Friday, October 18, 2013

Train strike clogs San Francisco-area highways

Highway 880 is packed with commuters on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. Commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area got up before dawn on Friday and endured heavy traffic on roadways, as workers for the region's largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Highway 880 is packed with commuters on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. Commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area got up before dawn on Friday and endured heavy traffic on roadways, as workers for the region's largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Commuters wait to board a ferry bound for San Francisco on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. Commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area got up before dawn on Friday and endured heavy traffic on roadways, as workers for the region's largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Roxanne Sanchez, left, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, left, speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit workers may go on strike at midnight unless management agrees to enter into arbitration to resolve a remaining issue, a union leader said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

A Bay Area Rapid Transit train leaves the station Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. A recipe for gridlock was brewing in the San Francisco Bay Area, as two of the region's major transit agencies teetered on the brink of commute-crippling strikes. While talks between the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and its unions to avoid the second walk-off in four months were set to resume on Tuesday, workers at a major regional bus line said they would go on strike in 72 hours. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

A Bay Area Rapid Transit train arrives at a station Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. A recipe for gridlock was brewing in the San Francisco Bay Area, as two of the region's major transit agencies teetered on the brink of commute-crippling strikes. While talks between the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and its unions to avoid the second walk-off in four months were set to resume on Tuesday, workers at a major regional bus line said they would go on strike in 72 hours. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP) — San Francisco Bay Area rapid transit workers are on strike for the second time since July, scrambling the morning commute for hundreds of thousands of workers who were up before dawn to clog highways, swarm buses and shiver on ferry decks as they found alternative ways to the office.

Six months of on-again, off-again negotiations have brought agreement on key issues such as raises, health care and pensions. But there remained a snarl Friday: a package of work rules involving when schedules are posted, whether workers can file for overtime when they've been out sick, and how paychecks are delivered.

The labor details were meaningless to Marsha Smith, who watched the sun rise as she rode toward her office in a crowded bus. Like many commuters Friday, Smith left her house while the moon was still shone brightly to be sure to make it in on time.

"I am so tired. I am so frustrated and I'm so over it," the court records supervisor said.

At the West Oakland BART station, a frazzled Tatiana Marriott raced to board a free charter bus to San Francisco shortly after 6 a.m. She had to be at work by 7 a.m.

"I probably should've gotten up a half-hour earlier," said Marriott, 21, a seamstress, conceding that she would be late for work.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system carries a ridership of 400,000 daily through tunnels under the bay and into the region's urban core of San Francisco from four surrounding counties, relieving what would otherwise be congested bridges.

In an effort to alleviate delays, many of the Bay Area's other 27 transit systems added bus, ferry and rail service Friday. Carpools and rideshare programs were also busy, and more cyclists took the streets.

But traffic was sluggish all morning, and lines at bridge toll plazas were backed up for miles.

Passengers touching down at San Francisco International Airport were warned that trains weren't running, and it could take twice as long to get into the city.

Many simply avoided the hassle, telecommuting instead.

The strike could drag through the weekend and into next work week. BART spokesman Rick Rice said Friday that no new talks have been scheduled, and representatives from the unions were meeting and didn't immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

Discussions fell apart late Thursday after a marathon 30-hour negotiation with a federal mediator that put representatives from both sides at dueling press conferences, rumpled, unshaven and angry.

Talks started in April, two months before the June 30 contract expirations, but both sides were far apart. The unions initially asked for 23.2 percent in raises over three years. BART countered with a four-year contract with 1 percent raises contingent on the agency meeting economic goals.

The unions contended that members made $100 million in concessions when they agreed to a deal in 2009 as BART faced a $310 million deficit. And they said they wanted their members to get their share of a $125 million operating surplus produced through increased ridership.

But the transit agency countered that it needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.

Rice said general manager Grace Crunican and the board have not heard back from the unions to try and continue discussions. While the unions say the strike is solely over work rules, BART officials say the unions still seek a nearly 16 percent wage increase over four years compared to BART's offer of 12 percent.

The unions said they have agreed to pay into their pensions and health care.

"We'll meet as soon as possible, we're certainly willing to do as much as we can as quick as we can," Rice said. "But that starts with all of us getting back to discussions."

Waiting for a ferry in Oakland, retail worker Mary Nelson said both sides should be able to come to an agreement.

"I don't understand why they're holding a lot of hardworking people hostage," she said.


Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza and Haven Daley contributed to this report.

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'12 Years A Slave': The Reviews Are In!

Critics are raving about the true story of a journey from freedom to slavery and back again.

By Tami Katzoff


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'Roseanne' creator reflects 25 years after debut


37 minutes ago

Image: Roseanne

Carsey-Werner / Courtesy of WEtv

Cast of "Roseanne," from left, Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Michael Fishman, Natalie West, Alicia Goranson and Sara Gilbert.

If you spent any quality time with your TV in the late ‘80s and early '90s, then it’s likely you got to know the loud and lovable Conners on “Roseanne.” Now, prepare to feel old, because the classic sitcom is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its debut Friday. 

Based on the real life experiences of creator Matt Williams and the “domestic goddess” stand-up comedy routines of its lead, Roseanne Barr, “Roseanne” the sitcom was a far cry from the safe, middle-class comedies of the day. The Conner household was packed with three rowdy kids and the snarky whine of Roseanne, who along with her loving husband, Dan (played by John Goodman), kept it all together — barely.

Looking at the shows that have come since, creator Matt Williams told TODAY in an exclusive interview, “I don’t think you would have 'Mike & Molly' without Dan and Roseanne.”

The son of two blue-collar parents in Evansville, Ind., Williams said what inspired "Roseanne" was the old adage “Write what you know.”  

“That’s what I did,” he explained. “My father worked on an assembly line in a factory. My mother was a waitress who later became a beautician. Dan is an amalgamation of all my uncles, who were independent contractors.”

William "got out" of Indiana and ended up a writer in Los Angeles.

“But a lot of people graduated from high school and didn’t go to college," he recalled of those he left behind. "A lot have never left the Midwest, but they aren’t stupid people. They are good, hardworking people who worry about paying their bills and taking care of their kids.”

Actress Goranson, 39, who played Becky (well, Becky No. 1), told TODAY that looking back, she thinks the biggest impact of the show was “this archetypal family that had story lines around money issues and personal issues and love and ... that was such a mirroring for families in the United States and around the world. I think it really helped people communicate better ... and also not feel isolated.”

The intent of the sitcom, Williams added, was "to represent the people I grew up with — without condescending — and basically celebrate this working-class family with a husband and wife who loved each other."

To that end, the creator wanted to keep it real. He had plenty of help from a cast that, in addition to Barr and Goodman, included Steppenwolf Theatre alumnus Laurie Metcalf, and then-newcomers Sara Gilbert, Alicia Goranson and Michael Fishman (Darlene, Becky and D.J., respectively).

“I give all the credit to (casting agents) Risa Bramon and Billy Hopkins,” Williams said of the caliber of acting talent assembled. “They went out and found a great cast. I don’t know how many kids they auditioned but it was hundreds and hundreds. And then John Goodman walked in the room and it was like he and (Roseanne) had been married for 16 years.”

The folks in charge of casting certainly had an eye for talent. In addition to finding talented actors that made the far from perfect nuclear family of "Roseanne" work so well as a unit, they also snagged some then unknowns who turned into A-listers later on. George Clooney had a recurring role as Roseanne's boss Booker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt appeared in various episodes as DJ's little pal, Bob Odenkirk had a cameo as a shoe salesman/health inspector, and more.

The Conner house also had additional touches of reality and familiarity to the show: Williams said that it's based on his grandma's home.

"The whole layout of the mud room and the kitchen is my grandmother's house," Williams revealed. "The afghan on the back of the couch and the louvered windows above the sink and the house we used for transitions was the house. ... From day one, in my grandmother's house, she had an extra-long phone cord."

As for the lasting impact “Roseanne” has had on the TV landscape, Williams simply said, “I don’t know. I think it would be a hard sell in today’s market. At the time, networks were willing to take the chance, but now everything is so analyzed and fragmented into key demographics. At the time, I didn’t even think about any of that stuff. They were real people to me, and I just wanted to write about their experiences.”

— Additional reporting by Anna Chan

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Bank of America posts profit as fewer loans go bad

By Peter Rudegeair

(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday, fueled by growth in its consumer and wealth management arms, underscoring the bank's progress in businesses it picked up during the financial crisis.

Profit at its largest unit, the consumer and business bank, soared 32 percent as revenue rose, credit costs fell, and the bank sold additional products to its existing customers. It issued more than one million credit cards during the quarter, the highest number since 2008, and nearly two-thirds went to existing customers.

"We feel like a lot of the work that we have been doing in that segment has paid off," Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson told reporters on a conference call.

Bank of America has been trying to improve retail banking and brokerage results ever since it acquired Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis. A key part of that plan is selling more products to customers, which Chief Executive Brian Moynihan hopes to do as he tries to build revenue.


There were negatives in the third quarter, including expenses that surpassed some analysts' forecasts, and weakness in three of the bank's five major businesses. Excluding gains and losses from changes in the value of the bank's debt, revenue in the quarter fell 1.5 percent to $22.19 billion.

The second-largest U.S. bank also reported a 71 percent slide in mortgage income as higher interest rates made refinancing less attractive. Many of the bank's peers have also seen declines, but Bank of America's looked particularly dramatic.

The bank made $22.6 billion in home loans in the quarter, down 11 percent from the second quarter.

Moynihan said on a conference call that the bank expects mortgage loan production to fall again in the fourth quarter. He said the bank would continue to reduce mortgage banking staff with the decline in volume.

"It'll never be a huge business for this company," given the competition and thin profit margins, Moynihan said.

Bank of America acquired mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp in July 2008, a disastrous deal that has cost the bank more than $40 billion in legal settlements and other charges.

Bank of America earned net income attributable to common shareholders of $2.22 billion, or 20 cents per share, in the third quarter, beating analysts' average estimate of 18 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

In the year-earlier quarter, the bank recorded a net loss attributable to common shareholders of $33 million due to accounting adjustments, litigation expenses and tax charges.


In the latest quarter Bank of America was helped by the improved performance of its loan portfolio. It wrote off $1.69 billion of loans, down from $4.12 billion a year earlier.

With loans performing better and delinquencies falling across all consumer portfolios, it set aside $296 million to cover bad loans, compared with $1.77 billion in the same quarter last year.

Thompson said loan losses would decline further in the fourth quarter and stabilize next year at $1.5 billion per quarter.

Sales and trading revenue for the bank's fixed income, currency and commodities business, excluding an accounting adjustment, fell by $501 million to $2.0 billion due to lower bond-trading volumes for much of the quarter.

Fixed-income traders were inactive for several weeks leading up to the Federal Reserve's meeting in mid-September in the expectation that the central bank would announce that it was starting to wind down its bond-buying stimulus program.

Bank of America sold its remaining stake in China Construction Bank Corp for $1.47 billion in September, contributing $750 million pre-tax to the bottom line.

Bank of America shares have risen 23 percent this year, in line with gains in the KBW index of bank stocks <.bkx>. The shares were up 2.6 percent at $14.60 in midday trade.

(Reporting by Peter Rudegeair in New York; Additional reporting by Anil D'Silva in Bangalore; Editing by John Wallace)

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Obama lashes Republicans as government reopens

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama warned that a last-minute deal to reopen the government and avert a default has not ended deep political and fiscal ideological battles that could provoke a similar crisis in just a few months.

Obama admonished his Republican opponents not to repeat the same cycle that he said damaged America's credibility and "encouraged our enemies" around the world. But there was little certainty about what would happen next as both sides began to regroup and map out their strategies ahead of yet another round of deadlines on spending and debt.

Some political experts suggested Republicans might not be so eager for another fight after polls showed the party bore the brunt of public blame for the 16-day shutdown, triggered after House Republicans refused to fund the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his signature health care law. But, fresh from defeat, some hardcore small-government tea party groups were already promising future assaults on "Obamacare."

Hundreds of thousands of federal staff began returning to work Thursday after legislation passed both houses of Congress late Wednesday to fund the government until Jan. 15. The measure also gave Treasury the ability to borrow above the $16.7 trillion limit until Feb. 7 or a few weeks longer.

The bipartisan deal was welcomed around the world, but anxiety persisted about America's long-term stability.

At the White House, Obama blended sharp criticism of Republicans with a plea for their cooperation over the remainder of the year and a call for less shrillness on both sides.

"Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claimed their actions were needed to get America back on track," he said.

"But probably nothing has done more damage to America's credibility to the world. ... It's encouraged out enemies. It's emboldened our competitors. And it's depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership," he said.

Inside the Capitol, lawmakers charged with forging a post-shutdown deficit-cutting agreement in the next 60 days met privately. "We believe there is common ground," said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Privately, however, officials in both parties said the prospects for a major breakthrough were dim, given differences over taxes and spending that have proven compromise-proof through three years of divided government.

The impasse had shuttered national parks and monuments, and mostly closed down agencies such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency. Critical functions of government went on as usual, but the closure and potential default weighed on the economy and spooked the financial markets. Standard & Poor's estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy.

Washington's Smithsonian Institution declared on Twitter that it was back in business, announcing that its 19 museums would reopen Thursday. The National Zoo was set to reopen Friday and its popular panda cam was already back online.

House Republicans sparked the crisis on Oct. 1 when they refused to fund the government unless Obama agreed to defund or delay his health care law, known as "Obamacare." The government shutdown was soon overshadowed when House Republicans also refused to up the government's borrowing authority so the U.S. could pay its bills, raising the specter of a catastrophic default.

Obama refused to budge, proclaiming repeatedly that he would not to pay a "ransom" in order to get Congress to pass normally routine legislation. In the end, the bipartisan deal left his health care program intact and gave Republicans little to show for the fight.

Hoping to jump-start his own stalled agenda, Obama urged lawmakers to concentrate on three items in the coming weeks: a balanced plan to reduce long-term deficits, legislation to overhaul the immigration system and passage of a farm bill.

Polling aside, Obama's party emerged from the three-week showdown in Congress united. All Democrats in Congress supported the legislation that passed Wednesday night.

Not so of the Republicans. Eighteen Republican members in the Senate and 144 in the House opposed the legislation, while 27 in the Senate and 87 in the House supported it.

Several polls showed a steep decline in public approval for Republicans. Republican Sen. John McCain said the American people clearly disapprove of how Republicans, and also Democrats and the president, handled the budget crisis.

"Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness," McCain said Thursday on CNN.


Associated Press writers David Espo, Steven R. Hurst, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Charles Babington, Stephen Ohlemacher, Henry C. Jackson and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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This Next Generation Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurant Is the Future

Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are usually only worth going to once in your life. The sushi is hardly ever amazing since it spins on the belt over and over again while the dishes you actually want might be snatched ahead of you so you never get to eat it. Not to mention plates stacking on your table, plastic covers getting in your way and the lack of personalized orders. It's a gimmick! It's okay though, Japan has figured out those problems with this next generation conveyor belt sushi restaurant.



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Thursday, October 17, 2013

APNewsBreak: New charges in Blackwater shootings

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Thursday brought fresh charges against four former Blackwater Worldwide security contractors, resurrecting an internationally charged case over a deadly 2007 shooting on the streets of Baghdad.

A new grand jury indictment charges the men in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq and heightened diplomatic sensitivities amid an ongoing war. The men were hired to guard U.S. diplomats.

The guards are accused of opening fire in busy Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen Iraqi civilians died, including women and children. Prosecutors say the heavily armed Blackwater convoy used machine guns and grenades in an unprovoked attack. Defense lawyers argue their clients are innocent men who were ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.

The guards were charged with manslaughter and weapons violations in 2008, but a federal judge the following year dismissed the case, ruling the Justice Department withheld evidence from a grand jury and violated the guards' constitutional rights. The dismissal outraged many Iraqis, who said it showed Americans consider themselves above the law. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010, expressed his "personal regret" for the shootings.

A federal appeals court reinstated the case in 2011, saying now-retired Judge Ricardo Urbina had wrongly interpreted the law.

Prosecutors again presented evidence before a grand jury, and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth gave the Justice Department until Monday to decide what to do with the case.

The defendants include Dustin Heard, a retired U.S. Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a retired U.S. Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former U.S. Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough, a U.S. Army veteran from Keller, Texas.

Slatten is charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 16 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter; Liberty and Heard are charged with 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 16 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter; and Slough is charged with 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 18 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter. All four were also charged with one count of using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

They were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a statute that allows the government to prosecute certain government employees and contractors for crimes committed overseas. Defense lawyers have argued that statute does not apply in this case since the guards were working as State Department contractors, not for the military.

Heard's lawyer, David Schertler, said in an email he was disappointed with the prosecution, which he believes has no merit.

"We will continue to fight and defend Dustin Heard's innocence and honor until he is fully exonerated," he said.

Lawyers for Slough and Slatten declined to comment. Liberty's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said the prosecution "demonstrates our commitment to upholding the rule of law even in times of war and to bringing justice to the memories of those innocent men, women and children who were gunned down in Baghdad more than six years ago."

Prosecutors last month agreed to dismiss their case against a fifth guard, Donald Ball, a retired Marine from West Valley City, Utah. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway of California, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

The Justice Department had earlier dropped Slatten from the case, but after the appeals court decision reinstated the prosecution, the government said he remained a defendant.

The company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide is under new ownership and is now headquartered in Virginia. It had changed its name to Xe Services, but the company was sold to a group of investors who then changed the name to Academi.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince is no longer affiliated with the company.

In moving forward with the case, the government will seek to overcome some of the legal problems that have dogged the prosecution. The case ran into trouble because the State Department promised the guards that their statements explaining what happened would not be used for criminal prosecution. The guards told investigators that they fired their weapons, a crucial admission. Because of a limited immunity deal, prosecutors had to build their case without those statements, a high legal hurdle. In dismissing the case, Urbina said prosecutors had read the statements, reviewed them in the investigation and used them to question witnesses and get search warrants.

Court documents also reveal conflicting evidence, with some witnesses saying the Blackwater convoy was under fire and others saying it was not.


Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: and Eric Tucker at

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