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US retail sales growth slows down December 14, 2011

Most shops reported stronger-than-expected business in the closely watched Black Friday sales

US retail sales crept up another 0.2% in November according to official data.

Compared with a year earlier, they were 6.7% higher, in line with recovery rate seen since early last year, the Commerce Department said.

Markets had expected a 0.5% increase after shops reported strong business during Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving and traditional start of the sales period.

It was the slowest monthly growth rate since July.

However, the October sales figure was revised up to show 0.6% growth for the month.


According to the latest November data, electronics, internet sales and clothing all did well, symptomatic of the strong sales seen on Black Friday.

But sales fell at building materials and grocery stores, as well as at petrol stations, although the latter may reflect falling petrol prices.

“[The data] suggests that optimism over firm Black Friday sales following Thanksgiving may have been overdone,” said economist David Sloan of IFR Economics.

Continue reading the main story

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[This] could be the start of a period in which households start to spend more within their means”

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Paul Dales
Economist, Capital Economics

“The consumer still faces severe headwinds, most notably recent weakness in personal income growth restraining spending power, and uncertainty over whether the 2011 payroll tax cut will be sustained in 2012.”

Separate household consumption and income data has indicated that the rise in spending in recent months has been driven by consumers spending a bigger share of their income, rather than by them having much more income to spend.

As such, most economists expect the growth rate of spending to taper off somewhat in coming months.

“November’s modest rise could be the start of a period in which households start to spend more within their means,” said Paul Dales, economist at Capital Economics, who points to the unsustainable trend of falling savings.

“If households had brought some of their holiday spending forward to take advantage of Black Friday deals, then sales in both December and January may be just as weak,” he also cautions.

Business confidence

Meanwhile, in more positive news for the US economy, business confidence among small businesses has risen, according to a latest monthly poll.

The National Federation of Independent Business said its regular confidence index rose to 92 in November from 90.2 the month before.

It still remains well below its historic mid-point of 100, but is well up from its recession low of 81.

Most encouragingly, hiring plans by the businesses surveyed continued their steady rise. Small businesses account for a disproportionate share of job creation in the US relative to their turnover.

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Former Black Panther spared death chamber as prosecutors admit defeat December 8, 2011

One of the most bitter battles over capital punishment in a generation has ended with victory for reformers after prosecutors in Pennsylvania abandoned their pursuit of the death penalty for the black radical Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Dubbed the “world’s best known death row inmate”, Abu-Jamal has had his death sentence commuted to life in prison with no chance of parole. The decision was announced on Wednesday just two days before the 30th anniversary of the murder of a white policeman for which he was convicted.

Lawyers representing Abu-Jamal said that the final admittance of defeat by the pro-death lobby after three decades of consistent effort to have him executed would send a message of hope to hundreds of other death row inmates across America. Abu-Jamal, who professes his innocence, has become one of the most vocal critics of the US practice of capital punishment through a series of books, including his 1995 work Live from Death Row.

Christina Swarns of the NAACP’s legal defence fund, who has represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, said she hoped the outcome would be a harbinger for the decline of capital punishment throughout the country. “Here was a case where the prosecutors have fought so hard for so long to have Abu-Jamal executed, and the fact that they have failed will give hope to many others who do not have the benefit of his notoriety,” she said.

Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook), aged 58, was sentenced to death for the 9 December 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner. The police officer was shot several times at 4am in Philadelphia as he stopped a car belonging to Abu-Jamal’s younger brother William Cook.

Abu-Jamal was working as a taxi driver at the time, and was parked across the street. He ran to his brother’s assistance and was accused of shooting Faulkner in a blaze of gunfire in which Abu-Jamal was also wounded. A discharged hand pistol belonging to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene.

Over the past 30 years the condemned man and his supporters have questioned the conviction, claiming variously that the prisoner was framed by police, that another passenger in his brother’s car was the shooter or that another unidentified man was responsible. The case had strong racial undertones, partly because the defendant was a former member of the Black Panthers and partly because of irregularities in the conduct of the trial.

Pennsylvania has executed three prisoners since the death penalty was re-introduced in 1976. The state senate is expected to debate a proposal to carry out a comprehensive study into the use of capital punishment locally, as a first step towards reviewing it.

There were accusations that the trial judge made a racist statement in court, and protests that the defendant was not allowed to represent himself.

In the ensuing years, human rights and other groups lined up to support Abu-Jamal in his battle to avoid execution, while police affiliations and the victim’s family took the opposing position.

In the end, it was not a question of innocence or death that spared him. In 2001 a Pennsyulvania court vacated the death sentence on the grounds that the jury had been improperly briefed by the trial judge. Ten years of appeals followed, with the case bouncing around federal courts and ending up with the US supreme court, which in October refused to consider it further.

After so much legal wrangling, district attorney Seth Williams said he could no longer seek the death penalty, but remained unrepentant about his desire to do so. “There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers… He will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs.”

Maureen Faulkner, the police officer’s widow, said the result merely underlined the justice system’s “dirty little secret” – an inability to carry out executions. She accused the prisoner’s supporters of being “dishonest cowards” and told the Associated Press that she was glad he would now be put in a general prison wing without protection.

“I am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind – the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons.”

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Ex-Black Panther avoids death row

Abu-Jamal’s backers say he was framed by police

Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal is facing the prospect of life in prison after prosecutors said they would not press for the death sentence.

Abu-Jamal was found guilty of shooting dead a white policeman in 1981.

Now 58, he was sentenced to death in 1982, a year after he was convicted for the killing of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner.

The decision not to seek execution was made by prosecutor Seth Williams with the consent of the victim’s widow.

While Abu-Jamal’s conviction has been upheld through a series of appeal cases, a new sentencing hearing was ordered by a federal appeals court after it was ruled that instructions given to the jury could potentially have been misinterpreted.

In October, the US Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case, forcing prosecutors to decide whether to submit a renewed request for the death penalty, or accept a life sentence.

Abu-Jamal’s case has attracted support around the world from people who believe he was the victim of racial prejudice in the US justice system.

Actors such as Mike Farrell and Tim Robbins once joined with other well-known faces to call for a new trial through an advertisement in the New York Times, while rappers the Beastie Boys held a concert that collected funds for Abu-Jamal’s defence fund.

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US Thanksgiving retail sales up November 28, 2011

US retailers have reported a bumper start to the Christmas season

US retail sales figures in the critical Thanksgiving weekend rose 16% versus a year ago to $52.4bn, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has said.

The figures include Black Friday, the first day after the Thanksgiving holiday, when stores reopen.

NRF estimated that 86 million customers shopped online and in-store on Black Friday – the day traders traditionally leave the red and make a profit.

Thanksgiving Day itself saw 29 million shoppers.

According to research by ShopperTrak, provider of retail and mall foot-traffic counting services, Black Friday sales increased 6.6% over the same day last year.

This is equal to $11.4bn in retail purchases, and the biggest dollar amount ever spent during the day.

Retail foot-traffic rose accordingly, by 5.1% over Black Friday 2010.

Analysts are awaiting the results of Monday’s trading, known as Cyber Monday, which online retailers including Amazon cite as their biggest business day of the year.

‘Largest increase since 2007′

US electrical retailer Best Buy was cited as a strong performer over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Its strategy of opening stores at midnight on Thursday, and offering deals that could only be found in-store, forcing shoppers to step inside, was seen as a smart business move by analysts.

Shoppertrak founder Bill Martin said: “This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak’s national retail sales estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3% increase we saw between 2007 and 2006.

“Still, it’s just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behaviour through the holiday shopping season.”

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Discounts aid online sales surge

Amazon warehouses expect this to be the busiest time of the year for online orders

Online sales rose faster than expected in the US on Black Friday, according to surveys.

Internet sales totalled $816m (£524m), a 26% gain on last year, said Comscore. IBM Coremetrics put the rise at 24%.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is treated by many retailers as the start of the Christmas shopping season. They offer one-off discounts to mark the occasion.

Analysts said heavy promotional activity helped drive demand.

By comparison, a report by Shoppertrak suggested that in-store Black Friday sales were up by 7% on last year, at $11.4bn.

Beating the rush

Around 50 million Americans visited online retail sites on Friday, according to Comscore.

It said Amazon was the most popular destination, with 50% more visitors than any other retailer.

Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Apple were next in line, said the analytics company.

“Despite some analysts’ predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce,” said Comscore’s chairman, Gian Fulgoni.

Mobile shopping

IBM Coremetrics also noted a trend towards shopping on smartphones and tablet computers.

It said Black Friday purchases made on mobile devices had accounted for 9.8% of all online sales, compared with 3.2% last year.

IBM described mobile shoppers as having had a “laser focus” since they had been more likely to view a single page on a retailer’s site rather than browse what else was for sale.

IBM said Apple’s iPhone and iPad had generated the most mobile internet visits to online stores, accounting for more than double the traffic originating from devices running Google’s Android system.

The company also noted a jump in Black Friday related chatter on social networks. It recorded a 110% rise in discussion volumes after consumers had shared tips on how to secure products before they sold out and the best places to park.

Cyber Monday

Friday’s internet sales are expected to be eclipsed today on what is referred to as Cyber Monday – which many experts believe will be the US’s busiest online shopping day of the year.

Close to 123 million Americans plan to make an online purchase according to a survey commissioned by the US National Retail Federation, an industry lobby group. That would be a 15% increase on last year.

NRF said nearly eight in ten online retailers would run special promotions including “flash sales that last an hour” and “free shipping offers”.

The federation also highlighted the shift to mobile devices, saying it expected 17.8 million Americans to use them to shop today, nearly five times the number in 2009.

“Retailers have invested heavily in mobile apps and related content as the appetite for Cyber Monday shopping through smartphones and tablets continues to rise,” said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of the NRF’s website

Cyber confusion

UK internet retailers said it was less clear which day will be the UK’s busiest online shopping day this year.

“Over the last couple of years we have seen a fortnight of peak activity over the period corresponding to both this and next week,” said Andy Mulcahy, a spokesman for the industry body Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).

“We expect £3.72bn will be spent online over the two week period.”

Mr Mulcahy said that although some retailers are trying to generate interest in the idea of Cyber Monday in the UK, they are split over which day to mark.

He added that since many online retailers had been offering discounts of up to 70% for several months, customers might not have noticed a big difference in the level of promotional activity.

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Occupy protesters take message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers in Calif.

November 26, 2011

by legitgov


Occupy protesters take message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers in Calif. 26 Nov 2011 Anti-Wall Street protesters took their message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers, staging demonstrations in commercial areas in California on one of the busiest days of the year for retailers and bargain-hunters. In San Francisco, protesters demonstrated in the streets near Union Square during the annual Macy’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony Friday evening. Lines of police officers in riot gear faced off with dozens of demonstrators who were trying to discourage shoppers from shopping at Macy’s and other stores in the popular tourist area.

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Black pepper Friday? Walmart shopper in LA pepper-sprays rivals November 26, 2011

Bargain hunters at a Walmart in Los Angeles were hurt when a fellow shopper attacked them with pepper spray as the doors opened on the US’s holiday shopping season.

Authorities said the woman was trying to keep the other shoppers from merchandise she wanted during early opening on “Black Friday”, the name given to the post-Thanksgiving shopping day.

“Somehow she was trying to use it to gain an upper hand,” Police Lieutenant Abel Parga told the Associated Press. Authorities said the woman was “competitive shopping”.

Officials said 20 people suffered injuries. Matthew Lopez, one of the shoppers, told a Los Angeles Times blog: “I heard screaming and I heard yelling. Moments later, my throat stung. I was coughing really bad and watering up.”

Parga said police were still looking for the woman. The store remained open and those not affected by the pepper spray continued shopping.

This year’s start of the holiday shopping season, know as Black Friday – a term apparently coined to illustrate the point at which shops and stores start to make a profit, or go “in the black” – began in earnest overnight as some retailers, looking to grab as big a piece as possible of what is expected to be average sales, pushed Black Friday openings into Thursday evening or opened at midnight for the first time in years,

Bargain hunters flocked to shops searching for deals on big screen televisions, video games and toys, while fretting about their own economic well-being.

The strategy appeared to be working, judging from the 300 people who were lined up at a Toys R Us store on Long Island, New York, before it opened at 9pm on Thursday, Reuters reported, while shoppers and employees at other shops said the crowds were bigger than in the past.

The US National Retail Federation expects 152 million people to hit the shops this weekend, up 10.1% from last year.

Retailers from to Wal-Mart were also offering online deals as Thanksgiving has become one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.

Retail executives and analysts are predicting a more competitive season than 2010, even though unemployment remains at 9%, European debt woes are weighing on the stock market and consumer confidence remains low. NRF forecasts a 2.8% rise in sales for the November-December holiday season, down from the 5.2% increase in 2010.

Some shoppers, though, feel the recession has returned, even if it has not shown up in the economic data. “This year, we are going to do shopping but I don’t think it is going to be as much shopping as we usually do. Because of the recession, we are not going to shop as much,” said Desiree Schoolfield, 49, a public service professional from Queens who was shopping at the Toys R Us in Times Square.

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Black Friday sales: moments of madness

Every year Black Friday brings dramatic price slashing, massive media coverage and hordes of shoppers. This year is no exception, with reports of a women deploying pepper spray against rival bargain-hunters.

Some 150m people are expected to hit the stores looking for deals this weekend. But the concept is a relatively modern one.

The term was used by police in Philadelphia in the 1960s to describe the massive crowds and traffic jams that hit the sales after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the 1980s that an alternative theory started to appear, whitewashing Black Friday’s reputation. The new definition claimed Black Friday got its name because it marked the start of the shopping season that retailers hoped would take their books out of the red and into the black.

More recently we’ve seen the arrival of Cyber Monday, when online retailers started offering deals aimed at shoppers returning to work after the Thanksgiving weekend break. But so fierce has been the reaction from bricks-and-mortar retailers, many of whom are increasingly selling online, that the internet retailers broke ranks and started offering discounts well in advance of Monday. Even Apple, which famously doesn’t offer discounts, is holding an online sale this year. On Friday.

There’s a lot of money at stake. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to top $465.6bn this year, up 2.8% on last year. But the reality of overhyped shoppers chasing headline-grabbing discounts can be brutal, as these videos show.

Black Friday’s blackest day in recent history occurred in 2008 at the Wal-Mart in the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, New York.

Long Island Wal-Mart worker killed in sales stampede

A 2,000-strong crowd had gathered over night to take advantage of bargain’s including 75% off a blu-ray player. When the doors finally opened one worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, 6ft 5ins and weighing 270 pounds, was trampled to death by the bargain hungry crowd. Four others, including a 28-year-old woman described as eight months pregnant, were treated for minor injuries.

One shopper Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, told Associated Press the crowd had acted like “savages” even after the tragedy. “When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’” said Cribbs. “They kept shopping.”

Every year anti-shopping campaigner Reverend Billy (no he’s not a real reverend) and his Church of Not Shopping campaign against Christmas consumerism. Here he is reacting to the tragic death of Jdimytai Damour.

Perhaps we should be grateful that there are no big new toys to fight over this year.

Customers battle over PlayStation 3

Black Friday 2006 was all about PlayStation 3 and sadly proved a boon to those who like to argue video game violence has real world consequences.

This video is from Target in Buffalo, New York, last year. It’s not hard to see how Black Friday can turn tragic.

Black Friday sales stampede

The man stuck under those stampeding shoppers had to go to hospital.

And this video from a Target in Utah last year shows what most Black Fridays really look like: long lines, lots of shoppers, no violence.

Chaotic scenes from Black Friday sales in 2010

Those Mormons know how to shop – so much more genteel. “I just got hit in the face with a bag,” says the giggling, fresh-faced girl at 1:17. “We love Black Friday,” someone shrieks at the end of the video. “We
really don’t,” comes the reply.

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Violence mars US retail bonanza November 25, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving in America heralds the start of the holiday shopping season

The US holiday shopping season is off to a nasty start with several shootings and two pepper-sprayings as bargain-hunters stampeded stores.

The violence gave a whole new meaning to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many retailers move out of the red and into the black.

The incidents, including at least two robberies, mostly took place at branches of the store chain Walmart.

Half of the entire US population is expected to hit the shops this weekend.

Many stores had crowds rushing in as they opened at midnight – several hours earlier than they usually do – on the busiest shopping day of the year.


The openings were mostly peaceful, apart from several ugly scenes:

  • A man is in a stable but critical condition in hospital after being shot in the early hours as he left a Walmart with a group of people in San Leandro, California, when they resisted two armed robbers who demanded their purchases
  • Police are reviewing CCTV as they looking for a woman who left 20 people with minor injuries when she used pepper spray as shoppers rushed to buy Xboxes at a Los Angeles area Walmart on Thursday evening
  • A man was reportedly arrested for resisting arrest after a fight at the jewellery counter in the early hours at another Walmart in Kissimmee, Florida
  • Police are looking for two suspects after gunfire erupted early on Friday at a shopping centre in Fayetteville, North Carolina; there were no reports of injuries
  • Security workers reportedly used pepper spray on a group of boisterous shoppers who started grabbing at goods before they were unloaded from pallets at a Walmart electronics sale in Kinston, North Carolina
  • A woman was shot in the foot by a robber as she put her newly purchased goods into the boot of her car in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; the gunman fled as one of the victim’s companions brandished a revolver and fired warning shots

Bargain-hunters were lured by an array of so-called door-buster deals of up to 70% off on big-screen televisions, video games and toys.

Occupy Black Friday

Target, Best Buy and Macy’s were among the stores that opened at midnight, while Gap and Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving itself.

Occupy Wall Street protesters called for a boycott of Macy’s

Protests were planned in a number of cities urging people to boycott national chains on Black Friday.

Several Occupy activists demonstrated outside New York’s flagship Macy’s, but they could not put off more than 9,000 people who had queued for the store’s midnight opening.

Nelson Sepulveda, a New York building superintendent, was the first in line at a Manhattan Best Buy store having queued for 28 hours before it opened.

He wanted to get his hands on a 42-in LCD television for $200 (£130) and other items, the Reuters news agency reported.

For the past six years, a combination of increasingly early opening times and enticing deals have helped make the day after Thanksgiving the biggest shopping day in the US.

About 152 million people were expected to visit stores in search of bargains this weekend – up 10% from last year – according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Crowds thronged the Thanksgiving parade in New York

Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of US economic activity, so economists will be watching the retail bonanza closely.

Between 25-40% of annual US retail sales take place during November and December.

Analysts say a powerful start to the shopping season could cheer employment prospects in the retail sector, which supports about a quarter of all jobs in the US.

Retail hiring for the season has still not yet rebounded to its 2005 pre-recession peak of 642,000 workers, according to the NRF.

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Black Friday sales start with pepper spray stampede

Shoppers in the US kicked off their annual “Black Friday” orgy of consumerism amid scenes of pushing, pulling, running and – in one case – pepper-spraying their way through the doors of the nation’s shops and malls.

The annual tradition, when many stores open early with cut-price sales on the day after Thanksgiving, has become a source of controversy amid frequent scenes of near-rioting and injuries as mobs of people crowd into big-name shops.

But few can have expected even the most determined of bargain-hunters to adopt the brutal tactics of one female shopper in a Los Angeles suburb who attacked her rivals with pepper-spray: a substance more recently associated with police brutality against Occupy Wall Street protesters.

At least 20 people, including several children, were injured as the woman deployed her weapon. “I heard screaming and I heard yelling. Moments later my throat stung. I was coughing really bad,” said Matthew Lopez, a shopper who recounted his story to the Los Angeles Times.

The woman, whom witnesses said appeared to be defending an X-Box games console, has not been found or yet identified. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gigantic store remained open amid the mayhem and other shoppers continued to roam the aisles filling their trolleys with goods.

The incident occurred late on Thanksgiving evening as the Walmart – like some other stores – had pushed back its Black Friday opening to begin late on Thursday.

The day gets its name from the idea that the period after Thanksgiving marks the part of the year when many shops finally get in the “black” and start turning a profit for the year.

But America in 2011 is stranded in a moribund economy marked by sluggish growth and a headline jobless rate stuck around 9%. Many retailers have pinned their hopes on a strong shopping season in the run up to Christmas and will be looking pouring through data from Black Friday for signs of increased spending.

Experts expect 152m people to hit the shops over the Black Friday weekend, up 27% on last year, with many retailers hoping for a desperately needed shot-in-the-arm to consumer spending in a still battered economy.

Even Apple, which has until now eschewed a discounting policy, cut its prices for one day on Friday.

Elsewhere in America the queues and rush to get through the doors was a little more steady and less violen than in Los Angeles. There were several shooting incidents, in Florida and in North Carolina, but it was far from clear these were directly linked to Black Friday shopping.  

Yet, despite the problems, millions of people queued up outside stores in order to be first inside and snap up some of the bargains on offer on anything from TVs and consumer electronics to fashion and furniture. At Macy’s in New York an estimated 9,000 people waited in the street for a midnight opening.

In recent years, as media coverage of the event has grown and scenes of rioting and stampedes have become more common, Black Friday has drawn its share of criticism.

However, this year, as the Occupy movement has sprung up across the country, shoppers in some parts of America have also been joined by protesters trying to persuade them to put down their bags and go home, or at least avoid large chains and shop smaller and more locally.

Some campaigners called for a boycott of stores by consumers, though judging by the mayhem and huge queues that had little impact. Elsewhere protests were held at stores. At Macy’s in Manhattan a small group of people chanted “Occupy it, don’t buy it” to waiting shoppers.

In places such as Seattle protesters planned to hold rallies outside Walmarts in the city. In the small city of Boise, Idaho, a local Occupy group aimed to dress up as the undead to symbolise “consumer zombies”.

In Iowa “flash mobs” of protesters were set to target malls to try and convince shoppers to stay or away or think more politically about their purchases.

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Black Friday: US retailers hope for happy shoppers to lift economic gloom November 24, 2011

Lego Ninjas, Let’s Rock Elmo, iPads, Kindles, “shape shifter” clothes to hide all that Thanksgiving turkey and cut-price 3D TVs for next month’s holiday blowout: these are the hot items experts say 150 million Americans will be fighting for – sometimes literally – come Friday morning.

“Black Friday” marks the traditional start of the festive shopping season. So-called because it’s the day retailers hope their accounts will move from the red into the black, the annual shopping bacchanal has even bigger hopes pinned on it this year.

Consumer spending is one of the biggest drivers of the US economy. The recession caused spending to drop in 2008 and 2009, the first fall since the government started collecting shopping figures in the 1960s. Last year consumers took out their wallets once more and sales bounced back, rising 5.2%, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

But those figures were like comparing modest feast with a nasty famine. How will 2011 look now that the recession is officially over?

There were worrying signs on Wednesday when the Commerce Department announced personal consumption expenditures grew just 0.1% in October, following a 0.7% rise in September.

The retailers are certainly giving it their all to entice nervous shoppers. Black Friday is slipping into Thanksgiving itself as the shops compete for business. After the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins have finished their game in Arlington, and before the turkey gets put in the fridge, major department store chains are hoping to lure consumers with “door-buster” bargains. Toys “R” Us is planning its first-ever 9pm holiday season opening; Walmart opens an hour later. At midnight, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Target throw open their doors.

The demand appears to be there. According to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSS), about 40 million Americans are prepared to cut short Thanksgiving for the potential of a shopping bargain. “People are really hunting for bargains this year,” said spokesman Jesse Tron.

The battle to win over nervous consumers has begun even earlier than usual. Best Buy, Kmart, Sears and Walmart started leaking details of their upcoming deals a week ahead of the Black Friday frenzy. Even Apple has got in on the act, announcing that its US site and shops will be having a one-day sale on Friday.

“Cyber Monday” – once Black Friday’s online rival – has cracked under the pressure. The day after the holiday weekend used to be the big sales day for online stores, but they have started offering discounts a week earlier than usual as their bricks and mortar rivals moved to steal back sales.

Can anyone win in this cut-throat environment? Some of the biggest retailers seem unsure. Last month, Best Buy’s chief executive, Brian Dunn, cut full-year earnings forecast for the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer. The company is contending with “volatile and uncertain” consumer spending.

Nor are consumer analysts entirely convinced. There is enormous interest from shoppers in the holiday sales this year, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at market research firm NPD Group.

“So much attention has gone into these extended hours,” he said. “The problem is: I don’t have more money in my pay packet, I don’t have more money on my credit card balances.”

On top of that, there is no new new. There is nothing truly new about this year’s hot items, said Cohen. “Sweaters, costume jewellery, e-readers: they’ve all been around,” he said.

The ICSS’s poll of “hot” items this year is led by gift cards, and followed by apparel and toys and games.

Ken Goldstein, economist at The Conference Board in New York, fears “Christmas has come and gone already.” He said the latest gross domestic product figures pointed to troubled days ahead for retailers, and a continued weakness in consumer spending.

Consumer spending rose 2.3% in the last quarter, but consumer income rose just 0.2%, according to the latest figures from the Commerce Department.

“If that continues into the fourth quarter, either you will have a very weak start to next year as consumers try to make up for the money they have spent that they don’t have – or the figures show that they have done their spending already,” Goldstein said.

Retailers were giving smaller discounts this year than last, said Goldstein. “Last year they had high expectations that just didn’t materialise,” he said. “They got burned.”

But thrifty shoppers are used to big sales after years of ever steepening pre-Christmas discounts, so the two sides are likely to be locked in courtship dance that may end in disappointment for everyone.

The NRF is more optimistic. It is predicting holiday shopping will be up another 2.8% this year, to $465.6bn.

“The comparisons were very easy last year, but overall there was a sense that shoppers were tired of being frugal. This year we have had a rough summer. There was the fight over the debt ceiling, the stock market, retail sales stalled,” said NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis.

But things are looking better. The number of people who are “definitely” shopping this weekend has jumped from 27% in 2010 to 33% this year. That’s 152 million planning to go bargain-hunting this weekend – but of that number, 77 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the crowds.

Cohen says he’s expecting slow, steady growth this year, but what amazes him the most is that shoppers are shopping at all. Having weathered a European debt crisis that threatened to wreck the US stock markets, the row over the debt ceiling and an at best lacklustre recovery consumers got hit again last week by the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement on the national deficit, he said.

All this uncertainty just holds consumers back, said Cohen.

“Usually it’s the Grinch that steals Christmas. This year it could be the government,” he said.

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Apple offering Black Friday discounts on iPads, iPods, Macs

(CNN) — If you’ve been weighing buying a new Mac or iPad but are holding out for one of Apple’s rare discounts, Black Friday is your chance.

As it’s done in recent years, Apple is holding a “one-day shopping event” for the day after Thanksgiving. A page on Apple’s site invites Black Friday shoppers to visit its online store; it’s not clear whether the same deals will be offered at the company’s retail stores as well.

Apple’s promotional copy touts “iPad, iPod and Mac gifts.” Conspicuously absent is any mention of deals on the new iPhone 4S, which starts at $199 (with two-year wireless-carrier contract) and will probably not be discounted.

In typically cryptic fashion, the company isn’t offering specifics on its seasonal markdowns. But the blog 9to5Mac published what it claims are some leaked details: Modest discounts of $101 on Macs, $41-$61 on iPads (depending on storage capacity) and $21-$41 on iPods.

Those would be in line with the Black Friday deals Apple offered last year, although the company only marked its iPads down by $41.

9to5Mac also says some accessories, such as iPad covers, will be discounted Friday. There was no mention of any deals on iPhones.

Black Friday fanatics camp out for days

An Apple spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the report or on potential discounts.

Even at a briefly discounted price of $458, the cheapest iPad has new competition this holiday season from smaller, less expensive tablets like Amazon’s Kindle Fire ($199) and Barnes Noble’s Nook Tablet ($249). BlackBerry also has slashed the price of its 7-inch PlayBook tablet from $499 to about $200, depending on the retailer.

Some observers also had expected Black Friday to mark the debut of Apple’s huge new retail store inside New York City’s iconic Grand Central Station. But according to tech-news blog Mashable, a content partner, construction workers at the site don’t expect the store to open until December.

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Black Death genome sequenced from 14th century skeleton DNA October 21, 2011

October 19, 2011

by legitgov


Heads up! Black Death genome sequenced from 14th century skeleton DNA –London ‘plague pits’ yield secrets of how the Black Death evolved from harmless soil bug –Genetics of lethal pathogen sequenced for first time 13 Oct 2011 DNA experts have sequenced the entire genome of the bubonic plague in a bid to help understand the spread of infectious diseases. It is first time scientists have been able to reconstruct an ancient pathogen and it will allow researchers to track changes in its evolution and virulence over time. The work by an international team of researchers from Germany and Canada, published in the journal Nature, could lead to a better understanding of modern infectious diseases [so pharma-terrorists can make a killing on the(ir) pandemic].

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Fugitive Black Panther socialised with US envoy in Guinea-Bissau September 29, 2011

George Wright pictured in 2000 in Praia das Maçãs, Portugal. The convict had links with the Black Liberation Army after escaping jail in 1970. Photograph: AP

An American fugitive, who hijacked a plane in the 1970s, lived openly in Guinea-Bissau during the 1980s under his real name, a retired US ambassador to the African nation claims.

The former ambassador, John Blacken, said the embassy knew of George Wright, who was captured this week in Portugal, but had not known he was a fugitive.

Blacken said he remembered meeting Wright socially in Guinea-Bissau. He added that embassy officials would have taken action if they had known the man had been an escaped convict.

“If we had received such a cable, we would have responded,” said Blacken, who said he was stunned upon hearing the news of Wright’s detention on Monday in Portugal.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of Walter Patterson, owner of a petrol station in New Jersey. Eight years into his prison term, on 19 August 1970, Wright and three other men escaped from Bayside state prison in Leesburg, New Jersey. While on the run Wright joined the underground militant group the Black Liberation Army and lived in a communal family with them in Detroit, the FBI said.

In 1972, dressed as a priest and using an alias, Wright hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami, along with four other Black Liberation Army members. The hijackers identified themselves as a Black Panther group to passengers, police said. After releasing the plane’s 86 passengers in exchange for a $1m ransom, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, then to Algeria, where they gained asylum.

At the request of the US government, Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the US, briefly detaining the hijackers before allowing them to stay. The group left Algeria, possibly late in 1972, and settled in France, according to Mikhael Ganouna, producer of the 2010 documentary Nobody Knows my Name.

Members of the group were convicted in Paris in 1976. Wright remained at large but his case became a top priority when a New Jersey fugitive taskforce was formed in 2002.

Until his arrest on 26 September by the Portuguese authorities and at the request of the US government, Wright had been living in Almocageme, 28 miles west of Lisbon. He had worked in various jobs, most recently as a nightclub bouncer, according to neighbours. There was a sudden breakthrough in the case last week when police matched his fingerprint to a resident ID card.

Wright, 68, is now being held in Lisbon, pending US extradition hearings. If an extradition request were granted, he could appeal against it to Portugal’s supreme court and then to the constitutional court, a process likely to last months.

The fugitive has lived in Portugal for at least 20 years but a photocopy of his Portuguese residency card listed his home country as Guinea-Bissau. While living in the former Portuguese colony Wright used his own name.

Blacken, who was US ambassador to Guinea-Bissau from 1986 to 1989, said: “All this was a big surprise, my goodness, murder and everything else. No one imagined him being a murderer – of course we didn’t know him that well. He seemed like an ordinary person, not radical at all.”

Blacken could not recall what sort of work Wright did in Guinea-Bisseau. He said he remembered his Portuguese wife better because she had worked as a translator for either the US embassy or for a Guinea-Bissau trade and investment project that started up in 1993. “He was known as George Wright here, and it’s strange that [US officials] never tracked him down here,” Blacken said.

The Guinea-Bissau embassy in Lisbon said no one was available to comment on whether Wright had got citizenship from the African nation.

Blacken said it probably would not have been hard for Wright to have obtained citizenship in Guinea-Bissau. “A person living here for over a period of time who wants to apply for citizenship can normally get it regardless of his background.”

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Black Panther arrested in Portugal decades on from hijacking US flight September 28, 2011

A 1970s militant who carried out one of America’s most brazen plane hijackings lived for decades in a seaside hamlet in Portugal with his Portuguese wife and two children, neighbours said.

George Wright, 68, was taken into custody by local police on Monday at the request of the US government, which is seeking his extradition for escaping from a New Jersey jail after being convicted of murder. Wright was also named as one of the hijackers of a Delta flight in 1972.

The Portuguese news agency Lusa, citing unnamed police sources, said that the former Black Liberation Army member planned to fight any extradition.

During a court appearance on Tuesday in Lisbon, Wright asked to be released pending the outcome of the US extradition request, and his request is being reviewed by Portuguese judicial authorities, said a spokeswoman for the US justice department.

Until his arrest, Wright was living in Almocageme, 28 miles west of Lisbon. Fluent in Portuguese, he had no apparent profession but worked a series of odd jobs, most recently as a nightclub bouncer, said two neighbours.

George Wright in 1963. Photograph: AP

Wright married a Portuguese woman, identified by neighbours as 55-year-old Maria do Rosario Valente, the daughter of a retired Portuguese army officer. The couple had two children, Marco and Sara do Rosario Valente, now in their early 20s, who used their mother’s last name when they registered for swimming classes at the local pool.

It was unclear how Wright ended up in Portugal or when he learned Portuguese, but his wife worked as an occasional translator.

The couple lived in a small whitewashed house in Almocageme, which lies close to broad Atlantic beaches.

Portuguese house where George Wright lived for more than 20 years. Photograph: Tiago Petinga/EPA

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of petrol station owner Walter Patterson during a robbery at his business in Wall, New Jersey.

Patterson’s daughter told AP she wanted Wright sent back quickly to the US. “I’m so thankful that now there’s justice for daddy,” she said on Wednesday. “He never got any kind of justice.”

Wright possessed a Portuguese identity card that said he was born in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in west Africa. A photocopy of the document, shown to AP, bore the name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, an alias that US officials said Wright used. The identity card puts his age as 68. It was issued in 1993 and expired in 2004.

Neighbours estimated the family had been in the village for at least 20 years but said they did not mix much with other residents. None of them witnessed Wright’s arrest.

Ricardo Salvador, who works at a local petrol station, said Wright had business cards with his first name as George and many locals called him that. “He was a very nice guy,” Salvador said. “He used to wave as he drove past and I’d shout out, ‘Hey, George!’”

Most locals questioned by the AP said they assumed Wright was African, not American.

“I never imagined George was in trouble,” said Salvador, 30.

A fingerprint on Wright’s Portuguese ID card was the break that led a US fugitive taskforce to him. He was arrested by Portuguese authorities and is being detained in Lisbon.

The US embassy in Lisbon referred all questions to the FBI, declining comment about the case and Wright’s extradition.

Eight years into his 15- to 30-year prison term, Wright and three other men escaped from the Bayside state prison farm in Leesburg, New Jersey, in August 1970.

The FBI said Wright became affiliated with an underground militant group, the Black Liberation Army, and lived in a “communal family” with several of its members in Detroit.

In 1972, Wright dressed as a priest and using an alias hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami with four other BLA members and three children, including Wright’s companion and their two-year-old daughter. The other hijackers were not the men Wright escaped from prison with.

The hijackers identified themselves to the Delta aeroplane passengers as a Black Panther group.

After releasing the 86 other passengers in exchange for a $1m ransom delivered by an FBI agent wearing only swimming trunks, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston. There an international navigator was taken aboard, and the plane was flown to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.

The group was taken in by American writer and activist Eldridge Cleaver, who had been permitted by Algeria’s Socialist government to open an office of the Black Panther movement in that country in 1970. The Algerian president at the time professed sympathy for what he saw as worldwide liberation struggles.

At the request of the American government, Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the US. They then briefly detained the hijackers before allowing them to stay. The hijackers’ movements were restricted in Algeria, however, and the president ignored their calls for asylum and requests to return the ransom money to them.

The group eventually made its way to France, where Wright’s associates were tracked down, arrested, tried and convicted in Paris in 1976. France, however, refused to extradite them to the US, where they would have faced longer sentences.

Wright alone remained at large, and his capture was among the top priorities when the New York-New Jersey fugitive taskforce was formed in 2002, according to Michael Schroeder, a spokesman for the US marshals service, who worked with New Jersey’s FBI and other agencies on the task force.

The New Jersey department of corrections brought along all its old escape cases when the taskforce began operating, Schroeder said, and investigators started the case anew. They reviewed reports from the 1970s, interviewed Wright’s victims and the pilots of the plane he hijacked.

An address in Portugal was one of several on a list of places they wanted to check out, but Schroeder said there was nothing special about it.

“It was another box to get checked, so to speak,” he said.

That changed last week, when details started falling into place with the help of Portuguese authorities.

“They have a national ID registry,” Schroeder said. “They pulled that. That confirmed his print matched the prints with the DOC. The sketch matched the picture on his ID card.”

By the weekend, US authorities were on a plane to Portugal. And on Monday, Portuguese police staking out Wright’s home found him there.

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George Wright’s 41 years on the run – interactive

From being jailed for murder in the early 1960s through to the hijacking of a US airliner and final arrest in a Portuguese hamlet, the former Black Panther has had a remarkable journey as a fugitive from FBI

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Obama Reaches Out To, Scolds African-Americans September 27, 2011

As part of his overall effort to energize core constituencies, President Obama is reaching out to African-American leaders and activists.

On Saturday night, he spoke at the annual dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama argued that his latest jobs bill would help millions of black Americans and he asked for the audience’s help. “I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself,” he said. “I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on. I expect all of you to march with me. … Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on.”

On Friday, he hosted a private lunch with African-American talk-radio analysts including Yolanda Adams, Michael Eric Dyson, and Joe Madison. He is expected to make a major address on race, civil rights, and poverty in mid-October at a ceremony to mark the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, which was postponed because of a hurricane several weeks ago.

[See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

Obama has been under rising criticism from black leaders and activists in recent months for not doing enough to help African-Americans, who have been enduring particular hardships because of the economic downturn. Unemployment among blacks has risen to nearly 17 percent, compared with 9 percent in the general population, and poverty rates among blacks are soaring.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released last week, found that only 58 percent of African-Americans have “strongly favorable” views of Obama today compared with 83 percent five months ago. Political strategists don’t expect many African-Americans to support the Republican presidential nominee over the first African-American president. The real question is turnout. If black turnout lags, Obama’s re-election prospects will dim.

[See 10 reasons Obama should be re-elected.]

Among those pressuring Obama is Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California. She told a legislative conference sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that Obama has been too cozy with GOP leaders and needs to confront his opponents to win passage of his agenda.. “You’ve got to fight,” she said. “You will not win this battle without fighting,” she said.

[Check out political cartoons about President Obama.]

Waters added: “We love the president. We want him to be successful. But does he feel our pain? Does he understand what’s going on out here?”

Obama is trying to show that he does.

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Barack Obama’s rolling cadences pose a challenge to his rivals

It’s hard for a sitting (and unpopular) president to win a news cycle with a opposition primary as entertaining as this one, but with his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Obama clearly has. Rolling cadences! Civil rights rhetoric! The candidate that journalists swooned over in 2008 is back.

Obama’s speech also contained some policy planks (he noted, correctly if also obviously, black workers would benefit if his jobs bill works as intended), but these aspects are neither new nor easy to highlight in a fifteen second video clip.

Whether the style or substance of Obama’s speech will appeal to voters as much as it has to television producers is, of course, an open question. The speech highlighted the Obama’s fundamental appeal; he inspires, he believes, he rallies. Indeed, Obama’s likeability (still at an astounding 80%) is the thin ice upon which his presidency skates.

As a political tactic, deploying “campaign Obama” may have a greater effect on GOP primary candidate poll numbers than on his own. Right now, the GOP field is muddled by the inability of any candidate to maintain an image of electability. Obama’s ace performance on this score could serve to remind voters of the high bar any nominee will have to reach in order to credibly share the stage come next fall.

Which candidate does that help? At the moment, it propels only those candidate who haven’t had the chance to fail.

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