Florida air travel starts to shut down ahead of Irma

Hurricane Irma’s impending landfall in Florida is forcing airlines serving some of the largest airports in America to shutter operations and get out of the way of the powerful storm.

Irma has already trashed airports, buildings and roads in the Caribbean. St. Maarten, a major international destination for U.S. and European carriers, was in ruins after the storm. Photos from the Netherlands Ministry of Defense showed its runway covered in sand and widespread damage at its terminal building and jetways.

By late Saturday, Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale – home to the 12th, 13th, 21st largest airports in the U.S., respectively – will be largely dormant as the extreme weather rolls in.

But the prospect of a direct hit from Irma represents another blow to U.S. air travel in one of the busiest air corridors on the planet for business and leisure travel.

Among Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, the three airports handled more than 115 million passengers in 2016.

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The scramble was so acute that the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday evening said air traffic controllers were increasing the space between flights from Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale to enable them to better manage the crowded skies. And American Airlines (AAL)was briefly under an FAA ground stop in Miami due to ATC rerouting outbound aircraft.

The airline had added 16 extra flights from Miami on Thursday, including 12 to Dallas, one to Philadelphia and three to New York, enough room for more than 3,600 passengers. The Fort Worth-based carrier said it has canceled more than 2,400 flights as of Thursday afternoon stretching through Sept. 11.

Related: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma may mess with the job market

The biggest single carrier in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region is American, which accounts of 38% of the flying there, according to Morgan Stanley. Southwest Airlines (LUV) is the largest single operator in Orlando at 20%.

Delta Air Lines (DAL), too, has added 2,000 additional seats on Thursday flights out of Florida and Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, including 1,500 from Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Airlines and airports operate preparedness plans in 72, 48 and 24 hour markers, evacuating aircraft and personnel and preparing stations as part of a methodical checklist ahead of a storm’s arrival, according to Ken Jenkins, principal crisis response strategist at NavAid Crisis Consulting Group.

American, which has a hub in Miami, will operate its last outbound flight from the airport on Friday, when it departs for Dallas just before 4 p.m. American is also shutting operations in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach.

Miami hasn’t announced if it will cease commercial flying during the storm, but once sustained winds hit 55 miles per hour, aircraft cannot take off or land.

Air traffic controllers may shelter at lower levels in control towers or nearby buildings and will remain on duty, according to the FAA, “and are ready to go back to work as soon as the storm passes.”


Commercial flights will cease at Key West Airport at 8 p.m. on Friday and Orlando International Airport at 5 p.m. on Saturday due to Hurricane Irma and Fort Lauderdale at 7:45 p.m. In Orlando, 50 knot winds will shut down the airport’s outdoor tram which shuttles passengers between terminals.

The duration of any shutdown remains uncertain. American said any timeline for resumption of flights will be governed by not only airport conditions, but also the ability of airport and airline staff to get to work.

It’s not just commercial airlines getting out of Irma’s path.

Farther north in South Carolina, Boeing (BA) said it was suspending manufacturing operations starting on Saturday morning. The company’s expansive North Charleston facility is flying out any 787 Dreamliner that’s able to fly or bringing aircraft inside the factory, which is rated for a category five hurricane.


Somaliland’s women show kindness and leadership in the face of a humanitarian crisis

For three years now, Somaliland, like much of East Africa, has experienced extreme drought. Drought that has become more and more severe, until earlier this year, with thousands on the brink of starvation, the government of Somaliland declared a national emergency.

The crisis should serve as a warning to the rest of the world to prepare – and prepare well – for extreme weather events, which are occurring with greater frequency and ferocity than ever before.

As the drought ravages the communities of Somaliland and its neighbours, hurricane Irma is making its destructive path through the Caribbean islands towards Florida. Countries in South Asia have been battling floods affecting more than 24 million people. Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc on the United States’ Gulf of Mexico. Sierra Leone has scrambled to respond to the deadly impacts of a landslide that took nearly 500 lives.

Needless to say, the impacts of these events are wide reaching. They extend beyond the obvious food, water and shelter shortages to the inevitable knock-on effects, such as mass migration within and across country borders, and the aggravation of pre-existing inequalities.

I’ve recently spent two weeks in the small, self-declared independent state in the northwest of Somalia, meeting women leading the humanitarian response to the disaster in their villages. Just hours outside Hargeisa, Somaliland’s tiny capital, I met women in drought-ravaged communities who have taken up leadership roles for the first time in their lives. These women are desperate to protect the lives of those most at risk in the ongoing crisis.

Women lead emergency food and dignity kit distribution in Qoyta region, Somaliland.
Women lead emergency food and dignity kit distribution in Qoyta region, Somaliland. Photograph: Holly Miller, ActionAid Australia

The impact of the drought on Somaliland’s communities has been extreme. The first two years were increasingly difficult, the women told me, but this last year has been the worst. After years of coping with dwindling water supplies – supplies required for business, for food preparation, for sanitation – it eventually evaporated almost entirely. Money ran out, animals died. With little to eat, whole communities became malnourished.

In Somaliland, those who were marginalised before the drought have experienced its greatest effects. In Saylabari, women have formed a collective to ensure that those most in need are the first to receive assistance when aid is distributed in their village.

And who are most affected? Women, they tell me. Women, who have long borne the brunt of a patriarchal system, and its brutish brother, poverty.

Singularly responsible for the care of their children, the stress that mothers have experienced in the drought has been severe. High rates of illiteracy among women who have been denied education means less access to information about what relief is on its way and who will have access to it.

Levels of domestic violence have increased significantly. Women whose husbands have left in search of alternative income are now responsible for providing for their families, as well as caring for them. Forced to forage for water in far off places, women are often raped on their journeys.

For those who migrate, the stories are worse. Over the past six months, people have left their homes in great numbers to search for water and for places their animals can graze on healthy vegetation. Leaving is a gamble –people leave in the hope that there is more sustenance further afield, but without any guarantee of finding it.

Somaliland’s experience of disaster is typical of any emergency insofar as it disproportionately affects women and those marginalised before the crisis. This is a well-recognised truth that should teach us an important lesson. The only way to prepare adequately for disasters of this scale is to address the deeply entrenched gender inequalities in access to resources and decision making.

One hundred kilometres from Saylabari and its women’s collective, a burgeoning women’s coalition have waged their own humanitarian response to the crisis in the village of Gorgeysa.

Women lead emergency food distribution in Qoyta region, Somaliland.
Their own community is unaffected by the drought, but the women’s coalition introduced a policy that every family in the community must take in two families. Chairwoman Ruun Essa Habane said, “We were receiving so many migrants – so many people who were searching for safety and for food and water. We had to work out how we could care for them.”

The collective pooled its resources, resources that the women had been saving over the three years that they have been working together. They used them to provide for those in their care. They donated clothes.

When I expressed my stunned (Australian) admiration, Essa Habane seemed surprised. “What else could we do?” she said. “We have the money.”

“The community cannot make decisions without us,” said Essa Habane. “We decided we wanted to support those affected by the drought and that was it.”

There is much that Australia could learn from the women of Somaliland and their response to the country’s protracted disaster. While the women in communities in Somaliland give up the little they have to support those who lack their basic needs, Australia struggles to respond humanely to the asylum seeker crisis that we have created.

Rather than responding with kindness to our fellow human beings, our politicians wallow in arguments about space and resources, postulating threats of terrorism and disseminating notions of greedy people jumping queues to grab “our” resources.

It’s worth considering how we might respond if our leadership wouldn’t primarily consist of white advantaged men, who struggle to see beyond the privilege that has always defined their lives, to empathise with those on the margins.

How long can Australia get away with this cruel and selfish response to those in need? Climate change is taking its toll – and it’s a toll that will eventually catch us up.

Extreme weather events are already leading to forced migration, in Somaliland and well beyond it, and in the years to come, millions of people will be on the move, in desperate search of food and water.

If we are to respond effectively to these impending crises – if we are, like the women of Gorgeysa and Saylabari, to ensure that nobody goes without, especially those most vulnerable – we must take action now to ensure that women are equally represented in leadership positions, and that they have the support to maintain them.

Women’s Collective leading humanitarian response in Gorgeysa, Somaliland.
Women’s Collective leading humanitarian response in Gorgeysa, Somaliland. Photograph: Holly Miller, ActionAid Australia

Female leaders create space for other women to take up leadership roles and to participate fully in decision making. They consistently make decisions that benefit whole communities, and ensure that everybody is considered and cared for.

At the end of every conversation I had with different women in Somaliland, they would ask me the same question: “What are things like for women in your country? What advice do you have for us as we strive for greater things – for presidency?”

All I could tell them was that in Australia, we’ve taken great steps forward but that the road ahead is long. I said that we could learn from them. That by supporting women’s leadership, perhaps we too, some day, might say, “What else could we do? We have the money.”




Toronto Real Estate’s ‘Scariest Chart Ever’ Is Looking Better


Several months ago, we presented the “scariest chart ever” for Toronto real estate owners.

It showed a steep decline in the city’s sales-to-new-listings ratio — a measure of how many of the city’s homes available for sale are being snapped up by buyers.

The ratio plunged off a cliff this spring following the province’s announcement of new housing rules that included a 15 per cent foreign speculators’ tax. It was a sign that Toronto’s house prices were about to plunge.


And plunge they did. The average price for all property types sold in Toronto has come down by about 20.5 per cent since it peaked in April. It was $732,292 in August, down from $920,791 at the top.

But according to BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic, the worst of the price collapse may now be in the past. Kavcic published an updated and seasonally adjusted version of the scariest chart ever, and the latest development is a small but noticeable bounce-back in the sales-to-new-listings ratio.


That bounce-back suggests “the market has started to balance out,” Kavcic told HuffPost Canada by phone. Prices could continue falling for several months, but the worst of it took place this past summer, he said.

Good news for those worried about losing the equity in their homes, bad news for homebuyers hoping for more affordable prices.

Rising interest rates a risk


But Kavcic did warn of one downside risk to his forecast: The Bank of Canada’s suddenly aggressive interest rate hikes.

Raising the cost of borrowing for mortgages “will affect the psychology of the market, and affordability as well,” Kavcic said.

With borrowers so used to rock-bottom interest rates, “it doesn’t take a lot of movement (in interest rates) to start altering affordability.”

Case in point: Ratehub.ca estimates that a 0.25 percentage point rate hike, like the one put in place by the Bank of Canada this week, would add $84 to the monthly cost of a variable-rate mortgage on average-priced Toronto home valued at $750,000.

“Since the beginning of 2017, variable rate mortgage consumers have had to increase monthly payments by $168 per month, or an additional $2,016 per year,” Ratehub said in a statement.

BMO has updated its forecast for interest rates in the wake of the bank’s hike on Wednesday. It now expects the Bank o

f Canada’s key lending rate to hit two per cent by the end of 2018. The bank’s current rate is one per cent, up from 0.75 per cent before Wednesday’s hike.

If the bank were to move more aggressively than expected in raising rates, “the impact on housing will be material,” Kavcic said.




Two Florida men, 16-year-old girl arrested for murdering MMA fighter Aaron Rajman

Two men and a 16-year-old girl have been charged with murdering a professional mixed martial arts fighter who was shot during a Florida home invasion in July, police said.

Roberto Ortiz and Jace Swinton, both 18, were arrested Friday along with high school junior Summer Church, for the death of Aaron Rajman, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said.

The three murder suspects, who were indicted by a grand jury on Thursday, face a first-degree murder charge and two counts of armed home invasion robbery with a firearm.

Church, who is 16, will be tried as an adult.

Rajman was shot dead on July 3 after “unknown males” went to his Boca Raton home, the Sun Sentinel reported.

An argument broke out and at least one shot was fired before the suspects drove off, the sheriff’s office said.

They made no mention of a female at the time of Rajman’s death.

Church, who was arrested Friday on her way to school, met the MMA fighter at a convenience store in January, her mother Judith Church told the Palm Beach Post.

Judith Church claimed her daughter, who was dating Swinton at the time, was held at gunpoint by Ortiz and three other men.


An argument broke out at Rajman’s home and at least one shot was fired, the sheriff’s office said


They forced the 16-year-old to call Rajman and let her out the car before they arrived at the MMA fighter’s home, according to Judith Church, who argued that her daughter’s murder charge was undeserved.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg issued a statement Friday.

“This was no random act of violence. Mr. Rajman was targeted by these defendants and we intend to seek justice for the victim and his family,” he wrote.

Rajman was a member of the American Top Team gym, and maintained an 8-1 win-loss record as an amateur fighter before he turned professional in 2014 with a 2-2 record.

The 25-year-old was a devout Orthodox Jew who often shared his religious beliefs and taught kids at a Jewish community school.


Next execution in Florida set for October

TALLAHASSEE Florida is scheduled to execute its next Death Row inmate next month.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a new death warrant on Friday setting the execution of Michael Lambrix for 6 p.m. Oct. 5.

Lambrix was previously set to die in February 2016 but hisexecution was halted amid questions over the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty law.

He has been on Death Row since 1984 after he was convicted in 1983 of murdering Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore Jr., following a night of drinking in Glades County.

Scott’s office described the crime as Lambrix having “lured Moore outside, and viciously attacked him with a tire iron, repeatedly hitting him in the head and fracturing his skull. Lambrix then called Bryant to come outside, where he attacked her, kicking her in the head and strangling her.”

But in an interview with the Herald/Times in 2016, Lambrix contended that Moore strangled Bryant and that he used a tire iron to fatally batter Moore in self-defense. He admitted that he and his girlfriend, Frances Smith, buried both victims in a shallow grave and that he refused to call police because he was a fugitive from that work detail.

RELATED: Who is Michael Lambrix? ]

Lambrix’s previously scheduled execution in 2016 was halted when the state Supreme Court issued a stay. Justices cited the uncertainty of how past cases should be handled in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 — known as Hurst v. Florida — which deemed Florida’s sentencing procedures unconstitutional.

The Florida Supreme Court in December cemented death sentences for nearly 200 prisoners — including Lambrix — whose sentences were finalized before a June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling referenced in the Hurst decision.

The Legislature, meanwhile, quickly moved to fix the state’s death penalty law during the first week of the 2017 session this spring. The new procedures

This is the third death warrant signed for Lambrix. The governor who signed Lambrix’s first death warrant, Bob Martinez, left office in 1991.

The last Death Row inmate to be executed was Mark James Asay, who was put to death just eight days ago.

Asay’s death by lethal injection on Aug. 24 was the first time Florida had used a new anesthetic drug, etomidate. There were no reported complications.


Power company kills nuclear plant, plans $6 billion in solar, battery investment

A solar farm under construction in Punta Gorda, Florida, on April 22, 2016 where enough energy will be produced to power 21,000 homes.
With deep pockets and an environmentalist’s zeal, retired American football player Syd Kitson dreamed up a plan to build the United States’ first solar-powered town on a vast swath of rural land in southwest Florida. Nearly a decade after he first purchased the 91,000 acres (37,000 hectares) known as Babcock Ranch, construction is bustling at what developers say will be the nation’s first eco-friendly city, built from the ground up, with enough room for some 50,000 people.
/ AFP / Kerry SHERIDAN / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY KERRY SHERIDAN-“Construction is bustling at Florida’s first ‘sustainable town” (Photo credit should read KERRY SHERIDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, power provider Duke Energy Florida announced a settlement with the state’s public service commission (PSC) to cease plans to build a nuclear plant in western Florida. The utility instead intends to invest $6 billion in solar panels, grid-tied batteries, grid modernization projects, and electric vehicle charging areas. The new plan involves the installation of 700MW of solar capacity over four years in the western Florida area.

There’s excitement from the solar industry, but the announcement is more bad news for the nuclear industry. Earlier this year, nuclear reactor company Westinghouse declared bankruptcy as construction of its new AP1000 reactors suffered from contractor issues and a stringent regulatory environment. Two plants whose construction was already underway—the Summer plant in South Carolina and the Vogtle plant in Georgia—found their futures in question immediately.

At the moment, Summer’s owners are considering abandoning the plant, and Vogtle’s owners are weighing whether they will do the same or attempt to salvage the project.

Duke Energy Florida hadn’t started building the Levy nuclear plant, but it did have plans to order two AP1000 reactors from Westinghouse. Now that Westinghouse company is in dire financial straits, the Florida utility decided that its money is better spent elsewhere.

Just last week, Duke told its PSC that it would have to increase rates by more than eight percent due to increased fuel costs. But with the new settlement that directs the utility toward solar and storage, customers will see that rate hike cut to 4.6 percent.

The Levy nuclear plant was proposed in 2008 and ran into hurdles early on. With cheap natural gas in 2013, Duke Energy Florida became nervous that it might not recuperate costs spent on the nuclear plant, especially with regulatory delays. The company cancelled its engineering and construction agreements in 2013 but said that it was holding open the possibility of returning to Levy someday. Over nine years, about $800 million had been spent on preparatory work for the plant.

With Tuesday’s announcement, those costs are sunk costs now. But overall, the changes will save residential customers future nuclear-related rate increases. Those customers will see a cost reduction of $2.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh) “through the removal of unrecovered Levy Nuclear Project costs,” the utility said.

The 700MW of solar won’t exactly cover the nameplate capacity of the Levy plant, which was supposed to deliver 2.2 gigawatts to the region. But the Tampa Bay Times wrote that Duke “is effectively giving up its long-held belief that nuclear power is a key component to its Florida future and, instead, making a dramatic shift toward more solar power.”

Duke Energy Florida serves 1.8 million people, and Florida relies mostly on (currently cheap) natural gas. Duke said this week that it wants to raise its solar power capacity to eight percent of generating power in the next four years.

This isn’t the only planned nuclear plant to be cancelled in the last few days, either. The parent company of Duke Energy Florida—that is, Duke Energy—also pulled the plug on another planned nuclear plant in North Carolina last week, according to GreenTechMedia. There, the power company asked for a rate increase to cover more than $500 million in sunk costs related to the unbuilt Lee nuclear power plant. (It should be noted, though, that more than half of the rate increase was to cover costs related to cleaning up coal ash sites.)

While Duke said that its existing nuclear power plants were a “vital component” of the power mix, the company also said that “cancellation of the [Lee] project is the best option for customers.”

Experts don’t foresee a lot of nuclear investment in the next decade or so, according to UtilityDive. But experts are divided on whether focusing solely on renewable energy is a good thing. While opponents cite nuclear’s expense and safety risk, proponents say we need all kinds of greenhouse gas-free power online as quickly as possible.



Macy’s Major Reorganization Paves Way to Brighter Future

Jeff Gennette, CEO of Macy’s has just announced major management moves that should help strengthen the company.  He appointed Hal Lawson (43) president of the company. Hal Lawton’s strong background in technology and digital expertise is a welcome addition for the future of the company. At the same time, management announced a major restructuring of its merchandising operation under Macy veteran Jeff Kantor (58). The company will consolidate its operations into five “families of business” (Ready to Wear, Center Core, Beauty, Men’s and Kids, and Home).

This is the first dramatic move by the new CEO, Jeff Gennette. He recognizes the need for more digital communications in order to more effectively engage with the young customers – be it Millennials or GenZ. Hal Lawton’s expertise comes from his recently toiling at eBay North America as SVP. In that position, Lawton oversaw marketing, merchandising and consumer selling. Prior to joining eBay, Lawton spent 10 years at Home Depot where most recently he was SVP for merchandising. He developed Home Depot’s internet business and built it to nearly $2 Billion. And, before going the corporate route, he was with McKinsey & Co. He clearly he joins with a lot of solid experience in hard-lines, and I think he will have to learn quickly about the culture of the company and the needs of soft-goods vendors. He is said to have fabulous personal relationships which should help him get started.

The reorganization of Macy’s merchandising is long overdue and something that makes me more positive about future prospects. The company is shrinking and must act faster with every merchandise decision. The five groups listed above – Ready to Wear, Center Core Beauty, Men’s and Kid’s, and Home – are key groups for any major department store organization (although I would have split Men’s and Kids to give both classifications more emphasis). In addition, private label and planning will now be integrated under merchandise managers that will head these groups. It is likely to allow for quick decisions and dramatic action when fashion changes.

Jeff Kantor has superb vendor relationship and great leadership skills. He is revered by the vendor community; especially in the home area where he had been president. Most recently, he was chief stores and human resources officer and prior to that he was chairman of macys.com. He has been with various Macy’s businesses for 35 years.

While Jeff Gennette is a great men’s wear fashion merchant, I now hope he is searching for a great ready-to-wear leader for the company to round out his leadership team. The legendary fashion mavens are gone and Mr. Lawton and Mr. Kantor will have to jointly develop new creative talent in that area. That will be a challenge since the whole retail industry lacks leadership that can develop a strong fashion image.

Macy’s announced that all of this consolidation and restructuring will result in a headcount reduction of about 100 people. As a result, the company hopes to save $5 million in the fourth quarter of this year. The cost of the restructuring is anticipated to be about $20 t0 $25 Million. It will be booked in the third quarter of 2017.

The die is cast. A new team is going to take charge under Jeff Gennette’s leadership. It will be tighter, there will be fewer chiefs and there will be more empowerments for the Indians. That is good and I look forward to improved results that are sorely needed.