Sunday, January 17, 2016

It's a Three-Man Race

Donald Trump may just win the Republican presidential nomination. Thursday night’s debate made clear that this is at most a three-man race between the real-estate mogul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And Trump pretty clearly came away stronger than anyone, not because he had the best or most well-thought-out answers, but because he keeps proving his very presence can dominate the stage. His supporters are now itching for the chance for him to take on Hillary Clinton.

Chris Christie had his moments, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich weren’t bad. Ben Carson once again, unfortunately, seemed entirely out of his depth. It’s tough to see a way up for any of these four.

So we’ll highlight three exchanges between the trio we view as the strongest contenders.

First, the “birther” controversy over Cruz’s eligibility to run for president. Cruz addressed it head-on:

“Back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there. … Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have. And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the law here are really quite clear. Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.

"If a soldier has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why John McCain, even though he was born in Panama, was eligible to run for president. If an American missionary has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was eligible to run for president, even though he was born in Mexico.

"At the end of the day, the legal issue is quite straightforward, but I would note that the birther theories that Donald has been relying on — some of the more extreme ones insist that you must not only be born on U.S. soil, but have two parents born on U.S. soil. Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified and, interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified — because Donald’s mother was born in Scotland. She was naturalized.”

After some cross-talk, Cruz redirected the focus, saying, “You’re an American, as is everybody else on this stage, and I would suggest we focus on who’s best prepared to be commander in chief, because that’s the most important question facing the country.”

Trump didn’t concede anything and neither will his supporters or those who insist Cruz isn’t eligible, but in our estimation Cruz won the debate exchange handily.

He did not, however, come out so well on the question of “New York values.” Having previously hit Trump with that phrase, Cruz was asked to define his terms.

“I think most people know exactly what ‘New York values’ are,” he replied. Prompted for more, he answered, “There are many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York, but everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, are pro-gay-marriage, focused around money and the media. … Not too many years ago, Donald did a long interview with Tim Russert. And in that interview, he explained his views on a whole host of issues that were very, very different from the views he’s describing now. In his explanation, he said, ‘Look, I’m from New York. That’s what we believe in New York. Those aren’t Iowa values.’”

For the record, in that 1999 interview Trump said he was “very pro-choice,” which he conceded was probably “a little bit of a New York background.” And in his 2000 book, “America We Deserve,” Trump wrote, “I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

Cruz is right that the values of the leftist elite don’t jive with conservative ones, but he whiffed on the formulation, as Trump’s rebuttal clearly illustrated.

“He insulted a lot of people,” Trump said of Cruz. “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” Trump recalled. “You had two 110-story buildings come crashing down. Thousands of people killed. And the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup. … And the people in New York fought, fought and fought. … We rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers.”

Trump clearly won this round with his heart-felt appeal, and it left even Cruz applauding.

Finally, on immigration, an issue many conservatives view as “make-or-break” for their votes, Rubio came away still looking weak and untrustworthy. Asked to explain his work to expand legal immigration, Rubio argued that the issue has changed: “First and foremost, this issue has to be more than anything else about keeping America safe. And here’s why: There’s a radical jihadist group that is manipulating our immigration system, and not just green cards. They’re recruiting people that enter as doctors, and engineers, and even fiancées. They understand the vulnerabilities we have on the southern border. They’re looking to manipulate the visa waiver countries to get people into the United States. So our number one priority must now become ensuring that ISIS cannot get killers into the United States.”

He added, “The issue is a dramatically different issue than it was 24 months ago. Twenty-four months ago, 36 months ago, you did you not have a group of radical crazies named ISIS burning people in cages and recruiting people to enter our country legally.”

He’s right that it’s a national security issue, but it always has been. And Cruz hit back hard: “Radical Islamic terrorism was not invented 24 months ago. Twenty-four months ago, we had al-Qaida, we had Boko Haram, we had Hezbollah, we had Iran putting operatives in Central America, South America. It’s the reason why I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and led the fight to stop the Gang of Eight amnesty bill. It was clear then like it’s clear now that border security is national security.”

Another win for Cruz. Frankly, immigration is possibly a deal-breaker for conservatives and Rubio, despite his conservative record on almost every other issue. Neither Rubio nor Cruz is always forthright about his position — past or present — but there’s one thing voters will remember: Rubio helped write the Gang of Eight bill; Cruz opposed it. End of story.

To sum up, the “establishment” is coalescing around Rubio (which is rather ironic given that he was part of the first Tea Party wave elected to Congress, and defeated a liberal Republican in a primary to win his seat.) Mainstream conservatives are rallying around Cruz’s banner. And those who simply wish a pox on both houses believe Trump is their man. One thing’s for sure, this race is as interesting as any in recent memory.



Obama's "fundamental" changes have been economically incompetent and destructive

When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he pledged to strengthen the economy, create jobs and restore confidence in America. On Tuesday in his final State of the Union Address, he tried to convince America that he had succeeded. But after seven years of watching the White House operate outside the realm of reality, no one is fooled.

Obama set the stage by preemptively insulting anyone who would attempt to unravel the spin he was about to spew, stating, “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.” Of course, someone who lives in a world of fantasy, where a jump in the national debt from $10.6 trillion in 2009 to $18.8 trillion today is “economic progress,” can hardly be trusted to judge fact and fiction.

In the land of reality, Obama’s economy is a downright failure. First, as The Daily Signal explains, while Obama touted lower unemployment and more jobs, the fact is that the 5% unemployment rate today is worse than the 4.4% rate under George W. Bush in May of 2007. And the unemployment rate doesn’t count the millions who have left the workforce during Obama’s reign. Indeed, the labor participation rate today is the lowest since 1977, standing at just 62.6%. What’s more, the average unemployed worker has been jobless for more than six months, longer than at any time between 1945 and Obama’s inauguration.

As for those new jobs? Job creation has mostly kept pace with population growth. While treading water is better than the alternative, it’s hardly worthy of a medal.

And let’s not forget the $80 billion (per year) in new regulations under Obama that have wreaked financial havoc on business and individuals alike — ObamaCare being the prime example. Obama said Tuesday that “there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut,” but under his watch Americans have inherited 184 new major rules. Meanwhile, just 17 federal rules have been scaled back. That red tape seems to be sticking pretty close to Obama.

Then there’s Obama’s claim that government spending on renewable energy has brightened the economic landscape. “On rooftops from Arizona to New York,” he said, “solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average.” Well, remember all those regulations? They’re killing thousands of better-than-average-pay coal jobs. Meanwhile, solar energy, while growing thanks to taxpayer-funded subsidies, remains one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity. So if there are more solar jobs than coal ones, it’s because Obama put his foot on the scale.

Finally, while Obama claimed over the last seven years that progress toward the goal of “a growing economy that works better” for everyone, those facing declining incomes under his watch might disagree. As the Signal notes, “Between 2007 and 2011 (the most recent data available) labor income for non-elderly households in the middle quintile dropped roughly 10 percentage points.”

While no amount of rhetoric can spin all this into a booming economy, Obama still tries. As The Wall Street Journal observes, “Obama’s legacy project is already in high gear. This includes Tuesday night’s State of the Union, which is best understood as the start of a campaign to persuade Americans that the last seven years have been better than they believe. He needs to start early because this reality makeover won’t be easy.”

Indeed, Obama prepares to exit office with a limping U.S. economy, an economic slowdown in China that could make the limp more pronounced, and falling oil prices that might bring relief at the pump but are hitting the U.S. drilling industry hard.

It’s little wonder that the Democrat presidential candidates lining up to take Obama’s place are far from enthusiastic about the economic legacy they’re simultaneously running on and against.

Who can blame them? Obama’s economic legacy will be one of change minus the hope. And no lies intermittently augmented by nearly 15 minutes of applause can change that.



Another "anti-obesity" measure flops

The nice thing about the free market is that it allows lots of different people to try lots of different solutions to the same problem.

Take Walmart. Five years ago, when everyone in the public sector was still focused on making restaurants add calorie counts to their menus-which it turns out doesn't work-the company decided to launch a healthy eating initiative of its own design.

Instead of pinning their hopes on numbers-based nutritional labels, Walmart designed a simple front-of-package 'Great for You' logo to be attached to a small number of food items.
It also reduced prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and reformulated recipes for some of its home brand products to reduce sodium and sugar content.

These were great, innovative ideas-and it turns out they don't work either.

According to a new study, the initiative had no effect on the ongoing shift toward healthier eating that has been observed among Walmart customers since 2000. Calories, sugar density, and soda consumption were already trending down. The healthy eating initiative did not make them trend down any faster.

Walmart should not be criticised for this. It's good that they tried something new, and a failure can teach you as much as a success-if you are willing to learn from it.

Unfortunately, the public health academics behind the evaluation study would prefer to double down: "These results suggest that food retailer-based initiatives ... may not suffice to improve the nutritional profile of food purchases. More systemic shifts in consumers' characteristics and preferences may be needed."

If obesity prevention programs are really about evidence and not an ideological commitment to the nanny state, it would make sense to get things right at the "retailer-based initiative" scale before attempting something "more systemic." But that's a big if.



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