It was supposed to be "the good war"; a war against terror; a war of liberation. It was intended to fix the eyes of the world on America's state of the art weaponry, its crack troops and its overwhelming firepower. It was supposed to demonstrate—once and for all-- that the world's only superpower could no longer be beaten or resisted; that Washington could deploy its troops anywhere in the world and crush its adversaries at will.
Then everything went sideways. The war veered from the Pentagon's script. The Taliban retreated, waited, regrouped and retaliated. They enlisted support from the Pashtuns and the tribal leaders who could see that America would never honor its commitments; that order would never be restored. Operation Enduring Freedom has brought neither peace nor prosperity to Afghanistan; just occupation. Seven years have passed and the country is still ruled by warlords and drug-merchants. Nothing has gotten better. The country is in shambles and the government is a fraud. The humiliation of foreign occupation persists while the killing goes on with no end in sight.
War is not foreign policy. It is slaughter. Seven years later; it's still slaughter. The Taliban have taken over more than half of Afghanistan. They have conducted military operations in the capital of Kabul. They're dug in at Logar, Wardak and Ghazni and control vast swathes of territory in Zabul, Helmand, Urzgan and Kandahar. Now they are getting ready to step-up operations and mount a Spring offensive. That means the hostilities will progressively intensify.
The Taliban's approach is methodical and deliberate. They've shown they can survive the harshest conditions and still achieve tactical victories over a better-equipped enemy. They are highly-motivated and believe their cause is just. After all, they're not fighting to occupy a foreign nation; they're fighting to defend their own country. That strengthens their resolve and keeps morale high. When NATO and American troops leave Afghanistan; the Taliban will remain, just as they did when the Russians left 20 years ago. No difference. The US occupation will just be another grim footnote in the country's tragic history.
NATO at twilight The alliance's faltering military campaign in Afghanistan shows how far its capabilities have declined.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was once a force to reckon with. During the Cold War, it possessed formidable capabilities and real cohesion. No more. As a serious military enterprise, the alliance has all but ceased to exist. The "other" NATO -- the National Assn. of Theatre Owners -- probably wields more clout.
At this week's NATO conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, an angry U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates accused some Europeans of not being prepared to "fight and die" in Afghanistan in the battle against the Taliban.
The undiplomatic Gates is quite right. Most Europeans regard the Afghan conflict as a. wrong and immoral; b. America's war; c. all about oil; or d. probably lost.
To many Europeans, the NATO alliance was created to deter the real threat of Soviet aggression, not to supply foot soldiers for George Bush's wars in the Muslim world.
While Gates and the Harper government were pleading for more troops, the commander of the 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, landed a bombshell. If proper U.S. military counter-insurgency doctrine were followed, McNeill admitted, the U.S. and NATO would need 400,000 troops to defeat Pashtun tribal resistance in Afghanistan.
When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, they deployed 160,000 troops and about 200,000 Afghan Communist troops -- yet failed to crush the mostly Pashtun resistance. Now, the U.S. and NATO are trying the same mission with only 66,000 troops, backed by local mercenaries grandly styled the Afghan National Army.
Behind all the blather and bullshit about the Federal Reserve's rescue gambits and the machinations of the ratings agencies, and the wiles of foreign sovereign wealth, and the incomprehensible mysteries of markets, and the various weather forecasts of a gathering "recession" is the simple fact that the USA is a way poorer nation than we imagined ourselves to be six months ago. The American economy has been running on the fumes of "creatively engineered" finance (i.e. new-and-improved swindling) for years, and now these swindles are unraveling. In their aftermath, they leave empty wallets, drained bank accounts, plundered retirements funds, boiled away capital reserves, worthless stocks, bankrupt companies, vandalized housing tracts, ruined families, and Wall Street executives who are still pulling down multimillion-dollar pay packages despite running their companies into the ground.
We're burning down the house and kidding ourselves that there is a remedy for it. All the rate cuts and loans to big banks and bank-like corporate organisms, and "monoline" bond insurers, and mortgage mills amount to little more than a final desperate shell game to conceal the radioactive pea of aggregate loss. The losses are everywhere, and when you add up seven billion here and eleven billion there they probably amount to something like a trillion dollars in sheer capital evaporation -- not counting the abstract "positions" that the capital was leveraged onto by the playerz and boyz who mistook algorithms for productive activity.
The shell game may run a few more weeks but personally I believe the timbers are burning. The losses are no longer "contained" or concealable. A consensus has now formed that we're in for a "recession." The idea is that, yes, this seems to be the low arc of the business cycle. Fewer Hamptons villas will be redecorated in the interim. We'll gird our loins and get through the bad weather and when the sun shines again, we'll be ready with new algorithms for new sport-with-capital.
Uh-uh. Think again. This is not so much financial bad weather as financial climate change. Something is happenin' Mr Jones, and you don't know what it is, do ya? There has been too much misbehavior and it can no longer be mitigated. We're not heading into a recession but a major depression, worse than the fabled trauma of the 1930s. That one occurred against the background of a society that had plenty of everything except money. Back then, we had plenty of mineral resources, lots of trained-and-regimented manpower, millions of productive family farms, factories that were practically new, and more than 90 percent left of the greatest petroleum reserve anywhere in the world. It took a world war to get all that stuff humming cooperatively again, and once it did, we devoted its productive capacity to building an empire of happy motoring leisure. (Tragic choice there.)
This new depression, which I call The Long Emergency, will play out against the background of a society that has pissed away its oil endowment, bulldozed its factories, arbitraged its productive labor, destroyed both family farms and the commercial infrastructure of main street, and trained its population to become overfed diabetic TV zombie "consumers" of other peoples' productivity, paid for by "money" they haven't earned.
Paulson's so called "mortgage modifications" just don't cut it. They're pointless They just put off foreclosure until a later date. The only real solution to the problem is renegotiating the mortgages with the lenders so that people with negative equity” have an incentive to continue making their monthly payments. Otherwise, the number of "walkaways" will mushroom and wreak havoc on the entire industry.
This week's housing stats from California illustrate how desperate the situation really is. DataQuick Information Systems said Wednesday a total of 9,983 homes were sold in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties last month, a drop of nearly 50% from January last year.
50%. That is unprecedented. California is in a housing depression. Is a 30-day grace period really the best that Paulson can come up with?
That's nuts. California is a vital part of the US economy. In fact, California and Florida combined represent two-fifths of the nations' GDP. Is Paulson planning to let California go the way of New Orleans?
For the last four months, housing sales in California have plummeted 40% (year over year) At the same time, prices in Southern California have dipped a whopping 16.7%. The market is freefalling. So far, the only analyst to come up with a reasonable solution is Professor Nouriel Roubini who suggests a three year rate-freeze and a reduction of the face value of the mortgages by the banks.
Of course the banks will scream bloody murder, but it's the only way to stem the tide of foreclosures and prevent a crisis that could suck the rest of the economy down a black hole.
f you would like to see just how sick the American elite really is--how morally depraved, how intellectually diseased, how addicted to the taste of human flesh, the scent of human blood, and the sight of human suffering--then you need go no further than the speech given by Mitt Romney to the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 7, 2008.
Now you might say that Mitt Romney is old news. After all, this was the very speech where he declared he was quitting the presidential race. He's toast, he's over, the fork has been stuck into his well-roasted hide; who cares what he says? This is of course the witless "horse-race" view that dominates political discourse in America: who's up, who's down, who's getting the column inches, who's on TV? But in reality, the American elite--or the Establishment, or the power structure, call it what you will (as long as you don't call it what it really is: the ruling class)--is like an iceberg: most of its vast bulk exists unseen, it plows on beneath the surface, unperturbed by the media storms that rage around the small bit of exposed material at the summit.
Mitt Romney is an immensely wealthy, well-connected man, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, born and bred in an extensive web of privilege and power. His defeat in a presidential campaign changes none of that. He will simply submerge--for a time--back into those depths where the real business of the elite is largely done. Thus his words to the conservative activists remain a highly relevant indication of the mindset that holds sway over the world's most powerful nation. They show the barbarism, hatemongering and bloodlust that are considered perfectly acceptable in the polite company of our rulers and their sycophants.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Romney's speech is that there is nothing remarkable about it; it is entirely typical of the kind of red meat that many leading lights of American society routinely throw to the slavering rightwing faithful. It takes a strong effort to wrench your mind free from the media-besotted mentality that regards such a speech as "normal" (even if you disagree with it), and see it for the debased, bestial raving that it really is.
The smoldering core of Romney's vomitous offering can perhaps be found in his passing remarks on Europe. Again, in one sense, this was just a crowd-pleasing throwaway: a good Eurobash always gets the CPAC froth flowing. But in a deeper sense, it cuts right to the corroded heart of the matter, right down to the vicious, primitive, genocidal racism that has shaped and driven so many of the policies of Western elites for centuries. In the midst of a long diatribe about liberal "attacks" on "American culture," Romney pauses for a glance across the Atlantic, to evoke a hideous nightmare that could soon be America's future:
"Europe -- Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That's the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality."
By "demographic disaster," Romney simply means that there are more non-white people in Europe than there used to be. To Romney and his fellow elites, this fact in itself constitutes a genuine "disaster." Although the population of Europe is still overwhelmingly white (much more so than the population of the United States), even the smallest dilution of racial purity across the continent is to be lamented, decried--and rolled back. Here of course Romney is channeling fearmongers like Mark Steyn, Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, whose trembly sexual panic in the face of hot-blooded, fast-breeding darkies would be comical, if it were not so sinister--and so useful to the warmakers and global dominationists in the ruling elite.
Romney makes the sexual and racial subtext abundantly clear in his amplifying remarks about Europe's loss of religious faith, eroded morality etc.: the Euros are plainly too busy having abortions and watching porn to do their duty by the race and breed bigger families kept under strict religious discipline. And thus the shabby denizens of an alien faith are breeding like rats in the cellarage of Western Civilization, gnawing away at the foundations and conquering it from within. The fact that "Muslims" are substituted for "Jews" in these formulations and implications of Hitchens, Amis, Romney, et al, does not lessen the precision with which their diatribes mirror those that saturated Germany (and other Western nations too) in the first four decades of the 20th century. For the elites, there is always a dark, sexually potent "other" out there, whose overwhelming threat to white supremacy can only be overcome by.giving the elites more and more power.
The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get. My camera strap sales have taken off. The downside is less time for things like this blog. The upside is being able to pay bills. I'm also looking into taking my camera strap business in another direction.
All the straps I've done so far are made from strips of leather held together with wrapped cord. Sewing leather is beyond my basic leather skills but the friend that made the above strap for my Burke & James has a sewing machine for leather and advanced leather skills. We are looking at adding a line of straps for press and field cameras.
I'm slowly working towards adding a rangefinder to my Burke & James Press and converting a second Burke & James Press to a wide angle field camera. I've started a Flickr set on this: Burke & James Press
I'm also setting up the Metz 45CL1 on the Burke & James. The Flickr set has details.
Recent polls suggest that Americans trust the military roughly three times as much as the president and five times as much as their elected representatives in Congress. The tenacity of this trust is both striking and disturbing. It's striking because it comes despite widespread media coverage of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the friendly-fire cover-up in the case of Pat Tillman's death, and alleged retribution killings by Marines at Haditha. It's disturbing because our country is founded on civilian control of the military. It's debatable whether our less-than-resolute civilian leaders can now exercise the necessary level of oversight of the military and the Pentagon when they are distrusted by so many Americans.
What explains the military's enduring appeal in our society? Certainly, some of this appeal is obvious. Americans have generally been a patriotic bunch. "Supporting our troops" seems an obvious place to go. After all, many of them volunteered to put themselves in harm's way to protect our liberties and to avenge the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. For this, they receive pay and benefits that might best be described as modest. Trusting them -- granting them a measure of confidence -- seems the least that could be offered.
Before addressing two other sources of the military's appeal that are little understood, at least by left-leaning audiences, let's consider for a second the traditional liberal/progressive critique. It often begins by citing the insidious influence of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," throwing in for good measure terms like "atrocity," "imperialist," "reactionary," and similar pejoratives. But what's interesting here is that this is often where their critique also ends. The military and its influence are considered so tainted, so baneful that within progressive circles there's a collective wringing of hands, even a reflexive turning of backs, as if our military were truly from Mars or perhaps drawn from the nether regions where Morlocks shamble and grunt in barbarian darkness.
If you want to change anything -- even our increasing propensity for militarism -- you first have to make an effort to engage with it. And to engage with it, you have to know the wellsprings of its appeal, which transcend corporate profits or imperial power.
Robert Capa was one of the great war photographers. He died in Vietnam in 1954. This is an amazing find.
TO the small group of photography experts aware of its existence, it was known simply as “the Mexican suitcase.” And in the pantheon of lost modern cultural treasures, it was surrounded by the same mythical aura as Hemingway’s early manuscripts, which vanished from a train station in 1922.
The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.
Capa assumed that the work had been lost during the Nazi invasion, and he died in 1954 on assignment in Vietnam still thinking so. But in 1995 word began to spread that the negatives had somehow survived, after taking a journey worthy of a John le Carré novel: Paris to Marseille and then, in the hands of a Mexican general and diplomat who had served under Pancho Villa, to Mexico City.
And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month, when they made what will most likely be their final trip, to the International Center of Photography in Midtown Manhattan, founded by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell. After years of quiet, fitful negotiations over what should be their proper home, legal title to the negatives was recently transferred to the Capa estate by descendants of the general, including a Mexican filmmaker who first saw them in the 1990s and soon realized the historical importance of what his family had.
“This really is the holy grail of Capa work,” said Brian Wallis, the center’s chief curator, who added that besides the Capa negatives, the cracked, dust-covered boxes had also been found to contain Spanish Civil War images by Gerda Taro, Robert Capa’s partner professionally and at one time personally, and by David Seymour, known as Chim, who went on to found the influential Magnum photo agency with Capa.