Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Tag: Immigrants

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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The Critical Mass

I read the Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Jan. 10

1, A front-page profile of Roger Ailes, the head of the right-handed propaganda machine Fox News, concludes with this quote from former Clinton aid James Carville: “If he were a Democrat, I think there would be 67 Democratic senators right now.” Dwell on that for a moment. Should anyone in the media – be they conservative, liberal or middle of the road – have that kind of power to influence who represents us?

2, In yet another alarming front-page story, “Officials Obscured Truth Of Migrant Deaths in Jail,” we learn of 107 known deaths of immigrants while held in detention in this country since 2003, and the extraordinary lengths that were taken to cover up the crimes. In an attempt to halt our slide into South American Banana Republic status, The Times writes, “The Obama administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, a haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells where the government holds non-citizens while it tries to deport them.”

3, It’s bank bonus season. Less than one year after the bailout, “Goldman Sachs is expected to pay its employees an average of about $595,000 apiece for 2009, one of the most-profitable years in its 141-year history.”

4, Genocide was big in the 20th Century. Between 1915 and 1918, an estimated one million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks. In “Secrets Revealed in Turkey Revive Armenian Identity,” Fethiye Cetin recalls the day her grandmother, a young girl at the time, “saw men’s throats being cut and bodies being thrown in the Tigris River, which ran red for days.” She watched “her own grandmother drown two of her own grandchildren before she herself jumped into the water and disappeared.”

5, But some folks have stood up against tyranny. Freya Von Moltke has died at age 98. She helped build a group of Nazi resistors that included her husband, who was hanged for his role in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Moltke hid her husband’s letters and documents in beehives around her estate, items that The Times writes “have proved valuable to scholars for their gripping portrayal of heroic, almost certainly futile resistance, as well as their glimpses at daily life in the Third Reich.”  Moltke recalled one incident in 1931 or ’32, when she saw a man in the darkness of a movie theater. “I thought to myself, ‘What terrifying eyes,’ ” she said. When the house lights went up, she saw that the eyes had belonged to Hitler.

6, Thankfully, I don’t get The Golf Channel with my cable package, so I’ll never see Being John Daly, a reality show  which begins on March 2. Thanks to lap-band surgery, he’s lost 116 pounds, down from a high of 298. “I no longer do the wild and crazy things I used to do,” the 43-year-old bad-guy golfer says, perhaps to the dismay of the show’s producers. Time to start fielding proposals for Being Tiger Woods.

7, Forget oil. The smart technology is going green, and if we don’t get on board, we’ll pay dearly.  Thomas L. Friedman notes in his column “Who’s Sleeping Now?”  that China understands that the  energy technology revolution “is both a necessity and a reality, and they do not intend to miss it.”

8, Frank Rich hauls the banks out into the light of day in his column. “Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin,” he writes in “The Other Plot to Wreck America” in The Week in Review. Without a withering investigation, the status quo will remain. “That’s the ticking time bomb scenario that truly imperils us all.”

9, Sunday Styles, where I rarely linger except to laugh at the photos of celebrities with dogs in their purses, writes of the urban caveman movement. This involves keeping a freezer of meat and organs in your New York City apartment. “The caveman lifestyle,” it reports, “involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruits are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture.”

10, A page from Arts & Leisure reminds us of actors who never could escape their most-prominent roles. Dawn Wells, of course, as Gilligan Island‘s Mary Ann. Jamie Farr as M*A*S*H‘s Cpl. Maxwell Klinger. Larry Storch as F Troop‘s Cpl. Randolph Agarn. The 83-year-old Storch still has the battered cavalry hat he wore in the show. Despite his role as the face people remember when thinking of bumbling Indian fighters, “The most money I ever made,” Storch says, “was in a McDonald’s hamburger commercial.”

11. The reputation of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who we kept out of the Soviets’ hands at the end of World War II and spirited away to the U.S. to built our own space program, gets busted up pretty good in a review of Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race. Far from an unfortunate victim pushed into creating the missiles that the Nazis rained down upon London, “he was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and knew he was developing weapons at Peenemunde and that the weapons were manufactured by slave labor,” reviewer David Holloway writes of Wayne Biddle’s book. Biddle thoughtfully questions how, Holloway writes, “scientists and engineers, by claiming to be ‘apolitical,’ often escape being held to account for what they help to produce.”

12, The Book Review’s final count for 2009 says that the weekly hardcover non-fiction list featured 26 conservative-oriented books listed at No. 1 (paced by Mark R. Levine’s anti-Obama Liberty and Tyranny), compared to only two for liberal books. In what I’m sure is an unrelated matter, the trade paperback list was dominated by two books featuring zombies, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and World War Z.

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