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More troops are needed in Afghanistan "as quickly as possible," the senior US commander there told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday. Gen. David McKiernan said additional economic and political aid also are needed because fighting there "could get worse before it gets better."

Spending on residential housing construction rose in August for the first time in 17 months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The 0.3 percent increase surprised economists, who'd predicted a drop of 0.5 percent amid the ongoing credit crunch and soaring mortgage defaults.

Manufacturing activity last month fell below the level that divides expansion and contraction, the Institute for Supply Management announced Wed-nesday. Its index for the month was 43.5, down from 49.9 in August. A reading above 50 signals growth.

By a 7-to-2 vote, the Supreme Court turned down a request to revisit its controversial decision outlawing execution for defendants convicted of child rape. The vote on the original ruling, in June, was 5 to 4. The request was filed by the State of Louisiana and the Bush administration.

Three contractors and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will pay a combined $28 million to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died in a tunnel ceiling collapse, the latter's attorneys announced Tuesday night. Milena del Valle and her husband were driving to Boston's Logan Airport in July 2006 when tons of concrete fell on their car.

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