Entrepreneur Andrew Yang amassed an online following that turned quickly into a IRL coalition of people from all ages, backgrounds, and politis. Many of his supporters are worried about the “automation revolution” and the millions of jobs at stake. Sandi Bachom went on the ground for Subverse to find out why Yang appeals to his supporters.
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1 month ago
Supreme Court Rules on Antitrust Lawsuit, Facebook Gearing Up For Legal Battle
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that iPhone users can bring a lawsuit against Apple for allegedly wielding monopolistic power in their App Store. India’s regulatory watchdog launched a probe into Google over monopolistic behavior with Android devices. Facebook is hiring for their upcoming battle with regulators in the US, EU, and Asia. Politicians are weighing in on what they think the future of regulation will be for big tech.
3 weeks ago
Regulations are on the horizon for social media platforms and other tech giants. Even though we celebrate the convenience and connectivity they’ve brought into our worlds, we also lament the scandals of data privacy and grand-scale manipulation they’ve had on our public discourse and democratic processes. One government after another has assembled committees and held hearings to figure out ways to address and fix these problems only to realize the lack of legal framework currently in place and the sweeping legislative changes that might be required. Today marked the end of a three-day session of the international grand committee on big data, privacy, and democracy, which met in Ottawa to outline the best practices to protect citizens’ data privacy rights from big tech companies.
The committee in Canada heard from experts on how governments can prevent social media companies from unauthorized use of personal information, spreading fake news, sowing division, and manipulating elections. Committee members invited representatives from Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Mozilla, Amazon, and Facebook. The meeting was hosted by the Canadian House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics. The representatives the committee wanted from Facebook, however, caused a bit of a stir. Yesterday, Canadian lawmakers voted to issue Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg open-ended summons to appear before parliament the next time they enter Canada. If the two fail to honor the summons, lawmakers will hold another vote on a motion to hold them in contempt of court. If that motion is approved, it could result in jail time for the two executives. The likelihood of that happening, however, is slim. Previously, they have declined to appear before the UK parliament and other government committees around the world.
According to the Hill, Bob Zimmer, the chairman of the Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics said, “It’s only fitting that there’s an ongoing summons, so as soon as they step foot into our country they will be served and expected to [sit in front of] our committee.”
CBC reported Zimmer also said, “I don’t think it would send a good message internationally about, you know, blowing off an entire country of 36 million people. The bottom line is that they show up and answer our questions, so my hope is that still happens.”
Committee members in Canada were quick to point out the contradiction in Zuckerberg’s attitude from an op-ed he wrote in March where he said he was looking forward to discussing these issues with lawmakers around the world. The committee itself is made up of lawmakers from more than ten countries, collectively representing about 450 million people. Facebook sent the head of public policy in Canada, Kevin Chan, and the director of public policy, Neil Potts, to attend the hearing in their place. The committee was not pleased with the alternatives because their understanding of the company’s structure is that any change is made through Zuckerberg or Sandberg. The committee unleashed a barrage of detailed criticism over Facebook’s business practices on Chan and Potts, who were separated by two empty chairs designated for the two executives.
CBC reported that Neil Potts attempted to reassure the committee that Facebook is taking the work of the members of parliament seriously, saying: “There’s been this running theme that Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are not here because they are eschewing their duty. They have mandated and authorized Mr. Chan and me to appear for this committee to work with you all.”
Zimmer cut off Potts before he finished, to stress that when the committee asks two specific individuals to come, that’s exactly what they expect. “It shows a little bit of disdain from Mark Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg to simply choose not to come and it just shows a lack of understanding of what we do as legislators. To use you two individuals in their stead simply is not acceptable.”
Potts responded that he was not familiar with the procedures of the Canadian Parliament and what requires an appearance. Although Twitter and Google also received formal requests from Canadian Parliament earlier this month, the invitations were not necessarily directed to their top executives. Some members of parliament wondered why Zuckerberg chose to send officials in his place to deal with the lawmakers’ questions, yet will meet with world leaders elsewhere behind closed doors. The questions highlighted their skepticism over Facebook’s promise to operate more transparently than before.
In a statement on Monday, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Ultimately this is a decision for Parliament, we’re not in a position to speculate. We share the Committee’s desire to keep people safe and to hold companies like ours accountable. Right now we’re focused on engaging in meaningful dialogue with the committee… We look forward to answering their questions and remain committed to working with world leaders, governments, and industry experts to address these complex issues.”
The next day, a former Facebook advisor told lawmakers to call their bluff and shut down Facebook or other social media sites until they can be properly regulated.
According to CBC, venture capitalist Roger McNamee told the committee on Tuesday, “if your goals are to protect democracy and personal liberty, you have to be bold. You have to force a radical transformation of the business model of internet platforms.” “At the end of the day, though, the most effective path to reform would be to shut down the platforms at least temporarily. Any country can go first. The platforms have left you no choice. The time has come to call their bluff.”
McNamee pointed to the action Sri Lanka took to turn off access to social media after the Easter Sunday attacks on hundreds of people in churches and hotels. The government said at the time the actions were taken to stop the spread of fake news reports online. McNamee said, “The people at Google and Facebook are not evil. They are the products of an American business culture with few rules, where misbehavior seldom results in punishment. Smart people take what they can get and tell themselves they earned it. They feel entitled. Consequences are someone else’s problem.”
He also pointed out that companies with responsible business models will emerge to fill the gap that facebook leaves. McNamee was an early investor at Facebook but now is suggesting countries ought to end these social media platforms’ abilities to surveillance their users.
British MP Jo Stevens was extremely displeased, as this was a repeat of the Zuckerberg no-show in front of the UK Parliament in London. “He wouldn’t come to answer our questions in London at our Parliament, so we have come across the Atlantic to make it easier for him. And we can only conclude that he’s frightened of scrutiny,” Stevens said. “And for the avoidance of doubt, I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes from Facebook and avoidance tactics about answering questions. I want the boss here to take responsibility.”
Kevin Chan, Canada’s Facebook Head of Public Policy said the company respects the work of the legislators and would work to comply with whatever regulations they pass, saying: “We would welcome basic standards that lawmakers can impose on the platform about what should go up and what should come down. And if lawmakers, in their wisdom, want to draw the line somewhere north or south of censorship, we would be, we would obviously [be] obliged [to follow] local law.”
In another statement after the meeting on Tuesday, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We are grateful to the Committee for the opportunity to answer their questions today and remain committed to working with world leaders, governments, and industry experts to address these complex issues. As we emphasized, we share the Committee’s desire to keep people safe and to hold companies like ours accountable.”
Both Google and Microsoft announced they support an initiative to protect the integrity of the Canadian election this fall, which includes removing fake content and fake accounts. As of tuesday morning, Twitter had not signed onto the initiative. Facebook agreed as well, committing to remove bots and fake accounts. The measures are outlined in a non-binding declaration on electoral integrity. There is a growing concern among government officials that bad actors will try to interfere with the elections.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said Microsoft and facebook are set to intensify their efforts to combat disinformation and cybersecurity incidents, and have to explain their rules about accepting political advertising. She urged other platforms to follow suit in the coming days, referring to Twitter and Google.
According to Reuters, Gould said, “The Wild West online era cannot continue, inaction is not an option. Disinformation must not stand.” She added, “I think they have an absolute interest to be good actors in the Canadian democratic space, and if that is not the case then we will be coming back with stronger regulatory reforms.”
The non-binding aspect of the agreement raises questions on how they can ensure the compliance of the companies. Gould said that the public, the media, and political parties would hold these giants accountable in the short term. Getting this information out to the public is the first step in holding these platforms and our governments accountable, which is why we plan to continue our coverage on tech giants and their impending regulation.
5 days ago
America’s wettest year on record has come from months of heavy rainfall that soaked the country’s most fertile cropland. Farmland in midwestern states are trapped under inches of rain and water overflow from nearby riverbanks. Farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, South Dakota, Ohio, and Michigan lost their ability to plant a majority of their corn and wheat seeds this planting season. From the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River Valley, Americans have experienced strenuous weather. Millions of Midwesterners have endured relentless rainfall, hundreds of tornadoes, and uncontrolled flooding that’s spilled onto farmland. Many are feeling the consequences of yet another predicament they’ve faced within the past few years. After years of low prices, the ongoing trade turmoil with China preventing America’s largest soy buyer from purchasing soy from US farmers. Now they face unrelenting rainfall impeding their ability to produce the crops that keep their farms running.
A record level of corn has gone unplanted in 2019, a combined 31 million acres across central US states. A United States Department of Agriculture report shows as of June second, only sixty-six of the country’s ninety-three million acres of corn have been planted this year. At this point, all major-corn producing states would be at least eighty to ninety percent planted according to USDA’s historical averages. This is the slowest planting pace on record; compared to the next slowest at seventy-seven percent back in 1995.
Last week, crowd-sourced content service for financial markets, Seeking Alpha published that “2019 is turning out to be a nightmare that never ends for the agriculture industry. Thanks to endless rain and unprecedented flooding, fields all over the middle part of the country are absolutely soaked right now, and this has prevented many farmers from getting their crops in the ground.”
American farmers’ livelihoods largely depend on the planting and harvesting seasons. The planting window is shortening day by day due to passing storms carrying massive amounts of rainfall. As this window closes, many farmers are losing a large portion of their yields. And as they lose their yields, their income falls.
Kevin McNew, the chief economist for Farmers Business Network claimed in an article by AGPro, “The planting pace in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota are all at historically slow rates, leaving millions of acres unplanted. The current pace combined with other variables like weather and insurance-based economics should force the USDA to adjust their planted/harvest acres figures and the yield estimated in the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate.”
AccuWeather senior meteorologist, Jason Nicholls claims, “The next two weeks are critical for corn planting, most intended corn acres not planted by June 4th will likely go to soybeans or be left unplanted.”
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center reported twenty-three tornadoes last Tuesday and twenty-nine on Wednesday, breaking the all-time record for consecutive days with tornadoes. The 2019 tornado season so far has 611 documented tornadoes across the United States which have caused 38 casualties, up significantly from the ten fatalities in 2018.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintain 6,000 flood gauges on waterways across the country, in the upper Midwest and Central Plains 381 were above flood stage this week Much of the most severe flooding is concentrated in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, northwest Iowa, southeastern South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma Governor, Kevin Stitt, declared a State of Emergency for all seventy-seven counties in the state, everyone impacted by flooding from severe storms. The declaration is the first step toward seeking federal assistance. Under the executive order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions to aid disaster relief.
Some climate scientists predicted this would happen, and if this the new norm, then farmers may have to adapt to these environmental impacts. Farmers have been unable to drive tractors through their farmland because it gets stuck in the mud, so they must consider new ways to continue their operation. Unaccustomed practices like no-till farming, cover cropping, and other conservation-based methods that prevent soil erosion are transitioning into techniques that are necessary for some farms after flood waters prevented planting. Making these transitions is easier said than done, as the process requires learning new procedures, but the weather is forcing some farmers to make the shift as quickly as they can.
Ray Gaesser, a farmer from Corning, Iowa, realized he needed to make the transition in May 2010. Gaesser farms roughly three thousand acres of soybeans and is a former president of the American Soybean Association. The corn-planting season in Iowa runs ranges from two to four weeks starting in April, but many farmers weren’t able to plant their crop within the timespan this year.
Gaessar claims it only took him thirty seconds to decide it was time to start planting cereals like rye, after watching his crops topple over and the soil run-off wash away his seeds after heavy rainfall. “I’ve been farming fifty-one years now,” he said. “That was the first four-inch rain in one hour that I’d seen in my lifetime. And every year but one, since then, we’ve had that.”
Corn and soybean production in the US will be lower than the USDA estimate for 2019, and way under the 2018 yield. AccuWeather estimates the 2019 corn crop will yield fourteen point one billion bushels, compared to the USDA’s estimated fifteen billion and 2018’s total yield of 14.3 billion.
Illinois and Iowa are the top two soybean producing states in the US. The USDA’s crop progress report shows only eleven percent of Illinois corn and four percent of soybeans have been planted so far. Last year’s figures show eighty-eight percent of corn and fifty-six percent of soybeans were already in the ground by this time. Terry Davis, a farmer from Roseville, Illinois, told FarmWeekDay.com: “this, without a doubt, has been the longest, most frustrating season I’ve had in my career.”
Nebraska is the country’s third top producer of corn. Megahn Schafer, executive director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation stated that “seventy-four cities, sixty-five counties and four tribal areas have declared states of emergency.” And state officials report “The cost of the damage has surpassed one point three billion US dollars.”
The Indiana Farm Bureau posted last week, “We have never had a year quite like this before, and US food production is going to be substantially below expectations, I very much encourage everyone to get prepared for much higher food prices and a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the months ahead.”
USDA forecasts net farm income of sixty-nine point four billion dollars this year. If this prediction is accurate, it would be the third year of net income below seventy billion since 2015.
If the storms let up, farmers may be forced to work fourteen hour days to get their corn planted to make up for this year’s troublesome growing season. Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, said to NewFoodEconomy.org, “If you plant too late, you may not get enough heat units to get the ear of corn mature and dry before you run into a severe frost in the fall, and that dramatically, as you might imagine, reduces yield. We’re about 20 percentage points behind the worst (corn planting) years of the last 40 (years), we are (headed) into uncharted territory.”
Instead of corn, many farmers may turn to soybeans, which usually gets planted later in the summer. Another option for farmers facing flooded fields is to apply for a form of crop insurance called prevented planting. Prevented planting is the failure to plant the insured crop with proper equipment by the final planting date designated in the insurance policy’s Special Provisions or during the late planting period. A recent Farm Journal Pulse poll shows thirty-four percent of corn growers plan to file for prevented plant payments on at least some of their acres this year.
Irwin estimates roughly thirty-one million acres of corn acreage will still be unplanted, a landmass that measures the size of New York state. One third will stay unplanted, meaning farmers will collect around three billion dollars in prevented planting payments. One third will be converted to soybeans and the last third be planted as corn, allowing farmers to cash in on what’s expected to be a limited supply of the crop with a very high demand price.
Corn is referred to as “yellow gold” because it’s used to make so many products and byproducts that end up circulating throughout the economy. It’s found on food store shelves and in gas pumps and industrial chemical plants. Corn is in almost everything, a majority of the corn produced in the US becomes livestock feed and ethanol fuel. The kernel is made up of four major components: starch, fiber, protein, and oil which can be processed and used in all kinds of products. In the US, a typical grocery store contains about four thousand items that list corn ingredients on its nutrition label. Many other products depend on corn as well, from paper goods and cardboard packaging to all the meat, milk, eggs, poultry and other protein products that come from corn-fed animals. According to IowaCorn, thirty-nine percent is used as feed, twenty-seven percent is used for ethanol-based fuel, sixteen percent is exported, and the remainder is put into circulation in the food industry.
Traders previously debated which crops US farmers would grow this year. But now, the question turns to how many acres will be left unplanted. Rabobank, a global leader in food and agriculture financing and sustainability-oriented banking, predicts an extraordinary number of unplanted acres of corn this growing season. A Bloomberg survey of ten traders and analysts indicates growers could file insurance claims for about six million corn acres they haven’t been able to plant, doubling the previous record in 2013.
According to Gro Intelligence, farmland that deteriorated over the past few months indicates significant corn acreage loss is a risk. Areas with the highest risk of loss include central Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and the regions around the borders of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Corn futures surpassed twenty-percent to a three-year high in the past few weeks from the fear that farmers won’t get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines.
For many farmers, the motto is: risk is the only constant. Whether it’s a destructive weather season or unexpected trade turmoil, farmers believe when they have a plan, to stick to it, for better or worse.
Thanks for watching, and thanks to our viewers for pointing out stories like this that don’t get a ton of airtime elsewhere. It may not be the sexiest story, but it’s an important one and we will continue to have updates as needed. If you’re a farmer experiencing challenges from flooding, we want to hear from you so reach out to us through email@example.com so we can hear your perspective.