JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Bad News, Worse News And A Ray Of Hope

I haven’t written here about the coronavirus and all its associated chaos because: 1. I really dislike bad news and don’t like to read it, much less write it; and 2. Other than not being able to see, talk to and hug our friends and family, we just haven’t been that much affected by it at our house, at least not nearly as much as most of the people we know. Let me explain.

First, financially, Lillian and I are retired, so our income is pretty much fixed, except for a couple of writing gigs I have, so unlike millions of Americans less fortunate, we’re not losing any income. We’re not into the stock market so our retirement funds haven’t been affected — much. Lillian’s a pretty conservative investor. I’m happy about that right now.

Second, Lillian hates shopping, so when she makes her periodic trips to Sam’s Club, she really stocks up on things like paper towels, toilet paper, soap of all kinds and a few grocery essentials, like coffee. So we were good on toilet paper before it was cool.

But at the outset of the lockdown, she did a pretty good shopping trip to Cash Wise, Target and the Food Co-op. We buy organic milk with a shelf life of 30 to 40 days, so we’re good there until May 22, the cartons in the fridge say. We’ve got a freezer full of pork — bacon, ground pork, sausage, baby back ribs, pork chops and a good-sized ham. We’ve also got chicken breasts from the co-op and a big turkey we bought on sale a couple of months ago for 69 cents a pound. We have a lot of pasta and Parmesan-Reggiano, plus Lillian’s homemade pesto and marinara.

We’re a little short of beef — we took our last package of T-bones out of the freezer Sunday, anticipating a picnic night beside the grill this week. But we have a quarter of Chuck and Linda Suchy’s grass-fed beef coming in a couple weeks — it’s hanging and being dry-aged right now.

So, we’re eating pretty well.

Lillian does a veggie, fruit and eggs run to the co-op or Cash Wise once a week or so, and I can get bread at the Brick Oven Bakery drive-up window. I’m old, so my younger wife has me pretty much on lockdown, except I can go for a drive in the country, or sit on a riverbank with a fishing pole, or do a drive–up deal (bakery and Dairy Queen), as long as I wear my mask and gloves and don’t get out of the car anywhere near anyone else. All fine with me. I hope we can eat fresh fish one day pretty soon.

So far, our family is all healthy. Lillian’s parents are in nursing homes, so we can’t see them and hug them, but we’re Skyping and peeking through windows. Lillan’s daughter, Rachel, who has a disability, has moved from her assisted living apartment into her dad’s home for the duration of this. We’re grateful to him. We’re Skyping with her every night.

We’re most concerned about Rachel’s sister, Chelsea, who’s still working her full shift as a cashier, behind plexiglass, but WalMart announced this week it is providing extra precautions for their employees, so we’re grateful for that, too, and for the extra “hazardous duty” bonus in Chelsea’s paycheck, which will help her catch up on her bills. She’s earning that.

It’s the first week of gardening season, and I’ve been getting things ready out in the vegetable garden and Lillian’s been fertilizing irises and other flowers. I fertilized the asparagus Monday afternoon and did some tilling in the potato patch.

In the morning I observed three very interesting things: a sort-of protest gathering at the Capitol building, a great Facebook post by my friend, David Thompson, and a stunning letter to the editor of the Forum.

David Thompson first.

David is an attorney from Grand Forks. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years, although our paths do not cross often enough. He was the Democratic-NPL endorsed candidate for attorney general in 2018. I wish he’d have won. But here’s something he put on Facebook this morning.

“Because of my extreme concern as a Grand Forks citizen about the burgeoning COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak at the LM Wind Power plant in this city, I have put on my old hat as an investigative reporter from my first career as a newspaper journalist on the East Coast before I attended law school and became a lawyer here in North Dakota. Over the past two days, I have personally interviewed multiple current employees of LM Wind Power (a subsidiary of giant multinational corporation General Electric Co.) in the course of an investigation, which has uncovered the following alarming facts:

“(1) On March 23, 2020, a LM Wind Power employee contacted the Grand Forks City Health Department to complain that LM Wind Power was not ‘taking the coronavirus threat seriously,’ allowing plant workers with fevers to return to work prematurely while they were still actively coughing at their work stations at the facility. At that time, the complaining LM Wind Power employee was told by an official at the City Health Department that the Department had already received a number of similar complaints from workers at the plant and that those complaints from LM employees were ‘on the desk’ of Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown.

“(2) Four days later, on March 27, 2020, an employee of LM Wind Power made a similar complaint in a telephone call to the Bismarck office of the federal Occupational Safety and Safety Administration about LM Wind Power permitting employees with fevers to be permitted to return to work less than 24 hours after being sent home for being sick and that a supervisor at the LM plant had stated that, ‘(i)f people want to come to work, we can’t make them stay home.’ The complaining LM plant worker was told by the OSHA official from that federal agency’s Bismarck office that the OSHA official had contacted an LM Wind Power Safety Officer the same day, and advised the LM Safety Officer that OSHA would be conducting an investigation into LM as a result of the complaint, and the OSHA official stated to this LM employee (who had made the complaint) that the OSHA official had directed the LM Safety Officer to post signs at the company’s Grand Forks plant advising employees at the plant of the fact that OSHA would be conducting this investigation. The LM employee who made the OSHA complaint stated that no such signs were ever posted by management at LM Wind Power at the plant, and this employee is not aware that OSHA ever appeared at the LM Grand Forks plant to conduct an investigation. The OSHA official also reported to the complaining LM plant worker that the LM Safety Officer wanted to know the identity of the complaining worker, but under OSHA regulations, the complainant’s identify was not disclosed to the LM Safety Officer.

“(3) In late March, LM Wind Power employees at the Grand Forks plant complained to the Grand Forks City Health Department and to LM supervisory personnel about crowding and lack of observance of ‘distancing’ by employees around areas where Personal Protective Equipment was distributed at the plant and in the ‘Break Room’; and

“(4) LM Wind Power employees took vacation trips to warm weather destinations where COVID-19 was especially prevalent, did not quarantine themselves for the 14-day period upon their return to Grand Forks and went immediately back to work at LM Wind Power, with some workers in this category having tested positive this week for COVID-19 Coronavirus.”

Thank you, David.

As you have likely read, LM Windpower is the site of the most serious outbreak of the virus in the state. KVRR Television reported today that 126 employees have tested positive for the virus. From David’s reporting you can see who is responsible for that. DAMN!

Now then, Monday morning’s gathering at the Capitol. People came with their vehicles decorated up and carrying signs calling on the governor to open the state up. I went to see what might come of this. I took my mask and gloves, but did not get out of my car except to snap a couple photos over the hood of the car, at which time I put on my mask and gloves. I was never within a hundred feet of anyone.

I was parked along the Capitol loop when a couple friends of mine pulled up. They asked what I thought. I replied, “This is a real clusterf**k.”

They agreed.

At 11 a.m., the appointed hour for the rally to begin, there were about 25 or 30 people scattered around the Capitol mall. The crowd built until about 11:30 a.m., when maybe 75 had showed up. Somebody with a bullhorn called them to the Capitol steps. From what I could tell, he asked if anyone wanted to speak. A few did. I was in my car, so I couldn’t hear much, but I did see one flag-draped, scruffy-looking guy scream something into the bullhorn about Washington crossing the Delaware. I left after about five minutes of that.

What troubled me most was that many people crowded around the Capitol and no one was wearing masks or gloves — except the television reporters and cameramen — including a bunch of little kids running around having a good time in the sunshine. A couple of fringe political candidates were there, and I watched the fellow I’m pretty sure was Michael Coachman, a Republican candidate for governor this year, working the crowd, no mask, smiling, visiting and shaking hands with everyone there. No one seemed to hesitate to shake his hand.

I swear, it was 75 or so of the stupidest people I have ever seen gathered in one place in my entire life. I predict at least three of them will be dead by the Fourth of July.

I’m going to end this with a letter that was in today’s Forum from a lady named Terri Hedman. I don’t know her, but she’s a friend of a friend, and she’s running for the Legislature in Fargo this year. I hope she wins. Look at this:


Many are struggling with the financial and emotional toll of the COVID-19 virus. Today I’m thinking about how to find hope. How have others coped with extreme difficulty?

The Greatest Generation sent loved ones off to war, dealt with shortages and sometimes unimaginable fear. Many of the Greatest Generation’s formative years were during a nation-wide depression.

What do I love and respect about the “Greatest?” Their resilience, wisdom and patriotism, to name a few. If I could, I would apologize to those of the generation when I eye-rolled at their frugality. Staying out of debt and denying impulsive buying was imbedded in their core.

What have we learned from the Greatest and what can we do that gives hope to ourselves and others?

  • Do. Help out when you can. If you can sew masks, sew. If you can safely pick up groceries for someone at-risk, do that. Deliver Meals on Wheels. Call a friend you know is alone.
  • Pray. If you are a believer, pray like the Greatest did.
  • Donate if you can. I remember my Grandma and her pile of mail. She didn’t have a lot of money, but she gave. I remember her writing modest checks in her perfect, cursive script.
  • Love. The Greatest didn’t really talk about it, but they valued family. Perhaps too stoic to be overt in displays of affection, they kept strong family relationships. My own has been affected by political schisms. Love everyone, even when you cannot agree.
  • Vote. Leadership really matters; the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this, even at the state level. The Greatest Generation voted and didn’t take that privilege for granted.
  • Be. Whatever you are called to do, do it the best you can.

Finally, we can spare some comfort and we can be bored for a while. The Greatest Generation understood selflessness. Now it is our turn.


Like I said, I really dislike bad news, so a message like that can really brighten up a dark day. Thank you, Terri Hedman.

Here are some photos from Monday morning. Now I’m going to go plant potatoes.

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