It’s cheaper to call Singapore than to call an American prisoner

Collect calls from prisons are a multi-million dollar business.

The many ways that the prison industry profits off the people it incarcerates – from cushy prison guard union contracts to dubious private prisons – is a long list with many surprises.

The latest? Phonecalls:

According to Prison Legal News, the cost of making a long distance phone call from a prison in Oregon includes a $3.95 connection fee plus .69 cents a minute, costing $14.30 for a 15-minute call. Compare this with making a public call outside of prison which costs anywhere from 05 to 10 cents per minute for long distance calls on landlines, costing a maximum of $1.50 for a 15-minute call.

For many families with loved ones behind bars, the choice between accepting a collect call and putting food on the table is a real and painful decision.  It may come as a surprise to many that the increased cost of these calls has nothing to do with the actual service that is being delivered. What is actually happening is that prisons have designed a business system that allows them to offset their operation costs onto the shoulders of innocent families and to reap a profit.

The state prison kickback rate varies, with Texas accepting a 40% commission rate for phone calls and charging up to $6.45 for a 15-minute call. That same phone call provided by the same company in Maryland yields a 60% commission rate and costs a family member $17.30.

Maybe the state thinks this is justified. After all, to house a prisoner – even a nonviolent one – costs upwards of $30,000 a year, sometimes more. You could basically pay people minimum wage just to stay our of prison and save money in the process. $15 bucks a call is just the state making up for lost revenue.

Of course, it would make more sense to reform our prison system and our drug laws so that fewer not-menaces-to-society ended up behind bars. But again, the powers-that-be and the many groups that stand to lose money from drug reform and prison reform will lobby hard to see the racket continue perpetually.

If you want to understand why America locks so many people up, just follow the money.

“These contracts are priced not only to unjustly enrich the telephone companies by charging much higher rates than those paid by the general public,” Prison Legal News reports, “but are further inflated to cover the commission payments, which suck over $152 million per year out of the pockets of prisoners’ families—who are the overwhelming recipients of prison phone calls.

Averaging a 42 percent kickback nationwide, this indicates that the phone market in state prison systems is worth more than an estimated $362 million annually in gross revenue.”

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Bill Maher calls OWS protesters ‘douchebags’ that should ‘get a job’

I’m not sure what Occupy Wall Street did to Bill Maher – someone typically sympathetic to left-leaning causes like OWS – but he’s not happy.

“As I watch them on the news now, I find myself almost in agreement with Newt Gingrich, like, ‘You know what, get a job.’ Only because the people who originally started it, I think they went home. Now it’s just these anarchists stragglers. And this is the problem when your movement involves sleeping over in the park. You wind up attracting the people who were sleeping over in the park anyway. And I think this is where we are with the ‘Occupy movement’” Maher said.

“They did a great job of bringing up the issue of income inequality to the floor, but now it’s just a bunch of douchebags who think throwing a chair through the Starbucks window is going to bring on the revolution,” he continued.

Now, this is obviously a dickish thing to say, but peel back the hyperbole and there is some merit here.

Maher thinks the movement is just leftovers now. A once-honorable movement that brought the issue of income inequality to light devolved into douchebaggery.

The real problem isn’t that the OWS folks were against the wrong things – it’s that they were simply against things rather than evolving; that they couldn’t push past the tent-city model is a problem. Whether it’s just stragglers left over is harder to say. But the worst of the bunch will inevitably get the most attention.

Of course, I find myself in some disagreement with many in the Occupy scene over the proper role of markets and government, so perhaps I’m just biased. A sharp, clear focus on improving access to healthcare, fixing the tax code by simplifying it and making it more progressive, and working toward a less interventionist military would have been far better than the perpetually ad hoc OWS movement. Hell, I would have been happy if Occupy had morphed into a civil libertarian movement, concerned more with the plight of non-violent drug offenders (mostly minorities) locked away in our bulging prisons rather than the focus on student loan debt. (I mean – really? Student loan debt is the hill we’re going to die on here?)

(Okay, I’m being snarky here, and I realize there’s more to it than this, but still.)

I’m not a big fan of Maher, whose antipathy toward the many groups he disagrees with departs from being funny rather quickly and ends up looking like, well, douchebaggery as far as I’m concerned. But I do agree that Occupy outwore its welcome long ago, for lack of evolution. I don’t think OWS should give up, I just think that they should grow.

P.S. It is ironic that Maher would say “Get a job!” when OWS is basically complaining about a serious lack of jobs in this economy. And not ironic in a good way. I just think that the OWS model of protest, tent-cities, and so forth is seriously flawed, basically guaranteeing that the loudest and most alienating voices in the movement will have the largest megaphones.

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Sarah Palin wants back into the spotlight – but only on the losing side

Sarah Palin has more to gain from losing.

“I think that with $17 million purchasing some ads and some false narrative it was very, very difficult for Newt Gingrich and the other candidates to counter that bombardment of advertisements,” Palin said Tuesday night on Fox News. Yes, Palin has been popping up on Facebook and the conservative media circuit again, touting the former speaker and slamming Mitt Romney at every available opportunity.

The Grizzly wants a piece of the action, apparently, having fallen so far out of the spotlight. Romney’s big win in Florida is just another excuse from the half-term former Alaskan governor to insert herself in the political circus once again. What’s in it for Palin?

The same thing that was always in it for her: the spotlight and the buckets of cash on the other side. Still, if you’d told me three years ago that Palin would be talking up Newt Gingrich I would have laughed or cried or something of that nature. I certainly wouldn’t have believed you. Palin’s star was rising long after Gingrich’s had already come crashing to its fiery demise.

Then again, she was never going to be president saying things like this:

“Whomever it is to allow for the process to continue … I still say competition breeds success for the U.S.,” Palin said. “As it stands obviously it’s Romney and Newt are closest to be the front-running candidate, and so I would continue to vote for whoever it is to allow the process, and at this point it looks like it still is Newt. You have to kind of continue to level the playing field with your vote.”

Now this is Palinesque – the Sarah Palin we knew and loved those many years ago, at the height of her infamy. I’m not sure what she’s saying here but I sure do get a kick out of hearing her say it.

Romney won tonight, and I suspect that Palin picked the losing team on purpose. She plays the underdog well. This way she can be in that seat regardless of whether its Romney or Obama in the White House next year. The perpetual underdog, forever whining at the margins. She’s shrewd enough to see what Newt’s campaign represents – the resurgent grassroots conservatism that is propping it up; the remnants of the anti-establishment Tea Party, or at least that sentiment. It’s a sentiment of loss – of preservation against all odds.

See, Palin doesn’t want to win. She doesn’t even want her guy to win or her cause to win. There’s more to gain from losing. That’s her entire shtick, and she knows it.

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Newt Gingrich and Conservative Inc Take On the Establishment in Florida

Newt's fight represents the fight of Conservative Inc vs. the Establishment.

Florida voters are heading to the polls today. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been battling it out in a fierce primary battle, but Newt’s initial lead in the state slipped badly after two lackluster debate performances and a flood of negative ads. Nate Silver’s final forecast for the state gives Romney a towering fifteen point lead over the former speaker as voters shamble toward the voting booth.

Yet Gingrich remains defiant, feisty, a fighter – depending on the news article you’re reading. Everyone agrees: in the face of almost certain defeat, Gingrich is staring into the steely eyes of defeat unflinchingly. As if he has some other choice.

What puzzles me about coverage of a moment like this is how obvious it is. Naturally Gingrich remains defiant. It’s not his character that demands this, nor is it the slim chance of a surprise victory. This is simply what all candidates do in a tight race. Do pundits and reporters really expect Gingrich to put his tail between his legs prior to the final tally in Florida?

What makes Gingrich unique, possibly, is his stubborn insistence on racing all the way to the convention. A losing and costly run would certainly be interesting, but I’m not sure that even as stubborn a candidate as Gingrich can make it actually happen. These things cost money, and Gingrich may not have enough even with his wealthy benefactors.

And yet, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of hate. Gingrich has developed a deep and abiding hatred of Mitt Romney. Hate may indeed fuel him where money cannot. The broad and persistent conservative distrust and dislike of Mitt Romney may imbue Newt’s campaign with the energy it needs to nip at Romney’s heels much longer than we’d normally expect.

This reveals an interesting divide in the conservative movement, outlining a puzzling dichotomy within the Republican party that has been emerging these past four years. On the one hand there are the conventional party elites, and on the other there is the vanguard of the conservative movement – what Sean Scallon has described aptly as Conservative Inc. Neither of these tribes holds a monopoly on influence or power and both sit uneasily on the same side of many issues.

It’s never easy to tell who inhabits which faction. Each side holds so much sway over the other and uses the other to further its own designs that it’s easy for a casual observer to see them as a monolithic entity. The divisions may be inscrutable, but that doesn’t mean that the party or the movement is at all unified.

The Tea Party was largely a manifestation of Conservative Inc., fueled by talk radio and Fox News. Sarah Palin quickly became a figurehead of Conservative Inc. whereas her running mate, John McCain, remained a creature of the establishment despite his claims to Maverickiness. Now long-time Washington insider Newt Gingrich is donning the mantle of Conservative Inc. and running against the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney.

But where the chips are falling is what’s really revealing about this primary season. Ann Coulter – a Conservative Inc. pundit if ever there was one – has slammed Gingrich as no true conservative. Plenty of talking heads on Fox have said the same. Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh has come to the former speaker’s defense, while Mormon talk-show host and Tea Party hero Glenn Beck has taken the side of the establishment.

All of which is to say that the division between Conservative Inc – the talk radio and grassroots wing of the conservative movement – and the capital-”E” Establishment wing of the GOP is not so bright and clear as we may have once believed. Perhaps this is a symptom of the candidates themselves. Gingrich and Romney both have records that should make conservatives and moderates alike grimace. No clear representative of either camp remains in the race, and certainly this election season no unity candidate has emerged.

Whatever the case, the divisions between the Republican party and the conservative movement have never been at once so clear and so confounding.

Either way, Democrats are very, very lucky this year. Barack Obama is perhaps the luckiest recession president who ever ran for reelection.

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The Political Circus We Deserve

The political circus gets a bad wrap. Maybe it shouldn't.

The political circus may have finally come into its own this primary season.

We’ve all heard that phrase before of course. Last September the president used it in his jobs speech when he urged congress to “stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”

H.L. Mencken once wrote that “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.” Elections are inherently competitive, and for those who care about the outcomes of our democratic process, the stakes are compelling – entertaining even. But it’s hard to recall a time when the sport of politics has been so aptly described as a political circus. A sports game? Sure. A circus – 2012 is already taking the cake.

Indeed, for reasons partly manufactured and partly inevitable no election year has felt so much like a season of reality television. Think about it: reality-TV star and real-estate mogul Donald Trump flirted with a presidential run early on. Once-action-movie-star Chuck Norris has waffled between endorsements of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Herman Cain joined Stephen Colbert for a mock rally in South Carolina. The lines between entertainment and politics are only getting more blurry as the race goes on.

The Fine Line Between Entertainment And Politics

In some ways, this has played right into the hands of politicians who can capitalize on the entertainment factor to shore up support. Newt Gingrich in particular has relied on audience participation to gain momentum in the debates. In South Carolina, Newt’s surge in the polls followed two rowdy debate performances in which the former speaker was able to galvanize the conservative audience with his angry denunciations of the liberal media, turning critical questions from debate moderators into attacks on the media.

After a subdued performance in the first of the Florida debates, in which the crowd was prevented from cheering and clapping by debate rules, Gingrich threatened to sit out the next debate if audience participation was kept to a minimum. Likening the silencing of the audience to a stifling of free speech, Gingrich complained that NBC’s decision to keep the crowd quiet was an attempt to clamp down on dissenting opinions.

“I wish in retrospect I’d protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it’s wrong,” Gingrich said on Fox and Friends. “And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”

As Aaron Goldstein notes, this is hardly the case of the media attempting to clamp down on free speech. The rules in place at NBC are old ones. “The debate audiences at NBC, CBS and ABC behave like they’re at a tennis match,” he writes. “The audiences at Fox News and CNN are far more expressive and that works to Newt’s advantage. A sedate audience like the one [in the first Florida debate] at NBC doesn’t play to Newt’s strengths.”

Campaigns have always been negative – they  just haven’t always had Twitter, 24 hour news cycles, and the blogsophere.

All The World’s A Stage

Note even the language we use to describe the debates. We talk about debate “performances” as if all the race is a stage and all the candidates merely players. Blogs and new media only add to the 24/7 cable news with headlines emphasizing how one candidate has “demolished” the other, or describing debate wins as “smackdowns.” Violent imagery accompanies our descriptions of the political circus and talking points and video clips mimic the reality-TV strategy of emphasizing only the most dramatic or controversial moments of any debate.

Add to this the flood of attack ads, YouTube video mash-ups, and talk-radio coverage and it’s not hard to see how this primary season is redefining the role of entertainment in politics. Super PACs are relentlessly attacking our airwaves and television screens. One Super PAC associated with the Gingrich campaign even produced its own Michael Moore-esque documentary to attack Mitt Romney for his time at the helm of Bain Capital. Meanwhile talk-radio and the rest of the conservative entertainment complex has grown into a seriouspolitical force during the three years of the Obama administration.

The line between political commentary and entertainment is a fuzzy one on both Fox News and talk-radio figures like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Controversy sells tickets and makes many of these pundits bags of money. Almost as troubling, many young people have described The Daily Show as their number one source for news. As politics and entertainment grow more indistinguishable, are we losing our ability to tell the one from the other?

Stupid Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

Even the rules of the Republican primary have been changed to make the race more engrossing.

Jealous of the edge-of-your-seat quality the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama Democratic 2008 primary, and the political enthusiasm it inspired in many Democrats and liberals, the Republican party has changed its own rules to try to capture some of that magic for their own party’s primary. Rather than a winner-take-all system, candidates in the 2012 race receive proportional delegates. This ensures that every candidate who remains in the race gets at least a few delegates, increasing the likelihood of a protracted, competitive race.

It’s a win-win for the party, the candidates themselves, and the media. Increased enthusiasm leads to more voters at the polls and a better chance that the eventual nominee can topple Obama. Candidates like Gingrich have a better chance of stealing the show from the presumptive front-runner. And the big broadcasters get more debates and more controversy to report on. Meanwhile bloggers and online media can capitalize on the extended race with more eyeballs and page views.

Newt’s threat to sit out thelast debate was indeed a childish temper tantrum but it makes sense if we look at the big picture. After all, we’re all engaged in this circus. Newt is just one of many willing participants. Reality television has been successful because enough people are willing to watch it week after week. The same is true of reality politics.

The Political Circus We Deserve

Critics of the political circus argue that it’s denigrating our political system, our leaders, and the national dialogue. All of this may be true, but I’m not convinced it’s such a bad thing. Chuck Todd complained recently that Stephen Colbert’s fake candidacy made “a mockery of the system” and the media. But a mockery is exactly what the system needs. It’s what the media needs, for that matter.

If candidates make fools of themselves in national debates then the debates have done voters a great service. If the political circus has candidates bending backwards to pander to the conservative base, well at least we have good examples of why the candidates may not be fit for political office, let alone the highest office in the land. If Newt’s demagogic acrobatics are the only thing that can propel him to victory, then at least the voting public can have examples of this at their fingertips.

It’s often said that Americans get the politicians we deserve. I couldn’t agree more. Reality politics can function as a window into the shortcomings and failures of our political class, our government, and our political system more broadly. Of course, none of it is a laughing matter. But there’s no better way to vet our future political leaders than to let them run this gauntlet of their own making.

Besides, do we really want to return to the debates of the past? I watched a Reagan-Carter debate from 1980 the other day and came away no more informed about the character of either man. The debate was certainly more substantial, but it was also a lot more boring. And there is something discomfiting about the pomp and circumstance surrounding these old debates, as if these men deserve our adoration more than our criticism.

The media has changed radically since 1980. For the most part, this is a good thing. The big broadcasters have lost some of their vice-like grip on the political discussion. The old white men who droned their questions out three decades ago to the old white men on stage no longer have a monopoly on the news.

Maybe this will someday translate into more voter participation, less apathy, and a more critical approach to how we view both our political leaders and the news. Of course, it may have the opposite effect. But the political circus is here to say. It’s the inevitable result of endless news, social media, and the internet – a true evolution of democracy playing out right before our eyes.

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Gingrich’s gift to the media: a primary bloodbath

"Mitt Romney would only cut the budget this much…"

Newt Gingrich isn’t going to stop, even if Romney beats him bloody in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the former speaker is finished. He’s not going to topple the party establishment. He doesn’t represent the hope and change he pretends to represent. He’s no transformational figure at all.

The reason the GOP elites dislike Gingrich isn’t because he’s too conservative it’s because he’s a disgrace to the Republican Party. His personal life is an embarrassment and his lobbying for Fannie and Freddie is just one of many toxic items in his record. By comparison, Romney is squeaky clean even with a mini-Obamacare in his past. As far as we know he’s been a faithful husband and father. His Mormonism is problematic, and for some reason his tenure at Bain Capital has him on the defensive, but beyond that his main liability is that people just don’t like him that much. Well when it comes to favorability, Newt scores even worse.

John Heilemann thinks that in spite of all of this, Newt is just crazy enough to keep fighting through the convention:

Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman’s feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary — and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich’s case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny.

I suppose this depends largely on whether he can fund a losing campaign or not, in the face of all odds. Andrew Sullivan, no fan of Romney, notes:

I guess I’m biased as I really enjoy a good political bloodbath. And during this campaign, I’ve come to loathe Romney almost as much as his Republican peers do.

Kevin Drum adds:

But here’s the real question: if Romney builds up a big enough head of steam, he’ll declare victory and withdraw from future debates. Without Romney, no one will be much interested in airing the debates, and no one would watch them even if they were aired. So all three of the also-rans would have to keep up their campaigns even though they weren’t getting regular time to yak on national TV and the press corps was no longer taking the race seriously.

Therein lies the rub.

Gingrich’s gift to the media is a long fight – a bloodbath, as Sullivan put it – which keeps all of us pundits happy, and the broadcasters with a steady stream of news. If Santorum bows out and endorses Gingrich, we could see a pretty intense three-way race all the way to the convention. What a glorious bit of persistent news that would be.

It’s ironic, really, that the man who so scorns the media at every possible turn would be the one to give them such a lovely present this election season. Of course, if Romney does sit out the debates that changes the equation to some degree. Debates, however vapid they  may be, spark lots of news. They even change the outcome of races (see e.g. South Carolina.)

Then again, we could all be wrong. Gingrich could bow out suddenly and inexplicably after Florida. He could spin his antagonism toward Romney around 180 degrees and back the former Massachusetts governor. The GOP elites and the conservative movement elites could make nice and rally round the nominee.

How dreadfully boring this would be.

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Three Reasons Not To Get Worked Up Over Citizens United

Nick Gillespie makes a similar point about weakening party control as I made here in his third point in the above video. My own take on Stephen Colbert’s lampooning Citizens United is here.

I also like the point that Nick makes about negative ads. Why should we be positive about our potential elected officials?

I’d also point out that like any other form of advertisement, many people just tune these out, change the channel or fast-forward the TiVo.

Video via The Dish.

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Wolf Blitzer Strikes Back

This is the moment that cost Gingrich the debate and the nomination. You just can’t be a one-trick pony in this day and age.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly hidden behind a veil of Republican unity when it was to his advantage, while pulling out daggers when it wasn’t. I don’t begrudge him that. He’s running a campaign to be president of the United States. That’s his interest. In a debate setting, the interest of reporters (among others) is to make candidates defend their statements in detail.

Often those two interests collide. That’s a feature, not a bug. It was good to see Wolf Blitzer–even with the crowd turning on him–lean into that collision a bit last night. The ref isn’t there to make sure the crowd cheers for him, or to make sure the combatants “approve” of him.
Nobody really likes Wolf Blitzer anyways, right? So he had nothing to lose.

More seriously, Romney took advantage of this moment beautifully, dealing Newt the killing blow. Once Gingrich lost his footing it was just done. And this race is done. Romney is the nominee – or he will be soon enough.

More damning revelations about the Ron Paul newsletters probably won’t hurt Paul too badly at this point, but the congressman really doesn’t have a chance at winning at this point anyways. He’d be wise to go third party at this point, even though it guarantees Obama’s victory.

Obama is still better – in spite of his many civil liberties shortcomings – than Romney or Gingrich on innumerable issues of war and peace and torture. Paul going third party makes sense because sinking the real hawks in the Republican party makes sense, even if Obama is way to the left of Paul.

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Romney: 91.3% chance of winning Florida on Intrade

The debate went well for Romney. He’s up on Intrade to 91.3% at the time of writing.

Gingrich needed a comeback coming into this debate and he didn’t get one. Tuesday may be a long ways away, but it’s unclear to me what could shake Romney at this point, or propel Gingrich the seven or eight points he needs for the win.

Read my live blog and post-blog musings (plus music and beer!) here.

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Live-Blogging The Jacksonville Debate (Jan. 26 2012)

Live blog of the CNN Jacksonville debate is below in reverse chronological order. Excuse the time-stamps. I’m blogging this from Arizona.

Final thoughts.

This was a boring debate for the most part. No Newt Gingrich feasting on the moderator’s flesh. No pivotal moments where races are won or lost.

Fundamentally, Romney was much better than we’ve seen him in some time. He started out a little sketchy, but rallied early on and got plenty of kidney punches in at Newt.

Both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum sounded more sincere than either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Of course I find most of the things Santorum actually says fairly repulsive, while I find Ron Paul to be a continued breath of fresh air and sanity. Yes, I find most of what Paul says thousands of times saner than what his GOP rivals say. And Paul says a lot of crazy things.

I think he had a “sparkly” performance tonight, as Andrew Sullivan noted during his live-blog. But it’s just not enough. Paul talks about civil liberties, peace, and other issues near and dear to my heart. But the American electorate just isn’t on the same page, and the GOP is on a different planet.

I think if anything, this debate goes to Romney, possibly even shoring up his victory here. Newt wasn’t able to pull off the same red-meat-magic he performed in South Carolina. He seemed defensive, petulant, and insincere. His attempts to preemptively bury the hatchet with Romney and try to team up on The Media fell flat on their face, and Romney was ready and waiting to pounce – which he did quite adeptly.

Santorum may as well bow out. He did fine but he has no momentum. Sticking around is a mistake. Ron Paul has a national network and even if he never leads the pack he can make it for the long haul – which is good, because he can keep the conversations he’s started going. A one-on-one debate with Romney in Virginia could be very interesting. If Newt loses Florida, he may as well stay in for one or two more races I think, but it’s not going to be easy after a Florida loss.

Romney is probably all grins right now. A much-needed comeback for the former governor, if not anything particularly inspiring.

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7:59 PM. (Arizona time.) If this was the drinking game I would have had like four or five “fundamental” shots and at least a couple more “Reagan” shots. I’ll need to think of better rules.

The debate is over. My closing thoughts in a moment.

7:57 PM. Suddenly this leaped into my head:

7:54 PM. My timestamps are weird because I’m blogging from Arizona. I’m not going to transpose.

Nice to hear Ron Paul talk about civil liberties a bit. But civil liberties won’t win presidencies, unfortunately. Maybe some day, if we can work together toward that goal.

Romney does seem smooth tonight. Much more polished and maybe even a little personable. But his answer is rambling here on what makes him the better candidate to take on Obama.

7:52 PM. Why doesn’t CNN have ads online between breaks? Missed opportunity.

7:49 PM. I took a ten minute break to tell a story to my daughter before bedtime. Moments like this – telling a story to a four and a half year old in between segments of a Republican debate – remind me what America is really about. It’s not about all of this. It’s not about politics at all. It isn’t about all the things that make all these people so damn angry at liberals or conservatives or whatever. It isn’t even about America.

I totally lost my train of thought here, but you get my point hopefully. We fret about this stuff because it’s like a Soap Opera to us now. So much of our entertainment is derived from politics, even if that entertainment is just to make us feel angry. To feel something.

7:48 PM. Just got back. Thought that Santorum just called the Constitution the “Howl” of America. I have seen the greatest mind of my generation write a long document about the rights of individuals…

7:38 PM. The CNN plant in the audience asks about Israel-Palestine. (Okay, I kid, but c’mon.)

I have a hard time imaging any of these guys negotiating peace in the Middle East. Ron Paul holds views on the region closest to my own, but of course Ron Paul believes we have no business negotiating peace.

Newt is asked about his “invented people” remark and doesn’t really back down. They were “Arab” before he said. Does he honestly not understand what the definition of “Arab” is? Seriously? We are given platitudes about “mutual prosperity” and digs at the political leadership there. I’m waiting for Newt to attack the Israeli media next.

Newt wants to move the embassy to Jerusalem? And Ron Paul is not given a turn.

7:36 PM. “When Fidel Castro leaves this planet…” We demonize our political opponents. But the problems in Cuba go much deeper than Castro. The country won’t miraculously change when Castro is flung to the fiery depths of hell. We need to work to bring these so-called rogue nations into the global economy.

Newt Gingrich is speaking again, but I find him dreadfully dull tonight.

7:34 PM. Ron Paul isn’t going to win this race. More importantly, Ron Paul’s message is going to fall on too many deaf ears. On Cuba, Paul is once again 180 degrees away from his opponents. Common sense on better relationships with Cuba, trade with Cuba, openness. No “jihadist under the bed every night.” I wish Ron Paul could just keep running for president.

Romney wants to avoid Ron Paul’s answer even when pressed by Blitzer. Let’s attack Obama’s policy instead! He will, in the process, ignore Obama’s actual record on this.

7:31 PM. Gingrich is on the defense. Whining and squirming.

Nob Akimoto says my beer blogging is more interesting than the debate. Next time we’ll do a drunk blog. Every time anyone says “fundamentally” take a drink. Every time someone says “Reagan” take a drink. Every time someone says “freedom” take a drink. We’ll come up with more rules.

We’re on to Cuba again now. It’s funny to hear so many people who pretend to advocate free trade so badly misunderstand the problems with our trade policy toward Cuba.

7:28 PM. A question on the Reagan mantle. Like we have to actually put Reagan in the questions. Come on Wolf, they’ll insert Reagan all on their own. Romney manages to be both humble and talk himself up at the same time. He’s got this whole job interview thing down.

7:24 PM. Oh goodness, I thought Newt was going to say “having gotten to know them I think all three of my wives would be great first ladies” but of course he was saying all the wives of the other candidates.

I get the feeling that this debate, unless it changes course very soon, will not change the debate in a, ahem, fundamental way; will not alter the course of the race at all except that Romney may be able to win this thing after all. Gingrich just isn’t doing his thing.

Santorum has a nice little smile when talking about his wife. He sounds more sincere than Romney or Gingrich. He and Paul are certainly more authentic than the other two. Interesting that the least sincere of the candidates is the front-runner, and the second least sincere is nipping at his heals. Ah democracy.

7:23 PM. What a dumb question. We’re asking the candidates to defend their wives? This is all fine for three of the candidates, but if Gingrich answers wrong Callista will eat his heart with a spoon.

7:21 PM. Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Style Ale. Malty. I’m on a big hops kick so the IPA is a little better in my book. But this is still a very tasty beer.

7:17 PM. Ron Paul doesn’t name names. He wants people to understand monetary policy. He says Hispanic community should understand a non-interventionist foreign policy. Oh good it’s a break. Beer me.

7:16 PM. Rick Santorum kisses Marco Rubio’s ass from a distance. A very impressive ass-kissing if I do say so myself. What did Newt say? I wasn’t listening. Romney is ready for the answer, naming just about every Hispanic Republican in elected office in America. At least Republicans.

7:12 PM. This:

Wolf wants to move on. Santorum wants to hit Romney in the face. Romney wants to smirk. Ron Paul chuckles. He’s sort taking on a prankster shape tonight – almost Puck-ish. He’s the only one who seems like he’s having any fun, that’s for sure.

7:09 PM. I need that second beer in a fundamental and profound way. Going across the house to get the beer may be a grandiose vision that will cost me a minute or two of this riveting debate. But I am fundamentally in favor of getting a top-down beer that I can drink from the bottom-up. Or something.

7:08 PM. Damnit. The beer is gone. The fridge is all the way across the house. What can the candidates do for me to help me get my beer? Eh? Eh?

7:02 PM. Audience member asks about lack of healthcare. Ron Paul shows once again that he understands that the employer-insurance problem, but he only understand part of the problem with healthcare. Yes, subsidies (among many other factors) lead to increased healthcare costs. But what about the other factors? There are other market problems – such as a lack of price transparency – but there’s also the fact that we have a lot more medical care than we used to have back in Paul’s younger days. It would be more expensive regardless. Neither Paul or Gingrich has a good answer on how to actually get to a point where people can afford insurance on their own.

Romney is in uncomfortable territory, but he’s right so far about employer-based insurance coverage. But again, how do we get individuals on their own insurance plans?  If we have any pre-existing conditions we can’t get coverage. If we’re too old, too sick, too poor, we can’t get health insurance. Government may have made a hash out of healthcare but there isn’t a clear market way back.

6:59 PM. Roland Dodds in the comments: “I do love that in an election focused on jobs and the economy, we have now spent 5 minutes on moon colonies. Says a lot about the Republican Party.”

My thoughts exactly.

6:58 PM. Romney is talking about firing people again. This must be a favorite of his. Careful, Mitt, you may call back Donald Trump from the dead…

6:53 PM. Newt talks about the inefficiency of NASA. Wants prizes to get private companies into the space race. Gingrich knows his futurism; Romney knows it’s a bad investment. Gingrich tries to make the case that Americans should colonize the moon before the Chinese. Can we rekindle the old magic of the Cold War space race?


Santorum seems to be backing Gingrich’s enthusiasm but takes him down a peg on responsibility when it comes to spending big money on big ideas. Paul wants to send politicians to the moon. Good idea.

6:51 PM. Okay we’re on to the moon colony. I like the idea, honestly, but not the idea of Newt being behind it. This is his opportunity to shine, though. Romney is talking about cost. It’s true – it’s a costly thing to run a space program. But the Space Coasters are thinking about jobs.

6:50 PM. Ron Paul says he’d gladly race anyone on a bike. You can’t campaign with as much vitality as this guy without being in great shape, even in your seventies. Gingrich has nice things to say about Paul’s health.

6:45 PM. Since when is Gingrich an advocate of the flat-tax and the gold standard? Is this a new thing tailored specifically to this election or has Gingrich had these ideas listed out before somewhere?

Santorum is taking a slightly more populist approach. He calls it the Reagan approach.

Ron Paul says he wants to get rid of the 16th amendment. Then he talks about having sympathy with the 99%. He’s the only Occupy Wall Street fan who talks about sound money and a sound currency. It’s sort of wonderful, this Austrian take on income inequality. No reason why libertarians and progressives can’t work toward common goals.

6:41 PM. And….we’re back. On to taxes and tax returns because Blitzer wants everyone to know everything they can possibly know about these guys. Newt gets in his first viper-strike at the media when Blitzer asks about his attacks on Romney. “This is a nonsense question.” Blitzer strikes back, unlike John King, pointing out that Gingrich made the accusation. Good for Blitzer, but the crowd boos. Romney hits Gingrich hard again, saying that it would be nice if Gingrich would stick by what he says in an interview rather than try to dodge the question. Romney is picking Newt apart tonight. Is the speaker’s shtick wearing thin?

6:38 PM. I’m drinking a Founders Centennial IPA for the first part of the debate. Something tells me I will need to resupply very soon. It’s a hoppy, delicious, strong brew.

6:35 PM. Paul gives a clear answer, at least, to the question rather than just slam the other candidates. You know how I can tell he’s not serious about running for president? He’s not nearly interested enough in scoring cheap points against the other guys. He wants to actually answer the questions – a rare quality in a politician and something nobody who is serious about winning ever does.

6:34 PM. Gingrich is comparing investment size. He describes his as a tiny mouse and Romney’s as a giant elephant. Is this a pissing contest? Why yes…it is.

6:31 PM. Gingrich is indignant. Trying to spin his work as a lobbyist for Fannie by pointing out that Romney has investments in Fannie and Freddie. Sort of a big difference, though. Romney hits back by pointing out that Gingrich also has investments in Fannie and Freddie. Gingrich is off his game tonight. No opportunity to slam the media so far.

6:28 PM. Wolf Blitzer changes the subject from South America to housing. A question about phasing out Fannie and Freddie. This is a lovely softball.

6:25 PM. Santorum rises to the occasion. Hitting Obama on Honduras. Says we need to support freedom in South America. Ron Paul has another good answer to American force and arrogance. Santorum pretends like he doesn’t understand the history of American involvement in the region.

6:23 PM. A good answer on South America from Ron Paul. Paul gets very few cheers for promoting trade with Cuba. A Florida crowd, after all. But yes, we should expand free trade to as many South American countries as possible. Paul is forthright and honest as ever on the issue. Get ready for some tough talk on Cuba from the others.

6:21 PM. Now that I have the formatting figured out…so far I think Romney is scoring some points but he seems too outraged. I mean, how dare Gingrich call him anti-immigrant. Gingrich is hardly better, of course, but neither of them sound as hard-line as they have in previous states.

6:12 PM. Sorry, I meant to start this at the opening but between helping with kids, getting a beer, and technical difficulties I’m late to the game. Apparently I’ve been missing some immigration debate. There’s never much debate on this subject – at the moment we’re discussing the utterly absurd topic of “self-deportation.” It’s impossible to have this debate when the premise is so off the mark.