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Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Move Review

BATMAN-SUPERMANAny Superman movie is going to receive a tremendous amount of criticism. Superman is the iconic superhero in America…nothing, nobody, defines what it means to be a hero in American fiction in the modern era better than Superman, after all.

Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel had mixed reviews as well, with numerous hard-core fans criticizing a variety of plot choices, from the structure of the narrative, to the wanton destruction of Metropolis, to ultimate killing (murder?) of Zod at the hands of Superman…an event purposefully avoided in all his comic book lore.

As such, critics were just waiting to pounce, as Snyder was given the unenviable task of not only making a sequel of the Superman movies…but also making a prequel of the upcoming Justice League movies at the same time.

Simply put: there was no way to achieve everyone’s perception of what this movie should be.

Should it focus on Superman’s story arc? Should it be, like The Empire Strikes Back, or The Dark Knight, the zenith of the arc of this saga?

Or is it just supposed to be a set up for the eventual grand introduction to the Justice League, that DC comic fans have dreaming about?

Lets start with the missteps.

First, Lex Luthor…or to be more correct, Alexander Luthor. Yes, this is not the original Lex Luthor at all, but his son, who confusingly goes by the same name. His father, the founder of Lexcorp, is either dead or gone…the film only alludes to the former, but never states so outright. In any case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, this Luthor is either going to be loved or loathed. Eisenberg pulls no stops…he is over the top in virtually every scene he is in. I like the character as written, per se, but not the acting at all. It didn’t work for me. In some ways, this character has far more depth than the previous iterations of ‘Luthor’, but Eisenberg’s portrayal again makes him far more cartoonish, and not with enough of the threatening, genius, maniacal dread that I think Luthor actually should convey.

Second major problem: Doomsday. Dear Lord, I think Snyder got this character terribly wrong.  Doomsday is one of those epic villains that Superman is actually terrified of. Here, I feel like our heroes don’t know how to defeat them, but I am not sure they feel all that worried about actually losing to him either. Not to mention, did Snyder just basically steal a troll from The Lord of the Rings? 

If this was just a random monster, it wouldn’t have been so bad; as Doomsday, it just seems to miss the point of that character. For those that know the character, Braniac is a huge part of who Doomsday is; but no Brainiac in this movie at all.  Furthermore, with core story being Frank Miller’s Batman/Superman fight…why introduce the Doomsday/Death of Superman plot to the story? Seems like Snyder just wasn’t happy enough with one story that he had to plug a second on just for the heck of it.

My final problem is a problem that Snyder was forced to deal with, not an editorial decision: that this is a prequel for the Justice League. By forcing him to re-introduce Batman, introduce Wonder Woman, and then squeeze in the Superman story in between…it was really a hopeless endeavor. I think he did a fine job, given the task presented to him. But ideally, DC could have followed Marvel’s strategy of slowly building up to the Justice League. Of course, in the end, I presume that was a business decision, and not an artistic one.

O.K., so enough about what was sub par. What did Snyder get right?

I think he nailed Bruce Wayne/Batman, the older years. I was a huge critic of hiring Ben Affleck, but Affleck plays the role beautifully. That said, Batman has only one emotional speed: dark and brooding. Thankfully, Affleck does dark and brooding quite well.

But it is more than that. In some ways, Snyder nails Batman in ways that The Dark Night series didn’t. It makes him more of a genius investigator, a P.I. who is searching for small clues, and has a fantastic ability to put puzzle pieces again. I think that the penultimate fight scene with Batman also nails my perfect vision of Batman fight scene. Not to mention…I think this version of the Batsuit, Batwing, and Batmobile are probably the best we’ve seen.

The long-awaited fight scene between Superman and Batman to me was also very close to the mark; it wasn’t perfect (far too short, and still seemed to me that Superman should have and could have ended the fight earlier), but overall hits all the right chords.

Some people didn’t like the political fighting about Superman’s place in modern America. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it. How would the government, who tries to be in control of all facets of national security, deal with a wild card as uncontrollable as Superman? Of course they would try to destroy him in the media, undermine his credibility, and then make him out to be villain. The fact that it literally blows up in their face simply is because they don’t realize there are far larger threats that they are blind to.

Bruce Wayne is used quite well as a foil for the worries of humanity in the face of this new ‘God’.  How would humanity react, when a major city is destroyed at the hands of two alien visitors?  Half of humanity views him as a villain; the other half views him as a savior, with the obviously Christ-like comparisons to boot.

The final fight scene with Doomsday (even with my above caveats about the Doomsday character itself) I thought does a nice job of introducing Wonder Woman to the general audience. We see here she is every bit the warrior as Batman, and virtually as indestructible as Superman. And unlike either of those two men…she seems to savor the fight. There is one quick scene, where Doomsday pummels her and throws her into a wall; afterward, you see a small smirk on her face, as she turns back to the fight. That is Wonder Woman.

The teamwork that you immediately see from Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman is a prelude, hopefully, to what we see in the next Justice League installment. The question then becomes, what Big Bad Space Baddie will they face? And will they be able to roll Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and others into the storyline seamlessly?

My overall take away from this movie?  I think what many reviewers really missed, or may be ignorant of, is in many ways this is Frank Miller’s original vision of this story. I’m sure Miller would have done things differently, but the artistic echoes are quite apparent. Furthermore, that dark vision is precisely why many reviewers didn’t like the movie; this is no Marvel movie, after all. DC is knowingly taking a different path for their series. I presume that is going to turn off many viewers, and may actually be less successful among general viewing audiences. That doesn’t make it a less interesting story arc; just a different one.

In the end, I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. No, it isn’t as good as the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie. Yes, it could have been far more concise story wise, and would have been easier to follow for the non-comic book viewing audience.

That said, I have been heavily critical of many decisions they made over the past year, but seeing the final product, I really can’t complain too much. It is far from a perfect movie; however, it does a reasonable job setting up the Justice League stories, and hopefully gives us enough room for a nice future Superman arc to boot.

I, for one, can’t complain too much about that.

 

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Only A Fool’s Hope…

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The end is near…in more ways than one.

As I said before Super Tuesday, Donald Trump is very likely to win the nomination outright.  I still believe this; the numbers, and momentum, all point to him reaching 1237 delegates, and avoiding a floor fight at the Convention in Cleveland.

That said, it is not an absolute certainty.

The anti-Trump forces for the better part of a year have been confused, disunited, and remain so to this day, even at this late hour. Even when leading voices like Mitt Romney stand up and take a stand, the remnants of the conservative movement can’t decide if they want to follow.  The Trump opposition has been worse than herding cats.  If there are any hopes of derailing the Trump train, a few things must happen, and quickly.

First and foremost, Cruz must help Rubio with an exit strategy.

I know. Many Cruz fans feel that Rubio should do this of his own accord; and I don’t necessarily disagree.

But this entire process of uniting anti-Trump forces demands that someone elevate above the field at large, and lead the movement. To lead, you must show the ability to bring people together, be magnanimous, and sometimes go out of your way to show gratitude, even if your opponents don’t necessarily deserve it.

In short…Ted Cruz needs to grow as a person, and become the leader we pray he can be.

Cruz has many great attributes. He is brilliant, as well learned as anyone in America, a true intellectual and a hard-core conservative. But even with all these great personal attributes, his lack of close personal connections is quite clearly one of his weaknesses. This, however, is his moment to show he can grow beyond the man he already is. Cruz could be the bridge for Rubio to join a common alliance to work against Trump.  The way to do that is to form an emotional and personal attachment with Rubio, no matter how difficult that process may be.

I believe Rubio should leave the race, regardless of what Cruz does. His path has now evaporated. Chances of him winning Florida are well within the ‘Hail Mary’ region of expectations. Any momentum that he had after Iowa has all but disappeared. Finishing fourth in states like Michigan and Mississippi to Kasich, of all people, shows that this campaign is on life support.

But Cruz wants to be the leader of the conservative movement, and the nominee of the Republican Party. Intelligence and superior policy initiatives alone doesn’t achieve that. Ultimately, you must show that you are the person that conservatives want to fight for, because you are a leader that rises above the fray, and can ignore the political infighting in order to elevate the movement.

This is Cruz’s moment.

Secondly, Cruz and his anti-Trump movement must coalesce behind a common strategy to fight Trump on all fronts. Sean Davis and Erick Erickson have both laid out the strategy in one form or another. Here from Erickson:

So let me paint a picture for you.

We know in the stand alone races, Cruz beats Trump. We know that according to Rule 40 of the Republican Party, any person to stand for nomination for President has to have won the majority of delegates in eight states. Cruz has won three with that criteria and would have won more but for Rubio in the race. If Rubio could even win Florida, he would still struggle. Same with Kasich.

So instead, Rubio drops out and Cruz publicly declares Rubio is his running mate. They barnstorm the nation today with Rubio throwing the punches at Trump and Cruz talking about their vision for the future. They crisscross Florida raising voter awareness that voters need to vote for Cruz. They go to Missouri, North Carolina, etc.

Once they get through March 15th barnstorming the country together, they divide up the states with Rubio going as Cruz’s surrogate. Rubio hits New England. Cruz goes elsewhere. They have some joint events together.

Doing so shifts the conversation. Doing so forces voters to pay attention to the changed dynamic. And they head to Cleveland with either 1237 delegates for Cruz or at least more than Trump. It gives them a head start on having a general election ticket, which gives them an advantage over the Democrats.

In the process they unite the party. In the process they beat Trump. In the process they unite the party. In the process they start making the case against Hillary.

I don’t know if Rubio necessarily has to be named VP or not. But I do know that Cruz must make use of Rubio. Cruz alone cannot defeat Trump; that has become quite clear. Cruz has great difficulty in expanding the base, not only because of his record, but because of his personality. Many Cruz fans have a hard time accepting that Cruz’s demeanor, speaking style, and substance turn off many moderate Republicans in places like the Midwest, the East, and California.

Enter Rubio. Rubio has not been able to connect to base conservative voters for many reasons. But he can, and has, successfully connected with these suburban moderate Republicans. In many respects, Cruz and Rubio put together are the ideal Republican candidate. Can a tag-team achieve the results that neither alone could achieve?

A one-two punch of Rubio and Cruz barnstorming the country puts Trump on the defensive; they can cover more ground, they can target different demographics, and if smart, can target different states all together. And maybe more importantly, it instantly changes the narrative. The media will have to transition from “Trump the inevitable’ to ‘The Conservatives Unite”.

Finally, the obvious: Cruz needs a bridge to the establishment, and Rubio likely is that bridge. Cruz’s hope, time and again, is that groups that he wants to support him would magically coalesce behind him at some point. He believed that with the conservative base, the evangelicals, and now the establishment. At each turn, this has failed as a strategy. He must alter his tactical thinking if he wants to win this campaign.

Cruz has the opportunity here to make a peace-offering to the establishment. It costs Cruz nothing; if he loses, what has he lost? If he wins, and Rubio is his running mate…well, honestly, Cruz could do a lot worse.

That said…all of this is a long shot. I still believe Trump will be the nominee. But if the conservative base, and the establishment, truly believe in #NeverTrump, this is the moment of our choosing. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

It is time to unite. It is a time for choosing.

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Super Tuesday Quick Takes

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So, just some brief observations going into Super Tuesday:

1.  Donald Trump will win most, if not all, states.

I think this is a forgone conclusion. I believe Cruz will win Texas, his home state. The question there is his margin of victory, and whether Rubio clears 20% (more on this later).  But other than that, where is a possible upset possible?

Cruz really has no other possibilities. Rubio has the outside chance of competing in Minnesota and Virginia, and less likely in Alaska and Georgia. Victories in any of those states would bolster Rubio, but seem unlikely at this point. I personally do not believe he wins any of the above.

Nate Silver has an excellent state-by-state breakdown that can be read here.

2. Ted Cruz must win Texas by a large margin.

This is essential. If Cruz somehow manages to lose Texas, his campaign is over; I don’t expect this to happen. But I am unsure if a close victory is a good thing for anyone.

A close victory with Trump would give Trump a fair amount of delegates, but still give Cruz a reason to stay in the race (he would have, after all, won two more states than Rubio, and the second largest in the nation). Ironically, this would actually be the best case scenario for Trump. In this scenario, Cruz stays in the race, divides the non-Trump vote, and Trump dominates a divided primary all the way to Cleveland.

Cruz does have a path to the nomination, but it requires him winning states like Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma…all of which are states where he is currently trailing. Furthermore, the battlefield gets worse for Cruz as the primary carries on. Let us recall, Cruz’s plan was to get an early delegate lead by March 1st, and sail through; that is no longer an option.

3. Marco Rubio has to thread the needle.

As I referred to above, Rubio has a chance to pick off a state or two (MN and VA being most likely) but even those I would bet against at this juncture.

The alternate path Rubio has is the ‘No Win’ Scenario (or loving called Rubio’s Kobayashi Maru).

The scenario goes like this: Trump wins all the states on Super Tuesday, but Rubio and Cruz amass a large amount of delegates by polling above 20% in states. This will give them proportional number of delegates, thus undercutting Trump’s potential lead.

What then happens? From Nate Cohn:

Imagine, for a moment, that the candidates fare about as well on Super Tuesday as they have through the first four contests. Given the types of states in play on Super Tuesday, perhaps that yields something like a 34-25-25 percent split between Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz.

In this scenario, Mr. Trump claims a clear edge in delegate accumulation but not a majority. He gets 279 delegates, or just 44 percent of the delegates at stake, while Mr. Rubio receives 164 delegates.

In short, Trump does build a lead…but is slowed by Rubio and Cruz stealing delegates on both sides of him.

The problem? Then March 15th is for all the marbles. If Trump is able to win the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio, it is game over. As long as Cruz and Kasich are in the race, there is no chance of Rubio winning Ohio, and even winning his home state of Florida will be a stretch.

Rubio’s only hope is Cruz does badly on Super Tuesday, pulls out, Kasich beats Trump in Ohio and Rubio is able to take Florida.

Again..this is why it is called the ‘No Win Scenario/Kobayashi Maru’. It is virtually impossible.

4. What I expect:

I expect Trump to win all states tomorrow other than Texas; I expect Cruz to win Texas fairly comfortably. I think Rubio comes close and fails in Virginia and Minnesota.

In short, I pretty much see Trump’s ideal scenario.

As of right now, unless something crazy happens (like Cruz dropping out) I see no reason to believe Trump will not be the GOP nominee. I do believe Rubio has a slim window, and there is reason to continue fighting, but if you were a betting man you would bet on Trump.

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For Conservatives..Its A New Day

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Its likes the song Feeling Good…”It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…”…

The Iowa Caucus, in a few short hours, turned the political conventional wisdom that has building for the better part of a year on its head.  Literally every poll in the last few weeks showed Donald Trump leading the Iowa caucus by an ever-growing margin, extending up to an average of 5-7 points by election day yesterday, with Senator Ted Cruz following in second, and Marco Rubio trailing badly for third.

None of those things were true. And Iowa Caucus voters showed again why commentators know nothing…and voters are paramount.

So who won and lost on Tuesday?

1. Ted Cruz was the biggest winner of all. 

You can spin the expectations game and the perception battle all you want. Of any of the candidates on either side of the aisle, Cruz was the only that, you know…actually won something.

Cruz started this campaign a year ago with a simple premise: he was going to unite the social right, pull enough establishment conservatives to drain the mainstream candidate, and win Iowa to catapult him into the heart of the nomination race. He spent millions of dollars and countless amount of time to build the best Republican infrastructure and Evangelical turnout machine that could be constructed.

And he succeeded on all counts.

There is an obvious open question now if Cruz can repeat this success anywhere else, because obviously Iowa is unique among primary states. No candidate will have the time or manpower to move their voters the way Cruz did in Iowa. From now on, the candidates will have to depend far more on their power of persuasion.

2. Senator Marco Rubio is for real.

There is literally no honest Rubio supporter (including yours truly) that thought Rubio would finish within 5% of the leader, 1% of Trump, or an overall percentile of 23%.  Rubio came within 2,300 votes of passing Trump on Tuesday night; to put that into perspective, that is equivalent of half of Jeb Bush’s entire vote, or slightly more than Rick Santorum’s vote. It was that razor-thin.

Rubio compounded his victory by giving the most uplifting victory speech of the night. And, to the ire of Cruz fans, that is exactly what it was:  a victory speech.  Stealing a page from Bill Clinton in 1992, Rubio claimed victory on a night that he actually lost.

But it worked. He went out and spoke first, likely garnering the largest TV audience of the night. His fans were ecstatic, and most felt that they won…even though they finished third.

Rubio’s challenge going forward is slightly different from Cruz’s. Rubio must convince the other establishment candidates to leave the race.  Exit polls (which are dubious in Caucus elections, but it is the only data we have) say that Rubio was the favorite second choice of voters who cast ballots for Bush, Kasich, Santorum, and Christie, and for a large percentage of Ben Carson and Ron Paul voters.  Those votes must consolidate for Rubio to win the nomination.

3. Donald Trump was the biggest loser.

There is no debating this. Trump spent a year telling the nation he was leading in the polls. He would, quite literally, read poll numbers to his crowds, saying how fantastic they were.

And then Iowa voters crushed Trump with the burden of reality.

To his credit, a second place finish for a moderate/liberal from New York City with no political infrastructure or experience is quite an accomplishment in its own right.  Seen on its own, Trump’s performance in Iowa was quite impressive; more than Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani could accomplish, after all.

But politics isn’t won or lost that way. Politics is rarely about reality, and always about perception. And the perception is the King of the Hill has been displaced.

Trump set himself as the ultimate winner, unbeatable…and he lost.

Going forward, Trump has the same problem he always had: he is an outsider with no base to really call upon, and must expand his tent beyond the Populist movement he himself created. And he now faces a hard ceiling. Can he get about 25-30% of the vote anywhere? And if the establishment unifies behind one, or even two, candidates, can he beat either of them running the campaign he is currently running?

4. Hillary Clinton lost, but did Bernie Sanders win?

The Clintons spent 8 years trying to fix their catastrophic 2008 performance in Iowa. They spent millions of dollars building a machine that could not be beat.

And…they were almost beat by a Socialist 70-year-old Northeastern Senator who is, to add insult to injury, not really even a member of the Democrat Party.

With some caucus results missing…the truth is more voters may have gone out to caucus for Sanders on Tuesday night than did for Hillary.

Ms. Clinton now faces losing in New Hampshire by double digits, and then depending on her firewall of Southern African-American voters. This is going to be a long, hard slog.

5. The GOP must unify. 

It is a new dawn and a new day for the GOP. They have run an incompetent primary season so far. Many good candidates, such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker, were washed away by the chaos.

But voters have the power to bring the political establishment to its knees and face reality. And that is what Iowa voters did last night.

All but the top three candidates for the Republican nomination should be called to pull out now. Carson finished fourth, but is going home to take a week off instead of campaigning in New Hampshire; I say good for him. Huckabee has said he will drop out, and Santorum will like follow suit.

For Governors Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, as well as Senator Ron Paul…there is no path to the nomination. The Mike Murphys of the world can delude themselves all they wish that enough money and enough spin can make their much vaunted candidates viable, but that simply is not the case.

For the good of the party, it is time for all of them to go. And then, let Cruz, Rubio and Trump fight it out for the mantle of the party’s leader.

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The Iowa Caucus…and Beyond

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With days remaining until the first actual vote of the 2016 season, the myriad of issues that remain undecided still are quite remarkable. Is Trump still leading? Is Cruz fading? Does Rubio have a chance? Is Bernie’s surge real? Will Hillary blow it once again??

So where do we stand?

1. Either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will win the Iowa Caucus.

I think everyone feels comfortable with this prediction. Marco Rubio will very likely finish third.

The question is how they place, and what the spin the day after will look like.

For either Trump or Cruz, a loss would be devastating to their case. For Trump, he has argued for six months that he the is king of the hill, routinely pointing to poll after poll that shows him on top. In fact, when a rare poll showed Cruz leading, Trump literally whined to the voters of Iowa: “What are you doing to me?”.  A loss would undermine his case that he is the inevitable nominee.

For Cruz, a loss would in some ways damage him even more. There is no state in the country that is more perfectly built for Ted Cruz than the Iowa Caucus.  It is traditionally dominated by Evangelicals and social conservatives; and even more so, virtually all the major leading traditional religious leaders in the state have come out and endorsed Cruz. Cruz has spent more time and money in Iowa than anywhere. For him to fall to second to Trump would be a hard pill to swallow, and would make many once again question his entire electoral strategy.

Rubio is very likely to finish in third in Iowa. Trump has shown a small surge in the last month, and Cruz is actually dropping in the polls after a surge late in the year. Rubio has seen a slight uptick. There is no better reason to believe Rubio is having a slight surge than this: in the past few days, the Cruz campaign has shifted their ad dollars in Iowa from targeting Trump…to targeting Rubio. Their internal polling must be showing something significant.

A finish lower than third in Iowa for Rubio would be catastrophic. It is hard to seriously consider any conservative candidate that can’t finish in the top 3 in Iowa. The rest of the repercussions of Iowa is up in the air. A close third place finish is likely to catapult him into New Hampshire, because of the ‘expectations‘ game being so low for him to begin with. Rubio’s only goal is to get one of the three ‘tickets’ out of Iowa, so he can make this a three-way Rubio/Cruz/Trump race going forward, and slowly push Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and the others out the door.

2. The GOP race is too close to call.

As said above, either Cruz or Trump will win…but which one?

There are a number of variables that will help decide who wins the slugfest between Trump and Cruz…and all are unknowable, largely for the same reason: Trump is a wholly unquantifiable factor.

First and foremost is voter turnout. Polling in the last week has been telling; most show Trump with an approximately 7 point lead this week over Cruz. But what is interesting is that lead dramatically changes based on how your turnout model is set. If you expect a record turnout of around 200k voters, Trump wins by greater than 10 points. If the turnout model is closer to the record-setting 2012 Caucus, where about 130k voters cast their vote, Cruz and Trump are tied.

Compound this with the turnout infrastructure of both campaigns. Cruz’s state infrastructure is second to none. He has his own campaign staff, along with the well structured Evangelical base in the state, to help drive up turnout among his voters. Trump has..virtually no apparatus. He is largely depending on the enthusiasm of his voters. It will be a great future case study on how each philosophy works in practice.

But again, look at the above numbers. Trump’s lead has now surged to 7 points.  Cruz would not only have to hope for less turnout overall, but asymmetric turnout of his supporters. If you are a betting man, you put your money on Trump slightly at this point.

3. The Democrat Race is close…and in many ways similar. 

In many ways, the Democrat race is a strange mirror image of the Republican race. Bernie Sanders is the outsider, running an unconventional campaign based on enthusiasm, while Hillary Clinton is the established candidate with an extensive, long built statewide infrastructure.

Additionally, the polling is also similar. The race is a virtual statistical dead heat. Unlike the GOP race though, it is Sanders with momentum, while Hillary is not only stagnant..she has been slowly been hemorrhaging support for months.  Her favorability ratings continue to drop among Democrats, and she has not found of any way to reverse that trend.

4. What happens next?

This is the most important question of all. Historically, the Iowa Caucus is a poor predictor on the Republican side over the past two cycles; Santorum and Huckabee won the last two, after all. On the Democrat side, as discussed above, if Hillary wins, she may shut the door on Sanders, even though he will persist in the campaign. If she loses, Sanders finally for the first time could see a viable path to the nomination; not a likely one, but at least a possible one.

The GOP side is cloudy, to say the least. Trump’s ideal strategy is to win Iowa and New Hampshire, claim that he is the inevitable nominee, and then convince the core of the party to unite under his banner. I question whether this is possible; will the majority of the party unite under Trump, unless absolutely forced to? Regardless of Trump’s lead, he has never been able to get above 40% of the GOP primary vote. Traditionally, a nominee needs to win over 50% consistently to get the nomination. He still has some work to do.

The paths for the others are even far less clear than Trump’s.

Cruz must win or at least do well enough in Iowa to claim some sort of victory. A bad finish in Iowa, regardless of placement, would stain Cruz’s argument that he is the viable conservative alternative to Trump. If Cruz does well in Iowa, he can proceed to New Hampshire and South Carolina as the ‘rational’ alternative, and hope that the Party’s innate hate of him will be overcome by the rational decision that Cruz is a far superior general election candidate.

As for Rubio, I’ve been saying for weeks that his strategy is all about threading the needle. He needs the media to turn his third place finish in Iowa into a ‘victory’ of sorts. Furthermore, his team prefers if Trump wins Iowa, in the hopes that the result will send Cruz spiraling.  He then can go on to New Hampshire, claim the flag of the Establishment, and hopefully finish second. That would, in turn, slowly push out the other mainstream candidates, at which time Rubio can consolidate that vote, rightfully claim he is the most viable General Election nominee, and head toward Super Tuesday.

Don’t ask me to say what is the most likely scenario of those; I simply have no idea at this point.

 

If I was forced to put money on who wins Iowa next week, I’d focus on a few key metrics: their current poll standing, momentum in the polls, and infrastructure to drive out voter turnout.

On the Democrat side, the candidates are tied, and momentum is on the side of Bernie Sanders. Can Hillary drive up turnout to counter that enthusiasm from the Progressive wing?  My gut tells me Hillary wins by a hair, but 8 years ago…I would have said the same thing, and she finished in third. If Hillary wins, this race is likely over before it starts, as Sanders simply doesn’t have the ability to fight Hillary in many of the later primary states, especially in states unfriendly to Progressives like the deep South.

On the Republican side, using the same three criteria,  you have to give Trump the edge. He leads in the polls, and has momentum. Cruz will narrow the margin some with his turnout machine, but I doubt it will be enough. Again, like many times before, the story of the night may be the loser; if Rubio can finish a close third to Cruz, that would damage Cruz even further. Cruz’s ideal scenario, if he doesn’t win outright, is to stay close to Trump, crush Rubio, and make this a two-man race. I think that is unlikely at this point.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Movie Review (SPOILER FREE)

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For my generation, there are few cultural tent poles as important as Star Wars.  The original Star Wars is the first movie I can remember actually going to a theater and watching; I was just shy of five years old at the time. It was the first movie or story that truly captured my imagination. And for the first decade of my life, much of my imaginary child’s play revolved, in one manner or another, around the series.

It is now commonplace to insult the Star Wars series.  George Lucas made that quite easy, after the Prequels largely destroyed the mirage of a series that, previously, could apparently do no wrong. Along with the myriad of other science fiction options that people now have, the Star Wars series had lost its place as the ultimate nerd experience.

With the sale of the franchise to Disney, hope once again reignited among Star Wars fans. J.J. Abrams was hired to lead what was, in my humble opinion, an impossible task: to reignite the fervor that made Star Wars such a cultural phenomenon in the first place.

Has he succeeded?

There is no question that The Force Awakens is a far superior Star Wars movie to the prequels.  So, to begin with, let your mind be at ease at least in that respect.  This feels like an original Star Wars movie…a movie with action, suspense, and enough humor to keep you entertained throughout.

I think the biggest success of this film is that it found the right stars to carry this movie. Unlike the prequels, which simply didn’t care about character development at all, this movie actually relies on it. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) both are fundamental in the ability of this movie to succeed. Both are characters that are fairly rich in detail, and most importantly…you care about what happens to them. Who can say that about any of the characters in the prequels?

Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is the guy who brings the swagger and charisma that this type of ‘cowboy film’ requires. As a X-wing pilot, is the film’s ‘rebel’ of sorts.

As for the villains, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) is an evil, conflicted terror, who is not always in control of his emotions.  His personality itself feeds into the narrative that he is not just a paper tiger…he is a real, formidable threat. I will say the other villains simply seem to be in the background.  I certainly would have liked to see more of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, for example.

I don’t want to say too much about the original cast, except to say…every initial moment of seeing them on-screen, for me, was a moment that made my heart flutter. These are characters as near and dear to me as any, and seeing them in any new iteration is a joy to behold.

I am quite pleased with The Force Awakens.  Abrams was handed a series that was, in many ways, flailing and dying from years of neglect, and a (surprisingly) lack of understanding of what its fans really want. In that respect, Abrams has delivered. He has reintroduced us to that galaxy that inspired the imagination of so many over so many years.  He has, once again, made it fun to see a Star Wars movie.

This movie just has the feel of Star Wars.  If you are a life long fan…the best word I can use to describe the movie is comfortable.  It is easy to slide into this story…it feels right.  You don’t have to force yourself to enjoy it…this simply is how Star Wars feels emotionally.

People have already asked where I would place this movie in the saga. It is far better than any of the prequels…and at the very least, is very close to as good as Return of the Jedi. I may even be willing to consider it better than Jedi, upon further viewings. Time will tell. My second viewing will be on Sunday (yes, I am that much of a nerd). I’ll have to see if that changes my opinion at all.

Is it a perfect movie? Not even close.  It is somewhat hamstrung by its forced connection to the original trilogy. In many ways, this trilogy must be able to set its own course, separate from the originals, and this first movie doesn’t exactly do that. I understand that Abrams’ task, of walking the tightrope of balancing the old with the new, was an almost impossible burden to bear. We might have to give him some leeway in that regard, and wait for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII to see the full potential of this new storyline, and of these new cast members.

But, in an echo to the original, this movie provides a new hope. It opens up the Star Wars universe to infinite possibilities of sagas, epic storytelling, and new adventures in planets not even dreamed up yet. And that likely will be this film’s biggest success of all.

 

 

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The Mendacity of Hillary Clinton: The VA Edition

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Hillary Clinton is not an honest woman. This is not news. She has a quarter century public record of showing her inability to tell simple truths, and hold by them.

The past week, however, gives a clear insight into how that dishonesty could affect policy in a Hillary Clinton Presidency.

Last week, in an interview roundtable with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Clinton stated that issues within the Veterans Administration have “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.”

More from the Military Times:

“Bring in people and just tackle (it) … have an ongoing review of the care that is being given, do more to make sure that every VA hospital is delivering care to the highest standard of the community,” Clinton said. “Because, unfortunately, some are doing a lot better job than others are.”

But she also lashed out at Republicans for “ideological assaults on basic fundamental services, whether it’s the VA, Medicare, Social Security,” blaming them for exaggerating the VA’s problems in pursuit of their real goal: privatization and elimination of VA services.

Even John McCain, a ‘friend’ of Ms. Clinton’s, was astounded by the statement:

McCain also took issue with Clinton’s claim that Republicans have made the VA partisan and want to use it to privatize the VA. In doing so, McCain noted that he worked with her Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to pass a VA reform bill.

“Now Hillary Clinton, in her blind ambition, has injected partisanship into the VA issue and that is disgraceful,” he said. “She owes an apology.”

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was also on the call. “Hillary Clinton really proved she has no idea what she is talking about on veterans issues,” he said.

Simply put, not only is Ms. Clinton’s statement NOT factual, it is downright ignorant.

The advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America hammered Ms. Clinton for minimizing “the deep-rooted problems within VA”. They went on to accuse her of being the one politicizing the issue:

“Mrs. Clinton is clearly out of touch with reality when it comes to veterans’ needs, and despite her self-professed lack of understanding of VA issues, is more interested in defending the status quo and entrenched special interests than in actually advocating for the reforms veterans want,” CVA CEO Pete Hegseth said in a statement.

The reality is much worse than even at first glance. Approximately 60k military veterans have been delayed as long as 90 days from getting simple medical appointments.  The number of Veterans that continue to die because they remain on the waiting list is so extensive, we still don’t have a full accounting of the total number, but it likely numbers in the thousands.

Hillary probably has a short-term memory, because she probably forgot that former Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki resigned for specifically those reasons that Hillary now downplays.

Additionally, government data on these disasters may be a lagging indicator. When researchers study how Veterans themselves feel about their services from the VA, things appear bleak.

It is highly debatable whether the compromise between Congress and the President has had any significant improvement in these issues.

All this is shadowed by two facts of continued government incompetence: 18 months after the Veterans Administration scandal, not a single person has been fired. If that fact itself isn’t amazing enough, consider this:  This past year, the VA paid $142 million in bonus, many to the same officials that are involved in these scandals.

To say things have improved is government spin at its best. An extensive investigation by the Arizona Republic shows otherwise. Though the VA states their wait times have decreased (and data shows just that), they themselves admit their data collection on wait times is flawed, because their system is thoroughly dysfunctional.

Only in government is such gross incompetence possible.

With all these facts and narratives circulating, the former Secretary of State still had the audacity (or is blind ignorance?) to state that these problems were not systemic and were localized to only a few centers around the country. That is an amazing effort of self-delusion.

Of course, Hillary’s timing could not have been worse, with Veterans Day quickly approaching. Knowing that she would take a political hit from this debacle, Hillary does what she always does…she flip flopped, in toto. By Wednesday, Hillary had changed her tune on the VA:

“These problems are serious, systemic and unacceptable,” Mrs. Clinton said at a discussion with veterans in Derry, N.H., a day before the nation marks Veterans Day on Wednesday. “They need to be fixed and they need to be fixed now.”

In a 12-page fact sheet, her campaign called the long waits for care and backlog of benefits claims “government at its worst.”

This is utter mendacity. Simply put, there is no chance that Hillary was ever ignorant of the facts on the ground. The VA disaster was one of the most publicized issues in the summer of 2014, and she had to know the systemic problems existed. Furthermore, nothing occurred in the last two weeks that would have ‘changed her mind’…outside of internal polling from her campaign, that is.

Furthermore, if you read on in that Wall Street Journal report, Hillary’s answer for the corruption and failure at the VA? LESS PRIVATE CARE.

“Privatization is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I’m not going to let it happen,” she said.

That’s right. When faced with gross government incompetence that has led to the deaths of likely thousands of our own military Veterans, Hillary’s answer is…more government.

This is one of many portholes into the future we will receive in the coming year about what a Hillary Clinton Presidency would look like. She is a far left, ideological liberal who ignores facts at her leisure, and will only change her public position when it damages her personally on a political level.  Data and reality have little to do with her policy positions, as we have seen here.

Furthermore, in characteristic that should bother progressives as well, Hillary is very willing to throw overboard any position that can threaten her in the least, even if she stated loud support for the opposite position just days before. She has no line she won’t cross for her own political gain.

A person that displays such mendacity does not deserve to sit in the Oval Office.

 

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GOP Debate #4: Quick Thoughts

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Quick observations:

  • Biggest winners? Fox Business. The moderators were not perfect, but did not try to inject themselves too much into the discussion. They asked, for the most part, relevant, policy centered questions.  An infinite improvement over the CNBC debate.
  • Winners: Cruz, Fiorina, and Rubio. Cruz was solid on the points he wanted to get across. Fiorina brought her A game, improved over the last debate. As for Rubio, he had his moments, but overall, this was probably his worst debate; telling that he was still better than most people on the stage.
  • Losers: Kasich, by far. Irritating, interrupting, whining about air time. Jeb was a relative loser, because he couldn’t make a splash. It was probably Bush’s best debate performance, but not enough to change the trajectory of his campaign.
  • Other candidates largely held par. Trump was solid at times. Carson seemed, once again, lost on policy specifics, but that may not matter to his followers. Rand Paul lost an exchange with Rubio over the size of the military, but otherwise had his best debate.
  • Overall, this was a relatively solid debate for all the candidates, and far better than the prior CNBC debate or the lone Democrat debate when it came to discussion of specific policy issues.
  • In the end, this is quickly shaping up to be a Marco Rubio vs. Ted Cruz matchup. Oh, I know, Carson and Trump lead in the polls…but I still don’t believe those numbers are hard, and I believe that they will erode as we approach Iowa and New Hampshire.
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My Case For Marco Rubio

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I have publicly been very reticent in disclosing my feelings about which candidate I would ultimately support for the Republican nomination.

This was for many reasons. First and foremost, I believed entering this year, this was going to be the deepest and most engaging field in modern history. I believed that we would have a host of Governors leading the pack, because of their extensive executive experience.  And I thought that separating out of the elites from the also-rans was going to be difficult.

I am not sure any of those assumptions came to be true.

Because of a myriad of factors, this cycle has largely been devoid of in-depth policy discussions. The vast majority of news media has been focused on clownish, superficial nonsense that nobody other than the most inane of insiders really cared about. This was especially highlighted by the October 26th CNBC debate.

But as we have progressed through the process, I think several candidates have risen above the fray, and focused on the issues that are at the forefront of the problems that face this country going forward. And I think one candidate so far has stood above the rest.

That candidate is Senator Marco Rubio.

But let me take a step back, and tell you why I have been reluctant to jump on to the Rubio bandwagon.  I am willing to wager that for many that are concerned about him for one reason or another, the complaints sound similar and echo the same worries and concerns.

There are two in particular that come to mind.

The first issue for most was Rubio’s involvement in the Gang of Eight immigration deal.  In 2013, I myself called for rejection of that plan for various reasons that can be read here. Even at that time, I stated that Rubio was making a fundamental political mistake.  Here was a quote about my concern in April 2013:

Furthermore, this will be a moment of truth for several Republicans, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio.  I believe he has been honest in his belief that there is a conservative based solution to this.  And in all honesty, I am surprised he has gotten the security promises that are seen in this deal.  The unfortunate part is that going forward, I am not sure that the security portion of this plan is at all achievable, and even worse, there is no definitive way to prove one way or another if it has been achieved.

The same argument that has been made for a decade stands:  border security first.  The repeat of the 1986 immigration failure cannot be allowed again.  And until that is shown to be the case, I remain a skeptic.

Like many others, my statement was prophetic. The bill collapsed upon its own false promises and flawed logic, and Rubio has taken much of the blame. The Gang of Eight always focused too much on the legalization process, and not far enough on securing the border…exactly backwards of how I see any solution to the immigration problem evolving.

After hearing Rubio speak on several occasions about immigration, I believe he realizes the fundamental mistake he made.  The focus must be on securing the border and verifying the legality of all workers in the country. Only after doing that, can we move forward into a process of providing some kind of permanent legal status for the illegal aliens in the country today.

Thhis will always be a weakness for Rubio, however, because some people will never trust him after this mistake. And I can understand that; his lack of understanding of the dynamics of the politics surrounding immigration in 2013 was surprisingly tone-deaf.  However, I am not a single issue voter, and never have been.  I admit I am still wary about his immigration positions, but I do believe he understands now why any comprehensive bill will fail.  I don’t really believe he would move forward with such a bill, and would hope he focuses on security first, as he has promised.

The second issue for me is one that Rubio may never be able to answer: his relative inexperience. I think his background as Senator has given him a sound footing on foreign policy. Frankly, he has been the most steadfast and eloquent on foreign policy issues on either side of the aisle (Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton included). Rubio has shown a level of nuance and understanding of complex foreign policy dynamics that we definitely did not see from Senator Barack Obama 8 years ago.

However, President Obama highlights the fundamental weakness in Rubio’s resume: the lack of any executive experience. Through out the process, my favorite candidates were governors (most notably Scott Walker and Rick Perry, and to a lesser extent Bobby Jindal).  I believe that the history of being a governor is invaluable when it comes to running the government bureaucracy, and with dealing with Congress.

Along with his relative youth (he is 2 years older than I am), this will be a problem for some voters, especially after the executive incompetence of the last Senator-turned-President. However, I think linking Rubio blindly to Obama is a mistake.  The issues, and depth of understanding them, is what will make the difference in the long run.

That said, with both Walker and Perry now out of the race, I clearly believe that despite these small complaints, Marco Rubio is the man to lead Republicans into the future.

When this process started, I often reiterated my three major criteria for selecting a candidate for the Republican nomination:

  1. Could win a national General election competing against Hillary Clinton.
  2. The most conservative candidate that could get elected.
  3. Could expand the base of the conservative movement.

I think in all three respects, Rubio is the man for the job.

His performance in interviews and in debates has been skillful and eloquent. Unlike many his competitors on either side of the aisle, he has an ability to answer questions and turn partisan biased media questions to their favor. Only Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina are even in the same class in this regard.

Here is Rubio, answering Charlie Rose on why it was fair to call Hillary Clinton a liar over some of her Benghazi statements.

Rose was left stunned and dumbfounded, because fundamentally (despite what some liberals would like to parse and spin), Rubio was right. But how many other of our candidates would have been able to make this same argument, and sound so reasonable while doing it?

Liberal journalists are not the only ones that have come face to face with Rubio’s ability to turn negatives into positives.  When Jeb Bush brought up Rubio’s substandard Senate voting record during the CNBC debate…little did Bush know he had fallen into Rubio’s trap:

In many ways, this was the moment in retrospect we may look back and point to as the end of the Jeb Bush Presidential campaign.

As for his ability to win a general election, that is inherently linked to his ability to expand the conservative base. Rubio clearly would provide a generational shift to the face of the Republican party. Put aside that he is a Hispanic American, son of immigrants, born in the 1970s. Many forget that Rubio arose out of the original Tea Party movement, a fiscal conservative at heart first. Rubio would be the most conservative, small government nominee of the Republican Party ever.

But more importantly, Rubio is what many refer to as a ‘Happy Conservative’.  Reagan and even George W. Bush were portrayed as ‘amiable fools’ by the media, but what the media never understood is that ‘Happy’ facade also allowed them to be more liked than their competition. Carter, Mondale, Gore and Kerry all learned that facing a Republican that is simply more well liked matters in a general election. There is something in Rubio’s personality that is lacking in some of our other candidates, an ability to make people like him even if he has a position they disagree with.  Although people often can’t put a finger on exactly what that quality is, subconsciously they understand that they like this guy.

There is no question demographically, Rubio would alter the map as far as the Hispanic vote is concerned. That doesn’t mean he would win the Hispanic vote, but it certainly means he could challenge President Bush’s vote totals among that community, which were close to 40% of the electorate. Rubio likely would do far better among youth voters than Romney or McCain did, because of his own youthful demeanor, not to mention the aged appearance of his competition.

None of this guarantees success in 2016. Hillary Clinton is still a formidable candidate, with the money and political connections to go the duration. The Democrats have some structural advantages that make it hard for Republican to break through; not quite a ‘Blue wall’, but definitely a hill to overcome.

In the current field, there are several candidates that I personally like and admire. But I think when you examine the complete package, Marco Rubio is the best candidate conservatives, and Republicans, can put forward to further the cause. And as such, he will have my support.

 

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Third GOP Debate

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A few quick thoughts on this debate:

  • Jeb Bush got trounced. On multiple fronts. The most spectacular was when he attacked Marco Rubio on his Senate attendance record. Rubio turned it around, and gave maybe one of the strongest answers of the entire night, saying that he was not running against other Republicans, but running for President.  Bush, inadvertently, made Rubio look above the fray, and was lost the rest of the debate.
  • I’m not sure how or if Jeb recovers from this. He really has no case to make any more.
  • Cruz was strong on multiple questions, most especially when he attacked the ludicrous media.
  • Chris Christie had a very strong night overall.
  • Fiorina seemed a little lost in this setting. She needed a strong debate night to keep in the leaderboard, and she didn’t get it.
  • Trump was Trump. At times, he was pretty decent. His closing statement was bizarre.
  • Carson also was himself: nice, calm, but a little lost on actual policy issues.
  • Kasich’s best moments were when he talked about Ohio, but his worst moments were when he actually challenged anyone else on stage.
  • Rand Paul has one foot out the door. So does Huckabee, although he had some fine answers as well.
  • The CNBC moderators were horrid. Not just bad, but bad in epic fashion. One example? John Harwood challenged Rubio’s tax plan, saying it would benefit the rich over the poor, and used a study from the Tax Foundation. The only problem? He was wrong. Here is a tweet from the head of the Tax Foundation:

  • The other moderators asked silly questions, couldn’t control the debate, and were, for all practical purposes, completely incompetent all around.
  • Losers? CNBC and their moderators.  Jeb Bush, who seems totally lost at this point. To a lesser extent, Rand Paul had a poor night. Carson seemed lost again. Trump was Trump.
  • Winners? Definitely Rubio and Cruz. Rubio got an assist from Bush, which helped. Chris Christie had a solid night too.
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