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Opening Bell: 12.29.10

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China: No Wild Parties At Taxpayers' Expense (AP)
As usual, Jim Chanos called this one: "Some of the parties to make headlines have seen officials die after excessive drinking at banquets. One official was arrested after diary entries he allegedly wrote appeared online describing casual sex, drinking and under-the-table payments at parties. Lavish official tours to Las Vegas and other places cost taxpayers about 400 billion yuan ($58 billion) every year, according to state broadcaster CCTV. On one such trip several years ago, officials spent taxpayers' money on a $700-a-night Las Vegas hotel and visits to a San Francisco sex show. It reached a point where President Hu Jintao gave a speech in April warning officials of the temptations of beautiful women, money and power.

Passenger Outrage Rises as Winter Storm Snarls U.S. Travel (Bloomberg)
Advice for anyone struggling to keep his or her cool: get ornery! What are they going to do, arrest you? Put you in airport jail?

Snowblind Mayor Admits NYC Probably Could'v Done Better
Hizzoner is sorry.

BlackRock to Launch Internal Trading Platform (FT)
“We are developing the technology in-house to offer better value by lowering trading costs,” said Rob Kapito, BlackRock president and one of eight founders of the company, in an interview. The plan is that if some BlackRock clients are selling a security and others are buying, the group can “cross” those trades internally without going through a Wall Street bank.

Pope To Issue New Bank Norms Amid Laundering Probe (ABC)
The Vatican planned to issue new rules Thursday designed to make its financial transactions more transparent after a money laundering probe resulted in the seizure of 23 million euros ($30.21 million) from a Vatican account. The rules are expected to create a compliance authority to oversee all Vatican finances, as required by EU and other international organizations involved in the fight against money laundering and terror financing. Vatican officials confirmed Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's executive order — called a "motu proprio" — making the rules into law, would be released Thursday.

Pandit Praises Citigroup's 'Rebirth' (Dealbook)
"External audiences are starting to give us the recognition we have earned," Pandit said in a memo to employees. "Our credit spreads have tightened, analysts increasingly like what they see, and the public is starting to acknowledge the many signs of real progress...The successes of this year significantly add to the transformation and rebirth of our Company. We have a great deal of hard work ahead — hard work that I believe can and should lead to even better years in the future."

Ashton Kutcher toughening up for Armageddon (SFGate)
All of this: "The movie star and produce fears a major U.S. energy meltdown is nigh and he's trying to get super fit so he can deal with the chaos that will follow a blackout or worse. Kutcher discovered combat training Krav Maga last year as he prepared to tone up for his role in "Killers" and now he's obsessed with running, Bikram yoga and Muay Thai fighting with the French national champion - and he insists he's committed to his extreme workouts, so he can dominate in desperate times. The 32 year old tells Men's Fitness magazine, "It will not take much for people to hit the panic button. The amount of convenience that people rely on based on electricity alone. You start taking out electricity and satellites, and people are going to lose their noodle."

AIG Stock's Unlikely Comeback (WSJ)
The magic touch of Bobby Benmosche: "On Tuesday, AIG's publicly traded shares closed 45 cents lower at $58.93, capping a nearly 97% gain in the year to date and over 42% in December alone. The insurer is the fourth-best performer in the S&P 500 index this year." Benmosche has been signing his emails "get somea this" ever since.

SEC Probes Trading in Facebook, Private Firms (WSJ)
If there's a raid, Zuckerberg should promise us pictures now, and a status update re: what he's feeling at the time.

Sugar 'dady (Sun)
Prize-winning dealer Mike Baghdady wants to find ten new recruits who he can turn into future stars of the stock exchange. The lucky ten will each be given £100,000 of cash in the new year to play the markets - be it betting on TESCO shares or buying and selling oil futures. "Trading has always been an elusive dream for most people," Baghdady said. "But, humbly, I'm confident I can turn someone into a Rooney or Ronaldo of the markets."

Hard Call For The FDIC: When To Shut A Bank (WSJ)
It's an art, really: "Killing a bank too soon could mean getting rid of a financial institution that might recover to make solid, profitable loans. Waiting until all of a bank's capital is gone deepens the losses suffered by the FDIC's deposit-insurance fund, putting additional strain on surviving banks that pay into the fund."

Trump Evokes Doubts of Fading `Apprentice' With Golf as Brand (Bloomberg)
Trump has acquired nine golf properties in the U.S., including four since 2008, after mostly steering clear of using his own money to buy real estate since 2005. In July, he started building a 750 million-pound ($1.15 billion) luxury golf course and resort in Scotland. Trump says that putting his name on the courses increases membership sales and the fees he can charge.

Tucker Carlson: “I Personally Think [Michael Vick] Should Have Been Executed” (Mediaite)

Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated vacation-esque schedule ’til Monday (opening/closing wraps and very limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if someone gets nailed for insider trading, Lloyd announces he’s quitting to join Cirque du Soleil in 2011, or anything else happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.