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Every year at this time, the president of the United States, leader of the free world, participates in a truly bizarre political ritual: the pardon of a turkey. President Obama stood before a 50-pound bird Wednesday, made the sign of the cross over him and pardoned him for what, exactly? Comedian John Oliver has a theory: "Every single turkey is guilty, specifically, guilty of having delicious bird parts that should be serving time in the prison of my mouth,” he said in a recent YouTube video.
Mac and Cheese, this year’s turkeys, were born in July on a farm in Ohio. Cheese received the official pardon, but there are always two birds selected – just in case.
“Miss America has a runner up, the president has a vice president, an actor has an understudy,” says Keith Williams with the National Turkey Federation, the official supplier of the pardoned birds.
Williams says Mac and Cheese were chosen for their white fluffy feathering and charming personalities.
“[We] look for is a bird that will be easily handled, in that it can be picked up and put on that little table there where the president can see it,” he says.
The origin of this “treasured” tradition is a bit murky, though the National Turkey Federation, a lobbying group, has given a bird to the White House since the 1940s. Abraham Lincoln spared a turkey after his son Tad argued the bird “had as good a right to live as anybody;” President Harry Truman pardoned a turkey in 1947. But George H. W. Bush was the first president to make it a formal pardon.
“Even though this isn’t a big thing, there is something to note that a lobbying group is even behind this,” says Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University. “That is Washington in a nutshell these days.”
But while turkey pardon may feel silly, Zelizer says politicians see value in it. “We are in an age where the character of the president matters very much,” he says. “People care about who someone is, not just what policies they’re going to fight for. These kinds of rituals are part of how presidential handlers try to package a person.”
But what happens to these turkeys after the cameras are gone?
Well, past birds have gone to Disneyland and George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. Mac and Cheese are now headed to a newly renovated roost at Morven Park in Virginia, joining last year’s birds, Popcorn and Caramel. Well, actually just Caramel. “Popcorn’s not there,” explains Keith Williams. “Popcorn, you know -- turkeys do not live a long time. They are bred for Thanksgiving.”
Over the last twenty years or so, turkeys have be bred to grow bigger, faster, and with more white meat, says Michael Hulet, a professor at Penn State, focusing on meat bird production. That’s, in part, a reflection of American appetites.
“Part of the selection for larger birds and more breast meat puts a lot more demand on the supply organs of the bird, such as the heart, and the liver, lungs,” says Hulet.
Therefore, in the end, the presidential pardon is maybe more like a temporary stay. Popcorn died during a heat wave last summer.
Villagers said the two "untouchable" caste girls were gang-raped and then hanged from a tree in May, but the country's equivalent of the FBI now says there was no rape and that they hanged themselves.
Thanksgiving is, of course, a holiday about family and food and being thankful for what you have. It is also, however, a holiday that is increasingly about commerce, retail commerce especially.
This year more than any shoppers are going out on Thanksgiving itself, online and even in person. Then there is tomorrow, Black Friday, followed by a lesser known shopping holiday, Small Business Saturday.
Kyle Huntoon* is a fourth-generation woodworker from Jackson, Michigan. He moved from his hometown to Detroit open his woodworking business Hunt & Noyer. “I guess I have the underdog spirit in me," says Huntoon. “I’ve always thought of Michigan as kind of an underdog state, and I like that aspect of living in Detroit.”
This weekend, Huntoon will participate in what’s known nationally as Small Business Saturday, which hopes to lure shoppers away from big box retailers. It’s sort of the underdog of contrived shopping holidays.
“I think it’s in its maybe first three years,” says Huntoon who first found out about Small Business Saturdays about a year ago on social media. You may have seen the hashtag #shopsmall or come across this this commercial.
The irony here, is that this commercial was made by a giant company, American Express. That is not lost on analyst Marshal Cohen.
“Without a national sponsor it was kind of floundering around out there, says Cohen. “It really wasn’t gaining any traction.”
This year, Cohen expects Small Business Saturday to gain some traction. So on this Thanksgiving day, as the whole family of fake shopping holidays gather for dinner, this could be the first year that Small Business Saturdays is not seated at the kids table, though it may have to sit next to Uncle Cyber Monday, who always smells like spam.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Kyle Huntoon. The text has been corrected.
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First off, the EU has voted overwhelmingly to break up Google and other search engines to prevent them from stacking results with their own services. We'll talk about what the vote means and doesn't mean. Then, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is meeting Thursday, and with oil prices at a four-year low the group is at a crossroads. Jamie Webster tells us about OPEC's tough choice: cut production and sacrifice market share to raise prices, or stay the course and let prices keep falling. Finally, Tennessee is about to become the first state in the nation to pay for every student to go to community college for free. But the new program ends up pushing potential students toward federal grants they would have gotten anyway but not applied for. It's marketing for higher ed disguised as an innovative state funding program.
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Black Friday sales long ago jumped their 24-hour confines. And with good reason: American consumers spend a third of their annual retail expenditures during these last few weeks of the year.
But this year there are fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so retailers are pushing more deals than ever, according to Thom Blischok, a retail analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“It would be fair to say that this will be the richest holiday season with regard to the numbers of sales and the percentage of sales,” Blischok said. “And let’s not forget online shopping.”
That online shopping holiday, once known as Cyber Monday, is lately more like Cyber Week. This year Adobe Digital Index found that online shopping deals will peak on Thanksgiving, with an average markdown of 24 percent.
And if you’re wary of scouring Amazon while you’re basting your turkey, Adobe analyst Tamara Gaffney says there’s a reason you might want to reconsider.
“By Black Friday you’re going to have a two times higher out-of-stock when you shop online. When you get to cyber Monday, which is December first, it will be five times higher,” Gaffney said.
So analysts say the best days to shop will be Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It seems the advice is: shop early, shop often.
AAA says some 46 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving — the largest number since 2007.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is meeting Thursday, and with oil prices at a four-year low the group is at a crossroads.
Marketplace sustainability reporter Scott Tong says OPEC is facing a changed oil industry and a tough choice. They could cut production and sacrifice market share to other producers, namely the U.S., or they could stay the course and let prices keep falling.
There's no easy answer, and Tong says the cartel could be in for gridlock not unlike what we've seen in Washington. That's good for oil producers in the U.S. right now, but if prices get too low it could spell trouble for the fracking boom here.
Listen to David Gura's full conversation with Tong in the audio player above. Below, you can hear Gura's interview with Jamie Webster, who's in Vienna for Thursday's meeting.