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12/24/2008 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

Hold onto your hats. This could be a tough year for the Devils Lake Basin.

The ground in the entire basin is saturated because of heavy moisture in November. The snow melt is not going to soak into the ground.

Almost all of it will be run-off into Devils Lake. We’ve got quite a bit of snow already and we’re not halfway through the winter.

Bruce Engelhardt of the State Water Commission told me that if we get enough snow to total four inches of moisture, there’s a 50-50 chance the lake will rise to 1450. That’s a three foot rise from its current level and a full foot higher than the all-time high it reached in 2006. This is entirely possible, especially since the US Weather Service anticipates February through April to be wetter and cooler than normal.

We could be looking at a historic flood.


Didya hear the news that USA Today declared North Dakota was the most corrupt state in the nation?

The newspaper came to that conclusion because there were 53 federal public corruption convictions between 1998 and 2007 in North Dakota, a state with a population of 640,000, which results in 8.3 convictions per 100,000 people.

In contrast, Illinois, which has a population of 12.8 million, had

502 federal corruption convictions during the same time period — a conviction rate of 3.9 per 100,000.

It’s simple mathematics and a reporter at USA Today came to the conclusion that North Dakota has the most corrupt state government in the nation without checking any further.

However, the vast majority of those 53 convictions came from Indian reservations, which are not under state jurisdiction. Most involve stealing from casinos and tribal funds. For instance, the five members of the Twin Buttes School District were recently convicted of federal corruption offenses for misuse of public funds used for improper travel expenses. That one example alone accounts for nearly 10% of the convictions in the past decade.

"Further, relatively minor cases may be vigorously pursued in low crime states like North Dakota, where they may be regarded as too trivial to bother with elsewhere," said ND Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

In his column in the Grand Forks Herald, Mike Jacobs dredged his brain and came up with some of the transgressions of state officials in the past:

1) A member of the Public Service Commission was arrested for transporting a deer that someone else had shot.

2) A state official was arrested in a Bismarck supermarket about 20 years ago for snitching a couple pieces of fruit.

3) The director of the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency was found guilty of misuse of public funds for parties for employees and other similar hienous crimes.

4) And then there’s the famous case of Gov. Bill Langer who was convicted of extorting subscriptions to a political newspaper from state employees. That conviction was overturned and Langer went on to serve in the US Senate for nearly 20 years.

Jacobs didn’t mention the conviction of Attorney General Elmo Christianson 54 years ago for accepting a bribe to look the other way while slot machines were being installed in North Dakota.

That’s virtually the extent of corruption by state officials in the past half century.


There’s lots of talk about the bailout of the auto industry.

President Bush came to the conclusion that it was in the interests of the nation to invest money in a bailout of the industry. That recent decision was one of the few things George W. Bush got right in the past eight long years.

Letting the American auto industry fail would be like 10 Katrina-sized hurricanes hitting mainland USA. Hundreds of thousands of auto workers and the employees of firms which supply items to the auto industry would be thrown out of work. Warranties would be worthless. Thousands of auto dealerships would close and their employees would be jobless. The unemployed would be unable to make payments on their homes, placing further stress on the financial industry. It’s unthinkable that such a situation could be allowed to happen.

Will this bailout do the trick? I don’t know. All I know is that the alternative put forth by conservative true believers would be much, much worse. The American auto industry may still end up in bankruptcy, but the bailout is worth a try.

Bankruptcy would be a very tough deal. People wouldn’t buy American cars from a bankrupt manufacturer because there would be no trust they will be there for service and parts. Values of all American vehicles would automatically fall.

Conservatives say the auto industry should fail because the industry didn’t make the cars people wanted. To some degree this is true. When gas prices were high people wanted small cars. Now that gas prices have fallen, people continue to want larger cars. A dealership in Oregon bought a bunch of small cars manufactured by GM. Now that dealership can’t move them.

It isn’t only the American auto manufacturers that are hurting.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan and the others are also having severe difficulties. It’s a worldwide auto industry recession.

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