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By: John Eggerton of Multichannel News

WASHINGTON — Sounding a bit like Google execs in front of the Senate Commerce Committee almost a decade ago, a top Facebook official told the House Antitrust Subcommittee that it faces “vigorous” competition for its products and services, including fierce competition for revenue and low barriers of entry for new competitors.

That is according to the prepared testimony of Matt Perault, Facebook’s director of public policy.

He also said the company had been a boon to small businesses, saying it had "democratized advertising, helping millions of small and medium-sized businesses along the way."

Perault suggested Facebook had been successful because it had worked hard and taken risks. "America does not punish success,” he said. “It rewards it."

Google was represented at the same hearing by Adam Cohen, director of economic policy, who was making the same arguments in his testimony about being subject to vigorous competition for search, including from Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and "many more."

Last year, Cohen pointed out, 54% of product searches originated on Amazon, and specialized search services are growing in the areas of flights, hotels and restaurants.

Amazon associate general counsel for competition Nate Sutton weighed in, too. He spoke in his testimony of how each of the company’s many businesses “faces intense competition from well-established competitors,” including its online retail business. Sutton said Amazon knows its retail customers have many options, including brick-and-mortar stores that operate their own online businesses and the third-party sellers Amazon hosts on its platform — many of which are small businesses it is helping out.

And for Apple, said chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer: “The competition is fierce. Our customers have an ever-growing number of choices when it comes to products and services. We compete against some of the largest companies in the world, both foreign and domestic."

Their statements were at odds with the general tenor of the House’s inquiry into Big Tech, which is based on the companies' massive size, market cap and dominance in various areas. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have talked about the need to rein in or break up giant edge providers, with Republicans pointing to allegations of conservative bias and Democrats speaking of the need to downsize converged corporate giants in general.

Rep. David Cicciline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, gave the companies props for dynamism, immense tech breakthroughs and economic contributions. But he said they had been allowed to grow without sufficient antitrust oversight, leading to an increasingly concentrated and less open internet “growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The companies’ protestations about fierce competition notwithstanding, Cicciline said Google controls nearly all the search in the country (about 90% of all searches), with Amazon controlling almost half of all online commerce, despite the company's statement that it only captures a small percentage or retail. Cicciline said Amazon’s closest competitor, eBay, controls less than 6% of the market.

Facebook controls more than half of the U.S. social media market, Cicciline said, with about 2.7 billion monthly users. Notwithstanding the growth of Chinese social app TikTok — which Perault noted as one of its fierce competitors — Cicciline said Facebook captures over 80% of global social media revenue.

Apple, the chairman pointed out, is under scrutiny for prices in its App Store and policies that may favor its own services and products.

Cicilline said there was a good argument that the market lends itself to shielding dominant firms and producing a "kill zone" for new startups that might want to challenge them. “There is growing concern that anti-competitive practices and the gatekeeper role of online platforms is now imperiling small business in our communities,” he said, echoing the knock on ISPs inside the Beltway of the past decade.

Ranking member Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Ill.) raised red flags about coming down too hard on Big Tech. The antitrust laws don't exist to punish size or success, he said, adding that just because a company is big doesn't necessarily mean it is bad.

He echoed the Big Tech comments that they had actually helped small businesses, not hurt them. “Breaking up big businesses because they are large could wind up hurting small businesses throughout the country,” Sensenbrenner said.

He also said breaking up the companies would not solve all the problems, like privacy, he said.

Sensenbrenner did not dismiss the possibility of anti-competitive conduct, but said he was offering a counterpoint to some of the more radical speculation. He said they should look seriously at wrongdoing, but not break up companies by fiat because big was inherently bad. 

By: Emily Birnbaum of The Hill

Silicon Valley is bracing for a high-stakes hearing on Tuesday as executives from the nation’s largest tech companies are summoned before a House investigation into their market power for the first time.

The House Judiciary Committee is hauling in some of tech’s fiercest critics and defenders for a hearing that will be a critical moment in the panel’s bipartisan antitrust probe.

For the executives from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google it’s an opportunity to publicly defend their business practices amid intensifying questions from Congress and regulators over their enormous market power and whether they actively disadvantage smaller competitors.

For lawmakers and industry critics who have been accusing tech giants of monopolistic behavior for years, it will be an opportunity to make their case to the public and put those executives on the hot seat.

“This is not a fire drill,” said Stacy Mitchell, who will be testifying Tuesday in her role as co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group that researches Amazon’s competition practices.

“Congress often responds to concerns by holding hearings that, in many cases, don’t go anywhere,” Mitchell said. “This is different. This is a months-long investigation that involves not only hearings but deep research. ... The nature of this is much more substantial than what I think the public is typically used to seeing with some of the hearings.” 

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee have been holding closed-door meetings with tech critics and experts for the past month, including many from rival companies who say they have been heard by the industry’s biggest players.

The chairman of House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), last week met with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who has railed against Google’s stranglehold over online search. Members of the committee also held a private meeting with Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who has called for the company to be broken up. 

According to witnesses and advocates who spoke to The Hill ahead of the meeting, the antitrust subcommittee members have been calling in academics, critics and company representatives to offer expertise about the largest tech companies’ potentially monopolistic practices.

It’s unclear so far how the investigation will play out along party lines. As of right now, members of both parties have indicated an interest in antitrust questions, and the investigation has been touted as “bipartisan.” 

Cicilline in a statement to The Hill raised serious concerns about the tech giants’ domination and raised the possibility that the hearing would offer “possible paths forward” for addressing those issues.

“In recent years, the Internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cicilline said. “The combination of high network effects, switching costs for consumers, and the accumulation of immense amounts of consumers’ data can result in ‘winner take all’ markets that shield dominant firms from competitive threats.”

“This trend is not the inevitable consequence of technological progress,” he added. “It is the result of policy choices we are making as a country.”

But Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the full House Judiciary Committee, emphasized the enormous “success” and “innovation” from companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google and warned against criticism going too far.

“Large tech companies are a critical part of our economy, and they represent some of America’s best innovation,” Collins said in the statement to The Hill. “I hope the subcommittee hearing on Tuesday focuses on ways we can encourage innovation and competition because the two are far from mutually exclusive.”

“I look forward to a productive conversation with some of the most successful companies in the world, and I encourage my colleagues to use this opportunity to gain answers to questions they have about innovation and competition, rather than using this as an opportunity to criticize companies and individuals,” he said.

A House Judiciary aide added the investigation “does not include bipartisan agreement to subpoena, compel testimony from, or start a critical investigation into any individual or large tech company.” 

The hearing will likely offer insight into the daylight between Democrats and Republicans on the issue. While left-leaning members are likely to slam the enormous companies, which offer services to billions of people, some members on the right — who traditionally eschew government intervention and promote free-market ideals — could be more hesitant.

“Our subcommittee has a responsibly to scrutinize the business practices of this industry, but must do so with a fair and balanced approach,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement to The Hill. 

Despite those potential divisions, tech companies are bringing in their big guns for the hearing.

Google is sending Adam Cohen, its director of economic policy who fought hard against antitrust charges against Google in the European Union, while Facebook will offer head of global policy Matt Perault, who has been defending the company’s privacy practices for years.

Also testifying will be Apple’s vice president of corporate law, Kyle Andeer, a tough former Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department litigator who has defended the company in antitrust cases, and Nate Sutton, Amazon’s associate general counsel for competition. 

On Monday, the committee announced that Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of tech trade group NetChoice — which counts Facebook, Google and eBay as members — will be testifying.

All of the companies declined to comment but pointed The Hill to previous public statements they have made on antitrust issues. 

Apple stressed it has paid out $120 billion to developers since it launched the App Store, anticipating it will face criticism over how it runs the platform. 

Amazon argued that it competes directly with a number of brick-and-mortar stores, pointing out it has “retail competitors that are larger than us in every country where we operate.” The company also sought to get ahead of arguments about its acquisition of Whole Foods by pointing out Amazon controls less than 4 percent of the grocery market. Amazon controls about 37.7 percent of online sales in general.

Google pointed to previous comments by its CEO Sundar Pichai, who said the company is not “surprised” by the antitrust scrutiny but warned against government action against big tech only “for the sake of regulating.” 

The antitrust subcommittee’s investigation kicked off last month with a hearing on how tech giants have harmed the media industry. It is unclear if there will be any more public action in the probe before the August recess, which is only a few weeks away.

But the probe, which is expected to last 18 months, has ambitious plans, with lawmakers floating more intensive oversight of the federal agencies regulating big tech or even updates to antitrust law to account for how online monopolies function. 

It is one of the most significant congressional probes into market power issues since the 1970s, Mitchell said. 

Tim Wu, a Columbia University academic and leading tech antitrust expert who is testifying on Monday, said the larger probe signals a “change in consciousness” as the country becomes more anxious about economic consolidation and private companies amassing too much power. 

“I think there’s an ideological change coming on,” Wu told The Hill. “People are looking for answers. They’re trying to get at this question about, ‘How do you make an economy that’s ... a little more widespread in its allocation of prosperity?’

“I think it helps beat the drum.”

By: Diane Bartz of Yahoo Finance

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - Executives from tech giants Apple Inc, Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet's Google go before the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel Tuesday to discuss competition in online markets.

The committee is likely to discuss antitrust probes of the four companies under way at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, as well as allegations that the companies seek to thwart nascent competitors.

Democrats, in particular, are expected to press Facebook about a proposed $5 billion settlement between the company and the FTC to resolve allegations that the company violated a 2011 consent agreement by inappropriately sharing information on 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

In his testimony, Facebook's Matt Perault, head of global policy development, notes that it faces stiff competition in social media from Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and others, and even stiffer competition in seeking out advertisers.

The other companies are expected to make similar arguments.

Other congressional panels Tuesday will focus on Facebook's plans to bring out a cryptocurrency, the Libra, and allegations that Google is biased against conservatives in search results.

Witnesses include Facebook's Perault; Google's Adam Cohen, director of economic policy; Nate Sutton, an associate general counsel at Amazon and Apple's Kyle Andeer, a vice president and chief compliance officer.

While the tech companies appear to have few friends on Capitol Hill, there has been some pushback from Republicans against a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president, that Amazon, Facebook and Google be forced to divest companies that they purchased previously.

"I don't think the goal of antitrust law is to break up a big company just because they're big," said Representative Kelly Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota, on Fox Television. "I don't ever want to penalize any company for success."

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, cautioned that the panel should use a "fair and balanced" approach to its probe.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) offered the following statement after voting against the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act:

“Providing the brave men and women in our military with the resources necessary to protect our country has traditionally been a bipartisan effort, and the Senate has already passed a good bill with overwhelming support. Unfortunately, Democrats are playing politics with this authorizing legislation by denying us a vote on the Senate’s compromise bill. Instead, they forced a vote on their partisan version, which provides woefully inadequate funding, is filled with poison pill amendments, and has no chance of becoming law. 

Moreover, the House Democrats’ bill would jeopardize our military readiness, leave us vulnerable to attacks by our foreign adversaries, and prevent the administration from alleviating the crisis at our southern border. Speaker Pelosi needs to do the right thing and bring the bipartisan Senate bill before the House for a vote.”

By Jim Sensenbrenner

The American economy is thriving. That is an indisputable fact. We’ve added more than 3.7 million jobs since President Trump signed the historic Tax Cuts & Jobs Act into law in December 2017. Nationwide, we’ve seen 15 straight months of more job openings than job seekers. Here in Wisconsin, our unemployment rate has remained at or below 3 percent for the last year.

Following years of stagnation, American families are emerging with new optimism as they see a growing economy and additional opportunities — if you want a job, you have a good chance of landing one. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board recently compared the Trump and Obama years as “A Tale of Two Economies,” highlighting what good can happen when policies focus on growth.

And now, Republicans are fighting to improve our standing in the global economy too. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified 25 years ago, and it is time for a rebalancing of this trade agreement. Under the guidance of President Trump, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro are working to renegotiate our trade deals and have successfully reached a final agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada — the “USMCA.”

For the last year, the president and his representatives have traveled the country,

listening to workers and business owners about the impacts of trade on their productivity. In May, I had the privilege of hosting Dr. Navarro at Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC). This visit highlighted the amazing work WCTC is doing to grow the manufacturing workforce in southeastern Wisconsin. However, these new jobs will only thrive if our trade policies empower workers and businesses to compete in the global marketplace.

Tomorrow, Milwaukee’s Derco Aerospace Inc. will host President Trump to discuss the need for 21st century trade policies. I am grateful to the president and his administration for focusing on Wisconsin’s manufacturing needs. We must help him finish the job by pushing the USMCA through Congress this year.

The USMCA will benefit Wisconsin directly. One aspect of the new trade deal particularly important to Wisconsin is that it will eliminate components of Canada’s unfair milk pricing program, opening new markets and providing relief for our state’s dairy farmers. The deal will also force Mexico to correct its unfair labor practices, putting American workers on a level playing field. These are two very important provisions considering the fact that, in 2018, 31 percent of all Wisconsin’s exported goods ($7 billion)went to Canada and 15.5 percent went to Mexico ($3.5 billion).

Along with provisions to improve the trading of traditional goods, our new trade deal addressesnewer technologies. The

USMCA will bring our intellectual property standards into the modern era, protecting the work of American innovators and entrepreneurs. It will also cut costly regulations that keep small businesses from participating in cross-border trade.

This new trade deal is good for America. I’m encouraged that the Mexican Senate overwhelmingly ratified the USMCA in June and that President Trump has met with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau recently in Washington to shore up more support for the agreement. Now, the United States must act. House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, must bring the USMCA before the House for immediate consideration. There should be no delay.

Failure to do so will leave American workers and businesses playing by an outdated set of rules as our foreign competitors move on without us.

I am hearing from small business owners, farmers, young people entering the workforce, and families who want us to rebalance our trade agreements and keep strengthening the American economy with balanced trade rules. Let’s get it done now.

(Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner represents Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District.)

Printed in the West Bend Daily News, Oconomowoc Enterprise, and Waukesha Freeman.

By: Sarah N. Lynch of Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have urged the Trump administration to conduct a scientific review of a Justice Department-backed bill to classify all illicit chemical knockoffs of the potent painkiller fentanyl in the same legal category as heroin.

The sweeping legislation may “deter valid, critical medical research aimed at responses to the opioid crisis,” the senators said in a July 10 letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Lawmakers and health officials have said fentanyl, which is about 100 times more potent than morphine, has fueled the opioid overdose epidemic.

As prescribed by physicians, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it is highly addictive but has a medicinal purpose, typically to treat intense cancer pain.

But chemists primarily in China have created numerous slightly altered versions of the drug, known as “analogues,” that have hit the U.S. streets.

If the draft bill is passed by Congress, it would place all illicit fentanyl analogues in Schedule 1, along with heroin, would means that they are addictive, have no medicinal purpose and are effectively banned.

The legislation is designed to help prosecutors keep pace with criminals who churn out chemically tweaked fentanyl analogues to evade strict Schedule I regulations.

But scientific experts, including some within HHS, contend that automatically placing all analogues into Schedule 1 could stifle research to combat the opioid crisis. They argue that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations to win approval for such research are so onerous that they will deter many scientists from applying for needed waivers.

In their letter to Azar, senators said the administration had “not adequately consulted with public health agencies” about the impact of classifying all fentanyl analogues as Schedule I.

“We are concerned that the failure to engage necessary health experts vests far too much authority to a law enforcement agency,” they wrote, adding that it could also “deter valid, critical medical research.”

The letter was signed by Democratic Senators Richard Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Christopher Coons, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, as well as Republican Senator Mike Lee.

A spokesperson for HHS confirmed receiving the letter and said all congressional inquiries are taken seriously.

The DEA did not have any immediate comment.

The letter came after Reuters this week reported about an ongoing interagency dispute between an office within HHS and the DEA over the proposed fentanyl analog legislation.

In a June 20 closed-door briefing with Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, an official from the National Institute on Drug Abuse warned that the bill as drafted could create regulatory hurdles that will make it too hard for scientists to research possible medical benefits of fentanyl analogues.

Such benefits could include antidotes to overdoses, or the creation of pain killers without addictive properties.

Normally, the DEA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration review chemical compounds individually to assign each one a controlled substance classification, with the FDA determining if such “scheduling” decisions are scientifically valid.

The draft bill, introduced by Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, would cut the FDA out of that process.

By: Sam Sabin of Morning Consult

In June, the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee began what it called Congress’ first examination of the competition in the tech industry. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said “four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases” were reason enough to investigate the industry, echoing concerns from his Democratic colleagues. 

Yet many key congressional members in both parties involved with the investigation and similar legislative discussions, including those looking at data collection and privacy practices, may have more than just their legislative records at stake if these efforts bear fruit. 

Of the 145 lawmakers who sit in positions that have the power to sway negotiations on tech legislation, 33 hold tech shares through personal holdings, a spouse or a dependent child. Annual financial disclosures included in Morning Consult’s analysis were filed this year or in 2018 and represent the member’s finances from the year prior, and all figures come from the latest filings as of July 2. (The full data set can be downloaded here.)

The member of Congress with the greatest amount of money in technology stocks was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had at least $8.4 million in such investments through her husband, Paul Pelosi, the founder and owner of real estate and venture capital firm Financial Leasing Services. Speaker Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

And Pelosi’s $5.25 million in Apple Inc. stock was the reason that Apple represented the largest share of tech investments among lawmakers, with $6.1 million. The companies also popular among lawmakers were Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc. and Inc., with investments totaling at least $1.6 million, $1.4 million and $1.2 million each.

On the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, two of the panel’s 13 members have disclosed owning shares in the tech and telecommunications industries, including ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). In his 2017 financial disclosure, the most recent available, Sensenbrenner disclosed that he owns at least $400,000 worth of stock holdings, mostly in telecommunications companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. 

A spokesperson from his office said the congressman holds a “diverse portfolio of investments which carry no weight in his decision-making as an elected official” and said Sensenbrenner discloses more than is required of members of Congress in his filings each year. 

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose panel is crafting a federal data privacy bill, reported owning between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of Inc. shares in his 2018 financial disclosure, while Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who sits on the committee’s six-member data privacy working group, reported at least $23,000 worth of shares across five major tech companies — Alphabet Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sprint Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. — being owned by himself, his spouse and jointly together. 

Wicker’s office declined to comment. A spokesperson in Moran’s office said in a statement that the senator’s investments are made independently by a financial adviser who has full discretion over the accounts.

 Owning technology stock doesn’t necessarily mean a lawmaker is more likely to be against or for regulation. Both finance and government ethics experts say that many factors play into how investments of this nature can impact a legislator’s voting record: who exactly owns the stock, the size and timing of the investment and how relevant the investment is to the lawmaker’s congressional work.

It’s also unclear whether how more stringent regulation would move technology stocks. James Angel, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business who specializes in financial market regulation, said the share price for a major tech firm could jump if a regulator announced it was breaking the company up – meaning legislators could profit from updated antitrust rules.

“If everybody thinks it’s going to be the worst possible breakup, and it’s less than catastrophic, the stock price can go up on the announcement of some regulatory event,” he said. 

But Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which was successful in pushing for the passage of S. 2038 in 2012 to expand financial disclosures in Congress, stock holdings by legislators can color the “entire legislative process” by providing the incentive to take action in a way that could benefit the stockholder. 

“Even if the member happens to be so virtuous that he or she isn’t really voting for their bottom line, it certainly looks that way,” he said. 

Among the legislators who disclosed owning stock in tech companies, several spokespersons told Morning Consult that the members relied on a third party to manage their holdings – which can indicate that the legislator has little to no control over where their stock investments land. 

For example, seven of the legislators who own tech stocks – Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mt.), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) – have holdings that sit in a trust, which could be managed by a third party in an effort to remove a layer of accountability between the member and their investments. Others might rely on a run-of-the-mill portfolio manager to organize their investments.

One way to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while still being able to participate in the public markets is to set up a qualified blind trust, an arrangement where a trustee makes financial decisions for a fund that are not disclosed to the owner. Another option is to focus on investing into mutual funds, which funnel investor money into a diversified mix of securities, such as stocks, bonds and short-term debt.

While acknowledging that a qualified blind trust would indeed prevent stock holdings from influencing the owner to act in a certain way, Holman said the problem is that external management of investment accounts alone does not remove the risk of a conflict of interest.

“By saying ‘third party,’ that’s just loose language for saying they have a person who manages their stocks, which just about anybody who manages stocks has,” he said.

Donald Sherman, deputy director at the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that although lawmakers’ stock investments can be a potential conflict of interest, they are a small drop in the bucket when it comes to other factors that could corrupt the lawmaking process, such as lobbying and campaign finance. 

Sherman, who was chief oversight counsel on the House Oversight and Reform Committee from 2014 to 2015, said he would have more concerns about those who take campaign contributions from companies or those who land jobs as lobbyists working for the industries they used to regulate after their government careers.

“You look at a member who owns maybe $65,000 worth of stock in Google or Facebook and that is certainly a lot of money to me — and it’s a lot of money to the average American — but the question you have to ask yourself is if this is enough money for someone to put their political career at risk,” Sherman said. “That seems like it’s not super plausible, but also it has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

 Sherman also said the working perspective of Congress on stock investments is typically that everything is ethical so long as it’s disclosed in the publicly available financial disclosures database.

And Angel said that’s the main reason Congress’ financial disclosures are here: for constituents to come to their own conclusions.

 “The problem is that we keep electing humans to the legislature and every single human has their biases, their flaws and their baggage,” Angel said. “That’s why we rely on these systems of disclosure.”


GERMANTOWN, Wis. —  Desert Aire welcomed Peter Davidson, general counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce, to its manufacturing and headquarters facility as part of a series of fact-finding events focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA). Davidson serves as the legal advisor to the Secretary of Commerce and is the Department’s chief legal officer.

Davidson was joined in his visit to the Desert Aire facility by Koreen Grube, director; and Rebecca Gladen, senior international trade specialist, U.S. Commercial Service Wisconsin, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Also taking part in the fact-finding visit was Loni Hagerup, chief of staff to Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Republican representative for Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District who serves on House Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.

“As a small manufacturer Desert Aire has leaned upon the U.S. Department of Commerce to assist us in growing our international sales beyond the domestic marketplace,” said Keith Coursin, president, Desert Aire. “We are happy to meet with Department leaders and explain in person the difficulties we face from a regulatory and resources point-of-view as we strive to continue our sales growth outside the borders of the United States.

“We hope this visit provides renewed confidence in the Department’s favorable impact on businesses throughout southeastern Wisconsin,” Coursin added.

According to background materials, the purposes of the events are to foster open discussions about the USMCA agreement, how it differs from NAFTA, and what impact it would likely have on businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The U.S. Department of Commerce states the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will support mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.

Washington, D.C.—Today Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) reintroduced legislation to create a U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.

Rep. Sensenbrenner“At a time when Russia and China are expanding their ambitions and influence throughout the Arctic Circle, the U.S. must take diplomatic action to strengthen our role and maintain stability in this strategic region of the world. By assigning a permanent Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs, America can provide a check to these adversarial powers. I applaud Secretary of State Pompeo for acknowledging the importance of the region and urge my colleagues to pass this legislation as soon as possible.” 

The United States is an Arctic nation and has a geo-economic interest in the Arctic Circle. The region provides growing potential for trade, travel, research, and energy development and exploration. America currently sits on the Arctic Council, where six of the eight member nations have already established an Ambassador or Senior official for Arctic Affairs. Rather than having a centralized office, the U.S. government has more than 20 agencies conducting work in the region.

In recent years, China and Russia have begun taking action that should concern American and the other Arctic nations.  After gaining observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013, China started to expand research into natural resources and ice-breaking technology, sparking concerns over possible military installations, according to the State Department’s Annual Report to Congress. Additionally, a recent Department of Defense article highlights Russia’s efforts to unilaterally control access to parts of the region—potentially violating international law.

Reintroduction of this bill comes following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's May 6 speech before the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland in which he expounded on America’s renewed focus on the Arctic region.

This legislation would amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to establish an Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs within the State Department to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the Arctic region and allow the U.S. to better coordinate Arctic policy among government agencies. Congressman Sensenbrenner has been pressing both the Obama and Trump administrations to create this position each Congress beginning in 2014 just before America was to start its two-year term as chair of Arctic Council. He has introduced identical bills in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses.

By: Jacqui Fatka of Feedstuffs

Restructuring bankruptcy rules to make more farms eligible comes amid a continued downturn in the farm economy was highlighted during a hearing Tuesday on bankruptcy law oversight before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (D., N.Y.) urged consideration of H.R. 2336, the Family Farmer Relief Act, his legislation that would ease the process of reorganizing debt through Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules.

In his testimony, Delgado noted that farmers are currently facing a fifth year of declining net farm income. Prices are low, inputs are high and current trade policies make the future unknown. He added that 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year of rising bankruptcy rates as a proportion of the farm population.

“Last year, just 498 farms filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, compared to nearly 766,000 consumer filings through Chapters 7 and 13. Over the last 10 years, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 have seen 10 million total filings, compared to just 5,039 Chapter 12 filings. It’s clear the current debt cap has rendered Chapter 12 an inaccessible tool for today’s farm families,” Delgado said.

The legislation modifies Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules to increase the debt cap for eligibility from $3.237 million to $10 million. These changes reflect the increase in land values as well as the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations. “These charges will provide farmers additional options to manage the current farm economy. Lifting the cap will allow farmers to retain assets and continue farm operation,” Delgado added.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.

Delgado introduced the Family Farmer Relief Act along with House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Reps. TJ Cox (D., Cal.), Kelly Armstrong (R., N.D.) and Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.). H.R. 2336 is the House's companion bill to legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), Doug Jones (D., Ala.), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Tina Smith (D., Minn.).

“A recent report shows that small farms in Wisconsin are closing permanently at a rate of two per day. Among the myriad of challenges these farmers face is difficulty restructuring debt under outdated laws,” Sensenbrenner said. “I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to modernize our bankruptcy code, which will help Wisconsin family farmers continue operating for years to come.”

“The financial choices that family farmers are faced with right now are gut-wrenching, and given the continued slump in the farm economy, this bill will give those farmers and ranchers additional options when it comes to restructuring their debt and trying to figure out a way to keep operating,” Peterson added.