My favorite parts of these decisions are the parts where Judge Corwin outlines, very candidly, his perceptions of the credibility and qualifications of the "experts" hired by the State of North Dakota. Read footnote #1, for example. To understand what the judge is explaining, you'd probably have to read his earlier decision. If you need help finding that decision, let me know. (It is and was worth the read.) But also keep reading as Corwin explains the problems with the State's expert's affidavit, in which he expresses opinions he's clearly not qualified to make, about things he seems to know nothing (or little). (See the botom of p. 5 through page 7, for example, and footnotes 3 through 10.)
It's also interesting that Judge Corwin notes video testimony from Republican legislator Ricky Becker, and provides the URL for the video of his floor testimony.
Also interesting is Corwin's discussion of the requirement, in North Dakota's new law, that doctors have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and that they have privileges to perform abortion procedures at those hospitals. Then he discusses how there are only three hospitals in the Fargo/Moorhead area. One is a Catholic hospital where no abortions can be performed. Another is the VA hospital, that's barred (by federal law) from performing abortions. The third -- presumabely Sanford -- only bestows admitting priviles to doctors who "generate a specified minimum volume of business -- the provision of inpatient services to a minimum of five patients in the last twelve months." Well, of course, the Fargo Women's Clinic hasn't provided Sanford with five patients in the last twelve months, so its physicians wouldn't qualify. (And the law's drafters surely knew this.)
Footnote 11 is also interesting. Governor Dalrymple, when he signed the bill into law, referenced the burdensome "added requirement that the hospital privileges must include allowing abortions to take place at [that] facility." He links to Dalrymple's statement to that, available online. Then he points out the State's disingenuous effort, in the legal proceedings, to ignore that requirement.
It's another interesting, well-written decision. It's only 14 pages long. You should read it.
[Update X 1] North Dakota Senator John Hoeven has again repeated his demonstrably false statement that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 42,000 construction jobs.
See that sentence I just wrote? You could probably call that sentence "the lede." There's a word in that sentence that's kind of important. The word is "demonstrably." The word "demonstrably" is an adverb that means "in an obvious and provable manner." (Source.) When paired with the word "false," the phrase "demonstrably false" suggests there is incontrovertable, findable evidence that would show that the thing being descibed is not true; the thing is a lie. The notion that something can be proved to be false is something completely foreign to North Dakota journalists.
President Obama has said, recently, that the Keystone XL pipeline won't create as many jobs as Republicans claim it will create.
"Any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in a economy of 150 million working people."
John Hoeven says he's outraged because President Obama is making up numbers about jobs that might be constructed by the potential construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Hoeven should know about making up numbers, as he's always pulling numbers out of his ass. Here's Hoeven's latest Keystone XL nonsense.
“He’s just flat wrong on the numbers,” Hoeven said. “He’s talking about 2,000 construction jobs, but his own State Department says it will create 42,000 construction jobs. (Obama) talks about the oil not being used in the United States and gas prices being higher when his own Department of Energy did a report stating the oil will be used in the U.S. and will lower gas prices. The president is contradicting his own agencies.”
So Obama says the most realistic estimates suggest KXL will create "maybe 2,000 jobs" and John Hoeven says there's a State Department report pegging it at "42,000 construction jobs." It seems like a semi-competent reporter could look into those numbers and "demonstrate" who is closer to the truth. Am I right?
Or... if you were a completely incompetent reporter, you'd just leave it as a "he-said-she-said" disagreement. Only you'd leave it with the President's quote, and Hoeven saying the President's administration has estimated the 42,000 construction jobs number.
Okay, so... Let's pretend I'm a competent journalist. Here's what I'd do: I'd look for the Obama administration's State Department report. And do you know what I'd find?
Construction of the proposed Project would generate temporary, positive socioeconomic impacts as a result of local employment, taxes, spending by construction workers, and spending on construction goods and services. Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2 year construction period (of which, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities).
See? That's the actual report Hoeven is talking about. It really wasn't that hard to find. (I used "the Google" again.) Hoeven says the State Department report says the building of the Keystone XL would "create 42,000 construction jobs." The report says "3,900" construction jobs over a 1-to-2 year period. Is there a "42,000" number in there? Well, there's the number of jobs the KXL would "potentially support." And I bet there's a definition somewhere for "potentially support." A good reporter could look into that and would probably find out that it means the estimated 3,900 Keystone XL construction workers would stop in at businesses that employ 42,000 people. That's probably gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, restaurants, gift shops, hotels, clinics, hospitals and lots of other businesses. Supporting those jobs is not the same as creating construction jobs.
And, admittedly, 3,900 construction jobs is not the same as the President's "maybe 2,000 jobs" number, right? But he said "maybe" and he said "most realistic estimates." So what might he be talking about? Well, I don't know what "realistic estimate" he's talking about, but I do know that Cornell University did an indpendent study and concluded the jobs number could be as low as 2,500, and as high as 4,650. (Source.) Maybe there are other estimates out there, but that appears to be an objective report.
So maybe the President thinks the independent Cornell University study is more realistic than the optimistic State Department study. But that leaves a bigger question: Whose statement was "demonstrably false?" The guy who said the "most realistic" estimate was "maybe 2,000" when there is an independent study saying the construction jobs estimate is as low as 2,500? Or the guy who says the State Department report says KXL will create 42,000 construction jobs when the State Department report says it will create 3,900 construction jobs? And why didn't the Dickinson Press (ForumComm) reporter tell us about that demonstrable evidence? Is it incompetence again? Or just bias?
I report. You decide.
[UPDATE: I just realized I forgot to pick apart one of the other obvious lies in Hoeven's quoted statement, above. He says building the pipeline will lower gas prices. I've written about this before, so I'm just going to cut and past what I wrote, and provide a link. But I want you to know that it's not ME making up these facts; it's the company that wants to build the pipeline. They're the ones who insist building the pipeline will cause gas prices in the Midwest to increase. Here you go...
Gas prices are guaranteed to increase in North Dakota and surrounding states because Canadian oil will no longer be available to North Dakota's refinery and others in the region. By advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline, John Hoeven, Rick Berg and all the Republican oil company puppets are advocating for higher gas prices for North Dakotans. How do we know this is true?!? The company proposing the pipeline openly admits it -- even brags about it -- in Canada. "According to TransCanada, KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and escalating for several years. (Click here) It will do this by diverting major volumes of Tar Sands oil now supplying the Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel, adding up to $5 billion to the annual US fuel bill. (Click here, go to page 27, for source)
Once again the Oil & Gas Divison of North Dakota's Industrial Commission has made a statement about a fine it says it is imposing. The Division claims it is imposting a huge -- HUGE, I say -- fine against an oil field company for violating rules relating to the disposal of poisonous fracking water. Once again, one of the rookie reporters at the Bismarck Tribune regurgitates the press release-like statement without asking a single hard question. From the Tribune...
By Nick Smith
Bismarck, N.D. - The North Dakota Industrial Commission is seeking a $1.5 million civil penalty against a company for violating saltwater disposal well regulations.
State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms outlined the case involving Halek Operating ND, LLC to the three-member commission Tuesday.
“It is the largest civil penalty that you, as a commission, have ever levied,” Helms said. “This was a very serious crime. It sends a strong signal to companies and operators that come into the state.”
The Industrial Commission had announced earlier it would be pursuing the civil case against the company, along with a criminal case against Nathan Garber of Executive Drilling, LLC.
So why ever would I think the Tribune's cub reporter -- Nick Smith -- is being naive? Well, mostly because my memory goes back prior to last week. I "Remember those huge fines imposed on ND Oil Companies" back in May of 2011. I also have access to "The Google." Maybe some of you folks are new here, so I'll take you back in time.
Back in May of 2011, there was a big story about the Oil & Gas Division assessing huge -- HUGE, I say -- fines against oil companies. They were assessing "Three MILLION dollars" in fines. That's what the big press release said. So it must have been true back then, right? Well, no. Nobody else covered it, but NorthDecoder did. Ultimately virtually every one of those huge -- HUGE, I say -- fines were reduced by 90% or so.
The last time I wrote about this, all those enforcement actions against companies involved in the "$3 million" Oil & Gas Division fines had been completed. The final tally for the "$3 million" in fines ACTUALLY paid in those cases was closer to $350,000. That NEVER got reported anywhere but here at NorthDecoder. If it would have been reported in the mainstream media, more citizens of North Dakota would have had actual knowledge of the fact that these Oil & Gas companies are getting away with murdering our state. And at a low price.
So here's a tip for young Nick Smith for the next time he's going to pretend to write a worthwhile story about some huge -- HUGE, I say -- fine being imposed upon a law-breaking oil field company by Lynn Helms and his rollicking regiment of revolving-door regulators: Ask them how much of a fine they're REALLY asking the oil company to give them.
North Dakota reporters and others with short memories all forgot, a long time ago, about the frivolous Federal Elections Commission (FEC) complaint filed by Bob Harms -- then the Treasurer for the ND GOP -- against 2012 ND Public Service Commission candidate Brad Crabtree. Crabtree, like most honest North Dakotans, thought it was troublesome for statewide elected officials -- including two PSC members Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk, not to mention Governor Dalrymple -- to be accepting money -- some might even call it illegal bribe money -- as political contributions from people and/or entities who had matters pending before government agency bodies they were elected to serve in an unbiased, ethical, objective way. Crabtree had published an ad in which he compared his own ethics to the ethics of Cramer and Kalk, both of whom were taking these questionable campaign moneys. Here's a transcription of what Crabtree said in his ad. (For a more official transcription, click on the first -- 001 -- link at the end of this blog post.)
I'm Brad Crabtree, candidate for Public Service Commissioner. I believe you deserve more from your public officials. It's wrong for regulators to take political money from interests diey regulate. But Public Service Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk have taken thousands of dollars from the very companies and executives whose projects they approve. Our PSC Commissioners are supposed to watch out for folks like you, not just the people who sign the checks.
That's why I've pledged not to accept any contributions from companies or executives with interests before the PSC. It's not what candidates say, but what they do that matters. See for yourself at crabtreeforpsc.com where I post the contributions my campaign receives.
I'm Brad Crabtree, candidate for Public Service Commissioner. I'd appreciate your vote to help me put you - the public - back into the Public Service Commission.
Get the rest of the story at crabtreeforpsc.com Paid for by Crabtree for PSC, Perry Miller, Treasurer.
Harms was concerned that Crabtree's ad was exposing an NDGOP problem so, in his capacity as a leader in the ND Republican Party, he filed an FEC complaint against Crabtree at the end of September, 2012; around the time early voting started for the 2012 election. In his one-page, four-paragraph letter to the FEC, Harms complained that Crabtree's ad was federal "electioneering" which meant Crabtree's campaign should have -- but did not -- file a 24 Hour Notice of Disbursments/Obligations for Electioneering Communications (FEC Form 9). The NDGOP also, promptly, issued a press release that got traction primarily with the crackpots in the right-wing blog-o-sphere, but also with the dupes in North Dakota's regular press.
For background, when a person or organization spends $10,000 or more on an advertisement that "promotes, supports, attacks or opposes" a federal candidate during a 60 day window before an election, the purchaser has to submit a discloser to the FEC within 24 hours. If they don't, it's a violation of FEC rules and federal law.
Crabtree submitted a response through his attorney. I'm going to paraphrase Crabtree's response. You can read it on your own, if you like, but my perception is that Crabtree responded to the Complaint saying this: A central theme of Crabtree's PSC campaign was that then-sitting PSC members were engaging in sketchy and/or unethical conduct by accepting campaign contributions from persons who were executives for companies the PSC regulates while those persons' companies had matters pending before the PSC. The then-sitting PSC members Crabtree was talking about were Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer. Cramer -- in the middle of his PSC term -- also just happened to be running for federal office. Crabtree's position -- in his FEC response -- was that Crabtree's federal candidacy was "incidental" to the criticism Crabtree was making regarding the unethical conduct of both Kalk and Cramer in their capacities as PSC members. Crabtree never mentioned Cramer's federal candidacy in his ads. Translation: If Cramer hadn't been running for U.S. Congress, Crabtree could have, would have, and should have made the same argument in his campaign; Cramer's federal campaign had virtually nothing to do with Crabtree's criticism of the ethics of two sitting PSC members accepting money from executives and organizations with matters pending before the PSC.
The FEC did some investigating. As part of its investigation, because of the $10,000 threshold, it needed to know how much Crabtree had spent on the ad, and when it spent the money. It contacted Harms and asked him for information about when the ad buys had been made. Harms apparently provided that information, generally, to the FEC. The FEC investigators apparently contacted Harms back and asked where Harms had gotten the information. According to the FEC, Harms informed the FEC "that the North Dakota Republican Party's media vendor obtained the information directly from the radio stations, but [ ] offered no other details or documents." Instead, Harms asked the FEC to "exercise [ ] some discretion" and "refrain[ ] from further prosecution of the complaint" because the complainant now believes that the violations were "inadvertent." (The foregoing apparently quotes fairly heavily from an email from Harms to the FEC dated January 14, 2013.).
I feel obligated to translate a few things here. First, when the North Dakota Republican Party says they got information from their "media vendor," they're almost certainly talking about Odney Advertising. Odney Advertising is a Bismarck-based advertising firm that is so tangled up with Republican elected officials in North Dakota state government that the two can barely be distinguished. It's important to know that since 2007, Odney Advertising has taken in over $23 million -- that's MILLION with an "M" -- in North Dakota state contract money. (See ND.gov). Second, when Harms -- also a partner in a big state government contractor business -- tells the FEC he'd like them to "exercise some discretion" and "refrain from further prosecution" because he believes Crabtree's alleged violation was "inadvertent," what he's really saying is, "We never really had a legitimate complaint. We know it. We were just smearing Crabtree's good name while manipulating North Dakota's unsophisticated reporters into writing another pro-Republican/anti-Democrat story. And it worked. Our guys won. Bygones."
The FEC issued its decision about a month ago. (You can access the decision through the FEC's website, but it's a little tricky. I'll post links to the FEC filings at the end of this blog post.) Under FEC policies and rules, those decisions remain secret for 30 days. This decision became public last week. In the decision the FEC does a breakdown of Crabtree's expenditures for this particular ad. It says Crabtree spent a total of $28,304.40 to air the advertisement. Of that $28k, $5,913.10 worth of ads aired within the 60 electioneering window rule. $6,163.20 aired during a 12-day period, of which only one day was within the 60 day electioneering window. And $15,728.10 aired completely outside the 60 day window.
Based upon that breakdown, the FEC concluded that -- regardless of whether Crabtree's advertisement was "electioneering" -- the NDGOP's complaint was completely without merit because Crabtree hadn't spent $10,000 on the ad during the 60-day window. Here's how the FEC's analysis went:
Thus, regardless of whether the advertisement was an electioneering communication, the available information shows that the costs of Crabtree's advertisement did not surpass the $10,000 threshold requiring disclosure . 2 U.S.C. § 434(f)(1). Therefore, Respondents had no obligation to file a 24-Hour Notice with the Commission.
Accordingly, the Commission finds that there is no reason to believe that the Committee violated 2 U.S.C. § 434(f) by failing to file a 24 Hour Notice in connection with the radio advertisement and closed the file.
This is how North Dakota politics work, folks. Republicans and their operatives quietly collect tens of millions of dollars in state contracts, they take campaign contributions from executives in the companies they're supposed to be regulating, and then they manipulate the media into writing stories about their frivolous complaints about the ethics of Democrats. Because the Democrats in North Dakota are unethical. Got it?
Here's a thought exercise for the hypothetical reasonable, rational and intelligent conservative Republicans out there. (Most North Dakota Republicans can sit this one out.)
Imagine someone in the federal government is leaking sensitive, classified information to a journalist. Because of the leak, respected, non-partisan, government officials and their family members' safety and security are being jeopardized. These people and their family members could be killed. Imagine that the journalist is knowingly receiving sensitive, classified information, and that the release of that information could put peoples' lives on the line.
Now... Imagine it's a felony -- possibly the constitutional crime of treason -- for someone to leak this classified information to anybody, including a member of the media. Imagine that when a crime like this happens, we expect our government to investigate it and bring to justice anybody who has commited such crimes, and any co-conspirators.
Imagine that everybody acknowledges the the government tries to investigate the leak but comes up with nothing. So they seek subpoenas to get phone records so they can start to figure out from whom the press is getting the classified, secret, sensitive information.
Now, imagine that the leaks were all going to a journalist with Al Jazeera, and not the Associated Press.
On a 1 to 10 scale, how outraged are you about what the government was done? By comparison, how outraged are/were you about illegal leaks to the Associated Press? Should it matter to whom the classified information is illegally being leaked?
By now you've likely heard reports that some staff in a regional Ohio office of the IRS were targetting groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their name as those groups sought tax exempt status. I have a few general thoughts about this. Here's my rant:
First, I listened to right-winger Joe Scarborough on his MSNBC show this morning expressing his outrage over the fact that this appears to be an attack by Democrats against "the other side." When I heard that I started to wonder if I'm the only person who can remember past last week.
Back when the Tea Party was becoming the astro-turf movement it became, I personally joined the chorus of Americans who insisted it was a transparent attempt by the Republican Party to expand its base. "No, no, no," we were assured. "The Tea Party is made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who've never been political a day in their life, libertarians, Republicans." (See, e.g., Michele Bachmann, founding chair of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, in the Huffington Post). This spin came from Tea Party activists nationally, and locally. Some were paid shills; others were partisan politicians. I heard it from a Teabagging organizer here in Bismarck. I got it from one of the teabagger organizers in Grand Forks. "The Tea Party is non-partisan," I was told by some of the movements mouth-breathing North Dakota leaders.
But now -- today -- Republicans and Tea Baggers (but I'm repeating myself) want it both ways. "The Tea Party is a Republican organization and Obama's IRS went after it unfairly," they blather. It's nonsense.
Anybody who remembers past last week -- apparently only me -- remembers how vehemently they protested just a couple years ago when anybody dared to call the Tea Party a Republican Party organization.
If the IRS targetted organizations with the phrase "tea party" in the name and if the "tea party" is non-partisan, besides their methodology being seriously flawed, what's the big deal?
Teabaggers and Republicans (but I repeat myself) can't have it both ways.
Secondly, in the past few years -- and especially since the Citizens United case was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court -- lots of Americans have questioned the legitimacy of non-profit, allegedly non-partisan special interest groups on both sides of the aisle. Lots of people think those organizations should have their non-profit status more aggressively scrutinized both when that status is obtained, and subsequent to certification.
When these organizations fill out their 990 tax returns, they are asked to certify that they don't do any lobbying, or to disclose how much they do (because there are limits to what they can do). Many -- like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- lie on their tax returns, with no consequences from the IRS. This is what's really troublesome about IRS enforcement methods. There seem to be no consequences for these partisan astro-turf groups that break the law or rules.
Keep in mind, one of the things the IRS is tasked with doing is ensuring organizations that engage in certain types of political activity must not get classified in certain ways for tax purposes. So today the IRS is being criticized for trying to do its job. I totally agree that by targetting groups with certain words or phrases in their names, they're doing a horrible job of doing their job, but it's still a part of the job they've been assigned. Criticize them for being bad at part of what they're supposed to do, but don't attack them as being partisan.
America is full or fake grassroots organizations set up for the primary purpose of lobbying the government or swaying the outcomes of elections, and they're getting away with doing it under the banner of an IRS issued tax-exempt status certifications. ALEC is one such group. The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is another. Both of these organizations are funded by the Koch Brothers Crime Family and are set up for the purpose of lobbying government and/or distributing partisan political propoganda to manipulate election and legislative outcomes. They have no business getting tax exempt status the way they do. I, for one, think it would be a great idea if the IRS started scrutinizing all of these fake grassroots non-partisan, non-profit organizations, regardless of their political leaning. But if you look at Tea Party groups, specifically, some of the main ones have earned -- through hard work -- the attention of the IRS. They should lose their tax exempt status.
Thirdly, who decided every organization that has the word "patriot" in its name is a right wing group? Do some organizations with the word "patriot" in the name lean to the right? Sure. But all of them? Doubt it.
I arbitrarily pulled up a listing of such organizations on Guidestar.org, and the first 10 listed include:
Patriot Volunteer Fire Department
Patriot Indiana Main Street Inc
Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation
Carolina Patriot Rovers Inc
United American Patriots Inc
New England Patriots Charitable Foundation Inc
Pets for Patriots Inc
Illinois Patriot Education Fund
American Patriot Foundation Inc
Anybody want to guess how many of those are right-wing, partisan groups?
So if you are an Obama administration IRS field office administrator and your goal is to target right wing, Republican organizations and you plan to do so by going after non-profits with the word "patriot" in their name, the only thing you're good at is being an idiot. Are you corrupt? Not necessarily. Are you stupid and/or incompetent in at least one relatively minor component of your job? Yep.
Did the IRS screw up? Sure. Is this story worthy of all the calls for impeachment from the right-wing fringe? Um, no. Is this story worthy of all the press its getting right now. Not a chance. Are there more important stories? Yes.
I was intrigued when I read, a couple weeks ago, that North Dakota's only congressman, Kevin Cramer (R), has hired his wife as his in-state scheduler. She is allegedly doing the official staff work "pro bono." (See Legistorm). I thought this was interesting because, at the same time, Cramer's wife is apparently being paid about $1,500 per month by Cramer's partisan political campaign. (FEC report) The question I'm trying to sort out is this: Is this a violation of Congressional nepotism rules?
I'm not asking because I'm sure it is a violation of the rules. In fact, the opposite is true. I'm not sure it is. But should it be a violation of ethics rules?
For discussion's sake, let's say one of Cramer's wife's campaign job functions relates to fundraising. Let's say you want to schedule a meeting with the Congressman in North Dakota. So you call his official office and get a receptionist. The receptionist says, "Oh, you want to schedule a meeting with Kevin? Let me put you through to his in-state scheduler, sole campaign employee and fundraiser, the Congressman's wife, Kris. Please hold."
Where does that put you, the constituent? At best it looks a little unethical. At worst it would look like a potentially horrible case of "pay to play" politics.