USA

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) of Iowa officially announced his presidential candidacy Thursday. Aides said he needs an early start in what's expected to be a crowded race because he is little known outside his home state, although he has led it for eight years. Vilsack said his campaign will be built on guaranteeing every American "their birthright – opportunity." The 2008 election will be the first in 80 years in which neither a sitting president nor vice president is among either party's anticipated mix of candidates.

The use of methamphetamine, or meth, a drug that some experts consider as dangerous as cocaine or heroin, has dropped significantly in several Midwestern states, including Missouri and Iowa, but has begun to surge along the East Coast, according to a White House report released Thursday. Officials said positive workplace tests for the drug have declined nationally by 12 percent over the past year and that they are finding fewer meth "labs."

Seeking to create a more meaningful citizenship test, the federal government unveiled 144 draft questions Thursday that it will try out on immigrants taking exams in 10 cities. A sample question: Why do we have three branches of government?

Although the pace of US prisoner releases is increasing, it is exceeded by the pace of incarcerations, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday. It notes a record 7 million people were behind bars, on probation, or on parole at the end of last year. Of that number, 2.2 million were in prison, up 2.7 percent since 2004.

Consumer spending rose 0.2 percent in October, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. But retailers faced with mixed sales performances since then eyed the news cautiously. Personal consumption in October was bolstered by solid employment growth and the lowest jobless rate in five years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must keep up housing payments to Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricane Katrina until it can clearly explain its application and termination policies and allow people to appeal, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

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