Tuesday AM August 15th, 2006

Lundberg Survey finds record high nationwide gasoline prices...Enron's former lead counsel Vinson & Elkins faces lawsuit from San Diego...Houston area sees rise in foreclosures in second quarter...

The latest survey of gas stations across the country finds gas prices at another record high. The Lundberg Survey says the price at the pump has risen just over one cent in the last three weeks. The national average for self-serve regular stood at nearly $3.03 a gallon on Friday. A gallon of mid-grade gasoline averaged around $3.13 a gallon, and premium averaged $3.23. Nationwide, the lowest price for regular was $2.82 a gallon in Charleston, South Carolina, while the highest--$3.29 a gallon--was in Chicago.

With the country's gas prices averaging more than $3 a gallon, political candidates are trying to turn pain at the pump into smart politics. For example, in the Illinois governor's race, Republican hopeful Judy Baar Topinka wants to suspend part of the state sales tax on gasoline. In Missouri, Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is promoting alternative fuels. Candidates from both parties are paying attention to polls that show people attach the same level of concern to energy issues as they do to terrorism and immigration. About seven of every ten Americans expect gas price increases to cause them or their family's financial hardship over the next six months, according to an AP-Ipsos poll taken in early June. The poll showed only a quarter of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling gasoline prices.

Enron's former lead counsel Vinson & Elkins is facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit alleging it used too many lawyers and was negligent on work it did for the City of San Diego. The claim takes to task the Houston-based law firm's invoice of $6.4 million for pensions advice it provided between 2003 and 2005. San Diego says V&E used too many lawyers, inflating the price, and failed to fully investigate problems with its pension system. Vinson & Elkins denies the claims, and says San Diego benefited from its work. V&E in June paid $30 million to settle claims that it signed off fraudulent deals, contributing to the downfall of Enron.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association are opposing a U.S. Department of Justice policy they say compels companies facing possible indictment to refuse paying legal costs of corporate officers or board members. The Justice Department says prosecutors can consider whether the corporation appears to be protecting its culpable employees through advancing attorney's fees, retaining the employee without sanction or giving the employees information about the government's investigation. Legal groups say the policy could inspire companies to decline paying legal costs for employees.

Microsoft says it plans to offer a consumer version of the professional software tools used to create video games for its X-Box 360 console. SMU in Dallas and several other schools plan to incorporate the software into their curriculum this fall. Microsoft hopes to spur interest among video game enthusiasts, creative types and students in creating games. The XNA game studio express program is an offshoot of the company's more robust XNA framework. It'll go on sale August 30th for a $99 annual subscription. The software will allow anyone with a Windows PC to create their own video games and share them on Microsoft's X-Box live online game service. The program would be a first for consoles, which traditionally have been the exclusive domain of skilled programmers, artists and designers.

The Houston area saw a rise in foreclosures in the second quarter, according to California-based RealtyTrac, as reported in the Houston Business Journal. The Houston/Galveston area ranked sixth in the country for foreclosures--one for every 145 households. That rate is a 39.5 percent increase over the previous quarter. Dallas ranked third on the list, behind Indianapolis and Atlanta, at more than three times the national average of foreclosures.

A new Wal-Mart Supercenter opens in League City on Wednesday at I-45 and FM 646. More than 2,500 people applied for the 400 new jobs at the store. The new outlet will feature groceries, a bakery, a deli, a frozen food section and meat, dairy and fresh produce sections, with 19 full-service, six express and four self-check-out lanes. The store has 36 general merchandise departments, including apparel and accessories, fine jewelry, a lawn and garden center, health and beauty aids and electronics. There will be a Tire & Lube Express, vision center, McDonald's, SmartStyle hair salon, Regal Nails salon, one-hour photo lab and a pharmacy.

Houston-based Allis-Chalmers Energy has acquired Argentinean oilfield services company DLS Drilling Logistics and Services in a $105 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. Buenos Aires-based DLS provides services for drilling, workover/completion and repair of oil and gas wells in Argentina and Bolivia with more than 1,500 employees.

Continental Airlines is starting a new nonstop Saturday service between New York at Newark Liberty International Airport and Roatan, Honduras, beginning December 16th. Roatan, on the northern coast of Honduras, is a favorite among scuba, golf and sport-fishing enthusiasts. Continental also offers year round service to Roatan from Houston.

The Houston CPA Society is staging its 20th annual art and essay contest, with entries to be received by no later than 5 p.m., November 3rd. Entries on "Unique Heroes of Texas--Past or Present" should be submitted by the students' teacher, no less than 300 words and no more than 1,000 words in length. Each school may enter up to six entries per class in each contest.

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