Showing posts with label extravagance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label extravagance. Show all posts

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Oh, you'll go bananas. . . .

It's a Tony Hayward world out there, and the soon-to-be-ex-BP CEO's monumental solipsism and tone deafness obviously is catching.

The Obama clan has it now, probably transmitted from Mr. Let 'Em Eat Oil to the president when he "kicked" Hayward's ass at that White House confab a while back. And then Barack gave it to Michelle who, while eschewing yachting after killing the Gulf of Mexico, did settle on a high-dollar Spanish fiesta while the American economy burns, the Gulf states smother and the ordinary Joe languishes.

OF COURSE, robber barons and the diffident rich always have behaved so, even throughout American history. But when the First Family starts behaving like Marie Antoinette amid hard times, widespread austerity and spreading decay, you just may find you've become a banana republic.

And even the Australians, a world away, are noticing. Look at this in The Age from Sydney:
As the U.S. economy endures high unemployment and a jittery stock market, President Barack Obama has preached sacrifice and fiscal discipline. But the pictures coming out of a sun-splashed Spanish resort may be sending a different message.

First lady Michelle Obama is in the midst of a five-day trip to a luxury resort along with a handful of friends, her younger daughter, aides and Secret Service. Her office said the Obamas would pay for personal expenses, but would not reveal the taxpayer cost for the government employees.

Elected officials -- Democrats and Republicans -- were reluctant to weigh in, not wanting to appear critical of the President's wife. But the trip provided fodder for television news shows, talk-show hosts and bloggers. Critics portrayed the foreign getaway as tone-deaf to the deep economic anxiety back home. Every first family takes vacations: the criticism aimed at Mrs Obama is that she chose to visit a foreign country rather than remain in the US and support its fragile economy.

Just last month, Mrs Obama flew to the Florida panhandle, a tourist draw hit hard by the oil spill crisis, and delivered the message that for parents "looking for things to do with their kids this summer … this is a wonderful place to visit."

The opulence of the European trip also has drawn scrutiny. Mr Obama has urged frugality in lean economic times. He once cautioned that families saving money for college shouldn't "blow a bunch of cash in Vegas."
AT LEAST in Vegas, there's the slimmest of chances you might hit it big, though. When you're dealing with Washington, politics and the public's bankroll, not so much.

Because while money still talks
(in this case, en Español), Obama's bullshit has just taken a walk.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fleece my sheep to pimp my house

Every year, we Catholics get the "stewardship homily" at Mass, coinciding with the archdiocesan annual campaign.

And just last Sunday, our parish got the soft sell from a freshly scrubbed seminarian seeking the faithful's help in defraying the high cost of priestly education.

ONE FACT in modern Church life is inescapable: Shepherds gotta have cash to tend to those sheep. In fact, that's just the analogy the Omaha archdiocese used last year for its annual campaign -- "Feed My Sheep."

On the spring day Mrs. Favog and I were received into the Catholic Church back in 1990, the priest, a World War II combat vet, was much more direct -- in that inimitable way old military men have.

"There is no free lunch at Christ the King," he told the congregation. We cringed as we looked at all our very Protestant friends and relatives in the pews, for we had the bad luck of getting confirmed not at Easter Vigil, but instead on the May day devoted to getting congregants to cough up the cash.

I couldn't help but think of what my old man -- a bitter and cynical soul who had not much use for Catholics or the churched in general -- had to say when I told him we were becoming Catholic.

"All they want is your money," is what I heard over the telephone line from 1,100 miles and a couple of planets away. I think my response, in my convert's naivete, went something like "Well, they're welcome to it, then."

THING IS, my father had this knack for saying the most flat-out lunatic things you could imagine -- things that caused his son and daughter-in-law to do regular spit takes -- only to have them validated via some bizarre occurrence. Or when Father, at your confirmation, says "There is no free lunch at Christ the King."

Since, the tact level has increased tremendously. We generally get the soft sell, and lots and lots of talk about "stewardship."

Which I think is fine, actually. We do need to support the work of the Church. We need to tend to the broken and the broken-hearted. We need to feed the hungry and heal the sick and educate the clergy and provide for priests and nuns in their old age.

And I wish the Catholic Church -- or at least the Church in northeastern Nebraska -- would actually exercise a little good stewardship of its own and direct every possible penny toward doing exactly that.

INSTEAD, last Sunday, as we were getting that seminarian sob story designed to get every last mite out of every last widow, all those proverbial widows had to do was shuffle out of church, get into their sensible-but-aging Dodge automobiles and slowly drive the couple of miles or so through the frozen Omaha cityscape to 1024 Sunset Trail to see what "stewardship" means to the chancery bureaucrats in charge of spending what they faithfully drop into the collection plate.

There, about eight blocks from the offices where Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss oversees his flock, sits a vacant house. A newly-expanded, remodeled and tricked-out $389,000 house fit for a king . . . or a soon-to-be-retired prince of the Church who
approaches his shepherding job rather like Britney Spears approaches motherhood.

Such a bore . . . rather beneath someone as excellent as he.

The Omaha World-Herald has done some further digging about Curtiss' swell future old-bachelor pad and found
it's likely worth every widow's mite the chancery paid:

A house that the Omaha Catholic Archdiocese recently bought as Archbishop Elden Curtiss' future retirement home had undergone a total renovation and a significant expansion, said the prior owner and an archdiocesan official who was involved in the purchase.

Realtor Jeff Rensch and the Rev. Gregory Baxter said in separate interviews that the house, at 1024 Sunset Trail in the Dillon's Fairacres neighborhood, was well worth the $389,000 that the archdiocese paid for it in December.

Among other reasons, they said, an addition and renovation project before the sale expanded the one-story house to 3,100 finished square feet, including the basement.

Rensch's wife, Mari, purchased the house for $155,500 in September 2006. The sale to the archdiocese has sparked controversy since a World-Herald article last week. Many people have asked whether the house was worth the price.

Jeff Rensch, who couldn't be reached for comment before last week's article was published, said this week that the renovation and the neighborhood justified the cost.

"If you have never gone through this type of total renovation, it may sound like (we) made money on this sale," he said, "but with all costs considered, it was break even at best."

The home, Rensch said, was sorely in need of updating when the Rensches purchased it. They intended it to be a home for his elderly mother, Rensch said, but that didn't work out.

They spent more than $200,000 on renovating the house, he said, including building a 230-square- foot addition.

When they started, the house had two bedrooms, one bath and about 1,500 square feet of space on the main level. The basement was partly finished.

By the time the Rensches and their contractor were done, the house had 3,100 square feet of finished space. Of that, about 1,650 square feet is on the main level, and the rest is in the basement.

The house now has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Rensch said the project included building a 10-by-23-foot main-floor addition, removing many walls and reconfiguring space to make the house more open. They added two basement bedrooms and, to conform to city codes, added windows that could be used to escape a fire.

They replaced the roof, adding two peaks for a better roofline. They replaced all windows and siding. They built a new kitchen with granite countertops. They replaced all wiring and plumbing, added a fireplace and installed a whirlpool bath.

The construction took more than a year.

"We didn't go from terrible to Taj Mahal, but it's basically a new home," said Quintin Bogard, owner of Q's Home Services and co-general contractor on the renovation with Mari Rensch. "It's not extravagant, but it's a beautiful home. You're not going to get a newer home in the middle of town than that one."


He added by e-mail that he and his wife, who are Catholics with five children in Catholic schools, were "surprised and honored that the archbishop and his advisers noticed the home, appreciated Mari's work and decided to have him enjoy his retirement in this particular home."

Baxter said the house was worth the price. The Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said it will be a good investment for the archdiocese.

The Rensches, widely known in the Omaha real estate business, live within a few blocks of the house, which is near 61st Street and Western Avenue. They belong to St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, where Baxter is the pastor. Baxter also is an archdiocesan official and was assigned to help find a retirement residence for Curtiss.

AT LEAST WE NOW KNOW archdiocesan officials aren't stupid. They just think we are.

We live in an archdiocese where inner-city Catholic parishes are struggling to keep the doors open and their schools from being shuttered. Likewise, we live in a city that has seen violence and hopelessness spike in poor neighborhoods desperately in need of the hope and mercy of Jesus Christ.

We also live in an archdiocese where even large suburban parishes are down to one priest, have plenty of space in the rectory and sure could use the help of a spry retired archbishop.

But I guess the Archdiocese of Omaha, in its infinite wisdom, finds that the spectacle of an archbishop serving anyone other than himself would be entirely too compatible with the example of an itinerant Savior who never had 3,100 square feet of material comfort to crash in after a hard day casting out demons, curing lepers and getting crucified.

Because Jesus, after all, is for those who can't help themselves.

"All they want is your money."

I so freakin' hate it when my old man, now long in the grave, still gets proven right after saying the most damn-fool things.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The $389,000 question

The Archdiocese of Omaha just wrapped up its 2007 annual appeal, "Feed My Sheep." I don't know how the sheep are making out in the archdiocese this year, but it looks like the shepherd's doing just fine.

ABOVE, you see the house Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss will shuffle about in during his retired-prelate dotage, whenever the Vatican gets around to accepting his recent required resignation upon turning 75. The archdiocese bought the house in early December, reportedly a case of "just planning ahead," as an archdiocesan official told the Omaha World-Herald.

Make that $389,000 worth of lodging forethought, to be exact.

I realize that purchase price might not raise eyebrows on the West Coast or in the Northeast. But here in Omaha, Neb., $389,000 for a 1,500 square-foot residence in an average, 1950s-vintage neighborhood gets your attention right quick.

PARTICULARLY WHEN the house was assessed in 2006 at $139,100 and sold that autumn for $155,500. Those owners, according to the newspaper, then added to the structure and made other "extensive renovations that included a front porch plus new plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling work."

Which, we are supposed to believe, makes the house worth $230,000 more than the owners, an Omaha real-estate couple, paid for the archbishop's new digs.
Who does that kind of massive flip-renovation when the housing market is headed south?

That is, unless they absolutely, positively know they have a buyer who'll pay big money for a radically upgraded, formerly average house in a squishy real-estate market. That's a lot of questions, and the World-Herald doesn't have many answers . . . yet:

The two-bedroom, ranch-style house is at 1024 Sunset Trail, in the Dillon's Fairacres neighborhood, northwest of Memorial Park. It's near 61st Street and Western Avenue, eight blocks from the archdiocese's headquarters offices at 62nd and Dodge Streets.

The Sunset Trail house was purchased Dec. 4 by the Catholic archbishop of Omaha for $389,000, according to Douglas County records. Thursday, an Able Locksmith employee was working on the house. An archdiocesan security pickup was parked behind the locksmith's van.

The house is planned to be Curtiss' retirement residence, said the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese. He said archdiocesan savings were used to buy the house.


For Curtiss, the chancellor said, archdiocese officials "were looking around for some time for something near the chancery."

The Sunset Trail house fits the archbishop's needs for a retirement residence and also is an investment for the future after he no longer needs it, Taphorn said.

The one-story house, built in 1954, has two bedrooms and one bathroom, according to Douglas County Assessor's Office records. Those records say the house has 1,562 square feet of space, but it's unclear whether that includes an addition added by the previous owners, Mari and Jeff Rensch.
ASSUMING THAT the house is, indeed, worth what the archdiocese paid for it -- and that it happens to be a decent "investment" when the nation's housing bubble has popped spectacularly -- we still are faced with a large and pertinent question here. To wit: "What the HELL?"

Exactly how much house does an old bachelor need? Particularly an old bachelor whose job it is to be a shepherd, worrying more about his flock than how sumptuous his new digs might be.

Particularly a man entrusted by God to care for the poor, educate the young in the faith and provide the sacraments to all the faithful in his archdiocese. And particularly during a time when the archdiocese for which he is responsible -- for a while longer, at least -- is short of priests, is shuttering parishes and is seeing its social services stretched by rising numbers of the homeless, the hungry and the addicted.

Would it be too much to expect that the soon-to-be-retired archbishop might wish to find a modest house near a shorthanded parish and spend his remaining years simply serving the people of God and reveling in the simple joy of such humble communion?

I guess it would.

IN THIS CITY, there are plenty of nice digs -- nice digs in nice neighborhoods . . . even nice condos downtown -- to be had for lots less than the $389,000 the archdiocese is spending on Curtiss' future residence. Excuse me, make that $389,000 of other people's hard-earned money the archdiocese is spending on Curtiss' future old-bachelor pad.

I may be cast into the fiery furnace for saying so, but I don't see how turning "Feed My Sheep" into "Pimp My House" has a damned thing to do with good stewardship of the archbishop's flock's tithed treasure.

Nothing at all.

But that wouldn't be the first time the chancery has flipped the fickle finger of fate at the faithful, now, would it?