Consumer spending shot up 0.9 percent in January, the strong-est gain in six months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Analysts cited cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits as one factor contributing to the rise.

En route to India, President Bush made a surprise stopover in Afghanistan on Wednesday, his first to that country. The detour, kept secret for security reasons, included a meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and a pep talk to US troops at Bagram Air Base.

Northwest Airlines pilots voted to authorize a strike if the carrier imposes pay cuts and work-rule changes. The vote does not guarantee a walkout. Much depends on ongoing talks between the two sides and the pending decision of a bankruptcy judge.

Numerous heated exchanges marked a panel discussion on Islamic extremism attended by 400 students at the University of California, Irvine, where controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were shown Tuesday. Several hundred protesters accused the forum of trying to spread Islamphobia, but there were no reports of violence.

Immigration officials erred in January when they turned back 15 Cubans who reached an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys rather than one connected to American soil, a US district court judge ruled in Miami. The decision calls on US officials to make efforts to bring the 15 Cubans back to Florida, but it's unclear if Cuba will permit it.

A large number of African-Americans and lower-income people could be permanently displaced from the Gulf Coast if the government doesn't address widespread housing discrimination in the region, a group of fair-housing advocates told Congress.

Most states contribute to a lack of student preparedness for college by not requiring complex reading comprehension in high school, according to a study by the nonprofit ACT testing company. Only 51 percent of seniors were ready to handle typical first-year college reading.

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