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Black Fridays Sales Break Records; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations to Kick Off; 2.4 Million Expected to Fly Today; Ceasefire Holding in Gaza; Retailers Offer Personal Touch; Famous Fashion in Hotels

Aired November 25, 2012 - 14:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The nation's retailers are on pins and needles as Black Friday figures roll in. A just-released sales report should calm a few nerves that shows for the first time ever online sales exceeded $1 billion.

Comscore Inc said was the most popular online shopping site on Black Friday followed by Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target. Comscore predicts online sales throughout the holiday season will top $43 billion, all of this even before Cyber Monday arrives. More numbers expected later on today.

And now to the looming fiscal cliff, U.S. Congress and the White House have just 37 days left to reach a budget deal and stop more than $500 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes from taking effect.

A potentially big sticking point in those talks, that no new tax pledge of that more than 250 Republican lawmakers have signed. Athena jones us now live from the White House.

So Athena, two more Republicans today who signed the pledge said that they would be open to tax hikes if they get other concessions.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka, and this is really a bit interesting to see. They're talking about this pledge from the Grover Norquist group. He's the anti-tax crusader. His group, "Americans For Tax Reform" has gotten the majority of Republicans in Congress to sign this pledge to oppose any effort to raise taxes in any way.

So first we heard from Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican out of Georgia this past week saying that for his country he would break this pledge because if you stick to that pledge you won't be able to reach an agreement to bring down the debt.

Today we heard from South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and also from New York Congressman Peter King responding to this idea and jumping on the bandwagon with Chambliss. Let's listen to that.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece and Republicans should put revenue on the table. I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss, a pledge we signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in congress in 1941, I would have signed the declaration of war against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed.


JONES: And so it's interesting to see now two more Republicans decide maybe it's not such a good idea to stick to this pledge. We'll have to see if more people decide to follow suit on that side of the aisle -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so Athena, the lawmakers and the administration at all optimistic that they'll be able to reach a deal in the next few weeks?

JONES: Well, I don't know about the next few weeks, Fredricka. They say they're optimistic. We heard a lot of positive talk today and also in that Friday meeting that lawmakers had with the president here right before Thanksgiving.

They came out after that saying that they had the corner stone. They were prepared, they know what they need to do to make a deal. But we've seen how this Congress acts, and we know that oftentimes it takes before the very last minute before they can agree on something.

So I'm not really a betting woman, but if I were, I would bet it's going to take a while -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones, thanks so much from the White House.

JONES: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right, now that the turkey and pumpkin pie has settled in your stomach, it's time to repack that suitcase and head back to the airport. At least, that's the story for 2.4 million of you. Today is the busiest day for Thanksgiving air travel and tomorrow will be quite hectic as well.

That's according to the trade group, "Airlines for America." So how are the airports looking this Thanksgiving Sunday? CNN's Susan Candiotti joining me now from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Susan, I understand you met a few passengers today, and how are they feeling about flying today?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I tell you, it's been remarkably smooth. We've been here since this morning and throughout the day at LaGuardia Airport. We have seen virtually no lines at the check-in counter, and as you can see behind my shoulder, the security, very little backup there. You sail up, very few people in line and you go right on through despite the fact that this is billed as the busiest travel weekend of the year. Maybe in part that has something with good weather that we are having nationwide so very few delays. We haven't seen any listed on the board.

Joining me now we've got Joe and Rhonda Stephens. And you're heading back to Houston.

CANDIOTTI: No, Dallas. Sorry about that. What did you expect when you got to the airport today?

JOE STEPHENS, TRAVELER: We thought we would be delayed. We got here at 2:00. Our flight is at 3:30 and we could hop on right now.

CANDIOTTI: Were you surprised to see this?


CANDIOTTI: In fact, you were telling me you left on Tuesday to get --

JOE STEPHENS: To get ahead of the traffic, and we didn't have any traffic on Tuesday and it's been fairly uneventful.

CANDIOTTI: Terrific. We hope the rest of the trip works out the same way. Thank you very much, indeed.

Of course, I'm reminding everyone to try to get to the airport no matter where you might be at least an hour and a half ahead of time just in case there are lines. You can always change, Fredricka, as everybody tries to squeeze what time they have left on this holiday weekend.

WHITFIELD: That's right. What about the airlines, any potential headaches out there?

CANDIOTTI: You know, when things run smoothly it's good for business. So despite higher fuel costs, remember, if there are backups, that could be a problem. If they have to change planes, this kind of thing or weather delays, that would mean it would be more expensive for the airlines, so they're very happy things are running smoothly today.

WHITFIELD: Excellent. Let's hope it stays that way. Susan Candiotti, thank you so much.

Residents of Gaza are celebrating the end of the conflict with Israel. Heading into a new week, does either side have an upper hand? Someone who advised six U.S. secretaries of state gives us his view.

With the hours ticking down to Cyber Monday, will you head to the mall or the computer to do your holiday shopping? We'll discuss the pros and cons.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Talks are set to resume tomorrow in Cairo between Israelis and see Egyptians to hammer out the details of the ceasefire with Hamas. Israeli troops have retreated from the border and Hamas leaders say a delegation from Gaza has arrived in Cairo.

On the table, opening border crossings and easing Israel's economic blockade in Gaza. Crowds in Gaza celebrated at the end of the eight- day deadly conflict.

So can Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire hold? A man who advised six secretaries of state on the Middle East is assessing it from many angles. Aaron David Miller is an author and long-time author and diplomatic policymaker. I asked him who he believes has the upper hand in this conflict.


AARON DAVID MILLER, DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: There are two clear winners. Hamas for sure, I mean, after all, look at it very simply. It was Hamas' rockets. It's not Abbas' diplomacy that has once again put the Palestinian issue on center stage.

Number two, you've witnessed over the last two weeks the parade of Arab officials literally visiting Gaza, showering political recognition and money. The emir of Qatar came. The foreign minister of Egypt, the foreign minister of Turkey, the president of Turkey wants to come, the Arab league was there.

So Hamas was stuck on this one. It's rising and finally, Hamas again driving their own narratives have withstood the military power of the Middle East's most preeminent military force, Israel. So Hamas on this one stands to win.

If you add to that the possibility that the Israelis may well begin to open up and ease some of the economic restrictions, Hamas' legitimacy for the 1.5 million Palestinians who currently live in Gaza without much hope for an economic future, that's going to deepen.

The Israelis, I think, though, have won. Netanyahu has deepened his relationship with President Obama. He's demonstrated he can actually involve the president of Egypt, Egypt's first civilian president, but a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and to essentially enlist him on his side.

The Israelis avoided a ground incursion to Gaza, which clearly they didn't want and they've tested iron dome, which frankly works very well.

WHITFIELD: What did this do to help better set the stage or better secure two states, a Palestinian state and an Israeli one?

MILLER: Well, here, I think you really have a paradox and it's a cruel paradox. The loser in all of this is Mahmoud Abbas. I mean, there's no question.

WHITFIELD: In what way? MILLER: The Palestinian national movement looks like Noah's ark right now. There are two of everything, two constitutions, two presidents, two security services, two mini states, one in the West Bank over which Abbas doesn't exercise full control and one in Gaza.

It is Hamas' stock that is rising. Abbas' somehow marginalized by this. Hamas emerges now as the pre-imminent representative of a sort of militant, Palestinian nationalism --

WHITFIELD: But you wrote that Abbas maybe and I'm quoting from your article, you write that, quote, "Abbas may be the best Palestinian partner Israel has ever had."

MILLER: Absolutely. There is no question, but that's the cruel paradox of all of this. He may be the best, and he's clearly a centrist, moderate man who probably would like to negotiate a two- state solution.

But if he can't deliver, Fredricka, if he can't preside over a unified Palestinian national movement, if he can't end the Israeli occupation or address the fiscal crisis that the PA now confronts, well, you know, Houston, we have a problem here.

And that, I think, is the real dilemma. And Arma Damon said one more interesting thing. There is no in-state here. In other words, this is not about an Israeli-Palestinian peace here now. This is about a longer range truce or cessation of hostilities and we'll have to see as the months go on where the chips fall on this one.

WHITFIELD: Aaron David Miller, thanks so much, always a pleasure.


WHITFIELD: Here at home in the states, the hours are ticking down to Cyber Monday. So how do you decide? Shop online or head to the mall? We'll talk pros and cons.

And top fashion designers are styling more than just outfits. We'll show you how you can enjoy a night stay in couture.


WHITFIELD: It's a modern shopping conundrum. Bundle up, fight for parking in the mall, stand at the cash register, log your bags back to the car or just stay in your PJs and shop online. With Cyber Monday just hours away now, it's time to decide.

CNN's Dan Simon looks at the pros and cons and what it means for merchants.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Online versus brick-and- mortar. The battle for your holiday dollars perhaps has never been so intense. For years, internet merchants like Amazon had a key advantage in states like California. No sales tax. Local bookstores already under pressure by the rapid rise of e-books and large bookstore chains felt particularly squeezed. Michael Tucker owns a chain of bookstores in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can save 10 percent, why wouldn't you?

SIMON: But Amazon's tax advantage recently disappeared in California adding 7 percent to nearly 10 percent to the cost of each order. It also began taxing in other states like Pennsylvania and Texas.

Online retailers collect tax only for states where they have a physical presence. Now here in California, Amazon is building two giant warehouses including this one near Los Angeles. It's a million square feet and for the old fashioned retailers, it's another reason to worry.

(on camera): Why, because Amazon's goal is to get items to customers faster and to be able to offer same day delivery. That's right. You can avoid stores if you want and have a package delivered to your house in a matter of hours.

(voice-over): A win for consumers, but tough for local retailers.

COLIN SEBASTIAN, BAIRD RESEARCH: If Amazon creates distribution centers and facilities on their turf locally that takes away the one advantage that we see retailers have left to compete against Amazon. So it is a big deal.

SIMON: Internet analyst, Colin Sebastian says that means retailers need to up their game.

SEBASTIAN: Retailers need to take a lesson from Amazon. They need to focus on the consumer experience. They need to become more sophisticated both off line and online.

SIMON: Those who want a lesson on how to thrive can learn from Books Inc in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had almost everything that comes down the pike that could flatten an industry.

SIMON: Amidst the tidal wave of change in the industry, Michael Tucker's dozen stores are thriving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody can get the books. But the staff that's we have and the readers that we have that are working with the public, that's the difference. That's the different factor. We have tremendous staffs that are engaged with those communities.

SIMON: A basic reminder to all retailers, internet and otherwise, that good customer service can mean the decisive factor in winning over business.


SIMON: Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco. WHITFIELD: Here's a question for you. Are prices better on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I made a purchase, thrilled about my Black Friday discount. Well, this morning I received an e-mail advertisement from the same store about the same product, and guess what?

The price will be $10 higher tomorrow. I suppose the incentive is shipping is free for most Cyber Monday purchases. Contrast that with the crowds in the store, and you decide how to calculate the savings.

So it has all the glamour of walking the red carpet but in a hotel. Find out how to stay in rooms styled by top designers.


WHITFIELD: All right, you've seen them on the red carpet, fashions by Oscar De La Renta, Christian Lacroix. Well, now you can stay in rooms styled by those high fashion designers. I talked with "Travel and Leisure's" features editor, Nilou Motamed about couture vacations.


WHITFIELD: Three famous designers have gotten their hands on hotels around the world. Let's begin with Ferragamo in Italy.

NILOU MOTAMED, FEATURES EDITOR, "TRAVEL AND LEISURE": In Florence. Yes, you know, the thing is, Fredricka, that people love their designers and what better way to really embrace that designer by staying in a hotel they have put together with all their famous touches.

So Ferragamo brand, they are actually based in Florence so why not have the hotel, the Lungarno, right on the banks of the Arno River. So you can see the Arno, you can even see the incredible Duelmo, just gorgeous right from your room.

So this is pretty incredible stuff and you know, Ferragamo is known for their attention to detail and to doing a lot of craftsmanship and this hotel really reflects that.

WHITFIELD: On to Paris now and Christian Lacroix known for a great color and intricate designs. What are we going to find at that hotel?

MOTAMED: Well, Lupati, Mulan, this is in the upper (inaudible) and Lacroix is known for couture, as you say vivid colors like the magenta I'm wearing. This hotel is actually Boulangerie that dates back to the 17th Century. Boulangerie means bakery so instead of croissants you're going to find a blow-up in the room of wallpaper.

So there are some elements very contemporary. Some element, they are very traditional like (inaudible), but what there is just an incredible whimsical sense of fun. So if you're going to Paris, you don't want to stay somewhere that doesn't feel cookie cutter, this is a good choice.

Plus this area of the (inaudible), both the traditional area of (inaudible) in this new part of the old (inaudible) are very hot. In fact, in the November issue of "Travel And Leisure," we feature this area as kind of a buzzy place to go both for shopping, eating and exploring.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's hard to be in Paris and not be inspired to shop, anyway, and then you're surrounded by Christian Lacroix. How can you go wrong?

MOTAMED: I'm concerned about the credit card bill, but it's worth it.

WHITFIELD: OK, and now let's head to the Dominican Republic, and that would be a famous stomping ground of an Oscar De La Renta print?

MOTAMED: Oscar De La Renta is the son of Dominican Republican and he has gone back and put his signature on a gorgeous hotel called Ortega Bay. This has 13 different villas and you are right on the water. Oscar De La Renta is obviously know for these incredible red carpet gowns.

But this is not going to be the kind of vibe you're going for. It's very low key at the hotel, beautiful area rooms and obviously the star of the show will be the beautiful white sand and those gorgeous azure waters.

You'll have your own cart you'll tour around the property and there is a spa where you can get a massage. Everybody needs a little bit of pampering once in a while and why not have Oscar De La Renta style all of that.

WHITFIELD: Nilou Motamed, thanks so much.

MOTAMED: Thank you for having me.


WHITFIELD: I'm ready to book my travel.

President Obama tackling his Christmas to-do list. That's just one of the stories trending right now.


WHITFIELD: All right, here's what's trending online. A fire rips through a clothing factory in Bangladesh with 2,000 people inside last night. At least 117 people were killed, 200 injured.

The president of the United States did some Christmas shopping and participated in small business Saturday. At the same time, he was spotted making some purchases with his daughters yesterday at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia.

And I'll be back in one hour. Coming up, I will introduce you to Shamus the beagle. He survived a bout with cancer and now he's helping his owner survive her own struggle with the disease.

Plus we'll show you some of the secret weapons North Korean spies use. It's a CNN exclusive you don't want to miss. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Stay with CNN. "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.