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HeadlinesAugust 03, 2011

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Obama Signs Debt Law Following Senate Passage

Aug 03, 2011

President Obama has signed into law the bipartisan measure to raise the federal debt ceiling in return for over $2.1 trillion in budget cuts. Obama held a signing ceremony shortly after the Senate gave its approval in a 74-to-26 vote, following House passage one day before. A new joint congressional committee will be mandated to oversee cuts of more than $2.1 trillion in government spending over 10 years, with automatic reductions in place should Congress reject the panel’s proposals. In a speech, Obama called for a “balanced approach” in slashing the deficit.

President Obama: “This compromise requires that both parties work together on a larger plan to cut the deficit, which is important for the long-term health of our economy. And since you can’t close the deficit with just spending cuts, we’ll need a balanced approach, where everything is on the table.”

The deal includes no new tax revenue from wealthy Americans and no additional stimulus for the lagging economy. Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Republicans for blocking a tax hike on the wealthy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “The vast majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans think this arrangement we’ve just done is unfair, because the richest of the rich have contributed nothing to this. The burden of what has taken place is on the middle class and the poor. My friend talks about no new taxes. Mr. President, if their theory was right, these huge tax [cuts] that took place during the Bush eight years, the economy should be thriving. These tax cuts have not helped the economy.”

Mubarak, Sons Make First Court Appearance Since Ouster

Aug 03, 2011

Former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has appeared in court for the first time to face allegations of corruption and the killing of protesters during the uprising that overthrew his rule. Mubarak arrived at the Cairo court on a hospital stretcher, which was brought into a caged area inside the courtroom. Appearing with his sons, Gamal and Alaa, Mubarak denied all charges against him. The trial is being broadcast live on Egyptian television. Large crowds have gathered outside the courtroom and across Cairo to witness the proceedings.

U.N.: Horn of Africa Crisis Threatens 12.4 Million

Aug 03, 2011

The United Nations is warning the food crisis in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa has grown to threaten more than 12.4 million people. Aid groups continue to plead for donations as funding continues to lag. Less than half of a $2.5 billion U.N. appeal has been met. On Tuesday, a UNICEF spokesperson urged international airlines to help carry aid to starving children.

Marixie Mercado: “The funding situation is dire for the Horn of Africa. UNICEF has a funding gap of over $200 million out of its $314 million appeal. There are over 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa. More than half a million will die if they do not get help within weeks. With therapeutic feeding, a child can fully recuperate in a matter of four to six weeks. We are asking the air transport industry for free or heavily discounted airline cargo space to transport this therapeutic food to children who will die without it.”

U.S. to Ease Terror Restrictions to Free Up Somalia Aid

Aug 03, 2011

The Obama administration has announced it will ease terror restrictions that have slowed aid in areas controlled by the militant group, al-Shabab. Aid groups have been forced to scale back operations in some of the most devastated areas out of concerns they could face prosecution if goods are diverted to al-Shabab hands.

Syrian Troops Continue Crackdown in Hama

Aug 03, 2011

Syrian forces continue attacks on the restive city of Hama amidst an escalating offensive against pro-democracy protests. An estimated 140 people have been killed in attacks by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since Saturday. The U.N. Security Council convened a lengthy session on the crisis in Syria on Tuesday but failed to reach an agreement.

Record-Level Radiation Detected at Stricken Japanese Plant

Aug 03, 2011

Record-high levels of radiation have been discovered at Japan’s earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant. The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi facility says radiation levels reached at least 10 sieverts per hour between the plant’s number one and number two reactors, up from a previous record of three to four sieverts per hour. Three workers were reportedly exposed to dangerous levels while monitoring the radiation.

Iraq Authorizes Talks on Prolonging U.S. Occupation

Aug 03, 2011

The Iraqi government has authorized talks on keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond a withdrawal deadline at the end of the year. On Tuesday, the top U.S. military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, said any agreement to extend the U.S. occupation will require the Iraqi government to grant U.S. soldiers full immunity.

Adm. Mike Mullen: “That kind of an agreement, which would include privileges and immunities for our American men and women in uniform, will need to go through the core. I believe they also understand that time is quickly running out for us to be able to consider any other course. My government has made it clear that we would entertain a request for some troops to stay.”

NATO: Avoiding Afghan Civilian Casualties “Secondary”

Aug 03, 2011

Newly released documents show NATO forces have prioritized the avoidance of so-called “friendly fire” incidents in Afghanistan more than reducing killings of Afghan civilians. According to The Independent of London, a British military panel concluded that “avoidance of collateral damage, or neutracide, is a secondary consideration,” with “the primary focus … improving operational effectiveness, while reducing the risk of fratricide.” In the latest known attack, five Afghan children were wounded last week in a bombing from a British attack helicopter.

U.S., Afghan, Pakistan Officials Hold Trilateral Talks

Aug 03, 2011

On Tuesday, top officials from the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan met in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for trilateral talks. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawid Lodin said his government continues to push for reconciliation with the Taliban.

Jawid Lodin: “We have a pretty good understanding of the Taliban leadership and who they are and at various levels. Now, some of them we have identified, we have even contacts with, but really the majority of the ones that really need to be brought into the peace process are the ones that we need to establish contact with.”

Members of U.S.-Backed Guatemalan Death Squad Convicted for 1982 Massacre

Aug 03, 2011

In Guatemala, four soldiers have been convicted for the 1982 massacre of more than 200 villagers by a U.S.-backed death squad. The case marks the first time members of Guatemala’s armed forces have been convicted for the Dos Erres massacre. The victims included women and children who were strangled, beaten with sledgehammers, and thrown down a well. The soldiers, members of a unit called the Kaibiles, were sentenced to 30-year prison terms for each of the 201 known victims, for a total of 6,060 years. After the sentencing, a relative of one of the victims celebrated the landmark verdict.

Silvia Escobar: “We all feel happy. Everyone from Dos Erres feels happy because we got what we wanted, so there will be justice for these people who did not have compassion for all those people—children, elderly, innocent people, hard-working—who they killed.”

A former Guatemalan soldier deported from the United States last month is expected to stand trial for the massacre in the coming weeks.

Thousands Protest for West Papuan Independence

Aug 03, 2011

Thousands of people rallied in West Papua on Tuesday to call for independence from Indonesia after more than 40 years. The rallies came amidst escalating violence that has seen 21 people killed over the past week.

News International Executive Arrested in Hacking Probe

Aug 03, 2011

Another top executive at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News International has been arrested in connection with the phone-hacking scandal at the now-shuttered News of the World. Former News of the World managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, is the eleventh Murdoch staffer to be detained. Mark Lewis, an attorney for alleged phone-hacking victims, said Kuttner could face questioning over payments to British police.

Mark Lewis: “I’m sure the police will want to know what payments were made. Look, if there were cash payments, he would have had to have some explanation given to him as to what they related to. They might, of course, though nothing is proven against him, and there might be proper explanations for them, but I think those explanations will be requested, questions will be asked of him.”

U.S. Hit with Record-Breaking Drought

Aug 03, 2011

Parts of the United States have endured a record-level drought, leading to widespread crop losses and water shortages. The ongoing dryness has covered the largest amount of U.S. territory since the National Drought Mitigation Center began keeping records 12 years ago. Nearly 18 percent of the United States is experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, and experts say the problem is likely to get worse. Southern states, including South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, have been the hardest hit.

Vets With PTSD Settle Health Benefits Lawsuit

Aug 03, 2011

A group of disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit over the denial of medical care after being discharged for post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. government has agreed to grant the group of more than 1,000 former troops lifetime disability retirement benefits.

Congress Adjourns Without Resolution to FAA Stalemate

Aug 03, 2011

Congress has failed to resolve a budget impasse that has left thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees out of work for nearly two weeks. The House and Senate began a five-week recess on Tuesday without coming to an agreement on FAA funding. The stalemate centers around money for rural airports, but Republicans have also attempted to alter rules on labor elections in the airline industry. Tens of thousands of construction workers have been forced to halt work on airport construction projects, and dozens of airport inspectors are working without pay. Although the stalemate could extend through Labor Day, the federal government insists passenger safety is not at risk.

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