TODAY

– July 24, 2014

Air district solicits developers of natural gas engines

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is putting up funding to support the development of ultra-clean natural gas engines for heavy duty vehicles.

The funding is part of a $9-million initiative to spur the technology throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California in order to meet clean air goals.

Besides the Valley air district, other funding partners include the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the California Energy Commission and the $500,000 from Southern California Gas Co.

Financial assistance will go to contractor teams to develop natural gas engines for heavy duty vehicles that emit almost zero nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollutants.

The partners are now calling on interested companies with a request for proposals now online at aqmd.gov/rfp/index.html. Proposals are due by July 24.

More information about the initiative can be found on the site. Otherwise, those interested can listen in during a webinar being held June 12 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Registration for the webinar can be completed at naturalgastrucks.eventbrite.com.

Web Poll

Will you follow Fresno's new lawn watering restrictions?

Blogs

gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 07/24/2014, 2:02 pm by 
AOMAR OUALI, 
BRAHIMA OUEDRAOGO, Associated Press
(AP) — An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people vanished Thursday in a rainstorm over restive northern Mali, and French officials say it has probably...
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:54 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Striking a populist stand ahead of the midterm elections, President Barack Obama is demanding "economic patriotism" from American corporations that seek overseas mergers to avoid U.S. taxes. Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing to severely limit such deals, a move resisted by Republicans who argue the entire corporate tax code needs an overhaul. Obama was scheduled to address the issue in remarks Thursday afternoon at a technical college in Los Angeles. Though he included a proposal to rein in such mergers and acquisitions in his 2015 budget, Obama's speech marks a new, more aggressive focus on the subject. "The president has made clear that these companies are essentially renouncing their American citizenship by shipping their profits overseas to avoid paying taxes even as they benefit from all the advantages of being here in America," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said ahead of Obama's remarks. "That's precisely what we mean by economic patriotism." The push comes amid a developing trend by companies to reorganize with foreign entities through deals called "inversions" partly to reduce their tax payments in the U.S. But it also comes ahead of the fall political campaign as Democrats seek to draw sharp contrasts with Republicans by portraying them as defenders of corporate loopholes, and as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and others have been drawing praise from liberal arms of the Democratic Party for their overtly populist positions. The growth of inversions has also concerned Republicans, but by and large they have called for a broader tax overhaul that would reduce corporate rates. A total of 47 U.S.-based companies have merged with or acquired foreign businesses over the past decade in inversions, according to the Congressional Research Service. The issue gained attention earlier this year when Pfizer made an unsuccessful attempt to take over British drugmaker AstraZeneca. The deal would have allowed Pfizer to incorporate in Britain and thus limit its exposure to higher U.S. corporate tax rates. Most recently, Walgreen Co., the drug store chain that promotes itself as "America's premier pharmacy," is considering a similar move with Swiss health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots. The Obama administration began to ramp up attention to these transactions last week with a letter from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to House and Senate leaders. Lew said such deals "hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base." Obama is calling on Congress to enact legislation that is retroactive to May, arguing that will stop companies from rushing into deals to avoid the law. Senate Democrats picked up the call this week, with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader, sending a letter to Walgreen President and CEO Gregory Wasson urging him and his board to reconsider the overseas deal. "I believe you will find that your customers are deeply patriotic and will not support Walgreen's decision to turn its back on the United States," Durbin wrote. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in with a floor speech that called inversions a "corporate citizenship scam." Walgreen's spokesman Michael Polzin said the company is evaluating where to take its partnership with Alliance Boots. "We will do what is in the best long-term interests of our customers, employees and shareholders," he said. Under such inversion deals, U.S.-based, multinational companies can lower their tax bills in part by combining with a foreign company and reorganizing in a country with a lower tax rate. The United States has a 35 percent income tax rate, the highest in the industrialized world, and unlike many other countries it also taxes income earned overseas and then brought home. Under current law, shareholders of a U.S. company that merged with an offshore entity would have to own less than 80 percent of the combined entity to take advantage of a lower foreign tax rate. Obama's budget proposes slashing that cutoff to 50 percent and making the restriction retroactive to last May. Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah say the U.S. first must change its policy of taxing income earned abroad. But in a hearing this week, Hatch also said he was open to addressing the issue directly provided it was not retroactive and did not generate additional revenue. "Ultimately, the best way to solve this problem will be to reform our corporate and international tax system in a manner that will make our multinationals competitive against their foreign counterparts," he said. Administration officials estimate the deals, if allowed to continue, will cost the U.S. Treasury $17 billion in lost revenue over the next decade.
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:49 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are ending little changed after a day of mixed signals on corporate earnings and the economy. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose less than one point, or 0.05 percent, to close at 1,897.98 Thursday, barely topping a record set the day before. The other two major indexes fell. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped two points, or 0.02 percent, to 17,083.80. The Nasdaq eased one point, or 0.04 percent to 4,472.11. Facebook rose 5 percent and was among the top gainers in the S&P 500 after beating earnings expectations. The Dow was weighed down by Caterpillar, which fell 3 percent after the equipment maker's quarterly revenue fell short of forecasts. Homebuilder stocks slid Thursday after the government reported that new home sales sagged 8.1 percent last month.
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:24 pm by 
The Associated Press
Investing in airlines has long been the butt of jokes, especially when many U.S. carriers traipsed through bankruptcy court in the past decade. Now riding a post-merger tide of higher fares and stable fuel costs, those same airlines are piling up profits — and sharing the newfound riches with investors. American Airlines announced Thursday that it would pay its first dividend in 34 years, and both American and United Airlines announced big plans to buy back their own stock, a strategy designed to boost the value of remaining shares. Those announcements came as American, United and Southwest reported record-setting second-quarter results, building on Delta's solid performance a day earlier. Airlines are prospering as mergers have reduced competition, making it easier to keep prices high and raise billions from extra fees. They used bankruptcy to squeeze costs from employees and suppliers such as the smaller carriers that operate regional flights. They have benefited from stable fuel prices. American Airlines Group Inc., the world's biggest airline company since American's December merger with US Airways, said it will pay its first dividend since 1980, a cash payout of 10 cents per share, which could cost nearly $300 million a year. "It is hard to believe that less than eight months ago, American was in bankruptcy yet today we are reporting record profits, prepaying debt, making additional pension contributions and declaring dividends to shareholders," CEO Doug Parker said in a letter to employees. Dividends are common in many other industries, but few airlines pay them. Southwest has been paying a dividend for more than 37 years and boosted it by 50 percent this spring. Delta Air Lines restored its dividend last year. American also said it will spend up to $1 billion to buy back shares through the end of 2015, and United announced a similar $1 billion program to stretch over three years. They joined Southwest and Delta, which already buy back their own shares. Fitch Ratings said the buybacks could pose a risk to airlines' improving creditworthiness if the companies stop focusing on reducing debt and holding large cash reserves. Fitch said it was surprised by the size of American's buyback plan, but it was reassured by the company's actions to prepay debt and buy out some aircraft leases. The latest moves came as American reported net income of $864 million in the second quarter. Excluding special charges related to taxes and bankruptcy and merger costs, the profit was $1.5 billion, a quarterly record for American. At $1.98 per share, it beat analysts' forecast of $1.95 per share, according to FactSet. Revenue rose 10.2 percent as passengers paid 6.5 percent more per mile for their tickets. United Continental Holdings Inc., created by a 2010 merger of two airlines that had both gone through bankruptcy, reported net income of $789 million in the second quarter, topping Wall Street expectations and marking a turnaround from the first quarter, when it lost $609 million and canceled 35,000 flights. United has struggled with technology glitches and other issues that have left it behind other airlines in key revenue ratios, but second-quarter revenue rose 3.3 percent to $10.33 billion, slightly higher than Wall Street forecasts, partly due to higher "ancillary revenue" from extra fees. Southwest Airlines Co. reported a record second-quarter profit of $465 million and set records for full planes and passenger fare per mile. Revenue rose 8 percent. CEO Gary Kelly said that bookings were strong in July, with passengers paying about 3 percent more per mile than in July 2013. The company expects to grow through international flying that it picked up with the 2011 acquisition of AirTran Airways and expansion in Dallas, where a federal law that limited its flights expires in October. "Demand is very strong, and it is balanced very nicely with the supply of seats," Kelly said on a conference call with reporters. "We're going to manage our growth very carefully so that we don't upset that balance." Kelly said his biggest worries about the demand-supply balance centered on the economy or events in the Middle East causing a spike in jet fuel prices. JetBlue Airways Corp. said earnings jumped six-fold to $230 million. Revenue grew 12 percent. Airline stocks have surged in the past two years but have also had down days recently due to concern about growth in capacity on lucrative international routes. In afternoon trading, shares of American Airlines fell $1.03 to $42.30; United lost $1.18 to $44.82; Southwest slipped 36 cents to $28.51; Delta Air Lines Inc. fell $1.09 to $38.06; and JetBlue fell 20 cents to $11.08.
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:18 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — After spending nearly $300 million on a new computer system to handle disability claims, the Social Security Administration still can't get it to work. And officials can't say when it will. Six years ago, Social Security embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. But the project has been racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency. Today, the project is still in the testing phase, and the agency can't say when it will be operational or how much it will cost. In the meantime, people filing for disability claims face long delays at nearly every step of the process — delays that were supposed to be reduced by the new processing system. "The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns," said a report by McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm. As a result, agency leaders have decided to "reset" the program in an effort to save it, the report said. As part of that effort, Social Security brought in the outside consultants from McKinsey to figure out what went wrong. They found a massive technology initiative with no one in charge — no single person responsible for completing the project. They issued their report in June, though it was not publicly released. As part of McKinsey's recommendations, acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin appointed Terrie Gruber to oversee the project last month. Gruber had been an assistant deputy commissioner. "We asked for this, this independent look, and we weren't afraid to hear what the results are," Gruber said in an interview Wednesday. "We are absolutely committed to deliver this initiative and by implementing the recommendations we obtained independently, we think we have a very good prospect on doing just that." The revelations come at an awkward time for Colvin. President Barack Obama nominated Colvin to a full six-year term in June, and she now faces confirmation by the Senate. Colvin was deputy commissioner for 3½ years before becoming acting commissioner in February 2013. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Colvin for July 31. The House Oversight Committee is also looking into the computer program, and whether Social Security officials tried to bury the McKinsey report. In a letter to Colvin on Wednesday, committee leaders requested all documents and communications about the computer project since March 1. The letter was signed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and James Lankford, R-Okla. They called the project "an IT boondoggle." The troubled computer project is known as the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS. It was supposed to replace 54 separate, antiquated computer systems used by state Social Security offices to process disability claims. As envisioned, workers across the country would be able to use the system to process claims and track them as benefits are awarded or denied and claims are appealed. But as of April, the system couldn't even process all new claims, let alone accurately track them as they wound their way through the system, the report said. In all, more than 380 problems were still outstanding, and users hadn't even started testing the ability of the system to handle applications from children. "The DCPS project is adrift, the scope of the project is ambiguous, the project has been poorly executed, and the project's development lacks leadership," the three lawmakers said in their letter to Colvin. Maryland-based Lockheed Martin was selected in 2011 as the prime contractor on the project. At the time, the company valued the contract at up to $200 million, according to a press release. McKinsey's report does not specifically fault Lockheed but raises the possibility of changing vendors and says Social Security officials need to better manage the project. Gruber said Social Security will continue to work with Lockheed "to make sure that we are successful in the delivery of this program." Steve Field, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, would only say that the company is committed to delivering the program. Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. That's a 45 percent increase from a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,146. The report comes as the disability program edges toward the brink of insolvency. The trust fund that supports Social Security's disability program is projected to run out of money in 2016. At that point, the system will collect only enough money in payroll taxes to pay 80 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic 20 percent cut in benefits. Congress could redirect money from Social Security's much bigger retirement program to shore up the disability program, as it did in 1994. But that would worsen the finances of the retirement program, which is facing its own long-term financial problems. Social Security disability claims are first processed through a network of field offices and state agencies called Disability Determination Services. There are 54 of these offices, and they all use different computer systems, Gruber said. If your claim is rejected, you can ask the state agency to reconsider. If your claim is rejected again, you can appeal to an administrative law judge, who is employed by the Social Security Administration. It takes more than 100 days, on average, to processing initial applications, according to agency data. The average processing time for a hearing before an administrative law judge is more than 400 days. The new processing system is supposed to help alleviate some of these delays.
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:14 pm by KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press
(AP) — Linda Close was grateful to learn she qualified for a sizable subsidy to help pay for her health insurance under the new federal law. But in the process of signing up for a plan, Close said her HealthCare.gov account showed several different subsidy amounts, varying as much as $180 per month. Close, a South Florida retail worker in her 60's, said she got different amounts even though the personal information she entered remained the same. The Associated Press has reviewed Close's various subsidy amounts and dates to verify the information, but she asked that her financial information and medical history not be published for privacy reasons. "I am the kind of person the Affordable Care Act was written for: older, with a pre-existing (condition) and my previous plan was being cancelled. I need it and I'm low income," said Close, who has spent more than six months appealing her case. "The government pledged to me that original tax credit amount. It's crazy." Government officials say Close — and other consumers who have received different subsidy amounts — probably made some mistake entering personal details such as income, age and even ZIP codes. The Associated Press interviewed insurance agents, health counselors and attorneys around the country who said they received varying subsidy amounts for the same consumers. As consumers wait for a resolution, some have decided to go without health insurance because of the uncertainty while others who went ahead with policies purchased through the exchanges worry they are going to owe the government money next tax season. These difficulties faced by Close and others are unfolding separately from the legal battle that flared this week when two federal appeals courts issued contradictory rulings on the subsidies in states that rely on the federal health exchange. The Obama administration says policyholders will keep getting financial aid as it sorts out the legal implications. The government said consumers who received multiple subsidy estimates or disagree with their subsidy amount can appeal. The government hopes to resolve most of the appeals paperwork this summer. It's unclear how many people received or appealed varying subsidy amounts. Still, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Aaron Albright said consumers "should feel confident that they received an accurate determination based on the information they provided in their application." Federal health officials ruled on Close's appeal last month, giving her yet another subsidy estimate, which was within a few dollars of the one she is currently receiving, her attorney said. Subsidies are important to making premiums under the new health care law affordable. About 87 percent of the more than 8 million people who signed up for coverage under the law received subsidies, which are paid directly to the insurance company on behalf of individual consumers, according to data from federal health officials. Consumers pay the difference directly to the insurance company each month just as they do with private insurance. Dallas insurance agent Jo Ann Charron said the different estimates her clients received varied as much as $100 a month. "Some of them got more of a subsidy, some of them got less," she said. Since consumers aren't required to use the entire amount, Charron said she encouraged her clients to accept at least $50 less than the highest subsidy quoted to give them a financial cushion in case the government ultimately decides that the lower amount applies. The differing subsidy calculations are part of a mountain of data conflicts affecting at least 2 million people who signed up for coverage in the new health insurance exchanges. Most of the discrepancies involve important details about income, citizenship and immigration status — which affect eligibility and subsidies. Some supporters of the law fear low-income consumers will owe the government money because their subsidy was incorrect. Federal health officials have repeatedly stated that the IRS will have the final say, regardless of what figures were generated on healthcare.gov. The IRS can deduct the amount from consumers' tax refund or tell consumers they owe the government money. Or, conversely, consumers could receive money back if they took too low of a subsidy. The government says the varying subsidy amounts likely were generated several ways: As consumers struggled to navigate the glitch-plagued healthcare.gov website, they often had to start new applications and unknowingly might have entered slight differences in their income, ZIP code or number of dependents. In some cases, consumers completed an application and received a subsidy they thought was incorrect and then called the hotline or had a navigator or insurance agent fill out another application. The applications likely contained some small differences, which generated another subsidy figure. Many consumers were required to submit additional paperwork to complete their applications, including citizenship or tax information, and that additional information also could have generated a different subsidy amount. In Roanoke, Virginia, insurance agent Carol Taylor had seven clients who remain uninsured because of unresolved subsidy questions after federal officials asked them to submit additional documents to verify their income. "They are just sitting there. They haven't picked (a plan) because they can't get a correct answer, and they'd rather wait until they get through the verification process to make sure they get the right amount," Taylor said. Although the enrollment deadline has passed, federal officials can grant consumers special status that would allow them to pick a plan now. About half of the two dozen consumers Taylor helped enroll in the marketplace had problems with eligibility results. She spent hours on hold with the federal government trying to resolve the issue for five clients and was told consumers should go with the lower subsidy amount to avoid having to repay any money later in case of an error. Delaware insurance agent Nick Moriello's client was quoted an $87 subsidy from healthcare.gov and a roughly $30 subsidy from the federal government's hotline. In the meantime, his client isn't buying a plan. "She said if I'm only going to be eligible for the $30 credit, it's not going to be affordable for me so I'll wait," he said.
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:09 pm by PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
(AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has distributed $205 million in taxpayer money to scores of technology startups using a pet program designed to bring high-paying jobs and innovation to the nation's second most-populous state. But a closer look at the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, one of Perry's signature initiatives in his 14 years as governor, reveals that some of the businesses that received money are not all they seem. One actually operates in California. Some have stagnated trying to find more capital. Others have listed out-of-state employees and short-term hires as being among the jobs they created. A few have forfeited their right to do business in Texas by not filing tax reports. An Associated Press review of the program found that some of the same companies credited with creating a share of the program's 1,600 new jobs have actually stalled and in some cases blamed Perry's office for their struggles. Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has for several years travelled the country extolling the strength of the Texas economy and bragging about his efforts to bring new investment to the state, including the tech fund. On Thursday, he awarded $6 million from a similar incentive program to Charles Schwab Corp., with the expectation of creating 1,200 jobs. His office insists that it conducts regular compliance checks of the tech fund and defended the accuracy of annual reports given to Texas lawmakers, saying fluctuating business activity and employment numbers are the nature of startups. "Because these are Texas taxpayer dollars, our office takes very seriously the need to ensure they are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible," Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. The tech fund works like this: In exchange for money, startups give the state an equity position in their businesses. If the companies are successful, the state recoups its investment or even makes a profit. If they go bankrupt or shut down — and at least 16 have so far — the dollars are lost. Those failures represent only a fraction of the fund's full portfolio of more than 130 companies, some of which are clearly thriving. Venture capital funds are risky by nature and often endure losses. About 1 in 4 venture-backed startups fail, according to industry groups. Some studies put the rate of flops much higher. But questionable job-creation figures and undisclosed business struggles in the fund's annual report heap fresh doubts about transparency onto the fund, which has long been criticized as too opaque, including in a scathing 2011 report by state auditors. Julia Sass Rubin, a venture capital expert who studies economic development at Rutgers University, said the lack of transparency runs counter to the private sector, where investors get more detailed information about performance. "If this were a traditional venture capital fund, this would never fly," Rubin said.Targazyme Inc. is one example of a problematic startup. On paper, the San Antonio-based startup is developing stem-cell breakthroughs with 14 employees and the help of $1.25 million in state funds. But the rural address listed for its Texas headquarters is actually a weedy horse pasture. During a recent visit by a reporter, the ex-husband of the CEO was warning his guest to watch for rattlesnakes. Targazyme founder Lynnet Koh said her company is moving forward but that she left Texas because Perry's office withheld additional funding, a complaint echoed by other recipients. She now lives in California and said many of the jobs created by the company were short-term hires outside Texas, none of which is mentioned in the fund's 2013 annual report. "If you ask me on a scale of 1-to-10 satisfaction with the state, I give it a zero," Koh said. "Never, ever. Not for any money in the world would I do business with ETF." Nashed said Perry's office began working with Targazyme after learning how much business it was doing outside Texas. She said a final resolution will be disclosed in the next annual report. Houston-based Cormedics Corp. received $750,000 and was credited with creating four jobs last year, including that of founder Jim Meador, who told AP that he's not even paying himself right now. His medical device startup has struggled to attract more outside investment. Meador said he spent most of last year doing consulting work in California, where he also tried recruiting new investors. "I've got to go out and do consulting and do whatever I need to do to bring money through the door so I don't waste away and die," said Meador, who defended the tech fund as rigid in its oversight. The fund is not without successes. ZS Pharma, which received $2 million from the state in 2010, raised nearly $107 million in an initial public offering last month. Buoyed by that type of home run, Perry's office in February appraised the fund's value at $221 million — about $30 million more than taxpayers have invested. It was a sharp uptick from the previous appraisal in 2012, when Perry's office faced questions about whether the fund was even breaking even. Using government accounting standards, the fund is currently valued at $175 million, but Nashed said the governor's office uses private sector guidelines because it believed "a valuation method commonly used by the industry was most appropriate." The appraised values of each company in the portfolio are not made public. Three companies that had received a combined $2 million in state funds had their right to transact business in Texas forfeited last year for failure to submit required tax filings, according to the state comptroller's office. One of the startups, Merkatum Corp., had not filed since 2012 but submitted new documents July 14, days after the AP asked Perry's office about the company's status. Merkatum President Jose Luque did not return phone messages seeking comment. With Perry not seeking re-election next year, a new wave of Republican leaders in Texas have shown unease with his economic-development programs that give taxpayer dollars to private companies. That raises the possibility that the funds may not outlive his tenure. On Wednesday, a new legislative committee tasked with reviewing those programs listened to business groups, which acknowledged the criticism but also insisted that the programs work as advertised. The governor and the Legislature have built "an engine of growth through innovation," reads the most recent technology fund report published in February. The fund "is an integral component for the ongoing development of Texas' economy."
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:02 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The bizarre battle over the fate of the Los Angeles Clippers goes to a judge Monday and he may not have the final word on the dispute. The story has taken one strange turn after another since a recording surfaced of team owner Donald Sterling dressing down his young girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The viral audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million. In the aftermath, his estranged wife of 58 years, Shelly Sterling, took control of a family trust and negotiated a record $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. With her husband contesting the deal, she went to Los Angeles County Superior Court to clear the way for the sale. Here's a look at how the case has played out: FIVE MINUTES LASTS WEEKS The key issue in probate court is whether Donald Sterling killed the deal by revoking the trust after his wife removed him as a trustee. Shelly Sterling acted after doctors found the 80-year-old billionaire had symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A trustee can be removed if two doctors determine he or she is unable to manage their affairs. However, the trust is also revocable, and Donald Sterling moved to break it about a week after his wife cut the deal with Ballmer. His lawyers claim that action undid the sale and the case shouldn't be in probate court. Judge Michael Levanas has said the trust was so clear that he "could decide this case in five minutes," but testimony has dragged out over two weeks. He scheduled closing arguments Monday. BLESSING AND A CURSING Shelly Sterling said she was initially given her husband's blessing to sell the team and he praised the deal she reached. When it came time to sign it at the end of May, however, Sterling said he would not sell and would sue the league. "He started screaming and cursing at me," Shelly Sterling testified. Donald Sterling testified that he offered to let his wife negotiate the sale because he believed she would retain an interest in the team. BALLMER'S BILLIONS Shelly Sterling's lawyers argue that if her husband blocks the sale, it will hurt the family trust because there won't be another offer as good as Ballmer's, which is a record for an NBA team. Donald Sterling said he can top the Ballmer offer by $10 billion by selling TV rights and winning an antitrust suit against the NBA. STERLING BEHAVIOR Sterling eventually apologized publicly for the recording and said he was not a racist. Then he made matters worse by insulting Magic Johnson by saying he was a bad role model for kids because he had contracted HIV. His erratic behavior in court drew laughs as he railed at the lawyer questioning him and fired back testy responses. He said Shelly Sterling had duped him into consenting to the medical exams. Before taking the witness stand, he kissed his wife then testified that he loved her. When she approached him in the courtroom the following day, he yelled, "get away from me, you pig!" END GAME If Donald Sterling wins the case, the NBA is likely to seize the team and auction it. If Shelly Sterling wins, the sale will move forward. In either case, Donald Sterling, a lawyer who made his fortune on real estate, is expected to keep fighting. He has vowed to never sell and battle the NBA until his death. Sterling, who tried unsuccessfully to move the case to federal court on the eve of trial, has lawsuits pending in federal and state courts. The most recent, filed this week in Superior Court, alleged that his wife, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league committed fraud and violated corporate law in their attempt to sell the team to Ballmer. WHAT'S UP DOC? Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he'll pack his bags if Sterling remains the owner and there are fears that sponsors will boycott the team, according to Richard Parsons, the team's interim CEO. Parsons testified that the departure of Rivers would "accelerate the death spiral" of the team and that other key players, including Chris Paul, would follow. "If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster," Parsons said. "Doc is the father figure."
Written on 07/24/2014, 12:49 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The risk of losing your job is getting smaller and smaller. As the U.S. economy has improved and employers have regained confidence, companies have been steadily shedding fewer workers. Which is why applications for unemployment benefits have dwindled to their lowest level since February 2006 — nearly two years before the Great Recession began — the government said Thursday. The trend means greater job security and suggests a critical turning point in the economic recovery. It raises the hope that workers' pay will finally accelerate after grinding through a sluggish recovery for the past half-decade. When the economy sank into recession at the end of 2007, employers cut deeply into their staffs. And then during the recovery, they hired only hesitantly. Instead, they sought to maximize the productivity of their existing employees. But in recent months, the picture has brightened. Employers have added 200,000-plus jobs for five straight months, and the unemployment rate has reached 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008. Now, the steadily declining level of layoffs suggests that employers may have to hire even more aggressively and raise pay if they want to expand their businesses, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers. "They've been continually working their workers harder and longer," Naroff said. "As a result of that, we have consistent growth and you can't lay off people anymore." The shortage of laid-off workers searching for jobs means that more companies may need to pay more to attract talent. Thus far, wage growth has essentially only kept pace with inflation, and household incomes remain below their 2007 levels. Most businesses have so far been hesitant to raise wages, so there may be a lag before workers see higher paychecks. "But when the dam breaks, it's really going to break," Naroff predicted. Some firms say they're already dealing with wage pressures. Cleveland-based Applied Medical Technology has raised hourly pay for warehouse employees from $8.25 to $10. It did so both to attract new hires and because it heard that some of its employees had quit for raises elsewhere, said Jeff Elliott, the company's chief financial officer. The company also started holding pizza parties and summer cookouts. Elliott said it's cheaper and easier to keep existing employees than to find and train new ones. Throughout the economy, layoffs have fallen so much that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits plunged last week to a seasonally adjusted 284,000, a low last achieved in February 2006. And after accounting for U.S. population growth, the number of people applying for unemployment aid has reached its lowest point since 1999. The four-week average of applications, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, has dropped to 302,000 from 348,500 when the year began. "In the weeks that follow," said Michelle Girard, chief economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland, "claims look likely to hold at or below the 300,000 mark." The sharp decline has paralleled healthy monthly employment reports. Employers added a net 288,000 jobs in June, capping the first five-month stretch of gains above 200,000 since 1999 at the height of the dot-com boom. The consensus forecast of economists is that the government will announce next week that employers added 225,000 jobs in July, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet. Not every company is avoiding layoffs. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it would cut 18,000 workers — the biggest layoffs in its 39-year history. But layoff announcements now mainly reflect strategic changes within individual companies, rather than broader economic conditions, Naroff said. Other data confirm that across the economy, job cuts have reached unusually low levels. Total layoffs in May dropped below pre-recession levels, the government said in a separate report that reveals how many people were hired, fired or quit jobs. Just 1.58 million people were laid off in May, according to the Labor Department. That was the third-lowest monthly figure since the government began tracking the data in 2001. Still, while layoffs have fallen 7.5 percent this year, actual hiring has increased just 3 percent. That's a big reason the job market might not seem as healthy as the series of strong monthly net job gains might suggest. Even so, more people with jobs means more people with paychecks, which tends to boost consumer spending and growth. After a sharp contraction in the economy in the first three months of the year, most economists expect growth to exceed a 3 percent annual pace in the second half of 2014.
Written on 07/24/2014, 12:45 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Dick's Sporting Goods chain has laid off 478 Professional Golfers' Association teaching pros months after the company reported that sales of golf gear are dwindling. Based in the Pittsburgh suburb of Findlay Township, Dick's operates more than 500 stores nationwide, most under the Dick's name. Those stores sell golf equipment as do 79 stores the chain operates under the Golf Galaxy name. Dick's still employs PGA pros at its Golf Galaxy stores, but not at Dick's locations. "We had some internal restructuring that affected the Dick's stores," Matt Trimbur, the PGA pro at the Golf Galaxy store in Robinson Township, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Trimbur referred additional comment to Dick's, which did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. The PGA announced the layoffs. "The PGA of America is aware of the decision made by Dick's Sporting Goods that affects the livelihoods of many PGA professionals who have been employed at Dick's," the PGA said in a statement. The PGA has employment consultants to help the unemployed pros. Dick's employed the pros in an attempt to woo customers with more expert advice on clubs and other equipment. But earlier this year, Dick's announced it expected its year-end profits to drop about 10 percent because of reduced sales in golf equipment, which the company said was offsetting gains it made selling other sports gear. At the company's first-quarter earnings call with analysts in May, chairman and chief executive officer Edward Stack said Tiger Woods' inability to return to peak form and the fact that fewer people are golfing have caused sales to drop. "We don't feel we've found the bottom yet," Stack said then.

Latest State News

Written on 07/24/2014, 1:02 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The bizarre battle over the fate...
Written on 07/24/2014, 12:30 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Charles Schwab Corp. is getting...
Written on 07/24/2014, 10:16 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The state Public Utility...
Written on 07/24/2014, 10:08 am by Associated Press
(AP) — A California wine collector the...

Latest National News

Written on 07/24/2014, 2:02 pm by 
AOMAR OUALI, 
BRAHIMA OUEDRAOGO, Associated Press
(AP) — An Air Algerie jetliner carrying...
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:54 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Striking a populist stand ahead...
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:49 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are ending little...
Written on 07/24/2014, 1:24 pm by 
The Associated Press
Investing in airlines has long been the...