USA

In a sign that rising mortgage rates may be taking their toll, home construction plunged 5.6 percent in October, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Elsewhere in the economy, factory production rebounded from hurricane-related setbacks by rising 0.9 percent, its fastest pace in 17 months.

A gaping hole in airline cargo security was spotlighted in a new Government Accountability Office report. "Americans need to know that their sneakers may be inspected but that objects the size of a car are waved on board," said Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts.

Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino in 2003 while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, the Associated Press reported. Law-makers said their intervention had nothing to do with Abra-moff, and the timing of donations was a coincidence.

Illegal drug cultivation and trafficking within America's national parks endanger visitors, staff, and resources, according to congressional testimony presented Thursday by the National Parks Conservation Association. The parks are in desperate need of increased back-country patrols, an association source said.

At the National Book Award presentations in New York, novelist Norman Mailer received the Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters for his body of work. Joan Didion won the nonfiction prize for "The Year of Magical Thinking," the story of coming to terms with her husband's sudden death. In an upset, William Volmann won fiction honors with "Europe Central." W.S. Merwin won for poetry; and Jeanne Birdsall captured the prize for young people's literature with "The Penderwicks."

Scientists have found evidence that grasses, thought to have evolved after dinosaurs died off, were being eaten by them at least 65 million years ago, according to a report in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

After an 84-year run in Atlantic City, N.J., the Miss America pageant will move to Las Vegas in January, organizers said. They said they hope the move will bring new glamour to an event dogged by financial troubles and slipping viewership.

Ralph Edwards, whose career in radio and television spanned seven decades, died in West Hollywood, Calif., Wednesday. He is perhaps best known as the host of "This Is Your Life" and "Truth or Consequences," a game show he created for radio in 1940.

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