Friday, October 9, 2015

US war crimes: The attack on the MSF Hospital in Kunduz

"We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds."
Lajos Zoltan Jecs, a nurse at the MSF hospital in Kunduz bombed by the US

Last week, staff and volunteers of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) were treating people in the MSF-run hospital in Kunduz Afghanistan when a US 130 gunship attacked the hospital without warning.

The hospital, holding 180 patients, was deliberately targeted and destroyed, in multiple bombing runs that lasted an hour.

With the attack underway, MSF contacted
its sources in the US military immediately, pleading for the attack to stop, but to no avail. The bombing continued until the hospital was destroyed
Kunduz, in the north of Afghanistan, was recently seized by the Taliban and was the location for fierce fighting as the Afghan Army tried to take back the City. MSF had  informed US and Afghani authorities of the hospital's precise location, something that normally provides protection from attacks.
Twelve MSF staff and ten patients (including 3 children) were killed and 37 wounded. Doctors, staff and patients were incinerated. Six patients were set in fire in their beds.
The President of MSF said that MSF doctors had to operate on each other:
“One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table — an office desk — while his colleagues tried to save his life.”

MSF labelled the bombings a war crime, as did numerous other commentators. Robert C. Koehlor  wrote:
Bombing a hospital, especially with deliberate intent — apparently at the behest of the Afghan government, which has hated the hospital for treating the injured regardless what side they're on — is depraved and utterly reckless. Not only did the US kill patients and staff members from all over the world, who were working there because of a commitment to give help to those in harm's way, but it destroyed one of the few medical centers in a city with a population of over 300,000.
The US admitted the attack was a US decision made within the US chain of command. But US spokespersons  consistently changed their account of the attack, initially claiming that the attack was called to protect US forces. The story then changed with the claim that Afghan forces called the attack because they were under fire. The US then claimed that Taliban fighters were firing from inside the hospital, a claim vehemently denied by MSF.
US President Obama apologised to the MSF President and promised a full investigation- by the very same US and Afghan authorities responsible for the attack.

MSF were scathing about that commitment, dismissing the proposed investigations  and demanding  a fully independent and transparent investigation of the war  crime by an independent humanitarian commission created for the first time under the 1991 Geneva Conventions.
But these attacks are nothing new. The US consistently attacks civilian facilities.
Jon Schwartz has published this article on a short history of the US military's bombing of civilian facilities. Schwartz writes:

'the U.S. has repeatedly attacked civilian facilities in the past but the targets have generally not been affiliated with a European, Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization such as MSF'

Schwartz documents  U.S. attacks on civilian facilities, such as hospitals or schools since the 1991 Gulf War, including:
  • Infant Formulae Production Plant, Baghdad Iraq 1991
  • Air raid shelter Amiriyah Iraq (408 civilians killed) 1991
  • Al Sifa Pharmaceutical factory, Khartoum Sudan (1 civilian killed) 1998
  • Train bombing, Grdelica Serbia (14 civilians dead) 1999
  • Radio Television Serbia, Belgrade (16 staff dead) 1999
  • Chinese embassy, Belgrade (3 staff) 1999
  • Red Cross complex Kabul, Afghanistan 2001
  • Al Jazeera offices in Kabul 2001
  • Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad (2 journalists killed) 2003
  • Palestine Hotel Baghdad (1 journalist killed) 2003
This does not include the estimated 6000 civilians and citizens killed by US drone and missile attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The poetry of Veronica Golos

'Poetry is a particular way of looking at the world.
Not so much the describing of the world, but a way of participating in it.'
Veronica Golos

'I alternate between great rage and a passion for justice – I don’t write poetry as art for arts sake, although I believe it is crucial to learn the craft — but what am I here for, if not to build an active, muscled, true peace?'
Veronica Golos


A Bell Buried Deep
Veronica Golos

Feasting on the aftertaste,
I weaken first,
rise, stand at the window –
my pale skin flushed in the North Carolina light.
The old wood planks moan,
the white bedspread ripples like new snow,
our white sheets are the color of white beneath white –
and you, your brown skin against the sheet,
our marriage the color of syrup.

I lift my eyes and am chastened
by the angry heartbreak this world can bring.
The treetops are tender green –
and what is the color green but everything washed clean,
even the tiny, blue stone cemetery
where my son remains…
does not rise even after this, his eleventh year.
He is blue in the ground, his light-blue bones,
the midnight cap of his hair, his infant smell –
a bell buried deep, where he was in me,
ringing, ringing.

My god,
love making
can redeem
but does not release
pain! I do not forget

my periwinkle boy, my blue berry, my demon –
all his names in a world pulsing with names,
wild christenings in the air –
as the blue-green vein of my wrist beats,
the memory of him, our pale-boned boy,
drives me back to our bed
to touch you, his dark father,
with my grief full of tongues,
full with his name.
More detail about Veronica Golos's poem and a recording of her reading the above poem is here
An interview between Veronica Golos and the poet Sam Hamill (whose works appears on this blog) is here and here.
An interview with Veronica Golos is here.
Veronica Golos website is here. More of her poems can be read herehere, here and here.
Veronica Golos is the author of three poetry books Vocabulary of Silence, A Bell Buried Deep and  Rootwork: The Lost Writings of John Brown & Mary Day Brown. Golos is the Poetry Editor for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and co-editor of the Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. She lives in Taos, New Mexico.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The death of an American revolutionary: Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015)

'I think that too much of our emphasis on struggle has simply been in terms of confrontation and not enough recognition of how much spiritual and moral force is involved in the people who are struggling. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently.'
'Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival'
Grace Lee Boggs
'We are not subversives. We are struggling to change this country because we love it'
Grace Lee Boggs
After 75 years of committed social and political activism, the legendary Chinese-American author, activist, philosopher and campaigner Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) has died. Boggs was one of the oldest American activists and campaigners.
Grace Lee Boggs was involved with the civil rights, labor, Black Power, Asian-american, feminist, climate change and urban renewal movements. 
Boggs was a deep thinker, committed to the role of philosophy in social change. She did not believe in mindlessly doing in the name of good. For her people had to think deeply and critically about the world around them.  She distinguished between what she called protest organising and visionary organising. Whilst recognising the importance of the former, she called for more of the latter.
Boggs also refused to be put in any particular "cause" box,  using her voice for civil rights, education reform, anti-racism, climate change, urban revitalization, and countless other issues that she saw as all undeniably connected.
She thought that the systematic failures of capitalism were  at the heart of most social pathologies and social problems, and believed that transformation would come not from the actions of elected leaders, but through action at the grassroots level. 
A film about her life and ideas  American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs was released in 2014.
The New York Times wrote:
Her odyssey took her from the streets of Chicago as a tenant organizer in the 1940s to arcane academic debates about the nature of communism, from the confrontational tactics of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement to the nonviolent strategies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and finally to her own manifesto for change — based not on political and economic upheavals but on community organizing and resurgent moral values.
In the online journal Guernica, Michelle Chen writes that Grace Le Boggs lived in Detroit from the 1950s, with her husband, activist and auto worker James Boggs, in the early days of the civil rights movement.  Chen writes:
 'Her life has spanned numerous human catastrophes, from the Great Depression and the atom bomb to the incineration of Vietnam. But what keeps her optimistic is the fact that she’s also lived through “the great humanizing movements of the past seventy years,” including the black freedom struggle, the antiwar campaigns, and other historic mass actions. Detroit is now at the vanguard of an even more massive transition, she argues, evolving a new way of organizing society that focuses on self-reliance and a rejection of material excess.'
Grace Lee Boggs wrote extensively about the history and potential of revolution as the driver of radical social change, based on an optimistic belief that revolutionary change was just around the corner 
In the early 1970s she co published Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, a sweeping historical text that explores forms of Marxist revolution through uprisings in China, Russia, Vietnam, and contemporary community-based groups.
In 2011, aged 95, she wrote her fifth book  The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, in which she reimagined revolutionary politics as a project of holistic transformation connected to global and historical transformations and intimately embedded in the individual soul.
"People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values."
In an interview she said:
I think that rebellions arise out of anger, and they’re very short-lived. And a revolution has some sense of a long time frame, millions of years that we’ve been evolving on this planet. We have to think in a very different sense than the way we think now. We think in terms of quick fixes, that solutions will come out of a few protest demonstrations, and calling upon the government to do something. And we can keep trying to do that, and it won’t work. 
Boggs argued that it is the people most directly affected by injustice, the victims of injustice, who are the real agents of revolutionary change:
I think the trouble is that most people tend to look for quick solutions. .............I think people look at revolution too much in terms of power. I think revolution has to be seen more anthropologically, in terms of transitions from one mode of life to another. We have to see today in light of the transition, say, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from agriculture to industry, and from industry to post-industry. We’re in an epoch transition.....We have to think of revolution much more in terms of transitions from one epoch to another.
Interviews, articles and obituaries are here, hereherehere and here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

For seeing the world differently: The Polish poets Part 1: Tadeusz Rozewicz (1921-2014)

"What I produced is poetry for the horror-stricken. For those abandoned to butchery. For survivors"
Tadeusz Rozewicz

A friend and colleague of mine recently wrote that she was planning to read some poetry, in the hope of 'seeing the world differently'.
It is wonderful description of the possibilities inherent in good poetry.
For me there are poets who help us see the world differently. Poets whose words give voice and form to emotions, thoughts and experiences that are very real, but somehow mysterious or that we can never know. 

Poets who reinvigorate and revitalise us in difficult or dark times.
Among such poets are Polish poets whose work appears regularly on this blog- Anna Swir, Zbigniew Herbert, Wislawa Syzmborska and Tadeusz Rozewicz, to name four.
Tadeusz Rozewicz, who died in 2014, is  one of Poland's premier writers and poets and his mastery of poetry, prose and drama resulted in nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature and  numerous other awards. His work has been translated into 50 languages.
Rozewicz lived through major events of the 20th century which had a profound impact on the Polish people, including the after effects of the first world war, the redrawing of country boundaries after WW1, the rise of fascism, the terror of WW2, the post war reconstruction, the rise of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain, the Velvet Revolution of the late 1980's and early 1990's and then the freedoms and failures of democracy during the 1990's and 21st century.

Like many of his fellow Polish poets, his poetry sprang from traumatic WW2 wartime experience. Rozewicz was just 18 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and he was a member of the Polish guerrilla underground Home Army for 3 years. His brother, also a poet, was executed by the Gestapo in 1944.  

His poetry is imbued with the horror and the crises of humanity and values that those who lived through and survived the war and the post war period experienced- mass death, cruelty, savagery, indifference, civilizational uniformity, disillusionment, the ever present threat of death, totalitarian rule, the inadequacy and betrayal of political leaders and political systems, and ultimately the failure of humanity.
finally I too came into the world
in the year 1921 and suddenly . .
atchoo! time passes I am old and forgot where I put my glasses
I forgot there was
history Caesar Hitler Mata Hari
Stalin capitalism communism
Einstein Picasso Al Capone
Alka Seltzer Al Qaeda
from 'regression into the primordial soup' in  Sobbing Superpower by Tadeusz Rozewicz
As a writer in the Guardian put it:

"Różewicz's eye was merciless but the poems are full of human sympathy".

His poems are often short, with simple and direct language, often leading to dark and bleak conclusions.  
This is a table I said 
this is a table
on the table there is bread a knife
the knife is for cutting the bread
bread feeds people...  
what is a knife for 
it's for cutting off the heads of enemies 
it's for cutting off the heads of 
women children old people…
Rozewicz sought to undermine and discard poetic and literary form, exemplified with his immortal line "The poem/is finished/now to break it".  
In 'philosophers stone' he undermines his own poetic voice:

We need to put
this poem to sleep

before it starts
before it starts

for compliments

called to life
in a moment of forgetting

sensitive to words
it looks to

a philosophers 
stone for help
a passerby hasten your step
do not lift up the stone

there a blank verse
to ashes

As the Guardian obituary notes Rozewicz will be remembered as:
"one of the poets through whom we continue to understand what happened in the last century"
Obituaries for Rozewicz are here, here and here

Interviews with, and articles about Rozewicz are herehere, here and here

The Survivor
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

The following are empty synonyms:
man and beast
love and hate
friend and foe
darkness and light.

The way of killing men and beasts is the same
I've seen it:
truckfuls of chopped-up men
who will not be saved.

Ideas are mere words:
virtue and crime
truth and lies
beauty and ugliness
courage and cowardice.

Virtue and crime weigh the same
I've seen it:
in a man who was both
criminal and virtuous.

I seek a teacher and a master
may he restore my sight hearing and speech
may he again name objects and ideas
may he separate darkness from light.

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

Translated by Adam Czerniawski

Friday, October 2, 2015

Randy Newman Part 3: Love songs and ballads

Part 1 and Part 2 of this long article explored Randy Newman's political songs and discussed how Newman's use of irony and social and political satire, as a mode of expression, exemplifies how irony and satire can be a socio-political tool to illuminate complex social and political issues.  

This third instalment focuses on his more personal songs and the songs which tend to define his work- ballads and love songs. Many are breathtakingly  beautiful and tender songs, that unlike Newman’s other songs, offer no protective irony, but bear the weight of human experience, pathos and melancholia. However, in a 2003 interview in Uncut Magazine, Newman claims, 'every time I write one, it's somehow fudged'.

Losing You is a song inspired by a family’s loss of their 23 year old son to brain cancer.

Do you know how much you mean to me?/Should've told you 'cause it's true/I'd get over losing anything/But I'll never get over losing you/When you're young and there's time you forget the past/You don't think that you will but you do/But I know that I don't have time enough/And I'll never get over losing you
Listen to the beauty of the images in I Think it’s Going to Rain Today, written when Newman was just 22:

Broken windows and empty hallways/A pale dead moon in sky streaked with grey/ Human kindness is over flowing/ And I think its going to rain today/……./Lonely, lonely/Tin can at my feet/Think I’ll kick it down the street/That’s the way to treat a friend/Bright before me the signs implore me/Help the needy and show them the way/ Human kindness is overflowing/And I think its going to rain today'

In an interview in the music magazine Uncut, Newman is characteristically understated about  I Think its Going to Rain Today, one of his best known songs:

'You know I've changed my mind a little about that song. I used to think it was just sophomore college- boy romantic misery, sort of generalised young-man depression. I mean I was 21, 22. But it's not bad. You know 'Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles...' Just the fact that the song uses the word 'implore'-it's almost outside the vocabulary you use for pop music nowadays. So I have a higher opinion of that song than I used to.'

Feels like Home is a characteristically beautiful Newman piano ballad.  A love song.

With your embrace down a long dark street/And a sigh of wind in the night/But I'm alright 'cause I have you here with me/ And I can almost see the dark feels light/If you knew how much this moment means to me/And how long I've waited for your touch/If you knew how I wanted someone to come along/I never thought I'd love anyone so much/Feels like home to me, feels like home to me/Feels like I'm on my way to where I come from/Feels like home to me, feels like home to me/Feels like I'm on my way back to where I belong/Feels like I'm on my way back to where I belong

In Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father, Newman creates a poignant and beautiful ballad of a daughter at her father’s funeral on the plains of Texas. In just 12 lines Newman crafts an environment of profound sadness, melancholia and humanity and a daughter's lament for her dead father.
Here I am lost in the wind/'Round in circles sailing/Like a ship that never comes in/Standing by myself/Sing a sad song for a good man/Sing a sad song for me/Sing a sad song for the sailor/A thousand miles from the sea/Here I am alone on the plain/Sun's going down/It's starting to rain/Papa, we'll go sailing

With a few exceptions-I Miss You and Dixie Flyer are examples-Newman rarely does autobiographical songs.

I Miss You is a regretful and wistful love song, written to his first wife whilst married to his second wife. 
Still in my heart after all these years/separated by time now by distance/I couldn't allow myself to feel the loss that I feel right now/you're far away and happy I know/it's a little bit late... twenty years or so/it's a little bit cold for all those concerned/but I'd sell my soul and your soul for a song/so I'll pour my heart out/ I miss you/ I miss you, I'm sorry but I do/I want to thank you for the good years/and apologize for the rough ones/you must be laughing yourself sick/but I wanted to write you one before I quit/and this one's it/I miss you, I wanted you to know/I miss you, and I still love you so.'
In Dixie Flyer, perhaps Newman's most autobiographical song, he describes his birth in Los Angeles during WW2 and his mother’s return to her family on the Dixie Flyer, the train from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where Newman lived till aged 11, when his family returned to Los Angeles:

I was born right here/November 43/Dad was a captain in the army/fighting the Germans in Sicily/My poor little mumma/Didn’t know a soul in LA/Went down to the Union Station made a getaway/got on the Dixie Flyer/bound for New Orleans/cross the State of Texas to the land of dreams/on the Dixie Flyer/bound for New Orleans/back to her friends and family/in the land of the dreams

Like Tom Waits, Newman has the gravitas and mastery of his craft to write songs with beautiful melodies that tell stories that shock. He conjures up lives that exist outside most songs. He creates characters unlike himself and gives these characters a voice, often to speak unpleasant things.

I Want You to Hurt Like I Do closes his 1988 album Land of Dreams  and is a ballad about a man who emotionally damages his family without meaning to:

I ran out on my children/And I ran out on my wife/Gonna run out on you too, baby/I done it all my life/Everybody cried the night I left/Well, almost everybody did/My little boy just hung his head/And I put my arm, put my arm around his little shoulder/And this is what I said:/"Sonny I just want you to hurt like I do/I just want you to hurt like I do/I just want you to hurt like I do/Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do'/If I had one wish/One dream I knew would come true/I'd want to speak to all the people of the world/I'd get up there, I'd get up there on that platform/First I'd sing a song or two you know I would/Then I'll tell you what I'd do/I'd talk to the people and I'd say/"It's a rough rough world, it's a tough tough world/Well, you know/And things don't always, things don't always go the way we plan/But there's one thing, one thing we all have in common/ And it's something everyone can understand/All over the world sing along/ I just want you to hurt like I do

In Germany Before the War, based on Fritz Lang's M, the song’s character is a child murderer:
In Germany before the war/There was a man who owned a store/And every day at five-o-nine/He’d cross the park down to the Rhine/And there he’ d sit by the shore……../A little girl has lost her way/With hair of gold and eyes of gray/Reflected in his glasses/As he watches her/A little girl has lost her way/

Then in the last three lines of the song Newman tells a shattering end to the story:
We lie beneath the autumn sky/My little golden girl and I/And she lies very still.
Randy Newman's website is here. Some informative articles about Newman are herehere, here, and here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

More on the political songs of Randy Newman (Part 2)

'I feel the country is never going to be excused for slavery’
Randy Newman

'...used to worry about the poor/But I don't worry anymore"
Randy Newman, Its Money that I love

In Part 1 I wrote that the American singer-songwrite Randy Newman has written some of the sharpest critiques of US and European imperialism, capitalism and America’s treatment of its own people. 
Newman has mastered the use of irony and social and political satire as a mode of expression and a socio-political tool to illuminate complex social and political issues. 

Many of his songs echo Antonio Gramsci’s idea of ‘passionate sarcasm’, a form of irony that expresses dissent and challenges the hypocrisy and corruption of the powerful.

The World isn’t Fair engages a conversation with Karl Marx about Marxism, class, inequality and capitalist greed:

When Karl Marx was a boy/He took a hard look around/He saw people were starving all over the place/While others were painting the town (buh buh)/The public spirited boy/Became a public spirited man/So he worked very hard and read everything/Until he came up with a plan/There’ ll be no exploitation/Of the worker or his kin/No discrimination’ cause the color of your skin/No more private property/It would not be allowed/No one could raise too high/No one could sink so low/Or go under completely like some we all know/If Marx were living today/He’d be rolling around in his grave.

 In  A Piece of the Pie, from the 2008 album Harps and Angels, Newman crafts a rousing call to arms about continuing inequality in the US:
Jesus Christ it stinks here low and high/Some get rich/And others just get by/Bono's off in Africa - he's never around/The country turns its lonely eyes to who? Jackson Browne/A piece of the pie/That's all we're asking for/A piece of the pie

The Great Nations of Europe tells of the rapacious imperial ambitions and atrocities inflicted by the European nations on the people they colonized:
The great Nations of Europe/Had gathered on the shore/ They’d conquered what was behind them/But now they wanted more/So they looked to the mighty ocean/And took to the western sea/The great nations of Europe in the sixteenth century/Hide your wives and daughters/Hide the groceries too/Great Nations of Europe coming though………/Balboa found the Pacific/And on the trail one day/He met some friendly Indians/Whom he was told were gay/So he had them torn apart by dogs on religious grounds they say/ The great nations of Europe were quite holy in their way

Newman has made his name composing movie scores, especially scores for children's movies such as the Toy Stories series, Cars and Monsters Inc.

Even songs that appear in children’s movies engage political themes. The song Our Town from the movie Cars is sung by James Taylor, but Newman’s song ponders the destructive effects of large scale economic forces on the fictional town of Radiator Springs.

His deployment of the term ‘main street’ is telling, reflecting the belief in the US at the time that the economic interests of ordinary people (main street) were being sacrificed to benefit corporate and financial capitalism (Wall St):

Long ago, but not so very long ago/The world was different, oh yes it was/You settled down and you built a town and made it live/And you watched it grow/It was your town/Time goes by, time brings changes, you change, too/Nothing comes that you can't handle, so on you go/Never see it coming, the world caves in on you/On your town/Nothing you can do/Main street isn't main street anymore/No one seems to need us like they did before/It's hard to find a reason left to stay/But it's our town/Love it anyway/Come what may, it's our town.

Part 1 of this blog is here. Part 3  explores Newman's ballads and more personal songs.

Randy Newman's website is here. Some informative articles about Newman are herehere, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Is there a more political songwriter than Randy Newman? Part 1

‘I’m concerned about the fact the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. We’ve been complaining since the 60s about corporate America and how we’re in the hands of a plutocracy, but it’s really truer now than it ever has been. Banks and those people with tremendous economic weight are in control; they were able to do all this illegal kind of stuff, even for example selling stocks they knew were bad to clients. And they’re fine, better off than they were. It doesn’t seem right … I’ve written about it before, but I’m still angry.
Randy Newman

I’d like it to be clearer which side I’m on
Randy Newman

The American singer-songwrite Randy Newman is not associated with anti-imperialist critique and class analysis.  But Newman is a profoundly political singer-songwriter, having written some of the sharpest political critiques of US and European imperialism, capitalism and America’s treatment of its own people. 

Newman has written songs about US foreign policy and imperialism (Political Science, A Few Words in Defence of our Country), militarism (Song for the Dead),  the Gulf war (Lines in the Sand) the US slave trade (Sail Away), western imperialism (The Great Nations of Europe), the hypocrisy of organized religion (God’s Song), southern prejudice (Birmingham, Rednecks) political neglect (Louisana 1927), racism, race bigotry and prejudice (Rednecks), capitalist greed and class privilege (Its Money that I want, Its Lonely at the Top, My Life is Good), inequality (A Piece of the Pie), Marxism (The World isn’t Fair), industrial pollution (Burn On), child abuse and child murders (Germany before the war), prejudice (Short People) and misogyny (Marie).
Newman’s songs express genuine anger about inequalities and injustice, but in a way that is funny and neither didactic nor ideological. Newman has mastered, like no other songwriter, the use of irony and social and political satire as a mode of expression and a socio-political tool to illuminate complex social and political issues. 

Many of his songs echo Antonio Gramsci’s idea of ‘passionate sarcasm’, a form of irony that expresses dissent and challenges the hypocrisy and corruption of the powerful.

Political songs are rarely so funny. You can’t help chuckling at Newman’s lyrics as you sing along with lines from Political Science:

We give them money- but are they grateful?/No they’re spiteful and they’re hateful/They don’t respect us- so let’s surprise them/We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them.
And then there is the slave trader doing a sales pitch to convince his slaves of the benefits of being a slave in America in Sail Away, a song from the 1972 album of the same name:
In America you’ll get food to eat/Won’t have to run through the jungle/And scuff up your feet/You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day/It’s great to be an American/Ain’t no lions or tigers- aint no mamba snake/Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake/Ev’rybody is as happy as a man can be/Climb aboard little wog-sail away with me.

Newman's songs shed light on concealed or submerged features of American political and social culture. They speak of events, experiences and truths that reverberate through American and western history and are animated by the experiences of ordinary people.
During the 2012 US Presidential election Newman released the song I’m Dreaming (of a White President) a song of racial politics written from the perspective of voter who casts his ballot based on skin color who hopes for the election of a white President:
I’m dreaming of a white President/just like the ones we’ve always had/a real live white man/who knows the score/how to handle money or start a war/....... /I’m dreaming of a white President/buh buh buh buh/‘cause things have never been this bad/so he won’t run the hundred in ten seconds flat/ so he won’t have a pretty jump shot/or be an Olympic acrobat/so he won’t know much about global warming/is that really where you’re at?/he won’t be the brightest, perhaps/but he’ll be the whitest/and I’ll vote for that

In Louisanna 1927, Newman tells of the deceitful manner in which governments managed the destructive floods that destroyed communities and farms in Louisiana in 1927. Written in 1974, the song has contemporary resonance, serving as an anthem to the abandonment of New Orleans by the Bush Administration in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

What has happened down here is that the winds have changed/clouds roll in from the north and it starts to rain/rained real hard and it rained for a real long time/ six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline/the river rose all day/the river rose all night/some people got lost in the flood/some people got away alright/the river has busted through clear down to Plaquemines/President Coolidge come down in a railroad train/with a little fat man with a notepad in his hand/the President say” Little fat man, isn’t it a shame what the river has done/to this poor crackers land.
Political Science was written amidst the ruins of the second Vietnam War and appeared on Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away. 
Forty-three years later the song stands as a profound critique of American hubris and exceptionalism in foreign affairs and military policy and its willingness to pursue imperial ambitions through the use of force and violence against those who challenge US power.
No one likes us- I don’t know why/We may not be perfect but heaven knows we try/But all around, even our old friends put us down/Lets drop the big one and see what happens/We give them money- but are they grateful?/No they’re spiteful and they’re hateful/They don’t respect us- so let’s surprise them/We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them/Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old/Africa is far too hot/And Canada’s to cold/And South America stole our name/Let’s drop the big one/There’ll be no one left to blame us/We’ll save Australia/Don’t want no hurt no kangaroo/We’ll build an all American theme park there/They got surfing too/ Boom goes London and boom Paris/More room for you and more room for me/And every city the whole world around/Will just be another American town/We’ll set everyone free/You’ll wear a Japanse kimono/ And there’ll be Italian shoes for me/They all hate us anyhow/So lets drop the big one now/ Lets drop the big one now

Song for the Dead (from the 1983 album Trouble in Paradise) is a post Vietnam elegy for those who died in the war:
Pardon me, boys/if I slip off my pack/ and sit for a while with you/ I’d like to explain/why you fine young men had to be blown apart/to defend this mud hole/now our country boys/though its quite far away/found itself jeopardized/endangered boys/by these very gooks who lie beside you

Part 2 of this piece can be found here. Part 3 explores Newman's ballads and love songs.

Randy Newman's website is here. Some informative articles about Newman are herehere, here, and here.