Archive for July, 2009

CashForClunkersI wasn’t aware of the “Cash for Clunkers” program until today, when they started talking about ending it prematurely because it was running out of money.  I’m not in a position to take advantage of the program  personally, but I’m glad that it looks like Congress will add more money to it.  I think the concept is brilliant — if the rest of the bloated and dishonest “stimulus” legislation had been more like this, I’d stop calling it the Porkulus bill.

Many conservatives argue that there should not have been a stimulus bill at all.  I tend to agree, and I certainly respect the principles on which that argument is made.  However, the simple political reality is that there was zero chance that the government would refrain from using stimulus spending in an attempt to revitalize the economy.

But while I think any stimulus spending may have been misguided, I’d be done talking about it if the legislation had been a pure stimulus package.  The thing I find infuriating is the uncontestable fact that much of the money will not be spent until 2011 or later.  It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that the purpose of such spending is to stimulate the economy now.

That’s why I love the Cash for Clunkers program.  People commit to spending money right now, then they wait for the rebate.  It gives a boost to the auto industry (and remember, you and I now OWN a significant chunk of that industry).  It gets older, less efficient vehicles off the road in favor of more fuel-efficient models.  Perhaps best of all, it lets individual citizens decide whether they personally want to participate in the program. Win, win, win, win.

Of course, some conservatives see it differently.  On Planet Gore, National Review Online’s anti-environmentalist blog, Henry Payne weighs in:

Worse, Democratic demands that the guzzlers be permanently shredded means that already hurting used-car and -parts businesses will suffer. By insisting that the cars not only be crushed — but also that their engines be disabled — Congress’s decree will penalize the industry at time when a dozen U.S. parts suppliers have filed for bankruptcy this year. [...]

The victims will be lower-income Americans who typically buy only used parts and vehicles. “Now you’re removing cars people could afford, and they’re not available anymore,” says Norm Wright, a Denver recycler. “There will be fewer cars to pull from, so the price of parts will go up.

Pish and tosh.  This strikes me as Obama Derangement Syndrome, or maybe Government Derangement Syndrome — the idea that any initiative by one’s political “enemies” must be not just opposed, but also attacked and belittled.  Once it becomes inevitable that there is going to be an attempt to stimulate through government spending, Cash for Clunkers is about as good as it gets.

The original program included  “only” $1 billion for rebates.  Now the House has voted to add $2 billion.  Those amounts alone have no meaningful stimulative effect.  But surely other sensible stimulative initiatives could have been devised.

At the risk of sounding like a Republican,  the most effective way to stimulate the economy would have been… wait for it… a tax cut.  No, not a “tax cut for the rich” — a tax cut aimed directly at middle-class and lower-middle-class wage earners and business owners.  I’m talking about cutting Social Security taxes — the most regressive form of taxation there is.

I don’t recall where I first heard this idea — probably one of the political podcasts I listen to on the treadmill.  But the more I think through the implications, the more I like the concept.  The Social Security portion of FICA — currently 6.2% on the first $106,800 of annual wages earned — is more regressive even than the sales tax, because there’s no cap on the sales tax.

slow_d16It’s too late now — the Democrats already rammed through their Christmas-tree porkulus package, and the president put the lie to the idea that it had to be passed now now now now now by waiting days to sign it.  But if the main point is to pump money into the economy, why not temporarily reduce that tax by, say, 1 point?  Sure that creates a greater Social Security deficit in the future… but Porkulus increases a different deficit, and it’s not as efficient in creating short-term spending.

A Social Security tax cut could have become effective as quickly as employers could adjust their payroll calculations.  Because of the very nature of the tax, it benefits lower-income people more than it benefits the “rich.”  If the only way to get Democratic support to pass such a bill were to make sure none of the filthy, immoral, $106,801-earning Plutocrats got a single dime of benefit, you could even phase out the temporary tax cut at higher income levels.  Of course, you could also couple such a tax cut with a much smaller, better designed spending program.

Would some people undermine the stimulation by saving the extra bucks rather than spending them?  Sure.  But a LOT of the money would get spent… and the part that is “wasted” by being saved would at least be going into the savings accounts of individuals, who could make their own eventual decisions on how to spend it.

I’m not recommending this now — I’m opposed with every fiber of my being to any additional “stimulus” effort before what we’ve already done has a chance to filter through the economy.

But am I missing something?  Why would this not have been a better idea?

(Illustration by the Web Goddess)

IED_detonator 400The Web Goddess, who truly is a Renaissance Woman, is fascinated by neurology. She hungrily devours any book or article for general audiences about how the brain and central nervous system work.

If you share that interest at all, I highly recommend the story she flagged for me this morning, which was in yesterday’s New York Times Science section.

I find the story gripping for an entirely different reason, about which more to come.

It turns out that when it comes to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), fancy American technology is great, but there’s no substitute for the instincts of (certain) American soldiers.

[H]igh-tech gear, while helping to reduce casualties, remains a mere supplement to the most sensitive detection system of all — the human brain. Troops on the ground, using only their senses and experience, are responsible for foiling many I.E.D. attacks, and, like Sergeant Tierney, they often cite a gut feeling or a hunch as their first clue.

Everyone has hunches — about friends’ motives, about the stock market, about when to fold a hand of poker and when to hold it. But United States troops are now at the center of a large effort to understand how it is that in a life-or-death situation, some people’s brains can sense danger and act on it well before others’ do.

“Sergeant Tierney” refers to a soldier who saved the life of a comrade one summer morning by sensing that something was wrong on a nearly deserted street in Mosul.  The article opens with a scene-setter about a soldier under Tierney’s command who sought permission to give some water to two Iraqi kids in a closed car on a 120-degree day.

The 2,100-word article makes you wait to the very end to learn what happened, but you can guess the outcome.  Sergeant Tierney denied permission for the humanitarian gesture — and when the soldier turned around to fall back, the car was exploded remotely.  The unidentified soldier suffered only minor injuries — but the two young Iraqi boys, of course, suffered the fate their elders intended.

Sort of puts waterboarding a known mass murderer into perspective, doesn’t it?

My point here (and I don’t necessarily speak for the Web Goddess) is not to advocate waterboarding, a practice I oppose.  To paraphrase a recent American president, my point is that good and evil both exist in the world — and the God of my understanding is not neutral between them.

That’s right: I believe God is on our side, in a war against an enemy that has perverted a major global religion.

America is not perfect.  Americans are not perfect.  But to quote an unsuccessful recent presidential candidate (who also opposes waterboarding), “America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.”  I would tack on: “this side of the Almighty.”

Some will argue that a belief in God’s blessing is exactly the kind of self-justifying mindset that leads to excesses like waterboarding.  I think the opposite is true.

Our society has a passionate yearning for God’s approval (or for my secular friends, a yearning to be Good).  That yearning leads us to wrenching but necessary national debates about the precise point where interrogation goes too far — while our enemies deliberately murder two young co-religionists in an effort to take advantage of our humanitarian instinct.

Never forget.

(Public domain photo of IED detonator from Wikimedia Commons)

obama_index_july_26_2009President Obama has slipped to the worst rating of his young presidency in the daily Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll, weighing in at -11 points.  That’s based on likely voters with strong opinions.  He fares better when you look at total approvers vs. total disapprovers — although for the first time, or at least the first time I’ve noticed, he’s in slightly negative territory there as well, with 49% at least somewhat approving of his performance and 50% disapproving.

As soon as I saw that strong uptick in the red strongly-disapprove line above, I knew it had to be a result of Gates-gate, and Rasmussen confirms that.  It’s unfortunate that Obama chose to squander some of his post-racial cred by meddling in an ambiguous incident in a town with a black police commissioner and a black mayor, in a state with a black governor, in a country with a black president.

BTW, I would not show up on Rasmussen’s tracking poll, because I would tell the pollster that I “somewhat disapprove.”  Foreign policy is key for me in evaluating a president, and I give Obama positive marks for continuing President Bush’s policies on Iraq and Afghanistan. (Iran, not so much, although he eventually decided which side to back.) But I’m opposed to pretty much everything he’s trying to do domestically.

Loading Up the Corruption Bus in New Jersey

(Welcome, New York Times readers. You might be interested in other posts about New Jersey and Maplewood.)

Corruption BusMy adopted home state of New Jersey has a long sordid history of political corruption.  We’re not yet five years removed from Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation after the revelation that he had appointed his unqualified boyfriend to a $110,000 state public safety job. We’ve also had Abscam in the 1980s, indictments of five of the last seven Newark mayors, and the list goes on and on.

So I didn’t pay too much attention to the mass arrests last week, until I stumbled on a long Wall Street Journal article putting it in historical perspective.  Here’s the set-up:

This latest episode featured 44 people, an unprecedented number even for New Jersey, being charged in an investigation into public corruption and international money laundering. The bust included five rabbis, three assemblymen and two mayors, prompting one late-night caller on the state’s talk radio station, New Jersey 101.5, to ask, “Where’s the partridge in the pear tree?”

There’s lots of colorful detail, going back to Colonial days, but what appealed to my libertarian sensibilities was the author’s attempt to explain why there’s so much public corruption in the state.

[T]he state is enormously over-governed. In most states, the local unit of government is the county; in others, it’s the municipality. In Jersey, we have both, and lots of them. There are 566 municipalities—California, with four times the population, has only 480—and each has a mayor and/or councils. The 21 counties have their various freeholder boards and utility commissions and there are also 120 state legislators. When that many people have their hands in the cookie jar —and there are that many cookie jars—is it any wonder that you get people selling Oreos out of their trunk in the parking lot to make a little extra cash on the side?

Most of the corrupt pols in this deep-blue state have been Democrats, and the recent batch is no exception.  It’s annoying to me (yes, I take it personally) that the arrests came just days after I announced my tepid support for the re-election of Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.  A headline on PolitickerNJ.com sums up the situation pretty well: “Corzine is Not Corrupt — But the Corruption Scandal Dooms His Campaign.”

I can’t bring myself to vote for likely future Gov. Chris Christie because of his fervent opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples — including a veto promise and support for a constitutional amendment.   But he’s already so far ahead that he doesn’t need my vote.  As the Journal article notes, he’s a former U.S. Attorney with a 130-0 record in prosecuting corruption cases.  Sounds like a silver lining to me.

(Photo: Associated Press)

This will continue to be debated and analyzed for days, but my first thought was, “good for Obama.”  If you go looking for things to criticize in his six-minute statement, you’ll no doubt find them, but he clearly intended to reduce tension, and I suspect he’ll succeed.  I give the man props for talking with Sergeant Crowley.

The president said, “to the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate.”  You can call that a non-apology apology, but to me it sounded like contrition.

APTOPIX Harvard Scholar DisorderlyIt took President Obama five days to speak out critically about the brutal suppression in Iran.  He said he didn’t want to be “seen as meddling.”  Law enforcement officials around the country are no doubt wishing today that the president had shown the same courtesy to the Cambridge Police Department.

Strictly on the basis of factual accuracy, I think Obama was correct in saying that the cops there “acted stupidly” when they arrested prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

But after examining the incident through the prism of a personal incident from three decades ago, I’ve concluded that there’s no shortage of stupidity here.  Other people who acted stupidly include Mr. Gates… and Mr. Obama.

Is it understandable that Professor Gates, who is black, would be offended that a white police officer was investigating him for breaking and entering at his own home?  Of course.  But the idea that this was simply “racial profiling” doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Pretend for a moment that Gates is white.  Now read this uncontested account (with emphasis added) of how the incident began:

This much is known for sure: The 58-year-old professor had returned from a trip to China last Thursday and found the front door of his home jammed shut. Gates entered the back door, forced open the front door with help from a car service driver, and was on the phone with the Harvard leasing company when a white police sergeant arrived.

Obviously, somebody had called in a report of what appeared to be suspicious behavior.  Whether the professor is black, white or green, that’s more than enough reason for the police to show up asking questions.  This isn’t a “driving while black” incident, where a cop pulls over a black man just because he’s driving a nice car.

Gates on some level should have realized that the cop was there to protect the property rights of the homeowner… not knowing that the homeowner was Gates.  Thus far, at the time the cop knocks on the door, nothing stupid or racist has occurred.

Let’s pause for a flashback: Thirty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I was looking out my window early one evening when I saw a man walk by a university-owned apartment across the street — an apartment that I knew was the residence of  a female assistant dean.  The man paused at a window for a moment, reached up and appeared to rattle it briefly, then walked around the corner of the building and out of sight.

After a brief internal debate about whether I was overreacting, I called the campus security office and said it looked like someone had just “tried the window” at Dean So-and-So’s apartment.  Security proctors were dispatched, and as they later explained to me, they determined the man in question was a friend of the assistant dean, arriving for dinner.  When he saw her while walking past her window, the guest tapped on it by way of greeting.

You may have guessed by now that the dinner guest was black and the assistant dean was white.  I know in my heart that I’m not a racist, but forever after I’ve been haunted by the question of whether I would have made the same phone call if the man had been white.

I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.  My point is that in both cases, the public safety officials were acting entirely properly when they responded to the scene.

So why do I agree with Obama that the cops “acted stupidly”?  Let’s let an ex-cop explain:

I was an auxiliary police officer for 20 years, 11 in Michigan where a wise chief told us never, under any circumstances, were we to arrest someone for disorderly conduct. He said that if we couldn’t find a more serious charge it was up to us to calm the person down. Otherwise he told us that using this charge was just an easy way to end a situation with a disruptive citizen without using the skill we were supposed to have to de-escalate.

Works for me.  By all accounts, the responding officer in Cambridge quickly determined that Gates was the owner of the house.  At that point he needs to say “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” (not: I apologize for doing my job while white) and leave the scene — ignoring the homeowner’s taunts if necessary.

Another wise police chief explained to me once, after noting that people can be jailed for “contempt of court,” that sometimes people get arrested for “contempt of cop.”  He added, “the problem is, there’s no such crime as contempt of cop.”

Accounts vary, but it seems pretty clear that Professor Gates was essentially arrested for contempt of cop.  So why did I open by saying he also had acted stupidly?  Note that I’m not saying the professor’s actions were moral or immoral, justified or unjustified.  What I’m saying is that whatever reason he may have had for being angry, it’s just stupid to get into an obstreperous argument with a man carrying a gun.

Which brings us to the real, potentially more consequential stupidity, by a man who should know better, and who doesn’t have the excuse of talking in the heat of the moment.  When asked about the incident at yesterday’s news conference about health care, President Obama started his response by saying:

Well, I should say at the outset that “Skip” Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts.

In the words of Bob Parks, a black commentator who speaks more harshly of Obama than I do, “This is where the president should have stopped and minded his own business, but the all-about-me man just couldn’t contain himself. … President Obama admits he didn’t know much about the case, and yet slams a police department on national television. Is this stupid or what?”

It’s stupid on several levels, and lashing out at law enforcement is only one of them.  As Megan McArdle notes, Obama’s statement is stupid because he’s undermining his own agenda: “The Gates story is sucking up the public’s very limited attention span for health care.”

Most importantly, I think, it was stupid because of the hard work Obama has done for years to differentiate himself, successfully, from the racial grievance industry.  Obama at his worst is a better man than Al Sharpton at his best… but ask yourself if this passage from the press conference transcript doesn’t sound like Sharpton impersonating a reasonable observer:

Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

Yes, Mr. President, there is a long history — and everybody is already aware of it. You have not made America more aware of it by taking sides in an ambiguous incident.  All you have done is provided protective cover for Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others who make their livings by fanning the embers of racial resentment.

(The snapshot of Gates in handcuffs, said to have been taken by a neighbor, is widely available on the internet)

Mr. Maliki Goes to Washington, Standing Tall

Maliki approvalFor his first couple of years as Prime Minister of Iraq, the conventional wisdom held that Nouri al-Maliki was in over his head.  Even people who supported the war tended to think that Maliki was the wrong person to lead the country.

I can’t say I ever formed a firm opinion about Maliki’s suitability for the office, but I certainly wanted him to succeed. I still do, which is why I was delighted this morning to see the nearby chart in the Wall Street Journal tracking Maliki’s approval rating in Iraq.  Note the hockey-stick line at the bottom, showing dramatic increases in support from the Sunni minority for Maliki, a Shi’ite. Yes, it’s still only in the mid-30s, but that’s a long way up from zero.  He achieved this in large part by cracking down on the Shi’ite militias in the southern part of the country.

Maliki comes to Washington this week to meet with Obama and administration officials.  Among other things, he is seeking to encourage corporate investment in Iraq, along with educational and cultural ties.  It’s refreshing to think about Iraq in other than military terms.

(Hat tip: Tigerhawk)

F-22s

Just hours after celebrating a decline in “the administration’s ability to steamroll Congress,” I find myself celebrating a successful Obama veto threat.

With Senators crossing party lines in both directions, the Senate voted 50-48 today to strip $1.75 billion in funding for additional F-22 fighters from a military authorization bill.  Hawk though I am, I’m pleased by this, and this passage from the New York Times explains why:

Critics have long portrayed the F-22 as a cold war relic. The plane was designed in the late 1980s, when the Air Force envisioned buying up to 750 of the planes to dominate dogfights with Soviet jets.

The F-22 can perform tactical operations at higher altitudes than other fighters, and it can cruise at supersonic speeds without using telltale afterburners. With a stealthy skin that scatters radar detection signals, it was also meant to sneak in and destroy enemy surface-to-air missile defenses, clearing the way for bombers and other planes to follow.

But the F-22 has never been used in war, and in recent years, the Pentagon’s focus had shifted to the fights against Islamic insurgents. The Bush administration also tried to halt its production.

Proponents say more of the planes are needed as insurance for possible wars with countries like China and Iran.

I propose this rule of thumb: If President Obama and former President Bush both want to cancel a weapons program, the Congressional pork protectors should lose.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

rasmussen_index_july_20_2009A few weeks after the November election, incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously said “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.  And what I mean by that is, an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

Things like ramming through a mammoth “stimulus” bill now now now now now — never mind that nobody except the bill’s authors had even read it.  It was an opportunity to throw huge sums of money at various Democratic priorities — even though much of the money will not be spent until 2011 or later, and thus will have no current “stimulating” effect.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Fred Barnes does a great job of tying a lot of pieces together.  In the process he helps make it clear why Obama has moved firmly into negative territory in the Rasmussen daily tracking poll. It would be worth your time to read the whole thing on the WSJ site, but you probably won’t, so here’s an excerpt:

It usually doesn’t happen this quickly in Washington. But President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are finding that the old maxim that what goes around, comes around applies to them, too. Less than six months into his term, Mr. Obama’s top initiatives — health-care reform and “cap and trade” energy legislation — are in serious jeopardy and he has himself and his congressional allies to blame.

Their high-pressure tactics in promoting and passing legislation, most notably the economic “stimulus” enacted in February, have backfired. Those tactics include unbridled partisanship, procedural short cuts, demands for swift passage of bills, and promises of quick results.

With large majorities in Congress and an obsequious press corps, Mr. Obama was smitten with the idea of emulating President Franklin Roosevelt’s First 100 Days of legislative success in 1933. Like FDR, Mr. Obama tried to push as many liberal bills through Congress in as brief a time as possible.

He made a rookie mistake early on. He let congressional Democrats draft the bills. They’re as partisan as any group that has ever controlled Congress, and as impatient. They have little interest in the compromises needed to attract Republican support. As a consequence, what they passed — especially the $787 billion stimulus — belongs to Democrats alone. They own the stimulus outright.

The candidate who marketed himself as being above politics has, as president, descended into the arena. I have a special fondness for this theme, as it was the subject of my very first substantive post on this blog, “I Prefer the Chicago Politician to the Obamessiah“:

From a character standpoint, my biggest concern with Obama was the very thing that endeared him to many others — the idea that he was “not a politician,” or was “a new kind of politician.” I never believed that to be the case… but enough people believed it that I had to consider the possibility. The idea of a president who is not a politician is scary. It’s like the idea of a Supreme Court justice who’s not a lawyer. There’s no law against it, and it might even work out OK. But it makes no more sense to put a non-politician in the country’s top political job than it would to put a non-lawyer in the top legal job.

But it turns out Obama is a politician. After winning the Democratic nomination by appealing to the young, the idealists, the activists and the pacifists, he’s swerved right so fast that many of his supporters have whiplash.

slow_d16As the country increasingly recognizes that Obama is so a politician, Democrats in GOP-leaning districts increasingly will look ahead to the 2010 election.  They’ll start to distance themselves from the President, and they’ll scour the internet in search of any vaguely negative comment they made about the size of the porkulus bill.  The administration’s ability to steamroll Congress will, thankfully, decline.

As Barnes concludes:

Mr. Obama’s health-care and energy initiatives, the core of his far-reaching agenda, were bound to face serious opposition in Congress in any case. Hardball tactics and false promises have only made the hill he has to climb steeper. Now he may lose on both. The president and his congressional allies should have known better.

I market my blog as the musings of “a red-state voter in a deep blue state.”  It’s a catchy line, and it lends itself to a jazzy 125×125 logo — created by the Web Goddess, naturally. But sometimes I’ve wondered if New Jersey really is as “deep blue” as, say, Massachusetts or Vermont.  (I’m sure as heck in a deep blue town.)

KP-EntreCard 129Then today I saw this from fellow New Jersey blogger TigerHawk:  “Forty-nine states have elected a Republican to state-wide office since New Jersey last did.”  So by that metric, at least, it’s the bluest state in the nation.

The irony of my self-identification is that in the current governor’s race, I’m almost certainly going to vote for the Democrat — who probably is going to lose.  Which would make me a red-state voter turning blue in a blue state turning red.

I went looking for more info on New Jersey’s red/blue divide and found this from PolitickerNJ:

The last time a Republican statewide candidate won New Jersey was in 1997 [Christie Whitman's re-election].  Since then, 49 other states have elected a Republican to a statewide office. But also consider this: the last time New Jersey re-elected a Democratic governor was 32 years ago [Brendan Byrne's re-election].

One of those two streaks will end this year. As of this week, Republican Chris Christie leads Democrat Jon Corzine by a wide margin, 53-41 percent.

My slogan and party affiliation incline me toward Christie, and I’m impressed by his law enforcement record as the state’s U.S. Attorney.  Earlier this year, a friend who follows my blog suggested I get involved in the Christie campaign, and I looked into that. The deal-breaker was his strong stands against abortion rights and against marriage equality for same-sex couples.  (I was on the other side of those issues from McCain as well, but in a presidential election, national security trumps all else in my mind.)

On marriage equality especially, the choice in New Jersey is stark.  Corzine supports “full marriage equality and is committed to signing marriage equality legislation in 2009.”  Christie says on his website:

If a bill legalizing same sex marriage came to my desk as Governor, I would veto it. If the law were changed by judicial fiat, I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment on the ballot so that voters, not judges, would decide this important social question.

Sorry, no sale.  Maplewood, my home for 10 years, has a high concentration of gay residents.  My gay friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners deserve the same marriage rights that the Web Goddess and I enjoy.

Christie hammers Corzine for raising taxes, and says he’ll cut them.  Fair enough… but I don’t see Corzine as a spendthrift.  From Corzine’s website:

Governor Corzine reshaped and resized state government. He eliminated and consolidated departments, sold state cars, tore up gas cards and closed office buildings. He reduced the state workforce by 7,000 employees and achieved additional savings by increasing the retirement age from 55 to 62, capping pensions, and asking state workers to contribute for the first time toward the cost of their health care. This year, he even negotiated a 7.5 percent wage cut for public employees.

Because Jon Corzine made the right choices, he is the only New Jersey governor in over six decades to reduce the size of state government. The budget that he signed into law on June 29th is $1.8 billion smaller than the first budget he signed in 2006.

Sounds good to me.  Besides, I kinda like the guy.  Maybe it’s the beard.

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