Tag Archives: US poli

Why Does America’s President Bother with Russia?

List of countries by GDP, Wikipedia (Screen shot)

Spring, 2017

Like a lot of people in North America and Europe, I lived through years and years of paying attention to the Soviet Union, and later, Russia. It always seemed to me that this huge country, with the largest land area in the world, and possessor of nuclear weapons, was and is engaged in a more or less evenly-matched competition with the US and with Europe. I took for granted that Russia had a big economy to (sort of) go along with their big land mass. But then, a month or so ago, I ran across a visual diagram of the world’s economies on The Visual Capitalist. (1)

The founder and editor of this website, Jeff Fairbanks, took some data from one of the international agencies and turned it into a visual that compared the relative size of the world’s economies. Startling stuff, when shown this way.

Now, there are a lot of countries that have nukes, such as North Korea, Pakistan, India, France and China, yet these seem benign or very far away, so we pay little attention to them, except perhaps for the publicity-seeking North Koreans. Russia has always seemed close and antagonistic. Yet, other than the fact they are in the ‘nuclear club’, do the Russians deserve the attention they get? Yes, they have meddled in some of their much weaker neighbors and bit off small pieces of land, but the Chinese are eating their lunch in the former eastern Soviet Asian Republics, the ‘Stans’ as they are called. The Russians also sent their only aircraft carrier around to the eastern Mediterranean to launch planes at Syrian rebels who had no anti-aircraft capability. Do these compare with the Soviet threat that launched the Marshall Plan and NATO? I don’t think so.

What the Visual Capitalist diagram showed is that almost a quarter of the world’s GDP is generated by the US. Canada is good for 2.09% and Mexico 1.54%. Russia comes in at 1.8%, right up there with Australia. Australia!! Mexico?? Where’s the Canadian aircraft carrier? Why hasn’t Mexico invaded Belize or Guatemala recently?

Also, how can Russia have all these billionaire ‘oligarchs’ with an economy so small? Mexico has Carlos Slim and maybe one or two drug lords, but that seems small potatoes by comparison. Anyway, how does having these oligarchs buying up properties in Florida or London help the Russian economy? Who’s paying to run that aircraft carrier?

Today, the Russian economy is not exactly a powerhouse. The population has been declining to stagnant and is aging. The main Russian export has been oil and gas, but the drop in world oil prices from $100 per bbl. to $40-$50 was a real body blow. They do have a lot of computer engineers, but they seem to be misplaced, hacking US Democratic Party emails and data rather than producing neat stuff to sell to the world economy instead of all that cheap oil. My guess is that the US has more, and more sophisticated, techies than Russia and that the Russian activity around the US election is no more than another one-off surprise attack like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Very effective — once, but it is not a wise idea in the long run to get those trusting Yankees seriously aggravated. American hackers invented this game of messing around with somebody else’s software in Iran over a decade ago. It may take a couple of years, but I anticipate nothing good for Russian software infrastructure happening after then.

Of course, the US has an Administration now with a lot of Russian ties, and it remains to be seen whether the nature of their ties is strong enough to cause its downfall. Given the latent American anti-Soviet fears and the unpopular strident anti-globalization of the President, his desire for some kind of rapprochement with Russia seems to be endangered. Many people are puzzled by it and wonder if the President sees himself as a kind of an American Putin.

Parts of the ill-coordinated Administration are overtly hostile to Russia, while the Senate, especially, is engaged in an investigation of Americans with business or political ties to Russia and the FBI has been on the trail of the Russian hackers for most of the past year. The whole thing is taking on the cast of the Watergate mess of 40 years ago. Like then, the scandal is starting to overshadow the policy initiatives of the Administration. Congress has problems in getting anything of substance passed and the simple slogans of the campaign are running into the complicated details in their realization. Maybe a rethink is in order.

If the Russian economy is barely larger than Mexico’s and smaller than Canada’s, then why not pivot back to North America? The Russians can’t offer an import market like Mexico can. Check the stats…. Canada has as much oil as Russia and it does not have a history of beating up its smaller neighbors, like Danish Greenland. Spanish is easier to learn than Russian. There is also the benefit that Canadian and Mexican ties are more palatable to Americans, since nearly half of them live within a couple of hundred miles of these countries.

Someone who can habitually deny tomorrow what he said yesterday, ought to be able to just deny a couple of more promises and assurances. This is the President who promoted a health-care bill that would hurt the very people he promised would be given better care than they have with Obamacare. He promised he would build an Israeli-style wall across the desert southwest, when it has become apparent it will be both costly and ineffective (Drones can fly over it, etc.) and is located just where most illegals do not come (They fly in to US airports and disappear.). He ought to find it easy to pivot away from Moscow, unless there are some personal entanglements we still know nothing about..

Turning his back on Russia sure would go a long way toward easing a lot of tensions inside the country. Getting friendlier with Canada and Mexico could help remake him from the pro-Russian Grinch into a pleasant grandfather figure, no matter how improbable that may seem right now.


 Copyright Jim McNiven 2017

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Visual Capitalist: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/74-trillion-global-economy-one-chart/

Wikipedia, List of countries by GDP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)


Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”


Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.






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America’s coming civil war … in its GOP

If Paul Ryan hadn’t made his own bed, as the expression goes, one might be tempted to feel sorry for him, writes Tom Regan. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

March 18, 2017

There is a war looming on America’s horizon. Not with Iran or China or North Korea … for the moment. No, this war will take place entirely in America, and it will involve members of the Republican Party. It won’t be pretty.

After the 2016 elections, GOP members must have felt like they were in Utopia. Donald Trump won the presidency, and the party kept control of both the Senate and the House. Soon they would be able to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices who would cement their hold, for at least another decade. They controlled everything.

But as my politically involved father said to me many times, there is a big difference between running for election and governing. And I would add a saying attributed to philosopher Thomas Carlyle: Be careful of what you wish for, for you will get it.

We are now less than two months into the new GOP-controlled everything world. It is a mess.

The president has twice had his anti-Muslim travel banned blocked, mainly because he and his advisors can’t stop saying that it actually is an anti-Muslim travel ban, which is highly unconstitutional. Trump’s accusation that then-President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phone in Trump Tower has been shot down by every knowledgeable intelligence source, both Republican and Democrat, yet Trump continues to insist it is true. (Trump never admits he is wrong about anything, which he learned from his mentor, the totally despicable Roy Cohen of McCarthy-era fame.)

Trump’s new budget, which wants to kill every social program known to humanity, especially if it involves seniors or the poor, is already being denounced by … you guessed it, members of his own party. And Politico ran a story on Wednesday that the White House is a hotbed of paranoia, with people leaving their government-issued smartphones at home for fear of being bugged, and everyone is afraid that everyone else at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is out to get them.

Then there is Paul Ryan. Poor Paul Ryan. If he hadn’t made his own bed, as the expression goes, one might be tempted to feel sorry for him. His bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act – hereafter known as Trumpcare – is going down in flames because he can’t keep all the Republicans happy at the same time. Meanwhile he must deal with a president he doesn’t like who governs (if you can call it that) with his finger perpetually in the wind. While Trump might pledge total support for Ryan’s bill, Trump’s idea of “total support” is different from most other people’s. Basically, if Trump thinks the popular thing to do is abandon the bill, he would drop it faster than the human eye could follow.

Which all brings to the first point of all this: the GOP is discovering that after years in opposition they actually don’t know how to govern, because governing involves compromise. Which leads to the second point: the GOP has many members who see compromise as a deal with the devil, and will not compromise with anything, even when it is in their own best interests.

This what happens when you allow major parts of your party to be taken over by ideologues, as the GOP has with factions like the far-right “Freedom Caucus” in the House and senators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

Compounding the problem is that the GOP has no one to blame but itself. They don’t have Democrats to kick around anymore, so their knives are turning on each other. The House looks ready to blame the Senate for the upcoming failure of Trumpcare. Meanwhile senators like Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and John McCain are not just going along with whatever Trump or the House wants. And for McCain and Graham, it’s personal, as they were both insulted by Trump. They are using those insults as motivation to go after Trump on the possible associations between members of his own staff and the Russians during the 2016 election campaign.

Meanwhile, there are a few senators who plain don’t like each other. Just yesterday McCain accused Rand Paul of working for Vladimir Putin because Paul voted against Montenegro becoming a member of the NATO alliance. And everyone hates Ted Cruz on principle.

It’s only going to get worse. The one thing all politicians care about more than anything else is their own skin. And members of the House and Senate up for re-election in 2016 are already feeling the stigma of being connected to Trump and his harebrained priorities. They are going to be very careful about jumping aboard what already looks like a sinking ship, which will only anger other, more ideological oriented pro-Trump members. Add in the mix a White House so divorced from reality it could be an attraction in Disneyland, and we might have a real bloodbath before it’s all over.

There is a warning in all this for the Democrats: be careful of the party becoming too ideologically “pure,” because when the party returns to power, as it will someday, it will face the same kind of schisms.

Remember, governing is about compromise.  And, don’t gloat, or figure that you can just sit back and watch the GOP blow itself up. That’s what you thought Trump would do in 2016. How did that work out for you?

I tell the Dems the same thing I tell my kids. Work hard. Listen. Set achievable goals. Don’t read your press clippings. And things might work out OK.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com



Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 



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