Arlene Violet: Change should be in the air

By Arlene Violet
Posted 5/29/20

Change should be in the air with how our country does some business in the future. Clearly, the United States was at the mercy of receiving supplies from other countries after a reasonable stockpile …

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Arlene Violet: Change should be in the air


Change should be in the air with how our country does some business in the future. Clearly, the United States was at the mercy of receiving supplies from other countries after a reasonable stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) was ignored. The risks that health care workers faced by reusing masks and gowns should never happen again.

Pandemics aren’t that unusual anymore. SARS and HIV were recent precursors. Citizens also had to rely on face masks primarily from China unless they made their own. The country needs to fix the shortages of N65 and N95 masks and other protection by utilizing a system of procurement and an emergency stockpile along with manufacturing these products, including testing supplies. The states should not be in competition with each other in securing necessary and vital supplies.

At present the federal governments “hands off’ on procurement of PPE creates market manipulation by foreign entities. A new model of manufacturing these vital goods within this country needs to be implemented forthwith.
Right around the corner is the next problem of rare earth mineral shortages which while present in the United States are owned by foreign companies. Neodymium, praseodymium, lanthanum, cerium and other elements so necessary for manufacturing are controlled by China, for example, through Chinese companies even when the supply is located in the United States (Bloomberg Businessweek, May 11, 2020).

Neodymium is used to create powerful magnets which are used in computers, cell phones, medical equipment, motors, wind turbines, etc. Praseodymium is an alloying agent which helps to create high-strength metals in aircraft engines. Without getting too heady here, the reality is that these elements, while existing on this country’s turf, are mined and controlled by another country. Until recently, China had imposed restrictions that sent prices spiraling out of control for minerals present here. Sometime in the next year a California plant will come onboard, but other home-based mining must come on line to reduce dependence.

There isn’t much of a silver lining to the Covid-19 epidemic but one benefit might just be the wake-up call to ensure that the United States regains its resilience and future as the world’s largest economy. Whether it is making an electric car or a ballistic missile, the above key mineral components for their manufacture shouldn’t be in the hands of a foreign government. Public health, in particular, shouldn’t be dependent upon other countries, whether it is for protective gear or vaccines.

Of course, this manufacturing output should be shared with other countries along with meeting the needs of our citizens. This country is a member of a global society and has an obligation to share its bounty at a fair price. What shouldn’t be a policy any longer, however, is depending upon the largesse of outside countries to do the right thing and extend its present manufacturing leadership with the United States, particularly in a crisis.

The public has little idea about how much the public health and welfare in the states is dependent on the largesse of others at present. Covid-19 has given a brief glimpse into this one-sided dependency. Now that we have gotten the warning the public should demand governmental policies to spur our own manufacturing of these vital products.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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