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An Open Letter To the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations Regarding the Trump DC Hotel Hanukah party co-hosted with the Embassy of Azerbaijan

To the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations:

At a time when internment camps and mass deportations are being discussed in public and political life in our nation and the state is forcefully closing in on civil liberties and the executive threatens our free press and union leaders, the notion of co-hosting a Hanukah party with one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes at a hotel that bears Trump’s name is beyond inappropriate, it is a scandalous threat to the future of all American Jews in this nation. The Jewish community’s true leaders are not looking for a tribal advantage inside the incoming regime in this country but rather to protect at all times their friends, family, neighbors and colleagues from the brutality a state can unleash on its citizens.

Many of us are in this country because we fled persecution at two key historical moments. The first is around the Second World War as Hitler and Stalin closed in on the Pale regions of Eastern Europe, threatening Jewish life there. Half of my family belongs to this generation and we came to this country at a time of genuine American leadership on the world stage, when rather than shun refugees, we lead the world in drafting the United Nations Convention on Refugees. The second period was in the 1990s with the demise of the Soviet Union, which presented another threat to what remained of Jewish life behind the Iron Curtain. How ironic and utterly ahistorical that now at a time when a demagogue seeks to divide our own nation, the so-called leaders of the Jewish community see fit to curry favors with him as he speaks of menacing others who are not us. Well, I am sorry but they are us, as we are not simply Jewish people but American citizens who must stand up for and protect the rights of all our people, especially when they don’t look like us or pray like us. We cannot expect greater humanity and compassion than we ourselves are willing to show.

As for Azerbaijan’s role, I would like to speak to that as someone with experience working, reporting and living in that country first as a National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee in 2010 and later as a Fulbright grant recipient in 2011-2012. Azerbaijan is an Orwellian universe of the sort the incoming administration seeks to bring here. My friends in civil society for the most part live in exile, for if they chose to live in Azerbaijan they sit now either in jail, with their passports confiscated or looking down in silence. When I lived in Azerbaijan, my colleague, investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova was secretly recorded in an act of intimacy in her bedroom, the footage of which was later used to blackmail her and broadcast on the internet and later television. She spent time in jail for the absurd offense of inciting a man to suicide, who lived, naturally, and later recanted. She has since been freed thanks to the work of civil society internationally and organizations like PEN America.

Beyond my colleagues though, to court Azerbaijan and to do so under the moniker of a hotel that bears the name of the president elect is to embrace a disaster in the form of a civil liberties nightmare that will backfire so badly not just on your organizations, but on Jewish life in America. I photographed and interviewed personally people who had their land expropriated by the state one day when they were merely removed from their homes, arrested and returned to a pile of rubble. I spent nine months with the family of a writer, Rafiq Tagi, who was murdered after writing Islam and democracy are incompatible – an act the Azerbaijani government blamed him for while not investigating claiming publicly that he brought it on himself. But perhaps most damning is when I protested my colleague Khadija’s detention outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington. They reacted by calling the police, expecting we might be summarily hauled away and brutalized by the police as happens in Azerbaijan. When the DC police showed up at our modest protest, I watched as Embassy employees moved away from the window and closed the curtain as I shook the police officer’s hand and politely answered his inquiries concerning the reasons for our protest.

I understand Israel has very few friends in the world and I will not deny that Jewish life in Azerbaijan is more comfortable than elsewhere and that the Azerbaijani government has shown great willingness to cooperate with the Israeli government on defense and energy – two critical sectors for any national economy and security. However, the cost of this partnership need not be carried by American Jews who will bear the brunt of the symbolic appearance of this event in their daily lives as such events sow the seeds of doubt, conspiracy and ultimately terror. Jared Kushner’s paper The New York Observer is now on record accusing political opposition as being akin to political terrorism and has urged the FBI to go after its enemies. This sounds more like Azerbaijan than America to me and this is simply not what I want for the future of my own nation.

In conclusion, I ask that this event be cancelled even though I expect no such thing and that rather than come together around a holiday that celebrates victory over those who sought to place pigs in our temples, we work to keep the pigs out of other’s sacred spaces, that we join them in these spaces for prayer and reflection. To host such an event at a Trump-branded hotel with a country that is counted by Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and a host of other organizations as among the most restrictive in the world is not a gesture of humanity in the face of oppression rather the opposite. You call yourselves leaders but this is not the behavior of leadership. Lastly, Jared and Ivanka will not erase the swastikas which have only grown in number by the way, that task falls on us, American citizens.


Amanda Rivkin, photographer + writer
National Geographic Young Explorer to Azerbaijan 2010
Fulbright grantee to Azerbaijan, 2011

Jewish Women International, Women of Reform Judaism and Americans for Peace Now have informed me by email that they declined to attend the Hanukah party and in a Huffington Post article, Workmen’s Circle, has questioned the merit of the event and disavowed it and the National Council of Jewish Women and Union of Reform Judaism said they would not be attending the event for the same reasons. Thank you.

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.”

A Time for Great Patriotism

Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-17124 Children of the Weill Public School pledge allegiance to the United States flag. San Francisco, 1942.

Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-17124 Children of the Weill Public School pledge allegiance to the United States flag. San Francisco, 1942.

In the 1980s as the Cold War was in its final intense years, punctuated by START talks and ICBM treaties, KGB defectors appeared on American television to issue warnings to the American people. In stark language, they outlined the KGB’s “active measures” which sought to demoralize a public and lead to the eventual class revolution that would install a Marxist paradise through war, chaos and revolution. In the following decade, the Russian state collapsed and consolidated into the hands of a dozen or so oligarchs, all subservient to the Kremlin and all driven by internal rivalries and mafias while the rest of the country collapsed into a state of disarray.

Welcome to the dystopian unreality of this precise moment in American history and so in turn, perhaps human history. In reality, we now know that our precious democratic system looks something more like a kleptocratic oligarchy from where we currently stand. In both red states and blue states, where support for Trump is greatest and weakest, this is the current working consensus. Let us move forward from here.

The American experiment has been punctuated by moments of breathtaking brutality, the sort of violence that ignites Hollywood scenes and sends blood pouring through the streets of our great cities. We have inspired the world at times and been defeated by it, as we were on September 11, 2001. In the time between our rise in the aftermath of the Civil War, during a time of dramatic upheaval in our nation and the reactionary re-entrenchment of the white landed classes of the American south during a phase of history we euphemistically refer to as “Reconstruction,” and the present, we have also so demoralized smaller nations and allowed for the state to prey on minority communities at home.

Every instance of a police shooting and every cop who is fired upon represents the core of a fundamental problem where American domestic policy and international affairs invariably intersect. It becomes difficult if not near impossible to make an argument for democracy as a greater guarantor of citizens’ rights in the world if our own citizens – white, brown or black, in uniform serving our state or absent one and all too often, minorities from the lower economic classes – are shot as feral dogs in our streets. Just as buffer states, it forces an individual confronted with such a stark reality into an impossible tension between accommodation and rebellion. Yet our people and nations in the world exist and survive with this tension every day.

This is one of only a handful of nations on earth that has ever demonstrated an innate tendency throughout its history to hear the voices of the oppressed, to withstand the cynicism of the great forever state of the future where peace and harmony are only ever achieved through constant war. We stand now on the brink of economic and political domination by the Russian state, at a time when a foreign nation — once our greatest adversary in the world for half a century – has demonstrated an outsized role in our electoral process through a hacking campaign engaged in gleaning compromising material on opposition figures. Russia stands accused of attempted hacking of the very instruments by which we cast our vote by our own intelligence community.

In America today we are experiencing the greatest stress test on our democratic institutions since perhaps the Civil War. In quarters small and privileged, a certain kind of elitism has arisen for those who seek only to protect the instruments of state from being pillaged through petty acts that chip away at the democratic fiber of our nation or enrich anyone but themselves and a small group of associates. This directly mirrors what occurred within Russia itself in the period from 1989-1991. Petty acts of corruption have magnified to such a degree that the American countryside, once the pride of the industry that sustained our nation and lead it charging past all other industrialized nations in the aftermath of the Second World War, is an unrecognizable, addicted, decaying ghost of its former itself. What we have retained is a shell, enough to sustain the military but not the middle class.

This is not a time to lose hope in the American process, vision or the values as they have come to represent America in the world today: inclusivity, justice, liberty, freedom, peace and prosperity. It is a time for tremendous patriotism, it is a time to listen to Eisenhower’s farewell address and think about his role and warnings in the context of our present predicament which has seen America at war for 15 years in a nation that was discussed all but once in the context of the presidential election and for no reason other than to attack an opponent’s ignorance of the matter.

A generation that has been asked to shoulder the burden of the war on terror saw its civil liberties and rights signed away to a security state apparatus that promised to protect us. This breach of electoral insanity that now sees our journalists and diplomats flooded with hacking attempts by a foreign nation suggests we have a long way to come from the heroic warrior myth built into a slogan, “We support our troops,” that most veterans I know hear as, “We are grateful it was you instead of me.” How much do we really support our troops if we do not ask hard questions about why they are engaged in a forever war with no clear strategy toward victory or bringing them home?

It is not just my generation that this concerns or my nation, but the lives of many in smaller nations around the globe who rely on America for currency stability, protection, and aid. There is no turning back or re-dos, no second chance at rewriting history. If millions die they are lost forever to the history books and recorded as such, a little more and sometimes much less, denied in the final act of genocide. For each of us who acts to defend the country from becoming everything we once ridiculed other nations for being, we need to take a long and hard look at what it means to be a patriot.

We need to understand that true patriotism is not built on empty slogans but in acts and deeds both small and greater gestures. There are threads we must work to build with and there are tunnels of despair we should do everything we can to avoid looking down. Do not cede your freedoms before they are taken. For each right you have now, blood has already been spilled for the privilege. Whatever you do, however you behave, whatever may happen to you, know this much going forward.

Happy Thanksgiving America.

The Sources of Russian Conduct: Russian Reading List

by Amanda Rivkin

Note: In light of the election of 2016 and the unprecedented interference in the American electoral process, it became clear that a generation that fought the global war on terror is woefully unfamiliar with what a much earlier generation of American scholars, diplomats and spies would call “the sources of Soviet conduct,” after former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow George F. Kennan’s now infamous article published in Foreign Affairs in 1947. This reading list is an attempt to plug holes, it is by no means comprehensive nor does it claim to be. It is an attempt to provide a brief selection of readings following key themes of the last century of Russian/Soviet history as it is still relevant today given the Russian leader’s training as a KGB spy and deep background in the Russian state and rise in the wake of a period of profound national humiliation of the 1990s. Usual academic caveats, any errors or oversights are mine and mine alone.


Ideology + Revolution: Leninist-Marxism

The Russian Revolution, Sheila Fitzpatrick
Three Who Made a Revolution: A Biographical History of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, Bertram Wolffe
Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution, Richard Stites

Conduct of Soviet state/KGB

The Long Telegram/The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” George F. Kennan (“X”) in Foreign Affairs (1947)
“Venona Project” documents available through The Wilson Center and the NSA
– Covert counter-espionage project within the NSA to detect spies and moles intiated in 1943 lasting until 1980 that detected Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Kim Philby but more effectively and critically, Harry Dexter White, who helped negotiate Bretton Woods accords establishing postwar International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Iron Curtain, Anne Applebaum
The Russians, Hedrick Smith
Man Without A Face, Markus Wolf
– Former East German Stasi chief’s memoir

Dangers of Big Brother State

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Voices from Chernobyl, Svetlana Alexievich
Lenin’s Tomb, David Remnick

Voices of Defectors + Collapse of USSR

KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov’s warning to America,” (available on YouTube)
– on KGB’s “active measures”; outlines three broad phases from propaganda to occupation (from American television in the 1980s)
Yuri Bezmenov Psychological Warfare Subversion + Control of Western Society,” (available on YouTube)
– delves deeper into psychological warfare stage of “active measures” (approximately where we are in late 2016; Bezmenov is one of more entertaining + engaging of his generation of defectors)
“To the Stalin Mausoleum,” Martin Malia (“Z”)
– Signed “Z” in echoes of Kennan’s earlier “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” signed “X”
Six Questions: A Little KGB Training Goes A Long Way,” interview with Oleg Kalugin in Foreign Policy
– Kalugin was long-serving KGB in US, one time boss of Putin’s when both men were in Dresden, later aligned with Yeltsin


The 1990s: Chaos and Mafia Reentrenchment

The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia, David Hoffman
Godfather of the Kremlin, Paul Klebnikov
– former Russian-American editor of Forbes Russia murdered in mysterious circumstances

Humiliation at the Hands of American Advisors

How Harvard Lost Russia,” David McClintick in Institutional Investor
– Perhaps the finest long-form story ever published on the shenanigans of American “advisors” who helped push Russia to collapse then helped guide its re-entrenchment into an oligarchic mafia state
Could This Woman Be Vladimir Putin’s Real Mother,” Kate Weinberg in The Telegraph (December 5, 2008)
– Two other journalists trying to report this story previously were killed in mysterious circumstances.

Recreating the Past: The Security State, The Kremlin + the Oligarchy

KGB: State Within a State, Yevgenia Albats
Arms and the Man,” Peter Landesman in The New York Times Magazine (August 17, 2003)
– Profile of Victor Bout, perhaps Russia’s most prolific arms trader in immediate post-Cold War era + likely before; openly boastful in New York Times Magazine provides sense of arrogance + pride
Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror, Alexander Litvinenko + Yuri Felshtinsky
Winter is Coming, Garry Kasparov


Tools of the Kremlin: Hacking the Election

Meet Fancy Bear, The Russian Group Hacking U.S. Elections,” Sheera Frenkel in BuzzFeed (October 15, 2016)
How Russia Pulled Off the Biggest Election Hack in U.S. History,” Thomas Rid in Esquire (October 20, 2016)
FBI’s Comey Opposed Naming Russians, Citing Election Timing: Source,” Eamon Javers for CNBC (October 31, 2016).
Telephone Conversation with US President Elect Donald Trump,” Kremlin read out (November 14, 2016)
Kremlin’s Trojan Horses,” Alina Polyakova, Marlene Laruelle, Stefan Meister, and Neil Barnett for The Atlantic Council (November 15, 2016)
Call for a Congressional Investigation: An Open Letter from Concerned Scholars,” (November 21, 2016)

Crawling Ourselves Out of the Abyss

Farewell Addressaudio,” Dwight D. Eisenhower (January 17, 1961).
– Famously warns of “military-industrial complex”; in August, construction begins on the Berlin Wall.
Keep Your Politics Private, My Fellow Generals and Admirals,” General Martin Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in DefenseOne (August 1, 2016).
Seven Reasons Why a Trump Reset with Russia Will Fail,” Taras Kuzio in New Eastern Europe (November 21, 2016).
– Special attention deserved to #4 + regime survival dependency on existential, eternal threats to drive nationalist calls for patriotism and unity
Former NSA and CIA Chief on Trump,” WNYC interview with Michael Hayden (November 21, 2016).
– Important warning issued on politicization of national security apparatus; no deep delve however.


1. Education in True Patriotism + Dangers of Big Brother State

The Power of the Powerless, Václav Havel
The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
From Dictatorship to Democracy, Gene Sharp
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder.

2. Deprive Russian Mafia-state of all aid

Putin’s Russia, Anna Politkovskaya
– Assassinated in Moscow in 2006, one outcome of her reporting on the war in Chechnya
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, Misha Glenny



Access to Justice: Art Works Projects at the Chicago Public Library

“Less than one percent of those arrested and held in police custody in Chicago in 2013 had a lawyer present, according to Chicago Police Data (source: CNN, May 5, 2016). What challenges face the Chicago community in providing equal justice to all, and how are advocates addressing issues of equal treatment and rule of law globally?”

Sheila Bedi, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University School of Law
Flint Taylor, civil rights attorney, People’s Law Office
Amanda Rivkin, photographer, Howard Buffett Fund for Women Journalists, International Women’s Media Foundation

Leslie Thomas, outgoing Executive Director, Art Works Projects

CAN-TV (local Chicago public access)

Art Works Projects "Access to Justice" panel at the Frederick Douglass Library, Chicago on October 13, 2016. (L-r) Amanda Rivkin, Flint Taylor, Sheila Bedia and Leslie Thomas. Photo by Rich Myers.

Art Works Projects “Access to Justice” panel at the Frederick Douglass Library, Chicago on October 13, 2016. (L-r) Amanda Rivkin, Flint Taylor, Sheila Bedia and Leslie Thomas. Photo by Rich Myers.

The Dada Poetry of Donald Trump’s Debate Gibberish

Donald Trump speaks at his campaign event at the Central Wisconsin Convention and Expo Center in Rothschild, Wisconsin on April 2, 2016.

Donald Trump speaks at his campaign event at the Central Wisconsin Convention and Expo Center in Rothschild, Wisconsin on April 2, 2016.

Sunday night was a first in American politics, a presidential debate so tawdry and awful that the BBC correspondent reported hearing people were not allowing their children to watch. I myself avoided watching with family because it brought back memories of adolescence in a time of Lewinsky. But more lurid than anything in the Kenneth Starr report, largely because that document only contained information concerning consensual sexual activities between adults, was audio released Friday that showed Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault in degrading terms. “You grab them by the pussy, when you’re a big star, they let you do it,” Trump said. Confronted with the full horror of the situation his lifetime of misogyny had brought on him, Trump did what Trump does. He spouted Dada poetry comprised of word salad that when taken apart or put together mean absolutely nothing. Sometimes, they only reveal more vulgarity. In any case, Donald Trump’s “locker room talk even though I was mic’d up at work” non-apology must be seen as Dada poetry because the best thing you can do with trash is turn it into art:

Debate #2 Trump dada poems


You say who’s making these deals?
We’re going the make great deals.
We’re going to have
a strong border. We’re going to bring
back law and order. Just today,
policemen was shot, two killed.
this is happening
on a weekly basis.
We have to bring back
respect to law enforcement.
At the same time, we have to take care
of people on all sides. We need justice.


I didn’t say
that at all.

I don’t think
you understood
what was —
this was locker room talk.
I’m not proud of it.
I apologize
to my family.
I apologize
to the American people.
Certainly I’m not proud of it.
But this is locker room talk.

You know,
when we
have a world
where you have
chopping off heads,
where you have — and,
frankly, drowning
people in steel cages,
where you have
and horrible, horrible sights
all over,
where you have
so many bad things happening,
this is like medieval times.
We haven’t seen
anything like this,
the carnage all over the world.

(palindromic of “Locker Room ISIS”)

And they look
they see.


the people that are,
doing so well
against us
with ISIS?

look at our country

they see
what’s going on.

very embarrassed
by it.

I hate it.

But it’s locker room talk,
it’s one of those things.

I will knock the hell
out of ISIS.

We’re going to defeat ISIS.

happened a number of years ago
in a vacuum
that was left
of bad judgment.

I will tell you,
I will take care
of ISIS.


And we should
get on
to much more important things
and much bigger things.


I have
respect for women.
has more
respect for women
than I do.

I’ve said things that,
frankly, you hear these things
I said.
And I was
embarrassed by it.
I have tremendous
respect for women.


have respect for me.
I will tell you:
No, I have not.
I will tell you
that I’m going to make our country safe.

We’re going to have borders
in our country,
which we don’t have now.
People are pouring
into our country,
and they’re
from the Middle East
and other places.


We’re going
to make
safe again.

We’re going
to make
great again,


we’re going
to make
safe again.


we’re going
to make
wealthy again,


if you don’t

do that,
it just —

it sounds harsh to say,
but we
have to build
the wealth of our nation.

Columbia Journalism Review: A photojournalist tells the stories of Chicago police torture victims

Jackie Spinner, a professor at Columbia College who has invited me to speak to her international reporting classes several times and ex-Washington Post correspondent in Baghdad and elsewhere, wrote the first little bit of press about my current oral history and portrait project on victims of Chicago municipal police torture under former Commander Jon Burge. Burge was on active duty with the Chicago Police Department from 1973-1991 and subsequently fired in 1993 after an array of crimes involving the abuse of suspects in custody were exposed on his watch, including but not limited to beatings, burning and electro-torture. Graciously, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has ran a couple of the press photographs including one of Marvin Reeves, a man so gentle he was like an uncle when we spoke for nearly two hours in his sister’s Bronzeville apartment. He received a multi-million dollar settlement from the city of Chicago for the injustices done to him.

From Jackie’s article:

Now Rivkin, who grew up in the city, plans to spend the next year photographing these men and recording their stories. The project, supported a recent grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation, is designed to culminate in a multimedia exhibit that will be shown to the public in Chicago sometime later this year or early next.

“I want to hear their story in their words,” she says. “I am facilitating them getting their story out there. I am recording their voice and editing it for public consumption. But I’m not altering it.”

Rivkin was in elementary school in 1990 when the Chicago Reader published John Conroy’s first story exposing a stunningly brutal system of police torture under Burge. Later in high school, Rivkin rallied against the Illinois death penalty after stories emerged that nearly a dozen men ended up on death row after being tortured into giving confessions.

Read the whole story on CJR, “A photojournalist tells the stories of Chicago police torture victims“.