Thursday, June 23, 2016

Donald Trump: Anti-Hillary Clinton Speech in New York City.

Donald Trump: Anti-Hillary Clinton Speech in New York City. Video. Right Side Broadcasting, June 22, 2016. YouTube. Transcript.

Trump’s Speech About Hillary Was Terrifyingly Effective. By Michelle Goldberg. Slate, June 22, 2016.


He left the clown act to his surrogates, mixed in a truth or two among the lies, and zeroed in on what people hate about Clinton.

Donald Trump’s Wednesday morning speech about Hillary Clinton’s record is probably the most unnervingly effective one he has ever given. In a momentary display of discipline, he read from a teleprompter with virtually no ad-libbing, avoiding digs at Bill Clinton’s infidelity or conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s suicide. Standing in a low-ceilinged conference room bedecked with square chandeliers in the Trump SoHo, a lawsuit-plagued hotel and condo development, Trump spoke for 40 minutes without saying anything overtly sexist. Instead, he aimed straight at Clinton’s most-serious weaknesses, describing her as a venal tool of the establishment. “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs and effectively let China completely rebuild itself,” he said. “In return, Hillary Clinton got rich!” He added, “She gets rich making you poor,” and called her possibly “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”

The point is not that this is true; as political analyst David Gergen said on CNN, the speech was slanderous. But the lies in the speech, many taken from Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash, were not obviously self-refuting. At one point, Trump said, citing Schweizer, “Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.” This has been debunked many times over, including by

To explain why it’s not true, though, you have to go into details about Clinton’s role on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which approved the sale of a Canadian-based energy company with American mining stakes to Russia’s nuclear energy agency. It’s a very different sort of lie than the one Trump told at a meeting of evangelicals on Tuesday when he said there’s “nothing out there” about Hillary Clinton’s religion—in fact, her Methodism is extremely well-known even to her political enemies.

Like all skillful demagoguery, Trump’s speech on Wednesday interwove truth and falsehood into a plausible-seeming picture meant to reinforce listeners’ underlying beliefs. In May, Morning Consult polled people with an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton about why they didn’t like her. Fifty-eight percent said she was too liberal, while 22 percent said she was too conservative. But 82 percent of Hillary-averse voters said she was corrupt, and 88 percent said she was untrustworthy. These are the beliefs that unite her foes across the political spectrum. It’s why Trump, with his devious talent for derisive nicknames, was smart to dub her “Crooked Hillary.”

Some of the examples Trump chose to reinforce this caricature are true. Describing Clinton as “a world-class liar,” he said, “Just look at her pathetic email and server statements, or her phony landing in Bosnia where she said she was under attack but the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers, a total self-serving lie. Brian Williams’ career was destroyed for saying far less.” One could quibble about whose exaggerations have been greater, but Clinton’s Bosnia tale really was mostly made up, and it will likely haunt her throughout the campaign.
Trump is clearly hoping to reach working-class whites in places like Ohio, where a recent poll shows him tied with Clinton. “We’ll never be able to fix a rigged system by counting on the same people who rigged it in the first place,” he said. “The insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power, and in the money. That’s why we’re asking Bernie Sanders’ voters to join our movement, so together we can fix the system for all Americans. This includes fixing all of our many disastrous trade deals. Because it’s not just the political system that’s rigged. It’s the whole economy.” It was a direct appropriation of the rhetoric Sanders used to woo the white working class.

When the speech was over, I spoke to Carl Paladino, Trump’s New York co-chairman and frequent surrogate, who said that he expects the speech to mollify some of Trump’s Republican critics. “They can’t come griping anymore,” he said. “He’s on the teleprompter, and he’s on message. It’s a lot easier when you’re scripted in your presentation.”

Paladino then provided some of the extemporaneous insults missing from Trump’s speech, deriding Republicans who’ve expressed concern about their party’s nominee. “The press is always going to find some of these screwballs,” said Paladino. I asked if he considers House Speaker Paul Ryan a screwball. “Absolutely he’s a screwball,” he replied. “He doesn’t understand his responsibility to the people. He wasn’t elected by all the people. He was elected by some people up in Wisconsin and put into that office, and that office should have more dignity and understanding that when you have a candidate who’s chosen by the people, you will support that candidate, unequivocally. Paul Ryan thinks he can pass judgment on the specifics of a Donald Trump. He can’t pass judgment.”

Maybe not, but for at least one morning Trump did his best not to terrify his own party, and it was terrifying to watch him succeed.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Five Enduring Myths About U.S. Middle East Policy. By Aaron David Miller.

Five Enduring Myths About U.S. Middle East Policy. By Aaron David Miller. Newsweek, June 16, 2016.


The Middle East has become a veritable graveyard where U.S. illusions and myths come to die.

Here are five of the most enduring and pernicious that need to be permanently retired.

Whoever is lucky enough to advise the next president ought to make that task the subject of briefing memo No. 1.

1. There are comprehensive solutions to the region’s problems.

No there aren’t. And I challenge anyone to identify a single one in the entire issue that has any kind of meaningful or sustainable end state. From the Syrian civil war to the political situation in Iraq; the war against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, we are dealing with problems that require careful and extended management because there are  no quick or easy resolutions.

Think outcomes not end games. Even the Obama administration’s signal but highly flawed achievement—the P5 plus 1 Iranian nuclear agreement—is an arms control accord limited in time and scope with no guarantees or assurances that Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations have been laid to rest.

Indeed, we need to stop thinking about fixing things in what I call administration time—four to eight years—and start thinking about a decade or two which is more realistic.

2. America has the answers.

No we don’t. The Middle East is a broken, angry and dysfunctional region where an absence of leadership; effective institutions; coherent, let alone good governance and presence of sectarian, regional and religious rivalries have combined to guarantee continued instability and in some cases fragmentation and chaos.

And we trivialize just how broken the region is and infantilize the peoples who live there by assuming that somehow Washington can and must be involved as the indispensable power in fixing all of this.

Hillary Clinton is more inclined to see the region in this way. But even Mr. Trump has talked about solving the ISIS problem once and for all. 

Nor are the region’s leaders just waiting to embrace American fixes. The fact is, most positive outcomes in this region emanate first from circumstances that force the locals to change their calculations and accept ownership for solving their own problems.  Only then does the U.S. have the capacity to play a consequential role.

Clearly, this has been the case in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. And it applies double when it comes to trying to promote coherent functional governance in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Without Arab leaders willing and able stand up and take the lead role in stabilizing and reforming their own countries, Washington cannot succeed.

3. There must be real consistency in U.S. policy. 

Absolutely not. Great powers behave in anomalous, contradictory and even hypocritical fashion. It’s built into their job descriptions; and doctrines or cookie-cutter approaches straightjacket U.S. policy and deny it flexibility to fix problems are a recipe for disaster. 

This is particularly the case when human rights issues surface. It’s very hard in most areas of the world to somehow harmoniously reconcile U.S. values and interests.

Take the Middle East, for example. We encouraged an Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia. Are we obligated to encourage one in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain too, if the chaos wrought by the events of 2011 would threaten their stability?

What do we do with the current government of Egypt if it refuses to reform and to stop repressing the media and it continues to arrest thousands, when we need Egyptian cooperation on any number of regional issues?

We invaded and occupied Iraq to remove an evil dictator, with disastrous consequences. Are we obligated to do the same to remove Bashar al-Assad? Or, in the case of Libya—after helping NATO undermine Muammar el-Qaddafi—to occupy that country too?

4.  Israeli-Palestinian peace should be a top priority for the next administration.

No it shouldn’t. Not only is the conflict impossible to resolve right now without Israeli and Palestinian leaders doing more themselves, the issue is not the most pressing priority for the U.S. in the region.

Dealing with ISIS, the meltdown in both Syria; dysfunction in Iraq and Libya; managing relations with traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia; Israel and Egypt—all suggest a threatening and fragmenting region that will not be substantially ameliorated or repaired by a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which just isn’t possible now.

Nor are the Arab states, now far more preoccupied with their own internal problems—the challenge from Iran and the Sunnis jihadis—all that focused on the Palestinian issue.

Next year at this time Israel will have occupied much of the West Bank for half a century. And there’s little indication that either Israelis or Palestinians are willing or able to exchange that reality for something better.

5. The U.S. can just disengage.

No we can’t. America has allies, enemies and vital interests in the Middle East that guarantee there will be no major pivot, rebalance or exit out. Washington’s conundrum is that it’s stuck in a region it can’t transform, fix, or leave.

In the face of that challenge, it must focus on protecting and managing as best it can. That means drilling down on what’s really vital: fighting transnational terror to protect the homeland and U.S. allies; maintaining access to Middle East oil; countering the emergence of any regional hegemon (such as Iran) that seeks nuclear weapons; and to find a way to work with Middle East partners that may not share U.S. values or even all of its interests.

It’s neither a pretty nor heroic picture. But it’s a far smarter and realistic approach for an angry, broken and dysfunctional region that will suck America dry if it’s not careful.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What the Politics of Andrew Jackson’s Era Can Tell Us About Today. By Jackie Mansky and Steve Inskeep.

Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully, 1845. National Gallery of Art.

What the Politics of Andrew Jackson’s Era Can Tell Us About Today. Interview with Steve Inskeep by Jackie Mansky. Smithsonian, June 8, 2016.

Mansky and Inskeep:

NPR correspondent Steve Inskeep speaks about his book Jacksonland and what it says about America’s democratic tradition.

Until the 1830s, there were, for all intents and purposes, two ways of mapping America. There was “a white man’s map and an Indian map.” In Jacksonland, NPR’s Steve Inskeep rigorously revisits the events leading up to Indian removal, focusing on two men fighting for their respective maps—one who saw necessary real estate for white settlement and the other who had legal and historic claim to the space.

While Andrew Jackson’s name looms large in American history, many might not be aware of one of Jackson’s greatest foils, a mixed-race politician named John Ross who “passed” for white or Cherokee depending on what the politics of the day called for, and fought his cause all the way to John Marshall’s Supreme Court.

Jacksonland steps into a centuries-old historic argument about the forces at work that led to the genocidal chapter of Indian removal in American history. In Inskeep’s hands, he creates a complex portrait of two key players of the day—one whose life’s work revolved around Indian removal and other who stood in his way. Inskeep spoke with about how the events in Jacksonland, recently released in paperback, offer a powerful parallel to today’s society and how he thinks the U.S. Treasury should design future bills. He even touches on the comparisons between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump.

The title of your book is Jacksonland, but it almost felt like the story centered more on John Ross, the Cherokee politician who went up against Andrew Jackson. How did you decide on the title?

I wanted Jackson and Ross to be equals as characters in the book. Ultimately though, Jackson won and Jackson got to put his stamp on that real estate, and real estate was the heart of the whole thing.

But Ross was also a revelation to me. I learned a lot about Andrew Jackson in the process of writing this book, but I learned everything about Ross. I’d never heard about him before a few years ago, and even though he did lose, I make the argument that he added a lot to our democratic tradition and was an innovator in a lot of ways.

What got you interested in writing about this intersection of history?

I cover politics and that can be kind of depressing. It was especially bad a few years ago and that drove me back into history, which I’ve written some in the past and I’ve studied all my life. I ended up focusing on the 1830s, which is when our democratic system as we know it began to take shape in a way that we would recognize today. Of all the stories I looked into during that period, the story of Indian removal is the one that feels really visceral and still an open wound. There were other amazing things that happened in the era, but they don't have that same feeling of being unresolved.

The Martin Van Buren quote, that while other controversies “agitated the public mind in their day” would fade, the emotions aroused by Indian removal would probably “endure…as long as the government itself.”

I loved that quote, and it’s so true. In the afterword, I lay out all the different takes on this. Every generation has had their own version of this story and they’re widely different versions.

You write about how 1830 was this changing point in American history. Can you talk about the events and technologies that conspired to make this a crucial era in America’s timeline?

In the early years of the country, there was a free press, but not all that many newspapers, and there was a right to vote, but it was rather limited. There were property qualifications, and white men almost universally were the only ones who could vote. There were a handful of places where a few women and a few African-Americans voted, but white men essentially had the vote. Not even all of them, or necessarily most of them could vote, and what had happened by Jackson's time was first that the franchise had been expanding and so more people had the opportunity to vote, and the media was expanding decade after decade. I believe there’s around three dozen newspapers in the colonies at the time of the Revolution, and by 1828 there's something like 800 of them. And every decade, there’s another few hundred of them, so there's more people who can vote and they're better informed and engaged by this increasingly competitive media that's often sharing competing points of view.

States were changing the way that they voted for a president. These electors who actually choose a president had been themselves chosen by state legislators, but state after state was changing that, and by Jackson’s time, the majority of states were having popular votes for president.

The competition of that period massively increased participation itself, which allowed a space for Jackson.

What parallels do you see in the changes happening in Andrew Jackson’s era and the changes in America today?

One of the things I learned that I felt instinctively, but I feel that I can now document, is the way that we build upon our political traditions without necessarily even knowing it. When people today make certain statements that seem a little paranoid or that they’re worried about who's really running the government, and, sometimes in legitimate ways, talking about how the government has been captured by outside forces, worrying about foreigners, worrying about unelected judges, things like that. You hear those same patterns of argument in the 1820s and ’30s. The issues are different but the attitudes are quite similar.

I wrote an article for The New York Times in February, it compares Jackson to Trump. I want to be really, really careful about that comparison, I waited for months before I came around to writing that article because they’re very different people in terms of their resumes and so forth. What Trump captures is Jackson’s attitude, which you could probably say of a lot of other politicians through the generations; there’s this political tradition of talking a certain way, assuming a certain fighting stance. “The people who are on my side, I’m going to do everything to defend them and I don’t care who gets hurt.” That was Jackson’s approach, it is Trump’s approach and it is a particular American political attitude.

It was fascinating to see Andrew Jackson’s relationship with the newspaper reporters of his day in Jacksonland. You point out that he drew a circle of them in as advisers, and also point out the elite newspaper he didn’t trust, The National Intelligencer. Did it surprise you how similar the president’s relationship with the press was back then compared to how it is today?

In the early 1800s there was this paper, The National Intelligencer, and people would say it was The Washington Post of its day, it was The New York Times of its day, but there's really no comparison because it was the newspaper. Sure, there were other newspapers across the country, but this was the established newspaper. Because there was basically one ruling party (that had its different factions and wings) for a couple of decades after the Federalists faded away, you only needed one newspaper.

By the 1820s, people like Jackson were concluding that they needed their own outlets to get their own views out and not rely on this establishment paper. Not just powerful men like Jackson thought like that. African Americans recognized in this period that they needed their own newspapers, and the very first black-owned newspaper was founded in 1827. The Cherokees realized they needed a newspaper and founded theirs in 1828.

We worry a lot about the fragmentation about media today because we fear that everybody is just tuning into stuff that confirms their biases. I think that happens, but generally speaking, the increase in the number of outlets is great—you can throw any idea out there in the marketplace and if people are interested in it you can find an audience.

You have mentioned that one of the toughest questions you were asked while doing your book tour came from a Cherokee man who asked, “Are you just another white man making money off us? Or will you help us get our land back?” How did you approach researching and writing the Cherokee side of this story?

You’ve put your finger on one of the hardest things, because Indian history is extraordinarily complicated. The sources in those early years are really, really difficult because so many of the people involved were illiterate. You’re relying not on Indians in their own words, but on Indians’ words and customs as interpreted by white men who I guess were sympathetic, because they were hanging out with Indians. Or they might be patronizing. There’s so many opportunities for misinterpretation there.

The first thing you have to do with the sources that are available is try to sort through that and figure out what is credible there and what to disregard. I give an example in the book; there are a number of people who left descriptions of Native American nations in the southeast. They wrote them down as part of an effort to prove their theory that Indians were the lost tribe of Israel—which is kind of, wow, that’s really something, no evidence for that.

But nevertheless, they were there and observing people, and so you have all these useful observations. You have to somehow sort through all of that and try to do it in a respectful way, but also an accurate way. Ultimately, the challenge of this influenced the characters that I chose. There are any number of Indian leaders who are extremely interesting that we could have focused on who were illiterate, and the only words we have of them are things that they said or supposedly said to white men. The white men wrote them down accurately, or not so accurately, or whatever.

In John Ross, I had a guy who wrote enough letters that they filled two thick volumes in the Library of Congress, and that’s not even a complete set of his letters. I had thousands and thousands of his own words.

The most important thing for me to do was to make sure that Native American story fit into the broader strand of American history. I think that there’s a tendency to take Indian history and deal with it one or two ways that are different than that. One is just to assume that it all ended; that people were here, they were crushed and that’s the end of that, and the other is to assume that it is this unusual specialty way off to the side that isn’t all that relevant to America today. Neither of those is quite what I wanted to get at. I felt as I researched this material that what we had was a part of American culture and, as I argue with Ross, particularly, a part of American democratic tradition and it ought to get its place.

Speaking of American democratic tradition, in the book, you chronicle Ross’ legal struggle to maintain Cherokee land and the failure of the system to follow through with its promises. What did Jacksonland show you about the failings of democracy?

We see in this book a country that’s really diverse—more diverse than we may have realized—and people are struggling with this question of how to respect everybody’s individual rights and still make sure we fit together as one country.

People who were here in the early 1800s came up with some really terrible answers to that question. But the nature of democracy is that nothing is ever over, nothing is ever finished and so we come back and we argue it again and we argue it again and we argue it again. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ve come up with better answers over time and so we can hope that we’ll come up with better answers still.

You paint a nuanced picture of Andrew Jackson in this story, a man who has this incredible temper but wields it strategically and has an eye for posterity. How did your understanding of Jackson change writing this book?

I don’t think I had a clear idea of what Jackson did or who he really was or why he had such a hold on the American imagination. This is another guy I chose because he left behind so many of his own words and his letters are amazing. He’s so full of fire and passion and such a jerk sometimes, but very strategic as you point out. I just didn’t quite grasp what he had done.

I was aware of Indian removal since junior high school. It was a page in my seventh grade history class, I think. And it was a memorable page, but it was only a page. But the thing I realized was that Indian removal wasn’t just a thing he did among many things that he did—it was a central project of his life and his presidency. It was the making of the South that we’re much more familiar with from the Civil War onward. I just hadn’t realized quite what his significance was in just literally building the country, assembling the real estate for it.

You’ve mentioned that during your book tour you encountered many modern fans of Jackson. What were they saying? What surprised you about how they saw him?

There were people I ran into that had a son or a nephew named after Andrew Jackson. Today. And you find people in Nashville and elsewhere who kind of wonder, “Why does everyone pick on this man? He’s a great hero.”

And I really do understand that. No matter how much some people will instinctively dislike Jackson, he was really persistent. He never gave up. He constantly overcame health problems and just kept showing up for work and doing what he was doing.

Now, we can wish he did things differently. But the way he handled himself, there’s something admirable about that. And you understand why it is that some people today admire him although that admiration is kind of below the surface. It’s been muted. You’ll notice in this whole $20 bill controversy there hasn’t been a huge faction of America that has spoken up for Jackson, although I know from my experience that they’re kind of out there.

I saw that you wrote an op-ed last year arguing that Jackson should be on one side of the $20 bill and Ross on the other. To me, that image almost seems like a short summary of your book.

I think that would be a graphic illustration of what the book is trying to say, that democracy is a struggle, that it’s not one great person who comes up with the obvious right answers and you just do what's best for the country. You have an argument about what’s best for the country and the argument goes on, and it’s from the argument you would hope over time that better and better answers emerge.

I love the idea that they’ve ultimately chosen. They didn’t do exactly what I proposed, but they’re doing a two-sided bill: Andrew Jackson on one side, Harriet Tubman on the other. That’s actually kind of cool. You have this guy who for all of his greatness was also a slave owner and actually personally chased down escaped slaves. And on the other side of the bill you have a woman who helped slaves escape. That is democracy right there in a really visceral way. That’s going to be a powerful bill, and I wouldn't mind if they did something like that with all of the bills.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Palestinians Reject Peace. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

A Palestinian carries a poster marking “Nakba” Day lamenting the 68th anniversary of the creation of Israel in 1948. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser).

Why Palestinians Reject Peace. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, June 14, 2016.


As the New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief from 1979 to 1994, David Shipler was was the focus of a great deal of justified criticism about the paper’s bias against Israel. He wrote a 1987 book titled Arab and Jew, which was the recipient both of a Pulitzer and full-throated and passionate criticism for its pure moral equivalence. But an interview with Shipler in the Times of Israel reveals a change in his thinking that tells us something about the way the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has changed since his reporting days.

The conventional wisdom about Israeli society in most of the mainstream international media holds that the Jewish population has become more intractable and opposed to peace. Shipler provides a far more nuanced view, derived from conversations with young people conducted for a new edition of his book. They display a diversity of thought that is surprising to him. Whereas as late as 1993, the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords, almost all Israelis saw themselves as the sole victims of the long war for their independence, now they provide a variety of answers—with many recognizing the Palestinian narrative of suffering or seeing “everybody” in the region as victims of the conflict.

The contrast with Palestinians attitudes is what’s so striking. At the time of the publication of his book, Palestinians merely wanted to “turn back the clock to 1967” with an Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Today, Shipler says, things are very different.

But in speaking to people now, I understood that the time frame has become 1948 for the Palestinians. … Now Israelis are seen only as colonialists. There is no recognition of Jewish history in the Land of Israel, of the Holocaust, and the real reasons for the creation of history.

Just as important is that he says that, whereas there was a wide gap between what Palestinian leaders and their people were saying in the 1980s, now there is no daylight between the sort of incitement that is spewed by Hamas and Fatah and the conversations he had with ordinary Arabs.

When Shipler was actively reporting on the conflict, he was an exponent of the idea that peace could only come when both sides would be able to see the justice in the claims of the other side. By that definition, it’s clear that one side has moved toward peace, the other has not.

Shipler’s assertion that most Israelis no longer view themselves as the sole victims in this conflict is unquestionable. It is also unquestionable that Palestinian attitudes have gone in the other direction. Indeed, Shipler’s impressions reinforce research conducted by Daniel Polisar demonstrating that support for terror and opposition to peace was mainstream Palestinian opinion and not merely the views of a small group of violent extremists.

After two decades of concessions and withdrawals on Israel’s part, Palestinians now routinely speak of all of Israel—including liberal, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, where terrorists struck last week—as “occupied” territory. So, despite the emphasis on settlements and Netanyahu’s supposedly hardline personality, Israel’s willingness to do what Shipler and peace activists advised had the opposite effect on the Palestinians than they thought.

By granting legitimacy to Palestinian concerns, Israelis haven’t inspired reciprocity but have encouraged their foes to double down on their narrative in which the Jews are interlopers without rights or history. It has convinced them that the Israelis are thieves who must be forced to disgorge all of their stolen goods (i.e. all of Israel) rather than fellow humans with whom they must share land if there is to be peace. Shipler seems to have caught onto the basic conundrum of the peace process that has eluded many of his successors at the Times and elsewhere in the media.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hope for the Arab World? By Robert Fulford.

Hope for the Arab World? By Robert Fulford. National Post, June 10, 2016.


The wave of protests that swept across the Middle East in 2011 was the first great international disappointment of this century. It began as the Arab Spring, a time of revolutionary hopes, but ended in a nightmare of chaos and violence. It overturned Egyptian and Libyan governments but the new rulers were no better than the old, sometimes worse. In Syria it ignited a long civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and hasn’t ended yet. It helped create the barbarities of the Islamic State, ISIL, instead of the civilized life that the armies of protest were seeking.

Why did it fail so calamitously? Why do so many efforts by Arabs to better their society fail? Elie Mikhael Nasrallah thinks he knows why: the culture of the Arabs has developed over hundreds of years in a way that makes a viable modern society impossible. By “culture” he means the shared system of beliefs and customs that a people pass down from generation to generation. Driven by their culture, the Arab states have developed two contradictory qualities. They are turbulent and they are stagnant.

He expands his answer in a remarkable book, Hostage to History: The Cultural Collapse of the 21st Century Arab World (Friesen Press). Nasrallah is a Lebanon-born Christian Arab who has lived in Canada since he came here with his parents in 1980. He works in Ottawa as an immigration consultant and often writes articles about the Arab world.

He delivers his ideas with a refreshing bluntness, confident that his generalizations and his observations make sense. He knows the Arabs once were world leaders in science and literature; one millennium ago it appeared they had a far greater future than the Europeans. But today they are hobbled by ancient attitudes.

Nasrallah believes that the only way the Arabs can change their culture is through a public discussion led by enlightened religious groups and then enlightened political elites. “Culture is destiny; but culture can change,” he says. With enough effort by the right people, a culture can be moved.

He knows it won’t happen quickly. When I asked him how people react when he describes his position in private, he reported that some of them say, “Good luck with that.”

But he tries bravely to point a way out of the hopelessness of contemporary Arabs. He imagines a democratic Arabia that believes in free speech, religious and racial tolerance, the separation of state and religion, equal rights for women in public and private, widespread literacy, the rule of law, sophisticated universities and an educated business class.

In the oil-rich countries, Nasrallah says, even the elites are at the mercy of the ruling class. The state demands obedience and silence, which creates a sheep-like populace. Petro-dependent economies treat education and innovation as afterthoughts. He asks whether anyone can remember hearing about a scientific or technical innovation that came from any of the 22 countries (with 350 million people) in the Arab League.

He reports the words of a Lebanese education minister: “There is a huge difference between learning and being educated. We are teaching our young but they are not getting educated.” They are not encouraged to find their way to the truth. As Nasrallah says, “The truth is considered the exclusive domain of authority — religious, political or social authority.”

The calcified thinking that dominates political discussion follows Arabs into their private lives, producing distorted human relations. In a section headed Sexual Starvation, Nasrallah says that in Arab societies it’s a vice even to speak of one’s intimate feelings, to air one’s inner thoughts and passions. He quotes Nadia Lamlili, a feminist journalist in Morocco: “The problem with our societies is that the women are in love with their sons instead of their husbands and the men are in love with their mothers instead of their wives.” Adult men and women, Lamlili says, don’t know much about each other because they don’t talk to each other.

“I am writing about the Arab world as a son,” Nasrallah declares. “I write out of concern regarding the Arab world, which has descended into a dark age. I am the insider turned outsider to tell a story about a culture that was once great but is now crashing, collapsing.”

If things ever go in the way Nasrallah wishes, the Arabs will live much as the nations of the West live. Clearly, he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the Arabs must avoid the corruption of Western freedoms. In fact, he nowhere blames the Middle East’s terrible problems on the U.S., Israel or 19th-century imperialism.

Instead, looking at the glum reality the Arabs now face, he wants to tell them that there’s a better way. Given the situation today, it’s bracing to know that someone can even suggest radical changes in the Middle East that might possibly work.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Did a Discrete Event 200,000 to 100,000 Years Ago Produce Modern Humans? By Timothy D. Weaver.

Omo 1 skull. At 195,000 years old it is the earliest known remains of Homo sapiens.

Did a discrete event 200,000-100,000 years ago produce modern humans. By Timothy D. Weaver. Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 63, No. 1 (June 2012).


Scenarios for modern human origins are often predicated on the assumption that modern humans arose 200,000–100,000 years ago in Africa. This assumption implies that something “special” happened at this point in time in Africa, such as the speciation that produced Homo sapiens, a severe bottleneck in human population size, or a combination of the two. The common thread is that after the divergence of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages 400,000 years ago, there was another discrete event near in time to the Middle–Late Pleistocene boundary that produced modern humans. Alternatively, modern human origins could have been a lengthy process that lasted from the divergence of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages to the expansion of modern humans out of Africa, and nothing out of the ordinary happened 200,000–100,000 years ago in Africa.

Three pieces of biological (fossil morphology and DNA sequences) evidence are typically cited in support of discrete event models. First, living human mitochondrial DNA haplotypes coalesce 200,000 years ago. Second, fossil specimens that are usually classified as “anatomically modern” seem to appear shortly afterward in the African fossil record. Third, it is argued that these anatomically modern fossils are morphologically quite different from the fossils that preceded them.

Here I use theory from population and quantitative genetics to show that lengthy process models are also consistent with current biological evidence. That this class of models is a viable option has implications for how modern human origins is conceptualized.

Neanderthals Left a Genetic Burden to Modern Humans.

A reconstruced Neanderthal with a modern human girl.

Neanderthal Left Humans Genetic Burden, Scientists Say., June 6, 2016.

Neanderthal Mutations Could Still be Affecting Humans. By Daryl Worthington. New Historian, June 7, 2016.

Here’s why human women probably struggled to have babies with Neanderthal men. By Rafi Letzter. Tech Insider, June 6, 2016.

The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes. By Fernando L. Mendez et al. American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 98, No. 4 (April 7, 2016). PDF.

The Genetic Cost of Neanderthal Introgression. By By Kelley Harris and Rasmus Nielsen. Genetics, Vol. 203, No. 2 (June 2016). PDF.


Approximately 2–4% of genetic material in human populations outside Africa is derived from Neanderthals who interbred with anatomically modern humans. Recent studies have shown that this Neanderthal DNA is depleted around functional genomic regions; this has been suggested to be a consequence of harmful epistatic interactions between human and Neanderthal alleles. However, using published estimates of Neanderthal inbreeding and the distribution of mutational fitness effects, we infer that Neanderthals had at least 40% lower fitness than humans on average; this increased load predicts the reduction in Neanderthal introgression around genes without the need to invoke epistasis. We also predict a residual Neanderthal mutational load in non-Africans, leading to a fitness reduction of at least 0.5%. This effect of Neanderthal admixture has been left out of previous debate on mutation load differences between Africans and non-Africans. We also show that if many deleterious mutations are recessive, the Neanderthal admixture fraction could increase over time due to the protective effect of Neanderthal haplotypes against deleterious alleles that arose recently in the human population. This might partially explain why so many organisms retain gene flow from other species and appear to derive adaptive benefits from introgression.

The genome of Neanderthals contained harmful gene variants that made them around 40 percent less reproductively fit than modern humans. And non-Africans inherited some of this genetic burden when they interbred with our extinct cousins, say genetic researchers.

Several previous studies revealed that Neanderthals were much more inbred and less genetically diverse than modern humans. For thousands of years, the Neanderthal population size remained small, and mating among close relatives seems to have been common.

Then, between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, anatomically modern Homo sapiens left Africa and moved to the homelands of their distant cousins.

The two groups interbred, mingling their previously distinct genomes. But though a small fraction of the genome of non-African populations today is Neanderthal, their genetic contribution is uneven. Neanderthal sequences are concentrated in certain parts of the human genome, but missing from other regions.

“Whenever geneticists find a non-random arrangement like that, we look for the evolutionary forces that caused it,” said Dr. Kelley Harris of Stanford University.

Dr. Harris and her co-author, Dr. Rasmus Nielsen from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Copenhagen, hypothesized that the force in question was natural selection.

In small populations, like the Neanderthals’, natural selection is less effective and chance has an outsized influence.

This allows weakly harmful mutations to persist, rather than being weeded out over the generations. But once such mutations are introduced back into a larger population, such as modern humans, they would be exposed to the surveillance of natural selection and eventually lost.

To quantify this effect, the scientists used computer programs to simulate mutation accumulation during Neanderthal evolution and to estimate how humans were affected by the influx of Neanderthal genetic variants.

“To assess the fitness effects of Neanderthal introgression on a genome-wide scale, we used forward-time simulations incorporating linkage, exome architecture, and population size changes to model the flux of deleterious mutations across hominin species boundaries,” the scientists said.

The results, published in the journal Genetics, suggest that Neanderthals carried many mutations with mild, but harmful effects.

The combined effect of these mutations would have made Neanderthals at least 40 percent less fit than Homo sapiens in evolutionary terms.

The team’s simulations also suggest that humans and Neanderthals mixed much more freely than originally thought

Today, Neanderthal sequences make up approximately 2 percent of the genome in people from non-African populations. But the scientists estimate that at the time of interbreeding, closer to 10 percent of the human migrants’ genome would have been Neanderthal.

Because there were around 10 times more humans than Neanderthals, this number is consistent with the two groups acting as a single population that interbred at random.

Although most of the harmful mutations bequeathed by our Neanderthal ancestors would have been lost within a few generations, a small fraction likely persists in people today.

The team estimates that non-Africans may have historically had approximately 1 percent lower reproductive fitness due to their Neanderthal heritage.

This is in spite of the small number of Neanderthal gene variants thought to be beneficial today, including genes related to immunity and skin color.


Breeding with Neanderthals may have had a heavy price for early humans, according to a new study published recently in the journal GENETICS.

Harmful mutations present in the genome of Neanderthals made them up to 40% less fit reproductively than modern humans, according to the study. Although most of the effects have since been lost to time, these mutations likely passed to non-African humans when they interbred with Neanderthals. It is suggested that the mutations could still be affecting the fitness of some populations today.

The study was led by Kelley Harris of Stanford University, along with her colleague Rasmus Nielse, from the University of California Berkley and Copenhagen University.

“Neanderthals are fascinating to geneticists because they provide an opportunity to study what happens when two groups of humans evolve independently for a long time–and then come back together,” Harris explained. “Our results suggest that inheriting Neanderthal DNA came at a cost.”

It is now widely accepted that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals, our closest extinct genetic relatives, with between 2% and 4% of genetic material in modern, non-African human populations having a Neanderthal origin. A study published earlier this year suggested that anything from the risk of depression to nicotine addiction could be connected to the mixing of human and Neanderthal genomes.

Due to their smaller, more concentrated population, inbreeding was much more common among Neanderthals than modern humans, leading to their decreased genetic diversity.

Harris and Nielsen were particularly fascinated by the fact that the Neanderthal genetic contribution to the modern human genome is uneven, but not random. Neanderthal sequences tend to be concentrated in certain areas, but totally absent elsewhere.

“Whenever geneticists find a non-random arrangement like that, we look for the evolutionary forces that caused it,” Harris remarked.

They hypothesised that the explanation could be found in natural selection. In small populations, like the Neanderthals, natural selection is less effective, allowing mutations to persist and have a larger influence. If such a mutation is introduced back into a larger population (such as modern humans) however, it’s quickly lost in the march of natural selection.

To understand this process, Harris and Nielsen used computer programs to simulate mutation accumulation during Neanderthal evolution and estimate how humans were affected by the influx of Neanderthal genetic variants. They concluded that Neanderthals would have carried many mild, harmful mutations, combining to make them 40% less fit than humans in evolutionary terms.

Their results also suggest that humans and Neanderthals had actually interbred much more freely and frequently than previously believed. The findings suggest that thousands of years ago, when both humans and Neanderthals inhabited the earth, closer to 10% of non-African humans’ genomes would have been Neanderthal.

Shockingly, Harris and Nielsen suggest that a fraction of the harmful Neanderthal genetic mutations could still be present in modern human populations. They estimate the result could be a 1% lower reproductive fitness in modern day non-Africans.


Imagine a couple living between 39,000 and 45,000 years ago. She’s a human. He’s a Neanderthal. Their families aren’t thrilled with the union, but they’ve learned to deal with it.

Their union isn’t all that unusual after all – enough humans and Neanderthals made babies together in the 5,000-plus years that the two species coexisted that modern humans now owe about 4% of our DNA to our extinct nonhuman kin.

As this human-Neanderthal couple moves through life, like many couples, they have children. A daughter, and then another daughter, and then another. And they notice something funny: All their Neanderthal man/human woman couple friends keep having daughters as well.

That mystery may have puzzled them, and its genetic legacy has puzzled modern scientists as well. While traces of all sorts of Neanderthal DNA show up in the human genome, scientists haven’t found any Neanderthal Y-chromosomes – the chromosomes fathers pass to biologically male children. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Neanderthal Y-chromosome is extinct, but it makes it likely.

There are a number of theories as to why the Neanderthal Y has vanished, the most popular until recently being the vagaries of random chance. That is, that male children were born to Neanderthal-human couples, but their genes were rare enough not to survive through the ages.

But a study published recently in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggests an alternate explanation: Human women may have been unable, or at least struggled, to carry male half-Neanderthal fetuses to term. That’s because of three genes found on the Neanderthal Y-chromosome that are known to trigger immune responses in human beings. Those genes could have caused human mothers’ immune systems to attack male half-Neanderthal fetuses, triggering miscarriages.

Even if half-Neanderthal baby boys with human mothers were born occasionally, that genetic incompatibility could have weeded out enough of them to eventually remove their traces from the gene pool.

The paper’s authors caution that their results are not conclusive – they’ve identified a possible cause, not shown it to be the case. But for bemused parents at ancient play groups full of little half-Neanderthal girls (as well as modern scientists) this result might have sated some curiosity.