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Monday, November 17, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday November 17 2008 - (813)

Monday November 17 2008 edition
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Credit Card Companies Slash Spending Limits On Card Holders
2008-11-16 16:30:59

Cecil Bello has stumbled into a new corner of the credit squeeze. The 32-year-old management consultant has had the limits reduced on three of her credit cards.

In September, U.S. Bank notified the Fairfax County resident that she no longer had a $14,500 limit on a card that had a balance of about $5,000. Her new limit left her just $500 from being maxed out, she said.

Then came an Oct. 26 letter from American Express that said she now had a limit of $14,000, down from $22,000. That letter said her "total debt is too high relative to your payment history with us and other creditors."

Early this month, she received an e-mail from American Express notifying her that another card with a $5,000 limit had been reduced to $3,000 and that her new cash advance limit was down to $200.

Bello said she had made more than the minimum payments on time each month.

"I am taking responsibility for paying off my debt," she said. "But when credit card companies trap people this way, it's almost impossible to dig yourself out of the hole."

Like many other card users, Bello has learned the hard way that credit card companies are increasingly putting the clamps on their customers. Lenders are taking a wide range of steps to mitigate their risk as unemployment rates tick up and the number of delinquent borrowers grows. Besides cutting credit limits, card companies are raising rates and fees, and suspending offers such as zero percent balance transfers. They are also making rewards programs less rewarding and shutting down inactive accounts, said industry analysts and watchdogs.

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Editorial: A Military For A Dangerous New World
2008-11-16 16:30:29
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Sunday, November 16, 2008.

As president, Barack Obama will face the most daunting and complicated national security challenges in more than a generation - and he will inherit a military that is critically ill-equipped for the task.

Troops and equipment are so overtaxed by President Bush’s disastrous Iraq war that the Pentagon does not have enough of either for the fight in Afghanistan, the war on terror’s front line, let alone to confront the next threats.

This is intolerable, especially when the Pentagon’s budget, including spending on the two wars, reached $685 billion in 2008. That is an increase of 85 percent in real dollars since 2000 and nearly equal to all of the rest of the world’s defense budgets combined. It is also the highest level in real dollars since World War II.

To protect the nation, the Obama administration will have to rebuild and significantly reshape the military. We do not minimize the difficulty of this task. Even if money were limitless, planning is extraordinarily difficult in a world with no single enemy and many dangers.

The United States and its NATO allies must be able to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan - and keep pursuing al-Qaeda forces around the world. Pentagon planners must weigh the potential threats posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, an erratic North Korea, a rising China, an assertive Russia and a raft of unstable countries like Somalia and nuclear-armed Pakistan. And they must have sufficient troops, ships and planes to reassure allies in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The goal is a military that is large enough and mobile enough to deter enemies. There must be no more ill-founded wars of choice like the one in Iraq. The next president must be far more willing to solve problems with creative and sustained diplomacy.

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Republican Senators Oppose Auto Makers Bailout
2008-11-16 16:29:43
Top Republican senators said Sunday they will oppose a Democratic plan to bail out Detroit automakers, calling the U.S. industry a “dinosaur” whose “day of reckoning” is coming. Their opposition raises serious doubts about whether the plan will pass in this week’s post-election session.

Democratic leaders want to use $25 billion of the $700 billion financial industry bailout to help General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler.

Senators Richard Shelby, of Alabama, and Jon Kyl, of Arizona, said it would be a mistake to use any of the Wall Street rescue money to prop up the automakers. They said an auto bailout would only postpone the industry’s demise.

“Companies fail every day and others take their place. I think this is a road we should not go down,” said Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

“They’re not building the right products,” he said. “They’ve got good workers, but I don’t believe they’ve got good management. They don’t innovate. They’re a dinosaur in a sense.”

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California Public Officials Compile Wish Lists For Obama
2008-11-16 16:29:11
If you've been elected to something somewhere in California, you're probably writing a wish list for President-elect Barack Obama.

With the inauguration about nine weeks away, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster is seeking $111 million to replace 28 miles of storm drains. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is talking up $321 million for sewage-treatment plants and clean-water facilities.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl wants a light-rail line to Los Angeles International Airport. And money for homeless veterans. And did he mention universal healthcare?

"The sooner he focuses on healthcare, the better," said Rosendahl, who represents coastal neighborhoods such as Venice and Playa del Rey. "It's as important a priority as getting out of Iraq."

Jubilant over the arrival of a Democrat in the White House, government agencies across this heavily Democratic state are hoping not just for a piece of an upcoming stimulus package but also for four years of a California-friendly administration.

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Indonesia Lifts Tsunami Warning After 7.5 Sulawesi Earthquake
2008-11-16 16:28:39
A powerful earthquake struck an area off northern Sulawesi in Indonesia early on Monday, causing a brief tsunami warning and triggering panic among residents in parts of the island.

The magnitude 7.5 quake was at a depth of 21 kilometers, with its epicenter 136 kilometers (84 miles) northwest of the provincial capital of Gorontalo, said the U.S. Geological Survey.

Two further weaker aftershocks struck in the same area of the Celebes Sea bordering the southern Philippines.

Indonesia's meteorological agency issued a tsunami warning after the first quake, but later lifted it.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but a telephone operator in Gorontalo said the quake could be felt strongly in the city.

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Gov. Schwarzenegger Calls Review After Sylmar Tragedy As Wildfires Rage On
2008-11-16 16:30:44
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other top officials called this morning for a review of building standards and emergency procedures based on the destruction of a mobile home park and the power failure at a hospital in Sylmar.

Blazes raced through the Oakridge Mobile Home Park overnight Friday, destroying about 500 units, marking the devastation as the worst loss of homes due to fire in the city of Los Angeles. At the nearby Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, doctors and nurses struggled in the dark for four hours to keep patients alive during a power failure.

Altogether, three major fires continue to rage across Southern California. The first broke out Thursday in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. Since then, two major fires have raged through thousands of acres aided by gale-force winds, record-high temperatures and low humidity.

One of the worst developing situations is in north Orange County and neighboring counties, where separate blazes have merged into what is now called the Triangle Complex Fire. At 8:30 this morning, the fire was completely uncontained and already had burned 10,475 acres. About 150 homes have been damaged or destroyed as 1,200 firefighters have assembled along fire lines.

The areas most in danger include Carbon Canyon, Telegraph Canyon and the areas abutting Chino Hills State Park. Areas under threat include Diamond Bar, Brea, Chino Hills, Yorba Linda, Anaheim and Corona. Altogether about 3,500 homes are threatened and at least 10,000 residents have been evacuated.

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Calls To Overhaul 401(k) Retirement Plans Grow
2008-11-16 16:30:04
For nearly three decades, working Americans have been part of a huge experiment with their future well-being: Old-fashioned pensions that guaranteed specific retirement benefits have given way to old-age benefits that depend on personal investing in the financial markets.

Now, with those markets in crisis and the value of workers' investments plunging, a bundle of ideas for modifying the system or replacing it entirely - ideas shunted aside when the stock market was soaring - are about to get a careful new look.

For one thing, Democrats have campaigned on the promise of a better deal for middle-class Americans. Also, many workers are aghast at the sudden discovery that their retirement years may be a lot less golden than they expected.

Even for people who have faithfully participated in the new retirement plans, which depend on annual savings and investment in 401(k) and similar accounts, much if not all of what they gained in the stock market over the last 10 years has been wiped out.

So far this year, the average worker's 401(k) account balance has dropped between 21% and 27%, depending on the worker's age and time with his or her employer, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

That's a potentially disastrous turn of events, because the key to making the savings plans work is the hoped-for gains from long-term investing, not just the amount workers set aside.
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Road Salt Prices Skyrocket As Supplies Run Dry Nationwide
2008-11-16 16:29:26
Weeks before the first snowflakes fell on Hamilton County, Ohio, officials hunted far and wide for road salt. The only supplier that had some was in South America - priced nearly 300% above what the county paid last year.

"We did the only thing we could: Tell the public to drive slow," said Steve Mary, a county bridge and maintenance engineer.

With winter approaching, supplies of road salt across the U.S. are running extremely low. Prices are skyrocketing, and transportation officials are frantically trying to find ways to pay the bill at a time when their budgets are tightening.

"Companies are selling their stockpiles as quickly as they can produce it," said Dick Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, a trade association that represents owners of salt manufacturers in the United States and Canada. "No one can keep up."

The salt woes stem from fears that this year's winter storms could be as bad as last year's, which dropped record levels of snow in some parts of the country, said Hanneman.

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Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Pact With U.S.
2008-11-16 16:28:55
After months of painstaking negotiations between Baghdad and Washington, the Iraqi Cabinet on Sunday approved a bilateral agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in this country for three more years.

The accord still needs approval by Iraq's parliament, but the Cabinet vote indicated that most major Iraqi parties supported it. The Iraqi government spokesman portrayed the pact as closing the book on the occupation that began with the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

"The total withdrawal will be completed by Dec. 31, 2011. This is not governed by circumstances on the ground," the spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told Iraqi reporters, pointedly rejecting the more conditional language that the U.S. government had earlier sought in the accord.

American officials have pointed out that there is nothing stopping the next Iraqi government from asking some U.S. troops to stay on. The Iraqi military is years away from being able to defend the country from external attack, according to both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

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Greg Craig Selected As White House Counsel To Obama
2008-11-16 16:28:28
President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Washington lawyer Gregory B. Craig, who served as President Bill Clinton's lead attorney during the 1998 impeachment proceedings, to be his White House counsel, according to an individual involved with the transition.

Craig has been a longtime adviser to former president Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but became a close adviser to Obama during the campaign, reportedly serving as the stand-in for Sen. John McCain during debate preparations.

Transition officials declined to comment, and Craig did not return calls left on his machine.

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