Wisconsinites Defining Themselves

Over the past two years, I have become better acquainted with segments of Wisconsin. Having lived here since my birth in Wild Rose, I have watched and read over the decades the comings and goings of those who lived near me and ones in the farther reaches of the state.

At times, I have been moved by the emotional resolve of a community pulling together, such as after the horrific Barneveld tornado. Recently we saw the better angels of our state move into action to help families impacted by the horror that ripped Waukesha after a man drove into a Christmas parade.

Since early 2020 we have watched as nurses and doctors have spent every day confronting not only a virus that has filled hospitals to capacity but also stressed medical professionals to a point they have never reached before in their careers. We have learned of teachers who crossed technical hurdles so to ensure students could continue their education, even if not sitting in the school classroom.

That is the part of Wisconsin that makes me proud to live here, knowing our lives are enriched with caring and thoughtful people doing tough work under the most trying of circumstances. The best of Midwestern values shines with these people.

But there is another segment of the state who also defined themselves over the past two years.

Perhaps I deluded myself for many years about the true character of some of my fellow citizens in the state. After all, I worked in local politics in Door County and then for a decade with a state legislator and appreciated the wide array of ideas and opinions. I fully grasped policy differences were as natural as the sun rising and setting. Partisan differences were not, for me, the mark of character.

But in 2006, as I drove through my hometown area and saw the number of yard signs in favor of an anti-gay marriage amendment slated for a statewide ballot, I was forced to realize a divide that I had not seen, or perhaps not wished to see all those previous years. This issue was not about increased taxes, or how to pay for road maintenance, or any such sundry list of concerns. This was not the typical issue of the day, but a blunt tool designed to foment bigotry and hate. It pained me to see signs on the lawns of people I personally knew promoting its passage.

This year as our state, like the nation and the world, fought back on a virus that has killed too many and undermined economies I have watched as some rebel against logical ways of living and acting so as to stem COVID’s spread. The utter rejection of wearing a mask so to protect their own families and the communities in which they live, or taking a vaccine that has proven efficacy so to allow for herd immunity, is more than shocking.

For so long I had a real faith in the rest of my fellow citizens, and that makes this year utterly dismaying to watch play out in relation to our basic human interactions with one another. My mom used to say that you never know how ugly families can be until there is a will to probate. She would be aghast to have watched how selfish and outrageous people turned out to be in a pandemic.

People refuse to be vaccinated and in so doing have split families apart. After all, those who follow science and reasoning do not wish to put their lives in peril by being in close proximity to those who reject common sense. Some fight against mandates, even for health workers or emergency workers who arrive at homes in trucks with flashing lights.

I have watched a segment of this state, a segment that is larger than what I would have ever imagined, lean into their tribalism, and in so doing, forsake the greater good. To me, that has been harder to accept than any presidential election night loss. That is because I know in four years there is a good chance at righting the ship of state.

What we have lost as Wisconsinites, as demonstrated by a segment of our populace with the rejection of science, facts, data, and following the advice of medical professionals is not something we can just glue back together again. The loss of our commitment to being good to each other, in the most trying of times, has defined who we are.

It is truly sad.

And so it goes.

Red U.S. Counties, Like Africa, Simply Must Get Vaccinated

The world community is acting with resolve to the news—not totally unexpected given the large swaths of the world not yet vaccinated to COVID–that the omicron variant is likely to be the next major wave of the pandemic. It was only a matter of time before a mutated version of beta, and Delta, would emerge given the low vaccination rates in certain parts of the world.

There was no missing messaging from Isreal about their attitude towards this new variant.

Israel will forbid the entry of noncitizens for two weeks, starting at midnight Sunday night, in an attempt to stem the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant in Israel and to allow experts time to assess its level of transmissibility and resistance against existing vaccines.”

The United States, like a long list of other countries, restricted travel for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries. But the fact is the world community is simply reacting to events.

Dutch health officials said on Sunday that they had found at least 13 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant among 61 infected passengers who had arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa on Friday.

The time for proactive measures were the months the world community had to vaccinate the masses.

This all follows the World Health Organization assigning the newly identified variant the Greek letter omicron and formally recognizing the strain, previously referred to as lineage B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern.”

The New York Times reported how the new variant was named.

“When it came time to name the potentially dangerous new variant that has emerged in southern Africa, the next letter in alphabetical order was Nu, which officials thought would be too easily confused with ‘new.’”“The letter after that was even more complicated: Xi, a name that in its transliteration, though not its pronunciation, happens to belong to the leader of China, Xi Jinping. So they skipped both and named the new variant Omicron.””

While the quick actions from around the world will be part of a needed plan of action in an attempt to stem the further spread, it is only through the use of vaccines that the world population is protected, and from that outcome, fewer hosts to the virus will then limit future mutations.

The problem is, however, that coronavirus infections are increasing from France to Fort Atkinson while vaccination rates are lukewarm, and there is simply an underwhelming administration of boosters. (Your blogger and his husband have booster shot appointments in just a few days. I strongly encourage my reasoned readers to follow suit.)

In the United States, there is much evidence to prove that where Donald Trump won by a larger margin in 2020 are the counties in which vaccination rates tend to be lower. As an example in Waushara County, Wisconsin where I was born and moved away from at age 20, only 41% of the populace has been fully vaccinated.

The county is heavily Republican and easily led astray from facts. In the 2020 presidential election, they voted 66% for Donald Trump. Now by almost the same percentage, the county refuses to be vaccinated. Trump refused to recognize the severity of the virus and undermined efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus such as encouraging the use of masks. His followers would prefer to be sick, infect others than admit science and medical professionals know more than their political icon.

Kaiser Family Foundation released on Sept. 28 data to show that gaps in vaccination rates across racial and ethnic groups have virtually disappeared–but gaps reflecting political affiliation have widened substantially.

Of Americans surveyed from Sept. 13-22, 72% of adults 18 and older had been vaccinated, including 71% of white Americans, 70% of Black Americans, and 73% of Hispanics. Contrast these converging figures with disparities based on politics: 90% of Democrats had been vaccinated, compared with 68% of Independents and just 58% of Republicans.

The fact is that every red county in this nation has readily available access to vaccines. There is not one logistical reason not to be vaccinated. A bone-headed decision to place partisanship above science is just further proof of what we already know about this demographic in the nation. Sad and pathetic are just the most obvious terms to use in their depiction.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the overall figure for those fully vaccinated is currently at about 6%. In many cases that is due to nations being low-income countries, and struggling with vaccine supply and health infrastructure issues. Not for the first time does this blog remind the world community of its responsibility to the less economically-able nations, and the requirement of mass vaccinations if the world economy is to truly rebound.

Red counties in the United States need to know they are connected to the pandemic solution as much as nations in Africa. The only way out of this pandemic is by being committed as a world community to fighting it. The US economy will not rebound completely until there is a true measure of resolve from all sections of the nation to make it happen.

Red counites like to talk about patriotism as they fly the flag. But when it comes to putting actions to their words Trump Republicans demonstrate their hero-worship means more than combatting the virus, restoring the economy, and securing the health of their communities.

And so it goes.

When A President Walks About (Like You And Me) While Continuing A Holiday Tradition

Something played out on Friday that made for a bit of national news, but which I found to be utterly fascinating. Even uplifting. President Biden took to foot on the streets of Nantucket. It is not often we see the leader of the nation just being himself.

On a day when many people across the country went shopping as the stores attempted to lure them in with sales, Biden was casually strolling the cobblestone streets of the small town. Along the way surprising small business owners by darting into a shop to say hello and making a purchase or two.

This was not some staged photo opportunity, but rather a holiday tradition for the Biden family. For the past 40 years, the Thanksgiving weekend has been spent on the island.

It was raining off and on as he strolled about, carrying his own umbrella as he looked into windows and talked with random folks on the street.

The optics are gold, I readily admit that. There is certainly a political plus to the images and video of someone who we have known for a long time as Joe, being the same person now even though he has the title of President. The point is that the day was not a political spin effort, but rather the President doing that same thing he and his family have done for decades on this holiday weekend.

To me, that is most refreshing.

When Saturday started to wind down with shopping the Biden family did what they have always done on the day after Thanksgiving. They all attending Nantucket’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Modern presidents are often cocooned and shut off from such experiences. So to see Biden stroll about the streets that he and his family have long known, and participate in the weekend like millions of his fellow citizens were doing, was restorative to a nation that has felt the harshness of a pandemic. And too much raw politics.

We all have those mental images of what constitutes normalcy and stability when it comes to national leadership. We all have those flashbacks to President Ford making breakfast or the Carter family attending church. Such moments caught in time are important as we know our democracy is made up ‘of the people’.

Over the past presidency, we lost that touchstone to real America. So it does matter now that the average person can identify with the one who sits in the Oval Office. A man who can even carry his own umbrella.

And so it goes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recent Exonerated Sentences Show Danger Of Death Penalty To Black Citizens

Even though Kevin Strickland was sentenced in Missouri to a life sentence for the murders of three people, had he resided in some other states he very well could have been sentenced to death. The 62-year-old Black man was convicted by an all-white jury in 1979.  Had he been sentenced in Texas, as an example, he might already have been put to death.

Now think about this.

This week a judge exonerated Strickland after more than 43 years in prison, marking the longest confirmed wrongful conviction case in Missouri’s history, and also one of the longest in the nation. The case against him was built on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the sole survivor and eyewitness, who later attempted multiple times to recant her testimony because she said she was pressured by police.

This summer Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued rare posthumous pardons to a group of Black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who were executed in 1951 after being convicted by all-white juries of raping a white woman. He issued what were termed “simple pardons,” which do not deal with the issue of guilt or innocence but recognize that the cases involved racial inequity and a lack of due process. The fact they never had their fair crack at the judicial process means their executions are viewed as appalling.

Just days ago four men known as the Groveland Four were exonerated of the false charges that they raped a white woman in 1949.  Florida State Attorney Bill Gladson stated the matter those many decades ago was “a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”

Last week in Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt called off the execution of Julius Jones, a Black man on death row. This case had taken on national interest due to the police investigation that was understood to be biased, and a defense lawyer who was more fitted to sweep the courthouse than sit before a judge in a trial. Then there is Oklahoma itself, with a justice system that has been correctly lambasted many times over the decades for racism in their death penalty cases.

The state has the highest Black incarceration rate in the U.S.: Black people are imprisoned at 4.5 times the rate of white people. Racial disparities have been shown at every level of the justice system—from arrest to conviction and ultimately sentencing. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission found that the state is 3.2 times more likely to ask for the death penalty if the victim is white. 

We all can see the dangers within the judicial process with the death penalty, as there is then no room for actual justice to be rendered for those who have been falsely accused.

I just can not find a moral reasoning to ever allow the death penalty to be used as a means of conveying society’s revulsion to a criminal for an act that has been committed.  I do not feel that the government has the right to commit someone to death.   I have felt this way for all of my life. 

The fact we find some criminal acts to be so barbaric that some wish to turn to death as a way to make a statement about how society feels is a natural one.  I can understand how upset people can be over a murder. But what I can not understand are those who wish to translate those feelings of anger to an actual execution. 

Too often the evidence against Black men who are charged with serious crimes, in certain states with racial animus ingrained in their police departments and judicial processes, falls apart when the full light of sunshine is allowed entrance. The cases above–all within a small time frame from this year– prove the point of how prevalent racism is in police procedures and sentencing.

As a nation, we must not allow ourselves to be taken over by the desire for the ultimate revenge. When we sharply veer into that direction we are absolutely going to make horrific mistakes. With the death penalty, there is no way to ever correct that colossal and wrong decision.

And so it goes.

Mental Health Needs For Black Men And Boys

I noted the quick efforts made in Waukesha to meet the mental health needs of those who were at the Sunday parade, saw the carnage, or heard about it and were shocked by the news. The tragedy was appalling.

I applaud the efforts to deal with emotional trauma by talking with trained experts. I wish more people would avail themselves of such therapy for all sorts of issues in life. Such conversations are very healthy and productive.

At the same time that resources were made available to counsel the folks in Waukesha, it also needs remembering that Black men and boys are needing to have the same comfort zones for their healing due to traumas, such as the Kyle Rittenhouse killings and trial.

If one takes the time to talk or listen to the voices of African-Americans it soon becomes clear that what took place last week with Rittenhouse’s acquittal has made for deep concerns. We have already seen and heard that right-wing elements have elevated Rittenhouse to hero-worship. With such rhetoric, we have also learned that these same conservatives have implied racial injustice protesters should be concerned for their safety in the future.

WisPolitics.com wrote about this issue as it linked to a local news program that addressed the mental health needs of African-Americans following episodes, such as, the Rittenhouse trial.

Alvin Thomas, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the School of Human Ecology at UW-Madison, pointed out that the Rittenhouse case stemmed from protests and demonstrations involving the Black Lives Matter movement.

This was less an issue about black or white and more an issue around humanity,” he said on “UpFront”. In cases like these, Thomas said, there is a high risk for people feeling angry, sad, depressed, and to have flashbacks, nightmares or physical stress responses.

The chasm of resources for mental health needs between Black and white America is profound. It does not take much pondering to see the upside in terms of cost-savings to society along with productivity for individuals if mental health is treated in the same proactive sense as we do a toothache.

A Black elderly man I talked with in Madison after the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha told me that such news was just a reminder that “we” are always waiting for the next shoe to fall and that stress level creates problems for the body.

It is time that we ramp up access to mental health resources in the Black community with the speed that they were correctly made available in Waukesha.

And so it goes.


Sadness Mars Holiday Tradition, Waukesha Children Deprived Of Magical Feeling At Parade

It was a jarring end to a very nice day in Wisconsin.

Sunshine had allowed for people to get outdoors in the afternoon and feel the brisk winds while some people took the warm weather as a sign to–at last–put up outdoor decorations. I noticed others raking lawns and terraces in the afternoon and kids out biking again before winter snows finally arrive. Everyone seemed to be outside and smiling.

And it was, without doubt, that same sense of uplift from such weather that people were feeling as they gathered in Waukesha for the best type of parade there can be—especially if you are a kid. The Christmas parade!

As we sat down for dinner on the isthmus we heard the devastating news.

We turned on the television and saw terrified people, with debris left all about after an SUV drove through the ones participating in the parade, or watching from the sidewalks. As I write some details are emerging with reports of more than 20 people injured, and some killed. The vehicle was located and photos show the horror that played out with the damage to the front end. The driver is in custody.

Of all the images that have poured out on Twitter, there was one, above all, that punches the hardest.

The news of who died has not been released as of this posting. But I can not help but consider that a child–not necessarily the one in the above stroller–left for that Christmas parade with pure excitement on the face, but will never go home again.

The speeding vehicle was simply appalling, and whoever was driving, utterly reprehensible. There have been enough raw nerves, pain, suffering, and stresses for our society in this state over the past weeks. No one should now need to endure this horrific crime ramping up to the holiday season.

I feel for all of the victims, but especially the children. How can that not be the case?

I know the following will sound hokey, but it is how I feel.

When I worked at WDOR our station annually broadcast over the radio a Christmas parade. Ed Allen, Sr. would create the theater of the mind as the sights and sounds were placed into words for the listeners throughout the Door County peninsula. And of course, he would chat with all sorts of people who attended. The best conversations were with kids who might otherwise have been taken aback by a news camera, but there was nothing to be afraid of from a microphone!

So Ed would engage them in banter and it was always the highlight to hear the expressions of delight coming from youngsters who were at that age when Christmas was magical.

It should have been the same for the boys and girls tonight in Waukesha, too.

It was not.

What a dreadful way to start the holiday season.

And so it goes.

Dual Justice Systems Exist For Black And White Americans

What took place in Kenosha since the night Kyle Rittenhouse decided to carry an AR 15 into a violent street demonstration killing two, and injuring a third, has produced conversations about gun violence, the pitfalls and costs to society of broken families, the legal problems over a too broadly defined self-defense statute, and the requirement of objectivity from judges.

The past months also produced evidence and dialogue about the dual systems of justice we have in this nation. There is no doubt whatsoever that Black citizens are not treated the same as others in high profile and tragic circumstances.

Rittenhouse, the two men he killed and the man he wounded were all white, but the case has been linked from the start to issues of race and the criminal justice system.

Activists have previously pointed to differences in how police handled Rittenhouse’s case and that of Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot by a white Kenosha police officer in August 2020, sparking protests in the city that became destructive and violent.

Video footage played during the trial showed Rittenhouse running toward police still wearing his rifle, and continuing past the police line at officers’ direction. He turned himself in to police in Antioch, Illinois, early the following day.

In Georgia, the brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery has brought forth another clear example of race motivated murder. It is also a showcase of how the justice system can be used to attempt the thwarting of the correct response to a grievous crime. The trial for the three white men accused of the murder has not been short on evidence proving racism has injected itself into the process.

Brunswick, the location of the trial, has a population that is more than half Black. So, it does need to be asked how but only one member of the jury is Black? The news reports of a truly embarrassing white defense attorney rising to repeatedly complain about Black pastors, including Reverend Jesse Jackson (a man I have deeply respected and supported for election) from sitting in on court proceedings was nothing short of galling.

Arbery’s death and the Rittenhouse case have added to the national conversation about racist vigilantism. Both the Kenosha killer and Travis McMichael, the shooter in Georgia, have claimed they acted in self-defense. The tortured reasoning it takes to bend the mind to attempt acceptance of such lunacy is something that our political system will need to address in various state statutes. Allowing leniency for the killing of people one does not like based on the color of their skin or their perceived role in street protests because of strangled legal contortions must be brought under control.

In the Rittenhouse case as soon as he purported the killings to be self-defense it downgraded other vital aspects of the case, such as how a 17-year-old with a deadly gun roamed the streets during a curfew.

On ABC’s This Week the issue of how the Kenosha trial would have been different had the defendant been Black was explored. Byron Pitts, chief national correspondent made the case for why this issue needs to resonate within our country.

Study after study shows that black men are arrested more often, convicted more often, and sentenced to longer sentences than white men accused of the same crime, and the same is — holds true in discipline in schools, that disparity.

And, Martha, heres a study, I think, that speaks to this case and the concerns about this case. According to the FBI, a — a fatal shooting where the shooter is white and the victim is black, three times more likely that’s ruled to be justifiable if both parties were white. And so I think for most reasonable people, and most surveys would bear this out, the few reasonable people would believe that if a 17-year-old black boy with an AR-15 showed up in Kenosha, Wisconsin at night, killed two people and injured a third, then that black boy would have been treated the same way by police or by the legal justice system.

It was noted in the conversation that had Rittenhouse been African-American the verdict would not have been the same, as statistical evidence proves Blacks do not prevail in such court cases. And so that is the injustice that people are looking at…..

It does not take any deep searching to recognize why conservatives and racists agree with the idea of taking the law into one’s own hands. That is the way vigilantes maintained control of Blacks in the South for many decades. White power, and how to maintain it is not a new concept. But misusing the state statutes to further those biases and grudges against Blacks is wholly acceptable. When they do succeed it adds further evidence as to why we can legitimately talk about a two-tier justice system.

And so it goes.