The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moral Hazard

The Church of England has lost £ 40 million it invested in New York's Stuyvesant Town apartment complex, a deal which cost it less than 1% of its total asset portfolio, but which the Guardian newspaper points out "was a large layout for a single investment and it comes on the back of other setbacks in the recession." (In a chart accompanying this article in the print edition, the New York Times puts the CofE investment at $70 million).

However, the investment with Tishman Speyer raises more than prudential concerns; it involved the Church of England in a deal which has been called a form of "predatory equity," in this case, when a building is "purchased by owners whose business model requires driving out rent stabilized tenants." (More on this practice may be found here). Rent stabilization in Stuy Town was protecting, in the words of the Guardian,"one of the few remaining bastions of affordable living among the multimillion-dollar tower blocks of lower Manhattan." The Church of England's investment strategy required wiping out this bastion, and depriving these tenants of what are for many long-time family homes.

Moreover,this predatory equity strategy was a feature, not a bug. According to the Gothamist at the time of the sale, "The purchase price of $5.4 billion can only be supported by substantial increases in the rents, by taking units out of rent regulation over time. The offering circular for the sale suggested that the complex could be converted from 75 percent rent regulated units now to only 30 percent rent regulated by 2018." The fact that Tishman-Speyer was found by New York State's highest court to be illegally raising the tenants' rents while simultaneously receiving tax breaks predicated on their provision of rent stabilized housing demonstrates just how central to the offering the aggressive raising of rents was.

Ironically, on January 28, Arcbishop Williams will be the keynote speaker at the Trinity Institute, speaking on theology and the global economy:

In view of the primacy the Gospels depict Jesus giving questions of economic justice (Matt 25, anyone?), perhaps Archbishop Williams would be better occupied with removing the log from his own eye, before he meddles with other church's affairs?

(edited to correct date of Abp. Williams' presentation).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Toxic Atmosphere

I begin to think that it's simply impossible for progressive Christians to engage with our more conservative brothers and sisters online. They just don't want us.

Case in point: Covenant, which was founded to be a place for irenic across-the-gulf discussion, has reached the point where member Charlie Clauss asks "Have we run off all the progressives from Covenant?" Administrator Fr. Tony Clavier answers, "I do hope not."

A progressive, Michael Russell, responds: "Nope. But there is little point to even attempt further discourse with settled minds that expose more than one impasse which cannot be bridged with discourse. Please note that the previous sentence applies to me as well. “Covenant” has an orthodoxy peculiar to itself (largely subservient to the ACI line) and that is fine, but there is just no point in arguing with any vigor." Things deteriorate rapidly from there.

After a civil suggestion to "begin by naming some of the impasses," which Russell replies to, another commenter states that "what I advocate is not punishment but that TEC stop claiming to value the Communion while simultaneously rejecting the mind of the Communion expressed in Lambeth resolutions, requests from the ABC, proposals from the Primates, etc," and suggests that expulsion from the Anglican Communion is not punitive, merely definitional. When Russell points out that border-crossings and property "takings" also fit this description (he misses, also, the complete farce that is the Listening Process), the whole thread becomes a pile-on. Another member then chides Clauss for what he terms expressing "more concern. . . with aligning with liberals in pecusa than with those who share the same gospel but who are outside of pecusa."

By the end, two members have stated that TEc "is no longer a church" and that "TEC is not to me recognizable as a Church."

The sad thing is that I have had a very positive correspondence with two Covenant contributors, who have been irenic, friendly, and quite able to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Somehow, efforts to do this online seem to get spoiled by those who ache for doctrinal purity.

An amusing side note: One of these members, deploring Russell's citation of Richard Hooker, states "I have found that when you ask people who claim Hooker as their authority on Scripture it turns out that they have never read Hooker. I hope this isn’t the case with Michael," relying on a "pull quote" from Bk V of Hooker's Laws. When Russell--and Fr. Clavier--urge him not to rely on isolated snippets of Hooker,he repeatedly presses Russell for a quote. On a later thread, the same member asks "Michael, when can we expect your Hooker analysis that supports your argument that Hooker’s view of the primacy of Scripture only pertains to salvation?" After Russell replies, again without a pull quote, it turns out that the edition of Hooker that member was using was edited by Russell. Aye, well. Be careful who you slag online.

UPDATE: Fairness to the commentator who owns Rev. Russell's edition of Hooker requires I point out that his response to the "reveal" was quite gracious: "Yes I do [own Russell's edition]and I owe you a debt of gratitude for the edition that you put out. I may even have met you at S-W around some lectures by David Tracy. Yes, the price is incredible and I appreciate all the extra writings that are in your edition."

Which brings me back to my point--maybe online isn't the place to have these discussions. Maybe we need to be interacting directly with each other in real life, getting to see the good as well as the bad. Maybe a covenant could make sense if it came after, and not before, the crucial business of "intensifying relationships" by living them, and not legislating them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winning the Argument

Richard Hooker v. Walter Travers:

On Travers' complaint against Hooker that "he [Hooker] prayed before and not after his Sermons; that in his Prayers he named Bishops; that he kneeled both when he prayed and when he received the Sacrament, and (says Mr. Hooker in his defence) other exceptions so like these, as but to name, I should have thought a greater fault than to commit them."

--Walton, Life of Hooker in Hooker's Collected Works, vol. 1 at 46 (OUP 1875 ed.).

Nice one, mate!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Oh, No, Bobo!

I hate to always be slagging conservatives--I mean, c'mon, it gets predictable!--but even the nicest of them often displays a chilling indifference to people's lives. Today's example? David Brooks,here captured in dialogue with Gail Collins:
David Brooks: Gail, can I draw you into the America versus Europe debate? This is the old argument over which model of capitalism is better, the Anglo-American model or the continental one. It was recently rekindled by two bloggers extraordinaire — Jim Manzi and Jonathan Chait — and then joined by our colleague Paul Krugman.
I became convinced that our system was better not for the wealth-generating reasons the current bloggers are arguing about, but because it leads to more exciting lives.
Collins tries to reason with him (mistake!):
Gail Collins: David, you’re reminding me of an argument I listened to several eons ago, when I was in graduate school, between my husband Dan and a very conservative guy who I think was a relative of one of our professors.....

Dan said something about how he wanted to live in a country where everybody’s medical needs would be met whether they had the money to pay for a doctor or not. The other guy exploded in rage and yelled: “What’s the matter with you kids today? You have no sense of adventure!”
Bobo, however, does not get the point, and reasserts his thesis:
The other big difference is that the American model encourages hard work at the cost of instability. I think that encourages people to maximize their capacities. The continental model encourages less work at the cost of boredom. I knew people in Brussels who went to work at an organization at 25 sitting in one desk, and they could tell you exactly what desk they will be sitting in and what job they will be doing when they retire at 60 or 65. Yawn.
Collins puts away the stilletto and uses the truncheon:
Gail Collins: This may not be the best possible moment to tell Americans about the dreadful boredom that they’d be suffering if they were stuck with job security. However, the argument seems pretty moot, given the fact that the number of Americans who are protected by a labor union has been dropping for as long as I can remember....The question for Americans is whether we think people who have no guarantee of long-term employment need to be assured that whatever happens, they’ll still have health care and the guarantee of a very, very modest pension when they get old.

I think people would feel more free to take risks in their work life if they know that they don’t have to hang onto an uninspiring job just to protect their family’s health insurance
Still not getting it:
We in this country live in an immigrant heavy culture and we need an economic model that encourages assimilation. That’s what our system has always done. The continental model exists in countries with stable populations that do not feel the need to absorb immigrants. Their model is fine for that.
By the end of my stay in Brussels I concluded it would be wrong and impossible for the Germans or the French to adopt our model and wrong and impossible for us to adopt theirs. We each had stumbled toward models that fit our personalities.

Vive la différence.
Collins makes several efforts to point out to Brooks that there is a very real human cost for his squee! of excitement, but he just doesn't care. It's all abstract to him. And I think this, in teh end, is why I am not a conservative. A certain smugness in the face of other people's pain seems to go with that territory--just as a certain holier-than-thouness is the concomittant liberal flaw. I can only think of one conservative in public life who steadily showed compassion for those on the losing side of his principles--Learned Hand, who was, as I wrote years ago, not an Olympian figure like Holmes; no stranger, he was a brother. But that seems quite rare among conservative writers, at least. And Brooks is no rara avis.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Harshing the ABC's Mellow

As a serious addict of Doctor Who, I pride myself on making the references snappy. So, when I first saw this story and its accompanying youtube, depicting the Archbishop of Canterbury in a cloak, looking for all the world like a superannuated Anthony Ainley, I had a sardonic chuckle.

But, alas, the Telegraph's James Delingpole and Damian Thompson beat me to it:
James Delingpole reckons that Archbishop Rowan Williams is reminiscent of Doctor Who’s arch-enemy the Master, as played by Roger Delgado in the incomparable Pertwee era. I think that’s a bit unfair. On the Master.

Well, the Master had his flaws, I’ll give you that. One of which was an unwavering commitment to the forces of evil. But at least he didn’t waffle, like Dr Rowan Williams. He wasn’t always strictly truthful, but unless you were massively gullible you knew where he stood. He was in favour of unbridled greed, tryannical world domination, the enslavement of entire galaxies, and the ordination of women bishops.
Guess which one of the Master's theological points I'm down with?

Could this be the ABC confronted with the need to take a position?

Oh, and Happy New Year, all!