Joni Ernst learned the wrong lesson from Chuck Grassley

Senator Joni Ernst shouldn’t be in this position.

Given Iowans’ tendency to re-elect incumbents and the state’s rightward drift this past decade, she should be running ten points ahead.

Instead, Iowa’s Senate race is universally seen as a toss-up. Ernst has led in only two polls released since the June primary. Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has led in fourteen polls during the same period.

Not all of Ernst’s political problems are her own creation. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s disastrous leadership have put at risk several GOP-held seats that once seemed safe.

But Ernst could have set herself up better to survive a tough environment for her party. Her most important strategic error was not following the example Chuck Grassley set as a 40-something first-term senator.

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Ernst, Grassley silent on reported bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan

As Donald Trump’s presidency continues to spawn scandals that would seem farfetched as a movie plot, top Iowa Republicans remain silent whenever possible on news that reflects poorly on their party’s standard-bearer.

The latest shameful example: U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have said nothing in public about reports indicating a “Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.”

Ernst’s silence is particularly striking, since she built her political brand on (and still frequently invokes) her career of service in the Iowa National Guard.

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An Iowa angle on Trump's clash with military leaders

Herb Strentz: Today’s reality show from the Oval Office may be following plotlines imagined by 1960s authors with ties to the leading newspapers of Iowa and Minnesota. -promoted by Laura Belin

A provocative “Iowa angle” links fiction of the 1960s to fact in the 2020 dispute between President Donald Trump and several of the nation’s current or former military leaders. Trump advocated using military force to quell national unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

In its June 8 newsletter for subscribers, the well-respected international magazine The Economist characterized Trump’s call to arms as America’s “worst civil-military crisis for a generation, one that threatens to do enduring harm to democratic norms and the standing and cohesion of its armed forces.”

The Iowa angle goes back to the John F. Kennedy era and best-selling novels by former writers at The Des Moines Register and the Minneapolis Tribune, who wrote about scenarios of presidential instability and misuse of the military on American soil.

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Admiral Mike Franken: A candidate for an extraordinary time

Susan Nelson explains why Admiral Mike Franken is the candidate who can beat U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, and why progressives should be happy about that. -promoted by Laura Belin

Joni Ernst has got to go.

I am usually focused on issues in a primary, but in this race, I just want to pick a winner. A Republican-controlled Senate is an existential threat to preserving health care and doing something about climate change, and conservative Supreme Court nominees will be stopping progressive legislation for decades to come. Ernst is coming for your Social Security benefits, your health care, and so much more. She has glued herself to President Donald Trump. For all those reasons and more, this is a high-stakes election.

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Senator Grassley, you enabled this

President Donald Trump has added to the list of officials he has sidelined for their role in exposing or investigating him. In what Aaron Blake called a “Friday night news dump for the ages,” Trump informed leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Intelligence Committees on April 3 that he is removing Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

Trump put Atkinson on administrative leave to stop him from doing his job before his dismissal takes effect next month (the president was required to give Congress 30 days notice of such action).

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How will the Democratic candidates reduce the risk of nuclear war?

Greg Thielmann grew up in Newton and worked for more than 30 years on nuclear weapons issues in the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Foreign Service, and the Senate Intelligence Committee. He currently serves as a board member of the Arms Control Association. -promoted by Laura Belin

When I was growing up in central Iowa during the Cold War, I sometimes found myself headed west on Interstate 80, imagining the way nuclear war would be likely to arrive in Iowa – a series of Soviet nuclear ground bursts in Omaha to destroy Strategic Air Command Headquarters, bathing Iowa in a heavy dose of radioactive fallout.

Now the Cold War is over, but not the nuclear threat. The Trump administration has abandoned the anti-nuclear deal with Iran and six other states. President Trump’s efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula have fizzled. The U.S. has pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and is dithering over Moscow’s offer to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the only remaining limit on the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration proposes spending trillions of dollars to build new strategic weapons.

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