Ex-SAC fund manager indicted in insider trading scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors on Friday lost one opportunity to build a case against hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen when a grand jury indicted one of Cohen’s former employees on charges related to an insider trading scheme, severely reducing the possibility he would cooperate as a witness against Cohen.




NRA Fingers Gun Violence Scapegoat

Guns should not be the focus of public attention following the massacre of children at an elementary school in Connecticut, the top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association said Friday. The real problem, said Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the organization, is the cultural glorification of gun violence, especially in video games.

“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people,” LaPierre said at a tense press conference one week after a gunman killed 26 at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

As examples, LaPierre singled out a handful of games available on the popular Xbox 360 and PlayStation systems: “Bulletstorm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Kombat” and “Splatterhouse” — along with a little-known, Web-only low-tech game created a decade ago called “Kindergarten Killers.”

In seeking to deflect attention from firearms to video games, LaPierre implied that virtual weapons were more of a danger to society than real ones — a point that gun control advocates said is absurd, and social science researchers furiously rebuked.

“We haven’t found any evidence to support the notion that exposure to violent video games is linked in any way to an increase in violent acts,” said Christopher Ferguson, an associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University, who has conducted more than two dozen studies on video game and movie violence. “We’ve found that people can distinguish between a fictional universe and real life.”

LaPierre also made at least one obvious factual mistake: There’s nothing “shadow” about the video game industry.

In the past decade, the business of making and selling video games has expanded enormously. In 2011, the last full year available, U.S. gamers spent $17 billion on video games. Movie ticket sales notched $10 billion in sales.

In terms of cultural cache among the core demographic that each industry seeks to reach — young people — there’s also no contest. Immersive, violent video games that allow players to annihilate entire armies in minutes in blood-splashed shooting rampages have won the financial loyalty of their primarily male teenage and young-adult audience in a big way.

The most popular recent title, “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” racked up more than $1 billion in sales in its first two weeks on the market for Activision Blizzard Inc., the gamemaker. The movie “Natural Born Killers,” in contrast, earned just $50 million at the U.S. box office in 1994, when it was released.

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, spent hours each day playing games in the “Call of Duty” franchise, according to published reports. In the wake of the shootings, Activision Blizzard’s share price dropped, on fears that the bad publicity would hurt sales. Activision’s stock has declined 6.57 percent since the shootings, to $10.66.

Curiously, LaPierre didn’t mention “Call of Duty,” choosing instead smaller titles likely picked more for their names than their content.

“Mortal Kombat,” for example, is a hand-to-hand fighting franchise long past its heyday of the 1990s. It is certainly violent. One “kill move,” for example, allows a player to rip out his opponent’s heart. But its characters mostly use feet and fists. After an acquisition, the franchise is now owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Inc., a division of Time Warner. On its Web site, Warner Brothers Interactive doesn’t mention “Mortal Kombat,” promoting instead a slate of exclusively kid-oriented fare, such as “Looney Toons: Back in Action” and “Scooby-Doo: Mystery Mayhem.”

Another title mentioned by LaPierre was “Splatterhouse,” a 2010 release by the Japanese company Namco Bandai Games. While unquestionably in poor taste — players hack up opponents with meat cleavers and chainsaws — it, too, doesn’t feature firearms.

An eager gamer may shoot virtual bullets galore, though, in the appropriately-titled “Bulletstorm,” a sci-fi shooter released in 2011 by North Carolina-based Epic Games. It attracted controversy on release, not so much for the run-of-the-mill alien blasting, but for the frat-boy dialogue “saturated with references to male genitalia.” One scoring combination is called a “gang bang.”

The company is privately held and did not immediately return a request for comment.

“Grand Theft Auto,” published by a division of Take-Two Interactive Software, is perhaps the game franchise most targeted by critics as celebrating violence and the criminal lifestyle. It does both quite well: players murder, steal, hijack cars with abandon and use sniper rifles to pick off police officers. (Also, weirdly, the game allows players to practice yoga, compete in triathlons, or play tennis.)

Take-Two shares have slipped 13.36 percent to $11.36 over the past five days.

Epic Games didn’t respond to a request for comment. Take-Two referred a query to the Entertainment Software Association, a trade group. The organization did not reply to a request for comment.

According to lobbying disclosures, the trade group spent $1.25 million lobbying in the last quarter, with efforts mostly focused on combating piracy.

LaPierre singled out a low-tech title called “Kindergarten Killers” for special attention.

“It’s been online for 10 years,” said LaPierre. “How come my research department could find it and all of yours [the news media, presumably] either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?”

The game allows a player to wage a gun battle against armed children, who, according to the game summary, took up arms after the player “accidentally” shot a teacher. According to Buzzfeed, it appeared first on Newgrounds in 2002, at the time a haven for intentionally shocking material that poked fun at Teletubbies and other pop culture icons. The concept is certainly offensive, but it lacks the realism and graphic violence that are a hallmark of today’s sophisticated military-style games. It is tasteless, but also really lame.

LaPierre didn’t take questions at the press conference, and didn’t say whether he would support additional restrictions on the sale of video games. (Some titles are restricted to ages 18 and above). Indeed, his castigation of video games, Hollywood and the news media for glorifying violent behavior was prelude to his main proposal: sending armed guards into every U.S. school.

“If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy,” he said.

There were two armed officers at Columbine High School during the assault by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in 1999 that left 15 dead and 23 wounded. They were outgunned by the assailants.

Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti: Inaugurate a New Career Plan With These 2013 Predictions

With forecasts predicting a slow recovery in 2013 and economic growth at less than 3 percent, smart workers are resolving to take charge of their career planning in the New Year. Here are four ways you can compete in a volatile employment marketplace and be positioned to reap the benefits once the economy rebounds.

1. Develop an authentic personal brand that radiates integrity. Be mindful of how you present yourself on social media sites and other online communication channels. Off-hand remarks, political statements, or indiscriminate photos can be easily accessible to employers, and can damage your professional image in a nanosecond. If you are job-hunting, “cutting and pasting” your resume online is a simple task, but so is instant fact-checking. Making false or inflated claims about your employment credentials — which some sources indicate appear on more than 40 percent of employment applications — or taking credit for others’ work, can hamper your job prospects. Your authenticity is essential to your personal brand, and it’s worth protecting.

2. Embrace the unpredictable and serendipitous. Rather than a vertical ladder or linear path, many workers find their careers are a labyrinth of stops, starts and lateral moves. In fact, 58 percent of women describe their career path as “nonlinear,” and nearly 90 percent of women executives and managers shift careers in midlife, according to Apollo Research Institute‘s forthcoming book, Women Lead. This “female” career model will likely become the norm for most 21st-century workers who are increasingly guided by personal values and nontraditional definitions of success. Uncertain times can present opportunities to be more flexible, break out of tired roles, and “make one’s own luck.” A positive attitude coupled with some thoughtful planning may be just the ticket for a more rewarding career direction.

3. Seek out opportunities in growth sectors. Six sectors are projected to offer the best job prospects in the coming year and beyond: healthcare, IT, business services, nonprofits, education and manufacturing. Healthcare is most robust of all, and is projected to grow by 29 percent and add 3.5 million jobs by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sector is already producing one in five jobs as the economy recovers. Plagued with worker shortages, the healthcare sector is expected to need 711,000 new registered nurses and 100,000 doctors in the next decade, according to the Labor Department.

Rapid expansion in the nearly recession-proof IT sector shows no indication of diminishing in the year ahead, and 1.4 million more computing-related jobs are expected to open by 2018, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. In Women Lead, the Apollo Research Institute reports that growth in IT may be especially good for women, as the industry now expects its professionals to translate technical information by applying keen social and communication skills, an area in which many women excel.

Related to expansion in technology, business services continues to boom. This sector, which employs more than three-fourths of American workers and produces more than 78 percent of the country’s GDP, will generate 18 million new jobs by 2020.

In the nonprofit sector — which includes tax-exempt organizations such as hospitals, higher education institutions, museums, advocacy groups and religious, scientific and literary organizations — many leadership opportunities are expected to emerge as Baby Boomers retire and organizations expand to meet growing needs. Experts foresee a 65% turnover in leadership at nonprofits in the next five years, which will require 80,000 senior managers a year to fill.

Education is also a growing industry affected by increased enrollments at all levels and the expanding number of teachers and administrators who are approaching retirement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook predicts that education, training and library professions will add 1.4 million jobs by 2020.

And don’t discount opportunities in the U.S. manufacturing sector, which is still the world’s largest and equal to the eighth-largest global economy. Manufacturing is a hotbed for innovation, and conducts 70 percent of the country’s industrial research and development.

4. Keep your skills — especially high-tech ones — up-to-date. Rapid change defines today’s world of work, an environment similar to what the Army War College describes as “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous” (VUCA). Successful organizations nimbly adapt to an ever-changing business environment, and they seek employees with vision who can identify trends and opportunities amid this complexity. Pursue certifications, degrees, technical training and leadership development that will keep your skills current and help you identify career opportunities. Look for internships, apprenticeships and job rotations to gain hands-on experience. And cultivate the most important future work skills — such as new media literacy, virtual collaboration and cross-cultural competency — that will be critical for workplace success in the next 10 years.

Above all, keep your technology skills sharp. No matter the industry, 70 percent of jobs will have a technological component by 2020. To stay employable in the future workplace, you can’t afford to become obsolete.

Sara Sutton Fell: 5 Last Minute Gifts for the Job Seeker

Being unemployed during the holidays can take twice the toll on someone looking for work. If you know a person whose job search spirits you’d like to lift, here are some thoughtful gifts to help them land a job.

1. Resume Assistance

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s not unusual to experience closed doors that your resume simply can’t seem to budge open. Getting guidance and enhancements may be the answer job seekers need to get their resume in tip top shape and in the hands of the hiring manager. To help them out, consider a gift certificate to Resume Deli. In addition to resume reviews, they offer cover letter help and interviewing techniques.

2. Fill the Gaps

If your job seeking friends are going to have some explaining to do as to why they have a gap in their resume, help them fill it with a gift certificate to take a class in their career field or keep them up to date with a subscription to a magazine related to the industry they are in. Their ability to be up to date will supersede any concerns of time off.

3. Keep Up Their Spirits

To cheer someone up who may be feeling low as their job hunt continues, boost their confidence with a gift certificate to their favorite clothing store to update their interview outfit or treat them to a haircut, salon treatments like a manicure, or gym membership, yoga classes, or other “stress outlet” activity. When they are feeling good, they are more likely to put their best self forward in their interviews.

4. Splurge Worthy Supplies

Updated technology can speed up a job seeker’s response time and/or ability to apply to jobs faster. Consider a new iPhone or Android with a prepaid calling plan or an iPad to make response time via email easy while on the go. Or how about a gift certificate to a coffee shop that has WiFi so they can enjoy a cup of Joe while searching for work.

5. Speed Up Their Search

Let them know about headhunters that can find them opportunities quicker, like Apple One or Aquent, or do a quick search for local recruiters. If you want to help them find a flexible job, I would be remiss not to mention a gift certificate to my company, FlexJobs, as my staff does 50 hours of combined research daily to get job seekers the most up to date open positions that offer some type of flexibility.

No matter the gift you choose, the job seekers in your life are sure to appreciate the thought during a time when it can be most rough to be out of work. Wishing you and yours very Happy Holidays.

Apple Reverses Course on 30-Pin and Lightning Connector Guidelines [iOS Blog]

A day after a Kickstarter project was killed because of restrictions on Apple’s MFi program that prevented Lightning and 30-Pin connectors from appearing on the same device, Apple has changed its guidelines to allow third-party devices to have 30-pin and Lightning chargers on the same accessory, reports CNET.

NewImage

“Our technical specifications provide clear guidelines for developing accessories and they are available to MFi licensees for free,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told CNET. “We support accessories that integrate USB and Lightning connectors, but there were technical issues that prevented accessories from integrating 30-pin and Lightning connectors so our guidelines did not allow this.”

The company added that the guidelines have since been updated to allow accessories to work with both types of connectors to charge devices.

A number of MacRumors commenters felt Apple’s decision to prevent the Kickstarter project from moving forward was a poor one, both for consumers, and for the company behind the project.

There is no word from Edison Junior on whether the company will move forward with the POP portable power station now that Apple has reversed course.

U.S. gives foreign banks more time on swap rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. derivatives regulator on Friday gave foreign banks more time to meet new derivative trading rules that had earlier sparked fears that international financial markets could pull away from U.S. banks.




Teresa Ghilarducci: Blowing Smoke at the Retirement Crisis

The lobbying group for the mutual fund companies surprised Americans with a report that declares all is well with their retirement income security. The Investment Company Institute’s (ICI) December report, “The Success of the U.S. Retirement System,” asserts that the retirement system adequately prepares Americans for a comfortable retirement.

We know that private groups often bend the truth closer to their interests, and ICI is paid to make 401ks and IRAs look good. But the degree that ICI distorts the truth in this report defies convention and common sense.

So let’s take a closer look at the assertions made in ICI’s report and figure out how they tortured the data until it gave them the findings they wanted.

First, ICI goes so far as to claim that the switch from defined benefit (DB) type pension plans to defined contribution (DC) type plans leaves workers better prepared for retirement. However, workers are better off if their employer shoulders the risk and guarantees a pension for life in a DB plan, rather than putting their savings in a DC account that is subject to the gyrations of the market. They are also better off if their employer contributes towards their retirement, if they can pay lower fees, and if their money is professionally managed — all of which are attributes of DB plans and absent in DC plans.

Second, they compare the poverty rate among older Americans in 2011 to what it was in 1966. Notice their choice of time period. Most of the improvements in poverty accrued from 1966 through the early 1980s, before defined contribution plans proliferated. In fact, if the economists at ICI really wanted to prove that defined contribution plans leave retirees better off than defined benefit plans, why not compare the poverty rates for those two types of retirees?

Third, they use survey data that finds that younger households save for priorities such as education and housing, and only start saving for retirement later in life. They claim this is adequate based on simulations where a married couple household earning $87,000 begins saving at age 37 using a 401k-type private account and makes “moderate” contributions. According to their simulations, this household can expect to replace 93 percent of its pre-retirement consumable income in retirement. However, they assume employees will contribute 6 percent of their income (which they sustain until age 65), with a 3 percent employer match rate. With a median employee contribution rate of 2-3 percent, these simulations are unrealistic. This is especially true considering that close to half the workforce does not have access to any type of retirement account at work, and for those that do, more and more of their employers are dropping their match.

Fourth, ICI reports that 81 percent of near-retiree households have pension savings. However, they fail to mention the puny amounts accumulated. According to their numbers, median retirement assets for households earning $30,000-$54,999 were only $4,300, while households earning $55,000-$79,999 had a meager $28,000. It is a heroic overstatement to consider these sums an indication of a success story.

We and other retirement economists have been doing our best to alert Americans to the inadequacies of the U.S. retirement system to avert a retirement crisis. We are trying to fix a broken system while ICI is busy blowing smoke to divert attention from the problem. No one gains from maintaining the current system, except the investment companies that make a profit on the high fees they charge unsuspecting workers trying to save enough to escape the clutches of poverty in retirement.

Shame on you, ICI.

by Teresa Ghilarducci and Joelle Saad-Lessler