samedi, octobre 11, 2008

Ayers, too

If you look at the sidebar, you will see that Slate has two articles on Ayers -- one is about McCain's efforts to try to tie Obama to Ayers and why that might not work, and the other is about Ayers himself. From the little I've read about him (and some of it is old) he sounds like a quintessential 60's radical. From 1970 to 1974, the Weather Underground carried out around 12 bombings. If I were a former bomber, now the father of twenty somethings, I can't imagine being proud of that. But Ayers seems remarkably unrepentant. Does that make Obama a potential bomber? Nonsense. Does it make him unwise for having associated with Ayers, even if that association was relatively distant? Possibly -- but if we are judged by our associates, many of us would be up to our neck in crocodiles.

Article from last week

Giving, even in tough times, is a sound spiritual investment
You know the pain is there, even if you can't see it.The "auction" sign tacked up at a house we drive by on our way to church.The newspaper reports of sharp drops in production in the auto industry and slowdowns in manufacturing.And let's not even talk about the stock market.Behind all of these industries are people — parents who wonder how they are going to feed their children and pay the rent; teenagers worrying they won't be able to go to college; senior citizens seeing their retirement money diminish.
How should people of faith respond?Tempting as it might be, we cannot afford to wall ourselves off from others in this time of crisis, whether we have enough or are struggling.Our major faith traditions call us to help brothers and sisters in need. As we do so, we recognize how connected we are to them — how their well-being really is ours, too.Volunteering at food kitchens, adding another $10 or $20 to the check when we donate to local charities, checking on a neighbor who might need something done around his or her house can deepen our own sense of faith — and of gratitude.
Pondering the message of St. Paul's letter to the congregation in Philippi, Pastor Chad, the head of my church, nailed it when he wrote in a recent newsletter:"If the popular 'prosperity gospel' is wrong in promising that greater giving automatically leads to wealth and good fortune, another problem may be a 'scarcity gospel' that ignores what blessings we do receive when we give, such as a fuller experience of God and one another, a chance to connect with something larger and more important than ourselves, and the discovery that Jesus is right. In giving, even when it's hard, we receive — more than we thought possible."I asked a friend, the pastor of a rural Methodist church, whether the economic crisis was affecting his congregation. While there hasn't been a lot of talk about it in congregational meetings, he said that his church would probably donate part of the proceeds of a recent fair to a couple. The man was ill and his wife had recently been laid off from work.When ties of neighborly love link a community, then giving and receiving can become profound blessings.Whether we are hurting financially or in decent shape, citizens of faith are facing another, more subtle challenge in this time of trial.Judging by what we hear from our elected representatives, many of us feel betrayed — by the bankers who bet our money on bad debt, by the mortgage broker who trusted we wouldn't read the fine print, by the boss who decided he or she couldn't make payroll anymore.Righteous anger is natural, and often justified. Jesus, for one, didn't ask us to maintain zombie-like calm in the face of injustice. Nor do the Hebrew prophets, for that matter. But Jesus does call on us to try to sit down with those who have wronged us, if possible. And if we cannot do that, he commands us to forgive them.That doesn't mean we have to like them. But it does mean that our actions in these difficult times should not be motivated by a desire for revenge.In an e-mail, Pastor Chad recalled some verses from Philippians that he has found particularly helpful as he, and we, walk in the valley of uncertainty."…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11b-13)."Let us pray for the spiritual strength that draws us closer to our neighbors and renews the bonds of trust that we need as individuals and as a nation.Let us also beseech God for the contentment that does not deny fear, or anxiety, but knows that He is at our side — and on it.

The Focus on Faith column appears on the first Saturday of each month.

vendredi, octobre 10, 2008


I don't think folks are bringing up Charles Keating anymore -- after all, last week is so yesterday. But the McCain camp is running ads linking Obama to Bill Ayers. In case you've been in a country where there are no newspapers, Ayers is the former head of the Weather Undergound. Apparently, he's now teaching English at the University of Chicago in Illinois. A Distinguished Professor, Ayers has got to be a little bemused at all the publicity.

Somehow I sincerely doubt that his neighbors shun Ayers. I don't think that students refuse to take his courses. I'm guessing Ayers is a family guy (not like the TV show) and an excellent neighbor.

What's peculiar is that Obama and McCain are being blamed for hanging out with shady characters more than 10, and in McCain's case, 20 years ago! Obama committed no ethical infraction. McCain did some things that displayed poor judgement.

Can't we pardon them and get on with the business of electing the one who is now most able to help us back on the right track?

Bill Ayers isn't going to be a Cabinet Secretary and McCain isn't intervening in failing banks. Well, not yet, anyway. Who knows what kind of skills our next President will need? Maybe that Keating experience will come in handy!

jeudi, octobre 09, 2008

Where's the "boy" next door?

Those of you who like to see me pontificate (Pope Benedict is under no threat) on the debates, world finance, and the Episcopal Church may want to skip this post. It's more of a mini-lament than anything profound. The topic? Why I'm so fussy about dating -- and whether there is anything I can do about it.

Let me say, first off, that I am well aware that I come with cracks and chips and lost bits, too. I'm not standing on a mountaintop looking down -- not at all.

Over the past month, I've been contacted by some really nice guys, and a couple of people I suspect are jerks. Unfortunately, sometimes you can't tell they are jerks until you talk to them a few times -- because even a cad can be good looking, intelligent, and interesting (recall high school?)

But the nice guys also come with liabilities. A few live far enough away to make a relatiosnhip impractical. Finding time to go out with friends is hard enough -- stealing the time to get to Staten Island overnight almost beyond possible. A few didn't have my jones for politics, or novels, or the arts --- that doesn't make them stupid, just in a different place. And a couple of guys have tense relationships with their exes -- and need some help to get healed.

In and of themselves, none of these are deal-breakers (except, maybe the distance). If a guy lived close enough to meet, and I grew fond of him, a lot of this might not matter. The problem is that I really, really really need to want to be in a relationship to accept these boundaries.

I haven't, so far. Perhaps I'll get to the place where I am not so fussy. Or perhaps I'm not fussy, just realistic about what I can and can't accept.

I suspect the latter. Which, of course, makes the search even harder.

mardi, octobre 07, 2008

Global Fundamentals

This is a very helpful article, because it explains to economic ignoramuses like me what's happening in the global economy. Of course, Pearlstein is writing about what happened yesterday -- who knows what will occur this morning?

With Bubbles Popping Worldwide, No Wonder the Economy's Gone Flat
By Steven PearlsteinTuesday, October 7, 2008;

Up to now, it's been a financial crisis. This is a meltdown -- an uncontrolled and largely uncontrollable financial chain reaction that threatens serious harm to the broader economy.
The immediate problem is that the institutions that have most of the world's free cash -- banks, money-market funds, hedge funds, pension funds and major corporations -- are hoarding it and won't do the normal thing of lending to one another.
One reason is that many have taken on too much debt, lost too much money and are under pressure to use any spare cash to pay down debt and rebuild their reserves.
The other reason is that they feel unsure about what they know about the financial health of other institutions and are afraid that some of them will fail.
So what we've got is a liquidity crisis that is bigger than anyone has ever seen, on top of an insolvency crisis that is bigger than anyone has ever seen. And thanks to the explosion of cross-border trade and investment, the crisis has not only gone global but now threatens to take most of the global economy into recession.
"World on the edge," is how the Economist magazine summed things up on its cover this week. And that is certainly how things felt during yesterday's wild ride on stock and money markets.
What we now have is a set of economic and financial bubbles bursting at roughly the same time.
Here in the United States, the bursting of the residential real estate bubble punctured the first hole in the credit bubble, which in time brought an end to the corporate takeover bubble, the commercial real estate bubble and the commodities bubble. Because of those bubbles, Americans became convinced that they were wealthier than they really were, leading to a consumption binge that created mini-bubbles in autos, vacation travel and retail sales. Now those have burst as well.
The symbiotic twin of the giant consumption bubble in the United States was the giant export bubble in China and the rest of Asia. That export bubble, in turn, created stock market and real estate bubbles all across Asia and fed a global commodities bubble as well. Now that the air is coming out of the export bubble, shares on the Chinese stock market have declined 60 percent, while real estate prices in key Indian cities are in free-fall.
Similarly, you could draw a line of causality from the global commodities bubble to real estate and stock market bubbles in Russia and much of the Middle East. In Russia, stock prices are down nearly 50 percent for the year, including a 20 percent plunge yesterday before trading was halted. Unfortunately, much of that stock was bought by corporate oligarchs and their friends using loans from Russian banks, with the now-depressed stock as the only collateral. Three of the biggest banks have already required a $44 billion cash infusion from the Finance Ministry, and some analysts warn that much more will be required once sky-high real estate prices come crashing down.
Some of the froth from the Wall Street bubble made its way across the Atlantic to Ireland, which became a back-office for the U.S. and British financial service industries, attracting tens of thousands of new workers from all over Europe. Those workers, in turn, helped to create an impressive real estate bubble that has now weakened banks to the point that customers began withdrawing funds and the government had to step in to guarantee all deposits.
Other bubbles were created by complex trading and investment strategies meant to arbitrage large differences in interest rates in different economies. For years, this "carry trade" greatly distorted the value of currencies in places like Iceland, New Zealand and Australia, flooding those economies with more capital than they needed or could productively use. Now those investment bubbles have burst, the trades are being reversed and the currencies and financial systems are under extreme stress.
Because these bubbles are all related to one another, it should be no surprise that they are all popping at once. The timing, however, has created a dangerous dynamic in which selling begets more selling and failures beget more failures. No country, and no industry, can escape the effects of this process. History shows that the only way to break the vicious cycle is for governments to step in with massive amounts of money.
The immediate problem is to relieve the credit crunch by acting as a banker of last resort. Although money-market funds, for example, may be unwilling to lend to banks and other financial institutions, they are still eager to lend to the Treasury by buying its short-term bills and bonds.
So in recent weeks the Treasury and the Federal Reserve have come up with aggressive new schemes for taking large amounts of that borrowed money and lending it out on a short-term basis to banks, other financial institutions and perhaps even to corporations.
But even when the cash crunch has eased, most analysts believe the government will still have to provide the seed money to recapitalize a banking and financial system that is likely to have suffered a trillion dollars or more in credit losses. Congress last week provided the Treasury with the authority to borrow and spend $700 billion to begin that effort, while European governments have been forced to take over some of the biggest banks over there. Whether bigger and more coordinated efforts are needed will be topic A this weekend when central bankers and finance ministers arrive in Washington for the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

lundi, octobre 06, 2008

My article from the Washington Post this afternoon

Guest Voices-->Elizabeth
Clergy Leadership on Trial
A church court's determination that Episcopal bishop Charles E. Bennison should be deposed after he was convicted of covering his up brother John's sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s is another signal that the "gentleman's agreement" that for so long bound the denomination together continues to unravel.
The sentence last week by an ecclesiastical court against the head of the Diocese of Pennsylvania followed a public Philadelphia trial in June. His lawyers have said that Bennison, who was suspended last November from acting as bishop, will appeal. The wrenching testimony of the victim and her family, long in search of justice and a hearing, lent weight to the judges' verdict and sentence. Yet it is hard to avoid the feeling that it was a whole era of clergy leadership, now disappearing, that was on trial.
Rent by lawsuits, political maneuvering by the denomination's conservatives, and defiance by the church's liberal core, the Episcopal Church is currently in turmoil over issues of doctrine and sexuality. But it is also roiled by a phenomenon that has affected other sectors of the American workplace-the passing of a generation of predominantly white, male leaders.
The upper-class and upper-middle class environment that spawned previous generations of Episcopal clergy is perhaps one reason that this branch of the Anglican Communion has, until the past few decades, succeeded in papering over the theological and cultural divisions that have long existed. To their credit many were, and are, men of great moral integrity.
Although most were not physically present, long-retired and dead bishops were invoked by the defense to make the case that various bishops and lay leaders had become aware of John Bennison's misconduct over the course of the last three decades. Because those leaders knew about the misconduct, and did not challenge him personally or bring charges against him, his lawyers argued, that also made Bennison's response to his brother's misconduct appropriate.
Apparently the judges didn't buy that argument-or didn't find that it exonerated Bennison.In fact, it can be argued that culpability extends well beyond Charles Bennison.Even allowing that church leaders didn't have all the details, their inaction was morally problematic. It is also symptomatic of an entrenched church culture that seemed to value discretion and unity above accountability or justice. After all, shockingly, this was the denomination that didn't split over slavery before or during the Civil War.
It is possible that if his own bishop and clergy colleagues had exercised true pastoral care for Charles Bennison, it might have changed the course of his own ministry.But as it was, their silence set the stage for Bennison's election as bishop of Pennsylvania, and the mayhem that has followed. From the beginning, the bishop found himself mired in controversy.
Although they vehemently disagreed with his liberal churchmanship, conservative clergy, in an extraordinary show of political chutzpah, helped to elect him. The bargain they thought they struck with him would have allowed them to stay in the diocese (and maintain control of their property), while having a pastoral relationship with a bishop more sympathetic to their cause. But that apparent "gentleman's agreement" quickly fell apart.
It wasn't long before cries of betrayal morphed into open acts of defiance. Many liberal clergy have also become embittered. At first they embraced the affable Bennison as a champion of a progressive theological agenda, someone who would advance the goals they held dear. But as the diocese became mired in disputes between the bishop and other diocesan leaders, many of his supporters became disillusioned. Neither side found in him the leader they sought. Nor, perhaps inevitably, did they find a way to maintain fellowship in the midst of great doctrinal and social divisions.
While the picture in other Episcopal dioceses may not be quite as turbulent, many are in the grip of internal strife. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's first female Presiding Bishop, has taken a hard line with the traditionalists that does not auger well for future tranquility here. The fractiousness in the American church is mirrored internationally, where African and Asian conservative bishops have pitted themselves against the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a power struggle for the heart and soul of the Anglican Communion.
Here or abroad, it is hard to lament the passing of the vaunted Anglican 'via media.'Sadly, the historic badge of Anglicanism became another term for the overtly genteel, avoidant leadership that ignored problems in its own backyard. It was heartening to see the denomination's current diversity echoed in the five-women, four-man panel currently deliberating Bennison's sentence. But whether the more democratic, litigious, and diverse generation of church leaders that has replaced those who came before them can produce a healthier, more vibrant, or even a truly viable denomination remains to be seen.

dimanche, octobre 05, 2008

Why not the guys?

Read this relatively short piece by Lisa Belkin (linked above) and think about what you would do if your spouse was offered a wonderful job in another state or country...or if you were offered one yourself.

She's got one amazing husband, was my first reaction.

I think she's right --- this chatter about what industry calls the "work-life balance" is a conversation mostly among women. It could have been one that I had with my friends.

Even though there is a lot more liberty to be a man and own up to ambivalence than there was 60 years ago, I'm guessing most guys don't open up with their buddies over a Guinness on a Friday or in the corner office at lunch.

I wish they did. I wish women didn't have to, or want to, turn themselves into emotional wrecks trying to make the perfect choice -- when there are only more or less good decisions. A relationship is so much stronger if both partners make the difficult calls together.