November 16, 2005

Quickie End of Bizzy Day Links (111605)

S.O.B. Alliance member NixGuy Update: How the WSIS Internet Deal REALLY Went Down

The original comment is at Slash Dot (scroll down, despite appearances, to get there; the link provided is to the top of the page. It’s easier just to go to NixGuy’s Update. Very funny.

Here’s the USAT story, in case you need to catch up.

Just one request of our guys at the conference–NO mushy fine print.

Open Source (Media) Exposed

Today may one day be remembered as the day news reporting and information delivery changed forever. Open Source Media debuted, with 70 power bloggers in tow and an additional blogroll of hundreds of other contributors to the public dialog (yours truly is honored to be present there). They also have a currently misnamed “blog archive” link that really goes to current posts they consider important. Here’s one example of their good taste in selecting among recent blog posts (ha).

Update: Ann Althouse is not impressed–I mean REALLY not impressed.

The Bridge to Nowhere Won’t Get Funded, But Alaska Gets to Keep the Money

Or “How to make something that stinks to high heaven look respectable.”

The sordid day’s chronology is hereBrendan Loy calls it “The Blank Check to Nowhere.”

Spending wasn’t reduced. Money that is more needed for hurricane relief won’t get reallocated. Worst of all, because Alaska still has the money, “Waste Ted” Stevens probably won’t resign as he promised to if the bridge wasn’t funded.

Consolation: As originally noted by S.O.B. Alliance member Weapons of Mass Discussion, Alaska’s other senator, Lisa Murkowski, probably won’t see the value of her land situated near where the Bridge to Nowhere was to be built shoot up in value.

Doctor Porkopois Is In, Evaluating Ohio’s Senior Senator

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:31 pm

S.O.B. Alliance member Porkopolis, aka The Doctor of Pork, detects symptoms of oil-related schizophrenia in Mike DeWine that call for voter attention.

Go there for the details.

IRS Stands for “Internal Reviews Stink” (and a Solution They’ll Never Accept)

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:41 pm

From The Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants Ohio e-CPA Weekly:

GAO Report Finds Serious Deficiencies at IRS

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites serious internal control and financial management system deficiencies at the IRS.

According to the report, IRS did not maintain effective internal controls over financial reporting, including safeguarding of assets, or compliance with laws and regulations. The IRS again had to rely extensively on resource-intensive compensating processes to prepare its financial statements this year.

The report acknowledges that the IRS has made great strides in addressing the financial management challenges. The IRS has implemented the new Integrated Financial System, which is designed to provide improved audit trails and more up-to-date information on activities, such as travel, goods and services purchases, and budgeting.

According to the report, solving the IRS’s financial management problems depends largely on the ultimate success of the ongoing systems modernization effort.

Here are some tidbits from the full GAO report (warning: large PDF) that will not make you feel good as a taxpayer (bolds are mine):

(Page 6 of document) Among the most serious financial management issues still remaining to be addressed are the continued significant weaknesses in IRS’s information security. Consequently, as IRS continues its efforts to modernize its financial and operational systems, it is critical that IRS take actions to establish and maintain more effective information security controls on a continuing basis, through an ongoing cycle of risk management activities, to protect the processing, storage, and transmission of financial and sensitive data. Until IRS successfully manages its information security risks, management will not have assurance over the integrity and reliability of the information generated from the new financial management system, and IRS’s opportunities for further improvements in financial management will be limited.

(Page 7) As we previously reported, IRS continues to lack accurate, useful, and timely financial information and sound controls with which to make fully informed decisions and to ensure ongoing accountability, which is a primary objective of the CFO Act.

(Page 14) IRS continues to face the following key issues that represent material weaknesses in internal controls:

  • weaknesses in controls over the financial reporting process…
  • weaknesses in controls over unpaid tax assessments…
  • weaknesses in controls over the identification and collection of tax revenues due the federal government and over the issuance of tax refunds, resulting in lost revenue to the federal government and potentially billions of dollars in improper payments…
  • weaknesses in information security controls, resulting in increased risk of unauthorized individuals being allowed to access, alter, or abuse proprietary IRS programs and electronic data and taxpayer information.

Other than that, everything’s fine. (/sarcasm)

And in case you care, yes, I blame the Bush Administration that this situation, which by all accounts was an abject and inexcusable mess when the president entered office, is not more improved almost 5 years later.

There can be only one answer to problems that are this serious. Considering the “wonders” it has done for publicly-held companies, Sarbanes Oxley must be expanded to apply to government entities.

(Actually, the threat of applying SarBox [link is to PDF of the entire law as passed] to the government might be the surest way to get it repealed.)

This Is Too Cute (and Correct) to Resist

DidBushLie

MORE: The “No WMD” Lie (with LINKED Proof)
HOT Off the Presses:
- Front Page–Where the WMDs Went
- NewsMax–New Documents Reveal Saddam Hid WMDs, Was Tied to Al Qaeda

Just wondering–What if Clinton and the Democrats thought they were really making it all up in 1998 (“wagging the dog”) to distract from the Monica Lewinsky (ahem) mess? Would this be poetic justice or what?

Sony/BMG Humiliated over OS-Altering Rootkit

Following up on this post (“Privacy Prevention Turns into PR Nightmare”) about Sony’s Window OS-altering software–I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen with commercial software before, but the designation is richly deserved:

Microsoft Treating Sony BMG Rootkit as Malicious Software

Microsoft said it would remove controversial copy-protection software that CDs from music publisher Sony BMG install on personal computers, deeming it a security risk to PCs running on Windows.

The XCP program, developed by First4Internet in Britain and used on music CDs by Sony BMG to restrict copying and sharing, has generated concern amongst computer users because it acts like virus software and hides deep inside a computer, where it leaves the backdoor open for other viruses.

“We have analyzed this software and have determined that in order to help protect our customers, we will add a detection and removal signature for the rootkit component of the XCP software to the Windows AntiSpyware beta, which is currently used by millions of users,” Jason Garms, group program manager of the Anti-Malware Technology Team, said on Microsoft (MSFT)’s Technet blog.

“Detection and removal of this rootkit component will also appear in Windows Defender when its first public beta is available. We also plan to include this signature in the December monthly update to the Malicious Software Removal Tool,” Garms added.

When Microsoft calls you out, you know you’re in trouble.

Sony’s humiliating PR nightmare is turning into a legal one as well, as Sony’s technical efforts at damage control are only adding to the company’s woes (bold is mine):

Experts: Sony BMG Rootkit ‘Fix’ Only Makes Things Worse

The fallout from a hidden copy-protection program that Sony BMG Music Entertainment put on some CDs is only getting worse. Sony’s suggested method for removing the program widened the security hole the original software created, researchers say.

Sony has moved to recall the discs in question. But music fans who have listened to them on their computers or tried to remove the dangerous software they deposited could still be vulnerable.

“This is a surprisingly bad design from a security standpoint,” said Ed Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor who explored the removal program with a graduate student, J. Alex Halderman. “It endangers users in several ways.”

The “XCP” copy-protection program was included on at least 20 CDs, including releases by Van Zant, The Bad Plus, Neil Diamond, and Celine Dion. Sony BMG said 4.7 million were shipped, with 2.1 million sold.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a page on how to identify an affected CD, and compiled a list of affected CDs, but does not claim that it is complete.

I hope this is an object lesson to companies with legitimate interests in protecting their intellectual property: Don’t mess with your customers’ computers!

Aside: It seems a bit of a stretch to call some of the CDs involved “intellectual” property (but I know better than to name names).
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UPDATE: The Boycott Sony Blog has some coping suggestions.

Passage of the Day: Claudia Rossett on the UN Internet Conference

Filed under: Economy,Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:27 am

The heroine of the UN Oil for Food scandal coverage weighs in (may require registration):

If Paul Revere were alive today, he’d have his midnight work cut out for him. Most likely he’d be spreading the alarm not on horseback, but by Internet: The U.N. is coming! The U.N. is coming!

The United Nations’ so-called World Summit on the Information Society opens today in Tunis, Tunisia, proposing to set up U.N. sway over the Internet under the slogan of bridging the “digital divide.” But that’s the wrong metaphor. This three-day jamboree is a U.N. turf grab: the latest case of the U.N. misinterpreting its noble mandate to promote peace as a license to take a piece of anything it can get.

For anyone who cares about the vast freedoms and opportunities afforded by the Internet–for pajama-clad bloggers, for journalists, for businessmen and especially for people in the poorest countries–it is time for a call to arms. ….. A U.N. unable even to audit its own accounts or police its own peacekeepers has no business making even a twitch toward control of the Internet.

Worse, the corruption and incompetence at U.N. headquarters, however disturbing, are the least of the problems linked to the U.N.’s bid to control interconnectivity. The deeper trouble is that the U.N. has embraced the same tyrants who in the name of helping the downtrodden are now seeking via Internet control to tread them down some more.

Read the whole thing.
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UPDATE: A tentative “whew” (3rd para at link; HT NixGuy) — “Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge of the Internet’s addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU showdown at this week’s U.N. technology summit.” NixGuy’s diplomatic title is “United Nations told to go pound sand.” Well, there’s plenty of it in the conference’s host country.
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BizzyBlog Post: About That Nov. 16-18 UN Internet Conference in Tunisia (UN-EU takeover attempt)

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Post: Alito as a Supporter of Free-Market Capitalism

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:05 am

Note that the title doesn’t read “supports business all the time,” simply because business litigants often sue in an attempt to restrict the functioning of free markets.

The consensus seems to be one of reserved glee:

  • IdeoBlog: “it’s important we get a judge who will decide business cases with some sensitivity to the value of free markets and the problems firms face from litigation and regulation. Based on a quick check Alito is such a judge.” IdeoBlog, who did his work before the actual nomination, then cites about a dozen relevant decisions Alito was involved in.
  • This MarketWatch report at Investors Business Daily

    On Monday, Hans Bader, counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the judge’s rulings have demonstrated his grasp of “the regulatory and legal challenges facing business and an appreciation of the value of free markets.”

    …. Commentators praise Alito for enforcing contracts as written.

  • Daniel Fisher and Peter Lattman at Forbes (probably requires subscription) are a bit more cautious (their caution also carries over to recently installed Chief Justice Roberts), noting that it’s not clear how Alito sees the issues of excessive punitive damages (doesn’t seem philosophically opposed), state federal venues for resolving disputes (tends to support state venues, which frustrates certain industries who complain of a tangled web of state regs), federal regulation (unpredictable), white-collar crime sentencing (tendency towards less harshness), and antitrust (not looking to break up industries or prevent mergers without clear cause).
  • The online edition of The Stanford Review has the most ringing endorsement on the business side that I’ve seen: “Alito has demonstrated a strong free-market philosophy in his time on the court. He has strictly interpreted contracts, ruled to rein in junk lawsuits, limited out-of-control and unwarranted ‘discrimination’ cases, and defined fair burdens in shareholder plaintiff suits. The strict definition of the law has helped companies do business, and his decisions on the Supreme Court will help America’s private sector stay competitive in the changing global economy.”

Whether or not he can run the gauntlet of the Senate in January is something I’m not even going to try to guess. But if he gets in, it’s hard not to think that a Judge Alito will be mostly good news for justice and predictability in business law.

Positivity: Polio Eradicated in 10 African Countries

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:10 am

The World Health Organization comes through (HT Happy News), and has an amibitious short-term goal:

(more…)

Bernanke Promises Not to Weigh in on Tax and Spending Issues (Big Mistake)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:02 am

In this previous post (“The Ben Bernanke Nomination: A Rundown, and a Warning”), I expressed concern that Ben Bernanke might have trouble being confirmed as the next Federal Reserve Chairman, because Democrats upset with retiring Chairman Alan Greenspan’s support of passing and keeping the Bush tax cuts and of individually controlled Social Security investment accounts would go after him if he gave any hint of supporting Administration economic initiatives. Earlier this year, Harry Reid and far-left Democrat bloggers made an initial foray into an ugly Greenspan smear campaign that fortunately went nowhere, but had to be noticed within the halls of the Fed.

It looks like I will be wrong about the nomination having any kind of difficulty, but for a troubling reason: On tax and fiscal matters, Mr. Bernanke Tuesday virtually pledged to go AWOL:

Bernanke: I Won’t Use Politics to Run Fed

….. Senators peppered Bernanke with questions about a wide range of issues including the trade and federal budget deficits.

While he said bloated budget deficits are a problem and must be curbed, he also said he didn’t want to weigh in on various fiscal proposals. “I’m going to begin now, I think, a practice of not making recommendations on specific tax or spending proposals.”

Greenspan, 79, received a large dose of criticism from Democrats when he supported Bush’s call for big tax cuts in 2001.

Democrats were especially interested in whether Bernanke would run the Fed fully independent of the Bush administration.

“The credibility of the Federal Reserve rests in large part on broad confidence in its independence in the judgments it makes,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the panel’s top ranking Democrat.

(Aside: The AP headline writer’s spin tells me there’s a lot of pent-up anger on the Left at Greenspan’s perceived partiality towards the Bush administration.)

Bernanke has put himself into a can’t-win situation:

  • If he means it, it’s a big mistake. He should know better. First, no amount of well-done monetary tweaking can make up for lousy tax and fiscal policy. Second, if he’s so smart, why shouldn’t we want to know what he thinks? How can the country’s number one banker defend staying silent while the long-term train wrecks that Social Security and Medicare represent move inexorably towards the cliff? Why shouldn’t he be able to tell us when he believes a tax cut will stimulate the economy, or that federal spending is out of control? I believe the country, and the financial markets, expect a Fed Chairman to speak out when necessary, and will show their disappointment over time if it doesn’t happen.
  • If he doesn’t mean it, he’s going to be strongly criticized the first time anything that appears to be “political” about taxes or spending comes out of his mouth. I suppose he could wiggle out of it by reminding us that he said “I think,” but it won’t play well.

Still, I hope he doesn’t mean it, and assuming he’s confirmed (which appears certain), that he toughs out the initial criticism when he breaks the “political” ice. We’re entitled to hear an opinion on where the president and Congress are taking us from an independent source, especially when that source happens to be in charge of the country’s monetary system.