Public Parks and Community Green Spaces

In an interactive photo essay for the New York Times, journalists Ruth Fremson and Audra D. S. Burch celebrate what would have been the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned 19th-century landscape architect. By showcasing photos of people enjoying themselves in his creations—such as New York City’s Central Park, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and the U.S. Capitol grounds—Fremson and Burch recognize Olmsted’s contributions to the civic life of communities across the United States.1 

“Olmsted understood the promise of the park as a social force that would become an amenity in city life over the decades,” they write. “In his view, parks were imbued with an exquisite kind of healing power. They were beautiful, born of nature, reimagined by man.”2 Over a century later, parks continue to provide for those who visit them, especially during challenging times. 

READ MORE: “Olmsted’s Enduring Gift”

This May, a record heatwave stretched from the south up the east coast, bringing temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit.3 Many cities have experienced temperatures up to 20 degrees higher than what is usually expected this season.4 “The abrupt beginning of hot temperatures early in the season after a relatively cool spring brings an increased risk of heat illnesses unless proper precautions are taken,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.5 As temperatures continue to shatter records and become more extreme due to climate change, summers are increasingly becoming what can be considered “hot” or “extremely hot.”6 Millions of people will feel the heat. 

Parks provide places for people to cool down, whether it be by a fountain, in a body of water, or under the shade of a tree. In fact, trees have been shown to lower the average air temperature when compared to areas with paved surfaces like roads and parking lots. “The sun just beams into all that pavement. And it doesn’t just roast anyone who happens to walk across it, it’s also transferring heat to the air, day and night,” explains Joss Fong, a senior editorial producer for Vox. “If you take an area that’s just parking lots and buildings and cover at least a quarter of the space with trees, you can lower air temperatures there by around eight degrees Fahrenheit.”7 This makes it more bearable to be outside in the heat. 

In addition to helping people stay cool, parks can also improve both the physical and mental health of those who use them. Visitors can go for a run, read, or relax. They can bike and get a breath of fresh air. Trees improve air quality, absorbing “gaseous air pollution” and holding “small particles … like dust, ash, pollen, and smoke” on their leaves.8 Olmsted himself noted, “Where there were parks, they gave the highest assurance of safety, as well as a grateful sense of peculiarly fresh and pure air.”9 As important as this was back then, it became vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many turned to parks for a break from quarantine and an area where they could physically space out without risking possible exposure to the virus indoors. 

Despite the benefits, not all communities have accessible green spaces for their residents. According to a 2020 report by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, communities of color are nearly three times more likely than their white counterparts to live in “nature deprived” areas.10 These disparities are the results of decades of discriminatory urban and environmental policies that shaped where people lived, what was built in their neighborhoods, and what resources they could access. 

This report complemented an NPR analysis from a year prior, which used census data and thermal satellite imagery to conclude that for many neighborhoods in major cities across the United States, “where it’s hotter, it also tends to be poorer.”11 The effects of extreme heat disproportionately affect lower income communities, many of which feature more pavement and less greenery. 

In the 1960s, Philadelphia began creating “pocket parks” on small parcels of vacant land in lower income neighborhoods to address this problem.12 They transformed barren or blighted areas into enjoyable gathering spots, with the input and support of those who lived there. Other parks have received renewed attention and funding for upgrades. In Washington, D.C., Meridian Hill-Malcolm X Park is undergoing a two-year renovation to restore its historic fountains, plant new greenery, and repair crumbling infrastructure.13 This follows the reopening of Franklin Park in downtown D.C., which was updated to include “an outdoor café with seating and restrooms, a children’s play area, a repaired and interactive historic fountain, new seating, an improved tree canopy, and more.”14 While these projects ultimately improve the physical area—and therefore, the experience of those who visit—they can often be deprioritized when budgets are tight or other issues are deemed more urgent. 

A park can serve as a great equalizer in a community—a place where all people can interact with each other regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status, or ability. It’s a place meant to be utilized and enjoyed by all, not just a few. Green spaces add to the civic health of a community by serving as meeting spots where people can come together in recreation and celebration, where they hold vigils and stage protests, and where they enjoy the company of others and escape the world for a moment. Parks reconnect us to nature and offer a respite from a busy, hectic world. 

Just as Olmsted was commissioned by the federal government and numerous local and state governments to create and renovate parks and landscapes, the question now is: what more can and should be done to maintain the parks we currently have and to expand green spaces into communities where they are lacking? As we note the benefits of local public parks and community green spaces, we can also consider the investments and upgrades that may be needed so more people, and future generations can enjoy them as well.

Discussion Questions

  1. When was the last time you went to a local park? How did you spend your time there? 
  2. How frequently do you, your friends, or your family visit parks? 
  3. Does your community have public green spaces? How accessible are they to community members? 
  4. What do you think are the greatest advantages of public parks and green spaces? 
  5. How important do you think it is for the government (local/state/national) to invest in creating or maintaining public parks? 

 As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Ruth Fremson/New York Times
[1] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/04/22/us/frederick-law-olmsted-american-parks.html
[2] Ibid.
[3] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2022/05/20/heat-wave-east-coast/
[4] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/05/21/us/weather-east-coast-heat
[5] Ibid.
[6] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/05/21/us/weather-east-coast-heat
[7] Vox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ6fSHr5TJg&vl=en
[8] Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/benefits-trees#:~:text=Improve%20air%20quality.,tree%2Dfilled%20areas%20are%20cooler.
[9] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/04/22/us/frederick-law-olmsted-american-parks.html
[10] National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/how-nature-deprived-neighborhoods-impact-health-people-of-color
[11] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/754044732/as-rising-heat-bakes-u-s-cities-the-poor-often-feel-it-most?t=1628079007286
[12] Alison Blake: https://depts.washington.edu/open2100/Resources/2_OpenSpaceTypes/Open_Space_Types/pocket_parks.pdf
[13] DCist: https://dcist.com/story/20/12/09/malcolm-x-park-dc-renovations-lower-level/
[14] DowntownDC: https://www.downtowndc.org/news/franklinparknews/

 

A Tragedy in Buffalo Sparks Multiple Debates

On Saturday, May 14, a gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others in a supermarket serving a predominantly Black population in eastern Buffalo, New York. The shooter, an 18-year-old white man, traveled over 200 miles to the Tops Supermarket.1 He was the apparent author of an online screed that claims the attack was meant to threaten non-white, non-Christian people into leaving the United States. “The diatribe resounds with white supremacist, anti-immigrant, and antisemitic beliefs that reflect an increasingly prominent conspiracy theory about a plot to reduce white people’s global influence by ‘replacing’ them.”2 The gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand also promoted this theory.3

The shooting was live-streamed over the social media platform Twitch, though the stream was interrupted and the video was removed less than two minutes after the violence began.4 In the week before the shooting in Buffalo, three Asian American women were injured in a shooting in the Koreatown neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. That city also reported two other recent shootings at businesses owned by Asian Americans, and officials believe the shootings may be connected.5

Horrific events such as these call on teachers and schools to do many things. First, teachers must attend to the anger, fear, and desperation of their students, and they must attend to their own emotional and mental health needs as well. Our friends at Facing History and Ourselves offer important resources for teachers in their resource, Teaching in the Wake of Violence.

In addition to addressing the emotional needs of students, schools must attend to these questions as matters of public policy. Citizens must engage in civil dialogue around the many issues raised by the tragedy. Obviously, one policy issue that is relevant is gun control. In the shooting in Buffalo, the perpetrator used weapons that were legal to purchase in the state of New York but modified them with extended magazines that cannot be legally purchased in that state. This raises questions about the role of the federal government.

Another issue that some public officials have raised is the role of social media in spreading hate. New York state authorities launched an investigation into several social media platforms that the shooter may have used to plan and broadcast the attack. The inquiry is primarily focusing on Twitch (a video streaming service owned by Amazon), online messaging boards such as 4chan and 8chan, and the chat site Discord. “This terror attack again revealed the depths and dangers of these platforms that spread and promote hate without consequence,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.6

New York Governor Kathy Hochul also called on social media companies to monitor their content more closely. “The fact that … this execution of innocent human beings could be live-streamed on social media platforms and not taken down with in a second says to me that there is a responsibility out there,” she said.7 Debates over the role of government in regulating social media companies, and over whether social media platforms can be held responsible for their content, continue to escalate.

Related Posts

Discussion Questions

  1. How are you feeling and responding to these events?
  2. What more do you know or want to know about these events?
  3. Do you think that elected officials should seek to regulate online speech? Why or why not?
  4. Would you support additional gun control measures? Why or why not?
  5. How can communities and individuals combat the kind of hate and intolerance on display in Buffalo and Dallas?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: AP Photo/Matt O’Rourke
[1] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/buffalo-supermarket-shooting-442c6d97a073f39f99d006dbba40f64b
[2] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/buffalo-supermarket-shooting-84813182
[3] National Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/2022/05/15/1099028397/buffalo-shooting-what-we-know
[4] BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61502238
[5] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/crime-shootings-dallas-hate-crimes-201e2dbce94bdd6329e0df6d02b39ca1
[6] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/new-york-ag-investigate-social-media-platforms-used-by-buffalo-grocery-gunman-2022-05-18/
[7] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/newyork/news/buffalo-shooting-live-stream-twitch/

 

The Biden Administration Cracks Down on “Ghost Guns” 

Early last week, President Joe Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced a final ruling to limit the manufacture and sale of so-called “ghost guns”—privately manufactured firearms without serial numbers.1  

This final ruling is part of a series of measures announced by President Biden and the Department of Justice, dating back to last year, to address gun violence and mass shootings in the United States. So, how are ghost guns contributing to the gun violence epidemic and how will this executive ruling limit their production and use? 

Typically, a firearm manufactured by a licensed company is required to have a serial number—usually displayed on the frame of the gun—that allows officials to trace the gun back to the manufacturer, the dealer, and the original purchaser.2 Ghost guns are created by purchasing a kit of separate, modifiable pieces which are assembled and contained in what is known as a receiver (a unit that houses all of the operating parts of the firing mechanism). An “unfinished receiver,” also known as an “80 percent receiver,” is a partially completed receiver with no serial number that, prior to this new rule, was not classified as a firearm under federal law. Unfinished receivers are prevalent in online sales and do not require a background check or license for purchase.  

Everytown for Gun Safety 
The difference between an unfinished frame or receiver and a finished, ready-to-use frame or receiver.

This new executive rule would make it illegal for businesses to manufacture gun kits without a serial number and for a licensed gun dealer to sell them without a background check. The decision from the White House will deem the parts sold in the gun kits (such as the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun) as firearms under federal law. In addition, it will also require federally licensed dealers who obtain firearms without serial numbers to add serial numbers. 

These new regulations arrive in the wake of mounting pressure on the Biden administration to address the uptick in gun-related violence in the United States that began in 2020. More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to recently published statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 More recently, in just a single weekend at the end of March 2022, there were at least nine mass shooting events across the country, as well as many more shootings with fewer victims.4 Experts worry that as the summer months (typically the most violent time in the United States) approach, ghost guns could contribute to an already growing gun violence epidemic. According to statistics released by the White House, there were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations in 2021—a ten-fold increase from 2016.5 The New York Police Department said that officers have found 131 firearms without serial numbers since January.6 

These new regulations will likely be met with heavy resistance from gun rights groups, leading to litigation in the courts. At least one gun rights advocacy organization, Gun Owners of America, has vowed to fight the decision, declaring that it would sue ATF “to halt the implementation of this rule.”7 

Discussion Questions  

  • Do you think this rule change is an infringement on citizens’ Second Amendment rights? Why or why not?  
  • Do you believe this new rule is a reasonable exercise of executive power? Why or why not? 
  • In what ways does this rule aim to address gun violence issues? In what ways, if any, does this rule fail to address gun violence issues? 
  • How does this rule connect to other gun ownership/gun violence issues you have heard about in the news? In history?  

Other Resources

  • WATCH the final rule, as submitted to the Federal Register.
  • VISIT the Gun Violence Archive for a detailed list of gun violence statistics.
  • READ Attorney General Merrick Garland’s piece in USA Today: “Ghost Guns Are Real Guns. And We’ll Regulate Them to Save Lives.”

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Haven Daley/AP 
[1] White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/11/fact-sheet-the-biden-administration-cracks-down-on-ghost-guns-ensures-that-atf-has-the-leadership-it-needs-to-enforce-our-gun-laws/
[2] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/what-are-ghost-guns-aab2ded78314603e8e87e92dbe4def3f
[3] Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/02/03/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/
[4] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/shooting-gun-violence.html
[5] White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/11/fact-sheet-the-biden-administration-cracks-down-on-ghost-guns-ensures-that-atf-has-the-leadership-it-needs-to-enforce-our-gun-laws/
[6] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/what-are-ghost-guns-aab2ded78314603e8e87e92dbe4def3f
[7] Gun Owners of America: https://www.gunowners.org/new-rule-to-expand-atf-gun-registry/

 

LGBTQ Youth: Who Decides What Is Age-Appropriate?

On February 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate gender-affirming medical care provided to transgender youth as child abuse, requiring mandated reporters (such as teachers, doctors, and health care workers) to pass on that information to the DFPS.1

Gender-affirming medical care for youth typically includes doctor-approved and supervised, reversible puberty hormone blockers; some older youth receive supplemental hormones which can cause irreversible changes. Minors rarely, if ever, receive any surgical treatment as gender-affirming medical care.2 As a result of the order, Texas hospitals have stopped offering gender-affirming medical care and parents of transgender children have reported fears of having their children taken away and placed in foster care.3

On March 8, the Florida Legislature passed a controversial bill called Parental Rights in Education (also called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents). The bill bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools from kindergarten through third grade and requires all LGBTQ content to be taught in an “age-appropriate manner.” Parents are allowed to sue a school if they believe it is in violation of the law. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill soon.4

Supporters of these government actions maintain that states have the right to protect young people from the consequences of decisions they may regret when they’re older (in the case of gender-affirming medical care), and to protect the rights of parents to ensure their children are exposed to topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in an age-appropriate way (in the case of public school education).

“Minors are prohibited from purchasing paint, cigarettes, alcohol, or even getting a tattoo,” said Jonathan Covey, policy director for the group Texas Values. “We cannot allow minors or their parents to make life-altering decisions on body-mutilating procedures and irreversible hormonal treatments.”5 Regarding the Parental Rights in Education bill, Governor DeSantis said, “We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum.”6

Opponents believe that these policies and others like them promote discrimination; punish LGBTQ youth, their parents, and those who care for their health needs; and are meant to incite fear and silence the LGBTQ community and its allies.7 Paul Castillo, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, wrote that Governor Abbott was “joining a politically motivated misinformation campaign with no consideration of medical science and seem determined to criminalize parents seeking to care and provide for their kids.” He added that “gender-affirming care for the treatment of gender dysphoria is medically necessary care, full stop.”8 Equality Florida criticized Governor DeSantis and his staff, indicating that they had essentially said “the quiet part out loud: that this bill is grounded in a belief that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, are a threat to children and must be erased.”9

While it is too soon to know the effects of the Florida legislation, the Texas policy on gender-affirming care has already prompted legal challenges and changed the care transgender children can access in the state. Some district attorneys in Texas have stated they will refuse to prosecute cases of child abuse stemming from reports of gender-affirming care. Hospitals have already begun to stop the medical interventions transgender youth had been able to access before Governor Abbott’s order.10

As other states consider similar legislation and policies, the issues surrounding the rights and treatment of LGBTQ youth have become national in scope, with President Joe Biden’s administration weighing in as well. On March 2, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement indicating that health care professionals who report child abuse under the Texas policy may be in violation of federal privacy protections.11 Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona suggested that the Florida legislation might violate Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in education (to include sexual orientation), and might prompt a civil-rights investigation if enacted.12

With federal and state policies in direct conflict, this fight has reached a national stage with far-reaching consequences for the individuals affected.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the long-term consequences of these policies remaining in place? What might happen if they are overturned?
  2. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cited several court cases which have held that it is important for the government to protect children due to their “peculiar vulnerability” in his opposition to gender-affirming care for minors.13 Do you believe that young people must be protected by the government from making a choice that carries long-term effects such as hormone therapy? Why or why not?
  3. Across the country, parents are asserting their right to influence school curriculum. In addition to the Florida legislation, parents have recently rallied for and against critical race theory and books that should and should not be available in school libraries. Do you think parents should have a prominent say in what their children learn in public schools? Or should teachers, administration officials, and school boards make that call? Explain your reasoning.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: San Diego Pride
[1] Office of the Texas Governor: https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/O-MastersJaime202202221358.pdf
[2] KHOU 11: https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/what-is-gender-affirming-medical-care/285-d292e05d-f706-4f4a-979d-a0309f3a13c1.
[3] The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-southwest/at-home-with-the-families-affected-by-texass-new-anti-trans-orders
[4] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-politics-and-policy/dont-say-gay-bill-florida-senate-passes-controversial-lgbtq-school-mea-rcna19133
[5] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/us/texas-child-abuse-trans-youth.html
[6] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/dont-say-gay-bill-passes-florida-legislature-b173917e985833963e45a8d0464a4399
[7] Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/press-releases/gender-affirming-care-setting-the-record-straight-as-extremist-politicians-in-texas-and-other-states-continue-doubling-down-on-attacking-trans-youth-2
[8] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/us/texas-child-abuse-trans-youth.html
[9] Time: https://time.com/6155905/florida-dont-say-gay-passed/
[10] KHOU 11: https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/what-is-gender-affirming-medical-care/285-d292e05d-f706-4f4a-979d-a0309f3a13c1.
[11] KHOU 11: https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/texas-childrens-hospital-pauses-gender-affirming-services/285-8e2fe08c-a60e-47fa-bc99-91f08e615e7b 11 Spectrum New 1. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/tx/san-antonio/news/2022/03/10/texas-ag-ken-paxton-sues-biden-over-gender-affirming-care-guidance-
[12] The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/03/florida-dont-say-gay-law/627021/
[13] Bellotti v. Baird (1979).

 

Ukraine and the 2022 State of the Union Address

On March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address. He hit on several major topics that have impacted the nation over the last year. This post will focus on the president’s discussion of the most recent and pressing global issue: the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

READ MORE: The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

During the address, many members of Congress and people in the audience donned yellow and blue clothing and held small flags to show their support for the people of Ukraine. To begin, President Biden condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. He praised the strength and will of the Ukrainian people, who have taken up arms to defend their country. He made it clear that the United States believes in the sovereignty of Ukraine and supports the cause of its people.

President Biden next laid out how the United States and other nations have taken action against Russia. In particular, he discussed what the member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been doing to support Ukraine during this time. NATO is an alliance of European and North American countries that formed in the aftermath of World War II. Today, NATO “provides a unique link between these two continents, enabling them to consult and cooperate in the field of defense and security, and conduct multinational crisis-management operations together.”1 It is important to note that Ukraine is not a member of NATO nor of the European Union (EU).

READ MORE: What Is Happening in Ukraine?

President Biden discussed the build-up to the conflict and how many nations had been coming together for months to build coalitions against Putin. He highlighted that the United States had warned the world about what it suspected Putin of planning and pushed other countries to see through the Russian narrative.

He then recapped that nearly 30 members of the EU have come out against Russia, pointing out that even Switzerland—a nation known for its neutrality—has sided with Ukraine in the current conflict. The actions taken against Russia by other countries have been numerous. President Biden laid out several in his address:

  1. “Together, along with our allies, we are right now enforcing powerful economic sanctions.
  2. We’re cutting off Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system, preventing Russia’s Central Bank from defending the Russian ruble, making Putin’s $630 billion war fund worthless.
  3. We’re choking Russia’s access to technology that will sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come.
  4. The United States Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of the Russian oligarchs. We’re joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, luxury apartments, and private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.
  5. And, tonight, I’m announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American air space to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia and adding an additional squeeze on their economy.
  6. Together with our allies, we’re providing support to the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom: military assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance. We’re giving more than a billion dollars in direct assistance to Ukraine. And we’ll continue to aid the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and help ease their suffering.”2

After laying out the above actions, President Biden made it clear that the U.S. military would not engage in a conflict against Russian forces in Ukraine. However, U.S. troops have begun to move into territory held by NATO nations as a preventative measure.

“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine but to defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west,” said President Biden. “For that purpose, we have mobilized American ground forces, air squadrons, ship deployments to protect NATO countries, including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. And as I’ve made crystal clear, the United States and our allies will defend every inch of territory that is NATO territory with the full force of our collective power—every single inch.”

The president closed his discussion of the situation in Ukraine by announcing that the United States, along with 30 other countries, plans to release 60 million barrels of oil from world reserves, and the United States will lead this effort by releasing 30 million barrels of its own resources.

He concluded by saying, “I know news about what’s happening can seem alarming to all Americans. But I want you to know: We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe that the United States and other nations around the world should take up arms against Russia to defend Ukraine? Why or why not?
  2. Ukraine has asked to join the EU and NATO. Do you believe it should be allowed to join at this contentious time? Why or why not?
  3. What are your thoughts and opinions on the current situation between Ukraine and Russia? Does it remind you of anything else from your previous studies?

Additional Resources

READ MORE: The State of the Union Transcript

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: PBS
[1] NATO: https://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html
[2] White House transcript of the State of the Union: https://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2022/

 

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

On January 26, we posted about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. Since then, Russia has invaded Ukraine and surrounded the capital, Kyiv. More than half a million refugees have fled the country and at least 136 civilians, including 13 children, have been killed.1

What Has Happened Since Then?

  • February 21: The Russian government recognizes the sovereignty of the Ukrainian breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and sends troops to “keep the peace.” Ukraine and its allies declare the troops to be a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.2
  • February 24: Russian President Vladimir Putin declares war on Ukraine, and the Russian military invades from the north, east, and south. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declares martial law and breaks diplomatic relations with Russia.3
  • February 25: Russian forces reach Kyiv and begin attacking the capital city.4
  • February 26: The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU) announce they will bar several major Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, the global financial messaging system known as SWIFT.
  • February 27: Putin directs forces to increase the readiness of Russia’s nuclear weapons, raising fears that the current conflict could turn into nuclear war.
  • February 28: Ukrainian and Russian diplomats meet on the border of Ukraine and Belarus. No agreement is made, but both sides agree to continue talks.
  • March 1: Russian forces surround Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Video appears to show a missile striking City Hall in the city center.5 Economic sanctions begin to take hold as Visa, Mastercard, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and others block services to sanctioned Russian banks.6

Why Did Russia Invade?

After months of claiming that he had no plans to invade Ukraine, Putin’s forces attacked several major cities last week. Putin claimed that Russia could not feel “safe, develop, and exist” because of the threat from modern Ukraine, and demanded assurances that it would never join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin also falsely accused the Ukrainian government of genocide and called for the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine.7 These claims are part of Putin’s well-documented campaign of disinformation.8 Zelenskyy is Jewish and Ukraine’s chief rabbi and the Auschwitz Memorial have both rejected Putin’s claims.9

It is difficult to know exactly why Putin chose to invade now and what his final aims are, but many foreign policy experts agree that he wants to restore Russia to the superpower status the Soviet Union once enjoyed and topple Zelenksyy’s democratically elected government. Putin likely views a democratic Ukraine as an existential threat to his own autocratic leadership in Russia and fears protests for democratic reforms among his own citizens. It is impossible to know if Ukraine is Putin’s only target or if he would invade other countries, as he did with Georgia in 2008.10

It is likely that Putin was not expecting such a global response to his invasion. During his 2008 invasion of Georgia, his 2014 invasion of Ukraine and takeover of Crimea, and Russia’s bombing of civilians in Syria, sanctions and international condemnation were not as strong as those we see today.11

How Has the United States Responded?

President Joe Biden authorized an additional $350 million in defense aid on February 25, bringing the total U.S. assistance to Ukraine to more than $1 billion in the last 12 months.12 President Biden said the United States will also deploy 7,000 troops to Germany to reinforce NATO after the invasion of Ukraine (which is not a member). President Biden maintains that he will not send U.S. troops to Ukraine, a position he took before the Russian invasion. “That’s a world war when Americans and Russians start shooting at one another,” he said. Similarly, he has chosen a path of de-escalation in the face of Putin’s nuclear threats.13

In addition to providing aid to Ukraine and NATO, the United States and its allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russian leaders and the Russian financial system. President Biden has stated that while he wants to inflict damage on the Russian ruling class, he does not want to impoverish average Russians.14 The sanctions are likely to disrupt international markets as well. Food, energy, and industrial supply chains will be affected, and Americans are likely to see energy and food prices rise.15

How Do Economic Sanctions Work?

Many countries, including the United States, are moving to swiftly isolate Russia’s financial system. They are blocking some Russian products from being imported and limiting what types of products can be sold to Russia, with technology products that are not produced in Russia especially targeted.

Ksenia Galouchko, Bloomberg

The has caused the Russian ruble to lose as much as 25 percent of its value. Russia’s central bank (similar to the Federal Reserve in the United States, which regulates interest rates to help fight inflation and grow the economy) has as much as $643 billion in different banks around the world. Governments are now restricting access to that money so the Russian government cannot soften the impact of the sanctions.16 Inflation in Russia could be as high as 70 percent, and the Russian government shut down the stock exchange on Monday and Tuesday. To further isolate Russian financial institutions, Western countries are removing several Russian banks from SWIFT, a financial messaging network that allows banks to transfer money internationally.17 Economists describe the sanctions as “unprecedented.”18

How Are Other Governments and Organizations Responding?

  • At a rare emergency meeting of the 193-member General Assembly of the United Nations, 110 members signed up to speak about the war. Later this week, the UN will vote on a resolution that demands Russia immediately stop using force and withdraw all troops from Ukraine. The resolution must be passed unanimously.19
  • The EU, the United Kingdom, and Canada have closed their airspace to all Russian aircraft, including private jets of wealthy Russians.20
  • Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission of the EU, said that Ukraine belongs in the EU, after Zelenskyy signed an application for membership.21
  • Karim A. A. Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said he will pursue an investigation into the war in Ukraine, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.22

What Can We Expect in the Coming Days?

While the Russian military has not taken over any of the major cities it has attacked, it is important to remember that it is still early in the conflict. Ukrainian troops and civilians are providing more resistance than the Russian military was likely expecting, but foreign policy experts warn that Russian forces are still coming and seem to be surrounding Kyiv and Kharkiv.23

Russia looks to be using a strategy it found effective in Syria when it was supporting President Bashar al-Assad: bombing civilian centers with long-range precision weapons and taking over cities once civilians flee. In Syria, Russia used missiles to bomb hospitals, schools, and markets, and there are fears that Putin will use a similar strategy against Ukrainian civilians.24

Protests against the Russian invasion have popped up in many cities across the globe, including in Russia. More than 6,435 Russians have been arrested and detained for protesting their government’s invasion of Ukraine thus far.25

Discussion Questions

  1. What responsibility does the United States have to defend its allies?
  2. Economic sanctions are likely to be felt by Americans and people around the world, not just by Russians. Do the costs of sanctions outweigh their benefits?
  3. How is America using soft power to influence Russia?
  4. Do you agree with President Biden that sending U.S. troops to Ukraine would create a world war?

Key Terms

  • Economic sanctions: Penalties against a country (officials or private citizens) either as punishment or an effort to provide disincentives for the targeted policies and actions; sanctions can range from travel bans and export restrictions to trade embargoes and asset seizures26
  • Sovereignty: The idea that a country controls what happens inside its borders and cannot interfere in what happens elsewhere27

Additional Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Gleb Garanich, Reuters
[1] Ledur, Julia, et al. “Photos and Videos Show Long Waits, Traffic Jams at Border Crossings as Thousands Try to Leave Ukraine.” Washington Post. 27 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[2] Hopkins, Valerie, and Andrew E. Kramer. “Why It Matters That Russia Just Recognized Donetsk and Luhansk.” New York Times. 21 Feb. 2022. Web. 25 Feb. 2022.
[3] Zinets, Natalia, and Aleksandar Vasovic. “Missiles Rain Down Around Ukraine.” Reuters. 24 Feb. 2022. Web. 25 Feb. 2022.
[4] Harding, David. “Ukraine President Declares Martial Law Following Russia Invasion.” The Independent. 25 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[5] Schwirtz, Michael. “An Explosion Rocks Kharkiv a Day After Shelling in a Residential Neighborhood.” New York Times. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[6] Picchi, Aimee. “Visa, Mastercard Block Services to Russian Banks Targeted By Sanctions.” CBS News. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[7] Berger, Miriam. “Putin Says He Will ‘Denazify’ Ukraine. Here’s the History Behind That Claim.” Washington Post. 24 Feb. 2022. Web. 25 Feb. 2022.
[8] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. “Fact vs. Fiction: Russian Disinformation on Ukraine.” 20 Jan. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[9] Kirby, Paul. “Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?” BBC News. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[10] Person, Robert, and Michael McFaul. “What Putin Fears Most.” Journal of Democracy. National Endowment for Democracy. 22 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[11] “Timeline: The Events Leading Up to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” Reuters. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[12] Jeong, Andrew, et al. “Biden Authorizes $350 Million More in Defense Aid for Ukraine in Response to Russian Invasion.” Washington Post. 26 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[13] Sanger, David E., and William J. Broad. “Putin Declares a Nuclear Alert, and Biden Seeks De-escalation.” New York Times. 27 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[14] Medhani, Aamer, et al. “Biden Hits Russia with Sanctions, Shifts Troops to Germany.” Associated Press. 24 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[15] Rai, Sarakshi, and Sylvan Lane. “Five Ways the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Impact the US Economy.” The Hill. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[16] Troianovski, Anton. “The Ruble Crashes, the Stock Market Closes and Russia’s Economy Staggers Under Sanctions.” New York Times. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[17] Seth, Shobhit. “How the SWIFT System Works.” Investopedia. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[18] Sorkin, Andrew Ross, et al. “How Economic Warfare is Battering Russia.” New York Times. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[19] Peltz, Jennifer, and Edith M. Lederer. “At Rare UN Session, Russia is Pressed to Stop War in Ukraine.” Associated Press. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[20] Bursztynksy, Jessica. “Many European Countries and Canada Join in Closing Their Airspace to Russian Planes.” CNBC. 27 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[21] Anderson, Emma. “Ukraine Belongs in EU, Commission Chief von der Leyen Says.” Politico Europe. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[22] Perez-Pena, Richard. “The I.C.C. Prosecutor Says He Plans to Investigate Possible War Crimes in Ukraine.” New York Times. 28 Feb. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[23] Khurshudyan, Isabelle, et al. “Russian Invasion Escalates as Massive Convoy Threatens Kyiv, Kharkiv ‘Surrounded.’” Washington Post. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[24] Karam, Zeina, et al. “Russia’s Syria Intervention Provided Hints for Ukraine War.” Associated Press. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[25] Ives, Mike. “At Least 411 People Are Detained Across Russia As Antiwar Protests Continue.” New York Times. 1 Mar. 2022. Web. 1 Mar. 2022.
[26] Masters, Jonathon. “What Are Economic Sanctions?” Council on Foreign Relations. 12 Aug. 2019. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.
[27] “What is Sovereignty?” Council on Foreign Relations. 2022. Web. 28 Feb. 2022.

 

The NFL Faces Heat Over Hiring Practices

The National Football League (NFL) is in the hot seat again. This time, players and coaches are accusing the league of racial discrimination in hiring practices for coaches; more specifically, they claim that the NFL is biased against Black personnel for coveted coaching positions. In a sports league where most players are Black, most head coaches are white—and this is the problem.

Despite the fact that 70 percent of NFL players are Black, only one of the 32 head coaches is Black, as of the date of this posting. Recently, there were two other Black head coaches, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins and David Culley of the Houston Texans, but both were fired at the end of the season. Their exits left just one Black head coach (Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and one Latino head coach (Ron Rivera of the Washington Commanders) in the entire NFL. The rest of the head coaches are white.

On February 2, Flores sued the NFL and three of its teams for discriminatory hiring practices. The lawsuit outlines a series of specific experiences Flores had during his time as a coach in the league.

The NFL and the teams in question have denied these accusations, stating that the absence of Black head coaches is due to a lack of qualified candidates—a claim not supported by the available research. Some coaches and players believe the NFL is purposely overlooking qualified Black candidates to maintain its all-white leadership.

This isn’t the first time that the NFL has been accused of racism; the league has a long history of discriminating against Black athletes and coaches. In 1921, Fritz Pollard became the first coach of color in the NFL, but it took almost 70 years before Art Shell would become the second coach to break down the same barrier. In 2021, coach Jon Gruden was fired following a release of messages containing racist and homophobic remarks. And the topic of race has been a hot-button issue since 2016, when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem to protest racism in America. He has not been able to find a team to work with ever since. The following year, the 32 NFL team owners created a policy that would lead to a player being fined for kneeling during the anthem.1 Some people believe these instances demonstrate that race is an issue that the NFL continues to ignore.

In 2003, the NFL adopted the so-called Rooney Rule to address the league’s lack of diversity in coaching. As of May 2020, the Rooney Rule has been expanded to require teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for their head coaching job and at least one external minority candidate for any coordinator job.2 When the rule was first adopted, there were some positive effects in the short term: the NFL did see an increase in Black and Latino coaches. However, following those initial gains, the number of head coaches of color decreased over time. As of this writing, there are fewer Black head coaches in the NFL than there were in 2003 (when there were three).3

These figures show snapshot comparisons of newly hired NFL head coaches broken down by race in 2002-2003 vs. 2019-2020

NFL Head Coaches

Many people in the industry have refused to speak openly with reporters about the issue out of fear of backlash. However, one person did tell NFL.com that Flores’s case is “probably going to air out a lot of dirty laundry. What happened to [Flores] has been going on for decades, but no one has ever wanted to push the issue. Most have been happy to have the opportunity to work in the league and haven’t wanted to walk away from that opportunity. I admire his resolve.”4

Flores said in an interview that he felt the need to bring this issue to court (despite the negative impact it might have on his career) because “we need change. I know many capable Black coaches who would go out and do a great job on their interviews when given the opportunity. I hate to see that go to waste. We need to change the hearts and minds of the people making the decisions … the white NFL team owners.”5

In his lawsuit documents, Flores says that “the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”6 He also describes several interviews with the NFL in detail, calling them “sham interviews” meant to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement and check a box. In his lawsuit, Flores describes the Rooney Rule as well-intentioned but ineffective.

“However, well-intentioned or not, what is clear is that the Rooney Rule is not working. It is not working because the numbers of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators, and Quarterback Coaches are not even close to being reflective of the number of Black athletes on the field. The Rooney Rule is also not working because management is not doing the interviews in good faith. Therefore, it creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess.”7

So what do Flores and others around the league hope to see the NFL do to bring about change? Here are just a few suggestions they have offered.8

  1. Increase Black team ownership
  2. Consistently enforce hiring policies
  3. Hire a trustworthy external oversight firm
  4. Commit to greater transparency
  5. Include players in the hiring process
  6. Embrace different styles of coaching excellence
  7. Create head-coaching pathway programs
  8. Commission a systemic study of the league
  9. Unionize

READ the full interview for more details on these solutions.

In the end, the NFL must show that it is not biased against Black athletes and coaches or else continue to face the consequences. The longer these issues remain unaddressed, the worse the results could be for the league. What would the NFL do if players and coaches chose to boycott games or file additional lawsuits? Either way, the NFL’s reputation is on the line … again.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think business owners and employers should have the right to refuse to hire someone on the basis of any grounds they choose? Why or why not?
  2. From what you have read, do you believe the NFL and its teams are doing enough to create diversity among the coaching staff in the league? Why or why not?
  3. If you were the owner of an NFL team, how would you go about hiring to make sure the most qualified candidates were being hired and that the opportunities were not impacted by race?

Additional Resources

  • READ the full lawsuit documents
  • WATCH the full interview with Flores

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Doug Murray/AP
[1] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/24/there-would-be-no-nfl-without-black-players-they-can-resist-the-anthem-policy/
[2]  CBS Sports: https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/rooney-rule-enhancement-nfl-to-require-two-external-minority-interviews-for-gm-coordinator-jobs/
[3]  Texas A&M University: https://today.tamu.edu/2022/01/24/why-most-nfl-head-coaches-are-white-behind-the-nfls-abysmal-record-on-diversity/
[4] National Football League: https://www.nfl.com/news/brian-flores-lawsuit-reflects-widespread-discontent-among-black-coaches-over-nfl
[5] ESPN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS5f_YH3Y2A
[6] Wigdor Law: https://www.wigdorlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Complaint-against-National-Football-League-et-al-Filed.pdf
[7] Ibid.
[8] Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/brian-flores-nfl-super-bowl-racism-hiring-coaches-1299131/

 

Should Members of Congress Be Banned from Trading Stocks?

Last month, Senators Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., introduced the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act, a reform bill which would require members of Congress to divest their stock market investments or face fines totaling the entire amount of their congressional salary.1

According to an August 2021 Gallup poll, approximately 56 percent of U.S. adults own stock.2 Stocks, also called equities, are bought in units called “shares” and represent partial ownership of a company.3 Investors who own shares hope for a return on their investment; if the company they invest in succeeds, their stock price rises and increases in worth. Investors may receive dividend payments, which are earnings that the company issues to its stockholders.4 At least 220 members of Congress—more than 40 percent of senators and representatives—own stock, which has raised concerns about corruption and conflicts of interest.

The Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act would “require all members of Congress, their spouses, and dependent children to place their stock portfolios into a blind trust.”5 A blind trust is a method of divesting assets in which stockholders pass their investments on to an independent third party which then makes financial decisions on their behalf, insulating the stockholders from day-to-day decision-making and trading.

A decade ago, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which aimed to prevent insider trading. Due to the nature of their job, members of Congress often have access to sensitive information from closed-door meetings and briefings about markets, upcoming regulations, and a multitude of government issues. They’re also the ones in charge of creating federal policy. The STOCK Act prohibits members of Congress from buying or selling stock on the basis of any privileged information they receive. It also requires them to publicly disclose their trades on searchable, online databases within 45 days.6

Although the STOCK Act was an example of Congress taking the initiative to reform itself, the results have not been as effective as hoped. The average fine for failing to report trades on time is a mere $200, and according to an investigative series by Business Insider, 55 members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—were late in disclosing their stock trades.7 Some were late by only a few days; others were late by months.8

READ MORE: “These Are the 50 Top Stocks that Members of Congress Own”

In January 2020, before the general public was aware of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., sold millions of dollars of stock in companies that were poised to be hit hard by the pandemic, right before they dropped in value.9 She then purchased stock “in a company that makes COVID-19 protective garments.”10 Around the same time, financial decisions by Senators David Perdue, R-Ga., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also received scrutiny for what looked like insider trading. They have all denied any wrongdoing, and investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice have since concluded without any recommended charges.11

While there has been talk on Capitol Hill about doing more to rein in the buying and selling of stocks by senators and representatives, leadership in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Senate initially pushed back against the idea. “We are a free-market economy,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who owns and trades stock along with members of her immediate family, adding that members of Congress “should be able to participate in this.”12 Just last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled his support for discussing details of the proposal, warming up to it after facing bipartisan pressure from his fellow lawmakers.13

But it’s not just bipartisan support among those in Congress. According to the conservative-leaning Convention of States Action, 76 percent of Americans agree that members of Congress have an “unfair advantage” in the stock market and should not be allowed to trade stocks while in office.14 Those who support the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act believe that elected officials need to rebuild trust with the American people, increase transparency, and show that they will put the best interests of their constituents before any personal profit.

Those who oppose this bill believe that members of Congress should be free to participate in the stock market like anyone else, regardless of their position or title. They note that the STOCK Act is already on the books and should be better enforced to prevent even the appearance of corruption.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe elected officials should be held to higher standards and face more scrutiny than those who don’t hold public office? If so, in what ways?
  2. Should members of Congress be expected to give up some of their freedoms in order to serve in their positions?
  3. Do you have trust in your elected officials to put the interests of the people before their own? Why or why not?
  4. Are there any other ethics reforms that you think could build trust and increase transparency in Congress?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: POLITICO illustration/Getty and iStock
[1] Website of Senator Jon Ossoff: https://www.ossoff.senate.gov/press-releases/sens-ossoff-kelly-introduce-bill-banning-stock-trading-by-members-of-congress/
[2] Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/poll/266807/percentage-americans-owns-stock.aspx
[3] U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/investment-products/stocks
[4] Ibid.
[5] Website of Senator Jon Ossoff: https://www.ossoff.senate.gov/press-releases/sens-ossoff-kelly-introduce-bill-banning-stock-trading-by-members-of-congress/
[6] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/briefing/congress-stock-investments-profits.html
[7] Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/congress-stock-act-violations-senate-house-trading-2021-9#sen-rand-paul-a-republican-from-kentucky-4
[8] Ibid.
[9]  Vox: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/4/1/21202900/kelly-loeffler-stock-sales-coronavirus-pandemic
[10] Atlanta Journal-Constitution: https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/loeffler-reports-more-stock-sales-amid-insider-trading-allegations/YFPDT3pChO873nuzNKa44K/
[11] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/justice-dept-ends-coronavirus-insider-trading-investigations-into-us-sens-loeffler-inhofe-and-feinstein/2020/05/26/5e59b9a4-9f8b-11ea-b5c9-570a91917d8d_story.html
[12] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/briefing/congress-stock-investments-profits.html
[13] Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/senate-schumer-vote-banning-lawmakers-trading-stocks-ossoff-2022-2
[14] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/news/588630-76-percent-of-voters-support-banning-lawmakers-from-trading-stocks-poll?rl=1

 

Censure Divides the Republican Party

On February 4, the Republican National Committee (RNC) officially censured two members of the party, Representatives Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., for their role in the ongoing House of Representatives investigation into the Capitol riot that occurred on January 6, 2021.

The RNC resolution claims that Cheney and Kinzinger “support Democrat efforts to destroy President Trump” and denounces “those who deliberately jeopardize [Republican] victory in November.” Perhaps the most controversial text of the resolution states, “Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”1 Some interpreted this statement as downplaying the riot and showing support for those responsible.2 Later that day, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that the language was referring to “ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol,” although the resolution does not make that distinction and does not specify which actions the RNC views as legitimate.3

READ MORE: Insurrection at the Capitol on the Current Issues Blog

On January 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump rioted in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.4 The Department of Justice estimates that between 2,000 and 2,500 people entered the Capitol. More than 725 people have been arrested, with charges ranging from parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building to assault with a deadly weapon. As a result of the violence, 138 law enforcement officers were injured and two people died.5 In addition to the investigations by law enforcement agencies, the House launched its own investigation with a select committee that currently includes seven Democrats and Cheney and Kinzinger as the sole Republicans, all of whom were chosen by Democrats and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.6

READ MORE: Who Is Accountable for the Riot? on the Current Issues Blog

On the day of the censure vote, McDaniel made it clear that the RNC is strongly prioritizing party unity, something Cheney and Kinzinger are purportedly threatening with their presence on the House committee and continued criticism of President Trump. “When Republicans come together, we win,” McDaniel said at the RNC general session.7 After facing criticism directed at the language in the resolution, McDaniel defended the RNC’s decision. “Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line,” she said.8 Richard Porter, an RNC member from Illinois, agreed with the censure, saying, “The nominal Republicans on the committee provide a pastiche of bipartisanship, but no genuine protection or due process for the ordinary people who did not riot being targeted and terrorized by the committee. The investigation is a de facto Democrat-only investigation increasingly unmoored from congressional norms.”9

READ MORE: Free Speech and Censorship Fallout from the Capitol Riot on the Current Issues Blog

Shortly before the censure vote, Representative Cheney stated that her party had become “willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election.”10 Several members of the Republican Party, including Senators Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, criticized the censure. “Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol,” tweeted Romney. “Honor attaches to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for seeking truth even when doing so comes at great personal cost.”11

The fight over President Trump continues to divide Republicans, as some support him and others believe opposing him will keep Republican congressional majorities out of reach in the upcoming midterms. Other Republicans believe they should be allowed to criticize the former president or disagree with the RNC. “It can be uncomfortable when you say I’m not going to align myself neatly with what the party is saying just because the party is saying [it],” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.12

Discussion Questions

  1. Is a desire for party unity an acceptable reason for censuring members? Why or why not?
  2. Last year, the RNC soundly denounced the January 6 rioters right after the events. Why might party leadership have chosen to use language in the February 4 resolution that critics see as supporting the rioters?
  3. Cheney now has a higher risk of losing her spot in Congress. What issues are important enough to you to risk losing your power to make change?
  4. How important is party loyalty to you? If you were voting for a member of Congress, would you take party loyalty into account?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
[1] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/rnc-resolution-to-censure-cheney-kinzinger/cf48ebbc-aeb2-42c2-9a6b-3802186203e3/?itid=lk_inline_manual_8&itid=lk_inline_manual_4
[2] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/it-s-disappointing-avenging-trump-overshadows-midterm-message-rnc-n1288715
[3] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/02/03/rnc-cheney-trump/
[4] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/01/06/1070736018/jan-6-anniversary-investigation-cases-defendants-justice
[5] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/11/us/politics/capitol-riot-police-officer-injuries.html
[6] House of Representatives: https://january6th.house.gov/about/membership
[7] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/it-s-disappointing-avenging-trump-overshadows-midterm-message-rnc-n1288715
[8] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/us/politics/republicans-jan-6-cheney-censure.html
[9] Ibid.
[10] Twitter: https://twitter.com/Liz_Cheney/status/1489410422172262404?s=20&t=HzA066fMTwFAuRqhuY5BoA
[11] Twitter: https://twitter.com/MittRomney/status/1489611374930141184?s=20&t=QLeXMdTUgkd89Dr4eV6-zQ
[12] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/593013-murkowski-it-can-be-uncomfortable-not-to-align-with-what-the-party-is-saying?rl=1

 

What Is Happening in Ukraine?

President Joe Biden has ordered the Pentagon to put 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Europe.1 And the State Department has told the families of U.S. diplomats in Ukraine to leave the country as the possibility of a Russian invasion increases.2 So, what is going on?

Background on Ukraine

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, after Russia, and gained its independence in late 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It maintains deep ties to Russia, and many Russian leaders regret the separation. Ukraine’s leadership used to be aligned with Russia, but its top trading partner is now China and more than half of Ukraine’s population supports joining the European Union.3

Controlling Ukrainian territory has many advantages. It has some of the world’s most fertile soil and it’s located along the route of Russian oil and gas pipelines to Europe. Russia supplies Europe with 40 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent of its oil.4

In 2014, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia, was forced out of office and a pro-Western candidate was elected in his place, separatists in eastern Ukraine began to rebel with Russian military aid. That war has killed over 15,000 people in the Donbas region. Russia also invaded the Crimean Peninsula that year and now controls it.5

The Role of Russia

Russia recently moved 100,000 troops and arms toward Belarus, a Russian ally and a neighbor of Ukraine, for military exercises. Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that he is not planning an invasion of Ukraine. Instead, he claims that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are trying to destabilize the region by sending in weapons and military advisors.6 Putin has spoken out against NATO before; in 2008, he warned that steps to bring Ukraine into the alliance “would be a hostile act toward Russia.”7

The Role of the United States

President Biden was vice president when the Russian military took control of Crimea, and he has said that Putin may try to “test the West” with another invasion. President Biden sent $650 million in defensive military aid and helped Ukraine procure missiles and aircraft. So far, no one has said the troops on alert would go directly to Ukraine; rather, they would be posted to support NATO members such as Poland or those in the Baltics.8

The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Russia since 2014. However, experts have debated their efficacy, since Russian oil and gas are essential to U.S. allies in Europe. The Biden administration is also considering using the “foreign direct product rule,” which would prohibit U.S. tech companies from exporting goods to Russia.9

READ MORE: This isn’t President Biden’s first foreign policy dilemma; read on the blog about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan

The Role of NATO

NATO was founded in 1949 in response to the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. By signing the treaty, member states agree to defend each other if any are invaded. After the Soviet Union dissolved, several former Soviet republics began the process of joining NATO, which Russia opposed. Ukraine has applied to be a member, but it is not one yet.10

Putin has demanded assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO and an end to military exercises near its border. For his part, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia has no say over who is allowed to join NATO.11

The Situation in Ukraine

Recent elections indicate that Ukrainians prefer closer cooperation with the West than with Russia.12 Ukraine has criticized as premature the United States and other countries pulling diplomats’ families from embassies. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry said, “The threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has been permanent since 2014, and the build-up of Russian forces on the state border began in April of last year.” Despite this confidence, there is concern that the Russian military build-up is meant to threaten the internal stability of Ukraine.13

Attempts at Diplomacy

Last week, Blinken met with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in an attempt to defuse the situation. Blinken and Lavrov left the meeting affirming plans to continue speaking, and they said that a talk between the presidents of the two countries is possible. This statement came before the announcement that U.S. troops could be headed to the region or that more severe sanctions could be coming.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why might Russia be taking aggressive steps against Ukraine?
  2. Does the United States have a responsibility to protect other sovereign nations from invasion? Why or why not?
  3. What do you think the United States’ foreign policy priorities should be in the region?
  4. How would you advise President Biden to achieve those priorities?
  5. What factors are complicating the United States’ response to the situation?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Hannah Dormido
[1] Burns, Robert, and Lorne Cook. “U.S. Puts 8,500 Troops on Heightened Alert Amid Russia Tension.” Associated Press. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[2] Bowman, Emma. “State Department Orders Families of Embassy Staff to Leave Ukraine.” NPR. 23 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[3] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[4] Ibid.
[5] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. “Fact vs. Fiction: Russian Disinformation on Ukraine.” 20 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
[6] Cooper, Helene. “U.S. Considers Backing an Insurgency if Russia Invades Ukraine.” New York Times. 14 Jan. 2022. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[7] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[8] Burns, Robert, and Lorne Cook. “U.S. Puts 8,500 Troops on Heightened Alert Amid Russia Tension.” Associated Press. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[9] Nakashima, Ellen, and Jeanne Whalen. “U.S. Threatens Use of Novel Export Control to Damage Russia’s Strategic Industries if Moscow Invades Ukraine.” Washington Post. 23 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[10] NATO. “What is NATO?” Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[11] Lee, Matthew, and Lorne Cook. “US, NATO Rule Out Halt to Expansion, Reject Russian Demands.” Associated Press. 7 Jan. 2022. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[12] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[13] Schwitz, Michael, and Steven Erianger. “NATO Steps Up Readiness in Eastern Europe to Reassure Allies.” New York Times. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.