Sunday, October 30, 2005

One must obey one's conscience?.

A note to a Catholic friend who accuses me of preferring my own conscience to that of the Holy Father, the Pope who Roman Catholics believe is the ultimate source of authority about how to live the gospel of Jesus.

Paul: you ask about my conscience.

It is Catholic theology that one must follow one's conscience even if and even when it goes against the authority of the Pope. Maybe you missed that small piece of theology and the study of religion at Notre Dame? Of course, it must be an informed conscience. Mine is.

I left ND in 1952 at the end of my junior year to give my life to God in monastic vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, conversio and stability, and lived that life for 16 years, with such love and devotion that my community elected me (without my consent or knowledge) to be one of the Council of Elders to advise the Abbot as a member of his executive council at the tender age of 34. When I tried to refuse the honor for the sake of peace of mind and heart is when my faith journey began to change from devotion and conformity to awakening and personal conscience. I had been perfectly happy as a monk, so much that I twice refused to accept major orders.

Now I have witnessed great abuse of Roman Catholic authority. Incredible abuse of people, of good people, of women, of children, of devout and caring Catholic adults, of married people, of women in vows, and on and one. I have personally witnessed the destruction of my own monastic community by an Abbot who assumed his pipeline to God was his property alone. So much so that many of us (perhaps most and most sadly) were forced to leave because we were being bullied into his ways which were obviously counter to the ways of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. Without respect, or love. I have seen such abuse first hand also in bishops and cardinals and can give examples. It is not simply human failure, but systemic failure, based on false notions of authority.

I have continued the study of Jesus and the gospels my entire life, since age 19, which since I am now 76, is going on 57 years. The Roman Catholic church married and gave its soul to power and privilege a long time ago. Little of the current Roman Catholic structure comes from Jesus. It's origin is tradition, lies and myth. The Pope has been wrong a number of times, for anyone who will examine the matter, as even Cardinal Newman did once. Infallibility is a Roman myth; it is certainly not Catholic and was never intended by Jesus.

I could go on. Current Roman Catholic teaching abuses women, abuses the priesthood, abuses the power of the laity to transform the church from below, from within, and abuses the priestliness and call to be Christ in their own diocese of the bishops. Above all, it abuses children and the conscience of children, as my own conscience was abused by the teaching of mortal sin in the first grade. There is no adequate theology of sexuality and therefore no adequate theology of marriage, nor of celibacy. I have written considerable on this. I have tried repeatedly to communicate with Catholic authority. Bishop Ken Williams knew me, knew me well, was guest in my home, but he refused to listen to my repeated warnings about priestly abuses arising from mis-undertanding of their own sexuality that I warned him about long before scandals broke. Four long letters to him in 1993.

Simply put, I find the current Roman Catholic system far from the intention of Jesus, and far from openness to the actual Spirit today that is needed to transform people and to transform the world.

I called the first meeting of two other ND graduates in Lexington many years ago (around 1970) to organize the Notre Dame club of central Kentucky, when I thought the Louisville Notre Dame club was not sufficient for us here in Lexington. My hope is that the ND gatherings would assist the personal spiritual journey and faith development of my college graduate friends. I discovered quickly that the energy present was mostly for Notre Dame athletics and little else.

Now, at Notre Dame I was a physical education major, fought in the Bengals three years, winning one championship and one runner up, participated in other sports, was a member of the Blue Circle that organized football pep rallies, etc,, along the way being made Cadet Colonel of the Air Force ROTC unit there in 1951, and now my wife and I still ski, and I can still enjoy Notre Dame football. But my enthusiasm for college sports is not what it was when I was 20 years old.

Now my priorities are understanding how God works in our world and in my life, in the mysteries of human love, and in giving back to others, Noblesse Oblige. My faith is the greatest gift I have, even beyond health and being lucky in marriage, in children and grandchildren, and in life. We can never earn or deserve the gift of faith. I once asked the Abbot of Gethsemani, Father Abbot Timothy, if he could ask God for a gift that he knew God wanted to give to him what would he ask for? He, in vows for almost 50 years, was Merton’s novice master and Abbot for 25 years, replied simply "faith."

But my faith is an informed faith, and a personal faith, hardily won and tenderly held. I find much mis-use of the gift of faith, in fundamentalism, in biblical literalism, among many. There is a easy stealth idolatry in religious faith. We end up too easily using the concepts of faith, doctrine about God, Jesus, etc, to judge others.

My study and my faith tells me that fundamentalist faith is destroying the world, destroying the human community, whether that is a radical Islamic faith, or radical conservative Christian faith which lends itself to political manipulation, or a radical Zionist faith that believes the territory of Judea belongs by divine right only to the Jews, or a radical Catholic faith that judges me immediately because I do not accept every word that comes from Rome. I have several Catholic friends who do that and we go back 30 years.

I do not think that any prophet of God desired that we use faith to divide the community the way that zealots of all stripes do today while assuming that God is on their side, alone. The world, and even civilization itself, is in great danger. We have a man in the White House who believes that his morning prayer group gives him and this group a divine guarantee of righteousness, even while he and his group proceed to devastate the environment, the budget, the Middle East and our military. There is no strategic planning on energy, on immigration, the preservation of our resources, etc. Power and spin control everything. But not forever as we may be learning.

Not only the RC hierarchy, but religious zealots, and the Neo-cons, and ideologues are willing to be convinced their way is divinely inspired, without paying attention to others, and therefore to the One who is always Other and always speaking to us through others.

I do not need the consent or the authority of the Pope to motivate or guide me in the seven kinds of ministry that I have. For me it is the command of Jesus in Matthew 25: v. 36 ff. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers. . ." and my belief that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, and that eventually, against all human perversion, Love shall prevail.

Journaling for October 30, 2005
Namaste, friend Paul.
Paschal Baute

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Beacon of Hope; Rosa Parks: One Person Can Make a Difference


Anyone who doubts that an individual can make a difference to the fate of a nation should consider the case of Rosa Parks, who died on Monday at the age of 92.

The date was December 1, 1955. The place: Montgomery, Alabama, which had briefly been the capital of the Confederacy and at mid century was home to 70,000 whites and 50,000 African-Americans. As with most of the South, Montgomery was ruled by Jim Crow, or racially segregated public accommodations, which extended to the city’s bus lines upon which African-Americans were especially dependent — restricted as they were to largely menial labor and not having sufficient means to own cars.

Mrs. Parks, then 42 years old, a bespectacled and quiet churchgoing woman who worked in a downtown department store as a seamstress, was riding a bus home during rush hour. When the bus became crowded and the driver called for "Niggers" to move to the back to make way for white riders, Mrs. Parks sat steadfast in her seat. Her feet hurt and she was tired. A member of the NAACP, she remembered the time 10 years earlier when she was thrown off a bus for refusing a similar order. It was time to make a stand, and she did so, in her own quiet and resolute way, by sitting tight.

That night, the woman who would not be moved launched a crusade that transformed the nation. Mrs. Parks was arrested and the local head of the NAACP, a Pullman porter named E.D. Nixon, sprang into action. Black citizens’ ensuing boycott of the Montgomery bus lines, which lasted more than a year, became the first mass movement of the civil-rights movement, which changed the nation’s complexion in every way.

The bus boycott brought the young Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to the forefront of that movement. But it was the actions of ordinary people like Mrs. Parks that fostered the revolution. As one young black woman told a reporter at the time, "The Reverend King didn’t stir us up. We’ve been stirred up for a long time."

Mrs. Parks’s life was a testimony to the glory that this nation’s greatness ultimately rests in the lives of everyday people. Her willingness to defy brutal authority simply because she was too tired to submit to injustice any longer shines through the murk of these dark days; in life she was an example, a spark. In death, her memory is a beacon of hope.

From editorial, The Boston Phoenix

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Book Review: Silent Snow, by Maria Cone, America weekly, Oct 24, 05

Book Review
Silent Snow
The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic
By Marla Cone
Grove/Atlantic. 246p $24
review by Kristin Shrader-Frechette, who teaches
philosophy and biological sciences
at the University of Notre Dame

Two decades ago, outside on the bow of a Norwegian ice-breaker, other scientists and I drank cognac poured over 10,000-year-old ice from a nearby glacier. Bundled up, only miles from the North Pole, we enjoyed an August sunset, a break in our scientific meetings to develop policy for protecting the Arctic. Even then we knew that the pristine appearance of the sea and the purple-blue glaciers was completely misleading.

The award-winning journalist Marla Cone tells why. In her magnificently written Silent Snow, she reveals how invisible toxins have made Arctic peoples and animals some of the most contaminated on the planet. Her tale is part adventure, part anthropology, part travelogue, part natural history and part science - but always gripping and entertaining.

Cone spent months living side by side with Arctic native peoples and scientists. She heard their stories, lived as they lived, ate as they ate—often only raw or fermented whale. Cone also did her scientific homework, a task made easier by her two decades of environmental journalism. The result is a work comparable to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the groundbreaking warning published in 1962 about the dangers of pesticides. Cone’s book likely will become the classic warning about the Arctic. A scientific whodunit, a detective story about pollutants, as well as a touching and heart-warming anthropological journey, Silent Snow reads like a good novel, except that it is all true. It has unexplained phenomena, secret villains, innocent victims, charismatic characters, beloved animals and a harsh but exotic natural backdrop.

The first six chapters of Silent Snow explain “The Arctic Paradox.” Why do millions of tons of toxic chemicals, produced and used by industrial nations, end up in the Arctic, where they are neither produced nor used? Explaining how toxins accumulate in animal fat and bio-accumulate up the food chain, how atmospheric hopscotch and ocean transport bring them to the Arctic, Cone unravels the paradox. For centuries Arctic peoples have been free of heart disease. Eating only food from the sea, rich in vitamins and especially essential fatty acids, they have been extraordinarily healthy. In the last half century, all this has changed. Arctic native peoples and polar bears have 200 toxic contaminants in their bodies, some at levels millions to billions of times greater than that of the water supplying their food. Their contaminant levels are many times greater than that of citizens in chemical-producing nations. As a result, they face damaged immune systems, increased cancers, neurological and developmental impairment in their children, lower IQ’s, hormone or endocrine disruption and massive extinction of Arctic species. In a masterful tale that combines tracing scientific mysteries, telling stories of Arctic hunters and experiencing communal whale feasts, Cone shows how an entire culture and way of life is being destroyed by chemicals from distant peoples.

The middle five chapters of the book tell the story of scientists trying to advise the native Arctic peoples about their heavy contamination. Should they recommend not breast-feeding their babies? Abandoning traditional foods? The dilemmas facing scientists are massive, particularly because the Arctic pollutant-load is increasing. For every long-lived chemical that is banned, like DDT, industrial nations soon begin using dozens of others that are even more dangerous. The vicious cycle continues.

The final three chapters of the book outline a prescription for saving the Arctic. Tellingly, they note that in 1997 the United Nations recommended an international treaty to ban or reduce P.O.P.’s (persistent organic pollutants), which are responsible for the Arctic damage. By 2004, 59 nations—including all major European countries, Canada, Mexico, Japan and many Asian and African nations—had signed the P.O.P. treaty into law. The United States, however, has not. The Bush administration claims it would harm the $9-billion annual U.S. chemical industry. Yet as Cone notes, already U.S. children have suffered neurological impairment, decreased immune function, increased cancers and a host of other ailments because of chemical contamination. One of every six babies in the United States is born to a mother carrying high levels of pollutants—like mercury—that can cause neurological and developmental damage to her children. Yet the Bush administration has weakened many pollution laws, failed to enforce others and allowed a tripling of mercury emissions. As Cone points out, Arctic peoples are not the only victims. They are merely the canaries in the coal mines of global pollution.

Cone’s book is scientifically accurate and clear, even though it reads like a thriller. I could find only one misleading claim: on page 48 she says heart disease is the industrialized world’s leading killer. Actually, since 1999, cancer has been the leading killer of Americans under age 65.

Full of sympathy and human understanding of the Arctic peoples, Silent Snow is extraordinarily balanced and evenhanded. If anything, it understates the case against pollution. Giving multiple perspectives on all issues, typically Cone lets scientists and indigenous people speak for themselves. She knows how to tell a story. Her book is rich with effortless insights—as when she notes that Americans often are critical of Arctic peoples for killing whales, but do the same through their pollution. She puzzles over the fact that the worst Arctic hardships come not from the weather, but from pollutants never made or used there.

Underlying Silent Snow is a subtle moral compass, one that never allows preaching or sentimentality. Yet its message is clear. Victims of Arctic pollution, especially children, are imperiled by powerful and wealthy interests in distant lands, lands far less harmed by their own chemicals. Although her remarks are balanced and factual, Cone documents how European nations are correcting their chemical addictions, through new policies like REACH. Yet she claims the United States says it wants protection but does nothing. Siding with the chemical industry and its powerful lobbies, both U.S. Democrats and Republicans are avoiding regulations that the Europeans are embracing, regulations that could protect all of us.

Read this book. Then send it to your congressional representatives and senators. Kristin Shrader-Frechette

Kristin Shrader-Frechette teaches philosophy and biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, is an advisor to many nations and the United Nations and has published 15 books, most recently Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy (Oxford Univ. Press). Click here for a sample of author's writings in America and for books by author at Link to "sample writings" is slow; link to amazon may list books by authors with similar names.

Book Review taken from America, Catholic weekly magazine, Oct 24, 2005.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

HOw true conservatives can join in the fun of the Neo-con crackup

Spitball Fight: How conservatives can join in the fun of the Republican crackup.
By Bruce Reed Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?: The best part of the current chaos in Washington is that for the first time in this century, the cast is operating without a script. It's Improv Night—nobody knows the next scene, let alone the ending, so more and more players are rejecting canned lines in favor of saying what they actually think.

Candor has never exactly been the coin of the realm in Washington, where people who tell the truth are quarantined as "mavericks." The tightly scripted Bush administration has made matters worse by putting the screws to any Republican who dared depart the party line—and by inspiring some Democrats to adopt the same logic. In such an atmosphere, talking points carry more weight than facts, and message discipline is prized over actual thought.

This administration allows improvisation only if it's even more inventive than the script. Ever since the infamous smear campaign against John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary, Bush strategists have signaled that allies could freelance so long as their whoppers were consistent with the underlying fib. In the Plame affair, the White House may well have broken the law just to salvage an already shaky talking point.

Washington has become so immune to misdirection that Judith Miller didn't even blink when Scooter Libby asked her to quote him as a "former Hill staffer"—a label that could just as easily have applied to Joe Wilson or Vice President Cheney. If she let sources hide behind cloaking devices like that, no wonder Miller can't remember who else told her about "Valerie Flame."

School's Out: But in recent weeks, Washington Republicans who used to do as they were told have started acting up like a junior-high study hall. Thanks to screw-ups and scandal, the usual disciplinarians—DeLay, Rove, and Bush—are in detention themselves. So, after five years of sitting up straight and folding their hands, the class is seizing this brief window of freedom to throw spitballs in every direction.

On the right, the Miers nomination has unleashed a fury of honest introspection—in other words, name-calling. In today's New York Times, class president Bill Kristol leads the way by emasculating a new target, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. "He's always been—weaker is not quite fair, but he's always been a less powerful chief of staff than we're used to," Kristol says.

That's an impressive drive-by, even for a skilled insurgent like Kristol. It's not every day that a good partisan tells the nation's leading newspaper that the highest ranking appointed member of his own party is impotent—er, less important.

The coming weeks should bring more candor, not less. Truman used to say that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Today, he might say: If you want an honest answer in Washington, get a subpoena.

Grand jury appearances are one way to focus the mind. The prospect of imminent political disaster is another. The deeper Bush sinks in the polls, the more willing his followers will be to say what they really think. As the chairman of the American Conservative Union declared yesterday, "The days of the blank check have ended."

Curb Your Enthusiasm: On behalf of political spectators everywhere, I encourage this long overdue truth movement in conservative circles. Friends, it's not healthy to keep all those feelings of bitterness and neglect bottled up for so long.

We know you're good soldiers, but what about your loyalty to a higher cause, the conservative movement? When the White House made you sign that confidentiality agreement, they never said you'd have to bite your tongue and go along with gutless wonders on the bench, huge new entitlements in the budget, and the biggest increase in domestic spending since LBJ.

Now is the time to get it all off your chest. Tom DeLay's never coming back, so tell us what he's really like. Stop pretending that Karl Rove is "irreplaceable" when you know you could do a better job without enraging the right or risking jail time.

Above all, give us your honest take on that conservative heartbreaker, President Bush. The rest of America is jumping ship, and seats in the lifeboat are going fast.

Let's face it—the president is a lame duck. "Lamer" isn't quite fair; let's just say "less able than we're used to."

Conservatives of America, you've suffered enough—don't miss out on all the fun now. Unless you pile on, we'll have to assume you need a presidential pardon. ...

Copied from Slate online

Monday, October 10, 2005

On Writing, Capote movie review,

CAPOTE: I saw the movie Saturday in L.A. at the beautiful Arclight theaters. It's easily the finest movie I have seen this year (with "MurderBall" a close second), but my fascination by it is probably colored by my chosen profession. In most movies about writing or even intellectual life - the comically bad "Good Will Hunting" or the moronic "A Beautiful Mind," come to mind - there is not the slightest indication that the writer, director or actors have a clue about the simple dynamics of the writing or thinking process. "Capote" catches it with unnerving, restrained skill. I cannot improve on Daphne Merkin's pitch-perfect review in Slate so let me merely echo this judgment:

Capote enables us to grasp, more than any movie on the subject I have seen, what it is exactly that a writer does when he or she writes, how observation leads to perception leads to the crafting of sentences. In so doing, it gets far closer to the complicated, elusive heart of this strange calling—the way it is both an explicitly private but implicitly public act, a means of rendezvousing with the self but also of showcasing the self—than any cinematic depiction until now.

Merkin, oddly, does not acknowledge Capote's homosexuality, which permeates the movie, and sets the gay writer even further apart from the rural, straight world he has to confront and immerse in. Capote navigated straight society the old way: by a "talent to amuse" in high society, even while he was deadly serious about his work. Funny fags have always been acceptable in certain circles. But what helped connect him to his murderous subjects? A shared history of an awful childhood, but also surely an intuitive understanding of what it means to be an outsider. That's a gift - made all the more compelling by the way in which the movie did not flinch in the face of Capote's alloyed character and ethics. But the loneliness and sadness of the man remains. Did he ever know love? And if it had been offered, would he have ever been able to say yes?

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Published on Friday, October 7, 2005 by
A Question for Journalists: How Do We Cover Penguins and the Politics of Denial?
by Bill Moyers
Keynote Speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists Convention
Austin, Texas - October 1, 2005

Thank you for inviting me here today and for counting me as a colleague.

I don't fit neatly into the job description of an environmental journalist although I have kept returning to the beat ever since my first documentary on the subject some 30 years ago. That was a story about how the new Republican governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, had set out to prove that the economy and the environment could share the center lane on the highway to the future.

Those were optimistic years for the emerging environmental movement. Rachel Carson had rattled the cage with Silent Spring and on the first Earth Day in 1970 twenty million Americans rose from the grassroots to speak for the planet. Even Richard Nixon couldn't say no to so powerful a subpoena by public opinion, and he put his signature to some far-reaching measures for environmental protection.

I shared that optimism and believed journalism would help to fulfill it. I thought that when people saw a good example they would imitate it, that if Americans knew the facts and the possibilities they would act on them. After all, half a century ago, I had walked every day as a student across the campus of my alma mater, the University of Texas and could look up at the main tower and read the words: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." I believed we were really on the way toward the third American Revolution. The first had won our independence as a nation. The second had finally opened the promise of civil rights to all Americans. Now the third American Revolution was to be the Green Revolution for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

Sometimes in a moment of reverie I imagine that it happened. I imagine that we had brought forth a new paradigm for nurturing and protecting our global life support system; that we had faced up to the greatest ecological challenge in human history and conquered it with clean renewable energy, efficient transportation and agriculture, and the non-toxic production and protection of our forests, oceans, grasslands and wetlands. I imagine us leading the world on a new path of sustainability.

Alas, it was only a reverie. The reality is otherwise. Rather than leading the world in finding solutions to the global environmental crises, the United States is a recalcitrant naysayer and backslider. Our government and corporate elites have turned against America's environmental visionaries - from Teddy Roosevelt to John Muir, from Rachel Carson to David Brower, from Gaylord Nelson to Laurence Rockefeller. They have set out to eviscerate just about every significant gain of the past generation, and while they are at it they have managed to blame the environmental movement itself for the failure of the Green Revolution. If environmentalism isn't dead, they say, it should be. And they will gladly lead the cortege to the grave.

Yes, I know: the environmental community has stumbled on many fronts. All of us in this room have heard and reported the charges: that the rhetoric is alarmist and the ideology polarizing; that command-and-control regulation produces bureaucratic bungles, slows economic growth, and delays technological advances that save lives; that what began as a grassroots movement has now become an entrenched green bureaucracy precariously hanging on in occupied Washington while passionate citizens across the country are starved for financial resources. There is some truth in these charges; all movements flounder and must periodically regroup.

Before we consider the case closed, however, let me urge you to take a hard look at the backlash. I didn't reckon on the backlash. If the Green Revolution is a bloody pulp today, it is not just because the environmental movement mugged itself. It is because the corporate, political, and religious right ganged up on it in the back alleys of power. Big companies fund a relentless assault on green values and policies. Political ideologues launch countless campaigns to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich benefactors. And homegrown ayatollahs are more set on savaging gay people than saving the green earth.

I especially failed to reckon with how ruthless the reactionaries would be. What they did to Rachel Carson when Silent Spring appeared in 1962 has been honed to a sharp edge aimed at the jugular of anyone who challenges them.

I felt the knife's edge some years ago when I took up the subject of pesticides and food for a Frontline documentary on PBS. My producer, Marty Koughan, learned that the industry was plotting behind the scenes to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Science study on the effect of pesticide residues in children. When the companies found out we were on the story, they came after us. Before the documentary aired television reviewers and the editorial pages of newspapers were flooded with disinformation. A whispering campaign took hold. One Washington Post columnist took a dig at the broadcast without having seen it and later confessed to me that he had gotten a bum tip about the content from a top lobbyist for the chemical industry and printed it without asking me for a response.

Some public television managers were so unnerved by the propaganda blitz against a yet-to-be aired documentary that they actually protested to PBS with a letter prepared by the chemical industry.

Here's what most perplexed us: eight days before the broadcast, the American Cancer Society, an organization that in no way figured in our story, sent to its three-thousand local chapters a "critique" of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not yet seen, that had not yet aired, and that did not claim what the Society said was in it? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into these questions for Legal Times. She found that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had several chemical companies as clients, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. The firm was able to cash in on some of the goodwill from their "charitable" work to persuade the communications staff at the Society to distribute erroneous talking points about the documentary before it aired - talking points supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli. Legal Times headlined the story, "Porter Novelli Plays All Sides," a familiar Washington game.

This was just round one. The producer Sherry Jones and I spent more than a year working on another PBS documentary called "Trade Secrets." This was a two-hour investigative special based on records from the industry's own archives. Those internal documents revealed that for over 40 years big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers damaging information about toxic chemicals in their products. They confirmed not only that a shameless and amoral industry knowingly deceived the public. They also confirmed that we were living under a regulatory system designed by the chemical industry itself - one that put profits ahead of safety.

Once again the industry pounced. We found ourselves the target of another public relations firm - this one noted for using private detectives and former CIA, FBI and drug enforcement officers to conduct investigations for big business. One of its founders acknowledged that corporations "sometimes" resort to unconventional resources, including "using deceit." We were the target of a classic smear campaign and PBS felt the pressure. Still, the documentary ran, created a big impact across the country, and a year later received an Emmy from our peers for outstanding investigative journalism.

But this crowd never gives up. President Bush has turned the agencies charged with environmental protection over to people who don't believe in it. To run the Interior Department he chose a long-time defender of polluters who has opposed laws to safeguard wildlife, habitat, and public lands. To run the Forest Service he chose a timber industry lobbyist. To oversee our public lands he named a mining industry lobbyist who believes public lands are unconstitutional. To run the Superfund he chose a woman who made a living advising corporate polluters how to evade the Superfund. And in the White House office of environmental policy the President placed a lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute whose mission was to make sure the government's scientific reports on global warming didn't contradict the party line and the interest of oil companies. Everywhere you look, the foxes own the chicken coop.

My colleagues and I reported these stories again and again on my weekly PBS series, to the consternation of the President's minions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB Chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, turned the administration's discomfort at embarrassing disclosures into a crusade to discredit our journalism. Tomlinson left the chairmanship this week but the Rightwing coup at public broadcasting is complete. He remains on the board under a new chair who is a former real estate director and Republican fund raiser. She recently told a Senate hearing that the CPB should have the authority to penalize public broadcasting journalists if they step out of line. Sitting beside her and Tomlinson on the board is another Bush appointee - also a partisan Republican activist - who was a charter member and chair of Newt Gingrich's notorious political action committee, GOPAC. Reporting to them is the White House's handpicked candidate to be President and chief executive officer of the CPB - a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee whose husband became PR director of the Chemical Manufacturers Association after he had helped the pesticide industry smear Rachel Carson for her classic work on the environment, Silent Spring. Mark my words: if this gang has anything to say about it, there will be no challenging journalism to come from public television while they are around; no investigative reporting on the environment; no reporting at all on conflicts of interest between government and big business; no naming of names.

So if the environmental movement is pronounced dead, it won't be from self-inflicted wounds. We don't blame slavery on the slaves, the Trail of Tears on the Cherokees, or the Srebrenica massacre on the bodies in the grave. No, the lethal threat to the environmental movement comes from the predatory power of money and the pathological enmity of rightwing ideology.

Theodore Roosevelt warned a century ago of the subversive influence of money in politics. He said the central fact in his time was that big business had become so dominant it would chew up democracy and spit it out. The power of corporations, he said, had to be balanced with the interest of the general public. That warning was echoed by his cousin Franklin, who said a "government by organized money is as much to be feared as a government by organized mob." Both Roosevelts rose to that challenge in their day. But a hundred years later mighty corporations are once again the undisputed overlords of government. Follow the money and you are inside the inner sanctum of the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute. Here is the super board of directors for Bush, Incorporated. They own the Administration lock, stock, and barrel, and their grip on our government's environmental policies is leading to calamitous consequences. Once the leader in cutting edge environmental policies and technologies and awareness, America is now eclipsed. As the scientific evidence grows, pointing to a crisis, our country has become an impediment to action, not a leader. Earlier this year the White House even conducted an extraordinary secret campaign to scupper the British government's attempt to tackle global warming - and then to undermine the UN's effort to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. George W. Bush is the Herbert Hoover of the environment. His failure to lead on global warming means that even if we were dramatically to decrease greenhouse gases overnight we have already condemned ourselves and generations to come to a warming planet.

You no doubt saw those reports a few days ago that the Artic has suffered another record loss of sea ice. This summer, satellites monitoring the region found that ice reached its lowest monthly point on record - the fourth year in a row it has fallen below the monthly downward trend. The anticipated effects are well known: as the Artic region absorbs more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further, the relentless cycle of melting and heating will shrink the massive land glaciers of Greenland and dramatically raise sea levels. Scientists were quoted saying that with this new acceleration of melt the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate cannot recover.

Nonetheless, last year a Gallup poll found that nearly half of Americans worry "only a little" or "not at all" about global warming or "the greenhouse effect." In July of this year, ABC News reported that 66% of the people in a new survey said they don't think global warming will affect their lives.

If you've seen the film "March of the Penguins," you know it is a delight to the eye and a tug at the heart. The camera follows the flocks as they trek back and forth over the ice to their breeding ground. You see them huddle together to protect their eggs in temperatures that average 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. So powerful and beautiful a film can only increase one's awe of our small neighbors far to the north.

In the New York Times recently, Jonathan Miller reported that conservatives are invoking "March of the Penguins" as an inspiration for their various causes. Some praise the penguins for their monogamy. Opponents of abortion say it verifies "the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it." A Christian magazine claims it makes "a strong case for intelligent design." On the website "" you can find instructions to take a notebook, flashlight and pen to the movie "to write down what God speaks to you" as you watch the film.

Fair enough. It would not be the first time human beings felt connected to a transcendental power through nature. But what you will not find in the film is any reference to global warming. Why is it relevant? Because to reproduce, the penguins must go to the thickest part of the ice where they can safely stand without fear it will break beneath their weight. Global warming obviously weakens the ice. If it becomes too thin, the penguins will lose the support necessary for reproduction. Yet the film is silent on this threat to these little creatures that conservatives are adopting as their mascots in the culture wars. The film's director explained that he wanted to reach as many people as possible and since "Much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming," he didn't want to go there.

Again, fair enough. I can't fault him for the aspiration to tell the story for its own sake, in the most simple and profound way. I can't fault him for wanting to avoid disturbing the comfort of viewers. I often wish that I were a filmmaker instead of a journalist and didn't have to give people a headache by reporting the news they'd rather not hear.

But what we don't know can kill us.

Our oldest son is addicted to alcohol and drugs. I'm not spilling any family secrets here; my wife Judith and I produced a PBS series based on our family's experience and called it "Close to Home" because we wanted to remind people that addiction hijacks the brain irrespective of race, creed, color or street address. He's doing well, thank you - he's been in recovery for ten years now and has become one of the country's leading public advocates for treatment. But we almost lost him more than once because he was in denial and so were we. For a decade prior to his crash he would not admit to himself what was happening, and he was able to hide it from us; he was, after all, a rising star in journalism, married, a home-owner and a God-fearing churchgoer. Naturally we believed the best about him: A drug addict, slowly poisoning himself to death? Not our son! The day before he crashed I was concerned about his behavior and asked him to lunch. "Are you in trouble?" I asked? "Are you using?" He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "No, Dad, not at all. Just a few problems at home." "Whew," I said, placing my hand on his. "I'm really glad to hear that." And I switched the subject. The next day he was gone. We searched for days before his mother and a friend tracked him down and coaxed him from a crack house to the hospital.

They say denial is not a river in Egypt. It is, however, the governing philosophy in Washington. The President's contempt for science - for evidence that mounts everyday - is mind boggling. Here is a man who was quick to launch a 'preventative war' against Iraq on faulty intelligence and premature judgment but who refuses to take preventive action against a truly global menace about which the scientific evidence is overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the people in his core constituency who could most effectively call on this President to lead are largely silent. I mean the Christian conservatives who gave President Bush 15 million votes in 2000 and maybe 20 million in 2004. Without their support, the transnational corporations who now control Washington would fail to have the votes needed to eviscerate our environmental protections.

Some of these Christian conservatives are implacable. They have given their proxies to the televangelists, pastors, and preachers who have signed on with the Republican Party to turn their faith into a political religion, a weapon of partisan conflict.

But millions of these people believe they are here on earth to serve a higher moral power, not a partisan agenda. They overwhelmingly respond to natural disasters like last year's tsunami or the AIDS crisis in Africa by opening their hearts and wallets wide. Alas, although many of them may believe Christians have a moral obligation to protect God's creation, most remain uninformed about the true scope of the environmental crisis and the role of the Republican Party in it. As a result, they typically vote their consciences on social issues rather than environmental ones.

Listen to this anguished moral missive from Joel Gillespie, a conservative Christian who recently wrote to On Earth magazine: "I'll admit that when I pushed the button for President Bush, I did so with some sadness, given his dismal environmental record. But many of us who love the natural world…feel we face an almost impossible either-or-predicament. Voting for pro-environmental candidates usually means voting for a package of other policies that we will never swallow. We're forced to choose unborn babies or endangered species, traditional marriage or habitat protection, cleaning up the smut that comes across the airwaves or the smut that fouls our air. And the fact that we are forced to make such choices has harmed the natural environment and the special places we love and cherish."

Many evangelical Christians face Gillespie's dilemma. They need to be challenged to look more closely at their moral choices - to consider whether it is possible to be pro-life while also being anti-earth. If you believe uncompromisingly in the right of every baby to be born safely into this world, can you at the same time abandon the future of that child, allowing its health and safety to be compromised by a President who gives big corporations license to poison our bodies and destroy our climate?

In his grandstanding during the Schiavo right-to-die case last spring, President Bush said, "It is wise to always err on the side of life," and he pleaded for a "culture of life." But by ignoring the wise counsel of thousands of environmental scientists, the President is not erring on the side of life. He is playing dice with our children's future - dice that we have likely loaded against our own species, and perhaps against all life on earth.

There is a market here for journalists who are hungry for new readers. The conservative Christian audience is some fifty million readers strong. But to reach them, we have to understand something of their belief systems.

Reverend Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network, for example, tells us that "creation-care is starting to resonate not just with evangelical progressives but with conservatives who are at the center of the evangelical spectrum." Last year, in a document entitled For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, the National Association of Evangelicals declared that our Bible "implies the principle of sustainability: our uses of the earth must be designed to conserve and renew the earth rather than to deplete or destroy it." In what might have come from the Sierra Club itself, the declaration urged "government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats." Ball and a few evangelical leaders have also pushed for a climate change plank to their program, standing up to demagogues like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson who are in the service of the corporate-funded radical wing of the Republican Party.

But we can't expect to engage this vast conservative Christian audience with our standard style of reporting. Environmental journalism has always spoken in the language of environmental science. But fundamentalists and Pentecostals typically speak and think in a different language. Theirs is a poetic and metaphorical language: a speech that is anchored in the truth of the Bible as they read it. Their moral actions are guided not by the newest IPCC report but by the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Here's an important statistic to ponder: 45 percent of Americans hold a creational view of the world, discounting Darwin's theory of evolution. I don't think it is a coincidence then that in a nation where nearly half our people believe in creationism, much of the populace also doubts the certainty of climate change science. Contrast that to other industrial nations where climate change science is overwhelmingly accepted as truth; in Britain, for example, where 8l% of the populace wants the government to implement the Kyoto Treat. What's going on here? Simply that millions of American Christians accept the literal story of Genesis, and they either dismiss or distrust a lot of science - not only evolution, but paleontology, archeology, geology, genetics, even biology and botany. To those Christians who believe that our history began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that it will end soon on the plains of Armageddon, environmental science with its urgent warnings of planetary peril must look at the best irrelevant. At worst the environmental woes we report may be stoically viewed as the inevitable playing out of the end of time as presented in the book of Revelation. For Christian dominionists who believe the Lord will provide for all human needs and never leave us short of oil or other resources, no matter how we overpopulate the earth, our reporting may be viewed as a direct attack on biblical teachings that urge humans "to be fruitful and multiply." It's even possible that among many Christian conservatives, our environmental reporting - if they see it at all - could seem arrogant in its assumptions, mechanistic, cold and godless in its world view. That's a tough indictment, but one that must be faced if we want to understand how these people get their news.

So if I were a free-lance journalist looking to offer a major piece on global warming to these people, how would I go about it? I wouldn't give up fact-based analysis, of course - the ethical obligation of journalists is to ground what we report in evidence. But I would tell some of my stories with an ear for spiritual language, the language of parable, for that is the language of faith.

Let's say I wanted to write a piece about the millions of species that might be put on the road to extinction by global warming. Reporting that story to a scientific audience, I would talk science: tell how a species decimated by climate change could reach a point of no return when its gene pool becomes too depleted to maintain its evolutionary adaptability. That genetic impoverishment can eventually lead to extinction.

But how to reach fundamentalist Christians who doubt evolution? How would I get them to hear me? I might interview a scientist who is also a person of faith and ask how he or she might frame the subject in a way to catch the attention of other believers. I might interview a minister who would couch the work of today's climate and biodiversity scientists in a biblical metaphor: the story of Noah and the flood, for example. The parallels of this parable are wonderful to behold. Both scientists and Noah possess knowledge of a potentially impending global catastrophe. They try to spread the word, to warn the world, but are laughed at, ridiculed. You can almost hear some philistine telling old Noah he is nothing but a "gloom and doom" environmentalist," spreading his tale of abrupt climate change, of a great flood that will drown the world, of the impending extinction of humanity and animals, if no one acts.

But no one does act, and Noah continues hearing the word of God: "You are to bring into the Ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you." Noah does as God commands. He agrees to save not only his own family but to take on the daunting task of rescuing all the biodiversity of the earth. He builds the Ark and is ridiculed as mad. He gathers two of every species, the climate does change, the deluge comes as predicted. Everyone not safely aboard drowns. But Noah and the complete complement of Earth's animals live on. You've seen depictions of them disembarking the Ark beneath a rainbow, two by two, the giraffes and hippos, horses and zebras. Noah, then, can be seen as the first great preservationist, preventing the first great extinction. He did exactly what wildlife biologists and climatologists are trying to do today: to act on their moral convictions to conserve diversity, to protect God's creation in the face of a flood of consumerism and indifference by a materialistic world.

Some of you are probably uncomfortable with my parable. You may be ready to scoff or laugh. And now you know exactly how a fundamentalist Christian who believes devoutly in creationism feels when we journalists write about the genetics born of Darwin. If we don't understand how they see the world, if we can't empathize with each person's need to grasp a human problem in language of his or her worldview, then we will likely fail to reach many Christian conservatives who have a sense of morality and justice as strong as our own. And we will have done little to head off the sixth great extinction.

That's not all we should be doing, of course. We are journalists first, and trying to reach one important audience doesn't mean we abandon other audiences or our challenge to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. Let's go back for a moment to America's first Gilded Age just over a hundred years ago. That was a time like now. Gross materialism and blatant political corruption engulfed the country. Big business bought the government right out from under the people. Outraged at the abuse of power the publisher of McClure's Magazine cried out to his fellow journalists: "Capitalists…politicians….all breaking the law, or letting it be broken? There is no one left [to uphold it]: none but all of us."

Then something remarkable happened. The Gilded Age became the golden age of muckraking journalism.

Lincoln Steffans plunged into the shame of the cities - into a putrid urban cauldron of bribery, intimidation, and fraud, including voting roles padded with the names of dead dogs and dead people - and his reporting sparked an era of electoral reform.

Nellie Bly infiltrated a mental hospital, pretending to be insane, and wrote of the horrors she found there, arousing the public conscience.

John Spargo disappeared into the black bowels of coal mines and came back to crusade against child labor. For he had found there little children "alone in a dark mine passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living creature except…a rat or two seeking to share one's meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the ankles, chilled to the marrow…to work for fourteen hours…for sixty cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night, and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the nearest 'shack' to be revived before it is possible to walk to the farther shack called 'home.'"

Upton Sinclair waded through hell and with "tears and anguish" wrote what he found on that arm of the Chicago River known as "Bubbly Creek" on the southern boundary of the [stock] yards [where]: "all the drainage of the square mile of packing houses empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer…and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations…bubbles of carbonic acid gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava…the packers used to leave the creek that way, till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out."

The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie, and SaraJane - my grandchildren, ages 13 down. They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me - our pens and our keyboards and our microphones - to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it. The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden.

A lot is riding on what we do. You may be the last group of journalists who make the effort to try to inform the rest of us about the most complex of issues involving the survival of life on earth.

Last year, my final year on NOW with Bill Moyers, we produced a documentary called "Endangered Species," about a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., known as Anacostia, just a few blocks from Capitol Hill. It is one of the most violent and dangerous neighborhoods in the city, one of those places that give Washington the horrendous distinction of the highest murder rate of any major city in the country. It's horrendous in other ways too. The Anacostia River that gives the neighborhood its name is one of the most polluted in America; more than a billion gallons of raw sewage end up in it every year.

We went there to report on the Earth Conservation Corps, a project started by one Bob Nixon to recruit neighborhood kids to help clean up the river and community. For their efforts, they earn minimum wage, get health insurance, and are offered a $5000 scholarship if they go back to school.

The area where they work is practically a war zone. Since the project began an average of one corps member has been murdered almost every year. One was beaten to death. One was raped and killed. Another died when he was caught in the middle of a shooting while riding his bike. Three were shot execution style.

One of the most charismatic of the kids who joined the Corps was named Diamond Teague. He worked so hard the others jokingly called him "Choir Boy." His work became his passion; he loved it. It gave purpose and meaning to his life to try and clean up his neighborhood and river. But one morning while he was sitting on his front porch someone walked up and shot him in the head.

It's that kind of place, not far from where the swells of Congress are hosted and toasted by lobbyists for America's most powerful and privileged interests.

After his death Diamond Teague got the only press of his short life - 43 words in the Washington Post:

"A teenager was found fatally shot about 2:05 Thursday in the 2200 block of Prout Place SW, police said.
Diamond D. Teague, 19, who lived on the block, was pronounced dead."
That's all. That was Diamond Teague's obit. Not a word about his work for the Earth's Conservation Corps. Not a word.

It was left to his friends to tell the world about Diamond Teague. One of them explained to us that they wanted people to know that just because a black man gets killed in the Southeast corner of the nation's capitol, "he's not just a drug dealer or gang banger…and not just discount him as nobody when he deserves for people to know him and to know his life."

They made a video - you can see part of it in our documentary. They turned out for his funeral in uniform. They wept and prayed for their fallen friend. And then they went back to work, on a dusty patch of land squeezed between two factories that they envisioned as a park. "We see the bigger picture," one of Diamond's friends told us. "All great things have to start in roughness. We're just at the beginning of something that's gonna be beautiful."

They've said they would call it the Diamond Teague Memorial Park, in honor of their friend who was trying to save an endangered river and neighborhood but couldn't save himself.

On that fleck of land, where anything beautiful must be born in roughness, they see "the bigger picture."

Just blocks away, at opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in the White House and the Capitol, the blind lead the blind, on one more march of folly.

Who is left to open the eyes of the country - to tell Americans what is happening? "There is no one left; none but all of us."


Wednesday, October 05, 2005


“Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Joshua Wolf Shenk, in The Atlantic, October, 2005, v. 296, n. 3, pp. 52-68.

Those interested in how fit for leadership are our elected politicians (presidents?), or what we can learn from leaders who have contributed greatly to our nation, or whether the life long melancholy and depression of Abe Lincoln became “the fuel and fire of his great work,” should run, not walk, to the nearest newsstand to see if the October issue of The Atlantic is still available.

This issue features a summary overview of Shenk’s forthcoming book: Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, (Houghton Mifflin). In ten pages here, Shenk demonstrates how Lincoln was plagued his entire life by melancholy and what would clearly now be termed a clinical depression, how he was almost overcome repeatedly by this “mental illness,” finally engaged it through vigorous work, and eventually transformed it--though he never “solved” it.

This is a fascinating read not only because it runs counter to popular psychology and much practice which believes we must find remedies and solve such disorders before we can be whole, work and love properly, but also because a personal faith is not yet recognized as a health factor by many mental health professionals and particularly by psychologists, who tend to be more agnostic than the rest. Only very recently are psychologists embracing their discipline as a health science with body / mind / spirit connections.

I admit that Lincoln is my second favorite study, but I seldom find stuff to read as compelling and meaningful as this. It was not a doctrinal faith or orthodox Christianity that enabled Lincoln to survive and prevail in a time of great turmoil, both national and personal. It was, instead, a deep personal sense of connection with a power greater than himself. He repeatedly called himself an instrument, sometimes of the people of the nation, and sometimes of God. He believed he could not shrink his duties even in the face of assassination. When warned by friends of this real possibility, Lincoln replied, “God’s will be done. I am in His hands.”

Highly recommended. Five stars out of five. You will want to talk about this and share it with others. You may find a new meaning in “mental disorder,” and renewed interest in Lincoln. Reading Lord Charnwood’s biography of Lincoln at age 20 while a buck private in the U.S. Army on Guam more than fifty years ago made a profound impression on me and my work ethic. I began to deliberately shape the kind of person I wanted to become. The year was 1949.

Paschal Baute
Lexington, Ky
October 5, 2005