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Archive for February, 2012

Wednesday Quick Hits

STOCK Act May Pass, Will be a Limpless Noodle

From Politico:

The problem is this: It’s inherently difficult to pursue insider-trading allegations, particularly against members of Congress. Lawmakers are constitutionally protected from certain legal actions. And many are skeptical that the STOCK Act, or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which explicitly bars lawmakers and congressional aides from insider trading – was even necessary in the first place.

“I think there are sufficient holes in the STOCK Act such [that] those who wish to circumvent it will do so,” said Jacob Frenkel, a former enforcement lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What’s more, the bill’s most far-reaching provision — to regulate the the flowering industry of consultants who provide inside legislative knowledge to investors was stripped out by House Republicans. That prompted Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who’s been working on the legislation for years, to complain that the bill had been “hijacked” — a charge parroted by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Frenkel, now an attorney at the law firm Shulman Rogers, said it would be difficult for investigators to determine what qualifies as nonpublic information — particularly information that constantly flows through the halls of Congress. The SEC has never prosecuted a member of Congress for insider trading.

“This looks to me like a public relations solution in search of a problem,” added Karl Groskaufmanis, an attorney at Fried Frank, specializing in securities enforcement and regulation.

That’s what happens when a bill only becomes a cause celebre after a piece on “60 Minutes.”

Another problem – The Securities and Exchange Commission was a creation of Congress (1935’s Security and Exchange Act), thus making its budget a creature of Congress.  There are immense concerns if future Congress’ don’t like the SEC snooping around, they can just cut enforcement for the STOCK Act from the SEC’s budget.

Fed Chair Bernanke – We’re Heading Towards a Fiscal Cliff

Gee, this all sounds so familiar.

Congress risks taking the economy over a “massive fiscal cliff,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned lawmakers on Wednesday.

In remarks that hit Wall Street stock prices, the central bank boss suggested the economy could hit a serious roadblock if Congress allows the Bush tax rates and a payroll tax cut to expire and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to be implemented simultaneously in January.

“Under current law, on Jan. 1, 2013, there’s going to be a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. “I hope that Congress will look at that and figure out ways to achieve the same long-run fiscal improvement without having it all happen at one date.

“All those things are hitting on the same day, basically. It’s quite a big event.”

The tax hikes and spending cuts could knock GDP growth in 2013 down from 2.6 percent to 1 percent, according to Andrew Fieldhouse, a federal budget policy analyst with the liberal Economic Policy Institute .

“There is obviously a huge fiscal drag pending if Congress adheres to existing law,” he said.

Welcome to a world where it would appear that the government is so entrenched into the economy that any cut is seen as a threat to the economy.

Kudos the Hill for noting EPI as “liberal.”  All that’s missing is the disclaimer regarding it being almost “completely financed by labor unions.”

The Most Interesting Thing in Yesterday’s PPP Poll

I’m sort of indifferent to the horse race aspects, and differences, between both Rasmussen and PPP’s polls regarding “Walker vs. X,” what did interest me was this paragraph from PPP:

We looked at a couple different variations of the Democratic primary. We didn’t test Feingold in either because it seems pretty safe to say that if he decided to run he would coast to the nomination. If Tom Barrett ran he would be the strong front runner, pulling 45% to 18% for Kathleen Falk, 14% for Doug LaFollette, and 6% for Kathleen Vinehout. If he stayed out of the race Falk would be the leader among the most likely candidates, at 41% to 23% for LaFollette, and 13% for Vinehout.

If you have Falk as the union-designated candidate and she’s potentially gonna get clubbed by Barrett in a Democratic primary you have to wonder two things: 1) What are the unions thinking with a result like that? and 2) What’s going on behind the scenes to try to keep him from running?

More Irony Defined

A blog, in which members of it have been unsuccessfully trying to get my columns pulled at the Sun Prairie Star, has to go to a guy who leaves a comment at the Sun Prairie Star on my most recent column (which was pretty much the same thing Mike Nichols and Jim Wigderson wrote) to try to score points against me.

Better luck next time guys.

Steelers to Release Hines Ward

Not the way I ever anticipated him to end his career in Pittsburgh.

Hines Ward‘s constant, ear-to-ear smile tucked behind a black facemask has been a lasting image for Pittsburgh Steelers fans the past 14 seasons.

They won’t see it again.

At least, not in a black-and-gold uniform.

The franchise’s all-time leader in just about every meaningful receiving category will be released sometime in the next two weeks said president Art Rooney II on the team’s website on Wednesday.

“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Rooney said. “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998, and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve.”

A four-time Pro Bowl selection and MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl, Ward will finish his Steelers career with 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards and 85 receiving touchdowns. He helped Pittsburgh to three AFC championships and a pair of Super Bowl wins.

The only thing I could possibly equate the Steelers cutting Ward would be if the Packers ever cut Donald Driver.  Thankfully, that doesn’t seem like a possibility since Driver has indicated he’s likely to retire at the conclusion of his most recent contract.

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Second “Avengers” Trailer Released

Am I getting too demanding in my geek-dom that my utmost hope for the next trailer is that someone screams “Avengers Assemble?”

 

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Cartoon of the Day

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Google: “Break Our Code, Get a Million Bucks”

(H/T Mashable)

Well, not really a million dollars, but I like where Google’s going with this idea.  It’s crowd-sourcing a search for flaws in their Chrome web browser (I don’t typically use Chrome, I prefer Firefox) and giving away cash money to those who either find the most bugs, or able to bring the system down completely.

Think of it as a useful way for hackers across the planet to make an honest living for once without having to work for the FBI’s cyber-division.

The company told attendees at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver next month they can get up to $1 million in cash and Chromebooks in exchange for revealing the flaws.

“The aim of our sponsorship is simple: we have a big learning opportunity when we receive full end-to-end exploits. Not only can we fix the bugs, but by studying the vulnerability and exploit techniques we can enhance our mitigations, automated testing, and sandboxing. This enables us to better protect our users,” the Google Chrome security team wrote in a blog post.

The prizes include the following categories, and multiple rewards can be issued per category:

$60,000 – “Full Chrome exploit”: Chrome / Win7 local OS user account persistence using only bugs in Chrome itself.

$40,000 – “Partial Chrome exploit”: Chrome / Win7 local OS user account persistence using at least one bug in Chrome itself, plus other bugs. For example, a WebKit bug combined with a Windows sandbox bug.

$20,000 – “Consolation reward, Flash / Windows / other”: Chrome / Win7 local OS user account persistence that does not use bugs in Chrome. For example, bugs in one or more of Flash, Windows or a driver. These exploits are not specific to Chrome and will be a threat to users of any web browser. Although not specifically Chrome’s issue, we’ve decided to offer consolation prizes because these findings still help us toward our mission of making the entire web safer.

Google has said so far had a spotless record for Chrome at past contests of hacker.  Most of this has nothing to do with the Chrome product, but mostly because hackers are too busy breaking into and exploiting Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Apple’s Safari browsers.

The main reason Google is offering the money is not to see if someone can find the break their browser, but so that it can find the bugs which can then be fixed by Google after they’re found.

The catch to signing up for the contest; you have to reveal your hacker secrets to Google.  That might be too hard to do for many computer hackers to do, even with the cash prizes.

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Durable Goods Orders Drop 4 Percent

Blip on the radar or sign of things to come?

Today’s durable goods numbers from the Census Bureau were disappointing. New orders for durable goods fell 4 percent in January, with declines in a number of major sectors. Keeping it all in perspective, though, new orders rose 4.2 percent and 3.2 percent in November and December, and the $206.1 billion in new orders in January still outpaces the levels from October. New orders remain 8.8 percent higher than in January 2011.

A number of major sectors experienced declines in January for new orders. These were led by the transportation sector (down 6.1 percent), with decreases in both defense and nondefense aerospace orders for the month. (Nondefense aerospace figures are highly volatile due to the timing of when orders come in for new planes, and there was a large spike in sales in December.) Excluding transportation, new orders fell by 3.2 percent.

Other sectors with losses include machinery, primary metals, electrical equipment and computers. Nondefense capital goods fell 6.3 percent, reversing the 9.3 percent and 6.8 percent gains in the prior two months.

Meanwhile, shipments of durable goods rose 0.4 percent, below the 1.9 percent increase of December. Among shipments, the transportation sector did the strongest, up 5.4 percent, with strong gains in the aerospace sectors and for motor vehicles. Excluding transportation, shipments fell by 1.1 percent. Declines in machinery, computers and capital goods helped to drive this number lower in January.

Unfilled orders and inventories grew 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively, in January, continuing a long streak for both of them.

With my own past experience in warehouse management, logistics, and customs, I’m paused to say if this is good or bad.  It’s too early, could be a post-Christmas blip, and frankly one month never makes a trend.   Also, I’m more likely to take a look at another economic indicator tied to manufacturing (Inventories and Inventory to Sales Ratios) than I am durable goods orders to decide on economic growth.

Why Inventories?  Because that shows you if product is moving.  That tells you if new product needs to be made.  That tells you things are getting shipped.   If inventories grow, it tends to mean your economy’s stalling since no one’s buying much of anything.  If the reverse is happening, that tends to be a sign of economic growth.

So how are Inventories?  Currently, growing:

Inventories. – Manufacturers’ and trade inventories, adjusted for seasonal variations but not for price changes, were estimated at an end-of-month level of $1,555.5 billion, up 0.4 percent (±0.2%) from November 2011 and up 7.7 percent (±0.4%) from December 2010.

As for Inventory to Sales ratios, it’s holding steady.  December 2011 had a I:S ratio of 1.26.  It was 1.28 in December 2010.  That shows a pretty stagnant economy, not one that’s in “recovery” as we’ve been led to believe by the mainstream press.

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Donald Driver to be on “Dancing with the Stars”

He may have a chance here. 

For starters, pro athletes have a very good track record on the show (the pro dancers have said they know how to take direction better than TV and movie actors) and, let’s us be honest with ourselves, Packers Nation will vote in droves for the man.

ABC announced the Green Bay Packer wide receiver Donald Driver would be a contestant o the 14th season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Driver is the Packers all time leading receiver.

Driver’s partner will be Peta Murgatroyd, who is in her second season on the show.

According to ABC’s bio of Driver he “overcame a childhood of homelessness to become a Super Bowl champion and the all-time leading receiver in Green Bay Packers history. After being selected in the last round of the NFL draft, he went on to hold the Packers’ all-time receiving records for yards and receptions as well as a host of others.”

Other contestants this season include: Jack Wagner of “Melrose Place”, Melissa Gilbert, of  “Little House on the Prairie,” “The View” co-host Sherri Shepherd, Jaleel White, best known as Steve Urkel from “Family Matters,” tennis legend Martina Navratilova, TV host Maria Menounos, Motown great Gladys Knight, opera singer Katherine Jenkins, Disney star Roshon Fegan,, singer Gavin DeGraw and Telenovela actor William Levy.

The cast was introduced on “Good Morning, America” Tuesday.

No word yet if the next children’s book Driver writes will be entitled, “Quickie Learns the Mambo.”

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Santorum: High Gas Prices Caused Housing Crash

Please early state GOP voters, don’t make me have to vote for this economic bozo in November.

Rick Santorum on Monday blamed the housing crisis on high gas prices.

During a campaign appearance in Michigan, Santorum said the housing bubble burst in 2008 because people could no longer afford to pay their mortgages because of high gas prices.

“We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices,” Santorum said in Michigan according to Buzzfeed. “The bubble burst in housing because people couldn’t pay their mortgages because of $4 a gallon gasoline.”

Santorum then said President Obama actually wants higher gas prices.

“He actually believes this is a good thing for America, I don’t,” the former Pennsylvania senator added. “We are not here to serve the Earth, but to be stewards of the Earth.”

The official government take on the collapse, authored by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, blamed Wall Street banks for taking on excessive risk via subprime mortgages, and government regulators for failing to sniff out the start of the crisis before it threatened the global financial system.

I understand the politics of today, in which the current gas spike is something you want to grab onto now, but it needs to be done with some intelligence.

Gasoline prices more often than not effect a person’s disposable income.  That means that’s less money to buy the “wants” in life, not the “needs” in life like housing.  Chances are you’re more likely to not go out to dinner on the town or a movie if gas prices rise over not paying your mortgage.

If, you happened to have fallen into the category of which Sen. Santorum is talking about and paid for gas over you mortgage payment, chances are you probably should have never been given a mortgage in the first place.

Being at HUD at the time we were screaming at Congress to do something to help avoid the collapse — only to have Barney Frank block all attempts to reform — I tend to blame subprime mortgages for the housing market’s collapse.  That, and house-flipping shows on reality TV making it look “so easy,” liberal social policy to get everyone in a house even if they can’t afford one, no-money down payments, and a whole litany of things I probably could think of it I cared to go on.

Far, far, far down the list is gas prices.

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Cartoon of the Day

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Only Dane Co. Would Call a Fugitive as “AWOL”

People, we have a runner.

Dane County Jail inmate Jeffrey Kidwell, age 32 of Leavenworth, KS, has been declared AWOL.

Kidwell went AWOL on Friday, February 24th at approximately 8:30 am. He was residing at an alternative facility as part of the Pathfinders program, when he cut off his GPS monitoring device and fled from the facility. Deputies immediately responded to the address when they received the strap alert, but were unable to locate Kidwell.

Kidwell was sentenced to the Dane County Jail on a burglary charge. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call 911.

This news was only reported today, and it happened on Friday.

No word if it’s policy of current Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi to wait til the weekend has passed before you warn the public a man has cut his GPS anklet and becomes a fugitive of the law, or if he’s continue one he inherited from former Dane Co. Executive Kathleen Falk.

You know, the woman with the nickname of “Catch and Release Katie” and who wants to be Wisconsin’s governor.

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Kallas Returns to Get Head Handed to Him Again

Thinking of formulating a full list of both Democrats and Republicans who run completely pointless runs for Congress in which they appear to like losing while gaining only 30 to 40 percent of the vote.

On the right, you’d easily have Chad Lee in WI-02 and Dan Sebring in WI-04.  On the left, you had Dottie LeClair in WI-08 during the last decade, Bryan Kennedy in WI-05, and probably by 2014 we’ll be adding Rob Zerban’s name to it for WI-01.

As for WI-06, we now have Democrat Joe Kallas.

A former Green Lake County Board member has announced his candidacy for Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District in the November election.

Joe Kallas, who also served on the Princeton Town Board, said his campaign will focus on the national debt and high unemployment facing the nation.

Kallas becomes the second challenger to U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac. The other is Lauren Stephens, a conservative Republican from Columbus.

Candidates have until June 1 to file signatures to run for the office.

“The 33-year incumbent has done very little to address the needs of the working men and women of the district,” Kallas said in a press release, referring to Petri.

Kallas, who calls himself an independent Democrat, ran unsuccessfully against Petri, R-Fond du Lac, in 2010. He cited a late entry into the race as a major factor in his defeat. Petri won with 71 percent of the vote to Kallas’ 29 percent.

Sorry to tell this to Mr. Kallas, but redistricting somehow made WI-06 more Republican.

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