National Guard deployed in D.C. awaiting trucker convoy. New, more contagious variant of omicron has experts worried. How the Ukraine crisis could be affecting you.
National Guard deployed in D.C. awaiting trucker convoy
Several groups across the U.S. are attempting to organize trucker convoys like Canada’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” to roll towards Washington, D.C. over the next several days. Each of the groups is actively fundraising online to supply gas and food to the truckers.
The convoys variously plan to depart from California, Pennsylvania and several other states in the coming days. One of the California organizers says the cross-country trip will cost about $5000 in gas per trucker. The operational goals of the truckers vary, with some saying they hope to set up a blockade within D.C. itself. Others plan to snarl up traffic on the surrounding highways leading into and out of the city. The organizers’ grievances include every thing from vaccine and mask mandates to high gas prices.
In response, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has granted requests from Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police for National Guard troops. The Pentagon will deploy 700-800 unarmed National Guard troops in and around D.C., as well as about 50 “large tactical vehicles”. The troops will be there to oversee traffic rather than perform law enforcement duties.
The truckers’ plans will likely complicate commutes for people living in nearby cities in Virginia and Maryland. D.C. authorities have not yet issued warnings to residents to avoid particular areas, but are monitoring the situation closely.
New, more contagious variant of omicron has experts worried
A new subvariant of omicron dubbed BA.2 has been gradually taking hold in the U.S. BA.2 has already fueled second omicron waves in parts of Africa and Europe, and experts worry that it could prolong the current U.S. wave. BA.2 is about 30% more contagious than the original omicron variant. At present, there’s no data to suggest that BA.2 is more dangerous to infected people that omicron. Still, the original omicron variant is currently infecting about 100,000 people a day in the U.S., and claiming about 2,000 lives each day.
The timing of BA.2’s arrival and spread in the U.S. couldn’t be worse. Vaccination numbers are tailing off and many states are lifting mask mandates. Even CDC head Rochelle Walensky recently endorsed giving people “a break” from masks. Experts fear that with elections ahead, many state and national leaders are in a rush to declare a premature victory over COVID.
What might the Ukraine crisis cost you?
Before Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, President Biden warned that sanctions levied as a deterrent to Russia would not be painless, even for Americans. With inflation already high, the conflict and sanctions may drive up prices still further.
Oil and gas
Biden has specifically foreseen a rise in already high gas prices, since Russia is an important global supplier. The administration has been in talks with other oil-producing countries to convince them to up production to offset shortages both in the U.S. and Europe. But the oil-rich nations who still have capacity to increase production have been reluctant to do so, seduced by the premium they are able to charge as demand rises. Experts predict oil may creep up to $100 per barrel by next week.
Russia and Ukraine both possess large deposits of rare-earth minerals that are necessary for semi-conductor production. Disruption in these supplies due to sanctions and conflict could further tighten the already limited supply of microchips used in everything from smart phones to cars. Because of this shortage, 80% of people are already paying more than the sticker price for new cars.
Russia and Ukraine are also major suppliers of food crops like wheat, with their main markets being Central Asia and the Middle East. Holdups in this supply chain could ultimately drive food prices higher the world over. Grain crop shortages could have a knock-on effect in driving up prices of feed grain for cattle, and thus the price of meat.
What’s being done?
Rampant inflation in the U.S. has been a major political liability for Biden. But prices on key commodities are rising all over the world. In Europe and parts of Asia, inflation on key commodities like food and gas have far outpaced the U.S. The interconnectedness of global supply chains mean there is little any single nation can do to address the major drivers of inflation.
However, there are are specific steps the administration is taking to try to keep costs down at home. The administration is considering tapping into federal oil reserves once again in the event that oil stops flowing from Russia. U.S. ports will also be receiving $450 billion from last year’s infrastructure package to get domestic supply chains flowing more smoothly. Last week, the Department of Justice announced it would be investigating U.S. industries who are profiteering off supply chain woes.
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