Not only are we in a sense defined by our DNA, but new research shows our behavior may also be affected by that of our ancestors. So observe the authors of a paper published in Science Advances recently. Thomas Talhelm from the University of Chicago has an interest in the cultural differences between northern and southern China. Northerners are considered more individualistic, brash and aggressive, while southerners are conflict averse and more deferential.
The first part of the study observed 8964 people sitting in a cafe in six cities across China and found that northerners were more likely to be sitting alone. The second part was more proactive. The researchers moved chairs in Starbucks across the country to partially block an aisle. True to type, people in the north, as from Beijing and Shenyang, were more than twice as likely to move the chair out of the way than people in Hong Kong or Shanghai, the latter being most averse.
The authors note that herding is an individualistic activity, constant moving making for transitory relationships (the US?), whereas farming is a settled occupation with stable, long-term ties. Now they have taken farming a step further: Rice farming in the south requires complex irrigation systems for the paddies forcing cooperation and coordination among multiple families. In contrast, farming dry-land crops like wheat and millet requiring less cooperation is more individualistic. The authors contend that over time, the tightly coordinated rice farming pushed southerners towards “a more interdependent culture”.
In the last couple of years we have seen a cooperative Europe facing a quintessential maverick, as in Donald Trump, a man who lives in his own world. So why is Trump, Trump? As in the study, clues to his behavior ought to lie in his ancestors.
The town of Kallstadt, Germany, given the character of its people, is sick and tired of being asked about Mr. Trump, his forbears, his grandfather’s house called Trump Haus, and other assorted questions in similar vein.
Mr. Trump’s grandfather Fredrich was born in Kallstadt, a village inundated with wineries, where seats for wine-tasting during the season outnumber the population. It produces predominately Riesling. Vintners, individualist in the extreme, guard their secrets and promote their brand, the ultimate bottle price a reflection of perceived value as even experts can disagree on quality.
Grandfather Fredrich left at the age of 16 to make his fortune in the U.S. He and his wife returned to Kallstadt to retire but there were problems as he had failed to complete his obligatory military service, and the couple were forced to go back to America.
If there are overtones in Donald the grandson, then, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He recalls a childhood trip to Kallstadt with his father Fred, “It was wine country, it was serious Germany,” adding “I have a warm spot in my heart for Germany,” On his mother’s side, he is Scottish: Mary Anne MacLeod emigrated from the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and was a domestic worker before she married his father. Yet in “The Art of the Deal” published in 1987, he claims Swedish ancestry, as did his father. Living in a different world, it’s always Trump the salesman with a convenient truth. He may have had inviting ideas for those fed up with our wars but they are difficult to pursue alone.
If rice farmers are the most cooperative and wheat growers more individualistic, then wine-makers are off the scale, even though in grape production small growers might band together for economy.
To this add the bullying and bluster encouraged by his father who taught him to play tough and we having a personality ripe for the worst errors in decision making.
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field of behavioral economics, demonstrating human tendencies to bias, rules of thumb, representativeness through observed frequencies, even more subtle influences we may not realize. A few are shown below and we are all susceptible.
Thus hindsight bias or looking at past decisions, particularly bad ones and finding reasons (excuses) why one was right in one’s decision. Similarly, placing severe blame on subordinates because you believe you could have done better. It is why Trump berates subordinates as portrayed so vividly in Bob Woodward’s book on Trump’s White House. Thus the Attorney General is “mentally retarded” and the Commerce Secretary is past his prime.
‘Confirmation and social bias’: The first involves viewing facts selectively to confirm what we believe to be true, the second a desire to conform with our social group. Thus Trump claims not to believe in climate change, just like his supporters, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary collected over decades. He knows they love him for it, for showing the snoot scientists where to get off.
Worse is his changed stance on U.S. belligerence abroad. As a candidate, he promised to pull us out of foreign misadventures, bring our troops home, and work for a real peace with Russia. It’s a 180-degree turnaround now to a policy barely different from Obama? We are still everywhere he stuck us. The staff around Trump in the White House, the State Department, the military advisors, have almost all been in the game a while with firmly implanted views: American exceptionalism, America as the supreme and lone superpower, America that can’t be messed around with and so on. And Congress is a docile if not lobbyist-captured willing participant. Trump has simply failed to challenge them. Hence the old southern expression, ‘you have to go along to git along’.
There we have it. We have Trump pegged. Like any businessman, he understands survival, and his origins make him uniquely boastful. By the way, the Germans have a word, brulljesmacher, for the natives of Trump’s hometown based on their centuries old reputation. It means ‘braggart’.
Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border
For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.
As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.
This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.
Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve. Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.
The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.
Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.
The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.
Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.
This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.
Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe
Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years. The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies. All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.
Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy. A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year. Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.
Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity. The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals. It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7. Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.
Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places. It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage: over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire. The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers. All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war. Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).
Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective. Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction. There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat. Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.
It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist. Just one problem: the mighty simply ignore them. So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane. Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.
It usually takes a while. Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.
To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question
Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek. Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president. Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process. According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.
So here is a simple question: If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?
Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment. According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial. The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue? They have a point and again it leads to the question: if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?
Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’, He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors. While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’ Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.
Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands. Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.
Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative. To her the situation as is, is quite appealing. Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020. Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24.
Will Trump be impeached? Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.
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