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Something is Rotten in the State of Chi Town  

By Jim Woods

The plot twists and turns in the Jussie Smollett case would be enough to impress the Bard himself. And after reading about the stunning decision by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to drop all charges against the “Empire” actor, who was accused of staging a hate crime, I was reminded of this Shakespeare line from “Hamlet”:

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

The reference in the play essentially means that there is a repugnant stench in the air atop the political hierarchy and, so, too, it seems, something is rotten these days in the state of Chi Town.

I say this, because the reaction to the prosecutor’s decision to drop all 16 felony charges against Smollett was nothing short of stunning — and that was the reaction of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

The two civic leaders sharply criticized the State’s Attorney’s Office, as well as Smollett, with Emmanuel firmly denouncing the decisions, calling it “a whitewash of justice.” Emmanuel went even further with his criticism, saying, “You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and one set of rules apply to everybody else.”

What Emmanuel is saying, in effect, is that something is rotten in his city — and I couldn’t agree more.

For his part, Smollett announced at a press conference Tuesday that, “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One.” The actor and singer went on to say, “This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith and I’m a man that has knowledge of my history, and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this.”

So, what’s so rotten about this case, and why is it raising suspicion that political strings have been pulled at the highest levels to get Smollett off?

The answer, perhaps, lies in Chicago politics, traditionally a cesspool of rot and corruption. According to some excellent reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times, influence over this case may have come from a one-time aide to former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Here’s how the Chicago Sun-Times frames it:

“Just days after Jussie Smollett told Chicago police he had fought off a pair of attackers who targeted him in an apparent hate crime, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx tried to persuade Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to turn the investigation over to the FBI.

“Foxx’s call to Johnson came after an influential supporter of the ‘Empire’ actor reached out to Foxx personally: Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney and former chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama, according to emails and text messages provided by Foxx to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a public records request.”

The Sun-Times goes on to report that Foxx recused herself from the case after having conversations with a member of Jussie Smollett’s family, presumably about the case.

Foxx’s role in this tragicomedy prompted Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) to lash out at Foxx. The group now is calling for a federal investigation into Foxx’s “interference” in the case.

Martin Preib, the FOP’s second vice president, told the Sun-Times, “The conduct of her office from the very beginning of this case was highly, highly suspicious.” Mr. Preib might as well have quoted “Hamlet,” too.

As regular readers of The Deep Woods likely recall, I shared my views on the Smollett case in the Feb. 27 issue, “The Folly of Forgetting Phenomenal Fortune.” In it, I wrote about the motivation for the alleged hoax perpetrated by Smollett, which according to some reports was an attempt to up his public profile and to get even greater compensation from his employers at 20th Century Fox Television (the producers of “Empire”).

I also wrote that this unfortunate case appeared to be an example of someone who had completely failed to recognize just how lucky he was:

“I guess the blessings of good looks, a great singing voice, acting skills, a major-label record deal and a $2.25 million salary weren’t enough good fortune for Mr. Smollett. Apparently, he just had to have more.”

While the dropping of the charges and the subsequent sealing of the record in this case likely mean the whole truth may never come to light, the new revelations in this case of the “highly, highly suspicious” conduct by the Cook County State’s Attorney make the whole affair that much smarmier.

It’s rotten when a man fails to appreciate his good fortune — and it’s even more rotten if Shakespearean strings were pulled to absolve that man of 16 felony counts.


Join Me at the MoneyShow in Las Vegas, May 13-15

I invite you to join me for the MoneyShow in Las Vegas, May 13-15, when I will be a featured speaker to share my latest views about the market and the best investments to make now. The event will be based at the Bally’s/Paris Resorts and feature more than 200 presentations. Other featured speakers include Steve Forbes, Dr. Mark Skousen and Hilary Kramer. Click here to register free as my guest or call 1-800-970-4355 and be sure to use my priority code of 047465.


ETF Talk: Providing Exposure to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The automation of jobs that formerly were performed by human beings has cast a specter over the developed world and will remain a salient political and economic question for a long time to come.

On the other hand, the disruptive potential driving the creative destruction of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” also has provided new opportunities for investors. For instance, the ARK Industrial Innovation ETF (ARKQ) provides investors with exposure to companies that likely will benefit from automation and other technological advancements.

Some of this fund’s top holdings include Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS), NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA), Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA), Baidu, Inc. (NASDAQ:BIDU), Teradyne (NASDAQ:TER), Materialise NV (NASDAQ:MTLS) and Aptiv PLC (NYSE:APTV).

While these companies are mainly in the software and IT services field, accounting for 26.95% of the holdings, this ETF also has shares in companies that produce computers, phones and household electronics (19.11%), semiconductors (17.83%), automobiles and auto parts (14.81%), machinery, equipment and components (6.43%) and aerospace and defense technology (4.79%).

Instead of providing broad exposure to all technology companies, this ETF’s managers are especially interested in technologies such as autonomous electric vehicles, 3D printing, manufacturing automation and nanotechnology — in short, the hot tech of the day.

The fund currently has $172.95 million in assets under management and an average spread of 0.23%. It also has an expense ratio of 0.75%, meaning that it is more expensive to hold in comparison to other exchange-traded funds.

In terms of ARKQ’s MSCI ESG Fund Quality Score of 4.86, it ranks in the 17th percentile within its peer group and in the 27th percentile within the global universe of all funds in the MSCI ESG Fund Metrics coverage.

This fund’s performance varies, based on the time frame that is considered. While the fund has been down 5.40% over the past month, it was up 19.63% over the past three months and remains up 13.50% year to date.

Chart courtesy of

In short, while ARKQ does have several advantages over some of its peer funds and lets investors profit from some truly cutting-edge technology, this ETF’s risks and costs are far from zero. Thus, interested investors always should do their due diligence and decide whether the fund is suitable for their portfolios.

As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.


Springing into Real Happiness

It is the first week of spring, and the eternal optimist in me is using this occasion to promote what I call “springing into real happiness.”

Not coincidentally, this personal push is also coming out on the same day as the release of the World Happiness Report 2019. This annual report measures the state of global happiness by ranking 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.

According to editors John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs, “This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.”

I always find this report interesting reading; however, be forewarned that the findings for our beloved United States aren’t too favorable this year. This year, the United States dropped one spot in the rankings from the prior year, and we now are in 19th place. The report also has an ominous chapter titled, “The Sad State of Happiness in the United States and the Role of Digital Media.”

In it, chapter author Jean M. Twenge argues, “The years since 2010 have not been good ones for happiness and well-being among Americans. Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009, happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000.”

Twenge offers a question that is indeed troubling. It is also one that I think requires serious reflection. Here’s the gist of the question that is stated in the report; “By most accounts, Americans should be happier now than ever. The violent crime rate is low, as is the unemployment rate. Income per capita has steadily grown over the last few decades. This is the Easterlin paradox: As the standard of living improves, so should happiness — but it has not.”

So, why hasn’t happiness in the U.S. increased?

Twenge offers up a credible analysis which says Americans are less happy due to fundamental shifts in how we spend our leisure time. Although her findings are concentrated on adolescents, her basic conclusion is that the sharp increase in digital media use has resulted in people of all ages likely spending less time interacting with each other in person. This includes getting together with friends, socializing and going to parties.

“The way adolescents socialize has fundamentally shifted, moving toward online activities and away from face-to-face social interaction,” writes Twenge. She also points out that other “non-screen” activities have also declined, including attending religious services, reading books and magazines and even sleeping.

Now, because of my various digital media projects, I know that I now spend more time engaged in my digital and social media life than ever before. And admittedly, my “non-screen” activities have, albeit only slightly, declined.

The one thing that hasn’t declined for me is my happiness. That’s actually improving on a regular and consistent basis. And, it’s not because I’m without personal and professional struggles. I suspect we all face very similar struggles in life, because life is, by its very nature, a daily struggle.

I suspect that my happiness level is increasing has more to do with how I approach being happy.

That approach has to do with looking at happiness as not simply a result, but as part of the process of living. It’s the kind of happiness that Aristotle called “eudaimonia,” which can essentially be defined as “the success of being human.”

That success is not, however, found in the end result of your activity. Rather, the success is in the doing of the activity.

For me, it’s the act of thinking that allows me to spring into real happiness, because thinking about a problem, figuring out a solution and then implementing that solution is the real eudaimonia of life. It also is an individually heroic pursuit that anyone can engage in — if he or she is willing to do the work.

Some of the best ideas I’ve found on happiness, and ones that have shaped my pursuit of this often-elusive concept, come from the work of psychologist Dr. Joel Wade. His book, “The Virtue of Happiness,” is one that I highly recommend as the first giant step in nurturing a lifetime of happiness.

As Dr. Wade wrote: “A human life that’s happy is not a trivial matter of being lucky, of getting what we want; pleasant pastimes or the absence of responsibilities or pain. A human life that’s happy is an accomplishment — a triumphant, sometimes even heroic creation.”

I love Dr. Wade’s sense of life, and it comes through brilliantly in his writing. It also comes through in person. If you ever get the privilege of meeting him, you’ll know what I mean.

I had that privilege last July at the annual FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas. In fact, Dr. Wade was generous enough to share his thoughts on happiness with me via an interview for my podcast, “Way of the Renaissance Man.”

Photo Courtesy of Unlock Your Wealth Today

In this illuminating episode, Dr. Wade taught me one of my favorite intellectual memes regarding happiness. As he explained, happiness should always be “on your radar like a point on the shore to aim your boat.” I like that a lot, and ever since hearing it, I’ve tried to aim my boat in that direction.

Some of the other topics we discussed during the podcast include Dr. Wade’s recommendation that people create what he calls a “virtuous cycle,” which means focusing on cultivating key virtues such as gratitude, courage and integrity which create the foundation necessary for a truly happy life.

We also talked about the role of “grit,” i.e. the ability to persevere through challenges and hardship to achieve goals over time, and how that relates to happiness.

“Sometimes we have to overcome tremendous physical or psychological hardships. Sometimes we have to resist strong short-term temptations or struggle to make sense of our path,” wrote Dr. Wade. “As with any big, long-term project, a happy life takes work; it’s complicated and time consuming — more like a great symphony of harmony and counterpoint than a simple, catchy jingle. To create a life that’s truly happy over time takes discipline, passion, and courage.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So today, why not make this first day of spring your occasion to spring into real happiness. Starting is easy too, because all you have to do is listen to my podcast featuring Dr. Wade.


Do A Rain Dance

Well, I’ve never met a devil with a one-eyed dog

Well, you could lead a blind man out of Vietnam

Cause everybody’s beggin’, well, everybody wants a chance

Stuck in a storm, do a rain dance

— Ryan Bingham, “Sunrise

The Academy Award-winning Americana music star’s folksy lyrics actually remind us of a very profound lesson in life; namely, that when things get really tough, the best response often is to embrace the challenge and meet it head on. A more cliché way of stating this principle is, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I just think, “Stuck in a storm, do a rain dance,” is a lot more poetic. Finally, I want to personally thank Ryan for putting on a great show Monday night in Solano Beach, California. I had a fantastic time, and Ryan was a most-gracious host and a consummate performer. Cheers!

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

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