Tentative Debt Limit Deal Reached

President Obama and congressional leaders said Sunday they have reached a tentative, two-step deal to increase the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, cut future government spending and avert an unprecedented default. “We’re not done yet,” Obama said in an 8:40 p.m. announcement to reporters at the White House. The deal reached by Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, Obama said, would first cut nearly $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years while raising the debt ceiling by the same amount. The debt ceiling would not need to be raised again until 2013. Congress must approve the deal and Obama must sign it by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to stop the U.S. government from defaulting on its debts. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told House Republicans about the deal and his support for it in a conference call. “Now listen, this isn’t the greatest deal in the world,” Boehner said. “But it shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town.”

Other elements include: the creation by Congress of a committee to develop other debt reductions, including tax reform as well as changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The committee would be required to report back by Nov. 23. The panel would be charged with reducing the debt by another $1.4 trillion over 10 years; a second debt ceiling increase of up to $1.4 trillion. Congress reserves the right to disapprove of the second debt-ceiling increase, but the president can veto such an action; votes in the House and Senate on a balanced-budget amendment if the committee can’t reach an agreement, or if Congress rejects its recommendations. If the committee fails to reach an agreement, automatic spending cuts split 50/50 between domestic and defense spending will kick in starting in 2013. Automatic cuts would fall on programs important to both Republicans (defense cuts) and Democrats (health spending). Any potential Medicare cutbacks would affect providers, not beneficaries.

  • A minor victory on the road to economic disaster – too little, too late

Double-Dip Recession Risk Increasing

The economy is at risk of slipping into another recession. It nearly stalled in the first six months of the year, the government reported Friday. Economic growth was feeble in the second quarter and practically non-existent in the first. The new picture of an economy far weaker than most analysts had expected suddenly made a second recession a more serious threat — and the threat will rise if Congress can’t reach a deal to raise the government’s debt limit. The dismal second-quarter report led economists to reduce their estimates for growth in the second half of the year to 2%. The economy must grow at a 2.5 percent annual rate to keep the unemployment rate from rising and at a 5 percent rate to bring unemployment down significantly.

Global Islamic Upheaval Takes Toll on Christians

With new global Islamic upheaval taking place, Christians are paying the price – often with their lives. But because the murder and mayhem takes place in closed societies, the world remains, for the most part, clueless. “First Comes Saturday, Then Comes Sunday” is the award-winning documentary by Pierre Rehov, a French filmmaker known for going where the action is – especially in the dangerous Middle East. The documentary reports that some 2 million Christians have fled or been forced out of the region in the past 20 years. This Christian exodus is a result of many factors, including the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, the related decline of the economy, but perhaps most significantly, the religious persecution these Christians encounter from their Muslim neighbors. “First Comes Saturday, Then Comes Sunday” is a well known sentence in the Middle East meaning : “First we take care of the Jews (who pray on Saturday) then we will take care of Christians,” the “Sunday people.”

30 Days of Prayer for the Persecuted During Ramadan

Open Doors USA is offering a prayer calendar to use with Christians in Muslim countries during the month-long Islamic fast called Ramadan that begins Aug. 1. Open Doors urges Christians in the West to pray, and the calendar has multiple prayer points designed to guide their prayers. “Ramadan is a time when Christians are especially isolated in some Muslim-dominated countries,” says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. “This is why it is so important for us to unite in prayer with persecuted Christians throughout the world. I urge you to use the Open Doors resources to pray with our brothers and sisters.”

Homeland Security Surveils Christian Website

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun watching a blog posted by a Christian who was forced to flee Brazil because of the conflict between that nation’s pro-homosexual “hate crimes” agenda and his advocacy for traditional marriage. Exactly why the U.S. government, which several times has linked Christians and conservatives with terrorism, is watching Julio Severo’s unabashedly Christian Last Days Watchman blog isn’t clear. WorldNetDaily reports that several prominent Christian leaders warn that similar crackdowns could be coming in the U.S. because of the federal “hate crimes” bill signed by Obama shortly after he took office.

Crimes Against LGBT Victims is Up

Violent crimes, including murder, increased last year against people identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), and people of color among those groups were most likely to be targeted. A report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a group that supports victims of anti-LGBT harassment, found: Hate incidents against LGBT people and HIV-affected persons increased 13% from 2009 to 2010; Murders of LGBT people numbered 27, the second-highest total recorded; Half of victims did not report the crimes to police, and 61% of victims who did said they experienced indifferent or abusive police attitudes; Offenders were mostly strangers, white and non-transgender men.

  • As the LGBT agenda becomes more aggressive, extreme reactions are provoked. While we oppose their political justification of sinful behavior, we must love them not hate them or commit violence. The Bible teaches that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13)

NASA’S Environmental Cleanup Could Take Decades

NASA spent decades to send men to the moon, launch the space shuttles and build a laboratory in space, and now it will take a century to clean up the chemical messes left behind. Plumes of carcinogenic chemicals used in the launching of the space shuttles, Apollo moon shots and other rockets seeped deep into sandy soils beneath launch pads and other structures at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. They form viscous toxic goo that will take $1 billion in cleanup costs over many decades, and could bog down funding for next-generation spacecraft.

Economic News

The economy expanded at meager rate of 1.3% annual rate in the spring after scarcely growing at all in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Friday. The combined growth for the first six months of the year was the weakest since the recession ended. The government revised the January-March figures to show just 0.4% growth.

The Institute for Supply Management, in a widely watched report, said its manufacturing index fell 4.4 percentage points, to 50.9 in July. A reading above 50 indicates the manufacturing sector is expanding. Monday’s number showed expansion slowing to almost neutral. In a second report, the government reported Monday that construction spending posted a third monthly gain in June but remains at depressed levels.

July proved to be a blockbuster month for used sales, CNW Research reports. They rose 13.5%, making it the best July since 2005. Detroit brands represented 62.3.% of used vehicles sold in July with Asian brands’ share at 26.3%. European models came in at 11.4%, CNW says.

Iraq

Frequent bombings, assassinations and a resurgence in violence by Shiite militias have made Iraq more dangerous now than it was just a year ago, a U.S. government watchdog concludes in a report released Saturday. The findings come during what U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr. called “a summer of uncertainty” in Baghdad over whether American forces will stay past a year-end withdrawal deadline and continue military aid for the unstable nation. The report cited the deaths of 15 U.S. soldiers in June, the bloodiest month for the U.S. military in Iraq in two years. Nearly all of them were killed in attacks by Shiite militias bent on forcing out American troops on schedule. It also noted an increase in rockets launched against the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, where government offices and foreign embassies are located, as well as constant assassination attempts against Iraqi political leaders, security forces and judges.

Afghanistan

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has until mid-October to submit a plan for the initial withdrawal of American troops, decisions that may hinge in part on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through the holy month of Ramadan. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says commanders are hearing that Taliban leaders may leave their fighters in the country to try to regain lost ground during the Islamic holy period which begins Monday. A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday at the gate of the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 people in a city where Afghans have recently taken control of security.

Pakistan

Gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying minority Shiite Muslims in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing 11 of them in a sectarian attack. Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence. Although most majority Sunnis and Shiites live peacefully together, small extremist groups on both sides often target each other’s leaders and activists.

Iran

The Obama administration accused Iran on Thursday of entering into a “secret deal” with an al-Qaida offshoot that provides money and recruits for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Treasury Department designated six members of the unit as terrorists subject to U.S. sanctions. Treasury said its exposure of the clandestine agreement would disrupt al-Qaida operations by shedding light on Iran’s role as a “critical transit point” for money and extremists reaching Pakistan and Afghanistan. Treasury said a branch headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil was operating in Iran with the Tehran government’s blessing, funneling funds collected from across the Arab world to al-Qaida’s senior leaders in Pakistan.

Egypt

Tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo’s central Tahrir Square for a rally Friday that turned into a show of force for ultraconservative Salafi Muslims and other Islamists in their growing rift with liberal activists. In one of the largest crowds to fill the square since the popular uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, Salafis chanted for the implementation of strict Islamic law — spurring accusations that they violated an agreement to keep the rally free from divisive issues. The decision by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political force, and other Islamist groups to participate significantly boosted the turnout. But the Islamists’ participation also highlighted the growing rift between them and liberal activists.

Libya

Libya’s rebels overran the base of a rogue faction suspected of breaking pro-Gadhafi fighters out of an opposition prison, escalating concerns of cracks in the rebel movement following the death of their chief military commander. NATO warplanes bombed Libyan state TV satellite transmitters in Tripoli because they were being used to incite violence and threaten civilians, the military alliance said Saturday, but state TV was still on the air in Tripoli on Saturday morning. NATO said the airstrikes aimed to degrade Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s “use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them.”

Syria

Almost 140 people have died in Syria over the weekend after the army stormed the city of Hama, a center of protest, to smash dissent on the eve of the holy observance of Ramadan, Al-Jazeera reports. The Syrian army raided cities across the country before dawn Sunday. The government is escalating its crackdown on protests calling for President Bashar Assad’s ouster ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday. Activists expect anti-government demonstrations to escalate during Ramadan. Syrian troops fired live ammunition and tear gas on tens of thousands of protesters calling for the regime’s ouster in several cities around the country Friday. The protests, which have become a weekly ritual following Friday prayers, came hours after a bomb blast struck a major oil pipeline in western Syria, causing oil to spill into a nearby lake.

Yemen

Clashes between Yemeni soldiers and armed tribesmen in a mountainous region north of the capital killed at least 40 people. The fighting in the Arhab region is one example of the wider security collapse across Yemen since the outbreak of a massive uprising seeking to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh six months ago. Armed tribesmen are battling security forces in Arhab, the southern city of Taiz and elsewhere, while militants believed to be linked to al-Qaida have overrun entire towns in the impoverished country’s restive south.

Somalia

African Union and Somali militants traded barrages of fire at a new front line in Mogadishu on Friday, as AU forces gained new territory. The country’s president appealed for more international aid, saying the government can’t feed all the overwhelming number of Somalis suffering from famine. The African Union military force fears that Islamist al-Shabab militants may try to attack the camps that now house tens of thousands of famine refugees in the Somali capital, disrupting the distribution of food aid.

China

Police shot dead four people Sunday in China’s far northwest, bringing to 11 the death toll in weekend violence in one of the country’s most troubled ethnic regions. Xinijang region has been on edge since nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between Uighurs and Han Chinese in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital. Xinjiang has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland.

India

Hundreds gathered in India’s capital on Sunday to protest sexual violence against women. The event condemned the notion widely held in this traditional society that a woman’s appearance can explain or excuse rape and sexual harassment. In India, public sexual taunting or even groping of women — locally known as “Eve teasing” — is common. Despite rapid modernization in its big cities, India’s attitudes toward women are still largely patriarchal. The incidence of rapes and sexual attacks on women are high. The marchers carried placards that said, “Change your thinking not your clothes” and “Our life, our body, our rights.”

Volcanoes

Mount Etna volcano on the island of Sicily in southern Italy is putting on a dazzling display with its fourth and biggest eruption Sunday. The latest fireworks come after six months of calm. No casualties or damage to property have been reported.

Weather

Thousands of farmers are counting their losses amid record heat and drought this year. The drought has spread over much of the southern U.S., leaving Oklahoma the driest it has been since the 1930s and setting records from Louisiana to New Mexico. But the situation is especially severe in Kansas and Texas, which trails only California in agricultural productivity. Ranchers in parts of Kansas are hauling their spring cattle to auction barns because a drought and the brutal heat have made it difficult to provide the water and hay needed to keep the animals healthy. The hot, dry weather has dried up ponds and pastures. Some areas of southwest Kansas haven’t received a good rain for more than a year.

About 70% of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near complete crop failure or there’s no food for grazing livestock. Thousands of acres of crops have failed in areas where farmers rely on rain, while those grown with irrigation continue to struggle. Already, more than 2 million acres of cotton that’s not irrigated has been lost.

July was a scorcher. High temperatures in communities across the USA broke or tied records 2,676 times, almost double the number (1,444) of a year ago, the National Weather Service reports. Temperatures in Newark, N.J., set an all-time record of 108. Highs in Atlantic City, N.J., topped 105 for two straight days. Washington endured its hottest July since 1871. In Oklahoma City, temps topped 100 for 27 of the last 30 days of July. Dallas/Fort Worth is enduring its second longest stretch of consecutive 100-plus days at 30, closing in on the record of 42 in 1980. August is unlikely to offer much relief, forecasters say. The heat wave anchored over the Central and Southern Plains states, including drought-stricken Texas, is capped by a colossal vault of high pressure that has locked out cooler air currents from Canada.

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