USA

The consumer confidence index unexpectedly fell to 102.9 in November, below a 106 reading that some economists had predicted, the Conference Board reported Monday. The board's index had reached 105.1 in October, but a tighter labor market and a guarded short-term economic outlook were cited as main reasons for the dip. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said the sale of existing homes rose slightly in October but prices declined 3.5 percent from a year ago.

Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska, whose term expires next week, announced Monday that the state is revoking leases needed by Exxon Mobil, BP PLC, and other companies to tap the North Slope's Point Thomson oil and natural gas field. State officials said the companies failed to come up with a viable development plan for the region, which contains about 9 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

NBC News placed itself at odds with the White House Monday by announcing its decision to call the sectarian violence in Iraq a "civil war." While various media reports have used the politically charged term before, NBC has now made the choice of words network policy.

Trained bees conceivably could be enlisted in the war against terror, according to a study released Monday by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Researchers said bees can be trained to sniff out explosives in anything from roadside bombs to suicide belts. When the bees detect explosive materials, they extend the tubes they use to feed on nectar.

Mark McGwire, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken Jr. are the leading candidates on the Baseball Hall of Fame's annual ballot, distributed this week. The results will be announced Jan. 9.

With meteorologists watching closely to see if November will be Seattle's wettest month on record (it has had more than 15 inches of precipitation), a snowstorm Monday caused gridlock on city roadways and dumped as much as two feet on other parts of Washington State.

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