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.

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

Friday, January 8, 2021


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

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.

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

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