Clay or Ruben?

That question will be answered tonight as Fox's(NYSE: FOX)American Idol chooses its winner in a two-hour special. Tens of millions of loyal viewers have voted for their favorite: either Clay Aiken of Raleigh, N.C., or Ruben Studdard of Birmingham, Ala. According to, Clay is the significant favorite.

The stakes are high, considering the fact that the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, has already launched a successful career with her best-selling debut album "Thankful." But tonight's runner-up won't be in bad shape, either. Last year's second-place finisher, Justin Guarini, will also be releasing an album soon.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Greenspan's Magic Eight Ball

When Alan Greenspan speaks, the nation listens... and the press interprets. Here's how various outlets are describing the Fed chairman's view of the economy after his testimony before a congressional panel today:

  • Mildly upbeat
  • Guardedly optimistic
  • Mixed message
  • Outlook still clouded
  • Too soon to gauge
  • Faster growth possible

All we need is a "Reply hazy, ask again later" and "Better not tell you now," we'd have our own Greenspan Magic Eight Ball.

At any rate, and speaking of rates, Greenspan says the Federal Reserve is ready to cut them again if the economy needs it. What's more, even if interest rates approach zero, the Fed has other weapons at its disposal, such as the ability to buy long-term Treasury notes to push long-term rates lower.

In short, Greenspan expressed no serious concerns: "We see no credible possibility that we will at any point run out of monetary ammunition to address problems of deflation or anything else that disrupts our economy."

Quote of Note

"Inflation is now sufficiently low that it no longer appears to be much of a factor in economic calculations of householders and businesses." -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, appearing Wednesday before the congressional Joint Economic Committee.

HP: Not an Integration Story?

"HP is no longer an integration story," preached Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina yesterday. With solid quarterly earnings despite essentially flat revenue growth and the impressive announcement that the company had trimmed its structural overhead by $3.5 billion annually, the stock may have rallied on the news. But let's not let Fiorina take off just as quickly.

HP? No longer an integration story? Then, why did the company announce that it would be cutting 3,500 more jobs later this year? And if Compaq has been completely absorbed into the HP bloodstream, can we now hold the company accountable for the controversial merger?

While HP posted operating profits of $1.1 billion this past quarter, $0.9 billion came from its flagship imaging and printing business. Merger cynics have every reason to wonder what Compaq brought to the table.

There's a fine line between "integration" and disintegration, Fiorina. But, to the company's credit, it has been able to blow past its initial profit projections over each of the past two quarters, mostly because of its cost-saving initiatives. The liquid center of reality is that HP generated $2.5 billion in cash from operations this past quarter. Nice.

So, even if we dismiss Fiorina's claims that the integration process is history and fault the company for not growing as quickly as rival Dell(Nasdaq: DELL) or for not manhandling IBM(NYSE: IBM) on the managed services side, HP is nickel-and-diming its way towards justifying the $19 billion Compaq dinner.

Discussion Board of the Day: Hewlett-Packard

Did Hewlett-Packard do the right thing in buying Compaq? What can it do compete against Dell or IBM? All this and more -- in the Hewlett-Packard discussion board. Only on

Coke Defends Itself

If you can't trust the friendly red-and-white reputation of Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO), whom can you trust?

A wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former employee on Monday has the beverage giant on its toes. Matthew Whitley, who was let go in March, alleges that the company fraudulently massaged its revenues, overstating them by millions.

Coca-Cola's internal audit committee hired an outside auditor and law firm to investigate Whitley's claims. According to The Wall Street Journal, the investigation began two weeks ago and should finish sometime this week.

In a statement, the soft-drink giant described Whitley as a "disgruntled former employee." After being let go, but prior to filing his suit, Whitley demanded $44.4 million in hush money. In an April 28 letter, Whitley's attorney said that this represented about a third of the damages he would seek if a suit were filed. Nothing like a little blackmail to grease the wheels of justice, eh?

Coca-Cola, unsurprisingly, wouldn't allow itself to be extorted. It balked at the demand and promptly started its own inquiry into the allegations.

Whitley alleges that the company faked syrup revenues, that it used marketing fraud to reel Burger King into a $65 million deal, and that it recorded some marketing allowances as expenses rather than rebates. He also claims he was laid off after alerting Coca-Cola to the presence of metal shavings in some of its Coke products.

Of course, we won't know if it behaved as Whitley alleges until the investigation is complete, but his own sketchy actions put his claims in serious doubt. This looks like a bitter ex-employee who thought that, in today's environment of corporate scandal, he could take advantage of a company like Coca-Cola by merely threatening to "expose wrongdoing." Coca-Cola didn't blink, though, and is fighting back. Stay tuned as the story develops.

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Quick Takes

Tobacco stocks lit up today after a Florida appeals court reversed a $145 billion punitive-damages verdict against Altria's(NYSE: MO) Philip Morris USA and other cigarette makers. The Engle case was filed in 1994 as a nationwide class action consisting of smokers who had contracted diseases associated with smoking. The appeals court, however, said the case should not have had class action status, and "the 'runaway' jury award was largely the result of numerous improper comments by plaintiffs' counsel directing the jury to disregard limitations on punitive damages."

The U.S. and several other major countries have temporarily banned beef shipments from Canada after an animal in Alberta was found to have mad cow disease. "We hope and we pray and we have all the indications that it is one cow in one herd," said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. (Nasdaq: AMZN) says the fifth book in the Harry Potter series is already its best-selling product ever... and it won't even be released until Saturday, June 21. Delivery of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the company says, "will be the largest distribution event of any single item in e-commerce history."

In local news, Samual Lazard remarked, "I just never realized how many people were interested in pottery."

And Finally...

Today on

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim