TODAY

– March 26, 2015

New GM boss Barra stands behind lossmaking Opel 


(AP) — New General Motors chief Mary Barra has stressed the company's support for its struggling Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Europe, saying Opel workers will get the job of building a new vehicle at the main plant in Germany.

Barra said it was "no accident" that Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim was the destination for her first foreign trip since becoming CEO on Jan. 15.

"I thought it was very important to reinforce in person my commitment and GM's commitment to Opel," she said during a brief appearance before journalists Monday. She called Opel "clearly a vital part of our company."

Barra reiterated the commitment made last year by her predecessor Dan Akerson to turn Opel around after years of losses.

She said Opel's Ruesselsheim assembly plant would be the site for a new vehicle that for competitive reasons she couldn't name. The plant, which produces the Insignia model, will lose production of the Astra compact when the current model is replaced. The company is closing another plant in Bochum at the end of this year.

General Motors Co., which has headquarters in Detroit, considered selling Opel to Magna International in 2009 but changed its mind. Akerson went to Germany last year and underlined the automaker's commitment to turning its European business around by rebuilding its brand image and launching new models.

GM now aims to return Opel to break-even by mid-decade, and is plowing 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) into the European business. Opel will roll out 23 new models and 13 new engines over the next several years.

Barra cited the company's success with recent models such as the tiny Adam city car and the Mokka small SUV as grounds for optimism. Opel's market share inched up to 6.8 percent in the European Union from 6.7 percent last year. Still, the division lost money, recording an operating loss of $200 million in the third quarter.

Europe's mass-market carmakers are struggling with weak demand in an economy that is recovering only slowly from a financial crisis. The economy is growing again but unemployment remains painfully high at 12.1 percent.

Do California's new water restrictions go far enough?

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Written on 03/26/2015, 3:29 pm by Gabriel Dillard
The Business Journal is introducing a new email product March 30 aimed at local news junkies who can't get enough business information.
Written on 03/26/2015, 3:24 pm by FENIT NIRAPPIL, Associated Press
(AP) — A plan to pump $1 billion of water spending into drought-stricken California cleared the Legislature on Thursday and was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign the legislation. The California Assembly voted unanimously, 74-0, on AB91 a day after the Senate approved bills that would expedite infrastructure spending; offer aid to communities hit hard by dry conditions; and authorize fines for illegal diversions of water that hurt fish. "The severity of the drought requires us to start now," said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. "Delay for the sake of addressing every single outstanding issue or need would be irresponsible." The legislation includes $267 million to be provided in grants to water-recycling projects and programs expanding drinking water supplies in small and poor cities. More immediate spending includes $75 million in drought relief to aid communities with dry wells, fish in vanishing streams and other needs. However, nearly two-thirds of the money, or $660 million, is slated for flood protection instead of the ongoing drought, now in its fourth year without enough rain or snow to replenish reservoirs. "These proposals will not solve the drought," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica. "You won't see any of us on this floor hanging 'Mission Accomplished' banners." Brown has said the flood protection spending is drought-related because climate change increases the risk of sudden storms overwhelming communities, even in dry years. Lawmakers also face a summer 2016 deadline to allocate the flood-protection money that came as part of a $4 billion bond measure approved by voters a decade ago. Republicans supported the spending in the water package, but opposed a companion measure that authorized fines up to $8,000 for illegal diversions of water needed to safeguard fish. They said it gave too much power to state officials. Democratic legislators said that provision targets water-guzzling marijuana farms that are illegally draining rivers and streams, making drought conditions even worse along the North Coast. The companion bill, AB92, advanced on a 50 to 27 vote in the Assembly. Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen called on lawmakers to deal with looming water shortages by speeding up construction of new dams and reservoir projects. "It is way past time to move beyond these temporary Band-Aid fixes," Olsen said. "We have to work together to expedite projects that will increase long term supply." Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon returned to Sacramento to cast his vote on the bills late Wednesday after previously announcing he had a travel conflict.
Written on 03/26/2015, 2:48 pm by Business Journal staff
Valley Yellow Pages has announced a new fundraising campaign to help save Storyland Playland in Fresno.  The company has enclosed pre-addressed envelopes for the children's park in the newest edition of its directory. The books are being sent to nearly 250,000 homes and businesses throughout Fresno and Clovis and will begin arriving on doorsteps Friday.  Those who receive the free directories can use the enclosed envelopes to send in a donation to Storyland Playland and help the park reopen.  Earlier this month, the park announced a need for an immediate cash infusion of $500,000 in order to open for the 2015 season. The money is needed for repairs and three months of operational costs. Playland, which is expected to remain closed for at least a year, would need an additional $350,000 to $400,000. After the initial announcement, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo agreed to initiate a fundraising effort for the parks, oversee a new Storyland board and use zoo employees to help get Storyland Playland operating again.  Acccording to a press release from Storyland, the park would meet its $850,000 fundraising goal if every Valley Yellow Pages recipient gave $3 to the cause.
Written on 03/26/2015, 1:27 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing lower after a see-saw day, extending the market's losses to a fourth day. European and Asian markets also fell Thursday after Saudi Arabia launched strikes on military installations in Yemen. The price of oil rose. The Dow Jones industrial average gave up 40 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,678. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost four points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,056. The Nasdaq composite lost 13 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,863. The price of oil rose $2.22 to $51.43 a barrel in New York. SanDisk plunged 18 percent, the most in the S&P 500, after the maker of flash memory chips cut its revenue forecast. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to an even 2 percent from 1.93 percent.
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:58 pm by Business Journal staff
AT&T invested more than $175 million in its wireless and wired networks in the Fresno area between 2012 and 2014.  The upgrades were part of the company's Project Velocity IP (VIP) program, an investment plan focused on network expansion and enhancement. During those years, AT&T made upgrades to enhance the reliability, coverage, speed and performance for residents and business customers in communities throughout California.  "At AT&T, we know that Californians demand a world-class communications network — whether it's to power the latest wearable device, or to develop the best new app," said Ken McNeely, present of AT&T California. "We're proud that our continued investment in California is driving innovation and opening up new possibilities for consumers and entrepreneurs." In 2014, the company made 29 wireless network upgrades in the Fresno area, including four new cell sites, increased network capacity and 14 new wireless high-speed Internet connections. Some of the network enhancements made last year include the 4G LTE expansion at the intersection of Willow and Gettysburg avenues in Fresno and the Visalia Mall neighborhood in Visalia.  AT&T's development in the local market continued this year, when the company opened its "store of the future" in The Marketplace at El Paseo in northwest Fresno. The 3,300-square-foot retail space is designed to help customers get a feel for the company's array of phones, apps and video services.  "Fresnans depend on fast, reliable connectivity now more than ever," said Oliver Baines, Fresno City Council president, in a prepared statement. "AT&T's continued efforts to bring a better communications network to Fresno has been, and will continue to be, a key factor in our economic growth."
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:15 pm by LORI HINNANT, 
DAVID McHUGH, Associated Press
(AP) — The co-pilot of the Germanwings jet barricaded himself in the cockpit and intentionally rammed the plane full speed into the French Alps, ignoring the captain's frantic pounding on the door and the screams of terror from passengers, a prosecutor said Thursday. In a split second, all 150 people aboard the plane were dead. Andreas Lubitz's "intention (was) to destroy this plane," Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said, laying out the horrifying conclusions French investigators reached after listening to the last minutes of Tuesday's Flight 9525 from the plane's black box voice data recorder. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the conclusions brought the tragedy to a "new, simply incomprehensible dimension." The prosecutor said there was no indication of terrorism, and did not elaborate on why investigators do not suspect a political motive. He said they are instead focusing on the co-pilot's "personal, family and professional environment" to try to determine why he did it. The Airbus A320 was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it lost radio contact with air traffic controllers and began dropping from its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. The prosecutor said Lubitz did not say a word as he set the plane on an eight-minute descent into the craggy French mountainside that pulverized the plane. He said the German co-pilot's responses, initially courteous in the first part of the trip, became "curt" when the captain began the mid-flight briefing on the planned landing. Robin said the pilot, who has not been identified, left the cockpit when the plane reached cruising altitude, presumably to go to the lavatory. Then the 28-year-old co-pilot took control of the jet as requested. "When he was alone, the co-pilot manipulated the buttons of the flight monitoring system to initiate the aircraft's descent," Robin said. The pilot knocked several times "without response," the prosecutor said, adding that the cockpit door could only be blocked manually from the inside. The co-pilot said nothing from the moment the captain left, Robin said. "It was absolute silence in the cockpit." The A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry into the cockpit if a pilot inside is unresponsive. But the override code known to the crew does not go into effect — and indeed goes into a lockdown — if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry. During the flight's final minutes, pounding could be heard on the cockpit door as the plane's instrument alarms sounded. But the co-pilot's breathing was calm, Robin said. "You don't get the impression that there was any particular panic, because the breathing is always the same. The breathing is not panting. It's a classic, human breathing," Brice said. No distress call ever went out from the cockpit, and the control tower's pleas for a response went unanswered. Air traffic control cleared the area to allow the plane to make an emergency landing if needed, and asked other planes to try to make contact. The French air force scrambled a fighter jet to try to head off the crash. Just before the plane hit the mountain, passengers' cries of terror could be heard on the voice recorder. "The victims realized just at the last moment," Robin said. "We can hear them screaming." The victims' families "are having a hard time believing it," he said. Many families visited an Alpine clearing near the scene of the crash Thursday. French authorities set up a viewing tent in the hamlet of Le Vernet for family members to look toward the site of the crash, so steep and treacherous that it can only be reached by a long journey on foot or rappelling from a helicopter. Lubitz' family was in France but was being kept separate from the other families, Robin said. Helicopters shuttled back and forth form the crash site Thursday, as investigators continue retrieving remains and pieces of the plane, shattered from the high-speed impact of the crash. The prosecutor's account prompted calls for stricter cockpit rules. Airlines in Europe are not required to have two people in the cockpit at all times, unlike the standard U.S. operating procedure, which was changed after the 9/11 attacks to require a flight attendant to take the spot of a briefly departing pilot. Europe's third-largest budget airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle, announced Thursday that it plans to adopt new rules requiring two crew members to always be present in the cockpit. Neither the prosecutor nor Lufthansa indicated there was anything the pilot could have done to avoid the crash. Robin would not give details on the co-pilot's religion or his ethnic background. German authorities were taking charge of the investigation into him. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that before Thursday's shocking revelations, the airline was already "appalled" by what had happened in its low-cost subsidiary. "I could not have imagined that becoming even worse," he said in Cologne. "We choose our cockpit staff very, very carefully." Lubitz joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly out of flight school, and had flown 630 hours. Spohr said the airline had no indication why he would have crashed the plane. He underwent a regular security check on Jan. 27 and it found nothing untoward, and previous security checks in 2008 and 2010 also showed no issues, the local government in Duesseldorf said. Lufthansa's chief said Lubitz started training in 2008 and there was a "several-month" gap in his training six years ago. Spohr said he couldn't say what the reason was, but after the break "he not only passed all medical tests but also his flight training, all flying tests and checks." Robin avoided describing the crash as a suicide. "Usually, when someone commits suicide, he is alone," he said. "When you are responsible for 150 people at the back, I don't necessarily call that a suicide." In the German town of Montabaur, acquaintances told The Associated Press that Lubitz appeared normal and happy when they saw him last fall as he renewed his glider pilot's license. "He was happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well," said a member of the glider club, Peter Ruecker, who watched Lubitz learn to fly. "He gave off a good feeling." Lubitz had obtained his glider pilot's license as a teenager, and was accepted as a Lufthansa pilot trainee after finishing a tough German college preparatory school, Ruecker said. He described Lubitz as "rather quiet" but friendly. Lubitz's Facebook page, deleted sometime in the past two days, showed a smiling man in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Facebook page was restored after the French prosecutor's news conference. The principal of Joseph Koenig High School in Haltern, Germany, which lost 16 students and two teachers in the crash, said the state governor called him to tell him about the probe's conclusion. "It is much, much worse than we had thought," principal Ulrich Wessel said. "It doesn't make the number of dead any worse, but if it had been a technical defect then measures could have been taken so that it would never happen again." The circumstances of the crash are reviving questions about the possibility of suicidal pilots and the wisdom of sealing off the cockpit. Philip Baum, London-based editor of the trade magazine Aviation Security International, said, "The kneejerk reaction to the events of 9/11 with the ill-thought reinforced cockpit door has had catastrophic consequences."___McHugh reported from Montabaur, Germany. David Rising in Berlin; Kirsten Grieshaber in Cologne, Germany; Alan Clendenning in Madrid; Danica Kirka in London; Sylvie Corbet, Philippe Sotto and Angela Charlton in Paris; and Greg Keller in Vernet, France, contributed to this report.
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:12 pm by ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
(AP) — In uncommon bipartisan harmony, the House approved a $214 billion bill Thursday permanently blocking physician Medicare cuts, moving Congress closer to resolving a problem that has plagued it for years. The 392-37 House vote came on a package that bore victories for Republicans and Democrats alike. It immediately shifted the spotlight to the Senate, where its prospects have brightened as Democrats have muffled their criticism and President Barack Obama has embraced the bill. With some conservatives also finding fault with the legislation, its Senate fate remained murky. But the House's lopsided vote also built pressure on senators to vote "yes." The package was negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have spent most of the past few years clashing over legislation. It contains funds for health care programs for children and low-income people that Democrats touted as victories, while Republicans won a long-term strengthening of Medicare's finances, including cost increases for higher-income recipients. Buoyed by such incentives, House members more accustomed to gridlock found themselves with little to argue about. Instead, they praised the bill and each other — one Republican even wished Pelosi, D-Calif., a happy birthday — as they all but marveled that they had united to address a persistent problem. "I just want to say to the American people, don't look now but we're actually governing," said Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.Republicans backed the bill 212-33, while Democrats tilted "yes" by 180-4. Time was a factor. Congress planned to leave town by week's end for a spring break, and physicians treating Medicare patients face a 21 percent fee cut on April 1 unless lawmakers act. If the Senate doesn't give final approval before recessing, the federal agency that sends checks to doctors could delay processing them until lawmakers return to the Capitol. Physician groups have long warned that the constant procession of threatened slashes in their Medicare fees could mean fewer doctors would treat the program's elderly recipients. After the House vote, the American Medical Association and other medical organizations urged the Senate to quickly approve the measure, saying it would have "a real and lasting impact on the ability of health care providers to meet the needs of patients across the country and to plan the futures of their practices." AARP, the seniors' lobby which has criticized the higher costs the legislation would bring for Medicare beneficiaries, conceded it would pass the House but said it would "continue to work with Congress to improve the bill." "This is what we can accomplish when we're focused on finding common ground," said Boehner, R-Ohio. But he said Republicans would continue pushing to tighten the finances of Medicare and other costly federal benefit programs, a battle that has led to stalemates with Obama for years. "It shouldn't take another two decades to do it," Boehner said. Pelosi touted the bill's funds for seniors, children and low-income people — and her cooperation with her usual antagonist. "It was my honor to work with Speaker Boehner on this important issue, to do what we came here to do — to legislate," she said. Obama embraced the legislation Wednesday, saying at a White House event, "I've got my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill." In an unusual split with Pelosi, some Senate Democrats and abortion-rights groups have complained that the bill would cement into permanent law abortion restrictions at community health centers. Pelosi, a longtime abortion-rights advocate, has said the measure's restrictions would be temporary and would simply continue limitations Congress has imposed annually since 1979. Democrats also wanted four more years of extra money for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which serves 8 million low-income children, rather than the bill's two years. Yet Democrats seemed increasingly eager to back the bill and claim that money as a triumph, along with its other funds for community health centers, which serve the poor, and to help some low-income people pay Medicare premiums. Conservative Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a Politco column that the bill would add too much to federal deficits and didn't do enough to solve Medicare's financial problems. The measure's chief goal is replacing a 1997 budget-cutting law that tied doctors' Medicare fees to overall economic growth. With medical costs growing, that formula has threatened deep reimbursement cuts that lawmakers have blocked 17 times since 2002, a ritual both parties want to end. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure's costs totaled $214 billion over the next decade. To pay for it, $141 billion would come from deeper budget deficits while the rest would be divided between Medicare recipients — mostly bigger monthly premiums for the highest earners — and providers like nursing homes and hospitals. Republicans touted the increased costs for upper-income Medicare beneficiaries as a win that would help restrain the $500-billion-a-year program and open the door for future overhauls.
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:09 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Some women pictured nude or seminude in photos posted to a Penn State fraternity's secret Facebook page have come forward, and some frat members are now cooperating with an ongoing criminal investigation, police said. State College police Lt. Keith Robb said some of the women were able to identify themselves in screenshots taken from the site, and Penn State's Office of Student Conduct has helped students come forward in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable, the Centre Daily Times reported late Wednesday. The Kappa Delta Rho fraternity has been suspended for a year and is being ordered by its national office to reorganize. Penn State President Eric Barron said the university has also begun a wide review of the role fraternities and sororities play at the school. The police investigation became public last week after information about a search warrant was reported. The warrant targeted an invitation-only Facebook page run by the fraternity members that showed pictures of women, some apparently passed out or sleeping, nude or partially dressed, and screenshots of text messages discussing sex with the women, among other things. Police have said anyone who posted such pictures might be subject to criminal charges, including invasion of privacy. The investigation has prompted demonstrations on campus and outside the fraternity house. On Wednesday, protesters marched to the house and called for the school to shut down the fraternity permanently.Riffing on the school's call-and-response slogan of "We are ... Penn State!" some protesters chanted, "We are ..." while others answered: "Not safe!"
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:07 pm by 
FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press
(AP) — The Navajo Nation is asking an international human rights commission to weigh in on a decades-old battle over a northern Arizona ski resort. But getting a petition considered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights could be a long shot. Commission spokeswoman Maria Isabel Rivero says between 80 percent and 90 percent of petitions don't meet the requirements for review. Thousands are awaiting an initial study. Rob Williams of the University of Arizona filed the petition earlier this month. He says it's a last-chance, desperate effort to get U.S. policymakers to take another look at the Arizona Snowbowl on the San Francisco Peaks. U.S. courts have ruled against tribes in the fight against expansion of the ski resort and snowmaking. Tribes had argued it would desecrate the mountain they consider sacred.
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:05 pm by NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
(AP) — Embracing proposed new rules aimed at payday lenders, President Barack Obama on Thursday warned Republicans that he would veto attempts to unravel regulations that govern the financial industry. Obama, in excerpts of remarks meant for delivery later Thursday, praised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for its proposal to set standards on a multibillion-dollar industry that has historically been regulated only at the state level. "As Americans, we believe there's nothing wrong with making a profit," Obama says, according to the excerpts. "But if you're making that profit by trapping hard-working Americans in a vicious cycle of debt, then you need to find a new way of doing business." Obama's remarks come on the same day the consumer agency was announcing the proposal in a hearing in Richmond, Va. Obama says the Republican budget, a version of which just passed the House of Representatives, would make it harder for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to do its job. The budget is a nonbinding measure that serves as a blueprint for ensuing legislation. "If Republicans in Congress send me a bill to unravel Wall Street reform, I will veto it," he said. Obama also is using his speech in Alabama for a broader attack on the Republican budget. He said Republicans aim to cut taxes for wealthy individuals. "I don't think our top economic priority should be helping a tiny number of Americans who are already doing extraordinarily well, and asking everybody else to foot the bill," he said.

Latest State News

Written on 03/26/2015, 3:24 pm by FENIT NIRAPPIL, Associated Press
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Latest National News

Written on 03/26/2015, 1:27 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing lower...
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:15 pm by LORI HINNANT, 
DAVID McHUGH, Associated Press
(AP) — The co-pilot of the Germanwings...
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:12 pm by ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
(AP) — In uncommon bipartisan harmony,...
Written on 03/26/2015, 12:09 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Some women pictured nude or...