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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.”

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President Biden’s New Affordable Housing Plan 

The housing market in the US has been hitting historic lows within the past few years. Sales are slow, current homeowners are unable to move because they don’t want to lose the record low mortgage rates they got during the pandemic, and first-time homebuyers are finding starter homes to be less and less affordable. 

In a recent survey from Redfin, 53% of respondents stated that the housing affordability issues in the US will impact who they vote for in the next presidential election. The White House is aware of these potential impacts on the upcoming election, and President Biden is hoping to combat these issues with a new proposed housing plan. 

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According to reports from Forbes, Biden’s plan to make housing more affordable will involve rent relief, tax credits for homebuyers and sellers, and plans to develop 2 million homes as a means of addressing the housing shortage. 

Freddie Mac Housing Experts have estimated that the US is short about 4 million homes, so by adding 2 million the nation, home pricing and rent growth would slow down and affordability will improve. 

Mortgage rates have been fluctuating constantly since the pandemic especially. During the initial months of quarantining mortgage rates hit a record low, which increased demand and pricing. In 2022 and 2023, however, mortgage rates increased again, so existing homeowners who were able to lower their rates are now reluctant to sell. 

Biden’s new housing plan places a focus on first time homebuyers looking for their starter home, and those looking to move out of what once was their starter home. The proposed plan includes a one-year tax credit of up to $10,000, according to Forbes. This credit will ideally encourage homeowners to sell their first home to then free up that space for other first-time homebuyers. 

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It’s also been reported that another proposal from Biden would be a mortgage relief credit for first-time homebuyers in the middle-class. The credit would be up to $5,000 for two years, and would help make homeownership more accessible by reducing the buyer’s mortgage rate by over 1.5% points for two years, according to Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin. 

“This policy and Biden’s plan to provide down payment assistance for first-generation homebuyers would increase demand for homes. In places where the supply of homes has been increasing, such as Texas, there is enough capacity to meet increased demand. However, in places with limited supply, these credits would mostly lead to buyers competing for a limited number of existing homes and bidding up home prices,” Fairweather wrote for Forbes. 

Marshall Park, the Redfin market manager in Washington D.C., recalled how homebuyer tax credits, like the one being proposed from Biden, motivated more homebuyer’s to buy during Obama’s first year as president in 2009.

“Homebuyers who qualified definitely took advantage, and I recall a surge in demand and motivation to purchase while the tax credit was available,” said Park. “I do think that a homebuyer tax credit might bring more buyers into today’s market, but the main issue with the market right now is the lack of inventory,” Park stated.

 The biggest solution to helping the housing market will be the increase in supply and development of 2 million homes that Biden is planning on implementing. The presidential and congressional elections this year, however, will impact how much of that plan actually gets done.

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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.”

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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.”

hurricaine

Hurricane Idalia Continues Tracks Through Southeastern Georgia After Pummeling Florida

Hurricane Idalia has already made history in some parts of Florida after making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 125 mph on Wednesday. It is the strongest hurricane to hit Florida’s Big Bend Area in over 125 years.

In 1896, an unnamed Category 3 hurricane struck the state’s gulf coast at sustained winds of 125 mph. Since then, no hurricane of Idalia’s strength has hit the region.

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee issued two extreme wind warnings on Wednesday morning. The warnings are only issued when winds exceeding 115 mph are expected in the area, and there have only been 27 such warnings for extremely high winds in the contiguous United States prior to Hurricane Idalia. Most of these advisories were issued in Florida.

While moving over the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, Hurricane Idalia experienced a period of rapid intensification, drawing its energy from the heightened sea surface temperatures.

Any increase in wind speeds by more than 35 mph within 24 hours is classified as rapid intensification, and Hurricane Idalia’s winds strengthened by 55 mph over 24 hours.

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Scientists have long been concerned about warming ocean waters due to climate change. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern Florida reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this summer.

On Wednesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a White House briefing that storms have become more frequent and severe due to global warming.

“These storms are intensifying so fast that our local emergency management officials have less time to warn and evacuate and get people to safety.”

Recent measurements show that the surface waters in Idalia’s path had reached nearly 88 degrees Fahrenheit, an all-time high since the early 1980s.

A rare blue supermoon will likely make the storm worse, with its gravitational pull causing tides to rise further. Brian Haines, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Charleston, South Carolina, told The Associated Press, “I would say the timing is pretty bad for this one.”

The supermoon is expected to exacerbate flooding not only in Florida but also in states such as Georgia and South Carolina. Some parts of Charleston, South Carolina, could be underwater by Wednesday night.

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According to CNN, on Wednesday morning, Idalia’s storm surge was record-breaking from Tampa to The Big Bend region, with surges of more than 8 feet in Cedar Key, Florida, around 6.8 feet above their normal tides. The measurement surpassed the previous high water level of 5.99 feet from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Wednesday morning’s high tide in Tampa Bay was 4.5 feet, topping the 3.79-foot mark set by Tropical Storm Eta in 2020.

At 4.05 feet, the tide at Clearwater Beach was higher than it had been since the 1993 Storm of the Century, which had been recorded at 4.02 feet. The Steinhatchee River in Steinhatchee, Florida, saw a 9-foot rise in water levels in just two hours.

As of 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday,  Hurricane Idalia has weakened to a Category 1 hurricane as it barrels through Southeastern Georgia, moving at 20 mph with maximum sustained winds of around 75 mph. It still remains an active threat to the Southeast.

FEMA Administrator Criswell also told reporters President Biden contacted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis “to let him know that the federal family continues to be there to support him.”

“The president reiterated that if anything is needed from the federal government, we will be able to support; and we have over 1,000 personnel currently deployed, prepared to support not just Florida, but all of our states that are in the path as needed.”

earthquake

Over 2,700 Killed after Two Major Earthquakes Rock Syria and Turkey

Over 2,700 people were killed, and thousands more were injured when two major earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria on Monday. Hundreds of buildings collapsed and buried residents under their wreckage.

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China Spy Balloons Discovered Under Biden, But This Is Not The First Time They’ve Appeared

According to a senior administration official working under President Joe Biden, the recent sighting of the spy balloon from China is not the first time one has appeared in the US in recent years. In fact, three suspected spy balloons from China appeared over the US during the Trump administration, but were not discovered until Biden took office. 

The official told CNN that the intelligence committee is currently preparing to give briefings to key Trump administration officials regarding the surveillance program from China. The Biden Administration believes that the program has been deployed in five continents within he past several years. 

The Pentagon initially stated that similar balloon sightings had been reported during Trump’s administration following the suspected Chinese spy balloon sighting over Montana last week. 

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“I don’t ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States,” said former Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper to CNN.

A former national security adviser under Trump, John Bolton, reasserted Esper’s point stating that the former administration had knowledge of the surveillance program: “Did the Biden administration invent a time machine? What is the basis of this new detection?”

“The very fact, if it is a fact, that the Chinese tried this before, should have alerted us and should have caused us to take action before the balloon crossed into American sovereign territory.”

An official with the Biden Administration stated the previous incidents were not discovered until Trump had already left office, but no information has been given regarding when these supposed previous sightings happened or how. 

The Pentagon has reportedly briefed Congress regarding the precious Chinese balloon surveillance sightings during the Trump administration that, at the time, flew over Texas and Florida. 

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Representative Michael Waltz said in a statement to CNN that “currently, we understand there were incursions near Florida and Texas, but we don’t have clarity on what kind of systems were on these balloons or if these incursions occurred in territorial waters or overflew land.”

“Another Chinese spy balloon also transited the continental US briefly at the beginning of the Biden administration, the senior administration official said. But the balloon that was shot down by the US military on Saturday was unique in both the path it took, down from Alaska and Canada into the US, and the length of time it spent loitering over sensitive missile sites in Montana,” officials stated to CNN.

“Closely observing the balloon in flight has allowed us to better understand this Chinese program and further confirmed its mission was surveillance.”

Biden acknowledged that he ordered the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down last Wednesday when he was initially briefed of its presence over Montana. 

“Shooting it down over water also maximized the possibility of recovering the payload – the equipment carried by the balloon that the US says was being used for surveillance – intact and able to be examined further by the US intelligence community,” officials said.

government

President Joe Biden Signs $1.7 Trillion Bill Leading Into 2023

President Joe Biden signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill this week that will keep the federal government in full operation, and allocate necessary funding to various sectors.

us ukraine

Ukraine President Zelensky Heads To White House To Strengthen Defense Against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is taking his first overseas trip since Russia initially invaded Ukraine to meet with President Joe Biden regarding further defense against Russian missile and drone attacks.

U.S. Targets Putin’s Daughters, Russian Banks In New Round Of Sanctions

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now in its sixth week, the White House has continued to remain on the financial offensive by announcing additional sanctions that will target Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters, 36-year-old Mariya Putina and 35-year-old Katerina Tikhonova, and toughen penalties against Russian banks.

In addition to Putina and Tikhonova, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s wife and daughters, along with members of Russia’s Security Council — which include current prime minister Mikhail Mishustin and former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev — will be targeted.

“These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people. Some of them are responsible for providing the support necessary to underpin Putin’s war on Ukraine.”

The sanction will cut the group of people listed off from the U.S. financial system, along with freezing their assets they hold in the U.S. If this is the first time you’re learning that Putin has multiple daughters, that shouldn’t come as a surprise given how he operates.

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As Business Insider notes, the 69-year-old president has never acknowledged his children publicly, and much about the family affairs continue to remain a mystery. Putin had both daughters with his ex-wife, former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva, who he was married to for three decades.

Meanwhile, full-blocking sanctions will be placed against Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution, and Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank. The sanction will freeze any of the banks’ assets that touch the U.S. financial system, and prohibit any American citizen from doing business with the institutions.

As the press release states, Sberbank holds around one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets — making it a critical component to the now-floundering economy — while Alfa Bank is the fourth-largest bank in Russia overall.

The ruble’s value currently sits at 0.012 USD (experiencing the worst fall of any major currency in the first quarter of 2022) while the Institute of International Finance stated the crisis will wipe out 15 years of economic development. Gross domestic product is projected to shrink 9.6% this year and 1.5% in 2023, interrupting what was looking like the start of significant progress in 2021.

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Biden is also expected to sign a new executive order that will include a prohibition on new investment in Russia by Americans no matter where they’re located, while sanctions on major Russian state-owned enterprises will be in effect too. The U.S. won’t be alone in furthering penalties, with European allies expected to announce their own sanctions.

President Joe Biden has been vocal about intensifying sanctions following his statement that Putin has committed war crimes and should be put on trial, with hundreds of Ukrainian civilians being tortured and killed by Russian troops in Bucha last weekend. “I made clear that Russia would pay a severe and immediate price for its atrocities in Bucha,” Biden said on Twitter.

Russia has continued to call its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” and denied that any civilians have been harmed. Overall civilian death tolls have been both hard to find and unreliable, though U.N. and Ukrainian sources have numbers anywhere between over 1,000 to 7,000.

Still, despite Biden’s verbal attacks against Putin and the new enforcements, the U.S. continues to reject the proposition of instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine, while any military personnel involvement remains out of the question.