The World Today for October 04, 2016


Back to Square One

International donors meeting in Belgium starting Tuesday were preparing to open their checkbooks for the American-backed Afghan government in Kabul before events on Monday likely gave them pause.

Taliban fighters surrounded Kunduz on four sides, penetrating the center of the 275,000-population city and triggering an exodus of refugees fleeing their barbarous rule, Al Jazeera reported.

Military helicopters were flying over Kunduz as the jihadists attacked the governor’s compound and police stations. Officials fled to the airport. Government forces expect a street-by-street battle to dislodge the fighters, according to the Qatar-based news agency.

“It will be difficult to dislodge them as we understand that the Taliban have taken positions inside civilian homes,” wrote Al Jazeera. “Police and security forces are having difficulty distinguishing where exactly the fire is coming from.”

The attack was a reoccupation of sorts.

Almost a year ago, the Taliban briefly conquered Kunduz in what was their biggest success over the 15-year war. With the help of American air strikes – including the infamous bombing of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders – Afghan forces retook the city.

Like that original, brief Taliban victory, Monday’s assault was a major setback in the campaign against the radicals in the wake of the United States pulling out tens of thousands of troops over the past few years.

At the same time, the Taliban on Monday also launched an assault on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, hundreds of miles to the south of Kunduz.

“This does seem like a show of force by the Taliban,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Jennifer Glasse.

The attacks had a clear public relations objective: to discredit Afghan officials seeking help and money in their fight against the extremists. Kabul now controls only around two-thirds of the country because of Taliban strikes.

International aid is a tool of “occupying nations” that has been “astronomically widening the gap between rich and poor” and corrupt officials, said a Talban statement released to the Washington Post.

The fighters’ efforts are bearing fruit. Kabul is buckling.

The New York Times claimed that a kind of Fall of Saigon-atmosphere has taken hold in the Afghan capital.

“The times are reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year occupation,” wrote Carlotta Gall in The New York Times. “The Communist government and army that the Soviets left behind survived only three years before they were overthrown by the mujahedeen in 1992.”

Gall also noted that American forces began their bombing campaign against the Taliban on Oct. 7, 2001 – 15 years ago Friday.

Nobody is celebrating.

“Sometimes it feels as if we are back to square one, that there is nothing to show for it,” she wrote.


Washington’s Dilemma

It’s hard to know when to stop trying for peace. But it doesn’t make sense to keep talking if nobody’s listening, either.

At least that’s what Washington decided Monday, as the US finally broke off talks with Russia on implementing the failed ceasefire agreement in Syria, Reuters reported.

“The United States is suspending its participation in bilateral channels with Russia that were established to sustain the cessation of hostilities,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

At the same time, Moscow suspended a nuclear weapons treaty it signed with Washington more than a decade ago, signaling that US-Russia relations have sunk to “one of the lowest points since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union,” noted the LA Times.

While the US has blasted Russia for the “barbaric” bombardment of Aleppo over the past week, which an unnamed official told Reuters had featured “barrel bombs, thermobaric bombs, incendiary munitions, cluster bombs and bunker busters,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Monday hammered the US for arming Ukrainian nationals and imposing sanctions on Russian citizens even as Washington talks cooperation in the Middle East.

Choosing Choice

Thousands of women in Poland took to the streets to protest against a proposal to ban all abortions on Monday.

Dressed in black to symbolize mourning for their lost reproductive rights, the marchers staged demonstrations in the cities of Warsaw, Gdansk, Lodz, Wroclaw, Krakow and elsewhere in the staunchly Catholic nation, the BBC reported.

Sympathizers also protested against the proposed ban in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Belfast, London and Paris.

Abortion is already banned in Poland unless the woman’s life is in danger, there is a risk of serious and irreversible damage to the fetus, or the pregnancy is proven to be the result of rape or incest. However, under the proposed bill, which has cleared one parliamentary hurdle, women found to have had abortions could face five years in prison. Doctors found to have assisted in an abortion would also be liable for jail time.

Roosting Chickens

Voters in Brazil don’t seem to have been swayed by ousted President Dilma Rousseff’s claim that her impeachment was little more than a cosmetically enhanced coup d’etat.

Rousseff’s Workers’ Party – which ran the country for the past 13 years – suffered an ignominious defeat in local polls on Sunday, winning only 263 mayoralties across the country, according to the Wall Street Journal citing final results Monday. That’s less than half the number that the party won in 2012.

Hit by the Petrobras corruption scandal, the party received a paltry 6.8 million of the 118.8 million votes cast on Sunday, signaling that frustration over corruption has pushed voters toward small parties and anti-establishment candidates.

Meanwhile, though President Michel Temer’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, the PMDB, won the most mayoralties across the country, the pro-business Brazilian Social Democracy party, or PSDB, also performed strongly – winning Sao Paolo.


Homicidal Mammals

If you think we humans have cornered the market on homicide in the animal kingdom, you would be wrong. It’s actually the meerkat which is the most lethal to its own kind: Meerkat-on-meerkat violence has been well documented over the years, says NPR, and the cute and seemingly docile mammal is “surprisingly murderous.”

In fact, a recent new study in the journal Nature shows that the meerkat is the mammal most likely to be murdered by one of its own kind. About 20 percent of meerkat deaths are murders – nearly double that of the brown bear, an animal known for its aggression and a mammal that is anything but cute.

The study analyzed more than 4 million deaths among over 1,000 animal species and compared it to findings of violence among humans to see what mammalian data might tell us about human behavior.

Modern-day humans come off relatively well in the study. Modern societies with police forces, legal systems and the like have homicide rates of 0.01 percent, or less than 1 in 10,000 deaths, according to an evolutionary biologist who wrote a companion piece on the study.

Part of that is because of mankind’s place on the evolutionary tree and the mitigating effects of these norms and institutions. Rates of lethal violence for people living between 500 and 3,000 years ago were between 15 and 30 percent.

So while humans are not, as a rule, as lethally violent toward each other as meerkats, the study still argues that humans are more lethally violent than the average mammal over the course of history. Still, these days, the red-tailed monkey, the puma and the snow leopard beat our species for violence. See the list here.

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