Sunday, September 11, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Seventy Years

The United Kingdom is a small island nation which has

had an outsized influence on much of civilization for

more than a thousand years, impacting forms of law and

government, language, literature and culture, first as a

conquerer and colonizer with an imperial reach across

the globe, and finally, at a dark hour in 1940, as brave

and gritty last-ditch defender of freedom and democracy

against a malevolent totalitarian threat. 


For the past 70 years, the once global superpower has

settled into a more normal pattern for a nation its size,

still an influence in diplomacy and trade, but superseded

by much larger and powerful nations. Its one-time colony,

the United States of America, inherited its role as global

military and economic power, and vied first with Soviet 

Russia, and now with mainland China, for global military,

economic and cultural influence and dominance.


Without political power any longer, the royal family of

Great Britain, has presided over the recent transition

under a single figure known popularly as the queen of

England — and named Elizabeth II.


Unlike many preceding European monarchs, ranging

from several English forbears to Empress Catherine

of Russia to Emperor Napoleon of France, she had no

outsized ambitions which precipitated conflict. She was

thus the ideal figure to accompany the natural transition

from supremacy to normalcy these past seven decades.


One story tells it best. Soon after becoming queen

after the death of her father, King George VI, she was

visiting her rural Scottish residence, and decided to drive

her car alone into the local hills without her security detail.

When she didn’t return after a few hours, there was  a

frantic search made to find her - which they did on a 

deserted road, under the car trying to fix it after it had

broken down. Before she had become queen, and during

World War II, she had served as an auto and truck

mechanic in the military — and now with the auto 

breakdown on an isolated road, she simply rolled up her

sleeves and set about to fix the problem herself. There

no cell phones in those days, but she didn’t panic or feel

helpless.


Many members of her royal family, including her children,

were often controversial or dysfunctional, but through it

all, Elizabeth II remained outwardly calm and solidly

traditional, and fulfilled her public duties tirelessly as she

had promised she would on taking the throne 70 years ago.


There will now be many words written about her in eulogy,

many ceremonies culminating in an elaborate state funeral

and interment. She has been succeeded by her eldest son,

King Charles III. Following a millennium of tradition, her

grandson and great-grandson now await their turns as

monarchs. As the oldest and one of very few monarchies

remaining in a politically changing world, it isn’t certain they

will become king, but the British royal family endures for

now — thanks in great part to its just departed queen.


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Gorbachev in Minnesota, 1990


Mikhail Gorbachev made two visits to Minnesota, but only

one while in power, and that 1990 appearance was an

epic seven hours of celebrity meetings, crowds, photo ops,

and very brief global attention to an orgy of local hospitality.


Now 32 years ago, the visit remains indelible in the memory

of those Minnesotans who were part of it — although many

of the principals, including Governor Rudy Perpich, his wife

Lola, legendary tycoon Robert Maxwell, Raisa Gorbachev, 

and now Mikhail Gorbachev himself, are no longer with us.


The Minnesota stopover was the idea of Governor Perpich

who, between terms (1976-79) and (1983-91) had served

as a businessman in Europe and worked with the new 

post-communist Croatian government. He had befriended 

media billionaire Maxwell, and proposed a multi-million

dollar Maxwell-Gorbachev Institute to be located  in

Minnesota as an incentive to Gorbachev to add the midwest

the state to his planned New York and San Francisco stops

on his official U.S. itinerary. Robert Maxwell, also a friend of

Gorbachev, was to accompany him on the trip, and he helped

persuade the Russian leader to do it.


As a veteran local journalist, I was given three options to 

cover the visit, albeit from distance because no press 

conferences or interviews were planned, nor as I was to learn, 

even permitted with the Russian leader.The three venues were 

the airport for the arrival, the governor’s residence in St. Paul 

where the visitors were to have an elaborate Minnesota 

luncheon, or the Radisson Hotel in downtown Minneapolis 

where Mr. Gorbachev was to meet local and national business 

leaders.


I had a special reason to try to actually meet Gorbachev. A year

before, not knowing he would visit Minnesota, I had ordered and

received an advanced reading copy of his speeches translated

into English. I now thought a signed copy would be a special

treasure, so I was determined to have him sign my copy.


The days leading up to the visit on June 3, 1990, were a civic

madhouse. Souvenirs of all kinds, includes dozens of different

embossed T-shirts, appeared for sale and trade. Signs in 

Russian script were erected along the travel route across

the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities.The media was

choked with stories anticipating the seven-hour visit and its

activities.


I opted for the event at the Radisson Hotel where I thought I

might have a good chance to encounter Gorbachev. All media

(thousands from around the globe, it turned out) were assembled

at the now-torn-down Metrodome Stadium where most of the

media could watch everything on giant TV screens. The few of

us allowed to go to the Radisson Hotel were put on a bus and 

driven there.


One of the reasons I had initially been optimistic that I could have

my book signed was that those in charge were friends of mine,

but on arriving at the Metrodome, each of them assured me that

there was no chance at all I could get close to Gorbachev with all

his security, and that they could not help me. Many of my fellow

journalists, at the Metrodome, seeing the book, derided my 

chances to get it signed. No way, they said.


Before Gorbachev arrived at the hotel, those of us in the media,

including reporters and photographers, were ushered to the back

of the large ballroom where he was to speak. Political celebrities

were everywhere, including President Nixon’s chief of staff H.R.

Haldeman, who had worked later as a businessman in Moscow.

Finally, Gorbachev arrived, but after only five minutes, we in the

media were led out and sent to a second floor room where we 

were to watch the proceedings on TV screens. My book-signing

goal now looked very bleak.


Then I overheard a conversation between a photographer and the

staffer in charge of the room. There was to be a short photo-op in 

a nearby room with Gorbachev and Ann Bancroft, the Minnesota

explorer. Seizing the moment, I then went to the staffer, told him

I spoke Russian (not fully true, but I had taken a Russian course 

in college), and pleaded with him to let me accompany the 

photographers to the photo op. Amazingly, he agreed I could go.


Led to another room, four of us waited for Gorbachev to enter. I

stood with book and pen in hand, ready to act.


The entourage began to arrive. Suddenly, a loud voice in front of 

me said, “Where did you get that book?”


The voice came from a tall, striking man who identified himself as

Robert Maxwell. He then said, “I published that book in England; 

it’s not for sale in the U.S.” I told him it was a review copy, and I 

wanted to have Gorbachev sign it. He then said, “Well, I wrote the 

introduction, so I’d better sign it, too!” Which he did.


A few moments later, Gorbachev walked by, and I was ready with

“Mikhail Sergeivitch, please sign my book” in Russian. Startled, he

stopped, and the photographer behind me, who was fluent in 

Russian, began asking questions. With TV cameras broadcasting 

all of this live worldwide (and back to the Metrodome), we then 

held the only (albeit unscheduled) press conference of the U.S. trip.


Gorbachev then dutifully signed my book, and was hurried off to 

the photo op.


Returning to the Metrodome, I was cheered as I entered — they

had watched the signing and impromptu press conference on TV. 

Several asked me how much I wanted for the book.


“Not for sale,” I said.


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.









Tuesday, August 30, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Fleeting Summer

 


It seemed only yesterday that the summer of 2022 had

finally arrived with wave after wave of hot weather. But

now autumn is almost here. State Fairs across the

nation just precede the Labor Day holiday — and then

it’s back to school, even more political ads on TV and

radio, last visits to summer cabins and cottages, 

baseball playoff slots come into view, football teams

begin practice, farm harvesting begins, wide-eyed

freshmen and women show up for orientation, and the 

leaves begin to turn.


It seemed to go especially quickly this year! Was it the

aftermath of the pandemic that made it seem so? Or

was it something else? Does a particular age group

feel it more than others? Will autumn go as fleetingly?


As if to remind us that all is not rosy after our collective

ordeal of the past three years, the stock market had a

nosedive day, new pandemic cases appeared, and 

prices are still going up and up and up.


The long view is that all of it is just another historical

cycle, similar to one or more which happened so long

ago we have forgotten them. That’s the long view, but

it is of little comfort, even if true, because it is also

possible that daily life as we have known it in these

past golden years might have indeed truly changed,

taking us into some new territory, perhaps not so

golden.


The haste of this past summer now leads us into an

unknown autumn, and perhaps a long winter. After

several millennia of so-called civilization, and 

approaching our numbers to eight billions, it seems

unsettling that so many of us are still caught up in

deprivation, hostility and suffering in spite of all our

extraordinary technologies and scientific advances.


Everywhere the certainties and assurance most of

us grew up with are called into question. The leaves,

of course, will turn, but what about the human

patterns? How many children will go back to school?

Are colleges and universities worth attending? Will

downtown offices revive? Will goods and services

be available? Is it safe to be in a crowd? And so on.

And so on.


Spring and autumn are the most congenial seasons,

although Nature has a few tricks to play on us in even

these two intervals between the hot and freezing 

seasons in the temperate zones.


Two of the oldest and closest allies of the U.S., Great 

Britain and Israel, will choose new leaders before 

winter comes, and right after that, Americans will go to

the polls to decide a very important future political   

direction.


Perhaps the haste of the summer of 2022 has only

been an impatience, a restlessness, with so much of

what we have recently endured, with so much we

have to do.


Perhaps it something else.


Next spring seems so far away.


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 5, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Intraparty Factions Rising


The two major parties, each always containing rival

factions, are currently more significantly divided than

usual, and potentially losing individual elections at all 

levels because of these hyper-intraparty ideological

and personal conflicts.


It is no secret that the distance between the two parties

themselves seems magnified on issues, rhetoric and

personalities — and this has confounded those who

observe and analyze U.S. politics and elections as the

nation heads into the 2022 mid-term voting cycle that

will conclude in November.


Political polling has established a certain conventional

wisdom that a Republican (red) wave is likely in the 

mid-term voting. There is no doubt about President

Joe Biden’s unfavorabllity, and the dissatisfaction

with the direction the nation is taking, especially in its

economy, but the intraparty factions in states and

regions are making some gubernatorial, and U.S.

house and senate races too opaque and unsettled 

for conventional analysis.


A case in point is the U.S. senate race in Missouri.

Donald Trump carried this state by double digits in

both 2016 and 2020. It has become heavily GOP

in statewide elections.  But controversy befell a

recent Republican governor who in 2018 had to

resign. This year, in an attempt for a comeback, that

politician ran for an open U.S. senate seat resulting

from Republican Senator Roy Blunt’s decision to

retire. At least two other well-known GOP figures 

also ran in the party’s primary just concluded, and

one of them, state Attorney General Eric Schmidt,

won the primary, and will be on the November 

ballot against self-funder Democrat Trudy Busch 

Valentine who won her primary. Republicans who 

thought the controversial former governor being 

on the ballot might give Democrats a pick-up 

senate seat breathed an initial sigh of relief. 

However, former Missouri GOP Senator John

Danforth belongs to the moderate anti-Trump wing

of his party in the state, and reportedly is funding 

with millions of dollars from his personal wealth

the independent candidacy of John Wood, once

Liz Cheney’s lawyer on the January 6th hearings,

who says, if elected, he will caucus with the

Republicans in the U.S. senate. He probably can’t

win, but he could well draw enough voters from the

GOP nominee to give the election to the Democrat.

Danforth and Wood say they are in the race to win,

but that seems disingenuous considering Missouri

voting patterns. Knowing Wood would caucus with

the Republicans precludes any meaningful votes

from Missouri Democrats. Safe Republican could 

become a toss-up in Missouri.


Other cases in point are more self-inflicted. In the

key state of Pennsylvania, which Biden carried

narrowly in 2020, the state had been going red

following Biden’s anti-coal, anti-fracking and 

anti-pipeline energy policies which impacted so

negatively on so many state workers and families.

But state Republicans lacked a strong gubernatorial

candidate, and a celebrity out-of-state physician,

Mehmet Oz, narrowly defeated a potentially stronger 

candidate in the open U.S. senate race, created 

when GOP incumbent Senator Pat Toomey retired. 

The Republican nominee for governor is associated

with politics further right than many Pennsylvania

voters, but he received, as did Dr. Oz, Donald

Trump’s endorsement. Post-primary polling now has

both GOP nominees trailing their Democratic 

opponents by about 10 points. Earlier in this cycle,

Pennsylvania had been rated Lean Republican.


Democrats, divided into liberal and more radical

factions, have seen several long-time U.S. house

members challenged from the party’s left, and in 

some cases actually ousting their own incumbents

with more radical figures who could lose otherwise

safe Democratic seats in November. A case in point

is Oregon Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader

who was defeated in a recent primary by progressive

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, and the race in November 

could now be a toss-up. Other incumbent Democrats

from super-safe districts, especially in New York, are

being challenged from their left, and might lose their

primaries, but the seats will remain Democratic no

matter who wins. What does matter in such cases if

the radical challenger succeeds is the further drift to

the ideological left of the liberal party, giving GOP

candidates in other districts a useful target. A case

of this is far left Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of

Minnesota’s 5th district (Minneapolis) who wins in

her urban area, but whom GOP congressional

candidates in other districts of the state cite as an

extremist figure emblematic of her party. This cycle,

as in 2020, she has a serious and well-funded

moderate liberal opponent, Don Samuels, in her

DFL primary, but he has an uphill challenge.


Redistricting following the 2020 census has also

put incumbent members of Congress from the same

party running against each other in  newly-drawn

districts. Several incumbents of both parties have 

been involuntarily retired in primary losses so far this

year, and the races usually have been decided on the 

basis of which wing of their party they espouse. 


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Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.