What will it take for consumers’ confidence to improve?

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Consumers’ confidence remained weak in September after dropping to a post-recession low during the month before. That’s left economists to wonder just what it’ll take to get Americans feeling good about the economy again.

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A survey of consumer confidence shows that Americans who were worried in August because of a downgrade of U.S. long-term debt, wild stock markets swings and other concerns, continue to be spooked. Economists say the problem is that not much has changed to make consumers feel financially secure. The stock market is still volatile. Worries about the global economy persist. And perhaps worst of all for confidence, U.S. jobs are still scarce.

“We are well below where we should be, and that’s because the unemployment situation is so bad,” said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “You have to have a huge fall in the unemployment rate.”

The Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index was at 45.4 in September. The number is slightly above the revised reading in August of 45.2, which was the lowest since April 2009. A reading of above 90 indicates the economy is on solid footing.

“The pessimism that shrouded consumers last month has spilled over into September,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center in a statement.

Economists, which watch the index closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 per cent of U.S. economic activity, say it will take at least a year for consumers’ confidence to significantly improve. The problem, they say, is that consumers still feel like they’re in a recession.

It’s not hard to see why consumers are freaked out about the U.S. economy. Net job creation came to a halt in August in the U.S. The unemployment rate was flat at 9.1 per cent. Home prices remain weak. And consumers are facing higher prices for everything from food to clothing as retailers try to offset their rising costs for labour and materials.

Consumers also don’t feel good about their prospects. Those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased to 50.0 per cent, from 48.5 per cent in The Conference Board’s survey. And the proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their income declined to 13.3 per cent from 14.3 per cent.

Franco, with The Conference Board, said that “does not bode well for spending.”

Economists say sustained job growth – monthly job gains of at least 200,000 – will be the most critical component in raising consumers’ confidence. A rallying stock market, rising home values and lower prices for gasoline, food and other things would also help lift shoppers’ moods.

Some economic challenges are already starting to ease. For instance, gas prices, while higher than last year, are starting to come down. The national average is at about $3.48, according to a survey by AAA. That’s up about 78.5 cents per gallon from a year ago but 13 cents lower than a month ago.

Shoppers will also see prices on clothing and home furnishings start to come down by next spring, says Scott Wren, senior equity strategist for Wells Fargo Advisors. Stores had raised prices on average of about 10 per cent as they tried to offset higher costs for labour and raw materials like cotton, but those cost pressures have started to dissipate in recent months.

“That will help confidence a little,” Wren said.

Although the stock markets are still volatile, they are calming some. Since the first week of August, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed up or down more than 200 points a total of 16 times. The Dow remains down 12.8 per cent from its recent peak on July 21, and down 2.3 per cent for the year.

A sustainable rebound in the stock market should send confidence back to a reading of anywhere from 60 to 75, said Dales, with Capital Economics.

But two other components that affect sentiment – housing and the job market – aren’t budging much. According to a widely watched Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released on Tuesday, home prices rose for a fourth straight month in most major U.S. cities in July. But prices are expected to decline in the coming months after the buying season. .

And economists will closely monitor the September jobs figures when they are to be released on Oct. 7. But unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 9.1 per cent with employers adding 75,000 jobs.


Mallett asks why can’t Italy rely on its strengths if the All Blacks’ pretty play is praised?

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NELSON, New Zealand – Italy coach Nick Mallett gets exasperated at claims his team is too reliant on its front row and scrummaging, arguing that a strategy of playing to your strengths at the Rugby World Cup shouldn’t need to be defended.

The Italians completely overwhelmed the U.S. Eagles’ scrum in the 27-10 win in Pool C at Trafalgar Park on Tuesday, winning a large majority of their 19 penalties from setpiece infringements as their opponents were shunted back time and time again.

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American blindside flanker Louis Stanfill was sent to the sinbin in the 59th after the referee’s patience eventually ran out, allowing the dominant Italy scrum to win a penalty try eight minutes later to secure a bonus point that could prove crucial in Sunday’s crunch match against Ireland.

“There was no reason why we shouldn’t destroy America’s scrum today,” Mallett said. “It’s frustrating for me a little bit when sometimes the team gets criticized. But no one criticizes the All Blacks for playing with their backs, for scoring great tries because they’ve got some of the most skilful backs in the world.

“If Italy is sitting with probably one of the best front rows in the world, it would be really ridiculous not to use that strength. I think we got between 10 and 12 penalties from scrum offences in the game today, and we got a penalty try. Clearly, we had a very dominant scrum.”

The Americans may have been outmatched at scrum time but they excelled in the loose, competing equally at the breakdown and carrying the ball over the advantage line around the ruck. Loosehead prop Mike MacDonald’s charges, in particular, made an impression on Mallett.

“That No. 1 prop was all over the field – he never stops running,” Mallett said. “It’s much better for him to have his head … in the scrum and getting scrummed than running around the field causing trouble for us.”

Mallett had wanted to replace star tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni and captain Sergio Parisse with 20 minutes left with the Ireland match in mind. But he had to leave his No. 8 on the pitch for the full 80 minutes and Castrogiovanni only came off eight minutes before fulltime.

Parisse was full of praise for the U.S. performance and wasn’t surprised he was required to play the full match.

“They showed a lot of physicality, a lot of heart, in all their matches at this World Cup,” he said. “We expected a really tough game and we got one.”

Mallett defended his substitution tactics, noting that the bonus point means Italy can afford to beat Ireland by less than eight points and still advance to the quarterfinals, providing his players don’t concede four tries.

“We needed to get that penalty try, we needed to get that extra point,” Mallett said. “I would have preferred to take players off earlier but in the end it worked out OK because we didn’t get any injuries and we’re going to really look after the guys over the next five days and to allow them to recover properly before Sunday.”


PM huddles with finance minister, central banker ahead of G20 meeting

OTTAWA – As worries about the European debt crisis and the tepid U.S. economic recovery threaten to derail Canadian growth, the prime minister said Tuesday the country is taking the right steps.

Stephen Harper huddled with his finance minister and central banker to compare notes with the pair after their meetings with financial policy-makers in Washington on the weekend

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“I think we’re all finding that people are pretty positive about what we’re doing here, but we’re in a world picture that is not so positive, and that clearly is going to demand that we spend a little bit of time looking at it,” Harper said.

“So we’re going to compare some notes.”

The meeting between Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, comes ahead of a gathering of G20 leaders in France in early November, where they will discuss the global economy.

Earlier in the day, Harper told the House of Commons that Canada is “running a very expansionary fiscal policy right now” as he fended off Opposition criticism that the government is not spending enough to create jobs.

Government critics say Ottawa should spend on infrastructure or make other moves to boost the economy and create work for the 1.4 million Canadians who are unemployed.

“We are obviously undertaking good management, and some modest savings to ensure that as the economy recovers that we will in fact balance our budget and retain our fiscal advantage,” Harper said.

But several economists painted a bleak picture of the economy for the Commons Finance committee as it began its pre-budget consultations.

Though the economists did not agree on whether the economy was headed into a double-dip recession or if Ottawa should launch another round of stimulus spending, they all outlined a troubled outlook.

BMO Capital Markets deputy chief economist Doug Porter told the MPs that growth will be very modest at best for this year and next.

“While we continue to believe that Canada and the U.S. will manage to claw out some growth over the next year, it looks to be very modest at best,” Porter told the committee.

“Given such subdued growth I would say that it would really only take one more negative shock to basically tip the economy over into an outright downturn.”

Porter sided with those who did not believe another round of stimulus spending was needed just yet, but he urged the government to be cautious and flexible.

“In this kind of environment, caution really is the watch word,” Porter said.

However the committee also heard calls for spending on infrastructure projects from Sylvain Schetagne, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress.

“Public investments remain our last recourse,” he said.

Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, noted that the government should not be afraid of delaying its plan to balance its budget by 2014-15 by a year or two amid the changing global circumstances.

“It’s not a matter of staying the course, it is being prepared to make common sense course corrections along the way depending on the needs of the economy,” he said.


Failure to win World Cup match leaves entertaining Japan side filled with regret

NAPIER, New Zealand – Japan may have entertained fans at the Rugby World Cup with its brand of attacking rugby, but its failure to win a match has coach John Kirwan feeling flat.

Japan squandered an eight-point lead in the closing stages of Tuesday’s 23-23 draw with Canada, after losing to Tonga and France and being thrashed 83-7 by New Zealand.

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“We put teams under pressure, however it’s about results,” Kirwan said. “If we could have got that win today it would have been a real positive World Cup, the draw leaves us a bit flat.”

Although two of the losses were perhaps expected, Kirwan came into the tournament confident that two wins and third place in the pool were realistic.

“I felt that if we had gone out with a win today it would have been a successful tournament, first win for 20 years,” Kirwan said. “We had goals, to beat Tonga and Canada, so that was disappointing.”

Despite the fact Japan still has not won a World Cup match since beating Zimbabwe in 1991, Kirwan thinks the team is getting closer to playing more consistently on the international stage.

“I think we’ve made heaps of inroads in style and the way we want to play,” said Kirwan, who was part of New Zealand’s 1987 World Cup winning squad. “I think we need to learn how to cope with pressure better individually, so we don’t make as many individual errors.”

Japan’s opening match was a thrilling encounter against a nervous France team, and saw Japan close to causing an upset after rallying from an early deficit to pull back to 25-21. France scored a late flurry of tries to win 47-21.

Sloppy mistakes undid Japan against the French, and against Tonga in last week’s 31-18 loss.

“It’s World Cup pressure, with that intensity we were coming up with mistakes at the wrong time,” Kirwan said. “At this level, I think that’s the type of pressure we need to get used to.”

Kirwan doesn’t think the technically-skilled running game he has implemented is not to blame for the team’s failure to win.

“If you look at the way the team played, people will tell you we played some great rugby at times. I think we talk about a Japanese style and we play that,” said Kirwan, whose Japan contract is coming to an end. “We need to make sure that in critical moments, we can either put the game away or do things that are going to get us back into the game.”

Center Alisi Tupuailai points to the fact Japan had “three man-of-the-match winners in four matches” as proof that the team did play the right away.

But, he concedes, “We didn’t come away with the results we wanted.”

No. 8 Takashi Kikutani, Japan’s captain, hopes the nucleus of the side can stay in place over the next few years.

“I am a little disappointed, but I believe there is something we can build on for the next World Cup in 2015 and in 2019,” he said. “I think all of us can do a lot more.”

Japan’s starting XV against Canada featured several foreign-born players: Tupuailai, lock Luke Thompson, flanker Michael Leitch, centre Ryan Nicholas and fullback Shaun Webb. Kirwan had no problem with selecting players who lived and worked in Japan, because it was helping develop domestic talent.

“I think we need to just put a lid on this ‘foreigners playing for other countries,’” said Kirwan, rejecting criticism of the composition of his squad. “We have rules and we stick by those rules. I think we need to celebrate that other people can play for other nations.”


Smalltown New Zealand gives bucket loads of support to Georgia, Romania in World Cup showdown

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PALMERSTON NORTH, New Zealand – The Bucketheads are changing their colours for the Rugby World Cup.

Fans of the rugby team from Manawatu province, which bases itself in this provincial city which is half varsity town, half rural depot, call themselves the Bucketheads, for the plastic buckets they use as headware at local games.

Usually those buckets are green and white, the colours of Manawatu, but when Georgia plays Romania in a World Cup pool match on Wednesday the Bucketheads, 5,000-strong, will adopt the colours of those teams.

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“It’s beautifully quirky and I think it will be a roaring success,” Rugby World Cup chief executive Martin Snedden said. “It will add hugely to the flavour of the night.”

The match between European rivals Georgia and Romania will be the first Rugby World Cup match played in Palmerston North since 1987. The township has a population of 75,000 but already the 14,000 tickets to Wednesday’s match have been sold and a further 12,000 tickets have been sold to a downtown fanzone where people will watch the match on big screens.

While neither Georgia nor Romania can qualify for the World Cup finals, Snedden said the match was of considerable importance to both teams which have a long and well-established rivalry.

Georgia Prime Minister Nikolaz Gilauri will attend the match at the Manawatu Arena and will stay in the town until Monday.

“For Romania and Georgia to win a game at the Rugby World Cup is a massive achievement. There’s just a huge amount of pride on the line,” Snedden said. “These are relatively close neighbours in eastern Europe and they would love nothing better than to get one up on the other.”

Snedden said the willingness of New Zealanders to support the World Cup’s smallest nations had been impressive.

“The attitude of people at matches has been absolutely outstanding. People are getting dressed up, the noise in the grounds is like nothing I’ve heard at New Zealand grounds before,” he said.

Palmerston North hasn’t always had a great reputation as a tourist centre. Monty Python star John Cleese performed in the town in 2006 and was scathing in his review of the place.

The town responded by naming the city dump after Cleese.


Italy labours past US, Japan concedes draw to Canada on dissatisfying day in World Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Happy faces were hard to find among Rugby World Cup teams on Tuesday.

Italy laboured to a 27-10 win over the United States from 20-10 at halftime in Nelson, and Japan conceded a 23-23 draw with Canada in Napier, blowing a chance in its last pool match to end a Cup-record 17-match winless streak since 1991.

Canada scored eight points in the last five minutes to salvage the draw with Japan, but dropped a chance to place some real pressure on a chaotic French side for a quarterfinals berth.

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One of France’s veterans shot down rumours of a player revolt against testy coach Marc Lievremont, while Argentina and Australia lost key players for the rest of the tournament to leg injuries.

History-chasing Italy needed a win and bonus point against the U.S. to ensure the clash with Ireland this Sunday will be a playoff for the quarterfinals. Italy can make the last eight for the first time with a win, while Ireland can advance with at least a draw.

The Italians made victory on Tuesday hard on themselves in a dour display. They notched three tries by halftime and looked good. But in the second half Italy bombed numerous try-scoring chances in the face of a tenacious Eagles defence.

Only while American flanker Louis Stanfill was in the sin-bin did the Italians score the fourth try they badly wanted, when the brave but short-handed Eagles scrum conceded a penalty try.

“We needed five points, it doesn’t matter how we got it,” Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni said.

Japan, a competitor at every World Cup but a winner of only one match, looked set to end the winless streak when it led Canada 23-15 with five minutes to go before a sellout crowd.

Then Canada flyhalf Ander Monro scored a try, missed the conversion, but landed a more difficult penalty goal in the 79th minute to repeat their draw in the 2007 Cup.

“This is no good; we drew with them last time,” said Japan’s Hirotoki Onozawa, playing in his third Cup. “It kills me that we weren’t able to win. I had told myself not to get too emotional, but I did. I’m just so sorry for all the fans who have backed us.”

Canada No. 8 Aaron Carpenter was also disappointed without.

“Japan seems to be a bogey team when it comes down to the last five minutes,” he said.

Still, Canada has a temporary hold on third place in Pool A. Third place gives them an automatic spot in the 2015 World Cup. Tonga can overtake them with at least two points from France on Saturday in Wellington, but that’s a tall order. Canada will also expect no more points when it faces New Zealand, also in Wellington, the next day.

On Wednesday, old rivals Romania and Georgia meet in Palmerston North in the one match both teams targeted as winnable in Pool B. Romania leads their history of head-to-heads but Georgia has won four of the past five clashes.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It will be a war,” said Romania fullback Iulian Dumitras.

France lock Lionel Nallet fronted up at his team announcement to reject rumours of player unrest. Lievremont has been under severe pressure for the past week for his selections, and criticized the French media on Monday for creating a “detestable atmosphere” at news conferences.

“I have been hearing stories, rumours about little uprisings by the players and a lot of nonsense like that,” Nallet said. “At the moment there is a very good atmosphere in our squad and we are all united with each other.”

Nallet was retained in the side to play Tonga, along with Morgan Parra’s controversial retention at flyhalf.

Argentina suffered a major blow when vice captain and flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a left knee injury which will require surgery.

Australia was also disappointed to withdraw No. 8 Wycliff Palu with a recurring left hamstring strain.

With a chance to enlighten New Zealanders of his unusual try-scoring celebration, All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg instead continued to mystify.

Dagg marked both of his tries in the 37-17 win over France last Saturday with cryptic hand and arm gestures. Asked on Tuesday to explain what he was doing, Dagg offered only clues.

“The first clue is the dog meows,” he said. Then he added, “The laughing bear drives a motorcycle. That’s my last clue for today.”

Nobody was any wiser.


Robinson watches with pride as Scotland players rally for Rugby World Cup meeting with England

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Coach Andy Robinson has been watching with admiration as his Scotland players recover from their Rugby World Cup defeat to Argentina.

The Scots could have been severely downhearted after a late try by Lucas Gonzalez Amorosini earned a 13-12 win on Sunday and made the Pumas favourites to advance to the quarterfinals alongside Pool B leader England.

But although Scotland has only a slim chance to maintain its proud record of reaching the last eight at every World Cup, the players are still optimistic.

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Scotland must beat England by more than seven points at Eden Park on Saturday or hope for an unlikely win by Georgia over Argentina the next day in Palmerston North.

“We had 24 hours to get rid of all our frustrations, emotions, and people do it in different ways,” Robinson said Tuesday. “It’s important to go there because the guys put a lot of hard work in their performance and it was disappointing to lose a game. Particularly in the manner that we did.

“But we’ve got through that. Today is really the first day that we now start focusing on England and there is a real vibrancy about the team.”

Scotland has a poor away record against England but is unbeaten in its last three home games against its oldest rival.

“Everybody understands that it is still in our control,” said Robinson, a former England coach. “We’ve got to go out and put in a top performance Saturday against England.”

Robinson said the support of Scots in New Zealand had been crucial in lifting his players. After three weeks in Dunedin, England is well used to coming under friendly fire from Scotland fans.

“Some of us went to the ambassador’s to have a drinks reception with her and she was very good,” Robinson said. “And a number of Scottish people that were there, the supporters that were in Wellington.

“It’s important to share your emotions and some of the guys are pretty down.”

Scotland’s rivalry with England goes back centuries. Its rugby union rivalry with its neighbour goes right back to the first international in 1871, which Scotland won 3-0.

But scrumhalf Rory Lawson said the identity of Scotland’s opponent was immaterial. All that matters is getting a win and progress to the next round.

“The scenario we are in, you can be putting anyone in front of us and we go in with the same attitude,” Lawson said. “We know what we have got to do and we are in control of that. Obviously the media will hype it up as being the big Scotland and England showdown.

“But ultimately we respect and look at the challenges England are going to give us and work out what we are going to do at the back of that.”


Joan Jett, Guns ‘N Roses, Heart, The Cure among nominees for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Long ago, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts professed their love for rock ‘n’ roll. It’s time to see if the feeling runs both ways.

The iconic rock act is on the list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees for the 2012 class released Tuesday. Women who rock feature prominently among first-time nominees. Joining Jett, whose “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” remains a classic rock standard 30 years after its release, are sister act Heart and Rufus with Chaka Khan.

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They’re joined by Guns ‘N Roses, hip-hop pioneers Eric B. & Rakim, glum glam Goths The Cure and The Small Faces/The Faces, which includes Rod Stewart. Bluesman Freddie King and The Spinners are also first-time nominees on the ballot for the hall’s 2012 class.

Previous nominees up again include The Beastie Boys, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donna Summer, Laura Nyro, Donovan and War and its an eclectic group, running from lush British folk to classic early beats and bone-crushing power rock.

An act must have released its first single or album 25 years ago to qualify for induction. More than 500 voters will determine who makes the hall. New members will be inducted at a ceremony at the hall of fame in Cleveland on April 14.

Guns ‘N Roses is the headliner of the first-timers group. The L.A. bad boys were easily the largest hard rock act of the 1980s and early ’90s, featuring siren-voiced lead singer Axl Rose and Slash playing muscled riffs on lead guitar. GnR’s “Appetite for Destruction” was a game-changing album and they went on to sell more than 100 million albums. Their iconic hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” remain a radio staple.

The leather-clad and tough-as-nails Jett was an early icon for women rockers. A founding member of the all-female The Runaways, she went on to become a chart-topping success after forming the Blackhearts in 1982.

Heart similarly made an indelible mark on the rock scene of the 1970s and ’80s. Among the first women to front an aggressive rock band, singer Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, cut some of the era’s most memorable songs, from “Barracuda” to “Magic Man,” and inspired a generation of women along the way.

Then a teen, Khan burst on the scene with the Chicago-based Rufus in the 1970s. She defied easy categorization, moving easily between R&B, rock and disco before going onto an enviable solo career.

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Romo plays through pain to lead Cowboys past Redskins; Dallas’ points all on FGs

ARLINGTON, Texas – Tony Romo’s broken rib hurt so much he needed a second pain-killing injection. His centre had a tendency to snap the ball too soon or to the wrong spot. And he couldn’t get into the end zone no matter what, not even with a first down on the two-yard line.

Yet Romo and the Dallas Cowboys did the only thing that mattered. They won.

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Dan Bailey kicked six field goals, including a go-ahead 40-yarder with 1:52 left, and linebacker Anthony Spencer forced a fumble that teammate Sean Lee recovered with 28 seconds left, giving the Cowboys an 18-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Monday night.

“It feels good right now because we won,” Romo said, smiling and wincing. “I’ll be all right.”

Romo was 22 of 36 for 255 yards. His best stat was simply lasting all four quarters.

The fact that he needed a second injection could explain the quarter-sized blotch of blood that appeared on his jersey above his left hip during the game. After the game, he joked that his new bride forced him to play, saying, “I can’t have a weak husband lying around the house.”

“I want to play,” Romo said. “We only get to go out and do this 16 times, 16 days out of 365 days a year. You want to be out there. You put so much effort, when you go, you go.”

Romo was hardly hit in the first half, then the Redskins got in several crushing blows starting just after halftime. That’s also when the snaps became an issue. He couldn’t hide his frustration with new centre Phil Costa, and clearly wasn’t happy with receiver Kevin Ogletree after an incompletion at the end of the drive that reached the two-yard line; that failure forced Dallas to settle for its fifth field goal and a 16-15 deficit instead of a go-ahead touchdown.

Rob Ryan’s re-energized Dallas defence got the ball back quickly, and Romo took advantage. Another bad snap left the Cowboys with a third-and-21, and Romo followed with a rollout to his right and a deep pass to Dez Bryant for a 30-yard gain. Another 15 yards were tacked on because of a facemask penalty on the beaten defender – cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who last week said he was hoping “to put my helmet on whatever’s hurt” on Romo and all other wounded Cowboys.

Hall had plenty more to say after the game. In an expletive-filled interview, he questioned the eight-man front on Bryant’s catch and the official’s decision to flag him.

“I told the ref after that call, that might have been his worst call of the game,” Hall said. “He’s going to get demerit points for that call. Because that wasn’t no facemask.”

When Washington quarterback Rex Grossman’s fumble was recovered by Lee, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett dropped to a knee and pumped his fist wildly. He had good reason to celebrate: Dallas was about to be 2-1, guaranteeing no repeat of last year’s miserable 1-7 start. The Cowboys are even tied for first place in the NFC East, along with Washington (2-1), which was seeking its first 3-0 start since 2005.

“We’re better than last year – already,” Dallas linebacker Bradie James said.

This was the second straight game that a Romo-Bailey tandem pulled out a victory. Against San Francisco a week ago Sunday, Bailey made a tying field goal at the end of regulation, then the winner in overtime.

Bailey’s other kicks Monday night covered 41 (twice), 32, 27 and 23 yards.

“We had good snaps, good holds, great protection. I had the easy job,” said Bailey, an undrafted rookie who was named the nation’s top kicker in college last season at Oklahoma State. “Whenever you can string a couple of kicks together, it’s a confidence booster.”

Romo wasn’t the only Dallas player who gutted it out.

Bryant missed the previous game with a thigh injury, yet had four catches for 63 yards. Felix Jones, who separated a shoulder against the 49ers, ran for a career-high 115 yards and caught three passes for 40 more. Jason Witten fought through a rib injury to catch six passes for 60 yards.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but enough to win the game,” Garrett said.

The Dallas defence limited the Redskins to field goals on two of their first three drives, the latter reaching the Dallas nine-yard line.

Grossman really only had one solid drive, a 76-yarder capped by a one-yard touchdown pass to Tim Hightower that put Washington up 16-9. The Redskins never even crossed midfield after that, punting on three straight drives then losing the fumble.

“It feels like the waste of a week,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “We’re capable of winning a division game on the road. I’m disappointed with the way we finished.”

Grossman was 22 of 37 for 250 yards. He was sacked three times – once by DeMarcus Ware, his NFL-leading fifth – and threw an interception.

Explaining his game-deciding fumble, Grossman said, “I was trying to make a play. I felt like I could get the ball to Santana (Moss). I obviously couldn’t.”

Most of the Redskins’ points came from Graham Gano, who made field goals of 50, 46 and 27 yards. Another was blocked after a poor hold.

“We’re going to find out what type of football team we have,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “When you lose like that it hurts. We don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.”

Notes: This was Dallas’ ninth straight game decided by three points or less. … Dallas improved to just 9-8 at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins are 0-3. … Bailey had the most field goals for Dallas since Billy Cundiff kicked seven in 2003. … Washington’s LaRon Landry had four tackles and forced a fumble in his first game since November because of injuries. … This was the 15th Dallas-Washington game on a Monday night. The only teams that have met more are Denver-Raiders, 16 times.


More supermarkets bagging do-it-yourself checkout lanes in name of customer service

MANCHESTER, Conn. – When Keith Wearne goes grocery shopping, checking out with a cashier is worth the few extra moments, rather than risking that a self-serve machine might go awry and delay him even more.

Most shoppers side with Wearne, studies show. And with that in mind, some grocery store chains nationwide are bagging the do-it-yourself option, once considered the wave of the future, in the name of customer service.

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“It’s just more interactive,” Wearne said during a recent shopping trip at Manchester’s Big Y Foods. “You get someone who says hello; you get a person to talk to if there’s a problem.”

Big Y Foods, which has 61 locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, recently became one of the latest to announce it was phasing out the self-serve lanes. Some other regional chains and major players, including some Albertsons locations, have also reduced their unstaffed lanes and added more clerks to traditional lanes.

Market studies cited by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute found only 16 per cent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option. That’s down from a high of 22 per cent three years ago.

Overall, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional cashier-staffed lanes.

Supermarket chains started introducing self-serve lanes about 10 years ago, touting them as an easy way for shoppers to scan their own items’ bar codes, pay, bag their bounty and head out on their way. Retailers also anticipated a labour savings, potentially reducing the number of cashier shifts as they encouraged shoppers to do it themselves.

The reality, though, was mixed. Some shoppers loved them and were quick converts, while other reactions ranged from disinterest to outright hatred – much of it shared on blogs or in Facebook groups.

An internal study by Big Y found delays in its self-service lines caused by customer confusion over coupons, payments and other problems; intentional and accidental theft, including misidentifying produce and baked goods as less-expensive varieties; and other problems that helped guide its decision to bag the self-serve lanes.

Wearne, 39, a Tolland resident who owns a power-washing service, reluctantly used a self-serve lane at the Manchester Big Y to ring up granola bars and a 12-pack of Miller Genuine Draft but had to wait while a clerk checked his identification.

If he hadn’t seen the clerk standing there immediately ready to help, he said, he would have used the traditional lanes, as he usually does.

But for time-crunched Greg Styles, a self-described “get-it-and-go type of guy,” the top priority is paying and leaving without lingering in a checkout lane.

Styles, a 47-year-old South Windsor resident, says the convenience of the self-serve lanes fits into his busy life as a college lacrosse coach and father of 7-year-old twins.

“I’m not happy about it, not at all,” Styles said of the change, ringing up baked goods and chicken breasts on a recent afternoon at Big Y’s Manchester store. “I like to get in and get out. These lanes are quick and really easy, so I use them all the time.”

He’s not the typical shopper, though, according to research.

While some chains are reducing their self-serve options, others say they’re keeping it in place along with the traditional lanes because they think giving shoppers that choice is an important part of customer service.

“Our philosophy is giving customers options. People shop in different ways and we want to accommodate their preferences,” said Suzi Robinson, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., which has self-serve lanes in about 85 per cent of its nearly 400 stores in the Northeast.

Another chain, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons LLC, has said it’s phasing out self-service lanes. Kroger says it’s keeping the self-service option because customers like it, although one remodeled store replaced it with another quick-checkout method that uses a cashier.

Phil Lempert, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based food industry analyst, noted that supermarkets have a few other motivations to get rid of the self-serve lanes beyond customer service.

They will eventually need to replace their checkout computers to read newly emerging types of bar codes, so there’s little business sense in keeping and replacing those self-serve machines if they’re not well-used anyway, he said.

Perhaps more important, he said, the growing trend toward using bar code-reading programs on smartphones is likely to change everything in supermarket shopping over time.

Some scholars who follow the retail food industry say decisions by Big Y and others to do away with the self-serve checkout lanes aren’t necessarily the death knell of the trend. Home Depot and some other businesses, which cater to customers with a do-it-yourself mentality, report success with their self-serve lanes.

But not all supermarket shoppers share that mentality, and whether they embrace or reject the self-serve option may come down to demographics – such as whether they’re in a tech-savvy region – and other factors that the supermarkets cannot control.

“I think some of the stores are just deciding that, on the balance, it’s a negative. Other stores, because they have a different composition of shoppers, are deciding to keep it,” John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said of the self-serve option.

“I don’t think this is as much a referendum on the technology as much as it is a match between the technology and the customer base,” he said.