<br> is a soft linebreak.
Why do people get so caught up in what is and what isn't semantically right? If anyone can come up with a sound, logical argument as to why <br> is evil I would be mightily impressed and here's why...
Typically, text will be contained in paragraphs <p>. CSS will be used to determine what spacing is used between each paragraph. However, if you simply want to start a new line but with the standard spacing (not the paragraph spacing) then <br> does the job - that's precisely what it's designed for.
As for other uses such as inserting some non-critical padding, so what? The only other way to do this for an individual paragraph is with a style statement and I defy anyone to argue logically that doing it this way is somehow more semantically correct - that's clearly wrong since it means hiding the intended break from non-css viewers!