– March 3, 2015

On jobs trip, Obama tries to leave problems behind

(AP) — President Barack Obama tried on Friday to leave behind the political battles that have overshadowed his second-term agenda, saying lawmakers should work on creating more middle-class jobs in the slowly growing economy. "Our work is not done, and our focus cannot drift," Obama said.

Obama's jobs tour took him to Baltimore after riding through one eruption after the other during the past few weeks, from new questions over his administration's handling of last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, to revelations of political targeting at the Internal Revenue Service and a secret probe of The Associated Press and its confidential sources.

"Others may get distracted by chasing every fleeting issue that passes by, but the middle class will always be my No. 1 focus," Obama said at Ellicott Dredges, maker of equipment for digging and pumping projects including mining.

The company, which helped build equipment that dug the Panama Canal, has been adding jobs through international sales in spite of a sluggish economy. Obama took a tour of the plant and got a close-up look at the assembly process, including excavation equipment being made for a customer in Bangladesh.

In his speech to several hundred workers and guests, Obama cited growth in the economy, a drop in unemployment nationwide and improvements in the housing and auto industries. But he said Washington still needs to do more to build a "rising, thriving middle class."

"We're now poised for progress, but our work is not done and our focus cannot drift," he said. "We've got to stay focused on our economy and putting people back to work and raising wages and bringing manufacturing back to the United States of America."

Obama added, "That has to be what we're thinking about every single day."

His comments seemed almost like a plea to his political opponents, and even some supporters, to shift from all the questions that have been dogging the president. The partisan fighting followed Obama even as he traveled north of the beltway, with Republicans criticizing the trip as stagecraft.

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland's only Republican congressman, said Obama should have stayed in Washington to focus on job-creation efforts like the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast and create jobs.

"That would boost jobs at Ellicott Dredges, but other than that, it's just going to be another photo op on a campaign-style tour when the president should be in Washington tending to the nation's business and to address the huge scandals that are popping up on a daily basis in Washington," Harris said in a conference call with other Maryland Republicans.

The administration has not yet taken a position on the Keystone project, which is opposed by environmentalists but supported by the president of Ellicott Dredges, Peter Bowe, in testimony before Congress just a day earlier. Bowe said in an interview that he didn't discuss it with the president.

"I'm not afraid of talking about it, but it didn't come up," Bowe said. Instead, he said, he told Obama about how the federal government is helping its export business.

Obama touted his effort to more quickly create construction jobs and repair roads, bridges and railways. He cited as an example the recently approved replacement of the aging Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River in the suburbs just north of New York City. The White House said such large projects can take as many as four years to complete the permitting process, but multiple federal and state agencies coordinated simultaneous reviews to cut the time to a year and a half. Obama signed a memorandum Friday directing his agency heads to follow the practice and speed approval for other projects.

Obama also highlighted his proposal to provide preschool for all low-income families by visiting an early childhood program at Baltimore's Moravia Park Elementary School. He sat at a table in the library with 4- and 5-year-olds learning to draw and write about their favorite zoo animals. "I've got to say, my tiger was not very good," Obama joked later. "The kids were unimpressed."

And he visited the Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit that promotes responsible fatherhood and provides job training to parents. One dad, Marcus Dixon, talked about how the center helped him after he got out of jail so he can help provide for his sons, ages 2 and 10. "It's restored my dignity," Dixon said of the program.

Obama told Dixon he is setting a powerful example for his sons and noted that he himself grew up without his father.

"I always tell people that, as great and heroic a job as moms do, particularly for boys, that's a hard situation," Obama said.


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Latest Local News

Written on 03/03/2015, 12:18 pm by 
TALI ARBEL, AP Business Writer
(AP) — The head of the Federal Communications Commission is taking the defense of new Internet regulations on the road.
Written on 03/03/2015, 12:16 pm by SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press
(AP) — A prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist who helped direct early investments in Google and Amazon testified Tuesday in a high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit that his firm is not run by men. John Doerr took the stand in San Francisco Superior Court in the lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — a case that has sparked debate over the treatment of women in the high-tech and venture capitalist fields. The plaintiff, Ellen Pao, claims she was denied a promotion in the male-dominated culture of the company because she is a woman and was fired in 2012 after she complained. Doerr — a billionaire and partner at the firm, which counts former Vice President Al Gore among its partners — testified that Kleiner Perkins has many female senior partners. Pao initially worked as Doerr's chief of staff before becoming a junior partner with full-time investment duties. During opening statements, her attorney, Alan Exelrod, said Pao wrote many of Doerr's letters and speeches, and had received a glowing review from him when she was contacted about another job opportunity. The attorney also said Doerr wanted to fire one of Pao's married male colleagues after learning he and Pao had had an affair and that Doerr was aware Pao had received a book of erotic poetry from a senior partner that she found inappropriate. Asked Tuesday about the book of poetry, Doerr said Pao did not tell him the nature of the book and did not seem upset by it. She was emphatic that her affair with the male colleague was in the past and not a problem, he said. The firm has denied wrongdoing and says Pao, 45, was a poor performer who didn't get along with her colleagues. Venture capital firms provide much of the startup funds for tech companies and have a reputation as being even more insular and male-dominated than the companies they help launch. Women hold 15 to 20 percent of the technology jobs at tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, according to disclosures by the companies. Venture capital firms are even more slanted toward men. A study released last year by Babson College in Massachusetts found that women filled just 6 percent of the partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999. Pao is seeking $16 million in damages. The firm is seeking to limit any possible damages by arguing that Pao is well-compensated in her current position as interim CEO of the popular social media company Reddit and hasn't suffered financially since leaving Kleiner after filing her lawsuit.
Written on 03/03/2015, 11:56 am by Business Journal staff
Acclaimed actor Viola Davis has canceled her announced appearance at September's Central California Women's Conference due to a scheduling conflict. Davis, star of ABC's How to Get Away with Murder, was scheduled to discuss the issue of hunger at the annual conference. She announced via Twitter she would be unable to deliver the talk due to a filming conflict. "I wish you all continued success in your fight against hunger," Davis wrote on Twitter. Davis recently announced winning the role of Amanda Waller in the upcoming DC Comics super-villain movie Suicide Squad. Shooting for the movie will take place in Toronto through September 2015, according to published reports. The women's conference wrote a note via Facebook confirming the cancellation. Organizers said they are working to quickly find a new celebrity keynote speaker for the Sept. 22 event in Fresno.
Written on 03/03/2015, 11:38 am by Business Journal Staff
Home prices in Fresno, including distressed sales, increased by 6.9 percent in January 2015 compared to January 2014, according to a report released today by CoreLogic. On a month-over-month basis, Fresno home prices, excluding distressed sales, increased by 0.9 percent in January compared with December 2014. In Madera, home prices, including distressed sales, rose by 9.5 percent in January 2015 compared to January 2014. Excluding distressed sales, the year-over-year increase in Madera was 10.6 percent according to the report. On a month-over-month basis, Madera home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 0.2 percent in January 2015. In the Visalia-Porterville area, home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 3.1 percent in January 2015 compared to January 2014. On a month-over-month basis, Tulare County home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 0.6 percent in January 2015. In the Hanford-Corcoran area, home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 6.8 percent in January 2015 compared to January 2014. On a month-over-month basis, Kings County home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 1.6 percent in January 2015. The report is the latest evidence that the Central Valley is outpacing many other parts of the county in terms of home sales price appreciation. According to the report, average U.S. home prices nationwide rose by 5.7 percent in January compared with January 2014. “House price appreciation has generally been stronger in the western half of the nation and weakest in the mid-Atlantic and northeast states,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “In part, these trends reflect the strength of regional economies.” Anand Nallathambi, CoreLogic’s president and CEO, predicts home prices “will continue to rise throughout the year and into 2016. A dearth of supply in many parts of the country is a big factor driving up prices,” he added.
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:46 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — A 9-year-old Fresno girl has won the 14th annual National Elementary School Spelling Bee. Her winning words: "hydrofoil" and "paucity." Ananya Vinay outspelled 34 other students in grades three to five to take the top spot at the event in Long Beach. Last year she placed fifth. The Fresno Bee reported Monday ( ) that the fourth-grader at Fugman Elementary School took home a $1,000 prize. The event is modeled after the Scripps National Spelling Bee held annually in Washington, D.C., but is geared toward younger students. The second place winner was a 10-year-old from Riverside who misspelled "medallion."
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:41 am by TOM KRISHER, 
(AP) — Freezing temperatures and drifts of snow took a small bite out of U.S. auto sales in February, but most automakers still reported gains thanks to the strong economy. Toyota led major automakers with a 13.3 percent gain over last February. Others came in below analysts' predictions. Chrysler, General Motors, Honda and Nissan all saw gains of 6 percent or less. Ford's U.S. sales were down 1.9 percent, as dealers lacked the inventory to meet demand for the new F-150 pickup truck. Volkswagen's sales fell 5.2 percent. All automakers report U.S. sales on Tuesday. Analysts had predicted an 8 percent increase over a year ago to nearly 1.3 million vehicles, based on the strength of the U.S. economy. Falling unemployment, low interest rates and new versions of big sellers like the Jeep Cherokee — which saw sales jump 19 percent in February —drove buyers to dealerships in many cities. The forecasting firm LMC Automotive pushed up its 2015 forecast by 40,000 vehicles, based on strong demand. The firm is expecting U.S. sales to top 17 million this year for the first time since 2001. Still, LMC said it became apparent as the month went along that bad weather in the mid-South and on the East Coast was hurting sales. Colonial Volkswagen of Medford, Massachusetts, had almost no customers for a two-week period at the start of the month. Ken Cataldo, the dealership's general manager, said he and his staff spent much of the time clearing snow from cars and moving them around the lot just north of Boston in order to plow snow away. "It was the worst two weeks of my life in the car business," said Cataldo, who's been selling cars for 29 years. As temperatures warmed at the end of the month, some customers came out of hibernation. Colonial ended up selling 75 cars, still short of its goal of 115 and the normal monthly sales of 130, Cataldo said. He's hoping to make up for the lost sales this month. "We've already put February in the rear-view mirror," Cataldo said. There were also obstacles to overcome on the other side of the country. LMC said a dispute that halted some shipments of car parts into West Coast shipyards may also have impacted sales. The impasse was settled on Feb. 21. In California, gas prices soared to more than $3.30 per gallon after an explosion at a refinery; nationally, they rose around 30 cents per gallon. But the national average of $2.44 per gallon is still $1 less than a year ago, according to AAA. Consumers and businesses still shopped for trucks and SUVs despite the higher gas prices. GM said sales of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup jumped 24 percent last month to 45,395. And small SUVs continue to be one of the hottest segments in the market. Toyota sold nearly 22,000 RAV4 SUVs, up 33 percent from a year ago and a February record for the vehicle. Toyota, with total sales of 180,467, bucked the industry with double-digit sales increases for the Camry, Corolla and Avalon sedans as well as SUVs and trucks. Prius hybrid sales were down 6.6, the victim of lower gas prices. GM's sales rose 4.2 percent to 231,378. It got a boost from big SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, which saw sales nearly double over last February. Ford's sales declined nearly 2 percent to 180,383. Every Ford and Lincoln brand car except for the Mustang was down, and key SUVs like the Escape and Edge also saw sales declines. Ford blamed lower sales to commercial and rental fleets for some of the losses. Pickup sales are also slow as the company ramps up production of the new F-150. Ford says it won't have normal levels of truck inventory on dealer lots until the end of June. Chrysler sold 163,586 vehicles for its best February in eight years. Sales of the Jeep brand rose 21 percent increase as Americans continued their shift away from cars toward small and large SUVs. Honda's sales were up 5.0 percent to 105,466. Sales of its Fit subcompact jumped 81 percent after a recent redesign, but sales of other cars like the Accord and Civic fell. Nissan's sales rose 2.7 percent to 118,436, a February record for the Japanese automaker. Nissan was led by the Rogue small SUV with a 24.6 percent sales increase. Volkswagen's sales fell 5.2 percent to 25,710. Big sales gains for the new Golf couldn't overcome lower sales elsewhere in the German automaker's lineup.
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:38 am by JONATHAN FAHEY, AP Energy Writer
(AP) — The U.S. has so much crude that it is running out of places to put it, and that could drive oil and gasoline prices even lower in the coming months. For the past seven weeks, the United States has been producing and importing an average of 1 million more barrels of oil every day than it is consuming. That extra crude is flowing into storage tanks, especially at the country's main trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pushing U.S. supplies to their highest point in at least 80 years, the Energy Department reported last week. If this keeps up, storage tanks could approach their operational limits, known in the industry as "tank tops," by mid-April and send the price of crude — and probably gasoline, too — plummeting. "The fact of the matter is we are running out of storage capacity in the U.S.," Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citibank, said at a recent symposium at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Morse has suggested oil could fall all the way to $20 a barrel from the current $50. At that rock-bottom price, oil companies, faced with mounting losses, would stop pumping oil until the glut eased. Gasoline prices would fall along with crude, though lower refinery production, because of seasonal factors and unexpected outages, could prevent a sharp decline. The national average price of gasoline is $2.44 a gallon. That's $1.02 cheaper than last year at this time, but up 37 cents over the past month. Other analysts agree that crude is poised to fall sharply — if not all the way to $20 — because it continues to flood into storage for a number of reasons: — U.S. oil production continues to rise. Companies are cutting back on new drilling, but that won't reduce supplies until later this year. — The new oil being produced is light, sweet crude, which is a type many U.S. refineries are not designed to process. Oil companies can't just get rid of it by sending it abroad, because crude exports are restricted by federal law. — Foreign oil continues to flow into the U.S., both because of economic weakness in other countries and to feed refineries designed to process heavy, sour crude. — This is the slowest time of year for gasoline demand, so refiners typically reduce or stop production to perform maintenance. As refiners process less crude, supplies build up. — Oil investors are making money buying and storing oil because of the difference between the current price of oil and the price for delivery in far-off months. An investor can buy oil at $50 today and enter into a contract to sell it for $59 in December, locking in a profit even after paying for storage during those months. The delivery point for most of the oil traded in the U.S. is Cushing, a city of about 8,000 people halfway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa at an intersection of several pipelines. The city is dotted with tanks that can, in theory, hold 85 million barrels of oil, according to the Energy Department, though some of those tanks are used for blending or feeding pipelines, not for storing oil. The market data provider Genscape, which flies helicopters equipped with infrared cameras and other technology over Cushing twice a week to measure storage levels, estimates Cushing is two-thirds full. Hillary Stevenson, who manages storage, pipeline and refinery monitoring for Genscape, says Cushing could be full by mid-April. Supplies are increasing at "the highest rate we have ever seen at Cushing," she says. Full tanks — or super-low prices — are not a sure thing. New storage is under construction at Cushing, and there are large storage terminals near Houston, in St. James, Louisiana, and elsewhere around the country that will probably begin to take in more oil as prices fall far enough to cover the cost of transporting the oil. Also, drillers are cutting back fast because oil prices have plummeted from $107 a barrel in June. And demand is showing signs of rising. While the Energy Department reported another enormous rise in crude stocks last week, up 8.4 million barrels from the week earlier, it also reported that diesel and gasoline supplies fell more than expected. That leads some to conclude that demand for crude will soon pick up, easing the glut somewhat. But many analysts believe oil prices will fall through the spring, before summer drivers start to relieve the glut.
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:36 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is warning about the overuse of testosterone-boosting drugs taken by millions of U.S. men, saying the popular treatments have never been proven safe or effective for treating common signs of aging like low libido and fatigue. The agency says drugmakers must clarify that their drugs are only approved to treat low testosterone levels caused by disease or injury, not general aging. Additionally, the FDA warned Tuesday that the drugs can increase the risk of heart attack and said drugmakers must add that information to their warning labels. The federal rebuke comes after years of industry marketing for new pills, patches, gels and injections that promise relief from low testosterone or "Low-T." The advertising blitz has pushed sales of testosterone drugs to over $2 billion.
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:35 am by DAVID McHUGH, 
GREG KELLER, Associated Press
(AP) — Top automakers are vowing not to give up on weak-selling electric vehicles — even as they unveil an array of powerful luxury cars with conventional engines aimed at a growing global market. BMW AG CEO Norbert Reithofer said Tuesday at the Geneva International Motor Show that his company cannot do without battery-powered vehicles such as its i3 urban compact. "In the future, electric drive vehicles will be in demand," he said, adding that the Munich-based automaker could not meet its targets to reduce emissions without them. Only about 75,000 of the 12.5 million vehicles sold last year in Europe were electrics or hybrids. Still, auto companies have sunk billions into developing alternative propulsion vehicles over the long term due to government requirements to limit vehicle emissions and with an eye to restrictions on autos in China due to heavy air pollution. The European Union requires companies to average 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer (0.6 miles) for their new cars by 2021, down from a limit of 130 grams per kilometer this year. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said hybrids combining internal combustion and batteries were "truly attractive cars that represent the best of both worlds" and serve as a bridge to future no-emissions vehicles. Daimler introduced a rechargeable plug-in hybrid of its C-class sedan at the show. Zetsche cautioned, however, that the long-life batteries needed for electrics to conquer the market are at least five years off. The calls to keep developing alternative-drive cars come even as high-end luxury cars take pride of place at this year's Geneva show. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi and McLaren all are unveiling high-speed machines costing hundreds of thousands, while Daimler has the Maybach Pullman stretch limousine, which will go on sale for north of 500,000 euros ($561,000). Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn stressed his company's commitment to new technologies even as the company's Lamborghini brand showed off its Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce, a sleek beast of a sports car with an enormous 750 horsepower and a top speed of over 217 mph (350 kph). It puts out 375 grams per kilometer of CO2. Volkswagen also unveiled a concept sport coupe that's hybrid-driven and can reach 150 mph. It emits only 46 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Auto executives were cautiously optimistic for sales this year in China, the United States and Europe - the three sales pillars for export-oriented German carmakers. Expectations are tempered by worries over Russia's conflict with Ukraine and economic difficulties in Brazil, another key market. Analysts at IHS Automotive foresee global car market growth of 2.4 percent, held back by shrinking demand in Russia, which appears headed for recession. BMW's Reithofer reported the company's sales slide 17 percent there last year. Auto sales grew last year in Europe by 5.6 percent, the first growth since 2007. The emphasis at the show on luxury vehicles highlighted the split in the market between steady sales to the wealthy and shakier demand for moderately priced vehicles. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, whose vehicles are more in the mass-market end of the market, said that "we were scraping the bottom of the barrel but now we're seeing the beginning of recovery. It's not phenomenal but I'll take it."
Written on 03/03/2015, 9:34 am by 
KEN THOMAS, Associated Press
(AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton used a personal email account during her time as secretary of state, rather than a government-issued email address, potentially hampering efforts to archive official government documents required by law. Clinton's office said nothing was illegal or improper about her use of the non-government account and that she believed her business emails to State Department and other .gov accounts would be archived in accordance with government rules. "Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials," Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said. "For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained. When the department asked former secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said 'yes.'" "Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved," he said. For Clinton, the new developments, first reported by The New York Times, place a spotlight on her tenure in the Obama administration as she prepares to launch a widely expected 2016 presidential campaign that Republicans have already started to deride as a third Obama term. They also come after recent examinations of the fundraising practices by the charitable foundation started by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Republicans quickly pounced on Clinton's use of the personal email account, arguing that she failed to comply with the law while serving in the State Department. Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is considering a 2016 presidential campaign, said Clinton "should release her emails. Hopefully she hasn't already destroyed them. Governor Bush believes transparency is a critical part of public service and of governing." She noted that Bush recently released personal emails from his two terms as governor. Former technology executive Carly Fiorina, another potential GOP presidential candidate, said the report "once again raises serious questions as to Hillary Clinton's definition of leadership. Does she believe that leadership means acting outside the law? Does she believe that leadership can exist without transparency?" Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the agency asked former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Clinton last year for records that should be preserved. In response to that request, Clinton provided emails from the personal account that she used during her time as the nation's top diplomat in President Barack Obama's first term from 2009 to 2013. However, she also said that the department has "long had access to a wide array" of Clinton's records, including emails sent between her and officials with an official email address. Harf says Clinton's successor, John Kerry, is the first secretary of state to primarily use an official email account and that the department is now updating its records preservation policies to bring them in line with current regulations. That includes regularly archiving all of Kerry's emails. Among the messages Clinton provided were 300 that met the criteria for a request for relevant emails from the House Select Committee investigating the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomat mission in Benghazi, Libya, Harf said. Those emails have been turned over to the committee, she added.

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