TODAY

– December 22, 2014

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.

What should Sony do with its controversial film "The Interview?"

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Written on 12/22/2014, 1:55 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at record highs Monday as the market delivered its fourth gain in as many...
Written on 12/22/2014, 1:45 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld a 2009 environmental review that called for reductions in the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to protect salmon and other species. The review by the National Marine Fisheries Service found that continuing to pump water from the delta at existing rates would threaten several endangered salmon species and killer whales. Some of the state's biggest water agencies, including Southern California's Metropolitan Water District, had challenged the 2009 federal decision reducing the amount of water they could draw from the Delta. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld the federal decision. The reduced pumping for the fish has stayed in effect since the 2009 decision.
Written on 12/22/2014, 12:20 pm by Business Journal staff
Communities First Financial Corp., the newly formed parent company of Fresno First Bank, announced it has upgraded its over-the-counter trading market with a move to the OTCQX. The bank previously traded on the OTCQB venture marketplace operated by OTC Markets Group Inc., which also operates OTCQX. The OTCQX platform was created to assist strongly capitalized, well-managed banks that commit to a higher level of reporting and greater transparency, according to a news release for Communities First Financial Corp. “We are pleased that Communities First was approved to trade on the OTCQX marketplace,” said Steve Canfield, the company’s chief financial officer, in a statement. “We believe the OTCQX marketplace will provide better visibility and exposure to the Company, which over time will improve the liquidity of our shares consistent with our commitment to increase shareholder value." In addition to providing quarterly financial results and disseminating material events in a timely matter, the bank must also appoint a corporate broker to serve as an OTCQX advisor. D.A. Davidson & Co., through its division Crowell Weedon & Co., serves as Communities First Financial Corp.'s corporate broker on OTCQX. The company will continue to be traded under the symbol "CFST."
Written on 12/22/2014, 12:08 pm by Ben Keller
Many promising careers have begun at Fresno State with the inspiration students receive helping faculty members with their research projects. Each year, organizations like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health put up millions of dollars to fund collegiate research that involves the participation of both graduate and undergraduate students. While certainly not getting the largest share in the country, about $37 million comes to Fresno State each year to support faculty and student research. The money is distributed through the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which helps faculty members find grants and other funding sources and submits applications on their behalf. Dr. Ellen Shimikawa, director of the office, said every effort is made to find grants that are geared toward student involvement. “We’re very entrepreneurial here,” said Shimikawa, who was appointed director last April. “Our faculty go after contracts where there will be opportunities for their students to train. We go after centers of excellence grants where there’s sort of a mixture of training and research.” Often, information about grant opportunities and can be learned through workshops the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs puts on throughout the year. A few monetary awards are given by Fresno State itself, including the Claude C. Laval Jr. Award for Innovative Technology & Research and the CSU Awards for 
Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity. The office also assists faculty with patent services, preparing budgets, meeting deadlines and contractual obligations and ensuring that proper protocols are followed when research projects involve human subjects or biological specimens. Perhaps its most important function is coordinating the annual Central California Research Symposium that brings together hundreds of students and faculty members to the University Business Center in April to present some of their work and findings and also to network with fellow researchers at Fresno State and other schools. “We do partner with UCSF as well as Alliant University and UC Merced, encouraging (Fresno State students) to apply to those schools when they graduate,” Shimikawa said. Around ten of those same presenters are also selected by the office as delegates for the CSU Student Research Competition in May when students will share their research before a panel of judges for a shot at a first place award in various academic disciplines. A survey by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs in the latest academic year revealed that of Fresno State’s more than 500 full-time, tenured track faculty, just fewer than 200 responded, saying they conduct research involving students. Though without the name recognition and published studies of heavily funded schools like UCLA, UC San Francisco and Columbia, Shimikawa said Fresno State has always looked at research as more about the educational experience, with greater participation among students and interest from an array of academic disciplines. “Psychology, biology, chemistry. We’re very active,” she said. “We have representation from every single college and I would venture to say almost every single department.” Timothy Yeager, executive director of the Behavioral Health Sciences Institute at Fresno State, began his current career path conducting research projects in the Department of Psychology before going on to Columbia University in 2010 for his master’s degree. Specifically, Yeager, and fellow group of students were looking at a tutoring curriculum known as Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) for children with learning disabilities. Building on previous research that had found the program effective for classrooms of students in the same grade level, the team implemented the curriculum successfully in a classroom with multiple age groups represented. “It helped me in a lot of ways because I left here and went into a program training teachers who were going through teachers college at Columbia University,” said Yeager, who is now in his last semester studying for his Ph.D at Columbia University. After working in Dr. Santanu Maitra’s organic chemistry lab a few years ago, senior biology major Pooja Patel learned skill sets that turned around his struggles in school and gave him the confidence to participate in an international research internship and apply to graduate schools to study public health. Patel said he knew little about chemistry or research when he first joined but quickly learned from graduate students and professors in the lab about experimentation techniques, collecting data and many other methods he can now apply in any field. “Research is a form of training,” Patel said. “The professors who mentor you know so many professionals in their field that you will be surprised at the opportunities that fall into your lap once you start researching.”
Written on 12/22/2014, 12:04 pm by FELICIA FONSECA, MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
(AP) — The Navajo Nation had bitter debates when it was deciding whether to allow casinos on the reservation and if alcohol should be sold in them. The arguments focused on the revenue and jobs casinos and liquor could bring to a reservation where half the workforce is unemployed and most arrests and pervasive social ills are linked to alcohol abuse. When the federal government announced this month that it would allow American Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana, the same divisive discussions resurfaced. The tribal president's office talked of expanding crops to include pot for medicinal but not recreational use, while a tribal lawmaker quickly declared his opposition. "Criminal activity is just going to go up more, and drug addiction is going to go up more, and everyone is going to be affected," said Edmund Yazzie, head of the Navajo Nation Council's Law and Order Committee. The split reaction among Navajo leaders reflects divisions on reservations around the country. While the Navajo and a number of other tribes ultimately ventured into the casino business, many say they're inclined to avoid marijuana as a potential revenue booster amid deep sensitivity over rampant alcoholism, poverty, crime and joblessness on tribal lands. Marijuana isn't tied to tribal culture, like tobacco commonly used in religious ceremonies, and any pot growing operation would run counter to the message that tribes have preached for decades that drugs and alcohol ruin lives, said Carl Artman, former U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs assistant secretary and member of the Oneida Tribe in Wisconsin. "When you look at what tribes have to offer — from gaming to ecotourism to looking out over the Grand Canyon, just bringing people out on the reservation for art or culture — this is not one of the things they would normally want," Artman said. "It hearkens back to something that's archaic and stereotypical as opposed to what the modern day Indian is about." But it has piqued the interest of some of the country's 566 federally recognized tribes, including tribes in Washington, the Dakotas, Connecticut and Colorado, as well as the Navajo Nation, which stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. Lance Morgan, a member of the Winnebago Tribe who manages an Indian law firm in Nebraska, said he's had about a dozen requests from tribes looking for a legal framework for getting into the marijuana business. The overall poverty rate for American Indian and Alaska Natives in 2010 was 28 percent, according to Census data, but it can be much greater in individual tribal communities. "It's something everyone is talking about," he said. But he said tribes are treading carefully and believes most of them will decide against getting into the marijuana business. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota and South Dakota, said his tribe might consider cultivating marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin, hemp, but the federal government would have to allow interstate transport for it to be a profitable venture. Hemp is used to make clothing, lotion and other products, but growing it is illegal under federal law. "We've always thought we had the sovereign right" to grow marijuana, Archambault said. "But once you try to transport it interstate, federal law discourages it." In Colorado and Washington state, which legalized recreational pot in 2012, some tribes got a head start on talks about marijuana sales. The 1,100-member Suquamish Tribe near Seattle began considering the potential business opportunities in April. But Washington's liquor board, which regulates pot sales, initially said it wouldn't grant the tribe a license until federal officials clarified their position regarding pot on reservations. Liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said the state will revisit the issue in light of the U.S. Justice Department's new policy. North of Seattle, the Tulalip Tribe has voted to pursue discussions on allowing medical marijuana, tribal spokeswoman Niki Cleary said. The tribe's values have been evolving, she said, noting even a vote on medical pot would have resulted in an automatic "no" in the past. The owner of one of the country's largest resort casinos, the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, didn't rule it out either. Spokesman Chuck Bunnell said the tribe is looking at opportunities to expand into new markets that would not jeopardize any current investments. While the Justice Department provided a path for tribes to grow and sell marijuana, federal officials cautioned that they won't allow all tribal members to start pot businesses. Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter, who helped craft the agency's policy, said federal law enforcement would respond if a tribal pot industry became linked with organized criminal elements, firearms, sales to minors or similar abuses — the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug. Among the questions tribes still have regarding the industry is whether limits would be placed on how much marijuana could be grown and sold, whether it can be transported off reservations and if taxes apply. Yazzie, of the Navajo Nation law enforcement panel, said he would push his colleagues to say no to any marijuana sales or growth on the vast reservation. He was among the most vocal lawmakers when the Tribal Council was deciding whether to allow alcohol at the tribe's first casino in New Mexico. He questioned his colleagues on whether money was more important than human life, considering most arrests for major incidents on the reservation involve alcohol. The bill was decided by two votes in 2008 making casinos and a lake marina the only exceptions for alcohol sales and consumption on the otherwise dry reservation. Navajos twice voted against gambling on the reservation before approving it in 2004. "What is going on?" Yazzie said. "We're having bad issue problems with alcohol, and now if we legalize marijuana, it's just another fight." ___Brown reported from Billings, Montana. Associated Press writers Eugene Johnson in Seattle, Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:57 am by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — This holiday season, it's almost as simple to shop on the other side of the world as it is to buy from a store down the block. International online payment services like AliPay and PayPal are trying to ensure that a South Carolina fashionista can buy a faux fur vest from China with just a few clicks on her computer and a New Zealand biker can use his smartphone to pick up a rare part from a Colorado company. These services come as shoppers and retailers alike have expressed a growing appetite to be able to buy items from any country, regardless of distance and regulations. In fact, a PayPal report estimates that by 2018, about 130 million shoppers will be spending over $300 billion a year across the border, up from $105 billion in 2013. "The reality is pretty much nothing in a store is locally produced, so 99 percent of what you're buying is already a cross-border transaction. We're cutting out the middle-man," said Anuj Nayar, senior director of global initiatives at PayPal, which is being spun off by eBay Inc. Companies are working on fixing the biggest hurdles for international shopping: The perception that it costs a lot and takes a long time. They're handling the conversion of currency behind-the-scenes and giving shoppers the prices in their own currency. They're including tariffs and customs duties in the overall price of an item. And they're being transparent about shipping times and enabling shoppers track packages online. Daniel McGaha, 24, a youth and college minister from Greenwood, South Carolina, ordered a baseball jersey for himself and some tassels for jewelry making and a faux fur vest for Christmas presents at AliExpress.com, which is owned by Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. McGaha was happy that he got free shipping and that he was able to track his packages online. "I will keep buying from AliExpress," he said. Online retailers are benefiting from the interest in overseas shopping. About 25 percent of PayPal's transactions, for example, are international, with about 2,000 cross-border transactions per minute. And some retailers that work with PayPal, like Australian-based companies KeepCup, which sells reusable coffee cups, and WallFry, which sells wall art for children's rooms, have opened warehouses in other countries like the U.S. and U.K to keep up with demand from overseas. Pro's Closet in Boulder, Colorado, which was founded in 2005 as an online-only bike parts and accessories store, also has seen big gains. By selling on eBay and working with PayPal, 45 percent of the company's orders are international. Orders come in regularly from shoppers in Canada, Australia, Germany, Brazil and China. Founder Nick Martin said he wouldn't be able to reach customers in other countries without eBay and PayPal's help. As a global marketplace, eBay already has marketing reach, with international ads on the site. EBay also translates listings into customers' language and currency. "We joke that it's easier for someone in China to purchase something than for customers to walk into our front door" since the company doesn't have a brick-and-mortar presence, Martin said. Since 2011, luxury deal site Gilt.com has worked with Borderfree, which offers retailers cross-border selling logistics services. Gilt.com chose to work with Borderfree to target customers outside of the U.S. who were asking to be able to shop on the site. Now, about 20 percent of its sales are international. It teamed with Alibaba's Alipay this year, as well, working with both companies to send out localized emails to promote sales on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday and the Monday after known Cyber Monday. Marshall Porter, senior vice president and general manager of Gilt's International business said the holiday season broke records for the company internationally, although he declined to give specific sales figures. "It's a U.S. driven holiday, but global shoppers are taking advantage," he said.
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:54 am by 
BEN FOX, Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. tourists are roaming the streets of Old Havana, listening to lectures on Art Deco architecture and meeting with jazz musicians. What they aren't doing yet — at least most of the time — is lounging in the sun and sipping mojitos at white-sand-beach resorts. American citizens have been allowed to visit Cuba on such "people to people" trips since 2011, one of President Barack Obama's first moves toward detente with the communist-run island — provided their scheduled activities are sufficiently educational, and down time is kept to a minimum. Now, such cultural exchanges are not only expected to grow dramatically, they are expected to become more flexible and less bureaucratic following last week's announcement by Cuba and the U.S. that they would work to restore normal diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years. Obama has said the U.S. is easing the rules on visiting Cuba, and that will mean major changes for the trips, which are currently so tightly regulated that operators must submit extensive documentation to the Treasury Department, including detailed justification for all activities to prove they are sufficiently educational. That may help cut the costs for trips that can cost much as a good used car back home. For Americans who don't have family on the island or fit into one of the handful of other categories for legal visits, the trips have been the only way to visit the island. General tourism to Cuba is still prohibited by the half-century old trade embargo, and it would take an act of Congress to lift it. "We can't go to the beach and drink mojitos all day," said Tony Pandola, who was leading an eight-day trip to the island this week with Global Expeditions of San Francisco, California, that included a guided architecture tour of Havana. The new Treasury Department rules have not yet been released, but a White House statement suggests that educational travel to Cuba will now be covered by a "general license," which means tour operators — and perhaps individuals, depending on how the regulations are written — will be able to head to Cuba and simply give the U.S. government their word that they're not engaging in ordinary tourism. Travelers may simply have to sign a form and board a charter flight, making it easier and cheaper to visit the island, experts say. "As long as, with integrity, they can say they're going to engage with the Cuban people and learn about Cuba and talk about the United States then they don't have to do anything other than say that's what they're doing," said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which has organized trips in the past. The changes should add some flexibility to trips that tend to be pretty wonky, less of a sun-and-sand vacation and more like a seminar. Jonathan Anderson, a 33-year-old from Denver on the Global Expeditions tour was spending a sunny Sunday morning in Havana on an architecture tour, attended a dance exhibition the day before and met with a Cuban diplomat. "It's not very, very regimented because we can go out and see things but we have to conform to the rules," said Anderson, who was on an eight-day trip with his parents that cost them about $6,000 each, including a charter flight to the island. "But we're not on a leash. We can wander around." There are already scores of trips on all sorts of topics: baseball, architecture, dance, photography, bird-watching, cigars, churches, visits to colonial cities and to scenic rural parks. Visitors can run in the Havana Marathon or cheer for the Industriales baseball team. Critics sometimes complain that the trips already veer into tourism, with occasional group chats and lectures on politics and culture thrown in. And while education is the primary purpose of these trips, some travelers readily admit the appeal of Cuba is a mix of the exotic and the basic desire for sunny weather. "I thought, OK, I'm going to go somewhere I have no idea about, that has music that I'm going to learn about that I really don't have any idea about," said Katja Von Tiesenhausen, a 41-year-old emergency room doctor from Boston who was on a tour that included the Havana Jazz Festival. Dozens of operators offer people-to-people travel at prices that typically range from $2,000 to $6,000. Some cater to specific groups such as academic and legal organizations and others are for the general public. The precise number of people who take them is unknown but experts say most of the 100,000 or so non-Cuban Americans who visit the island legally each year came by this route. That is expected to increase amid renewed interest in the country following Obama's Dec. 17 announcement of restored relations after two decades of hostility. "In the last week, I've gotten more calls and emails than ever," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which last year brought 3,000 people to Cuba. The easing of tourism regulations is a gamble for both the U.S. and Cuba. Obama said Wednesday that "people-to-people" was a way to "empower the Cuban people." At the same time, a surge in U.S. travel could funnel sorely needed cash to a tourism industry run mostly by what Obama described Friday as "a regime that represses its people." But that hasn't stopped many Americans from traveling to Cuba through a third country and keeping quiet about it when they go through immigration and customs upon arrival back in the United States. Tom Popper, president of tour organizer Insight Cuba, said he thinks many new travelers to Cuba will take organized tours because it can be difficult for an individual to organize a trip that meets Treasury Department requirements. Still, eliminating the license requirement will remove a significant bureaucratic hurdle, according to Popper, whose last application was more than 700 pages long. "This is such welcome news to us," Popper said.___Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein and Peter Orsi contributed to this report.
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:52 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — BMW has agreed to demands from the government to replace driver's-side air bags across the entire U.S. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been pushing companies to recall older cars with air bag inflators made by Takata Corp. They can explode with too much force and spew shrapnel at drivers and passengers. At least five deaths have been blamed on Takata inflators. The decision affects 140,000 BMW 3 Series cars made between January 2004 and August 2006. It says no problems with BMW vehicles have been reported. Earlier this year the company took about 574,000 cars off the market in the U.S. Several automakers have been slow to expand the recall. Ford Motor Co. joined the list last week, and was quickly followed by Chrysler. BMW is the last automaker to agree to replace air bags in all affected cars nationwide. About 15 million cars have been recalled in the U.S. in total. Initial recalls were limited to states with high levels of humidity, as the NHTSA says the air bag inflator propellant, ammonium nitrate, can burn faster than designed if exposed to prolonged airborne moisture. When that happens, the propellant can blow apart a metal canister meant to contain the explosion. Takata has refused the agency's request for a nationwide recall of driver's side inflators, about 8 million in total, and it says it has tested more than 1,000 air bag inflators from other regions without a single failure. But the company will still make replacement parts for the automakers that are expanding their recalls. It hasn't been decided whether Takata or the automakers will pay the extra costs involved. In total, 10 automakers have models with Takata driver and passenger air bags. There could be as many as 30 million with the air bags nationwide.
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:50 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Italy's antitrust authority has fined travel planning website TripAdvisor 500,000 euros ($600,000) following complaints of improper business practices lodged by a national hoteliers' association and a consumer protection agency. The antitrust authority said in a statement Monday that TripAdvisor had failed to adopt controls to prevent false reviews, while at the same time promoting the site's content as "authentic and genuine." It has given TripAdvisor 90 days to present a remedy. The Federalberghi federation of hoteliers welcomed the decision, citing the numerous examples of "defamatory" reviews that have appeared on the site. TripAdvisor said in a statement that it would appeal the findings, saying it believed its processes, which include a team to detect fraudsters as well as automated tools and algorithms, were "extremely effective in protecting consumers from the small minority of people who try to cheat our system." "We firmly believe that TripAdvisor is a force for good — both for consumers and the hospitality industry," the company said. A U.K. regulator has previously said that TripAdvisor must stop claiming that all the reviews on its British site were written by independent travelers, and therefore reliable.
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:47 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Stanford University students have created paddles that allow humans to scale glass walls like a gecko. The San Jose Mercury News reports (http://bit.ly/1E3ieHn ) that the "gecko gloves" use the same scientific principles employed by the sticky feet of nature's most impressive climber. The so-called "gecko gloves" are actually paddles with slots to hold the climber's hands tight to the back of the devices. The Stanford students have patents pending and have already begun negotiations with toy companies. A Swiss entrepreneur has scheduled a meeting with the gecko gloves team in January to discuss possible rock-climbing applications. There is also a project in the works with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to use a version of gloves to grab things in space.

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Written on 12/22/2014, 1:55 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
The Dow Jones industrial average and...
Written on 12/22/2014, 12:04 pm by FELICIA FONSECA, MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
(AP) — The Navajo Nation had bitter...
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:57 am by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — This holiday season, it's almost...
Written on 12/22/2014, 11:54 am by 
BEN FOX, Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. tourists are roaming the...