student loans

President Biden To Forgive $7.4 Billion In Student Loan Debt For More Than 270,000 Borrowers

President Biden’s administration announced last week that it will be using existing student loan forgiveness programs to cancel more student loan debt. They’re planning on forgiving $7.2 billion for around 277,000 borrowers, according to reports.

The Department of Education has seemingly made it easier for groups like public sector workers to qualify for loan forgiveness. The administration also launched a repayment plan to make it easier for low-income borrowers to pay back their loans. 

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The Biden administration has authorized, in total, the $153 billion in student loan debt cancellation for around 4.3 million people; more than 9% of all outstanding federal student loan debt. 

The Biden administration has eagerly been showing how much student loan debt they’re canceling especially due to the election in November. Around $3.6 billion of student loan debt relief will be delivered to individuals enrolled in the SAVE plan. 

“Republicans in 18 states want to prevent their own constituents from benefiting from the SAVE plan. They want to end SAVE, make their constituents’ payments go up and keep them under mountains of loan debt with no end in sight,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The SAVE plan launched last year and around 8 million borrowers have enrolled with about 360,000 people getting their remaining debt canceled.

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Biden has previously attempted to implement a student loan forgiveness program in 2022, however, it was rejected by the Supreme Court before it could actually deliver any debt relief. 

Biden has, however, canceled more student loan debt than any other president, and he’s mainly been utilizing existing programs. The administration has used the existing programs but made it easier to access for more US citizens. 

“Since the fall, the Biden administration has been working on set of new proposals, based on a different legal authority, to deliver relief to certain groups of borrowers.
For example, those whose student loan balances are bigger than what they initially borrowed could see their accumulated interest wiped way,” wrote Katie Lobosco for CNN

“Those proposals have yet to be finalized, but some could go into effect as soon as this fall, according to administration officials.”

haiti

Dozens Of US Citizens Evacuate Haiti On State Department Charter Flight Amid Increase In Gang Violence 

Dozens of US citizens have been evacuated from Haiti on a State Department charter flight this past Sunday while others wait to be taken back to the states as well. The departures are a result of increasing gang violence and political instability which has left necessities like food and gas in short supply. 

The State Department said that the flight departed from Cap-Haitien and landed in Miami International Airport, but they warned Americans to only consider taking the flight if they could reach Cap-Haitien safely. Government officials are now “assisting with next steps,” after more than 30 Americans made it safely to Miami over the weekend, according to CNN

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A Florida-based nonprofit has also been working to rescue the more than 100 people that are asking for assistance in leaving Haiti. 

The problems in Haiti have increased greatly within the last month. Security sources have stated that rival gangs and coalitions have been “wreaking coordinated havoc,” according to CNN

More than 100 miles from Cap-Haitien, in Port-au-Prince gangs took the airport under siege, and they now control 80% of Port-au-Prince, according to estimates from the United Nations. Through this control, the gangs have “severely limited supplies of food, fuel, and water across the city.” 

Vedant Patel of the State Department said that they will continue to help US citizens truing to leave Haiti, calling it a “fluid and quickly evolving situation on the ground.” 

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“We’ll be in touch with them should additional measures materialize. [Haiti is now] one of the most dire humanitarian situations in the world.”

Project DYNAMO is a non-profit, veteran-led, donor-funded international search, rescue, and aid group based in Florida that has also been conducting evacuations, receiving more than 100 rescue requests from Americans currently in Haiti. 

“What we find is, every time we rescue one person, that actually turns into three or four or five. That’s usually how it works. It is very hard, [we’re] trying to focus on Americans who are in remote areas where no other rescue resources exist. We’ve been working day and night,” co-founder and CEO Bryan Stern told CNN Monday afternoon.

Stern also stated that the waiting list of Americans needing rescuing in Haiti is currently in triple digits, but Project DYNAMO is in need of more funding.

“We need people’s help, and we need it badly. Some of these people are in extremely dire circumstances, and we can do it. I just need help with resources,” he said. 

subway

New York Governor Sending National Guard Into Subways To Combat Crime 

New York governor Kathy Hochul has announced that she will be sending the national guard into New York City’s subway system in order to combat surges of crime. The move has been met with disagreement from some city residents and police reform activists. 

Hochul stated on Wednesday that 750 national guard patrolmen as well as 250 state police and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officers will also be deployed to patrol the stations, as well as conducting bag checks. 

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“These brazen heinous attacks on our subway system will not be tolerated,” she stated according to the New York TImes. 

New York City residents and police reform activists have spoken out against the new measure from the NY Governor. 

The founder of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), Robert Gangi, spoke to the Guardian and stated that an increased police presence in the NYC subways would work to further criminalize Black and brown commuters. 

“This is overkill. This is a waste of resources,” he stated. 

The Guardian also reported some residents social media posts who were against Hochul’s motion for the national guard to be in the subways. 

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One user posted a photo of his commute and stated: “Seriously I take the subway every day with my kid and it’s fine and safe, Does this look like we need bag checkers or national guard?”

“Seems a bit insane to deploy the national guard to check folks’ bags on the subway. Just random bag checks for public transit customers minding their own business?” wrote another user on X.

The announcement was made citing high-profile crimes in recent weeks, such as a 64-year-old man being pushed onto the tracks at Penn Station, and an MTA employee being cut while working an early morning shift. 

The New York Times reported, however, that the data regarding whether or not subway crime is increasing is unclear. The same can be said when it comes to the data showing that an increased police presence in subway systems is actually needed. 

There’s already a record number of New York City Police officers patrolling the subway systems. 

According to reports from Gothamist, there are approximately 3,500 NYPD officers overseeing the subways, and New York City has spent a record-breaking $155 million in overtime pay for subway patrol officers in 2023.

at&t

Thousands of AT&T Customers Report Phone Service Outages Across America

On Thursday morning, a large portion of AT&T’s customer base in the US experienced a network outage, rendering them unable to use the internet or make and receive calls.

Among the more than 74,000 reported outages as of 9 am, the top cities experiencing problems were Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, according to the tracking site Downdetector.

While some Verizon and T-Mobile customers also experienced outages, the companies stated that those affected were likely attempting to reach AT&T users. As of 7 am, 3,000 Verizon outages and 1,100 T-Mobile outages were reported by customers. Verizon told CNN, “Verizon’s network is operating normally.”

“Some customers experienced issues this morning when calling or texting with customers served by another carrier. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”

AT&T acknowledged the outages in a statement but did not specify why the system failed.

 “Some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning. We are working urgently to restore service to them. We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored.”

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The company did not provide a timeline for when the system would be completely restored, but it did say that portions of the network are starting to recover. AT&T has been directing people to contact customer service via direct message in their online responses to customer complaints.

According to CNN, an anonymous source in the industry said that the problem seems to be associated with the way cellular services hand off calls from one network to another, a process called peering. The source also stated there is currently no evidence to believe that a cyberattack caused the widespread outages.

A significant concern is that due to the outages, some individuals might be unable to reach emergency services by dialing 911.

On X, San Francisco’s Fire Department told users they were aware of the issue and the trouble it posed for people in crisis.

“We are aware of an issue impacting AT&T wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 911). We are actively engaged and monitoring this. The San Francisco 911 center is still operational. If you are an AT&T customer and cannot get through to 911, then please try calling from a landline. If that is not an option, then please try to get ahold of a friend or family member who is a customer of a different carrier and ask them to call 911 on your behalf.”

Officials from emergency services nationwide, including Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, and Georgia, have stated that the outage is affecting their operations. Many of the departments advised relying on Wi-Fi for calls.

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On Thursday morning, members of the New York Police Department informed CNN that their AT&T phones could not make or receive calls or emails unless they were connected to Wi-Fi.

Officials from emergency services, such as those from The Massachusetts State Police, also told residents not to test their service by placing 911 calls.

“Many 911 centers in the state are getting flooded w/ calls from people trying to see if 911 works from their cell phone. Please do not do this. If you can successfully place a non-emergency call to another number via your cell service, then your 911 service will also work.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement saying the city is gathering more information to address the outages adequately.

“Atlanta’s e-911 is able to receive inbound and make outbound calls. We have received calls from AT&T customers that their cellular phones are in SOS mode.”

The company’s FirstNet network is still up and running, according to an AT&T representative. As a more robust network than AT&T’s commercial network, FirstNet offers coverage for police, fire departments, and first responders during national disasters.

flood

Nearly Entire Population Of California Remains Under Flood Alerts 

Currently almost the entire population of California remains under flood alerts as the state has experienced major rain storms within the past few weeks with more on the horizon. Officials are urging people to try to stay off the roads in the early days of this week, according to reports

Southern California is still recovering from a large storm that had some areas see record-breaking rainfall and hundreds of dangerous mudslides. The storm’s forecasted for this week aren’t projected to be that severe, however, parts of California could see up to 5 inches of rain, and currently 37 million residents are under flood watches, according to CNN

The National Weather Service office in Los Angeles warned of flooding and a possibility of 2 to 5 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches expected in other areas such as Santa Lucias. The office posted online to “avoid flooded roadways and prepare your property for flooding.” 

The office also warned of mud or rock slides on canyon roads as well as an increased presence of debris in areas recently overwhelmed by wildfires. 

“Multiple rounds of moderate to heavy showers, and perhaps a couple of thunderstorms, are expected to affect the region from this evening through Wednesday morning.”

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Central California saw the first round of rain late Saturday afternoon with a second storm on Sunday moving more slowly. At one point this weekend, around 38 million people were under a flood watch. 

State Governor Gavin Newsom’s office announced on Sunday in a news release that they’ve activated the state’s operations center. 

“Our state is taking this next storm seriously, and we ask all Californians to take steps now to prepare.”

The Weather Prediction Center has issued excessive rain outlooks through Tuesday for many parts of both California and Nevada. Santa Barbara is currently at a Level 3 of 4 risk through the rest of the day, and Los Angeles is currently at a Level 2. 

For areas at higher elevations, the National Weather Service in Sacramento also warned of winter storms, effective through Wednesday morning. 

“Heaviest snowfall will be tonight into Monday morning. Sierra travel will be difficult with possible road closures, chain controls and reduced visibilities,” forecasters said on X.

hiring

Job Openings In The US Grew In December According To New Labor Data 

The US job market currently remains stable with workers being in demand in multiple industries, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau reported that the number of available jobs in the US rose in December to an estimated 9.026 million. 

The data specifically came from the Bureau’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report, according to CNN. The December data marks the first time job openings exceeded 9 million since September. 

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Economists were surprised by this as the additional jobs have outpaced November’s 8.925 million jobs, which initially led them to believe December would see around 8.7 million jobs added. 

“We’re back over the 9 million mark, which is a three-month high, and the bulk of the gains were in the private sector,” Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, wrote.

“So the good news is that there are options out there — if one is still unemployed or is looking for extra work. The bad news is that it means that the consumer could spend more, and that’s not what the Fed wants right now,” she added. 

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell discussed that the labor market has “remained robust but in better balance” than it was during the initial years of the pandemic. In early 2022, job openings reached above 12 million. 

The Bureau noted that other aspects in the Survey report “changed little” from months previous, which could be an indication of the labor market slowing down. 

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“We’re all trying to figure out whether we’re going to manage a soft landing [of tamed inflation without significant job losses],” Fiona Greig, global head of investor research and policy at Vanguard, told CNN.

 “There’s no doubt that the level of openings is still exceeding pre-pandemic times [of 7 million]. The labor market isn’t as tight as, say, a year ago; but it is still strong,” she added. 

In December, layoffs increased to 1.616 million from 1.531 million the month before, which is still well below pre-pandemic averages. 

Tech, media, and transportation industries are seeing massive layoffs, leading to a lack of employee confidence for those in the field. According to research published by Glassdoor, their recorded employee confidence index dropped in January to 45.6%, a record-low. 

“This is a reflection of increasing fear around job security among employees,” Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor’s lead economist, told CNN.

law

Judge Rules That Idaho Cannot Enforce Ban On Gender-Affirming Care For Transgender Youth 

A federal judge has ruled that Idaho cannot enforce a law that would ban transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormone treatments. This is being hailed as a major victory for the families who had sued the state initially challenging the law.

This past Tuesday, US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote a preliminary order that stated the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process to give the parents the right to get gender-affirming care for their children. 

“Transgender children should receive equal treatment under the law. Parents should have the right to make the most fundamental decisions about how to care for their children.”

“We’re thankful the court saw the danger this law represented to our clients and we’re determined to fight this ban until Idaho is a safe place to raise every family,” Li Nowlin-Sohl of the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

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Idaho initially passed a law banning puberty blockers, hormones or surgeries that would “affirm the child’s perception of the child’s sex if that perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”

Idaho is one of about 20 Republican-led states that have either banned or restricted gender-affirming treatments.

In May, two families with transgender daughters who were receiving hormone therapy sued the state, claiming the law would cut off medically necessary care for their children, and violated their rates, according to NBC News. 

Winmill wrote that the treatments the law is banning were “safe, effective, and medically necessary for some adolescents,” while he granted the motion to block the laws enforcement. 

There are many courts throughout the US that are divided on the legal challenges of gender-affirming bans. Many lower level courts throughout the nation, however, have blocked the bans so far, with multiple appeals being made in response.

doj

US Charges Four Russian Soldiers With War Crimes for Torturing American in Ukraine

A Virginia federal court has charged four Russian soldiers for committing war crimes against an American who was residing in Ukraine during the Russian invasion. The charges include unlawful confinement, conspiracy to commit war crimes, inhuman treatment, and torture.

The four Russian soldiers have been identified as Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, V Alerii Lnu and Nazar Lnu. Bringing these charges to light is “an important step towards accountability for the illegal war in Ukraine,” Attorney General Merrick Garland stated during a press conference.

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice. That is why the Justice Department has filed the first-ever charges under the US war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that although the Department of Justice (DOJ) has never before brought charges under this war crimes statute, the bureau has investigated and prosecuted those responsible for war crimes on multiple occasions.

“The human toll of the conflict in Ukraine weighs heavily on the hearts of the FBI, and we’re resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes.”

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The indictment states that in April 2022, the Russian soldiers abducted the American from his home in the village of Mylove, in Kherson province, before beating and torturing him in a Russian military compound. In the early days of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Russian forces invaded the area and captured Kherson and surrounding rural settlements. The American was held in the compound for ten days.

The four defendants and other unnamed co-defendants allegedly subjected the American to torture during two separate interrogation sessions. They bound him, stripped him naked, and severely beat him with their fists, feet and stocks of their guns before photographing him, according to the unsealed indictment. The American was not a combatant and, therefore, a protected civilian under the Geneva Convention of 1949.

Two of the accused were commanding officers in the Russian Armed Forces, while the other two were members of lower ranks. The American, who remains unnamed, was evacuated in the summer of 2022 from Ukraine with his wife.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the American informed DHS investigators about the torture he suffered after his evacuation. Federal agents “traveled internationally to interview the victim’s family,” according to Mayorkas.

“They identified and interviewed individuals who were present within the general vicinity of Mylove around the time the victim was held in captivity, who confirmed the Russian forces’ occupation in the area. Based on the information they obtained, the HSI agents and their FBI partners were able to identify the four defendants whose indictments are announced today.”

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Secretary Mayorkas also said that the gravity of these indictments sends a clear message to Russia.

“Thanks to the tireless and unprecedented work of federal law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Justice Department, four Russian soldiers, accused of unthinkable, unacceptable human rights violations against an American citizen, have been charged with war crimes and will be brought to justice. The indictments unsealed today send a clear message to Russia – our government will spare no effort and spare no resource to hold accountable those who violate the fundamental human rights of an American.”

During the captivity, Russian soldiers allegedly threatened to kill the American, at times pointing guns to his head and a knife to his throat. Russian soldiers also put the American through a “mock execution.” They “allegedly forced the victim to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head, then moved the gin slightly and shot a bullet just past the victim’s head.”

The American faced sexual assault threats in addition to other forms of intimidation. When his answers  fell short of the Russian soldiers’ expectations, some of them threatened him “with death and asked for his last words.” He was also ordered to dig trenches for the Russian military as part of forced labor.

Speaking about the victim’s ordeal, Garland said, “Again and again, he believed he was going to die.”

“In the midst of war, Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators have risked their lives to bring justice to the Ukrainian people. When the time comes, the United States and our partners will be ready to bring accountability to Russia.”

teacher

Portland Public School Teachers Reach Tentative Deal After More Than Three Weeks Of Striking 

Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative deal to end the teachers strike that’s been occurring for over three weeks, keeping schools in the area closed since November 1st. This week, more than 40,000 students were able to return to the classroom. 

According to the Portland Public Schools letter sent out to families last weekend, union members will have to ratify the terms of the agreement, and the school board will also need to approve the full contract, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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“We are relieved to have our students returning to school and know that being out of school for the last three weeks — missing classmates, teachers, and learning — has been hard for everyone,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and the PPS school board said.

“We thank our students, families, and community for your patience and perseverance through these protracted negotiations. We also want to express our deep appreciation for our educators, who are the backbone of our district, and who enrich the lives of our students.”

The Portland Association of Teachers said “educators are ending the strike, securing a historic tentative agreement with key wins for student mental health support, class size, protected planning time, building health and safety protections, and cost-of-living increases.”

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The district’s statement said the “agreement includes processes for resolving class size concerns that involve impacted educators, school leaders, and parents.” The teachers union suggested parents would be more than simply involved, describing the new structure as “shared decision-making committees involving educators and parents.”

Portland Association of Teachers president Angela Bonilla stated that parents would not gain access to private student information, and further discussions will be about identifying necessary support for class sizes that are growing too large. 

“That might look like saying, ‘Hey, this class is in the small classroom on the second floor now that they have an extra student, we gotta move them to the big classroom. But we know that the best solutions to problems that we have in our schools come from the folks who actually attend them, who work at them and who send their students to those places,” Bonilla said. 

As outlined in statements from PAT and PPS, “the contract also increases dedicated planning time, access to mental health support teams for students throughout the district, and funding to address building conditions, among other things.”

“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families and educators. Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students and allies — and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need,” Bonilla said.

ai

President Biden Issues Executive Order for AI Oversight

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order covering a wide range of topics related to artificial intelligence, paving the way for new government regulations and funding.

The 111-page order covers multiple facets of AI and areas of concern or development, including civil rights, cybersecurity, discrimination, global competition, and a push for establishing federal AI jobs.

A senior White House official, who wished to remain anonymous, reportedly told NBC News that the potential uses of AI are so vast that effective regulations must cover a lot of ground. He also underscored the need for “significant bipartisan legislation.”

“AI policy is like running into a decathlon, and there’s 10 different events here, and we don’t have the luxury of just picking ‘we’re just going to do safety’ or ‘we’re just going to do equity’ or ‘we’re just going to do privacy.’ You have to do all of these things.”

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The order expands on a July nonbinding agreement between seven of the most prominent U.S. technology companies developing AI. The agreement required the companies to hire outside experts to identify weaknesses in their systems. The government can legally require companies to disclose the results of those safety tests under the Defense Production Act.

The Department of Commerce will also be required to develop guidelines for properly “watermarking” AI content, such as “deepfake” videos and ChatGPT-generated essays.

In an interview with NBC News, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence co-director Fei-Fei Li stressed the importance of government funding for AI to solve society’s pressing issues.

“The public sector holds a unique opportunity in terms of data and interdisciplinary talent to cure cancer, cure rare diseases, to map out biodiversity at a global scale, to understand and predict wildfires, to find climate solutions, to supercharge our teachers. There’s so much the public sector can do, but all of this is right now starved because we are severely lacking in resources.”

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Some of the other topics covered in the order are geared toward anticipating and mitigating real-world problems that may arise from the widespread implementation of AI.

For instance, it asks the Department of Labor to address the potential for AI to cause job losses; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development to address how AI may exacerbate discrimination in banking and housing sectors; and the Office of Management and Budget, and others, to determine how the government can use AI without jeopardizing privacy rights.

The AI Now Institute managing director, Sarah Myers West, praised President Biden for including ethical concerns in the executive order. The nonprofit focuses on the societal implications of artificial intelligence use.

“It’s great to see the White House set the tone on the issues that matter most to the public: labor, civil rights, protecting privacy, promoting competition. This underscores you can’t deal with the future risks of AI without adequately dealing with the present. The key to looking forward will be to ensure strong enforcement as companies attempt to set a self-regulatory tone: industry cannot be left to lead the conversation on how to adequately address the effects of AI on the broader public.”