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Talking Politics is American on Thanksgiving, say U.S. Leaders

November 26, 2019

Americans from different generations, geographies and political views will sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday. Most will seek to avoid politics. Jason Grumet, CEO of the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), suggests a different approach -- to bring together our most opinionated family and friends -- from Green New Dealers to MAGA enthusiasts -- around the ideas that unite us all as Americans. The group has provided a Thanksgiving Survival Guide. We caught up with Jason before a recent pre-Thanksgiving try-out of leaders of divergent political views, to see how it might work. 

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) with Laura Hall and Loren Long from the Bipartisan Policy Center (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) with Laura Hall and Loren Long from the Bipartisan Policy Center
How did you get here?

I'm a middle child, which is probably the essence of why I created the Bipartisan Policy Center.

What's the worst thing that can happen at the Thanksgiving table?

The worst thing that can happen tonight is that people are so beleaguered from what's happening that they just can't have fun. They just can't overcome the sense of hurt that so many people are feeling. And if I said, "Who's got something lovely to say?" there would be this dull silence. I think the chances of that are very, very slim, but that would be the worst.

The BPC Thanksgiving table, with Chef Spike Mendelson (Photo by: Bipartisan Policy Center) The BPC Thanksgiving table, with Chef Spike Mendelson
Are you serving alcohol?

Oh, sure.

Are you worried about America's dining tables this Thanksgiving?

Yeah. There's a lightheartedness to tonight's event, but the actual premise is the concern that we're so sorted as a country -- econmically, geographically, gender, generationally -- that Thanksgiving is the only time people actually sit across from each other at a table with people who are not already part of their little club. So with all the emotion driving through the system right now, I think there is this sense that people shouldn't talk about politics this Thanksgiving. Our view is that if you can't talk about the issues you care about with the people you care about, it's hard to imagine that the political system is going to do any better.

Bipartisan Policy Center's David Lapan and Ari Goldberg, with the author (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Bipartisan Policy Center's David Lapan and Ari Goldberg, with the author
So you want people to talk about politics at Thanksgiving?

Absolutely.

Thanksgiving Survival Guide and Tips (Photo by: Bipartisan Policy Center) Thanksgiving Survival Guide and Tips
During any specific course?

We've put together this Thanksgiving survival guide which people can refer to and it basically tries to provide some lighthearted entry points with some trivia about Thanksgiving and some political facts. We have a word search. I want the six-year-olds to say, "Mommy, what does emoluments mean?" We basically talk about thinking as a family or a table -- when you say you're "thankful" for America, what does that really mean? That's not a bad place to start.

I notice you've emphasized the "peach" in "The ImPEACHment Pie."

It's a peach pie.

Are you fans of peach pie or is this just about impeachment?

I'm a huge fan of peach pie.

Do you favor it over pumpkin pie?

They're not even the same thing. They're both pies but they're not even in the same food group. I like them both. I would go strawberry-rhubarb if given the choice.

Very interesting. For you personally, what are your favorite Thanksgiving foods?

I like cranberry sauce out of the can.

You do?

I do. I like that noise that I can't quite make when it comes out of the can. That sound and the sound of opening a can of tennis balls are the two best can-related noises.

People can get along, at least when hosted by the BPC (Photo by: Bipartisan Policy Center) People can get along, at least when hosted by the BPC
That's a very interesting observation. Any other particular favorites?

Everyone remembers what their grandma made, but the sweet potatos with pineapple and marshmallows melted on top stands out in my mind.

You're bringing back memories. I wonder if it's a New York thing.

This was Brooklyn. Another thing I remember about my grandmother's cooking -- incredible amounts of butter. Fried everything.

This might be a key to peacemaking in America. But tell us, why should people talk politics on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving has played a key role in drawing our country together at times of division. In his first year in office, President George Washington proclaimed thanksgiving a national day of reflection and called upon the fragile Union to give thanks for the newly ratified constitution.  In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made thanksgiving a national holiday beseeching the nation to heal its deep wounds.  Today, our democracy is again challenged by division and alienation. In a participatory democracy, civility is a national obligation and we all have a role to play. 

That's deep. So what do we do?

When giving thanks this year, we hope that families will take a look at our Thanksgiving survival guide and discuss the core American values that protect our liberty and draw strength from our diversity.

That's a tall order, but worth a try.

Here is a full list of those who attended this inspirational Thanksgiving. Blessings to all! 

Jason Grumet | President, Bipartisan Policy Center

Spike Mendelsohn | Owner and Chef, Good Stuff Eatery

Rep. Jack Bergman | U.S. Representative, MI-1

Rep. Alan Lowenthal | U.S. Representative, CA-47

Rep. Derek Kilmer | U.S. Representative, WA-6

Rep. Donna Shalala | U.S. Representative, FL-27

Rep. Jared Huffman | U.S. Representative, CA-2

Rep. Dean Phillips | U.S. Representative, MN-3

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan | U.S. Representative, PA-6

Rep. Josh Gottheimer | U.S. Representative, NJ-5

Rep. Mike Johnson | U.S. Representative, LA-4

Sen. Chris Dodd | Senior Counsel, Arnold and Porter; former U.S. Senator, Connecticut

Sen. Rick Santorum | former Senator, Pennsylvania

Sen. Byron Dorgan | Senior Policy Advisor, Arent Fox; former U.S. Senator, North Dakota

Kimberly Olson Dorgan | Board Chair, BPC Action

David Hinson | President and CEO, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Rick Dearborn | Partner, Cypress Group; former senior White House aide

Patrick Steel | CEO, POLITICO

Nina Totenberg | Legal Affairs Correspondent, NPR

Kevin Cirilli | Chief Washington Correspondent, Bloomberg TV

Sabrina Medora | Founder, Un-Plated

David Reines, M.D. | Former Vice Chair, Inova Fairfax Hospital (+1 Totenberg)

Deborah Malumed, M.D. | Family medicine specialist (+1 Lowenthal)

Michele Stockwell | Executive Director, BPC Action

John Richter | Director, Bipartisan Policy Center Congress Project

David Lapan | Vice President of Communications, Bipartisan Policy Center


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Coding Dojo Blazes a Trail to 21st Century Careers

November 19, 2019

In an increasingly volatile workplace, more career paths are taking zigs and zags. Mark T. Smith is an artist, entrepreneur and business leader now serving as Vice President of Growth and Partnerships at Coding Dojo, a Seattle-based startup on a path to revolutionizing education and job training for the 21st Century. We caught up with Mark at Cafe Milano on a Saturday afternoon. 

What is Coding Dojo?

Coding Dojo is a technology-enabled education company. We teach people how to code, which is highly in demand as you can imagine. It’s very, very transformative for people’s lives. You see people go from low-skill, low-wage jobs to high-skill, high-wage jobs. And sometimes they triple their income. Every day that happens. It’s inspirational.  

Who are the instructors?

Here's a bio of one of our Arlington instructors: From being a NASA Langley developer to lead instructor, Dan Oostra's expertise is truly out of this world. During his career, he's developed data visualization tools, software for weather balloons, and has worked to provide and curate NASA data for millions of users. In his spare time, Dan loves to make ridiculously spicy beef jerky, learn new street magic tricks (be sure to ask him!), fly drones, and travel. 

I want to meet that guy! What does the program cost?

It depends on where in the country you are – we have 11 locations – but the average is about $13,000.

Coding Dojo's Mark Smith at Cafe Milano (Photo by: Janet Donovan) Coding Dojo's Mark Smith at Cafe Milano
And that sets you up for what?

The easiest way to say it is you go from the 20th-Century economy to the 21st-Century economy in your skills. So some people become programmers, some people are entrepreneurs who start their own business, other people become project managers or they’re in a job related to tech. If English was the language of business for the 20th Century and centuries prior to that, programming is the language of business for the 21st Century. So it’s really just giving people fluency in a language that will be the currency in the future, basically.

Can you do it all online?

You can. You can learn it online or you can come to a location. People who are working and doing this tend to do it online. And people who are just going to make the full immersion into it and make the transformation do it on site, generally speaking.

I’m starting a new business called “From Fired to Fabulous.”

Oh my god I love that name!

Thank you. Well, I’ve been fired a lot. I’ve been fired more than anyone I know, and I’ve also been hired a lot, and I’ve been a headhunter, so I’ve seen a lot of transitions in the workplace, and I want to help people through them. One of the things I’ve been telling people who are in those transitions – and it does tend to happen to people in their 50s – I see it a lot…

No doubt. You’re preaching to the choir on that.

…So what I’ve been telling them is, “Think about working for the next 10 or 15 years – because many people are – what do you want

Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Poster designed by artist Mark Smith (Photo by: Courtesy of Mark Smith) Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Poster designed by artist Mark Smith
 to be doing?” And it’s really worth investing in yourself with a new set of skills. If you’re thinking about the next 10 or 15 years, to me $13,000 is a completely reasonable amount of money that you will make back very quickly in the kinds of jobs you’re talking about in tech.

Yes. There are a bunch of different groups that we get. We get career changers – they’ve got 20th Century skillsets and they want to have 21st-Century skills. There are people in their 50s who are thinking that retirement isn’t going to be at 65, it’s going to be at 75, 80 maybe -- especially if they have children. So they’re thinking, what can I do to to reskill to keep myself relevant to increase my salary and extend the longevity of my career? Learning coding is a really powerful way to do that because, you don’t necessarily have to be a programmer at the end, but having fluency in the languages allows you to take the skills you do have which are probably numerous, and build on those skills.

How would you use it to re-skill?

In my case you would take creativity and entrepreneurialism, add a layer of understanding how technology is being used and then just stack them all together and go to the next thing. So I would never become like a programmer – that’s not my passion in life – but understanding what that means in terms of economics and how the world works now – it fundamentally changes my employability. I can now get jobs in a broad set of economic sectors that I couldn’t before.

Your graduates have gone on to jobs at Google, Apple and Amazon, but what's the typical case study of someone who takes the course, especially career changers?

We get so many different kinds of people. We had a single mom, recently separated, who had four young children all under the age of eight, and was a school teacher, and made the commitment to come to Coding Dojo. She talked with her mom, got her kids set up with her mom, and came in and just went at it for three and half months, and at the end of that she went from a school teacher’s salary to a salary as a web developer. I think her salary is $112,000 a year. So not not only did it transform her life it transformed her children’s lives. She was out of Seattle.

Then we had another case in Boise. Boise has a lot of resettled asylum seekers. The area has a history of bringing people into that community. We had a student from Burundi. He had never typed, let alone operated a computer. He graduated and had two job offers from local companies and went on to be hired at just under six figures. It was transformative for him and his family, but also, he has like six brothers that are still in Burundi that he’s supporting and creating opportunities for.

We had a guy whose company was sold when he was 60 and he didn’t want to retire. He just wasn’t ready. I think financially he probably could have but just felt he had some more useful things to give in life. So he came back and reskilled and went on to a whole other career. So we have 18-year-olds, 60-year-olds, immigrants – diversity is part and parcel of what we do because the barrier to entry is really low financially.

Coding Dojo students in class (Photo by: Courtesy of Coding Dojo) Coding Dojo students in class
Can people borrow money to do it?

Absolutely. We work with a funding partner. They’re called SKILLSfund. I have to say – I just came from a conference in Austin that they hosted – I told them when I saw them that I’ve been at Coding Dojo for a year and a half and not one person has complained about them. That to me says everything about them. You would think there would be one complaint or someone unhappy. But it’s very well constructed. They’re very thoughtful about the way they do their loans. You can self-fund, you can put it on a credit card, you can go to a bank and get a loan. When you thnk about it, it costs the same as a used car. Like a Honda. It’s not terribly expensive.

Think of the investment in your career and your future. You would probably make it back in the first few months of working.

You do. I can’t think of any other educational opportunity where you can spend thirteen grand, and get a six-figure job. It’s just unheard of.

One thing that’s going on is the increasing portability of jobs, the increasing number of jobs that are remote. And that this is going to become a more common model in the economy. Is that part of what you’re preparing people for?

Totally. For instance, we’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma. What Tulsa has decided as a community is that they want to be the remote hub for tech. So they have a program there they call “Tulsa Remote” and they’re inviting remote workers to move to Tulsa for the quality of life. If you have a family, Tulsa is a great place to live. Even if you’re single it’s a great place to live. There’s lots to do. It’s kind of happening. I was just there. It’s a cool little city. When you make developer money in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it goes a long way. Your standard of living is great because cost of living is low. So we’re absolutely preparing companies and cities and individuals for that reality. I think given the congestion in Washington, D.C., it’s logical to be moving to more remote workplaces. And most American cities are facing that.

How do people know if they have the aptitude for this?

That’s a great question. We say we can teach anyone to code, and we mean it. We work with individuals to get them through the program. If you have the will to do this thing, you’ll succeed. But it takes a commitment of time, of money. We see some people – who think they’re not going to make it – but then they have a breakthrough, and then they have their next breakthrough, but it’s hard. It’s not easy.

But it’s not easy to get a master’s degree either. And it’s a lot more expensive.

True.

I feel bad seeing all these young people now who are taking on mountains of debt and I think we’re only beginning to see what effects that has on the economy. I was speaking on a panel yesterday at GWU – a career fair including students from NYU and Penn. And their was a gal on the panel from the State Department, I think she was about 40. And she said, “Well student debt – that’s just something I’m going to have to live with.” And I thought to myself, that’s awful. So $13,000 in your case gets you something that’s probably much more useful than a lot of master’s degrees out there that cost ten times as much.

Mark Smith & Ambassador of Singapore Ashok Mirpuri at The Future of Work Salon by IFE Kathy Kemper (Photo by: Janet Donovan) Mark Smith & Ambassador of Singapore Ashok Mirpuri at The Future of Work Salon by IFE Kathy Kemper

I’m a beneficiary of an awesome liberal arts education. So I’m not down on the liberal arts, and there’s lots of studies that say it will prepare you for the future that’s coming, because it gives you a lot of flexibility…

…And I’m not talking about a liberal arts education there. It’s that extra graduate degree that doesn’t necessarily give a person tangible skills to get a job, it’s just sort of required these days. So what’s your response to that?

My thinking around that is that life is long. So there’s no rush to get that doctorate or that master’s degree. You can do it in your thirties, you can do it in your fourties. Most people are going to live to be 80. There’s lots of time to do that. So if you’re able to learn coding and get a job where you’re making six figures, you can fund your own education. And so if you have the aptitude and the desire to do that, it seems like a lot more logical scenario to me. Because then you’re not leveraged out under this mountain of debt. When you have all that debt you can’t buy a home, there are so many things you can’t do. There are so many things you can’t participate in.

Could this revolutionize education?

Students are starting to look at education differently. They’re saying, “Geez, I’m going to spend X and what am I going to get?” That wasn’t always the case. And you also see from a jobs perspective that there’s such a deficit of tech skills in the economy – it’s almost impossible for you not to get hired if you can code. And if you couple those skills with something else, then you’ve really got something. Because every job is a tech job. There’s no job that’s not a tech job anymore. So you’re going to need these skills no matter what. It’s the basic language you need to be operational.

Read more about Coding Dojo here.


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D.C. Dazzles at 51st Annual Meridian Ball

October 29, 2019

Meridian International Center welcomed hundreds of prestigious supporters to its 51st Annual Meridian Ball Friday, starting at ambassadors' residences from Kalorama to McLean, including participating countries from Afghanistan to the U.K.

Ambassador of Spain, Santiago Cabanas Ansorena, Mrs. Edilia Gutierrez and Sec. Carlos Gutierrez and Mrs. Santiago Cabanas Ansorena (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Ambassador of Spain, Santiago Cabanas Ansorena, Mrs. Edilia Gutierrez and Sec. Carlos Gutierrez and Mrs. Santiago Cabanas Ansorena

Colleen Nunn, former chair of the organization (joined by former Sen. Sam Nunn), was honored along with other past chairs including former Commerce Secretary Carlos Guttierez and his wife Edilia, former Congressman and Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones, former Congressman and Ambassador to Canada James Blanchard and his wife Janet, and William and Dorothy McSweeny. (He was chairman of Occidential Petroleum.)  

Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Dorothy McSweeny with Amb. Jim Jones (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Dorothy McSweeny with Amb. Jim Jones

Nunn said, "Meridian became a touchstone for me because it is a non-partisan center working closely with the diplomatic community, U.S. government and the private sector. Meridian is proud of past program participants including over 175 Heads of State,  Nobel Prize winners, CEOs, Ambassadors and key decision makers in almost every country."

Mrs. Gwen Holliday and Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President and CEO of Meridian International Center. (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Mrs. Gwen Holliday and Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President and CEO of Meridian International Center.

Nunn gave the remarks in her toast at the Embassy of Iceland, recognizing Ambassador Bergdis Ellertsdottir. Referencing the island nation's natural wonders, Nunn added, "Iceland is also one of the world’s wonders in its record of electing women leaders. In 1980, Icelanders chose the world's first directly elected female head of state. After the 2016 elections, nearly half of its members of parliament are female. That’s a model for the world."

Amb. Sheikh Meshal Al Thani offers a toast over dinner at his residence (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Amb. Sheikh Meshal Al Thani offers a toast over dinner at his residence

Amb. Sheikh Meshal Al Thani of Qatar and his wife hosted a festive dinner in McLean with diplomats including Joni Smith, head of Scottish Affairs at the British Embassy, and power couple Nancy Bagley and Soroush Shehabi. Speaking of power couples, Mary Streett of BP served as Corporate Chair of the event, accompanied by Pine Island Capital's Clyde Tuggle. They later joined Meridian President Emeritus and former Ambassador Walt Cutler attended with the beautiful Didi Cutler

Michelle Kosinski of CNN and husband, Kimbell Rush Duncan (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Michelle Kosinski of CNN and husband, Kimbell Rush Duncan

Michelle Kosinski of CNN and husband Kimbell Duncan, who flew in from their home in Verbier, Switzerland, joined in for dessert.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Mrs. Colleen Nunn with Beth Solomon (center) (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Mrs. Colleen Nunn with Beth Solomon (center)

"The Ball is central to Meridian's identity and mission to convene leaders across parties, borders and sectors in a neutral, non-partisan setting to forge relationships and catalyze collaboration on global issues," wrote current Meridian Chair Ann Stock, former White House Social Secretary and Assistant Secretary of State, and Meridian President & CEO Amb. Stuart Holliday. 

Amb. Lloyd Hand, former Chief of Protocol and Ann Hand, Founder of Ann Hand Jewelry and Design (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Amb. Lloyd Hand, former Chief of Protocol and Ann Hand, Founder of Ann Hand Jewelry and Design

Innocents at Risk Founder Deborah Sigmund (center) with Mrs. (Debbie) and Congressman Mark Meadows (NC) (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Innocents at Risk Founder Deborah Sigmund (center) with Mrs. (Debbie) and Congressman Mark Meadows (NC)

Barbara Hawthorn, Amb. László Szabó of Hungary, and his wife, Dr. Ivonn Szeverényi with Pavlos Dimitriadis. (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Barbara Hawthorn, Amb. László Szabó of Hungary, and his wife, Dr. Ivonn Szeverényi with Pavlos Dimitriadis.

BP's Mary Streett, Corporate Chair, with guests at the 51st Annual Meridian Ball (Photo by: Meridian International Center) BP's Mary Streett, Corporate Chair, with guests at the 51st Annual Meridian Ball

Mrs. Debra Dunn and Alan Dunn with his identical twin brother, Congressman Neal Dunn and Mrs. Leah Dunn. (FL) (Photo by: © Neshan H. Naltchayan) Mrs. Debra Dunn and Alan Dunn with his identical twin brother, Congressman Neal Dunn and Mrs. Leah Dunn. (FL)

A trio plays in the courtyard at the party (Photo by: Meridian International Center) A trio plays in the courtyard at the party


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