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No rest because of the wicked
Ah, Saturday, we’re supposed to have a little lighter fare today, aren’t we? I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible. For those of us here in the Midwest, we’re waking up to temperatures at or below zero, which makes being out at all for any length of time rather dangerous. It’s not going to get much warmer, either, as highs today will still be well below 20 degrees. Be thankful that you’re not in the Carolinas or Eastern Tennessee, however, as they got socked pretty hard with a winter storm yesterday. Fortunately, it was not as widespread as initially feared.
For a Saturday there are a surprising amount of things to talk about. Indianapolis had two more murders overnight. The president-elect is attempting to pick on Arnold Schwarzenegger over television ratings, and prison gangs in Brazil decapitated some 30 inmates as the violence there continues to escalate. These are not the type of things we like to deal with on a Saturday, but they are things you need to know. So, adult up and let’s look at our top 5 things you should know.
This isn’t supposed to be possible
Americans were taken aback yesterday when 26-year-old Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, a National Guard veteran who served in Iraq, stepped off a plane in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, retrieved his legally-checked baggage, pulled out a gun and started shooting1. Witnesses say there was no apparent motive or reason to his shooting. Santiago simply shot at anyone and everyone until he was out of ammunition. By the time he was done, five were dead and eight others injured.
Immediately, people begin asking how and why this happened here, in Ft. Lauderdale of all places. Naturally, it’s too early to have all the answers, but a couple of things are evident at this point. First, Santiago’s family states that he had been receiving mental health care and that he “wasn’t right” after returning from Iraq2. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of soldiers having emotional and mental difficulties after returning from service. We also have to realize and come to grips with the fact that the mental health care we give our veterans sucks. If mental health proves to be part of the cause, then we all have to accept part of the blame.
At the same time, many are wondering how he was able to get a gun through the airport in his luggage. Guess what: it’s perfectly legal. Guns can be shipped in checked luggage as long as they are locked, ammunition is stored separately, and shipped in a hard-sided container. All Santiago had to do was retrieve his hard-case from the baggage area. He then went to the bathroom, assembled and loaded the weapon, and came out shooting. It’s up to the ATF now to determine whether this calls for a change in the rules. I think a lot of people flying would support that.
Russian hacking isn’t done
The National Intelligence director released a declassified copy of the same report given to President Obama and the president-elect yesterday, and what they are saying is a bit more frightening that what we first thought. There is a lot of information in the report, of course, but one of the most troubling items to stick out is the prediction that, even though the election is over, the Russians aren’t done hacking3.
The report is the most detail we’ve seen yet from national intelligence sources concerning the source and severity of Russian-backed hacking efforts regarding the election. According to the assessment, intelligence agencies have a “high amount of confidence that the GRU (a top Russian intelligence agency) relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.” While the public version lacks the supporting evidence, since that is necessarily a closely-guarded secret, the information made available makes a very strong case against the Russian government and Vladimir Putin.
Contents of the report stand in strong opposition to statements made by both the president-elect and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week4, both of whom denied any involvement by Russia in the election. However, what you should know is that the report is the combined work of 17 different intelligence agencies with thousands of people involved at various levels. This is much more in-depth and authoritative than a tweet pulled out of someone’s ass.
Retail continues to suck
If there is an industry that is currently in decline more than fashion retail, please let me know what it is. Just two days after Macy’s and Sears both announced large layoffs and store closings, The Limited, headquartered here in the Midwest in New Albany, Ohio, announced that it is closing all of its brick-and-mortar stores at the end of business this Sunday5. That’s right, they’re only open today and tomorrow and then they’re gone.
While the store will continue to operate online, the website is showing a 50% discount across the board, indicating a severe inventory sell-off as stores begin shipping back whatever is left on their shelves when they close Sunday evening. This is a huge blow not only to the retail sector, but also to the suburban malls in which most Limited stores are located. As both retail fashion and mall shopping decline, they leave in their wake a significant blight of empty stores and large, vacant buildings.
This doesn’t come as a big surprise to The Limited’s employees. The company had announced back in the fall that it would be closing some stores and laying off employees. Both the CEO and CFO left at the end of the year with no replacement. Some stores have already been offering steep discounts up to 90%. If you have some expendable cash, this might be a good day to go shopping, but don’t expect there to be much left. No new inventory has come to the stores since the first of the year.
Other people looking for work
The Limited employees aren’t the only ones looking for work. United States Ambassadors appointed under the Obama administration are expected to resign and return home by January 206. The mandate applies only to politically-appointed positions and not career diplomats. On one level, this is pretty much business as usual during a presidential transition period.
However, what is different this time around is the requirement that everyone actually be back by the inauguration. Typically, exceptions are made for those who have children in school as well as politically sensitive locations such as Germany, Canada, and Great Britain. Failing to leave some ambassadors in place means that the United States has no Senate-confirmed envoys in those countries until Congress gets through the painfully long process of approving the president-elect’s appointments.
The move not only shows complete disregard for the importance of a cohesive foreign policy, but also leaves our closest allies without a diplomatic relationship with the White House. Ambassadors are now struggling to find new accommodations and secure visas for families who need to stay until the end of school.
And finally …
We can end today on a bit of a high note as employment figures released yesterday showed the economy creating 156,000 new jobs last month even as unemployment ticked up a tenth of a percent to 4.77. This is seen are solid growth despite the minor increase in unemployment. Hiring has continued a slow but steady increase over the past seven-and-a-half years, climbing steadily from the recession President Obama inherited from the Bush administration.
Even the unemployment was good news. The reason for that small increase was that more people were looking for jobs during the period, something that had been a point of concern for economists who were afraid too many people had simply given up. Healthcare was the sector with the largest employment gains, with restaurants and bars coming in a close second. Manufacturing finally managed to add a few new jobs last month as well, after having lost the previous four months.
Those who are gainfully employed are also making more with hourly wages up 2.9 percent, the biggest jump in the past seven years. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether this upward trend continues under the new administration. While the president-elect has bullied some companies into keeping jobs in the US, the actual number of those jobs has not been significant and could still result in yet another retreat in the manufacturing industry. We’ll just have to wait and see.
That’s all we have time for today. With weather as cold as we’re experiencing across the Midwest this morning, you’ll want to exercise extreme caution if you get out. Better yet, just stay home, stay safe, and catch up some reading. We are, again, taking tomorrow off, hoping nothing major happens over the next 24 hours or so. We’ll be back bright and early Monday morning. Enjoy your weekend.