USA

Ex-Enron Corp. chief accounting officer Richard Causey is said to be in discussions about a possible plea bargain, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle. Unnamed sources close to the case said federal prosecutors could work out a deal as early as this week to gain Causey's cooperation as a key government witness against Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skillings, whose trial on fraud and conspiracy charges is set to begin Jan. 17 in Houston.

Despite a ho-hum pre-Christmas shopping season, some economists expect the nation's retailers to receive a lift this week as people race out to use holiday gift cards to take advantage of slashed prices. Because of soaring popularity of these cards, ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which monitors sales activity, projects that as much as 14 percent of the total holiday sales will occur this week, a jump of 4 percent since last year. Gift cards only count as sales after they're redeemed.

The reading proficiency of college graduates has fallen off significantly in the past decade, leaving literacy experts searching for answers, according to The Washington Post. In a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 31 percent of college graduates were classified as proficient readers in 2003, compared to 40 percent in 1992.

Immigrants-rights lawyers and advocates are urging roughly 100,000 undocumented immigrants to apply for legal residency before the provisions of a 1986 amnesty act expire on Dec. 31, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nearly 3 million people have ended their "underground lives" via this program, but other immigrants, whose applications were previously rejected on procedural grounds, may be eligible for green cards by meeting the deadline.

New Year's Eve will be a second longer because of an international timing adjustment, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced. For the first time in seven years, a "leap second" is needed to account for changes in the Earth's rotation.

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