TODAY

– September 17, 2014

Govt, states try to block proposed airline merger

(AP) — The federal government is trying to block the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways, saying it would cause "substantial harm" to consumers by leading to higher fares and fees.

The U.S. Justice Department, joined by the attorneys general of six states and the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit to block the merger Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The airlines said the government's conclusions were wrong, and they vowed to use "all legal options" to fight back.

The government's action threatens to quash a deal that would create the world's largest airline by passenger miles. The airlines could challenge the government in court, or possibly agree to concessions that would convince regulators to approve the merger.

The lawsuit caught many observers by surprise. In the last five years, antitrust regulators had allowed three other major airline mergers to go ahead, leaving five airlines in control of about 80 percent of the domestic market. But the government argued that this merger would hurt consumers around the country by eliminating a competitor on more than 1,000 routes. Mergers have helped the industry limit seats, push fares higher and return to profitability.

Last year, business and leisure travelers spent more than $70 billion on airfare in the United States. Consumer advocates cheered the lawsuit.

"This is the best news that consumers could have possible gotten," said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and member of a panel that advises the government on travel-consumer issues.

In its lawsuit, the department said that if the merger leads to even small increases in ticket prices or airline fees, it would cost American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year,

As examples, the government cited round-trip fares for travel this month between Miami and Cincinnati and between Houston and New York in which US Airways' fares are far lower than American and other competitors.

In making its case against the merger, the government relies heavily on an airlines executives own words.

Throughout the 56-page lawsuit, Department of Justice lawyers quote internal emails, investor presentations and public comments by the two airlines' top executives noting how past mergers have allowed for increased fares and rising fees for checking a bag or changing flights.

For instance, the suit recalls how US Airways President Scott Kirby noted in 2011 that past mergers had paved the way for the airlines to push through three successful airfare hikes that year.

Shares of both airlines plunged on news of the lawsuit. US Airways Group Inc. shares fell $1.92, or 10.2 percent, to $16.90 in afternoon trading. Shares of American Airlines parent AMR were taken off the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2011 but still trade over the counter; they were down $2.82, or 48.5 percent, to $2.99.

The companies issued a statement criticizing the Justice Department's conclusions and arguing that together they would create a stronger network of flights that gives travelers more choices.

In a letter to AMR employees, CEO Tom Horton said both companies tried to convince the Justice Department that the deal would be good for their customers and for airline competition.

"Since the DOJ has formed a contrary view, the matter will now be settled by the courts," Horton said, a process he said would "likely take a few months."

The airlines had already announced the management team at the combined company, which would be called American Airlines Group Inc. and led by US Airways CEO Doug Parker. Those plans are now on hold.

The lawsuit will not necessarily stop the deal. The airlines could fight back in court, but it might not even get that far.

Analysts said that the Justice Department could be seeking more time and leverage to squeeze out some concessions. Many experts had expected regulators to pressure American and US Airways into giving up some takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport, allowing for new competitors at the busy airport, which is just across the Potomac River from Washington.

Even outside the two companies, many in the airline industry had expected that the deal would easily win regulatory approval like Delta's purchase of Northwest, United's combination with Continental, and Southwest's acquisition of AirTran.

Justice Department officials "didn't have any problem with the Northwest-Delta merger; didn't have any problem with United-Continental. Where did they think it was going to go?" said Robert Mann, an airline consultant who once worked at American.

At the least, the lawsuit could delay AMR's exit from bankruptcy and make a merger slightly less likely, said Daniel McKenzie, an analyst for Buckingham Research Group.

AMR and US Airways announced in February that they planned to merge into a carrier with 6,700 daily flights and annual revenue of roughly $40 billion. By passenger traffic, it would slightly eclipse United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Along with Southwest Airlines, the deal would leave four airlines dominating the U.S. market.

AMR and US Airways officials had said their merger would help consumers by creating a tougher competitor for United and Delta.
AMR has cut labor costs and debt since it filed for bankruptcy protection. Pilots from both airlines have agreed on steps that should make it easier to combine their groups under a single labor contract, a big hurdle in many airline mergers.

A federal bankruptcy judge in New York was scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday to consider approving AMR's reorganization plan — one of the last steps before the merger would be completed. The hearing was expected to go ahead. The merger has been approved overwhelmingly by AMR creditors and shareholders and by US Airways shareholders.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department was joined by the attorneys general from American's home state of Texas, US Airways' home state of Arizona, plus Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.

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Written on 09/17/2014, 10:37 am by Associated Press
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Written on 09/17/2014, 9:47 am by 
MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
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Written on 09/17/2014, 9:43 am by DAVID KOENIG, AP Business Writer
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Written on 09/17/2014, 9:41 am by DON BABWIN, Associated Press
(AP) — A professor whose research is helping a California police department improve its strained relationship with the black community and a lawyer who advocates for victims of domestic abuse are among the 21 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants." The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced on Wednesday the 2014 recipients, who will each receive $625,000 to spend any way they like. The professor and lawyer, part of an eclectic group that also includes scientists, mathematicians, historians, a cartoonist and a composer, are among several recipients whose work involves topics that have dominated the news in the past year. "I think getting this (grant) speaks to people's sense that this is the kind of work that needs to be done," said recipient Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford University social psychologist who has researched racial stereotypes and crime. Shrouded in secrecy, the selection process involves nominations from anonymous groups and recommendations from the foundation's board of directors. Recipients have no idea they've won until they get a call from the foundation, and even then recipients have been known to wonder initially if someone is trying to trick them. John Henneberger, a housing advocate in Texas, said he was so stunned when he got his call that he had to sit down. "I got really quiet and they (people he was with) were asking me, 'Did somebody die?" he said. Eberhart's work prompted the Oakland, California, police department to ask for her help studying racial biases among its officers and how those biases play out on the street — topics that have been debated nationally in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Missouri. Eberhardt, who is also studying the use of body cameras by police — another topic of particular interest since Brown's shooting — said, "I hope this will show the work matters, holds value and promotes social change." The justice system is also at the heart of Sarah Deer's work as a legal scholar and advocate for Native American women living on reservations, who suffer higher-than-average rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Deer, a Native American who teaches law in Minnesota, met with women who simply stopped reporting such attacks because their tribal governments had been stripped of the authority to investigate and because federal authorities were often unwilling to do so, she said. The foundation pointed to her instrumental role in reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act by Congress in 2013 that restored some of those abilities to tribes. "For the first time since 1978 ... tribes (can) prosecute non-Indians who have committed acts of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations," she said. Like Deer, fellow recipient Jonathan Rapping has worked to improve the lives of others. A former public defender, Rapping founded Gideon's Promise after seeing a legal system that he said valued speed over quality representation of the indigent. The organization trains, mentors and assists public defenders to help them withstand the intense pressure that can come with massive caseloads. Today, the program that began in 2007 for 16 attorneys in two offices in Georgia and Louisiana has more than 300 participants in 15 states. The foundation recognized Khaled Mattawa, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, for his poetry and translations of Arab contemporary poets. Mattawa, who said he started translating the poetry as way to teach himself to write poetry, said the work can connect people from different cultures. "The poets are bearing witness not only to the humanity of their own people but of a shared humanity," he said. The awards, given annually since 1981, are doled out over a five-year period. This year's class brings the number of recipients to more than 900. Most winners are not widely known outside their fields, but the list has over the years included writer Susan Sontag and filmmaker John Sayles.
Written on 09/17/2014, 9:38 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The NFL said Wednesday that its new performance-enhancing drug policy will allow the Broncos' Wes Welker and two other suspended players to return to the field this week. The deal with the players association also adds human growth hormone testing, ending several years of wrangling between the league and the union. Welker, Dallas Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick and St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey had been suspended for four games. Under the new rules, players who test positive for banned stimulants in the offseason will no longer be suspended. Instead, they will be referred to the substance abuse program. The league and union are also nearing an agreement on changes to the substance abuse policy. That could reduce Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon's season-long ban. Testing for HGH was originally agreed upon in 2011, but the players had balked at the science in the testing and the appeals process for positive tests. Under the new deal, appeals of positive tests in the PED program will be heard by third-party arbitrators jointly selected by the NFL and union. Appeals will be processed more expeditiously under altered procedures Testing should begin by the end of the month. The new rules also change the length of suspensions. Previously, all first-time violations of the performance-enhancing drug policy resulted in at least a four-game suspension. Now, use of a diuretic or masking agent will result in a two-game suspension. The punishment for steroids, in-season use of stimulants, HGH or other banned substances is four games. Evidence of an attempt to manipulate a test is a six-game suspension. A second violation will result in a 10-game ban, up from a minimum of eight games. A third violation is at least a two-year suspension. Before, the ban was at least a year.
Written on 09/17/2014, 8:41 am by Business Journal staff
The Big Fresno Fair and the Fresno Historical Society have announced an agreement that will allow the iconic Fresno Courthouse Cupola to be part of The Big Fresno Fair Museum in 2016. "It will be an incredible addition to our museum that display's Fresno County's rich history and a great honor to share this with the public," John C. Alkire, Big Fresno Fair CEO, said in a prepared statement. The fair museum was first unveiled in 2013 and showcases more than 2,600 items from varying points in the fair's history. The collection helps to showcase what life has been like in the Central Valley over the past 131 years. Officials say the museum building must be expanded before the cupola can be displayed. The cupola was designed by John M. Curtis of San Francisco to replace an earlier version destroyed in a fire at the old Fresno County Courthouse in 1895. After it was determined in the 1960s that the old courthouse was not earthquake-resistant, the cupola was taken down. The Fresno Historical Society officially took ownership of the cupola in 1997 and the fair museum debut would mark the first time in nearly 30 years the cupola has been seen by the public.  "The cupola preserves a piece of our history in Fresno County and our judicial system," Judge Robert Oliver said in a prepared statement. "We have a mission — and a responsibility — to ensure more of our artifacts like the Fresno Courthouse Cupola are preserved for the public to see, learn from and understand the history behind it." Museum officials say that a 10,000 square foot expansion including an additional story being built will have to be added to the museum's current footprint. Once the expansion is complete, the cupola will be displayed on the top of the museum, adjacent to the Chance Avenue gate entrance.  "It will likely take a year to raise funds to pay for this large restoration project and another year to complete the restoration," Alkire said.  A fundraising campaign is now underway to help pay for the extensive restoration needed for the cupola and individuals and organizations interested in donating are asked to contact the Friends of the Big Fresno Fair. 

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Written on 09/17/2014, 9:47 am by 
MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
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Written on 09/17/2014, 9:41 am by DON BABWIN, Associated Press
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