Friday, March 31, 2006

Stimulating the Private Sector?

This is a funny article about the new FED site for kids:

I mean, when I was in junior high, stimulating the private sector was not something I even remotely associated with seven older dudes sitting in a room in Washington.

I like the cartoon picture of the Eagle on the site though. "Does the eagle have big talons?" said in a Napolean Dynamite tone.

Dean tried to Tie Bush to Anti-immigrant Conservatives

Dean sure has some nerve trying to tie Bush in with the idiots from the right on this debate.

"This is a nonsensical proposal put out by far right-wingers in the Republican Party who have been endorsed for re-election by the president of the United States," Dean said. "The president has a moral obligation to rein in the right-wing extremists in his party and stop this divisive rhetoric about immigrants."

So the President has to "reign in" extremists? No he doesn't. What do you want him to do Mr. Dean betray his friends when they want to get reelected? He needs to be loyal to his party even the ones that sound crazy on this particular issue. He just has to agree with you on the damn Guest Worker issue at hand. Wait he already has:

Dean and Bush agree on the legislation at the heart of the debate. Both support a Senate bill that would expand guest-worker programs for an estimated 400,000 immigrants each year.

Iran testing Radar-Dodging Missile?

Hmm it seems that this may be a new escalation in a potential missile war with Israel. I certainly agree with this assessment:

Andy Oppenheimer, a weapons expert at Jane's Information Group, said the missile test could be an indication that Iran has MIRV capability. MIRV refers to multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, which are intercontinental ballistic missiles with several warheads, each of which could be directed to a different target.

"From the description, it could be a MIRV. If you are saying that from a single missile, separate warheads can be independently targeted then yes, this is significant," he said.

With a MIRV it only takes a few of these missiles to devastate the Israeli Air Force while it is still on the ground.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

From that article

Wow this is a real scathing indictment against the Pentagon banning this Dragonskin armor.

It's Lt. Col. Charles' (Ret.) opinion that the reason the U.S. Army has chosen to outfit U.S. troops with Interceptor body armor over Pinnacle Armor SOV flexible body armor/Dragon Skin is that the U.S. Army suffers from "not invented here" syndrome. "The basic reason, as hard as this may be for your audience to understand, is not invented here: Bureaucratic turf protection because the Army people that were charged with providing this ten, fifteen years ago had a program -- it produced something beginning in 1998 I believe, 1999. But it wasn't this - and they didn't want to use this because they did not claim invention of it." Lt. Col. Charles (Ret.) continues, "We were told by several independent consultants who work for the Pentagon that cannot be named because of fear of losing their jobs that this was probably the best available body armor. It's what they would take to Baghdad. They do not have any financial ties with Pinnacle Armor. We're not saying it's the best. We're saying it ought to get a fair test."

In other words since they didn't make it then they need to ban it. Wow, sounds like pretty bad stuff. I think Dateline needs to get cracking. Boot up Stone Phillips and lets get the ball rolling already. They should hang up some Dragonskin on a dummy and fire an AK-47 at it already.

Pinnacle Armor Website

Wow I tried to check out their site and it crapped out on me. I guess there is the same amount of curious folks like myself out there. Here is a picture of the armor.

It does look kind of thin but that really doesn't mean anything. Here is a site that has all sorts of defense related stuff that and has some info on this stuff from the real boots on the ground. It looks like the controversy has been raging for months already. This guy David Crane has been following this thing for some time and he really does know his stuff.

Could this Pentagon Armor Ban get guys killed?

For some strange reason the Pentagon is banning privately bought body armor.

Army officials told The Associated Press that the order was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested commercial armor from private companies — including the popular Dragon Skin gear made by California-based Pinnacle Armor.

Like these companies are profiteers or something who are taking lightly the job of protecting our men and women in Iraq. I have a feeling that companies like Pinnacle test the crap out of their armor since they know it is at the core of what their company does. If the company didn't do adequate testing then the Pentagon should come down hard on them through a court of law.

Or the Pentagon could just buy a bunch of sets of full armor from the store or the internet and independently test them. I think Dateline or the Mythbusters should just go ahead and do this and not wait for the slow-assed Pentagon to wait for Pinnacle to send them armor before they can do something.

Disaster Preparedness Steps

This is some very sound advice for people preparing for a disaster. This evacuation kit is especially important, just don't let the information fall into the wrong hands:

Here are the kinds of things you may want to have ready to take with you, per the Happy Capitalist blog:
Key to your safety deposit box
Phone numbers for insurance agents, banks, attorneys, and financial advisors
Account numbers for bank, credit card, and investment accounts
Social Security numbers for all family members
Current backup of computer files
Last three years' worth of tax returns, both federal and state
Copies of the documents in your safety deposit box (insurance policies, wills, deeds to house and cars, and your house inventory)
Medical information, such as doctors' names and phone numbers, prescriptions, and immunization records
Phone numbers for family and friends
Photocopies of birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, and powers of attorney

Actually you could probably put almost everything past the safe deposit box key onto one CD-rom since they are pretty much just lists of various things that can be put into a Word document and stuff that you can easily scan into PDFs. Even the computer files could probably be backed up on that CD as well depending on how many you have.

Or you could just put all that info on a 2 gig jump drive, bind it with about a $1000 in hundred dollar bills or gold bullion, and put the safe deposit key on the ring the drive comes with and leave it in some safe place.

Since I am a fantasy buff I would seal it in an air tight container and bury it in some secluded place in another state like a treasure chest. You could then memorize the GPS coordinates to the place you hide the items. Or you can have the coordinates designed into an elaborate custom tattoo. Too bad you can't construct an iron golem to guard the secluded place. Oh well you can't have everything.

Sopranos should steal this story

This sounds like something that would make a good Sopranos episode.

A retired FBI agent was indicted on murder charges Thursday for allegedly taking bribes from a mobster to provide inside information that led to the underworld slayings of four people in Brooklyn.

R. Lindley DeVecchio, 65, was arrested in a case of "confidential leaks, payoffs and death" dating back two decades, District Attorney Charles Hynes said.

I can see that one FBI agent that was once investigating Tony that was eating at Satriales Pork Store becoming buddies with him and starts to give them inside tips. Sounds like a good plot ripped right from the headlines.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ehud Olmert the key to Middle East Peace?

Hmm I wonder if this guy is going to get the Nobel Peace Prize in the next few years. I guess it is up to Hamas and the settlers now.

Conservatives are Blowing it on Immigration

They are seriously being shortsighted on this entire immigration issue. Lets face it Illegal Immigrants are just the kind of people that would make good Americans. For the most part they are hard working, God fearing folk that are just happy to be in this country at all.

I mean many of them have faced death just to sneak in here so they must want to be Americans pretty badly. Plus the Hispanic block of the Republican party has been growing and might one day form its solid bedrock. Being on the right side of this issue could win the next election for the Republicans and perhaps elections for many years.

Bush knows that and that is why he is sticking to his guns so admirably on this issue. He has been really close to this issue for years being the governor of a state that borders Mexico. That is why his amnesty and guest worker programs have such resonance. He knows what will happen if Illegals are able join the rest of us Americans. It will put millions of people on the tax rolls and allow them to share in the regular part of the economy not the shadow economy of cash payments paid under the table. That means millions of people saving for college, taking out housing loans, banking, and buying crap on credit. They can live the American dream and not have to hide like some fugitive.

Some of the talk out of the conservative camp is extremely idiotic. For instance Bill O'Reilly is all about using the national guard to block the borders for some asinine reason. Um, Bill those guys are needed in Iraq and for natural disasters and not wasting their time guarding a massive border. And building a fence is hideously expensive and will probably just make the smugglers tunnel their way across instead of drive trucks. I mean we do need a way of stopping al-Quida and criminals from coming across but a massive fence and mobilizing the guard is not the answer. We just have to think about the illegals that are already here as potential Americans like Bush does. I mean they are here and sending them all back is extremely counterproductive.

Olmert Wins in Israel

It looks like the Israelis are choosing land for peace again.

Ariel Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, began the task of building a workable coalition yesterday after Israelis voted, for the first time, to return a majority of MPs committed to dismantling settlements in the West Bank.

It seems like the Palestinians are going to get just about everything they want. If Hamas cooperates we might actually see some lasting peace in that region:

In the following two to three years, Israel would build alternative communities for the settlers, either in the big West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to retain between the pre-1967 border and the 450-mile separation barrier or in areas in Israel. Mr Scheller insisted the new borders would allow a contiguous Palestinian state, though in the absence of a peace deal the Army would remain in the evacuated areas. "The wisdom of the plan is that there is no precise timetable," he added.

UN Council Calls a Halt of Iranian Nukes

It looks like they are finally putting their foot down on this whole subject. They aren't immediately pushing for sanctions though so we probably not going to see an oil spike. Oil has been creeping up here these past few days though. If sanctions or even the threat of them come down the pike then we will be seeing $70+ oil.

Retirees to Boost Dividend Paying Stocks

This is a pretty good article on how retiring Baby Boomers will start buying more dividend paying stocks when they start to retire in the next few years. There seems to be some very good investing ideas since Boomers will need to start bringing in income so they can live. I wonder if spending will be greatly depressed though. I mean they won't be buying so many IPods and Plasma TVs now that they are on a fixed income.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fed Raises Rates to 4.75

It seems that they are going to raise rates one more time and end the cycle.

In a statement announcing its action, the Fed repeated further rate rises may be needed, suggesting it was comfortable with financial market expectations for rates climbing to 5 percent in coming months

The market didn't seem to like it because it sold off right after they made their move. I guess further rate hikes plural wern't priced in.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Scarlett Johansson Tops 100 Sexiest Women

I think she is a very good choice for the FHM 100 Sexiest Women List. I agree with this asseseement too:

It's remarkable how Scarlett Johansson has caught the attention of our readers," said Scott Gramling, the magazine's U.S. editor in chief, in a statement. "Her sultry voice and striking beauty certainly have a lot to do with that, but so does the confidence she exudes."

"She seems to be one of those women who would be equally at ease on the red carpet as she would just hanging out with the guys."

Yeah, I agree that she seems like a pretty down to earth kind of girl who would be happy just hanging out in jeans and t-shirt or decked out for a movie premier. Plus she doesn't care about being super-stick thin and all that Hollywood crap. She has got some curves to her. Plus she is a very good actress as well.

DVD Wars are coming!

This sounds like a big mess that I am going to try to miss all together.

Here's the problem: Both camps are shooting themselves in the foot before they get to the starting line. Consumers already were faced with the prospect of mass confusion, thanks to two next-generation DVD formats, whose disks do not work in each other's machines but look essentially the same. Remember Betamax versus VHS? At least then you could tell one tape from the other.

Yup, if you choose poorly you may get a big, fat white elephant on your hands and you will be forced to buy the other format player just to watch the newer DVDs. But this is the worst part:

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out, most of the 20 million high-definition TVs sold over the past three years aren't capable of displaying the disks in their full resolution. Worse, at least one major studio intends to downgrade the picture even more unless consumers hook their players up through a special, pricey cable aimed at preventing piracy.

That is right you just bought a lemon HD-TV if you bought one in the past few years since it won't show the full resolution with these new DVD players. I have a feeling that these new DVDs will cost more money since they include the high-def option. So you will be essentially paying more for something that you won't be able to see. Plus, you may even see that picture all blurry because you don't have that anti-piracy cable.

New software included on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases, however, will automatically slash the picture quality in half, unless consumers have a relatively new connector and cable called HDMI to hook up players to their televisions. Only one in 20 HD sets sold to early adopters over the past few years has the right version of the connector. Only 15% of new sets sold this year will include it, and deliver the full 1080 resolution capable of showing such detail. "What do you have then? A very expensive DVD player," says Sony Senior Vice-President Tim Baxter.

This is all going to be a big logjam at Christmas when people realize this is going down. I have a feeling that they will get confused and end up not buying anything while waiting for the dust to settle. Could be a good idea to check out shorting Best Buy, Circuit City etc. They may have a bleak Christmas depending on what the public does with this news.

I certainly won't be buying a new DVD player until I know which one is going to be the Betamax and the price of this cable comes down. What will really suck is when Netflix sends you the wrong DVD and you can't play it at all and have to send it back.

I guess there will be a Blue-Ray or HD-DVD button on the site that you will have to hit before you ask for the DVD. I have no idea. I would bet that carrying a number of copies of two different formats will cut into their bottom line. Netflix could be another short candidate.

Friday, March 24, 2006

US Talks to Iran about Iraqi Violence

Hmm, it looks like we will be talking to Iran to try to curb some of the Iraqi violence.

Analysts say both the United States and Tehran are worried about worsening violence in Iraq, pushing them to agree to talks. Iraqi political sources have said they expected Khalilzad to meet Iran's representatives this week. Iran has not announced its team.

This could be the initial salvo in a thawing of the Iran/US relationship? I don't think so though. I think Iran is just playing nice to buy themselves some time to get their nukes online. As long as this doesn't turn into a North Korea situation. They shucked and jived the Clinton Administration just long enough for them to get their nukes finished. If Iran does pull it off then the Bush administration can be rightly be called big, fat failures.

Interesting Article on Sleep

It seems that people who get 6-7 hours of sleep have a lower death rate then those sleeping 8 hours or more. Even though this article is basically a screed against sleeping pills but I found this pretty interesting.

Sleep problems could be increasing, Kripke says, but there is no evidence for this. If they are increasing, it could be a result of less exposure to daylight (due to cable TV, the Internet, indoor gyms) and increasing obesity, which causes apnea. But he still recommends against taking sleeping pills in nearly all cases and in favor of improved sleep habits.

This point is worthy of serious study. I wonder if the lack of daylight we get actually hurts our ability to sleep. This isn't a lack of sunlight or people in Nordic countries would be walking zombies. Since people are cooped up inside so much nowadays maybe it is affecting our sleep patterns. I think that apnea thing is a big deal too.

Intel Strikes Back?

It seems that they are getting their butts in gear to challenge AMD again.

Intel is getting paranoid again and bringing a rocket-launcher to AMD's knife fight. This year Intel will lap AMD by finally scrapping the old Pentium-chip architecture in favor of a suite of lower-temperature, dual-core microprocessors that consume 35% less power and increase performance by 80%. Intel is also bringing on four $3 billion upgraded chip factories capable of producing chips on silicon wafers that are 2.25 times the size of AMD's wafers and have twice as many transistors per square inch. That leapfrogging should put Intel's gross profit margin, already better than AMD's, still further ahead. "We're more focused and more angry," says Gelsinger. "We're ready to turn the corner and prove naysayers really wrong."

Lucent and Alcatel to merge?

Seems like they are in talks to.

The companies, which broke off tie-up talks in 2001, said Thursday night they're "engaged in discussions about a potential merger of equals that is intended to be priced at market," meaning no stock-price premium for shareholders of either company.

It sure is good for Lucent stock which is up 7% on the news.

Alzheimer's May be Like Diabetes

This is a very interesting study by Dr. Suzanne M. de la Monte, a neuropathologist at Rhode Island Hospital and a professor of pathology and clinical neuroscience at Brown Medical School, in Providence, R.I.

According to the researchers, the study demonstrates that Alzheimer's is a brain-specific disorder, distinct from other types of diabetes, such as the inherited form, type 1, and obesity-linked type 2. "This study shows that Alzheimer's is a [new] type of diabetes," de la Monte said. "It's type 3 diabetes."

According to de la Monte, a loss of insulin in the brain may trigger Alzheimer's onset because brain cells need insulin to function and survive. When this happens, oxidative stress increases, the brain deteriorates, and there is loss of cognitive function, plus a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, she said.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hutchison Whampoa to Run Nuke Scanners

I can hear the outcry from Congress even as I type this. Sure enough here it is:

"Giving a no-bid contract to a foreign company to carry out the most sensitive security screening for radioactive materials at ports abroad raises many questions," said Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y.

Um, Chucky boy as much as we would like to this is a company screening materials coming into the US from a foreign port. We have no jurisdiction over the Bahamas or their workers. We have to trust both this company and the Bahamian government. Or we can drum up the same xenophobic and isolationist rhetoric that killed the Dubai ports deal.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wal-Mart to go Upscale?

It certainly seems they are experimenting with one store in Plano Texas.

The store in Plano, Texas opens today, and it will feature pricey wine, high-end electronic gadgets, jewelry, an espresso bar, and yes, the aforementioned sushi bar. Forget the gun section -- it's yoga here. Anyone who likes to tinker with their cars would be barking up the wrong tree at the Plano store; it has a much smaller automotive section than your usual Wal-Mart. Although Wal-Mart's not planning on any similar stores, word has it that if certain items are hot, it will consider selling them in its stores in other upscale areas.

Wal-Mart Sushi sounds kind of scary to me. What they need to do is create a new name for the upscale Wal-Mart. Kind of like how Sam's Club is their big box store. I think S. Waltons would be a good name for an upscale store. They just need to separate the brand identities and it should be able to make pretty decent money. This move would make them more of a direct challenge to Target and be able to snare some of their higher-margin market share.

al-Qaida to go after Israel

It looks like al-Quida terrorists are going after Israel.

But al-Qaida itself is making an effort "to operate both in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel proper," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. A Palestinian security official in Gaza agreed that al-Qaida "is in the process of organizing cells and gathering supporters."

Good luck with that one al-Quida because you are *really* going to need it. If the Israelis get into the Global War on Terror I think scumbags like Ayman-al-Zawahri and Osama's days will be seriously numbered.

Bush Ups Fuel Standards

I guess his "Addicted to Oil" comment wasn't just bunk. He is raising fuel standards again and it should be a good deal.

The proposal issued last summer would lead to a projected fleetwide average of 24 mpg by 2011, a total improvement of 1.8 mpg over four years. Automakers would need to meet fuel economy targets based on their mix of vehicles.

He also is beginning to sound like an environmentalist in his speeches about this subject.

Bush, in a news conference on Tuesday, did not mention fuel economy changes but expressed interest in working with Congress "to advance an agenda that will make us less dependent on foreign oil, an agenda that includes hybrid cars and advanced ethanol fuels and hydrogen cells."

MSFT Vista Consumer Delay no Big Deal

It seems that people are thinking that Microsoft delaying Vista Consumer will be bad for the computer industry. I don't think holiday sales will be impacted very much. Most of the people who buy a PC during Christmas will probably get a free upgrade coupon that would come with their PC. I don't think they will have to be stuck with Windows Home for much longer then a month or so.

I think some consumer electronics stores will have a dip in sales but they will probably make them back up in January when people interested in Vista could use their Gift cards to defray its cost. Or if they are real early adopters they can get the Vista Corporate edition which seems to be shipping on time. I think it is no biggie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Disney's Comeback Story

This is a very interesting article on how Disney is capturing the family market again and starting to right the ship after Iger took over.

Over the years, Disney failed its animation studio legacy. It grew formulaic, cost-conscious, and irrelevant. It cheapened the brand with direct-to-video sequels, somehow unaware of the long-term harm it was committing in the pursuit of near-term profitability.

Yeah these direct-to-video sequels are really a sign of how far they had fallen. They were just quick-buck knockoff versions of animated movies that many Disney lovers cherished. Most of them sucked badly and thus damaged the brand that they were trying to milk.

I think Pixar will bring some of the idea that when their movies come out they are events and not a quick buck. For instance Incredibles 2 will be an almost guaranteed $200 million+ movie and that is because Pixar knows how to leverage its content to make the most money. If the Eisner Disney made Incredibles 2 it would have been a quick buck direct to DVD or even a really crappy cartoon program that would have damaged the brand. I think Iger knows that a $200 million event is much better for a brand then 10 $20 million crappy DVDs.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Chicken Stocks Good for your Portfolio?

Hmm thinking of investing in chickens? It seems like there is some very interesting information in this article. I agree that best time to buy these stocks would be when the avian flu actually hits in the US. You would get a nice bump up when the stocks go back up to the pre-flu level as well as any growth afterward.

OQO tablet PC

I was doing some research on Transmeta corporation and found this interesting tablet PC from a company called OQO. This thing looks a lot cooler than the other tablet PC that I saw from Samsung a while back. It kind of has a mini-laptop vibe or it can double as a controller for a digital house. Kind of like one of those fancy clickers that the stars have on Cribs.

I'm still not sold on the whole concept of the tablet PC. But this item certainly looks better then any other tablet PC that I have seen. If you whip out one of these at a coffee shop or at the airport you may get some interested looks your way. I would certainly think that that person was part of the technorati.

Friday, March 17, 2006

South Park Creators vs. Scientology

I love their sense of humor when it comes to attacks by proponents of that pseudo-religion called Scientology.

"South Park" has declared war on Scientology. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the animated satire, are digging in against the celebrity-endorsed religion after a controversial episode mocking outspoken Scientologist Tom Cruise was yanked abruptly from the schedule Wednesday - with Internet rumors it was covert warfare by Cruise that led to its departure.

Yup Tommy Boy went to Viacom and had them yank the rerun of that show. I guess he jumped on their couch and accused them of taking that street drug called Ritilan. Their response is one for the ages though.

Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!

-- Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu

I want a T-shirt from Cafepress with that written on it!

European ETFs heat up

This is a very interesting article about how Eurozone ETFs are starting to pick up speed and are outpacing Japan and Emerging Markets.

So what's spurring renewed optimism in European markets?

Surveys point to growing economic confidence. In particular, executives are planning more hiring and more spending on capital goods.

They do have a low GDP growth but I think the smart money is following Europe because they are starting to see signs of life and it seems that the markets for other nations are near multi-year highs already. It seems there is even some M&A life in Europe too. With L'Oréal taking over Body Shop and Zurich Financial Services possibly taking over St.Paul Travelers.

GM Management Is a Joke

I think they should look into replacing the CEO after this stuff came up.

General Motors Corp. shares and bonds fell on Friday after the automaker increased its 2005 loss by $2 billion due to accounting errors, raising questions about the company's management and renewing doubts about its long-term survival.

Whoops, we messed up the loss by $2 billion. Now that is not something you want to tell investors when you are already fighting hammer and tongs (and losing) against the Japanese carmakers. Could we see a GM bankruptcy filing coming soon?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iran Talks Fruitful?

Hmm it looks like the Big 8 are coming together better on the Iran Nuke talks.

"Everybody has agreed it is important to send a strong signal to Iran that their nuclear weapons program is not permissible," said U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.

"I would describe today's meeting as the best we have had so far. There are still areas of disagreement" Bolton said.

Maybe we won't have to fly a bunch of sorties into Iran after all.

March Madness on Demand

Now this is a very good deal from CBS. They are showing all of the games for the first 3 rounds of this years March Madness for free. They stream the games to you in this little screen that looks pretty clear for the most part. I feel like I'm on the cutting edge of the merging of TV content with the computer.

Jessica Simpson Snubs the Pres

Now his approval ratings must be pretty low when you are snubbed by Jessica Simpson. This guy is right though:

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said he was surprised at Simpson's position.

"It's never been a problem for Bono," he said, referring to the U2 rock star who has met regularly with political leaders of all stripes to promote various causes, including Third World debt relief. " I find it hard to believe she would pass up an opportunity to lobby the president on behalf of Operation Smile."

Yeah, he knows that when you talk to the most powerful man in the world you might be able to get some money/recognition for your pet causes. Bono knows how the Washington game is played. I have a feeling that Operation Smile might be getting a very thorough audit in the next few months.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Class Action Suit next up for H&R Block

Now the class action lawyers are getting in on the act.

The class action filed by Lerach Coughlin on behalf of all H&R Block account holders makes similar allegations, but seeks unspecified damages. It was filed today in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo. The complaint alleges the Express IRAs were "uniformly marketed and sold to consumers without regard to the consumer's tax, investment, and income requirements, and without adequate disclosure of the significant referral fees and commissions received by the tax preparers at H&R Block for pushing these Express IRA accounts."

Unspecified damages? I would hate the sound of that if I was H&R Block.

What to do with an Express IRA from H&R Block

This is pretty sound advice from Marketwatch:

You might want to wait and see, according to Sarah Ludwig, director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, a New York-based nonprofit working for fair financial-services access for low-income residents.

"Hopefully, there will be full restitution through the lawsuit, and hopefully people who have one of these will get compensated for the financial harm this has caused them. If you have one of these right now, pay attention to what's happening in the lawsuit," she said.

They also name the two people in the complaint that Spitzer is filing the lawsuit on behalf of:

Spitzer's statement offered examples of two New York state residents: A 32-year-old Albany resident with taxable income of $17,847 made a one-time contribution of $300 to an Express IRA in 2002. Over four years, the investment earned $10.29 in interest while incurring $45 in fees.

A 68-year-old Brooklyn resident with taxable income of $25,421 made a one-time contribution of $300 to an Express IRA in 2004. The consumer paid a $15 account opening fee, a $10 account maintenance fee, and a $25 closing fee when the account was closed after 18 months. The account earned $5.18 in interest.

Heavy Put Buying on H&R Block Options

I was looking at this stock in light of the fraud allegations and noticed that there was some very heavy put buying on the April 20s. And the put to call ration is like 10 to 1. Check this out. A firm like H&R Block lives and dies by its reputation and this kind of thing could be a serious blow to it.

I know that I wouldn't trust them to do my taxes if they are funneling money into non-performing crap to make a few extra bucks. Of course they are still in the allegations phase so they could come out of it smelling like a rose.

H&R Block Fraudsters?

Wow these are some serious charges if they are true.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court, says Block advised clients to buy an "unsuitable, fraudulently marketed, poorly performing, fee-ridden 'retirement vehicle' called the Express IRA," an account that actually shrinks over time.

The court papers, filed by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, say the money in the retirement account decreases because the only investment option offered is a money market account with an interest rate so low that it does not cover the fees — "fees that H&R Block fails to adequately disclose."

It seems that they were conning people into buying a money market fund that for for instance would pay you 1% interest but charges you 2% in management fees. I have never heard of such a thing before. I have seen mutual funds underperform and thus hand someone a loss and charges you a management fee for that loss. But I have never seen something like this happen to a money market fund though.

Motorola Fixes RAZR problem

Hmm I wasn't even aware that there was a problem in the first place. Well it seems that they fixed it and they are selling RAZRs again.

The faulty component, which was used in GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) versions of the Razr, was found to sometimes disconnect calls, power down, and then automatically restart the handset, Motorola said last week.

That problem was quickly resolved by Motorola and the Razr is once again shipping to the two operators, Zander said. "The impact on the consumer was very minimal because we caught it in time," he said, noting that most of the affected handsets were found in the operator's inventory.

This seems like something a company in a leadership position in that industry would do. See a problem and catch it before it really hits the consumers. Good job MOT.

Jay Leno is a Standup Guy

Even though he is a multi-millionaire that is on TV every day he is still a pretty nice guy according to this.

Jay Leno knows that comedy means sometimes having to say you're sorry. After Leno's "Tonight Show" aired a sketch that compared Vice President
Dick Cheney's hunting accident to a 2003 videotaped shooting outside a Los Angeles courthouse, he received a letter of complaint from a viewer.

Wendy Brogin, a friend of shooting victim Gerald Curry, wrote to Leno condemning the recent sketch as offensive and asking him to "do the right thing relative to this matter."

Within days, Leno responded with a phone call that greatly impressed Brogin, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported Tuesday.

"He said, `Hello, Wendy, this is Jay Leno'," she said. "`I'm calling about the letter you wrote and I want to apologize. I just want to let you know we make mistakes sometimes and we don't mean to hurt people.'"

There is a reason I like watching the Tonight Show and Jay's likeability and general niceness is what it is. Other celebrities should take a cue from him.

Monday, March 13, 2006

FED Spells out Inflation Target

Well at least this is what they are thinking of using. No more trying to interpret what they are trying to say or speculating what the specific economic numbers that Greenspan may like are. This number has just become one of the more important ones on the economic calendar.

Yellen said she favors an inflation target of a 1.5% as measured by core personal consumptions expenditures price (PCE) index.

There could be a "comfort zone" extending between 1 and 2% around the target, Yellen said.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Comments from Chuck Schumer are Funny

And this gets even better with this senior Senator sounding almost like we are dealing with the Soviet Union or Iran or something.

"If things are as they appear, this is a great victory for national security. But make no mistake, we are going to scrutinize this deal with a fine-tooth comb to make sure the separation between American port operators and Dubai Ports World is complete and security is tight as a drum," Schumer said.

We can't even trust Dubai's word on them handing over operations to a US firm? I mean they have humbled themselves already by making Dubai Ports World back down. Now Schumer needs to fire at them on the retreat? I thought the Dems were supposed to be the party of tolerance. I guess that stops at the moderate Arab street.

Bush is Right on Dubai Ports

He and I are on the same wavelength on this Dubai Ports mess.

"In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our relationships and friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East," Bush told newspaper editors.

Yup we have to look at who our friends are and who our enemies are in the Middle East and draw a line. We can't treat friends like crap and hope the best occurs. We need the reward our allies in the Middle East with a little trust. And now the blowback is happening:

In a possible repercussion, the United Arab Emirates broke off talks on a free trade agreement with the United States the day after the ports deal fell apart.

Gulf Arabs reacted bitterly to the company's decision, saying the political storm that forced the emirate's hand could provoke a backlash among regional investors.

"Do you think we are happy this morning? The mood is black, very, very black," said a senior official in the region involved in the Dubai Ports deal.

Yup, they won't take this lying down and rightfully so.

Bush's Approval Ratings in the Toilet

It looks like they have dropped to the lowest level in his Presidency now.

The poll suggests that most Americans wonder whether Bush is up to the job. The survey, conducted Monday through Wednesday of 1,000 people, found that just 37 percent approve of his overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency.

Yup and even his supporters are jumping ship on him:

Bush's job approval among Republicans plummeted from 82 percent in February to 74 percent, a dangerous sign in a midterm election year when parties rely on enthusiasm from their most loyal voters. The biggest losses were among white males.

I think this is all blowback from the bungling they did on the Katrina aftermath. He had a chance to look like the same leader that pulled the nation together after 9/11 but he blew it. He trusted inept cronies like Brown and it cost him. He also let people like Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin dominate the news when he should have been the one drawing the headlines.

He didn't look caring enough because he stayed on vacation as the hurricane hit and then first commented he made was about some Republican guys home. It showed he was out of touch and didn't seem to care about the regular people's suffering.

He should have been on the scene at the command center getting briefings on the first day after the levies broke. He needed to be be giving the appearance that he was running things.

A photo Op of him flying over damaged areas in a Navy Helocopter on day one with a concerned face would have been as indelable as him with his arm around the fire department guy after 9/11. Instead he fooled around and looked like a big idiot while trusting the wrong people and he is paying the price for it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Biodiesel glut not so good for ADM?

According to this article by Motley Fool that is the truth. This is because there is a new entrant into the market:

French company Louis Dreyfus Corp. The firm is set to begin construction soon on the nation's largest biodiesel plant. When completed, the facility will have the capacity to produce 80 million gallons of biodiesel annually. It's a major investment considering that the National Biodiesel Board estimates that a total of just 75 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S. last year.

This article forgets that diesel is a big deal in Europe where this new company will be based. The ADM production will probably go to feed the need of the trucking industry in the US. This could be a boon for that industry since it will be a way to cut fuel costs. Hmm, I wonder if Congress could be smart enough to pass a tax break for trucking companies that switch 100% to biodiesel? Seems like it would be a good idea to me.

Dubai Ports World mess hurts the Presidency

I honestly feel this way. I think the Bush presidency has been dealt a mortal blow and might not recover. It shows that even when Bush wants to reward a loyal ally of the War on Terror he was let down by his own party.

It is true he wasn't able to articulate this thing in such a way that the American people weren't scared that the evil-Dubai Aaarabs were putting bombs into every shipping container coming into Newark. They couldn't get the hint through that this company was simply going to control everyday operations and we were still on security detail. Also doing all the dealing in such secrecy did not help matters as well.

However he wasn't able to control his party well enough to ask them to wait until they could at least study the deal before they rushed to block it. I mean the White House said that they had the thing fully vetted and free of security holes. Still Repubs in Congress rushed to block the thing when poll numbers turned against them. In other words even Bushes own party does not trust him enough to do their own due diligence.

Also Bush looks like a chump to the moderate Arab world. He tried to stand up and show that the US doesn't just take their oil, bomb their homes, and sneak out the backdoor when things get dicey. We can actually trust the Arabs to run a few of our ports like we trust them to protect our warships docked in their ports. Or when we need to trust them when we are working with them to go after Al-Quida.

Instead Bush is met with anti-Arab sentiment and stiff-necked protectionism when it comes to our so-called Arab friends. How can they trust us when we look down our noses at them and dub them as untrustworthy without even checking them out. We even accused them of having Al-Quida sympathizers or even agents hiding in the Dubai Ports World company and perhaps many others. I would hate being called a terrorist sympathizer if I was a moderate Arab country.

Would this have even been an issue if that Oriental Steamship Navigation company was bought out by a Brazilian or a Dutch concern? It would have been a footnote in the business press and nothing more. But when a moderate Arab company gets the contract we do everything we can to block them even after the White House has studied the security angle and given them the green light. I guess Bush has officially entered the lame-duck period with 2 full years to go in his term. Let's hope his foreign policy agenda hasn't been dealt a mortal blow as well.

Dubai World Blinks

It looks Dubai is letting the President off of the hook on this mess.

An Arab-owned company said Thursday it was giving up its management stake in U.S. ports, a move made as congressional leaders warned President Bush that both the House and Senate appeared ready to block the takeover.

And it looks like the UAE prime minister was the one to push the company in that direction:

Warner said that Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, “advised the company ... that this action is the appropriate course to take.” Dubai is in the emirates.

I think Bush needs to send this guy a mess of Texas BBQ from his ranch or something because he got him off the hook.

Republicans Nix Dubai Port Deal

Another case of Republicans shooting themselves in the foot.

The deal closing comes after a key House panel voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to block its plan to acquire the right to manage terminals at several major U.S. seaports, setting President Bush and defiant House Republicans on course for a major legislative collision.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 62 to 2 to amend an emergency-spending measure with language that would effectively bar Dubai Ports World from taking over terminal operations from P&O.

Yes, they tacked this ports mess to a spending bill for Katrina relief and for war appropriations. This kind of knee-jerk reaction is something that will get them booted out of Congress come this fall. This Dubai company has bent over backwards and gone beyond what they need to and the Repubs pulls this kind of stunt. They even put the President in a bad position by forcing him to veto a spending bill for disaster relief and body armor. Way to help out those sagging approval ratings numbers.

I think we can chalk this all up to anti-Arab sentiment. Dubai doesn't want to destroy Israel or kill Americans like Iran. They probably have about the same amount of lurking Al-Quida operatives as any Saudi company yet we do business everyday with them. And the whole idea of "foreigners" running our ports being bad sounds like some thinking out of the 1800s. Everyone forgets that the company that originally ran the ports was a British company. I guess they aren't as "foreign" as those untrustworthy Aaarabs.

This is only going to hurt US companies looking to do M&A abroad. Whenever a US company wants to buy a foreign firm we should understand that the stonewalling and blocks set up by their country as justifiable anti-American sentiment. I mean we blocked Dubai Ports World so they will be justified in blocking Exxon, Merril Lynch, or whoever. This kind of knee-jerk protectionism will get us in recession mode if they aren't careful.

Microsoft busts out the Origami

It seems like an interesting concept but I think it will suffer the fate of all tablet PCs. Most people will just buy a smaller laptop if they don't want to lug a bigger one around on the road. They already have a wireless e-mail gadget that fits in their suit pocket or purse so they won't use the Origami for that. I guess they can browse with it but you can do that from both their Blackberry/cell-phone and their smallform laptop.

I wouldn't play games on that tiny screen because I would have to plug in a mouse and a keyboard to play any twitch game. I have a mouse and keyboard built into a laptop already. It also looks unwieldy and not built to be a handheld game system like the PSP. Plus, I would have to carry it around in its own special case or stick it in a backpack. A PSP is just much more portable and easy to manage then this thing.

So what else can you do with it? I guess you can use it to read web books or as a giant Ipod or something. And this last move just sucked the entire cool factor out of the thing:

Instead, the company is calling it the "Ultra-Mobile PC," said Mika Krammer, a marketing director for Microsoft's Windows mobile unit.

Could they have come up with a little more imaginative name? It sounds like a Japanese floor cleaner or something. It is the new ultra-mobile particle cleanser for floors and even walls. Keeping it the Origami would have given it a bit more cool factor. I goes to show you that MSFT needs some of Apples design nowhow. The thing even looks ugly. It kind of has a pull-down DVD player on a minivan vibe:

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

This Girl has Spirit!

Yes she Does! She fell on her head from 15 feet up and then worries about the team? Now this is the kind of sports star that we should be holding up as an example for youngsters to emulate.

“My biggest concern was that I didn’t want my squad to be distracted — so that they could continue cheering on the team — and I didn’t want my team to be distracted from winning the game,” Kristi Yamaoka, 18, told NBC’s “Today” show.

Here is a pic of her doing some kind of fight song cheer in a neckbrace. I hope she gets some kind of minor celebrity heat out of this.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Bavaria

This is a really cool winter wonderland sort of pic from the AP:

People Fight Back against Property Tax

It is good to see Americans fight back against these sorts of confiscatory taxes. I agree with this statement by first-term state Rep. Edward Lindsey:

"Not even the IRS is so bold as to tax people on unrealized gain," says Mr. Lindsey. "These are essentially backdoor tax increases that give government no incentive to be efficient or responsive."

Yup this is essentially a tax on something that might never even happen. Some homeowners may never sell their homes and should not be taxed for holding on to the American dream. This is essentially like taxing capital gains on a stock even though you haven't sold the thing. I hope these tax payer revolts get some attention and change the state of this kind of tax.

Iran Threatens the US

It looks like they are dropping the direct threats now.

"The United States has the power to cause harm and pain," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, a senior Iranian delegate to the IAEA. "But the United States is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if that is the path that the U.S. wishes to choose, let the ball roll."

I remember the Saddam's Iraqi stooges saying things like this as well. Where are those guys now?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Blackberry settles.

Looks like cooler heads have prevailed in this whole mess.

RIM has paid NTP $612.5 million in a "full and final settlement of all claims," the companies said.

I agree with the judge too on this:

"He basically questioned the sanity of RIM, and said it wasn't acting very rationally," said Rod Thompson, patent attorney at Farella, Braun and Martel in San Francisco. "His prodding of the parties worked."

It really looked like RIM was acting on emotion and anger and not thinking things through. That shutdown would have dealt them a mortal blow that they might never have recovered from. It was a true tipping point moment.

NYSE to Trade Bonds

Hmm this seems like a good idea for investors like me.

John Holman, vice president of fixed income at the NYSE, said the move is aimed at creating a market for retail investors who have been at the mercy of big brokerages to buy and sell bonds. The system could be in place as early as May.

For instance, investors will have access to real-time prices on company debt. An investor with an online brokerage account will be able to place orders using ticker symbols, limit orders and other features currently available for stock investing.

That means I could purchase AAA corporate debt without having to buy a bond fund or figure out how to do it from a big broker. Hmm, I wonder how much E-Trade will be charging for this feature? If it is cheaper then buying a bond fund then I will definitely be waiting in line for it.

Amateur Computer guy Cracks German Enigma Code

This is a pretty interesting result of shared computing power.

The M4 Project, the brainchild of Stefan Krah, a violinist and amateur cryptographer of German birth, is credited with cracking one of the three remaining ciphers. The project was named in honor of the M4 Enigma machine that originally encoded the messages.

This is the ciphered text:


And this is what it means when translated to english:

"Forced to submerge during attack. Depth charges. Last enemy position 0830h AJ 9863, [course] 220 degrees, [speed] 8 knots. [I am] following [the enemy]. [Barometer] falls 14 mb, [wind] nor-nor-east, [force] 4, visibility 10 [nautical miles]."

I kind of wanted it to say that Nazi gold hidden in bottom of abandoned salt mine or something like that but oh well. Here is a picture of an Enigma Machine. It looks a little like an early build- it-yourself computer.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Now we are selling Warplanes to India?

Hmm, it looks like we are going down a real road of cooperation with India now.

"Where only a few years ago, no one would have talked about the prospects for a major U.S.-India defense deal, today the prospects are promising, whether in the realm of combat aircraft, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft or naval vessels," the U.S. Defense Department said as President George W. Bush paid a three-day visit to India.

Hmm, this should set those national policy wonk's tongues wagging. Is this a check against China? Will India back our play if we need to jump China to protect Taiwan? Is this adding a big, potentially powerful nation to the coalition of the willing? Are we trying to redraw Asian alliences? Anyway you look at it this is a great deal for Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

India and US Ink Nuke Deal

Seems like a very good move for Bush and the US. Congress doesn't think so though.

Critics in Congress say the United States is making an exception for India, which has nuclear weapons but won't sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"Proliferation is certainly a concern and a part of our discussions, and we've got a good-faith gesture by the Indian government that I'll be able to take to the Congress," Bush said.

It seems Bush knows what business leaders have known for years. India is coming on strong as an economy and as a nation and should be given respect. The same respect as we are now giving China. We shouldn't be fighting our friends but rewarding them for loyalty and contributing to the world at large.

Plus with that growing economy they are guzzling oil like crazy. More civilian Nuclear Plants would go a long way toward weening them off of oil and might help the poor of India. Whatever happens thsi deal will be great for Westinghouse and other US nuclear power firms.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Happy Now?

This is a very interesting article on what makes us happy as a people.

Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California at Riverside has discovered that the road toward a more satisfying and meaningful life involves a recipe repeated in schools, churches and synagogues. Make lists of things for which you're grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, notice life's small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into friendships and family.

Also this is important too:

"Research shows that people who are grateful, optimistic and forgiving have better experiences with their lives, more happiness, fewer strokes, and higher incomes," according to Easterbrook. "If it makes world a better place at same time, this is a real bonus."

Hmm could this explain why conservatives are happier then liberals? They are grateful to be living at the time they are and for what they have achieved. They are optimistic for the future not only for the War on Terror but for Iraq as well. And they are more willing to forgive and forget because they are generally more religious then liberals.

I think a positive attitude mentioned above is very important to being happy. If you expect the worst out of government, people, and daily life then you will be rarely disappointed but you will always be looking on the dark side. If you expect the best out of everything you will be disappointed but you will looking for the bright side in everything.

So a liberal who says the economy has been destroyed, Iraq is a mess and is the next Vietnam, Social Security will be gutted, and Bush is a moron and should be impeached is looking on the dark side of life.

If you are positive you would say that the economy is robust but could be better, Iraq is in turmoil but it could be a beacon of Middle Eastern democracy, Social Security needs to be fixed but how will we do it, and Bush isn't very smart but is a generally caring individual.

If you have some historical perspective this time in America is nothing compared to what we went through in the last century. We had two World Wars in which more Americans died in a single day then in the entire Iraq war. We went through stagflation, an oil shock, and a depression where 1/4 of the workforce was unemployed. We also didn't have the best Presidents. Some were in over their heads (Hoover,) were too nice (Carter,) too mean for their own good (Nixon,) or were sex-fiends (Clinton.) In other words things are going pretty well nowadays considering what went on just a few decades ago.