Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bills, Fed rules on credit cards

A comparison of House and Senate legislative proposals with pending Federal Reserve regulations:


Takes effect a year after enactment, except for requirement of notice before interest rates are increased, which goes into effect in 90 days. The bill:

_ Prohibits double-cycle billing and "retroactive" interest rate hikes on previous balances.

_ Requires that customers receive 45 days notice before their interest rates are increased.

_ Bans the issuance of credit cards to anyone under 18. Sets underwriting standards for credit cards for college students, including limiting credit lines if there is no co-signer, and requiring proof of income and credit history.

_ Bans "pay-to-pay" fees, which are charged when someone pays their bill by phone or on the Internet.

_ Allows individuals to set a credit limit for themselves that cannot be exceeded. If a bank approves a purchase that pushes the consumer above their limit, the bank cannot charge a fee.


Takes effect nine months after enactment.

_Bans double-cycle billing and retroactive rate increases.

_Requires that customers receive 45 days notice before rates are increased.

_Bans the issuance of credit cards to people under 21 unless they show they can repay the debt or complete a certified financial literacy course.

_Bans "pay-to-pay" fees.

_Restricts over-the-limit fees to one each billing cycle.

_Prevents card issuers from changing any terms of a contract so long as the card holder pays on time.


Take effect in July 2010.

_ Require banks to give customers a reasonable time, such as 21 days, to pay their bill before it is considered late.

_ Require banks to give customers 45 days notice before raising interest rates on new purchases, even if the customer is late or delinquent in paying their account.

_ Prohibit, in most cases, retroactive rate increases.

_ Prohibit double-cycle billing.

_ Limit excessive fees charged on subprime credit cards, which are marketed to people with bad credit.


New Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Drop to 631K

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of newly laid-off workers signing up for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, but the number of people continuing to draw jobless aid rose to nearly 6.3 million, setting a record high for the 13th straight week.

Meanwhile, consumer spending fell more than expected in March while personal savings rose, fresh evidence that the economy is still struggling to emerge from the recession.

The Labor Department said Thursday that new applications for unemployment aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 631,000 last week. That was down from the prior week's 645,000, which was revised slightly higher from the government's initial estimate.

Economists had expected a small increase in new jobless claims.

The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims, which smooths out volatility, dropped last week to 637,250. That was the lowest level since late February and a decrease of about 20,000 from the high in early April. Goldman Sachs economists have said a decline of 30,000 to 40,000 in the four-week average is needed to signal a peak.

Still, the number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to more than 6.27 million, the highest on records dating back to 1967 and steeper than economists expected.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said consumer spending dropped 0.2 percent in March, worse than the 0.1 percent decline economists expected. Incomes, reflecting persistent mass layoffs, dropped 0.3 percent, also worse than expected.

The personal savings rate rose to 4.2 percent from 4 percent in February. It stood at 4.4 percent in January, the first time in more than a decade the rate has been above 4 percent for three straight months.

Households have been cutting back on spending and boosting savings during the recession, worried that they need to replenish depleted nest eggs as job cuts mount and investment values plunge.

The fact that spending turned negative in March after two straight gains is a worrisome sign. Consumer spending in the first quarter grew at a 2.2 percent annual rate after two consecutive quarters of declines, but some analysts said that may be just a blip. Economists closely watch consumer spending because it accounts for 70 percent of total economic activity.

New jobless filers -- as opposed to those who remain on the unemployment compensation rolls -- also are closely tracked by economists for clues about the future direction of the economy. Analysts want to see a sustained decline in new applications as a sign of improved conditions.

Although last week's drop in new claims was welcome, the level remains elevated and signals a troubled jobs market. The labor market usually doesn't recover until well after a recession has ended. That's because companies won't want to ramp up hiring until they feel certain any recovery has staying power.

The record number of continued claims suggests that many laid-off workers are having trouble finding new jobs.

As a proportion of the work force, the total jobless benefit rolls are the highest since late December 1982. The continuing claims data lag initial claims data by a week.

Besides the continued claims, the report said there were 2.4 million people receiving benefits, as of April 11, under an extended unemployment compensation program enacted by Congress last year. That provides an additional 20 to 33 weeks on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states.

Workers and companies have been hard hit by the recession, which began in December 2007. It has snatched 5.1 million jobs and pushed the unemployment rate to a quarter-century high of 8.5 percent. It is expected to top 10 percent by early next year before it starts to slowly drift downward.

Companies have laid off workers and resorted to other cost-saving measures to survive the recession, which has eaten into sales and profits.

More job losses were announced this week. Textron Inc. said it will expand layoffs, eliminating 8,300 jobs, or 20 percent, of its global work force as the recession weakens demand for corporate planes. The maker of Cessna planes, Bell helicopters and turf-maintenance equipment earlier this year said it would reduce its work force by 6,200 jobs, or 15 percent, mostly at Wichita, Kansas-based Cessna.

Elsewhere, General Motors Corp. laid out a massive restructuring plan that includes cutting 21,000 U.S. factory jobs by next year. Clear Channel Communications Inc., the largest owner of U.S. radio stations, said it's cutting 590 jobs in its second round of mass layoffs this year. And bearings and specialty steels maker Timken Co. indicated it will cut about 4,000 more jobs by the end of this year after earlier suggesting about 3,000 jobs already had been targeted.

Still, many analysts predict the recession is easing in the current quarter.

Paying a Price for Loving Red Meat


There was a time when red meat was a luxury for ordinary Americans, or was at least something special: cooking a roast for Sunday dinner, ordering a steak at a restaurant. Not anymore. Meat consumption has more than doubled in the United States in the last 50 years.

Now a new study of more than 500,000 Americans has provided the best evidence yet that our affinity for red meat has exacted a hefty price on our health and limited our longevity.

The study found that, other things being equal, the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of our two leading killers, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods.

Results of the decade-long study were published in the March 23 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, directed by Rashmi Sinha, a nutritional epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, involved 322,263 men and 223,390 women ages 50 to 71 who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Each participant completed detailed questionnaires about diet and other habits and characteristics, including smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, education, use of supplements, weight and family history of cancer.

Determining Risk

During the decade, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died, and the researchers kept track of the timing and reasons for each death. Red meat consumption ranged from a low of less than an ounce a day, on average, to a high of four ounces a day, and processed meat consumption ranged from at most once a week to an average of one and a half ounces a day.

The increase in mortality risk tied to the higher levels of meat consumption was described as “modest,” ranging from about 20 percent to nearly 40 percent. But the number of excess deaths that could be attributed to high meat consumption is quite large given the size of the American population.

Extrapolated to all Americans in the age group studied, the new findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats, according to estimates prepared by Dr. Barry Popkin, who wrote an editorial accompanying the report.

To prevent premature deaths related to red and processed meats, Dr. Popkin suggested in an interview that people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week.

In place of red meat, nonvegetarians might consider poultry and fish. In the study, the largest consumers of “white” meat from poultry and fish had a slight survival advantage. Likewise, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables also tended to live longer.

Anyone who worries about global well-being has yet another reason to consume less red meat. Dr. Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, said that a reduced dependence on livestock for food could help to save the planet from the ravaging effects of environmental pollution, global warming and the depletion of potable water.

“In the United States,” Dr. Popkin wrote, “livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.”

Finding a Culprit

A question that arises from observational studies like this one is whether meat is in fact a hazard or whether other factors associated with meat-eating are the real culprits in raising death rates. The subjects in the study who ate the most red meat had other less-than-healthful habits. They were more likely to smoke, weigh more for their height, and consume more calories and more total fat and saturated fat. They also ate less fruits, vegetables and fiber; took fewer vitamin supplements; and were less physically active.

But in analyzing mortality data in relation to meat consumption, the cancer institute researchers carefully controlled for all these and many other factors that could influence death rates. The study data have not yet been analyzed to determine what, if any, life-saving benefits might come from eating more protein from vegetable sources like beans or a completely vegetarian diet.

The results mirror those of several other studies in recent years that have linked a high-meat diet to life-threatening health problems. The earliest studies highlighted the connection between the saturated fats in red meats to higher blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol and subsequent heart disease, which prompted many people to eat leaner meats and more skinless poultry and fish. Along with other dietary changes, like consuming less dairy fat, this resulted in a nationwide drop in average serum cholesterol levels and contributed to a reduction in coronary death rates.

Elevated blood pressure, another coronary risk factor, has also been shown to be associated with eating more red and processed meat, Dr. Sinha and colleagues reported.

Poultry and fish contain less saturated fat than red meat, and fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked in several large studies to heart benefits. For example, men who consume two servings of fatty fish a week were found to have a 50 percent lower risk of cardiac deaths, and in the Nurses’ Health Study of 84,688 women, those who ate fish and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least once a week cut their coronary risk by more than 20 percent.

Ties to Cancer

Choosing protein from sources other than meat has also been linked to lower rates of cancer. When meat is cooked, especially grilled or broiled at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat. And processed meats like sausages, salami and bologna usually contain nitrosamines, although there are products now available that are free of these carcinogens.

Data from one million participants in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition trial found that those who ate the least fish had a 40 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer than those who ate more than 1.75 ounces of fish a day. Likewise, while a diet high in red meat was linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in the large Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, among the 35,534 men in the study, those who consumed at least three servings of fish a week had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer compared with men who rarely ate fish.

Another study, which randomly assigned more than 19,500 women to a low-fat diet, found after eight years a 40 percent reduced risk of ovarian cancer among them, when compared with 29,000 women who ate their regular diets.


The bronze to Congresswoman MICHELE BACHMANN.

We‘re all laughing at her historical gaffe about Jimmy Carter and swine flu.
It turned out she topped herself on the floor of the House.

The Carter gaffe first, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under a Democrat President Jimmy Carter. And I‘m not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it is an interesting coincidence.”

Yes, the swine outbreak was in February 1976 when Republican Gerald Ford was president 11 months before Carter was inaugurated. But on the same day, she pulled this whopper, “FDR applied the opposite formula, the Hoot-Smawley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions and then, of course, trade barriers and the regulatory burden and taxpayers. That‘s what we saw happen under FDR. The American people suffered for almost 10 years under that kind of thinking.”

Seriously, congresswoman, you are a buffoon. Smoot-Hawley, not Hoot-Smawley. It was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. And not only was it passed in 1930, three years before Franklin Roosevelt became president, but it was written by two Republicans, Sen. Reed Smoot and Congressman Willis Hawley. It was signed into law by a Republican President Herbert Hoover over the pleading of all the economists and big bankers, even the head of J.P. Morgan, and it was repealed under FDR in 1934.

I know, I know, congresswoman. You weren‘t paying attention in history class in high school. You were too busy going to the movies. But it was in the movies, in “Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off” where Ben Stein, the economics teacher, asked his class, “Anyone? Anyone?” where anyone raise or lowered. He was asking about the Smoot-Hawley Act. Hoot-Smawley. Hoot-Smawley.

We let this woman vote on actual pieces of legislation. But it‘s worse that that. We let her drive a car. Hoot-Smawley.


The Audit Bureau reports the average American daily news paper lost just over seven percent of its circulation during the last six months compared to a year ago. Some did better, some did worse. The circulation of the “L.A. Times” dropped 6.6 percent. That of the “New York Times” dropped 3.6 percent.

But the biggest loss in the top 25 market - Murdoch‘s “New York Post.” Circulation is down 20.5 percent. This other piece of the Murdoch empire, the cornerstone of the reactionary, the jerk, half-fiction racist, xenophobic, retaliatory conservative media and one out of every five readers has vanished, three times as fast as “New York Times” readers.

How can the stockholders of News Corp. continue to indulge Rupert Murdoch‘s personal political agenda, vanity press? How can the folks not stand up and say, “Rupert, you owe me money.”

But our winner, and this is the most despicable thing said on the floor of the House in decades.
This feature is Congresswoman VIRGINIA FOXX
from the fifth district of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, arguing against the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill.


REP. VIRGINIA FOXX,NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSWOMAN: The hate crimes bill that is called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed. But we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn‘t because he was gay. The bill was named for him. The hate crimes bill was named for him. But it is really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills. (end clip)

KEITH OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Foxx you are the only hoax here. One of Matthew Shepard‘s killers admitted under oath that he knew he was gay, that they lured him from a bar by pretending to be gay themselves. Then they robbed him, pistol-whipped him, fractured his skull, tortured him with sharp implements and they tied him to a fence post in rural Wyoming. He was not found for 18 hours.

There is no excuse for Congresswoman Foxx‘s remarks. She is, at best, callous, insensitive, criminally misinformed. At worst, she is a bold-faced liar. And if there is a spark of a human being in there somewhere, she should either immediately retract and apologize for her stupid and hurtful words, or she should resign her seat in the House.

She is not worthy to represent this country nor any of its parties nor any of its peoples. She is our shame. And adding to our shame, she said all that as Matthew Shepard‘s mother sat in the House gallery. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, fifth district of North Carolina, today‘s worst person in the world.

President Reflects on First 3 Months in Office

Obama Emphasizes Sharp Departures From Bush Policies

One hundred days into his term, President Obama used a pair of public events Wednesday to chart how far he has steered the country from the course set by the Bush administration, saying, "We are off to a good start, but it is just a start."

Capitalizing on the heightened public attention surrounding the milestone, Obama said his early achievements include setting a timeline to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq -- a war he inherited from President George W. Bush -- and moving quickly to remake an economy suffering as a result of irresponsible borrowing during Bush's tenure.

But his most pointed comments during a day that included a prime-time news conference at the White House and a town-hall forum in Missouri involved his decision to ban waterboarding and other abusive interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration for use against terrorism suspects.

Last night, Obama flatly called those techniques "torture" and said the practice "corrodes the character of a country."

He said the "public justification" of those methods, including assertions by former vice president Richard B. Cheney that they helped save American lives, "doesn't answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"

"This is a decision that I'm very comfortable with," Obama said. "And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy."

Obama appeared relaxed and reflective throughout the news conference, the third of his presidency, and he struck a reassuring tone on issues as diverse as the widening swine flu crisis and the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. With nearly seven in 10 Americans approving of his performance, according to polling, Obama spoke more personally than he has before on issues such as abortion and the surprises he has encountered since taking office.

He said he is encouraged that two large U.S. carmakers will remain in business. He said he is "confident" that Pakistan's military has a secure hold on its nuclear arsenal even as he acknowledged that he is "gravely concerned" about the stability of that country's government in the face of Taliban gains. And twice he detailed the precautions people should take to avoid exposure to swine flu -- wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, don't go to work if you feel sick.

"I know it sounds trivial," Obama said, "but it makes a huge difference."

Obama spent his 100th day in office in much the same way he spent the previous 99 -- in the public eye. He began the day welcoming Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, bringing it closer to a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and ended it with the news conference.

In between, Obama traveled to Missouri, a state he narrowly lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year's election. At a boisterous town-hall meeting in Arnold, a distant suburb of St. Louis, Obama said, "We have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and we've begun the work of remaking America."

"I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but I'm not satisfied," Obama told the cheering crowd at Fox Senior High School. "I'm confident in the future, but I'm not content with the present."

The celebratory atmosphere of Obama's day, however, was disturbed by a Commerce Department report showing that the U.S. economy contracted at an annualized rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter..

But economists said that although the economic retreat was precipitous, there are signs that the bottom of the 16-month-old recession is in sight. U.S. credit markets, home prices and consumer spending are showing signs of improvement, and payments from the government's $787 billion stimulus plan are beginning to flow into the economy.

Obama used the town-hall meeting, and his news conference last night, to highlight elements of his long-term plan to build a sustainable economy. Congress yesterday easily approved a $3.4 trillion spending plan, which passed the House by a vote of 233 to 193 and the Senate 53 to 43.

The spending plan includes money for such domestic priorities as expanding health-care coverage, improving the quality of and access to all stages of public education, and developing an alternative energy industry. But Republicans and some conservative Democrats have criticized Obama, saying he has failed to identify ways to pay for his expensive initiatives over the long term, potentially ballooning the national debt in the years to come.

At the town hall, the president responded sharply to the criticism, saying, "I know you've been hearing all these arguments about, oh, Obama is just spending crazy, look at these huge trillion-dollar deficits, blah, blah, blah."

"Well, let me make a point," he said. "Number one, we inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit -- that wasn't me. Number two, there is almost uniform consensus among economists that in the middle of the biggest . . . financial crisis since the Great Depression, we had to take extraordinary steps."

He added, "We are going to have to tighten our belts, but we're going to have to do it in an intelligent way, and we've got to make sure the people who are helped are working American families."

During the news conference, Obama said he was most surprised "by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time." And he said he was most "sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises."

"I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a time-out on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year and then we can start running for something next year," he said. "And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked."

Asked about abortion, Obama made clear that he does not intend to push Congress to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate state and local restrictions on abortion. Some students at the University of Notre Dame are protesting his selection as their commencement speaker because of his support for abortion rights, and he explained his thinking on the issue last night.

"I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations," he said. "I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with."

He continued: "The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy."

Obama said he is optimistic about the future of the U.S. auto industry, a month after he rejected the restructuring plans of Chrysler and General Motors as inadequate to justify more government money. He said he is "more hopeful than I was 30 days ago that we can see a resolution that maintains a viable Chrysler auto company out there" after merging with the Italian automaker Fiat, a deal that seems likely to go through.

Asked what he intends to do as the chief shareholder of some of largest U.S. companies, Obama insisted playfully that he has no desire to run anything other than the country.

"I've got two wars I've got to run already," he said. "I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be."

Obama also used the opportunity to counter criticism that he is intent on using the economic crisis to expand government authority deep into the private sector and preserve it over the long term. "I'm always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, 'Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government,' " he said. "No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us."

Michael D. Shear, Michael A. Fletcher and Scott Wilson
Washington Post