USA

Democrat Steve Beshear, a former Kentucky attorney general who made ethics a key issue, Tuesday ousted one-term Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was dogged by a hiring scandal. Above, Beshear (r.) is joined by Lt. Gov.-elect Daniel Mongiardo. In other election results: Sheila Dixon (D) became the first black woman mayor of Baltimore, Virginia Democrats won their first state Senate majority in 12 years, and Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi easily won reelection. In ballot measures, New Jersey voters rejected a referendum to fund stem-cell research and Oregon voters turned down an 84.5-cents-per-pack cigarette tax hike meant to fund health insurance for children without it.

The nation's chronically homeless population was reduced nearly 12 percent between 2005 and 2006, according to government data released Wednesday.

Government programs that move street people into permanent housing were cited as a major factor in the trend. To be classified as chronically homeless, a person must have been homeless for a year or more or been without a home four times in the past three years.

General Motors Corp. posted a third-quarter loss of $39 billion Wednesday, its largest ever. GM's stock has lost almost 20 percent from its October highs when the automaker secured a cost-saving labor deal.

NASA scientists said they have found a new planet, about 45 times larger than Earth, in a solar system 41 light-years away. The gaseous body is the fifth planet discovered orbiting a star known as 55 Cancri, the hub of a solar system similar to our own.

A California task force assigned to make a sweeping assessment of the evolving fire risk in the state promised Tuesday to "tell it like it is." Last month's catastrophic wildfires and those in 2003 were described as two "100-year fires in four years," prompting an immediate call to fund 150 new fire engines, plus more firefighters and possibly more air tankers. The group also is looking at how the location of homes adds to the risk.

During 30,000 local events, 2.8 million volunteers removed 200 million pounds of litter and debris from the US landscape over a three-month Great American Cleanup last spring, Keep America Beautiful Inc., the sponsor, said this week.

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