USA

Before heading to his Texas ranch for Thanksgiving weekend, President Bush authorized an independent commission to look into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It was contained in a broader spending bill for intelligence agencies. "We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of Sept. 11," Bush said at the signing ceremony, flanked by families of some victims. The president named ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to chair the 10-member panel, which his administration had opposed until two months ago.

A winter storm in the Northeast slowed pre-Thanksgiving travelers Wednesday, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. Nationwide, the American Automobile Association predicted a 6 percent rise in air travel from the same period last year. The rush marked the first big test for federal security screeners, a week after they took control over passenger checks at all US airports.

Major retail chains are offering deep discounts and other sales incentives today, hoping for a strong start to the traditional year-end holiday shopping season. Macy's announced it is lowering prices by as much as 70 percent. Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Kohl's, and Sears will open stores as early as 6 a.m. - and Kmart at 5 a.m. - the financial news service Bloomberg.com reported. It said a survey found more than one in three Americans plans to hit the stores today and that 92 percent of respondents indicated price discounts would influence their spending.

In the latest hopeful signs for the economy, consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in October, outpacing income growth for the first time since summer, while orders for big-ticket durable goods jumped 2.8 percent last month, the Commerce Department reported. New claims for unemployment benefits dropped 17,000 last week to a 21-month low of 364,000, the Labor Department said.

Six Cubans, one of them a 13-year-old boy, and two alleged smugglers are being held by immigration authorities in Florida, the Coast Guard said. Their disabled boat was found drifting off Key West. Officials haven't decided whether to let the child remain with his father in the US, in a case that drew comparisons to that of Elian Gonzalez.

The International Space Station grew with a 45-foot girder attached by shuttle Endeavor astronauts John Herrington and Michael Lopez-Alegria. Their seven-hour spacewalk Tuesday was the first of three this week.

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