Monday, December 31, 2018

US stocks hold modest gain on final day of volatile year - AP News

Stocks were moving higher Monday as Wall Street drew closer to ending the final day of trading in a volatile year. Health care companies, retailers and technology stocks drove the market’s gains. Despite the upbeat day, the benchmark S&P 500 index was on track for its worst full-year showing in a decade

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index rose 14 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,500 as of 3:37 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 213 points, or 0.9 percent, to 23,276. The Nasdaq added 35 points, or 0.5 percent, to 6,620. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up less than 1 point to 1,338.

Trading has been highly volatile in December, capping a year of turbulence for markets. The major indexes closed last week with their first weekly gain in what’s been an otherwise painful month. The indexes are still all down around 10 percent for the month and are on track for their worst December since 1931.

THE QUOTE: “Last week we really had such a volatile week, and a lot of that had to do with thin trading volumes, some computerized trading and investors just being exhausted from a very difficult fourth quarter,” said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Today is the last day of the year and investors are starting to look into next year.”

US-CHINA TRADE: Investors drew encouragement Monday from a tweet from President Donald Trump on Sunday, in which the president said he had a “long and very good call” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump added: “Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made.” Meanwhile, the official Xinhua News Agency cited a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that “China stands ready to work with the United States to move forward the China-U.S. ties which are underpinned by coordination, cooperation and stability.” - Read More

US stocks hold modest gain on final day of volatile year - AP News

Former Afghanistan commander warns of plans to cut troops

The former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Sunday that withdrawing up to half the 14,000 American troops serving there would reduce the incentive for the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal after more than 17 years of war.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the U.S. has "basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have." McChrystal's comments were in response to reports that President Donald Trump had ordered the Pentagon to develop plans to withdraw thousands of American troops by next summer. Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis mentioned the order in his resignation letter. Mattis' last day in the administration is Monday.

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State group and the Taliban and working to train and build the Afghan military.

"If you tell the Taliban that we are absolutely leaving on date certain, cutting down, weakening ourselves, their incentives to try to cut a deal drop dramatically," McChrystal said on ABC's "This Week."

McChrystal also said he's worried that the Afghan people will lose confidence in the U.S. as an ally that can be counted on.

"I think we probably rocked them," said McChrystal, who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for about a year.

He also was critical of President Donald Trump personally, saying he doesn't believe Trump tells the truth. The comment came when asked what he would say if he were asked to join the Trump administration. - Read More

Former Afghanistan commander warns of plans to cut troops - AP News

John Mearsheimer on International Relations, Great Power Politics, and the Age of Trump - by Michael Lind

John J. Mearsheimer’s The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities argues how the United States’ pursuit of a “liberal hegemony” has been a failure with sizeable costs.
WHEN THE Cold War ended a quarter century ago, many realists expected the United States to retrench and demobilize. Instead, while drawing down some of its military forces, the country did the opposite. The United States waged war to expel Iraq from Kuwait, intervened in the Yugoslav civil war and promoted the expansion of NATO to include Eastern Europe and—many hoped, until Russia violently intervened—Georgia and Ukraine. Following the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States not only went to war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but also engaged in “wars of choice” to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, while adding U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The United States is now engaged in more simultaneous small wars on more fronts than at any point in its history.

In The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities , political scientist John Mearsheimer argues that the disappearance of the constraints imposed by Cold War bipolarity vouchsafed the United States the luxury of trying to reshape the world to conform to America’s domestic political creed of liberalism. Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, has written extensively on international relations from a realist perspective, including The Tragedy of Great Power Politics . Now he offers his most sweeping analysis of America’s purpose. Any argument about national and world politics is necessarily schematic. But a catechistic concision which might be a fault in others is a virtue in the case of Mearsheimer, whose prose is as perspicuous as his analysis. Accessible and yet rigorous, The Great Delusion deserves to be read by policymakers, scholars and the public alike.

The gravamen of his argument focuses on the exceptional circumstances that emerged after 1989, when America was not simply primus inter pares but emerged as the sole superpower. According to Mearsheimer,

occasionally a liberal democracy encounters such a favorable balance of power that it is able to embrace liberal hegemony. That situation is most likely to arise in a unipolar world, where the single great power does not have to worry about being attacked by another great power since there is none. Then the liberal sole pole will almost always abandon realism and adopt a liberal foreign policy. Liberal states have a crusader mentality hardwired into them that is hard to maintain.

This has led the United States (the only liberal superpower in history, or one of two, if nineteenth century Britain is counted) to adopt a strategy of liberal hegemony, “in which a state aims to turn as many countries as possible into liberal democracies like itself while also promoting an open international economy and building international institutions.” Mearsheimer writes:

With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States emerged as by far the most powerful country on the planet. Unsurprisingly, the Clinton administration embraced liberal hegemony from the start, and the policy remained firmly intact through the Bush and Obama administrations. - Read More
John Mearsheimer on International Relations, Great Power Politics, and the Age of Trump

Failing Upwards: How America’s Military Leaders Can Learn from Their Mistakes - by Dominic Tierney

The military's top officers may not be interested in failure, but failure is interested in them.
SECRETARY OF Defense James Mattis reportedly said: “I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.” To paraphrase Trotsky, American generals may not be interested in failure, but failure is interested in them. In recent decades, the United States has suffered a number of stalemates and defeats in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the recurrent experience of military fiascos, there is a puzzling discrepancy in how U.S. officials think about past versus future loss. When leaders learn from historical cases, debacles often loom large and powerfully shape policy. But when officials plan prospective operations, they tend to neglect the possibility of disaster. As a result, military planners focus too much on avoiding a repeat of prior reversals, and not enough on the possibility that the new strategy will itself unravel.

One solution is to take inspiration from the business realm, where the school of “intelligent failure” encourages a healthier relationship with loss. By adopting the right set of tools, the military can become more adaptable and resilient.

CIVILIAN AND military officials in the U.S. national security community tend to learn more from past failure rather than success. By failure we mean military operations that did not achieve the intended core aims, or where the balance sheet was skewed toward costs rather than benefits. Leaders, for example, often draw historical analogies with prior policies to clarify the strategic stakes in a current issue or suggest the optimum path forward. Strikingly, these analogies are overwhelmingly negative (do not repeat past errors), rather than positive (copy past successes). No more Munichs. No more Vietnams. No more Iraqs. And so on.

What’s more, failure is the primary catalyst for organizational or doctrinal change. It often takes a fiasco to delegitimize standard procedures. For example, America’s negative experience in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in Lebanon in 1982–1984, spurred the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, which outlined a set of principles to assess the wisdom of military operations. More recently, the desire to avoid a repetition of the Iraq War lay at the core of the Obama doctrine.

The tendency to learn more from failures than successes is rooted in what psychologists call “negativity bias,” which is a core predisposition in the human brain where bad is stronger than good. Negative factors loom larger than positive factors in almost every realm of psychology, including cognition, emotion and information processing, as well as memory and learning. Bad events are recalled more easily than good events, lead to more intense reflection and “why” questions, and have a much more enduring impact. “Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author,” observed David Hume. “On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose.”

GIVEN THAT past failure is salient in memory and learning, we might expect that planning for future military operations would also highlight the possibility of loss. But, in fact, the opposite happens. When considering prospective uses of force, officials tend to downplay the possibility of disaster and focus instead on taking the first steps in the strategy of victory. Put simply, past failure is illuminated in bright lights whereas future failure is hidden.

U.S. military war games, for example, often neglect the potential for loss. A 1971 review of education in the U.S. Army discovered that war games and other exercises were, “generally euphoric in nature—the U.S. Army always wins with relative ease.” By 2001, the war games were more sophisticated, but the outcome was the same. According to a study by Robert Haffa and James Patton: “the good guys win convincingly and no one gets hurt.” - Read More
Failing Upwards: How America’s Miitary Leaders Can Learn from Their Mistakes

The Future of the Dollar—and Its Role in Financial Diplomacy - The National Interest

If the military strength and economic wealth of the United States underpin the dollar’s central role, then America’s global influence is enhanced because its currency dominates trade, finance and sovereign reserves.

THE DOLLAR’S central role in world financial markets reflects both faith in American leadership and the absence of reasonable alternatives. Currency dominance has also been a linchpin in America’s efforts to shape a global order around free markets and democracy while serving as a foundation for the sustained growth of a more integrated global economy. These roles now face rising risks. Both Republicans and Democrats question the benefits of an open and integrated economic order that seems to drain good jobs and demand repeated bailouts of bad banks and corrupt foreign governments. Meanwhile, allies and rivals alike raise doubts about the durability of U.S. leadership and the wisdom of depending so heavily on one dominant power.

Such talk hardly portends imminent financial collapse or reconfiguration of the global order. America’s military and political strength remain paramount and investors still retreat to dollars whenever risks mount—even when those risks originate in the United States itself. Nevertheless, signs of an unravelling consensus are unmistakable. They lie not in the declining percentages of U.S. currency held in sovereign reserves, but rather the weakening faith in America’s ability to hold the system together. The clues are in the early elements of financial plumbing that bypass dollar markets, international financial institutions without active U.S. participation and increasingly rudderless economic gatherings of finance ministers. The risks for the existing global order are not that another power will displace Washington on these issues, but that there will be no leadership in areas that have become increasingly important to global commerce. Worse, the response to the next financial crisis will be uncoordinated and disastrous.

The U.S. midterm elections have triggered some renewed debate about America’s global agenda, yet there have been few voices to remind voters that international financial leadership benefits Americans and not just America’s banks. In fact, global dependence on access to the dollar gives Washington leverage to coordinate battles against terrorism and cybercrime, to shape rules against corruption and tax avoidance, and to protect privacy through the regulation of global data flows that will drive the next decades of economic innovation. Meanwhile, the United States must also build on summit communiques to make concrete progress in these areas with skeptical allies and rivals. For all its fits and starts, U.S. leadership continues to provide a crucial global framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth. Yet faith in the dollar will only endure with a sense that the United States’ role has evolved from chief executive to managing partner that champions the integrity of a global financial system along with its own interests. - Read More
The Future of the Dollar—and Its Role in Financial Diplomacy

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Pentagon: Afghanistan Could Be Poised for Political Settlement - December 28, 2018

Despite challenges on multiple fronts, Afghanistan seems more likely than at any time in recent history to come to a favorable political settlement, according to a report released this week by the Pentagon, which cited the effects of a recent military escalation coupled with diplomatic initiatives.
In a yearly assessment required by the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon this week submitted a detailed report on the war in Afghanistan to U.S. lawmakers, detailing the country's progress and challenges in fiscal year 2018-2019.
Among the challenges facing Kabul are the lack of political stability, the capabilities of the national security force and interference from other regional powers, the report assessed.
"The current military situation inside of Afghanistan remains at an impasse. The introduction of additional advisers and enablers in 2018 stabilized the situation, slowing the momentum of a Taliban march that had capitalized on U.S. drawdowns between 2011 and 2016," the report said.
"Diplomatic, religious, military and social pressures, enabled by the conditions-based strategy, and buoyed by increased international engagement, have forced the Taliban senior leadership to debate whether to enter negotiations with the Afghan government," the report added.
Strategy in Afghanistan
In August 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration's strategy on Afghanistan and put forth a case for staying the course and not allowing the country to become a haven for terrorists who would once again pose a threat to U.S. national security.
"I share the American people's frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image," President Trump said at the time, promising to end nation-building and focus instead on U.S. national security interests.
Trump said the new U.S. strategy would shift from a timeline-based approach to a condition-based one.
The new report by the Pentagon comes as the Trump administration is reportedly considering withdrawing roughly half of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently deployed to Afghanistan. No formal announcement on the potential drawdown has yet been made.
U.S. troops in the country engaged in both train-and-advise missions, as part of the U.S.-led NATO Resolute Support Mission, and in counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State and al-Qaida terror groups.
The Pentagon assessment warns that Afghanistan continues to be threatened by more than 20 terror groups operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which, if left unchecked, could pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.
"However, the existence of more than 20 terrorist or insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including ISIS-K [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan], requires an Afghan-supported U.S. platform in the region to monitor, contain and respond to these threats," the assessment added. - Read More

Pentagon: Afghanistan Could Be Poised for Political Settlement

Trump hasn’t ordered Afghan troop withdrawal, White House says - Bostonglobe

President Trump hasn’t ordered the Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, a White House spokesman said, contradicting reports last week that he’s directed the military to pull 7,000 soldiers out of a conflict he’s long criticized.

“The president has not made a determination to drawdown US military presence in Afghanistan and he has not directed the Department of Defense to begin the process of withdrawing US personnel from Afghanistan,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

The statement came more than a week after a US defense official, who asked not to be identified, said the Pentagon will withdraw 7,000 of about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. That decision was widely reported in media outlets, including by Bloomberg News.

But the US commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, said Sunday he hadn’t received any orders to change troop levels in the country, according to Voice of America — a statement the NSC appeared to belatedly confirm on Friday. - Read More

Trump hasn't ordered Afghan troop withdrawal, White House says ...

'People are waiting for him' / Exiled Afghan monarch seen as uniter of Taliban's foes - Monday, October 1, 2001

Afghanistan Mohammad Zahir Shah, left, gestures to his grandson Mostapha, right, as his son Mirwais, behind the king, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, look on during a meeting at the King's residence in Olgiata, in the outskirts of Rome, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2001. The former king told a U.S. congressional delegation Sunday that he was by America's side in the fight against terrorism and would back a U.S.-led liberation force to oust the hard-line Taliban. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

2001-10-01 04:00:00 PDT Rome -- The 86-year-old exiled king of Afghanistan, who has spent decades in virtual isolation here, met with military commanders of the rebel Northern Alliance and a U.S. congressional delegation yesterday at his home, where the Americans promised to help him unite his countrymen against the radical Islamic Taliban government.

"We think that perhaps he is the person that can rally those against the Taliban most effectively," Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said after the meeting, at King Mohammad Zahir Shah's heavily guarded villa outside Rome.

The king's youngest son and closest aide, Prince Mir Wais Zahir, 40, said his father, who has lived in Rome since he was deposed in a Soviet-backed coup in 1973, had made up his mind to go back despite his age. - Read More

People are waiting for him' / Exiled Afghan monarch seen as uniter of ...

Trump Says 'Big Progress' Is Being Made On Trade Deal

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke over the phone Saturday. Trump confirmed the conversation via Twitter, while Xi Jinping's presence on the line was confirmed by Chinese state media.

"Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China," Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. "Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!" According to Reuters, Chinese media says Xi hopes the two countries can meet in the middle.

A trade war has dominated U.S.-China relations for much of this year and caused billions of dollars in economic losses for both countries.

Earlier this month, Trump and Xi Jinping had dinner at the Group of 20 summit and reached a truce. As NPR's Rob Schmitz reported, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, which were scheduled to increase to 25 percent on Jan. 1 have remained at 10 percent as a result of that temporary truce. In exchange, The New York Times reported, China agreed to buy American agricultural and energy products. But Trump could increase tariffs to 25 percent if a deal is not made by a March deadline.

"At the end of 90 days, these tariffs will be raised ... if we don't get a satisfactory solution," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told CBS' Face The Nationabout the truce. "If there is a deal to be done, we'll make it. The president wants us to make a deal. But as you say, it has to be verifiable. It has to be monitored. It can't be just vague promises like we've seen over the last 25 years."

Saturday's call seems to be one part of what Lighthizer told Face The Nation are "ongoing" conversations and efforts toward that broad deal. - Read More

Trump Says 'Big Progress' Is Being Made On Trade Deal

2018 Was A Year Of Drastic Cuts To U.S. Refugee Admissions

It's well known that President Trump wants a wall on the southern U.S. border. He insists it's urgent to curb illegal immigration. But more than any wall, new barriers to legal immigration are likely to have more bearing on people trying to enter the United States. The United States is rejecting more legal immigrants than ever before.

The first casualty in 2018 was the U.S. refugee resettlement program, says Larry Yungk, a former official at the U.N. refugee agency and now co-chair of the advisory committee of Church World Service's refugee program.

"This is one where the knobs were in reach," he explains, referring to the president's prerogative to set the yearly refugee admission cap. After framing refugees as a security threat, Trump slashed resettlement admission numbers for a second year to a historic low, says Yungk. Just 22,491 refugees were resettled in the U.S. in fiscal year 2018, roughly half the 45,000 cap.

"He has managed to convince people that somehow, out of the 75 million persons who enter the U.S. each year who are not American citizens, refugees are the ones we should worry about the most," he says.

Now, the refugees approved for resettlement are mostly from Africa and European countries from the former Soviet Union. More than 2,500 were from Ukraine in fiscal 2018, according to the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

At the same time, the number of Muslim refugees is down by 90 percent since fiscal year 2017, and Latin American refugee numbers are down by almost 40 percent, even though these asylum seekers are coming from regions that produce some of the highest numbers of refugees due to civil wars and violence. Just 62 Syrian refugees were resettled in the U.S. in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The cuts have been devastating for resettlement agencies. There are nine voluntary agencies that receive federal funding based on the number of refugees they resettle. Drastic budget cuts and staff layoffs began in 2018 and are expected to continue through 2019. - Read More

2018 Was A Year Of Drastic Cuts To U.S. Refugee Admissions

Taliban seeks image makeover as Afghan peace talks gain momentum

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - As moves toward peace pick up in Afghanistan, the Taliban are trying to show they have changed since the brutal days of the 1990s when they banned music and girls’ education and carried out public executions in Kabul’s football stadium.

“If peace comes and the Taliban return, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters, referring to the year they took over in Kabul before their ouster by U.S.-led troops in 2001.

“We want to assure Afghan nationals that there will be no threat to anyone from our side.”

The comments come as moves toward peace negotiations have intensified, following a series of meetings between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives over the past three months.

Expectations of a decisive shift have been heightened by reports that more than 5,000 U.S. troops may be withdrawn from Afghanistan, in an abrupt about-turn from the previous U.S. strategy of stepping up military pressure on the insurgents.

“Our opposition is with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Once they are out and a peace deal is reached, then a nationwide amnesty will be announced,” said Mujahid.

“No one, police, army, government employees or anyone, will face revenge behavior from our side.”

Reports of the withdrawal are unconfirmed but they have triggered alarm among many Afghans with bitter memories of the Taliban’s ultra-hardline regime. - Read Nore

Trump Hasn't Ordered Afghan Troop Withdrawal, White House Says

Donald Trump hasn’t ordered the Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, a White House spokesman said, contradicting reports last week that he’s directed the military to pull 7,000 soldiers out of a conflict he’s long criticized.

“The president has not made a determination to drawdown U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and he has not directed the Department of Defense to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. personnel from Afghanistan,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an emailed statement on Friday.

The statement came more than a week after a U.S. defense official, who asked not to be identified discussing the troop plans, said the Pentagon will withdraw 7,000 of about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. That decision was widely reported in media outlets, including by Bloomberg News.

But the U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, said Sunday he hadn’t received any orders to change troop levels in the country, according to Voice of America -- a statement the NSC appeared to belatedly confirm on Friday. - Read More

Trump hasn’t ordered Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

A White House spokesman said Friday that President Trump has not yet ordered the Pentagon to pull troops out of Afghanistan, contradicting reports last week that the president has called for the withdrawal of 7,000 troops.

“The president has not made a determination to drawdown U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and he has not directed the Department of Defense to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. personnel from Afghanistan,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

The official statement contradicts previous reports published by Bloomberg and various media outlets from unidentified U.S. officials who said the Pentagon was withdrawing around 7,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

There are currently more than 14,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, primarily to advise and assist Afghan Security Forces in the fight against al Qaeda and other militant groups.

Trump has long railed against the 17-year-old war, the longest military conflict in U.S. history.- Read More

Trump hasn't ordered Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan ...

Friday, December 21, 2018

US stock market suffers worst week in nearly a decade -

NEW YORK — After almost 10 years, Wall Street’s rally looks like it’s ending.

Another day of big losses Friday left the U.S. market with its worst week in more than seven years. All of the major indexes have lost 16 to 26 percent from their highs this summer and fall. Barring huge gains during the upcoming holiday period, this will be the worst December for stocks since 1931.

There hasn’t been one major shock that has sent stocks plunging. The U.S. economy has been growing since 2009, and most experts think it will keep expanding for now. But it’s likely to do so at a slower pace.

As they look ahead, investors are finding more and more reasons to worry. The U.S. has been locked in a trade dispute with China for nine months. Economies in Europe and China are slowing. And rising interest rates in the U.S. could slow its economy even more.

Stocks are now headed for their single worst month since October 2008, when the market was being battered by the global financial crisis.

December is generally the strongest time of the year for U.S. stocks. Traders often talk about a “Santa rally” that adds to the year’s gains as people adjust their portfolios in anticipation of the year to come.

But not this year.
No sector of the market has been spared. Large multi-national companies join smaller domestic ones in their losses. And huge high-tech companies, once the best-performing stocks on the market, are now leading the way lower.

Technology’s huge popularity during the recent boom years made it even more vulnerable as investors’ moods turn sour. Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have seen their market values fall by hundreds of billions of dollars.

“If you live by momentum, you die by momentum,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for CFRA.

The Nasdaq composite, which contains a high concentration of tech stocks, has sunk almost 22 percent from its record high in late August. Several big technology companies, notably Facebook and Twitter, have also suffered as a result of scandals over matters such as data privacy and election meddling, and traders worry that the industry will face greater government regulation that could increase costs and affect their profits.

The major U.S. indexes fell 7 percent this week and they’ve sunk more than 12 percent in December.

Investors around the world have grown increasingly pessimistic about the global economy’s prospects over the next few years. It’s widely expected to slow down, but traders are concerned the cooling might be worse than they previously believed.

After a sharp early gain Friday, the S&P 500 index retreated 50.84 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,416.58. The S&P 500, the benchmark for many index funds, has fallen 17.5 percent from its high in September.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 414.23 points, or 1.8 percent, to 22,445.37. The Nasdaq skidded 195.41 points, or 3 percent, to 6,332.99. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 33.92 points, or 2.6 percent, 1,292.09.- Read More

US stocks suffer their worst week in nearly a decade - New York Post

U.S. Envoy Doubts Afghan Taliban 'Genuinely Seeking Peace'

The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has questioned the Taliban's determination to end the 17-year war, after the group's representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.

"We have to wait and see their forthcoming steps," Khalilzad told Afghan news agency Ariana News on December 20, according to a translation of the interview provided by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were "genuinely seeking peace."

Khalilzad's remarks came after his latest face-to-face meeting earlier this week with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The U.A.E. hailed the talks as "positive for all parties concerned."

And the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman,said that the meetings will produce "very positive results by the beginning of next year."

But the Taliban would not meet with a 12-person Afghan delegation, Khalilzad said, describing the decision as "wrong."

"If the Taliban are really seeking peace, they have to sit with the Afghan government ultimately to reach an agreement on the future political settlement in Afghanistan," the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan said.

The Taliban has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it says is an American puppet. - Read More

U.S. Envoy Doubts Afghan Taliban 'Genuinely Seeking Peace' - RFE/RL

President Trump 'to pull thousands of troops' from Afghanistan

The Trump administration is planning to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, US media say.

Reports, citing unnamed officials, say about 7,000 troops - roughly half the remaining US military presence in the country - could go home within months.

The reports come a day after the president announced the country's military withdrawal from Syria.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump's Defence Secretary Jim Mattis announced his resignation from his post.

Reports about the sharp reduction of forces emerged on Thursday, but have not been confirmed by US defence officials.

Analysts have warned that a withdrawal could have a "devastating" impact and offer Taliban militants a propaganda victory.

A Taliban official told AFP news agency: "Frankly speaking, we weren't expecting that immediate US response... we are more than happy." - Read More

US 'to pull 7,000 troops' from Afghanistan

A blow to morale: Afghan generals worry about US withdrawal - By KATHY GANNON

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban welcomed news of the U.S. plan to withdraw half its troops in Afghanistan by the summer, as Afghan generals warned Friday it would be a blow to the morale of the country’s beleaguered security forces, who come under daily attacks from the insurgent fighters.

The announcement seems certain to complicate efforts to reach a peace deal, mostly because it gives the Taliban leverage by allowing them to hold off until a total U.S. withdrawal, or step up their demands over a weakened Afghan government.

“I believe the Taliban will see this as a reason to stall, and therefore it disincentivizes the Taliban to actually talk to the Afghan government, which it has refused to do,” said Bill Roggio an Afghanistan analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Afghanistan’s security forces rely heavily on U.S. airpower against both Taliban and an upstart Islamic State affiliate, and Afghan military officials note the announcement by the Trump administration comes as the country’s security is at its worst since 2014, when more than 100,000 NATO troops pulled out of the country and handed off security to Afghans. The U.S. and NATO retreated into a training and advising role.

“A complete withdrawal of U.S. forces would very likely cause the Taliban to make gains in key areas throughout Afghanistan,” Roggio said. “This likely would cause the general collapse of the (Afghan National Security and Defense Force) as a cohesive fighting force and lead to the return of the warlords.”

U.S. President Donald Trump considers the war in Afghanistan a lost cause and has long pushed to pull the troops out. His decision was made public a mere few hours after he abruptly announced the U.S. was withdrawing troops from Syria.

Trump’s state of mind is sure to have given a sense of urgency to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been working to reach a negotiated end to America’s longest war and has been pushing for a deal by April.

In an interview with Afghanistan’s TOLO TV on Thursday — hours before the withdrawal plans were announced — he noted Trump had campaigned for president on a promise to end the Afghan war, which has already cost Americans nearly $1 trillion. More than 2,400 American soldiers have also died in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

“There was little doubt that Amb. Khalilzad was always working with limited time and a zeal of desperation to achieve something before the president pulled the plug,” said Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

A Taliban official told The Associated Press the announcement was a positive step. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, the official said Taliban officials think the promised departure could help the peace process because it could “lead to trust building that the U.S. wants a political solution.”

But there was no sign the Taliban were ready to move on the two major sticking points: Direct talks with the Afghan government and a cease fire while the two sides negotiate Khalilzad’s so-called “roadmap for the future of Afghanistan.” - More

A blow to morale: Afghan generals worry about US ... - AP News