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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson planned to announce Thursday he is dropping out of the Democratic presidential race, sources close to him said. In the first two primary-season contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, he finished fourth each time with single-digit percentages of the votes.

Countrywide Financial, America's largest mortgage lender with a $1.5 trillion portfolio of loans, said Wednesday its foreclosure rate (1.44 percent) and late payments (7.2 percent) rose to their highest levels in five years, fueling speculation that the company could be headed for bankruptcy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering sending 3,000 more marines to Afghanistan, where 27,000 US troops now serve, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The "one-time, seven-month deployment" would be aimed at helping combat Taliban insurgents during an expected offensive.

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An air-traffic-control staffing emergency exists in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and southern California, Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said Wednesday. Because veteran controllers are retiring faster than government projections, plane volumes at these airports cannot be handled safely, he said.

Florida officials closed a main east-west section of I-4 between Tampa and Orlando Wednesday when limited visibility from fog and brush-fire smoke led to a 70-vehicle pileup that killed four people.

A congressional appearance by star major-league pitcher Roger Clemens was postponed Wednesday from Jan. 16 to Feb. 13 to allow lawmakers to take depositions from witnesses and to coordinate with the Justice Department in a hearing on steroid use in baseball.

Prairie grasses, which are cheaper to grow than corn, can produce significant amounts of fuel, according to US Department of Agriculture research published this week. The study indicates that with only moderate amounts of fertilizer on marginal land, switch grass can yield an average of 300 gallons of cellulosic ethanol. The output from an acre of corn is about 350 gallons. A new federal energy bill calls for a massive increase in ethanol production by 2022.

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