MORRIS, ILLINOIS, (KANE FARABAUGH-VOANEWS).- Farmer Scott Halpin is facing another year of high prices for seed and fertilizer, and low prices for the corn and soybeans his family is planting on farmland outside Morris, Illinois.

“Equipment is expensive,” he told VOA while taking a break from loading seed into the John Deere planter that will eventually place them in the soil. “Land is expensive. It costs a lot of money to put a crop in the ground.”

As U.S. farmers head to their fields to plant this year’s crop, they face new challenges created by Chinese threats to impose tariffs on some of their products, a retaliatory move in the wake of pending U.S. tariffs on Chinese aluminum and steel.

WATCH: Chinese Soybean Purchases Plant Seeds of Concern for US Farmers

It’s the latest salvo in an escalating trade dispute that has farmers warily watching fluctuating commodity prices as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects net farm income in 2018 to reach a 12-year low.

Any potential Chinese tariffs could impact the price of soybeans and ultimately Halpin’s bottom line.

“Soybeans make up just under half of our crop rotation,” Halpin said. “It’s a real important part of our farm operation here.”

Added into the mix are new concerns that buyers in China, the world’s top consumer of soybeans, have stopped purchasing supplies from the U.S., even before tariffs are in place.

For Halpin, the bad news seems relentless.

“It can hurt when things happen on a daily basis. It’s just kind of uncertain times here in farming,” he said.

Not unbearable

Uncertain, but not unbearable, says Phil Flynn, senior market analyst with Price Futures Group and a contributor to Fox Business Network.

“Even though China is talking tough, they realize that they cannot get into a trade war with the United States because they have a lot more to lose than we do,” Flynn told VOA.

According to the USDA, China imports about 63 percent of the world’s total export of soybeans, and is the second-largest export market for U.S. grain products.

“There’s not a lot of places that can replace American soybeans in the near term,” Flynn said. “And the tariffs are probably not going to be enough to change Chinese purchases, because at the end of the day there’s going to be a time and place that the only place that they can get soybeans or soybean meal is going to be the United States even at a higher price.”

​Big picture vs security

Halpin says he understands the big picture and the need for fair trade, but farmers could use a little security in these tough economic times.

“We understand that there’s inadequacies in the overall trade. Yeah, it makes us a little uneasy. Soybean market(s) are such a big part of the overall ag economy and China is such a big player and we need China to buy our soybeans,” he said.

Or someone else needs to step up and take China’s place.

“If China is buying from another country, somebody else is going to be looking for our soybeans. It would just be nice to have some stability,” Halpin said.

While the uncertainty isn’t changing the Halpin family’s overall plans this planting season, it could be a different story during harvest time later this year.

“The prices and the markets dramatically affect the way we do things here on the farm,” he said.

So does the weather, which is another great uncertainty all farmers face.

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

Tags: The United States Farmers

Facebook Checks Its Bias


LOS ANGELES, (MICHELLE QUINN-VOANEWS).- When Facebook recently said it would allow outside reviewers inside its platform to look for signs of racial or political bias, civil liberties and human rights activists politely applauded.

For years, activists have called on tech companies to undergo assessments of how their policies affect people, both in the U.S. and globally. The companies have long rejected those audits as unnecessary.

But now Facebook is inviting outsiders in to look at allegations of racial and political bias.

"It's better than nothing," Rebecca MacKinnon said of the Facebook audits. She is director of Ranking Digital Rights a project that evaluates 22 tech and telecommunications firms annually in areas such as privacy, expression and governance.

"There's increasing pressure on them to do this kind of thing," MacKinnon added.

Facebook has faced criticism that it has allowed advertisers to use racial and ethnic profiles to target job and housing ads. American political conservatives have complained that Facebook has removed or taken down legitimate content because of its liberal bias, something the company has denied.

Both issues came under scrutiny following the 2016 U.S. election, but activists say the company's focus on issues mainly concerning American users is overshadowing Facebook's bigger problems with the platform abroad.

"The audits that Facebook is doing in the U.S., while welcomed, are very U.S.-centered," said Arvind Ganesan, director of Human Rights Watch's business and human rights division. "That's really a response to domestic pressure."

Call for global assessments

Critics say Facebook's bias problems do not stop at the U.S. border. They point to the role that the platform is alleged to have played in incidents of mass violence, such as the persecution of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar in recent years or sectarian violence in Sri Lanka.

The United Nations reported that in the case of violence in Myanmar, Facebook "substantively" contributed to the level of conflict.

Facebook's News Feed, which highlights content of interest to a user based on the person's friends and preferences, has also been accused of reinforcing false or inflammatory stories that go viral. That can help extreme viewpoints get in front of a mainstream audience.

Critics say the company is only starting to come to grips with the issue.

"There needs to be an honest, candid, comprehensive assessment," said HRW's Ganesan. "What is the panoply of Facebook's impact?"

Transparency as industry trend

Self-assessments are nothing new for tech firms. Starting with Google in 2010, tech companies began publishing transparency reports that provide snapshots of how governments have turned to firms for user data or issued takedown notices because of copyright infringement or other reasons.

More than 60 companies regularly file transparency reports, according to Access Now, a digital rights group in New York.

Eleven companies, including Google and Facebook, undergo outside assessments every two years by the Global Network Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that looks at how companies are responding to government requests.

In its recent assessment, Ranking Digital Rights, which is a nonprofit research initiative affiliated with the nonpartisan New America Foundation think tank, gave low marks to Facebook for disclosing less information than other tech firms about how it handles data that can be used to identify, profile or track users.

Apple earned the greatest year-over-year score improvement of any company because it "strengthened its public commitment to protecting users' privacy as a human right," the report said.

How effective these assessments are in spurring companies to change is unclear. But company-run reports and outside audits can help find and measure problems, human rights advocates say.

"We call on Facebook to engage with stakeholders wherever it impacts human rights — the burden extends globally," said Peter Micek with Access Now." It doesn't make sense from a human rights perspective to treat the U.S. exceptionally."

Tags: Facebook

One Killed in Paris Knifing; Attacker Shot Dead


PARIS, (VOANEWS).- At least one person was killed and four more were injured Saturday in a knife attack in central Paris.

The extremist group Islamic State said through its news agency that it was responsible for the attack, calling the assailant a "soldier" for its cause.

The identity of the attacker has not been released. City prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that the man had shouted the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar," meaning "God is great," during the attack.

Molins said police would launch an anti-terrorism investigation of the attack.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter that France "will not yield an inch to the enemies of freedom."

Paris police tweeted that the attack took place in the 2nd arrondissement, or district, of the French capital, which is often crowded with people headed to the city's famed opera house and local restaurants.

Police said the attacker appeared to target five people. He was thought to have killed one and seriously injured two others. The other two of the five suffered only minor injuries.

The attacker also died at the scene, "neutralized" by police, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said. Collomb praised the officers for taking action.

Paris has been on high alert for terror attacks, as a series of attacks have occurred in the nation over the past three years.​

Tags: Paris

Joy, Outrage as US Embassy Set to Open in Jerusalem


STATE DEPARTMENT, (CINDI SAINE-VOANES).- With the opening Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the region is bracing for both celebrations and unrest.

The United States plans to host about 800 guests at an opening ceremony of its embassy. U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be on hand, while Trump addresses the ceremony via video, reaffirming his December 2017 decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.

"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said at the White House late last year. "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering."

National Security Advisor John Bolton points out that other presidents also said they would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but Trump is the only one to do it.

"That’s not simply something that has an effect on the conditions in Israel, but it says to world leader all around the world, when he says he’s going to do something, he does," Bolton told VOA on Friday.

Most of the 850 U.S. Embassy workers will remain in Tel Aviv until a new embassy building is constructed in Jerusalem. Fifty of them will make up the initial staff at the new embassy, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.

Experts say the move is largely symbolic. But with Palestinians wanting to name East Jerusalem as a capital of their future state, this symbolism matters.

'Contentious' issue

Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institution notes both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted moving the U.S. Embassy for the past 70 years.

"The United States, like most countries in the world, have maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem, precisely because of the highly contentious nature of the issue of Jerusalem for Palestinians, for Israelis, for the Arab world, for the Muslim world, for Christians around the world, and of course for Jews as well," he said.

Elgindy said the move was centered on U.S. domestic politics, namely a campaign pledge Trump made to his core supporters.

"There is no national security interest that is gained by moving the embassy — to the contrary," he said. "I think it destabilizes the region. It adds a level of instability and it also makes it much harder to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Palestinians have protested Trump's decision and are calling for more demonstrations next week. They want East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of their future Palestinian state and feel that Trump gave away the "crown jewel" of peace negotiations.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Trump shattered any hope for the peace process.

"What [Trump] has done is blow out the possibility of a peace process that was really never completed," Shaath said.

Palestinian officials are no longer accepting the U.S. as a mediator, while Israeli leaders see the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a long-held dream come true.

'Great moment' for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move would have long-term, positive ramifications.

"This is a great moment for the citizens of Israel and this is a historic moment for the state of Israel," Netanyahu said during an Israeli Cabinet meeting in February.

Asked what concessions the United States had won from Israel in exchange for the move, a senior administration official said that was not what the decision was about. It was about doing what is best for America's interests, the official said.

"There was no give-and-take with Israel with regard to this decision," the official said during a background briefing with reporters.

The official said the Jerusalem embassy would be opening just five months after the president announced the decision, adding, as the president likes to say, "ahead of schedule and under budget."

Tags: The United Sates, Jerusalem


zeta.- Santo Domingo - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), meeting at its 168th session in the Dominican Republic, observes a special situation of risk in the country that affects pre-candidates and candidates from different movements and political affiliations. In this regard, the Commission trusts the State will keep taking the necessary measures to guarantee the right to security in the context of the electoral process, as well as to carry out the pertinent investigations in an efficient manner, and in strict compliance with the guarantees of due process.

Starting in September of 2017 throughout April of this year, high levels of violence have been registered against persons with political positions at present and in the past, as well as candidates, particularly at the local level, belonging to different affiliations and political movements of the country. Important sources indicate that there have been dozens of murders against political actors that took place in the pre-campaigns and inter-campaigns; threats to political actors and aggression against political women, many of which are pre-candidates and candidates.

In response to these acts, the Commission hopes the Mexican State will keep adopting all the necessary measures in order to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity, as well as political rights, of the candidates and of the people who currently hold elected positions, of all races and ethnicities. In particular, the State must keep adopting the necessary measures in order to guarantee the security of the political actors in the three levels of government, without distinction, so that the rights to elect and to be elected can be exercised free of violence.

The Commission also calls on the State to launch investigations into all the reported events, and to reinforce all those actions that ensure that those in progress are carried out in a diligent manner. These investigations should not only be aimed at establishing the material responsible for the facts, but also the possible intellectual authors. The IACHR emphasizes the importance of guaranteeing access to justice for the families of the victims of murder.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.