Monday, March 31, 2014


Here are some quick commentaries on a variety of
current news events:

challengers from their own political party, so the
expectation by some pundits that Hillary Clinton will
be nominated for president by acclamation in 2016
does not seem very realistic. If, however, the electorate
is leaning heavily to the Republicans by late 2015, and
“Obama-fatigue’ is rampant, those Democrats who
might make a serious challenge could cede the nomination,
and look ahead to 2020. Bill Clinton was the beneficiary
of this kind of thinking in late 1991, and several first-rank
Democratic presidential aspirants, most notably Mario
Cuomo and Dick Gephardt, took a pass. A recession and
Ross Perot intervened, however, and President George
H.W. Bush’s “certain” re-election fizzled. Ironically, the
major Democratic challenger to Mrs. Clinton in 2016 would
likely be Mario Cuomo’s son, Andrew, now governor of New
York, as was his father in 1992.

ALTHOUGH MUCH SPECULATION for 2014 has a focus
on the numerous currently-held Democratic seats that
might be won by Republicans, and possibly giving the GOP
control of the senate as well as the house, there are at least
two Republican-held seats that might be won by Democrats.
Michelle Nunn, a moderate Democrat, could win in
Georgia where the GOP does not yet have a candidate,
and GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell faces a serious
race with Democrat, Allison Grimes, in Kentucky. In addition,
the North Carolina senate seat, currently held by Democrat
Kay Hagan, was originally thought to be a likely takeover,
but again, the GOP has not yet settled on a strong candidate,
and the opportunity might be lost next November.

IN IOWA, HOWEVER, the Democrats have experienced
their first Delaware (2010), Nevada (2010), Missouri (2012)
and Indiana (2012) “moment” (all of the preceding were
blunders made by Republican senate candidates). Iowa
Congressman Bruce Braley, the putative Democratic nominee
for the open senate seat in the Hawkeye State , unburdened
himself of the opinion that the other Iowa senator, Chuck
Grassley “was only a farmer and never went to law school.”
It has to be remembered that Iowa is a farm state and that
99% of its citizens are not lawyers. The Iowa contest,
previously rated “likely Democrat” is now suddenly “too
close to call.”

Udall, a Democrat, has declared that he would make his
“yes” vote for Obamacare again, if he had the opportunity.
This strategy, in a state where Obamacare is unpopular and
controversial, might be the most contrarian approach of all
in 2014, especially since the Republicans seem to have settled
on a strong candidate, Congressman Cory Gardner, who is a
vocal critic of Obamacare. Certainly, it is the most LOL
campaign idea of the cycle. Watch this race.

regained its lead in snowfall for cities over 100,000 population.
As of March 30, the “Gem City” had received 137+ inches of
snow. Located on the southern shores of Lake Erie, the city
is always one of the major U.S. recipients of the well-known
meteorological “lake effect” that produces heavy snowfall
along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

his hitherto feckless confrontation with Russian President
Vladimir Putin? If he continues to ramp up sanctions
against the former Soviet regime’s recent annexation of
Crimea from Ukraine (and its current veiled threats
against the rest of Ukraine and Estonia), he might just
provoke a diplomatic turnaround in Eastern Europe. German
Chancellor Angela Merkel could play a major role in this
by bringing her European Union colleagues with her in an
overall Western sanctions program. In spite of his recent
actions and statements, Mr. Putin’s national economy would
likely face serious problems if there were major sanctions
and drop-off in trade with the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Putin’s
trump card of the oil and gas he supplies to Ukraine and
Europe could be offset in part if the U.S. continues down the
road of energy self-sufficiency, and new gas supplies to Europe
became more available.

Speaking of Crimea, local officials are concerned that the
region’s vital tourist industry (four million visitors a year,
many of them from cruise ships on the Black Sea) might
evaporate in the coming season because of the political crisis.
Among many sites, the museum at Yalta featuring the wax
figures of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin is empty of visitors
these days. Seven major cruise lines have already cancelled
stops in Odessa (Ukraine), Sevastapol (Crimea) and Yalta

On a more positive tourist note, the 350-year grand tradition
of world’s fairs and international expositions still continues,
despite a drop-off in recent years. The next one is scheduled
for Milan, Italy in 2015: followed by Astana, Kazahstan in
2017; and Dubai in 2020-21.  Latest potential entry is the
Twin Cities of Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul) which is
preparing a bid for 2023.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 28, 2014


There are a number of serious Republicans interested
in running for president, at this early point, in two years.

Some of them, such as Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and
Marco Rubio don’t seem to have a broad enough base to
enable them to win the nomination, but they have motivated
and vocal supporters, and if they run, they will be notable
factors in the Republican primaries and caucuses.

Others, including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and
Rick Perry might be seen as figures of the past, and might
not run (although Governor Perry is making serious
noises about another run in 2016).

2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Governors
Susana Martinez, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and John
Kasich are frequently mentioned, but have yet to indicate
their serious interest in 2016.

The two figures who would probably be frontrunners if they
ran, Governor Chris Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush,
have current political problems to overcome (although it is
more likely than not that one of these two men will be the
GOP nominee).

On the other hand, if the field is large, the primaries and
caucuses very bitter, AND the frontrunners falter, the
resulting stalemate might propel forward a name which has
not recently been mentioned seriously, 2012 nominee Mitt
Romney, back into contention.

Romney was perhaps the wrong candidate for 2012 because
his persona played into the negative Democratic media
campaign that year, and because he did not, at the end,
assemble as competitive campaign as did Barack Obama.
But 2016 promises a very different political environment.
After two terms of Mr. Obama, the voters may be weary of
any Democrat (as they were in 2008 of any Republican).
We must await the results of the 2014 midterm elections to
draw more precise and verified conclusions, but Obamacare
almost alone seems to be moving the electorate to the GOP,
and threatens to spoil the Democratic Party brand for years
to come.

In spite of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan,
changing our approach to the Middle East by diminishing our
long alliance with Israel in a trade-off for (so-far) feckless
relationships with other players in the region, and reducing
our military and defenses, Mr. Obama’s numbers are very
low in polls about his performance in foreign policy. He has
been out-dueled so far in his relationship with Russian
President Putin. His first term secretary of state, Hillary
Clinton, is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic
Party in 2016, but, although she will surely try to do so, it might
be difficult for her to separate herself from Mr. Obama and
her own actions (including her “re-set” with Russia) when
working for him. (Remember Hubert Humphrey attempting
to do this in 1968?)

Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia and Mr. Putin were a
major problem for the U.S., an assertion he made in the 2012
campaign and subsequently ridiculed by Mr. Obama, looks
rather prescient these days. So do most of his views on the
domestic issues he ran on in 2012.

Only twice in the past 100 years has a defeated Republican
presidential nominee been renominated by his party. Thomas
Dewey lost in 1944, and lost again in 1948. Richard Nixon lost
in 1960, but won in 1968 (and again in 1972).

In spite of his recent public visibility, there are no indications
that Mitt Romney is even thinking about running again in
2016, nor under present circumstances, would he now be
considered a serious candidate. But in spite of the large number
of major GOP candidates, the Republican field is not yet in
focus for one of them to win the nomination.

Considering Mr. Romney’s stature, it is not without some
curious interest to speculate that, in certain circumstances,
he might resolve a GOP convention stalemate, or even earlier,
return to the campaign field.

I’m just saying.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The U.S. media portrayal of Russian President
Vladimir Putin has been unrelentingly negative
following the Russian army intrusion into Crimea,
the subsequent occupation of the former Ukrainian
autonomous province, the hurried plebiscite there
favoring re-annexation by Russia, and finally the
formal merger of Crimea into the Russian nation.

Mr. Putin’s rationale for his actions has been his
judgment that the Ukrainian revolution which ousted
the controversial Ukrainian president was illegal, and
that both ethnic Russians and Ukrainian Jews were
threatened by the new regime which, he claims, is
ultra-nationalist and fascist. When Russian officials
further warned that anti-ethnic Russian actions in Estonia
were being “monitored,” more alarm bells went off in the
Western media, and Mr. Putin’s behavior was sometimes
likened to Nazi rationales for its aggression in Europe
75 years ago when the German dictator used the “welfare”
of ethnic Germans as the “excuse” for his aggression into
the Rhineland, followed by Czechoslovakia, Austria and

Furthermore, Mr. Putin’s rather transparent attempts to
reassemble the old Soviet empire that had disintegrated
after the end of communist rule of Russia in 1991 (in the
form of a Russian "sphere of influence") has been
regarded as a possible revival of the Cold War that pitted
democratic capitalist nations against Marxist states from
1945 to 1990.

A personal duel between President Putin and U.S. President
Obama has simultaneously been taking place, a diplomatic
contest in which the Russian leader had continually
outmaneuvered the American chief of state in a series of
confrontations. In spite of Mr. Obama’s consistent pattern
of trying to placate Mr. Putin, including unilaterally
pulling U.S. missile forces out of Central Europe and
seemingly giving priority to Russian security concerns
over concerns of U.S, allies, Mr. Putin had regarded
these actions as American “weakness” and the U.S.
president as a diplomatic “amateur.” During the
Crimean crisis, several long personal telephone
conversations between the two leaders seemed to
accomplish little if nothing at all, excepting Mr. Putin’s

Finally, Russian diplomatic and trade activity has been
increasing in South America and Cuba, with Russian
navy vessels visiting Cuba for the first time since the
end of the Soviet Union.

Facing U.S. and European sanctions for his actions in
Crimea, Mr. Putin has responded by placing reciprocal
sanctions and withdrawing Russian investments in the

Complicating this global confrontation has been
Ukrainian and European dependence on Russian oil
and gas, and U.S. dependence on Russian support in the
effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. media, for the most part, has not however fully
covered the composition of the factions which made
up the “Maidan Square” revolution that ousted Ukrainian
President Yanukovych a month ago. Properly labeling the
ousted leader’s corruption and unpopularity, media
coverage has glossed over important components of the
new revolutionary Ukrainian government which has
placed figures from far right and anti-semitic nationalist
groups in positions of significance.

While regarding serious secessionist movements in
Great Britain (Scotland), Spain (Catalonia) and Italy
(Venice/Veneto) with benign neutrality, the U.S. media
has been aggressively hostile to the Crimean secessionist
activity, even though Crimea has historically been part of
Russia for centuries and only recently was unilaterally
(without voter consent) handed over to Ukraine by then
Russian communist leader Nikita Krushchev.

Ukraine itself was part of Russia, and later the Soviet Union,
although the suppression and inhumane treatment of this
region (most notably the starvation of millions of Ukrainian
peasants in the 1930s by Soviet dictator Stalin) had
understandably made most ethnic Ukrainians strongly
anti-Russian. This anti-Soviet activity was expressed as
early as the outbreak of World War II when some Ukrainian
nationalists openly cooperated with and aided advancing
Nazi German armies.

Furthermore, many Ukrainian nationalists, historically
violently anti-semitic, participated in the Holocaust. Since
Ukraine and Belarus had been a large part of the settlement
of Ashkenazi Jews from 1600 to the late 1900s, the large Jewish
population suffered violent persecution not only from the
German Nazis, but also (for a longer time) from extreme
Ukrainian nationalists before, during and after World War II.
In fact, while Jewish emigration from Russia subsided after
2000, it was increasing from Ukraine where a rise in
antisemitism occurred.

Under President Putin, it is pointed out by many Jews now
living in Russia, Jewish religious and cultural life has
recently flourished. President Putin himself has seemed to
go out of his way to establish ties not only with Russian
Jewish leaders and organizations, but has opened considerable
dialogue with the state of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
This is in contrast to Soviet policy. Although the Soviet Union
voted for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it soon
took sides against the Israelis, even as there was an increase
in anti-semitism throughout the Soviet Union after World
War II. Millions of Soviet Jews subsequently emigrated, mostly
to Israel, Western Europe and the U.S.

Current Russian concern for ethnic Russians in Estonia,
however, is much less credible. Many of the ethnic Russians
who live in the now independent nations of Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania are descendants of Russian invaders who took
over these countries by force during World War II. Russia
imposed the Russian language on these nations, even though
they already had languages of their own.

As for Mr. Putin’s desire (some say “obsession”) to recreate
the old Soviet Union, this, too, lacks credibility when it is
considered that most of the new nations which broke away
from the Marxist empire (including Ukraine, Belarus,
Kazakhstan, Georgia and other smaller states) seem quite
happy with their independence, their new national identity,
and their sovereign right to not be restricted solely as being
part of a rigid Russian "sphere of influence."

In hosting the recent winter Olympic games in the Russian
city of Sochi, and by interjecting a Russian diplomatic role in
the crises of Syria, Iran and the Middle East, Mr. Putin has
sought to increase Russian global prestige. He has had, in
these endeavors, some success. It would seem somehow
self-destructive for him to now to over-reach by bringing up
memories of the ruthless Soviet domination of Eastern
Europe and its Cold War threat to Western Europe by forcibly
trying to re-create the old empire.

The situation in Ukraine, however, might be somewhat
more complicated than it now seems. Respecting genuine
Ukrainian independence and the right of its people to
change their government if a clear majority wants to do so,
Americans and Europeans have also the right to expect that
the endemic corruption of the previous Ukrainian regime
will not just be replaced with the corruption of a new regime,
and that the new regime will  not ignore the human rights of
all its citizens. An independent Ukraine has the right to
establish ties to the European Union if it wishes to, but
Russia has historical ties to Ukraine, and economic interests
there, and it has the right to expect that Ukraine will not be a
hostile neighbor (just as the  U.S. has opposed having Cuba
as a hostile neighbor).

It might be that Mr. Putin’s primary motive in Ukraine has
been for domestic Russian consumption. When he returned
to the presidency after a term as prime minister, Mr. Putin
was no longer as popular as he had been, There were
unprecedented demonstrations against him. After seizing
Crimea, however, his popularity has reportedly soared.

Annexing Crimea is not totally a plus for Mr. Putin. Crimea
has a weak economy and was a formerly a financial burden
for the government in Kiev.  Now Moscow must bear the
Crimean deficit of billions of rubles, and deal with the fact
that the Crimean standard of living is notably lower than the
rest of Russia.

Like so many international circumstances, the situation in
Eastern Europe is complicated. It is in all our interests to
understand these complications as best we can.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 24, 2014


One of the major reasons that a Republican tidal wave
continues to form is that the radical right challenge
to incumbent Republican house and senate members
has so far failed to gain traction.  In 2006, 2008, 2010
and 2012 this intraparty “insurrection” gained support,
and the result was that many senior GOP figures either
retired or were defeated in primaries, and the challengers
failed to keep the seat for the conservative party, even in
districts or states that were considered “safe” Republican.

The media often characterizes the challengers as “Tea
Party” or “libertarian” factions who do not consider
the challenged incumbents as “conservative” and “pure”
enough, but the real conflict does not seem to be over
true conservative principles as much as it does a
conflict over political strategy in an era in which a very
liberal Democrat occupies the White House, and the
U.S. senate is dominated by uncompromising Democratic
majority. The Tea Party and libertarian factions within the
Republican Party do remain significant, but the “radical”
elements of these factions no longer seem to be in "total"
control, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence
that “shutting down” the government over Obamacare and
the debt ceiling was politically self-destructive and
rejected by most independent voters (who hold the
balance of power in close November elections).

In previous cycles, many (but not all) of the “upset” GOP
challengers failed spectacularly in individual races, most
of them U.S senate races. Republicans made gains in 2010
(and dramatically won back control of the U.S. house), but
came up short to win control; and in 2012, Republicans
actually lost ground in a cycle they were hoping to win a
majority.  Now in 2014, as the primary season begins in
earnest, early returns indicate that those conservatives
who are challenging GOP incumbents are being rejected
by Republican voters who are more upset with President
Obama, Obamacare and Democratic policies, and want to
make the 2014 election a “plebiscite” on the national turn
to the left.

There are, and will be, a few exceptions to this, and the
liberal media will continue to gleefully characterize the
GOP nominating season as a “civil war” pitting grass
roots conservatives against the GOP “establishment.”
There is, it is true, an ongoing tension in the Republican
Party between generations, regions, factions, and over the
strategy to regain the White House (presumably in 2016),
but with a formidable political tidal wave forming in their
favor, and the unpopular Obamacare continuing to implode,
Republican voters so far seem to focus on increasing winning
numbers in November.

It is important to stress, however, that the formation of an
electoral tidal wave in 2014 is currently taking place “out at
sea,” and does not mean it will continue unabated and reach
land. Many a climate hurricane fails to fully form, or even if
it does, to reach land. Democrats still do have considerable
resources, and cards to play.

A clearer view will emerge as the primary season decides
who the nominees of each party in each race will be.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: UPDATE: The vote in Venice/Veneto

The week-long unofficial voting in the Italian region of Veneto,
including the city of Venice, has ended. Organizers of the
plebiscite to determine whether or not citizens of Veneto want
to secede from Italy, and form a sovereign, independent nation
(to be called the "Republic of Venice") announced a large turnout
of about 2.4 million of the 3.7 million eligible voters. The "yes"
votes were 89%. Organizers of the vote pointed out that 56% of all
eligible voters thus indicated that they wanted independence from

A bill is now being prepared to be sent to the Italian parliament in
Rome that would legislate the formal separation of Veneto, with its
population of about 5 million, from Italy. It is unclear if such
legislation would pass.

Venetian separatists often cite the efforts in the Spanish province of
Catalonia to secede from Spain as a model of their efforts. The
Spanish province also plans a vote, although the Spanish government
in Madrid has said it would not recognize the secession.

In Great Britain, a formal vote is scheduled soon on the secession of
Scotland. Te British government has said it would accept the results
of the vote.

For more than a thousand years, until 1797, the Republic of Venice
was the world's most famous and long-lasting democratic republic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Republic Of Venice?

On January 8, in this space, I wrote an article entitled
“The Plot Against The World Atlas” in which I pointed
out the numerous secession movements active in virtually
all regions of the globe. The latest place where this has
just occurred is the autonomous region of Crimea which
has declared its independence from Ukraine (and imminent
merger into Russia). The status of neighboring eastern
Ukraine is, as of this writing, uncertain as it too might be
(forcibly?) separated from Ukraine. These developments have
dominated world headlines for some several weeks.

But almost ignored has been another place considering
secession, one of the world’s most famous cities (and its
surrounding region). For more than a thousand years, the
Venetian Republic existed until Napoleon invaded and took it
over. Now the voters of Venice and it surrounding
region are voting during the next week whether or
not they will secede and re-create a sovereign state
separated from Italy. It’s not a official vote, although
Venetian secessionists are hoping its results will lead directly
to the famed tourist city separating from Italy, and the creation
of an independent nation.

Having visited Italy many times, and being a enthusiast of
Italy’s music, cuisine, art, literature and culture, I thought I
had some sense of what Italian history was, but after recently
reading The Pursuit of Italy (2011) by British historian David
Gilmour, I realized how little I did know about this European
nation which arose after the demise of the Roman empire on
its territory.

It also helped me understand what the citizens of Venice and
environs are doing, why they are doing it, and why it just
might succeed.

The “nation” of Italy did not exist at all until after the
mid-nineteenth century. Portrayed as an heroic and epic
unification of the Italian peninsula, the creation of a
“unified” Italy was actually a contrivance in which its
component parts rather reluctantly were cobbled together.

After the end of the Roman empire in the mid-first
millennium, A.D., the territory around Rome divided
into numerous city states, kingdoms and duchys. In the
eight century A.D. the young city of Venice became one
of the world’s first true and successful republics (a
thousand years, it should be remembered, before the
creation of the United States of America in 1782).
The Republic of Venice itself lasted for more than a
millennium, and was one of the political glories of
Europe until Napoleon decided to embroil it in his
schemes of conquest.

There were other states on the Italian peninsula,
including most notably, Duchy of Savoy (capital: Turin),
the Papal States (capital: Rome), Kingdom of Naples
(capital: Naples), Kingdom of Sicily (capital: Palermo),
Duchy of Milan (capital: Milan), Republic of Siena
(capital: Siena), Republic of Genoa (capital: Genoa),
Republic of Florence (capital: Florence), as well as
city states in Mantua, Asti, Lucca, Ferrara and elsewhere.
Each of the cities and regions developed their own dialect
of what has become the Italian language, their own
distinct customs, traditions, cuisine and identities ---
and in large part, maintain them today.

In effect, Dr. Gilmour suggest, there is no true “Italy” at
all, but a conglomeration of idiosyncratic cities and places
cobbled together. This goes a long way to explain, perhaps,
why the Italian peninsula, source of so much of the
Western World’s culture from Roman times to the present,
has had since World War II one of Europe’s most unstable
and dysfunctional series of governments.

Most Americans, if they think much about Italy, think of
it as divided between north and south, with its dominant
city being Rome, and most of its other major cities being
in the north, i.e., Milan, Genoa, Florence and Venice. In fact,
until the nineteenth century, the largest city in Italy was
Naples, capital of southern Italy.

Boundaries between this potpourri of city states and regions
changed frequently, as did their rulers, especially as Italy
became a Mediterranean focal point of trade and commerce.
The military intrusions of England, France and the
Austro-Hungarian empire were frequent, and for many
hundreds of years, much of southern Italy was part of the
Ottoman (Islamic) empire.

Dr. Gilmour makes the case, with considerable evidence and
argument, that the Republic of Venice --- of all this myriad
of republics, kingdoms, and republics --- was the most
accomplished polity on the Italian peninsula for so many
centuries in the past. With the plebiscite now taking place
there, we might be seeing the re-emergence of that
historic national personality, and the first of many renewed
divisions in Europe now underway --- in Scotland,
Catalonia, Belgium, Netherlands --- each of them more
peaceable and voluntary than what seems to be occurring
in Ukraine.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Sunk Sink? A Jolly Good Fellow Or Something Else?

The results are in from the special U.S. house election in
Florida, and it was a surprise to most observers that
David Jolly, the Republican candidate, generally unknown
in the district and a former DC lobbyist, won against a
previously popular former statewide office holder, Alex
Sink, who outspent him and had the in-person support of
many national Democratic figures, including Bill Clinton.

It was supposed to be a bellwether election, and all reported
signs were pointing to a Democratic takeover of a seat long
held by a Republican. In fact, exit polls published on the
eve of the election said that Sink had a large lead
among the 60% who had already voted. A Libertarian
candidate, the kind who usually takes more votes from the
Republican than the Democrat, was supposed to win 6% of
the vote or more.

The actual results showed Mr. Jolly winning almost 2%
more than Mrs Sink, and the Libertarian receiving less 5%
of the total vote.

What sunk Alex Sink? Mr. Obama had carried the district
twice, in 2008 and 2012, and Mrs. Sink had carried it in her
unsuccessful race for governor in 2010.

Post-election commentary ranges from the cautious (Michael
Barone in The Examiner) to the ominous (Josh Kraushaar in
National Journal), but it would appear that the commonplace
“all politics is local” applied less in this race than did more
national factors. Whether it is another signal of a forming
political tidal wave in the 2014 midterm elections or just an
electoral outlier remains to be seen, but I will wager that
most Democratic candidates for the U.S. house and senate in
competitive races are more uneasy after this special election
than they were before it.

For Republicans, the winner was a jolly good surprise --- for
now --- which nobody can deny.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 10, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Less Ado About Christie

Some Democrats, perhaps recognizing New Jersey
Republican Governor Chris Christie’s immense potential
appeal to voters as a presidential candidate in 2016, have
seemed determined to “smear” him out of the race by
labeling him a “bully” and trying to associate him directly
with alleged scandals in his home state.

It could work. Democrats are very good at this sort of thing.
Their only problem, and this is very much part of his appeal,
is that Mr. Christie is not content, as are most Republican
politicians, just to play defense. 

There were several days a few weeks ago when it seemed
that most of the U.S. political news was about the so-called
“bridgegate” in New Jersey. Virtually every pundit, on the
right and the left, was writing Mr. Christie’s purported
presidential ambitions off. Soon, however, it became
apparent that the Democrats and their media allies (and
some GOP rivals) were trying, if you will,  to “bully” Mr.
Christie out of the national scene, and a number of
conservative politicians and commentators belatedly
rallied to his side.

Governor Christie's own response to the facts of the case,
and the allegations against him in the case, was a model
other politicians should try to emulate. He came forward
immediately, denounced the wrongdoing, fired those
evidently responsible, and apologized for what happened
"under his watch." Then he went back to his job.

In the meantime, the “hot’ story has become as cold as an old
political promise. Mr. Christie’s appeal as a fundraiser was
rejuvenated as he has broken records in obtaining funds for the
Republican Governors Association (of which he is this year’s
chair). Then, in an invited appearance at a very conservative
conference (which had refused to invite him a year ago), he
was warmly welcomed with a standing ovation. Finally, Mr.
Christie announced he would no longer answer questions
about “bridgegate,” having voluntarily been willing to answer
them at length previously.

Governor Christie has a long, long way to go if he wishes to
be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. But he has so
far survived handily a major political crisis. Those in both
parties who wanted to push him out of the way now know
that the qualities that made him seem so formidable so
early in the political contest are much stronger and inherent
than perhaps originally thought.

Chris Christie might yet falter. He might not choose to run for
president. But if he enters the contest (presumably) in
2015, he will likely again be one of the frontrunners, and
probably the man to beat.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Revolution Brewing --- In The U.S. Senate?

Every month seems to bring news of a new revolution in
some part of the distant world, including Ukraine,
Venezuela, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, various countries in
mid-Africa, and elsewhere.

But another “revolt” is brewing much closer to home
--- in the U.S. senate. As in the case of the other revolutions,
the target of the revolt is a totalitarian figure, in this instance,
the dictator of the U.S. senate, majority leader Harry Reid.
Apologists for Reid, and those who agree with his policies,
praise Reid for his effectiveness in holding his Democratic
senate caucus together, thus enabling the senate to pass
some liberal and partisan legislation. Initially, this praise
had merit; the Democrats controlled both houses of the
Congress from 2009 to 2011, and Reid’s discipline, along with
house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, enabled liberal legislation to
go to the Democratic president’s desk, and his signature.
Fair enough.

But Mr. Reid did not like to play by the senate rules and
tradition. The signature legislation of the Obama
administration, Obamacare, was so unpalatable to
Republicans and the public at large, that the legislation had
no true hearings, no true debate, was amazingly unread, and
finally was forced through both the house and senate by the
barest of margins --- and with literally no support from any
Republican, an extreme rarity for major new laws in modern

Later, when many of Mr. Obama’s judiciary appointments
failed to gain confirmation due to the filibuster rule, Mr.
Reid then used a parliamentary maneuver to abolish the

Since the Democrats have a 55-45 advantage in the senate, they
now only needed a simple majority to pass many bills and

Obamacare is not only very unpopular among voters, its
roll-out has been a political disaster for the Democratic Party.
The house of representatives has been controlled by the

Republicans since 2011, and the result has been confrontation
and stalemate.

Several controversial judicial appointments did pass after the
elimination of the filibuster rule, and it was widely believed
that as long as Reid could dictate to his members that they
vote as a bloc, any presidential appointment requiring only a
majority for confirmation would pass. Then Mr. Obama
nominated a controversial lawyer to head the civil rights
division of the U.S. department of justice, a nominee so
controversial that seven Democrats refused to go along, and
the nominee was rejected.

In itself, this “mini-revolt” was not so big a matter, but the fact
that it happened might be a very big matter indeed.

The Obamacare “disaster” has clearly given the Republicans
a notable advantage so far in the early 2014 national mid-term
elections. Not only does it appear that the GOP might add to
its lead in the U.S. house as a result, it now appears that this
political debacle might not only give Republicans control, but
do this by more than a bare margin.

Democratic senate incumbents across the nation who voted
for Obamacare are in trouble. Several Democratic incumbents
have retired rather than face likely defeat. The response to this
by the White House and its senate leader, Harry Reid, has been
to double-down on the unpopular healthcare reform program,
and insist that incumbent senators support it. Months ago, I
suggested that this strategy was politically unnatural and defied
political gravity. In effect, Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid are asking
their own senate candidates to jump off a political cliff as if they
were the proverbial lemmings.

A revolt, then, is inevitable. Republicans need to gain six seats
from the Democrats to gain control. At least 4 to 6 Democratic
seats seem already lost. But if the remaining Democratic senators
continue to support their vote for Obamacare, there is a very real
risk that the number of GOP takeovers could be as high as 8 to 10.
If the “wave” against the Obama liberals continues to develop and
grow, the number might even be higher.

After two Obama terms in the White House, especially considering
his present low numbers in the polls and his other controversies,
there is likely to be “Obama fatigue” in the electorate (just s there
was “Bush fatigue” in 2008). Supporters of Hillary Clinton, the
frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, or
supporters of other Democratic candidates, do not want to end up in
the position John McCain was in 2008, i.e., go through an arduous
campaign with no realistic hope of winning. McCain not only faced
“Bush fatigue,” it should be remembered that he had to overcome
massive negative public reaction to the banking meltdown.

Whether the motive of the president and the majority leader is
to preserve what they feel is their Obamacare “legacy” or some
other reason, their current basic strategy is untenable in an
national election year. Of the seven Democratic senators who
broke ranks over the justice department nomination, only two
were vulnerable incumbents running this year. The other five
were Democratic moderates-centrists who apparently just had had
“enough.” However, the political dam was broken. Seven
Democrats refused to be lemmings, and they are still standing.

This revolution has only begun.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Often the best solution to a quandary is a simple idea that
is so obvious that most of us miss it.

With an open race for president coming in only two years,
no incumbent running, perhaps the simple but invaluably
best criterion for either party is to select as their nominee
someone who is “good at governing.”

We have currently in the White House someone with no
prior experience at governing, and look at the mess we’re in.

Our best modern presidents have been successful governors
of states --- Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin
Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and although they are today
controversial, I also include Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Occasionally, someone with no real governing experience
turns out to be exceptional, Harry Truman comes to mind,
but they are very much the exception.

Being a governor, of course, isn’t enough by itself. Jimmy
Carter was a governor, and he’s among the very worst modern

For the Democrats, the frontrunning candidate for president
has little real governing experience. Hillary Clinton was first
lady, then a U.S. senator, then U.S. secretary of state. The latter
was in part a management position. Mark Warner is now a U.S.
senator, but was previously governor of Virginia, and before
that, a very successful entrepreneur and corporate president.
Andrew Cuomo is the governor of one of the largest states, and
before that, he managed, as cabinet secretary, one of the largest
U.S. departments. Brian Schweitzer was a two-term governor of
Montana, and before that, a businessman and developer. Joe
Biden has been a legislator most of his adult life, and has
virtually no governing management experience.

For the Republicans, the two leading candidates either are
(Chris Christie) or were (Jeb Bush) governors of major states.
Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz are U.S. senators with little or
no executive or governing experience. Paul Ryan is a congressman.
Susana Martinez, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee and
Rick Perry, on the other hand, are or were successful governors.

Of course, many factors go into a voter’s choice for president,
and personality is one of the major ones. A candidate’s “story”
or their biography is another. Being first, that is, the first Catholic
or Jew, the first black person or Hispanic, the first woman, to be
president is another. Good public speakers attract voters. But the
most valuable quality of a future president, I suggest, might well
be the skill of being “good at governing.”

After all, that is what being president of the United States,
purported to be the toughest job in the free world, is truly all about,
isn't it?

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Perennial Planetary Hotspots

The nature of international life is that there are always
“hotspots” or areas in some form of natural, economic,
military or cultural crisis that draw the world’s attention
and concern.

As far as I know, there has not ever been, nor will there
likely ever be, a totally peaceful or untroubled planet
inhabited by human civilization.

What is curious, having established that, is that the crises
tend to occur over and over, albeit sometimes years apart,
in the same places.

Currently, the world’s “hotspots” include Ukraine,
Venezuela, North Korea, China, Japan, Turkey, the Middle
East, Spain, Greece and Argentina.

The reader familiar with only a limited background in
history will recognize that over the past several centuries
these same places have had recurring crises of one kind
or another.

In the above list, I included Japan because of its ongoing
environmental and nuclear crisis following a massive
earthquake and tsunami.

All of the other “hotspots” have crises that are political,
military or economic in nature.

The one “hotspot” perhaps least well-known to Americans
is Ukraine. This Slavic eastern European nation is one of the
youngest countries in the world. Settled thousands of
years ago.  it eventually became the center of medieval
Slavic life, and Kiev, its largest city, the de facto capital
of the region. The cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg,
today much larger than Kiev, were then only outposts,
and the tribes that created the Russian nation, not as
powerful and successful as those who lived in Kiev and
its surrounding territory.

In the 1300s, Kiev had numerous rival rulers and  declined.

By the 1500s, however, the Romanov dynasty was
established in St. Petersburg, and a Russian empire
under the czars was created, stretching eventually all
the way east to Siberia and the Pacific Ocean, and to
the west, to central Europe. The early settlements of
Kiev (Ukraine) and White Russia (Belarus) soon became
subordinate and part of this empire.

Ukraine is remembered best in America today perhaps
by its Jewish immigrants and their descendants who
came to the U.S. in waves from 1880 to 1920 following
intense persecution by the Czar and many Russians in
a series of pogroms (or murderous attacks) on their ghetto
communities in what was then called “the pale of settlement”
--- a region that included what today are Ukraine, Belarus
and Poland.

Except for a  short-lived Cossack republic in the 17th and
18th centuries, and a very brief period following World
War I and the Russian Revolution (begun in 1917), modern
Ukraine has not been a sovereign nation. Known as the
“breadbasket” of Europe, the region produced most of
the wheat and grain for two continents. After the Soviet
dictator Stalin had consolidated his power at the outset of
the 1930s, he instituted the deliberate and brutal starvation
of the Ukrainian peasantry, and prior to the outbreak of
World War II, millions of Ukrainians died from hunger.
Nazi armies then overran Ukraine, and murdered
millions more, including most of the Jews living in the

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Ukraine became
one of the breakaway soviet republics that became independent
nations on the new Russian border.

The problems that face Ukraine are many. Although by
now a major industrial area, as well as agricultural area,
it depends on other nations (primarily Russia) for its
energy needs, including supplies of oil and gas. The
western, and largest, part of Ukraine is inhabited
primarily by ethnic Ukrainians (77% of the population)
who speak their own Slavic language. Their memories of
what the Russians had done to them under the czar and
Stalin made them decidedly anti-Russian, and eager to
join the western European community. However, in the
eastern part of the country, around Kharkov, most of the
Ukrainians are ethnic Russians (17% of the population),
and speak the Russian language. A third region, to the
south, is the autonomous republic of Crimea which had
been “given” to Ukraine in the Soviet years. This was the
most tropical part of Russia and bordered on the Black Sea
with naval access to the world. The Russian navy, by
agreement with Ukraine, is stationed at a Crimean port.
Most of those who live in Crimea are also pro-Russian.

Although adopting a representative democratic political
form, Ukraine’s history and ethnic divisions overshadowed
the new republic’s attempt to create a viable nation.
Political and economic corruption was rampant, and as
in neighboring Russia, oligarchs soon emerged controlling
vast parts of the Ukrainian economy.

It has been suggested that Russian President Vladimir
Putin wishes to reconstruct the old Soviet empire. If this
is so, then Ukraine is an absolutely necessary component
of such a reconstruction. An independent Ukraine that is
part of the western European Union would mean that the
old Soviet Empire could not be put back together. Ukraine
is too large geographically, too populous, too economically
significant, and too strategically located for such a Putin
ambition to be fulfilled.

This means that it is likely that Mr. Putin will continue to
intervene in Ukraine until it is under his de facto control.
The alleged invasion and occupation of Crimea now
apparently taking place would be only the first of many

Europe and the United States, for obvious reasons, would
oppose this turn of events, but, at least for now, lack enough
leverage to counter it successfully. Ukraine’s immediate
needs include a large infusion of funds, something Mr. Putin
had offered the deposed Ukrainian president as an incentive
not to join with western Europe.  The U.S. and the European
Union are now scrambling to come up with finds for Ukraine,
but so far none of them are talking about enough funds to make
a difference.

Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are clearly pro-Russian and
would likely cooperate with some form of Russian
“occupation.” Larger western Ukraine, where the recent
revolution began in the capital Kiev, would likely resist any
Russian attempts to restore the previous government. Thus,
there are prospects of a civil war, or the partition of Ukraine
into two nations.

With the European Union already in an economic crisis
overtaking several of its members states, including Greece,
Spain, Portugal and Italy; and the U.S. in an historic
withdrawal from its leading role in world affairs, it would
seem that prospects for Ukraine at the outset of 2014 are
not very bright.

This part of the world has known suffering and violence
continually for a thousand years.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.