UPDATE 5-Argentina moves to seize control of Repsol’s YPF

* Center-left president stepping up interventionist policies
* Government targets Repsol’s shares in takeover plan
* Move comes after months of speculation about a takeover
* Argentina…

SEC charges optionsXpress over naked short selling

(Reuters) – Online brokerage optionsXpress and five individuals were charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday with involvement in a so-called naked short-selling scheme.

Proposed EU law would have hit Google with nearly $1 billion in fines

The FCC has cleared Google of any wrongdoing over the WiFi snooping case, but nonetheless hit it with a $25,000 fine for “noncompliance with [FCC] information and document requests.” Google, for its part, has repeatedly said it has done nothing illegal, and that its previous practices were a “mistake,” despite the fact the FCC found that the Google engineer involved in the project declined to testify.

“It seems that the FTC and other regulators around the world weren’t able to assess the full scope of the problem without [this withheld information] and may have closed their investigations prematurely,” Katitza Rodriguez, the international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars on Monday, adding that the technical information was “critical to a proper assessment of what [Google] did.” Just to be clear, 25 large is pretty tiny to a company like Google. For a company worth almost $200 billion, this amount is so meaningless it’s basically laughable, particularly when the FCC has said it’s now dropping this case.

Earlier this year, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding put forward a proposed revision of EU law that would radically update the 27-member bloc’s 1995-era data protection directive. Had this new proposal been in place prior to Google’s violation, it would have been required to notify data protection authorities as soon as possible—and face a fine of up to 2 percent of annual sales, which in Google’s case, could have reached €758 million ($990 million). Of course, these new proposed European regulations, if they do pass the European Parliament, will likely take a few years to become the law of the land.

To date, this appears to be the only fine from American authorities that Google has faced in relation to the WiFi snooping case. Across the pond in Europe, fines for judicial obstruction or privacy violations haven’t been much stiffer, either: CNIL, the French data protection authority fined Google a maximum of €100,000 ($130,000). Their Dutch counterparts threatened to hit Google with a €1.4 million ($1.8 million) fine if it didn’t provide a way for Dutch users to opt-out, which it did last April—and that case resulted in no fine at all. In 2010, Italian authorities threatened Google with an €1,800 fine ($2,352) if the company didn’t fulfill its new privacy restrictions. In some really privacy-conscious corners of Europe, like Germany, Google has pulled the plug on the entire project—abandoning collecting new Street View data as of last year.

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Asus Announces A Ridiculous Solution For Its Flawed Transformer Prime Android Tablet


The Transformer Prime is a fantastic example of a product rushed to market. It was as if Asus was trolling consumers and yelling “First!” The tablet launched with a host of problems, many of which Asus fixed over the weeks following its release through a constant stream of updates. But some issues, like the poor GPS capability, were seemingly addressed through placebo updates. Asus was even caught removing the spec and feature from the Transformer Prime’s product page. Then, just weeks after the Prime hit the market, Asus announced a new family of Transformer tablets as if the Prime never existed.

But the biggest insult just happened today. Asus finally announced a solution to the poor performing GPS: A massive dongle that happens to use the same port as the Prime’s keyboard dock, preventing owners from using both at the same time. At least it’s free.

As I explained before Asus is still new to consumer electronics. Up until the Eee PC line, Asus sold just computer components. Even in this post-Eee PC era, Asus still doesn’t know how to properly handle a potential blockbuster product like the Transformer Prime.

The Transformer Prime was doomed from the start. Asus flubbed the launch with constant delays. When it did launch, it was very hard to find. Then, when early adopters finally got their little bundle of joy, the company was slow to respond to serious issues. In fact the tablet launched with so many bugs that it’s questionable if Asus even tested the tablet prior to shipping.

Now, over four months after owners started complaining about nearly nonexistent GPS functionality, the company announced a fix that involves a massive GPS dongle. Owners can sign up for one today, but there’s still no word when the accessory will ship. The offer expires on July 31st.

Thankfully for Asus, the Transformer Prime has been anything but a blockbuster product. A court document from a few weeks back indicated that Asus had only sold 2,000 units during the first two months it was available. Had the Transformer Prime lived up to the hype and sold as if it was a legitimate contender, this GPS issue could have snowballed into an antennagate-type nightmare.

House Democrats back position limits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Barney Frank and 16 other House of Representatives Democrats have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in defense of a new rule curbing speculation in the commodities market that has been challenged by a financial industry lawsuit.

Press-On Polarizers Let You Enjoy 3D Movies Without Wearing Ugly Glasses


The Stix project is just a concept now, but what a concept it is. It’s essentially a way for glasses-wearers to enjoy 3D movies without having to put on oddly-shaped and potentially ugly 3D glasses.

The Stix peel off a piece of backing plastic and fit right on your real glasses. When you’re ready to face the real world again you simply peel them off. Lucy Jung and Daejin Ahn designed the concept because Lucy found herself having to wear her contacts when she went to the movies.

She writes on Yanko:

I had to wear contact lens to go to a 3D cinemas cause it was really uncomfortable to wear two glasses at the same time (I’m sure people who have done it all felt the same). I also thought mobile screen protector films were a great material which won’t damage the glasses.

The product is obviously still in prototype stage and, although it’s cool, I wonder how many movie houses actually care if their four-eyed patrons don’t like the big, goofy glasses for which they charge a premium.

Dueling Tax Proposals Affecting Small Businesses, Millionaires May Be Doomed

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans are forcing votes in Congress this coming week on competing tax plans that affect millionaires and smaller businesses, and they know the proposals are doomed from the start.

But that doesn’t matter to either party.

Their efforts, including a Senate vote Monday on President Barack Obama’s “Buffett rule” proposal to impose a minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans, are more about pontificating than legislating, aimed at voters in November’s congressional and presidential elections.

Neutral economists say neither bill would do much for the economy or job creation. Some political professionals are equally unimpressed with their potential impact on voters.

Undaunted, congressional leaders hope to maximize public attention by timing both roll calls with an eye to Tuesday, the annual deadline for filing income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. The upcoming votes probably are just a start.

Senate Democrats later this year may hold additional votes tied to the “Buffett rule,” using his idea of a minimum 30 percent tax on top earners to raise money for proposal to create jobs and keep student loan rates from rising.

With trillions in tax cuts dating from President George W. Bush set to expire in January, House and Senate leaders also are considering campaign-season votes on extending popular parts of those reductions, such as preventing the $1,000 child tax credit from being cut in half.

In addition, Obama and his all-but-certain GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, will spend much of the campaign promoting their tax blueprints as antidotes to an economy still struggling to generate jobs.

Besides raising taxes on the wealthy, Obama would boost levies on many U.S. companies that do business overseas, and on the oil and gas industry. The new money would help lower individual and corporate rates and reduce federal deficits.

Romney would continue all Bush tax cuts, including those for the richest people, while trimming rates and eliminating estate taxes.

“If this were a heavyweight fight, we’re still in the first round where both sides are kind of feeling each other out,” Republican consultant Mike McKenna said about the votes in the week ahead.

On Monday, as Congress returns from a two-week spring break, the Democratic-led Senate expect votes on a “Buffett rule” measure by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. It would slap a minimum 30 percent income tax on people making over $2 million yearly and phase in higher taxes for those earning at least $1 million. Republicans are sure to block the bill, nicknamed for billionaire Warren Buffett, who backs higher taxes on the rich.

The GOP-run House plans a Thursday vote on legislation providing a 20 percent tax deduction for businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers, which covers 99.9 percent of all companies. The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., seems certain to pass, but fail in the Senate.

Those votes are set just as many Americans stare at their own tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service says that through April 6, it had received 99 million of 145 million expected returns. So far, 80 million refunds have been issued averaging $2,794, down $101 from last year.

For political leaders looking ahead to the November elections, the demise of this week’s bills will matter little.

Democrats think the Buffett rule vote will underscore their commitment to economic fairness and GOP favoritism for the rich, a prominent election theme. Hammering at it lets Obama shine a spotlight on Romney, a former private equity executive who has paid an income tax rate of about 15 percent on annual earnings of $21 million, which is a lower rate than many middle-class families pay.

“It’s simple. If you make more than $1 million every year, you should pay at least the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly broadcast address.

Republicans believe the business tax measure will spotlight their efforts to lower taxes and create jobs, contrasted with Democrats’ preference for higher taxes to finance ever-larger government. They believe they win the debate by keeping the focus on those subjects, not what the wealthy pay.

“We want small-business people to have more money go to their pockets, not the government’s,” Cantor said recently at a Virginia high school. “And then they have more money to make decisions about hiring, about retaining jobs and about creating more jobs.”

Democratic political consultant Alan Secrest said both measures might excite the most fervent partisans but do little for independents, who he said care more about jobs.

“And neither party has a particular advantage on that right now,” Secrest said.

The Buffett rule is clearly popular. An Associated Press-GfK poll in February showed that nearly 2 in 3 favor a 30 percent tax for those making $1 million annually, including most Democrats and independents and even 4 in 10 Republicans.

Yet the measure would raise just $47 billion over a decade, a smidgen of the $7 trillion in federal deficits expected during that time.

While a 20 percent tax deduction would be welcomed by any company, the $46 billion in lower taxes Cantor’s bill would provide over the next six years would barely register on the $100 trillion in U.S. economic activity projected for that period. There also are doubts that it would spur new jobs.

“If they have more sales, they’ll hire,” said Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist for UBS, the investment bank. “If they don’t have the sales, they won’t hire. That’s what it’s all about.”

Senate Democrats, who champion a narrower bill providing tax credits for firms hiring workers, call the GOP small-business cuts “a profit-padding tax giveaway.” Democrats have also criticized extending Bush’s tax cuts for being too costly at a time of big budget deficits, though most favor extending them for all but the highest earners.

Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the business tax cut bill would show that Republicans are trying to spark job growth. He also said he would welcome Democratic opposition to any votes this year, should they occur, on renewing Bush’s tax cuts.

“If the Democrats want to have all those taxes go up, let them,” said Camp, R-Mich.