Still outraged by the recent turn of events involving the appointment of William Webster to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board? So are we.

We've made it easy for you to express your displeasure. Take a look at our letter to President Bush and Congress earlier this week. It's your cue to take action. If you don't have time to write your own letter, feel free to forward ours. (And check out how many Fools already have!)

You're only one voice, but together we make a chorus.

Singing the blues today, the FOOL 50 was down almost 0.4%.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

McDonald's Trims Fat

Guess those ads featuring a silent Grimace hangin' with The Donald and Cedric the Entertainer aren't bringing home much beef for McDonald's(NYSE: MCD).

The company announced today that it'll shutter around 175 locations and cut 400 to 600 jobs worldwide. It will also give up capital investments in four markets and completely leave three markets, all located in the Middle East and Latin America.

It will take a mostly non-cash charge of $325 million to $450 million in its fourth quarter, thanks to the moves, and will therefore miss Q4 earnings estimates. Of course, the market hates that, and the stock's been off 10% today. Shares continue to trade at five-year lows, or at a Price-to-Big Mac (PBM) ratio of around 5.

The Dow component released the news alongside bland October sales numbers. Same-store sales within the U.S. were off 0.6%. "Brand McDonald's," the restaurant's broadest measure of global presence, saw comps drop 1.3%. For the first 10 months of the year, comps are off 2%. Maybe the new Hello Kitty Happy Meals will help make November stronger. (Hello Kitty can make anything better!)

Today's news doesn't affect a huge number of stores. Only 375 locations will be either closed or returned to licensees. Remember, McDonald's operates more than 30,000 restaurants worldwide. The Happy Meal king will still get a royalty based on sales in the restaurants transferred to developmental licensees.

We've written recently about the burger slinger's indigestion. That's why we're neither shocked nor dismayed about today's news. Yes, short term, the company will miss Q4 numbers. So what? The company's looking to cut costs, focus, and turn this baby around. It'll take restructurings, eliminations, and other short-term ugliness to do it. But if you know this going in, today's announcement shouldn't be a big deal.

Quote of Note

"We can easily become as much slaves to precaution as we can to fear. Although we can never rivet our fortune so tight as to make it impregnable, we may by our excessive prudence squeeze out of the life that we are guarding so anxiously all the adventurous quality that makes it worth living." -- Randolph Bourne (1886-1918), Youth and Life

Show Time for Disney

Hey, Disney(NYSE: DIS), you just nailed fourth-quarter estimates to close out your fiscal year on a 13% surge in revenue. What are you going to do next?

If you hear "keep growing," don't take off your Mouseketeer ears. You heard right. After watching earnings fall every year since 1997, it looks like Disney's finally ready to turn the corner. With the company guiding analysts toward 20% to 30% profit growth in fiscal 2003, and again come 2004, is the entertainment giant now the Belle at the ball?

Let's call off the corkscrew and leave the bubbly on ice. Even if Disney grows its bottom line at a 20% annualized clip, the company won't eclipse its 1997 earnings until fiscal 2006. Disney may have produced a solid summer run at the box office, reversing an operating loss in that division, but ABC still struggles to earn the bronze medal, and international travel to the company's domestic theme parks has fallen by 20%.

While Disney thumps its chest over attendance gains at the troubled California Adventure attraction and higher ratings through a new slate of ABC shows, it's a bit misleading (like its earnings gains). It set the bar so low last year that upticks were practically a lock.

Really. While some of ABC's latest shows, such as 8 Simple Rules for DatingMy Daughter and Life With Bonnie, have been well-received by critics, they have yet to crack the Nielsen Top 20 ratings. And for the poorly funded California Adventure, if tumbleweed could make a turnstile click, maybe we'd have some real numbers.

Operating profits for the parks division fell by 25% for the period, despite the higher foot traffic at California Adventure. While the company credits those gains to the introduction of a new play area, themed to Pixar's(Nasdaq: PIXR)A Bug's Life, calling the addition "inventive" (as Disney did last night) is a bit of a stretch. It's just standard carnival kiddie rides with slapped-on themes.

Sure, Disney keeps growing, but someone better remind Dopey that gains at the height stick are relative.

Discussion Board of the Day: Disney

Is Disney back? What will it take to bring the company back to its former dominance in family entertainment? Is Disney's California Adventure theme park really that lame? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on

Retirement Fact of the Day

From 1989 to 1998, the percentage of near-retirees who will not be able to replace half of their pre-retirement income rose from 29.9% to 42.5%.

Worried about replacing your pre-retirement income? Our Rule Your Retirement online seminar can help!

Keeping Tabs on Proxy Voting

We've spent a lot of time this week urging the president and Congress to select a tough cop for the Securities and Exchange Commission in the wake of Chairman Harvey Pitt's resignation. But another issue up before the SEC that we don't think should fall by the wayside is the disclosure of mutual fund proxy voting.

As it stands, mutual fund managers have no obligation to reveal to shareholders how they vote on corporate issues. But since the owners of the mutual fund shares are actually the owners of every stock held on their behalf by the fund, this secrecy doesn't make much sense.

While we're not huge mutual fund investors here at the Fool -- beyond index funds -- we are strong proponents of full disclosure across the business spectrum. Mutual fund companies should cast their proxy votes in the interests of their investors, but -- no big surprise here -- that doesn't always happen. A rule change proposed by the SEC would force fund companies to disclose how they vote on key issues, and that, at least, would be a good beginning.

Some 90 million people in the U.S. invest in mutual funds. Here's some background on what's at stake:

Your Right to Vote, The Washington Post
Support Urged for Mutual Fund Rule, The Los Angeles Times
Email the SEC on Mutual Fund Proxies, CBS MarketWatch (free registration required)

You can easily email your comments to the SEC via

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Profitable Dot-Com

Don't look now, but another survivor of the dot-com crash has turned profitable. United Online(Nasdaq: UNTD), the last of the free ISPs, earned $0.03 per share in the fiscal first quarter and expects to at least double that profit this quarter. More importantly, it generated $7.7 million in free cash flow.

United Online owns the NetZero and Juno Online services, both of which still offer free dialup access. Users who take advantage of these no-cost plans must contend with a prominent advertising bar and are limited to surfing only 10 hours per month. This works in the company's favor, however, because many who try the free service will eventually upgrade to unlimited, advertising-free access for $9.95 per month. The company collects either way, with 12% of revenue coming from advertising and the rest from subscription fees.

NetZero and Juno fees are a bargain price compared to the $23.90 AOL users must pay, or the $21.95 charged by EarthLink and Microsoft's MSN. In fact, United Online interested many new subscribers with a national ad campaign that began: "What do you call someone who pays double for Internet access? An AOL user!"

Management says that for the first time ever, more than half of new paid subscribers were from outside the company, as opposed to those upgrading from the free services. And at a time when the major ISPs are struggling to even maintain market share, United Online's paying customers increased 48% year-over-year to 1.85 million.

The stock price has reflected the company's success, increasing almost 500% over the past 12 months.

Quick Takes

Outgoing SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt defended his record today, saying he's "extremely proud of what we've accomplished" in his 15 months at the helm. "It's easy to find fault and it's easy to criticize," he told participants of the Securities Industry Association's annual meeting. Yes, it is, Harvey, and your actions made it even easier.

Tenet Healthcare (NYSE: THC) got much sicker today, plunging 45%. The hospital operator announced that two of its top executives are quitting and that long-range growth rates would be lower than expected. The company is already under investigation for questionable billing practices and possible unnecessary medical procedures.

Shares of Safeway(NYSE: SWY) fell to levels not seen in six years today after it warned fourth-quarter and full-year profits would not meet expectations. The country's third-largest grocer blamed "sluggish sales impacted by a soft economy."

Another stock in the dumps is Nvidia(Nasdaq: NVDA). The graphics-chip maker fell over 20% after posting disappointing third-quarter results, and said it expects no growth this quarter.

In local news, eight-year-old Clarence Muller reappeared after being missing for two days. When asked where he'd been, the County Elementary third-grader said, "I was walking by the big truck stop on Route 11 and saw a sign that said 'Clean Restrooms,' so I did!"

And Finally...

Today on Bill Mann tells the president he's got two years to restore investor confidence.... Don't get canned on your first day of work! Tips from a headhunter.... The time to make tax-saving moves is right now. Read up in our Tax Center.... In Fool's School, we explain the difference between "cyclical" and "seasonal" companies.... The Fool Community discusses its annual Christmas project.... And the Post of the Day: Apple.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim