Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The justices you want

Donald Trump has released a list of people he would consider nominating to the Supremes. Yup, they're all conservative. I've heard he did it to rally GOP stragglers and holdouts to his campaign. It makes sense. The GOP has announced (at least through their actions) that control of the Supremes is more important to them (and their backers) than control over the Senate. So Trump is saying so what if you don't like me as president. I'll give you the justices you want.

Anybody want a cell phone?

I've long resisted having a cell phone. The few times might have used it didn't seem to be worth the cost and the hassle to keep track of it. Added to that was my nutritionist disliking all that EMF energy beside my head or even in my pocket. I know lots of people say cell phones are perfectly safe. My nutritionist isn't one of them.

Then my father was ill last summer and I was told I had to carry a phone. So I carried his. It had 1800 minutes on it when I got it. When he died the phone still had 1600 minutes.

This phone was from TracFone. One paid for a certain duration of contract plus minutes. The contract expired at the end of last year. I got on their website and found that I couldn't extend the contract without also buying more minutes. The site, of course, suggested buying a year and 400 minutes for $100 (which, I guess, Dad had been doing for several years). I bought 30 days and 30 minutes for $10.

At the end of January I hadn't used it at all, so I didn't bother renewing. When I went to Austin in early April I figured I could use the phone so went to the website. There it told me the phone was 2G and would soon no longer be compatible with 3G and higher networks. It would be glad to send me a free phone. But I didn't have time to receive a new phone before the trip so didn't pay for more time.

A couple weeks later, about mid-April, I got on the site again. I would be leaving on my Washington, DC trip in about a week and it would be good to have a phone to work out meeting up with my cousin. I asked for the new phone. The site said I would have to wait 5-11 days for the phone. With a flight a week later I figured my odds were pretty good.

But it didn't arrive before the trip, so the day before I paid to have time put on the old one. That was a hassle. In talking to the help desk I had to keep coming back to, "But my flight leaves tomorrow and I need a working phone." The phone finally worked and showed the 30 minutes I had just bought. I was assured the other 1630 minutes would show up on the new phone.

They got the last laugh because when I tried using the phone near DC I only got "No Service." Useless phone.

When I got home the replacement still hadn't shown up. It did a couple days later. So that wait of 5-11 days meant it took 11 days for them to figure out how to send me a replacement phone. Time to ship it came after that. Since I wouldn't need the phone for a while I let it sit in the box.

The 30 days that I bought for the DC trip and couldn't use ends tomorrow so I figured I should activate the new one now in hopes of making the transfer easier. I went to the website and tried to log in. I hadn't recorded a password, so I entered my email addy and clicked on "forgot password." It said it didn't know that addy. How had I gotten on to order the phone?

So I called. There was the usual hassle of reading off various serial numbers, including prying off the cover to the new phone to pull out the battery to get to the SIM card. What about those 1600 minutes? I asked. I had to explain. She finally said that since I hadn't renewed time in February or March those minutes had vanished.

When I heard that I said, "Then there's no reason to continue with the activation." It took a few repetitions for her to get it.

I later thought I could have asked for a manager. But no. I'm done with TracFone.

So I have this brand new 3G phone. I'm not interested in using it, though perhaps when I travel in July it might be nice. If I decide I want one I'll find another phone network and hope I can use it there.

In the meantime, my landline works just fine.

Another indication of how my day has gone. I got on my bike this morning and rode it the two miles to my old church to return music I had borrowed. When I got on it again the back tire was flat. There was no way I was going to ride it anywhere and I certainly wasn't going to continue my ride. So I walked it home.

Tomorrow I'll pump it up to see if I can ride it to the bike shop 1 1/2 miles away. If not, I'll walk it there (the bike doesn't fit in my car). It looks like the back tire needs replacing anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Need two more votes

You may need a scorecard to keep the players straight. In 2014 Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. Of course, this didn't sit well with the GOP. An amendment was inserted by Rep. Steve Russel (R-OK) into this year's Defense Authorization Bill to overturn Obama's order. As a law it would overrule executive orders. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) proposed a bipartisan amendment to overturn Russel's amendment. Yes, a GOP representative wanting to remove anti-LGBT language! The House Rules Committee refused to consider Dent's amendment.

That Defense bill went to the House floor yesterday. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY, and I think, gay) introduced an amendment from the floor to remove Russel's amendment. And voting began.

According to House procedure (as I'm told) a vote clock is open for two minutes. At the end of that time the electronic voting machine is turned off. The presiding member asks if any member wants to change their vote. If so, those members must go to the front of the chamber to switch votes.

At the end of 2 minutes Maloney's amendment had 217 yes votes and 206 no votes. GOP leaders didn't like that idea. So the clock was left open and leaders, especially Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), prowled through the chamber looking for votes to switch. This way vote switchers could do it quietly through the electronic voting system. At one point Russel shouted "Need two more votes!" As soon as the tally switched to 212-213, defeating Maloney's amendment, the vote was closed and announced.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was, of course, outraged. This will likely be a campaign issue for the vote-flippers, many of whom are in vulnerable districts. But "easily a dozen" GOP members went to Maloney and expressed disgust.

There is still reconciliation with the Senate version. And Obama has already threatened veto because of several other provisions in the bill.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Courts must defer

We're seeing the effects of a Supreme Court with only 8 members. Is this what the GOP intends?

The first of two cases in the news is Zubik v. Burwell. This is a collection of seven cases in which religious non-profits say the government's method of opting out supplying insurance coverage for contraceptives violates their religious beliefs.

We'll clarify one detail right now. It isn't that the government's method of the employer notifying the gov't they find onerous. It's that their employees end up with contraceptive coverage. It is contraception they object to, not the ease or difficulty in telling the gov't they're not paying for it.

The Supremes issued a statement "from the court," not from a named list of justices, saying the individual cases must go back to lower courts. The justices make it clear this action isn't endorsing one view over another. The various parties are to try negotiating again. Even so, the Court is supplying the lower courts with a bit of guidance: The final result is the employees must have insurance that covers contraception. Given the paragraph above that could mean the cases aren't resolved until Scalia's replacement is on the bench.

The second case is United Student Aid Funds v. Bible. This doesn't refer to the Christian holy book, but to Bryana Bible.

There are two frequently cited historical cases that say (1) When a law is ambiguous courts should defer to they way executive branch agencies interpret the law (Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council written by John Paul Stevens), and (2) when an agency drafts regulations to interpret a law and the regulations are ambiguous courts should also defer to the agency unless the regulation plainly conflicts with the underlying law (Auer v. Robbins written by Scalia).

Stevens explained his reasoning: Justices are not experts in the field, agencies are. Agencies are also closer to elections (through the chief executive) than judges are.

Conservatives have been very much in favor of these two historical rulings – Scalia wrote one of them – but that changed when Obama moved into the White House. It has gotten to the point where Roberts and Alito (plus Scalia, while he was alive) were pleading please give us a case so that we can overturn these rulings.

Along comes such a case and the Supremes don't have the votes to overturn those rulings. So they declined the case, though Thomas objected to not taking it.

Why does this concern me? Because it means lower courts must still defer to the Departments of Education and Justice and their recent instructions on how to treat transgender students in schools.