Monday, June 14, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Netanyahu Replaced And Other News

NETANYAHU REPLACED
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was
replaced by Naftali Bennett in a vote by the Knesset, the nation’s
parliament. The vote was 60-59. The one-vote margin indicates
the fragility of the coalition supporting the new government, a
coalition made up of parties from the left and the right, and
including for  the first time, a small Arab party. A no-confidence
vote at any time would precipitate a new national election, the fifth
in four years. The protracted negotiations to form the coalition
was motivated primarily by personal antipathy to Mr. Netanyahu
who, in a fiery final speech, vowed to return to power.

VIRGINIA COULD BE 2021 BATTLEGROUND STATE

There are only three major races, all for governor, this year, and
Democrats are favored to win all of them. But the contest in
Virginia could become very competitive because Republicans have
nominated an appealing outsider, self-funding private equity
investor Glenn Youngkin to take on former Democratic Governor
Terry McAuliffe in November. Controversial Democratic Governor
Norhrop is retiring. McAuliffe  is well-known not only as a
former governor, but also as a former national Democratic
chair, and for his close ties to both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In
contrast, Youngkin is virtually unknown to most Virginians, and
has no political track record to attack. Both candidates face
divided factions within their own parties, reflecting similar
divisions across the country. The GOP is strong in outstate
Virginia, but this is usually offset by heavy liberal DC suburban
voters who work in DC, but live in Virginia.  This race will be
watched nationally to see if Youngkin’s skillful nomination win
can be repeated in a general election. Just as McAuliffe, a liberal,
must keep more radical voters in his party on board, Youngkin
needs both pro-Trump conservatives and anti-Trump moderates.

COURTS COULD DO MANY STATES’ REDISTRICTING

Although reapportionment of U.S. house seats, based on the
2020 census, has been completed, redistricting within many
states has not been done because the final numbers for each
state have not yet been released,  and reportedly won’t be
until September --- an unusually late date. But district
boundaries must be drawn by December 31, 2021 if they are
to apply to the 2022 national mid-term elections. States unable
to meet the deadline will likely have it done by the courts.

INFRASTRUCTURE LEGISLATION BIPARTISAN?

Five U.S. senators from each party have negotiated a
preliminary bipartisan approach to pending infrastructure
legislation, but its impact so far is uncertain.

WESTERN U.S. DROUGHT LOOMING

The western U.S., especially California and southwestern
states, are 77% in severe drought.

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

Monday, May 31, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Fuzzy Big Picture

At any given moment in political time there is a larger
perspective possible, but often in electoral cycles, that “big
picture” evades reliable conclusions.

The 2022 national mid-term elections will be primarily
about control of the two houses of Congress --- and whether
the Biden administration will be able to enact its goals and
policies beyond what it was able to accomplish in its first
two years. That much is clear and obvious.

But because voters in each major party are somewhat divided
among themselves, and Democratic control of the U.S. house
and senate is very slight, it is unclear what President Biden
and his party will achieve in the next several months before
they go again to the voters. This is further complicated by the
apparent end to a traumatic national and global pandemic,
and the consequent effort to revive the economy.

A consensus is now emerging that Democratic control of the
U.S, house might be lost in 2022.  Most observers list more
than 40 incumbent Democratic seats as vulnerable, but less
than 20 GOP seats at risk. In addition, reapportionment and
redistricting appears to have given Republicans the advantage
for 5-10 additional seats. But these advantages are so far only
on paper. Actual voting is 18 months away, and present trends
could change to the Democrats’ advantage. On the other hand,
a ”red” wave election might switch 25-50 seats to the GOP
next year.

There is no current consensus about who will control the U.S.
senate in 2023. Each party has 4-5 vulnerable incumbent seats.
With 5 GOP incumbents retiring, the conservatives face an
uphill battle to break the current 50-50 tie, which with Vice
President Kamala Harris’s vote gives Democrats control.
It is sill early enough in the cycle for more retirements. Since
so much money is required for a senate race these days, most
vacancy and vulnerable 2022 races are already heavily
populated with aspiring candidates. As in the recent past, the
quality of he candidates recruited and nominated will be a
major factor in the outcome of the senate races.

There will be some colorful gubernatorial contests in 2022,
including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin
and Nevada, but Republican dominance of states is likely to
continue. The liberal urban and conservative rural/exurban
divide is expected to persist --- although local elections in
2021 could signal some new rends in these areas.

The biggest unknown about 2022 will be public reception to
the Democratic policies agenda that includes packing the U.S.
supreme court, open immigration, defunding police, growing
anti-Israel attitudes, and energy policies unfavorable to U.S.
consumers and workers --- an agenda which even veteran
liberal pollsters and strategists say now has uneven support
among traditional liberal voters, and  overall majorities
against them in the general electorate.

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Breaking Stories - May, 2021

There are a number of breaking news stories now underway,
important in their potential consequences, but which appear
far from resolution.

PALESTINIAN VIOLENCE IN ISRAEL
After years of relative quiet, Palestinian rocket attacks from
Gaza and Lebanon on Israeli cities, as well as civil unrest by
Arabs in major Israel cities, has flared up again. Led by
Hamas, the timing seems confusing because it appears to
have saved Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from
losing his job, just as a coalition of his opponents seemed on
the verge of replacing him.

VACCINATION DELAYS IN ASIA AFRICA.
SOUTH AMERICA AND EUROPE

Although vaccination efforts in the U.S. (“Operation Warp
Speed”) and several smaller nations, e.g., Israel and Uruguay,
have gone well, in much of the rest of the world, inoculations
are going erratically. Reasons for this vary from government
ineptitude or corruption, lack of supplies of vaccines, fear of
individuals for the medical procedure and difficulty in
reaching distant and rural populations. Health officials worry
that the delays might enable new virus variants.

HOW BASEBALL IS DOING

Interest in baseball in the U.S. has been equaled or exceeded in
recent years by other sports such as football and basketball,
but it remains the national game, and a bellwether for public
recovery to post-pandemic “normalcy.” After an abbreviated
2020 “pandemic” season with no fans in the stadiums, major
league baseball has returned to a full schedule and in-person
attendance. 2021 might also be a good year for pitchers --- in
the first month alone, four of them have thrown  no-hitters.

EARLY SIGNS OF U..S. INFLATION
After years of relatively stable prices, prices in some major
sectors such as food and fuel have risen notably. Some
economists suggest Biden administration economic policies,
including higher taxes, new regulations and significant new
government deficit spending programs are the principal
cause of these early signs of inflation. Defenders of the
president contend that his multi-trillion dollar stimulus/
infrastructure spending proposals will prevent inflation.

MEXICAN BORDER CRISIS

The Biden administration attempts to downplay the
surge of illegal immigrants at the Mexican border is drawing
not only widespread criticism from Republicans, but from
border officials of his own party, including senior Democratic
Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. Attempted illegal
entries are reportedly at a 20-year high with no end in sight.
The Biden administration policy of not returning illegals to
their country of origin (reversing the policy of the previous
administration) is also reportedly increasing the surge.

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Dust Settling

The first days of a new presidential administration are like a
dust storm ---  it is always an unclear sight to behold as new
men and women take charge of the federal executive branch.

Joe Biden has now been president for more than 100 days. His
administration, personnel, executive orders, policies, and
proposed legislation have offered few surprises. He ran for
president as a liberal “not-Trump.” a Keynesian who would
raise taxes. a central government regulator, and an advocate
for federal New Deal-styled social welfare policies. In these
matters, he has kept his  promises. Most Democrats, but not
all of them, approve. More radical members of his party in
Congress (e.g., The Squad, Maxine Waters, Bernie Sanders
and Elizabeth Warren) are now clamoring for him to go farther
to the left.

Several areas of crisis or hard challenge have emerged for the
new president. Some of them he inherited; others are of his
own making.

Number one, of course, is ending the pandemic. Thanks to the
hurry-up program of his predecessor to develop vaccines, the
national effort seems to be going well, and approaching “herd
immunity.” Individual states have varying programs, and are
getting some uneven results, but most of the nation should be
vaccinated by late summer. Much less successful programs in
Europe, Asia and South America, however, are causing concern
for possible mutant virus surges.

Simultaneous to the vaccination program is the critical restart
of the economy. Again, individual governors are insisting on
different rules. Mr. Biden has proposed an overall $6 trillion
federal stimulus plan for infrastructure and bailouts. He
asserts that he will pay for this by increasing taxes on the rich
and on corporations while closing some tax loopholes. His
conservative critics contend this strategy doesn’t work because it
discourages new business investment and expansion, causes
layoffs instead of new jobs, reduces general income growth,
and thus ultimately reduces tax revenues. The president is
betting on success with short term measures, but is risking a
recession next year before the mid-term elections.

The new president inherited a relatively quiet Mexican border,
but his pre-election call for open immigration has produced a
sudden chaotic surge. Border Democratic elected officials,
fearing voter backlash next year, are not happy.

Mr. Biden also inherited a positively evolving Middle East
as a number of Arab nations recognized Israel and began
commercial relations with the U.S.’s major ally in the region.
This developing alliance also is a reaction to Iranian nuclear
militarism, but the new administration seems determined
to try to revive, led by John Kerry, a failing treaty made in the
previous Democratic administration with a hostile Iran.

One small but bold Biden foreign policy success was his
statement that Turkish actions against its Armenian citizens
100 years ago was genocide. Turkish governments since that
time have denied culpability. No U.S. president, Democrat or
Republican, has had the courage to declare the historically
obvious. Turkey is now a member of NATO, but often does
not seem to be a reliable ally.

Another bold Biden  international move was his decision to
withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, rejecting the advice
of the military. Saying it was time to end U.S. “forever wars,”
Biden’s move was one favored by his predecessor but not yet
implemented.

Although he has established a commission to study expanding
the  U.S. supreme court, there appears not to be support for it
in Congress, even among many  Democrats. The speaker of the
house has even said she will not bring it to the floor for a vote.

Many traditional issues of immigration, abortion and guns
continue to divide the two major parties. With a Democrat
now in the White House, the initiative shifts to the liberal
Mr. Biden who has been reversing his predecessor’s
executive orders. Many of these issues, however, will be
ultimately decided in the courts.

It’s too early for report card grades, and for judgments
of success or failure, but President Biden appears to be a
“not-Trump” executive following his liberal instincts, yet
under strong pressure from his left, and from policy
expectations from his party’s New Deal past.

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Fog Of Speculation

The state 2020 Census numbers are now in, resulting in 6
states gaining congressional House seats, and 7 states
losing one seat each.

Texas gained 2 seats; Florida, Montana, Colorado, Oregon,
and North Carolina each gained one. California, Michigan,
Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia  
now each have one seat less.

Politically, it was mostly good news  for Republican
aspirations to win back control of he U.S. house in 2022
because the GOP directs the redrawing of district
boundaries in most of these states. However, Democrats
are likely to make a one-seat gain each in Colorado and
Oregon while likely to eliminate at least one GOP seat
each in California and Illinois, --- all states where they
control the redistricting process. West Virginia. which
has 3 Republican house members, will automatically lose
one seat. The net result is likely, therefore, to be an overall
GOP gain of 2-3 seats from reapportionment alone.

The actual new district lines will now be drawn before
December 31, 2021, and will be on the ballots in 2022. In
addition to new districts resulting from reapportionment,
all U.S. house district boundaries are subject to change,
based on the new census --- except in those states which
have only one representative.  In this, too, Republicans
have the advantage of controlling many more state
redistricting processes.

What neither party can now control, however, is what the
mood of the voters will be  in November, 2022. New
congressional district boundaries cannot insure against
political upsets when the voters are in the mood for
change --- as they were in 1994, 2006, 2010 and 2018.
Given the current voter divide, and the post-pandemic
uncertainties, next year’s national mid-term elections
remain in a fog of speculation.

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

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.