– July 30, 2014

Stocks end little changed as Fed meeting kicks off 

(AP) — Stocks are ending little changed as investors wait to see if the Federal Reserve will decide to start dialing back its stimulus or not.

The Dow Jones industrial average eased nine points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 15,875.26 Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down five points, or 0.3 percent, at 1,781. The Nasdaq composite fell five points, or 0.1 percent, at 4,023.68

Recent good news on the U.S. economy could increase the likelihood that the Fed decides to pull back on its huge bond-buying program as early as this week.

Frontier Communications surged 38 cents, or 8 percent, to $4.78 after the company agreed to acquire AT&T's fixed-line business in Connecticut for about $2 billion.

Delta Air Lines fell 98 cents, or 4 percent, to $26.94.

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Latest Local News

Written on 07/30/2014, 1:53 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing mixed after the Federal Reserve said the economy was strengthening enough for the central bank to continue cutting its...
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:51 pm by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Management failures by the Obama administration set the stage for the computer woes that paralyzed the president's new health care program last fall, nonpartisan investigators said in testimony released Wednesday. Behind the administration's repeated assurances that consumers across the land would soon have seamless access to health care, a chaotic procurement process was about to deliver a stumbling start. After a months-long investigation, the Government Accountability Office found that the administration lacked "effective planning or oversight practices" for the development of, the online portal to coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. As a result the government incurred "significant cost increases, schedule slips, and delayed functionality," William Woods, a GAO contracting expert, said in testimony prepared for a hearing Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. GAO is the nonpartisan investigative agency of Congress. Its full report is also expected Thursday. Spokesman Aaron Albright said the administration takes its responsibility for contract oversight seriously and has already started carrying out improvements that go beyond GAO's recommendations. The congressional investigators recommended a cost control plan and other changes to establish clear procedures and improve oversight. Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors' marching orders for the website, creating widespread confusion and leading to tens of millions of dollars in additional costs. Changes were ordered in seemingly willy-nilly fashion, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs. The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services — for ineffective oversight. The Medicare agency, known as CMS, was designated to administer Obama's health care law. GAO concluded: — Contractors were not given a coherent plan, and instead they were kept jumping around from issue to issue. — The cost of the sign-up system ballooned from $56 million to more than $209 million from Sept. 2011 to Feb. 2014. The cost of the electronic backroom jumped from $30 million to almost $85 million. — CMS, representing the administration, failed to follow up on how well the contractors performed. At one point the agency notified one contractor it was so dissatisfied it would start withholding payments. Then it quickly rescinded that decision. —The type of federal contract that the administration selected for was open-ended, which may have encouraged costly changes. Two contractors took the lead on the computerized system: Virginia-based CGI Federal built, the consumer-facing portal to subsidized private health insurance under the law. The site serves 36 states, while the remaining states built their own systems, with mixed results. QSSI, based in Maryland, was responsible for an electronic back office that helps verify personal and financial information to determine if consumers are eligible for tax credits to help pay their premiums. The front end of the system locked up the same day it was launched, Oct. 1, and was down most of that initial month. The electronic back office had fewer problems. Despite crippling problems with the part of the system used by consumers, CMS ultimately paid nearly all of CGI's $12.5 million in fees, withholding only $267,000, GAO said. Confronted with a flop, the White House sent in management consultant Jeff Zients as a troubleshooter. He removed CMS as project leader and gave the agency a supporting role. CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner later personally apologized to Congress saying that "the website has not worked as well as it should." Zients' rescue operation got the site working by early December. Another major contractor, Accenture, was brought in to help fix things. Eventually, some 8 million people managed to sign up, far exceeding expectations. Nonetheless, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stepped down amid complaints by White House officials that the president was blind-sided by the problems. The original contractors testified to Congress that they did not have nearly enough time to test the system before it went live. Indeed, Tavenner took the unusual step of signing the operational security certificate for herself, after CMS security professionals balked. The site has since passed full security testing. The GAO's findings amplified earlier conclusions in a report by Zients after his team got the website to work. In addition to hundreds of software bugs, insufficient infrastructure and subpar monitoring of problems, the White House troubleshooter found "inadequate management oversight and coordination" that "prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses to address the issues." Obama has already weathered the worst storms from the bungled health care launch, so the report is unlikely to create major political problems for the White House and Democrats generally. But it does shine a light on what was going on behind the scenes even as administration officials fostered the impression that signing up for health care would be simple, like shopping online.
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:47 pm by STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press
(AP) — A former IRS official at the center of the agency's tea party controversy referred to some right-wing Republicans as "crazies" and more in emails released Wednesday. A key GOP lawmaker says the remarks show that Lois Lerner was biased against conservative groups and targeted them for extra scrutiny. Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. In a series of emails with an associate in November 2012, Lerner made two disparaging remarks about some members of the GOP, including one remark that was a profane characterization. Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, released the emails Wednesday as part of his committee's investigation. The Michigan Republican says the emails show Lerner's "disgust with conservatives." In one email, Lerner called some conservatives crazies. In the other, she called them "assholes." The committee redacted the wording to "_holes" in the material it released publicly, but a committee spokeswoman confirmed to the AP that the email said "assholes." Congress and the Justice Department are investigating whether the IRS improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Camp sent copies of the emails to the Justice Department, saying they provide further proof that Lerner willfully targeted conservatives. "This new evidence clearly demonstrates why Ms. Lerner not only targeted conservatives, but denied such groups their rights to due process and equal protection under the law," Camp said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. Lerner retired from the IRS last fall. Her lawyer, William W. Taylor III, could not be reached for comment. Lerner has emerged as a central figure in several congressional investigations into the tax agency's handling of applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups. Twice Lerner refused to answer questions at congressional hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. In May, the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress. In June, the IRS told Congress that an untold number of Lerner's emails were lost when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011. Despite the lost emails, the IRS says it is providing congressional investigators with 67,000 emails to and from Lerner. In the newly released emails, Lerner was apparently traveling in Great Britain in 2012 when she used her Blackberry to send a series of emails to a personal associate who did not work at the IRS. Camp said Lerner was using her government email account. Lerner tells the person that she overheard some women say America was bankrupt and "going down the tubes." "Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP," replied the person, whose name was blacked out by Camp's office. "The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to." Lerner replies: "Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes." The other person replies: "And I'm talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid." Lerner: "So we don't need to worry about alien teRrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down." "This email shows that Ms. Lerner's mistreatment of conservative groups was driven by her personal hostility toward conservatives," Camp said in the letter to Holder. Lerner is an attorney who joined the IRS in 2001. She retired last fall, ending a 34-year career in federal government, which included work at the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. Lerner is the IRS official who first publicly disclosed in May 2013 that agents had improperly singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt-status. At the time, Lerner said a small group of agents working in a Cincinnati office were responsible. She apologized on behalf of the IRS. A May 2013 report by the agency's inspector general blamed mismanagement by IRS officials for the way tea party applications were handled. But the report did not provide any proof of political bias on the part of agents. In fact, the report noted that Lerner tried to stop the targeting once she learned that tea party and other conservative groups were being improperly singled out. Since then, Republicans in Congress have been working to prove that conservatives were targeted as part of a conspiracy to stifle groups based on their political beliefs. Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the processing of tea party applications, many of which were delayed for several years. However, congressional investigators have produced no evidence that anyone outside the IRS — including at the White House — directed the targeting or even knew about it. Camp said the new emails provide evidence that a key IRS official may have been motivated by politics.
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:43 pm by PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
(AP) — A man prosecutors accuse of heading a crime syndicate based in San Francisco's Chinatown pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a new charge of racketeering. Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow entered the plea to a newly filed indictment that includes all the same money laundering and related charges as the previous one. The new filing says he served as gang leader of a Chinatown community organization that bribed a state senator and laundered money among other crimes. The new racketeering count alleges that Chow orchestrated a wide range of alleged criminal activity, including the bribing of state Sen. Leland Yee. Yee is also charged with racketeering in the new indictment in addition to bribery counts. Yee is scheduled to enter a plea Thursday. Chow has been in custody since his arrest in April along with two dozen others with ties to the community organization he led. He appeared briefly Wednesday in San Francisco federal court in mustard-yellow jail garb with five other defendants in the sweeping public corruption case. Outside court, Chow's attorney J. Tony Serra said there is nothing new in the latest indictment. Serra said Chow is innocent and is being wrongly accused by investigators and prosecutors who don't believe he has given up his life as a gang leader. Chow was previously sentenced to 20 years in prison for gang activity and was released after serving less than half of the sentence after testifying against another gang figure. Since his release from prison, Chow was elected "dragon head" of Ghee Kung Tong, the Chinatown community organization. "He was a gangster, so to speak, in his past," Serra said. "But then he went straight." Serra said Chow intends to testify at his trial, which has not been scheduled.
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:40 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Fire crews strengthened old containment lines on Wednesday, as they tried to keep a blaze in Yosemite National Park away from a grove of treasured giant sequoia trees. The fire was about 10 miles away from Merced Grove, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. "If that is real active, it could go to the Merced Grove," he said. "But we're not looking at an imminent threat right now." Merced Grove is among three stands of giant sequoias in the park. The towering trees grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on Earth. They can live for longer than 3,000 years and can resist fire. Gediman said with the exception of some smoke in Yosemite valley, the park itself was not affected and remained open. The fire was threatening about 50 homes, which remained under evacuation orders. It has destroyed a home and a duplex and burned through more than 5 square miles since it began on Saturday. It was 34 percent contained. Fire crews also were battling a blaze in the Sierra National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Fresno that grew substantially late Tuesday and had spread across nearly 9 square miles. It was threatening about 20 homes, though they were not under mandatory evacuation orders, said Anne Grandy, a spokeswoman for the park. Meanwhile, crews were wrapping up a fire about 100 miles northwest of the Yosemite blaze in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. The fire was 90 percent contained on Wednesday morning. It has charred more than 6 1/2 square miles and destroyed 19 homes and 47 outbuildings. More than 400 homes were evacuated at one point, but all the residents have since been allowed to return home, state fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said. In neighboring Oregon, a firefighter who had been working on a 100-acre blaze in the southern Cascade Range died in a fall while on his break. Authorities say he apparently lost his balance climbing over a rock and fell backward over a downed log, breaking his back. In Washington state, officials were pleading with the public to stop donations for wildfire victims after community organizations were flooded with items. The largest wildfire in the state's history burned hundreds of homes and scorched hundreds of square miles.
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:37 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Cargill plans to close a Milwaukee beef-processing plant which employs about 600 people on Friday due to a shortage of cattle. A Midwest drought in 2011 and 2012 hurt cattle levels, said Cargill spokesman Mike Martin. Now, many herders are breeding the cattle they have and not selling them. U.S. beef cattle herd is at its lowest level since 1951, Cargill said. The Milwaukee plant slaughters live cattle and packages beef products. The meat producer bought the plant, which can process as much as 1,400 animals a day, in 2001. Employees were told about the closure on Wednesday after an 18-month review of cattle supply. A separate plant at the site, which produces ground beef and employs about 200 people, will remain open. Cargill said the 600 people losing their jobs can apply for work at other facilities in the region. It will hold a job fair next week. The employees affected will receive 60 days of pay after the plant closes, Martin said. Privately-held Cargill is based in Minneapolis and has about 143,000 employees around the world. Cargill also operates a beef processing plant in Fresno that employs more than 1,000 people.
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:35 pm by STEVEN DUBOIS, Associated Press
(AP) — The Portland, Oregon, City Council has voted to legalize short-term rentals in single-family homes, giving added legitimacy to rental websites such as Airbnb. Homeowners will be allowed to rent one or two bedrooms once a safety inspection is done and neighbors are notified. The city is requiring rental websites to collect lodging taxes. Airbnb says it started doing that July 1 in anticipation of Wednesday's vote. Mayor Charlie Hales and the city commissioners say they want Portland to be active in what they called the "sharing economy." Later this year, they plan to discuss whether to also legalize short-term rentals in apartment buildings.
Written on 07/30/2014, 10:58 am by Business Journal Staff
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce will present “Eggs & Issues,” an informative breakfast with guest speaker Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, at 7:30 a.m. Friday at Piccadilly Inn, 2305 W. Shaw Ave. The 31st District representative will address efforts to draft a new water bond for the November 2014 ballot and his bill, AB 69, which would stall a pending gas price hike. “It’s an honor to be invited to speak to members of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and continue an open dialogue about state issues impacting the Central Valley,” said Perea, in a release. “Right now, the single most important issue we are dealing with is the water bond.  The business community’s support for a water bond is vital to ensureCalifornia has a reliable water infrastructure and brings good paying jobs to our Valley.” The Chamber's Eggs & Issues events are held multiple times throughout the year and provide a format for local business and community leaders to get an update on local, state and federal issues.  Recent past speakers have included Police Chief Jerry Dyer, Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Congressman Devin Nunes.
Written on 07/30/2014, 10:52 am by Business Journal staff
Three Fresno State faculty members have been selected for a special fellowship to integrate entrepreneurship into their existing course work or develop curriculum for a new class. Wei Wu, Ph.D.; Hongwei Dong, Ph.D. and Richard Wanjema, M.F.A. are recipients of the Coleman Foundation's fellowship program, winning a two-semester stipend and joining 19 other Fresno State faculty members since 2005 to win the fellowship, presented in partnership with the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Coleman Foundation, based in Chicago, adopted the model in 2010, making it a nationally-recognized program. Wu is an assistant professor with the Construction Management Program at Fresno State’s Lyles College of Engineering. Wu will develop a new course, Construction IT and Entrepreneurship, with plans to offer it in spring 2015. Dong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor with Fresno State’s College of Social Science in the Department of Geography and City and Regional Planning. With the addition of entrepreneurship to his Introduction to Urban Planning course, Dong said he plans to "use it as a lens to help his students understand post-modern urban economic development policies and politics in American cities.” Wanjema, M.F.A., is an assistant professor of art and design with Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities. Wanjema said he will redevelop the Internet Design course to examine entrepreneurial components. He added that he feels “really honored to be selected for the award.” Courses taught by Coleman Fellows serve as electives to more than 150 students currently pursuing entrepreneurship degrees through the Craig School of Business.
Written on 07/30/2014, 10:40 am by Business Journal staff
A new line of Girl Scout-inspired Barbie dolls is available for sale in Fresno by the Girl Scouts of Central California South. The three dolls — Barbie, Teresa and Nikki — feature the Girl Scout's green beret and sash complete with insignia and badges. They are available for $12.99 plus tax at the Girl Scout's Gold Mine Store at 1377 W. Shaw Ave. in Fresno. The dolls are the result of a partnership last year between the Girl Scouts of America and Mattel that included a special Barbie "Be Anything, Do Everything" badge, a website as well as the dolls. The partnership has encountered some controversy. An anti-advertising nonprofit in Boston called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called on Girl Scouts to end the partnership, saying that the Barbie brand promotes harmful stereotypes to young girls. A press release from Girl Scouts of Central California South — which serves Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Kern counties — said the opposite is true: "According to Girl Scouts of the USA, 83 percent of moms believe the Girl Scout Barbie dolls will encourage their daughters to explore new opportunities and careers. This is because girls associate the doll with hiking and the outdoors, selling cookies, and helping others, which are all opportunities open to Girl Scouts."

Latest State News

Written on 07/30/2014, 1:43 pm by PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
(AP) — A man prosecutors accuse of...
Written on 07/30/2014, 9:40 am by Sue Manning, Associated Press
(AP) — The popular push for locally...
Written on 07/30/2014, 9:33 am by Fenit Nirappil, Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press
(AP) — Fire crews have gained ground on...
Written on 07/30/2014, 9:25 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Microsoft is spreading its...

Latest National News

Written on 07/30/2014, 1:53 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing mixed...
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:51 pm by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Management failures by the Obama...
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:47 pm by STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press
(AP) — A former IRS official at the...
Written on 07/30/2014, 1:37 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Cargill plans to close a...