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Friday, April 20, 2012


The Fargo Forum displays a mixture of envy and concern about ND’s oil boom. A Forum editorial said wise monkeys in the Oil Patch (“see no evil,” “hear no evil,” “speak no evil” of Japanese folklore) attempt to downplay negative news about the oil industry, while emphasizing positive events. The Forum even suggested the monkeys censor bad news. The paper never identified any monkeys by name.

Do you remember economist, writer and movie/television actor Ben Stein? He was the monotone teacher in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The older and stouter Stein has good words for Nodaks. He said they are the salt of the earth: “People who will work hard, stand on their own two feet and not expect to have anything done for them.” Stein was the keynote speaker at the Global Business Connections Conference in Fargo. He said the Nodak mindset is the frame of mind needed nationwide. He never mentioned monkeys.

Voters aren’t always able to see a clear difference between candidates for public office. That shouldn’t be a problem in the ND governor’s race. The candidates offer very different visions. Incumbent Jack Dalrymple wants to hold the line on state spending -- he says “we must be especially mindful not to creat an overly expansive government” during times of strong economic growth. Democrat challenger RyanTaylor sees that as a “status quo” approach, as the state struggles with workforce shortages and inflated costs. Taylor clearly favors greater spending.

How far the mighty have fallen. Five years ago, a ND putdown was a sure winner in Twin Cities newspapers. Now, well, take April 15th, the Pioneer Press featured the GF Herald’s octogenarian columnist Marilyn Hagerty reviewing her most recent trip to NY City. So, that’s where we are now, Minnesotans hanging on words of wisdom from ND.

This was the week of oddball trials in ND. In Fargo federal court, the Spirit Lake Sioux and Archie Fool Bear are going after the NCAA to preserve the Fighting Sioux nickname. Little Cooperstown (Griggs County) will be holding its first murder trial in over 80 years in a creaking 130-year-old courthouse. It’s a decapitation trial -- they have the head, but have yet to locate the body. The defendant is an Aryan Nation wannabe.

It looks like a good idea. The 4 Bears Casino & Lodge belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes is in the heart of the Bakken oil fields. The tribes are going to add a 122-room hotel. The hotel will do double duty -- it will be available for guests of the casino and help solve the shortage of rooms in the oil fields.

Papers around the state ran headlines like this one in the GF Herald: “Tribal members being evicted for oil field development.” They are low income members of the Three Affiliated Tribes who live in 45 dilapidated trailers in the Prairie Winds Trailer Court in New Town. Some trailers house more than one family. There is general agreement about the following: Residents learned last November that the trailer court was sold to the local Cenex farmer cooperative (for an employee housing site) -- the residents received notices in December of a May 1 eviction deadline, later extended to August 31. The property was earlier offered to the tribes, who said they were unable to make the purchase. Residents are not moving and accuse Cenex of greed and discrimination.

So, who is really the greedy one? If there is neglect or abuse, the guilty party would seem to be the tribes, who are receiving over $100 million a year in oil royalties, plus many millions of oil taxes. They have the means for a new hotel (see above) and oil refinery, but are not meeting the housing needs of some of their poorest members. They are placing the burden on a private property owner. If the tribes do not assist in solving the problem, they are effectively confiscating private property for low income tribal housing.

Mismanagement and corruption are chronic problems on ND Indian reservations. The Spirit Lake reservation furnishes some of the most recent examples: Its system for foster children had widespread failure. Tribal member Raymond Jetty III pleaded guilty to a double play -- he embezzled from two government programs. Tom Dennis at the GF Herald believes the absence of a free press is part of the reason so many reservation problems go unaddressed. Tribal newspapers often serve as public relations tools for tribal government. Dennis advocates independent editorial boards funded by tribal government.

A Wall Street Journal article about the aircraft industry in China worked back to Grand Forks. The article discusses how U.S. companies in the small aircraft industry are flocking to China’s growing market. It mentions how Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC) has entered a joint venture with Cessna to build midsize business jets in Chengdu, China. The same article says AVIC owns Cirrus Industries, a Duluth company developing a small personal jet. About that time, an article in the Duluth News Tribune says Cirrus received an additional investment of nearly $150 million from AVIC to complete development of the small jet. The new plane will be flown in Rochester on May 8. The Cirrus plant in Grand Forks will participate in production.

Notice how U.S. Highway 52 slices diagonally across the center of the state -- a nearly straight line pointed at the Oil Patch. Highways 52 and 281 overlap from Jamestown to Carrington where 281 splits north to Canada. Oil Patch traffic and materials for repairing flood damage in Minot pass through Carrington making the town of 2,000 a major crossroad. The state Department of Transportation estimates Highway 52/281 in Carrington carries 3,000 vehicles a day. Larger ND cities are spared this type of heavy traffic by freeways and bypasses.

UND is attempting to tone down its booze reputation -- its fraternities and sororities have agreed to an alcohol ban. The Fargo Forum was not impressed. It said “adopting no-alcohol policies or some other noble-sounding intention” won’t work -- history has proven otherwise.

ND farm tractors are big -- six foot tires and nearly 15 feet to the top of the cab. Meeting one on the road is like facing a small house. Travis Johnson of Burlington spiffed up his dad’s tractor to use as a prom limo. Travis added special little steps so his date could daintily enter the cab. Now that last year’s floods are passed, life is a little dull in Burlington, so a crowd turned out to see Cinderella Megan Albertson as she arrived at the prom in her big red pumpkin.

DAKTOIDS: Sanford’s $340 million Fargo Medical Center will be the largest in the state with 460 beds and 32 operating rooms. The center opens in 2016 . . . Strong job demand has raised the salaries of local government officials in the Oil Patch. In Dickinson and Stark County, key officials have averaged five percent compounded annual raises for the past decade -- their salaries are still modest by national standards.

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