Thursday, December 19, 2013


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

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


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

But they will be only guesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Next Year to everyone!

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Changing Warfare: No Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There will probably be no place to hide.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the time being.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Curious Unintended Consequence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Confusing The Future With The Past?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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