– April 18, 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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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
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Latest National News

Written on 04/17/2015, 2:31 pm by 
JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
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