Friday, December 1, 2023
Friday, December 1, 2023

Milwaukee Press Club 'Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism' 2020 & 2021 Award Winners

Petitions Seek to Save Streets of Old Milwaukee, European Village

Top Facts
  • There are two separate petitions to save the Streets of Old Milwaukee and the adjacent European Village, which is the part of the exhibit where you can look into the houses of different cultures.
  • The Milwaukee Public Museum has admitted the exhibits will change, but has been vague about how much of them will be retained. It is planning a new $240 million museum.
  • The people creating the petitions have emotional ties to the exhibits, as do many people in Milwaukee and the surrounding area, who visited them as kids. They all stressed that they want all cultures included in the museum, but they don’t want this piece of history destroyed.
  • They say the museum has not been transparent with the public and is not appreciating the emotional connection many have to the exhibits, as well as their historical and artistic value to the community. They also question whether a new museum is needed in the first place.

Two petition drives started by concerned citizens are seeking to save the Streets of Old Milwaukee and its related exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the European Village. The streets flow into the European village, which is the part of the exhibit where you can peek inside the homes of people representing various cultures.

Julia Brunson, who started the Streets of Old Milwaukee petition, grew up in the Streets of Milwaukee; her babysitter would take her to play there every week as a kid. Alexandra Hahnfeld and her sisters Demitra Hahnfeld and Natalia Kulas have a family connection to the European Village they are trying to save; their grandfather, Dr. Lazar Brkich, was a curator for the exhibit, a Serbian immigrant to Milwaukee who painstakingly researched and selected many of the artifacts in it.

All of the women said they are concerned by what they believe is a lack of transparency by the museum over what will happen to the beloved exhibits.

“Prove to us you did your due diligence,” Brunson said. “I’m disappointed in the transparency and presentation of this project to the people.”

Julia brunson
Julia brunson

Sign the Streets of Old Milwaukee petition here.

Sign the European Village petition here.

“The European Village is an imaginative re-creation of carefully selected examples of homes and shops as they may have appeared about 1875 to 1925,” the museum explains.

Natalia Kulas called the European Village “a treasured piece of our city.”

Demitra Hahnfeld noted that the museum “itself is history.”

The sisters said they were told by museum officials that the European Village’s artifacts would either “go in storage or go to other museums” if the exhibit is not in the new museum, but they weren’t given a straight answer about whether it would be.

The Streets of Old Milwaukee “created one of the first walk-through dioramas in the world, transporting the visitor back to a fall evening in Milwaukee at the turn of the 20th century,” according to the museum, highlighting “some 30 shops, businesses, eating and drinking establishments.” That’s the part of the museum with the granny in a rocking chair.

Streets of old milwaukee petition
Dr. Lazar brkich with his granddaughters

The museum has been vague about exhibits in the new museum, planning for which is underway.

“Deconstructing those in a way that won’t damage them and using those exact same materials to reconstruct them in a differently-shaped building would be nearly impossible, not to mention excessively expensive and time-consuming,” a statement from the museum read.

“What we can do is construct new built-ins that create the same immersive, engaging experience you know and love at MPM.” The museum has refused to say specifically what that will look like and how much of the old exhibits it will retain. [Wisconsin Right Now is currently doing a deep dive into the museum’s financials and other rationales for the move.]

The museum’s statement continued, “one of those exhibit galleries will be a highly-immersive walkthrough of Milwaukee that explores our marvelous city’s history, nature and cultures. It will not be called ‘Streets of Old Milwaukee’ as all exhibits are getting new names.”

Streets of Old Milwaukee Petition

There are actually several petitions to save the Streets of Old Milwaukee, but this petition by Julia Brunson has the most signatures, with more than 7,100 on January 21, 2023.

“MPM, a taxpayer-funded institution, has a responsibility to listen to the very people who have loved and used — and will love and use — their exhibits,” the Streets of Old Milwaukee petition says. “SIGN TODAY and join other Milwaukee residents in OPPOSING the dismantlement and LOSS of this great cultural exhibit.”

Julia Brunson, who started the Streets of Old Milwaukee petition, told WRN she was “shocked when I saw the news.”

When she saw the outpouring of anger and frustration on Facebook on the topic, she decided to start the petition, and it took off.

“The people in Milwaukee are upset,” she said. “I practically grew up on the Streets of Old Milwaukee.”

When she was growing up, her babysitter took her to the Streets of Old Milwaukee once a week to play in the exhibits and look in the windows. She would go to the candy shop or see the special events going on.

“We had the most magical times,” she said. “I would return as an adult, looking at the new exhibits, seeing the new things that were added. It felt so familiar.”

Brunson, who works in marketing and was a history major in college, said she understands “the push and pull between wanting something new and refreshed and wanting something true to the history and timeless.”

But she said the “magic of the current building is that it is out of time a little bit.”

See the Streets of Old Milwaukee here:

Milwaukee public museum

Brunson said it is a “time capsule style of museum that doesn’t exist anymore across America.”

Moving to a new building would have some benefits but would “lose a lot of those amazing qualities that are important to the original museum,” she said.

She is concerned by what she believes is a lack of transparency from the museum over why change is needed and what specifically is changing.

“If they are leaving the Streets of Old Milwaukee behind, tell the people,” she said. “We have a right to know. If you can’t tell us that, tell us why you can’t tell us that.”

Brunson said a lot of people in Milwaukee have a “huge investment” in the exhibit.

She thought the museum’s response was “tone deaf. That’s not how museums should talk to people.”

She said the financials are “vague, obscure.” She had to dig through articles to try to understand them.

Brunson hopes that people “read the comments in the petition and read the human stories of people who have been impacted by the Streets of Old Milwaukee and the European Village. People have been married on the streets. They met girlfriends there. They grew up there.”

“When we allow museums to forget that human element, it’s really disappointing,” she said.

European Village Petition

In an interview with Wisconsin Right Now, the sisters who are trying to save the European Village said that their grandfather Dr. Lazar Brkich was a Serbian immigrant to Chicago and then Milwaukee, who became the lead curator and director of the European Village exhibit in 1973.

They said his work included meeting with cultural groups and traveling to Europe to find artifacts to include in the houses. He also included artifacts from their family and his personal trips.

Alexandra Hahnfeld said that “everything in the Serbian house came from our family directly. He wanted to share his culture with fellow Milwaukeeans. So many European immigrants came to Milwaukee.”

Streets of old milwaukee petition
Alexandra hahnfeld, demitraa hahnfeld and natalia kulas

Their grandfather was “always very into the belief that our state and city was a melting pot,” she said. “He wanted to represent that.” She said the exhibit has “continued to expand and develop as time goes on.”

She started the petition with her sisters, saying, of the European Village and Streets of Old Milwaukee, “It would be a shame to not include them in the new museum.” She said the sisters have been moved by how much people care about the exhibits.

Streets of old milwaukee petition

She said they “all tried reaching out to the museum” recently and received no response.

“The most important thing to us is keeping the history alive,” she said. “We kind of want to make it known many folks really enjoy the exhibits as they are.”

According to the museum, the Village “represents the buildings and other structures re-created to scale and furnished–of 33 cultures, including: Austrian, Belgian, Bulgarian/Romanian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scottish, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Ukrainian, and Welsh.”

The sisters said the two exhibits and all of the artifacts in them are “cohesive,” and the meaning derives from how it all works together.

“It’s the kind of thing you can’t find anywhere else; the cobblestone pathway, looking through the windows to see each culture. You’re immersed in a time that no longer exists,” Alexandra said.

“It’s literally one of a kind,” added Demitra Hahnfeld. They underscored how much effort and care went into creating it.

“People are angry at the lack of transparency of the museum,” said Alexandra. “The museum is not being fully transparent. People don’t like dishonesty.” She encouraged the museum to be “more straightforward” about its plans for the two exhibits.

Streets of old milwaukee petitionLast spring, when the sisters realized a new museum was in the works, they reached out to museum officials and asked if they were destroying the European village, saying they would like some of the family artifacts back. They were told that isn’t possible and weren’t given a clear answer about what will happen to the European Village.

The sisters stressed that they believe that there should be a space in the museum for every type of ethnic culture that contributed to Milwaukee. Their grandfather passed away in 2010.

“I feel like new and museum are two words that don’t go together,” Alexandra said. She said the new building “looks cool but it doesn’t look like a museum. A futuristic museum doesn’t make sense to me.”

Streets of old milwaukee petition

The sisters believe the museum could use some refreshing but don’t understand why that can’t be done with some renovations to the old one.

“I would like a better estimate, an itemized receipt to prove it’s too expensive to repair the current facility,” Alexandra said. “I would prefer not even have the new museum.” She said the museum is taking money from taxpayers without fully listening to their concerns. She said it irritated them how the museum was “wording things, dancing around things.”

They said their grandfather fought guerrilla warfare against Communist and fascism as a teenage soldier before ending up in a displaced refugee camp.

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Henry Kissinger dies

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger Dies at 100

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who help steer U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam and China, died Wednesday. He was 100.

His consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc., announced the death.

Kissinger, born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Germany in 1923, left Nazi Germany for America in 1938. He served in the 84th Army Division from 1943 to 1946 after becoming a U.S. citizen. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He later served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in occupied Germany.

President Richard Nixon appointed Kissinger National Security Adviser in 1969. He went on to serve as Secretary of State under Nixon. When Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, Kissinger stayed on and served under President Gerald Ford.

"Kissinger played central roles in the opening to China, negotiating the end of the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, and helping to bring America's role in the Vietnam War to a close. He worked to set the former Rhodesia on the path to representative government and negotiated key arms control agreements with the Soviet Union," according to Kissinger Associates Inc.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese diplomat, "for jointly having negotiated a cease fire in Vietnam in 1973," according to the Noble Foundation. Le Duc Tho declined the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Kissinger’s tenure as Secretary comprised many controversial issues, including his role in influencing U.S. policies towards countries such as Chile and Angola," according to his official State Department biography.

Kissinger also was known for his "shuttle diplomacy" missions, in which he traveled between Middle East capitals to try to bring peace.

Kissinger also had many critics. HuffPost's obituary of Kissinger had the headline: "Henry Kissinger, America's Most Notorious War Criminal, Dies At 100". HuffPost cited as perhaps Kissinger's most notorious crime a secret four-year bombing campaign in Cambodia against the neutral nation during the time of the Vietnam War.

Kissinger is survived by his wife, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger, two children by his first marriage, David and Elizabeth, and five grandchildren.

He will be interred at a private family service.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests considering donations to: Animal Medical Center, Development Office, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065 or Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Wisconsin Truancy AB 995 School shutdowns

Report: Wisconsin Truancy Rates Soar in Past Decade

(The Center Square) – Many children in Wisconsin schools have not returned to class since the COVID outbreak.

A new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty looks at the spike in chronic absenteeism, particularly since the start of the 2020 school year.

“The first step in the education of a student is them being present to absorb the material. But when a student is regularly not in school, this process breaks down,” Will Flanderrs wrote in the report. “Getting kids into school on a daily basis is a responsibility shared by school districts and parents. While there is no one change that can magically reverse the downward trend in attendance, it is vital that this issue be at the forefront for policymakers concerned about the education of the next generation.”

The report shows truancy rates in Wisconsin public schools have more than doubled since 2012.

“About 10% of students were chronically absent in 2012 compared to more than 20% today,” the report notes.

The report also shows some of Wisconsin’s worst-performing schools have the highest absentee numbers.

“Beloit, Racine, and Milwaukee are among the districts with the lowest Forward Exam proficiency, but highest absenteeism,” the report said. “Many of the districts with the lowest rates of absenteeism are elementary-only districts – suggestive of the fact that students tend to skip school significantly more as they age and parental oversight declines. Many of Wisconsin’s largest-enrollment school districts are found at the top.”

Racine Schools have the highest absentee rate, followed by Beloit Schools, Milwaukee Public Schools, Ashland Schools and Green Bay Area Public Schools.

Wauzeka-Steuben Schools have the lowest absentee rate, followed by Stone Bank Schools, the Paris J1 district, Swallow Schools and Kohler Schools.

WILL’s report also looks at the effort to fight chronic absenteeism, which is largely non-existent in many communities.

“In most of Wisconsin, actual charges under the state’s truancy laws are quite rare. The most common charge is for contributing to the truancy of a minor,” the report notes. “This charge has been levied 359 times between 2018 and 2022, with only 109 eventual convictions. A very small number of counties contribute to the overall numbers.”

WILL’s report shows Winnebago and Marathon counties account for more than 70 of those 109 convictions. Prosecutors in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Beloit did not record a single truancy conviction between 2018 and 2022.

WILL’s suggested solution is not more prosecutions but rather more education for parents.

“There is conventional wisdom, especially among low-income parents, that attendance in early grades is less critical than, say, high school attendance. But the reality is largely the opposite: students who fall behind early in subjects like reading are often never able to catch back up,” the report states. “Another key factor in reducing absenteeism is making sure that students feel safe in school. A number of studies over the years have found that a negative school environment, or even news of recent school violence, lead to higher rates of absenteeism. WILL has done extensive work over the years on the ways that politically correct discipline policies have harmed school safety. Moving away from softer discipline policies and returning resource officers to schools where needed could improve not only safety, but also attendance.”

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(The Center Square) – The plan to change Wisconsin’s telehealth rules for mental health treatment is coming together at the State Capitol.

The Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children and Families held a hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 515 which would allow out-of-state mental health providers to take patients in Wisconsin without having to get a license to practice in Wisconsin.

“Overall, this breaks down barriers. It allows other providers to provide other services. And it allows people to get the help that they need,” Sen. Rachel Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton, said.

The plan would essentially make Wisconsin’s COVID-era telehealth program permanent.

Supporters say it will also help battle Wisconsin’s “crisis level” shortage of mental health providers.

“The shortage is all the more stark when you look at rural areas of the state,” Institute for Reforming Government’s Alex Ignatowski told lawmakers. “The average throughout the state is one mental health provider for every 470 residents. But if you go to Buffalo County that jumps to 13,030 residents per one mental health provider.”

The proposal already cleared the Wisconsin Assembly, where Cabral-Guevara said there were some changes to get Wisconsin’s Medical Society to drop its opposition.

“There were two amendments that were added. One limits the scope to just mental health providers. So, it takes out physicians, PAs, and nurses, and it puts in therapists, counselors, social workers, and psychologists to provide a little bit narrower scope,” Cabral-Guevara said. “The other one provides that an out-of-state provider needs to register with DSPS so that we know these folks are registered within their state, and we have accountability here in our state.”

Ignatowski said the move to the break-down barriers and eliminate burdensome regulations is a good thing.

“Currently 26 states have some sort of exception for out-of-state telehealth providers. These exceptions cover a number of medical and mental health provider groups, but often have a complex set of requirements. Wisconsin can do better,” Ignatowski said. “We know that providers from other states are not drastically different to the point that we need to impose duplicative licensure requirements or put up new bureaucratic barriers between providers and the Wisconsinites who need help now. There is no silver bullet for solving mental health the mental health crisis in Wisconsin, but SB515 will increase access to mental health services in Wisconsin and warrants your support.”

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New Home Sales in October Drop More Than Expected

New home sales in the U.S. dropped last month as mortgage rates have soared.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new home sales fell 5.6% in October, more than expected.

“The median sales price of new houses sold in October 2023 was $409,300,” the Bureau said in its announcement. “The average sales price was $487,000.”

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate in the U.S. in October rose to nearly 8% before dipping closer to 7% in November. About this time in 2021, the average rate was around 3%.

That interest rate spike has been fueled in large part by the U.S. Federal Reserve, which has hiked the federal funds rate about a dozen times since March of last year in an effort to combat elevated inflation.

Both inflation and those rates can eventually come down, but it would take time.

“With interest rates edging higher in October, it was expected that new home sales would disappoint, however, as mortgage rates inched lower following Treasury's November 1 announcement of lower than anticipated funding needs, coupled with the market's perception of a decidedly more dovish Fed, rates have edged lower fueling a climb in mortgage applications,” Quincy Krosby, Chief Global Strategist for LPL Financial, said in a statement.

Abortion Would Be Severely Limited in 23 States Roe v. Wade Overturned

Study: States with Restrictive Abortion Bans See 2.3% Hike in Births After Roe Overturned

Roughly 32,000 babies have been born in states that implemented abortion restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, according to a new analysis.

In the first six months of 2023, “births rose by an average of 2.3 percent in states enforcing total abortion bans," leading to an estimated 32,000 births that might have otherwise been aborted, according to a new analysis published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics initiated by the Deutsche Post Foundation.

“These effects may vary across demographic groups and tend to be larger for younger women and women of color; … vary substantially across ban states, with much larger effects observed in states that are bordered by other ban states and hence have long travel distances to reach facilities that remain open.”

Its November 2023 “Effects of the Dobbs Decision on Fertility” report states that the “U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sparked the most profound transformation of the landscape of abortion access in 50 years. We provide the first estimates of the effects of this decision on fertility using a preregistered synthetic difference-in-differences design applied to newly released provisional natality data for the first half of 2023.”

The analysis is based on provisional data for the first six months of 2023. “If future research using finalized data and additional policy variation reveals continued substantial effects on birth, then we expect long-lasting and profound effects on the lives of affected pregnant people and their families, including effects on educational investment, employment, earnings, and financial security.”

As of Nov. 1, 2023, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion in nearly all circumstances, the report notes. Because roughly 23% of American women seeking an abortion experienced an increase in driving distance to the nearest abortion facility (from 43 miles before Dobbs to 330 miles after Dobbs), the driving distance “represents the most profound transformation of the landscape of U.S. abortion access in 50 years.”

According to a different study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, nearly as many babies are believed to have been born in Texas alone since its new heartbeat bill went into effect Sept. 1, 2021.

Within eight months of the new law going into effect, there were nearly 9,800 live births in Texas from April to December 2022, according to the Johns Hopkins study. If the rate were consistent through November 2023, of an additional 1,225 live births a month, the number of babies born in Texas that otherwise might have been aborted is closer to nearly 32,000 since Sept. 1, 2021.

Suzanne Bell, a lead author of Johns Hopkins study, said their “findings highlight how abortion bans have real implications for birthing people, thousands of whom may have had no choice but to continue an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy to term. Notably, the majority of people who seek abortions live below or close to the poverty line. So many of these birthing people and their families were likely struggling financially even before the recent birth.”

State Sen. Brian Hughes, R-Mineola, who authored Texas’ heartbeat bill, told The Center Square, “Each of these lives is a gift of God and reflects His image. And since passage of the Heartbeat Act, we have drastically increased funding for expectant and new mothers and their babies.

“In Texas, we are proving that we can save the life of the baby while we love, and respect, and support the mother.”

In addition to signing the state’s first heartbeat bill into law, Gov. Greg Abbott signed bills into law extending Medicaid health-care coverage to 12 months post-partum, appropriated more than $447 million for women’s health programs and invested over $140 million in the Thriving Texas Families program.

Prior to Roe being overturned, "In 2020, approximately 1 in 5 pregnancies ended in abortion," the IZA study states, noting that the majority of those seeking abortions, 75%, were low-income. Another 59% said they had previously given birth and 55% reported some kind of hardship including falling behind on rent or losing a job.

Hughes’ bill, SB 8, passed the Texas legislature with bipartisan support and was signed into law in May 2021. By October 2021, a federal judge halted it. By April 2022, the Fifth Circuit overturned that ruling and ended all challenges to the law. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022, Texas’ law went into full effect in August 2022.

Texas’ law is considered to be among the strictest in the nation. It bans abortions from being performed in Texas as soon as a heartbeat of the preborn baby is detected, with limited exceptions. It created a second-degree felony offense for a person who knowingly performs, induces or attempts an abortion. The offense is enhanced to a first-degree felony if an unborn child dies from an abortion. Anyone who violates the law performing an abortion can also be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $100,000 for each violation, with exceptions.

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