Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Test Drive - 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid (HD)

The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid is an excellent choice for drivers who want a little fun between point A and point B. Too bad it's only sold in the eight states that have adopted California's emissions standards.

Excellent fuel economy, sporty handling, precise steering, top-notch interior materials, high crash test scores.

Can only be obtained in eight states, options are only offered in expensive packages, so-so backseat comfort.

What's New for 2009
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid remains unchanged from the previous year, except for standard automatic door locks and four more exterior color choices.

Star Trek 2009 - "The Best Star Trek Ever???"

I ran into Zachary Quinto up in San Francisco at WonderCon and he was all smiles.

"I just saw the movie for the first time last night," said the "Heroes" actor who wears the pointy ears of Mr. Spock in the new "Star Trek" film. "It's pretty amazing. You have to see it..."

I want to. After interviewing "Trek" director J.J. Abrams and seeing several extended chunks of the movie over at the Paramount lot, I've ramped up my expectations pretty high. I fully expect this to join "Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan" as the very best of the "Trek" films. It may even surpass "Khan." Why? I love the humor and the action I've seen and I think Abrams has the right attitude going in. And I think the "Trek" films, as a whole, are a pretty flawed bunch.

I'm ready for a "Trek" film that is engaging, energized and stylish. I think this might be it. I'm not the only eager Enterprise watcher: The new trailer for the movie was downloaded 1.8 million times in its first 24 hours as an iTunes offering and 5 million times since it hit the merchant site on March 6. That's quite a bit of pent-up interest. Check out the action in this thing:

Here's a random prediction: "Trek" will finish as the fourth-highest grossing film of the 2009, behind the new "Harry Potter" film, Pixar's "Up" and the "Night at the Museum" sequel.

Russell Crowe Interview, State of Play (Views on Media)

Oscar® winner Russell Crowe leads an all-star cast in a blistering thriller about a rising congressman and an investigative journalist embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. Crowe plays D.C. reporter Cal McCaffrey, whose street smarts lead him to untangle a mystery of murder and collusion among some of the nation's most promising political and corporate figures in State of Play, from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).

Raw Video: School Bus Crash Injures a Dozen

A school bus went off the side of a highway near Terre Haute, Indiana. Police say no one was seriously injured, although more than a dozen people, including the bus driver, were taken to two area hospitals. (April 14)

Garth Brooks, Christ Christie and the News Media

By Richard A. Lee

Back in 2000 when country music superstar Garth Brooks took part in New York Mets spring training to raise money for his children’s foundation, he quickly learned that major league pitching was not the only thing to which he had to adjust. Although Brooks was used to dealing with the press as an entertainer, he discovered that professional athletes have a much different relationship with the media.

“There are no reporters in Brooks's dressing room when he goes from town to town on a concert tour,” Tyler Kepner wrote in a New York Times article about the musician’s excursion into the world of baseball. “Fans do not know where he stays on the road. He gives interviews when he has a specific reason to do so. ‘If I don't want to be got to, no one can touch me,’ Brooks said.”

Brooks’s story comes to mind this month because of a series of news reports, columns and blog postings about another individual who now finds himself dealing with the press under a different set of rules – Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie.

A widely circulated theory about Christie is that, in dealing with the news media, he has not completely adjusted from his former role as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey -- which allowed him to set and control the agenda -- to his new role as a candidate where everything is always on the table.

On the surface it sounds logical, especially after digesting the coverage about Christie’s reaction to charges that he has awarded lucrative no-bid contracts in return for favors. Together, the news reports painted a picture of a candidate who was thin-skinned, angry at the media, and unfamiliar with what comes with the territory when one runs for political office. As Alfred Doblin wrote in The Record,
But there is another theory that also makes sense when applied to Christie’s dealings with the media – and that is Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s theory about storylines. Jamieson, an author who is regarded as an expert on political campaigns, contends that there are times when a storyline is so believable that its “facts” become taken for granted. As a result, journalists fail to question and challenge these storylines and end up producing news reports that support them.

In her book The Press Effect, Jamieson provides a series of examples to support her theory, such as unchallenged embellishments contained in the Willie Horton ad that was used in the 1988 presidential campaign. She describes these examples as “instances in which reporters failed to investigate and locate the facts that would have undercut the coherence of a story being told because the lens they adopted made fact-finding seem unnecessary or irrelevant.”

Those are strong words and they are not likely to sit well with members of the media.

But let’s take a look at the Christie case. Is he really having trouble adjusting to his new role as a candidate? Or is this just another storyline that has been taken for granted and now is being supported by news reports?

There are compelling arguments on both sides of this issue, and this is not something likely to be proved conclusively one way or the other. But it does make for good copy and great political theater. And maybe that’s what New Jersey needs to get the citizenry interested and involved in the race for Governor so they learn where the candidates stand on the critical issues confronting our state as opposed to learning – as we did during Chris Christie’s April 6 press conference – that he was wearing a blue and orange tie because it was opening day for the New York Mets -- the same New York Mets that once taught Garth Brooks a valuable lesson about dealing with the news media.

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.


Ebonymood.com - The best African American Social Site Online

Hear MLK Tape Lost For 45 Years Found Again

This month marks the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, thanks to a quirk of fate, some of his most stirring words are getting a whole new hearing.

The halls of the University of Dayton field house echoed with the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. The November 1964 speech was powerful and passionate in its optimism.

"I must say that we have come a long, long way in the struggle to make civil rights a reality," King said that day.

King was in Dayton, Ohio to raise funds for his civil rights agenda.

Ted Clark was 28 at the time and was one of the few whites in attendance. He remembers exactly where he sat.

"I have to admit there was some apprehension," Clark said.

During the 1960s, Dayton, like so many American cities, was caught up in the struggle for racial and economic equality.

"Where do we see it? We see it in housing, I imagine you have some residential areas here in Dayton," King said to applause in his speech.

"I am convinced today that segregation is on its deathbed," he said.

"You could just feel the electricity in this place it was unbelievable," Clark said.

Over time the recording of King's Dayton speech had been forgotten, until Dayton professor emeritus Herb Martin stumbled across it.

"I was gonna tape over it, but luckily fate kept me from doing that," Martin said.

Martin collected old reels to re-record his performances of poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar - a hobby that inspired a documentary by independent filmmaker David Schock.

That's how Schock and Martin came to hear the King speech.

"You think, 'Wow, this is really something of value,'" Martin said.

45 years later, Dayton has changed, but Clark believes there is still progress to be made.

Friends of mine, they have racially tinged attitudes. So yes, it's out there," he said.

To further that goal, Martin has donated the tape to the university archives, giving a piece of newly discovered history, a second chance to be heard.

ShowBiz Minute: Spector, Gibson, Cowell

Phil Spector found guilty of murder; Mel Gibson's wife files for divorce; Simon Cowell to stay at 'American Idol'. (April 14)

Harry Kalas goes out a World Champion

If you’re reading this in Australia, or even New York, this won’t strike a chord. But the death today of Philadelphia Phillies baseball announcer Harry Kalas is a real blow to the residents of eastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

We’ve heard his cigar-smoked voice so long as we rooted for the Fightin’ Phillies, through good times and bad, that he was like a member of the family. The only loss that compares was the death in 1997 of his former radio partner Richie “Whitey” Ashburn, a Phillies Hall of Fame player.

“Watch that baby! It’s outta here!” Kalas would tell us as Schmidt, Luzinski, Howard and Utley hit clutch home runs.

Glory days. Kalas and Ashburn guided us merrily through that great 1980 season, and Kalas was still the broadcasting rock last year when he called the last out of the World Series that returned the Phillies to glory.

We won’t have Harry Kalas to watch baseball with anymore, but it is no small comfort to know he went out a Phillie with the Phillies Champions of the World.

EA predicts Bruins as NHL playoffs champs

The match-ups are set for this year's NHL playoffs, and once again Electronic Arts has peered into its EA Sports-brand crystal ball to predict the outcome of this latest run at the Stanley Cup. EA workaholics played through the playoff race in NHL 09, eventually naming the Boston Bruins as league champs following a six game battle with original six rival Chicago Blackhawks.

Not to say the Bruins aren't due following a 37-year drought, but EA also predicted that the San Jose Sharks would come out on top in 2008 (fun fact: they didn't). Clearly reality does not always favor the screen, and it remains to be seen if Boston or one of the other 15 playoff hopefuls will be the team to actually hoist Lord Stanley above their heads.

Cavaliers clinch NBA’s best record

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have clinched the NBA’s best record and more importantly home-court advantage throughout the playoffs after beating the Pacers 117-109 on Monday night.

It’s one step, however, it’s a big step,” LeBron James, who led his team with 37-points, said after the win. “When you consider all the great teams, all the great players, all the great coaches and all the great systems that are in the NBA, for us to finish with the best record is a tremendous feat. And that is something the franchise should be proud of.”

However, LeBron doesn’t really care about the regular season record, he just wants that ring.

“We’ve got to do what’s best for the ring,” he said. “We’ve got home-court advantage already. We’re not fighting for breaking a record anymore. We’re fighting for that ring.”

When asked if he thinks the Cavs should be the favored to win it all, James said the Celtics are still clearly the team to beat.

“It’s going to be Boston,” he said. “It goes like that every year. Until you knock off the NBA champs, that’s the team to beat. We worked hard for the regular season to get to the point where we’re at now, the home court. We must serve home in the playoffs like we did in the regular season.”

Money issue – Mel Gibson’s $900m divorce

Nothing is everlasting. Forget about the fairytale “they lived happily ever after.” It doesn’t work, in most cases.

Mel Gibson’s marriage to Robyn Gibson seemed untypically-Hollywood-perfect and long lasting. They were married for 28 years and had six children togther. They’ve been through all kinds of family times: they stuck together when Mel had problems with alcohol, during all the ups and downs.

Well, not anymore. Robyn Gibson filed for divorce. Court documents cite the usual “irreconcilable differences.”

This divorce stands all chances to become the most expensive and probably the most publicized as Robyn could take half of her husband’s estimated $900 million fortune. The couple didn’t have a pre-nup.

Mrs. Gibson filed papers shortly after her husband was snapped on a beach in Costa Rica with a sexy brunette, Russian singer Oksana who’s signed with Gibson’s recording label Icon and has been in the U.S. recording an album.

Throughout our marriage and separation, we have always strived to maintain the privacy and integrity of our family and will continue to do so,” Mel and Robyn issued a joint statement yesterday.

I definitely feel the money drain from Mel’s pockets, you?

Madonna still keen to adopt Malawian child: report

LILONGWE (Reuters) - U.S. pop star Madonna is still keen on adopting a second child from Malawi, despite a court ruling in the southern African country preventing her from doing so, a local newspaper reported on Sunday.

Madonna, who lost an appeal against a High Court decision refusing her bid to adopt a four-year-old girl named Mercy James, said she wants to provide education and a family environment for the young girl.

“I want to provide Mercy with a home, a loving family environment and the best education and healthcare possible. And it’s my hope that she like David, will one day return to Malawi and help the people of their country,” Madonna told the Nation on Sunday newspaper in an emailed response to questions.

“Though I have been advised that I cannot publicly discuss the pending appeal regarding my desire to adopt Mercy, I do want to say how much I appreciate the level of support that I have received from the people of Malawi and my friends around the world.”

Malawi’s government came under fire after Madonna adopted a 13-month-old child, David Banda, in 2006, with critics accusing it of giving her special treatment by skirting laws that ban non-residents from adopting children.

Madonna’s lawyer, Alan Chinula, has already lodged a notice of appeal against the decision earlier this month but by last week the courts had not yet granted a date for the hearing.

In her ruling, Judge Esimie Chombo warned against celebrity adoptions, saying they could lead to child trafficking.

“Anyone could come to Malawi and quickly arrange for an adoption that might have grave consequences on the very children that the law seeks to protect,” she said.

Madonna has entertained millions around the world with sexy high-energy performances and songs like “Material Girl” and “Papa Don’t Preach,” and created controversies along the way.

The star, who was divorced last year from British film director Guy Ritchie, is one of the music industry’s most successful singers, with album sales of more than 200 million.

Obama Lifts Restrictions, Seeks to Change Relationship With Cuba

In a move that has been anticipated since he took office, the White House on Monday announced that President Obama will lift controversial travel and money restrictions imposed on Cuban-Americans and allow U.S. telecom firms to do business with the communist Castro dictatorship, changing what had been a long-standing U.S. government policy of growing isolation towards the island nation.

In a measured break with a half-century of U.S. policy toward communist Cuba, the Obama administration lifted restrictions Monday on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland.

In a further gesture of openness, U.S. telecommunications firms were freed to seek business there, too. But the broader U.S. trade embargo remained in place.

The White House portrayed its changes, which fulfilled one of President Barack Obama’s campaign promises, as a path to promoting personal freedom in one of the few remaining communist nations. They also marked another major step away from the foreign policy priorities of the Bush administration.

The White House portrayed the lifting of travel restrictions and money transfers to family members in Cuba — coupled with the telecommunications changes — as steps to bridge the gap among divided Cuban families.

“All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in announcing the decision. “President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality.”

It had been known for more than a week that the White House would announce the Cuba changes in advance of Obama’s attendance this weekend at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Cuba is excluded from that gathering of 34 heads of government, but a number of participants are expected to use the session as an opportunity to press the U.S. to improve relations with Havana.

Cuban-American Republican Senator Mel Martinez gave an important early thumbs-up to Obama’s policy changes.

The announcement today is good news for Cuban families separated by the lack of freedom in Cuba. Likewise the change in remittances should provide help to families in need. Given these changes will benefit the regime in Havana, it would be wise in the implementation to place some reasonable limits on this type of travel and the amounts that can be sent to Cuba.

The president has expressed his commitment to freedom — libertad — for the Cuban people, and policy implementation should advance that objective. To this end, the administration is right to call on the Cuban government to end the onerous charge of 20 percent on remittances. Lowering remittance charges and allowing travel for Cuban families wishing to see relatives abroad are two steps the Cuban regime could immediately take that would show change in Havana.

While the changes are more symbolic than substantive, they represent that change in tone and direction from the administration of George W. bush that Obama pledge to swiftly accomplish while on the campaign trail last year. These are moves that we never would have even considered to be viable during the Bush era.

In what could be a more significant shift, the White House has suggested that the president will use a Latin American conference in Trinidad and Tobago that starts on Friday to discuss further liberalization of U.S./Cuban relations and policy. The administration has said they “won’t duck” the Cuba issue at a conference ostensibly on the global recession.

President Barack Obama plans to tell Latin American leaders later this week that the U.S. is willing to discuss how to improve relations with Havana, but wants Cuba to take steps toward democracy before it is reintegrated into the Western hemisphere’s economic and political institutions.

Cuba is likely to be at the forefront of discussions at the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of 34 heads of government that has always excluded Cuba, starting April 17 in Trinidad. Cuba’s main ally, Venezuela, as well as other countries, have said they want to use the summit to press for closer relations between Washington and Havana. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stopped in Havana on Friday to coordinate pre-summit strategy with Cuban President Raúl Castro and his ailing bother Fidel.

While the U.S. wants the meeting to focus on the global economic recession, Obama administration officials said the president is ready to engage on the Cuba issue if it’s brought up by other leaders. “We won’t duck it,” said an official. The president is likely to ask other summit-goers to press Cuba on issues of democracy, including the release of political prisoners.

The U.S. willingness to engage on Cuba is another indication of a slow, tentative warming of relations between Washington and Havana. The administration is planning soon to lift longstanding restrictions on Cuba, a move that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit families on the island as often as they like and send them unlimited funds.

The White House is also considering whether to remove restrictions that limit travel to Cuba by Americans for non-degree cultural and educational purposes, administration officials said, a category under which many thousands of tourists could qualify. Another possibility is restarting direct talks with Cuba on immigration issues.

Phil Spector Found Guilty of Murder (Photos)

Music producer Phil Spector was found guilty of second degree murder yesterday in Los Angeles Superior court for the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson. Judge Larry Paul Fidler remanded him to jail immediately.

Facing a possible 18 years in prison, the verdict has been a long time in coming. Clarkson died six years ago from a gunshot to her mouth at the residence of Spector in Alhambra, California. Spector’s first trial in 2007 ended with the jury deadlocked 10-2, favoring conviction.

The 40 year old Lana Clarkson was an actress who had fallen on hard times and was working as a nightclub hostess. On February 3, 2003, she left her job at the House of Blues at closing and accepted Spector’s offer to accompany him to his home for a drink. Three hours later she was dead.

The defense claim was that Lana was depressed and took her own life with a .38 caliber pistol. The prosecution, on the other hand, painted a very dark picture, calling Phil “a very dangerous man, who has a history of playing Russian roulette with women.”

The jury of six men and six women took less than 30 hours to arrive at a guilty verdict. They could have found him guilty of the lessor crime of involuntary manslaughter but had no trouble convicting him of second degree murder. They also found him guilty of using a firearm in committing the crime, which could mean up to 10 additional years in prison.

Defense attorney Doron Weinberg plans to file an immediate appeal, claiming the judge erred in allowing five women from Spector’s past to testify. He will ask an appeals court for a new trial.

Retail sales slump 1.1% in March

Sales decline 1.2% in first quarter compared with fourth quarter

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - U.S. retail sales dropped a seasonally adjusted 1.1% in March, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday, after two months of gains had boosted hopes of a rebound in consumer spending.

Sales for January and February were revised higher in Tuesday's report by 0.5 percentage points, but the results were still much weaker than expected by economists, who thought sales would rise 0.2% in March.
"This looks like something of a reality check after a run of upside data surprises," wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics.
"This report is a reminder that the U.S. economy is not out of the woods, yet," wrote Harm Bandholz, an economist for UniCredit Markets.
With the recession entering its 16th month, consumers have been battered by staggering job destruction and the loss of trillions in wealth in their homes and investments.
Recently, however, some "green shoots" have appeared, in Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's words, including increases in consumer spending in January and February. Bernanke repeated those comments in a speech Tuesday at Morehouse College in Atlanta, saying he had noticed tentative signs of a slowing in the pace of decline. See full story.
Against that background, retail sales in March were disappointing. Retail sales account for about half of consumer spending.
Sales fell in March for almost every type of store except the necessities of food and drugs. Sales of durable goods were particularly soft in March.
Excluding the 2.3% decline in auto sales, retail sales fell 0.9%, compared with the 0.2% decline expected. Excluding both gasoline and autos, sales fell 0.8%.
In the past year, sales are down 9.4%. The figures are not adjusted for price changes.
Retail sales in the first quarter were down 1.2% compared with the fourth quarter of last year, raising the possibility that real consumer spending may have fallen again in the first three months of 2009 after plunging at a 4% annual rate in the final six months of 2008.
Economist David Rosenberg of Bank of America's Merrill Lynch said he expected consumer spending to decline at a 3.7% annual pace in the April through June quarter.
The government's estimates for March could be understating the health of the retail sector, because this year's late Easter pushed some sales that would typically occur in March into April. In a separate report, chain stores' same-store sales rose 0.8% last week, according to the weekly index from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The government attempts to adjust for the timing of the holiday, but such seasonal adjustments are never perfect. Economists suggest averaging March and April results to get a truer picture.
In a separate report, the Labor Department said producer prices fell 1.2% in March, much more than the 0.5% decline expected. Core prices - which exclude food and energy - were unchanged. Producer prices are down 3.5% in the past year, the largest decline in wholesale prices since 1950. See full story.
Details of retail
Sales of autos and auto parts fell 2.3% in March, a surprise in light of the 8% increase reported by the automakers. The government's retail sales figures exclude fleet sales, which likely boosted the companies' results.
Sales of electronics and appliances fell 5.9% in March. Sales of furniture fell 1.7%.
Sales at building materials stores dropped 0.6%.
Sales at gasoline stations fell 1.6% on a seasonally adjusted decline in prices. Gasoline prices typically rise more in March than they did this year.
Sales at the mall were weak. Sales at general merchandise stores fell 0.2%, including a 0.3% decline at department stores. Sales at clothing stores dropped 1.8%. Sales at stores catering to leisure-time activities, such as sports or reading, fell 0.9%.
Sales at food stores rose 0.5%. Sales at restaurants and bars fell 1.4%.
Sales at health and personal care stores rose 0.4%.
Sales at nonstore outlets, such as catalogs and online stores, fell 1.7%.

Somalia: Pirates Vow They Will Revenge From French And America

Somalia — Jama' Si'ad, a member of the Somali pirates in the coast of Somalia has vowed on Tuesday that they will kill and revenge from any of the American and French forces they capture in the Somali coast.

"We are very sorry for what happened to our friends who were shot and killed by the French and American marines. But we will pay a quick reaction of that killing. If we capture any of the American or French citizens, we will kill them with guns, swords and any kind of weapons we can," said Jama'

The Somali pirates said that they are the marines of the Somali coasts and added they have right to keep their sea and defend from the other foreign ships those who are illegally looting the sources of Somalia adding that they will not also put the guns until Somali gets a powerful government.

Many Somali people have different ideas about the matters of the Somali pirates and how the pirate killings should be protected.

Ahmed Bile, a Somali MP said that it is wrong killing the pirates of Somalia adding that they are Somali citizens who have rights in the country.

"I heard that an American captain has been kidnapped by the Somali pirates over the recent days and lately released forcibly by many war ships led by America and French forces. They took their citizen and killed our citizens. May be that there are some Somalis who see that the step is right but I say that it is not right but wrong totally, because their people are not better than ours," Mr. Ahmed Said.

The statement of the Somali MP comes as the Somali government and the semi-autonomous region Puntland welcomes the rescue operation carried out by the American and French forces which they released the American hostage Captain Richard Philipis killing at least 5 Somali pirates in the Somalia coast.

Police: Missing girl may have been raped

TRACY, Calif., April 14 (UPI) -- The Sunday school teacher accused of killing a Tracy, Calif., girl may have raped the child whose body was found in a suitcase, police said.

Melissa Huckaby was to be arraigned Tuesday in the death of Sandra Cantu and could face additional charges, including rape, CNN reported.

"When she was booked, she was booked on charges of kidnapping and murder," Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said Monday during CNN's "Larry King Live." "And we're informed by the district attorney that she'll be charged with abduction, murder, rape with a foreign object and lewd and lascivious acts with a child."

Cantu's body was found April 6 in a suitcase in a pond on a dairy farm. The child was last seen alive March 27 in the mobile home park where she and her family lived. Huckaby also lived in the park with her 5-year-old daughter and the two children were friends and playmates, police said.

Police arrested Huckaby, also of Tracy, on Friday after they questioned her.

Before her arrest, Huckaby told a news reporter she owned the suitcase that held Cantu's body but that the piece of luggage had been stolen.

US journalist goes on trial for spying in Iran

Iranian-American accused of passing classified information to US intelligence

An Iranian-American journalist has gone on trial in Iran for spying for the US, and a verdict is expected within two to three weeks, Iranian officials said today.

Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials.

In a case that threatens to complicate efforts to improve US-Iran ties, an Iranian investigative judge involved in the case told state TV last week that Saberi had passed classified information to US intelligence services without providing details.

Under Iranian law, espionage can carry the death penalty. Iran last year executed an Iranian businessman convicted of spying on the military for Israel.

"The first trial meeting on Roxana Saberi was held yesterday ... I think the verdict will be announced soon, perhaps in the next two or three weeks," said a judiciary spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi.

The US has said the charges against Saberi, who has reported for the BBC and America's National Public Radio (NPR), were "baseless and without foundation". The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has expressed concern about the case and has called for her release.

Freedom House, a US human rights group, said last week the case was the latest in a string of attacks on press freedom in Iran. Jamshidi today rejected that accusation, saying: "Giving an opinion on a case, by an individual or a government, without being informed about the facts in it, is utterly ridiculous."

The case comes at a time when Barack Obama has made highly public overtures to Iran. The US severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979 but Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace if Iran "unclenches its fist" in his charm offensive.

Saberi's father, Reza, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, is in Iran to try to win his daughter's release.

NPR said Saberi's press credentials were withdrawn more than a year ago but said she continued to file short news stories, which the Iranian government tolerated. Saberi, who has a Japanese mother, is a former Miss North Dakota beauty queen. She originally went to Iran six years ago to complete a master's degree on Iranian studies and international relations.

Iran rarely arrests foreign journalists, but foreign nationals with Iranian parents who work as journalists are subject to extra scrutiny and are sometimes harassed. Her arrest is the latest in a series of detentions of Americans with Iranian backgrounds, apparently amid government fears that the US is trying to use them to foment a "velvet revolution".

Last year, Esha Momeni, a student from California who was researching women's rights in the country, was held for 26 days after being arrested, ostensibly for a traffic offence. She was later released but banned from leaving the country.

In 2007, four Iranian-American academics were detained or had their passports confiscated for several months before eventually being allowed to return to the US.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iran has the world's sixth worst record for jailing journalists, and detained or investigated more than 30 in 2008.

Obama in landmark gesture to communist Cuba

US President Barack Obama has made a landmark gesture to communist Cuba, lifting all curbs on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to the island for the first time in three decades.

The White House said Monday's move was intended to encourage expanding democratic and political rights in Cuba and called on Havana to respond in kind to help ease decades of fierce antipathy between the bitter foes.

But the move left a 47-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba intact, with the White House saying it was up to Raul Castro's government as to whether Obama's steps would result in a thawing of relations.

Obama's actions were met with a tepid response in Havana's halls of government, with Cuba's long-time former leader Fidel Castro declaring his country was not looking for "charity," but instead an end to the embargo.

"Not a word was said about the embargo, which is the most cruel of all actions," Castro, who stood down and formally handed over power to his brother Raul in 2008, said in an article on the official Cubadebate website.

Castro's comments appeared just hours after presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs held the first bilingual press conference given at the White House to announce the measures.

"President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country's future," he said.

"The president has directed the secretaries of state, treasury and commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances."

In terms of improving the strained ties, "in many ways that depends on the actions of the Cuban government," Gibbs said.

"The president would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people.... There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that. But he's not the only person in this equation."

Specifically, the White House called on Cuba to reduce charges it levies on money transfers to family members.

An estimated 1.5 million US residents have relatives in Cuba and the question of how to deal with the Castro government has long been an emotional one for the exile community.

Obama will find support for his new Cuba policy this week when he attends a summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

"If President Obama is serious about promoting change in Cuba, this executive order must be part of a larger shift away from the US's unilateral approach toward the Cuban government," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

"Only by working with its allies in Latin American and Europe will the US be able to chip away at Castro's repressive machinery."

Dan Restrepo, a special assistant to Obama for western hemisphere affairs, held out the prospect of future changes in the US strategy to Cuba, saying Washington's policy was "not frozen in time."

Obama's order will open a wide array of telecommunications links to the island, after decades of antipathy between Washington and Havana.

It would allow US telecommunications network providers to link to Cuba with fiber-optic cables and satellite technology, permit US wireless telephone providers to enter roaming service agreements with Cuban firms, and allow US satellite broadcasts to the island.

Cubans in Havana were jubilant.

"It's the news we've all been waiting for and hopefully it marks the start of a new friendship between Cuba and the United States," said Ismary Hernandez, an employee of the Cubatur travel agency.

The Cuban-American community welcomed the US move, saying it could elicit an opening by communist Havana.

"Let's hope now the Raul Castro regime will be pressed to lift its own restrictions on Cubans wanting to travel to the island who now need a visa or entry permit," Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate leader Orlando Gutierrez told AFP.

The administration's actions won applause in US farm states hoping to gain a new markets for their agricultural products.

"We should also immediately eliminate the roadblocks that the Bush administration put in place to make it harder for farmers to sell food to Cuba," said Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.