Pentagon legislation aims to end dependence on China for rare earth minerals

WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon has proposed legislation that aims to end reliance on China for rare earth minerals critical to the manufacturing of missiles and munitions, hypersonic weapons and radiation hardened electronics, by making targeted investments.

The proposed legislation would raise spending caps under the Defense Production Act to enable government to spend up to $1.75 billion on rare earth elements in munitions and missiles and $350 million for microelectronics. It would also eliminate caps when it comes to hypersonic weapons.

The proposal, obtained by Defense News, was offered earlier this month for inclusion in the annual defense policy bill Congress has been drafting.

“To me, this is the biggest thing that has happened to rare earths in a decade,” Jeffrey Green, a defense industry consultant and advocate for government intervention on rare earth materials, said Monday. “The policy shift is the government is realizing they have to put serious bucks into this.”

The U.S. government recently awarded contracts for heavy rare earth separation and issued solicitations for the processing of light separation and for neodymium magnets, which are used in Javelin missiles and F-35 fighter jets. Under current law, DoD cannot invest more than $50 million in DPA funds without additional congressional notification, but the Pentagon’s legislative proposal would raise this cap to $350 million, to invest in multiple projects.

These processes can be expensive, and the process for separating rare earth oxides can cost hundreds of millions dollars, Green said.

“The recent awards are like a drop in the bucket, for very small scale pilot programs. It’s nowhere near what they’d need to get a commercial facility, even to support DoD’s very small volume,” Green said. “They have to put big dollars in if they want to separate the oxide at a state-of-the-art facility that’s going to be anywhere close to Chinese pricing.”

China accounts for at least 71 percent of rare earth production globally and is the largest source of rare earth imports to the U.S., according to a Congressional Research Service report. The U.S. was once a major producer from the mid-1960s until around the late 1980s when China became a major low-cost producer and exporter.

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In August, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters that the Pentagon was in early talks with U.S. ally Australia to have it process a significant portion of rare earth materials for the U.S. military. The Australian firm Lynas, which has a mine in Australia and a processing plant in Malaysia, was central to that plan.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, lawmakers have quickly introduced a range of measures aimed at creating domestic alternatives to Chinese supplies for protective equipment and medicines from China to the U.S. However, the DoD legislation is one link in a chain of actions in recent years by the Trump administration.

“China is currently the sole source or primary supplier for many chemicals required to make ingredients in missiles and munitions end items. In many cases, there is no other source for these foreign sourced materials and no drop-in alternatives are available,” DoD’s proposal reads.

“A sudden and catastrophic loss of supply due to restrictions from foreign suppliers, industrial accidents, natural disasters, or wartime damages would impact critical DoD programs for many years and severely disrupt DoD munitions, satellites, space launches, and other defense manufacturing programs.”

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines last week with his own rare earths bill, called the Onshoring Rare Earths Act, to establish a supply chain in the U.S. and require the Defense Department to source these minerals domestically. Instead of direct investments, it includes tax incentives for buyers of rare earth minerals to source from U.S. suppliers ― a detail that places the proposal within House Ways and Means Committee jurisdiction.

“Our ability as a nation to manufacture defense technologies and support our military is dangerously dependent on our ability to access rare earth elements and critical minerals mined, refined, and manufactured almost exclusively in China,” Cruz said in a statement. “Much like the Chinese Communist Party has threatened to cut off the U.S. from life-saving medicines made in China, the Chinese Communist Party could also cut off our access to these materials, significantly threatening U.S. national security.”

Both Cruz and the DoD proposal accused China of predatory economic practices to secure its dominance in the rare earth elements market.

U.S. workers hit McDonald’s with class action over COVID-19 safety

(Reuters) – Five McDonald’s (MCD.N) workers in Chicago filed a class action lawsuit against the chain on Tuesday, accusing it of failing to adopt government safety guidance on COVID-19 and endangering employees and their families.

McDonald’s failed to provide adequate hand sanitizer, gloves and masks and has not notified its staff when an employee has become infected with the new coronavirus, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by a spokesman for the workers.

McDonald’s said in a statement that the allegations were inaccurate and that safety, including wellness checks and protective gear, was a top priority.

The workers requested the Illinois state court issue an injunction, which would make McDonald’s stop requiring workers to reuse masks, mandate face coverings for customers and require the company to inform employees if a coworker becomes infected.

Separately, McDonald’s workers at three California locations on Tuesday filed administrative actions over allegedly unsafe conditions with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Employees at restaurants, warehouses and other essential businesses that remained open during the COVID-19 outbreak have protested and walked off the job over fears of getting sick.

Trade groups have warned of a wave of litigation over the pandemic, but few cases have been filed.

Retailer Walmart Inc (WMT.N) and meat producers JBS SA (JBSS3.SA) and Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) were each sued over employee deaths from COVID-19.

Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] was sued by a workers group demanding safety measures in a lawsuit that, like the McDonald’s case, alleged the company was a public nuisance.

The Smithfield case was quickly dismissed because the judge said workplace conditions were a matter for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor.

New Jersey gym owners who reopened in violation of governor’s orders receive summons

Cops issued a summons to the owners of a New Jersey gym that flouted Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home regulations to reopen Monday morning — but the owners still plan to keep their business running.

The disorderly conduct summons, issued to Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti on Monday afternoon, did not specify the penalty — but state law indicates the offense could land them six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Camden County gave the order for the summons, which was delivered by Bellmawr police, according to a man who answered the phone at the gym.

“We’re assuming that came down from the governor,” he said. “It’s my assumption.”

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Gym-goers and supporters gathered outside were asked to disperse, which they did.

“I think it was important we show some faith because this was never a battle with law enforcement,” the man said. “We complied with that, we had the crowd disperse.”

The gym will open again Tuesday, he added.

Hours earlier, the owners had hoped they were in the clear.

Two Bellmawr police officers, wearing masks, came to the door of the Atilis Gym shortly after 10 a.m. and asked to speak with Smith and Trumbetti.

“We are and were only here for everybody’s safety today,” one officer said, addressing the owners and the crowd. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best, and it seems like that’s what we have out here today. Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order. On that note, have a good day, everybody be safe.”

The owners hugged each other, and more than 100 people crowding the gym’s parking lot high-fived each other and cheered, “USA! USA!,” “Freedom!” and “We won!”

“[The officers] actually surprised the hell out of me,” Trumbetti told WCAU. “[They] did their job and upheld their oath … and know that we are not doing anything wrong.”

Earlier in the morning, Bellmawr authorities and New Jersey State Police used their own cruisers, as well as Department of Public Works vehicles, to block some entrances in an attempt to limit the number of people entering the gym.

People were able to enter through another doorway.

Trumbetti urged other businesses to follow in the gym’s footsteps, but “make sure you’re compliant, you can’t just open up and be a rebel,” he added.

The gym has taken several precautions, including taking temperatures at the door and spacing equipment about 10 feet apart.

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Brazil lets Cuban doctors resume work amid coronavirus struggle

Doctors who stayed after Havana cancelled a programme helping Brazil’s healthcare system receive new medical licenses.

Brazil has rehired 157 Cuban doctors to help fight a surge in coronavirus cases, a year and a half after Havana ended a medical assistance programme over a dispute with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

The doctors, who had opted to stay in Brazil after the Cuban government pulled the plug on the programme, received new medical licenses on Monday from the Brazilian health ministry, which sought to round up reinforcements for the overstretched healthcare system.

Brazil wants to ensure medical care even in remote areas, where Cuban doctors were deployed when Havana’s programme was in force in the country. More Cuban doctors are expected to follow the first batch and acquire medical licenses in Brazil.

Mais Medicos (More Doctors) is the programme under which Cuba sent more than 8,000 doctors to work in under-served public clinics and hospitals in Brazil.

Launched in 2013 under Brazil’s then-left-wing government, the programme became a top target for far-right leader Bolsonaro, who compared it with “slavery” and called Cuba a “dictatorship” during his 2018 presidential campaign.

Cuba’s communist government, fiercely proud of its vaunted health system and medical diplomacy, angrily pulled its doctors out of Brazil in November 2018, shortly before Bolsonaro took office.

Many opted to stay

However, hundreds chose to stay, in some cases because they had married and started families in Brazil.

They lost their licenses to practice medicine, and have in many cases been stuck working odd jobs to survive.

Brazil has the third-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world after the United States and Russia.

It has registered more than 255,000 cases and 18,000 deaths from COVID-19, though experts say under-testing means the real figures could be much more.

The Brazilian state of Sao Paulo has already surpassed China in the number of deaths.

Bolsonaro has compared the novel coronavirus with a “little flu” and condemned the “hysteria” surrounding it.

However, with many hospitals near breaking point, his government decided in March to bring in extra medical personnel as reinforcements, now extended to include the Cuban doctors.


Louisiana cop fired for racist coronavirus Facebook post

A white Louisiana police officer is out of a job for a racist Facebook post in which he allegedly suggested it was “unfortunate” that the coronavirus pandemic had not killed off black people, officials said.

Kaplan Police Officer Steven Aucoin was fired after an investigation into the hateful social media post, department officials announced Friday.

“We are writing this to inform everyone that we were made aware of the situation with the comments on Facebook from Steven Aucoin,” a police statement read. “Chief [Joshua] Hardy had the incident looked into and the officer was terminated. Chief Hardy and the Kaplan Police Department would like to apologize for the matter.”

The department did not detail exactly what Aucoin wrote, but Hardy told KATC the officer insinuated he thought it was “unfortunate” that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak had not killed off all black people.

“I don’t tolerate behavior like that in my department,” Hardy said. “It’s very unbecoming of a police officer, or any person for that matter, to make a comment like that.”

Aucoin previously worked as an officer in Kaplan for eight months before leaving the department for a job in the oil business. He then returned to work as a patrol officer three months ago, Hardy said.

Aucoin’s troubling Facebook comment was made as he argued with another woman on a local news story about the coronavirus. The officer was later fired for violating the department’s social media policy, Hardy said.

“Police officers are held to a higher standard and should not be acting that way,” the chief continued. “But sometimes you really don’t know who a person is until you’re around them for a while.”

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Germany’s Parliament rules out US claim damages to China

Berlin, May 18 (Prensa Latina) The Scientific Service of Germany’s Parliament declared the US claim damages to China inapplicable for the economic aftermaths of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, the question of guilt for the pandemic outbreak has not been clarified, according to the document, which Prensa Latina had access to.

Bundestag experts and other specialists in international law have concluded that there is no legal basis for Washington’s claims or possibilities of execution.

Up to date, there have been nearly 4.8 million Covid-19 cases and 316,000 deaths from Covid-19 or associated diseases.

Under no circumstances does the US could impose sanctions on China through the UN Security Council, since the country belongs to this body as a veto power.

Washington and Beijing would have to agree to a settlement of the dispute by the United Nations Security Council, which has this role under the UN Charter.

If that is not successful, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres could offer his services as a mediator.

However, if the US government, under the leadership of Donald Trump, were to impose unilateral sanctions on China, ‘in all likelihood China would respond to it with appropriate countermeasures,’ says the German parliament’s document.

Legal control of that sanctions war would hardly be possible, according to the Bundestag Scientific Service: an exchange of blows between the superpowers ‘would probably never be reviewed by the International Court of Justice for lack of jurisdiction.’

The German federal government had already rejected Trump’s demands for compensation in late April.

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