Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dodging The Interrogation Bullet

You snooze, you lose. While we were all stacking up Z's during the Obama/Republican health care sideshow, the leftists in Congress just tried to slip another America Last national security bill through the House of Representatives. Fortunately, at least one Republican was wide awake during the sneak attack.

Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington's Seventh District is regularly referred to by his opponents as "Baghdad Jim." On the day of the Health Care Summit, McDermott attempted to tack on an amendment to another bill which would have defined all those CIA interrogator horrors in order to prohibit them. He poses as a civil libertarian, but it's much more likely that he gets his ideas from Saddam Hussein looking down upon him from paradise.

Here's the basic shopping list of oppressive interrogation techniques which McDermott wanted to protect his terrorist friends from. The amendment would have banned degrading procedures such as threatening a detainee, or forcing a detainee to blaspheme during an interrogation. Peace be upon him. And that's just the beginning.

Thou shalt not:
1. Commit nudity.
2. Use stress positions that would lead the detainee to believe further force is coming.
3. Commit prolonged isolation.
4. Have dogs of any kind in the vicinity of the devout Muslim detainee.
5. Deprive the detainee of food, water, sleep, or Band-Aids.
6. Expose the detainee to "excessive" heat or cold.
7. Place detainees in cramped spaces for an "excessive" period of time.
8. Coerce the detainee to violate his religious beliefs (leaving infidels alive?).
9. Place hoods or sacks over the detainee's head.
10. Exploit the detainee's phobias (like showing them the SI Swimsuit Edition?)
11. Serve ham sandwiches for lunch (OK, I made that one up).

Fortunately, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) was wide awake and paying attention when the Terrorist Protection and Pacification Amendment was introduced in the House. Hoekstra asked McDermott "If a woman interrogator interviews a Muslim with her head uncovered, is that blasphemy?" After McDermott was unable to answer the question, Hoekstra went on: "In the intelligence community today, these folks already believe they are under attack by this administration, and this just reinforces it. This is outrageous. There has not been one minute of hearings or debates on this amendment, and you are putting something in that could put officers in jail for life. What are you thinking?" Well, Pete, he was probably thinking of those vicious, inhumane SEALs that they're putting on trial for making a terrorist uncomfortable.

"Intelligence" Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) attempted to pull McDermott's chestnuts out of the fire by proclaiming that "these restrictions are already part of President Obama's revised Executive Order." Well--not exactly. I'm sure The One would have loved to do so, but in anticipation of a public lynching for crippling America's ability to protect itself from terrorist plots, Obama merely ordered the end of water-boarding and ordered "limitations" on life-endangering interrogation techniques and "inhumane treatment." And if the Accommodator-in-Chief already ordered the necessary restrictions, what is the need for Congressional legislation that wouldn't pass constitutional muster anyway (has the Congressman never heard the words "vague and overbroad")? Furthermore, an executive order can be repealed or modified by a future executive order, but Congressional legislation ties the president's hands permanently.

National Review Online and David Horowitz's NewRealBlog have done a great job of bringing this travesty to the attention of the public. As Andrew McCarthy said: "The McDermott amendment was so broad and so vague that it basically outlawed the interrogation of terrorists. American shoplifters can be threatened by prosecutors with their phobias in order to get a plea deal." I would add that it's a pretty good way of getting shoplifters to "roll over" on their fellow shoplifters. Like getting terrorists to roll over on their fellow plotters. Shoplifters merely steal goods. Terrorists murder civilians en masse.

In case you weren't aware of it, Andrew McCarthy is not just a writer for National Review. He was also the successful federal prosecutor who convicted the Blind Sheikh and his companions for the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He has pointed out more than once that the success of that prosecution does not justify civilian trials for foreign terrorists, nor should it be used as any kind of guideline for terrorist interrogations.

As McCarthy concludes, "After all, what's a few thousand dead Americans compared to the horror of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed suffering from sore sinuses for the afternoon [from waterboarding]?" Indeed. Ultimately, though, the real credit has to go to Rep. Hoekstra. He was there. He was paying attention. He saw the evil about to be perpetrated on the American people. And he acted. His words rallied the Republicans, and shamed the Democrats into backing off. And because it got hooted down, you are very unlikely ever to hear about this in the mainstream media. It might get passing notice on Fox News, or an article in the Washington Times, but that's about it. Without the blogs, most Americans will never know about the stealth bullet that just missed their heads.

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Why Obama Failed At The Health Summit

After seven and a half hours and 60,000 words expended, the health care summit ended in a defeat for Barack Obama and the Democrats. How do I know that? Because the MSM has chosen to ignore the event, rather than trumpet it as Obama’s victory. That’s standard MSM practice when the Democrats lose. In fact, the only Democrat I’ve found that’s seriously calling it a victory is Time’s Joe Klein, and his article almost strikes me as parody. . . or he’s high. So why did Obama fail?

1. Pre-Summit Sabotage. Obama sabotaged himself before the summit even began. When he suddenly announced an extremely partisan plan -- much further left than what the Republicans and Democrats had already been arguing over -- he guaranteed the negotiations would go nowhere. The intent was to excite his base. But a funny thing happened on the way to rally. . .

First, the Republicans very intelligently kept their cards to themselves. They attacked Obama’s proposal, but they didn’t offer their own proposal. This gave the media nothing to attack. With the only story being a discussion of Obama’s proposal, which the media couldn’t discuss without angering the public, the only story left was that this summit would be a waste of time because the Republicans would never agree. This, in turn, alerted the otherwise-blind left that Obama’s proposal was nothing more than posturing. Thus, the target audience, leftist activists, just shrugged this off.

2. The Great Underestimator. If there is one thing Obama has shown consistently, it is that he has no ability to judge how others will react. From the Chinese to the Hondurans to the Republicans to the Tea Party public, Obama has never once managed to grasp that people would disagree with him. And, consequently, he’s never once managed prepare himself to deal with resistance. In this case, he misread the Republican position from the get go and he had no idea how to deal with a Republican Party that had no intention of (a) looking obstructionist and (b) playing the role of whipping boy.

3. Obama The Unprepared. When the Republicans showed up prepared to lay out their case against Obamacare, it quickly became clear that Obama was overmatched. Despite spending a year dealing with the health care issue that he started, it was obvious that he has no grasp of the facts.

For example, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis), who has been a heavy thinker on health care, pointed out that:
• “The bill has 10 years of tax increases, about half a trillion dollars, with 10 years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending. . . [and has a] true 10-year cost [of] $2.3 trillion."

• “The bill takes $52 billion in higher Social Security tax revenues and counts them as offsets. But that's really reserved for Social Security. So either we're double-counting them or we don't intend on paying those Social Security benefits.”

• “The Chief Actuary of Medicare [testified] that as much as 20% of Medicare providers will either go out of business or have to stop seeing Medicare beneficiaries [if this bill passes.]”
Obama had no response. . . nothing. Ryan also compared this plan to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. His presentation is well worth watching. Not coincidentally, Republicans are repeating his points all over television now.

When Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va) tried to discuss the 2,400 page Democratic bill, Obama could only respond by calling it a prop and incredibly implying that this bill was a roadblock: “[Bringing that bill], these are the kinds of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation.” Nancy Pelosi must be spinning in her grave.

These are not the responses of a man who grasps the facts. These are the responses of a man who assumed he could wing it.

Even his winged-Democratic monkeys were unprepared. Indeed, reading the transcript of the meeting, I found little evidence that they were present. And when they did speak, they seemed to think that telling stories of individuals who suffered without health insurance would carry the day. But this meeting wasn’t about whether to reform the system, it was about how to reform the system. Thus, they had nothing of value to add.

4. Obama The Bad Sport. If there is one thing Americans do not like, it is a bad sport. . . and that was Obama. He whined about props, he tried to pass the buck, and, worst of all, he announced himself above the rules: “I’m the President, the time I speak doesn’t count.” (paraphrase). Do not underestimate how poorly such statements play to the public. These are the moments people remember from the likes of Richard Nixon and others who have declared themselves above the law.

5. Obama Doesn’t “Get It”. Obama has given the Democrats six weeks to gather the votes they need for reconciliation. How stupid is this? Unbelievably stupid. It is impossible to see the polls and not to understand that Obama/Pelosi/Reidcare is deeply, deeply unpopular in the country. Their attempts to pass this plan cost the Democrats Ted Kennedy’s seat, and they’ve endangered perhaps 80% of sitting Democrats.

So what should Obama do? There are proven political strategies for dealing with such resistance. But the one thing you never do is to keep picking at the scab. You don’t keep bringing the issue up day after day, dragging it out right into election season. All that does is keep the issue fresh, and the public upset and angry. Moreover, this creates a no-win situation. If you pass it, the public hates you. If you fail, then you’re a loser and you’ve roused the public’s suspicion for trying. The best strategy is to find a quick substitute, pass it, and declare victory. But Obama has unwisely chosen to prolong the pain another six weeks and then watch it fail.

And fail it will. I have always maintained that they can’t get this through the House, and I still see nothing that has changed my mind. Indeed, there are already quotes coming from House members about wanting a second chance to vote NO on this turkey to save their political careers: "People who voted YES would love a second bite at the apple to vote NO this time, because they went home and got an unpleasant experience. On the other hand, I don't know anybody who voted NO who regrets it," said Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn).

Plus, take a gander at this math. Pelosi passed PelosiCare with 220 votes (she needed 217). The sole Republican YES is now a NO. One Democratic YES died, and two others have resigned. That reduces the YES camp to 216. . . one short. Not to mention they never solved the abortion, illegal alien, funding or lack-of-public-option problems.

6. Finally, to borrow a quote from former Arizona Cardinal’s Coach Dennis Green: “Obama is who we thought he was.” At least, he’s the guy I thought he was. During the election when the left was drinking Kool-Aid and having messianic visions, and the right was terrifying itself about Saul Alinsky’s corpse, I took a look at Obama himself and I realized that I’d seen him before. . . I’d seen him in so many unaccomplished young attorneys who had no idea what they didn’t know and didn’t have the sense to shut up and learn: arrogance and ignorance is a deadly combination.

What tipped me off was Obama’s contention that he could solve any problem if only he was given the chance to meet with the other side, combined with his inability to tell you exactly how he planned to it. In his mind, his powers of persuasion are all the preparation he needs. Then China flipped him the bird. . . and the Republicans. . . and the Hondurans. . . and the Iranians. . . and the Russian. But each of these involved meetings we never got to see. Now we got to watch Obama’s silver tongue in action, and it showed exactly what I expected -- a man who knows nothing about persuasion, a man who has no idea how much work it takes to conduct a successful negotiation, a man who is neither articulate nor likeable, a man who doesn’t understand how little he knows or that everyone else in the room is on to him.

And that grasshopper, is why you failed.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

New York State of Mind

Snow, snow and more snow...City Hall this morning.

I love it when it snows in New York City. Up to 20 inches of snow was reported in Central Park yesterday and it was just beautiful. Well, beautiful until the city grime started to blend with the mounds of snow. The phrase "pure as the driven snow" means something entirely different in Manhattan than in the rest of the world. 'Cause once it's been driven over a few times, the only thing that's pure is the schmutz! However for that first hour or so, it's like a giant pastry chef sprinkled powdered sugar all over the city and made the biggest confection in the world. It's downright magical.

Anyway, on to other news -

Sports - New Jersey Nets have won 5 out of 57 games this season. They are on track to have THE worst season in professional basketball history. Go Team!!

Local - Former NYC Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik was sentence this week to four years in Federal prison for eight counts of corruption, conspiracy, and tax fraud. The judge actually gave him a harsher sentence than was recommended because some of his crimes were committed while he was "the chief law enforcement officer for the biggest and grandest city this nation has." Kerik has fallen a long way since his stellar performance along side Mayor Guiliani in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Very sad.

State - Well, it's official. Governor David Patterson had THE shortest gubernatorial campaign in history. On Wednesday, he formally announced that he was running for Governor and on Friday, he formally announced that he was dropping out amid great pressure from his own party. In all fairness, with what he had to work with, he has done a pretty decent job. He was thrust into the hotseat by Client #9 Elliot Spitzer and inherited a multi-billion dollar deficit and a recalcitrant Legislature. As one of his first acts, he had to appoint a replacement for Hillary Clinton. Admiringly, he went against Obama's wishes by appointing Kirsten Gillibrand rather than President Obama's patronage appointee, Caroline Kennedy. An act that caused President Obama to shortly after publically request that Patterson not make a run for Governor. Even though Obama was publically chastised for interfering in New York state business by Charlie Rangel [we'll get to him in a minute], he got the revenge he wanted. Now the Democrats' heir-apparent Andrew Cuomo has a clear field for the race for Governor.

Federal - Finally some movement in the ongoing investigations into Charles Rangel's alleged ethics violations. The House Ethics committee decided on Thursday that Rangel knew or should have known that he accepted corporate gifts in the form of Caribbean trips in violation of House ethics rules. Of course he denies any wrong doing and refuses to step aside (or down) as Chairman of the House Ways and Means committe claiming that "his staff never told him about [any] corporate sponsors." Yes, Charlie used the old "When in trouble, blame the incompetant assistant" ploy. The Ethics committee stopped short of recommending any punishment, but then they still have to complete the numerous investigations on Rangel's other alleged violations reported on earlier posts.

Even though Rangel refuses to step aside, the good news is now Democratic members of the House are requesting (dare I say, demanding) that he step aside or resign his Chairmanship until the investigations are completed. Speaker Pelosi continues to side-step the issue, but then, maybe she thinks they are over. In the Fall of 2008, she stated emphatically that these investigations would be completed by January 2009. I predict [or wishfully think] that Charlie may do a Evan Bayh and "decide" to not run for re-election this November for the good of the nation.

One more parting shot -

For those of you who may not know, today marked the first anniversary of the Tea Party demonstrations and we marked it with, you guessed it, a demonstration!
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Film School Follies: Part 16 – The Worst of Times IV

By ScottDS
Alien 3 is one of my favorite films (in its extended form) and I make no apologies for it. It was cursed from the beginning: multiple scripts, multiple directors, a soaring budget, and battles with the studio bureaucracy every step of the way. Alien 3 marked the feature directorial debut of music video wunderkind David Fincher. To this day, he disowns the movie and, despite being approached, refused to have anything to do with the extended cut and declined to be interviewed for the Alien Quadrilogy DVD collection. Ironically, Alien 3 also has (in my opinion) the best acting of all four films and one thing everyone involved agrees on is that Fincher did his best to shield his performers from the proverbial storm that was raging outside. Hey, so did we!

Crooks and Canucks

Having conquered my fear of working with professional actors in 16mm, this time I was ready for anything. While our script was never that funny, we (Ryan, Jerrod, and myself) were convinced that with the right actors, we could make the material funny on the stage. The actors would bring their ideas, we could improvise (if only we had more film)... it’d be fun. However, in the back of my mind I knew that: a.) considering some of the performances we’d seen in other Full Sail films, there was no guarantee we’d get good actors, b.) there was no guarantee we’d get actors who could do comedy and/or improvise, and c.) the fact that we even had to pin our hopes on the possibility of getting good actors only made us look bad. “Don’t worry, the actors will make it funny!”

Our casting director was Demitris and to this day, his was the cleanest apartment I’d ever seen! He was assisted by Ashley who, during principal photography, would double as our hair and make-up person. As directors, we couldn’t sit in on the casting sessions but, just like in 16mm, they were videotaped and we were able to look at the actors’ resumes and headshots. (Some were funnier than others but, again, who am I to judge?) After building our sets and being subjected to endless meetings, it was nice to do something different – something that only the three of us had to worry about. We wouldn’t have anyone from the camera crew secretly veto our casting choices.
June 17th, 2004. We met at Demitris’ place on Tuesday evening to watch the videos – some good, some bad, none great. We watched a highlight reel and waded through volumes of headshots and evaluations. One guy was in an episode of Clarissa Explains It All. Others have done theater, shows at Disney and Universal, etc. We ended up with a general idea of whom we wanted [but] later found out that Rosonia, who worked with us on Sanguinity, would only be available for one day so we’re going to have to use our alternate [to play the female employee].

We found a couple good guys to play Stanley [the boss]. Tom [our directing teacher who had some acting experience] is still an option but I don’t think that’s going to happen. One of the candidates is a student and will be starting pre-production next month. No way! Both Kit and Derek expressed an interest in playing the “male co-worker” [a nondescript guy with one line]. Kit had an idea that they should both play him as conjoined twins. I’m all for it but I’ll have to clear it with the guys. For Nathan, Michael, and Steven, we simply chose three guys who we think auditioned the best. Steven was a bit of a challenge. I guess it’s difficult to play the straight man here and Steven is the straight man. And my personal favorite... St. Pierre. To borrow a line from Blazing Saddles: “A black sheriff?!?” Yes, that’s right. If the planets align, we will have a black Mountie. The concept in and of itself is funny. And at this point, anything we could use to make the movie funny (without inflicting bodily harm on others) is a good thing.
From a cursory glance at my notes, it appears that we got our first choice for Stanley, Steven (his subordinate), and St. Pierre. For Michael (the new guy) and Nathan (the American), we got our second or third choices. I can write this with the benefit of hindsight and say that our cast turned out pretty good. But it wasn’t smooth sailing and, before we started rehearsals, we had the Meeting to End All Meetings. What follows is an e-mail I sent to Katie afterwards:
Hello, Katie. It's Scott. Ryan, Jerrod, and I as well as Matt and most of the camera crew spent a couple hours yesterday going through shots although, without the viewfinder, we weren't able to determine the proper focal lengths. We might try again on Monday after the meeting so just giving you a heads up. I believe we have rehearsals on Tuesday evening.

After the meeting on Friday, Rob spent about an hour and a half with us and we attempted to get everything out on the table. Communications issues, egos, all the nonsense about the script, a little bit of everything. I'll admit pre-production has been so much more hectic, rushed, and tumultuous than we thought and sometimes I think we set the bar too high with Sanguinity. Sometimes. However, the general consensus was that we're all friends, we're all working towards a common goal, and we just have some issues to work out. However, with only one week [to go] (we have five days, then vacation, then blocking, then shoot... good God!), we don't have much time left.

Rob went around the table: Jerrod, me, Ryan, Billy, Dennis, Kit, Gema, Dan, Chris, Jeremy, Geraud, Matt, and a couple others. No one hates anybody; it's just been a stressful period for all involved. I said how, after Jeremy told us we have to get our stuff together, I went home so depressed because I had disappointed a friend and colleague. Claudia looked like she was about to cry, Jerrod apologized for the crane shot business (he and Matt never told us about it), and Dennis said that Matt was being treated unfairly. Dennis also mentioned the disappointment about not being able to use all the cool camera gear which I can understand but I told him [we] have to look at it from two points of view: director and toy freak. Gema mentioned how the 1st A.D.s aren't really motivating anybody. I mentioned all the hierarchy problems. It's set design. Do we talk to Bill? Is Claudia the boss? Where do we come in? The camera crew mentioned how they were never consulted re: shots, ideas, etc. I said how, as much as I'd love to walk up to Dan or Dennis and tell them some cool idea or listen to what they have to say, it can't possibly work like that. Matt has to tell them. And he can't tell one person on his crew, he has to tell everyone. And Matt can't do anything until we tell him. And we can't tell him without coming to an agreement. It's all a vicious cycle.

I'm sending you this e-mail, not only to bring you up to speed but also this way I can never be accused of being non-communicative. I told Jeremy I'd try to improve and I was truthful. Besides, I've only received e-mails from two or three other people during this whole month. It's not just us; it's a bit of everyone. In 16mm, Bill and Dave had it down to a science. They'd send us e-mails after every meeting, Dave would take notes, etc. Nothing like that has happened here. Bill's lack of enthusiasm isn't helping either. We're friends and he's a great guy but he doesn't care about movies and he DID leave the camera lab after five minutes. What kind of example is that to set for us?

Have a nice weekend and we'll see you soon,
Scott :-)
Things slowly got better after this. We started rehearing with the actors. I’m sure I was nervous, having never met any of these people before. None of the actors we’d hired worked with us in 16mm but one actor in particular had starred in several other Full Sail films. At one point, the actor playing St. Pierre informed us that he had a day job and would only be available on the weekends. As soon as he said this, I could just hear the smoke come out of Jeremy’s ears.
June 30th, 2004. We had our first rehearsal last night. For the most part, it went well. Chris and Jeremy stuck around to fix the schedule. [...] The actor playing St. Pierre told us that he had a day job at a furniture moving company. He would only be able to act nights and weekends, something he could have told us TWO WEEKS AGO! I e-mailed Spoon but that didn’t help. Jeremy e-mailed Katie. Also, the actor playing Michael has a class during the day and wouldn’t be able to act during a three-hour period in the afternoon. Thankfully, Jeremy didn’t flip or anything. He told us to pick new actors. I had Demitris start making calls [and] I’m also going to have him call Tom [the teacher], just in case. He can play any role.

Anyway, the actors were pretty good. The Stanley actor was a bit theatrical but it actually worked for the character. The Steven actor needs some work but the others are just fine. We did a reading in a classroom, and then moved to the soundstage. They actually liked the set, which leads me to the bad news: everything else. The set, for all intents and purposes, is s---. I don’t blame Claudia (she blames herself); I blame us. We could have done location and, if we did, we wouldn’t have these problems. We weighed the pros and cons and the cons won out, just by a hair. We decided we’d rather have total control of the set on the soundstage. This has been one of the worst experiences I’ve had to endure here at Full Sail.
I may have been a little harsh on the set and, looking at my old photos, it doesn’t look too bad. We could’ve used one more day to decorate it. But the sight of Claudia (the apple of my eye) in tears... man, that hurt.

Anyway, the actor playing St. Pierre was out – too bad, since I was looking forward to the Blazing Saddles jokes. He was good, too. He had the right kind of pompous attitude but wasn’t over the top with it. The actor playing Stanley (who had appeared in other FS films) was very good and, as I mention above, somewhat theatrical. (There are major differences between theater acting and film acting.) The actor playing Steven wasn’t really an actor – he came from radio. He gave it his all but an objective observer could tell you he wasn’t great. The actors playing Michael and Nathan were fine though there are a couple of line readings in the final film that I wish we had reshot.

Demitris and Ashley came through for us with a new St. Pierre; they hired an actor who had worked for them on Die Todes Groupe. He played a soldier and wasn’t half bad. I have no idea who obtained the Mountie uniform but it worked and the actors got a big kick out of it. He performed well during rehearsals but by the time we got to the set, he’d developed a habit of occasionally deviating from the script. Thankfully, no one tried to analyze the story or ask why the characters said X and did Y. While it was just another credit for them, they still wanted to have fun.

I only remember a few things from this period. We had to cancel a table read due to inclement weather. Not every actor we worked with was a local resident; some had to drive a great distance to get to the school. Another table read had to be relocated due to a leaky roof. (It should be noted that this all took place during the infamous 2004 Atlantic hurricane season – one of the costliest and deadliest in history.) During one rehearsal, I made a suggestion that people liked but it didn’t end up in the film. St. Pierre walks in and is greeted by Steven at the office door. “When Steven goes to shake St. Pierre’s hand, St. Pierre should give him his hat instead.” I had it all in my head – again, nothing very funny but it was something we could use. St. Pierre, the pompous Mountie, would give Steven his hat. Steven would hang the hat up on the rack adjacent to the door and turn around to lead him to the bathroom. St. Pierre would simply grab his hat on the way and the next time Steven turns around, he’d get a bemused look on his face, like “Where did you get that hat from?” Unfortunately, during shooting, the hat rack was placed on the other side of the door and the gag didn’t work.

For the final rehearsal before our week-long summer break, we worked with the actors on the soundstage. We didn’t make any major changes during this time and I recall the actors coming up with ideas that we couldn’t use for one reason or another. At one point in the film, Steven and some of the others are standing in the bathroom looking down at a toilet (again... don’t think about it). The female co-worker walks in on them (we made the bathroom unisex). The actor playing Nathan asked if they could maybe get in some odd position in front of the stall so when the lady walks in, it’d look like... well, you get the idea. I told him I’d love to do that but if we shot it from her point of view, we’d see the soundstage – we only had three walls to work with! At one point, Stanley chews out Steven for complaining about work, spitting out his coffee in the process. “How about I talk funny for a line or two after I spit out the coffee? If it’s too hot, that’s what I’d do.” That’s what we did and it made us laugh.

Wardrobe was very simple. Had I been in “production designer mode,” I might’ve attempted to get our hands on a real Mountie uniform with authentic badges and insignia. The actors playing Steven and Stanley wore their own suits and dress shirts while the actors playing Michael and Nathan didn’t need suits, just nice shirts and ties. Stanley was given a necktie with a maple leaf emblazoned on it and I gave the actor playing Steven my Three Stooges necktie, which he never used (and he might still have it!). Since our film (like most films) was scheduled not in chronological story order but to minimize the number of camera and lighting setups, the actors would have to change wardrobe several times a day. The woman who was playing “female co-worker” only had one or two lines but she attended rehearsals anyway (and wore her own outfit). She was required to be in a bathroom stall and look down only to see smoke emanating from two stalls away. She couldn’t quite perform that physical activity so Rob (35mm instructor) told us we should have her use a compact mirror to see into the stall, like something out of an old prison movie.

“You’ve never faced death.”

I went home for a much-deserved break. I spent the 4th of July dodging shrapnel and nearly blowing off my hand at a family friend’s party. Gema called me one day and asked if I could give her a ride back to school. No problem – her folks would drive her up to my parents’ house and I’d drive her the rest of the way. Ryan also called me during the break – we were to have another meeting on the Sunday night before our blocking/final dress rehearsal day. The only caveat was that Jeremy wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to make it. I’m sure I said something like, “I hope he gets well soon.” Needless to say, I don’t remember the meeting.

On the morning of July 12th, I drove to school fully prepared to make the best of it. We had our crew, our volunteers, and our actors. I had missed a call from Dave – “Why would he call me at two in the morning?” We were instructed to park behind the soundstage and when I did, I could tell something was amiss. Dave walked up to me. “Jeremy died.”

For once, I had nothing to say. “He died?” Apparently, he had gone to the hospital the night before and called Bill and/or Dave at one point. By the time everyone arrived at school, he was gone. Dave had called me to let me know but I slept right through it.
July 12th, 2004. Dave, Bill, Ryan, Matt, and a few others were standing there looking rather solemn. I asked Dave about his call and he flat out told me, “Jeremy died.” Nobody saw it coming. Apparently, Jeremy was ill the night before. That much I knew. Ryan had called me back in Boca to set up a meeting Sunday night. I got there with Gema and asked about Jeremy. Ryan said he wasn’t feeling well. Bacterial meningitis .

It’s sad and pathetic that it’s going to take the death of a co-worker and friend to finally rally this ragtag bunch together. I just hope Claudia gets through this okay. Claudia was to Jeremy what Gema is to me: a close friend and confidant. Katie, Mindy, and Disco were around. Almost everyone knew by the time they arrived at the soundstage. Gema and Andrea just looked dour. We went inside and Dave [the head of the film department] said a few words. If we feel sick or anything at all, we should go to a hospital. They decided to give us the day off. No blocking day. We’re gonna [have to] crank it up to 11 tomorrow.
Physically, everyone felt fine though my parents insisted I go to the hospital and get a shot. (I didn’t.) For some reason, I didn’t want to be alone that morning so I went to breakfast with Nick, my neighbor and one of our volunteers from the In the Nude crew. I’m sure I babbled up a storm – I do that when I’m anxious. We went to Best Buy (read: comfort zone) where I called Mike, who was back in South Florida enjoying his break. (Nude shot two weeks after Canadians so his break was after ours.) He couldn’t believe it when I told him what had happened.

Interestingly, word of Jeremy’s death never got out. A few years later, a single student at UCF was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and it appeared on the local news. We had a student die and no one in the outside world knew anything about it. I don’t know who handled publicity (or lack thereof) for Full Sail but they deserved a raise. I say this not to be cynical... I just find it interesting.
July 12th, 2004. When Phil Hartman died during Newsradio, they put his photo in a fake magazine cover, framed it, and put it behind Dave Foley’s desk. That way, whenever the camera looked towards the desk, we’d see Phil in frame center, just smiling. I thought Jeremy deserved proper recognition so Nick and I put together a fake magazine cover with a picture of Jeremy that I took (one of the few in which he’s actually smiling) and printed it as an 8x10. It looks real nice. I saw [16mm instructor] Jason in the hall and gave him the bad news. I think he was a little shaken by it; who wouldn’t be? I fully intend on having a dedication to Jeremy either at the start of or the end of the film.
All of our 35mm films have dedications. During graduation, they showed his picture on the big screen and Dennis (the elder statesman of the class) said a few words about him during our little film festival. Jeremy’s parents flew in from out of town but I never met them. I did, however, take his girlfriend to the airport to pick up her mother. She didn’t know me from Adam but I was happy to do it. I was also borrowing Jeremy’s copy of Strange Brew and he’d been borrowing some of my Marx Brothers DVDs and I admit I was worried about how we’d make the trade but his girlfriend took care of it.

It’s ancient history now but once a year Andrea posts something about Jeremy on Facebook. Part of me still can’t believe it. My next blog will wrap up Canadians with a look at principal photography, post-production, and our vindication.

To Be Concluded...

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Race Matters

In his run for the Presidency, Barack Obama stuck to the line that his race meant nothing. Supporters called him the first post-racial candidate, and of course, he became the first post-racial President. All's well that ends well. And then, buddy Eric Holder declared we weren't post-racial enough because we are cowards when it comes to speaking about race. Followed closely by the very American "Beer Summit." Guess it wasn't the end, after all.

We fought a Civil War, and almost a hundred years later, we fought the Civil Rights battles. Statutes were passed, blacks moved into the corridors of power, schools ceased to be segregated, and two generations of whites and blacks learned to live together. At first it was uncomfortable and strained, but as the years went on, it came to seem natural. But the left and the race-hustlers just can't leave well enough alone. Keep picking at those old scabs, and with a little luck, they'll re-infect and the government doctors can rush in to save the patient.

But if Barack Obama is actually post-racial, why does he insist on identifying himself with "black causes?" If an assumption of evil must be made between a black person and a white person, why is it always the white person who gets the tar and feathers? The same can be said for Holder. Why did he have his lieutenants dismiss the already- obtained judgments against the Black Panthers who intimidated voters in Philadelphia? Shouldn't his white blood have caused him to protect neutral-color voters rather than black thugs? And of course the answer is simple. Racial neutrality is just fine, so long as it doesn't lose you votes in a large segment of your radical base. The base has blacks in it, but it's largely incidental. It's the doctrinaire left that the Democrats can't afford to lose, and they say "race doesn't matter, unless it works to divide Americans and create a permanent underclass which will also vote for the more liberal Democrats in exchange for a lifelong social safety net."

Democrats try to prove that Republicans are racists, or that they at least exhibit benign neglect in dealing with racial issues. In reality, that's because Republicans largely don't really care about race, just performance. But the Democrats bray: "Why, other than racism, would anyone oppose the welfare state, affirmative action, and wealth redistribution? And why, above all, would they oppose Barack Obama if they weren't secret racists?" Depending on which day of the week it is, the Democrats' elected President is post-racial or black. If he's proposing socialized medicine, he's black, which is the racist reason behind Republicans opposing him (his color is an issue, but not because he's black, but because he's slightly red). But when he needs those votes from the largely white voting population, he's post-racial, just like his typical white grandmother.

Victor Davis Hanson, my favorite historian of the Peloponnesian Wars, has recently produced a very good work on the subject of race. He asks: "Why the progress and tension at the same time?" He sees it as result of some of the political problems mentioned above, but goes into much more detailed analysis of those and other factors. Hanson views it as a problem of the "contradictions in matters racial."

First, he addresses "fossilized categories and programs." He questions what race even means anymore. Intermarriage and assimilation should have made racial lines almost meaningless. "Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Eric Holder talk about being black; but they are not nearly so in comparison with my Sikh neighbors in the Central Valley [of California], who are both darker and, I imagine have had harder childhoods. (What constitutes being 'black,' or are we back to the Old Confederacy for the one-sixteenth rule?)," says Hanson.

He also mentions the fashion of "self-identification." I can speak to that one. My ex-wife's ethnic background is one-half Irish, one-half German, and I am all German. That means our kids are full Northern European. Both daughters are now married to men of Mexican descent. So my older daughter's two sons are half-Mexican, half Northern European. My younger daughter has been married twice. First to a man who was pure Irish, so we know where those two girls fit into the scheme of things. But what about her other four--children of the Mexican/Northern European marriage?

All the grandkids are still young enough not to have made final choices yet, but their public schools have encouraged the two boys of the one daughter and the three girls and one boy of the other to "get in touch with their ethnic past." And they didn't mean the Irish or German portions. Six of the eight have Spanish surnames, and by the fashion of the day, that means they are all classified as "Latino" or "Hispanic." The two Irish/German girls are out of luck. They're just white, or caucasian. Considering the views of their parents and grandparents (including the Mexican families), they will try to self-identify simply as "American." But outside the families, the cards are stacked against them.

Hanson goes on to describe the contradictions that have become pure incongruities. He goes so far as to call them caricatures. "The n-word is a felonious offense. OK--but apparently on the comic stump it can be easily voiced (only) by black comedians." But what are you going to do about a recent fistfight on a bus in Oakland, California, where one combatant was white, the other black? The words got nastier and more pointed, finally resulting in the one calling the other a N----r, several times. Not what you think, though. The worst insult the black combatant could hurl at the white combatant was to call him a N----r. How on God's green earth does that make any sense at all?

Hanson continues with the plethora of racially-confusing and self-contradictory words and phrases tossed about by nearly everyone obsessed with race. "Entrenched old white elite," for example. The races were starting to deal well with each other, right up until the the schools started indoctrinating on the "race/class/gender categories." The otherwise benign word "diversity" took on a much more sinister meaning. Instead of uniting, the liberals use it as a bludgeon to beat anyone who isn't a person of color. Young people wanted to live it and get on with life. They didn't want race differences hammered into their heads constantly, ostensibly for the purpose of harmony. But after years of lectures on white oppression and black persecution, even otherwise race-neutral kids started to view their classmates as potential enemies.

Obama seemed to be genuinely shocked by the reaction to his dumb white guy, smart black guy Pavlovian response to the Henry Louis "Skip" Gates fiasco. Everybody knows that racist white cops perpetually harass innocent black victims, don't they? Well, they may have taught you that at Columbia and Harvard, Mr. President, but it ain't necessarily so in the real world. It's political incorrectness of the highest order to suggest that blacks are ever wrong or whites are ever right. Obama was amazed to find that outside his incestuous group of pseudo-intellectuals and race-baiters, Americans of all races, ethnic groups, and social classes recognize the reality that when a cop detains a black suspect, it is based on genuine statistics of higher criminality among blacks (for reasons that are far too complicated to discuss in this post, and which actually have very little to do with being born black).

Yet Obama felt perfectly free to refer to white conservatives as people who "cling to their guns and Bibles." And Holder felt free to call white Americans "cowards" for not discussing race in a manner entirely favorable to blacks and entirely unfavorable to whites. Neither could understand why anybody would take umbrage at those cracks, because these epithet-slingers are partially-black and partially-white radicals. Aren't all people of such post-racial makeup immune from the disease of racism?

Hanson says, "But among the elite, where the lucrative jobs, prestige, and big money are--sports, entertainment, law, academia, medicine, high-power finance, big government and politics--our elites con each other. They often strain to find some sort of ethnic or racial or gender edge over the competition. Most Americans assume racial affinities and go about their business; elite utopians demand there be none--and then prove themselves far more racialist. The white-guy leftist on television will talk ad nauseam about diversity on the assumption that such preemption shields him from the sort of diversity affirmative action salvo that might knock out his own job."

Blacks who are far blacker than Obama must be dismissed as "Uncle Toms" and "Oreos," lest they upset the diversity apple cart. Thomas Sowell and Michael Steele are perfect examples of black men who have made their way to the top without regard to their color. But according to Obama, Holder, and the racial diversity-crowd, they can't be "genuine" because they are Republicans who oppose the concept of group rights and group victimization. Instead of being able to say proudly that blacks and whites are really very much alike because they can believe such different things from those who are of the same complexion, they see black conservatives as race-traitors.

It's very sad, and it's a giant step backwards from what I dedicated myself to during the Civil Rights Movement over forty years ago. At that time Obama was living a cushy toddler's life in Hawaii while we were getting chased by police dogs and rednecks in the South. We did that to guarantee his right to live anywhere he chose to live in complete safety and equality. He talks the talk. We walked the walk. Many of us feel betrayed by Obama and the leftists who imagine that New York, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco today are Oxford, Mississippi in 1964.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Rock The Vote--Or Maybe Not

The past few years we've all heard from the Democrats over the exciting development of the youth vote. Whoopee! They're coming out in force. They're going to change America with their enthusiasm. They love Obama and support his hopeychange entirely. They're the future! Recent reports indicate they are quickly becoming the past.

Youthful voter turnout has often happened in the past, and it was normally a flash in the pan. Younger people, and more so today than in the past, have amazingly short attention spans. The big turnout for Obama is losing its steam, and it would seem it's losing it an astounding rate. All those promises, so little time. Young voters often think in terms of slogans, and will turn out for a candidate who seems to fit the slogans. "Hopeless" and "more of the same" won't get the youth to put down their X-Boxes, bongs, and Cliff Notes long enough to vote. "Hope" and "change" seemed to fit the bill, and when added to "yes, we can," were irresistible to slogan-thinkers. And since most of them have been told that America is a racist nation, this was the closest thing to genuine, principled rebellion they could come up with. Obama is The One.

They suffer from a serious dearth of historical information and historical perspective. "Yo, MTV raps" is to them a serious political statement. "Rock the vote" is a clarion call to participate in the political process, or party, whatever. "I'm like, um, young, and I'm like, Obama is really cool, I'm gonna vote for him, and text my friends to vote for him too (U shud vote for that Obama guy)." Republicans and conservatives are all far too old to have any problems, but youth, ah youth, have problems that only a really cool guy like Obama could understand. With that kind of depth of thinking, is it any surprise that there is no indication that the youth vote will be showing up in any numbers in the upcoming election? "OK, we helped get him elected, so what's for dinner?"

The other facet of the youth vote is that younger people have largely not yet joined in the "real world" of responsible adulthood. That's not even a criticism. As Shaw said, "Youth, what a shame to waste it on the young." Yes, I know, some attribute the quote to Twain. Young people are just beginning their lives, and have very little real life experience with what it means to strive, raise a family, build a business, and deal with all the boring details of everyday life. A famous youth anthem summed up the thinking of a large portion of perfectly normal young people: "You gotta fight for your right to party."

My boy E. J. Dionne at The New Republic just wrote a pompous, pedantic article that tells us something we've all known for years. Young people are generally liberal, but apathetic in doing anything about it. Long ago, Churchill said that anyone who was not liberal when young had no heart, and who was not conservative in his later years had no head. It's the natural order of things, but with all the statistics and studies that Dionne cited, you'd think he had just had an original thought. He cites the "liberalism" of today's voters by age group and dates of birth, and is astounded to find out that the older the voters are, the more conservative they are. He needs to take a good hard look, slide that generational grid over the past 200 years, and discover that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Without adult experience to give them context, a candidate who can spout the right slogans and have the right look can easily lead them down the primrose path, get them off the couch, and get them to the voting booth. The youth vote went to Kerry and Gore, but in nothing like the numbers or percentages that it went for Obama. Why not? They didn't have the right slogans and the right charisma. Kerry looked like a corpse or a wax dummy, talking about issues that were important when their parents were young. Gore was the overblown fat guy who wanted to stop global warming, which would require taking away their cars, not to mention censoring their pornography.

Then, along came Obama. He not only had all the right trappings to stir up the youth vote, he ran against John McCain. To the younger voters, McCain was like the slightly-addled great uncle who came to family dinners, couldn't remember anyone's name, and talked about how tough things were when he was young (a couple of centuries ago). They've also discovered that most of the people in Congress who have to enact Obama's schemes look a lot like McCain, or Medusa.

But Obama, now he's cool. And since life is not perfect for youth, and Obama promised it would be if they dumped their apathy and voted for him, they showed up at the polls. A mere year later, things are not perfect. In fact, they're worse. He hasn't delivered on a single one of his promises (except for spending money on things they don't care about). The post-racial society has turned into something faintly resembling the pre-60s racial divide. And they've discovered an eternal truth: "Words are not the same thing as deeds." Even Dionne recognizes that the youth vote, largely embracing "the Millennials," still have a high opinion of Obama's personal "cool," but think as a leader, he's largely a failure. In their view, the world should have changed overnight, he promised it would, it didn't, and their enthusiasm is fading like cheap vegetable dye in the bright sun.
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Film Friday: Vanishing Point (1971)

Sometimes lousy movies are just plain lousy. Sometimes, they're lousy enough they actually become enjoyable in an odd sort of way. And sometimes, somehow, they hit on something that makes them fascinating. Vanishing Point falls into the last category. And interestingly, it’s what the movie doesn’t tell us that fascinates us.

** spoiler alert **

I first heard of Vanishing Point when Quentin Tarantino mentioned it in Death Proof. On the surface, Vanishing Point is a movie about a man driving a 1970 white Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. He needs to be there by three o’clock the following day. As he drives along, he runs into some strange characters and is chased by the cops. In the end, the cops set up a roadblock and he slams right into it. Doesn’t sound like much does it? But it’s oddly compelling because it's filled with little mysteries.

For example, we know the man’s name is Kowalski, but never learn his first name. They even make a point of not telling us. We know Kowalski needs to be in San Francisco the follow day (when asked if he’s joking, he tells us: “I wish to God I was.”). But the movie never tells us why. In fact, we have no idea what is motivating him. All we know is he is a former hero-cop and a race car driver, who hit rock bottom after his girlfriend died in a surfing accident. But that was long ago.

As he starts out from Denver, he antagonizes two motorcycle-riding state troopers by forcing one off the road. But we have no idea why he does this. As the cops hunt him down, he’s getting guidance over the radio from Clevon Little, who plays a blind disc jockey named Super Soul. Super Soul plays a variety of songs from some soon-to-be famous people. For example, the first ever recorded material by Kim Carnes appears in this soundtrack, Rita Coolidge and David Gates (Bread) appear on screen as revival singers, and Big Mama Thornton performs some of the gospel music. Super Soul knows exactly what Kowalski is doing at every moment, even though there is no way he could know this, and again we never find out how or why. Finally, the big mystery. . . at the end of the film, the police set up a roadblock. Kowalski sees the roadblock but drives right into it killing himself. And he does it with a smile. Why?

That is what makes this movie so interesting. Who is Kowalski, what is motivating him, and why does he commit suicide at the end of the film? Who is Super Soul and how does he know what he knows? The film never tells us and we want to know.

There are many theories about Kowalski. Some argue that Kowalski represents the last free American -- which is why he has no particular name. This explains why he meets with hippies and bikers and other people who live outside of society. He is the archetypal anti-hero, who drives for pure love of speed and personal freedom, and the police are hunting him down because America is changing and freedom is ending. Coming out in 1971, against the social upheaval of the 1960s, this argument makes a lot of sense.

But there is more to consider. The movie is strewn with religious symbols and gospel music. Super Soul is more like a guardian angle than a disc jockey. And when the locals try to stone Super Soul to shut him up, it feels metaphorical for Biblical punishments. Further, Director Richard Sarafian says he intentionally made Kowalski appear “otherworldly” as he charges the barricade. Moments before the impact, a bright shining light appears between the bulldozers and lights up his face. That’s when he smiles. Many have interpreted this as the Biblical Rapture and his smile as the moment he is saved. Though, this interpretation is troubling as Christianity does not condone suicide.

Barry Newman, who plays Kowalski, speculates that the entire movie is an essay on existentialism and that Kowalski gives his own life so he can define his own life:
“Kowalski smiles as he rushes to his death . . . because he believes he will make it through the roadblock. To Kowalski, [the small hole between the bulldozers] was still a hole to escape through. It symbolized that no matter how far they push or chase you, no one can truly take away your freedom and there is always an escape.”
Others have speculated that he is suicidal because of the death of his girlfriend. But then why choose now and why choose this method of killing himself?

In the end, there is no answer, and that is the biggest part of Vanishing Point's appeal. Hollywood convention tells us that films may never leave big questions unanswered. But Vanishing Point disproves this. Humans are inherently drawn to deep psychological questions because we struggle to understand ourselves and we desperately want to know why others make these kinds of emotional choices -- and suicide is the most dramatic act a human can undertake. Leaving Kowalski's motivation unexplained creates an irresistible mystery that draws people in and keeps them thinking when the film ends.

Finally, interestingly, we actually know how this film would have turned out if they had answered these questions. In 1997, Vanishing Point was remade with Viggo Mortenson replacing Barry Newman and Jason Priestly replacing Cleavon Little. Unlike the original, this movie tells us who Kowalski is (including his full name) and why he wants to get to where he’s going (pregnant wife). Priestly also has no supernatural ability to see Kowalski, and instead spends the film spouting off anti-government militia-type opinions on the radio while arguing with callers about what is motivating Kowalski. The 1997 version stinks.

So maybe Hollywood should rethink this convention that says that everything needs to be explained. Perhaps, sometimes, what we don’t say is even more interesting than what we do?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Captioning: Whip It Good. . .

Apparently, New Wave music is huge in Iran. Even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a huge fan of Devo. He's such a big fan, in fact, that he's formed his own band AtomicKraftWerk. Here they are singing their new hit Dare to Be Stupid. . . wait, that's Weird Ahl's version.

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San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these are "the sea lions are gone." The dual picture you're viewing is Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf about two years ago, contrasted with the same view today. No more fat, happy sea lions lolling around and giving the tourists a good laugh. And in case you're wondering, The City didn't discover they are Republicans and evict them.

When the sea lions first showed up at The Wharf back in 1989, they made it clear that they were going to live wherever they darned well pleased. Their sudden appearance was as mysterious as their sudden disappearance. World-famous Seal Rock on the ocean side of The City suddenly had a lot fewer sea lions, and as the numbers there decreased, the numbers at The Wharf increased. It doesn't explain why, but it seemed that the sea lions were on The Wharf to stay. Or so we thought until last November, when they started to drift away in large numbers. The numbers at Seal Rock are not increasing correspondingly, so the experts are still trying to figure out what's up.

Scientists at the Marin Aquatic Center say that the numbers of sea lions off their shores are suddenly increasing exponentially. As you may or may not know, Marin County is on the north side of the Bay from San Francisco, and is the heartland of Barbara Boxer. They have no firm theory yet as to why the sea lions are showing up on the docks at Sausalito and Tiburon, but their initial theory is that the famous sharks that cruise San Francisco Bay are far less numerous on their side of the Golden Gate. I can answer that one. Babs Boxer showed up on the Marin shore pleading for votes, and scared all the sharks away. The sea lions are far more affable, so they're just frolicking around, barking and laughing at her. "Babs, throw us a ball to balance on our noses." Perfectly logical explanation.

NOTE: It has been reported that the state agency in charge of environmental regulation has decided to eliminate its waterless urinals at the State Buildings in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. There were 56 of them in their headquarters in Sacramento alone. I guess the ammonia odor finally caused them to abandon their savings plan. No estimate yet as to how much those useless porcelain monuments to the Green movement cost, but probably as much as the new 1/2 gallon flush urinals that will replace them. You know--the ones you have to flush twice in order to generate the full gallon it takes to do the job. I don't know why they haven't simply consulted me. I can tell them that you can cut costs to zero by simply eliminating indoor plumbing entirely. No urinals, no toilets, no toilet paper, no hand-washing, no paper towels. It would be a Green paradise (as long as you don't go out onto the street, of course). I should also report that when the waterless urinals were first installed in the downtown Sacramento 25 story state headquarters in 2001, the building was praised as "the greenest high-rise in the nation." I guess they found out it was actually "mellow yellow."

NOTE: Never let it be said that San Francisco is incapable of balancing art and public safety. The busiest fire station in the nation will soon close in order to move into its new and improved building a few blocks away. The current location will be remodeled for use as part of San Francisco's SFMOMA (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). I've tried to think of something snarky to say about this, but the fact is the two moves make perfect sense. We have a great fire department (world-famous since the Great Quake and Fire), and a fine modern art museum that was running out of space. As the spokesperson for the Fire Department says, "It's a win-win, and we're very pleased about it." The SFMOMA director said the proposal is "a ground-breaking collaboration that reflects a civic spirit that distinguishes San Francisco." I would be a bit less elaborate than that, saying "it's a miracle, but two agencies in San Francisco have actually agreed to something that will benefit the citizens of San Francisco, and not just the special pleaders."

NOTE: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is not entirely done dealing with the persecution of UC Berkeley Boalt Hall Law professor John Yoo. But the end is near, and Yoo is on the offensive. Most followers of the Yoo story know that Holder's persecutors in the political wing of the U.S. Justice Department have backed off on all their charges. But there is still the remaining lawsuit filed by one jihadi prisoner who claims that he was unlawfully detained and tortured. That suit was supported by many individual leftist lawyers who were out to get Yoo for giving George Bush advice they didn't like. In papers filed in San Francisco yesterday, Yoo's attorney dismissed the professor's critics as uninformed academics or Democrats with political axes to grind. Well said. And one of those critics is Dawn Johnsen, the Indiana University radical law professor who is currently Barack Obama's nominee to head the federal Office of Legal Counsel (see: Meet Dawn Johnsen, If You Dare).

In the pleadings, Yoo's lawyer Miguel Estrada (remember him?) said Johnsen's guidelines reflect "only partisan disagreement with the policies of the previous administration." He also cited the Justice Department's report from last week concluding that Yoo committed no professional misconduct in his memos. The worst criticism that still stings a bit, but doesn't mean much, was the finding of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility that merely said that Yoo had given Bush one-sided advice. The right side, as far as I'm concerned.

NOTE: The big debate over the America's Cup goes on. San Francisco Chronicle contributor Carl Nolte wrote a great article on the subject on Sunday. He disputes the contention of non-San Franciscans that "San Francisco Bay is no place for the America's Cup races, which should be sailed in some proper place with tradition, like Newport, Rhode Island." San Francisco gazillionaire Larry Ellison's boat won the last race, and he wants San Francisco Bay to be the next venue, as is his right. Says Nolte: "That's like saying Joe Montana and Steve Young shouldn't have been allowed to play in the Super Bowl because they were too good, or that the 49ers should have been owned by some nonprofit outfit, like the Little Sisters of the Poor instead of some rich guys like the DeBartolo family."

San Francisco may be newer than Newport, but we weren't exactly born yesterday. Says Nolte, "In fact, San Francisco has a yachting tradition that goes back more than 140 years, when the San Francisco Yacht Club was organized near what is now the UCSF campus at Mission Bay (the southern side of San Francisco, on the Bay, rather than on the ocean side). The first big races on the Bay, on July 4, 1867, were the Master Mariners regatta, with working sailing schooners and sailing scows. The race was revived a few years ago and is still sailed every spring by big, old wooden boats." Nolte is responding to charges that Ellison and San Francisco are upstart newcomers as well as pointing out that Ellison's boat was not the only one that appeared to be "three hulls that look like a spider with wings."

San Francisco Bay usually looks quite peaceful, but anyone who has ever sailed it knows that it is anything but. It would not be a simple sail on a small pond, as many critics have claimed. The Bay has its own microclimate and weather, and some of the most treacherous currents and tides in the world. It is a true challenge for any boat that would enter our waters for the America's Cup race. As Nolte says, "In San Diego, when the wind gets up to 15 or 17 knots, they head back to the yacht club and pop a beer. Here, when the wind gets to that speed, we say "Yahoo! Let's Go!" I'm not sure how much Ellison would appreciate the "Yahoo!" part, but you definitely get the idea.

Finally, Nolte sums it all up with, "The [guys] are entitled to brag. After all, the less-than-famous Golden Gate Yacht Club just won the America's Cup, the oldest trophy in international sports. Though Ellison won the cup, the trophy itself belongs to the yacht club he represented." For those nay-sayers who think San Francisco Bay is too easy to sail, I would suggest they come here, jump into the water, and try to swim to Alcatraz. If the icy water and the ever-shifting currents don't get them, the sharks (or Barbara Boxer and the sea lions) will.

NOTE: Muni, the San Francisco mass transit agency that can't shoot straight, is about to raise fares--heftily. Love those government boondoggles. After receiving beaucoup millions of dollars from a federal stimulus, $17.5 million from a cancelled BART program, and $7 million in increased taxes, the agency still has a $53 million deficit. The buses and light rail trains already smell, the buses particularly start running early in the morning, and by late morning they have disappeared or are running fifteen minutes to a half-hour late, and fare-jumpers outnumber fare-payers. Violent crime on certain routes is a near-daily event.

So part of the "solution" is to cut service massively in a system that is already inadequate, and raise fares across the boards, including doubling the monthly price of passes for the disabled and senior citizens. As part of their budget "solution," they also want to raise parking meter prices and extend the meter hours late into the evening. You can't find a bus, and you can't afford to park your car. Brilliant. Oh, and a raise for the already overpaid union bus drivers is still on the table. The accountants are including as a "plus" the income from taxes which have not even been approved yet and are highly-unlikely in San Francisco's moribund economy. No word about cutting the salaries of mid-level Muni management whose execs already earn more than most big city mayors.

NOTE: The same court (not the same judge) that allowed the Prop 8 lawsuit to go forward had found in favor of a lesbian domestic partner who petitioned for full visitation rights with the minor child born during that partnership. The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the ruling now becomes permanent. That is not the bad thing you might think it is. In fact, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and upheld the usually-reversed Ninth Circuit on very sound grounds. It stated that the lower court decisions were properly made on adequate independent state grounds. In other words, it was saying that California's domestic partnerships are identical to traditional marital relationships in both form and substance, and it is not the place of the federal courts to interfere with the laws of any state so long as they don't violate any basic Constitutional guarantee.

Solid conservative reasoning, regardless of how the Justices themselves might feel personally about homosexual unions. More importantly, the high court's refusal to hear the case seriously blunts the anti-Prop 8 argument that the homosexual community is being unconstitutionally discriminated against. The rulings say clearly that the only thing the whole issue revolves around is the single word "marriage." If marriage and domestic partnerships are constitutionally equal under California law, as the rulings indicate, then the anti-Prop 8 arguments lose almost all their validity when that issue comes before the high court, as it almost inevitably will. This is ultimately a victory in a seemingly unrelated case that could lead to a Supreme Court ruling in the Prop 8 case that would preserve the right of the people of the State of California to choose their own definition of the word marriage while at the same time protecting religious institutions from persecution on phony "civil rights" grounds.

NOTE: A San Francisco judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by the family of a father and son who were viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant who was allowed to roam freely in The City pending his conviction on earlier misdemeanor and felony arrests. The suit was filed against the City of San Francisco by the family, claiming that The City should be held liable for failing to protect its citizens from predatory illegal immigrants. As I've told everyone before, the leftist Board of Supervisors has twice passed ordinances forbidding the police from reporting illegal immigrant minors to the federal authorities unless and until the little darling has been convicted of a crime.

The court's ruling is harsh and horrifying, but probably correct. As the judge stated in her ruling, "the purpose of the reporting statutes are to catch illegal immigrants, not to prevent crime." That is small comfort to the grieving family. To his credit, Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered the police to ignore the Board's ordinance and report all illegal immigrants who commit crimes to the federal authorities, whether they are minors or not, and whether they have been convicted or not. At least one person in City government is looking out for his fellow citizens.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ask Commentarama

Today on Ask Commentarama, we respond to a question from Scott about infrastructure.
Q. Is government spending on infrastructure a good idea?
Yes. . . if it’s done right.

Let’s begin by defining infrastructure. Infrastructure projects involve the creation of fixed assets of the type that are needed to operate or organize society or to make an economy function. These are projects like roads, harbors, hospitals, airports, power grids, etc.

Free market economic theory tells us that government spending is always more wasteful than private sector spending (which is true). Thus, many argue that infrastructure spending is inherently wasteful and should be left to the private sector. These people argue that if people truly value a road, they would be willing to pay tolls to allow a private company to build the road.

But there are two flaws with this theory that I accept. First, this theory assumes that the private sector has perfect knowledge and the perfect ability to act. But that’s not always true. In other words, the fact that people want a road does not mean that a private company will be ready, willing or able to build the road.

This is particularly true where you have a chicken and egg problem. For example, I am an advocate of converting from gasoline powered cars to natural gas powered cars (for a variety of reasons that would need a separate post). But, gas stations won’t put in natural gas pumps until there are more natural gas vehicles on the road. . . but car companies won’t make more natural gas vehicles until people are willing to buy them. . . but people won't buy them until they can fill them anywhere in the nation ("and we can't make our video until we get Eddie Van Halen"). This is one of those instances where the government should step in because market mechanisms won’t work. Thus, “infrastructure spending” that encourages the creation of natural gas pumps and natural gas vehicles makes sense.

The other problem arises in the allocation of the costs and benefits. A road may have many more benefits to society than a private company could capture. Indeed, highways made most of our modern economy and cities a reality, but there was no way for a highway maker to fully collect that benefit. Therefore, from a cost-benefit analysis, the private company would not undertake the project because it did not appear to be a worthwhile project even though the benefits to society far outweighed the costs. Thus, again, the only way to get it done would be with government involvement.

Consequently, in my opinion, government infrastructure spending makes sense when a project will produce a social good that justifies its price, but no private sector company can/will undertake the project.

Infrastructure projects also make sense where requiring user fees would be inefficient. For example, suppose that every road in America were suddenly a toll road -- right down to the road in front of your house. The loss in time and gas to our economy as drivers constantly need to stop to pay tolls would be too great to the rest of our economy (not to mention the cost of building hundreds of millions of toll booths and enforcing tolls). A similar problem arises if you eliminated police forces and left it up to private citizens to find ways to protect themselves -- the duplication of effort would be far too wasteful to society. Likewise, society benefits from a well-educated workforce. But private schools can't tap into that benefit. Instead, they can only assess fees against students. Thus, if only private schools existed, society would free-ride on the tuition paid by those students. This would result in fewer kids going to school and a less-educated work force and all of the associated problems with that (increased poverty, crime, etc.),

Thus, infrastructure spending also is good when it prevents wasteful duplication of "public services" or when it eliminates significant barriers to the use of publicly beneficial services.

So does infrastructure spending create jobs? That depends. One of the problems with the jobs claim is that "job-creation proponents" are relying on simple Keynesian theory, which says that every dollar you spend creates five jobs because the bridge workers you hire will need hotdogs, and the new hotdog vendors that appear will need equipment and the equipment makers need houses. . . etc. But this theory ignores the fact that the money comes from somewhere, and the taxes needed to build the bridge will have a nearly equal negative effect elsewhere in the economy. Thus, while the bridge workers need hotdogs, the car salesman across town who pays the taxes so the bridge can be built can no longer afford hotdogs. Thus, his vendor goes out of business.

The real question is whether or not the project has an overall net economic benefit to society. If the economic benefits of the project outweigh the costs, then yes, it will generate jobs. But if the economic benefits don't outweigh the costs, then it will lose more jobs than it creates.

Finally, is there anything that can be done to decrease the chance of waste? Absolutely. The construction and operation of all such projects should be contracted out to private sector companies after competitive bidding (rather than hiring government workers, as was done in the FDR era). Moreover, we need to eliminate laws like the Davis Bacon Act, which requires government contractors to pay “the prevailing wage” (i.e. union rates) for labor. And, lastly, we need to privatize these industries whenever possible without running afoul of the problems identified above. For example, once a harbor is built, there is no reason it couldn't be sold to private interests.

* * * * * * *

That's it for this week. Remember to post your questions for next time or to e-mail them to me at

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By Writer X

This is the type of gunfight westerns are made of but it won’t take place in Tombstone. It’s happening across Arizona.

That’s because it’s finally official: J.D. Hayworth has entered the race against John McCain for the People’s U.S. Senate Seat in Arizona, a seat that John McCain has kept warm since 1986. The other Republican candidate in the race, Minutemen founder Chris Simcox, has withdrawn his nomination and pledged his support behind Hayworth. Truthfully, Simcox hadn’t really garnered a lot of attention and polls had him in the single-digits in terms of voter approval. But those are the breaks when you’re not married to an heiress or have millions of extra dollars hanging around in your bank account.

When Hayworth formally announced his candidacy, he said something that resonated with many Republicans, and perhaps even Independents. It was even reported in our local newspaper, which makes no apologies for not being members of the J.D. Hayworth Fan Club. Hayworth said, "There are two John McCains: The one who campaigns like a conservative and the one who legislates like a liberal."

Well said, J.D.

It could be Hayworth’s first bumper sticker. At least a t-shirt.

So, the gloves are officially off.

And this past week, on a New York radio program, Hayworth also said something rather intriguing. If he wins, he pledged to stay in office for no more than two consecutive six-year terms, fueling speculation that perhaps he has bigger future political ambitions. Like the U.S. Presidency.

Meanwhile, John McCain is running across Arizona and around the country, stammering to anyone who will listen (or gives him a microphone) that he is a true-blue conservative. It’s suddenly cool to be Conservative. Who knew? Amazingly, McCain says it with a straight face. As I said in my last post for Commentarama, if only his record truly reflected that. He’s also been appearing on local radio so often that I’m beginning to think he’s moonlighting as a disc jockey. Lately, he’s been on the radio more than J.D. Hayworth ever was as a broadcaster before the McCain campaign booted him off.

Speaking of the radio, McCain’s PR firm has put together a radio campaign political ad that could definitely win an award—and not in a good way. I couldn’t find an audio link to share with you but here’s the text. As you read it, imagine the voice of a boozy woman who sounds like she just woke up from a three-day drunk, and you’ve got the woman’s voice who narrates his campaign commercials. With a smoldering cigarette dangling from her formerly red lips (at least in my mind), the woman says:
John McCain's running for re-election. Well, I'd hope so, why wouldn't he? It's not like our country is on the right track. It's a mess, Congress spending us into oblivion. We need McCain, standing up to the big shots, slashing spending; saying what no one else has the nerve to say. But, J.D. Hayworth? That's not what Arizona wants. He sounds conservative on the radio, but J.D. was one of the biggest spenders in Congress. In 2005, they passed a bill with six thousand five hundred pork barrel earmarks worth more than twenty four billion dollars. J.D. voted for every one. He'd be the wrong direction for Arizona. McCain's the right direction. Character matters.
Of course, the boozy woman forgets to list all of the ridiculous spending bills that McCain has voted for, not to mention wildly unpopular legislation like amnesty, cap-and-tax, and McCain-Feingold as he gleefully gave the middle-finger to his constituents. Suddenly, it’s as if all that is ancient history. Or never happened.

The polls have been all over the place, from statistical dead-heats to 20-point leads by McCain. Regardless, Hayworth has his work cut out for him. Sarah Palin and Scott Brown are coming to Arizona to campaign for McCain too, much to the chagrin of many Conservatives. However, the former U.S. Representative Hayworth is politically savvy and could very well pull off an upset, especially since this appears to be the year of upsets across the country. But he’s going to need all the help, voter participation, campaign contributions, and energy he can get.

Still, if they could do it in Massachusetts, there’s reason to believe it could happen in Arizona.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CPAC: Libertarians v. Religious Right

CPAC was much more interesting this year than usual. Not only did it signal the start of the Presidential race, but it signaled an interesting shift in conservative thinking, one which bodes very well for conservatives recapturing the majority of the public. It was also a change that has upset Mike Huckabee -- and he’s very wrong on this.

In the past, CPAC has largely been dominated by social conservatives. This year, that changed. This year, CPAC was co-sponsored by a gay group called GOProud. Moreover, the conference was heavily attended by libertarian-leaning conservatives, as evidenced by Ron Paul winning the straw poll rather handily.

This is a good thing. Conservative philosophy is about freedom of the individual and limited government interference in our lives. That’s why principled libertarian thinking fits so well into the conservative movement. They are a natural fit, and their return can only make the movement stronger.

Indeed, the return of a strong libertarian element to the conservative movement, and by extension the Republican Party, will help to impose the real change that is needed in the Republican Party -- a principled opposition to the continued expansion of government.

One of the problems with the Republicans over the past decade has been that they have not been opposed to the expansion of government. Yes, they opposed the expansion sought by the Democrats. But then they would turn right around and try to expand the government themselves. Indeed, it became so bad that the only way to tell a Democrat from a Republican was by looking at the direction in which they were trying to expand the government. Bush was a big proponent of this with his “compassionate conservatism,” which translated roughly into big government working to achieve social conservative and big business goals.

The reintroduction of libertarianism should help put a stop to that kind of thinking and should better align the Republican Party (and the conservative movement) with those 60% of Americans who consistently claim to share conservative beliefs, but who will not identify themselves as conservatives because they view the brand as tainted by its recent advocacy of government intervention.

And that brings us to Mike Huckabee and the Religious Right. Now before everybody gets upset, let me point out a few things. First, having a strong moral grounding is certainly a big part of conservative thinking, and there is nothing inconsistent with being conservative and wanting to see our government act in a moral and ethical manner. Nor could you argue that a belief in God is inconsistent with being conservative. Nor is there anything about conservatism that requires one to believe that the government should blindly ignore morality or religion. BUT.....

The vast majority of conservatives reconcile their belief in God and morality with their belief in individual freedom by understanding that the government should guarantee individual freedoms and should not be a tool for imposing personal views on others. A true conservative thinker would not want the government to push their religious beliefs on others any more than they would want the government imposing another’s beliefs upon them. Not only is this bad for society, but it is bad for religion (see e.g. Europe or the Middle East).

That is why libertarian thinking and social conservative thinking should, with rare exceptions, actually fit together quite nicely. If both respect the principle that the government should not get into the business of imposing beliefs, then everything should be harmonious between the two groups. It’s only where either group violates this principle that the problems arise.

For example, on the religious side, public education should not teach religious doctrine. Nor should the government fund church activities -- though it should not discriminate against religious groups either by, for example, allowing a group like ACORN to receive federal contracts to do community work but excluding a similar Catholic group. Nor should the government be involved in regulating (or criminalizing) “bedroom issues.” It’s just not anyone’s business. You have the right to speak and to persuade, you do not have the right to use government force to require compliance.

On the libertarian side, libertarians must tighten up their thinking and understand that libertarian does not mean libertine (“anything goes”). The relevant question is "will government force be applied" not "does somebody want it." For example, as I pointed out before the advocacy of gay marriage that many libertarians have undertaken is actually inconsistent with libertarian principle because it requires imposing the beliefs of gay advocates onto religious people. Moreover, libertarian thinking does not mean anarchical thinking (“no government”). For example, libertarians are wrong about legalization of drugs, though the reasons will need to wait for an upcoming post. The fact of the matter is that for society to function, some level of regulation is required, and laws, by their very nature, are based on moral judgments.

Both groups are vital to the conservative movement. And if both groups respect this boundary of respecting individual rights, then they should be able to form a powerful partnership that will finally bring together that 60% of Americans that we just haven’t been able to connect with.

But, disturbingly, listen to Mike Huckabee when he was asked why he didn’t attend CPAC, as he has done repeatedly in the past: “CPAC has become increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn’t go this year.”

Therein lies the problem. Mr. Huckabee and others like him (several leaders of the Religious Right became almost hysterical when they learned that GOProud was a co-sponsor) need to learn to respect libertarian thinking and views. Libertarians are not out-of-line with conservative thinking, it is Mr. Huckabee who is out of line with conservative principles. Indeed, as you may recall from my prior article about his pardons, Huckabee has already demonstrated that he has a dangerous, unprincipled belief that his own personal beliefs are superior to the rule of law. That’s not conservative thinking. That is, in fact, the worst kind of far-left thinking.

Unfortunately, implicit in Huckabee’s dismissal of libertarians is more proof that he is not comfortable with individual rights, that he prefers a government that imposes favored views. This is not conservative thinking. This is the kind of thinking that created the recent RINO problem and discredited the brand. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be excised from the movement.

I encourage Mr. Huckabee and others to meet with the libertarians, to learn from them, and to come to an accord. If not, do not ask for my support any time soon.

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Keep Your Friends Close--But First, Make Sure They're Friends

Just a mere few weeks after California Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina was widely criticized and mocked from both ends of the political spectrum for her "Demon Sheep" attack on fellow Republican Tom Campbell, she's done it again. This time she dragged new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown into her campaign, as a "friend." Someone forgot to tell Scott Brown.

Fiorina, a newcomer to California politics, is a Republican primary candidate in a three-person race to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer in the general election. The race is tight, and as I've reported before, all three Republicans are now within the margin of error for beating Boxer. The other two candidates (Tom Campbell and Chuck DeVore) are to the right of Fiorina, and both have prior political credentials in California. Fiorina has a background as an executive at AT&T, Lucent, and most notably at Hewlett-Packard corporation from which she was forced to resign by the Hewlett-Packard Board of Directors. Her Republican political credentials are very thin, and her most notable entry into politics was her position as top economic adviser to "maverick" Presidential candidate, John McCain. 'Nuff said.

Fiorina's most recent campaign web ad (Demon Sheep Redux?) shows a smiling Scott Brown with the legend "Thank You Massachusetts. Now on to California. Join the Path to Victory." One would be tempted to think that Carly has hooked a big fish to help her with her campaign in California. It would certainly be fair to infer that she at least suggested an endorsement from Brown, a hugely popular candidate who came from an obscure spot in the Massachusetts Senate to become the replacement for Senator-for-Life, Democrat Ted Kennedy. There has been much talk (grossly premature, I might add) of picking Brown as the Republican candidate for President in 2012. Endorsements don't get much better than that.

Fiorina's campaign has said that the ad merely indicates that she wants to duplicate Brown's feat in California. No endorsement implied. Yeah, and if you believe that, I've got this big orange bridge I'll sell you cheap. A spokesman for DeVore said "It's crafted with this wink wink, nudge nudge that's meant to imply something that it doesn't explicitly say. You don't appropriate the symbol of Scott Brown and claim it as your own without validating him as a source." Campbell's media consultant tweeted "I don't know if she's claiming an endorsement but that's up there in the Scott Brown exploitation sweepstakes."

Unlike Fiorina, DeVore's people went directly to Scott Brown's handlers and openly asked for Brown's support. They were not entirely rebuffed, but a Brown staffer replied with "Everybody and their mother is asking for an endorsement and we don't want to get involved in a Republican primary." Clearly, the Brown camp was not rejecting the idea of endorsing the Republican primary winner down the road, but is wisely staying out of the politics of other states during primary season. Campbell, on the other hand, seemed to sense the inappropriateness (and poor timing) of even asking for an endorsement from Brown. Short of opposing a KKK or 9-11 Troofer candidate, it is simply unwise for a Republican from one state to interfere in the internal politics of the primaries of another state. Wise politicians recognize that (although pace DeVore, there's no harm in asking).

Political science professor Larry Gerston summed it up by saying: "It's not unusual for people running for office to make exaggerated claims. As to accuracy, well, accuracy sometimes takes a back seat to emotional appeal in politics." Although I see the professor's point, that's an excuse more than an explanation. Fiorina at best has shown bad judgment, for the second time in a rather limited time-frame. She could at least have run it past Brown's people, and perhaps gotten his approval for a use of his image in a far less-obvious ploy to suggest endorsement. All three candidates are perfectly justified in using the Massachusetts Miracle as a guideline for a Republican victory in Democratic California. But that doesn't mean they should drag Brown into a race that he has not chosen to participate in.

Showing the images of Brown, new Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, new Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, along with an image of herself would have suggested a "trend." Showing Brown alone followed by the statement "Thank you Massachusetts. Now on to California. Join the Path to Victory," clearly suggests in the strongest way possible that Brown has endorsed Fiorina. Fiorina needs to learn the old adage that just because you can do something, it doesn't necessarily follow that you should. Her twin misjudgments at least indicate that she is too reliant on subordinates. If she can't pick a good ad agency or good public spokespeople, what kind of aides is she going to pick if she actually wins the nomination and defeats Boxer in the general election?
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