– January 28, 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.


How often do you shop at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis?


gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 01/28/2015, 1:37 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is slumping at the close as oil falls to its lowest level in nearly six years.
Written on 01/28/2015, 1:20 pm by Hannah Esqueda
The Fresno Housing Authority (FHA) and city leaders celebrated the grand opening of its CityView housing development today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  The 45-unit project features studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 413 to 955 square feet. It is designed for young professionals who work in the downtown area and also offers 3,000 square feet of commercial retail space.  Located on the site of the former Droge Building on the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and Inyo Street, the development is a major accomplishment for the City of Fresno and its revitalization efforts, said Mayor Ashley Swearengin.  "This is one of the hottest locations downtown," she said. "This truly is becoming an anchor in all that is happening in downtown Fresno." The development offers residents easy access to downtown business and restaurants, public transportation hubs and Chukchansi Park, said Preston Prince, executive director and CEO of FHA. While the agency had to demolish the Droge building during the construction process, he said the new development features artwork celebrating the rich history of the location.  The project was a public-private partnership between the FHA and several investors with PNC Bank owning the majority of the development. The group has worked with the FHA for the last 12 years and provided $3.8 million in equity for the project, said Matthew Harrington, vice president and regional manager of originations at PNC.  "The Fresno Housing Authority is very much an innovator," he said. "We look forward to future partnerships with FHA and in the City of Fresno." Local firm Ashwood Construction built CityView while Sacramento-based Mogavero Notestine Associates designed the project.  Many of the units have already been leased and future tenant Jackie Anaya said the project has already had a positive impact on her family's restaurant across the street. Her family has owned and operated Joe's Steakhouse in downtown Fresno since 2005. "Ten years ago we never imagined looking across the street and seeing a building this beautiful," she said. "Now we're going to be able to serve dinner six nights a week instead of five because there will be residents down here who we can serve."
Written on 01/28/2015, 12:22 pm by Gabriel Dillard
Fresno Chaffee Zoo's annual Super Bowl prediction is going to the birds this year. After two consecutive years of wrong predictions, Siabu the orangutan is getting benched this year in favor of Lazarus, a white-faced whistling duck. The pick will take place Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the zoo's rainforest lawn. A zookeeper will guide Lazarus between two team blankets representing the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. The blanket Lazarus is drawn to first will constitute his pick. Since at least 2010, Fresno Chaffee Zoo has used much the same technique to get an orangutan to make the prediction: • Siabu in 2014 — Denver Broncos (wrong) • Siabu in 2013 — San Francisco 49ers (wrong) • Alex in 2012 — New York Giants (right) • Alex in 2011 — Pittsburgh Steelers (wrong) • Siabu 2010 — Indianapolis Colts (right) I don't know about you, but that's a respectable track record. But it doesn't appear anti-primate sentiment led to the duck call. Lazarus is an imprinted duck, meaning he's especially comfortable in front of people. So while visitors had to watch Siabu and Alex make their picks from outside the orangutan enclosure, visitors will actually be able to meet Lazarus and his keeper after Friday's pick. White-face whistling ducks are also an abundant sub-Saharan African and South American species, so his pedigree is also a good tie-in to the zoo's upcoming African Adventure exhibit to open in October.
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:34 am by KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
(AP) — Tourists who fly to Colorado to try legal pot can forget about buying souvenir boxer shorts, socks or sandals with a marijuana leaf on them when passing through the Denver airport. The airport has banned pot-themed souvenirs, fearing the kitsch could taint the state's image. Marijuana possession and any pot-related advertising were already forbidden. Airport executives extended the ban this month after a retailer sought a free-standing kiosk to sell the boxer shorts and similar items that played off Colorado's place as the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales. Airport officials feared the souvenirs would send the wrong message. "We don't want marijuana to be the first thing our visitors experience when they arrive," airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said. The spurned retailer is mulling a lawsuit, noting that the souvenirs are legal and that the airport already has a large exhibit celebrating craft brewers, whose product, like marijuana, is legal only for people 21 and older. "Why is everybody so riled up about the picture of a plant?" asked Ann Jordan, owner of High-ly Legal Colorado, which makes the shorts, socks and "pot flop" sandals that are already sold in Denver-area music stores. But it's unlikely that Jordan would have a strong claim. Airports have broad discretion to control concession operators, and they can limit free-speech activities, such as handing out brochures. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that airport terminals are not public forums, siding with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey against a religious group that wanted to distribute pamphlets. The legalization measure approved by Colorado voters in 2012 allows any property owner to prohibit possession of pot, and airports in Denver and Colorado Springs do. Violators face possible civil citations. Denver International Airport has given no possession citations since legalization, Montgomery said. Last year, 29 people were caught trying to board planes with marijuana. In each case, police declined to issue citations, and the passengers were allowed to board planes after throwing out the weed. In Washington state, the only other state with recreational marijuana sales, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport does not ban pot possession or marijuana-themed souvenirs, Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said. Colorado's smaller airports don't ban marijuana-themed souvenirs, either. Montgomery said the Denver airport has a special obligation as the gateway for many thousands of visitors to the Rocky Mountain region. "Frankly there's a lot more to Colorado than pot," Montgomery said. Jordan considers the souvenir ban an example of long-standing fear surrounding marijuana. The airport's beer exhibit consists of an entire walkway devoted to an exhibit titled "Colorado on Tap: The State of Brew Culture." It features pub glasses, beer labels and T-shirts from the state's 250 or so craft brewers. Gov. John Hickenlooper is quoted in the display extolling Colorado as "a mecca for quality beer." "If you're opposed to drinking and you walk down (the walkway), you just ignore it," Jordan said. Airport officials, she said, "just haven't come to grips that this is a whole new world and they need to adapt." The airport policy bans depictions of the marijuana plant, items with the word "marijuana" and the sale of publications devoted expressly to pot. But airport officials concede they can't keep out the ubiquitous "Rocky Mountain High" puns and other slogans. Said Montgomery: "There's only so much we can do."
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:31 am by ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press
(AP) — The Obama administration has ordered immigration agents to ask immigrants they encounter living in the country illegally whether they might qualify under President Barack Obama's plans to avoid deporting them, according to internal training materials obtained by The Associated Press.   Agents also have been told to review government files to identify any jailed immigrants they might be able to release under the program. The directives from the Homeland Security Department mark an unusual change for U.S. immigration enforcement, placing the obligation on the government for identifying immigrants who might qualify for lenient treatment. Previously, it was the responsibility of immigrants or their lawyers to assert that they might qualify under rules that could keep them out of jail and inside the United States. It's akin to the Internal Revenue Service calling taxpayers to recommend they should have used certain exemptions or deductions. The training materials apply to agents for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They instruct agents "to immediately begin identifying persons in their custody, as well as newly encountered persons" who may be eligible for protection from deportation. One training document includes scenarios describing encounters between agents and immigrants with guidance about how agents should proceed, with a checklist of questions to determine whether immigrants might qualify under the president's plans. ICE officials earlier began releasing immigrants who qualified for leniency from federal immigration jails. Obama in November announced a program to allow roughly 4 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to apply for permission to stay in the country for up to three years and get a work permit. The program mirrors one announced in 2012 that provides protection from deportation for young immigrants brought to the country as children. CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said having his agents ask questions about whether an immigrant might qualify for leniency upfront saves time and money and "let's us use our resources, particularly the Border Patrol, for the people who are going to be at the highest level." Immigrants caught crossing the border remain a top enforcement priority. Crystal Williams, executive director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, said the training will help filter people the government said should not be a priority anyway. She said the training marked the first she has heard of officers being directed to screen immigrants for potential leniency before they were arrested. "Just because it's a change doesn't mean it's anything particularly radical," Williams said. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and vocal supporter of Obama's immigration plans, said having CBP officers screen immigrants out of the deportation line lets the government "move criminals and recent arrivals to the front of the deportation line. The emphasis now is on who should be deported first, not just who can be deported." A former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, John Malcolm, said the new instructions limit immigration agents. "Agents are being discouraged away from anything other than a cursory view" of an immigrant's status and qualification for leniency, said Malcolm, who works as a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. Under Obama's plans, the government is focused on deporting immigrants with serious criminal records or who otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety. For the most part, under the new policy, immigrants whose only offense is being in the country without permission aren't supposed to be a priority for immigration officers. While the administration has estimated that as many as 4 million people will be eligible for protection from deportation, the Congressional Budget Office estimated about 2 million to 2.5 million immigrants are expected to be approved for the program by 2017. As many as 1.7 million young immigrants were estimated to be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but since its 2012 creation only about 610,000 people have successfully signed up. ___Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:29 am by MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The Federal Reserve reiterated Wednesday that it will be "patient" in raising rates from record lows but noted that inflation remains well below its target rate. In a statement after its latest policy meeting, the Fed made clear that no rate increase is imminent. Chair Janet Yellen said after last month's meeting that by saying it would be "patient," the Fed was signaling there would be no rate increase for at least two meetings. The Fed's statement Wednesday said the factors holding inflation below its 2 percent target rate have intensified since its last meeting in December. Inflation has stayed ultra-low partly because of a plunge in energy prices and a steadily strengthening dollar. The central bank said it thinks inflation will decline further before starting to rise gradually. The Fed statement's emphasis on low inflation could affect when it decides to raise its key short-term rate from near zero. Many economists have forecast a Fed rate hike in June but some have pushed back that timetable. The U.S. economy's steady growth and a strengthening job market would normally argue for a move to begin raising rates to prevent high inflation. The Fed has kept its benchmark rate near zero since December 2008 to encourage borrowing, spending and investment and support the economy's recovery from the Great Recession. The Fed's key rate affects rates on many consumer and business loans. But concerns about global economic weakness and low inflation have raised doubts about when the Fed's first rate increase will occur. A growing number of economists say the date could slip to September or even later. Economists at Morgan Stanley this week pushed back their forecast for the first rake hike to March 2016 because of the factors holding inflation down. If the Fed wants to signal that a rate hike is coming in June, it would need to alter the "patient" wording at its next meeting in mid-March. A complicating factor is the European Central Bank's new plan to flood its sputtering economy with more than 1 trillion euros. That money should keep the eurozone's interest rates ultra-low and could lead some investors to buy higher-yielding U.S. Treasurys. That would further strengthen the dollar and could push U.S. inflation further below the Fed's 2 percent target. Growth in China, the world's second largest economy, is slowing, too. By contrast, the U.S. economy added nearly 3 million jobs added last year, enough to cut the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent. That is just above the Fed's goal of 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent unemployment. But Yellen and other Fed officials have pointed to other factors — such as weak pay growth and a still-high number of part-time workers who can't find full-time jobs — as evidence that more must be done to achieve a healthy job market. U.S. prices rose just 1.2 percent in the 12 months that ended in November, according to the Fed's preferred gauge of inflation. When inflation is too low, consumer spending — and economic growth — can slow as people delay purchases on the assumption that the same or lower prices will be available later. The biggest fear is deflation — a broad decline in prices and income that can further restrain spending and even tip an economy into recession.
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:28 am by JENNIFER C. KERR, Associated Press
(AP) — The nation's largest prepaid mobile provider, TracFone Wireless, will pay $40 million to settle government claims that it misled smartphone customers with promises of unlimited data service. The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that TracFone promised unlimited data in its advertising, but then drastically slowed down consumers' data speeds — a practice known as throttling — when they had used a certain amount of data within a 30-day period. In some cases, the FTC said, the company cut off customers' data service when they ran over the limit. TracFone's prepaid wireless service is sold under various brands, including Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile and Telcel America. Throttling will slow down the ability to open Web pages or stream video. According to the commission, TracFone generally throttled the data flow when a customer used about 1 gigabyte to 3 gigabytes. Data service was sometimes suspended at 4 gigabytes to 5 gigabytes, the FTC said. TracFone did not respond to an email requesting comment. Consumers who had a Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, or Telcel America unlimited plan before January 2015 can file a claim for a refund at . Refunds will vary depending on several factors, including how long a consumer had the TracFone plan and how many consumers request refunds. The FTC charges that TracFone has been throttling consumers or cutting unlimited service since 2009. The commission's complaint says there was no technical reason for TracFone to limit the data plans, such as slowing speeds because of network congestion. Internal documents, the FTC says, suggest the throttling was done to "reduce the high costs associated" with proving unlimited data. In September 2013, TracFone began making some disclosures about throttling unlimited plans, but they were usually not clear or the print was too small for a consumer to notice them, the FTC said. The commission sued AT&T late last year over the same issue. AT&T has denied misleading customers over its unlimited data plans.
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:27 am by 
EILEEN SULLIVAN, Associated Press
(AP) — A sheriffs' organization is broadening its concerns about the popular Waze (pronounced "ways") mobile traffic app. Now it says a feature that lets drivers warn others about nearby police cruisers not only presents a threat to police safety, it also interferes with the ability to write speeding tickets. The National Sheriffs' Association says speed enforcement makes roads safer. The trade group says that if people know where police might be parked on highways, it makes it more difficult to catch people breaking the law. Waze, based in Palo Alto, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps, traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.
Written on 01/28/2015, 11:19 am by Business Journal staff
Central Valley Community Bank announced that James M. Ford will become president and CEO of the bank and parent company effective Feb. 1. Ford currently serves as president of Central Valley Community Bank. A year ago the bank announced that CEO Daniel J. Doyle would be retiring from the position with Ford named as a successor. Ford will also assume a board position for the bank, while Doyle will serve as chairman. “For 35 years, under the successful leadership of only two CEOs, the Bank has invested in the growth, relationships and success of our Valley’s businesses and communities. We congratulate Dan Doyle for his flawless four-decade banking career, 17 of which as our CEO. His rare and effective leadership has left a successful imprint on our Company," stated Daniel Cunningham, chairman of the board for Central Valley Community Bancorp. "Together as directors, we will continue to lead with the confidence that Jim Ford, our third president and CEO will build upon the strong and secure foundation laid for our company and take it to even greater heights guided by integrity and the relationship banking service that has been our cornerstone since our founding." --- Related story: New leadership announced for Fresno bank
Written on 01/28/2015, 10:22 am by Business Journal Staff
Granville Homes will contribute $100,000 to a new campaign launched this month to boost the early brain development and language skills of young children in Fresno. The campaign, titled “Talking is Teaching: Talk Read, Sing,” is a community-wide effort targeted at area children ranging in age from infants up to 5-year-olds. The program is part of a promotion called “Too Small to Fail,” a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. “The best return on investment is the investment we make in our kids,” said Kendra Rogers, Granville’s director of community investment. The campaign has also drawn the support of local business and community leaders including Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino, Fowler Unified School District Superintendent Eric Cederquist and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp. Organizers said the program will aim to close the so-called “word gap,” a difference of about 30 million more words that children in high-income families hear from parents and caregivers by their fourth birthday compared to children in low-income families. The fewer words children hear and learn, campaign organizers said, the more likely they are to experience an achievement gap, which persists through kindergarten and has a life-long impact on health and well-being. The project consists of a community-wide, multi-media campaign that highlights for parents and caregivers simple actions that can be done every day – like describing objects seen during a bus ride, asking questions, singing songs, reading aloud, or telling stories – actions that can significantly improve a baby’s ability to build vocabulary and develop their brains, according to early education experts. Campaign messages will appear on billboards, bus ads and in paid media spots. The donation from Granville Homes will serve as initial funding for the paid media campaign. Local organizations, churches, libraries and health care providers will help to distribute campaign materials. “I have often said that good public policy is the best philanthropy,” Granville President Darius Assemi said. “I hope our elected officials and policymakers will lead in these efforts, and join us as we talk, read and sing to our children. This will be a game changer for Fresno County.”

Latest State News

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