Monday, April 29, 2013


Two curious recent articles, “Twilight of Entitlement” by Robert
Samuleson and “Are You Ready For the Death Of Football?” by
John Kass, each in major U.S. establishment newspapers, suggest
the ominous end to two of the most beloved institutions in
American life. I don’t know much about Mr. Kass, but Mr.
Samuelson is my favorite popular writer about economics, and
someone I usually find far more insightful and correct than certain
other pompous and mostly wrongheaded self-styled economists.

I juxtapose these two articles about seemingly very different subjects
because  I think sports and economics are often intrinsically connected
in human behavior, something I learned from my favorite 20th
century philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who wrote brilliantly about
the role and history of sport in European civilization a century ago.

Mr. Kass argues that recent medical revelations of the physical risk
and cost of football as an inherently dangerous contact sport will now
cause parents of young boys to forbid them from playing football in
school, be it secondary school or college.  Although professional
football has been played in the U.S. for a century (and originally with
far less protection now provided to each player), it is only recently
that documentation about the frequency of concussions and other
serious injuries on the field is showing how serious these long-term
consequences can be. A number of high profile deaths and critical
injuries of young players in high school, and a massive lawsuit by
former pros against organized football have heightened the controversy.
Professional sports are very big business in the U.S. Tickets to baseball,
basketball, football, hockey, and now soccer games command premium
prices, and these sports involve many billions of dollars. Mr. Kass is not
predicting the end of baseball, basketball and hockey, although each of
them is a contact sport, nor of professional tennis, golf or other
non-contact sports. He is, however, zeroing in on football, both amateur
and professional, and is basing his argument on the role of parents in
permitting and encouraging their sons to play football. I suspect he
genuinely reflects the concern of many affluent and other middle class
mothers and fathers, but I’m not sure his concern is yet felt by many less
affluent and/or minority parents who might perceive success on the football
field as a sure ticket to wealth and fame for their child. I also think that
most of the young men who seek a career in pro football, or as a way to
pay their way through college, come from the latter backgrounds. That is
not to say that low income or minority parents are less caring about their
sons, but it does say they might have a different awareness or perspective
on the medical consequences, especially in light of the fabled salaries and
other benefits from achieving professional status in football. Mr. Kass has
made a prediction, I believe, out of genuine alarm and true facts, but I
don’t think the demise of professional football is quite as imminent as he

Mr. Samuelson likewise predicts the end of an American institution. In
this case, it is the whole sweep of entitlements which have grown so fast
and to such immense dimensions in the past fifty years. He suggest that
our whole contemporary economic society is based on assumptions of
these entitlements which were created more than 50 years ago to
counteract or fix poverty, lack of education, economic instability,
unexpected disability and the challenges of old age.

In four categories, jobs, benefits, productivity and lifestyle, Mr.
Samuelson argues that the welfare state, the safety net, income equality,
and the preservation of the family, all through government intervention,
are clearly failing in fact, and will bring about dramatic new public
attitudes about lifetime expectations, aspirations, and the role of
government. This is a very big subject, and Mr. Samuelson’s argument, and
my comments here, cannot cover the ominous and profound consequences
of where we as a society and a nation go from here. But with the imminent
crises in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, (not to mention
Obamacare); the obvious failure of the welfare system; the breakdown of
U.S. public secondary and higher education; the rise of divorce,
out-of-wedlock children, the general breakdown of the American family,
and chronic high unemployment, is there any reasonable doubt that the
entitlement expectations of the past fifty years are coming to an end?
Finally, the current vogue of applying penalty taxation, and excessive
government regulation, Mr. Samuelson further suggests, will make
economic conditions only worse not better.

There has always been an American optimism that life will inevitably get
better, and that the institutions we hold dearest will endure forever. This
optimism has been an American characteristic since the nation was founded,
and has persisted through frontier challenges, a civil war, numerous economic
depressions and panics, two world wars, and a “Cold” war. Since 9/11,
however, this indomitable optimism seems to be being tempered and altered by
results. The suggestions that America might have to do without football and
entitlements, not to mention other cherished institutions, is another set of
troubling awarenesses being fired across the American bow.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


THE PRAIRIE EDITOR has sent to all 
his subscribers directly to their e-mail
addresses a special commentary 
about an extraordinary experience
he had in Mexico four decades ago. 

To subscribe to this website, and 
to receive this and all its special features, 
please go to the right and scroll down to 
the "SUBSCRIBE" button.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Curious Constancy

In reading about the events of the past century, it is evident
that, while each generation had different circumstances and
different players, certain patterns of events continue to occur.

This past week illustrates this clearly. The terror attack at the
Boston Marathon, the large earthquake in Iran, the devastating
explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas, the continuing civil war
in Syria, the worldwide economic crisis, the threats from North
Korea, the stalemate of legislation in the U.S. Congress and the
publicity-seeking antics of various Hollywood and other
entertainers all are recurring themes in events of the past 100 years.

Terrorism, in its modern form, emerged at the end of the 19th
century, and has played a major part in world history ever since.
Natural disasters occur with asymmetric regularity. Significant
man-made disasters happen with unfortunate constancy. And
those in the entertainment industry, from film stars to pop
musicians, continue to distract the media and popular culture
from ongoing crises and problems.  Civil wars based on ethnicity
or religion have been commonplace for more than 100 years.
Periodic economic crises have been common. Individual despots
and dictators have appeared almost routinely for generations.
Finally, the inability of most legislative bodies, be they
congresses or parliaments, to make necessary reform or change,
thwarts democratic societies perhaps when the legislative
branch of government is most needed.

Now it is probably valid to say that over many centuries, historical
event patterns do change, excluding patterns of natural events beyond
humanity’s control. Before democratic capitalism, terrorism per se
was rare, before the revolution in communication technology, “stars”
and popular icons had limited appeal, until the American revolution
and subsequent revolutions in Europe and elsewhere, legislative action
was mostly by royal decree. Global trade, as we know it, was limited,
slow, and primitive. Since most rulers were kings, today’s
variety of totalitarianism did not exist, and national states were
put together by geography, not demographics; today’s international
tensions could not exist. And until the industrial revolution, and the
population "explosion," large-scale man-made disasters were very rare.

My point is not to denigrate modern societies, cultures and
technologies. Considering the advances in health, freedom, mobility,
transportation, communications and culture, they far outweigh the
problems and pathologies which accompany them. But I do suggest
that if we want to rise to the next level of our human civilization, we
need to understand better the forces set into motion by what we are
doing by attempting to live together in some kind of harmony and
tolerance, and in such large numbers, as we move to the next stages
of human life.

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: So Far, But Only So Far, Breaking To The Right

What a difference a cycle makes.

In 2010, everything broke to the right in U.S. house, senate and gubernatorial
races. In 2012, the breaks, especially n the U.S. senate and the presidential race
went to the left.

So far, looking toward 2014, the “breaks” seem to be going right in the U.S.
senate races, to the left in gubernatorial races, and of course, there is no
presidential race.

Republicans have governors in 30 of the 50 states. Almost all (about 5 races)
close contests in 2014 involve GOP incumbents or those currently-held by
retiring GOP incumbents. Democrats will very likely win pick-ups, but the
number so far is uncertain.

Republicans currently control the U.S. house by a clear margin. They had an
even larger margin in 2012, but had a net loss of nine seats that year. Prospects
for 2014 seem to favor the Republicans once again, not just from their natural
advantage from the 2010 redistricting, but from continued unpopularity and
problems from liberal legislation passed 2009-11 when Democrats controlled
both houses of Congress. President Obama has set his sights on winning back
the U.S. house, however, and there are vulnerable GOP congresspersons this
cycle, but  so far, early indications are that Republicans might actually pick up
a net of 3-6 seats in 2014.

The true battlegrounds, as I have pointed out previously, will be in various U.S.
senate contests in 2014. Democrats control 20 of the 35 seats up for election in
this cycle, and most of the 15 seats now held by Republicans are in conservative
states. About 10-12 of the Democratic-held seats are, or could become,
competitive. Republicans need to win six seats for control.

Retirements so far have favored the GOP.  South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson,
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Michigan Senator, Carl Levin, and Iowa
Senator Tom Harkin, each senior Democrats who would have been likely to
win re-e-election, have retired and might be replaced by Republicans. Senator
Daniel Inoye from Hawaii died in office and was replaced by appointment,
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts resigned to become secretary of state, and
was also replaced with an appointment. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey
is retiring, but all three of these seats so far seem to be retained by Democrats.

The two retiring Republicans,Senator Mike Johans  of Nebraska and Senator
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia are likely to be replaced by fellow Republicans.
GOP Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina resigned, and was replaced by
Republican Tim Scott who will also likely be elected in 2014.

The only Republican incumbent running for re-election who might now have a
problem in 2014 is Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few moderate conservatives
in the senate. However, she remains popular in her state, and unless she retires (as
did fellow GOP moderate Olympia Snowe in 2012) this seat should remain on the
GOP side. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might have had a contest
in his re-election, but the Watergate-style taping of his private conversations by a
Democratic Party group in Kentucky has probably ended any mystery about this race.

In addition to the competitive races enabled by Democratic retirees previously
mentioned, a number of potential close contests and pick-ups remain. Democratic
incumbents Kay Hagen in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor
in Arkansas, Mike Begich in Alaska, Max Baucus in Montana, and Al Franken in
Minnesota could face serious challengers, although in the case of Senator Franken,
no formidable GOP opponent has yet appeared (and probably won’t). Incumbent
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire could also face a serious
race as the election approaches. Although Democratic replacements in New Jersey
and Massachusetts seem relatively safe now because both are Democratic states,
surprises there might happen as election day nears.

Nor is it impossible that conservative groups won’t again challenge incumbent GOP
senators who are certain to win, but who might not be “pure” enough. Senator
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee could face such a challenge, and if the challenge
were successful, a Democrat might win this seat. Another burden for Republicans
is their recent tendency to nominate inexperienced and notoriously inarticulate
candidates who transforms easy wins into losses.

At the outset of the 2006 cycle, Republicans felt confident they could keep control
of the senate. In 2010, Democrats thought they were likely to keep control of the
house. In 2012, Republicans felt sure they would at least pick up senate seats if not
win back control. All these expectations were unfulfilled. Recent political history
demonstrates that nothing can be taken for granted, and past electoral patterns
cannot be presumed operative in 2014.

By election day, 2014, the consequences of Obamacare will have become much
clearer, the effect of continued deficits much more defined, and the outcome of
prolonged unemployment, if it is still with us, unavoidable. If there is an economic
turnaround, Democrats will do better than now expected. If there is not, some now
“safe” Democrats will lose.

Already the hot breath of the “off-year” national elections can be felt behind the
rhetoric in the political marketplace like a whisper becoming louder and louder.

There will be a few more retirements, a few more surprises, and perhaps not a few
new faces in the days ahead. In only a few months, the next cycle will be right in
front of us, and the whispers will become noisy voices everywhere.

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Petty Words Bounce Off The Steel Of Her Memory

When a world figure dies, so much is written about them
that I rarely feel compelled to join in on the avalanche of
tributes and commentary.

The occasion of the death of former British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher is one of those moments, She was
unquestionably one of the giant figures of the latter half of
the 20th century.

I have noted, however, among some writers and other figures
in her country, and in mine, an attempt to denigrate Mrs.
Thatcher, almost all of this out of political spite and pettiness.

The words “divisive,” “controversial,” “headstrong,” "vindictive"
and “unwomanly” are among many terms employed pejoratively
(some of these terms otherwise might not be considered negatives)
in this petty spite. In fact, her most famous unofficial title,
“The Iron Lady,” which she bore proudly, was originally
penned as a negative by her sworn enemy, the Soviets, because
of her long opposition to Marxist totalitarianism.

Margaret Thatcher, like all politicians, made mistakes. Some
of her policies did not work out. But to have played a vital
part, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and
Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War (1945-90), and
in defeating totalitarian communism, places Baroness
Thatcher in some very exclusive and important company.
Completely on her own, she stood down attempts by the
chronically dysfunctional Argentine government to annex
by force the Falkland Islands, and helped restore a waning British

The United Kingdom was once the greatest naval power the
world has even known. It was for a few centuries the world’s
greatest colonial power. At the outset of the 20th century, however,
Britain was in decline, militarily and economically. By the end of
the 20th century that decline had significantly increased. What has
remained, however, on that small island is a legacy of language,
law, and courage unmatched perhaps by any other national experience.

Even now, the UK remains outside (a Thatcher policy) the
collapsing Eurozone, and holds its own with the other major European
powers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Just as scholars, analysts and other commentators (including myself)
are dissecting and reconsidering the careers of Winston Churchill and
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, heroes  of the previous generation
in the West, two great men who were, as all of us are, flawed and made
mistakes, there will be time enough to analyze Margaret Thatcher’s
time on the political stage.

The denigrations of her contributions, at the moment of her death,
however, are quite petty, especially by those men and women who
fancy themselves as liberal advocates for women and feminism, but
can’t allow that an English woman could accomplish so much for
what she cherished and believed.

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Memoirs Of The Future

Those who read and study widely know that the past is often much
more complicated than the future. The future, whatever it will be, is
unpredictable, almost always surprising, but like the present, filled with
many details we can see, or otherwise confirm, with our own senses
(when it becomes the present).

The past is retreating irrevocably from us, and only the recent past
even has instruments of verification (photographs, films, recordings,
memories, etc) which give us imperfect or incomplete evidence of what
did indeed happen.

I don’t mean to be too abstract or philosophical about all this, but I do
mean to make a point about politics, and daily life, that is easy to overlook,
especially in times of cultural crisis, economic difficulty and political

As I see it, we are in a moment of all three, and it is easy to become
cynical, pessimistic and depressed about the future --- and to lose the
most vital human sensation of all, a sense of hope, and succumb to
dread and fear of what is to come next.

It is precisely for this reason that now is the time to survey, discuss and
prepare for recent and current innovations of human imagination and
creativity --- from the East as well as the West --- and plan as best we can
for the beneficial and positive consequences of those inventions, discoveries
and improvements of human life soon to come to us.

There will be, of course, many matters that we cannot predict, and it is
obviously problematic to try to anticipate surprises and unexpected
developments. On the other hand, the nature of contemporary life today
is the unprecedented velocity of technological change and advance.
This brings extraordinary benefits, yes, but also new consequences, risks
and conditions.

Nor is technology the only, or even necessarily the primary, source of
what is to happen next. Recent extreme and powerful earthquakes,
hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, floods, epidemics, new diseases and other
natural disasters remind us that there are many global forces greater than
human activity, and that we only share the planet with other organisms.

Recent controversies about so-called “global warming” indicate what
happens when unexplainable natural phenomena become politicized, and
are manipulated to achieve narrow consequences which might be beyond
our ability to control. Such activity also serves, consciously or unconsciously,
as a distraction from what we can do, and in some cases, what we must do,
to go forward.

My conclusion is that we can ill-afford distractions and indifference to what
is happening in the world around us. This has been increasingly true since
the human race became “civilized” (5000-10000 years ago), but now that
there are so many of us, and so many (wonderful/terrible) devices available
to us, we proceed forward “unconsciously” at our great peril.

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How Many Republican Parties Are There? A Very Simple Answer.

Many commentators have been suggesting recently that the
Republican Party is actually two parties. The problem with
this analysis is that there are so many different suggested pairs
of the Party’s identity.

Some say the GOP is split between Tea Party devotees and
establishment conservatives.  Others say the division is between
social conservatives and economic  conservatives. Still others
see the two groups as rural Republicans and urban/suburban
Republicans. Some analyze the GOP as differing by regions
(in which case there are four parties). There are those who say
that today’s GOP is divided between rich voters and blue collar
(“Reagan Republican”) voters.  One more theory has it that the
major difference is between young Republicans and older

There is some truth to each of these analyses, and if this is so,
there are more than a dozen overlapping large factions in the
Republican Party, and that does not further divide GOP voters
by specific issues (in which case there are almost a hundred
identifiable factions).

With so many factions and so many divisions, how will it be
possible for the American conservative party to win a national

I suggest that as long as the various elected officials, spokespersons,
radio hosts, TV personalities and political consultants emphasize,
shout, focus on exclusively, and obsess about their differences, and
insist on them, they are very unlikely to win back control of both
bodies of the Congress, and later, the White House.

The best way to win elections is for a political party to figure what
its members agree about.

A political party that does not want to win elections is not fit
to govern, no matter what their written or stated policy principles.

Winning isn’t everything, differing opinions always exist in any
group, but not winning is not governing. It’s that simple.

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