2013-06-28 19:33:28

Thom Hartmann on the News: June 28, 2013

You need to know this.  On Thursday, the United States Senate approved its so-called comprehensive immigration bill.  It is the first significant attempt to fix out broken immigration system in over 25 years, and it includes a long-awaited path to citizenship.  Senate Democrats passed the measure with the support of 14 Republicans, and the crowd in the Senate chamber erupted in chants of “Yes we can.”  While many are cheering the bill as a breakthrough in the immigration debate, which has been stalled for years, others are concerned about new border security measures in the proposal.  Those provisions – dubbed the “border surge” - include 20,000 new border agents, 700 new miles of fencing, and electronic surveillance of our southern border.  The price tag for these increased security measures is nearly $40 billion dollars.  Lawmakers also included a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which will be implemented once border security measure are in place.  Some immigration advocates are calling the security provisions extreme and expensive, while others explain that the measures were necessary to gain Republican support.  Now that the Senate has approved their version, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will start working on their own version of immigration reform, which could include even more extreme security measures, and remove any path to citizenship.  Immigration advocates are worried that the House Republicans will purposely include controversial measures, in an effort to doom the bill to failure.  Millions of Americans and undocumented immigrants are watching this effort closely, and are remaining hopeful that Congress will finally fix our broken immigration system.

In screwed news... Last-minute attempts to stop student loan interest rates from doubling failed to meet the July 1st deadline.  On the last day of the legislation session before the July 4th break, Democratic Senators introduced a bill to give lawmakers another year to come up with a long-term solution for student loans.  However, their attempt was unsuccessful.  They will attempt to work on the issue retroactively, when Congress returns on July 10th.  Currently, the student loan interest rate is 3.4% percent, but it is only days away from doubling to 6.8 percent.  With millions of students already struggling to meet loan obligations, the higher interest rate will greatly increase their burden.  Students and their families have been watching this effort for months, and they're hoping that some how, Congress can pull it off after the break.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Just days after the Supreme Court sided with equality in two landmark gay-marriage cases, the Court rejected to hear two more cases involving same-sex couples.  The Justices declined to review an appeals court ruling, which struck down an Arizona law that blocked same-sex spouses of state employees from received domestic partnership benefits.  So, the lower court's ruling stands, and same-sex partners are entitled to those benefits.  The Supreme Court also declined to hear a challenge to Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage, which means the case will be argued in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has previously ruled in favor of same-sex couples in other cases – specifically, the Prop 8 case.  The Supreme Court's decisions to decline these cases do not have the sweeping impact of the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings, however they are victories for equality advocates, and they are more evidence that our nation is slowly moving down the path to full equality.

On Wednesday, a healthcare activist in Pennsylvania was arrested for exercising his right to free speech.  As that state is considering legislation to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which Republican Governor Tom Corbett has said he won't support, activists gathered to put pressure on lawmakers and the Governor.  An activist by the name of AJ Marin was arrested for writing the message “Corbett has healthcare. We should too.”, in chalk on the sidewalk outside the Governor's mansion.  He was charged with disorderly conduct for writing a “derogatory remark about the governor.”  Pointing out the fact that Governor Corbett has healthcare – which is paid for by the taxpayers – is far from derogatory, but that's beside the point.  Mr. Marin has the Constitutional right to protest, and to speak out against his government.  Political speech is one of our most fundamental rights, and it is one that must be protected.

Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said Hobby Lobby may have the right to deny employees access to reproductive healthcare.  In an unanimous ruling, the Tenth Circuit directed the lower court to hear Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction to block parts of Obamacare.  The craft store has attempted to claim a religious exemption, which would allow it to deny insurance coverage of certain forms of birth control.  The new ruling will allow Hobby Lobby to avoid government fines while challenging the requirement to provide birth control they say violates their religious beliefs.  A spokeswoman for the group representing Hobby lobby called the ruling a “resounding victory for religious freedom,” but Barry Lynn of American United for Separation of Church and State said, “This isn't religious freedom; it's the worst kind of religious oppression.”

And finally… This Fourth of July, the city of Kirkland, Washington will take careful steps to avoid a conflict of national symbols.  The city has announced they are moving their annual fireworks display from its usual location, to ensure that a pair of baby bald eagles is not bothered by noise.  To ensure the eaglets aren't startled, Kirkland is moving their pyrotechnics display a half-mile from the nest.  The city has also opted to use a more visual fireworks display to further reduce the noise, and will set up an observation site to allow visitors to sneak a peak at the tiny American emblems.  Apparently, just because eagles and fireworks are both symbols of American pride, it's not wise for them to share the same sky.

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