TODAY

– November 26, 2014

Twitter tunes in to TV partnerships ahead of IPO

(AP) — People don't just watch TV anymore; they talk about it on Twitter. From the comfort of couches, they share reactions to touchdowns and nail-biting season finales — and advertisers and networks are taking note.

Examples of Twitter's influence abound. The recent finale of "Breaking Bad" generated a record 1.24 million tweets. The conversation peaked at 22,373 tweets per minute according to analytics firm SocialGuide. People used the hashtag "GoodbyeBreakingBad" nearly 500,000 times. During this year's Super Bowl, sports fans generated 24 million tweets about the competition and nearly half of the game's nationally televised commercials contained hashtags that encouraged viewers to tweet.

Twitter, says Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at research firm eMarketer, "creates a community, a bond between people that doesn't really exist without Twitter."

As Twitter prepares for its initial public offering, the San Francisco-based company is also working hard to insert itself into the TV advertising economy. In recent months, the social networking company has forged partnerships with television content owners such as CBS, MTV and the NFL through a program it calls Amplify. The platform lets content owners beam real-time video clips to Twitter users who may have seen —or could be interested in — their TV programming. It also allows marketers to communicate with viewers who saw their TV ads, extending commercial pitches to consumers' smartphones and tablets.

TV tie-ins allow Twitter to diversify its revenue stream beyond the relatively small niche of digital advertising campaigns, a move that should appeal to potential investors. On Thursday, Twitter unsealed documents for a Wall Street debut that could take place before Thanksgiving. While the company did not reveal how much money it makes from its TV partnerships, it touted its own "strength as a second screen for television programming."

Twitter wrote in its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that "45% of television ads shown during the Super Bowl used a hashtag to invite viewers to engage in conversation about those television ads on Twitter."

Twitter's public nature makes it an especially attractive platform for tracking live-TV conversations. So much so that Nielsen recently began using Twitter's data to measure online social activity around TV programming, starting with this fall's TV season.

Nielsen will release its first "Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings" report on Monday. The study measures TV-related conversations on the social network. Nielsen found that in the second quarter of this year, 19 million people wrote 263 million tweets about live TV events, up 38 percent from a year earlier.

Some 19 million people tweet about TV shows, a 24 percent increase from last year. The audience measurement firm also found that many people read tweets about TV shows while they watch them — even if they don't post anything themselves. As a result, Nielsen says the Twitter TV audience for an average episode is 50 times larger than the number of people who are Tweeting about a show.

Separately, Nielsen found that the "Breaking Bad" finale was by far the most tweeted-about program last week.

On Sunday, the NFL showed just how Twitter-enabled promotions work. Minutes after Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones intercepted New England's Tom Brady, ending the quarterback's streak of 52 games with a touchdown pass, the NFL posted a video clip on Twitter. The clip shows Jones bobbling, and then snagging the ball before it hits the ground.

The 32-second clip was prefaced by an 8-second video ad for a Verizon Droid mobile phone. "Adam Jones ends the Pats undefeated season, Brady's TD streak AND a rainstorm. With 1 INT," the league tweeted.

By inserting itself into the online buzz, the NFL was able to remind people the game was going on live at its NFL Network channel. Meanwhile, it earned new revenue from Verizon, a longtime sponsor that wanted to showcase its NFL Mobile app.

The NFL has more than 5.1 million followers on Twitter. But its new partnership with Twitter means the tweet also went out to millions of other users who might be interested.

Hans Schroeder, the NFL's senior vice president of media strategy and development, says he expects promoted tweets will eventually reach tens of millions of fans, multiplying its reach.

"We think it'll drive tune-in to our games and drive more people into the experience through NFL Mobile," Schroeder says.

As part of the deal, Twitter shares some of the revenue from Verizon's advertising spend when the phone company pays for "promoted tweets." Previously, the money might have gone only to the league itself.

Twitter's projected 2013 revenue is about $582 million, according to research firm eMarketer. At the moment, the company generates tens of millions of dollars of revenue from all of its TV deals, including those with ESPN, Turner networks, CBS and others, according to Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group.

That's not huge. However, says Wieser: "This year, it's about getting the foot in the door."

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter estimates that Twitter gets just a small fraction of its revenue from the TV deals — around 1 percent. But by next year, the deals could amount to 5 percent, and 15 percent the year after, he says.

Twitter isn't alone in its quest to befriend TV content companies. Facebook, too, is recognizing the value of live TV chatter. Because of its sheer size — nearly 1.2 billion users versus Twitter's 218 million — Facebook has more conversations than any other social network. During the "Breaking Bad" finale, more than 3 million people generated 5.5 million "interactions," that is, status updates, comments or "likes."

For now, Facebook's TV partnerships are not intended to generate revenue, the company says. Rather, they are "focused on helping people discover great content," says Justin Osofsky, Facebook's vice president of media partnerships.

Over the past few months, Facebook has rolled out more Twitter-like features as competition between the world's leading social networks heats up. There are now hashtags on Facebook, and the company is encouraging celebrities to use its site to interact with fans — just as many of them do on Twitter.

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Written on 11/26/2014, 10:22 am by Business Journal staff
Community members can play Santa this holiday season for hundreds of women and children affected by domestic violence through the Marjaree Mason Center's...
Written on 11/26/2014, 9:07 am by MATT STROUD, Associated Press
(AP) — Black Friday isn't just when shoppers rush to stores for holiday sales. It's also one of the busiest days of the year for gun purchases. In the U.S., there are nine guns for every 10 people. Someone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes. And every minute, gun shops make about 40 new requests for criminal background checks on people wanting weapons. On Black Friday, the rush accelerates to nearly two checks a second, testing the limits of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. "We have a perfect storm coming," says Kimberly Del Greco, a manager in the FBI division that helps run the system, known as NICS. Much of the responsibility for preventing criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns is shouldered by about 500 men and women who run the system from inside the FBI's criminal justice center, a gray office building with concrete walls and mirrored windows just outside Bridgeport, West Virginia. Granted a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the NICS, The Associated Press was able to see first-hand why 512 gun sales a day effectively beat the system last year. By federal law, NICS researchers must race against the clock: They have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether or not a buyer is eligible. After that, buyers can legally get their guns, whether or not the check was completed. This clock ran out more than 186,000 times last year. The problem is the data. States voluntarily submit records, which are often missing information about mental health rulings or criminal convictions, and aren't always rapidly updated to reflect restraining orders or other urgent reasons to deny a sale. It's a particular problem on Black Friday, when so many background checks are done at once. There are more than 48,000 gun retailers in the U.S., from Wal-Mart stores to local pawn shops. Store clerks can use the FBI's online E-Check System, which federal officials say is more efficient. But nearly half the checks are phoned in. Three call centers — in Kentucky, Texas, and Wheeling, W.Va. — take these calls from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day but Christmas. NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. That surged to 145,000 on Black Friday 2013. They're bringing in 100 more workers than usual for the post-Thanksgiving rush this year. The call centers have no access to privileged information about buyers' backgrounds, and make no decisions. They just type in their name, address, birthdate, Social Security Number and other information into the system. On Black Fridays, the work can be grueling: One woman took a call that lasted four hours when a dealer phoned in the maximum 99 checks. "Rules had to be stretched," recalled Sam Demarco, her supervisor. "We can't transfer calls. Someone had to sit in her seat for her while she went to the bathroom." In the years since these background checks were required, about 71 percent have found no red flags and produced instant approvals. But ten factors can disqualify gun purchasers: a felony conviction, an arrest warrant, a documented drug problem or mental illness, undocumented immigration status, a dishonorable military discharge, a renunciation of U.S. citizenship, a restraining order, a history of domestic violence, or an indictment for any crime punishable by longer than one year of prison time. Any sign that one of these factors could be in a buyer's background produces a red-flag. FBI researchers then investigate, scouring state records in the federal database and calling state and local authorities for more information. "It takes a lot of effort ... for an examiner to go out and look at court reports, look at judges' documents, try to find a final disposition so we can get back to a gun dealer on whether they can sell that gun or not," Del Greco says. "And we don't always get back to them." The researchers must use their skill and judgment, striking a balance between the rights of gun owners and the need to keep would-be killers from getting firearms. Researcher Valerie Sargo says outstanding warrants often come up when they examine a red flag, and that can help police make arrests. "It makes you feel good that this person is not supposed to have a firearm and you kept it out of their hands," she says. It also weighs on them when red flags aren't resolved within three days, which happens about two percent of the time, or 512 checks each day on average. Tacked to a cubicle wall, a sign reads: "Our policy is to ALWAYS blame the computer." These workers have considerable responsibility, but little independent authority. "They won't proceed or deny a transaction unless they are ABSOLUTELY certain the information they have is correct and sufficient to sustain that decision," FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer told the AP. FBI contractors and employees oversaw more than 9 million checks in the first full year after the system was established as part of Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1998. By last year, they oversaw more than 21 million. In all, only 1.25 percent of attempted purchases are denied. Denials can be appealed. People can get guns without background checks in many states by buying weapons at gun shows or from individuals, a loophole the National Rifle Association does not want closed. But even the NRA agrees that the NICS system needs better data. "Any database is only going to function as well as the information contained within," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam says. Del Greco doesn't see the states' data improving soon, which only adds to the immense challenge of getting through huge numbers of requisite checks on Black Friday. "It's really critical that we have accurate information," Del Greco says. "Sometimes we just don't."
Written on 11/26/2014, 9:06 am by Business Journal staff
San Joaquin Valley Veterans is currently looking to provide housing services to veterans and their families through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant program.  The project offers case management for veterans at risk of losing their housing, short-term assistance with utility bills, rental assistance, deposits, housing counseling and assistance. San Joaquin Valley Veterans (SJVV) is part of WestCare California and ultimately seeks to secure permanent housing for veterans.  Through the SSVF grant, SJVV provides supportive services to low-income veteran families who are either residing in permanent housing, are homeless and scheduled to become residents of permanent housing within a certain time frame, or are seeking other housing that is responsive to low-income veteran family's needs and preferences.  The project is funded by the Veterans Administration and in June, received $6 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. SJVV was given the money specifically for use in Fresno and Madera counties over the next three years.  Individuals interested in the program may call (559) 255-8838 or contact one of the three SJVV offices, including the locations in Fresno, Hanford or Stockton.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:58 am by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, CHRIS RUGABER, AP Business Writers
(AP) — Falling gas prices. Soaring stock market. Unemployment at a six-year-low. All signs point to a successful holiday shopping season. Despite the economic tail winds, though, retailers are finding themselves having to work to get shoppers into stores. Why? Five years into the economic recovery, most Americans still are struggling. Gas prices may be hovering at a four-year low, but Americans are paying more for food, health care and other costs. Unemployment is falling, too, but wage growth has been stagnant. And even though the stock and housing markets have improved, Americans haven't changed their deal-hungry shopping habits. "Retail therapy is out the window for most Americans," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm. Not that this holiday season is expected to be a dud. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion — the highest increase since 2011. But retailers already have had to resort to discounting to get shoppers into stores. Heavy discounting eats into profits. For example, over the past weekend, online sales rose 18.7 percent, but the average order value was $112.86, down 5.4 percent for the same period a year ago because of promotions, according to IBM Digital Analysts Benchmark, which tracks sales at 800 websites. Reflecting the tough environment, major department stores, including Macy's, J.C. Penney and Kohl's, reported sales shortfalls in the quarter preceding the holiday shopping season. Discounters like Target and Wal-Mart turned in better-than-expected sales, but acknowledged that shoppers are cautious. Take Amanda Simpson, 39, who works in public relations in Denton, Texas. The mother of two young children plans to spend $700 on holiday gifts, down from last year's $1,000. Simpson says now that the economy is improving, she's focusing on building her savings. She and her husband, a government worker, are juggling daycare costs and higher health care expenses. Even the extra $20 a week from falling gas prices is going toward bills. "I definitely feel better," she said. "But as a family, we are trying to be more fiscally conservative."Here are three reasons many Americans plan to spend conservatively this holiday season even though economic factors have improved: SLOW WAGE GROWTHPaychecks have barely stayed ahead of inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.Average hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, rose just 0.3 percent in September from a year earlier. And many Americans, who once worked full time now have part-time jobs. There are still nearly 2 million fewer people working full time in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. That's one reason shoppers might not spend briskly during the holiday despite the fact that the U.S. jobless rate hit 5.8 percent last month, down 1.5 percentage points from a year ago. "The unemployment number is a bogus number," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "What drives spending is income growth." HIGHER COSTSGas prices have fallen 20 percent from a year ago to $2.81. While that puts an average of $50 a month into the pockets of American households, they're still grappling with higher costs on lots of other necessities like food and health care. Overall food prices are up 1.7 percent from a year ago, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. Meat prices are up 8.5 percent, while egg prices rose 6.7 percent. While Wal-Mart noted lower gas prices have helped to fuel more trips to the store, it said shoppers at its Sam's Club stores are trading down from red meat to chicken and ground beef. J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman told investors he expects customers will still be "very savvy" this holiday season even if they have more money to spend because of low fuel prices. SHOPPERS WANT DEALSShoppers may feel a little better about the overall economy, but they're still focused on a deal. And they're still sticking to lists. According to a recent survey of 500 shoppers by Accenture, 29 percent said it would take a discount of 50 percent or more to persuade them to make a purchase. Two years ago, that figure was 21 percent. That's why a number of retailers have been heavily discounting holiday items all month. Many, including Target and Wal-Mart, have pulled forward some of the deals reserved for Black Friday. A survey of 100 retailers by BDO, a consultancy, found that 34 percent will have already run most holiday deals by the time shoppers sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner. "Everyone is still looking for a deal," said Mikael Thygesen, chief marketing officer at Simon Property Group, which operates 228 shopping centers. ___Anne D'Innocenzio reported from New York. Chris Rugaber reported from Washington.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:56 am by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration left out some of the business community's top priorities, disappointing business leaders who might have stepped up to defend his policies in the face of Republican attacks. Months of lobbying by high-tech businesses failed to persuade the administration to make allotted but unused green cards available for foreign workers — probably the top item on the executive action agenda for business. And the administration only partially answered pleas to increase the length of time foreign students can stay in the U.S. before or after graduating to work in their fields. The administration announced plans to expand the program at some point in the future, but it offered no details on timing or scope. Business lobbyists contended that these and other "asks" were fairly modest to begin with, since all acknowledged that the big-ticket items on their agenda — such as increasing the number of high-tech visas available for foreign workers — could only be done by Congress. Even so, they were deflated to find their priorities overlooked as Obama announced plans to curb deportations for 4.5 million people in the country illegally and make them eligible for work permits. "We didn't ask for the moon to begin with. There's just not an opportunity for the administration to deliver the moon for us — that's a congressional action," said Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, which represents high-tech companies including Google, Intel and Microsoft. "But we asked for some terrestrial things, things within reach, and we didn't see the detail we hoped for." A White House spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who represents the Silicon Valley, said Obama was constrained by the legal advice he received. "There's what you want, and what's possible to do, and people do understand that what you might want him to do is constrained by the law," Lofgren said. Lofgren had been among those saying Obama could take executive action to allow businesses to "recapture" permanent resident green cards that had been authorized by Congress but never issued. Obama can't issue green cards on his own, but business officials say that more than 200,000 that have already been authorized by Congress never have been distributed, and the administration could redistribute them. The administration did not take that step. Instead, Obama directed the secretaries of the State and Homeland Security departments to come up with recommendations within 120 days to ensure that all the green card visas allotted by Congress get used. A senior administration official briefing reporters on the announcement last week said the White House and Homeland Security Department had looked at the green card recapture issue but determined that the time period for issuing the visas had passed. The official said the administration hasn't given up on taking action on the issue in the future. With congressional Republicans vowing to try to overturn Obama's executive actions, full-throated backing from the business community could have provided some insulation for the administration. But instead, a number of business leaders were lukewarm in their public remarks. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said in a statement that "executive actions cannot adequately fix our broken immigration system, and they raise important legal and constitutional questions." Among the other business-specific changes the administration made: —Directed expanded use of a "national interest waiver" that allows green cards to foreigners with exceptional abilities. —Announced a new program to allow inventors, researchers and startup founders to stay in the U.S. in a provisional "parole" status. —Announced plans to make it easier for people in the U.S. on high-tech work visas to change jobs. —Renewed previously announced promises to allow work authorization to spouses of high-tech visa holders. In some cases, such as the planned expansion of a program allowing foreign students and graduates to work in the U.S. for a year or more, business buy-in will depend on the details of what the administration ends up announcing. "It's still not at a fully baked stage so I can't say they delivered for business, but they still could," said Bob Sakaniwa, associate director for advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.___AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:55 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Connecticut police say a hospital allowed a nursing assistant to continue working there for three months after a patient reported being raped by him. The Connecticut Post reports (http://bit.ly/1uG3Bi9 ) that Gonzalo Flores was charged Tuesday with raping a paralyzed male patient in March at St. Vincent's Medical Center. He was already awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted another patient in June. An arrest warrant says Flores admitted having other sexual encounters with patients. The affidavit says the hospital's director of safety and security told police he knew about the allegation in March but could not substantiate it. Flores' lawyer declined to comment. Hospital spokeswoman Caryn S. Kaufman said Tuesday that St. Vincent's takes complaints by patients and staff very seriously and investigates all claims.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:53 am by TERRY TANG, Associated Press
(AP) — Spa treatments don't stop with people. You won't see any aromatherapy candles around, but animals get massages, too, and it's become a regular service that many pet owners value as more than just glorified petting. "People call me because their dogs are having problems," said Shelah Barr, a San Francisco dog massage therapist. "The work I do is important for animals so they have a high quality of life." Practitioners say massage can be a preventive measure for younger animals and rehabilitative for older ones by boosting flexibility, circulation and immunity. As its popularity continues to grow, primarily among dog and horse owners, so does the debate about regulation. Some veterinarians argue that pet massage is a form of veterinary medicine that requires a license, but whether therapists need one varies by state. The issue has sparked a lawsuit in Arizona, where three practitioners are suing the state veterinarian licensing board. Pet owners spent $4.4 billion last year on "other services," a category that includes grooming, training and services such as massage, according to the American Pet Products Association, which tracks national spending trends in the pet industry. That is a 6.1 percent jump from 2012. Massage sessions can last 30-40 minutes, and therapists travel to homes, hotels and even an owner's workplace, said Barr, who has been practicing in San Francisco since 2006. "There are a couple of tech companies I go to. They have a quiet office I can go into and work on the animal," said Barr, who typically sees about 15 pets a week. The treatments don't necessarily mean incense burning around a massage table. Barr is guided by what the dog desires, which sometimes means the pet chews on a bone the whole time. Grace Granatelli, an animal masseuse in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, said she would play new-age music or "spa sounds," which help relax dogs. In her sessions, Granatelli would have the dog lie down on the floor or its bed and start by massaging its neck. She would then move to other areas, including legs and hips. But it's not crucial that the dog lie down or sit still. "There are times where the dog is either very distracted or anxious or isn't quite receptive," Granatelli said. "So I just do the best I can doing the strokes while they're standing — whatever I can do to get the strokes in and get some relaxation in their muscles." That was until Granatelli became one of three animal massage practitioners who received cease-and-desist letters from the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board earlier this year. The trio has sued the board, arguing that the statute is overly broad in defining veterinary medicine. They aren't practicing while the lawsuit moves through the courts. The board says "I was doing more than just pampering dogs and that was breaking laws," Granatelli said. The American Veterinary Medical Association classifies animal massage as a form of veterinary care that should require a license. It is up to each state's veterinary licensing board whether to categorize it that way. "We do consider them veterinary procedures, and we feel the same standards should be used because a lot of harm can come from them," association assistant director Adrian Hochstadt said. Carol Forrest, a former client of Granatelli's, said her Dachshunds, Maxie and Lucy, got regular massages for five years. The two, who have since passed away, were able to relax after a massage despite dealing with issues such as arthritis. Forrest said she truly believes massage benefits dogs as much as people. "It's like if you go to one regularly that you like, they get to know you and you get a better treatment out of it," she said. "The same goes for the dogs ... versus going to the vet — my dogs aren't relaxed at the vet."
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:51 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Obama administration is bringing the Affordable Care Act to the mall for the busiest shopping days of the holiday season. The Department of Health and Human Services is announcing Wednesday a partnership with Westfield Shopping Centers in seven states. Starting on Black Friday, Westfield will set up tables, chairs and other needed items for HHS enrollment workers and post information about enrollment services on its website. Outreach workers will hand out information at malls in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Washington. The effort will continue through Feb. 15, the end of the current enrollment period for private insurance coverage under the health care overhaul.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:50 am by 
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
(AP) — A White House veto threat appears to have put on ice a congressional effort to permanently renew a handful of tax breaks for businesses and individuals. Officials say that the plan, brewing behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, favored corporations over the working class. The unusual veto threat came before the parameters of a potential agreement were even revealed. Speculation on Capitol Hill on Tuesday focused on a potential agreement to permanently enact tax breaks on business investments in new equipment and research and development as part of a plan that would renew dozens of expired tax breaks for businesses and individuals both. The White House immediately weighed in with a veto threat, saying Congress should also make permanent a top Obama administration priority: extending more generous tax credits for the working poor and people with children. They were left out of the potential pact and expire at the end of 2017. Democrats fear they won't be renewed if Republicans control Congress or retake the White House. "The president would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families," deputy White House press secretary Jennifer Friedman said. A senior White House official said the president was personally working the phones to try to kill the plan. Negotiations on renewing the expired tax breaks were expected to continue. At issue are dozens of expired tax breaks, known as "extenders" in Washington parlance. They are generally renewed every year or two and have broad political backing from both Democrats and Republicans. They expired last year and action now would extend them retroactively in time for individuals and businesses to claim them in the upcoming filing season. In trade-offs that angered the administration but gave political wins to top Senate Democrats, the emerging pact would also have made permanent tax breaks for college tuition, parking and transit subsidies, and a deduction for state and local sales taxes. "The president has consistently stated his opposition to giving hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts primarily geared toward corporations while leaving middle-class families and those struggling to get into the middle class behind," said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. The possible agreement, Democratic aides said, was being negotiated between House Republicans and top Senate Democrats like outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose state of Nevada benefits from the state and local sales tax deduction. Senate Democrats were seeking the best deal they could while retaining leverage, but the emerging outline infuriated the White House and liberal Democrats because it was so favorable to businesses. "This deal would give a massive handout to big corporations and expect working families to pick up the tab. Congress should be helping these families, not rewarding corporate lobbyists and their wealthy clients," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The aides insisted on anonymity to discuss ongoing talks. The cost of the outline under consideration could have reached $450 billion over the coming decade and would have been financed entirely by adding to the $17.9 trillion national debt. "The price tag is a result of irresponsible horse trading whereby each side got to claim its favorite tax break without paying for it," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for lower deficits. Dozens of other tax perks would have been extended through the end of next year, including breaks for race horse owners, manufacturers of electric motorcycles and improvements at NASCAR tracks. Other extenders include tax credits for biodiesel, for coal produced in Indian country, and breaks for energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings. Many of the breaks have been criticized as wasteful, inefficient and archaic, but their collective weight has always powered them through Congress. Critics did claim one casualty: a much-criticized tax credit for wind power, which would phase out in three years. Some of the biggest supporters of that credit have been Midwestern Republicans.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:47 am by DINA CAPPIELLO, JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems, making good on one of President Barack Obama's original campaign promises while setting up a fresh confrontation with Republicans and the energy industry. In a long-awaited announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said it prefers a new, lower threshold for ozone pollution of 65 to 70 parts per billion, but left open the possibility it could enact an even lower standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups. The current standard is 75 parts per billion, put in place by President George W. Bush in 2008. Meeting the stricter rules will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025 if the government goes with a standard of 70 parts per billion, the EPA estimated. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA said, the cost grows to $15 billion. But industry groups said the cost would actually be far higher and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply. Pushing back on those claims, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said lower ozone standards would actually spur more businesses, investment and jobs by making communities healthier. She said states would be given time to carefully design plans to meet the new standard over the coming decades. "Critics play a dangerous game when they denounce the science and law EPA has used to defend clean air for more than 40 years," McCarthy wrote in an op-ed for CNN's website. "The American people know better." Business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers painted the government's move as a roadblock that threatens to jeopardize manufacturing's comeback in the U.S. They accused the administration of moving the goalposts, since states are still working to implement the previous standard put in place in 2008. "Tightening these standards could be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public, with potentially enormous costs to the economy, jobs, and consumers," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who is to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, vowed "vigorous oversight" of the proposal in his new position. Under the Obama administration, the EPA has issued or proposed the first regulations to control heat-trapping carbon dioxide, mercury and air toxins from power plants. The administration also has doubled fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and clamped down on industrial pollution that blows downwind and contaminates other states. The EPA was under a court-ordered Dec. 1 deadline to issue a new smog standard. But the proposal also fulfills a pledge Obama made during his first campaign for the White House and one of his first environmental actions as president: reversing Bush's decision to set a limit weaker than scientists advised. In 2011, amid pressure from Republicans and industry, and facing a battle for re-election, Obama reneged on a plan by then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to lower the permissible level to be more protective of public health. "Seldom do presidents get an opportunity to right a wrong," said Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, one of numerous advocacy groups that were enraged by the White House's decision to table the first proposal. Although the EPA is proposing a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion, the agency's scientific advisers have endorsed a standard as low as 60 parts per billion. The EPA said it would take public comments on that lower level, too, leaving the door open to the possibility of even more stringent standards. The agency will also seek comments on the current standard of 75 parts per billion. The initial range of 60 to 70 parts per billion proposed by the EPA in January 2010 would have doubled the number of counties in violation. Smog cities such as Los Angeles and Houston would have been joined by California's Napa Valley and a county in Kansas with a population of 3,000. The higher range now sought would mean fewer counties would be out of compliance than under the 2010 proposal. Also, other air pollution rules will likely ease the burden on counties and states by reducing smog-forming ground-level ozone as a side effect. Ground-level ozone is created when pollutants from power plants, factories and automobiles react in sunlight. States would have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, or could face federal penalties.

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Written on 11/26/2014, 9:07 am by MATT STROUD, Associated Press
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