I have turned into a curmudgeon who writes letters to the editor. They tend not to print them. Here are a few rejects, with context added as needed. Labor Day seems a fitting time to post this.

I used to belong to a union, until Act 10 banned it. Employees were NOT required to join the union or pay dues. They WERE required to pay their “fair share”, a calculated portion of what members paid in dues in order to pay for the cost of negotiating the contract from which they garnered benefits. No one was forced to join the union, despite the propaganda we hear. If “Right to Work” actually meant what it sounds like, I’d be a full supporter. Sure, we should all have the right to a job – but that’s not what it means.

This letter was in response to the myth that workers were forced to join unions and pay dues. Our governor advocated a so-called “Right to Work” law as part of his “divide and conquer” strategy. The letter was rejected because the editorial page editor didn’t realize that Wisconsin Act 10, which restricted bargaining for state employees to wages only (no bargaining of working conditions) and restricted wage bargaining to levels at or below the change in the cost of living, actually banned all union activity at one particular workplace – and named that workplace (University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics).

On this Labor Day, I’d like to revisit the real world results of WI Act 10. Due to changes resulting from Act 10, my take home pay (reflected by the total of the past 8 pay periods) has DECREASED by 6% (adjusted for inflation via the US Dept of Labor Consumer Price Index) from the same period three years ago. I am not a state employee, my wages are not paid by tax dollars, but I was (and am) subject to Act 10.

This letter was rejected because that same editor didn’t realize that Act 10 affected people who are not paid by tax dollars. I sent her the same citations I’d sent previously. She wanted an explanation that would take more than the 200 words allotted for a letter – so I could submit the letter (which would be rejected) or the explanation (which would have no context).

Open Letter to Sen Ron Johnson: Dear Senator Johnson:

Today’s (May 11) Wisconsin State Journal quotes you regarding your meeting with Merrick Garland as referring to President Obama as a “lame duck president”. I do not think this term means what you think it means. A lame duck is a president who continues to serve during the time between the election and inauguration of a new president. It does not refer to a president who is not eligible to run for re-election (as are all second term presidents for their entire second term) or to some arbitrary period of time of your choosing. 

We hired (elected) you to do a job. Please do it. “With the advice and consent of the Senate” in regard to Supreme Court nominations does not mean “advise the president not to make any nominations because we are going to withhold our consent no matter what.” Please follow your Constitutional duty by moving forward with this nomination. Otherwise, I hope we, the voters, send you back to your wife’s family company and make you a lame duck.

This newspaper doesn’t tell you why they reject your letters. I choose not to speculate. Re: the last sentence – Sen Johnson married his boss’s sister and became CEO of a plastic manufacturing company, thus becoming a millionaire. He claimed to be a “citizen legislator” who would serve for one term and return to the private sector. Surprise! That didn’t happen.

“Breaking news” is stretching it a bit. How many times has this been front page, above-the-fold news? Today, when he announces, yesterday that he was going to announce, last week when he accidentally announced and then deleted it, the week before when he filed with the Federal Elections Commission, and countless other times when he announced when he would announce and/or announced that he was not currently a candidate. Then there were the times that he formed a PAC to not be a candidate and when he formed another PAC to be a pre-candidate.

Contrast that with your below-the-fold treatment of Bernie Sanders’ rally in Madison which drew a larger crowd than any rally by any candidate anywhere in the country – and that encompasses a lot of rallies by a lot of candidates. That was news for one day. 

Now tell me again how editorial decisions and news decisions are completely separate and one does not influence the other.

This was in response to an e-mailed “news alert” to subscribers headed “Breaking News”, telling us that our governor had announced his candidacy for president. (For those not familiar with newspaper jargon, “above the fold” refers to the top half of the front page of a newspaper – the part that is visible in a stack of papers on a newsstand or in a vending machine.)

Governor Walker’s proposed budget includes “self-insurance” for state employees and others covered by the state insurance contract. Is this single payer/socialized medicine good for Wisconsin? It might save or cost the state money, we’re not sure. I’m confused, Governor. Do we want the state in or out of the health care business? This proposal would decrease competition in the marketplace and clearly hurt smaller HMOs, and we know small business is the chief engine for employment. The Governor proposes to let the big three HMOs split the administration of the program and cut out the smaller ones. This would include GHC, a health care cooperative and an HMO that is consistently ranked as one of the top in the country, not just in Wisconsin. Is this the way to improve health care, to hurt the best HMO in the state?

This was in response to the governor’s attempt to find a way to stop paying for health insurance for state workers, at the same time that he was opposing state supports for health care, including Medicaid expansion, for others. I thought it ironic that he opposed the “socialism” of a single-payer plan except when it was convenient and provided another opportunity to screw state employees. He had no cost figures to demonstrate that it would save the state money; but we knew it would decimate a small cooperative HMO. He also tried to privatize the state pension fund. He appointed a task force to study the notion. Of course it was dominated by big business interests. They rejected his idea, telling him that it was among the best-run pension plans (and investment systems of any kind) in the country and he’d be a fool to mess with it. His response was to appoint another task force. They also told him he was an idiot.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! I once thought Donald Trump was an idiot, unfit for the presidency. I have come to realize that he’s smarter than we think. While we agonize over his latest outrageous tweet, he puts the fox in charge of the henhouse and destroys our government. Every two-bit magician knows that misdirection is the key and they don’t call it illusion instead of magic for nothing. While Trump and complicit media focus on tweets, his Secretary of Labor formerly represented Walmart and UPS to fight worker rights. His Secretary of the Interior used to represent mining and oil companies. The head of the Bureau of Land Management used to sue that agency regularly. OSHA has cut staffing to where it would take 150 years to inspect all workplaces under its jurisdiction. The Secretary of Education funds (and supports government funding of) private schools. The EPA has rolled back pollution standards to the extent that even the auto industry opposes it. And, of course, the USPS is headed by someone who gave a lot of money to the president and knows that one way to keep the president in office is to destroy the Postal Service to prevent safe voting. While he is still clearly unfit for the office, who are the idiots?

I don’t think that one requires any further context or explanation, but it could have been a lot longer. It merely scratched the surface and didn’t even get to the outright corruption, felony convictions, and high turnover in the inner circle. 200 words can only do so much.

My most recent reject seems to have vanished – I don’t even have the receipt from them that I sent it. I will set the context and summarize instead. The State Supreme Court last spring rejected an extension of the public health emergency, ruling that the Department of Public Health lacked the authority to extend the order. The Governor, recognizing the likelihood that the court would strike down an order from him as well, took no action until the situation was out of control (and the day before a new Supreme Court justice would take her seat, so a new decision might be different). That’s when he finally issued a mandatory mask order in response to rising COVID-19 infections and deaths. The Majority Leader of our State Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, opposed the mandatory order.

Fitzgerald was quoted as saying, “I think things are going well right now. People are complying if they want to.” I noted wryly that he seemed to be advocating for an end to his own job; arguing that laws are unnecessary and people will “comply if they want to”. I ended by saying “Scott Fitzgerald, anarchist – who knew?” I guess they didn’t like my calling a Republican leader an anarchist.

Tweet Storm

It scares me that our national attention span has been reduced to 240 characters. If we want to say anything longer than that, we divide it into 240 character bites to make it digestible. I know that’s the limit to our president’s attention, but it scares me that that is becoming the norm for the rest of us. It made sense in the era of the Burma Shave sign. For those too young to remember, Burma Shave was a shaving cream that marketed with roadside signs composed as quatrains, one line to a sign, so you could read them as you raced past at highway speed. The fifth sign just held the brand. They worked like this:

If ya got no food

Don’t just bitch

Take up the fork

And eat the rich.

Burma Shave

Or, my personal philosophy:

I hate being a grownup!

Those who have followed my life since January, 2020 know that I’ve been dealing with some serious shit regarding my health, Worker’s Compensation, and Human Resources (a term that makes me feel like ore). For the rest of you, here’s a quick summation.

I was injured at work. My compensation claim was denied with the declaration of a Pre-existing Condition that I never knew I had, nor had any doctor I’ve seen in my life (and that’s a while). My HR department canceled my health insurance. When I fought back, they reinstated it with an “oops”. Then they canceled my dental insurance. Another “oops”.

The company that administers our FMLA plan told me (on Feb 5) that I had to be back at work by Feb 4 or risk termination. This, despite the fact that my continuing post-op restriction essentially defines my work. Try “no stress or strain to the abdominal or core muscles” while doing direct patient care in a hospital. To extend my leave requires a signed statement from the surgeon. Will he do it? Does he have time? Does he agree with the nurse who revised the restriction from “no lifting >20 pounds” to “no core stress or strain”? Stay tuned.

A big part of me wants to say “Fine. Fire me. It still hurts too much to go back to work.” The grownup part says that my Social Security benefit will be significantly higher if I stay there for 3 more years. That same grownup says that if I quit, give up my health insurance and go on Medicare, I won’t be able to provide insurance to my child until they turn 26, which was my plan; especially if they go to grad school in the fall and leave their job and that insurance. The grownup says: “You’ve stuck it out 20 years. You can live through 3 ½ more.”

See why I hate being a grownup?

Interval training with the Stray Cats

It has been exactly one month that I’ve been off work. To rebuild the endurance to get back to work, I stayed out of the house for half the day yesterday, running errands. It was exhausting. It is time for the next step – interval training.

The Stray Cats were my training partners for the day. With tempos ranging from ~60 bpm to over 100, and a couple of breaks for them to get a drink and between encores, they were a great inspiration and well-paced. I matched their tempo most of the time (hence the intervals). I managed to get my hands in the drops today for the first time – I haven’t been able to bend that far and have been on the bar tops exclusively until today. No fancy Smart Trainer for me; just the one I bought used about 30 years ago to rehab from a prior injury. (Yeah, I have to take it apart and fix it when it gets hot and falls apart – that may be why the original owner sold it – but that gets me another break.)

Health insurance rant

Ten years ago, I had a company paid health insurance plan. It was through an HMO. Everything was covered. Their job was to help me stay healthy. Then everything changed.

Health insurance costs began to rise precipitously. Wisconsin Act 10 banned union activity at my place of employment, so I lost my contract and my union’s protection. The Affordable Care Act set minimum standards, so employers raced to the bottom, choosing to meet the bare minimum.

The result? My health insurance now costs $231/month, I have a co-pay for each doctor visit, I pay 10% co-insurance for everything other than a routine doctor visit (lab tests, x-rays, surgery…). My maximum out of pocket expense is now $13,700/year (not counting premiums). My actual maximum is therefore $16,472, compared with zero dollars ten years ago – in practical terms, a massive pay cut.

Death Ride

Monitor Pass (snow should be gone for the ride), photo from California Alps Cycling

Registration is now open for the Death Ride on Saturday, July 11, 2020. Enjoy beautiful Alpine County, California, climb your choice of 1-5 mountain passes, and ride up to 129 miles (~200 km). For anyone planning to travel out there, a couple of handy options I recommend for sleeping – Turtle Rock Park for those of the camping persuasion, and Sorenson’s Resort for those of the sleeping indoors persuasion. Both are right on the route. Now that my reservations are in, I can tell the rest of you. This will be my return to the scene of the crime after 28 years. We’ll see if my legs and lungs still have it. Registration is also open for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to the Death Ride. HHH starts at Blue Mound State Park. Camping is available there or at nearby Brigham County Park. Both are great. I have no recommendation for sleeping indoors. HHH entry is by lottery, so get your application in by February 16. The ride is on Saturday, June 20. No, I’m not going to do both.

 A view from the top of Blue Mound.
View from Blue Mound, photo from WI DNR


If you live in a cold climate, remember your friendly neighborhood botanical garden. My first introduction to summer in the winter was the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. Today I visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, where there is a special orchid display this month. I kicked myself for forgetting my camera with macro lens, so you’ll have to settle for iPhone photos. Check it out: