Discover more from Letters from an American
February 11, 2022
Yesterday, the Treasury noted that the U.S. budget had a surplus of $119 billion in January. That’s the first budget surplus in more than two years. Tax receipts are up significantly: they grew 21% in January to $465 billion, as higher employment and earnings meant a big jump in payroll taxes and withholdings. At the same time, outlays fell 37%.
Today, the administration warned any American in Ukraine to get out as quickly as possible, leaving no later than 48 hours from midday today. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned that, “[i]f you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave and no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.” He said the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv stands ready to help financially and logistically.
Sullivan told reporters that the administration believes that the world has entered the window of time in which if Russian president Vladimir Putin is going to attack Ukraine, he will do so. The U.S., he said, is “ready either way.” It will continue its hefty diplomatic push, or it and key allies will respond to an invasion with severe economic sanctions, reinforce the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and continue to support Ukraine and its well-trained and equipped army.
The U.S. has deployed service members to Poland, Romania, and Germany to defend NATO territory under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that established NATO. Article 5 says that an attack against any NATO ally is considered an attack on all of them and that, in such an event, they will come to each other’s aid. To date, Article 5 has been invoked only once: on September 12, 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Those personnel, Sullivan emphasized, “are not soldiers who are being sent to go fight Russia in Ukraine. They are not going to war in Ukraine. They are not going to war with Russia. They’re going to defend NATO territory, consistent with our Article 5 obligation. They are defensive deployments. They are non-escalatory. They are meant to reinforce, reassure, and deter aggression against NATO territory.”
“Whatever happens next,” Sullivan said, “the West is more united than it’s been in years. NATO has been strengthened. The Alliance is more cohesive, more purposeful, more dynamic than at…any time in recent memory.”
President Joe Biden spoke today with leaders from the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Poland, Romania, the Secretary General of NATO, and the presidents of the European Union to coordinate a response to Russian aggression.
Biden will speak again with Putin tomorrow.
The Fox News Channel is cheering on the so-called “Freedom Convoys” of disgruntled Canadians driving commercial trucks who have shut down Ottawa, Canada’s capital, as well as key border crossings between Canada and the U.S. They have created traffic jams that have made it impossible for auto plants on both sides of the border to get the parts they need, and the resulting production cuts, as well as the idling of hundreds of millions of dollars in trade, are hurting the economies of both countries.
According to Justin Ling in The Guardian, the convoys appear to have been organized by James Bauder, a conspiracy theorist who believes Covid-19 is a political scam and has endorsed the QAnon movement. Canada’s recent vaccine requirement to cross the Canadian border provided a catalyst to pull together a number of different groups opposed to public health measures with anti-government protesters. The protests were neither popular nor representative of truckers: there were never more than about 8000 protesters, 90% of truckers crossing the border are vaccinated, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance strongly opposes the protest.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Canadian Trucking Alliance told Rose White of MLive that many of the Freedom Convoy protesters “have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements.” Ling noted that the convoy participants flew neo-Nazi and Confederate flags and had QAnon logos on their trucks, but Bauder urged his supporters stick to the message of “freedom.”
The “Freedom Convoy” has been pushed by fake accounts on social media and has picked up supporters from the U.S. right wing, including leading lawmakers. Facebook officials told NBC News today that fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania, and several other countries have been pushing the convoy. Their disinformation is working; donations from the U.S. have flooded into accounts supporting the convoy protesters.
Former president Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and others have endorsed the convoy, and the Fox News Channel has talked about the convoy two and a half times as often as CNN and five times as often as MSNBC in the last month, according to Philip Bump of the Washington Post. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America tweeted that the network has spent more than ten hours on the story since January 18, with the network personalities—especially Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity—explicitly calling for an American version of the protest.
The idea of shutting down supply chains does not interest the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which yesterday denounced the convoy. “The livelihood of working Americans and Canadians in the automotive, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors is threatened by this blockade,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. “Our economy is growing under the Biden Administration, and this disruption in international trade threatens to derail the gains we have made. Our members are some of the hardest workers in the country and are being prevented from doing their jobs.”
But that is almost certainly the point. Disrupting a nation’s supply chains destabilizes its economy and thereby weakens the government in power. Indeed, U.S. lawmakers know this quite well: in 1972, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency funded a 26-day truckers’ strike in Chile that helped to destabilize the government of democratically elected Salvador Allende, who would be overthrown the following year by right-wing dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
The economy under Biden shows that his traditional vision of a government that supports ordinary people rather than cutting taxes and funneling money to “makers” works; the extraordinary unity of NATO in the face of Putin’s determination to advance authoritarian goals shows that multilateral cooperation rather than unilateral military action works, too. For those determined to regain power, disruption and destabilization are the order of the day.