Retail sales rose 1 percent in November, the biggest gain in four months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Economists who'd forecast a far smaller surge attributed it partly to lower gasoline prices. Sales of electronics and appliances jumped 4.6 percent, while furniture receipts edged down 0.1 percent as home sales slumped.

The Army and Marine Corps plan to request more troops on a permanent basis, according to The Washington Post. Unnamed military officials told the Post that the two service branches will ask incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates for at least 8,000 more soldiers and "full access" to those serving in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves. The Army currently has 507,000 active-duty soldiers, the Marines 180,000, but these numbers leave the military stretched thin to carry out international operations, senior officials told the Post.

After denying an appeals-related request by former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, a federal appellate court in Houston ordered him to report Wednesday to a low-security federal prison in Waseca, Minn. There he will begin to serve a 24-year sentence for conspiracy, fraud, and insider trading.

Democrats, who wrested control of the House in November, gained another seat Tuesday during a runoff election between two Latino candidates in Texas. Former US Rep. Ciro Rodriguez handily defeated seven-term Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla, a strong supporter of President Bush.

As expected, the Federal Reserve maintained the status quo Tuesday, leaving the federal funds rate at 5.25 percent. As a result, banks' prime lending rate, the benchmark for consumer and business loans, will stay at 8.25 percent.

Redesigning US paper money to facilitate easier handling by the blind is too expensive and threatens the vending machine industry, the Justice Department said Tuesday in appealing a US district judge's call for a major overhaul. Government lawyers said that the blind can use portable readers to identify bill denominations or make payments with credit cards.

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