A little of this, a little of that


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

Clinton and Starr

With former President Bill Clinton’s book hitting the bookstores, and Clinton hitting the promotional hustings, I have visions of him running into former special prosecutor Ken Starr at our newly launched Diesel bookstore. Starr is due to take over shortly as the new dean of Pepperdine’s School of Law, and the prospect of them meeting is not so farfetched. If it happens I certainly want to be there, although I suspect Clinton’s not going to be too anxious to autograph the ‘Ken’ chapter of his book. We’re already waiting for Starr’s rebuttal book.

We’re almost there

There was an item in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times that city, county and state officials were trying to work out some decades-old disagreements and finally save an 80-by-18-foot mural on historic Olvera Street painted in 1932 by David Alfaro Siqueiros, a famous Mexican painter. Somehow, the time lag doesn’t surprise me because, in 1965, I was working for then Los Angeles state Sen. Tom Rees and he assigned me to be his representative on the Olvera Street Commission. We were trying to reopen the Pico House, one of L.A.’s original hotels, which sits directly on the square in Olvera Street. The building had been renovated at great expense and there were only few minor details to work out before it could once again be reopened as a hotel. That, as I said, was 1965. Now, 39 years later, it’s still empty and they’re still trying to work out the details between the city, county and state. Don’t hold your breath.

The Supreme Court strikes again

The United States Supreme Court once again set out to prove to all of us that more and more it is becoming a largely irrelevant institution, committed to nothing more than keeping the status quo, which means that today, nowhere in our political system is there any counterbalance to the adage that “money rules.” In its latest decision, it basically left every one of the 130 million HMO patients without a remedy when there is a conflict with their insurer. The Supreme Court judges unanimously read the ERISA Act, which was originally a pension reform act, as precluding these lawsuits.

Now, it’s pretty clear that Congress, which responds only to money, is not going to change the ERISA Act. It’s also fairly clear that this court, which consists of right wing zealots and wishy-washy liberals, is never going to have the desire or the nerve to take on either Congress or the Executive Branch on anything, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. The problem is that when your HMO says no to you, it’s a capital case. The entire thing gets dumped into the laps of the states. That’s why the states keeping trying to pass a “Patient’s Bills of Rights.” Because in the bad cases, when your HMO says no, the state either picks up the medical care or “you die.”

Gas prices

When I look at the gas prices in our town, I gag. I just dropped Karen off at LAX this morning and I noticed a strange phenomenon. The closer you got to Malibu, the higher the gas prices. Around the airport, the lowest I saw was an ARCO station at $2.19 per gallon. Mid-Santa Monica was $2.29 or so. PCH was up into the $2.30s and then Malibu, the land of gasoline more valuable than gold, we’re into the $2.40s and higher. It gives you kind of a regional pride to know that we will not be oversold. This is one we really can blame on the Saudis.

One of the things you notice in England is that you seldom see an SUV, which is understandable with gas at one pound per liter, or about $8 per gallon. To put it into perspective, my SUV takes about 16 gallons, so a fill-up in Malibu is about $36. That same fill-up in London would be about $140 bucks. A couple of those and it’s goodbye SUV. They better get to producing those hybrids quickly or many of us are going to be driving a Morris.

Money trouble

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has been having a bit of a problem lately because the State Department of Finance did an audit of the agency and the way conservancy leader Joe Edmiston handles bond funds. The Department of Finance’s judgment was somewhat less than flattering. It appears that Edmiston, who all agree is an honest guy, is not a great stickler on keeping books or, for that matter, even accounting too clearly about where the money goes.

Years ago, when Edmiston had very little money, the joke was he was like a guy with two peas and 18 shells. He made deals all over the place and those two peas were moving so fast from shell to shell there were times I’m sure that even Edmiston wasn’t sure where they were. Well, a few big bond issues later, Edmiston and the greenies are rolling in money (which, by the way, you all voted for against my better judgment, for which I forgive you). Now, Edmiston has 18 peas but, true to form, he now has 164 shells, and the Department of Finance, which is full of a bunch of Republican bean counters, isn’t happy.

Several of these bonds have some very restrictive language, which apparently Edmiston and his board have interpreted very broadly (and possibly illegally). This really got the governor’s finance people very upset. Well, after the audit report came out, one would have expected the conservancy to say something like, “We screwed up, we’re sorry and we won’t do it again.” One might have expected it, but that wasn’t what happened. Au contraire. Some conservancy board members apparently explained to the press something to the effect that they were out there doing God’s work and couldn’t be expected to follow all the little minor bureaucratic rules the bean counters wanted. This, I suspect, did not sit well with some of the bean counters in Sacramento. Before you knew it, the governor was threatening to blue pencil some $21 million of bond money away from the conservancy unless the Legislature agreed to clip Edmiston’s wings and stop him from running with the bond money like it was some sort of personal environmental slush fund. In fact, we heard that the Department of Finance wanted Edmiston to check in with the governor before he exercised any bodily function, which this being a family newspaper, I cannot explain in detail.

We also heard that our own Sen. Sheila Kuehl rushed in on Edmiston’s behalf to negotiate with the Department of Finance over the wording of Edmiston’s probation. And, for all I know, they worked it out and Edmiston will get his money. The truth is that some of these so-called independent agencies, like the conservancy, got pretty cocky under Gov. Gray Davis because Davis was so desperate that he would have signed a roll of toilet paper if you put it in front of him. Gov. Schwarzenegger is a totally different matter, and I suspect that some of the agencies are going to have to change their MO or they’re going to see some harder times ahead.