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Friday, May 27

Clinton-Greenspan 'economic miracle' has just about destroyed America and capitalism

This video report from Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert (who is his wife) is so depressing I didn't want to post it but then they came out with another video report about pension funds that is almost as depressing so I figured what the heck. Besides, Max is so entertaining it's almost bearable to listen to the tales (and it's actually all one tale) of how economists methodically set out to replace capitalism with -- how to term it? -- economism.    

The first report leans heavily on David Stockman's No More Twofers -- Why The Vaunted “Clinton Prosperity” Of The 1990s Is A Risible Myth.  

The second report is titled Pensions going bankrupt, followed by a rollicking, I guess it could be called, discussion about Ireland and other European countries that survive by being white-market tax havens (as distinct from black-market tax havens such as Panama).


Thursday, May 26

Better build that wall fast: CDC sounds the alarm about antibiotic-resistant bacteria

"It's the first time this colistin-resistant strain has been found in a person in the United States"

Building a wall at America's southern border is not the message the CDC wanted to send today but while the Doomsday Virus captures the imagination, it's actually the Doomsday Bacteria we need to be worried about when antibiotics fail during this highly globalized era of travel and produce/livestock exports.  

I've omitted a few paragraphs from the following report that I didn't think were critically important but I recommend that you study the entire report, and also this earlier report linked to in the writing:  [Feds ramp up efforts to deal with antibiotic resistance]  

The superbug that doctors have been dreading just reached the U.S
By Lena H. Sun and Brady Dennis
May 26 - 6:15 PM EDT
The Washington Post

This post has been updated.

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotic of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could signal "the end of the road" for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers determined that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery "heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria."

[Superbug known as ‘phantom menace’ on the rise in U.S.]

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which health officials have dubbed "nightmare bacteria." In some instances, these superbugs kill up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country's most urgent public health threats.

Health officials said the case in Pennsylvania, by itself, is not cause for panic. The strain found in the woman is treatable with some other antibiotics. But researchers worry that the antibiotic-resistant gene found in the bacteria, known as mcr-1, could spread to other types of bacteria that can already evade other types of antibiotics.

It's the first time this colistin-resistant strain has been found in a person in the United States. In November, public health officials worldwide reacted with alarm when Chinese and British researchers reported finding the colistin-resistant strain in pigs, raw pork meat and in a small number of people in China. The deadly strain was later discovered in Europe, Africa, South America and Canada.

“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview Thursday.

"I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness,” Frieden added. “This is not where we need to be.”

[1 in 3 antibiotics prescribed in U.S. are unnecessary]

Separately, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services Department reported that testing of hundreds of livestock and retail meats turned up the same colistin-resistant bacteria in a sample from a pig intestine in the United States. The USDA said it is working to determine the pig's farm of origin.

CDC officials are working with Pennsylvania health authorities to interview the patient and family to identify how she may have become infected with the bacteria, including reviewing recent hospitalizations and other health-care exposures. CDC hopes to screen the woman and her contacts to see if others might be carrying the organism. Local and state health departments also will be collecting cultures as part of the investigation.

Thursday’s study did not disclose further details about the Pennsylvania woman or the outcome of her case, although it said that she had not reported any travel in the previous five months. The authors could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Department of Health said the agency could not legally disclose specific details about an individual case investigation.


Colistin is widely used in Chinese livestock, and this use probably led bacteria to evolve and gain a resistance to the drug. The gene probably leaped from livestock to human microbes through food, said Yohei Doi, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied the problem.

“Food handlers may be at higher risk,” he said. In places like China, where live animal markets are often in close proximity to food stalls, it may be more likely for the bacteria to spread from animals to humans. In the United States, where food is sealed in packages and containers, it’s a different story, he said.

“These are the reasons why I don’t think we need to panic," Doi said. "But it does tell us that this concerning gene is in the United States and we need to find out what the extent of the problem is.”

He and other infectious disease experts called for speedier action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.

“It’s hard to imagine worse news for public health in the United States,” Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and a George Washington University professor said in a statement Thursday about the Pennsylvania case. “We may soon be facing a world where CRE infections are untreatable."

Scientists rang the alarm bells about the gene in November, but not enough attention was paid. “Now we find that this gene has made its way into pigs and people in the U.S.," Price said. "If our leaders were waiting to act until they could see the cliff’s edge—I hope this opens their eyes to the abyss that lies before us.”



Wednesday, May 25

Rumors about Islamic State retreating from Raqqa

Of course the Iranian military spins everything to put the USA in the worst light. Trouble is, the USA deserves to be a bad light in Syria, so many Syrians are willing to believe the worst rumors about U.S. intentions in the country. But from the following article one thing looks pretty clear: something's up in Raqqa, something big. 

Syria: ISIL Colluding with US to Leave Raqqa, Save Oilfields in Deir Ezzur, Homs
Tue May 24, 2016 11:31

TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL movements and evacuation of its forces and military hardware from Raqqa and their deployment to Deir Ezzur and the oil-rich regions of Syria have strengthened the possibility of a collusion between the terrorists and Western meddlers in Syria war, informed sources said.

"The ISIL has been transferring a large number of its forces and their heavy military equipment to the energy-rich regions in the Eastern Syria, mainly in Deir Ezzur and Eastern Homs, to save its revenues from smuggling of oil and gas," the sources said, adding, "The ISIL had previously made such decisions, including retreating from al-Houl and al-Shadadi in Hasaka where the terrorist group left the battlefields without any resistance against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)."

"The ISIL decision to leave capital of the self-proclaimed Caliphate for the SDF fighters and their American backers without resistance is in line with the US policy in Syria which opposes the Syrian government forces' rule and control over the country's energy-rich regions in Deir Ezzur and Homs," the sources added.

"The ISIL has thus far transferred 12 Hummer vehicles from Raqqa to Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzur and has deployed several US-made Abrams artilleries to the village of al-Hosseiniyeh Northwestern of Deir Ezzur," they added.

Informed sources within the SDF ranks announced on Saturday that the SDF fighters are preparing to launch a large-scale operation to end the ISIL terrorists' rule over the Northeastern province of Raqqa.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces that are mainly comprised of Kurdish fighters are ready to storm the ISIL terrorists' positions in the capital of self-proclaimed Caliphate," the sources said.

"In the meantime, the US warplanes dropped leaflets over the city of Raqqa on Thursday and demanded civilians to leave the city as soon as possible," they added.


The mention about the US dropping leaflets on the city first surfaced almost a week ago, if I recall. 

Here's another article from FARS in the same vein as the one above but it too points to Islamic State seeming to get ready to abandon Raqqa:

Military Expert: US Delaying Kurd's Military Operations in Raqqa to Save ISIL
Tue May 24, 2016 5:55

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Syrian military expert said Washington is trying to save the Takfiri terrorists in Raqqa province by delaying the Kurdish forces' military operations against the terrorist groups there.

"The main reason for the US' insistence on finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis is to shun coordination with Russia to combat the terrorist groups," Syrian Army's Retired Colonel Elias Ebrahim told FNA on Tuesday.

He reiterated that the US has deceived Syrian Kurdish fighters by rendering ineffective assistance to them. "This has taken place with the aim of delaying the Kurdish fighters' attacks on Raqqa while the Kurdish fighters are behind the Raqqa gates."

This comes as other sources say the Kurdish fighters' impending attack on Raqqa has been put on hold because the US is coordinating with the ISIL to leave Raqqa without any bloodshed in a bid to save the terrorist group for future fight against President Assad's government.

Kurdish sources in Northeastern Syria said earlier today that ISIL's movements and evacuation of its forces and military hardware from Raqqa and their deployment to Deir Ezzur and the oil-rich regions of Syria have increased the possibility of collusion between the terrorists and Western meddlers in Syria war.



Taliban confirm leader's death, name replacement and Haqqani as a deputy

25.05.2016 - 7:56 - updated 08:02

Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency confirmed the death of its leader and named his successor through the group’s spokesman on Wednesday.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – US and Afghan officials said Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed mid-Saturday in a drone strike on a vehicle he was occupying en route to the Pakistani city of Quetta, Balochistan province. Mansour was picked to replace Taliban's previous leader in mid-2015.

Zabiullah Mujahid, one of two Taliban’s spokesmen, issued a Pashto-language statement via Twitter in which he said "May Allah have mercy" on Mansour.

The accompanying statement named Haibatullah Akhundzada as Taliban's new leader, and Sirajudddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqoob as two of his deputies.


I await an analysis from Long War Journal about Haibatullah.  Haqqani  needs no introduction.  By the way, LWJ doesn't believe the Pakis gave up Mansour. I think it's likely they did. But we'll see very soon.  Meanwhile, the Pak military is putting on a big show again to protect the country's air space from the wicked American drone strikes. [eye roll]  


Tuesday, May 24

Did a Saudi proxy bomb civilians in Jableh and Tartous? Iran plays armchair detective

The U.S. news outlet CBS was almost exuberant in its reporting on the May 23 terrorist bombings in the Syrian government stronghold of Lattakia province that killed and wounded scores of civilians, and which Islamic State immediately took credit for. (CBS: This is Islamic State saying  'We can strike anywhere!!!')

In response to the claim some people in Iran's intelligence community put on their thinking cap. What follows is the theory they came up with. If the armchair detectives are right, this would mean the prime suspect isn't Islamic State but a Saudi proxy group(s) and by extension a U.S./Turkey proxy.....

Ahrar Al-Sham, Not ISIL, Responsible for Monday Blasts in Lattakia
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 5:39

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Ahrar al-Sham terrorist group and not the ISIL is responsible for the seven bomb explosions on Monday which rocked the coastal towns of Tartous and Jableh in Lattakia province and left at least 150 people dead and tens of others injured.  [Pundita note: Syrian state media reported the number killed as 78; see the Reuters report I linked to above.]

The ISIL claimed responsibility for the bombings but there are reasons to reject the claim.

The ISIL doesn’t have massive or even a remarkable presence in Lattakia and even if its claims of responsibility for the attacks are proved to be true, the attacks have definitely been the result of its collaboration with Ahrar al-Sham or al-Nusra Front. Then in that case Ahrar or Al-Nusra have had the major share in the attacks, but asked the ISIL to declare responsibility in a bid to prevent being stuck off from the list of Washington's supported group as the US has openly stated that it doesn’t consider them as terrorist groups yet.

Another reason pointing to Ahrar al-Sham's role in the seven blasts is that the Syrian security forces arrested a suicide bomber concurrently with the Monday attacks who confessed to be a member of Ahrar al-Sham.

Also, the ISIL's past statements showed that the terrorist group uses the word of al-Nasirien (Alawi) for its victims but the yesterday statement used another method and used other words common only among the Syrians.

According to reports, there were up to three explosions in the coastal town of Jableh near the local railway terminal. State TV also reported a fourth explosion, at the emergency unit of a local hospital.

Tartus explosions were a car bomb, while another was caused by a suicide bomber. Another explosion was reported later.

Both towns targeted by Monday attacks are close to facilities used by the Russian task force in Syria.


India, Iran, Afghanistan sign port deal that bypasses Pakistan

"The agreement can change the course of history in this region"

Indian, Iran and Afghanistan sign trade corridor deal
May 23, 2016
Al Jazeera and agencies

India agrees to finance the development of Chabahar port that can turn into a transit hub for three countries.

India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed a tripartite agreement to turn the Iranian Chabahar port into a transit hub bypassing Pakistan, which has been the only transit route for the war stricken Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.
"The agreement can change the course of history in this region," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday during his visit to Tehran.
The accord, which calls for joint investments, will significantly boost the role of the under-tapped port of Chabahar. Once the project is realised, it will connect India to Afghanistan and central Asia, while Kabul will get an alternate route to access Indian Ocean.
"The idea is that if Chabahar is developed it would give India the equivalent of an alternate route from India through the sea route to Chabahar and from then on the land route that would lead through Iran to Afghanistan," Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for policy Studies, said.
India agreed on Monday to finance the development of the port as a regional hub, as Indian Prime Minister sought to revive economic ties with Tehran after the lifting of sanctions.
Regional opportunities
The Indian leader met Iranian officials including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during a visit that he said would mark "a new chapter in our strategic partnership".
Modi and Rouhani oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the provision of a line of credit to the tune of $500m.
"Today is an important and historical day of development of relations between the three countries," Rouhani said in a televised speech, seated between the two other leaders.
"From Tehran, New Delhi and Kabul, this is a crucial message ... that the path to progress for regional countries goes through joint cooperation and utilising regional opportunities."
The deal is crucial for the landlocked Afghanistan, as it changes the geopolitics of the region and is seen as a way out of its dependency on Pakistan.
Alternate route
The Afghan president praised his counterparts and said the Chabahar partnership was only the beginning.
"Our will starts from Chabahar today, but its end will be an all-out comprehensive development and economic-cultural cooperation," said Ghani.
The tripartite deal is likely to upset China, the greatest economic rival of India in Asia, and Pakistan, which has been the only transit route for the war stricken Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.
Chabahar is not very far from Pakistan port city of Gwadar, which is being developed by China.
"There is a strategic dimension which is that India will have its own connectivity options that bypasses Gwadar. And concurrently since India does not have access to Afghanistan and central Asia because of obstacles being raised by Pakistan," Bhaskar said.
"Clearly if Chabahar is realised it would be the kind of alternate route that would really not cause much comfort and happiness for China and Pakistan," he told Al Jazeera.
The volume of trade between Iran and India in the past 11 months reached $9 billion, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.
Tehran was New Delhi's second largest oil supplier until 2011-12, when the sanctions cut its dependence on Iranian oil.

Monday, May 23

U.S. strikes pound Islamic State in N. Aleppo

[waving an American flag]  Let's hear it for the USAF!  Gee, it's so nice to be able to cheer on my own government for once.  

But this is just why I didn't want to say much about May 25 in a post last night.  It'll all come clear in the end but if we recall the news from AMN yesterday about devastating Russian airstrikes in Aleppo it looks as if there is at least some coordination between not just two but three air forces because the Syrian air force was also involved in the Russian air raids in Aleppo. That wouldn't just be big news; it would be faint dead away news if Obama has grown a brain about Syria. 

And notice -- notice -- that all this is happening in Syria in time with the Iraqi Army operation to retake Fallujah.     

So we'll just have see how things play out in the next few days.

ISIS commander killed by US airstrike in northern Aleppo
By Leith Fadel

The United States Air Force carried out a series of powerful airstrikes above the northern Aleppo countryside this weekend, targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) terrorists that were on the offensive against the Gulf-backed rebel forces. 

These U.S. airstrikes proved decisive, as they were able to kill a large number of Islamic State terrorists near the Turkish border this past weekend. Among the many ISIS militants killed this past weekend was their top emir in the northern Aleppo countryside, Abu ‘Ali Al-Nurbi.



"Breaking: Iraqi Army pounds ISIS in Fallujah ahead of ground offensive"

From Chris Tomson at AMN - 5/23:

Overnight, hundreds of Iraqi artillery shells struck Fallujah – just hours after the Iraqi Prime Minister said the army would begin preparations to liberate the city. More specifically, the shells targeted ISIS positions at the Sanaee Industrial Zone, the al-Dhubat district, the Golan neighbourhood and the Shuhada neighbourhood. Furthermore, Iraqi F-16 fighter jets targeted ISIS militants in the city overnight, carrying out tens of airstrikes.

Although the Iraqi Army is yet to enter Fallujah city itself, its troops are situated strategically around the Islamist stronghold, in some cases just a few kilometers away. With Fallujah fully encircled and besieged since December 2015, Islamic State forces have been barred from receiving reinforcements, ammunition and new arms for 6 months.


Cliffhanger in Austria

"For the first time since World War Two, both the main centrist parties were knocked out in the first round."

"If Mr Hofer wins, it could have an impact far beyond Austria's borders - possibly giving momentum to far-right and Eurosceptic parties in other EU countries."

Austria presidential vote: Run-off rivals face dead heat
BBC - 7:00 PM EDT
Austria's presidential election remains on a knife-edge with all votes from polling stations now counted.
The interior ministry says that Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is currently slightly ahead of his rival, Alexander Van der Bellen.
The result will only be decided when hundred of thousands of postal ballots are counted on Monday.
A key campaign issue was Europe's migrant crisis, which has seen asylum-seeker numbers soar.
About 90,000 people claimed asylum in Austria last year, equivalent to about 1% of the Austrian population, and the Freedom Party ran an anti-immigration campaign.
For the first time since World War Two, both the main centrist parties were knocked out in the first round.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but a victory for Mr Hofer could be the springboard for Freedom Party success in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2018.
The presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, have both expressed concern over a Hofer victory.

Analysis: Bethany Bell, BBC News, Vienna

Austria is split. The soft-spoken, charismatic Mr Hofer, sometimes described as a wolf in sheep's clothing, caused turmoil in Austrian politics when he won a clear victory in the first round of voting in April.
But now his rival, Mr Van der Bellen from the Greens, has caught up. The far right has profited from deep frustration with the established parties of the centre left and the centre right in Austria. And in recent months, it has been boosted further by fears about the migrant crisis.
If Mr Hofer wins, it could have an impact far beyond Austria's borders - possibly giving momentum to far-right and Eurosceptic parties in other EU countries.
Is Europe lurching to the far right?
Europe's nationalist surge, country by country

According to the interior ministry's final count of votes cast at polling-stations (in German), Mr Hofer took 51.9% to 48.1% for Mr Van der Bellen.
Postal voting accounts for 750,000 ballots, roughly 12% of Austria's 6.4 million eligible voters, said Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.

Sunday, May 22

Ha Ha! The Russians jumped the starting gun!

Pundita stop hopping up and down; a woman of your age -- really. Now where was I? Well maybe it's May 25 by the Russian calendar. As to what's supposed to happen on May 25, this is a good moment to remind everyone to read Sputnik. [laughing] Stop it, just stop it; you're an embarrassment to your age group, do you know that?

Russian Airforce drops tens of bombs on rebel supply road to Aleppo
By Chris Tomson

Rebels in the provincial capital of Aleppo were given no rest tonight as the Russian Airforce systematically targeted insurgent areas in Syria’s largest city. Russian airstrikes were observed in the evening hours at the Handarat district (north Aleppo), Karam al-Tarrab (east Aleppo), the Al-Sakhour neighbourhood (east Aleppo), and notably along the Castello road. 

The latter road represents the only supply line for rebels to Aleppo city.

Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes also struck Haritan and Kafr Hamra, two towns west of Aleppo which are stepping stones for goods and arms to reach rebels inside Aleppo city. At the Al-Sakhour neighbourhood, one airstrike destroyed a factory used to manufacture improvised explosives (IED) for Jabhat al-Nusra, according to intel. Some 50 airstrikes are estimated to have been conducted this evening; the majority of which were carried out by Russian pilots. 

Remarkably, the densely populated Old Aleppo neighbourhoods in central Aleppo were left untouched today by Russian and Syrian warplanes. This suggests the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will likely resume its efforts to close the insurgent supply route in rural Aleppo and not opt for an all-out urban warfare strategy in central Aleppo. 

A military map of Aleppo city can be seen here.



"You Americans have killed al Qaeda's Number Three man five times." UPDATED 7:50 PM EDT

I thought of that remark, made years ago by a Pakistani official to an American reporter, when I saw the headline that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour had "likely" been killed in a U.S. drone strike. The BBC didn't waste time pulling together an authoritative analysis of what Mansour's death would mean to the Taliban. But Prince Ali Seraj, of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan, had the truthful analysis for RT:  Mansour's death means nothing:      
"None of these people are in control of anything. It’s the Pakistanis who are pushing the buttons. ... So there is no big deal. Who are this Taliban? What Taliban are we talking about? The Chechens? The Saudis? The Uzbeks? The Arabs? There is no particular person who is in charge of all the so-called Taliban in Afghanistan. These people are being supported by Pakistan, have been supported by the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and these so-called leaders are just pawns for the benefit of the war, so that they can take more money from the US."
Yes. But as long as the American regime and its fellow travelers in NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council remain state sponsors of terrorism, the truthful analysis plus 50 cents will net the prince nothing -- and he knows it.

Prince Ali also points out another obvious fact: The negotiations are a charade. Stop sending Taliban to the negotiating table and just send Pakistani negotiators. 

All this said, I think there is a glimmer of hope if Mansour is really dead or wounded in a U.S. strike. This would mean the Pakistani military gave his location to the American military when he got uppity:
RT: The US had said Mansour was an obstacle to peace talks with the Afghan government. If he's now dead, could that actually galvanize the negotiations?
What's the implication if he was taken out for that reason? Pakistan's military is under pressure from Beijing to establish quiet in Afghanistan; it's been under pressure for years and always ignored Beijing in this regard because that's what Al Saud always tells the Pakis to do.

This time, however, could be different, for two reasons:

First, because Al Saud is in stiff competition with Russia over market share for oil sales to China at a very critical time in the oil business. So the Saudis are trying hard to accommodate China. This could translate to the Pak military giving in to Chinese pressure to cease its blather about strategic depth and genuinely cooperate with the Afghan government on the matter of the Taliban.

The U.S. military and Obama's administration are now in a real pickle:
There is a third consideration. The increasing security cooperation between China and Russia, which extends to other governments in their regions, including India. 

See Xinhua's April 17 report, Russia to defend regional security jointly with China: deputy DM. 

A kind of South/Central Asian NATO is forming with China and Russia at the helm, and will shut out the United States and its Gulf and European allies if NATO loses its foothold in Afghanistan. Surely this has been noticed by the U.S. military, which must be tired by now of emptying the Taliban ocean with a sieve. 

One thing is absolutely clear: the Afghans want the  U.S. to ditch the sieve. There is now no question that if not for the money they receive from NATO countries they would have thrown out NATO. But if Russia, China, and India can help the Afghan Army create security in the country, no amount of NATO money will uphold the status quo. The Afghans have had it with the status quo.

With all that in mind, the American regime could well apply bone-crushing pressure to Pakistan's military to call off their Taliban dogs.

We should know shortly whether this happens.


The following report, based on one filed by Tom Bowman from Afghanistan, is from NPR, filed at 4:15 PM EDT; visit the site for audio of Bowman's report.  Here's my comment about it:

The drone strike was in Pakistan near Quetta, where the Pak military famously squirrels many of its uh 'assets.' From the huffy official Pakistani remark about American violation of sovereign territory, it sure sounds to me like the Pakis ratted him out -- provided, of course, the strike got the right person.  

If the strike did actually hit its target, a true cynic would ask whether the U.S. forces killed Mansur because NATO wanted a better leader for the Taliban, one who would unite the group's factions.  I'm not quite that cynical, not yet.  As I noted above the Obama regime is now under considerable pressure to show real results in tamping down terrorism in Afghanistan. 

Afghan Government Says U.S. Drone Strike Killed Taliban Leader
By Merrit Kennedy

The Pentagon says it targeted the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, with multiple drone strikes.

Now, as NPR's Tom Bowman reports from Afghanistan, there are conflicting reports of whether the attack killed Mansour: "The Taliban has not confirmed the death. The Afghan intelligence agency says he is dead. And the Americans, for their part, are saying they're still assessing the results of this attack."

Photos released from the scene of the apparent attack show smoke rising from a smoldering vehicle and what appear to be bodies wrapped in brown cloth.

Both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah hailed the news of Mansour's apparent death, The Associated Press reports. Mansour was "the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process," Abdullah said, according to the wire service.

As Tom reports on Weekend Edition Sunday, the Pentagon says "there were multiple drones involved in this mission by the American special operations forces, and it was authorized by President Obama." He says it happened in Pakistan, near the city of Quetta. That's not far from Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan has expressed frustration at the attack in its territory.

"While further investigations are being carried out, drone attack was a violation of its sovereignty, an issue which has been raised with the United States in the past as well," Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters in Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to welcome the news of Mansour's alleged death.

"Mansour posed a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, to Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces, and Resolute Support Coalition members across the country," Kerry said. He called Mansour a threat to "bringing an end to the violence and the suffering that the people of Afghanistan have endured for so many years now."

Kerry did not confirm that Mansour is dead, but as The New York Times notes, he "repeatedly referred to Mr. Mansour in the past tense."

Analyst Haroun Mir tells Tom that Mansour's demise could be a "game-changer." Tom explains:

"That's because you have no clear successor to Mansour, and the Taliban has fractured into rival groups. So you could have on the one hand, no leader and multiple rival groups with no clear direction. He also said there could be more Taliban attacks, more suicide attacks, to show the Taliban is still out there seeking revenge for this."

Mansour has been leading the group for three years, after the death of Mullah Omar, who "sheltered Osama bin Laden and that of course led to the American intervention." He was Omar's deputy and officially named leader after the Taliban admitted last summer that Omar had died two years previously.

And his leadership has proven divisive within the group. As the Associated Press reports, "Mansour's subsequent formal coronation as Taliban leader prompted open revolt inside the group for several months, with members of Mullah Omar's family rebelling and Taliban ground forces splitting into factional warfare."

In fact, as a result of tensions, there were rumors of Mansour's demise last year. As Tom reports, "Back in December, Mullah Mansour was involved in a gunfight with rival Taliban leaders over in Pakistan and there were reports he was wounded and later died."

As we reported, the Pentagon has accused Mansour of presiding over "many attacks that have resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and Afghan security forces as well as numerous US and coalition personnel."

This drone strike marks a shift in U.S. strategy. By "actually going after the top Taliban leadership," it appears the U.S. is adopting a new, more aggressive stance against the group, Tom reports.

Likewise, as we reported, the Afghan government seems to be hardening its stance toward the Taliban. Earlier this month, President Ashraf Ghani approved the executions of six Taliban fighters.



Saturday, May 21

"Nothing in the fire house to help us short-term"

"Storm warnings," concluded John Batchelor in response to Jim McTague's report last night about the present state of the U.S. economy, which John titled for the podcast, "Recession speaking 2017." 

While some pay attention to the Baltic Dry Index for a clear sign of big economic troubles ahead, I watch the McTague Index, that being the frequency of Jim's visits to the John Batchelor Show. It can be a year or more without his making even one appearance -- then suddenly he can be on the show every week, as it's been for about the last  month.   

Jim's remark about the fire house underscores that any kind of proposed fix to kick-start the U.S. economy, such as lowering taxes on corporations, will not work quickly and will itself cause dislocations in the short term, no matter how positive the long-term results. 

Recessions aren't in themselves bad; they're predictable if uncomfortable adjustments in the business cycle that purge a buildup of failed or hopelessly failing companies. The problem is when governments try to prop up the failures, leading to Zombie entities. That can create an entrenched recession, which could spiral into a depression.  

But the biggest problem is when a completely unforeseen situation piles on top of a recession -- as it did during the last one, when absolutely nobody knew the true size of the shadow banking system. Two mathematicians at the IMF eventually figured out where the miscalculations happened, which allowed them to peg the true size of the shadow system. But by then the true size of the shadow system had collapsed on everyone's head.

This time around everyone knows a recession is on the way, but whether it's going to be mild or severe is the debate. Is there another Black Swan circling far above the heads of central bankers and just waiting for a recession before it makes itself known?

It could be argued that the Black Swan has already appeared, in the form of a precipitous drop in the price of oil, but fooled everyone by arriving before the recession struck. Of course a much lower oil price is very positive for oil importing countries and in the long run even for those exporters who became dangerously dependent on profits from the one commodity, or abused the profits by investing them badly.  

However, it is the short term that's of greatest concern when recession settles in.

There are other candidates for a calamitous event materializing around the onset of an recession but these are already under consideration, so if they occur they wouldn't be true Black Swan events:

> China's economy taking a sudden nosedive and/or a coup against Xi Jinping
> escalating military conflict between Russia and NATO exploding into war
> escalating military conflict between the U.S. and China exploding into war, pulling in Japan
> collapse of the European Union
> collapse of Al Saud or a coup in the kingdom
> contagion if oil-dependent exporting economies start to collapse in the manner of Venezuela
> Trump making it to the White House.  How he would govern is such an unknown that even if he does a great job in retrospect, just the uncertainty in that regard can lead to calamity next year.

Then there is the simple fact that calamities attached to the last recession are still so fresh in everyone's mind that fears about an impending recession can touch off calamity. So it's one of those times when if nobody runs and nobody freezes in his tracks, fewer get hurt. Easier said than done to exemplify the advice in one's life, but it can be done.


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