Saturday, July 03, 2010

From Woody Guthrie to Patrice Lumumba & Back Again: Independence Day in Congo & the USA - Lessons Unlearned Can Be Cataclysmic

"This land is your land, this land is my land from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters ..." Woody Guthrie

"Don't weep my love. One day history will have its say. Not the history they teach in Brussels, Paris or Washington, but our history. That of a new Africa. And on that day..." Patrice Lumumba

From Woody Guthrie to Patrice Lumumba & Back Again: Independence Day in Congo & the USA - Lessons Unlearned Can Be Cataclysmic

By Richard Power

I have one memory of a childhood July 4th. At a parade in Point Pleasant, N.J. The flag was approaching, held aloft by a soldier. I stood erect, and placed my hand over my heart. Then I looked around, and saw all the grown men around me were still sitting in their lawn chairs, sipping beer and staring into space. I turned to the adult with me, and asked, "Why are they not standing for the flag of our country?"

The innocence of a child.

Five decades have past. I read them like the concentric rings on a fallen tree. The civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, the Watergate investigation, the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, the solar panels Jimmy Carter put on the White House (Ronald Reagan had them removed), Iran-Contra, the Starr Chamber of the 1990s, then Bush v. Gore and the abomination it brought us, culminating in Citizens United vs. FEC.

From 2000 on, I have spoken out, and, at a personal price, been among those providing the vital context and continuity that the US mainstream news media has so tragically failed to deliver; I have done so because I could see what was coming, and I would not be silent. I would have preferred to be proven wrong. But that is not happening.

Reality sometimes offers horrifically apt metaphors:

At least 230 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo ... Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most were killed at home or watching World Cup soccer in cinemas. Reuters AlterNet, 6-3-10

The seemingly endless oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is killing countless sea animals and sea birds, large and small. But there is no story as tragic as the plight of the sea turtles. These magnificent, graceful, creatures are particularly vulnerable to the effects of oil in the water, which weakens their eggs, chokes and poisons their young, and leaves adults addled and starving ... And if that weren't tragic enough, it turns out that shrimp boats hired by BP to corral floating oil with booms and set it on fire have been burning hundreds if not thousands of the young turtles alive. Dan Frommkin, Huffington Post, 7-2-10

June 30th, 2010 was the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence from colonial rule.

"... the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is remembering the 50th anniversary of its independence from brutal Belgian rule. But its people have little reason to celebrate, despite the grandiose festivities organised by the Kabila regime. Eastern Congo remains deeply insecure, with the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of citizens; the vast majority of Congolese are illiterate and deprived of healthcare; and the historic 2006 elections (the first since 1960) notwithstanding, democratic space is shrinking, not widening." Harry Veorhoven, Guardian, 6-30-10

July 4th, 2010 is the 234th anniversary of U.S. independence from colonial rule.

In the beginning, the promise of the USA was framed in compromise: slavery, genocide and the subjugation of women were part of the package. The rabble were allowed to dabble in democracy; the Senate and Electoral College would ensure that Plutocrats did not lose their investment. Over two painful centuries, the genocide ran its course, the slavery was abolished, and women were no longer denied the right to vote. In late 20th Century, after two great wars and a great depressions, a powerful middle class arose.

This middle class was tolerated, for awhile; until it got uppity, and started to challenge the power of the Plutocrats. Yes, it got uppity: real congressional investigations, environmental consciousness; and so, a counter-revolution was conjured up, blueprinted by Lewis Powell, fronted by Ronald Reagan, funded by the Plutocrats.

The jellybean-coated counter-revolution was sold to an easily manipulated populace by corporatist media, with help of so-called "New Democrats." This is not conspiracy-theory, this is simply corporate kulchur at work (corporatist kulchur) ...

As Chomsky said, if you want to study totalitarianism, don't study Soviet Union, study the modern US corporation.

But greed is a debilitative disease, the Plutocrats could not leave well enough alone, could not stop themselves from going too far ... Thus the Climate Crisis, Bush v. Gore, endless war, the global financial meltdown, Citizens United, the ecocide in the Gulf ... Yes, gut the factories, and have Tom Friedman tell a fairy tale about the "New Economy" and then outsource those jobs overseas too, and when the manure hits the propellers, blame it all on Mexicans.

The Plutocrats couldn't stop themselves, could not get enough; they have plundered, broken and leveled government, economy and climate. Now their Renfields in the US Senate even block extended unemployment benefits ...

In tuning into the 50th anniversary of the Congo's independence, I was struck by some of the expert analysis and commentary, and how relevant it was to plight of my own country.

"It is nothing short of hypocritical for Congo to throw nationwide celebrations without acknowledging the appalling state of human rights in the country today," said Veronique Aubert. "The Congolese people are trapped in a limbo between an unsatisfactory peace and the threat of further approaching crises.
"Until Congo's government puts the interest of its people first, security and respect for human rights will remain a distant dream."
Amnesty International, 6-30-10

The same could be said of the USA, and unless the trends throttling us now are reversed, this will be borne out in the years to come.

It is high time the west replaced its 50-year-old illusion of prioritising 'political stability' with justice and accountability that has an emphasis on human rights and grassroots state-building. The root cause of Congo's intractable crisis is the interplay of top-down authoritarianism, external manipulation and absolute impunity for those who violently exploit its people and resources: continued support for the "stabilising-factor Kabila" while accepting his failure to address atrocities by his security services implies repeating the disasters of the past. Harry Veorhoven, Guardian, 6-30-10

The same prescription could be written out for the USA, but it is highly unlikely that it will be applied to either the USA or the Congo; since the life of the common people of the USA is now sliding downward toward that of the poorer nations, rather than nations like the Congo being raised up to the quality of life which we once symbolized.

Think that I am engaging in hyperbole and exaggeration? Wash Jim Lehrer and David Gregory out of your ears for a moment and ponder these three stories:

As the nation contends with a long and sustained labor market recession, a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research demonstrates that the current unemployment rate is higher than the conventional measure shows ... Adjusting for this older workforce shows that the United States is experiencing the weakest labor market since the Great Depression. Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), 7-1-10

Let them eat bootstraps? And if that's the answer, what will they pull themselves up by after they have eaten them?

The USDA reports than nearly 17 million children in America struggled with hunger in 2008 -- a number that is now certainly even higher. Vicki B. Escarra, Huffington Post, 7-2-10

Will you allow them to be sacrificed them on the altar of "austerity" that almost all of Beltwayistan and Infotainmentstan seem to worship at?

Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system ... The United States ranked last when compared to six other countries -- Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Fund report found. Reuters, 6-23-10

Is the oft-repeated meme "the USA has best health care in world" actually a Biblical reference, as in "the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mathew 20:10)?

At this cross roads in our history, "American Exceptionalism" is a false doctrine concocted to rationalize our hypocrisy to our own ignorance. We are excepted from our own human rights principles whenever convenient. We are excepted from our own history when it contradicts the false memes with which we manipulate body politic. We are excepted from scientific fact when it conflicts with our religious superstition. We are excepted from scientific fact when it conflicts with corporate interests.

If you cannot identify the problem, how you can you solve it; if you cannot diagnose a disease, how can you work on a cure?

Acorn is an authentic and effective community-organizing group calibrated to the poorest of the poor among us, and it has been vindicated, i.e., cleared of the false charges made against it; but, of course, it will not see its Federal funding restored, and yet Blackwater, responsible for profoundly disturbing events which have done serious damage to the image of the U.S.A. (not to mention to our collective soul), has recently been awarded $100 million by the C.I.A. and $120 million from the U.S. State Department.

Paul Watson, anti-whaling leader of Sea Shepherd has been placed on the Interpol wanted list for daring to lead an intervention against Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic.

But Massey Energy CEO Blankenship isn't wanted by Interpol. Nor BP CEO Tony Hayward. Nor Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Nor Dick Cheney, George Bush or John Yoo.

Consider this Goldman Sachs story (you won't be hearing about it on NBC Meat The Press or ABC Weak In Revision, you won't be hearing Wolf Bluster challenging Tim Geithner either):

The world's wealthiest speculators set up a casino where the chips were the stomachs of hundreds of millions of innocent people. They gambled on increasing starvation, and won. Their Wasteland moment created a real wasteland. What does it say about our political and economic system that we can so casually inflict so much pain? Johann Hari, How Goldman Gambled on Starvation, Independent, 7-2-10

We are all Ethiopians now, or soon will be.

The lessons of the Congo in 2010 and the USA in 2010 is that political independence is not real independence as long as inhumane and unnatural corporate interests are allowed to dictate terms and continue to control the vertical and the horizontal, from behind a not so thick curtain.

Imagine, on this July 4th, an America that chooses to be young again, and to revive its youthful idealism; imagine an America that's new anthem was written by Woody Guthrie, and that embraces the next Lumumba as an ally in forging a new civilization, one worthy of this long-suffering planet and its desperate peoples. That is the spirit of the revolutionary America, the brave, young nation that repudiated British rule, and with it the not so hidden corporate hand of the East Indian Trading Company.

Remember ...

Pete Seeger & Bruce Springsteen singing "This Land is Your Land" at Obama Inaugural (January 2008)

To learn more about the Congo -- read Who Pays the Price? Raped for Technology at A Safe World for Women, and go to the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo, and Ben Affleck's Eastern Congo Initiative

I also encourage you to find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love: go to or Google "Bill McKibben" for the answer.

Richard Power's True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality is available from

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available from

Visit Richard Power author's page at