“Our investigation found a chronic state of crisis at the Indian Health Service’s Aberdeen Area.” -- Sen. Byron Dorgan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He added, “It requires urgent and immediate corrective action.” The outgoing senator must have had a wry smile on his face as he made that last statement. Incompetence and corruption at the IHS are an endemic part of its culture. Check for yourself, the Committee’s 68-page report is on its website. For example, a section on stolen narcotics indicates the IHS Hospital at Belcourt, ND (Turtle Mt. Reservation) has experienced substantial losses since 2003. The conditions described in the report would be intolerable in public corporations and most government entities, but are business as usual in the IHS Aberdeen Area, which serves 100,000 Indians and 18 tribes in four states.
A Bismarck Tribune article about the investigation received many comments attesting to the long-standing nature of problems at the IHS. A number of readers suggested that the IHS should be abolished and its services contracted to large health care providers such as Sanford. Those readers believed outsourcing would result in better service at lower costs.
Gov. Dalrymple used his State of the State address to outline a five-point strategy for the state. His first strategy was to sustain a positive business climate: low taxes, friendly regulators and a responsive state government. The other four strategies were either supportive or complementary of the first. Democrats were cautiously supportive, but will attack on the edges.
Dalrymple’s budget calls for record spending on infrastructure in the main oil producing counties, including assistance with housing. The Bismarck Tribune ran up the “proceed with caution” flag. Roads and bridges, yes, something needed to be done and it is the state’s responsibility. But housing, the Tribune sees that as more of an issue for local government, the oil industry and private investors. The Tribune allowed the state could help with loans and guarantees.
ND residents are getting older. The state Data Center estimates that within 20 years the majority of counties will have a third of their residents who are at least 65 years old. That was the backdrop for the biennial comments of ND Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle who appealed to the Legislature to order a study of public administrator and guardianship services for the elderly. He said there is shortage of public guardians to care for those without friends or relatives willing to help.
A New York Times article headed “Remarkable Run Ends for Team North Dakota” described the 18-year collaboration of ND’s congressional delegation. Rep. Pomeroy is quoted as saying an aide once remarked that if the three North Dakotan lawmakers were a single organism, which at times seemed the case, “Conrad would be the brain, Dorgan would be the voice and you’d be the heart.” Nodaks may be glad to know the brain is still on the job.
Rep. Pomeroy failed to get reelected; however, the “heart” landed lightly on his feet. In the first week of January Pomeroy and an aide had already joined the Washington law firm of Alston & Bird, specialists in insurance and health care, also Pomeroy’s specialty. Revolving doors!
You would think they might notice. A manager at Applied Products in Grand Forks stole $250,000 worth of pickup bed covers and sold them to a hardware chain near Winnipeg. William Fredlund (33) was detected by other employees and confessed to a police investigator. To me, a quarter million dollars seems like a lot of covers -- how many? For the sake of discussion, let’s say they average $250 each in wholesale value, that would mean 1,000 covers walked away. Maybe the owners of Applied Products need to stay a little closer to their business.
Major farm equipment manufacturers, such as Deere and Case IH, have new diesel tractor engines to comply with EPA emission regulations effective in 2011. One problem, the greener technology adds about 10 percent to tractor prices. ND farmers are suspicious of the more complicated, higher priced tractors and many vow to continue to operate old tractors, or buy used tractors. New tractors cost from $100,000 to $300,000.
Amtrak in ND is an expensive boondoggle. It’s difficult to get hard info, but past data indicates it would be much cheaper and faster to move ND passengers by van or bus. The Empire Builder is unreliable and usually late, even if you don’t mind boarding in the middle of the night. Amtrak had this storm message for travelers early in the new year: “Passenger trains will run between Seattle and Whitefish, Mont., and Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., but not at points in between.” Points in between -- that would be ND. Passenger rail economics are best-suited to densely populated corridors, not the wide spaces of the Great Plains.
The Interstate was no paradise either, the Highway Patrol announced it took six hours to clear vehicles stranded on I-94 near Fargo, where about 100 cars, semis and pickups were stuck after a multi-vehicle accident. Snowplow operators found it difficult to clear Interstates because of stranded vehicles. The Highway Patrol issued 66 citations for disobeying road closures. A Forum editorial demanded stiffer fines, saying a $20 fine is ridiculously low.
Stiffer laws are being proposed in ND for the licensing of teenage drivers. A Bismarck Tribune reader suggested that tighter licensing is also needed at the other end of the age spectrum. The letter writer recommended more frequent competency tests for older drivers. The letter received many online responses and, surprisingly, most of them agreed with the writer.
Ross Nelson, an occasional columnist for the Forum, had this to say about the loss of the UND Fighting Sioux nickname: “So we have gutless, white-bread folks forcing a change the North Dakota Sioux don’t want in order to protect those same Sioux. Does this make any sense to you?”
“A tale of two states” was the title of a Forum editorial. I’ll boil it down for you: ND should spend more; Minnesota should spend less.
Betty Osborne Maule was born in Bowbells in January 1936, ND’s coldest winter. It didn't seem to harm her -- 18 years later Betty was crowned State Dairy Queen and Lake Ashtabula Water Carnival Queen. Her life thereafter took a more quiet path, she married, finished college and taught in rural South Dakota for 32 years. She died in Aberdeen just short of her 75th birthday.