It's an odd dichotomy. Even as the stock market -- for better or for worse -- dons the trappings of the last great bull market, the Martha Stewart insider trading case turns into the final stretch. On Tuesday, the judge screens what remains of the pool of potential jurors.

Did she do it? Who knows? One thinks of the crimes and misdeeds unearthed on Wall Street these past few years, some of which had a profound effect on the wealth and well being of millions. Might not the more pressing question be whether prosecuting Martha is the best we can do? Nobody likes a cheater, but a predilection for appearance over substance is one aspect of the late '90s mind-set we could probably do without.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Warming Up to Sun Micro

Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) is showing signs of progress.

Down slightly year over year, second-quarter revenues rebounded 14% sequentially to $2.89 billion from $2.53 billion last quarter. Gross margins also bumped up 1.7 percentage points sequentially to 41.8%. As a result, the company narrowed its net loss to $125 million, or $0.04 per share.

Competitively, not much change showed up in its results. While service revenue grew to $944 million from $902 million last year, product sales fell to $1.94 billion from $2.01 billion. In contrast, IBM(NYSE: IBM) -- which competes with Sun on the high end -- reported 18% growth for its hardware division, while forecasting a strong 2004.

Where Sun gives reason to be optimistic is on the low end.

In November, the company announced an alliance with Advanced Micro Devices(NYSE: AMD) to use AMD's 64-bit Opteron chip in servers running Solaris and Linux. At the time, Sun's commitment to standardized chips gained the endorsement of Oracle(Nasdaq: ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison, who promised that, "Soon Oracle will run on AMD Opteron under both Solaris and Linux."

Yesterday, Sun CEO Scott McNealy pointed to the AMD alliance, saying that it "puts Sun in a strong product position for calendar year 2004." But let's not get carried away: Sun looks to be making progress, but all isn't clear just yet. Talk of actual profitability has been reserved for the future. The company declined to offer revenue or earnings forecasts.

That said, Sun still has $5.16 billion in cash, and continues cut costs here and there. To this end, management also announced yesterday that it would lay off 300 employees at its manufacturing plant in Northern California.

Sun doesn't quite qualify as "obviously cheap" with a market cap near $18 billion and an unclear profit outlook. However, the company is taking the necessary steps to both improve its competitive positioning and reduce costs. At the very least, Sun looks to be in better shape than it did just a few months ago.

Quote of Note

"The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night." -- Otto von Bismarck

Global Crossing Is Back

By Bill Mann (TMF Otter)

From the files of "things the telecommunications industry doesn't need": Global Crossing (Pink Sheets: GBLCF) recently emerged from bankruptcy, and it's set to compete again with a whole host of carriers -- some that also have gone through the "balance sheet carwash" of bankruptcy, and others that have not... yet.

Global Crossing, you may recall, collapsed after the piles of revenues it claimed to be generating during the telecommunications boom in the late 1990s turned out to be partially based on phantom capacity swap transactions. The company thus turned $80 billion in market cap into pennies, and descended into scandal and recriminations when it was found that insiders had been selling massive amounts of shares, pulling more than a billion out prior to the company's collapse.

Shareholders who held on until the end saw their shares cancelled, rendered worthless. Somehow Global Crossing's management escaped the ignominy that the folks who ran Enron and WorldCom into the ground achieved. I can't really explain it, because the fraud was nearly as brazen.

Those owners and that management are long gone, still sadly free from some "opportunity for reflection" that a jail cell would provide. But the company itself has survived -- its creditors agreeing to accept pennies on the dollar -- allowing Global Crossing to be reincarnated with newly issued shares and a clean balance sheet. The company once again should be recognized for its excellent timing: It has won some contracts to provide backbone services for companies engaging in Voice Over the Internet Protocol (VOIP).

Client companies are praising Global Crossing's ability to provide pure end-to-end VOIP, rather than the cobbled-together solutions offered by AT&T(NYSE: T), Sprint(NYSE: FON), MCI, and other backbone carriers. The biggest competitor for Global Crossing in this regard seems to be Level 3(Nasdaq: LVLT). Equipment vendors such as Sonus(Nasdaq: SONS), Lucent(NYSE: LU), and Nortel(NYSE: NT) have seen a substantial ramp-up in VOIP revenues associated with its official status as "the next big thing."

Ah, but all of this excitement over VOIP doesn't mask something else in the telecommunications industry. There is still way too much competition, and far too much capital being spent for the size of the present and appreciable future markets. What the emergence of Global Crossing and later MCI will do is simply make it easier for them to compete against companies that haven't gotten a do-over on their debts.

VOIP is a new market, but it's only cannibalizing existing ones for the carriers. That doesn't strike me as a scenario to get that excited about.

Discussion Board of the Day: Time Warner

What would you do to get AOL back on a growth track? Is incremental or detrimental to Time Warner? All this and more -- in the Time Warner discussion board. Only on

The Space Payoff

On Wednesday, President Bush reignited one of the great Rule Breaking endeavors of all time, proposing to send an American back to the moon by as early as 2015.

It might be easy to dismiss the announcement as pre-election rhetoric and little more, but if you've been reading us here at for any length of time, you've probably heard David Gardner talk about Rule Breakers -- companies that are pioneering important new industries and making big money for investors in the process.

Such high-risk, high-reward stocks have in the past included AMZN), eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY), and Time Warner's(NYSE: TWX) America Online subsidiary. You could argue that satellite radio market leader XM(Nasdaq: XMSR) is among today's Rule Breakers.

Endeavors such as the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy can also be counted among the Rule Breakers, as David argued here. When measured in terms of human achievement, space exploration has to rank at least near the top of Rule Breaker pile.

The president's renewed reach for the stars should have Rule Breaking investors thinking about what innovations will be required to explore the heavens. Have your belled thinking cap nearby?

So far we know that there will be a new spacecraft called the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will replace the Space Shuttle after its retired from service in 2010. That will likely create demand for new propulsion systems, advanced navigation systems, and data gathering equipment.

Any winners come to mind? Clearly the big defense contractors such as Boeing(NYSE: BA), Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon should benefit. So should engine makers United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney unit and General Electric(NYSE: GE). Computer maker Sun Microsystems(Nasdaq: SUNW) may even see some upside after its recent success helping with the Mars Rover landing.

Of course, the real stratospheric returns are bound to be made by investing in smaller firms creating as yet unknown technologies for space life. The Rule Breaker investor will dismiss the hype and think like a venture capitalist looking for the next big thing. While we look to the heavens, then, we'll also be keeping our eyes peeled for the investment stars of tomorrow.

Shameless Plug: Motley Fool Stock Advisor, eBay, and Time Warner are all Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Interested in learning more? Try Stock Advisor risk-free for six months.

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And Finally...

Today on, Matt Richey begs you to Be Greedy for Value and Rick Munarriz entertains Entertainment's Investing Appeal.

Tim Beyers, Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Sam Edwards, Paul Elliott, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Hwang, LouAnn Lofton, Alyce Lomax, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Dave Marino-Nachison, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim