TODAY

– April 24, 2014

It's what's for dinner, big-time

U.S. red meat producers set a record in November, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's California Livestock Review, producing 4.33 billion pounds, a 9% increase from the 3.96 billion pounds produced in November 2009.

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Written on 04/23/2014, 1:26 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Just over a month after buying Beechcraft for $1.4 billion, Textron announced 750 job cuts at that company and at its Cessna division.
Written on 04/23/2014, 1:18 pm by Brett Barrouquere and Jim Kuhnhenn, AP Writers
(AP) — To help veterans leaving the military as it downsizes, the government on Wednesday started a one-stop job-shopping website for them to create resumes, connect with employers and become part of a database for companies to mine. First lady Michelle Obama announced the new Veterans Employment Center at Fort Campbell, Ky., during a special veterans' jobs summit, which comes as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. Unemployment among veterans who have served since September 2001 stood at 9 percent in 2013, about 1.6 percentage points higher than the overall civilian population. The website, ebenefits.va.gov, will help veterans and military spouses build resumes, translate military skills into private-sector skills and provide career and training data with the click of a mouse. "It is our obligation to you," Obama told hundreds of soldiers in a hangar on the sprawling military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. "Your job is to take full advantage of these opportunities." The Army plans to reduce its fighting force from a high of about 570,000 at the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 — a reflection of budget cuts and of the country's current military needs as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end. Col. David "Buck" Dellinger, the garrison commander of Fort Campbell, said about 5,000 of the 30,157 soldiers stationed at the post were in the midst of transitioning out of the Army and another 5,000 were within a year of being discharged. "It's not going to be a career for everybody," Dellinger said. The Obama administration's most high-profile online tool, the HealthCare.gov site designed to enroll Americans in health plans, had a disastrous rollout last fall. But administration officials said Tuesday that they have tested the veterans site to ensure it can handle the expected traffic and the various tasks. Maj. Sue Whetsell, a 24-year Army veteran from Omaha, Neb., is hoping to become one of the soldiers to take advantage of the new website. Whetsell wants to leverage her experience as a budget officer into a similar job in the private sector. But, after a long Army career, Whetsell acknowledges she needs help in preparing for civilian life. "It's just figuring out what is step one, step two and step three," Whetsell said. "That's the biggest challenge right now." The announcement is part of a monthlong series of events marking the third anniversary of Joining Forces, the nationwide initiative that Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, created in 2011 to improve employment, education and health care for active-duty service members, military families and veterans. Mrs. Obama announced to the 1,200 soldiers assembled that Joining Forces had resulted in 540,000 jobs for veterans and their spouses — far exceeding the goal of 100,000 jobs initially sought in the first two years. Biden, who appeared at Fort Campbell with Mrs. Obama, announced that the military spouses' employment program has enlisted 228 employers, up from the 60 companies that had made a commitment when the program launched in June 2011. Shipping giant UPS is among the corporations that have pledged to hire more veterans, recruiting 13,000 veterans in the past 12 months, said Lytana Kids, UPS vice president for workforce planning. That's about 8 percent of the parcel delivery company's overall hires, compared with 5 percent before. An integrated website would make that task even easier, she said. Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said the website and job fairs help the company generate "quite a bit" of interest among veterans. Tyson has committed to hiring 2,500 veterans by the end of 2014 and has already brought more than 3,000 on board. "A lot of them are not aware they have transferrable skills," Sparkman said. "Their work in logistics, planning and leadership are all good qualities to have in our business." The summit was organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor.
Written on 04/23/2014, 1:16 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The stock market is closing slightly lower as several U.S. companies report disappointing earnings. The decline broke a six-day winning streak. Intuitive Surgical dropped 12 percent. The company sold only half has many surgical robots in the last quarter as it did a year ago. Avery Dennison, Amgen and Norfolk Southern also fell after reporting their results. Not all the earnings news was bad. Delta Air Lines rose 6 percent after its first-quarter earnings climbed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell four points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 1,875 Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 12 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,501. The Nasdaq composite fell 34 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,126. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.69 percent.
Written on 04/23/2014, 1:11 pm by Business Journal staff
The Fresno County Superior Court is seeking 19 citizens who will effect changes to local government through their service on the grand jury. The Fresno County Grand Jury investigates and reports on civil matters dealing with Fresno County government. Grand jurors serve a one-year period with an option to apply for an additional consecutive term. Each will devote up to 80 hours each month to grand jury business, receiving nominal compensation for their service, plus mileage reimbursement. Grand Jury applications will be accepted until May 2 for the 19 that will serve as jurors from July 2014 through June 2015. Applications are available at www.fresno.courts.ca.gov or by calling the Fresno County Superior Court Juror Services Manager at (559) 457-1605.
Written on 04/23/2014, 12:04 pm by Josh Boak, AP Writer
(AP) — The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in eight months, a sign that real estate's spring buying season is off to a weak start. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales of new homes declined 14.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000. That was the second straight monthly decline and the lowest rate since July 2013. Sales plunged in the Midwest, South and West in March. But they rebounded in the Northeast, where snowstorms in previous months curtailed purchases. New-home sales have declined 13.3 percent over the past 12 months. "Our core view is that the housing market has stalled and won't contribute" to overall economic growth this year, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Rising home prices have caused some buyers to back off at the lower end of the market, while new-home buyers at the top continue to buy. As a result, median sales prices jumped 12.6 percent during the past month to $290,000. Home sales usually improve with the start of the spring. More would-be buyers venture to open houses. Families with children often begin to look for homes so that they can move once the school year ends. Builders anticipated a snap back with the warmer weather. There were 193,000 new homes for sale at the end of the month, about 39,000 more than the same period last month. Several other indicators also show that housing activity was muted last month. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of existing homes edged down 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million. It was the seventh drop in the past eight months. Sales have fallen, in part, because few homes are for sale. There is a 5.2-month supply of existing homes on the market, much less than the 6-month level seen in healthier markets. More construction is needed to boost the supply, the Realtors' group argues. But the improvement in building has been slight. Builders started work on 946,000 homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in March, up 2.8 percent from 920,000 in February, the Commerce Department said last week. Those figures include both single-family homes and rental properties. Applications for permits, a gauge of future activity, fell 2.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 990,000. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index was 47 in April. Readings below 50 indicate that more builders view sales conditions as poor rather than good. Sales have also been modest because of affordability issues. Rising prices over the past year and higher mortgage rates have made it harder for many Americans to afford a home. Real estate data provider CoreLogic says home prices rose 12.2 percent in the past year. Wage growth last year failed to keep pace with the higher buying costs. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage was 4.27 percent last week. Rates surged about 1.25 percentage points from May through September, peaking at 4.6 percent. Those increases began after the Federal Reserve signaled that it would begin to pull back from its bond-buying program. Those Fed bond purchases were designed to keep long-term interest rates low to spur more borrowing and boost economic growth. Since December, the Fed has reduced the size of its monthly purchases to $55 billion from $85 billion.
Written on 04/23/2014, 12:02 pm by Scott Mayerowitz, AP Writer
Boeing's increased rate of commercial jet manufacturing is starting to pay off for shareholders. In the first three months of this year, 161 new airplanes rolled off the company's assembly lines — more jets than the same period last year. That increased rate contributed to a $965 million profit for Chicago-based Boeing Co. post in the first quarter. The net income was actually down 12.7 percent from last year's $1.1 billion first quarter profit, but that is because Boeing took a $330 million accounting write-off related to changes in its retirement plans. The company also noted that its 2013 earnings were inflated by a one-time research and development tax credit. Net income per share dropped to $1.28 per share from $1.44 during last year's first quarter. But adjusted to exclude the write-off, earnings were $1.76 per share, beating the estimate of $1.56 per share from Wall Street analysts surveyed by FactSet. Shares rose $2.38, or 1.9 percent, to $129.93 in midday trading. The company reported $20.47 billion in revenue, more than the $20.15 billion expected by Wall Street. That's up 8 percent from the $18.9 billion in revenue during the same period last year. Revenue at Boeing's commercial plane unit rose 19 percent. The business grew thanks to increased production rates on its 737 manufacturing lines. In April, the 737 program reached a production rate of 42 per month. Boeing hopes to increase that to 47 airplanes a month in 2017 to help feed a worldwide demand for the narrow-body jet. The company's much delayed 787 Dreamliner also showed progress, reaching a production rate of 10 per month — although only 18 were delivered during the first quarter. Still, that's a major improvement over last year, when only one Dreamliner was delivered due to a worldwide grounding of the fleet over concerns about its lithium-ion batteries catching on fire. Boeing has backlog of 5,100 airplanes on order with a combined book value of $374 billion. On the defense side, revenue fell 6 percent and Boeing lowered its full year revenue guidance for military aircraft to $14.2 billion, down from $15 billion. Its global support and services revenue is expected to climb, however, from $7.8 billion to $8.6 billion. Both changes reflect a realignment within the defense unit. Boeing also repurchased 19.4 million shares for $2.5 billion during the first quarter.
Written on 04/23/2014, 12:00 pm by Catherine Lucey and Tom Murphy, AP Writers
That little voice nagging you to put down the cake and lace up the running shoes is increasingly coming from your employer and is likely to grow louder with a looming change under the federal health care overhaul. More companies are starting or expanding wellness programs that aim to reduce their medical costs by improving their employees' health. They're asking workers to take physical exams, complete detailed health assessments and focus on controlling conditions such as diabetes. Along with that, many companies also are dangling the threat of higher monthly insurance premiums to prod workers into action. The Affordable Care Act is one reason the programs are spreading. The federal law calls for a 40 percent tax on expensive benefit plans starting in 2018, and many companies that offer employer-based coverage already have begun looking for ways to lower costs and avoid that tax. "It is a very powerful ... visible wake-up call to all employers," said Helen Darling, chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit organization that represents large employers on health care issues. Businesses see wellness programs as a win for themselves and their workers. But studies have shown that the programs have a limited ability to reduce costs. They also raise concerns about privacy and discrimination against older workers or those who are more likely to have chronic conditions. Penalties also can hit lower-wage workers harder than they would executives because premiums already consume a larger portion of those workers' paychecks. "The top-line concern is that it has a huge potential to be discriminatory," said Lydia Mitts, a health policy analyst with the nonprofit Families USA. Benefits consultants say federal regulations help guard against that. Companies can be penalized under the overhaul for offering coverage that is considered unaffordable. Businesses also are required to offer alternatives that help workers avoid penalties like a higher premium because they can't meet a wellness program goal. Despite employee concerns, the idea of prevention as a way to reduce health care costs has been largely embraced by employers, who provide the most common form of health insurance in the U.S. For years, they have offered gift cards, cash and other rewards to employees who agree to get physical exams, fill out health assessments or take other steps to monitor their health. The goal is to at least make workers more aware of their health, and it worked for Roy Simmons, a 55-year-old nuclear power plant manager for energy provider Dominion Resources Inc. Dominion started offering a $400 premium credit a couple of years ago for employees who agreed to have a health assessment, so Simmons had basics such as his weight and cholesterol measured. He then forgot about the numbers until a reminder arrived last year. Another physical told him he had gained 40 pounds and his cholesterol was up. "That was a bit of a wake-up call for me," said Simmons, who manages a Dominion plant near Williamsburg, Va. "I didn't know it had happened to me. I know that sounds stupid, but I wasn't paying attention to it, and it just snuck up on me." Simmons cut junk food from his diet and asked his college football-playing son to become a workout partner over the summer. He has since dropped the weight. Benefits experts say companies haven't seen enough cases like Simmons', in which an incentive helps nudge an employee to participate in a wellness program, so some employers have started using penalties. These penalties most often stick employees who do not participate with larger premiums or deductibles, but they also can come in the form of a straight monthly surcharge, deducted from paychecks. A survey of nearly 600 large U.S. companies by benefits consultant Towers Watson found that 22 percent of companies that use financial incentives to encourage wellness program participation structured them as penalties. That's up from 18 percent last year. "There's going to be more of your skin in the game," said Michael Wood, a Towers Watson senior consultant. "If you help us control costs, uses the system wisely, you will be rewarded." Companies also are moving beyond rewarding or penalizing employees simply for participating. More are requiring workers to reach a health goal such as improved blood pressure, said Beth Umland, director of health and benefits research for the benefits consultant Mercer. Whether the various versions of wellness programs are achieving their intended effect — reducing a company's health costs — is a matter of debate. The average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health coverage topped $16,000 last year, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues. Employers, who pay most of that bill, have watched that figure climb faster than inflation for years, and it has more than doubled since 2002. Rand Corp. researchers studied several years of data from a PepsiCo wellness program to determine how it affected health care costs. They reported in the January issue of Health Affairs that disease management programs, which helped people with chronic conditions, reduced hospital admissions and lowered costs. But programs that simply tried to make employees live a healthier lifestyle did not, and the researchers said companies should not assume those programs will lower costs. At the same time, the programs have begun generating a backlash from employees. Last fall, faculty and staff at Penn State University objected to new wellness requirements that the university was eventually forced to modify. After significant pushback, the university said it would not institute a $100 monthly charge for people who failed to complete a series of activities, including a detailed online questionnaire. "They asked about pregnancy, they asked if men were doing testicular exams, they asked about depression, they asked about violence in the home," said Matthew Woessner, a professor of political science at the Harrisburg campus. "It was an incredible invasion of privacy." CVS Caremark Corp. employee Roberta Watterson has filed a lawsuit in California against her company over a wellness program that offers a $600 annual premium break for participants. The cashier's lawsuit accuses the company of asking personal questions in its survey, including whether its employees are sexually active. Watterson also alleged that blood work performed in the exam is used to flag employees who are at risk for certain conditions. She declined to comment on her case. CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said the company offers a lower premium for employees who complete a health assessment and screening. She said an outside company designed the questionnaire her company uses, and CVS had asked it to "remove certain questions" before Watterson filed her complaint. She also said CVS management cannot see employee-specific information compiled in the wellness exams. Having an outside business run the wellness program is a common way for companies to counter privacy concerns. The vendor can tell a company about trends, such as whether it has a lot of employees with high blood pressure, so the employer can implement programs to address that. But it is not supposed to share details about individual employees. State and federal laws are designed to prevent employers from seeing employees' specific responses or health statistics.
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:56 am by Justin Pritchard and Martha Mendoza, AP Writers
(AP) — For all the tens of billions of dollars the nation has spent on screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable investment to secure the airplanes. As the case of the San Jose stowaway shows, it did not take a sophisticated plan for a 15-year-old boy to spend about seven hours in what is supposed to be a secure area of Silicon Valley's main airport — much of it in a wheel well of the jet that took the teen to Hawaii. "No system is foolproof," San Jose International Airport aviation director Kim Aguirre said Wednesday. "Certainly as we learn more, if we see any gaping holes, we will work to fill them." Aguirre said a perimeter search found no holes in the barbed wire fence surrounding their 1,050 acre facility, and officials were waiting to finish their investigation before implementing any additional security measures. Aviation security experts say the San Jose airport is hardly alone when it comes to weaknesses in securing its airfield. While some larger airports have invested heavily in technology that can detect intruders, others have systems that sound too many false alarms — or don't provide enough useful information in the first place. "I don't think San Jose is different than 80 percent of the airports around the country" in how secure its perimeter is, said Rafi Ron, former head of security at the closely guarded airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Like other major airports, San Jose has dozens of security cameras that survey its restricted areas. Indeed, the FBI says cameras actually recorded the boy on the tarmac, but no one noticed until hours later — after he had survived the 5 1/2-hour flight and clambered onto the tarmac on the island of Maui. "What happened in San Jose can happen as we speak at other airports, because nobody can watch all these monitors" that feed video from around the airport, said Ron, now CEO of the consulting firm New Age Security Solutions. San Jose does not, evidently, have more sophisticated technology that can detect someone climbing a perimeter fence, track a trespasser with radar, or automatically alert authorities at a central post when a video camera picks up potentially suspicious activity. Such intrusion detection systems are the best security available, though they are not foolproof. In 2012, a man whose personal watercraft ran out of fuel swam to the edge of New York's Kennedy Airport, scaled a fence and walked about 2 miles along the airfield before being spotted. All this despite a $100 million system of surveillance cameras and motion detectors. The boy in San Jose told authorities he jumped a fence and climbed up the landing gear of the closest plane. Video shows him on the airfield a little after 1 a.m. Sunday, said a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity. It is not clear how the teen spent all the time before the plane took off around 8 a.m. FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu, where the boy is now resting in a hospital following his harrowing journey, said the teen "literally just slept on the plane overnight." He has not been charged with any crime. The fact that he survived is remarkable: At a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, temperatures in the wheel well would have been well below zero and the air so starved of oxygen that he likely passed out. In response, his body could have entered a hibernation-like state, from which he emerged once he was back on the ground, experts say. Unlike passenger and baggage screening, which is the domain of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the responsibility for protecting facilities is shared by the airport and federal and local authorities. While technology can help spot intruders, it also can overwhelm with information. At some airports, software monitors video feeds for potentially suspicious activity and sounds an alarm when a situation merits human attention. The problem is that many of those alarms are false. Poorly performing systems might have 10 false alarms per camera per day, said Illy Gruber of NICE Systems, a company that provides such software to airports. "It's way too many alerts," she said. As a result, they "are going to be ignored." Gruber said her company's system can reduce the number of false alarms to two or three per camera per day. A flood of false alarms is not a problem at smaller airports used by private planes. A 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office found that of 10 civil aviation airports, nine had no intrusion detection system and the 10th had a partial system. The TSA said it has spent $80 billion on aviation security since its inception shortly after the 9/11 attacks. That does not include perimeter security. "We were investing all our resources in the front door, which were the passengers and their bags," said Ron, the security consultant. "And we left the back door open. And that was the perimeter and access to aircraft."
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:49 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The University of California has agreed to pay $10 million to a former surgical chairman who says he was the victim of retaliation after pointing out conflicts of interest at UCLA's medical school. The Los Angeles Times reports (http://lat.ms/Psl6Wk ) UC regents agreed to the settlement Tuesday, just before closing arguments were to begin in the lawsuit brought by 54-year-old Robert Pedowitz. Pedowitz was recruited to UCLA in 2009 to run UCLA's orthopedic surgery department. In 2012 he sued the school, the regents, fellow surgeons and university officials, saying they failed to act on his complaints that doctors were allowed to take payments from device makers and other companies that may have compromised patient care. He said he was later victimized for speaking out. UCLA and the regents denied any wrongdoing, but said they paid Pedowitz to avoid the "expense and inconvenience" of further litigation.
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:47 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The Oakland A's have rejected a deal to play at its ballpark for the foreseeable future, saying the 10-year lease extension offer doesn't meet all their requirements. The Oakland Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1notDIE ) the team's rejection announcement came just an hour after the joint board that runs the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex announced the extension proposal. Team spokesman Bob Rose released a statement that the 10-year deal "did not address all of our issues" and asked that future lease negotiations not be played out in public. Specifics of the lease proposal were not disclosed. The lease expires after the 2015 season. The A's have been searching for a new home for five years, complaining that O.co Coliseum is dilapidated and not conducive to baseball.

Latest State News

Written on 04/23/2014, 11:49 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The University of California has...
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:47 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The Oakland A's have rejected a...
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:45 am by Associated Press
(AP) — To cope with drought conditions,...
Written on 04/23/2014, 11:40 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The San Diego company that makes...

Latest National News

Written on 04/23/2014, 1:26 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Just over a month after buying...
Written on 04/23/2014, 1:18 pm by Brett Barrouquere and Jim Kuhnhenn, AP Writers
(AP) — To help veterans leaving the...
Written on 04/23/2014, 1:16 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The stock market is closing...
Written on 04/23/2014, 12:04 pm by Josh Boak, AP Writer
(AP) — The number of Americans buying...