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President Bush has doubled his approval rating over that of Congress by 17 points, and Americans' confidence in the future has risen to its highest level since last summer, according to results of a new Reuters/Zogby poll. Bush's standing rose to 34 percent, a 3-point increase since it was last measured in January. The poll also found a 7-point increase in the number of respondents who said they felt "very secure" in their jobs

Led by the increasing cost of food items, the Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent in January, the Labor Department reported. The increase pushed the most widely watched measure of inflation to 4.3 percent on an annualized basis. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported a 0.8 percent increase in housing starts last month, following a 14.8 percent decline in December. But it also said permits for future construction fell by 3 percent.

On schedule, the shuttle Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday morning, wrapping up a 13-day, 5 million-mile mission. NASA had sought to bring the craft home as soon as possible to clear the way for the Navy to shoot down a failed spy satellite whose tanks are full of toxic fuel. But rough seas in the Pacific, from where the interceptor missile will be fired, were making a Wednesday attempt unlikely.

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The executive boards of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines were to meet Wednesday amid reports that the inability of their respective pilots' unions to agree on seniority terms has put the proposed $20 billion merger "in serious jeopardy." Analysts say the matter is urgent because regulatory approval likely would be easier to obtain while Bush is still in office than it would be under his successor. Above, passengers gather at a Northwest ticket counter in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Bay Area News Group, the publisher of 16 northern California dailies, offered buyouts to 1,300 employees Tuesday. Layoffs will follow, probably next month, if too few people accept the offer, reports said. Sizable editorial staff cuts also have been announced in recent weeks by The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.

A record $29.75 billion was donated to US colleges and universities in the 2006-07 fiscal year, the Council for Aid to Education reported. But it said already wealthy institutions such as Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Southern California attracted a heavily disproportionate share of the new funds. Schools are under growing pressure from Congress and the public to dig deeper into their endowments to hold tuition in check.

Cloudy skies over much of the US Wednesday night could limit the ability of sky-watchers to see the last lunar eclipse until Dec. 20, 2010, the National Weather Service said. For those able to watch through telescopes, however, the eclipse should include views of Saturn's rings.

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