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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.

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