Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Lame Walk...

Okay, not "walk" exactly, but even so, this is another example of technology greatly improving the lives of the least fortunate. In this case a man paralyzed five years ago, Yusuf Akturkoglu, has regained a great deal of his mobility through a piece of technology called a "Robotic Mobilization Device."

On a related note, the video below shows Google's self-driving car allowing a blind man, Steve Mahan, to go through the Taco Bell drive thru and pick up his dry cleaning. These are just banal, everyday things for most of us, but that's the point-- for the blind, they're not. Mahan says, "There are some places that you cannot go. There are some things that you really cannot do... This would give me the independence and the flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things."

Now, these videos were produced by the companies, Tek and Google, that make these two technologies. These are basically just two long ads; take them with the same pinch of salt you'd take with any advertisement. Even so, it's hard not to get excited. As technology advances, we are approaching a world where physical disabilities no longer matter.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

17 Reasons to be a Rational Optimist

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, was recently interviewed by Reader's Digest, leading to an article listing "17 reasons it's a great time to be alive" or "17 reasons to be cheerful." (The first link leads to the Reader's Digest article, the second to Ridley's blog about the article.)

The list includes a couple points I've made here, and lots more. He says the environment is better than we think, partly thanks to urbanization, partly thanks to technology, especially in agriculture. Also, despite inflation, many things cost far less than they used to. In 1800, an hour's light cost the average person six hours' worth of wages, while today it costs half a second.

By all means, read the full list. As Ridley says, "The world has never been a better place to live in, and it will keep on getting better."

Some other choice quotes:
  • "Self-sufficiency is poverty."
  • "It's easier to wax elegiac for the life of a pioneer when you don't have to use an outhouse. The biggest-ever experiment in back-to-the-land hippie lifestyle is now known as the Dark Ages."
  • "The more we prosper, the more we can prosper. The more we invent, the more inventions become possible. The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not: The ever-increasing exchange of ideas causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world. There isn't even a theoretical possibility of exhausting our supply of ideas, discoveries, and inventions."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Your Papers, Please

Three Canadian women, in two separate lawsuits, are accusing US border guards of "sexual groping" during searches, specific details at the link. One of them, from Windsor, was on her way to Detroit for "a routine shopping trip" when it happened (the other two have chosen not to talk to the media about it). Their lawyer says, "the type of search they received was not a normal pat down or a normal personal search."

Now, as far as I can tell, the lawsuits have just been filed, so innocent until proven guilty and all that still applies. But it just strikes me as completely ridiculous that the system is set up to even make crimes like this possible. How ridiculous? Let me count the ways...

1) Why do we, as a society, believe it's remotely appropriate to stop and search women on a routine shopping trip? Bear in mind, when you cross the border, they don't just let everyone through and only stop the suspicious ones. Everyone is stopped and has to give the guard an account of why they want to cross, where they're going, when they're going back and any other questions the guard feels like asking. The act of trying to cross a border makes you suspicious enough by itself to warrant interrogation. If this was done in the middle of New York, or Chicago, or St. Louis, Americans would rightly consider it repugnant and even tyrannical. Yet when it's done at the border, we cheer.

2) What in the hell is "a normal pat down or a normal personal search"? Since when in this supposedly freedom-loving country are pat downs and personal searches normal? Even if I'm completely off-base with point #1 and interrogation by armed enforcement officers for the crime of wanting to go shopping is entirely appropriate, how does that lead to pat downs and personal searches being normal? Whatever happened to being secure in our persons, papers and effects? I'm sorry, but I simply don't think it's reasonable to be subject to armed searches solely for going about routine business in a free society (and I mean "reasonable" in both the modern and Fourth Amendment senses). The only suspicious thing about these women was that they happened to be in Canada before wanting to visit America.

3) Even if I'm wrong on both #1 and #2, and personal pat downs on your way to the store are reasonable, shouldn't we have protections against obvious abuses like what (allegedly) happened to these women? The whole idea of border checkpoints is to have collections of law enforcement officers in one place, then force everyone including maybe criminals through that one place so we can catch the bad guys. But when the bad guys become border guards themselves and use that position of power to sexually exploit the citizenry, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Where were the other guards when this (allegedly) happened? Why didn't they do anything to stop it?

4) These three women are Canadian. They live and presumably work in Canada. They have filed their suits in an American court, and are represented by an American lawyer. If they plan to show up for their court dates, how are they going to get there? The only way they can even show up in court to make their case against the border guards is by going through a border checkpoint and subjecting themselves to "normal" pat downs and personal searches by the armed coworkers and friends of the people they are suing. This, in particular, illustrates the ridiculousness of our border system. I don't know if their lawyer is able to stand-in for them so that they never have to be present, but if I were one of these women, I would certainly hope so.

Sometimes I think that people who don't live near the border, or who have never lived in another country, have simply never thought about these issues. But clearly a lot of people have, and I'm sure many of them would think I'm some pot-smoking far-left hippie for having these thoughts. I guess that's really what boggles my mind-- that so many people, the clear majority it seems, think that the current border system is the right, decent, moral way to handle issues of security and law enforcement. And where they think it's wrong, it's because the system doesn't go far enough. That simply doesn't make sense to me, at least not in a society that claims to value liberty and personal freedom.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Blind Receive Sight...

I don't often talk religion in this blog, but for some time, I've been mulling over an idea that might brand me a heretic in some circles. Since it's related to optimism, I think this is an appropriate place to share it, so I hope you'll indulge me.

There's a story in the gospels, found in both Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23, where John the Baptist, imprisoned and soon to be executed, has a moment of doubt about Jesus. He sends two of his followers to Jesus to ask if he was actually the Messiah: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus' response at first seems bizarre: "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor." This seems bizarre at first because we expect a yes or no answer, and it seems like Jesus is changing the topic. But a first century Jew would have recognized the claims Jesus was making. Every item on Jesus' list referred to Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Jesus was effectively saying, "These are the things Messiah was prophesied to do. Look around and see; I'm doing them."

Why do I bring this up? Well, let's go through this list one at a time:
  • The blind receive sight -- Check, thanks to stem cells and gene therapy.
  • The lame walk -- Check, thanks to both medical treatments and robotic legs.
  • Those who have leprosy are cured -- Check; when was the last time you heard of someone with leprosy? Even taking "leprosy" in the broader sense of "any skin disease," we can now grow human skin in a lab.
  • The deaf hear -- Check, in the most adorable way possible.
  • The dead are raised -- Alright, that's one we don't have yet, and I wouldn't hold my breath for cryogenics.
  • The good news is preached to the poor -- Check, given current poverty trends, and Peter Diamandis' observation that "a Masai warrior on a smartphone can access more information than the US President 15 years ago."
What does all this mean? Well, we can't raise the dead, so I wouldn't be looking around for a new Messiah. But it is still an astonishing fact that we have achieved five of the six signs of the Messiah's coming through technology and human innovation. These are things that were once considered so outlandish that they could only be miraculous, yet they are now possible through modern technology. And this isn't speculation or wishful thinking. Real people who were once blind can now see. Real people are using medical exoskeletons to walk when their own legs have failed them. Real babies born deaf are now given implants so early that they will never remember being deaf. It really is true-- there's never been a better time to be human.

Optimism Week

This week saw quite a few optimistic stories in the news and the blogosphere, so I thought I'd bring them together in one place here.

Over at The Economist, the Schumpeter blog highlights two new books, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler and The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care by Eric Topol. According to The Economist, "These books are a godsend for those who suffer from Armageddon fatigue."

For more on Peter Diamandis, see the one-minute video Evidence for Abundance embedded below. For even more, check out his 16-minute TED talk, where he points out the progress we've made over the last hundred years, and makes the case for future abundance in energy, water, communications, health and education.

The Economist (ht PostLibertarian) also ran a story this week with the tag-line "For the first time ever, the number of poor people is declining everywhere." That tag-line is a bit misleading-- it may be "the first time ever," but the global decline in poverty has been going on since 2005, a point I've raised before.

The optimism hasn't been limited to The Economist, however. New Scientist ran several features this week focusing on optimism in "the deep future." These range from the availability of natural resources to why we won't kill ourselves off. One of them even includes a tag-line guaranteed to tickle my mood affiliation: "The more optimistic we are about the future of our species, the better we can focus on today's challenges." Although some of those stories are slated to drop behind a paywall soon, NS's non-paywalled blogs were also optimistic this week.

It doesn't end there. Charles Kenny at Foreign Policy magazine (ht To Get Rich is Glorious) notes that pretty much all of us here in the West are in the top 1% globally. They say, "America's rich are really, really rich," but "by global standards, America's middle class is also really, really rich."

Finally, David Boaz at Cato@Liberty points to George Vanderbilt, one of the richest men of his time who despite a massive library and music collection, had less access to books and music than today's internet-connected poor. He also mentions JFK's son Patrick, who was born to the most powerful man on Earth yet died in infancy from a condition that would be "routine" to cure today.

If you've seen any optimistic news lately, please let me know about it in the comments!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Romney and the Military, Revisited

On Monday, I wrote about Christopher Preble's graph of the Pentagon's budget. On Tuesday, as Republican voters gave Mitt Romney victories in six of ten states, Preble published a post with an updated version of the graph including Romney's planned military spending. I've reproduced the graph below:

Romney's plan is in cyan; Obama's plan is in pink, while the Congressionally-mandated sequester cuts, required due to the failure of the deficit Supercommittee, are in red. I noted on Monday that even the sequester cuts would merely restore us to the level of spending we saw under George W. Bush from 2003-2007. It's also worth noting that Obama's plan, criticized by Republicans and especially Romney for gutting the military, keeps the Pentagon's budget permanently higher than it ever was under Bush.

But Romney's plan really takes the cake. He wants to spend at least 4% of GDP on the Pentagon. Since the current level is closer to 3.4%, that's about a $100 billion jump in Romney's first year, even though we're out of Iraq and winding down the fight in Afghanistan. As you can see in the graph above, that would immediately push the Pentagon's budget higher than it was even when Reagan was defending us from the Soviets.

Even worse, by indexing the Pentagon's budget to economic growth, the amount we spend will continue to grow with literally no end in sight. That will make it even more difficult for Romney to meet his pledge of capping government spending at 20% of GDP. More to the point, we need a president who will take the endlessly-growing, out-of-control spending programs in the federal budget and restore them to sensible, stable levels. Since Romney is promising to take a large-but-stable spending program and send it growing out of control, why should we trust him to reign in spending in the rest of the budget?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Defense Cuts and Hippie-Loving Peaceniks

Mitt Romney in the debates has railed against Obama's supposed plan to cut the military by a trillion dollars over ten years, although he usually leaves off the time frame. Romney's website also highlights the cuts, saying "over the next ten years nearly $1 trillion will be cut from the core defense budget." He warns (or at least his staffers do) that this will lead to disaster-- "A weak America, an America in decline, an America that retreats from its responsibilities, would usher in an era of uncertainty and danger, first for the United States but also for all those everywhere who believe in the cause of freedom." The truth, of course, isn't nearly so bad.

Christopher Preble has an excellent post at CATO@Liberty that gets into some of the real numbers at issue, as well as some of the problems in defining what actually counts as "defense" spending. But most relevant to Romney's position, as well as to everyone who argues against defense cuts, is Preble's fourth and final graph, reproduced below.

Particularly interesting is the dark green line for "sequester cuts." These are the Congressionally-mandated cuts required due to the failure of the deficit Supercommittee. The most drastic cuts even on the table right now, these are the only projections close to cutting $1 trillion over a decade from the core defense budget. Despite Romney's rhetoric, Obama's FY 2013 budget (the pink line) doesn't cut as much as the sequester cuts do--indeed, the pink line projection is barely lower than actual spending has been in the last few years, and could only be considered a "slash" (as Romney's website says) when compared to Obama's own previous projections.

What's really noteworthy, however, is the level of that dark green line. As you may have already noticed in the above graph, there was a period in our nation's history where military spending was at essentially the same level as the dark green line for several years in a row. I speak, of course, of those years of "a weak America, an America in decline, an America that retreats from its responsibilities" under the leadership of that hippie-loving peacenik George W. Bush, from 2003 to 2007. I wonder if Romney realizes that the Pentagon's budget has been higher every year under Barack Obama than it ever was under Bush, or that the "slash" in spending would merely restore the Pentagon's budget to the same level it was at for most of Bush's presidency?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Twentieth Republican Primary Debate (AZ)

On February 22nd, the twentieth and possibly last Republican Presidential primary debate was held in Arizona. This was the last debate before Arizona votes next Tuesday, and the last debate before ten states vote at once on Super Tuesday, March 6th. But far more importantly, this was the last debate before Washington state votes caucuses on March 3rd. It was, therefore, the last debate that had a chance to influence my vote caucusing. Here are the links for the full video (ht) and the full transcript in three parts (ht).

To get any potential biases out of the way, I've lately been leaning towards Newt Gingrich as the best of a bad field. I don't like his support for government-sponsored enterprise, and he favors more government involvement in the economy than I do, but he would at least be better than the status quo, and in most areas, I believe he would move us in the right direction.

While I like Ron Paul's support for liberty, I don't like other things he supports and I think his overall style is just as likely to turn people off of libertarianism. Mitt Romney is too self-contradictory for me, and I simply don't have any confidence that Rick Santorum would do the right thing on economic issues, which is what really matters right now.

As always, and for the last time, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way. For kicks, I've also included the titles CNN gives them.

Ron Paul, the Delegate Hunter
  • In his introduction, he says he is "the defender of the Constitution" and "the champion of liberty."
  • Asked why a new ad labels Santorum a fake, Paul says, "Because he's a fake." He goes on to especially target Santorum's switch on NCLB, saying he doesn't have credibility to repeal something that he voted to create in the first place. He also criticizes Santorum's support for foreign aid, and the whole concept of foreign aid itself. I think if he had stuck to NCLB, he would've had a stronger answer.
  • He says he has low ratings with some conservative organizations because he votes against spending, especially overseas spending, that conservatives want. He says "a strict fiscal conservative and a constitutionalist" doesn't vote for things like foreign aid.
  • He's definitely for earmarks, saying that earmarks keep the power in Congress, and to not earmark funds gives that power to the executive branch. He says he wants less spending, but if the money is going to be spent anyway, he thinks Congress should determine how it's spent. Despite his reputation as a man of principle, that's a convenient position for a Congressman to hold.
  • He says all bailouts are bad, and saying that one is successful is like applauding a successful bank robber, because bailouts are ultimately stealing from one group to give to another. He says in a free market, there actually would be more regulation, because companies would have to go through the pre-determined bankruptcy process instead of being bailed out.
  • He quotes the old idea that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," relating it to contraception, essentially saying contraception isn't immoral, people are immoral. He also says the entire debate over contraception arises from government having too much control in that area. (+1) 
  • If you vote to give Planned Parenthood money for birth control pills, you're effectively giving them money for abortions, because money is fungible. He says, "Planned Parenthood should get nothing." (+1) 
  • We shouldn't be spending money on abstinence any more than we should be spending money on abortion. He says, "I don't see that in the Constitution." (+1) 
  • He repeats his line about moving our resources from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to our own borders. He says the inefficiency of the current border system encourages illegal immigration, apparently because legal immigration is so hard, but he stumbles around the point a lot and it takes some interpretation to figure out what he means. I agree with most of it, but he has a hard time landing a good point that would convince someone who didn't agree with it already.
  • Define yourself using only one word: "Consistent." I gotta give him that.
  • He doesn't think men or women should be on the front lines in the current war because he doesn't like the war in the first place. He's also worried about restarting the draft, which I think is a bit overblown.
  • We're worried about Iran getting one nuke, while the Soviets had 30,000 and we still talked to them. He says they only want a nuke because they feel threatened by us.
  • He says the "neoconservatives" want war with Syria and war with Iran, and if he can't convince them that it's wrong on moral or Constitutional grounds, he'll use economic grounds, saying that we simply can't afford it. It's a mistake for him to lump together everyone who wants intervention in Syria under the "neoconservative" banner. It's also a mistake to think we want to start a war in Syria-- Assad's already done that. He should tell the families of the thousands who are being slaughtered by Assad that it's okay because America isn't going to start a war. I think Paul here falls into the same trap a lot of libertarians do in reflexively opposing anything that looks like war. Obviously, war and violence are not good things, but they're already happening in Syria. The only choices now are how soon it ends and who wins when it does. (-2)
  • He criticizes Santorum for "go[ing] along to get along," saying, "That's what the problem is with Washington. That's what's been going on for so long." Funny, that was exactly my response. (+1)
  • "The Constitution is very, very clear. There is no authority for the federal government to be involved in education."
  • What's the biggest misconception about him? That he can't win.

Rick Santorum, the Late Contender
  • In his introduction, he mentions some problems, and says he wants "positive solutions" that "include everybody from the bottom up."
  • He promises to cut $5 trillion over five years from federal spending, by spending less money each year. He says, "it's not inflation- adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting," meaning actual spending will be on average $1 trillion less per year on a nominal basis. That rivals even Ron Paul's spending plan, if it's true. He also promises to tackle entitlements even faster than the Ryan plan. It's a welcome change of position from Santorum, considering it wasn't that long ago that he attacked Newt for wanting to tackle entitlements while we have such a huge deficit. (+1)
  • In the same answer, he says that since he was born, entitlements have grown from less than 10% to 60% of the budget, while military spending has gone from 60% to 17%. He adds, "If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to." I wonder if that remedial math class would include a section on ratios? (-2)
  • He says while he was Senator, the debt-to-GDP ratio fell from 68% to 64%, "so government as a size of the economy went down when I was in the United States Senate." Well, taking his numbers at face value, that means government debt compared to the economy went down, it doesn't say anything about government size as a whole, although given that he was a Senator during the 90s boom, I wouldn't be surprised if it had. He says, "I wish I wouldn't have voted" for No Child Left Behind, and now wants to eliminate it.
  • He says he has high ratings from the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste and the American Conservative Union, even though Pennsylvania is a Democratic-leaning state.
  • He doesn't think Romney's Olympics earmark was bad, and points out that he, as a Senator, voted for it. He says there are good and bad earmarks. He says the V-22 Osprey, a military aircraft, was a good earmark, and says other earmarks were abuse, although he doesn't give an example. As a Senator, he supported earmarks "because Congress has a role of allocating resources when they think the administration has it wrong. I defended that at the time. I'm proud I defended it at the time, because I think they did make mistakes. I do believe there was abuse, and I said we should stop it, and as president I would oppose earmarks." [emphasis added] Santorum has a reputation for integrity, but he's becoming as self-contradictory as Romney. (-1)
  • He says the open process Romney described for how Congress should work is how it does work, and how earmarks were decided, so he thinks if Romney had been in the Senate, Romney would have supported earmarks. If this is what he really believes, why, as president, would Santorum oppose them? His position just doesn't make sense to me. (-1)
  • He says Ron Paul is "one of the most prolific earmarkers in the Congress today," then when the booing starts says "I'm not criticizing," which he clearly was.
  • On the auto bailouts, he says that he "in principle oppose[s] government coming in and bailing out a sector of the economy or an industry with government dollars and with government manipulation of that market." No mention of his manufacturing-only tax cut, though. (-1)
  • He says Romney can't compare the airline bailout after 9/11 to the Wall Street bailout and auto bailout of a couple years ago because on 9/11 the government shut down the airline industry. Santorum says they were in trouble because of government action, so it was appropriate to give them money. 
  • Asked about his comments on "the dangers of contraception," he rails against moral decay, "children having children" and children being born out of wedlock. I really don't think contraception leads to more pregnancies... While there is an argument that access to contraception promotes a sense of security which then leads to pregnancies in the rare case that contraception fails, and while I'm sure that has happened to some people, the greater demographic trend shows that's not the case overall. Birth rates in countries with ready access to contraceptives are far lower than countries without such access. If Santorum was right, that would not be the case. (-1)
  • In the same answer, he attacks a libertarian straw man, saying, "We hear this all the time, cut spending, limit the government, everything will be fine. No, everything's not going to be fine. There are bigger problems at stake in America." First, I don't think anyone actually says that. But even beyond that, are there really bigger problems at stake right now than the overbearing size and scope of the government? I'm tempted to say the economy is one, but then every good political solution to our economic problems comes down to restoring government to its appropriate size and scope. In fact, that's a good answer for just about every political problem this country faces right now. He goes on to say, "Just because I'm talking about it doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it." So obviously he believes there are bigger non-political problems facing the country, and he's probably right. But he's made the point himself that he's not running to be pastor-in-chief. Santorum is a politician running for political office. Call me crazy, but I want a president who will use that office to address the political problems we face, not someone who will lecture us on the finer points of Catholic doctrine. If Santorum wants to convince the nation of the evils of contraception through talking, he can (try to) do that without being president. (-2)
  • He says he's always opposed Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, but that it's always part of a larger bill that funds things he does like. He says in order to balance the Planned Parenthood funding, he started Title XX funding for abstinence programs. That right there is the fundamental problem with the big-government conservatism Santorum champions. When government is spending money on something you don't like, the appropriate response is not to get government to spend even more money on something your opponents don't like. (-1)
  • He says he has a "personal more objection" to contraception, and then tries to attack Romney on Romneycare. I can't blame him for trying to change the topic. But this whole idea that contraception is immoral is exactly what's fueling the current debate over the contraception mandate. Sensible voices have struggled to make the point that not having a federal mandate for a thing is in no way the same as banning that thing, but the Left is still convincing people that Republicans want to ban their contraception. It really doesn't help to have one of the two front-runners in this race make the ridiculous claim that contraception is immoral, especially when he has had no qualms about assuring us he'll use government to enact his moral vision for the country on other issues. And yes, I know that the immorality of contraception is a Catholic doctrine, and Santorum is a Catholic, but I'm sorry, this is one area where Catholic doctrine is ridiculous. Not only that, it distracts from real issues, especially abortion. (-2)
  • He has a great response to Romney, FINALLY pointing out what I said way back when people still talked about Pawlenty. Governors of almost every state in the union are constitutionally required to balance their budgets, and Massachusetts is no different. He says Romney balanced the budget because he was required to, and points out that Michael Dukakis did it even longer. He also says the only way Romney succeeded in balancing the budget was with a federal grant, which has now expired and is causing headaches for the current governor of Massachusetts. (+2)
  • He goes on to say that he supported Arlen Specter because Specter promised to support Bush's Supreme Court nominees. He says Roberts and Alito are on the Court today because the not-quite-Democrat Specter's support allowed actual Democrats to hide behind him and let it go through. I have no idea if that's true or not.
  • He doesn't want to require homeowners who hire people to work in their home to use E-Verify, and, like in previous debates, emphasizes that illegal immigrants who want to work to support themselves are breaking the law by daring to look for work.
  • Define yourself using only one word: "Courage." Not the word I would've chosen, but I guess it does take courage from his viewpoint.
  • There are "different roles" for women in combat, and he has "concerns about certain roles," especially the infantry, but doesn't talk about it in any more depth.
  • He gets very passionate about the threat of Iran, and criticizing Obama for supporting the Arab Spring in Egypt but not the pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran. He quips that on foreign policy, just find out what Biden wants, and do the opposite and you'll always be right.
  • He calls Iran "the most prolific proliferator of terror," and says Obama is "timid" and can't stand up to Iran. Santorum wants to intervene in Syria, and he thinks Obama hasn't because of the Syria-Iran link, and because Obama is afraid of confronting Iran.
  • He has possibly his worst line of the evening on No Child Left Behind, saying, "It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake." One of the biggest problems in American politics today is this concept that "politics is a team sport," which he says when the crowd boos his previous line. It's that kind of thinking that leads the anti-war Left to support Obama's military exploits, or that leads the small-government Right to support Dubya's spending and deficits. (-1)
  • What's the biggest misconception about him? That he can't win against Obama.

Mitt Romney, the Long-Distance Runner
  • In his introduction, he says Obama has broken the "American promise" that hard work leads to success, and he wants to restore that promise.
  • He criticizes Santorum's history of voting for debt ceiling increases and other votes that increased spending as a Senator. Romney says during Santorum's time in the Senate, spending grew by 80%-- which works out to about 4.9% per year, although Romney doesn't say that. Romney promises to go through every program in the federal government and get rid of some of them, send some of them as block grants to the states (he mentions Medicaid, housing vouchers and food stamps) and cut federal employment of the rest by 10%.
  • He says he only supported raising the debt ceiling if there were corresponding cuts and a "cut, cap and balance" provision, which there wasn't. He wants to "cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent." What about people who pay less than 20% now? Or did he mean to cut everyone's tax burden by 20%, whatever that burden is?
  • Asked about his "severely conservative" quote, he equates "severe" with "strict." (My parents were very severe when I was little. I had a severe third grade teacher. The airline has a severe cancellation policy. Okay, maybe that last one works...) He lists some conservative things he did in Massachusetts, like enforcing immigration laws, English immersion in schools, refusing to legally define life as starting after conception, and opposing human cloning. He says you have to be a fiscal conservative in business because if your budget doesn't balance, you go out of business.
  • He makes a good argument against earmarks, saying things should be voted up or down on their merit. But then he says something very telling: "That's the nature of what it is when you lead an organization or a state. You come to Congress and you say, these are the things we need." Now the Olympics have historically been supported by the federal government, right or wrong is a different issue, so I don't fault Romney for asking for Congressional support for the Olympics themselves. But the way he phrases his defense, he talks about "when you lead an organization." There are many, many organizations who don't get a dime of federal support, who can't go to Congress and ask Congress to give them what they need. There are many, many other organizations that get all kinds of federal support and shouldn't. But Romney sees the process of asking for federal money as just something every organization should do. (-2)
  • He says he supports the line item veto, so the President could pass a bill while vetoing earmarks. He doesn't seem to know that it's been ruled unconstitutional.
  • He thinks the auto industry should have first gone through a "managed bankruptcy... then if they need help coming out of bankruptcy, the government can provided guarantees and get them back on their feet. No way would we allow the auto industry in America to totally implode and disappear." That sounds like he opposes bailout-then-bankruptcy but is fine with bankruptcy-then-bailout. (-1)
  • He says Obama is attacking "religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance" like never before "in the history of this country." I think that's overly hyperbolic, but the general direction of the criticism is right.
  • On contraception, he says, "Rick is absolutely right." Romney doesn't like having kids born out of wedlock, but he doesn't say what he would do about it as president. Later, he objects to a Youtube clip where Santorum said he personally opposed contraception but still voted for Title X. Apparently Rick isn't absolutely right...
  • He says he has stood up for religious rights in Massachusetts, that Romneycare had a provision saying people did not have to get coverage for treatments or medical devices which violated their religious beliefs (although apparently mandates for coverage that you don't want for non-religious reasons are just fine). He also talks about the Catholic Church being forced out of the adoption business in Massachusetts because they would not put children with homosexual couples.
  • He brings up Santorum's 2008 endorsement, in which he apparently said Romney was "really conservative and we can trust him," four years after Romneycare was passed. (The quote is from Romney, I'm not sure what words Santorum actually used in his endorsement.) Romney goes on to say that Romneycare was 70 pages, while Obamacare is 2,700 pages, and there's a lot he disagrees with. He says he doesn't want to raise spending, or raise taxes, or cut Medicare, all of which Obamacare does. Then he says that since Santorum supported Arlen Specter for Senator, who later switched parties and voted for Obamacare as a Democrat, that Santorum is personally responsible for Obamacare. That's a huge stretch, and pretty well undoes the hit he scored on the 2008 endorsement.
  • He says Arizona's immigration law is a "model" for the rest of the country. He wants to add more border patrol agents and require every employer in the country to use E-Verify on new hires. When Obama introduces new job-killing regulations, that's a bad thing, but when Republicans do, everyone cheers! (-1)
  • Define yourself using only one word: "Resolute." That's pretty much the opposite of his reputation...
  • "I believe women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as they do throughout our society." He's right on there, but then he repeats the mistaken points from previous debates about how our Navy is supposedly shrinking despite Obama's plans to expand it by 10%, that Obama wants to cut the military's budget by a trillion dollars even though that's baseline budgeting not real cuts, and other nonsense. (-1)
  • He says if Obama is reelected, nuclear weapons from Iran will be used against Americans, while if Romney is elected, they won't be. I think this is the part of the debate where they all try to outdo each other in hyperbole. Later, he also calls Obama "feckless" which is a fun word that should get used more often. (-1 for the hyperbole despite his use of feckless)
  • He says No Child Left Behind stood up to the teachers unions and promoted school choice by establishing testing standards. It's been in vogue for a few years to criticize NCLB from the right, and it's interesting to hear someone stand up for it.
  • What's the biggest misconception about him? He doesn't want to say, and when pressed, says the moderator gets to ask whatever questions he wants, and he gets to give whatever answer he wants. Seriously? Of all the questions in all the debates to pick a fight with the moderator, this is the one he wants to fight? (-1)

Newt Gingrich, the Determined Challenger
  • In his introduction, he focuses completely on energy, promising $2.50-per-gallon gas and that "no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again." (-1 for promising a specific price for a globally-traded product; it was wrong when Bachmann did it, and it's wrong now, even if I would like to see it get that low)
  • As Romney and Santorum go back and forth attacking each other, Gingrich clearly shoots for the image of rising above the fray. He tells us what he thinks Alexander Hamilton would say today (really now?), then talks about energy and reform. He says we should open up federal lands and offshore areas to oil development, and repeal the old civil service laws in favor of a "modern management system."  (+1 for the comments on energy)
  • He again says he wants to repeal the old civil service laws, and stresses that we need to ask "what would a modern system be like?" Unfortunately, he doesn't give much detail on that. His example is controlling the border, saying if the federal government helped Arizona instead of suing the state, that within a few years their costs would go down. But that's not modernizing the system at all, that's just asking the federal government to pay more so states can pay less. And even if the amount states save is greater than what the federal government spends, Newt's idea of moving half of DHS to the southern border would hardly be modernizing it. (-1)
  • While Romney and Santorum go back and forth on earmarks, he tries to get out the line, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts," aimed at Romney, but there's crosstalk between them all and he doesn't get it all out.
  • He says that with Obama in the White House and a Republican House majority, "you may want the House imposing certain things on the president." That's about as close to supporting earmarks as you can get without using the word earmark. He also says it was "totally appropriate" for Romney to ask for federal help for the Olympics, but not to then run ads against Santorum's earmarks.
  • On the auto bailout, he points out that "there's a huge amount of the American auto industry that was just fine" and didn't need a bailout. When GM and Chrysler did go through bankruptcy, it was "an unprecedented violation of 200 years of bankruptcy law," and gave money to the UAW instead of bondholders. (+1)
  • When the topic of birth control comes up, Newt gives a very strong answer. He says there is a "legitimate question" about the government mandating activities which any religion opposes, but then turns the question back around to Obama and the media in general. He says no one in the media in 2008 asked Obama about his previous votes opposing protections for children born alive during botched abortions. He says Republicans aren't extremists on reproductive issues, Obama is. (+1)
  • "When you have government as the central provider of services, you inevitably move towards tyranny, because the government has the power of force." I don't think you could ask for a more direct, more succinct definition of libertarianism than that. (+1)
  • He argues for a border fence because when they built one near San Diego, the illegals stopped crossing where the fence was. He says then they went through a wetlands area at the end of the fence, so they had to build a fence around the wetlands area. How exactly that equates to support for a border fence, I don't know. To me, the fact that illegal immigrants will just go around the fence to unfenced areas is a pretty obvious argument against wasting resources building the fence in the first place. (-1)
  • He rejects the idea of comprehensive immigration reform since it hasn't been able to get through Congress the last few times it was tried, so he wants to change immigration policy one step at a time, starting with more control of the border. He says he was talking with Hispanics running an import-export business and makes the point that they don't want the border closed, they want it controlled. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when those are the two choices presented by Republicans, who are supposedly the party of free markets and free enterprise.
  • Define yourself using only one word: "Cheerful." Maybe it's an example of mood affiliation, but as someone who blogs under the name Expected Optimism, I can't help but love this response. (+1)
  • On the issue of women serving on the front lines, he says it's a misleading question because the modern military faces total war, and a truck driver is just as likely to be bombed as an infantryman. He says Obama "is the most dangerous president on national security grounds in American history." I think that's pure hyperbole, but I agree with his first point.
  • He disagrees with General Dempsey's characterization of Iran as a rational actor, and says if Iran had nukes, Israel would have an "absolute moral obligation" to protect its people.
  • The first thing we need to regarding the Middle East and Iran is open up our own federal lands for domestic energy production. He says we could be the largest producer of oil in the world by the end of the decade, and "we would be capable of saying to the Middle East, 'We frankly don't care what you do.'" In the short-run, he says we need to bring down Assad in Syria, and he wants to do so covertly with our allies. Once again, there's the problem of announcing on national television what you plan to do covertly, but other than he's exactly right. (+2)
  • He wants to shrink the Department of Education down to a research role and return all control over education back to the states, and then pressure them to give control back to local school districts and individual parents. He says over the last some decades we've made three mistakes-- first was trusting teachers unions to have kids' interests in mind, second was focusing on things like self esteem and learning how to learn instead of actually learning, and third was the idea of statewide curricula that applied to all students and all teachers. I don't think I buy everything he says, but he obviously feels passionately about it.
  • What's the biggest misconception about him? He thinks people don't understand the amount of work it took to get welfare reform passed, and he says we need someone who can get the job done once elected, not just talk about it in a campaign.

Adding up the scores, Santorum and Romney fought for last place with -9 and -7 respectively, while Paul and Gingrich fought for first with +2 and +4 respectively.

Ron Paul did better than usual, mostly because of the contraception issue. As the national debate on the contraception mandate has unfolded, the two sides have shaped up to be the anti-contraception Right against the pro-mandate Left. Very little consideration has been given to the possibility of a pro-contraception, anti-mandate Middle. Paul in this debate did more than anyone else I've seen to advance that position outside the blogosphere, and he deserves credit for that.

On the other hand, Rick Santorum did much worse than usual, again mostly because of the contraception issue, although also because of his stances on military spending and earmarks. I even dedicated a full entry to his military spending argument. Although he started off well, promising to cut as much spending as Ron Paul, his later answers completely derailed him and, in my opinion, stripped him of any credibility he had to actually carry out his spending cut promises.

For once, Mitt Romney was not the most self-contradictory candidate on stage, although that's not saying much considering Santorum's performance. Even so, he was still wrong on almost every policy point he brought up, from military spending to immigration to asking Congress for handouts. As the race seems to wrap up, it increasingly appears that Romney will be the Republican nominee. Unless he completely changes course once he has the nomination, I can easily see myself voting for Gary Johnson instead.

This was probably Newt Gingrich's last chance to reclaim the Not-Romney mantle, and I think he did just about as well as he could have. I don't like his new $2.50 gas promise, but I do like the policy positions that fall under that campaign, like opening up federal lands to development. There were several times where he resisted getting involved in the constant back-and-forth between Romney and Santorum, repeatedly going back to his policy ideas or attacking Obama instead. It made him look like the adult in the room. And I absolutely love his "cheerful" answer. If, through some freak chain of events, Newt actually wins the nomination, I would have no problem voting for him, or even volunteering for his campaign. Which is a huge flip from my opinion of him back last May, but hey, I always reserve the right to change my opinion in response to new information!