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Hundreds gather in Madison protesting Ferguson grand jury decision

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 9:51pm

More than 250 protesters gathered at the Dane County Jail on Tuesday following the Ferguson grand jury decision, raising awareness about racial disparities while also protesting the county’s plan to build a new jail.

Photos: Madison rally responds to Ferguson grand jury decision

The rally, which began at the jail and went around the Capitol square, was sparked by news that a grand jury in Missouri decided against charging Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Similar rallies occurred in cities across the nation, including Milwaukee, Seattle and Orlando, as well as in cities across the globe, including London and Tokyo.

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” which became a rallying cry after Brown’s death, joined chants of “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace, no racist police” as the group marched around the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

Protesters blocked a downtown intersection during a 4-and-a-half minute moment of silence for Brown, representing the 4-and-a-half hours his body lay uncovered in the street after he was shot.

The rally’s organizers demanded plans for a new county jail be abandoned, instead calling for funding for community-led programs.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney has said a new jail is necessary in order to provide additional mental health resources and other services.

“My desire is that we create a more humane jail,” he said in August.

Sheriff says $120 million proposal will improve jail conditions in Dane CountyIn an attempt to bring more humanity to the jail system, negotiations persist on Sheriff Dave Mahoney’s proposed $120 million …

At a news conference after the rally, city and community leaders agreed there’s work to be done to address issues of racial disparity in Madison.

Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, stressed the importance of hearing the protesters’ voices, as well as the voices of young people.

“As a community, we have to make sure that we continue to invest in the lives of young people,” he said.

Politicians and community leaders need to hear the protestors’ concerns, he said.

One of their concerns regarding the county’s proposal to build a new jail particularly resonated with Johnson, who said it was absurd that, on average, $48,000 per year is spent to incarcerate an individual while only $5,000 is spent annually to educate an individual.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with that scenario,” Johnson said.

Derek Smith, a member of the Board of Directors at the Urban League of Greater Madison, said it’s important to keep the discussion at the forefront and keep moving forward.

“This is a unique time for us. … The key is what do we do when this is not in the spotlight,” he said.

UW students react to Ferguson decision, weigh in with personal interactions with policeA group of University of Wisconsin students gathered on campus Monday to hear results from Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand …

Focusing on helping people get jobs to increase family stability and instituting programs that will be sustainable for the community will be key going forward, he said.

One program Mayor Paul Soglin has advocated on behalf of is the “Ban the Box” initiative. The initiative makes it illegal for employers to include a question on a job application asking about the applicant’s arrest record.

If an arrest relevant to the position occurred, any investigation into the incident would occur well after the hiring process has begun, allowing a more diverse group of applicants to apply for jobs, Soglin said.

Soglin also stressed he is not a supporter of the county’s proposal to build a new jail, saying the city has other priorities than building the jail.

Working to prevent the homeless from ending up stuck in the court system should be another priority, he said.

“We’ve been working with the courts in trying to get … homeless people out of the trap where they are burdened by all these fines,” Soglin said.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval recognized no matter what, there’s work to be done.

“The challenge is to think beyond or out of the box in terms of trying some of these new paradigms because obviously the old ones are failing us miserably,” he said.

Categories: Local Media

Madison group to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 9:31pm

Madison’s Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps will be marching during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

The local drum and bugle corps, which was founded in 1938, was selected to perform at the iconic parade because of their uniqueness compared to other acts in the parade, according James Mason, the group’s former assistant director.

Mason contacted the Macy’s Day Parade selection committee during Spring 2013 about performing, according to Executive Director Chris Komnick.

“They were certainly very eager to have us, because they rarely have gotten bugle corps to come in and participate in the parade,” Komnick said.

Madison Scouts has members from all around the United States and overseas, he said.

More than 50 million viewers worldwide, along with 3 million people on the parade route, are expected to watch the parade, he said.

Madison Scouts will be performing two songs during the parade: a stylized version of Pharrel’s “Happy,” with a Christmas flair and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Komnick said.

They chose the song “Happy” due to its popularity over the last year and the song’s mass audience, he said. The band will be directly in front of Santa Claus, he said.

Mayor Paul Soglin issued the group a mayoral proclamation at a Common Council meeting last week, according to the mayor’s spokesperson Katie Crawley.

A mayoral proclamation is a way for the mayor to highlight an individual or organization on their achievement or event, she said.

“It is a sense of pride for the entire community,” Crawley said.

The group marches for competitive seasons all throughout the summertime, touring all around the United States, Komnick said.

According to the proclamation, Madison Scouts has been chosen as Drum Corps International Finalists more than 35 times and twice have been honored as Drum Corps International Champions.

For the event, Madison Scouts will be performing with their current 150 members, along with alumni, Komnick said. They are calling themselves Madison Scouts-Corps of Brothers. There will be a total of 426 members marching in the parade, ranging from ages 15-75, he said.

Komnick said he is excited about what the parade means for Madison Scouts. The massive audience will help bring exposure to the corps, he said.

“It is historic for us,” Komnick said. ”It will be the largest audience we played for ever. We are privileged and excited about the opportunity.”

Categories: Local Media

UW students react to Ferguson decision, weigh in with personal interactions with police

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 12:41am

A group of University of Wisconsin students gathered on campus Monday to hear results from Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man this summer.

The event, held in the Multicultural Student Center at the Red Gym, allowed students to react to the news from Ferguson and offer their perspectives on the problems facing people of color in Ferguson and Madison.

After the decision was announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not face charges for the death of Michael Brown, students shared their thoughts on the situation and their own personal experiences with law enforcement.

Jordan Gaines, a UW junior, said the decision from Ferguson did not surprise her.

Part of the problem is the legal system is not designed to be completely equal, she said.

“It wasn’t built to protect certain bodies. It was actually built on the oppression and deprivation of freedom of a lot of people,” she said.

Casey Coulson, a UW junior, said she has had several negative interactions with law enforcement, including an incident from late October in which she was arrested for jaywalking on State Street.

“I was walking about a foot outside the crosswalk, the cop was driving and almost hit me, and then she got out and asked me for my information,” Coulson said.

Coulson, who was intoxicated at the time, said she cooperated with the officer, who ended up arresting her despite objections from another officer.

She spent the night in jail, restrained in a chair without her glasses, and today she remains fearful of what could happen next.

“I feel like I’m one angry cop away from something worse,” she said.

Since the incident on Halloween, Coulson said she’s still afraid for her well-being and livelihood.

Equipping police officers with body cameras would not necessarily solve the issues people of color face with law enforcement, she said.

“Body cameras are difficult because you can manipulate footage any way you want to,” Coulson said.

The way an incident is framed using the cameras could cause its own problems, she said. Coulson added that she’s cautious but not optimistic about the effectiveness of body cameras.

Police body camera initiative postponed at Madison Common Council meetingAfter months of debate on the topic, Madison’s City Council members postponed the police officer body cameras project Tuesday. An …

More surveillance may not solve the problem, Gaines said.

“How much will that [camera] rein you in, in that moment?” she said.

Even with current surveillance from squad cars and footage from smartphones, the issue persists, she said.

Gaines said both Madison police and the University of Wisconsin Police Department have taken steps to become more visible in the community, allowing them to hear from citizens firsthand.

“Being present in those spaces to hear what people are and saying and hear how people are perceiving your rule” allow law enforcement to become aware of issues in the community and take steps to address them, she said.

One solution Coulson believed would be more effective is paying more careful attention to who is hired by the police department, she said.

“There needs to be more care in hiring practices [to avoid bad apples],” she said. “There needs to be accountability.”

A rally for supporters of Brown will be held at the Dane County Jail Tuesday afternoon.

Categories: Local Media

Sexual assault reported outside campus building

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 5:55pm

University of Wisconsin police are investigating a reported sexual assault that occurred late Saturday outside a campus building.

According to a police report, the assault occurred at 11:00 p.m. outside a campus academic building.

Police have identified the suspect, who is believed to have known the victim, the report said.

The case is still under investigation, and police are asking anyone with information to contact them, the report said.

Categories: Local Media

City looks to public for Philosopher’s Grove redesign

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:23am

Hoping to bring the area back to what it used to be, city officials are asking citizens to assist in redesigning Philosopher’s Grove.

“There’s been a lot of newspaper headlines about this area,” Rebecca Cnare from the city’s planning division said. “Philosopher’s Grove is right at the top of State Street, on one of the busiest intersections in the city. We are looking for ways to make the top of State Street a great place again.”

With the help of a design team, the city wants to open up the area again to what it was 10 years ago, Cnare said.

The Downtown Coordinating Committee held a public design workshop Thursday, which Cnare said was for the city to listen to feedback and ideas from the public about how to handle the problems in the Philosopher’s Grove area.

Philosopher’s Grove used to be a city street that intersected with State Street that cars could drive on, but then it was turned into a plaza space. The area was meant to be a place where people could spend time out of the pedestrian traffic, Bill Fruhling, principal planner from the city’s planning division, said.

Fruhling said the area had concrete planters that blocked off the space and made it dark and hidden until it was reconstructed again in the early 2000s.

“We still wanted to provide a shaded, quieter and more contemplative area for people,” Fruhling said. “You could see all the way through the area and we wanted to incorporate public art.”

Cnare said artist Jill Sebastian designed the groupings of bronze and stone for the area. Fruhling said at first after the redesign, the area was a huge success. It was well used, widely enjoyed and there were no complaints until two or three years ago.

“There were reports of harassment issues, as well as complaints of people taking ownership of the area. We decided to take another look at the area to ensure that this remains a great place in the community,” Fruhling said.

In response to the issues, Cnare said the city wanted to take the situation to the public. There is no real timeline for the redevelopment yet, but the city is hoping for implementation of changes starting in the spring of next year.

Cnare said the city needed to be open-minded and make sure they were listening to the opinions of the multitude of business, home and property owners nearby before coming to a conclusion.

The city as a whole needs to make sure that they are separating the idea of people causing issues and the homeless, Cnare said.

“This isn’t a problem with the homeless. The problem is with the crime,” resident Dan Milsted said during the workshop.

An overwhelming response from the public during the workshop suggested opening the space up, increasing lighting and adding amenities such as an extension of the farmers market, a ticket booth, additional seating for the surrounding restaurants, a taxi stand, a bike path or a reflecting pool.

Cnare said in the past the city has tried to help the issues by adding twinkle lights, interactive chalkboards and even increased police presence.

“This is just the opening dialogue,” Fruhling said. “We want to hear what the public’s current perception of the space is, and we just want people to feel like it’s a safe environment.”

Categories: Local Media

Madison weighing options for city-wide high speed Internet

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:23am

A new city proposal that would bring Internet access to impoverished neighborhoods now faces the decision of providing high-speed Internet or cheaper, slower 4G services.

The idea for this program has existed for a few years now, Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said, but the city is now moving along in the development process by reaching out to vendors and examining possible ways to implement it.

The program’s goal is to provide reliable Internet access to low-income neighborhoods throughout Madison, such as Kennedy Heights, Brentwood, Allied Drive and Darbo Worthington, Resnick said.

The city has already requested ideas and concepts from vendors, Resnick said. He said four have applied for the project: a local company, a company from Nevada and two from T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. The city proposed questions to these vendors Thursday.

Resnick said the proposals they have heard all fall into two categories. One category of proposals suggests creating and putting up antennas or 4G service. The second category of proposals supports using Wi-Fi connection or subsidized rates.

Erik Paulson, who serves on the city’s Digital Technology Committee, said even thought the city is looking primarily at 4G and fiber lines, they are still open to other options.

“All the responses we got back listed some kind of 4G as their proposal solution, but that doesn’t mean the committee won’t ultimately recommend issuing a request for proposals for a more traditional looking solution, something like putting Wi-Fi in a couple of apartment buildings,” Paulson said.

Paulson said the 4G option would allow them to reach many more people with less of a geographic constraint, which he said is an exciting concept. He also said this method has more complications including limitations on the access they would have to funding.

Resnick said the big difference between the two categories of proposals are the variances between 4G network and fiber to the home.

Resnick said fiber provides high-speed Internet, but at a high cost. This high cost of fiber applies to the amount that would be paid by the end user, as well as the work that would have to go into simply laying the fiber connection, Resnick said.

Since most of these homes that would be involved in the project don’t have any internet to begin with, a “cheap and reliable Internet service is a higher priority than trying to provide the fastest Internet service,” Resnick said.

Resnick said the project is currently in the process of gathering cost estimates, but when they investigated this project four years ago they saw that fiber would have been a $92 million proposal. The 4G solution, on the other hand, is more in the $1 million range.

Because the resources from the 2015 capital budget can only be allocated towards specific projects, it limits the ways the project can use them and may create additional complications, Paulson said. Paulson said they want to begin the pilot program as soon as they can, but they currently have $150,000 from the 2015 budget, which he said is less than what some of the solutions suggest as the base amount needed to get the program started. “There is some additional money planned for the 2016 budget explicitly for a wireless network so we might be able to do something where we spend the 2015 money on a project that ties into the 2016 project and makes all the money go further,” Paulson said.

All in all, Resnick said even though the 4G connection is modest when it comes to speed, it is a better cost alternative for Madison neighborhoods.

So far, the public has been behind the proposal, Resnick said.

“I have found a substantial amount of support [for the project], not universal, but near overwhelming,” Resnick said.  

Categories: Local Media

Some experts say tax decreases cause for gap in 2015-2017 state budget

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:22am

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration reported a sizable gap Thursday between current state revenue and program requests for the 2015-2017 budget cycle, as experts call for prioritization of public education and social services.

The likely result of this potential deficit is a cut to these program requests, as Walker has made it clear he does not intend to raise property or income taxes. New asks from Medicaid, the state transportation fund and the Department of Public Instruction alone push what the state has received in new tax revenue, according to Todd Berry, president of Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance.

“The information recently released by the Department of Administration project a big gap between projected revenue and the projected amount of money that will be needed to just do what the state is currently doing,” University of Wisconsin professor of public affairs and applied economics Andrew Reschovsky said.

Reschovsky said one of the main reasons the budget is emerging in this way is due to property and income tax reductions that were passed half a year ago when there was a projection of a budget surplus.

Reschovsky said when tax reductions are based off a one-time surplus, it can create a structural deficit, which he says is what is happening with this budget. Along with this, revenue projections “weren’t as rosy as they thought,” exacerbating the problem, he said.

“State lawmakers hastily passed tax cuts based on overly optimistic revenue projections, and we can now see that actually revenues are far below what they were anticipating,” Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, said. “Once again, they failed to plan for the possibility that their forecasts would be too optimistic.”

According to Berry, citizens should not be overly concerned about media speculations at potential deficit, which the Wisconsin State Journal reported to be about $2.2 billion. He said there are almost always differences between what the state has in terms of revenue and what programs want at this point in the fiscal year, and state agencies program asks are almost never fully funded.

Reschovsky pointed to the UW System budget, which had to make substantial changes due to cuts in the last budget. He said the combination of lack of revenue and no increase in taxes means belt-tightening at the university, especially since Walker has said he will freeze tuition.

“This will be decreasing funding at a time when we really need to increase it to keep up with normal inflation,” Peacock said. “If tuition will be frozen again, and I suspect it will be, there isn’t going be funding to keep up with growth and costs for salaries and in other areas.”

The Department of Transportation has asked for a $600 million transfer from the general fund to improve roads, one of the larger asks of the next budget. Reschovsky said the state should be focusing on education, health care and social support at this time.

“That’s a decision about priorities,” Reschovsky said. “In periods where there isn’t enough money, one would hope that there would be an overall assessment of what the major priorities are.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said the projected deficit is $2.2 million. This post has been updated to reflect that the number is actually $2.2 billion.

Categories: Local Media

Meth use in southern Wisconsin still low compared to northern regions

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:21am

High population density and access to heroin and cocaine from Chicago keep the use of methamphetamine in southern Wisconsin less common than in other parts of the state, but incidents involving the highly addictive drug still pose a serious challenge to citizens and law enforcement.

While use of meth remains rare in Dane County compared to parts of northern and northwestern Wisconsin, Madison Police Department Lt. Jason Freedman said he has seen “an upkick” in the past year.

In 2013, Dane County and Milwaukee County both reported three cases of discovered meth labs. For comparison, several counties in northern Wisconsin reported over 30 cases, and Polk County reported 72.

“I see more reports of suspected or actual arrests of meth, but we’re just talking going from one handful to maybe two handfuls, so it is still a very small number,” Freedman, who has been on the Dane County Narcotics Task Force for five years, said.

According to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, both Milwaukee County and Dane County reported more meth labs than counties in their immediate surroundings. Waukesha, Racine and Jefferson Counties reported no meth lab cases in 2013 and Rock and Green Counties both reported only one.

Freedman said there are multiple reasons for the disparities in meth use between Wisconsin’s counties. Demographics and location both play a big role, he said.

“We’re on a major corridor linking us with Chicago and Chicago is home to heroin and cocaine. Part of it is supply of what’s available and heroin and cocaine seem to be working, whereas up north the supply chain is longer and less secure,” Freedman said.

Freedman said heroin use, which is much more readily available due to Madison’s proximity to Chicago, has likely been keeping meth at bay. Additionally, Freedman said high population density in places like Madison and Milwaukee make it harder to conceal meth labs, which require space and are often odorous and easy to spot.

Freedman said historically meth comes from Mexico or is made in the local area, so in an urban region like Dane County, meth is harder to obtain, especially when most drugs are coming in through Chicago.

According to Freedman, a significant increase in meth, which is highly addictive, use and production would be a “very bad thing” for Dane County.

“It would pose a huge challenge to people, both citizens and law enforcement, in Dane County,” Freedman said. “Meth tends to be extraordinarily addictive, creates extremely violent and paranoid type behavior and drives lots of violent and property crimes.”

According to Department of Justice reports, between 2010 and 2012, meth lab incidents had spread to five new Wisconsin counties. This increase occurred along with a large increase in the total number of cases in the state.

Freedman said meth use in Dane County is consistent with this state-wide trend. Meth use in Milwaukee County seems to be increasing at a similar rate, according to the DOJ reports.

An officer with Milwaukee High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program declined to comment on methamphetamine use in Milwaukee County.

Categories: Local Media

Madison concerned about the amount of salt on the road in winter

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 7:22pm

Madison has been salting its roads in the winter for about 60 years, and despite the concerns of some about its impact on lakes and rivers, a road salt report from Madison Dane County Public Health says people often prioritize winter driving conditions over environmental health.

“I think in the summer its something people talk about and say something needs to be done,” Rick Wenta of Madison and Dane County Public Health said. “In the winter, five minutes of extra travel time is too much of an inconvenience and nobody cares about anything but the road being clear.”

As winter approaches, Madison faces the the pressure to salt roads with the knowledge of its harmful impacts on surrounding lakes.

Wenta said road salt is most commonly applied to streets, driveways and sidewalks in the winter to slow water’s ability to form ice. However, it often dries into a powder and gets carried away by the wind to other locations. It also gets splashed onto roadside vegetation, infiltrates soil and groundwater and drains into lakes or streams, he said.

Road salt is composed of sodium chloride, which has no way of being absorbed by chemical or biological processes. Once it enters the environment, it is there to stay, Wenta said.

A study by University of Minnesota in 2009 found a strong correlation between chloride concentrations in metro area lakes and road salt purchases by the state. Because road salt often makes its way into drinking water, human health could be affected if it reached a substantial level.

“Sodium will raise blood pressure,” Wenta said. “Once it gets above about 20 milligrams per liter, people on a sodium restricted diet are supposed to be informed by the water utility that the well they get their water from is at that level.”

Only one well in the city is getting close to dangerously high sodium levels, he said.

“But if we get to that point, that may be what we need to get people to realize we have to start using less salt on the streets,” Wenta said.

But sodium isn’t the only concern; chloride is toxic to aquatic life and can have negative effects on vegetation and wildlife, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said.

All of Madison’s lakes have experienced increased chloride levels over the past 50 years, but none have been impacted as much as Lake Wingra. Beginning with a chloride concentration of just below 60 milligrams per liter, this number is now up over 100. To put this in perspective, the highest chloride concentration in any of the Great Lakes is less than 25 milligrams per liter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Categories: Local Media

UW Campus Kitchen chapter opens to assist anyone combating hunger

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 4:34pm

Four students at University of Wisconsin have come together to combat hunger and food insecurity by establishing a chapter of a national non-profit organization called Campus Kitchens.

Cofounders Colin McReavy, Katherine Kokkinias, Shruti Rajan and Meaghan Sargent have molded their mission statement around the Wisconsin Idea – the policy that integrates university programs into real-world situations in the state.

11.6 percent of people in Dane County alone are food insecure, McReavy said. This means they have difficulty finding or affording the healthy and nutritious food they need to maintain a balanced diet.

In addition, many of these people are not eligible for government-run food assistance programs.

“It’s something that we realized is an issue, but there’s an opportunity within that issue. It’s something that we felt we could capitalize and Campus Kitchens gave us the opportunity to do that,” McReavy said.

The plan for Campus Kitchens in Madison is to take leftover food from the dining halls at the end of the night and prepare a meal with it. These meals will then be served to people in the community, students and others who are struggling with food security, McReavy said.

However, the cofounders want to do more than just take leftovers from dining halls and drop them off at another location, McReavy said.

“We like to take a holistic approach,” McReavy said. “We’re more than just a middle man.”

The cofounders want to address the root cause of hunger and stop the vicious cycle causing it. To do this, they would eventually like to provide cooking and nutrition classes, community garden projects and even a food pantry, McReavy said.

They also want to expand to other entities in the community, so that they’re not only collecting leftovers from campus dining halls, but entities like catering, the Union, and athletics, all of which McReavy said face the same issue of excess food at the end of the day. After that, they’d like to do the same thing with restaurants, businesses and farms in the area, McReavy said.

The UW chapter of Campus Kitchens has not served any meals yet, as the planning process began only last semester. However, the cofounders want to start out with success, even if that means starting small, Rajan said. They plan to start at the Goodman Community Center on the east side of Madison.

“It’s good because we’re starting out with a smaller number at the Goodman Center, and we’ll be able to give them full meals and test out how much food we need, how much we need to buy of our own and then how much of that is recovered as well,” Rajan said.

This past week, Associated Students of Madison’s Student Services Finance Committee approved a proposed budget for a food pantry for low-income students on campus.

These students have the power to do something really influential and speak up on behalf of other students in the UW System, a homeless student on campus who attended the SSFC meeting and chose to remain anonymous, said.

“UW is a [public institution], and that’s a big deal. When we do something, it does not go unnoticed,” the student said.

Students should not look at this from a monetary perspective, the student said. They should look at it and understand from a student’s perspective who is in that boat.

In addition to serving a weekly meal at the Goodman Center, the cofounders of Campus Kitchen would like to serve students on campus.

“There’s a huge demographic of students who struggle with affording meals. When you think about hunger you tend to think about what’s going on in the Madison community and around us, but many times what goes overlooked is students who are sitting next to you in class or walking down the street right next to you,” McReavy said.

Categories: Local Media

UW researches difference in brain activity between reality and imagination

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 4:32pm

Researchers at University of Wisconsin studied brainwaves to determine how interpretation of reality differs from imaginary thought in the human brain.

The researchers have determined a person’s brainwaves react differently when they are daydreaming versus when they are thinking about reality, as well as when they are asleep versus when they are awake.

Barry Van Veen, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, was focused on researching how the signals were transmitted between neurons.

“What researchers have been working on is developing methods for trying to figure out how information is being exchanged in the brain from measurements in the electrical activity in the scalp,” Van Veen said.

Neurons work on electricity and chemicals, Van Veen said. The neurons transmit electrical signals, and these signals can be measured at the scalp, he said.

However, the signals are very weak and can be blurred since the skull is between the brain and the scalp, making the signals hard to read sometimes, Van Veen said.

Researchers developed a method to identify how different areas of the brain are interacting, Van Veen said.

“They decided to try that method out, an experiment that one of my colleagues, Giulio Tononi [psychiatry professor and neuroscientist], conceived of, to compare what happens in the brain in perception … to what happens in the brain when you’re imagining something,” Van Veen said.

The results of the experiment came out as expected, Van Veen said. It had just never been measured until now.

Half of the participants in the research were asked to watch a video clip and replay the events in the video during the study, while the other half were asked to imagine themselves riding a magical bicycle before watching a silent video clip, a UW statement said.

The results of this experiment have been recently published in the journal NeuroImage, and they could help Tononi understand what happens in the brain while a person is sleeping and dreaming, the UW statement said.

However, Van Veen is looking for a more simple goal.

“The experiment provided us with a sandbox to test our algorithms,” Van Veen said. “We set this up, we expected there would be a contrast between these two different conditions, so the idea was to see if our algorithms could find that contrast. Now, the other goal of this was to show that there was a contrast.”

Although those two ideas sound like they contradict one another, there is no tool to measure how the brain interacts as a network, so the main goal was to see things that could not be seen before, Van Veen said.

Van Veen is currently involved in a short-term memory study, as well as a study comparing the difference between the brain while a person is awake and a person is sleeping.

The goal is to develop these tools and use them where they are needed, such as to study disabilities like epilepsy, Van Veen said.

“It takes a lot of people to do this kind of thing, and science moves, rightfully so, cautiously … My biggest concern is that things get portrayed accurately,” Van Veen said.

Categories: Local Media

SSFC approves on-campus food pantry as part of ASM’s budget

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 12:53am

The University of Wisconsin will have an on-campus food pantry for low-income students after an Associated Students of Madison committee approved funding for the project Thursday.

The Student Services Finance Committee amended and passed proposed budgets from ASM, Student Learning Program and the ASM Green Fund.

ASM Student Council Chair Genevieve Carter and Vice Chair Derek Field returned to answer questions about the group’s plan to create an on-campus food pantry for low-income students struggling to afford the cost of tuition, rent, and other expenses.

Several students in favor of the proposal described the on-campus food pantry as a necessity to provide for the needs of students living on campus, and said to think not in terms of the monetary costs of the program, but the social costs.

SSFC Chair Devon Maier also spoke in favor of the food pantry program, saying giving back to students through the food pantry is one of the most important things students can do for others on campus.

Maier said he recognized SSFC’s part in ensuring the next step in helping the food pantry.

“SSFC is the realist body as opposed to the student council who is more the idealist body,” Maier said. ”We need to look at how to practically make this successful while also respecting the 42,000 students on campus who pay segregated fees.”

Vice Chair Thuy Pham said it was important to recognize SSFC was fully supportive of the food pantry program, but wanted to see what the optimal way to fund the program would be.

SSFC budgeted $19,115.20 for the two paid positions the food pantry program requested, as well as $3,000 for supplies and advertising. A motion to reduce funding for the project failed 8 to 6.

SSFC unanimously approves VETS budget, hears proposals from SLP, ASMA committee of student government unanimously approved a budget for Veterans, Educators and Traditional Students and heard budget proposals from …

Following discussion of SLP’s budget and proposals to strike five hours off of all summer every summer position while retaining the $9.19 wage and removing $500 from SLP’s program budget and $200 from its emailing budget, SSFC unanimously approved the group’s budget for $54,706.40.

SSFC also heard from the chair of the ASM Sustainability Committee Kyla Kaplan about the proposed budget for the Green Fund.

The Green Fund, which advocates for and raises awareness of environmental issues, answered questions concerning their proposed $50,000 budget.

SSFC Secretary Brett Ducharme raised questioned how the Green Fund came to the proposed budget of $50,000.

The amount was proposed after Green Fund became more aware of the policies within the university, and had faculty members get on board to rewriting some of the bylaws the Green Fund had difficulty with the previous year, Kaplan said.

The Green Fund hopes to have $3,000 passed for projects that fit their current financial progress, Kaplan said.

The SSFC approved the Green Fund budget as it was sent.

Categories: Local Media

County executive signs $575 million county budget for 2015

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 10:51pm

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi signed the county’s two budgets Wednesday, approving $2 million for affordable housing initiatives and funding for eight additional employees at the 911 Center, among other items.

The $533 million operating budget and $42 million capital budget represent a $14 million increase from last year’s budget, according to Chuck Hicklin, the county’s chief financial officer and controller.

Taxes on the average single family home in Madison will increase by approximately $23, he said.

The budget includes nearly $9 million in funding for the 911 Center, which has faced intense scrutiny over response times in recent years.

Parisi calls for revamping of 911 call center In an effort to improve an “unusual governance structure” for Dane County’s 911 Call Center, County Executive Joe Parisi is …

Part of that funding will pay the salaries of eight additional staff members at the 911 Center, according to a statement from Parisi.

County Board Supervisor Leland Pan, District 5, said part of the concern has been slow response times. Adding eight new employees will help increase response times, he said.

“While our numbers are pretty good and have been pretty consistent over the years, certainly there’s always room for improvement,” he said.

The budget also includes $20,000 to study the effects of equipping sheriff’s deputies with body cameras, Pan said. Part of that money will go toward ensuring the public’s voice is heard on the proposal, he said.

The budget also includes $2 million for the Affordable Housing Development Fund in 2015, and a proposal for another $2 million per year for three more years, Pan said.

The funds will be used to promote the construction of affordable housing for formerly homeless people and to establish housing cooperatives, he said.

County board approves $8 million in funding to combat homelessnessThe Dane County Board of Supervisors approved $8 million in funding for the Affordable Housing Fund at its meeting Monday night, …

The funds could eventually be used to purchase a site for a day resource center, but the proposed site near Park Street has faced legal challenges and opposition from neighbors, he said.

Despite the budget having most of the items and supervisors Parisi pushed for, Pan said he wished more could have been done to increase the county’s living wage ordinance.

“If we had the money, I would have loved to have set our living wage ordinance to $15 per hour … but that money didn’t exist,” he said.

It’s unfortunate the budget couldn’t include a raise for county workers, he said.

Maintaining quality of life and important services in the county was the goal of the budget, which the county was able to do, Parisi said in the statement.

“In challenging economic times and when facing economic uncertainties, I am proud that in Dane County we worked together to keep costs down for taxpayers through collaboration,” he said.

Though not every item could be funded, the budget has most of what Parisi and the board wanted, Hicklin said.

Additionally, the budget will ensure a balance of $20 million in the county’s rainy day fund in case of some kind of fiscal shock, he said.

“Keeping the lights on is the best we can do,” Hicklin said.

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City officials propose to ban e-cigs in public

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:26am

On the same day the Oxford Dictionary named “vape” its word of the year, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Common Council members introduced a proposal to ban electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, indoors in public spaces.

As part of the proposal, smoking e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes would become illegal in city parks and beaches, according to Ald. Lauren Cnare, District 3.

The current state law, which went into effect in 2010, prohibits smoking in retail establishments, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and state institutions, but allows exceptions for tobacco retailers who were in business before June 30, 2009, and make more than 75 percent of their income from tobacco sales excluding cigarettes or who make 15 percent or more of their income from cigar and pipe tobacco sales.

The proposal is sponsored by 10 alders, including Cnare, who herself is a former-smoker, as well as Mayor Paul Soglin.

The aim of the proposal is to treat e-cigarettes just like regular cigarettes, Cnare said.

“This is not making them illegal devices; it is merely saying we have some places that we respect the rights of others to breathe clean air, and we want to preserve those,” she said.

Part of the problem with e-cigarettes is the uncertainty about whether the vapor that comes out of e-cigarettes is safe, Cnare said.

Cnare expressed concerns that e-cigarettes might be attractive to children with flavors such as bubble gum, grape and candy apple.

Youth smoking rates are going down due to the current smoking ban, she said. This proposal would help keep young people from taking up smoking, she said.

“I don’t want smoking to be re-normalized,” Cnare said.

Cnare predicts some opposition to the proposal, but said several cities across Wisconsin have successfully approved similar measures.

However, Jason Clark, owner of Smokes on State, said the proposal will harm his business and cause him to lose money.

“This will affect quite a lot of people, customers and employees. Our store employs a lot of people, but if we aren’t able to maintain profit, people are going to have to start looking elsewhere,” he said.

The proposal will cause much of his business to shift online, Clark said.

Clark voiced concerns the proposal will create a stigma about e-cigarettes similar to the stigma associated with smoking traditional cigarettes.

“This law pushes people who utilize e-cigarettes into a bad demographic. There is not enough studies on the products. Cities like Eau Claire have taken the drastic approach and banned them when they do not even have the research to back it,” Clark said.

The measure will be discussed by the city’s parks department before sending it to the health department.

After reviewing the proposal, the health department will make a recommendation to Common Council as soon as January, Cnare said.

Categories: Local Media

Walker’s 2016 plans remain unconfirmed

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:23am

Gov. Scott Walker may have passed his greatest hurdle yet regarding his 2016 presidential prospects, a midterm re-election. Yet, much remains to be seen as to whether or not he will place a bid and if so, how he would position himself within a faction bound party struggling for direction.

As Walker comes down from his election-day high and attempts to get back down to the business of state politics, he is already beginning to deal with an onslaught of questions regarding his plans for a 2016 presidential campaign. After winning his third gubernatorial race in a traditional swing state, the governor is starting to be viewed by many as a viable option for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Walker said of his current 2016 plans, “my personal process is I have to feel like it’s a calling, particularly for the time and the effort and the impact on family and friends.”

Through his November victory, Walker proved that he has the ability to harness the full backing of his own party in a state that is not traditionally so partisan. According to the Associated Press, exit polls show that 96 percent of Wisconsin Republicans cast their vote for Walker. He was also ahead with independent voters.

Kenneth Mayer, a professor of political science at University of Wisconsin, said because of Walker’s young age, a bid by Ryan in 2016 would most likely deter him from the race.

“Scott Walker is young and could be a player in Republican politics for 20 to 25 years. This is not his last opportunity,” he said.

Mike Wagner, assistant journalism professor at UW, sees a Walker campaign taking on two distinct phases; being able to converse domestically and internationally.

“Most voters in primaries are far more extreme than the voters who show up in a general election, and so he would not need to moderate in a primary, but [rather] convince voters that he is conversant with national, and more importantly international issues,” Wagner said, “If his party nominated him, he would be following a long tradition of candidates in both parties if he decided to moderate in a general election.”

Wagner and Mayer agreed that it would be beneficial for Walker to run a highly conservative primary campaign, but he would most likely have to cater to a changing U.S. demographic if he received the nomination.

“I think it’s pretty clear that there are limits to how far a hard right strategy will work nationally,” Mayer said. ”The reasons are pretty standard — they have had difficulty appealing to anybody outside their base, which is essentially white men. The key question is what, if anything, they [Republicans] can do to extend that appeal to women, minorities, Hispanics, minorities and young people.”

Categories: Local Media

UW researchers use social media to estimate air quality

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:22am

Tweets across the world of words like “haze, sunny, cold” are being analyzed by researchers at University of Wisconsin to determine areas of high pollution.

The computerized prediction system was created to analyze social media posts coming from a specific city to arrive at an estimated air quality index for that city.

This prediction system was created because in impoverished areas of China there are no air quality stations to estimate air pollution, Shike Mei, graduate student and member of the research team, said.

“What’s interesting about our approach [is that] the ultimate goal is not simply to predict air pollution for China, but rather to design a machine learning approach that can do this or other related tasks,” Jerry Zhu, associate professor in the department of computer sciences, said.

This is done through computer science techniques called natural language processing and machine learning, Zhu said.

At an intuitive level, the computer scans all social media posts and counts how many times every word is used on a particular day in a given city.

“The intuition is that there will always be words that are heavily-used,” Zhu said. “What is interesting is the program needs to figure out which of the words are actually related to air quality. We want it to figure that out all by itself.”

UW developers did this by collecting data on all social media posts, as well as the actual air quality index, from two cities on the same day, Zhu said.

Because the computer knows the actual air quality difference between the cities and the word count differences from the social media posts, it conceptually just looks at whether there are certain words used more often, Zhu said.

“There could be many different reasons certain words are used more often in City A than in City B,” Zhu said. “But if you collect more data from multiple cities from multiple days, always when the air quality index is known, pretty soon you can correlate those word count differences with air quality.”

Words like “haze, pollution, indoors and heavy” are indicative of bad air quality, whereas words like “sunshine, sunny and cold” are indicative of good air quality, Zhu said.

Before, to measure air quality, one would have to set up a physical monitoring station with devices to measure pollutants, Zhu said.

“That approach is much more accurate,” Zhu said. “But, as you can imagine, it is also limited by where you can set it up and how many places you can set it up. On the contrary, our approach is less accurate, but all it requires is to monitor social media posts. …”

This offers the capability to measure air pollution to cities where they do not have the means to set up air quality stations, Mei said.

Currently, the computer only reads the text portion of social media posts. UW researchers plan to improve the accuracy of the prediction by including any photos posted.

“We want computers to be able to identify interesting portions of the photo and use that automatically,” Zhu said. “That pretty much means we want the computer to look at outdoor photos and beyond somebody’s shoulder into the background to see how hazy the sky is.”

Categories: Local Media

City officials clash over budget

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:18am

Despite frustration with the amendments to the 2015 budget, Mayor Paul Soglin announced he will not veto, instead letting it pass without his signature, according to a statement released early Wednesday.

Soglin said the general problems between the mayor’s office and Common Council were “different values, different priorities.”

“After three years of steady progress in addressing the issues of fiscal responsibility and a commitment to solving the challenges of poverty and equity, the amendments made to the budget represent a step backwards,” Soglin said in the statement.

Soglin noted significant step increases in capital expenditures as preventing the city from working to close income, opportunity and educational disparities, as well as an increase to revenue without working for equality for city employees being “not acceptable.”

Ald. Chris Schmidt, District 11, said he thinks the short time frame they were given to address the amendments was one main cause of conflict. He said he thinks the budget is “as good a budget as any” they have passed recently, but there will always be disagreements in the democratic process.

Schmidt said the council agreed they would like to see parity for employees, as well as an additional half percent in wage increases for non-police and fire department workers, which Soglin pushed for in his amended budgets.

“However, they didn’t fit in with the other priorities that had already been chosen, like additional money for childcare support services, community engagement programs, cost of living adjustment for our community service providers, contracting community service providers, additional neighborhood officers and crossing guard and all these other amendments that the council made that address the basic needs of the city,” Schmidt said.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, who is running for Mayor this Spring election, said he was comfortable voting for the budget as amended by the city council, though he wishes they were able to accomplish more in the budget.

The discontent between the city council and Soglin came from lack of transparency and communication from the mayor’s office, Resnick said. The council did not receive Soglin’s proposed amendments until nine hours before the meeting, he said.

Resnick also released a statement Wednesday, saying Common Council “rejected Mayor Soglin’s futile attempt to broker a backroom deal as a means to address his own executive budget woes.”

Resnick said the mayor blamed increased expenditures on people like former mayor Dave Cieslewicz and current Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, as well as the state and federal government.

On whether the disagreements between Common Council and the mayor’s office will have an effect on next year’s mayoral election, Schmidt said he hopes the issue will be over and done with by then.

Resnick, who is running against Soglin in the election, said the important thing is what can be taken away from the disagreement.

“I don’t want to speculate on the 2015 election,” Resnick said. “I think the most important takeaway note though is that there is a sense of failed leadership from the very top. This top-down approach to manage the city government is failing its residents.”


Categories: Local Media

Tiki Shack in trouble with Madison police again

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:15am

Repeated underage drinking violations at Tiki Shack have left city officials wary of granting liquor licenses to new management applicants.

Last month the Alcohol Licensing Review Committee granted potential new owners, Mijal and Caleb Percevecz, new licensing under the conditions that the Tiki Shack would be a restaurant.

However, the new applicants and establishment are being investigated for several legal issues that arose in the past month and week alone.

Assistant City Attorney, Jennifer Zilavy, informed ALRC members of three pending issues surrounding the new applicants and the establishment. One of the new applicants, Caleb Percevecz, has two pending charges of Substantial Battery and Disorderly conduct resulting from an incident that occurred at the end of October.

Also, this past weekend the Tiki Shack had an incident involving a 15-year-old and a 19-year-old, one of which had been consuming alcohol, Zilavy said.

According to a Madison Police Department incident report, the two suspects were chased down early Saturday morning following a fight inside Tiki Shack. The older suspect, Mark D. Sanders, age 19, punched an employee in the face a couple of times when employees moved to get them out after seeing one person “throwing haymakers” in a dispute with other young men.

Meanwhile the current liquor license holder, Joe Vale, is no longer involved in the establishment and his whereabouts are being questioned, as he is currently suspected of not even being in town, Zilavy said. Therefore the new owners would be unlawfully operating under Mr. Vale’s license.

Zilavy said the committee should defer the Tiki Shack’s liquor license to its meeting in December.

“I believe these issues call into question whether the new application should be granted and the issues should be more fully explored and considered,” Zilavy said.

Mark Woulf, who serves on ALRC, said he agreed with Zilavy’s recommendation to move the application regarding the Tiki Shack’s liquor license to December’s meeting with many questions surrounding the establishment’s operation.

Ald. Michael Verveer, District 4, said he finds it hard to believe current owner of the Tiki Shack Joe Vale would walk away from the establishment. Though Verveer said he can’t say one thing or another because he has not spoken to Vale, he believes Zilavy has a strong case in her belief that Vale is no longer involved in the establishment.

Neither of the current owners, Mijal or Caleb Percevecz, attended the meeting Wednesday. The committee referred the Tiki Shack’s liquor license application to its December meeting.

“If the new applicants, Caleb and Mijal, were to be granted a liquor license the earliest would be at the end of the year,” Verveer said. “At this point though, there is a rationale for them to resolve the criminal case before continuing application of the liquor license at the December meeting.”

Caleb Percevecz’s incident is  scheduled for a Status Conference December 1, 2014.

Categories: Local Media

Got Equality? Madison was ranked one of the top cities in country for LGBT rights

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:12am

Madison is a national symbol of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender inclusivity, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign. However, for LGBT activists in the city, there is still work to be done.

Among 38 cities in the country to earn a perfect score, Madison was ranked on a scale examining municipal laws and policies regarding the LGBT community, by the Washington-based organization.

The annual Municipal Equality Index also ranked Milwaukee highly, awarding Wisconsin’s largest city a 91 out of 100; putting the state’s two most populated regions well above the national average.

OutReach, South Central Wisconsin’s LGBT Community Center Director Steve Starkey said policies that have been in place since the 1980s and still promote inclusivity today are the reason for the grade. The index examines non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, the municipality as an employer, services and programs for LGBT citizens, law enforcement and the overall relationship with the LGBT community.

“Overall, Madison is a real example to other cities about how to be inclusive and supportive of the LGBT community,” Starkey said.

The city scored highly in part by funding programs, like OutReach, that provide support to LGBT citizens, he added.

Madison’s inclusive employment policies, a human rights division of the city government that deals with LGBT issues, and legal recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships, along with newly established marriage equality help to give the city a perfect score, he said. At the same time, Starkey said there are still areas in which Madison could improve.

Starkey said especially regarding the transgender community, which still experiences “a lot more discrimination and lack of acceptance, harassment, bullying, even physical violence, than gay and lesbian people do,” there is still work to be done promoting inclusivity and justice around the city. According to a study by the Movement Advancement Project, transgender people in the United States experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.

“Transgender people are homeless at a much higher level, and experience unemployment at a much higher level than the general population and quite a bit higher than the lesbian and gay community,” Starkey said. “That’s something that the city could focus on.”

Starkey said a problem arises when transgender people who are homeless turn to shelters. In Madison, homeless shelters are divided into men’s and women’s; with Porchlight taking in men and the Salvation Army supporting women and families.

According to Starkey, transgender people are being turned away from both. OutReach has been working with Mayor Soglin and the human rights commission to find a solution, but as of now there has been no conclusive action taken.

Starkey said while LGBT youth services in Madison are strong, there are not enough resources to help homeless LGBT youth, who make up 25-50 percent of the homeless youth population. Adolescents who come out to their families are sometimes kicked out, and sudden homelessness for young people with no work experience can lead to drug abuse, alcoholism and prostitution, Starkey said.

Tim Michael, manager of Gay Straight Alliance Outreach for Wisconsin, said policies protecting students have come far, and in most schools sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes. However, these policies don’t always pan out for students in classrooms and hallways.

“We also know that sometimes policies are in print but ignored, and although a policy may say one thing, people’s real, lived experiences say something very different,” Michael said. “We know that there are lots of students who experience harassment on a day-to-day basis.”

Jeanne Williams, president of PFLAG-Madison, said the policies protecting kids in schools are strong in the city of Madison, but can be improved in other parts of the state.

“I think it is true that we’re making progress, but until all schools have those policies, work needs to be done,” Williams said. “I think the major thing is making sure our schools are safe for everybody.”

Gabriel Javier, assistant dean of students and director of the LGBT campus center, said the city of Madison puts the campus in a context of inclusivity, and this helps the school recruit a talented and accepting faculty and staff. Javier said there are also plenty of growth areas, especially with regard to transgender related healthcare.

Javier said the Municipal Equality Index is a good start in understanding the LGBT community, but is not a full picture. “I think these types of indicators are really important and should inspire us to work harder to tell the complete story of LGBTQ people’s lives in Madison,” Javier said.

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