TODAY

– April 17, 2015

Will Google bring good fortune to Credit Karma?

(AP) — Google is betting that good things will happen to Credit Karma, an online service that provides consumers with free copies of the credit scores that define their financial reputations.

Credit Karma is getting Google Inc.'s endorsement and expertise as part of an $85 million investment announced Wednesday.

About half of the money is coming from Google Capital, the Internet company's recently created vehicle for investing in maturing startups. The remaining funds are being provided by Tiger Global and two of Credit Karma's earlier investors — Ribbit Capital and Susquehanna Growth Equity.

With the latest infusion, Credit Karma has now raised $118.5 million since the San Francisco startup launched its service in 2008.

Credit Karma plans to use the incoming money to more than double its current workforce of 110 employees and introduce more products "that are going to be disruptive," CEO Ken Lin said.

Without providing specifics, Lin said Credit Karma's next product will be unveiled in about two months and will offer free access to a service that consumers traditionally have had to pay to get.

Credit Karma already has made it easier to obtain a free snapshot of the personal credit scores that determine loan rates and borrowing limits. The scores, based on the loan-payment histories compiled by major credit-rating agencies, traditionally have been only provided when people apply for a loan or sign up for other financial services that eventually charge fees.

Everyone who sets up an account at Credit Karma can get free looks at their credit scores once a week. Credit Karma obtains its main credit score through TransUnion, one of the three major U.S. credit-rating agencies along with Experian and Equifax. The service also lists a score based on another formula used by all three agencies and another number that most auto and home insurers rely upon to evaluate how likely their prospective policyholders are to file a claim.

The free insights are attracting a steadily growing audience. Nearly 21 million people have set up free accounts on Credit Karma, up from about 9 million a year ago, Lin said.

Credit Karma doesn't store the Social Security numbers required to open an account, but it does create financial profiles of its users to tailor the marketing pitches that bring in most of its revenue. Virtually all the ads are for credit cards, loans and other financial services.

Google also analyzes personal data to determine which ads to show users of its services, but Lin said Credit Karma isn't sharing any information about its members with Google.

Credit Karma plans to draw upon Google's knowledge about marketing and expanding online services to accommodate larger audiences. David Lawee, a Google Capital partner, is joining Credit Karma's board of directors.

This is Google Capital's third major investment in the past month. Online education service Renaissance Learning received $40 million, and online real estate site Auctions.com got $50 million. Last year, Google Capital was among the investors that backed online polling site SurveyMonkey and online loan broker LendingClub.

Google Capital is aiming to invest about $300 million this year. It's an offshoot of Google Ventures, a fund that the company set up five years ago to invest in startups during their early stages. Google Ventures so far has invested in 225 companies, including home-device maker Nest Labs, which is now wholly owned by Google Inc. after being bought for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

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Written on 04/17/2015, 2:31 pm by 
JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
(AP) — Just as Congress is hitting something of a bipartisan stride on such issues as Medicare, Iran and trade, President Barack Obama and his White House...
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:28 pm by LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday defended his pursuit of a sweeping trade pact as good for American workers in a global economy, dismissing fierce opposition from his own party as a "ratification of the status quo." The challenge for the Democratic president was on stark display hours before he began speaking at a White House news conference. Earlier in the day, Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the senior Democrat of House Ways and Means Committee, declared he was "out to defeat" the legislation because, he said, it would cost U.S. jobs and damage the environment. Only a few Democrats in the House, Levin predicted, would support the legislation. Obama said the authority he sought is the same exercised by past presidents of both parties. And the pact he's seeking with 11 Pacific nations would prevent countries like China and Japan from having a leg up in global commerce. "Being opposed to this new trade agreement is essentially a ratification of the status quo, where a lot of folks are selling here, but we're not selling there," Obama said at a news conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He pointed to the various brands of Japanese-made cars filling the streets of Washington compared to a lack of GM, Chrysler and Ford vehicles in Tokyo. "We cannot stop a global economy at our shores," he said. "We've got to be in there and compete. And we've got to make sure we're writing the rules so that we've got a level playing field." His comments came as many Democrats criticized the deal, announced Thursday, on the broadest bipartisan trade bill in years. Under the agreement reached in Congress, Obama would get so-called trade promotion authority to negotiate trade pacts that Congress could approve or reject, but not change. Congress still has to vote on such fast-track authority, and many Democrats, including strong Obama allies, have vowed to fight it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the challenge rests with Obama now. "This is a time for presidential leadership," the Kentucky Republican told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, predicting most Republicans will vote for the bill. "Stand up, Mr. President. Make the arguments and deliver the Democratic votes we'll need to get it passed." Backing the measure are Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But as of Friday, the bill lacked a House Democratic sponsor — an indication, Levin said, that the legislation was likely to win only a "handful" of Democratic votes. House and Senate committees plan to consider the measure next week, ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's address to a joint meeting of Congress on April 29. Obama faces opposition from key labor and environmental groups that form much of the liberal base of his party. The rift puts Obama's would-be successor, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in an awkward spot as she launches a campaign to unite the party behind her. Obama sought to reassure critics by saying deals with Asia and Europe would have enforceable labor and environmental protections and heed concerns about human rights. "In many ways, this is the most far-reaching and progressive trade promotion authority that we have seen going through Congress'" Obama said. "It is entirely understandable that there is some skepticism around trade from working families who saw manufacturing collapse and jobs being outsourced." Overseas, Obama wants the clout of boosting the United States' competitiveness in the global marketplace. He's seeking authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would establish a trade accord between the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and seven other Pacific rim nations. Levin dismissed the labor and environmental provisions as ineffectual. And other groups — the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the Sierra Club — stepped up their pressure on lawmakers to oppose the bill. Such agreements, they argue, wind up destroying jobs in the U.S. and creating jobs in nations that lack the environmental and worker safety protections that exist in the United States. Teamsters General President James Hoffa said the bill "would allow secret trade pacts to sail through Congress with no chance to alter them. That's bad for American workers as well as their families." Big business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pushed back with an endorsement of the bipartisan bill. Obama said he wasn't supporting it for them, but for American workers. "I didn't get elected because of the sponsorship of the Business Roundtable or the Chamber of Commerce," Obama said. "Those aren't the ones who brung me to the dance." ___Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:26 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Things are finally looking up for Barbie. Mattel, the toy company behind the plastic dolls, said there were some signs of improving demand for Barbie ahead of its planned makeover of the brand, including Barbie dolls with different skin tones, eye colors and nose shapes to better relate to multicultural girls and their mothers. The El Segundo, California, company also reported better-than expected financial results for the first quarter and its shares rose more than 5 percent on Friday. Mattel said late Thursday that more people were buying Barbie dolls in U.S. stores. BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson said the rise was a "positive" development, in a note to clients. However, Mattel said overall sales of the brand including sales to retailers were still down 14 percent, largely because of the stronger dollar. Barbie sales have fallen as kids turn to tablets and other toys. Mattel hopes to reinvent the brand this year. In June, Barbie have 23 new looks with different skin tones and hair colors. One has freckles, a wide nose and curly hair. Another has almond-shaped brown eyes and dark skin. Mattel said it wants to make dolls that girls and their moms can better relate to. The dolls will be part of its core Fashionista line. "This will be an important cultural milestone for the brand," said Richard Dickson, Mattel's president and chief operating officer, in a conference call with investors on Thursday. As part of the launch, Barbie will also get a photo spread in Italian version of fashion magazine Vogue. Mattel said that it will also release three Barbie movies this year, one more than usual. The movies, which will air on cable channel Nickelodeon and be released on DVD, can increase sales of the doll, the company said. To develop new toys, Mattel announced Friday that it will partner with Quirky, a company that helps inventors bring their ideas to life. With the partnership, Mattel and Quirky will seek ideas from customers for new toys and games. "This marks a new era for Mattel," said Dickson, in a written statement. During the first quarter, the company reported a loss of $58.2 million from a year ago, but its adjusted earnings beat Wall Street expectations. Revenue fell 2.5 percent to $922.7 million in the period, but still beat Wall Street expectations. Mattel, which also makes Hot Wheels cars and Fisher Price toys, named Christopher Sinclair as its permanent CEO earlier this month. He replaced Bryan Stockton, who resigned from the top job as the company reported disappointing fourth-quarter results. Shares of Mattel Inc. rose $1.48, or 5.8 percent, to finish at $26.75 on Friday. Its shares are down about 28 percent over the past year.
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:24 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A Philadelphia family has been awarded the rights to 10 rare gold coins possibly worth $80 million or more after a U.S. appeals court overturned a jury verdict. U.S. Department of the Treasury officials insist the $20 Double Eagles were stolen from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia before the 1933 series was melted down when the country went off the gold standard. Prosecutors say Joan Langbord and her sons cannot lawfully own the coins she says she found in a family bank deposit box in 2003. A jury in 2012 agreed. But the appeals court ruling Friday returns the coins to the Langbords because U.S. officials didn't respond in time to the family's claim for the seized property. A Treasury spokeswoman has no immediate comment on the ruling.
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:23 pm by SETH ROBBINS, Associated Press
(AP) — Millions of dollars might have been saved through better management and by not leaving seats empty on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement charter flights carrying detained immigrants to their home countries, according to an internal watchdog report released Friday. The Homeland Security Department's Inspector General said the flights, which returned detainees mainly to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, flew partially empty more than a third of the time, and that up to $41.1 million could have been saved by filling them. The Inspector General audit of ICE's Air Operations found that 2,121 flights from October 2010 through March 2014 flew with less than 80 percent of seats filled. Those flights, accounting for 37 percent of the 5,699 flights reviewed, cost ICE about $116 million altogether. ICE spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen said in a statement that the agency strongly disagrees with the report's use of empty seats on flights as a measure of efficiency. "Delaying the removal of individuals in order to fill empty seats causes the agency to incur ancillary costs that may exceed the costs of seats," she said. According to the report, ICE Air pays on average $8,419 per flight hour for charter flights, regardless of the number of passengers. During the 3 1/2 year review period, ICE spent $598 million on air operations, of which $464 million went to charter flights. The report acknowledged that various factors prevent ICE aircraft from flying at full capacity, including responding to special requests and varying restrictions imposed by receiving countries on the frequency of flights and the number of deportees that can be repatriated on each. But even when a flight was limited to 120 seats because of country restrictions, ICE used only 90 at times, the report said. Other factors, such as the availability of detention space and the amount of time individuals may be held in ICE custody, also must be taken into consideration when flying detainees, ICE officials said. The report criticized the agency for missing information, including 23,597 detainees listed as being picked up or dropped off at locations not on the flight route, as well as operations staff that were not properly trained. The report concluded that ICE completed its mission of transporting 930,435 detainees but that "ICE Air does not capture complete and accurate data essential to support operational decisions." The report recommends that ICE perform more training, obtain better data and carry out a comprehensive assessment on detainee transport. ICE officials said they agreed with a number of recommendations in the report, and Christensen said the agency is already making improvements. She said part of the problem was the audit came when ICE Air was in the middle of efforts to consolidate and was in the process of addressing issues raised in the report. Since then, she said, "the agency has made great strides."
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:14 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — This isn't your grandparents' baseball game. Minor league teams from New York and Connecticut will play an experimental game this weekend aimed at finding ways to speed their pace. The Long Island Ducks and Bridgeport Bluefish will play an exhibition game Saturday, limiting every batter to just five pitches. Some fans have complained baseball games take too long. The rules in the Atlantic League experimental game call for a batter to be called out if he fouls off a pitch with two strikes. Ordinarily a batter remains at the plate until he gets a hit, makes an out, strikes out on three pitches, is hit by a pitch or walks. The rules also give batters a walk after three balls, not four. Game time is 1 p.m. Don't be late.
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:00 pm by Business Journal staff
Sierra Bancorp, parent of Porterville-based Bank of the Sierra, announced a regular quarterly cash dividend of 10 cents per share. The dividend will be paid on May 14 to shareholders of records as of April 30. It is the bank's 65th consecutive quarterly cash dividend. The bank also announced plans to open a new loan production office in the Ventura County town of Oxnard. It is set to open in May.
Written on 04/17/2015, 1:38 pm by PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
(AP) — Scientists have rediscovered a mostly intact World War II aircraft carrier used in atomic bomb tests and then sunk at a secret location off the Northern California coast decades ago. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration located and recorded video of the U.S.S. Independence as part of a mission to map an estimated 300 historic shipwrecks in the waters outside San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Images captured by a remotely controlled miniature submarine showed the Independence sitting upright about 30 miles off the coast near the Farallon Islands. A plane is visible in a hangar. The Independence operated in the Pacific during the war and served as a target ship for two Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests in 1946. "This ship fought a long, hard war in the Pacific, and after the war, was subjected to two atomic blasts that ripped through the ship," NOAA scientist James Delgado said. Despite the damage incurred, the Independence continued to float. The Navy used the ship to study nuclear decontamination while it was moored in San Francisco. The Navy towed the Independence out to sea in 1951 and scuttled it out of concern the damaged ship would sink near the city. The military branch kept the site of the ship's sinking secret. The contamination poses little danger to public health because of the ship's isolation 2,600 feet underwater and 30 miles from the coast, scientists say. Neither the submarine nor tools used to examine the ship showed any signs of increased radiation, Delgado said. Kai Vetter, a University of California, Berkeley, nuclear engineering professor, said the ship posed a serious risk to workers at the San Francisco shipyard where the ship was moored after the atomic tests. "But the risk to the public now is extremely small," Vetter said. "Water is a very efficient shield."
Written on 04/17/2015, 1:35 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — After years of struggling to keep up with Victoria's Secret, Los Angeles-based lingerie brand Frederick's of Hollywood Group Inc. is switching to a web-only retail model. The Los Angeles Times reports that Frederick's has closed all of its 94 brick-and-mortar stores in favor of e-commerce. A retail consultant says the brand could be successful online-only with careful corporate strategy. The pinup-inspired lingerie brand opened in Los Angeles in 1947 and launched a mail order catalog in the 1960s, later adding sex toys and more risque attire to the line. Frederick's declared bankruptcy in 2000, emerging in 2003 and going public in 2006. In 2013 the brand was purchased by a consortium that includes HGI Funding, a subsidiary of New York-based Harbinger Group Inc., and some of its own shareholders.
Written on 04/17/2015, 1:31 pm by LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer
(AP) — The force won't officially awaken until December, but Star Wars fans got an early glimpse Thursday with the debut of a spooky new teaser trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." The clip features the wreckage of a star destroyer, X-Wing battles, the Millennium Falcon in action, and a first look at Harrison Ford as Han Solo. "Chewie, we're home," Solo says at the close of the brief teaser, prompting the audience to scream and applaud. Die-hard fans packed the main hall at the Anaheim Convention Center for the event known as Star Wars Celebration. They wore costumes and wielded light sabers as they watched director J.J. Abrams and producer and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy kick off the four-day event. Franchise cast newcomers Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega surprised the audience with appearances and regaled the rapt fans with anecdotes about the highly anticipated film set to hit theaters Dec. 18. The fans were treated to a few morsels of new information even though the film remains cloaked in secrecy. Abrams, who is finishing the edit of the film, spoke about his love for the series and his insistence on keeping sets for the new episode as real as possible, even in the age of computer-generated images. "The thing that struck me ... is how real you knew and felt Star Wars was when you first saw 'A New Hope,'" he said. "You want it to be legitimate. You want it to be authentic. Building as much as we could was really the mandate." He also revealed that the desert landscape seen in both teasers was the planet Jakku, not Tatooine as seen in other episodes. Filming took place in Abu Dhabi to get the "John Ford landscapes" — a reference to the renowned director of Westerns. It's "a Western and a fairy tale as much as anything else," Abrams said of "The Force Awakens." Ridley said her character Rey is a scavenger who is completely self-sufficient and solitary until she meets another character. In the new teaser, viewers see Rey meeting Finn, the character played by Boyega, who wears a storm trooper suit in the clip and is in unspecified immediate danger. Isaac said his character Poe Dameron, an X-Wing pilot, "is the best freaking pilot in the whole galaxy." "Star Wars" veterans Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels and Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew also made appearances. "You grew up with us. It's amazing to be part of so many people's childhood," added Fisher, who noted that she would not be sporting her signature buns or metal bikini in the new film. Harrison Ford, who was recently involved in a plane crash, did not attend. Kennedy assured the audience that the actor was resting and getting well at home. Other special guests included a brigade of new storm troopers, series mainstay R2-D2, and the brand new ball droid BB8, who became a fan favorite when the first teaser trailer debuted in November. "I loved all the little details like having BB8 come out," said 24-year-old fan Meghan Conmy, who traveled with friends from San Francisco for the event. "I was already excited but now even more so. I got chills. We were tearing up." Bedecked in a golden Queen Amidala costume, 10-year-old Julia Morales was also excited to be at her first celebration with her older sister Lucia. They live in Rancho Cucamonga. "I can tell it's going to be really awesome," Morales said of the upcoming movie.James Allen, 22, of Suffolk, England, marveled over the atmosphere and the surprise of getting to see the new cast. "The footage showed us everything we need to know about the film's vision, but nothing about what the film is actually about," Allen said. "It was a very well-made trailer and worth the 24-hour wait." Star Wars Celebration is produced by Lucasfilm and dedicated to Star Wars past and present.

Latest State News

Written on 04/17/2015, 1:38 pm by PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
(AP) — Scientists have rediscovered a...
Written on 04/17/2015, 1:35 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — After years of struggling to...
Written on 04/17/2015, 1:31 pm by LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer
(AP) — The force won't officially...
Written on 04/17/2015, 9:22 am by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Google is about to change the...

Latest National News

Written on 04/17/2015, 2:31 pm by 
JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
(AP) — Just as Congress is hitting...
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:28 pm by LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday...
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:26 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Things are finally looking up...
Written on 04/17/2015, 2:24 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A Philadelphia family has been...