June 17: Heroes and Pioneers in the Faith

Currently I’m reading Mario Vargas Llosa’s El sueño del celta (The Dream of the Celt) about the life of forgotten human-rights advocate Sir Roger Casement (see Casement’s famous Statement before the Dock) who exposed colonial and corporate barbarism in Congo, Brazil, Peru, and Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century.

In recounting the story of Casement, Vargas Llosa reminds me again of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews: “Do you not see what this means–all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God …” (12:1-2, Message).

So here are a few of those witnesses and pioneers for the date of 17 June:

Arsenal Monument, D.C.
Arsenal Monument, D.C.

1864: Twenty-one young women and girls making cartridges for the Union Army at the Washington, D.C. arsenal during the Civil War are killed in an accidental explosion. Most of the victims were Irish immigrants. A monument was erected in the Congressional Cemetery, where 17 of the workers were buried.anthony-arrested1

1873: Susan B. Anthony goes on trial in Canandaigua, N.Y., for casting her ballot in a federal election the previous November, in violation of existing statutes barring women from the vote.

motherjones-001-575x4311903: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones leads a rally in Philadelphia to focus public attention on children mutilated in the state’s textile mills. Three weeks later the 73-year-old will lead a march to New York City to plead with President Theodore Roosevelt to help improve conditions for the children.

Prayers in the Circle of Community

This has been a week of illness and loss among our community of elders:

Fr. Bill McNichols, the iconographer of Taos, had a massive heart attack on Friday, April 27. He’s on total life support in Albuquerque. Bill is the artist behind the beautiful icons that many of us have. (This news came from John Dear through Shelley and Jim Douglass.)

Walter Wink (right, with June) broadly considered one of the most important social and political theologians of the 20th century, is in hospice care and is likely to pass within the next few days. Walter’s series of books on the “powers” — Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers — unpacks the spiritual significance of political and societal institutions (the biblical “principalities and powers”) and their role in systemic injustice. (Read Sojourners 2010 interview.) (This news came from June Keener Wink through Bill Wylie Kellermann.)

Fr. Bill Shannon, founder of the International Thomas Merton Society, died on Sunday.  Bill was an adamant reformer in the tradition of Vatican II and a professor of theology to several generations of radical Catholics. You can read Bill’s obituary here. “It’s not only fair, but right, to describe him as a prophet,” said Christine Bochen, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College. “A prophet sees clearly what Scripture is calling us to. He took very, very much to heart to see beyond the concerns of institutionalism and formalism, to get at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian—and that is to embrace the Gospel and live the Gospel.” (This news came from Michael Boucher of Word and World.)

This week the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community in West Virginia is grieving the loss of two of its early visionaries, founders, and members: Ellen Peachey and Verle Headings.

Verle Headings (left, with Jannelle Hill and Dr. Carolyn Broome), died early Friday morning, April 27 in his home at Rolling Ridge after a three month struggle with illness. His wife Vivian was with him. Verle said more than once that he planned to “die on this mountain,” and so he has. Verle taught genetics at Howard University for many years and was a leader in the Mennonite community and friend to many at Sojourners. (This news came from Bob Sabbath and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

Ellen Shenk Peachey died on Thursday, April 26, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Ellen is the great-aunt of Sojourners’ Larisa Friesen Hall and a friend of many at Sojourners. Ellen spent years living in Europe and Japan doing post-war relief work of reconstruction and peace building through the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee. She lived in Washington, D.C. for 25 years as a member of Hyattsville Mennonite Church and, with her husband Paul, were the first permanent residents of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Center in West Virginia where they lived for 14 years. Of their years at Rolling Ridge, Ellen said, “Our 15 years of living here at Pinestone have been rewarding. Guidelines that emerged in our monthly meetings during the early decade—simplicity, use of on-site materials, low profile, solar heating, adaptability—took shape in this modest cottage.” (This news came from Larisa Friesen Hall, Bob Sabath, and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

“Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.” –Mary Harris Jones

Stephen Colbert: ‘Let the Rich Start Their Own Country’

Wherever organized government has existed, so has political satire. On Monday, Stephen Colbert took on the “startling disparity in America’s wealth.” Rather than using a pie chart to illustrate the issue, Colbert portrayed a disgusting pie eating contest where the obscene rich gobble up the best and spit out the rest.

“Sometimes income brackets just drift apart,” said Colbert. He recommended — in a way that only excruciatingly honest political satire can do — that the rich start their own county, called “America Plus.” The newly formed America Plus will still maintain normal diplomatic relations with poor America and hire us as “cheap foreign labor.” Watch the video below and enjoy Colbert at his best!

See more at Colbert Nation (04:38)

“CO2 is Green”: More Big Oil Propaganda

Big oil and big coal are worried about the upcoming climate change legislation. They’re especially worried about what it will do to their bottom line. So worried, in fact, they’re willing to set up faux non-profits to try to “educate” us into believing rising levels of CO2 are okay – and that the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community is wrong.

Some might call that a difference of opinion – but really, it’s just propaganda for profit.

The front group “CO2 is Green” launched an advertising campaign this week with a half-page ad in The Washington Post urging people to pressure their senators to vote against the Senate’s “cap and trade” bill because, the ad says, “The bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change.”

Anne Mulkern, who writes for Greenwire, has a great article in the NYT about the fossil fuel industry’s latest foray into wishful thinking:

“CO2 is Green spokesman H. Leighton Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at the industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to a biography on EOG’s website. …”

EOG Resources goes farther to describe Mr. Steward, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, as:

“former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association … and currently an author-partner of Sugar Busters, LLC, a provider of seminars, books and products related to helping people follow a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and Chairman of the non-profit foundations Plants Need CO2 and CO2 Is Green, providers of information related to carbon dioxide’s impact on the global climate and the plant and animal kingdoms.”

Additionally, David Di Martino, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 80 faith and environmental groups who support climate legislation, told Mulkern, “CO2 is Green is bankrolled by Corbin J. Robinson, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources.”

According to a Mother Jones article from September 2009, “Natural Resource Partners is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the scandal-plagued coal front group currently under investigation for its role in the forged letters sent to members of Congress criticizing the House climate bill.”

Steven Mufson at The Washington Post also wrote about these guys in back in September 2009, saying:

Steward has joined forces with Corbin J. Robertson Jr., chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291 million in 2008. They have formed two groups — CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education — with about $1 million. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L. Hogan, who also serves on the group’s board.

(If you want to read more on the “populist” uprisings against climate change regulation and who’s bankrolling  them, see Greenpeace’s excellent report “Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine”.)

So it looks like the oil, coal, and natural gas corporations have developed two new front organizations: “Plants Need CO2” is the 501-c-3 (education) nonprofit and “CO2 is Green” is the 501-c-4 (advocacy) nonprofit.

These two “not-for-profit” organizations are rolling out propaganda advertisements that are bankrolled by oil company profits (“I’m not getting a penny for this,” said Steward, who said he owned oil company stocks but no coal stocks, according to the Washington Post. “It’s just something I thought people should know.”) in order to influence votes in the Senate on climate legislation that will directly impact the financial bottom line of those same oil companies.

There is something wrong with that. Maybe it’s the “lying to people for profit” -angle.

In the interest of using this column to educate rather than obfuscate, however, let’s quickly review the climate change facts as laid out by the world’s best scientists (see The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report):

1. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” (It’s happening.)

2. “Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750.” (It’s happening because of high concentrations of CO2.)

3. “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-induced] greenhouse gas concentrations.” (It’s happening mostly because of  CO2 waste produced by us, not trees.)

4. “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible.” (It’s happening and if we don’t do something we are really, uh, up a galaxy without a planet.)

5. “A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change.” (It’s happening and we could do something to slow it down, but our most effective legislative options are being eaten away by the greed of the energy companies.)

Let me be clear. I’m sure that Mr. Steward and Mr. Robinson feel morally justified in what they are doing. I’m sure that they deeply believe that they are correct in informing the public to their way of thinking. But that is why we have ethical codes, particularly business ethics, to safeguard the societal common good from the egoistic self-interest of the corporate few.

If energy, oil, and coal companies – and the people who run them – want to critique climate change legislation, then let them do it openly – not from behind a curtain of green smoke. I suggest they fund a new ad for The Washington Post:

“Climate change is not our problem — satisfying our stockholders is. Won’t you vote ‘no’ on climate change legislation? Because when Papa’s happy, everybody’s happy.” This ad is brought to you and paid for by Big Oil and Sons.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

Senate’s climate change legislation (Kerry-Lieberman bill)
Ads Backed By Fossil-Fuel Interests Argue “CO2 is Green by Anne Mulkern
C02 is Green
Ad in The Washington Post
EOG Resources
Plants Need CO2
Clean Energy Works
New Front Group: CO2 is Green by Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (motto: “Clean Coal USA”)
New Groups Revive the Debate Over Causes of Climate Change by Steve Mufson
Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine, Greenpeace
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report