Madison Alder Juliana Bennett Woefully Wrong About Historic Preservation

I came across a tweet this past week that concerned me on a number of levels. Madison Alderwoman Juliana Bennett alerted us to her lack of reasoning about historic preservation, muddled it with affordable housing, and then tossed in a dose of juvenile cursing for her most base of constituents.

The alder’s desire to undermine historical preservation and then cloud the issue with comments about the “white man” was noticed during her comments at the July 20th Madison City Council meeting. It was there she spoke out against the efforts to preserve the limited view of Lake Mendota from the Lamp House, the lone Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the downtown portion of our city.

“We are voting on preserving the view of a dead rich white man, because, I guess, preserving the view of a dead rich white man so that he could see his lake house….”

“The resolution to preserve the view of the Lamp House so that the ghost of some dead rich white man can look at the lake reeks of white elitism, white privilege and overall a hyperpreservation that plagues our City”

“Preserving the view of the Lamp House has become an important issue to the sponsor, or to the Plan Commission because a few white elite preservationists will have the privilege and the means to make a fuss, have made preserving the view a paramount issue.”

“…preserving the view of a dead rich white man is not worth redevelopment that would benefit downtown residents”

To be frank, (no pun intended) such arguments laced with the anger of this type aimed at the “white man” undercut effective dialogue with the larger audience in our city. While I understand Bennett’s attempt to buttress an image as a progressive warrior what resulted was a self-created connotation of not being well-grounded about history, or why preserving it matters.

It is that last part which concerns me. I have thought for a couple days how I best wanted to post about Bennett’s disregard–even disdain–for the history of our city. Her attitude is deserving attention as she sits on the council.

One of the reasons that history is vital to know and preserve is that it allows for a collective memory from which to unite as citizens. There is no need for everyone to agree about the various interpretations of a home, spot of ground, or a celebrated moment but we all can agree that having those places or events in a visible form allows for history to then follow in stories and memories.

Consider how in 1927 Charles Lindbergh landed in Madison after flying around the State Capitol. His arrival at Pennco Field was a grand sight for the people on hand, and today there is a sense of that moment with a plaque near to the present site of South Towne Mall. The city basically came to standstill that day as many gathered to hear him speak at Camp Randall. It was not the first time Lindbergh had been here as in 1920 he lived on Mills Street while a student at the university.  

A crowd greets the Spirit of St. Louis after Charles Lindbergh flew the plane to Madison on Aug. 22, 1927, and landed at Pennco Field.

There are clearly many ways to view Lindbergh, some favorable, many not. The pro-German isolationist or the mega-celebrity with aviation credentials. All of these types of people, places, and events will surely be viewed differently over time, with varying interpretations based on who we are as a people and changes in our society.

The fact that people have divergent perspectives about memories of historical people and places is the reason they need to be preserved. It is those places where we then can have larger dialogues about the memory that is created from walking through a home, or gazing at a plaque as the largely blue sky beckons us to look up and imagine the arrival of the Spirit of St. Louis. And the character of the man then, and in years to come.

I reject Bennett’s accusation of elitism when it comes to historic preservation as if those who care about our collective history do so for narrow purposes. As if somehow history does not belong to all, or the joy of understanding it is relegated to only a few.

In 2007 I moved into the Marquette Neighborhood. It was soon after I first saw, every now and then along our street, a rectangular object near the curb. A neighbor informed me they were carriage stoops and were placed for the convenience of ladies as they exited the carriages back in the time the old Victorian homes were first constructed and lived in.  At once they became a point of historical pride for me about another aspect of the neighborhood that conjured up all the grandeur of days gone by.   

During a street construction project in 2009 portions of a couple of the carriage stoops were injured.  I at once contacted a local neighborhood historian and together we talked about the need to maintain the past.  Today they are protected with a city ordinance so walkers from around the city, or those who travel here from aboard to live as grad students, get to feel a slice of the past.

Equating elitism with historical preservation is not logical. Without historic preservation, the old and grand portions of Madison would have been razed. Conserving parts of our past allows for collective memories, and shared experiences. Without such touchstones (again, no pun intend) creeping amnesia occurs and then turns into a reckless disregard for where our story came from.

When our history is known, understood, and preserved one thing is clear. History is an antidote for self-pity. That is a lesson more need to grasp.

And so it goes.

Nixon Was A Piker Compared To Trump, Our Grandparents Would Agree

As we head to the August anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon comes a news story this morning showing how much more criminal and outlandish were the actions of Donald Trump following his 2020 election loss. While the 37th president had his own list of unconstitutional behavior, nothing compares to what we read about today about the 45th person to reside in the White House.

Trump pressed top Justice Department officials late last year to declare that the election was corrupt even though they had found no instances of widespread fraud, so that he and his allies in Congress could use the assertion to try to overturn the results, according to new documents provided to lawmakers and obtained by The New York Times.

The exchange unfolded during a phone call on Dec. 27 in which Mr. Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the department had disproved. Mr. Donoghue warned that the department had no power to change the outcome of the election. Mr. Trump replied that he did not expect that, according to notes Mr. Donoghue took memorializing the conversation.

“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, Mr. Donoghue wrote in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.

It goes without saying that that the least we should expect, and demand from any person who is elected president is that the leader has a basic regard for democracy. While there are sure to be policy differences with a wide segment of the nation the citizenry should never need to fear that a would-be dictator has taken over the White House.

I recall when watching the television news at times with my Grandma there would be comments made that Grandpa did not care for Nixon. I think about Herman and wonder, with all that he heard about Watergate, what he would have to say about what Trump has done to our politics. His world of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson would then find a very hard time squaring with the attempt made by Trump to steal a national election.

Why I place this current story into the context of sitting in the living room and watching the news on a larger console set is that my grandparents–and yours too–were not tempered with what I term normalization fatigue. What we have witnessed over the past five years has in some respects deadened our senses and reactions to the complete outrageousness of Trump’s action. In essence, today’s news of an attempted stolen election by the loser of the national balloting is not overly surprising.

The outrage and sincere anger from past generations will be greeted today with ‘that sounds like Trump’ and we move to the next story. The national news tonight will no doubt lead with COVID, wildfires, and Olympic coverage.

What is happening to our democracy, and the willingness to marginalize it among a troubling segment of the nation, are the type of events that our grandparents would have been not only watching, but demanding a resolution so as to never, ever happen again. They may not speak in the way I write, of Trump’s seditious attempts to cancel democracy, but they would know it in their bodies and minds.

Too many today have no regard for the foundations of our democracy, were never adequately taught in school about civics and so today will pick up their handheld device and think the latest news about the Green Bay Packers is what matters.

Grandpa knew better.

Kentucky Senator Speaks To Chuckleheads

Only eight of Kentucky’s 120 counties have reported vaccination rates above 50%. Clearly, chuckleheads are the majority in the Bluegrass State.

Therefore, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is stepping up to attempt to alert people in his state why being smart by taking the COVID-19 vaccine is in their best interest. Why at this stage in the pandemic such outreach efforts are needed underscores the rot that exists within a sizable segment of the nation.

The Senator will use his campaign funds to pay for radio ads encouraging people to get vaccinated. This is a most unusual spending choice but truly reflects the deepening crisis posed by the delta variant of Covid. It also shows how dangerous to public health those who refuse to be vaccinated pose for the greater good.

Look, acting with common-sense and care for others should not be such high hurdles to clear.

My dad’s brother in Wisconsin was impacted his whole life by contracting polio. I mention this as McConnell had his own personal experience with polio.

My mom, who grew up as a youngster in Arkansas, spoke of the dread families would experience when bouts of disease would spread through a community. Protecting children and loved ones was the obvious priority, but without preventive measures, such as vaccines, there was only so much that could be done.

So when I read the news reports of people refusing to accept science and advice from medical professionals about the COVID-19 vaccine I think of those who knew what it was like to truly have no options to fight certain viruses. I think of those in the family who have shared their stories long before this pandemic struck.

Trying to spin, rationalize, or deceive oneself against the danger of this virus, or the necessity and prudence of the vaccine that can contain it, is absurd. The chuckleheads among us are doing great damage to the needs of their families, communities, and the nation at large.

There are not many times this blog has commended Senator Mitch McConnell for actions he has taken. I am glad, however, that on this matter of science, medicine, and rational thought we have a shared place on which to stand.

And so it goes.

Infrastructure Compromise In Washington Makes For Good Look

It was reported that Senate negotiators and the White House have agreed to a final version of the bipartisan infrastructure framework. While nothing is ever over until the ink is dry, there is every reason to be optimistic. It is also a good time to cheer something that is too rare these days in our national politics.

Compromise.

While the legislative language is not yet public, the agreement is complete enough that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will move to a cloture vote soon, seemingly with the knowledge that 10 Republicans and all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus will advance the legislation.

Too often we need to remind those in Washington that compromise is far different from capitulation. The fringes of both parties often deride compromise and instead turn up the rhetorical heat for their own self-interests at the mention of uniting on a bill. History, however, shows that compromise is not only often needed, but exactly what the nation requires. Given the emotion and desires surrounding any issue, various doctrinaire factions will work to see that compromise is always very difficult to achieve. Lord knows we have seen enough of that over recent times!

But it is imperative that at the end of the day the governing process works for the national needs. Like what appears to now be the case with infrastructure funding.

There is much to say about how compromises must be constructed to allow for everyone to feel they gained something while knowing they also gave something up.  Too often in Washington, it has been difficult even getting to the point of thinking in broad terms that the art of compromise is a worthwhile goal.  That is astonishing to me.

Therefore, I am very pleased that this measure is moving forward as it will pump the largest infusion of federal money in more than a decade into the nation’s aging public works system. The bill is expected to provide about $550 billion in new federal money for roads, bridges, rail, transit, water, and other physical infrastructure programs.

The growing need for such investments has been a decades-long discussion. Now, at last, it seems we have found common ground with which to move forward concerning these pressing needs.

And so it goes.

Anti-Vaxxer And 4th Pandemic Wave With Editorial Cartoons

It is not a surprise that the lowest common denominators in the land have placed our nation into the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The best way to sum up the astonishing display of ignorance is through the editorial cartoons from the nation’s newspapers.

Vatican Intrigue: Imagine This In Paperback!

I suspect many of my readers would pick up a paperback if the back jacket had this as a plot. I need to state the following are the actual underpinnings of a Vatican trial starting this week.

A cardinal who allegedly induced an underling to lie to prosecutors. Brokers and lawyers who pulled a fast one over the Vatican No. 2 to get him to approve a disastrous real estate deal. A self-styled intelligence analyst who bought Prada and Louis Vuitton items with the Vatican money that she was supposed to send to rebels holding a Catholic nun hostage.

Vatican prosecutors have alleged a jaw-dropping series of scandals in the biggest criminal trial in the Vatican’s modern history. The once-powerful cardinal and nine other people are accused of bleeding the Holy See of tens of millions of dollars in donations through bad investments, deals with shady money managers and apparent favors to friends and family.

But the prosecutors’ case also suggests that Pope Francis and his top lieutenants were not only aware of some of the key transactions, but in some cases explicitly authorized them, even without full documentation or understanding the details.

When it comes to intrigue and crimes the Vatican has always been a source of plots and strange characters making deals and mayhem. This trial is but the latest public example of that fact.

Local Rent Assistance Programs Underscore Wariness Over Large Relief Bills

It seems fair to say that no matter what transpires during the rest of our lives the memory of the COVID-19 pandemic will remain as a sharp and defining event. It was the reason that far too many people died, others got sick and some have lingering effects that now can be listed as a disability.

On Monday Health and Human Services along with the Justice Department rolled out guidance making clear that symptoms of “long COVID-19” could qualify as a disability under the federal civil rights law. Such health concerns are one of the continuing consequences of the virus.

From business slowdowns, supply disruptions, and unemployment people have faced an array of side effects from the pandemic other than just the medical ones. In large metropolitan areas, like Madison and Dane County, one of the highlighted needs over the past year is the lack of funds some people need to pay for rent.

The federal government took action in 2020 to place a federal moratorium on evictions, and over time extended the action. I suspect the prevailing sentiment across the nation was supportive as most everyone grasped the enormity of the virus. The large federal relief measures also found strong public support, including from the desk of this blogger.

The nature of the average citizen is one of empathy and care and that was reflected in the federal funds sent to the states and local communities. A need was presented and a program was constructed, as an example, to allow for assistance with rental payments.

So why do I suspect that some taxpayers and citizens are concerned about what was reported in today’s Wisconsin State Journal? I encourage a full read, but here are some snippets that I suspect many subscribers found to be unsettling.

Reporter Chris Rickert wrote that about a third of $15 million in federal funds set aside for rental assistance in Madison and Dane County is yet to be spent and there’s another $28 million on the way.

Later this year, renters still needing help more than a year after the pandemic shut down the economy will also no longer have a single portal for applying for funds because the contractor responsible for the current countywide program is bowing out and the city and county are coming up with their own separate programs administered through several different vendors.

On July 8, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that the county was contracting with the Madison nonprofit Urban Triage to administer $12.5 million in eviction-prevention funds …”

TRC’s selection in January as the sole provider of the funds was controversial among some Black activists who complained that the city and county were cutting minority-led organizations out of competing for the contract, saying that such organizations were more familiar with the communities most in need of rental help.

Urban Triage called the city’s decision a case of “anti-Blackness” and “white supremacy in action,” …”

The other part of the story which reaches out to shake confidence in the foundations for the funding and programming has to do with the unknown need in our area for continued rental assistance.

There’s no good estimate for how many households continue to need help given those two earlier rounds of assistance — and as the unemployment rate has plummeted in the Madison area to 3.1% as of May.

“It’s really difficult to know” how many households continue to need assistance, Madison Community Development director Jim O’Keefe said. “There are households that received assistance with (overdue rent) through CORE and may have since fallen behind again. And there are surely renters who haven’t accessed the program yet but may be motivated to do so with the expiration of the moratorium.”

What bothers many rank-and-file folks is what appears to be such a disconnect from what was presented as a pressing need for assistance with rents–with the upfront acknowledgment now as to no idea how many people locally are still needing the program. Add in the millions not yet spent, the almost double amount of that to yet be reaped for the rent program, along with the way funds can be so easily moved around with providers if there is enough whining, and it becomes more clear as to why empathy among the electorate can be eroded.

This is always the problem with large government programs, and it should bother all of us. As a liberal, I fully appreciate the power of government to act for the needs of the moment. Such robust legislative actions do have a real meaningful impact. Many needed and received rent assistance. I fully acknowledge there is a continuing issue for some people.

But it is also clear that large funded programs often are marred by bureaucratic problems, and when that happens it makes for a lack of confidence among the populace for future moments when needs arise. That is why it is essential for those of us who align with an active and robust central government to then demand the implementation of programs be as reflective of the original goal as can be attained.

With that as a desire, why do I feel the county and city missed that mark?

And so it goes.

Anti-Vaxxers Causing Economic Woes, 4th Wave Of Pandemic Strikes Nation

The alarm bells are ringing again about the economy due to another wave of COVID-19. It goes without saying that economic downturns will result from any pandemic wave. But it also needs to be stated this 4th wave was totally and absolutely preventable as the cause of it is totally related to those who refuse to follow science and get the vaccines shots.

Mind-boggling, though it is, we hear from Republicans and conservatives that they care about economic growth. They tout tax cuts as growth measures, and cuts in regulations to stir business creation. But when it comes to the easiest and obvious measure to stop a pandemic and ensure a robust economy and stabilized markets those same people in places all over the nation refuse to get the vaccine.

The negative impact of their decisions is now showing up in business reporting.

“When companies began announcing tentative return-to-office plans this spring, there was a sense of optimism behind the messages. Covid cases were dwindling in the United States as the vaccine rollout picked up pace. Employers largely hoped their workers would get shots on their own, motivated by raffle tickets, paid time off and other perks, if not by the consensus of the medical community.”

“In recent days, that tone has suddenly shifted. The Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is sweeping through the country. Fewer than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, exacerbating the situation… It all adds up to a difficult calculation for America’s business leaders, who hoped the country would already be fully on a path to normalcy, with employees getting back to offices. Instead, individual companies are now being forced to make tough decisions that they had hoped could be avoided, such as whether to reverse reopening plans or institute vaccine mandates for employees.”

The recovery that was juicing upwards is soon to face limitations.

Coronavirus cases have been rising nationwide and are back to their highest level since early May as the highly contagious variant spreads across the country. The sharp uptick has reignited fears of the pandemic, particularly as cases rise among young children who are unable to get a vaccine and even among those who have been fully vaccinated.

“If people don’t feel safe, they’re going to close schools. If people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to go back to work,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist. “The recovery — it’s going, but it’s still vulnerable.”

Getting vaccinated should be considered an investment not only in one’s own personal health, but also with society’s health. That includes the nation’s ongoing economic recovery efforts. State data from around the nation shows that when vaccination rates increased, the share of people working also rose.  More money in the engine of the country allows for more people to buy what they put off during the pandemic year.

Policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels must redouble their efforts to increase vaccination rates in order to secure these benefits and build on past successes. But for them to succeed the chuckleheads who thus far have acted liked petulant children need to step up and begin to act like an adult.

And so it goes.