Jeff Spevak, Writer

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of his much-criticized invitation to the Taliban to come to Camp David for peace talks, and once again claimed he’d rescinded the offer because they had killed an American soldier days earlier.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

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Sept. 11

A beautiful morning, just like I remember from 10 years ago today.

1, A very compelling photo on the front page leads The Times‘ coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A section of the new memorial at the site of the World Trade Center. In the background, a waterfall and pool marking the footprint where one of the great towers once was. In the foreground, a section of blue granite engraved with the names of the victims. It it wet from a recent rain. The raindrops look like tears.

2, In its lead editorial, The Times recalls the country’s mood in the days following the tragedy. “Do you remember? It was an enormous, heartfelt desire to be changed. People wanted to be enlarged, to be called on to do more for country and community than ordinary life usually requires, to make this senseless horror count for something. It was also a public desire, a wish the be absorbed in some greater good, a re-imaging of the possibilities of our national life.” Alas, this spirit was misspent. “Based on false pretexts, we were drawn into a misdirected war that has exacted enormous costs in lives and money…. As a nation, we have done a better job of living with our fears, sadly, than nurturing the expansive spirit of community that arose in those early days.”

3, Columnist Thomas L. Friedman applauds Obama’s Thursday speech before Congress. “If the GOP thinks it can just obstruct Obama and hope that the economy tanks – so Republicans will benefit in the 2012 election – it will be a mistake for the country and the party. I believe most Americans want a Grand Bargain both in substance and in style.”

4, “In a series of rulings on the use of satellites and cell phones to track criminal suspects, judges around the country have been citing George Orwell’s 1984 to sound an alarm. They say the Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection from government invasion of privacy is in danger of being replaced by the futuristic surveillance state Orwell described.” The government wants to use your cell phone and GPS system as your Big Brother. American Civil Liberties has the surprising allies of concerned judges and a long-dead writer.

5, “The United States government offers tax incentives to companies pursuing medical breakthroughs, urban redevelopment and alternatives to fossil fuels. It also provides tax breaks for a company whose blockbuster hit this year was the gory video game Dead Space 2, which challenges players to advance through an apocalyptic battlefield by killing space zombies.”

6, “Authentic” is officially a fad word. Which means it is no longer authentic. Calculated authenticity, The Times notes, “is obvious in politics.”

7, Like most Americans, I get my news from the satirical comedy shows. The Sunday Review section each week includes  a handful of the weekly quiz questions from the NPR show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Question No. 3: “A San Francisco resident’s home was raided and searched, as he was harshly questioned by agents working for whom?” Answer: ” ‘Apple Investigators,’ escorted by armed San Francisco police officers, were searching for a lost iPhone prototype. Apple devotees were shocked to find out that Apple offered home invasions, and started lining up early outside the Apple stores to order one.”

8, On the next page, Brian McFadden’s cartoon, The Strip, offers the “Unpleasant Anniversary Activity Page”: In one panel, a kid explains 9/11 to one of his friends, “It’s a flawless and elaborate conspiracy committed by our incompetent government!”

9, Christopher Hitchens’ point of view often struck me as a bulldozer at work, and I’ve never read much of him. But he will soon be dead of cancer – even Hitchens readily admits this – and death has a way of bringing resurgent examination. So next week I’ll run out and buy his new collection, Arguably: Essays. A British citizen, Hitchens has adopted America for better and for worse. “At a time when America is experiencing a resurgent campaign to proclaim us a ‘Judeo-Christian nation,’ Hitchens delights in the plentiful evidence that the founders were not all that religious and certainly not interested in creating a sectarian country,” writes reviewer Bill Keller. For those who see Hitchens as all-too enjoying this American age of decay, Keller cites this Hitchens passage: “There is currently much easy talk about the ‘decline’ of my adopted country, both in confidence and resources. I don’t choose to join this denigration.” As Keller notes: “Christopher Hitchens: American patriot. We’ve done a lot worse.”

10, The Book Review also takes note of what  rose to the top of the best seller lists immediately after 9/11. Books about the new enemy, like Taliban, Bin Laden and The Koran For Dummies. A year later, we turned inward in a noisy way with Let’s Roll!, a memoir by the widow of a woman who lost her husband on Flight 93, and the more-tone deaf rants of Sean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ring, Ann Coulter’s Slander and, on the children’s picture book list, Lynne Cheney’s America, a “patriotic primer.”

The Critical Mass

Stories that smell as bad as Charlie Sheen

Did you hear? The president released his birth certificate this morning. He was born in Hawaii!

If you were going to rate this story on a scale defined by celebrity craziness, starting with Bill Cosby representing a high degree of civil believability, then the birther debate was Charlie Sheen. We shouldn’t be surprised that so many people were paying attention to the nonsense. We are a nation of Entertainment Tonight while Rome burns. Other stories we’ve been obsessed with are also ridiculously easy to prove false, with just the slightest amount of research:

President Obama is a Muslim.

Gay marriage makes a mockery of the institution of marriage. No, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liz Taylor, Lana Turner and Mickey Rooney (each married eight times) have taken care of that.

Teacher salaries have plunged Wisconsin into massive debt. Actually, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker earns $137,092 per year, lives in a home paid for by taxpayers and travels in  taxpayer-funded cars and airplanes. More significantly, even while looking at a $137 million hole in his budget, during his first two weeks in office this year Walker created $117 million in tax breaks for business donors to the Republican party.

Sometimes people I don’t know send e-mails from London, with horrible stories about how they’ve been robbed and they need money to get home, and can I please send money….

I also get emails from people I don’t know who tell me my penis is too small, and they can do something about it.

Regulation costs job-creating industries money. One year after the Gulf oil spill – caused by technology and management failure –  BP has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, and is likely to be responsible for billions more if BP officials are found criminally negligent in upcoming trials.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein has something to do with 9/11.

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Americans are against the health care reform law. Polls show that Americans are all in favor of the main tenants that have been enacted thus far, including prohibiting insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick, denying children insurance if they have pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26.

Cutting taxes eliminates debt. This has never happened in the history of our country.

God created the Earth and man in six days. Why doesn’t The Bible mention dinosaurs? They’d be pretty hard to miss.

On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, let’s celebrate the heritage of the Confederacy! Um, which heritage is that? Slavery, armed insurrection against the United States, or 620,000 dead soldiers?

Health insurance reform means tax dollars can be used to pay for abortions; that’s why Planned Parenthood must be defunded, unless Arizona Senator Jon Kyl was lying when he said 90 percent of its services are abortion related. A two-part answer. No, using federal funds for abortion is against the law.  And yes, Kyl was lying. As for Planned Parenthood – when even Kyl now confesses only 3 percent of its services are abortion related –  as a pro-lifer, wouldn’t you rather women get contraception help than face an unwanted pregnancy?

Americans can’t get enough of the Royal Wedding. A CBS/Vanity Fair poll shows that four percent of Americans say they care about the event. That just about covers all of the cable news hosts who have gone to London this week.

Death panels!

9/11 was an inside job.

Yes, that’s a real photo of the Loch Ness Monster.

Obama was a lousy student and still got into Harvard. As is the case with Obama’s birth certificate, there is not one shred of evidence to support this conjecture. In fact, all of the evidence is on the other side of the argument, backed up by any time we see this brilliant fellow in action. The only reason you might doubt his academic credentials is because you’re thinking, “He couldn’t have gotten into Harvard, he’s a black man.” And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re fool enough to believe this story….

Racism is dead.

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