The Edge Update: High Alaskan unemployment, Amazon in the real world and Cuban-American relations harden

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Local

According to numbers released by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce, Alaska now has the highest unemployment rate in the United States. In May, the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, compared to a national rate of 4.3 percent. Still, the state’s high rate is not unusual, to the contrary, it may be lower than expected. Alaska’s unemployment rate tends to be high even when the economy is doing well. In May 2014, before the current recession, the unemployment rate was a full 7 percent. According to state economist Neal Fried, quoted in the Alaska Dispatch News, “It’s kind of counterintuitive that the rate hasn’t increased more.”

National

Amazon has announced that they will buy grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. The purchase appears to be part of Amazon’s push from the online world into the physical. In the United States, the grocery business grosses over $700 billion annually. Amazon has been slowly but surely begun exploring this market, opening physical locations and experimenting with concepts like grocery delivery services and a convenience store without cashiers.

Global

President Donald Trump announced that he would roll back the warming of American-Cuban relations set in motion by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The reversal is not complete, the new embassies opened in Washington and Havana will remain open, and there will be no further restrictions on the types of goods Americans can take from the country; but the American government will tighten controls on other parts of the relationship. The Trump administration will implement stricter rules on American citizens visiting the country, and prohibit transactions with businesses controlled by the military, which includes large parts of the hotel and tourism industry. Although the changes will make it more difficult for Americans to interact with Cuba, effects will likely be more pronounced on the island. Many Cubans derive their livelihoods from the country’s tourism industry and the entrepreneurial opportunities created by the thaw in relations with the vast, rich country 90 miles offshore. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will also create a task force to expand internet access on the island, which is controlled by the Cuban government.

In his speech, given in the Cuban expatriate capital of Miami, President Trump characterized the new direction as a better “deal,” saying that previous arrangements had put the United States in a weak bargaining position while enriching a brutal regime guilty of human rights abuses. “We now hold the cards,” Trump said. “The previous administration’s easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime… To the Cuban government, I say, put an end to the abuse of dissidents, release the political prisoners, stop jailing innocent people, open yourselves to political and economic freedoms, return the fugitives from American justice, including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard [a former Black Panther convicted of murder].”

For its part, the Cuban government has signaled a willingness to work with the new mandate. “We know they have a different view of the world. We understand that,” a Cuban official told CNN.

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