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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton

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9:00 AM EST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009. After a long hiatus, the frenzied broker calls have started up. "Trust me." "This is it." "Go with me." "Punch it up on your screen. " "I'll buy you a thousand for $50." And the excitement? Drum roll.

Bioheart (BHRT) does stem cell stuff and is helping a handful of people it's been tested on. Epiq Systems (EPIQ) sells bankruptcy software to lawyers. What could be better than these two?

My tennis partner wants five stocks. My best. I tell him I don't like anything. Prices are still too high. Check the P/Es, I say. I want numbers in the single digits, and not financials. And if the market is going at present, it's just another bear rally (or whatever they're called).

The amazing thing to my tiny brain is just how lousy "professional" money managers have been doing. Many years ago, a broker I respect did a long study to find the five best money managers. And years ago I gave four of them some money. They did OK. When I made my call to get out of the market in November 2007, I got out of them as well. Yesterday I wondered: How did these "professional" money managers do in 2008? In a word -- miserably. They all "beat" the indexes on the wrong side. Check out their numbers:

S&P 500

Russell 2000

Private Capital Management
Snow Capital

What happened in the 1930s? A few days ago the New York Times did a review on a fascinating new book.

FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America
By Adam Cohen

The review has fascinating information about the Great Depression:

Getting America Back on Its Feet, the 1933 Version

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1933, banks were closed in 38 states, and withdrawals were limited in the other 10. The stock exchange had announced that it wouldn’t open that morning and wouldn’t say when it would reopen.

Unemployment was, officially, over 25 percent and actually far higher as many of those counted as employed were working only part time. Farms were being foreclosed at the rate of 20,000 a month. Hundreds of thousands were living in “Hoovervilles” and eating at soup kitchens or scavenging food from garbage cans. Farmers could not find a market for their crops. Many thought the end of the American experiment was near. Adam Cohen’s new book, “Nothing to Fear,” shows why it was not.

The country and its political and economic assumptions would change profoundly in the first few months of the new administration. From March 4 to June 16, 1933, the new president signed no fewer than 14 major acts of legislation, an astonishing pace of more than one a week. By the end of the so-called 100 days, the banking and financial system had been remade. Sweeping federal relief for homeowners, farmers and the unemployed was in place. The country was off the gold standard. Though the Great Depression was hardly over (it would take World War II to finally end it), recovery had at least begun.

When the stock exchange reopened on March 15, the mood of the country had changed so much that the Dow Jones industrial average shot up 15 percent that day on heavy volume.

During this period, Roosevelt functioned in a way similar to a dictator in the ancient sense of the Constitution of the Roman Republic: an official given total power for a brief time to handle a grave national emergency.

The Emergency Banking Relief Act, for instance, which hadn’t even been written on March 4, was sent to Congress on March 9. The chairman of the House banking committee, who had the only copy, with penciled additions, walked down the aisle waving it over his head and shouting, “Here’s the bill; let’s pass it.”

The Republican House leader admitted to not having read the bill but said Congress needed “to give the President what he demands and says is necessary to meet the situation.” The bill passed 40 minutes later by voice vote and passed the Senate later that day, 73 to 7. Roosevelt signed it into law nine hours after he had sent it to the Hill.

Mr. Cohen, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times, brings this brief but extraordinary period in American history to vivid life. An excellent writer and storyteller, he does so by concentrating not on its central figure, Roosevelt, but on a handful of his aides. Household names in their day, they are largely forgotten now except by historians. As Mr. Cohen makes clear, they should not be. We live in the world they did so much to create.

Without Frances Perkins, Rexford Tugwell, Lewis Douglas, Henry Wallace, Raymond Moley, William Woodin, Harry Hopkins and others, the New Deal could not have come into being so quickly or changed the country so profoundly. The mini-biographies that Mr. Cohen gives the reader do much both to illuminate the actors in the story he tells and to show the world in which they developed their ideas about how to make it a better one. They are sure-footed and convincing.

Far less so, however, is his portrait of Herbert Hoover. Hoover, to be sure, was the wrong man at the wrong time. Dour, diffident and beaten down by four years of ever-growing economic disaster, he was the opposite of the ebullient, charming and naturally optimistic Roosevelt. Many early historians of the New Deal presented Hoover as uncaring and devoted to laissez-faire principles and balanced budgets to set the economy right.

This provided a handy foil to set off the glories of the New Deal. But as more modern scholarship has shown — see David M. Kennedy’s Pulitzer-winning history of the era, “Freedom From Fear” (Oxford University Press, 1999) — it is at best a caricature. Mr. Cohen accepts this earlier partisan view of Hoover.

He states that the Hoover administration ordered the destruction of the main encampment of the Bonus Marchers, who had come to Washington to demand early payment of a veterans’ bonus. In fact, it was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then the Army chief of staff, who attacked in flagrant violation of Hoover’s direct orders. He says that Hoover did little to help struggling homeowners keep their homes. In fact, Hoover proposed the Home Loan Bank Board in December 1931. Congress took seven months to pass the legislation and limited Hoover’s proposal, making many homeowners ineligible.

Even Rexford Tugwell said in an interview years later that “practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs Hoover started.” He added, “Hoover had wanted — and had said clearly enough that he wanted — nearly all the changes now brought under the New Deal label.”

Hoover aside, Mr. Cohen presents a fair and balanced history. His research is prodigious, making it all the more unfortunate that the endnotes are only by paragraph. This makes it hard to know which source contains which fact or quote. Further, the bibliographical information is incorporated into the notes, forcing the interested reader to hunt back through earlier notes to find the first reference.

“Nothing to Fear” is a fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in the life of the United States, indeed a page-turner. His subject is no less than the moment when Roosevelt and the people he wisely chose to help him “turned retreat into advance” and began the process of creating the country we know today.

John Steele Gordon is the author of “An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power” (HarperCollins, 2004).

Old Jews telling jokes. Sort of cute. Click here. Scroll down. Amazing what you find on the Internet.

I love my insurance broker. I know he's having a tough time. But does he really need to send me a flyer telling me that dog bites (no less) accounted for 30%+ of all homeowners insurance liability claims in 2007, up 10.5% from 2006? The average cost of a claim in 2007, he tells me, was an astounding $24,511.

Industry experts advise that pet owners are usually liable for injuries caused by dog bites. There are two solutions:

1. Preferred. Buy more insurance, or

2. Quicker and cheaper. Shoot the dog.

The Jersey Boys is great: I saw it last night. If you're between 50 and death, you'll love it. All the old songs.

About formatting this column. All browsers are not alike. They show the same web page differently. Yesterday my column looked hugely wide in Internet Explorer, but normal in Firefox. I prefer Firefox. It "feels" better. And there are useful free add-ons. But a lot of people use Microsoft's Internet Explorer. You can get Firefox for free here.

Serious sacrifice
An elderly couple were having dinner one evening when the husband reached across the table, took his wife's hand in his and said, 'Martha, soon we will be married 50 years, and there's something I have to know. In all of these 50 years, have you ever been unfaithful to me?'

Martha replied, 'Well Henry, I have to be honest with you. Yes, I've been unfaithful to you three times during these 50 years, but always for a good reason.

Henry was obviously hurt by his wife's confession, but said, 'I never suspected. Can you tell me what you mean by 'good reasons?''

Martha said, 'The first time was shortly after we were married, and we were about to lose our little house because we couldn't pay the mortgage. Do you remember that one evening I went to see the banker and the next day he notified you that the loan would be extended?'

Henry recalled the visit to the banker and said, 'I can forgive you for that. You saved our home, but the second time?'

Martha asked, 'Do you remember when you were so sick, but we didn't have the money to pay for the heart surgery you needed? Well, I went to see your doctor one night and, if you recall, he did the surgery at no charge.'

'I recall that,' said Henry. 'And you did it to save my life, so of course I can forgive you for that. Now tell me about the third time.'

'All right,' Martha said. 'Do you remember when you ran for president of your golf club, and you needed 73 more votes?"

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.