USA

Credit-card users demonstrated newfound restraint in the fourth quarter of 2008, TransUnion, a credit tracking agency, reported Monday. Americans behind 90 days or more in making payments on major cards fell from 1.36 percent from the previous year to 1.21 percent. On-time payments increased, and holiday balances rose less than 2 percent.

The motive for a gunman's mid-service slaying of the pastor of the sprawling First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., remained a mystery Monday, the day after an unidentified 27-year-old man opened fire at close range on the Rev. Fred Winters. The gunman reportedly pulled out a knife and slashed himself and two congregants before they wrestled him to the ground.

Bank closings "will continue to go up" this year, Sheila Bair, head of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., predicted Monday without speculating about the number or possible institutions involved. In any case, she said, the FDIC had enough money to do its job.

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With major flooding already forecast for selected Midwestern rivers and the spring rainy season approaching, local levee officials are questioning whether repairs made by the Army Corps of Engineers to earthen levees last year will hold. A corps spokesman said congressional approval is needed to rebuild levees bigger and wider. Since last year, when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, the corps has fixed breaches in 70 levees in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.

In Detroit, which is among the nation's foreclosure leaders, real estate investors, including some from overseas, are buying in bulk. The lure: at least 1,800 homes less than $10,000 that once were worth at least 10 times more. In some cases, they're sold for just $1.

Unprecedented volumes of volcanic sulfur dioxide fumes are threatening to shut down farms and nurseries on Hawaii's Big Island, where the emissions mix with sunlight and air to create smog. The Kilauea volcano has erupted continuously since 1983 but began releasing two to four times more gas last March.

A US Navy surveillance ship was harassed by five Chinese vessels while conducting "routine operations" in the South China Sea Sunday, the Pentagon said. The Chinese ships came within 25 feet of the USS Impeccable, which is operated by a civilian crew under a defense contract.

The number of US employees working part time who'd prefer full-time jobs has risen 76 percent over the last year to 8.6 million, according to the Labor Department.

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