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How Much Debt is too Much?

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on How Much Debt is too Much? | Posted in Financial News

shutterstock_235460797Too much debt is like playing with fire. As a rule of thumb, your debt, excluding your home, should not exceed 20 percent of your take-home pay. Second mortgages and home equity loans should be included in the 20-percent rule. This is because they are usually used to pay off unsecured debt, while a first mortgage is an investment in property that, in most cases, is appreciating in value.
Even if your debt is only in the high teens you may still have too much debt. A financial counselor can often help you understand your finances and learn the appropriate limits. Here are some signs that could indicate it’s time to seek assistance:

  • Your credit card balances are rising but your income is not
  • You are only paying the minimum amounts required on your accounts
  • You consistently charge more each month than you make in payments
  • You are using new credit or cash advances to pay bills
  • You are using your credit cards to buy necessities like food or gasoline
  • You are over the limit on any of your credit cards
  • You have received phone calls or letters about delinquent bill payments
  • You don’t know how much you owe and are afraid to find out
  • You are hiding the true cost of your purchases from your spouse
  • You are working overtime to keep up with your credit card payments
  • You are dipping into savings to pay your monthly bills
  • You have just lost your job, or are fearful that you are about to, and are concerned about how you will pay all your bills

Look for patterns and be aware. If it is something temporary, don’t panic. If it is more serious, be honest with yourself and seek financial advice. A financial counselor can provide a thorough analysis of your family’s personal finances which will help you assess how much trouble you’re in and how much help you need. For many people, a financial counselor can help them get organized and lend support.

Car Rental Insurance

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Car Rental Insurance | Posted in Financial News

shutterstock_125323874If you have ever rented a car you were most likely asked if you would like to purchase additional insurance to cover the rental car. Like many of us, you may have said “yes” in fear of getting in an accident. The additional coverages include:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW), relieves you of financial responsibility if your rental car is damaged or stolen. If you have comprehensive and collision on your own car, you most likely do not need to purchase CDW from the rental car agency.

Some credit card companies may include some collision and theft protection if the rental car is paid for with your card. This includes coverage for “loss of use,” which refers to the amount of money a rental car company can stand to lose while a car is being repaired. If your credit card doesn’t offer coverage for loss of use, you may want to consider purchasing CDW from the rental agency.

  • Liability insurance provides excess liability coverage of up to $1 million for the time you rent a car. Rental companies are required by law to provide the minimum level of liability insurance required by your state. Generally, this does not offer enough protection in a serious accident. If you have adequate liability coverage on your car or an umbrella policy on your home/auto, you may consider forgetting this additional insurance.

If you do not have comprehensive and collision coverage on your own car, you will not be covered if your rental car stolen or if it is damaged in an accident. If you plan to rent a vehicle frequently, your best bargain is to purchase a non-owner auto liability policy.

One more thing to note: if you are renting a vehicle that is not classified as a passenger car (such as a moving truck, 15-passenger van, etc.) you must purchase a separate policy from the rental company to be covered in that vehicle.

©2008, 2013 Zywave, Inc. All right reserved.

The Psychology of Saving

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on The Psychology of Saving | Posted in Financial News

How many households have the right outlook to build wealth?

familywithdogWhy do some households save more than others? Building household savings may depend not only on cash flow, but also on psychology. With the right outlook, saving becomes a commitment. With a less positive outlook, it becomes a task – and tasks and chores are often postponed.

Financially speaking, saving is winning. Sometimes that lesson is lost, however. To some people, saving feels like losing – “losing” money that could be spent. So assert Ellen Rogin and Lisa Kueng, authors of a recently published book entitled Picture Your Prosperity: Smart Money Moves to Turn Your Vision into Reality. They cite a perceptual difference. If people are asked if they can save 20% of their income, the answer may be a resounding “no” – but if they are asked if they can live on 80% of their income, that may seem reasonable.1

There may be a gap between perception & behavior. Since 2001, Gallup has asked Americans a poll question: “Thinking about money for a moment, are you the type of person who more enjoys spending money or more enjoys saving money?”2

While more respondents have chosen “saving money” over “spending money” in every year the poll has been conducted, the difference in the responses never exceeded 5% from 2001-06. It hit 9% in 2009, and has been 18% or greater ever since. In 2014, 62% of respondents indicated they preferred to save instead of spend, with only 34% of respondents preferring spending.2

So are we a nation of good savers? Not to the degree that these poll results might suggest. The most recently available Commerce Department data (January 2015) shows the average personal savings rate at 5.5% – a percentage point higher than two years ago, but subpar historically. During the 1970s, the personal savings rate averaged 11.8%; in the 1990s, it averaged 6.7%.2,3

What reminders or actions might help people save more? Automated retirement plan contributions can assist the growth of savings, and are a means of paying oneself first. There is the envelope system, wherein a household divides its paycheck into figurative (or literal) envelopes, assigning X dollars per month to different packets representing different budget categories. When the envelopes are empty, you can spend no more. The psychology is never to empty the envelopes, of course – leaving a little aside each month that can be saved. Households take an incremental approach: they start by saving one or two cents of every dollar they make, then gradually increase that percentage, household expenses permitting.

Frugality may help as well. A decision to live on 70% or 80% of household income frees up some dollars for saving. Another route to building a nest egg is to invest (or at least save) the accumulated consumer savings you realize at the mall, the supermarket, the recycling center – even pocket change amassed over time.

How many households budget like businesses? Perhaps more should. A business owner, manager, or executive may realize savings through this approach. Take it line item by line item: spending $20 less each week at the supermarket translates to $1,040 saved annually.

Working with financial professionals may encourage greater savings. A 2014 study on workplace retirement plan participation from Natixis Global Asset Management had a couple of details affirming this. While employees who chose to go without input from a financial professional contributed an average of 7.8% of their incomes to their retirement plan accounts, employees who sought such input contributed an average of 9.5%. The study also learned that 74% of the employees who had turned to financial professionals understood how much money their accounts needed to amass for retirement, compared to 54% of employees not seeking such help.4

Saving money should make anyone feel great. It means effectively “paying yourself” or at least building up cash on hand. A household with a save-first financial approach may find itself making progress toward near-term and long-term money goals.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – [1/27/15]
2 – [4/21/14]
3 – [3/2/15]
4 – [9/6/14]

Are You Underprepared for Retirement?

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Are You Underprepared for Retirement? | Posted in Financial News

A university study serves as a wake-up call.

shutterstock_197859686Financially speaking, how many Americans are truly on track to retire? A recently published white paper suggests that about half of us are approaching our “third acts” with faulty assumptions.

Perception differs from reality. Researchers from the University of Alabama and Ohio State University looked at the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances and assessed the retirement readiness of its 2,300-odd respondents. They determined that 58% of these workers (age 35-60) were saving too little for the future, with a near-majority of that 58% failing to recognize the gravity of their situation. Only 42% of households were sufficiently prepared for retirement, but 46% of households believed they were.1,2

The researchers discovered two other interesting disconnects. One, a slight majority of those who were saving adequately for retirement believed they were not saving enough. Two, the insufficiently prepared workers who were in line to receive old-school pensions were more likely to have flawed assumptions about their retirement readiness than workers without future pensions.1

Just how much money do you really need for retirement? The answer to that question varies per household, but many households could stand to save more. One old rule of thumb says you should save the equivalent of 12 times your end salary for a comfortable retirement. If you retire earning $150,000 a year, that means $1.8 million.3

Very few IRAs or workplace retirement plan accounts contain that much – so if your retirement nest egg needs to be that large, other sources of funding for your retirement probably need to emerge.

A household with either or both spouses earning $150,000 may have those resources. A middle class household may need to dedicate 10% or more of its income to retirement savings accounts.

Saving 5% of your salary for retirement probably means saving too little. Take the case of someone who starts saving for retirement at age 30 while earning $40,000. Hypothetically, assume that this person gets a 3.8% raise annually (which may be optimistic) and gets a consistent 6% yield from his or her retirement accounts (this is a hypothetical example). What if this person works until full retirement age (67)? In 2052, 37 years from now, this worker will have, under these conditions, a retirement nest egg of $423,754. Not bad, but not fantastic.3

Another old rule of thumb says living comfortably in retirement requires 85% of your end salary. A nest egg of $423,754 is clearly too small to provide that for most of us, even with income withdrawn from it supplemented by Social Security payments.3

If you save and invest ably over 30 or 40 years, you might end up a millionaire with the help of strong yields and compounding. You may need to be a millionaire to retire.

What if interruptions mar your retirement savings effort? They may mar it, but they should never halt it. Divorce, medical issues, prolonged joblessness – these and other events may impede your progress toward your savings goals, but the effort to save must still be made as you want time on your side.

If you are able to anticipate such an interruption, there are ways to plan to possibly make up the slack. You could explore investing more aggressively during that time period – but you invite greater market risk. You could cut back on household expenses (or inessential expenses) to free up more money to sustain your pace of retirement saving. Or, you could determine potential strategies far ahead of such disruptions by sitting down with a financial professional to run some scenarios (laid off at 60, taking three years out of the workforce at age 35 or 40 to be a stay-at-home mom or dad, and so forth).

You should strive to be financially prepared for your retirement, and for the unexpected life events or financial surprises that may occur before it arrives.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – [4/1/15]
2 – [2/20/15]
3 – [1/12/15]

April 2015 – Monthly Economic Update

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on April 2015 – Monthly Economic Update | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

Weekly Economic Update

Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed: Delicious and Safe

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed: Delicious and Safe | Posted in Lifestyle

shutterstock_72043930On Mother’s Day, many kids prepare and serve breakfast in bed for Mom. It’s a great opportunity not just to celebrate mothers, but also to help kids learn the basic lessons of food safety. The goal is to serve a safe, delicious breakfast in bed – not give Mom a foodborne illness that will leave her sick in bed!

Lesson 1. Keep Everything Clean

Bacteria and viruses can be hiding just about anywhere: in the kitchen, on a plate and on hands. These invisible enemies can make Mom sick. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after preparing food, after playing with pets or handling pet food, and after using the bathroom.

Wash all fruits and vegetables with running tap water before cutting or eating them. Put food on clean surfaces only. Always use clean knives, forks, spoons, and plates.

Lesson 2. Keep Raw and Cooked Foods Separated

Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food to another. To prevent cross-contamination, always keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood (and their juices) away from ready-to-eat foods.

Always wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, and seafood.

Lesson 3. Cook Food to Safe Temperatures

You can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illness. That’s why you should use a food thermometer to make sure food has reached a safe internal temperature. You can’t tell food is cooked safely by how it looks.

Always place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, away from bone and fat, to check the temperature. Always cook eggs before eating them. When cooked, eggs should be firm, not runny.

Lesson 4. Keep Perishable Foods Cold

To grow and multiply, bacteria need time and the right environment: moisture and warmth. Most bacteria grow quickly between 40 °F and 140 °F (the Danger Zone). Some bacteria can double their numbers every 20 minutes.

Some foods that need to stay cold (at 40 °F or below) include sandwiches or salads made with meat and poultry; tuna and egg salad; milk, cheese, and yogurt; and peeled or cut fruits and vegetables.

Refrigerate any leftovers from Mom’s special meal within 2 hours. Throw out perishable food left out for more than 2 hours, and don’t feed it to your pets. Even pets are susceptible to food borne bacteria. To reheat leftovers safely, make sure they reach 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.


Sliced: Nutritionists Urge Pizza Restraint

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Sliced: Nutritionists Urge Pizza Restraint | Posted in Lifestyle

Pizza is one of the most popular foods for many children and teenagers, with a surprisingly high number eating cheesy slices every day. Researchers are now calling for parents to to curb its consumption.

Loaded with calories, saturated fat and salt, pizza is the second highest calorie source—running second only to grain-based desserts like cookies and cakes—in the diets of kids aged 2 to 18, researchers reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics.


“Pizza is a significant source of calories in the diets of children and teens,” says study co-author Dr. William Dietz, director of the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “It was surprising to me to learn that on any given day 20 percent of children and teenagers are eating pizza.”

The Washington University researchers analyzed dietary data from eight years of questionnaires that were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

On the days pizza was consumed, it accounted for 20 percent of the calories in kids’ diets, the researchers found. The George Washington University researchers studied dietary data from eight years of questionnaires that were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

On those pizza days, kids tended to consume 600 calories more than they should, even though kids were eating fewer than 300 calories worth at dinner time. Dietz wasn’t sure about the source for the extra calories, although it might be that kids were having pizza more than once on those days.

Dietz says he isn’t asking parents to go cold turkey on completely removing pizza from the menu. He’d just like to see them cut back—way back.

“Stay away from the ones that are swimming in cheese,” says Dietz. “Reduce the frequency; have smaller slices; and choose healthier options like mushrooms, onions and peppers instead of pepperoni and sausage.”

But giving up pizza may not be easy for busy parents.

Mary Talbot, a working mom from Barrington, Rhode Island, says evenings when the family barely has a half hour to squeeze in dinner, pizza is the perfect choice.

“It’s imperative some nights as a single parent,” says the mother of two tween boys. “It’s fast and you figure it’s got some carbs and some protein from the cheese. You just can’t overdo it.”

For some, grabbing pizza for dinner means more family time.

“Obviously, it’s a convenient food and, obviously, we don’t recommend having it at every meal,” says Scott Kelly, a dad from Chandler, Arizona. “Not a lot of fruit and vegetable companies deliver. And at the end of a 13- or 14-hour day, my wife and I would rather spend time with our kids than spend time cooking and cleaning. The other night, we had pizza because I wanted to be there for my son’s lacrosse practice.”

The new research is not about being “the pizza police,” says Dietz, but “it’s important for people to be aware of what they are consuming, particularly since obesity is a prevalent as it is and because obesity has so many adverse consequences.”

Moderation and meal planning are key to making pizza more healthy, says child psychologist and mom Dana Rofey.

“Have fruit or vegetables or a salad before you order the pizza,” says Rofey, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and a psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “Also, I always daub off the top of the pizza to remove the excess grease. And I top it with vegetables.”

Families should eat pizza no more than once a week, with the serving size no more than two slices per child says Miranda Westfall, program manager and dietician at the Fit for Healthy Weight Program at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Choose whole grain pizza dough, top it with low fat or nonfat mozzarella cheese and a lean protein source like Canadian bacon, and load it full of vegetables,” says Westfall.

For some parents, once a week isn’t enough.

Glenna Murillo, a stay-at-home mom from San Jose, California, says there are few things her daughter, who has autism spectrum disorder, will eat besides pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.

“I think the demonizing of pizza, or any one kind of food, is a mistake,” Murillo says. “I have a kid who won’t eat anything green. But … [pizza] is not something I would want to give her every day.”

Murillo uses pizza making to teach her daughter about food preparation and eating options.

“We will actually prepare it together,” Murillo says. “We make the dough and roll it out and that way she can see what’s in it. We put turkey pepperoni on it, which has 70 percent less fat that regular pepperoni.”


YouTube Celebrates 10 Years

April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on YouTube Celebrates 10 Years | Posted in Lifestyle

The online video platform has changed our culture in many ways, including
in Pittsburgh

By Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
YouTubeStarMore than 10 years ago, no one was watching online videos of other people’s pets or kids. And no one was sharing their lives for the world to see, and they never dreamed that doing so could bring a lucky few a measure of fame and fortune.

Happy 10th birthday, YouTube.

In just one decade, YouTube has evolved from a site where people can upload, share and watch videos into a major landmark on the media landscape, changing the face of culture and society in many ways. Even in Pittsburgh, the site has made international video celebs out of regular people and helped launch music careers.

YouTube has become a sprawling archive of all aspects of life: Interplanetary explorers could get a pretty good — and sometimes very weird — picture of who we earthlings are by just by watching YouTube videos. They range from the ridiculous to the sublime, from artistic short films to shaky amateurish efforts. Countless music videos and classic performances are a keystroke away. YouTube is used by the White House and other government agencies as a way to communicate with the public — especially with young people. The site has become a valuable tool for citizen journalists and an uncensored window on the world. There are rants and meltdowns and TV commercials old and new. There’s even a popular sub-genre unique to to user-generated movement — the cat or dog video.

On April 23, 2005, the first video was uploaded on YouTube. It was made by and starred YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim and was called “Me at the Zoo.” This 18-second video shot at the San Diego Zoo is still online and has drawn more than 19.2 million views.

YouTube was founded by three former PayPal employees — Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Mr. Karim. The company launched officially in February 2005. A year later, more than 65,000 videos were being uploaded every day, with nearly 100 million viewers. Now there are more than 1 billion users and 300 hours of video are uploaded per minute, according to YouTube. It’s the third most visited website, behind Facebook and Google, according to Alexa rankings.

Google bought YouTube in November 2006 for $1.65 billion in an all-stock transaction. In 2011, the Google+ social networking site was integrated with YouTube, and Google+ members can watch videos within Google+.

In December 2012, PSY’s “Gangnam Style” passed the 1 billion view mark, breaking all previous online video records.

YouTube has gone from media upstart to mainstream. Major TV networks use it as a companion platform. The trade publication Billboard factors YouTube data into its hits charts.

Independent producers have been able to build audiences for their work on YouTube. Through the company’s revenue-sharing “Partner Program,” some are making money: the top 500 partners earn more than $100,000 annually, according to YouTube’s website.

Pittsburgh fame and beyond 

Pittsburgh native Justine Ezarik, aka. iJustine, was an early adopter on the YouTube scene. Her prolific contributions to the site helped launch her career as an Internet video celebrity and TV/film actress. In 2007, millions watched her open her first iPhone bill, which came in a box and weighed in at 300 pages. She has made countless videos of herself and the gadgets in her life — an 18-minute video about being the first in line at the Apple store to buy the iPhone 6, reviewing Google Glass, and baking cakes and pies. In the AOL Originals YouTube channel “HardWired 2.0 with iJustine,” she explores tech trends.

Pittsburgh Dad is a popular YouTube character created by Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta. Every week since 2011, thousands have watched Pittsburgh Dad yell at his family and expound on football, movies, religion and shopping at Giant Eagle.

Pittsburgh Dad’s character resonates with many viewers — both locals and expatriates — a key ingredient in the recipe for a successful viral video. “The biggest comment we get is, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my dad,’ ” Mr. Preksta said. “We’re trying to accurately depict what dads are like and recreate those family situations many of us experience.”

A global audience of millions has watched two little Forest Hills girls named Jillian and Addie McLaughlin grow up on YouTube through their Babyteeth4 channel. The sisters star in imaginative adventures with cool special effects like “Fast Cars, Bad Kids” and “Too Many Addies,” along with regular segments where they consume and review different kinds of candy.

YouTube has played a major role in launching the successful careers of some young Pittsburgh artists. Rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller grew up here and have skillfully used YouTube to get exposure for their music. Their videos draw millions of hits.

Singing phenomenon Jackie Evancho’s performances are popular on YouTube, starting with her 2010 appearance on “America’s Got Talent” at age 10; the day after it aired, more than 3 million people watched the replay on YouTube.

Pittsburgh has its own YouTube genre — the Pittsburgh-ese/yinzer video. They range from comedy sketches to instructional videos in how to talk the talk.

During Zachary Quinto’s 2014 appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” he and the host talked about being from Pittsburgh. The segment ended with Mr. Quinto doing a Pittsburgh-ese monologue.

The Jimmy and Dave song “The Yinzers: Growing Up in Pittsburgh” is performed in pure Pittsburgh-ese with English subtitles. “Dahntahn” — comedian musician Mark Eddie’s parody of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” — got more than 490,000 hits.

In a 2014 video that went viral and put the spotlight on street harassment, actress and former CAPA student Shoshana Roberts was filmed over 10 hours as she walked through the streets of Manhattan, enduring more than 100 instances of sexist comments and catcalls. The YouTube video is now approaching 40 million views.

Pittsburgh-based American Eagle Outfitters’s infamous 2014 April Fools’ prank — the launch of a companion dog clothing line called American Beagle Outfitters — got traction online. When American Eagle launched the line for real during the holiday season, the commercial the company posted on YouTube got more than 700,000 views.

YouTube has transformed our culture. “There are lots of different dimensions to that,” said Jason Hong, an assistant professor who specializes in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. One is the way people watch video. Thanks to the rise of mobile devices, instead of being tethered to a TV or computer, people can call up a short video wherever they are to fill in a few idle minutes. “They can watch anywhere, anytime — on the bus or during a break.”

It has also had an economic impact. “Many new kinds of jobs have emerged,” Mr. Hong said. For example, serious video gamers like PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, now stream themselves playing games. PewDiePie’s videos yank viewers into the visual experience of playing by combining the games’ sophisticated graphics and his rapid fire improvised comic patter and screaming. PewDiePie’s YouTube channel has more than 35 million subscribers and millions of views on each video. Advertising revenue has made him a millionaire: He makes more than $4 million a year, according to Forbes.

YouTube has democratized the process of producing videos by taking away the gatekeepers: Anybody can put work online — good or bad. “For the first time in history, widespread video distribution is in the hands of the individual. The playing field has been leveled,” said Bob McLaughlin, Jillian and Addie’s dad and the director of their videos. “YouTube’s revenue- sharing program has enabled video hobbyists to do this full-time. No other social media platform pays you for creating content.

“YouTube is a truly revolutionary phenomenon. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring.”

Unlike traditional media producers, interaction between YouTube producers and viewers is a two-way street. “We do episodes that are suggested by fans. Other [TV] sitcoms couldn’t operate that way,” Mr. Preksta said.

YouTube has helped to trigger the seismic shift in how and where people consume media. It won’t be the death of TV, said Mr. Preksta, who’s at work on a feature-length version of “Pittsburgh Dad.” But, he adds, younger generations spend more time with YouTube than TV. “We’re seeing a change in where the eyeballs are coming from. We’re seeing a shift in the youth.

“It’s remarkable that one site could change things that drastically. YouTube and Facebook and Twitter changed the freaking universe.”


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