Author Archives: John Fusco

Donald Trump and the Art of Paper Chiefs

They say the past is prologue.

Yesterday, as I watched President Trump sign an executive order to nullify years of our nation’s climate-change work and Clean Power Plan, I thought back to the Lakota holy man who called me Grandson. Chief Frank Fools Crow, born at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre, once taught me that the Lakota word ‘wasi’chu’ — which I had always thought just meant white man — actually means ‘greedy ones who take the fat.’ But the word goes beyond that, referencing a human condition based on racism and exploitation of the land, the earth.

Black Elk (Fools Crow’s uncle) once said that “the wasi’chu is driven crazy by the yellow metal (gold).” He said this in 1874 when Custer found gold in the Black Hills, sacred land that had been promised to the Lakota — in perpetuity — by way of the signed and ratified Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. As soon as gold was found, that treaty was torn up. Not exactly torn up, but withdrawn and nullified by executive orders out of Washington, D.C.

Black Elk knew this is what happens when the yellow metal drives the wasi’chu crazy. It had happened when the Spanish subjugated the Incas and the Aztecs; it happened when the French and English came hunting gold; and it happened in the 1820’s when European banks backed land speculators. Treaty after treaty was nullified by executive order, and those who resisted were killed. On land promised to the Lakota, Black Elk witnessed more than 50 million buffalo, the basis of the Plains Indian economy, slaughtered during his time — and he witnessed, at 27 years old, the massacre of his people at Wounded Knee Creek.

“These Indians are like children,” the government had said. They do not know how to properly use all of this land they think they must protect in the name of their Great Spirit — or for their next seven generations of unborn. They’re just savages and don’t understand ‘God’s will.’ Trump kind of said the same thing about those of us who care yesterday, when he called the existing climate change laws “pixie dust and hope.” Stephen Hawking, a fairly smart fellow, does not see it as pixie dust, and he certainly doesn’t see climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. What he does see is “a global revolt against the climate experts.” And he views Trump as ‘a demagogue who appeals to the lowest common denominator.” Or to those who will actually believe that an environmental protection ethos is pixie dust.

I once heard it said that imperialistic cultures find it necessary, in defense of their economy, to demean their victims. But, wait, says my Uncle Louie, what about the coal miners? Trump is going to make America great again by sending our coal miners back to work. No, Uncle Louie (who also calls me ‘Ugh, Kemo Sabe’ because of my support of Native Americans and the environment), take a look at the very top photo in this post. See those down-dressed West Virginians, clapping with the head of the EPA? They’ve been bamboozled with the promise of jobs that likely don’t exist anymore; most of those jobs are now filled by self-driving technology and robotics (see today’s NYTimes). Removing regulations would put very few back to work in the mines. It’s the Art of the Steal.

But back to some hardcore history — here’s how these things got done in Washington in those times: The government, being civilized enough to know that one must honor signed treaty agreements, would selectively appoint leaders of tribes and departments whom they knew they could manipulate. They sought out the corruptible, the “friendlies”, empowered them with titles. They were known to those like Black Elk as ‘paper chiefs.’

If we look at the pantheon of Trump’s cabinet it is a brazen line-up of Paper Chiefs. From Bannon to Pruitt and across the board, the president has empowered his paper chiefs to represent us and our land as he sets out to exploit it in a crass, short-sighted way. Demeaning victims and hitting the Twitter triggers of hatred and frustration. With respect, this is not the work of a business genius billionaire; a six year-old with a Sharpie could spike the economy by slashing and deregulating everything. As I watched him shake hands with EPA head Scott Pruitt, a church deacon from Oklahoma, I saw Fort Laramie 1874 all over again; from the Dakota Access Pipeline to global warming. “Do you know what this means?” the President said, smiling, to the paper chiefs and bamboozled coal miners gathered at his shoulders. “Do you know what this means?”

Yes, we know what it means. He said it himself the day before. “We must end the theft of prosperity.” How ironic as the violation of the American land — with global repercussions — begins all over again, by way of executive orders and paper chiefs.

I never thought I’d live to see the day when EPA came to mean Environmental Prostitution Agency. But that’s what happens when the yellow metal drives the wasi’cu crazy.

SEVEN GENERATIONS: An open letter to Scott Pruitt, EPA

Dear Mr. Pruitt,

Yesterday, on CNBC, you stated that you do not agree with the world consensus that human activity is a primary contributor to global warming. This came as no surprise given that in your first speech as head of our Environmental Protection Agency, you chose not to even mention the subject.

Instead, you spoke about civility, our founding fathers, and baseball.

This is not a criticism; I share your love for baseball and I admire and applaud your respect for our founding fathers. In fact, if we were ever to have a beer, I’d be happy to keep the conversation on the Red Sox and Ben Franklin.

Before we get to baseball, can we talk about Ben Franklin? In the mid-18th century, when Franklin was advocating a federal union of colonies, no European model was found to be workable for the new country. Franklin, and our other founders, saw greater wisdom in the true owners and stewards of the new land — the Native Americans. In fact, Franklin and his friends were blown away by the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy and advocated many of their ideas, such as equality, natural rights, freedom of religion, property rights — and especially one of the Iroquois laws that resonated to Franklin as not only wise but critical:

‘In all our deliberations, let us first consider the impact on the next seven generations.’ Please take one moment and think about that. Franklin was impressed by the way his elder friend Canasstego, speaker for the Great Council at Onondaga, addressed stewardship of the earth, spoke of how hunting and fishing and burning areas were carefully regulated so as not to over-impact the land. Environmental regulations were the cornerstone of the Iroquois democracy that Franklin campaigned to adopt. Why force a failed model on the new land, one that the founding fathers were trying to escape, when the true keepers of the new land had it down to a science. An earth science that was also their spirituality (and still is).

20 years after Franklin’s argument was defeated at the Albany Congress, Thomas Jefferson still looked to the Iroquois Nations for wisdom in blueprinting our American system of government. He stopped just short of including the rightful inheritance of the seventh generation in the Bill of Rights, but if Ben Franklin had his way, it would have been there — and we would not still be debating (although, Sir, the world’s greatest scientists strongly believe that debate reached a conclusion long before your new position).

I ask that in all our deliberations, let us first consider the impact on your children and mine, and their children. Because with a scorched earth there’s no baseball. When you find yourself in the bottom of the ninth inning and you still have a chance to pull out a win, there’s no more time for debate. No more time for placing a priority on selling merchandise in the stands. We’re all one team, one tribe.

With respect and civility,

John Fusco

2017, YEAR OF THE ROOSTER: Keep it Simple

“2016 can suck it!”

I keep hearing this along with posted images of the grim reaper. “When we ring 2016 out, make sure to put a bullet in its head.”

Without a doubt it’s been a rabid, laughing hyena of a year. Maybe not the worst year in history. Maybe not as bad as 72,000 B.C. when a volcanic super-eruption on the island of Sumatra exploded and an apocalyptic winter reduced human populations to 3,000 survivors. And then there was the Black Death. I can well imagine folks saying “1348 can suck it!”

More recently, 2003 has been flagged as a really bad year and, believe it or not, 2006 had more celebrity deaths than 2016. But there’s no denying it: 2016 does not have a huge fan base. I’m not at all surprised.

At this time last year I wrote a blog piece about the Year of the Fire Monkey “its wild and mischievous energy that could rock the world if wisely channeled,” but also “if it burns too hot, flame out of control.” Donald Trump is the perfect president-elect for a Monkey year. I haven’t checked this yet, but I would not at all be surprised if he was born in the year of the Monkey. If you follow this at all — or if you remember my new year’s 2016 blog — Monkey cannot stop chattering (tweeting?). He is reckless, dangerous, and the biggest fool in the zodiac. Yet, it’s that energy that can often shake things up, create a necessary correction when things have maybe gone too far the other way (and only then might we find the middle ground). In the ancient stories Monkey often shocks us with his crude antics just to show us where we do not want to go. He even raised havoc in Heaven until Buddha got a hold of him.

The good news, Boys and Girls, is that we are now headed into a Rooster Year. 2017 will set the world stage for the Year of the Red Fire Rooster. Don’t let the fire element scare you; the Monkey’s fire is yang energy; Rooster’s flames are yin. Phew.

The Old Sifu once told me, while first teaching me Golden Rooster stance in kung fu, that the Rooster is associated with the Sun Coming Up. Rooster crows at dawn, welcomes a fresh, new day (thank you, God). Rooster is also about being cool, calm, and confident, he’s a kingly bird, his mannerisms are proud and graceful. Rooster is a leader with big goals but keeps a wise and enlightened approach to those goals. Although I’ve heard it said that Rooster likes to crow about his achievements, what Old Sifu advised me about this Rooster Year is “say less, do less, but do it better.” I brought up Bruce Lee’s oft-quoted “fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks, fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

“That’s what I said,” said the Old Sifu.

Feels to me like Rooster is a good year for simplifying. Reduction. Those who follow Tao are spare in what they do; they seek quality. Call it Tao jazz if you will: It’s often the notes we DON’T play that make the music swing. It’s when the Rooster kicks ass in the barnyard but doesn’t crow that he’s truly the cock of the walk.

One thing that the Old Sifu said that did concern me was: “In the Year of the Rooster, the new leader must not flaunt his authority — a negative Rooster trait that needs to be checked — and must not underestimate his world opponents.” Yeah, it’s time to move past the Monkey business.

The wise Taoist Deng Ming-Dao, had this to say today:

“We’re at the end of a year. What’s done is done. For all of us, there was some good and some bad. Some joys and some disappointment. Some elation and some grief. Thus is human life not a pure metal, but one that is alloyed, tempered, and forged….We all recognize that we did what we could, and while we are ready to try again, we must have the faith, the honesty, and the optimism to declare that events are done.”

Wishing everyone a peaceful, simple, productive, and healthy new year. Looking forward to your great works and friendship.

And, hey, 2016: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.


HISTORY HUNTING: In Search of Marco Polo’s Last Words


It was all feeling a little Dan Brown to me.

I had spent years researching the rumors that Marco’s Last Will and Testament was housed in a vault in the Museo Correr in Venice, Italy. Now, a call from my Italian contacts — some in high political places — was telling me that there was no record of such a document. And if there had been, it had gone missing. No one in Venice, my contacts told me, knew anything.

Look, I said: “I know, for a fact, that a pair of modern-day explorers got to privately view it back in the 90’s. I know it’s in Venice. Somewhere.” Niente, they said. It does not exist. Now, keep in mind, I once had the manager of an elite Venice hotel try to tell me that Marco Polo, himself, did not exist (!)


So what a thrill it was when the call did eventually come, to tell me that the ancient parchment had been located — now moved to a vault in one of the world’s earliest surviving manuscript depositories, in St. Mark’s Square Venice.

It would require a formal letter from me to the curator, expressing my passion and interest as a historian and filmmaker, and then a set appointment allowing a 30-day advance notice so that the climate-control could be carefully prepared at the archive — otherwise the 14th century parchment could disintegrate. What you’re about to view here is the ACTUAL PARCHMENT, the authentic document (handled only by an archivist in white gloves).

Join Marco Polo actor Lorenzo Richelmy and I as we get to view the “lost” Will and Testament of Marco Polo. Although his last words were reputed to be “I have not told half of what I saw” (when asked to recant his incredible tales about Asia), what you will read, along with us in English from the Latin, are among Marco’s last words and wishes — and they hold a few surprises about what he brought back with him from the Court of Kublai Khan, including a Mongol servant — likely given to him by the Khan — whom Marco would later grant official release from service and a financial stipend to live a free life in his own home in Venice.