– July 30, 2014

Scientists charged in seed-theft conspiracy

(AP) — Seeds may not look impressive, but in the world of agricultural research, they can mean big money.

This week, federal prosecutors unveiled charges in two cases involving defendants from China accused of conspiring to steal seeds for commercial espionage.

A detention hearing is set to get underway Friday in Little Rock for one of two agricultural scientists from China accused of conspiring to take seeds from a research facility in Kansas and pass them to a Chinese delegation visiting the United States.

Prosecutors said Wengui Yan and Weiqiang Zhang arranged for a Chinese delegation to visit the U.S. this year and that customs agents found stolen seeds in the delegation's luggage before the group flew back to China.

Yan, of Stuttgart, Ark., and Zhang, of Manhattan, Kan., are charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. Zhang's hearing is set for Tuesday in Kansas. Attorneys for the men didn't immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Friday.

Also this week, prosecutors in Iowa said six men from China including the CEO of a seed corn subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate have been charged with conspiring to steal patented seed corn from two of America's leading seed developers.

It wasn't immediately clear if the cases in Kansas and Iowa are related. But seed developers spend millions of dollars a years to develop new varieties and carefully protect them against theft to maintain a competitive advantage.

Yan worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a research geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Arkansas, and Zhang worked as an agricultural seed breeder for a biopharmaceutical company that has a production facility in Junction City, Kan., according to a court document filed Thursday in Kansas.

Prosecutors only identified the business where Zhang worked as Company A, but said the business invested about $75 million in technology used to create seeds.

"If this technology was compromised or the seeds were stolen, Company A believes its entire research and development investment would be compromised," an FBI special agent wrote in a court document.

Zhang allegedly took seeds that his employer had grown and kept them at his home in Kansas. Someone at the crop research institute in China contacted Yan about plans for a delegation to visit the U.S., according to court documents.

Yan and Zhang arranged for the delegation to come this year, and when it was preparing to fly back to China, customs agents found a number of seeds in their luggage, according to court documents.

Some were in envelopes while others were lodged in makeshift containers, including a newspaper page that had been folded in the shape of an envelope, according to the documents.

If convicted, Zhang and Yan could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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Written on 07/29/2014, 1:43 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The stock market is ending with a modest loss as investors wait for a series of big economic reports later in the week.
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:41 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stronger-than-expected results pushed Twitter's stock sharply higher on Tuesday after the short messaging service said its revenue more than doubled in the second quarter. The San Francisco-based company's stock jumped 29.6 percent to $50.01 in extended trading after the results came out. Twitter posted a net loss of $144.6 million, or 24 cents per share, in the April-June period. That compares with a loss of $42.2 million, or 32 cents per share, a year earlier when Twitter was still a private company. Adjusted earnings were 2 cents per share in the latest quarter, beating analysts' expectations of a loss of 1 cent, according to FactSet. Revenue was $312.2 million, up from $139.3 million. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting revenue of $283.3 million. Average monthly users were 271 million as of the end of June, up 24 percent from a year earlier and up 6 percent from the end of March. Mobile advertising revenue was $224 million, or 81 percent of the quarter's total ad revenue. In the first quarter, mobile ad revenue amounted to about 80 percent of total ad revenue. Twitter went public last November, setting a price of $26 per share for its stock, which then soared amid hungry investor demand. The stock peaked in December at $74.73 and then declined sharply.
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:35 pm by 
Mae Anderson, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Think you're in control? Think again. OKCupid on Monday became the latest company to admit that it has manipulated customer data to see how users of its dating service would react to one another. The New York-based Internet company's revelation follows news earlier this month that Facebook let researchers change news feeds to see how it would affect users' moods. The fact is, big companies use customers as unwitting guinea pigs all the time —online and in the real world. OKCupid's claim, that its research was aimed at improving its services, is common. But some find that manipulating situations in order to study consumer behavior without consent raises troubling privacy concerns. "Every company is trying to influence consumers to purchase their product or feel a particular way about their company," says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "The question is, when is it manipulation, when consumers are in some ways tricked, and when is it just influence?" In a blog post on Monday OKCupid founder Christian Rudder detailed the experimentation: The company removed text or photos from profiles and in some cases told people they were a 90 percent match with another date-seeker instead of a 30 percent match. Rudder was unapologetic and said the results are being used to improve the sites' algorithms. "If you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site," Rudder wrote. "That's how websites work." Facebook's recent disclosure set off a firestorm on social media services and in the press. During one week in January 2012, the company let researchers manipulate 689,000 users' news feeds to be either more positive or negative to study how the changes affected their moods. But Internet companies aren't the only ones studying unsuspecting customers. Retailers have been at it for decades. Brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants have long used data drawn from customer loyalty programs, satisfaction surveys and exit interviews, to figure out how to best target consumers. For example, Darden, which operates the Olive Garden, analyzes customers' checks to see what types of dishes people tend to combine. The restaurant chain also analyses how long customers wait for a table. Darden says the research, along with customer surveys, helps the company improve the customer experience. "We collect all sorts of information about any interaction we have with guests to understand who our customers are, and who is visiting the restaurant," says Chris Chang, senior vice president of technology strategy at Darden. While Darden's methods are considered traditional, retailers are beginning to use more high tech ways to study consumer behavior too. Alex and Ani, a New York-based jewelry and accessories maker that runs its own stores and also sells goods at department stores nationwide, works with technology company Prism Skylabs to use data taken from video footage create so-called "heat maps." Using video they can track how customers flow through the store, and rearrange displays and move them to places where customers linger. That's just one piece of data the jewelry company uses, says Ryan Bonifacino, vice president of digital strategy. Once the company has the traffic patterns, they also evaluate timestamps on receipts and other point-of-sale information in an effort to create a profile of what types of people are shopping in the store and customize products to them. "It's not about one individual coming into a store, it's about understanding the journey" of customers as a group, Bonifacino says. Another example is Forest City, a Cleveland-based real estate developer, which operates malls around the country. The company works with U.K. firm Path Intelligence to identify shopper patterns through mobile phone movements. The system uses cellular data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Forest City emphasizes that it does not collect personal data or any data that could be used to identify an individual shopper. The company has used the data to determine whether it should move an escalator in one mall to make the flow of traffic more efficient. Another time they were able to tell a retailer whether they should change locations or not. "In the past, we would have used a gut feeling or anecdotal evidence, more low-tech ways to determine whether or not we should move the escalator," says Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president digital strategy. The use of "big data" and other ways to study consumers are likely to get more pervasive. The key to conducting studies without sparking outrage — both online and offline — is transparency, says marketing expert Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates. "Big data is everywhere, and people know that and are willing to deal with it," he says. "If you tell consumers this is what you're doing to make sure you're meeting their needs and be able to offer the right merchandise, they're usually accepting and understand." That's true for Lucas Miller, 24, of Phoenix, who wasn't fazed when OKCupid disclosed its experiments. "In terms of tracking behavior, I'm far less worried about for-profit companies doing it than I am about the government," he says.
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:29 pm by 
(AP) — Audra McDonald has propelled her new Broadway show into profitability. Producers of the play "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" said Tuesday that they have recouped their $2.6 million initial investment. In the show, McDonald portrays Billie Holiday in one of her last concerts, offering stories and performing about a dozen of Holiday's best-known songs, including "God Bless the Child," ''What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Strange Fruit." In June, McDonald won her sixth Tony Award for the role, making her the awards' most decorated actress and the only woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories. Other recent Broadway shows that have recouped include "Of Mice and Men," ''All the Way" and "The Glass Menagerie."___Online:
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:28 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Biologic drugmaker Amgen plans to lay off 12 percent to 15 percent of its worldwide workforce and close sites in Colorado and Washington state to fund investments, particularly launching new drugs. The layoffs will happen this year and next, eliminating 2,400 to 2,900 jobs, mostly in the U.S. Amgen, which announced strong second-quarter results Tuesday, said it will streamline the company, reduce management layers and reduce its real estate footprint by 23 percent. The company, based in Thousand Oaks, California, anticipates charges of $775 million to $950 million, mostly in 2014 and 2015. It expects modest 2015 savings, but expense reductions in 2016 of about $700 million, versus 2013. Most savings will be reinvested, including expanding operations in the biotech hubs of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and South San Francisco, California.
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:26 pm by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's says it has been notified by a labor regulator that it can be named a "joint employer" for workers in its franchisee-owned restaurants. The decision by the National Labor Relations Board was being closely watched because it could potentially expose McDonald's to liability for the working conditions and practices in its franchisees' stores. It also puts pressure on the world's biggest hamburger chain at a time when protests for higher wages in the fast-food industry have captured national attention. McDonald's and other fast-food companies have repeatedly said they are not responsible for determining wages and other terms at their franchised locations. In the U.S., the vast majority of McDonald's more than 14,000 restaurants are owned and operated by franchisees. The same is true for many other companies, including Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. The companies make money by collecting royalty and sales fees from franchisees. Labor organizers say McDonald's should be held accountable as a joint employer because the company has so much control in setting the terms of operations even at its franchised locations, such as what menus, supplies, uniforms and training materials are used. The matter has come under the spotlight as fast-food worker groups backed by the Service Employees International Union have agitated for pay of $15 an hour and the right to unionize since late 2012. Representatives for the National Labor Relations Board and the fast-food workers group weren't immediately available for comment. In March, lawsuits seeking class-action status against McDonald's and its franchisees were filed in three states, saying they engage in a variety of illegal practices to avoid paying workers what they're owed. The suits detail a range of labor violations, including the denial of rest breaks and the use of company software that monitors the ratio of labor costs as a percentage of sales at its restaurants. When that ratio climbs above a target, workers were forced to wait around before they could clock in, according to the suits. McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, has said it would investigate the claims.Heather Smedstad, senior vice president of human resources for McDonald's USA, says the company was notified by the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in New York about the decision on Tuesday. She said McDonald's plans to contest the decision and that it doesn't direct the hiring, termination, wages or hours for workers at franchised locations. She said McDonald's has never been determined to be a joint employer in the past. "This is such a radical departure that it should be a concern to business men and women across the country," Smedstad said. The International Franchise Association, which represents franchisees, has also opposed the identification of McDonald's as a joint employer. The group also recently filed a lawsuit in Seattle challenging whether fast-food and other franchisees should be treated like large employers, thus subjecting them to a new $15 minimum wage at an earlier date than smaller businesses. "If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build," the International Franchise Association said in a statement.
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:07 pm by Business Journal staff
Tulare County businesses are encouraged to take part in a window decorating contest with stakes including free newspaper advertising. The Tulare County Fair is sponsoring the contest, and asking downtown merchants in Tulare, Visalia and Exeter to decorate their shop windows according to this year's fair theme, "Farms, Food, Family and Fun." Applications for the contest are due by Aug. 6, with the competition running from Aug. 14-28. Judging takes place Aug. 29. One winner will be chosen from Exeter, Tulare and Visalia, with one overall winner to be chosen to receive free advertising in the Visalia-Times Delta/Tulare Advance-Register newspaper. “The purpose of this contest is to involve our communities in the Tulare County Fair in a new way,” said Pamela Fyock, CEO of the Tulare County Fair in a statement. “We hope merchants will have fun with the theme and the winners will enjoy free promotion through our community newspapers.” In addition to the judges’ decision, shoppers can vote for their People’s Choice favorite online at The fair takes place Sept. 10-14, with musical performance from Metalachi on Sept. 10; Morris Day and The Time on Sept. 11; Eddie Money on Sept. 12; JT Hodges on Sept. 13 and Tower of Power on Sept. 14. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. and are free with paid admission. For tickets and information, visit
Written on 07/29/2014, 11:29 am by Business Journal staff
A veteran Fresno State professor and administrator has been named as Fresno State's new vice provost. Dr. Dennis Nef replaces his new boss, Provost Lynnette Zelezny, in the position, previously known as associate provost. Fresno State President Joseph Castro appointed Zelezny as new provost and vice president of academic affairs last month. Nef will serve as Zelezny's top assistant, with responsibilities including leadership on the academic affairs budget and operations, technology, accreditation, grants and faculty development, Zelezny said. “Dr. Nef  brings significant experience in academic affairs, including service as an interim provost. He also has deep roots in agriculture as an agricultural economist,” Zelezny said in a statement. “He exemplifies unquestioned integrity, a stellar work ethic and has the trust of the faculty, staff and students at Fresno State.” Nef served as interim provost for five months in 2009. He joined the Fresno State faculty in 1983, previously a professor of the ag college. He has been serving as associate vice president and dean of Undergraduate Studies since August 2003. Nef holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Brigham Young University, and M.S. (Utah State) and Ph.D. (Iowa State) degrees in agricultural economics.
Written on 07/29/2014, 10:21 am by SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
(AP) — A California man who was charged after refusing treatment for his tuberculosis was found and arrested, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Eduardo Rosas Cruz, 25, was arrested late Monday in Kern County, San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said. Before Rosas Cruz can be sent back to San Joaquin County, he has to be medically cleared, which could take weeks, Taylor said. Authorities last week obtained an arrest warrant for Rosas Cruz, saying he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in March after going to San Joaquin General Hospital's emergency room with a severe cough. Medical staff at the hospital told him to stay in a Stockton motel room, where a health worker would deliver his medication and watch him take it. But officials say he left. Rosas Cruz is a transient and comes from an area of Mexico known for a drug-resistant strain of TB, authorities said. He was arrested on the San Joaquin County warrant during a traffic stop in Lamont, a community about 15 miles southeast of Bakersfield, said Ray Pruitt, a spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office. Officers took him to the Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. TB can spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease can be deadly. Taylor said the goal of prosecuting a tuberculosis patient through the criminal courts is not to punish him, but to protect the public. He said Rosas Cruz refused to cooperate with officials. "When somebody has behaved like this, it's time to go in-patient," Taylor said. In court papers filed in support of the warrant, public health officials said Rosas Cruz resisted treatment from the start. He also used crack cocaine and methamphetamine, officials said, adding that he could develop the drug-resistant strain if he hasn't already. By law, health officials can't force a patient to be treated for tuberculosis, but officials can use the courts to isolate him from the public. That is when officials offer treatment.
Written on 07/29/2014, 10:19 am by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
(AP) — Along much of America's coasts, the type of flooding that is more annoying than dangerous has jumped more than fivefold in the last 50 years, the federal government reported Monday. Scientists blame rising seas, saying this is one of the ways global warming is changing everyday lives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied coastal trends in what it calls nuisance flooding, where no one is hurt but people have to deal with flooded roads and buildings. While scientists and the public spend a lot of time dealing with giant events, such as a hurricane, it is minor floods that people feel more often, though not as severely, said NOAA's Margaret Davidson. "It's the stuff that keeps you from conducting your business or picking up your kids from school," Davidson said. "It is clear that changing climate and weather patterns will cause us to be increasingly inconvenienced and challenged in our everyday lives." Oceanographer William Sweet looked at coastal sites across the nation, focusing on 25 places with records that go back beyond 1950. Fifty years ago the 25 sites averaged about 2.5 days of minor flooding a year. Now those places average about 14 days a year. All 25 of those locations saw increases in the number of minor flood days; 22 of them saw more than doubling of nuisance flooding since the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those 25 cities have also seen sea level rise nearly half a foot since 1963. The biggest increases are in the mid-Atlantic region. Charleston, South Carolina, San Francisco and Port Isabel, Texas, also showed more than four-fold increases in flooding. Annapolis, Maryland, had the biggest percentage increase. From 1957 to 1963 it averaged 3.6 minor flood days a year; now it averages more than 39 a year. In 2011, Maryland's capital had 66 minor flood days. University of Maryland environmental scientist Donald Boesch, who wasn't part of the report, said this type of event is probably more meaningful to people than the bigger and less frequent storms. He noted that sea level has risen about 8 inches in Annapolis since 1971. "Simply stated, the cause of the increase in inundation frequency is sea level rise attributable to global warming," Boesch said in an email. Sweet said sinking land and building construction are factors in the increased flooding, but not nearly as much as rising seas. "It's going to become the new normal," Sweet said. "That is how we can identify with the impacts of sea level rise." Sweet looked at increase nuisance flooding in Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; New London, Connecticut; Battery Park, Kings Point, and Montauk, New York; Atlantic City and Sandy Hook, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Lewes, Delaware; Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland; Washington; Norfolk, Virginia; Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Pulaski, Georgia; Fernandina Beach, Key West and Mayport, Florida; Port Isabel, Texas; La Jolla, California; San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu. ___Online:NOAA report:

Latest State News

Written on 07/29/2014, 1:41 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stronger-than-expected results...
Written on 07/29/2014, 1:28 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Biologic drugmaker Amgen plans...
Written on 07/29/2014, 10:19 am by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
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Written on 07/29/2014, 10:17 am by GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writer
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Latest National News

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