Category Archives: Weekly Rotary Guest Speaker

The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

–submitted by Linn Roth; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Alfred McCoy 4 24 2019

In an insightful and concerning presentation, UW history professor Alfred McCoy outlined some of the history and future direction of the world’s geopolitics and presented a somber view of the future of US global influence.  Since the early 1900’s, the US has steadily built up its international preeminence and paid special attention to the “Eurasian” axis, which consists of Asia and Europe, and more recently, Africa.  Due to actions begun in the late seventies and guided by Zbigniew Brzenski, National Security Advisor during the Carter Administration, the US made Eurasia the central area of concentration in order to establish and maintain its global primacy.  President Obama furthered that effort, but in the last two years, the Trump administration has reversed course on three main pillars of US primacy:  NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.  This entire problem might be further exacerbated by a trade war with China.

Additional signs suggest this concern is well founded.  By 2030, projections indicate India and China will grow their Gross Domestic Products considerably more than the US, and China will become the world’s largest economy.   Moreover, China now files more patents than the US, has built the world’s fastest supercomputer, and does substantially better in its science and math education programs.  As most of us can observe at UW, the majority of technical PhD candidates are foreign born, and therefore likely to return to their home countries with their acquired knowledge.

Furthermore, China has become extremely proactive in attempting to widen its influence throughout Eurasia in a variety of ways.  This effort might be epitomized by their ongoing $1.3 trillion Belt and Road program, which cuts right through the heart of Eurasia.  In addition, they have become aggressive in taking over ports in Italy, Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and in the conversion of sand islands to military bases in the South China Sea.  Given these developments, as well as concerns regarding current US foreign policy, Professor McCoy projects that US hegemony will substantially decline by 2030.  The eclipse of US influence should give us all pause for thought, and for those interested in learning more about this critical issue, please see Professor McCoy’s recent book, In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.

   

Telling the Stories of Madison’s Earliest African American Residents

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Renk

Muriel Simms 2 20 2019

From left: Marci Henderson, Ron Luskin & Muriel Simms

Our speaker on Wednesday, amidst a snow storm, was Dr. Muriel Simms, the author of a new book, “Settlin’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The dedication to the book captures its essence: “To the African American families who settled in Madison in the 1800s and early 1900s. They showed strength, courage and pride as they made a better life for themselves and for others in the community.” And Dr. Simms’ talk illustrated this with the stories of people in the book.

Dr. Simms began by speaking about the importance of the oral tradition in the Black community, and oral histories done by Dr. Simms provide much of the content of her book. She also spoke of what motivated her to write the book. She was always interested in history, and she wondered about the ancestral Black families in Madison, including her parents: her mother joined her father here in 1925.

The talk featured stories and photographs of some of the people in the book in four broad categories: military, sports, volunteerism and “other.” Dr. Simms began with a newspaper article from the Wisconsin State Journal about the return of “Buck” Weaver from service during World War II. The headline referred to him as a “Beloved ‘Red Cap’ at the bus station.” He had been killed shortly before the end of the war. She mentioned Al Dockery, a star athlete at Madison Central High; Lois McKnight, a music teacher who volunteered wherever a musician was needed; and Velma Hamilton, one of Madison’s greatest citizens. There were important Black civic groups such as the Utopia Club, the Wisconsin State Federation of Colored Women, and the National Association for the Protection of Colored Women, and the NAACP (Velma Hamilton was the first president of the Madison branch in 1943). Dr. Simms discovered many of these organizations in the issues of the Wisconsin Weekly Blade, the first Black newspaper in Wisconsin, founded in 1916 by J. Anthony Josey, who declared in his mission statement his belief that “the Negro has in his own hands his destiny.”

It was a great talk. If you missed it because of the snow, get a copy of the book and read it.

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.

Saving and Improving Lives: One Drop at a Time

submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Pete Christianson

Ben Merens 7 25 2018

From left: Program Committee Chair Sara DeTienne; Ben Merens & Marcia Whittington

This week’s Rotary presentation by Ben Merens, a “storyteller” for the Blood Center of WI Blood Research Center, was one where I left having learned amazing information about a subject of which I knew nothing.

Merens did indeed tell stories…

The young man at Verizon who had had a double lung transplant, survived, married his nurse and had a family.  Ricky owes his life to doctors like those at the BRI because blood research found a way to get the body to accept transplants.

Chaos, Merens describes, is what the blood system looks like and scientists determine what patterns do exist, how they are supposed to work and then find out how to fix things when they don’t.

BRI scientists patented a test to determine whether the regularly used blood thinners would work for a specific patient and if not, doctors could substitute a more effective blood thinner.

We watched with Merens as he described a heart being harvested and then rushed down the hall to transplant into a waiting patient.  The heart was successfully inserted…then the action stopped, and they waited. The heart, still in the open chest, began to beat.

Merens described a WI Donor event when a mother spoke about the joy and sadness when she realized her son is living because another person’s child has died.  Then she said, he’s an active two year old being held by the mother of the donor who heard her child’s heart beat in the chest of my son.

We think about research being a scientific activity with words and practices that most of us don’t understand.  Merens brought the results of research into our hearts and minds at Rotary today.  And we do understand.

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

Battle for Economic Growth in Wisconsin

submitted by Carol Toussaint; photo by Pete Christianson

Kevin Conroy 7 11 2018AWhat will it take for Wisconsin to win the battle for economic growth fueled by entrepreneurship?  Rotarians and their many guests left the Wednesday lunch with some specific ideas presented by Kevin Conroy, Chairman and CEO of Exact Science.

According to Conroy, Wisconsin is not inspiring start-ups. Our demographics are currently against inspiring start-ups and our demographics are holding us back.  Our workforce is rapidly aging and shrinking.  Median family income is flat.  We are near the bottom in terms of net migration of college workers and we’re not building a promising young workforce.  We need exciting companies to keep and draw exciting companies.

According to studies conducted by the Kaufman Foundation, Wisconsin is ranked last in the U.S. for start-up activity and Conroy stressed that start-ups create most new net jobs and are the key to success in the battle for economic growth.  Venture Capital needs to be more readily available in Wisconsin if there is to be a change in status among the states.  Currently three states–California, New York and Massachusetts–manage 83% of the nation’s venture.

What Conroy termed a “silver lining” is that experience from the last 3 years has been better for investment in new companies.  Angel investors are providing significant help but there is a “funding gap” after angels.  Without growth in next stage funding Wisconsin will continue to lag behind other states.  Models to look at include a private sponsored venture capital model in Michigan and a Public-Private Partnership.

In speaking of the Company he heads, Conroy shared that Exact Science relentlessly pursued a solution to the big problem of colon cancer, partnered with the Mayo Clinic, focused on great science, raised nearly $2 billion, and had a direct lineage to the UW-Madison via Third Wave Technologies.

The company is expanding to a new campus which includes lab, manufacturing, and customer care services in the former Rayovac building and is expanding into new headquarters in University Research Park.  To make the point that “start-ups matter”, Conroy summarized that the impact on Wisconsin from the start-up he heads provides $2 billion in capital and $29 million in taxes.

Listening to Latino Stories in Wisconsin

–submitted by Linn Roth; photo by Mike Engelberger

Armando Ibarra 12 6 2017

Professor Ibarra (center) pictured here with his wife, Veronica and Rotarian Pete Christianson

In his presentation “Listening to Their Stories: How Latinos Survive and Thrive in Rural and Urban Wisconsin,” Professor Armando Ibarra of UW Extension summarized data from his recent studies to illustrate how the state’s demographics have significantly changed over the last three decades and how they will continue to change in the future.  For example, Latinos are much more widely dispersed throughout Wisconsin today, and locally. Latinos now constitute 6.6% of Madison’s population and 20% of Fitchburg’s populace.

Over the last 25 years, Dane County’s Latino population has exploded from 5,000 to about 32,000, although that number is probably a substantial undercount due to the immigration status of many people.  More importantly, this growth will continue to occur, regardless of changes to immigration law or border control.

Yet, even with a strong work and family ethic, the Latino community has not enjoyed full integration into our economic, social and political culture.  However, given that the Latino community is now an integral part of the Wisconsin economy, e.g. 80% of our dairy products are handled by Latinos, that cultural integration will inexorably move forward.  As Professor Ibarra stressed, Latinos are essential to the economic and cultural prosperity of the US, and we should welcome all individuals, regardless of race or nationality, to contribute to and participate in the promise of our democracy.

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

Ten-Year Journey of the Wisconsin Union

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by Pete Christianson

Mark Guthier 10 18 2017

Rotarian Eric Salisbury with Mark Guthier (center) and Rotarian Mary Ellen O’Brien

Mark Guthier, Director of the Wisconsin Union at UW-Madison, filled Rotarians in on the 10-year journey of reflection and growth that has resulted in restored, renovated and enhanced facilities for Memorial Union and Union South. He emphasized that the project was “our journey” because there were so many people, including students and many Rotarians, involved in its completion.

The Master Plan for the project was completed in 2004 and announced at the Memorial Union’s 75th Anniversary. Two years later a student referendum approved a student fee of $96 per student per semester in support of the project, and a capital campaign was launched in 2007. Operating revenues will cover the remainder of the $220 million budget.

In 2012 the Wisconsin Union Theater, Hoofers and Craft Shop facilities were closed. The “saddest period in the Union’s history” was when the Terrace was closed for several months, Guthier said. But now all of these facilities – and more – are open and operating and serving the University community. The crowning event was the recent opening of Alumni Park.

There were three goals for the project: infrastructure improvements to update deteriorating or obsolete facilities and meet new student expectations; increased space for student programming, meeting rooms, food service and production storage; and mission enhancements to serve the entire campus better and re-energize the Union’s status as a membership organization.

The project had a new Design Committee appointed annually, including nine students, two alumni, two faculty and two staff members. The Committee was always led by a student and Guthier himself had just one vote. In addition there were multiple advisory groups to ensure that the new facilities would meet the needs of the community.

The Committee abided by design principles that ensured the buildings will be “people magnets,” will advance student programming, and will be timeless and enduring. They strived for green construction and sustainability. Their goal was to achieve LEED Silver status for both buildings, and the prospects look good. Union South has received LEED Gold status, and they are still awaiting the rating for Memorial Union. In addition, the project aimed at making the buildings complementary of each other and welcoming of all University community members. Finally, they wanted the buildings to tell the story of the Union, student leadership on campus, and the state of Wisconsin.

Goals for ongoing operations are to “make every day an event,” operate according to sustainable principles and build community for the entire campus. The Unions must have a customer-first perspective because they rely on program revenue for their existence.

Guthier closed his presentation with a slide show of the renovated facilities and the many celebrations that marked the Union’s 10-year journey. He invited Rotarians to attend two upcoming events: a November 10 celebration of the Memorial Union being on the National Register of Historic Places and the November 11 re-dedication of the Gold Star Honor Roll.

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