Jeff Spevak, Writer

Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Category: Politics Page 2 of 48

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.

We believe lies because we want to

Jesus Christ, seen here as an orange blob, visits Notre Dame.

Can you see it? The image of Jesus Christ in the midst of the fire raging at Notre Dame cathedral?

Jesus also made an appearance earlier this year in some clouds over Italy during a sunset. All over the world, people are seeing Jesus in their food. The scientific name for this phenomena is pareidolia: The mind’s willingness to make something familiar out of random stimuli, such as colors or shadows. It’s all very subjective, of course. In the case of Jesus sightings, no one knows what Jesus actually looked like. In fact, there isn’t any historical evidence that someone named Jesus Christ actually existed.

I look at those flames exploding from the belly of Notre Dame and I see… well, to me it looks like Victor Hugo, whose “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is set in the cathedral. His words celebrated the centuries-long, organic growth of that beautiful building:

Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

We damn near lost it in a single afternoon. Perhaps because of a cigarette carelessly tossed aside by one of the contractors working on the building. Even civilization’s massive edifices of stone can be gone in a few moments. What chance is there for something elusive, easily malleable?

Like thought?

Pareidolia is the new normal. Seeing things that are not there. In today’s new Orwellian era, in which truth does not matter, random stimuli is rudely dumped at our feet and re-configured by the renowned conspiracy theorist Donald Trump.

Reading through just this week’s disaster buffet of chaos, I see that Trump’s nominee as the nation’s new director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, has withdrawn his name from consideration. Trump blamed pressure from the “LameStream Media.” Hours later, when asked why his administration hadn’t uncovered what appears to a serious lack of credentials, as well as some résumé padding on Ratcliffe’s part, Trump told reporters, “You vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press, and you vet for me.”

So, the serious responsibility of picking a serious person for a serious position is shared with the “LameStream Media.”

Or how about this: Trump is claiming that the tariffs he’s directing on imported goods from China are being paid for by the Chinese government. You’d be hard pressed to find an economist who won’t agree that those tariffs aren’t actually being paid for by the American people through higher price tags on Chinese imports when they arrive here.

Or how about this: Trump continued his attack on an American city, Baltimore, which he has called a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Yes, like all aging, major cities that are struggling with a shifting economic base, Baltimore has many issues. Here in Rochester, we share those troubles. And Trump is the president of the country where you’ll find these cities. He bears some responsibility.

Or how about this: This week alone, we’ve seen mass shootings at a garlic festival (three dead, 16 injured), a Texas Walmart (20 dead, 26 injured) and a trendy bar district in Ohio (nine dead, 26 injured). Before going to work, the Texas killer posted an online comment about “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Perhaps he thought he had the approval of a racist president who has been warning us for two years of this “invasion,” as he also calls it, of our southern border.

Once again, no good guy with a gun was available to stop these bad guys with guns. But that lie will go on. In addition to arming school teachers, we must now issue guns to bartenders, farmers and check-out clerks.

Also this week, at a ceremony honoring 9/11 first responders, Trump claimed to have had some kind of role in the heroics that emerged from that day, although he was vague about what it was that he might have done to help out. No one saw him digging through rubble, searching for survivors. What we do know is that, during a radio interview shortly after the attack, Trump made the claim that, with the World Trade Center reduced to rubble, he now owned the tallest building in New York City.

And even that claim, grotesquely self serving, was a lie.

These lies are brazen, and often easy to verify as false or nonsensical. So why do so many people believe them?

Perhaps Trump’s supporters choose to ignore facts because he says what they want to hear, even if he fails to deliver on his promises.

Some of Trump’s supporters are racists. They understand he’s a white nationalist who calls for people of color who disagree with him to “go back to where they came from.”

Some of Trump’s supporters recognize that he supports their insistence that they be well armed, even as our televisions announce BREAKING NEWS of mass shooting after mass shooting, breaking news which rarely occur in countries with tougher gun laws.

Some of Trump’s supporters approve of his southern-border policies, whipping up fear to justify separating families, caging children and turning back Central American refugees who are fleeing crime and poverty. They believe his lies that the refugees are disease-ridden criminals when, in actuality, this country built of immigrants benefits economically and socially from their presence.

To Trump, those detention-center cages crowded with immigrants are perfectly acceptable, but Baltimore is not.

Some of Trump’s supporters deny the existence of climate change, even as scientists tell us that the planet’s weather is evolving even more quickly than anticipated due to human activities. Climate-change denial is led, of course, by the fossil-fuel industry, which fears the job-producing, clean energy of the wind turbines mocked by Trump. It’s a lie that energy-efficient technology costs jobs; the coal industry has been on the decline for decades, and today employs less than 75,000 people. It is being replaced by cheaper energy sources, such as natural gas and wind turbines. In fact, environment-safe technology now employs twice as many workers as all U.S. fossil fuel sectors combined.

As temperatures driven by climate change rise, millions of people will face floods, forest fires, extreme weather, food and water shortages, and displacement from their homes.

What a real White House looks like.

And on, and on, and on go the lies. You would hope that time would be the architect of greater things. But we continue to flee back, to our dark caves. Rather than inspiration – the Obama White House lit up in rainbow colors in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry – we’re seeing a dark political pareidolia of exclusion and hate.

The truth is, our belief in lies is a longtime mechanism, employed for the convenience of our conscience. The genocide of the native people living here, and the reliance of slaves to build this country, was eased by the lie that those people were less than human. For all of Trump’s flailing about on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and his breaking the treaties that hold this Armageddon in check, the United States remains the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in war, when we unnecessarily dropped two bombs on Japan, which was already beaten, killing thousands of innocent people.

Hiroshima. Just because we could do it.

So we allow a prolific liar, an admitted sex offender, a man who cheated business partners, a common grifter, a gleeful tax evader, a man whose words undermine our legal system and democracy, a man who insults the disabled and war heroes, a man whose trips to the golf course have so far cost the nation $110 million, and a mentally unstable leader, to live in our White House, and represent us. This ugly American.

This man is dead inside. He has no soul.

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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