“While many corporations are frustrated by retail theft, they’re not doing enough to try to solve it.”
“Some amount of shoplifting is always going to happen. “Shrink” — retail-speak for missing inventory that may have been stolen by outside parties or its own workers, damaged, or just plain lost — is inevitable. According to the National Retail Federation, the average shrink rate increased from 1.4 percent in 2021 to 1.6 percent in 2022. Taken as a percentage of sales, that translates to an increase from $93.9 billion to $112.1 billion in losses. That’s a big number — it’s also one that companies could take more steps to bring down, workers say.”
“It’s difficult to estimate exactly how much it would cost companies to really go after the shoplifting problem. Many retailers say that they are spending more to combat retail theft than they have in the past. In its 2022 annual report, Home Depot made note that combating shrink and theft and keeping stores safe requires “operational changes” that could increase costs and make the store experience worse for customers and associates alike. (Nobody likes the whole unlock-the-box-to-buy song and dance.)”
“There’s no strong consensus about what would really work, investment-wise. And loss prevention doesn’t bring in revenue, it’s just an expense. “Corporate offices want to see profit. Marketing brings profits, the buyers bring in profits. Loss prevention, in and of itself, does not bring any profits. We just try to deter loss,” says one loss prevention agent who works at a corporate office for a national retailer. “Loss prevention, typically, is the most underfunded department of any company.””
“Companies can and do try to crack down on theft by locking items up, but unless they really have enough workers to unlock everything, it’s a pickle, business-wise, not to mention an annoyance for customers. “Lock up your whole store and you’ll never lose anything. You’ll also never sell anything,” says Joshua Jacobson, a loss prevention professional in California. “Sales are more important to a company than shopping theft.”
Organized retail crime operations made up of boosters — people who steal the goods — and fences — those who purchase or receive and resell the merchandise — do actually exist, and they are difficult to combat. Stores and police departments can and do build up cases against them and make arrests, but it can be a bit of a game of whack-a-mole.
Most workers say that even when they catch boosters in the act, they blow right past them, and they’re often not allowed to say anything at all for safety reasons. That includes security staff, many of whom aren’t permitted to make physical contact with thieves (some say they want to be allowed to be “hands on,” though you can see where this could start to become a problem on multiple fronts, from liability to safety). Stolen products wind up sold in the open on the street or online on platforms like Amazon and Facebook. In June, the INFORM Consumers Act became law at the federal level, which requires online marketplaces to verify and disclose information on “high-volume third-party sellers” in an attempt to crack down on organized retail crime. It’s not yet clear how much of an impact it’s making.”
“One former booster told me he got into retail theft on a “massive scale” to support a drug habit. (He’s now been sober for over three months and has a regular job.) He described going to Home Depot and Lowe’s dressed relatively nicely — with a collared shirt, maybe a Bluetooth piece in his ear — and asking workers to get him generators or tools down from shelves. He’d put them on a cart, walk out the door, sometimes with a manufactured receipt in his hand, and get into an Uber or Lyft he’d ordered. “The times I was stopped, I never would acknowledge the fact that I’d just been caught,” he says. “If it’s already on the cart, I’m committed.” He’d then sell the items to a local pawnbroker or even to a foreman on a construction site. They had to have figured out what he was up to, handing over a brand-new generator for a fraction of the cost, but they didn’t ask. “They’ve got to be pretty stupid not to know.””
““The professionals, unfortunately, are rarely deterred, and the biggest deterrent to them is having off-duty law enforcement, which is very expensive,” says Prusan, the security and loss prevention consultant. “You can’t catch everybody, no matter who you are.””
“In the last 50 years, when the budget process has been in place, Congress has managed only four times to pass a budget on time and through the regular process. Seventeen times, members of Congress haven’t bothered to pass a budget at all. That hasn’t stopped them from spending money they didn’t have, or from making promises to voters they wouldn’t be able to fulfill. I doubt I need to remind you that it’s gotten worse. In the last half-decade, Congress added $5 trillion to the already elevated and growing federal debt with no plan for repayment.
Nor should I need to remind this column’s readers that government interest payments are growing quickly, propelled by higher interest rates applied to an expanding debt level. That’s the result of years of excuses that interest rates would remain historically low.
While you might see how legislators chose to believe that inflation and high interest rates were things of the past, there’s no excuse for ignoring the upcoming insolvency of programs like Medicare and Social Security. This looming calamity has been warned of for decades in government reports and scholarly publications.”
“At the heart of the commission’s charge must be a commitment not just to reduce some deficits but to put the government back on a sustainable track. As my colleague and former CBO Director Keith Hall convinced me, the commission will fail if it doesn’t have a clear target from the start.”
“Research has shown that people will skip necessary care if they have even a small cost to pay, and recent surveys find one in three Americans say they have postponed medical treatment in the last year due to the cost.”
“The Perry Undem survey, which polled nearly 2,700 Americans on behalf of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and RIP Medical Debt, also detected widespread struggles to afford health care. About 7 in 10 people say they have received a medical bill that they could not afford, it found, and more than 60 percent of Americans said they had made some kind of sacrifice — delaying care, skipping appointments, changing the food they buy at the grocery store, etc. — in order to afford health care in the past two years.”
“About 40 percent of people said they were always or frequently unsure how much their medical services would cost after they received care, according to the Perry Undem survey; another 30 percent said they were uncertain about the costs at least some of the time. Nearly two-thirds of US patients said they were at least sometimes unsure how much their insurance plan would cover after being treated.”
“About 6 in 10 Americans said they had experienced a problem using their health insurance in the past year, according to KFF.”
“One area where the Biden administration has set itself apart is in sending weapons to partner countries, and now we’re getting a more complete picture of what the US is sending Israel in the weeks since October 7.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the US has ramped up its previously minimal military aid to the country to an unparalleled $46.7 billion. Ukraine towers over the other major recipients in bar charts of US security assistance for 2022 and ’23. The US is sending so many munitions there that it has apparently strained American factories and led to a whole-of-government effort to revive military supply chains.
The US is also accelerating arms transfers to Israel in response to Hamas’s October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people and resulted in the kidnapping of more than 200. Last month, President Joe Biden announced from the Oval Office that he would seek “an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense” of $14.3 billion. “We’re surging additional military assistance,” he added.
But while Ukraine has never been a traditional recipient of heavy military aid, the US’s most recent support of the Israeli military builds on a long bipartisan American practice. Israel has received about $3 billion annually, adjusted for inflation, for the last 50 years, and is the largest historical recipient of US security aid. The Obama administration in 2016 announced the biggest security assistance package to the country ever, pledging $38 billion for Israel over the next decade. US support has ensured that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over neighboring Arab countries by having more advanced weapons systems, something Congress wrote into law in 2008.
Israel would not be able to conduct this war without the US, which over time has provided Israel with about 80 percent of the country’s weapons imports.”
“Israel contends that it has the right to circumvent certain international obligations in the West Bank, saying that it’s not part of Israel’s sovereign territory and therefore subject to military laws that can restrict people’s civil rights. But watchdog groups, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, argue that as the occupying power, Israel must respect human rights in Palestinian territories — especially as the occupation grows older and more entrenched.
And before the war, Israel was not, by and large, deploying this tool lawfully. “Amnesty has found that Israel’s systematic use of administrative detention against Palestinians indicates that it’s used to persecute Palestinians rather than as an extraordinary and selectively used preventative measure,” Rghebi said.
Israel maintains that it detains people because of legitimate security concerns, such as potential participation in violent attacks. But while there is a thin veneer of due process — Palestinians can appeal their detention orders, for example — the reality is that a stunningly low number of appeals succeed, in no small part because as both local and international human rights groups have documented, neither the detainees nor their lawyers are told what evidence Israel has against them. (According to B’Tselem, Israeli military courts only nullified 1.2 percent of detention orders issued between 2015 and 2017, and an investigation by Haaretz found that as of August, not a single detention order had been canceled this year.)”
“A coalition of ethnic armed militias in Myanmar have launched what could be the best possible chance to overthrow the military government that has controlled the country since a 2021 coup ousted the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD).
If successful, this could be the groundwork for a more normalized democracy for a country that has historically been dominated by military juntas and dictators. Engagement from civil society has been high and is a key factor that can turn military victories into long-term successes. Still, nothing is guaranteed, and the fight is likely to be difficult.
On October 27, the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a coalition of three ethnic armed groups, launched a well-coordinated offensive in the eastern Shan state, the largest of Myanmar’s seven states by land area. The surprise attack successfully captured several government military installations by the Chinese border and has also inspired other armed groups to launch their own successful campaigns against the repressive Tatmadaw or State Administration Council, as the junta is called in Myanmar.
Myanmar has been under military rule for much of its history as an independent nation; as in many other Southeast Asian nations, democratic movements have struggled to gain traction against powerful and entrenched military interests. After a decade of democratic reforms driven by a series of popular uprisings against the military government, Myanmar seemed to break from the past; in 2015 and 2020, the country held free elections, which the NLD won handily. But the Tatmadaw seized power in 2021, igniting nearly three years of brutal civil conflict in which the government has killed thousands of civilians.
Though the Three Brotherhood Alliance and similar ethnic armed groups have not taken over the whole country and the Tatmadaw still has far more firepower than any of the armed groups, the October 27 offensive and ensuing military successes have kindled a cautious hope that the military dictatorship could be toppled.”
“Even before this most recent war between Israel and Hamas, the very tiny, very rich Gulf state had carved out a bit of a reputation as a diplomatic broker, especially in hostage negotiations. This has been a deliberate gambit on Qatar’s part, which has cultivated and managed pragmatic ties with the region’s main players — becoming a kind of middle man between parties that otherwise do not get along. It’s a key US ally, hosting an American military base critical to US operations in places like Syria and Iraq. Qatar also has ties to Islamist groups, including Hamas, whose political arm has an office in Doha.
This has given Qatar leverage — and, most importantly, access. The United States and Israel do not negotiate directly with Hamas. That has made the Qataris an indispensable go-between. “You have to talk to Hamas to get anything done,” said F. Gregory Gause, professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. “The Qataris are there to help you out — and they’re there to remind you that they’re helping you out.”
Qatar’s role in this conflict extends beyond this week’s deal. In late October, Qatar helped negotiate the release of a couple hostages held by Hamas, and it may be helping to tamp down a wider regional conflict, given its good relations with Iran and open channels with the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah. Qatar played a role in mediating the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, and has supported Gaza, including financing salaries for Hamas civil servants through the sale of fuel to the group — with the okay of Israel, in part because Israel saw it as a stabilizing measure.
Qatar’s diplomacy isn’t limited to the realm of Israel-Hamas, either. Qatar served as an intermediary between the US and the Taliban before the two ultimately negotiated a peace deal directly, in Doha. Qatar’s open lines with the Taliban helped facilitate evacuations from Afghanistan after Kabul’s fall in 2021, and even after. And Qatar has increasingly become known for its skill in hostage negotiations, even outside the region. It recently helped broker a deal to get Russia to return four Ukrainian kids to their families.
“It wants to be influential, diplomatically, and it does understand that, obviously, it’s not a regional superpower that can dictate things,” said Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo. Yet maintaining these delicate ties — and working those connections — is a very good way for Qatar to advance its interests, and its security. That approach comes with some risks, but, at least right now, they don’t outweigh the upsides for Qatar.
Qatar finds “a way to be helpful and resourceful in specific, niche areas that can have outsized influence,” Momani said. “That’s their strategy.””
“Chinese middlemen launder the proceeds of North Korean hackers’ cyber heists while Chinese ships deliver sanctioned North Korean goods to Chinese ports.
Chinese companies help North Koreans workers — from cheap laborers to well-paid IT specialists — find work abroad. A Beijing art gallery even boasts of North Korean artists working 12-hour days in its heavily surveilled compound, churning out paintings of idyllic visions of life under communism that each sell for thousands of dollars.
That’s all part of what international authorities say is a growing mountain of evidence that shows Beijing is helping cash-strapped North Korea evade a broad range of international sanctions designed to hamper Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, according to an Associated Press review of United Nations reports, court records and interviews with experts.
“It’s overwhelming,” Aaron Arnold, a former member of a U.N. panel on North Korea and a sanctions expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said of the links between China and sanctions evasion. “At this point, it’s very hard to say it’s not intentional.””