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.”

Equality in America: Ding, Dong, DOMA’s Dead? Maybe…

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While the debate inside the High Court continues, things heated up outside the court and across the nation. Of course no event would be complete without the Westboro Baptist Church. The Supreme Court is considering the constitutional challenge to the Federal Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday and the debate has drawn protestors for the second day in a row even members of the fringe anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church who flanked two couples with their offensive, homophobic signs but kudos to couples for not letting their hate filled rants effect their public display of affection. Bravo! The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether Congress can withhold federal benefits from legally wed gay couples by defining marriage as a man and woman. Even former President Bill Clinton has called for the Supreme Court to overturn the law he signed as he believes that the Defense of Marriage Act is incompatible with the Constitution according to the Associated Press. He signed the law in 1996 to avoid legislation that would have been worse. In a Washington Post op-ed, Clinton writes society has changed and realizes that the law discriminates against gays and provides an excuse for other to do so too. The Obama administration stopped defending it as well as the Supreme Court will be the final say on what happens to the bill as well as California’s ban on gay marriage.

As the tensions rise outside the High Court, the U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday morning questioned the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and woman. and whether the decision is really up to them or not. This is the second day the High Court heard arguments with the main issue on Wednesday dealing with the United States v. Windsor and whether it was constitutional for the government not to recognize same sex marriages that have been recognized by the states. Justice Antohony Kennedy said Tuesday that children of same sex coupes “want their parents to have full recognition and legal status” had a hard time accepting that DOMA refuses to recognize those same sex unions recognized by the state according to Huff Post. Kennedy believes that DOMA does cause injury to these couples whose marriages are not recognized by the federal government but the state. Seciton 3 of DOMA, at issue on Wednesday reports Huff Post states “the word marriage means only a legal union between a man and woman as husband and wife” for the purpose of “any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States.”

The Plaintiff, Edie Windsor, 83, brought suit against the federal government after the IRS cited DOMA to deny her a refund for the $363,000 in federal estate taxes paid following the death of Thea Spyer in 2009 who was her partner for 40 years reports Huff Post. Windsor and Spyer married in 2007 in Canada and lived in New York. Windsor argues that she would have been eligible for the estate tax exemption had Spyer been a man therefore DOMA’s Section 3 violates her equal protection rights under the Fifth Amendment. Two of the justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kennedy, seem to side with Windsor with Ginsburg stating that DOMA creates two types of marriages likening same sex marriage to the skim milk version of straight marriage while Kennedy struggled to determine whether or not the federal government can regulate marriage. Solicitor Genral Donald Verrilli, representing the Obama administration ont he merits of the case chose to emphasize COngress’ discriminatory purposes in 1996 stating the law “is not called Federal Uniform Definition of Marriage Act. It’s called the Defense of Marriage Act.” Justice Elena Kegan shared simliar sentiments as she told Clement, defending DOMA on behalf of the House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, “that maybe Congress had something different in mind than uniformity” in the definition of marriage reading from the House Report which said DOMA was a reflection of Congress’ “collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

Therefore, the key to this case may lie in whether the law singles out gays and lesbians through “heightened scrutiny” where a measure singles out politically disfavored and less powerful groups. Chief Justice Roberts along this line focused on the change in public opinion regarding gay marriage and how it happened unless gay and lesbian Americans had significant political power as it seems politicians are falling over themselves to support it. The main question on his mind was why did President Barack Obama enforce it for so long if he thought it was unconstitutional. Clement commented that 10 years from now the nine states don’t have gay marriage will be force by federal government to recognize these unions. According to Huff Post, after Wednesday’s oral arguments the case may be about whether or not the justices have the power to hear the case at all. In United States v. Windsor, the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit declared DOMA unconstitutional while the Obama administration agree Roberts asked Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, arguing for the Obama administration, whether there was any cases where all parties agreed with the decision below, but the court upheld its ability to hear it. Clement on Wednesday faced some serious questioned from the Supreme Court’s liberal wing on why the House had any legal interest in represent the position that has been abandoned by everyone involved with DOMA especially the executive branch. As Justice Stephen Breyer commented, ” How is this case any different from enforcing general powers of the United States.” The fight will continue as so many things remain uncertain.

Party Like a Rockstar: Living Large on Taxpayer’s Tab

With the sequester and possible government shut down if Congress cannot get their act together, do we really need to worry about what happens after a president leaves office? Well it would be a good idea considering the taxpayers continue to pay their salary long after they leave office plus they keep a lot of the perks they had while in office. Who pays for all this? You guess it…the taxpayer. As the Associated Press reports being the leader of the free world can be an expensive proposition and doesn’t stop once you leave office as the government spent $3.7 million on former presidents in 2012 according to a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The total includes pensions, compensation and benefits for office staff, and the cost for travel, office space and postage. The costliest former president last year was George W. Bush who racked up $1.3 million. Now all things consider, $3.7 million shelled out in 2012 by taxpayers is a drop in the bucket when you consider the country spends trillions of dollars each year, but the fact these men can command large sums for book deals, speaking engagement and the like the report raises the question should these ex leaders receive such generosity when the country is facing cut backs and cutting much needed programs.

Under the Former Presidents Act, previous presidents are given an annual pension equivalent to a Cabinet secretary’s salary of $200,000 last year plus $96,000 a year for a small office staff. Presidents on their way out also get a little extra help their first year after they leave office which is why Bush’s cost were higher than others in 2012 as he was granted $400,000 for 8,000 square feet of office space on Dallas plus $85,000 in telephone costs and $60,000 for travel. Bill Clinton came in second with just under $1 million and followed by George H.W. Bush at nearly $850,000. Clinton spent most of his government money on office space in New York’s Harlem neighborhood for his 8,300 square foot digs at a price of $442,000. The only other living president, Jimmy Carter, came in around $500,000. Of course the buck doesn’t stop there as former president’s windows are entitled to pensions of $20,000 except Nancy Reagan who waived her pension last year but did take $14,000 in postage. The costs do not include the protection that former presidents are entitled to as well as their spouses and children. These costs are part of a separate budget that is not public reports the Associate Press.

The funding of ex-presidents came under the Former Presidents Act back to 1958 when Congress created the program to help President Harry Truman post White House financial woes according to the Congressional Research Service. The goal was to maintain the dignity of the presidency and help with ongoing costs such as correspondence and scheduling requests. These days though many of the former president’s incomes come from speaking and writing as well as presidential centers and foundations who accept donations and facilitate many of their post presidential activities according to Associated Press. Why has no one challenged it? Saddest part is someone has. Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah has noted that none of the living presidents are poor so in response to this introduced a bill last year to limit the cost to $200,000 pension plus another $200,000 for discretionary spending and for every dollar made above $400,000 their annual allowance will be reduced by the same amount. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee. The government can’t agree on anything but what they can agree on is spending more… go figure. Washington needs to get its priorities straight as many people are suffering the consequences of their spending and especially cutting of necessary programs.