Friday, April 02, 2010

Irony alert: The Vatican plays an “anti-semitism” card

The irony of it all. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in Rome is comparing its critics and the press to anti-semites.

On Good Friday no less.

Until relatively recently in the Church’s long history, the Vatican, feeding the fires of anti-semitism, directed Catholic congregations to pray for “faithless Jews” on Good Fridays.

Now a self-righteous Rome is twisting history by contriving and attributing “anti-Catholic” motives to the Church’s internal and external critics and to the press.

Lest we forget, this Church crisis began with revelations that thousands of children have been routinely violated and victimized by priests. No one denies that it happened, although the Church hierarchy patently tried to hide it.

Here we have an institution whose history is stained by its own anti-semitism. Jesus taught love — love of everyone including one's enemies.

The Church — and much of Christendom — taught hatred by portraying Jews as “Christ killers.”

Today, in desperation, Rome has the gall to equate criticism to the very outrage the Vatican itself has perpetrated for centuries.

The Vatican’s deception, evasion and self-delusion only make the Papal See, with its isolated, arrogant, sexist and secret culture, all the more culpable.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike know full well the great, abiding good the Church has performed in the world. I’ve personally worked side-by-side with a Catholic order in a remote school in East Africa. I’ve taught at a Catholic university and stood with priests and Catholic students and faculty in opposition to war and injustice.

Now I wonder whether my friends and other Catholic reformers can overcome the hypocrisy in Rome and the withering, despicable Vatican attacks. Can courageous clergy and laity alike do great, abiding good for the Church itself?

That’s the epic story to be played out. We should not be distracted from it by Papal deceit contrived to jam the truth and the need for deep-seated reform.

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Understanding Tepper Time

On the business page of the Times yesterday we learned that, while the economy was tanking last year, “top” hedge-fund managers were doing just fine, thank you.

How fine? The word “surreal” comes to mind.

David Tepper, the top earner, hauled in $4 billion (That's with a "B").

George Soros snagged $3.3 billion. James Simons tallied $2.5 billion.

And on and on.

The lowest paid among the top ten, the relatively impoverished Philip Falcone, garnered a mere $825 million.

Indeed, the Times told us, the 25 top hedge-fund managers averaged $1 billion each.

The untethered, billowing numbers float before our plebeian eyes.

We know that this is insane, but we can’t quite reel in the madness.

The Times is not helpful. It casts the story as some kind of race with Tepper crossing the line ahead of a Gucci-heeled pack. He rose to the “top spot” in the hedge fund sweepstakes. Soros was the “runner-up.” One manager’s compensation “edged out” another’s , etc.

It’s all just another horse race, score card or post-season play-off bracket.


No, let’s put Tepper’s $4 billion into the larger “societal context,” as they say.

That's the context that includes us. We live day by day. It turns out Tepper and friends do too, but with a massive monetary difference.

Let’s do the math on Tepper by breaking his compensation into “Tepper time.”

In one average day last year, Tepper took in nearly $11 million.

That’s for EACH of his 365 days.

I presume, no doubt falsely, that this guy works Saturdays and Sundays, 24/7, to earn $4 billion.

In just one hour of that 24-hour day, Tepper made $458,000.

Are you still with me?

One hour....$458,000.

What do you make in an hour? What do you make in a year? And how hard do you work to make it? Do you perform some useful, worthwhile service?

Pay attention here. This is important.

When Tepper awakens from an eight-hour sleep, he’s just pocketed $3.6 million in his PJs.

In a single minute, Tepper makes $7,633. That’s every minute of every 24-hour-long day.

In the time it takes this guy to shave and shower, he’s made what the average Jill and Joe make in a year — if they are fortunate enough to have a decent paying job.

In a New York second, Tepper is $127 richer.

Inhale, exhale. With each breath, Tepper is pulling in roughly $500.

Which gives real meaning to "living and breathing money."

Remember in January when we were voting on a tax package in order to keep the schools and other public services alive? The opposition labeled the measure “job-killing” taxes. It was a nasty little campaign. A few million got dropped just to get the word out.

Do you happen to recall how much money were were arguing over?

$733 million.

Tepper raked in that in just over two months, 66 days to be exact.

While Tepper’s clock was running at the annual rate of $4 billion last year, the Portland School district had an annual budget of $631.7 million.

Let the record show that Tepper’s annual compensation would have run six plus school districts the size of Portland’s. His annual take is roughly what 6,666 teachers (paid $60 grand each) make in a year.

Which leads to three obvious questions:

1. What does Tepper actually do to make him 6,666 times more valuable than a teacher? Basically, he and his fellow hedgsters gamble with other people's money.

2. What does it do to democracy when plutocrats have this kind of money to throw at legislation and politicians?

3. In a world where the poorest members of the masses are on the streets struggling to get by on $2 a day, just what are Tepper and his billionaire buddies doing with their hedge fund largess? I'll leave it to them to answer.

Let’s say you are scraping by on $700 a year in Bangladesh or Burundi. In the time it takes a Tepper to tee up his Titleist or sip a martini, he’s got you covered — for the year. If only.

Consider this: in Tepper time, it took the eight seconds to read the previous two sentences about grinding world poverty. On the Tepper-meter, that clocked out at $1,000.

Face it, the message isn’t worth Tepper's time of day — or night.

Hedge-fund managers have more compelling places to do think about than Bangladesh or Burundi. Switzerland or the Cayman Islands perhaps? Burmuda or Bimini?

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Retro Recommendation

Portland Community College did a thoughtful thing as the spring term began. Sylvania Campus president Linda Gerber sent us copies of comments that students filled out when asked by advisers and counselors, “Do you have a GREAT TEACHER (sic) you’d like to recommend to other PCC students?”

The good news is that I had a student who recommended me.

“Savvy,” the student wrote. “Challenges students’ perceptions about media and gets them to utilize critical thinking more skillfully. I loved being in his class. Like I got smarter every day I showed up...”

Ah the joy of reading that!

Now the not-so-good news.

One: I retired at the end of last term. The recommendation is for naught.

Two: The student took my class in the winter of 2006. In media terms, that’s an eon ago, which is one of the reasons I retired.

The media rapids run so fast that this teacher had to pull hard just to keep from being swept under. Just when I'd learned to navigate blogging, I'd be swamped by Twitter or Facebook or “sexting.”

Students, on the other hand, ride media white water like seasoned rafters. They grew up on these rapids.

Look at me. I still read the newspaper (two actually). How 20th Century!

And unlike some of my students last term, I’m adamant that Oprah and Rush are NOT journalists.

Edward R. WHO?

So my former student’s recommendation is a curious artifact. I hope my admirer is still getting “smarter” about media. I always tried to teach my students how to learn without my gentle prodding and probing. I wanted them to prod and probe themselves.

Now I’m doing that with me.

I’m the one trying to “get smarter” — at least every day I show up.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

A desperate Vatican attacks the messengers

Playing out in the international media today is a PR variation on the old story about killing the messenger of bad news.

In this case the media messengers are being lambasted in an effort to undercut and diffuse the continuing exposé of rampant pedophilia among Roman Catholic clergy and the Church's efforts to hide it.

A complicit, defensive Vatican is trying to redirect news coverage so that the focus is not on these horrific crimes and cover-ups. Instead, the Vatican's wants the story to be about a “Godless,” “secular” media, whose evil motive is to bring down the Roman Catholic Church.

Never mind that thousands of children have been victimized by priests. Never mind that their heinous acts have been covered up, forgiven (ah, the power of confession) only to be committed again. Never mind that the Church hierarchy, including the Pope himself, has been party to this outrage.

Now the Church leadership continues its implicit denial by creating a fabricated story about media motives.

The press should not be cowed. Its spotlight (and the world's) should remain fixed on the Roman Catholic Church and its insulated, arrogant, patently fallible, medieval, sexist, hypocritical hierarchy. (Did I miss anything?)

The story should progress to outraged Catholic laity and reformist priests and nuns who condemn this outrage and are determined to take over their church.

No, this story isn’t about secular media, as evil messengers of bad news; it’s about decency, equality and justice.

It’s about an archaic institution in dire need of sweeping, radical reform.

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