On midsummer break, Coons discusses range of topics

July 9, 2021

Chris Coons, one of Delaware’s U.S. senators along with Tom Carper, is taking a break in Lewes this week while the Senate is out of session. He and members of his staff stopped by the Cape Gazette offices this week for a sit-down with our editorial board.

A wide-ranging discussion touched on several topics related to the federal government including President Joe Biden, data mining and personal privacy, the U.S. Postal Service, and trade agreements with close allies to counterbalance China’s influence in the world.

A longtime friend and associate of Biden, Coons said the president is highly focused on his job, and is clear about his priorities and their order. “He’s doing a lot of negotiating – with groups of Republicans, groups of Democrats, and mixed groups of legislators. Right now it’s about the major national infrastructure act he’d like to get passed. There’s only 40 or 50 legislative days left this year – when there is actual floor time to get things done. He knows all about give and take and compromise, but is very much focused on getting something passed.”

On the issue of big data and how it is being used, Coons said that’s an area of great concern to him. At one point he held up his cellphone.

“If you told people in this country the government wanted to put a device on their wrist with the ability to track where they are and what they’re doing and talking about all the time, I doubt you'd find much support from the public. And yet, that’s what this cellphone does. Isn’t it eerie  when you see an advertisement for something you’ve been talking about come up on your screen? It’s listening.

“Monetizing data,” said Coons, “is the business model for the fastest-growing companies in this country. The scope and breadth and depth of governmental surveillance, and how all of this data being gathered is being used, is of great concern to me.”

At the same time, all that information is at the heart of great innovation in the U.S. “It’s finding its way into every corner of our lives. A few years ago I attended the huge South By Southwest music and cultural event in Austin, Texas. There were lots of vendors in a pavilion there, and I stopped by a booth set up by Land O’Lakes, the dairy company. I was blown away by the information they showed about precision farming,” said Coons.

“Land O’Lakes is a cooperative, and they had purchased a satellite company to gather data related to farming and provide it to its members. With that data about farm fields analyzed from out in space, they can provide information used by farmers to customize applications of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and water, down to the square yard.”

Coons’ staff is focused on helping increase access to high-speed interconnections in places like western Sussex and Kent counties so farmers in those areas can utilize services such as those offered by Land O’Lakes. “It’s ridiculous,” he said, “that there are places on the Delmarva Peninsula where we still experience dropped phone calls because of lack of broadband infrastructure.”

Markell, OECD, China

Regarding the international stage and foreign relations, Coons said he is certain former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s nomination by President Biden as U.S. ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will be confirmed. “He will do a great job in that position. It’s a perfect fit for his analytical and economic strengths.”

Based in Paris, the OECD comprises 38 nations with an emphasis on economic progress and world trade.

Finally, China, always the big topic. “We are looking at carbon fees – prices for pollution, addressing climate change – as part of trade agreements that we make,” said Coons. “We have to come to agreement with our closest trading allies – agreements that are beneficial to us and detrimental to China. Focusing on climate change and digital democracy should bring us all together. This is not so different from the Trump tariffs.”

Coons said the Great Wall of China has become the Great Firewall of China. “They are doing an amazing job of completely controlling what their people see and know.”

Given the unfettered, First Amendment-guaranteed access people have to information in this country, trying to conceive of how China exercises that level of control over 1.2 billion people reaches – as Coons is fond of saying – into the theological realm.


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