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Attorney General Ashcroft defended the Bush administration's measures to counteract terrorism, declaring the US must not let down its guard against threats and that "defending our nation ... is now our first law-enforcement priority." Ashcroft's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee came amid mounting criticism that the Justice Department has infringed on civil liberties by implementing a host of investigative measures, including the detention of hundreds of Middle Eastern men, after the attacks.

The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits took the biggest one-week plunge in 18 years, the Labor Department reported. The drop of 349,000 was the largest since January 1983, when the US was pulling out of its worst recession since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, new claims for jobless benefits fell by 18,000 last week, the fifth weekly decline in six weeks.

The music industry is running more parental warnings in advertising than before, but record companies still market albums with explicit lyrics in the popular teen venues of TV, print, and the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission reported. In a follow-up to a study released last year, the FTC said movie and electronic game industries, by contrast, have made "commendable progress" in not targeting children and routinely disclose the reasons for ratings in their advertising.

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The shuttle Endeavour is to arrive at the International Space Station today to deliver the fourth crew to live in the orbiting outpost. Six US astronauts and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Onufrienko, the new station commander, will stay until May. The current residents will return home after the shuttle's 11-day mission.

The Rev. Pat Robertson stepped down as leader of the Christian Coalition after more than a decade in charge of the conservative organization, saying he wants to spend more time on his ministry. Robertson founded the coalition in Chesapeake, Va., in 1989, after his failed bid for the Republican nomination for president to mobilize conservative voters through grass-roots activities. Its board elected executive vice president Roberta Combs to succeed Robertson.

A federal jury found former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman guilty of conspiring with Anthony Tennant, the chief of rival auction house Christie's, in a price-fixing scam that bilked up to $400 million in commissions from sellers from 1993 to 1999. Taubman could be sentenced to three years in prison. Sotheby's and Christie's control 90 percent of the world's art auctions.

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