Monday, April 12, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Food And Dining In 2021

by Leo Mezzrow, guest columnist

The Prairie Editor has asked me once again to write a guest
food and dining column for his website. He recruited me to
be his restaurant critic many years ago when he edited and
published a pioneer Twin Cities newspaper called Many
Corners, and although we both moved on from that 14-year
enterprise,we have remained friends.

My next editor, a very fine fellow, asked me to write about
food, restaurants, and culture for his publications, and when
I did, I received notes asking why I was now using “Leo’
instead of “Leos” ---the name I first used. My answer was
my father had named me after his favorite composer, the
Czech Leos  Janacek, but it was a bit presumptuous to  ask
folks in south Minneapolis to call you Leos  (pronounced
LAY-osh), so I settled on Leo. Then a reader wrote asking if
iI were related to the legendary jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow.
The answer is yes --- he’s a cousin I never met (although  we
were both living in Paris in the 1960s, but I was  too shy to
look him up). The Mezzrow clan, now scattered  all over the
globe, is a  story in itself, but that will have to wait for
another time.

For some time I have been retired from food writing, but
the pandemic and The Prairie Editor have brought me back
--- this time to the computer instead of the typewriter!

I do not intend to write restaurant reviews. After all, most
readers of this blog don’t live in the Twin Cities. What I
want to talk about is the whole range of urban food and
dining experiences.

I think what we like to eat is not unlike, say, what  we like to
read. Some folks prefer to read new poetry or fiction. Some
like to read classical literature or philosophy. Others prefer
mystery stories or romances or biographies.  Some read
only newspapers  and magazines. Some like tabloids or
books of photographs. A number of persons prefer to do
their reading online rather than on a printed page. The
variety of preferences  is endless.

But unlike reading, eating is a necessary bodily function.
Every human being shares the experience, however differently.
Yet both eating and reading involve a kind of digestion.

Ia there a higher form of eating? Some persons think so, and
pay large sums of money to reinforce their beliefs. But I am
not speaking about the preparation of food ---  I am speaking
about the enjoyment of food. Although I have dined in some
of the world’s  most highly rated restaurants, and usually
enjoyed them, I think there are many less complicated meals
I have eaten which have given me much pleasure.

I love beluga caviar, fois gras, white truffles, and many of the
world’s rarest and most exotic foods which I have been able
to taste, but I also love cold roasted chicken, turkey stuffing,
prune whip --- not to mention rice pudding, pineapple
upside down cake, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Everyone
has their own list.

The key principle is to eat what you enjoy, and to eat as
often as you can what is healthy for you. If you are wiling,
try new foods, different cuisines,  and new recipes. Good
nutrition is very important, but every person’s nutrition
needs are different, and depend on age, weight, physical
conditions and one’s DNA. Smoking, drugs, too much
alcohol, excesses of any kind are not good for anyone, but
be wary of fashionable new food theories. I cannot stress
enough that each person’s nutrition needs and food tastes
are different. A physician’s advice is usually helpful.

The year of the pandemic has changed daily lives a great
deal, including the flourishing and growing custom of
dining out. Social dining can enhance marriages, family
well-being, friendships and business relationships.
Restaurants, bistros, coffeehouses and bars employed
millions of Americans and were an important part of
the pre-pandemic economy. They will be again, but it will
almost certainly have some notable changes.

The adoption of higher minimum wages, automatic
12-20% service charges,, and mandatory counter
ordering inevitably means fewer restaurant jobs and the
virtual end of the custom of tipping. A few high end and
very expensive restaurants will try to preserve the old
model, but most younger persons will adapt to the new
dining models.

Efficient restaurant table arrangement and food delivery
design will become much more important. Menu
selection will, in many cases, become smaller.

Many changes and innovations  are now being developed
by restaurant owners  and managers. Some won’t last
because the public won’t accept them. (Dining in time
limits could prove too unpopular to enforce, for example.)

Restaurateurs and chefs are creative persons, and social
dining out is an American institution that  will recover in
coming weeks and months. Already, reopenings, expanded
dining rooms and new restaurants are being announced.

The lights in public dining are turning on.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 26, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Temptation of Pelosi

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ended the
2020 election with a 222-213 majority (currently 219-211 with
recent vacancies), and her slim 5-vote margin has tempted
her to consider the legal but very dangerous act of removing
an (certified) elected and provisionally-seated Republican
congresswoman from Iowa who had won her seat in 2020 by
less than 10 votes.

It was the closest congressional contest in last year’s cycle,
and the losing candidate, Democrat Rita Hart, quickly
challenged the result, contending some ballots for her had
been excluded from the count. However, instead of following
the proscribed challenge process in Iowa, Ms. Hart ended
the process prematurely, saying she would take her case to
the U.S.. house where her party held  the majority. As a result,
the Iowa secretary of state duly certified her Republican
opponent, Marianette Miller-Meeks, as the winner, and she
then was sworn in.

The U.S. constitution says that the U.S. house  has the right
to determine who will be its members, but this right to
override a state district election (presumably with cause)
was rarely used initially until the mid-19th century when
house majorities of both parties routinely ignored the
results of many close elections, denying the winner of the
opposition and seating their own candidate. By the early
20th century this obvious political abuse of the framers of
the constitution intention became rare. It was last used in
1984 when the Democrats held a large house majority.

Indeed, if Speaker Pelosi had a comfortable majority, she
almost certainly would not even consider overturning
this election, and giving Republicans so much political
ammunition for 2022. Furthermore, her effort would
would probably be short-lived because the Democrat would
likely lose the next election. Longer-term she would also be
giving future Republican house majorities justification to
refuse to seat Democrats who won close elections, and even
restart the unfortunate mid-19th century practice.

It doesn’t seem to make much political sense. At least four
house Democrats are on record saying they oppose the
move (it would make a powerful opposition ad anywhere in
the nation). But Mrs, Pelosi is very skillful with her caucus,
albeit one that is often divided.

If she does it, it would be what William Safire calls a
“power grab” in his famed Political Dictionary (2006 edition).
[I can’t help but note Safire's own definitions are always
accompanied by someone else’s usage of the term, In the
case of “power grab,” it is the title of a 2006 op ed in
The Washington Times. That title was “Nancy Pelosi’s
Power Grab” --- it was a column about an action she took
when she first became speaker fifteen years ago. The
author of that op ed? Yours truly!

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Copyright (c) 2021 by  Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Looking Ahead

The months immediately ahead appear likely to be eventful
ones in domestic and international public affairs.

The global issue, of course, is the anticipated end of the
worldwide pandemic now that several vaccines are available.
Since each nation manages its vaccination program, results
so far have been uneven. Israel, with the advantage of having
a relatively small population (9 million) leads the global effort
with already almost 100% vaccinated. Pandemic mortality
rates are still high in some locales, including Brazil which has
now passed the U.S. in numbers of fatalities. Nevertheless,
following vaccination, infection rates drop dramatically.

Speaking of Israel, it will hold its 4th national election in 2
years on March 24, with longest-serving Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu trying one more time to win a majority
for his ruling Likud Party.  This go-around will be different
in that conservative Netanyahu’s most serious opposition is
coming from his right --- Israel’s once-dominate left having
almost evaporated in recent years. Most polling, notoriously
inaccurate in the past, has gloomy news for PM “Bibi” --- but
few are willing to bet against the wily political survivor.

Ongoing and preeminent in global  dynamics. China and its
ambitions remains as the number one challenge in President
Biden’s foreign policy. Hong Kong  and Taiwan issues with
China are ahead.

Back home, the president has provoked a new southern
border crisis as large numbers of immigrants  have streamed
north based on Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to open the
border. Southwestern states most affected by he influx and                
chaos are not happy.  

Conclusion of the 2020 census looms as pressure mounts on
the census-based congressional reapportionment which must
be done by December 31 in order to apply to the 2022 national
midterm elections. Dozens of candidates in both major
parties are currently in limbo about which district they will
run in.  With the U.S. House of  Representatives almost evenly
divided currently, reapportionment could be a dispositive
factor next year.

The governors of the two largest states. Gavin Newsom of
California and Andrew Cuomo of New York , both
Democrats, have become embroiled in major controversies
--- Governor Newsom now facing a likely recall vote later his
year, and  Governor Cuomo facing numerous calls to resign
from major officials in his own party.

Republicans have dilemmas of their own. Five GOP senators
up for re-election in 2022 have already announced their
retirement. At least two of those seats are possible pick-ups
by Democrats. The future role in the GOP of former President
Donald Trump is very much undecided.  Although polls
indicate he is still regarded favorably by most Republicans,
not all of them want him to run again for president in 2024.
There are also a very large number of rising new GOP]
figures who might seek that nomination, including current
and former Governors Ron DeSantis (Florida), Nikki
Haley (South Carolina), Kristi Noem (South Dakota); and
Senators Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Tim Scott (South Carolina),
Josh Hawley (Missouri); as well as Senators Marco Rubio
(Florida) and Ted Cruz ((Texas) who ran in 2016; former
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and of course, former
Vice President Mike Pence.

The latest federal stimulus plan was a victory for the Biden
administration, but it was narrowly passed by a partisan
vote. Its proponents contend it will be a boon to the economy
still reeling from the  pandemic, but its critics say it is mostly
a bailout of liberal city and state mismanagement and liberal
unions which has nothing to do with the pandemic.. GOP
strategists are comparing it to Obamacare as a political issue.
The next several months could indicate which side is more
correct. Meanwhile, the Biden administration will have to
figure out how to pay for it.

The leading stock market indices are reaching new highs in
spite of the pandemic’s negative impact on most, but not
all, parts of the economy. Stock market sentiment usually
reflects its anticipation of economic conditions 6-9 months
ahead, but in the short term is often very emotional. “Bulls”
see new highs ahead, but “bears” see a big “correction”or
even a nosedive soon. A key clue to market activity, either up
or down, is volume, and not just price.

These are some of the primary public issues likely to see
major developments in the period just ahead, but as I always
counsel (and as we have so acutely experienced in the past
year), there are always unexpected developments which
occur,  especially in a global environment such as we have
in the present time.

Vigilance is advised.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Forgotten Story From U.S. History

It was a tragedy within a tragedy, but the latter became so
iconic in 19th century U.S. history that the former was
forgotten in the 20th and 21st centuries.

“Custer’s Last Stand” became a synonym for hopeless
defeat in battle, and its eponymous commander, the
colorful and impetuous Col. George Armstrong Custer
became a household name for every schoolboy and
schoolgirl in America --- as familiar almost perhaps as
Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

On June 26, 1876. on a remote Montana hillside known
as Little Bighorn, Col. Custer and more than 250 U.S.
troops were ambushed by bands of warriors from
various Native American tribes who lived in the area,
and all the soldiers perished. It was a Pyrrhic
victory for the tribes, however, because when news of
the massacre reached the U.S. settlements in the East,
the popular outrage was so great that a new military
campaign was ordered that eventually led to the end of
armed Native American resistance in the West. (Today,
public revulsion to the massacre would probably be
accompanied by much more sympathy to the Native
Americans whose ancestral lands were then being
taken over mostly by force.)

Many parents received official notification of their
son’s death in the days following, but none were more
devastated than Emmanuel and  Marie Custer in
Michigan when Army telegrams informed them that
not only had their son George died at Little Bighorn,
but that two of his brothers, Thomas and Boston,
their son-in-law James Calhoun, and their grandson
Henry Armstrong Read (age 18) had died in the battle
there as well.

Thomas, in fact,was the most decorated Union soldier
of the then recent Civil War, having won two medals of
honor for battlefield bravery.

During the Civil War, several  Bixby brothers reportedly
died in separate battles, and this is remembered
primarily for the eloquent letter President Lincoln
wrote to their mother in Boston.

Other multiple same-family losses in various other U.S.
combat actions have been recorded.
 
In recent years, a widely-distributed Hollywood film
“Saving Private Ryan” was made as a fictional story,
based on the experience of a real family, about four
World War II soldier brothers, and the efforts
of the U.S. Army to prevent the loss of a fourth
brother then in combat. (A third brother, reported lost
in Burma, turned up alive in a prisoner-of-war camp
at the end of the war.)

Grievous as all combat deaths are, as were the losses
of other same-family members in those and other 
military combat occasions, no other immediate family
seems to have suffered a greater tragedy than did the
Custers at that Battle of the Little Bighorn on that June
day in 1876.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Races For Governor In 2021-22

In the current political environment, the power of state
governments, including  legislatures and especially
governors, has once again been heightened --- as
intended by the framers of our 1787 constitution who
sought a true federal system balancing the states and the
central government in Washington, DC.

In fact, this balancing was a very focal tension among the
framers, when the centralists, led by Alexander Hamilton,
and the decentralists, led by Thomas Jefferson, clashed
continually as they created the first modern republic in
the world.

Somehow, their handiwork,with later amendments, has
survived for 234 years.

Two governorships are up on 2021, 36 are up in 2022.
These include 9 who are term-limited --- although only 3
of these are in toss-up states. At this early point, 14 could
be considered likely competitive --- including Democrats
in California, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New
York, Pennsylvania and Michigan;  and Republicans in
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire
and Ohio. Additionally, races could develop in Minnesota
and Alaska (R), but no credible opposition candidates
have yet emerged in these states. Democrats are favored
to retain the two governorships up in 2021.

Two key states, Ohio and  Pennsylvania, also have open
U.S. senate seats in 2022, presenting political figures in
those states with a choice of whether to run for governor
or senator.

Currently, Republicans have 27 governors, and Democrats
have 23.

It is quite early in the 2022 national mid-term cycle, but
retirements from Congress continue to be announced.
Reapportionment will eliminate the districts of some
incumbent U.S. house members who, in turn, might
decide to run for senator or governor.

Incumbent governors of both parties running for
re-election could face primary challenges in 2022,
especially if each party’s current inner divisiveness
continues to persist. In California and New York (both
usually heavily Democratic states), their incumbent
Democratic governors, each up for re-election in 2022,
face serious controversies in 2021.  California Governor
Gavin Newsom faces possible recall this year.

One way to look at U.S. political history is to  observe
the continual tension between state and federal power
and prerogatives --- as well as the tensions between the
three branches of the federal government.

 Usually, only one or two of these tensions predominates
in an election cycle, but with many strong men and women
governors, a divided Congress and Supreme Court, and
a new president, a rare display of ALL these tensions at
the same time might become very visible as we proceed to
election day, 2022.

It could be quite a show.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Reapportionment 2021

Every ten years, following the Constitution-mandated census,
there is an adjustment of the number of seats  in the U.S.
House of Representatives allocated to each of the states on a
strict basis of population numbers and formulas. There are
currently 435 seats, and every state is entitled to least one
seat regardless of population.

Each state is responsible for drawing up the boundaries of
their congressional districts with each district having the
more or less same population numbers. States which gain or
lose seats from the previous cycle will see he most dramatic
changes, but states with the same number of seats, yet
significant internal population shifts, might have notable
boundary changes as well.

In the past, reapportionment was often an opportunity for
one political party in a state, if it controlled the process of
redrawing its districts, to use its advantage by so-called
gerrymandering (named after 19th century Governor
Elbridge Gerry who originated the practice in 1812 by his
signing a law creating a Massachusetts congressional
district so oddly-shaped it was caricatured as a salamander.
(The term “gerrymander” arose as a portmanteau of Gerry
and the small lizard.)

The two methods of gerrymandering are called “cracking”
and “packing.” Each creates their advantage with distorted
shaped and located districts --- the former by eliminating the
other party’s majority in the old district, the latter by
making a new district much more one-sided, but in both
cases arbitrarily manipulating voter areas.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that federal courts
have no jurisdiction over gerrymandering cases, but state
courts do, and recent cases, notably in Wisconsin, indicate
that extreme gerrymandering might no longer work in many
states, especially when courts do the final redistricting.

The reporting of final 2020 census results has been delayed
for a variety of reasons, including he pandemic and change
of administrations. The new reporting date to Congress is
April 30. In order to be applied to the 2022 national mid-term
elections, the reallocation of U.S. house seats must occur by
December 31, 2021. In its preliminary estimate of the U.S
population at 321 million, the approximate population of
each congressional district would be about 700,000.

For perspective, it should be noted that only a few states gain
or lose seats in reapportionment. Few states, furthermore,
have enough internal demographic change to significantly
alter the boundaries of districts even if their number of seats
remains the same. Normally, one party has a large enough
margin in the U.S. house that any gerrymandering has little
or no impact on house business or outcomes

But in 2021, with the Democratic majority only 5 seats, any
gerrymandering could affect who controls after the 2022
mid-terms. Most analysts now give the Republicans the
advantage in 2022 redistricting, although Democrats are
proposing legislation to thwart that advantage.

The complexity of reapportionment following the current
controversies and delays of the 2020 census make it a difficult
story for the public to follow. It has become over many decades
an insider’s power game. Except to the voters of the affected
districts, it rarely matters  much.

In 2021, however, it could be a very big deal.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Control Of Congress

As it stands now, Democrats control both houses  of Congress,
but only by the narrowest of margins. In fact, they only hold
the U.S.senate by virtue of the vice president’s tie-breaking
vote in her role of presiding over the senate which has 50
members who caucus with each side. In the U.S. house, the
Democrats will lead 222 to 213 after two special elections this
year, but even now, their margin is only 5 seats.

The problem for both parties is that each is divided into
factions that make it difficult for their leaderships to maintain
unity on many critical votes. This is particularly a challenge to
the Democrats who under new President Biden have an agenda
to enact.

The first two years have been problematic for presidents of
both parties in recent years, often causing them to lose their
majorities in Congress and sideline their agendas. Thus, the
2022 miderm elections already loom prematurely, especially
in the U.S. house where GOP strategists reportedly have now
targeted 47 Democratic incumbents for defeat. There are
vulmernable Republicans, too, but so far seemingly fewer than
those who now hold the majority.

Complicating Speaker Pelosi’s leadership is the division in her
caucus between liberals and members to their left, the latter
calling for policies which are not popular with a majority of
Americans.  

Before 2022, the new census-determined congressional
reapportionment will take place, and so far, most analysts
project that the GOP will pick up a few net seats from this.

The Republicans are divided, too,, as the recent impeachment
vote by  Wyoming GOP Congresswoman Liz Cheney,
illustrated. Republicans will need to work out a  post-Trump
political environment for themselves before they go back to
the voters next year.

In the U.S. senate, the advantage appears, on paper at least,
to be with the Democrats who have only 14  incumbent seats
up in 2022 while 20  Republicans seek re-election. Four of
these GOP senators have already announced their retirement,
and one or two more might also retire. Nevertheless, only 4-5
incumbent seats on each side seem vulnerable so far.

In 2009, a Draconinan passage of a then-unpopular Obamacare
program led to a disastrous  mid-term election for the
Democrats the next year. Joe Biden was vice president then
and presiding over the U.S. senate.

Of course, the 2022 mid-term election is more than a year
away,  and more senate and house retirements will be
announced, reapportionment will be decided, and the Biden
administration will have a record to put before the voters.
The economy, foreign affairs, and inevitable political
surprises will also be major factors, and historically the
first mid-term election in a presidential first term is a
very big deal.

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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.