Sunday, January 30, 2011
U.S. control of 'rare earth' minerals slipping
By Lou Kilzer
When China slashed export quotas of fundamental minerals in 2010, it awakened America to a danger that has been building for more than a decade, experts say.
Those minerals, called "rare earths," shape a modern nation's defense and economy.
Your iPhone and hybrid car won't work without them, nor will your laptop computer. The Pentagon needs them for its precision-guided "smart" bombs.
China has locked up the supply — stripping the United States of its dominance.
U.S. lawmakers in both parties blame China's "mercantilist" policies — state interference in international trade. Yet, the United States and other nations also were caught napping, according to members of Congress, lobbyists and industry experts.
• China produces 97 percent of the rare earths used in high-tech items such as fiber optics, flat-panel monitors and televisions, and electricity-generating wind turbines.
• Through export policies and tariffs, China forces foreign companies to manufacture there in order to remain competitive. And where manufacturing goes, research and development often follow.
• China dominates more than rare earths. It leads the United States (or even the rest of the world combined) in key elements such as germanium, indium, antimony, zinc, manganese, tungsten, magnesium, cadmium, pig iron, graphite and fluorspar.
Those materials, used to make alloys, feed China's surging steel industry. A decade ago, China and the United States produced roughly equal amounts of steel; in 2010, the United States produced about 90 million metric tons — to China's 630 million.
• China is acquiring even more foreign resources. While most of the world fell into recession in 2008, China went on a spending spree: It bought all or part of 184 foreign mining assets for $37.2 billion, according to the U.S. accounting firm Ernst & Young.
Recently, Shanghai Securities News reported that China may create a strategic stockpile of rare earths, tungsten, antimony, molybdenum, tin, indium, germanium, gallium, tantalum and zirconium.
In contrast, the United States began selling its reserves in the 1990s.
China has positioned itself to surpass the United States in purchasing-power parity — a closely watched measure of an economy's real size — next year, according to the Conference Board, a nonprofit international business association.
'Free market isn't working'
The situation leads some analysts to stark conclusions.
"The free market isn't working right now," says Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who intends to sponsor legislation to re-stockpile strategic materials.
China, he says, "had the foresight to say, 'We want to be a manufacturing country. There are critical components to that in terms of raw materials, and we're going to make sure that we have unfettered access to those supplies.'
"And now it's (their) goal as a country not to export those raw materials. It is to export finished products."
John Pike, a defense expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based website analyzing military and intelligence matters, says "we cannot pretend there's a free market when there's not."
Ronald Ashburn, executive director of the Association for Iron & Steel Technology, a Warrendale-based nonprofit promoting industrial research, says China controls "huge aspects of the world capacity for many materials."
Congressional staffers, speaking on background, agree.
"China is going to produce, whether they are making a profit or not," says a Democratic staffer who has studied the issue for years. Its mining companies "are willing to get hammered" financially in order to gain control over markets.
A Senate Republican staffer says the federal government has backed American firms, but "people didn't like it. But they do like jobs — and mining jobs are good jobs."
Three bills countering China's rare-earths policies were introduced in the last Congress by Coffman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper, D-Erie, who lost re-election in November.
Each bill involved some degree of government intervention. None won approval.
Dahlkemper's bill emerged at a sensitive moment — during China's brief rare-earths embargo on Japan in September. A spooked House passed it, 325-98, but the bill lost momentum as the midterm election neared and China relented.
Like Coffman, Murkowski plans to try again.
Many Republicans, however, caution against going too far, too fast.
In a statement, 10 GOP congressmen on the committee that sent Dahlkemper's bill to a House vote said federal loans "should be restricted to those areas not undertaken by the private sector," to avoid "favoring certain companies ... and potentially crowding out further private-sector investment."
Congressional Republicans generally favor trimming regulations to spur rare-earth mining.
China's long-term strategy
Meanwhile, America's numbers across the board continue to decline.
The U.S. share of world spending on mining has dropped to 7 percent, from 21 percent in 1991, according to Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association.
"When mining moves offshore, you are going to lose the fabrication that goes with it," she says.
"What happened to the manufacturing base? It followed the natural resources."
That was China's long-term plan, according to a congressional report and a Chinese official.
In December, China cited environmental concerns in cutting rare-earth exports by 35 percent.
Yet, in 2009, Zhao Shuanglian, vice chairman of the Mongolian Autonomous Region, told a different story.
According to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, Zhao said exports would be cut "to attract more Chinese and foreign investors into the region ... . We are aiming to make Baotou in Inner Mongolia into a world-class rare-earth industrial base."
Baotou, Inner Mongolia's largest city, holds China's largest rare-earth reserves.
Dr. Peter Leitner, a former Defense Department trade expert, bluntly assesses China's dominance in rare earths and other elements and materials.
He calls it a national-security concern as well as an economic issue. Those who disagree "don't realize that the prime cause of wars throughout history has been access to raw materials. There are people who have no sense of history, and I find that deeply troubling."
Eroding U.S. position
China leads in the production of many minerals, yet rare earths best illustrate the consequences.
They reflect how China used a long-term plan to develop a critical industry while the United States lost its footing.
Nearly 20 years ago, China's then-leader, Deng Xiaoping, reportedly proclaimed: "There is oil in the Middle East. There are rare earths in China. We must take full advantage of this resource."
The full weight of his remark was widely overlooked.
First, the 17 elements called rare earths are not really so rare — just difficult and costly to mine.
Second, many of their special magnetic or electrical properties were less essential two decades ago.
Finally, the United States then led in production of rare earths, principally from a mine in eastern California called Mountain Pass, owned by a company called Molycorp.
The nation was a major producer of rare-earth products, including neodymium iron boron magnets (neo-magnets) required for militarily sensitive items such as "smart" bombs.
Yet, America's position began to erode. By the mid-1980s, China accelerated production of rare earths and flooded world markets with cheap materials.
Molycorp, meanwhile, faced investigations and a lawsuit for allegedly degrading the environment. Then owned by the oil company Unocal, it closed its Mountain Pass mine in 2002 — leaving America with no production of rare earths, according to securities filings.
The mine's closure largely went unnoticed.
China, however, busily secured commercially minable rare earths at home and abroad. In 2005, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp. tried to buy Unocal, but U.S. backlash against selling an American oil company to a Chinese government firm blocked the deal.
In 2009, China Nonferrous Metals Mining Co. Ltd., another government enterprise, bid to acquire Lynas Corp., an Australian firm with plans to develop what its website calls the world's richest deposit of rare earths. Australia's government barred the Chinese firm from taking a controlling interest.
Yet, China did not simply buy raw materials.
A decade earlier, in 1995, two Chinese government-backed companies — together with Sextant Group, a private-equity firm headed by Archibald Cox Jr., son of the former Watergate prosecutor — bought Indiana-based Magnequench, one of the last U.S. makers of neo-magnets.
Magnequench's unique manufacturing process was developed by General Motors — and the Chinese wanted it, according to Stanley Trout, a former Magnequench scientist.
Cox pledged to keep Magnequench plants in America for five years. After that time passed, the plants were moved to China.
Japan's Hitachi Metals closed the last U.S. neo-magnet plant — in Edmore, Mich. — in 2005.
With that, the United States not only stopped mining rare earths but stopped manufacturing neodymium products altogether.
Awakened to China's power
The world began to notice China's dominance of rare earths when it tightened exports about seven years ago, says Jim Sims, Molycorp's public affairs director.
China also began slapping taxes of 15 percent to 25 percent on rare-earth exports, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Yet, nothing awakened the world so much as three recent actions.
In mid-2010, China announced export reductions of 72 percent, Sims says. Then in September, it embargoed rare-earth exports to Japan, following a territorial dispute over small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
In December, it set further export cuts of 35 percent.
And on Dec. 30, the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's newspaper, hinted at more tightening. It quoted "experts" as saying recent cuts "did not seem deep enough."
Like much of the world, Japan depends on China's rare earths. It uses the elements to build neo-magnets 10 times smaller and 100 times more powerful than standard ferrous magnets, Sims says. Each Toyota Prius hybrid car uses 2.2 pounds of neodymium for its electric motor and 22 to 33 pounds of lanthanum for its battery.
China's actions stunned Japan. Some rare-earth prices leaped 700 percent while others doubled, according to Bloomberg News. Toyota has said it will work to reduce its use of rare earths.
Prices rose because demand outstrips supply, according to Jeff Green, whose J.A. Green & Co. in Washington represents the U.S. Magnet Materials Association.
World demand is 134,000 metric tons while production is at 124,000 metric tons, according to the Congressional Research Service. It predicts demand will be 180,000 metric tons in 2012.
The difference is made up by stockpiles.
Japan and South Korea have those.
The United States does not.
A scramble to compete
Setting quotas is one thing. Getting China's far-flung enterprises to abide by them is another.
The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 20 that 2010's actual cuts were less than officially set.
Still, the recent nationalization of 11 rare-earth mines in southern China and the announcement of more quota reductions leave little doubt among experts that China is determined to reduce rare-earth sales abroad.
Investors have taken notice.
In July, a reconstituted and independent Molycorp Inc. completed an initial public offering of 29 million shares, netting $378.6 million, according to securities filings. In mid-December, it raised $130 million from Japan's Sumitomo Corp.
Molycorp also applied for $280 million in government-backed loans and said last week it will sell $172.5 million in convertible preferred shares.
It aims to mine about 40,000 metric tons of rare-earth oxides by 2013.
Australia's Lynas Corp. raised $450 million in 2009 to develop its mine, producing about 20,000 metric tons annually.
Across the world, other companies are searching for rare-earth deposits.
Minable quantities are believed to exist in Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, according to Congress' Government Accountability Office, and the U.S. Interior Department has identified sources in Alaska.
The U.S. Geological Survey pinpoints other potential sites.
Problems solved, right?
That same GAO report said that, once companies find minable resources and the money to develop them, actual production can take seven to 15 years, principally due to state and federal regulations.
Mining is step one — and the easiest — in a five-step process to bring products such as military-strength magnets to market, according to Green.
The GAO lists those steps as mining; separating rare-earth elements; refining rare-earth oxides into metals; forming the metals into alloys; and, finally, manufacturing the alloys into commercial components.
U.S. lacks expertise
Other hurdles must be crossed, too.
For instance, until 2014, Hitachi Metals holds the patent on neo-magnets. In December, Molycorp and Hitachi said they will form joint ventures this year, removing one obstacle for the American firm.
Yet Ed Richardson, president of the U.S. Magnet Materials Association, says much uncertainty remains about the deal, including where a plant will be built. He does not believe Hitachi will transfer technology to Molycorp, which "doesn't have the knowledge to do this" alone.
America also lacks skilled rare-earth experts. In the 1980s, the U.S. magnet industry employed 6,000 workers, according to Richardson's association. Today's figure: 400.
An even greater gap exists at the scientific level's top echelon. The United States has about 60 scientists and engineers with specialized knowledge of magnet production, to China's 6,000, Green says.
"U.S. leadership in (rare-earth element) technology is eroding," according to a Carnegie Mellon University report. It found that the end of U.S.-based manufacturing "led to the removal of over 90 percent of domestic R&D activities on rare-earth permanent magnet materials."
Conclusion: The "knowledge for producing (neo-magnets) within the U.S. has been lost."
"The knowledge drain is a long-term strategic problem" for America, Molycorp's Sims acknowledges.
Molycorp has hired 20 scientists and is seeking more "as fast as we can," according to CEO Mark Smith. He says the company has contacted retired Japanese experts interested in helping the American firm.
Peter Dent, vice president of business development at Electron Energy Corp. in Landisville, Lancaster County, outlines the challenge: "Japan, China and Germany are extremely good. ... Molycorp is going to have to be competitive against people who are doing very well. It's a big hill to climb."
Thomas Sanderson, deputy director and senior fellow on transnational threats for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, is equally pessimistic.
"In some ways, it's too late," he says, because China "bought up the market. It will be difficult for us to regain our position. Some skills and industries are perishable."
Coffman, the Colorado Republican, disagrees, "mostly because we don't have a choice. The fact is, the national security and the economic security of the United States are dependent upon the United States not allowing itself to be in a position where it can be dominated."
Leitner, the former Defense Department official, believes everything can be turned around by a "catalytic event" that galvanizes the nation.
"All it takes is a threat, a sudden change," he says. "Politicians swing like cafe doors."
Eye on technology
China may have provoked such a threat by raising exports, hiking taxes and briefly embargoing Japan.
One who thinks so is GlobalSecurity.org's John Pike.
"The Chinese policy is potentially devastating to China since it's awakened the world," he says. "It depends on whether people have long ... or short memories.
"We don't see as much China-bashing as is warranted by the facts of the matter."
On a recent trip to China, CSIS's Sanderson heard leaders there express concern that "maybe (they've) been a little too aggressive."
So why did they do it?
China's long-term strategy is to use raw-material advantages to lure Western companies, just as Vice Chairman Zhao told the Chinese news agency in 2009.
The near-unanimous consensus of those interviewed is that China's domestic demand for rare earths is in industries dominated by multinationals producing high-tech items such as wind turbines, batteries, cars, fiber optics and electronics.
China wants to replace those foreign manufacturers with its own companies.
The Harvard Business Review reported last month that China is weary of attracting companies that hire cheap Chinese labor. It wants that technology for itself, which foreign companies often give away to gain access to China's markets.
Since 2006, the magazine reported, new Chinese rules "seek to appropriate technology from foreign multinationals."
"The (Chinese) government's hope is that the country will soon become a global innovation center," enabling "Chinese companies to overtake their foreign partners," the magazine concludes.
And foreign companies keep coming.
Following China President Hu Jintao's U.S. visit earlier this month, General Electric agreed to help Aviation Industry Corp. of China to develop advanced avionics for China's new C919 aircraft.
The C919 will compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing's 737 Next Generation jetliners. The new deal involves technology transfer.
As Coffman sees it, America's China problem is partly self-inflicted.
"Part of it," the congressman says, "is that we've been asleep at the switch when we think China will operate along the lines of free-market principles and not use its leverage ... like (it has done) with rare earths."
Lou Kilzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or .
Images and text copyright © 2011 by Trib Total Media, Inc.
Tensions rise on surging food pricesBy Annalyn Censky, staff reporterJanuary 28, 2011: 5:11 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Food prices have been rising worldwide, as the cost of raw materials and agricultural products surge, contributing to political unrest around the globe.
In December, international food prices broke an all-time high when they rose 25% for the year, led by rising costs for staples like rice, wheat, and maize, the United Nations reported.
The sharp rise in food prices, in particular, has become "a source of political instability," New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, told CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.
Roubini, nicknamed "Dr. Doom" for his famously bearish predictions, said spiking energy and food prices pose one of the greatest global threats -- especially to emerging market economies.
Why prices are rising: Bad weather in Australia and Russia over the summer severely diminished wheat crops, partially fueling the latest commodities surge.
Rising incomes in emerging markets like China and India also play a role, analysts at the Eurasia Group say. The growing middle class in those countries has prompted a shift from a grain-based diet to one consisting of more meat.
And a push toward biofuels has also led to rising demand for corn and sugar, pushing up commodity prices.
Where it's hitting: The pinch has been felt most in rapidly developing countries like China, India, and Russia, which still have large portions of their population living in poverty.
Food inflation in China was recently at 9.6%, while in India it surged a staggering 18%.
Countries that depend on imports and don't grow a lot of their own grains, like many Middle Eastern nations, are also feeling the pain from price pressures. The recent turmoil there, with outbreaks of riots and violent clashes with police and military forces, is partially related to surging food prices.
"What has happened in Tunisia, is happening right now in Egypt, but also riots in Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan, are related not only to high unemployment rates and to income and wealth inequality, but also to this very sharp rise in food and commodity prices," Roubini said.
In Egypt alone, food prices soared 17% -- in part because of the worldwide surge in commodities prices but also because of local supply imbalances.
How it's playing out: Many countries in North Africa, including Egypt, subsidize the costs of basic staples. Citizens there pay about 1 cent for a small serving of bread, said Hani Sabra, a research analyst with the Eurasia Group.
But that doesn't mean citizens there are completely insulated from price pressures.
About 40% of Egypt's citizens live off less than $2 a day, so any price increase hurts.
"There's a pretty expensive food subsidy system in Egypt," said Richard Fox, head of Middle East and Africa sovereign ratings at Fitch Ratings. "Having said that, definitely high inflation has been squeezing people's incomes."
Plus there's a thriving black market that often drives up the prices poor households are paying for foodstuffs, Sabra said.
Meanwhile the bigger problem lies not in just prices, but in the fact that when citizens are unhappy, they have little opportunity for political recourse.
Some Egyptians take up arms amid security concerns
Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- By day, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Cairo, chanting against the country's president and calling for his resignation.
By night, some defied a government curfew and took to the streets again -- armed with guns, swords and sticks to fend off looters and protect their homes.
Many streets in the nation's capital were left without security after police stopped patrolling.
Kareem Amer told CNN that houses in his Cairo neighborhood had been ransacked.
"We've been hearing gunshots left and right all night long. ... The men of each household have come down and formed their own group militias holding down security for every building," he said.
Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American Islamic Relations said the atmosphere was tense.
"It seems that every major square and every small street in Cairo was basically taken over by communities ... people are parading the streets, walking around with baseball bats and knives," he said from Cairo. "We didn't get any sleep all night."
State-run Nile TV reported that the military issued a stern warning to the people on Saturday: "Stop the looting, chaos and the things that hurt Egypt. Protect the nation, protect Egypt, protect yourselves."
Still, shops and businesses were looted and abandoned police stations stripped clean of their arsenals.
Cairo's Egyptian Museum stepped up security after vandals ripped the heads off two mummies and tossed relics onto the ground, the country's antiquities chief said Sunday.
On Sunday, state-run Nile TV aired images of men confessing to involvement in looting. A school teacher said he had been involved in looting at a Cairo museum. Three other said they had stolen items from a supermarket in a suburb of the city.
Roughly 1,000 inmates escaped from Prison Demu in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Nile TV reported early Sunday.
Residents calling in to a program on Nile TV complained about the absence of security. Anchors responded by reassuring callers that the army was protecting the streets.
"Those thugs are setting things on fire. ... They are setting fire in front of the hospital," a caller identifying herself as a doctor in a Cairo neighborhood said.
One anchor replied, "This might be a security check from your colleagues or the workers who are there." Another anchor told her to remain calm.
On the streets overnight, stories swirled about would-be criminals and vigilante justice.
"Citizens...have taken justice into their own hands because, as you can see here, the state has completely failed us. The regime has completely failed in being able to provide basic security," Amer said.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
By Sandhya Somashekhar and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2011; 9:57 PM
TUCSON - Some of the first deputies to arrive at the scene of the Jan. 8 shooting rampage here described a scene of "silent chaos" on Friday, and they added that the carnage probably would have been much worse without the help of a $99 first-aid kit that recently became standard-issue.
Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies said they were dispatched to what they believed was a routine shooting. But they arrived, they found a blood-drenched parking lot that looked more like the scene of a plane crash. Sgt. Gilberto Caudillo got on his radio and pleaded, "Send every ambulance you have out here."
"Innocent people looked like they were just massacred," Caudillo said Friday.
He was among about 10 sheriff's deputies who found themselves doing the duties of paramedics rather than police. In the six minutes before paramedics flooded the site, they had to stanch chest wounds, open injured airways, apply tourniquets and try to calm down victims and the blood-covered bystanders who tried to help.
"We told them, 'All the bad stuff is over, you're safe. We'll stay by your side,' " said Deputy Matthew Salmon.
In the end, 13 of those shot survived, while six did not. One of the injured, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was the last person still hospitalized until Friday morning, when she was discharged and transported to a rehabilitation facility in Texas.
Doctors and law enforcement officials told reporters here that the incident would have been much worse without a small brown kit devised by David Kleinman, a SWAT team medic who had become concerned about rising violence.
Kleinman cobbled together the Individual First Aid Kits out of simple items used by combat medics in Iraq and Afghanistan: an emergency bandage pioneered by the Israeli army; a strip of gauze that contains a substance which coagulates blood on contact; a tactical tourniquet; shears that are sturdy and sharp enough to slice off victims' clothing; and sealing material that works especially well on chest wounds.
The items in the kit were each inexpensive; the Israeli bandage, for example, cost only $6, but deputies reached for one "over and over at the scene," Kleinman said.
It is unusual for police officers to carry such medical equipment, but Capt. Byron Gwaltney, who coordinated the sheriff's office's response to the shooting, said it proved crucial in this case because the deputies were the first to arrive.
"It would have been a lot worse" without those tools, Gwaltney said. The deputies were trained to use the kit, in a program the Pima force called "First Five Minutes," six months ago.
The deputies who initially responded said they were not the ones who arrested the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner. Instead, their focus was conducting triage through the parking lot: figuring out who was dead, who was injured and who was simply a helpful person who had jumped in to help.
They used the tourniquets and gauze to stop the bleeding. They used a chest seal, also in the kit, to close bullet wounds. They used the shears in the kit to cut off the victims' clothes.
"When I look back, I don't know if we drowned out the moans to focus or if it was quiet," said Deputy Ryan Inglett, who treated several victims with combat gauze and assisted in CPR. "This is something I will never forget."
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Published: January 19, 2011Video of guns causes unrest in Jewish community
By Kristen Green
While a rabbi prayed in a Richmond synagogue, a group of Orthodox Jews passed around an AK-47 before a ceremony celebrating the end of the Sabbath.
Asher Meza, a 32-year-old Orthodox Jew, made a video of himself showing guns to a group of young men at a private synagogue in his friend's home and then posted the video on YouTube and Facebook.
The whole thing doesn't sit well with the Richmond Jewish community.
"I wasn't trying to make a statement, but a statement was made," said Meza, a former Baptist preacher who converted to Judaism and studied to be a rabbi.
"I'm not advocating for everyone to walk around with an AK-47, but I walk around with a handgun on the Sabbath, and I think it would be better if most Jews did. It's better to have the gun and not need it than need it and not have it, especially in a religious environment."
But Tommy Baer, a Richmond attorney who was president of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish service organization, called that statement "vigilante nonsense." He said he viewed the video with "complete revulsion" and found it offensive.
"Weapons, especially … an automatic rifle, have no place in a synagogue," Baer said.
The video was made the evening of the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who is Jewish, and the killing of six others. The alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, has been described by investigators as mentally unstable.
Several local rabbis said they aren't sure what Meza's video means. Most were dismissive of him and said they didn't want to give him attention.
Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia, a Jewish outreach organization and synagogue on Gaskins Road, said Meza's video has "nothing to do with religion."
"From a Jewish perspective, his philosophy and ideas have no standing whatsoever," Kranz said.
Rabbi Ben Romer of Congregation Or Ami, who served as a military chaplain for 22 years, said bringing weapons into a place of worship "borders on inappropriate."
"I would not, in the midst of a worship experience, bring a fake, let alone a real, AK-47," he said. "It's the antithesis of what the Sabbath is for me."
The video was filmed Jan. 8 after the Sabbath ended but while the celebration continued inside the Henrico County home of Meza's friend, Joseph Kolakowski,a former rabbi at Congregation Kol Emes in Richmond.
Kolakowski said he thinks some people in the local Jewish community are overreacting to the video. However, he was annoyed that while he was praying, Meza, a gun collector and hunter who feeds the kill to his dogs, passed around his guns.
He found it disrespectful. "It was a lack of proper synagogue decorum during the prayers," he said.
When Meza posted the video, Kolakowski asked him to take it down. Meza, a computer programmer, initially refused.
But then one of the synagogues where Kolakowski worships, the Rudlin Torah Academy boarding school, asked him not to return for a while, because school leaders were uncomfortable with the video, which got about 2,000 hits in five days. After that, Meza made the YouTube video private.
Meza moved to Richmond in 2009 to work with Kolakowski at Kol Emes. Soon after he arrived, Kolakowski was dismissed. He later founded a Hasidic institute to grow the community, and they worship together and minister to students at Virginia Commonwealth University. Meza is not Hasidic.
Meza is developing an online ministry through Facebook and nine websites he maintains, including the Spanish serjudio.org, as well as BeJewish.org and GunsandFaith.com.
He is the son of Colombian immigrants who grew up in Miami. He studied to be a rabbi in Israel and then moved to Henrico with his wife and daughter. Next month, he is moving to New York to be part of a larger Jewish community.
He said his video warns Jews to take precautions because "being religious has become synonymous with being weak."
"In this day and age, with all the Jew hatred going around, there is no reason why a (Jew) should not pack heat on Shabbos," he said in another YouTube video he made in December.
Meza shows off 10 guns, loading and unloading them and pointing them at the camera.
Quoting the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, he says "Every Jew a .22." then adds, "Perhaps we could do with a little bit more power."
He then implores video watchers to "go to your local gun store and start packing."
the Richmond Times-Dispatch © Copyright 2011 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General company.
If Quakes Weren’t Enough, Enter the ‘Superstorm’
SACRAMENTO — California faces the risk not just of devastating earthquakes but also of a catastrophic storm that could tear at the coasts, inundate the Central Valley and cause four to five times as much economic damage as a large quake, scientists and emergency planners warn.
The potential for such a storm was described at a conference of federal and California officials that ended Friday. Combining advanced flood mapping and atmospheric projections with data on California’s geologic flood history, over 100 scientists calculated the probable consequences of a “superstorm” carrying tropical moisture from the South Pacific and dropping up to 10 feet of rain across the state.
“Floods are as much a part of our lives in California as earthquakes are,” said Lucy Jones, the chief scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, adding, “We are probably not going to be able to handle the biggest ones.”
The geological survey estimates that such a storm could cause up to $300 billion in damage. The scientists’ models estimate that almost one-fourth of the houses in California could experience some flood damage from one.
The conference was convened by the geological survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency to help disaster-response planners draft new strategies to limit the storms’ impact.
Climate scientists have for years noted that the rising temperature of the earth’s atmosphere increases the amount of energy it stores, making more violent and extreme weather events more likely.
Californians have learned to expect earthquakes the way Floridians expect hurricanes. (A minor earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 4.1, rattled windows in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area about a week ago.)
The existing engineering systems that dispose of floodwater are so efficient that the effects of moderate storms often go unnoticed, Dr. Jones said. So while many Californians know whether they live or work close to an earthquake-prone fault and what to do should there be a serious quake, few realize that the state could be hit by storms that at their worst could rival the largest hurricanes that devastate the Gulf Coast and the southeastern Atlantic Seaboard.
Yet vast floods have also been documented, both through tree-ring data and more modern historical records. Marcia K. McNutt, the director of the geological survey, said that 150 years ago, over a few weeks in the winter of 1861-62, enough rain fell to inundate a stretch of the Central Valley 300 miles long and 20 miles wide, from north of Sacramento south to Bakersfield, near the eastern desert.
The storms lasted 45 days, creating lakes in parts of the Mojave Desert and, according to a survey account, “turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the state capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Gov. Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration.”
Just like a major earthquake, a superstorm could be a severe blow to the state’s agriculture and to the water-supply system that now diverts water from the north to Southern California.
Dr. Jones said in an interview that improved satellite imagery available in recent years allowed scientists to clearly identify what they call “atmospheric rivers” — moisture-filled air currents up to 200 miles wide and 2,000 miles long, which flow from tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.
The West Coast winter weather systems popularly known as the Pineapple Express, air currents carrying moisture from the Hawaiian Islands are just one moderate subset of these rivers, Dr. Jones said. The abbreviation for atmospheric river, A.R., gave the geological survey the root of its name for these major weather events, which they call ARk storms.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
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Thursday, January 13, 2011
Drug Shortages: A Deadly Problem With No Cure in SightBy MELLY ALAZRAKI Posted 11:00 AM 01/11/11
So is the Food and Drug Administration. Unfortunately, the FDA's hands are pretty much tied when it comes to taking steps that could ease this crisis. It's powerless to demand that a drug company produce a particular medication simply because it's becoming dangerously unavailable.
How bad is this situation? A recent survey of health care professionals found the U.S. is experiencing drug shortages of "epic proportion that are often associated with third-world countries." This unprecedented, and growing, shortage of critically important medications is affecting care and endangering patients' lives.
"For the past year-and-a-half we've seen quite an escalation in the report of drug shortages," says Bona Benjamin, director of Medication-Use Quality Improvement with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). "And resolving the shortages is becoming more difficult."
A Warning in July
Injectable drugs used in hospitals are those most in short supply. Oral drugs or those filled at the local pharmacy are not as prone to shortages. The affected drugs include vital medications such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, analgesics (painkillers), anesthetics and more. Such shortages can compromise therapy or delay treatment, putting patients at risk -- sometimes even of death.
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices in July clearly warned of the severe problem. An ISMP survey of more than 1,800 health care practitioners (68% of them pharmacists) from July to September revealed at least two deaths as a result of a morphine shortage when a substitute was misused.
Respondents were most alarmed by the use of less desirable, unfamiliar and often more expensive alternative drugs. They were concerned of potential for errors, poor patient outcomes or preventable adverse drug events. For example, using a substitute of an unavailable drug resulted in an overdosing error that led to the death of a 16-year-old boy in an emergency room, ISMP President Michael Cohen wrote in July.
In another example, the diuretic furosemide, "is in very very short supply," the ASHP's Benjamin says. APP, American Regent, and Hospira all make the drug but couldn't explain the shortage, according to the ASHP. "This is a real problem because many patients who are acutely ill need a diuretic to help them remove unwanted fluids. As a result, the only other drug in the same class is now in a shortage situation, too," says Benjamin. "Some hospitals can't get either drug."
"It's Pretty Serious"
At least "with the diuretic situation, despite the shortage, there are some alternatives," Benjamin explains. But when it comes another category with a shortage, oncology drugs -- used to treat cancer --"there isn't really an alternative agent," she says. When asked how doctors treat cancer patients in such cases, Benjamin quite frankly says, "Well, they can't in some situations." She adds: "We've heard that patients have been halted in mid-therapy and that some of the research trials had to be halted. It's pretty serious."
"You have to picture yourself telling a cancer patient that you have effective therapy, except that one of the components of that therapy is unavailable," says Dr. Michael Link, a pediatric oncologist and president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). "And at a time when the patients themselves are under such stress, they don't need you to add to it."
Link says "a multitude of drugs" have recently become unavailable, adding, "some of them, unfortunately, are key drugs used for multiple different cancers in adults and children, and are key players in management." Some of them have possible workarounds or substitutions, "but in other cases there is not a good substitution," he says.
Chemotherapy drugs such as doxorubicin, etoposide, vincristine and cisplatin that treat breast, gastric, ovarian, thyroid, small cell lung, lymphoma and other cancers, unfortunately have no recognized standard alternatives for the majority of clinical situations, Link said in a previous interview with ASCO.
"This is where things are getting more worrisome, and patient care is clearly being affected," Link told DailyFinance. The options are to use an alternative, to leave out a drug from a regimen or to delay treatment, none of which is good. Cancer patients' lives, including children's, are at risk, and the shortages can hurt their survival.
"One of the important things is that we don't want to add to the worry that patients undergoing cancer therapy already have," says Link. "It's important for them to talk with their physician to make certain whether the problem will affect them, what solutions can be offered to them and whether there's anything they have to be concerned about at all."
It's difficult to listen to the level of frustration revealed by doctors, pharmacists and health care professionals who deal with this problem daily. Commenting on when an alternative for a lifesaving drug also became unavailable, one respondent to the ISMP survey said: "I guess patients just have to die." Another asked: "What do I tell our breast and lymphoma patients? You had a curable disease, but not anymore because there is no drug available?"
This isn't what anyone would expect in today's advanced Western world. Early in November, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, ASCO, the ASHP, and the ISMP conducted a drug-shortage summit aimed at understanding the situation's scope, discussing necessary changes in public policy and developing an action plan. Also participating in the summit were pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, the FDA and others.
Some common causes for the shortages include manufacturing difficulties, natural disasters that affect production, reductions in the supply of raw materials (of which 80% come from outside the U.S.), unexpected increases in demand, voluntary recalls, manufacturer business decisions, FDA enforcement actions to ensure public safety and artificial shortages due to stockpiling.
The chemotherapy drugs listed earlier are in short supply mainly because generic-drug maker Teva's (TEVA) California plant was shut down following an FDA warning letter on manufacturing violations. Other producers can't keep up with the increased demand.
Both the ASHP and FDA maintain drug-shortage lists. The FDA's includes nearly 60 medically necessary products. The ASHP list is even more comprehensive, with over 140 drugs.
No Authority Over Business Decisions
"We're doing everything we can within our current regulatory authority," says Valerie Jensen, associate director of the FDA's drug-shortages program. "We're working to resolve every drug shortage on our list. It's a very long list right now, and it's been long throughout this year. We've resolved a lot of them, but we still have a lot of them that we're working on."
Jensen explains: "What we can do is work with a company on its manufacturing problems." The FDA tries to resolve these as quickly as possible while ensuring public safety. "Also, if a firm has expired inventory of a needed drug and it can give us data to support a longer expiration date, we're glad to review that," she adds.
But when it comes to a company's business decisions, the FDA has no authority. Some companies have decided it's not worth their trouble to produce a certain drug anymore. Such was the case when Teva decided to discontinue the widely used anesthetic propofol. Basically, Teva said it's too hard to make and barely profitable.
A recent trend concerns discontinuation of older products that aren't as profitable as newer ones or that have to regain FDA approvals -- a resource-intensive process. Others simply take lower precedent in production over more profitable drugs.
"Right now we just don't have any authority at all to require companies to increase production or to require other firms to come on the market," Jensen says. FDA also can't require firms to continue making a product, and drugmakers aren't required to report shortages or discontinuations, except for sole manufacturers in certain circumstances.
"We would like to have them report on all discontinuations and shortages, but that's not something we can require, just encourage them to do," Jensen says. She explains that early notifications from manufacturers on issues that could cause shortages have been most helpful because, she says, "many times we can resolve the issue before it becomes a shortage."
Formal Notifications Are Needed
Indeed, lack of advance notice has been a major concern. "We have a situation where companies can just stop making a drug without notifying the FDA, or anyone as a matter of fact. And the first time you find out about it is when you can't get the supply," ISMP President Cohen says.
He explains that early notifications would also give doctors, pharmacists and nurses time to find a potential substitute and learn about it so that dispensing errors can be minimized. "We think there should be formal notification to the FDA so the agency would be able to help facilitate the manufacturing of the drug," he adds.
"We realize that this has significant impact on patients, so we're doing everything that we can," Jensen says. But is the FDA or the Health and Human Services Department doing all it can? Jensen declines to discuss creating public policy to deal with this problem, and the HHS didn't respond to repeated attempts to get comment.
Benjamin would certainly like to see a more comprehensive public policy to deal with the shortages. "There are a number of actions the agency can take to prevent, forestall or mitigate the effects of the shortage," she says. "In rare, but critical cases, the FDA can authorize importation of a drug."
Can Incentives Help Solve the Problem?
At least one U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), is paying attention. Klobuchar sent a letter in December to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg requesting "immediate action" to ensure adequate supplies of essential drugs. Klobuchar said she'll also introduce legislation in January that would require pharmaceutical companies to notify the FDA when they decide to limit or discontinue production of drugs, and give the FDA the authority to expedite approval for substitute treatments or the importation of drugs.
Similarly, the HHS is providing incentive programs for converting to electronic health records. And the FDA is promoting the development of orphan drugs -- those that treat rare diseases -- through incentives and grants. With some shortages stemming from business decisions, why shouldn't the FDA develop an incentive program to manage the drug shortage problem?
"Incentives have been discussed as a way to manage shortages," Benjamin says. "Expedited review of approved new drug applications, supplemental applications and new or altered production lines have been suggested. How effective these would be has yet to be determined."
Less Time to Treat Patients
What about some type of incentive payment for companies reporting early about possible shortage-causing problems? Cohen adds: "I don't know exactly how that would work, but to me, that is one of the most critical needs legislative-wise."
And what about those taking advantage of the situation and charging exorbitant prices for drugs in short supply, or the inequitable distribution of drugs, or hoarding? Who should make sure that such practices don't happen?
Doctors, hospitals and pharmacists spend more and more resources on managing the shortage problem instead of treating patients. "Whatever the cause, drug shortages have become a key patient-safety concern in health care today," the ISMP wrote back in July, adding that there isn't "a glimmer hope for any improvement in the near future." There should be no shortage of public awareness and concern over this situation.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
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