Yesterday, we hosted a political Duel to coincide with last night's first presidential debate. While pundits are pondering which candidate won round one, we're peeking at the results from our poll of Fools. Not surprisingly, it's a tight race, folks. At last look, John Kerry edged out George W. Bush by a single percentage point, 47% to 46%, with more than 4,500 Fools casting a vote.

Did the debate change your mind? Or are you waiting to see what the next two rounds reveal? Whatever the case may be, next month should prove just as exciting.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Is OracleSoft Inevitable?


Tim Beyers

There are some business stories that read like steamy novels. The torrid, and often sordid, affair that has been the imbroglio between database king Oracle(Nasdaq: ORCL) and business software maker PeopleSoft(Nasdaq: PSFT) added another saucy chapter this morning when PeopleSoft's board fired CEO Craig Conway. The cause? A loss of confidence in his ability to lead the company.

But it doesn't end there. The Justice Department announced a short time ago that it would not appeal Oracle's victory last month in the anti-trust trial surrounding the proposed deal. The announcement makes it even more unlikely that the European Commission, which is reviewing the deal, will oppose a merger.

That leaves PeopleSoft's management as the last remaining obstacle to an Oracle takeover bid. The now-departed Conway was, of course, the most vocal opponent of a merger. And it was his public feud with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, his former employer, which added a decidedly nasty edge to the tussle. With him gone, is the way cleared for a deal?

PeopleSoft issued an ambiguous statement on this issue, noting only that the board has been unanimous in rejecting Oracle's prior offers. A spokesman I interviewed this morning parroted that party line and declined to mention whether the software maker would meet with Oracle.

Interestingly, he also mentioned that Conway never attended the transaction committee meetings where discussions of Oracle's bid took place. The implication here is that PeopleSoft's board is independent and needed no encouragement from Conway to oppose Oracle. But I don't buy that for two reasons. First, corporate boards often fall in line with the will of the CEO, and Conway's opinion was widely known. Second, PeopleSoft has been making considerable hay over its big gains in license revenue recently, and did so again this morning. Sure, all the chest-thumping could be to assuage nervous investors. But it could also be to earn a better price tag for the business.

Unfortunately, all we have is conjecture at this point. However, clues to the outcome may lie in the background of Dave Duffield, a PeopleSoft founder, chairman, and former CEO who regains the reins today. According to PeopleSoft's statement from this morning, Duffield has sold a company he co-founded before. Systems and Computer Technology (SCT) bought the firm -- Information Associates -- in the '90s. SunGardData Systems(NYSE: SDS) acquired SCT in February.

Notable precedent or funny coincidence? That's tough to say for sure, but I'd bet on the former.

For more Foolish news about Oracle and PeopleSoft:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Oracle. You can view his Fool profile here.

Discussion Board of the Day: Politics

Who do you think should win next month's election? Share your thoughts in one of our many political discussion boards in Politics & Current Events.

Jack Daniels on the Rocks


Rich Smith

Some companies just refuse to learn from the mistakes of others. According to an AP wire report Wednesday, venerable whiskey maker Jack Daniels, a subsidiary of brand management company Brown-Forman(NYSE: BFB), has gone and "pulled a New Coke" on its customers.

Usurping the traditional role performed by barkeeps worldwide, Jack quietly began watering down its famed "Old No. 7 Black Label" sippin' whiskey awhile back, completing the change earlier this year. But subtly as the company worked, customers in liquor stores around the country are finally beginning to notice that the labels on their favorite 86-proof whiskey now read "80 proof." And they aren't liking it one bit.

For one thing, changing the formula for a bottle of Jack flies in the face of one of the company's most established promises. To quote from its website: "Time changes everything. Except the way we make our smooth-sipping Tennessee Whiskey, of course." Yeah, and Coke(NYSE: KO) used to be a classic without needing to call itself "Coca-Cola Classic."

If the customer revolt continues to build steam, this could spell trouble for Jack's owner, Brown-Forman. Jack is one of the company's flagship brands, with serious name-recognition heft, and an established constituency among the spirits-consuming public. Brown-Forman depends on loyal consumers to continue providing it with the 96% of its annual revenues derived from alcohol sales. But by alienating its staunchest fans, the company is going to put some of that revenue -- and its self-declared status as the most popular whiskey in the U.S. -- at risk. The gambit could also delay the company's march toward taking away the title of "Number 1 in World Sales" from (Scotch) whisky king Johnnie Walker (owned by Diageo(NYSE: DEO)).

Meanwhile, at least one company is savoring Jack's watered-down whiskey. Rival (bourbon) whiskey-maker Jim Beam, which is owned by Fortune Brands(NYSE: FO), wasted little time in pointing out that it has no plans to dilute the alcohol content of its own brand. Of course, its ubiquitous white-label bottle is already 80 proof.

Thirsting for more knowledge about the liquor industry? Pull up a stool and sip the following fine Foolish spirits:

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article. While he's got nothing against a nice sour mash, he's partial to Pshenichnaya vodka, straight up.

Quote of Note

"If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." -- Anatole France, French novelist

Window Dressing for Nudists


Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

One of the best things about sweeping away September is that we will now be spared the silly act of window dressing. Well, at least until the end of December rolls around. What is window dressing? Well, just as store owners like to doll up their sidewalk-facing displays with their finest wares, some mutual fund managers like to stock up their portfolios with some of the best-performing stocks at the end of every quarter so they look good to their fund shareowners.

It's an unsavory notion, because at least when you see a slick outfit on a mannequin, the chances are pretty good that the shop will be stocking it inside. That's not the case with mutual fund window dressing, when the pretty looks simply mask a hollow quarter. No, the practice is not illegal. But as the mutual fund industry's equivalent of a padded brassiere, one has to wonder if there is really a point to all this. As readers of our Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter can attest, buyers of funds aren't a gullible lot.

You can't just load up on highfliers like Taser(Nasdaq: TASR) and Travelzoo(Nasdaq: TZOO) and expect your investors to ignore the fund's ultimate returns. If anything, window dressing may create some worrisome speculation if investors see that their funds owned the right companies yet botched the returns anyway.

To be fair, it's not just mutual funds playing the window-dressing game. How many companies -- even respectable companies -- try their hardest to move widgets before a quarter comes to a close?

How desperate were car dealers to clear out their showrooms this past week? Is there a tendency for computer makers to promote free-shipping deals nearer a fiscal quarter's end than at the beginning? If so, as long as investors are smart enough to look at the bigger picture, there is no way that mutual funds and corporations can dress a window that big.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves his stocks, but he always manages a mutual fund or two in his portfolio. He does not own shares in any company mentioned in this story.

More on Today

Tim Beyers says stop dreaming and start planning in Why Do You Invest?... In the Science of Stock Picking, Rich Smith explains how small caps lead to greater returns.... Carl Wherrett and John Yelovich think nanotech investors should remain patient in Dynamite in Small Packages.... In The Hunt for Value, Philip Durell says patience and diligence pay off for value investors.... Rick Munarriz warns against underestimating potential in When Models Explode.... Jim Mueller argues that this year's fastest growers may not make the best long-term investments in Fortune's 100 Most Doomed?

In other news:

For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.