Immigration In the Golden State: Three Questions for Jennifer Rubin

 

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin Responds Part I; Part II

In the October issue of Commentary, Jennifer Rubin writes a powerful and only too compelling article—an elegy for California.

“More than 40 years later,” Jennifer writes of her family’s move to California from the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, “I still remember the bright sun and palm trees when we got off the plane. California in 1968 was a magical place….” In 2005, fed up with bad schools, dysfunctional politics, jammed freeways, and heavy taxes, Jennifer, now married and the mother of two, got out, moving back East.

Flying over Los Angeles on an annual summer visit, I peer through smog so thick that the coastline is hard to see. It is only three in the afternoon, but the cars are backed up for miles on the freeways, which remain largely in the same state of disreapir that greeted me last year. The state is literally deteriorating before my eyes….California has become…a nice place to visit. But who would want to live there?

Thirty-eight million of us, that’s who. Which means that California still matters. If nothing else, the state is simply too big for the rest of the country to write off or ignore.

Diagnosing California’s woes, Jennifer provides an astute overview, mentioning every important factor—but one. The initiative process has produced a welter of contradictory and unworkable reforms, giving the state a constitution as thick as a telephone book. Proposition 13, which launched the tax revolt of the nineteen-seventies, succeeded in holding down property taxes but had the entirely unintended consequence of removing much of responsibility for public schools from local school boards to give it instead to the bureaucracy in Sacramento.

Public employee unions have ripped off ordinary Californians, negotiating sweet pension deals with politicians only too eager to give the unions just what they wanted in return for their support. Spending has careened out of control. And large portions of the middle class have simply gotten up and left. “Between 1990 and 2000,” Jennifer notes, “2 million more left the state than arrived from other states.” The 2010 census figures will no doubt show an even bigger exodus during the decade that just ended.

The one factor that Jennifer leaves out? Immigration.

The numbers: Since 1970, the Hispanic proportion of the Golden State’s population has more than doubled, increasing from 16 to 37 percent. Overwhelmingly, the newcomers arrived from one country: Mexico. The number of immigrants now in California illegally? By a conservative estimate—a conservative estimate—some 2.6 million, or almost 7 percent of the population.

I’m generally pro-immigrant, taking the view that we ought to be as generous about permitting others to join us as we can be. But that’s just the point. Can we be as generous as we’ve been here in California for the last couple of decades? Surely the numbers matter—surely we must draw distinctions between rates of immigration we can assimilate and rates that will swamp our institutions and culture. For my friend Jennifer, then—and for anyone here on Ricochet who’d care to respond—a few questions:

  1. No less a figure than Harvard professor Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United States, including, of course, southern California, runs the danger of becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American. With Mexicans moving into the state while whites leave California for the interior of the country, is Huntington’s fear being borne out?
  2. There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues—and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. If it’s hard for the GOP to remain competitive—and even if Meg Whitman wins the gubernatorial race, nobody supposes Republicans will win back the state legislature—then it’s hard for California to right itself. Lord knows Jerry Brown wouldn’t stand up to the unions. And then there’s the problem of the White House. With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics. Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?
  3. The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year. They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes. On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state? “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?
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There are 27 comments.

  1. Matthew Gilley Inactive

    A while back I asked on another post exactly what kept folks from leaving California; I surmised that if I lived there and had anything resembling a choice I’d be long gone, especially if I ran a business. Rob and Kenneth responded back, if I remember correctly, that it was work and weather, respectively. Well, the work is leaving and lots of places have nice weather. From my perch 2,000+ miles away, I suspect that unless things change very, very dramatically, the remaining productive sector in California will face the dilemma Dr. Savage described this morning and leave for friendlier climes. The only unknown for me is whether the exodus will be a flood or a steady drip-drip-drip of people headed for the door.

    • #1
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:19 AM PDT
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  2. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    California is a funny place. I am no expert on its history — but my sense is that every generation or two someone gets a lock on California politics (the Union Pacific Railroad at one point, if I remember), and it takes an electoral revolution to break the lock. Were I a Californian — especially a Californian about to move elsewhere — I would be tempted to vote for Jerry Brown, who could, I think, be trusted to take the state down to a level in which the state legislature would change hands. The state has a relatively weak gubernatorial office. The Terminator was unable to do much; the same will be true, if she wins, for Meg Whitman. Why not opt for accountability? The Dems created the mess; let them fester in it — and then, when no one will buy California bonds, the whole thing will come apart, and the voters will effect a change. Short of that what can be done?

    • #2
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:21 AM PDT
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  3. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Keep in mind that I can engage in such irresponsible speculation because I do not live there.

    • #3
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:23 AM PDT
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    I haven’t seen any empirical evidence that Hispanics move towards the GOP as they progress into the middle class.

    The Left has had 30 years or more to establish a web of political organs that preach ethnic chauvinism and class envy among Hispanic immigrants and lure them into the mechanisms of entitlement.

    The whole George W. Bush fantasy of Hispanic immigrants as “family values” folks is put paid by the fact that the rate of out-of-wedlock births in the Hispanic community now approaches 50% – and that the crime rate among Hispanics is 4 times that among whites.

    It’s simple: when the first act of an Hispanic is to break our laws by crossing our borders illegally, it is a fool’s errand to believe that they will somehow become model “citizens” once they’ve arrived.

    Hoping for assimilation? Good luck. Every metric indicates that the second generation of Hispanic immigrants is more hostile to American norms than their parents.

    • #4
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:23 AM PDT
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  5. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Ah, Paul, Paul. Lenin’s “things must get worse to get better strategy” is perfectly sensible…unless you actually live in the place that’s supposed to get worse. I’m trying to raise a family out here. Mercy!

    • #5
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:26 AM PDT
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  6. Profile Photo Member
    Paul A. Rahe: California is a funny place. I am no expert on its history — but my sense is that every generation or two someone gets a lock on California politics (the Union Pacific Railroad at one point, if I remember), and it takes an electoral revolution to break the lock. Were I a Californian — especially a Californian about to move elsewhere — I would be tempted to vote for Jerry Brown, who could, I think, be trusted to take the state down to a level in which the state legislature would change hands. The state has a relatively weak gubernatorial office. The Terminator was unable to do much; the same will be true, if she wins, for Meg Whitman. Why not opt for accountability? The Dems created the mess; let them fester in it — and then, when no one will buy California bonds, the whole thing will come apart, and the voters will effect a change. Short of that what can be done? · Oct 1 at 10:21am

    I agree…like an alcoholic, California voters may need to hit rock bottom before coming to their senses.

    In the Central Valley, where unemployment ranges up to 40%, this is already happening.

    • #6
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:29 AM PDT
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  7. Yetwave Inactive

    It was California native Victor Davis Hanson who coined the more fitting name for the state: “Mexifornia”. Peter states: “If nothing else, the state is simply too big for the rest of the country to write off or ignore”. As resident of a state that is currently solvent, Texas, I have no desire to bail out California as Peter implcitly suggests that I get ready to pony up to do. Rather, why not hand California back to Mexico and let the state’s debt be Mexico’s problem? The way the population is trending and the manner in which the state is ‘goverened’ make such an allegiance not only increasingly compatible culturally but also mutually incomprehensible politically.

    • #7
    • October 1, 2010, at 10:52 AM PDT
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  8. Patrick in Albuquerque Inactive

    You say: “They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.” In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, there you go again. That illegals pay nothing but sales taxes is simply false — and the Meg Whitman brouhaha illustrates the falsity. Think of the illegals who work in restaurants or who work on construction crews or etc, etc. Their employers pay social security, medicare, federal income and state income taxes. And if the illegals are renters, they are paying property tax throught every rent check. If they own a house, they pay property taxes just like anyone else.

    • #8
    • October 1, 2010, at 11:52 AM PDT
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  9. G.A. Dean Inactive

    Let’s be careful with both our words and the ideas behind them. California doesn’t have an “immigrant problem”. Immigrants are a great asset for the state. We certainly don’t have a “Hispanic” or “Mexican” problem. What we have is a serious challenge with uncontrolled illegal immigration, which creates a mess that is very difficult to manage.

    Democrats will try to paint this as a “Republicans vs. Hispanics” issue and that effort must be resisted. Legal California residents of any heritage suffer from our budget woes, loss of jobs, poor schools, and other ills, and effort to get things fixed will benefit them all. It can be argued that illegal immigration hurts the recent legal immigrant, many of them Mexican, the most, so they have the most to gain from honest efforts to fix it.

    California has become more Hispanic and Asian in the last century in the same way that Boston became more Irish in the 19th century and Miami much more Cuban in the 1950’s. It’s how things work in the U.S., and not a real issue as long as we are welcoming people eager to become a part of the “American experiment”.

    • #9
    • October 2, 2010, at 1:37 AM PDT
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  10. Duane Oyen Member

    Jennifer’s response is right on. The issue is not immigration- legal or illegal- it is assimilation. And even though the pseudo-elite elites have played this masterfully by defining efforts to enhance assimilation (such as learning English) as racist, they have been free to do so because the Right has been dominated by its nativists and essentially left the playing field.

    You can’t grow new Right-minded citizens by 1) loudly proclaiming that they are not welcome, 2) leaving the first generations festering in social service sloughs of despond, ripe for La Raza’s siren song, and 3) showing no carrot whatever alongside the big stick.

    If we want them to learn to be good Americans who value freedom and opportunity, especially when they arrive here from a corrupt, crime-ridden, collectivist hellhole, we need to teach them- and offer them good reasons to learn the lessons.

    Assimilation requires a conscious positive program. After the three layer fence is complete, we should have solid Republican immigration attorneys helping these people, we should push for substantial increases in legal immigration- with the family chains carefully defined, and we should tie the increases to learning English as an enforceable requirement.

    • #10
    • October 2, 2010, at 1:39 AM PDT
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  11. G.A. Dean Inactive

    To finish thought above and address your question #2, if the Democrats are successful in painting the Republicans as anti-Hispanic, or even anti-Immigrant, then Republican successes will be short-lived. They managed to capture the African-American vote and most of the Jewish vote, as we have discussed on Ricochet, but those are not the rapidly growing groups.

    Republicans are finally addressing themselves meaningfully to women (largely through the Tea Party, a huge step forward), and need to do the same with Hispanic-Americans and the other growing ethnic/immigrant communities, or it will be more than California that goes “deep blue.” Those folks own businesses, pay taxes, and send children into the schools, and have as much at stake as any other American.

    • #11
    • October 2, 2010, at 2:07 AM PDT
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  12. Duane Oyen Member
    G.A. Dean: To finish thought above and address your question #2, if the Democrats are successful in painting the Republicans as anti-Hispanic, or even anti-Immigrant, then Republican successes will be short-lived. They managed to capture the African-American vote and most of the Jewish vote, as we have discussed on Ricochet, but those are not the rapidly growing groups.

    Republicans are finally addressing themselves meaningfully to women (largely through the Tea Party, a huge step forward), and need to do the same with Hispanic-Americans and the other growing ethnic/immigrant communities, or it will be more than California that goes “deep blue.” Those folks own businesses, pay taxes, and send children into the schools, and have as much at stake as any other American. · Oct 1 at 2:07pm

    Yes.

    • #12
    • October 2, 2010, at 3:02 AM PDT
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  13. Geoffrey Leach Member
    Paul A. Rahe: . .. The Dems created the mess; let them fester in it — and then, when no one will buy California bonds, the whole thing will come apart, and the voters will effect a change. …· Oct 1 at 10:21am

    With all due respect, Paul, it’s not just the Dems that will fester in the mess. It’s us Californians who will — and are — festering. I don’t think that giving the mess back to the ones who created it is a great strategy.

    • #13
    • October 2, 2010, at 3:07 AM PDT
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  14. Geoffrey Leach Member
    Duane Oyen:

    You can’t grow new Right-minded citizens by 1) loudly proclaiming that they are not welcome, 2) leaving the first generations festering in social service sloughs of despond, ripe for La Raza’s siren song, and 3) showing no carrot whatever alongside the big stick.

    You can’t expect someone who, by definition, can’t be (or become) a citizen to grow into a Right-minded citizen. Those who arrive legally I would expect require neither carrot nor stick.

    Wee need to distinguish in discourse between illegals who come seeking work and those who come for other reasons. Fix the system for the former and go after the latter hammer and tongs. (I understand that this is a terrible request. It’s bad enough to never be sure whether “immigrant” means “legal immigrant” or “someone who’s crossed the border illegally” as well. Now I’m asking for “someone who’s crossed the border illegally for good reasons” and “… for bad reasons”.)

    Does anyone know what the assimilation percentage for legal immigrants from Central and South America is? If one is prepared to wait in line for 10 years, I would expect it to be high.

    • #14
    • October 2, 2010, at 3:44 AM PDT
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  15. Palaeologus Inactive
    Duane Oyen: The issue is not immigration- legal or illegal- it is assimilation. And even though the pseudo-elite elites have played this masterfully by defining efforts to enhance assimilation (such as learning English) as racist, they have been free to do so because the Right has been dominated by its nativists and essentially left the playing field.

    · Oct 1 at 1:39pm

    I don’t think that nativists have dominated the right on immigration. They won a victory by convincing conservatives skeptical of massive legislative boondoggles, and nativists on the left in union households, to oppose CIR, as it was.

    • #15
    • October 2, 2010, at 3:50 AM PDT
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  16. Profile Photo Member

    I’m uncomfortable with the perjorative use of the term “nativist” here.

    What, pray tell, is wrong with the idea that the time for mass immigration is over?

    Reminding us once again that Milton Friedman said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”, a case can be made that it is now in our national interest to strictly limit immigration to those candidates who can conclusively demonstrate that they bring value to our society.

    There are plenty of well-educated, skilled people around the world who would like to come here.

    Other countries have educational, financial and skills requirements for immigration (just try emigrating to Bermuda).

    But we allowed Ted Kennedy to shame us into diversity quotas that assure most of our legal immigrants are low-skilled people from backward countries, who are then eligible to sponsor even lower-skilled and often unemployable relatives.

    If asking, “What’s in it for us?” makes me a nativist, then so be it.

    • #16
    • October 2, 2010, at 4:53 AM PDT
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  17. Standfast Inactive

    My wife (a native Californian) and I left California just before the housing bubble burst, so I guess that makes us one of the drips. Luckily I cashed in on the house we owned, bought a much bigger house in Kansas, have no mortgage, and lived happily ever after.

    Actually, no. Moving to Kansas has been a struggle. I thought this was a red state, but the taxes here, and the cost of living, rival California in almost every aspect except real estate.. I miss a lot about California. I’m glad I left when I did, but there are a lot of times I wish I was still there.

    • #17
    • October 2, 2010, at 4:53 AM PDT
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  18. Aaron Miller Member
    Peter Robinson:
    1. …Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United States… runs the danger of becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American.

    I share this cultural concern.

    Aside from a couple years in San Antonio, and many months in Mobile, I’ve lived somewhere around the same northern suburb of Houston for 30 years. I’ve had mexican friends (small “m” — hispanics don’t always like being lumped together) all my life, but I’ve witnessed an increasing retention of Mexican culture.

    My young teenage friend Roberto had to speak Spanish to his monolingual grandmother, but he and his siblings spoke English to everyone else. His parents, like many others, generally demanded English at home. In that and other ways, his family embraced American culture and prospered.

    Today, our Catholic parish celebrates one of its three Sunday Masses in Spanish. Countless signs are multilingual. Knowing Spanish is a big plus on résumés (encouraging it).

    The student population of my San Antonio university was over 90% hispanic. The school and city were full of classes, clubs, business organizations and journals that were exclusively hispanic. Schools and government encourage them to embrace their foreign (or racial), rather than American, heritage.

    • #18
    • October 2, 2010, at 5:03 AM PDT
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  19. Aaron Miller Member

    However, I don’t mean to dramatize the problem. There are many hispanics in Texas, 2nd or 3rd-generation Americans, who embrace American culture while also fondly celebrating their roots (as all subcultures do).

    San Antonio is a large, mostly hispanic city, and the reigning culture there is hard to pin down. I’d describe it as a unique brand of Tex-Mex… a different sort than is found here in southeast Texas. San Antonio has a strong city subculture, but it’s certainly American.

    Unfortunately, the Affirmative Action mentality that saturated my 1980s childhood is alive and well there, encouraging people to identify strongly by race. The more heated the conversation topic or situation, the more likely the hispanic person/group will withdraw to racial identification.

    • #19
    • October 2, 2010, at 5:11 AM PDT
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  20. Palaeologus Inactive
    Kenneth:

    If asking, “What’s in it for us?” makes me a nativist, then so be it. ·

    I’m uncomfortable with the perjorative use of the term “nativist” here.

    Oct 1 at 4:53pm

    It doesn’t. Nativism is the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants. Not potential future immigrants, not illegal immigrants, all immigrants. If you were to say that no legal immigrant should be considered for a job any native wants, that would be nativist.

    As for pejorative usage, well I can think of at least one instance where I favor a nativist policy. The Constitutional requirement that the President be native born.

    • #20
    • October 2, 2010, at 5:43 AM PDT
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  21. Profile Photo Member

    The only problem I have with Jennifer’s response is what are those of us to do who are not seeing all the financial benefits of illegal immigrants? I live in a decaying ring suburb of Philadelphia. Close to 250 languages are spoken at the local middle school. Our school taxes alone are approximately $600/ month while our home wouldn’t fetch much more than $200,000. It’s a beautiful stone home that I moved into 20+ years ago when the neighborhood was different. We’ve had an exploding school-age population for the past 15 years, some as a result of Philadelphia flight but mostly due to illegal immigration. Renters in PA don’t pay school/property taxes.

    I embrace the immigrant experience & agree it’s an important part of our heritage. But in my township, we are collapsing beneath the strain of unfettered illegal immigration. In the meantime, the black market economy thrives and our taxes go up every year. So I’m sorry if I’m having a hard time appreciating all the financial benefits at the moment.

    • #21
    • October 2, 2010, at 7:05 AM PDT
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  22. Profile Photo Member

    Correction, our school taxes are $647 a month. Now I’m really in a bad mood.

    • #22
    • October 2, 2010, at 7:07 AM PDT
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  23. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    Patrick in Albuquerque: You say: “They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.” In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, there you go again. That illegals pay nothing but sales taxes is simply false — and the Meg Whitman brouhaha illustrates the falsity. Think of the illegals who work in restaurants or who work on construction crews or etc, etc. Their employers pay social security, medicare, federal income and state income taxes. And if the illegals are renters, they are paying property tax throught every rent check. If they own a house, they pay property taxes just like anyone else. · Oct 1 at 11:52am

    Perfectly true. I stand corrected.

    • #23
    • October 2, 2010, at 7:21 AM PDT
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  24. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    Duane Oyen: Jennifer’s response is right on. The issue is not immigration- legal or illegal- it is assimilation. · Oct 1 at 1:39pm

    But surely, Duane–surely–numbers are of the essence. A minority can be assimilated into a majority. But if the minority becomes big enough–and, in this case, if it lives near its country of origin, with constant travel back and forth, and is able to work, shop, watch television and listen to the radio in its own language–then assimilation becomes very, very difficult. If your goal is assimilation, then you’d better pay very close attention to immigration rates, don’t you think?

    • #24
    • October 2, 2010, at 7:27 AM PDT
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  25. outstripp Inactive

    Immigration/diversity is like alcohol. A little of it is good for you and makes life more interesting, but too much will kill you.

    • #25
    • October 2, 2010, at 7:48 AM PDT
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  26. Mark Woodworth Member

    If they are not assimilating, if they are not adopting the culture and mores that define us, then it is wrong to call them immigrants, legal or otherwise.

    They are colonists.

    • #26
    • October 2, 2010, at 8:02 AM PDT
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  27. Duane Oyen Member
    Peter Robinson
    Duane Oyen: Jennifer’s response is right on. The issue is not immigration- legal or illegal- it is assimilation. · Oct 1 at 1:39pm
    But surely, Duane–surely–numbers are of the essence. A minority can be assimilated into a majority. …… If your goal is assimilation, then you’d better pay very close attention to immigration rates, don’t you think? · Oct 1 at 7:27pm

    Sure. That’s why you lock the border, and then control the in-flow. But at the moment we have no clue what an assimilable rate is, because the Right has largely abandoned promotion and enablement of assimilation in favor of anti-immigrant slogans and invective (“NO AMNESTY!”- “amnesty” being made an infinitely malleable definition). The only time we get interested in immigrants is at election time- then we bemoan the lack of support and ignore them till the next election.

    Isn’t the constant back-and-forth travel is largely a California issue? Do we believe that if California politicians were not so slavishly pusillanimous everything would be the same?

    The best treatment of this issue (other than Leo Rosten’s in Hyman Kaplan) is Michael Barone’s The New Americans.

    • #27
    • October 2, 2010, at 8:31 AM PDT
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