a beautiful word

It really shouldn’t surprise me. Two things have been obvious for years. First, the total mass of Comrade Trump’s ignorance is so densely packed it can affect the tides. And second, he’s never let his ignorance on any subject prevent him from acting like he knows something.

So there’s absolutely no basis for me to think Trump would take the issue of human trafficking any more seriously that he takes anything else. But here’s the thing: this meeting of several groups who deal with human trafficking was set up by his daughter Ivanka. So I thought maybe he’d take five minutes, read a briefing on the topic, show some actual interest. I mean, you do that sort of thing for your kids, right? You put their art on the refrigerator door, you help them with a school project, you pretend to like their music, and when they arrange a meeting on human trafficking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, you make a little time to learn about the issue. Right?

Nope. Not Trump. If he has a clue about human trafficking, it wasn’t obvious in his opening remarks. And when I say ‘remarks’ I mean a seemingly stochastic series of structurally malformed sentences (you can read the entirety of his opening remarks here if you want, though lawdy, it’s pretty fucking painful to read). Trump informs his audience of professionals who deal with human trafficking that human trafficking is a horrific practice. And hey, it’s getting worse.

“It’s getting worse and it’s happening in the United States in addition to the rest of the world, but it’s happening in the United States, which is terrible.”

It’s happening right here in These United States, and sure, the rest of the world too, but here, right here in River City. Which is terrible. Something must be done.

It’s such a terrible, horrific practice right here in the United States and the rest of the world (but mostly, you know, it’s a horrific practice in the United States), that Trump is:

“prepared to bring the full force and weight of our government to the federal and at the federal level, and the other highest levels, whatever we can do.”

All those other highest levels, you guys. None of those low levels, no sir. The highest levels of — well, you know. Complete with their full force and weight. To do whatever we can do. With the federal.

And what can we do? We can damned well put an end to human trafficking (which, by the way, is still a horrific practice).

“I want to make it clear today that my administration will focus on ending the absolutely horrific practice of human trafficking.”

Ending it! All those highest levels with the federal and others will focus on ending the horrific human trafficking practice. Which you’d think would mean solving the problem, right? Silly rabbit.

“Solving the human trafficking epidemic, which is what it is, is a priority for my administration.  We’re going to help out a lot.  ‘Solve’ is a wonderful word, a beautiful word, but I can tell you, we’re going to help a lot.”

Solve — beautiful word. Who could argue with that? So maybe actual solving isn’t going to happen, but Trump and his highest levels are going to help. How much are they going to help? A lot. In what way are they going to help a lot? So glad you asked. Trump is going to have his people…

“…take a hard look at the resources and personnel that they’re currently devoting to this fight.”

A hard look, you guys. Not a soft look. Fuck no, what — you think he’s Obama? No, he’s going to have them take a hard look. At those resources and personnel. Is that enough to solve help out a lot with this horrific problem? Well, okay, maybe not.

Is there anything else Trump and his levels can do? Yes! They’re going to talk about it.

“It’s a very, very terrible problem.  It’s not talked about enough.  People don’t know enough about it.  And we’re going to talk about it, and we’re going to bring it out into the open and hopefully we’re going to do a great deal to help prevent some of the horrific — really horrific — crimes that are taking place.”

Man, once Trump and his highest levels start with that hard look and the talking, you’re going to see some serious preventing. Hopefully. Because human trafficking is horrific. Also, terrible.

Credit where it’s due, and all that. Trump had the grace to thank the people for showing up at his daughter’s party important meeting.

“I cannot thank each of you enough, and the dedicated men and women who run my staff and your staffs in getting everybody together was terrific.  I was so glad I was able to be here.”

And in conclusion…

“I really can say, in this country, people don’t realize how bad it is in this country, but in this country and all over the world.  So thank you all for being here.”

It’s really bad in this country. Really really bad. But in this country and all over the world. Trump can really say that. Out loud.

Comrade Trump taking a hard look at...well, resources. Also, personnel.

Comrade Trump taking a hard look at…well, resources. Also, personnel.

Still, there’s this: boom! Another problem solved! A horrific practice, solved. Nobody realized how bad it is in this country and in this country, also the world, but in this country, nobody realized until his daughter told him, but now — horrific practice ended. Or solved. Or helped a lot. With the staffs and the highest levels and all those hard looks, those are some really hard looks, the best, believe me. And really, is there a more beautiful word than solve?

C’mon, okay, maybe. Horrific, that’s pretty good too.

Advertisements

cows and weird-ass giant ice cream cones

I live a quiet life these days, and I’m glad of it. For years my professional life was busy and important, sometimes a tad risky, often very strange. Now I mostly deal with words and images. Now I take walks.

Last week I had breakfast at a favorite joint directly across the street from the Iowa State Fairgrounds, which is one of my favorite places to walk. There’s usually something going on there — a gun show, a llama/alpaca event, a swap meet for car enthusiasts, something. Last week it was a cow thing.

guy-with-a-bull

This is where I confess to being almost completely ignorant about farm stuff. I know this is a Hereford bull. I know it’s a Hereford because 1) people on Facebook told me it was a Hereford and what the hell, I’ll take them at their word, and 2) I have another photo of this creature in a stall with similar animals, and there’s a small sign identifying them as Herefords. I know it’s a bull because this guy had massive cojones that were the size of cantaloupes. I declare, I don’t know how he was able to walk.

I spoke with the guy for a while. He was quietly pleased. This particular bull had just been sold at auction for enough money to buy a used Harley Sportster.

guy-inna-barn

Here’s a thing I’ve learned about farm folks. They tend to be quiet and sort of shy around strangers, but if they find you’re really interested in them (or in what they do), they’re incredibly friendly. They’re also pretty tolerant of the odor of large mammals and large mammal shit. I mean, they clean it up right quick; farmers are not lazy people. But when you have that many cows lounging around and being moved through the building, you can just count on getting some cow shit in the treads of your sneakers.

While I enjoy the agricultural stuff, that’s not why I walk the fairgrounds. I do it because it’s quiet, and because there’s always some sort of unintended beauty to be found. Like a lot of photographers, I find something attractive in the gradual degradation of buildings falling into disrepair — abandoned factories, old barns, decrepit houses. But there’s something different about the way a fairground degrades.

plywood-and-chait

It’s different because the disrepair is mostly temporary. The fairgrounds is active all year long, but it really only comes alive for a couple of weeks around the end of summer. A few days before the fair begins, folks arrive and start tidying up and re-asserting their footprint on the grounds. Then, of course, you have a week and a half of the fair. After which there are a few days when folks are breaking down their businesses and moving on to the next fair gig.

Then for eleven months things slow down. Eleven months of wind and rain and snow and heat and cold and storms and hail and all that leaves its mark — temporarily. For a photographer, it’s like renewable decrepitude.

closed-for-season

The thing about a fair is that it’s meant to draw the eye and ear. Every corndog stand and deep-fried Twinkie booth and beer emporium and barbecue joint is competing for attention. We’re not talking about gentle competition here. This is a sort of economic combat. It’s a tawdry affair, all flashy color and noise — survival depends on it.

But when it’s over, the bright, garish, vulgarity starts to fade — and it fades quickly. This is a big part of what I love. The visual memory of cheap glitter, and the chance to look behind the make-up and see the bone structure. There’s a surprising amount of beauty to be found.

Some places — not many, but a few — manage to withstand the onslaught of neglect. Even though they’re closed for the season, some places remain loud and gaudy and weirdly attractive. Jalapeno Pete’s, for example. I’ve never been inside JP’s during the fair; it’s always much too crowded. I’ve never had a margarita in their rooftop cantina. But the sheer audacity of the colors, and the name itself — Jalapeno Pete’s — makes it impossible for me to walk past the place without wishing I had.

rooftop-cantina

We won’t see Jalapeno Pete’s open again until August 10th. When it does reopen it’s unlikely I’ll be willing to bang my way through the crowds. But I can enjoy it now.

It’s still February; the fairgrounds is empty except for the farmers and their cows — and the occasional guy wandering around with a camera. It’s February, not as cold as it should be, and quiet. But the fairgrounds offers constant reminds that it’ll eventually be hot enough to warrant ice cream.

But in truth I don’t really care. I’m not here for the ice cream, or a margarita at Jalapeno Pete’s, or the Hereford bulls with their astonishing testicles. I’m here for the weird-ass giant cone.

Like I said, I live a quiet life these days. And I’m glad for it.

cone

enter promo code to honor george washington

Today is Presidents’ Day in These United States. Well, sorta kinda. In some of These United States, it’s President’s Day. It’s an apostrophe thing. But there are some states that do away with the apostrophe altogether, in which case it’s Presidents Day.

But a lot of These United States don’t hold with lumping all those presidents together; they’re more exclusive. In a lot of places, the day is all about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both of who were born in February. So those states call this holiday Washington-Lincoln’s Birthday. Or, in some places, Washington and Lincoln Day. In Alabama, they dump Lincoln and substitute Jefferson, so they’re celebrating George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday. And in Arkansas it’s both George Washington’s Birthday AND Daisy Gatson Bates Day (and if you don’t know who Daisy Gatson Bates is, I recommend Wikipedia).

george-washington

Originally, of course, this was just George Washington’s Birthday — and there are still four states (including the one where I’m currently parked) that have stuck with the original version. And that’s why in Iowa today, we’re celebrating the birthday of the First President of…fuck, wait.

Okay, it’s not actually his birthday. George was born on February 22, 1732. A century and a half later, in 1879, Congress decided we needed to honor the first president, so they decided to make his birthday a federal holiday. Folks working in the federal government could take the day off to — well, it’s not exactly clear what they were expected to do on George’s birthday, but not going to work was a big part of it. Also, to honor our first president, many shops closed their doors and conducted no commercial business.

At any rate, that’s why we’re celebrating George Washington’s birthday…fuck, wait.

washington-birthday

Okay, turns out George Washington was officially born on February 11, 1731 — not on February 22, 1732. The problem was George was born in Virginia, and Virginia was part of the British Empire, and the British Empire was still using the Julian calendar because the British Empire wasn’t a Catholic empire and even though the Catholic countries of the world had switched to the better Gregorian calendar in 1582, the British Empire wasn’t about to give in to calendar fashion because, dammit, it was the British Empire, don’t you know. Then in 1752 they decided there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with the Gregorian calendar, so they adopted it and George Washington’s birthday went from February 11, 1731 to February 22, 1732.

And that’s why every February 22nd, we celebrate…fuck, wait.

Okay. In 1951 this guy named Harold Stonebridge Fischer formed something he called the President’s Day National Committee. His plan was to create a holiday to celebrate ALL the presidents, not just one. He wanted the holiday to be celebrated on March 4, because that was the traditional date on which new presidents were inaugurated (not George Washington, of course, because he was the very first president and we were basically just faking everything back then, hoping it would all work out somehow). Fischer pimped that proposal for something like twenty years with absolutely no success whatsoever. But some Congressional folks liked the notion of fucking around with federal holidays, and in 1971 they passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act essentially said ‘Hey America, we don’t really care what day Washington was born on, or when World War One ended, or what day y’all have been celebrating Memorial Day, and does anybody even know why we’ve been doing Columbus Day on the 12th day of October, seriously? So we’re just moving those holidays to a Monday, so we can all have a long weekend. You can thank us later.’ Granted, some of those holidays have been re-shifted back to their original dates, because we’re still just basically faking it, hoping it will all work out somehow.

georgewashiong-sale-02-21-2013

Anyway, that is why we celebrate the first president — or some of the presidents — or all of the presidents — or some of the presidents and maybe some folks who weren’t president at all — on the third Monday of February. And that’s why all the mattress stores and shoe emporiums are slashing prices. At least that’s what we’re doing now. Who the hell knows what’s going to happen now that Comrade Trump has parked his ass in the Oval Office, and Republicans run both houses of Congress.

That business of faking it and hoping? It still applies. But hey, at least some folks get a three-day weekend. So there’s that.

the logan act (with optional pirate stuff)

Right, there goes Michael T. Flynn, out the back door of the Trump White House. Now that we’re finished applauding his resignation, folks are wondering about a couple of things. First, can he be prosecuted under the Logan Act? And second, should he be prosecuted.

There are, of course, problems. At least three problems. The first is the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It’s never been really tested in court; nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating the Logan Act. Not even George Logan, after whom the law was named. The second problem is more political. The recently appointed Attorney General of These United States is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who is undoubtedly tickled pink that the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It gives Sessions the perfect opportunity to practice looking severe without having to actually do anything. The third problem is this: just what the fuck IS the Logan Act, and what was it intended to do?

The Logan Act is a perfect example of how history, which can be singularly cool, has a reputation for being mind-numbingly dull. I mean, we’re talking revolutions and piracy on the high seas — and that’s some seriously exciting shit, right there. But reading the Logan Act — well, it’s not long enough to actually put you to sleep, but it’ll make your mind wander. Anyway, here’s the history.

Not actually a French ship attacking a US merchant, but c'mon -- it's pirate stuff.

Not actually a French ship attacking a U.S. merchant vessel, but c’mon — it’s pirate stuff.

We (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘These United States’) had us a revolution. I’m assuming you already know this. A few years later, France had its own revolution. France had been pretty helpful to our revolution and they quite understandably expected the new U.S. to give them a reach-around. We didn’t — at least not to their satisfaction. So France got pissy and authorized French ships to plunder American merchant ships. President John Adams sent some envoys to France to straighten out the mess. The French listened to their arguments, then politely told the envoys “S’il vous plaît, uriner une corde.” Or words to that effect. The envoys returned to the U.S., reported they’d failed miserably, then went to a bar and made rude remarks about the French (I’m not entirely sure about that last bit with the bar and rude remarks, but it’s what I would have done if the French had told me to go piss up a rope).

Enter Dr. George Logan, a Philadelphia Quaker. Logan decided he couldn’t screw things up any worse, so he sailed to France, chatted with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and the good folks of the French Directory — and hey, bingo, the French changed their minds and stopped the plundering. Yay, sounding of trumpets, release of doves, everybody wins, right?

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Right. Except for the politicians back in the U.S. who weren’t happy with civilians conducting unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments. Which is perfectly understandable. I mean, George Logan might have done a fine job, but the next guy might get us in a war. So they passed the Logan Act to prevent that sort of thing from happening again.

It’s easy to see why nobody has been prosecuted under the Logan Act. Back in the late 1700s, civilians could get away with pulling shit like that. Today, that’s not going to happen. Ain’t no Quaker going to show up on Pakistan’s doorstep (even if Pakistan had a doorstep, which it doesn’t) and negotiate a nuclear arms deal. And if General Michael Flynn had been an ordinary citizen, nobody in the Russian embassy would have paid any attention to him when he discussed the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

But that’s exactly why the Logan Act could be used in this case — because General Michael Flynn was NOT an ordinary citizen. He was an advisor to the President-Elect. He was expected to become President Trump’s National Security Advisor. He had influence and power, and even though he had no authority from the sitting POTUS, he had presumptive authority from the President-Elect.

Assuming Flynn actually did discuss lifting Obama’s sanctions on Russia (and since the transcripts of Flynn’s calls haven’t been made public, we can’t know that for certain), then he was a nominal civilian with enough influence to effectively undermine an action taken by the President of These United States. That’s a big fucking deal, and it’s exactly the sort of thing the Logan Act should be used to deter.

It’s absolutely worth testing the constitutionality of the Logan Act in this case. But somehow, I doubt the pixie-eared Attorney General will do that.

this motherfucker must go

I’m sorta kinda grateful for General Michael T. Flynn, Comrade Trump’s current National Security Advisor. I mean, yeah, the guy is unfit for the position — but so is just about everybody in Trump’s Cabinet of Nazgûl. But Flynn is doing something that really, truly needs to be done.

He’s resurrecting the Russians Helped Elect Trump story. Which is basically the Trump is an Illegitimate President story. And that’s a story that desperately needs more attention.

How is Flynn doing this? He’s using the traditional all-purpose Comrade Trump approach: incompetence bolstered by lying. There was a time when Gen. Flynn was a big hat in the intelligence community. He spent his entire Army career in intelligence, he’s held dozens of high-ranking intelligence positions, ending up as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Those are some serious intelligence chops.

Then he got himself fired for being an aggressive conspiracy crank. Well, not actually fired. He was encouraged to retire. His own aides coined the term ‘Flynn Facts’ to describe the crazy shit Flynn believed and would talk about. Also, nobody liked working with him, not just because of the crazy shit but because he was also apparently an annoying dick. Plus they thought Flynn was a tad sloppy with keeping government secrets actually secret. So they invited him to pack his bags and see what it was like to be a civilian again.

flynn

So Flynn bought a ticket on the Trump train. It didn’t hurt that Flynn, like Comrade Trump, had a crush on our boy Vlad Putin. That brought Flynn an invitation to visit Moscow and sit at the same table with Putie during an anniversary celebration of RT (which is basically the Russian government’s pet news agency). Shortly thereafter, Flynn began to appear regularly on RT as an analyst.

So here’s a guy who’s spent his entire career dealing with military secrets, who’d become a conspiracy nut, who was known to be lax with secret, now working for a Russian news agency at the same time he’s working for Trump’s presidential campaign at the same time Russia is interfering with the US election process in order to help Trump get elected.

That’s bad. But it gets worse. After it became public knowledge that the Russians helped elect Trump, President Obama booted a whole bunch of Russians out of the country. Every single time there’s been an international dispute resulting in Russian embassy staff getting the boot, Russia has retaliated in kind. Yet in this case, Putie decided to do exactly nothing. Étonnant! Incroyable! 

It was so astonishing and incredible that the U.S. intelligence community got curious, and began doing all that shadowy techno-shit that spy agencies enjoy so much. And hey, they discovered that after the expulsion of Russian diplomats, Gen. Flynn had made contact with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

So these folks asked Flynn the obvious question: “Dude, did you and Sergey chat about those sanctions?” To which Flynn replied, “What? Me? No, c’mon.” The intelligence community said, “No, seriously dude — did y’all talk sanctions?” And Flynn was all “What did I just say?” And then big hats in the Republican party also found it necessary to ask those questions. “Dude, we need to know if you chatted about this stuff with the Russkis,” to which Flynn replied “No fucking way would I do that.” The GOP big hats (including Vice President Pence and Reince Preibus) felt the need to ask one more time. “Seriously? You didn’t discuss this at all? We’re asking on account of we have to go on all the Sunday talk shows and we don’t want to be seen as lying.” Flynn reassured them. “Would I lie to you?”

Gen. Michael Flynn, it turns out, would totally lie to them. Of course, he would. And he did. This is the Trump administration, after all. These weasels would lie about how many slices of pepperoni are on the pizza. Both the NY Times and the Washington Post report that multiple sources — multiple sources, you guys — that Flynn is lying his three-star ass off. He did, in fact, discuss the U.S. sanctions.

Not just that, but he apparently told the ambassador that once Comrade Trump was in office, the sanctions would disappear. Think about that. Russia helps Trump get elected by fucking with the election process, the president punishes Russia for fucking with the election process, Comrade Trump’s advisor — the guy is going to become the National Security Advisor — tells Russia the punishment will be lifted. How fucked up is that?

flynn-and-trump

All this comes at the same time we’re learning more information about that Trump ‘dossier’ put together by a former MI6 operative. You know — the dossier with the story of the big bladder Russian hookers. That one. We’re hearing the U.S. intelligence community is pretty much confirming ‘parts’ of that dossier. Not the pissing business, don’t get your hopes up. No, they’re confirming the bits that suggest the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence services to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Got it? After a lifetime of handling U.S. spy stuff, Flynn is pushed into early retirement. He becomes Trump’s baggage handler. He gets a gig with the Russian government’s pet news agency. Russia begins colluding with the Trump campaign to kick Clinton to the curb. Trump gets elected. President Obama punishes Russia. Flynn talks to the Russian ambassador and agrees to remove the punishment after Trump is inaugurated. Flynn lies about doing that. It really leads to one inescapable conclusion.

This motherfucker must go.

Oh, and there’s this: as of right now, Comrade Trump hasn’t addressed the issue of Flynn’s lies. When he does, I suspect Trump will lie about it.

Update: Gen. Flynn has resigned. In his resignation letter he states he “inadvertently” briefed VP Pence with “incomplete information”.

There are still a couple of issues that need to be considered and addressed. First, will Flynn be prosecuted under the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for a citizen to engage in “any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.”

Second, what did Comrade Trump know about this, and when did he know it?