Too Good Not to Share

Bruce Potter443-454-9044

Posted in Fun

Our Drugs Are NOT as Pure as You Thought

This article, from the Sunday, 17 November 2019, Washington Post, puts the lie to Big Pharma’s claim that we have to pay exhorbitant prices for our drugs in order to assure the perfect purity of “American” drugs:

Science

A tiny pharmacy is identifying big problems with common drugs, including Zantac

Lab Tech

Nicola Zenzola, senior research associate, prepares a sample for impurity analysis at Valisure, a small pharmacy that checks the composition of drugs and that prompted a worldwide recall of the heartburn drug Zantac.
(Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

By Carolyn Y. Johnson         November 8, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. EST

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The escalating global recall of Zantac, the heartburn pill that once ranked as the world’s best-selling drug , has its roots not in government oversight or a high-profile lawsuit but in a tiny online pharmacy here whose founders feared that U.S. drugs might not be as safe as people think.

The pharmacy, Valisure, is a start-up with only 14 full-time employees. But since its scientists alerted American regulators that Zantac and its generic form, ranitidine, contained a chemical thought to cause cancer, more than 40 countries from Australia to Vietnam have either stopped sales, launched investigations or otherwise stepped in to protect consumers from possible health risks.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration this month confirmed unacceptable levels of the chemical, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), in some ranitidine products — including in some syrups taken by babies. FDA officials have urged people not to panic, because the levels of NDMA are similar to the amount found in grilled and smoked meats. The agency is still investigating and asking companies to recall ranitidine and a similar drug, nizatidine, if they discover unacceptable amounts of NDMA. The agency’s testing suggests Pepcid, Tagamet, Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec do not contain the chemical.

In the meantime, major pharmacy chains have jumped ahead and yanked both brand-name and generic versions of Zantac off their shelves. Some hospitals have switched to alternatives, and major drug manufacturers have recalled products — including Sanofi, the maker of over-the-counter Zantac in the United States. The company announced a recall last month “as a precautionary measure.”

“We know impurities in medicines are of great concern to patients and consumers who rely on safe and effective medicines approved by the FDA, and we are working with manufacturers and global regulators to provide clear and actionable information,” Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “These investigations take time and do not provide instantaneous answers.”

For Valisure’s scientists, finding NDMA in ranitidine was a particularly dramatic example of the kind of discovery they make routinely. Valisure checks the chemical makeup of drugs before it ships them to consumers, and it rejects more than 10 percent of the batches because its tests detect contaminants, medicine that didn’t dissolve properly or pills that contain the wrong dose, among other issues. Since late 2018, Valisure has reported more than 50 problems directly to drug companies. Occasionally — as in the case of Zantac — their scientists find a problem so urgent they play the role of watchdog.

I had a fairly dim view of drug quality in the United States going into this, but we’ve discovered tons of problems I never even thought of — and they’re all over the place,” said Adam ­Clark-Joseph, one of Valisure’s founders.

The FDA firmly rejects the idea that the drug supply is unsafe and said that one of Valisure’s conclusions — that ranitidine turns into NDMA in the stomach — is not supported by the agency’s testing. The agency reviews reams of data before approving a drug, inspects factories that make them, runs its own tests on selected drugs and collects reports of safety problems.

“Americans can be confident in the quality of the products the FDA approves,” spokesman Jeremy Kahn said.

Syringes

Syringes are used for taking samples and testing for rate of release of medication from pills or capsules at Valisure. Behind them are pills immersed in synthetic intestinal fluid. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

Valisure makes money the same way other pharmacies do — buying drugs from wholesalers and taking a cut of the price when it sells them. To set itself apart, it chemically tests the medicines it dispenses — marketing its services on the premise that people can’t be confident about what’s inside the pill bottles that fill their bathroom cabinets.

Clark-Joseph, an economist with some chemistry training, was drawn to the idea because he kept getting sick. In graduate school, he refilled a prescription only to find that the new, supposedly identical drug didn’t work. When his doctor told him to try another pharmacy because he probably got a bad batch, he was appalled. After similar incidents occurred, he started searching for a lab that would verify the chemical contents of his medication. When he didn’t find an obvious solution, he called his college friend David Light, who had worked in biotech, and suggested that they partner on a business that would verify the chemical contents of drugs.

“He thought I was being kind of paranoid at first,” Clark-Joseph said.

Light researched the issue and became convinced that it was a real problem — and a potential opportunity. But it wasn’t easy to sell investors on the concept, so the two friends provided much of the initial funding for the company from their own bank accounts.

In a modest two-room laboratory in a former gun factory, Valisure’s half-dozen scientists churn pills in a solution formulated to mimic stomach acid and warmed to body temperature, a test to determine whether medicines dissolve properly. They use lasers to probe pills for inactive ingredients. A specialized instrument used in forensic investigations is used to detect carcinogens. Each time the company has expanded its panel of tests, new problems with medications have emerged.

One of the first drugs it tested was lamotrigine, an anticonvulsant medication made by several generic drug companies. (Valisure typically doesn’t disclose the makers of a specific batch that failed its quality standards.) Valisure’s scientists put different batches of the extended-release version of the pill into a fancy blender that emulated the stomach and were dismayed at the results. Multiple batches took longer than 24 hours to dissolve, and one took more than 48 hours — despite the fact that the label said it was supposed to dissolve in 12 to 15 hours. Ultimately, they found a version that met their standard to dispense to patients. Decals depicting the chemical structure of lamotrigine now decorate a wall of the pharmacy.

Tech checking

Theo Blaise Rukundo, chief pharmacist, works in the pharmacy at Valisure. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

Late last year, the company published a scientific paper showing that rapid-release Tylenol dissolved more slowly than less expensive tablets of the same dose. This wasn’t a public health problem, but it made the marketing of one of the most familiar drugs seem misleading.

Ernie Knewitz, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, the maker of brand-name Tylenol, said at the time the gelcaps were “rapid release” in comparison with conventional gelcaps, not uncoated tablets. The company did not respond to a request for an update.

After Valisure added a carcinogen test in March, it threw a form of ranitidine, the active ingredient in Zantac, into the queue — because Clark-Joseph’s infant daughter was taking the drug for acid reflux. Kaury Kucera, the chief scientific officer, recalled seeing with disbelief a spiking peak on a graph that indicated the presence of a large amount of NDMA. She ran the test again. Then she ran into Light’s office. He called Clark-Joseph and warned him to hold off on giving his daughter the drug until they could sort out what this meant. Scientists worked feverishly to confirm and understand the result. They sent samples to an independent lab to verify their finding. In June, they alerted the FDA to their initial results.

Much of the concern over the quality and safety of the drug supply has been propelled by a massive movement of drug production to foreign factories in recent years, “driven by the pharmaceutical industry’s desire for cost savings and less stringent environmental regulations,” Woodcock said in testimony submitted to Congress in October.

The FDA rigorously evaluates drugs for effectiveness and safety before approval, including visits by inspectors, who review records to ensure compliance with requirements — including that companies test batches of medicine before distributing them, Kahn said.

A 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that almost a third of 3,000 foreign drug establishments licensed by the FDA may not have been inspected, although the FDA said it has now caught up on the backlog.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley ­(R-Iowa), has sent letters to the FDA questioning the adequacy of its foreign drug inspection program.

David Gortler, a former FDA official who now works as chief medical officer of Valisure, says that inspections simply aren’t sufficient in foreign factories. He thinks the agency needs to test each batch of drug that enters the country.
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Companies have been cited by the FDA not just for technical mishaps and errors but occasionally also for systematic failures to properly investigate quality problems.

“It’s really becoming a national health crisis,” Gortler said, “and eventually it’s going to become a national security crisis.”

Kahn, the FDA spokesman, said the agency “regularly samples and tests selected drug products.” A survey of 323 products in 2015 found that all drugs met the agency’s standard for potency and purity, he said.

But the FDA’s own data shows that testing is selective. At the end of 2013, there were 12,100 approved drugs. Over the previous decade, the agency had tested fewer than 4,000 of them.

NDMA Sample

A sample with NDMA, an impurity that has been linked to an increased risk for colorectal and uterine cancers, that was found to be formed by ranitidine, a drug used to treat and prevent heartburn by reducing stomach acid. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

Valisure sees that gap as an opportunity. The company first alerted U.S. regulators in June that Zantac and ranitidine products contained a probable carcinogen. In September, Valisure filed a citizens petition to have the products pulled from the market entirely, and the FDA issued an alert to the public that the agency had learned some products contained NDMA. Follow-up testing had led Valisure’s scientists to suspect that the drug wasn’t contaminated but that the drug itself is unstable and could form NDMA, particularly in the conditions found in the stomach.

Woodcock testified before Congress that FDA scientists do think the drug might be reacting with itself to form NDMA. But the FDA said the levels of NDMA it has found are lower than Valisure flagged and that it is not formed in the stomach. “We still must test the drugs in the human body to fully understand if ranitidine forms NDMA,” Woodcock said in a statement.

GlaxoSmithKline, the company that first brought Zantac to market in the 1980s, said in a statement that its scientists had carefully examined whether the drug could form NDMA in the stomach when Zantac was being approved.

“The reason for the current precautionary recall of ranitidine is due to an emerging finding that some sources of drug substance and therefore drug product may contain very small amounts of nitrosamine,” the statement said.

Sanofi critiqued Valisure’s testing, saying the high levels of the chemical formed “only after exposing ranitidine to extreme artificial conditions.”

Sanofi said on Oct. 18 that it would recall its over-the-counter Zantac in the United States and Canada, noting “inconsistencies” in its preliminary test results of the active ingredient in drugs sold in both countries, which were sourced from different suppliers. Several other major ranitidine manufacturers have also pulled their U.S. products, including Novartis’s Sandoz division, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Apotex.

Sandoz and Dr. Reddy’s both cited “confirmed contamination” above the FDA’s limits in a statement. Apotex said its recall was on a “precautionary basis.”

Meanwhile, GSK has recalled its products overseas and is investigating the possible source of the NDMA. (GSK no longer sells ranitidine products in the United States.)

Valisure Lab

A testing lab at Valisure. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

Exposure to low levels of NDMA, which occurs naturally in food and the environment, is not acutely dangerous. But if consumers wonder what to make of the growing recalls, they are not alone.

Erin Fox, senior director of Drug Information and Support Services for University of Utah Health, purchases medicines for a hospital system with 5,000 drugs on the formulary. Not a day goes by without a recall notice of some kind, she said — adding that as soon as Valisure’s petition became public, her hospital swapped ranitidine products for an alternative.

Fox is a drug safety nerd. She geeks out on reading the warning letters and inspection documents the FDA posts about drug factories. Fox then tries to sleuth out more information, calling up company contacts.

“I’m almost always completely frustrated and thwarted,” Fox said. “We have a pass-fail system in the U.S., where it’s on the market or not on the market, and FDA does not provide us with any kind of quality metrics. In many cases, we don’t even know the company that is making the product.”

That can make it difficult to understand whether, when a problem is detected, it is a single bad batch or an example of a much broader problem. Over the past year and a half, an expanding recall of blood pressure medicines have been traced back to a problem in the manufacturing process in factories in China and India, according to the FDA.

Consumers may not care where their drugs are made, as long as they are safe and effective, and that’s what the FDA monitors through programs that tally adverse effects. But that system is imperfect. Many side effects — or people’s perception that a pill doesn’t work very well — may never be reported.

And for chemicals such as NDMA, which may be harmful over the long term, there may be no immediate health impact to report.

William Mitch, an environmental engineering professor at Stanford University, generated support for the idea ranitidine could turn into NDMA in the stomach several years ago, while investigating the presence of NDMA in wastewater. As a side study, he asked 10 volunteers to collect urine samples before and after ingesting a Zantac.

Mitch found high levels of NDMA in their urine after they ingested the pill, in some cases more than 45,000 nanograms. The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake of NDMA at 96 nanograms.

“That was concerning, but we don’t know that field,” Mitch said. “We sort of did it to spur further interest.”

GSK cited studies from the late 1980s and early 1990s that did not find a substantial increase in NDMA levels in people taking Zantac.

“Extensive pharmacovigilance monitoring, regular safety reviews and substantive epidemiological studies have not linked ranitidine to raised cancer risks,” GSK said in a statement.

Jake Chiles

Jake Chiles, a research associate, prepares reference materials for analysis at Valisure. (Stan Godlewski for The Washington Post)

The disagreement over the source of NDMA adds urgency to the investigation by regulators and companies. For Valisure, identifying problems can be a form of marketing, and the global attention over Zantac has helped boost business. But increasingly, its employees see themselves as patient advocates.

“We always thought of consumer protection . . . as an important part of what we would do, but I never appreciated how big of a problem we’re watching over,” Light said. “We find more problems than we have resources to fully investigate.”

FDA identifies contamination source in blood pressure medicines used by millions

‘Rapid release’ Tylenol gelcaps are slower to dissolve than cheaper tablets, study finds

The generic drug industry has brought huge cost savings. That may be changing.

 

Headshot Carolyn Johnson

Carolyn Johnson is a science reporter. She previously covered the business of health and the affordability of health care to consumers.

of Carolyn Y. Johnson
Carolyn Y. Johnson
Carolyn Johnson is a science reporter. She previously covered the business of health and the affordability of health care to consumers. Follow

Posted in Close to Home, Science

from GRIST: The US Green Economy Is Now Worth $1.3 Trillion

U.S. green economy now rakes in more than $1.3 trillion each year.

Prepare yourself for a green economic future, because according to a new analysis, low-carbon and resource-efficient businesses are now estimated to generate more than $1.3 trillion in sales in the United States each year.

The University College London study looked at the U.S. green economy from 2013 to 2016 and found that green jobs in the U.S. jumped by 20 percent — that’s 1.5 million jobs — while the coal industry saw a plunge of 37,000 jobs. The green economy now employs about 9.5 million Americans. Broken down by industry, the renewables sector — particularly wind energy — demonstrated the strongest area of growth between 2015 and 2016.

The green economy’s growth is so strong, according to the report’s authors, that further investment in the fossil fuel industry could backfire, hurting the U.S. economy as other countries double down their investments for a greener future.

“Given the climate change emergency and the employment slump in fossil fuel industry, it only makes sense that future investment should focus on growth in the green sector,” Professor Mark Maslin, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. The study’s researchers plan on updating the data beyond 2016, including a clearer vision of a global green trade.

Posted in Climate Change

Organizing Opportunity?

From today’s NY Times

Maybe we could get schools like Notre Dame to adopt the Duke-UNC curriculum . . .

U.S. Orders Duke and U.N.C. to “Recast Tone” in Mideast Studies

Caption — The chapel at Duke University. The Education Department is investigating a Middle East studies program that the university runs jointly with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

      By Erica L. Green       Sept. 19, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Education Department has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake the Middle East studies program run jointly by the two schools after concluding that it was offering students a biased curriculum that, among other complaints, did not present enough “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.

In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the department asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs. The inquiry was part of a far-reaching investigation into the program by the department, which under Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.

That focus appears to reflect the views of an agency leadership that includes a civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, who has made a career of pro-Israel advocacy and has waged a yearslong campaign to delegitimize and defund Middle East studies programs that he has criticized as rife with anti-Israel bias.

In this case, the department homed in on what officials saw as a program that focused on the region’s Muslim population at the expense of its religious minorities. In the North Carolina program’s outreach to elementary and secondary school students, the department said, there was “a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”

Too few of the Duke-U.N.C. programs focused on “the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds, Druze and others,” the department said.

With its actions, the department entered the debate over Israel and Palestinians that has roiled campuses around the country.

The department’s action “should be a wake-up call,” said Miriam Elman, an associate professor at Syracuse University and the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, which opposes the boycott-Israel movement that has animated campus activism across the country. She added, “What they’re saying is, ‘If you want to be biased and show an unbalanced view of the Middle East, you can do that, but you’re not going to get federal and taxpayer money.’”

Palestinian rights groups accused the Education Department of intimidation and infringing on academic freedom.

“They really want to send the message that if you want to criticize Israel, then the federal government is going to look very closely at your entire program and micromanage it to death,” said Zoha Khalili, a staff lawyer at Palestine Legal, one such group. The department’s intervention, she added, “sends a message to Middle Eastern studies programs that their continued existence depends on their willingness to toe the government line on Israel.”

In a letter to university officials, the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Robert King, wrote that programs run by the Duke-U.N.C. Consortium for Middle East Studies appeared to be misaligned with the federal grant they had received. Title VI of the Higher Education Act awards funding to colleges “establishing, strengthening and operating a diverse network of undergraduate foreign language and area or international studies centers and programs.”

The Education Department “believes” the Middle Eastern studies consortium “has failed to carefully distinguish between activities lawfully funded under Title VI and other activities” that are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support,” Mr. King wrote.

The letter, published this week in the Federal Register, said that the consortium’s records on the number of students it had enrolled in foreign language studies — a cornerstone of the federal grant program — were unclear, and that “it seems clear foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken ‘a back seat’ to other priorities.”

Mr. King wrote that the department believed other offerings, like a conference focused on “love and desire in modern Iran” and another focused on Middle East film criticism, “have little or no relevance to Title VI.” The department wrote the consortium’s programming also “appears to lack balance.”

The department also criticized the consortium’s teacher training programs for focusing on issues like “unconscious bias, serving L.G.B.T.I.Q. youth in schools, culture and the media, diverse books for the classroom and more.” They said that it had a “startling lack of focus on geography, geopolitical issues, history and language.”

The administration ordered the consortium to submit a revised schedule of events it planned to support and a full list of the courses it offers and the professors working in its Middle East studies program. The department also directed the consortium to demonstrate that it had “effective institutional controls” to stay compliant with the administration’s interpretation of the Higher Education Act. The universities were given until Sept. 22, only days before the department is scheduled to approve funding on Sept. 30.

A spokesman for Duke declined to comment, referring questions to the University of North Carolina. A spokeswoman for the U.N.C. acknowledged receipt of the letter.

“The consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program,” the university said in a statement. “In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the consortium is committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.”

To advocacy groups enmeshed in academic battles over Israel, the new investigation was not surprising.

Last year, the department reopened a case into anti-Jewish bias at Rutgers University that the Obama administration had closed with no finding of wrongdoing. In reconsidering the case, Mr. Marcus said the Education Department would be using a State Department definition of anti-Semitism that, among other things, labels “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” anti-Jewish bigotry, suggesting that it had been adopted by his office. The Education Department has not adopted that definition.

In June, Ms. DeVos said she had ordered an investigation into whether the Duke-U.N.C. consortium had misused any of the $235,000 it received in Title VI grants, including to sponsor an event in March called “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” Representative George Holding, Republican of North Carolina, had requested that Ms. DeVos investigate whether federal funding was used to host the conference, which constituents had said was rife with “radical anti-Israel bias.”

Mr. Holding said the conference featured active members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — known as B.D.S. — and featured panelists who “distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza.” He said a video shown at the conference featured a performer who sang a “brazenly anti-Semitic song.”

But some groups came to the defense of the Middle East studies consortium. Tallie Ben Daniel, the research and education manager at Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal group that advocates Palestinian rights, said the investigation was the latest attempt by the Trump administration “to enforce a neoconservative agenda onto spaces of academic inquiry and exploration.” She called the consortium’s curriculum “rich and diverse.”

To critics like Ms. Daniel, the targeting of the U.N.C.-Duke program appeared to be a continuation of efforts that predated the Trump administration. A group founded by Mr. Marcus, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has pressed Education Department and Congress for years to crack down on Middle East studies programs that the center claimed promoted an anti-Israel bias.

But Ms. Elman, the professor at Syracuse, said the department’s scrutiny of the programs was long overdue.

“To get Title VI, you really have to strive for viewpoint diversity,” she said. “This is what our students want. They don’t want to be indoctrinated. They want both sides. It’s possible to do that and still make people uncomfortable.”

Before joining the Education Department, Mr. Marcus had aggressively lobbied for the Higher Education Act to crack down on Middle East studies programs, and criticized both the Education Department and Congress for failing to hold institutions accountable for violating the law’s “diverse perspectives” requirement.

In 2014, he wrote an opinion article that assailed the Title VI program for “being used to support biased and academically worthless programming on college campuses,” leaving students and faculty with opposing views “ostracized and threatened.”

“Aside from their intellectual vapidity,” Mr. Marcus wrote, “many of these programs poison the atmosphere on campus.”

He called on the department to establish a complaint process that would prompt extensive reviews of entire programs like the one being undertaken into U.N.C. and Duke.
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 20, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Demands Colleges Recast Mideast Focus.

Posted in Governance

How We Do Science

from the Annual Report of the United Kingdom Overseas Conservation Forum

Posted in Fun

Island Obliteration

This is simply a horrible story and I have no comment. . . .

from Business Insider

F-35s and F-15s just obliterated an entire Iraqi island to root out ISIS fighters

by Ellen Ioanes        Sep. 10, 2019, 12:55 PM

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US Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles and F-35 Lightning II aircraft dropped 80,000 pounds of bombs on an island in Iraq’s Salah al-Din province believed to be used as a transit point for ISIS fighters between Syrian and Iraqi cities.

“We’re denying Daesh the ability to hide on Qanus Island,” Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve’s Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in a press release, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Although President Donald Trump said earlier this year that ISIS was defeated, the militant group has been resurgent in Iraq and Syria, at least partly because of Trump’s decisions to pull troops out of Syria, create a diplomatic vacuum in Iraq, and focus attention in the region on Iranian activity.

On Tuesday, US and Iraqi forces dropped 80,000 pounds of munitions on Qanus Island, in Iraq’s Salah-al-Din province, to destroy what Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) called a “safe haven” for ISIS fighters traveling from Syria into Iraq.

“We’re denying Daesh the ability to hide on Qanus Island,” Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, the commander of OIR’s Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in a press release, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Myles Caggins tweeted a video of the operation on Tuesday morning that shows bombs carpeting the tree-lined island from end to end, saying the island was “Daesh infested.”

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Airstrikes on Qanus Island, Iraq, on September 10.
—OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) September 10, 2019

Air Force Central Command tweeted an additional statement, saying that the strikes come at the “behest of the Iraqi government” and that Qanus Island is believed to be “a major transit hub and safe haven for Daesh.”

A spokesperson for OIR told Insider that ISIS casualties were still being assessed but that there were no casualties for the coalition or the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services. A small cache of abandoned weapons was found on the island, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the number of ISIS militants on the island at the time of the strike was unknown.

After the group’s supposed defeat in March, the Islamic State regrouped in Syria and Iraq, partly as a result of troop withdrawal in Syria and a diplomatic vacuum in Iraq, according to a Pentagon Inspector General’s report. The report also blamed Trump’s focus on Iran for the resurgence, saying that the administration’s insufficient attention to Iraq and Syria also contributed to ISIS’s ability to regroup, even though it has lost its caliphate.

While ISIS is not nearly as powerful as it once was — the Pentagon estimates the group has only 14,000 to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria at present, compared with the CIA estimate of between 20,000 and 31,500 in 2014 — it is still carrying out assassinations, crop burnings, ambushes, and suicide attacks.

OIR said that it targeted the area because ISIS militants were using the tiny island to transit from Syria and the Jazeera desert into the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Makhmour, and the Kirkuk region. The dense vegetation there allowed militants to hide easily, according to OIR.

The airstrikes, carried out by US Air Force F-35 Lightning II and F15 Strike Eagles, came in the midst of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s new policy to consider flights in Iraqi airspace hostile unless they are preapproved or a medical emergency. That policy took effect on August 15. These aircraft typically carry Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are precision-guided air-to-surface munitions.

According to the release, Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services are carrying out additional ground operations on the island to “destroy any remaining Fallul Daesh on the island.”

Posted in Governance, Small Island

Barbuda Two Years After Hurricane Irma — Same ol’, same ol’

Not, we all hope, a model for the reconstruction of the northern Bahamas after Dorian.

from the on-line Antigua Newsroom, as linked for us by Kevel Lindsay <https://antiguanewsroom.com/barbuda-two-years-after-hurricane-irma/ >

Barbuda Two Years After Hurricane Irma

September 5, 2019

(PRESS RELEASE)

Barbudans await proactive action by decision makers in the regional judicial system to commit to hearing four high profile court cases that remain unresolved. Four legal actions have been filed over the same amount of years, ‘challenging’ the government’s changes to centuries old land tenure system and introducing unsustainable and speculative development to the island, without consulting with the people of Barbuda.

The pending cases were filed against the Government of Antigua and Barbuda from 2015 going through to 2018 as follows:

  • 2015 Mackenzie Frank v Attorney General, Barbuda Council and Paradise Found (Robert De Niro).
  • 2016 Trevor Walker MP, Mackenzie Frank and 110 Petitioners v Attorney General and Paradise Found (Robert De Niro).
  • 2018 Trevor Walker MP, Mackenzie Frank, Wayde Burton and Barbuda Council v Attorney General.
  • 2018 John Mussington and Jackie Frank v Development Control Authority (DCA), Antigua and Barbuda Airports Authority (ABAA), The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda and the Barbuda Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs.

Two of the cases are pending in the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, and two still are pending at High Court level on Barbuda’s ‘sister isle’, Antigua.

John Mussington a Barbudan living in Barbuda stated, “The extensive delay and lack of progress with our recovery feels like a deliberate ploy by the government to punish Barbudans for rejecting its version of ‘development’ plans, and to discourage return and re-establishment of the community. We as a people are dedicated to tackling these issues head on; we will not give up.”

As Barbudans at home and around the world reflect on the lack of consistent progress with the rebuilding and revitalisation of the island post Irma, sustainable development planning and ethical government conduct is still very much a critical area of global public interest.

Since Hurricane Irma impacted Barbuda on September 5 2017, islanders of Barbuda have faced a bitter battle between speculative development and traditional land tenure. More recently concerns have been raised that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda have been brokering deals and allowing the lease of lands, under the new Barbuda Land Act of 2018 by allowing land to be bought and sold converting leases into freehold.

An example of such a deal involves the Coco Point Lodge lease. Coco Point Lodge is the first hotel in Barbuda, and it was built in 1959. The lease was purportedly purchased by John Paul DeJoria, a global entrepreneur and billionaire, with his partners John B. Turbidy and Steve Adelson joined together through The Peace Love and Happiness Partnership (PLH) as the leaseholders and financial sponsors of Barbuda Ocean Club. They, in conjunction with the Discovery Land Company, an Arizona, USA based group, are developing the Barbuda Ocean Club, a community advertised as a private residential resort community. Through this deal and one previously brokered with the collective by the Government of Antigua of Barbuda, DeJoria-Turbidy-Adelson group was granted a whopping 834 acres of land, including land that has been designated in 2005 as protected wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor in the Columbia University Department of History noted, “Small islands in the region bear the brunt of industrialized nations’ cavalier approach to the environment. The images of the Bahamas recall Barbuda, the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St Martin, Anguilla and Puerto Rico 2 years ago. A category 5 + hurricane arrival produces more than a repeating island – it’s the recurrence in nature of the violence of extractive capitalism in colonial contexts.”

Lawyer Beverly George, of Antiguan and Barbudan descendent now based in New York recalled, “The centuries’ old maxim, that justice delayed is justice denied is clearly apparent here. While Barbudans wait for their cases to be heard, and for their government to deliver essential services, their lands are being traded for the modern-day equivalent of beads and trinkets, without their input. Unless real action is taken by the Council, the government and the courts, justice for Barbudans’ will most certainly be denied and small victories, if any, will be rendered pyrrhic. “

Mussington added, “I will say this again, we as Barbudans need to be consulted and kept abreast of the government’s intentions. We will defend our right to participate in the planning and to direct our own development. Given the continued dire situation in Barbuda post Irma, forced evacuation and prolonged exclusion from returning we must ask: Wealth and jobs for whom, at what cost and what consequences? The elimination of Barbudans as a people with a unique culture and history? The abolition of our communal land system and redundancy of our local government system and our Council? Destruction of our Lagoon National Park, designated RAMSAR Convention site and home to our magnificent Frigate Bird? Menial, transient jobs for some? Not on our watch, we deserve better.”

There is continued collective concern among the island’s population about what the impact will be of the selling of leases for approximately 100 residences at Coco Point and a further 450 residences at Palmetto, whilst pristine protected coastline and mangroves are being destroyed daily as building work continues.

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