Wednesday, March 27, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Incomparable Days

I have been reading a great many books recently, biographies,
history books and historical novels ,which take place in the U.S.,
Europe and Asia in the period between 1934 and 1945.

This time has always interested me because it occurred before
I was born or was conscious of the world around me. I heard much
about it from my parents, other family members and older  friends
over the years, and I did previously read a considerable amount
about the U.S. and the worldwide depression, the rise of totalitarian
fascism in Germany and Italy, the rise of totalitarian communism in
the Soviet Union, the conquest of Europe by the Nazi armies and
the conquest of Asia by militaristic Japanese armies, and finally,
the end of World War II which brought the depravity of that era
to a conclusion (as much as any period concludes anything before
a new one springs out of what went before.)

There are many eras, of course, which are very interesting and
deserve individual interest, and for Americans that often includes
the colonial/revolutionary war period and the U.S. civil war period.

But I want to discuss the traumatic time of 1934 to 1945, a dozen
years of unspeakable worldwide violence and terror that included
the millions who died in the Stalinist agricultural and political
purges in Ukraine and Russia,, the Holocaust, the tens of millions
of soldiers and civilians who died in the blitzkriegs, bombings and
military campaigns.

There are , of course, the big names of this period, including
President Franklin Roosevelt; Generals George Marshal, Dwight
Eisenhower, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur;  foreign leaders
Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Tojo, Emperor
Hirohito and Charles DeGaulle.

But there are many other persons who played key roles in this
pivotal time. Leaders and personalities in all of the affected
nations, today much less well-known,  helped determine what
happened, as did much more importantly, ordinary citizens
whose examples of courage, brutality, suffering and endurance
made them heroes, victims, saviors, assassins, torturers and
innovators in such a terrible time.

I have been reading not only accounts of London during the
blitz, but also Paris during its occupation, Moscow and Leningrad
during their sieges, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw when they were
invaded, Berlin, Rome and Tokyo while they pursued their
aggressions against most of the civilized world, and then when
war fell disastrously on them, too.

The basic theme of this relatively short, but so immensely tragic,
time, is the sudden appearance of such venal and totalitarian
forces, the initial inability of the “civilized” resistance to them,
the depravity of how some human beings treated their fellow
human beings, and the final triumph of the civilized nations.

In our own time, most of us, surely in the U. S., Canada, and
most of Europe, are living through nothing comparable. In other
parts of the world, especially in parts of the Middle East, Africa,
Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea, whole populations are enduring
the latest forms of totalitarian life. That we are spared such
conditions should give us no satisfaction, but the world today is no
more a cooperative place than it has been in the past. The United
Nations is a gross failure as the protector of human rights.

One of the books I have recently read, “The Polish Officer’ by the
British novelist Alan Furth who has turned out so many fascinating
and brilliant spy novels of Central Europe in this period, is
exemplary in how it portrays with extraordinary contemporary
details, the color and mood of 1934-45, and illustrates that while there
are important constants in human behavior, constants of heroism,
venality, courage, barbarism and selflessness, no historical period
is exactly like another.

In “The Polish Officer,” a young cartographer with aristocratic
background holds the rank of captain in the Polish Army at the
outbreak of World War II when the German army invaded
Poland. The novel opens just a the Nazi Wehrmacht crosses the
eastern Polish frontier and moves toward Warsaw, the Polish
capital. At the same time, as a result of a secret pact with Germany,
the Soviet army crosses the western Polish border to split the nation
in two, and occupy it, dividing the spoils.

The Polish government, knowing its long history of enduring
subjugation, quickly realized that its principal alllies France
and Britain would no be coming to their aid (although each
country, honoring their treaties with Poland, declared war on
Germany). Helpless, though courageous, Polish forces were no
match for the Nazi and Soviet armies, and the country fell in a few
weeks .The Polish government moved en masse to Paris (and after
Paris fell, to London). With Nazi troops about to enter Warsaw,
the Polish captain was given a choice of whether fight on (and die),
flee, or remain in Poland as an operative of the Polish resistance.
He chooses the latter, and the novel then takes us on an
unforgettable journey through occupied Europe as the Polish
officer performs dangerous mission after mission, beginning with
smuggling the Polish national gold reserves into Rumania, and
then sabotage of German army preparations for invading England,
for the exiled Polish government and its Allies, most of whom are
now on the island of England.

In addition to the literary skill of Mr. Furst in telling a riveting
story, the author has a knack of filling his pages with amazing and
apparently remarkably accurate details of daily life in occupied
Europe at all levels of society. It is these details, so fulsome and
compelling, which however remind me how different times are.
There are good reasons why this is so, particularly differences of
technology, including transportation, communications, medicine
and medical treatment, weaponry, among others aspects of daily life.

I have long said and written, that while history does not actually
repeat itself, it does instruct us. We may be entering a new dark and
problematic period of history. New forces of terror, hatred and
violence have appeared. An extended period of economic stress,
fostered by worldwide debt and economic instability, has also
appeared. How we get through and resolve this global crisis is so far
uncertain, but it seems it will not be merely a repeat of the crises of
the just completed 20th century.

Yet certain themes of human behavior do not appear to change from
century to century.

The United States is understandably weary of war. We have recently
taken serious casualties, and unlike at the end of World War II or at
the end of the Cold War, our benefits of victory and national interests
are not yet clear. Grievous as the losses were on September 11, they do
not even come close to the losses in other parts of the world in the last
century, or even our own losses in our civil war in the century before
that. The totalitarian impulse, alas, does not go away. It is rapacious
and violent in all its actions. We ignore it at our very great peril.
Freedom is not a slogan, It is the fundamental condition of human
life if we are to advance as a species, and survive.

Freedom is the incomparable human destiny, and if we lose it, we
lose everything we think we want to be.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Take A Deep Breath About 2016

There has been a sudden rush of breathless op eds and
public statements about the “frontrunners” and "new leaders"
of the Republican Party. Simultaneously, there have been
similar accounts proclaiming that Hillary Clinton has the
2016 Democratic nomination “all sewn up” if she wants to

It is quite possible that Marco Rubio and Rand Paul will run
for president in the next cycle, and that Mrs. Clinton (who will
be almost 70 years old in 2016) will also throw her bonnet into
the ring. But in spite of the media fetish to begin the next
presidential election, even before a the winner of the most
recent election has barely begun his second term, the sudden
outburst gives new meaning to the notion of prematurity.

What we do know is that 2016 will not have an incumbent
president running. Although the incumbent Democratic Vice
President Joe Biden could run (and has hinted he might), he will
be 74 years old that year, much older than anyone has ever been
to begin a presidency.

Rand Paul had a sensational success in his recent senate filibuster
which forced the Obama administration to answer a question
about the use of drones. Without endorsing anything else he has
done or stands for, I praised him for his pluck and ingenuity,
something the more experienced senate leadership has so far
failed to do. But one relatively small incident does not qualify a
person to be president, much less his or her party’s nominee.

Marco Rubio is an attractive political personality, but faces many
hurdles should he run for president, including the thorny issue of

And what about enormously successful Republican governors
such as Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Susana
Martinez and Scott Walker? What about former Governors Jeb
Bush and Mike Huckabee, or current Senators Eric Portman
and John Thune? What if Congressman Paul Ryan or Governor
Rick Perry decide to have another try? The GOP has a very large
and serious bench.

(A side note: Recently, some conservatives indicated they have no
time for New Jersey GOP Governor Chris Christie. This is curious
inasmuch as Mr. Christie is the most popular incumbent governor
of either party in the nation, and New Jersey is a Democratic state!
He is also arguably the most gifted political communicator of either
party, but no matter, throw him overboard.)

As for the Democrats, they are not without many younger and
talented figures. What about Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senators
Mark Warner,  Amy Klobuchar, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin?
Or former Senator Evan Bayh?

As I recall, in 2005, Mrs. Clinton had a “lock” on the Democratic
nomination. Barack Obama had not even won his first election as

Speaking of Mr. Obama, both parties have a history of new faces
emerging later in the cycle. What makes anyone presume that the
American voter in either party wants a senior or aging figure to run
the country?

Most importantly, perhaps, neither party has firmly established a clear
new identity for the 2016 cycle. Republicans, it has been often noted,
have suffered from initiating two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and
presiding over the beginning of an extended recession with prolonged
unemployment. A clearly left-of-center Democratic president and
Congress have so far been unable to bring the nation clearly out of its
economic woes, and the fiscal impact of the new Obamacare is only
now being felt, with numerous warnings of dramatically higher
healthcare insurance costs ahead for many Americans.

It is interesting to note that there is no serious Democratic presidential
prospect for 2016 who is as far left, or further left, than Mr. Obama.

At the same time, there is a crisis of ”branding” for the contemporary
Republican Party, still recovering from the shocks of 2012.
Conservatives in that party are locked in a messy combat over
immigration, marriage and assorted social issues.

Democrats, as 2016 approaches, will have to debate internally policies
about entitlements, deficits and education ---policies which might be
very different than those now being followed by the current Democratic

Since we do not know how the 2014 midterm elections are going to turn
out, whether or not chronic unemployment will go down significantly,
whether or not inflation will reappear, and of course, the global political,
military and economic conditions that will prevail in 2015-16, it is merely
self-indulgence that proclaims who the leaders of the Republican Party
are, and who are even the likely nominees of both parties will be in the
next cycle.

It might be more worthwhile to concentrate that energy on the problems
and the political figures we have now.

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Desperation On That Side Of The Pond?

The draconian move by European Union (EU) bureaucrats, in effect,
to confiscate a portion of every bank account in Cyprus is one more
sign that the economic crisis in Europe is approaching a point of
no return.

Even these head-in-the-clouds EU officials (or are their heads,
more accurately, in the sand?) had to know that this move would
send shock waves throughout the European banking system and
alarm among those with bank accounts on the whole continent.
The implication that might be fairly derived from this action is
that EU officials are running out of alternative solutions to the

The kick-the-problem-down-the-road approach to solving the
European economic crisis has been given new meaning and
extremity by European Union leaders in recent years, but
previous actions were each loftily rationalized, followed by
relieved acceptance by markets, media and institutions. This
time, however, there has not only been panic by those banking
in Cyprus, but red flags waved at all the EU member states in
economic trouble, including Greece, Portugal. Spain and Italy.

While it is true that there are some very large bank accounts in
Cyprus held by Russians and other foreign nationals (clearly
intending to avoid taxes in other EU states), the EU demand
would penalize every bank account, large and small.

The Cypriote parliament has rejected this bank confiscation
plan, and this was no surprise. No EU member nation government
could okay such a demand and survive. EU officials are persisting
that Cyprus pay their price, and it is possible that Cyprus  will
ultimately remove itself from the European economic organization.

It was easy to pick on little Cyprus; most other EU member states
are much larger. The “trial balloon” failed, but the crisis remains.
Attempts by larger EU nations at “austerity’ are also in much
difficulty because working and middle class citizens have become
so dependent on the many entitlements that welfare state Europe
has provided for so many years. As democratic nations, the member
states’ governments must win elections. By procrastinating in facing
their problems of debt, these governments have made their own
ability to fashion solutions almost impossible politically.

Criticizing the EU demand on Cyprus is the easy part. It was a
very big mistake, but the real lesson here is what it tell us about
the state of the European crisis, a crisis which inevitably, as it
deteriorates further, affects the economies of the rest of the world.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Kamikaze Republicans?

The Political War of 2012 was won by Barack Obama and the
Democrats in the U.S. senate. Republicans won worthy
battles in the U.S. house and in state governments, but they
lost the war.

I must admit that I thought the “war” would have a different
outcome. I was wrong. So were many elected officials,
pundits, political strategists and consultants.

In the aftermath of 2012, however, some are persisting in
putting forward a Republican agenda not only similar to the
one that lost, but an agenda, in some details, even more likely
to bring about defeat in elections ahead.

These latter folks I call “Kamikaze” Republicans. (I did not,
however, invent this phrase.) They are sincerely convinced that
the 2012 campaign was not conservative enough, even though
the GOP nominee embraced most of the conservative principles
they espouse. They are sincere, but their prescription for their
party does not offer a cure to its problems.

This is a difficult period for Republicans, as they try to
understand what happened in 2012, and what they should do
to win in 2014 and 2016.

John Adams once said that “facts are stubborn things.” The
facts of the American electorate in 2013, and for the foreseeable
future are that Hispanic-American, black, Asian-American, urban
and women voters make up a vital portion of voters, and their
numbers will only increase. That Republican candidates did as
well as they did in 2012, only reinforces the notion that
Americans are basically conservative. It is not difficult to imagine
how well Republicans might do if they could notably increase
their share of voters who belong to these groups that significantly
favored Democrats in 2012.

Some suggest, therefore, that a better nominee in 2012 would have
produced a different result. Perhaps, but even a narrow GOP win
in 2012 would not have changed the results in the U.S.senate, nor
would the Republican Party and its goals then have been likely
easily implemented. Most important, a narrow GOP win would not
have caused conservative policy and ideas to be supported by a clear
majority of Americans.

A compromise policy on immigration, a Jack Kemp-styled appeal
to black middle class voters, new ideas to solve urban problems using
conservative principles, embracing the best of new technology, and
bringing more women into GOP party leadership roles at all levels,
local, state and national, could make a huge difference in election
outcomes. There is no need to pander to these groups to attract
voters to the Republican side, or change fundamental principles, but
there is a need to talk to them.

Those principles and policies include reducing taxes where possible,
lowering federal spending and balancing the federal budget, shrinking
public debt, supporting our long-time allies in the world, decentralizing
government, defending human rights, reforming entitlement programs,
promoting free trade, and maintaining a credible and strong national
defense. If these seem self-evident to conservatives, they need also
explain to and persuade others why they are good and necessary for
the nation as a whole, and for every citizen.

First of all, it is not necessary to win a majority of the voters from
each of these groups. Many of them have historically voted Democratic,
and probably will continue to do so in the near future, especially if they
see the liberal party as the source of entitlements. But each of these
groups, especially Hispanic-Americans, blacks and Asian-Americans,
has a growing entrepreneurial middle class. Conservative issues could
be very appealing to them, if conservatives would make a good-faith
effort to communicate to them. Conservatives already have high-level
officials from these groups, including Supreme Court Associate Justice
Clarence Thomas; U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Tim Scott;
Congressspersons Devin Nunez, Mario Diaz-Balart, Raul Labrador,
Illeana Ros-Letinen, Bill Flores, and Jaime Herrera; Governors Bobby
Jindal, Brian Sandoval, Nikki Haley, and Susana Martinez (not to
mention several others who have recently held office). But voters need
to see an acceptance at the local level, too, and more importantly,
personal outreach and empathetic contact.

Newt Gingrich and others have been persuasively making the case in
recent weeks that the national Republican Party needs to take a hard
look at itself, and adapt some of its policies, campaign strategies and
communication skills, if it is to win elections going forward.

The Republican Party cannot be a majority party if it is only a regional
or a rural/exurban party. It might keep control of the U.S. house, win
many governorships and gain 200 votes in the electoral college if it
does not adapt, but that will only mean winning some contests in the
ongoing struggle for political ideas and policy direction in the nation
while continuing to lose the larger struggle.

It is critical to understand and accept that not everyone can be
completely satisfied by any party that seeks to govern.

To lead the nation, to put into practice their economic and foreign policy
ideas and principles, Republicans must win the presidency and control
the Congress.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Rare Clear Election

There have been a lot of close elections in recent years in the
world’s nations which use voting to choose their leaders.

Of course, many totalitarian states, new and old, employ the
ruse of voting to justify remaining in power, either by allowing
only one party or one candidate to run for office, or by making
it so problematic for opposition parties and their candidates
to win that the outcome is really determined before a ballot is

When the voting is close and the nation is large, the closeness
of the election makes governing more complicated, especially
in those democratic nations which employ the parliamentary
system with numerous political parties. The U.S. employs an
electoral college system to make the actual choice of its
president and vice president so that on rare occasions the
winner of the popular vote does not take office. This happened
for the first time in more than a century in 2000, and its
aftermath persisted.

It does appear to be true that in representative democracies
electoral “landslides” are relatively rare, and the sense of this
has been heightened in recent years.

One election in recent days, in the British Falkland Islands,
has been a true rarity, that is, a genuinely free election that was
nearly unanimous. The Islanders by a 99% margin voted to
remain British, in spite of claims by Argentina that the
Falklands belong to them. (That should settle the issue once
and for all, but it probably won’t.)

Another election now going on, with an even smaller electorate,
will be decided a two-thirds majority. This is the election of the
new leader of the Catholic Church by 115 “princes” or cardinals
of the faith. When the choice is made, it will be embraced by all
the electors, and virtually all Catholics.

In Venezuela, there was the phenomenon of an elected dictator,
but he has now died,  and his successor will now be chosen in a
new election.

This was not true in North Korea where, on the death of the
dictator, his young son automatically became head of state. In
South Korea, interestingly, there were free elections, and a
woman for the first time won as president.

The key point is that elections in themselves do not guarantee a
democracy, even if they are free elections. On the other hand,
there can be no representative democracy if there are not free

As we can observe today in the Unites States, Great Britain, Russia,
Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia and virtually every
nation on our little planet, the greatest challenge in our own time,
not unlike in earlier times, is how to govern, and particularly how
to govern well. In the past, however, national interests,
demographics and resources were almost always more clearly
defined and established. At the same time, when leaders and
governments made mistakes in the past,the impact of what they
did was limited, Today, small places, petty leaders, and isolated
locations can lead to much larger consequences, greater
catastrophes, more irreparable harm.

If we do not take more interest in what is happening in the world,
we do that at our peril. There is no going back to a simpler time.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Hats off to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for finally getting
past the Obama administration stonewalling about the
domestic use of drones.

I have not been a big fan of many of Mr. Paul’s views in the
past, although there seems little question that he does not go as
far as his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, in his
libertarian foreign policy stands.

There is much to admire about the libertarian impulse in
American domestic politics, but Ron Paul tried to establish
this impulse in foreign policy and came up with an
isolationism that made him into a cult figure.

Ron Paul has now retired from politics, and left the field to
his son.

Rand Paul has been mentioned as a potential Republican
presidential candidate in 2016, but his prospects have been
considered limited by his father’s legacy of unpopular
libertarian views.   

When the U.S. attorney general recently refused to give a yes
or no answer to the U.S. senate about the power of the president
to employ drones against American citizens on U.S. soil, many
GOP senators (and many others both liberal and conservative)
complained, but no one seemed able to do anything significant
about it (even though the question was a proper and necessary
question to ask.). This is the kind of stonewalling the Obama
administration has been performing for years. Although the
Republicans are a minority in the senate, they have procedural
tools (previously used against a GOP president by a Democratic
minority in years past). One of those tools is the filibuster.
The GOP senate leadership, made up primarily of old lions
(including Mitch McConnell and John McCain) have seemed
unable to act in the face of stonewalling and evasion. Rand Paul,
a relatively new senator, decided to act in spite of the leadership,
and began a filibuster against one of Mr. Obama’s nominees who
require senate confirmation. But Mr. Paul did not rely on mere
long-windedness to achieve his goal. He enlisted voters across the
nation with social media to urge their senators to join him in
his efforts. It worked. Not only did a number of GOP senators
soon take part, but even Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon
joined the filibuster! In the end, the attorney general answered
Mr. Paul’s question.

Mr. Obama’s gamesmanship and exaggeration in the current
sequestration controversy has apparently caused his national popularity
in the polls to take a nosedive. He has nominated questionable men
for the important cabinet posts at state and treasury. His seeming
hubris appeared to be impenetrable, just when compromise and
diplomacy might help domestic matters go his way. The Republicans
control the U.S. house of representatives  and are blocking many of
his programs. GOP Speaker John Boehner has been atttempting to
lead his majority caucus in an effective opposition. It has not been
pretty nor inspiring, but Mr. Boehner has of late seemed to be
getting some traction.

Now Mr. Paul, a backbencher if there ever was one, has put some
teeth into the senate opposition. Mr. Obama, it would seem, now
must come out of the clouds if he is to advance his social welfare

When Mr. Paul recently visited Israel to meet with that nation’s
leaders and to assure them that his own policies were not
necessarily his father’s, he was greeted with some skepticism. It was
said, here and abroad, that actions speak louder than words, and
it remains to be seen where Rand Paul stands on many of the
important issues of our time.

But Mr. Paul’s small but instructive coup in the senate does signal
that he up to something interesting and potentially useful.
Credit is due him for his initiative and success. I would hope we
will see much more of this kind of success from his colleagues in the
house and senate during the many months to come, and as well, a
more engaged and transparent president.

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013



The Prairie Editor has some controverial
comments about a controversial subject:
higher education in the U.S. and the B.A.
degree. This commentary was sent directly
to subscribers.

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