DON’T LET THIS BANK FAIL

It’s hitting the gut now.

The spreading economic crisis is leaving tens of millions of Americans facing the prospect of hunger as they contend with diminished earnings or joblessness and worse.

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According to one estimate, more than 35 million Americans lived in households that struggled to feed themselves in 2007; the toll this year is expected to be worse. Next year, worse still.

In New Jersey, an estimated 250,000 new clients are expected to seek help this year from food banks. And the need isn’t coming only from the inner cities. Now, even affluent suburbs are being affected.

But even as requests for assistance have risen, donations have been on the decline, leaving food bank shelves almost empty and hungry families waiting for something to eat.

“In all the years I’ve been doing this, there have been times we didn’t have money, but we had food,” says Kathleen DiChiara, founder of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey,” a wholesale distributor of food to more than 1,600 charities throughout the state. Now, she estimates the food banks inventory is down “at least 30 percent,” even as demand is up 25 percent.

So those who feed the hungriest of their neighbors are reaching out with a special appeal for donations of food and cash to help. An information blitz includes the above video, full-page ads featuring longtime food bank supporter Bruce Springsteen, and articles and essays appearing today in 103 hyperlocal news sites (that’s what we call redbankgreen) and blogs across New Jersey.

The message: a crisis of domestic hunger is looming.

“This is not going to go away after the holidays,” says DiChiara. “We need to have food drives that are going to stretch out throughout the year.”

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GANNETT GOUGES PRESS STAFF AGAIN

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The axe has fallen in an expected third round of job cuts this year at the Asbury Park Press, with unconfirmed reports that the entire Trenton bureau was fired and the department that produces art & graphics for the news pages was “decimated.”

Those reports come from other media. Press parent Gannett Co. is reporting only a statewide job reduction for its New Jersey holdings.

Here’s what’s in today’s Press:

Gannett Co. Inc. has eliminated 206 positions at its six newspapers in New Jersey due to declining advertising revenues and the severe economic downturn afflicting the state and the nation.

The company began notifying the affected employees Tuesday at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, the Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, the Courier News in Bridgewater, the Daily Record in Parsippany and the Daily Journal in Vineland.

“The economic downturn we are facing is severe and is expected to last throughout next year,” said Thomas M. Donovan, president and publisher of the Asbury Park Press and vice president of Gannett’s East Newspaper Group. “We have reduced expenses significantly throughout this year. But, unfortunately, as we looked ahead to economic forecasts for 2009, it became clear that we needed to make further reductions.”

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RIVERCENTER PLANS ECONOMIC SUMMIT

VacancyAn empty storefront on West Front Street.

Spurred by surging unemployment and dwindling consumer sales, Red Bank officials are organizing an an economic “summit” of sorts for business owners and residents to brainstorm ideas to help the borough buck the tide.

No date has been set for the event, though it will likely be in January, says Nancy Adams, Executive Director of Red Bank RiverCenter, the downtown promotion entity.

“Basically, it’s a tough economy,” says Adams. “We’re trying to think of ways to help, to be proactive, to try to under the tools that businesses can use, and that we can use” to mitigate the impacts of the national economic downturn.

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COOL SCHOOL VID ON RED BANK HISTORY

Lest we forget, Red Bank is still in its centennial year, and reminders of that milestone continue to pop up now and again.

The latest is the above video, shot and produced by four students, aged 14 to 17, who enrolled in the Count Basie Theatre’s Cool School this summer.

The kids, who did all the shooting, are Dylan Smart, Jenn Lewis, Mike Hagberg Jr. and Jack Calabro, says Yvonne Scudiery, the Basie’s director of education.

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‘OVERWHELMING GREED’ UNDERLIES CRISIS

Img_952872“It’s something that affects all of us. It’s not just a Wall Street bailout,” says Jan Gardiner, of Locust.

Today’s Washington Post reports the results of a poll that finds voters deeply divided over the terms of the government’s $700 billion economic rescue package, but overwhelmingly in agreement that the House’s rejection of the measure on Monday could deepen the country’s financial woes.

Here in The Green, random interviews with people on the streets of Red Bank and Sea Bright yesterday found New Jerseyans largely share that fear. There’s also a widespread sense that runaway greed got us into this mess, though whose greed depends on one’s point of view.

Read on for our sampling of opinions, and feel free to weigh in with a comment.

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SUPPORT FOR BAG BAN GOES LIMP, FAST

Dupont_leeCouncilman Mike DuPont’s initiative got enough votes for introduction, including one from Councilwoman Sharon Lee, though she said she disagreed with its punitive thrust and could not support adoption.

A proposed ordinance that might have put Red Bank in a national spotlight by banning commonly-used plastic grocery bags got treated like a bag plastered to the grill of speeding truck last night.

A parade of speakers — including several from the food and packaging industries — rose to denounce it as wrongheaded in terms of economics, the environment and public policy. No one had much to say in favor of it except for its sponsor, and by the end of the debate, even he was saying that if nothing else, the bill had spurred discussion of the issue.

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HOV SALES TAKE HUGE SLIDE

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Homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises, based in Red Bank,posted its eighth consecutive quarter in the red, reporting a net loss of $202.5 million for the fiscal quarter ended July 31.

The loss equated to $2.67 per share, compared with a loss $1.27 per share, or a total $80.5 million, in the year-ago third quarter. Analysts had predicted a loss of $1.68 per share, Reuters reported.

Revenue plummeted by 37 percent, to $716.5 million, from $1.1 billion in the comparable 2007 period, as Hovnanian, the nation’s sixth-largest homebuilder, has tracked the industry trend of losses in the worst real esate market in decades. Thirty-two percent of the company’s contracted buyes canceled their deals in the quarter.

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PRESS SHRINKS AGAIN

Citing “deteriorating business conditions,” Gannett Co, the owner of the Asbury Park Press, eliminated 120 positions at six New Jersey newspapers yesterday.

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Among the affected publications are the Press, the Home News-Tribune in East Brunswick and the Daily Record in Parsippany.

No breakdown of the impact on each newspaper was provided in the five-sentence report of the layoffs posted in the online version of the Press. Reporters employed there told redbankgreen prior to the announcement that 50 jobs were on the line there.

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SIDEWALK SURFING ’08: BEST. SALE. EVER.

Img_1272The scene on Broad Street at the 2006 edition of the event.

By TOM CHESEK

There was that friend of ours who found a shrink-wrapped, never-played, original 1963 pressing ( released the day JFK was shot) of the Phil Spector Christmas Album, in a box of old discs at Jack’s.

More than one other whispered of a long-neglected storage space inside the old Kislin’s sporting goods emporium, where vintage leather jackets and mod 1960s accessories awaited discovery by a dogday-morning earlybird in search of some gear-grabber’s grail.

If you’ve lived in or around Red Bank for any length of time, you or someone close to you has just such a “sidewalk story.” And even if half of those tales are total hooey, it’s always fun to think that a truly historic get — a bargain in a box, a folding-table find, a street-rack steal — lies just past that lady blocking your view of the 2007 calendars and novelty napkin rings.

As the folks at Red Bank RiverCenter prepare to present the 54th edition of the annual Red Bank Sidewalk Sale this weekend, it’s making perfect sense to avoid the beach and do some sidewalk-surfin’ instead — with approximately 100 merchants taking to the streets in what’s being billed as “the best sale ever,” and dozens of dining establishments standing by to serve. There’s also live entertainment, courtesy of an expanded edition of the weekly Street Life outdoor concerts — and did we mention that parking on downtown streets and municipal lots is fabulously free for the duration of the event?

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DONOVAN’S: GOING NOWHERE, GLADLY

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By SUE MORGAN

Never mind that ‘farewell forever’ send-off held last year at Donovan’s Reef. The legendary Sea Bright landmark is sticking around and kicking up sand a bit longer.

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Today’s lackluster real estate market has benefited regulars of the combined bar and beach club. They had all but said their final, sloppy goodbyes to the Ocean Avenue entertainment spot last autumn.

But a presumed buyer backed out of a deal in February, and no others came forward to match the reported $5 million that Bob Philips and his two partners were said to be asking.

Then Philips, who’s 71 years old and has been a co-owner for more than 30 years, realized he wasn’t ready to let go, anyway. His desire to continue working at the Jersey Shore-themed establishment, he says, led him to decide to keep Donovan’s going year-round at least through the summer of 2009.

If nothing else, Phillips says, he wants Donovan’s to provide a place for patrons from a wide range of backgrounds to come together, despite soaring gas and food prices and an overall sour economy.

“People always get a few bucks so they can go out,” Phillips said in a telephone interview. “We’re Americans. It’s what we’re about.”

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HOVNANIAN SLAMMED AGAIN

Img_9341The company’s headquarters overlooking the Navesink River.

Red Bank-based national homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises saw its second-quarter losses increase elevenfold from last year as land valuations and revenues plunged again amid what Dow Jones calls “the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression.”

Still, as the company reported its seventh consecutive net loss, chairman and CEO Ara Hovnanian said the business has “ample liquidity to weather the current downturn,” thanks to a recent refinancing and other measures.

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TIFFANY, MEET PIERRE… AND PIERRE…

Img_8344First robin’s-egg-blue nest on the left: the future home of Pierre Deux.

The Red Bank-area home furnishings market is about to get a touch of provincial France — and landlord Larry Garmany is about to make a sweetheart match for his primo tenant, Tiffany & Co.

redbankgreen has learned that Pierre Deux, a rapidly growing 19-store chain, has taken one of the two vacant spaces flanking Tiffany at its six-month-old Broad Street address.

A new Pierre Deux store will be up and running by early September, a company official confirms.

While the news is unlikely to be cheered by those who lament, or even vilify, downtown Red Bank’s continuing climb up the socioeconomic ladder, it stands out as only the latest in a series of gravity-defying feats pulled off by Garmany, a Cuban immigrant who bootstrapped a small haberdashery into an upscale men’s and women’s clothier occupying the district’s largest retail space.

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GANNETT CUTS JOBS AT PRESS, 3 OTHERS

The Asbury Park Press is among four Gannett Co. newspapers in New Jersey that laid off a total of 55 employees yesterday, the Press itself reports.

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The axe fell after half of 166 workers offered early retirement three weeks ago accepted the packages, the paper reports.

In addition to the Press, the affected newspapers are Home News & Tribune in East Brunswick, the Courier-News in Bridgewater and the Daily Record in Parsippany.

No breakdown of layoffs at each paper was given. Gannett describes the Press, which is still the dominant daily in Monmouth and Ocean counties, as the ‘flagship’ among its six New Jersey papers.

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COUNCIL RUNDOWN: BOATS, AWNINGS…

Img_8646Councilwoman Grace Cangemi says residents should have warnings before nearby hydrants are flushed, resulting in discolored water flowing through taps.

Some highlights from last night’s bimonthly meeting of the Red Bank council:

TEACHERS OF THE YEAR: In addition to primary school teacher Pat Moss, who was spotlighted here yesterday, this year’s honorees were middle school third-grade teacher Stacy Curcio; third-grade teacher Matt Strippoli of the Red Bank Charter School, and social studies teacher (and Red Bank native) Steve Johnson of Red Bank Regional.

AUDIT: Independent auditor Dave Kaplan gave his annual assessment of the borough’s finances and record-keeping, both of which he finds in good shape, though with four “relatively minor” cautions, one of which centers on the timely approval of council minutes. (Until last night, the borough clerk’s office was more than a year behind in getting the minutes of meetings together; now, the most recent minutes approved are from the July 9, 2007 session.)

Kaplan noted also that tax collections last year slipped a tad, to 97.09 percent from 97.99 percent, which he attributed to economic conditions. “People are just a little slower in paying their taxes,” he said.

BOATS AND CARS: There was a discussion of a request regarding parking on Union Street from the Monmouth Boat Club. As is somewhat common at council meetings, the agenda gave no hint of what the boat club had asked for, and nobody on the council bothered to fill the audience in, but it seemed to involve the removal of or deactivation of parking meters.

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GARBAGE OUT: TOWNS TRIM TRASH COSTS

Today’s Asbury Park Press has a story about efforts by Red Bank and Fair Haven to cut their trash-disposal expenses, one by curtailing pickups for non-profits and the other by having the schools fend for themselves.

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In Red Bank, where elected officials have long complained about a surfeit of organizations that provide essential services to the region but pay no taxes to the borough, an ordinance was passed recently that limits churches, schools and other groups to the same three-cans-per-pickup that residents are allowed.

That’s expected to save the borough $50,000 this year, according to Mayor Pasquale Menna.

But the change didn’t sit well with Lee Burle, administrator for the First Baptist Church, who appealed to the borough council in April to waive the three-can limit because the church lets five service groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, meet in the church, and those services put the church over the three-can threshold, th Press reports.

“We’d like to stay in the three-can (limit), but (the groups) create additional trash,” Burle said.

Menna said the church would have to make provisions for its own trash pickup, which Burle said would cost the church money.

“That’s the same problem taxpayers have in Red Bank,” Menna said, referring to the cost of collection and disposal.

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HAVE WE REACHED THE MARKET BOTTOM?

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The plunge in Shore-area real estate values that’s been underway for almost two years is showing signs of abating, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

From the story:

Home prices in the area that includes Monmouth and Ocean counties were essentially flat in the first quarter of 2008, declining by 0.6 percent from the same period the year before, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

The median sale price for an existing single-family home in Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Somerset counties was $361,200, down $2,300, from $363,500 in the same quarter in 2007, the association said. The median means that half the homes in the area sold for more and half sold for less.

Joel Naroff, chief economist for Commerce Bank, said the decline is “relatively modest, to say the least.”

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R-FH FIVE TAKE ON EUROPE, AND WIN

Img_6864The R-FH Euro challengers: from left, Sam Wilson, Robbie Trocchia, Margot Keale, Steven Fuschetti and Jennifer Lapp.

If you think understanding the U.S. economy is a brain-buster, try overlaying its complexity with currency exchange rates, European history and social trends unique to a post-Cold War continent.

That, in a thumbnail, was the starting point for five sophomores from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High who competed as a team in something called the Euro Challenge last month.

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Then they had to develop their teamwork, public speaking and time-management skills, preparing themselves to answer arcane questions under the gun about the “decoupling” of the U.S. and European economies, among other arcane topics.

This for a group of kids who didn’t know their CPI from their GDP at the start of the school year.

Well, cutting to the chase: after two grueling and nerve-wracking days of competition, the R-FH team took first place among 47 teams from seven states in a final held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in late April.

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HOV IMPROVES CASH FLOW

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Hovnanian Enterprises says it is tripling its forecast for positive cash flow this year to $300 million from earlier “guidance” given to investors.

The announcement came with this morning’s report by the publicly traded homebuilder, based here in Red Bank, that it had achieved positive cash flow in the just-completed second fiscal quarter, one quarter ahead of expectations.

The focus on stanching a loss of cash comes as Hovnanian, like most players in its sector, struggles with one of the worst housing markets in a generation.

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POINTING FINGERS & LOOKING FOR A PENNY

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Agita continued to flow from Red Bank’s proposed 21-percent budget increase last night as one resident lashed out at the borough council, another sought details on where purported spending cuts had been made, and elected officials blamed Trenton and Freehold for many of the town’s fiscal woes.

“You people aren’t in the same world as the rest of us,” Arthur Parent railed at Mayor Pasquale Menna and the six-member council.

Noting that taxes on his Alston Court home are already up 50 percent since since 2001, he added: “You guys have to get real. This is not even close to reality.”

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RARE DEMS SHOW THEIR FACES IN RUMSON

Last November, redbankgreen ran a feature on the paucity of Democrats in Rumson, where no member of the party is believed to have won elective office in the borough’s 101-year history.

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Now, two examples of “the rarest of species, which hasn’t been seen here for 25 years,” have been sighted amid the borough’s chateaux and luxe lawns, today’s Asbury Park Press reports. And they’re seeking office on a platform that for too many years, the town’s governing body has spoken with a single voice.

From the Press:

The Rumson Democrat has resurfaced in the form of two council candidates, Michael Steinhorn and Fred Blumberg, who say their mission is to bring a bipartisan presence to what they contend is a government locked up by one party. They face incumbent Republicans Shaun Broderick and Robert Kammerer, who counter that current council members are independent thinkers acting for the good of the borough.

“We’re starting with the bipartisan issue,” said Steinhorn, 60. “We’re looking for a sense of fairness, a sense of democracy, inclusion as opposed to exclusion. I think a lot of people feel excluded.”

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MESSAGE TO MENNA: DON’T SELL THIS LAND

Img_4241The borough council ordered up an appraisal on the disused borough parking lot at the foot of Maple Avenue last month, with an eye toward a possible sale.

Pushback on Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna’s plan to sell a disused plot of riverfront borough land has begun.

Both today’s Asbury Park Press and this week’s Hub have stories about citizen efforts to derail the idea. And they’ve won support not only from the two Republicans on the six-member borough council, but from at least one Democrat, the Hub reports.

Larry Higgs of the Press features Fair Haven resident and Red Bank property owner “Cindy Barton,” who’s pictured sitting in her kayak on the property and wants to see the tract used as a boat launch. [We think Higgs means the woman identified in the Hub as Cindy Burnham; property records don’t show anyone named Barton owning property in either town, but Cynthia Burnham owns one in each.]

“It’s 50 feet (on the riverfront), but it’s 50 feet more of riverfront property that Red Bank residents have to enjoy,” said Barton, a Fair Haven resident who also owns a house in Red Bank. “I’m asking residents to come to the next council meeting to voice their opinions in support of saving this last piece of riverfront property.”

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RIVERCENTER BUDGET Q&A

Rivercenter_sign_2RiverCenter’s office is at 20 Broad Street.

Last week, Red Bank RiverCenter executive director Nancy Adams presented the business-promotion organization’s budget to the borough council. The spending plan, totalling $624,052, is 3.3 percent larger than the 2007 version.

(Alas, RiverCenter doesn’t present its budget with comparative figures from the prior year. So here’s the budget from 2007 Download RiverCenter2007budget.jpg, and here’s the 2008 spending plan Download RiverCenter2008budget.jpg.)

Via email, redbankgreen interviewed Adams about the budget last week. Here’s the exchange:

Your budget for administrative costs this year is up $23,810, or 11 percent, to $232,580. What’s driving that?

A change in staffing. Our Director of Operations has gone to part-time, with appropriate salary cut, and we hired a Program Manager to take over event planning and management, and work with me on marketing, a full time position. Thus the increase.

Does any of that reflect a bump in the executive director’s salary?
LOL, always looking for controversy… No, it does not.

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OVERSEAS SALES DRIVE TIFFANY GAINS

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Much as it was for other retailers, the late-2007 holiday shopping season was tough one for Tiffany & Co., which opened a store in Red Bank just as the season was kicking off.

But even as its fourth-quarter profit shrank, the New York-based jewelry and tchotchke merchant’s performance exceeded the expectations of market analysts, the Associated Press reports today.

Tiffany disclosed that its November-through-January sales rose 10 percent, thanks to a 21-percent increase overseas. Domestic sales rose 4 percent, the company reported.

From the AP:

The jewelry retailer said Monday it earned $118.3 million, or 89 cents per share, down from $140.5 million, or $1.02 per share last year. Excluding one-time charges, profit was $1.27 per share, above the $1.21 analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected.

One-time items include a charge of 22 cents per share for loans to Tahera Diamond Corp., which sought protection from creditors in January.

Tiffany’s revenue rose 10 percent to $1.05 billion from $958.9 million last year, matching analysts’ predictions.

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SEASTREAK WILL STILL SAIL AFTER SALE

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SeaStreak, the ferry line that zips commuters to Wall Street and midtown Manhattan from docks in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, appears to have found a white knight.

The four-catamaran line’s parent company, Sea Containers America Inc., confirmed today that it has agreed to sell SeaStreak to a sub of New England Fast Ferry, which carries passengers from Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Rhode Island to Martha’s Vineyard.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Two River Times broke the story on the sale a week ago.

In a press release, Bermuda-registered Sea Containers Ltd., which has been in chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code since October, 2006, said the court overseeing the insolvency must approve the sale terms.

The service’s routes are expected to continue unchanged, according to the Asbury Park Press. At one point last year, Sea Containers came close to a deal to sell the boats to the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

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HEY, THE APPROVAL WAS THE HARD PART

Courtyards_at_monmouthThe Courtyard at Monmouth project, which exists only on paper, is on the block.

Little more than a week after he won approval for plan to transform a grubby corner of Red Bank into a little hunk ‘o Hoboken, would-be developer George Coffenberg has put the project on the market for $7.5 million.

The listing hit the Multiple Listing Service yesterday, nine days after the planning board gave the condo project a thumbs-up.

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