Earlier today, a constituent of North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer posted a comment on Cramer's Facebook wall. The constituent apparently wanted to make sure that -- after Cramer's vote to take food out of the mouths of hungry children, disabled people, the elderly and many military veterans -- Cramer was aware of some of the Biblical passages supporting the idea of helping the least of these. Cramer's response is kind of stunning. His response is, essentially, to let those people starve. Citing a different Biblical passage, here's what Cramer wrote:
Congressman Kevin Cramer 2 Thessalonians 3:10 English Standard Version (ESV) 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
So there you go folks. The hungry children of veterans who can't find jobs or who are disabled; those kids can just starve. See, Cramer's a good Christian, and Thessalonians says we need to let the children of people who can't work or who can't find jobs starve.
Now, to be clear, I'm not some great Biblical scholar. And I don't know very many great Biblical scholars. I'm quite certain Kevin Cramer isn't a great Biblical scholar. Why? Because his quote makes clear that he thinks the Bible has told him that everyone who is poor is also lazy.
Cramer assumes everybody who receives SNAP assistance is lazy. Because, of course, the Christian thing to do is to assume that everyone who isn't working isn't willing to work. And we should hate those people and let them "not eat." Let's just forget all that crap the Bible says about helping poor people. Why not?!? He forgets that many who receive SNAP assistance work. Many work full-time. Many work multiple jobs. It's not that they're lazy, Kevin; it's that our economy needs a lot of working poor people. WalMart needs a lot of working poor. Kevin's owner -- the Man Who Bought North Dakota -- needs a lot of working poor people. How would the Walton family make so much money if they weren't able to pay so many people so little?!?
You want to know who's lazy? Let's talk about the U.S. House of Representatives. Do you know how many days they're in session this year? 126 days. That's 10.5 days per month. Congressman Cramer works an average of 19.4 hours per week, and he's suggesting lazy people shouldn't get to eat?!? Maybe Cramer (and the family member he has working in his official Congressional office) shouldn't eat.
And -- speaking of not working -- what is our Congressman doing responding to messages on his Facebook wall at 2:00 p.m. on a Friday? We're paying $174,000 per year to work less than half-time AND he's hangin' out on the Facebook? Doesn't Congressman Cramer have anything better to do?
I've got mixed feelings about Syria and so I'm going to cautiously dip my toe into the debate, here.
This morning I watched MSNBC's Morning Joe program. Their special guest was retired Airforce General Michael Hayden. What Hayden said was that dropping bombs on Syria "is the least worst option we now have. It would be near catastrophic... for American influence in the world for the the American Congress not to support this." (Source, including video) As I watched I honestly wondered to my self what the "retired" general is doing these days, besides appearing on TV talk shows. Does he fish? Does he paint? What's he up to?
In his intro, they told us he was the former director of the NSA and the CIA. They mentiond he's involved with the "Chertoff Group," a "global security advisory firm."
Moments later (literally) that segment ended and MSNBC went to a commercial. What was the commercial? Here's what it was:
Suddenly I was more curious about General Hayden. So I googled him.
As General Hayden talked about the unfortunate need to bomb Syria, nobody asked him what the "Chertoff Group" does. I googled that, too. Turns out, the Chertoff Group does consulting and lobbying work for companies looking to get defense contracts, and lobbying to change policy so that their defense contracting clients can get more and bigger government defense contracts. (Source One and Source Two)
So the best expert Joe Scarborough and Company could find to talk about whether we should bomb Syria was a guy who's cashing in on the military industrial complex?
You'd think they could find a better expert. Or, better yet, you'd think someone on the show would have had the stones to expose Hayden for the shill he is.
And someone should have talked about how much ad revenue MSNBC gets from Northrup Grummond.
I listened to President Obama, yesterday, as he answered a question from a journalist during a press conference in Sweden. It was actually the first time I'd heard a coherent argument for why something has to be done in Syria. The president pointed out that the idea of banning chemical weapons, internationally, wasn't his original idea. The United Nations did that. He pointed out that the U.S. Congress has enacted laws demanding that the Syrian government be held accountable for its violations of human rights laws and treaties. He pointed out that when he talked about a "red line" being drawn, he was essentially talking about the fact that others -- namely Congress -- have adopted these policies and ratified these treaties, and its his job to "execute" those policies, as he's the head of the "executive" branch. He said that -- because of what they've done -- he thinks he has to "go" into Syria to preserve their credibility. It's not his credibility on the line; it's the credibility of all the chicken hawks who've given lip service to being tough on people who violate the human rights treaties and laws that have been enacted by Congress and international entities.
I still don't like the idea of America being the world police. It shouldn't be our job to pay (in blood and money) for policies adopted internationally. If other countries want to have any credibility, they ALL need to step up with their own money. And blood.
I also still don't like the idea of bombing a country because it's government bombed its citizens during a civil war. I'd like to know how many civilians the American military killed in Iraq, and there's no big outcry about that. Sure, I get that chemical weapons are awful. But what difference is there between the Syrian government gassing 1,500 innocent civilians, and American drones and bombs taking out 20,000 innocent Iraqi civilians?
I also still have questions/doubts about whether the Syrian government really bombed its own people. It seems -- in a sick and tisted way -- like the Syrian rebels benefit more from gassing their own citizens than does the Assad government. I get that satellites tracked the missiles coming from Assad's bases. But how do we know what was on those missiles? Isn't it possible the missiles hit a rebel forces chemical weapons stockpile? Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but it all sounds crazy. [UPDATE: Read this, too. I'm not the only crazy one.]
I just don't think a convincing case has been made for America "going it alone." Or even "going it" with the French and a couple other countries. I felt the same way about Iraq, even though Bush pretended we had international backing.
But the thing that's bothering me the most this morning is that mainstream news is pounding the "Drums of War" and they're so ridiculously biased about it. If they were responsible journalists, they'd lay all their cards out on the table so their viewers knew whose pocket they're in. That is what's frustrating today.
Frankly, at this point, I'm still not convinced. If I were on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I'd either have voted "no" or "present." I'd want more information.
Congratulations to Governor Jack Dalrymple and Top Cop Wayne Stenehjem, and all the folks who voted for all of North Dakota's Republican elected officials. North Dakota has been honored with the title "Second Most Corrupt State In The Union."
There's a political organization in Grand Forks, North Dakota, called "Grand Forks Republican Women" (GFRW) About two months ago, GFRW held its annual "golf outing" fundraiser. From the many photos they've posted on their Facebook page, it looks like it was a pleasant enough event with lots of pleasant-enough people having fun. While browsing through the photos the other day, a couple photos stood out to me, as did a "thank you" they posted, acknowledging their sponsors.
Here's the first photo that jumped out at me:
I don't know if you can see this, but just below the Republican Party logo elephant in the lower right-hand corner it says, "THANK YOU To Our Sponsors." Above, obviously, are the logos for the GF Republican Women's event sponsors. The sponsor list surprised me as it's illegal for corporations to sponsor political organizations like this. Several of the sponsors appeared to be corporations.
A corporation, cooperative corporation, limited liability company, or association may not make a contribution for a political purpose.
I took a few minutes to look all of them up on the North Dakota Secretary of State's website, and at least 12 of the sponsors are corporations. Another two or three might be corporations, but I'm just not certain. Another one or two are probably individuals, and their sponsorship/donations are probably okay.
Here's a list as it appears on the GFRW's Facebook page:
Abby at Pure Image, Vaaler Insurance, Prudential Crary Real Estate, Studio South: Lynn & Amber Stegman, Culver's, Wild Hog, Speedway Bar & Grill, Plains Chiropractic, Lifetime Vision Center, Waterfront Kitchen & Bath, abooboo design, Jordyn James Photography, Automated Financial Systems, Hong Farms, Sadie's Couture Floral and Event Design, Ferguson Books and Media and Valley Dairy!
Some of the sponsors' "corporateness" is obvious. Vaaler Insurance. Prudential. Some of the other ones are not so obvious. For example, "Studio South" -- the logo you can see one or two logos above the elephant -- shows up on the SOS website as being a "trade name" owned by "LDS, Inc.," but ""Amber at Studio South" shows up as a Trade Name owned by "Amber Strand." So, with the "Studio South" logo on the "thank you" sign, but the text thank you on Facebook thanking "Amber at...", it's a little hard to tell whether the LDS corporation was a sponsor, or just Amber. Either way, at least 12 of the sponsors of the Grand Forks Republican Women's golf tournament absolutely are corporations and appear to have made illegal campaign contributions to the Republican political organization.
I'd suggest "someone should do something about this," but what can anybody do when the corrupt party that has a stranglehold on this state breaks the law?
Maybe Mike Marcil can explain all of these away for us, too. Maybe Republican Women didn't get anything (i.e. money or in-kind contributions) from the event sponsors. Maybe they're also waiting for invoices from someone.
I probably need to point this out, too: I would be the last person in the world to tell you that I think everybody who breaks the law is a bad person. I know a lot of really great people who have broken the law in their lives. In most cases, I don't hold it against them. But, at the same time, our jails are full of poor people and minorities who've broken laws many of us might view to be fairly insignificant. If we're going to throw poor people and minorities in jail for committing Class A misdemeanors, I don't see why we shouldn't fill the jails with Grand Forks Republican Women when they commit Class A misdemeanors. I don't see why we shouldn't hold wealthy and powerful people to the same absurd standard. Some might even argue they should be held to a higher standard.
But that's all hand wringing. Republicans are above the law in North Dakota. They can and will do what they want and will not be held accountable until there is balance in our government.
I am not a financial advisor. I'm just not. As such, I do not have access to the kinds of tools a financial professional should have available for analyzing investments. That said, because of her track record, I still think North Dakota veterans would be well advised to scrutinize what North Dakota State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt is doing with money the legislature has set aside for some basic services for veterans.
Last week Wednesday, Kelly Schmidt issued a press release gloating about the return on investment for the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund. She apparently claims "credit" for that return. Here's part of her press release:
State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt announced the earnings of nearly $576,000 from the Veteran’s Postwar Trust Fund for the 2011-13 biennium. The Veterans Post War Trust Fund provides income which is used to provide grants and other benefits to North Dakota veterans.
I'm not the only one who struggles with math, apparently. Schmidt screwed up the numbers in that press release. She issued a second press release the following day, Thursday, last week. Here's what the corrected press release said:
State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt announced the earnings of over $315,000 from the Veteran’s Postwar Trust Fund for the 2011-13 biennium. The Veterans Post War Trust Fund provides income which is used to provide grants and other benefits to North Dakota veterans.
Oops. She was only off by a quarter of a million dollars. That's only 5% of the total corpus of the fund. It's just a quarter of a million dollar difference. What's a quarter mil between friends, right?
Okay, so maybe that's another sign of Schmidt's incompetence. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it was just a typo. $576,000 is right next to $315,000 on my keyboard, too.
But I think there's a bigger question that should come out of this. Let's talk about that.
According to the press release (and you might want to cross-check this against Schmidt's Veterans Postwar Trust Fund (VPWTF) spreadsheets online (2012) and online (2013) because there seem to be some discrepencies there, too), the starting balance for the fund at the beginning of the biennium was somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,235,000.
(NOTE: $4,235,000 is the $4.8 million end balance she talks about, minus $250,000 added by the legislature and $315,000 in earnings from her press release. There are other expenses that should arguably be subtracted out, but I'm going to leave them in. If one of you is smarter than me, you can re-do my math and explain why doing so is more or less fair to readers' search for the truth.)
If my abacus is working correctly $315,000 in earnings on $4,225,000 is roughly a 13.4% return on investment. If you were to compare the Trust Fund's return to one of the major indexes (Dow, S&P, etc.), I think you'd see that those funds earned closer to 20% during the same period.
Side note: The Dow gaining 20% in two years is indisputable proof of what Barack Obama is: Worst. Socialist. Ever.
Let's look at some of Kelly Schmidt's other numbers, too, while we're at it. Over the two years, Schmidt paid "managed fee expenses" of $60,151.53 ($25,425.02 in 2012 plus $34,726.51 in 2013). That looks like a fee to Kelly's friend, Troy, at the retail brokerage firm -- Edward Jones -- of about 19% of the return on investment (ROI). (I know nobody pays fees based upon the ROI. But, still…) That's an investment management fee of 1.55% of the principal. [Correction: Maybe it's only 1.4%]. I think that’s equal to 1.55 basis points. [or 1.4]. If memory serves, she (on veterans' behalf) was paying the North Dakota State Investment Board (SIB) .33 basis points when it was managing the VPWTF.
In fairness to SIB, and in its defense, I should note that Schmidt is also on the SIB, and her investment skills and input have likely impacted their performance, as well. With all her help, the State Investment Board probably isn't doing much better than she's doing. And they're likely continuing to pay irresponsibly high basis points for the high-risk investments they dabble in. Keep in mind, too, that auditors have described Schmidt's investment strategies as having "taken on more risk than a prudent investor would be willing to take on." (Source) Schmidt's investment performance outcomes should surprise nobody.
Bottom line is this: It appears Kelly Schmidt has smartly invested money for veterans' benefits in a high-risk fund, that's paying 6 or 7 percentage points less than the money would have earned in a conservative index fund, and she's paying nearly FIVE [or four] times more in fees to get that brilliant bargain.
Again, I'd invite someone smarter at this stuff to explain what I'm missing.
If I'm close, Schmidt issued a press release to brag about the return on investment she's helping veterans earn, even though their money would have done significantly better if she'd put it in a conservative index fund or maybe even if she'd left it at SIB.
What am I missing?
It seems like Schmidt's office should be due for another audit report from the State Auditor's Office soon. Maybe they'll look at this stuff and explain this better. Or maybe they won't.
A fresh water tank near an oil drilling rig less than one mile from Lake Sakakawea ruptured in mid-June, spewing 374,000 gallons of water into and near Lake Sakakawea.
Fresh water into fresh water doesn't sound alarming, but Ryan Newman, lake manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said it's just a matter of time before a catastrophic oil spill impacts Lake Sakakawea.
“It's not a matter of if, it's when,” he said.
He said the goal of the oil industry partners – federal and state agencies – is to be prepared.
“Let's get organized for when the big one comes,” he said.
Wake up call
A spill in December at Van Hook was an eye opener for many in the region. More than 66,000 gallons of oil and brine misted over a stubble field. The ice covered lake was mostly spared because of the time of year and the winds were mild and headed the right direction.
“Fortunately there wasn't a lot of wind. We kept it largely confined to the pad and that field,” Newman said. He said if the spill had occurred between April 1 and Aug. 30, a prime piping plover nesting area would have had chicks, eggs or birds covered in an oil sheen. The endangered species of birds would have required a costly cleanup effort, Newman said.
“That spill opened a lot of eyes. If there is a diamond in the rough, it's that everyone became a lot more aware of what could happen,” he said.
“Industry experts say: start planning for it, it is going to happen. We need to start looking at this lake and work together.”
The fresh water spill June 12 near Mandaree was one of dozens of spills so far this year. In 2011 there were 1,100 spills statewide reported and last year there were 1,494 spills statewide reported, according to the Corps. Spills are any quantity of water, brine water, oil or anything that impacts soil or water, according to Alison Ritter of the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources.
Newman said the Corps isn't always made aware of spills. Eight days later someone notified the Corps about the June water spill.
“Somebody said, 'Oh, maybe we should call the Corps,' Newman said.
Since the spill was on private land, adjacent to Corps land, the violator is not legally required to call the Corps. But the water flowed “straight to the reservoir,” Newman said.
The Van Hook oil spill in December was learned by the Corps from TV news reports when pictures of the scene showed the lake in the background. Newman said, “I saw that and thought we gotta get over there.”
The Corps is working hard to be at the table with the state and federal agencies to be partners in preparing for the worst case scenario. He said the Corps needs to be intimately involved because they can be helpful with access and elevation information.
“Flowing water is far different than a reservoir. We can tell them where the boats and the pumper trucks can go in,” he said. The EPA is currently working on a response plan in the event of major spill action, according to Newman.
Oil lines run under lake
Newman said the oil companies often avoid the volume of paperwork that is required to put a rig on federal land and instead place a rig just outside the Corps' boundary. Horizontal drilling creates 237 legs from the oil well snaking under Lake Sakakawea, buried at least two miles deep, according to the Corps' records mid-July. Today there are 13 lines 6-12 inches in diameter that convey crude oil, CO2, natural gas or gasoline across the lake, according to Newman. All of those 13 lines are in shallow trenches on the lake bed except for a gasoline line that is suspended on the Hwy. 23 New Town Bridge, Newman said.
The Corps promotes pipeline crossing corridors for the purpose of keeping pipelines grouped in the same region, Newman explained. He said spill detection and access to a spill will be easier.
Concerns have been raised about the age of some of the lines that run across Lake Sakakawea. He said Hess Corporation, the owner of many of the lines, is testing the walls' thickness and looking for anomalies, Newman said.
“They're doing their due diligence,” and finding that some of the lines are in good shape and some aren't. Some are gas lines that will be repurposed for oil, Newman said.
Beginning about three years ago the Corps started to require that all lines be bored 70-100 feet under the lake bed rather than just laid and sunk to rest on top of the lake bed.
Multiple requests come in, as often as weekly, to lay pipes on the lake bed or to drill on Corps property or to learn about how to drill on Corps property, he said. They say, “What's it take to get a line across Lake Sakakawea?” he said. “Now the whole world's changed. We get requests weekly,” he said.
The change is disconcerting for some.
An industry expert who was a leader in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska cleanup guided the Corps during a training exercise this spring, Newman said. He said, “Make sure you're organized. It will happen. We were like great, that's what we want to hear.” (The industry expert declined to be interviewed for this story.)
The result, though, is planning.
“Let's get organized for when the big one comes,” Newman said.
Ritter said the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources agreed. She said, “Obviously state leaders and emergency responders do know there is a potential threat. Being prepared is the most important thing. The state and the operators are taking steps to be prepared.”
A group of 10 oil companies formed Sakakawea Area Spill Response LLC to share equipment, training and resources in the event of a spill.
Ritter said preparation by the state and industry leaders will help to minimize the impact. Newman agreed and hoped she's right.
[Photos courtesy of Jill Denning Gackle, BHG News Service.]
[Chet's Note: In visiting with the reporter I learned that the aerial map/graphic in her story was obtained by BHG from the USACOE and is from late in 2012. I've taken the liberty of obtaining a current, similar graphic of the same area from the North Dakota GIS Hub (see below). You might want to right-click on both the graphics, open them in "new tabs" and compare the two graphics. There are now significant more laterals under the lake.]
Have you ever eaten at Maxwell's restaurant in Fargo? Enjoyed your steak and shrimp? If so, maybe you asked to be added to their email list? If you are on their email list, one week ago right about now (Monday of last week) you received a "mailchimp.com"-generated email from Maxwell's, inviting you to the Cass County Republicans' event called "Harvest with the Hoevens."
Maxwell's didn't care what your political affiliation is or was; if you're on Maxwell's email list, you got the partisan political email promoting a Republican fundraiser.
The event was Tuesday night. (Sorry, you missed it.) Maxwell's also advertised it on their website, as well. (Let me know if they pull the ad. I've PDFed it and will post that if they pull it.) According to the website, if you donated enough money ($50) to the Fargo area Republican organization, Maxwell's gave you a $25 gift card for their restaurant.
Who cares, right?
Well... I suppose that depends. I suppose corrupt people don't care. People who don't care about corruption in politics probably don't care. Despite that, the use of a mailing list is generally considered an "in-kind" contribution. Maxwells is a Limited Liability Company, one of the types of businesses barred from making political contributions.
I'd also suggest to you that giving $50 GOP donors a free $25 Maxwells gift card -- a sort of donation rebate -- is a $25 in-kind contribution to the NDGOP. Are the Cass County Republicans paying Maxwells $25 for every $50 donation they get? I kind of doubt it. (It'd be money-stupid for them to do that, don't you think? They'd make more money on a $40 contribution than a $50 contribution if they are.)
Are the Cass County Republicans paying Maxwell's for the advertisement on Maxwell's web page? Advertisement is also generally considered an "in-kind" contribution. If so, maybe there's no big deal. If not, then there might be a problem. Possibly a criminal problem.
Despite what everyone might think of the Citizens United case, corporate campaign contributions "for a political purpose" still appear to be illegal here in North Dakota. The North Dakota Century Code still includes this sentence:
A corporation, cooperative corporation, limited liability company, or association may not make a contribution for a political purpose.
I'd suggest to you that a donation to the Cass County Republicans fundraiser would be a contribution "for a political purpose."
So all of these donations to the Cass County Republican Party by Maxwells -- the free use of their email list, the advertising on their website, the ad on Maxwells website (and maybe some or all of the catered food and/or drink) -- appear to be illegal campaign contributions.
My experience is that police don't investigate apparent crimes like this at all. But if they do, they only do if someone complains about it. Maybe someone in Fargo should consider filing a complaint about this.
The video is of Fargo's ValleyNewsLive right-wing opinion blow-hard Chris Berg criticizing Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson because he didn't return calls from the right-wing opinion blow-hard's secretary. The NRCC thought this was worthy of their NRCC Communications page so they posted it on the series of tubes.
But the NRCC's description of the video clip, and the description, are just stupid. The title they put on the video is this:
KXJB-TV – Local News Anchor Rips Collin Peterson: “Guess What? You Work For The People”
So what's the problem?
The problem is that Chris Berg isn't a "Local News Anchor." ValleyNewsLive has all five of their anchors listed on their website, and Berg ain't one of them.
The President of the United States invited the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins football players to come to the White House to be honored. Three players declined. Why?
"We've got some real moral compass issues in Washington," Hall of Fame center Jim Langer told the Sun-Sentinel's David Hyde. "I don't want to be in a room with those people and pretend I'm having a good time. I can't do that. If that [angers] people, so be it."
"I'll just say my views are diametrically opposed to the President's," Manny Fernandez said. "Enough said. Let's leave it at that. I hope everyone enjoys the trip who goes."
And former offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg added: "I want to be careful, because mom said if you have nothing good to say about someone, then don't say anything," he told the newspaper. "I don't have anything good to say about someone. … I just don't believe in this administration at all. So I don't belong. Anyone on the left or the right has to respect one man's opinion. …
"I don't belong there, I'll tell you that," Kuechenberg continued. "Without being critical, I can just tell you I don't belong. It would be hypocritical of me to be there. I don't want to do that. I just don't believe in this administration at all. So I don't belong. Anyone on the left or the right has to respect one man's opinion."
So your views are "diametrically opposed" to the person who holds the office of "President of the United States," and that means you can't shake the office holder's hand, be cordial, and accept the honor?
Where do people learn this kind of behavior? From their parents? Listening to Reince Priebus? Watching Fox News? Reading about John Boehner? Where?!?
I thought George W. Bush and his administration should have been investigated for possible war crimes. I did. I thought (and think) waterboarding was torture and a violation of international treaties and laws. But Bush was President of the United States, too. Reagan violated U.S. law and traded arms for hostages. He did. He should have been investigated too. Maybe even prosecuted. I'm not a fan of the Obama administration's drone policy, their domestic surveylance policy, the continued use of Gitmo, FISA Courts, etc., etc., etc... Believe it or not, I'd support an investigation or two there, too.
But I respect the office. I do. If the person holding the office of President of the United States invites me to the White House for coffee, to discuss domestic policy, to receive an honor from that office, or to have a beer... I'm there. I don't care who it is. Nixon. Bush. Reagan. Obama. Respecting the office does not mean respecting the office holder. Respecting the office is not an endorsement of the office holder. If he invited me to a fundraiser and asked me for money, that'd be a different thing entirely. But inviting me to seek my opinion or give me an award?!? I'm so there.
In my job I deal with people I disagree with every day. I suspect that's true in lots and lots of occupations/professions. But at the end of the day, I can (and do) walk over to an "opponent," shake his/her hand, smile, tell them I disagree with them but respect their position and invite them to have a nice evening.
Because I'm not an idiot zealot, teabagging moran.
Apparently three people on the 1972 Miami Dolphins football team are.