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U.S. Student Debt Crisis

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Over the past decades, the average debt for students receiving their bachelors has tripled. A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that students who borrow loans for a university education will owe around 35,000 dollars- an exponentially higher amount than the average recorded in 1993-94 of 10,000. The daunting statistics, don’t show the full picture of the complete impact that the loans will have on the lives of the individuals who borrow, and the economy.

The student loan crisis continues to be one of the biggest hurdles to attaining a healthy economy in the United States. Student debt is the second highest debt for Americans, falling only behind mortgage debt amounting to an estimate of 44 million student borrowers who make up a $1.4 trillion dollar student loan figure. However, compared to the statistics of recent decades including those of the 90’s they don’t also take into account other factors that are affecting recent graduates with debt like the likelihood of attaining a job in their desired field and the limitations of credit scores when trying to buy a home or a car. The student debt skyrocketed 256 percent  from 2004 to 2015, causing students to collectively condemn the tuition spikes . All around the world, students have been protesting these rapacious loan policies that are leaving millions with an average of $37, 172 in debt as of the statistics for the class of 2016 report. At the University of California Santa Barbara, these protests have taken the shape of student lead marches such as the participation of the Million Student March that was a combination of different social issues such as rising student tuition and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Million Student March was organized with months in preparation with 110 college campuses planning a walk-out in demand of tuition free college, cancellation of current student debt, and a $15 dollar minimum wage for all campus workers. Their slogans included messages such as a call for free and fair education and involved chants on the current political climate such as with the police violence against African Americans. The first march was held on November 12, 2015 with visual acts of resistance such as one of the buildings on campus creating a space with blank sheets of paper with the hashtag #studentdebt where students could write the amount of debt they currently had while attending the university. Some examples of the writing ranged from  to the words: Too much! Fast forwarded to today’s current dilemma with the future of student loans, there is going to be huge changes for students who defaulted on their loans.

For one, any student who is currently in default with their loans will see a double digit rise in defaults. Protections put in place by previous presidencies to protect students from deceitful practice was lifted. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, a memo had barred the old bank system of charging interest fees of up to 16 percent if the student had defaulted in their loans. In 2016, the default amount in dollars was $137 billion dollars in just nine months of students who had not a payment in the first nine months. This amount is a 14% increase from the previous year, a number showing that students are struggling to pay off their loans more than ever before. Currently, 8 million people are in default and the Trump administration has reversed some of the policies in place that protect student borrowers.

This policy was known as the Borrower Defense to Repaying that forgave student loans if a school used greedy or deceptive tactics to convince a student to attend their school by taking out loans. According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost half of the students who took out loans did so under the Family Federal Education Loan Program (FFEL). This program would work with private lenders to ensure that the loans being used were subsidized loans. However, when students defaulted on these loans collectors would tackle on exorbitant fees that made it nearly impossible for these students to pay off the debt they had already accumulated. One of the major lawsuits out currently, are against Navient, the nation’s largest servicer of student loans that has been cheating millions of students. “Navient is accused of deliberately steering borrowers away from income-based repayment plans that could have lowered their loan costs — in order to maximize its own profits,” an issue that has left many students with the diminishing prospect of finding a career path to pay off these loans. One example of negligence in the case of Navient was erroneously handling injured military veteran loan records as defaults instead of discharging them from their federal student loans if they were eligible due to a disability. With Betsy DeVos, as the current head of the Board of Education, this reversal on the Obama memo to protect loan borrowers from deceitful practice could affect around 7 million people who currently owe $162 billion dollars in FFEL loans.  In fact, the removal of the protections was seen as having such substantial and procedural flaws that democratic attorney generals from 18 states and the District of Columbia to sue Betsy DeVos over her move to freeze a rule that helped students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges that was going to allegedly be in effect July 1, 2017. The lawsuit is being lead by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey who is suing Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education for canceling federal protections that were put in place to help students from student loan abuse.

Another change that is coming along with the Trump administration is changes to the gainful employment rule. The gainful employment regulation is going to require vocational programs at for higher education institutions and community colleges to meet a debt to income ratio for students. This rule would hold these financial institutions accountable, and cut off their federal financial aid if the programs don’t meet the minimum requirements. The gainful employment rule wants to make it a requirement to provide a disclosure to students before attending if they are at risk of meeting the requirements. The requirements are that graduates annual payments should total 8 percent of total earnings or exceed 20 percent of their income.

This plan in theory, sounds like a plan geared towards helping students from taking on a program without having to be swimming in debt after completion and not securing a job that can repay these loans. However, there are major flaws with this plan like the statistics only measuring those students who actually complete the program they pursue and not the students who drop out, who have a higher rate of defaulting on their loans. In short, there are many policy changes being set in motion during Trumps presidency that could affect millions of students who hold debt that surpasses any other debt such as auto or credit card debit. The future prospect of these students who are currently in debt, and for students who are going to pursue higher education in the next four years is uncertain.

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Americans fear punishment for Afghan war crimes

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Lo and behold! Looks like the “great and terrible” United States can be scared to the point of hysteria. Another myth about American omnipotence is being debunked before our very eyes now that the big shots in Washington are dreading the prospect of being held accountable for the crimes their soldiers have committed in Afghanistan.

Well, it’s been a long time since the Yankees have last been scared of anyone anywhere, save, perhaps, for Soviet missiles. Still, the challenge they now have thrown out to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has laid bare their cowardice for the whole world to see. And all this under the guise of threats and warlike rhetoric, of course.

Washington saw red when, in November 2016, Foreign Policy journal wrote that “the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to initiate a full investigation of a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including some by US personnel.” Washington was incensed even more after the very same publication wrote that “the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will seek to initiate an investigation,” and that “the prosecutor’s office repeatedly called attention to alleged abuses of detainees by US personnel between 2003 and 2005 that it believes have not been adequately addressed by the United States.”

The ICC report noted that “crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims.” 

Shortly afterwards, US officials visited The Hague where the ICC was meeting to discuss the potential investigation and to express concerns about its scope in what was seen as their first attempt to intimidate the court.

A report by the UN mission in Afghanistan added fuel to the flames of the ICC probe. According to the report, in 2016 alone, 11,418 civilians died there at the hands of all the warring sides, including the Taliban (banned in Russia). Still, the main culprits are US invaders and their NATO allies.

Despite the mounting pressure, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia persisted with the investigation. Washington then ramped up the pressure by simply revoking her entry visa to the United States. Simple as that.

Bensouda’s office said she had an “independent and impartial mandate” under the Rome statute governing the ICC, and described Washington’s move as an attempted attack on the ICC by the US Administration bringing a sigh of relief from “law-abiding” Americans. And no one in the “free and independent” US media raised his voice against this arbitrary practice.

Such voices of disagreement came from the European Union and the United Nations though, with the UN Secretary General’s official spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressing the hope that “the United States government will continue to comply with its obligations… and that the prosecutor, when she needs to come to the United Nations, will be afforded a visa for work done at the United Nations,” where Fatou Bensouda was to present a report to the Security Council on the progress of ongoing investigations into the events in Libya.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini likewise backed the ICC: “We will continue to fully and strongly support the ICC and its work,” she said.

It has also been said that Washington’s disregard for the ICC, which comprises 123 countries (excluding Russia and the US), is fraught with an international scandal. However, President Trump will hardly bother to worry about trifles like this. Responding to the start of the investigation into the crimes committed by the Americans in Afghanistan, the US State Department vowed to revoke or deny visas to ICC staff “seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened “to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course.”

Washington reserves the same treatment also for the ICC staff investigating alleged crimes by the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and President Trump has confirmed this. Paraphrasing George Orwell, all people are equal before the ICC, but some people are more equal than others.

However, here the Americans’ strength turns into weakness and uncertainty. President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton threatened prosecutions and financial sanctions against ICC staff, as well as against countries and companies assisting in ICC investigations of US nationals. If this is not a sign of panic, then what is?

However, the mere fact that an official investigation has been launched against the United States is unprecedented in modern-day politics. When even a Gambian national can see that a global superpower is losing strength and is vulnerable, one can only imagine what will happen if everyone else in the world realizes this too.

Fully aware of this prospect, the Americans have applied all levers of political and economic pressure available to them and showed everyone that they are still a power to be reckoned with. On April 12, the ICC  unanimously (sic!) rejected prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to investigate criminal offenses allegedly committed by NATO coalition forces against civilians in Afghanistan on the very dubious grounds that such an investigation at the present time “would not serve the interests of justice.”

The ruling states that the prosecutor’s request “establishes a reasonable basis to consider that crimes within the ICC jurisdiction have been committed in Afghanistan and that potential cases would be admissible before the Court.” However, the Chamber noted “the time elapsed since the opening of the preliminary examination in 2006 and the political changing scene in Afghanistan since then, the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received and which is likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution, as well as the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is happy: “I am very pleased that the ICC made this decision today. It is the right one. When Americans misbehave, whether it’s our military, intelligence officers, we have a robust democratic process that holds them accountable. You’ve seen us do that for those that misbehaved. There is in no way or any need for the ICC to intervene,” he said.

This is a striking example of national legislation taking precedence over international law – especially in critical situations.

President Trump was equally pleased hailing the ICC’s refusal to consider the actions of the US military in Afghanistan as “a major international victory not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law (?)”. He reiterated US reservations about the Hague-based ICC, saying that its “broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers” present a threat to US sovereignty. Which means that Yankees are immune from prosecution – something we should all keep very much in mind.

The whole situation turned out to be pretty ambiguous: the Americans got scared, but the ICC ended up bending under Washington’s pressure. It still looks like the days of America’s complete domination are over, just as the current scandal proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Russia in Venezuela

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Russia´s interests and presence in Latin America is not new. We should remember Russian activities in Cuba during the Cold War, which almost generated a nuclear war between Moscow and Washington. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite clear that Central and South America were not among the top priorities of the Russian Federation.

Anyway, at the beginning of the 21st century Russia returned to that region and Venezuela and other Chavist anti-imperialist (mainly understood as anti-American) populist governments were eager to deep their diplomatic, economic and military relations with Moscow.

From the Russian side we can identify a general objective, which is to gain influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States and a particular one: to secure lucrative economic opportunities in the oil and gas sectors.

A marriage of convenience between Venezuela and Russia was born at that time. Moreover, it lasts until today.

In the case of Venezuela, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the reduction of the international oil prizes and the mismanagement of the national economy generated a crisis that began as economic, then social and finally political.

In this situation of institutional weakness, foreign powers as Russia, China, and the United States intended to gain influence and to get benefits for their companies. However, since Maduro continued its anti-American rhetoric were mainly Russian and Chinese companies those that obtained the lion´s share. It is important to note that according to international studies Venezuela has larger oil proven resources than Saudi Arabia, which helps to understand the interest of those extra regional powers in that south American country.

The regional and international pressure on Maduro´s government and the growing domestic opposition lead to a political and economic isolation of Venezuela. As a consequence of that the government increased its dependence on Russia and China.

Russian oil and gas companies are very active in Venezuela and the main interest of Putin´s administration is to secure their interests and protect their investments. More than investments, Venezuela is highly indebted to Moscow and Beijing since during the last five years those two countries were the only external creditors to Maduro´s government.

Behind the so-called strategic partnership, there is pure economic and geopolitical interest.

The main problem that face Russia (and China) is how to convince to the Venezuelan opposition, headed by Juan Guaidó, to recognize their position in the case of changes on the government. Due to the determined support received from Washington it is not clear that Moscow and Beijing will get what they want. Washington want a new beginning, to begin from scratch and not any kind of compensation or share with Russia and China. From our perspective, those are extreme positions (Russia and China from one side and United States on the other side) and diplomatic channels could open the ground for negotiations and compensations.

Russia´s deployment of troops has to do with media more than with a military need. We can argue that those forces are there to protect Russian interests (Russian infrastructure and investments) not Maduro´s government.

Any military clash would be hard to sustain for Russia due to the impossibility to maintain a logistic chain and the financial costs involved. It is more rational to consider the deployment of troops as an insurance for its interests and a leverage for any potential negotiation.

At that moment, nor the United States nor any other South American country (mainly Colombia and Brazil) is eager to a violent regime change in Venezuela and a military intervention. If Washington (and Guaidó) recognize the interests of Russia and China, Maduro´s government will lose its main political and economic supporters and will be open to a transition. In the meantime, the Venezuelan people is trying to survive. Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. Just to note it.

Russia’s deployment of troops in Venezuela has caused a new standoff between the U.S. and Russia with the U.S. accusing Russia of intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But is the U.S. really in the “moral high ground” of such accusation given its history of intervening?

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The Only Way To Solve America’s Immigration Border Crisis Without Losing Its Humanity

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The United States of America is under unprecedented turmoil these days over its border crisis problem with Mexico, more with the political forces at work both for, and against, erecting a wall, cracking down and jailing and removing illegal aliens, giving more authority to local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement in these efforts, as well as more scrutiny and hammering down of immigration applications of all types.

Truly there is a fury of activity within the United States with allegations of “racism” and “xenophobia” being thrown around, responded to with “national security” and “safety” being hurled back.

There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because the Republicans and the Democrats are locked in a fight to the death, with neither side willing to budge or even negotiate a way out of this mess.

Suffice it to say that one of the main origins of this now boiling over immigration border crisis lay with the people that elected Donald Trump to be President – more commonly known as “Nationalists,” or “America Firsters.”

These people are characterized as being staunchly against Globalism, or Internationalism, and share many commonalities with their cousins across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, otherwise known as the supporters of “Brexit,” who wanted to pull away from both the European Union and the globe in general.

But the problem lies in the fact that for at least the past 70 years, the United States and Europe have literally operated on an “Ordo Ab Chao” (“Order out of Chaos”) approach, destroying and starving other nations and their sovereignty with outright war, terrorism, election overturning, sanctions or just cutting them off from the global economy.

The “blowback” of these interventionist policies of the past 70 years has resulted in incidents such as September 11 and other terrorist acts in its most violent form, but also in mass illegal immigration as another form of blowback, albeit much less violent but still just as disruptive to the economy, safety, health, and cohesion of the United States.

This is also happening in Europe wherein the people of those countries that they destroyed, are now flowing back into theirs, through the millions of refugees created by the unforgivable, wilful, wanton, and intentional destruction of their infrastructure, waterways, electrical grids, arable land, cities, hospitals, schools, everything.

One of the major reasons that the Establishment in both America and Europe were so vehemently against the Presidency of Donald Trump, or the people behind Brexit, is because they were still not finished with that “Ordo” portion of the phrase, only finished with the “Chao” part, wherein they were still right in the middle of massive project finance, foreign loans through the World Bank and IMF, public and private massive investment and international business, as well as other mechanisms designed to replace foreign nations with leaders, infrastructure, and cultures that were more amenable and in line with this Establishment.

Now that Trump is in office, he has surrounded himself with other like-minded people who simply don’t care about the thousands of private and public international agreements, treaties, loans, funding, relationships, or understandings by and between the U.S. and foreign nations/leaders, and simply thinks that these countries can either “take care of themselves,” “save their own people,” “pay their fair share,” and other isolationist principals – but in reality, after 70 years spent destroying those nations and making them promises, this type of abrupt “cutting off” policy, while disallowing them to enter or do business with the USA, is nothing short of a slow motion genocide of the world’s people.

To that end we as a nation, if we are to begin to solve this endless illegal alien immigration crisis, must bite the bullet and forge/build relationships (and even provide funding) to those nations where the majority of these people are coming from, so that this sieve is turned off, as much as possible.

Merely building a wall, while turning away or denying all immigrants their basic human rights, is simply not enough.

The USA (and Europe) has had a significant role in destroying those nations from where these illegal immigrants have come from, and must do more to assist those nations in controlling their own “emigrant” problem, so that the USA (and Europe) does not have to.

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