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Chippewa Valley's virtual MLK Day to tackle racism
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EAU CLAIRE — When a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, organizers of the Chippewa Valley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day program decided to change their focus.

Instead of the usual celebration of King’s life and work, the 8½-hour event beginning at noon Monday will be transformed into a program focusing on racism and civility.

“The program will focus on where do we go from here and how do we rebuild our unity after all of this,” said UW-Eau Claire history professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a longtime organizer of local MLK Day ceremonies and president of the racial peace advocacy group Uniting Bridges. “This is what we felt we needed right now.”

The event, which traditionally features speeches, readings and live music, also will shift to a virtual format for the first time to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ducksworth-Lawton promises the program’s final session, which will include live music from local artists, should be fun and uplifting.

But the big change will be the inclusion of multiple panels and discussions diving into different aspects of racism led by university, local government and community leaders.

“We needed to shift gears and try to give people the tools we need to do the work we need to do right now to remain a strong country,” Ducksworth-Lawton said, referring to Wednesday’s Capitol raid by supporters of President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election won by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Among the topics tackled in various sessions are the ABCs of racism; antisemitism and racism; race and religion; race, civility and the First Amendment; fighting disinformation; and how the history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Chippewa Valley affects the area today.

Another session will share information on the Transformation Project, a regional anti-racism effort aimed at creating the most inclusive and affirming community possible for all people.

Adam Accola, a co-organizer of this year’s MLK Day program, said he is excited about the event’s potential to get people talking about the problems associated with racism and ways to fight them without fear of being judged.

“The goal is to get people to honor someone who made a huge impact on civil rights in the United States and someone whose message is 100% relevant to what’s happening today,” Accola said. “We’re still working toward that ideal America Martin Luther King Jr. was pushing for in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

With so much national attention on the Capitol attack and racist ideas being espoused by some of the perpetrators, Accola is optimistic that many Chippewa Valley residents will tune in to the MLK Day presentation to learn about ways they can be part of the solution.

“I feel like people are more willing to do the work right now,” he said. “They understand that people of color are exhausted from screaming about racism for so long and this is an opportunity for allies to come together and see how they can be part of that positive change that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for and died for.”

Ducksworth-Lawton said speech and behavior that advocate violence and racism pose a threat to democracy and embolden extremists and white supremacists such as those who broke into the Capitol last week.

The hope, she said, is that the MLK Day panels will give local residents a safe place to talk about how people of all races and political persuasions can stand up to that kind of attitude. The subject is especially timely in the wake of the racial justice protests that swept the nation last year after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“We’re at this historical moment where we have to decide what we’re going to do. We need to recognize this moment, take it seriously and do the right thing,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “The strength of America has always been that we faced our problems and we fixed them.”

This year’s event, which also will include multimedia and art presentations from the “Black Lives Matter: Silence Equals Violence” exhibit, is a collaboration among Uniting Bridges, Pablo Center at the Confluence, Converge Radio, UW-Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College, UW-Stout and the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona.

It will be streamed on Perigon through Pablo Center and Facebook Live on the King Remembrance Program for Eau Claire WI Facebook page. Portions of the event will be broadcast on Converge Radio, 101.9 FM. Participants can register at pablocenter.org.

Dems prep 'incitement of insurrection' charge against Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Impeachment pressure mounting, the House worked swiftly Monday to try to oust President Donald Trump from office, pushing the vice president and Cabinet to act first in an extraordinary effort to remove Trump in the final days of his presidency.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in an impeachment resolution the House will begin debating on Wednesday. First, Democrats called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke constitutional authority under the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office before Jan. 20, when Democrat Joe Biden is to be inaugurated.

It all adds up to stunning final moments for Trump’s presidency as Democrats and a growing number of Republicans declare that he is unfit for office and could do more damage after inciting a mob that ransacked the U.S. Capitol in a deadly siege last Wednesday.

“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” reads the four-page impeachment bill.

“He will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” it reads.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is recalling lawmakers to Washington for votes as more Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

As security tightened, Biden said Monday he was “not afraid” of taking the oath of office outside — as is traditionally done at the Capitol’s west steps, one of the areas where rioters stormed the building.

Biden said, “It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”

Biden also said he’s had conversations with senators ahead of a possible impeachment trial. He suggested splitting lawmakers’ time, perhaps “go a half day on dealing with impeachment, a half day on getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate, as well as moving on the package” for more COVID relief.

As Congress briefly resumed, an uneasiness swept government. The National Park Service announced it was shutting down public access to the Washington Monument amid threats to disrupt Biden’s inauguration. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. And new security officials were quickly installed after the Capitol police chief and others were ousted in fallout from the extraordinary attack on the iconic dome of democracy.

A House resolution calling on Vice President Pence to invoke constitutional authority to remove Trump from office was blocked by Republicans. However, the full House is set to hold a roll call vote on that resolution on Tuesday, and it is expected to pass.

After that, Pelosi said Pence will have 24 hours to respond. Next, the House would proceed to impeachment. A vote could come Wednesday.

Pence has given no indication he is ready to proceed on such a course, which would involve invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution with a vote by a majority of the Cabinet to oust Trump before Jan. 20.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., offered the resolution during the brief session, and said lawmakers must act to ensure that Trump is “removed from the ability to repeat the seditious action that he took.”

It was blocked by Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., as other GOP lawmakers stood by him.

Pelosi said the Republicans were enabling Trump’s “unhinged, unstable and deranged acts of sedition to continue. Their complicity endangers America, erodes our Democracy, and it must end.”

The impeachment bill from Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

The impeachment legislation details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes and his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, Democrats and others argue he must be held accountable for his actions and prevented from ever again seeking public office. He would be the only president twice impeached.

Republican Sen. Toomey said he doubted impeachment could be done before Biden is inaugurated, even though a growing number of lawmakers say that step is necessary to ensure Trump can never hold elected office again.

“I think the president has disqualified himself from ever, certainly, serving in office again,” Toomey said. “I don’t think he is electable in any way.”

Murkowski, long exasperated with the president, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.” A third, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., did not go that far, but on Sunday he warned Trump to be “very careful” in his final days in office.

On impeachment, House Democrats have been considering a strategy to delay for 100 days sending articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial, to allow Biden to focus on other priorities.

There is precedent for pursuing impeachment after officials leave office. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.

Some Republicans warn against impeachment. “They’re not only going to create bad feelings in Congress, they’re really going to create tremendously bad feelings in America,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.

Still, other Republicans might be supportive.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said he would take a look at any articles that the House sent over. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic, said he would “vote the right way” if the matter were put in front of him.

Cicilline, leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles, tweeted Monday that “we now have the votes to impeach,” including 213 cosponsors and private commitments.

Eau Claire eye clinic founder conducting Alzheimer’s study
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EAU CLAIRE — A retired Eau Claire ophthalmologist and microbiology researcher is beginning a study he hopes will contribute to the push for a successful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Tom Dow, who founded Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic in 1978 and worked as an ophthalmologist for over 40 years, now runs an Alzheimer’s treatment center in Eau Claire, Mindful Diagnostics & Therapeutics.

After receiving a grant to study the disease, Dow is recruiting participants between 65 and 80 years old for an Eau Claire-based, nine-month study on Alzheimer’s risk.

The study will inoculate 50 people with the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. It’s a tuberculosis vaccine commonly used in many countries, but not typically given in the U.S. due to low risk of tuberculosis infection and variable effectiveness in adults, according to the CDC.

Dow hopes his research will show if the BCG vaccine has any effect on certain biomarkers in participants’ blood.

If those biomarkers — which are, in simplified terms, proteins in the brain called amyloid and tau — change or clump, it is an indicator of risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association.

Blood tests, a vaccine and Alzheimer’s

A 2019 study published in the American Academy of Neurology suggested that a blood test could accurately detect the amyloid protein in a person’s plasma. (The gold standard tests to detect Alzheimer’s are currently PET scans and spinal taps, Dow said.)

Blood tests will be a large function of the study. During his research, Dow will first conduct several blood tests on the participants, then administer two doses of the BCG vaccine, one month apart. Nine months later, the participants will return to Eau Claire for another blood test. (There won’t be any placebo group — everyone in the study will get the BCG vaccine.)

Dow hopes to find out if the BCG vaccine will decrease the amount of amyloid protein in the participants’ plasma. If it does, it would suggest that their risk of developing Alzheimer’s will have decreased.

“Wouldn’t that be interesting to know, at 50 years old, if you had a greater risk than the next guy (of developing Alzheimer’s), and to get this vaccine if you knew it was going to lessen your risk?” Dow said. “That’s what we’re hoping this will lead to.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, according to the CDC.

The Alzheimer’s Association projects that more than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, predicting that by 2050 that number will rise to almost 14 million. The disease has no cure.

Some promising signs already link the BCG vaccine with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.

Dow also noted a 2019 study, which found that bladder cancer patients treated with materials from the BCG vaccine were significantly less likely to later develop Alzheimer’s disease than patients who weren’t treated with the BCG vaccine materials.

Over 30 people have already enrolled in Dow’s Eau Claire study — some local, some from as far as the East and West coasts, Dow said.

But he’s looking for more local participants between 65 and 80 years old, preferably with a family history of Alzheimer’s.

The study is personal for Dow. Though he primarily performed cataract surgery during his early career, his background is in microbiology.

Dow’s brother has also been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that indicates a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

“Wouldn’t it be great for people in that boat to know that there’s something to bring you back from that brink?” Dow said.

Measuring someone’s likelihood of developing the disease isn’t binary, Dow said. It’s not a yes-or-no question — more of a “tipping point.”

A healthy diet, exercise, eight hours of sleep and reducing stress can all postpone cognitive loss, he said.

“But it would be very helpful to know if you’re at higher risk,” Dow added.

Dow plans to publish the results of the 2021 study. He hopes the research will help seniors and their families gauge the risk of the disease.

“Something has to happen,” he said.

Those interested in participating in the study can email Alie Larson at mindfuldt@gmail.com or call (715) 456-7336.