Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Government Restriction

Cheap coal? Tell that to the dead miners' families

President Obama in Oklahoma
The Obama administration announced new EPA rules Tuesday that sharply limit the output of carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

And not surprisingly, the mining industry objected.

"Requiring coal-based power plants to meet an emissions standard based on natural gas technology is a policy overtly calculated to destroy a significant portion of America's electricity supply," said Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Assn. "This proposal is the latest convoy in EPA's regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop. It is not an 'all of the above' energy strategy." 

Of course, what Quinn doesn't want to talk about is what types of jobs the EPA rules are "crushing."

To get a better idea of that, you need to read another Times story Tuesday, one headlined "Report: Safety agency failed to enforce laws at deadly mine."

That story tells of the regulatory and safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where an explosion in 2010 killed 29 coal miners and seriously injured two others.

It's a story of lax regulatory enforcement, of inspectors simply not doing their jobs, and of a mine operator that, as the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a report on the deadly incident, engaged in  "systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts ... to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators."

How bad were conditions at the mine?  Bad enough that "Alpha Natural Resources, the company that acquired Massey Energy Co. after the explosion, reached a settlement late last year with the Department of Justice in which it agreed to pay a record $209 million in compensation and fines and federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue criminal charges against the company," according to The Times' story.

Even so, some former officials at the mine are under criminal indictment. 

Last month, prosecutors charged the then-superintendent of the mine with conspiring with others to block federal regulators from enforcing safety requirements -- a charge that suggests other individuals are likely targets of action as well.

Prosecutors allege that the former superintendent altered the mine’s ventilation system while an inspector was taking an air sample and ordered that a monitor be rewired so that mining could continue despite elevated levels of methane.

What industry spokesman Quinn also didn't talk about is that EPA regulations would apply only to new power plants, and that, as The Times story said, "the proposed regulations further bolster a trend that the power industry began years ago, as more utilities replaced aging coal-fired plants with new natural gas plants. Very few new coal plants are now on the drawing boards."

Coal is a relatively cheap power source, but it's only really cheap if you ignore the costs in lost lives mining it and the health effects from burning it, not to mention the environmental costs from digging it up.

As The Times story concludes:

"[W]hat this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again," said Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, one of the litigants in the lawsuit that led to the development of the new rules. "The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be built the same again."

This isn't about "crushing" jobs.

This is about progress. And it's time to move on.

ALSO:

Candidates go PG-13 on the press

Gov. Brown's tax-the-rich pitch looks like a winner

Did an open mic catch Obama making promises to Russia?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: President Obama speaks about energy on March 22 at a TransCanada pipe yard near Cushing, Okla. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA

'Obamacare' plaintiff Brown's bankruptcy: Instant karma?

Supreme Court in Washington
What do you call it when someone who is suing to overturn the healthcare reform law files for bankruptcy, listing $4,500 in unpaid medical bills?

Karma? Fate? A lucky break for President Obama?

Really, you can't make this stuff up. Here's what The Times' David Savage wrote Thursday:

Mary Brown, a 56-year-old Florida woman who owned a small auto repair shop but had no health insurance, became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama's healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue.

Brown "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it," said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation's case, which the Supreme Court plans to hear later this month.

But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills.

Now, you might expect Brown to be a bit, well, chagrined at this turn of events.  But remember, as Savage wrote, she "was passionate about the issue."

And she apparently still is:

Brown, reached by telephone Thursday, said the medical bills were her husband's. "I always paid my bills, as well as my medical bills," she said angrily. "I never said medical insurance is not a necessity. It should be anyone's right to what kind of health insurance they have.

"I believe that anyone has unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control," Brown said. "Who says I don't have insurance right now?"

Who says? Well, Mary, your lawyer for one. Remember: She "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it."

Oh yeah, that.  Those lawyers, always running their mouths.  

And for that matter, Mary, those aren't your husband's medical bills, at least not anymore.  Now that you've filed for bankruptcy, they are probably our medical bills, aren't they? 

Although it's not as though Brown is totally anti-government: The couple's Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition said her income was $275 a month in unemployment benefits.

So perhaps she intends to put that toward what she owes: "$2,140 to Bay Medical Center in Panama City, $610 to Bay Medical Physicians, $835 to an eye doctor in Alabama and $900 to a specialist in Mississippi."

Or maybe, as the story says, there's that other way out:

"This is a very common problem. We cover $30 million in charity and uncompensated care every  year," said Christa Hild, a spokeswoman for the hospital center. "If it's a bad debt, we have to absorb it."

Although when the hospital center says "we," it means "us"  -- as in you and I, the ones who do pay for health insurance.  We absorb it, in higher premium costs.

It's called the free market, or "there's no free lunch."  (It's also why a single-payer system such as Medicare would've been a better option than the law we've got, but that's another post.)

But it's also why the "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance was put into the law.

Why that is so hard for Brown and millions of other citizens to understand is beyond me. 

This isn't Charles Dickens' London: We don't have debtors' prisons.  If Brown and her fellow travelers have their way and the healthcare law is ruled unconstitutional, many others will take the risk "of unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control." 

And if they get sick, and have medical bills they can't pay, then they won't pay.  And neither will the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

The rest of us will pay.

You see, Mary, the requirement that everyone buy health insurance isn't big bad government taking away your freedom.

It's just common sense.

ALSO:

Jimmy Carter, shortchanged again

War on drugs' big catch -- 'Viagra man'

$3 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid buys little respect 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a challenge to the healthcare reform law. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

California's phone ban: Maybe not such a bad idea after all

Phones
We may owe state Sen. Joe Simitian an apology.The Palo Alto Democrat, who sponsored the 2008 bill that banned driving with a handheld cellphone in California, introduced a bill two years ago that would more than double the fine for the infraction. We asserted in a 2010 editorial that it was a bad idea because it would have little or no impact on public safety and looked a lot like a backdoor way of raising state revenues. The bill was approved, but we were thrilled when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it under the rationale that the fine is already high enough to discourage people from dialing while driving.

A study released Monday by UC Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center suggests we may have been wrong, at least about the safety part. Contradicting nearly all of the other research on the issue, it found that traffic fatalities have dropped significantly since the 2008 ban went into effect.

In our defense, our beef with the phone ban was based on voluminous research that showed no difference in the number of accidents involving drivers using handheld cellphones as opposed to hands-free devices such as Bluetooth. There was, for example, a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute that found no reductions in crashes in states that passed laws like Simitian's. Other studies before that had concluded that although talking on a cellphone while driving is indeed dangerous -- the equivalent of driving while legally drunk-- it's the conversation that distracts drivers, not the fact that one is holding a phone to one's ear while having it. Theoretically, then, banning handheld phones should make no difference; the only way to reduce the danger would be to forbid all cellphone use by drivers.

But the Berkeley study points up a phenomenon we hadn't anticipated. It compared traffic deaths in the two years preceding the 2008 ban and the two years following it, and found that overall deaths dropped 22% and that deaths of drivers using handheld cellphones dropped 47%. Unrelated research might explain why this happened: A survey by the state Office of Traffic Safety in 2010 found that in states with handheld phone bans, 44% of drivers reported they didn't use a cellphone at all while driving -- handheld or hands-free -- compared to 30% in states without such laws. In other words, it's still quite possible that Bluetooth has no impact on safety but the handheld ban discouraged people from talking on their phones at all. Maybe that's because they're too cheap to buy a Bluetooth device, or maybe it's because the ban itself raised awareness that driving while dialing was dangerous. Either way, it seems that the ban has made a difference.

None of this is to say that Simitian's proposal to raise the fines -- and, undiscouraged by Brown's veto, he's back with another bill, SB 1310,to do just that -- is a good idea. With assorted state and local fees tacked on, a cellphone ticket costs drivers $159 for a first offense, and if that isn't enough to persuade them to put their phones down, I don't see why Simitian's plan to boost the total would make much difference. But it appears that cracking down on handheld phones wasn't as lousy an idea as we'd thought.

ALSO:

Sexual abuse, and LAUSD's overreaction

Get the federal government off public lands

Making California's primary matter -- it takes more than luck

-- Dan Turner

Photo: Drivers enjoy the freedom to hold phones to their ears, just before California's ban on the practice was enacted in 2008. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

'8' on stage: Can George Clooney play a brilliant lawyer?

George Clooney
Why, yes, he can. On Saturday night, a cast that was repeatedly called "star-studded" performed a dramatic reading of the play "8," which is more or less an excerpting of the transcripts of the federal trial on Proposition 8. Star-drenched would be more accurate.

My mother's theory was that the quality of any dramatic production tends to be inversely proportional to the number of big names in it, and more often than not, I think that holds. Fortunately, from where I sat, "8" was, for the most part, the exception. Not because the acting was necessarily special but because so many of the lines were. What makes that all the more exceptional is that most of the lines were taken straight from the transcript of the trial.

I certainly had read about the trial avidly while it was going on, but there is indeed something different about seeing it played out, even if that's an enactment. I sat there wondering, did that proponent of Proposition 8 really say something so easily picked apart? Or was the play, more likely, playing for cheap shots? After the play, I spent hours checking several out of the play's exchanges on the Internet. Yes, they were real. Perhaps they stood out more because the play only touched highlights -- although if there were any highlights that made Proposition 8's presentation look good, they were omitted.

Thankfully, the actors played it simply for the most part, letting the essential material shine through, and that includes Clooney, playing the celebrated litigator David Boies, who managed to turn the defense's single witness into more of a witness for the plaintiffs.

The least effective scenes didn't come from the trial transcripts. Those were little side dramas between the lesbian plaintiff mothers (played by Christine Lahti and Jamie Lee Curtis) and their two sons.  The scenes rang a little sappy and false to me.

But you can decide for yourself. The entire play is on YouTube for a few more days. (For some strange reason, it starts at 29:51).

ALSO:

California's lone wolf returns to Oregon: Why?

Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran

Limbaugh drowns out his own message about the pill

--Karin Klein 

Photo: George Clooney, left, Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt are shown in a scene from the play "8," at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Credit: Jason Merrit / Getty Images for the American Foundation for Equal Rights

More legal mumbo-jumbo on medical marijuana

Medical marijuana

Really, you have to wonder what these judges were smoking.

Here, read for yourself (quick version for those with short attention spans), courtesy of Times staff writer Maura Dolan:

California cities may not ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but the operations may sell only weed that is grown on site, an appeals court ruled in an Orange County case.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge Court of Appeal panel in Santa Ana was the first in the state to prohibit cities from enacting zoning restrictions that effectively ban all marijuana dispensaries. The court was also the first to rule that dispensaries must grow the marijuana they sell, a requirement that would force most of them out of business.

To which I say: Dudes, what?

You can't bar dispensaries but you can require them to grow their own, right at the store?

Will this also mean that pharmacies can only sell Viagra if they make it on site? That markets have to become wineries or breweries to sell Chardonnay and Bud Light? Is Trader Joe's going to have to slaughter the cows and pigs right there in the store? What about Starbucks?  It’s gonna be tough growing all that coffee in the little shops.

OK, not perfect analogies perhaps. But really, how does this ruling bring clarity to an issue that seriously needs some? As the story says:

The Lake Forest decision added to a stack of rulings that have befuddled local governments and was unlikely to add much clarity.

One appeals court upheld the right of cities to use zoning laws to prohibit dispensaries. Another said city regulations that allow any medical marijuana violate federal law. A federal judge this week threw out a lawsuit to prevent the federal government from shutting down dispensaries.

And it's not even about political ideology. Two of the three judges were Republican appointees, the other a Democratic appointee. 

The real problem here is -- to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's famous line in "A Few Good Men" -- "We can't handle the truth."

Both sides on this issue are trying to achieve something without actually admitting it. Many supporters of medical marijuana, for example, are really advocates for legalizing marijuana, period. And cities that enact ordinances such as Lake Forest's may say they're trying to regulate the industry, but in fact they're trying to shut down legal businesses that they don't want.

For example, from Dolan's story:

Jeffrey Dunn, a lawyer who represented Lake Forest, said the court's requirement that dispensaries sell pot grown only on site would shut down most storefront operations.

"I don't see how you can grow in a tiny, rented space enough pot for over 1,000 customers," Dunn said.

Exactly. You can't. 

Except, the sale of medical marijuana is legal. Californians voted for it. Californians want it. Laws restricting it won't change that.

[For the record: OK, yes, that is incorrect.  The sale of marijuana is not legal in California.  Rather, I should have said that Proposition 215, which Californians passed in 1996, allows people, with a doctor's permission, to grow, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes.]

The real solution, of course, is simple: Just legalize marijuana. 

But if we can't do that, we should at least stop with these silly ordinances, which only spawn equally silly court rulings.

ALSO:

The vernacular landscape of medical marijuana

Will Santa Monica call off Christmas in the park?

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Los Angeles Times

 

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

Sen. Roy Blunt
To read about the Blunt amendment, which was narrowly defeated Thursday via a U.S. Senate vote to table it, you'd think this was solely about whether religiously affiliated organizations -- such as hospitals or universities with links to churches -- have to provide health-insurance coverage for birth control.

Certainly, what kicked off the legislative move by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was the Obama administration's rule that they would indeed have to provide that coverage; that was later softened to an agreement under which the coverage would be available, but the insurance companies would pick up the cost, which they have said they're willing to do.

But the Blunt amendment would have gone much further. Any employer would be allowed to refrain from any mandated coverage under healthcare reform if it offended the owners' religious or moral beliefs. That includes screening for sexually transmitted diseases and a load of other generally accepted and important care.

Certainly, if a university that has ties to Catholicism can refuse to offer birth-control coverage, it's hard to imagine why the owner of an auto-parts store who might have equally strong religious beliefs shouldn't get the same break. Which gets to the essential question at the heart of this thinking: What do our bosses get to decide about our lives? Supporters of Blunt might say that people are entitled to buy whatever they want as long as the employer isn't paying for it, but that didn't make much of a difference when the insurance companies were willing to pick up the tab.

The argument that employers shouldn't have to spend their money in support of activities to which they have moral objections has some serious implications, if you take it down the road for a spin. Most employers offer some paid vacation to full-time employees. What if the employee spends that time doing something the employer finds morally objectionable -- say, working to defeat Proposition 8, or working to defend it? Why should the employer have to subsidize that activity?

It's an extreme example, of course. But when you consider the narrowness of the vote taken in the Senate, it's worth wondering the extent to which the Blunt philosophy would hand moral judgments about private decisions to employers.

ALSO:

Human rights and U.S. courts

Napoleon's comeback, in 360 3-D?

McManus: Romney won't be a pushover in November

--Karin Klein

Photo: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) speaks on the Senate floor before a vote on his amendment dealing with contraceptives on Thursday. Credit: CSPAN.org

Rearview cameras on cars by 2014? It's so 21st century

Honda Crosstour rearview camera

Forget healthcare reform's "individual mandate." Now the government is looking to take away your right to back into stuff with your own car.

That's right: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing that by 2014 all new cars sold in the United States have rearview cameras.

Now, full disclosure: In four decades of driving, I personally have backed into one car, one pole and the side porch of my house -- twice. (In my defense, none of this happened until the kids came along and I had to buy that stupid minivan!) And showing that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, my teenage son's first, and only -- so far -- accident came when he backed into an iron railing. (I'm so proud!)

And, as The Times story Tuesday said:

Each year, 228 people die after being struck by passenger vehicles going in reverse -- including about two children a week, according to the New York Times.

Accidents caused by drivers backing up also injure 17,000 people annually.

Plus the cost to automakers of the rearview cameras, now found on fewer than half of 2012's cars, isn't prohibitive: about $160 to $200 for each car.

So, on balance, I count this rule as a good thing -- for the nation and individually.

(Although I must confess that when I rented a car a few years back with a rearview camera, the kids couldn't resist taking turns checking themselves out on the dashboard screen. Which both seemed to defeat the purpose of the camera and led to a severe scolding by their mother.)

What's most interesting about this, though, has been the sea change in attitude among Americans about cars and safety. 

When seat belts were introduced in the late 1950s, for example, the U.S. auto industry resisted efforts to make them mandatory, arguing that people didn’t want them -- as evidenced by the fact that, when they were offered as extra-cost options, few people ordered them.

Thankfully, automakers lost that fight. But for quite some time, many people also resisted state laws requiring the wearing of seat belts.

Airbags were also controversial when mandated, with automakers arguing, again, about cost, and with others doubting the claim that they would improve passenger safety.

But somewhere along the way, Americans went from penny-pinching, throw-caution-to-the-wind, I'll-die-a-gruesome-death-behind-the-wheel-if-I-want-to rugged individualists to consumers of safety at all costs. (See the silly "Baby on Board" phenomenon.)

Now, the more airbags the merrier. Cars have collapsible steering columns, anti-lock brakes, safety glass, crush zones, reinforced doors and roofs, and loads of other safety features.

Sure, we still sometimes show vestiges of our wicked past: People -- very unsafely -- call and/or text while driving, for example.

But for the most part, we embrace all the new gadgetry.  And safety now sells. So automakers bring us more of it.

For example, as The Times story says:

Automakers unveiled an assortment of other preventative safety features at the L.A. Auto Show in November.

Infiniti showed off its backup collision intervention technology, which not only beeps when its sensors detect potential obstacles but also automatically brakes to avoid a crash.

A similar function from Ford offers blind-spot warnings. Cadillac has a virtual bumper feature that stops the car before it hits anything.

That's right: Soon your car may do more of the driving -- and the accident avoidance -- than you do.

The bright side of that equation? You may be able to call or text in complete safety.

"Passive Driver on Board," anyone?

RELATED:

Volkswagen's wooly Bulli

High-tech cars -- and equally high-tech security issues 

New cars vs. old cars -- the 'old paint' economic indicator

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: The dashboard of the Honda Crosstour features a rearview camera and monitor that are used when the car is backing up. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Bursting the GOP's housing bubble nonsense

Protest in Watts over foreclosures
In Republican circles, one common assertion about the mortgage meltdown is that it was caused by the government -- specifically President Clinton and Democrats -- who forced banks to make loans to people they knew couldn't pay.

This week, though, we were given proof that this assertion is -- what's the legal term for it?; oh yea -- baloney: In New York, Citigroup Inc. agreed to a $158-million settlement with the Justice Department.

As The Times reported:

Citi admitted that it provided misleading information about the quality of its mortgages to a federal insurance program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The government provided backing for the mortgages and ended up losing millions when the borrowers defaulted.

Notice that phrase: "misleading information about the quality of its mortgages."

And who were some of these borrowers?  Yep, you're right, some were the folks Clinton and the Democrats wanted to help achieve the American dream of homeownership:

The government insurance allowed Citi to give cheaper loans to less-creditworthy borrowers and then to sell the loans to investors.

But is wasn't the government forcing Citigroup's employees to make bad loans. In fact, here's what the government demanded:

The major banks were part of a program that allowed them to get automatic approval for government insurance for the mortgages they were issuing. As part of the program, the banks were supposed to aggressively pre-screen the mortgages to make sure they were not too risky and report any signs the mortgages were having trouble.

Hmmm. Wonder which part of "aggressively pre-screen the mortgages to make sure they were not too risky" the bankers didn't understand? Because here's how they apparently did business:

The complaint said Citi systematically ignored these rules, leading the government to insure lower-quality loans. More problematically, employees in Citi's mortgage unit are accused of asking members of the compliance department to not report problems with the mortgages to the government.

In legal circles, I think you call that "a smoking gun."  I guess Citi thought so too, since it agreed to fork over $158 million.

Admittedly, this settlement is pretty small potatoes, given the enormity of the mortgage mess.

And yes, you can't excuse people who took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford.

But can we at least stop spouting the nonsense that the government forced banks to make bad loans?

Clearly, that's one claim that just doesn't hold up in a real court, and it shouldn't hold up in the court of public opinion either.

ALSO:

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Mitt Romney picks the wrong fight over the auto bailout

The payroll tax deal isn't a sign of a more harmonious Congress

-- Paul Whitefield 

Photo: A protest in Watts this month against foreclosures. California is working through its backlog of troubled loans faster than many states, trade economists say. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Keystone XL: America's Italian cruise ship?

Keystone XL protesters in Washington

Why is it that when I picture the Keystone XL pipeline, I see a half-submerged cruise ship in the Mediterranean?

Maybe it's because the wreck of the Costa Concordia off Italy's coast is a reminder that, well, stuff happens.

Which is why it's good news that the Obama administration has decided against issuing a permit for the Keystone project just yet.

Like it or not, pipelines -- like cruise ships and nuclear reactors and the things people make, or operate -- aren't foolproof. Stuff happens.

I'm against building the Keystone. But if we are going to go ahead with it, we'd better make sure we've done everything we can to make it as safe as possible.

And that means not rushing the permit process.

Sadly, President Obama's Republican opponents never miss an opportunity to make political points, even when it's their voters -– such as the ones in Nebraska -– who are also objecting to the project. As The Times reported Wednesday:

"President Obama is about to destroy tens of thousands of American jobs and sell American energy security to the Chinese," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "The president won't stand up to his political base even to create American jobs. This is not the end of this fight."

Which is utter nonsense. The pipeline's oil would go into the global pool. U.S. refiners would probably continue the growing trend of selling their products to foreign markets. And the number of jobs created would be a relative handful -– 20,000 according to proponents, 6,000 according to the State Department and others.

All for what? So we can put at risk a precious aquifer in the nation's breadbasket?

And then there's the questionable strategy of our dependence on oil in the first place. Go read 350.org founder Bill McKibben's Op-Ed article in Wednesday's Times, "Burning America's future," for a chilling analysis of where that path will lead the planet.

If you don't have the time, here's his kicker:

It may not be aerosol cheese or cryogenics, but can't we all agree that burning every molecule of fossil fuel we can find is a spectacularly bad idea?

We're stuck with oil, and gas, and coal, and, yes, nuclear for now. But we don't have to stay stuck. 

And we certainly don't have to take giant risks for the small return that the Keystone XL pipeline would bring.

After all, the Costa Concordia wreck will probably prove to be a job creator too. 

For cleanup workers.

RELATED:

Graphic: No permit for pipeline

Full coverage: Keystone XL pipeline

Italy's Costa Concordia catastrophe: Why?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Protesters march against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline during a demonstration in Washington in November. Credit: Daniel Lippman / MCT

 

A banner month for the Golden Globes [Wednesday's Coffeebreak Quiz answer]

Yesterday's Opinion L.A. Coffeebreak Quiz asked you to find street banners hung from public light poles on the public right-of-way along public streets in Los Angeles that advertise a commercial television program.

The answer: The Golden Globes, or rather, the TV broadcast of the Golden Globes on NBC on Sunday. Globe_1

A spokeswoman for L.A.'s Board of Public Works explained that the banners don't really promote a TV show ("LIVE SUNDAY JAN 15." And a very familiar-looking peacock. Please). No, see, they promote the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the sponsor of the Golden Globes, and, see, the association is a nonprofit, so it's OK.

By the way, although the banners appear courtesy of the public streets and lightpoles of Los Angeles, the Golden Globes are being presented in another city -- Beverly Hills -- which will reap whatever tax benefits are to be had from the event. NBC is located in another city -- Burbank. But at least the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is located in -- no, wait. Not Los Angeles. West Hollywood.

But people in Los Angeles get to watch.

The banners strike the Opinion L.A. team as the most blatant re-commercialization of the city's non-commercial street banner program since a TV network battle turned into Bannergate in 1999. That's when CBS complained that ABC had hung bright yellow banners advertising shows for that year's the fall season. City rules barred commercial companies from using the streets as part of their promotional programs, although nonprofits were OK. The flap moved the City Council to fine-tune its rules. See way-back-when stories from the Times, (and here), the Los Angeles Business Journal, and the LA Weekly.

But commercial advertising on street banners, if you can get away with it, is cheap (compared with billboards) and effective, so for-profit ventures are seeking and barreling through anything that looks like a loophole. City officials seem to be OK with it.

So if Los Angeles is going to turn its light poles into commercial billboards anyway, shouldn't City Hall just throw in the towel, allow advertising of any product or service and get some real money instead of the paltry $25 to $100 per-pole the city charges (plus $100 to $150 per banner to the maker)?

We editorialized on that question recently: No. But it may be time for a follow-up.

RELATED:

Shrek and the City

Leave L.A.'s lampposts alone

--Robert Greene

Photo: A banner on Lankershim in Studio City advertising the Golden Globes show Sunday night. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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