USA

Thick smoke still hung over Cross Plains, Texas, Wednesday, the day after the worst wildfires in nearly a decade passed through Texas and southern Oklahoma, killing at least one person. Some 25 homes were destroyed in Cross Plains and all 1,000 residents were evacuated. Gusty winds and drought conditions helped fuel the fires, which authorities believe were mainly set by people ignoring fire bans. In Oklahoma, the biggest blaze burned at least 400 rural acres near the town of Mustang, southwest of Oklahoma City.

Richard Causey, Enron Corp.'s former chief accounting officer, was expected to plead guilty at a Houston court hearing Wednesday to one or more of 34 criminal charges, according to the Associated Press. In a deal with prosecutors, he would receive a lighter sentence for testifying against his former bosses, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skillings, in a conspiracy and fraud trial set to begin in January.

Buoyed by declining gasoline prices and an improving job market, consumer confidence rose to an index reading of 103.6 in December, its highest level since hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, the Conference Board reported. Last month, in the early stages of a comeback, the index hit 98.3.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, who heads up his party's Senate campaign efforts, said Democratic attempts to regain control of the chamber in 2006 will focus on races in seven states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona, Montana, and Rhode Island. The Democrats currently hold 44 seats in the Senate.

Guns flooding across the border from the US have contributed to a surge of gun violence in Canada, Toronto Mayor David Miller said about the city's latest shooting spree, which took the life of a teenage girl and wounded six bystanders this week. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has said that up to half of the gun crimes in Canada involve weapons brought in illegally from the US.

The US has imposed sanctions against nine overseas compa nies, including six in China, two in India, and one in Austria, for what the State Department calls "credible information" that they transferred equipment or chemical weapons-related supplies to Iran in violation of a nonproliferation pact.

John Diebold, a business visionary, who died Monday in Bedford Hills, N.Y., was known as a prophet of the computerized future who laid out his ideas in the 1952 book, "Automation." Diebold advised IBM, Xerox, and other companies, but was not connected to Diebold Inc., the electronic equipmentmaker.

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