Thanksgiving shopping crowds 'good not great'; online sales strong

PITTSBURGH/NEW YORK Retailers across the United States offered early Black Friday discounts to lure bargain-hunters on Thanksgiving eve, but crowds in brick-and-mortar stores were subdued even as online sales jumped. "It's still early, and from what we are seeing so far the crowds are good but not great," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners. The retail consultancy has 18 members studying customer traffic in different parts of the country.The rush on the night of the U.S. holiday, a month before Christmas, reflects the new normal in U.S. holiday shopping, which was traditionally kicked off the next day, Black Friday. In an effort to attract the most eager holiday shoppers and fend off competition from Inc (AMZN.O), U.S. retailers have increasingly extended their holiday deals by opening stores on the evening of Thanksgiving.This hurt customer turnout on Black Friday last year, a trend analysts and consultants expect will repeat this year. "I can wait until tomorrow but it's more exciting today," said Daipayan Deb, a shopper in his mid-thirties at a packed Wal-Mart supercenter on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. "Previously, I used to start shopping on Black Friday, but now it's Thursday." Early discounts at stores and online included buy one get 50 percent off on the second "Star Wars" toys at Target Corp (TGT.N), $200 off quadcopter drones at Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N), a 50-inch Samsung smart TV for $499 at Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N).Shoppers in the United States spent more than $1 billion online, 22-percent more than last year, between midnight and 5 pm ET on Thursday, according to the Adobe Digital Index, which tracked 100 million visits to 4,500 U.S. retail sites. As much as 20 percent of holiday shopping is expected to be done over the Thanksgiving weekend this year, analysts said. The four-day shopping burst will help set the tone for the rest of the season, signaling to retailers whether they need to drop prices or change promotions.Kimberley Turner, a mother in her forties who was shopping with her young son said she found the discounts less compelling. "I actually think the deals were better last year," she said. Online discounts averaging 23 percent are below last year's 25 percent, but prices are expected to drop as more Black Friday sales come on board, said Tamara Gaffney, principal research analyst at Adobe Digital Index. The shopping season spanning November and December is crucial for many retailers because the two months can account for anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales.Shoppers are expected to be cautious with their spending again this year. The National Retail Federation is expecting holiday sales to rise 3.7 percent, slower than last year's 4.1 percent growth rate, due to stagnant wages and sluggish job growth. (Reporting and writing by Nandita Bose in Chicago; Editing by Nick Zieminski) Read more

Australian politician refuses to stand during ovation for domestic violence speech

An Australian politician has refused to stand up during a standing ovation for domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty. Graham Watt, an MP in the right-wing Liberal Party, continued to sit as the rest of the Victorian Parliament applauded Batty for her moving speech on the issue on Thursday. See also: Reporter's perfect response after being told what to wear during Paris coverage Batty lost her 11-year-old son Luke in 2013, at the hands of her ex-husband. Luke was murdered by his father with a knife while attending cricket practice in Melbourne, Australia. Since the incident, Batty has been a staunch campaigner for domestic violence against women and children. Watt later released a statement citing "personal and private reasons" for his behaviour. By the wording of his statement, it is possible he does not agree with Batty's focus only on women and children as the victims of domestic violence. Statement from Liberal MP Graham Watt, who was only member who didn't join standing ovation for Rosie Batty. — 3AW Melbourne (@3AW693) November 26, 2015 In the speech, Batty compared domestic violence to terrorism. "When we think of terrorism we think of how awful it would be to have a gun to our head," she said. "When we see it on the streets in the most barbaric of ways we are horrified and don't ever want that to happen to us — that is happening now, in people's homes." As she finished talking, the entirety of Victorian Parliament rose to their feet — except Watt. Image: YouTube / Victorian Parliament Among certain groups, there has been an underlying sentiment regarding some campaigns against domestic violence focussing only on female victims, with some people highlighting that men are also victims — and one should not discriminate with support or compassion. A campaign, called One in Three, has been started to draw attention to the issue of female perpetrators and male victims of domestic violence. It wants assistance, support and to "change the public perception of domestic violence." It hopes government assistance, such as $100 million pledged by Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will be expanded to include victims of all genders. On Wednesday in Australia it was White Ribbon Day, which is an event to raise awareness about domestic violence against women and children. The not-for-profit organisation tackles the issue of male victims of domestic violence on its website, and why they are not the focus of its campaign. "The White Ribbon Campaign, from its very origins, is about recognising the positive role that men play in preventing violence against women. The campaign fosters and encourages male leadership on the prevention of violence against women, based in the understanding that most men aren't violent," the White Ribbon Day's website states. "Of the men who have experienced violence, only 4% of assaults have been by a female current or former partner," the website explains. "The majority of perpetrators of violence are men. Around 80% of all violent assaults (including sexual assaults) are carried out by some men against other men and women." It is unknown the exact personal reason that led to Watt's sitting protest. Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments. window._msla=window.loadScriptAsync||function(src,id){if(document.getElementById(id))return;var js=document.createElement('script');;js.src=src;document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0].parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}; _msla("//","twitter_jssdk"); Read more

U.S. Air Force official sees issues with space launch priorities

WASHINGTON The United States could struggle to promote competition in its space launch program while also maintaining two independent ways to launch satellites and ending U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines, a top U.S. Air Force official said on Tuesday. "You're going to have to choose two of those three. I don't think you can get all three in the next four or five years," William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told reporters.His comments came after United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, last week said it would not bid to launch the next global positioning system (GPS) satellite, effectively ceding the competition to privately held Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX.ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, said it was unable to submit a bid in compliance with the competition's rules because of how the contest was structured, and because it lacked Russian-built RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket. The Pentagon last month refused to grant ULA a waiver from a U.S. law that banned use of the Russian engines for military and spy satellite launches after 2019. ULA had said it needed the waiver to compete against SpaceX, which was certified earlier this year to bid for the work.LaPlante and other Air Force officials have urged Congress to allow ULA to use additional Russian engines for military launches until a new U.S.-built engine is available. The ban still affects 9 of 29 engines that ULA had ordered from Russia, but not paid for, before Russia annexed Crimea. ULA has said that five engines approved for ULA's use by Congress last year were assigned to other missions and were not available for use in a bid for the new GPS launch.Congress has already approved the use of four more RD-180 engines in a compromise version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, but Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, plans to attach an amendment to a massive federal spending bill that would further ease the Russian engine ban. Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a letter dated Nov. 19 to resist the move. Easing the ban would benefit the Russian government at a time when it continued to occupy Crimea, was bolstering the Syrian regime and sending weapons to Iraq, he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christian Plumb) Read more

Wisconsin abortion law ruled unconstitutional in federal court

A Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court panel ruled Monday. See also: Supreme Court to hear first abortion case since 2007 The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel's 2-1 decision doesn't put the question to rest. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this month to hear a challenge to a similar Texas law in a case that could settle the issue nationally. The Wisconsin case centers on a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services. The groups argue that the 2013 Republican-backed law amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on abortion. The law's supporters counter it ensures continuity of care if a woman developed complications from an abortion and needed to be hospitalized. But the lawsuit said the statute would force AMS's clinic in Milwaukee to close because its doctors couldn't get admitting privileges. That in turn would lead to longer waits at Planned Parenthood clinics. Therefore, the lawsuit maintained, the law amounts to an illegal restriction on abortions. U.S. District Judge William Conley sided with the abortion providers in March, saying the law served no legitimate health interest. The Wisconsin Department of Justice later appealed to the 7th Circuit. Writing for the 7th Circuit majority, Judge Richard Posner called the contention that the law would protect women's health "nonexistent." He said the law would put more women in danger by increasing the waiting times for abortions, which could push some procedures into the second trimester. "What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women's health — and the abridgement challenged in this case would actually endanger women's health," he wrote. He also said that a woman who experiences complications from an abortion will go to the nearest hospital, which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doctor has admitting privileges there. The judge noted that the law required providers to obtain privileges within two days of Gov. Scott Walker signing it, even though the process typically takes months. "The legislature's intention to impose the two-day deadline ... is difficult to explain save as a method of preventing abortions that women have a constitutional right to obtain," Posner wrote. Judge David Manion was the lone dissenter, saying the law protects women's health and doesn't amount to an undue constitutional burden. "The solution to the plaintiffs' problems is that they find more qualified doctors, not that the state relax — or that we strike down as unconstitutional — precautions taken by the state to protect the health and safety of pregnant women who have chosen to end their pregnancies," Manion wrote. Eleven states have imposed similar admitting privilege requirements on abortion providers; courts have blocked the requirements in six states, including Wisconsin, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin issued a statement praising the 7th Circuit decision. The group's CEO, Teri Huyck, said the law was intended "to put obstacles in the path of women seeking safe, legal abortion care in Wisconsin." The Wisconsin Department of Justice, run by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, defended the law. Agency spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said in an email the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the issue. Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments. Read more

Scientists on quest for friction-free oil

Scientists from BP are applying molecular science in their laboratories to make the perfect oil blend to reduce engine friction and increase efficiency.According to the company, friction caused by various metal-to-metal contact points is a major problem for car engines; costing the UK economy an estimated 24 billion pounds (36.2 billion USD) each year through lost efficiency and damage through wear and tear. The only barrier between the high-force contacts of engine surfaces is a thin layer of lubricant, but they are coming under increasing pressure from modern engines.At BP's facility in Berkshire, west of London, scientists and engineers are working to create lubricants that operate inside the latest motor engines, while improving the performance and efficiency of vehicles already on the market. "Engine oil is like the blood of the engine. It touches every part of the engine, it has many jobs to do and it has to keep that engine running efficiently by keeping things clean, keeping metal surfaces apart and reducing friction," explained development technologist, Simon Gurney, at BP's Technology Centre. The pressure inside modern engines also increases the need for effective fuels and lubricants. The Bugatti Veyron supercar, for example, had an engine pressure of 18 bar when it launched in 2005. Today a standard Ford Fiesta can run a similar pressure.Gurney said the increasing brake mean effective pressure (BMEP) -- the pressure within an engine -- has put bigger demands on an oil's performance."In an engine it's full of metal parts; the oil's primary job is to keep those metal parts apart from one another. So it has to be really strong under these high pressure environments. Now, an engine maybe 20 years ago was maybe making 10 bar of pressure, today; 20 bar. So engine pressures have doubled," he said. Using a state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope, the scientists at BP can see the damage caused by friction and fuel breakdown forming deposits on engines at a nano-level. It's their job to experiment with hundreds of thousands of oil compounds that could reduce this effect, according to analytical expert Tom Lynch."Our task is to find that needle in a haystack that makes that big difference in an improvement of the performance of our oil. And so we strive, using these high end analytical pieces of equipment to be able to understand what each molecule does and what its role is in our lubricant. And we try and tune these molecules to be the best at that job," Lynch told Reuters, adding that they use a mass spectrometer to test molecular formulas 24-hours-a-day at temperatures of up to 6000 degrees Celsius. Once they've established a viable formula, the oils are transferred to the BP Blend Shop to be produced on a larger scale that could eventually be replicated around the world."The demands of modern engines and modern hardware mean that the complexity of our formulations is increasing. We have to experiment with various different materials and determine the best blending methods so they can be replicated globally," said Christopher Rolfe, team leader for blending operations. "Once the formulation has been sent over from the laboratory, we would then take that formulation and work out how to blend it. The blending methods here get replicated globally, so the understanding of the hardware and the engines that takes place in the laboratory, is then transferred into real-world applications in the blend shop here," he added.The team concedes that industry moves toward more hybrid engines may present new challenges. But BP says the potential for greater efficiency and CO2 reduction is significant. It's their aim to concoct oil and lubricants that will help today's engines be as environmentally friendly as possible; with the war on friction a key factor in achieving this goal. Read more

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