Over the past five years, Black Friday has migrated steadily into Thanksgiving, with each new year bringing fresh examples of big box stores flinging their doors open on Turkey Day. But this year the trend hit the skids. Though Walmart and the other usual suspects will still open on Thanksgiving Day, many big retailers—Costco, Nordstrom, Marshalls, and Home Depot, for example—are holding the line. Outdoor superstore REI went even further, announcing that it will be closed not only on Thanksgiving, but all the way through Black Friday.
Are consumers finally starting to get fed up with the holiday shopping hype? And what motivates some stores to close on Thanksgiving even as others rake in the cash? To find out, I called up Curt Munk, a veteran advisor for big-box retailers and Chief Strategist for the renowned brand agency FCB Red.
The people who organized the largest-ever Black Friday demonstrations against Walmart last year are leaving their protest signs at home this year. Instead, they're launching a campaign to support 1,000 food drives around the country to help struggling Walmart workers.
Making Change at Walmart's "Give Back Friday" campaign kicked off on Tuesday with the launch of a national TV ad campaign urging people "to help feed underpaid workers" and to "help us tell Walmart that in America no hard-working family should go hungry."
Some Walmart stores have implicitly acknowledged that their "associates" don't make enough money to feed themselves. In 2013, a Walmart store in Ohio held a Thanksgiving food drive "for associates in need"—although well intentioned, the drive became a publicity nightmare for the retail giant after photos of the food collection bin went viral.
Walmart raised its wages this year, but an entry-level associate still makes just $9 an hour—less than $16,000 a year based on Walmart's full-time status of 34 hours a week. (The federal poverty level is $24,250 for a family of four and $11,770 for an individual.) A 2013 report by congressional Democrats found that the company's wages and benefits are sufficiently low that many employees turn to the government for help, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store.
"This holiday season, we have set the goal of feeding 100,000 Walmart workers and families," the union-backed group Making Change at Walmart said in a press release. "It is unconscionable that people working for one of the richest companies in this country should have to starve."
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Roseberg after he flatly rejected the idea that smoking marijuana could have medical benefits. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it's not," Rosenberg said during a press briefing earlier this month. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine—that is a joke."
In response, a Change.org petition with more than 106,000 signatures is calling upon President Barack Obama to "fire Chuck Rosenberg and appoint a new DEA administrator who will respect science, medicine, patients, and voters."
Rosenberg is clearly wrong, yet it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—in California at least.
Roseberg need not look far to find reputable studies documenting the medical value of marijuana, even in its whole-plant, smoked form. As Vox's German Lopez points out, a comprehensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pot can effectively treat chronic pain and muscle spasticity.
Still, it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—at least in California, the state with the nation's most lax medical marijuana law. When I visited a "marijuana doctor" in San Francisco a few years ago, it took me less than 15 minutes to get a pot card for—wait for it—"writer's cramp." Meanwhile, my wife waited for days before being denied a pot recommendation from our HMO, Kaiser Permanente, despite suffering from a flare-up of actual arthritis. While she sat at home popping Advils, I headed to the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, where my card got me into a "patient consumption area" staffed by busty women in tight-fitting nurse outfits and a dispensary worker with a nametag that read, "Dr. Herb Smoker, MD."
But that sort of irony wasn't what Rosenberg was talking about. He seems to believe that because marijuana is popular as a recreational drug, it can't also be real medicine. Clearly, Dr. Herb Smoker isn't the only medical professional who disagrees.
In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, many in France have said they finally understand what things were like for Americans just after September 11, 2001. The attacks have emboldened France's conservatives and pushed liberal and moderate factions rightward. On Friday, the French parliament voted to extend a nationwide state of emergency for another three months, granting authorities broad powers to limit civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism. The French public overwhelmingly supports the move.
France has "an elected monarch, basically. And the French in general have a more positive view of the state, and government intervention."
The rise of a police state in France may come as a surprise to Americans old enough to remember when France stood out as Europe's greatest critic of President George W. Bush's war on terror—a spat that peaked in 2003 when, in response to French opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the House of Representatives cafeteria rebranded its French fries "Freedom Fries."
Nowadays, of course, just about everyone looks with disfavor on that war, which is credited with giving ISIS a foothold. Though France bombed targets in Syria on November 15, it has so far stopped short of sending in ground troops against ISIS. And, while it's too early to tell, there's no evidence its intelligence services are abducting or torturing terror suspects.
Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.
On Sunday, France's National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to "the spread of photos of crime scenes," out of "respect for victims and their families." It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.
The reasons French authorities gave for the request were a "serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)" and "secrecy of the investigation."
On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a "serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)" and "secrecy of the investigation."
According to Le Monde, Twitter complied by blocking many of the offending tweets and images. Others have been marked "sensitive content" and now must be clicked by users before becoming visible. Twitter has also agreed to prevent a keyword used by ISIS supporters from appearing in the "trending" box on its homepage.
On Tuesday, the French authorities submitted a second request, asking Twitter to delete a tweet advocating terrorism. A French law that went into effect in February allows police to block access to websites that are considered to be promoting terrorism without first obtaining a court order.
"In the face of terrorism, usually the first casualties are free speech and privacy, and that is extremely disappointing."
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but civil liberties advocates in the United States were sharply critical of the censorship requests and of Twitter's apparent willingness to comply. "In the face of terrorism, usually the first casualties are free speech and privacy, and that is extremely disappointing," said Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based group advocating for freedom of expression online.
In the past, Twitter has prided itself on resisting government censorship requests. In 2011, for instance, it declined to remove tweets by users in the United Kingdom who had defied a court order by disclosing details of privacy injunctions obtained by public officials. The company's general manager in the UK said Twitter sees itself as "the free speech wing of the free speech party."
Though many details of the French government's speech crackdown remain unclear, there appears to be no legal basis for it to censor images solely due to their graphic content. Even if there were, it would be unusual for Twitter and many other social media companies to comply to such a request without a court order.
"Companies like Twitter and Facebook and Google, the big tech companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, have mostly done a pretty good job of standing up to that kind of pressure," says EFF's Galperin. "But increasingly we've see Twitter bend right over."
Despite France's longstanding reputation as a bastion of free speech, it has proven increasingly willing to limit freedom of expression in response to Islamic terrorism. In 2013, a French court ordered Twitter to disclose the identities of people who violated the country's strict hate speech law by sending anti-Semitic tweets. (Twitter complied only after losing in court.) In response to January's terror attacks on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the French government announced even stricter hate speech penalties, and a $100 million campaign to monitor and fight "hatred online."
"I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech."
The Terrorism Act, passed by France's National Assembly in November 2014, increases penalties for "advocating terrorism" to seven years in jail and a $100,000 fine if the act is "committed using a communication service available to the public on the internet." The same month, France rolled out PHAROS, a site where people can anonymously report "illicit content or behavior" to police.
"France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech," says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. "The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that."
In February, France brought its campaign against online hate speech to the United States. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve toured Silicon Valley, where he asked representatives of Google, Facebook, and Twitter to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when alerted to it by French authorities. "We emphasized that when an investigation is underway we don't want to go through the usual government-to-government channels, which can take so long," he told reporters at the French consulate in San Francisco, according to the TV station France 24.
But with this push to restrict graphic images of shootings, French officials appear to have taken an incredibly broad interpretation of propaganda. "France is an example of how censorship can become insatiable for the government," says Turley, the Washington University professor. "What we have seen is an effort to regulate images in the name of fighting terrorism, when in reality these images reflect badly on the government."