Finally!

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The GOP has finally intentionally spoken on immigration reform.

The “Congress of Tomorrow” House Republican Conference is taking place (January 29 through January 31) at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge [MD], to contemplate and strategize for the upcoming 2014 elections. Part of that task is seen as developing a set of guidelines on various issues, trying to engender a common theme for Republican voices during the campaign season, augmenting Senators Hatch, Cobern and Burr’s “Alternative to ObamaCare,” introduced the day before President Obama was to deliver his State of the Union Address. The first missive from that conference, “Standards for Immigration Reform,” is a framework from which to hang a formal proposal.

The first aspect discussed is the obvious beginning of any serious discussion of immigration policy: secure borders. Obvious as it may be, it must be stated first, and it must be stated out loud, because border security is seen by the Right as a defining feature of national sovereignty, while the Left sees it as an obstacle in currying favor with potential constituents. “It is the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders …” the document begins. It’s a recognition that, for example, Mexico (which employs a very Old Testament manner of handling illegal immigration) has better control over its southern border than we do over any of our borders and shores. That’s inexcusable for a prime target of transnational terrorism. This shouldn’t need to be explained, but apparently it does.

It is functionally necessary to stop the hemorrhaging before addressing the results – the borders must be “verified” to be secure (my choice would be by DoD, but the consensus seems to be DHS[1]) before amnesty/citizenship pathways/legitimization/granting of entitlements is granted to those already here illegally. A relaxation of current policy without secure borders only amplifies the problem. See Ronald Reagan’s deal with Democrats to grant effectual amnesty if the Congress would then secure the borders – he did, they didn’t, and Reagan’s nine million illegals have become our twenty million.

“[W]e must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future …“ the statement continues. Yes, border security isn’t a one-time-only occurrence to “pass inspection,” it’s to be the normative state of the border – it contains an effective method of treating breaches.

The document goes on to discuss Entry-Exit Visa Tracking, Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement, Reforms to Legal Immigration, Youth, and Existing Illegals, but I thought this would be a good place to start.


[1] I’d rather have SEAL, Force Recon or Delta Team planners contemplate border security than the bureaucrats responsible for its current state, but politics will permit the fiction of “thorough internal investigation” to win the day.

Pre-Race Handicapping

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                                                                                      bloodhorse.com

We find ourselves in a year hosting midterm elections, where all of the House and a third of the Senate are at risk. There will be much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth by the scribbling class in search of something interesting about which to opine. It may do us well to examine the track before the horses get into the gate.

Midterms usually don’t go well for the sitting president’s party – over the last 21 midterm elections, the president’s party has lost an average of 30 House seats and four Senate seats. So there’s the raw bar for success – the Democrats must lose fewer than 34 seats, or the Republicans win more than 34, to call the election season a success. The current split (Republicans +33 in the House, and Democrats +5 in the Senate) seems to preclude a changing of the guard in either venue.

But there are environmentals specific to the 2014 elections that will temper that norm. Congressional approval ratings for both parties are slightly better than that for serial killers (in the teens), so there’s not a partisan advantage, per se. The general view of the country is not so much pro-Republican as anti-Democrat – we’re stuck in history’s meekest recovery, the entire healthcare market is in turmoil, nobody – here or abroad – believes the president any more. The country just doesn’t seem very well run right now – a majority of those polled regularly regard the country as being on the wrong track – and midterms tend to be referenda on sitting presidents. Democrats are swimming upstream just to maintain the average of losing 34 seats. The House won’t change hands this cycle.

Redistricting after the 2010 census has entrenched most House seats, so I don’t look for anything like a 30-seat swing (in either direction) for a while – the next census is six years (four House elections) away. A realistic goal for Republicans would be to hold the net gain in the House to zero – keep the 234-201 advantage they now hold. The brass ring for Republicans this time around is the Senate – they need to gain six seats to take control.

This cycle has Senate Class II up for election – 33 seats[1], 21 Democrat and 12 Republican. Statewide Senate districts are less affected by redistricting than are House districts, so classical dynamics will still drive these races. Looking at five organizations that track these things[2], they are in consensus on 27 races – 11 Democrat wins and 16 Republican wins. That leaves six seats – Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska, and Montana – in contention, with the Republicans at +5.

Of those six, I see two going Democrat and one Republican, leaving the GOP at +4 with three toss-up states: Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska. The Republicans need all three to win the Senate (i.e., to have a successful election cycle). Winning two of them leaves Republicans only at +5.

Louisiana

Three-term Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu will face the winner of a Republican primary season that will include Representative Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6), Colonel Rob Maness (USAF, ret), former Representative Jeff Landry, former Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle, and Chas Roemer (son of former Louisiana Governor, Buddy). Senator Landrieu’s favorables have sunk in concert with those of Democrats in general, but two factors – incumbency and the Democratic ground game on Election Day – have me thinking of this seat as a slim Democratic win.

North Carolina

One-term Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan won with 53% (Elizabeth Dole) of the vote in 2012, and is running against the winner between State House Speaker Thom Tillis, Dr Greg Brannon and the Reverend Mark Harris. A one-termer doesn’t have the same incumbency advantage as Ms Landrieu, and Tar Heel Democrats won’t have the unions dragging people to the polls (North Carolina is a right to work state). North Carolinians are still sore at Democrats for siding with the International Machinists against Boeing in trying to block moving 787 assembly into the state. I give North Carolina the slight edge to Republicans that I give Democrats in Louisiana.

Alaska

One-term Democrat incumbent Mark Begich won (Ted Stevens) by 3,953 votes (1.25%) in 2012. The Republican field will likely be crowded – five have filed – so the general could depend on how beat-up the Republican nominee gets during the primary. Weak incumbency (another one-termer) plus a state that trends more pink than purple, leaves Republicans as vulnerable to the primary process as Democrats are to the national mood.

Pre-Race Book

After all that, I see the Senate at Republicans +4 with Alaska a pre-primary toss-up. I do not have the staff to follow 435 House races, so I’m just going on rough, generalized metrics, and saying that those races will net-out at zero – leaving the current balance intact.

So my opening book on the 2014s would be House: Republicans 234 (±5), Democrats 201 (±5); Senate: Democrats 51 (±1), Republicans 49 (±1). Both Chambers should stay under current management.

These numbers will doubtless wander all over the map, especially the six contested seats, but this is my pre-season guess.


[1] There are three special Senate elections this year – Hawaii, Oklahoma and South Carolina – but I see them as staying with their current party.

[2] Cook Political Report, Daily Kos Elections, Five Thirty Eight, The Rothenberg Political Report, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

Denial v Duty

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                                                                             Politico/EagleWatch

Twenty-three hours after the destruction of our mission in Benghazi, President Obama was aboard Air Force One on his way to a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas; twenty-three hours after Governor Christie discovered rogue operators on his staff, he came to the podium holding two heads and named the person responsible for carrying out the offending act (who is invoking Fifth Amendment protections). The former saw a political problem while the latter excised incompetents from his administration.

Denial versus Duty. No-fault liberalism versus responsibility-oriented conservatism. Style versus substance.

Fast & Furious, politicization of the IRS, DoJ overreach, DoS underreach, HealthCare.gov – has anyone ever taken responsibility for these bungles (totaling five body bags, by the way)? Not claimed responsibility, but actually taken responsibility. You know … done something about it … fired somebody for malfeasance … seriously answered serious questions. Been a responsible adult about the whole thing.

Short answer: No. Long answer: They are “phony” scandals. (Look up “denial” in a dictionary … )

the United States of America versus Little Sisters of the Poor

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This would be worthy of Saturday Night Live if it weren’t actually happening. The creaking and groaning leviathan of ObamaCare has popped another rivet – this one, trying to force a Catholic charity to dispense contraceptives and abortifacients, regardless of their religious prohibitions against them. Regardless also, interestingly, of constitutional prohibitions against government diddling with the free practice of religion.

The Supreme Court has already found that a non-religious business owned by observantly religious people is exempt (Hobby Lobby), so I can’t imagine that they will allow the government to bully a group of Nuns who see their religious calling as providing hospice care for the indigent elderly. And they simply can’t pay the $1,000 per employee for ignoring the provision. Such a ruling would close the doors on the Little Sisters’ 171-year mission.

But wait, says the government … just sign this waiver, and your complaint is met. The waiver reassigns the Little Sisters’ insurance responsibility (they are self-insured at present) over to a third party insurer. Abbra Kadabbra, the charity isn’t issuing contraceptives and abortifacients (the third party insurer is). But wait, say the Little Sisters, our objection isn’t who pays for it, rather their dispersal under our name in the first place.

At the last moment (literally, New Year’s Eve), Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor enjoined the government from enforcing the stipulation on the Little Sisters until arguments are heard. The Supreme Court will decide which of the lower courts’ rulings will be upheld, and which will be vacated.

It’s getting so that after all the exemptions are granted – legitimate and political – ObamaCare will apply to two guys in Cleveland.

Duck Laming

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Title art by: michellesmirror.com

Candor from this administration is newsworthy. The latest example came on Tuesday, December 31, when Joel Benenson, President Obama’s pollster, told Mike Allen that reporters should go the “next year without reporting any public polling data[1].” He then goes on to describe all the pitfalls of polling – inertial bias, sample size, over-generalization, etc – to justify why the administration’s own pollster would not want his (or anyone else’s) efforts to be publicized. All of which is true, but was also true during the first five years of Obama’s presidency, when Benenson was only too glad to hand out his latest results.

This particular burst of candor is newsworthy because it confirms the continued atrophy eating at the president’s support – it has reached the inner-most political circles of the administration itself. Benenson doesn’t think things will improve over the next year.

And that’s the inside view.

The domestic outside view is well publicized, and has its roots in the now infamous “If you like your policy …” The public at large has lost faith in their president’s honesty, and that’s politically lethal. This is costing the unquestioned support of Democrats up for re-election in 2014 – all of those in the House and twenty-one in the Senate. That steepens the hill the president must negotiate for major proposals.

The Middle East has been destabilized by administration actions. First, President Obama’s “red line” (Assad using chemical weapons against his own people) was crossed and he did nothing. This stunned the Saudis, already upset by the administration’s willingness to deal their way out of Afghanistan with the Taliban and desire to negotiate with Hizbollah. Publicly, they are saying they feel stabbed in the back; privately, they are saying that the American president cannot be trusted, that his word is worthless, that he won’t honor past American agreements. The Arab Gulf States are scheduling combined military exercises, are discussing regional defense in terms of what their combined militaries need to present a unified defense posture, and are sending feelers to Israel for discussions of the region. They are, in other words, assuming the Americans are abandoning the Gulf region, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. This is all on top of America ceding regional influence to the Russians[2].

Nobody outside of the P5+1 and Iran – particularly Iran – support the “confidence-building” agreement between civilization and Tehran over their nuclear program. The outside world – everybody but Europe and America – has seen the United States outmaneuvered by Russia and outsmarted by Iran. We are perceived as being no threat by our enemies and of being no help by our allies. We have become a bull in a china shop with no idea where the door is.

The loss of confidence and trust in the administration is nearly pandemic. And now it has reached the inner circle.

The self-inflicted laming of this administration is threatening to rub off on Democrats in the 2014s, and, depending on how ObamaCare actually works out, threatens to damage “Big Government” liberalism.


[1] See Alex Pappas, Obama pollster: Reporters should stop covering polls in 2014, in the Daily Caller, December 31 2013, 1040EST.

[2] See Richard Miniter, Saudis lament, “we have been stabbed in the back by Obama”, FOX News, December 27 2013.

Hubble

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Edwin Hubble did for cosmology[1] what Einstein did for physics – brought it from its simplistic, colloquial roots to its true, breathtaking scale.

To obtain his PhD, Mr Hubble entered graduate school at Chicago University so that he could get time on the telescope at Yerkes Observatory there. He received his doctorate in 1917 with a dissertation entitled Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae. You need to understand that our idea of the universe in 1917 was still Newtonian – that what we saw at night were stars, all associated with the bright band of stars seen low in the sky. All of observable existence, in other words, was contained within our galaxy, the Milky Way. All of the stars of the heavens were by some means – probably time and gravity – congregated into a finite region of space. The de facto cosmology was that of a “Steady State” universe – it has always been here, and will always be here.

In 1919, Hubble was offered a staff position at Mount Wilson Observatory’s new 100-inch Hooker Telescope in Pasadena, where he remained. Shortly before his death, Mount Palomar Observatory, in nearby San Diego County, completed its giant 200-inch Hale Telescope, the largest reflector in the world. Dr Hubble was the first astronomer allowed to use it, and worked between Wilson and Palomar until the end.

At Wilson, in 1922 and 1923, Dr Hubble identified Cepheid Variables (a type of star) within several spiral nebulae, which were thought at the time to be dust and gases in free space between stars. This discovery, however, demonstrated conclusively that these nebulae were far too distant to be part of the Milky Way – they were galaxies unto themselves. The idea was revolutionary, and was opposed by many in the astronomy community, including Harvard’s Harlow Shapley. Dr Hubble presented his theory in a paper at the American Astronomical Society on this date in 1925.

The idea was hard for some to get their head around. How many of those points of light up there are individual stars, and how many are entire galaxies of stars, so distant that their combined illumination shows as only a point of light to us. It was a new paradigm. The universe was suddenly, in 1925, incalculably larger and more complex than we had thought since time immemorial.

Combining his own measurements of galaxy distances with existing redshift data associated with galaxies, Dr Hubble formulated his Redshift-Distance Law in 1929. This gives the ratio of redshift to distance for a “standard candle” – a star-type of known luminosity and color. The result shows that the frequency of light decreases as light travels through space. After much mathematics was applied to the observations – linear regressions, correlation analysis, and so forth – it was determined that the redshift was geometrically proportionate to our distance from the galaxy. The logical, if utterly non-intuitive (in 1929) solution seemed to be that the universe is expanding at a constant, or near-constant, rate of acceleration. The galaxies furthest away are separating from us at the fastest rate. The redshift isn’t propagation-related, it’s relativistic – it’s a Doppler-like effect on light as objects separate from the observer at velocities representing a significant fraction of the speed of light.

So, in four short years, Edwin Hubble had totally upset long-held cosmological assumptions twice. His view of the universe was wholly different from that of 1924. And the implications were profound. If distant objects will be further away tomorrow than they are today, that means they were closer yesterday than they are today. It logically follows that in some distant past, the entire universe was compressed into a mathematical point – a singularity from which the universe burst into existence in a “Big Bang.” This, of course, means that the universe had a beginning, intimating that it may also have an end. Suddenly it was not a “Steady State” universe. This too, not surprisingly, was a radical theory not initially embraced by the scientific community. Since, of course, Hubble’s theory has been shown to be substantially correct, only his numbers have been refined to resolve these vast distances more accurately as equipment has improved.

Naming the incredible orbital telescope after Dr Hubble is apt. Not only did he transform our view of the universe – twice – but he did it by pioneering photoanalysis to categorize stars and galaxies. It is the Hubble Telescope’s amazing images of the cosmos that keep us in awe.

So Dr Hubble, on this 89th anniversary of your paper on extragalactic space, thank you for your prescience and the perseverance to stand by your theory. Science is, after all, a resolvable exercise – there are right and wrong answers. If you record your research and methods, they are repeatable, and the theory can be tested for falsity. Hubble’s “heresy” now drives modern cosmology.


[1] Cosmology is the study of the universe as an organism, rather than the study of things within it.