TODAY

– January 27, 2015

Tulare County new car sales up since recession

New vehicle registration has revved back since the Great Recession in Tulare County, mirroring a trend seen across the nation.

“We’re not all the way back from the high during the 2005/06 period,” said Don Groppetti, the county’s largest auto dealer.

Still, the improvement is dramatic.

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Latest Local News

Written on 01/27/2015, 1:31 pm by 
ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
U.S. stocks slumped Tuesday after some of the market's largest companies reported disappointing earnings, taking investors on a turbulent ride that...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:30 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer is spinning off the company's prized stake in China's Alibaba Group Holding in a move that will avoid paying billions in future taxes. A newly formed entity called SpinCo, will inherit ownership of Yahoo's 384 million Yahoo shares when the tax-free spin-off is completed toward the end of this year. Tuesday's much-anticipated announcement about the management of Yahoo's 15 percent stake in Alibaba overshadowed Yahoo's results for the final three months of last year. Yahoo's shareholders are far more interested in Mayer's plans for the Alibaba stake because it's currently worth about $39 billion. That's far more than the value of Yahoo's own online services, which have been struggling to generate more revenue for the past six years.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:28 pm by JOSH LEDERMAN, CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama says the wayward quadcopter that crashed harmlessly on the White House grounds shows that the U.S. must update its laws to manage the expanding frontier of commercial and consumer drones and ensure only good things come in these small packages. It's his own administration that has lagged on the matter. Both Congress and the drone industry have pressed for rules and clarification as the technology of civilian drone use grows apace and the small unmanned craft become ever cheaper. Obama, in a CNN interview from India, likened the 2-foot-long quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn to one that could be bought at Radio Shack, which lists them from $50 to $700. "We don't yet have the legal structures and the architecture both globally and within individual countries to manage them the way that we need to," Obama said Tuesday. Part of his job in his final two years in office "is seeing if we can start providing some sort of framework that ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad." The Secret Service released no further details on the drone operator whose hapless adventure in the middle of the night Monday set off an emergency White House lockdown. The man stepped forward hours after the episode and appeared to convince investigators that the extraordinary breach of presidential security — and of existing rules for drone flights — was an innocent mistake. Even so, the errant flight pointed to vulnerabilities in defending against small, low-flying threats as well as the risks, already becoming common, of hobbyist drones going astray in populated places or near airports. The Federal Aviation Administration, pressed by Congress, had wanted to release proposed rules for small drones by the end of 2014. To the dismay of the drone industry, that process is now dragging into 2015. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final. As it now stands, hobbyists can fly drones if they keep them under 400 feet in altitude, 5 miles from an airport, always within sight and not within a highly populated area. Commercial use is largely banned, with only a small number of companies permitted to use them for inspections and aerial photography. Lethal drones have become an important part of the U.S. arsenal, used to attack enemy positions. Their civilian cousins can be used for inspecting crops and weather conditions, conducting surveillance in other many forms and even delivering packages. "Incredibly useful functions," Obama said. Congress wanted rules for small drones in place last year and a larger framework by this September. The FAA has been waiting for the White House to approve a proposal for rules that would clear the way for small, commercial drones flights. Regulations for larger drones aren't expected anytime soon. Separately, the White House has been working on an executive order to address privacy issues raised by drones and had expected to release that order six months ago. But that has not happened. Obama told CNN's Fareed Zakaria he's "assigned some of the relevant agencies to start talking to stakeholders and figure out how we're going to put an architecture in place that makes sure that these things aren't dangerous and that they're not violating people's privacy."___Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Joan Lowy and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:15 pm by RONNIE GREENE, 
JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH, Associated Press
(AP) — On paper, the pitch was simple: A green energy company backed by $217 million in U.S. government loans would convert one of Africa's poorest countries into the world's first biomass-driven economy. But the plan to help Liberia collapsed amid questionable business decisions and oversight. The company, Buchanan Renewables, dismissed 600 workers and left the country amid complaints of workplace injuries, environmental harm and, at times, sexual abuse. Backing the company at every stage was the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency with a global mandate but low profile. The agency approves more than $3 billion a year in financing, targeting developments in hard-pressed communities. But its internal watchdog has issued reports on just five deals since 2005, a period when OPIC approved more than 530 projects. From the start, an investigation by The Associated Press found, OPIC's support for the power project in the western African country of Liberia was marked by questionable scrutiny and deep political links. Even for ostensibly philanthropic projects meant to aid the world's poorest, corporate opportunities and profits can intersect with family and business ties among Washington's political elite. On the ground in Liberia, Buchanan Renewables' CEO was James Steele, a larger-than-life former U.S. military figure and onetime Texas business partner of OPIC's then-president and CEO, Robert Mosbacher Jr. Mosbacher's father was Commerce secretary under President George H.W. Bush. Steele drew acclaim, and controversy, over his role in U.S. military efforts, from the Iran-Contra affair to Iraq, where he performed work for President George W. Bush's defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld. Even before the Liberian project, Mosbacher had tapped Steele as a consultant to help OPIC develop power projects. Over 22 months from 2006 to 2008, the agency paid Steele $390,000 for consulting and an additional $114,556 in travel expenses, the AP found. Then it approved three loans to support Buchanan's vision in Liberia. The venture collapsed amid tensions between the company and the Liberian government, questions from the U.S. Embassy and the withdrawal of a vital financier. Troubling stories emerged: charcoal producers having to trade sex for wood promised as part of the undertaking, Buchanan's machinery cracking open an ancestor's grave on one family farm, the company leaving piles of woodchips that attracted stinging ants and fouled local waters. Some women said they became pregnant after trading sex for wood sticks with Buchanan staff members in Liberia. "If we didn't have sex with the employees they wouldn't give you sticks," Sarah Monopoloh, chairwoman of a local charcoal sellers union, told the AP. She said she suffered a painful miscarriage. "I nearly died in the process," Monopoloh said. Tree planter Aderlyn Barnard was knocked unconscious, breaking a leg and wrist and dislocating an arm, when the company's clearing machine felled her with a tree. "I am one of the victims," she said. "Right now I am disabled." To Mosbacher, who abstained from OPIC's loan vote, the project was an opportunity lost. Steele declined an interview request. "This was absolutely for the best of intentions and that's why it was literally the biggest disappointment I had from all my time at OPIC," said Mosbacher, the agency head from 2005 to 2009. "What seemed to be a home run, a win-win, just didn't work out the way any of us had hoped." In all, OPIC handed out $77 million of the $217 million in loans it approved for the Liberian project, money the company said would allow it to convert aged rubber trees into biomass chips that would fuel power plants. The last loan came under the agency's current president and CEO, Elizabeth Littlefield. When OPIC approved the final $90 million loan in 2011, it did not conduct an onsite environmental and social due diligence visit for a project in a country haunted by a decade-long civil war and history of abuses against women. OPIC's own Office of Accountability questioned the agency's review process in one of its few internal investigations. The position managing that internal watchdog office has been vacant since September. OPIC said it intends to fill the job, but some U.S. senators say the agency would benefit from having its own inspector general. Buchanan's senior management had no prior experience in the rubber sector or in operating a commercial venture in Liberia, the accountability office said. The agency approved the loans despite incomplete background reviews involving key figures at OPIC and Buchanan Renewable Energy, the company's parent. Littlefield called the report "unprecedented" and said OPIC was instituting reforms. For the laborers lured by Buchanan's promises, the project's collapse left a painful legacy. Buchanan Renewables never built a promised power plant, so instead of powering a nation in need, it shipped biomass chips to Europe. It repaid the U.S. government loans, but left Liberia with fields of depleted rubber farms, shutting down its operations in early 2013. "The workers are still grieving today," said Alfred Brownell, executive director of Green Advocates International, a legal advocacy group in Monrovia, Liberia's capital. "The only thing Liberia got was the massive cutting down of rubber trees."___Greene reported from Washington.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:12 pm by MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Tobacco Writer
(AP) — Public health officials are "in desperate need of clarity" on electronic cigarettes to help guide policies, the nation's newly appointed surgeon general said Tuesday. Dr. Vivek Murthy, whose predecessors have been instrumental in guiding tobacco control, addressed the battery-powered devices that heat liquid nicotine during a stop in Richmond as part of a cross-country listening tour. The U.S. Senate confirmed the 37-year-old physician and Harvard Medical School instructor's nomination as the country's senior public health official in December. "There've been theories and ideas around the fact that e-cigarettes may be helpful from a harm reduction perspective in helping people who are already on cigarettes (that) have had trouble quitting actually get off cigarettes," Murthy said. "If the data indeed bears that out, then I think we should absolutely embrace that and use e-cigarettes in targeted ways." However, Murthy expressed worry regarding e-cigarettes because he said there are many unanswered questions about their health impacts, specifically their contents, and if they are ultimately a gateway to traditional smoking. He also noted the rapid growth in use of e-cigarettes among both adults and children. "I'm concerned about e-cigarettes, and I think this is an area where we are in desperate need of clarity," Murthy said. "I think it's important for us to understand the impact, particularly on youth, before we allow the full-fledged spread of these e-cigarettes and then later have problems that we have to deal with." Last April, the Food and Drug Administration for the first time proposed a set of regulations for e-cigarettes, including banning sales to minors and requiring health warning labels, as well as approving new products. The agency has said its proposal sets a foundation for regulating the products, but the rules wouldn't immediately ban the wide array of flavors or styles of e-cigarettes or curb marketing on places like TV. Scientists haven't finished much research on e-cigarettes, and the studies that have been done have been inconclusive. The government is pouring millions into research to supplement independent and company studies on the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products — as well as who uses them and why. Historically, the surgeon general's office has played an important role in addressing tobacco issues. A 1964 surgeon general's report launched the anti-smoking movement. While far fewer Americans are smoking today — about 18 percent of adults — a report last year marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark paper warns that the government may not meet its goal of lowering that rate to 12 percent by 2020.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:10 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Supermarket chain Albertsons says U.S. regulators have approved its purchase of competitor Safeway Inc. The companies said Tuesday the deal has been cleared by the Federal Trade Commission and should close within five business days. Albertsons, which privately held and part-owned by Cerberus Capital Management, agreed to buy Safeway in March for $7.64 billion in cash. The FTC said the sale would hurt consumers in 130 markets by reducing competition, and in December the companies said they would sell 168 stores in eight states. Most of the stores will be bought by Haggen, a chain based in the Northwest. Haggen will expand to 164 locations from 18. Excluding the stores that are being sold, Safeway had about 1,300 locations under names including Safeway, Tom Thumb and Carrs. Albertsons had about 1,100 stores under its own name as well as Acme, Jewel-Osco, and others. The companies have about 250,000 employees combined.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:09 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Popular disappearing-message app Snapchat is introducing content from media companies such as Vice, CNN and People to its service as it works to broaden its audience. Southern California-based Snapchat said in a blog post Tuesday that the "Discover" feature is a new way for users to explore content from different media outlets. When users visit the Discover section, they can watch videos, read stories or see photos from the media companies, which also include the Food Network and Comedy Central. The content includes advertisements. Clicking on them lets users swipe through short descriptions of the content. To see the full version, swipe the screen from the bottom up. Snapchat and the media companies share ad revenue. On Tuesday, for instance, CNN had an article about snow conditions in the Northeast.
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:07 pm by ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press
(AP) — Google said Tuesday it has selected four metro areas in the Southeast to receive its fiber optic service that can deliver Internet speeds at more than 50 times the national broadband average. The company said it will bring gigabit-speed service to Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta; and Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte in North Carolina. Google officials said five Western cities previously identified as finalists remain in the running for fiber down the line. "We had four cities here in the Southeast that were ready to go," said Kevin Lo, Google's general manager for fiber services. "I want to be really clear that this is not 'no' to anybody for the other five metro areas." The other five cities in the running are Phoenix; Salt Lake City; San Jose, California; Portland, Oregon; and San Antonio. Google Fiber boasts that its service can download an entire movie in less than two minutes and that it has vast potential in business, science and education. Lo cited the example of a geneticist in Provo, Utah, who can download an entire human genome, or about 200 gigabytes worth of data, via Google Fiber in less than half an hour. That compares with 77 hours at traditional broadband speeds. "The next chapter of the Internet will be written at gigabit speeds," Lo said. Launched as an experimental project in 2010, Google Fiber is available in Provo; Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; and Austin, Texas. Google is hoping the competition will prod existing Internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon Communications and AT&T Inc. to upgrade their networks so they can run at faster speeds. Google figures it would still benefit in that scenario if the improvements to rival networks spur more Web surfing. Prices for Google Fiber are comparable to or below what most households already pay. For example, in the two Kansas City markets, Google Fiber charges about $70 per month for just high-speed Internet service, or $120 for an Internet and TV package. Lo declined to say when the service would be available to customers in the new cities, but officials in Charlotte said they hope the work to be complete within the next two years. President Barack Obama earlier this month urged greater access to faster Internet speeds as a way to create jobs and make local businesses more competitive in the global economy. The president is calling for a repeal of restrictions on local communities creating their own broadband networks, a stance at odds with major cable and telephone companies that often provide Internet service with little competition. Obama has also angered the industry by calling for new Federal Communications Commission rules that treat Internet service providers as public utilities.
Written on 01/27/2015, 12:48 pm by Business Journal Staff
Don Warkentin has announced that he will retire from his position as president of West Hills College Lemoore in the fall.  Warkentin has served as president of the college since 2004 and has worked at the college since 1986.  Previously, he served as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator at Lemoore High School for 13 years.  "I enjoyed the experience and all that West Hills College has given me and my family these last 29 years," he said. "I saw the college grow to a full-fledged campus, an experience I will never forget." During his time as president at WHCL, the college grew from 1,000 students to the more than 4,500 enrolled today. Under his leadership the college also became a fully accredited institution, one of 112 in the California Community College System.  The West Hills Community College District's Board of Trustees approved Warkentin's retirement request during a recent board meeting and will take several months to conduct a national search for a new president. "You don't replace a Don Warketin," said Frank Gornick, chancellor for the college's board of trustees. "He played a significant role in the growth and development of our college in Lemoore and served our institution and the community with great distinction. He will be missed as a friend and a colleague." Warkentin is very active in the Lemoore community and was named Citizen of the Year by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce in 2014. He is also currently a member of the Kings County Economic Corporation.  Warkentin said he expects to remain active in the community after his retirement. 
Written on 01/27/2015, 12:40 pm by Business Journal staff
The Central Valley economy waned a bit at the end of 2014, though there are indicators of improving growth for the first half of this year, according to a new report from Fresno State. The San Joaquin Business Conditions Index, a product of the Craig School of Business research associate Ernie Goss, fell to 55 after hitting a record high of 59.9 in November. An index of greater than 50 indicates an expanding economy over the next three to six months. Employment was a bright spot in the index, which is produced through surveys of people making company purchasing decisions at firms in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. After slipping below growth neutral for October, the regional hiring gauge climbed to 51.3 in November and  54.5 in December. About 15 percent of businesses surveyed expect layoffs in the first half of 2015. Surveyed businesses also expect a 2.4 percent wage gain for 2015. The import and export order indicators were one area of particular concern. The export index hit 38.6 in December, while import orders fell to 46.3. A softening global economy and strong dollar are expected to restrain exports in the coming months.  

Latest State News

Written on 01/27/2015, 1:30 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer is...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:10 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Supermarket chain Albertsons...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:09 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Popular disappearing-message app...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:07 pm by ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press
(AP) — Google said Tuesday it has...

Latest National News

Written on 01/27/2015, 1:31 pm by 
ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
U.S. stocks slumped Tuesday after some...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:28 pm by JOSH LEDERMAN, CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama says the...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:15 pm by RONNIE GREENE, 
JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH, Associated Press
(AP) — On paper, the pitch was simple:...
Written on 01/27/2015, 1:12 pm by MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Tobacco Writer
(AP) — Public health officials are "in...