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National Industries Group
22 января, 09:28

Exclusive: California gas leak spotlights shoddy regulation of aging storage wells

(Reuters) - Long before a natural gas storage well sprung a disastrous leak near Los Angeles, California, utilities and national industry groups were raising alarms about the danger of aging underground storage infrastructure.

01 апреля 2015, 02:52

Stop Playing 'Whack-A-Mole' With Toxic Flame Retardants, Health Advocates Urge

As the public has learned of health risks tied to chemicals in everyday products, many companies have responded by eliminating, one by one, the suspected cancer causers, brain damagers and hormone disruptors. But even prompt action doesn't entirely appease some health experts, who warn of a problematic pattern. "We're playing toxic whack-a-mole," said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute. "When after a great deal of research and testing, a chemical is found to be harmful, then the tendency is to replace it with as similar a chemical as possible. That's the easiest thing to do." History has shown, however, that the substitutes may prove equally harmful. Take, for example, the widespread replacement of bisphenol A with bisphenol S in products such as hard plastic water bottles and cash register receipts. New research suggests the latter chemical may be just as harmful to human health. On Tuesday, a coalition of medical, consumer and worker safety groups attempted to halt this cycle for flame retardants. Led by Blum's institute and Earthjustice, they produced a petition asking federal regulators to block an entire class of the chemical concoctions called organohalogens from their widespread use in four categories of consumer products. When Congress banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 1977 due to health concerns, the flame retardant industry replaced them with a chemical cousin, polybrominated diphenyl ether. When PBDE was discovered to be just as toxic, it was phased out in 2005, and the industry looked again for easily swappable substitutes to continue meeting flammability standards. Among the popular picks were chlorinated Tris and Firemaster 550, both of which have now been linked with their own growing lists of health concerns, including heart disease, obesity and cancer. All of these chemicals are organohalogens, still the most common class of flame retardant additive. They can migrate out of consumer products to permeate, and persist in, the environment -- riding house dust, even infiltrating jars of peanut butter and the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans. "The evidence is quite convincing that exposure in the womb to these flame retardants causes brain damage, lower IQs and persistent behavior problems in children," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "It's just been one bad actor after another," added Landrigan, who signed the petition. "You'd think we'd be smart enough to do a little better." In addition to developing fetuses and young children -- the latter of whom tend to crawl on dust-laden floors and put their hands in their mouths -- chemical and manufacturing workers and firefighters are at increased risk from exposure to flame retardants. Tuesday's petition, aimed at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, targets four categories of consumer goods: children's products, furniture, mattresses and the casings around electronics. While chemicals themselves are generally under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, they enter the CPSC's domain as part of a consumer product. "This falls squarely within what CPSC is set up to do. They have the authority," said Eve Gartner, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. "In some ways, products with these flame retardants are like toys with small parts. They have inherent dangers. There's not really anything consumers can do to protect themselves against these chemicals." Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman, noted that the commission had received the petition. The next step, he said, is determining whether it "meets the requirements set out in the Commission's petition regulations." "CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye has said publicly that in the course of CPSC's work on issues like preparing a federal standard for upholstered furniture (which is ongoing), he does not want children to be exposed to harmful flame retardants," said Wolfson in an email. He highlighted previous comments in which Kaye had lamented the lack of a "clear, systematic and holistic organization or plan to the way federal agencies are tasked with studying the basic toxicity and exposure scenarios of chemicals." That, combined with a "severe lack of federal funding as well as authorities to quickly and comprehensively address chemical toxicity and exposure," said Kaye, has forced agencies, including the CPSC, to "proceed in piecemeal fashion." The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, criticized the petition. "It's unfortunate these groups are presenting families with the false choice between chemical safety and fire safety when we can have both," the national industry group said in a statement. "Flame retardants have been proven to be a critical component of fire safety and can help save lives." "This petition unfortunately lumps together a broad range of substances with different properties and uses without any consideration of their individual safety or benefits," added Bryan Goodman, a spokesman with the American Chemistry Council, in an email. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, shared a similar concern about the petition's broad reach. "I'm not a big fan of flame retardants being used," she said. "But I think a blanket banning of anything with a halogen on it may not be the best approach." Birnbaum suggested there might be some circumstances in which certain organohalogen chemicals may still prove critical for fire safety. "And I'm not convinced that some of the non-halogenated flame retardants are any better," she said. While organohalogens still make up the majority of flame retardants in consumer products, another class -- phosphates -- is coming into use. Blum noted that these chemicals, too, are "looking worrisome." Yet she added that there was not yet enough evidence regarding their toxicity to add them to the petition. Health experts and advocates seem to agree that before looking for a safer alternative, manufacturers should determine if a substitute is even necessary. Can a couch -- or mattress or children's toy -- be constructed differently so that chemical additives aren't needed in the first place? It turns out that flame retardants added to furniture may not actually slow fires. Spurred in part by mounting evidence of health problems associated with flame retardant additives, as well as a Chicago Tribune investigation that found the additives may offer no meaningful fire protection, the state of California last year revised its Technical Bulletin 117 to remove a decades-old requirement that flame retardants be included in the stuffing of upholstered furniture. The state rule, which became the de facto standard for the rest of the nation, meant use of the chemicals flourished for years. However, as Blum noted, California's updated standard still does not forbid flame retardants outright. How a CPSC ban on organohalogens would affect the furniture industry, one of the major users of flame retardants, is not yet clear. "We have just become aware of this petition and have not had the opportunity to fully investigate its potential impact on our industry," said Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Association, which has previously opposed measures that could increase chemical risks to its customers or employees. Organohalogen flame retardants are the first of six entire classes of chemicals that Blum and her colleagues intend to address. This broader approach, they argue, could prove a more effective way to increase the chemical safety of household products. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the EPA has banned just five chemicals and has required testing for only about 200 of the more than 80,000 permitted for use in the United States. A bipartisan bill unveiled in Congress earlier this month shows some promise of reforming the outdated law. Yet the legislation has also set off heated debate. Some public health advocates warn, for example, that a federal law could stymie swifter chemical safety efforts by states, several of which have already proposed bans on flame retardants. "Bans take a really long time. TSCA reform is taking a really long time," said Blum. "And then there are so many chemicals and so much testing that needs to be done. So let's find a way to act on what we know, rather than wait for such a long time for a process that may or may not turn out to be effective."

01 апреля 2015, 02:52

Stop Playing 'Whack-A-Mole' With Toxic Flame Retardants, Health Advocates Urge

As the public has learned of health risks tied to chemicals in everyday products, many companies have responded by eliminating, one by one, the suspected cancer causers, brain damagers and hormone disruptors. But even prompt action doesn't entirely appease some health experts, who warn of a problematic pattern. "We're playing toxic whack-a-mole," said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute. "When after a great deal of research and testing, a chemical is found to be harmful, then the tendency is to replace it with as similar a chemical as possible. That's the easiest thing to do." History has shown, however, that the substitutes may prove equally harmful. Take, for example, the widespread replacement of bisphenol A with bisphenol S in products such as hard plastic water bottles and cash register receipts. New research suggests the latter chemical may be just as harmful to human health. On Tuesday, a coalition of medical, consumer and worker safety groups attempted to halt this cycle for flame retardants. Led by Blum's institute and Earthjustice, they produced a petition asking federal regulators to block an entire class of the chemical concoctions called organohalogens from their widespread use in four categories of consumer products. When Congress banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 1977 due to health concerns, the flame retardant industry replaced them with a chemical cousin, polybrominated diphenyl ether. When PBDE was discovered to be just as toxic, it was phased out in 2005, and the industry looked again for easily swappable substitutes to continue meeting flammability standards. Among the popular picks were chlorinated Tris and Firemaster 550, both of which have now been linked with their own growing lists of health concerns, including heart disease, obesity and cancer. All of these chemicals are organohalogens, still the most common class of flame retardant additive. They can migrate out of consumer products to permeate, and persist in, the environment -- riding house dust, even infiltrating jars of peanut butter and the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans. "The evidence is quite convincing that exposure in the womb to these flame retardants causes brain damage, lower IQs and persistent behavior problems in children," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "It's just been one bad actor after another," added Landrigan, who signed the petition. "You'd think we'd be smart enough to do a little better." In addition to developing fetuses and young children -- the latter of whom tend to crawl on dust-laden floors and put their hands in their mouths -- chemical and manufacturing workers and firefighters are at increased risk from exposure to flame retardants. Tuesday's petition, aimed at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, targets four categories of consumer goods: children's products, furniture, mattresses and the casings around electronics. While chemicals themselves are generally under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, they enter the CPSC's domain as part of a consumer product. "This falls squarely within what CPSC is set up to do. They have the authority," said Eve Gartner, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. "In some ways, products with these flame retardants are like toys with small parts. They have inherent dangers. There's not really anything consumers can do to protect themselves against these chemicals." Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman, noted that the commission had received the petition. The next step, he said, is determining whether it "meets the requirements set out in the Commission's petition regulations." "CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye has said publicly that in the course of CPSC's work on issues like preparing a federal standard for upholstered furniture (which is ongoing), he does not want children to be exposed to harmful flame retardants," said Wolfson in an email. He highlighted previous comments in which Kaye had lamented the lack of a "clear, systematic and holistic organization or plan to the way federal agencies are tasked with studying the basic toxicity and exposure scenarios of chemicals." That, combined with a "severe lack of federal funding as well as authorities to quickly and comprehensively address chemical toxicity and exposure," said Kaye, has forced agencies, including the CPSC, to "proceed in piecemeal fashion." The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, criticized the petition. "It's unfortunate these groups are presenting families with the false choice between chemical safety and fire safety when we can have both," the national industry group said in a statement. "Flame retardants have been proven to be a critical component of fire safety and can help save lives." "This petition unfortunately lumps together a broad range of substances with different properties and uses without any consideration of their individual safety or benefits," added Bryan Goodman, a spokesman with the American Chemistry Council, in an email. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, shared a similar concern about the petition's broad reach. "I'm not a big fan of flame retardants being used," she said. "But I think a blanket banning of anything with a halogen on it may not be the best approach." Birnbaum suggested there might be some circumstances in which certain organohalogen chemicals may still prove critical for fire safety. "And I'm not convinced that some of the non-halogenated flame retardants are any better," she said. While organohalogens still make up the majority of flame retardants in consumer products, another class -- phosphates -- is coming into use. Blum noted that these chemicals, too, are "looking worrisome." Yet she added that there was not yet enough evidence regarding their toxicity to add them to the petition. Health experts and advocates seem to agree that before looking for a safer alternative, manufacturers should determine if a substitute is even necessary. Can a couch -- or mattress or children's toy -- be constructed differently so that chemical additives aren't needed in the first place? It turns out that flame retardants added to furniture may not actually slow fires. Spurred in part by mounting evidence of health problems associated with flame retardant additives, as well as a Chicago Tribune investigation that found the additives may offer no meaningful fire protection, the state of California last year revised its Technical Bulletin 117 to remove a decades-old requirement that flame retardants be included in the stuffing of upholstered furniture. The state rule, which became the de facto standard for the rest of the nation, meant use of the chemicals flourished for years. However, as Blum noted, California's updated standard still does not forbid flame retardants outright. How a CPSC ban on organohalogens would affect the furniture industry, one of the major users of flame retardants, is not yet clear. "We have just become aware of this petition and have not had the opportunity to fully investigate its potential impact on our industry," said Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Association, which has previously opposed measures that could increase chemical risks to its customers or employees. Organohalogen flame retardants are the first of six entire classes of chemicals that Blum and her colleagues intend to address. This broader approach, they argue, could prove a more effective way to increase the chemical safety of household products. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the EPA has banned just five chemicals and has required testing for only about 200 of the more than 80,000 permitted for use in the United States. A bipartisan bill unveiled in Congress earlier this month shows some promise of reforming the outdated law. Yet the legislation has also set off heated debate. Some public health advocates warn, for example, that a federal law could stymie swifter chemical safety efforts by states, several of which have already proposed bans on flame retardants. "Bans take a really long time. TSCA reform is taking a really long time," said Blum. "And then there are so many chemicals and so much testing that needs to be done. So let's find a way to act on what we know, rather than wait for such a long time for a process that may or may not turn out to be effective."

17 апреля 2014, 19:48

Investing in Skills to Build a Secure Middle Class

In today's economy, access to training for in-demand jobs can help American workers punch their tickets to the middle class, and it can help American businesses continue to grow. However, as our economy continues to expand, too many businesses can't find the skilled workers they need, and too many people don't know how to access training that can help them find good jobs. The good news is that we have an invaluable resource that can help deliver the world-class job training that prepares workers for the jobs that need to be filled: our community college system. Community colleges provide higher education where people live, helping to build strong ladders of opportunity that allow people to secure a foothold in the middle class. That's why President Obama and Vice President Biden went to the Community College of Allegheny County outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., this week to announce the fourth and final round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, known as TAACCCT.  From the outset, the Obama administration has recognized that building a robust skills infrastructure means building strong partnerships with community colleges. Since 2011, the U.S. Labor Department has invested nearly $1.5 billion through the TAACCCT program to strengthen the links between community colleges, employers, and the public workforce system to create pipelines of skilled workers. These regional partnerships are essential to growing the economy, strengthening the workforce and creating opportunity in the 21st century. The Community College of Allegheny County was part of a statewide consortium that received $20 million in the first round of funding to expand training in advanced manufacturing, energy distribution and healthcare technology. To date, more than 2,200 students have enrolled in the school's training programs, which is one of more than 800 colleges across the country that have received funding. The department is now making an additional $450 million available to help community colleges expand their capacity to train workers for 21st-century jobs. The funding will make sure adult learners are getting the credentials and the certifications that will allow them to move into jobs that actually exist in their communities. Community colleges across the country can apply for funding, and every state will receive at least $2.25 million for community college career training programs. In this fourth round of funding, we are focusing on expanding best practices from previous rounds −- scaling up what works in local areas to state-wide partnerships. We're also focused on expanding partnerships with national industry groups, ensuring that education and training pathways can build on each other, and improving statewide employment and education data integration. Grant applicants that address these priorities may be eligible for additional funding. TAACCCT is making a profound difference in people's lives. Since I started in this job, I've had the chance to visit a handful of colleges around the country and meet some amazing people like Ken Dover, Gary Pollard and Sheri Dron who are using these innovative training programs to build a better future for themselves. I can't wait to see what this next round will bring. Join the conversation about job training using the hashtag #FindYourPath.

19 сентября 2013, 03:15

The National Hockey League's Stunning Metamorphosis Begins With Bettman's Resiliency

In the midst of America’s unadulterated obsession with the National Football League, 30 National Hockey League teams quietly reported to training camps on September 11th for physicals and the start of a season free of labor strife and discord. The new 10 year Collective Bargaining Agreement ended a 113 day lockout that led to a 720 game regular season schedule over 99 days. Instead of focusing on how to split Hockey Related Revenues (HRR), the length of individual player contracts and compensation structures, hockey fans are beaming with optimism that the 2013-2014 season will be memorable for a variety of reasons.   Since Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews raised the Stanley Cup over his head in June after a compelling six game series against the Boston Bruins, the National Hockey League has experienced a busy summer filled with intriguing business transactions, an unexpected retirement and significant modifications to the sport’s six division structure. Besides the sale of the New Jersey Devils to Josh Harris and David Blitzer in August for an estimated $320 million, the Phoenix Coyotes were also sold during the same month to a group of investors led by Canadian businessmen George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc for $170 million. Recently, Harris publically stated that one of his primary motives for purchasing the Devils was to acquire the Prudential Center. The new Chief Executive Officer of the Devils, Scott O’Neil, has also discussed the significance of the six-year old arena. On multiple occasions over the past week, O’Neil has stated the Prudential Center is the fourth highest grossing arena in the United States right behind the Barclays Center, Staples Center and Madison Square Garden.   The New York Islanders’ eventual move to the Barclays Center in 2015 has been common knowledge throughout the sports industry since last fall. However, the August selection of Bruce Ratner’s Nassau Events Center, LLC to renovate and redevelop the dilapidated Nassau Coliseum does provide some consolation for fans who are still dealing with the tragic loss of their beloved team to the borough of Brooklyn. According to the lease between Nassau County and Nassau Events Center, LLC, the Islanders are expected to play at least four regular season games and two preseason games annually over a ten year period. On top of that, the Islanders will host two open practices and four training camp days per season during the aforementioned period of time. Even though the Islanders will be calling Brooklyn their home in a couple of years, it appears as if their roots will still be firmly planted in Nassau County.     Ilya Kovalchuk’s sudden retirement from the National Hockey League stunned the New Jersey Devils and the hockey industry this past July. The 30 year old left winger signed a four year contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League while leaving behind 12 years and $77 million on a 15 year, $100 million contract that he had signed with the Devils in 2010. The estimated average annual value of $6.4 million over the final 12 years of the contract would have expired at the conclusion of the 2024-2025 season when Kovalchuk would have been 41 years old. The National Hockey League has also embarked upon an aggressive initiative to realign the divisions based on geography. The introduction of the four new divisions (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific) and the unbalanced conferences is a logical move that could provide the sport with immediate dividends. The Detroit Red Wings are now an Eastern Conference team playing out of the Atlantic Division. Instead of remaining in the Western Conference and consistently traveling to cities in different time zones such as Vancouver, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas, the Red Wings can now embark upon new rivalries that are geographically appealing.  The incorporation of a wild card system into the revised playoff format will undoubtedly add excitement for the teams fighting for one of the final four playoff spots.

18 сентября 2013, 18:00

Military Leadership Lessons for Training Doctors

Elite medical training programs proudly proclaim that they are preparing future healthcare leaders. But with their focus on clinical disease management and research, training programs actually offer little in the way of true leadership training – authentic experience that helps young doctors develop the leadership skills they will need. To address this gap, the Vanderbilt Department of Otolaryngology developed a 4-year program that consists of selected Naval ROTC leadership topics, public speaking training, a micro-MBA course, and a capstone leadership project on community disease prevention that puts students into leadership roles. When I describe this program I get a lot of questions about the military portion. Why reach out to the ROTC? Medicine and the military seem to reside in opposite worlds, the former devoted to saving lives and the latter, when called upon, to ending them. Yet, both are made up of large, complex organizations with clear leadership needs at many levels. The military is highly disciplined in its leadership training, understanding that leadership skills aren’t automatically endowed upon joining the organization. Medicine, contrastingly, assumes that its intelligent, industrious providers will somehow evolve into leaders as circumstances require, but without formal leadership training. So, we contacted the ROTC to see what we could learn from them. Over the course of a year, we learned a lot about how the Navy trains leaders, and have incorporated many military training strategies into the leadership education for our young otolaryngology trainees. Several lessons have emerged from this experiment that are applicable in medical training and, indeed, throughout health care. Lesson 1: Medicine must increase its focus on fundamental communication skills. Young recruits entering the Navy are often unskilled in (or unaware of) the basic interpersonal social graces that enhance relationships. Sailors are taught to stand when someone enters the room, to shake hands and make eye contact, to use polite greetings like “sir” and “ma’am,” and to listen attentively. Young doctors typically receive little such training. Any patient can tell you that health care providers are uneven at best in their greeting and communication skills. Health care leaders, and indeed any provider, must communicate well both verbally and non-verbally. But these days harried providers often make more eye contact with a computer screen than with the patient and family. Providers also increasingly must communicate with groups ranging from internal stakeholders to large audiences at external meetings. Yet doctors rarely receive training in public speaking – and it shows. What we do now:  To build skills in one-on-one communication, we train our residents using paid actors as simulated patients. To enhance presentation ability, we have added an eight-hour course in public speaking to our curriculum. Lesson 2: Medicine needs to expand selection criteria for promotion and train individuals to take on the next responsibility. When Navy personnel — having been evaluated frequently according to a standardized method — receive a promotion, they are considered unprepared to assume the new command. As one ROTC trainer explained,  “When you are promoted on a Friday afternoon, nothing magical happens over the weekend to make you smarter, richer, better looking – or a better leader — by Monday morning”.  For each promotion, the Navy sends the individual for additional training, customized for the new position, before he or she assumes the new role. Medicine’s promotion tracks are currently structured for success in research, educational and/or clinical skills; promotion is not based on pre-eminence in managerial or leadership skills.  Even a full professor typically remains ignorant of vital skills related to organizational behavior, operations management, finance and strategy. And no tailored management or leadership training is regularly offered for physicians who become departmental service chiefs, chairs or deans, or who assume hospital executive roles. What we do now: We have added an 18-hour micro-MBA course for our resident trainees that exposes them to senior administrators from national healthcare organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Partners HealthCare, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The coursecovers topics including healthcare policy, finance, and organizational culture as well as decision making (led by an Air Force colonel) and conflict resolution (led by a minister). Importantly, in each of the past 4 years one faculty or staff member has matriculated for a master’s degree in healthcare management. Lesson 3: Medicine must embrace checklists and debriefings to improve safety. In an earlier time, a persistent level of naval aviation accidental injury and death seemed inevitable.  Unwilling to accept its accident rate, the Navy introduced pre-flight checklists and post-flight debriefings for every flight – and accident rates have fallen. Although conscious efforts to improve quality and safety in medicine are under way, checklists in medicine are still novel; debriefings, regrettably, mainly occur only in response to poor outcomes. What we do now:  To teach us about their method, our ROTC team entered the room in flight suits and reenacted the lengthy processes of checklist and debriefing as it would happen on an aircraft carrier. Knowing that surgeons only erratically conduct organized postoperative debriefings, we are creating a formal debriefing program and our faculty and trainees have already have begun impromptu post-operative performance conversations after most surgical procedures. Lesson 4: Medicine needs to reflect on perpetuation. Our ROTC collaborators advanced the surprising opinion that the sole role of the Navy was not the defense of the nation. Instead, they posited that the Navy’s equally important role is perpetuation of the organization so that the future national defense never will be in peril. Perpetuation requires training to be continually upgraded to anticipate future needs. Medicine largely trains using classroom educational models developed a century ago – a tired didactic methodology based mainly on the lecture format (plus our still-successful experiential methodology based on active participation in the clinics and operating rooms). What we do now: Our Otolaryngology training program has revitalized the traditional didactic training program and uses educational methods pioneered in business schools to de-emphasize lectures and promote active team learning, using Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives as an intellectual platform. Our program is a work in progress, but we have early indications of success.  For example, this year our residents have undertaken a capstone project that tests their leadership skills. Residents divide into teams and work with Vanderbilt undergraduates, primary care physicians, and others on population-health projects focused on preventing head and neck cancers.  They must define their goal, determine performance measures, find and engage allies, create budgets, and publicly report their results, using the tools they’ve acquired through the program. Our annual resident rankings on a standardized national survey reveal a 100% satisfaction with our training approach, compared to the national average of 74%. In an anonymous vote last year, the residents unanimously supported an acceleration and expansion of the changes we’ve begun – despite the increased workload they represent. We are fortunate that our resident-level training efforts are aligned within our larger medical school culture since the wrong culture can eat the best strategy. Any group working to implement leadership training within a healthcare organization must be mindful of the broader organizational culture and be prepared to overcome inertia (and sometimes active resistance) in order to effect behavior change. That, after all, is what the best leaders do. Follow the Leading Health Care Innovation insight center on Twitter @HBRhealth. E-mail us at [email protected], and sign up to receive updates here. Leading Health Care Innovation From the Editors of Harvard Business Review and the New England Journal of Medicine Leading Health Care Innovation: Editor’s Welcome Why Health Care Is Stuck — And How to Fix It Getting Real About Health Care Value Understanding the Drivers of Patient Experience  

18 сентября 2013, 02:42

Afghanistan: Cannabis and Opium Business

Follow ZeroHedge in Real-Time on FinancialJuice Production of cannabis in Afghanistan has increased again according to estimates that have been published for 2012 and the business is now worth $65 million a year. That’s a drop in the ocean maybe in monetary terms but it shows what has happened to the economy of Afghanistan. Afghan farmland might have been destroyed last year where the farmer had turned to growing more-money-spinning cannabis rather than crops, but it was a bumper year for production in 2012. Therefore, despite the destruction of that land, production actually increased. Cannabis The number of hectares fell from 1, 000 to just a tenth of that in 2012 in the southern province of Uruzgan as it saw a crack-down by the authorities for fear that it was financing the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist groups. Overall the resin yields are astonishingly high in Afghanistan compared to the rest of the world’s cannabis-producing nations. Morocco produces 36kg per hectare while Afghanistan turns out 145kg per hectare. Afghanistan is at the top of the list for cannabis production and has been now since 2009. There are 10, 000 to 24, 000 hectares that are dedicated to the production of cannabis in Afghanistan alone today. Afghanistan produces roughly 1, 400 tons of cannabis and that netted $65 million last year. The previous year had seen a smaller crop and yet due to the fact that prices were higher then it brought in around $100 million.   Cannabis in the USA The statistics are telling signs of the consumption in the West. Over 24% of the US population has consumed cannabis at some time in the past year. Over 12% of Canadians have consumed the substance in the past twelve months also. 2.5% of the world population consumes cannabis. By comparison 0.2% consumes cocaine. But, if we look at the number of people that have consumed the substance at one time in their lives, then it’s Canada that comes out in first place, with 44.5% of the total population. The USA is the second country in the world that has 42.4% of the population that has at one time consumed the substance during their lives.  USA Cannabis Legality Cannabis is decriminalized today (although illegal according to federal law) in many states in the USA and not just for medical use. Opium But cannabis is nothing compared to the world’s largest producer ofopium in the world. Afghanistan produces approximately 90% - 92% of the opium that is exported around the world. But opium and cannabis seem to be complimentary crops and farmers in Afghanistan produce opium and then harvest in time to be able to plant the cannabis on the same land in time for the summer months when cannabis is also right to harvest. Afghanistan has been the world’s leading opium producer since1992. It was only in 2001 that production fell due to the invasion of the country. However, since the US occupation of Afghanistan opium production has not ceased to increase consistently every single year. Thanks to US occupation and allied forces in the country against the ‘axis of evil’ that former President Bush declared between 2004 and 2007 there was more cultivation and production of opium than at any comparable year under the rule of the Taliban. Export value stands at roughly $4 billion today for the country. That is split between the farmers (who get approximately 25%) and the drug-traffickers or officials in the provinces (that get the 75% left). In fact, opium farming was reduced by 99% in an agreement with the United Nations under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. July 2000 saw Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of Afghanistan come to an agreement with the UN, declaring that it was un-Islamic to grow poppies for the production of opium. But the result was that the farmers simply stored their opium (which needs no special storage requirements at all) and then took advantage of the fact that prices increased due to the un-Islamic ban on the production. Was this market manipulation by the drug lords? Thanks largely to the war in 2001 and the invasion of the country causing large-scale scarcity of resources and a lack of any real economy, the Afghans turned once again to growing cannabis and opium. Today corrupt officials complacently let the farming continue just as long as they get the money in a big brown envelope at the end of the season. The US and the allied forces have also played their role in the production of cannabis and opium in Afghanistan. The drug barons and the warlords that largely control the production of narcotics in the country have been valuable assets over the past years to the US and the allied forces in providing intelligence information on the Taliban, for example. They have even participated actively in US military operations too. Is it surprising that the West has complacently accepted the help of the drug barons in Afghanistan in their fight against terrorism and yet at the same time made the Afghan economy dependent on the narcotics industry? Religion was once the opiate of the masses we were always led to believe. Now, it is the very same opium that has been turned into the religion of the people, to be worshipped on mass not only by the war lords and the drug barons or the farmers, but also by the rest of the world. Same thing, just the other way round, isn’t it? It’s still addiction. The global marijuana market today is worth an estimated $141.8 billion. The medical-marijuana market is set to top $9 billion in the USA alone by 2016. Septaper Will Open Floodgates | How Sinister is the State? | Food: Walking the Breadline | Obama NOT Worst President in reply to Obama: Worst President in US History?  Obama's Corporate Grand Bargain Death of the Dollar | Joseph Stiglitz was Right: Suicide | China Injects Cash in Bid to Improve Liquidity Technical Analysis: Bear Expanding Triangle | Bull Expanding Triangle | Bull Falling Wedge | Bear Rising Wedge | High & Tight Flag               

17 сентября 2013, 20:15

Understanding the Drivers of the Patient Experience

Many hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, are implementing a variety of strategies to improve the patient experience —an issue that’s rapidly becoming a top priority in health care. The Accountable Care Act now links performance related to patient-experience metrics to reimbursement. For the first time, the pay of hospitals and eventually individual providers will be partly based on how they are rated by patients. Few disagree on the importance and the need to be more patient centric, but what exactly is the “patient experience”? A 2012 industry survey asked top hospital leaders (CEOs, COOs, and others) what was necessary to improve the patient experience. The top six recommendations included: new facilities, private rooms, food on demand, bedside-interactive computers, unrestricted visiting hours, and more quiet time so patients could rest. There was one problem with them: They were not based on a systematic examination of what most patients really wanted. In other words, hospital executives wanted to focus on what they felt were important drivers of the patient experience but didn’t know for sure. To truly improve the patient experience, it is important to get the patient’s perspective. National trends in data on the U.S. patient experience suggest that some groups of patients regularly score their experiences higher than others. For example, surgical patients tend to give hospitals higher ratings than patients admitted with chronic medical conditions. Surgical patients may view or interpret their experience differently. Consider a patient who underwent surgery for a broken leg. If the patient receives high-quality health care (her leg was fixed, her questions were answered, she feels better, and she understood what was being done to her), she may not care whether she believed her providers were treating her with courtesy or respect or showed her compassion. Now consider a patient who consistently uses the health care system — someone with multiple, chronic medical conditions that remain incurable and are only treatable from a maintenance standpoint. If he doesn’t feel that his caregivers are compassionate, that may heavily influence his overall perception of the experience. Since his relationship with health care givers is more prolonged (or permanent), he may need more of the “human side” of caring. Why is it important for caregivers to know the drivers of patient experience? First, not being clear about the drivers can often be a significant barrier to launching a patient-experience initiative. Second, knowing the drivers helps leaders identify the most effective ways to achieve quick victories. Third, the economics of the levers is quite different. Improving some of these dimensions (such as providing private rooms) would be cost prohibitive for most hospitals. Others (such as improving communication between patients and caregivers) could reduce the overall cost of providing health care and also improve medical outcomes. Faced with the task of understanding the drivers of patient experience, health care organizations have taken — and can take — multiple approaches to discerning the drivers of patient experience. Below, we review briefly some of the innovative approaches to better understand patient needs that have been tried in various organizations, including the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Methodist Hospital in Houston, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, and the Cleveland Clinic. Create patient advisory councils. A very simple but effective approach in many contexts is to identify a group of patients that can act as the customers’ “voice” within the organizations. It is easy for an organization to lose touch with its customers’ evolving needs. Today, Voice of the Patient Advisory Councils are used at the Cleveland Clinic to ensure that the organization does not lose track of patients’ needs. Councils have assisted with redesigning waiting rooms, providing advice on improving the admission guide, and helping managers better understand communication needs in the hospital. Dig deeper into patients’ experiences. Hospitals can use data from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) — the patient-satisfaction surveys conducted for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — to compare how their performance compares with that of other U.S. hospitals. Hospitals can leverage the HCAHPS data better by both digging deeper into the data and paying attention to anecdotal comments and complaints. This allows hospitals to understand not only how their patients feel about their experience but also why they felt the way they did. Using such a process, the Cleveland Clinic found that patients were more satisfied when they had caregivers who smiled more. But when the Clinic dug deeper, it discovered that patients were not concerned about whether about their caregivers had happy expressions per se; rather, they were concerned when doctors’ and nurses’ had stern expressions because they interpreted them to mean that caregivers were concealing problems from them. This caused anxiety and, as a result, adversely affected patient satisfaction. Have leaders make regular rounds. At UCLA Medical Center, as well as other hospitals across the country, senior leaders (both clinical and non-clinical) make a habit of wandering throughout the hospital and talking to patients, their families, and caregivers (including physicians, nurses, food-service workers who deliver the meals, and environmental-service workers who clean the rooms. These rounds need to be done on a regular basis and at least once a month. Such direct contact provides leaders with a firsthand understanding of patient needs. This is important for two reasons. One, it is easy for leaders — even clinical leaders in hospitals who have direct patient contact in the normal course of performing their jobs — to lose touch with patient needs. Two, leadership rounds are an important means of exposing non-medical leaders in finance, operations, and other areas of the hospitals to the front lines of patient care. Finally, by regularly seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears what’s happening on the front lines of patient care, leaders can help identify problems and opportunities for improvement. Tell stories. There is nothing more moving than the incredible stories that patients relay about their experiences in the hospital. Sharing these stories — both good and bad — is important to employees. The good stories highlight the importance of their roles and demonstrate the incredible gratitude that patients have for their work. The bad stories often help explain the negative feelings about the hospital that some patients have. (At the Methodist Hospital in Houston, CEO Marc Bloom opens every meeting of the board of trustees by relaying a patient’s account of his or her stay. Sometimes it was good and sometimes bad.  At the end, he reminds everyone that “this is what we do.”) We are big fans of analyzing data to understand and improve patient experience. However, presentations that rely on excessive amounts of data can be dry and uninspiring. Conveying the same message through a well-told story can be powerful and inspirational. Also, storytelling can help strengthen caregivers’ emotional bonds with the organization and their jobs, which, in turn, can make it easier to engage employees in the organization’s mission to deliver world-class care to patients. Leaders of health care organizations in recent years have focused primarily on delivering superior medical outcomes at lower costs. In addition, they also need to focus on improving the patient experience. A poor experience compromises a hospital’s reputation among patients and other physicians and adversely affects employees’ engagement levels. Moreover, with the changes in the reimbursement policies in many countries, it can have a negative impact on a hospital’s economics. But improving the patient experience will be hard to do without a better understanding of what patients really want. We hope others will offer comments and share what they’ve learned from their own efforts to understand what drives patient satisfaction. Follow the Leading Health Care Innovation insight center on Twitter @HBRhealth. E-mail us at [email protected], and sign up to receive updates here. Leading Health Care Innovation From the Editors of Harvard Business Review and The New England Journal of Medicine Leading Health Care Innovation: Editor’s Welcome Why Health Care Is Stuck — And How to Fix It Getting Real About Health Care Value  

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17 сентября 2013, 19:54

EV sales in Germany forecast to rise rapidly

Electric car sales in Germany could pick up over the next few years, according to the Association of the Automotive Industry. The group thinks sales of at least 100K are possible by mid-decade in the nation. Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK), BMW (BAMXY.PK), and Daimer (DDAIF.PK) are all becoming more active in the domestic EV market. Post your comment!

17 сентября 2013, 04:00

Study Presents Results on Methane Release and Natural Gas Production

A new study released today by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, generally tracks with U.S. EPA's most recent estimates for the amount of methane released into the atmosphere each year by natural gas production. The study, which will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by UT Austin with participation from the Environmental Defense Fund and nine major petroleum producers. It was intended to help end the debate over methane emissions from natural gas production -- and to solidify the role gas use can play in helping to limit man-made climate change. Emissions data for gas have been incomplete. EPA released its annual "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks" in April, which showed that hydraulic fracturing released about 1.5 percent of total output into the atmosphere in 2011. Natural gas systems overall were responsible for 144.7 teragrams of carbon dioxide equivalent in that year, more methane than any other sector, the agency estimated. But EPA's calculations were based on reported estimates, not empirical data. They were panned by industry groups as an overestimation of the sector's emissions, while some reports showed much higher levels of methane leakage. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder, for example, released a study finding that leaks in two U.S. drilling sites were between 4 and 9 percent. But the UT Austin study used direct measurements from wellheads being operated by participating companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Corp. and arrived at estimates that tracked closely with the ones in EPA's analysis. The new study also showed that so-called green completions, which capture methane at the wellhead, are effective at limiting the amount of methane leaked during production. EPA promulgated a rule last year that will require operators to phase in the use of green completions by 2015, and the UT study showed that the use of that technology had proved even more effective in limiting methane leakage than the agency assumed in its inventory. "EPA has largely gotten it right, both in terms of the amount of methane the production side is producing as well as the need to have regulations for green completions," said Drew Nelson, who worked on the study for EDF. But the study also found that the agency had underestimated the amount of methane leaked by pneumatics -- or valves that keep natural gas moving and maintain pressure in pipelines. Interest in the climate-forcing properties of gas has grown as it continues to displace coal in electric generation. EPA is set to release a new carbon dioxide rule by Friday that industry expects will give further advantages to gas at coal's expense (Greenwire, Sept. 13). Environmentalists, meanwhile, have argued that EPA should consider promulgating a New Source Performance Standard to rein in methane emissions from natural gas production. Nelson said today's study and subsequent ones EDF is collaborating on may help inform future regulatory actions by the agency. "I think the study clearly shows that the regulations that are in place are effective, but it also clearly shows that there are many other opportunities for regulations and to bring these emissions down even further," he said. "The good news from an environmental perspective is that these emissions are much lower than some of the previous estimates that have been put out there, but I don't think this study shows that the problem is solved and we can all go home now and worry about other issues," Nelson added. Understanding the life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint of gas is key to understanding the fuel's overall climate benefits or liabilities, he noted. The gas industry hailed the study as further evidence that more use of its product is a boon to the environment. "The study provides further support for the findings of other credible researchers -- that greater use of natural gas can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Erica Bowman, vice president of research and policy analysis for America's Natural Gas Alliance. "We are continually putting into operation equipment and practices that demonstrate our commitment to lower emissions in the production process. We look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure the best science is applied in future study of this issue and that as an industry we continue the substantial progress we have made through ongoing innovation." Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter Republished from E&ENEWS PM with permission. GreenWire covers the energy and environmental policy news. Click here for a free trial Copyright E&E Publishing  

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16 сентября 2013, 15:13

Obama loses the media

From my story on the media's increasingly negative coverage of the president: President Barack Obama is damaging his presidency, weakening America's standing in the world, and displaying "inexplicable" incompetence. The media figure making those accusations isn't Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer or Glenn Beck. The critic doesn't host a right-wing talk show, anchor a Fox News program, or write for the pages of the Weekly Standard. In fact, he's not even a conservative. It's Joe Klein, the Time Magazine political columnist. "Obama has lost some serious altitude: In the world, with the Congress, and most importantly with the American people," Klein, a veteran journalist and political moderate, told POLITICO. Klein isn't alone: In recent months, and especially since the start of the Syria mess, Obama has been enduring some of the toughest and most widespread press criticism of his four-and-a-half years as president. It isn't just coming from the usual suspects on the right. Increasingly, the skepticism is coming from the center and even from the left -- from White House reporters, progressive editorial boards, foreign policy experts and MSNBC hosts. And Obama has mostly himself to blame for the recent wave of media negativity (although the Republicans have been glad to lend a hand). To hear the press tell it, his handling of the Syria crisis has been confusing and contradictory at best, making him appear weak on the international stage. His administration's persecution of whistleblowers and surveillance of the press are at odds with the promises he made as a candidate. His inability to push a progressive agenda through congress makes him appear ineffective. In interviews with POLITICO, reporters and pundits from across the ideological spectrum noted that Obama has fewer and fewer safe harbors in the fourth estate. Five years ago, the media was seen as being so sympathetic to the junior Senator from Illinois that it irked even his Democratic challengers. But in his second term as president the tone of both the news coverage and the editorial analysis has become far more critical. Of course, with more than two years left in his term, the notoriously fickle press's pendulum could always swing back in Obama's direction, particularly now that the immediate Syria crisis appears to have abated, at least for the time being. But for now even Media Matters For America, the liberal watchdog group dedicated to monitoring conservatives, has noticed a new level of hostility toward the president from mainstream and liberal outlets. "It is now almost universally hostile," Eric Boehlert, a senior writer at the organization, told POLITICO. "It's become consistently critical." Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director and chief White House correspondent, credited the change in tone to public sentiment. "I think it is the public and the press reflects the public," Todd said. "The NSA started it and he hasn't recovered." Conservatives also see the change, and relish that the same folks who they formerly saw as "in the tank" for Obama have started taking a more critical stance. "There are indications that the media's Obama Fever is beginning to break," said Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk-radio host and Fox News contributor. "For five years, he has gotten a sweetheart deal from the media industrial complex... But it shouldn't have taken the president's disappearing red-line in Syria... and his being played like a Stradivarius by Putin for the press to lose their crush." The White House declined to comment for this story. Obama's response to Syria may represent a low-point in the media's coverage, but the reasons for the change in tone are myriad and predate recent events. Senior political reporters, many of whom declined to be quoted on record, cited revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance program, the Justice Department's monitoring of reporters, President Obama's use of drone strikes, and a series of perceived scandals -- including the IRS's targeting of the tea party and the unanswered questions about the Sept. 11 raid on Benghazi -- as factors in the media's increasingly critical tone. Read the full story here.

12 сентября 2013, 18:55

Has Ron Paul Gone Mainstream?

In a world some thought we would never see, most Americans and much of Congress seem to agree with Ron Paul's foreign policy advice - at least on the question of a military strike against Syria... Submitted by F.F. Wiley of Cyniconomics blog, Polling results The latest Wall Street Journal poll shows only 33% support for a strike. The congressional math shows a likely Obama defeat in the House, while as of this writing the Senate is also leaning slightly towards a “no.” More detailed survey responses from Gallup reveal that the main reason cited by people who oppose a strike is that it’s “none of our business,” while those who support a strike are aiming to prevent chemical attacks “from happening again.” Editorials Jeffrey Sachs explains the problems with regime change policies in Syria and elsewhere, arguing that “the United States – and other governments in the Middle East and Europe – share responsibility for turning Syria into a killing field.” David Stockman anticipates Obama being forced to stand down in a typically insightful and provocative article on our ruling class, this time covering “the American Imperium – five decades of incessant meddling, bullying and subversion around the globe which has added precious little to national security, but left America fiscally exhausted and morally diminished.” Robert Howse and Ruti Teitel challenge the administration’s justification for military action from an international law perspective. History The ugly history of chemical warfare, from Germany’s World War I attacks in Belgium to the present day. More on chemical weapons: 10 chemical and WMD attacks in the past 70 years, including a few that the U.S. either perpetrated or turned a blind eye toward. 35 civil wars of the last century and the role played by the U.S., if any. 10 U.S. military interventions in the past 30 years, from Grenada to Libya. 10 war-triggering events of the past two and a half centuries that were suspected or proven to be “false flags.” Syrian rebels Bloomberg covers Al-Qaeda’s growing dominance within the rebel groups. The New York Times reports on their brutality and infighting (this is the PG version – there are of course more disturbing accounts and videos circulating the web). And even the military admits that there are “no moderate rebel groups now ready to fill any power vacuum.” Quotes and excerpts Michael Krieger shares this 2007 exchange between Barack Obama and Charlie Savage: Savage: In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?) Obama:  The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. Brahma Chellaney channels Colin Powell’s 1991 guidelines for military intervention in this apt conclusion to an essay published on Project Syndicate this morning (with my bolding): …The Powell doctrine stipulates that the US should use military force only when a vital national-security interest is at stake; the strategic objective is clear and attainable; the benefits are likely to outweigh the costs; adverse consequences can be limited; broad international and domestic support has been obtained; and a plausible exit strategy is in place. Given the US record since the doctrine was formulated, another criterion should be added: the main beneficiaries of military intervention are not America’s mortal enemies. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warns about the military-industrial complex in his 1961 presidential farewell address (I couldn’t leave this one out): This conjunction of an immense military establishment and large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this complication endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. And finally getting back to Ron Paul, in last week’s column Paul excerpted this description of the Roman Empire’s military exploits from Joseph Schumpeter’s 1918 The Sociology of Imperialism: There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive an interest – why, then it was the national honour that had been insulted. And he concluded: Sadly, this sounds like a summary of Obama’s speech over the weekend. We are rapidly headed for the same collapse as the Roman Empire if we continue down the president’s war path. What we desperately need is an overwhelming Congressional rejection of the president’s war authorization. Even a favorable vote, however, cannot change the fact that this is a self-destructive and immoral policy.         

12 сентября 2013, 18:00

Nigeria's Big Gamble on One Indigenous Entrepreneur

Aliko Dangote, Africa's wealthiest man, recently signed a multi-billion dollar contract to build Nigeria's largest oil refinery, and turn the oil-rich country into a petroleum exporter. The promise of job creation — the refinery project is expected to employ 8,000 engineers and create jobs for 85,000 Nigerians — has excited many commentators. But there are further reasons for optimism, and lessons for companies looking to understand the power of indigenous entrepreneurs in emerging markets. First, Dangote's deal is likely to happen. This is not the first time a multi-billion dollar refinery project has been announced in Nigeria. Chinese investors have negotiated several infrastructure-for-resources deals in Nigeria over the past decade. But, despite their history of success in such deals in other African countries, nothing of substance has materialized in Nigeria. The latest set of contracts, penned in 2010, have run aground due to haggling over Chinese access to oil blocks and the threat of unfavorable regulation. It is not surprising that China's success in countries like Angola and Sudan did not translate to Nigeria. In their research on "Winning in Emerging Markets", Harvard professors Tarun Khanna and Krishna Palepu theorize that emerging economies have unique combinations of institutional voids (e.g. the absence of market intermediaries or inefficient contract enforcement mechanisms). Tarun and Palepu suggest that what works in one country does not necessarily translate to another, and companies have to repeatedly assess their capabilities and decide whether to: Replicate or adapt a business model from a different situation Collaborate with domestic partners or go it alone Navigate the market's voids or try to fill them/ For Chinese companies, the institutional voids in the Nigeria deal include the complex web of entrenched political interests, and their inability to navigate it. Lobbyist groups with opposing interests like the Nigerian fuel importers and the European exporters with which they are aligned have had more influence on political decisions than Chinese companies. While countries like Angola also have related issues, Nigeria's size and complexity probably would have led the institutional voids theory to prescribe a different strategy of adaptation and collaboration. China instead had to deal what economist Raymond Vernon calls the obsolescing bargain, in the form of post-agreement power grabs by government agencies. On the contrary, Khanna's and Palepu's theory would suggest that Dangote, as an insider with political connections at the highest level, is better positioned to directly fill the market's voids and deal with the political risks. Another reason for optimism is that Dangote's move might signal a shift to a conglomerate-led growth phase in Africa. Clay Christensen's research explores interdependent versus modular approaches to customer problems (pdf). Interdependent systems are well suited to situations where "the job-to-be-done" is not well understood, or the current solution is not "good enough". Modular systems tend to arise after the solution has become "good enough", and help the industry participants achieve greater efficiency. Underdeveloped emerging markets, with their weak institutions, can be seen as being in the "not good enough" stage. At this stage, the theory would predict the dominance of interdependent business groups with strong links to institutions and government. Thus, transforming the fate of the country's economy would necessitate pushing these groups to progressively more complex "jobs". This is exactly what we have seen in fast-growing East Asian economies, where national business groups like the Korean chaebol or the Japanese keiretsu have been instrumental in the shift from commodities to higher-value manufacturing. Samsung started off as a trading company, evolved to textiles and food processing, and then on to high-value add manufacturing. Today their business spans electronics, shipbuilding, construction and aerospace, among many other industries. Samsung's story is a microcosm of the Korean growth miracle. Similarly Dangote's business, which has already transformed from a trading company to a manufacturer of cement and flour, could now be moving into a new phase of higher value-added products. This step into more complex "jobs" may also draw other African conglomerates into the mix, and create a platform for rapid industrialization. Of course, it can be argued that Dangote's move is risky for Nigeria because his success would concentrate too much power in one man's hand. This is a valid concern — the conglomerates of East Asia have had disproportionate power throughout its growth, and retained significant influence even as the economies move into modular phases. Samsung alone is still responsible for a mind-boggling proportion of Korea's economy.  African governments can mitigate this by diversifying contract awards to various national players, but ultimately it may be a worthy risk for the promise of growth led by indigenous companies.

12 сентября 2013, 14:00

Nigeria’s Big Gamble on One Indigenous Entrepreneur

Aliko Dangote, Africa’s wealthiest man, recently signed a multi-billion dollar contract to build Nigeria’s largest oil refinery, and turn the oil-rich country into a petroleum exporter. The promise of job creation — the refinery project is expected to employ 8,000 engineers and create jobs for 85,000 Nigerians — has excited many commentators. But there are further reasons for optimism, and lessons for companies looking to understand the power of indigenous entrepreneurs in emerging markets. First, Dangote’s deal is likely to happen. This is not the first time a multi-billion dollar refinery project has been announced in Nigeria. Chinese investors have negotiated several infrastructure-for-resources deals in Nigeria over the past decade. But, despite their history of success in such deals in other African countries, nothing of substance has materialized in Nigeria. The latest set of contracts, penned in 2010, have run aground due to haggling over Chinese access to oil blocks and the threat of unfavorable regulation. It is not surprising that China’s success in countries like Angola and Sudan did not translate to Nigeria. In their research on “Winning in Emerging Markets“, Harvard professors Tarun Khanna and Krishna Palepu theorize that emerging economies have unique combinations of institutional voids (e.g. the absence of market intermediaries or inefficient contract enforcement mechanisms). Tarun and Palepu suggest that what works in one country does not necessarily translate to another, and companies have to repeatedly assess their capabilities and decide whether to: Replicate or adapt a business model from a different situation Collaborate with domestic partners or go it alone Navigate the market’s voids or try to fill them/ For Chinese companies, the institutional voids in the Nigeria deal include the complex web of entrenched political interests, and their inability to navigate it. Lobbyist groups with opposing interests like the Nigerian fuel importers and the European exporters with which they are aligned have had more influence on political decisions than Chinese companies. While countries like Angola also have related issues, Nigeria’s size and complexity probably would have led the institutional voids theory to prescribe a different strategy of adaptation and collaboration. China instead had to deal what economist Raymond Vernon calls the obsolescing bargain, in the form of post-agreement power grabs by government agencies. On the contrary, Khanna’s and Palepu’s theory would suggest that Dangote, as an insider with political connections at the highest level, is better positioned to directly fill the market’s voids and deal with the political risks. Another reason for optimism is that Dangote’s move might signal a shift to a conglomerate-led growth phase in Africa. Clay Christensen’s research explores interdependent versus modular approaches to customer problems (pdf). Interdependent systems are well suited to situations where “the job-to-be-done” is not well understood, or the current solution is not “good enough”. Modular systems tend to arise after the solution has become “good enough”, and help the industry participants achieve greater efficiency. Underdeveloped emerging markets, with their weak institutions, can be seen as being in the “not good enough” stage. At this stage, the theory would predict the dominance of interdependent business groups with strong links to institutions and government. Thus, transforming the fate of the country’s economy would necessitate pushing these groups to progressively more complex “jobs”. This is exactly what we have seen in fast-growing East Asian economies, where national business groups like the Korean chaebol or the Japanese keiretsu have been instrumental in the shift from commodities to higher-value manufacturing. Samsung started off as a trading company, evolved to textiles and food processing, and then on to high-value add manufacturing. Today their business spans electronics, shipbuilding, construction and aerospace, among many other industries. Samsung’s story is a microcosm of the Korean growth miracle. Similarly Dangote’s business, which has already transformed from a trading company to a manufacturer of cement and flour, could now be moving into a new phase of higher value-added products. This step into more complex “jobs” may also draw other African conglomerates into the mix, and create a platform for rapid industrialization. Of course, it can be argued that Dangote’s move is risky for Nigeria because his success would concentrate too much power in one man’s hand. This is a valid concern — the conglomerates of East Asia have had disproportionate power throughout its growth, and retained significant influence even as the economies move into modular phases. Samsung alone is still responsible for a mind-boggling proportion of Korea’s economy. African governments can mitigate this by diversifying contract awards to various national players, but ultimately it may be a worthy risk for the promise of growth led by indigenous companies. 

12 сентября 2013, 00:59

Record number of estate agent workers signals UK house price bubble

Vince Cable sounds warning over 'serious housing inflationary pressures' as 77,000 people join industry in a yearA record number of people work in estate agents offices and the sector is growing so fast that it amounted to the fastest growing part of the national workforce in the three months ending in June, according to official figures published on Wednesday.The Office for National Statistics said that 562,000 people are employed in real estate in the UK, the largest number since records began in 1978, with 77,000 joining the industry over the last year – data that added to fears that the country is heading for a house price bubble."We're no longer a nation of shopkeepers – we're becoming a nation of estate agents," said Danny Gabay, director of economics consultancy Fathom. "I would certainly agree that the economy has turned a corner; my concern is about how sustainable this recovery will be, given that it is based on using government subsidies to encourage already over-extended households to take on even more debt to finance their consumption."Concerns about the state of the housing market were also voiced by the business secretary, Vince Cable, who called for an urgent rethink of George Osborne's flagship Help to Buy scheme, which aims to provide government guarantees for low-deposit mortgages from next January.The Lib Dem cabinet minister said there were signs of "serious housing inflationary pressures" developing in parts of the country. "We should certainly think about how [Help to Buy] should come into effect; indeed whether it should come into effect, in the light of changing market conditions. We don't want a new housing bubble," Cable told Sky News.Shortly after, Downing Street was forced to insist the government will go ahead with the scheme, with the prime minister's spokesman adding that many would-be home-owners are facing substantial obstacles because of caps on loan to value mortgages."It will be launched. We are faced with a situation – because of the fall in availability of 90% to 95% loan-to-value mortgages – where many first-time buyers are faced with a real obstacle to making a home of their own. It is important we address this issue," the spokesman said.Growing confidence in the outlook for the housing market has been a key component of the economic upturn that led Osborne, to claim in a speech on Monday that the UK is turning a corner. But the swelling army of estate agents led some commentators to warn that the recovery was too reliant on debt-fuelled growth. "If you wanted any clearer signal of the hollowness of the so-called economic recovery, you couldn't make it up," said Andrew Simms, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation thinktank.Cable's remarks also fuelled fears that the economic recovery could simply be based on a consumer boom and a housing bubble. He made his political reputation by criticising the Labour government's economic boom for being based on a bubble and has often warned the recovery must be sustained.Following pressure from the Treasury, the business secretary did, however, tone down a keynote speech, dropping a warning of the dangers of complacency over the economy. Addressing business leaders at a joint government/CBI industrial strategy conference in Warwick , he said "The point I am trying to make is that this is a long-term haul. We have got a marathon not a sprint here."Help to Buy was the centrepiece of Osborne's March budget, but has drawn criticism from a broad range of groups, ranging from homelessness charity Shelter to the rightwing Adam Smith Institute, which fear it will simply drive up prices without boosting housing supply. The second, more controversial, leg of Help to Buy will offer taxpayer-backed guarantees on mortgages worth up to £600,000, for buyers with a deposit worth 20% or less of the price of their property.Mark Clare, the chief executive of housebuilder Barratt Developments, said that the housing upturn is now spreading well beyond London and the south-east, as the company reported a 74% increase in pre-tax profits. "We are seeing some very, very strong interest on new sites that we're launching around the country, even to the point where we're starting to see queues … which is not something we have seen for many, many years," he said.Fears of a housing bubble have intensified since the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, introduced the policy of forward guidance, under which the Bank's monetary policy committee has sent a strong message that it expects to keep interest rates at their record low of 0.5% for at least the next three years.News of the healthy demand for estate agents came as part of the ONS's monthly snapshot of the labour market, which showed that the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.7%, in the first tentative step towards the 7% target that Carney says may signal an economy strong enough to withstand a rise in interest rates.Unemployment on the International Labour Organisation measure tracked by the Bank stood at 2.49 million from May to July, down by 24,000 from three months earlier. That took the unemployment rate to 7.7%, from 7.8% over the previous three-month period, driven by a larger-than-expected 80,000 increase in employment.On the more timely claimant count measure, which just includes people receiving out-of-work benefits, unemployment also fell, by 32,600 in August to 1.4m.• This article was amended on Thursday 12 September 2013 to correct the name of the Barratt Developments chief executive to Mark ClareHousing marketReal estateHousingCommunitiesEconomicsVince CablePropertyHelp to Buy schemeLiberal-Conservative coalitionLiberal DemocratsHeather StewartPatrick Wintour theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds     

11 сентября 2013, 20:46

Grants Shapps accuses United Nations housing rapporteur of political bias

Conservative party chairman's letter to UN lambasts Raquel Rolnik for her recommendation that bedroom tax should be axedA government minister has made a formal complaint to the United Nations accusing the UN special investigator on housing of political bias as she widened her searing criticisms of the bedroom tax to other UK housing, welfare and planning policies.Conservative party chairman and minister without portfolio Grant Shapps demanded an investigation into the behaviour of Raquel Rolnik, the UN's rapporteur on housing, after she recommended the axing of the bedroom tax and suggested deprivation in Britain was getting worse – with people facing increasing difficulty in getting "adequate affordable, well-located and secure housing".Shapps described her call as "an absolute disgrace". Rolnik denied there were any grounds for complaint.Shapps' blunt demands came as Rolnik broadened her attack on the bedroom tax, first revealed by the Guardian, to other concerns, including the effect of benefit caps and fears that decentralisation of planning laws in Northern Ireland might lead to "increased sectarianism and discrimination".Shapps, in a letter on Conservative party headed paper to the UN's secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, said the UK's legal system had already ruled its bedroom policy was lawful."I am therefore extremely surprised and disappointed to learn that the UN has directly contradicted the decisions of our courts."He suggested the UN withdrew Rolnik's claims on the bedroom tax – or spare room subsidy – pending an investigation.Her report was based on just 12 days of investigations, Shapps said. Rolnik had not sought to meet work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith while an official from his department had only sat in on one hour-long meeting at the Department for Communities and Local Government where the bedroom tax was only one item on a long agenda.Rolnik seemed to have already made her mind up and talked to the media about her recommendations even though her full report was not due until next March, Shapps said.The rapporteur had made no mention of discretionary payments available to those who genuinely needed to keep a spare room, nor the 250,000 families living in overcrowded accommodation.Shapps demanded to know the process leading to the commissioning of the report and whether representations were received from the Labour party and groups campaigning against the measure."By referring to the policy as the bedroom tax, and posing for photos receiving dossiers from those opposed to the spare room subsidy, I believe Ms Rolnik has shown political bias," he wrote.Before the details of Shapps' UN letter were revealed, Rolnik swatted aside his earlier claims made on the BBC's Today programme that she had not been invited by the UK government nor met ministers.She told a press conference in London that the government had organised her trip and that she had met communities secretary Eric Pickles and Don Foster, one of his ministerial team, and "numerous" senior officials including from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which is responsible for the bedroom tax."All the procedures and all the mechanisms that are our duty to do, we have done," she said."We did not breach any of the mechanisms, any of the procedures. This was an official visit, invited by the UK government and organised by the UK government."Rolnik did apologise for referring to measure as the bedroom tax, instead of using the official term "spare room subsidy", but that was because that was "what everyone has been calling it since I got here".The DWP insisted she had not met the team that looks after the policy."There was an hour-long meeting where there was a DWP official in attendance, which covered a broad range of issues, including welfare reform," said a spokesman.Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, weighed in to combine Shapps' complaints with remarks by Michael Gove, the education secretary, on Monday, that while some of those using food banks faced considerable pressures, "it's often as a result of some decisions that have been taken by those families which mean that they are not best able to manage their finances".Byrne said: "This government is so out of touch that on the very day the UN is standing up for 'the most vulnerable, the most fragile' people in Britain, their ministers are blaming hardship on the poor."The SNP's Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess welcomed Rolnik's intervention."The bedroom tax is unfair, ill-conceived and risks pushing people to the edge and we have made clear that following a vote for independence this policy will be scrapped."Rolnik said her recommendation to suspend the bedroom tax came in a preliminary draft before more detailed discussion with the UK and Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments."My expectation is that the engagement can be very fruitful, and lead to a better report with full and solid recommendations."She warned that housing benefit caps would make moving to the private rented sector increasingly difficult for those on low incomes, and complained that homes were now allowed to stand empty in London and elsewhere because they had been sold to international buyers as financial assets.The system for helping the poor in Britain had been weakened by "a series of measures over the years, notably by having privileged homeownership over other forms of tenure", said Rolnik.She cited the government's Help to Buy scheme and failure to replace homes removed from social housing by three decades of tenants' right to buy their council homes."It is possible to stimulate the economy and construction industry if you provide more social housing and affordable housing," Rolnik said, adding that such a recommendation would be made in her final report."The right to housing is not about a roof anywhere, at any cost, without any social ties. It is not about reshuffling people according to a snapshot of the number of bedrooms at a given night."Stopping short of demanding the suspension of benefit caps, Rolnik said the government must "put in place a system of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria about affordability, access to information and security of tenure".She also warned over increasing stigma being shown toward Gypsies, Travellers and Roma struggling to find accommodation. She had concerns too about provision for refugees and asylum seekers.Rolnik did say Britain had set an example in the way it had renovated old social housing estates and praised its mixed communities and lack of segregation.Bedroom taxHousing benefitBenefitsHousingCommunitiesGrant ShappsWelfareUnited NationsHuman rightsJames MeikleAmelia Gentleman theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. 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11 сентября 2013, 18:42

A Joint Imperative to Strengthen Skills

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez joined Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Rep. Steny Hoyer for a roundtable discussion on the importance of strengthening skills as a workforce and economic development imperative. (U.S. Department of Labor photo by Shawn T. Moore) Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Commerce blog. You can see the original post here. As two of the newest members of President Obama’s cabinet, we’ve both spent the past few months lending a fresh set of eyes and ears to the opportunities and challenges facing middle-class workers and American businesses. One concern facing both communities that requires our full attention and our joint efforts is making sure that every American has the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. This week we visited Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Maryland, where we were joined by U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer, to hear from local business, education, labor, and government leaders about the importance of skills training as both a workforce development and an economic development imperative. In 2011 Anne Arundel Community College received a $19.7 million grant from the Labor Department to lead the National STEM Consortium, which is made up of 10 community colleges in nine states. Together, they’re working with employers, labor unions, and industry groups to develop certificate programs designed to train workers for mid-skill technical careers that have a high volume of openings in a particular region. Over the next decade, more than half of the new jobs created will be middle skills jobs meaning they require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. read more

11 сентября 2013, 04:48

NIST Denies Deliberately Weakening Encryption Standards for NSA

image credit: Another Print Please/FlickrMadison Ruppert Activist Post In response to last week’s widespread reports revealing that the National Security Agency (NSA) spends huge sums in an effort to “covertly influence” companies and crack encryption, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has denied its reported role in the scheme. The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica cited documents handed over by PRISM leaker Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA was able to get NIST to change their security standard in 2006. The new standard, recommended by the NSA, reportedly included vulnerabilities that could later be exploited by NSA hackers in order to more easily spy on private communications. Unsurprisingly, NIST now denies any such role. “We want to assure the [information technology] cybersecurity community that the transparent, public process used to rigorously vet our standards is still in place,” NIST said in a statement issued on Tuesday. The Hill points out that a great deal is on the line with this allegation.  google_ad_client = "pub-1897954795849722"; /* 468x60, created 6/30/10 */ google_ad_slot = "8230781418"; google_ad_width = 468; google_ad_height = 60;  “NIST is not a regulatory agency — it only helps private groups agree on voluntary standards and guidelines,” The Hill notes. “If outside groups stop trusting the NIST, it could undermine the agency’s usefulness.” “NIST would not deliberately weaken a cryptographic standard,” NIST said. “We will continue in our mission to work with the cryptographic community to create the strongest possible encryption standards for the U.S. government and industry at large,” the agency said in their statement. At the same time, NIST did acknowledge that they are required to consult with the NSA by law. The ProPublica report cited classified NSA memos indicating that the encryption weakness, discovered in 2007 by two cryptographers working for Microsoft, was indeed engineered by the NSA. “The NSA wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort ‘a challenge in finesse,’” ProPublica reported. “Eventually, NSA became the sole editor,” the classified memo states. NIST also acknowledged that the NSA does indeed help their “cryptography development process because of its recognized expertise.” In response to the public’s concern, NIST reopened the public comment period for the cryptography standards. “If vulnerabilities are found in these or any other NIST standards, we will work with the cryptographic community to address them as quickly as possible,” the agency said in their statement. Please support our work and help us start to pay contributors by doing your shopping through our Amazon link or check out some must-have products at our store. This article first appeared at End the Lie.