While the U.S. Senate Clears the Way for Homeland Security Funding and as the World Continues to Struggle with ISIS, Ukraine and Russia Continue to Struggle with Another Ceasefire

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Reuters reported on Thursday that the Senate moved Wednesday to advert a shutdown of U.S. domestic security agency this weekend by voting to clear the way for funding a funding bill that does not include the immigration issue. The vote came shortly after an appeal from the current and two former Security secretaries appealed to Congress to avoid the shutdown and give full funding for the department of Homeland Security this year. The final hurdle for passage will fall to the conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives who still oppose the bill and procedural negotiations that could delay the final vote beyond Friday’s funding deadline for the department. The agency set up after 9/11 coordinates domestic efforts to combat security threats like the recent Somali based Islamic militants against U.S. shopping malls and encompasses the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration as well as border, immigration and several other federal agencies. The original bill would of funded the agency with $39.7 billion until Republicans against Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order lifted deportation threats of undocumented immigrants got in the way causing Republicans to approve the bill adding a provision to ban spending on the order. This in turn caused a deadlock that lasted weeks between Republicans and Democrats leading up to Wednesday’s vote. The 98-2 vote cleared the way to take out the House’s immigration provisions and leave the vote on immigration orders for a later date under the plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to end the deadlock. The overwhelming bipartisan support for McConnell’s approach means there is strong support for drama free funding for Homeland Security. Democrats have called for a clean Homeland bill all along without any immigration restrictions as Obama had threatened to veto the House passed measure. House Speaker John Boehner declined to tell Reuters if he would put the bill to a House vote even thought the deadline ends at midnight Friday. If no deal is reached, then Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees or 15 percent of its workforce. This translate to many of the essential personnel such as airport and border security agents would have to wait to be paid until new funding is approved. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and some of his predecessors pleaded at a news conference for Congress to swiftly pass the funding bill. A cut-off in funds also would suspend grants to states to support local counter-terrorism activities.

As security issues at home become increasingly worrisome, the White House has said President Barack Obama would be open to negotiating with Congress for new authorization for military force against Islamic State militants including a three year limit on U.S. military action and use of American troops, according to the AP’s Nedra Pickler, Obama open to changes to military authority against IS. After a weeklong holiday break, lawmakers returned to Washington Monday and have started to consider the proposal with some Republicans saying it is too restrictive for the mission to succeed and some Democrats wanting more limitations on Obama’s authority so the U.S. doesn’t sign on for another open ended war. Obama is open to discussing every aspect of his proposal but firmly opposed to any geographic restriction on where the U.S. military pursues ISIS with strongholds in Iraq and Syria but have been operating across international boundaries. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated, “I’m not at all going to be surprised if there are members of Congress who take a look at this legislation and decide, ‘Well, I think there are some things that we should tweak here, and if we do, we might be able to build some more support for. So I think it is fair for you to assume that this reflects a starting point in conversations.” Obama argues he doesn’t need new authority to legally pursue the militant group as he has been launching strikes based on authorizations given to President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, critics say Obama’s use of this authority is a stretch and the White House has taken a new position making it clear it doesn’t see reliance on this authorization as ideal. Once new authority is signed into law, the White House says Obama will mot longer rely on the 2001 approved authority to purse the group and rely solely on the new powers. The White House added that Congress could make that clear in the new authorization. The change also prevents any future president from interpreting the law the way Obama has since last year. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of three men accused of planning or supporting ISIS in Syria, AP’s Deepti Hajela reports, Feds: 3 accused in Islamic State plot vocal about beliefs. Two men are charged with plotting to help the Islamic State group as evident by both online and personal conversations about their commitment and desire to join the extremists, federal authorities reported. Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, with plans to head to Syria, authorities said. Another man, 24-year-old Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. The two were held without bail after a brief court appearance. A third defendant, Abror Habibov, 30, is accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts. He was ordered held without bail in Florida. If convicted, each faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said this was the first public case in New York involving possible fighters going to the Islamic State, but he hinted at other ongoing investigations. According to the federal complaint, Saidakhmetov said he intended to shoot police officers and FBI agents if his plan to join the IS group in Syria was thwarted. Loretta Lynch, who is Obama’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, said “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.” The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.

While the U.S. fights to thwart and contain the Islamic State, the rest of the world has not been so lucky in keeping ISIS as bay. On Tuesday, AP’s Zeina Karam reported, Dozens of Christians abducted by Islamic militants in Syria, the Islamic State militants before dawn raided homes in a cluster of villages along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria abducting at least 70 Christians as thousands fled to safer areas. The captives’, mostly women and children, fate was unclear Tuesday as relatives said mobile phone service was cut off and land lines were not working and heavy fighting in the area was reported. The Islamic State group has a history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. While the U.S. and coalition of regional partners conduct airstrikes against the group, the group has repeatedly targeted religious minorities since taking a third of both Syria and Iraq. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights working with a network of activist in Syria have reported the number of Christians held by the group at 90. The extremists could use the Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish militias it is battling in northeastern Syria. Hassakeh province, where a majority of the captives come from, is strategically important due to sharing a border with Turkey and areas controlled by IS in Iraq. Kurdish militiamen from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, backed by the coalition airstrikes, have made advances in the province in a new offensive launched this week. Heavy fighting broke out in the province Monday as Kurdish fighters and IS militants battled for control of villages near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The Kurds have been one of the most effective foes of IS, a reputation they burnished in recent months by repelling an assault by the extremists on the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. The coalition carried out hundreds of airstrikes that helped the Kurds break the siege in January.

As the world tries to get a grip on the seemingly phantom group called ISIS, the ongoing ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia seems once again to have fallen apart as fighting continues to rage and Russia refuses to loosen its grip on Ukraine. On Wednesday, AP reported Russian courts refused to release Ukrainian prisoners whose fate has attracted global attention as Moscow’s City Court turned down an appeal by Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers leaving her to remain behind bars pending an investigation, according to the article, Russian court refuses to release Ukrainian prisoner. Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in June and put in custody in Russia, is awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. She denies the accusations. Russia claims Savchenko voluntarily crossed the border into Russia before she was detained, but she said she was dragged across the border into the Russian custody. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 13 demanding her release, and her lawyers on Wednesday voiced concern about her condition. More than 11,000 people including prominent cultural figures have petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin urging Savchenko’s release. Even while in jail, Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and named a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Union and the United States have urged her release. Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev reported, Kiev Says It Can’t Withdraw Weaponry As Attacks On Ukrainian Troops Persist, the Ukrainian military said Monday it could not leave the front line in the east as required by the ceasefire due to pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were attacking its position making it difficult to withdraw heavy weaponry. A truce to end fighting that has killed more than 5,600 people appeared stillborn last week after rebels ignored it to capture the strategic town of Debaltseve in a punishing defeat for Kiev. Nevertheless, the peace deal’s European sponsors still hold out hope it can be salvaged, now that the Moscow-backed separatists have achieved that objective. Spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said in a televised briefing: “Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there can not yet be any talk of pulling back weapons.” Anatoly Stelmakh, another military spokesman, said rebel forces had attacked the village of Shyrokyne overnight, along the coast on the road to Mariupol, a port of half a million that Kiev fears could be the next big rebel target. Rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied the fighters had launched any such attack, and said the situation was calm. Nearly a million people have been driven from their homes by the war between pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and government forces. Last week’s ceasefire was reached after the rebels abandoned a previous truce to launch their advance, arguing that previous battle lines had left their civilians vulnerable to government shelling. Kiev says the rebels are reinforcing near Mariupol for a possible assault on the port, the biggest city in the two rebellious provinces still in government hands. Defense analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who has close ties to the military, said rebels had brought 350 fighters and 20 armored vehicles including six tanks to the area.

Ebola Fears Spread As Details of First U.S. Case Emerge, Hong Kong Leaders Refuse Demands, Islamic State Tries to Expand its Territory as Turkey Considers its Role and the Reality of Climate Change

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In Tuesday afternoon press conference, the Federal authorities and the Center for Disease Control confirmed the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States and the local station WFAA was the first to report the patent testing positive in Dallas, according to Ryan Gorman, First US case of deadly Ebola virus confirmed in Dallas. The male patient recently traveled to Liberia, leaving the country on September 19 and arriving in the U.S. the following day, according to the CDC’s Dr. Thomas Frieden. The person exhibited no symptoms until about five days later. He sought care on the 26th, was admitted to a hospital on the 28th and tested positive on the 30th, Frieden explained, adding the man is “critically ill.” The patient has been placed into isolation in Texas and will be treated in the state. A CDC team already on the ground in Texas will work to identify all individuals that have come into contact with the infected individual and monitor those people for the next 21 days, Frieden added. Frieden declined to say if the individual is an American citizen, but did disclose he is in the country to “visit family.” Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson told WFAA that the city is more than able to contain and treat the isolated patient. Health official have reported that more than 3,000 people have died during the recent outbreak in West Africa and three Americans were transported to Atlanta for treatment after contracting Ebola, but this is the first case outside that region. Frieden said, “Ebola is a scary disease. We’re really hoping for the recovery of this individual. We’re [also] stopping it in it’s tracks in the United States.” The Associated Press reports, Ebola case stokes concerns for Liberians in Texas, Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, said the 10,000-strong Liberian population in North Texas is skeptical of the CDC’s assurances because Ebola has ravaged their country. Gaye said at a community meeting Tuesday evening, “We’ve been telling people to try to stay away from social gatherings. We need to know who it is so that they (family members) can all go get tested. If they are aware, they should let us know.” Vice president Roseline Sayon said, “We don’t want to get a panic going.We embrace those people who are coming forward. Don’t let the stigma keep you from getting tested.” Blood tests by Texas health officials and the CDC separately confirmed his Ebola diagnosis Tuesday. State health officials described the patient as seriously ill. Goodman said he was able to communicate and was hungry. Passengers leaving Liberia pass through rigorous screening, but those checks are no guarantee that an infected person not showing symptoms will be stopped from boarding, according to Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the Liberia Airport Authority’s board of directors. Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 6,500 people in West Africa, and more than 3,000 deaths have been linked to the disease, according to the World Health Organization. But even those tolls are probably underestimates, partially because there are not enough labs to test people for Ebola. Two mobile Ebola labs staffed by American naval researchers arrived this weekend and will be operational this week, according to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia. The labs will reduce the amount of time it takes to learn if a patient has Ebola from several days to a few hours. The U.S. military also delivered equipment to build a 25-bed clinic that will be staffed by American health workers and will treat doctors and nurses who have become infected. The U.S. is planning to build 17 other clinics in Liberia and will help train more health workers to staff them.

While the man is now receiving treatment for Ebola, new details have emerged about the days before the he was admitted to the hospital. the Associated Press reports, Dallas ER sent Ebola-infected patient home, a Dallas emergency room sent home the man with Ebola last week knowing he had told a nurse he had been to West Africa specifically Liberia and officials at the hospital are considering if they would of acted differently if they entire staff knew. The decision by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to release the patient, who had recently arrived from Liberia, could have put others at risk of exposure to Ebola before the man went back to the ER a couple of days later when his condition worsened. A nine-member team of federal health officials was tracking anyone who had close contact with the man after he fell ill on Sept. 24. The group of 12 to 18 people included three members of the ambulance crew that took him to the hospital, as well as a handful of schoolchildren. They will be checked every day for 21 days, the disease’s incubation period. “That’s how we’re going to break the chain of transmission, and that’s where our focus has to be,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press Wednesday. The patient explained to a nurse last Thursday that he was visiting the U.S. from Africa, but that information was not widely shared, said Dr. Mark Lester, who works for the hospital’s parent company. “Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated” throughout the medical team, Lester said. Instead, the man was diagnosed with a low-risk infection and sent home. He was prescribed antibiotics, according to his sister, Mai Wureh, who identified her brother, Thomas Eric Duncan, as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press. Duncan has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed in serious but stable condition. But the diagnosis, and the hospital’s slip-up, highlighted the wider threat of Ebola, even far from Africa. Since the man had no symptoms on the plane, the CDC stressed there is no risk to his fellow passengers. Reuters reports, Dallas Ebola patient vomited outside apartment on way to hospital, two days after he was sent home from the hospital, the man was seen vomiting on the ground outside his apartment complex as he was taken into an ambulance. The New York Times said that Duncan, in his mid-40s, helped transport a pregnant woman suffering from Ebola to a hospital in Liberia, where she was turned away for lack of space. Duncan helped bring the woman back to her family’s home and carried her into the house, where she later died, the newspaper reported. Four days later Duncan left for the United States, the Times said, citing the woman’s parents and neighbors. Airline and hotel company shares dropped sharply on U.S. markets on Wednesday over concerns that Ebola’s spread outside Africa might curtail travel. Drugmakers with experimental Ebola treatments in the pipeline saw their shares rise. A Liberian official said the man traveled through Brussels to the United States. United Airlines said in a statement that the man took one of its flights from Brussels to Washington Dulles Airport, where he changed planes to travel to Dallas-Fort Worth. As of Thursday morning, Ryan Gorman reports, Texas officials now looking at 100 people possibly infected with deadly Ebola virus, Texas State Health Department spokesperson Carrie Williams said in a statement: “We are working from a list of about 100 potential or possible contacts. The number will drop as we focus in on those whose contact may represent a potential risk of infection.” Officials previously said they were looking at about 80 people while Duncan was being cared for in a Dallas hospital. Authorities explained they are casting a wide net in order to make sure no one goes untreated and any potential outbreak can be immediately contained. In the article, US Ebola patient’s family under quarantine as he faces criminal charges in Liberia, Gorman reports that Duncan’s family has been placed under quarantine and Thomas Duncan will face criminal charges in Liberia. Officials hand-delivered the order to Thomas Duncan’s relatives Wednesday night after they reportedly violated an official request to not leave home, WFAA reported. The Liberian citizen reportedly lied on his health form to gain entry to the U.S. Duncan’s family is now under a strict quarantine until October 19. They are legally prohibited from leaving their Dallas home for any reason. Duncan lying on his health form has prompted Liberian officials to announce they will file criminal charges against him for carrying the deadly virus through Europe and two U.S. cities, the Associated Press reported.

While the U.S. now may be dealing with the deadly virus, the outbreak in Western African countries continues to grow at an alarming rate and the local health facilities are ill-equipped to deal. Eline Gordts reports, 5 People Are Infected With Ebola Every Hour In Sierra Leone, according to new data released Wednesday by the International Charity Save the Children, five people in Sierra Leone are infected with Ebola every hour. According to Save the Children, an estimated 765 new cases of Ebola were reported in Sierra Leone just last week, while the country currently only has 327 beds for patients available. Without drastic efforts to curtail the spread of the disease, 10 people will be infected every hour in the country before the end of October, Save the Children said. In a press release about the numbers, Rob MacGillivray, the organization’s director in Sierra Leone, said: “We are facing the frightening prospect of an epidemic which is spreading like wildfire across Sierra Leone, with the number of new cases doubling every three weeks.” The spread of Ebola remains persistent in Sierra Leone, according to the WHO, and there’s strong evidence that the disease is reaching new districts. According to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could rise to 1.4 million by January if the disease is not effectively fought. Only 30 percent of patients survive Ebola.

Meanwhile, as protest rage in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has refused to step down Thursday and offered to talk to defuse a week of massive demonstrations that are the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took over from Britain in 1997, according to the Associated Press, Hong Kong leader offers talks with protesters. Student leaders of the protest did not respond to Leung’s announcement, however, Occupy Central said in a statement: “[Occupy Central] hopes the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate. However, we reiterate our view that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is the one responsible for the stalemate, and that he must step down.” The protesters want Beijing to reverse its decision that all candidates in an inaugural 2017 election for chief executive must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. They say China is reneging on its promise that the city’s top leader will be chosen through “universal suffrage.” Earlier in the day, police brought in supplies of tear gas and other riot gear, and the protesters prepared face masks and goggles as tensions rose in the standoff outside the imposing government compound near the waterfront. Police warned of serious consequences if the protesters tried to surround or occupy government buildings, as they had threatened to do if Leung didn’t resign by the end of Thursday. Leung said shortly before midnight that the authorities would continue to tolerate the protests as long as participants did not charge police lines, but urged them to stop their occupation of much of the downtown area. He said, “I urge students not to charge into or occupy government buildings. … It’s not about my personal inconvenience. These few days the protesters’ occupation of key areas of the city has already seriously affected Hong Kong’s economy, people’s daily lives and government functioning.” Joanna Chiu reports, Hong Kong leader rejects protestors’ demands, Hong Kong’s free press and social media has allowed protestors a voice and exposure that may prevent China from cracking down in the same way it does on restive minorities and dissidents living in the mainland, where it is harshly punished. With dozens of bus routes canceled and subway entrances closed, Hong Kong’s police and fire department renew calls for protestors to clear the streets. Many of the protesters were born after an agreement with Britain in 1984 that pledged to give China control of the city of 7 million, and have grown up in an era of affluence and stability, with no experience of past political turmoil in mainland China. Their calls for a great say in their futures have widespread support among many in Hong Kong disillusioned by a widening gap between the city’s ultra-wealthy tycoons and the rest of the population. Didi Tang reports, No images of Hong Kong protests in China’s media, China’s government has cut off news about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests to the rest of the country, a clampdown so thorough that no image of the rallies has appeared in state-controlled media, and at least one man has been detained for reposting accounts of the events. By contrast, media in semiautonomous Hong Kong have been broadcasting nonstop about the crowds, showing unarmed students fending off tear gas and pepper spray with umbrellas as they call for more representative democracy in the former British colony. Censorship of microblogs – including phrases such as “tear gas” – has kept online discussion muted. The image-sharing Instagram service was shut down in China over the weekend. Activist Wang Long in the southern city of Shenzhen, who reposted news about the protests on the instant messaging service WeChat, was detained Monday by police on suspicion of causing trouble, his lawyer friend Fan Biaowen said.

While the government of China unites against a Hong Kong democracy and face off against pro-democracy protestors, the U.S. led coalition to fight ISIS continues to struggle to gain ground against the militant group as Turkey decides whether to join the fight publicly or take a background role. CNN reports, Airstrikes pound ISIS targets; bomb blasts kill 30 schoolchildren in Syria, a day after Britain’s military launched its first campaign, Turkish soldiers and tanks along the border with Syria on Tuesday gear up for a possible fight. Meanwhile, Turkey’s government put a motion before parliament asking for the authorization to take military action against ISIS. Lawmakers are expected to debate the measure in a special session Thursday before voting, Anadolu, Turkey’s semiofficial new agency, reports. Tony Abbot told Parliament in Canberra that Australian aircraft started flying over Iraq in support of allied operations Wednesday. However, the government is awaiting an invitation from Iraq before a final decision to commit Australian forces to airstrikes. Retired U.S. Marine general coordinating the U.S. led coalition against ISIS, John R. Allen told CNN, “It’s actually an important moment where so many countries from so many different backgrounds share that view (that ISIS poses a threat to the region), that this is an opportunity to create partnership across those lines of effort that would achieve real effect.” According to a military think tank, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the airstrikes have cost $1 billion. The U.S. military said Tuesday that it was the busiest day for airstrikes against ISIS since the military campaign began, with 28 total, including the two UK strikes. More strikes were carried out Wednesday by the United States and a partner nation, the U.S. military said, including around the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria, known in Arabic as Ayn al Arab. Other strikes hit ISIS targets in Iraq northwest of Mosul, near the Haditha Dam and northwest of Baghdad. Tuesday, British planes helped Kurdish troops who were fighting ISIS in northwestern Iraq, dropping a bomb on an ISIS heavy weapon position and shooting a missile at an armed pickup truck, the UK’s Defense Ministry said. Britain joins the United States and France as countries that have hit ISIS in Iraq with airstrikes, while Belgium and Denmark have also said they also will provide planes. Of those nations, only the United States along with some Arab countries have struck ISIS positions in neighboring Syria. In Syria, where a 3½ year old civil war rages on between government forces and rebel groups including ISIS, twin blasts struck Wednesday near a school in the nation’s third-largest city, Homs. The death toll has climbed to 39, with at least 30 children between the ages of 6 and 9 killed, according to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The toll was confirmed by the London-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information about civilian casualties in the country. Turkey’s debate over whether to step into the fray comes as the flood of refugees from Syria has escalated, with 150,000 people fleeing to Turkey in recent days. Meanwhile, ISIS fighters armed with tanks and heavy weapons advance on Kobani in northern Syria, destroying villages in their path. If ISIS takes Kobani, it will control a complete swath of land from its self-declared capital of Raqqa to the Turkish border, more than 60 miles away. On Wednesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, according to the Associate Press report, Turkey considers Iraq, Syria incursions: “In the struggle against terrorism, we are open and ready for every kind of cooperation. However, Turkey is not a country that will allow itself to be used for temporary solutions. An effective struggle against ISIL or other terror organizations will be our priority. The immediate removal of the administration in Damascus, Syria’s territorial unity and the installation of an administration which embraces all will continue to be our priority.” The motion cites the continued threat to Turkey from Kurdish rebels who are fighting for autonomy from bases in northern Iraq; the threat from the Syrian regime; as well as the newly emerged threat from the Islamic State militants and other groups in Syria and Iraq. It also cites a potential threat to a mausoleum in Syria that is considered Turkish territory. The tiny plot of land that is a memorial to Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, is guarded by Turkish troops. The government enjoys a majority in parliament and the motion was expected to pass despite opposition from two parties.

As the human tragedy of war unfolds in the Middle East, several credible and widely known organizations this week have released reports on the human impact on climate change that has caused wildlife populations to plummet and bodies of water to recede or disappear and the record increase of Antarctic sea ice. John Heilprin reports, Humans To Blame For Major Decline In Wildlife Populations, WWF Report Finds, that a study Tuesday from the Swiss based WWF reports that 3,000 species of wildlife around the world have see their numbers plummet due to human threats to nature with a 52 percent decline in wildlife populations between 1970 and 2010. It says improved methods of measuring populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles explain the huge difference from the 28-percent decline between 1970 and 2008 that the group reported in 2012. Most of the new losses were found in tropical regions, particularly Latin America. WWF describes the study it has carried out every two years since 1998 as a barometer of the state of the planet. The latest “Living Planet” study analyzed data from about 10,000 populations of 3,038 vertebrate species from a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London. It is meant to provide a representative sampling of the overall wildlife population in the world, said WWF’s Richard McLellan, editor-in-chief of the study. It reflects populations since 1970, the first year the London-based society had comprehensive data. Each study is based on data from at least four years earlier. In the new WWF study, hunting and fishing along with continued losses and deterioration of natural habitats are identified as the chief threats to wildlife populations around the world. Other primary factors are global warming, invasive species, pollution and disease. Ken Norris, science director at the London society, said, “This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live. There is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will and support from industry.” Ryan Gorman reports, The world’s fourth-largest lake is almost completely dry, the vast Aral Sea has all but disappeared as seen in new satellite photos released by NASA. Officials in the Soviet Union began diverting water from the Aral Sea in the 1960s to irrigate desert land in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, according to the space agency. This effort has virtually drained it dry. The port cities Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and Moynaq, Uzbekistan, dependent on the lake’s 22 varieties of fish, began to crumble, officials claim. Less water led to higher concentrations of salt and other pollutants, it eventually became a public health hazard. Contaminated soil then blew off the dry lake bed onto neighboring farms and contaminated them, officials said. Less water also led to colder winters since the water’s moderating effect on the local climate was all but diminished. Kate Sheppard reports, Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Could Save 3,500 Lives Per Year: Report, a study released Tuesday says that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in order to curb global warming will save up to 3,500 American lives or nine lives per day and prevent 1,000 hospitalizations. The study, by researchers at Harvard, Syracuse and Boston universities, finds that the “co-benefits” of cutting carbon include reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and mercury, which have been linked to respiratory illness, heart attacks and early deaths. The study looked at three scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One would only require changes at power plants. The second would set a state-based standard and allow reductions to come from throughout the electricity sector. The third would require power plants to make changes up to a certain cost. The researchers said the second scenario yielded the most co-benefits, reducing greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent from 2005 levels, while cutting sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions 27 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions 22 percent. That scenario also was the most similar to the draft standard for reducing power plant emission that the Environmental Protection Agency released in June, which calls for a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The EPA’s own estimates of the benefits of its draft rules projected that they would prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths. The study found health benefits across the lower 48 states. Benefits were highest in places where more people are currently exposed to pollutants, and in the places with the worst air quality. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana would see the most avoided deaths, the researchers concluded. Climate Central reports, Antarctic Sea Ice Just Hit A New Maximum, But That Doesn’t Mean The Continent’s Not Warming, a boom in Antarctic sea ice will surpassed 7.7 million square miles for the first time ever and will set a new record and nearly every day has set a record for the day in the satellite record for 2014, according to Ted Scambos, a senior scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. The boom in ice around the southernmost continent in the past few years is in contract to the decades long decline of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean where the Arctic sea ice hit its sixth lowest extent at the end of this summer with the ice’s edge coming within 5 degrees latitude of the North Pole. That Arctic ice melt is robustly connected to the overall warming of the planet. The loss of reflective, white ice also amplifies the warming around the North Pole; as more dark, open ocean is exposed to incoming sunlight, the water absorbs those rays, heats even more and melts more ice. The growth of Antarctic sea ice may also, paradoxically, be connected to global warming, though the exact combination of causes is still a major area of study. And just what the causes turn out to be will affect how long the Antarctic growth will go on for. The Associated Press reports, 35,000 Walrus Come Ashore In Northwest Alaska, an estimated 35,000 walrus were photographed Saturday about 5 miles north of Point Lay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Due to the fact these Pacific walrus cannot find sea ice to rest on in the Arctic waters, many have come ashore in record numbers to the beaches of northwest Alaska. The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA’s annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, spokeswoman Julie Speegle said by email. The survey is conducted with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that oversees offshore lease sales. Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said walrus were first spotted Sept. 13 and have been moving on and off shore. Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stampede, and the agency was assembly a necropsy team to determine their cause of death. Pacific walrus spend their winters in the Bering Sea as females give birth on sea ice and use the ice to dive for food on the shallow shelf. When the temperatures warm in summer and the edge of the sea ice receded north, females and their young ride the edge of the ice into the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Sea. Unfortunately, in recent years, sea ice has receded beyond the shallow continental shelf and into the Arctic Ocean water with depths that exceed 2 miles preventing walrus from diving to the bottom. The World Wildlife Fund said walrus have also been gathering in large groups on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea. Margaret Williams, managing director of the group’s Arctic program, said via phone from Washington, D.C.. “It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss. The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

President Signs VA Bill into Law

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On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a VA reform bill into law that will allow tens of thousands of military veterans to receive long awaited care from private doctors almost immediately, according to Matthew Daly and Darlene Superville, Boost for vets’ health: Obama signs new law. Other changes will take awhile under the $16.3 billion law marking the government’s most comprehensive response to the Veterans Affairs scandals that led to the ousting of Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary. Veterans who waited at least a month for a medical appointment or live 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic will now be able to see a private doctor at a cost to the government. VA officials said the law will also allow the expansion of VA staff by hiring thousands of doctors, nurses and mental health counselors to alleviate the long wait periods, however, this will take months to years to complete as the VA will also open 27 new clinics across the country taking two years. Obama signed the bill at Fort Belvoir, an army base in Virgina just outside Washington where service members, veterans groups and military leaders attended the ceremony with lawmakers from both parties. Obama, during the ceremony, said: “This will not and cannot be the end of our effort. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “Anybody who thinks this is going to fix the problem is not being honest about this” citing a host of issues the bill leaves unaddressed, from veterans’ suicides and homelessness to a stubborn backlog in disability claims. Daniel Dellinger, national commander for the America Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said: “But it is only one step and only a beginning.” Under the new law, employment rules will be revised to make it easier to fire senior VA executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly, according to the article. The former Proctor and Gamble CEO turned VA Secretary on July 30, McDonald, travels to Phoenix Friday to visit the VA hospital where the scandal began amid reports of secret waiting lists and patients dying before they could receive care. The VA reported in mid-July that 35,000 vets had a waiting period of 90 days for initial appoints, down from 57,000 mid-May, and last week announced its plan to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data. According to AOL’s report, Major provisions of veterans health care bill, congressional budget analyst put the cost of the bill at $16.3 billion over three years and estimates it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years. Here’s a summary of the legislation provided by AOL:

-Devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans who enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away are eligible for outside care.

-Devotes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals.

-Authorizes $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics and other medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

-Grants the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with a final resolution 21 days later.

-Expands a scholarship program for children of veterans killed in the line of duty to include surviving spouses.

-Allows all returning veterans and eligible dependents to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

-Cuts funding for annual bonuses for VA employees to $360 million, $40 million less than last year.

Republican Border Bill Passes, Court Deals Blow to Unions, Ebola Comes to the U.S. and the U.S. Fails Internationally

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Late Friday, House Republicans passed a bill to address the U.S. Mexico border crisis by sending migrant youths back home without hearings meaning that more than half a million immigrants could be deported even though the Obama administration granted temporary work permits, according to Erica Werner, House OKs bill to address border crisis. President Barack Obama condemned the Republican action saying he would act unilaterally as best he could. The new bill, which tea party lawmakers enthusiastically support, provides $694 million and carries a companion measure to shut off a program created by Obama granting work permits to immigrants brought here illegally as kids. The second bill prevents the more than 700,00 people who’ve already gotten work permits under the program from renewing them making them subject to deportation. The sending bill passed Friday 223-189 with four Republicans voting no and one Democrat voting yes. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. explained, “It’s dealing with the issue that the American people care about more than any other, and that is stopping the invasion of illegal foreign nationals into our country. And we got to yes.” While Obama said no adding, “They’re not even trying to solve the problem. I’m going to have to act alone, because we do not have enough resources.” The move in the House came as the first day of lawmakers’ five week summer recess happened and Senators had already left Washington after killing their own legislation on the crisis. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said, “It would be irresponsible and unstatesmanlike to head home for the month without passing a bill to address this serious, present crisis on the border.” According to Werner: “In the end Republicans only lost four of the most conservative members on the vote: Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul Broun of Georgia, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee and Walter Jones of North Carolina. The only Democrat to support the bill was moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.”The GOP plans met with protest from immigration advocates and Democrats with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., saying, “If you tell people that you think they’re criminals, that you think they’re simply bringing diseases, that they’re bringing drugs, then you treat them as invaders, they kind of think you don’t like them. They’re going to believe you don’t like them, and they’re not going to vote for you.” The bill adds $35 million more for the National Guard as well as increase spending for overwhelmed border agencies, add more immigration judges and detention spaces, and alter a 2008 anti-trafficking law to permit Central American kids to be sent back home without deportation hearings.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court upheld the 2011 law that ended collective bargaining for most public workers, sparked massive protests and led to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election and rise to national prominence, Scott Walker reports, Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Collective Bargaining Law. Thursday’s 5-2 ruling is a victory for Walker who is considering a 2016 run for president and re-election this year and marks the end of a three year legal fight over union laws prohibiting public worker unions from collectively bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases based on inflation. A federal appeal court twice upheld the law as constitutional and the high court ruled in a lawsuit, filed by Madison teachers union and a union representing Milwaukee public workers, that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection. Walker introduced the proposal shortly after taking office in 2011 causing teachers, public workers and their supporters to flood the Capitol for weeks in order to block the passage. In addition, Democratic state senators fled the state for two weeks in a failed attempt to block the bill’s passage. The law bars automatic withdrawal from members’ checks, require annual elections to see if members want their unions to represent them and requires public employees to contribute to their health insurance and pension costs, which help local governments and schools save money to deal with cuts to balance the state’s shortfall, according to Walker. Walker faced a recall in 2012, but became the first governor ever in U.S. history to defeat a recall. The union law has been challenged on several fronts since it was introduced, but withstood them all. The state Supreme Court decided to take the case on Thursday after a Dane County judge sided with the unions and ruled in September 2012 that major portion were unconstitutional.

Internationally, on Thursday and Saturday, hospital officials said a U.S. humanitarian aid worker and two American doctors who contracted Ebola in West Africa will be transferred to the United States and treated in a special high security ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Reuters reports, US aid worker infected with Ebola to be moved to Atlanta hospital: official. The aid worker will be moved in the next several days to a special isolation unit set up in collaboration with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is one of only four in the United States. An American doctor infected with Ebola arrived in Atlanta on Saturday landing in a specially equipped plane at a military base then took to the isolation unit at Emory, Ray Henry reports, US doctor with Ebola arrives in Atlanta for treatment. it marks the first time a patient with Ebola has entered the country for treatment with a second American aid workers expected to arrive at Emory in days. U.S. based Samaritan’s Purse paid for the transport and confirmed to the Associated Press the patient was Dr. Kent Brantly. The ambulance took him to the hospital among a wide open Interstate with no traffic flanked by SUVs and police cars then the patient was taken into the building at Emory by people in white protective clothing. The hospital is down the hill from the CDC. Dr. Jay Varney, an infectious disease specialist at Emory charged with Brantley’s care, said the hospital’s isolation unit is well equipped to handle patients with the disease. He added, “Ebola is only transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Unlike the flu, like influenza, which we deal with every winter, Ebola cannot be spread through the air.” Ebola has no cure. Dr. Philip Brachman, an Emory University public health specialist who for many years headed the CDC’s disease detectives program, said Friday: “That’s all we can do for such a patient. We can make them feel comfortable” and let the body try to beat back the virus.”

While treatment for the infected begins, the U.S. has issued a travel warning for Americans going to the three West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak and the World Health Organization deals with the spread in West Africa. On Thursday, U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to the area, Mike Stobbe reports, US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries. The advisory applies to nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has killed more than 700 people this year. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the warning, said “The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa” adding that Ebola is “a tragic, dreadful and merciless virus.” The purpose of the warning is to limit U.S. travelers use of overburdened hospitals and clinics for injuries or other illnesses. Stobbe reports that the outbreak has a 60 percent fatality rate so far with no vaccines or specific treatment available. The CDC has 20 staffers at U.S. airports and border crossing to evaluate any traveler showing signs of dangerous infectious diseases, and isolate them when necessary. The agency is prepared to increase that staffing if needed, he said. Back in West Africa, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said Friday that the outbreak is out of control but can be stopped, Tom Miles reports, Ebola Out Of Control But Can Be Stopped: WHO Chief. Chan told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry: “This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.” The death toll so far is at 729 including 60 healthcare workers and 1,323 cases overall. Chan added that “Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises. Moreover, public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.” The reason for the quick spread is due to cultural practices such as traditional burials and deep seated beliefs.

In Washington, while the CDC tackles a potential international debacle, President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday that the United States conducted torture in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attacks, the AOL article reports, Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’ After 9/11 And We Have To Take Responsibility For It. Obama said, “I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. We crossed the line and that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so we don’t do it in the future.” In addition, Obama told reporters at the White House that a Senate investigation into interrogation techniques used by thew CIA would be declassified in August. According to the new CIA Inspector General’s Office report, agency employees in 2009 hacked Senate computers used to compile the investigation leading many lawmakers on the Hill to call for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignations over the matter.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton confessed he could of killed Osama bin Laden, but decided against it due to the number of civilians who also would be killed just hours before the 9/11 attacks, Mollie Reilly reports, Bill Clinton, Hours Before 9/11 Attack, Said He ‘Could Have Killed’ Bin Laden. On Wednesday, Sky News host Paul Murray released a previously unreleased audio recording of Clinton talking to Australian businessmen on September 10, 2001: “Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once,” Clinton says in the tape, answering a question about terrorism. “I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.” The 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 identifies several operations targeting bin Laden in the 90s which prompted critics to accuse Clinton of not doing enough. During a 2006 interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton defended his administration’s efforts saying: “I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops [in Afghanistan] trying to kill him.”

Republicans Suing Obama and Visa Versa, Democrats Fight Republican Border Bill and the U.S. Government Hinders the Economy

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A divided House voted Wednesday 225 to 201 to approved a Republican plan to launch a campaign season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding his limit to constitutional authority, with only one day left before lawmakers go on their five week summer recess, according to the Associated Press, Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead. Five conservative republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the lawsuit: Reps. Paul Broun of Georgia, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Steve Stockman of Texas. No Democrats voted for it. Obama and other Democrats see the effort as a political stunt to appease conservative voters. The Republican legal action will focus on Obama’s implementation of his health care overhaul and prevent a further presidential power grab and how to enforce laws. John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared, “No member needs to be reminded about the bonds of trust that have been frayed or the damage that’s already been done to our economy and to our people. Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., address the Democrats claims that the lawsuit is frivolous: “What price do you place on the continuation of our system of checks and balances? What price do you put on the Constitution of the United States? My answer to each is ‘priceless.'” Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and other Democrats said the lawsuit was designed to encourage conservatives to votes in this November’s congressional elections and will go nowhere: “The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment.” In fact, the Democrats have already used that argument to garner campaign contributions with House Democrats emailing one fundraiser solicitation as debate was underway and another after the vote writing: “The GOP is chomping at the bit to impeach the president. We’ve got to get the president’s back.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “Impeachment is off the table. Why hasn’t the speaker said that.” On the road in Kansas City, Missouri, Obama called the lawsuit a distraction from public priorities saying, “Every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you.” He urged Republicans to “stop just hating all the time.” The Associated Press reports that Republicans accuse Obama of exceeding his power in a range of areas including “not notifying Congress before releasing five Taliban members from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, blocking the deportation of some children who are in the U.S. illegally and waiving some provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law.” Democrats say Obama has acted legally and used his authorities given to him as chief executive, while the timetable to file the suit has not been laid out by Republicans even though Obama leaves office in January of 2017. Meanwhile, Obama addressed supporters in Kansas City regarding the vote: “I know they’re not that happy that I’m president. I’ve only got a couple of years left. Come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president.”

It seems not only the Republicans have a beef to settle since the Obama administration decided Wednesday to join two ongoing suits against voting laws in Wisconsin and Ohio, according to the AOL article, Obama Administration Joins Suits Against GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions In Wisconsin, Ohio. In the filings, the Justice Department argues that a federal judge was right to strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law and Ohio is incorrectly interpreting its duties under the Voting Rights Act provision. Attorney General Eric Holder explained the filings in an interview with ABC earlier in the month saying in a statement Wednesday that they “are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy. These two states’ voting laws represent the latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken. These restrictive state laws threaten access to the ballot box. The Justice Department will never shrink from our responsibility to protect the voting rights of every eligible American. And we will keep using every available tool at our disposal to guard against all forms of discrimination, to prevent voter disenfranchisement, and to secure the rights of every citizen.” The Justice Department in an amicus brief filed in the 7th U.S. circuit Court of Appeals argues a federal judge correctly decided that Wisconsin’s voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act due to its discriminatory impact on black and Hispanic voters and violates the 14th amendment by placing unjustified burden on a large group of voters. In addition, DOJ lawyers argue that Ohio is mistaken about its duties under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In the year since the Supreme Court killed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act preventing certain states from changing their voting practices without clearance from the DOJ or federal court, the Department of Justice has used another portion of the act to oppose voting laws in North Carolina and Texas which are ongoing cases. In Wisconsin, the state is appealing a federal judge’s decision to strike down a GOP backed law imposing ID requirements on voters in the state, while the DOJ’s filing encourages the appeals court to look at the “totality of circumstances,” including examining whether “social, political, and historical conditions in Wisconsin hinder minorities’ political participation.” In Ohio, civil rights groups are challenging a law passed by the Republican led legislature earlier this year to eliminate a six day period for voters to register and cast an early ballot at the same time. Connected with a suit filed b the Obama campaign leading up to the 2012 elections, a federal judge ordered Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to restore early voting o the final three days ahead of the elections. However, the lawsuit DOJ got involved in Wednesday revolves around cuts made earlier this year which brought the total number of early voting days to 29 from 35.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are urging members to oppose a GOP authored bill to address the border crisis with Republican senators voicing their own opposition to the House bill and Senate Democratic alternative, Elise Foley and Sam Stein report, House Democrats Fighting Hard Against Republicans’ Border Bill. The Senate voted and passed, 63 to 33, a bill Wednesday to provide $2.7 billion to deal with the crisis of 57,500 unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally since October, while the House plans to vote Thursday on a package to provide $659 million in funding with a number of provision that most Democrats oppose. One Democratic leadership aide said, “We’re still in the process of talking to members, but it won’t be many [who vote for the bill].” On Tuesday in a statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., explained the opposition to the House plan: “We must have a heart, and look into our souls to guide us in our treatment of these desperate children. While we are reminded of the critical importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform, we must do so much more than the Republicans’ unjust and inhumane proposal.” The same day, Senate Republican Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama criticized the House bill saying, “That the House leaders’ border package includes no language on executive actions is surrender to a lawless president. And it is a submission to the subordination of congressional power.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested Tuesday that comprehensive immigration reform attached to the bill could scare many Republicans who are already wary of voting in favor, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to pass a bill before the August recess but remains uncertain. While the House struggles to get support for their bill, the Senate’s bill passed on Wednesday morning and now up for debate on legislation faces a huge hurdle among Democrats. The bill must get 60 votes to end the debate and amendment process, unfortunately, as of Wednesday morning, a Senate leadership aid said that do not expect to reach that goal. If nothing passes before the August recess, it would represent the political futility taking place in Congress and both sides would be open to political attacks. According to Foley and Stein, as of 3:40 p.m., the White House issued a formal veto threat Wednesday afternoon on the House Republicans’ funding bill for the border crisis:
“Republicans have had more than a year to comprehensively fix the Nation’s broken immigration system, but instead of working toward a real, lasting solution, Republicans released patchwork legislation that will only put more arbitrary and unrealistic demands on an already broken system. H.R. 5230 could make the situation worse, not better. By setting arbitrary timelines for the processing of cases, this bill could create backlogs that could ultimately shift resources away from priority public safety goals, like deporting known criminals. This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children which could result in their removal to life threatening situations in foreign countries. In addition, the limited resources provided in H.R. 5230 are not designated as emergency, but rather come at the expense of other Government functions.”

As the bickering seems to be at an all time high in Washington, the U.S. economy certainly reflects the lack of action and inappropriate spending done by government. While the U.S. economy has changed for the good and appears to be on an upswing, federal government spending seems to alway be the giant turd in the economy’s punch bowl, Mark Gongloff reports, The U.S. Government Has Hurt The Economy In 11 Of The Past 12 Quarters. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported on Wednesday that the U.S. gross domestic product grew at a 4 percent annualized rate in the second quarter which has drastically increased from a 2.1 percent GDP collapse in the first quarter. Everything was up in the quarter including consumer spending, business spending, housing, imports and exports, but federal government spending fell for the 7th quarter in a row. In fact, federal spending has cut into the GDP 11 out of the past 12 quarters meaning the U.S. government has dragged the economy for the past three years coinciding with congressional Republicans holding the government hostage in exchange for austerity measure. The big spending drags, according to Gongloff, began hitting the economy in the fourth quarter of 2010 when Republicans won control of the House of Representative which set the stage for the budget fights to come. However, all of this could change a month from now, but one thing remains constant which is the drag of weak federal spending.

The Immigration Issue, Americans Drowning in Debt and the McDonald’s Ruling

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While the immigration battle rages on between Congress and the White House, most Americans believe the wave of children crossing the border into the United States from Central America are refugees escaping the dangers at home and the United States should support those children while reviewing their cases and not deport them immediate, according to Cathy Lynn Grossmann, Most Americans Think U.S. Should Shelter Child Migrants Not Deport Them, Survey Says. A new survey released on Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute surveyed people from all points of view along the political and religious spectrum. The survey found that Democrats (80 percent), Independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway, while most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent). The survey sample, according to Grossmann, of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller groups such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said: “It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm. The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.” As a result, most Americans can make a “pretty clear distinction between the problem of the children arriving from Central America and the problem of illegal immigration in general.” While one in four Americans (27 percent) want the children to be deports due to illegal immigrant status, 69 percent feel they should be treated as refugees and along to remain in the United Stats if authorities determine it is not safe to return them to their homes. In addition, Grossmann reports, in the survey “the children are seen as fleeing violence and serious threats to their safety at home (45 percent), seeking better education and economic opportunities (34 percent) or both (14 percent).” Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) believe the children should be given shelter and support while there’s “a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.” Again while most (56 percent) say the families are “doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances,” 38 percent say those families are “taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country” and 26 percent or one in four want the children to be deported now. The situation in general is viewed as a crisis by 36 percent and 43 percent call it “a serious problem but not a crisis.”

Grossmann reports that the PRRI, in addition, asked what should be done about the situation, the breakdown is as follows:
* Most surveyed (71 percent) said the U.S. should offer “refuge and protection” for those who come to the U.S. “when they are facing serious danger in their home country.”
* 71 percent also mostly agree that these Central American children waiting for their cases to be heard “should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches rather than be detained by immigration authorities.” (Twenty-eight percent disagree.)
* However, only 39 percent would allow these children to stay for good while 59 percent don’t want them here long-term because it “will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”
In short, according to Grossmann, attitudes are becoming more polarized between those who see immigrants as an asset and those who see them as a burden. However, views on citizenship or permanent legal residency stay pretty much the same with 58 percent saying they would allow a path to citizenship, 17 percent would allow residency and 22 percent say “identify and deport them.” The overall survey happened via phone interviews with 1,026 adults, conducted in English and Spanish between July 23 and July 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Another study release on Tuesday by the Urban Institute found that more than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reports to collection agencies, Josh Boak reports Study: 35 percent in US facing debt collectors. Senior fellow at the Washington think tank, Caroline Ratcliffe said that consumers to fall behind on credit cards, hospital bills, mortgages, auto loans, student debt, past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency and potentially hurt credit scores and job prospects. Laying it all out, Ratcliffe explains: “Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections. It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.” The study found 35.1 percent of people with credit records have been reported to collections for an average debt of $5,178 based on September 2013 records. Boak comments that even while the country has reduced the size of its credit card debt, the share of Americans in collections has remained constant since the official end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. According to the American Bankers Association, credit card debt is at its lowest level in more than a decade as people increasingly pay off balances each month, while 2.44 percent of accounts are overdue 30 days or more versus the 15 year average of 3.82 percent. However the same percentage is still being reported for unpaid bills as reported by the Urban Institute study performed in conjunction with researchers from the Consumer Credit Research Institute. In all, this has reshaped the economy as the collections industry employs 140,000 workers who recover $50 billion each year as reported in a study published this year by the Federal Reserve’s Philadelphia bank branch. Boak notes the delinquent debt seems to be concentrated in Southern and Western states with Texas cities having a large share of their populations being reported to collections agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent). In addition, the study says, “Almost half of Las Vegas residents- many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession- have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.” Only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have debt at all, but high debt levels aren’t always delinquent with the large portion of the debt coming from mortgages. Unfortunately, stagnate incomes has led to why some parts of the country struggle with repaying debt, according to the Urban Institute’s Ratcliffe. Labor Department figures show that wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five year recovery and Wells Fargo figures show that after tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.

While the American continue to struggle to make ends meet, Carol Kopp reports, McDonald’s In The Frying Pan, the ruling by the New York regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could change the lives of million of low wage Americans and open the way for complaints blaming McDonald’s for low pay and poor working conditions in its restaurants. The ruling says the McDonald’s hamburger chain shares responsibility for workers’ wages and working conditions with the operators of its franchise restaurants allowing for 113 unfair labor practices complaints filed by franchise workers across the nation to include the chain, according to Micah Wissinger, an attorney for Levy Ratner which is the law firm representing New York City fast food workers. The “joint employer” designation could give future legal actions taken by workers more clout when seeking higher wages, better working conditions or protesting firing decisions. Mark Barenberg, a law professor at Columbia Law School says, “The determination from the NLRB’s General Counsel has the potential to upend the fast-food industry’s decades-long strategy of ‘out-sourcing’ legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers’ rights. Companies like McDonald’s insert an intermediary between themselves and workers, even though they’re manifestly in control of the franchisees’ employment decisions.” In addition, other hamburger chains like Burger King and other fast food brands like KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut can also be affected by this decision since all of these chains are owned by Yum! brand but operated by franchises. Richard Eiker has worked for McDonald’s in Kansas City for 30 years and says the company constantly monitors its franchises by tracking software, on-site inspections and visits from secret shoppers to monitor the operations. A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA told the Associated Press the company will appeal the decision. David French, senior vice president with the National Retail Federation, told the New York Times the decision is “outrageous” saying, “It is just further evidence that the N.L.R.B. has lost all credibility as a government agency established to protect workers and is now just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor, which has fought for this decision for a number of years as a means to more easily unionize entire companies and industries.” The issue came to the forefront by labor organizers backed by the United Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide protests in favor of higher wages and more stable work hours for fast-food employees, Kopp explains.

Ground Zero Workers Get Cancer, Soldier’s Home Demolished, VA Health Care Deal Reached and Democrats Cashing in on Impeachment

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Even though the events of 9/11 happened over a decade ago, the scars still remain for the families who lost loves ones and continues to threaten the lives of those who risked theirs to save others. An AOL article reports, Scary statistic about Ground Zero workers, more than 2,500 rescuers and responders have been diagnosed with cancer which is a significant increase from last year’s 1,140 cases, according to Mount Sinai Hospital’s World Trade Center Heath Program. In addition, scientist say workers also have increased rates of post traumatic stress disorder, asthma and other respiratory diseases compared to the rest of the population. The cancer is believed to be the result of exposure to toxic debris from the collapse of the Twin Towers that sent a smoke plume into the air causing air pollution experts to say the dust that floated around for months after the attack was toxic and carried more than 2,500 contaminants. The Victim Compensation Fund expects to receive more claims by the Oct. 14 deadline, meanwhile as of June 30, 1,150 are on the list and 800 eligible for compensation.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade county’s decision to demolish an active duty soldier’s home while he was training for deployment did not sit well with the district judge, AOL reports, Judge blasts Fla. county for demolishing soldier’s home. According to Fox News, “Jesus Jimenez was warned about code violations including exposed wires and a broken roof … he requested an extension to get those things fixed … the city claimed that active duty was not an excuse.” The Daily Mail reported that in 2011 the city knocked down Jimenez’s home where he, his five month pregnant wife, diabetic daughter, hearing-impaired brother and mother-in-law all lived leaving them homeless. Military.com explains that Jimenez requested a stay to postpone the demolition four years earlier citing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law “intended to postpone or suspend certain civil obligations to enable service members to devote full attention to duty and relieve stress on the family members.” However, Miami-Dade county said the act did not apply to him because he was a reservist at the time of the request and the original request was for 90 days only. During the four years, he was training, deployed or sometimes home. Unfortunately, now that the case has reached U.S. District Judge Robert N, Scola Jr., the county’s excuse for the demolition doesn’t fly, the Ledger reports. The Miami Herald reports that in Scola’s order he wrote the county had missed the point saying: “Plaintiffs’ behavior was by no means perfect … but by enforcing the [Servicemembers Act], this Court has vindicated a national policy of high priority.” If a settlement is not reached, a trial is set for September to decide what Miami-Dade country owes Jimenez.

While this injustice is being corrected, in Washington D.C., Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference Monday to outline their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the veteran health care system. According to Matthew Daly, House-Senate negotiators approve $17B VA bill, a bipartisan deal to improve the broken veterans’ health system would authorize $17 billion to fix the scandalized health program. The House and Senate negotiators approved the bill to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs and reform the program scandalized by long waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays. The 28 member conference committee vote on late Monday sends the bill for a full House and Senate vote where approval is expected later this week. The bill is suppose to help veterans avoid long wait times, hire more doctors and nurses to treat them and make it easier to fire executives at the VA. The funding includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain care outside, $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medial staff and $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country. The Senate, meanwhile, is et to vote Tuesday to confirm Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary replacing Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson. Lawmakers hope to send the VA reform bill to the prsident later this week. Miller and Sanders say the bill will require $12 billion in new spending after accounting for $5 billion in unspecified cuts from the VA’s budget. On Monday, Miller said: “Taking care of our veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and our members understand that. The VA has caused this problem and one of the ways that we can help solve it is to give veterans a choice, a choice to stay in the system or a choice to go out of the system” to get government-paid health care from a private doctor. Before a House vote later this week, Miller said: “Obviously some of our members will need a little more educating than others.” Sanders added: “Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who fight our battles.” Miller and Sanders expect the bill to pass at the end of the week before Congress leaves for a five week recess. If passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, the veterans’ bill would be one of the few significant bills signed into law this year, Daly reports. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama welcomes the bipartisan deal as “much-needed reforms that need to be implemented.” According to Daly: “The compromise measure would require the VA to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live at least 40 miles from one of them. Only veterans who are enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away would be eligible to get outside care.”

While Congress’ bipartisan spirit for now seems to be alive and well, House Democrats are profiting in a big way due to House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement of a lawsuit. According to their campaign chief on Tuesday, House Democrats have raised $1 million on Monday alone due to the chatter about impeaching President Barack Obama and the announcement of a lawsuit against Obama that opened the door to the fundraising drive, Philip Elliott reports, Democrats have million-dollar day on impeachment. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel told reports that ,since Boehner announced in June his plan to sue the president, Democrats’ House campaign arm raised $7.6 million. At a breakfast organized by Christian Science Monitor, Israel said: “I understand the strategy is intended to gin up its base. Every time they talk about suing the president, that just ignites our base.” However, Boehner called the talk a “scam” and his party has “no plans” to open impeachment proceedings concluding that Democrats are the ones fueling the talk. Since January 2013, House Democrats have raised almost $125 million this election cycle. The average donation, according to Israel, was just $19. On Sunday, Democrats in an email solicitation said: “The fate of Obama’s presidency is at stake.” On the other hand, Boehner says: “This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s elections. It’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Republicans will likely keep their House majority after November’s elections due to redrawn congressional district that favor the GOP and the fact both parties are contesting only a few seats. Even so, the parties’ House campaign committees have already raised $226 million as of July 1. Republicans hold 234 seats in the House and Democrats have 199 seats with two vacancies available.