Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

 
 
Updated 12/8/2021 12:57 PM

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. December 1, 2021.

Editorial: A gaping hole in U.S. security

 

This isn't an editorial about a concern specific to the Chippewa Valley. It's not even really about Wisconsin. But the issue at hand definitely should concern the people here.

The soccer world was stunned in December 2010 when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. There were immediate questions about bribery and misconduct. While FIFA officially cleared the bid of corruption, there remain unanswered questions about FIFA's own investigation.

Setting aside the absurd claim, since abandoned, that soccer could be played in Qatar, in the summer, in outdoor stadiums, a new investigation shows part of how Qatar secured the World Cup. And it has national security implications for the United States.

Part of Qatar's bid included the hiring of Kevin Chalker, a former CIA officer. The Associated Press investigation said Chalker was hired 'to spy on rival bid teams and key soccer officials.' He then continued working with the country to maintain surveillance on anyone thought to pose a risk to Qatar keeping the event.

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Troublingly, Chalker also said he would help Qatar 'maintain dominance' over its foreign workers. That's a more serious issue than it might appear at first glance. Qatar's population is about 2.8 million people, but only 300,000 are citizens. The country has a large migrant population, particularly in construction, and has often been criticized for its treatment of those people.

Unsurprisingly, Qatar and FIFA are ducking questions. Chalker is facing at least one lawsuit connected to his actions on behalf of Qatar.

This isn't the first time the basic allegations have been made. The Sunday Times published an article in 2018 alleging Qatar engaged in 'black ops' in its bid and hired former CIA agents to create fake propaganda against rivals. But the AP's recent report builds on that work and includes significant new details.

What struck us was that a former U.S. intelligence agent was working on behalf of a foreign power in the first place. The CIA and FBI routinely challenge former employees' books as risks to national security if they include information the government thinks is sensitive. But a trained operative can take his training and methods, put them on full display for a foreign government, and that's something they're interested in blocking?

Private surveillance companies like what Chalker set up after his CIA career ended are nothing new. In a lot of respects they're merely the 21st century equivalent of Sam Spade's private investigative office. The technology is obviously different, but the basic scenario of a client who wants information about someone else is recognizably the same.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We're not the only ones who have had that reaction. John Scott-Railton, described by the AP as a 'senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a watchdog group that tracks cyber-surveillance companies,' thought much the same. He called activities like those Qatar and Chalker are accused of 'a problem for U.S. national security.'

'It's a really dangerous thing when people who handle the most sensitive secrets of our country are thinking in the back of their mind, 'Man, I could really make a lot more money taking this technical knowledge that I've been trained in and putting it in the service of whoever will pay me,'' he said.

The U.S. has a vested interest in keeping its intelligence agencies from becoming training grounds for a new breed of mercenary. It's not necessarily that other countries can't use similar techniques to those that the United States trains people to do. The basic approaches are fairly common ground for any intelligence organization. But the fact is that a demonstration of U.S.-specific training can tip hostile nations off to signs of American activity. It can make it easier for them to detect and disrupt our own intelligence efforts.

There's a fine line between justifiable concern and unnecessary interference with post-employment options. And that's a line Congress must seek to define in any action that restricts American intelligence operatives in careers after their service. The current situation, though, strikes us as a gaping hole in national security that is all too easy for hostile powers to exploit.

While who hosts the World Cup is not, most often, a life-or-death struggle, there's no guarantee the same can be said of future entanglements. Given the increasingly aggressive postures by Russia and China, it's time for our elected leaders to close this breach.

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Kenosha News. December 5, 2021.

Editorial: To address referee shortage, train teenagers

The winter sports season has just begun and kids all around are excited to return to hopefully a normal sports season.

But unfortunately, already some games have had to be canceled due to referee shortages.

The ref shortage is a continuing problem across nearly all sports in the state, according to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA).

'Basketball initially saw a 38.8% drop in the number of licensed WIAA officials this year. We have recruited hard over the past months, and we are currently down about 18% at this time,' said Kate Peterson Abiad, former Cleveland State women's basketball coach and current assistant director at the WIAA. 'Many of those officials, however, are new to the sport, and will not be ready to officiate varsity contests for several years.'

The COVID-19 pandemic didn't exactly help in the recruitment of officials, either.

'In 2019-2020, prior to the start of the pandemic, the WIAA had approximately 9,300 officials (total) in all sports. During the 2020-21 season, many officials did not license, due to personal choice. Our overall total of officials dropped to 7,800,' she said.

And it's only gone down. As of Aug. 1, there were only 6,000 licensed WIAA officials, a drop of 34.4% since before the pandemic, Abiad said.

To help try to recruit more referees, the WIAA is partnering with stakeholders, including athletic directors, and encouraging high school classes on officiating in hopes they will want to continue in the future. That is a good idea for districts across the state to consider. Get the students directly involved.

While they shouldn't be officiating their own age groups, they could certainly get practice officiating youth sports games. Then they could be ready to referee high school games after graduation.

While learning the skills involved in refereeing and umpiring, they will also learn more about sportsmanship and the tough calls officials make. Those are skills that can help the students play better when they are on the court or field. They are also good life lessons for the offseason as well.

There are lessons they can certainly bring back to those parents who think they can ref from the sideline.

Before being verbally abusive, those parents need to remember that without refs, there are no games. Maybe they can sign up for the referring classes along with their students.

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Wisconsin State Journal. December 3, 2021.

Editorial: Fed up with higher gas prices? Get over it

Fuming over gas prices?

Plenty of politicians are, hoping to rile or appease voters.

U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, faults the president for an 'anti-American' and 'disastrous' agenda on oil. U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, calls high prices at the pump a 'crisis.' U.S. Senate candidate Alex Lasry, a Democrat, wants to suspend the federal gas tax for six months.

Bowing to pressure, President Joe Biden is releasing 50 million barrels from the nation's reserves to try to calm critics.

But here's the deal: Gas prices really aren't that high, and burning fossil fuels isn't the future. Increasingly, spewing carbon pollution into the air is going to cost more because of the damage it poses to our climate.

The average price per gallon in Wisconsin last week was $3.09 for regular unleaded gasoline, according to AAA Wisconsin. That's a lot more than the $1.90 a gallon state motorists were paying a year ago, and more than three times as much as the 99¢ per gallon in mid-April 2020.

But that incredibly low price was during the depths of the pandemic, when demand for fuel tanked. Many people were working from home last year, and some lost their jobs. Businesses and schools closed or limited in-person service and learning.

Today is so much different than back then - even with another variant of the deadly coronavirus on the loose, which vaccines should help contain. The U.S. economy has added 3.7 millions jobs over the last six months, and unemployment is down from 14.7% in April 2020 to 4.2% today (and just 3.2% in Wisconsin).

So of course gas is going to be more expensive than it was last year or even earlier this year. Moreover, some consumers are paying less than before the pandemic because they are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. Inflation also means that the peak price of gas in Wisconsin of $4.11 per gallon back in 2008 would cost $5.28 in today's dollars.

Instead, today's average price of $3.09 in Wisconsin is lower than it was at the end of November in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and only marginally higher than before the pandemic began, according to data from AAA Wisconsin, which has closely tracked prices for decades.

The average price of gas over the last decade was about $2.80 a gallon. The annual average so far for 2021? $2.83. Compare that to eight, nine and 10 years ago - when the average annual price was above $3.50 - and today's price appears modest. And in the two years before the pandemic, annual gas prices in Wisconsin were $2.53 and $2.65, with peak prices of $2.85 and $2.95 in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

We understand that for many people $3 a gallon is painful - especially lower-wage earners with older, bigger cars that get poor gas mileage. But help is on the way in cleaner-burning cars with tax incentives to bring down their price.

Ford just provided some welcome and telling evidence of that. It's building an all-electric F-150 truck for 2022. So we won't have to give up popular pickups to help ease climate change.

As part of his 'Build Back Better' spending plan that recently cleared the House, Biden hopes to offer up to $12,500 per electric vehicle to spur consumer demand. And in the bipartisan infrastructure bill the president recently signed into law, motorists are getting 500,000 chargers by 2030.

The infrastructure bill also will bolster public transportation so fewer commuters need to drive cars. Madison is getting a faster and more appealing bus system. Rural Wisconsin is getting faster internet, allowing more people to work from home.

And in the short term, economists expect the price of gas to fall.

America must continue to transition to cleaner energy on the highway, at work and at home. $3-a-gallon gas won't - and shouldn't - change that.

END

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