State Feeling Pain of High Diesel Prices

A refinery outage and out-of-state shipments of diesel raised diesel prices above $3 a gallon last week in California, causing temporary shortages that riled truckers and stoked fears that the state's economy could be crimped, the Los Angeles Times reported. "Every day you don't know how much it's going to be, even every second," trucker Alex Alvarez told the newspaper after spending $400 to fill up his truck at a downtown Los Angeles gasoline station that charged $2.99 a gallon. On Friday, AAA reported that the average retail prices for gas his a record $2.849 a gallon, 19 cents more than the prior Monday. The state's special, cleaner diesel blend was cited as one cause of the shortage, as well as a fire at Chevron Corp.'s El Segundo refinery that cut production even as shipments were being made to out of state.

Prosecutors Step Up Probe of Milberg Weiss Law Firm
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles heard testimony three weeks ago from Alan Schulman, a former partner in the high profile law firm of Milberg Weiss, which is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possibly making secret, illegal payments to plaintiffs in its securities class-action lawsuits, the Wall Street Journal reported. The cooperation of Schulman was being seen as a major coup for prosecutors, who have been investigating the New York-based law firm for four years. Prosecutors have informed William Lerach, the high profile former partner of the firm, and two other former partners, David Bershad and Melvyn Weiss, that they could face indictment for conspiracy. It is illegal to make payments to plaintiffs in such cases to avoid a conflict between lead plaintiffs and class members. The investigation was first made public in June when a Seymour Lazar, a retired Palm Springs attorney, who was a plaintiff in at least 50 Milberg Weiss securities cases, was charged by the grand jury with fraud, conspiracy and money laundering for allegedly taking $2.4 million under the table.

Nielsen, Long a Gauge of Popularity, Fights to Preserve Its Own
Nielsen Media Research has embarked on a public relations campaign to defend its controversial, new People Meter television viewership measuring devices, the New York Times reported. The public relations offensive, which has included handing out T-shirts at an African American street fair, comes in response to a public relations blitz by News Corp., which believes that the new system is undercounting minority viewers of its Fox network shows. In Los Angeles, Nielsen hired longtime Democratic consultant Joseph Cerrell to handle its media and lobbying campaign, who in turn hired as a consultant Karen Waters, the daughter of local Rep. Maxine Waters. Critics have questioned whether Cerrell hired Waters to "please the congresswoman" but Cerrell told the paper he had hired her for her strong ties to the black community.

The Other Real Estate Bubble: REIT Stocks
Enthusiasm for property investment has spilled into the stock market, where shares of real estate investment trusts have climbed despite spotty operating results and higher interest rates, Barron's reports in its Aug. 8 edition. The run-up in REIT shares has raised concern of a bubble in the $300 billion sector, and indeed, some cracks are beginning to appear: The group declined by 5 percent last week, hurt by a setback in the bond market that followed the release of strong-than-expected July job figures.

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