1. How 'Bout Them CowBBBoys?It took a bit longer than usual, but the folks at the Better Business Bureau have named the finalists for the International Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. This year, 28 companies got nods in four categories, including Aflac ( AFL), Kemper Insurance, Niagara Mohawk (a newly acquired subsidiary of National Grip Group ( NGG)) and Sun Life Financial ( SLC). No one doubts that these companies and their hard-working employees are entitled to some recognition. In ethically troubled times such as these, what with various high-profile executives being charged for this and pleading guilty to that, it's good to see that someone still appreciates the value of a work ethic. That said, this list has its cautionary angle as well. It has come to our attention that some prior Torch nominees and award winners haven't exactly stood the test of time. Commercial Financial Services, a 1998 nominee, filed for Chapter 11 the same year it was nominated, after it improperly inflated the performance of assets backing securities it sold. Bankers Trust got a nomination in 1997, two years before it was forced to pay a $60 million criminal fine and plead guilty to three felony counts for diverting $19.1 million in unclaimed customer funds to boost performance. Perhaps the biggest winner -- er, loser -- is cheapo retailer Dollar General ( DG), which beat out Bankers Trust for the 1997 trophy. Earlier this year, the company was forced to restate three years of financial statements, reducing net income by $199 million, because of accounting errors. Ever the ethical titan, Dollar General's management refused to reveal the accounting errors were made or who was responsible but did add that CEO Cal Turner Jr. would no longer be involved in preparing the company's financial results. Don't get us wrong -- you can't blame the BBB. "Our judges evaluate the company's record at the time of the competition," says spokeswoman Holly Cherico. "As a PR director, I wish I had a crystal ball to see what these companies will do in the future." Over the past year or so, investors have probably been wishing the same thing.
2. Dumb Name Change of the WeekAs noted above, we know in the current environment that integrity is important. Even so, it may be possible to take that notion too far. On Tuesday, a privately held clinical research firm called Integrated Research announced its new name. This freshly adopted moniker will reflect the company's new core value, a press release attests. What's the value? You guessed it. "Above all, we're a team of dedicated professionals who believe integrity is the key to creating value," read the release. "It seems appropriate to usher us into a new era with a new name that communicates this core value." The name? Integrium. Though we don't doubt the company's devotion to doing the right thing, it sounds to us like this new name could just as easily stick to an over-the-counter truth serum for overzealous chief financial officers. Or it could be the newest element on the ever-growing periodic table of elements. It could even be a new beau for Altria, the "altruistic" company formerly known as Philip Morris ( MO). With corporations falling over themselves to embrace this new trend in corporate labeling, we here at the Lab want to know what's next. Honestra? Trustoleum? Virtuity?
3. Attention Elected Officials
Fix Social Security.
Overthrow evil dictators in Iraq.
Assassinate known terrorists named Osama.
Make people named Martha cry before Congress.
Build out more "telecommunications network facilities."
4. The Greater of Two Evils
5. U.S. Airways: Bankrupt -- but Better Than Amtrak?Ever since Amtrak discovered some itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny cracks in shock absorbers on Acela locomotives, management can't tell whether it's coming or going. The crazy train went off the rails two weeks ago, when Amtrak discovered half its high-speed Acela fleet had minuscule fissures in shock absorbers that could cause derailments. Since that's real bad for business, the nearly bankrupt railway operator yanked Acela trains off the tracks, except for two trains deemed defect free. That is, until the next day, when those two trains deemed defect free had defects and Amtrak pulled them, too.