Not ready for prime time

It is time for another episode of our recurring feature, in which we highlight letters to the editor rejected by our local paper.

A group of Republican legislators from both houses circulated a bill to create an “Official State Rifle”. Their argument was that they wanted to highlight a Wisconsin manufacturer, not that they wanted you to choose this weapon for your next mass shooting. We thought that there were other local manufacturers who deserved at least equal recognition.

I am so glad the state GOP has found a new way to keep itself occupied. Four legislators are circulating a bill to designate a state rifle. While you might want to criticize this on several levels, think of what worse things they could be doing with their time. This opens a whole new realm of legislation to honor products manufactured in Wisconsin. We could have a state refrigerator, a state pressure cooker, a state semi-trailer – and that’s just scratching the surface. Just think of all the ways they could own the libs.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

They highlighted (on the front page of the opinion section) an op-ed extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, saying we needed more daylight late in the day because no one is up early in the morning anyway. He noted opposition to changing twice a year and thought the solution was to warn people a few days ahead of the change, as though it is always sprung on us as a surprise on Sunday morning.

I found David Prerau’s op-ed Monday, extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, tremendously compelling. He states that DST “relocates an hour of otherwise wasted sunshine to a much more usable hour”. I couldn’t agree more. I hate to get up in the morning and have daylight. So much more pleasant to go to work in the dark every day! And I loved that hour on the deck this afternoon, basking in the 28 degree sunshine! Gosh, and his solution to the problems of DST is so innovative! Let’s talk about it for a few days before the change so we’re ready! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that?! But why do anything halfway? If we moved our clocks 3 more hours ahead of the sun, we could draw tourists by proclaiming ourselves “The Land of the Midnight Sun”! As an added benefit, even late sleepers could wake up in the dark!

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The GOP periodically pushes new tax plans to lighten the burden on their base (the wealthy). The current plan is for a flat tax. The flat rate would actually be slightly lower than anyone currently pays, so they are able to claim they are providing relief to the poor as well. This is also a plan to get rid of the one-time windfall the state received from federal COVID relief funds. It would reduce taxes to eliminate that $6 billion surplus and cause an equal-sized shortfall long into the future.

Let me get this straight. According to Sunday’s WSJ, the Republican legislature wants to implement a flat income tax to be on par with other states instead of a “mediocre” progressive tax. Does Sen. LaMahieu understand the definition of “mediocre”? It means “in the middle”, in other words, like everyone else – exactly what he’s asking us to become. He says this is to attract business owners to the state. In other front page news, legislative Republicans oppose a new UW engineering building to relieve overcrowded, inadequate facilities. So we want to drive promising engineering students, those who might start companies and drive job creation, to other states. Which seems more likely? That an already wealthy person will move an existing business to WI because our taxes are just like what they’re paying elsewhere, or that a newly-minted engineer will stay where they have been welcomed and start a new business? I think LaMahieu and friends have it backward.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Everyone complains about the roads here. Even this blog has complained more than once about deteriorating conditions related to the demise of the family farm. A major area of debate a month before the letter above was what to do with the surplus this year. The state has a “shared revenue” program, in which it returns money to local governments for infrastructure projects. Local governments are limited in their taxation powers – most income is from property taxes, which the state limits. They have also steadily cut the shared revenue formula, so local governments get less back from the state. As a result, there are referenda in almost every election cycle to keep school buildings from crumbling. Everyone likes to talk about infrastructure but it’s not sexy to fix stuff. Much of Northern Wisconsin has poor internet access. Fixing that is popular to talk about at election time but it costs money. It seems like there are some one-time expenses here that could use some of that $6 billion.

What to do? The state has a short-term budget surplus, thanks in large part to federal pandemic relief. We could fix the roads and bridges, provide broadband access to the northwoods, fix the shared-revenue formula so towns, cities, and counties can fix their roads and school districts don’t have to ask for money via referendum every election cycle. Or we can cut the tax rate for the wealthiest by more than half so that everyone pays at a lower rate than even the poorest do now. If you make $1000 next year, your tax rate would be the same as if you made $1,000,000. Gee, which do you think the GOP wants to do? Will the GOP legislature force your town to defund the police because there is nowhere else to cut services?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The paper ran an election-cycle feature claiming to be an analysis of each candidate’s stand on the issues. It was to be a refreshing change from the usual”horse race” election coverage. The Republican candidate for governor learned that the majority of the populace is pro-choice. He has been vocally anti-choice. Since the end of federal rights when the US Supreme Court overthrew the Roe v Wade decision, Wisconsin has a re-activated 1849 law that bans all abortion. How do you pander for votes in this environment?

Sunday’s front page story “A last look at their stands” was a nice try but fell short. Purporting to look at candidate positions, not just horse race politics, it came close. Tim Michels was noted to be willing to sign a bill allowing abortions in limited circumstances despite his strong anti-choice stance. What you failed to point out is the slim chance of such a bill passing the gerrymandered legislature. Likewise you noted his statement that he would never arrest a doctor for performing an abortion. You didn’t clarify that the statement has no meaning, as the governor has no arrest powers. Both statements are just a way to make him sound reasonable and pander for votes. They are campaign statements, not “a look at (his) stands”.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Not to be outdone, our embarrassment of a Senator, Ron Johnson had to throw in his two cents. (It should be noted that his 2 cents are more like a penny or less in their value.) Johnson became a “self-made millionaire” by marrying the boss’s daughter. He campaigned as a “businessman, not a politician” and promised to run for no more than two terms. He is currently in his third term. He was an active supporter of the insurrection to overthrow the US government and hosted hearings to which he invited only the most crazed of election deniers. He hosted COVID hearings to which he invited testimony from only the worst crackpots. He decided that a complete ban on abortion in the state was no big deal, as a woman could always drive to another state for the procedure.

Senator Ron Johnson told the Wall Street Journal (the other WSJ), that overturning Roe v. Wade will not be “that big a change” because we can always go to Illinois for an abortion. When I was a kid we drove to Illinois to buy margarine. That was a big enough deal that state law was changed to legalize margarine in Wisconsin. Is Johnson telling us that margarine is more important than reproductive rights?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Every Sunday the paper re-runs an old editorial, partly to remind us of how long they’ve been around, and partly to show us how quaint we were back in the “goodle days”.

On Sunday, June 6, the WSJ reprinted an editorial from 1871. It was written about a “defeated, defiant rebel…a fanatic, a selfish, jealous, narrow-minded man.” The particulars of his treachery are different, but it could as well have been written about Donald Trump as Jefferson Davis.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

That’s it for this edition. I was once known (at work, anyway) for my letters to the editor. Now that I am a retired curmudgeon with more time to write letters, the paper chooses to ignore them. I’m sure we’ll have more to post in this space in the future.

The other sure thing

We’ve touched on death in these pages before. I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about taxes.

I heard a politician talking about tax cuts. That seems to be the central theme of nearly every Republican. We’ve been taught to think of taxes as a bad thing and as cutting them to be the best thing our politicians can do for us.

If cutting them is the best thing they can do, why do they have jobs? Taxes pay their salaries. If we don’t need taxes and don’t need the services provided by them, why do we need legislators? It would seem their first course of action should then be to eliminate their own jobs.

But what are taxes but our shared vision as to how to build a society? We may not all agree on every expenditure – I’d be frightened if we did – but most of us like to have roads to travel on. Those of us who live where it snows like to have the snow removed now and then. Having trash removed comes in handy. Water we can drink? Not a bad idea. Sewage that flows out of pipes away from our houses? Hey, I could use that. Treating that sewage instead of just having pipes that run into the nearest body of water? Another pretty good idea.

It seems those who clamor for tax cuts are not the same who call for defunding the police. Something ironic there. Cutting taxes means defunding something, and taken to the extreme I’ve seen proposed means defunding nearly everything (including schools, Social Security, Medicare, nearly all social services).

But what does “defunding”mean? And what do the police do? (And I don’t mean to say that former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Dailey was correct that “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”1) If our interest is public safety, are police departments the best place for all of those dollars? The police likely would be the first to tell you that their job is to respond to crime after it happens. They arrest the alleged perpetrators and work with the DA to develop a case. Their crime prevention role seems to be primarily to convince us that the likelihood of being caught and the repercussions of being convicted outweigh the benefits of committing a crime. (That, and going to elementary schools to scare kids out of smoking weed; though I don’t think that program is still in existence.)

My city alder just wrote a thoughtful post about public safety which included this:

For once, I would love for our city to have intentional city-wide conversations on what public safety should mean.  I had often wondered if we could ask the question, what would you need to feel safe in the City of Madison -without framing these conversations around police and fire-what people might answer?  This question faces challenges because of competing forces preventing change.  As an elected official, if you explore alternatives to policing, you can be labelled as soft on crime by the police union and others, making electability more difficult.  For most of us, we have grown up with a media landscape or narrative about policing that informs us.  Think of the hundreds of cops shows on TV and at the movies.  For me, I cannot escape the fact that the horrific racial disparities within our local criminal justice system and policing could not exist without the other. 

    With calls to defund or abolish the police, I am left curious that if I woke up tomorrow, and there were no police at all, who would investigate murders, who would respond to sex trafficking, who is going to be the first responder if there is a shooting?  I could foresee a future where we might take long held police duties like traffic enforcement and civilianize these roles.  Imagine if you were speeding and you were pulled over by someone without a gun ( let’s call them  a Civilian Traffic Buddy), knowing that the worse outcome would be a citation (unless you were in the act of a felony) rather than jail or death.”  

My own two cents on that last part. 1) In Great Britain, between 4 and 5% of police officers are armed. Police firearms were “intentionally discharged at persons” four times in the year ended 3/31/2022. 2 This number is reported as stable over the past several years.

In contrast, in the US, police have shot and killed an average of 982 people per year over the past six years.3 As a percentage of total population, police kill Black people at a rate 2.5 times greater than that at which they kill White people, and kill Latin@ people at a rate nearly double that of White people.

My other penny’s worth…2) Alder B above talks about “the worse outcome” of a traffic stop being a citation “(unless you were in the act of a felony)”. That one deserves a closer look. When I worked in a trauma unit, the majority of the people I saw were there for injuries related to alcohol. A 90 day retrospective study of patients at another trauma center found that ⅔ of drivers tested positive for alcohol or other drugs.4 When the trauma unit was slow I used to joke about rounding up more business by heading out to the bars, buying a round for the house, and making sure everyone had their keys. The flip side of that (being serious) is that this represents an opportunity for a cultural change that can actually help prevent crime and injury, in other words be a public health measure. In the state of Wisconsin, first offense drunk driving results only in a citation – a traffic ticket. Driving drunk only rises to the level of a felony on one’s fourth conviction.5 Of course, it also becomes a felony if you kill someone. What if our culture didn’t glorify drunkenness? (Those of us who are old enough recall when we glorified cigarette smoking and televised athletic events were sponsored by tobacco companies, not just breweries. Culture change is possible.) What if bartenders and friends were encouraged and trained to take away someone’s keys when they were drunk? What if all cars had ignition interlocks to prevent starting by someone who is drunk? The average cost is $50-$150.6 Might that cost come down if the devices were produced in greater numbers?

Alder Benford went on to talk about a new city program. If you watch TV drama, this has already been implemented on “Station 19”.

 “By now, most of you have heard of our awesome CARES  team- Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (  As a social worker, I was so excited to learn before I joined the council, that we were on the path to developing a model, like other cities.  A public safety service that could send a skilled paramedic and mental health professional on a 911 call that does not require the police.  As I dream about reimaging public safety, so that all, regardless of our backgrounds, feel safe, I reason that CARES is our first major step as a city to accomplish this goal.  Alders agreed  to fund a tactical expansion of CARES to ensure additional coverage and long-term success.  I am excited about the future of CARES.

This is another way that tax dollars can go toward public safety and violence prevention. Not all calls to 9-1-1 require a police response. Police response to mental health crisis often results in unnecessary death. To put it more bluntly, it results in the police killing the person they were called to help.7

So when people talk of “defunding the police”, the true meaning is often redirecting limited funds to programs more likely to contribute to public health and violence reduction than the current system. It is not an attack on police. It is not anti-authoritarian. It is pro-public safety.

How we make funding decisions comes down to how we set our priorities. If our priority is to catch people after they have done wrong, increasing police funding may well be the answer. If our priority is to change the conditions which lead to crime, transferring some of those funds to other programs which address social inequities may be a more prudent use of dollars.

So while it is possible that “’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes7, how we levy and how we use those taxes is one of the most important discussions we can have.




4 •Walsh, J. M., Flegel, R., Atkins, R., Cangianelli, L. A., Cooper, C., Welsh, C., & Kerns, T. J. (2005). Drug and alcohol use among drivers admitted to a Level-1 trauma center. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 37(5), 894-901. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2005.04.013





Note: I attempted to reach my alder for permission to quote from his weekly newsletter. I have not received a response but, as this was a newsletter sent to all constituents, privacy did not seem to be an issue. Since I didn’t get his consent, I ask for forgiveness.

Karen Terrier

This is Karen.

Image credits: Generic Karen from Film Daily. Target Karen and Walmart Karen from the Daily Mail. Central Park Karen from NY Daily News. Pacific Heights Karen from

Karen Key: “Target Karen” destroyed a mask display while filming it. She doesn’t like to wear a mask and thinks you shouldn’t wear one, either. “Walmart Karen” blocked a parking lot and screamed profanities and racist insults at those (including police) who asked her to move her car. She was in Hawaii and yelling at Hawaiians. “Central Park Karen” called police to tell them an African American man was threatening her life – because he asked her to leash her dog in a bird sanctuary. “Pacific Heights Karen” called police because a man wrote “Black Lives Matter” in sidewalk chalk on his retaining wall. She insisted she knew the owner, who would not approve. Clearly the actual property owner’s skin tone was too dark for him to live there. Luckily, the responding officer knew him and knew it was his own house.

This is a bull terrier. It was bred to harass bulls.

This is a rat terrier. It was bred to harass rats.

This is a fox terrier. It was bred to harass foxes.

Dog images from

As a child I learned about a breed called a Cairn terrier, but I heard it as “Karen terrier”. Why not? We could use it to let the above Karens know that their attitude is not wanted.

Why not?

image from

Tales of Our Only President

The New York Times has revealed that Our Only President did not pay Federal Income Tax for 10 of the past 15 years. In the two most recent years in which he paid taxes, he paid $750. In 2018 he claimed an income of $435 million in a financial disclosure, while claiming a loss of $47 million on his tax return. There are two logical and not incompatible explanations for this: 1) He is a liar and a cheat; 2) our tax code is structured to favor the wealthy. He calls the story “fake news”. Unfortunately, many in his base will probably love him even more for this. Many consider taxes to be evil and think anyone who dodges taxes is smart and a hero. Income tax evasion ultimately brought down Al Capone. May we be so lucky this time.

P.S. He is also reported (in a new book by a supporter and convicted felon) to have tried to sell his campaign on the idea of Ivanka as his running mate in 2016.

When is a precedent not a precedent?
(A letter to Senator Ron Johnson. He declined to respond. This is a slightly abridged version, cut to fit a newspaper’s 200-word limit. They chose not to run it.)

Dear Sen Johnson:
Please explain why it is not the height of hypocrisy for you to have said, in May of 2016, “Let the American people have a voice in the composition of the Supreme Court…Instead of a lame duck president and Senate nominating and confirming, a new president and Senate — elected by the people only a few months from now — should make that important decision. I can’t think of a fairer or more democratic process”; and then in September of 2020 to say, “President Trump has indicated he’s going to nominate someone. Leader McConnell has indicated he’ll give that nominee a vote, and I’m very supportive of that.” Further, in 2016 you said, “In the politicized atmosphere of an election year, you probably shouldn’t even nominate someone. It’s not fair to the nominee, it’s not fair to the court.”

I agree with you that the situations are not exactly parallel. In 2016 we were 6 months away from a presidential election. Now we are 6 weeks away from a presidential election. Can you explain this as anything but a bald-faced grab for power? Say it ain’t so Joe. Show a shred of decency.

You may want to skip the italicized section if that made sense to you. If you’re not from around here, Senator Ron Johnson is from the same neck of the woods as Wisconsin’s worst Senator, Joe McCarthy. On June 9, 1954, Joseph Welch, General Counsel for the US Army, was being interrogated by Sen McCarthy. In exasperation, he finally asked McCarthy, “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

In 1919 the Chicago White Sox allegedly threw the World Series in exchange for bribes from gamblers, in an affair known as “The Black Sox Scandal.”. While they were acquitted, several players were banned from baseball for life. Star player Shoeless Joe Jackson was indicted and Charley Owens, writing in the Chicago Daily News, ran a story headlined “Say it ain’t so, Joe”, asking him to deny the accusation. The line was misattributed to a child, making for this scene in the film “Eight Men Out”:

I’m not sure how much of this Senator Johnson understood. By urging him to show a shred of human decency, I wanted him to put himself above Senator Joe McCarthy. By calling him “Joe” I wanted to draw the parallels between him and Joe McCarthy, to be sure he understood the gravity of the situation. By adding “Say it ain’t so” I was asking him to disavow his statement. References to both the Black Sox Scandal and the McCarthy hearings (especially in the same sentence) may have made it a little dense. Also, Ron Johnson seems to be a little dense. Sorry, I don’t usually explain myself this much. And you’re not Ron Johnson.

Day of Atonement

While my wife and daughter fast, pray, and sing in the Temple of Zoom, I atone by cleaning our adopted highway. Gut Yontiv.

Mark Hirsch, of Platteville, WI, photographed an old Burr Oak every day for a year and chronicled it in the book “That Tree“. The tree blew down in a storm this summer. While I haven’t taken this photo every day, this is the same view from our adopted highway (County F by Brigham Park), that has appeared in this space multiple times, but never this photo from today. While it rained in town, and clouds stayed above me all morning, the valley to the west basked in sunshine.

Finally, happy birthday to my Big Brother who, as a young whippersnapper of my current age, sailed the Rolex China Sea Race, in the boat pictured. (Ask to see his dragon tattoo.)

Paying your way

I often see the argument that bicyclists use the streets for free, while motorists pay for them. The Department of Transportation of Madison, WI just published a report with a few pertinent facts.

Perception that “bicyclists don’t pay their way”

  • Most bicycling takes place on local streets and roads that are primarily paid for through property taxes and other general local taxes. [ed note: i.e. not gasoline taxes]
  • Bicycling inflicts virtually no damage on roads and streets compared with automobiles and trucks.
  • A 200-pound bicyclist with a 50-pound bike will impose approximately 1/65,000th the roadway damage of a 4,000 pound car.
    * Information from “Who Pays for Roads?” Published by U.S. PIRG Education Fund (2015)
  • Motor vehicle use imposes costs on the environment and public health in the form of air pollution, noise, injuries and damage from crashes, and a host of other rarely quantified costs. These costs are borne by all of society. [Ed note: One of those non-quantified costs could be the public health cost of chronic conditions exacerbated by a lack of exercise.]
  • A 2009 analysis by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that the external cost of a mile of bicycling was less than a penny, while the cost imposed by a mile of walking was 0.2 cents—compared with external costs of driving of more than 29 cents per mile.
    * Entire bulleted list from

I’ve also seen the justification that, since many bicyclists also drive cars, we are already paying our way by paying gas taxes when we drive. I guess one could argue that every mile we ride is “stealing” because we aren’t paying gas tax for those miles. One could argue that, but one would be wrong. See the list above.

What I haven’t seen in print before is an examination of toll roads. The state to the south of here has many highways on which vehicle tolls are collected. Here there has been fierce opposition to the notion of toll roads. I have not seen fierce opposition to the bike trails that require a toll, either in the form of a day use fee or an annual permit. Around here, some of those are trails used heavily for commuting, not just recreation. Are those not toll roads? Are toll roads okay for bikes but not for cars and trucks?

Speaking of paying your way…

Where does your money go? Do you pay annual dues to AAA? Do you think of it as a form of insurance for emergency road service? It may be that, but it also pays for advocacy on behalf of cars and drivers. If you ride a bike, you may want to match that/offset that with a membership to the League of American Bicyclists. If you have a state organization, like the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, toss a little more their way. Do you ride with a local club but don’t bother to pay dues because you don’t think you ride with them enough? Pay your dues. You may have a local or regional advocacy organization, or one that advocates for the kind of riding you do. If you want to advocate for bicycling, spend at least as much money there as you spend for cars.

You can also help pay your way via Adopt-a-Highway programs, in which you clean up roadside trash tossed there by other vehicle users. When spring arrives, we’ll be announcing our next cleanup near Brigham Park. Other bike groups also have programs (including the folks behind the Horribly Hilly Hundreds and the Death Ride). You can probably find (or start) one near you.

McCoy Tyner 1938-2020

I can’t end this post without a shoutout to one of the greats – pianist MyCoy Tyner, who played in the seminal early 1960s quartet of John Coltrane (during the time he recorded “A Love Supreme” and “My Favorite Things”), fronted his own bands, and worked with many of the other greats of the last 60 years. When looking for one of his solo works from the early 70s, I came across this instead:

Tyner died on March 6, 2020.