Coming back to the power outage

When we came into our house after our vacation, we found that our technology fast was continuing.  We had no electricity.   We came back to the great power outage of 2012.

We had heard people talking in the airport before our connecting flight about the big storm–the straight winds of over 80 miles an hour known as a derecho  (Spanish for “straight,” as opposed to a tornado, meaning “turning”) that hit the country, knocking out power for millions in the D.C. area.  When we drove into the small town where we live, the first stop light was out, but then the others seemed to be working, as were the lights in shops and the loudspeaker at the Little League park near our home.  But when we unlocked the door and walked into our house, we stepped into a blast furnace.  No air conditioning, no lights, no kitchen appliances, no internet.  The landline didn’t work either, which usually doesn’t happen when the electricity goes, and our cell batteries were running low.

What to do?  We were weary of hotels, but surely many of them would be without power too, and the ones that were functioning were surely full.  We called our power company to report our problem and see how the repairs were coming, but the animated message could give no estimate of when electricity might be restored.   I got on my smart phone and learned that repairs could take not hours but days.   We resolved to just try to get some sleep in the sauna that was our room.  We sat out on the porch until it got dark.  Finally, we got sleepy and went inside.  To cooler air!  To the humming of the refrigerator!  The lights came on!

Our electricity was out for only about 24 hours, and we missed most of it.  We lost some food, but we had drawn our supplies down anyway for our two weeks of vacation, so that wasn’t so bad.  There are  about 600,000 people in the area–one out of three electricity company customers–who still don’t have power, so I both sympathize and empathize with them.

So now, despite our fun time in the woods, I now hail the electronic era as a great blessing and have learned not to take it for granted.

 

Power outages drag on in D.C. region; officials fuming at utility companies – The Washington Post.

Obamacare punishments as a tax

Thanks to Todd, who helps me with the technical side of this blog, for stepping in with the news emergencies while I was away.  You’ve discussed how the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in its insurance purchase mandate.  Litigation on other Obamacare issues is getting under way.  (There are now 23 lawsuits against the contraception and abortifacient mandate.)

What do you think about conservative Chief Justice Robert putting the best construction on Obamacare by construing its penalties as a tax?  The reasoning was that people who refuse to buy health insurance will face a penalty, but it is being collected not by a court, as with a fine, but by the Internal Revenue Service.  Therefore, it is as if a tax has been imposed, which you can get out of if you buy health insurance.

The bill itself never calls the penalties a tax, nor did its authors or President Obama himself (who specifically said it was not a tax).

Is this logical?  Is this a proper function of a court opinion, to construe a bill despite its wording so that it can pass constitutional muster?

Some people are praising Justice Robert for his Solomonic compromise.  Some conservatives are saying that at least he ruled against the overly-broad application of the Commerce Clause, which can subject just about everything to government supervision since just about everything has economic implications.  This was, in fact, the basis of the administration’s defense of Obamacare, that Congress can make laws regarding interstate commerce.  The court ruled that forcing people to buy something is not commerce, as such.  But since that argument was found specious, Justice Robert kindly supplied an argument of his own that he could accept, even though the administration’s lawyers didn’t make it.   Some Republicans are saying that, at least, defining Obamacare as a tax can allow them to score political points by attacking President Obama and the Democrats as having raised taxes.

But this strikes me as a very dangerous ruling.  What other behavior could the Executive Branch require using the tax code to enforce fines apart from the safeguards of the Judicial Branch?  Could General Motors get bailed out by imposing a tax on everyone who does not buy a Chevy?

Also, does anyone know whether the Affordable Health Care Act was initiated in the House of Representatives, rather than the Senate?  Tax bills have to begin in the House.  Maybe this bill did, coincidentally, have that origin, even though it was never presented as a tax bill.  If not, since the Supreme Court declared it a tax bill, I’d think it would have to have been.

At any rate, this strikes me as a crisis not only with the Constitution–with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all mixed up and infringing on each other–but with language itself, creating new meanings (“tax”) for existing words (“penalty”).

The Wall Street Journal: A Vast New Taxing Power – WSJ.com.

An architect’s vocation

World Magazine has a  profile of architect David Greusel, who specializes in designing baseball stadiums.  In addition to a fascinating discussion of ball parks, focusing on the one hailed as the best in baseball–Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, which Greusel designed–the article by Janie Cheaney highlights the architect’s Christian faith and his sense of vocation.  This excerpt has wide-ranging implications:

Integrating work with family and faith shouldn’t be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called “God’s Trailer,” Greusel boldly states that “bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design”—meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that “form follows function,” seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God’s glory.

Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: “First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the “creation mandate” (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God’s work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man—whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.

via WORLDmag.com | All-star architecture | Janie B. Cheaney | Jun 30, 12.

Read Greusel’s entire essay God’s Trailer.  The contradiction he cites–”fundamentalists” buying into the dogmas of the “modernists”– is very telling.  By the same token, some of the biggest critics of pop culture are insisting on pop music in their worship.  And theological “conservatives” are arguing that the church must conform to the culture, the textbook definition of theological liberalism.

And the ruling on the health care law is…

Today, the Supreme Court will announce its decision on the 2010 health care bill. According to the official schedule, the ruling won’t have occurred by the time this post goes live — and it certainly hasn’t happened as I actually write this post on Wednesday night — so I don’t have a lot to say about the decision right now. But presumably you all will, as events unfold.

If you’re reading this before the decision has been announced, you can read SCOTUSblog’s helpful summary of what exactly we’re waiting for. Law junkies can also follow SCOTUSblog’s live coverage of the event throughout the day – they’ve even created a backup site in case their main site gets flooded with viewers.

So, did the Supreme Court get it right?

The right to lie about your accomplishments?

Though easily overlooked in all the discussion about the health care decision, the Supreme Court is announcing its decision in other cases today, as well. Perhaps most interesting is United States v. Alvarez, in which the issue is (as summarized by SCOTUSblog):

Whether a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals or honors violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free speech.

I assume we all agree that it is morally wrong for a person to lie about what honors they have received. The question is: should this moral failing also be criminalized? And, perhaps an even more important question is: why or why not? What criteria must a moral failing meet in order to merit criminalization?

Arizona v. United States

From The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down several key parts of Arizona’s tough law on illegal immigrants, but it left standing a controversial provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they detain and suspect to be in the country illegally.

SCOTUSblog provides an explanation “in plain English”:

The decision was largely (but not entirely) a victory for the federal government:  the Court held that three of the four provisions of the law at issue in the case cannot go into effect at all because they are “preempted,” or trumped, by federal immigration laws.  And while the Court allowed one provision – which requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone whom they detain or arrest before they release that person – to go into effect, even here it left open the possibility that this provision would eventually be held unconstitutional if not applied narrowly in Arizona.

Click on the latter link to read more about the four provisions at issue.

So what do you think? Does this only further increase the federal government’s power, with a commensurate erosion of state control? Or is this a proper understanding of the federal government’s constitutional control over immigration?


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