China to start hoarding rare metals?

A disturbing report from The Telegraph suggests that China may soon cut off the world's supply of the metals needed for many modern electronics:

A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.

China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.[...]

New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.

 Danger Room's Nathan Hodge comments:

[I]t’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. [...]

Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.

As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”



State Department struggles to clear interns

On Sunday, the NYT's Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House's incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.

This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn't that reassuring? 

Even less reassuring is David Herbert's report in the National Journal that the State Department struggling to get security clearances for its interns in time for the periods they were supposed to be working.

One would-be intern, a graduate student at Tufts, came to Washington in May for a summer gig working on development issues. But he never got his security clearance and never started his internship. He's driving home to New York today after spending a frustrating summer spent calling his congressmen for help and wondering what happened.

"With the clearance process, as an applicant, you don't know anything," he said.

Not only are some going home without ever starting, the State Department actually takes this into account when choosing its number of interns. Don't we need to attract more talent into civil service, not scare it off with bureaucracy?

Even worse, the prospective interns most likely to run into delays are those who have spent time living or studying overseas, according to Daniel Hirsch, co-founder of Concerned Foreign Service Officers:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which handles clearances, farms out most investigations to contractors, who are more efficient at processing applications than the bureau's agents, he said. But when an applicant has lived or traveled extensively overseas (as Buniewicz and others interviewed have), Diplomatic Security (DS) takes over. "Most DS agents consider [personnel security background investigations] to be beneath them, and security clearance investigations are a very low priority item for most overseas DS agents, so they probably sit on the back burner for a while," Hirsch said. 

So it is harder to get an early jump on a career at the State Department if you already have international experience. No wonder Paul Farmer gave up on the bureaucratic route.

As a side note, why do interns require such significant security checks? The old joke about interns running everything notwithstanding, are they really handling that much classified material? Any State interns out there, let us know. 

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