Saturday, December 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Little Dusting Of Snow On My Hometown

[This article first appeared on the Intellectual Takeout
website. See link at right.] 

When it comes to public relations, small towns and
cities usually come up short in national and global
news stories.

This has always been true of my hometown of Erie, PA
whose most common claim to fame is its regular
appearance in the New York Times Sunday crossword
puzzle as an urban four-letter word beginning with “E.”

Nevertheless, Erie does have one perennial world-class
distinction --- it usually leads the nation in snowfall. This
is due to a relatively rare weather condition know as
“lake-effect snow.” Simply explained, a cold air mass
crosses a body of water which is warmer, picks up its
water vapor, freezes it, and deposits the resulting snow
when it reaches the shore.

The southern shore of Lake Erie is one of the world’s
major sites for lake-effect snow because it is often in the
direct path of Arctic cold waves. Cleveland, Erie and
Buffalo usually contend for the national championship for
annual urban snowfall, and Erie often leads the pack.

As I write this, however, news stories and photos across
the nation and around the world are featuring Erie’s
latest snow “dusting” because, even by my hometown’s
standards, this is a big one.

In less than two days, more than 65 inches of snow fell
on the city.  (UPDATE: An additional 14-inch lake-effect
snowstorm is expected imminently)
The previous one-day
record in Erie was 27 inches on November 22, 1956. (I
remember that day distinctly because it was
Thanksgiving Day, and the family dinner was at our
house. I was a young boy, and I was thrilled that it not
only meant I could hang out with my aunts, uncles and
cousins longer than usual, it also  meant school was
closed for more a week.)

I still have friends and family in Erie, so I have been calling
there to make sure everyone is o.k. Some old friends live in
North East, PA, about 20 miles from downtown in Erie at the
east end of the county. They only received 12 inches of snow
because lake effect snow is often very limited, controlled as
it is by southerly winds. Life for them is normal for winter,
and they are as much curious onlookers to the nearby historic
blizzard as are those living in far-away Madrid, Tokyo,
Buenos Aires and Capetown.

In the past, Erie has had some interesting distinctions. A
typical manufacturing rust belt city, it once led the world in
the production of nuts and bolts, meters, fine paper and,
until recently, diesel locomotives. Those days are now over.
Many of the big industrial names in Erie, including
Hammermill Paper, Kaiser Aluminum, Bucyrus-Erie, Zurn,
American Sterilizer, Marx Toys, and Erie Forge and Steel,
are long gone. General Electric, once one of the nation’s
largest plants, seems on the verge of leaving. Erie Insurance,
the city’s only Fortune 500 company, is now the leading local
industry, as are other white collar employers in the city’s
hospital/medical, college/university and tourist industries.

These commercial trends are the way of the modern world.
Everything does change. Only Erie’s world-class beaches on
its Presque Isle peninsula (which forms a protective arm
for the city’s port and waterfront) are a constant. But even
they (since the peninsula is really a giant sandbar) are
shifting and reforming along the lake.

The snow however, as it has for thousand of years, keeps
falling in great and noteworthy amounts. Where I live now,
in Minnesota, there is not so much snow, but there are
numbing below-zero temperatures that are not felt in Erie.
The Great Lake, in addition to it legendary snow effect, also
protects the city from extreme cold.

Robert Frost in his great poem “Fire and Ice” spoke of
eternal outcomes of heat and cold. Nature, of course,
makes the choices, and in the end, it is the greatest force
for truly newsworthy public relations.

Thousands of Erieites are now sitting in their homes, waiting
for the storm to abate, Their cars are snowed in, their streets
are choked and undriveable. In the hustle-bustle of our modern
world, there aren’t many indelible opportunities for families
to have no choice but just be together for a while. I remember
fondly such a moment during that Thanksgiving in Erie in 1956.

I hope the neighbors of my hometown are enjoying their
historic occasion.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 25, 2017


You are welcome to make this first-time visit
as my guest. If you like what you read, and would 
like to read  my commentary on a regular basis,
please consider subscribing. This is a subscription
website, (If you scroll down on the right to the
SUBSCRIBE button, click on it to pay for the 
annual fee with your credit card on Paypal, Thank
you for reading.         THE PRAIRIE EDITOR   ]

 There was a time not so long ago when the forecast of an
imminent political “red wave” would have alarmed most
Republicans and conservatives --- and pleased some
Democrats and many on the left. But in today’s popular
political lingo, it is the prospect of a “blue wave” that
delights liberals, and a “red wave” that would terrify them
in the upcoming national mid-term cycle ending in
November. 2018.

Most in the national media, and its commentators, however,
have been detailing and prophesying recently a likely “wave”
(or tide) in shades of blue for next year, especially after the
upset win by a liberal Democrat in the special election  just
held in Alabama --- a distinctly red state.

As I, and some others, have already pointed out, to the
contrary, the defeat of far-out rightwinger Roy Moore was a
victory in disguise for the Republicans who, had Moore won,
would have been forced wear him around their political
necks like the proverbial albatross. Key to Doug Jones’
unexpected victory in Alabama was the large bloc of usually
conservative voters who rejected an inappropriate GOP
nominee --- and sent an important message to their party’s
strategists, i.e., we demand better candidates for high office.

Democrats, caught in a spiral of shocked self-denial about the
2016 election, seemed certain that Moore would be elected,
and so forced one of their own, Minnesota’s Al Franken, to
resign because he also faced allegations of impropriety ---
apparently thinking they could thus embarrass the party of
Donald Trump over the 2018 campaign season.

Mr. Jones, now the senator-elect, promptly rebuked his future
senate leaders by denouncing their  recent calls to impeach
the  president, and even suggested he might vote with the
Republicans on some occasions. He thus showed a certain
good sense for political survival for the time when he must go
to the voters of Alabama for re-election to the seat. Alabama
is a very, very “red” state.

Mr. Franken was not scheduled to run for re-election until
2020, but now his appointed successor must run in less than
a year --- which puts two senate races on the 2018 Minnesota
ballot, one of which might be a hitherto unexpected pick-up.

Steve Bannon, the self-styled leader of the GOP putsch
against the party’s congressional leadership, placed his bets on
Mr. Moore. Had he succeeded, it might well have precipitated
a “blue wave” in the following months as GOP incumbents
and favorites might have faced ruinous primary challengers
promoted by Mr. Bannon.  The former Trump aide, now
rejected by the president, will no doubt keep on trying, but
the conservative party has received a useful early warning
about the mischief looming in such a divisive effort.

Almost immediately after the Alabama special election, the
GOP-controlled senate finally passed a tax reform bill
that already had passed the U.S. house, and after some
adjustments, the legislation was sent to President Trump,
fulfilling a major 2016 GOP campaign promise. This also
ended years of congressional stalemate, and gave the GOP
a vitally needed year-end victory.

At the same time, competitive U.S. senate and U.S. house races
took more and more focus as new retirements were revealed,
and more challengers announced. The Democrats have a clear
advantage in the house races --- with more GOP seats seeming
vulnerable next November. On the other hand, the conservative
party has a distinct advantage in the senate races, with 10-12
more Democratic seats up for grabs.

Had Moore won, and Mr. Bannon been given momentum for
his intra-party putsch --- and the GOP-controlled Congress
failed to pass tax reform legislation by year-end (the bill also
ended the Obamacare mandate, another campaign promise),
--- that advantage might have been erased. Of course, there are
no guarantees about how many senate pick-ups the GOP will
now make, but their  prospects  have been greatly improved.

Republicans still have a demographic advantage in the U.S.
house, and even have opportunities to pick up a few seats.
Historically, however, the party out of power makes gains in
the first mid-term election after they lose the White House.
This precedent has fueled recent media and Democratic Party
strategists’ anticipations of a 2018 “blue wave.”

This tide in blue might still happen, but the genuine signs for
it are not yet present. In fact, the signs for now point the other
way. Donald Trump not only defied conventional wisdom in
2016, he has continued to do so (admittedly with not a few
political hiccups) in the eleven months since taking office.

With about half a dozen senate pick-ups, and holding
Democratic gains in the house to under 10, the GOP would
break the commonplace precedent, although it has happened
before. For more than that, it would take a now-unexpected
“red wave” in 2018. A “blue wave” would bring back control
of the Congress to the Democrats.

It is too early to tell the color of the approaching wave. All we
can see now is the white of the distant breaking surf. 

But a wave is coming --- in one color or another.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


The passage of a tax reform bill, and its signing into law by
President Trump marks a “promises kept” first stage of the
new Republican administration.

Mr. Trump, mostly on his own, had fulfilled a great many of
his campaign promises --- including naming true conservatives
to the federal courts, including one to the U.S. supreme court;
repealing most of President Obama’s executive orders and
regulations; disrupting the entitlement drift of earlier
administrations; dramatically slowing illegal immigration
into the U.S;. reversing a weak and apologetic foreign policy in
Europe, the Middle East and Asia; recognizing Israel's capital
in Jerusalem, and creating a climate for business expansion,
reduced unemployment and a booming stock market (thus
increasing most Americans’ pension fund plans and net worth).

Not bad for less than one year.

But much needs to be done before we can properly judge his
first term a success. A politician actually keeping promises
is a rare matter, and Donald Trump was perhaps the last
person many political observers would have guessed would
keep them. Promises kept, however, do not always mean

Liberal and Democratic critics have argued that the tax reform
bill will not work as promised --- employing an anti-trickle
down argument they traditionally bring to the debate. After
decades of ignoring federal deficits, they now cite this as proof
this legislation will fail. This political opportunism aside, we will
now have, in coming months, an opportunity to observe whether
the tax cut argument works or does not.

“Trumpamentum” is a combination of a particular president’s
worldview, temperament and policy rate of change. Mr. Trump’s
Democratic and media critics (as well as “never-Trumpers” in
his own party) have so obsessed with his temperament style
(most notably his often impetuous and petty “tweets”) that they
became oblivious to the significant changes he has been making
in Washington, DC.

Complicating Mr. Trump’s program has been a Congress his
party controls, but which was so splintered that it could not
pass promised significant legislation. After almost a year of
frustrating inaction, it was clear to all, friend and foe alike, that
the 2018 mid-term congressional elections would be a likely
disaster for the GOP and its conservative victory in 2016. Finally,
at the edge of this political cliff, a sense of survival prevailed
among the conservatives legislators.

The repeal and replacement of Obamacare, a high profile
campaign promise in 2016 has now been partly accomplished
as well. The tax bill removed the penalty for taxpayers who did
not sign up for Obamacare, thus making the program, in effect,
OINO (Obamacare in name only). This partial accomplishment,
however, is not sufficient, In the sessions ahead, Congress must
fashion a credible and workable “free market” replacement
Although inherently flawed, Obamacare was passed to respond
to a genuine public policy need. Now the conservatives must
demonstrate they have a better way to respond to this need.

Americans have endured a prolonged period of political
stalemate. Now, in December, 2017, a president and a Congress
have taken an initial step to put that institutional stalemate
behind. But it’s only a first step.

The opposition party, the Democrats, have an important role to
play, but they will only do that if they offer alternatives and
changes to “Trumpamentum.” They and their media allies
need to focus on the future, and not be consumed by trying to
undo what can’t be undone, that is, the 2016 election. What
liberals and Democrats can do is try to make 2018 and 2020 go
their way.

If they do not, 2018 and 2020 will make Trumpamentum not
merely temporary, but irreversible.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 15, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Andorra Is Not The Smallest Country In The World

Today we often read, see or hear in political, financial
and cultural news stories about other populous countries.
India, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan each have
large populations; Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy,
Spain, and other major European nations are often in the
headlines. Even a few countries with smaller populations,
but large land areas --- such as Canada and Australia --- are
well-known to us.

There are also much less well-known and very tiny nations
--- most of them in Europe --- which are fascinating
because of their extraordinary histories and remarkable
ability to survive into the modern world.

Thanks to an American movie star who married its ruling
prince, and its legendary casino, many Americans know
about or have even visited the small principality of Monaco,
located on the glamorous French Riviera on the north shore
of he Mediterranean Sea A prince of the House of Grimaldi
has ruled since 1297. Andorra is a very small land-locked
country located in the Pyrenees mountains between France
and Spain. Chartered in 988, and created a principality in 1278,
it is ruled by a diarchy of two princes, the Spanish Bishop of
Urgell and the president of France. (Yes, Emmanuel Macron
is now technically and temporarily a royal co-monarch.) It is
also the only sovereign nation on earth which has Catalan as
its official language. (The autonomous Spanish province of
Catalunya also speaks Catalan, as do many French who live
along the Spanish border.) San Marino is a land-locked tiny
republic founded in 301 A.D. in northern Italy. It is the world’s
oldest constitutional nation. Most of its citizens speak
Sanmarinese, a dialect of the Emilia Romagna region.

All three of these microscopic nations are many centuries
old, and are picturesque places.

There are several new independent nations which are small
islands or groups of islands in the southern Pacific Ocean,
including exotic Tuvalu. Its small capital is Funifuti.

But none of these places is even close to being the smallest
country in the world.

That distinction belongs to a truly sovereign nation located on
the second floor of a villa in downtown Rome.

Known usually by its acronym “SMOM” (and more formally as
Sovrane Militare Ordine di Malta), it is the only country in the
world that you enter by elevator.  Near the Spanish Steps
and the famed glove market neighborhood of Rome, the first
floor of its stately villa is Italian territory. But the second and
upper floors are strictly sovereign SMOM territory. It has a
population of two persons. It coins its own money, prints its own
stamps, and has special status at the United Nations. It issues its
own passports, and has diplomatic relations with more than a
hundred countries. When I went there in 1964, I had my passport
stamped. (Now in European Union days, I don’t think that

SMOM is more than a thousand years old. (It was first
established in 1099.) Its symbol and flag is the Maltese Cross.
Founded in Jerusalem as a Catholic order, it moved first to
Cyprus, then to the island of Rhodes, then to the island of Malta,
and finally to Rome.

Once, it was a powerful Mediterranean military power when it
was located on the island  of Malta. Since then its land mass has
been shrunk dramatically, finally settling into the upper floors
of the Roman villa known as Palazzo Malta.

But if its land and resident population size are very tiny, its
global impact remains notable. The Catholic order has 13,500
knights, dames and auxiliary members. Its medical staff
number 25,000, and its volunteers number 80,000. It is one of the
largest global philanthropic service organizations, serving the
medical needs of the poor worldwide. (Its original creation in
the 11th century had the purpose to provide medical services to
pilgrims visiting Jerusalem.)

Since almost everything about SMOM is unique or distinctive, its
government should be no surprise. It is an elective monarchy.
(The post is currently vacant.) It is perhaps one of the very few
continual and surviving remnants of medieval European
civilization, and whose history and philanthropic service has
no contemporary equal.

Rome has many spectacular places to see, but no visitor to this
city should miss SMOM. If the elevator doesn’t work, there is a

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Everyone Won And Lost?

The election of Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama special
U.S. senate election to replace Jeff Sessions (who retired to
become attorney general in the Trump administration) was
won and lost by both political parties.

First of all, it was a victory for the Democrats in one of the
most conservative states, and in a race, under normal
circumstances, they could not win. They pick up a senate
seat, and now Republicans control the senate by only 51-49.

But Democrats did not think they were going to win, and
made a political bet that they could use GOP nominee Roy
Moore, once elected, as a foil to embarrass the conservative
party --- having forced a senator of their own, Al Franken, to
resign following scandal allegations (Roy Moore also faced
allegations). Their ultimate target, of course, is President
Trump, but that is likely to fail, as have all their other
numerous attempts to undo the 2016 election.

Enough conservative voters, in addition to Democratic voters,
had the good sense to reject Mr. Moore, twice ousted from the
state supreme court, and leaving scandal allegations aside, was
so controversial and off-the-wall that it is amazing he went as
far as he did.

President Trump did gamely support Moore at the end,  but in
the primary he had rightfully supported Moore’s opponent.
Blaming him for Roy Moore just won't wash.

There were losers in the Alabama election. Mr. Moore was the
biggest loser, but so was his major political sponsor, Steve
Bannon. Mr,, Bannon had been on a kamikaze crusade to
“cleanse” the Republican party of part of it base, and he failed
--- not only hurting his own party, but in making himself a toxic
figure in the 2018 campaign ahead. He won’t likely go away
quietly, but his political plot has been exposed as the "bust" it is.

Republicans have done this before. They have nominated various
“extreme” candidates for U.S. senate races (Nevada, Missouri,
Indiana, Colorado, Delaware, etc.) they were likely to win
in recent cycles --- and they lost. Frankly, they deserved to lose
those races, and they deserved to lose Alabama. If they don’t
finally learn the political lesson, they will lose again.

But sensible, and many very conservative, voters in Alabama
decided they deserved better. In rejecting Mr. Moore, they also
took away a Democratic partisan argument against the
Republicans. Forcing Al Franken to resign might have been a
Democratic Party strategy too clever by half.

As others have pointed out, you have to work very hard to be
removed from a state supreme court twice, and then to lose
a virtually certain U.S. senate election. Roy Moore managed
to do all of that, and now it is time for him to ride that horse
of his off into an Alabama sunset.

Senator-elect Jones is presumably an instant lame-duck. A
majority of Alabama voters do not share most of his political
views. If he is to have even a remote chance to win re-election
in 2020, he will have to become the most conservative
Democrat in the senate. If he does not, he will become very
quickly one of the most unpopular guys in the state. He won
the election, but he might not enjoy the aftermath.

It was a most curious race in which both sides won, and both
sides lost. But if the Republicans don’t finally get the message
that voters deserve quality candidates, then one side will have
truly won, and the other will have truly lost.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


In the northern hemisphere, we are now in the colder
climate season. This year, it has also been a time of
increasingly “heated” political  passions, and even some
“boiling” media hysteria.

As we begin the multi-week holiday season going to the
new year, The Prairie Editor respectfully suggests that
we all (paradoxically?) “chill out” and reflect not on
incessantly sensational (and often misleading) headlines
and negative news. How about acknowledging, and
being grateful for, our many blessings --- our families and
friends, our faiths, our freedoms and liberty, our
opportunities ahead, and the positive side of the many new
technological resources which improve our well-being,
our health and our daily lives?

Perhaps we could also reflect on those in the world who
are suffering, the true challenges we face, and on real and
pragmatic solutions to make all human lives better.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 8, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Musical Chairs

The imminent (“in coming weeks”) resignation of
Minnesota Senator Al Franken will greatly increase the
volume of a game of political musical chairs in the state’s
2018 election cycle..

The last time a similar circumstance happened in this
northern midwest state was 1978 when both U.S. senate
seats were on the ballot because long-time Democratic
(here called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor or DFL) Senator
Hubert Humphrey had recently died, and the state’s other
senator, Walter Mondale, had been elected vice president
of the United States. The governor’s race that year was
also unusual because the popular incumbent Wendell
Anderson had taken the risky step of having himself
appointed to take Mondale’s place by the former lt.
governor Rudy Perpich (the new governor). At that time,
the DFL dominated Minnesota politics overwhelmingly.
and most observers believed 1978 would be a good DFL
year. Long-time DFL (Minneapolis) Congressman Don
Fraser was expected to win the Humphrey seat (then
temporarily held by his widow Muriel). The first sign of
trouble occurred when Fraser was upset in the DFL
primary by Humphrey pal and moderate businessman
Bob Short who was pro-life and opposed Fraser’s
outspoken environmentalism. The Republicans
chose businessman Dave Durenberger to oppose Short.
Taking on self-appointed Anderson was the GOP national
committeeman and plywood chain owner Rudy Boschwitz.

Angry at Short for defeating the liberal Fraser, many DFL
women now supported Durenberger. Upset with Anderson
for his self-appointment, and for his absenteeism in the
senate (to come back to Minnesota to campaign), many
independents (most of whom usually voted for DFL
candidates) now supported Boschwitz. Nevertheless,
newspaper polls on election eve showed all the DFL
candidates winning handily. But on election night, all of
them lost by a landslide. It became known as the
“Minnesota Massacre.”

The state governorship will be an open race in 2018.
Incumbent Mark Dayton, whose poll numbers have
dropped sharply recently, is retiring. Popular senior U.S.
Senator Amy Kobuchar will be on the ballot. Her poll
numbers remain high. and now presumably, the other
senate seat will be on the ballot.

The race for governor had already begun the game of
musical political chairs in both parties. DFL 1st District
Congressman Tim Walz, State Representative Erin
Murphey, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, State
Representative Paul Thissen, and St. Paul Mayor
Chris Coleman are now in the race, and state Attorney
General Lori Swanson is expected to enter it. These are
all DFLers.

On the GOP side, state legislators Matt Dean and David
Ozmek are candidates, as is recent state party chair
Keith Downey and 2014 nominee Hennepin (Minneapolis)
County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. But waiting in the
wings is former Governor and presidential candidate Tim
Pawlenty who is known to be considering the race, and
could wait until January or February if he decided to run.

The Franken resignation ups the ante for 2018. Governor
Dayton would appoint someone to fill the seat until next
year’s election. That is widely believed to be his loyal
lt. governor, Tina Smith. His presumably better "political"
choices are running for governor, although the appointment
of Mrs. Smith would be well-received, especially by DFL
women. But a new Senator Smith might choose not to run in
2018. That could set off a new round of musical chairs.
Even if she did run, she would likely face a formidable GOP
opponent --- perhaps most likely popular 6th District
Congressman Tom Emmer. (Other prominent Republicans
could also compete for the GOP nomination.)

As in 1978, the DFL had been looking forward to a good year
at the polls, including electing another Democratic governor,
re-electing Senator Klobuchar, and picking up one or two
U.S. house seats from GOP incumbents. DFL strategists also
have been optimistic that Minnesota voter attitudes about
President Trump would help them next year.

Republican best hopes were in picking up the Walz seat,
and successfully defending two of the three seats they now
hold (which are considered vulnerable). The GOP also had
the possibility of picking up the governorship.

Until three weeks ago, the Franken resignation was totally
unexpected.  A second senate race on the ballot in 2018
could turn all expectations upside down.

However upset some DFL voter might be now, most of them
will likely turn out for their nominees next November. The
giant unknown is the damage done to DFL support by
independent and unaffiliated voters in the state (who
comprise almost one-third of all likely voters).

Some pundits have suggested that Franken might rescind his
resignation if controversial Roy Moore is elected in the
special senate election next week in Alabama (and the GOP
senate then fails to expel him), but that would provoke a new
and unpredictable set of reactions among Minnesota voters.

How those voters react to the sudden high volume of political
dissonance, and how they feel (outside the major urban areas)
about President Trump (who remains very popular outstate)
is a big question mark only ten months before election day,
2018 --- forty years after the last big game of Minnesota
political musical chairs.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. Al rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


There is always a future, but it has the inevitable habit in
our lives of soon enough becoming the past. For several
centuries, this transfer of the future into the past has been
increasing its velocity. Technological revolutions used to
take several generations to take effect and be realized.
Then they took place in a lifetime. Then (amazingly) in a
single generation, or several in one lifetime. We now witness
and  feel the impact of technological change in only a few
years. Soon it will be months. And then, under “artificial
intelligence” machines (robots), probably only days or even

The institutions of government adapt slowly. Institutions of
business and commerce adapt more rapidly (by necessity)
in our democratic capitalist system.

Although many of our scientists, researchers, analysts and
other technicians deal with this phenomenon in their own
fields all the time, and a few even try to understand its
overall impact, most of us go on with our lives only dimly
aware of the speed of change and how it alters the ways in
which we live.

I am writing this as a suggestion to all of us (myself included)
to take the currents of technological change more consciously.
I write about political and public policy events, usually trying
to examine the immediate and easily foreseeable
consequences of them. We always do have provocative
political personalities, and our own time has not a few of
them --- in our own country and elsewhere. Specific issues of
healthcare, taxes, education, public spending, human rights,
the environment, and other subjects appear and reappear.

My point is that these issues are not accidental. They are in
some way  connected to, and arising from,the whole world,
and our whole country, changing. Is our survival at stake?

We need our diversions. Sports, detective novels, TV sitcoms,
fantasy movies, computer games, hobbies, pets, and other
interests, are (and should be) be part of our lives.

But something is rapidly taking place all around us, and it is
happening with a velocity that has not ever occurred in human

Just saying.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend News Items 2

The U.S. senate has passed major tax cut legislation by a
51-49 margin, All Republicans, except for one, voted for the
bill. Every Democrat voted against it. Tennessee GOP
Senator Bob Corker, who is not running for re-election next
year, voted “no,” but criticized the bill for not being
conservative enough. Earlier, the U.S. house passed a similar
bill, so the legislation will now go to a conference
committee to “iron out” the relatively small differences.
The two bodies will then vote on a final bill, which if it
passes, will go to President Trump for his signing into law.
The senate action ends  a long stalemate over major
legislation that goes back to the years of the Obama
administration. Passage of the tax cut bill represents the
fulfillment of a major GOP election promise made in 2016.
Proponents of the bill, which required much negotiation and
tinkering at the last hour, assert it will significantly boost the
economy almost immediately. Opponents claim it will
increase the deficit. It was ironically an iconic Democratic
president, John F. Kennedy, who advocated a similar tax cut
in 1962, saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” That tax cut,
and subsequent tax cuts by Presidents Reagan and George W.
Bush did succeed in improving the nation’s economy.

Former General Michael Flynn, also a former Donald Trump
campaign aide, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as part
of the Mueller special prosecution inquiry. He has also
promised to cooperate with the current investigation. Much
“fake news” and speculation arose at Flynn's action, but its
impact on the Mueller inquiry is, in reality, unknown to the
public and the media this time. The stock market took a brief
dive on some of the initial “fake news” --- which a major
network (ABC News) had to retract later in the day.

The U.S. senate, at the direction of Republican Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell, has continued to speed up delayed
confirmations of President Trump’s nominations for the
federal judiciary and for major positions in his
administration which require senate approval. Mr.
McConnell has decided, after some delay, to ignore
individual senator’s “blue slip” vetoes and other stalling
tactics by the Democratic opposition.

After promising in the 2016 campaign to move the U.S.
embassy in Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital of Jerusalem,
if he were elected president, Donald Trump delayed the
action after taking office. It was believed he meant it to be a
“bargaining chip” in his also stated intention to bring about
a Middle East settlement. Recent reports, however, indicate
that the administration now intends to make the move soon,
including the possibility that he would keep the embassy in
Tel Aviv for the time being, but formally recognize the
capital is in Jerusalem.

Breaking the usual political rules of discussing imminent
innovation details in technology, former Minnesota Governor
and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is making
the speaking tour rounds, especially in Minnesota, with
some eye-opening talks about dramatic and significant
changes taking place in science, medicine, and the general
economy --- all of which are already altering the American
workplace and way of life.  Although some of this impact is
shocking and controversial, Mr. Pawlenty’s speeches have
been well-received.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Incredible Double Lives

I have always been fascinated by those rare and extraordinary
individuals who excel in two entirely different professions,
one of which is often unknown to the public until after their

I have written about Morris “Moe” Berg, a Princeton graduate,
polymath, and a major league baseball player for more than a
dozen years in the 1920a and1930s, and who then became a key
spy for the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) during World War II.
At some point, I hope to write about Charles Ives, one of  my
favorite (and one of the greatest) American composers. Ives
also was a top executive and a pioneer in the insurance
industry, and is given credit for the invention of estate planning.
Wallace Stevens was one of the nation’s most important poets,
but throughout his writing career was also a top insurance
company figure and actuary.

There are other examples. In this column, I will tell the story of
two more whose lives were perhaps even more improbable.

Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful and famous movie
stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Born Hedwig Kreisler in Vienna in
1913, she was the daughter of two Jewish refugees (her father
from Russia; her mother from Hungary) who settled in the
vibrant Austro-Hungarian capital and met there. Before she
was 18, young Hedy was a theater and film star. She also soon
married a Viennese munitions tycoon who helped arm the
pre-war European nations, including the budding Nazi groups
in several of them. After the 1930s and the Nazi rise to power
in Europe, however, Ms. Kreisler (now Mandl) had to flee
Austria and her husband (who in spite of his usefulness to the
Nazis was partly Jewish and was now shunned by them) to
emigrate to Hollywood where several directors and movie
moguls knew about her from her acting work in Europe.

In her American films she now became Hedy Lamarr, a huge
box office movie star, and remarried several times. She knew
and hung out with most of the most famous literary, music
and film personalities of her era. But the glamorous actress
had a secret double life.

During her years married to the munitions tycoon Mandl,
she had overheard in dinner conversations about top secret
weapons development in submarine warfare technology,
Although not a typical “intellectual,” Ms. Lamarr had some
remarkable scientific skills, and had for years pursued the
hobby of creating inventions. Now in Hollywood, and
understandably upset by reports of terrible casualties
resulting from German U-boat sinkings, she decided to try
to invent a device to counter the Nazi submarines.

At this point, she met one of America’s most avant-garde and
famous composers, George Antheil.

Like Charles Ives, Antheil had a double life. He also liked to
invent things. He had become a prophet of new music with
his notorious Ballet Mechanique in 1926 which, like Igor
Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” premiere in Paris in 1913,
caused a riot. By 1947, he was rated as one of the most
performed U.S. composers (along with Samuel Barber,
George Gershwin and Aaron Copland). Like so many classical
composers of his era, he was drawn to Hollywood to write
music for films and lot of money. There he met Hedy
Lamarr, and was astonished that she, too, spent her spare
time inventing. Lamarr had sought out Antheil, not because
he was a famous composer, but because he was an expert in
a scientific process she needed to complement a discovery
she had made in submarine warfare technology. Antheil was
also upset by Nazi submarine activities, and the two film
figures secretly began collaborating on a device that would
thwart Nazi U-boat activity. By the early 1940a, they had
succeeded, and applied for a patent which they eventually
received. They also offered their invention to the U.S.
military which initially rejected it. Eventually, the military
bought the patent, but it was largely unused during the war.

After the war, it was rediscovered by technicians and became
known as spread spectrum technology. It is now one of the
most important communictions technologies in use today,
critical to the use of cell phones, wi-fi, and so much more.
It all began with Hedy Lamarr’s idea and her collaboration
with George Antheil.

George Antheil died in 1959, but Hedy Lamarr lived until 2000.
While both of them deserve credit for their invention, Antheil
was always up front about Hedy Lamarr’s creating the first
insight which led to it. Ms. Lamarr retired from films, and
her contribution to science was for many years ignored. In her
80s, however, some scientists and engineers, aware of what
she had done, made efforts to give her the recognition she was
due. In 1997, she was given the Pioneer Award from the
Electronics Frontier Foundation, a Nobel Prize equivalent of
honoring inventors, and other major honors soon followed.

For almost half a century, Hedy Lamarr had been mostly
silent abut her remarkable scientific contribution. She was
obviously a complicated and extraordinary personality. She
kept many secrets. Only after her death, did her children,
and her many film friends and fans, discover that she was

[For those who would like to read more about the lives and
collaboration of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, I strongly
recommend Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes, a superb book
which was a major reference work for my article.]

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Andy Warhol, the legendary Rusyn-American founder
of Pop Art, once famously said that everyone, in our
current age, gets (or is entitled to) 15 minutes of fame.

It doesn’t quite happen that way, but he was making a
valid point about the sudden and brief quality of much
celebrity in our own time.

I have a corollary to Warhol’s now-legendary prophecy.
It is that almost everyone (meaning lots of ordinary
persons) can and will have an extraordinary experience
at some time in their lives.

We all well know, from tabloids, films, daytime TV
and innumerable glossy magazines, how the “rich and
famous” live. The affluent homes of a great many
middle class Americans today are filled with lavish
furnishings, world-class kitchens, large spaces, fine art,
architectural amenities and numerous other features
unavailable to all but the very rich in the past. But they
are distinct from a category of multi-million dollar
over-sized dwellings with dozens of bedrooms, bathrooms,
swimming pools, tennis courts, assorted luxury
outbuildings, beaches and docks for private yachts.

I live modestly these days in a comfortable apartment.
I have no desire to live in some great house, but part of
this feeling comes from an experience I once had in my
youth while visiting Mexico.

I grew up in a small city, and in a middle class home. In
Erie, Pennsylvania, I spent the first dozen years of my life
in a three-story brick house built at the turn-of-the-century
and originally owned by my grandparents. It had a
coal-burning furnace in the basement that had been
converted to gas after World War II. The basement had a
laundry room and a windowless pickle cellar that was no
longer used. (I turned this room into a dark room.) The
laundry room had a washer and a dryer, as well as a mangle
(an old-fashioned device for pressing clothes). My brother,
a budding scientist, made a small laboratory/workshop for
himself near the furnace, and a no-longer-used coal bin was
used for family storage.

The other primary storage area in this house was the attic
which was very much like countless other attics in America
except that it had a small sleeping room where a live-in
maid stayed during the years before and just after World
War II.

The first floor had a small living room, a dining room,
a den, a pantry, a small powder room, and the kitchen.

The second floor originally had four small bedrooms, a
large bathroom and an enclosed porch. My grandmother,
who survived my grandfather by two decades, had the
porch converted into her own kitchen, and combined two
bedrooms into her separate living quarters.

By the time I was in high school, we had moved to a
comfortable suburban ranch-styled house with a small
attic, large basement, and all its rooms on one floor.

I mention this because these living quarters were very
typical of those of many Americans. I was used to modest
comfort and nice furnishings, but nothing really out of the

After my undergraduate years, I attended graduate school
in the midwest. I had originally planned to go to law school,
but had been convinced by a well-known writer who had
been a guest teacher at one of my English writing classes
to attend the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

One of my first Iowa courses, in world literature, was taught
by the Chilean novelist Jose (“Pepe”) Donoso. Donoso had
moved to Iowa City with his wife Maria Pilar that semester
to teach at the Workshop. He had attended Princeton in his
youth before returning to Chile, and then traveling
throughout South America and Europe. He spoke English
flawlessly, and was a master storyteller and a charismatic

At the end of the school year, in May, he invited a few of his
students, including myself, to visit him and Maria Pilar at
their rented villa in Guanajuato, Mexico where he was
working on a new novel novel (it became his masterpiece
“The Obscene Bird of Night”).

As it turned out, only two of us who had been invited showed
up in Mexico. That was the year that Greyhound had a special
deal for traveling by bus --- $99  for 99 days anywhere in the
U.S. you wanted to go. So I decided to circumnavigate the U.S.
with a side trip to Mexico.

I arrived in Guanajuato (which translated means “City of
Frogs”) in June, and was warmly welcomed by the
Donosos at their lovely villa in Marfil, an elegant suburb of
the old Mexican colonial capital that was designed by an
expatriate Italian architect Giorgio Belloli. Belloli was
developing in Marfil a group of new villas over the ruins
of a 16th century Spanish hacienda. These villas, each
different, were quite magnificent with large rooms, superb
period furnishings, modern kitchens and bathrooms, and
fabulous gardens each with a swimming pool, hibiscus, palm
trees and other tropical flora.

The villa the Donosos had leased, they told me, was then
owned by the curator of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Other residents included Dirk Hubers, the famed Dutch
potter and his young son, the unmarried heiress of a
Canadian department store chain, a Mexican physician and
his wife, the Hollywood novelist/screenwriter Harry Brown
and his wife, and in the most spectacular villa of them all,
architect Giorgio Belloli and his retinue. For a  small U.S.
city kid like me, this was heady company and high living.
Maria Pilar was a fine cook, and her meals were splendid.
She taught me how to make her dazzling recipe for bananas
flambe, and both Dososos told me about their fascinating
childhoods and glamorous friends all over the world.

When not touring the environs of Guanajuato with Donoso, I
regularly visited the other residents in their villas. The heiress
invited me every Tuesday for afternoon tea and conversation
about art and poetry. Harry Brown, it turned out, had attended
Harvard just before World War II, and then gone to England
where he served in the army and became a protege of T.S.
Eliot. On returning to the U.S. after the war, he wrote the
novel “Island in the Sun” which became a best-seller, and
then he moved to Hollywood where he wrote novels and
screenplays, including “Oceans Eleven” for his pals Frank
Sinatra and the “Ratpack.” Now he lived in Marfil, and
drank a case of Carta Blanca every day in his large office
with bookshelves containing just about every contemporary
novel, play and book of poems. The first time I was there,
he suggested I browse through this library, and I soon
discovered that nearly every book, all first editions (and
including virtually every major writer of the past 30
years in the U.S. and Europe), contained inside a tyoed or
handwritten letter from the author to Harry!  (I am told that
after he died, this incredible library was thrown away!)
Dirk Hubers’ son Maarten was my age, so we spent time
together hanging out and visiting the neighboring towns.

One week, I went to Mexico City, armed with letters of
introduction from Donoso to some of the leading Mexican
writers. One of them was the legendary (and now deceased)
Juan Rulfo with whom I spent an incandescent  and
unforgettable evening in a bar near his apartment.

But the best experience was yet to come.

On returning from Mexico City, it became apparent that my
visit with the Donosos had gone on too long. I was young,
inexperienced, and having such a great time, that I did not
realize that I was overstaying my welcome. Finally, Pepe
took me aside, and told me directly it was time to resume my

The problem was that I was having such a good time that
I didn’t want to leave Guanajuato. Pepe then promised to
help me find a place to rent, but there were not any low rent
places available at that time in the summer. Perhaps in
desperation to get me out of his villa, Donoso went to one
of his local friends and finally found a place for me.

Actually, it wasn’t just any friend or any “place.” It was
a palace of the fabled Conde de Rul, the 18th century
Spanish nobleman (when Guanajuato was the national
capital), and, as well, one of the principal owners of the
silver and gold mines of Valenciana (a mountain located
next to the city). These mines for many decades produced
not only gold, but more than half the world’s entire
production of silver. For a time (this was before Bill Gates),
the Conde de Rul was one of richest men in the world. He
built two palatial houses in Guanajuato. One was in the city
(and now is a national tourist site that Pope Benedict recently
visited), and the other was on top of the mountain Valenciana
near the silver mines, and across the street from a spectacular
churrigueresco Baroque church (Iglesia San Cayetano) which
he also built. Tourists could not visit this house, which had
remained in private hands. In fact, the owner was Donoso’s
friend (and I believe, a descendant of the Conde de Rul) who
lived in the city, and had become one of Mexico’s greatest
collectors of antiques, He used the house/palace at
Valenciana, with its huge living room, formal dining room,
many bedrooms, mountainside gardens and terraces as one
repository for his great collection of rare paintings, furniture,
one of the finest private collections of early Mexican pottery,
and early European harpsichords.

This mansion came thus fully furnished, with a full-time
maid, cook and gardener. It was like living in a royal palace
with a royal retinue. The cook, a young and cheerful woman
of Aztec heritage, prepared three meals a day for me
with recipes from her great Aztec culinary legacy. Every
morning, seated at a table under an intense sun on a 30-foot
terrace, I was served a delicious breakfast of eggs, filet
mignon or Spanish ham, fresh-squeezed juice, aromatic
fresh tropical fruit, home-made pastries and imported tea.
At several thousand feet, my terrace/balcony overlooked the
whole terrain surrounding Guanajuato, with the mines to my
right. After breakfast, I would catch the hourly bus to the
city, and go to the market to buy the meat and produce
specified by the cook for the day’s later meals. (Prices were
ridiculously low. Even the filet mignon was about sixty
cents a pound. Bacardi Rum was less than a dollar a gallon.
Fresh fruits and vegetables went for pennies.)

The palace itself was built around a large courtyard filled
with banana trees and an ancient well. It had been
constructed in the 18th century on the side of the top of the
mountain. An all-glass shower room faced out into the
valley below. Below the terraces were cultivated gardens.
A small enclosed alley alongside the palace led to a tiny
grotto with fountains of sculpted lions, water pouring
from their mouths over elegant white lilies planted between
the old bricks underneath.

Each bedroom had an antique bed, some with canopies.
Tables, chairs, decorations and chests were all rare antiques.
I slept in a different bedroom every few days. On the walls
was a museum of old paintings.

Aside from the maid, the cook and the gardener, I thought
I was the only person in this palace, but I was wrong.

One late morning, back from the market in Guanajuato,
I returned to my bedroom to discover a tall man, with
a black patch over one eye, and wearing a cape, instructing
the gardener how to dismantle my bed.

I inquired in Spanish who he was,  and he replied,
“No, young man, the question is what are doing here!” It
turned out that my “visitor” was actually Manuel Parra,
one of Mexico’s greatest architects and a friend of the
owner of the villa (Donoso’s friend, and my landlord).

What I had not noticed when I moved into this sprawling
house was another building built adjoined to it, but hidden
from the street. This building was the working studio of
Sr. Parra, and it contained an elegant living room, his
large workroom, a bedroom, a kitchen and a terrace of
its own.

He invited me to dinner at his studio that evening, and
I learned that he had just arrived from his other villa in
Acapulco where he had for a week been entertaining
Jacqueline Kennedy and her two young children Caroline
and John Jr.  Sr. Parra also had a house in Mexico City, and
spent much of his winters in Monte Carlo and on the “jet
set” circuit.

My own huge living room did have a record player, but
the only record I could find was Mendelssohn’s “A
Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
” which I played frequently
at night while I tried to write poems in the room only
lit by candles in wrought iron candlesticks made from old
branding irons. A large oil painting dominated the living
room. It was, I later found out, by the Spanish master
Herrera. My landlord/collector had obtained it, I was told,
while shopping for antique furniture in the rural Mexican
countryside. After purchasing an antique chair, the seller
had given him a piece of old canvas to wrap it in, but when
he removed the canvas back at the palace, he discovered it
was a priceless Herrera!

I did meet some local students at the University of
Guanajuato, and occasionally invited them to the
palace for dinner. The first week I had  some daily
visitors at my door, all tourists from the hourly bus
that brought them from the city to see the mines and the
cathedral, and hoping to see “my” palace. The maid
sternly advised me not to admit anyone.

For about two months I lived in this splendor, not quite
fully believing what was happening, At the end of
August, I had to reluctantly return to the U.S. and the
rest of my trancontinental trip.

I have some slides  I took of the palace, but it is only
when I hear the Mendelssohn piece, that my Mexican
midsummer dream truly returns from my memory.

The palace, a friend who recently visited there tells me,
has now become partly a restaurant. That’s hard to imagine,
but apparently it’s so.  [Update; the restaurant has closed.]

Money could not buy that long ago summer’s
experience at any price today, nor could any residence,
however large and lavish, exceed those magic and halcyon
days and nights in the City of Frogs when I unexpectedly
was a mere young gringo poet who became transformed
briefly into a prince.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: As The World Turns --- Surprise!

I want to suggest to my readers that events in the world
often are not what they first seem. Lately, there are many
examples which demonstrate this.

I will begin with the so-called “Arab Spring” which, despite
many predictions in Europe and the U.S., turned out to be a
hiccup and not lasting change. Now, an “impossible” (if
unofficial) alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia (and
other Arab states threatened by Iran) is forming.

When Emmanual Macron was elected president of France by
a landslide with a last-minute composed new political party,
it looked like easy sailing for the new French government.
But this  movement has already run aground. at least for the
time being. Macron’s election and Angela Merkel’s apparent
victory in the German elections seemed to be the end of the
far right and anti-immigrant movements in Europe, but
Merkel has stumbled in creating her coalition, and might
have to call a new election. The anti-immigration mood in
Europe now seems stronger than ever.

All kinds of disaster scenarios accompanied Donald Trump’s
upset win of the U.S. presidency in 2016, but here we are a
year later, and the new administration is transforming both
domestic and foreign policy. The Republican house and senate
were expected to come through on campaign promises, but
have been stalemated, especially in the senate, while it is the
president who is making most of the change --- not what was
initially predicted.

Dictator Mugabe looked invincible in Zimbabwe, but he has
quietly been overthrown. The catastrophic dictatorship in
Venezuela was supposed collapse imminently a year ago, but
is still in power. With charismatic new leaders, the largest
South American nation of Brazil was supposed to turn the
corner to new prosperity, but it has become overwhelmed by
old corruption and new lack of leadership.

In Asia, India was long ago supposed to be stuck in its old
socialist and religious ways, but continues to emerge with a
capitalist and high tech economy. Chine was supposedly
caught up in a real estate, banking and investment “bubble.”
But that has yet to burst as a new and younger generation of
strong leaders (albeit not committed to democracy) has taken

It seems wherever you go in the world that new developments
often do not lead to predictable consequences. Even the
“surprise” outcomes mentioned above could change in quick

The world has not ever seemed a more provisional place.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Weekend Items

An explosion of allegations about well-known Hollywood,
media and political figures is currently pushing other (and
more immediate) news aside in newspapers, magazines and
the internet. Allegations against GOP U.S. senate nominee
Roy Moore have disrupted the special election in Alabama on
December 12. Moore had been initially favored to win in this
very  conservative state, but latest polls have his Democratic
opponent pulling increasingly ahead. National Republicans
have denounced Moore, including the GOP senate leadership
which could lead a vote to expel him if he wins the race.
Other options for blocking his election would need the
support of the state’s new governor, but she has just declared
the special election will go as planned, and that she will vote
for Moore. Increasingly isolated from his own party, Moore
denies the charges, and vows to stay in the race.

The allegations uproar has hit Minnesota where incumbent
junior Senator Al Franken has been charged with improper
behavior. A photograph shows the senator apparently doing
this. A newswoman has asserted other misbehavior. Calls for
his resignation have come from several sources, some in his
own party and in previously supportive liberal media. Franken
has admitted that he acted improperly and apologized, but the
general furor over improper behavior --- and his own, and his
party’s condemnation of accused Republican officials that has
been seen as hypocrisy --- ensures that the controversy and
the political damage to him will not go away soon. Franken’s
defense is further weakened by various supposedly
humorous sketches  and statements made when he was a
career comedian prior to his election. The state also now has
additional scandals, one involving a  Democratic legislator,
and another involving a Republican. This normally staid
midwestern state is now awash, as is the nation, in
daily-revealed scandals.

A developing and potentially region-changing series of events
is occurring in the critical mideastern kingdom of Saudi
Arabia where its new crown prince has been consolidating
power within the Saudi royal family. Prominent members of
this large and all-powerful family and their allies have been
arrested or detained. Rumors that the Saudi king will abdicate
soon abound. Behind the move is believed to be the decision 
to modernize the ancient land and its political structures in
response to extraordinary volatility and popular unrest not
only within the kingdom, but in neighboring Arab states.

Finally responding to criticism from his own party, including
President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
has decided to ignore two “blue slip” vetoes of federal
judicial nominees by President Trump which had been held
up for six months. One of those senators whose opposition is
being bypassed is Minnesota junior Senator Al Franken who
is currently embroiled in a controversy of his own (see story
above). Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David
Stras, one of the two nominees, will now receive a senate
hearing on November 29. Justice Stras is a widely-respected
jurist strongly supported by figures in both parties, and would
be expected to be confirmed soon after that. The logjam over
President Trump’s judicial and other appointments will
probably continue to some degree, but the senate leadership’s
decision to discontinue allowing single senators to block a
nomination should relieve some of the pressure for the time

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Moon Over Alabama?

Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill collaborated on some of
the greatest musical theater classics of the mid-twentieth
century, including the immortal Threepenny Opera. They
were politically too radical for the incoming German Nazi
regime in 1933, and had to flee to avoid the Holocaust.
Weill settled in Hollywood and New York; Brecht, an avowed
communist settled in East Germany after World War II.
Both died at a relatively young age.

No matter what your politics, Weill’s music rightfully endures
long after his death. Brecht was an artist, and became something
of a maverick in the communist world, especially in East
Germany. until his death.

One of the many great songs they wrote together (others were,
of course, Mack The Knife; and September Song) was
Alabama Song (sometimes called Moon Over Alabama) which
includes the line:

Oh moon over Alabama, we now must say goodbye.

Many great singers from Nina Simone to The Doors have
recorded this song.

Why do I mention all of this?

I do so because there is now a Moore over Alabama, i.e.,
Roy Moore who is running for the U.S. senate in a December
special election. He has twice been removed from high office,
and he has long held very controversial views. He won the
Republican primary against a sitting (but recently appointed)
senator, and now faces a moderate Democrat in the general
special election.

The GOP establishment opposes him, and now calls for him to
resign from the election following numerous new allegations
about his personal life. Denying the allegations, Mr. Moore
has claimed a last-minute smear campaign against him, but
he has become so "radioactive" for his social policy views
and his diatribes against his own party that now even some
of his most high profile supporters are abandoning him.

To their credit, most in the national and local Republican
party have denounced his candidacy. It is very, very difficult
for any fair-minded person to defend him, recent allegations

It is time for Alabama to say goodbye to his candidacy.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can The GOP Lose The U.S. House In 2018?

Many pundits are currently speculating about the political
control of the U.S. house in January, 2019 (following the 2018
national mid-term elections). Conventional wisdom now
says that it is quite possible that the Democrats could retake
control of this “people’s body” of the Congress.

Previous conventional wisdom was that Republicans had a
“lock” on control until at least 2023 when a the first U.S. house
after reapportionment takes office. That opinion was based on
the GOP voter advantage in currently-drawn districts.

Fueling the new guesswork is the notable number of retiring
conservative incumbents --- although most of those retiring
represent safe districts for their party. There likely will be
liberal gains in the next U.S. house --- although there are a few
good prospects for GOP gains, e.g. in Minnesota’s CD-1 where
the liberal incumbent is retiring to run for governor.

So which conventional wisdom is more likely to come true?

First, it must be said, any outcome is possible. Despite their
current large majority (241 to 194), the party in power often
loses many seats in the first mid-term election after they win
the presidency. On the other hand, as I recently pointed out,
the 2017 off-year elections revealed no dispositive evidence that
the Democratic victories in two “blue” states, and in the mostly
“blue” urban areas were an omen for next year. Michael Barone
further points out that the watershed “upset”election of 2016
is probably the “new normal.”

If the current debate and formulation of a new tax policy does
not result in a new tax code, as was promised by Republicans
in 2016, and combined with a failure to repeal and replace
Obamacare, also a major GOP promise, I think much of the
conservative congressional district advantage is severely
weakened. Prospects for Democrats to regain control would
then be significantly advanced.

Nonetheless, the speculation is rather premature. President
Donald Trump’s disruption of the Obama policy legacy and,
indeed, of the whole Washington, DC political culture, has
only begun. If it continues, and it is seen as an improvement,
a contrarian outcome in 2018 is possible. If his leadership
becomes mired in more stalemate in the Congress, or Mr.
Trump himself falters, next year would be a good one for the
opposition party.

More important now, I think, than any speculation about who
wins or loses in 2018 is keeping an eye on the quality of
recruitments by the two major parties for competitive seats,
the usable money they are raising (the net amounts after they
pay their fundraising consultants), and the voter ID/GOTV
strategies they are employing in the close contests. Also
important will be the opposition approach to Donald Trump.
The current strategy, as I and others have pointed out, is not
working beyond the liberal base. A refusal to take a new
strategic course may not make much headway in the “new

When we know who is running against whom, what the
Congress accomplishes in the coming weeks, and the state
of the economy in the spring and summer of 2018, there
will be time enough for making all the political guessing
we can muster.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


There has been unrelenting disheartening news for liberals,
Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans since last year’s
general elections, so it should come as no surprise that the
results of the off-year 2017 elections would provide some
over-reactions on both sides --- the Republicans before the
election, and the Democrats (and their establishment media
pals) afterwards.

To both sides, I caution: Not so fast!

Conservatives not only won an upset presidential election
in 2016, but have also won most of the special elections since
then. The political map, for the time being, has been
transformed, but in advance of the 2017 municipal elections
and especially in the Virginia statewide elections, some
Republicans got ahead of themselves and assumed they were
stronger politically than they actually were.

The establishment media is now indulging, as well, in an orgy
of overstated liberal comeback and positive omens for 2018.

Democrats have every reason to be pleased by their wins in
November, 2017, but they did not win any upsets. New Jersey
and Virginia are solid “blue” states, both won by Hillary
Clinton in 2016, and with Democrats holding most major
statewide offices. Liberals won most of the urban races, but
this is their political stronghold.

In Utah, conservative, pro-Trump Jim Curtis won another
special congressional election replacing a conservative
incumbent who had retired. He won by the usual landslide
in that district. In Erie, PA, with its primarily Catholic, blue
collar, mainly Democratic-registered voters, Republican
challengers for mayor and country executive came close to
to winning upsets, despite the large Democratic registration
advantage in the city and county --- but Donald Trump
carried Erie County in 2016 when the state went for the

Some in the media are trying peddle the notion that the
2017 elections were a big defeat for Donald Trump. There
is, however, no real evidence of this. Most of the venues, as
I have pointed out, were anti-Trump to begin with, In the
pro-Trump areas, he continues to be strong as before.

In other words, nothing is really changed. There are still a lot
of Democrats, especially in the urban centers and on the two
coasts. They still do not like Donald Trump. They might be
frustrated, but they can still be turned out, as was just
demonstrated in Virginia, even for a lackluster candidate.
Former working class Democratic voters who voted for Mr.
Trump still like him, and continue to vote for the GOP.

One more note: Off-year elections often do not predict trends
in following mid-term and presidential elections.

Victories are victories. Democrats should be pleased by most of
the 2017 results, but should be careful about misinterpreting
WHY they won those races. They might make a big mistake if
they see their wins as proof that the old liberal tactics are still
valid, including “identity” and “redistributionist” politics.

On the other hand, most state Republican parties have ignored
developing their constituencies in large and medium-sized
cities, and should not presume they can do well there without
the hard political work and investment necessary. Nor should
conservatives and the GOP presume it will do well in 2018
and 2020 if it does not keep its promises made to voters in

I think the most important results of 2017 are some of the many
new political faces, men and women, who ran for office for the
first time. Not all of them won this time, but as we know so well
from history, some of our most  important political leaders
did not win on their first try.

Are there new Abe Lincolns (lost his first race) on the horizon?
Probably yes, but they will come later.

For now, it’s on to 2018. Let the political games begin.

Copyright (C) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: When Are Words Important?

[This first appeared in Intellectual Takeout --- see link at right]

‘Tis well said again;
and it is a kind of good deed to say well;
and yet words are not deeds.

               William Shakespeare in King Henry VIII

As someone who has spent virtually his whole life in the
labor of words, spoken and written, prose and poetry
and political commentary, I could hardly assert that what
a person says and writes is not important. Language is
something all of us share and participate in, and there is
no doubt that speaking well and writing well begins as a
gift, and when nurtured and developed, is something to be
grateful for and admired.

But words alone do not make most machines work properly,
nor do they fix them. We do not eat them. they do not make
our bodies grow. Words have an important part in every
human life, but they do not make decisions, and act on
them. Self government in democratic republics such as
ours employ words, but words are not what happens. Words
have a place, but they are not the  place themselves.

I say all of that as an author and as a person whose working
tools are words. I say this as  someone who writes a great
deal about politics and government.

We happen to live at a moment in our nation when our
president’s best qualities are not what he says, particularly
“off the cuff,” responding to criticism, or in his inimitable
signature “tweets” in the social media. To many, especially
his opponents, his language is unfit for a president, provokes
disdain and embarrassment, and arouses dislike. To his
supporters, his words and comments are inspiring as
rebuking the political establishment and the fashion of
“political correctness,” but few, including those who support
him, would assess his words as eloquent or polished or

Curiously, most of his prepared speeches, when faithful to
their text, are quite good. That is the result of a talented
team of speechwriters. Except for Abraham Lincoln, most
presidents have had speechwriters, and in the cases of
Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan,
they are remembered well for their prepared speeches ---
although each of them were graceful and able speakers on
their own.

President Trump is not a naturally graceful or eloquent
public speaker. But since he operates now in politics, that
does not mean he is not often an “effective” speaker.
The 2016 Republican presidential debates  were a case in
point. Mr. Trump won most of those debates. His support
grew after each of them. The judges of a formal debate
would not have graded him well --- and certainly not the
winner. But the real judges of those debates were the
Republican voters, and they determined that he spoke best
about the issues which were on their minds.

In the general election, this phenomenon continued as the
Democratic nominee uttered platitudes and other
predictable comments while Mr. Trump continued to
disrupt conventional wisdom and “safe” conversation.

Elected president, Mr. Trump has continued to speak in
much the same manner that he did during the campaign.
He, as the saying goes,  drives most Democrats “crazy” ---
as he does some Republicans. The most common criticism
is that “he does not speak like a president should.”

In fact, it must be said that Donald Trump does not speak
most of the time like any president of either party before
him did.

As the universally astute and timelessly canny Mr.
Shakespeare wrote in the quote above, however, words are
not to be mistaken for deeds. This is especially important
to note when discussing the work of government and public
policy. Politicians are frequently notorious for how they employ
words --- words that sound good and reassuring and even
eloquent, but all too often lead to no action, no decisions, and
no change.

In that regard, President Trump seems almost prodigious in
his accomplishments so far, especially in reversing, undoing
and changing the policies and actions of his predecessor
Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has, in a very short time, disrupted
not only the status quo of the previous liberal administration,
but also not a little quantity of what previous Republican and
Democratic administrations did.

My admonition to readers to pay more attention to Donald
Trump’s actions than his words is not meant to change anyone’s
ideology, or to make anyone agree with him. It is, however,
intended to remind all --- friend of Donald Trump, his foes, and
those who have not yet made up their minds about him --- that
beneath the flurries of words, some very serious political
actions and transformations are taking place.

Mr. Trump’s unprecedented upset of the large field of his own
party’s candidates, and then his defeat of Hillary Clinton was
not some inexplicable accident. Nor was Mr, Trump’s strategy
that of some brilliant advisors. Donald Trump made most of it
happen himself,, often against the advice of his own staff and

This does not mean that Donald Trump will be a successful
president, nor that he will be re-elected in 2020. He has only begun
to govern in a volatile domestic economy and a global period of
uncertainty. His disruption of U.S. political establishments
might fall short or fail outright. His and his party’s policy
promises might remain stalemated.

It does mean, however, that his words, tweets, and hypersensitive
need to hit back at his critics, are not the determining factors in
his conduct of the presidency. Failure to understand this, in my
opinion, only fuels his continued domination of the political
marketplace, and his hold on the key voters who want something
to get done now in Washington, DC.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Local Politics 2017 --- Any Portents?

The off-year elections of 2017 are almost all local elections,
i.e., for mayor, city council, sheriff and other municipal and
county races. They are often ignored by national pundits, but
in spite of the liberal hegemony of most urban areas,
especially in the northeast, midwest and far west, I think
some might offer some clues about next year’s national
mid-term elections.

A small number of congressional special elections to fill
unexpected vacancies, including a U.S. senate race in Alabama,
and two statewide elections, in Virginia and New Jersey, also
will take place. They seem to be receiving the most media
attention. Democrats are heavily favored to win in New Jersey,
less favored in Virginia, and the Alabama senate race is too
close to call. Democrats have made serious efforts in a series
of congressional special elections, but so far have not won any

The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are holding their
municipal elections in about a week, and since they are the
contests closest to me this year, I have been following these
races particularly for political clues and portents.

Although for the past three decades I have turned my
journalistic attention primarily to national politics. For 15 years
prior to that I edited and published a local newspaper that
had its focus on local Minneapolis elections and government.
I “cut my media teeth” (as the saying goes), on ward-by-ward
politics in this growing midwestern city, the largest in the

When I first arrived here, twelve of the thirteen city council
members were Republicans. Today, there are no Republicans
on the city council, and have not been any for years. The
Democrats (here called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party
or DFL) routinely win about 75% of the city vote; more
conservative and independent voters number about 25% of
the vote. There is a local GOP, but it is mostly a volunteer
effort, and the state party (unwisely, I think) pays it little
attention. The Twin Cities supply the DFL with large margins
in statewide races which, until recently, easily overcame and
GOP margins in the suburbs and rural outstate.

When I first arrived here, Minneapolis was primarily
Scandinavian-American, Protestant and insular. Over time,
large numbers of American blacks, southeast Asian refugees,
Hispanic-Americans, and Somali refugees moved to the city
to replace the hitherto largest minority population of Native
Americans. Today, Minneapolis has a distinct international
aspect --- its Somali and southeast Asian groups are among
the largest in any American city. Many of these recent
emigres have now become citizens --- and voters. The fifth
congressional district (mostly Minneapolis) is represented in
Congress by a black Muslim. Several local elected officials
are from the Somali and other minority communities. For
years, Minneapolis has been a center for women’s issues,
and numerous woman of all ethnic and religious backgrounds
have held, and now hold, elective office. The current mayor is
Betsy Hodges. A previous mayor was a black woman.

The city is also the corporate and financial center of the state,
and many corporate leaders are liberals, and contribute to a
long-standing booming preforming arts and socially tolerant
municipal culture.

Recently, however, tensions and problems have increased in
the city. Security in the downtown center and in some city
neighborhoods has become an issue. The very liberal city
council and mayor have enacted tough transportation, parking,
tax and regulatory policies that are making it difficult for small
businesses and restaurants to thrive. Many of them are closing
or moving to more welcoming areas. The city’s famed Nicollet
Mall has been undergoing repair for so long that many of its
prime tenants are leaving. The mayor has been held responsible
for the delays by many critics.

It is interesting that the incumbent first-term DFL mayor,
usually a shoo-in for re-election, has many serious DFL
opponents, three of which have a chance to win. In the 13 city
council races, some very liberal incumbents face upsets by
other DFL or independent challengers. Also opposed is the
excellent moderate city council president.

Minneapolis, like St. Paul, is continuing to experiment with
“ranked-choice” voting. This controversial method has
eliminated primaries, and if any candidate for mayor or city
council receives less than 50% of the November vote, a
mathematical process of counting second and third choice
votes eventually creates a winner by a series of eliminating
the candidates with the lowest number of votes. This system
has made predicting any outcomes difficult, since it is
possible that the candidate who comes in second or even third
in first choice votes could win the election.

There are many candidates for mayor on the Minneapolis
November ballot. But only four of them, the incumbent, a
current council member (in the ward where I live), a long-time
non-profit leader (who has had much to do with the thriving
arts revival), and an architect who is also a member of the
legislature. All are DFLers, and liberals, but only one, Tom
Hoch, has also spoken up realistically about downtown
security and as an advocate for the small business and retail
communities which now feel threatened and might continue
to abandon the downtown center. The mayor and the legislator-
architect espouse far left policies, The council member has
shown competence in his council term, but when push-came-
to-shove, turned his back on key small business concerns.

Tom Hoch, in my opinion, is the best candidate, and he has
run a professional campaign, but if he won it, would be a
(welcome) upset. In this election, ranked choice voting favors
the most well-known candidates. The city’s largest newspaper
endorsed the council member, but also recommended Mr. Hoch.

The more portentous races, however, might be in the city council

In my own ward, there are three candidates, A DFL-endorsee, a
far left independent, and a liberal independent. The latter, Tim
Bildsoe, is a former city council member (for 12 years) in a large
suburb with a strong background in professional municipal
finance. His background and policy ideas are head-and-shoulders
above his opponents --- so much so that the city’s newspaper
endorsed him above his DFL opponent.

In a neighboring ward, there are several candidates, including
an incumbent DFLer. Although this northside ward, like all
others now in the city is heavily DFL, it has historically been
more moderate than many southside wards. In this election, a
very interesting independent candidate, John Hayden, is
running as a “No Labels” independent. At first, it seemed a
hopeless effort against an entrenched incumbent, but when a
successful former Republican governor and a former DFL city
council president actively joined his campaign, and Mr. Hayden
put together a serious team effort, his chances improved. Like
Mr. Bildsoe in my ward, John Hayden is defying establishment
DFL orthodoxy, and proposing innovative and  pragmatic new
municipal policy ideas.

Like Mr. Bildsoe, Mr. Hayden is an underdog in a citywide field
dominated by establishment DFL figures. There is, however,
an anti-incumbent mood in the city this year, fostered by
failed public works, security and traffic issues. How strong
this mood is will be made evident on November 7, and perhaps
the voters will also signal what they will do next year in the
mid-term elections.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Common Phrases "Uncommon" Shakespeare Gave Us

In a time when some of our secondary public schools, and
so many colleges and universities, are attempting to ignore
or diminish studying history and literary classics in the
name of political correctness, I think it might be instructive
just to list some of the most notable phrases that first were
invented, read or said more than four hundred years ago
in the works of the greatest writer of all in English ---
William Shakespeare.

The “Bard of Avon” personifies why literary classics still
matter. Shakespeare, for example, dominates any book of
quotations. I simply went through his entries in Bartlett’s
Familiar Quotation
s for this little exercise and simple

The list below is not a complete one, nor is it meant to be
a list of his best lines and phrases. I have only selected
ones that have survived four hundred-plus years as
conversational commonplaces and perhaps now even
cliches. They were invented by a man who basically
created modern English, and who has no peer in our
language. No one else comes close to what he contributed
to his mother tongue:


“The golden age.” The Tempest

“To make virtue of necessity.” Two Gentlemen of Verona

“Why then, the world’s my oyster.” Two Gentlemen of Verona

“Neither rhyme nor reason.” Measure For Measure

“Comparisons are odious.” Much Ado About Nothing

“ The naked truth.” Love’s Labour’s Lost
“Lord, what fools these mortals be.” A Midsummer’s Dream

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
     The Merchant of Venice

“In the twinkling of an eye.” The Merchant of Venice

“Truth will come to light.” The Merchant of Venice

“All that glitters is not gold.” The Merchant of Venice

“The sins of the father are to be laid to the children.”
      The Merchant of Venice
“A motley fool.” As You Like It

“Neither rhyme nor reason.” As You like It

“Forever and a day.” As You Like It

“I’ll not budge an inch.” As You Like It

“All’s well that ends well.” All’s Well That Ends Well
“What manner of man?”  Twelfth Night

“My purpose, indeed, is a horse of that color.” Twelfth Night

“This is very midsummer madness.” Twelfth Night

“The westward-ho!” Twelfth Night

“Laugh yourself into stitches.” Twelfth Nightt

“Not so hot.” The Winter’s Tale

“Now my soul has elbow room.” King John

“He will give the devil his due.” Henry IV

“Exceedingly well-read.” Henry IV

“The better part of valor is discretion.” Henry IV

“The oldest of sins the newest kind of ways.” Henry IV

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” Henry IV

“There is a history in all men’s lives.” Henry IV

“Even at the turning of the tide.” Henry IV

“We are in God’s hand.” Henry V

“Men of few words are the best men.” Henry V

“Fight to the last gasp.” Henry VI

“The smallest worm will turn being trodden on.” Henry VI

“Both of you are birds of selfsame feather.” Henry VI

“A fool’s paradise." Romeo And Juliet

“Men shut their doors to a setting sun.” Timon of Athens

“But for my part, it was Greek to me.” Julius  Caesar

“Yet I do fear that your nature is full of the milk
     of human kindness.” Macbeth

“In my mind’s eye, Horatio.” Hamlet

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Hamlet

“The lady protests too much.”  Hamlet

“Some villain has done me wrong.” King Lear

“The prince of darkness is a gentleman.” King Lear

“Ay, every inch a king.” King Lear

O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”  Othello

“Tis neither here nor there.” Othello

“My salad days, when I was green with judgment.”
      Antony and Cleopatra

“The game is up.” Cymbeline


The above are only a selection of the phrases he invented or
introduced into English more than four centuries ago.. For
every one of these there are a hundred more lines he wrote
which still are equally or even more original and beautiful.

This is the writer that some self-appointed, self-described
“politically correct”arbiters have decided should not be a
visible image of the part of our literary literary heritage
that is taught and passed on to our young. No doubt these
literary charlatans will soon declare that Shakespeare is no
longer relevant, if not politically incorrect, and should not
even be in the curriculum.

At my own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to
illustrate this, a large local landmark image of Shakespeare
placed at the entrance of the building where much literature
is taught was removed to be replaced by the image of a
diversity-correct author whose writing will likely be forgotten
a few years from now --- in much less than four centuries.

My larger point is that there are reasons why some literary
works are "classics" --- including not only the skill with
which they are written, but also the fact that they resonate
beyond their own time. Humanity evolves over historical
time, and with extraordinary velocity in our time. But there
are timeless and instructive qualities in the human experience
that all art --- literature, music and the visual arts --- records
indelibly and helps nurture us through all the dangers and the
uncertainties of our own days and nights.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.