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New Leaders at NEH and NEA

LeachLeach Confirmed to Head NEH, Landesman Will Run NEA

The Senate recently confirmed the new leadership at the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts and they are interesting and unconventional choices.

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach (above), a Republican who endorsed Barack Obama, is the former head of the House Banking Committee and a committed fan of the humanities. Leach helped organize the humanities caucus in the House and will be a politically savvy choice to run the NEH.

Rocco Landesman is a big-time Broadway producer and will head the NEA. Mel Brook’s The Producers is among his credits.

The two endowments, dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson, serve an incredibly important national role. The Idaho Humanities Council is the state-based affiliate of the NEH. The Idaho Commission on the Arts has a similar relationship to the NEA.

Among many wonderful benefits, the two national endowments provide grant funding for local arts programs, library reading programs, small museums and teacher institutes.

The endowments have survived an immense amount of political scrutiny since Newt Gingrich tried to eliminate federal funding back in the mid-1990’s. The extremely modest budgets for the two principle national cultural organizations that reach into every corner of the United States are still below where they were when Newt swung his meat ax nearly 15 years ago.

Leach and Landesman appear to have the prestige and smarts to keep rebuilding the endowments. America culture, art, history, literature, and our pleasure will all benefit.

 

 

This is Work?

Idaho Judge Pinch Hits in Yosemite Idaho Judge Pinch Hits in Yosemite

Interesting story in the New York Times earlier this week about Idaho federal Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle.

Who’d a thunk it, but the majestic national park at Yosemite in northern California has a federal courthouse. When the previous federal judge, who typically hears misdemeanor cases – guns, drugs and alcohol in the park – was forced to resign for health reasons, Judge Boyle offered to sub until a permanent replacement could be named. The judge and Beverly Boyle recently finished a two-week stint dispensing justice in what His Honor calls “the Garden of Eden”

Boyle was an eastern Idaho District Judge and a member of the Idaho Supreme Court before his appointment as a federal magistrate in 1992.

The Great Killebrew

Killebrew“As far as Iā€™m concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [single-season] record at 61, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book.” Harmon Killebrew

When Idaho’s best ever baseball player retired in 1975, he stood at fifth all-time on the home run list with 573 dingers. Now Harmon Killebrew is tied for ninth on the list having been passed by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, confirmed or suspected steroid abusers all, and Ken Griffey, Jr., who is not a suspect – at least not yet. Alex Rodriquiz, another steroid suspect, hit a 15th innning walk off homer Friday against Boston to tie Killebrew on the all-time list. Here’s the current homer leader line-up.

Harmon – here are his career numbers – was signed out of Payette, Idaho by the Washington Senators in 1954 at age 17.

The usually soft spoken and non-controversial Killebrew recently let go with his thoughts about how drugs have tainted – forever perhaps – the great game. He told reporters during the Hall of Fame ceremony recently that the steroid cheaters have “hurt the integrity” of the game. Of course he’s right.

A friend remarked recently that he had stumbled on an ESPN Classic re-broadcast of a 1985 World Series game between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals and was stunned to see all the normal sized ballplayers. Trim, even skinny guys, used to play major league baseball. (Remember Willie McGee?)

Now days most of the biggest stars look like they sleep on a cot in the weight room.

The Great Killebrew has it right. Release all the names from the 2003 drug tests – the names are going to continue to dribble out – and make a decision on whether records will count or never will.

Where is a commissioner like Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent when baseball needs them the most?

August in Wisconsin

WisconsinThe Land of Cheese…and Other Things

Random notes from the north of Wisconsin.

The signs of the dog days of summer are everywhere you look in Wisconsin right now.

The Wisconsin State Fair – one of the big ones in the Midwest – is going on this week in Milwaukee. Chocolate covered bacon is the new food sensation this year. More on that later. The lovely, sweet cherries are just about perfect in Door County in the north of the state hard by Lake Michigan.

And, of course, the Packer training camp is up and running. (I buried the lead, based upon what really dominates the news here.) The general manager of the storied Green Bay franchise caused a bit of a stir among the green and gold faithful by suggesting that the dog fighter Michael Vick might, just might, be a suitable heir to Brett Farve or Bart Starr.

A Rich Political History
Wisconsin politics, like its food and football, have never been dull and are frequently fascinating. The state’s colorful political history boasts many characters. Going way back, the State Fair proudly notes that a prospective candidate for president visited in 1859. Abraham Lincoln knew a battle ground state when he saw one.

More recently, the Congressman representing northern Wisconsin, Rep. Steve Kagen a Democrat from Appleton, had two of his town hall meetings on health care reform disrupted this week by very noisy protesters. Apparently this type of engagement is now standard, part of a national effort to make life miserable for members of Congress on August recess.

Kagen seemed to handle the hubbub pretty well. At least he used the right analogy in talking to the press. “There was a significant amount of anger there,” he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “as if the referee made the wrong call in a Packer game.”

This alleged “battle ground state” – maybe in name only – hasn’t gone for a Republican since Ronald Reagan’s second term. Barack Obama rolled up 56% of the vote in Wisconsin in 2008, exactly the margin for that other untested Illinois politician in 1860.

Arguably the greatest political figure Wisconsin has produced – and one the most independent -was Fighting Bob La Follette, a early progressive of the western type, who served as governor and then as one of the most influential United States Senators. La Follette was once hung in effigy for opposing U.S. involvement in World War I, but still managed to spawn a Midwestern political dynasty.

La Follette, a nominal Republican, bolted his party in 1924 – he wasn’t a Coolidge fan – and gathered in more than 16% of the popular vote running as an independent presidential candidate. His running mate on the Progressive Party ticket was another “radical” and a nominal Democrat from Butte, Montana – Senator Burton K. Wheeler. The La Follette-Wheeler ticket carried only Wisconsin in 1924, but the Progressives – anti-monopoly, anti-interventionist in foreign affairs and anti-Ku Klux Klan – ran far ahead of the Democratic ticket most everywhere in the Northwest, including Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Over many years, Wisconsin’s has had its share of “radicals” of both the left and the right. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day and made common cause over his Senate career with Frank Church of Idaho on many environmental issues, including the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. Both Nelson and Church lost re-election in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

One other Northwest-Wisconsin connection of particular note was the close friendship between Senator Herman Welker, a one-term Payette, Idaho Republican, and Joe McCarthy, a favorite son of Appleton, Wisconsin. Often described as McCarthy’s “best friend in the Senate” or “little Joe from Idaho,” Welker never abandoned his Wisconsin Republican colleague even when being McCarthy’s friend became a liability. Welker served as McCarthy’s chief defender when the Wisconsin senator was censured in 1954 for his increasingly reckless behavior in attacking those he suspected of Communist sympathies.

Cheese and brats…a growing issue
Wisconsinites, by all appearances, are not making the mistake of spending too many lovely August days worrying about health care reform or cash for clunkers. These are days for cheese, beer, brats and cream puffs, after all, the four main food groups. As a result the expanding Wisconsin waste line seems to be – sorry – a growing issue.

A columnist in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel set aside the usual polite Midwestern reserve this week to challenge fellow cheeseheads to admit the obvious: “Half of us are fat; a quarter, really fat. If bands don’t play ‘Too Fat Polka’ at weddings around the state anymore, they should. Make it our song until we can tie shoes without gasping for air between the left and the right.”

To sum this up: one more political connection.

Another of Wisconsin’s true political radicals was Senator William Proxmire, a gadfly, skinflint and physical fitness nut who served 32 years in the U.S. Senate. Proxmie replaced McCarthy in the Senate and never spent more than a few hundred buck on a re-election. He also created the Golden Fleece Award to spotlight wasteful government spending and was known to run to work in the Senate – ten miles a day.

As the New York Times noted after his death in 2005, “Tall, thin and bald as a young man, Mr. Proxmire was unusually vain about his looks. He had a series of hair transplants and a face lift, and in 1973, he published a book about staying in shape: ‘You Can Do It: Senator Proxmire’s Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan.'”

I’m betting the State Fair’s new chocolate covered bacon would never have caught on with ol’ Bill Proxmire.

Now That Was Quick

SutherlandThe Fastest Confirmation…

George Sutherland is the only person from the state of Utah to ever serve on the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Warren Harding in 1922, Sutherland still holds the record for the fastest confirmation in court history. The entire process – nomination, no hearings and Senate confirmation – took one day.

After being defeated in his bid for a third term in the United States Senate, Sutherland established a Washington, D.C. law practice and developed a friendship with Harding. That close relationship lead to his court appointment.

Sutherland spent 16 years on the high court faithfully opposing almost all expansion of government power. He became the intellectual leader of the “four horsemen,” the conservative bloc on the court that before 1937 rejected much of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. Sutherland retired in 1938.

Supreme Court confirmations have certainly changed since 1922. New justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination was announced by President Obama on May 26. She was confirmed today. By my count her confirmation process lasted 72 days.

By the standards of the modern Senate confirmation ordeal the Sotomayor process was speedy, but no threat to George Sutherland’s record. Like Joe DiMaggio’s record of hitting safely in 56 consecutive major league baseball games, the Utahan’s record will never be broken.

The Survival of the Republic

FDRFDR and “the Jew Deal” and Obama “the Kenyan”

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” Mark Twain

OK, I admit it. I don’t need more evidence that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, two years after Aloha land became the 50th state. I am convinced the president is native born and therefore qualified to exercise the executive power of the government under the Constitution. It is a closed case for me, but apparently not for many so called “birthers” and even, at last count, eleven members of Congress who are sponsoring legislation requiring presidential candidates to produce their birth certificates.

All of this talk of birth certificates comes hard on the heels of the persistent rumor that Obama is a secret Muslim.

What’s going on here? A Constitutional crisis? An updated version of UFO sitings?

None of that. The Obama “stories” are, I submit, in league with a long, colorful and frequently disquieting chapter in American presidential history. It is the chapter where some Americans never quite get to the point of accepting the person in the White House. Presidential history is full of “facts” from the fringe that, if true, would surely “disqualify” the offender in the Oval Office.

The president in modern times most aggressively vilified in this way was surely Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As George Wolfskill and John A. Hudson document in their book – All but the People – Franklin D. Roosevelt and His Critics – FDR was – pick your poison – mentally ill, unable to handle the strain of office due to his polio, a shadow Communist (or Fascist), a warmonger and a Jew.

A contemptible collection of crackpots, including the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin who commanded an audience that Glenn Beck would envy, and a southern demagogue by the name of Gerald L.K. Smith, rumor mongered the anti-FDR lies constantly. As Wolfskill and Hudson note, Smith’s Christian Nationalist Crusade mailed out thousands of copies of a phony Roosevelt genealogy, purporting to “prove” FDR’s Jewish ancestry, during the presidential campaign of 1936. A footnote read: “Every sensible Christian and loyal American will fight the campaign of Leftist, Communists, Jews and Internationalists to return the Roosevelt dynasty to power.”

Roosevelt won that 1936 election, by the way, in an historic landslide that only convinced his critics that he was determined in a second term to advance not the “New Deal,” but the “Jew Deal.”

In earlier times, the detractors of President John Adams contended he harbored secret ambitions to declare himself King and, despite Adams role in the American Revolution, as president he was determined to tighten bonds with England.

Andrew Jackson came to believe that the death of his beloved wife, Rachel, was a direct result of the vicious attacks directed at him, but aimed at her. One charge – the Jacksons were bigamists.

More recently, John F. Kennedy had to counter the widespread belief, advanced effectively by his political opponents, that his election as the first Catholic president was sure to install the Bishop of Rome – the Pope – as White House chief of staff.

George W. Bush had to contend with conspiracy theorists in the wake of September 11th and some Americans will never get over his “illegitimate election” by a 5-4 vote of the United States Supreme Court.

“Politics ain’t bean bag,” as they say, and for sure the game has always been played as a full contact sport. Good advice to any politician: Don’t climb in the ring if you can’t take a punch and a low blow has always been part of our politics. You want fair play – go to a cricket match

Still, the speed and viral nature of today’s rumor spreading, fueled by the Internet, 24 hour cable news, and bloviators like Lou Dobbs and Beck is nearly impossible to fathom or refute. Spreading rumors in the age of instant communication makes “old media” reporting, the kind that actually seeks out the facts, even more important as an antidote to the nonsense.

But, there is another old adage – the truth never catches up with the allegation – that keeps theses stories alive for days, weeks and beyond.

Considering all the rascals who have occupied the White House – from a secret Jew to a secret non-citizen – it is a real wonder the Republic has survived at all.

An International Star…

Curtis StigersThis Guy is Good…

One of the most talented and nicest guys I have ever known, Curtis Stigers, has been nominated for an Emmy Award for the lyrics he wrote for the main title theme of the FX Network show – Sons of Anarchy. The nomination is in the category for Outstanding Main Title themes.

While Curtis played the famed Oak Room of New York’s Algonquin Hotel earlier this summer, his great popularity in Europe tends to find him touring there extensively. This summer and fall, he has many dates in Germany, Denmark and England. He played the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London for the summer BBC Proms on August 1st.

Those of us lucky enough to see Curtis when he’s home in Idaho, may have a tendancy to take the guy’s international reputation a little bit for granted. After all, he’s the hometown boy who turns up regularly to headline a benefit concert for a good cause. His show earlier this year at the Boise Contemporary Theatre was as good an evening as any music fan could ever hope to enjoy.

He’ll have a new album out in the fall. A really accomplished singer, songwriter and mutli-instrument musician, Curtis Stigers is – even better – also a solid citizen and a caring guy blessed with a terrific wife and daughter. He is a great ambassador for Idaho and the country.

Congratulations Curtis…

How the West Was Saved

ConservationConservation Visionaries

Douglas Brinkley’s fine new book – The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America – tells the great story of how Roosevelt, the New Yorker born of privilege who became a westerner by choice, came to preserve during his presidency vast amounts – 230 million acres total – of national forest land, monuments, wildlife refuges and parks.

Roosevelt’s remarkable foresight keeps on giving. More than 100 years after TR’s aggressive use of Executive Orders and the Antiquities Act marked him as the nation’s foremost conservationist, we are still debating what to do with all he set aside. Thank the 26th president for not foreclosing our options all those years ago.

When some westerners speak dismissively of the unique American legacy of public ownership of vast amounts of beautiful, rugged, economically valuable, and often largely untouched land they tend to refer to the acreage as “federal land.” But that is inaccurate. The land belongs to all of us just as TR envisioned and every generation since Roosevelt has faced the task of reconcilining its stewardship responsibilities with the unrelenting pressure – and unrelenting need – to harvest timber, extract minerals, generate energy and generally support a modern society.

The debate over that stewardship of public land has often been shrill and polarizing, but that may be changing at least a little.

In a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic Jonathan Weber, publisher of NewWest.net, an on line magazine covering the west, extolled what may be a gathering trend – attempting to resolve age old disputes about western land management using collaboration and compromise right here in the west rather than resorting to bombast and lawyers.

Weber points to the approach pioneered in Idaho by Rick Johnson, the Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League (ICL), that has helped engineer recent new wilderness protection for the magnificant Owyhee Canyonlands in extreme southwestern Idaho and will soon, we can hope, finally see through the Congress the long sought, often delayed protection of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in central Idaho.

Johnson – no relation, but a friend – has learned what some in the conservation community, and the national media, have yet to see: pragmatic, common sense conservation must be built from the ground up and it will always involve compromise. ICL has made common cause with two pretty conservative Idaho Republicans – Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson – in the interest of moving the ball on wilderness protection, while also acknowledging the local need for economic stablity and jobs.

Montana’s new Democratic Senator John Tester is working the same trapline and I”ll be surprised if we don’t see more use of the model across the vast American west. It seems to be working.

I marvel at Teddy Roosevelt’s vision that encompassed creation of the remarkable system of national forests that provide us raw materials, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and solitude. At the same time the man who hunted every type of African game and proudly saw to it that mounted heads graced the walls of his home and many musuems was also the bird loving creator of Deer Flat and Minidoka Wildlife Refuges in Idaho.

When I spent last Christmas at the picturesque old El Tovar lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon – the park was saved by Roosevelt from the designs of early Arizona miners – and walked in the snow along the trial overlooking what may be the most spectacular site in the country, I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for the old Rough Rider’s certainty that this marvelous place must be conserved for all of us and forever.

Thankfully TR had the vision to act as he did; mostly unilaterally and often in the face of powerful opposition. But, thanks as well for a new generation of westerners, of many political stripes, who realize a different time demands a different approach.

The great writer Wallace Stegner often made the point that westerners live with many myths, including the myth that the west was built by the hands of rugged individuals acting on their own. Not true, Stegner said. The west has been built through cooperation and government action including reclamation projects created 100 years ago and 2009 stimulus spending on everything from renewable energy to road and transit projects.

The west’s story has always involved much hard give and take. The west’s true rugged individuals realize that fact and are willing to summon the courage and sustain the energy to work and worry over the compromises that continue to make the west a place of hope, opportunity and awe.

As Roosevelt once said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Good advice and not a bad slogan for the future of the American west.

Remembering Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt“…Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Frank McCourt, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his unforgettable memoir about growing up poor, Irish and Catholic in Limrick, died of cancer on July 19 at age 78.

McCourt’s book – Angela’s Ashes – is one of only two books I have read (Mitch Albom’s Tuesday with Morrie is the other) where I found myself both laughing out loud and tearing up all in the space of a single page. Albom has written a moving tribute to McCourt where he remembers his friend as “wickedly intelligent.”

I can identify with that. I spent a truly unforgettable day with McCourt back in the fall of 2002 when the Idaho Humanities Council – a truly wonderful organization and reoccuring gift to Idaho – brought him to Boise for the Council’s annual Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities.

McCourt participated in a lunch for friends of the Council at the private The Arid Club in Boise. He was impressed with the fancy lunch and the good conversation, but really enjoyed more than anything, I believe, an hour long stop we made at Capitol High School to visit with teachers and students. Frank McCourt spent years teaching in the New York public schools before he became an overnight sensation with the publication of Angela’s Ashes. He took command of the classroom at the high school, his Irish humor (frequently more than a little randy) and charm in full flower. Most of all I remember his care with the kids and his interest in what they were reading and writing.

Asked once about the most difficult aspect of teaching, McCourt said:

“Energy and patience. The gap between the adult and the kid is so great. You have to go where they are and have compassion.”

Frank McCourt struck me as being like that one special teacher most of us were lucky enough to have in our lives. He is the teacher you never forget.

The haunting, yet funny lines from the opening page of Angela’s Ashes keep coming back:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

McCourt’s obit in the New York Times is worth a look. And, if you haven’t read Angela’s Ashes, hurry and find a copy.

Being an Irishman, Frank McCourt was known to enjoy a bit of the whiskey. As I recall, he favored Bushmill’s Black. Remembering the teacher and author seems reason enough to pour a little taste.

Cronkite…Broadcast Journalism’s Gold Standard

Cronkite This photo, Walter Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is probably how many of us will remember the quintessential CBS anchor.

It’s been noted extensively since Cronkite’s recent death at age 92, that he was a “working reporter” even as he became “the most trusted man in America” and largely invented the role of “anchorman.” As a former TV reporter, who lived for the excitement of live, election night coverage, I still marvel at Cronkite’s ability to maintain poise and deliver serious content while anchoring coverage of a space mission or a raucous political convention.

Among the many tributes I’ve seen since Cronkite’s death, two stand out.

My colleague, John MacDonald, a former Associated Press editor and reporter, served up as nice a rememberance of as any I have read: http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/walter_cronkite_eyes/C559/L559/

And Pat Murphy, a former editor of the Arizona Republic, who now lives in the Wood River Valley in Idaho where he writes for the Idaho Mountain Express, had a wonderful piece about Cronkite and a dinner any of us would have enjoyed attending. http://www.mtexpress.com/index2.php?ID=2005127038

At his best, and Cronkite was frequently at his best with coverage of Vietnam and civil rights, he demanded that his “correspondents” (a revered titled at CBS) challenge the dinnertime viewer. Were, as Pat Murphy suggests, the network news divisions given a half hour every night to report what “viewers wanted to hear” or what “they needed to know?”

It was Cronkite’s considered judgment – the editorial judgment of an old United Press International (UPI) reporter – that determined the story content of the nightly “broadcast” The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was never a “news program” or “show.” Playing the role of Managing Editor, Cronkite served up what we needed to know as opposed to what might have gone down easier with a TV dinner.

Cronkite’s broadcast anchored a different time, before 24-hour news cycles and endless “talking heads” on cable. It is a time long gone and Cronkite’s passing begs the question: can any reporter or news organization command such respect again? More importantly, perhaps, do we news consumers care any more about Cronkite’s type of content? Do we want journalism to challenge us…or give us an escape from what we really need to know?

In a 1996 inteview with the Newseum, Cronkite was asked about his regrets. Not surprisingly he had some: http://www.newseum.org/news/news.aspx?item=nh_CRON090714_2

It is a cliche that the old UPI man would have abhorred, but we’ll not see his like again.

Unfortunately, that’s the way it is.