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!



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.


Another Hot One: 2021

It’s official: 2021 was either the fifth or sixth hottest year on record, depending on who you ask.

On January 13, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued reports saying that 2021 was the sixth hottest year ever recorded, going back to when record-keeping began in 1880.1 Earlier in the week, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, whose researchers are based in the European Union, released its own analysis, calculating 2021 to be the fifth hottest year in recorded history.2 Although there are variations in the rankings based on how the averages were calculated, the overall data still align and reach the same conclusion: 2021 was yet another hot one.

This distinction comes as no surprise to climate scientists, whose analyses have shown that global temperatures have continued to break records in recent years. The year 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest years, according to NASA.3 NASA’s data shows that “Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century” and that human activity—namely greenhouse gas emissions—is the root cause of this change.4

Global average temperature compared with mid-20th century.This is part of a broad trend of record-breaking temperatures. The previous seven years have been the seven hottest on record.5 And according to the NOAA, July 2021 was the single hottest month ever recorded.6 NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad characterized this data as a continuation of “the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”7

The effects of climate change can be seen around the world in extreme heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and other severe weather events such as storms, hurricanes, and tornados, which increase in strength and frequency due to warmer temperatures. “We do not live in a stable climate now,” said Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth, an organization focused on climate science. “We will expect to see more extremes and more all-time records being set.”8

U.S. 2021 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disaster

This fall, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, met in Glasgow in what its organizers dubbed the “last, best hope to save the planet.”9 It ended with an agreement between more than 200 countries to come back in a year with stronger, concrete plans on how to mitigate the effects of climate change and the recognition that wealthier nations need to increase their funding for these efforts.10 There was also consensus about the urgency of the issue and ongoing conversations about what should be done, such as curtailing methane emissions and ending deforestation.11 However, nations disagreed about how quickly they need to reduce emissions and by how much—information that is vital to address climate change on a global scale.12 Nineteen-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg criticized the apparent lack of action in a tweet: “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah.”13

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you seen or experienced any effects of climate change in the past year?
  2. On a scale of 1-5 (with 1 being “not important” and 5 being “extremely important”), how important is the issue of climate change to you and your community?
  3. How seriously do you think elected leaders in the federal government take the issue of climate change? In your state or local government?
  4. Considering the enormous scale of the issue, how do you think the U.S. government should respond to climate change?

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



Featured Image Credit: Sky News
[1] Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-01-13/2021-was-earths-6th-hottest-year-nasa-and-noaa-say
[2] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/10/climate/2021-hottest-year.html
[3] NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/2020-tied-for-warmest-year-on-record-nasa-analysis-shows
[4] Ibid.
[5] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-climate-summit-takeaways.html
[6] NOAA: https://www.noaa.gov/news/its-official-july-2021-was-earths-hottest-month-on-record
[7] Ibid.
[8] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/12/climate/nyt-climate-newsletter-temperature-records.html
[9] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-climate-summit-takeaways.html
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Twitter: https://twitter.com/gretathunberg/status/1459612735294029834?lang=en


The Great Resignation

Across the United States, towns and cities are flooded with “Help Wanted” signs on business doors. The U.S. job market has seen its share of ups and downs over the last two years, but 2021 was a year of record-breaking highs in many categories. The two most important: record-breaking quits and record-breaking new job openings.

According to the most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) released by the Department of Labor, a record high of 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 alone.1 This number contributes to the 20 million people who resigned during the second half of 2021. 2

Economists and the media have dubbed this phenomenon “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit.” These numbers starkly contrast with the early months of the pandemic, when nearly 22 million people lost their jobs in only two months.3

Source: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/december-2021-jobs-report/ Source: https://theconversation.com/the-great-resignation-historical-data-and-a-deeper-analysis-show-its-not-as-great-as-screaming-headlines-suggest-174454 \

Along with record-high job turnover, we are simultaneously experiencing record-high job openings across the nation. The job market reached historical pinnacles in 2021, with a record 6.4 million job openings (the highest number in history for one year) and an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent.4 For some perspective, this is 51 percent higher than the booming 4.3 million jobs added in 1946 following World War II.5 Furthermore, it took three times as long (three years total) to add the same number of jobs during the recovery from the Great Recession.6 It is possible to assume that we are just getting back jobs lost during the hot months of the pandemic, but as the chart below shows, the U.S. economy has 50.6 percent more positions open now than before the pandemic began.7  Meanwhile, in November 2021, the number of hires held steady at 6.7 million across all U.S. industries and regions.8 It seems we have the jobs, but not the workers.

Source: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/december-2021-jobs-report/

With more jobs available than workers, people ask: “How do we bring even more people to work?” Economists and experts from employment-focused companies such as Linkedin and ZipRecruiter have conducted surveys and analyzed employment data to try and discover what is driving the wave of resignations and what employees are looking for in opportunities.

The most straightforward answer would be that the unemployment benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic are driving people toward the Great Resignation. However, both data and expert opinion suggest that this is an oversimplification of the current situation. Many people are not returning to the same or any workplace once benefits have ended. For example, a restaurant owner from Greenville, South Carolina, told 60 Minutes in an interview that his employees who never returned found other jobs that better aligned with their wishes and goals.9

WATCH: Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa.,  and Greg Murphy, R-N.C., debate the causes and remedies for the Great Resignation in a video from our partners, A Starting Point.

Many experts believe it is about more than money; it is about quality of life. Anthony Klotz, the man credited with coining the term “The Great Resignation,” told NBC in an interview that it’s not that people have stopped working. Instead, he said, they are making a change. “This great resignation and the turnover that goes along with it is individuals taking their futures, their careers into their own hands and trying to craft a life that is more meaningful for them and their families,” he said.10 In addition, people working in lower-wage jobs may find that quitting allows them to find higher wages with less potential exposure to COVID-19. Since the pandemic, many employees are looking for more flexibility in hours, remote work options, safety measures, reduced exposure to COVID-19, and good pay/benefits for work they find meaningful.11

On the other end of the spectrum, some people argue that there is no Great Resignation happening at all; this is simply how the job market flows. These people say that the quit rate isn’t that big of a deal because many people have been quitting their jobs for years. While comparatively high for a standard year (about five percent higher than an average number of quits per year), the rates are likely similar to workforce quits seen during other significant moments in history, such as pre-and post-World War II, but quits data was not being collected then.12 These people argue that the hype makes it seem like more people are leaving jobs across industries than is actually happening. While all job sectors have seen increases in resignations, a handful make up a large portion of those numbers (e.g., accommodation and food service, which makes sense given the parameters of COVID-19).13 (For information on specific quit rates, see the chart above.)

Whatever the reason for the open jobs and resignations, most people believe the tables have turned in favor of employees—for now. As such, if employers want to fill open positions, it may require an adjustment to what work looks like moving forward.

Discussion Questions

  1. From what you already know and what you have read, does it seem like a Great Resignation is going on in the United States? Why or why not?
  2. What impact, if any, do you think having too many jobs available and not enough employees could have on the economy?
  3. Why do you think so many people are quitting their jobs during the pandemic? Have you heard of anyone leaving their job or starting a new career? What were the reasons they gave?
  4. How, if at all, do you think this change in the workforce and power shifting to the employee might impact the nature of work moving forward?
  5. Do you view the Great Resignation as a problem? Why or why not?
  6. If you think it is a problem, do you think there is a role for government in addressing it? If so, what role?

For More Information

  1. A list of the highs in the labor market for 2021 from ZipRecruiter
  2. More from ZipRecruiter on how companies are responding
  3. The JOLTS site on the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more ongoing data

Additional Charts and Tables

Source: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/remote-work-demand-outstrips-supply/ Source: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/remote-work-demand-outstrips-supply/ Source: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/the-big-quit-and-the-tightest-labor-market-ever/

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



Featured Image Credit: The 1E Solutions Blog
[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm
[2] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/great-resignation-60-minutes-2022-01-10/
[3] Ibid.
[4] Today: https://www.today.com/video/american-workers-are-becoming-their-own-bosses-through-the-great-resignation-130454597857
[5] The ZipRecruiter Blog: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/december-2021-jobs-report/
[6] Ibid.
[7]  The ZipRecruiter Blog: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/december-2021-jobs-report/
[8] Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm
[9] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/great-resignation-60-minutes-2022-01-10/
[10] Today: https://www.today.com/video/american-workers-are-becoming-their-own-bosses-through-the-great-resignation-130454597857
[11] The ZipRecruiter Blog: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/remote-work-demand-outstrips-supply/; Vox:  https://www.vox.com/recode/22841490/work-remote-wages-labor-force-participation-great-resignation-unions-quitsUSA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2022/01/04/great-resignation-number-people-quitting-jobs-hit-record/9083256002/
[12] The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/the-great-resignation-historical-data-and-a-deeper-analysis-show-its-not-as-great-as-screaming-headlines-suggest-174454
[13] Ibid.


Build Back Better Stalls, Maybe for Good

Already facing the enormous challenge of addressing spiking cases of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant, President Joe Biden’s administration was presented with a new challenge when Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced that he would not support the $2 trillion spending plan known as Build Back Better. Citing concerns over the level of spending on social safety net programs and climate policies, Manchin said he could not find a way to support the bill that would be consistent with what he believes his constituents in West Virginia want.1

If passed by Congress, the Build Back Better Bill’s plan would allocate significant funding to a wide range of programs, including:

  • $555 billion to combat climate change, by providing incentives to businesses to switch to renewable energy and creating a Civilian Climate Corps that would employ people to revitalize natural resources (such as forests and wetlands) to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • $200 billion in child tax credits for parents and another $200 billion for a national paid family/medical leave system.
  • $165 billion to reduce the cost of health insurance.
  • $150 billion for affordable at-home medical care.
  • $150 billion for affordable housing projects.

The bulk of the funding for these programs would come from a corresponding increase in taxes paid by corporations and by wealthy individuals (people earning $10 million or more per year).2

The Build Back Better plan was conceived as a second phase of new federal government spending following the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed into law in mid-November. Promising to get the Build Back Better plan and its climate and social initiatives passed had been a source of contention between progressive Democrats and the rest of their party in Congress. Many of these progressives refused to support the infrastructure bill but enough of them, and enough Republicans, were willing to vote to secure its passage.3

The reason why Manchin’s refusal to support Build Back Better means the bill is likely dead is because of the precarious hold that Democrats have on the Senate. Using a process called “budget reconciliation,” Build Back Better could have passed the Senate with only 50 votes (the Senate usually requires 60 votes). Democrats currently have only 50 members in the Senate. In the event of a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote, effectively giving Democrats a 51-50 majority. However, Manchin and his fellow Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are considered more conservative than most of their Democratic peers, having expressed many concerns over the level of government spending in Build Back Better and the effects such spending would have on rising inflation. This led to weeks of negotiation between Manchin and Sinema and their fellow Senate Democrats, as well as with President Biden. While it seemed that Sinema was warming to the idea of voting for the bill, the bill would likely be defeated 49-50 in the Senate without Manchin’s support.4

This represents a major setback for the Biden administration and is likely to result in significant backlash from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who are growing increasingly frustrated with the party leadership’s unwillingness or inability to address the concerns they have surrounding climate, housing, social services, and health care. And with Democrats holding slim majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives ahead of the November 2022 elections, a major legislative defeat could result in huge losses and a return to Republican control in one or both chambers.5

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with any of the provisions of Build Back Better? Do you oppose any?
  2. Why do you think it is so difficult for Democrats and Republicans to support the same legislation?
  3. Do you think the government is prioritizing the kinds of changes you would like to see in the United States or in your community?
  4. Recent studies have shown that 52 percent of young people (aged 18-29) feel as the though the United States is a failing or already failed democracy. Do you agree with this assessment? What impact do you think the failure of efforts to reform, such as Build Back Better, has on these impressions?

Related Posts

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



Featured Image Credit: Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/19/sen-joe-manchin-says-he-wont-vote-for-bidens-build-back-better-act.html
[2] https://time.com/6121415/build-back-better-spending-bill-summary/
[3] https://www.vox.com/2021/12/19/22845190/progressives-build-back-better-act-squad-joe-manchin
[4] https://www.kawc.org/politics/2021-11-05/arizona-edition-sen-sinema-on-build-back-better-and-critics
[5] https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/586572-democrats-descend-into-finger-pointing-after-build-back-better