Saturday, January 23, 2010
A Save - Maybe - for the Human Rights Commission...and Other Odds and Ends Some news on Friday that may give Idaho Human Rights advocates hope that the Idaho Legislature will craft a workable path forward for the 40-year-old Idaho Human Rights Commission. The devil will be in the details, but the Commission may find a soft landing at the Idaho Department of Labor and legislators praised the efforts of Labor's Roger Madsen for working with the Commission's Director Pam Parks to create a sustainable budget solution. As noted here earlier, there was statewide push back to an Otter Administration plan to phase out state funding for the Commission that enforces non-discrimination laws and advocates for human and civil rights. Long-time Coeur d'Alene human rights advocate Tony Stewart made the obvious point, if the Labor-Human Rights Commission lash-up can work it will have to ensure the Commission's long-time independence and visibility. Stewart also points out that hate crimes and examples of racial intolerance appear to be on the rise again in Idaho. Stay tuned. Too Big To Fail... In the fall of 2008, after the national and world economy came within inches - or hours - of a complete financial collapse, Rep. Barney Frank, the acerbic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was interviewed on 60 Minutes. "The problem in politics is this," Frank said. "You don't get any credit for disaster averted. Going to the voters and saying, 'Boy, things really suck, but you know what: If it wasn't for me, they would suck worse.' That is not a platform on which anybody has ever gotten elected in the history of the world." New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin uses Frank's quote near the end of his masterful, encyclopedic account of the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. The book - Too Big To Fail - is, at the same time, a great piece of documentary reporting, a story of human folly, greed and crisis management on a vast scale, and a profoundly cautionary tale about how remarkably close the world came to what then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said would be "a depression deeper than the Great Depression." There are few, if any heroes in Sorkin's account - Paulson comes closest for his constant focus during the crisis and his willingness to make tough decisions quickly - and the book liberally assesses the blame. Sorkin summed it up this way [the editorial comments are mine]: "The seeds of disaster had been planted years earlier with such measures as: the deregulation of the banks in the late 1990s [a move that received bipartisan support in Congress and endorsement from Bill Clinton], the push to increase home ownership [a Clinton and Bush legacy]; lax mortgage standards [poor business practices by many banks]; historically low interest rates, which created a liquidity bubble [part of Alan Greenspan's tenure at the Fed] and the system of Wall Street compensation that rewarded short-term risk taking [mark this down to old fashioned greed]. They all came together to create the perfect storm." Sorkin has written an important book. I hope it is being read in Washington. The Rest of the Story... Fascinating story in the Washington Post yesterday about the long-time friendship between the popular radio broadcaster Paul Harvey and the director of the FBI for most of the 20th Century J. Edgar Hoover. The Post obtained 1,400 pages of FBI files that show that Harvey often submitted scripts to Hoover for approval and comment and the creepy FBI director showered the broadcaster with effusive praise. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the story, and any number of other documented accounts of Hoover's relationship with politicians and celebrities, is that the top G-man from the 1920's to the 1970's spent so much of his time on this kind of thing. I have had a couple of opportunities, while doing research, to examine FBI files. There are, for example, pages of FBI reports in the Franklin Roosevelt archives at Hyde Park, New York. The files, mostly centered on FDR's political opponents, often consist of material that reads a bit like a teenagers diary - raw gossip, material culled from widely available newspaper accounts and the musings of informants. In other words, it is mostly useless chatter and often, well, creepy seems to describe it pretty well. I'm sure the FBI is devoting its time to more essential duties in the age of global terrorism, but some of the agency's history - confirmed again by Paul Harvey, of all people - makes you wonder about the rest of the story. Good day...and a good weekend.