Friday morning headlines

Do gas prices matter?: We'll soon find out as T-Day fast approaches - and pump prices edge ever closer to record levels. Retailers are worried that the higher cost of fuel will eat into holiday sales, but retailers are always worried about that stuff. No doubt consumers will be careful this year, but whether they'll hold off on gift-giving because it costs an extra 10 bucks to fill the tank is a debatable point. The Auto Club's weekly survey shows that the average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.379, which is 8.2 cents higher than last week, 36 cents above last month, and 92 cents more than last year. Even so, the AAA expects 31.2 million Americans to drive to Thanksgiving destinations, up slightly from last year's 30.8 million.

Late-night intervention?: Who knows how significant this is, but the WSJ reports that the TV talk-show hosts are trying to get the studio/network executives back to the negotiating table. They're doing it out of their self-interest - the late night shows have been in reruns since the writers strike began, and there's growing pressure on them to cross picket lines. "The hosts are in a unique position of power," the Journal reports. "They have close relationships with the networks and media executives, who have spent years wooing them with huge salaries and fancy perks." Also, the shows are hugely profitable because they’re so cheap to produce. (Variety also has the story.) Meanwhile, Carlton Cuse, a member of the WGA's negotiating committee and a showrunner and writer for ABC's "Lost," plans to do some post-production work, although no writing, for the eight episodes of "Lost" that have been shot, he says. "We feel we owe that to our fans," he said. "We would harm our franchise if we didn't do it ourselves."

In 1988, the last time the WGA went on strike, a large number of showrunners began to waver after about five months, according to Brian Walton, who was the WGA's executive director and chief negotiator at the time. "They started to say, 'Look, this looks really bad. Is there some way we could go back and take that last offer?' " he recalled. The strike was resolved soon thereafter. "It had an impact," he said. This time, the WGA's strike rule No. 12 prohibits writers from providing any "writing services," including "minor adjustments" to a script before and during production. The guild says it doesn't interpret that rule to prohibit post-production editing that doesn't alter the script, but it has made a "moral appeal" for showrunners to support the strike in any way they can, says Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of the WGA West.

Health Net fined: State regulators say the Woodland Hills-based insurer misled investigators about whether bonuses were paid based in part on how many policyholders were dropped. Health Net agreed to pay a $1 million fine (that'll sure break the bank) and to stop linking compensation to cancelled policies. Health Net's practices continue to be investigated and there may be additional fines. (LAT)

Is Al Mann kidding himself?: The billionaire businessman is betting nearly $1 billion of his own money on a device in which insulin can be inhlaled instead of injected. His company, Mannkind, has spent more than $700 million on the inhaled insulin - even though Mann himself has had to lend the company $350 million to keep it afloat. From the NYT:

“I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I’m willing to back it up with my estate,” Mr. Mann said at his 23,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The interview took place on a Saturday evening, which Mr. Mann said was the only opening in his seven-day work schedule. Despite Mr. Mann’s remarkable entrepreneurial career — he has founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies — there are people who wonder whether he has so much invested in this latest effort, both financially and emotionally, that he cannot see any odds against him.

Tax job: Nathan Hochman of the Bev Hills law firm Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez was nominated to head the Justice Department's Tax Division. It was one of several nominations to fill DOJ positions. By the way, Hochman, Salkin has a fun Web site (especially for a bunch of tax lawyers!) that has a selection of recipes under the heading "Food for Thought." As for Hochman, he was Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California between 1990 and 1997 and handled cases ranging from tax crimes to health care fraud.

Sex scenes at center of suit: A Chinese law student is suing the government for asking Taiwanese director Ang Lee to take the steamy scenes out of his new movie, "Lust, Caution." The doctorate law student at the China University of Political Science and Law is also suing the movie theater where he saw the film, alleging that it denied him a consumer's right to information. The thrust of Dong Yanbin's argument is that the government has not set up a ratings system that would allow adults to see an uncensored version of the movie. He wants 500 Chinese yuan ($67) for mental suffering and apologies from the theater. (AP)

Ellen's real estate deals: This is not exactly great timing given the comedian's decision to return to work while the writers are still on strike, but the WSJ reports that she has found a buyer for her Montecito estate. DeGeneres bought the property 14 months ago for $15.75 million. The place includes a 1926 Mediterranean-style house, two guest houses, a tennis court and a pool. DeGeneres also has purchased the 6,000-square-foot Bev Hills home of Max Mutchnick, a co-creator of "Will & Grace."

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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