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Other News: Recession Complicates Holiday Travel for Many

November 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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In other news, airlines are experiencing a 25 percent decrease in holiday travel this year as more people are opting for trains and buses. Also, weekly jobless claims dipped below 500,000 for the first time since January.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, millions of Americans were on the go for Thanksgiving, as the holiday season began. Economic conditions kept some people home, others searching for travel alternatives.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: They crowded the nation’s highways, train stations and airports today.

HOLIDAY TRAVELER: Yes, we’re excited. I’m ready to go home for Thanksgiving.

KWAME HOLMAN: At Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport, security lines were long, even though air travel is down 6.7 percent this year compared to last.

Just 38 million Americans are expected to travel from home this weekend, up slightly from last year, but still far below the levels of a few years ago, in better economic times. Here at Washington’s Union Station, many people are turning to trains as a cheaper way to get home for the holidays.

Danny McGrath was headed to Boston, his Thanksgiving tradition of the last several years.

DANNY MCGRATH: It was cheaper than flying, but, as far as comfort and convenience — I did it last year — beats the bus.

KWAME HOLMAN: Amanda Newman is a student at George Washington University.

AMANDA NEWMAN: I know some people are choosing to stay back and, like, not travel, just because it’s too expensive. And, when you’re students, you can’t get jobs right now. It’s really hard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jenna Bramwell said she would have left town sooner than this Thanksgiving eve, but she had to work until today to save enough money to travel home.

JENNA BRAMWELL: I had to push my train back a few times because work just had to happen, and I — I needed to make the extra money.

KWAME HOLMAN: Amtrak predicted today would be its busiest of the year, with ridership of about 125,000, 66 percent above a normal day. But more than eight in 10 Americans traveling this weekend will be on the highways.

Lon Anderson of AAA:

LON ANDERSON: I think our numbers are reflecting an improvement in — in the economy, but we have got a long way to go to get back to the kind of travel we were seeing pre-recession.

KWAME HOLMAN: Nationally, gas prices average more than 70 cents a gallon higher than last year. Still, this year, Anderson said driving makes the most financial sense.

LON ANDERSON: It’s not $3 gas and it’s not $4 gas, so it seems relatively inexpensive.

KWAME HOLMAN: Weather conditions across most of the country were good, so there were few travel delays.

JIM LEHRER: Economic numbers out today gave an early boost to the Thanksgiving shopping weekend. The Commerce Department reported consumer spending picked up in October, rising seven-tenths-of-a-percent.

And the week’s jobless claims dipped below 500,000 for the first time since January. Those numbers and a rise in new home sales pushed stocks up on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 30 points today, to close at 10,464. The Nasdaq rose more than six points, to close at 2,176.

U.S. health officials turned their attention to a rise in bacterial infections in patients with swine flu. Doctor Anne Schuchat at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the spike worrisome. She told reporters the secondary infections are usually seen in people over 65, but now are striking younger adults.

A court in Pakistan has charged seven men in last year’s three-day assault on Mumbai, India. The indictments came on the eve of the first anniversary of the siege. One hundred and sixty-six people were killed in the city formerly known as Bombay. All seven Pakistani suspects, including the alleged mastermind, pleaded not guilty. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Israel has approved a 10-month freeze on building new settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian negotiators rejected the offer because the freeze does not include neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu said he hoped the move would help revive Middle East peace talks.

In Washington, both Secretary of State Clinton and her special envoy to the region, George Mitchell, welcomed the Israeli decision.

GEORGE MITCHELL: While they fall short of a full freeze, we believe the steps announced by the prime minister are significant and could have substantial impact on the ground. For the first time ever, an Israeli government will stop housing approvals and all new construction of housing units and related infrastructure in West Bank settlements. That’s a positive development.

JIM LEHRER: Israel’s offer only applies to new construction. That means some 3,000 pre-approved homes will continue to be built.

Top officials in Britain acknowledged there was no evidence Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion. That testimony came in the second day of a major inquiry into Britain’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

We have a report from Paul Davies of Independent Television News.

TONY BLAIR, former prime minister, United Kingdom: He has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes.

PAUL DAVIES: It was, above all else, the belief that Saddam Hussein had and was ready to use weapons of mass destruction that led Britain to war.

But, today, two senior civil servants, both key advisers to Tony Blair in 2003, gave a different view of the threat Saddam posed.

Sir William Ehrman was director of international security at the Foreign Office and a chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He told the Chilcot inquiry, just days before the start war, latest intelligence questioned whether Saddam was able to use CBW, chemical and biological weapons, at all.

SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN, former chair, Joint Intelligence Committee: We did, in the very final days before military action, receive some on CBW use, that it was disassembled, that he might not have the munitions to — to deliver it.

PAUL DAVIES: Tim Dowse, former head of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office, said, the belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction was so strong, it clouded their view.

TIM DOWSE: We were — we had got out of the habit of questioning ourselves and our assumptions. And that is something that we have certainly given a lot of attention since, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

PAUL DAVIES: From the inquiry chairman, then a pointed question.

SIR JOHN CHILCOT: Has anything at all turned up in the years since ’04?

TIM DOWSE: Not of significance, no.

SIR JOHN CHILCOT: Right.

PAUL DAVIES: Nothing of significance, the answer.

JIM LEHRER: The officials also said Iran and Libya were Britain’s main security concerns before the invasion took place.