Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Category: Politics Page 1 of 47

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of his much-criticized invitation to the Taliban to come to Camp David for peace talks, and once again claimed he’d rescinded the offer because they had killed an American soldier days earlier.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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Doing the wrong thing

The main suspects in the death of truth.

If  you have a documented history of lying to the American public – and even admitted to it when being questioned during a Congressional investigation – the odds of being hired by a reputable news organization would appear to be mighty slim. Am I right?

Welcome to the Fox News family, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

You will be forgiven for forgetting that Sanders defended Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, claiming she had heard from “countless members of the FBI” that they had no confidence in him. Apparently, Sanders can’t count very high. According to the Mueller Report, while testifying under oath that she was telling the truth, Sanders admitted that her claim of “countless members of the FBI” rebelling against Comey “was not founded on anything.”

Months later, and freed from that burdensome formality of testifying under oath, Sanders was asked about the Muller Report’s assessment of her baseless Comey charge. And she lied, said her claim of FBI agents rebelling against their boss had merely been a slip of the tongue. And besides, it was the Democrats who were to blame.

So Sanders joins Fox as a “contributor,” joining a roster of fabrication contributors whose long list of lies rivals that of… well, of Trump.

I heartily endorse second chances. Third chances? I’m not so sure. Especially when the individual in question is being granted access to a powerful public platform.

Giving a bad idea a second chance is endemic to media. “McHale’s Navy” was a really dumb television show. Somehow a respectable actor, Ernest Borgnine, was talked into starring as the commander of a P.T. boat and its crew of fun-loving, scamming lunatics. This was set during World War II, mind you, where a lot of people fought and died. The show ran from 1962 to 1966, plus two feature films, and you’d figure that would be enough. But no, someone did a “McHale’s Navy” movie in 1997, updated with Russian terrorists or something, I don’t know, to my credit I never saw it. Perhaps because it starred Tom Arnold.

Brand familiarity is money in the bank. The original “Godzilla,” the 1954 Japanese film in which a giant lizard destroys Tokyo, was a metaphorical tale warning of the dangers of nuclear technology. Released nine years after the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, who would know better than the Japanese about the horrors of the atomic bomb? And for better or worse, the Godzilla franchise exploded.

Now that’s entertainment. It’s mythology. And in the mythology that increasingly penetrates our news, Fox News – my parents’ only news source for years – is not the only offender.

“The McLaughlin Group” was a shouty news roundtable that played for 34 years on various public television outlets. Now Maryland Public Broadcasting is re-booting the show. The producers are not willing to spend the money necessary to bring back host Tom McLaughlin – he died in 2016 – but they have resurrected the corpse of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is a white supremacist, and it’s not just a matter of a slip of the tongue here and there. Buchanan is a reservoir of racism.

Buchanan has called Hitler “an individual of great courage” who did not want war, a statement that might be disputed by the Polish people who awoke one morning in 1939 to find Nazi tanks rumbling down their streets. He is anti-LGBTQ citizens, saying that in a just society, “gay people will be contained, segregated, controlled, and stigmatized.” He said of the Civil War, “in a way, both sides were right.” Words that would be echoed years later by Trump after a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, resulting in the death of a young woman and injuring 28 others. And immigrants are “a third world invasion,” Buchanan has said, adding that, “Americans have the sovereign right to discriminate in favor of some continents, countries and cultures, and against others.”

Why didn’t this country’s native people think of that in 1492?

Here’s the Buchanan quote of all time:

Exceptional women can and do succeed; and women deserve an equal chance at the starting line. But, for women, there is an honorable and honored exit from the rat race – home, hearth and family. It is an option closed, by social sanction, to the average male. By a ratio of eleven-to-one over men, women exercise this option of voluntary separation from the marketplace, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. The momma bird builds the nest. So it was, so it ever shall be. Ronald Reagan is not responsible for this; God is.

Or, maybe this is the Buchanan quote of all time:

America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known. … We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

Yes, the gratitude for their ancestors to have been brought here in chains, to be beaten, raped and lynched.

Pat Buchanan. Fair and balanced reporting gone awry.

Republicans are being rightly skewered for quietly stepping aside as Trump destroys the Constitution, divides the country over race, rolls back environmental protections, enriches himself through the presidency, and on and on and on…

And on. Mark Halperin has a book deal. Thanks to more than 75 top Democratic strategists.

Halperin always struck me as a smarmy jerk when I’d see him on MSNBC, as a pundit who seemed to be wrong a lot. And the smarm proved to be real, when in 2017 a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment. That’s a dozen chances to do the right thing. Halperin didn’t, and MSNBC promptly dumped him.

So now Halperin has a book coming out in November. “How to Beat Trump: America’s Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take.” That’s a fine goal, but we don’t need the likes of Halperin. He’s getting real money, while real writers can’t get into print. No one with a conscience should be a part of his career-reclamation project. I can’t imagine what those 75 Democratic strategists – familiar names such as Donna Brazile, David Axelrod, Kathleen Sebelius – were thinking when they heard on the other end of the phone, “Hi, this is Mark Halperin…”

They should have hung up right there.

BE 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.

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.

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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