samedi, octobre 04, 2008

Monday morning Jesus

This has been quite a weekend for the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania.

On Friday, an ecclesiastical court ruled that Bishop Charles Bennison, convicted of covering up the sexual abuse of his brother, would be deposed. Today the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted, 240-102, to leave the Episcopal church and join the Diocese of the Southern Cone. Just a week or two ago, the House of Bishops had voted to depose Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan for "abandoning the communion of the church." Two Pennsylvania bishops deposed in less than a month-must be a record.

It would have been nice if the only event was the long-planned workshops and service of repentance at St. Thomas Philadephia for the church's participation in the transatlantic slave trade. But such was not to be.

I was covering the service for a national news agency, so I went down to West Philadelphia this morning.

The Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, was the preacher. I found the litany touching. The sermon, on the other hand, was just strange: it was more an anthropology and sociology lesson than a theological approach to slavery and penance. In addition, there was some resentment that the event wasn't held at in D.C. at the National Cathedral.

As one retired bishop said to me, "we Episcopalians are never happy about anything!"

Nonetheless, no one seemed too upset about the sermon-and I didn't overhear much talk about the missing bishop.

A friend said that it was a good thing that the deposition happened a month before our diocesan convention, so that people would have time to deal with the reality.

Was anything solved? Don't think so. Charles Bennison will appeal. The Presiding Bishop will probably try to establish a new diocese in Pittsburgh. And an apology is not reconciliation.

But, as someone reminded me, the Church goes on. Sometimes its wrong, as it was on slavery for three centuries. Sometimes its late, as when it waits 30 years after abuse to convict a clergyman. And sometimes it is torn by scandal, a poor witness to Christ.

There's a great quote from the AP story about the Pittsburgh split.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for realignment,” the Rev. Kris Opat, a conservative who is curate of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Lebanon, Pa., told the audience before the vote. “I believe it is the Lord, and not us, in control of this church. And I refuse to believe it is the Lord who is behind this fracture.”

Yet there are times when we do rise to the call to be disciples. As my friend said to me, it's not what happens on Sunday in that hour or two that matters. It's what we do on Monday- and all the days after.

jeudi, octobre 02, 2008

No decency

What's that quote from...oh gosh, I'm so bad at this.

Who was the man who challenged Senator Joe McCarthy? Have you no decency sir, at long last? he said...well, you get the idea.

His query could be applied to our elected representatives this week. Is there no occasion too sober for self-interest?

I was so disgusted that the Congress added earmarks to the bailout bill that I wanted to link you to a video of a cat flushing a toilet, again and again. A friend shared this with me yesterday (not intending political commentary) and it seems all too appropriate. I'll try to link it to my 'blog. If you don't find it, leave me an email address and I can email it to you.

lundi, septembre 29, 2008

Cribbed from the NYT

I may be the only one whose head spins when I try to explain to the kids why we are in such an enormous financial mess. Trying to understand more than the basics leads me through the looking glass into fantasy-which is where apparently many bankers were spending their time and our dollars.

"Credit default swaps (invented in the last decade!) is a term that comes up again and again. I'm sticking it up here for my own good as well as for my reader's education. The banks, and other lenders were insuring each others bad loans.

The cynicism of that is remarkable.

Credit default swaps, which were invented by Wall Street in the late 1990's, are financial instruments that are intended to cover losses to banks and bondholders when a particular bond or security goes into default -- that is, when the stream of revenue behind the loan becomes insufficient to meet the payments that were promised.
In essence, it is a form of insurance. Its purpose is to make it easier for banks to issue complex debt securities by reducing the risk to purchasers, just like the way the insurance a movie producer takes out on a wayward star makes it easier to raise money for the star's next picture.
Here is a more detailed, but still simplified explanation of how they work, given by Michael Lewitt, a Florida money manager, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece on Sept. 16, 2008:
"Credit default swaps are a type of credit insurance contract in which one party pays another party to protect it from the risk of default on a particular debt instrument. If that debt instrument (a bond, a bank loan, a mortgage) defaults, the insurer compensates the insured for his loss.
"The insurer (which could be a bank, an investment bank or a hedge fund) is required to post collateral to support its payment obligation, but in the insane credit environment that preceded the credit crisis, this collateral deposit was generally too small.
"As a result, the credit default market is best described as an insurance market where many of the individual trades are undercapitalized."
The market for the credit default swaps has been enormous. Since 2000, it has ballooned from $900 billion to more than $45.5 trillion — roughly twice the size of the entire United States stock market. Also in sharp contrast to traditional insurance, the swaps are totally unregulated.
When the mortgage-backed securities that many swaps were supporting began to lose value in 2007, investors began to fear that the swaps, originally meant as a hedge against risk, could suddenly become huge liabilities.
The swaps' complexity and the lack of information in an unregulated market added to the market's anxiety. Bond insurers like MBNA and Ambac that had written large amounts of the swaps saw their shares plunge in late 2007.
Credit default swaps also played an integral role in the federal government's decision to bail out the American International Group, one of the world's largest insurers, in September 2008. The Federal Reserve concluded that if A.I.G. failed and defaulted on its swaps, throwing the liability for the insured securities onto the swaps' counterparties, the result could be a daisy chain of failures across the international financial system.

dimanche, septembre 28, 2008

Last night I let the kids stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live. I could barely stay awake, but hey, a promise in the land of parenthood is a promise.

They had a wonderful time. Both their dad and I are NPR junkies, so it's no suprise that the kids are fairly steeped in politics. Although I do recall Mr C complaining that when Ms. DQ is in the car, she gets to listen to rock music. Mr. C, on the other hand, is confined in the rear, where he must listen to talk shows and newscasts.

I didn't realize how much they had picked up until Colin decided to take our videocam and create a commercial.

His friend T grabbed a few of my weights. As he tried manfully to loft them, the voiceover said (I paraphrase) "Weighed down by debt and bad credit? Call *Chuck* America. He can help you."

I have to admit I was impressed. But then I asked my little director how he meant to help those who had fallen into debt. "I'm doing a commercial, mom- I'm not running a business" said Mr. C.

This observation seemed all too true to life. Only the guys doing the commercials did pretend to be running a business.