Friday, June 28, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Specularazzi Fast-Forward To 2016

We remain only in the first year of the second term of
Barack Obama’s presidency, and the media specularazzi
are already churning in predictions and conclusions. It
seems, in recent cycles, always to go this way with
breathless prognostications, meaningless polls, and
reports of instant political “nosedives”of frontrunners
and other presidential hopefuls.

On the Democratic side, the race has been declared “over”
by virtually all the specularazzi, i.e., that Hillary Clinton
already has the nomination in her handbag, and thus no
more need be said. The fact that the identical conclusion
was reached by consensus in 2006, and did not come to
pass, seems to be of no import to the specularazzi. Of
course, Mrs. Clinton has “total” name recognition, and
it has been declared that it’s “her turn”by her old
supporters (not to mention the titular "Spouse" of the
Democratic Party, Bill you-know-who). She will, of
course, be nearly 70 years old in 2016, her record as
secretary of state now judged to be “controversial” and
uneven at best. She is a poor public speaker, and has no
distinction as an administrator. Nevertheless, she is
“inevitable.” Fast-forwarding is so much fun, is it not?

By the way, I wonder if Andrew Cuomo, Mark Warner,
Evan Bayh, Cory Booker, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin,
Ron Wyden and other talented younger Democrats are so
willing to throw in the towel this far in advance. Perhaps.
Perhaps not.

On the Republican side, there is more debate. Early
favorite Senator Marco Rubio has gambled big-time on
immigration reform legislation that is very unpopular
with many in the GOP grass roots. Likewise, high profile
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been declared to
have “crossed the line” with his handling of a U.S. senate
vacancy and his “moderate” views. The new darling on the
rights is first-term Texas Senator Ted Cruz, an outspoken
and smart conservative who seems to be filling a temporary
political void. Concurrent with the seeming decline of Mr.
Rubio, there has been a revival of the only man in recent
U.S. history who has been disqualified for the presidency
solely because of his surname, i.e., former Florida Governor
Jeb Bush, a man with genuine accomplishments, proven
intelligence and, oh yes, all kinds of Hispanic credentials.

Of course, the Republicans also have a stable of old war
horses, including Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum,
et al, but unlike 2008 and 2012, there are none who might
legitimately claim that it is ”their turn.”

As I see it, Governor Christie, Senator Cruz and former
Governor Bush, albeit with differing points of view, are rather
talented fellows, and should make the 2016 contest (when we
finally get to it) rather interesting.

In 2005, one might also note, hardly anyone had heard of the
person who swept to election as president only three years later.

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What In The World Is Going On?

Let’s take a quick review of some very recent, and
apparently unconnected, events in the world.

In Brazil, considered a successful and prospering
democracy after decades of military rule, high inflation
and slow growth, a million protesters against the
government have appeared in the streets of major cities.

In Turkey, the lone Moslem democracy in the Middle East,
and also recently prospering, hundreds of thousands of
protesters against the government have appeared in the
streets of major cities.

 In Egypt, more than a year after street protesters led to
the overthrow of the authoritarian Mubarak regime,
protesters again appear in the streets of Cairo, defying
the new Moslem Brotherhood authoritarian regime.

In Russia, the semi-authoritarian, semi-democratic
successor to the Soviet dictatorship, street demonstrators
protesting against President Putin have appeared.

In Bulgaria, thousands of protesters went to the streets of
the capital Sofia to condemn the controversial appointment
of a new secret service chief, and the Bulgarian parliament
promptly and unanimously reversed itself to satisfy the

In England, numbers of protesters, most of them young
and many of them from the English Defense League,
continually demonstrate against the neo-terrorist wave
sweeping the U.K. in recent years as large numbers of
immigrants have moved into British urban areas. [It is
interesting to note that the establishment British press
(quite leftist) tries to portray these protesters as “far
right” in much the same way the U.S. old media (quite
leftist) establishment has tried to mislabel the U.S. tea
party movement as far to the right.]

What distinguishes these protesters from the usual fringe
groups on the far left is that apparently a great many of
those protesting are ordinary middle class citizens who
normally don’t join protests, but are frustrated by what is
happening in their countries, and what their leaders are
doing. Many of them are politically centrist, conservative
and even moderately liberal. Some of them are nationalists
(a dirty word these days among the politically-correct).

In each case, the protests mentioned above reflect local
conditions and local grievances. It is too soon to say that
they are right or wrong, but that they have appeared at all
is a signal of some kind that should bear watching.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Fault, Fellow Citizens.....

I have lived in the upper midwest for many decades,
but I cannot remember a spring season like the one now
coming to an end. Temperatures have been low, the sun
has rarely appeared, and rainfall (while not unusually
heavy) has been very frequent. Some have quipped
that the Twin Cities are the new Seattle or Portland.

Yet this wet and cloudy spring is no match for what
happened throughout the U.S. midwest, particularly in
the Minnesota River Valley from Iowa to Louisiana, in
1927 when it rained almost every day over a large area
in the midwest for months, and produced a flood of biblical
proportions. It was the largest natural disaster in the
history of the United States to then, and still dwarfs
recent disasters. Only hundreds of persons died in this
flood (the actual count is unknown), but the damage and
dislocation of many millions of persons stands as the
greatest disaster in the nation’s history, and its political and
demographic impact was momentous, reverberating even
to the present day.

Most who read this have not even heard of this disaster, huge
as it was. In today’s dollars, the cost would be hundreds of
billions, perhaps more. Major cities were under water for
extended periods. Evacuations were massive, and the nation's
first concentration camps (for black Americans) were
established 15 years before the Nisei camps were created for
Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. Of lasting impact, a
federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, assumed
new and far-reaching federal powers over the states involved.
Because of their treatment by government authorities,
hundreds of thousands of black Americans (almost all of
them descendants of slaves) who lived in the Mississippi
River Valley soon emigrated north to the industrial cities of
Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc., changing the
American urban and economic landscape forever.

Ironically, the presumption of new federal authority over the
states did not occur during the administration of liberal Franklin
Roosevelt (who took office 6 years later), but under on one of
the most conservative presidents of the 20th century, Calvin
Coolidge. Although this disaster dominated national
newspaper headlines (radio had not come into its full
impact yet, and there was no television) for a year, President
Coolidge did not once visit the area personally, something
unthinkable today. He did, however, appoint his secretary
of commerce, a veteran of World War I relief efforts, to
oversee relief efforts in the flood area. That man, as a
result, became president of the U.S. himself one year later.
His name? Herbert Hoover.

It’s an extraordinary saga, and for the reader who wants to
learn more about it, the book Rising Tide by John M.
Barry provides a full and fascinating account, populated
with fabulous characters (including the young Huey Long)
and incredible stories.

We have all read for years about the southern California
earthquake faults, the many quakes that occur there
periodically, and the dire predictions of a “big one” that
might yet occur. Less well known, is the Cascadia subduction
zone (also known as the Cascadia Fault) which runs offshore
from northern California to British Columbia in Canada.

On January 26, 1700, about 9 p.m., a massive earthquake
occurred on this fault which caused huge tsunamis that
reached as far as Japan. There are in fact more records of
this earthquake in Japan (the tsunamis there were “orphan
tsunamis” because the quake itself was so far away it was
not felt by the Japanese) than in the then British, French
and Spanish colonies on this side of the Pacific Ocean
(since so very few non-native Americans were in the area
at the time). Only recently, thanks to some University of
Pennsylvania geologists, has it been possible to understand
the enormous impact of this earthquake on the U.S. and
Canadian west coast. That earthquake probably exceeded
9.0 on the Richter Scale (1000 times the energy of a 7.0 
temblor). Based on this and other studies of previous
Cascadia Fault earthquakes, geologists predict another
9.0-plus event there every 300-500 years. The 1700 quake
was 413 years ago. Major cities that would be impacted
include Sacramento, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, not
to mention the millions of residents outside these cities.

In spite of the story (and, of course, the movie with Judy
Garland) “The Wizard of Oz,” I don’t remember the kind of
tornado activity in the U.S. that has occurred in recent years.
Not only massive clusters of tornados across the midwest
and south, but like the one which recently set down in
Oklahoma, tornados of historic great size.

Then there are the asteroids which pass near the earth.

Before the reader thinks the author is a castastrophobe,
let me say that titanic natural disasters, in fact, happen
very rarely, and that I fervently hope that any current
predictions of earthquakes, etc., are not realized at any

But I do want to make the point that despite our recent
inclinations to make a mess of our human civilization,
and the persistence of war, persecution, prejudice,
totalitarianism, and other human depravities, we are
incalculably tiny players in the cosmos compared to
those forces of nature beyond our control.

It’s the stars’ fault, fellow readers, and we are “hitched” to
one of them.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013


There are a number of domestic and international issues
competing for our attention recently, so The Prairie Editor
is going to look, in this column, at some of them in
shorter-than-usual discussions.

The newly-elected leader of Iran is being described as a
“moderate.” There is no evidence that he is truly that. A
hardliner on Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and totally
committed to the destruction of Israel, he won by a large
margin. That could only have happened if he was
supported by the ruling mullahs. He is “moderate”
apparently only in that he will not be in-your-face
anti-American as was his predecessor, a strategy
obviously intended to soften the embargo on Iran which
has become very problematic for the Iranian economy.
There will now likely be a period of “public relations,”
but very little hope of any true change.

I am reluctant to be critical of President Obama’s moves
in Syria. It is one of those moments when U.S. interests
are few, ambiguous and opaque. Egged on by Senator
McCain and Bill Clinton (the latter projecting his regrets
about the Rwanda genocide when he was president),
Mr. Obama is taking small steps to aid the rebels who
are a hodgepodge of various local Syrian groups, most
of which are anti-American or otherwise extremist. As
others have pointed out, the present Syrian conflict is
not a “holocaust,” but really a civil war with high
casualties. It might seem “heartless” for the U.S. to
stay out of this conflict, but it is more likely that we
have nothing to gain, and something to lose, by
intervening. Neither Mr. McCain nor Mr. Clinton are
serving U.S. interests by nagging the president to engage
in this civil war.

President Obama’s popularity, as measured by major
polls, is in a significant decline, Most of this is
probably attributable to the recent “scandals”
involving his administration, particularly the
alleged abuses by the Internal Revenue Service, and
the admitted widespread surveillance by the agencies
of the justice department and intelligence community
beyond normal national security needs. The president
has recovered from such declines before, although his
prospects ahead might be even more problematic,
particularly (as I have been saying for three years now)
when the full force of the Obamacare law hits virtually
every American in the next several months. At their
outset, these and other “scandals”were supposed to
go away, many in the media said, and be forgotten, but
that does not seem so far to be occurring.

The special U.S. senate elections this year, one in New
Jersey and another in Massachusetts, do not seem
likely to produce upsets. In New Jersey, Newark Mayor
Cory Booker is way ahead in the polls, and is almost
certain to be elected in October. Those who know Mr.
Booker best suggest that he will become almost
instantly a national Democratic figure, and potentially
even a 2016 presidential candidate. (Skeptics of such a
prospect need to be reminded that a certain recent
and successful presidential candidate was nominated
with much less political experience.) In Massachusetts,
there is more suspense about the outcome, primarily
because the heavily favored Democratic nominee, Ed
Markey, is a flawed statewide candidate; and the
Republican nominee, Gabriel Gomez, is an attractive,
albeit inexperienced, newcomer. Polls of this race
vary, but Markey’s advantage in this very liberal state
is considerable, including his campaign finance
advantage. If Mr. Markey somehow were upset in this
race, it would signal that the Democratic brand was
indeed in very big trouble.

An interesting contrast is emerging in the public
policies of two adjoining midwestern states which
usually behave in a similar fashion. Minnesota and
Wisconsin make up two of the three states I have
previously named as the political mega-state
“Minnewisowa” (the third is Iowa). With similar
climate, geography, history, demographics, and
agriculture, these states have been bastions of
alternating conservative and populist impulses in
recent years. In 2012, however, Minnesota moved
distinctly to the left with a liberal governor and
legislature, This has resulted in many new taxes
and fees, more regulations, higher government spending,
special favors to public unions, and various attempts
to redistribute wealth in the state. In next-door
Wisconsin, however, a conservative governor and
legislature has resulted in lower taxes, fewer regulations,
reduced state spending and curbs on public labor unions.
It will be interesting to observe the outcomes of these
two very different public policy approaches on the
economy of these states. So far, the “experiment” in
Wisconsin, like similar conservative approaches in
Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Michigan (not counting
bankrupt Detroit), Louisiana and Texas, seems to be
working, and the”experiment” in Minnesota is
producing a negative backlash. But we will know more
after each of these governors run for re-election next

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013


The internet began with two computers in California in
1969. ARPAnet, one of the most consequential human
creations of all time (to date), had been conceived as a
communications resource in the Cold War. Soon, more
computers were added to the small “system.” This
“packet-switched” system was not able to be coordinated
into a worldwide system until 1979. But it was not until
1991 that a Swiss computer scientist was able to create
the “worldwide web” that is used today. A year later, a
user-friendly method was invented to enable easy search
of the web. From there, the internet took off, connecting
literally billions of persons all over the planet, creating
vast industries, “instant” billionaires (many of them under
30 years old), and unalterably changing the contemporary
human experience.

Needless to say, an invention of this magnitude has, shall
we say, certain profound consequences.

The current “scandal” about U.S. government monitoring
of e-mail and phone calls has some observers recalling to
mind George Orwell’s famed novel “1984” (written in 1948)
about government control of a nation’s population. Orwell
was not writing about government misuse of the internet
(which was not even then conceptualized), he was writing
about Soviet totalitarianism, then creeping insidiously
across war-ravaged Europe.  A former communist himself,
Orwell had seen the murderous totalitarian nature of the Far
Left while participating in the Spanish Civil War  (1937-39),
and became a passionate critic of its political system.

In reality, the internet and its systems can be an excellent
antidote to totalitarianism, informing and empowering
any person about events in the world. Realizing this,
totalitarian regimes everywhere are currently attempting
to limit and control citizen use of the internet, much as the
Nazis and Soviets attempted to control the use of the
transformative communication invention of the 20th century,
radio, during and after World War II to prevent their subjects
from knowing what was going on in the free world. Just as
the Nazis developed techniques to locate secret radio
transmitters in its occupied territories, today’s totalitarian
regimes have developed techniques to track down "secret"
internet users.

In our “free” societies of the West and democratic East,
techniques are available to monitor internet use for
“national security” purposes. After 9/11, there seems little
doubt that this is a legitimate purpose. It is believed and
asserted that numerous terrorist threats in the U.S. and
Europe have been averted as a result.

The basic truth, as we begin the 21st century, is that there
are no written or spoken secrets any more. It is one of the
consequences of the devices we have created to serve us.
The computer also enables us to “map” the human genome,
to decipher the very nature of the human body, and to
develop ways to save and prolong human life.

Simply put, this genie is out of the lamp, and there is
no way to go back to an earlier existence without the
computer. Democratic societies do not, by their nature,
suppress, although any technological device, as already
noted, can be misused or perverted for undemocratic ends.

On the other hand, democratic bureaucracies are quite
capable of overreaching. If there has been such misuse by
the present administration, it should be uncovered, punished
and revoked. Bureaucracies in democratic societies have
grown exponentially, and have become less and less
accountable. The solution;, interestingly enough, might well
be through computer technology and its capability to make
the bureaucracy “transparent” and truly accountable.

The computer has, in only two decades, changed modern
civilization (although perhaps half the world’s population
still live in undeveloped societies, tribalism and poverty,
and seem untouched by technology) so rapidly that its
consequences have been overrun by the velocity of time.

The current tempest over government “scandals” can serve
a very healthy and useful purpose. This tempest can serve
to foster much-needed conversation about “consequences”
that probably has been neglected in our breathless excitement
about each new internet software program and capability.

Rather than suppress or end this conversation, let’s use this
opportunity to understand just what it is we have created.

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

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Christie On The Spot?


The death of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from
New Jersey, does not usually present much dilemma for a
state governor who almost always is expected to appoint a
replacement until the next election. State laws vary,
sometimes the appointment is to fill out the remainder of
the deceased senator’s term, sometimes until the next
general election, and sometimes through a special election
usually determined by the governor or the legislature.
Governors are expected to name a replacement from their
own party, and not from the deceased’s party if it is not
specifically prohibited.

Most governors do not appoint themselves to the
post because, although they can, voters usually react
negatively, and subsequently vote them out. (A classic
example occurred in 1976 when a very popular Minnesota
governor, Wendell Anderson, appointed himself, and
subsequently lost election to the post in 1978 by a wide

Earlier this year, when another senior Democrat, Daniel
Inoye of Hawaii, died, Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie
surprised state politicos when he appointed his Lt. Governor
Brian Schatz over Congesswoman Colleen Hanabusa (who had
been Inoye’s stated choice). As a result, Hanabusa is running
against Schatz in next year’s Democratic primary. Interestingly,
Hawaii law states that the governor shall appoint someone from
the deceased’s party (from a list of three submitted to the
governor from that party), and that the appointment shall last
until the next general election.

New Jersey law is more ambiguous about how long a
gubernatorial appointee is to serve. Governor Chris Christie
is a Republican in a traditionally Democratic state. If
Christie were not so nationally prominent, and a likely
2016 presidential contender, common political sense would
be for him to appoint a Republican to serve until Senator
Lautenberg’s term was set to expire in 2015 (so as to have
time to build his or her standing with state voters for the
2014 election.)

But New Jersey is unusual since it holds its gubernatorial
elections in an in-between year (the next one is, in fact,
this year), and Mr. Christie understandably wishes to win
his re-election by as wide a margin as possible. If he opted
for the special senate election this year, he risks having
his efforts overshadowed by a popular Democratic senate
candidate (perhaps Mayor Cory Booker of Newark). No one
suggests the colorful incumbent governor would lose this year
(he leads all polls by a wide margin), but a less-than-a-landslide
result might hurt any 2016 presidential ambitions.) Mayor
Booker on the ticket would likely bring out lots of Democratic
voters that otherwise might not vote.

On the other hand, if Christie opted for a 2014 senate contest,
he is open to the charge that he is thwarting New Jersey’s
previous preference for a Democrat in that office. This
normally is not a serious consideration, and most governors
routinely appoint a temporary replacement from their own
party, regardless of the party of the person who has vacated
the position by death or resignation (an exception is the law
in Hawaii cited above).

Governor Christie has already chosen to go for the 2013
option, citing the need for New Jersey voters to have a
new senator of their choice as soon as possible, but he has
added a twist to the scenario. Using his powers as governor,
he has set the senate primary for August and the general
election for mid-October, even though there is a general
election already scheduled for a few weeks later in November
(an election in which Christie is running for re-election).

Governor Christie might have scheduled the general election
the same day as the already-scheduled election, and saved
taxpayers several millions of dollars. The problem with
that otherwise common sense plan is that New Jersey
law requires the governor to set the primary date and
special election date a certain number of days after he
officially announces the special election. (This has not been
widely included in reports of this story so far.) In order to
hold the special senate election on the same day as the 2013
general election, as I understand it, Governor Christie would
have been forced to delay announcement of his decision for
several weeks.

I think such a delay, given the news media badgering, would
have been politically unwise, especially as the governor was
embarking on his own re-election campaign at this time.

As others have pointed out, had Senator Lautenberg died
30 days earlier or 30 days later, the New Jersey law would
have been much less ambiguous. In any event, the final
decision, everyone agrees, was up to the governor.

Was the decision political? Of course it was. Every decision
by any elected official always has political implications. Was it
self-serving? Yes. I don’t know any politician at any level of
government who faces a political decision, and does not try to
maximize its political consequences. Was it the smartest or
best decision? We don’t know the answer to that question yet.

First of all, Mr. Christie has to make a caretaker appointment
for the senate seat in the near future. That almost certainly
will be a Republican, perhaps Christie’s own mentor and
the highly respected Thomas Kean Sr. (now 78). It could also
be his son, Thomas Kean Jr., an important state legislator.
That person would serve until the special election (about 5
months), and could also run for the GOP nomination in
August, and election in October. On the Democratic side,
the special election presents unanticipated problems for Mr.
Booker (who had been expected to win the Democratic
nomination in 2014). He will now probably face a heated
primary race with one or two Democratic congressmen,
Frank Pallone and Rush Holt Jr.. Pallone and Holt now do
not risk their house seats (as they would have had they run
in a 2014 primary). Whomever the Democratic nominee will
be, he or she will probably win the seat, but the Democratic
campaign will have to spend all its efforts in getting out the
Democratic vote in October. With Christie leading by such a
wide margin, it might be problematic for Democratic leaders
to turn out a strong vote again a few weeks later.

The bottom line is that the senate vacancy at this time has
presented Chris Christie with some difficult choices. He has
appeared to make the choice that makes him the most
comfortable in a highly charged political and media

The key to answering the question about whether the
course he has chosen is politically smart or not will be
answered by the voters of New Jersey. Considering his
remarkable success with these voters so far, and his unique
skills in presenting himself to them, it might be too soon to
judge his actions as a mistake.

As for his prospects in 2016, any judgment about how he
might fare then is quite premature. He has larger problems
and opportunities ahead then than how he handles a U.S.
senate vacancy now.

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

UPDATE - JUNE 6, 2013

Governor Christie has now chosen his long-time friend and
associate, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to serve
as the interim U.S. senator taking the place of the late Frank
Lautenberg until mid-October, 2013 (about five months) when
a new senator will be elected in a special election. Mr. Chiesa
is a Republican who describes himself as a conservative. He
announced he would not be running in the special election.

As suggested in the post above, Congressman Rush Holt Jr., a
Democrat, has now announced his candidacy for the special
election. Congressman Frank Pallone and Newark Mayor Cory
Booker are also expected to imminently announce their
candidacies. Monday, June10 is the filing deadline for the
special election. So far, no big GOP names have announced
they will run. Mayor Booker is the favorite, but Mr. Holt and
Mr. Pallone, as sitting congressmen, are serious candidates.
New Jersey is a political mosh pit, and the primary is likely to
be expensive and bruising. The Democratic primary winner
is very likely to win the special election in this blue state.

Although Governor Christie is being criticized for the timing
of the special election by both New Jersey Democrats and
national Republicans, it is becoming clearer that, although he
might have opted for a 2014 special election, such a decision
would have been challenged by the Democrats in court, and
they very likely would have won that challenge since the state
supreme court is dominated by liberal Democrats. New Jersey
law currently also prohibits a 2013 special senate election in
November when the general election is already scheduled to take
place. Some New Jersey Democrats are planning to introduce
legislation to require the 2013 special election in November,
but while the legislature is controlled by Democrats, the governor
could veto the bill. He has already labeled such a move as
"politically motivated."

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten Potentially Significant Events Here And Abroad Now Getting Little Or No Old Media Coverage





      IN U.S.