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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 EST Monday, September 11, 2006: Today cool, cloudless, gorgeous. Exactly as it was five years. Everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. I had lectured at MIT and was on an Amtrak train coming home. Amtrak stopped my train 25 miles from New York and said we should all go back where we came from. I caught the next train back. I worried about my wife who was in New York. We knew little of what was happening. We thought "more attacks?"

Five years later, I conclude:
+ There are a lot of people out there who want us dead.
+ Most of them are young Muslims whose lives have been disadvantaged by a serious lack of economic opportunities.
+ Except for Israel, every country in the Middle East is ruled by a dictator, who keeps all the economic opportunities to himself and his cronies.
+ The only tolerated "free" expression is in mosques. Fiery sermons are OK, so long as their anger is aimed externally -- at Israel, the US, etc.
+ We invaded Iraq to bring democracy to one Arab country. That was a brilliant idea, in theory. The implementation is floundering because we fail to understand that one vote per person means that one sect -- the Shiites -- would rule Iraq. The less populous Sunnis, which had previously been in control under Saddam didn't want to be ruled by the Shiites. The rest is history.
+ There are two "solutions" to the Middle East:

1. Break Iraq into three countries -- one for the Kurds, one for the Shiites and one for the Sunnis. Dozens of countries have split since the end of the second world war, with largely positive long-term results -- from India to Yugoslavia, from Czechoslovakia to Ethiopia.

2. Cut the price of oil. This cuts Middle Eastern governments' ability to make mischief. Iran couldn't afford to finance Hezbollah terror were it not for oil. Saudi Arabia couldn't finance the hate propaganda it puts out. There are dozens of ways to cut oil prices, from mandating minimum mileage standards and removing exemptions (e.g. for light trucks and SUVs), to encouraging windmills and solar photo-voltaic cell installations with tax breaks, from opening Alaska oil fields to researching more efficient ways of extracting oil from tar sands. My friend Karen's Prius does 52.7 miles per gallon in the city and 43 miles to the gallon on the highway. Most people who drive an SUV get fewer than 20 miles per gallon. God forbid we should all drive Priuses,though Karen prefers driving hers to her 2003 500SL. In between the Prius and the Mercedes, there are huge opportunities for saving oil. Transport is the single biggest consumer of oil in the U.S.

Good things begin with a phone call. Email is for confirming. Phones are for making opportunities. Pick up the phone. Good things happen. I know this sounds childish and self-evident. But a whole bunch of good things happened to me last week because I picked up the phone.

Naive Harry: Wall Street is rife with gigantic conflicts of interest. When I find them, they amaze me. I'm really naive. The New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson looked at how mutual funds voted on three Pfizer directors, which the nation's two largest proxy advisory firms had urged shareholders to withhold support because of questionable pay practices at the company. Reported Morgenson:

Mutual funds operated by Barclays Global Investors, Dodge & Cox, Fidelity and Northern Trust are among Pfizer’s largest shareholders who supported its board. All receive revenue doing other work for Pfizer.

Officials at all four of these companies say their votes were cast in the best interests of their shareholders and in accordance with proxy voting guidelines. All say their votes had nothing to do with any revenue generated by Pfizer or other relationships with Pfizer or its directors.

Fidelity, for example, manages several funds in Pfizer’s employee retirement plans. While Anne Crowley, a Fidelity spokeswoman, said the company does not comment on specific votes, she added: “Our votes with management don’t vary between whether or not we have another relationship with a company.”

Barclays earned $2.65 million in 2004, the most recent year for which figures were available, as an investment manager in a Pfizer pension plan. Tom Taggart, a company spokesman, said: “The sole factor B.G.I. considers in making proxy voting decisions is the best economic interests of shareholders.”

Then there is Dodge & Cox, which earned $1.06 million in 2004 as an investment manager to Pfizer retirement plans. A Dodge & Cox spokesman, Steve Gorski, said its funds supported Pfizer directors in accordance with its guidelines. ...

Richard Jurek is a spokesman at Northern Trust, which earned roughly $2 million from Pfizer in 2004 as trustee of its pension plan. He said Northern Trust’s vote was made “in accordance with” Institutional Shareholder Services’ “vote recommendations to us that were in accordance to our proxy guidelines.” ...

Ford hires a new CEO: I love this. In desperation Ford hires a 37-year Boeing executive who:
1. Who drives a Lexus LX 430, and
2. Who says "I can't wait to become a car guy."
Personally I can't wait to buy my first flying car.

Economists Say Housing Prices May Stagnate, or Decline, in 2007 as Cool Down Continues.
Surprise. Surprise. Economists believe cooling in the housing market will extend into next year and many forecasters in the latest survey predict no change -- or an outright decline -- in home prices next year.

Twenty-five of the 48 economists who answered the survey's question about housing predicted no change or a decline in a closely watched gauge of nationwide home prices during 2007. The average prediction for next year was for an increase of 0.43%, lifted by five economists who forecast gains of 5% or more.

Why The Wall Street Journal wastes it time talking to economists beats me. Why don't they talk to real estate brokers, or developers or home owners, or somebody who knows -- but NOT office-bound, chair-hugging economists -- beats me. Yuch.

Here's their "prediction." Reminds me of asking a bunch of chimps to write poetry.

A flight that goes all the way:

This fits in the category of your own business is always the most fun. Bob Smith gives one-hour rides in his Piper Cherokee 6 — complete with mattress and champagne — for $299. From USA Today:

Georgia corporate pilot Bob Smith has a soaring sideline: helping couples join the infamous "mile-high club." For $299, he'll take a frisky twosome past 5,280 feet in a Piper Cherokee 6 fitted with a mattress. The hour-long flights out of Carrollton, Ga., ( have lured couples from as far as New York. Smith, 51, shares stories of highflying whoopee with USA TODAY's Kitty Bean Yancey.

Q: Who goes on these flights?
A: Couples from 18 and 19 up to their 60s. I've taken between 75 and 100 in five years. I've had people fly in from New York, New Jersey and Miami just to do the mile-high club. It's a lot easier (for them) than getting in the bathroom of a 737.

Q: Do men or women usually book the flights?
A: About 75% of the flights are booked by women. I've tried to figure that out, and I guess if the guy suggested it to a woman, he would be afraid she'd think he was some kind of pervert. But if the woman suggests it, the man thinks she's hot.

Q: But your plane is small. Aren't people embarrassed to fool around with you there?
A: No. I've got a curtain up so I can't see what's going on, and I wear a headset. But I guess the ones who want to (take a mile-high flight) aren't the inhibited type anyway.

Q: Don't you have to interrupt them to tell them when you're going to land?
A: I give them a kitchen timer. I set it on 50 minutes and I tell them when it goes off, they've got 10 minutes to get their clothes on and buckle up.

Q: What does the Federal Aviation Administration have to say about this kind of flight? Do they give you any trouble?
A: I have a commercial license, and this qualifies as a sightseeing trip. ... It's not against FAA rules to join the mile-high club.

Q: Do some people have a problem with what you do?
A: I've had some people get irritated. And I ask them: 'Do you get mad at people who own hotels and rent rooms to couples?' I'm just providing a space for them to have an opportunity to fulfill a fantasy.

Q: Does anyone else do this sort of thing?
A: The only one I know of is in Cincinnati. It's called Flamingo Air (

Q: Which do you prefer — piloting business execs or mile-high clubbers?
A: I like the corporate stuff. But I enjoy the mile-high club because the people behind me are enjoying themselves.

Q: I would imagine you get some married people who are not with their husbands or wives.
A: After the flight, I give (customers) a certificate on joining the mile-high club. I have had a couple of couples who did not want their names on the certificate.

Q: So the price is $269 for an hour, including champagne?
A: It's actually $299 now. I had to raise it because of fuel prices. The champagne is Cook's or the Spanish one in the black bottle (Freixenet). I don't give Dom (Perignon) or anything. You also get to keep the sheets. ... Everybody gets brand-new sheets.

"Just keep fighting." From this week's Weekly Standard:

In the quarterfinals of the 2005 U.S. Open, Agassi came back to beat a young, powerful James Blake after dropping the first two sets. In the press conference afterwards, he was asked how he turned the match around. He answered, "I don’t have the answers, I don’t pretend that I do just because I won the match, I just keep fighting and maybe something good happens.

How to get government benefits. A fantasy story:
When I went to the social security office
to apply for Social Security, the woman behind the counter asked me for my driver's license to verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I had left my wallet at home. I told the woman that I was very sorry but I seemed to have left my wallet at home!

"I'll have to go home and come back later."

The woman says, "Unbutton your shirt."

So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair.

She says, "That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me" and she processed my Social Security application.

When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my experience at the social security office.

She says, "You should have dropped your pants.

You might have gotten disability too."

A true story from Frank Bisbee, a friend
The other day, I got home early and thought it would be nice to cook dinner for my wife and surprise her with my culinary skills. She called the house as I was getting everything going on the stove. I told her what I was preparing and she was pleased.

Unfortunately, there was some overflow on one of the burners and it started to smoke. While we were talking, the smoke detector went off. I asked her to hold on, put the detector in the refrigerator and returned to the phone.

My wife said, "Honey, you are not supposed to use it as a timer."

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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