Monday, October 26, 2009

“It’s The Economy Stupids…On This Entire Nucking Futs Planet!”

“It’s The Economy Stupids…On This Entire Nucking Futs Planet!”

“Give A Man Or Woman A Job Not A Gun Or Grenade; It’s More Productive!”

Afghans Resist Liberal Do-Gooders' Intentions

WHY can't Afghanistan be more like Sweden? It is insufferable that this miserable statelet can reject liberal democracy despite the efforts of 70,000 NATO and NGO staff kicking their heels in Kabul's dust for eight years. We have blown $230billion of taxpayers' money and left 1463 soldiers dead. Everything has been tried, from gender awareness courses to carpet-bombing Tora Bora. Thousands of Afghans have been massacred. Yet still the wretches won't co-operate. They even fiddle elections.

That sums up the West's response to the election staged by the Afghan ruler, Hamid Karzai. His decision to run a second round in two weeks has been greeted in Washington and London with congratulations.

The abuse and now the expectation heaped on this presidential election are absurd. It is as if Kandahar were a precinct of Boston or a ward of south London. In a country awash with guns, drug lords, suicide bombers, aid theft and massive corruption, that a few ballot boxes might have been stuffed and returning officers suborned hardly qualifies as indictable crime. The fact Karzai has been able to win any sort of legitimacy is amazing, with the Taliban controlling half the provincial districts and NATO incompetence reducing turnout in the south to somewhere near 5 per cent.

The rigging has frozen a decision on reinforcements by Washington's national security council, plunging troops at the front into greater danger. And why? The US would have better deployed its dominance in Kabul by demanding a coalition government rather than another costly election. If America is content for Karzai to squander money on clinging to power, bribing Taliban and fuelling a narco-economy, why is it so fastidious about election rigging?

The answer, of course, lies not in Afghanistan but in Washington and London. This war, like all hopeless wars, is hemorrhaging popularity. From the moment Obama adopted Afghanistan as ''his war'' he was engulfed by the siren call of glory. He is now truly trapped.

Since glory resolutely refuses to show her face, American voters must be given a proxy. It is that they are rescuing the Afghans from their worse selves by ''being given democracy''.

If Osama bin Laden cannot be found, if the Taliban cannot be eliminated, if troops cannot be withdrawn, if victory cannot be declared, then Western leaders must find a reason for soldiers to die.

The excuse that we are preventing another 9/11 is ludicrously thin. That event, whose plotting and training were in Europe and America, will cause the US to spend what Congress puts at a staggering $US1.3 trillion in wars and related security by 2019. And still no one has arrested bin Laden.

The impact on international affairs has been devastating. We need look no further for an answer to the question posed by the American pundit Richard Haass. Surveying the wreckage of the Clinton-Bush-Blair years last summer, he asked why the West had squandered the legacy of its victory over communism.

It had shifted Russia from humiliating defeat to chauvinist belligerence. It had antagonized half the Muslim world. It had left Europe squabbling and protectionist. China had risen to astonishing commercial power. America had beggared itself with military spending. In sum, the architects of victory had shot themselves in the foot.

The West is not under any threat that remotely justifies this wreckage. Instead, weak politicians have seized on any passing threat to boost their standing at home by fighting small wars abroad and making them big.

That Obama should dash his store of popularity against the mud walls of Kabul is astonishing; no less so that Brown, not a stupid man, should insult his voters by declaring that ''the safety of the streets'' requires soldiers to die in their hundreds in Helmand.

Western leaders seem unable to resist the seduction of military power. They think that, because they could defeat communism and fly to the moon, they can get any poverty-stricken, tin-pot country to do what the West decides is best for it.

They grasp at nation-building, that make-work scheme of internationalism against which any people, however pathetic, are bound to fight. All is hubris. The arrogance of empire has now mutated into the arrogance of liberalism.

Simon Jenkins is a British journalist, author and columnist for The Guardian, in which this column first appeared.

Mad Men And The High Cost Of Advertising

Huffington Post (blog)
They are our own history, the cultural unraveling of contemporary
America in surfeit and decadence, spiritual shutdown and addiction. ...

9 Signs Of America In Decline


Posted: October 26, 2009

The sky isn't falling, exactly. America isn't on a fast track to irrelevance. Even in a state of total neglect, we could probably shamble along as a disheveled superpower for a few more decades.

But all empires end, and the warning signs of American decline seem to be blinking more consistently. In the latest annual "prosperity index" published by the Legatum Institute, a London-based research firm, the United States ranks as the ninth most prosperous country in the world. That's five notches lower than last year, when America ranked No. 4. The drop might seem inconsequential, especially in the midst of a grueling recession—except that most of the world has endured the same recession, and other countries are bouncing back faster.

China and India have recovered smartly from the recession, for example. Brazil seems to be barreling ahead. Australia is growing faster than expected, prompting worry among government officials who fear they may have overstimulated the economy. The United States, meanwhile, is muddling through a weak, jobless recovery, and we have a lot of problems that could make prosperity feel elusive for a long time.

[See 4 problems that could sink America.]

Real household income in America has flat-lined, for instance, which means many middle-class families are barely keeping up with inflation. The exploding federal deficit hamstrings the government's ability to help. Healthcare is too expensive, America's manufacturing base is eroding, and two open-ended foreign wars are draining the national treasury. This is not a recipe for building national wealth.

There are still millions of diligent, innovative Americans who could help the nation dig out of its hole. But overall, the American population is falling behind, by a variety of measures. Here are some of them:

Jobs. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the U.S. unemployment rate will be 9.3 percent for all of 2010. That's lower than in some European nations, but it's higher than in Canada and a lot worse than most countries in Scandinavia and Asia. Overall, the U.S. unemployment rate is about average for advanced economies and likely to stay that way. It could be worse, but middling job creation isn't a sign of global leadership.

[See 7 ways to survive the jobless recovery.]

Economic growth. The IMF also predicts that the U.S. economy will grow 1.9 percent in 2010. That's a tad better than the average for all advanced economies, but at least 10 developed nations will grow faster. Woo-hoo. Three cheers for mediocrity.

Poverty. The U.S. poverty rate, about 17 percent, is third worst among the advanced nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In that sample, only Turkey and Mexico are worse.

Education. American 15-year-olds score below the average for advanced nations on math and science literacy. But don't worry, our nation's future leaders are still ahead of their peers in Mexico, Turkey, Greece, and a few other places.

Competitiveness. In the latest global competitiveness report from the World Economic Forum, the United States fell from No. 1 to No. 2. Sure, let's console ourselves that the No. 1 country, Switzerland, is a tiny outlier nation and that getting bumped from the top spot doesn't really mean anything. Add an asterisk, and we're still No. 1.

[See 5 myths about the economic "recovery."]

Prosperity. The most prosperous nations, according to the Legatum report, are Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. These fairly homogenous European countries are the teachers' pets of global rankings, often appearing near the top because of right-sized economies and a relatively small underclass. For a huge economy like America's, a No. 9 ranking is still respectable. And part of the drop from last year's No. 4 spot is a change in methodology that puts more emphasis on the health and safety of citizens. Still, in the index's subrankings, the United States isn't even in the top 10 for economic fundamentals, safety and security, or governance. We should do better.

Health. In the Legatum study, the United States ranks 27th for the health of its citizens. Life expectancy in America is below the average for 30 advanced countries measured by the OECD, and the obesity rate in America is the worst among those 30 countries, by far. And, of course, we spend far more on healthcare per person than anybody else—but get no bang for the extra buck.

Well-being. In the United Nations' Human Development Index, which attempts to measure the overall well-being of citizens throughout the world, the United States ranks 13th, one notch lower than in the prior set of rankings. Norway, Australia, Iceland, and Canada are at the top.

[See 4 countries with better healthcare than ours.]

Happiness. The United States ranks 11th in the OECD's measure of "life satisfaction"—behind Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and other usual suspects. That's not bad, but the United States is one of only four countries where life satisfaction is going down, not up. The other downer nations are Portugal, Hungary, Canada, and Japan. Plus, the research behind these rankings predates the recession, so it's likely that Americans are a lot less satisfied these days.

The overall portrait of America isn't exclusively gloomy, and in some areas we still seem to have an important edge. The Legatum prosperity index, for example, ranks America first for entrepreneurship and innovation. And in a GfK Roper survey of how nations rate as global "brands," America rocketed from No. 7 in 2008 to No. 1 in 2009, largely because the world cheered the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president. But a brand-name leader can't just strong-arm his nation back to greatness. He needs a lot of help from educated, healthy, and employed citizens determined to spread the wealth.

With Carol Hook and Danielle Burton

More Rick Newman posts

McDonald’s closes in Iceland as currency collapse takes a bite out of Big Mac profits

By Jane Wardell, AP

October 26th, 2009

Iceland says goodbye to the Big Mac

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — The Big Mac, long a symbol of globalization, has become the latest victim of this tiny island nation’s overexposure to the world financial crisis.

Iceland’s three McDonald’s restaurants — all in the capital Reykjavik — will close next weekend, as the franchise owner gives in to falling profits caused by the collapse in the Icelandic krona.

“The economic situation has just made it too expensive for us,” Magnus Ogmundsson, the managing director of Lyst Hr., McDonald’s franchise holder in Iceland, told the Associated Press by telephone on Monday.

Lyst was bound by McDonald’s requirement that it import all the goods required for its restaurants — from packaging to meat and cheeses — from Germany.

Costs had doubled over the past year because of the fall in the krona and high import tariffs on imported goods, Ogmundsson said, making it impossible for the company to raise prices further and remain competitive with competitors that use locally sourced produce.

A Big Mac in Reykjavik already retails for 650 krona ($5.29). But the 20 percent increase needed to make a decent profit would have pushed that to 780 krona ($6.36), he said.

That would have made the Icelandic version of the burger the most expensive in the world, a title currently held jointly by Switzerland and Norway where it costs $5.75, according to The Economist magazine’s 2009 Big Mac index.

The decision to shutter the Icelandic franchise was taken in agreement with McDonald’s Inc., Ogmundsson said, after a review of several months.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, arrived in Reykjavik in 1993 when the country was on an upward trajectory of wealth and expansion.

The first person to take a bite out of a Big Mac on the island was then Prime Minister David Oddsson. Oddsson went on to become governor of the country’s central bank, Sedlabanki, a position that he was forced out of by lawmakers earlier this year after a public outcry about his inability to prevent the financial crisis.

Lyst plans to reopen the stores under a new brand name, Metro, using locally sourced materials and produce and retaining the franchise’s current 90-strong staff.

Ogmundsson said it was unlikely that Lyst would ever seek to regain the McDonald’s franchise with Iceland still struggling to get back on its feet after the credit crisis crippled its overweight banking system, damaging the rest of its economy, last October.

“I don’t think anything will happen that will change the situation in any significant way in the next few years,” Ogmundsson said.

It is not the first time that McDonald’s, which currently operates in more than 119 countries on six continents, has exited a country. Its one and only restaurant in Barbados closed after just six months in 1996 because of slow sales. In 2002, the company pulled out of seven countries, including Bolivia, that had poor profit margins as part of an international cost-cutting exercise.


AP Business Writer Jane Wardell reported from London.

Fishing rights is the key issue as Iceland applies to join European Union

July 23rd, 2009 Fishing is key issue as Iceland applies to join EUSTOCKHOLM — Iceland formally applied Thursday to join the European Union but said it would not accept a "rotten deal" for its fishing industry, a key sector of the island nation's troubled economy. Iceland's parliament voted last week to seek EU membership as a way to stabilize the country's economy, which was one of the first causalities of the global recession after years of strong growth.

Fishing rights key issue as Iceland applies to join European Union

July 23rd, 2009 Fishing key issue as Iceland applies to join EUSTOCKHOLM — Iceland formally applied Thursday to join the European Union but said it would not accept a "rotten deal" for its fishing industry, a key sector of the island nation's troubled economy. The small North Atlantic country of 320,000 residents already meets most of the EU membership criteria, but tough negotiations await over fishing rights.

United flight makes emergency stop in Iceland after smoke comes out of cockpit; no injuries

July 21st, 2009 United flight makes emergency stop in IcelandCHICAGO — Authorities say smoke coming out of the cockpit forced a Chicago-bound United Airlines flight to make an emergency landing at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski says United Flight 949 from London's Heathrow Airport landed safely in Iceland at 2:51 p.m.

Iceland announces $2 billion recapitalization of its collapsed banking system

July 20th, 2009 Iceland gives kick start to banking systemLONDON — Iceland unveiled plans Monday to get its collapsed banking system back on its feet, including a 270 billion krona ($2 billion) recapitalization and the sale of significant equity stakes to creditors. The Finance Ministry said the deal is a significant step on the road to recovery for the tiny North Atlantic nation, which became one of the earliest and hardest hit casualties of the global financial crisis thanks to a pile of debt amassed during years of light regulation of the banking sector.

With economy in ruins, Iceland's parliament to vote on applying to join European Union

July 16th, 2009 Iceland's parliament to vote on joining EUREYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland's buccaneering Viking spirit took a battering last year when the country's banking sector and currency collapsed and the volcanic island became an early casualty of the global economic crisis. The disaster has forced Icelanders to consider giving up some of the nation's cherished independence and seek the shelter, and restrictions, of European Union membership.

Iceland's special investigator says 2 investment firm offices are searched in criminal probe

July 7th, 2009 Searches at offices of 2 Iceland investment firms REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland's special prosecutor says that the offices of two investment firms are being searched in a criminal investigation related to the collapse of the nation's banking system. The special prosecutor's office said investigators were searching the offices of the investment firms Milestone and Sjova.

Nordic countries agree to $2.5 billion long-term loan for crisis-hit Iceland

July 1st, 2009 Nordic countries come to Iceland's rescueLONDON — Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway signed loan agreements with Iceland on Wednesday that will provide the struggling nation with $2.5 billion (euro1.8 billion) over the long term. Iceland's central bank, Sedlabanki, said the money will be used to strengthen the country's foreign exchange reserves.

Cross-party committee of lawmakers criticizes UK government for spat with Iceland

June 19th, 2009 Lawmakers criticize UK government for Iceland spatLONDON — An influential committee of cross-party lawmakers criticized the British government on Friday for its handling of the Icelandic banking crisis, when the Treasury froze assets using anti-terrorist law, prompting a diplomatic spat between the two countries. London infuriated Reyjkavik last year when it used the anti-terrorist legislation to freeze U.K.

The Progressive Electorate:: Bush Torture = Obama Torture Unless ...
By MinistryOfTruth
For those who will automatically balk at the Obama =
Bush charge, I submit to you the fact that by Geneva Law, if Bush/Cheney is not held accountable for the War Crimes they have committed, than the Obama Administration is complicit in those crimes and guilty of covering .... Obama had his chance to take Bush to task, as well as the rest of the Congress. They declined over and over to even impeachhim. Now the responsibility lies with the Department of Justice, not Obama. ...
The Progressive Electorate - Front Page -

Israel Rules Out Questioning Troops About Gaza Offensive
CNN International
... interview Israeli military personnel about allegations that the military committed war crimes during its offensive against Hamas earlier this year. ...
See all stories on this topic

Here Are Today's News Items From Media Matters For America, Click On The Title Or 'Read More' To Read The Entirety Of Each Story.

Research and communications arm: Fox News is home to GOP in exile
A revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel, with a number of former Bush administration officials, former and potentially future GOP presidential candidates, and Republican strategists on Fox's payroll and airwaves. A
Media Matters for America review of Fox coverage since September 1 reveals that these individuals, typically hosted alone or on unbalanced panels, often use their airtime to advance false and misleading claims about Democrats and progressives, as well as to fundraise, further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.
Read More

Malkin distorts study on high mortality rates of uninsured in failed attempt to debunk it
In her October 23 column, Michelle Malkin attacked progressives citing the number of annual deaths due to lack of health insurance, a figure she described as the "bogus death statistic." In doing so, Malkin misrepresented the methodology of the study from which this statistic is gleaned.
Read More

Breitbart, Examiner editor use H1N1 vaccine projections to attack health care reform
Andrew Breitbart's highlighted a piece by
Washington Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott which blamed the H1N1 vaccine shortage on the government and suggested that the shortage is indicative of the government's ability to reform health care. However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Thomas Friedan has stated that "[w]e are not near where the vaccine manufacturers predicted we would be" and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called the projections the government received from the manufacturers "overly rosy." Read More

The Washington Times' anti-gay war on Kevin Jennings
The Washington Times is waging an anti-gay war on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, including penning eight editorials since late September specifically aimed at smearing and discrediting him. These editorials have used anti-gay rhetoric, falsehoods, and distortions to attack Jennings, including accusing him of "promoting homosexuality in schools" and falsely suggesting he "encouraged" the "statutory rape" of a "15-year-old high school sophomore."
Read More

News or editorial? Fox News uses Luntz-approved term "govt option"
Demonstrating once again that the line between Fox News' news and opinion programming is blurred,
The Live Desk aired a caption referring to the "govt [government] option," a term right-wing pollster Frank Luntz suggested Sean Hannity use on his program because the term doesn't poll as well as "public option." Featuring captions that use language endorsed by a Republican strategist is only the latest evidence that Fox News is actually a conservative political organization. Read More

Bogus "Fox Fact": U.S. Chamber of Commerce, under attack from Obama, represents "3 million businesses"
In recent days, while discussing the Obama administration's "attacks on biz," Fox News has repeatedly touted the bogus "fact" that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce "represents 3 million businesses." However, as
Mother Jones has reported, "most of the businesses aren't direct members of the US Chamber, nor do local chambers have any effective oversight of the national group"; further, the chamber's own spokesman admitted the group's "direct members" are closer to 360,000. Read More

The Seminal » Eric Cantor, Where's The Republican Health Care Bill?
By Jason Rosenbaum
But the public option is not the only reason the public has soured on Congress'
health care efforts. This nearly $1 trillion legislation, much like the Finance Committee bill in the Senate, dishonestly resorts to a host of budget ...
Firedoglake -

Research And Communications Arm: Fox News Is Home To GOP In Exile

A revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel, with a number of former Bush administration officials, former and potentially future GOP presidential candidates, and Republican strategists on Fox's payroll and airwaves. A Media Matters for America review of Fox coverage since September 1 reveals that these individuals, typically hosted alone or on unbalanced panels, often use their airtime to advance false and misleading claims about Democrats and progressives, as well as to fundraise, further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.

Bush administration in exile

Karl Rove: Ubiquitous in Bush White House, on Fox News. Karl Rove, who served as George W. Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff throughout most of his eight-year presidency, is a ubiquitous figure on Fox News. Since September 1, for instance, he has appeared at least 17 times -- roughly twice a week -- on prime-time programs such as Hannity and The O'Reilly Factor in his capacity as Fox News contributor and political analyst. In all but one of those instances, he has appeared alone opposite Fox hosts. (On the October 18 edition of Fox News Sunday, he appeared opposite former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe.) Moreover, Rove has repeatedly misled and misinformed during these appearances, including falsely claiming that Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official, had engaged in "high-profile, in-your-face advocacy of things like NAMBLA and gay rights and queering elementary school curricula" and advancing the dubious claim, contradicted by the Congressional Budget Office, that the House health care bill will lead employers to "dump" coverage.

Dana Perino: From Bush White House podium to Fox News desk. After serving as Bush'spress secretary, Perino became a Fox News contributor and Fox Forum columnist, appearing on Fox News' prime-time programs at least nine times since September 1, most frequently on Hannity, according to a search of the Nexis database. Perino typically appeared with other guests: She appeared with a Fox Business Network reporter in four instances, she appeared twice with Democrats or liberals (Bob Beckel and Julie Menin), and she appeared once on a Fox News Sundaypanel with syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, as well as Mara Liasson and Juan Williams of NPR. She appeared alone twice. During these appearances, Perino has falsely suggested that allowing federally subsidized health plans to cover abortion is inconsistent with current law andsuggested that the White House is doing "like dictators do" by criticizing Fox.

John Bolton: Bush ambassador to Fox Nation. John Bolton, formerly Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, now serves as a Fox News contributor and has appeared alone opposite Fox prime-time hosts nine times since September 1. During his appearances, he has advanced misinformation, such as joining Fox host and conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck in suggesting that the Obama administration supports a one-world government.

Home for recent and potential GOP presidential, gubernatorial candidates

Mike Huckabee: Former GOP presidential candidate uses Fox perch to fundraise for his PAC. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee became host of the Fox News program Huckabeeafter his failed bid for the GOP's presidential candidate in 2008 and has guest-hosted The O'Reilly Factor at least three times during 2009, according to a Nexis search. Moreover, in his capacity as Fox host, Huckabee has directed viewers to "go to," which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for Huckabee's political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter's salary. Additionally, Huckabee has advanced falsehoods during his Fox appearances in 2009, including falsely suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden disclaimed responsibility for the economy and that Bush did not claim to have "inherited" a weakening economy.

Newt Gingrich: From House speaker to Fox contributor to ... 2012 GOP pres. candidate?Fox News political contributor Newt Gingrich, who "joined the network in 1999, marking his first television deal since leaving Congress" that year as Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, repeatedly appears on Fox News prime-time programs alone opposite Fox's conservative hosts -- while considering a run for president in 2012. Since September 1, Gingrich has appeared as a contributor or analyst on Fox News at least 10 times, including four appearances on Hannity and two appearances on The O'Reilly Factor, according to a Nexis search. In seven instances he appeared alone, he appeared twice with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to promote their documentary and books, and he appeared once on a Fox News Sunday panel with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), former DNC chair Howard Dean, and Obama transition team head John Podesta. During these and other appearances on Fox, Gingrich advanced baseless and outrageous claims, including wondering if White House communications director Anita Dunn wants to subject Fox commentators to a "Cultural Revolution" and smearing then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by claiming that she "clearly supported racial quotas" in the Ricci v. DeStefano case.

John Kasich: Fox host turned Ohio GOP gubernatorial candidate. Former Ohio Republican congressman John Kasich, who hosted the now-defunct Fox News program Heartland with John Kasich, guest-hosted The O'Reilly Factor at least twice in 2009 prior to announcing his bid for Ohio governor on June 1. Kasich appeared on Hannity the day that he announced his candidacy and three times thereafter, according to a Nexis search. Additionally, Kasich's gubernatorial website features an article in its news section that identifies him as "Fox News' Kasich."

The Ethnic Split


This article appeared in the November 9, 2009 edition of The Nation.
October 21, 2009

Alexander the Great, the British Raj and the Red Army all learned the hard way that the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest and historically dominant ethnic group, will unite to fight a foreign occupation force simply because it is foreign. As Howard Hart, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan, recently told the New York Times, "The very presence of our forces in the Pashtun areas is the problem. The more troops we put in, the greater the opposition."

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: The most dependable guarantor of Pakistani stability isn't a troop buildup in Afghanistan; it's Pakistan's emerging middle class.


MANAN AHMED: Is Pakistan really in danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban?

» More

The tenacity of the Taliban insurgency is rooted in opposition to an occupation that is, in this case, a particularly distasteful one to the Pashtuns. The US infidel is hated for Persian Gulf and Middle East policies--especially unconditional US support for Israel--that are perceived as anti-Muslim. But there are other factors that explain the strength of the Taliban. Some are widely written about, like drug money, popular anger at corrupt warlords and support from Pakistani intelligence agencies.

One factor of special sensitivity and importance that receives almost no attention either in the public debate about Afghanistan or in the internal policy battles of the Obama administration may well be the most important of all: the domination of the Afghan armed forces, police, secret police and intelligence agencies by leaders of the Tajik ethnic minority, who use their US-backed power in Kabul to lord it over their historic Pashtun rivals.

Pashtun kings ruled Afghanistan from its inception in 1747 until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973. Initially limited to the Pashtun heartland in the south and east, the Afghan state gradually conquered the neighboring Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek areas to the north and west. Today the Pashtuns make up an estimated 42 percent of a population of 28 million; the Tajiks make up 27 percent. Yet Tajik generals hold the key levers of power in Kabul because they happened to be in the right place at the right time during the confused months when US forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

During the struggle against the Soviet occupation, the Tajiks built up a militia in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, that had close CIA ties. Later it acquired allies in neighboring areas and became the Northern Alliance, which fought the Pashtun-based Taliban government that ruled from 1996 until 2001. When the victorious US forces marched into Kabul, the Northern Alliance was there, too, and with US help a clique of Tajik generals seized the key security posts in the new government.

The Bush administration, wanting to give a Pashtun face to the initial interim government, installed Hamid Karzai as president. He, too, had longstanding CIA ties and was the only Pashtun leader acceptable to the Tajik in-group headed by Gen. Muhammad Fahim. Fahim vetoed other more popular Pashtun figures identified with the last Pashtun king, Zahir Shah, notably Abdul Sattar Sirat. The United States later blocked Pashtun efforts to make Zahir Shah president of the second transitional government, which ruled from 2002 until a constitution was adopted and Karzai was elected president in 2004.

Now the Tajiks are riding high. In Karzai's recent bid for a second term (in elections widely regarded as rigged), Fahim was his running mate as first vice president. Army chief of staff Bismillah Khan has made fellow Tajiks his key corps commanders, and some 70 percent of his battalion commanders are Tajiks, making it difficult to enlist Pashtuns. The Tajik-dominated National Security Directorate, a sprawling network of intelligence and secret police agencies, systematically harasses Pashtun leaders who seek to challenge Tajik control. And if Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a half-Tajik and longtime Northern Alliance insider, shares power in a coalition government or wins a runoff, Tajik dominance would be strengthened.

The United States has painted itself into a corner in Afghanistan from which there can be no graceful escape. If it seeks to end Tajik dominance and shifts to a pro-Pashtun policy, there could well be a Tajik backlash and an uncontrollable, ethnically defined civil war. Yet a continuation of the status quo will only deepen Pashtun discontent.

What can be done now?

First, set a timetable for the gradual withdrawal of US and NATO forces during the next three years, limiting their role to the protection of major cities and of communications arteries critical to the defense of Kabul. This is the necessary condition for identifying the Taliban factions prepared to negotiate peace agreements at the local level with Pashtun tribal leaders.

Second, to offset Pakistan's support for the Taliban, replace the present "Af-Pak" strategy with a broader regional strategy that encourages India, Iran, Russia, China and Tajikistan--all of which oppose a Taliban takeover--to play a more active role in shaping Afghanistan's economic and political future and in setting the terms for a gradual US-NATO withdrawal.

Stephen M. Walt, "High Cost, Low Odds"

John Mueller, "The 'Safe Haven' Myth"

Priya Satia, "Attack of the Drones"

Manan Ahmed, "Paranoia Over Pakistan"

Mosharraf Zaidi, "The Best Wall of Defense"

Robert Dreyfuss, "How to Get Out"

For a collection of The Nation's best Afghanistan coverage, see our special page of links, "Afghanistan In Crisis."

Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Great Superpower Meltdown

Washington. For almost eight years, George W. Bush made speeches and appearances in which he hectored this or that country, or enemy, or people about what they "must" do. Never, I suspect, has an American president lectured more people out there on their responsibilities to us. Looking back, what's surprising is how few paid much attention. The Iraqis didn't listen, nor did the Afghans, nor the Iranians, nor, it seems, the Pakistanis, nor the Russians, nor the Chinese... and so on. It's been a remarkably ignominious lesson in bluster and bust -- and a reasonable measure of the actual power of a country that, not so many years ago, Washington pundits were happily (and favorably) comparing to the Roman and British empires in its reach and ambition.

In Washington, recently, those "musts" have been on the wane, which is hardly surprising. In the wake of a series of failed wars and a near economic collapse, a lot of "musts" now seem increasingly aimed in Washington's direction. Michael Klare, author of
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, has turned to another unusual but striking measure of waning American power in the world, an official report on the relatively distant future issued by the U.S. Intelligence Community late last year. The distant future was once, of course, the province of utopian or dystopian thinkers, pulp fiction writers, oddballs, visionaries, even outright nuts, not government intelligence services. Regularly analyzing that future has, however, become almost as much a duty of the 18 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community as doing National Intelligence Estimates on Iran. Consider that a measure of national security sprawl. Maybe, given Klare's analysis below, the IC should leave the future to the screenwriters for Star Trek and stick to our present world. Tom

Welcome to 2025
American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early
By Michael T. Klare

Memo to the CIA: You may not be prepared for time-travel, but welcome to 2025 anyway! Your rooms may be a little small, your ability to demand better accommodations may have gone out the window, and the amenities may not be to your taste, but get used to it. It's going to be your reality from now on.

Okay, now for the serious version of the above: In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), an affiliate of the Central Intelligence Agency, issued the latest in a series of futuristic publications intended to guide the incoming Obama administration. Peering into its analytic crystal ball in a report entitled
Global Trends 2025, it predicted that America's global preeminence would gradually disappear over the next 15 years -- in conjunction with the rise of new global powerhouses, especially China and India. The report examined many facets of the future strategic environment, but its most startling, and news-making, finding concerned the projected long-term erosion of American dominance and the emergence of new global competitors. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor [in 2025]," it stated definitively, the country's "relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained."

That, of course, was then; this -- some 11 months into the future -- is now and how things have changed. Futuristic predictions will just have to catch up to the fast-shifting realities of the present moment. Although published after the onset of the global economic meltdown was underway, the report was written before the crisis reached its full proportions and so emphasized that the decline of American power would be gradual, extending over the assessment's 15-year time horizon. But the economic crisis and attendant events have radically upset that timetable. As a result of the mammoth economic losses suffered by the United States over the past year and China's stunning economic recovery, the global power shift the report predicted has accelerated. For all practical purposes, 2025 is here already.

Many of the broad, down-the-road predictions made in Global Trends 2025have, in fact, already come to pass. Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- collectively known as the BRIC countries -- are already playing far more assertive roles in global economic affairs, as the report predicted would happen in perhaps a decade or so. At the same time, the dominant global role once monopolized by the United States with a helping hand from the major Western industrial powers -- collectively known as the Group of 7 (G-7) -- has already faded away at a remarkable pace. Countries that once looked to the United States for guidance on major international issues are ignoring Washington's counsel and instead creating their own autonomous policy networks. The United States is becoming less inclined to deploy its military forces abroad as rival powers increase their own capabilities and non-state actors rely on "asymmetrical" means of attack to overcome the U.S. advantage in conventional firepower.

No one seems to be saying this out loud -- yet -- but let's put it bluntly: less than a year into the 15-year span of Global Trends 2025, the days of America's unquestioned global dominance have come to an end. It may take a decade or two (or three) before historians will be able to look back and say with assurance, "That was the moment when the United States ceased to be the planet's preeminent power and was forced to behave like another major player in a world of many competing great powers." The indications of this great transition, however, are there for those who care to look.

Six Way Stations on the Road to Ordinary Nationhood

Here is my list of six recent developments that indicate we are entering "2025" today. All six were in the news in the last few weeks, even if never collected in a single place. They (and other events like them) represent a pattern: the shape, in fact, of a new age in formation.

1. At the global economic summit in Pittsburgh on September 24th and 25th, the leaders of the major industrial powers, the G-7 (G-8 if you include Russia) agreedto turn over responsibility for oversight of the world economy to a larger, more inclusive Group of 20 (G-20), adding in China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and other developing nations. Although doubts have been raised about the ability of this larger group to exercise effective global leadership, there is no doubt that the move itself signaled a shift in the locus of world economic power from the West to the global East and South -- and with this shift, a seismic decline in America's economic preeminence has been registered.

"The G-20's true significance is not in the passing of a baton from the G-7/G-8 but from the G-1, the U.S.," Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University wrote in theFinancial Times. "Even during the 33 years of the G-7 economic forum, the U.S. called the important economic shots." Declining American leadership over these last decades was obscured by the collapse of the Soviet Union and an early American lead in information technology, Sachs also noted, but there is now no mistaking the shifting of economic power from the United States to China and other rising economic dynamos.

2. According to news reports, America's economic rivals are conducting secret (and not-so-secret) meetings to explore a diminished role for the U.S. dollar -- fast losing its value -- in international trade. Until now, the use of the dollar as the international medium of exchange has given the United States a significant economic advantage: it can simply print dollars to meet its international obligations while other nations must convert their own currencies into dollars, often incurring significant added costs. Now, however, many major trading countries -- among them China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf oil countries -- are considering the use of the Euro, or a "basket" of currencies, as a new medium of exchange. If adopted, such a plan would accelerate the dollar's precipitous fall in value and further erode American clout in international economic affairs.

One such discussion reportedly took place this summer at a summit meeting of the BRIC countries. Just a concept a year ago, when the very idea of BRIC was concocted by the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, the BRIC consortium became a flesh-and-blood reality this June when the leaders of the four countries held aninaugural meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

The very fact that Brazil, Russia, India, and China chose to meet as a group was considered significant, as they jointly possess about 43% of the world's population and are expected to account for 33% of the world's gross domestic product by 2030 -- about as much as the United States and Western Europe will claim at that time. Although the BRIC leaders decided not to form a permanent body like the G-7 at this stage, they did agree to coordinate efforts to develop alternatives to the dollar and to reform the International Monetary Fund in such a way as to give non-Western countries a greater voice.

3. On the diplomatic front, Washington has been rebuffed by both Russia and China in its drive to line up support for increased international pressure on Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment program. One month after President Obamacancelled plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe in an apparent bid to secure Russian backing for a tougher stance toward Tehran, top Russian leaders are clearly indicating that they have no intention of endorsing strong new sanctions on Iran. "Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive," declared the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, following a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow on October 13th. The following day, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the threat of sanctions was "premature." Given the political risks Obama took in canceling the missile program -- a step widely condemned by Republicans in Washington -- Moscow's quick dismissal of U.S. pleas for cooperation on the Iranian enrichment matter can only be interpreted as a further sign of waning American influence.

4. Exactly the same inference can be drawn from a high-level meeting in Beijing on October 15th between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Iran's first vice president, Mohammed Reza Rahimi. "The Sino-Iran relationship has witnessed rapid development as the two countries' leaders have had frequent exchanges, and cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened," Wen said at the Great Hall of the People. Coming at a time when the United States is engaged in a vigorous diplomatic drive to persuade China and Russia, among others, to reduce their trade ties with Iran as a prelude to toughened sanctions, the Chinese statement can only be considered a pointed rebuff of Washington.

5. From Washington's point of view, efforts to secure international support for the allied war effort in Afghanistan have also met with a strikingly disappointing response. In what can only be considered a trivial and begrudging vote of support for the U.S.-led war effort, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on October 14th that Britain would add more troops to the British contingent in that country -- but only 500 more, and only if other European nations increase their own military involvement, something he undoubtedly knows is highly unlikely. So far, this tiny, provisional contingent represents the sum total of additional troops the Obama administration has been able to pry out of America's European allies, despite a sustained diplomatic drive to bolster the combined NATO force in Afghanistan. In other words, even America's most loyal and obsequious ally in Europe no longer appears willing to carry the burden for what is widely seen as yet another costly and debilitating American military adventure in the Greater Middle East.

6. Finally, in a move of striking symbolic significance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed over Chicago (as well as Madrid and Tokyo) to pickRio de Janeiro to be the host of the 2016 summer Olympics, the first time a South American nation was selected for the honor. Until the Olympic vote took place, Chicago was considered a strong contender, especially since former Chicago resident Barack Obama personally appeared in Copenhagen to lobby the IOC. Nonetheless, in a development that shocked the world, Chicago not only lost out, but was the city eliminated in the very first round of voting.

"Brazil went from a second-class country to a first-class country, and today we began to receive the respect we deserve," said Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at a victory celebration in Copenhagen after the vote. "I could die now and it already would have been worth it." Few said so, but in the course of the Olympic decision-making process the U.S. was summarily and pointedly demoted from sole superpower to instant also-ran, a symbolic moment on a planet entering a new age.

On Being an Ordinary Country

These are only a few examples of recent developments which indicate, to this author, that the day of America's global preeminence has already come to an end, years before the American intelligence community expected. It's increasingly clear that other powers -- even our closest allies -- are increasingly pursuing independent foreign policies, no matter what pressure Washington tries to bring to bear.

Of course, none of this means that, for some time to come, the U.S. won't retain the world's largest economy and, in terms of sheer destructiveness, its most potent military force. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the strategic environment in which American leaders must make critical decisions, when it comes to the nation's vital national interests, has changed dramatically since the onset of the global economic crisis.

Even more important, President Obama and his senior advisers are, it seems, reluctantly beginning to reshape U.S. foreign policy with the new global reality in mind. This appears evident, for example, in the administration's decision to revisit U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.

It was only in March, after all, that the president embraced a new counterinsurgency-oriented strategy in that country, involving a buildup of U.S. boots on the ground and a commitment to protracted efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghan villages where the Taliban was resurgent. It was on this basis that he fired the incumbent Afghan War commander, General David D. McKiernan, replacing him with General Stanley A. McChrystal, considered a more vigorous proponent of counterinsurgency. When, however, McChrystal presented Obama with the price tag for the implementation of this strategy -- 40,000 to 80,000additional troops (over and above the 20,000-odd extra troops only recently committed to the fight) -- many in the president's inner circle evidently blanched.

Not only will such a large deployment cost the U.S. treasury hundreds of billions of dollars it can ill afford, but the strains it is likely to place on the Army and Marine Corps are likely to be little short of unbearable after years of multiple tours and stress in Iraq. This price would be more tolerable, of course, if America's allies would take up more of the burden, but they are ever less willing to do so.

Undoubtedly, the leaders of Russia and China are not entirely unhappy to see the United States exhaust its financial and military resources in Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Vice President Joe Biden, among others, is calling for a new turn in U.S. policy, foregoing a counterinsurgency approach and opting instead for a less costly "counter-terrorism" strategy aimed, in part, at crushing Al Qaeda in Pakistan -- using drone aircraft and Special Forces, rather than large numbers of U.S. troops (while leaving troop levels in Afghanistan relatively unchanged).

It is too early to predict how the president's review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will play out, but the fact that he did not immediately embrace the McChrystal plan and has allowed Biden such free rein to argue his case suggests that he may be coming to recognize the folly of expanding America's military commitments abroad at a time when its global preeminence is waning.

One senses Obama's caution in other recent moves. Although he continues to insist that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is impermissible and that the use of force to prevent this remains an option, he has clearly moved to minimize the likelihood that this option -- which would also be plagued by recalcitrant "allies" -- will ever be employed.

On the other side of the coin, he has given fresh life to American diplomacy, seeking improved ties with Moscow and approving renewed diplomatic contact with such previously pariah states as Burma, Sudan, and Syria. This, too, reflects a reality of our changing world: that the holier-than-thou, bullying stance adopted by the Bush administration toward these and other countries for almost eight years rarely achieved anything. Think of it as an implicit acknowledgement that the U.S. is now descending from its status as the globe's "sole superpower" to that of an ordinary country. This, after all, is what ordinary countries do; they engage other countries in diplomatic discourse, whether they like their current governments or not.

So, welcome to the world of 2025. It doesn't look like the world of our recent past, when the United States stood head and shoulders above all other nations in stature, and it doesn't comport well with Washington's fantasies of global power since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. But it is reality.

For many Americans, the loss of that preeminence may be a source of discomfort, or even despair. On the other hand, don't forget the advantages to being an ordinary country like any other country: Nobody expects Canada, or France, or Italy to send another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 68,000 already there and the 120,000 still in Iraq. Nor does anyone expect those countries to spend $925 billion in taxpayer money to do so -- the current estimated cost of both wars, according to the National Priorities Project.

The question remains: How much longer will Washington feel that Americans can afford to subsidize a global role that includes garrisoning much of the planet and fighting distant wars in the name of global security, when the American economy is losing so much ground to its competitors? This is the dilemma President Obama and his advisers must confront in the altered world of 2025.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Owl Books). A documentary film version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation at

Copyright 2009 Michael T. Klare

Marx and Lenin Revisited

By Paul Craig Roberts

"Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." Karl Marx

If Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin were alive today, they would be leading contenders for the Nobel Prize in economics.

Marx predicted the growing misery of working people, and Lenin foresaw the subordination of the production of goods to financial capital’s accumulation of profits based on the purchase and sale of paper instruments. Their predictions are far superior to the "risk models" for which the Nobel Prize has been given and are closer to the money than the predictions of Federal Reserve chairmen, US Treasury secretaries, and Nobel economists, such as Paul Krugman, who believe that more credit and more debt are the solution to the economic crisis.

In this first decade of the 21st century there has been no increase in the real incomes of working Americans. There has been a sharp decline in their wealth. In the 21st century Americans have suffered two major stock market crashes and the destruction of their real estate wealth.

Some studies have concluded that the real incomes of Americans, except for the financial oligarchy of the super rich, are less today than in the 1980s and even the 1970s. I have not examined these studies of family income to determine whether they are biased by the rise in divorce and percentage of single parent households. However, for the last decade it is clear that real take-home pay has declined.

The main cause of this decline is the offshoring of US high value-added jobs. Both manufacturing jobs and professional services, such as software engineering and information technology work, have been relocated in countries with large and cheap labor forces.

The wipeout of middle class jobs was disguised by the growth in consumer debt. As Americans’ incomes ceased to grow, consumer debt expanded to take the place of income growth and to keep consumer demand rising. Unlike rises in consumer incomes due to productivity growth, there is a limit to debt expansion. When that limit is reached, the economy ceases to grow.

The immiseration of working people has not resulted from worsening crises of over-production of goods and services, but from financial capital’s power to force the relocation of production for domestic markets to foreign shores. Wall Street’s pressures, including pressures from takeovers, forced American manufacturing firms to "increase shareholders’ earnings." This was done by substituting cheap foreign labor for American labor.

Corporations offshored or outsourced abroad their manufacturing output, thus divorcing American incomes from the production of the goods that they consume. The next step in the process took advantage of the high speed Internet to move professional service jobs, such as engineering, abroad. The third step was to replace the remains of the domestic work force with foreigners brought in at one-third the salary on H-1B, L-1, and other work visas.

This process by which financial capital destroyed the job prospects of Americans was covered up by "free market" economists, who received grants from offshoring firms in exchange for propaganda that Americans would benefit from a "New Economy" based on financial services, and by shills in the education business, who justified work visas for foreigners on the basis of the lie that America produces a shortage of engineers and scientists.

In Marx’s day, religion was the opiate of the masses. Today the media is. Let’s look at media reporting that facilitates the financial oligarchy’s ability to delude the people.

The financial oligarchy is hyping a recovery while American unemployment and home foreclosures are rising. The hype owes its credibility to the high positions from which it comes, to the problems in payroll jobs reporting that overstate employment, and to disposal into the memory hole of any American unemployed for more than one year.

On October 2 statistician John Williams of reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has announced a preliminary estimate of its annual benchmark revision of 2009 employment. The BLS has found that employment in 2009 has been overstated by about one million jobs. John Williams believes the overstatement is two million jobs. He reports that "the birth-death model currently adds [an illusory] net gain of about 900,00 jobs per year to payroll employment reporting."

The non-farm payroll number is always the headline report. However, Williams believes that the household survey of unemployment is statistically sounder than the payroll survey. The BLS has never been able to reconcile the difference in the numbers in the two employment surveys. Last Friday, the headline payroll number of lost jobs was 263,000 for the month of September. However the household survey number was 785,000 lost jobs in the month of September.

The headline unemployment rate of 9.8% is a bare bones measure that greatly understates unemployment. Government reporting agencies know this and report another unemployment number, known as U-6. This measure of US unemployment stands at 17% in September 2009.

When the long-term discouraged workers are added back into the total unemployed, the unemployment rate in September 2009 stands at 21.4%.

The unemployment of American citizens could actually be even higher. When Microsoft or some other firm replaces several thousand US workers with foreigners on H-1B visas, Microsoft does not report a decline in payroll employment. Nevertheless, several thousand Americans are now without jobs. Multiply this by the number of US firms that are relying on "body shops" to replace their US work force with cheap foreign labor year after year, and the result is hundreds of thousands of unreported unemployed Americans.

Obviously, with more than one-fifth of the American work force unemployed and the remainder buried in mortgage and credit card debt, economic recovery is not in the picture.

What is happening is that the hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP money given to the large banks and the trillions of dollars that have been added to the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet have been funneled into the stock market, producing another bubble, and into the acquisition of smaller banks by banks "too large to fail." The result is more financial concentration.

The expansion in debt that underlies this bubble has further eroded the US dollar’s credibility as reserve currency. When the dollar starts to go, panicked policy-makers will raise interest rates in order to protect the US Treasury’s borrowing capability. When the interest rates rise, what little remains of the US economy will tank.

If the government cannot borrow, it will print money to pay its bills. Hyperinflation will hit the American population. Massive unemployment and massive inflation will inflict upon the American people misery that not even Marx and Lenin could envisage.

Meanwhile America’s economists continue to pretend that they are dealing with a normal postwar recession that merely requires an expansion of money and credit to restore economic growth.

Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economyand Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

Afghans Condemn 'Quran-Burning' | Protesters In Kabul Burned An Effigy Of Obama And Chanted Slogans Condemning The US And Israel [AFP]

Afghan police have fired into the air to break up a protest in Kabul by thousands of people who are condemning an alleged desecration of a copy of the Quran by foreign soldiers.

Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam's holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in the Afghan capital for more than an hour on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumour that a copy of the Quran had been burned.

More than 100,000 foreign troops are battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, where violence this year reached its highest level since the group was ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

Thick plumes of smoke rose above the crowd as protesters set fire to a large effigy of what they said was Barack Obama, the US president.

"Death to America. Down with Israel," chanted one man at the rally, which was organised mainly by university students.

Others threw stones and clashed with police but no casualties were reported.

One banner carried by protesters said: "No to democracy. We just want Islam."

Captain Elizabeth Mathias, a media officer for US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban was trying to undermine foreign troops by spreading the rumour.

"We did not burn a Quran ... It is unfortunate that the protesters believe a Taliban rumour," Mathias said, adding an investigation had been carried out.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment.

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