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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

July 10, 2018

Wisconsin State Journal, July 8

Don’t confuse charter schools with voucher schools

Every charter school in Wisconsin is a public school.

The many Democrats running for governor should memorize this fact, because some of them are getting it wrong.

Charter schools should not be confused with voucher schools, which are mostly private religious schools that receive public money for lower-income students to attend.

The two are very different.

Former state Rep. Kelda Roys, one of eight Democrats seeking her party’s nomination for governor Aug. 14, said in a recent interview she opposes “private charters.”

“We need to stop privatization because that money comes right off the top and it’s only what’s left over after the charters have gotten their money that goes to our public schools,” Roys told WORT-FM (89.9) in Madison. “That’s wrong.”

Actually, Roys is wrong.

As Politifact Wisconsin noted in an analysis of her interview last week, all charter schools in Wisconsin are public schools.

“Every charter school is entirely publicly funded, open to any student, and free to any student,” the fact-checking journalism website noted.

Of 234 charter schools in Wisconsin, the vast majority — 211 — are operated within public school districts. Only 23 are “independent” charters, meaning they have the freedom to do what they want, outside the control of local school boards.

But even those are public schools. And they are authorized by public entities, such as the city of Milwaukee or UW-Milwaukee. Nonprofits run these few schools under contract and must meet performance targets to continue to operate.

Roys faulted fellow Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers for securing a large federal grant for charter schools in Wisconsin. Evers is the state superintendent of public instruction, overseeing Wisconsin’s more than 400 school districts.

Evers should be credited, not criticized, for collecting $95 million in federal money for public charter schools last year to encourage innovation and improvement in public schools.

Roys objects to the small number of public charter schools that are allowed to operate independently of local school boards. But innovation sometimes requires the ability to try new things outside the bounds of the status quo.

Evers’ position makes the most sense — and brings in more federal money — for the cause of public education in Wisconsin.

The Nuestro Mundo charter school in Madison, for example, has helped hundreds of children — some native Spanish speakers, others English speakers with no Spanish skills — become fluent in both languages. And now the school’s “dual language immersion” model has expanded to other Madison public schools.

Moreover, some of the federal money Evers’ DPI is distributing to charter schools this year will help economically disadvantaged students get off to strong starts at One City Senior Preschool, a charter started by Kaleem Caire, former CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Democrats who hope to become governor this fall should embrace the cause of public charter schools, rather than pretending they privatize education.

___

The Capital Times, July 4

Matt Flynn should quit race for governor

Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn has proven to be a strikingly capable contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair has taken bold stands on important issues, he has been sharp and effective in his critique of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and he has been a stronger communicator than most of the other candidates in the field.

So what’s not to like?

A lot, say two of the ablest Democrats in the Legislature, Madison state Reps. Chris Taylor and Melissa Sargent, who have called on Flynn to drop out of the race because of the work he did to defend the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee against claims of sexual abuse by priests. So, too, have a pair of well-regarded organizations, Women’s March Wisconsin and the National Organization for Women.

Flynn, who was attorney for the archdiocese from 1989 to 2004, has responded by dismissing the critics of his legal work. Initially, he suggested that they could “jump in the lake.”

More recently, he told The Cap Times, “I’m not getting out of this campaign. In fact, we’re in a very strong position and I’m going to win on August 14. And frankly, I question the motive behind this. Several people close to me were approached by people close to Tony Evers’ campaign to try to get me to drop out of the race, and I think Tony might have put pressure on other candidates as well. And if that’s the case, Tony Evers may think he’s entitled to the nomination, but it’s up to the voters to decide.”

It is up to the voters, and we respect that Flynn will decide whether he remains in the race.

But his glib response to the complaints against him is, to our view, disqualifying.

The notion that Taylor and Sargent could be part of a scheme by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers to push Flynn out of the race is insulting to all concerned. It lacks credibility with The Cap Times editorial board in particular. In conversations with board members, going back to May, Taylor has expressed deep concern about Flynn’s level of engagement with efforts to limit the consequences for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as charges of abuse by Catholic priests mounted.

Taylor is a lawyer. She read the paperwork. She considered Flynn’s responsibilities to his client. She reached an understandable conclusion.

“Every client deserves zealous representation. But you can vigorously represent your client without shielding sexual predators they employ who continue to pose extreme risks to children,” explained the legislator. “Unfortunately, documents show that, among other things, Mr. Flynn participated in keeping parishes and the public in the dark about dozens of these pedophile priests, placing children at risk of being sexually abused.”

Reporting by Katelyn Ferral and Jessie Opoien of The Cap Times provided these details: “Documents from several cases — memos, letters and internal logs by church leaders documenting phone calls and other conversations about complaints — indicate Flynn advised archdiocese leaders how to proceed in dozens of cases, including limiting investigations into reports of abuse and shielding priests from criminal prosecution. He orchestrated thousands of dollars in payments to priests, signed the checks and was a part of a team within the archdiocese that determined how reports of abuse would be handled, according to the internal policy for how to respond to abuse reports. During Flynn’s 15-year tenure as legal counsel, 23 priests with prior abuse records were transferred to other parishes, according to the records.”

The details led Sargent, a legislator with a keen sense of right and wrong who has been willing to stand up to leaders in both parties, to make the case for Flynn’s exit from the competition. “We’re Democrats,” she explained. “We’re a big-tent party, and we believe in accepting and welcoming everyone. But our tent is simply not big enough for sexual harassment, abuse, or assault, or anyone who effectively abets.”

Those are tough words. But they are not unfair to Flynn, who has been given ample opportunities to put his work with the archdiocese in perspective. He has failed to embrace those opportunities and make a case for himself.

That’s disrespectful of his fellow Democrats.

That’s also disrespectful of the political process in which he seeks to engage.

Flynn is displaying unsettling naïveté with regard to the fall race he hopes to mount against Walker. The Republican governor plays dirty. He is one of the most relentlessly negative campaigners in Wisconsin history. It does not matter how upright or responsible a Walker challenger may be, the governor and his aides will spin up an attack campaign based on whatever material they can get their hands on. And they back their negative campaigning with millions of dollars in television spending — paid for by out-of-state billionaires and special interests that have invested a fortune in keeping Walker in power.

They will stop at nothing to win. And Flynn’s failure to come up with a better explanation for his past legal work than to accuse others of plotting against him is an invitation to the Walker team to shred him if he gets the nomination.

So where does this leave Democratic primary voters who want the strongest candidate to take on Walker in November? With legitimate doubts about whether Flynn is the right man to lead the ticket.

It is certainly true that Flynn has a right to continue his run and to, as promised, spend a good deal of money on television ads promoting his run. But we can’t see how this ends well.

There truly has been much about Matt Flynn’s run for the governorship that has impressed us. Under the circumstances, however, we do not believe that he should continue it.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, July 9

Arm yourself with truth against ‘deepfake’ videos

“Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

The late comedian Richard Pryor uttered that line in his stand-up routine, reportedly after being caught in marital infidelity.

It was hilarious then. But it’s less and less funny in these days of chronic political lying, information silos where people tweet and re-tweet “fake news” that fits their political agenda on social media and shrewd disinformation campaigns by foreign governments intent on disrupting and manipulating U.S. elections.

We have long inveighed against the distasteful and relentless attack ads that pop up in our state, national and local elections as they attempt to smear one candidate or another with their blends of half-truths, statements taken out of context and, typically, the exhortation to “call candidate so-and-so and tell him (or her) that you demand blah-blah-blah.”

And, of course, those attack ads are usually sponsored and paid for by anonymous groups that disguise who is behind them and often carry soothing credit lines like “Real Americans for Peace and Prosperity.”

And, of course, the other candidate who benefits from the attack ad often says he or she isn’t responsible for it and can’t really do anything to hinder the speech of the anonymous citizens group promulgating the ad.

And now, it looks like those attack ads of the past could soon look like small little fibs when the next elections roll around.

Disinformation and political lying is about to go high-tech thanks to improvements in technology using facial mapping and artificial intelligence that allow the production of bogus videos that are close to seamless and appear so genuine they are hard to detect.

They’re called “deepfake” videos, and they literally allow creation of videos that put words in people’s mouths — words that they never said.

It’s lying on steroids and the threat for manipulating public opinion is so great that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is “already two years into a four-year program to develop technologies that can detect fake images and videos,” according to a recent Associated Press report. “Right now it takes extensive analysis to identify phony videos. It’s unclear if new ways to authenticate images or detect fakes will keep pace with deepfake technology,” the AP report said.

Deepfakes work by feeding a computer algorithm or other setup instructions, lots of images and audio of a person. The computer program learns how to mimic the person’s facial expressions, mannerisms, voice and inflections and then create a video with that person saying anything the designer wants, according to the report.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida., said a foreign intelligence agency could use deepfake technology to produce a fake video of an American politician using a racial epithet or taking a bribe — or a U.S. solider massacring civilians overseas, or a U.S. official supposedly admitting a secret plan to carry out a conspiracy.

“It’s a weapon that could be used — timed appropriately and placed appropriately — in the same way fake news is used, except in a video form, which could create real chaos and instability on the eve of an election or a major decision of any sort,” Rubio told AP.

Andrew Grotto of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University told the AP: “This technology, I think, will be irresistible for nation-states to use in disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion, deceive populations and undermine confidence in our institutions.”

Currently, the main threat of deepfake videos is probably from foreign intelligence agencies or nation states intent on disrupting the U.S. and its elections. But in short order, that could also spread to political parties and special interest groups with their own agendas.

Deepfakes are a potential assault on our democracy and on the truth.

Ordinary citizens can do some things to blunt that attack. First and foremost is to develop an honest sense of skepticism when you fire up a computer to get your news.

Don’t believe everything you see, read or hear. Verify it, even if that “news” is something that fits your own political or social views. Find another report from a different source before sending it along to all your like-minded friends and neighbors. If something seems preposterous, it often is. Don’t be complicit in spreading misinformation by blasting it up and down your preferred information silo.

The next elections are coming. Arm yourself with the truth, or as close to it as you can find. Otherwise, you will be a victim and your vote will go to someone else.

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