Sunday, November 29, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Origins of U.S. Intelligence

In  early June, 1942, a few days after I was born in Erie,
Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army requisitioned a private girl’s school
named Arlington Hall near its World War II military
headquarters in Virginia. The original facility was soon greatly
enlarged to accommodate about 5100 civilians and more than
2000 military personnel. Many of these men and women worked
for the Signal Intelligence Service (S.I.S.), the code-breaking
branch of the U.S. Army which specialized in “cracking” the
Japanese military codes, and intercepting Japanese secret
communications. (An equivalent site called Bletchley Park in
England similarly specialized in “cracking” the German codes.) 
Soon after the German “Enigma” code was deciphered by
British cryptologists at Bletchley Park, U.S. cryptologists, led by
legendary U.S. cryptologist William Friedman initially broke the
Japanese “Purple” diplomatic code. Later, in 1943, S.I.S.
cryptologists at Arlington Hall deciphered the Japanese military
code. These code-breaking achievements, it is generally agreed,
had much to do with the Allies winning World War II agains the
Axis Powers.

President Roosevelt asked General “Wild Bill” Donovan to create
the Office of Secret Services (O.S.S.) in 1942, and many of his
personnel were stationed at Arlington Hall. There was a great
deal of top secret Arlington Hall activity during World War II,
but there was also a small hospital facility located there which
provided medical services to U.S. Army nurses, S.I.S. and O.S.S.
personnel, and to U.S. Chief of Staff General George Marshall
and his staff.

I hope the reader will excuse my mentioning the post hospital,
but it will explain my special interest in this location as the
center of World War II U.S. Signal Corps intelligence services,
and partly the early days of the O.S.S. (which later became the
Central Intelligence Agency or C.I.A.). The commandant (post
surgeon) of this post hospital was my physician father, then
Major Hyman Lawrence Casselman, and I think I might say
accurately that I was among the youngest persons ever to visit
this secret site during wartime. By November, 1942, my
mother, my older brother Tom (who later grew up to be the
physicist who became one of the fathers of post-war top-secret
infrared detection technology), and I had moved to the
recently-constructed military officers family housing (today
converted to upscale condominiums) in nearby Fairlington,
Virginia. (S.I.S. chief Colonel William Friedman and his famed
cryptologist wife Elizabeth were neighbors and friends of my
parents in Fairlington).

Spending the first four years of my life there became a central
experience of my immediate family’s history, and although I
have only a few fleeting memories of that time, its narrative,
especially of my father’s fascinating experiences, has created
my lifelong interest in the origins of U.S. intelligence services.

The lore from World War II often construed the creation of the
O.S.S. as the beginning of the American spy system. It was true
that the U.S. had no organized or official spy network prior to
Pearl Harbor, (the FBI was supposed to do only domestic police
work), but we did have spies working for us in previous war
periods, including the Mexican War, Civil War,
Spanish-American War and World War I.

But what about before that? Particularly, did we have an
intelligence system in the Revolutionary War? The British
colonial army certainly did under the legendary Major John
Andre, who among other feats, lured Continental Army General
Benedict Arnold to defect and become our nation’s most
notorious traitor. (Major Andre was caught behind Continental
lines, and subsequently hanged as a spy.)

What did our commanding general, George Washington, have
to keep him abreast of secret British military movements?

Until relatively recently, we only knew about individuals such
as Nathan Hale (hung by the British as a spy at age 21 after
declaring “I regret I have but one life to give for my country.”)
Scholars and historians, however, have unearthed a large-scale
and very secret spy network that reported directly to General
Washington and his staff throughout most of the Revolutionary

Known as the “Culper Ring,” a relatively large number of
patriots and apparent loyalists were recruited by Major
Benjamin Talmadge beginning in 1776 in Setauket, New York.
The fascinating story of this important part of the
Revolutionary War has now been told in books, documentaries
and a partly fictionalized TV series called “Turn: America’s
First Spies”
(available on a DVD set). [The TV series, based
on a novel, is centered on the character of Abraham Woodhull,
one of Talmadge’s actual first recruits in Setauket, who is
portrayed as a married man having an affair with another
man’s wife. The real Abraham Woodhull was actually
unmarried through the period of the series, and is not known
to have carried on any affairs, but that’s show business.]

Operating initially without organized military intelligence in
1776, Washington was at a distinct disadvantage. There were no
modern communications then --- no telegraph, no telephones,
no radio or television, nothing but handwritten or verbal
communication carried by foot or horseback. Major Benjamin
Talmadge organized, at Washington’s order, not only a true spy
network, but developed a secret code for its communications.
(Washington did not ever know the true identity of most of his
spies, and some of their identities are still not known today.)
It was nothing like the vast operation at, and emanating from,
Arlington Hall more than 150 years later.  The Revolutionary
War network had failures and tragic losses, but it also had
notable successes that enabled General Washington and his
Continental Army to turn the war around and ultimately
succeed against the mighty British army.

Cryptologists in 1942 or today would have little trouble
“cracking” our earliest secret code (General Washington was
known, for example, by the numbers “711”), but it worked just
fine in 1777-1781.

We live in a time when codes, spies and intelligence operate
technologically “light years” ahead of those earliest days of
our history, or even of those days not so long ago during
World War II. We also live in a time of global and national
threats when good intelligence might well mean the difference
between survival and annihilation.

That is why I think the brief history recounted above is worth

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 27, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 10

New York businessman Donald Trump continues to top the
polls in the Republican race for president. He was briefly in
2nd place when Dr. Ben Carson lead in a some polls, but
Carson now seems to be fading. Other candidates who seem
on the rise include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
After weeks of decline, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
has seen his polls rise slightly. Almost perpetually involved
in controversies, many of his own making, Mr. Trump’s
support persists among many who are polled regardless of
his statements, claims or attacks on other candidates. His
persistent support appears to be tied to his larger-than-life
personality, his deliberate political “incorrectness,” and his
ability to grab headlines and free publicity in the media.
This indicates he will probably continue to lead in the polls
until the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire. Should his
popularity survive until Super Tuesday on March 1 and
beyond, his candidacy could become much more formidable.

Incumbent GOP Senator lost his bid to be elected governor of
Louisiana, and has announced his retirement from the senate
as well. As a result, his seat will be open in the 2016 election.
While the Democrat won the governorship, a Republican won
the off ice of Louisiana attorney general, and the seat is
expected to remain in conservative hands. Nontheless, if New
Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (with one of the best-known
political surnames in the state) decides to run for the seat, the
race could be competitive.

The publicity surrounding student and faculty protests at
big-name public colleges and universities, as well as private
prestigious higher learning institutions, including Ivy League
schools, is approaching a coverage of a “cult of an historical
purge.” The irony of this is that the protests arise from the
accurate historical revelations, most of them already known, of
the mistakes and prejudices of major figures in American
history, most of them being Democratic Party icons. But instead
of a calm and thoughtful contextual discussion of these flaws,
the conversation has been transformed into the compulsion to
purge the names of these figures, which include Thomas
Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, from the
history of the Democratic Party and the nation. Years before,
some university professors launched an attempt to impeach the
memory of Abraham Lincoln for his shortcomings, and since
the most “indispensable man” in the American revolution, George
Washington, was a slaveholder, it is probably only a matter of time
until the radical left attempts to “erase” him. too. Next on the
list, of course, would be Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and
Lyndon Johnson whose human frailties are already well-known,
but who remain liberal icons. Not all Democrats, of course, agree
with this cult of denial, but unless many of them speak up soon
to stop the purging, the Democratic Party will become a party of
ciphers with unknown parentage.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Numbers That Really Count In 2016

It’s almost a year away now, but it might be useful and sobering
to remember what will be the numbers that really count on
Election Day, 2016.

Those number s won’t be demographic figures, pre-election polls,
exit polls or even the actual popular vote. The numbers that will
count will be the numbers in the electoral college. There is a total
of 538 electors from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Each state is allotted  two electoral votes for  their two U.S.
senators plus one electoral vote for each of their members in the
U.S. house. The District of Columbia has no voting members of
Congress, but has been allotted three electoral votes.

In order to be elected president of the United States, a
candidate must receive 270 electoral votes, or a simple majority.
If no candidate receives 270 electoral votes, the election goes to
the U.S. house of representatives where each member of that body
votes for their choice by a majority vote. By law, they need not
follow the popular vote in their state. By custom, they vote for the
candidate of their own political party.

Technically, any elector might vote for any candidate he or she
chooses, but almost always electors vote for the candidate who
receives the most popular votes in their states. Two states now
have a variance on this, and divide their electoral votes by
congressional district. (A national movement which is gaining
steam now in the states would in effect eliminate the  electoral
vote in favor of the popular vote, but this will have no impact in

So what does the landscape of the electoral college vote look like

The electoral college numbers currently are up in the air. The
conventional wisdom is that its totals are very similar to the
actual totals in 2012 when Barack Obama was re-elected
president with 332 electoral votes to 206 for Mitt Romney.

It would appear, however, that the results of the 2016 electoral
college might be more divergent than conventional wisdom now
suggests. In the traditional scenario, the only states which might
change sides in 2016 are Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado
and Nevada (all won by the Democrats), and North Carolina,
Missouri and Indiana (all won by the Republicans). This scenario
suggests an advantage for the Democratic ticket.

Another scenario, now perhaps as likely as the conventional one,
has an expanded list of battleground states, and adds Wisconsin,
Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico.
Each of these states cast their electoral votes for Democrat
Obama in 2012. If they become competitive in 2016, it strongly
suggests a Republican advantage in the presidential election.
The current poll weakness of  Democratic frontrunner Hillary
Clinton supports this scenario.  Even in very “blue” (Democratic)
Minnesota, a major recent poll has her trailing most of the GOP

Of course, these scenarios can change, but we are now only two
months from actual voting (in the Iowa caucus), and both fields
are shrinking (although the GOP field remains overlarge).

Recent international events have so far not helped either
President Obama or those Democrats who wish to succeed him.
The economy remains fragile. On the other hand, Republicans
continue to dally with inexperienced presidential candidates,
and risk throwing away the critical votes of independents.

What has remained constant so far in this cycle is the strong
winds of electoral unrest among voters on all sides. This will be
the key to which direction the political hurricane, now forming,
goes when it hits land only a few weeks from now.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.       

Saturday, November 21, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekly Campaign Update 9

Seemingly long ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was
among the brightest lights shining ahead for the 2016 race for
president. Then a local scandal was used to attempt to
derail his ambitions. As next year’s election approaches, Mr.
Christie seems to be making a comeback, especially in the early
caucus/primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa where he
has been campaigning hard. At least two major media
commentators have quite recently suggested he is making a
comeback, and poll numbers, for whatever they are worth,
show sharp rises for him among his field of rivals, and in his
favorables. Along with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Mr. Christie
is making the biggest recent gains only weeks before the
formal campaign season begins in earnest.

By now, the public has been witness to a pattern of forced
history forgetting among Democrats and radical university
students and professors who want to “punish” some of the
leading figures in past American life for some of what they
said or did in their own time. The latest “target” is none other
than the previously celebrated Democratic icon President
Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, it seems, held some very nasty
views about black Americans. Similarly, George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are to be “deleted”
from history by Democrats and liberals for being slaveholders.
Earlier, President Abraham Lincoln was demoted by some
liberal scholars for his known stand that he preferred to
save the Union over freeing the slaves. If this keeps up,
history books will have to report that the nation was founded
and later led by shadowy anonymous figures, not to mention
that Union Civil War soldiers were led by an anonymous
drunk commanding general. If we remove “womanizers”
from U.S. history, then those acceptable for public
biographies would fill less than one page of one book. Of
course, the shortcomings and mistakes of our past leaders
are not to be condoned, but since almost every figure in
American history had one or more flaws, where is the line of
forgetting to be drawn and imposed?

Even before he was chosen to be Barack Obama’s running mate,
Senator Joe Biden, once chairman of the senate foreign relations
committee, advocated dividing Iraq into three independent
countries so that Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds could live with much
less ethnic and religious strife. His proposal was greeted with
loud disdain by both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and
conservatives. Now, many years later, Biden’s proposal seems
to be a reasonable solution not only for Iraq, but neighboring
Syria as well.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 20, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The End Of "Liberal" Higher Education?

The current spectacle of campus upheaval in so many U.S.
colleges and universities is a dark omen for what has become
in recent years a “liberal” education. (Please notice that I do
not say “liberal arts” education.) Unfortunately, U.S. higher
education on very many campuses, including virtually all of
those which have traditionally held the most prestige, has
become overwhelmingly politicized to the far left, a
consequence of the views and impositions of many
professors at these institutions.

Campus life began to change dramatically in the 1960s as
many students and professors joined a national antiwar
movement protesting our involvement in Viet Nam. This was
the time that I was attending both undergraduate and graduate
universities, one in the East and the other in the Midwest. (In
full disclosure, I participated in some of those protests.)

After Viet Nam, campus life in most institutions of higher
learning “quieted down,” only to re-heat following the end of
the Cold War in the early 1990s when aggressive U.S.
radicalism and neo-Marxism, having no power base in the
then-defunct Soviet Union and the turning-to-state-capitalism
of China, went into political hibernation on American campuses.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, this
radical impetus was revived on campuses across the nation,
and was accompanied by the rise of “political correctness”
and various “hot button” issues such as global warming and

The attempt to intimidate college administrations by student
and professor protest, of course, is not new, but one might
think that college presidents today would have learned
something from the past. The shameful spectacle of college
presidents now pandering to these protesters indicates that
they have not learned much from the past.

In the 1960s, the most expensive college education (at an Ivy
League university, for example) was about $2500 per year. Today,
that price tag is approaching $70,000 per year! By paralyzing
campuses, destroying a true “liberal education,” and wrecking
the value of higher education in the work place, the current
upheaval, it would seem, is sowing the seeds of its own
destruction. How many parents, regardless of their own views,
are willing to shell out between $10,000 and $70,000 per year
per student for a degree that will have reduced or little value?

Colleges and universities will survive, but the current sad
spectacle will likely only hasten the demise of traditional campus
life. For the first time in history, there is a credible alternative,
and that is quality online higher education.

In their quest to destruct American higher education, the radical
students and professors only hasten the exhaustion of their own
unstable and self-annihilating movement.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Hara-Kiri?

The Democratic Party, already at a disadvantage after seven
years of an often unpopular Obama administration in
Washington, DC, seems on the verge of making a bad political
situation even worse as many liberals are mocking the majority
of Americans who are resisting the incursion of 10,000
potentially unsatisafactorally vetted refugees from the
Middle East.

It’s still early in the 2016 national/presidential elections, but
Mr. Obama’s evasion of widespread public opinion that this
sudden and carelessly managed influx represents a national
security danger, threat and risk could be a game changer that
not only defaults the election of a new president, but also
could bring about the hitherto unlikely result of Republicans
enlarging their majorities in the U.S. house and senate.

Many Democrats, it should be fairly noted, oppose this
incursion, but few have yet dared to oppose President Obama
publicly. Democratic solidarity, also to be fair, has worked often
in the recent past, especially while Republicans have indulged in
a visible and often nasty party civil war over various issues. But
nothing in politics lasts forever, and past solidarity to cover
internal dissension has, I think, reached its limit with this issue.

Half the nation’s governors, all of them Republicans except one
(Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, who is running
against incumbent GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte next year), have
declared they will not accept these refugees. They reflect
overwhelming public opinion in their states. Before the week is
over, more state governors will join this declaration.

This is not inherently a partisan issue, but the Democrats are
unilaterally making it one, at unnecessary cost to themselves.

The three remaining Democratic candidates for president,
including frontrunner Hillary Clinton, are asserting that there is
no security threat from an uncontrolled and suddenly massive
incursion of refugees. Since the terrorists usually choose New
York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Los
Angeles as their favorite targets, how will that be understood by
the large majority of Democrats who vote in those cities?
Whoever is the Democratic nominee next year, can they win
even a single state advocating unvetted, massive immigration
of refugees who would be concentrated in large urban centers?

No reasonable person should be indifferent to the plight of
legitimate refugees anywhere. But where is it indelibly proven
that the only solution to their suffering is sudden and mass
emigration from their native lands? Would it not be a better
solution to remove the cause of their becoming refugees? Or if
some immigration is a good solution, should it not at least be
carefully managed and vetted?

The frail body of the European Union, already beset by economic,
ethnic and religious tensions, has clearly overstepped its
political compact on the refugee issue. Regimes will now fall.
Borders will be sealed. Nationalism will reappear as a majority

In the U.S., the consequences are yet unknown, but with a national
election imminent, this mystery will become solved soon enough.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 16, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Order Of The World

There are many words we use to describe how “life” in the
world is organized, but one of the most basic is the word
“order.” Like all human activities, “order” is both necessary
and potentially destructive (if improperly applied). Human
history is an account of alternating periods of order and

We are now fully in a period of global disorder. It has been
75 years or so since the last true equivalent era of this kind. In
fact, the last such period saw, as its consequence, the attempt
to impose a “new order” of violent totalitarianism. The
democracies of that time, after years of provocation, finally
woke up to the danger, and responded. In a remarkable series
of “close shaves,” the free world prevailed, but (it must be
remembered) only barely.

The human race is a very complicated species. Its civilization,
scattered over the planet, is filled with triumphs of science,
medicine, technology and growth. It is also filled with
tragedies of hunger, poverty, violence, persecution and terror.

Those who call for another “new order” often actually mean
to impose an order of the past, a past of violence and
self-destruction,  We do not need such a “new” order. We need
a “re-order” of our civilization with the goals of freedom,
global trade, and a determined effort to reduce human suffering

A “re-order, “ as it has occurred beneficially throughout history,
requires innovation, imagination, courage and self-discipline.
The next president of the United States, of whatever party, will
need to determine how to lead such an effort.

We are at a turning point.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Just before I sat down to write this post, I received from one of
my long-time readers and old friends, notice of a short story
written in 1919 by the great Czech writer Franz Kafka.
Although I have been myself a devoted reader of Kafka’s work,
I had somehow not read this particular story entitled “An Old 

This very short story recounts, from the point of view of an
unnamed narrator in some unnamed European capital who tells
us readers about the sudden influx of many foreign soldiers to
his city. A fortified palace in the center of this city is
presumably where the country’s government officials reside,
and the narrator indicates that those in the palace were
responsible for the foreign soldiers having come to the capital
where they encamp themselves outdoors and intimidate the
citizens who live in the city. The narrator makes the point that
the officials in the palace have closed their gates to the soldiers,
leaving the artisans and tradespersons who live around the
palace to deal with the intruders helplessly on their own.

Tragic events in Paris have just occurred again in Paris. ISIS
terrorists have in multiple attacks murdered and harmed about
500 persons in a coordinated attack in various venues in the
center of this famous city. These events follow only a few months
another terrorist attack against Jewish Parisians. There is a claim,
not yet verified, that at least one of the terrorists was one of the
Syrian refugees who have recently been coming into France and
the rest of Europe.

Terrorism is, of course, as old as human history. Modern terrorism
can perhaps be dated from the violent French revolution at the end
of the eighteenth century. Europe was again shaken by violent
revolutions in 1848, and anarchist terrorism emerged in
the latter part of the 19th century, culminating in the assassination
of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz
Ferdinand. An enormous and unspeakable world war resulted, and
after it seemingly concluded, another even more violent and
murderous world war occurred. Terrorism became the language
of revolution and war after 1945, and is today a worldwide epidemic
killing far more than Ebola or any other virus.

The United States finally had its on encounter with terrorism on
September 11, 2001, and remains under threat of further encounters.

I happened to be a student in Madrid in 1966, and in Paris in 1967,
when waves of protests swept those capitals. I had been a student in
the U.S. prior to and after that when anti-war protests were common.
The Baader-Meinhof gang terrorized post-war Germany at that time,
and in 1972, terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympics
held that year in Munich. The Soviet Union, in that era, used terror
to control its satellites, the small countries of Eastern Europe.

In light of this history, Kafka’s short story resounds indeed as an
“old manuscript.” Even today, those who live in the “palace” seem
unable to control the violence, even as also today the “artisans”
and “tradespersons” (ordinary citizens) bear the burden of the acts
of violent intruders.

Is it any wonder that the citizens of the European Union are
beginning to resist the decisions of their leaders who are allowing
hordes of unvetted refugees into their individual countries? Is it
any wonder that many Americans are alarmed at the steady
stream of “illegal aliens” into the U.S.?

As my readers know, I oppose deportation of Mexican and other
Hispanic "illegal" immigrants now living in the U.S. as impractical
and unethical, but I also deplore the failure of the government to
effectively secure our borders from further incursions, and to
make ALL immigration to the U.S. legal, orderly and secure.

Some very privileged and very spoiled college students, and
some who are not, are currently sparking petulant unrest in
the American university environment, creating disorder and
destruction of many college educations in the U.S. How long
this disruption will last is not clear, nor is it clear how long
the more violent disruptions in Europe and the Middle East
will persist.

Soon after the armistice of World War I, foreign soldiers
appeared as military occupiers throughout the defeated
Central Powers nations in Europe. This included the Czech
capital of Prague where the writer Franz Kafka lived. It is a
testament to his literary genius and prescience that his story
“An Old Manuscript” so aptly and chillingly captures a
recurring theme in what we so presumptuously call “modern

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Debate 4 And The Imperative Of Command

There is now a recurrent pitch from most of the candidates
in the Republican contest, i.e., “Elect me because I’ve done
” This is an eminently sensible and reasonable strategy,
but it has, paradoxically, relatively little to do with the true
reason voters will choose their nominees in 2016.

Resumes are important, even critical, a a starting point in
voter choice, but the real criterion is a subjective one, to wit,
who do I (the voter) think is best able to take command in the
Oval Office?

In 2008, without the benefit of a resume, the successful
Democratic candidate for the nomination was someone who
convinced voters he would take command. Even though I
personally disagree with most of his decisions as president,
I have to admit that he did take command in the office, and
he has imposed his world view on it. He defeated someone
with a good resume, but who could not convince her own party
that she could best take charge. I realize that Barack Obama
gained votes in his own party because he would be the first
black nominee, but Hillary Clinton would have then been the
first woman presidential nominee. If anything, she had the
advantage. I think it is clear that whichever of the two became
the 2008 Democratic nominee was, he or she would win the
presidency in November.

In 2016, the Republicans are in a similar position. Barring
some unforeseen circumstance (including a disastrous
nominee choice), the conservative party will likely win in
November, 2016. But there are differences between 2008 and
2016. One of those differences is the critical starting point of
a credible resume. Someone of Mr. Obama’s unprecedented
inexperience is someone conservative voters are not likely
to opt for in this cycle. Donald Trump has successful
business experience; Ben Carson has successful professional
(medical) experience; and Carly Fiorina has had successful
managerial experience. But only Mrs. Fiorina’s type of
experience is truly relevant to the office of president.

On the other hand, most of the other GOP candidates have
excellent resumes. Only a few of them are doing well.
I think that’s because, in spite of good resumes, most of the
GOP candidates have not conveyed to voters, either in their
campaigns or in the debates so far, that they are capable of
taking charge. In particular, I suspect that is at the base of
former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s problem. He’s smart,
he’s a decent man, he has experience, but can he convince
voters he could take command? Donald Trump took
command of the early part of the process, but the debates
are revealing, one after the the other, that he lacks the right
experience for the job. As the alternative “outsider” candidate,
who also has an appealing persona, Ben Carson has now
overtaken Mr. Trump in many polls, but so far has not
communicated a sense he could or would take charge in the
Oval Office.

That leaves three candidates, as I see it, who are now more
likely to prevail at the Republican convention in Cleveland
next summer (or  before). The current rising star is Florida
Senator Marco Rubio. The youngest, and an Hispanic, he
has shown poise in the debates. His self-confidence implies
command. Temporarily removed from the main debate,
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has shown the most
intuitive political talent, quick judgment on his feet, and an
ability to come back from adversity. Few could by now doubt
his ability to take charge. Although campaigning to the
narrowest base within the party, Texas Senator Ted Cruz
has demonstrated an aggressive intelligence and ideological
willfulness that could bring him many supporters who now
support Donald Trump. An Hispanic-American himself, and
like Mr. Christie, a former prosecutor, Mr. Cruz has shown
himself to be someone who could take charge.

A fourth possibility is Carly Fiorina. Her political resume is
only a losing senate race in California; but in the debates
she has shown how well-informed and forceful she is, and
her managerial experience, as I have argued previously, is
germane to the office of president of the United States.

Of course, when the actual primary and caucus voting takes
place, one or more of the other GOP candidates might emerge.
I have so far demurred from trying to second-guess the
voters; I have no reason to change that now by prematurely
predicting one who is going to in.

But I do offer to the reader my sense that 2016 is not just about
resumes and past performance. The office of president is a unique
position in the nation and the world. The person who holds that
office is someone that each of us, ally or opponent, friend or foe,
must deal with, look at, and listen to every day during the
presidential term of four or eight years.

In that light, the term “commander-in-chief” takes on greater
significance as we draw closer and closer to next November.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Secret Master Artist Among Us

Vivian Maier, until very recently, was known primarily to a
few hundred persons at most anywhere, and they all thought
she was only an eccentric nanny who obsessively shot
casual photographs.

Now, only a few  years after her death, Ms. Maier, is being
acknowledged as one of the master photography artists of
the 20th century.

In a documentary film (“Finding Vivian Maier” available on
DVD)) made by the amateur historian, John Maloof,  who
accidentally unearthed her never-exhibited life work of
photographs and films, Vivian Maier comes out of the
hidden shadowy facades of her day-to-day life, and into
focus as an artist-hero living secretly among us as if she
were a kind of aesthetic Superman or Batman or

She did not have, of course, miraculous powers of flight,
hyperstrength or x-ray vision. But like the aforementioned
superheroes and their ilk, she lived quietly and unnoticed
among us until she did “her thing” almost hidden from public
view. She once described herself as “a sort of spy.”

“Her thing” was a major life work of photographic images and
portraits of urban “street” life in the middle-to-late 20th
century, and although she did not ever show her work publicly,
nor was ever recognized in her lifetime, she was an obvious
genius with the camera.

As pointed out in the film, she still is not fully recognized by the
art photography establishment, but many of our contemporary
photography masters do acknowledge her, and the galleries and
museums which now have exhibited her work report record
crowds and intense interest by the general public.

For a long time, the cliche image of the artist be they a painter,
a sculptor, a poet, a novelist, a composer, a performing musician,
a dancer, a choreographer, or (of the newest arts) a photographer
or a filmmaker, has been one of very public eccentricity, visibly
romantic self-display and self-promotion. Almost every artist,
however long or short their life and creative period, produces a
body of work. Usually they strive for recognition, approval and
fame. A few are notably private, especially about their personal
lives --- the writer Samuel Beckett comes to mind --- and some
refuse prizes and awards, but almost always, artists strive to have
their work recognized in some way. Vivian Maier is the exception,
perhaps, that verifies this rule. She was a very secret genius, an
enigmatic hoarder who stored away thousands of her own
negatives, undeveloped rolls, and reels of films --- her entire body
of artistic work.

Her daily life was preoccupied with watching over other person’s
children. She was truly a full-time “nanny.”

Hers is so unlikely a story you couldn’t make it up. But the story
itself is irrefutable. We have the photographs, the 8 millimeter
films, and the oral tapes she made, as well as the consistent
testimonies of those who did know her personally.  She was born
in the U.S., but she affected a contrived French accent. She
hoarded small objects she found. She did not marry, and had no
children of her own. There is no evidence at all that she had any
typical kind of social life. No boyfriends or girlfriends. She was a
classical loner. And yet her work exudes a profound sympathy
and sensitivity for modern human urban life, with its darkness,
its humor and its tenderness, and the many anonymous human
beings who compose it ever day.

What we pass by every day, and fail to notice, Vivian Maier saw
and stopped to record. It’s quite a story after all.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekly Campaign Update 8

The 2015 off-year elections just concluded appeared to give
conservative candidates and issues a resurgence one year
before the all-important national and presidential elections
of 2016. Republicans elected two governors in Mississippi
and Kentucky. The GOP winner in Kentucky was an upset
victor. At local and state elections across the nation,
conservative issues won on many ballot questions, and
Republicans increased the number of seats they hold in
state legislatures. Following the landslide for the GOP in
U.S. house and senate elections in 2014, it appears that there
is growing “Obama fatigue” and unhappiness with the
liberal movement’s lurch to the left during the president’s
administration. Some important caution might be in order,
however, before predicting the continuation of this trend
next year. The GOP seems to be at its natural zenith in U.S.
house races, and the conservative party is defending more
than twice as many senate seats than the liberal party is
defending. Presidential years also, in the recent past, have
brought out the Democratic Party base in great numbers,
although it is uncertain that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic
frontrunner, can inspire voters as Mr. Obama did. Much
depends, it would seem, on whom the Republicans settle for
their nominee and ticket. The GOP presidential races remains
very unsettled and volatile going into the new year.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, along with Florida
Senator Marco Rubio, seems to be one of the few GOP
presidential hopefuls making some gains in the polls and
on the airwaves in recent days. Working off his standout
recent debate performances, and campaigning heavily in
Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Christie has seen his
favorabilty rise dramatically. The New Jersey governor still
trails in fundraising, and his national numbers are low, but
his campaign is showing early signs of breaking out in the
large field of contestants. In a late development, Fox News
has announced that Mr. Christie and former Governor Mike
Huckabee will not be in the next main GOP debate. This
could be a blow to Mr, Christie's campaign, but it could
also be a test of how he handles adversity. This developing
story could have unexpected consequences. Senator Rubio
has had even more notable recent gains, and is drawing
increased scrutiny as a result. He will be in the next debate/
Senator Cruz had an excellent third debate, and his poll
numbers are also rising, but it is believed that many voters
who could be drawn to his candidacy are now supporting
Donald Trump (who with Ben Carson continues to lead the
field in most polls). This contest is now entering a new phase
as the primaries and caucuses draw near.

Headlines across the nation every day tout new problems
and failures of the program popularly called Obamacare as
more and more individuals are being denied coverage, and
rates in many states are rising rapidly. The Affordable Care
Act, as it is officially known, is turning out not to provide as
much care as initially promised, and where it is in effect, not
so affordably. More and more Republican figures are offering
free market alternatives, including one by former Speaker
Newt Gingrich and one just put forward by presidential
candidate former Governor Jeb Bush. New Speaker Paul Ryan
is committed to repeal in 2017. The notion that Obamacare
cannot be repealed is turning out to be a myth.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Details Are Beginning To Count

The time has come when the details of the 2016 presidential
campaign are beginning to matter. The extended preliminaries are
now almost over, the debates have begun to have impact, and it is
now that the details of campaign organization and strategy are
having increasing impact.

Although the Republican field remains overlarge technically in
number, the “weeding out” of weaker candidates has already
begun. A few minor 2016 figures remain (e.g., Rick Santorum, Jim
Gilmore, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul,
Lindsay Graham, et al), but a picture of the likely finalists is
beginning to emerge. The inherent volatility in this race prior to
the actual voting in primaries and caucuses continues, and will do so
until mid-January. Currently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the
“flavor of the week,” and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush seems
“on the ropes.” Between them are the candidacies of Chris Christie,
Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Donald
Trump, each of them with their own gyrating poll numbers.

The debates have provided a great deal of “free media” to all the
candidates, and a few of them have capitalized on this exceedingly
well, particularly Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson, and Mrs. Fiorina. But now,
as the actual voting approaches, other critically important factors
come into the dynamics of the field.

These factors include campaign funding, campaign organization
and staff, campaign priorities on issues and candidate
appearances, some (but not all) endorsements, and the
campaigning stamina of the candidate himself or herself.

The most recent state polls reveal that “details” are beginning to
count for something. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, the
favorability numbers have shown some dramatic change in some
cases, particularly for Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
In Mr. Christie’s case, for example, he has gone from troubling
net negative favorables to significant net positives. This
development happened not only because of each candidate’s
debate performance, but also because each of them is
campaigning heavily in those states.

The number of personal appearances, however, does not alone
guarantee success. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Huckabee are already
well-known (from their 2012 campaigns) in both Iowa and New
Hampshire. It should not be a surprise that their numbers
remain static.

Mr. Bush’s numbers have taken a significant “hit” in recent
weeks, primarily because of his debate performances. He does,
however, have significant resources on the ground, including
campaign cash and organization. He is considered better at the
one-on-one aspect of campaigning, and both Iowa and New
Hampshire are “one-on-one” states. It might be premature to
write Mr. Bush just now.

The key, at this point, is pace, priorities and timing. If 
presidential candidates are to survive and succeed, they must
have resilience in resources and stamina.

The “First Four” primaries and caucuses (Iowa, New Hampshire,
South Carolina and Nevada) are not very likely to settle
the contest this cycle, and perhaps even the “Super Tuesday”
that follows on March 1st will not settle it. If that is so, some very
large “winner-take-all” states in the northeast and far west
remain to be counted before the convention.

Who stands the best chance to win these delegate-rich states
if the contest is down to three or four finalists?

That is the question we all might be asking after these
preliminary rounds of the 2016 cycle are concluded. The answer
could provide us with the name of the nominee, and, perhaps as
well, the next president of the United States.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.