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Avoiding War With Russia Over Ukraine Is Not Weakness — It Is the Right Thing to Do

by Bernie Sanders

The following are the remarks, as prepared for delivery, by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday, February 10, 2022 as he called for diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis over Ukraine:

M. President, I rise to address the looming crisis in Ukraine.

As I speak today, Europe, for the first time in almost 80 years, is faced with the threat of a major invasion. A large nation threatens a smaller, less powerful neighbor, surrounding it on three sides with tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery.

My friends, as we have painfully learned, wars have unintended consequences. They rarely turn out the way the planners and experts tell us they will. Just ask the officials who provided rosy scenarios for the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, only to be proven horribly wrong. Just ask the mothers of the soldiers who were killed or wounded in action during those wars. Just ask the millions of civilians who became “collateral damage.”

The war in Vietnam cost us 59,000 American deaths and many others who came home wounded in body and spirit. In fact, a whole generation was devastated by that war. The casualties in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are almost incalculable.

In Afghanistan, what began as a response to those who attacked us on September 11, 2001, eventually became a twenty year-long, $2 trillion war in which over 3500 Americans were killed along with tens of thousands Afghan civilians. George W. Bush claimed in 2003 that the United States had “put the Taliban out of business forever.” Sadly, as we all know, the Taliban is in power right now.

The war in Iraq—which was sold to the American people by stoking fear of a “mushroom cloud” from Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction—led to the deaths of some 4,500 U.S. troops, and the wounding—physical and emotional—of tens of thousands of others. It led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of over 5 million people, and regional destabilization whose consequences the world continues to grapple with today.

The military intervention in Vietnam started slowly, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began much more quickly, but what they all share is that the foreign policy establishment insisted that they were necessary. That there was no alternative to escalation and war.

Well, it turns out that they were wrong. And millions of innocent people paid the price.

That is why we must do everything possible to find a diplomatic resolution to prevent what would be an enormously destructive war in Ukraine.

No one knows exactly what the human costs of such a war would be. There are estimates, however, that there could be over 50,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, and millions of refugees flooding neighboring countries as they flee what could be the worst European conflict since World War II.

In addition, of course, there would be many thousands of deaths within the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. There is also the possibility that this “regional” war could escalate to other parts of Europe. What might happen then is even more horrifying.

But that’s not all. The sanctions against Russia that would be imposed as a consequence of its actions, and Russia’s threatened response to those sanctions, could result in massive economic upheaval—with impacts on energy, banking, food, and the day to day needs of ordinary people throughout the entire world. It is likely that Russians will not be the only people suffering from sanctions. They would be felt in Europe. They would be felt here in the United States, and around the world.

And, by the way, any hope of international cooperation to address the existential threat of global climate change and future pandemics would suffer a major setback.

M. President, we should be absolutely clear about who is most responsible for this looming crisis: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Having already seized parts of Ukraine in 2014, Putin now threatens to take over the entire country and destroy Ukrainian democracy. There should be no disagreement that this is unacceptable. In my view, we must unequivocally support the sovereignty of Ukraine and make clear that the international community will impose severe consequences on Putin and his fellow oligarchs if he does not change course.

With that said, M. President, I am extremely concerned when I hear the familiar drumbeats in Washington, the bellicose rhetoric that gets amplified before every war, demanding that we must “show strength,” “get tough” and not engage in “appeasement.” A simplistic refusal to recognize the complex roots of the tensions in the region undermines the ability of negotiators to reach a peaceful resolution.

I know it is not very popular in Washington to consider the perspectives of our adversaries, but I think it is important in formulating good policy.

I think it is helpful to consider this: One of the precipitating factors of this crisis, at least from Russia’s perspective, is the prospect of an enhanced security relationship between Ukraine and the United States and Western Europe, including what Russia sees as the threat of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), a military alliance originally created in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union.

It is good to know some history. When Ukraine became independent after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian leaders made clear their concerns about the prospect of former Soviet states becoming part of NATO and positioning hostile military forces along Russia’s border. U.S. officials recognized these concerns as legitimate at the time.

One of those officials was William Perry, who served as Defense Secretary under President Bill Clinton. In a 2017 interview, Perry said and I quote, “In the last few years, most of the blame can be pointed at the actions that Putin has taken. But in the early years I have to say that the United States deserves much of the blame… “Our first action that really set us off in a bad direction was when NATO started to expand, bringing in eastern European nations, some of them bordering Russia.”

Another U.S. official who acknowledged these concerns is former U.S. diplomat Bill Burns, who is now head of the CIA in the Biden administration. In his memoir, Burns quotes a memo he wrote while serving as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995, and I quote: “Hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.”

Over ten years later, in 2008, Burns wrote in a memo to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and I quote “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin)… In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players… I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”

So again: these concerns were not just invented out of thin air by Putin.

Clearly, invasion by Russia is not an answer; neither is intransigence by NATO. It is important to recognize, for example, that Finland, one of the most developed and democratic countries in the world, borders Russia and has chosen not to be a member of NATO. Sweden and Austria are other examples of extremely prosperous and democratic countries that have made the same choice.

M. President, Vladimir Putin may be a liar and a demagogue, but it is hypocritical for the United States to insist that we do not accept the principle of “spheres of influence.” For the last 200 years our country has operated under the Monroe Doctrine, embracing the premise that as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has the right to intervene against any country that might threaten our alleged interests. Under this doctrine we have undermined and overthrown at least a dozen governments. In 1962 we came to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union in response to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from our shore, which the Kennedy Administration saw as an unacceptable threat to our national security.

And the Monroe Doctrine is not ancient history. As recently as 2018 Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, called the Monroe Doctrine “as relevant today as it was the day it was written.” In 2019, former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton declared “the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”

To put it simply, even if Russia was not ruled by a corrupt authoritarian leader like Vladimir Putin, Russia, like the United States, would still have an interest in the security policies of its neighbors. Does anyone really believe that the United States would not have something to say if, for example, Mexico was to form a military alliance with a U.S. adversary?

Countries should be free to make their own foreign policy choices, but making those choices wisely requires a serious consideration of the costs and benefits. The fact is that the U.S. and Ukraine entering into a deeper security relationship is likely to have some very serious costs—for both countries.

M. President, I believe that we must vigorously support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to deescalate this crisis. I believe we must reaffirm Ukrainian independence and sovereignty. And we must make clear to Putin and his gang of oligarchs that they will face major consequences should he continue down the current path.

My friends, we must never forget the horrors that a war in the region would cause and must work hard to achieve a realistic and mutually agreeable resolution—one that is acceptable to Ukraine, Russia, the United States and our European allies—and that prevents what could be the worst European war in over 75 years.

That is not weakness. That is not appeasement. Bringing people together to resolve conflicts non-violently is strength, and it is the right thing to do.

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How a Group of Starbucks Workers Emerged Victorious in Their Union Fight

by Sonali Kolhatkar 

The iconic American coffee chain, Starbucks, employs hundreds of thousands of people in nearly 9,000 cafés nationwide. And yet, the news that a handful of Starbucks employees at one café in Buffalo, New York, recently voted to join Workers United—an affiliate of SEIU—made headlines nationally. The New York Times called it a “big symbolic win for labor,” while the Washington Post hailed it as a “watershed union vote.” Social media feeds were replete with joyous posts celebrating the vote. The café, located on Elmwood Avenue, was the only one out of three union-voting Starbucks locations in Buffalo that successfully chose to unionize.

“It is significant,” says Cedric de Leon of the Starbucks union vote. De Leon is the director of the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is an associate professor of sociology, and he is the author of several books about labor organizing in the U.S. “The employer knows it and the workers know that establishing a beachhead in one of the largest corporations, and really an iconic brand in the U.S. hospitality market, is a major accomplishment.”

Ahead of ballots being cast, Starbucks tried to delay the vote and even stacked the Buffalo cafés with new staff to try to dilute “yes” votes. It flew in external managers to closely watch workers in what was seen as brazen intimidation. The company, which has long resisted union activity, brought its former Chief Executive Howard Schultz to Buffalo to discourage workers from unionizing, even shutting down its cafés during his Saturday visit so they could attend what was essentially a captive-audience address.

Given that Starbucks would go to such lengths to stop just a handful of stores from joining a union, it’s no surprise that it took 50 years after its founding for a single café to unionize. And it’s no wonder that commentators are shocked by what is a potentially groundbreaking event.

During his address, Schultz, who remains Starbucks’ largest shareholder, reportedly spoke of the company’s health insurance benefits and tuition assistance as reasons why a union was unnecessary. Believing he knows what is best for workers, Schultz had written in his first memoir, “I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union.”

Yet there is evidence that Starbucks workers could indeed use the collective bargaining power that a union confers. A study by Unite Here of thousands of Starbucks employees working at airport locations found a racial pay gap with Black workers earning $1.85 less per hour than their white counterparts. Nearly one in five of those workers reported not having enough money to purchase food.

And in 2020, in the midst of the national uprisings for racial justice, Starbucks issued a policy prohibiting workers from wearing pins or clothing in support of Black Lives Matter. The company backpedaled after a public uproar.

Like Amazon and Walmart, Starbucks has often retaliated against those workers seeking to organize a union. Starbucks barista Gabriel Ocasio Mejias in Orlando, Florida, was fired after attempting to convince his colleagues to join Unite Here.

The pandemic was particularly hard on workers as online to-go orders sharply spiked. A shift supervisor in New York who wished to remain anonymous told the Guardian, “They want us to just be these robots that move fast, we’re just little drones to them that just need to pump out as many lattes as we can in a half-hour.”

When asked to respond to the shift supervisor’s complaint, a Starbucks spokesperson responded with a statement that could only have been written by a public relations expert. “Our 200,000 partners across the US are the best people in the business, and their experiences are key to helping us make Starbucks a meaningful and inspiring place to work,” said the spokesperson. “We offer a world-class benefits program for all part- and full-time partners and continued support for partners during Covid-19 to care for themselves and their families, and we continue to have an industry-leading retention rate.”

It’s true that the company refers to its employees as “partners,” as if using a term that sounds powerful is enough to eclipse the lack of worker power. But the use of the term has a downside as workers are challenging Starbucks to live up to what “partner” implies.

One of the Buffalo Starbucks workers who voted to unionize, Michelle Eisen, said in a statement, “This win is the first step in changing what it means to be a partner at Starbucks, and what it means to work in the service industry more broadly.” She added, “With a union, we now have the ability to negotiate a contract that holds Starbucks accountable to be the company we know it can be, and gives us a real voice in our workplace.” And it’s precisely that ability that Starbucks and Schultz are terrified of.

“When workers get the notion that this giant boss who seemed like a colossus a year ago can be beaten, when they see that, then they begin to organize,” says De Leon. Already two Starbucks stores in Boston, upon seeing the success of the Buffalo café, signed up for union elections. Those workers, once more challenging Starbucks to live up to the term “partners,” issued a statement saying, “We believe that there can be no true partnership without power-sharing and accountability.”

Workers at a store in Mesa, Arizona, are similarly inspired by the victory in Buffalo and filed a petition for a union election. One worker told the Arizona Republic, “Our eyes were on Buffalo.”

Increasingly, workers appear to be seeing through the anti-union propaganda of their corporate employers. Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said of the pro-union activity in Mesa, “We shouldn’t have a third party in between us when it comes to working together to develop the best experience that our partners can have.” But a Buffalo Starbucks worker serving as a union liaison for Mesa workers countered, “our union is going to be made up of baristas and shift supervisors who make up Starbucks. That’s not a third party.”

The general public also seems to be growing more supportive of union efforts, as a worker at the Buffalo store reported that more people were coming to the café, excited by the news of the union vote, and tipping more generously than usual. A Gallup poll in September found the highest public support for unions since 1965, with a whopping 68 percent of respondents supporting the right to collective bargaining. De Leon says, “So many successful organizing campaigns are buttressed by community support.”

The eyes of those union supporters among us now ought to be on Starbucks management as the question remains whether or not the company will negotiate a contract in good faith. Terri Gerstein writing in the American Prospect warned that “even in Buffalo, the battle is far from over,” and that “there are too many ways employers can try to destroy a union even after an election.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who had declared his solidarity with the Buffalo workers, demanded after news emerged of the vote that “The company should stop pouring money into the fight against the union and negotiate a fair contract now.”

[Source]

There Is No Labor Shortage, Only Labor Exploitation

by Sonali Kolhatkar 


For the past few months, Republicans have been waging a ferocious political battle to end federal unemployment benefits, based upon stated desires of saving the U.S. economy from a serious labor shortage. The logic, in the words of Republican politicians like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, goes like this: “the government pays folks more to stay home than to go to work,” and therefore, “[p]aying people not to work is not helpful.” The conservative Wall Street Journal has been beating the drum for the same argument, saying recently that it was a “terrible blunder” to pay jobless benefits to unemployed workers.

If the hyperbolic claims are to be believed, one might imagine American workers are luxuriating in the largesse of taxpayer-funded payments, thumbing their noses at the earnest “job creators” who are taking far more seriously the importance of a post-pandemic economic growth spurt.

It is true that there are currently millions of jobs going unfilled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released statistics showing that there were 9.3 million job openings in April and that the percentage of layoffs decreased while resignations increased. Taking these statistics at face value, one could conclude this means there is a labor shortage.

But, as economist Heidi Shierholz explained in a New York Times op-ed, there is only a labor shortage if employers raise wages to match worker demands and subsequently still face a shortage of workers. Shierholz wrote, “When those measures [of raising wages] don’t result in a substantial increase in workers, that’s a labor shortage. Absent that dynamic, you can rest easy.”

Remember the subprime mortgage housing crisis of 2008 when economists and pundits blamed low-income homeowners for wanting to purchase homes they could not afford? Perhaps this is the labor market’s way of saying, if you can’t afford higher salaries, you shouldn’t expect to fill jobs.

Or, to use the logic of another accepted capitalist argument, employers could liken the job market to the surge pricing practices of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. After consumers complained about hiked-up prices for rides during rush hour, Uber explained, “With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.” Applying this logic to the labor market, workers might be saying to employers: “When enough dollars are being offered in wages, the number of job openings will go back down to normal levels.” In other words, workers are surge-pricing the cost of their labor.

But corporate elites are loudly complaining that the sky is falling—not because of a real labor shortage, but because workers are less likely now to accept low-wage jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that “[t]he worker shortage is real,” and that it has risen to the level of a “national economic emergency” that “poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.” In the Chamber’s worldview, workers, not corporate employers who refuse to pay better, are the main obstacle to the U.S.’s economic recovery.

Longtime labor organizer and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies Bill Fletcher Jr. explained to me in an email interview that claims of a labor shortage are an exaggeration and that, actually, “we suffered a minor depression and not another great recession,” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Fletcher’s view, “The so-called labor shortage needs to be understood as the result of tremendous employment reorganization, including the collapse of industries and companies.”

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The Biggest Threat to Israel Is the Occupation

by Michael Winship and Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

What have your days been like while all of this has been going on?

The mornings are the worst. I wake up groggy. Within an hour I have to decide what to focus on, when all hell is generally letting loose – armed militias on the streets, especially in Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem, and Gaza being pulped. Two nights ago, I slept only an hour, woken by incessant warplanes flying in formation – they’re using F-15s and F-16s. Then you start thinking of them dropping payloads, gifts of death. One guy on a Zoom call of about 70 Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations the other day just lost eight members of his family but kept working – only mentioning it at the end of the call.

There’s analysis to read, focusing on what to share as advocacy resources. Twitter jumping. Stats of the dead. Friends asking how I am. There’s a horrible feeling among peace activists and other Israelis that it’s all falling apart. Dark, dangerous spirits and genies deliberately have been let out of the bottle (real neo-fascists) and no confirmation it can ever go back.

Police violence is more brutal everywhere, giving the distinct impression that this “round of fighting” (a euphemism for genocide?) was deliberately provoked, with [Israeli prime minister] Bibi Netanyahu seen by so many analysts and even members of his party, Likud, as having a vested interest in declaring war on Gaza and the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Why were the police so harsh? So damned undisciplined? So racist?

Huge damage has been done to prospects for co-existence. Palestinian Israelis are 20% of the population, they’re our fellow citizens and our policies are radicalizing them, while 340,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem live with almost no civil rights at all – including no one to vote for. The rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories [OPT] also are without any statehood — 300,000, for example, live in Area C under Israeli military control in what for many, many years now we’ve been saying is an apartheid reality. Now Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem are saying it, too. So, in the early part of the day, it’s a question of trying to stay calm and not panic. Trying to find what’s essential, not get distracted or want to retreat into reading irrelevant stuff in the papers. Or spending time on Google Streetview somewhere in the Sussex countryside or searching for our old home in Mbabane, Swaziland, as an escape!

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Might You Have Been a “Good German”? Have You Been a Good American?

by Jaime O’Neill | April 8, 2021


I surely am not only one who has devoted some idle moments thinking about how I might have behaved had I been a German in Germany during the rise of Hitler, wondering if I would have had the courage to speak out as the oppression settled ever more heavily on that nation. I’ve read quite a few narratives about people who tried to resist, about the young people in the White Rose resistance movement, for instance, and about solitary subversives who made small but very dangerous attempts to gum up the works.

What would I–and what would you–have done if you saw Jews being loaded on trucks while being spat upon by your fellow citizens? What would you have done if you lived down wind of one of the gas chambers and listened to the rumors neighbors were sharing about the not-so-secret activities being carried on so close to where you lived?

When I was younger, I liked to think there was little I wouldn’t have done to stand against the Nazi horrors. Now, I’m not so sure. I remind myself that I engaged in resistance against the war in Vietnam, and that I was already a husband and a father when I was doing that. I tell myself, and I told myself, that protesting against my government was a duty I had to the future, and to my kids.

But, as bad as that war was, and as paranoid as many of us felt about FBI operatives working undercover, and agents taking our pictures at demonstrations, most of us were idealists not at all ready to believe our country was actually going to come after us, then drag us off to be tortured. Still, there were episodes and anecdotes of violence against those who bucked the system. Civil rights workers were terrorized and some were killed. Anti-war activists were constantly being warned that we were putting our futures at risk. Skulls were cracked, limbs broken. The Alameda Sheriff’s Department (aka “The Blue Meanies”) were known to shoot buckshot at the heels of demonstrators fleeing gas attacks knowing that the pellets would ricochet off the sidewalk and into the legs and buttocks of the peaceniks.

At a demonstration in Berkeley one bright day in the mid-60s, my wife and I joined a few thousand other marchers for a walk through largely friendly turf on our way to a rally-against-the-war. People lined the streets, mostly applauding as we passed. Among them I saw a former English teacher who waved me over. Though she said that she, herself, opposed the war, she felt it unwise for me, a young man with a family, to be jeopardizing my future by making my dissent public. “People are collecting information on people who oppose the war,” she said, “and you might find it hard to get a teaching job in the future.”

I told her I wasn’t worried, and that she should join us. She didn’t, though she assured me that she was with us in spirit. But I was worried. I had a responsibility to my conscience, of course, but that hadn’t turned out to be an uncomplicated matter. I had a responsibility to my family, too, also a matter of conscience. Was I being irresponsible by opposing the war, or would I be irresponsible, even to my children, if I didn’t?

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