Friday morning headlines

Market takes off: Strong Google earnings have jump-started things this morning as the Dow crosses the uncharted waters of 12,900. One area to watch is the market's breath - that is, the number of advancers vs. decliners. Despite the Dow rising in 14 of the past 15 sessions, the overall action generally has been mixed (the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were both down yesterday).

Speaking of records: Socal gas is within a dime of all-time highs, according to the Auto Club's weekly survey. The average price of self-serve regular in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.321, which is six cents higher than last week, 19 cents higher than last month, and 32 cents higher than last year. There's still no indication that the price hikes have done any major damage to the economy.

Be nice to them: When kids used to be hired for entry level schleper jobs, they were treated like, well, schlepers. But it's all different now, as depressingly laid out by the WSJ's Jeffrey Zaslow. Here's a sample:

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands' End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scooter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff "celebrations assistant" whose job it is to throw confetti -- 25 pounds a week -- at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week. The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds, through such efforts as its "Celebration Voice Mailboxes."


Employers say the praise culture can help them with job retention, and marriage counselors say couples often benefit by keeping praise a constant part of their interactions. But in the process, people's positive traits can be exaggerated until the words feel meaningless. "There's a runaway inflation of everyday speech," warns Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in Valley Stream, N.Y. These days, she says, it's an insult unless you describe a pretty girl as "drop-dead gorgeous" or a smart person as "a genius." "And no one wants to be told they live in a nice house," says Dr. Sapadin. "'Nice' was once sufficient. That was a good word. Now it's a put-down."

Amgen's travails: It turns out that the biotech company's largely positive safety study concerning use of its drug Aranesp was a big deal - at least big enough for the stock to take off yesterday (it's down a tad in early trading). And yet, the LAT asks a sensible question: What took them so long? Anemia drugs, after all, have been on the market for nearly 20 years - and some of the safety concerns have been debated almost from the start.

"How often do we have to wait and see flashing yellow and red lights about a drug's risk before we demand trials are done that ensure they're safe?" asked Dr. Jerome Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor and author of "Powerful Medicines," a book about the role of the drug industry in medical research. Although government regulators and the drug industry strongly disagree, critics call it a frequent pattern: A drug that is already on the market shows possible safety problems, but years go by before anyone the company, federal regulators or independent scientists does more research to show whether a negative safety signal, as it is known, can be corroborated.

New movie studio: It's another one of those mini-studios, fueled by $1 billion worth of Wall Street money. Robert Friedman, who used to be Paramount COO, and Patrick Wachsberger, who has been president and CEO of Summit Entertainment, are forming a new Summit that will produce, acquire, market and distribute films. Merrill Lynch, which has been nosing around Hollywood a lot lately (including Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner's financial deal at MGM) will be leading the group backing Summit. THR

Restless union members: They're still very much a minority, but some members of the United Food and Commercial Workers are starting to grouse not about their employers - the supermarket chains - but about their union leaders. They're concerned that the UFCW might call another strike - even though the walkout four years ago left the rank-and-file worse off than before. They're also not thrilled about the compensation for top union officials, including Local 324 President Greg Conger, who made $221,615 last year. That's still chicken feed next to what the supermarket CEOs are pulling in. OC Register

Doctors side with patients: The California Medical Association is joining a lawsuit against Blue Cross of California over the insurer not reimbursing doctors for care provided to enrollees whose policies were canceled. Blue Cross says it only cancels policies after determining that incomplete or inaccurate applications have been submitted. Also joining the litigation is the California Hospital Association, which represents about 430 institutions. LAT

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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