Russian ruble tanks, stock market closes as Western sanctions shake the economy
While you were sleeping: Less than a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine, the ruble has plunged nearly 30% and the Bank of Russia has moved to defend the ruble and prevent a bank run.
“At current levels the ruble’s slump is the biggest since 1998, the year the nation’s economy went into a tailspin and the government defaulted on its local debt.”
“The key issue of the negotiations is an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from the territory of Ukraine,” Zelensky’s office said on the Telegram app.
“Belarus is preparing to send soldiers into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion as soon as Monday, a U.S. official said, in a move that increases tensions,” our colleagues report.
Fierce resistance from Ukrainians could make for a protracted conflict with Russian forces:
“Lightly armed units propelled deep into the country without support have been surrounded and their soldiers captured or killed,” our colleagues Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe report. “Warplanes have been shot out of the skies and helicopters have been downed, according to Ukrainian and U.S. military officials. Logistics supply chains have failed, leaving troops stranded on roadsides to be captured because their vehicles ran out of fuel.”
“Most critically, Russia has proved unable to secure air superiority over the tiny Ukrainian air force — despite having the second-largest air force in the world, Pentagon officials say. Its troops have yet to take control of any significant city or meaningful chunk of territory, a senior U.S. defense official said Sunday.”
In the White House: Biden is expected to host a call with allies this morning in the Situation Room to discuss Ukraine, according to the White House.
⚡️Zelensky asks the EU for membership.
“We ask the European Union for Ukraine’s immediate accession under a new special procedure,” said Zelensky in video address.
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) February 28, 2022
What we’re reading about the war:
A K Street mystery: How a lobbyist’s name ended up on a research paper
The document’s metadata — which shows who created the file and when they did so — told a different story.
Both UPS and Hal Singer, a managing director at EconOne and the paper’s lead author, told The Early that Lowrance played no role in writing the paper. “Ted and I wrote every word of it,” Singer said, referring to his co-author, Ted Tatos.
But Lowrance, who did not respond to a request for comment, did review the paper before it was published and share feedback. Singer speculated that while reviewing it Lowrance might have pasted his paper into a new Word document that he later used to create the PDF of the final paper. The metadata was visible to anyone who downloaded the paper from EconOne’s website before it was replaced with a new version late last week after The Early inquired about it. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
Lowrance “did not take part in any aspect of authoring this paper,” UPS said in a statement. “She, as a postal economist, as well as many other postal experts, was asked to comment on an embargoed draft of the paper and her actual comments were limited to an aspect of the appendix.”
UPS’ undisclosed role in reviewing a paper that criticized one of its rivals spotlights the sometimes-opaque process through which consulting firms are hired to produce research by advocacy groups.
The paper said in a footnote that a group called the Family Business Coalition, “which includes small family-owned businesses that ship parcels, provided research funding for this project.” Singer said the coalition approached him last year about researching Amazon’s relationship with the Postal Service.
“They were complaining about potentially having to pay higher prices for shipping as a result of Amazon’s special deals [with the Postal Service] but they weren’t sure how it was happening,” he said.
The coalition didn’t disclose its members when it hired him, and Singer said he didn’t ask. He looked at the coalition’s website, he said, and concluded that it appeared to be made up of family-owned businesses.
Alex Ayers, a spokesman for the coalition, also said it doesn’t reveal its members. But some of the trade groups that belong to the coalition have signed onto letters that it sent out, he said; they include influential Washington organizations that represent small businesses such as the International Franchise Association and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.
The coalition — not Singer — sent a draft of the paper to Lowrance “because she is an expert on postal issues and former [Postal Service economist] to help us review the final report,” Ayers wrote in an email to The Early. “I assume that is how her name ended up in the metadata.”
UPS is not a member of the coalition, according to the company.
Singer also circulated the draft paper to others, including Matt Stoller, a former congressional aide who’s outspoken on antitrust issues and who shared feedback with Singer. Stoller said he understood how Lowrance’s name might have gotten attached to it.
“I sent those comments in email, but had I done line by line edits in Word and saved a new version, and had they worked off that draft, it would have listed me as the author even though I hadn’t written it,” Stoller wrote in an email to The Early.
‘None of us works for free’
Singer’s paper argues that the Postal Service’s deal to ship packages for Amazon has forced it to raise prices for other customers to cover potential losses. When it came out, it made the rounds among Amazon critics. Stoller linked to it in his newsletter.
“Finally we have data!” Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who has researched how Amazon wields its market advantage, wrote on Twitter. “Amazon’s ultra-low prices from the US Postal Service are in fact below cost. And these sweetheart deals have prompted the USPS to RAISE prices to small & mid-sized businesses.”
Others — some of whom are aligned with Amazon in the dispute over the postal bill — took issue with that conclusion.
“Aside from the fact that it appears to be an anti-Amazon polemic, as far as I can tell it’s pretty out of touch with the actual facts,” said Art Sackler, the coordinator of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which counts Amazon among its members.
Singer’s research on behalf of advocacy groups has been cited by lawmakers in policy battles in the past. Singer responded in a now-deleted tweet to criticism of a study he co-authored in 2014 that became the basis of an ad campaign run by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (now known as NCTA — The Internet & Television Association).
“None of us works for free,” he tweeted. “So let’s focus on the merits & be nice to each other!”
But Singer said he didn’t write his new paper or release it shortly before the Senate took up the Postal Service bill this week with the intent of influencing the debate over the legislation, parts of which UPS has criticized and which Amazon is backing.
“I don’t think it has any bearing on the Senate bill, and that was not the intention,” he said.
Precision Strategies adds Rachael Hartford
New gig for Brown aide: The consulting firm Precision Strategies has hired Rachael Hartford as an associate vice president for communications. She was previously deputy communications director to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Precision Strategies was co-founded by three Obama campaign alumni, including Jen O’Malley Dillon, who is now White House deputy chief of staff.
Dancing with the War President