– March 2, 2015

Workshop to take systems approach to bullet train

High-speed rail will get technical on April 7 during a workshop sponsored by the Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State for engineers, construction managers and policy makers interested in the California project.

The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the University Business Center with a coffee social, followed by a workshop covering topics like the origin and evolution of high-speed rail, successful systems in Asia and Europe and technical considerations like electrification, maintenance facilities and signaling and traffic control.

The workshop will be presented by Eduardo Romo, an international expert in railways systems, and Jorge Sanchez, a 19-year veteran in civil engineering in rail, transit and roadway projects.

Following that, the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County and Precision Civil Engineering will present a panel of experts at 3:15 p.m. to talk about the technical accomplishments with California's high-speed rail project to date.

Panel guest Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, will also share his outlook for the future of the system. He will be joined by Fresno State President Joseph Castro and several industry experts who are currently working on the project.

Seating is limited so those interested in attending the event are urged to register soon at The cost is $295 and includes lunch, refreshments and workshop materials. More information can be found by contacting the Lyles College of Engineering at (559) 278-2500.

The event is being co-sponsored by the Division of Continuing and Global Education at Fresno State.

The Lyles College of Engineering will hold another workshop on April 21 to discuss the implementation process of high-speed rail from planning to operation. Another one covering the design and construction of high-speed rail will be announced at a later date.

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(AP) — The Nasdaq composite index is closing above 5,000 for the first time since the dot-com bubble peaked 15 years ago.
Written on 03/02/2015, 1:14 pm by Business Journal staff
The California Department of Water Resources announced a slight bump in the amount of water that will be delivered this year to State Water Project customers. Storms in mid-December and early February mean water deliveries will increase by an additional 204,000 acre-feet, bumping the state's allocation from 15 to 20 percent for total deliveries of 840,000 acre-feet. There are 29 public water agencies that take delivery of State Water Project resources, and the agencies requests add up to 4.1 million acre-feet of water. A 20-percent allocation would be the second-lowest since 1991 when agricultural customers got a zero allocation and municipal customers received 30 percent.  
Written on 03/02/2015, 1:00 pm by LISA LEFF, Associated Press
(AP) — University of California admissions officers are sifting through a record number of applications, but they have no idea how many new students they can enroll. The uncertainty stems from the very public clash between university President Janet Napolitano and Gov. Jerry Brown over the state's role in underwriting the cost of a UC education for qualified Californians. Arguing that Sacramento has failed to fulfill its fiscal obligations, Napolitano plans to raise tuition 5 percent this fall and expand undergraduate enrollment by 3,000 — one-third of the slots for Californians and two-thirds for students from abroad and out-of-state. The governor, for his part, is threatening to withhold about $120 million in state funds unless the university keeps both its tuition rates and non-resident enrollment flat. Their competing visions — along with additional plans by top lawmakers — have thrown off the tenuous mechanics of the admissions cycle. Campus officials still are waiting to find out what their overall enrollments are expected to be, a figure they use to calculate how many new students they can accept and then what proportion will be state residents subsidized by taxpayers, system spokeswoman Dianne Klein said. "Campuses are in a really tough position. We don't have a state budget, so we don't know what the state will provide to the university, and at the same time we have a responsibility to reply to applicants," Klein said. "How is that going to translate? Is it going to be admitting fewer students? Is it going to be putting more students on the wait list ... ? It will not be admitting more students than we reasonably know we have funding for." The rapidly growing nonresident enrollment is a flashpoint in budget negotiations. Between 2008 and this year, in response to recession-induced budget cuts and what the university says has been insufficient funding to support more in-state students, the share of nonresident undergraduates more than doubled system-wide while in-state enrollment grew by about 1 percent. "That is a disparity that every California taxpayer is concerned about, that triple-digit difference," Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, a newly elected Republican from Dublin, California, and mother of twins, told the university's chief financial officer during a recent hearing. At Berkeley and Los Angeles, students from other states and countries make up about one in five undergraduates. They account for one in seven at UC San Diego and nearly one in 10 at the Davis, Irvine and Santa Barbara campuses. Officials insist they would happily serve more students from California if the state gave them more money, and they point out that UCLA and UC Berkeley have far fewer non-resident students than public colleges such as University of Michigan and University of Virginia. They also say the $640 million in nonresident tuition campuses have generated this year has allowed them to offer more classes and maintain programs benefiting all students. Nonresidents pay $22,878 on top of the $12,192 in tuition and fees for residents. "It has become an important part of how we meet our budgets," UC Provost Aimee Dorr told the university's governing board last month. The assurances have done little to persuade residents that their children are not being frozen out of an affordable, quality education close to home — a belief that has students heading out of California for colleges that are easier to get into and less crowded, said Peggy Hock, president of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling. Hock, who works at a private school near Stanford University, also worries that smaller UC campuses, which enroll the highest percentages of black and Latino undergraduates but currently attract fewer non-residents, are getting short-changed because individual schools get to keep the supplemental tuition paid by their international and out-of-state students. "We are creating a system of haves and have-nots and exacerbating the perceived pecking order," she said. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, both Democrats like Brown and Napolitano, have proposed raising the tuition surcharge on non-residents by $4,000 and $5,000 respectively next year to stave off tuition increases for Californians and increase the seats available for them. Fabienne Roth, a UCLA junior from Switzerland who is active in student government, said students like her have become a convenient target. "I've definitely been told, 'Why are you studying here? Go home,' " Roth said. "They are putting non-residents against residents, and what is frustrating is it doesn't fundamentally solve the issue of funding UC. It's just an easy way out."
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:33 pm by 
JACK GILLUM, Associated Press
(AP) — Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock billed taxpayers at least three times for more than $14,000 in private air travel last fall, including for a trip to a Chicago Bears football game, The Associated Press has learned. The newly revealed expenses encompass plane travel around Illinois and to Washington. They add to the list of more than a dozen flights worth $40,000 aboard planes owned by donors, which led to a formal ethics complaint. Schock, a 33-year-old rising Republican star, has been under scrutiny for using congressional funds to redecorate his Capitol Hill office in the style of the TV show "Downton Abbey." Last week, his office said he made good on his promise of personally reimbursing those costs. Congressional rules updated two years ago generally allow the use of private aircraft as long as trips are fairly compensated. But the latest revelations about Schock's travel expenses raise questions about why taxpayers would be billed for a trip to Chicago when he represents the Peoria and Springfield areas at least 150 miles away. Newly released House records show $10,802 incurred last November for "commercial transportation" to Keith Siilats, a New York-based pilot. Siilats told the AP he flew the congressman between Washington and Peoria for a series of meetings, and attended the Bears game with Schock. That trip was first reported Sunday by the Chicago Sun-Times. It was not immediately clear how Schock paid for his game tickets. The records also show Schock's office spent about $2,270 with Peoria-based Byerly Aviation, as well as $1,590 to Lobair LLC. Both were previously paid for Schock's travel on aircraft owned by his financial contributors, records show. The Byerly expense aligns with a same-day journey on a plane owned by Springfield businessman Todd Green between Peoria and Quincy, Illinois, on Dec. 12, 2014. Schock toured a local dam that he said needed repairs that same day in Quincy. Byerly was previously paid $11,433 from Schock's office account for four days in November 2013. The AP found Green's plane traveled to and from Washington and Peoria during that same period— and hours before Schock posted a photo about his "Schocktoberfest" fundraising event in his district. A Schock spokesman on Monday referred to the congressman's earlier statements that he takes compliance with funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his expenses. Schock previously told the AP he travels frequently throughout his district to stay connected with his constituents. The AP last week detailed those travel expenses, including Schock's use of private planes and incurring pricey entertainment charges. The review identified at least a dozen flights on donors' planes since mid-2011, tracking his reliance on the aircraft partly through pictures uploaded to his Instagram account. During one period, Green's plane traveled to at least eight cities last October in the Midwest and East Coast — cities where Schock met with political candidates ahead of the midterm elections. Green runs car dealerships in Schock's district with his brother, Jeff, a pilot who Todd Green said is good friends with Schock. Lobair was previously paid $6,000 for four trips on a plane owned by Michael J. Miller, another Peoria auto dealer, and by Vonachen Services Inc., a janitorial and service firm headed by Peoria businessman Matthew Vonachen. Vonachen donated at least $11,000 to Schock's political career, federal campaign records show. Schock's other official and expenses included concert tickets and mileage reimbursements, including a sold-out Katy Perry concert last June. The House updated its ethics rules in January 2013. Earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using office accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights. A liberal-leaning group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, had requested an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside panel that reviews ethics complaints against House members. Schock recently brought on board a team of campaign finance lawyers and public relations experts to address the controversy about his expenses.___Associated Press writers Stephen Braun, Jeff Horwitz and Ronnie Greene contributed to this report.
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:29 pm by 
(AP) — President Barack Obama said Monday the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York show that law enforcement needs to change practices to build trust in minority communities, as a White House task force called for independent, outside investigations when police use deadly force. The president said last year's deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City exposed "deep rooted frustration in many communities of color around the need for fair and just law enforcement." He said a policing task force that he appointed found it's important for law enforcement to improve training, data collection and cooperation with the communities they cover. "The moment is now for us to make these changes," Obama said from the White House during a meeting with members of the task force, who worked for three months to develop the recommendations. "We have a great opportunity coming out of some great conflict and tragedy to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel — rather than being embattled — feel fully supported. We need to seize that opportunity." The task force made 63 recommendations after holding seven public hearings across the country that included testimony from more than 100 people. The panel also met with leaders of groups advocating for the rights of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, veterans, gays, the disabled and others. Obama said the task force found the need for more police training to reduce bias and help officers deal with stressful situations. He recognized a particularly controversial recommendation would be the need for independent investigations in fatal police shootings. "The importance of making sure that there's a sense of accountability when in fact law enforcement is involved in a deadly shooting is something that I think communities across the board are going to be considering," Obama said. Specifically, the task force recommended external independent criminal investigations and review by outside prosecutors when police use force that results in death or anyone dies in police custody, instead of the internal investigations that are the policy of some law enforcement agencies. The task force suggested either a multi-agency probe involving state and local investigators, referring an investigation to neighboring jurisdictions or the next higher level of government. "But in order to restore and maintain trust, this independence is crucial," the report said. Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said an outside investigation of a police-involved shooting may make sense in limited circumstances when a police department has few resources. But in the vast majority of cases, he said, it is unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive. "I think it helps to drive a wedge between a local police department and the community it serves — which is exactly contrary to what the intent of this police task force was supposed to be," said Johnson, whose organization is an umbrella group of police unions. "I think it sends a message that your local police can't be trusted." The task force echoed calls from officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey for more complete record-keeping about the numbers of police-involved shootings across the country. Such data is currently reported by local law enforcement on a voluntary basis, and there is no central or reliable repository for those statistics. "There's no reason for us not to have this data available," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a task force co-chair, who said he was surprised to learn that there were no reliable records kept. "Now that we know that this does not exist, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to develop that information." Ramsey also pointed out that the task force recommended decoupling immigration from local law enforcement to help improve police relationship with immigrant communities where residents may fear calling for help if they or someone in their family is in the country illegally. He said information on immigrant felons would remain available under the panel's recommendations. Obama earlier had called for Congress to help fund the purchase of 50,000 body cameras for police to wear and record their interactions with the public. But the task force found that the cameras raise extraordinarily complex legal and privacy issues. "There's been a lot of talk about body cameras as a silver bullet or a solution," Obama said. "I think the task force concluded that there is a role for technology to play in building additional trust and accountability but it's not a panacea. It has to be embedded in a broader change in culture and a legal framework that ensures that people's privacy is respected." Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and co-chair of the task force, told reporters the type of community-police relations envisioned by the report does not happen quickly. "It takes time, it takes relationship-building and it doesn't happen overnight," she said.___Full task force report: Press reporters Alicia Caldwell and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:25 pm by JAMIE STENGLE, Associated Press
(AP) — A 26-year-old nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for the first person in the U.S. diagnosed with the deadly disease has filed a lawsuit against the parent company of the Dallas hospital where she worked. Nina Pham filed the lawsuit Monday in Dallas County against Texas Health Resources. She contracted Ebola last fall while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. He died, while Pham and another nurse who contracted Ebola survived. Pham says in her lawsuit that the hospital was unprepared to treat Ebola cases and that she was an unwitting pawn in its public relations campaign to restore its reputation. She also says she worries about her long-term health. A spokesman says Texas Health Resources remains optimistic the matter can be resolved.
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:24 pm by JEFF AMY, Associated Press
(AP) — The Mississippi attorney general's attempt to investigate Google is on hold for at least four more months. U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate on Monday granted Google's request for a preliminary injunction, preventing Attorney General Jim Hood from going through with a subpoena meant to examine whether Google is facilitating others' illegal activities on its sites. The injunction will also bar Hood from filing civil or criminal charges for now. The Internet giant, based in Mountain View, California, argued that Hood's investigation is blocked by a 1996 federal law that says Internet services are immune from lawsuits over what third parties say using the services. "At this point, Google has the better part of the argument on the reach of the Communications Decency Act of 1996," Wingate said in a ruling read from the bench. He promised a longer written ruling within 10 days. Wingate, in discussions with lawyers Monday in court, laid out a schedule for each side to seek documents and depose witnesses over 90 days, with arguments on a final ruling in the case to follow this summer. "The fact that the court has issued an injunction does not mean the court has reached a final decision in the case — just that the court wishes to maintain the status quo," Wingate said. The showdown between Google and Hood had been building for several years, but it escalated last fall when Hood sent a 79-page subpoena to Google. That document demanded the company produce information on subjects including whether Google is helping criminals by allowing its search engine to lead to pirated music, by having its autocomplete function suggest illegal activities and by sharing YouTube ad revenue with the makers of videos promoting illegal drug sales. Hood pledged to appeal the injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, maintaining his position that any dispute over the subpoena belongs in Mississippi state court. "If attorneys general are unable to enforce state drug and consumer laws simply because a company uses the Internet, then this should be a wake-up call to all Americans that our children can simply type in 'buy drugs' and Google will guide them through its auto-complete feature," Hood said in a statement. Google, though, has argued Hood is infringing on its free speech rights. The Internet giant and its supporters say Hood is part of a covert campaign by movie studios to use legal action to achieve enhanced piracy protection that Congress has rejected. The company says a letter that Hood sent Google that was largely drafted by the Motion Picture Association of America, and notes that former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore was hired by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit group funded by movie studios and other companies. "We're pleased with the court's ruling, which recognizes that the MPAA's long-running campaign to censor the web... — is contrary to federal law," Google General Counsel Kent Walker said in a statement. Hood's office has said it's only working with people and companies harmed by problems with Google services. "Ultimately what lies in the balance of a final court decision is whether it will be more difficult for state law enforcement officials to protect victims of online crime," said Adam Benson, deputy executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance.
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:23 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Michael Jordan and two other NBA owners have reached new heights, making Forbes world list of billionaires. Forbes released its list on Monday and noted that Jordan's net worth is estimated at $1 billion, thanks to his well-timed investment in the Charlotte Hornets. Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, and the Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, worth $1.3 billion are also on the list. Jordan and Reinsdorf are newcomers to the list while Alexander returns for the first time since 2007. The net worth of NBA franchise values increased this past year after the sale of Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. The 52-year-old Jordan, a Hall of Fame player who won six NBA championships with the Bulls, reached billionaire status last June, according to the magazine. This is his first year on Forbes' annual list which typically is released in March. Jordan acquired the majority stake in the Hornets in 2010 for $175 million. Forbes last June listed Jordan's equity as owner of the Hornets is $416 million and his net worth outside of the team to be $600 million. Topping the list of sports-related billionaires was Stanley Kroenke, who owns the NFL's St. Louis Rams. His net worth of $6.3 billion, which ranks him as the 225th richest person in the world. He is one of 11 NFL owners on a list that include 20 billionaire sports figures. Other NFL owners to make the list include Robert Kraft (Patriots, $4.3 billion), Jerry Jones, (Cowboys, $4.2 billion), Stephen Bisciotti (Ravens, $2.7 billion), Arthur Blank (Falcons, $2.5 billion), Robert McNair (Texans, $2.4 billion), Tom Benson (Saints, $1.9 billion), James Irsay (Colts, $1.75 billion), Daniel Snyder (Redskins, $1.7 billion), Alex Spanos (Chargers, $1.25 billion) and Jeffrey Lurie (Eagles, $1.1 billion). ___See for more complete list of sports-related billionaires
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:21 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Lumber Liquidators is refuting a "60 Minutes" report that raised health concerns about some of its laminate flooring products and pushed its stock price to its lowest level in more than two years. In a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lumber Liquidators said all of its laminate flooring meets the safety standards set by regulators throughout the U.S. The defense came the day after "60 Minutes" aired findings that some of Lumber Liquidators' flooring made in China had high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen. The tests by three certified labs concluded the amounts of formaldehyde failed to meet California's emissions standards. Lumber Liquidators' stock plunged $11.13, or more than 21 percent, to $40.73 in early afternoon trading. Earlier in the session, the shares fell to $8.19, the lowest since July 2012. The Toano, Virginia, company asserted that the doubts being raised by its products are being fueled by "short sellers" — investors that make money by placing bets that specific stocks will drop in value. The "60 Minutes" report included interviews with Denny Larson, executive director of nonprofit group Global Community Monitor, and environmental attorney Richard Drury. Larson and Drury purchased boxes of laminate flooring from several retailers with stores in California, including Lumber Liquidators. They sent the products to the labs for testing. While Lumber Liquidators' flooring made in the U.S. met California's emissions standards, every sample manufactured in China failed. Lumber Liquidators said random testing of its six laminate flooring suppliers in China determined the products were "safe and compliant." "We stand by every single plank of wood and laminate we sell all around the country," the company said in its SEC filing. Lumber Liquidators has 354 stores in the U.S. and Canada, including 37 in California. The company earned $63 million on sales of $1.05 billion last year. The "60 Minutes" report is the second damaging blow to Lumber Liquidators in less than week.In a separate SEC filing last Wednesday, the company disclosed the U.S. Justice Department may seek criminal charges against it under the Lacey Act, which is a U.S. law that includes a ban on illegally sourced wood products. Lumber Liquidators' stock has plummeted by about 40 percent since last Wednesday's filing.
Written on 03/02/2015, 12:18 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Lost that charger again for your cellphone or tablet? Hate sorting heaps of wires to charge various devices? Swedish retailer IKEA might just have the answer — furniture with built-in charging spots, including in bedside tables, lamps and desks. The new collection will be available in Europe and North America from next month, followed by global distribution. Jeanette Skjelmose, manager of the lighting and wireless charging sector, said Monday Ikea aims to make life at home simpler because "we know that people hate cable mess." The new furniture uses the Qi wireless charging standard, found in some Windows and Android phones, including the new Samsung Galaxy S6 expected to be launched soon. Ikea said it will also provide special charging covers for iPhones and older Samsung Galaxies.

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Written on 03/02/2015, 12:29 pm by 
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