Many closely followed the progress of the Udall-Kaine and Khanna-Gaetz bipartisan amendments to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sought to prevent an unauthorized war with Iran. Slightly staggered in procedural timing, both amendments passed the House in June and July, but also failed to pass in the Senate, and ultimately were not part of the NDAA reauthorization.

By way of reminder, the House amendment was led by U.S. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA/17th district) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL/1st district). The Khanna-Gaetz amendment clarified that existing war authorities passed by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 authorizing military action against al-Qaeda and related organizations are not legal justification for war with Iran. The amendment retained the president’s powers under the War Powers Resolution, which allows the president to go to war in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The Khanna-Gaetz amendment passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, with a final 250-170 tally.

The Udall-Kaine amendment would have prohibited taxpayer dollars from being used for military operations against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress, and had garnered bipartisan support in light of constitutional concerns with abdicating congressional authority to the executive branch. Although the Udall-Kaine amendment failed to pass with the necessary 60 Senate votes, a significant total of 50 Senators supported the amendment. Together, the amendments reflected strong bipartisan support for exhausting diplomatic options regarding Iran, and preserving congressional authority vis-à-vis the executive branch.

by USIRCC Staff

Persian Women in Tech at the Helm of Women of MENA in Tech Conference

On June 22, Persian Women in Tech (PWIT) hosted its Annual Women of MENA in Tech conference at London City Hall. The conference theme was “Entrepreneurship 2020: Rethinking Purpose, People, and Profit.”

Sepideh Nasiri, founder of PWIT, led discussion panels on business and STEM with a mix of guest speakers, ranging from 11-year-old Tara Sharifi, a self-described math and technology lover, who scored the highest possible score on the MENSA IQ test, to Dr. Ali Parsa, Founder and CEO of Babylon Health, whose mission is to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth, and a panel with company founders like Paria Ghorashi, CCO of Blowout & Go beauty company, Zara Riahi, CEO of tech startup Contilio, Sara Ahmazi CEO of Shopest, and Rana Alqrenaw, M2 Founder at Zinc Ventures Limited.

Panelists shared personal stories about the humble beginnings of their companies, and many emphasized ‘passion’ as a driving force in creating a successful business regardless of the industry, whether it be technology or fashion. Nasiri recalled a portion of the discussion spent on debunking the assumption that a fashion company is easier to launch with marketing targeted largely toward women. “There’s no easy route for any entrepreneur,” Nasiri said. “They all survive it every day to build that business out.”

Photo Credit: Reyhaneh Mohamadi

Building a sense of community among MENA professionals remained a highlight throughout the PWIT-hosted conference, as well as the importance of networking and investing in resources to lift ambitious individuals further in their careers.

In 2020, PWIT plans to launch a two-week program called NextGen University for young women to explore entrepreneurship through experienced mentors, connections with Tech companies and educational workshops. “They [will] know that ‘I can be anything and I can combine my passion with the work that is available currently in the workplace,’” explains Nasiri.

PWIT will begin fundraising on August 1 for its new initiatives and to extend its reach in providing resources for the future generation of entrepreneurs. If interested in donating, sponsorship and partnership opportunities, please email info@persianwomenintech.com.  Upcoming events in July hosted by its global chapters can be viewed on PWIT’s site at: http://www.persianwomenintech.com/events.

by Maristela Romero

Price-Rigging in the Poultry Industry: Agri Stats Subscription-Based Industry Data Service Under Fire from DOJ

Back in 2017, Bloomberg published an article sounding the alarm bells on a service called “Agri Stats.” Agri Stats is a private service that produces confidential weekly reports based off data gathered from poultry processors, which it then distributes to companies paying for a subscription to the service. Agri Stats differs from information services used by other industries in both the level of detail provided and the speed the information is made available to those with a subscription; reports include statistics which range from bird sizes, to product mix, to financial returns of plants who participate in the service but are kept anonymous in reports, or over 95% of United States poultry processors in total.

Agri Stats maintains that the intensive reports it provides to its subscribers violates no antitrust laws, stating that the information they provide is historical in nature and includes no information about future pricing. However, the intensive level of detail provided by Agri Stats combined with the secrecy surrounding the reports has drawn critics. By providing subscribers with the prices per pound of different companies’ product mixes along with the specifics of what each mix includes, subscribers are able to effectively anticipate the future actions of their competitors along with future pricing. Another troubling aspect of Agri Stats reports is their inclusion of a caloric breakdown of the feed used by participating plants, information which can be used by companies to match their calorie counts with competitors in order to maximize profits per bird. There is nothing inherently illegal about providing subscribers with this information, as illegal collusion occurs when companies plan with one another to cut production ahead of time with the specific intent of raising prices. Law professor at the University of Wisconsin and former Justice Department antitrust lawyer who has studied Agri Stats while researching the modern poultry industry, Peter Carstensen, states that the level of detail provided in Agri Stats reports is unusual because unlike similar reports in other industries which stick to averages and more general information, Agri Stats provides enough information for participants to collude with each other and ensure everyone is upholding their end of the deal. It is also alleged that the anonymity provided by Agri Stats is weak as a result of Agri Stats “Bottom Line Report” which breaks down key financial metrics including interest expenses, as lawyers state it is relatively easy to match any anonymous data against publicly available records.

There have been numerous lawsuits filed against Agri Stats as a result of suspected antitrust violations, but none have gotten anywhere. Since 2017, the questionable behaviors surrounding Agri Stats have given rise to a landmark price-fixing lawsuit in which Maplevale Farms allege that the largest poultry companies coordinated process between 2008 and 2016, resulting in a 50% increase in price for broiler chicken despite decreases in the costs of inputs like chicken feed. Maplevale alleges that Agri Stats played a key role in making it possible for companies to collude on price increases and other companies including Walmart have since filled lawsuits making similar allegations. In separate lawsuits farmers also allege that poultry companies use Agri Stats to coordinate and decrease farmer’s wages. All of these allegations have been denied by the accused poultry companies. The allegations also claim that the poultry industry as it currently exists, is highly consolidated, with just two companies, Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, controlling about 40% of the market, and the top 10 poultry companies controlling nearly 80% of the market.

The lawsuit became all the more intense when on June 21, 2019, the DOJ stepped in and asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to stop discovery in Maplevale’s class-action lawsuit, saying in a motion that they required a limited stay in order to protect the investigation by the grand jury. The stay applies to “all defendant employee and former employee depositions,” and was granted temporarily, waiting for the results of a hearing on the Department of Justice’s request for a six-month stay. This intervention by the DOJ is significant because it indicates the DOJ believes there have been one or more real and serious violations requiring grand jury inquiry and potential criminal indictments. This would be monumental for victims of this alleged price fixing, as currently the poultry companies being accused of colluding through use of Agri Stats control around 90% of the poultry industry. The DOJ stated they would also charge those who played significant roles in price fixing, which means Agri Stats could be included as well and receive penalties.

Within the past days, the Department of Justice’s request for a six-month stay was granted by the court, though it was shortened to three months.

by Kalyan Emerick