Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Pathetic Little Distraction

This unremarkable e-mail arrived in one of my in-boxes today. It's from the official Obama reelection campaign committee, Obama for America. It doesn't ask for money, surprisingly, but it touts the President's plan to make cars more fuel efficient. It pissed me the hell off. A lot; and not because of what it said...I stopped reading it part way through and didn't even bother finishing it for this blog post.

It pissed me off because this weekend the administration and its Democratic allies seem to have been busy doing absolutely nothing more than preparing a massive appeasement of the tea party extremists over the fake debt ceiling issue, and this pathetic e-mail arrives in my box insulting the intelligence of people who once voted for Obama — yes, that includes me — with its lame attempt to distract its audience with table scraps when a massive betrayal of American social programs is in the offing. It is utterly cynical and shameless. And I'm pissed off at myself for falling into the trap of thinking in some small corner of my consciousness that maybe the movement of people that swept Obama to power would be enough to actually change anything at all when the right-ward trajectory of American politicians for decades is plain for all to see. This sad little e-mail is embarrassing not for what it says but for what it doesn't say, which is anything relevant at all to a watershed moment in American politics.

Take me off your mailing list please.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Left Rev. Mc D: Eugene McDaniels, R.I.P.

Singer, songwriter and music producer Eugene McDaniels passed on yesterday at the age of 76. Who? You might not know his name but if you were around in the 1970s you know and love some of the songs he penned, the two most famous of which are Roberta Flack's big hit "Feel like Making Love" and Les McCann and Eddie Harris's "Compared to What."

Gene McDaniels
got his start in the very early sixties singing pop soul. He had a string of hits, "A Hundred Pounds of Clay, and "Tower of Strength" come to mind. He had a beautiful voice and these are masterpieces from a very mainstream genre. But times changed, and those times set McDaniels free.

"Compared to What," although not performed by McDaniels himself, went to number one on the legendary 1969 Les McCann/Eddie Harris album "Swiss Movement." Very different than his earliest soul songs, it's been covered by hundreds of artists, including Roberta Flack, who became one of his key songwriting partners in the 1970s and the linchpin of his behind-the-scenes commercial success. It's one of those songs, like the work of the somewhat harder-edged Gil Scott-Heron, also recently lost, that is foundational to hip-hop with its almost chanted lyric couplets.

"Compared to What" is a political classic, a bitter statement of the times:

"Slaughterhouse is killin' hogs
Twisted children killin' frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin' logs
Tired old lady kissin' dogs
I hate the human love of that stinking mutt (I can't use it!)
Try to make it real — compared to what? C'mon baby now!

The President, he's got his war
Folks don't know just what it's for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
We're chicken-feathers, all without one nut. God damn it!
Tryin' to make it real — compared to what? (Sock it to me)"

About the same time McDaniels created the lyrics and the strikingly original vocal arrangements for jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's album Now. It's an almost psychedelic existential concept album, full of the creative ferment of the moment, bridging the acoustic and electric sounds, and raising political and spiritual consciousness. McDaniels also created similar vocals for Billy Harper's 1973 Strata-East album Capra Black that show a masterful command of harmony.

While McDaniels also went on to produce songs and albums for a long range of artists with a more commercial sound albeit with his musical integrity intact, to me his most exciting works are his two early 1970s Atlantic solo albums "Outlaw" and "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse," and his side project "Universal Jones." (That's the track "River" from Universal Jones above). Styling himself "The Left Rev McD," McDaniels immerses himself in a genre-bending hippiefied contusion of lyric and sonic transgression. The album Outlaw features the cover statement "Under conditions of national emergency, like now, there are only two kinds of people – those who work for freedom and those who do not … the good guys vs. the bad guys.”

Check out some of the lyrics for the title tune of Outlaw:
"She's a nigger in jeans
She's an outlaw she don't wear a bra
She's a whitey in jeans she's an outlaw she don't wear a bra
Her disposition is mean
She's the grooviest lady you ever saw
She does not fry her hair
She's an outlaw she don't wear a bra
She does not dye her hair
She's an outlaw she don't wear a bra
She thinks justice is fair
That's why she's living with nature not the law
She bows down to no man
Although she's in love with three..."

And there's "Love Letter to America":

"Hey America
You could of had it any way you wanted it
You could of been a real democracy
You could of been free
Hey America...
I could have loved you more
More than you will ever know
You are my homeland
Hey America
The only thing you can respect is violence now
You lost the gift of love don't ask me how
But you lost it now..."

Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse continues his exploration of a psychedelic sound somewhere between jazz, rock and folk. It also serves up a healthy dose of anger at the times.

Here's some of "Supermarket Blues":
"Strolled up to the counter
Slammed my hand down on the cashier and said, 'scuse me please
But I bought this can of pineapple the other day
When I got it home it was a can of peas, goddamn
If I'd wanted those I'd have picked my nose
And thrown on in the back to the vegetable freeze
Just then the supermarket manager hit me from behind
Brought me to my knees y'all
I've got the supermarket blues and it's really more than I can use
I've got the supermarket blues and if I've got to choose
It's really them I'd like to lose

When I came to, sirens were wailing away
When I touched my face my hand turned red
As I struggled from the floor the crowd called out for more
Some old lady kicked me in the head, goddamn
For God's sakes lady I only want to trade a can of peas for a lousy loaf of bread
Just then a cop rushed in and joined the fun
Threatened my life with some lead y'all
The old lady who kicked me in the head
Called me a communist jerk and just generally got uptight y'all
She said "how can a savage like you know anything, boy
You ain't even white," goddamn
I really wish I had stayed home and gotten high
Instead of coming into the street and having this awful fight..."

While McDaniels continued to work up until the day he died, he did seem to withdraw from the urban chaos that seems that seems to have haunted him. In the last clip below he describes himself as a "hermit living in Maine," with his wife of may years.

"There's a river somewhere
That flows through the lives of everyone
I know it flows through the valleys and the mountains and the meadows of time
yes it do
There's a star in the sky
Shines in the life of everyone
You know it shines in the valleys and the mountains and the meadows of time
Yes it do
There's a voice from the past speaks through the lives of everyone
You know it speaks through the the valleys and the mountains and the meadows in time
Yes it do"

—from "River," 1972

What a great loss, but what a poetic legacy of music.

"Lovin' Man" from 1971, on his album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.

"Now" from Bobby Hutcherson's 1969 album of that name on Blue Note.

Last year McDaniels talks about "Compared to What." See his website for more of these.

Lyrics copyright by Eugene McDaniels; transcribed here by me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Congressional Debt Ceiling Negotiations

"The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine (waves paper to the crowd - receiving loud cheers and "Hear Hears"). Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you ..." — Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, on the Munich accord of 1938, announcing how in giving Hitler what he wanted (ie, Czechoslovakia), he had prevented war in Europe.

Thank God John Boehner, President Obama, and Harry Reid are negotiating with the Tea Party to prevent an economic catastrophe! What could go wrong?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Baby You're a Firework!

I'm having a moment.

I've fallen in love with a sappy, manipulative, incredibly commercial top 40 pop song — post chart peak no less — aimed at approximately teenage level, and I'm not sorry about it. The song is Katy Perry's "Firework," and that's the extraordinarily uplifting video for it above. Filmed in Budapest of all places, it's got a chubby teen girl dealing with self esteem and courage, kissing gay boys, a child with cancer, a kid defusing violence with magic and another kid stopping a battering parent. It's got happy happy people dancing in unison and cool and improbable special effects, and it all adds up to a positive inspirational message about self-empowerment. It's got a catchy, anthemic sing-along quality, and while the lyrics are precious almost to the point of preachy, there's something about this song that really grabs me.

"Do you ever feel already buried deep
Six feet under scream
But no one seems to hear a thing

Do you know that there's still a chance for you
Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July

Cause baby you're a firework
Come on show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y"

The truth is I can remember being the person who needed this message. Heck, sometimes today I still need this message. I remember a specific moment in my adult life during my period of spiritual development when I was delivered this message and I remember how much it changed my life. When the world gets hard it can feel like a luxury to hang on to this kind of optimism and resolve. If the memory of being a sometimes alienated teen lives on in my middle-aged psyche, this song's dose of self-empowerment and spiritual reaffirmation comes as a refreshing reminder of, well, my own talents and abilities.

Go ahead, call me a little girl.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Islamophobic Terrorism: Mainstream Racism Comes Home To Roost

No sooner had the smoke started clearing from the rubble in the streets of Oslo, the word was out: jihadi Islamic terrorists have struck again. Even the New York Times briefly reported a sudden claim of responsibility alleged to have been issued by some previously unreported al-Qaeda-like sectlet. Then came the reports of shootings on a "youth camp" outside of Oslo. Soon a shooter was apprehended: He was distinctly blonde and Scandinavian. Between the bombing and the shooting, at least 75 people were dead and dozens more wounded. The news stories changed: the terrorist was now claimed to be a Norwegian convert to Islam. To fit the standard established media narrative, as more came to be known of Anders Breivik, the word "terrorist" started appearing less and the word "madman," more. For days afterward, the American wingnut site World Net Daily ran a poll: "Do you think more Islamic terrorism of the kind that hit Norway today will visit U.S.?"

And then out came the truth: in a propaganda video slideshow, a record of copious web posting, a facebook page, and a thousand-page manifesto, Anders Breivik announced himself to be not only a Christian, but a dedicated crusader (in the most literal sense of that word) to fighting Muslim immigration to Europe and its enablers, "multiculturalism" and "cultural Marxism." He revealed himself to be an ardent supporter of Zionism and the State of Israel. And he revealed himself to be an ardent fan of the whole roster of pseudo-scientific European and American Islamophobes including the vile Pam Geller of the American Atlas Shrugs hate blog. He announced the beginning of a historic struggle to defeat a Muslim takeover of Europe on the scale of the war that defeated the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna in 1683 (that battle is shown in the illustration above: it is apparently a central theme of European Islamophobes and a recurring motif in Breivik's opus). His Norwegian targets were chosen because, out of some sci-fi scenario, he felt it was necessary to snuff out the next generation of "cultural Marxists." The youth camp, it turns out, was affiliated with the ruling Norwegian Labour (socialist) Party, and routinely held solidarity workshops with international struggles like Palestine and the Western Sahara (although condemning the attack, the American fascist commentator Glenn Beck charmingly suggested the youth camp sounded like "the Hitler Youth.")

Here's the thing: while Breivik's murderous rampage may place him on the violent fringe, his ideology is something quite less than fringe. Right-wing politicians across Europe in the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and elsewhere have been stoking the flames of hatred against Muslim immigrants and against "multiculturalism." While not everybody might be waxing nostalgic about the Knights Templar and the Winged Polish Hussars as Breivik does, clearly this idea of a white Europe besieged by brown heathens has caught the imagination of many, many people.

And the ideas of Islamophobia are seeping into mainstream discourse.

I saw this snippet from British "new atheist" Richard Dawkins posted at Lenin's Tomb earlier this year. In it the allegedly humanist Dawkins, a darling of intellectual liberals in the U.K. and America, speculates: "Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?" Wait, Dawkins is willing to speculate about casting his lot with (wildly conservative) evangelical Christians just to defeat the evil Muslim menace?? Dawkins' suggestion that Muslims represent a force of "unmitigated evil" that transcends his normal principles should be a danger sign that his ideology is infected with European nationalism that is ultimately racist at its core.

I have written earlier about "Everybody draw Muhammad day" in the U.S.: in my opinion it's an excellent example of how what might look like a laudable action in support of civil liberties becomes transformed into a mass demonization of the Muslim "other," a crazed, armed, and bloodthirsty mob threatening the foundations of Western civilization. How easily defense of secularism can be manipulated into an orgy of racist stereotyping, disinformation, and alarmist hype.

If in the U.S. the most outspokenly anti-Muslim politicians are obviously bigoted Republicans like Herman Cain and Congressman Peter King, one can see a potential trajectory based on how anti-Muslim immigrant attitudes have taken hold in Europe. A number of the right-wing anti-immigrant politicians in Europe are openly gay, claiming in Islam a special threat to European social tolerance. But this is a specious argument, presupposing that Muslim immigrants are not only specially predisposed to violently oppose homosexuality, but also closed to the possibility of coexistence. This despite the fact the Islamic scripture on homosexuality closely follows that of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity which, it must be acknowledged, birthed European secular society. In my experience in discussions on gay blogs, I can easily see Muslim immigration becoming — perhaps thanks to the Zionist investment in pinkwashing — a wedge issue that starts to chip off layers of privileged gays toward a conservative agenda. The condemnation of Islam's alleged social conservatism is not usually a serious theological discussion but an amalgam of fantasist assertions and alarmist generalizations usually invoking the notion that all Muslims want nothing more than to behead anyone who stands in their world-dominating way. Note that the anti-Muslim immigrant politicos, gays included, are so wrapped up in their narrative of these murderous "others" there is no thought to the bridges that might be built, for example by queer muslim immigrants (and there are plenty) between communities that might unite to find common — multicultural, and even class — interests.

Here's where, most closely tied to neoconservatism, the faux authorities on Islam step in: Pam Geller, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Bruce Bawer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others. These cultural theorists beat a drum of hatred toward Muslims, hatred that is transformed into violence at the hands of activists like Anders Breivik.

And here's the truth you won't get from the media narrative: according to Europol, terrorist "attacks by separatist/nationalist groups far outnumber attacks by Islamists." (See Matthew Yglesias at Thinkprogress). It is not the Muslims who are bringing violence to Europe's streets. And on the contrary, fascist nationalist groups like the English Defense League (which Breivik was apparently in contact with) have been organizing not only behind the scenes, but openly provocative street actions as well.

This is a photo (from TPM) of one of the hate-fests held to protest the downtown Manhattan Islamic Community Center in 2010. Note the pro-torture "Waterboarding Instructor." These are not thoughtful secular humanists, this is a reactionary mob. The 75 acts of murder committed by Anders Breivik are an easy-to-understand warning to take the mainstream ideology of Islamophobia dead seriously. Are Breivik's writings the "Mein Kampf" of a future mass movement, as one leftwing blogger suggests? I'd rather not wait to find out.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love Triumphs.

I'll write about Islamophobia tomorrow. Today, love triumphed. Above, one of the first gay couples to get married today in New York City. God, am I gonna cry every time I look at my own blog now? (More pictures at Gawker, where I found this one.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Terrorism in Norway: the fruit of Islamophobia. Check out Mondoweiss.

The best possible result in the Washington debt game? Maybe it's no deal. Check out thinkprogress.

Amy Winehouse, RIP, sad, but her choices in life were pretty clear. She was a real talent.

The weather? Still impossible. Uh oh, out of iced coffee.

Friday, July 22, 2011


My computer is not in my air-conditioned room: Concerned about spontaneous combustion as the temperature inside at 10:30 pm reads 95 degrees fahrenheit, I'm going to go cool off and finish the third book of "The Game of Thrones" instead of write profound things about the debt game in Washington or the implementation of the DADT repeal or any number of things.

Man, it's hot!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today in Corporate Outrage... A Special Edition of News from the Malabar Front

So here's what I noticed, when I had, um, a little time on my hands. Two toilet paper rolls, purchased a couple months apart. Same brand...that would be Scott Tissue. (Creepily, I've also just noticed the headline on the Scott brands site is "Bring home some new family values." Fucking social conservatism catchwords from paper designed to clean your butt, ugh.) Anyway, in our economic-crisis-ridden world where the pundits and economists swear inflation isn't a problem — not a problem enough to add a Cost-of-Living-Increase to social security benefits anyway — you can plainly see that the cheap bastards at Scott, known as an economy brand, have shortened their roll of toilet tissue by about half an inch. Now, depending on how you, um, use this product, you're probably not going to miss that half an inch. But somebody's paying a lot of attention to what that savings has gone to...wiping out Scott's falling rate of profit.

Scott's parent company is Kimberly Clark. Speaking of not missing half an inch, Kimberly Clark's CEO Thomas J. Falk made approximately $9 million dollars last year. Poor guy, he didn't get a raise from the previous year either! And speaking of a lot of crap, in the first quarter of 2011 Kimberly Clark did five billion dollars in business, up from last year. On the other hand their actual profits are down. Maybe with all the money they're saving they can buy a billboard in Times Square like Charmin did.

A quote from
George Orwell's 1984 is in order:

"As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April. ...

As though in confirmation of this, a trumpet call floated from the telescreen just above their heads. However, it was not the proclamation of a military victory this time, but merely an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty. ...

It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, [Winston] reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grammes a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it. Parsons swallowed it easily, with the stupidity of an animal. The eyeless creature at the other table swallowed it fanatically, passionately, with a furious desire to track down, denounce, and vaporize anyone who should suggest that last week the ration had been thirty grammes. Syme, too-in some more complex way, involving doublethink, Syme swallowed it. Was he, then, alone in the possession of a memory?"

Don't worry, there's no inflation! The economy is recovering!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anti-Americana: The People's War

"Long Live the Victory of the People's War!" shouts this classic poster from Cultural Revolution-era China. While the concept of "People's War" is a central Maoist tenet formulated during the guerrilla war against the Japanese occupation of China in the Second World War, the slogan itself is vintage Lin Piao, the Cultural Revolution architect and presumptive heir to Mao who was disgraced (and killed) in 1971. You can read his 1967 appreciation of the Maoist theory here. Back in the day that essay titled with this slogan was bound in a little red vinyl booklet just like the more famous Quotations from Chairman Mao, and studied and toted around as a talisman of revolutionary fervor by radical students around the world. I have a copy myself...that I bought second hand. For many Marxists, the theory of people's war was a point of divergence since it suggested a path of ex-urban military confrontation rather than an urban, political class struggle.

Obviously the graphic focus of this poster is updated from the 1940s to the 1960s worldwide struggle against (American) imperialism. The central motif shows Vietnamese, Cuban and African fighters resolutely facing forward while the flames of revolution redden the sky in the background. You know me, I'm against war. But a little more of that righteous revolutionary fervor might do the world some good.

(I'm so proud of myself... I translated this myself by guessing into google translate: 人民战争的胜利万岁! Ah, modern technology. Anyway, I haven't been posting many of these lately, but this is one of many many classic anti-imperialist propaganda art images I've featured here. Click here to see those in the Cahokian's Anti-Americana archive.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vampires Are Real

Today fifty "bipartisan" U.S. senators and President Obama himself were all excited because they're reaching a potential solution to the legislative impasses presented by the need to extend the U.S. debt ceiling that will allow the government to meet its bills. And — surprise! — the solution is some variant of the despicable Simpson-Bowles plan that Obama had contracted out to a bunch of right-wing politicians acting as consultants last year. The new potential deal is the work of the hilariously named "Gang of Six" coalition of conservative Republicans and blue-dog Democrats.

While the actual details seem not to have been formally announced, they don't seem quite so hilarious: the so-called compromise seems to actually include across-the-board tax...cuts, including for the super rich, supposedly offset by a rewriting of the tax code to eliminate deductions and loopholes. And the deal includes cutbacks in all the social programs that Obama claimed he would defend: medicare, medicaid, social security, and even the half-assed healthcare reform. The differences between this bipartisan bill in the Senate and the teabagger/Republican bill in the House (that Obama has promised to veto) are only of degree, not principle.

So what does that mean exactly? Well I will tell you.

A few years ago I worked in the music business. Although I have never been anything close to rich, I had a job — a career even — that paid me more money than I thought I would ever make, at least in my last year there. I worked for that company for sixteen years in the end, after over a decade of what would look to most people like marginal employment elsewhere. I never thought I'd be able to afford to own my place of residence, certainly not in a city like New York. Well strange things happened: my mother was almost killed by medical malpractice. After springing back to life after selling all of her belongings, we had to change from end-of-life planning to planning for the future. It was the height of the housing bubble, and an elderly woman with a microscopic income from a pension and social security, albeit with a lump of cash from selling her belongings, and a middle-aged guy with a terrible credit history but an okay-paying job could get a mortgage and buy a house.

And so we did. The mortgage note was high, but all things considered, it seemed a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and we bought a place big enough for both of us in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. It turned out we could afford it, although it wasn't easy. It turns out that the tax benefit to owning your own home is what makes it possible for people like me without money to spare. A whole bunch of money would come back in the beginning of each year, just when it needed to: The interest payments you make on your mortgage turn out to be deductible against your income.

Then, after sixteen years at my job, I got laid off. It was at the beginning of what became the horrible recession that the country (world?) still hasn't climbed out of.

I was out of work for five months, and lucky to get a freelance gig that I still have four years later, at something around half my previous pay. We still have the house, though my savings from the good years are just about gone. I pay the horribly ill-named Freelancers Union exorbitant fees for my own health insurance, and money is tight. (Thank God I got out of the credit card extortion racket and have no other debt.) But at the beginning of each year I'm busted: and that tax benefit is the thin green line that keeps me and my elderly and near-invalid mother housed. Here's what this exciting financial compromise means to me: these bloodsucking vampire politicians will take my home. There is no way that cutting my taxes by the amount being proposed will offset the losses from the elimination of the mortgage interest deductions. None. Unlike the rich people in our government, I don't have a cushion of cash. The economic crisis took all that from me already. It will be impossible to continue to pay the note. And guess what: since this is going to be the case for millions of "middle-class" people just like me, owning a home is no longer going to be feasible for anyone but the super rich. Which means my home will be unsellable.

This is the way the politicians want it.

They're trying their damnedest to come up with a pretty way to take our money for themselves. This is not the undoing of the sixties welfare state or the FDR new deal, this is the beginning of the undoing of every social advance since the late 19th-century confrontation between labor and the robber barons of industry.

Vampires walk the earth. And disturbingly, the vampires who want to replace the current vampire-in-chief are even more bloodthirsty. And half the country is cheering them on. And since when are "gangs," of six or any number, on anybody's side but their own?

Welcome to Zombie Land.

(Graphic is not from the government, but from the guilty-pleasure vampire soap opera "True Blood" on HBO).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murdoch Empire Crumbling?

I've been reading with great pleasure about the scandal that has befallen media mogul Rupert Murdoch's empire in the U.K. Not only has the flagship newspaper of Murdoch's empire been shut down ("voluntarily"), Murdoch's efforts to expand his television holdings in the U.K. have been spiked. Even better than this, his main English henchwoman Rebekah Brooks has been arrested, and his high-ranking employees on both sides of the Atlantic have started resigning.

The scandal in the U.K. broke out when it was discovered that Murdoch's people had hacked into the phones not only of gossip-foddering royalty, but of a murdered girl and families of soldiers killed in the various wars that the U.K. is helping out the United States with. The British are outraged — outraged — that Murdoch's organization seems to be put itself above the law and decency. Nevermind that just as in the U.S., Murdoch's media is incredibly popular. We'll set aside the hypocrisy for a moment and say it couldn't happen to a more disgusting media mogul.

Once Australian, Murdoch is of course not British, but American. And let us say a prayer to the Gods old and new that the wave of revulsion and ostracism sweeping the U.K. crosses the ocean and targets the American center of Murdoch's empire, his Fox News television channels — better called Faux News, or even more bitterly, Radio Rwanda. It would be nice to see someone find that his vile racist tabloids like the New York Post and his venture into respectability, the Wall Street Journal, are infested with the same illegal practices. We all know that Murdoch's American empire, thanks to the hideous Roger Ailes among others, are already far removed from anything resembling actual journalism, but given the lines the British operation crossed, it's hard to imagine that the American Murdoch culture is any less criminal. Time will fingers are crossed that somebody finds the dirt that is sure to be there.

Faux News is propaganda of the worst sort. It keeps its audience riveted with a diet of fear mongering and lies, and has become the paid host to dozens of the nation's leading right-wing parasites; its talking heads are among the most vacuously plastic and utterly unblinking and shameless uninformed morons I have ever seen. Anyone with half a brain can see the sickness that infects Faux News and its print allies. I for one hope that finally we're about to see its putrescence made clear for all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Echoes of a Past Life: New York City Snapshot 1981

I was looking through some papers and found a carbon copy of a letter I had written to a friend almost thirty years ago, a few months after I moved to New York City. It's not particularly profound, but it had a nice description of my impressions of my new home. Following is an excerpt.

November 24, 1981

In general New York and my job agree with me. I like the city a whole lot; there's lots to do and see, and a lot of it's quite new to me.

I've been going on long walks to see the city, and the walks always prove worthwhile. There's Washington Square, down in the Village, which on Saturday afternoons is filled with people; one weekend there were at least two jazz groups playing for change, plus a few individual musicians, a fire-eater, drug sellers, etc.

The street people here are all interesting. Near my office was an amazing old black woman playing a cheap portable plastic organ: she had a huge smile on her face, a couple American flags stuck on a table, and played old favorites that somehow came out sounding like bizarre avant-garde classical music (Penderecki?). I remember also a young white guy playing guitar and singing folkish popular music (not very well at that) with a youngish black lady doing harmonies at his feet,

All of this is not to mention the transvestites in the gay part of the Village. Notable is black drag-bag lady named Cec (short for Cecily?) who wanders around at 3 in the morning giving profound advice. Last weekend after a bunch of us went out dancing we stopped in a 24-hour coffee joint around 5 am; sitting at the counter was an immaculate dressed and clean man having coffee and bagels with a bag lady. My friends tell me the guy is also a derelict, but sometimes he dresses up and cleans up, but always goes back to the gutter.

There is a frustration to the city: it's very crowded and this means one just has to accept a number of things. One has to accept the long lines everywhere, the crowded subways, the rot and decay. There's a fatalism here; people just die all the time for walking down the street and having a building fall down on them (or part of it anyway).

Living so closely with imminent non-discriminating death doesn't seem to make people value life more; I think people take life pretty much unseriously a lot of times, but this means people are peculiarly more tolerant.

Every once in a while someone just blows up — if a subway train is pulled out of service in the middle of its run often an older woman (usually) just decides she's upset that she has to get off the train and wait — it's a feeling of helplessness: they'll start to yell at anyone within earshot, not as though the victim of their yells could make things better, but that becomes irrelevant. It's more a way of letting off steam to be able to cope with the frustration of living here. The bureaucratism of city services is incredible here; but you just have to put up and shut up.

(The photo is not mine: it's a still from the movie "Style Wars," about NYC graffiti; it came out in 1982 so it seemed to fit.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anti-war Anthems: Ursula Rucker

A few weeks ago when jazz poet/prophet Gil Scott-Heron passed, I asked "who would tell the truth" in his absence. I realized shortly after that I had a prime candidate in mind in Ursula Rucker, a Philadelphia-based poet and singer. She's recorded three conventional albums, released two digital-only albums, and has worked as a featured guest with a host of important artists on the cutting edge of socially/spiritually/politically conscious music.

The video above is "Awakening," from the 2007 album Play with the Changes by the genius British duo 4hero. The chill-out groove is pure 4hero but the lyrical message is all Ursula Rucker: a sort of dialogue between mother and daughter about carrying the torch to the next generation.

"Sister girl wanna tell you about this thing
that's been weighing heavy on my heart
haunts both my dreams and my first breath,
hmmm where to start well
Revolution it seems has become an antique when
in my youth revolution was what we rose with the sun to seek
we were fierce

Now, our glory days are nothing but a page,
in an edge worn book
an afro a raised fist,
a black beret, black pride
set aside to mere history,
it saddens me,
hmm it saddens me,
but will these words fall on deaf ears cos my tears won't
fill up the riverbed of resistance and change,
it's gone dry
and gone and unkown are the names which gave that river its
tranquility, its beautiful force and godspeed
rise up out of the complacency induced sleep
we need, an Awakening.

Bring the noise daughter
now is the time for you and your generation to put this universal
chaos in order...

But Mama, the resistance seemed so futile,
when all the while, government and media massacre my dreams,
We, my brothers and sisters and me,
are at the mercy of Dotcoms,
Bombs that kill at least 30 daily
the constant downward spiral of music and humanity,
a general lack of concern, knowledge and history,
our potential leaders and spokespeople are chasing
materialistic ideals
seems our fates have been sealed with a Bling Bling kiss...

Mama, i still question the meanings of freedom and peace
but i will not retreat, i will instead meet
this challenge head on and heart strong.
Sing my protest songs..."

Rucker's poetry is often political like this, delivered in a beautifully eloquent shifting hybrid of poetry slam, singing, rap and confession: it's hip-hop at its most creative and conscious. I saw her perform once in New York City backed by only a guitarist with a sequencer: I was spellbound. She's angry sometimes, righteously indignant; she really knows how to preach. But if she can channel an angry Mother Earth as she does in 4hero's "Loveless" (another great video on youtube), she can also be vulnerable and even maternal.

"Release" from Rucker's 2003 album Silver or Lead, featuring music by NY Latin/groove DJ Little Louie Vega, is her 9/11 song:

"And blue that day
When, everything changed
What changed?
Who really changed?...

When towers be falling
And Babylon be calling your name, my name
How will we answer?
How will we answer?

With dread?
With faith?
With misplaced power or power of prayer?
With bigotry?
With humanity?
With love?
With love

Release your heart"

She reverently follows the footsteps of important, and too often forgotten, female voices like Sonia Sanchez and Jayne Cortez who married poetry, music, feminist consciousness, and political commitment. Importantly she brings a youthful accessibility and hipness like Dana Bryant and Jill Scott, though I find her focus sharper and her edge harder. Aside from 4hero and Louie Vega, she's worked with Jazzanova, the Roots, King Britt, and even slick UK acid jazz group Incognito. Her recitations marry well with the European techno-groove sensibility that harvests American jazz-funk of the 1970s for inspiration, which also means she's perfect for my own taste in music.

While not all of her work is political, when she makes a statement I can't think of anyone else who presents the politics of social justice and liberation in such a profoundly spiritual way. From her perspective these things are not separate: the way human beings treat each other is called to a higher level of respect and consciousness. While these songs are not single-issue anti-war tunes, her observation of the blights on our world and society is unsparing and far-reaching.

This song is less overtly political, but a live version of the highlight title track from her most recent album "She Said," this one borders rock and roll. It's impossible to forget that hers is a woman's perspective, where love and hope share space with hope, bitterness and frustration. She specializes in, well, the truth.

As she sings on her recent album: "Wake the fuck up, cause t'ings have run amock!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kasama: Coming to Terms with a Legacy of Homophobia

When I was active in the organized left many years ago, the world stage was still marked by the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and depending on how you counted, by a strange three-way flux between the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and the People's Republic of China. Although its days were waning, the organized left counted numerous factions of every conceivable ideological variant in relationship to this grand world struggle, from loyal followers of a political line straight out of Moscow or Beijing (or Tirana) to heretical factions breaking from some line of orthodoxy and allegiance at a dozen spots along some timeline from the very beginning of the twentieth-century. With the seeming implosion of what claimed to be Marxism some twenty years ago many of these organizations disintegrated or faded away. Frankly, many of them deserved to fall into ignominy. Even though many of these organizations challenged the notion that the Soviet empire had anything to do with the working-class triumph envisioned by Marx, no stripe of socialist or communist organization seemed to weather that season untouched.

Now in a new millennium, in a world radically changed and realigned, it seems, at least to my eye, that leftists are trying to find their footing again. While my personal opinion of Marxism and Leninism remains unsettled, it's obvious to me that there is a crisis of leadership around the world. Whether it's militant workers action against an avowedly socialist government in Greece, or the mass protests in the Middle East, or even here at home where outside of the amazing Wisconsin protests most of the people taking their issues to the street are the right-wing teabagger mob, it's obvious that the people in power are staying in power because there is no clear ideology of opposition. I've been following a number of left-wing websites which strike me as attempting to re-grow a meaningful left. The most exciting part of this to me is that following the obvious failure or defeat of the left in the last century, the people engaged in this attempt are going over the dogma of the past and trying to find what to hang on to and what to discard.

The Kasama Project is an organization and website based in Chicago that has been running some really fascinating discussions on the legacy of the last-century's left movement (as well as information and discussion on today's struggles). Organized primarily around people with a history in Maoism, including former cadre of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Kasama's discussions are particularly thoughtful and challenging. While I often find much to disagree with, I give them full credit for daring to look backwards as well as forward.

I wanted to call attention to a discussion they've been having on the legacy of homophobia on the left, a subject dear to my own heart. In fact Kasama picked up my own story that I wrote here last year as part of their discussion. Their discussion has been ongoing and quite thorough and open. It's worth reading the main entries as well as the comment threads. Most of the people telling their stories went through the Maoist movement, so it's interesting to me, as a former Trotskyist, to compare notes and experiences.

Start with "My Life in a Red Closet," the story of Libri, a former RCP member. After reprinting my story, there's "Working with the RCP, Opposing the Homophobia," by another former RCP member. Then there's "Rejected by Comrades: My Love Was Just Love," by Andrew Copper who was refused membership in that party despite being a hard-working activist. Another recollection is "Suzie's Story: Queer, Isolated, Invisible." Today Kasama has unearthed an analytical document from the 1970s by a group of Maoist Lesbians: "1975 - Early Maoist Critique of Ant-gay Bigotry Among Maoists."

This discussion is amazing to me. I can't imagine the left as I knew it being so daring or honest with itself: and it's done with the intention of being constructive and healing. It's also incredibly encouraging to me that if anyone in this discussion has defended the old anti-gay ways of the left, I've missed it. Perhaps one day a left will rise out of the ashes that can move beyond the defeats and mistakes and betrayals that too often stained its path. What Kasama is doing gives me hope.

Update: Kasama excerpted this piece (thanks, Mike!), and notes that I've slightly misidentified the testimonies as being those of former RCP members when they're actually the testimonies of peripheral supporters or members of the RCP's youth group. So noted!)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Politicians Making Us Sweat

Today was a very hot day in New York City, and I had the day off from work; much needed emotionally though it was a non-paid furlough day: those modern-economy treats dispensed to freelancers during slow hot summers and slow holiday periods. Which is more than frustrating. I certainly never thought in my younger days that paid time off would be as obsolete as subway tokens.

Which makes it all the more frustrating to listen to all the liars lying on the teevee or radio on such an insufferably hot and humid day about this manufactured economic crisis. I'm not that good a psychic: how come nobody else sees that every word out of John Boehner's quivering tear-streaked mouth is a lie? And what is with Obama? His hair sure is gray. I guess all that stuff about defending certain basic principles was filed away in the same drawer with his opposition to wars.

I think what ultimately frustrates me is that it's so clearly a minority of people going through these horrible motions. Even if you buy the questionably democratic logic of the American electoral system, the Republican landslide of 2010 doesn't actually mean that a majority of Americans actually support their absurd positions. Why are they allowed to dictate the narrative on what's wrong with the economy and how to solve it?

If you page through the years of this blog, you'll see some gushingly enthusiastic posts for Obama. To my credit, always with a warning grain of salt, but to my embarrassment, I should have known better than what proved to be all my naive optimism about the capacity of the political system to right its wrongs. At the same time, I guess I'm personally encouraged that as much as what's going on is hard to watch, somewhat demoralizing and actually quite worrisome, I think my re-radicalization is absolutely, even if paradoxically, the fruit of the Obama era.

This last spring saw a wave of revolution sweep a huge swath through the Middle East; most of those revolutions remain unresolved and conflicted by internal and international contradictions. But it seems unlikely that eventually the momentum of resistance will not return to these shores, and maybe all of us who are reduced to the role of impotent spectators watching our future being sold to corporate America and its patrons will remember all the things that a few very smart people once knew. And next time, maybe we'll win.

(Vintage 1960s/70s Black Panther Party poster from the great Emory Douglas, the brilliant house graphic artist of the BPP.)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Repression: It's Not Just for Third-World Dictatorships Anymore

Citizens marked for assassination without trial. Torture. Extended detention without charges or trial. Police raids on the non-violent political opposition. Mass arrests. Government spying. Welcome to....America in the 21st century. Thank you, George Bush and Barack Obama.

Free Bradley Manning!
Check out this article on Al Jazeera English: "Bradley Manning, American Hero: Four reasons why Pfc Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, not a prison cell." (Thanks Jon for the tip). Bradley Manning is a gay soldier being held naked in solitary confinement for his alleged role in passing along classified military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks. This winter as the harsh, torturous and degrading conditions of Manning's confinement became known, Obama said at a press conference, "“I’ve actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards,” Obama said, suggesting some of those procedures were to protect Manning’s safety. “They have assured me that they are.” Hah. The Obama administration is doubling down on all of the Bush administration's efforts to hide its activities behind legal smokescreens and to ease its surveillance of private citizens.

Some will say, "Manning broke the law." Wait, Bradley Manning broke the law exposing the lies and hypocrisies and immorality of US actions in Iraq in Afghanistan? Or was it George Bush and his cronies who broke the law? Why are those war criminals free while a conscientious citizen like Manning rots in a tiny cell? Remember how crucial the Pentagon Papers were to ending the horrible chapter of American aggression in Vietnam? Which has history judged worse — murdering millions of Vietnamese civilians or publishing some secret incriminating documents? Bradley Manning is on the right side of history, and indeed, is a real hero. Visit the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Justice for Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki is an American citizen, born in New Mexico and now living as an expatriate in Yemen. He has some truly heinous political and religious beliefs. Allegedly a propagandist for Al-Qaeda, he's implicated in a number of terrorist attacks or attempted attacks. But as an American citizen, he is entitled the rights of American citizens: if he is guilty of a crime, let him be charged, arrested and tried for those crimes. Yet last spring President Obama authorized the "targeted killing" of al-Awlaki. No trial. No charges. No rights. None. Al-Awlaki seems a likely candidate for a guilty verdict and harsh punishment should American law actually be applied to his case; indeed to my knowledge al-Awlaki hasn't protested that he is being accused inaccurately. But assassination based on empirical evidence is not the way the rule of law is supposed to work. What about the next person the government decides might be subject to "targeted killing'? What is the threshold of empirical evidence? Since when is "kill them all, let God sort it out" constitutional process? If al-Awlaki is a criminal, let justice be served, not more murder.

Free the Cuban Five!
Fighting terrorism is something the U.S. government supports, right? Wrong! Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando González are five Cuban citizens arrested in Florida in 1998 and imprisoned as spies. But what were the Cuban Five spying on? Sensitive U.S. military operations? No...they had gone undercover hoping to disrupt actual terrorist actions being planned by right-wing Cuban exiles being harbored in the United States. These terrorists had already killed numerous innocent civilians, as in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in the Caribbean. But because the terrorists are anti-communists and have close ties to the American CIA, they have been protected again and again by American authorities. The Cuban Five were treated to harsh conditions, excessive secrecy, and ultimately severe sentences after a questionable trial. Although an international campaign has been mounted to free the Five, President Obama's solicitor general Elena Kagan (now on the Supreme Court itself) actively petitioned the Supreme Court to deny any legal review of the case, and the court acceded to that request. Visit the National Comittee to Free the Cuban Five.

Hands off Anti-War and International Solidarity Activists!
Last fall the FBI conducted raids on private homes and offices in the Midwest belonging to anti-war and left-wing political activists. Targeted in the raids and proceeding Grand Jury witch-hunt was the Freedom Road Socialist Organization as well as Arab-American Palestine Solidarity activists. The activists are accused of "material support for terrorism," seemingly because the activists expressed political support for international opposition groups labelled "terrorist organizations" by American authorities. Apparently the government can label a foreign liberation movement a "terrorist organization" and then your right to express your free speech about supporting that movement is now forfeit. These raids and the implied government subversion and infiltration of anti-war and international solidarity movements are ominous. So much for "community organizing."

No One Is Illegal!
According to the LA Times
, "Deportations under Obama have reached new heights for two years running, statistics show, but Republicans said they would use their new majority in the House to press for more aggressive enforcement without any path to legal status." Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are not the cause of the economic crisis, but they are increasingly scapegoats for it. Draconian and ultimately racist laws are sweeping largely Republican-run states in the South and Southwest. Blaming "foreigners" for America's problem is a time-honored tradition.

I'm just going to say it: people should be able to live where they want to live. The majority of immigrants without legal papers in the U.S. are hard-working people just trying to live their lives. Sure there are criminals and welfare cheats among them. Just as there are rich people who try to get out of paying their taxes. There are legal problems that can be addressed, but let's face it: this country was founded largely by undocumented immigrants, and at least today's immigrants aren't going around killing Indians. "Comprehensive immigration reform" is a virtually meaningless term used by Republicans to mean keeping brown people out, and by Democrats to mean watch what they say not what they do. My neighborhood is made richer by its interwoven fabric of immigrants, and my country is too. Make the laws reflect reality.

Defund the Machineries of Repression
I don't yet have a smartphone, though I think they're sorta cool, for a telephone. I'm not a big phone gabber. And I like facebook. It's fun to keep up with friends and there's something pleasantly voyeuristic about following people's streams, even those I barely know in real life. And as is evidently clear from my writing here, I'm against people being shipped off to other countries to fight wars. Wait...non-sequitur? Two words: predator drones. Modern technology rises to meet today's challenges.

At the risk of sounding a little paranoid, is nobody else concerned about the repressive potential of today's high technology? Oh peaceful activist today, tomorrow's government might consider you a dangerous terrorist. That sleek iPhone in your pocket with its built-in GPS and your four-square log-in, hello, there's an anti-personnel drone locked right in on you right now. And the person pressing the button on you is three states away. Duck! Those contingencies are among what the defense budget, i.e., your taxes, is providing with all that cash.

And to my mind that little paranoid nightmare scenario brings up the root issue: it's not just laws, which might be just or unjust. After all, in some ways laws are just rationalizations and excuses, easily manipulated, to be rewritten or reinterpreted as needed. To return to my favorite subject, as long as "they" are controlling the laws, and the power, "we" are pretty much at "their" mercy. Simple, eh?

Timely Update: No sooner had I written the above than I read this paragraph in an article about the Israeli disruption of the "Welcome To Palestine" Flytilla campaign this week: "Aided by Facebook, Israel on Friday prevented scores of pro-Palestinian activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe, questioned dozens more upon arrival at its main airport and denied entry to 69, disrupting their attempts to reach the West Bank on a solidarity mission with the Palestinians. Israel had tracked the activists on social media sites, compiled a blacklist of more than 300 names and asked airlines to keep those on the list off flights to Israel. On Friday, 310 of the activists who managed to land in Tel Aviv were detained for questioning...."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Anti-War Anthems: "Moments of a Soft Persuasion"

Okay, I'm projecting here, a little: the lyrics of this song don't actually mention war, in Vietnam or elsewhere. But the Peter Paul & Mary album this song is taken from was released the same week that two of the group's members were among those beaten and gassed by police in the suppression of anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. This song, a product of its era, is a spiritual affirmation profoundly and simply challenging the mindset that allows war to happen.

"Moments of the soft persuasion
Chiming bells, the first occasion
Tell the rest a smile awaken
Till the last reminder shaken
From whatever rue'd and sorrow;
Now, the time is now — tomorrow.

In the instant of remaking
Just the giving of the taking
In the instant of the living
Just the taking of the giving

Nothing more than earth and water
Smiles of Spring from barren daughter
Who at last in perfect motion
Turning 'round embrace the ocean
Gracious calf of mankind suffering;
Sacrifice of old is ending.

In the instant of remaking
Just the giving of the taking
In the instant of the living
Just the taking of the giving

Moments of the soft persuasion
Chiming bells, the first occasion
Tell the rest a smile awaken
Till the last reminder shaken
From whatever rue'd and sorrow;
Now, the time is now — tomorrow."
Lyrics by Peter Yarrow

By my reading this song is a fairly profound challenge to revisit an often-ignored yet simple tenet of the Christian Bible: that the message of Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice in the New Testament is a repudiation of the religion of the Old Testament. By his self-sacrifice, Jesus says that the sacrifice and blood-letting and brutality that God seems to demand according to the Bible's early books is no longer necessary: a new age of peace and love brings mankind to a new relationship with the world and with God.

Cynics might well argue that Jesus made his call for such a religion of love in a barbaric world on the cusp of two thousand years more of barbarism and violence, and, to be honest, those cynics aren't wrong. Not being a Christian, I'm not going to undertake a defense of how the Christian church or the faith's believers reconcile what looks to me like a call for a revolution in human consciousness with what has actually been the history of that church or indeed the Christian world. It's hard to find "soft persuasion" or "the taking of the giving" in the Spanish inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the genocide against Native Americans, the Pope's failure to protect Italian Jews in the Second World War, or the hateful rantings of today's American fundamentalist Christians, to touch the tip of an iceberg. As I say I'm no Christian theologian.

But nevertheless, a little spiritual optimism goes a long way. The promise of a new age is foundational to all sorts of religious — and political — movements. The late Mary Travers opened up the liner notes to "Moments of a Soft Persuasion"'s album, Late Again, with a poem invoking the ever-ignored Cassandra: "Cassandra late,/The Prophets' meager wares/Are strewn about a weary world/A time when death requires sainthood undeserved./We are a world of mortal men/And man's great greatness is his hope."

And so this song is a softly persuasive polemic calling for, well, a soft persuasion over the clash of arms or the flash of a knife.

Anyway, I love this song.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Very Simple Explanation

Anyone, Democrat or Republican, who says recipients of government services like Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security should bear a share of "deficit relief" is saying that regular working people and poor people should be, in effect, paying higher taxes. "Giving ground" to this argument is an utter obscenity.

Listen to their words carefully: when politicians say no tax increases, what they mean is no tax increases for rich people or corporations. It's not complicated or hard to understand. It doesn't require a doctorate in economics. There's plenty of money around. They just don't want US to share it.

Monday, July 04, 2011

And Now for a LIttle Natural Beauty

I spent the weekend up in the Catskills with my boyfriend at a beautiful century-old farmhouse owned by some friends of ours. The weather was extraordinary: bright and sunny alternating with thunderous downpours. The Catskills are low mountains but mountains nevertheless, and the weather is so much more dramatic than down here in the city.

The transitions from rain to dry made for some spectacular skies, hence these photos. Not trying to say anything particularly profound here, except how wonderful it is to get out of the city now and again to see what the world actually looks, feels, and smells like.

These pictures were taken in New Kingston and in Bovina, two very small towns about an hour further out from Woodstock.

This last one is not upside down, that's a reflection in a frog-filled pond. It was the Fourth of July weekend, but of course, these sights are a bit more than a couple hundred years old. I'm back in the city tonight, listening to fire-crackers and helicopters in the warm summer night.

(Photographs by me; click on them to see them larger.)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Repost: Also Born on the Fouth of July - A License to Kill

I'm away for the weekend so here's a repost of last year's Independence Day essay. 234, 235, who's counting?

Oh those immortal words of the American Declaration of Independence, every school child learns them by heart: "He [The King of Great Britain] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Yes that's from that long part at the end. The part you never really read, the long list of grievances against King George.

While it's true that the Declaration of Independence contains some inspiring and fiery anti-authoritarian language and some really finely wrought righteous indignation, it's pretty clear that this document's appellation of "merciless Indian Savages" on the residents just across the potential new nation's frontier is the beginning rationalization to treat said "merciless savages" savagely without mercy.

It's been said that the three main colonizers of the Americas all had different attitudes toward the native population: The Spanish wanted to enslave them and convert them to Catholicism, the French wanted to trade with them, and the English wanted to pretend that they weren't there, or if need be push them out of the way. These are oversimplified of course. But one can see in the history of the 18th-century a hardening of colonial attitudes toward Native Americans, especially in the Northeast. The defeat of the French and their Indian allies in the American theater of the Seven Years War (the "French and Indian War") in the 1760s by the English seems to have pushed settler America to greater hostility toward the Indian nations; nations that were it should be said, unifying and modernizing living side by side with the English. Disastrously, the Indian nations wound up generally allied to the English in the American Revolution, and huge numbers emigrated to English-held Canada upon Washington's victory.

I'm not sure of the specific historical reference point that this portion of the Declaration of Independence is referring to, but it's clear that the nascent Americans saw English attempts to build alliances with Native nations as a threat to settler expansion.

Joseph Brant, whose Mohawk name was Thayandanagea, and who looked nothing like this "Indian chewing gum" trading card from the 1930s, was a prosperous landowner in New York State who as the military leader of the Iroquois League allied with the English against the new Americans. ('Brant dressed in "the English mode" wearing "a suit of blue broad cloth.' points out Wikipedia.) While obviously his military alliance against the Americans post-dates the declaration of independence, it's clear that everybody in 1776 knew there was a collision coming between the western frontier of the colonies and the Indian nations abutted against it. While some of the Indian nations remained technologically behind the settlers, in many places north and south, nations like the Cherokee and Iroquois were growing into, pardon the phrase, "civilized" nations that were in direct competition with white settlers for land and resources. While there were nomadic hunter-gatherer Indian societies, along the frontier of the time this was really not the case. Remember that the wild west of the time was western New York State and Ohio.

The English and the French and the Indian nations tried numerous different strategies of alliance and conflict to subvert the others and gain or defend territorial advantage. Clearly the Americans wanted none of that: they wanted one thing, sovereignty. And so in its first, most important document, the Declaration of Independence, signed so long ago on the 4th of July 1776, the United States of America built right in the dehumanization of native peoples, and the implied right to do something about the threat posed by these "merciless savages." Because everybody also knows that when the colonists labelled untold thousands of people "merciless savages" who don't respect human life, they were pretty much preparing themselves for the coming genocide.

Between the victory of the Americans in 1783 and period after the end of the war of 1812, the borders of white settlement were pushed from the East coast states clear to the Mississippi, with the Indian nations in between defeated. The Americans had made good on their founding words.

History is, well, history. It can't be changed (unless you're the Texas schoolboard), and I don't actually believe that we as modern people are responsible for the mistakes and betrayals of our ancestors. July 4, 1776 brought a lot of good into the world also: anti-colonialism and radical republicanism were historically progressive achievements. But I think confronting our national mythology is a good thing, because if we as American individuals living today are hopefully not committing genocide against Native Americans, the surviving institutions we hold dear--and sometimes abhor--are all built on questionable foundations that do color modern American policy and judgment. It should also be pointed out that the "we" of the Declaration didn't even include the hundreds of thousands of African-ancestored Americans who were, at the time, living out back in slave quarters and not even considered in polite discussions of citizens and their inalienable rights.

So I think it's good to ponder exactly who were the "merciless savages" back in 1776 and the years that followed. Enjoy the fireworks, and the grilled processed tubes of mystery meat, I know I will. But say a prayer that one day those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness endowed by our Creator will apply equally to all the women and men clinging to this pretty boulder spinning through space.