Russia's war on Ukraine: The surprising pervasiveness of American arrogance (plus response: The surprising pervasiveness of pro-war propaganda)

US antiwar protest

First published at FPIF.

Henry Kissinger is arrogant. At 100 years old, he still represents all that is smug and imperious about U.S. foreign policy. Donald Trump and his fellow denizens of the far right project the same vibe with their MAGA madness.

A similar strain of American arrogance can even be found among liberals, the ones who believe that Washington possesses all the answers. Think of Madeleine Albright and her comments about the indispensability of the United States. “If we have to use force, it is because we are America,” the former secretary of state in the Clinton administration said back in 1998. “We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.”

Such comments are risible, particularly in hindsight after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Albright was obviously looking in a funhouse mirror that reflected back an image of America as a basketball center rather than what it so frequently is: an ostrich with its head in the ground.

Okay, none of this is news. Hubris and its consequences: this subtitle can be applied to pretty much any book about American foreign policy since the late nineteenth century.

But here’s the surprising part. Americans on the left can be just as blinkered and arrogant as all the figures further to the right that we’ve criticized repeatedly for the same sins.

So, for instance, a broad assortment of pundit-activists from Noam Chomsky to Jeffrey Sachs have staked out what they consider “pro-peace” or “diplomatic” or “progressive” positions on the war in Ukraine. In open letters, New York Times advertisements, and countless blogs/podcasts/tweets, they have supported “peace now” against the position held by 65 percent of Americans of supporting Ukrainians in the defense of their country.

Here I’m not particularly interested in debating this subclass of leftists on their interpretations of the origins of the current war, which I’ve challenged elsewhere (for instance on the role played by NATO expansion or the notion that what happened in 2014 in Kyiv was a “coup”).

I’m more interested in two linked aspects of this position. First, these pundit-activists have not bothered to consult the victims in this conflict. They show no evidence of talking with Ukrainians, reading Ukrainian analyses, or taking into account Ukrainian perspectives. Imagine a journalist who interviews Donald Trump about accusations that he raped a woman but doesn’t bother to talk to the woman who made the accusation. That would violate all the rules of journalism (not to mention common decency). And yet the victims of Russia’s war get no hearing from a group of pundit-activists who have otherwise specialized in standing up for victims (for instance, of American wars).

Second, these pundit-activists believe, with Albright, that America is the indispensable nation in this conflict, that it has the power to force a ceasefire, negotiate a peace, and remake the European security order. This naïve belief in the power of American empire flows from a mistaken understanding of the role the United States has played in Ukraine (that it stage-managed the “coup” in 2014, that it has single-handedly blocked potential peace negotiations since the invasion last year).

According to this argument, even if the United States used its preponderant power for “evil” in the past, it can turn around like a super villain that has seen the light and use this preponderant power for “good.” In this way, a false reading of the past produces nonsense policy recommendations today.

But let’s take a closer look at these two varieties of arrogance and how they have managed to infect the American left.

The lives of Ukrainians

In an interview with The New Statesman last month, Noam Chomsky outlined his views on Ukraine. As a longtime admirer of Chomsky, I was frankly dismayed at his comments. He repeats several debunked canards, for instance, that the United States and UK (not Russia or even Ukraine) have blocked peace negotiations.

And he adds some new ones into the mix. Russia, he argues, is acting with greater restraint in Ukraine than the United States did in the Iraq War. It’s hard to come to that conclusion after looking at pictures of the destruction of Mariupol and Bakhmut or reading of Russia’s destruction of 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Chomsky also dismisses Sweden and Finland’s entrance into NATO as having nothing to do with a fear of Russian attack. Russia may indeed have no intention or capacity to attack either country, but there is no question that Swedes and Finns worry about the prospect of invasion (or cyberattack).

Of course, like many other supposed iconoclasts on this issue, Chomsky prefaces many of his statements by noting that Russia committed a crime by invading Ukraine before going on to whittle away at Russian responsibility for the war. It’s all too reminiscent of the American right’s whitewashing of U.S. history. Yes, the authors of the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum will concede, land was stolen from the Native Americans and slavery was “barbarous and tyrannical.” But by glossing over the particulars of those crimes, right-wing revisionists miss the centrality of violence in early American history in their eagerness to make their ideological points. So, too, do left-wing revisionists soft-pedal Russian imperialism in their rush to condemn the perfidy of the United States.

What is obvious from the interview, however, is that Chomsky hasn’t talked to any Ukrainians to test his hypotheses or his conclusions. He hasn’t even talked with the Ukrainian translator of his works. That translator, Artem Chapeye, had this to say last year after the Russian invasion.

I started as a volunteer translator of “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” into Ukrainian—now I’m aghast at how you mention, in one sentence, the lead-up to this invasion: “What happened in 2014, whatever one thinks of it, amounted to a coup with US support that… led Russia to annex Crimea, mainly to protect its sole warm-water port and naval base,” Chomsky said…Before “overthrowing capitalism,” try thinking of ways for us Ukrainians not to be slaughtered, because “any war is bad.” I beg you to listen to the local voices here on the ground, not some sages sitting at the center of global power. Please start your analysis with the suffering of millions of people, rather than geopolitical chess moves. Start with the columns of refugees, people with their kids, their elders and their pets. Start with those kids in cancer hospital in Kyiv who are now in bomb shelters missing their chemotherapy.

Before making proposals about negotiations and peace, the advocates of such positions should stop talking and listen to peace groups in Ukraine. They might profitably begin by consulting a recent statement by Ukrainian NGOs called a Ukraine Peace Appeal:

We, Ukrainian civil society activists, feminists, peacebuilders, mediators, dialogue facilitators, human rights defenders and academics, recognise that a growing strategic divergence worldwide has led to certain voices, on the left and right and amongst pacifists to argue for an end to the provision of military support to Ukraine. They also call for an immediate cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia as the strategy for “ending the war”. These calls for negotiation with Putin without resistance are in reality calls to surrender our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

American peace activists might even consult with Russian anti-war activists who have sided at great personal cost with Ukrainian victims against their own government. Listen, for instance, to Boris Kagarlitsky, who has long staked out a lonely, independent left position in Russia:

from the Western progressive public, we only need one thing – stop helping Putin with your conciliatory and ambiguous statements. The more often such statements are made, the greater will be the confidence of officials, deputies and policemen that the current order can continue to exist with the silent support or hypocritical grumbling of the West. Every conciliatory statement made by liberal intellectuals in America results in more arrests, fines, and searches of democratic activists and just plain people here in Russia. We do not need any favor but a very simple one: an understanding of the reality that has developed in Russia today. Stop identifying Putin and his gang with Russia.

But in their utterly parochial presumptuousness, those Americans who support “peace now” only consult themselves.

In praise of U.S. indispensability

On May 11, after Donald Trump appeared in a lie-filled extravaganza on CNN, peace activist Medea Benjamin tweeted in response to a Wall Street Journal clip from the Town Hall: “Watch: Trump Says as President He’d Settle Ukraine War Within 24 hours. “It’s not about winning or losing but about stopping the killing.” YES! I wish Democrats would start saying this!”

So, after repeatedly demonstrating against Trump’s lies for four years, how can the Code Pink activist suddenly turn around and accept on face value something so outlandish from the mouth of the ex-president? Like so many of Trump’s utterances, this one is pure boast. Trump couldn’t “settle” the war even if he wanted to do so. After all, he has a pretty sorry track record in this regard, having not settled any wars when he was president (North Korea) and having threatened to launch a few of his own (Iran, Venezuela) during the same period.

But the issue here is not Trump’s mendacity. It’s the willingness of the credulous to believe that an American president can swoop in and stop a war in 24 hours. The war in Ukraine wasn’t started by the United States and it won’t be finished by the United States. That role belongs to Russia, which will either withdraw voluntarily, be forced to withdraw, or (very improbably) beat Ukraine into submission.

A similarly naïve belief in U.S. indispensability can be found in a full-page ad last week in The New York Times sponsored by the Eisenhower Media Network, a group of former U.S. military and intelligence officers funded by Ben Stein, of Ben & Jerry’s fame. These military influencers have obviously had second thoughts about their former jobs, which were all about the use of force to achieve national goals. But in one way, at least, they are consistent: they remain singularly obsessed with American power.

Their statement reads in part: “As Americans and national security experts, we urge President Biden and Congress to use their full power to end the Russia-Ukraine War speedily through diplomacy, especially given the grave dangers of military escalation that could spiral out of control.”

Well, that sounds sort of reasonable. Except that it assumes that the United States has that power. Certainly, Washington is helping to sustain the war—i.e., prevent Russia from visiting more atrocities on the Ukrainian population—by delivering weapons to Kyiv. Does that mean, then, that the United States should stop sending weapons, pressure Ukraine to make concessions at the negotiating table, and accept a deal where the victims lose territory, get no compensation from the aggressor for their losses, and continue to fear future attacks because membership in NATO is off the table?

Is that what these former military and intelligence officials mean by “full power”? It still comes down to a belief that the United States is the only country that can cut the Gordian knot of geopolitics because, again, it is the indispensable power. Strip away the pretty language of diplomacy and the sad truth emerges: once the agents of American power, always the agents of American power.

Forever arrogant?

Perhaps it is the fate of Americans to be arrogant, regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum. Such is the side effect of privilege. We Americans are all beneficiaries of exceptionalism, even those of us who decry its corrosive impact.

I’m not immune. I have long argued that the United States can play a positive role in the world. I have urged the United States to champion human rights, democratic practice, economic equality, and climate justice. But I’m also acutely aware that the United States has rarely done any of these things. And I’m sensitive to the criticism, often from the Global South, that American “do-gooders” can have just as malign an impact overseas as American soldiers, corporations, and financiers. We are hegemons by birthright.

So, what’s an American to do?

First of all, we Americans must be much more modest about what we can do in international affairs as individuals and as a country. We need to jettison our super-hero complex, whether as liberating soldiers or arm-twisting diplomats. We need to work alongside partners, not on top of them.

But above all, we need to listen. In the anti-apartheid movement, we listened to our South African partners. In the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East, we listen to our Palestinian and Israeli partners. That’s the essence of solidarity.

So, first step: listen to our progressive brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Russia. They should be the primary guides to our action, not some set of abstract principles. Otherwise, even the harshest critics of U.S. empire end up falling victim to the same assumptions that lie at the core of America’s uber-arrogant foreign policy.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus. His latest book is Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response.

The surprising pervasiveness of pro-war propaganda 

Medea Benjamin, Nicolas J.S. Davies & Marcy Winograd

First published at FPIF.

In the Foreign Policy In Focus article “The Surprising Pervasiveness of American Arrogance,” John Feffer belittles champions of the U.S. peace movement for their support for a ceasefire and negotiated peace to end the suffering in Ukraine and avert a nuclear catastrophe.

In a vitriolic swipe at advocates for a diplomatic solution, Feffer performs rhetorical backflips to claim that people such as MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, world renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and the Peace in Ukraine Coalition, are guilty of U.S. exceptionalism for demanding that the U.S., the primary arms supplier to Ukraine, heed the voices of the Global South to push for a mutual ceasefire.

Many of us in the peace movement have worked with John Feffer for years, and appreciate his long history of supporting peace and justice.

We certainly value the institution where he works, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which also employs the brilliant analyst Phyllis Bennis, who shares our views and has long been calling for a ceasefire and negotiations in Ukraine. Bennis says that the United States, as the main arms supplier, has “not only the right, but the obligation, to push Ukraine towards negotiations, at the same time that the world is pushing the Russians towards negotiations.”

Our positive history with Feffer and his institute is why we are so shocked and dismayed by his distorted public denunciation and feel obliged to respond.

Our disagreements

Feffer’s main critique is that in calling for peace, we “pundit-activists” have “not bothered to consult the Ukrainian victims in this conflict” or even Russian anti-war activists. He adds the demeaning accusation that “those Americans who support ‘peace now’ only consult themselves.” His second accusation is that we put too much emphasis on the role and power of the United States.

Regarding the first claim, we are constantly consulting with Ukrainians and Russians.

Some of the women Feffer criticized have been part of a Ukrainian/Russian/U.S. women’s dialogue for over a year. Many of us participate in regular public and private webinars with Ukrainians and Russians, and we hear regularly from people who have just returned from the region.

CODEPINK and Peace in Ukraine are conveners of a June 10 conference in Vienna, Austria, where Russians and Ukrainians are featured speakers, including representatives from the Ukrainian Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Partnership for Advancing Innovative Sustainability, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, and the peace-building institute PATRIR.

Feffer suggests we are tone deaf in not backing Ukrainians who want to fight until Ukraine claws back every inch of the Donbas and Crimea.g But Feffer fails to mention that such a long war could well mean: hundreds of thousands more dead and wounded; millions more refugees spilling across borders to destabilize Europe; further contamination of land and water with chemical carcinogens; increased greenhouse gas emissions during a climate crisis; disruption in grain exports causing rising hunger throughout Africa; thousands more dolphins washing up dead in the Black Sea; and increased risk of nuclear war and global annihilation, either through miscalculation or intention on the part of Russia or the United States, the two nations that possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, yet refuse to rule out first use.

Feffer asserts NATO expansion and a U.S.-backed coup in 2014 had nothing to do with the current crisis, and he makes no mention of the civil war triggered by that coup. He argues that the U.S. government, which has spent $115 billion to fund the war and foot the bill for the day-to-day functioning of the Ukrainian government, has little influence to  push for a ceasefire and diplomatic settlement, and that those who believe the U.S. has influence are guilty of U.S. exceptionalism.

The human cost to Ukraine in military and civilian lives of a war to fully recover Crimea and Donbas would be atrocious and “unacceptable,” as Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April 2021, even before those regions were defended, as they are now, by hundreds of thousands of Russian forces.

The danger of further escalation leading to World War III and a nuclear war makes the prospect of such a long and unlimited war even more unthinkable and unacceptable.

Ukrainians have a range of views on the war

Feffer’s implication — that all Ukrainians think the same and that Ukraine is homogeneous in ethnic origin and intellectual thought — ignores the internal divide between nationalist Ukrainians in the west and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east. There are millions of pro-Russian Ukrainians in the Donbas and Crimea who do not want to be part of Ukraine.

There are also Ukrainians who are outraged by the Russian invasion but just want this war to end. There are thousands of Ukrainian men trying to avoid conscription and a bribery system in which recruiting offices charge up to $32,000 for safe passage out of Ukraine. There are entire units of newly conscripted Ukrainian soldiers who have deserted, and Ukrainian courts that impose a five-year prison sentence for people convicted of desertion. There are Ukrainian pacifists, conscientious objectors, and war resisters.

And when probing the views of “Ukrainians,” we must also ask: How free are they to voice their opinions? In all wars there is government censorship and Ukraine is no exception. We have talked to many Ukrainians who say that it is now considered treasonous to advocate compromise with Russia. The Ukrainian government, having declared martial law, tells its populace that the return of Crimea and the eastern Donbas is non-negotiable, an opinion reinforced by state control of television.

Foreign policy analyst Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute recently returned from a research trip to Ukraine, where he talked to Ukrainians who believed, for various reasons, that the nation should be prepared to give up Crimea, the location of Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol, part of Russia for 200 years and home to ethnic Russians who have voted twice to rejoin the Russian Federation. But all were afraid to say so on the record.

Lieven wrote that state propaganda aimed at motivating the population to fight has helped to create what one Ukrainian analyst called a “Frankenstein’s monster” that is now out of control. Another Ukrainian noted that “most sensible people know it is not possible to reconquer Crimea,” but that it has become “almost impossible to say this in public without losing your job or perhaps worse….Anyone who advocates compromise with Russia is immediately branded a traitor and targeted by the Ukrainian security service.”

Does Feffer want us to listen only to Ukrainians who toe the line on the present government position of no territorial compromise?

Should we only listen to hard-line nationalists such as Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak, who called pro-Russian Crimeans “mankurts” (brain-dead slaves) and said that, after taking Crimea, Ukraine would have to “eradicate everything Russian,” including the Russian language?

Should we listen to the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), Aleksej Danilov, who tweeted that people who think they have the right to speak Russian on Ukrainian television have no place on television, politics, or even in Ukraine itself?

The U.S. didn’t start the war, but it’s helped continue it

Regarding the accusation that we exaggerate U.S. power, Feffer took a single sentence from the Eisenhower Media Network’s full-page statement in The New York Times, a sentence urging President Biden and Congress to “use their full power to end the Russia-Ukraine War speedily through diplomacy,” to paint a false picture of a peace movement that views the United States as a superpower capable of solving any global problem.

We have never believed that, even when the U.S. wielded a great deal more global power than it does today.

But we do believe that the U.S. has used its power to derail peace talks and push Zelenskyy not to make compromises that he was, early on in the war, ready to make.

During talks in Turkey in March 2022, the Ukrainian government accepted territorial compromises as part of its draft 15-point peace and neutrality agreement with Russia.

Zelenskyy himself said, “Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear state of our state. We are prepared to go through with it.” He added that “Our goal is obvious — peace and the restoration of normal life in our native land as soon as possible.” He ruled out trying to recapture all Russian-held territory by force, saying it would lead to World War III. He wanted to reach a “compromise” over the eastern Donbas region and was ready to put off the final status of Crimea for years to come. In return, Russia agreed to withdraw all its occupation forces.

Then the UK and the U.S. intervened and derailed the talks. The Turkish Foreign Minister said after a failed NATO conference, “Some NATO countries wanted the war in Ukraine to continue in order to weaken Russia.” While Feffer denies that this is true, the fact that British and American politicians intervened to block negotiations has been confirmed by Zelenskyy’s aides, Turkish diplomats, and Israel’s then prime minister Naftali Bennett. Feffer’s denial is just willful negation of well-documented real-world events.

During those talks, what Ukraine asked of the U.S. and other NATO countries was for them to provide collective security guarantees to ensure it would not be invaded again. But instead of supporting Ukraine in its negotiations, the U.S. and UK used Ukraine’s dependence on Western support as leverage to undermine the peace talks and turn what might have been a two-month war into a much longer one, with corresponding increases in fatalities, casualties, and physical and economic devastation for the people of Ukraine.

The U.S. can play a role in ending Ukraine’s murderous stalemate

We disagree with Feffer on other aspects of the U.S. role.

Feffer doesn’t believe NATO expansion was a significant factor in this conflict, he doesn’t believe that the U.S. was a significant player in the 2014 Maidan uprising that overthrew the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, and he doesn’t believe that U.S. policy has turned this war from a valiant defense by the people of Ukraine into a long war to sacrifice them for the U.S. geopolitical goal of “weakening” Russia.

These are obviously fundamental disagreements. Our insistence on U.S. responsibility for a long series of diplomatic and policy errors affecting Ukraine does not in any way justify the war, but it does help in understanding possible solutions.

The result of the U.S. policies Feffer supports is the murderous stalemate described in leaked Pentagon documents. Those documents analyze possible gains from the much-touted upcoming Ukrainian offensive and conclude that “enduring Ukrainian deficiencies in training and munitions supplies probably will strain progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive,” so that the most likely outcome remains only modest territorial gains.

A stalemate could mean a protracted years-long war, in which many, many more Ukrainians and Russians will die, while Ukrainian towns like Bakhmut are reduced to empty shells. Or it could mean something even more devastating: World War III. As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg himself said back in December, “If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong,” referring to the possibility of the war spreading throughout Europe or leading to nuclear war.

If a NATO country becomes directly involved, which could easily happen, then the U.S. would be under pressure to send in U.S. troops, over 100,000 of whom are already stationed in or deployed to Europe. The dreaded war between Russia and the United States that we succeeded in avoiding throughout the original Cold War would finally engulf us all, and it would be the result of an entirely avoidable series of Russian and American diplomatic and policy failures.

Feffer derides the former U.S. military and intelligence officers who signed the recent full-page New York Times ad as being singularly obsessed with American power, accusing them of falsely believing that the U.S. has the power to force a ceasefire and negotiate a peace deal.

They did not say that the U.S. has the power to do this single-handedly, but we happen to be living in the U.S. and therefore should be concerned about what positive role our government could play. Right now, the U.S. is helping with economic and humanitarian aid, which is commendable, but it is also pouring in massive amounts of weapons to fuel this war.

There are certainly more positive positions the U.S. and its allies could take to help support negotiations. The U.S. could offer to remove its missiles from Romania and Poland and its nuclear weapons from European countries, in exchange for Russia not deploying its own nukes to Belarus. The U.S. could reopen the ABM (Anti-ballistic missile) treaty and the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, both treaties that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from. It could offer to renegotiate the New START Treaty from which the Russians pulled back. The Europeans could offer EU membership and a Marshall Fund to rebuild Ukraine.

We are asking our government to adjust sensibly to a world where it is no longer the global hegemon and to play a constructive role in cooperation with other countries. On the crisis in Ukraine, that means supporting Ukraine to make peace, instead of obstructing peace negotiations and sending ever more dangerous weapons into the mix — weapons that, despite U.S. prohibitions, are already being used to expand the war into Russia itself.

The U.S. must listen to Ukrainians — and also the Global South

Finally, we agree with Feffer that we must listen to Ukranians, but we must also listen to the cries coming from the rest of the world, from people and countries who do not want to see life on this planet extinguished.

Let’s listen to the voices of the poor around the world, who are also victims of this war. This is particularly true in the Global South, where millions are threatened with hunger from rising food prices or must decide whether to pay their rent or their energy bills.

Let’s listen to the voice of President Lula de Silva of Brazil who, when asked by President Biden to send weapons to Ukraine, replied: “We do not want to join this war; we want to end this war.”

Let’s listen to the voice of Pope Francis, who has already facilitated prisoner exchanges and is trying to mediate a peace agreement. “Let us not get used to conflict and violence,” he cautioned. “Let us not get used to war.”

As an example of real solidarity, Feffer upholds the way that U.S. activists listened to South Africans during the anti-apartheid movement. But let’s also listen to South African leaders today who, along with five other African nations, have created a high-level peace mission to Moscow and Kyiv that is calling for a ceasefire in Ukraine, to be followed by serious negotiations to arrive at “a framework for lasting peace.”

We would like to close with the words of two dear colleagues. Andy Shallal, a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies and an Iraqi-American who knows the horror of war, wrote to Feffer after reading his article:

“John, I implore you to rethink your position on Ukraine. Peace activists don’t want to end this war because we have a fondness for Putin, but because we know from too many past experiences that wars are nasty and benefit no one but despots, arms merchants and oligarchs.”

Yurii Sheliazhenko, the executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and the recipient of the International Peace Bureau’s Sean McBride Peace Prize for 2022, wrote these profound words after reading Feffer’s article:

My advice to people in the U.S. who want peace is this: Do not abandon your principles when listening to people. The whole point of peace and justice is a commitment to simple, commonsense principles such as ‘do no harm, peace by peaceful means, and refusal to kill.’ These are not some abstract principles you can simply abandon but they are the ultimate way to uphold the sacred value of human life, to escape the vicious circle of violence, to abandon the naive and barbaric belief that violence can resolve conflicts. 

“War is never progressive; it is simply old-fashioned, shameful mass murder. Weapons only kill, they never bring peace. We will only achieve genuine peace when we learn and teach how to live, govern and manage conflicts without violence. Listening to people who don’t have enough common sense to recognize such simple truths means listening to the wrong people, and no good will come of it.”

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. Marcy Winograd is the Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS and the co-founder of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party.