Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reviewing the Reviewer

I was happy to read the opinion of the Local's newest columnist, Len Lear, on the Valley Swim Club Incident. Happy because, up 'til now, I had held my tongue about his work, out of pity. Len has been kicking around the lower levels of Philly journalism since I was a kid, and once came within hailing distance of what might have been called "promise." But that was some years ago. That past , and his innocuous position on the Local, lead me away from some pretty obvious observations.

Another reason is more delicate.

But since Len has now written what is probably the most overt expression of Racial Insensitivity I have ever read in the Local, I get to open him up a little.

Here is where the betting line is set on whether any Hiller contradicts Lens' "Walk a Mile in my shoes, Colored People" tale of the discrimination he has personally observed and experienced.
The morning line is 8 to 5 against. In the Hill tradition, which Len violated, I'll guess complete silence on the subject.

I let Len alone. He has his own little office. He writes what are supposed to be restaurant reviews for a neighborhood newspaper. When I read restaurant reviews in a neighborhood newspaper in which I am (was) a resident, I have two reasonable expectations. One, that the review, being in a newspaper whose readership outside the neighborhood was minimal, would attempt to review restaurants within that neighborhood. And two, that the reviews would try to describe the food being served in that restaurant.

But Len, perhaps hewing to the Hill tradition of thinking that its (his) influence is somewhat larger than it actually is, left the sampling and critique of Hill establishments to some other, imaginary paper. In the last twenty-three Local issues, one Hill restaurant has been reviewed.
Another unorthodox feature of Lens' reviews is the amount of words he actually devotes to the description of the food itself. He typically uses his inches to back story the life and struggles of the owner, usually getting to the food around paragraph twelve, calling the dish delicious, and then finishing off these distracting details in two or three paragraphs. Check the archives. I did. Lens' percentage of column space devoted to the description of the dishes sampled tops out at sixteen percent. The words most often used to describe the food are "delicious" and "tasty."
I always thought I knew why, and Lens latest work convinced me.

Len assumes his writing ability is above the Roget-hunting-for-flavor descriptions that he never seemed to tackle. His talent was in those compelling backstories that we all cared about so much more than finding out if someone served food we wanted to eat.

Lately, Len has jumped into the recession-news-you-can-use- business, taking special care to describe price busting offers at the establishments he writes about. The key point of going to a restaurant for the food, rather than the cost, or the compelling story of its owners has apparently been lost in his haze of two for one specials.

A few weeks ago, he reviewed Applebee's. I can't really add anything to that statement. Yes, I can. Anyone who reviews Applebee's for any reason other than as a case in point for the decline of Western Civilization should have his W-2 changed from food critic to Teenage Hillbilly Asshole.

That he described the food as "Yummy" and the unlimited salad and breadsticks as "quite tasty" makes me want to purge RIGHT NOW.

But now we see Len's ambition. Social Critic and advice giver. To Parents. Black Parents. Take your children to Libraries, museums, and lectures. Because, I guess, Len thinks that they don't do that already. Because Len, as a White Man who has never had children, feels comfortable in telling a Black Parent how to raise children. And that his experience in observing discrimination in 1963 is enough to counter a lifetime as a Black person in America.

It's the Sociological version of telling us that Applebees is "Yummy."

Len might have an issue with self identification, and that's understandable. For if ever he looked in the mirror long enough to know that his color precludes his understanding of this situation in the most profound way, he might notice that the thing on the top of his head resembles no human physical attribute, and that it is a symbol of denial as equally profound as his ignorance on the subject he has addressed.

So my advice to you Len, is to get rid of the bad wig, and devote yourself to writing about local restaurants and figure out how to work the food onto the articles before the twelfth paragraph. As for your taste, I can't help, so here's a tip - Review the Chestnut Hill Grill - It's so close to Applebees, you'll feel right at home. As for the baldness - Get over it.

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Not Everything in America ...

Bill Maher at Huffpost offers a new rule on which enterprises should be profit-driven. CHCA, take note.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Public Conversations ...

Conversation 1.
A man in a key position of authority with a community group is talking with an acquaintance on the Avenue. Remarks that his group's key money-making enterprise lost $20,000 last month. This is within earshot of business people, community members and others. Is it wise of this person to be speaking in a public setting about this private business issue?

Conversation 2.
A man and a woman, both board members of a community group, are riding a train back to their neighborhood. Their loud conversation, overheard by a number of people on the train, includes discussions about outsourcing work at the aforementioned (See Conversation 1) enterprise as a way to cut costs. Recall that the group has already cut out 401 (k) contributions and reduced medical benefits to veterinarian levels for employees of the enterprise. Also, said organization siphons off more than $30K a year just rent from this enterprise and uses another $34K to subsidize the non-Quita Horan ($40,000 a year, thank you) employees of the non-enterprise division. In addition, the male speaker has decided that the key hire recently added to the company may have been loose in his resumé, is not what the masters of the mini-universe expected and would be better supplanted by a former employee who pissed away $100K or so several years back. Hey, guy. They don't love you in the morning. We ask, do these corporate officers understand that business conversations should not be conducted in a public setting?

Discuss: WTF? Do they not get it?

For a free subscription to Northwest Notebook, name the people.

Update and response: Because play is important to healthy living.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where Are the True Liberals?

Yes, you can still read about the atrocities on the back pages and in sideline reporting in the mainstream media. How many of you know that in the last few days another Russian investigative reporter was found in her apartment elevator with a bullet to the head and another “just to be sure?” This woman had the audacity to write - from personal experience - of atrocities in Chechnya and other probing articles about a Russian government that moves back to the “good old days of Uncle Joe” further and further while we make nice with a robot front man in a country run by a KGB operative who is a true cold war believer.

China still executes political prisoners regularly and often without trial, but just this week another large group of lawyers in China had their licenses to practice law revoked because it was determined by the national leaders that they put too much time into sensitive cases and allowed access to the foreign media. Let’s not forget how uprisings in Chinese provinces get squashed with fatalities and injuries falling into an “undetermined” category. Internet access is government controlled with the primary assistance of U. S. service providers.

Women are stoned to death with regularity in countries who we now think are worthy of “regular dialogue” and inclusion in the larger economic world and Britain is actually considering legalizing the replacement of British Common Law with Sharia Law in communities where the Muslim population is significant.

But none of this is important anymore, for we are now a “global community” and whether the message comes from the political right or left, from our Democratic president or minority Republican leadership, it is “Internationalism Uber Alles” when it comes to both foreign and domestic policy and hundreds of thousands, no millions, can be slaughtered in Africa while a handful of U.N. troops look on with direct orders they are to do nothing and make no calls for reinforcements. It makes no difference that a Marine Expeditionary Force is 20 minutes away by helicopter where the finest trained and equipped troops in the world could have stopped the majority of the bloodshed almost instantly.

The “Liberals,” as a group and the PARTY OF THE PEOPLE who long claimed support and broader concern for humanitarian international issues, now transform those interests to international trade and the movement of money. Prioritizing international human rights and trade with only those who respect them are now anachronisms from the recent past. 400,000 Americans died from my father’s generation creating the government that would lead the world by example. Another 100,000 from mine did so in Korea and Vietnam trying to implement that policy with very mixed results, but we were promised that diplomacy would replace the military approach and a more sophisticated foreign policy would do a much better job and do it without regular loss of life in the process.

INTERNATIONAL MONEY EXCHANGE is the idol now worshiped from all political and government quarters and for the most part the idealistic young activists and true believers of the postwar years have surrendered to the notion that top down power with little true democratic participation and fraudulent excuses for elections will suffice. It is now okay to move the goal posts anytime it avoids tough decisions and rationalizing the terrorist behavior of governments we do business with replaces a philosophy of self-sufficiency and self-determination first and foremost - - and trade and foreign exchange only with those whose actions match their propaganda.

We have been here before. The “Economic Miracle” of Germany 1932-36 got Hitler on the front page of Time, not once but twice. The New York Times worshiped Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” and one of their top journalists got the Pulitzer Prize for his work defending the man who is in a race with Mao for the record of how many millions were slaughtered or starved for not following their party line.

We have come full circle. Do we need to be a world financial center so badly that we will compromise our ability to produce what we need and instead export most of those needs to parts of the world that will use those dollars only to further exactly what we do not stand for? American toys and T-shirts build the Chinese Navy. Our imports fund South American dictators. International oil revenue keeps radical Muslim jihad schools funded worldwide.

Sure, we cannot be the world’s policeman, but we sure can stop the race to fund all the political and social evils we know exist with the earnings of the very same liberal Americans who claimed their philosophy would be the one that would never allow the atrocities of the past a chance at reincarnation.

Jim Foster


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

High Anxiety

Chiller: Eulogies & fantasies for the king of pop
by John Lombardi

Dr. Cornell West of Princeton , a religion professor who still utilizes a 60s Afro, a black, three-piece preacher's suit, and the eponymous "Oh, my brothers!" when rolling into a sentence meant to override his listeners' critical faculties, was ceding the floor to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, of Georgetown: " . . . not just a fashion icon, a moon-walker, MJ was striking a strong metaphysical blow against segregation of the skin and of the spirit . . . Do you recall when Michael sang 'It doesn't matter if you're black or white!' ? Brother was in flames . . ."

Dr. Dyson, a younger, beefier sociology lecturer, sharing the spotlight on The Tavis Smiley Show on PBS a few days after MJ died, grabbed the stick like a relay runner: "Too quick to jump to the controversial tip! When Reagan died, you didn't have the media discussing the president's faux pas! Uh-uh! They gave him a pass! There was a moratorium on criticism. But with Michael, Fox News and everybody else were beating on the body immediately -- Oxycontin! Demerol! Bald head! 112 pounds! Taking away from his achievement! There's time for hard analysis later, but with the man barely gone, why is it necessary to diminish? What do you say, Tavis?"

Smiley, a big, handsome, healthy Hoosier, now established in Hollywood as a kind of black Charlie Rose, simply said: "Politics."

Which got West off again: "He was the intellectual emblem of blues hegemony. He was Fred Astaire, James Brown. Nietzsche, Stagolee -- a genius. And geniuses suffer for us all! They don't have happy lives! They carry the weight. They dealing with the heights and depths we more mortal men can't even jump up high enough to see, or dive down low enough to dig! Jackie Wilson! John Coltrane! Ornette Coleman! Nina Simone! Dostoevsky! Beethoven!"

"MJ altered the terms of the debate!" pronounced Dr. Dyson, edging back in like a rapper in a "cutting" contest, or like Don King hyping a fight. "He was adorned in an Afro-halo of High Possibilities and Deep Griefs. When [pre-Thriller] Rolling Stone wouldn't put Mike on the cover, he told 'em: 'You're gonna need me some day!' When MTV refused to play his music, he did all those Thriller & Bad videos that made MTV! They should have called it Michael TV! He engendered multi-millions, not only in CD's, DVD's, live performances and songwriting royalties, he created the integrated audience! Who do you think did more to pave the way for the non-racial U.S., the multi-racial world? Some politician? Or MJ?"

West swore that it was time for blacks to reclaim Michael. Dyson insisted it was whites who'd turned their backs on him, even after his 1995 child molester charges were dismissed. Causing all his pain and motivating whatever clinical gloom might have led him to abandon Neverland Ranch & cloister himself in Bahrain, and then England, where racist Fleet Street hacks were merciless, driving him out with "Jack-O!" headlines. After he was booed offstage at the Earl's Court Arena in London in 2006, in what was supposed to be his first comeback after the pedophile charges, he is said to have holed up for a week in a hotel, drinking steadily -- new for a man who'd spent millions on plastic surgery and weekly skin-lightening sessions with Dr. Arnold Klein of Beverly Hills (the purported real father of his first two kids, Prince and Paris, with his nurse Debbie Rowe as their mother ); who'd slept in a hyperbaric glass chamber to slow aging; ate only skinless broiled chicken and lettuce, to prevent weight gain & arterial clogging ; dressed himself and the children in medical beekeeper costumes to ward off paparazzi, germs and sunlight . . .

But according to these two, and they were on PBS -- you couldn't even think about the weird stuff. As MJ's spokesman/brother Jermaine tearfully told Matt Lauer of NBC, on the lawn in front of the Jackson family compound in Encino : "People weren't ready for him. He was too good. So God took him back." To show MJ's self-valuation, he'd had a painting of "The Last Supper" hung on his wall in Neverland that showed him at the center of a table, surrounded by "apostles": Abe Lincoln, JFK, Einstein, Little Richard, Elvis, Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney.

The naive grandiosity, the tearful and sometimes malevolent denials of surgery addiction, prescription drug addiction and pedophilia, his attempts to "become", say, Diana Ross, or Elizabeth Taylor, his self-description as "Peter Pan", point to a more twisted psychology than his fans or handlers were equipped to deal with.

MJ and his brothers have recounted their father Joe's driven cruelty in turning them into a marketable black act in the 70s and 80s.. They lived at first in a battered saltbox in Gary, Indiana, where dad was a sometimes unemployed steelworker and frustrated musician . On camera, Michael told Martin Bashir of ABC: "He used his belt. Sometimes an electric cord. If you didn't get the steps or words right. Not with me as much, 'cause I was always better . . . But with some of my brothers, like Marlon . . . He was brutal." Joe would also taunt Michael about his shortness and "fat nose". As a result, MJ lost his childhood -- "Jermaine and Tito and them were older -- but all I knew was working."

So he began to change himself. By Thriller, 1983, he had a thinner nose and a lighter brown skin, so that he looked more like George Chakiris in West Side Story than himself. By Bad in 1989, having sold more units in six years than Elvis or the Beatles (59 million on Thriller; 28 million on Bad), his nose was even thinner (one surgeon called it "endstage crucified"), his skin whiter, and he had a a new strongly molded jaw and dimpled chin. It's been reported that he's spent hundreds of millions on his travels, lawyers, surgeries, homes -- Neverland cost a million a month to maintain; his last mansion in Holmby Hills, paid for by his last management aggregation, called Colony Capital, $100,000 a month to rent, plus $150,000 a month to keep his physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, constantly in attendance. Murray was with him, though allegedly out of the room, when he lapsed into unconsciousness June 25th.

He'd been begging his staff and one of his nurses for Diprivan, used sparingly in hospitals to start anesthesia, but dangerous . One warned him: "Michael, if you take too much of that stuff, you ain't gonna wake up!" (His brother Randy had helped save him in 2004.) But from his videos, shot at the Staples Center, where he was rehearsing a slo-mo, militaristic version of "This Is It", what was to have become his second, 50-show "comeback" at 02 Stadium in London on July 13th, drugs were already affecting him. Uncharacteristically, he was dressed in gray, the frustrated if spastically brilliant, sometimes balletically on-point dance moves of Thriller and Bad subliminated in flat-footed line-marches and salutes. The choked, manic singing of his biggest hits was slurred to the infant's refrain:

"All I wanna say is
They don't really care about us!"

The secret of MJ's success. Adults vs. children. Better to die than let them win.

His estate is valued at a half-billion dollars, and 2.6 million songs have been downloaded since his death. A billion people watched his funeral celebration on TV. A death photo, taken in the 911 ambulance, sold in the high six figures.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Writers Respect One Another

As a semi-responsible journalist, I followed up my first person account of Buzz Bissinger's end-of -presentation Snowden statement with a call to the speaker himself. I had accurately recounted my time at the event and I had accurately recounted the statement itself. But I wanted to get any backstory and clarification on Mr. B's experience. We had a pleasant conversation.

Mr. Bissinger told me that the statement was glib, and in jest. Knowing his style, I had felt so at the time. Mr B told me that he retracted his statement soon after, and should not have said it. He wishes no harm to anyone. To clarify, as his statement was worded, the death of Mr. Snowden might well have come from natural causes at an advanced age. So violence is not a component to be addressed.

But Mr. Bissinger was clear that he regrets the statement and I believe him. Toothpaste and tubes being what they are, and speaking as a man who licked varnish on a live television show once, I know the depth of his regret. He added that his entire presentation was peppered with humor and its attendant exaggeration. I get that too. My work, including my extensive reporting on Mr. Snowden's activities in West Virginia and the Hill have been laced with humor. That, and the law regarding public figures keep me out of court. And although I have never wished him ill in print, in our one extensive meeting, I did suggest that he sell his properties in 19118 and leave.

So the lesson here is clear. Context and style. They count. But my Mom used to say something about words said in jest, and she ought to know about such things, because she called me a bastard almost every day. So to those who soiled themselves following a silly comment, lighten up. And next year get the guy who writes the "Thomas the Train" books.

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Oh What a Night!

The Scene: Snowden's McGarrity Showroom
The Time: Saturday July 11, 8:55 PM
The Event: The Capstone of The Bowman Properties/Chestnut Hill Business Associations' Book Festival

At the most heavily attended Festival Event, and with the derelict Bowman property filled to capacity, Buzz Bissinger, Book Festival Headliner was winding up his presentation. I was there, in the back. Standing room only. I was ready to ask Mr. B, nearby resident, what he thought of Richard Snowden, primary financier of the festival, owner of McGarrity, and Principal in COTIGA, a firm that has leased West Virginia land for strip mining for more than a century, and lately a despoiler-turned benefactor-turned-Positively Chestnut Hill SugarDaddy. I thought, as a fellow journalist, Mr B might have an opinion. Perhaps we could even discuss my ongoing work on this subject.

Earlier in the day, I had asked a similar question at a sparsely attended panel discussion group on non-fiction, at the same venue. When I did so, two-count 'em-two business association ladies, (whose names I can never remember), sprung up simultaneously and said,"you don't have to answer that question" to the panel, a group of mature, professional women who seemed as if they could speak for themselves.

Too bad a Panel Discussion on Censorship was not scheduled for the weekend. maybe next time, if books on paper are still being published by then.

As it turns out, I didn't have to ask Buzz the question. He answered it in his final remark.
Before he did, I scanned the room.

There was Greg Welsh, ostensible organizer of the event, whose restaurant is listed second, after Bowman, as sponsor. Greg seemes to have a full time position, directly beneath Richard. Greg was looking around, beaming at their mutual triumph. "Finally, a capacity crowd, for our front-page-of-the Local Star Attraction!"

Although I couldn't see Richard, so many of the other organizers were there that, when a policeman showed up minutes after my arrival, I sensed something more than serendipity.

As Buzz was winding up, speaking of his love, and his hopes for Philadelphia, I began to raise my hand to ask my question.

And then he said it. In his final remark, concerning the future of The City and the neighborhood in which he and his family lives and loves, Buzz said, "And Snowden Should Die!"


Wait. Say it over to yourself. I didn't say it. The Principal Speaker of the Bookfair sponsored by Snowden said it. What followed was a sound I had never heard, but read about, before.

It's the sound that rises up over a battlefield after the first deadly volley.

A great gasp of surprise, followed by a moan of pain by the fallen, as if their mortality had, up until that point, been a fact denied, and then accepted, all within the span of a second.

It was a sound heard at Gettysburg, at Verdun, and at Balaclava, at the moment of imagined triumph for all causes doomed, not by circumstance, but by the hubris of their protagonists.

I looked around the room. Greg looked as if his annual prostate exam had started early, and he had forgotten to fast for the day. The CHBA ladies all looked as if they were posing for Munch. Again I looked for the Middle Aged Boy-King, but I couldn't pick him out-these Anglo Saxon gene pool gatherings make discrete ID's difficult.

The closed glass door, (and what ARE the Maximum Capacity and Emergency Exit Rules for that building?) rattled as the air simultaneously rushed out of more than a hundred previously pleased-as-punch attendees.

And I applauded. I also shouted, "You know he owns this building!" Buzz replied,"I don't care."
That was good enough for me. I left before the organizers got a chance to edit the tape that recorded the event, or if Buzz had any aftermath to deal with. Besides, I had a Limerick Contest to get to.

I also didn't see any Local reporters, although they may have been there. On Monday, I will ask Pete if he had anyone there and if he intends to report the story. I will ask him if, in lieu of my response to Walter Sullivan's attack on the Chestnut Hill Residents' Association, if I may furnish my first hand account. Whether any of this makes the Local should be seen as a Litmus test of its independence.

My conclusion is obvious to anyone not so completely divorced from the ethics of the world outside 19118, that they think "parochial' applies only to those attending Our Mother of Consolation. What response did you expect from such a man? He has examined evil and corruption for a living. He knows it when he sees it. He sees the situation clearly. He, unlike the CHBA or Greg or Fran O'Donnell, or the Howes, or Wendy Kern, doesn't need Richards' help to earn his living, or to keep his kids out of the Public Schools.

I don't know what the aftermath of Mr. Bissinger's statement will be. I can't predict the extent or the character of the cover-up. But there will be one. Unless we take the words of the Hills' most respected journalist, by the Business Association's own admission, to heart.

Don't hold your breath.

And Buzz, if want to see my notes on Snowden and COTIGA, e-mail me.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009


I think "coal miner" should replace" coal baron" in that last one, right?

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These are easy

Dick Snowden owns more than he oughter
Just bought an election day slaughter,
Now the Chestnut Hill Local,
Will not be so vocal,
'Cause it's owned by a coal barons' daughter

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McNally was never a quitter,
But other bars make her quite bitter,
She used Board position,
To fight competition,
But Joe's face still looks like a Schmitter

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More Limericks

Walt Sullivan recently chose,
To write "the emperor has clothes"
We've heard that he said it,
But we've never read it,
'Cause his prose makes the populus dose

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Limericks that may not make the cut

A property owner named Snowden
Needed zoning for buildings he's ownin'
He took up a collection
And bought an election
Now we'll see his erection explodin'

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Where's Walter?

Gee, after my last response to Walter Sullivan, he hasn't written a thing on this blog. I guess he's satisfied with his regular Local column. I would comment on them at length, but I haven't been able to get through one yet. Anybody else?

And hey, look for me at the big Snowden Book Fair this weekend. Even though I'm a published author, with a book chosen as national Reader's Club Selection, (Art Howe-any Books?)no one contacted me to participate. I guess I'll just show up. I wonder what the tax advantage is regarding holding a community event in a vacant auto showroom? Richie Rich is always thinking. Every one of my limericks to be presented at the Hill Tavern on Saturday night will be about you, my Darling. But maybe one about Dina too. What rhymes with "sociopath"?

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Predictions ...

For you folks who think I can only predict what will happen in 19118, here is the plan for the Killa from Wasilla.

1. Take a 6 month vacation while America forgets some of your more ridiculous actions, and while someone finishes writing your book. Stay in Alaska. Do cover story for Parents Magazine, Redbook, etc., with all the kids.

1a. Take meetings for your pundit position/talk show. Fox is the obvious choice, but don't sneer at syndication. Much of your constituency cannot afford cable. And look at what Rush does with AM - a medium one step above the telegraph. Commute to Washington. Call Realtors. News of the meetings will break. Do cover story for Broadcasting Today.

2. Take a few easy six figure paydays from the usual suspects-Think tank division. AEI, etc-Kristol will set up the meetings while he fantasizes about you talking off your glasses. Pay off legal debts. Move to suburban D.C.. Rent.Do cover story for National Review.

3. Take the six figure cross country speaking paydays as you re-acquaint the American public with your new persona, and the publication of the book. Do the Talk Show circuit, INCLUDING Letterman. Do cover story for People.

4. Begin the pundit/talk show. Move to the Upper East Side. Buy. Do cover story for New York magazine.

5. Watch the poll numbers. If the negatives fall below 20, move back to D.C. Do cover story for Time & Newsweek.

6. Quit TV. Declare for 2012 Prez. Run a diciplined, populist, orthodox campaign and lose to next-in-line/sacrificial lamb Romney in the primaries. Save war chest.

7. Romney loses the general to the sitting President. Be a good sport. You now have the inside track for 2016.

8. Beat an aging Hillary.

9. Stock Camp David with moose and salmon.



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