– November 25, 2014

South Valley ethanol plant calls for sorghum

The Valley’s only ethanol production plant is encouraging local farmers to plant grain sorghum next spring, promising to buy the grain to make ethanol instead of using Midwestern corn.
“We would love to buy all the sorghum they can produce,” said Lyle Schlyer, president of Calgren Renewable Fuels near Pixley in Tulare County.
Currently, the 55-million-gallon ethanol plant depends almost 100 percent on trainloads of corn shipped from the Midwest to make the biofuel.

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Latest Local News

Written on 11/25/2014, 12:15 pm by Hannah Esqueda
The Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation held a press conference today denouncing the delay in drought legislation until 2015. 
Written on 11/25/2014, 12:09 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. Department of Education will be sending a team to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District on tech issues. Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines spoke with Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week. According to a district spokeswoman, Duncan agreed to send a team to assess and advise on technology matters in December. LAUSD has been struggling with implementing new technology. Glitches with a new computerized scheduling system left some students unable to register for classes they needed to graduate. A $1 billion plan to give each student an iPad was also fraught with problems. The tech troubles were among the struggles leading former Superintendent John Deasy to resign as head of the nation's second largest school system in October.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:42 am by 
SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
(AP) — When it comes to controlling California's flashy Las Vegas-style casinos, the stakes are enormous for tribes who own the gambling operations that collectively generate billions of dollars a year to sustain Native Americans up and down the state. With this backdrop, several tribes in the past two years have fallen into nasty, sometimes violent, power struggles pitting factions and families against one another. The most recent case, involving the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians near Yosemite National Park, climaxed in an armed raid on Oct. 9 by one faction that caused gamblers to flee, leaving their chips on the table. The National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates Indian casinos, and a federal judge shut down the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, citing safety concerns. Charges have been filed against 15 men — two tribal council members, the tribal police chief and a hired security team that included a former sheriff's deputy and onetime Marine, and a former Navy Seal. The casino remains closed — with estimated losses in the millions each week — because rivals have yet to diffuse what U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence O'Neill of Fresno called an "explosive keg" of emotions. "It's a classic struggle over money and tribal rights and control for what everybody recognizes is a very lucrative enterprise," said Denise Runge, a gambling industry researcher at Helena College University of Montana. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulation Act in 1988, setting the stage for sovereign Native American governments to open full-blown casinos. Indian casinos generated $28 billion last year from 449 casino operations in 28 states, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission. About 65 Indian casinos in California took in one-quarter of those earnings at nearly $7 billion. California outperformed the Las Vegas Strip, which drew $6.5 billion last year, says a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research report. Experts say this influx of money, which provides, jobs, housing and benefits to many tribal members, has helped spark friction. "All of a sudden, you've got a government with a lot of responsibility and a lot of clout that didn't develop over decades like a lot of our other government institutions," said Phil Hogen, former chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Simmering tensions erupted last month at Chukchansi when a security team led by former tribal leader Tex McDonald stormed the casino. They were armed with firearms and stun guns and detained security officers. Madera County Sheriff's deputies intervened. Prosecutors filed charges, including kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault against the men. Most have been arrested or have surrendered. McDonald is in jail with bail set at $2.4 million. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment. Meanwhile, Chukchansi's financial losses are unclear because Indian casinos are not required to disclose earnings. But its 1,800 slot machines could generate over $130 million annually, not including table games, hotel stays, food and drink sales, estimated Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California, which pushes for gambling laws to be properly followed. Chukchansi's turmoil isn't unique. Sheriff's deputies earlier this year headed off a standoff among armed and masked members of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians and their hired security forces. The confrontation at the Rolling Hills Casino, north of Sacramento, emerged in a struggle for control of the business and the tribe's assets, including a $3 million jet, 162 ounces of gold and $3,300 monthly payments to adult tribal members. One faction accused the other of launching a cyberattack. In Oroville last year, a group at the Berry Creek Rancheria protesting their disenrollment barricaded themselves inside tribal headquarters next to the Gold Country Casino & Hotel. An 11-hour standoff ended when sheriff's deputies threw in a grenade and arrested 20 people. Both Northern California casinos remained opened. Tribal clashes are rooted in history, Schmit said. The U.S. government broke its promises to give Indians land, she said, and sanctioned tribal groups with members who were not affiliated. Schmit said the government sowed the seeds of conflict and hasn't helped resolve modern disputes. "Certainly, tribes in California have suffered generational trauma for it," Schmit said. O'Neill, citing concern for the casino's out-of-work employees, expressed exasperation with the leadership vacuum of the Chukchansi tribe, the Indian Gaming Commission and his court, which has limited jurisdiction over tribal affairs. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Gaming Commission did not respond to requests seeking comment. Tribal affairs attorney Gabriel Galanda said some lawyers are exploiting casinos to run up fees. "It's all by design, lawyers and lobbyists taking advantage of a void of law and order in Indian country," said Galanda, who represented an ousted faction of the Paskenta tribe. "This is happening in too many places, too frequently. I guarantee you that Chukchansi is not the last of them."
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:35 am by MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer
(AP) — Google is throwing its money, brain power and technology at the humble spoon. But these spoons (don't call them spoogles) are a bit more than your basic utensil: Using hundreds of algorithms, they allow people with essential tremors and Parkinson's disease to eat without spilling. The technology senses how a hand is shaking and makes instant adjustments to stay balanced. In clinical trials, the Liftware spoons reduced shaking of the spoon bowl by an average of 76 percent. "We want to help people in their daily lives today and hopefully increase understanding of disease in the long run," Google spokesperson Katelin Jabbari said. Other adaptive devices have been developed to help people with tremors — rocker knives, weighted utensils, pen grips. But until now, experts say, technology has not been used in this way. "It's totally novel," said UC San Francisco Medical Center neurologist Dr. Jill Ostrem, who specializes in movement disorders like Parkinson's disease and essential tremors. She helped advise the inventors and says the device, which has a fork attachment, has been a remarkable asset for some of her patients. "I have some patients who couldn't eat independently, they had to be fed, and now they can eat on their own," she said. "It doesn't cure the disease — they still have tremor — but it's a very positive change." Google got into the no-shake utensil business in September, acquiring a small, National of Institutes of Health-funded startup called Lift Labs for an undisclosed sum. More than 10 million people worldwide, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin's mother, have essential tremors or Parkinson's disease. Brin has said he also has a mutation associated with higher rates of Parkinson's and has donated more than $50 million to research for a cure. But the Lift Labs acquisition was not related, Jabbari said. Lift Lab founder Anupam Pathak said moving from a small, four-person startup in San Francisco to the vast Google campus in Mountain View has freed him up to be more creative as he explores how to apply the technology even more broadly. His team works at the search giant's division called Google(x) Life Sciences, which is also developing a smart contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears for diabetics and is researching how nanoparticles in blood might help detect diseases. Joining Google has been motivating, said Pathak, but his focus remains on people who are now able to eat independently with his device. "If you build something with your hands and it has that sort of an impact, it's the greatest feeling ever," he said. "As an engineer who likes to build things, that's the most validating thing that can happen." Pathak said they also hope to add sensors to the spoons to help medical researchers and providers better understand, measure and alleviate tremors. Shirin Vala, 65, of Oakland, has had an essential tremor for about a decade. She was at her monthly Essential Tremor group at a San Ramon medical clinic earlier this year when researchers developing the device introduced the idea and asked if anyone was interested in helping them. As it was refined, she tried it out and gave them feedback. And when they hit the market at $295 apiece, she bought one. Without the spoon, Vala said eating was really a challenge because her hands trembled so hard food fell off the utensils before she could eat it. "I was shaking and I had a hard time to keep the food on a spoon, especially soup or something like an olive or tomatoes or something. It is very embarrassing. It's very frustrating," she said. The spoon definitely improved her situation. "I was surprised that I held the food in there so much better. It makes eating much easier, especially if I'm out at a restaurant," she said.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:33 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Apple's market capitalization surpassed $700 billion for the first time Tuesday morning. The iPhone maker is currently the most valuable company in the world, and its stock is up 48 percent in 2014. Apple stock has been strong since late April, when the company announced a series of moves intended to bolster its share price. Apple announced its first stock split in nine years and said it would buy back another $30 billion in stock. It also raised its quarterly dividend. The S&P 500 and other indexes are also at record highs. When the moves were announced, Apple's stock price was about 25 percent below its September 2012 peak. Shares of the Cupertino, California, company rose 54 cents to $119.17 in midday trading after rising as high as $119.75 earlier in the session.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:33 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. bank earnings rose 7.3 percent in the July-September quarter from a year earlier, as banks reduced their expenses and continued to lend out more money, which help drive up revenue. The data issued Thursday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed a robust picture as the banking industry continues to recover from the financial crisis that struck six years ago. Banks and other financial institutions insured by the FDIC earned $38.7 billion in the third quarter, up from $36.1 billion a year ago. The percentage of unprofitable banks fell to 6.4 percent of institutions, versus 8.7 percent a year ago. The agency said the number of "problem banks" fell to 329 during the quarter, the lowest since the first quarter of 2009. Only two insured banks failed last quarter.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:22 am by MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
(AP) — Whether they want to or not, consumers will soon know how many calories they are eating when ordering off the menu at chain restaurants, picking up prepared foods at supermarkets and even eating a tub of popcorn at the movie theater. The Food and Drug Administration announced long-delayed calorie labeling rules Tuesday, requiring establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food "clearly and conspicuously" on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply. The regulations will also apply to convenience stores, bakeries, coffee shops, pizza delivery, amusement parks and vending machines. The idea is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know it has hundreds of calories — and, in turn, restaurants may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down. Beverages are included in the rules, and alcohol will be labeled if drinks are listed on the menu. "Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. The effort is just one way Americans can combat obesity, she added. The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request. The rules deal a blow to the grocery and convenience store industries, which have lobbied hard to be left out since the menu labels became law in 2010 as a part of the health care overhaul. Even before the new rules were announced, some Republicans in Congress had expressed concern that they would be too burdensome for businesses. The law came together when the restaurant industry agreed to the labeling in an effort to dodge a growing patchwork of city and state rules. But supermarkets, convenience stores and many other retailers that sell prepared food said they wanted no part of it. The restaurant industry pushed to include those outlets, as they increasingly have offered restaurant-like service. The FDA issued proposed rules in 2011 that included supermarkets and convenience stores but excluded movie theaters. The final rules being released Tuesday include all of them. Representatives for the supermarket industry have said it could cost them up to a billion dollars to put the labels in place — costs that would be passed on to consumers. They said the rules could cover thousands of items in each store, unlike restaurants, which typically have fewer items. To assuage some of their concerns, FDA excluded prepared foods that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require more preparation, like deli meats, cheeses or bulk deli salads. But a sandwich for sale at the same counter would have to have a calorie label nearby, and many prepared foods in the grocery store will have to be labeled — from the salad bar to the hot food bar to cookies and birthday cakes in the bakery. In some cases foods will have to be labeled in one area but not in another — cut fruit would be labeled on a salad bar, for example, but not in a container for sale, because that is generally meant to take home and eat over a period of time. Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, said the group is extremely disappointed in the rules, which she said will affect stores' offerings of "fresh, minimally processed, locally produced items" such as cut cantaloupe, mixed salads, or steamed seafood. Hamburg acknowledged that the regulations seem complicated but said standards are necessary as supermarkets are selling more restaurant foods. The FDA says the idea is to label calories of foods that are meant to be eaten in the store, as a customer is walking away or soon after they arrive at another location. "The grocery store questions are some of the hardest ones, but it is very clear that the grocery store of today is different than it was 10, 20 years ago," Hamburg said. The pizza industry, led by delivery giant Domino's, has also vigorously fought the rules, saying there are millions of ingredient combinations possible. The FDA attempted to mollify some of their concerns by allowing pizza restaurants to label pizza calories by the slice, as they had requested, but would still force the labeling on menu boards in takeout restaurants. The delivery pizza industry had asked to post information online instead, saying only a small percentage of customers walk into their stores and about half order online. As in the proposed rules, the final version still exempts airplanes, trains, food trucks and other food served on forms of transportation. The point of menu labeling is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are figuring out what to eat. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on wrappers or on their website. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items. New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie posting law in place, and other cities and states have followed since then. Several restaurant chains such as McDonald's are already putting calorie labels on menus and menu boards nationwide.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:06 am by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Consumers across most of America will see their health insurance premiums go up next year for popular plans under President Barack Obama's health care law. But it will take time for families to figure out the best bang for their budgets — even as a bigger political battle brews over the program's future. For many people, government subsidies will cushion the hit. And there's a new factor: Returning customers who are savvy about health insurance and prepared to shop for a better deal. Scott Joens of St. George, Utah, said he and his wife are facing premium increases of about 18 percent for 2015. But instead of agonizing, he's looking for a plan with a higher deductible, which is the amount of medical expenses that consumers are responsible for each year before insurance kicks in. By switching, he could lower his monthly premiums. Joens, in his 50s and semi-retired from the pharmacy business, said he'll worry if the trend keeps going. "It's not a major hardship," he said. "But I still have some years until I am on Medicare. My worry is by the time I'm 65, who knows where this will be?" Overall, he said he's been very satisfied with his "gold" plan this year. Experts say numbers alone don't tell the story. "How all this shakes out will depend on one big wild card," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "Will current enrollees become savvy shoppers or just sit back and stay in their current plans? This is a new program with no precedent, so there's no way to predict exactly what will happen." In a departure from the process that officials followed last year, the administration has not released its own analysis of 2015 premiums. Instead, it published raw data, leaving it to independent experts to parse the numbers. What they are finding points to an overall trend of rising premiums, although not everywhere. The analysts have focused on "silver" plans, the coverage level picked by about two-thirds of the customers on and state-run health insurance markets. There are four levels — platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Silver is a notch below what most people with employer coverage have. A study from the market analysis firm Avalere Health found that premiums for the lowest-cost silver plan will go up by 10 percent on average in communities across the country. A Kaiser Foundation study took a different approach, focusing on premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plan in every county. That type of plan is a benchmark that the government uses as a basis for setting consumer premium subsidies for the entire program. Kaiser found that premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plan are going up in 59 percent of counties nationwide, down in 34 percent, and remaining flat in 7 percent. Eighteen percent of counties will see an increase of more than 10 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, 13 percent of counties will see a decrease of more than 10 percent. If you are currently in the second-lowest-cost silver plan in your community, there's no guarantee that will be the case for 2015. Another insurer may have bid lower and captured the designation. People who don't shop around could face significant price increases. The rise isn't too far out of line with what's happening to employer-sponsored plans, which cover about 150 million people and make up the biggest chunk of the health-insurance market. Costs in those plans, which usually are more restrained than prices in the individual market, are expected to rise about 4.6 percent on average next year, according to a recent survey from benefits consultant Mercer. Still, Levitt said many consumers will have the opportunity to find a lower-cost plan. "In some places, premiums are actually going down, which is almost unheard of in health insurance," he said. That's what Robert Glenn of Charleston, South Carolina, found when he started looking around. The premium for his current gold plan actually dropped by $17 for 2015. Nonetheless, Glenn re-evaluated his options, figuring he would save more next year by picking a middle-of-the-road silver plan instead. His new monthly premium will be $104 less than what he is currently paying. "I see the forces of capitalism and competition working this year," said Glenn, a psychiatrist in his early 30s who's an independent contractor. "I know I am just but one of millions of people affected ... but 'Obamacare' is working for me." Kaiser's analysis found wide differences from state to state, and even within states. Some of the steepest premium increases for benchmark plans are for counties in Alaska and Minnesota. Most counties in Georgia will see decreases. Premiums are trending up in Florida and Texas, prime targets of the administration's enrollment drive for 2015. Stephanie Baechle, a nanny from Columbia, Mo., says she's not happy. Although she's in her 20s — a desirable demographic for insurers— market forces seem to be pushing more costs at her. Her current plan is being canceled. The alternative she's being offered costs $15 a month more, and the copay is higher. On top of that, her doctor is not in the new plan. "As a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I am extremely disappointed in what is happening," said Baechle, who said she's considering not signing up for insurance and instead paying the fine levied against those who go uncovered. ___Associated Press writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this story.
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:05 am by 
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
(AP) — Rank-and-file IRS workers are again getting a bonus. Commissioner John Koskinen informed IRS employees in an email that they'll get a bonus next March of 1 percent of their base salary. The performance awards go to most employees. "I believe that rewarding our high-performing employees is a vital investment for our nation's tax system," Koskinen said in the Monday email that was obtained by The Associated Press. The annual awards are down from two years ago, when agency workers received bonuses of 1.75 percent. They were delayed in the summer of 2013 when automatic budget cuts hit the agency, forcing unpaid furloughs and other cost-cutting moves. Some Republicans have questioned the payouts in the wake of revelations that the IRS had wrongly targeted tea party organizations and other advocacy groups seeking tax-exempt status. "The agency — rife with scandal, mismanagement and unaccountability — is awarding bonuses with the very tax dollars they collect from hardworking Americans," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch noted that a Treasury Department investigation earlier this year concluded that bonuses totaling $2.8 million had gone to more than 2,800 employees found to have broken agency rules of conduct — including 1,100 employees who owed back taxes. Koskinen said that new protections negotiated with the National Treasury Employees Union would deny bonuses to workers who violate the agency's code of conduct. "Employees violating these basic standards should not be eligible for financial awards," Koskinen said.
Written on 11/25/2014, 9:27 am by MICHELLE LOCKE, Associated Press
(AP) — Tater Tots have come a long way from your school lunch tray. The comfort (and kid) food staple, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has been making it big on the bar scene, showing up as a crispy snack recently everywhere from neighborhood holes-in-the-wall to upscale craft bars. Meanwhile, home cooks and haute chefs alike have been inspired to come up with their own tweaks on the Tot. Barbecue bacon wrapped Tots. Breakfast burrito Tots. Pizza Tots. Totchos — think nachos only with Tots instead of tortilla chips — and the rather meta Tots-topped baked potatoes. It's not really surprising that so many people are inspired to become Tater creators, says Julie Crist, whose own love of the spud nuggets prompted her to open The Tot Cart, which has taken such inventions as chicken Tot pie and pulled pork Tots to the streets of the Philadelphia region. "You can really do anything with a potato. It's like a blank canvas," she points out. Tater Tots began humbly enough as a way to use up left over potato slivers from frozen french fries, which then were a main product of the Ore-Ida company. The Tots selling point was that they were crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, qualities that still appeal. At Daddy-O, a whiskey bar in New York City, owner Phillip Casaceli has been serving fried Tater Tots for about 15 years. It was one of the first menu items when the place opened in the summer of 1999. "We were a late-night crowd. The Tater Tots just worked really well with that demographic." You can get Tater Tots kicked up with cheese and jalapenos at Daddy-O, but the straight-up Tots are also popular. "What most people are looking for is that iconic kind of Tater Tot that brings them back to their youth," says Casaceli, waxing philosophical. Today, Casaceli estimates Daddy-O goes through 150 to 200 pounds of Tater Tots a week and he's seen the trend spread to other bars in the city. They also are on the menu at uber-hip PDT (please don't tell). But Tater Tots aren't just big in the Big Apple. Type "Tater Tot happy hour" into Google and you'll get results from all over the country. You can find Tots served straight up with sea salt on the side, blanketed with cheese and other sauces, or taken uptown with garlic and truffles. In Philadelphia, Crist finds her best-seller are Tots tossed in Old Bay seasoning and served with a homemade sauce of something called drunk cheese. While many use the classic Ore-Ida Tot, some are serving house-made versions, like the brisket tots at The Gander in Manhattan. Chef Jesse Schenker starts with brisket, adds herbs, caramelized onions, apples and mozzarella, cuts the mixture into circles and rolls them in potato flakes. The finished tots are served with an aerated mustard sauce made of creme fraiche and Dijon alongside cylinders of pickled apple. "I wanted to come up with a snack that everyone would just love," says Schenker. He understands the lure of the classic Ore-Ida product, too. "It's something about the texture, the saltiness. It's when you bite into something and there's that crunch." These days Ore-Ida's Tater Tots are made from dedicated potatoes — not slivers from french fry cutting — but not much has changed about the process except for some technology upgrades, says Fed Arreola, vice president of marketing for Ore-Ida. The company sells about 86 million pounds of Tater Tots each year and officials are, naturally, happy to see Tots popping up on menus and Pinterest pages. "It's very exciting," says Arreola. "They've been in the market for 60 years and continue to be on trend."___Online:

Latest State News

Written on 11/25/2014, 12:09 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. Department of Education...
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:35 am by MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer
(AP) — Google is throwing its money,...
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:33 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Apple's market capitalization...
Written on 11/24/2014, 2:11 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — A new report finds the number of...

Latest National News

Written on 11/25/2014, 10:33 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. bank earnings rose 7.3...
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:22 am by MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
(AP) — Whether they want to or not,...
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:06 am by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Consumers across most of America...
Written on 11/25/2014, 10:05 am by 
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
(AP) — Rank-and-file IRS workers are...