Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sojourner Truth memorialized in Emancipation Hall

A bust to memorialize African American women’s suffragist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth was unveiled in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol on Tues. April 28. Among those in attendance were First Lady Michelle Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.), and National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW) Dr. E. Faye Williams.

More than ten years ago, Dr. C. Delores Tucker, co-founder and former chair of the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), began her effort to have Sojourner Truth memorialized in the Capitol in a portrait monument sculpture along with women suffragists Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton by recruiting then-Senator Clinton and Congresswoman Lee. Both Jackson-Lee and Clinton partnered to introduce the legislation to include Sojourner Truth, but the bill did not pass through Congress because, at that time, honoring an African American woman in the Capitol was not acceptable, according to Williams.

“In 2005, Shelia Jackson Lee and Hillary Clinton reintroduced the bill to give her [Sojourner Truth] her own memorial, which is better,” Williams said. “We finally have a Congress who is enlightened enough to honor a Black woman [in the Capitol].”

Jackson- Lee said that Tucker’s mission to memorialize Sojourner Truth in the Capitol was “a struggle about the truth and for the truth.”

“Her [Tucker] driving force was that she didn’t want the children of America to come to the United States Capitol and be told an untruth that African American women were not part of the suffragists’ movement,” Jackson-Lee said.

Obama said that the people who come to visit the Capitol will hear the story of Sojourner Truth, as well as the stories of hardship the other suffragists faced as they fought for the right to vote.

“Now many young boys and girls like my own daughters will come to Emancipation Hall and see the face of a woman that looks like them. All the children who visit the Capitol will hear the story of a woman who endured the greatest of humanity’s indignities,” Obama said. “They will hear the story of Sojourner Truth, who didn’t allow those indignities to destroy her spirit. She fought for her own freedom then she used her power to help others.”

Several descendants of Sojourner Truth traveled from Atlanta, Ga. to witness the unveiling of the bust.

Cory Mcliechey, a sixth generation grandson of Sojourner Truth, sat with his family members as Obama, Pelosi, Jackson-Lee, and Clinton pulled the curtain off to unveil the statue.

“It’s kind of unbelievable. I am so proud to be a descendant of hers,” Mcliechey said. “All throughout high school I learned about her through teachers and everyone in my schools knew that I was a descendant of hers, but it really didn’t sink in until today.”

Cory, along with his cousin Ben Mcliechey, established a Stop-the-Violence campaign in Atlanta 20 years ago to continue Sojourner Truth’s legacy.

Obama seeks to change crack sentences

The Obama administration joined a federal judge Wednesday in urging Congress to end a racial disparity by equalizing prison sentences for dealing and using crack versus powdered cocaine.

"Jails are loaded with people who look like me," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, an African-American, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the administration believes Congress' goal "should be to completely eliminate the disparity" between the two forms of cocaine. "A growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair," Breuer testified.

It takes 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said, "Under current law, mere possession of five grams of crack — the weight of five packets of sweetener — carries the same sentence as distribution of half a kilogram of powder or 500 packets of sweetener."

Durbin said more than 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses in 2007 were African-American, although only about 25 percent of crack cocaine users are African Americans.

Congress enacted the disparity during an epidemic of crack cocaine in the 1980s, but the senator said lawmakers erred in assuming that violence would be greater among those using crack.

Breuer said the best way to deal with violence is to severely punish anyone who commits a violent offense, regardless of the drug involved.

"This administration believes our criminal laws should be tough, smart, fair," Breuer said, but also should "promote public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system."

Walton said, "We were mistaken" to enact the disparity. "There's no greater violence in cases before me."

He added that jurors have expressed an unwillingness to serve in crack cocaine cases because of the disparity.

President Barack Obama had called for such a change while campaigning for the White House.

Breuer said the government should focus on punishing drug trafficking networks, like the cartels wreaking havoc in Mexico, and those whose crimes include acts of violence.

The Obama administration is also seeking to increase drug treatment, as well as rehabilitation programs for felons after they're released from prison.

Miami's police chief, John Timoney, also favored ending the disparity, commenting, "It's the same drug. It's just manufactured differently."

Cedric Parker, of Alton, Ill., said his sister, Eugenia Jennings, is serving nearly 22 years for trading crack cocaine for designer clothes. If she had been trading powder cocaine, the sentence would have been less than half of the time.

"She would be getting ready to come home, probably already in the halfway house. But, because she was sentenced for crack cocaine she will not be released from prison until 2019," Parker testified.

While politicians often support laws lengthening prison terms for various crimes, it is rarer to try to reduce sentences, in part out of concern they may appear soft on crime. But recently, some states have been moving on their own to temper long-standing "get tough" laws.

In New York last month, state leaders reached an agreement to repeal the last vestiges of the Rockefeller drug laws, once seen as the harshest in the nation. Kentucky enacted changes that would put more addicts in treatment, and fewer behind bars.

The Justice Department is working on recommendations for a new set of sentences for cocaine, and Breuer urged Congress to overhaul the current law, written in 1986 at the height of public concern about crack use.

Since then, Breuer argued, prosecutors' views of crack cocaine have evolved to a more "refined understanding" of crack and powdered cocaine usage.

He also suggested that until such changes are made, federal prosecutors may encourage judges to use their discretion to depart from the current sentencing guidelines. Such departures are rare in the federal courts.
Now, the best performer by a mile was the last, Adam Lambert. He totally went over the top in singing "Feeling Good," turning it into a post-modern Bowie glam rock capper. Photo courtesy of FOX

Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and even Shirley MacLaine, the sole female honorary member.

Last night, American Idol channeled their spirits for the five remaining contestants to perform their standards.

Jamie Foxx did very well as mentor - offering good advice tailored to each talent left. His exchange with Allison was especially sweet.

The finale is now only three weeks away and the remaining talent all have their strengths. But someone will have to go tonight.

Kris Allen did a stylized version of "The Way You Look Tonight," earning high marks from judge Kara DioGuardi who loved his "diction" and "impeccable phrasing," Simon Cowell was less impressed and compared the kid to a "well-trained Spaniel."

Allison Iraheta did a great turn with "Someone to Watch Over Me." Foxx was especially tuned into her because of her age and ability. Randy was effusive for her. "You did it in your own rough, kinda gruff, kinda style" Randy said. "If that doesn't land you in the finals, I don't know what will," added Kara. Paula loved it too. Simon threw it down and put the curse of Cowell on her: "I have a horrible feeling" that Allison could be going home, he said.

Matt Giraud did "My Funny Valentine," and his performance was good, but I tuned out most of it, he didn't grab me. Randy cited pitch problems and Kara didn't feel him and noted he lacked an emotional connection to the song. Simon agreed with Paula and added, "I thought you were absolutely brilliant."

Danny Gokey belted out "Come Rain or Come Shine" as Randy was in full "yo Dog"mode: "You are the only one I've heard so far tonight that actually could have an album of songs like that—and win!" exclaimed Randy.

The girls all loved the emergence of Gokey's "swagger" and Cowell added that he was "outstanding."

Now, the best performer by a mile was the last, Adam Lambert. He totally went over the top in singing "Feeling Good," turning it into a post-modern Bowie glam rock capper.

Say what you will, when this kid is on stage, all eyes are on him. He works the camera like a ten dollar hooker. Randy tells Adam he isn't into the "theatrical" part of the performance, but Simon quickly said that was asking a cow not to moo, Kara loves this guy, saying he was "shocking and sleazy and superb and way over the top in a good way. Paula concurred, adding: "With every performance that I see, it's like watching the Olympics and you're our Michael Phelps."

So, who is going home?

Exclusive Interview: Geragos On Hunt For Person Who Leaked Rihanna PhotoExclusive Interview: Geragos On Hunt For Person Who Leaked Rihanna Photo

Chris Brown's attorney is on the hunt for the person who leaked the photograph of a badly beaten Rihanna.

In court today, as a preliminary hearing date was set for May 28, Mark Geragos told "I will be be filing a motion in this case regarding the leaks." He went on to explain that the motion centered around the Rihanna picture AND several other incidents of leaks about the case.

The information certainly could be prejudicial toward his client. Brown is facing two felony charges and cops say he badly beat girlfriend Rihanna inside his car.

Charlie Rose Show: A conversation with William Gates Sr. and Bill Gates Jr.

A conversation with William Gates Sr. and Bill Gates Jr. about the book "Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime"

Massachusetts Governor Meets With Ethnic Media

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick met with ethnic media at the State House on April 24, 2009, where he defended the creation of partnerships with immigrant communities, answered questions on topics such as bilingual education and driver’s licenses, and commented on race relations during an Obama presidency.

The audience of about 50 journalists – more than 35 from immigrant communities – came from African-American, Brazilian, Chinese, Haitian, Japanese, Korean, Latino, Polish, Portuguese and other print, broadcast and Web media.

The governor made brief remarks at the opening of the press conference, saying democracy thrives when it maintains an unfiltered press. He then opened the floor to the journalists’ questions on topics from “anywhere in your agenda you want,” he said.

At least one topic formed a common thread for many of the journalists: access to driver's licenses for undocumented workers, of whom many contribute to the state economy and pay taxes.

An reporter told the governor that five police chiefs in Massachusetts say that giving driver’s licenses to such workers would increase public safety on the roads.

“The issue is that the Real ID Act [the federal law that calls for the creation of a common driver’s license for the entire country] doesn’t permit a unilateral [state] approach without consequences,” Gov. Patrick replied. “This is a small piece of a broader picture called immigration reform. And when people talk about the difference between lawful and unlawful immigrants, I get that. But we need immigration laws that are consistent with our values.”

The topic was revisited at least five times during the press conference.

Marcony Almeida, editor of Brazilian Journal magazine, inquired whether the governor would seek a state solution if the Real ID Act ended, as Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has proposed.

“The costs of the Real ID Act are profound. Most states don’t have the money to implement it. If that obstacle is not there, we can look at it,” the governor replied.

In response to a question about race relations in the US, Gov. Patrick, the second African-American governor in US history, acknowledged, “America did not change because of Obama’s election – or mine.” But he did opine that young black Americans already think differently about themselves as a result of such elections.

Relaxed and at ease, Gov. Patrick made the rounds in the conference room of answering the journalists’ questions.
Still, he was firm in answering one question, from a Rumbo newspaper reporter, when asked what he would do about alleged misconduct of police in Lawrence.“I have enough to do at the Commonwealth without having to think of the city of Lawrence,” the governor replied.

At the conference’s end, Gov. Patrick, who will run for reelection in 2010, suggested meeting again, perhaps quarterly, with ethnic media.

He also welcomed a suggestion of Polish White Eagle co-publisher Marcin Bolec that his office have an ethnic-media liaison to communicate on issues particular to the journalists’ communities.
When Bolec added that the liaison would be on a volunteer basis, Gov. Patrick laughed with delight. Faced with a dismal economy and revenue setbacks for the state, he joked, "I appreciate that part!"
Following are edited excerpts of Gov. Patrick’s responses to questions at the press conference:


Patrick said that immigration reform, which would help Massachusetts, must include a path to citizenship for those who have been in the US “for generations.” Taking people “out of the shadows” of being undocumented would help the local economy and would provide a new stream of tax revenue.

BILINGUAL EDUCATION“Of the countries I have visited, America is the only one where speaking only one language is considered a good thing.” For Patrick, Question 2 (a 2002 ballot initiative that rescinded the method of bilingual education in Massachusetts) points to the wrong direction. But he did say that he admires immigrant students who grasp the language and succeed in this country.

Declaring himself a “great believer” of in-state-tuition for undocumented students, Patrick said his administration looked hard at ways to allow this benefit without having to go through the legislative process, such as by passing an executive order. But “we could not do it without the Legislature running afoul.” The Governor said the Legislature has its hand full with other projects, including CORI reform, but the issue would be put forward the end of June.

SALES TAX“Our approach is to raise revenue for specific needs, not to fund the status quo.” Patrick said he is against increasing the state’s sales tax, and highlighted that his administration must be disciplined about how to use the public’s money.


The governor explained that President Obama’s economic stimulus package brings little money to small business, most of it going to the clean technology sector. But he asked for support in divulging a new project that will create 10,000 summer jobs for youth and young adults that can become permanent positions.

WHAT PATRICK HAS LEARNED ABOUT THE LATINO COMMUNITY“The Latino community is probably the most entrepreneurial in the entire country. Massachusetts’ population is more entrepreneurial than in most parts of the county.” The governor said Latinos should have more access to capital and coaching – many of them have become successful entrepreneurs in business niches. In addition, he said he has noticed a huge sensitivity amongst Latinos on immigration issues, even amongst those who are US citizens. “I know they feel sad because of the lack of alignment of our laws with our values,” Patrick concluded.

Racial Inequality Still Going Strong in U.S.

Racial inequality remains in the U.S. People of color continue to experience high rates of poverty, significant unemployment, police profiling and repressive incarceration. School segregation is a continuing concern among race scholars as well.

Racial inequality remains in the U.S. People of color continue to experience high rates of poverty, significant unemployment, police profiling and repressive incarceration. School segregation is a continuing concern among race scholars as well.

According to a new civil rights report published at UCLA, “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge,” by Gary Orfield, schools in the U.S. are currently 44 percent non-white, and people of color are rapidly emerging as the majority of public school students. Latinos and Blacks are the two largest groups.

However, Black and Latino students attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights era. Schools are still separate and not equal more than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of EducationBrown v. Board of Education. Orfield’s study shows that the most severe segregation in public schools is in the Western states, including California, not in the South as many people believe.

This new form of segregation is primarily based on how urban areas are geographically organized - as Cornel West so passionately describes - into vanilla suburbs and chocolate cities.

There is a white people’s side of segregation as well. Diminished opportunity for students of color invariably creates greater privileges for whites. White privilege is a concept that is overtly difficult for many whites to accept.

Whites like to think of themselves as hard working and whatever they achieve is due to deserving personal efforts. In many cases this is in fact partly true: Hard work in college often pays off in many ways. What is difficult for many whites to accept is that geographical and structural racism still serves as a significant barrier for many students of color.

Whites often say racism is in the past, and we need not think about it today. Yet, inequality stares at us daily from the barrios, ghettos and behind prisons walls. Inequality continues in privileged universities as well.

An example of white privilege is how Sonoma State University in California (SSU) has recently achieved the status of having the whitest and likely the richest student population of any public university in the State of California. Research shows that beginning in the early 1990s, the SSU administration specifically sought to market the campus as a public ivy institution - offering an ivy-league experience at a state college price.

Part of this public ivy packaging was to advertise SSU as being in a destination wine country location with high physical and cultural amenities. These marketing efforts were principally designed to attract upper-income students to a “Falcon Crest”-like campus.

To achieve the desired outcome of becoming a wine-country public ivy SSU administration implemented a special admissions screening process that used higher SAT-GPA indexes than the rest of the California State University (CSU) system. According to Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres in “The Miner’s Canary,” high SAT scores correlate directly to both race and income with little relationship to actual success in college.

SSU also conducted recruitment at predominately white upper-income public and private high schools throughout the West Coast and Hawaii. The result was that SSU freshmen students with family incomes over $150,000 increased by 59 percent since 1994 and freshmen students from families below $50,000 declined by 21 percent (2007 dollars). The campus remained over three-quarters white during this 15-year period, while the rest of the CSU campuses significantly increased ethnic diversity.

We are at a time in society when a majority of the population has elected a Black president of the United States. This presidency is a hugely symbolic achievement for race relations in the U.S. We must not, however, ignore the continuing disadvantages for people of color and the resulting advantages gained by whites in our society.

Institutional policies and segregation contribute to continuing inequalities that require ongoing review and discussion. Efforts against racism must continue if we are to truly attain the civil rights goal of equal opportunity for all.

Economic Downturn Fuels Up Tick in Domestic Violence

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Her eyes fill with tears as she tells her tale, and her hands tremble as she wipes them away. A pretty woman with almond-shaped eyes and shoulder-length hair, Alejandra Leon, 36, remembers how her boyfriend would erupt at the slightest excuse, even when he was dating her seven years ago. Her two young children from a previous marriage would watch in fear as he bullied, threatened and taunted her.

The abuse intensified after her boyfriend lost his bluecollar job last May, and his drinking binges became more frequent. So, Leon, an undocumented immigrant, decided she would leave him. She left with her children even though she had no job to fall back on, or a work permit that would make it easier for her to snag one.

Leon’s story is not unique. In California and across the country, women’s service groups are reporting a rise in domestic violence as the economy deteriorates and puts pressure on family life. “A bad economy makes a tragic situation at home even worse,” said Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University’s School of Social Work.

Tara Shabazz, executive director of California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, a 200-member organization, said that more women were accessing services geared to domestic violence. “We are seeing an increase in requests for hotlines, legal services, transitional services, and services for children,” she said.

At the Bay Area Asian Women’s Shelter, executive director Beckie Masaki said more women are calling the crisis hotline. “In the last year, it’s gone up by 15 percent,” Masaki said.

The Oakland-based chapter of Mujeres Unidas, a support group for Hispanic women that Leon regularly accesses, is seeing the same upward trend.

“Before the economic crisis, 45 percent of the calls we received were from women facing domestic violence,” said program director Maria Jimenez said. “Now it’s gone up to 70 percent.”

Last week, four out of five women who participated in the support group meeting at Mujeres Unidas were victims of domestic violence, Jimenez said. “And the violence has been pretty severe in some of the cases.”

Erika Munez, 31, of Oakland, a mother of three young children all under 10, said she has been relying more and more on handouts from local churches and food banks ever since her husband lost his job as a painter last November.

“The environment in my house has turned ugly,” said Munez. “My husband verbally and emotionally abuses me. He tells me, ‘Get a job or go back to Mexico.’ But where am I to find a job?”

The problem isn’t only in urban areas. In Mendota, a mostly farming community in the Central Valley, where residents are facing a double whammy from the drought and the economy, there has been a significant spike in domestic violence, according to Mayor Robert Silva. “There are very few jobs here now, and that’s leading to family problems,” said Silva. “Men are getting frustrated and taking to drinking and abusing their wives.”

The increase in domestic violence is straining the resources of service providers, many of which are also struggling in a down economy. Many women turn to shelters when they leave abusive situations, but shelters, too, have become victims of the recession, even though the need for them clearly appears to be growing.

“There are programs that have been cut at the state level,” said Shabazz. “There are 94 domestic violence programs funded by the Department of Public Health, and they face a 10 percent decrease in the last state budget. This impacts their ability to provide services.”

Even in better financial times, the donations-dependent shelters are filled to capacity. Now, with skimpier staff, many have been forced to turn away clients, or put them on their waiting list, said Atashi Chakravarty, executive director of the Berkeley-based support group for South Asian women, Narika.

For undocumented women like Leon, domestic violence is compound by their immigration status. Unskilled and ignorant of American legal protections, Leon said she was scared of leaving her abusive boyfriend. He refused to marry her so he could use the threat of deportation to control her. She wanted to find a job so she could contribute toward the upkeep of her children, two from a previous marriage and a third born from her new relationship. He said no.

“He made sure I was totally dependent on him,” Leon said at the Mujeres Unidas support group. “But he would never lose an opportunity to remind me that it was he who was supporting the children.”

Keeping family members “economically enslaved” is not uncommon among abusers, said Oehme. “There is a dynamic of domestic violence through financial control abusers use,” she said.

After leaving her boyfriend, Leon managed to find a job at a waste management recycling center in the East Bay. But the center laid her off recently.

“I don’t want to break any laws, but what can I do?” she said, as she tried to fight back her tears. “I have to feed my children.”

Supreme Court: 'Fleeting Expletives' Fair Game For FCC

"The Supreme Court said yesterday that the Federal Communications Commission may penalize even the occasional use of certain expletives on the airwaves but left for another day the question of whether such a policy is constitutional. The court's narrow ruling said the FCC -- prompted by Cher's use of the F-word during a 2002 live broadcast and similar remarks ... -- was justified in changing its policy in 2004 to fine broadcasters up to $325,000 every time certain words are allowed on the air." Washington Post 04/29/09
Congress' decision to extend a key provision of the Voting Rights Act for 25 years is at the core of a case being argued before the Supreme Court.

The justices are hearing the final arguments of their term Wednesday in a dispute from Texas. At issue is a requirement that all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting get approval from the Justice Department before they implement even the smallest changes in the way elections are held.

The court also is expected to issue opinions in cases argued earlier in the term.

The voting rights law, enacted in 1965, has helped open government elections to millions of blacks and other minorities. Its main enforcement measure is a temporary one that calls for the federal government to sign off before election changes.

Congress has renewed the provision four times, most recently by an overwhelming vote in 2006, when both houses were controlled by Republicans. President George W. Bush signed it into law.

The Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1, the small Texas community challenging the provision, agrees that Southern states once richly deserved the federal intrusion into their election practices. But that day has passed, especially with the election of President Barack Obama, the district says.

The law is outmoded, relying on information dating back more than 40 years to determine what states and municipal governments are covered, the district says. The district's challenge is backed by a group that opposes racial classifications in employment, voting and education.

The Obama administration and civil rights groups argue that the law still is needed to prevent discriminatory election changes and that Congress amassed a lot of evidence in support of its position.

A federal court in Washington upheld the law, setting up the Supreme Court fight.

The case is Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, 08-322.

4th plotter in Fort Dix case gets life sentence

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — A federal judge in New Jersey has sentenced a fourth man to spend the rest of his life in prison for plotting to kill military personnel at Fort Dix.

Twenty-four-year-old cab driver Mohamad Shnewer (SHNOO'-er) of Cherry Hill was heard repeatedly on tapes made by an FBI informant talking about attacking the United States.

Shnewer told the judge that he talked like a jihadist, but didn't have what it takes to be one.

The judge called him the "epicenter of the conspiracy" and sentenced him to life plus 30 years in prison.

A jury convicted Shnewer, three brothers and another man in December.

The brothers received life sentences Tuesday. The fifth defendant, Serdar Tatar (SEHR'-dar tah-TAR'), also is being sentenced Wednesday.

US recession shifts to business as GDP falls 6.1 pct

The US economy slid at a 6.1 percent rate in the first quarter as the recession intensified in business investment even as consumer activity rebounded, official data showed Wednesday.

The Commerce Department's first estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) was a disappointment to forecasters expecting a 4.7 percent annualized decline, and marked only a marginal improvement over the 6.3 percent drop in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The decline marked the third consecutive quarter of contraction for the world's biggest economy, which had not occurred since 1974-1975.

The steep fall was the result of falling exports, declines in business and household investment and a weak housing market, offset in part by surprisingly strong consumer spending.

Consumers rebounded in the quarter, boosting spending 2.2 percent after a 4.3 percent plunge in the last quarter of 2008.

But even though consumer activity makes up the lion's share of activity, it was not enough to offset hefty declines in other segments of the economy.

Cary Leahey, senior economist at Decision Economics, said that while the report was worse than expected, "it isn't necessarily bad news for the remainder of the year."

"Consumer spending rose after unprecedented declines, but we've gone into a deeper capital spending pothole," he noted.

Still, Leahey said that with consumer spending and the housing sector appearing to stabilize, "that means the worst of the recession is behind us."

Investment in housing or residential structures fell 38.0 percent and spending on non-residential business investment slumped 37.9 percent, including a 33.8 percent drop in software and equipment.

Exports tumbled 30 percent and even government investment fell 4.0 percent.

Some analysts pointed out that the figure was dragged down by massive declines in inventory stockpiling, which could mean businesses will need to ramp up production over the rest of 2009.

Subtracting inventories, the economy contracted at a 3.4 percent pace in a measurement known as real final sales.

Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates, said the report is consistent with an economy that is struggling to come out of a punishing recession.

"We're seeing the worst part of the decline in some sectors behind us," he said.

"There is hope for a bottom and a gradual recovery into next year."

Others were more cautious.

"Our opinion is that not too much should be read into the apparent consumer strength," said analysts at "Unemployment is going higher, wage gains are limited, and credit remains constrained."

The report showed consumer prices overall fell 1.0 percent after a 3.9 percent decrease in the fourth quarter. Excluding food and energy, prices rose 1.4 percent in the first three months of the year.

The report comes as the Federal Reserve was set to conclude a two-day meeting widely expected to keep boosting the supply of cheap credit to support a struggling economy.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting comes amid comments from some central bank officials that the recession is likely to ease later this year.

Analysts say this week's meeting is likely to signal no change in policy since the FOMC March gathering, when the Fed added over one trillion dollars to its arsenal to fight the economic crisis and maintained a base interest rate of zero to 0.25 percent.

What is the swine flu and the symtoms?

What is the swine flu?
The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus that has infected humans in the U.S. and Mexico is a novel influenza A virus that has not previously been identified in North America. This virus is resistant to the antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), but is sensitive to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Investigations of these cases suggest that on-going human-to-human swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is occurring.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

Although uncomplicated influenza-like illness (fever, cough or sore throat) has been reported in many cases, mild respiratory illness (nasal congestion, rhinorrhea) without fever and occasional severe disease also has been reported. Other symptoms reported with swine influenza A virus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, myalgia, headache, chills, fatigue, and dyspnea. Conjunctivitis is rare, but has been reported. Severe disease (pneumonia, respiratory failure) and fatal outcomes have been reported with swine influenza A virus infection. The potential for exacerbation of underlying chronic medical conditions or invasive bacterial infection with swine influenza A virus infection should be considered.

Interm Recommendations

For clinical care or collection of respiratory specimens from a symptomatic individual (acute respiratory symptoms with or without fever) who is a confirmed case, or a suspected case (ill close contact of a confirmed case) of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection:

Infectious Period

Persons with swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection should be considered potentially contagious for up to 7 days following illness onset. Persons who continue to be ill longer than 7 days after illness onset should be considered potentially contagious until symptoms have resolved. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods. The duration of infectiousness might vary by swine influenza A (H1N1) virus strain. Non-hospitalized ill persons who are a confirmed or suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection are recommended to stay at home (voluntary isolation) for at least the first 7 days after illness onset except to seek medical care.

Case definitions

A confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection is defined as a person with an acute respiratory illness with laboratory confirmed swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection at CDC by one or more of the following tests:

* real-time RT-PCR

* viral culture

* four-fold rise in swine influenza A (H1N1) virus-specific neutralizing antibodies

A suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection is defined as a person with acute febrile respiratory illness with onset within 7 days of close contact with a person who is a confirmed case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection.

Close contact is defined as: within about 6 feet of an ill person who is a confirmed or suspected case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection.

* Close contact is defined as: within about 6 feet of an ill person who is a confirmed case of swine influenza A virus infection

Acute respiratory illness is defined as recent onset of at least two of the following: rhinorrhea or nasal congestion, sore throat, cough (with or without fever or feverishness)

Recommendations for public health personnel

For interviews of healthy individuals (i.e. without a current respiratory illness), including close contacts of cases of confirmed swine influenza virus infection, no personal protective equipment or antiviral chemoprophylaxis is needed. See section on antiviral chemoprophylaxis for further guidance.

For interviews of an ill, suspected or confirmed swine influenza A virus case, the following is recommended:

* Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from the ill person; or

* Personal protective equipment: fit-tested N95 respirator [if unavailable, wear a medical (surgical mask)].

For collecting respiratory specimens from an ill confirmed or suspected swine influenza A virus case, the following is recommended:

* Personal protective equipment: fit-tested disposable N95 respirator [if unavailable, wear a medical (surgical mask)], disposable gloves, gown, and goggles.

* When completed, place all PPE in a biohazard bag for appropriate disposal.

* Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel.

Infection Control

Recommended Infection Control for a non-hospitalized patient (ER, clinic or home visit):

1. Separation from others in single room if available until asymptomatic. If the ill person needs to move to another part of the house, they should wear a mask. The ill person should be encouraged to wash hand frequently and follow respiratory hygiene practices. Cups and other utensils used by the ill person should be thoroughly washed with soap and water before use by other persons.

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Favre released by Jets, free to sign with any team

Brett Favre was released from the reserve-retired list by the New York Jets on Tuesday night, making the quarterback a free agent if he decides to again come out of retirement.

When Favre was dealt to New York from Green Bay in August, there were conditions in the trade that required the Packers to be compensated if the Jets moved the three-time MVP. Those no longer apply if he signs elsewhere.

The 39-year-old Favre, who spent one disappointing season with New York, had requested the move several weeks ago through agent Bus Cook, but insisted he has no plans to come out of retirement for a 19th season.

"Nothing has changed," Favre said in a statement. "At this time, I am retired and have no intention of returning to football."

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum also said Favre had not indicated to him any desire to come back.

That, of course, won't stop any of the likely speculation that Favre could end up with any number of teams, especially if the torn biceps tendon that hampered him for much of last season has healed.

After 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre had a tearful retirement in March 2008, but decided to return to football a few months later. Green Bay had already moved forward, anointing Aaron Rodgers the starter as a bitter falling out with Favre ensued.

The Packers traded him to the Jets, injecting excitement into a franchise that hasn't been to a Super Bowl since 1969. Things started off promising as Favre played well and the Jets took over first place in the AFC East, with a playoff run in their sights. But Favre struggled down the stretch with the arm injury as the Jets finished 1-4 and failed to make the playoffs, costing coach Eric Mangini his job.

Favre announced his retirement on Feb. 11, saying he was done with football — this time for real.

US confirms first swine flu death

The swine flu outbreak has resulted in the first death outside Mexico today – a 23-month-old child from Texas.

Three more cases were confirmed in the UK, adding to the two previously disclosed in Scotland.

A 12-year-old girl is among five people in the UK to have contracted swine flu after visiting Mexico, Gordon Brown told the Commons during prime minister's questions.

Two adults – one from Birmingham and one from London – are undergoing treatment.

More than 150 people are suspected to have died of the virus in Mexico and the illness has spread around the globe, but news of the first death outside the country where it originated will increase fears that a pandemic could develop.

The infant's death from swine flu in the US was confirmed by Dr Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. He gave no other details about the child.

America has confirmed 65 cases of swine flu, most of them mild, but Besser said more deaths were likely.

"Flu is a very serious infection and each virus is unique so it's hard to know what we're going to be seeing, but given what we've seen in Mexico we have expected that we would see more severe infections and we would see deaths," he said.

It was unclear if the girl had contracted the illness in Mexico, or been infected in the US.

Confirmation that infected people in two countries are spreading the new disease to their families or contacts in a sustained way would meet the World Health Organisation's (WHO) criteria for declaring a phase five alert on its scale of one to six. It raised the level to from three to four on Monday as the virus moved to Europe.

The WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporters yesterday: "If we have a confirmation from the United States or Canada, we could move to phase five."

In Britain the government is today preparing a mass information campaign that will see leaflets about swine flu delivered to every home in the UK, after the WHO called on all governments to prepare for a pandemic.

The Department of Health is in talks to "urgently increase" stockpiles of surgical face masks, to be used by doctors and nurses if infections spread more widely here.

More cases continued to emerge around the world today, with Austria announcing its first case, Germany confirming its first three and New Zealand announcing that the number of people suffering from the virus there had risen from 11 to 14 – including one patient who was not among a school group who recently returned from Mexico, the centre of the outbreak, but had come back from north America.

The WHO yesterday warned that it could be a disaster for poorer countries if the virus took hold across the globe.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, declared a state of emergency following the confirmation of 13 cases of the illness, and in New York there were fears the virus was showing signs of secondary transmission from children who had been in Mexico to others.

Today experts around the world will hold a telephone conference in an emergency review of the outbreak organised by the WHO to collect information on what is known about how the disease spreads, how it affects human health and how it can be treated. A report will be published shortly after the meeting ends.

In Mexico, authorities are carrying out a second round of stricter tests, which have so far confirmed that seven people have died of swine flu. Results are yet to be announced on a further 13 people who had previously been said to have definitely been killed by the illness. The virus is suspected in another 159 deaths and 2,498 cases of illness there.

The health secretary, José Córdova, last night said the death toll was "more or less stable" even as hospitals were swamped with people who think they have swine flu. Only 1,311 of those suspected of being infected remain in hospital, suggesting treatment works if medical care is sought quickly.

In New York, officials said 18 children from two schools were being tested for swine flu after showing symptoms, and the city's health commissioner said "many hundreds" more children who have fallen sick may be infected with the virus.

At least 10 countries around the world, including China and Russia, have introduced bans on the import of pork products, despite the WHO's insistence that the virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork.

Bavaria's health ministry today announced that Germany's first three cases of swine flu had been confirmed.The Robert Koch Institute said they were a 22-year-old woman being treated for flu-like symptoms in a Hamburg hospital after returning from a visit to Mexico, a man in his 30s being treated at a university in the southern city of Regensburg, and a 37-year-old woman from another southern town who recently travelled to Mexico.

New Zealand is waiting for test results on 44 possible cases, on top of those confirmed.

But while the latest confirmations were in developed nations, Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO assistant director general for health security, warned that the greatest threat is to the poorest countries: "We know from history … that the poorer countries are the ones who really get hit the hardest, they are really hit disproportionately hard, and they also have the least resources to deal with these kind of situations," he said.

Suspected infections are being investigated in Brazil, Guatemala and Peru, all countries that would struggle to cope with a large-scale swine flu outbreak

North Korea threatens nuclear missile tests

Pyongyang demands UN apology for sanctions over latest rocket launch

North Korea dramatically raised the stakes today as it threatened to carry out nuclear and long-range missile tests unless the UN security council apologises for tightening sanctions after its rocket launch this month.

Pyongyang's foreign ministry said the country "will be compelled to take additional measures for self-defence, including nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests" unless it received an immediate apology. It demanded the council withdraw all previous resolutions against such tests by North Korea.

The regime is known for its brinksmanship and observers had hoped this month's satellite launch might allow rising tensions in the region to subside. The north has toughened its rhetoric in the last year after a new South Korean president ended the free-flowing aid policy of the previous administration. Analysts believe it is seeking the attention of the new US administration.

Pyongyang argues the security council criticism is unfair because it had carried out the peaceful launch of a satellite. But the rocket launch was widely regarded as a test of ballistic missile technology – banned under 2006 sanctions – because the launch equipment and methods are almost identical.

The security council imposed sanctions after a ballistic missile launch and a nuclear test in 2006. The latter prompted even the country's ally China to make a rare public attack, accusing Pyongyang of a "brazen" test in the face of "universal opposition".

It called for those sanctions to be tightened after the north fired a long-range rocket on 5 April in defiance of international appeals.

The South Korean and Chinese foreign ministries had no immediate comment today.

Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, said: "This is going beyond their usual aggressiveness or recklessness.

"That is related to [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il's own position; he wants to demonstrate that he is still strong and robust. I think this has an internal dimension, an external dimension and a hardware dimension … [It is] putting pressure on the Obama administration to start negotiating directly with North Korea and it is also about working on their hardware."

The North Korean leader is believed to have suffered a stroke last year, but to have recovered well.

James Hoare, a former British chargé d'affaires in Pyongyang, said the announcement might reflect increasing military influence.

"It seems to be sending all the wrong messages to everybody … It is likely to lead to more UN sanctions rather than less. There was something of an opportunity and that's not open any more."

Analysts believed the north initially appeared to be offering Barack Obama an olive branch, and Hoare said the US had sent positive signals. "After the 2006 rocket and supposed nuclear tests the world did come round and talks eventually restarted. It maybe that people are saying, 'If we stand tall and have our explosion they will come around – they won't dare deal with us.' I suspect at some point that won't work any more."

Christopher Hughes, an expert on the region at the University of Warwick, said the move was not completely irrational.

"North Korea is very calculating and in some ways very predictable … It doesn't matter how much they raise the ante; they do tend to get away with it in the end," he said.

"If you think back to 2006, we had missile tests in the summer and condemnation and a similar hiatus when nothing happened. Everyone thought, now they will talk. They didn't; they then did nuclear testing. Maybe they're wanting to go the whole way to really pre-empt the Americans, put them off balance and try to get them into the process before [Washington] has decided what its strategy is – and to create as much dissent as possible among the six parties to weaken their ability to push North Korea into a corner."

The threat comes within days of Pyongyang saying it had begun reprocessing spent fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

Under a 2007 six-nation deal, it agreed to disable Yongbyon in return for 1m tonnes of fuel oil and other concessions. Last summer it blew up the plant's cooling tower to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearisation.

But talks stalled after Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over the implementation of the deal and how to verify its past atomic activities.

White House will probe presidential plane PR stunt

The taxpayer bill for Monday's presidential plane flight over Manhattan was $328,835. The political cost to the Obama White House will be harder to calculate.

"It was a mistake ... and it will not happen again," President Barack Obama said.

But the origins of the government public relations stunt that went awry remained a mystery — and a potential political problem for Obama. The White House military office approved the photo op, which cost $35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts.

"I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree it was a mistake," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of Monday's "unfortunate" flight low over the Hudson River that for many on the ground evoked chilling memories of 9/11.

The sight of the huge passenger jet and an F-16 fighter plane whizzing past the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan financial district sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets.

WCBS-TV in New York reported Tuesday that it had obtained a Federal Aviation Administration memo outlining the photo op. The memo acknowledged "the possibility of public concern regarding (Defense Department) aircraft flying at low altitudes" around Manhattan, but the TV station reported that the FAA demanded secrecy from the New York Police Department, the mayor's office, the Secret Service and the FBI.

A White House official has said the New York City mayor's office and other New York and New Jersey police agencies were told about the Boeing 747's flight. The official said the FAA, at the military's request, told local agencies that the information was classified and asked them not to publicize it.

White House officials did not say why new photos were needed of the plane that is sometimes used as Air Force One — Obama wasn't aboard the flight — or who the presumed audience of the planned photographs were.

Air Force officials began to provide basic information Tuesday about the cost of the flights, but did not disclose how long the public has paid for similar photo op flights.

And public officials from the White House to New York still had not explained why they acceded to a plan that informed several dozen officials about the impending flight but kept the public in the dark.

"I think we've all learned something from it and now it's time to make sure our procedures are better and to get on with other things," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It does seem like it was a waste of money, but that's up to the federal government."

White House officials said Obama was fuming mad and thinks Air Force One didn't need a new publicity photo anyway.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates "did not know in advance about this flying photo op," Morrell said. "Once he found out, suffice it to say he was surprised and not very pleased."

The presidential air fleet answers to the White House military office, whose director, Louis Caldera, issued a mea culpa on Monday.

"While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption," Caldera's statement said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

Obama's 100th day starts with Specter

President Barack Obama kicks off his 100th day in office with a new Democratic ally at his side.

Sen. Arlen Specter will discuss his new Democratic allegiance during an address with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday morning.

Specter ditched his Republican party designation of nearly 30 years Tuesday, saying he has found himself "increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy," and declared himself a Democrat. The White House says Obama would campaign for Specter, who's up for re-election next year.

Later, the president is off to Missouri, where he'll hold a town hall meeting at a high school in the St. Louis suburb of Arnold.

Wednesday night, Obama holds a prime-time news conference.