Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison

19th Annual Ethics Symposium Held on February 15 at Monona Terrace

submitted by Joyce Bromley

Ethics 1  Ethics 2

On this very day (February 15th), 2418 years after the city of Athens sentenced Socrates to death for corrupting the minds of youth and for impiety (399 BC), Rotary had the audacity to hold its 19th annual Ethics Symposium in the City of Madison.  President Jason Beren gave a heartwarming welcome and an overview of the many ways Rotary contributes to the betterment of the world.  He invited students to become a part of Rotary beginning with Interact.

Nearly 200 students representing 11th graders from 19 area high schools met at the Monona Terrace to learn how to think about issues beyond their own welfare—and how to act ethically.  Students were assigned to various groups throughout the Symposium.  This scramble allowed them to have discussions with students from various backgrounds.  Students represented large urban schools and smaller schools, some from rural areas; students whose families are first generation immigrants, or are themselves immigrants; privileged and underprivileged; well-represented in society and others who feel under-represented; and students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

We are faced with dilemmas every day.  Some dilemmas are large, some are small; some are personal, some involve a community; some require an immediate response and some take time to resolve.  Many are gut-wrenching and can either strengthen a relationship or destroy it.  Some keep you in a group, others make you an outsider.  Often dilemmas do not have a right or wrong answer.  Ethics training provides a framework to analyze how to arrive at a socially beneficial action.

Our own Rotarian, Anthony Gray, CEO of the Institute for Global Ethics, led the call and over 50 volunteers carried the Rotary virtual “banner.”  Among the Rotarians were seasoned ethicists who had worked with the Symposium for several years, and those who joined for the first time.  We were privileged to be trained in an ethical approach prior to the Symposium.  This training provided a well-organized process for the day and helped us utilize each session—essential for each breakout group of 20 students.  You cannot fool students. They would know if we had been unprepared.  Clearly, we passed the test.

IMG_1165    Ethics 5  Ethics 4

The warm-up to ethics training began with performances by college students from the Edgewood College Theatre.  These topics introduced dilemmas related to how to make transgender students safe in locker rooms; effects of racial profiling; and a reaction to a request for a job recommendation.

Students I interviewed as they arrived in the morning had a variety of reasons for attending the Symposium.  Some were encouraged to attend, because it would look good on college applications. Others were open to a new experience–they wanted an opportunity to engage with other students beyond their own environment, as well as to learn how to reflect on leaders’ speeches. And many had altruistic reasons.  Most students expressed an interest in caring about people and wanting to find ways to work together to find better solutions to life’s uncertainties.  One expression was powerful: “This is now “our” world, and we need to know how to define it better.”

IMG_1169  Ethics 3  IMG_1164

Using the Rotary framework these students were presented with dilemmas, and they practiced how to conduct themselves by using standard behavior toward others.  Initially, they were asked to report their “gut reaction.”  Then they began to use the “ethics skills set” in the framework for analysis.  In the end they reported their “final decision.”

  • Recognize an ethical issue—a dilemma cannot be solved until it can be identified.
  • Obtain information about the situation—get facts and collect data.
  • Test alternative actions from various perspectives in 4 stages:  Stage 1: What action benefits me most? (Egoism); Stage 2: What actions do my friends or group members think I should do? (Social Group Relativism); Stage 3: What action would produce the greatest amount of good & the least amount of harm? (Utilitarian); and Stage 4: What action best respects the rights and dignity of each person? (Rights—What will be fair to all concerned?)
  • Act consistently using your best judgment with the data/facts available.
  • Reflect on your decision. Be willing to adjust a decision as you obtain more data/facts and reactions of others.
  • Yield on your ethical judgments, these will govern your conduct and become your character.

The dilemmas presented in the Symposium were issues from actual school board records.  They included cheating, racial disparity, and violence in schools.

This generation of students has lived with principles of “duck and cover;” that is, how to conduct themselves when an “intruder” is in or near their school and their school is in “lock-down.”  This is evasive language which really means, if someone exhibits threatening (even life threatening—e.g. an armed person) behavior, drills are used to teach students and teachers what they each can do for protection.

The final dilemma of the day concerned a proposal to have teachers with a concealed carry license and annual additional mandatory training with local police to voluntarily carry guns to school.  Would this make schools safer or give students the perception of being safer?  In this exercise, each student was to put herself/himself in the role of a student representative on the school board and represent the student body.  After the discussion that included arguments for and against the proposal, the representative had to vote.  In the session that I attended, of the 18 students, the “student body” voted 17:1 to reject the proposal and maintain the current “no firearms” policy.  The trauma these students expressed, and continue to feel, about the gunfire they experienced has defined their high school education.  Eventually, the student who would initially vote to allow teachers to carry guns under these circumstances was willing to consider other safety measures that could be put in place instead of guns.  The value of this exercise, and all of the others throughout the Symposium, was that students felt safe in expressing their shift in thinking.  Many students shifted from their “gut-reaction” when they reported their final decision.

Teachers recognize that much of their own learning comes from their students.  This was certainly true at the Ethics Symposium.  By the end of the Symposium, students were asked their reaction.  Their experiences were wider than “this will be good on my college application” (which it undoubtedly would be) to the benefit of having their views validated.  They appreciated that the Symposium was not a lecture course, where they were told how they were to do something. They struggled with topics and had to engage in dynamic groups, sometimes with others from very different life experiences.  They appreciated the respect they received from offering different perspectives.

Some may accuse Rotary of impiety because these students were not entirely satisfied with the status quo.  If teaching these students how to think rather than what to think is corrupting the minds of youth—then we would certainly be guilty.  We came away with the satisfaction that these students feel they have obtained tools to help them practice ethical behavior.  Dan Mahoney, Counselor at Memorial High School, and a staunch supporter of the Rotary Interact Program, said that over the years, he has witnessed the value of the Ethics Symposium.  For students who attend, it has been life-changing (and for the good).

Economic Outlook 2019

submitted by Valerie Renk; photo by Valerie Renk

Steven Rick 2 13 2019While 2019 is just starting, economists are already looking at their crystal balls. Steven Rick, CUNA Mutual Group Chief Economist started his Feb 13 Rotary speech with a “five-minute Federal Reserve Board Meeting.”   Rick asked, “What is the economy’s most important price?”  It’s money, measured by interest rates.  The Federal Reserve (Fed) is targeting 2% interest.  They also want labor fully employed and capital resources fully employed.

The Fed has five critical measures:

  1. First, we are hitting their two percent inflation (interest) goal. The 2019 forecast is slightly above this and will drive interest rates.
  2. Second, the unemployment rate goal is 5%; actual is 4%. This is one of the tightest labor markets in history, hindering economic growth. Rick expects this to rise again by 2020 and hinted at a slight recession a year and half out.
  3. The third measure is the economic output gap. The Fed’s goal is no gap. Actual is 2%. This is GDP output vs. federal funds rate.
  4. The fourth measure is Feds Funds Interest rate (overnight bank loan rate) which has a goal of 3% and actual of 2.4%.
  5. Fifth is the 10-Year Treasury Rate. That goal is 4% with actual of 2.75%. This means what you earn at your financial institution for savings and CDs will rise.

Rick said four things cause recessions: financial imbalances or excesses; external shock such as war; high inflation; and high inventories.

Home prices are rising 6% while incomes increase 3%. This could lead to another housing bubble.  “But this time is different because there is not excessive demand due to low inventory,” Rick said.

Rick shared a quote:  “Stability leads to instability. The longer things are stable, the more unstable they will be when the crisis hits.”

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

An Analysis of the 2018 Mid-Term Election

submitted by Andrea Kaminski

_SHR0908UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden, on February 6, gave Rotarians an overview of the November 2018 election in Wisconsin, along with an analysis of how and why voting patterns differed from past midterm elections.

The 2018 election had the highest national voter turnout rate for a mid-term election since women won the right to vote in 1920. Wisconsin’s participation in the midterm was higher than most other states’ turnout in presidential elections. Both major political parties had turnouts above 60 percent in our state, and the overall participation was 25 percent higher than would normally be expected for a midterm.

Burden attributed the high turnout to the fact that it was an “interesting election” driven by the gubernatorial race. He recalled that his students were watching the Walker-Evers race much more closely than more nationally hyped elections, such as Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid in Texas.

The 2018 Wisconsin election ended the longest stretch of one-party control in the state since the 1950s. Burden noted that former Governor Walker has always been highly organized and disciplined as a candidate, and he is a master at fund raising. However, Burden described a shift in Wisconsin politics away from the formula that worked so well for Walker in the past toward a formula that worked well for Donald Trump in 2016. Walker was first elected Governor in the Tea Party Wave of 2010, which was a good year for Republicans. In contrast, it was clear early on that 2018 would be a difficult year for Republicans.

Democratic voters were better mobilized in 2018, and they voted in big numbers, particularly in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Although Walker won 65 to 70 percent of the vote in the Republican strongholds of Waukesha and Washington counties, neither the turnout nor the Republican edge was as strong there as in the past.

Burden does not believe Wisconsin saw a “Blue Wave” in 2018. First, the results were not particularly surprising. The President’s party always suffers losses in mid-term elections. Second, the effects of gerrymandering have proven to be quite durable.

Burden explained that until recent years, collecting more votes generally translates into winning more seats in Congress and state legislatures. According to that rule of thumb, the Democrats should have picked up 30 more seats in the House of Representatives than they actually did.

Democratic voters tend to live in densely populated cities. Burden said this presents a districting problem for Democrats even in “blue states.” The other problem for Democrats in Wisconsin and some other states is that the current voting maps were drawn by the Republicans who prevailed in the “Red Wave” of 2010.

Next year will be another exciting election year. With the Census taking place next year, the state legislators elected in November 2020 will get to draw the next set of voting maps in 2021. And, according to Burden, Wisconsin is the most competitive state in the nation and we can expect the presidential candidates to spend a lot of time and money here in 2020.

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

Good news…you can do something to prevent Alzheimer’s…And it’s never too late

submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

nate chin 1 16 2019   We learned from Dr. Nathaniel Chin that lifestyle factors have a great deal to do with forestalling or preventing cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).   And positive change takes place no matter your age… if you do physical exercise, eat better foods, lower stress in your life and sleep better.

Dr. Chin is the Director of Medical Services for Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.   He reminds us that thinking changes normally as we age.  We learn at a slower rate; our recall is slower and more challenging and we have less cognitive flexibility.  So those senior moments are pretty normal.

In some, normal aging gives way to mild cognitive impairment and then to dementia due to AD or other diseases.  Through research, there’s been a shift in the definition of AD.  It had been diagnosed through clinical symptoms, but now changes in the brain (biological differences) create the condition of AD.  Tangles and plaques begin to form in the brain…sometimes without symptoms.

Research is now looking at modifiable risk factors that may impact the course of the disease.  So, if you exercise regularly, modify your diet to be healthier, reduce stress, sleep well, engage in social activity; in all engaging in a healthier lifestyle…the trajectory from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease may be slowed and potentially halted regardless of genetic predictors.

Good news…better living through science.

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

Joe Parisi: Update on Dane County

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

joe parisi 1 9 2019   Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive since 2011, shared information with downtown Rotarians about area lake cleanups; mental health assistance in our schools and an update on airport expansion.

To address algae growth in our lakes due to too many nutrients flowing into them, partnerships have been formed to address run off at their sources. In urban areas, this means creating more retention ponds and in rural areas, partnering with local farmers to plan buffer strips and to utilize manure digesters. These digesters remove about 60% of the phosphorus which leads to algae bloom. Then with the use of nutrient concentration systems, the remaining 40% of phosphorus is removed!

In addition, centuries old streams contain high phosphorus levels in their muck. Two years ago, the County began a 4 year $12M project to “suck the muck/phosphorus” out of streams. This is proving to be a highly successful project and we have another 33 miles of stream to go.

As we are starting to experience warmer and wetter winters and will likely see more frequent high impact rains according to climate change experts, the County is using software to analyze which “choke points’ along the waterways are moving too slow so they can be opened up. For example, they are looking to remove a lot of muck between lakes Monona and Waubesa and to utilize weed cutters more to help keep the water moving so it doesn’t back up.

With increasing population growth, lands to protect are being identified and will be purchased to keep them available to absorb rain and more wetlands may be purchased for water storage.

The County is investing millions of dollars to increase energy and renewables in county buildings. With MG&E, the county is building a 41 acre solar farm near the airport. We are “walking the walk” and when doing good for the environment we are also doing good for the bottom line”, stated Parisi. We all need to consider climate change action plans.

Regarding mental health services, which is a big part of the county’s budget, partnering with schools is a large initiative. Building Bridges is a school-based mental health program that is a collaboration with Catholic Charities. Some area schools now have mental health professional staff available to meet with young people instead of engaging with law enforcement. Issues are being identified early and students are getting the help they need.  In 2019, an 11th school district is being funded.

Our airport is growing!  2018 brought 5 new destinations bringing the total of non-stop destinations to 19. Terminal modernization is being planned to include larger spaces, new seating and more dining.

In closing, Parisi stated the goal is to not rest until all county residents have access to all we have to offer.

“Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

submitted by Carole Trone

Jennifer Uphoff GrayFounding artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray of Madison’s Forward Theater Company attributes their growth and success to the strong community involvement, much like the Rotarians gathered to hear about Forward Theater’s first decade. This has been a successful span, but their success was by no means a given in the early days. Gray noted the precarious economic climate in their founding days and how it confirmed their abiding commitment to a sustainable financial model for the theater and especially for the artists they employ.

“Mission-driven growth” for Forward has focused on four key priorities: support for local artists; arts advocacy; audience engagement; and community impact. Ninety-five percent of the hundred staff hired each season are from south central Wisconsin and are paid at least a living wage, inspiring standards for the broader theater community. This core priority strengthens the community and also the artists’ personal investment in it. These ambitious goals have a solid business model behind it, with a growing annual budget that has always operated in the black. Forward Theater incorporates multiple strategies to encourage dialogue, and their post-performance talkbacks have proven to be a favorite part of the audience experience. Finally, Forward Theater has woven multiple partnerships with area organizations around key themes in their plays. This has deepened the engagement among audiences and community members through collaborative outreach events, author talks, and even fundraising.

Gray promised more growth and partnerships to come as Forward Theater surges into its second decade of successful productions: “Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

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

Human Genome Editing

submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Mike Engelberger

Alta Charo 12 5 2018The recent claim by Chinese scientist  He Jianjui that he successfully altered the DNA of twin girls to build up the twins’ HIV resistance served as a backdrop of the Rotary Club of Madison’s weekly meeting, whose guest speaker Dr. Alta Charo, a UW-Madison professor of law and bioethics, offered as a broad outline of ethical considerations concerning Human Genome Editing.

Jianjui’s actions have drawn wide condemnation by the medical, ethical, and research community as there are allegations that his work lacked an ethical compass that according to Charo at this point in time should be guided by the thought that “other than prevention or treatment” human genome editing “should not proceed.”

Genome editing, according to Dr. Charo, is best explained by “adding, deleting, inactivating, or making targeted alterations” of DNA. Genome editing is acceptable practice in research laboratories. Somatic gene therapy, in which therapeutic DNA is integrated in the genome, is a process used to treat disease that is highly regulated. “Somatic gene therapy should only be employed for treatment and prevention but not for enhancement,” said Dr. Charo. Gene therapy cancer vaccines are being developed , but among the most common uses today of somatic gene therapy are to treat cystic fibrosis, heart disease, hemophilia and AIDS.

If human genome editing is pursued for purposes of enhancement, there are obviously significant risks. Among the medical concerns rising to the very top is the potential of newly introduced genes not interacting with the existing gene structure. Dr. Charo characterized the ethical concerns revolving around the idea that human mankind may be closer to “making a step toward designer babies.” Other ethical concerns in Jianjui’s work is “the lack of consent by the affected person” and circumventing the traditional medical peer review process, instead publicizing his work directly with popular media sources. In summarizing Jianjui’s work, Dr. Charo said “two edited baby girls have been born.”

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