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Obama pushes transportation spending

WASHINGTONThe Obama administration said Monday that it would ask the lame-duck Congress next month to approve a $50 billion down payment on his long-range initiative to improve the nation’s roads, railways and air systems and to find savings to offset that cost, suggesting a new urgency to create jobs after last week’s disappointing unemployment report.

President Barack Obama met at the White House with mayors, governors and current and former transportation secretaries of both parties to promote the infrastructure initiative, which he first proposed in September. Afterward, Ray LaHood, his transportation secretary and a former Republican congressman, told reporters that the lame-duck session would present an “upfront opportunity” to pass the $50 billion measure.

Before then, however, the midterm elections Nov. 2 are all but certain to expand the size of Obama’s Republican opposition for the new Congress that convenes in January.

China grows more wary of U.S. military in region

BEIJINGDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates met his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, in Vietnam on Monday for the first time since the two militaries suspended talks with each other last winter, calling for the two countries to prevent “mistrust, miscalculations and mistakes.”

His message seems directed mainly at officers like Lt. Cmdr. Tony Cao of the Chinese navy.

Days before Gates arrived in Asia, Cao was aboard a frigate in the Yellow Sea, conducting China’s first war games with the Australian navy, exercises to which, he noted pointedly, the Americans were not invited.

The Pentagon is worried that its increasingly tense relationship with the Chinese military owes itself in part to the rising leaders of Cao’s generation, who, much more than the country’s military elders, view the United States as the enemy.

Last month’s Yellow Sea maneuvers with Australia’s navy are but the most recent in a series of Chinese military excursions to places as diverse as New Zealand, Britain and Spain.

Hotels are sprucing up in a downturn

The hotel industry in the United States, still in the doldrums from the slowdown in leisure and business travel, is generally not taking on many major redesigns or other big projects. But there are exceptions.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide is planning guest room redesigns for its Sheraton and Westin brands. An announcement is expected on Tuesday.

And some top business travel hotels are undergoing total or major refurbishments in cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as London and Shanghai. Holiday Inn, a brand of the InterContinental Hotels Group, meanwhile, says it will complete its systemwide, top-to-bottom upgrading of all its hotels by December.

Starwood’s redesign plans will affect just 30 Sheratons and 11 Westins out of a total of 576 hotels worldwide next year, at an estimated cost of over $100 million.

Industry experts predicted that these and other refurbishments would continue to be unusual, perhaps for years.

Hotels mostly are franchised or managed, not owned, by companies like Starwood and Marriott, though the companies set standards for decor and service that hotel owners must maintain. The owners, not management companies, must pay for upkeep.