GENET archive

[Index][Thread]

BUSINESS & REGULATION: What has happened to the U.S. anti-trust investigations against Monsanto?



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   WHY CHRISTINE VARNEY LEFT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

SOURCE:  Counterpunch, USA

AUTHOR:  Russell Mokhiber

URL:     http://counterpunch.org/mokhiber07072011.html

DATE:    07.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets [...] believes that Varney and Vilsack were ?totally sincere? when they promised action against the big agribusiness corporations. And he says he believes the reason they were unable to take action ? to fulfill their promises ? was because they were shut down by the Obama political machine. [...] ?I was told by people they were definitely going after Monsanto,? Stokes said. ?And nothing has happened. She wanted to go after Monsanto and she was stopped. That?s my feeling. It?s been two years. They have had plenty of time to haul them into court.?"

----- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/information-services.html -----


WHY CHRISTINE VARNEY LEFT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Suckerpunched on Anti-Trust

Christine Varney is leaving the Antitrust Division.

And going to Cravath Swaine & Moore in New York.

?There is no doubt that her tireless work helped protect consumers and businesses from anti-competitive conduct and preserved competition in America?s economy,? Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.

But others were less favorable about Varney?s tenure at the Antitrust Division.

Albert Foer at the American Antitrust Institute gave Varney an ?I? for incomplete.

?Christine Varney began the process of turning around a tanker ship that was going down,? Foer told me. ?She pointed it in a better direction but with judicial winds blowing strong the wrong way, her captaincy failed to accomplish all we had hoped for it.?

?The rhetoric and appointments were generally strong, but an evaluation will have to wait until we know whether her conduct-oriented, rather than structure-oriented, remedies in major merger cases will preserve competition and we will also have to see what cases are in the works and have not yet been revealed,? Foer said. ?The Bush Administration probably would have let these mergers go through without conditions. But the problem is we aren?t sure her conditions will make a difference.?

?She gets credit for revoking the Bush Administration?s weak document on monopoly, but has done little to re-establish anti-monopoly enforcement. She brought several cases that have potential to be important, but we don?t know how they will turn out. She oversaw a clarification and mild modernization of the horizontal merger guidelines, but it is too soon to know whether they will have a significant impact.?

?She brought cartel cases, but so did predecessors. She played a high profile role in the highly publicized inter-departmental agriculture workshops, but so far very little has emerged from the effort. She apparently played no role during the banking crisis. Her efforts in the international arena were generally positive, though there was a tense period with the EU over a merger and a tense period with the FTC that took two to tango but which did not help the public image of the overall antitrust effort. All in all, the report card says ?incomplete.??

Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets was less forgiving than Foer.

Last year, Varney and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack hosted a series of workshops around the country to discuss competition and regulatory issues faced by the agriculture industry.

More than 4,000 attendees attended workshops in Ankeny, Iowa, Normal, Alabama, Madison, Wisconsin, Fort Collins, Colorado and Washington, D.C.

Stokes believes that Varney and Vilsack were ?totally sincere? when they promised action against the big agribusiness corporations.

And he says he believes the reason they were unable to take action ? to fulfill their promises ? was because they were shut down by the Obama political machine.

?The people they promised to go after and hang high are being shaken down to provide the billion dollar Obama campaign fund,? Stokes said. ?Varney was shut down by Obama?s political machine.?

?Varney was totally sincere when she came into office,? Stokes said. ?But she had the rug pulled out from under her.?

?It is most likely that Christine Varney is leaving in total frustration with being hampered from doing from what she sincerely intended to do ? curbing the market abuses that are putting independent family farmers and ranchers out of business and savaging rural America,? Stokes said.

?When she came into office, she was on fire,? Stokes said. ?She made pronouncements against Dean Foods, against Monsanto, against the big meat packers. But she did nothing about it.?

?At the poultry workshop in Alabama last year in June 2010, they had probably 50 contract poultry producers who lined up. They told about all the things that were being done to them. And many of them said at the end that it is likely that their contracts will be terminated.?

?Christine Varney stood up and said ? here is my card with my direct number, if they do anything like that, you call me. She raised so many eyebrows. At workshop after workshop, she stood up for the farmers.?

?But in response, they have done nothing, absolutely nothing. They had five workshops across the country. She stood up and made fiery speeches at every one of them. And yet nothing has happened.?

How does Stokes know that she wanted to do the right thing but was shut down by the political apparatus?

?I am 77 years old,? Stokes said. ?I have acquired ability to judge people pretty good. She and Secretary Vilsack were absolutely sincere. Some of the big targets that they were after are now being shaken down for a billion dollar campaign fund.?

?I?m from Mississippi,? Stokes said. ?I endured ridicule and scorn for my unabashedly pro Obama administration stance and politics down here. These were going to be finally the folks who were going to turn things around and we were going to reverse the destruction of rural America. It hasn?t happened.?

?I was told by people they were definitely going after Monsanto,? Stokes said. ?And nothing has happened. She wanted to go after Monsanto and she was stopped. That?s my feeling. It?s been two years. They have had plenty of time to haul them into court.?

?They raised our hopes and nothing happened,? Stokes said. ?I feel sucker punched.?



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   OBAMA?S ANTITRUST COP TO STEP DOWN

SOURCE:  The Washington Post, USA

AUTHOR:  Jia Lynn Yang

URL:     http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/obamas-antitrust-cop-to-step-down/2011/07/06/gIQApS630H_story.html

DATE:    06.07.2011

SUMMARY: "President Obama?s top antitrust cop, Christine Varney, is stepping down from her post next month, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. Varney came into her job with high expectations that she would launch landmark cases against increasingly dominant firms such as Google. But she leaves for a senior position at the prestigious law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore amid disappointment from some antitrust watchers and consumer advocates who say the Justice Department was too soft on industry giants during her tenure."

----- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/information-services.html -----


OBAMA?S ANTITRUST COP TO STEP DOWN

President Obama?s top antitrust cop, Christine Varney, is stepping down from her post next month, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Varney came into her job with high expectations that she would launch landmark cases against increasingly dominant firms such as Google. But she leaves for a senior position at the prestigious law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore amid disappointment from some antitrust watchers and consumer advocates who say the Justice Department was too soft on industry giants during her tenure.

Under Varney, the Justice Department approved a number of high-profile, controversial deals, including the marriage of Ticketmaster and LiveNation, Google?s acquisition of a powerful travel software firm, and NBC?s merger with Comcast. In each of these instances, Varney attached limits on how the companies could behave to address worries that the deals would hurt competition.

Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, said he was giving Varney?s tenure a ?B-minus? grade for now. It will take years, he said, to know whether the strings she attached to these big mergers will work in curbing bad behavior at dominant companies.

?You had a series of very important mergers in which she probably took more action than the previous administration would have, but the mergers were allowed and the remedies are controversial and very difficult to evaluate,? Foer said.

Varney?s arrival at the Justice Department in 2009 was highly anticipated by consumer advocates who thought the Bush administration?s antitrust attorneys had been too easy on big firms. Varney gave signals that she would be a much tougher cop.

In May 2009, Varney said in a speech: ?It is time for the antitrust division to step forward again. We must change course and take a new tack.?

In 2008, Varney said at a discussion sponsored by the American Antitrust Institute that Microsoft was ?so last century? and that Google could be a potential problem. The comment, which came months before President Obama nominated her to head the Justice Department?s antitrust division, spurred speculation that she could be the next Joel Klein, the aggressive antitrust enforcer under President Clinton who went after Microsoft in an epic government case.

The Justice Department examined Google while deciding whether the company could acquire the travel software firm ITA. Varney eventually approved the deal while adding some restrictions on Google?s behavior.

But it was ultimately the Federal Trade Commission, rather than the Justice Department, that won the task of launching a broader investigation into the search giant.

In reviewing some blockbuster mergers, Varney often pursued outcomes that did not involve litigation, instead applying solutions that forced companies to spin off certain units or follow certain rules. These conditions, Varney said, assuaged the Justice Department?s concerns.

The Justice Department?s antitrust division did, however, go to court in some more low-profile cases, suing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for making agreements with hospitals that Varney said hurt competition and consumers. The department also went to court to oppose an acquisition by Dean Foods, the country largest dairy processor.

?The problem is, everyone?s looking for the headline-grabbing case,? said David Balto, an antitrust expert at the Center for American Progress. ?It?s a lot of these smaller, more quiet cases that are every bit as significant.?

?There is no doubt that her tireless work helped protect consumers and businesses from anticompetitive conduct and preserved competition in America?s economy,? Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement Wednesday.

Cravath, which is known for its antitrust practice, represented United Airlines in its merger with Continental. Varney?s division at the Justice Department greenlighted the deal last August.

The firm?s average profits per partner in 2010 were $3.17 million, the fifth highest in the country, according to an annual ranking by American Lawyer.