Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Category: Life During Wartime Page 1 of 31

Life in the gates of hell

I am watching President Trump on television this morning, delivering a speech at a ceremony in remembrance of 9/11.

The terror attacks that 18 years ago changed our lives. But not in ways that make any sense.

I’m watching Trump, and I’m aghast. He’s telling stories of the heroes who died on that day. And there were many heroes. September 11, 2001, was a day when Americans – who likely never imagined they would find themselves in the midst of such a tragedy – stepped up and did what had to be done.

But strewn throughout this tribute, filled with florid language about heroes who “tore through the gates of hell,” were words that revealed how far we’ve strayed from truth, and reality.

As always, Trump used the moment to talk about himself. Where he was when the first plane hit the Twin Towers. Not surprisingly, he was watching television. And he said something about how he got involved in the rescue efforts, which I guess is a reference to his radio interview that day where he claimed that, with the Twin Towers gone, he now owned the tallest building in New York City.

A lie, of course.

Trump’s words today, this day of remembrance, should have been inspiring. Instead they felt empty, coming from such a self-absorbed grifter using heroes as props for his faltering presidency.

His mood darted from somber to bellicose. He did not reflect on how we should work for peace. He only promised more war. Anyone who threatens the American way of life, he said, will face retaliation beyond the imagination, something more devastating than a nuclear bomb.

What could that be?

Trump repeated his claims that immigration is a threat to America. He spoke of his much-criticized invitation to the Taliban to come to Camp David for peace talks, and once again claimed he’d rescinded the offer because they had killed an American soldier days earlier. As if this was some kind of new and outrageous Taliban strategy, as if American soldiers haven’t been dying for 18 years in Afghanistan.

Trump’s response this morning to the death of an American soldier, and the cancellation of his invitation to the Taliban leaders was, “The last four days we hit our enemy harder than we have ever hit them before.”

What? When? How?

Eighteen years after 9/11, we’ve learned nothing. A lying, mentally-ill leader is flailing away at immigrants who are not our enemy, but are innocent people fleeing war and poverty. He wanted to host terrorists at Camp David, just days before the anniversary of 9/11, but refuses to face the home-grown terrorists who are shooting people at country-music concerts and garlic festivals.

We are overwhelmed by new scandals every day.

I turned off the television. This is not reality. We’re not living with the truth.

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The stuff of liberty

Someone broke into Alex Rodriguez’s rental car on Sunday and stole his stuff.

Stuff, if that’s the right word for $500,000 in property.

Think about that for a moment, Rodriguez, one of the finest baseball players of his era, and now an ESPN sportscaster, had half-a-million dollars of stuff in his rental car, parked a few blocks from the San Francisco Giants’ stadium, where he was working the game that night.

Half-a-million dollars! In a rental car!

According to the cops the “stuff” was a camera, a laptop computer, miscellaneous jewelry and a bag.

OK, cameras and laptops get stolen all of the time. What’s that add up to? Maybe $3,000? So I’d say the jewelry was a little more than “miscellaneous.”

Or else… what the hell was in that bag?

I don’t begrudge Rodriguez for being fabulously rich. I don’t judge him for how he spends his money. I’ll just use him as an example of the spectacular economic gulf that separates Americans.

If I considered all of the stuff that I’ve owned over the course of my life, I don’t think it would add up to half-a-million dollars. That would include my house, a handful of modest vehicles, electronics, lawnmowers, dogs, books, music, shot glasses, clothing, artwork, furniture, cleaning products, two lava lamps…

And all of that stuff, of course, wouldn’t fit in my car.

Some people don’t have much stuff. I hear complaints about poor people, American citizens and immigrants alike, receiving public assistance. The argument goes: Why should Americans spend their working life contributing to pensions and social security, while others receive a handout?

Non-partisan studies have shown that Trump’s tax cuts benefited only the top 1 percent of Americans. The rich. Who continue to maneuver for more. At some point, the pursuit of riches goes beyond what anyone needs. It becomes about greed and ego. The playing field is not level. Ninety-nine percent of Americans are thrashing away in a gulley, while the 1 percent stand at the top of the mountain, laughing and rolling boulders down onto the rest of us.

I spent more than two decades on public transportation, riding the bus to downtown Rochester for work, and home again later that evening. From the bus windows, I could see us pass through nice neighborhoods of elegant old homes, and rough-hewn blocks of closed storefronts and people sitting on weary porches, watching the world pass them by. I always sat in the back of the bus, listening to the conversations of my fellow riders. They would be on their phones, talking to their parole officer. I’d watch them filling out applications for low-wage jobs at Burger King.

But I’d also hear them talking about their kids, worrying about their kids’ schools, the future. Worrying about falling behind on the rent. Or not having a car so they can find a better job, one beyond this bus route.

Working alongside the school-to-prison pipeline is a poverty pipeline. There’s no shut-off valve for either.

Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Building savings and retirement plans are out of the question. Our economic system is not built to evenly distribute opportunity. In the land of opportunity, only the sharks eat well.

This weekend, Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration’s acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, re-wrote the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. You likely learned the original words when you were in elementary school. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” When pressed on that longstanding American ideal, Cuccinelli added a codicil. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.”

In other words, people fleeing poverty, crime and political oppression is no longer good enough for entry into our country. Compassion is dead. You must demonstrate you are not a burden on those of us whose immigrant parents got here first.

I suppose slaves brought here from Africa were not a burden, because they handled much of the labor that built this country. Without pay. The Chinese people who were encouraged to move here were not a burden, because for virtually no pay they helped chip away with pick and shovel, and blast through the mountain passes, the path that became the Trans-Continental Railroad. We brought Nazi scientists here after World War II to help build our space program.

So historically, our immigration policies have not been above reproach.

Reliable economists – not the Fox News theorists who have Trump’s ear – tell us that immigrants are not a burden, that they add to our economy. American businesses – like Trump’s resorts and golf courses – happily hire them, because they’ll work hard for the kind of wages that no one could raise a family on, let alone load the car with half a million dollars in cameras and jewelry.

Immigrants pay taxes, something we’re not sure Trump does.

Those immigrants that the Trump administration tells us to fear would represent just a small sliver of the Third-World America that many of us keep at arm’s length. They’re coming here in search of a better life, even if it’s simply a job picking fruit. How can they be a threat to us?

The 1 percent are reinforcing the walls surrounding what increasingly looks like an authoritarian, white, ruling nationalist class.

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Epstein is dead. Long live Epstein.

I’m not sure if this photo is real. But the evidence suggests the sentiment is real.

I can’t stand it, anymore. My quiet Sunday morning is ruined. My head is going to explode.

Jeffrey Epstein, multi-millionaire serial pedophile and sex-crime ringleader, committed suicide. Zero evidence has been presented to suggest he was murdered. Zero evidence has been presented that a dead body was substituted for Epstein, and at this moment he is flying to his private Caribbean island. To say otherwise is to ignore the fact that undoubtedly dozens of people – including doctors and too many prison officials to be bribed – are in on the conspiracy.

Imagination is a great thing. It helped Sherlock Holmes solve many crimes. Who would have thought the demonic ghost haunting the moors of Baskerville was actually a dog painted with phosphorus? But there are no such dogs roaming the hallways of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

We must always go to where the evidence leads. To do otherwise is frivolous. It can be fun, even. But then we encounter moments when imagination creeps into the realm of dangerous rationalization.

This week, we’re once again debating guns, following three high-profile mass shootings. Rather than addressing what’s obvious – guns being used as conflict arbitrators – we’re hearing imaginary nonsense about how murder sprees are a mental-health issue (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have schizophrenics and manic depressives). Or how video games led to these shootings (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have video games). It takes a lot of imagination to block out the inexcusable hate that this week’s killers felt for their victims.

We’ve seen a lot of imagination at work on immigration. Last week I was talking to a Republican who insisted that separating children from their immigrant parents at the border is a longstanding policy. It is not. Re-writing history takes some imagination, but mostly it’s lying. Barack Obama’s immigration policies contained specific language aimed at keeping families intact. It is a Trump executive order that snatched children from their parents and put them in cages. Defending cruel policy utilizes the same imaginative rationalization that led Trump to claim during the 2018 elections that the caravan of Central American refugees heading for our southern border, people fleeing poverty and the threat of death, were actually violent, disease-ridden gang members.

And once the election was over, the caravan magically… disappeared.

Imagine that.

Conspiracy theories, offering different levels of threat to Americans, that have been thoroughly disproven: 9/11 was an inside job. Obama was born in Kenya and his birth certificate is fake. The Holocaust didn’t happen. And the Hillary Clinton all-you-can-eat buffet of Benghazi, her unsecured email server and how she ran a child-sex ring out of a pizza restaurant. We can add to that pile aliens at Area 51, the moon landings were fake, extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids called “Annunaki” are secretly ruling humanity. And Paul is dead.

Oh, sure, rampant corruption of officials is easy to imagine in this age of a Trump White House. This morning, the current president of the United States re-tweeted a conspiracy rumor suggesting former president Bill Clinton is complicit in murder – again with zero evidence. It demonstrates once again that Trump and his administration, and the adoring acolytes who hide their corporations’ profits in offshore accounts or paint “TRuMp” on the sides of their weathered barns, have careened through the guard rails protecting law and functional society.

The evidence is conclusive. Epstein’s dead, he killed himself. If anything, today’s Epstein conspiracy talk sheds light on the incestual level of corruption to be found among the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Rats finding comfort, and protection, in each other’s company.

Distraction allows them to escape. We must stay focused. What is the true conspiracy? Conspiracy theories thrive without light. The most-dangerous ones feed on lies.

BE THE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

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