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Fury In Tahrir Square; Mass Protests Erupt In Egypt; Black Friday Shoppers Hit The Stores; Wal-Mart Black Friday Protest; First Lady Inspects The Christmas Tree; Thanksgiving At The White House; Massive Pileup Closes I-10 In Texas; Fired Over Facebook Pic Post; Anti-Gay Law As "Christmas Gift"

Aired November 23, 2012 - 14:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Fred. I'm Victor Blackwell in for Brooke Baldwin. The Dow finishing in the green as shoppers empty the shelves across the U.S. In case you're curious, the stock market closing early on this Black Friday. Find out what today's sales mean for the overall health of the economy.

But first, mass protests are erupting in Egypt after a sudden power grab. In Cairo's Tahrir Square, thousands are chanting for regime change. They say Egypt's new president is acting like a dictator. President Mohamed Morsi granted himself, get this, sweeping new powers yesterday.

Basically Morsi now has absolute power for six months. His opponents say he's acting like a new pharaoh. The U.S. State Department is calling for calm and encouraging all parties to work together.

Morsi declared all his laws, all his decrees are final and cannot be overturned or appealed until Egypt's new constitution is put in place. Just days ago, people around the world were praising Morsi for his pivotal role in negotiating the Israel/Hamas ceasefire.

Well, today, protesters set fire to a symbol of Morsi's power, the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Alexandria, Egypt. Morsi supporters clashed with protesters there. Morsi is defending his new powers, saying he's not taking sides and the steps he took are meant to achieve political and social stability.

Reza Sayah joins us live in Cairo. Reza, is Morsi's government strong enough, so early in this administration, to withstand this level of protests?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to find out in the coming weeks, but the political landscape is certainly in his favor. He's got the backing of police and security forces, but make no mistake.

These are demonstrators, protesters that are determined and energized. Many say one of the outcomes of the 2011 revolution was that many Egyptians lost their fear and inhibition to protests and speak up.

In other words, from now on, if they don't like something, they're not going to be afraid to speak up and say it and that's what we're seeing today, thousands of angry demonstrators filing into Tahrir Square and other Egyptian cities, aiming their anger at Mr. Morsi, seems very similar to last year, of course.

Last year the anger was aimed at Mr. Mubarak. The demonstrators managed to topple him. Today, Victor, very similar slogans and chants, chants of leave, leave, leave, chants of we won't leave until this government leaves.

The same things, the same things we heard last year and now it looks like these demonstrators, just like 2011, are going to do a sit-in. They're putting up tents. Look for this to continue for the coming hours, maybe through the weekend -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We take this a step further now, Reza, because the only reason that Mohamed Morsi was able to take power was because he was elected after the people of Egypt decided they were done with centralized power with the Mubarak government. Why do you think he took this step? What motivated this power grab?

SAYAH: Well, he won't describe it as a power grab. His opponents are describing it as a power grab. But his position, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is his movement, their position is they want to move along the democratic process that has been bogged down, the drafting of the constitution that is bogged down.

He came out today in a speech that says I'm with the revolution, I'm a protector of the revolution. Of course, his opponents gathered in Tahrir Square today, vehemently disagree, describing this as the undermining of the principles of the revolution -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Is there any sense that indeed when the new parliament takes place, or is seated rather, and the constitution is ratified, that he will give up these absolute powers?

SAYAH: Well, that's what he says he's going to do, but many of his opponents are very skeptical. And in the meantime, his opponents say there is going to be a lot of problems, even if he gives up his powers six months from now.

Those problems are focused on this panel, this constitutional panel that is charged with drafting the new constitution that's being dominated by Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi.

Many liberals, many women's rights groups, many Christians have quit that panel in protest and moving forward, the way this panel stands, his opponents say any constitution is going to be drafted, is going to favor Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood followers. That's another reason why they're protesting today.

BLACKWELL: And give us an idea of some of the more controversial decisions he's made since taking office that can now not be questioned, not be overturned, that the protesters in Tahrir Square have the greatest problem with.

SAYAH: Well, I think, first and foremost, it's this constitutional assembly. And, again, it is a panel that is dominated by Islamists. It is supposed to be -- it was advertised in one that is representative of all factions.

Many of these factions who sparked the revolution, the liberals, western style liberals, Christians, youth groups, women's rights groups, they don't believe that this panel is representative of what this revolution is about.

And this is a decision he's made and sticking to it and one of the decrees is pushing through the draft of the constitution, even with some of these opposing factions quitting in protest.

BLACKWELL: Reza Sayah in Cairo for us, thank you.

Today is the mad rush and some people are just outright mad, rushing to start the holiday shopping season. Black Friday, the day that a lot of retailers go into the black or become profitable for the year.

Now if we're not among the shoppers ling up early for bargains, we're among those watching. Watching seasons like this, some of us are looking at the wild and crazy moments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will stab one of you --


BLACKWELL: OK, others watch for the lines to calm down so they know it's safe to go into the mall. But there is a bigger reason to watch Black Friday crowds. They're a bellwether of the economic recovery.

Consumers drive about 70 percent of America's economy and some of the big stores started their Black Friday sales earlier than ever, on Thanksgiving evening. Some before the sun went down.

And it looks like it might be paying off. Lots of lines outside of stores last night and this morning. Black Friday was good for the stock market, you see green arrows, that's a good thing.

Wal-Mart and target gained more than 1 percent and helped push the Dow up almost 173 points to end the day above the 13,000 mark. Tod Marks is senior editor with "Consumer Reports" magazine in Yonkers, New York. Tod, "Consumer Reports" just wrapped up the holiday poll. Are consumers optimistic?

TOD MARKS, SENIOR EDITOR, "CONSUMER REPORTS": Yes, Americans are inherently optimistic, even in the darkest of times. And people don't hold that neither the results of the presidential election nor the state of the economy are really going to keep them down this year.

You can tell that because they're out and about this weekend. About a third of Americans will be shopping this Black Friday at the brick and mortar stores, but another third actually, 34 percent slightly more than those at stores will be shopping online this weekend.

And if that's not enough, you know, this whole notion of Cyber Monday, this concocted holiday where people go back to work and look for something to do and they shop, well, actually, we found that as many people are going to be making purchases online on Cyber Monday, as they are on Black Friday.

So there is a lot of optimism out there. Even though 37 percent of Americans told us they'll be spending a little less this year, they're going to be out and spending something.

BLACKWELL: Are we going back to the days of the big ticket gifts, these television purchases, and the expensive electronics. And if we are not, what does that tell us about the health of the economy?

MARKS: Well, what we see and this has been the trend, now this is the fifth Christmas season in a row where we have been battered by bad economic news, even if things are getting better, people still have it on their mind.

And people have basically decided to be much more conservative in what they're buying. There is a focus on the practical. The biggest gifts this year in terms of quantity will be clothing. The second most wanted gift turned out to be gift cards followed by toys, but nearly 40 percent of Americans plan to give cash or check this year.

Now, of course, electronics are popular. They always are because they're kind of the gee whiz gadgets and people are looking to buy things like the iPad mini, you know, and the new iPhone 5, things like that.

And they're always popular and they are buying them, but, again, our data shows that, you know, practical gifts are up front and center. And we have seen that now for several years.

BLACKWELL: I was out with folks until probably 2:30 this morning doing a little Black Friday shopping and you couldn't tell by the line there was any concern about the economy. Tod Marks, thank you very much.

All right, as shoppers head to the stores, unions are taking on Wal- Mart and some workers are walking off the job.

Plus, the first family marks the holiday tradition at the White House. See what happened next.


BLACKWELL: Protesters greeted shoppers at some Wal-Mart stores around the country. But that's not stopping the retail giant from touting its best Black Friday ever. Wal-Mart says about 22 million people took advantage of the store's Thursday evening opening snatching up almost 5,000 items per second.

Wal-Mart says in a press release, only 26 protests occurred at stores last night. We estimate less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide so exactly who are these protesters.

CNN's Rene Marsh ventured into one of the bigger protests this morning outside a Wal-Mart in Landover Hills, Maryland. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just take a look, you can see how many people are out here. I would estimate it is in the hundreds and they're all chanting. Some of them wearing signs, some of them holding signs that say that the wages just aren't where they should be.

Now, within this mix of people, we know there are union members. We know there are community members. Have not bumped into a employee of this particular Wal-Mart at this point. I did speak to someone from Wal-Mart and they tell me that they have had two call-ins, but not sure if it is at all linked to the folks here.

But I want to give you a look live and look at the signs, respect your workers, Wal-Mart, is one sign they're wearing there. And then I'm told, ma'am, are you an employee? You are an employee of this Wal- Mart?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a worker from Laurel, Maryland, 1985 store.

MARSH: OK, so you are. Did you walk out today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I did. We're both on strike. She's also a worker at Wal-Mart Laurel 1985. We're here to support our brothers and sisters across the United States in our Wal-Mart stores, our Wal- Mart warehouses and more. We do want retaliation to stop.

MARSH: When you walked out today, did you walk out in fear that you would lose your job?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to leave that to God. In our country we have federal rights and under federal rights we are protected. So I hope there will be no more retaliation when I go back to our stores tomorrow because we are returning to work tomorrow.

MARSH: As far as I can tell, the majority of people I've seen or that I've spoken to, they're members of unions, they are people within the community that sympathize with the workers with Wal-Mart.

But the majority of the people that you're seeing here, at least from the people I've been able to speak to, they are not specifically Wal- Mart workers.


BLACKWELL: All right, Rene Marsh reporting for us there. Thank you.

We have the Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge. We probably had them for breakfast, maybe lunch now. But it's already time to talk about Christmas at the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama was presented with the official White House Christmas tree.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It's a go. Good. We can have Christmas now. Thank you so much.


BLACKWELL: Daughters, Sasha and Malia, gave the 19-footer from North Carolina the onceover. Michelle Obama gives it thumbs up, says we'll take it.

Meanwhile, the Oregon State University men's basketball team got the presidential treatment this Thanksgiving. President Obama seen here joking with the team. First lady invited the team and her brother, who is the coach to have dinner with the family.

Just ahead, two women fired after a picture surfaces on Facebook. One of them is flipping the bird during a trip to the tomb of the unknowns. Is this fair? We're on the case.

Plus, two people dead and a dozen in serious condition. Did you see this? A tragic pileup involving 100 vehicles on a highway. We're now hearing what's to blame here.


BLACKWELL: Dense early morning fog is being blamed for a huge pileup that killed two people and closed a Texas interstate for hours on Thanksgiving Day. Look at this.

More than 100 cars and trucks were involved in this chain reaction, just crash after crash, 80 to 100 people were sent to hospitals. A Texas couple, grandparents in their 60s, were killed when an 18 wheeler crushed their car and understandably, their son is heartbroken.


V.J. LEGGIO JR., PARENTS WERE KILLED IN MASSIVE PILEUP: We love them, and it's terrible, terrible. My dad and I, we work together. We had a good relationship and we had -- we got to spend time together golfing and fishing and I'm so I thankful for that now.


BLACKWELL: On Thanksgiving Day, this all happened on Interstate 10 near Beaumont, Texas. It took about nine hours to remove the mangled cars and the debris. State troopers are interviewing the drivers and the passengers and a few witnesses as part of their investigation.

Listen, we keep warning you about what you post on Facebook and here is why you should listen. Look at this photo. This is Lindsey Stone. She was on a company trip to Arlington National Cemetery when she posed for this picture.

Yes, that's her making an obscene gesture next to a sign that asks for respect and she uploaded the picture to her Facebook page and the reaction was swift.

More than 30,000 people signed a petition to have her fired. A company Stone worked for responded and she got the boot. Attorney Midwin Charles is on the case. Midwin, I know there will be legal issues coming out of this. It just -- there is going to be something filed.

MIDWIN CHARLES, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi, Victor, how are you? Thanks so much for having me. I think this case is very interesting. One thing that people fail to realize when you look at all of the furore over this is that employment is at will, which means employers can fire employees for any reason.

At least, of course, if you're a contractual employee, just as an employee can quit for whatever reason it is that they want. So, yes, this woman can potentially file a lawsuit against her employer for firing her, but I can't see how that's going to be successful.

BLACKWELL: Well, she is remorseful. I want to read part of the apology she issued to a newspaper in Boston. Here is the quote. "We never meant any disrespect to any of the people nationwide who served this country and defended our freedom so valiantly."

In an internet world when thousands demand you lose your job. Are there protects of free speech here. There are a lot of people who don't like what she did, but she may say, I'm an American. I have the right to say what I like.

CHARLES: She does and the company has the right to fire her. Remember, its employment at will. Also, a lot of companies ask their employees to comport themselves in a particular manner of respect, and in a manner that kind of espouses the views of that company.

She was on a company trip when she did this. So the employer does have the right to react in this manner. And, of course, as I said before, she can sue them. I don't know how -- what the likelihood of success will be if she does so.

BLACKWELL: We heard from the woman who is in the photograph, I want to read you something that came from the company, Stone's former employer, non-profit that serves adults that have disabilities.

They released the statement on their Facebook page. Here is the quote. "We wish to announce that the two employees recently involved in the Arlington Cemetery incident are no longer employees of Life. Again, we deeply regret any disrespect to any members of the military and their families. The incident and the publicity has been very upsetting to the learning disabled population we serve."

OK, so they fire the woman in the picture. They also fired the person who took the photograph. Is there any legal recourse for that person?

CHARLES: There is always legal recourse. As attorney, we always acknowledge the fact that people can sue. It is just a matter of whether or not they'll be successful. I think that what they did was a direct contravention of what the company stands for. That's what made it a little egregious least on the part of the company.

BLACKWELL: Before you click post, before you click send, think about what you're doing. Midwin Charles, thank you so much.

CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: A newspaper shocks the world by calling for gays to be killed. So what do the people of Uganda say? We find out next.


BLACKWELL: Listen to this, an anti-gay law offered as a Christmas gift to those who support it, that's what the speaker of the Ugandan parliament said about an anti-gay bill that is on the table, right now, according to the BBC. Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda. But this bill that could pass any day now increases the penalties including life in prison for a conviction of, listen to this term, aggravated homosexuality.

Some of the other offenses under the bill, if you know someone who is gay, you have to turn them in to police. If you house a gay person, that would be punishable, touching a gay person with the intention of committing a homosexual act also punishable.

A straight Ugandan could be held accountable for those offenses. And as CNN's David McKenzie first reported a couple of years ago, this is all part of the culture in you Uganda where a newspaper goes so far as to say homosexuals should be hanged.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the paper in question. It's the "Rolling Stone" newspaper. It doesn't have much circulation, it is a new paper. But 100 pictures of Uganda's top homosexuals.

And it basically asks for these people to be hanged and called out on the members of the public to find these people. Inside the pages of the newspaper they even have photographs of people that, you know, show their names, say where you can find them and, you know, also give the addresses.

So this really shocks people around the world that a newspaper, that generally protects the public, can say that you people should go out and target members of the public. This is in the Ugandan context.

I want to play a few sound bites from people that we spoke to and we ask them, should gay people be allowed to live and work in Uganda? Do you mind if we ask you a few questions. Do you think gay people have a place in Uganda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so. There is a law against gays in the constitution, so definitely they don't have a place in Uganda.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our law doesn't require them to happily engage in their gay activities. MCKENZIE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. And that is our standard. Our culture, our traditional culture, has no room for gays. And besides that, when we honor the Christian values, which have been obtained by the nation then certainly there is no room for gays.

MCKENZIE: Hi. I'm David from CNN. We are just chatting to people. Just take 20 seconds. We're trying to find out what Ugandans think on this issue, because a lot of people are talking about it. What do you think is the space for gay people in Uganda? Should they have a place?


MCKENZIE: OK, do gay people have a place in Uganda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You see, gay is how one feels. You have a right over your body. It is your own right.

MCKENZIE: Should gay people have a place in Uganda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gay people? I don't think so. No. How can a gay person have -- I don't think it's right. I don't think it's right.

MCKENZIE: What should happen to someone who is openly gay in Uganda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't -- you know, it's -- it is inconceivable.


BLACKWELL: David McKenzie, thank you for that. Now, as you saw, CNN blurred the face of the man you saw in the story. As you can imagine, it is not safe to publicly support homosexuality in Uganda.

But its anti-gay bill is condemned by western leaders like President Obama who threaten to cut off aid to Uganda if the country does not do more to protect the rights of gay people. Again, that bill could pass any day.

The truce between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza could be in trouble right now. There was an incident on the border. You'll hear what happened when Israeli troops confronted a group of Palestinians.