Mr. Potter's Progeny
When public ire was roused against executive jets for Detroit automakers, luxury retreats for AIG clients and bonuses for bailed-out bankers, populist discontent made headlines. Now that Wall Street bankers, thanks to the Obama economic team, are back in the driver's seat, purveyors of conventional wisdom belittle populism as a distracting obstacle to economic recovery. It is as if in a sequel to "It's a Wonderful Life,” Mr. Potter has once more repossessed Bedford Falls, and George Bailey has been locked up as a vagrant. The nation's top bankers and their new regulators don't understand that without a change of ethos-without conversion-there will be no long-term economic recovery.
Banking must turn back to old-fashioned George Bailey-type values before firm footings can be built for the new economy. Greed (desire for excessive rewards) must be replaced by an expectation of a fair return banking must serve the real economy of goods and services, not lead it, and short-term profitability produced by financial instruments of "brilliant” design must be checked by responsibility for consumers and the public good. Instead, while they continue to receive trillions from the Fed in quiet backdoor relief efforts, banks like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America want to return their TARP money to be free of government restrictions like limits on executive compensation. Already many large firms are setting aside for bonuses as much or more than they did in 2007. In the meantime, their lobbyists in Congress have defeated legislation that would have allowed judges to provide more favorable bankruptcy provisions for homeowners subject to foreclosure, and they threaten to block modest new limits on interest and fees for credit card usage. It is time to free George Bailey and spread the money around.
The Daily Telegraph of London reported last month that the Vatican has accepted the cure of a Massachusetts man who was "bent double,” the result of a spinal stenosis, as a miracle attributable to the intercession of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90). Jack Sullivan, a Catholic deacon, later described to The Boston Globe his (literally) overnight cure. Sullivan's healing would fulfill the requirement for Newman's beatification.
Newman would make a fascinating and somewhat controversial saint. On the one hand, he is beloved by traditionalist Catholics for his elegant apologias for Catholicism. He is also admired by progressive Catholics for his ideas on the "development of doctrine” as well as his resistance to the ultramontane tendencies of his time. And, ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church who quipped of the laity, "The church would look foolish without them.”
Last year church officials attempted to unearth Newman's remains in order to "translate” them to a place more appropriate for public veneration, but diggers found little left of the cardinal. The exhumation itself was controversial: Newman had explicitly asked to be buried next to his lifelong friend, Ambrose St. John. As a result, he is beloved among some gay Catholics as well, who (rightly or wrongly) claim him as one of their own.
Venerable John Henry Newman: favorite of traditionalists, progressives, anti-clericalists and gays. Perhaps the lack of bodily remains is a reminder that in death, as in life, the saint resists being held or possessed by any one group.
The Uses of Torture
When President Barack Obama made public Justice Department memos developed during the George W. Bush administration that sought to justify the use of harsh methods of interrogation for Al Qaeda suspects, he touched off another round of debate about the usefulness and morality of torture. The president quickly made clear that he had no intention of investigating or prosecuting those responsible for such memos. He did, however, cite Winston Churchill's insistence, at a time of great peril for Britain, that to compromise the nation's moral standards would, in effect, be a form of surrender to the enemy.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has already made it clear that he will not observe the discreet silence former administration officials have traditionally maintained. He called for an investigation into the efficacy of such interrogation techniques in support of his claim that in the "war on terror” moral scruples can be a dispensable luxury.
Veterans in the intelligence community, however, have challenged the reliability of information obtained from harsh interrogation. The prisoner under such pressure may simply tell questioners what he or she thinks they want to hear. A more skillful questioner will seek to establish a sympathetic bond with the prisoner, experts claim. The question of efficacy aside, however, when the questioner compromises his or her own integrity by resorting to dehumanizing techniques, the enemy has already achieved a different kind of victory.