Clinton only a few years younger. New York
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, and West Virginia
Senator Joe Manchin, new North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp and other
younger Democrats will likely emerge after 2014 as more formidable figures in
their party.

Of more immediate political interest, the 2014 mid-term elections loom as a
critical test of whether Obamaism will continue as a force in U.S. politics, or
whether, when all is said and done, it was more a cult of personality than a
political movement.

Initially, the “breaks” have gone mostly to the Republicans, in addition to their
inherent advantage of having only 13 incumbents (few of whom now seem
vulnerable) while the Democrats must risk 20 seats they now hold (at least half
of whom seem vulnerable). But, as 2012 demonstrated, this “inherent”
advantage can prove elusive (incumbent Democrats outnumbered Republicans
23-10, and the GOP amazingly lost net seats.). So far, Republicans seem to have
recruited strong challengers in South Dakota and West Virginia, Democratic
incumbents such as Jay Rockefeller are retiring Massachusetts incumbent John
Kerry has retired to become Secretary of State, and the long-time Democratic
incumbent in Hawaii is deceased, and been replaced by an appointee.
Nevertheless, the factional intraparty forces in the GOP remain mostly intact
and a strong incumbent such as Lamar 
Alexander in Tennessee may have a
far-right primary challenger.

In the U.S. house, the Republicans seem secure in their majority so far, and in
fact are planning to expand it from a total of 40 or so potentially vulnerable
Democratic incumbents.

The best news for the Republicans, however, seems to be in numerous states
where active and successful GOP governors seem to be making waves, often in
concert with GOP-controlled legislatures. These governors include already
mentioned Christie and Jindal, as well as Bob McDonnell of Virginia, John
Kasich of Ohio, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Scott Walker of Wisconsin,
Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, and Rick Snyder of
Michigan. New Indiana Governor Mike Pence is likely to join this group.

Aside from the personalities, the issues facing the nation in 2013 remain, for
the most part, the issues of 2012. Unemployment continues chronically high,
deficits are growing. national entitlements of Social Security, Medicare and
Medicaid desperately need reform, pension funds are increasingly insecure,
the crisis in education is getting worse, and this list goes on.

The prospects, at least until 2015, are for political stalemate at precisely the
time when government should be actively repairing and resolving the
deteriorating national problems. That is the state of the union.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Uncertainty Principles

In the subatomic regions of physics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty
Principle underlies how we mere humans might perceive the
movement of the elements of matter. In simplest terms, everything
at this level is guesswork.

Several levels up the reality ladder, at human scale, uncertainty is
not considered such an inevitable condition by those who hire and fire,
buy and sell. advertise and promote, manufacture and distribute.
Yes, even for the free market there is always and ultimately some
uncertainty,, usually described as risk, but constrained by rules,
regulations, taxes, and of course, the costs of goods, labor, insurance,
transportation, advertising and research; businesses, small and large,
seek as much certainty as they can find.

In the recent and prolonged economic downturn, marked by chronic
high unemployment, a slumping real estate market in most places,
very low interest rates, and government deficits, the decisions of
business executives and other decision makers have been delayed and
altered by indecisive and conflicting actions of the executive and
legislative branches of government.

It recalls the words of Winston Churchill, speaking to the British
House of Common and the British government in the 1930s, when
he said [the government has] "decided only to be undecided, resolved
to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be

The fact is that there is an enormous amount of cash and other
resources available to jump start the American economy if those
who invest and make economic decisions only knew what the rules,
regulations and tax policy would be under which they would be
able to operate in the short and intermediate term.

If the citizenry do not like the rules, regulations or tax policies which
come from the federal government, they have the option every two
and four years to change who the federal decision makers are,

The repetitive so-called falling-over-the-cliff crises depress the natural
economic cycles of the market system, distort them, and prolong the
downside. At some point, consumers, whether liberal or conservative,
Democratic or Republican, will need to insist that those who represent
them in Washington, DC decide to earn their keep.

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