The Last Day

The last day of the legislature was not today, it wasn’t even halfway through.  It was the 26th of January, the last unrestricted day to introduce new bills.

I had the fortune to visit Bismarck that day and post a quick scoop.  That was not the only positive thing to say about the 2015 session, but it is among a select few.

As a result of this past election cycle and its inevitable result bourne out by the session, my trust in Bismarck has reached a new nadir.

I’m a little young to go all Jim Fuglie on you, but here goes:

Once, oh, about 2006 or so, the UND University Democrats had a meeting.  Gathered around the U-shaped table and Congressman Earl Pomeroy [who always had a place in his stomach for Italian Moon] were a number of my friends and fellow students.  As we went around the room introducing ourselves, we stated our majors.  One after another, “engineer,” “engineer,” “engineer,” “engineer.”

Earl was shocked — he had never seen so many engineers coming out as Democrats.

Engineers love to fix broken things.  We love being part of the solution.  And the Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 gave me a lot of hope.  And also, it seems, a lot of expectations, which in hindsight seem ready-made to be dashed.

It is my eager hope that a Dem-NPLer can forge ahead and win a statewide race on an honest campaign with a clear policy platform, and make the centennial year of the NPL a proud one.  I hope I can write at least one or two stories about that wonderful person.

But I don’t think I can stay in North Dakota, and count on the Internet to magically bestow upon me a coworking version of the job I need.  I will have to go where the jobs are.

So on June 1, for a little more focus on what I ought to be up to most of the time, j5mc design, my occasional home of engineering, gizmos, and science, will be moving to the prime slot of j5mc.org.  And this site – North Dakota and Manitoba’s part-time MSNBC by text, C-SPAN by video, will be moving to news.j5mc.org.

Baesler, Rauschenberger, Weller, et al.

We’ve gotten TMI about Kirsten Baesler and her on again, off again fiancé, and what we’ve learned is that a violent or just short of violent confrontation isn’t criminal, especially if you were drinking at the time, and when our curiosity is sated with the fallacious notion that each person gave as good as they got, rather than the higher standard of two wrongs not forming a right, or the still higher, forgotten standard that public officers must behave above reproach.

What we have here is another Rauschenbergeresque case of papering over alcoholism, mixed with another Welleresque case of papering over domestic abuse. I’m sure all the parties involved feel some degree of shame, but at the end of the day you have criminals sitting in office, oddly adamant that whatever they did doesn’t undermine the public trust.

It is up to voters to hold such officials to account, and it is up to the Democratic-Nonpartisan League to be vocal in reminding voters about these tragic farces.

The tip of the iceberg

As a survivor of domestic abuse, I find Kristen Baesler’s behaviour chilling, especially as the police will hear about just the latest, just the worst of that tragic pattern of thought and action.

What do you do when struck by that rush of adrenaline, that flush of anger? Do you have what it takes to confront that gap between your expectations and reality? And if not – when you, the public servant, realize that you have committed a violent crime, do you first fear for your own pocketbook or for the integrity of the state? Do you have what it takes to resign?

Data privacy coming to NDUS

The League has filed a bill, SB 2360, to provide for student consent to the release of directory information, after an election season debacle that binspammed thousands of North Dakota university students with political leaflets.

Students will now have the choice whether to make their contact details public knowledge.

It’s an important privacy measure, especially since there’s an entire Big Data industry with lax standards waiting to turn every publicly posted address, number, or eyeball magnet into an outlet for all manner of unscrupulous, misleading, and/or annoying messages.

2015 health premiums mostly up

The new healthcare premium data is out, and Blue Cross Blue Shield is raising rates on North Dakotans by 12-15% [based on Grand Forks County premiums].  Sanford is up by about 7%. Medica’s plans are holding much steadier with 3% and -0.6% changes.

2015premiums

Most people using the healthcare exchanges receive subsidies. For the median North Dakotan, age 36, the subsidy level is determined by the second-cheapest Silver plan offered for 2015, about $296.17 monthly. If that’s more than 8% of your monthly income, Uncle Sam will chip in to bring it down to a fair rate. If you haven’t got insurance yet, or want to switch your plans, HealthCare.gov is the place to go.

Flu shot season

This week had another story worth telling, about the newfound efficacy and efficiency of the US healthcare system.

I got a flu shot.

It was the first time since being cast to the winds of fate, that I have been able to get such basic healthcare.  And it is thanks to important reforms that were passed that allowed me to buy the insurance I need to cover such things.

My flu shot took exactly 22 minutes.  I left my house, went to the hospital, and had my shot, within 22 minutes.  And my out-of-pocket costs at the time of service?  $0.

That is an amazing outcome for public health in the United States, where we have previously allowed preventable diseases to roam freely amidst the gap between a patchwork of hopelessly underfunded and reachless free clinics on one side, and the ever-dwindling pool of half-decent employer-provided health insurance.

The new healthcare law is working for me, and millions of other Americans.  Supposedly it’s in for a major rewrite now that both houses are under Republican control.  Two things I’ve heard about, that are actually feasible, are changes to the employer mandate and medical device tax.

A repeal on the medical device excise tax is rather troublesome.  Part of the reason why health costs are spiralling out of control is an uncontained willingness to buy various expensive inventions.  Most of these devices are simply thrown away after use.  Isn’t that wasteful enough to be worthy of a sin tax?

What would have positive effect would be a solution to the employer healthcare mandate that makes the marginal cost of labour favour full-time employment again.

My concept is a refundable payroll tax on all employers tied to the cost of the second-cheapest silver plan for an employee’s state of residence.  That cost, say $260 a month, is divided by 130 hours — the same as an average of 30 hours per week, working out to perhaps $2 an hour. That tax, plus any curve tweak designed to re-incentivise full time employment, is charged to the employer for every hour an employee works.  The tax is then refunded if the employer provides qualifying insurance that the employee is enrolled in, otherwise, it subsidizes the employee or the employee’s exchange plan.  Excess tax collections (from the large number of employees with multiple part-time jobs) would then be used to cover individuals who need exchange subsidies or work for non-profits.

Grand Forks League gathers for Election Night

IMG_20141104_210524Snacks, cash bar, and chit chat over laptops and phones refreshing election results were the order of the evening, as fairly well all of the ballot measures seem destined for defeat.

Victories like Erin Oban defeating Margaret Sitte in Bismarck District 35 got the crowd warmed up. We’ll see how the rest of the night fares.

Update:  The Grand Forks Dems were disappointed with the results, particularly in District 43, where well-liked local candidates merely treaded water in what had seemed like a close race.  But local Leaguer Matt Leiphon said it best, “The sun still comes up tomorrow, we live to fight another day.”

Major shakeup in Manitoba cabinet

CBC reports Premier Greg Selinger replaced five members of his cabinet as part of a major reshuffle, as the NDP government faces its most serious challenge since Gary Doer was appointed ambassador to the US.

This also comes in the wake of visible NDP figure Judy Wasylycia-Leis losing narrowly in the race for mayor of Winnipeg.  Provincially, the NDP has been polling poorly lately and would likely lose a snap election.  Naturally that’s why the opposition parties are clamouring for just that.

UND students may only have 5 hours left to vote

If you are a UND student relying on a Student Residency Certificate from the University of North Dakota for your voter ID, you may only have 5 hours left to vote or find better ID.

Those relying on Residency Certificates may as well throw them out if they do not show a Grand Forks address, and are not dated more than 30 days ago. The only way you will be allowed to vote in Grand Forks County without another ID is with a second person attesting your residency — and only if you get to the County Office building on South 4th Street before 4:30pm this afternoon. There is no attesting process on Election Day.

Grand Forks County Auditor Debbie Nelson spoke to j5mc in response to allegations aired about an hour ago on KFGO’s News and Views, that UND students were being turned away based on the date of their Student IDs.

That is not accurate, insofar as the Auditor has any records at all of the incident (more on that in a second), the Auditor’s position is that the student had a certificate [the Student ID itself does not show any address and is not acceptable as proof of residence] showing another North Dakota address and was resident at that address. The student in question can’t go to Twamley today and get a corrected version because a certificate must be at least 30 days old in order to prove sufficient time of residency.

Students who go to UND would obviously have been living in Grand Forks since the start of classes in August, but Nelson stated that directives from the Secretary of State make the 30 day requirement, based on documentation, rigid.

She also stated that there is no system for tallying, counting, or otherwise tracking the numbers or reasons people might be turned away from the polls, and that no such system is planned to be implemented by tomorrow at 6am.

North Dakota is 125 today

125thDepending on how you reckon, it may be a few days off from the adoption of the original state constitution, or years off considering that North Dakota took the Dakota Territory capital and seal for itself.

The date we remember is 2 November 1889, the day that President Harrison went into a locked room and didn’t say which Dakota came first, the culmination of a decade of geographical enmity between the Yankton and Bismarck power centres, as well as the finishing stroke of the Republican plan to pack the US Senate with more members of its own party.