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John Irby Completely Misses The Point Again
Written by Chet   

Today Bismarck Tribune editor John Irby bloviates about how similar the move by former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman into a job as "consultant" for companies in the industry he regulated after receiving tens of thousands of dollars (for himself and North Dakota's Republican Party) is to the possible move by North Dakota's Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson to the position of president of the National Farmer's Union.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson announced he would resign from his state post if he is elected to serve as National Farmers Union president. We'll know the outcome in a few days.

I like Johnson. Some time back I met with him at his office and was introduced to several of his staff members, and we snacked on fresh fruit. It seemed like a fun place to work and we had good discussions.

But the political bed he has made might get a bit uncomfortable.

While not the exact situation, Johnson's possible departure is similar to former Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, who resigned from his position to become a consultant. A Republican, Poolman took major political heat from Democrats for leaving his office early.

Bismarck Tribune

"Not the exact situation," John?!?  Seriously?!?  

Irby completely misses the point of the criticism of Poolman for leaving his elected position as top regulator of insurance companies in North Dakota.  Here's a refresher:  Poolman -- in his capacity as North Dakota's Insurance Commissioner -- served [as chairman of] a committee at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).  On that committee, he strong armed "model legislation" -- laws to be proposed in every state in the country -- that favored a single company over all other companies in an insurance-related industry, the viatical settlement industry.  At the time, Poolman was taking tens of thousands of dollars in non-campaign campaign contributions (i.e. he never ran for office after receiving the money) from an executive at that one company, and his wife.  Then he ushered the same law through North Dakota's legislature, without disclosing his improper relationship with the company.  Then he announced he was leaving his post as Insurance Commissioner because he had received "an offer he couldn't refuse," but he couldn't tell anybody what that offer was.  It was a big secret, but he was going to go do some "consulting" for someone in the insurance industry.  

For the whole story, click here, John.  It's the story your newspaper never did a meaningful job of covering.

For some follow-up on what Poolman's "butt healing" process has included, click here.  It's another Poolman story your newspaper never covered.

Now, only today, months or years after you and your newspaper have ignored these stories about North Dakota's former insurance commissioner, you disclose that Poolman is your neighbor.  

Nice. 

Next, we'll find out that the reason your paper hasn't written anything about the junkets Adam Hamm and his staff take many times a year -- though he claims the most they get is an occasional back-yard barbeque -- is that he's also a neighbor.

 
Saturday Diversion:Bob Marley
Written by Adam   

Is this Love?

 
Sean Quinn's take on the Republic Party
Written by Adam   

Sean Quinn is a smart commentator  He's Nate Silver's counterpart over at FiveThirtyEight.  He just wrote a good article regarding contuinued use of the term "Democrat" as an adjective, which is a.) bad grammar, b.) annoying to Democrats, and c.) disrespectful.  Its a very well-written article.  Here's an excerpt:

On the flip side of the coin, denying another person or group basic respect means that once the epithet escapes a Republican’s lips, he or she can’t complain when no respect is returned. Some Democrats aren’t bothered. Their perspective is that the very nature of such a tiny, repetitive jab, like a sibling flicking you on the shoulder, is that it pales in comparison with the constellation of behaviors that create actual wounds.

However, some Democrats find it to be a threshold issue in a conversation. It's irrelevant whether it wounds; it's a communication signal. If your behavior choice is a playground tactic, why should my behavior choice be to listen to what you say in whatever else is coming out of your mouth? You won’t agree to my name. I am supposed to take anything you say seriously? Couples therapists know a thing or two about this one. Respect is a threshold condition for listening.

If Republicans genuinely want Democrats to listen to their policy ideas, they shouldn't use the term because it's counterproductive. For example, when I hear the term, nothing else matters that comes out of that person's mouth. That Republican has failed the threshold bad faith test, and who cares what they say?

Read the whole thing.  It's worth your while.

Sincerely,

Annoyed Democrat

 
Senate Republicans Threaten Filibusters on Obama's Judicial Nominees
Written by Adam   

I am incredulous.  (Bold is mine)

March 2, 2009
 
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.  20500


Dear Mr. President:
We look forward to working with you as you consider nominees for the federal judiciary.  Unfortunately, the judicial appointments process has become needlessly acrimonious.  We would very much like to improve this process, and we know you would as well.  It is in that spirit that we write early on to suggest two steps your Administration can take to achieve that shared goal.
First, in the beginning of his Administration, your predecessor demonstrated his desire to improve the judicial confirmation process by nominating to the circuit courts two of President Clinton’s previous judicial nominees, Judge Barrington Parker to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Roger Gregory to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  It would help change the tone in Washington if your Administration would take the same bipartisan step.  Because the last Congress sadly set the modern record for the fewest circuit court confirmations in a President’s final Congress, there are plenty of well-qualified nominees with bipartisan support from whom to choose.  For example, Peter Keisler has been praised repeatedly by colleagues in both the public and private sector, Democrats and Republicans, and has earned accolades from major media observers, like The Washington Post.  And Judges Glen Conrad and Paul Diamond both enjoyed bipartisan support and have outstanding records on the federal trial bench.
Second, as our Democratic colleagues have emphasized for the last several years, the process of federal appointments is a shared constitutional responsibility.  We respect your responsibility to nominate suitable candidates for the federal bench.  And as a former colleague, we know you appreciate the Senate’s unique constitutional responsibility to provide or withhold its Advice and Consent on nominations.  The principle of senatorial consultation (or senatorial courtesy) is rooted in this special responsibility, and its application dates to the Administration of George Washington.  Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the importance of maintaining this principle, which allows individual senators to provide valuable insights into their constituents’ qualifications for federal service.
We hope your Administration will consult with us as it considers possible nominations to the federal courts from our states.  Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee.  Despite press reports that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee now may be considering changing the Committee’s practice of observing senatorial courtesy, we, as a Conference, expect it to be observed, even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation.  And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not.      
Because of the profound impact that life-tenured federal judges can have in our society, the Founders made their appointment a shared constitutional responsibility.  We look forward to working with you to discharge this important duty in the best interest of our country.
Sincerely, 


All Republican Senators

Cc: The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
###
SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER

I have not seen so much hipocrisy since the Republicans changed the rules they created in '95 to get rid of Dan Rostenkowski(D-IL) so that Tom DeLay could remain the Majority Leader while he was indicted.

These Republicans have either no memory or no conscience. They either don't remember just four years ago when they threatened to declare the filibuster unconstitutional for this exact purpose. I hate to sound so angry but this is the height of hipocrisy. Republicans are threatening to eliminate a maneuver that just four years ago they wanted to break the rules and defy precedent to eliminate. I have cataloged their efforts here.

This truly is the height of hipocrisy. Republicans campaigned on Democratic obstructionism of judicial nominations for four years. I suggest that republicans look at the statements of their former majority leader:

This Senate must do what’s right. We must do what’s fair. We must do the job we were elected to do and took an oath to do. We must give judicial nominees the up-or-down votes they deserve.

Now don't get me wrong, I do not at all disagree that it is the right of Senate Republicans to filibuster judicial nominations, but four years ago they were saying that filibusters on judicial nominations were unconstitutional. It is completely hypocritical to now say that they will use a maneuver that they argued to be unconstitutional four years ago.

We deserve better.

 
“Crazy ol' Bastard!”
Written by Adam   

“Should have hung up the cleats years ago!”

That was my VERY Republican uncle in response to the latest news on Sen. Jim Bunning(R-KY).

Bunning is having a standoff with the Republican leadership in Kentucky and in Washington. His relationship has been strained with the leadership for some time, and it's nearing a cliff. First, a little history though.

When Bunning ran for re-election in 2004 he barely won. For a Republican in Kentucky that's quite an accomplishment. Here's the map of the race that year. This article has a good explanation of some of the highlights of that race:

In recent days, Bunning has accused his opponent of spreading false rumors questioning the senator's mental competency, but also has sought to assure voters that he is sharp and healthy.

Answering a reporter's question Thursday, he said he doesn't read newspapers and wasn't aware that a group of Army reservists had made national headlines when they refused an order to transport supplies from an air base to a city north of Baghdad.

...

"Let me explain something: I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information," he said.

...

Bunning last week released letters from two doctors stating he is in "excellent health," but three days later the Courier-Journal of Louisville questioned whether he had a "serious health concern" in an editorial titled "Bunning's fitness."

And here's Time Magazine's categorization of Bunning in 2006:

In addition to being hostile to staff members on the Hill and occasionally even other Senators, Bunning shows little interest in policy unless it involves baseball, according to congressional experts and colleagues.

Bunning's lackluster performance has created strains between him and the G.O.P. in Kentucky, according to Laurie Rhodebeck, a University of Louisville political-science professor. Having served Kentucky for 12 years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1998, Bunning exhibited bizarre behavior during his 2004 re-election campaign. He said his Democratic opponent, a child of Italian immigrants, looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons. He refused to go to Kentucky for the campaign's only debate and took part instead from Washington. It was later revealed that he had read some of his answers in the debate from a teleprompter.

Ok, now here's the last few weeks:

Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn have been quietly hinting that they wouldn't really mind if Bunning had a primary opponent. Which Bunning is having none of. He continues to state that he will be the party's nominee for the 2010 Kentucky Senate race.

Bunning went so far as to threaten to sue the NRSC. Then on friday came this interesting tidbit reported by PageOneKentucky:

Rumor has it that Jim Bunning is so spitting mad that he’s telling people he’ll just resign and let Steve (Beshear) appoint someone.

How bout them apples?

And can you even IMAGINE?

Ha!

Realize that Kentucky's governor is a Democrat.

But some radical blog can't be trusted about that story. Only newspapers have the requisite judgement to determine facts from rumors...

The Kentucky Republican suggested that possible scenario at a campaign fundraiser for him on Capitol Hill earlier this week, according to three sources who asked not to be identified because of the politically sensitive nature of Bunning’s remarks.

The implication, they said, was that Bunning would allow Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, to appoint his replacement — a move that could give Democrats the 60 votes they need to block Republican filibusters in the Senate.

The Carrier-Journal is the largest paper in Kentucky...

Oops!

Now wouldn't that be interesting...

Bunning's office has obviously denied everything, and it's doubtful that it would actually happen, but its clear that the Kentucky Republican primary will be one to watch. Right up there with Pennsylvania's. Did I mention that Pat Toomey just threw his hat back into the ring?

 
Hamm Handed Handling
Written by Chet   

GEAHRemember what a hero North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm was when -- just a few months before the 2008 election -- Hamm denied a rate increase request by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBS)?  Remember what Hamm said about the requested rate increase?

“Blue Cross Blue Shield did not substantiate this rate increase request, misled the Insurance Department concerning payments to health care providers, and stonewalled the department when it sought information. As a result, I denied this request,” Commissioner Adam Hamm said in a statement Friday.

AdamHamm.com (copied and pasted from an AP story)

Oops.  Turns out someone was misleading someone, but it wasn't Blue Cross Blue Shield doing the misleading and it wasn't Adam Hamm being misled.

A decision came out last week from an Administrative Law Judge asked by BCBS to review Hamm's work.  It appears Adam Hamm was the one doing the misleading.  Here's part of the decision:

In sum, (a) BCBSND established that the rate requested was in compliance with N.D.C.C. § 26.1-30-19 in that the projected (and justified) loss ratio is greatly in excess of the 55% statutory and regulatory minimum and benefits provided would not be unreasonable in relation to the premium charge at the requested increased level, and the Department did not rebut the same; (b) the Commissioner did not base his decision to deny the rate request on actuarially sound principles and practices, and the decision not to allow any rate increase was without substantial justification; and (c) BCBSND's Bank Depositor filing was received May 2, 2008, and the Commissioner did not provide notice of an extension in writing within sixty days after the filing, thus BCBSND was entitled to implement the requested rate increase on its Bank Depositor line of business as of July 1, 2008.

The ALJ's Decision (emphasis added)

Notice that?  Part (c)?  He missed a deadline.  Does anybody wonder why he wanted this to get pushed closer to November?  It wouldn't be because he wanted to hold a media event right before the election, would it?  He wasn't trying to manipulate the media AND the voters, was he?  This almost looks like the sort of thing that would be considered malpractice if Hamm had been on the right side of this issue and had been working in the private sector.  It appears he missed a deadline and it could have cost his clients -- us -- quite a bit, had he not been completely in the wrong.  In some twisted way, Hamm is lucky his denial of the rate inrease was unsupported by facts, evidence, logic or the law. 

Listen...  Nobody wants an Insurance Commissioner who rubber stamps rate increases for monopolistic (or nearly monopolistic) insurance companies.  That's the last thing I'd ever want, and it's not what this is about.  What this is about is an insurance commissioner who appears to have used his position as an elected insurance regulator to misrepresent the facts to the voters in an effort to garner political favor when his actions are completely unjustified.  That's what this looks like. 

Adam Hamm played North Dakota's voters for a bunch of suckers.  Many North Dakota voters fell for it.  That same bunch won't likely have the long-term memory to hold Hamm accountable next time he's up for election.  Maybe some of us will.

North Dakota deserves better.

 
Hoeven To Appoint New WSI Chimp Soon
Written by Chet   

Where?Though he's had authority to do it for several months now, North Dakota's rarely-seen-and-rarely-heard Governor John Hoeven announced today that he'll eventually take action to do what voters told him to do back in December. 

Gov. John Hoeven`s staff attorney says the governor will soon name a a permanent executive director for the state workers` compensation agency.

Ryan Bernstein, Hoeven`s staff attorney, says the governor will name a new executive director within "the next couple of weeks." Bernstein says Hoeven didn`t use a formal application process but has met with possible appointees.

The agency has been led since last March by former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness. The WSI board named him interim director after Sandy Blunt was fired. Voters approved a ballot measure in November that gives Hoeven the authority to name the new executive director instead of keeping the power with the WSI board.

KFYR-TV

He knew in early November that the voters wanted him to do this.  His official authority to do it kicked in in early December.  It's only taken him three months to get around to doing it, and he hasn't even bothered to solicit applications?  

How do you appoint someone to lead up a state agency if you don't solicit applications?  Seriously.  Do you ask all your donors if any is willing to do it?  Do you ask your political cronies?  

My prediction:  I think it'll be someone who -- like Furness -- doesn't have the courage, integrity or intellectual curiosity to learn all about the issues and problems that have plagued WSI or to do the housekeeping that needs to get done at WSI.  I think it'll be someone predisposed to ignore all of WSI's baggage and skeletons.   I think it'll be a Republican Party insider who -- like Furness -- has little or no experience with competently running a state agency. 

I have four people on my "Short List" of who I think Hoeven has asked to take the job.  My prediction is it that either it will be another Sandy Blunt (someone with experience working in an ethically-challenged capacity in state governement) or it will be another Bruce Furness (a figurehead with little or no experience running a state agency and/or no experience with work comp).  I have an opinion on who Hoeven SHOULD appoint, but I won't even bother writing it here.   There's little risk that it'll be someone I'd support.

Who do you think it'll be?

 
Tough Luck for Integrity
Written by Chet   

ND Government Corruption WhistleIn an AP story entitled "Tough Luck for Dismissed N.D. Workers Comp Employees," writer Dale Wetzel summarizes the state of the law in North Dakota for public employees who catch their bosses engaging in crimes, fraud or other misconduct.  Here's the message for public employees who do the right thing and seek protection when they report crimes or fraud by their bosses:

"Pound sand."

Bismarck Tribune (paraphrased)

That's neither a reference to Congressman Pomeroy's latest challenger nor a Menard's advertisement for winter ballast for your pick-up truck.  It's the message North Dakota's Republican leaders want every state employee to hear when they start thinking about turning in their corrupt Republican bosses.

To recap, four North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) employees reported criminal misconduct by their boss(es) at WSI back in late 2007.  Some of the conduct reported by some of them eventually led to the conviction of WSI's CEO, Charles "Sandy" Blunt, who was sentenced last week in Bismarck.  All four WSI employees were retaliated against by WSI despite the fact they had sought protection under North Dakota's whistleblower "protection" act.  Each lost their job.  Several of them brought civil lawsuits against the State of North Dakota.  Two of them have settled with the State, receiving thousands of dollars in public money.

Apparently being troubled by the retaliation against public employee whistleblowers who truthfully report criminal or fraudulent conduct by their boss(es), one state legislator has tried to re-write North Dakota's whistleblower protection laws to put some teeth into the law where now there are barely even gums.  Unfortunately, the last thing Republicans want is for state employees who become aware of their bosses' crimes and fraud to be protected when they report the misconduct:

The North Dakota Senate has rejected legislation sponsored by Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, to give the state auditor authority to investigate whistleblower claims by state agency workers. The bill also would have allowed North Dakota's labor commissioner to order the reinstatement of wronged employees with up to two years' back pay and benefits.

North Dakota laws now prohibit public and private employers from retaliating against workers who report possible illegal activities. For public employees, the protection extends to reports of misuse of public resources. But officials say employees who believe they have been wronged have few options other than hiring attorneys to enforce their rights.

The dismissals of Long, Grinsteinner, Flanagan and Billi Peltz, WSI's former human resources director have exposed North Dakota's whistleblower protection law as worthless, said Long's attorney, Tom Tuntland, of Mandan.

Tuntland said the existing state law would be better described as a "whistleblower persecution act."

"The law is worse than a sham. It's a trap," Tuntland said. "It leads employees to believe they have protection when they have absolutely no protection .... Any public employee who blows the whistle on public wrongdoing is a fool."

Bismarck Tribune (not paraphrased)

Well I'm not sure I fully agree with Mr. Tuntland.  One would have to assume that intelligent people with integrity are "fools."  I'm not ready to go there.  I think it'd be more accurate to say that "Any public employee who blows the whistle on public wrongdoing and expects any help from a Republican or any governmental protection from retaliation is a fool."   

It's kind of a sad sign for North Dakota's public employees.  How many other public employees do you suppose were out there sitting on information about their boss's corruption and crimes but were waiting to see how the WSI cases played out?  I promise you there are some public employees with information of crimes and fraud that will never come forward because they have their careers and their families to think about.  In these tough economic times, the last thing an honest state employee needs is to be out of a job, forced to scrounge for a way to support their family.

But that's exactly how North Dakota's Republican leaders like things.  

"Keep 'em hungry," they say.

Our state employees deserve better.

 
Sunday Diversion: Counting Crows
Written by Chet   

Big Yellow Taxi

Pave paradise.  Put up a parking lot.

 
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