USA

Before embarking on a six- nation Asia-Pacific tour, President Bush headed first to California, where he'll meet Thursday with Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). The latter has vowed to seek federal help for the state's deep fiscal crisis. Bush's next stop is Japan, where he's expected to seek more troops and aid for Iraq as well as fairer currency-exchange rates, which he has criticized Japan and China for manipulating. He also plans to visit the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia and to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.

By a vote of 57-39, Senate Republicans defeated a proposal to convert $20 billion in aid for rebuilding Iraq into loans. But Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota, who submitted the amendment, isn't giving up. "We may well change at least part of these grants into loans," he said, as some narrower proposals appeared to be gaining support. One, from Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas, would make half of the aid available in the form of a loan overseen by the World Bank. The Bush administration maintains that loans would be an undue burden for Iraq's transitional government and could complicate efforts to win debt-forgiveness from other countries.

Fake prescription drugs are becoming "a real public health threat," Food and Drug Administration chief Mark McClellan told a meeting of the pharmaceutical industry, adding that counterfeit operations are increasing and becoming more sophisticated. While noting that the US drug supply is among the safest in the world, McClellan urged drug manufacturers and distributors to help develop new ways to keep it secure.

Sales at US retailers dipped 0.2 percent in September, the first decline since April, the Commerce Department reported. Many economists were anticipating a drop after gains of 1.2 percent and 1.4 percent in July and August, respectively. Retail sales are closely watched as an indicator of overall consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the nation's economic activity. In a separate report, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said its regional gauge of manufacturing activity rose to 33.7 in October, a record, from a reading of 18.35 the previous month.

Thunderstorms with winds up to 70 m.p.h. caused extensive damage in western Pennsylvania, tearing roofs from homes and businesses and littering streets with debris. One fatality was reported when a tree fell on a car near Philadelphia. Toppled trees and power lines left 24,000 customers without electricity in the Pittsburgh area and darkened 1,900 homes in Westchester County, N.Y.

Alabama conservation officials suspected a virus in the deaths of thousands of catfish, which began washing up Tuesday along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Samples were sent to the state's Department of Environmental Management for testing. In 1996, scientists determined a virus was responsible for a larger fish kill in the gulf.

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