Saturday, September 19, 2020


The departure of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg from the U.S.
supreme court just before the 2020 national elections will
initially be regarded as more significant politically than it
really is. Justice Ginsberg, whether one agreed with her
decisions or not, deserves the tributes she will now receive
for her formidable contributions and service to her
profession, and for her gritty endurance in her final years.

Her departure, however, was already known to be imminent,
and the choice to replace her already a major issue in this
election cycle.

The court now has eight members for its new term. The
political division now is five conservatives and three liberals
--- although Chief Justice John Roberts. a conservative, has
on rare, but high-profile, cases sided with the liberals. His
role as a swing vote on the court is now reduced to perhaps to
an occasional tie vote (although he is known to dislike such

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates might now suggest that
their base voters will now increasingly vote this year, but
behind that partisan rhetoric is the reality that the two
opposing bases were already close to maximum intensity,
and turnout based on this and other social issues which are
likely to come before the court was already certain to be
very high.

Although Republicans control the U.S. senate 53-47, they don’t
visibly have the votes now to confirm Ginsberg’s successor.
Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and
two or three (or more) GOP incumbents in tight re-election
races might balk at a vote before the election.

As I have already pointed out, conservatives now have a
stronger majority on the court, and don’t really need an
additional vote for the current term.

President Trump has already made public the list from
which he would make his next nomination; Joe Biden has
strategically refused to do so, but now will face  much
pressure to disclose his own list.

Republicans also established a precedent in 2016 of
refusing to confirm then-President Obama’s supreme
court nominee because it was an election year. It might
be problematic to try to explain what was different now in
2020 with the Ginsberg replacement.

It would seem to be an unforced error, then, for
President Trump and the Republicans to try to push
through a supreme court nominee before the election.
They don’t need it, they probably don’t have the votes to
do it, and they would risk turning off undecided voters by
trying to do it before November.

President Trump will almost certainly nominate someone
for the vacancy soon. The confirmation process will begin.
The nominee would be an issue in the presidential
campaign and would distract voters from other issues.
This might provide a net benefit for Mr. Trump, or it might
be a net benefit for Mr. Biden.

In any event, the court vacancy is one more complication in
a year already overflowing with complications.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Origins Of U.S. Intelligence Services




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

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

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

S.I.S. chief Colonel William Friedman and his famed
cryptologist wife (also Colonel) Elizabeth (she helped the
British break the Enigma code) lived nearby, and became
good friends of my parents during their time in Fairlington).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operating initially without organized military intelligence in
1776, Washington was at a distinct disadvantage. There were no
modern communications then --- no telegraph, no telephones,
no computers. no radio or television, nothing but handwritten
or verbal communication carried by foot or horseback. Major
Benjamin Talmadge organized, at Washington’s order, not only
a true spy network, but developed a secret code for its
communications. (Washington did not ever know the true
identity of most of his spies, and some of their identities are
still not known today.) It was nothing like the vast operation at,
and emanating from, Arlington Hall more than 160 years later.

This Revolutionary War spy network had failures and tragic
losses, but it also had notable successes hat enabled General
Washington and his Continental Army to turn the war around
and ultimately succeed against the formidable British army.  

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

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

That is why I think the very brief history recounted above is
worth telling.

Copyright (c) 2015 and 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 11, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: New Poem "Ceremonies Of Delay"

by Barry Casselman

On occasion, delay is the best way to go faster.

Not everything is a contest, although contests are everywhere.

When the body digests, it is also an instruction.
The body is lifelong a teacher in a voiceless conversation
with our worldly distractions.

Hesitation travels by helicopter,
hovering for overview before trying to land.

Our unending battle is with so many details,
the details which are our own private atoms and molecules.

We sleep on a furious planet
which wakes us periodically.

Now let’s get serious, we proclaim before bedtime,
ignoring the fury.

We simply do not understand speed,
but it stirs us like an anthem.

Going faster slows us down
long enough to hear our exasperation
and our pretended confidence in confidences.

A daily dashboard gives us some more velocities,
but no explanations, and no postponements,
change the destination.

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

Sunday, September 6, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How Does The House Divide?

While control of the U.S. senate in 2021 has been an ongoing
question since the current campaign cycle began, few if any
pundits have suggested that control of the U.S house is in
doubt. Indeed, at least one major political newsletter is
currently suggesting that Democrats might be headed to
increase their majority.

There is only one presidential race and only 35 senatorial
contests (only a third of them competitive), but there are 435
U.S house races --- and about 50 of them have serious
contests. Thus, control of that body gets less close popular
attention, although it is not less important in its impact on
national governance.

Democrats now lead the GOP 232-198  --- with 4 vacancies.

Democrats picked up enough seats in the 2018 mid-term
elections to take control, but more than 25 of those pick-ups
were in districts Mr. Trump had won in 2016. Now that he is
again at the top of his ticket, the question is whether these
first-term Democrat can be re-elected.

House races are often decided by local issues more than
national trends. Presidential and senate races are on
statewide ballots; house races appear only on district
ballots. The GOP needs to pick up 18 seats to win control.

Normally, incumbents win re-election, and there are usually
a limited number of retirements.  Also, usually almost all
incumbents in both parties are renominated. This cycle has
seen a larger number of retirements, and an unusual
number of successful and near successful primary
challengers to incumbents in both parties. All of this tends
to create more uncertainty, as does the pandemic's social
and economic impact. The uncertainty would have been
even greater had this election taken place in 2022, following
the census and redistricting that will take place in the next
national election cycle two years from now.

Most congressional predictions have so far been based on
political polling --- as usually does happen. But this kind of
polling has become less and less useful in recent cycles as
voters have become less and less willing to respond when
contacted by pollsters. Small samples, non-use of likely
voters only, and questionable “weighting” of raw data,
also compound a distortion of the results. In 2020, we are
seeing polls taken in the same race at the same time by
different pollsters with significantly different results.

As I always point out, polls tend to become more accurate
just before election day.  Pollsters do not want to look silly
when he results are known, and make more effort for
accuracy late in the cycle. We are not quite at that point
yet, so I will not discuss individual close races here, but
I will do so in my next U.S. house races post.

But what seems clear is that several competitive house
races are tightening as the 2020 election approaches its
final laps. In some cycles, such as in 2010, the voters
intentions are signaled early, but in 2020, with its
unprecedented circumstances, the signals have been
contradictory, provisional and ambiguous.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnewisowa: 2020 Bellwhether?

When I invented the megastate term “Minnewisowa”
(Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) in 2004, and identified it
as a bellwether for that year’s national elections, I could not
have known how would it play a similar role in the elections
that would follow.

Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Minnewisowa went for Barack
Obama, and in 2016, two of the three component states
went for Donald Trump (and he almost won the third).

Not so long ago, I wrote that initially it appeared that the
2020 Minnewisowa would likely to go into the Democratic
Party nominee’s electoral college total --- partly because the
opposition party had  done so well there in the 2018 mid-term
elections, and partly because Mr. Trump’s popularity was at
least temporarily seeming to decline in the region.

Then the pandemic, urban unrest, and a sharp economic
downturn hit the nation and the region. At first glance, this
would seem to increase the movement towards the liberal/
progressive party, but latest events and polls indicate

As one of the main epicenters (another being Oregon and
Washington state) of urban unrest and violence, Minnesota
and Wisconsin with their Democratic governors and mayors
have seen outstate voter backlashes that have halted the
political momentum to the left, and possibly reversed it to
the center right.

In fact, down ballot in the U.S house and senate races, the
greater initiative for pick-ups in Minnewisowa seems to be
conservative (Iowa CD-1,CD-2 and CD-3; Minnesota U.S.
senate, CD-2 and CD 7) --- although Democrats have
serious challengers to GOP incumbents in the Iowa U.S.
senate race and in Minnesota’s CD-1.

Disturbing headlines and news stories from Minneapolis
and Kenosha not only are attracting national attention,
but the attention of rural, small town and suburban
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. If polls and on-the-ground
reports are accurate, the current news for Democratic
candidates in competitive races on the 2020 ballot is not

This, however, does not mean Democrats are going to lose.
There are two months left --- time enough for possible
countermeasures and recovery.

Whatever happens on election day, nonetheless, the results
in Minnewisowa, with such similar demographics in its
adjoining component states, are likely to be a bellwether
for the national results. With its 26 combined electoral
college votes, both parties are taking it very seriously.

This is the beginning of the homestretch, and voters
are now paying much more attention.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR:Tightening Senate Races

Control of the U.S. senate in the next term is still undecided,
nine weeks before election day, but a new trend favoring
most Republican candidates, appears to be currently
developing after several weeks of seeming GOP decline in
most polling.

Of course, polling isn’t the only indicator that’s useful, and
this cycle many observers, myself included, have raised
questions about those polls, even prestigious ones, which
employed questionable techniques such as low samples,
registered voters (RVs) instead of likely voters (LVs), and
arbitrarily weighting their raw results.

But, as I have long pointed out, as the election draws very
close, the pollsters (seeking to avoid embarrassment when
the results are known) usually make an extra effort to be
accurately predictive.

In addition, especially in a presidential election year, there
are waves of ups and downs for candidates and their parties,
and Mr.Trump and his colleagues had seemed to be in some
decline while Mr. Biden and his colleagues were enjoying a
bump up.

Latest polls, however, are signaling a tightening in many
competitive races.  Of particular note, three consecutive
major polls in the usually “blue” state of Minnesota, indicate
a virtual tie in the presidential race, a circumstance confirmed
by local reports, especially in outstate where Mr. Trump seems
possibly stronger than he was in 2016 when he almost carried
the state. Minnesota has not voted for a Republican for
president since 1972.

One important caveat: Just because voter sentiment seems
trending their way, does not mean Republicans are going to
win. There is still enough time for a trend toward the
Democrats to  develop. The next several weeks will see the
relatively small, but nonetheless key, number of undecided
voters make up their minds. The pandemic, and the
exceptionally large numbers of absentee voters, also inject
more uncertainty in the outcome.

What about the specific competitive U.S. senate races?

There are 10-12 races which are battlegrounds. Democrats
will need to pick up a net of 3 or 4 (depending on who is
elected vice president) to take control in 2021.

Although about twice as many GOP incumbent seats are up
his cycle, the most endangered incumbent is a Democrat,
Doug Jones of Alabama. He is likely to lose to Republican
Tommy Tuberville.        

In addition, incumbent Michigan Democratic Senator Gary
Peters is facing a strong challenge this year from Republican
John James. Peters leads now, but this could be too close to
call in November.

I had not, until now, thought that Minnesota Democratic
Senator Tina Smith was very vulnerable this cycle. Like
Gary Peters, Smith is low profile and overshadowed by the
state’s other senator, Amy Klobuchar. GOP senate nominee
Jason Lewis is aggressive, but controversial, and always
needed a Republican tide in 2020 to win this race. If the
current GOP surge continues, and Mr. Trump carries
Minnesota, this could be a big upset on election night.

Aside from the New Hampshire senate race, which is not
now close, the opportunities for additional GOP pick-ups
currently seem very slim.

Democratic possibilities for pick-ups are more numerous.

Perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbent this cycle is
Arizona Senator Martha McSally. Republican McSally lost
in 2018, was then appointed to fill a vacancy, but faces a
former astronaut, Mark Kelly, in 2020. McSally has
consistently trailed Kelly in polls..

The other highly vulnerable GOP incumbent, Colorado
Senator Cory Gardner, seems to be faring better. He has
been rated the underdog against former Democatic
Governor John Hickenlooper, but the challenger’s
campaign has been marked by missteps and controversies,
and Gardner might survive.

North Carolina GOP Senator Thom Tillis has also trailed
his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham in polls, and
this race might also depend on the presidential vote in the
state. North Carolina had been dependably “red,” but
recently has been trending “purple.”

As in Colorado, incumbent Montana GOP Senator Steve
Daines is facing a well-known Democratic challenger --- in
this case, current Governor Steve Bullock, who entered the
race at the last moment. Down-ballot, Montana is
somewhat “purple, but has been reliably GOP in the
presidential race.

Finally, among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents,
Maine Senator Susan Collins is facing a well-funded
challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. One of the few
remaining GOP centrist conservatives in the senate,
Collins has been a popular iconic Maine figure with her
own base, and remains favored to retain her seat.

Less vulnerable, but nevertheless competitive GOP
incumbent senate races are taking place in Iowa (Senator
Joni Ernst vs. Democrat Theres Greenfield), Georgia (two
GOP incumbents facing liberal challenges), and Kansas
(open --- GOP nominee Roger Marshall vs. Democrat
Barbara Bollier).

Democrats assert they can also pick up senate seats in
Alaska, Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina, as
Republicans contend they can add a seat in New Mexico,
but so far, these are inclining clearly to the incumbent
party. With two months to go, these races could

In October, another evaluation of the above will be in
order. For now, however, control of the U.S. senate is in
contested doubt.

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Hope For Restaurants?

Even as lockdowns across the nation are gradually being
relaxed, and retail places of business cautiously reopening,
many conventional assessments of the long-term prospects
for restaurants remain grim.

Estimates vary that from 25-50% of existing establishments
will go out of business. Of course, that’s just a guess, but it
is going to be problematic for many smaller restaurants to
make a profit or break even under the probable conditions
in the foreseeable future.

Even in good times, operating a restaurant is a constant
challenge, and the industry was already undergoing
significant change before the pandemic shutdowns.

Increased regulations, higher labor costs, higher food
costs. more local taxes and rising rents and insurance had
forced restaurateurs to change their service models, and
menus. Many, in spite of critical success, decided to close
their doors.

This was before the pandemic and the shutdowns.

Is there any hope for this previously vibrant and growing

I think there is.

This prospect for hope comes from the nature and spirit
from those who create and run this business. Most of
those who operate the nation’s restaurants are pragmatic
entrepreneurs with a dream, drawn to the “magical”
enterprise of serving food to the public. Some are
talented chefs themselves, others simply enjoy the
interaction of providing hospitality in their own way.
Each restaurant tries to create its own dining identity.
This vision of enterprise is not unique in U.S. commerce,
but it is especially abundant in the restaurant business.

In short, restaurant owners and management will do all
they can to adapt, recreate, alter and enhance the way
they serve the public.

The result will probably be a changed dining out
environment and experience, but it will respond to a
resumed demand by the public to be able to gather for a
meal outside their own homes, or to have a source for
the preparation of food to take home.

Many restaurants that do close will reopen under new
owners and managers. New kinds of dining venues will
also likely be created.

As I see it, then, the restaurant industry will mostly save
itself. Its future now has many uncertainties and challenges,
but as long as here are customers who want to dine out,
there will be places to serve them.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Who Won In Minnesota's CD-5 Primary?

The most obvious answer to the question of who won
the Democratic (DFL) primary in the 5th congressional
district (CD-5) of Minnesota is that incumbent Ilhan
Omar won her nomination for a second term. To be fair,
she won by a clear margin although she faced a serious
and outstanding challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, a
black attorney and minister, who raised a huge campaign
war chest, and was backed by several well-known DFL
figures and a well-funded independent PAC. The
challenger also had a serious campaign organization,
many devoted volunteers, plenty of paid and free media,
and the endorsement of the district’s largest daily

The final result was that, although Melton-Meaux made a
respectable showing, he lost by double digits.

In my two pre-primary posts on the race, I pointed out that
Melton-Meaux was always the underdog in the contest, and
that incumbents rarely lost their own party’s primary. I also
pointed out that two of Omar’s “Squad” allies also had
“serious”primary challengers this year, but had easily won

(Despite his loss, if Melton-Meaux is truly serious about
politics, he will immediately make plans to run again in
two years. The success rate for repeat challengers is much
higher than for first-timers.)

But like so much in the political chess game, the obvious
answer is often not the most significant answer.

Someone else was the biggest winner of the CD-5 primary.

That someone is Donald Trump (and the Minnesota
Republican Party).

Let me explain.

As even mainstream polls are indicating, the 2020
presidential race is tightening especially in key
midwestern states with their vital electoral college
votes. A very recent major mainstream poll had
Biden leading Trump by only 3 points in Minnesota
(within the margin of error --- so a virtual tie).
Minnesota has been considered a blue state, but in
reality, as 2016 proved, it’s purple-blue --- and in 2020,
perhaps, purple-red. For example, the GOP could
easily pick up one, and possibly, two congressional seats
in 2020. (The DFL is likely to retain its U.S. senate seat.)

While anti-Trump media correctly point out that much
of the incentive for Democrats to go to the polls is to
defeat the president, they usually ignore the incentive
provided to Republicans by politicians such as Ilhan
Omar who conservatives consider far too radical.
In Minnesota, outside the major urban areas, it would
appear, Ilhan Omar is the best advertisement to get
Republicans to the polls in 2020. If she  had lost her
primary, it likely would have made it very difficult for
Trump to carry the state. As hard evidence for this
contention, I cite the fact that the GOP candidates for
Congress outside the Twin Cities are making Ilhan
Omar’s behavior and statements issues against their
DFL opponents in their districts.

I am not now saying Trump will carry Minnesota, but
because of the controversies in the Twin Cities, and
figures like Ilhan Omar, the state is in play. Biden will
carry Minneapolis and St. Paul by very large margins,
but the cities themselves have only a fraction of the
state’s total vote. The real battleground in Minnesota is
in the Twin City suburbs. President Trump is not that
popular there, but Ilhan Omar and what suburban
voters consider her (and fellow ultra-progressive
DFLers’) economic schemes, might well be more

Meanwhile, just as Joe Biden enjoys a huge lead in
Minnesota’s inner cities, Donald Trump appears to be
way ahead in rural areas and small towns outstate.

It might change before election day, but right now,
thanks to Ilhan Omar and DFLers similar to  her, the
president (like him or not) has a chance to win this state.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Having recently admitted to readers that my track record
for predicting vice presidential nominees has been
hit-and-miss, I find that my guess for this cycle was, early
and often, the right one --- California junior Senator Kamala
Harris ---and I think my reasoning for it was correct, i.e,
she was the only “safe” choice.

Once Joe Biden pledged to pick a “woman of color,” all roads
for his decision led to Ms. Harris. More than a dozen other
figures came up in the process, including a few non-black
women, but once it seemed that Biden was leading in most
polls, the need for a surprise “Hail Mary” running mate
evaporated. The remaining major stumbling block was
compatibility, and that seems to have been resolved in part
by the good relationship Senator Harris had years ago with
Mr. Biden’s favored son Beau who is now deceased.

Ms. Harris was not the favorite of any single group or wing
in her party, but was the person least opposed by all the
factions, and having been, briefly, herself a serious presidential
candidate, most easily answered the prime 2020 question of
who voters would most accept having the stature to assume the
presidency if it were necessary.

After that question, the vice presidential choice recedes in
most presidential elections, and that now seems likely again
in November, 2020.

Senator Harris is smart, sharp-tongued (as Biden knows, once
notably having been her target), and will do the vice presidential
candidate tasks required. She brings no geographical advantage
since California overwhelmingly votes Democratic. For the next
week or so, her record in office and personal vulnerabilities
will be examined. Then attention will return back to the
presidential candidates.

There is at least one “but” in his traditional process. It goes  
back to the prime 2020 vice presidential question: Does the
nominee convince voters she could adequately assume the
presidency if it is necessary?

Kamala Harris has less than three months to answer that
key question.

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

Sunday, August 9, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Political Showdown (Follow-Up)

In a relatively short time, a political showdown that was
hitherto thought ‘impossible” has developed in the “safe”
5th congressional district (CD-5) in Minnesota that includes
the city of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.

First-term Democratic (DFL) incumbent Ilhan Omar became
known as one of the more radical U.S. house members, and
joined with three other congresswomen to form what has
been labelled “The Squad” as they promoted public policy
schemes previously regarded as politically too extreme.
Nonetheless, most of her views seemed to be shared by a
majority of CD-5 voters, and her re-election seemed assured.

It was her personal style, family controversies, and some
unpopular foreign policy views, plus a high congressional
voting absentee record, however, which drew increased
opposition in the district, and brought several challengers
to the DFL primary against her on August 11.

One of those challengers, Antone Melton-Meaux, has emerged
as a serious opponent, and while Omar remains the favorite
to win the primary, he has seemingly developed considerable
late-breaking momentum. Having outraised Omar in campaign
funding in the most recent quarter, Melton-Meaux first caught
media attention relatively late in the primary campaign, but
with an independent PAC sending out almost daily
criticisms of Omar’s first-term record, his own broadcast
advertising, and an effective performance in their only
face-to-face debate, it has become clear that his candidacy has
some momentum.

Although their ideologies are similar, the candidates have very
different public styles. Melton-Meaux has attracted a large
number of volunteers throughout the district, and is believed
to have a serious get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort underway.
Omar has the normally effective DFL establishment GOTV
apparatus on her side. Incumbents rarely lose their primaries.

In a late-breaking development, Melton-Meaux received a
strong endorsement from the largest daily newspaper  in the
district. This endorsement and the public endorsements
from some very prominent local DFL figures and officials
offsets the usual DFL party support of incumbents. Observers
say DFL loyalists can now easily vote for challenger
Melton-Meaux who has run as a lifetime  progressive Democrat.

Two of the three other “Squad” members had serious primary
challengers this year, but easily survived. The question is
whether Minnesota CD-5 will be different. It appears that
Melton-Meaux will carry the Minneapolis suburbs where Omar
is no longer popular, so the race will probably be decided by
the DFL turnout in the inner city. A Melon-Meaux win would be
a major upset with national resonance.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Shakespeare Today In Spain?

William Shakespeare wrote plays that were tragedies, comedies
and histories, but perhaps his most enduring work was in his
tragedies. His insights in these seem to resound almost 500 years
later in our very different world. But changed as the world might
be, the Bard’s A Midummer Night’s Dream character, Puck, utters
his timeless allegation:

“O what fools these mortals be”

While Shakespeare located most of his comedies and histories in
his own England, past and contemporary, he told the stories of
other European royals and rulers, and placed some of his
most powerful tragedies in foreign lands he had not visited,
including Denmark, Greece, and Italy.

I think if Mr. Shakespeare were alive today, he might be tempted
to write a play about a recent king of Spain who has fallen into
tragic times.

In 1966-67 I attended the University of Madrid. Spain was still
ruled by an aging fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, who had been
allied with Nazi Germany during World War II, but who had kept
power in the post-war period. Because of student protests, classes
were on and off, but when they were on, and I went to them on
campus, I often noted rows of parked official cars. Later, I was
told they were the transportation entourage for the young
Spanish crown prince, Juan Carlos, who had been named by
Franco as his successor, and was being educated under the
dictator’s direction.

Juan Carlos’ grandfather had been the last king of Spain before a
liberal coup established a republic in the early 1930’s. The king
and his heir went into exile in Portugal, but when a civil war
(1936-39) was won by a right-wing government eventually led by
Franco, the heir was not brought back as king, even though a
kingdom had technically been restored.  Three decades later,
Franco decided to make the last king’s young grandson, Juan
Carlos, his heir and king on the condition he return to Spain from
Portugal to be educated (and presumably continue Franco’s

I did not ever meet my “classmate” Juan Carlos, but I heard a lot
about him, especially from a high-ranking Spanish army officer I
had met, and it was thought that when he did become king, he
would be a puppet of the military.

In the mid-1970s, Franco died, and Juan Carlos became a
constitutional monarch. The real power was in the elected
parliamentary government, and much to the fascists’
disappointment, the parliament and prime minister were much
more liberal than they were. In the early 1980’s, a right-wing
military faction staged a coup d’etat, took over the parliament
building, and demanded that the king surrender.  In his royal
palace with his wife and children, King Juan Carlos surprised
everyone by bravely defending the young Spanish democracy, and
refused to give in --- quickly causing the coup to collapse --- and
established the young king as a popular national hero.

The king’s popularity lasted for many years, and was bolstered
by his sensational confrontation with a notorious South American
dictator, but rumors that the public Juan Carlos was not the same
as the private Juan Carlos, as well as scandals involving the royal
family, grew. Finally, Juan Carlos admitted to an extramarital
affair and other improprieties, apologized to the nation, and in
2014 he abdicated, the throne, at age 76, in favor of his son Felipe.

Still highly regarded by many older Spaniards who remembered
his historic courage in defending Spanish democracy, but with a
tarnished reputation, Juan Carlos retired to a lower public profile,
and continued to live in the family’s royal palace in Madrid.

Now, however, allegations have surfaced about his part in a
Saudi Arabian business deal, including the charge he received
$100 million from the Saudi king. No trial has occurred, but a
formal investigation has begun.  Juan Carlos has not yet
commented publicly on the charges, but has just informed his
son King Felipe that he is leaving Spain to go into voluntary exile.

It is, in the end, a sad story of hubris. The legacy of a courageous
young modern king seems likely to be be overwhelmed by
accounts of greed and bad judgment --- another fallen
“Shakespearean” king.

The Spanish William Shakespeare was its great writer Miguel de
Cervantes who wrote in the same time as Shakespeare did. 
It might have been better if Juan Carlos were more  like
Cervantes’ immortal character Don Quixote --- a hapless deluded
figure, yes, but whose public and private quest was about honor.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Biden's Veep Soon?

Putative Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential
choice will likely be made and announced in the next two weeks.
Because he indicated (but did not pledge) he would select a
woman of color, most speculation has been about a number of
black elected women across the country --- although the
Hispanic governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham,
and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have been
regarded among the dozen or so finalists. Congresswoman
Karen Bass of California is only the latest of a  number of 
mostly hitherto nationally-unknown black women politicians
to be touted for the job.

Trying to second-guess a nominee’s running mate choice is a
difficult matter, and my own record is very mixed at best. I did
write that Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s best choice in the
summer of 2008, but more often than not, I got it wrong over
the years, and in 2016 I did not even try very hard.

This cycle, the Democratic vice presidential nominee is
arguably more important than usual, presumably because Mr.
Biden would be 78 in 2021.

Several months ago, after Biden’s nomination was assured, I
wrote that California Senator Kamala Harris was the most
likely choice. This was before Mr. Biden took an apparent lead
in his race against President Trump. Others predicted Biden
would throw a “Hail Mary” with a lesser-known figure in an
effort to catch up. Well-known figures such as Oprah Winfrey,
Michelle Obama, and Susan Rice were also mentioned.

Since that time, many in the media and most pollsters have
asserted that Mr. Trump is now behind. (whether this is
true, and if so, by how much, is a separate discussion, but for
now this is the conventional wisdom).

Assuming that the Biden campaign agrees that they are indeed
ahead, I think a “Hail Mary” veep choice is quite unlikely.
When ahead, it is psychologically difficult to risk one’s
advantage with controversy. The natural inclination is to go
with safe choices. Senator Harris is that perhaps more than
anyone else --- a former presidential candidate. a black woman,
young, and acceptable to most wings of her party.

Having said that, in this unpredictable year, the final choice
could be someone else.

But whomever the final choice is, they will be subjected to
many days of scrutiny, especially about their ability to assume
the presidency on short notice.

An abbreviated national convention will than take place in
Milwaukee, followed by the traditional Labor Day campaign
kick-off, the presidential and vice presidential debates --- and
the next thing you know, it’s election day!


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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Safe" Seat Up For Grabs?

The Fifth congressional district of Minnesota includes the
city of Minneapolis and some of its upscale suburbs, and it
is one of the safest Democratic seats in the nation. The
incumbent is Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born first-termer, who
won the seat in 2018 when the then-incumbent retired to run
for state attorney general at the last moment. Controversies
about her political views and personal life have surrounded
Ms. Omar from the outset, and became magnified as she
joined a group of four known as the “The Squad” in
Congress, each of which spoke out with views from the far
left of their party on both domestic and international issues.

Nevertheless, MN-5 is one of the most liberal urban districts
in the nation, and her advocacy of Medicare For All , Green
New Deal, and ceaseless criticism of President Trump, for
examples, seemed to reflect the views of a majority of
voters in the district, and it was expected that she would
easily be re-elected in 2020.

A number of candidates filed against her in the Democratic
(in Minnesota called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or
DFL), but the opposition to Ms. Omar appears to have
coalesced behind Antone Melton-Meaux, a respected black
attorney and self-described lifelong progressive Democrat,
who felt, noting Ms. Omar frequently missed House votes,
she was a detriment to the interests of the district’s residents.
With his own attractive family (his wife is a prominent local
surgeon), he cites his community activism, including working
with foster children and as a volunteer minister at a social
justice church.

Melton-Meaux has significantly out-raised Omar for campaign
funding,  Also, am independent PAC is mailing out a steady
stream of sophisticated campaign literature to voters in the
district --- literature which constantly reminds them of Omar’s
unpopular controversies.

Although there is a Republican primary and candidate, a
significant number of GOP voters could opt to choose the
DFL primsry ballot to vote against Omar. Republicans usually
provide 25-30% of the district vote. MN-5 has the largest
number of Jewish voters in any state district, primarily in the
Minneapolis suburbs. Most of them vote DFL, and most of
them voted for Omar in 2018, but after her steady stream of
anti-Israel comments, many of them are more likely to vote in
2020 for Melton-Meaux.

Because of Omar’s national notoriety, local observers point
out, this race has drawn increasing national attention and
campaign funding for both major candidates.

One of the strengths of the DFL in urban areas is its Get Out
The Vote (GOTV) organization. In a primary such as this one,
however, the DFL is likely to have a good turnout --- but it
might not be clear if the effort is turning out Melton-Meaux
voters or Omar voters. As well, the challenger’s supporters
might be more energized to vote. On the other hand, most
DFL leaders are at least publicly supporting incumbent Omar
(even if they have private doubts about her). and are now
scrambling to help her.

With less than three weeks until the primary, incumbent Omar
remains the favorite to win renomination, but her challenger
Melton-Meaux appears to be rising fast with an increasingly
formidable campaign. Only days ago, his chances
seemed impossible, but with less than a month to go, a grass
roots political storm appears to be forming.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Shapes Of The Lines

There are very few straight lines in Nature, and in human activity.
Yes, there are cycles, seasons, orbits, rhythms, patterns and other
repetitions, but almost always the world provides a series of
jagged ups and downs, and curving sideways variations.

I have observed these variations to be especially relevant to the
phenomenon known as American politics. The majority of races in
a national election, including those for the U.S. house, senate,
governorships and seats in state legislatures, are not competitive.
That’s because most incumbents win or because most districts
are made up of voters who mainly support one political party.

Presidential elections are often competitive, as are always s certain
number of all the races. Those which are close, in normal times,
do not proceed in  straight lines, but their candidates have ups and
downs throughout the campaign cycle. Undecided voters often
don’t pay attention to a specific race until October or later. Polls,
unless rigorously taken with likely voters and good samples,
rarely are useful.

That’s in normal times.

In a cycle such as the 2020 election, the normal uncertainties are

At the outset, more than a year ago, it appeared that a booming
economy would see the re-election of President Trump, but that
control of he U.S. house would remain Democratic, and that
control of the U.S. senate was up for grabs. Then the pandemic
occurred, and all likelihoods became uncertainties. Shutdowns,
quarantines and the upheaval of social activity preoccupied
voters, and the political environment was complicated by urban
unrest and violence. In recent weeks, media polling has suggested
a negative impact on the Trump campaign and many, but not all,
Republican candidates. Establishment media trumpets this as a
virtually certain victory for Joe Biden and the Democrats coming
in November. In fact, such a victory could happen, but I suggest
it will not happen because a few premature polls and a few pundits
said so four months before election day.

I suggest both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as competitive
candidates of both parties in other races, have a few more ups and
downs ahead --- and before votes are cast.

The key to any competitive election is the timing of their campaign
on the day the votes are cast. A candidate wants to be moving up
then, and his or her opponent moving down. That’s obvious to say,
but often difficult to perform, especially in a volatile environment.

Just as in 2016, some voters who intend to vote for Mr. Trump
seem reluctant to tell pollsters their choice, or even to be
interviewed. It doesn’t take very many of these to seriously
distort a poll. Few Biden supporters apparently have this
reluctance. If the election is a blow-out, this won’t matter, but
there is no evidence yet of a landslide election for either party.

In 2016, it should be recalled, most Democrats and many
Republicans thought that Hillary Clinton would win --- as late
as one hour AFTER the polls in he eastern states closed. It might
be, as I have said, a different story in 2020, but we  are not going
to know this until the votes are being counted.

As I wrote repeatedly for 2016, be wary of premature outcomes in
the 2020 election. Much is yet to be said --- and to happen.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten More Amazing Events From History You Probably Didn't Know About

[The items below appeared in earlier form previously on The Prairie Editor]
      HERITAGE. An ancient people who have lived in
      the area around the Carpathian Mountains in
      central Europe for the past thousand years, the
      Rusyn lands have been part of Russia, Ukraine,
      Austro-Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Romania.
      In 1919, after World War I, various Rusyn leaders
      traveled to the Versailles Conference in Paris to
      plead for their own nation, but were denied. Today,
      many of the world’s 4 million Rusyns live in the U.S.,
      a number of whom are celebrities. The most famous
      was  the artist Andy Warhol.
     [Further reading: The People From Nowhere by Robert Magocsi]

      AGENT.  Juan Pujols, known universally by the cover
      name “Garbo,” devised and implemented the
      greatest military deception in modern history by
      fooling Hitler and the German Wehrmacht to think
      the primary Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 would
      be at Calais and not at Normandy. Even three
      months after D-Day, “Garbo” persuaded the Nazis
      to hold vital divisions at Calais, waiting for an
      imaginary army invasion that did not come, and
      many consider Garbo’s efforts were a vital part of
      D-Day’s ultimate success. When Pujols fled Spain at
      the outset of World War II, and tried to join the British
      as a spy. he was turned away. Only when he joined the
      Nazi Gestapo, did the Brits take him on as a  double agent.
      [Further reading: Agent Garbo by Steven Talty]

     GERMAN NOR ANY EUROPEAN. The first physicist 
     to do so was, ironically, the Japanese physicist
     Togutaru Hagiwara who revealed his discovery at
     lecture in Kyoto in May 1941, seven months before
     Pearl Harbor. Although the first H-bomb was not
     exploded until 1954, Hagiwara, in a further irony,
     was also a pioneer in the theories which led to the
     first A-bomb being exploded over Hiroshima in 1945.
    [Further reading: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Robert 

     OLD TESTAMENT. Although Hebrew and Arabic are
     today derived from it, Aramaic is still a living language for
     about two million Assyrians, a Christian people who
     live in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq where they have
     faced persecution for centuries. (A senior member of
     the U.S. house of representatives, Anna Eshoo of
     California, is the only Assyrian-American in

In 1853, then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis of
Mississippi proposed that camels be employed for
transportation in the southwestern frontier. Seventy camels
were then imported from Egypt to form the U.S. Camel Corps
which had some little success prior to the Civil War, although
the camels reportedly were difficult to manage.  By 1858, the
project was abandoned, and the camels were then only used
for military purposes. The last known camel reconnaissance
was conducted by the then U.S. army commander in Texas,
General Robert E. Lee in 1860. After the Civil War, the U.S.
camel experiment was abandoned, probably in part because
of its association with the two despised leaders of the
Confederacy. All camels were sold at auction,and as late as
the turn of the century, feral (wild) camels were reported to be
sighted in the  arid plains and deserts of the American West.

Prior to 1856, the U.S. copper one cent piece was approximately
the size of a half dollar. In 1856, the smaller “penny” was
introduced with a flying eagle on its obverse, and in 1859, it was
replaced with the “Indian head” obverse. In 1909, on the
centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the “Lincoln cent” (with
an obverse still in use) was introduced. Also in the mid-19th
century, experiments in other coinage denominations were tried,
including both silver and nickel three cent pieces, a copper
two cent piece and a silver twenty cent piece. All were legal
tender, but did not prove popular. Today, they are collector’s

The first modern American “summer festival” was opened in
1876 at a site on Lake Chautauqua in western New York, a few
miles east of Erie, Pennsylvania. On land that became known as
the Chautauqua Institution, the venue was created by Protestant
religious leaders who wanted to hold a summer event of serious
religious and aesthetic discussion and presentations of the
performing arts. It quickly caught on, first in the region (drawing
visitors from Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Rochester)
and then nationally, as world famous theologians, philosophers,
political leaders and famed artistic figures spoke and performed
to large crowds in the “gated” community which featured
Victorian-styled homes, cottages, hotels and boarding houses.
Soon, “Chautauquas,” or local religio-cultural summer events
began appearing all over America, and the word “chautauqua”
became a word in the dictionary. From the early 20th century on,
the Chautauqua Institution season became a notable site for
major addresses by U.S. presidents and presidential candidates.
President Franklin Roosevelt made his famous “I hate war” speech
there, and more recently, President Bill Clinton spoke in the
legendary Chautauqua ampitheater. In the 1930‘s, Chautauqua
provided a haven for many of the world’s most famous musicians
fleeing Nazi persecution, including the composer Arnold
Schoenberg. The Institution’s largest hotel, The Athenaeum, is a
magnificent example of grand Victorian architecture, and has
been seen in several motion pictures.

Until Gandhi was released, the world record for the number
of extras in a film was a 1954 Soviet folk tale film with its
battle scene using 106,000 extras. The funeral scene for the
epic about the life of the famed Indian figure, however, used
300,000 extras, of which 200,000 were volunteers and about
100,000 were paid a small fee.

Jascha Heifetz was one of the world’s two greatest classical
violinists, and arguably the most famous. From his debut in
St. Petersburg, Russia at the age of five until his death in
1982, Heifetz literally performed in recitals, concerts and
recordings thousands of times in cities large and small
across the globe. On January 12, 1922, he was scheduled for a
recital at the historic Park Opera House in Erie, PA.  By that
time, Heifetz was world renowned, and all of his affairs were
handled by his parents (since he was not yet 21 years old). The
group which arranged the recital in Erie had a contract for the
space now renamed the Park Theater, but the demand for
tickets was so great that the event was moved to the Erie
Arena several blocks away. Instead of the few hundred which
the Park Theater could accommodate, the Erie Arena had
a capacity for 2500, and it was sold out. Heifetz’s piano
accompanist, Samuel Chotzinoff (he later became a major
U.S. music figure, and was personally responsible for
persuading Arturo Toscanini to come to America and conduct
the NBC Symphony), was sent to check out the original venue,
but was told the concert was moved. After then visiting the
Erie Arena (where boxing matches were  sometimes held), he
reported back to Heifetz’s manager-mother Anna who was
the third person in the entourage. Claiming her son would be
humiliated by appearing where prizefighters fought, she
adamantly refused to let Heifetz perform. Some contemporary
observers suggested that the real issue was money --- that
Mrs. Heifetz wanted a share of the bigger crowd revenue, but
the bottom line was that Heifetz didn’t play. The story has a
happy ending, however. On March 1 and 2, 1949, the great
violinist returned to Erie to play with the Erie Philharmonic
under its conductor Fritz Mahler (nephew of the composer).
A violinist in the orchestra reported later that the virtuoso’s
playing was “so perfect and inspiring that we played better
than we ever have, before or since.”

Most will agree that Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball
player ever, and he achieved his fame from his great
prowess with the bat, hitting far more home runs than
anyone else until recent times, and for having one of the
highest lifetime batting averages ever. But Ruth did not
begin his career as a batter. For the Boston Braves, he was
an ace starting pitcher. He even won 23 games in 1916 and
and 24 games in 1917. His lifetime pitching record was
93-46, and he pitched primarily for only six seasons. (He
pitched only five games for the Yankees and won all of
them.) But in one of the most disastrous and one-sided
trades in baseball history, the cash-strapped Braves
sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees in 1920. In
his new home, Ruth quickly became a batter and fielder,
and changed the sport indelibly with home runs and his
iconic public personality.

Copyright (c) 2014 2015 2016 2017 2020 by Barry Casselman.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


In addition to the presidential campaign, the contests for
control of the U.S. senate are key to he outcome of the 2020

The purely numerical advantage has shifted this cycle to the
Democrats who have only about half as many incumbent
seats as the Republicans up for re-election. In the most
recent cycles, the GOP had this advantage, and it helped them
keep their current 53-47 majority control.

Although 34 seats are up this year are up, only 10-12 are now
seen as competitive. Most of these are GOP seats, and this
has given Democrats hope that they might retake majority
control in January, 2021.

The senate minority now need either 3 or 4 pick-ups to regain
the majority (depending on which ticket wins the White
House; the vice president presides over the senate and
breaks any ties). That also assumes he Democrats lose no
seat they now hold.

The six senate seats which now appear most likely to switch
parties are in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine
(currently held by Republicans), and in Alabama and Michigan
(currently held by Democrats).  Of these, only Alabama seems
almost certain to change hands.  If so, this would change the
math for Democrats taking control by an additional seat.

Each party had recent good and bad news about the two most
vulnerable GOP seats. In Arizona, incumbent Martha McSally
has fallen behind former astronaut Mark Kelly. and in Colorado,
former Democratic Governor  John Hickenlooper is stumbling
badly in his last-minute effort to unseat GOP incumbent
Senator Cory Gardner.

Republican Senators Thom Tillis (North Carolina) and Susan
Collina (Maine) are facing challengers heavily financed with
out-of-state money. GOP challenger in Michigan John James
is strong candidate against low-profile Democratic incumbent
Gary Peters, but trails in the polls.

Other potentially vulnerable seats include those in Georgia,
Iowa, Montana and Kansas (now held by Republicans); and in
New Hampshire and Minnesota (now held by Democrats),
but pick-ups in these seats probably depend on whether the
presidential election is close or not.

Voter moods, as best can be measured, are almost always
volatile in the summer months before a national election,
and probably more so this unprecedented year.  In this
environment, media  propaganda news can prevail over
common sense., and a spate of partisan or flawed polls can
be misleading. Time and again over the years, I have
cautioned that the most accurate and useful polling occurs
just before the election in October when pollsters are highly
motivated to be as accurate as possible.

I also have long pointed out that some races rated as “safe”
early on by various pundits  unexpectedly become very
competitive as election day approaches. I will have more
about which ones these might be after the conventions and
Labor Day. Some senate nominees have not yet been

The bottom line now in early July in the  U.S. senate races
is that senate control in 2021 is undecided, and dependent  not
only the presidential contest outcome, but also very much
on the quality of the candidates running this year.


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

Friday, June 26, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten Amazing History Stories You Probably Didn't Know About

[earlier version first published on The Prairie Editor blog in 2013]

      ON JANUARY 30, 1945.
      The Wilhelm Gustloff, built as a Nazi passenger
      cruise ship (and named for a Swiss Nazi demogogue)
      in 1937, had been stranded in the East Prussian port
      of Gotenhofen on the Baltic Sea since the outset of
      World War II. As Soviet troops overtook East Prussia
      in early 1945, over a million ethnic Germans, whose
      families had lived in East Prussia for centuries,
      attempted to flee to the German mainland a few
      hundred miles away via the Baltic sea route to avoid
      the feared revenge of the Russian soldiers as
      they reconquered the area. The Wilhelm Gustloff,
      built to accommodate 1500 passengers and 500 crew,
      was overloaded with about 11,000 men, women and
      children (some of whom were German soldiers), and 
      began a 200-plus mile sea trip in a storm. (The trip
      was no longer possible by rail or truck.) A Soviet
      submarine spotted the ship, and sent four torpedoes
      at it, sinking the ship in a brief time. Approximately
      9400 persons died in the sinking, making it it the
      largest loss of life from one ship disaster in history.
      [Further reading: Death in the Baltic by Cathryn J. Prince.]

      Although his name is a household word in the United
      States and in much of the rest of the world for his
      role as president of the United States during the
      nation’s Civil War (1861-65) and his assassination, it   
      is much less known that Abraham Lincoln could be
      rated today as the father of the modern American
      English language. This role is usually assigned to
      a major literary figure (e.g., Shakespeare in British
      English, Dante in Italian, Cervantes in Spanish,
      Pushkin in Russian, et al). The only American writer
      who even comes close to Lincoln, and came after
      him, was Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”).
      Lincoln’s major speeches are still considered today
      as the finest examples of their kind by an American,
      and his collected speeches and letters form a unique
      body of the English language spoken and written in
      the U.S. as it was being transformed from its British
      origins. Lincoln’s language, almost alone among his
      19th century contemporaries (including Hawthorne,
      Emerson, Melville, Longfellow, et al) remains fresh
      today without the “dated” quality of almost
      everyone else in his era. Amazingly, Lincoln was
      entirely self-taught, and did not ever attend a school
      in his childhood.
      [Further reading: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,
      Rutgers University Press]

      JAPANESE NOBLEWOMAN known as “Lady
      Murasaki” (her real name is unknown).
      A lady-in-waiting to the Empress Shoshi of
      the Heian period  of 11th century Japan, she
      wrote her extraordinary fictional account of life,
      manners and personalities of the Japanese 
      court life in an unprecedented work entitled The
      Tale of Genji. It is also described today as the first
      psychological work of fiction. The novel form did
      not truly emerge until more than 500 years later in
      the West. Remarkably, The Tale of Genji is even 
      today a highly readable, fascinating masterpiece.
      [Further reading: Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki]

      was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which
      inundated most of the mid-Mississippi River Valley
      following an unprecedented period of rain beginning
      in August, 1926. At its peak, months later the flood
      covered 27,000 square miles, and dislocated 700,000
      residents. About 500 persons are known to have died   
      (although the total death toll,was not ever known).
      Total damages in today’s dollars would approach
      $1 trillion. Then-President Calvin Coolidge did not
      visit the area, but sent his Secretary of Commerce
      Herbert Hoover instead, and put Hoover in charge of
      the recovery. When Coolidge decided not to run for
      re-election in 1928, Hoover was nominated in his
      place, and elected president.
      Known as the Uraic family of languages,
      Magyar, Finnish and Estonian have no roots in the
      much larger Indo-European family of languages
      which are spoken in most of the nations near them.
      Although their exact origins are not yet known,
      philologists, in fact, trace these languages partially
      back to Siberian Asian (Chuvash) roots and to those
      who came to the region more than two thousand
      years ago. Magyar, the official language of Hungary,
      is the largest non-Indo-European language spoken
      in Europe.
      The late Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer suffered a
      stroke in 1990, and after that was unable to speak
      or write. Nevertheless, he received the Nobel Prize
      for literature in 2011, and was considered by many
      to be the greatest living poet in any language.
      His short and austere poems, critics say, create
      stunning images and spaces. Before his stroke,
      he worked professionally as a psychologist in a
      prison while at the same time writing poems and
      publishing several books of Swedish poetry. He has
      since been translated into many languages.
      [Further reading: Twenty Poems by Tomas
      Transtromer, and Windows & Stones by Tomas
      Transtromer; (both translations)]

      The 18th century Brazilian sculptor Antonio Lisboa
      was the son of a Portuguese carpenter and a slave
      mother. While relatively young, he developed either
      leprosy or sclerodoma, and lost all the fingers of his
      hands as well as the toes on his feet. He became   
      known as “O Aleijadinho” (or “The Little Cripple”).
      He created most of his sculpture in the Brazilian
      province of Minas Gerais where, after he was
      disfigured, and through truly remarkable efforts, he
      sculpted many masterpieces, most of which survive
      Until 1924,the Arabian peninsula had no fixed
      national boundaries, no formal nation states, and      
      was inhabited primarily by nomadic Bedouin tribes
      that went back thousands of years. It technically was
      part of the Ottoman empire under its sultan who
      ruled the Islamic world. Ibn Saud, a young leader
      of the Wahhabi tribe and 6 foot 4 inch warrior prince
      who grew up living in tents and moving about the
      southern Asir region of Arabia with his family,
      began his unification of the various tribes in 1902
      by seizing the ancient Wahhabi capital of Riyadh,
      and then by systematically eliminating in battle the
      usually more powerful rival sheikhs in the region
      over the next two decades. After the sultan was
      deposed and the Ottoman empire dissolved
      following World War I, Ibn Saud was declared king
      of the new Saudi Arabia. Short of cash, he made
      deals with the British, and then the Americans, to
      allow exploration for oil and gas in the peninsula
      which led to major discoveries in 1937. Because of
      breakout of war in Europe and Africa in 1939-40,
      the huge profits from the oil fields did not appear
      until after World War II, when Saudi Arabia became
      the world’s largest producer and seller of oil.
     [Further reading: Ibn Saud by M. Darlow & B. Bray]

      Morris “Moe” Berg played for American League
      teams for most of his 15-year baseball career, and 
      was called “the brainiest man ever to play baseball.”
      Casey Stengel (of all persons) even once called him
      “the strangest man ever to play baseball.” An
      impoverished son of European Jewish immigrants,
      he received degrees from Princeton and Columbia
      law school, and became famous early for his highly
      successful appearances on the national radio quiz
      show “Information Please.” A polymath, he spoke
      seven languages fluently, and when war broke out, he    
      became a U.S. spy and was sent undercover to Italy
      and occupied Central Europe to secretly assess
      the Nazi atomic bomb program. After World War II,
      he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. In
      spite of his extraordinary and colorful career and 
      life, he died in obscurity in 1972.
      [Further reading: Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers]

        The (shortened) name of this country is
        officially Sovrane Militare Ordine di Malta or
        S.M.O.M. It is an important worldwide Catholic   
        philanthropic entity known also as the Knights of
        Malta, and which once ruled the island nation of 
        Malta. Today, its size is reduced to two villas in
        Rome and some land on the outskirts of the Italian
        capital; only the upper floors of one of the villas is
        considered the sovereign territory of S.M.O.M. It is
        therefore the only nation on earth which can only
        be entered by elevator.
Copyright (c) 2013 and 2020 by Barry Casselman.
All rights reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: National Conventions In 2020

Between 1988 and 2008, I attended many of the Democratic and
Republican national conventions. Their outcome was not in
doubt, but for a journalist with credentials it was a very good
time indeed, especially if you were a collector of political
buttons, lapel pins, bumper stickers and other campaign
paraphernalia. Most important for a journalist, there was easy
access to political figures for interviews and quotes.

For delegates and other attendees there was an endless array
of policy meetings, social occasions, as well as free food and
drink, There was also a unique opportunity to meet and make
friends with other political activists from across the nation.

Finally, although there was little suspense at these recent
conventions, there were the convention floor programs
designed as spectacles to whip up excitement and enthusiasm
for the party’s ticket in November.

I  have many stories to tell from the conventions I attended.
Here’s just a few.

At my very first convention, the Democratic meeting in Atlanta
in 1988, I did not go to the convention floor the first few days
because I was so diverted by the events outside the convention
proceedings, but finally I made it to the hall just as Michael
Dukakis was being nominated. To my surprise, many of the
delegates were booing the speaker. When I asked someone
what was going on, I was told that the nominator was the
young governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who had decided to
speak interminably, and the delegates wanted him to finish.
The incident made him a national laughing stock. Only four
years later, despite many other controversies, he was the
Democratic nominee in New York City. Just before he was
introduced, they showed a video of his life. It wasn’t that
remarkable until a short clip appeared with President John
Kennedy greeting a delegation of teenagers from Boys
Nation a the White House in the early 1960s. Suddenly, from
the crowd, emerged a teen-age Bill Clinton to shake Kennedy’s
hand. Few present had seen his clip before. The crowd gasped,
and then broke into cheers. A few moments later, Clinton
came on stage to a huge ovation.

At that same convention in New York in 1992, I walked into
the very large media center on the last day, expecting to have
a quiet snack. As I walked in, however, hundreds of press
colleagues turned to me and began applauding! I was totally
mystified until someone came over to me and explained that a
video of me describing my interview with Governor Jerry
Brown in Iowa earlier that summer had just been played on
the media lounge screens. What had happened was that a few
days before, I had met two cheeky students from Dartmouth
who had wangled media credentials,and were making an
irreverent video of the convention by interviewing famous
politicians and media stars with off-the-wall questions. I
liked their spunk, and told them a few off-beat stories of my
own, including the one about my odd Jerry Brown interview
in a Mexican restaurant in Iowa. Two nights later, I ran into
them, video cameras in hand, and although I was exhausted,
I let them tape me telling my Jerry Brown story. Trust me,
I’m no comedian, but I was so tired, it somehow came off
as very wry and funny.

That same year, at the Republican convention in Houston,
I happened to use my convention floor privileges during Pat
Buchanan’s notorious speech. While I was on the floor, I ran
into someone I had met several years before when he was
visiting Minneapolis. It was George W. Bush, then a private
citizen and working for his father at the convention. We shook
hands, and from his few words and the look on his face, I knew
he knew the Buchanan speech was bad news for his father’s
re-election. Only eight years later, I attended the convention in
Philadelphia that nominated him.

In 2008, the Republican convention was in St. Paul.  It was a
home town experience.  My visiting friend and editor Tony
Blankley and I went to so many convention parties, we
stopped counting. Main downtown streets were blocked, but
of course I knew alternative routes. Many events, most of
them quite lavish, took place near where I lived and also
near Tony’s hotel. I even threw a party, an ice cream social at
a legendary local ice cream parlor outside downtown, with a
political  celebrity guest list. (Some still talk about it.) I
watched Sara Palin's famous speech from the convention
floor. My political memorabilia collection peaked.....

By 2012, the appeal of a national convention, even as a social
occasion, appeared more diminished, and this continued to
2016. Nevertheless, plans were made for traditional
conventions in 2020 by both major parties. Indeed, for a time
the Democratic nominating contest  seemed like it could be
undecided until its convention at Milwaukee in July.

Then the pandemic occurred, and profound changes in the
2020 political campaign season took place.

As I write this, current convention plans remain provisional.
The Democrats are still meeting in Milwaukee, but it isn’t yet
clear how many will attend  in person. Program plans are
incomplete, although Joe Biden has announced he will accept
his nomination in Milwaukee. The original date was moved
from July to August.

After the North Carolina officials refused to lift certain
restrictions, the Republicans decided to move the main part
of their convention to Jacksonville. Its program and who
will attend in person are also undecided.

What is clear is that the national convention experience will
be very different in 2020. The need to kick off the campaign
and excite the base remains, but how to do it is up in the air.
Even veteran entertainment promoter Donald Trump is
challenged by this environment.

Media coverage of the conventions will also be changed.
I doubt that thousands of print and broadcast journalists
from around the world (as usually happens) will show up,
and that the typical huge lavish media centers will host
and feed them. How much coverage of the daily programs
will be broadcast by the networks is also uncertain. By
August, many now at home could be back to work, and
unlikely to be watching a virtual political convention.
But there will be conventions. Two national tickets will be
nominated. A campaign, however unprecedented, will
follow. On November 3, votes will be counted.

The show must go on.

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

Friday, June 19, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No Hand For Writing And Shaking?

I wrote in 2014 in this space about the approaching extinction
of handwriting or cursive script. Now, in response to the
current pandemic, the same fate seems to await the
widespread practice of handshaking.

The ritual of the handshake goes back at least 27 centuries
when it was visually portrayed by the king of Assyria shaking
hands with the king of Babylonia. It was apparently common
practice in much of the ancient world. Homer mentions it
frequently in The Iliad and The Odyssey.  But it only became
common modern practice in the 17h century when  Quakers
popularized it as more egalitarian than bowing or tipping
one’s hat, then the common practices. From ancient to
modern times it has always been a gesture of trust,
friendship, agreement and peaceful greeting.

What handwriting and handshaking have inherently in
common is linking --- the joining of letters of a word
and the touching between two persons.

Perhaps their disuse is emblematic of our age of increasing
social severance and isolation. In any event, there are now
no visible good prospects for either handwriting or

We already know what replaces handwriting, but what will
we substitute for the handshake?

It would seem that Japanese-styled bowing one’s head is
not an option in he U.S., but perhaps a slight nod will do it.
Or  a wave?  A thumbs-up? An outstretched arm, with or
without a “Hail!,” is definitely out. And unless you are in
military, not a salute. Men don’t wear hats much any more,
so tipping one won’t work. A small (non-touching) foot kick?

What to do?

The handshake worked well in its day, but now it seems
it’s time for something new. I don’t think it will be elbow
touching --- or any other kind of touching.

A generation that moves by skateboard will come up with


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

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Election Day Cometh

The days now seem to be passing with extra speed, even as
the national economy reopens. “Normalcy” is not likely to
reappear for some time, but the calendar insists on some
fixed points --- including the change of seasons, holidays ---
and election day.

Believe it or not, Election Day, 2020 is now only four-plus
months away.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that too much is unsettled
in the country to discern any dispositive election trends yet,
but there is also some evidence that, despite recent
extraordinary events, the 2020 cycle will be decided on the
two traditional factors of a second-term presidential election
--- voter judgment on the incumbent’s first term and voter
attitude about the economy.

What complicates this “traditional” circumstance is the very
“un-traditional” current character of both the incumbent and
the economy. The closest recent historical parallel seems to
be 1972 when a much despised (by liberals and the media
establishment) incumbent, Richard Nixon, won an historic
landslide victory (all but two states) against George McGovern
whose policy views had turned off many moderates who had
voted for Hubert Humphrey in1968 when Nixon had barely
won. By 1972, Nixon had not yet ended the unpopular Viet Nam
war, Watergate had just happened, but the economy was in a
boom, so the parallels are limited.

Joe Biden is no George McGovern, but since clinching his
party’s nomination, he has been appealing notably to the
present-day version of the McGovern wing (Bernie Sanders,
Elizabeth Warren. et al) that was rejected by voters in most
of the Democratic primaries this year.

The Biden strategy is to cause a huge turnout of his party’s
base, and to count on anti-Trump sentiment to bring him to
the White House in January, 2021.

The Trump strategy is to cause a huge turnout of his party’s
base still fiercely loyal to him, and to count on a backlash to
current Democratic party policies.

Where the voters will be in only about four months will
determine which  of these strategies will be most successful.

I suspect that the state of employment will be a key. Voters’
personal attitudes about Mr. Trump are not likely to change.
Anti-Trumpers will remain strongly negative to his style and
personality.  Mr. Biden might not be charismatic, but he is
“not-Trump” --- and that might be enough. On the other hand,
some voters could override their personal feelings to vote
for what they might consider to be their own best interests.

It needs to be remembered that U.S. senate and house races
are often determined by local and state issues, and that some
of these contests considered “safe” many months before
election day become very competitive in the final days of the
campaign. As well, the quality of individual candidates, both
incumbents and challengers, often outweighs general voter
trends. Finally, not all the party nominees have been chosen
in some very competitive races. In short, control of both
houses of Congress remains uncertain.

Polling so far doesn’t tell us much, especially if they are only
of registered voters and are national  polls. Some current
polls are contrived or presented for campaign fundraising
purposes by candidates of both parties, and can be regarded
with skepticism.

As we get closer to election day, however, unbiased polls of
likely voters in the competitive states will tell us much more.

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