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Updated: 26 min 12 sec ago

Ron Johnson: Congress approval ratings ‘still too high’

10 hours 49 min ago

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., railed against the federal government in a talk with University of Wisconsin students Tuesday, saying Congress’ roughly 15 percent approval ratings are “still too high.”

“You know what those approval ratings really are?” Johnson said. “They’re also the public’s justified disgust with the federal government. They’re right. The federal government is dysfunctional. It’s ineffective. It’s inefficient. It’s a terrible place to send your hard-earned tax dollars to try and solve the problems.”

Johnson took questions Tuesday from the UW College Republicans in a packed Humanities Building lecture hall. He said the federal government unintentionally drove up college costs after expanding student loans in the 1960s, leaving students today with a record $1.2 trillion in college debt.

“We’ve done a huge disservice by enticing kids to take out those student loans,” Johnson said. “So the federal government, with the best of intentions, it’s actually made college less accessible because we’ve made it so much more unaffordable.”

Johnson has voted against a proposal from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that would allow student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at lower rates.

“It’s incentivizing the wrong kind of behavior,” Johnson told The Badger Herald after the event. “We shouldn’t be incentivizing our kids to get in a deep debt hole. We should be disincentivizing that, and that’s the problem with Sen. Warren’s proposal.”

Johnson instead said the solution will be “trying to get government out of our lives as much as possible.”

Johnson slammed Mary Burke, the Democrat running against Gov. Scott Walker, for reports that parts of her jobs plan were copied from previous Democratic campaigns. He noted Burke had mocked Walker’s 2010 four page jobs plan when she announced hers earlier this year.

“You don’t need 100 pages,” Johnson told The Badger Herald. “But the fact that she was going around the state criticizing Gov. Walker and saying that she was spending hundreds of hours putting together her plagiarized jobs program — that kind of shows her as quite the empty suit. I hope Wisconsinites are paying attention to that. We don’t need a governor that plagiarizes. We need a governor that actually understands what makes Wisconsin vibrant.”

Burke faces campaign scrutiny over jobs planGubernatorial candidate Mary Burke’s campaign is under scrutiny following a scandal in which parts of her jobs plan were discovered …

Calling it a “self-inflicted wound on the American economy,” Johnson called for potentially eliminating the federal corporate tax, saying the boost in the economy would make up for any lost revenue.

He also said raising the minimum wage would harm the economy and lead to job losses, doing nothing to solve the country’s “wealth gap, [which is] a serious issue.”

“There are true income inequalities. … That is a real problem,” Johnson said. “But the solution is not to have government redistribute the wealth. It won’t work. It never has. What we need to do is we need to get a robust economy. If you want rising wages, if you want a more livable wage, what you do is you have a robust economy where businesses have to compete for wages.”

Categories: Local Media

Naked man who entered Capitol rotunda identified, arrested

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 7:56pm

A naked man entered the Capitol rotunda Monday afternoon, shouting that he was Jesus Christ.

The suspect, Brian Ireland, 39, was quickly ushered out of the public eye by Wisconsin State Capitol Police before being arrested and taken to the Dane County Jail.

Stephanie Marquis, Communications Director of the Wisconsin Department of Administration said in an email that he was charged with disorderly conduct, and lewd and lascivious behavior.

His motives are unknown at this time, Marquis said.

Ireland should appear in court on October 1, according to Ismael Ozanne, Dane County District Attorney.

Categories: Local Media

Michelle Obama to campaign for Burke in Madison next Tuesday

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 1:41pm

First lady Michelle Obama is coming back to Wisconsin next week, making a stop in Madison to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke on Oct. 7. 

The first lady was just in Wisconsin on Monday, stumping for Burke in Milwaukee while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned for Gov. Scott Walker in western Wisconsin.

.@MichelleObama – "Look at this room! " – #FLOTUSinWI

— Mary Burke (@Burke4WI) September 29, 2014

Visited Empire Bucket in Hudson with my friend Gov. Chris Christie.

— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) September 29, 2014

Walker and Burke have been in a statistical dead heat for four straight Marquette University Law School polls.

Governor’s race remains in dead heat in fourth straight Marquette pollWith less than 50 days until Election Day, the governor’s race remained in a statistical dead heat for the fourth …

The Burke campaign said in a statement more details on the event, including the time and place, will be available soon.

Categories: Local Media

SSFC approves eligibility for MEChA and Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:18pm

The Associated Students of Madison committee approved funding for two different student organizations, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán and Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics, at their Monday meeting.

SSFC voted 10-1-4 to grant eligibility for MEChA, whose mission is promoting social justice on campus, especially toward marginalized demographics.

The representatives discussed whether or not they believed MEChA met the requirements for a core program, which means programming must be available to University of Wisconsin students, provide educational benefits and can’t produce credits.

At last week’s eligibility hearing, MEChA presented two core programs, Raza Outreach and CulturArte.

SSFC unanimously approves eligibility for PAVEAn Associated Students of Madison committee unanimously approved funding Thursday for the Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment group that helps prevent sexual assault …

Through CulturArte, students are exposed to art, history and stories from different cultures, Sergio Rodriguez, CulturArte coordinator, said at last week’s SSFC meeting. Raza Outreach focuses on engaging students in discussions and workshops centered on current social issues, Karina Ovalle, coordinator for Raza Outreach, said last week.

SSFC Secretary Brett Ducharme asked how Raza Outreach affects students outside of MEChA.

In response, MEChA spokesperson Amanda Villanueva said these trainings are meant to prepare UW students for interactions with people from marginalized communities.

Ducharme, who voted against funding, said Raza Outreach does not meet the experiential learning criterion because it’s primarily discussion, not hands-on learning.

Rep. Jessica Franco-Morales said she supported the core programming of MEChA because it met all of the requirements.

“I am counting it as core because it meets all three program requirements,” Franco-Morales said. “It’s requestable, it provides experiential learning and leadership and development.”

SSFC also approved eligibility funding for AHA, which passed on a 11-0-4 vote.

Members of AHA did not attend Monday’s meeting, but presented at their eligibility hearing last Thursday. AHA is a group that addresses questions of religious identity and supports a discussion of faith and secular issues on campus.

Last week, Sam Erickson, AHA president, said the group provides two main programs, Secular Peer Support and Secular Issue Awareness. The Secular Peer Support uses peer mentoring and personal development as tools to help students address their thoughts on faith. 

Erickson said the group is also planning a Free Thought Festival, which will host keynote speakers, debates, panel discussions and workshops.

Categories: Local Media

Proposed changes on upper State Street could reduce crime

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:33pm

The Philosopher’s Grove at the Capitol end of State Street may see significant changes next year in an effort to reduce crime in the area.

Rebecca Cnare, the urban design planner for the City of Madison, said the problems at Philosopher’s Grove are just the latest iteration following city redesigns that have ended up moving crime to the area.

She said there used to be problems on Frances Street Plaza, but after that area was redesigned, the problems shifted over to State Street. A State Street redesign then sent crime over to Philosopher’s Grove, a small plaza with stone seating and trees.

“People used to eat lunch on it and their kids would play on it,” Cnare said of Philospher’s Grove.

Cnare said Mayor Paul Soglin has asked the planning staff, the landscaping architects and the traffic engineers to start thinking about the space differently and that specific design plans are still in progress.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he is offering a $50,000 amendment to Soglin’s proposed capital budget to implement possible design changes and other improvements to Philosopher’s Grove. The city’s Board of Estimates is meeting Tuesday to discuss the budget amendment.

Verveer stressed that crime in the area generally involves drug dealing but is rarely harmful to the public walking by.

“There are people who will walk a block out of their way, but the reality is it’s generally a safe place,” Vereer said. “Problems rarely occur after 10 p.m. at night.”

Verveer said his amendment would have City Council vote on possible alternatives to the area by early 2015. Problems in this area typically die down when weather turns cold, so there is some time to work during the winter, he said.

Joel DeSpain, the Madison Police Department spokesperson, said that specific area of State Street has been an area of crime for some time now, making it a point of focus for city police. The department has tried numerous initiatives in the area, from talking to people there to having officers eat lunch there, he said, adding that the initiatives haven’t done much to change the current problems.

The proposed changes are still all at preliminary stages, Lt. David McCaw of MPD said, but they include removing the stones used for seating or extending Mifflin Street.

Categories: Local Media

Diving accident may leave UW student paralyzed

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:24am

After diving headfirst into a shallow part of Lake Mendota, a 20-year-old University of Wisconsin student may be paralyzed, according to a Madison Police Department incident report.

The accident occurred Saturday evening at 644 N. Francis St. The victim dove into the water that was estimated to be only five feet deep and struck his head on the bottom of the lake, the report said.

The victim called out to his friends as he floated to the surface, who stabilized his neck and called the police.

The victim was admitted to a local hospital with a suspected spinal injury, the report said.


Categories: Local Media

Plaza Tavern remains unchanged with age

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:23am

While many local bars and restaurants come and go, the Plaza Tavern remains one of the oldest businesses in downtown Madison.

For nearly a century, the Plaza Tavern has stood a block off State Street on North Henry Street. The key to the bar’s longevity, owner Dean Hetue said, has been consistency.

“People stop in all the time going, ‘oh, something that hasn’t changed,’” Hetue said.

The building was built in the 1920s and, as legend has it, the first beers were served during Prohibition, according to the Plaza’s website. Hetue said during Prohibition, the Plaza was primarily a pool hall, and a bowling alley was added a decade later.

The Huss family took over in the early 1960s, and the legendary “Plaza Burger” was born. Hetue worked for the Huss family from 1980 until he became the owner in 2003. Since then, Hetue said he has hardly changed anything.

“The older you get,” Hetue said, “the less change you want in your life.”

Hetue said the signature Plaza Burger is a huge part of what makes the bar a downtown landmark, and the Wisconsin State Journal even featured it as one of the 100 things that define Madison.

Other restaurants and bars have also held their ground in downtown Madison for a long time. State Street Brats and Kollege Klub have both been in business since 1953, making them some of the oldest businesses despite name and location changes.

However, Hetue said what makes his tavern stand out is its unchanged name and location.

One positive change Hetue said he has made to the Plaza is an increase in sustainable business practices.

The Plaza graduated from Sustain Dane’s MPower Business Champion program in April. The program aids small, local businesses in implementing more environmentally-conscious initiatives to their everyday routines.

Hetue said some of the sustainable strategies incorporated include adding more efficient lighting, composting food waste instead of throwing it out and increasing the purchase of local food products.

Through the years, the bar has also seen a number of famous patrons, including Brett Favre, Joan and John Cusac and many Wisconsin politicians, such as Tom Barrett and Tammy Baldwin.

Hetue said he often sees locals and former University of Wisconsin students coming in and looking around, “just reliving memories,” and checking to see if the bar is the same as they remember it from years ago.

They are glad to see, Hetue said, that the Plaza is still the same college hangout that students have loved for decades. The simplicity of the Plaza is what makes it memorable, he said.

Hetue said the bar looks like a small town corner bar similar to ones that can be found all over south central Wisconsin. The burger has been the same for 50 years, and he said aside from adding some TVs, everything is all the same.

“You know what you’re going to get here,” Hetue said, “and that’s not a bad thing.”

Categories: Local Media

UW System announces task force on sexual violence

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:22am

UW System announced a new task force on sexual violence and better coordinate efforts from system and outreach. According to the press release, the UW System Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment was formed to strengthen the university’s capacity to protect students from violence and strengthen system-wide efforts at prevention.

Tonya Schmidt, a member of the task force and the director of Title IX and Clery Compliance, said the task force will ensure the campus community is educated on prevention programs for sexual assault.

During the task force’s first meeting on Thursday, Schmidt said they divided into seven different workgroups designed to target training on prevention and education.

This task force will strengthen already existing programs on campus, Schmidt said. ‘Tonight’, a primary prevention program through UHS that is mandatory to all first year and transfer students, promotes knowledge and understanding of sexual assault and consent. The program also raises awareness about victim rights and various support services. Schmidt said she believes that this program has been greatly beneficial for students.

“I think Tonight does a really nice job of laying out what is appropriate and what is not. I think not every student has identified groping on the dance floor that was unwanted, as something as harsh as sexual assault. When in actuality, it is sexual assault,” Schmidt said. “You didn’t give anybody permission to touch you there, not even on a dance floor. So I think that the more we educate students, the more they will realize, ‘that is not okay.’”

Another group on campus that works to provide help to sexual assault victims is End Violence on Campus, or EVOC. Carmen Hotvedt, assistant director for violence protection said EVOC is the “integrated sexual assault, dating violence and stalking prevention and victim advocacy center on campus.”

EVOC provides confidential victim advocacy services for students who are affected by these crimes, and provides a lot of consultation and training for people all across campus, Hotvedt said. EVOC provides consultation to a course entitled “Greek Men for Violence Prevention.”

This two-credit class is run through the School of Social Work. According to the UHS website, this class focuses on masculinity, gender, the media and violence against women.

“It is an effort to help men understand their own role as allies and to encourage them to intervene in situations they find among their all male student orgs,” Hotvedt said. “How they can use their leadership to begin social positive change and how to have empathy for victims and to work with women in an effort to stop sexual assault and dating violence.”

Along with these classes, there is the sixth annual EVOC summit on Oct. 1-2.  On day one, Men Can Stop Rape will be hosting a workshop. The second day will be focused on campus policy updates, information about prevention programs, LGBTQ intimate partner violence, and reporting options, Hotvedt said.

These programs will be a stepping stone for the task force. Through the task force, UW System will look at addressing this issue, and strengthening group efforts throughout the community, Schmidt said.

“Ultimately, the task force is created because many heads together are better than one,” Schmidt said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to figure out how to address this really systemic issue on our campus.”

Categories: Local Media

UW student overcomes injuries to promote patient advocacy

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:20am

First-year University of Wisconsin medical student Jeff Mahlum had always wanted to become a doctor, a dream he became uncertain of following a diving injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

After his accident and during recovery, Mahlum focused his attention on patient advocacy, which he discovered through the Center for Patient Partnerships, an education center that focuses on legal representation for patient rights. In the future, Mahlum said he wants to incorporate his patient advocacy skills into his career as he works to advocate for the best interests of his patients.

“I remember my neurosurgeon telling me in the hours before my spinal fusion surgery that he was confident I would become a doctor one day,” Mahlum said. “The Center for Patient Partnerships was a phenomenal opportunity to expose myself to many aspects of the health care system that I wasn’t familiar with.”

Patients with disabilities face numerous barriers in accessing health care, Mahlum said, including inaccessible clinics and inadequate medical equipment. Examples include wheelchair-accessible scales, height-adjustable exam tables and radiologic equipment, he said.

Besides physical equipment barriers, communication and financial barriers can be just as difficult to overcome in the process of accessing quality health care, he said.

“There are providers who may not understand the patient’s disability or may not treat patients with disabilities with the respect they deserve,” Mahlum said. “Financial barriers range from uninsurance to underinsurance to lack of adequate coverage for needed rehabilitation.”

Removing many of these barriers would go a long way toward improving overall care, he said.

The CPP does a lot to advocate for patients who are struggling with a life-threatening or serious illness, Sarah Davis, associate director and clinical assistant professor at the CPP, said. They focus on helping those in need deal with the complexities of the medical system but also the medical bills they are facing, issues with trying to work through their illness and any kind of legal questions they might have, she said.

“A lot of what we do is general access,” Davis said. “We make sure that people have insurance to pay for their care and that when they do have insurance it covers everything that should be covered. We think that people should be able to get all the care that they deserve and have a right to.”

Mahlum said the most important skills he took away from the center included actively listening to his patients and supporting them through difficult times. He said these skills will carry over into his career as both a medical student and a doctor.

The CPP has a four-part mission to form effective partnerships among people seeking health care and people providing health care, Davis said.

“Our main goal is to educate future providers and professionals, like Jeff Mahlum, who is going to be a doctor, and others who are going into services of social work or law,” Davis said. “It is important for them to understand the patient’s perspective about the health care system and what it is really like to be a patient.”

The CPP’s advocacy model is centered around each patient’s individual needs, Davis said. The CPP spends a lot of time actively listening to specific barriers to those with disabilities, either on an individual level, with just the person being affected, or on a broader level, with others who are experiencing the same difficulties.

“Hospitals do not always have a long-term relationship,” Davis said, regarding cognitive disabilities. “For those with long-term disabilities, the health care provider needs to know the specifics of each individual care.”

Categories: Local Media

Madison cafes and city leaders at odds

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:19am

Two of Madison’s coffeehouses are finding themselves at odds with the city as new restrictions are impacting their business.

Lindsey Lee has owned Cargo Coffee for 13 years. He said it was not until this past year that the city took issue with an orange windsock attached to the top of the building. The windsock, nicknamed “Wendy,” was recently categorized as a sign, which requires a specific ordinance. Based on the ordinance, Wendy was deemed unacceptable and illegal.

Lee said although saving Wendy the Windsock is just his business having a little fun, there is a more serious underlying matter. Lee said since Mayor Paul Soglin has been mayor, he has heard a lot more complaints from fellow small business owners who feel that the code is being over-enforced.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said he is “perplexed” by Soglin’s crackdown.

“The priorities of the mayor’s office [on this issue] are incorrect. There’s been a focus on a crackdown on sandwich boards, and signage for small business owners and the priorities of the city should be focused elsewhere,” Resnick said. “The city’s resources should be focused on poverty instead of cracking down on small business owners.”

Resnick said he would rather see the city figure out how to help small business owners thrive, rather than punish them.

Lee said small businesses have even been told they must cut back on putting out dog bowls, art or even potted plants in front of their businesses.

Moving forward, Lee said he plans to apply for a comprehensive sign plan which he believes will be approved and allow Cargo Coffee to keep Wendy the Windsock.

“I’m a big supporter of enforcing the code, I’m not a supporter of under-enforcing the code, but there is a danger in over-enforcing the code and I think that’s what has been going on in City Hall lately,” Lee said.

Lakeside Street Coffee House has some problems with the city too, owner Kate Burmeister said.

Burmeister has owned Lakeside Street Coffee House for 13 years and has been playing music at the location for about eight of them, but she said recent restrictions coming from the mayor’s office put severe limitations on the noise her coffeehouse generates.

Burmeister said the new restrictions, released in July, categorize and define different locations. For example, a business designated as a tavern must follow different ordinances than that of a nightclub.

“Because I have music two nights or more a week and I do food I’m considered a nightclub,” Burmeister said. “I understand the need [for restrictions], especially downtown, but we’re a coffee house who has for the most part folk music, classical guitar and duos.”

Burmeister said she received overwhelming support from the neighborhood and customers, including 293 signatures of support for her business and its music. She said her customers have stayed loyal, banding together and writing letters to the alders. The neighborhood association also voted overwhelmingly in her favor during polling, she said.

Burmeister said she is currently “sitting in limbo” until the Common Council meeting Oct. 7, during which the council will decide to uphold the cease and desist order or edit it in favor of Lakeside Cafe’s interests.

Burmeister said she is willing to cut louder acts from her schedule if it means she can continue with quieter performances.

“I’m certainly amenable to making some concessions and trying to make this work for everyone,” Burmeister said, “but it’s affecting my business right now.”

Categories: Local Media

Kabul thrives following summer relocation

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:16am

Although construction of The Hub cost Kabul Restaurant its streetside location on State Street, owner Hamed Zafari said he is making things work.

Zafari said despite the unexpected relocation of his Afghani-Mediterranean restaurant to an upstairs space across the street, he has added a full bar and other new features that are bringing customers back to the beloved Madison spot.

The restaurant has been on State Street for 25 years, but was forced to relocate after its original location under University Inn was torn down last spring in order to build The Hub.

The new location is larger and has new features like a full bar, something that Zafari said he has always wanted. He also said he wants to add late-night menus and bring live music in on the weekends.

One month into the semester and Kabul is still finding success in its new second-floor spot above candy store IT’SUGAR. Zafari said he would have preferred to be on the first floor due to foot traffic on State Street, but said it has not affected business too much.

“People are still finding us because they missed Kabul. They’re going out of their way, they’re doing whatever they have to do to find it,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support, a lot of people have come back and expressed how happy they are that we are open again.”

The restaurant had the option to stay in the previous location, but Zafari said they would have had to wait two years to reopen with doubled rent. Zafari said the restaurant would not be able to survive a change like that without increasing prices significantly.

Zafari said staying near campus was important to him because of all the students and faculty that come in.

“We were scrambling to find a space, and I really wanted to stay close to campus,” he said. “I didn’t see myself moving too far away, or going to the Square even. Professors and students have limited time, and I know they wouldn’t walk all the way to the square, they just don’t have the time.”

Zafari described the construction process as a “nightmare,” spending almost double what they intended to, but he is happy with the new location.

They had a lot of challenges with city building permits and bringing the old wiring and plumbing up to code, he said.

“It’s just good to be open now. It did cost a lot, a lot more than we thought. But I feel like if quality of the food is there and the service is good people will come back,” he said.

The restaurant is now offering deals on the “Hooked” app, which features different deals at different times of the day, another feature that Zafari hopes will continue to bring in students.

“I know students have a limited budget, and I really want to get students in here and get them to try,” he said.

The restaurant has time to settle into the new location, as they have just signed a five year lease.

Zafari said he always looks forward to getting to know new customers.

“Every day I try to make contact with every customer that comes in,” Zafari said. “It really makes me happy.”

Categories: Local Media

Madison’s food carts await evaluation

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:14am

Madison’s food carts are hoping to claim campus’ most popular locations, as a series of reviews by a city committee this week will determine their fates.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said between Sept. 22 and Oct. 4, panelists will judge each food cart on a variety of aspects. Verveer is a member of the Vending Oversight Committee which is organizing the review, during which tasters will grade each cart based on its menu and food.

At least 53 vendors will be inspected and reviewed this year, including those that have been operating at East Campus Mall and Capitol Square. Sixteen brand new food carts will also be viewed Oct. 4, Verveer said.

The carts that receive the highest scores get top priority for choosing their operating location for the year, Verveer said.

Some of the factors panelists take into account include presentation of the food, the distinct taste of the food and whether or not the food is appealing to the panelist, Verveer said.

A sheet handed out by Warren Hansen, the Street Vending coordinator, describes the points the panelists may give or take depending on the cart, Verveer said. Vendors are also given their own sheet to know what panelists will be judging.

Despite the pressure to do their best, food carts are looking forward to the judging, Verveer said. He said many of them hope the new assignments will greatly improve their business after construction season is over, and Library Mall, the former home to many food carts, will be reopened.

Verveer said Library Mall is a primary spot on campus for the carts, and is usually the first choice for the carts with the highest scores.

An employee at Jamerica Restaurant, a food cart that also has a restaurant located on 1236 Williamson St., said business was much better on Library Mall compared to the current location on East Campus Mall.

The Jamerica employee said parking is much more difficult near East Campus Mall, and construction has made it harder for people to walk around comfortably.

An employee at China Cottage, which now sits across from the Memorial Union, said business has been difficult since leaving its previous Library Mall location.

Jamerica Restaurant and China Cottage employees said they are awaiting a better location next year, after Library Mall construction finally ends around Halloween.

Verveer said the variety offered by the food carts is part of what makes them so popular and unique to Madison.

“Not many places have as big of a competition as we do, and there are many interesting food cart to visit and taste,” Verveer said.

Categories: Local Media

New Sunday Assembly welcomes all beliefs

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:11am

The Sunday Assembly Madison, a new secular congregation focused on community, opened its doors to the public Sunday and held its first monthly meeting on the city’s southwest side.

Sunday Assembly describes itself as a godless congregation dedicated to celebrating life by living better, helping often and wondering more.

Naomi Kroth, the president of Sunday Assembly Madison, said her goal is to make Sunday Assembly a place for atheists and non-atheists alike.

“I don’t want this to be a pulpit,” Kroth said. “We’re not here to tell you what to think or believe. We’re here to build community, to be a place to springboard from and to do good.”

Kroth said the use of the phrase “atheist church” by those in the community and the media when describing the assembly is used to get attention more than anything else.

A more accurate description of the group, she said, is a “secular congregation.”

“Church really does imply religion,” Kroth said, “but the word church also has the sense of community and togetherness that we want to imply.”

In many ways, Sunday Assembly is very similar to a traditional church service. There is still singing, but instead of traditional religious hymns, they sing songs like The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and Pete Seger’s “Inch by Inch.” The talks, given by members of the community, are also secular.

One of the talks during the assembly was from Scott McAndrew, a Dane County Circuit Court commissioner and a certified secular celebrant who performs secular weddings.

“Any wedding that doesn’t involve a church could be classified as a secular wedding,” McAndrew said. “Any wedding performed by a judge or a commissioner would generally be a secular wedding.”

The idea for the group began in London in 2013, and today, has spread worldwide with more than 150 Sunday Assemblies across the world, 67 of which are in the U.S.

The Madison Sunday Assembly is one of 36 new assemblies that launched Sunday. Other assemblies opened in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Seattle, Toronto, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.

When she addressed the congregation, Kroth said hearing different voices and different opinions is of the utmost importance.

“As long as we make sure I’m not the only one every month giving you my thoughts, but other people get a chance to share their thoughts as well, we’ll have managed the risk,” Kroth said.


Members congregated at the first gathering of Madison’s Sunday Assembly, a secular “church” service.
Logan Reigstad/The Badger Herald

Categories: Local Media

Students seek to overcome voter ID barriers at the polls

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:09am

One week into distributing voter identification cards to out-of-state students, University of Wisconsin’s Wiscard office has seen just over 100 students take advantage of the free service.

After the state reinstituted the controversial voter ID law earlier this month, UW began issuing free state voter ID cards on Sept. 12, in an effort to simplify one of the steps out-of-state students must take to vote in the November gubernatorial elections. 

As of Sept. 23, 107 students used the university service, Wiscard Program Manager Jim Wysocky said. According to UW enrollment reports, there are more than 9,000 undergraduate out-of-state students enrolled at the university.

In 2012, when the program first began distributing free voter IDs, the Wiscard office distributed more than 500 cards within the first three to four months, Wysocky said.

Although there has not been as high of a demand so far, Wysocky said 2012, being a presidential election year, peaked student interest more than this year’s midterm election. In 2012, UW saw approximately a 65 percent student voter turnout.

Nonetheless, Wysocky said campus officials, particularly Dean of Students Lori Berquam and members of the university’s student government, Associated Students of Madison, have worked hard to make voter ID cards as easily accessible as possible.

“The campus has worked hard to make the voter cards available to avoid obstacles,” he said. “We want to do our part as much as possible to ensure that students [can vote].”

Jennifer Reshke, a junior at UW and a Minnesota native, voted in Wisconsin in the 2012 presidential election. Reschke said although the voter ID law has made it more inconvenient, she said she still plans on taking the necessary steps to vote in Wisconsin in the November election.

Since Reschke lives in Wisconsin for the majority of the year now, she said that the outcome of the gubernatorial race in particular is especially important, and was a deciding factor for her to vote in Madison.

“The governor’s election in Wisconsin means a lot more as I will be a student and living in Wisconsin,” Reschke said.

The timing of the law’s renewal makes it more challenging for students to compile necessary identification and documentation, Reschke said.

However, as a student, Reschke said she does no think the number of students who might not vote due to the law will likely not affect the outcome of the governor’s race. Nonetheless, she said she felt the law unfairly benefits one party more than another.

The ACLU declined to comment whether or not they planned on taking further action on the law before the November election, however immediately following the decision they released a statement saying that reinstating the law close to the election will cause widespread confusion and chaos among voters.

“The court could have avoided this pandemonium and given Wisconsin voters a chance to cast their ballots free of obstruction,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said. “It failed to do so, and we are evaluating our next step.”

Categories: Local Media

Downtown Madison evolves with its citizens

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:04am

As downtown Madison sees an influx of young professionals and an increased population density, a city official said the historic area is evolving to meet the needs of its citizens.

Mary Carbine, executive director at Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, said State Street brings a diverse mix of new and old businesses. Some have been around for decades, like the Plaza Tavern, State Street Brats and Kollege Klub, which have all been in business for at least half a century. On the other hand, new businesses, like Mad City Frites, which will serve the Belgian steak dish “frites,” are coming in to provide a new experience for downtown customers, Carbine said.

Carbine said a regular amount of turnover in local businesses is desirable because it keeps the business district healthy and current.

“People evolve,” Carbine said. “Different generations of people and different populations, as Madison grows and changes, are interested in different things.”

The notable trend for downtown businesses is adapting to fit the changing needs and interests of their customers, Carbine said.

She said she has been seeing an increase in farm to table restaurants that take advantage of Madison’s food heritage, as well as more convenient options for delivery and takeout which reflect changing trends in how people approach eating in the city.

Madison Sole owner Jeanette Riechers said the diverse combination of businesses on State Street is what makes the area special.

“I love it,” Riechers said. “My line about State Street always is, ‘the magic is the mix.’ All these things come together, and the juxtaposition of old and new is what’s fun about it.”

Riechers said she is excited about downtown Madison’s future, especially with the addition of brand new developments like The Hub and Ovation 309, which she said bring a good contrast to some of the older buildings in the area.

Madison Sole began in 2002, but Riechers said the building is probably 150 years old.

“There’s challenges in being in an old building,” Riechers said. “It’s not inherently efficient.”

She said operating in such an old building leads to heat and air conditioning problems, but because she is only leasing the store, there is only so much she can do.

While she loves the historic feel of State Street, Riechers said it does not make sense to continue trying to make inefficient buildings work in an evolving business district.

“The truth is, a lot of old buildings just don’t make sense. They’re not historically significant, they’re not beautiful, they’re not efficient,” she said. “We’re going to have to look at, when does it make sense to take out and update buildings that are no longer kind of in tune with the needs of the neighborhood.”

In an effort to make the most of older locations, most downtown businesses have become much more interested in improving sustainability and efficiency, Carbine said. She said projects such as Sustain Dane’s MPower Business Champion program have helped stores like Community Pharmacy and Tutto Pasta implement more environmentally-conscious practices.

Looking ahead, Riechers said she thinks the biggest change is yet to come, and in the end, she believes it will all be for the better.

“That’s one of the great things about doing business downtown, is it’s constantly changing,” Riechers said. “There’s not one year that goes by that is like the last.”

Categories: Local Media

UW System launches task force to address sexual assault

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 11:36am

The University of Wisconsin System is stepping up efforts to decrease sexual violence through a new task force aimed at coordinating protection, prevention and outreach efforts across campuses.

The announcement of the UW System Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment comes a week after President Barack Obama began the “It’s On Us” campaign to stem sexual assaults on campuses. Tonya Schmidt, a UW assistant dean of students, said the task force was implemented in response to increased federal requirements.

UW System President Ray Cross said in a statement “ensuring that our campus communities are safe … is not an area for compromise.”

“While we believe our current approach is effective, fair, and respectful, we are always in the process of evaluating our policies and practices to strengthen them and ensure they continue to be effective and equitable,” Cross said. “This task force will further advance those efforts.”

Schmidt said the task force will provide better expertise on addressing student misconduct under UW System’s Chapter 17, a disciplinary procedure applied on every UW campus.

The task force will advise the UW System on best practices and prevention training, as well as improving partnerships on campus and creating a community focused on prevention, the UW statement said.

A system-wide approach can be really effective because it engages everyone in the movement and not just those affected directly, said Hannah Serwe, chair of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment or PAVE.

“I hope that this campaign focuses on prevention because we need a culture change not just compliance with federal law,” Serwe said. “They way that’s going to happen is if they engage voices and expertise of victims, students, prevention professionals and victim advocacy agencies.”

At the task force’s first meeting, Schmidt said they began by breaking into groups and addressing ways to better comply with federal Title IX law that forbids discrimination based on gender in educational institutions. She said they are finding training methods to help faculty understand Title IX, which can be a challenge in larger campuses.

“One of the challenges we have especially at a campus like UW-Madison is we have a lot of employees who are considered responsible employees under Title,” Schmidt said. “All of these employees should know what to do if someone discloses a sexual assault to them, get them resources and report these things up the chain of command.”

The majority of sexual assault cases on college campuses go unreported, and Schmidt said the task force will address this by finding a way to better assess numbers on sexual assaults on campus.

Each of the 13 four-year universities are represented in the 19 member task force, the UW statement said. The UW System will also launch a website for students and faculty to find resources and check in on the task force’s work.

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SSFC unanimously approves eligibility for PAVE

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 11:01pm

An Associated Students of Madison committee unanimously approved funding Thursday for the Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment group that helps prevent sexual assault and domestic violence.

The Student Services Finance Committee also heard from two other groups on why they should be eligible for segregated student funds.

SSFC voted 11-0 in favor of eligibility for PAVE, which focuses on primary prevention and education through workshops.

Rep. Cheyenne Langkamp said PAVE speaks of civic knowledge and engagement, while Secretary Brett Ducharme said the program focused on the students.

“They want to do more about promoting awareness [and] differ from UHS, where they are providing counseling,” SSFC Vice Chair Thuy Pham said. “PAVE is going out there and educating students on sexual protections.”

SSFC also heard eligibility presentations for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán and Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. The committee will decide on eligibility for the programs on Monday.

MEChA promotes self-determination of the Chicano people and the presence of culture through education, politics and art, according to Sergio Rodriguez, CulturArte coordinator.

MEChA’s core programs are Raza Outreach and CulturArte. CulturArte is an arts initiative that facilitates experiential learning for students, Rodriguez said. They have workshops that are designed to explore culture in forms of art, history and stories.

Raza Outreach is a program that leads discussions and workshops in the Madison community, said Karina Ovalle, coordinator for Raza Outreach. Students are educated on social issues in groups, discussing themes such as the educational system and the workforce, Ovalle said.

AHA looks to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW campus. AHA President Sam Erickson said the group was combining previous programs into larger programs, Secular Peer Support and Secular Issue Awareness.

Erickson said Secular Peer Support provides an educational benefit through peer mentoring and personal development, with officers being able to help students discuss their thoughts on faith.

Secular Issue Awareness looks to promote thought and discussion on campus, Erickson said. AHA is preparing a Free Thought Festival, where there are keynote speakers, debates, panel discussions, workshops and more, he added.

Categories: Local Media

Soglin and Resnick clash over rideshare regulations

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 10:47pm

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and his opponent in the mayoral elections clashed Thursday over regulations for taxicabs and rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

Soglin and Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, outlined their differing proposals for regulating app-operated drivers and taxicabs during a city subcommittee meeting.

Plans for taxi, rideshare regulations see progressRideshare companies like Uber and Lyft may see the same regulations as taxicab services in Madison after city officials proposed …

Soglin said the city government has three functions — distributive, redistributive and regulatory — so it is the government’s job to help the public obtain 24/7 service to all neighborhoods without “price gouging,” a common practice among rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

“If we’re going to build a culture that does not use the private automobile, we need to make sure all of these methods of transportation are available,” Soglin said.

But Resnick said he did not oppose allowing surge pricing, which is something the companies have said they need to operate.

“My version gives a pathway forward,” Resnick said. “What does the Madison market look like if the vehicles are here?”

Both Soglin and Resnick said they believe in stronger background checks for drivers, more clarity on insurance policies for the cars and disclosure. Soglin said disclosure would include warranty, insurance, vehicle resale and hidden cost information.

Soglin said the current Uber model has no commercial automotive insurance coverage while the app is off. The app is considered off when a customer is out of the car.

Commenting on the background checks on drivers, Captain Richard Bach of the Madison Police Department said the triple-eye-check, a nationwide criminal background check instead of just statewide, can only be done when there is an investigation into a driver.

Soglin and Resnick, however, both gave examples of situations where people slipped through the cracks of the average background check system.

Soglin said, for example, that two women who used Uber had a driver eavesdrop on their conversation, then proceed to show up at their next location. He did so while flirting with one of the women who described the situation as “creepy.”

Resnick described a similar situation pertaining to University of Wisconsin sorority members who were targeted well before Uber and Lyft began operating in Madison.

In his plan, Resnick emphasized rules and regulations from Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle because they share the same values and lens to view the Madison community.

Soglin, however, said “in regards to other states and cities … I don’t care.”

“That’s the bottom line,” Soglin said. “We need to look at the poisoned atmosphere that was created through these passages. Let’s look at Madison, Wisconsin, the community we’ve got, the transportation system we want, the kind of place we want to create and write our own ordinance that fits the society we want.”

Categories: Local Media

UW student loan default rates among lowest in country

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 10:21pm

Wisconsin’s student loan default rates are among the lowest in the country, which saw nationwide rates drop by one percentage point this year after years of steady increases.

Some attribute the change to the way the rate is calculated, thus providing an inaccurate picture of how many students default on their loans. Still, the national rate dropped from 14.7 percent last year to 13.7 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Twenty-one colleges, however, face penalties for having default rates higher than the 30 percent limit, the largest number of colleges facing penalties for high default rates since 1997.

At the University of Wisconsin, the default rate is about 1.6 percent, where it has hovered at for the past two years, he said. Statewide, Wisconsin’s default rate is one of the lowest in the nation with 9.9 percent in default, Hillman added.

Robert Kelchen, an education policy professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said student loan default doesn’t necessarily affect a lot of universities.

Kelchen said UW will likely never be subjected to penalties because the 30 percent limit affects mostly small for-profit schools that have vocational or cosmetology programs.

For example, online schools such as University of Phoenix or DeVry University, Hillman said, which often market themselves on TV and rely on financial aid.

For the past 15 years the federal government’s measurement only followed students two years after they paid their loans, but this year it followed them for three years, said UW education policy professor Nicholas Hillman, a UW education policy professor.

Hillman defined the calculation as the numerator being anyone who defaulted in three years and the denominator being the total number of students who took out loans in that fiscal year, he said.

“The basic calculation hasn’t changed,” Hillman said. “[…] The real problem with this new policy is it doesn’t account for who borrows in the first place. It’s disproportionate and too simple. Students keep their loans 10, 20, even 30 years. It doesn’t show the magnitude of it.”

Hillman called the method of penalizing universities “a weak policy,” and universities need to be held more accountable for students’ defaulting on their loans. He said these schools produce students who make low wages or don’t even graduate.

Hillman said universities that lose federal funding due to high default rates are able to reapply in a matter of years, contrasting that to students who are stuck with loans until they pay them off.

“While there is a long-term implication financially for students, the colleges get a ‘Get out of jail free card,’” Hillman said. “They get a chance to turn the rate around and students don’t.”

Kelchen said a student defaults on loans after not paying for a year, but missing a few months does not necessarily lead to default. The consequence of default is not something students can get rid of with bankruptcy like other debt, he said.

Kelchen said there are a lot of reasons why default rates, even at UW, are nowhere near a complete picture of the struggle students face.

“You can hurt your credit score, and it will be difficult to get a car, a house or even a job,” Kelchen said. “They aren’t able to start a family or buy a house like people like to do in their twenties.”

Hillman urges students to be informed about their loans and how to pay them back, as well as to become more vocal with university administration about financial aid and debt. He said the university should also continue looking into how it can bring its default rate down.

“We should still be concerned about those 2 percent defaulting,” Hillman said. “Who are they? First-generation students, low income, minority? Just because it is a low number doesn’t make it okay.”

Previously, a statement from Hillman was misattributed to Kelchen in this article. This post has been updated to reflect that change.

Categories: Local Media

Busted: Police seize $1 million worth of marijuana in four locations

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 8:35pm

One of the largest drug busts in Dane County took place Wednesday, when officers confiscated more than $1 million dollars of marijuana and 1,124 plants.

The Dane County Narcotics Task Force issued warrants for four different locations, seizing the 1,124 plants from three residences in Madison and one in Sun Prairie. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office listed 44-year-old Donald Alston of Madison as the primary suspect at every location.

Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said the case could be tried in federal court because of how many drugs there were.

Alston was taken into custody and charged with maintaining a drug dwelling, possession of marijuana, four counts of manufacturing marijuana and intent to deliver the drug, according to a Dane County Sheriff’s Office statement. 

Charges will most likely be elevated because one of the residences was close to a school, Dane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Elise Schaffer said.

Schaffer said Alston is currently detained in the Dane County Jail and officers are investigating where the marijuana was distributed. Two more people that were potentially involved and may be arrested are also under investigation, she added.

DeSpain said all of the properties’ basements were converted to grow rooms. A loaded 12-gauge shotgun and drug paraphernalia were also found at the crime scenes, he said.

“All the plants were in different stages of growth,” DeSpain said. “This displays how it has been a long-term operation.”

No one was injured during the operations, Schaffer said.

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