# Arts

Congratulations to Jim Leach

The White House announced today that President Barack Obama will nominated former Republican Congressman Jim Leach to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities. From the press release:

Jim Leach served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Iowa for 30 years. He founded and co-chaired the Congressional Humanities Caucus, which is dedicated to advocating on behalf of the humanities in the House of Representatives and to raising the profile of humanities in the United States. The Caucus worked to promote and preserve humanities programs and commissions such as the Historical Publications and Records Commission. Mr. Leach and his co-founder, Rep. David Price, received the Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities from the National Humanities Alliance in 2005. During his tenure in Congress, Mr. Leach also served as Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services (1995-2001), a senior member of the House Committee on International Relations and Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs (2001-2006). In addition, Mr. Leach is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Vice Chairman of the Century Foundation’s Board of Trustees and has served on the boards of the Social Sciences Research Council, ProPublica, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Kettering Foundation. Since leaving Congress in 2007, he has taught at Princeton University and served as the interim director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Leach was one of the most prominent Republicans to endorse Obama for president last year. He was rumored to be under consideration for a diplomatic position when Obama sent him to speak with foreign leaders in Washington shortly after the presidential election. The National Endowment for the Humanities seems like a perfect fit for Leach.

Congressman Dave Loebsack, who defeated Leach in the 2006 election, released this statement today:

“As a native son of Iowa, Jim Leach has served Iowa proudly and with dignity for over three decades, and I applaud President Obama’s choice. The National Endowment for the Humanities makes critical contributions to the rich cultural tapestry of our country, and with Jim Leach’s experience, expertise, and dedication, I have no doubt that our nation’s museums, libraries, and cultural institutions will continue to grow and excel.”

Loebsack and Leach have set a fantastic example for politicians everywhere by speaking about each other with respect, both during and since the 2006 campaign.

Congressman Bruce Braley released this statement:

“President Obama couldn’t have made a better choice than Jim Leach to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities.  There are few individuals as qualified or as well-suited for this position as he is.  I’m proud that Davenport’s own Jim Leach will be continuing to serve the public in this capacity after his long and distinguished career representing the citizens of eastern Iowa.”

I was raised by a Rockefeller Republican who believed in funding the arts and humanities and cringed when well-known Republicans demonized the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1980s and 1990s. Leach’s commitment to supporting the humanities will serve him well in his new job.  

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How many good causes will suffer for the failures of the SEC?

By now you have surely read about Bernard Madoff and his $50 billion Ponzi scheme. For background, here’s a collection of New York Times articles on the scandal.

The Securities Exchange Commission is conducting an internal investigation to find out why Madoff’s criminal enterprise went undetected for so long. It’s already obvious that this was a massive regulatory failure.

The SEC was warned about Madoff:

The SEC had the authority to investigate Madoff’s investment business, which managed billions of dollars for wealthy investors and philanthropies. Financial analysts raised concerns about Madoff’s practices repeatedly over the past decade, including a 1999 letter to the SEC that accused Madoff of running a Ponzi scheme. But the agency did not conduct even a routine examination of the investment business until last week.

No one knows yet how many people were involved in helping Madoff conceal his fraud. And while Madoff’s operation was particularly massive, no one knows how many other fraudulent investment firms are out there, because the SEC lacks the resources to enforce compliance with financial securities laws.

Those who had invested with Madoff have lost the entire value of their accounts, and they are not the only victims of his crimes. In fact, Madoff may have indirectly harmed more victims than any other white-collar criminal in history. His clients included many non-profit organizations and charitable foundations, some of which have already ceased operations. Numerous Jewish non-profits have been hit hard, but the fallout will extend far beyond the Jewish community. The Picower Foundation alone gave out tens of millions of dollars in grants every year. Within months, the education, human rights and arts non-profits that relied on those funds are likely to be in financial crisis.

The JEHT Foundation was much smaller than the Picower Foundation but “was a leading supporter of civil rights causes, including groups working to expand voting rights in the South.” Its outgoing president noted when announcing plans to shut down operations that

The issues the Foundation addressed received very limited philanthropic support and the loss of the foundation’s funding and leadership will cause significant pain and disruption of the work for many dedicated people and organizations. The Foundation’s programs have met with significant success in recent years – promoting change in these critical areas in partnership with government and the non-profit sector. Hopefully others will look closely at this work and consider supporting it going forward.

We can hope that others will step in to support the worthy causes whose funders were defrauded by Madoff, but that is extremely unlikely. Just about every grant-making foundation has suffered a significant decline in assets this year because of the stock market’s slide. Individuals of great wealth have also seen their net worth shrink. Non-profit organizations were already bracing for a difficult fundraising year in 2009. The Madoff scandal makes it even more likely that many non-profits will not survive this downturn.

Consider them casualties of “small government” at the SEC, and remember what happened to them the next time conservatives whine about big, bad regulators.  

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Iowa Arts License Plate

I was reading the Press-Citizen today, and local rabblerowser Donald Baxter hit on a brilliant idea. Why doesn't Iowa have an “arts license plate”? We already have the highly successful REAP plate, a heritage plate, an education plate, and most recently a “share the road” plate that benefits the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. (Just look at all the specialty plates the state already offers!)Iowa should join other states like Florida and California in offering a specialty Arts plate, with the proceeds going toward a central organization like the Iowa Arts Council.

Here is an example design by Mr. Baxter (used with permission). An added bonus is that it makes use of the currently endangered Jackson Pollock painting at the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Here is a link as well to the original blog post by Mr. Baxter. I think it's a great idea, and if you do as well–it might be worth bringing up to our local candidates.