SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt is once again under fire. This time, he neglected to tell his fellow commissioners that William Webster headed the audit committee of U.S. Technologies when it "voted to dismiss the outside auditors... after those auditors raised concerns about internal financial controls."

U.S. Technologies, now a penny stock, is facing a rash of lawsuits over accounting issues. Webster, meanwhile, was subsequently approved to head up the SEC's newly created oversight board.

Could there be any possible reason Pitt kept quiet about Webster's past?

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Top 10 Harvey Pitt Excuses

10. His mouth was full.

9. His pay is tied to the number of negative news stories he generates.

8. Mistook William Webster for former NBA star Marvin "The Human Eraser" Webster.

7. He recused himself from using common sense.

6. He was in the process of ordering an internal investigation into whether he should tell the truth.

5. Buying time to figure out why the SEC has nothing to do with college athletics.

4. Was waiting to mention it the next time someone argued that Webster didn't have enough business experience.

3. Thought it would create enough of a distraction to throw off the scent from his master plan to rule the world. Mwahahahaha!

2. Had to rush home that day to bake cookies for SEC Halloween party.

1. Thought his job description said "lose ethical behavior" instead of "use ethical behavior."

Quote of Note

"An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie; for an excuse is a lie guarded." -- Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English poet

Microsoft Breathes Sigh of Relief

Expect Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to kick back a drink or two in celebration this weekend. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Justice Department's settlement with Microsoft is punishment enough for the software company. In doing so, Judge Kollar-Kotelly rejected the proposed harsher settlement wanted by nine states: a so-called "modular" version of Windows that would allow computer companies to remove Internet Explorer and the other programs in question.

This is a huge win for Microsoft, and may be the decisive step toward putting this mess behind it. This is the outcome the company and the Justice Department wanted. Microsoft has already implemented some of the remedies from the Justice Department's settlement, so material changes to the company's business won't be necessary. Judge Kollar-Kotelly made only one change to the settlement, requiring the company to disclose some sensitive technical information to competitors a few months ahead of schedule. Big whoop.

Had the ruling gone the other way, Microsoft most certainly would've appealed and remained mired in this for even longer. Of course, we mustn't overlook the fact that some very angry attorneys general will likely appeal, so it's not over yet. However, given that Judge Kollar-Kotelly gave the states their own special hearing, and then took months to make her decision, many legal pundits think lengthy, drawn-out appeals from the states won't be tolerated.

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Does Martha Matter?

When Martha Stewart LivingOmnimedia(NYSE: MSO) reported earnings yesterday, you began to see the rumblings of a struggling company trying to grow beyond the image of its founder. From bucking tradition by canceling Martha's annual holiday special to launching the first magazine that won't bear her name, the tactical approach might make sense. Less Martha Stewart. More Omnimedia.

Beyond the fact that the media may have blown her one trading mishap out of proportion -- something that our own David Gardner argued last week -- it's important not to rest success or failure on the shoulders of one person. Yes, even if that person just happens to also share the corporate moniker.

Wrigley (NYSE: WWY) . Ford(NYSE: F). Sears(NYSE: S). Kodak(NYSE: EK). They have all outlived their namesake pioneers. The day after Walt Disney died, shares of Disney(NYSE: DIS) actually rose.

A company is not like a rock band, where an ill-fated plane crash puts an end to the music. As a matter of fact, some companies find their most influential leaders further down the succession line. Mickey Drexler at Gap(NYSE: GPS) and Coca-Cola's(NYSE: KO) Roberto Goizueta had a more lasting impression than the original founders of their companies.

There's more to a name at a company -- even if that name just happens to belong on the official corporate letterhead.

Discussion Board of the Day: Crafty Fools

Think you can out-Martha Martha? Have some holiday decorating tips to share? Don't know your potpourri from a potluck? All this and more -- in the Crafty Fools discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

While the SEC is busy investigating itself over the William Webster fiasco, it's also looking into a couple of other matters. Health insurance provider Cigna(NYSE: CI) disclosed today that it's being probed by the agency (ouch). Although there's no official explanation, it's probably related to the earnings warning and 40% drop in share price last week.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal says the SEC investigation into possible "earnings manipulations" at Lucent Technologies(NYSE: LU) runs far deeper than first thought. The period in question extends back to the mid-1990s, when Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was on the company's board and audit committee.

Shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO) dropped 15% yesterday after it sharply lowered fourth-quarter earnings targets. During a conference call, Stewart admitted the investigation of her sale of ImClone(NYSE: IMCL) stock is weighing on her company.

In local news, Leander Brock was released from the county jail this morning. Officials said the cattle farmer apparently violated no laws when he handed out fried mountain oysters to trick-or-treaters last night.

And Finally...

Today on Bill Mann says in a game of Chinese checkers, you'll lose.... We explain erratic stock movements, in Fool's School.... The tax implications of shorting a stock, in our Tax Center.... And the Post of the Day: discussing biotechnology.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim