Open Thread: Save the Iowans – Kill the Caucuses!

There are supposed to be no fewer than 19 presidential candidates at the Cedar Rapids Democratic Hall of Fame Dinner this weekend, so there are liable to be some embarrassing anecdotes that don’t involve Steve King…

Campaigns are costly affairs, both financially and emotionally, and Iowans pay the price for this without receiving the benefits. Presidential campaigns cause burnout among volunteers and voters alike, and they fail to make any lasting contributions to our state while they’re here.

Being able to get a selfie with whichever presidential candidate is in town doesn’t outweigh this cost.

In the 2018 midterm elections, I spent a majority of my time volunteering for Abby Finkenauer’s congressional campaign. Her campaign was exciting — a 29 year-old progressive woman against an incumbent Tea Party Republican. I couldn’t have felt more energized.

Not everyone felt the same.

When I would call or knock on the doors of other Democrats to ask them to volunteer on the campaign, I was frequently told that they were still too exhausted from the 2016 caucuses to get back into politics.

MacKenzie Bills, a lifelong Iowa Democrat currently working for the State Department, explained that the situation is basically unavoidable.

“While there’s a great diversity of political ideologies in Iowa, there’s just not a lot of people here,” she said. “Campaigns today are very metrics driven. In order to get the numbers that they want in our small state, you have to try to get as much out of each person as possible.”
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Slowly at First, and Then Suddenly: How the Trump Election Conspiracy Unraveled

This weekend, the New York Times published a stunning report about a plan floated by a longtime emissary for the Saudis and the UAE in early August 2016, when Trump had just grabbed the GOP nomination but faced an uphill campaign against Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr., aide Stephen Miller and Erik Prince, founder of the notorious mercenary outfit once know as Blackwater, listened intently as the emissary offered Team Trump millions of dollars in assistance, including a covert social-media campaign, to help Trump win that would be run by a former Israeli spy who specializes in psychological warfare, or psywar.

“The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president,” the Times reported. Some key elements — exactly who was behind the plan, and what parts, if any, were carried out — remain murky.

But like a lot of Trump scandals, the smoke from any alleged fire was clearly visible. Nader became a Trump ally who met frequently with key players like then-national security adviser (and future felon) Michael Flynn. He also, according to the Times, later made a large payment to the ex-spy Joel Zamel, as much as $2 million. After Trump was elected, Erik Prince attended a then-secret meeting in the Seychelles believed to have been brokered by UAE to cement ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. After Trump became president, American foreign policy has been almost unwaveringly consistent in fighting for the foreign policy goals of nations believed to have supported his 2016 election: Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — most notably with Trump’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal that is seriously destabilizing the Middle East. These dealings increasingly appear to have benefited the Trumps and Kushners not just politically but financially — even as they are not helpful, and even counterproductive at times, to the American people whom Trump was allegedly elected to represent.
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Proud to Be A Democrat Open Thread: Good News Out of Georgia

Full props to Stacey Abrams!

Which reminded me, I hadn’t yet found a chance to post this great Washington Post profile, “Stacey Abrams: Being a black woman in politics isn’t ‘some fatal diagnosis’”:

In your book you describe just showing up to a [Spelman College] board of trustees meeting [while a student there]. Why did you crash it, and what did they make of you?

I did not understand why my tuition had to go up every year. I did not understand why financial aid did not keep pace with tuition. So I showed up to the meeting. When [Spelman president Johnnetta Cole] allowed me in, the person I sat beside was a partner at an investment firm. I didn’t know what an investment firm was. But he was very kind. Everyone was. He let me sit beside him and shifted his notebook over to me. And I’m looking at all of these numbers; I had no idea what I was looking at. And he leaned over and started explaining financial statements to me.

Then there was the highest-ranking woman at Coca-Cola. She started telling me things. And the president of Ben & Jerry’s. They saw it as an opportunity to educate me, and I was just so hungry for information. I was listening and learning so much so that over time, they forgot that I sort of barged in. They started telling me when the meetings were. And I eventually got my own notebook.

Sitting in those board meetings was incredibly eye-opening. It showed me that these things weren’t impossible to know. And you didn’t have to be “to the manner born” to learn. You just had to work harder…

To quote the great Shirley Chisholm: If there’s not a seat for you at the table, bring a folding chair!








Tuesday Morning Open Thread

Also from Catherine Rampell, in the Washington Post“Trump’s narrative is nonsense. So why is the media buying it?”:

Yes, Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem right now is that all anyone ever asks about is the gum-chewing…

There have been a lot of other issues — kitchen table issues, you might even say — that Democrats have also been pursuing, and to which pundits like me haven’t given sufficient time or attention. Many of the proposals are good, some are bad; but, in any case, it’s hard to argue that Democrats have been underinvesting in policy because they’re overinvesting in oversight…

One major bill addresses drug costs (by banning pay-for-delay generic prescription agreements) and repeals Trump’s expansion of junk insurance plans (which often don’t cover preexisting conditions). Another bill attempts to narrow the gender pay gap. Another would require the United States to remain in the Paris climate accord, while another reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act.

Still another is a sweeping anti-corruption and election integrity measure. That may not exactly be a “kitchen table” issue, but it should theoretically appeal to all those Trumpkins who say they want to drain the swamp.

Again, these bills have all already passed the House. The reason they remain bills, rather than enacted legislation, is not that they’re being crowded out by Democrats’ supposedly all-consuming impeachment agenda. It’s that the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to take them up.

And Trump himself is not exactly trying to move the ball forward, including on issues with opportunities for bipartisan consensus. Such as, oh, infrastructure — which, as you might recall, was the subject of the meeting Trump stormed out of last week, for his preplanned news conference on how Democrats supposedly only cared about investigating the president.

Which is to say: If anyone is too laser-focused on the threat of impeachment, it ain’t the Democrats. It’s the object of that potential impeachment, aided and abetted by a media he manages so masterfully.








Monday Morning Open Thread: Expect the Unexpected

Because it’s a holiday for most of us, here’s something genuinely nice and uplifting to start the day. From the Washington Post‘s book section, “He quit the NFL for a career in math”:

John Urschel has heard it a lot: “You’re that football player who’s really smart.” It’s an accurate description — Urschel, a former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is a doctoral candidate in mathematics at MIT — but that description makes him wince.

Instead, he offers this: “I’m looking forward to being considered that mathematician who used play football.”

In July of 2017, Urschel retired from the NFL after three seasons. He hasn’t played football since. Not even a casual game in the park? Nope. “This isn’t something my friends and I do for fun,” he says.

Besides, Urschel has been busy with something else — his memoir, “Mind and Matter.” Written with his wife, journalist Louisa Thomas, the book chronicles his life in both sports and academics and explains how and why, in the end, he chose math over football. Yes, it had something to do with concussions, but that’s not all of it…

When asked what he likes to do for fun, his immediate answer is, “math!” He carries a notepad with him just in case he’s struck by an idea. He wanted his first book to be a pure math book, and at signings he’s been known to inscribe the memoir he ended up writing with “fun integrals” and “important constants” that he’s excited to explain to anyone who wants to geek out with him.

Urschel grew up in Buffalo. His parents, who separated when Urschel was 3, encouraged his two-track learning from an early age. His mother, a nurse-turned-lawyer, urged him to pursue his interests in math with games and puzzles, and later advanced course work. “If I am a true outlier,” he writes in his book, “it is because of her — an African-American single mother who loved math but was discouraged from it, who wanted me never to feel that any door was closed to me.” His father, a thoracic surgeon and former linebacker at the University of Alberta, pushed him academically, too. But he was also concerned about his son’s conditioning, and his time with young Urschel involved visits to the gym as well as to the library…