Corbis, From the Archive, in memoriam, Midwest America, Obama, Politics, russia, United States

2016: A Year of Monumental, Collective Failure

Do you feel impotent watching fascists on the march? You are not alone! You are so not alone! So in deference to your “shattered dreams” as Dr. King calls a hallmark of our mortal life, I am acknowledging you and your failures + shattered dreams, by acknowledging a few of my own. Two op-eds I couldn’t publish because one took on the largest owner of images in the world + the other arguably the largest owner of human souls, namely the office of the incoming president elect. But the failure is all mine! Surely, this work is inadequate and undeserving of a human audience. The bots can scrutinize it, as can any future interrogators. I leave my original headlines with the assumption that others could have done better, much, much better, because America will be great, so great, again! And at the end, a list of celebrities who have led the charge in normalizing the highly abnormal or flipped and gone full on fascist. By inauguration day/anticipated date of an American Kristallnacht, I will surely have a fuller list.

Without further ado:

“American History No Longer In American Control”

Steel workers perched high above Rockefeller Center eating lunch over the New York City skyline. Dorothea Lange’s portrait of a migrant mother from the dust bowl era. Marilyn Monroe poses over a subway grate, her skirt blowing to expose her underwear. And most tellingly, the “tank man” image from Tiananmen Square in 1989. Iconic images by American photographers no longer in American control.

In one deal last month between Bill Gates and a relatively obscure Chinese corporation, America lost control of a staggering portion of its visual history. The Visual China Group now owns Corbis Images, previously owned by Gates, which in turn reached a distribution deal with Getty Images, the world’s largest visual provider and long-time competitor of Corbis. The Getty CEO, Jonathan Klein, tweeted the announcement in a bombastic fashion: “Almost 21 years but got it. Lovely to get the milk, the cream, cheese, yoghurt and the meat without buying the cow.”

But how can we trust the cow to have good stewards when incidents like the Sanlu formula scandal in 2008, where milk given to children was found to have melamine, involved literal cows and made more than 50,000 Chinese children sick? Many of the lawyers involved in advocating for the parents of the sick infants and 6 dead children, like my friend Xu Zhiyong, are now behind bars under Xi Jingping’s iron fisted crackdown on civil society. In China, the jails are full and the internet is heavily censored by what locals call “the Great Firewall”. Both CNN and The New York Times have published articles in the last week questioning what will happen to Corbis’ vast stock of images of Tiananmen, Tibet and other sensitive issues to the Chinese government.

If what has happened several times to my friend is any indication, images of these sensitive issues may very well end up disappeared, confined to a vault and given limited exposure to the public. America was once a country that supported illegal publication of samizdat literature in Eastern Europe, written by dissidents and published in the tiniest form so it could be shared among intellectuals and the public. Now one of the greatest treasures of our nation, namely its visual history, might some day require such stealth dissidents to be viewed again.

As a former contributor to Corbis Images, whose work has thankfully been removed from their archive since the sale to Visual China Group, I can also speak to the chilling effect the near monopolization of the distribution of imagery through Getty is having on my profession. Known for its “race to the bottom” tactics, Getty Images long went for quantity of sales as its benchmark, slashing rates to the point that most professional photographers barely eek out a viable living any more. Credentialing for events is also a tricky matter; with consolidation comes fewer smaller players who can promote new talents through the sort of exposure only big events garner.

You might wonder why do we need image-makers when everyone has a cell phone and a Twitter account? While reporters and members of the public often post to Twitter and Instagram images of breaking news which are in turn distributed by the mass media to the general public, exhibits featuring these images such as one at the photojournalism festival Visa Pour L’image in Perpignan, France a few years ago, never quite stand up in quality. The images never quite manage to seer themselves into the public conscience like those taken by professionals. The German newspaper Bild published an image-free edition last fall to make this point in a very poignant fashion.

As a photographer, it pains me that we might leave a lesser visual legacy than the one we inherited, one of selfies and food instas rather than compelling documentation of the most important social and political issues of our time. Many look at photography as a fun thing or dream job, a pastime, but for those who cover violent conflict, dramatic social upheaval and serious injustice at great personal risk both at home and around the world, occasionally paying the ultimate price, it is also a responsibility. As Milan Kundera famously wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Beyond the effect on the professionals we rely on to provide visual accounts of modern times and past events, no nation can develop into the future without preservation of its past. Legislation at the federal level under historic preservation guidelines may be required, something arguably necessary in this instance.

“Back in the USA”

Mysterious arrests. Disappearances. A far away death in an unknown gulag concealed from family for a generation. These are realities for those of us whose families came to this great country from Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the last great world war as Soviet occupation squeezed the region. These are also the reasons why every act against Donald Trump now is an act of patriotism on behalf of our nation and the American people.

Make no mistake about it, the confluence of evidence suggests Donald Trump was not only supported, bolstered, and aligned with Russia during this election season (as the NSA has concluded) but that his business empire is as well. His son, Donald Jr., told a trade publication, eTurboNews in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets,” adding that, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

After watching Trump and his family interviewed in their gilded penthouse on “60 Minutes” last Sunday, we can safely conclude money and lavish palaces are the language he speaks. This is also the language most familiar to the Kremlin, who after nearly two decades at the helm of the Russian government may very well be the world’s richest man after systematically plundering the state of its resources by leveraging oligarchs against each other for his own personal gain.

Is this the future we want in America? Is it possible the Kremlin’s influence has reached the White House? The answer is clear: yes. Trump’s gilded penthouse bears such a striking resemblance to the palace Mezhyhirya of deposed former leader of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled his palace in 2014 for Russia leaving behind a dizzying array of documents and lavish accouterment, including a personal zoo that included ostriches. The cost was his country’s sovereignty, economy and the health and welfare of the Ukrainian people.

Ukraine is particularly instructional given the similarities between Yanukovych and Trump: their callous demeanor, lack of refinement, completely kitsch style. Before fleeing by helicopter, Yanukovych ordered his security services to fire live rounds on the crowds gathered in Maidan killing nearly 100 in cold blood after tens of thousands turned up to protest his reign for months. Is this the future we want in America?

Most remarkably is the parallel as far as lack of responsibility both men feel for their egregious mistakes of the past. Trump has never apologized for insulting a federal judge, our generals, the electoral process itself. He has only ever doubled down or reversed positions, denying previous culpability. Almost two years after Maidan, what did Yanukovych have to say for himself? “Yanukovych always supported the ostriches.” Another similarity: both men speak of themselves in the third person.

This is not a future we can allow for in this country. My generation does not have time to entertain the nostalgia of a 1950s postwar security we never knew because we grew up in a time of the war on terror in an era of the planet imperiled by climate change. After 15 years in Afghanistan, which the millennial generation bore the brunt of – a war that was never mentioned during the presidential debates – we also cannot further degrade our national security now by allowing a Kremlin puppet to take the seat of the presidency.

Let’s be clear: we are now receiving an assault on multiple fronts of what the Soviet KGB dubbed “active measures”. In George F. Kennan’s seminal “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in Foreign Affairs in 1947, the former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow outlines Stalin’s expansionist philosophy in the context of Marxist-Leninist thought. In the opening paragraphs, he clearly articulates the Soviet era doctrine that still holds sway in the Kremlin today as Putin is a former KGB agent, that in country’s like ours built on free trade and open markets, economic crisis brings about late stage capitalism which leads to anarchy, war, and ultimately class revolution.

Well we know how Stalin’s interpretation of this Marxist fantasia evolved into gulags and the deaths of tens of millions, including my father’s uncle. Steve Bannon, Trump’s first appointment of Chief White House Strategist, has described himself in the past in an interview with The Daily Beat in 2013 as a Leninist seeking to bring down the system. “I want to bring everything crashing down,” he said at the time.

Soviet style occupation occurs in three steps as defined by KGB doctrine of “active measures”. Phase I is to bombard a nation with propaganda, usually of a racist, anti-Semitic character with the intention of sowing the seeds of discord among a population. Phase II is the instigation of incidents that can be used and broadcast widely for the purposes of demoralization of the population. In Phase III, Russia installs a friendly leader and leverages the economy according to Moscow’s will.

Phase I was accomplished through the spread of fake news on social media and among the throngs who flocked to Trump’s rallies by outlets such as Breitbart News (where Bannon was in charge until taking a leave to become CEO of the Trump campaign) and Fox News as well as a bevy of false news sites online. We have now entered phase II where incidents are instigated and played to maximum effect with the intention of demoralization. We must never allow phase III to occur.

We must fight for our future as Americans.

– overt or covert;
– everything short of outright denunciations from normalization to hearty endorsements
– bullshit fatigue induced fascist outburst (see: Kanye, documented first)
– not included: pundits, political personality, anybody actually in politics


Tom Brady
– outspoken Trump supporter during campaign

Jon Voigt
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I like this guy.”

Kid Rock

– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I’m digging Trump.”

Willie Robertson, “Duck Dynasty”
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I love Trump. How can you not love Trump?”

Gary Busey
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “He’s a great guy. He’s sharp. He’s fast.”

Loretta Lynn
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “Trump has sold me… I just think he’s the only one who’s going to turn this country around.”

Stephen Baldwin
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I think he’s fantastic. I love him.”

Mike Tyson
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “He should be president of the United States… I like Trump.”

Wayne Newton
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I love Donald and he would make a great president.”

Mike Ditka

– endorsed Trump during the campaign; spoke at + attended Chicago fundraiser with Ivanka in October 2016.

Dennis Rodman
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; also drinking buddies with North Korean leader, so good company.

Hulk Hogan
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; “I want to be Trump’s running mate.”

Ted Nugent
– endorsed Trump during the campaign

Kirstie Alley
– endorsed Trump during the campaign

Stacey Dash
– endorsed Trump during the campaign

Gene Simmons
– endorsed Trump during the campaign; also appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice”

2016 RNC

Scott Baio
– spoke at RNC 2016

Antonio Sabato Jr.
– spoke at RNC 2016

Peter Thiel
– spoke at RNC 2016


Tila Tequila
– fixture at alt-right conference in November 2016; heil Trump salutes, Nazi regalia photoshopped onto Auschwitz backdrop, general sad incoherence.

Kanye West
– on-stage meltdowns praising Trump + telling black people to get over racism before announcing fatigue-induced rehab in November 2016; said to be paranoid + depressed, later attributed to sorrow over anniversary of mother’s death, set to collect insurance money as result of diagnosis.

Ari Emanuel

– Hollywood super-agent who repped Trump + brother to Chicago Mayor Rahm, seen at Bedminster, NJ during transition in November 2016.

Gwyneth Paltrow
– refused to outright denounce Trump, proclaiming the election results “exciting” and stating “we are at this amazing inflection point,” in November 2016.

Oprah Winfrey
– Vanity Fair reported Oprah said after Trump was elected, “brotha has been humbled by this world thing,” citing an Associated Press report in November 2016; she Tweeted a photo after Trump + Obama met in WH, “Everybody take a deep breath! #HopeLives”.

Tommy Hilfiger
– Suggested people dressing the FLOTUS “not become political about it” after fashion colleague Sophie Theallet, who dressed Michelle Obama throughout her time as First lady, posted a letter declining to do the same for Melania Trump because of “the rhetoric of racism, sexism and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s campaign.” When pressed outside a Cipriani Wall Street cancer charity fundraiser in November 2016 on the contents of Theallet’s letter, he praised Melania and Ivanka: “You’re not gonna get much more beautiful than Ivanka or Melania.”