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.

Monday, February 1, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Things To Come

After a difficult time such as the one all of us have recently
lived through, I think it is good practice to look forward to
events to come, especially to those we have missed most
or were cut short in the past year.

There is much to be positive about, as well as a need for
caution and prudence, but the appearance of a number of
effective vaccines to end the pandemic is perhaps the best
reason for optimism and forward thinking.

While each of our daily lives has been changed, the world,
including our nation, continues to function. Many
pre-pandemic problems remain, and new ones have arisen,
so vigilance and restraint need to temper any celebrations,
but there is nonetheless much to look forward to.

Sports fans have the prospect of full seasons and at least a
partial resumption of in-person attendance at games  in     
the summer months.  Baseball, the traditional national
pastime, is scheduled to begin in April, and the postponed
2020 Olympics have been rescheduled to begin in Tokyo
in July. Many state fairs, renaissance festivals, and other       
summer events will likely open in August, and vacation
travel, already beginning to resume, will expand.

Those restaurants which have survived will resume full
operations, and new ones will open. Warm weather
outdoor dining will surge.

For those of us in northern climates, spring and summer
is approaching, although about two wintry months remain.
Warm, sunny weather will seem like a special blessing
this year.

In the U.S. there is a new administration in Washington,
DC, but the other party is stronger in many individual
states. The key 2022 mid-term election will soon begin in
earnest, especially after the 2020 census is finalized, and
congressional redistricting is determined.

Global politics are always with us, always changing, but
always with certain repetitions. Among the latter, it should
come as no surprise that another Italian government has
fallen and there will soon be another Israeli election. The
difference between them is that the Italians keep changing
their prime ministers (they have had more in recent years
than there are kinds of pasta!) while the Israelis keep the one
they have, but who cannot win a majority in their parliament.
Portugal just re-elected its center-right government, but
Spain recently decided to keep its socialist government.
In Russia, President Putin is facing a notable opposition
leader. South America, as always, is in flux, and the China Sea
continues to be an Asian hot spot. Only in the Middle East is
there even a hint of change as a number of Arab states have
opened diplomatic relations with Israel. Numerous national
elections will take place in 2021 throughout the world.

Most of all, perhaps, we can look forward to the reunions
with our families and friends, in-person celebrations of
holidays and every-day occasions. 

Life ahead will not be the same as life as it was, but there
will be new opportunities as well as the residual challenges.

Our book of life turns to a new chapter.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Very Special Program

As many of my readers know, I’ve worn many hats in my
professional life --- from poet to pundit, non-profit
organization executive to editor  and publisher, food critic
to cruise ship lecturer,  playwright to historian, but for 20
years, I also had the privilege and good fortune to be able
to participate in a rare long-term government program,
the International Visitor Program, in which I hosted or
escorted more than 500 political figures, journalists,
businessmen and artists from around the world in the U.S.

The program itself had existed for decades before I came
along, and had its origins in 1940 when a young Nelson
Rockefeller, working in Latin American affairs, organized a
program for 130 Latin American journalists to visit the U.S.
It was intended to counter the then significant propaganda
efforts by Nazi Germany seeking support in South America.
By 1948, the Cold  War with the Soviet Union was raging, and
bipartisan legislation, signed by President Harry Truman,
created the Foreign Leaders Program to counter communist
anti-American propaganda. This program, intended to foster
understanding of, and good will to, the U.S. evolved in the
next 50 years under the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and,
later, the U.S. State Department, into the International
Visitor Program (IVP).

Thousands of promising mid-career figures, chosen by U.S.
embassy officials in their home countries, were invited to
spend one month in the U.S., all expenses paid, visiting
various cities and Washington, DC with a planned itinerary
and a program escort.

The itineraries are determined by the local host with
suggestions from the IVP program officer in DC. Various
international affairs groups in DC oversee the program and
provide the program officers and their staffs. I worked
primarily, but not exclusively, with Meridian International
Center, and with one particular program officer who was
wise to logistics of each itinerary, the needs of each visitor,
and what I could provide --- an excellent working relationship
that lasted two decades. At first, the programs took place in
Minnesota only, but since I traveled quite a bit as a
journalist, my programs expanded to other cities, including
primarily Washington, DC. My value to IVP was that I could
arrange meetings with top local, state and national figures
(whom I knew from my political journalism) that others
could not. Eventually, I was asked not only to arrange and
host visitor itineraries, but also to be a thematic escort for
individual month-long programs across the nation.

The whole experience was quite an education. I  was very
fastidious about providing access for my visitors to leaders
and officials of both major parties, as well as independents.
At the same time, IVP often sent out groups of visitors that
included differing points of view in their own countries. The
typical visit to a city lasted 3-5 days, but during it, I was
spending considerable time, morning through night, with
the visitors. I think I asked them as many questions about
their countries as they asked about mine!

As I said, I hosted or escorted more than 500 visitors from
more than 80 nations. Sometimes, there was only one visitor;
more often it was 3-5; occasionally as many as 25 -30. My
specialty, it turned out, was parliamentarians from India,
Pakistan and post-Soviet Russia. But I also had a number of
visitors from Mongolia, Argentina, Middle Eastern nations,
Australia and South Africa.

The program’s record is quite remarkable. Wikipedia lists
more than 300 visitors who became heads of state in nations
large and small. Names include Willy Brandt and Helmut
Schmidt (Germany); Nicolas Sarkozy and Valery Gidcard
D’Estaing (France); Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath,
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (Great Britain); Bruno
Kreisky (Austria); F.W. de Klerk (South Africa); Anwar Sadat
(Egypt);  Indira Ghandi (India); Felipe Calderon (Mexico) ---
all of them before they were famous and played important
roles in history. Nor does that include literally thousands
more who made important contributions to their nations.

I met many interesting characters, including the then young
author of the current  Russian  constitution, a Mongolian
diplomat who was a New York Knicks fan, the Oxonian
godfather of Brexit who has waited 30 years to be
fulfilled, but is still  an M.P., a Polish senator who was a
sidekick to Lech Walesa, an Uruguayan legislator who
became vice president, Indian MPs who became chief
ministers or cabinet officers --- the list goes on and on.

I remain grateful to the numerous local, city, county, state
and national officials --- including mayors, governors,
legislators, congresspersons, senators, cabinet officers,
White House and congressional staff, speakers of the
U.S. house, presidential candidates, corporate executives.
local and national journalists, artists, farmers and so many
others who responded so generously to my many personal
requests to them to meet with the international  visitors.

One of the most satisfying groups I met were colleague
journalists from  around the world. Several are  still good
friends today, and keep me up to date about their part of
the world.

The International LeadershipVisitor Program has been in
suspension, like so much else, because of the current
pandemic. Before that, it was  bringing thousands of foreign
young leaders to the U.S. every year.  With a new president
and a new administration in Washington, DC, and U.S.
global standing in question, it would seem to me as a priority
to resume it as soon as possible.

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

Friday, January 8, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Enter Joe Biden

Joe Biden will become president of the United States in a few
days, Almost all Democrats and some Republicans will be
relieved.

Mr. Biden faces formidable challenges. When I first called
attention to his presidential potential in 1985, in a newspaper
editorial, I had no idea it would take 35 years for my
prediction to be realized.

The issues facing the nation in the 1988 campaign are much
different from those now, particularly in domestic tranquility
and foreign policy. The new president has made some
thoughtful cabinet and staff choices. Pandemic vaccines are
now available. The stock market is quite optimistic.
Lockdowns are beginning to ease.

Mr. Biden’s presidential style will be sharply in contrast to
his predecessor’s. So will be most of his policies. His party
very narrowly controls both houses of Congress.

Mr. Biden faces not only a polarized electorate, he is
confronted by his own divided party. He is by nature and
record a liberal centrist, but several loud voices in the
party want to pull him sharply to the left.

A calming, positive voice, and careful and cautious policy
movement might be what the nation needs now as it
emerges from its nightmare pandemic year

A new president is always surrounded by demands and
pressures ---and advocates of all sorts.  Mr. Biden’s own
party leaders and activists --- and an overly allied
establishment media --- gave his predecessor no
“honeymoon” in 2016-17, so he will likely begin his term
without some traditional good will. (Apparently, the
political honeymoon no longer exists.)

Beyond the bitterness of the campaign,and the extreme
contemporary partisanship, the business and well-being
of the nation continues --- and is always the priority.

In that larger sense, there should be hope that the promise
of the then young and unknown senator I first identified
in 1985 will now be fulfilled.

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

Monday, January 4, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Elections in 2021

A few of the close elections of 2020 are not quite resolved yet,
but they soon will be. The 2021 election cycle, mostly local
elections, has already begun, and because of the pandemic,
recent urban unrest and violence, it is likely to be far more
interesting and controversial than usual.

Mayors and city council members in urban area across the
nation will now have to face voters and defend their actions
and policies of the past tumultuous months. Most cities are
dominated by Democrats, and will very likely to continue so,
but overall success of incumbents running for re-election,
normally a no-brainer, appears to be in some doubt.

New York City, the nation’s largest, always attracts much
media attention outside its five boroughs, and its mayor is
often a national figure (e.g., Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay,
Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, et al) and
usually served multiple terms. Current Mayor Bill DiBlasio,,
however, has been especially controversial and, his critics say,
inept, Bu he is term-limited and won’t be running for
re-election. The race to succeed him should be among the
moat colorful in 2021..

In other large cities, such as Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland,
St. Louis, Seattle and Minneapolis, municipal elections will
be held. Already, several incumbents who advocated
defunding the police have announced they are not running
for re-election. The mayor of Minneapolis, who did resist
the call to defund, is up for re-election.

Crowded cities have suffered some of the worst in the
pandemic crisis, and it will be interesting to see how their
voters express themselves at the polls in 2021.

Two states will hold elections and elect governors in 2021,
and if and when there are unexpected vacancies in  U.S.
house and senate seats, there will also be special elections
this year.

Normally, an off-year is a respite from noisy electoral
politics. But 2021, like 2020, could well provide surprise and
controversy.

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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: New Year's Greetings

 The Prairie Editor
WISHES ALL HIS
SUBSCRIBERS
NOT ONLY A HAPPY,
BUT A BETTER
NEW YEAR AS WELL

Sunday, December 27, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Curious Interregnum

The time between a presidential election and a new
administration, especially when there is a change of
political parties, has a special flavor, but the interregnum
of 2020-21 seems to be in a category of its own.

Of course, the extraordinary months of pandemic, lockdown,
quarantine and universal anxiety which immediately
preceded the election were bound to have a great impact,
and they did, but the result has also been complicated by the
unusual character of both the outgoing and incoming
president, and by special circumstances.

Historically, bitter interregna are not unknown in the past
century.  Herbert Hoover was not gracious on March 4, 1933
(thereafter, inauguration day was January 20) while he drove
with Franklin Roosevelt to the swearing-in. Since election
day, 1932, President Hoover had been desperately trying to
avert a total collapse of the U.S.economy and banking system
without FDR’s cooperation.

On January 20, 1961, Richard Nixon, then vice president,
watched the swearing-in of John  Kennedy whom he believed
had stolen their close election a few months before --- and
this was reversed 8 year later on January 20, 1969 when then
Vice President Hubert Humphrey had to watch Nixon’s
swearing-in after their close and tumultuous contest.

On January 20, 2001, Vice President Al Gore looked on as
George W. Bush took the oath after their contested and close
election that was not decided for a month.

Outgoing President Donald Trump now believes his
re-election was stolen, and is minimally cooperating with
his incoming successor Joe Biden who will be the oldest
inaugurated president. The pandemic continues, and its
economic consequences are not fully known. Mr. Trump
has stalled stimulus legislation, asserting it is too little,
and appears at odds with his own U.S. senate majority,
while Mr. Biden faces a deep divide in his own party, and
an unhappiness with some of his cabinet and staff
choices. Before inauguration day, two Georgia senate
run-off elections will determine control of that body.
Democratic control of the U.S. house was significantly
reduced in 2020, as was its influence in many state
elections. Congressional redistricting will soon take place.

All of the above does not take place in an international
vacuum.  Mr. Biden is known to have some very different
views on foreign policy, but Mr. Trump’s recent success
in the Middle East (which has received bipartisan praise)
presents problems for the incoming president’s stated
desire to reinstate the Iran accord cancelled by Mr.
Trump. Issues that vexed his predecessor in Asia (China
and North Korea) and Europe (Russia and Brexit) will
now vex Mr. Biden.

Although the election is over, prior to Mr. Biden’s
inauguration less than a month from now, much remains
unresolved. The holiday season that coincides with most
of the political interregnum period was unlike any other.

By January 20, 2021, more will be clearer, but uncertainties
are in the political forecast well beyond then.

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