Monday I reminded you about the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.
Tom Schaefer: “Yes, I took advantage of this fund a few years ago with some stock that had appreciated from 2 cents to $36. I am thoroughly glad I did so. The most delightful part is that my account has been growing faster than I give it away — a very pleasant surprise. But a word of warning: It was not as tax-free as I had expected. California treats donations of appreciated securities as a tax preference item, subject to AMT — so I ended up paying the same state tax (9.375%) as if I had sold it myself. Still, a great bargain.”
Another word of warning, or at least of realism: The money Fidelity invests for you can go down as well as up, unless you choose the money market option. And generally, Fidelity’s gift funds have trailed their “benchmarks” by a pretty good margin, in part because of the annual costs that are incurred. Still, I think Fidelity’s Charitable Gift Fund is a very good thing.
Tuesday, I encouraged everyone to vote. And said that if you failed to, you were either too young, not a citizen, or embarrassed. Several of you wrote in to advise of a fourth option — that you were in prison. I had actually considered that, but decided it would trip up the cadence of the thing and rationalized that if you were a felon, you were probably embarrassed. (There is a reason things seem to come in threes rather than fours — blood, sweat and tears. It’s the cadence of the thing. Like sneezes.)
I also mentioned that quite a few otherwise upstanding types eschew registering lest they be called for jury duty. Several of you wrote to say this is not only shabby, it generally doesn’t work — jurors in many (most? all?) states now come from drivers’ license rolls in addition or instead.
And speaking of jury duty . . .
Russell Turpin: “Your column reminds me of something. When last I was called to jury duty, it was to resolve a $300 dispute between a renter and landlord. The craziness here is that 12 people were diverted from their other work for a day in order to do this. If you put even a low value on their labor, along with the costs of jury processing, several thousands additional dollars were burned to help resolve a petty dispute. I can understand why many people become disaffected with their civic duty when it attends to such picayune matters.
“The Constitution guarantees right to jury trial in civil cases that exceed $20. In 1789, when that was penned, this was a significant amount, a month or two of wages. Today, it is less than half a day’s labor at the lowest pay. We should amend the Constitution to normalize this value to minimum wage, or some other sensible factor. Let’s offer jury trials for amounts over $10,000, and let judges settle smaller disputes. Jury duty would become less frequent, and the matters that then require citizens’ attention more important. Jurors would not be made to feel that their civic duty was a joke. And we would not be caught up in economic idiocy of burning $100 to decide the disposition of $1.”
I doubt many $300 cases involve 12-person juries. But I sure agree with the overall premise. And I bring to your attention a potentially wonderful web-based solution, or at least partial solution, to the litigation mess, albeit not for the kind of cases you describe: cybersettle.com.
But Russell continues: “OK, enough of civic duty. I have a real question. Because I am a CMGI shareholder, I have been afforded the opportunity to purchase some new Internet companies in their IPOs. I bought ENGA at $17, and it is now $38. I bought NAVI at $14, and it is now $53. Don’t get too jealous: I am limited to 100 shares of these offerings. This is great money to me, but not a vast fortune. My friends tend to flip these IPOs. It goes against my investment instinct, and dislike of taxes, to flip any stock I own. On the other hand, I have not studied these issues and have no idea what their prospects might be. I tend to follow news on them, now that I have skin in the game, but I have no idea how to value these Internet equities. The $64 Question: What strategy should I use to determine how long to hold these high-falutin’ stocks? My current thought is to hold them forever, watch four of them go down to zero, and hope that the fifth is the home run. I would welcome alternative suggestions.”
I’d go with your friends: Flip ’em.
And here’s a final loose end for Wednesday:
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