The 2017 “Best Of” Issue

Jim Woods | December 27, 2017

It’s difficult to believe, but 2017 is nearly over. And while it’s been a banner year for the financial markets that was capped off by the first real tax reform in more than three decades, it’s also been a banner year for me and this publication.

In fact, I took over the helm of the Weekly ETF Report, as well as the Successful Investing and Intelligence Report newsletter services, in 2017. I also joined Dr. Mark Skousen as the co-editor of the Fast Money Alert service.

It’s been an honor and a privilege writing for you this year, and I hope to enjoy that honor and privilege for years to come. Indeed, it’s something I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do. So, from the depths of my heart, I want to thank you for joining me each week.

In 2018, we have much to look forward to. The market and economy will stride into the year with a tax-cut tailwind at their backs. That tailwind will be joined by other positives, such as robust corporate earnings; accelerating economic growth metrics, unemployment at near-record lows and consumer confidence at near-record highs. Plus, we have a Federal Reserve largely throttled from hiking rates too fast due to the lack of inflation.

But, we have the whole year ahead of us to deal with 2018. This week, I want to give you a few Weekly ETF Report articles that I consider to be the “best of 2017.”

Here are those articles, along with their original publication date.

I hope you had a fantastic holiday, and a I hope you have a safe and sound new year.

Enjoy.

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How to Invest at 168 MPH

(From the Dec. 13 Issue)

Some people play golf. Some people play tennis. And while I certainly understand the appeal of these great activities, I prefer to engage in recreational activities that are, shall we say, a little more extreme. Another way to describe my proclivities is the way many of my friends and family do, and that is to just say that, “Well, Jim’s just a little bit crazy.”

Now, I know what my friends and family mean when they say I’m a little crazy. And I know that they don’t mean that in the clinical sense. What they do mean is that the recreational activities I engage in are usually relatively high-risk, and often come with an intensity factor that’s a little bit high on the extreme scale.

Tactical marksmanship, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and high-intensity training to build muscular size and strength are some of these activities. Yet there are even more extreme arrows in my recreational quiver.

I bring this up, because some of the greatest insights I’ve gleaned about myself, including insights on risk taking, risk management — even the meaning of life itself — have come to me while engaged in extreme pursuits.

Moreover, these insights have helped me become a more skillful writer, entrepreneur and especially a better, more skillful investor. Perhaps most importantly, I suspect some of these insights can help you do the same, especially when it comes to the investing part.  

For many years, I was really into motorcycles, and not just riding motorcycles around on the weekends exploring the country. My motorcycle pursuits involved sport bikes and, in particular, road racing bikes. These are the bikes that go really, really fast, and the bikes that require you to lean off of them and drag your knee on the ground to go really fast around turns. In other words, they are the kind of motorcycles that can get you into a lot of trouble, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So, when I decided to buy my first road racing bike in the mid-2000s, I didn’t just go to the dealership, jump on the prettiest model and ride off the lot with abandon. Instead, I did my research on what was the best model of road race bike for riders just getting into the sport.

Then, I researched which training facilities were considered the most effective, and the ones that stressed safety first. I also made sure I researched the right safety equipment, including which brands offered the best protection in the event of the inevitable crash.

It was only after doing this due diligence on what the sport requires to be able to excel, stay relatively safe and really enjoy the experience that I actually embarked on the motorcycle road race journey. It is this kind of thorough due diligence that I bring to my work here at Eagle Financial Publications via the Intelligence ReportSuccessful Investing and Fast Money Alert services. It’s also a discipline that I bring to all my personal and professional life.

Yet, aside from the lesson of proper due diligence, I think the real lessons one learns in life are those garnered under heavy stress. You see, it’s the presence of stress — literally life-threatening stress — that teaches us a lot about ourselves, our resolve and our ability to focus our minds on a singular task.

That’s the lesson I learned after participating in several motorcycle road racing “track days.” This is where you go out with a group of riders of similar experience and try to do your best lap times around a professional race track. The track where I really learned a lot was the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California. This track has one of the longest straightaways in road racing, and experienced riders regularly reach speeds north of 170 mph.

After several “timid” laps around the track reaching top speeds of 130, then 140 and then 150 mph, I finally felt comfortable enough to open up my machine to see what she could really do. Yet this decision came toward the end of the day, and my brakes weren’t working as well as they had been early in the session.

I found this out quickly, as I spun up the engine on the Honda CBR 1000, hitting an exhilarating 168 mph on the front straight before applying the front brake — only to find that I was getting little response.

Moreover, as I looked ahead, there was a pack of riders in front of me who were slowing down for the next turn, a task I should have already done seconds before. I decided there was only a couple of things I could do. I could apply both the front and rear brakes as hard as I could, hoping the bike would slow enough for me to pull off the racing line, or I could dump the bike while going about 160 mph and risk severe injury (but still managing to avoid my fellow riders).

My decision had to be split second, and as you can imagine, it was under extreme duress. I opted to trust my equipment, and my training, by pumping the lever that controls the front brake, downshifting into a lower gear to slow the bike down and gently but steadily applying the rear brake to help slow the bike and steady the chassis. The maneuver worked, and I was able to guide the bike — and myself — back into pit lane safely.

That day, I learned to A) Trust my equipment, B) Trust my training and C) Trust my judgement under stress. If I had panicked and opted to get off the bike, the consequences could have been disastrous.

So, the next time you’re faced with a situation where a potential calamity quickly approaches, trust your due diligence, trust your training (i.e. your accumulated knowledge) and, above all, trust your judgment and wisdom.

It is the knowledge of self and confidence in your own decisions that will carry you through times of acute stress.

Whether that stress is manufactured by your “crazy” choice to ride a motorcycle really, really fast, or whether that stress is created by an investment you’ve made in the equity markets, or in a business, or anywhere in your personal life, what will get you through is a clear mind, good preparation… and trust in your good judgment.

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Power and Hypocrisy in Tinsel Town and the Media

(From the Oct. 11 Issue)

Growing up in Southern California, and doing my undergraduate work at the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA), I always have been surrounded by the entertainment industry.

I have friends “in the business,” including actors, writers, directors and those in back-office production roles. The people I know in the industry either love their jobs or really like their jobs, since they are well-compensated and help produce a product that the world generally loves.

Yet I have never met a person in the entertainment industry who has ever denied the reality that there’s widespread misuse and abuse of power by those at the top. And, I have never met anyone who hasn’t acknowledged there’s widespread, blatant hypocrisy practiced on the part of so many elitist Hollywood liberals who generally advocate for liberal/progressive ideas, but whose own behavior falls far short of their stated ideals.

Now, abuse of power and blatant hypocrisy isn’t unique to Hollywood. Every industry, and every segment of society has its nefarious practitioners. Yet when it comes to the entertainment industry, the high-profile, worldwide platform it enjoys makes it especially ripe for egregious hypocritical behavior.

The latest example here is that of Harvey Weinstein.

By now, I suspect most people have read about the allegations levied against the mega-producer, which include a decades-long history of sexual misconduct, harassment and even sexual assault.

If you want to get a look into the details of this rather harrowing tale, I highly recommend The New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow, “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories.”

Warning, however, you may find yourself in need of a shower after reading about Weinstein’s alleged misbehavior.

Yet perhaps not surprisingly, Weinstein was revered by many on the political left, as he was a big donor to many high-profile campaigns, including those of President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton and two-time presidential loser Hillary Clinton.

Weinstein also was an outspoken advocate of progressive causes, and a harsh critic of conservatives and Republicans.

The hypocrisy here is that Weinstein apparently was the epitome of a smarmy man who used his power and influence to get what he wanted from women — women whose careers he knew he could make or break at any moment.

So much for the progressive values of equality in the workplace, women’s rights, a hostility to the “white-male power structure,” etc.

Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, even sexual crimes, spit in the face of these values, all while his millions were going to help foist these ideals into the public conscience.

Yet what also disturbs me, perhaps even a bit more than even the alleged Weinstein behavior/hypocrisy, is what now appears to be an attempt by NBC News to scuttle the Farrow piece. Surely, NBC News would want to report on a famous, influential, politically connected, and undeniably newsworthy figure like Harvey Weinstein.

But apparently, that wasn’t so. In fact, according to one report, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim made a judgment this past summer that Farrow’s reporting on the Weinstein story wasn’t ready for prime time.

In an interview last night on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Farrow disputed that claim, and he did so vehemently. Maddow asked Farrow: “NBC says that the story wasn’t publishable, that it wasn’t ready to go at the time that you brought it to them.”

Farrow retorted by saying: “I walked into the door at The New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier. And immediately, obviously, The New Yorker recognized that. And it is not accurate to say that it was not reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”

In my opinion, the alleged actions of NBC News seem to represent another form of hypocrisy, even a cover up. That hypocrisy is one where you conceal an ugly truth to protect someone in your ideological camp.

Now, to MSNBC’s credit, which is an NBC Universal property just like NBC News, the topic was discussed. Also to Maddow’s credit, the host brought up the subject. I don’t often agree with Ms. Maddow’s political views, but one thing you cannot accuse her of here is hypocrisy, and for that she deserves respect and acknowledgment.

If there’s any good to be taken from the Weinstein episode, and from similar episodes in recent years, it is that sexual harassment and the abuse of power must not be tolerated. It is truly a scourge on society, as it nullifies the victim’s rational pursuit of career, and turns a mutually beneficial employer/employee situation into an ugly sexual power play.

There’s no room for it in America. Full stop.

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What to Do in An Active Shooter Situation

(From the Oct. 4 Issue)

Most of the time, this publication is devoted to how to protect and grow your wealth. Yet given we are just a few days removed from the worst mass shooting in American history, I thought another type of protection message might be in order.

The fact is that acts of violent crime, terrorism and mass shootings are a reality that can happen to any of us at virtually any time, any place.

Yes, the odds of you being in some kind of violent situation, and particularly an active shooter situation, are infinitesimal. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen to anyone at any time.

Reality is what it is, regardless of how we might want it to be. That means we must be aware of how to deal with reality when it turns violent… especially given the potentially catastrophic consequences.

So, what must you do to maximize your chances of survival?

Well, there are many specific recommendations given by law enforcement officials on what to do, and many of them are certainly good. For example, officials will tell you to have an escape plan mapped out whenever you go to a public place. They’ll also tell you to be aware of your surroundings, and to report anything strange or seemingly out of the ordinary.

According to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, or ALERRT, in an active-shooter situation you should employ three rules… “avoid, deny and defend.”

The first rule is to avoid the attacker by creating that aforementioned escape plan, which also means moving away from the threat as quickly as possible. Next, you need to deny the shooter access to your location. That means taking measures such as putting up barriers to block doors, turning off the lights in a venue or taking hardened cover.

As for the third rule, defend, that’s where the real action and preparation need to take place.

According to Dr. Peter Blair, the executive director of ALERRT and a criminal justice professor at Texas State University, when it comes to defending against an attacker,

“Do not fight fairly. This is about survival.”

It is this last rule that I think nearly every person must be aware of, and must take on as a personal responsibility for themselves, their loved ones… and for the rest of society.

And while being psychologically and physically equipped to defend against an attack will vary along the spectrum of individuals, there are some things most of us can do to make sure we maximize our chances of surviving a violent encounter.

First, make sure you are as physically fit as you can be. Train to gain strength and maintain and increase muscle mass in the proper fashion by using high-intensity, progressive resistance exercise.

Eat a healthy diet, and ingest your social poisons (tobacco and alcohol) in a responsible and moderate manner.

Learn some self-defense skills. Here I am speaking about skills such as hand-to-hand combat, and particularly my preferred form of martial art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The next step is to learn some defensive firearms skills from a reputable training organization staffed by professionals from either law enforcement or the military, and who emphasize safety first in their instruction philosophy.

My recommended training group is located in Los Angeles, Calif., and it is International Tactical Training Seminars, or ITTS.

The staff at ITTS is comprised of former and current Los Angeles Police Department S.W.A.T. instructors and team members. As a former member of the U.S. Army’s elite combat schools, I can personally attest to the skill and professionalism of the team at ITTS, as well as their first-rate training facility.

The photo here shows me training at the ITTS facility, honing my own defensive firearms skills.

Hopefully, I will never have to use the knowledge and skills I’ve learned from ITTS in a live scenario. Yet I feel I have the obligation to do what’s necessary to maximize my chances of prevailing during a violent conflict, and to help my loved ones and my fellow citizens survive if the unthinkable happens.

Of course, all the preparation in the world can’t ensure you won’t become a victim of violence before you’re able to take any volitional action. That’s certainly the case with the horrific murders in Las Vegas.

Yet being prepared as well as you can be will help increase your odds of surviving an active-shooter situation, and other types of violent situations.

And, to bring it back around to investing, being prepared to take action in defense of your own money during a bear market or financial crisis is similar to being prepared to deal with a violent situation.

You may not avoid the negative consequences completely, but by being aware, prepared and ready to act, you will increase your odds of prevailing.

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When Economic Illiterates Forget about Bastiat

(From the Sept. 6 issue)

If you’ve been watching the news on the devastating damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey (which is soon to begin all over again with Hurricane Irma), you might get the sense that this 500-year flood event will be one giant economic stimulus package for the country.

Although Harvey is expected to be the costliest storm to ever hit the United States, with damages expected to cost about $190 billion (that’s about 1% of our gross domestic product), there seems to be a never-ending parade of economic illiterates on TV and writing in the national media who seem to think that Harvey will create jobs, raise wages and otherwise be an economic boom to Houston, Southeast Texas and the rest of the country.

The theory here is that a government will spring into action by sending a lot of relief funds to the region, and that will result in substantial new infrastructure spending. Then there will be a lot of insurance payouts to the victims, and that, in turn, will lead to hefty consumer spending that will help juice the economy. That’s the theory, at least.

Yet those perpetrating this line of thinking must have failed to study the works of Frédéric Bastiat.

The 19th century French economist, legislator and writer was a champion of private property, free markets and limited government (so, not only do I share his French ancestry, I also share his intellectual DNA).

In his famous work, “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen,” Bastiat introduces the world to the fallacy of “the broken window.”

In that work, he uses a brilliant example of a shopkeeper whose son accidentally breaks a pane of glass, and the unfortunate false reactions to that event. Here’s the broken window fallacy, as explained directly from Bastiat’s pen:

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation: “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions. Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade — that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs — I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way which this accident has prevented.

To understand the economics of disasters, both natural and man-made, you must look at what is seen, and what is not seen.

It is only by understanding the concept of what is unseen that we can understand that far from being an economic stimulus to the nation, hurricanes, earthquakes, disease, riots and wars are anything but good for an economy. Instead, these events impair economic progress, and they put a damper on human flourishing.

So, the next time you hear anyone on TV talking about how Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma will be good for the economy, you can rightly accuse them of being blind to the unseen.

You also can call them economically illiterate.

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Sitting Between Investing’s Doom and Gloom

(From the July 26 issue)

The Federal Reserve has spoken, and it’s done so today via the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) decision to leave interest rates unchanged.

And while any change in the benchmark fed funds rates from the current range of 1% and 1.25% wasn’t expected, what was highly anticipated was language in the FOMC statement signaling how and when Fed Chair Janet Yellen and colleagues plan to unwind the balance sheet.

On that front, there was a development, as the Fed changed the language in Paragraph 5 of the FOMC statement to clearly signal that balance sheet reduction will begin “relatively soon.”

What this basically means is that the Fed will begin unwinding its balance sheet (likely very slowly) beginning with the September FOMC meeting. That also means that we most likely will get one more quarter-point rate hike this year, and that may well come at the December FOMC meeting.

Now, the one potential wildcard in the FOMC statement was the Fed’s outlook on inflation, but that also turned out basically to be as expected. The Fed did acknowledge the recent weakness in inflation, saying inflation measures “have declined and are running below 2%.” Yet importantly, the Fed kept its language that the near-term risks to the economic outlook appear to be “roughly balanced.”

The bottom line with respect to today’s Fed statement is basically that it was “as expected” by Wall Street. And while we’ve all learned to live with the Fed and to interpret its short-term machinations, the broader issue of massive central bank money printing still is a huge underlying unknown for global financial markets and the global economy.

Indeed, the issue of the Fed and the potential mess that might be headed down the road was one of the subjects of an investment panel I was on this weekend at the FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas. Here I am, seated between two of the world’s most-famous market Cassandras, Jim Rogers (to your left) and Peter Schiff (to your right).

While both of these gentlemen have interesting thoughts on the markets, the Fed and the future of the global economy, both are bearish on U.S. equities and on the economy. Also, both warn of a coming debt-fueled collapse somewhere down the road.

Now, I do admire both men’s always-strident opinions, and I think much of what they say is interesting theoretically. The issue I have with their ideas is that I think by constantly sounding the gloom-and-doom alarm, they’re missing out on the current opportunities open to all of us to own great companies in a bull market.

I do not share the idea that one should shun great companies because somewhere down the road there may be another financial crisis, or a dollar crisis, or a debt crisis. And though I do think the Fed’s grand quantitative-easing (QE) experiment could potentially end very badly, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and miss out on the opportunities in front of our very eyes.

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Why “Buy American” is Un-American

(From the April 19 issue)

On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “Buy American, Hire American.”

The president said the order will protect American workers and those in the building and manufacturing trades. He also used the following rhetoric to drive home the point: “It’s America first, you better believe it. It’s time. It’s time, right?”

Now, I consider myself very patriotic, and for rational reasons. That is to say, I see the intellectual foundation this country was built on, and that foundation is freedom from government and the protection of individual rights.

I also volunteered to defend that freedom by joining the U.S. Army as an infantryman, paratrooper and member of our special operations forces. Yet despite my patriotism, I think the president’s rhetoric is flawed.

In fact, the notion that someone has a patriotic duty to buy American is something that I think goes against the free minds and free market principles our founders embraced.

About six years ago, I wrote an article for MarketWatch titled, “Why it’s un-American to buy only American.”

Considering the president’s executive order, I thought this piece might shed a little different light on this issue. Here is the text of the article that appeared on MarketWatch, Dec. 2, 2010.

Why it’s un-American to buy only American

By Jim Woods

When General Motors Co. went public again last month and GM executives rang the opening bell on the NYSE, many Americans rejoiced in the fact that the auto maker was back.

 I must admit that I’m also pleased that GM shares are back where they belong, available to the public so that we can render a verdict on the company’s performance with our investment dollars.

One thing I’m not happy about, however, is the renewed chatter I’ve heard about how Americans need to once again “buy American” in order to support companies here at home — including General Motors.

Americans shouldn’t feel some kind of duty to buy American-made goods. In fact, it’s actually un-American to buy only American.

For the record, I am a proud owner of a GM automobile. I’m a Corvette enthusiast, and I currently drive the ultra-high performance Z06 model. I love the car for the automotive heritage it represents, its styling, the incredible bang for the buck — and for the fact that it can pretty much blow the doors off of just about anything else on the road.

But I love the Corvette for its virtues — and freely chose to spend my hard-earned dollars on such a product because I believe it’s superior. It is decisions like this that are the cornerstone of being an American consumer and succeeding as an American business.

If my Z06 was an inferior machine, I wouldn’t have bought it, and GM wouldn’t have gotten my money.

American consumers must have the right to freely make purchases based on a product’s virtues. This idea was perhaps put best by Harry Binswanger in an article called “Buy American is UN-American,” where he makes the case that buying American products out of a sense of patriotic duty actually runs counter to the basic premises of Americanism.

“In purchasing goods [only made in America], we are expected to view ourselves and the sellers not as individuals, but as units of a nation. We are expected to accept lower quality or more expensive goods in the name of alleged benefits to the national collective,” Binswanger wrote. Binswanger concludes with a powerful idea, “A patriotic American acts as a capitalist and an individualist: he buys the best, wherever it may be found.”

To be clear, I’m not saying boycott GM or any other American company. My Corvette purchase was based on factors such as quality, aesthetics and price and this vehicle represents all of these things to me. The Corvette just so happens to be an iconic American-made car. However, if the Corvette would have been made in Brazil, China, Portugal or Mexico, I still would have bought it based on its aforementioned virtues.

Besides, in this global economy it’s hard to even know what “American made” even means. For example, GM’s Equinox sport-utility vehicle has an engine that’s made in China. Rival Ford Motor Co.’s popular Fusion model is assembled in Mexico, and Chrysler’s beefy 300C model is assembled in Canada, and has an engine that’s made in Mexico.

Oh, and as for Japanese cars? Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) actually makes its ubiquitous Camry model largely in the U.S., with some 80% of that car’s parts made here. The company also has over 25,000 U.S. employees.

This international hybridization of not just car companies, but also many multinational companies, brings into question the very concept of a company having a national identity.

I realize that politicians, pundits and labor movement leaders like to use the “buy American” issue to get votes, or to rile up the public against a convenient foe. But the reality is much more complicated than just an “us versus them” issue.

So, if you’re one of the many new GM stockholders or one of the millions of Americans like me who owns a General Motors automobile, I hope you made your decision for reasons other than a desire to “buy American.”

No matter what a marketing message says, owning a lemon is never patriotic.

Finally, while I am in no way opposed to the president trying to create American jobs or bring the American economy back into full-blown growth mode, I am opposed to the notion that you should buy something simply out of a sense of nationalism.

The real virtue is buying the best product or service for the job. If that product or service is American, all the better.

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Wisdom from A Bulldog

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

— Sir Winston Churchill

I get quite a few quotes sent to me during the year, but the best one sent to me in 2017 has to be from reader Kevin S., who suggested we use this beautiful and eminently true assessment of socialism by the great Winston Churchill. The English statesman saw socialism’s evils first hand, and thanks to his resolve and his ability to rally his countrymen against tyranny, he helped thwart socialism’s tyranny before it could take over Europe. For that, free people around the globe owe a debt to the “British Bulldog.”

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote 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 audio podcast, newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

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