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The first test in almost two years of a multibillion-dollar US antimissile defense shield failed Wednesday when an interceptor missile did not leave its launching silo in the Marshall Islands, the Pentagon said. The aborted $85 million test appeared likely to set back plans for activation of a system designed initially to counter possible long-range ballistic missiles that could be fired by North Korea. In 2002, President Bush pledged to have initial elements of a program operable by the end of this year.

At the beginning of a two-day White House-sponsored economic conference in Washington, Vice President Cheney told the audience of business leaders, economists, and lobbyists that the administration would make tax cuts, which are due to expire after 2010, a top priority.

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday raised interest rates for the fifth time since June and signaled it would keep pushing them higher at a "measured" pace next year. The latest quarter-point increase raised the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other to borrow money, to 2.25 percent.

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US Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) of Connecticut turned down White House overtures in recent days to fill two posts: ambassador to the UN and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, CNN reported. The White House declined to comment, and Lieberman was not available. Meanwhile, outgoing Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who is stepping down, said the government should reassess the color-coded system used to warn the public of security threats.

The trade deficit climbed almost 9 percent to a record $55.5 billion in October, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The larger-than-expected gap, fueled by surging oil prices and record imports from China, could lead to further declines in the sliding value of the dollar, economists said.

Alabama Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a robe embroidered with the Ten Commandments. The decision was praised by the state's ex-Chief Justice, Roy Moore, who was ousted in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from public display in the capital's judicial building.

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