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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA! We thank you for Liberty!

Thanks, America, for Liberty!


As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis


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Americans are adding credit card debt at levels not seen since 2007

Americans are piling on credit card debt at record levels that we haven’t seen since the financial crisis.

This suggests that much of the US is actually struggling financially, because people are substituting credit for income they no longer have.

Households added $21.9 billion in credit card debt in the third quarter — the largest increase for that period since 2007 — bringing the amount of outstanding credit card debt to $927.1 billion, according to the latest study from WalletHub. That matches the mark in 2007 before the recession began, and it’s the highest tally since the end of 2008, when the global economy was experiencing a full-on implosion.

WalletHub total credit card debt skitched

Racking up credit card debt isn’t inherently bad, so long as it’s being paid back. And so far, Americans are defaulting on their credit card debt at near historically low levels. Charge-off rates — the percentage of credit card debt that the companies are unable to collect on — are only at 2.86%, compared with 3.95% in 2007 the quarter before the Great Recession began, and in excess of 10% in the years following the crisis.

“I think it is a cause of concern because it says consumers are struggling despite the low unemployment figures,” says Lucia Dunn, an economics professor at Ohio State University. “I think the rise in debt arises from weakness in the economy. People whose incomes have dropped may be trying to maintain an older level of consumption by just charging everything.”  WalletHub household credit card debt skitchedWalletHub

This behavior is not unlike what Dunn saw during the Great Recession, when she was monitoring and researching consumer debt data.

“Credit card (debt) shrank in some sectors because people had their accounts closed. But for our sample who maintained a credit card, credit card debt actually rose. People substituted credit for income,” Dunn says.

Why would Americans be struggling when unemployment is so low? Well, having a job and having a well-paying job are two different things. And wages have largely remained stagnant in the 21st century.

median real wages Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

So far, Americans are managing to balance their increased credit load without much calamity. But if the trend continues, and defaults start to rise, the American economy could easily get pretty ugly.


[From an article by Alex Morrell, published by BUSINESS INSIDER]




As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis



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Taste test in the golden age of the fast food chicken sandwich

Chicken sandwich taste test...

We’re living in the golden age of the chicken sandwich.

Fried chicken sandwiches are popping up on more menus across the country, according to data from the menu research firm Datassential.

Chick-fil-A has transformed from a regional chain to a national chicken powerhouse, managing to lift annual sales by more than $1 billion in a year.

Restaurant chains that aren’t even known for chicken are looking to poultry to appeal to more consumers and in turn boost sales, Nation’s Retaurant News recently reported.

McDonald’s completely overhauled its chicken sandwich, and Shake Shack unveiled one of the best sandwiches ever made in 2016.

David Chang fanned the flames with the chicken-sandwich-focused Fuku, the most hyped addition to the trendy Momofuku empire.

In light of this crispy, golden renaissance, we decided to gather the chicken sandwiches from major fast-food chains and see which ones are worth it — and which ones are better left untouched.


For this taste-test showdown, we got sandwiches from seven major fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, KFC, and Chick-fil-A.


First up: McDonald’s. The recent revamp of its chicken sandwich brought some much-needed change to the chain. The ‘buttermilk crispy chicken’ sandwich is indeed crispy — in fact, perhaps a little heavy on the breading.

The chicken is slightly on the dry side, but there is a definite hint of tangy buttermilk seasoning. Unfortunately, it often gets masked by a glob of mayonnaise — the usual for this sandwich, based on our reviews before. The ‘artisan’ bun does the job well, holding up to the heaping helping of mayo without getting too soggy.

Burger King’s ‘tendercrisp chicken sandwich’ is … not the best. It’s soggy and saucy; the outrageous amounts of mayonnaise mixes with the watery and weak tomato slice to form a strange, warm slurry beneath the bun.

The chicken is juicy, but salt seems to be the only hint of flavor here. A hunk of gristle — or something — brought the taste-test to an abrupt end. My advice: Don’t go to Burger King for the chicken. It’s not ‘Chicken King,’ and at this rate it never will be.

Wendy’s chicken has always impressed me, at least as far as fast-food chicken can. There’s a crispy, thick fillet with a modest amount of mayo; the iceberg lettuce, however, is a bit of a letdown.

The bun is dolefully spongy, but it stays dry in the face of mayonnaise and a wet tomato slice. Wendy’s isn’t the most amazing of chicken sandwiches, but it’s the old faithful, the decent standby.

Of all the sandwiches, Arby’s is the most unexpected. First, finding that Arby’s even serves a fried chicken sandwich was a learning moment. Secondly, it’s surprisingly good. The chicken is quite tender but has a satisfyingly crunchy breading.

There’s a lot of mayonnaise — the bane of chicken sandwiches everywhere, evidently — but it tastes like real store-brand mayo, which is something of a silver lining. The bun is fantastically soft yet stays dry, and the tomato is flavorful and strong.

Dairy Queen — I’ll preface this by saying how much I adore the Blizzard. I do not expect much of the food, yet even then I am sorely disappointed. Such a sad, sad sandwich. The crispy chicken sandwich is a swampy debacle with far too much mayonnaise and a bun that deteriorates in hand — much like one’s hopes of this sandwich being a decent and enjoyable meal.

The meat is incredibly bland, the tomato is pallid, and the sorrowful shreds of iceberg lettuce add nothing positive to the equation. “That’s … rough,” one taste-test helper said. Please, Dairy Queen, keep making great ice cream treats and stop making food.

KFC’s chicken sandwich, overshadowed by the ghost of the infamous chicken-on-bacon-on-cheese-on-chicken ‘double down,’ is called the ‘doublicious.’ It’s a crispy fillet draped with strips of bacon on top of rich and subtle Monterrey Jack cheese and a slightly spicy sauce.

This sandwich is really, really good. It doesn’t fit within the chicken-tomato-lettuce-mayo tradition of sandwiches, but the flavors are notably nuanced for a fast-food sandwich. The thin chicken is well seasoned with pepper, buttermilk, and whatever the Colonel’s elusive herbs and spices may be. The sauce is likely a mixture of mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, which adds a vinegary kick without overwhelming the sandwich. It’s not as salty as one would expect, as the slightly sweet bun counteracts the bacon.

Chick-fil-A’s revered chicken sandwich is iconic for a reason. Man, it’s a hot one — the foil envelope it comes in keeps it steaming hot for a long, long time. There is a sweetness to the bun, which pairs well with the savory chicken.

The chicken breast isn’t that crispy, but it’s incredibly juicy and tender, and the taste is smooth and fresh. The pickles add a delightful crunch and piquant notes. An elegant simplicity surrounds this sandwich: bun, chicken, pickle. It’s a humble sandwich with little pretense.

Chick-fil-A’s deluxe is another beast entirely, which is why it has to be included in this as well. If we’re going to be shallow and base things purely on looks, this sandwich is the most beautiful thing we have ever laid eyes on. Perfectly ruffled lettuce, melted cheese draped like silks in a Dutch still life, and an unblemished bun — it’s a sight to behold.

As far as taste goes, it’s fantastic; however, it feels … complicated. The chicken — arguably the best part of any Chick-fil-A sandwich, is muffled within the cheese, thick tomato slice, and puffed-up bun.

Of all the sandwiches, KFC’s flavors and quality seemed to shine through — a beacon of crispiness and depth. And even though it has bacon and cheese added on (what is this, a wannabe club sandwich?), the Colonel’s mysterious seasoning gives it the best taste and crunch. But I have to say — Chick-fil-A’s simple, modest, classic sandwich is almost always a winner and pleases even the pickiest of palates.

[From an article by Hollis Johnson, written for BUSINESS INSIDER]


As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis

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Zika virus starting to spread on US mainland…southern states likely to be in most danger

Zika virus spreading in US

The Zika virus has finally made its way to the US mainland, and the virus is now spreading locally in Miami. That means people are getting the virus from American mosquitoes, not just ones that have bitten them while they’re abroad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even warned pregnant women not to travel to the Miami neighborhood where local cases have been detected.

That may sound scary, but it’s not a surprise. Experts expected that the virus would start circulating in Florida.

The question now is: How far will Zika spread across the US?

The most likely answer is that it will spread through southern Gulf states where the mosquitoes that spread the virus are most active.

But the extent of the spread cannot be predicted precisely. It depends on how well public health officials can contain this first outbreak to Miami, and keep imported travel cases from turning into more outbreaks, says David Pigott, a global health expert at the University of Washington.

“Never say never, but [a local outbreak is] a lot less likely to happen in New York or Washington, D.C. given our current knowledge than it is in Houston, or some cities across Louisiana, or other places in Florida,” he said. “In terms of comparative risk, it’s the southern states that are going to be the places where you’re most likely to see it.”

Zika will likely stay in US southern states

The current state of Zika in the US

Officials have identified 14 people in Miami so far who caught Zika from local mosquitoes, and over 1,600 people across the country who got the virus traveling to infected areas like Brazil. Zika has spread quickly through Puerto Rico, where it’s infected a reported 4,600 people since it appeared there in November 2015.

Only one in five people show symptoms, making Zika a particularly hard virus to track. It also only debuted in the Americas last year, so there’s a lot we still don’t know about the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only concluded that Zika was causing the birth defect microcephaly in April 2016.

The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in tropical areas and bites during the day. The Aedes albopictus mosquito can likely spread the disease, too, but that hasn’t been observed in the Americas yet.


[from an article published by BUSINESS INSIDER]




As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis





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Retailers suffering as Americans are too poor to shop; American middle class disappearing

The disappearing middle class is challenging many major American brands.

The Hershey Company on Wednesday reported flat sales for the most recent quarter and cut its profit outlook for the year.

Company executives blamed the disappointing results in part on the changing income landscape in the US.

“We think that consumer bifurcation has been an important driver,” Hershey CEO John Bilbrey said on an earnings call, referring to the growing gap between upper-income and lower-income consumers.

Upper-income consumers are buying more premium treats, while lower-income individuals are purchasing discounted chocolates, he said. Hershey’s has been losing market share, as a result.

“While overall consumer confidence is trending up, lower income consumers continue to be fragile as income and wage growth has been minimal,” he said. “Higher income and more confident consumers are driving premium growth, while cost-conscious consumers are driving the value segment.”

Hershey’s is hoping that its acquisition of the Canadian company Allan Candy will help it compete for lower-income consumers, Bilbrey said. The company is also ramping up its premium offerings.


US economy hurting the middle class and retailers

Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison also recently identified “a shrinking middle class in developed markets” as one of four “seismic” shifts that are impacting her company.

“The pace of change is accelerating as consumers endlessly evolve their preferences and unceasing pressure is placed on the industry to operate differently,” she wrote in Fortune.

Even Walmart, which is known for its cheap prices, is tailoring its business strategy to the expectation that growth will come from upper-income households in the years ahead.

“The nature of e-commerce, the nature of the Neighborhood Markets and other things we’re doing do create an opportunity for us to be even more relevant to customers that are at the higher end of the scale,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said at an investor meeting this month, according to Fortune.

The share of households in the middle tier of income earners has fallen to 43% from 55% since the 1970s, according to The New York Times.

And those households in the middle tier haven’t gotten a raise since 1999.

After adjusting for inflation, US median household income, at $53,657 in 2014, is still 6.5% lower than pre-recession levels in 2007, and 7.2% lower than its peak in 1999, according to the US Census Bureau.


[by Hayley Peterson, writing for BUSINESS INSIDER]




As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis


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“Stocks, bonds, are a joke…this can’t possibly end well,” says financier…







Bill Fleckenstein, President of Fleckenstein Capital, told King World News that he anticipated big problems for stocks and bonds down the road.

Fleckenstein said that easy monetary policy has led to a misallocation of capital and that no one has seen what happens when central banks print as much as they have since the financial crisis.

“Bonds are a joke, yes, and stocks are a joke, and which one is going to crack first and which one is going to lead to more trouble, I can’t tell you, other than both are going to be big problems somewhere down the road,” he said.

Bill Fleckenstein...

From Fleckenstein:

“There’s no chance that the outcome in the financial markets in America is a pleasant one because we’ve gotten here because of the printed money. And so either we have a boatload of inflation and at some point the bond market really gets wrecked and the Fed’s credibility is undermined and we do something about them …

“This can’t possibly end well. This has gone on for so long. It’s still not possible to say when it’s going to change and what’s going to be the catalyst. The important thing to understand is that this is a very fragile structure. The market is very crash-prone. There’s not going to be any liquidity on the downside because of what’s happened in the banks — the algorithms and all that other stuff.

“But none of that matters until it matters. So you just have to understand what the mosaic is and what the facts are, but you can’t try to act on them until it starts to matter if you are going to express a view that is going against the printing of the central banks.”

Fleckenstein also said Yellen might have to start QE4 if the stock market “cracks” as the Fed winds down its asset-purchase program this year.

[by Mamta Badkar, writing for BUSINESS INSIDER]


As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis




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Obama may raise debt ceiling all by himself, and worry about the legal consequences later…

In the summer of 2011, some Democrats urged President Obama to simply raise the debt ceiling himself if Republicans were decidedly against passing legislation.

There was the “trillion dollar coin” idea, whereby the government mints itself out of trouble via an arcane bullion law.

Then there was the 14th Amendment option. Here, the government would have to take a modern interpretation on the Civil War-era amendment about the “validity of the public debt of the United States,” and surely face legal action.

Mr. ObummerNow as the two parties gear up for another debt ceiling bout, Greg Valliere at Potomac Research thinks Obama may be coming around to the idea of acting on his own. Valliere writes to clients:

Obama is not shy about using executive authority, and he surely has heard from Constitutional scholars who believe he has the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own. (Bill Clinton urged Obama to take this approach in the summer of 2011.) Fearless forecast: if Treasury is out of money in early November and a default looks possible, Obama will simply raise the debt ceiling. He’ll face instant litigation, but that wouldn’t be resolved for months.

It seems the president is not willing to negotiate at all for a raise in the debt ceiling, as he made clear to Speaker John Boehner in a phone call last week. We’ll see what happens.

[by Steven Perlberg, writing for Business Insider]
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis

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