Millions of Acres of Farmland Going Unplanted from Heavy Flooding

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 pitch@subverse.net so we can hear your perspective.

Hong Kong Extradition Bill Prompts Massive Worldwide Protests

Hong Kong fell into political crisis on Sunday when over a million people took to the streets to protest a proposed extradition law that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial. The demonstration increased pressure on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Hong Kong’s official representatives in Beijing. Hong Kong operates under the “one country, two systems” regime as an autonomous region with its legal system widely regarded as its strongest asset.

The proposed bill provides case-by-case extraditions to outside jurisdictions beyond the twenty states that Hong Kong already has treaties with, including mainland China. It gives the chief executive the power to approve extradition after its clearance by Hong Kong’s courts and appeal system. Many fear a pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong would approve the majority of the Chinese Communist Party’s political demands. US and European officials have already voiced their concern along with international business and human rights groups who fear the bill would impair Hong Kong’s rule of law. Opponents of the bill and several senior Hong Kong judges question the fairness and transparency of the mainland Chinese court system and worry about Chinese security forces fabricating charges.

Weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic, and legal communities made Hong Kongers fear a loss of legal independence and basic judicial protections in mainland China. Opposition to the bill has united communities from business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures, and religious groups. Human rights groups have cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions as well as difficulty accessing lawyers in China.

The Chinese government has been accused of meddling in Hong Kong on a number of occasions, denying democratic reforms and restricting freedoms, interfering with local elections, as well as being involved with the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based authors whose works were critical of Chinese leaders. All of whom appeared to be detained in China, and some had their forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong. The movement opposing the potential bill on Sunday came amidst a series of governmental reforms to expand links between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong officials defended their plans, they raised the threshold of extraditable offenses to crimes that carry sentences of seven years or more. They say the laws carry sufficient safeguards, including protection of independent judges who will hear cases before approval by the Hong Kong chief executive. However, individuals won’t be extradited if they face political or religious persecution or the death penalty. Lam and her officials emphasize the need to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. However, Taiwanese officials claim they won’t agree to any transfer him if the bill goes into effect, citing human rights concerns.

On Sunday afternoon, protestors filled a two-mile stretch of major roads from Victoria Park in east Hong Kong to the legislative council complex. Thousands more struggled to get through packed public transport from outer Hong Kong and Kowloon in mainland China. The Hong Kong police closed metro stations, funneling people through narrow roads, prompting accusations that they deliberately tried to reduce the size of the protest.
The peaceful march descended into violence early Monday morning as hundreds of protesters clashed with police outside the city’s parliament building. Some demonstrators charged police lines trying to get to the Legislative Council building, but police pushed back with pepper spray after warning the protesters. Some police had tear gas ready to go but none was reportedly used.

Seeing the massive protests in Hong Kong, cities around the world organized their own protest against the extradition bill. Sandi Bachom and Tarik Johnson went on the ground in New York City for Subverse where hundreds of people marched from Times Square to the Chinese Consulate Building to show their support for the protest in Hong Kong and voice their concerns about the bill.

This is a story we will continue to watch and provide updates as needed. Stay tuned for more videos every Monday through Thursday at seven PM eastern and remember to follow us on Minds.com/Subverse. You can support our work by sharing our videos and leaving your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time.

Big Tech Stocks Take Major Hit From Impending Antitrust Probes

Today, we’re looking at the impact these antitrust investigations had on the stock of the silicon valley giants. We’re also going to show you what the investigations from the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, and the House Judiciary Committee have in store for the companies.

Morgan Stanley predicts that in a worst “bear case” scenario, Apple’s stock could fall to one hundred forty-seven dollars per share from antitrust regulations and tariffs on goods from China. Their “base case” for Apple is two hundred thirty-one dollars per share but they expect tariffs to take up to seventy-one off that, and the antitrust regulation worst-case impact could take another thirteen dollars out per share. The note from Morgan Stanley to investors addressed the recent reports that the Department of Justice might investigate anti-competitive behavior by Apple, which could cost them tens of billions of dollars in equity value. The analyst who wrote the note, Katy Huberty said the likely focus of the investigation is Spotify’s accusation of anti-competitive actions favoring Apple Music over third-party apps. Apple is already facing potential investigation by the EU on this accusation stemming from a complaint from Spotify. EU prosecutors have not yet announced what action they will take, but the scrutiny itself sets a precedent. If regulators go after the App Store, Huberty says the extreme scenario would be the company cuts its revenue from developers in half. Huberty also said that Apple’s take rate starting in 2020 would equate to lost revenue of nine point five billion dollars.
These are hypothetical projections until the DOJ takes action, but Apple CEO Tim Cook is already addressing the potential outcome. In an interview with CBS News on Monday, Cook said, “I think we should be scrutinized. But any kind of measure about ‘is Apple a monopoly or not,’ I don’t think anybody reasonable is going to come to the conclusion that Apple’s a monopoly. Our share is much more modest. We don’t have a dominant position in any market.”
Based on a report from the International Data Corporation’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, Apple’s shipments in the first quarter of 2019 dropped thirty percent from last year, lagging behind Samsung and Huawei. “The iPhone struggled to win over consumers in most major markets as competitors continue to eat away at Apple’s market share. Price cuts in China throughout the quarter along with favorable trade-in deals in many markets were still not enough to encourage consumers to upgrade. Combine this with the fact that most competitors will shortly launch 5G phones and new foldable devices, the iPhone could face a difficult remainder of the year.”
The iPhone is not the focus of the investigation though. App developers have taken issue with the App store, accusing them of unfairly limiting rivals to their services. As we reported recently, the Supreme Court ruled that consumers should be allowed to bring lawsuits against the company over inflating the price of apps by taking thirty percent commission. Apple isn’t the only tech giant whose stocks are in jeopardy pending an antitrust investigation. Alphabet took a major hit, falling to its lowest in five months as the DOJ prepares a probe into Google. Like Apple, the probe will explore ‘anti-competitive conduct’ to see if Google is harming competition in the digital market. The indication of a probe made Alphabet stock plummet to its lowest since January at just over one thousand dollars per share. Google is currently one of the most profitable companies in history and has faced three separate antitrust investigations from the European Union since 2010. A team of Merrill Lynch analysts wrote a note to investors talking about the potential effects of an investigation by the DOJ. According to Bloomberg, Post said, “Potential implications for Google could include new regulations on business practices, or an antitrust probe leading to a breakup. It is very rare to break up a company but not unheard of.” Post thinks the investigation into Google would take at least five years, which would cause significant internal distractions, but would have a positive long-term effect on the company’s valuation and public perception. Analyst Ross Sandler of Barclays thinks the regulatory concerns are bad timing and Google is losing allies in Washington DC after siding with Democratic candidates who weren’t elected. While he thinks the investigation would be long and painful, he doesn’t believe it will result in the company being broken up.
After a report stating the FTC secured the rights to begin an antitrust investigation into Facebook, the NASDAQ composite fell one point six percent, putting it down more than ten percent from its May record low. The statement came after a bipartisan letter urging the FTC to take antitrust action addressing the huge market shares Google and Facebook have in search and advertising, as well as concerns over privacy. Republicans have also pushed for action based on the size and influence the companies have over speech online and allegations of stifling conservative voices– which the companies deny. Despite the growing concern from lawmakers and the public over the market dominance, both Facebook and Google products are extremely popular to consumers.
Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief has said there’s nothing wrong with these companies achieving market dominance through innovation. According to the Wall Street Journal, Delrahim said in a speech about digital platforms last year at the University of Chicago, “Antitrust enforcers may need to take a close look to see whether competition is suffering and consumers are losing out on new innovations as a result of misdeeds by a monopoly incumbent.” The antitrust chief answers to US Attorney General William Barr, who shared similar feelings with senators during his confirmation hearings in January, saying: “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers. You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”
The House Judiciary Committee announced its own investigation into the digital market competition, which will include hearings and information requests. The probe will also determine if the current US antitrust laws and enforcement have been able to keep up with changes in technology. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler said, “The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, but there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”
Last year, internet industries including Google, Amazon, and Facebook put a record seventy-seven point nine million dollars into lobbying in Washington DC. Alphabet spent over twenty-one million, Amazon spent over fourteen million, and Facebook spent over twelve million.
The Silicon Valley giants have also spent years building their support network in Washington DC and other areas around the country and have funded nonprofit antitrust groups across the political spectrum. A Google transparency report showed that the company funded more than thirty nonprofit groups that are in the public antitrust debate. Amazon’s investment list shows they fund many of the same groups. The FTC has been ramping up its scrutiny in recent months, announcing a task force in February that would re-evaluate past government decisions that allowed tech companies to acquire smaller companies that would have been future competitors. One of these deals is Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram. Tech advocates are arguing that actions taken against the industry giants could hurt consumers and the economy, as well as stifle growth and innovation. FTC Chairman Joe Simons is eager to figure out how the tech giants have been able to sway large parts of the economy and society.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Simons said in a speech to Georgetown University last year: “It makes sense for the antitrust authorities to look in places where there might be significant market power, to ensure that such firms compete on the merits—and that might include some of the significant high-tech platforms.”
The FTC has spent over a year investigating privacy issues and how Facebook handles user data, but that probe didn’t focus on issues of competition. Because the jurisdictional agreements between the DOJ and FTC didn’t assign a single agency the right to oversee one company for each issue, they will clear each other to work on specified issues.
These investigations are going to take lots of time, and the companies are going to stay on their toes and continue to further their interests. The outcome won’t just affect the companies– consumers and emerging tech companies will reap the consequences or the benefits, depending on how it plays out, which is why it’s so important to keep up on developments. We’ll have those updates and more here so be sure to check back for more videos. We have new videos every Monday through Thursday at 7pm, and soon we’ll be expanding our coverage to get more news to you every day of the week. You can help us out by showing your support and sharing our videos and leaving your thoughts in the comments.

DoJ plans probe for Apple
The DoJ Antitrust Division and the FTC met in recent weeks forming an agreement to give jurisdiction to undertake potential antitrust probes of Apple and Google, owned by Alphabet Inc.
DoJ has jurisdiction for a potential probe of Apple, and the FTC was given jurisdiction to look at Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc according to sources.
Companies like Spotify have criticized the iPhone maker’s practices, describing the company as anti-competitive in a complaint to the European Union’s antitrust regulators.
Central to Spotify’s complaint is the 30% fee Apple charges to content-based service providers to use Apple’s in-app purchase system.
The company has defended its practices, saying it only collects a commission if a good or service is sold through an app.
“Our users trust Apple – and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution,” Apple stated previously.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FTC will examine how Facebook’s practices affect digital competition.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Amazon will be probed by U.S. regulators, on Friday, the Journal reported that the DoJ is preparing a probe of Google, sending shares of parent company Alphabet down 7% Monday.
The ‘Apple tax’ accounts for a considerable amount of Apple’s services revenue, but draws angers developers who compete with Apple’s self-manufactured apps in their store.

Apple antitrust woes could worsen as US ponders major tech giant investigation

Apple antitrust woes could worsen as US ponders major tech giant investigation

Apple shutting down iTunes

Alphabet stock drops from antitrust

FTC & DoJ plan on investigating deeper on antitrust

Explainer: Should Big Tech fear U.S. antitrust enforcers?

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple Could Face Antitrust Investigations. How Do Those Work?

Antitrust Troubles Snowball for Tech Giants as Lawmakers Join In

DoJ plans probe for Google

Tiananmen Square and the Rise of Chinese Censorship

According to the Chinese government, thirty years ago today, nothing happened in Tiananmen Square. But everywhere else, today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the deadly suppression of protests against the authoritarian policies of the Chinese Communist Government. In China, the event is known as the “June Fourth Incident,” though it has been effectively scrubbed from the internet in Mainland China. But for this anniversary, a controversial anonymous political cartoonist in China finally showed his face. This is just one of many dissidents, some of whom are taking risky measures to get around China’s Great Firewall to avoid censorship, despite some US companies helping the Chinese government.

If you’re unfamiliar, weeks of peaceful protests broke out after the death of a Communist leader who was pro-reform during a time of rapid social and economic change in the post-Mao country. Inflation and corruption were rampant, and college students demanded change. Despite the disorganization of the movement, the calls for more democracy, free speech, free press, and government accountability united about a million people in Tiananmen Square at the height of the protests. China’s leader at the time and Communist Party elders deemed the protests as a political threat and the State Council declared Martial law, sending three hundred thousand troops to Beijing. Early in the morning on June fourth, the troops advanced, killing both demonstrators and bystanders, many in their twenties and some younger, shocking the world. Although the official number of deaths is disputed, numbers are estimated to range from several hundred to thousands, with thousands more wounded. The international community and human rights organizations condemned the massacre but the Chinese government continued with the arrests of protesters and supporters of the movement. They suppressed more protests around China and expelled foreign journalists in order to control the coverage of the events. Officials who were believed to be sympathetic to the movement were demoted or purged, while police and security forces were strengthened. Progress within the government to promote more liberalized policies was halted, and the movement to end authoritarianism in China instead strengthened it.

The infamous Great Firewall of China is a combination of legislative actions that regulate internet access domestically. It’s actually called the “Golden Shield Project” by the Bureau of Public Information and Network Security Supervision. It falls under the “one country, two systems” principle, which means China’s special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macau are not affected, but the internet use in those regions are still closely monitored. The firewall blocks a number of foreign sites, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter. As a result, access to foreign information sources, internet tools, and mobile apps are limited, and companies are required to adhere to China’s strict internet regulations. China spends about one hundred eighty billion dollars a year on “domestic security.” This includes surveillance, police, and censorship tools. In 2014, a new government body called the Cyberspace Administration of China was established to be directly under President Xi Jinping’s control. This body exercises its control over the internet as a tool for surveillance and suppression. China’s tech giants used to rely on a combination of simple blacklists of banned words and teams of manual reviewers. They’re still in use, but big Chinese tech companies now have more powerful automation to help identify what to block. Tiananmen-related online content is blocked year-round in China, and for decades textbooks and state media have ignored and re-characterized the event to what’s now referred to as “the June fourth incident.” Each year’s anniversary shows signs that Chinese tech companies and the government are more meticulously policing the web. China’s popular search engine Baidu and social media platform WeChat block Tiananmen-related posts and webpages to comply with internet rules. Researchers from the University of Toronto reverse-engineered WeChat, revealing the code in a section of the app that filters images and detects banned images even if they’ve been edited. If a user tries to send the famous photo of “Tank Man” from the protests, the message may never actually reach its recipients. Since 2017, China has increased its crackdown on VPN providers and users, sending many to prison. Apple was forced to remove hundreds of VPN apps from their app store, but still, the number of citizens using VPNs is increasing.

According to Bloomberg, “in the first quarter of 2019, 35% of Chinese web users utilized a VPN, up from 31% two years ago, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex. That compares with 60% of web users in Indonesia, the highest share of VPN users globally, and 22% in the US. More than half of Chinese VPN users do so for routine activities such as accessing better music and TV shows; 41% of them use VPNs to access social networks or blocked news sites.”

More and more Chinese citizens are breaking through the firewall to fight the censorship and communicate with other like-minded digital dissidents. Using open-source coding platforms like Github, and encrypted messaging services like Telegram and Signal, some are able to stay ahead of the Great Firewall, which continues to grow taller and wider. Some are now operating platforms that re-publish blocked social media posts, browsers that allow access to blocked sites, and blockchain based messaging that prevent controversial posts from being removed. Groups of activists are even teaching members of the persecuted Uighur Muslim-minority how to use encrypted messaging to speak with human rights groups.

US companies operating within China, like Apple and Microsoft, are helping the government censor information. The content deemed “sensitive” by the government is kept off Bing search results and LinkedIn. Other than removing hundreds of VPN apps, Apple curates its app store differently than anywhere else in the world to comply with the firewall. Human rights groups are accusing the companies of helping the government suppress rights. Lawmakers in the US and Europe have also criticized US companies for playing along with the censorship. In April, it was reported that Apple removed songs that mention political topics from Apple Music, including a song by Hong Kong pop star Jacky Chung that referenced the Tiananmen Square protests. Apple declined to comment on the reports of the music’s removal, prompting lawmakers to call the compliance disgraceful.

As we’ve reported before, Google was testing a search engine known as “Dragonfly” that would comply with the strict censorship rules of the Chinese government. The project caused an uproar within the company, with many protesting and petitioning for its development to end. Google actually used to operate within China until 2010, then stopped over concerns that the government was increasing its censorship of online speech too much.
One of the most prominent Chinese-born political cartoonists has been hiding behind anonymity for years to protect himself against repercussions from the government. Today, he revealed his identity. Badiucao is a thirty-three-year-old artist now living in Australia who circulates his work online through social media. He has been compared to Banksy because of the political commentary in his art that satirize Beijing’s leaders. Despite threats from the Chinese government, he stepped out of the shadows to show his face.

In the past, Badiucao would cover his face when he had to appear in public, or sometimes cross-dress to conceal his identity. Despite taking these measures, Chinese authorities figured out his identity and he was forced to cancel an exhibition in Hong Kong over threats to his loved ones. Badiucao believes his identity was realized through digital surveillance while preparing the exhibition in Hong Kong.

According to Reuters, Badiucao said, “I’m facing this major choice: to be silent forever, or to fight back, to confront, face to face, this situation. By stepping out on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre I don’t think there’s any better time for me to do that.”
The canceled art exhibition in Hong Kong was called “Gongle,” stylized to parody Google, but based on a phrase that translates to “singing for Communism.” The show included drawings celebrating a series of street protests known as the “Umbrella Movement” against China’s interference in Hong Kong’s electoral system in 2014. It featured an image portraying Xi Jinping as Winnie the Pooh in a meme-reference mocking the leader’s appearance. The meme is blocked in China. He also made pictures of Google CEO Sundar Pichai wearing a “Make Wall Great Again” hat, referencing the Great Firewall and the Dragonfly search engine.

Badiucao seeks to reveal the truth about June fourth through art, and said, “In order to pass down memory, it’s always about the next generation, how to engage them, how to awaken them from this kind of political indifference. The physical body can be crushed or damaged, but the spirit lives for much longer. I hope within my art and within my action [there] will be a way to pass on the spirit of ‘89.”
It’s been thirty years since the protests against the authoritarian policies of the Chinese government, the surveillance and censorship has gotten worse, and people are still intimidated and jailed for simple expressions of dissent. It’s a stark reminder that even though we certainly don’t have it bad here in the US, we still need to closely monitor the actions of our governments and tech companies to ensure our freedom of expression does not become compromised. We will continue to update you with news on topics like this, so be sure to stay tuned for more videos every Monday through Thursday. But soon, we’ll have videos every day. You can help make this possible by supporting our work and sharing our videos.

Dissident Chinese cartoonist shows his face on Tiananmen anniversary
digital dissidents fighting chinese censorship machine
US companies help censor internet in china

Activists CLASH at National March for Impeachment

Hundreds of activists gathered Saturday to protest at the National Mall and march to the White House in a “National March To Impeach” Donald Trump. A couple dozen pro-Trump activists countered their rally, which occasionally turned into small scuffles and loud arguments, but no arrests were made. Ford Fischer of News2Share and Subverse was on the scene and spoke to both sides.

Zuckerberg Ignores Subpoena, Politicians Outraged

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.

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