Opening Bell: 7.13.06

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Ken Lay praised and defended by family and friends (Houston Chronicle)
So Ken Lay got his second funeral yesterday, this time in Houston (the city that broke his heart), and the same reverend that likened him to JFK, MLK and Jesus in Colorado didn't slow down at all on the extremely distasteful analogies. This time, instead of comparing him to famous men, The Reverend Lawson compared Lay to James Byrd, the man who was dragged by a truck to his death in Jasper, Texas several years ago. The line apparently was met with a standing ovation by the 1000+ in attendance, which included the former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker. No word on whether those two gave that line a standing ovation, though you'd hope that at least a few people would have felt a little awkward at that moment. Note: After writing the above, just found this picture of reverend Lawson.
Another Enron case takes an odd twist (Houston Chronicle)
The Enron body count continues to rise. Just as three British bankers at NatWest were to be extradited to the US for their involvement with Enron, the head of NatWest's North American division was found dead. Importantly, Neil Coulbeck cooperated with and supplied evidence to the FBI. At this point, the death, which took place in some woods in East London, is believed to be a suicide. One can only guess that the timing, the same day as the extradition of his colleagues, was not an accident.
2006 Cost of Government Day (Dr. John Rutledge Blog)
Hooray!! As of yesterday, everything you had made so far this year will likely go to the government in taxes. But as of today, you can keep all of your money yourself. So, say you want to invest your money, pay for your kids' college tuition, buy a house etc., go right ahead -- starting with your next paycheck. The government won't stop you. Not after July 12th they won't. Of course, there's the other way to think of it, which many Republicans like to point out -- in a dual-income family, one person works for the government and the other supports the home. Though if tax freedom day comes after the halfway mark of the year, then even the home-supporting half has to pay a little to the government.
Crude futures reach new record on supply concerns (Marketwatch)
Some people may call it supply concerns while others may use the more nebulous phrase "jitters" -- either way, oil has been pushed to a new high, touching $75.89/barrel in electronic trading. That must mean that the U.S. consumer is about to stop spending money on flat TVs and beer any day now. Speaking of which, what happened to all the uproar about high oil prices, and the desire to impose a windfall profits tax on the oil companies? And weren't some people calling for price caps? Haven't watched O'Reilly lately, but does anyone know if he's been banging his drum on the subject. C'mon, we're at record highs here. Where's Schum-Schum? Perhaps the one redeeming aspect of politicians is that they have short attention spans, and move onto the next scandal before "fixing" the last one.


Soviet Chess Collusion: A New Paper (Knowledge Problem)
The paranoid and now insane Bobby Fischer always accused the great Russian chess masters of colluding during tournaments, so that the anointed ones would never lose to their not-quite-as-good teammates. Well, now that the work of economists mainly concerns things like collusion is Sumo wrestling and the game theory of penalty kicks (thanks a lot Stephen Levitt!), a study has finally been done to determine whether there was indeed collusion. Turns out Fischer was probably (75%) right. Still, Fischer isn't off the hook for his antics during the world championship in Reykjavik when he felt his own match was rigged somehow.
Dollar Drops Versus Yen After Israel Attacks Targets in Lebanon (Bloomberg)
Read the above title slowly, cause if you don't it might make sense to you. So this is what happened here, the writer of this particular piece called around, and got one trader to say that people are nervous about what's going on in the Middle East, and since every one of these quotidian market roundups need a hook or an explanation (more often than not it's Iran or North Korea), the writer went with it. Though the explanation falls apart later on, as it's revealed that the Yen surged over optimism of a rate increase tomorrow. Well, if you throw enough things out there, at least some of it has to be right.
The Smoking Airline (Gizmag)
The niche airline concept always seems like a good idea in theory. Hooter's Air is probably the most recent example. In the 80's, the Vegas casinos launched an airline with an interior that felt casino-ish, which flew from select cities to Vegas. It didn't do well either. But a new airline is launching (not in the US) to target an oppressed minority, cigarette smokers. If all goes according to play, Smoker's International Airways (SMINTAIR) will launch in March '07 with flights between Germany and Japan. It's probably smart that they target long trips like that, since those are the ones that cause smokers, dying for a nic fix, the most pain. With any luck, when you're on an international jaunt for work, you'll get the chance to fly SMINTAIR too.
EU Court Overturns Approval Of Sony, BMG Units Merger (WSJ)
Honestly, it's sort of charming the way the EU still gets so hung up over the anti-trust thing. Despite it being totally obvious that the Microsoft "monopoly" isn't what it used to be, they're still going after 'em hard. And now it's overturned the approval of a merger between the music divisions of Sony and BMG. Yes, such a merger would be big, but how on earth could that ever constitute a monopoly. What kind of barriers to entry could they impose on anyone else wanting to sell a CD? Furthermore, in an age of iTunes and internet distribution in general, there's no scarcity whatsoever when it comes to distribution channels. Well, the courts did actually cite one major tactic that SonyBMG could use to hurt other record labels. Get this, the merged company could put out compilation albums, and not include musicians from other record labels. Wow, seriously, just... wow.

Vatican Reports Profit (AP)
(via Crossing Wall Street)
Who knew? The Vatican, as in The Vatican City where the Pope lives, reported strong earnings in its recent period. The Holy See recorded at $12.4 million surplus for 2005, its best showing in 8 years. It had been beset by high labor and legal costs relating to the sex-abuse scandal. And get this; it's even been hurt, in recent years, by the falling dollar.

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