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Factory orders declined 4.6 percent in November, nearly double what analysts had predicted, but not as bad as October's 6 percent plunge, the biggest in eight years, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Demand was off for commercial aircraft, autos, and steel.

Despite Al Franken's 225-vote victory margin in Minnesota's US Senate race recount, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that the winner would not immediately be seated. The decision was aimed at appeasing Republican lawmakers who threatened to disrupt the opening of the new Congress Tuesday by blocking Franken's swearing-in until legal challenges to the recount by incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R) are addressed.

US auto sales dropped 36 percent in December, resulting in an 18 percent decline, from 16.1 million to 13.2 millions sales, during the past year, according to newly released data. Record high rebates and low-interest financing failed to halt the decline. One manufacturer, Hyundai Motor America, has even tried to lure skittish buyers by promising to let them return cars for up to a year if they lose their jobs and can't make the payments.

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A lawsuit challenging a Bush administration surveillance program by the US branch of an Islamic charity based in Oregon was reinstated Monday by a federal judge in San Francisco. The judge agreed that there is evidence suggesting the now-defunct Al-Haramin Islamic Foundation may have been the target of unwarranted wiretaps.

The Milky Way galaxy is denser, with 50 percent more mass, than previously thought, scientists said Monday at the American Astronomical Society's convention in Long Beach, Calif. The Milky Way's magnitude puts it on a par with the Andromeda galaxy, which astronomers once thought was significantly larger. The discovery means the two could crash violently sooner than expected, though still billions of years from now.

A judge in Jefferson City, Mo., approved a legal settlement Monday that ends an e-mail controversy that has dogged Gov. Matt Blunt (R), who leaves office Jan. 11. Under the deal, Blunt's office must provide 60,000 pages of e-mail documents as public records.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden will lead a congressional delegation to Southwest Asia later this week, media sources have reported. The trip, observers believe, signals the new administration's plans to make the troubled region an immmediate priority. The itinerary could possibly include Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

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