Consumers boosted their shopping at a record pace in October even though their incomes remained flat for a second straight month, the Commerce Department reported. Encouraged by discounting and zero percent financing offered by domestic automakers, spending shot ahead to an all-time high of 2.9 percent to an annual rate of $7.19 trillion in October, more than recapturing a 1.7 percent spending decline in September.
The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether older people may use a civil rights lawsuit to claim their employers discriminated against them based on age. The justices said they would hear an appeal from fired Florida Power workers who claimed layoffs fell disproportionately on older workers when the company reorganized in the early 1990s. Workers say they were fired because the utility wanted to change its image and reduce costs for salaries and pensions.
The high court refused to interfere with court-ordered housing desegregation in Yonkers, N.Y., leaving intact an affirmative action plan that aims to better integrate city housing and schools. With litigation over Yonkers discrimination in its third decade, the city had argued against the newest remedy, saying it improperly substituted a plan favoring minorities for one that opened housing markets to all residents. A US Circuit Court of Appeals approved the newest plan last January. The Justice Department and NAACP argued the race-neutral plan wasn't working.
The justices also agreed to decide whether a state violates free-speech rights by prohibiting candidates for elective judicial office from discussing their views on disputed legal or political issues. The case involves a constitutional challenge to Minnesota's campaign rules, which ban judges from speaking at political events. Many other states have similar restrictions, intended to show judges are impartial.
The manufacturing sector contracted in November for the 16th consecutive month, although the rate of decline slowed. The National Association of Purchasing Management said its index of business activity rose to 44.5 in November from 39.8 in October, on a scale where anything above 50 signifies growth.
Capping months of speculation about his new innovation, inventor Dean Kamen unveiled a one-person, battery-powered scooter he said would radically affect urban transportation. Kamen hopes his Segway Human Transporter will displace cars. The Segway, known until now as "IT" or "Ginger," travels up to 17 m.p.h and is reportedly difficult to fall from. The Postal Service and National Park Service are among the first customers. A $3,000 consumer model won't be available for a year. (Story, page 1; editorial, page 10.)
FBI Director Robert Mueller was to announce a major reorganization to strengthen the bureau's ability to fight terrorism. Many agents now based in Washington would be shifted to field offices under the plan, part of sweeping wartime changes in the Justice Department announced earlier. The FBI also would focus more on preventing terrorist acts and less on solving crimes normally handled by local police.