Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Category: Politics Page 1 of 49

When words are worth more than a can of beans

President Trump engages in a food fight.

For years now, I’ve written one or two blogs a week. Until recently. A glance at my web site confirms my suspicions, that I haven’t written one in… 10 weeks.

It’s not writer’s block. I’ve been cranking out plenty of words for my gainful employers. And I’ve been two-finger tapping away on my keyboard at the other stuff I write on my own time. The baseball book, the novel.

But when it comes to the opinions that fuel the blog, The Critical Mass…

…I just can’t find the words.

I’m overwhelmed by the firehose of bullshit that is the Trump White House, and America today. Remember when families desperate to leave the terrible circumstances of their homeland came to our southern border, seeking safety, only to be turned away or imprisoned, children taken from their parents and tossed into cages?

That’s a tragedy that’s been swept aside in a year of crashing worldwide economies and unemployment. Racism and white nationalists emerging from the shadows. Climate change and wildfires. Poverty. The longest war in American history continuing in Afghanistan, with no explanation. Murder hornets and 17-year cicadas.

We can’t focus on one outrage, the atrocity of the day, before we’re forced to confront the next one. That’s the strategy. Wear us out, until we give up.

Our claim to the title of the greatest country in the world disintegrates as we are increasingly unable to protect our citizens from a virus, while virtually every other “advanced” country – most of Europe, Canada, even North Korea – is doing better. We’re doing worse than what Trump once called the “shithole” countries of Africa. The Trump spokespeople claim the situation is getting better. The emergency room personnel, the infectious disease experts and the numbers all tell us that it’s getting worse.

Who are these strange men in unidentifiable camo outfits and unmarked vans, swooping down on citizens in the streets of Portland, Oregon, detaining them, intimidating them, then allowing them to go free after a few hours, without charging them? It’s like a dystopian novel, and we’re only in the first chapter.

What are we to make of the words this week from White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany? In defending the demand from Trump that schools must open – despite warnings to the contrary from scientists – she exclaimed, “The science should not stand in the way of this.”

“Science should not stand in the way…” The words that will surely Make America Great Again.

Trump. You’re a sucker if you’ve written a check to the Republican Party, in the hope that the money will support… oh, ideas like building a wall along the entire 1,954 miles of our southern border. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 2016 the Trump family, and its businesses and properties, have ingested $17 million in Republican National Committee campaign money. Your border wall dreams are going toward grooming Trump-owned golf courses.

I can’t find the words. But maybe Lindsey Graham can. Here’s what the senator said on May 3, 2016, during the Republican presidential primary: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed… and we will deserve it.”

He was right!

During The Critical Mass drought, I did try to find the words. I keep a lot of notes, I scribble things on stray pieces of paper. Here’s one idea I jotted down:

It’s astonishing the chaos we find ourselves in today. After 244 years working on it, you’d expect the United States would have figured out this democracy concept.

Those words didn’t go anywhere.

Remember back in April, when a thousand or so people stormed the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, protesting the “stay-at-home” order as the coronavirus pandemic was overtaking the country? Militia guys in camo outfits, waving automatic rifles, demanding their right to infect anyone who gave them a cross look?

In response, I scribbled these words:

Liberals stormed the nation’s libraries yesterday, waving library cards, demanding their right to news and information…

Those words, also, led me nowhere.

Action follows words. I will no longer buy Goya products, after this week the CEO of the company praised Trump. After all Trump has said, and done, to harm Latinx people. Goya’s products are essential to the Mexican cuisine I love; we lived on the southern border for 1½ years. Goya joins a list of my personal boycotts that include Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, WWE, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. I’d love to add Facebook to that list. But then, you wouldn’t be reading this, so I’ll have to dance with that devil. For now.

That photo of a smirking Trump, posing with Goya products on his desk in the Oval Office, demonstrates how divisive a can of beans can be.

Everything’s been upended. Careers. Families. Dinner.

I’ve lost a few friends this year. And our memories of those friends were limited to Facebook posts, because large gatherings in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic are dangerous. My Friend Jackie was one of them. Smart, funny, wise, sarcastic, caring Jackie. Sitting in a coffee shop at the Rochester Public Market, working on The New York Times crossword puzzle. Maybe asking me for help once in a while.

“What’s a five-letter word for home run?”

“Tater.”

She passed away on May 23. Here are words from her obituary, which she wrote herself:

Contributions may be made in her name to any political parties/organizations that work to unseat right-wing elected officials.

Political words? Perhaps. But really, they’re the words of a person who cared deeply about others. She saw what has been happening in this country. And who is responsible for what appears will be maybe 200,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 by the time the November elections roll around. And she wasn’t afraid to assign blame.

So where words have failed to appear for me over these last several weeks, I have found them in others. In fact, a whole bunch of words arrived in the mail last week. A letter from my niece, Bryden, who was planning on marrying her fiancée, Brian, this October in Colorado. In their words, why they’ve called it off:

It didn’t have to be this way. Through ineffectual leadership at nearly every level, at least 2,200,000 people have been sick and over 116,000 people are dead so far in the US. To have any of you end up in either category as a result of our little get together would be devastating.

Consider using your newfound free time for something more important: to learn more about what people who are not as privileged – and who are much more dramatically affected by recent events than we are in having to cancel our wedding – have been facing in this country. People who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, non-white, queer, trans, non-binary, etc. Everyone we invited has undoubtedly benefited from privilege in some way to varying degrees; acknowledging that and learning from it are critical to how we improve as a society.

If you were going to come, you were going to spend a few hundred bucks on the trip. Consider donating some of that money to a cause that helps people.

The best time to make a change was yesterday, the next best time is now.

I miss My Friend Jackie. But after that letter arrived, I began to think we’ll be OK.

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.

There’s no hiding from the Trump Apocalypse

My Friends Rick and Monica have a 1950s-era bomb shelter in their basement. Rick turned it into a rec room, and put the pool table right in the middle of it.

I’ll bet they’re having second thoughts about that now.

Millions of us saw this coming, and that’s just one reason we voted for Hillary Clinton. And, quite frankly, Al Gore before that. Even so, the depth of this Trump disaster, and the speed at which it has happened, seemed inconceivable to most of us. As fans of The Walking Dead, Rick and Monica should have expected The Trump Apocalypse. The end of American Exceptionalism.

The United States is now just one more ridiculous banana republic.

Even sunlight doesn’t kill Trump’s vampires. They’re operating now in plain sight. On Thursday, Attorney General Bob Barr announced that the Department of Justice is dropping a felony charge against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted in federal court to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador. Excusing Flynn is part of the Trump administration’s scheme to make the impeachment of the president look like some kind of Democratic Party-led, Deep State insurrection.

To put it simply, this has never been done before. No legal scholar can point to a case where a government official has plead guilty – twice, mind you – to such a crime against his nation, and then been told… “OK, off you go.”

All we can do now is throw up our hands and run to the nearest bomb shelter. The foundation of our country, the rule of law, is gone. It was only a figment of the imagination of a court system that has built the largest prison population in the world, most of them non-violent offenders.

Let’s not fool ourselves. This inequity has been America for a couple of centuries. Right, black people? Right, poor people?

I grew up about 20 miles from Kent State University. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Ohio National Guard murdering four students, and wounding nine more. I was 13 years old. Too young, and surrounded by too many adults who actually thought those students had it coming, to understand what an obscenity this was.

French Revolution aside, hoping for a nation change course is like watching an ocean freighter make a 360-degree turn. It takes a while. But at least we can attempt to move in the right direction. You can skip the next two paragraphs because, as a smart person who remembers history, you know that…

In eight years under Barack Obama, we saw positive change happening. We came out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, huge strides were made in LGBTQ rights, the auto industry was saved, the Bush torture policies were stopped, we saw new laws protecting the climate and the environment, the war in Iraq was ended, Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, consumer protection acts were introduced, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Lilly Ledbetter act calling for equal pay for equal jobs for women were signed, and the Affordable Care Act made health insurance a right, not a privilege, for millions of Americans. And Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

That’s the kind of guy Barack Obama is. We also saw an elegant, educated, well read, smart, real, and sometimes even funny family living in the White House. They liked dogs.

Now what do we have?

Listing the insanities of the Trump administration is a useless exercise. The sheer volume of lies and bullshit and lack of empathy and grifter mentality has numbed the ability to react among those of us who have our own lives to live. We endure new outrages every day. The decent world has lost respect for the United States, as Trump excuses murder and racism by insisting there are “good people on both sides,” and watches as Trump builds cozy relationships with world leaders we should revile. Saudi Arabia murdered and dismembered a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who worked for The Washington Post. Yet Trump has continued to play clown prince to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who apparently ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

Trump, at a G-20 summit 1½ years after the murder, even shook bin Salman’s hand.

What would Trump’s reaction be if a Republican senator were murdered and dismembered by bin Salman’s henchmen? Pick any senator, I’m beyond caring.

Trump has lowered the bar on everything.

He never seems to smile, he only smirks. And he does not like dogs.

And now Rick and Monica’s bomb shelter resonates with the crack of pool balls. I’m just mad I don’t have anywhere to hide.

I have to go now… There’s a bunch of dead people banging on the front door.

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.

 

Liberate Michigan! Open Fuddruckers!

No one likes us anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from the Facebook Federales, notifying me that my Jan. 3 post had been deleted because it violated Facebook’s standards of decency. The anonymous 1984-era clerk in charge of the process added that I could go through some kind of electronic court proceeding if I wanted to dispute the social media Godzilla’s ruling.

I had no recollection of what viral pornography I had committed. And as the post was about three months old, getting into a wrestling match with Mark Zuckerberg’s henchmen didn’t seem worth the effort. Moments later, I’d forgotten about it.

Forgotten about it, until this weekend, while reading news reports about thugs armed with automatic rifles and waving Confederate flags swarming the steps of some of our state capitol buildings, protesting how government guidelines for social distancing violates their right to spread the deadly coronavirus among the general population.

This Facebook post by the comedian and social analyst Patton Oswalt summed it up nicely:

Get it? There are people risking viral death by storming state capitol buildings & screaming, “Open Fuddruckers!”

Facebook’s accusations brought back to mind my history of of lawless, irresponsible actions. Dark thoughts are always racked up in the recesses of my head, like bats in the rafters. Which one had gotten out? I checked my posts, scrolling all the way back to Jan. 3.

Whatever I had posted that day was indeed gone.

But I also send my Facebook posts to Twitter. I checked it. Back to Jan. 3. And there it was. The offending post:

How about that? To hell with diplomacy. Now we just assassinate leaders we don’t like. 

This post had followed Trump’s announcement that day from Mar-a-Lago:

Hello, everybody.  Well, thank you very much.  And good afternoon…

Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani.

Hello. Thank you. Good afternoon. We killed an Iranian general.

Soleimani was supposed to be Trump’s bin Laden moment. Remember it? Maybe not. So much has happened since then.

Further investigation revealed  that as of January 11 Facebook (and Instagram, which Facebook owns) began censoring posts “that voice support for slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani to comply with US sanctions.”

Memes love hypocrisy.

It was a blow to my sense of self importance. I had merely been swept up in a dragnet along with the rest of the libtards. Millions of us, perhaps. Social media has standards for progressives, but not the president.

What was it about that post that Facebook found to be supportive of the murderous Soleimani? I wasn’t calling for any harm to come to Trump. The post, by an American citizen expressing an opinion, was merely suggesting exactly what it says:

To hell with diplomacy. Now we just assassinate leaders we don’t like. 

Diplomacy taking a back seat to a gun is how we do it here. Last year Brown University released the results of a study called the “Costs of War Project.” It was an estimate of the death toll from the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, from October of 2001 to October of 2018. The project placed the number of people killed during these U.S. military incursions to be at least – at least – 480,000. More than 244,000 of them were civilians. On top of that, in those three countries indirect deaths — from disease, displacement and the loss of infrastructure — was estimated to be in the millions.

The authors of the report added that its study only “scratches the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war.” Add the death tolls from Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, and the casualty figures from the U.S. war on terror are higher still.

United States foreign policy is an indiscriminate murder machine. The news these days confirms the correct answer here is not, “We live in a safer world thanks to our ability to kill our enemies.”

Living in oblivion is as dangerous as living a lie. Sometimes the lies are as dangerous as falsely shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Sometimes the lies are as dangerous as telling people there is no danger at all. The coronavirus is a hoax, Trump said, comparing it to the common flu. “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”

OK, so let’s accept the idea that you don’t care about the global responsibility of the U.S., and how it swaggers through the latitudes and longitudes. Let’s look at the numbskulls who are demanding, as Oswalt puts it so elegantly, “Open Fuddruckers!” Those folks – ignoring the advice of experts in medicine and epidemiology, and the body count – were emboldened by Trump tweeting “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

Trump is using the same strategy that has worked for him in the past. Creating confusion and division.  The Human Filibuster, Vice President Mike Pence, was on Meet the Press last Sunday morning, and insisted Trump is not calling for treason and insurrection.

OK, then. So what is he calling for?

We have our lives to live, we don’t always have time to monitor Machiavellian games. But life is wasted, if you’re not a seeker of truth.

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.

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