Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

The Power of Resilience in America

–submitted by Dave Nelson; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Nancy Young 11 15 17

Club President Donna Hurd with guest speaker Nancy Young

When there is a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, volunteer organizations like the Red Cross, alerted by weather reports of a potential crisis, have already made preparations for the event. Food, water and medical supplies are packed and ready to be moved quickly to the disaster area by a corps of volunteers across the country who have also made their preparations in advance, and are therefore able to arrive on the scene within 24 hours.  Volunteers share space in whatever housing is available; often sharing rooms with other volunteers. One effect of shared housing is it builds “esprit de corps” among the volunteers.

Red Cross volunteers of all types arrive, including those trained in disaster mental health counseling, ready with psychological first aid for those traumatized by the loss of homes, the separation from their families, temporary housing in a Red Cross shelter, and in many cases, risks to their very lives. Volunteers commit to staying in the disaster area for two weeks, and as they are organizing the disaster relief in shelters, they are already planning for the closing of shelters.  In disasters, personal resilience is one of the most valuable assets, and the people providing disaster relief help to foster resilience by discouraging long-term dependence on volunteer services and volunteers.

In contrast to natural disasters that can often be predicted, mass murders like the recent one in Las Vegas, catch everyone by surprise and pose an even greater challenge to psychological counselors than events like hurricanes. In such events, there are often examples of great personal bravery by both victims and volunteers–strangers help to convey victims to hospitals; separated family members are cared for; and many donate blood.

What is the most important need of the Red Cross in disasters?  “Faith, hope and love” said speaker Nancy Young, an experienced Red Cross volunteer. And from the audience: “blood, money, and yourselves as volunteers.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

The Impossible Presidency

–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Dennis Cooley

Suri Jeremi 11 1 2017

Rotarian Janet Piraino with Guest Speaker Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri, professor of history at the University of Texas-Austin, and formerly (lamentably) at the UW-Madison, gave a boffo performance today as our speaker. He used history to demonstrate that the modern presidency has gotten too complicated for any person to do the job effectively.

There have been several “models” of the presidency. George Washington created the office: he conceived of his job as uniting the people into one nation, not as policy-making or leading a political party.

Lincoln changed the office, believing his chief purpose was to develop the country economically, to use the office to push economic development through the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grant Act, which created the land-grant universities in the Midwest, including the UW, to educate farmers and to promote the liberal arts (yes!), and by providing federal subsidies to the railroads, which led to the phenomenal growth of the American economy in the last third of the 19th century.

A third model was created by FDR. He was born to wealth, but he developed polio, which gave him an empathy with those who suffer. He viewed the president as a healer, someone to help those who did not thrive in the capitalist system, which inevitably has winners and losers. The president, FDR believed, had to make these people feel connected, to bring people together to find solutions to problems. FDR has been imitated and viewed as a model by modern leaders, especially by every American president since.

But since the Second World War, the expectations of the people and the responsibilities of the office have grown too large for anyone. So the office has become ill-suited to the world today.

Professor Suri’s solutions: (1) Our method of choosing leaders is defective; young people are not encouraged to get into the arena or even to vote, and the money in politics is overwhelming. (2) The electorate is not well informed; there are facts that people should know, but education has been under-funded. (3) There needs to be a conversation about the values of the nation, and these values have to inform our political life and our leaders. Our best people are not in politics or in leadership positions.

Professor Suri’s talk was very well received. President Donna commented that it was the best talk she has heard since she has been in Rotary. (If you missed the talk, check out the video.) Which raises a nice question: Why is Professor Suri, a man of ideas and a great speaker, not in the arena? Or is he more valuable as a public intellectual?

“It’s Game Over”

–submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Mike Engelberger

Robert Stauss 10 25 17Our October 25, 2017, program presenter was Robert Stauss, one of the world’s leading experts on technical social engineering.  He has written and lectured on the practice and the mitigation of social engineering-based cyber attacks.  Mr. Stauss is the principal of Burtelson Security Labs, a company that tests private and corporate security measures as well as advising on how to correct the deficiencies he finds.

The presentation began with Mr. Stauss demonstrating the ease with which he could gain entry codes for buildings and offices from entry cards and ID badges that carry entry information using a $400 device disguised in a computer case and standing within inches of an employee.  Once gaining access to an office, it is relatively easy to unlock computers and steal the information including user names and passcodes.

To show how easily information can be found on the web, he used a volunteer from the membership and was able to determine the Rotarian’s date of birth and Social Security number in 12 seconds by simply entering the name of the Rotarian in his laptop.

Mr. Stauss also explained how easily laptop cameras and microphones can be hijacked and used as listening and recording devices for the purposes of spying on unsuspecting users.

The presentation concluded with an invitation for questions, most of which related to how individuals and organizations could protect themselves from the likes of Robert Stauss, a good, white hat, hacker.  In keeping with Halloween next Tuesday, his presentation was really very scary.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Who We Are as Rotarians Worldwide

–submitted by Valerie Renk

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Joe & Tina Ruskey

After a standing ovation, Rotary District Governor Joe Ruskey shared the difference Rotarians make when we work together.

In the past 10 years, he said, we have gained 1.2 million members. Also in the past 10 years, we have lost 1.2 million members.  Why?  They report their membership wasn’t relevant.  “We know this isn’t true,” he says.  “That means those who quit in the first three years simply don’t know what we really are.”

“So my goal,” Joe says, “is to tell the clubs, 3,000 members in this district, what an amazing organization of which they are part.  I want to shift their understanding of what a Rotarian is.”

Joe reported we have 34,000 clubs making an impact in 200 countries. Members are bringing peace to conflict regions.  They meet with leaders when government officials are not allowed.  Rotary teaches members about principals to prepare expatriates to return to their countries better prepared to help them.

Rotarians are making a huge impact on health, such as the major headway we are making eradicating polio, only the second disease in the world that might be eradicated.  There have been only 11 cases year to date globally.

Rotary International’s Foundation is ranked three or five in the nation, depending on the ranking, with 94 percent of gifts going to programs.  This is possibly due to our volunteer structure, ability to leverage other donors, and generous Rotarians.    Our model is all gifts are invested for three years before spending back with clubs, such as our club’s $125,000 Ghana project funded in part by the Rotary International Foundation.

Joe closed by telling about global Rotary development projects for clean water and menstrual product donations and hearing how they transformed the lives of young women. This is when he really felt the huge transformational power of Rotary for people around the globe.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Gill v Whitford

–submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

David Canon 9 27 2017

From left: Sarah Canon, Club President Donna Hurd & Guest Speaker Prof. David Canon

UW Professor David Canon presented a historical context and current review of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin case before the US Supreme Court that challenges the most recent redistricting completed in 2011.  The issue is whether the plan used excessive partisan gerrymandering to create an unconstitutional redistricting that discriminated in favor of one political party over another.  Oral arguments are scheduled this Tuesday, October 3.

Professor Canon explained that redistricting happens every ten years following the census to adjust districts for changes in population.  Generally, districts must be of equal population, must conform to voting rights acts (cannot violate racial or ethnic considerations), be compact and contiguous, and respect traditional and natural boundaries.  However, the practice of achieving partisan districts, called gerrymandering (drawing boundaries to enhance political advantage), has been part of our nation’s history for over 200 years.  The party in power wants to maintain an advantage whether it is Democrat or Republican.

Methods used to do this are called “cracking” and “packing”.  Cracking is the practice of drawing the district boundaries to reduce a given party’s voters so that they are too small to have an impact on the election outcome.  The sweet spot for cracking is to obtain a 55-60% election advantage.  Higher than that becomes overkill.  Packing is the practice of drawing the boundaries so that a given party’s voters are concentrated into a few districts.  The objective of these methods is to maximize the number of legislative seats for a given party.

The issue of partisan gerrymandering has come before the US Supreme Court in prior cases but the court has been reluctant to rule it unconstitutional since an objective and neutral measure of partisan balance has not been available.  Gill v Whitford uses an Efficiency Gap calculation to attempt to quantify the competitiveness of a given district.  The gap is the difference in the two party’s losing votes divided by the total votes.  Gaps closest to zero indicate a competitive district.  Anything over 7% is considered uncompetitive.  Wisconsin’s was in the 10-13% range.

The Federal District court has ruled the Wisconsin redistricting unconstitutional but did not force redistricting pending review by the Supreme Court.  The US Supreme Court is expected to come down along ideological lines with Justice Kennedy the swing vote.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Wisconsin’s Economic Outlook

–submitted by Bill Haight; photo by Jeff Burkhart

Tom Still 9 20 2017

Tom Still pictured here with Club President Donna Hurd

This week’s speaker was Tom Still, President of the Wisconsin Technology Council, a non-partisan advisory group to the governor and legislature. In addition to policy development, the council’s activities include facilitating collaboration between companies and investors.

In promoting Wisconsin as a place to invest and locate business, Still cited the state’s many advantages such as affordable housing and water in strong supply, both of which can be big drawbacks in other states. He also pointed out that despite a perception of being a “high tax” state, Wisconsin’s taxes are steadily decreasing. Also, Wisconsin is finally getting on the national investment community’s radar, with numerous startup hubs, particularly in smaller cities like Eau Claire and La Crosse.

Wisconsin’s high quality of education is another plus. And in recent years the UW System has become more nimble to react to the type of graduate needed in the new economy. “The Ivory Tower is giving way to a more inclusive approach toward business,” he said.

On the state’s possible incentive for Foxconn, Still said: “I think it’s well worth pursuing.” We should ask “How much would you pay to essentially rebrand the state AND create jobs that support families while attracting young workers and offering underemployed workers a chance to retrain?” The Foxconn investment is less than one percent of the state GDP for one year – but spread over 15 years, he noted.

Possibly more important than the 13,000 promised Foxconn jobs are the indirect effects on the supply chain. “For example, a new glass factory or other manufacturer might spring from Foxconn’s material needs,” said Still.

In closing, Still invited the audience to check out 45 new companies presenting to investors at the November Early Stage Symposium (www.wisearlystage.com).

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.  

 

“How Do We Set Them Right For Future Success?”

–submitted by Carol Toussaint; photo by Jeff Burkhart

Katherine Magnuson 9 6 2017Wednesday’s speaker, Katherine Magnuson (pictured here with club President Donna Hurd) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty, ended her speech with this question.  She had already provided insight into helping her Rotary audience understand just what is needed to focus on the early years in every child’s life.

At the heart of the issue is that early experience shapes brain development and that experience varies widely as a function of family social and economic factors.  Professor Magnuson had presented similar information to a Federal Reserve conference where she stated that to grow the economy we will need to focus on the first five years of a child’s life.

Identifying the skill and behavior gaps between high- and low – income kindergarteners, Professor Magnuson emphasized that closing the gaps is extremely difficult without the base of early childhood education.  If present when a child starts school, gaps continue through 3rd, 5th, 8th and 12th year.  To look at the skill and behavior gaps in reading, math, externalizing problem, etc., we learned these gaps need to be closed early.

The conclusions that early childhood is a foundation for human capital development and a productive investment were supplemented with graphs.  Our speaker provided documentation as to the vulnerability of children and families who need a range of supports and experiences to thrive.  All evidence points to the benefits from Early Childhood Education Programs, she said, and referenced studies published between 1960-2007 to help her audience grasp the significance of the opportunity to improve conditions for our children.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.