Small Town Wisconsin Needs To Know We Have Been This Way Before

We have been this way before.  That is the message we need elected officials and politicians to impart to citizens from coast to coast.

After reading the excellent reporting from Tim Sullivan of the Associated Press, featured above the fold on the front page of Thursday’s Wisconsin State Journal, it goes without saying there is a lot to unpack.  Since 2016, I have been trying to better understand what very conservative, Trump-type people, are thinking and more to the point, why they view government and society as they do. The AP news story was insightful.

This is not the first time that citizens in our nation yearned for Washington to rise to the challenges of the time. If we put aside the notion that some on the far-right fear government and disdain it at every turn, it is safe to say that the majority of people, including Republicans want their government to function at a higher level than what we have witnessed for several years. Voters want pols to be reasoned and wish the buffoonish ones would give way to effective representatives in office. We have long had political and legal scandals, though the Jan 6th insurrection was an event without parallel in our nation.  There is nothing new in racial reckonings or having splintered and highly politicized and partisan news media. The idea that elites rule or are too well connected or wealthy as opposed to the masses of workers striving to just get along is as old to our national dialogue as anti-immigrant rants. What I just wrote in a few sentences sums up the tensions of the time which followed the Civil War.

We have been this way before.

Failed reconstruction, economic turmoil, pols not rising to the demands of the time and a sagging enthusiasm about our role on the international stage was part of the decades that followed President Lincoln’s assassination. Over the years, just to press down on the latter point, I have read several books where it was stressed no real foreign policy success came to the U.S. between William Sewards’ famed Alaska deal and the construction of the Panama Canal. Our current mood as Americans is not new. 

We have been this way before.

What we never reflect upon in these rancorous and often highly bombastic times is that we succeeded as a nation after a long period of upheaval, and triumphantly so. Railroads and oil and stronger governmental institutions and stronger financial systems added layers of credibility. 

We must be reminded of having been this way before with rebounds and great national success.

While economics as a science confounds me, economic history is rather compelling.  By looking backward as the national story of our advancements, be they canals or trains or the industrial revolution, is examined comes a bottom line of truth.  One that is playing out today with the information revolution. We know how fast and seemingly abrupt certain new innovations have landed in our workplace or home, from how x-rays are now read from afar, or how technical assistance via phone places our call to Southeast Asia. Changes come fast as do the implications and side effects from jobs, wages, or cultural impacts, while the political institutions make slow and stodgy adaptions. This leads back to one of the complaints from the Civil War generation who also yearned for pols who would more readily address the needs of their time.  

I can understand how the people in the AP story think they have lost faith in technocrats.  I would argue that if a litany of ‘internet news’ from podcasts and those who push conspiracy theories is how one gains a view of the nation and world the issue may not be with skilled and educated bureaucrats or elected pols but rather by not accessing credible news sources. The world might look less dim if the lights were turned on with sound journalism. Without a foundation of facts and data from which to start a dialogue with the rest of the nation, we are witnessing populism running amok.  

So, what hope can we give to the voices from the front page of the WSJ? History says there is always a need for new thinking and modern political designs and solutions, whether in banking, diplomacy, or law. Consider that if the WSJ had printed a front page after the Civil War about farmers, and the numbers needed to feed the nation, they would have been frothing at the mouth to know their numbers in the nation would be narrowed to the single digits, percentage-wise, their land sold for urban sprawl, and the industry transformed beyond their recognition.  Change is always tumultuous, and we are in such a time now.

We need to be reminded we have been this way before. 

Vaccinations Continue To Pit Blue States Against Red States Over Science And Facts

There was good news on Wisconsin’s vaccination front as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Door County had the highest rate, with 56.7%, followed by Bayfield County, with 53.0%, and Dane County, with 52.4%.

But there was also some troubling news.

As of Saturday, Taylor County had the state’s lowest vaccination rate, with 21.8% of residents receiving at least one dose, followed by Clark County, with 22.2%, and Rusk County, with 26.4%.

From the uplifting accounts of places where people know the importance of making medically wise decisions to be vaccinated, not only for themselves but for the larger community, is deflated with the numbers showing that many places are not acting in a responsible manner. While there are a number of factors determining vaccination rates be it transportation issues or education differences among varying communities, the most troubling factor to fathom is how partisan politics plays a role about a proven remedy during a pandemic.

Science acts equally in Blue states as it does in Red States. The virus will attack a conservative just as viscously as it will a liberal. The data shows the upside for being vaccinated in Trump Country is as beneficial as in Biden Land. For any rational person, therefore, there is no reason not to heed professional advice and get the shot(s).

But as the Madison paper pointed out the partisan landscape has warped logic.

Polls continue to show more resistance to getting the COVID-19 vaccine among Republicans than Democrats. A Monmouth University poll last week said 43% of Republicans plan to avoid the vaccine, compared with 5% of Democrats, while a Quinnipiac University poll said 45% of Republicans will refuse, compared with 7% of Democrats.

In last year’s presidential election, more than 66% of voters in Clark, Rusk and Taylor counties voted for former Republican President Donald Trump, while Bayfield, Dane and Door counties went for Democratic President Joe Biden, though the race was close in Door County.

This partisan phenomenon is not one just demonstrated in the Badger State. Look at the national data and it is unnerving when considering the increase in COVID cases in half of the states, and the easier transmittable and potent variants that are leading the surge in cases. In the maps below factor in not only where education and science scores are higher…..and where they are lower…but also where Republicans reside, and where Democratic strongholds exist.

The need to even justify why vaccines matter is akin to arguing why phonics matters for the creation of a new reader and speller. But as reported in The New York Times there is ample evidence that red states could read to counter their willful disdain for science and reasoning.

Evidence from abroad underscores the importance of raising vaccination rates. In Britain, some 47 percent of the population has received at least one dose. This vaccination level in combination with lockdowns led new cases there to fall from nearly 60,000 per day in early January to fewer than 3,000 per day now — a 96 percent decline. In the same period, deaths dropped to fewer than 40 a day from about 1,200 — a 97 percent decline, and a much more significant drop than in the United States.

In Israel, over 60 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose and deaths have fallen by over 85 percent from the January peak; U.S. deaths fell by more than 75 percent during the same period.

I was again taken back this past week when reading a poll that while only 4% of Democrats say that they will refuse the vaccine, 42% of GOP voters informed the pollsters that they will not get it.

If this was not so damn serious for the health of the nation and the economic engine that must be assisted, we could just say Darwin’s theory is at work. But with travel and intermingling of people, the virus in red counties, if left unchecked, is like pee in the swimming pool. It simply will continue to be everywhere.

And as such, we need to press the need for science to win out over the partisan danger. People need to be vaccinated.

And so it goes.

GOP Partisanship Over COVID Must End At Wisconsin Statehouse

One paragraph, comprising one sentence, jumped from the newspaper Saturday. The news story reported by Mitchell Schmidt for the Wisconsin State Journal said everything we know to be true about the current state of affairs when it comes to passing a COVID relief bill in our statehouse.

(Senate Majority Leader Devin) LeMahieu said the amendments were necessary for the package to get support from both GOP-led chambers.

With a mere 17 words, we can see the central problem as to why we are entering another year with no far-reaching COVID-relief legislation. Reaching across the aisle and opting for a bipartisan plan to address a medical crisis, one unlike anything we have seen in over a century, seems to have never been contemplated. A strong centrist type bill grounded to science could pass both chambers if the Republicans did not feel a need to placate every far-right conservative member.

The greater good be damned!

The latest storylines in this too-long saga as the state legislature, dormant for most of 2020 as the virus raged and ravaged our state, is now in a confrontational stance with Governor Tony Evers. On Friday a veto was used to stop the bill from being enacted. What is most dispiriting about this entire episode is that only a couple weeks ago a senate version of the bill had the approval of Evers. But with ever-more conservative amendments added over a back-and-forth with the assembly, the final version passed by the senate was not one any governor could countenance.

Front and center is thy most outlandish power play I have ever witnessed from any legislature in this state during my lifetime. I say that unequivocally as the issue at hand, the very health and well-being of the citizenry, is at stake. The constitutional discourse Republicans wish to have over the use of masks, and the means by which such orders can be put in place, and by whom, so to ensure the widest use of them at a time of pandemic is so over the line of absurdity that we are in need of creating a new word to best define it.

If Evers is so out of bounds and abused his authority so great then, by all means, the GOP-led legislature should pass their own measure with such health orders mandated. (Tick, tock, tick…) The reason the GOP has played so callously with the greater needs of the state during the pandemic, is their desire to be viewed as adhering to small-government and opting that individuals best know how to stay safe from a virus that has killed over 6,000 of our state residents.

The problem with the GOP approach is that they leave science and medically-driven data out of the equation. That can be justly stated given the bill which was vetoed would have prohibited employers from mandating vaccines for employees and limited local public health officials the ability to limit gatherings at churches. The most shockingly bad inclusion in the bill, from my perspective, was the business liability protections.

As one who has adhered to the health orders and advice over the past year, I yearn to return to stores and shop. I want to eat at restaurants. But if there are loopholes in the way a business can go about its prevention measures and thereby not face legal consequences, it greatly reduces the sense of safety required before entering a brick and mortar establishment. And spending money.

This all cycles back to the bottom line that before there is any economic revival, so to restore employment and the bottom line to a business, we first must win the battle over this virus. But if the majority party only thinks of the issue in partisan terms, and who can make a political score then the entire state will continue to suffer. There must be an abrupt end to the idea of working for only the needs of the GOP-led chambers.

Changes In Pages Of Wisconsin State Journal Not Pleasing

It comes as no surprise that when the layout to a newspaper changes there will be comments made by subscribers and readers. Those who faithfully pick up the paper each day wish to keep the ‘feel’ of the paper as recognizable as the coffee mug or spouse’s face at the other side of the kitchen table. So it should come as no great surprise that I make comment on the changes to the pages of the Wisconsin State Journal.

I like to have distinct sections of the paper, so did not take to a business page being located on the last page of the first section, any better than to find national and world news located in the Forum section. Not to have all the ‘solid news’ in the first section seems to trivialize those events to a ‘less important’ section of the paper.

No doubt some consultants who see themselves as able to discern the best look for a paper pushed their ideas to a publisher wishing not to lose more traction of print in this digital age. How these changes blunt that trend is lost on this newspaper reader. But here is a crazy thought from a decades-long subscriber. How about the money spent on consultants instead having been used to hire another reporter so to more completely cover the city and county?

Having read newspapers since a teenager means I am not being snarky about the local paper, or considering ending my subscription but rather underscoring how personal readers care about something we value. I simply do not believe consultants care about the same things I do when picking up a newspaper. That is why it is imperative a publisher does.

And so it goes.

What About Immigrant Syrian Businessman On State Street?

Many residents of Madison have been watching and following the actions of our city leaders during the pandemic that left many people unemployed and businesses disrupted. That was soon followed by riots and looting that destroyed portions of the downtown.  There have been many concerns and questions about the way some rioting was allowed to continue and then what to do to assist those who had destruction to their State Street operations.

It appeared that some city coffers would make available funds so to help these businesses to reopen, staff up, open their doors, all in an effort to get cash registers humming and tax revenue flowing.  That is a good thing, right?

But then came a dilemma during consideration of $250,000 at this week’s city council meeting that made for this sentence in the Wisconsin State Journal.

While there are business owners of color on State Street, none of them are Black, Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., acknowledged.

If nothing else made you stop and ponder where we are in this city that line should have been the one.

A couple sentences down came the following.

The recovery program would have allowed local small businesses and property owners to apply for reimbursement grants of up to $25,000 for window replacement or other repairs, or to pay for insurance deductibles.

Miar Maktabi, owner of the Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar on State Street and a Syrian immigrant, said his business sustained $39,000 in damage in one week. He pleaded with the city for help. 

“You guys are burying us,” Maktabi said. 

My first date with James, 20 years ago this May, was to an ethnic restaurant on State Street. (Turkish food where apricots coated the chicken dish.) We have always enjoyed the flavors from around the world, and wish to not only help a restaurant succeed, but in so doing also say welcome to Madison.

Over the years I have struck up conversations, and become friends with people in the restaurant world from Southeast Asia, Jamaica, etc., and in so doing helped where I could be useful.  In one case I helped to gain citizenship for someone through Senator Feingold’s office.  James, being able to speak several languages, has assisted others in ways that they were not able to do on their own.

We helped due to the fact the folks were nice people, just needing a bit of a helping hand, and we had the skills that made a difference.  I did not look at skin color or place of origin, but simply asked how could we help as friends.

I have seen the pictures and heard the stories of a restaurant owner escaping on a small over-loaded boat out of Vietnam, not knowing the English language, and certainly not accustomed to Wisconson winters. In a few decades, the family were business owners and employers, paying taxes, and becoming citizens. Their first generation here is even more successful.

So it pains me to read that a Syrian immigrant who is working hard and striving mightily to succeed has been denied help at this time because he does not have the right color of skin. Progressives are in over-drive to assuage their white guilt, but in so doing they are committing the same stark sins that they preach so mightily against.

Meanwhile, Maktabi and others of all colors are hoping to get back to their livelihoods on State Street.  The City Council needs to pay heed to their needs and get this iconic street back in operation.

 

My Letter To Editor Published In Wisconsin State Journal, Why International Students Matter

There are many topics of the day where my concerns have has been registered on this blog and elsewhere.  But when it comes to young people getting higher education, and any attempt to undermine or side-track that learning, you can find me fighting back.

I am most pleased that today the Wisconsin State Journal published my Letter to the Editor about the role international students serve in our nation. 

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Darker Tones For Newspaper Cartoons During Pandemic

I have been watching the cartoons in my local paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, regarding how they catch up to the current pandemic headlines.  The creators of cartoons have many strips ‘in the can’ weeks in advance.  So it takes time, for example, to have Blondie get current on the funnies page to match what readers are learning from the news sections of the paper.

Blondie, on Tuesday April 13th, had a strip about tax day, even though filing this year has been delayed until July while Beetle Bailey still plays off the same template of humor that has been its mainstay for years.

But some cartoons are poking fun at absurd aspects to the crisis, such as ThatABaby.  Or with Heart Of The City.  And Pearls Before Swine.

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But we are also seeing cartoons take a hard turn to the darker tones regarding what we are facing in our daily lives.  I understand the need to incorporate contemporary angst into the strips. Seventy-five years from now these cartoons will also be a way to gauge the depth and enormity of the crisis we are living through.

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But as a news consumer–perhaps too much of one most days—the funny page of the newspaper is a place to step away from the edge of the cliff and get a fast laugh.  With so few places (it seems) left at this time to feel a reprieve from the constant onslaught of awful heart-wrenching news about COVID-19, I would hope to see the cartoon pages be there for us as we need to find uplifting carefree moments.

We need that respite more than ever.

Let’s Hear It For Editorial Cartoonists!

I am always astounded by the reaction from some readers to editorial cartoons that are placed in the daily newspapers. The fact that those drawings create a reaction proves the power and potency of their creative force.

From the start of our history, such opinion drawings in publications have helped to further a needed dialogue on the topics of the day.  Phil Hands, is the editorial cartoonist for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin and doubtless many of you have seen his work. The cartoon below is one I had to go back and search for as a response to those who question why editorial cartoons are so pointed in regards to Trump.

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Readers to my little place here on the internet highway know I very much enjoy a pithy and well-drawn political cartoon–of the type which arrive each morning on the Op-Ed pages of many papers around the nation.   The role of these forms of information and emotional prodding is something Americans have relied on to help frame the issues of the day.

What disturbs me about the blowback, at times, against editorial cartoonists is the timid newspaper owners and publishers caving to the worst instincts from readers.   I was dismayed when the international edition of The New York Times fell in line with the domestic edition and eliminated all such editorial cartoons.

If someone is offended by a political cartoon it seems time to yank the work of that cartoonist.  Conservative and Trump-supporting newspapers have dropped cartoonists because there was a sharp edge created about the current occupant of the White House. When fragile-minded readers contact newspapers we know what follows.  Corporate bean-counters sweat and whimper and soon the cartoonist is dropped because it is argued, editorial cartoons aren’t seen as bringing in income.  (Having a penchant for reading local newspapers as I travel about, it is a concern of mine that  many small papers do not even have an editorial page.)

The reason these cartoons matter is that they are vital to our culture as they stir the national conversation about topics and personalities that are at times gritty and hard to stomach.  Visual metaphors are important as they often convey a truth that can not be easily summed up in an analysis news article or even a long editorial.

I grew up with Herblock (Herbert Block) as he made Richard Nixon look criminal and Ronald Reagan look out of touch with day-to-day governing.  In each case, news stories underscored such editorial cartoons were correct.  Cartoonists, in another fashion, just had their own way of presenting the news.

Some will look at political cartoons and see nothing but another layer of tension being added to the issues of the day.  The other way to respond is to note such cartoons allow for difficult issues to be more easily discussed.  I am sure, for some readers, cartoons lure them into reading more to further refine their knowledge about the news stories of the day.

There is nothing wrong with editorial cartoons courting controversy.  That is a very real role for newspapers to participate in and plays hand-in-hand with what democracy should look and feel like when opening a newspaper.

Editorial cartoons are an important part of journalism. We must not let editorial cartoons disappear!  Our democracy counts on it.