Paul: ‘Would anyone pay for a cell phone service that connected you to a real person at a computer (Google) who could research information you need at that moment. Your answered call would start with a voice recognition capability (like directory assistance) in which you spelled key words related to your subject. From there a real person could narrow your specific need based on the search response from your key work input. I know wireless PCs are portable nowadays, but how many people could be employed from home with a little business like this?’

☞ Good idea – even if all the new employees would be in India (hey, the better they do, the better, in the long run, we all do). I’m driving along the Interstate, or trying to settle a bet at dinner, and instead of calling Marc, whom I always bother for stuff like this, I dial 1-900-GOOGLE.


Donald R.: ‘Would Jesus have blessed the IRS? Charity and welfare are profoundly different.’

☞ Yes. With charity the recipients feel like beggars. With income redistribution (progressive income tax, public education, earned income credit, Social Security, unemployment insurance and, someday, universal health insurance), the recipients feel like members of a caring community that recognizes that within limits – and with TONS of room for self-interest, incentives, and wildly different levels of wealth – we are all in this together. Do you think Jesus would have favored a flat tax? No one can know for sure, of course, but what’s your hunch?


The wedge issue in 2002 was race – with the code word, ‘quotas.’ In 2004, it was gays. In 2006, it will be immigrants. A taste of what’s to come, from a piece Wednesday for Tom Paine, ‘The Rise Of The Anti-Immigrant Right,’ by Bill Berkowitz:

If Horowitz and other neoconservatives are successful, their new association with the anti-immigration forces will produce an expanding political constituency for the Republican Party­, one that focuses on progressives, liberals, and civil rights advocates as the lobby that is supposedly causing the country to lose control of its borders and be overridden by terrorists and non-citizens.

Interestingly enough, “Horowitz and other neoconservative critics of the open borders lobby do not insist that anti-immigration forces share the entire agenda of the neoconservatives ­such as Middle East policies, the War on Iraq, or support for Corporate America. Instead,” Barry said, “they see the rising anti-immigration movement as a new base constituency in their long-term strategy to bury the left and the Democratic Party.”


There are those who think that the Republican thinktankers who got us into Iraq should apologize.  Herewith a devastating “memo” from Jude Wanniski to “Bill Kristol & Friends.”  With passages like this one:

During the war itself, Kristol turned his attention to the shape of a post-Hussein Iraq. Characteristically, he dismissed nettlesome complexities that did not bolster his case for war, substituting a more comforting, albeit inaccurate, analysis of his own. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America … that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all,” he reassured NPR listeners in April 2003. “Iraq’s always been very secular.”


Two gambles.  They are both reasonably priced, I think, given the very considerable risk and reward, at market caps of $80 million and $520 million – except that the market caps are backwards.  The one valued at $80 million should be $520 million, I think, and vice versa.  (If those valuations ever do reverse, there will be considerable singing around our house.)  NTMD dropped another 20 cents yesterday.


If you have the latest edition of my investment guide, please delete the paragraph on page 269 recommending TIAA-CREF mutual funds.  It warned of possible fee hikes – and now they’ve come.  From August’s Fund Alarm:

When TIAA-CREF started its line of mutual funds back in 1997, the business opportunity was clear…..Low fees, plus historically good performance by TIAA-CREF’s private money-management arm, gave TIAA-CREF a real shot at competing with Vanguard…..But the performance never materialized, marketing was non-existent, and the funds never created even the slightest buzz….Now, we learn that TIAA-CREF was supposedly losing money on its funds ever since they started, and the obliging Trustees of these funds recently approved dramatic increases in TIAA-CREF’s management fees, in some cases by as much as 500% (the Trustees also voted to add a 0.25% 12b-1 fee)…..If shareholders don’t approve the fee increases, the Trustees have threatened to close the funds down, which raises an interesting question: Why didn’t the Trustees step in sooner, before this alleged problem became a crisis?…..In any event, fund shareholders will almost certainly agree to saddle themselves with the higher fees (what a great business this is!), and TIAA-CREF will become just another average-cost third-quartile fund provider, with a funny name…..If you own a TIAA-CREF fund, and you can sell without taking a big tax hit, we can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to get out…..TIAA-CREF was going to be the next Vanguard, and it failed miserably…..Vanguard is still Vanguard, so why not just put your money there?

☞ If you have time (and own Fidelity mutual funds), you may also want to read the Fund Alarm item on dwarf-tossing that precedes this one on TIAA-CREF.


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