Should Russia Have Ever Been in the G8?

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

Trump constantly embarrasses the US on the world stage. But that is nowhere as true as when he acts as Putin’s lap dog. This was on full display at the Group of Seven meeting last weekend. He not only begged to let Russia back into the group publicly, he did it in private too.

To our friends overseas, it must seem as though Americans elect presidents randomly. Sure, we occasionally elect someone like Obama, but that’s more than countered by the election of people like Trump. And Bush Jr. And Reagan. And Nixon. Really, you have to go back to Eisenhower to find a Republican president who isn’t an embarrassment for one reason or another. (Bush Sr wasn’t a fool; but he was a spook.)

Russia Isn’t a Major Economic Player

But it got me thinking. Why was Russia ever in the Group of Eight? China isn’t. And I think there’s a much better case to be made for China. The Group of Whatever is about economic development. China is the second-largest economy in the world. (The largest if you look at the economy based on purchasing power.) But I get why China is not included. I just don’t get why Russia ever way.

Let’s look at some economic data of the G7 along with Russian:

Country GDP Total
(trillions)
GDP Per Capita
(thousands)
USA $19.5 $59.9
Japan $4.9 $38.2
Germany $3.7 $44.7
UK $2.6 $38.2
France $2.6 $39.8
Italy $1.9 $32.0
Russia $1.6 $10.8

There are three countries not in the G7 that have higher GDPs. Of these, India has a very low per capita GDP. But both China and Brazil have per capita GDPs that are roughly the same as Russia’s. So why not them? I can’t determine any reason why Russia would be allowed in while these two wouldn’t. Must be a nuclear power? Then why not India or China? Must be a “free market” economy? Then why not India or Brazil (and let’s face it: China)?

It’s clear from the table above, that Russia really doesn’t fit into the Group of Whatever. It makes far more sense to include China.

Why Was Russia in the G8?

It seems clear that Russia was only allowed into the G8 because Boris Yeltsin was being rewarded for all his neoliberal changes to the Russian economy that screwed over the vast majority of Russian citizens. And given that this is partly to blame for the rise of Vladimir Putin, it makes a certain amount of internal logic to let Russian back in. But just because the Group of Whatever is a sham neoliberal project designed by the most powerful countries to keep everyone else down doesn’t mean the rest of us need to go along with it.

Russia is a two-bit economic power that only matters because of their nuclear arsenal. The group itself serves no ethical purpose as Russia’s previous inclusion shows.

The Real Reason Trump Wants to Buy Greenland

Nuuk, Greenland

Like most of us, I am sick of hearing, reading, or talking about Trump. Friends will ask if I’ve heard of the latest outrage he’s committed, and I’ll usually answer, “No.” What’s the point? It’ll either be bigoted, ignorant, dishonest, or utterly destructive to civilization’s future. Usually all of the above.

It’s standard-brand Republican politics, as practiced for at least 40 years, but with more boorishness. Trump’s fans love him for these things, and I have no interest in trying to discern their motives. Some sort of psychological disorder, no doubt, and not a particularly compelling one.

So I was overjoyed to recently read that Trump has been pestering aides with questions about whether the United States can buy Greenland. That’s the kind of amusing, harmless stupidity I hope for from Republican administrations. Like Bush II mispronouncing “nuclear” or Reagan telling Gorbachev that if aliens attacked Earth, America and the USSR would work together.

Even better were the responses of semi-sane people. The Guardian had a fun article quoting Greenlanders and Danes, both politicians and average citizens. (Greenland is self-governing, but still technically a protectorate of Denmark, which provides what military defense the island requires.) Their comments ranged from the sensible (“Why on Earth would anybody want to be an American colony?”) to incredulous (“It must be a joke!”). A member of Denmark’s “nationalist” (read: anti-immigrant) party said, “It is definitive proof that [Trump] has gone crazy.” Again, that’s the far-right, anti-immigrant party speaking.

Note to Danes: it’s not a joke, and he’s been crazy for a looooong time before this.

What the Danes Have Told Me

We have several old Danish friends. (When Mrs James left for college, her father developed empty-nest syndrome and had a series of exchange students; she’s stayed in touch with the ones she liked best.) One spent a few years living in Greenland, another is a communications specialist in the navy.

The com specialist has observed in the past that Denmark and every other nation with Arctic territory maintains a naval presence in the Arctic Ocean. “Basically,” she said, “we just sail around and let each other know we’re there.” Reduced thickness of sea ice has made it possible for oil companies to put oil rigs in places where, before, the ice would crush them like tinfoil. As some of the sites oil companies are interested in lie well offshore, the question comes up of whom has sovereignty over which international waters. “I like it when we sail up north,” she told us. “It’s not so damn hot.”

The man who lived in Greenland left because he broke up with his girlfriend there. Besides, he said, he was drinking too much. The largest town has 17,000 people, and in smaller ones it’s common to stock up goods for the winter before basically hunkering down. If one’s relationship is going sour, there really isn’t much else to do but drink. (Rationing would be key here.)

His response to Trump’s proposal was the simple text message “Why?!”

Seriously, Why Would America Want Greenland?

Several writers have addressed this question, with varying levels of seriousness. A columnist covering European affairs for Bloomberg actually typed about “reviving the market in sovereign territories, which once made America great.” Brian Kahn, usually a environmental writer for Gizmodo UK, said the idea was “plainly, batshit,” but addressed some of the possible geopolitical advantages (world’s largest supply of freshwater, mineral deposits under a melting ice sheet, military location, etc.) My favorite was by Matthew Walther at MSN, who noted that Greenland is essential territory in the boardgame Risk:

So far the Danes are insisting that they are not interested in a sale. We should remind them that they are spending $600 million a year to subsidize the fantasy that the most remote part of North America is actually European. We should also offer them an absolutely ridiculous amount of money — paying off their entire national debt, a match of whatever their GDP is for the next 20 years, the rights to the next five Super Bowls, Trump’s second-favorite son changing his name to “Erik.” As far as the Greenlanders themselves go, they could get the Armageddon deal: no taxes ever, for the rest of their lives.

No one is going to feel bad about the price tag in 50 years when Helge Damsgaard and her Sirius Patrol shield-mate Kaj Knudsen successfully defeat Russian forces off the coast of Uunartoq Qeqertaq armed with only a pair of laser axes.

Right you are, sir. Yet, just to pretend, let’s look at the “serious” reasons one-by-one.

Seriously, These Reasons Make No Sense

Mineral deposits/oil reserves: Greenland does have these. So why would Denmark have any conceivable reason to sell? They’re a perfectly wealthy country, with a diversified economy (and a better standard of living than that of most Americans) — they don’t need our money. Their asking price would be well what the territory is worth and more; it’d be cheaper for us to just bomb some suffering nation and steal their stuff.

Strategic military location: we already have bases in Greenland. Denmark is part of NATO, as we are (for now). In fact, one of our planes once caught fire and crashed while carrying huge atomic bombs. The bombs didn’t go off (these near-misses have happened more often than most people know), but the crash spread toxic radiation over a wide area. Needless to say, Greenlanders were not pleased.

Besides, we’re not living in 1964, Dr. Strangelove days anymore, when B-52s were our primary nuclear delivery threat: we have submarines that can shoot missiles from anywhere, and ICBMs which can shoot missiles to everywhere. One decommissioned silo in South Dakota, now the Minuteman National Historic Site, features a giant blast door painted by USAF staffers to resemble a Domino’s Pizza box. The tagline: “Worldwide Delivery In 30 Minutes Or Less / Or Your Next One Is Free.”

That’s from a Cold-War era missile silo. I promise you today’s missiles go much faster.

Water: Neither Trump nor any other Republican cares remotely about America’s drinking water supply (ask Flint, Newark, etc). If most of the water on Earth gets poisoned, rich people will have access to the last good stuff.

What Trump Does Care About, Bigly

Once you count territorial possessions, the United States is Earth’s fourth-largest country, geographically, behind Russia, Canada, and China. Purchasing Greenland would make us a solid #2.

Would anyone really put such an idiotic motive past Trump? He wants the biggest military parade and biggest wall. He lies about having the biggest audiences and largest fortune and greatest electoral victory. (If Trump consciously lies, which I doubt; I suspect he thinks that whatever he thinks is true.) He’s said that the World Trade Center attacks made his Trump Tower the biggest building in downtown Manhattan. He brags about TV ratings and Twitter followers. Let’s not forget his ridiculously oversized neckties.

Maybe this is some kind of Freudian thing, or simply the twisted mindset of aspirationally rich people — keeping up with the Joneses taken to psychotic extremes. I don’t particularly care. Serial killers are far more interesting than rich people (and ultimately far less dangerous).

In any case, this explanation makes the most sense to me. So I’m officially calling it the best. And the biggest.

Charlie Pierce Can Torture With the Best of Them

The Torture of Prometheus - Gioacchino AsseretoCharlie Pierce wrote:

“‘It’s hard. It’s really, really hard because my husband died by gun suicide,’ said Judy Schneider-Wallace, a former schoolteacher from Seattle.”

Okay, Pierce: bring it, you’ve already broken my heart past repair.

“She and her husband, Paul, were double victims of the economic collapse and of the financial-services vampires who both caused it and then profited by looting the lives they’d already ruined.”

No, Charlie! No more!

“They were in the process of renegotiating their mortgage with Wells Fargo, a process that brought grief to thousands of people across the country whose personal economies already were in tatters.”

Okay. I’m far past the point of being able to handle this.

“While they were wrestling with financial ruin, Paul shot himself to death on the first day of school.”

No. You cannot do that, Pierce. You cannot lead readers down that path to a place so gruesome and grim, even though it is the truth.

I would never do so. And that’s why I’m a baseball writer and Charlie Pierce is, funny names for politicians aside, a real writer. I don’t always agree with him, but does he ever leave pretenders like Chait or Yglesias in the damn dust?

My wife is good at talking to people and hearing their stories; it’s never been a thing I’m skilled at.

Why Conservatives Are Calling El Paso Massacre Terrorism

Ted CruzTed Cruz said that the El Paso massacre was “a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” This is representative of what I’ve seen throughout the day from conservatives. And I’ve seen a lot of liberals applaud what seems like a change coming from conservatives that used to believe these things only happened because of insanity.

But isn’t it obvious that calling this terrorism is just the newest way for conservatives to ignore the main problem that there are too many guns floating around?

After the Sandy Hook massacre, many on the left (including me) discussed the effect of mental illness and access to care. That’s because the shooter was, in fact, mentally ill. But conservatives quickly picked up on this idea. “The problem isn’t guns! It’s the mentally ill!”

In general, this narrative has worked with most mass shootings because most of the perpetrators end up dead — often at their own hands. It’s harder to do that in the case of the El Paso massacre because the perpetrator survived.

But it doesn’t matter whether you want to say that some guy started killing a bunch of people because he was insane, just bad, or a terrorist. Each of these cases reduces a systemic problem to one of bad actors. If you accept this idea then there is no point in trying to change the environment. Instead, you just have to get the bad actor.

Don’t Expect Change

If this causes any changes in the law, it will be around the edges. But even this is unlikely to happen. In a few days, after reporters stop asking politicians about this, the conservatives will go back the NRA line that universal background checks are one step from tyranny.

And even if we did get background checks, I wonder how much good it would do. Guns are widely available outside of legal channels. We are decades past the point where minor tinkering around the edges is going to do much good.

Not that I’m against trying. But like I said: nothing is going to change.

It’s bad to watch Ted Cruz and the rest of the conservatives in this country stonewalling against doing anything about gun violence. But it’s worse to watch that while the nation gives them credit for being so reasonable.