Saturday, April 4, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Home Alone?

The phrase “voluntary quarantine” is technically a contradiction,
but we are now living through a period when the current health
emergency has already begun to change our language.

The 17th century origin of the word “quarantine” is the Italian
word for “forty days” --- a once traditional period of imposed
medical isolation. (Forty days and nights --- and years --- also
frequently appear as periods of human stress and trial in both
the Old and New Testaments.)

Today we have a modified version named “social distancing”
which isn’t really quarantine --- but is a radical change of
physical manners, that is, consciously expanding the space
between persons in public ,and abolishing all public physical
contact, including handshaking, hugging, embracing and kissing
on cheeks.

We now have a new labyrinth of solitude, to adapt the famous
phrase and book title of  philosopher/poet Octavio Paz. Imposed
solitude and its isolation represents a new and unfamiliar
experience for many young persons who have experienced a
continuum of family members, schoolmates and social friends
in most of their waking hours since they were born. On the other
hand, those same generations grew up and/or became adults in
the internet age and are accustomed to communicating online
and by cell phone. So these younger generations are already expert
in being “social” from a distance. Older generations are
increasingly challenged by imposed isolation because their social
experiences were mostly in-person with physical contact.

All generations face an unexpected dilemma --- what to do with
all the new waking time by themselves.

As I see it, this dilemma is also an opportunity ---an opportunity to
turn one’s attention to any number of matters  procrastinated or
ignored --- and an opportunity to expand personal interests both
physical and intellectual. Each of these opportunities has a payoff
not only in the present isolation, but after it’s over.

Of course, many now at home are sharing the time with others,
including parents, spouses, children, romantic partners, or friends.
This gives them daily social contact, but also risks the tensions of
overexposure. Ironically, those living alone have a potential
advantage --- the new imposed isolation is partly a variant by
degree of their traditional daily lives.

I realize the above is fairly obvious, and the personal need to
adapt and expand daily lives remains an individual’s choice.  The
duration of the imposed isolation defines the challenge. The longer
the duration the greater the challenge for societies and its members.

Like so many aspects of survival and endurance through a major
and shared crisis, attitude and character --- and not abstract
ideology --- are key to getting through it all. Widespread reports of
many helping and supplying the more vulnerable among us are an
early positive sign so far. Not all societies allow or encourage
self-motivated, personal and creative compassion, but where it
flourishes, the odds of getting through any long emergency are at
least improved.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "A Bitter Gift" (poem)

A BITTER GIFT
by Barry Casselman


This interruption is a bitter gift
foreshadowing another and disparate event
which will test us even more when we arrive there.

Its donor is using an alias
we cannot trace or decipher,
but we know we must be able to decode its message.

Our formalities betrayed us,
thinking a handshake was a sign of good will,
or more peace in our time, or sanctuary.

Our confinement ends the reverie
we have been sleepwalking through the cascading moments
of still another innocence to be discarded
like all those others we have left behind, and now call history.

Then we realize a delayed sense
of how much has irrevocably changed
as if we had lost our childhoods one more time.

Without the usual ceremonies, we have graduated
to another degree with highest honors in surprise,
but no diploma, no applause,
no trace of our new destination,
except for the bitter gift.

Each generation, and each person in it,
has different tools to work through this hiatus
however long it carries us to where this bitter gift
becomes transformed like a ripening.


Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 27, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2020 Bets Are Off

The extraordinary global and domestic health emergency has
brought with it so much uncertainty, especially about its duration
so far, that it is not yet possible to make credible election
predictions for November, 2020.

The Democratic presidential primary season has been delayed and
interrupted --- although its eventual outcome has seemingly already
been determined. Many key Democratic and Republican U.S. house
and senate races are in a kind of limbo as candidates attempt to
raise money and their campaign profiles in .a politically numbed
environment.

Polling, always inexact and time-limited, is probably of little use in
present circumstances. Public opinion now, needless to say, is
acutely emotional and short-term. The all-important economy is in
a suspended near-term state. The routines of daily lives have been
drastically changed.

Virtually all public events and meetings have been postponed or
cancelled. In addition to sporting and cultural events, the shutting
down includes political meetings of all kinds, from fundraisers
and meet-and-greets to rallies and conventions.

Because of perceived danger and risk, the U.S. public is responding
cooperatively to temporary mandated “lockdowns” and other
restrictions on their daily lives. But the U.S.is a market economy,
and Americans cannot be expected to simply stay a home for an
extended period of time, many without job income and enduring
severe shortages of goods and services.

This is a unique moment when the political and business leaders,
including their teams of bureaucrats, managers and the creative
innovators among them need to think of new ways to pull us out
of the current crisis.

The preoccupation now must be dealing with and somehow
bringing to an end the emergency and its impact on the nation
and its people. Those who think solely or primarily in partisan
political considerations betray the larger public interests which
now must be served.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

For those who successfully lead us, regardless of their partisan
political  affiliations, with effective new thinking, there will be
rewards from a grateful nation later, but now the necessity is
coming up with those solutions, policies, strategies, treatments,
medicines and vaccines that will benefit everyone.

Not just the president and his administration, but the leaders of
the opposition party and the 50 state governors are being tested
in ways none of them imagined they would face on the scale now
before us.

Much is ahead now, and we must wish all decision-makers well
in what they will do --- not because we necessarily like all of
them or agree with all of them, but because so much now is at
stake for all of us --- and we’re in this together.

Politics and election campaigning will not, of course, cease.
Nor can we cease the nation’s commerce. Soon enough, we will
be debating the 2020 political issues, including some new ones.
We will also be shopping, meeting and dining out again.
Politics and commerce are vital to our economic, civic and
community health.

We might have to stand at arm’s length briefly, but we can only
survive and flourish again living and working side by side.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 20, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Waking Up To Now

The world, as we have known it. is now suddenly, irreversibly and
indelibly altered.

The full dimensions of this, and its eventual consequences, are now
unknown. The duration of the global and domestic emergency is
now uncertain.

As if all of that were not enough, most commercial, cultural and
social life is suspended as everyone retreats to their homes to wait
for an undetermined date of relief.

A comparable pandemic occurred more than 100 years ago, so no
one alive today has an adult memory  of that scourge which
appeared as the violence of a savage world war was ending.

Although the fighting of that war ceased in late 1918, the influenza
pandemic spawned in its waning days went on --- as if Nature were
punishing humanity for wasting so much life on the battlefields.
Nor did that world war end with its armistice. Its hatreds and
rivalries broke out again and again in the years that followed,
including a second world war with even more violence and
savagery. Nor when that war was formally ended, did the hatreds
and rivalries cease, but they broke out again here and there --- to
the present day.

The present pandemic emergency has unfolded so quickly, it might
still seem like a nightmarish dream.  It is, alas, no dream.

As we wake up to this time of contagion, we have a rare moment,
if we so choose, to think about matters usually left to poets and
philosophers --- that is, who we are as a species, how we are living
together on this earth, and what are the most vital conditions and
needs in each person’s daily life.

The latter is perhaps the more immediate issue. Most of us go
through our days as if they were destinations chosen by a TV
channel selector.

As human beings --- each with different life histories and life
experiences ---we will come up with different answers. But
whatever those answers, if they are as honest as possible, they will
be about survival --- and since this emergency reveals once again
how much we depend on those nearest to us (whether we “like”
them or not), there are bound to be significant common links to our
variety of answers.

I do not, at this point, presume to say what those links are, but I do
say, in light of this global crisis, that we have been sleepwalking
through our own history.

Necessity has awakened us. Few of us are poets and philosophers,
but all of us are participants. Dire as this moment seems, the
present emergency will somehow eventually pass. But if we revert
to sleepwalking when it does, then when the next global threat
appears --- and one or more will appear ---  simply waking up
again might not be enough.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Prediction Almost Forgotten

In 1985, I had been editing and publishing for several years a
community newspaper in Minneapolis which featured, in
addition to local news, some of the political news and analysis
I thought the city’s daily newspaper was ignoring. At first, I
wrote mostly about city politics, but soon added state politics,
and along the way made a few election predictions that caught
some attention when they came true. I also began writing on
occasion about national and presidential politics. Focusing on
centrist issues and politics, I had suggested in 1982 that a
then-unknown Colorado senator, Gary Hart, might emerge in
1984. Since I had been the first journalist to predict this, I got
some very brief national attention when he did emerge.

In 1985, I thought I would try again for the next election in 1988.

Another young and unknown senator had caught my attention. His
name was Joe Biden. First elected to the U.S. senate in 1972 when
he was only 29 (he could take office only because his 30th birthday
was before the day he was to be sworn in), he almost didn’t serve
because his wife and daughter were tragically killed in an auto
accident. (He once told me that his grief made him decide to resign,
but that Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey at a December
meeting for incoming new senators persuaded him to take office.)

Two of his young sons survived the accident, and eventually he
remarried, had another daughter, and settled in as a senator from
Delaware. I had read about him, and he seemed to hold some
of the centrist policy views I then thought promising.

So I wrote a front-page editorial about him, and predicted he would
emerge as a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination.
At some point later, Biden came to Minnesota for a speech, and I
met him. It turned out he had already been thinking about 1988, and
soon announced his candidacy, emerging as the most serious
opponent to Democratic front-funner Governor Michael Dukakis.
But fate once again intervened, and Biden was diagnosed with a
serious double aneuyrism that forced him to leave the race.

Biden recovered, and once again settled into a leading role in the U.S.
senate where he first became chairman of the judiciary committee
(where he helped lead the effort to block Robert Bork’s appointment
to the U.S supreme court), and later chairman of the foreign relations
committee. 

In 2006, a newly-elected senator from Illinois sought Biden’s
counsel on senate matters, with Biden then serving as a mentor. The
new senator’s name was Barack Obama.

In 2008, Democratic nominee Obama chose Biden to be his vice
presidential running mate.

In 2016, after two terms as vice president, Joe Biden was inevitably
one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination along with
Hillary Clinton. But once again, tragedy stepped in when Biden’s
eldest son Beau, the Delaware attorney general with a bright
political future of his own, died of cancer.  Overwhelmed with grief,
Biden chose not to run.

Now 77, Biden led in virtually all early public opinion polls for the
2020 Democratic nomination. With many other Democratic hopefuls
moving sharply the left, he held the premier reputation as a liberal
moderate or centrist. 

In the primary and caucus system so far, Biden’s political prospects
have been on a roller coaster. The early favorite, his first debate
performances were weak, and his poll numbers sank.  In the first
three voting states, he trailed Bernie Sanders badly, even finishing
behind Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren as well. But as Sanders
was gathering momentum toward nomination, Biden won the South
Carolina primary stronger than expected,  A  combination  of the
Democratic Party establishment, several of his rivals, down-ballot
candidates, and black voters quickly coalesced around Biden, and
gave him significant victories (and the lead in national delegates)
on Super Tuesday in 14 states. Now the front-runner again, Biden has
dominated the next group of primaries, including just winning the
key state of Michigan.

Most political observers consider  Biden to be the presumptive
2020  Democratic nominee.  It’s now a two-person contest (reduced
from an original field of 28), and it is difficult to imagine how Sanders
can recover, barring the unforeseen, but the next debate is in a few
days, followed immediately by several large-state primaries on
March 17.

I had almost forgotten my 1985 prediction that a then-unknown Joe
Biden could become a Democratic presidential nominee. A great
deal has happened in the U.S. and the world in the past 35 years, but
somehow the prediction might indeed come to pass.

American politics, one can only conclude, moves in mysterious and
remarkable ways.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Friday, March 6, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: After Super Tuesday

More than any other change from the 2016 (and earlier) presidential
election cycles, the front-loading of many more delegate selections
into the traditional Super Tuesday date promised to alter the
chemistry of a contested race for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

The 14 Super Tuesday state primaries. with 35% of all delegates,
should now be known as Mega-Tuesday. Returns showed Joe
Biden continuing his sudden comeback begun only three days
before when he did better than expected in winning the South
Carolina primary, defeating then-frontrunner Bernie Sanders.

After Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina, rival presidential
candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar ended their
campaigns and endorsed the former vice president. This clearly
helped Biden on Super Tuesday as he easily defeated both Sanders
and Michael Bloomberg in most southern states --- with the
exception of delegate-rich Texas where the Vermont senator
almost tied Biden. Not known in early returns was the outcome in
the biggest state of all ---  California ---where Sanders had led in
pre-primary polls.  Later, the returns from the West Coast showed
Sanders winning decisively  in California, Colorado and Utah--- and
a bounty of delegates in that region.

It  became, in many ways, a regional electoral event --- with Biden
doing well in southern states (most of which will go Republican in
November), and Sanders doing well in the northeast and far west
(most of which will go Democratic in November). Not on the ballot
on Super Tuesday were the battleground states of Florida, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona.  Biden had already
done poorly in the battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and
Nevada, so labeling his performance on Super Tuesday as a
complete “comeback” might be premature.

Perhaps the most disappointed candidate on Super Tuesday was
billionaire Michael Bloomberg whose only victory was in American
Samoa where he spent millions while the major candidates ignored
the tiny far-away U.S. territory. After spending hundreds of millions
on his Super Tuesday strategy, Bloomberg ended up with only a few
national delegates. He has now ended his candidacy and endorsed
Biden.

Elizabeth Warren also came up empty-handed on Super Tuesday,
even coming in third in her home state of Massachusetts. She, too,
has now ended her candidacy --- but has not yet thrown her support
to anyone. Most of her voter base will likely go to Sanders.

The Democratic establishment, more moderate liberal voters, and
many down-ballot candidates and their campaigns have now fully
launched a “Stop Bernie” effort --- coalescing at perhaps the last
moment. But not only do battleground state primaries lie ahead,
so do other states with large numbers of delegates such as New
York, Illinois and New Jersey.

It would seem that if there are only two viable candidates from
now on, one of them should reach a delegate majority prior to the
July national convention in Milwaukee. If for some reason no one
obtains a majority. there are almost 700 super-delegates who, after
the first ballot, can vote at the convention.

Joe Biden is once again the frontrunner, but with more than half
the delegates still to be chosen, and a pattern of sudden
momentum changes already occurring in this campaign cycle, the
2020 Democratic contest is not quite over yet.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Turning Point Or Hiccup?

The current stage of the 2020 presidential election might appear
a bit confusing, especially the contest for the Democratic
nomination.

In the months preceding Iowa and New Hampshire the status of
“frontrunner” has shifted. Although Joe Biden, by virtue of his
name recognition, seemed throughout this period to be leading
the initially large field (28 announced candidates), several others
have enjoyed brief runs as “favorites,” including Kamala Harris,
Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg. But in
the early voting, it was 2016 runner-up Bernie Sanders who has
emerged as the leader.

The fourth state to vote before delegate-rich Super Tuesday is
South Carolina, a state where Biden has held a large poll lead
until recently. Then his lead began to erode. But on primary
election day. Biden won by a larger than expected margin. It was
only one state, but he survives to compete seriously on Super
Tuesday and beyond.

Bernie Sanders came in a distant second in South Carolina, but
will get some delegates. It might only briefly slow down Sanders’
early momentum because just three days later, 14 states will vote
on Super Tuesday --- and select one-third of the total delegates.
Sanders leads in polls in most of these states, including California
with its 400 delegates.

Some observers suggested that Sanders early success was making
him unstoppable. Indeed, if he had upset Biden in South Carolina,
then won big on Super Tuesday, it might have been difficult to deny
him the nomination in July. But self-proclaimed socialist Sanders,
not ever a true Democrat, alarms many in the party who feel his
proposed policies would lead to an electoral disaster, and cause
widespread defeats for down-ballot liberal candidates in
November.

Tom Steyer has now announced the end of his campaign. After
Super Tuesday, the field of candidates could be reduced to
Sanders, Biden, Mike Bloomberg (who competes for the first
time on Super Tuesday) --- and possibly Pete Buttigieg and
Elizabeth Warren.

The big question now is whether South Carolina was a  turning
point or merely a hiccup in this nomination race. Time is
running out for those who want to change the narrative for this
elecoral contest.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.