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Consumer spending down amid slowdown in economy

Consumer spending fell in April for the first time in almost a year and inflation pressures were subdued, pointing to a slowdown in economic activity, which should allow the Federal Reserve to maintain its monetary stimulus for a while. The Commerce Department said on Friday consumer spending fell 0.2 percent, the weakest reading since May last year, after edging up 0.1 percent in March. Economists had expected a 0.1 percent gain. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, was held down by weak demand for utilities and a drop in receipts at gasoline stations on
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Threatening letters spotlight Bloomberg’s role in gun control debate

A suspicious letter mailed to the White House was similar to two threatening, poison-laced letters on the gun law debate sent to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most potent gun-control advocates, officials said Thursday. The Secret Service said the letter was addressed to President Barack Obama and was intercepted by a White House mail screening facility. Two similar letters postmarked in Louisiana and sent to Bloomberg in New York and his gun control group in Washington contained traces of the deadly poison ricin. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the letter sent to Obama contained ricin. It
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Holder agrees to changes in probes involving news media

Attorney General Eric Holder told media editors on Thursday that he would change the way the Justice Department handles investigations that involve reporters and not repeat searches that have raised concerns about freedom of the press, the editors said. After a meeting that other media outlets boycotted because of its secrecy, the editors who did attend said they were encouraged by officials’ expressions of regret, though one said the Justice Department still has a long way to go to understand how journalists work. “There was a commitment to change the department’s guidelines for handling cases such as these and a
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White House: ‘Obamacare will offer more choices

Insurance companies are showing interest in providing coverage under the new health care law, a development likely to increase market competition and give uninsured people more choices than they now have, the White House said Thursday. Many of the 14 million people who currently buy their own insurance plans could also benefit. Eager to counter Republican criticism of the law, the White House’s upbeat assessment of the effect of the law comes four months before consumers can begin shopping for subsidized private insurance in new state markets. Widespread enrollment in those plans is crucial to the successful implementation of President
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Obama promises new push on student loans

College students are joining President Barack Obama at the White House as he calls on Congress to keep federally subsidized student loan rates from doubling on July 1. Friday’s White House event marks the beginning of a public campaign by Obama to temporarily extend current rates or to find a long-term compromise that avoids the scheduled rate increase. Obama has proposed linking the rates to the financial markets. The Republican-controlled House passed a similar plan last week. But the differences between Obama’s proposal and the House bill prompted a White House veto threat. Obama’s plan, unlike the Republican proposal, would
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Home sale contracts at three-year high

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes ticked up in April to the highest level in three years. The increase points to growth in home sales in the coming months. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 0.3 percent to 106. That’s the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit inflated sales. Signed contracts have jumped 10.3 percent in the past 12 months. There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale. Home sales and prices began to
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Recall effort against rabid sheriff fails in Arizona

A campaign to force a recall election against the polarizing sheriff of metropolitan Phoenix failed on Thursday after recall organizers said they couldn’t collect enough voter signatures to bring the lawman to the ballot again. Organizers of the recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio needed to turn in more than 335,000 valid voter signatures by 5 p.m. Thursday to force a recall election. “It is a sad day,” said recall campaign manager Lilia Alvarez. “It is a disappointment.” Recall organizers won’t reveal the number of signatures they gathered. That said, the last update they gave on their numbers
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Pro-gun advocates send threating letters to Obama, Bloomberg

A suspicious letter mailed to the White House was similar to two threatening, poison-laced letters on the gun law debate sent to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most potent gun-control advocates, officials said Thursday. The Secret Service said the letter was addressed to President Barack Obama and was intercepted by a White House mail screening facility. Two similar letters postmarked in Louisiana and sent to Bloomberg in New York and his gun control group in Washington contained traces of the deadly poison ricin. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the letter sent to Obama contained ricin. It
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News groups to Holder’s off the record meeting: ‘No way’

A number of news organizations told Attorney General Eric Holder to, in effect, “go to hell” when invited to an “off the record” meeting to discuss the Justice Department’s guidelines on so-called guidelines governing security leak investigations of reporters. Angry over Holder’s harassment of the Associated Press and secret monitoring of Fox News reporter James Rosen, representatives of the AP, the New York Times, Reuters, Fox, CNN, McClatchy and the Huffington Post said “no way” to a meeting unless it was on the record. “I’d be happy to participate if the meeting were on the record.  I also offered bring
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Obama’s second term shrouded in mistakes, controversies

President Barack Obama’s second term, so far, has been a frustrating reminder of the limits of presidential power and the durability of the Washington political apparatus he disdains. Obama has yet to achieve a significant second term legislative victory, a task that will only get harder as the calendar inches closer to next year’s midterm elections. A trio of controversies roiling Washington have emboldened Republicans eager to gain an advantage over the president and revealed a Democratic establishment willing to publicly second-guess the White House. And Obama, who ran for office as an outsider pledging to overcome Washington’s bitter partisan
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