USA

America's trade deficit, which hit an all-time high of $69 billion in August, was trimmed 6.8 percent in September, the largest reduction in more than five years, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The deficit with China, however, rose to a new record of $23 billion as American retailers imported Chinese-made goods for the holiday shopping season.

On the heels of his party's strong midterm election results, Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) of Iowa ended speculation that he'd run for president in 2008 by formally declaring himself in the race Thursday. He is the first Democrat to so commit. He plans to begin a multistate tour at the end of the month to promote his candidacy.

US Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who ran successfully for reelection as an Independent after failing to land on the Democratic ticket, pledged Wednesday to remain with that party in a closely divided Senate. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, called to tell Lieberman that he would keep his 18 years of seniority on Capitol Hill when it comes to committee appointments.

Newly elected Gov. Sarah Palin (R), a self-described "hockey mom" who is the first woman voted into the office in Alaska, will consider new proposals to build a natural-gas pipeline from the North Slope region to the lower 48 states, her spokes-man said Wednesday.

The San Francisco 49ers football team said Wednesday that it has given up trying to build a new stadium in the city and will seek to construct a new home for the NFL team in Santa Clara, Calif. If it moves, however, the club has vowed to keep the name San Francisco 49ers.

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California vowed Wednesday to fight for the implementation of a state ballot measure that bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks. Proposition 83 was passed by 70 percent of the state's electorate on Tuesday, but a federal judge blocked it, agreeing with an anonymous plaintiff convicted of a sex offense 15 years ago that the measure is overly punitive in forcing evictions.

In a plea bargain, four environmental activists accused of causing $20 million in arson damage to Northwest targets between 1996 and 2001 were to plead guilty Thursday (after Monitor deadlines) in Grants Pass, Ore., according to lawyers in the case. The defendants are among 13 people indicted of setting off firebombs to stop logging and roundups of wild horses, among other activities. Six perpetrators have previously pleaded guilty, three are fugitives, and the group leader committed suicide in jail.

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