Outdoors Work Day

Collected Road Sand

Collected Road Sand

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP — Sweeping sand signals the beginning of an outdoors season.

I spent part of Saturday collecting sand from the road in front of the house. I harvested more than we used this winter, so inventory is net positive by 1.5 buckets. It has been so warm we didn’t use sand at all on the driveway or steps.

Trees and lilac bushes are beginning to bud. Troubling but okay as long as a frost doesn’t return between apple blossom time and when they set. I shared my concerns about the early warm weather with a neighbor. We ended up planning a joint project for when frost is out of the ground. “Climate change” and “global warming” didn’t come up but weighed in nonetheless.

I breathed in fresh air and contemplated the beginning of things positive.

Thursday I coughed up a nickel-sized piece of phlegm. By Saturday the cold dominated my attention rendering me lethargic the rest of the day. Besides sand collection, I managed four loads of laundry and a simple dinner of cooked carrots and rice with a vegetarian “chicken cutlet.” Productivity was punk.

Calling off sick from the home, farm and auto supply store is an undesirable option. The reduction in pay for missing work is significant. Although we get 40 hours of sick pay during the year, I don’t want to use it unless I feel sicker than I do. We are incentivized by an end of year payment for unused sick pay. That check for last year came in handy.

Hopefully I can finish several outdoors chores on today’s list.

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Spring Pilgrimage

“Lordynges,” quod he, “in chirches whan I preche,
I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche,
And rynge it out as round as gooth a belle,
For I kan al by rote that I telle.
My theme is alwey oon, and evere was
Radix malorum est Cupiditas.

~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Pardoner’s Prologue

From the Ellesmere Manuscript

Chaucer’s Pardoner

Outrage at Iowa Republicans serves no useful purpose. Organize your family and friends, or your neighborhood or your social groups.


In our house such endeavors begin by getting to work. Making contact with potential fellow travelers is part of it. So is rejuvenating our spirits. Most important before departing on a pilgrimage, we must question assumptions that led us here, those that lead us on. To flesh out faulty timbers of a political view rendered obsolete by the recent election will take effort. The same indulgences, relics and stones will not serve. Soon work will consume us. Before it does, check the compass and kit bag.

Spring will be here soon and winter’s work is not finished. Begin  there. Today. Head outside with broom in hand and breathe the crisp air of our future… and organize.

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Sleepless Nights

Linn Street

Linn Street

The month since the inauguration of our 45th president was characterized by sleepless nights, stress and constant weariness.

It’s not sustainable.

With that in mind, I’m planning to reduce the political content on this blog and focus on other, equally important issues.

How do we grow food as global temperatures steadily, predictably increase? What kinds of work will sustain us and contribute to a greater good? How can we contribute to peaceful coexistence in an increasingly torn society?

I don’t know the answers, and these topics are each political in a sense. I expect to write about them and more as I make the final workingman’s lap while eyeing hope beyond the finish line.

I’ll continue to write pieces for publication in friendly blogs and local newspapers and re-post them here… and letters, like this one to state representative Bobby Kaufmann prior to the Iowa legislature’s voting to reform Iowa’s collective bargaining laws this week. Friends said I was too polite, but unlike this bill, soon to be law, that’s no crime.


Every teacher I know is upset about this bill and the uncertainty of it. That includes a teacher in HD73 who doesn’t belong to the union and who voted for Trump because of his position on abortion. As I said Saturday in Lowden, I don’t understand the rush to passage and the lack of explanations to teachers and the general public. The bill dropped a week ago and a final vote is expected this week. That’s not reasonable.

On the other hand, I do understand. Republicans won a majority in the legislature and Governor Branstad has wanted a bill like this, probably since Chapter 20 was adopted. The Republican party has the political power to push the bill through and I expect they will.

Here are my issues:

I appreciate that in this letter you attempt to gain feedback from constituents. There is little evidence your colleagues have done likewise. Some say Speaker Upmeyer hasn’t held a forum like you do yet this session.

Your “listen to both sides” comment fails to take into consideration that the proponents of this bill are way out in left field. There is nothing moderate about the bill. There is not even a pretense of meeting “the other side” between the 40 yard lines to work out a reasonable compromise as was done when Governor Ray signed Chapter 20.

You can’t legitimately tell me this bill doesn’t come directly from the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council. We both know Speaker Upmeyer is a board member of ALEC and the governor has been involved with them as well. The fact that there has been virtually no Democratic input, combined with a tacit unwillingness to consider opposing points of view, makes this action a tops down, like it or leave it proposition. That’s not good for our house district or for Iowa.

Iowans don’t like what happened in Wisconsin during the recall election of Governor Walker. You tapped into it in your letter below by invoking “DC union lobbyists.” The photos of the capitol during the public comment time last night resembled those from Wisconsin a lot. If the political class, including union lobbyists, have faulty rhetoric, what’s worse is attention paid to them is a distraction from the employees who will be impacted by the legislation.

Finally, I think you are smarter than to draw false equivalencies about “both sides.” As you may recall from the Lowden forum, people with differing views can respectfully discuss issues that are important in our society. By my count, there were five Democrats, one Republican, one Independent and three people who didn’t indicate their party. Truth is it didn’t matter what political party people belonged to because most of the issues we discussed involve all of us. I believe that is the future of Iowa politics, unlike the zero sum game Republicans put forth in this bill.

Government support for citizens from the state has been significantly diminished since Governor Branstad was re-elected. The mental health consolidation has gone badly and the Medicaid privatization has been disastrous. Tax credits to business are out of control and negatively impact state revenue, requiring budget cuts.

I hope you will work within your caucus to enable stakeholders to have a say in revising Chapter 20. A lot more than union members will be watching to see how you and your Republican colleagues treat our public employees.

Thanks again for your work in the legislature. Thanks for asking for my opinion.

Regards, Paul

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Road Trip to Lowden

Lowden, Iowa

Lowden, Iowa

LOWDEN, Iowa — Iowans are paying attention to government in a way they didn’t before 2017. Planning for the growing season is well underway in Iowa, yet we always make time for politics while the legislature is in session.

On Saturday a couple of farm friends and I attended a legislative listening post with State Representative Bobby Kaufmann.

Ten people arrived to hear our state representative and we held a wide-ranging discussion of issues connected to state government. It was the kind of forum that across the state is giving way to larger events, with hundreds of people. Large forums make it difficult to have any discussion, so I appreciated the intimacy of a small-town get-together where despite political differences, attendees made an effort to respectfully engage with each other.

Key discussion points included consolidation of mental health services, pesticide drift, IPERS (the state government employees retirement plan), and solar tax credits. My main issue was concern the legislature would disallow net-metering for people who install home solar panels. Kaufmann indicated a bill had been written, but didn’t have broad support, nor would he support it. He said a solid majority supported renewing the solar tax credit.

Last Tuesday the Iowa House of Representatives introduced House Study Bill 84 to revise Chapter 20 of Iowa Code which pertains to collective bargaining by government employees. Other states with Republican legislatures and governors have passed such a bill, but the Iowa version is a wish list of everything the Republican party seeks to nullify in public unions. It is much worse for government employees than in states like Wisconsin.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is Iowa’s first woman to so serve. She is a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council which is widely believed to be author of the bill. The bill is expected to receive a final vote and be signed by Governor Terry Branstad within the next week. Because of Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, moving quickly is possible. Kaufmann speculated a reason for rushing the bill was because Branstad wanted to personally sign it before going to China as U.S. Ambassador.

On Sunday thousands of people rallied against the bill at the state capitol in Des Moines. In Cedar Rapids a couple hundred people rallied. There is a public hearing later today. Bottom line is Republicans don’t need or want input from the community on this bill despite statements by Upmeyer and others. Here is how Upmeyer framed the bill in her legislative newsletter last week:

This week, the House introduced House Study Bill 84, which updates Iowa’s law regarding collective bargaining for public employees. The law, originally passed in 1974, has remained relatively untouched for four decades. Over the last 40 years, largely due to arbitration requirements, the scales have been tipped to favor government unions and put management and taxpayers at a disadvantage. House Republicans believe the law deserves a thoughtful review to rebalance the scales and ensure that Iowans have a fair and equitable system that works for public employers, employees, and taxpayers.

If one reads the 68-page bill it becomes clear this is one of the most hostile to union bills to come up in Iowa, Upmeyer’s buffering rhetoric notwithstanding.

Because of Republican success  in many precincts around the second congressional district during the 2016 general election, incumbent Dave Loebsack’s seat is being targeted by Republicans. Kaufmann denied rumors of his challenging Loebsack in 2018. His father, Jeff Kaufmann, is chair of the Republican Party of Iowa and is publicly behind the campaign. Negative advertisements about Loebsack, funded by a political action committee, have already begun to air.

The 90 minutes of the forum went quickly. On the trip home we talked about farming.

Around Iowa farmers are assessing soil conditions, planning crops and capital expenditures, buying seeds, repairing equipment, and lambing. The last few days have been warmer than usual yet the ground is still frozen six inches below the surface. I start work at my friend’s farm Feb. 26.

Living in Iowa includes engagement in politics. It is a common thread in community life, something that helps us balance efforts to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

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I Call Bullshit by David Shorr

david-shorrI was predisposed to like David Shorr’s latest book.

Shorr and I met in 2009 when I persuaded him to write an opinion piece for the Des Moines Register advocating for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. He willingly did so with co-author Tom Tully. It ran Dec. 15, 2009, titled, The real peace prize: Ban nuclear testing.

I found his new book valuable to surviving the tumult created by the recent election of a Republican president with Republican majorities in the federal government and the Iowa statehouse. His explanation of why Republicans “have wandered off into substantive incoherence” is cogent. His description of four fallacies regarding job creation, healthcare, foreign policy and voter suppression helped turn social media buzzwords into nuggets of understanding. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of why President Donald Trump makes House Speaker Paul Ryan look like a moderate politician when he isn’t.

While readers may take issue with some of Shorr’s arguments, that’s really his point: we should be able to disagree and make social progress at the same time. Until our national and local politics returns to reasonably working together, this book will help us get by and make the case for reality-based politics again.

~ This review was first posted on Amazon.com

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Sucking it Up

Montana Woodshed

Montana Woodshed

This week has been tough in politics and it’s only Thursday.

The Republican majority in the Iowa State House powered up their chainsaws to clear cut a forest of progressive initiatives. Governor Branstad has been waiting his whole career to change Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code relating to collective bargaining of public employees. That’s only a part of the rending of what made Iowa a great place to grow up and live.

The confirmation of 45’s cabinet picks proceeded with rancorous success. Attorney General (Feb. 8), State Department (Feb. 1) and  Secretary of Education (Feb. 7) appointments have been confirmed. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to be confirmed next week. To say progressive voters dislike these and other picks is an understatement.

There seems to be little one can do to stop the logging of progressive values. No argument holds firm against the pent-up energy among Republicans in the Iowa legislature and the Congress.

Some of us have nowhere else to go so we’ll have to let limbs fall where they may, suck it up, and renew our efforts toward social and environmental justice. What the leverage points will be aren’t clear today. That said, a free and responsible search for truth and justice will be endemic to the process.

This American institutional destruction cannot stand in perpetuity. Progressives must pay attention, keep their powder dry and be prepared to act when a leverage point reveals itself. That’s a lot different from reacting to every move of craven legislators and plunder monkeys.

Republicans are emboldened by the general election. There is another election in 2018 when voters will either affirm or reject their commitment to the current agenda. I plan to work toward the latter and sharpen my chainsaw.

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Final Lap in a Workingman’s Race

Holy Blue Jeans

Blue Jeans Full of Holes

In several ways, 2017 will be my final season as a working person.

That’s not to say I won’t continue to work hard in life. According to the Social Security Administration I have a lot of life to live —19.2 years on average. Longevity’s secret is no secret: as long as life holds, engage in it and don’t stop until the final curtain.

By year’s end, my spouse and I will be in a position to slow down and work on projects better aligned with our interests. We won’t be rich, but that was never a goal.

A constant theme is embedded in the thousands of posts I’ve made over the last ten years: Radix malorum est Cupiditas, money (or greed) is the root of all evil. We managed cash flow well during our lives together with almost never a bounced check. Yet currency has been little more than sunlight, reasonably available if one is willing to join in society. Its value is as part of photosynthesis in the botany of our lives.

On the final workingman’s lap some things are clear.

My work at the home, farm and auto supply store is needed to provide health insurance until we both are on Medicare. Health insurance has been the biggest and most unpredictable expense since leaving my transportation career in 2009. I compare my experience to co-workers from Mexico. When they need significant healthcare, they travel home to take advantage of Mexico’s free clinics. In the United States health insurance is pay to play. Premiums contribute to many jobs: physicians, nurses and lab technicians, of course. But also to corporate entities with their executives, sales representatives, manufacturing staff, actuarial workers and legal counsel. By my calculation, monthly premiums for an individual health insurance policy are roughly ten percent higher than Medicare’s cost of service. My lowly paid work will continue at least one more year.

I hope this year’s growing season will produce in abundance. If last year created one of the best gardens ever, I plan to make this one even better. What I don’t or can’t grow will be acquired from two barter arrangements with Community Supported Agriculture projects. If my execution of garden work isn’t flawless, decades of experience should serve us well. Knowing what to do and when makes a big difference.

Our logistics system needs attention. Downsizing possessions, maintaining the house and its mechanical systems, and ensuring cost-effective transportation enter into this year’s plans. Because of the low cost of storage (i.e. loss of usable space), and the value of having built a new house needing few repairs, these tasks have been delayed.

Writing will continue to be important next year, both here and on social media. Writing has been a way to work through problems and relieve stress. When I write a fixed piece — a guest column for a newspaper — I write with confidence. When I start with a blank Microsoft Word document, ideas rise from a deep well of experience. As I mature as a short-form writer, increasing readership will be important.

I feel a sense of limited opportunity as the final months before great change come into focus. There are only so many days to get things done. The feeling is encouragement to make the most of my time. A sense of hope pervades everything and for that I am thankful.

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