The Obama administration’s top antitrust officer, Christine Varney, is stepping down after two and a half years. She will join a large Washington, D.C., law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
What does that have to do with rural America? Plenty.
Last year, Varney and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack hosted a series of workshops around the country to talk about anti-trust problems in the food business. Thousands turned out for discussions that looked at concentration in the seed business, among meat processors, in the chicken industry and among food retailers. Nothing has yet come of those hearings.
“She played a high profile role in the highly publicized inter-departmental agriculture workshops, but so far very little has emerged from the effort,” said Albert Foer at the American Antitrust Institute.
Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets said Vilsack and Varney were “totally sincere” in their intention, but that the effort was stymied by the demands of the election season. “The people they promised to go after and hang high are being shaken down to provide the billion dollar Obama campaign fund,” Stokes told Counterpunch. “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.
“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.”
• Food stamp use continues to rise. Good chart here on food stamp participation in Kentucky, where the numbers are up 32% since the beginning of the recession. Nationally, food stamp use is up 63% since December of 2007.
• Men are getting back to work in this tepid recovery faster than women and are now accounting for a growing proportion of jobs that at one time were dominated by women, such as education and healthcare. The Washington Post reports on a new study from the Pew Research Center:
The trend is a partial reversal of the recession of 2007 to 2009, when men experienced a much higher rate of job loss than women, with steep losses in the male-dominated manufacturing and construction industries. It also defies the historical trend; women fared better in the job market than men in the aftermath of each of the past five recessions, according to the Pew study, which is based on Labor Department data.
Since the recent recession ended in 2009, men have added 768,000 jobs, while the number of jobs held by women has fallen by 218,000, according to the study.
• We hadn’t heard from Letter From Langdon author Richard Oswald for a day or two. His farm (and home) are being flooded now by the Missouri River. He wrote this morning:
Water has pulled back some as the breach in the levee downstream widens to allow the water to return to the river channel faster. A neighbor told me today that it’s hard to get around with a boat now. The high spots are too shallow and things like fences and other obstructions make it harder.
I never made an effort to go down there. From what I could gather talking to those who did, it’s about like previous floods even though our Corps friends made it sound like floodageddon. Heard today that a section of US 136 may have washed away. That would be different and it would delay reopening of the highway and bridge at Brownville.
We got away for a few days and Linda and I looked at modular homes.
• Two senators from ethanol-producing states say they favor an immediate end to the tax credit for corn-based ethanol, the Des Moines Register is reporting.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and John Thune of South Dakota would divert $1.3 billion remaining in the tax break to debt reduction.