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

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8:30 AM Monday, January 9, 2006: Readers on neat international funds:

- FEMKX (emerging markets) and FDIVX (large cap international). Both have done rather well. Obviously FEMKX is riskier. -- Roger Crosslands

-- Dodge & Cox International Fund (DODFX), Oppenheimer's Emerging Markets Fund (ODMAX) and US Global Eastern European Fund (EUROX). -- Rodney Madden

The cash-back credit cards work: My miserable experiences are the exception. Cash-back cards do work, say many readers. You have to give the cards time and manage them. One reader actually got a cash rebate of $650 one year. Reading the fine print is key: Dick Hudgens reports: "A while back I had emailed you about my CitiCard that has a 5% cash rebate for gasoline, groceries, and drugs. It does have the rebate but there is a catch. During the calendar year when you reach a total of $300 in rebates, the rebate shuts off and you are not paid a rebate for anything over the $300."

Screwy bank interest: My bank pays 3.3% interest a year on its checking accounts, 1.9% on its savings accounts and 4.0% on its 30-day CDs. Go figure. Check. Check. Check.

Beware of cheap places to buy on the Internet: Don't buy the cheapest -- without checking the vendor. Several readers report problems with low-cost camera stores, especially some in Brooklyn, New York. Matti Jaffi, writes, "Before the holiday I went online to buy a Canon A610 digital camera. When I looked into the pricing, I discovered 3 low-cost vendors that also had a very good score. Knowing that their margins are fairly slim, I decided to do a BBB search on these low-cost vendors and to my amazement found that they are the same company but with a different AKA. The report that I read on them was not very good and a further Google search indicated that they are bunch of... The scoring that was outlined on the price comparison site was, most likely, generated by the vendors themselves. So, one has to be careful with some of the Web ratings, take them with a grain of salt and broaden the investigation beyond that kind of information."

New keyboard for my laptop: The two best enhancements for your old aging laptop are:
+ More memory.

+ A new keyboard. Good place to buy: SpareParts Warehouse. If you have a laptop with a pointing stick and your cursor is wandering, you need a new keyboard.

Energy independence: Brazil will become energy independent this year -- largely by developing a cost-effective alternative to gasoline, in Brazil's case ethanol from sugar cane. The story is in today's Wall Street Journal. Click here. I've always felt the US ought to have an energy independence policy. Thomas Friedman echoed my thoughts with a column last week:

... The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism. It's petrolism. Petrolism is my term for the corrupting, antidemocratic governing practices -- in oil states from Russia to Nigeria and Iran - that result from a long run of $60-a-barrel oil. Petrolism is the politics of using oil income to buy off one's citizens with subsidies and government jobs, using oil and gas exports to intimidate or buy off one's enemies, and using oil profits to build up one's internal security forces and army to keep oneself ensconced in power, without any transparency or checks and balances.

When a nation's leaders can practice petrolism, they never have to tap their people's energy and creativity; they simply have to tap an oil well. And therefore politics in a petrolist state is not about building a society or an educational system that maximizes its people's ability to innovate, export and compete. It is simply about who controls the oil tap.

In petrolist states like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Sudan, people get rich by being in government and sucking the treasury dry -- so they never want to cede power. In non-petrolist states, like Taiwan, Singapore and Korea, people get rich by staying outside government and building real businesses.

Our energy gluttony fosters and strengthens various kinds of petrolist regimes. It emboldens authoritarian petrolism in Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Sudan and Central Asia. It empowers Islamist petrolism in Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. It even helps sustain communism in Castro's Cuba, which survives today in part thanks to cheap oil from Venezuela. Most of these petrolist regimes would have collapsed long ago, having proved utterly incapable of delivering a modern future for their people, but they have been saved by our energy excesses.

No matter what happens in Iraq, we cannot dry up the swamps of authoritarianism and violent Islamism in the Middle East without also drying up our consumption of oil -- thereby bringing down the price of crude. A democratization policy in the Middle East without a different energy policy at home is a waste of time, money and, most important, the lives of our young people.

That's because there is a huge difference in what these bad regimes can do with $20-a-barrel oil compared with the current $60-a-barrel oil. It is no accident that the reform era in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, and in Iran under Mohammad Khatami, coincided with low oil prices. When prices soared again, petrolist authoritarians in both societies reasserted themselves.

We need a president and a Congress with the guts not just to invade Iraq, but to also impose a gasoline tax and inspire conservation at home. That takes a real energy policy with long-term incentives for renewable energy -- wind, solar, biofuels - rather than the welfare-for-oil-companies-and-special-interests that masqueraded last year as an energy bill...

Don't eat so much and exercise. In 2003, diabetes vaulted past stroke and AIDS from the sixth-leading cause of death in New York to the fourth. Diabetes in New York is in epidemic mode. All bodies break down digested food into a sugar called glucose, their main source of fuel. In a healthy person, the hormone insulin helps glucose enter the cells. But in a diabetic, With diabetes, the body has trouble turning food into energy and the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or the body does not properly use it. Cells starve while glucose builds up in the blood. And the body progressively falls apart. The New York Times has a huge piece on the ills of diabetes today. Click here. Dr. Frieden, New York's health commissioner, says meaningful prevention cannot be achieved at the city level. "I can urge people until I'm blue in the face to walk and take the stairs and eat less, and it won't make much difference," he said.

Leviton's DHC controller is neat: As you drive in, hit the button. Your house lights go on. Neat safety gadget. Click here.

How dumb can you get? The management of the New York Times get stupider by the minute. From

Rank-and-file staffers at the New York Times are none too happy about the company's decision to cancel a 15 percent discount for employees on stock purchases - while top executives are pocketing fat bonus packages.

Times Company chief executive Janet Robinson received 74,000 shares of New York Times stock -- worth nearly $2 million -- as of early January. She also received 149,000 stock options worth about $4 million, according to a Securities Exchange Commission document.

Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. received 30,000 shares of stock -- worth almost $800,000 -- plus stock options worth more than $4 million.

"The news of executive stock gifts rankled some Times newsroom staffers, who are still smarting from the paper's layoffs, hiring freeze, reduced expense policy and - most galling - the cancellation in December of the Times' 15 percent discount for employees on stock purchases," reports the New York Observer.

The Times announced the layoffs of 690 positions last year as the company's stock plummeted from more than $47 a share in January 2005 to a low of $26.16 early this year.

In a recent cost-cutting move, the Times even closed its nurse's office, where employees could get pain relievers or have their blood pressure taken.

But the Times still saw fit to award chief financial officer Leonard Forman, president Scott Heekin Canedy and vice chairman Michael Golden each with 12,000 shares of stock, worth more than $300,000.

How to know if you have avian flu. The CDC has released a list of symptoms of Bird Flu. If you experience any of the following, please seek medical treatment immediately.
1. High Fever
2. Congestion
3. Nausea
4. Fatigue
5. Aching in the joints
6. An irresistible urge to crap on someone's windshield.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, "Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what you see?"
The Lone Ranger replies, "I see millions of stars."
"What that tell you?" asked Tonto.
The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What's it tell you, Tonto?"
Replies Tonto, not overly impressed, "You dumber than buffalo dung. Someone stole the tent."

Recent column highlights:
+ Munich, the movie. A must-see. Click here.
+ Identity Theft precautions. Click here.
+ Dumb reasons we hold losing stocks. Click here.
+ How my private equity fund is doing. Click here.
+ Blackstone private equity funds. Click here.
+ Manhattan Pharmaceuticals: Click here.
+ NovaDel Biosciences appeals. Click here.
+ Hana Biosciences appeals. Click here.
+ All turned on by biotech. Click here.
+ Steve Jobs Commencement Address. The text is available: Click here. The full audio is available. Click here.
+ The March of the Penguins, an exquisite movie. Click here.
+ When to sell stocks. Click here.

Harry Newton

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. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty 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 Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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