TheStreet.com publishes selected emails received by the publication and its staff members. To send an email intended for publication in this section, write to letters@thestreet.com and include your full name and city. Letters may be edited for length, style, clarity and accuracy.

The Cruelty of Asbestos

Re:

Asking About Asbestos

First, thanks to you and

Todd

: By your example, I took a few days off of my demanding job to spend time with my sick father. I was able to be there for his last two days. It made a huge difference for my family, my father and for me. Thanks for the articles detailing your values, you helped me do the right thing.

Second I want to thank you for him. You responded to his personal email, telling him to take money off the table, right at the top of the market. Excellent call.

Here's what I have to add to the asbestos discussion: Please take under consideration that he only died four days ago, so my view is emotionally tainted. He was diagnosed seven months ago with asbestos cancer. His death was ugly and painful. There are hundreds of people that were touched by this man's life. Hundreds of people with a new and very unfavorable view of asbestos manufacturers. If you could see the torment that this disease causes, you would understand why companies settle; they don't want this stuff in front of jurors.

-- Dave H.

(received 12/27)

Notable Quotable

Re:

State of the Web: The Tale of the Dying Dot-Com, Part 1

Your article brought back a lot of memories because I went through some of the same battles that you did.

I founded

Quote.com

in 1993. The only business model I had was subscriptions. That was because it took every penny I had to start the company, so I had to get some kind of revenue to live on. Plus, there was really no Web advertising at that time. Six months after launch we were profitable, and stayed that way until 1996, based only on subscriptions. We grew our overhead very carefully, and plowed all profits back into the business.

What happened in 1996? We took venture capital in a bid for much faster growth. We added an advertising revenue stream and an ASP stream. In contrast to you, I made the decision to go after advertising without reluctance. The best reason for that was that we had a lot of page views, plus our competition was free. Both advertising and ASP revenues grew rapidly to the point that they were equal to or greater than subscriptions.

The value of our subscription base became clear at a later point in our evolution when both advertising and ASP revenues declined. The only thing that grew steadily was subscriptions. They continue to grow to this day, a year after we sold the company to

Lycos

, and are a major source of revenue. Lycos has done a great job with the advertising, though, because of their scale and better execution.

By not concentrating on a free model, we gave up some visibility. This was one of the contributing factors behind our inability to go public, even with much higher revenues than many companies that did. Without the visibility that your free service gave you, and the revenue projections stemming from that business, you probably would not have been public, either. So you should remember that even if free services can't build a sustainable business, they were absolutely necessary at the time and given the way that companies were being valued. It is just like trading...first you have to stay in the game. Now you can tune your business model, with the benefit of a lot more resources and the ability to make a mistake or two along the way.

-- Chris Cooper

(received 12/27)

Thanks for Getting Me Off the Tech Smack

James J. Cramer

: About

Two Steps Back, One-and-a-Half Forward

Please keep swinging away at those tech junkies. Keep reminding them that there is life outside tech and that real money can be made if they'd bother to educate themselves a little about banks, health care and the other sectors that are doing well now. There is some kind of mental block that tech junkies get about anything else. I believe that it is a lot like gambling, where you kept winning and winning for so long. The easy money was there for the taking. And since last March, every loss just meant that the big win was just around the corner. It finally has sunk in for me that it might take weeks or even months for much of tech to come back. I won't wait that long.

After losing all my gains this year and about 25% of last year's, I've sold the tech and have been buying mutual funds in the banking, health care, retail and energy sectors. One of my accounts has only about 1% tech, the other 20%. It's nice to see myself making money (not necessarily 6% a day) again.

I'm gonna tell my tech stock adviser to take a hike when my renewal comes up. I'd like to sue him for continuing to tell me that things are "volatile" when I was losing money in his recommendations hand-over-fist.

Thanks a million from a former tech junkie.

-- Lou Flum

(received 12/26)

Greenspan, Keep It Growing

James J. Cramer

: About

Put the Missiles Back in the Silos

Very much agree with your

Fed

ease.

I believe the strength of the dollar has always been of major concern to the Fed. But as you know, the strength of our dollar has most recently come from our growth rate, not our interest rate.

With the euro recovering well, our Treasury rates dropping quickly and our economy decelerating, the biggest concern I have is that money will begin to migrate back to Europe and other overseas economies if they believe they can get a better bang for the buck.

Greenspan

has to be aware of these issues since the combination of a slowing economy along with the withdrawal of investments from our economy would put us in a world of hurt.

To maintain a strong dollar, Greenspan knows he must keep growth moving. I see an inter-meeting cut the first week of January. It is only through this effort that all markets will see him defending the dollar and U.S. growth.

As always, thank you for your notes. I hope it isn't annoying to continually thank you for your efforts but they have helped me immensely, especially in navigating a market that is one of the most difficult that I have seen.

-- Tim Withers

(received 12/22)

Kaminsky's Could-Be Tax Cut

James J. Cramer

: About

A Pox on Your Tax Cut, Mr. Bush!

I wanted to suggest to you that the issue with the tax cut is one of fairness (and not in

Al Gore's

definition of fairness.) I believe that taxation is simply the government stealing from the citizen and that most of the money goes to fund projects which are not proper uses of government anyway.

A surplus is a bad thing, not a good thing. It means that the government is stealing more than it needs and it removes the last tiny miniscule hint of discipline that

Congress

might have had to rein in spending.

As a surplus is just excess taxation, excess theft if you will, the only fair thing is to return it to the people it was taken from. It should not be redistributed, the effect of Gore's "targeted tax cuts," i.e., tax credits for people who don't pay tax anyway, nor should it be spent by the Congress.

The economic effects of the tax cut are irrelevant to me. Excess taxation is simply oppression by the government, and I don't use that term lightly.

A tax cut is truly a moral imperative in more than one way, and the fairness aspect of it must trump any question of effect of monetary aggregates,

Fed

action in response, etc.

I hope that

George W. Bush

and his crew have the perseverance and skill to make this argument effectively, though I wouldn't bet my house on that.

-- Ross Kaminsky

(received 12/21)

No Security

James J. Cramer

: About

Don't Listen to the Guys Who Say It's Easy

Just wanted to let you know that I fully agree with your comments regarding people putting their

Social Security

in the markets. There has been a great deal of discussion over the past year or so regarding this very issue. The powers that be should be very sensitive to what has transpired with this market before allowing this to happen. I can speak from my own experience. I retired early a couple of years ago, and rolled my 401(k) into my IRA. This past summer in an obvious moment of insanity, I took a one-time payment of my pension money. All of this (or what little is left of it) is sitting in

(JAVLX)

Janus Twenty -- need I say more?

Should I have been diversified? Sure, but those are the type of mistakes we amateurs make. Most individuals who would be investing their Social Security monies are, in fact, amateurs with very little if any trading experience. Again, I hope the decision-makers in Washington think long and hard before allowing people to invest their Social Security in the market.

-- Bill Haynes

(received 12/18)

But If You Try Sometimes...

James J. Cramer

: About

Tech Lovers: You Can't Always Get What You Want

What a great piece! This kind of tough love is what everyone needs to hear. I made the mistake of bringing my buy-and-hold mentality to the techs and rode them up only to ride a lot of them down again. But as they say... "There are no mistakes in life, only lessons." Looking forward to your "Long-term investor columns in the future." Enjoy your retirement. Glad you got out alive! I'm right behind you within a year.

-- Ralph A. Donabed

(received 12/14)

I am not writing to complain, as your columns always warn that you are not playing the role of our brokers, I am just trying to provide constructive feedback from a subscriber who values your counsel and who is looking forward to your new role.

There was a big difference between your March advice and your December advice. In March it was "take something off the table" and "get out of margin positions." Last week it was "buy, buy, buy." The degree of emphasis shown last week was not there last spring. Last week you screamed, to use your words. In

the spring you didn't.

To me, take something off the table, doesn't mean get out of the market until things get better, it simply means reduce "some" of your exposure. Unfortunately, following that strategy wasn't enough to prevent significant losses this year.

I am relieved to still be in the game and pleased to have jumped deep in the water last week with what I trust is your brilliant advice. Please keep it up, and to those of us ordinary people out there, please don't stop screaming whenever the time is right!

-- Dan Oren

(received 12/14)

Happy Pill for Merck

James J. Cramer

: About

What to Do About the Drugs

Your 12/13 column on

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

and the drug companies really resonated with me. Merck is one of my long-term core holdings; I bought in on a split at what seems like eons ago. Since then, I have wondered, from time to time, how I should be playing it. This column made lots of sense and lifted some of the angst I had been feeling about Merck. I have always enjoyed your comments and insights and the perspective they gave me. I can see now that I will doubly enjoy you in your new role in the new year.

For now, I want to wish you and your family the very best of holidays and congratulations and much success in your new career.

-- Jim Durigan

(received 12/14)

Its Not Lights Out on All of E-Commerce

James J. Cramer

: About

Yawning Over E-Commerce

I enjoyed your column on e-commerce but hey, there's a baby in that bathwater. Let's not lose sight of the one truth above all truths the Internet does a damn fine job of extending and enhancing traditional relationships including local retailer-customer relationships.

A boatload of foolish dollars have been invested in the alchemy of dislodging traditional relationships for exclusively binary relationships. The e-commerce companies that prevail will be those whose strategies venerate traditional business relationships.

-- Peter Parrish

(received 12/12)

Good Luck and Good News

James J. Cramer

: About

A New Year, A New Role for JJC

I just read your new article. I believe there are a lot of people like me among your subscribers. We fit in the middle, neither a daytrader, or a 401K, or "part-timer". We are retired (IRA rollover and other accounts) active traders but not daytraders. We trade zero or forty times a month, depending on the market psychology, are more interested in direction of the market not in long term buy and hold. We rely on your insights into what sectors have growth potential (and why) or conversely which ones are headed for trouble.

You and

Todd Harrison

are not "simply hammering home the same nail". Todd is good, but he is a chartist focused on the daily minute-to-minute action. I hope you find time to pursue your goal of developing products for non-trader types and still find time to share your insights with the multitudes of us that do some trading.

-- John Nicholson

(received 12/12)

Out With the Old

James J. Cramer

: About

Fair-Weather Index Funds

I think an index like the

S&P 500

should reflect the American stock market. Period. Steel and railroads are less important today than pharmaceuticals and microchips, so the indices need to change to reflect that. Having said that, I don't think having a six-month runup after one's IPO should put a stock in the S&P, nor should a few rough years cause a company to get kicked out. It's not about performance and relevance.

The success of a company should not have anything to do with it, although in the long run I'm sure there is a correlation between performance and relevance. The weight of different sectors should be indicative of their weight in the overall market. The hard decisions are companies like

Broadcom

(BRCM)

and

Brocade

(BRCD)

, great companies with very big market caps that are not yet all that relevant in the grand scheme of things, but most people think they will be. I don't think that an index should try to be visionary and display its talents in picking future winners. One could, however, argue that these two companies are already proven winners and therefore belong.

-- Carl Rydbeck

(received 12/7)

I agree that it seems unfair to remove dogs from the S&P 500 because it creates a moving target as a benchmark. But really this truth exposes the weakness of the benchmarks we use. Is it fair or in any way sensible that people talk about the

Dow

all day? It's just 30 stocks: some over-the-hill techs, some old-school holdovers, a lame attempt to reflect the breadth of the market. (I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.) We have indices that reflect larger chunks of the market. That 5,000 stock thing. And that 2,000 stock thing, Wilshire something? And that just points out the problem. I can't even remember the names. And why is that? The financial press continues to spew the Dow and the

Nasdaq

and the S&P 500 as the benchmark, for some reason giving the Dow pride of place. It's baffling. Although I guess using these indices, which have been heavily marketed themselves (thanks,

Dow Jones

), at least supplies consistency over time.

I'm not a press basher, and I love

RealMoney.com

, but this is clearly a place where the benchmark is set up by the public dialogue and that dialogue is heavily influenced by how it's reported.

I guess the ultimate point is that it's all pretty arbitrary. And everybody wants growth. So the funds will continue to use the 500 as a yardstick. But a movement could be started to start to use a different yardstick, a broader index.

-- Phelim Dolan

(received 12/6)

The Meaning of Community

James J. Cramer

: About

State of the Web: Dot-Com Depression

You hit one of my real hot buttons today. I believe that communities on the Web are possible, because I've seen them work. But describing the current mess of bulletin boards as "communities" is just plain silly. Real communities don't work or act like what we see online. So what does a community look like?

1)

They are run by and for the members. Not by some private business that wants to make money off advertising to "members" to whom they are not accountable.

2)

They are almost always nonprofit. Nobody establishes a synagogue or church with the goal of making money. The same is true of a community theater, AA, the local Rotary, a disease support group or the 92nd Street Y. The financial goal of a community, at best, is to minimize the need for taking money from members in order to keep it going. Even the most successful communities (we could take the Mormon Church as a good example) don't try to go public; they spend their income on serving their membership and expanding their reach and impact.

3)

They have rules and there are people appointed or elected to enforce them. They are willing to kick people out or punish them when the rules are broken. Most commercial Web sites can't do this because of the need for "page views" and "unique users."

4)

They are comprised of real people. I would not accept "CiscoBull" to my synagogue, I want to know his real name and something about him. In real communities, members are directly accountable for whatever they do, for good and bad. If a member breaks the rules he is known and can be excluded permanently.

5)

They have to be managed, and managing them costs money because it requires real people to do it. A church or a synagogue is not just a building, and an online community is more than just a Web site. The people who moderate, lecture, administer the rules and create the special events are what make or break the community.

6)

Real communities are not free, they are supported primarily by members. At the very least, you have to volunteer to help out. If you don't do that much, you aren't worth the community's time and effort.

Take for example, the Aviation Forum on

Compuserve

, which is one of my regular hangouts. (You could look at many of the other surviving Compuserve forums, most of which predate the current message-board fad.) They've got rules. Their administrative staff participates in real time, keeping things on track. They charge a fee for use of the forum sections/facilities. They require all members to use their real names in all messages. They make great use of volunteer labor to help keep things going. By doing so they have attracted the kind of membership that makes it worthwhile to keep showing up. The community is powerful enough that many make a cross-country trek every year to meet our fellow participants in person.

Will they ever be a huge commercial success? No, and they don't want to be. This particular forum is run by a group called the Aviation Safety Institute, a nonprofit who view the online presence as being one way to reach pilots and promote safety. A successful investment board might be started by an organization like AAII, as a service to their members and an outreach to potential members. While the possibilities are endless, they are not based on the model we have seen online in the first few years of the Web and for the most part will offer no significant investment opportunity.

-- Michael Gat

(received 12/4)

A New Chapter for JJC

James J. Cramer

: About

JJC Will Retire From Cramer Berkowitz

What really can I say? Almost four years ago as

TSC

was getting going I was starting in the brokerage business and I sent you an email asking you about being a broker. I asked about teaching my clients and about my love for running money. Your email response is still on my monitor: "You are a broker -- you should sell. If you want to run money, quit and run money. If you want to teach, teach. jjc" As I have relayed to you over the years, I have quit and am now running my own hedge fund in Las Vegas.

You're impact on my professional life can not be understated. You gave me the matter-of-fact answer I needed years ago and through the years have taught me more than I thought I would learn about this business in 20 years. I guess that is because you were willing to take your years and give them away to those of us willing to learn it. (Give-away does equal $20/month to me) I hope your future is as fruitful for you and your family, in its own new way, as the last 20 have been. I truly wish you the best of everything that life has to offer. My only hope is that you STAY OUT OF POLITICS as I am a libertarian and would hate to have to campaign against you. I would hate to be pitted against you in anything, so relax and find other things to do.

-- Craig C. Spanton

(received 12/4)

I have been a big fan of yours for years. You have helped me immeasurably. You have scolded me. You have pissed me off. You've made me laugh. Shake my head. All sorts of things, but most of all, you helped refine my investment thinking process. Recently, you helped me survive a terrible bear market. While my performance is so-so this year, I'm still in business and am optimistic for my firm's future.

Your recent writing style made me think you were going to do this. I applaud your decision. As a portfolio manager on Wall Street for nearly 19 years, in my own firm for 1 year, 39 years old, father of 3 beautiful girls, husband to a terrific wife, I am envious of your decision. One of the reasons I left big brokerage and started my own capital management firm was to achieve greater financial independence sooner, rather than later, and ultimately achieve a goal similar to yours. Thanks for yet again putting another challenge on the table!

All the best to your in all your endeavors. Most of all, have a lot of fun!

-- David Geller

(received 12/4)

The Fed Can But Will It?

James J. Cramer

: About

Navigating Ease-y Street

I totally agree with your synopsis of the impending recession being averted by a quick Fed ease. I still cannot detect inflation in the system and will certainly not now that growth is in the 2 - 3 % range. The Fed over tightened, period. And unless they are brave enough to admit it by easing in December (which I doubt), we will have to pay for that error for some time to come.

What is a little inflation compared to the socioeconomic benefits of full employment and the 'new economy ' being incubated on these shores?

Keep up the good work.

-- Michel Ciambra

(received 12/1)

Great Rebuttal

James J. Cramer

: About

Nazz 1500? No Way

I am glad you chose to respond to that

story, as I was having some of the same thoughts as you after reading it. I remember the market after the

Fed

eased in 1998. As an investor/trader in the market for only the past 6 years, the experiences I had that year of '98 (both good and bad) have helped me tremendously in dealing with the market this year. Reading the info on your Web site daily has helped as much as anything as well and the change this year with the creation of

RealMoney.com

and the Trading Diaries/Columnist Conversations has made it way better than it already was.

-- Thomas Geary

(received 12/1)

Tales From the Margin-Side

James J. Cramer

: About

Reality as Told by the Trader, Part 4

Just wanted to say thanks for the 4-part series on the reality of the game now; it was really a nice perspective. As I've alluded to in a few emails before, I think I am not alone in young people who tried to jump on the ride last year before it ended, and was able to take a small amount of money and multiply it 10 times over through lottery-type IPOs like

VA Linux

(LNUX)

. Like anyone I knew I was margined fully, and built enough trading capital off the IPO-machine to start trading all the highflyers throughout the summer volatility.

Of course now I'm cleaned out by margin, like many who stayed on and maybe thought these things would return to their unprecedented levels, only to ride their stocks down. I don't think there's ever a silver lining to losing all your cash unless you can afford to, but I have realigned my expectations, and now work like everybody else to build a balanced portfolio. I've learned enough and plan to actually study and learn more like I would any pursuit, and even hope to allocate a little as throw-away money for trading the technicals and piggy-backing off what you guys are doing. But now I realize the risks involved in this, and what realistic expectations should be. You have to remember many of us young people learned about this stuff in a bull market and never knew any better. Anyway, thanks for the pieces, they were a nice read.

-- John W. Virdin

(received 11/29)

Were the Banks Closing for Joe Margin?

James J. Cramer

: About

Reality as Told by the Trader, Part 3

In Part 3 you seem to say the catalyst for the dream ending was that the public could no longer afford to borrow money because there was no more easy money made available by the

Fed

.

I don't quite understand this argument. How large was the difference between the lowest and highest margin rates between the time the Feds injected liquidity and now? I don't really know, maybe 10% at most? I don't think the public would have borrowed less because of a sub-10% increase if they thought (probably until the last 3 or 4 weeks) that they could regularly make 30% in the market. Maybe the online brokers raising margin requirements would have caused the public to borrow less. (Is that a function of Fed decreasing liquidity?)

Or if

Greenspan's

tightenings have been a catalyst through the retail investor, it's not because it costs incrementally more for the public to borrow on margin. Joe Margin doesn't say, "I'm paying 3% more in margin interest, so I won't try to catch a 20% move in some tech stock," but Joe Margin might say, "Greenspan's tightening and the big boys on Wall Street don't like that for X reason and they'll cause the market to drop, so I'll step back or go short with them."

And another reason the margin-using retail investors have become less of a buying force would of course be the big drops we've had this year that probably wiped many of them out.

So if the Fed-decreased liquidity, i.e. the cost of borrowing, was even a factor as far as the public goes, I'd say it comes far behind those other factors.

-- Revv Ayala

(received 11/28)

The End of the Beginning?

James J. Cramer

: About

Reality as Told by the Trader, Part 4

Thank you for a great piece. I do have an observation or two. I agree on the issue of tech company valuations, that we will never see them again at the levels at which they were during 1998 to 2000.

But, I'm not so sure that this bodes as poorly for venture capital and tech as the piece seems to point out. I believe that many out here don't want to acknowledge that the valuations will never return to their peak. However, I also believe that the Internet continues to create a substantial change in the way we live -- as did the railroad, the automobile, the television and the jet engine. I believe that this means continued opportunity even if it isn't as richly valued. I think someone at

TSC

accurately called this year "the end of the beginning."

To me, this means there is still a lot of money to be made in venture capital, at better returns than the stock market to compensate for the higher risk. Accordingly, I don't think that VC fund investors will be all that pissed, because deep down they knew, like we all did, that this was going to blow over and they would someday need to accept more realistic returns.

-- Michael Prozan

(received 11/28)