Tag Archives: government

President Obama signs bill to end government shutdown and raise debt limit


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy US Capitol Flickr

After 16 days of the government being shut down for the first time in close to two decades, business is back up and running.

On Wednesday night, Congress passed a bill that would help fund the government through January 15, 2014 and raise the debt limit until February 7. President Barack Obama signed the bill later that night and put an end to the partial government shutdown, which he said brought “completely unnecessary damage to our economy,” reopening federal agencies and bringing federal employees back to work.

According to reports, federal workers are expected to return to work on Thursday.

“We’ve got another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back and for what?” said President Obama on Thursday after the federal government reopened. “There was no economic rationale for all of this. Over the past four years our economy has been growing, our businesses have been increasing and our deficits have been cut in half.”

The president said the more than two-week government shutdown encouraged enemies, bolded competitors and depressed friends that look to the United States to invest in or as a role model.

“The good news is we’ll bounce back from this, we always do,” said Obama. “America is the bedrock for the global economy for a reason. We are the indispensable nation that the rest of the world looks to as the safest and most reliable place to invest.”

Obama said the main job the government has to do now is regain the trust of the American people, who “are completely fed up with Washington.”

“Today I want our people, and our businesses and the rest of the world to know that the full faith in credit in the United States remains unquestioned,” said Obama. “All my friends in Congress -understand how business is done in this town has to change. Because we’ve all got a lot of work to do on behalf of the American people and that includes the hard work of regaining their trust.”

In order to make progress, Obama called on Congress to pursue a balanced approach for a budget, approve and fix the immigration reform laws and also pass a farm bill, which American farmers and ranchers can depend on.

The shutdown, which began on October 1, resulted from a congressional stalemate over the federal budget.

The Republican-led House tried to defund and delay the Affordable Care Act, but the Democratic-controlled Senate refused to accept a bill that would derail “Obamacare.”

Ironically, the government shutdown did affect the Affordable Care Act. The Health Care Marketplace, which compiles and rates insurance offerings in each state, started accepting applications on October 1.

Any employee or office that provides national security and conducts activities essential to the national security or the safety of life and property remained open and working. This included the U.S. military, air traffic controllers, prison guards, emergency personnel and border patrol agents.

However, more than 800,000 federal workers were left without jobs temporarily. Also, intercollegiate athletic competitions at service academies – Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard – were suspended.

Due to the government shutdown all National Park facilities, including more than 400 national zoos, museums and parks, were closed. Twenty-two national parks in New York were closed including the Statue of Liberty, Gateway National Recreational Area and other facilities.

 

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$1 Trillion in Student Debt


| brennison@queenscourier.com

The Courier/Photo by Billy Rennison

Here is what you can buy with $1 trillion: 5 million Lamborghinis, 15,000 private jets, 140 private islands and every team in baseball 16 times. Simply put, it is a lot of money.

The number — which is much more jarring when written out, 1,000,000,000,000 — is also the amount of debt students in this country collectively hold from their college loans. It is a backbreaking number, and an amount many feel is devastating their future.
A degree has become a prerequisite for employment, and rising tuitions means, for many, that debt is a precondition for entry into the workforce, so students have decided to fight back.

A rally was held on April 25 in Union Square to coincide with 1T Day — the day student loan debt hit $1 trillion — to raise awareness about the crisis and to begin a movement toward free college education.

Hundreds of protesters wore placards around their neck declaring the size of their debt, from relatively small amounts, like Jessica K.’s $13,000, to immense amounts, like Francis Rogers’ $108,000.

“Trillion dollar day is a reminder that private banks are still very much in the predatory lending business; this time it’s students not homeowners,” said Professor Andrew Ross, an organizer with the Occupy Student Debt 1TDay campaign.
The histrionics of the event — there were super heroes and choruses and even “Sallie May” showed up — did not overshadow the frustration of the hundreds of thousands of students drowning in debt.

“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” said Annie Spencer, a CUNY graduate student. “I’m now $80,000 in debt and don’t see a day when I won’t struggle to make ends meet. Those of us who took on this trillion dollar debt were sold the promise of a better life in exchange for carrying the burden, but the deck was stacked against us from the start.”

More than two-thirds of graduates leave college with student loan debt, according to a 2008 study. The average debt for these 1.4 million students is more than $27,000.
The students at the Union Square protest — and many other groups that have taken up similar fights — do not believe all college should be free or that, as a rule, loans should not be repaid. Their tenets are that public college should be free — as it had been in New York until the 1970s — and that student loans should be repaid interest free.
“The goal of these protests isn’t to renege on our responsibilities, it is to make the institutions making billions of dollars on the backs of students take some responsibility,” said Stephanie, a New York University graduate with $90,000 in debt. “They want us to default.”

More than 40 percent of students from the class of 2005 have faced default and/or delinquency, according to the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.
The demonstrations eventually made their way toward Wall Street, though not before parking itself in front of a bastion for tuition-free — for now — education, Cooper Union, where one dissenter, who identified himself as Jesse, stood atop the Peter Cooper Memorial.

For students that dream of a tuition-free college education, Copper Union is their Shangri-la — well, it was. From 1902 until today the college charged no tuition, instead relying on a generous endowment providing each student a scholarship — furthering the school’s founder Peter Cooper’s belief that education should be free, and for more than a century his ideal held true at the school bearing his name.

But, in April, the school announced that it would begin charging tuition for select graduate programs. This flew in the face of what many students felt the school stood for.
So, Jesse stood atop the school’s founder’s memorial with a sign reading, “No tuition, it’s our mission,” leading to a two hour standoff with police before he was taken down in a cherry picker and arrested.

Cooper Union’s shift toward tuition mirrors the nation-wide trend of exploding college costs. In the past five years tuition at public universities has increased 24 percent, and 17 percent at private colleges.

This has led — obviously — to a steep incline in the amount of debt students leave college with. Thirty years ago the number was $2,000, a full $25,000 below today’s amount. Inflation makes up only a small amount of the difference; $2,000 in today’s value is just under $5,000.
“I’m pretty much carrying a mortgage, I guess the American dream of owning your own home is out the window for me,” said Valerie Young, a 23-year-old with more than $100,000 in loans. “I can’t live in my degree.”

Indebted student’s plight has reached Capitol Hill where politicians are debating bills that would prevent student’s interest rates from doubling in July, an issue President Barack Obama has been speaking out against.

“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”

Burning Mad

“My future is going up in flames with each loan bill I’m getting and can’t repay because I don’t have a job, and the interest just keeps pushing the bill higher,” said Frederick Iman after he lit his student loan bill on fire. “So I might as well burn my bill, too.”
Iman was not the only protestor to turn their bills to ashes, others joined in sending smoke signals that they are here to end predatory loan practices.
Though the economy shows signs of recovery, college graduates unemployment rate is still well above the average and a recent Rutgers University study found that only half of graduates between 2006 and 2010 graduates have found full-time jobs.
“[Lenders] are making money off every graduate and even more money when we can’t find jobs,” said Mark, an unemployed graduate of Miami (Ohio) University who lit his loan bill. “Someone has to stand up for us, it might as well be us.”
It is not only the Occupy Student Debt Campaign and its supporters that are attempting to reform lending practices for students.
Student Loan Justice (www.studentloanjustice.org) is another organization that is dedicated to returning standard consumer protections to student loans. The group has created a Student Borrower Bill of Rights that aims to bring these standard protections back. Currently, student loans are not forgiven in bankruptcy proceedings — the only type of loan that applies to.

The EDU Debtors Union (www.edudebtorsunion.org) believes that students in debt are akin to factory workers.
“Factory workers go to work every day and transform capital into profit by making products,” EDU says. “Students transform capital into profit when interest and penalties are added to a principle loan.”

This method becomes unacceptable, they say, “when there are abuses to the many for the benefit of the few without a method of recourse.”
So EDU has started a union. They believe debtors can benefit from union representation. Large numbers, they believe, represents a better chance for students to negotiate better repayment methods with lenders.

This is a tactic that the Occupy Student Debt Campaign also believes holds power.
The campaign is circulating a petition that students pledge to stop making loan payments in hopes of restoring free public college education if 1 million students sign the pledge.

No End in Sight

Marches, protests and refusals to pay aid in shining a light on student’s plight, but the bills will continue to come. Without government intervention, change will be difficult. There are bills in Congress that aim to help students, but according to govtrack.us, they have little hope of passing.

“Because there are so many student loan lenders and types of loans, a general debt strike will not necessarily hit the heart of the beast,” EDU wrote in a blog entry. “To organize a debt strike effectively, you have to start with specific lenders otherwise the impact of the strike will not be felt.”

Only a few thousand have signed the Occupy campaign’s petition, well short of the million they need before the debt strike, and some are concerned about ruined credit.
I don’t want to pay back these loans — and honestly I can’t — but I’m worried that not paying anything will just ruin my credit for life,” said Michelle Condon. “[Lenders] practices must change and I will continue to fight, but unless we all band together and refuse to pay, what difference will be made?”

These campaigns are lighting the fire, but if the flame is suffocated with default notices and compounding interest, what is the next step?

“We just need to get the word out,” said Ryan Lindner, a graduate of Cortland University. “My credit is already crap, they can’t make it worse. I refuse to recognize them until they recognize my basic rights. I will not pay.”

This Morning’s Headlines


| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

Mets Owners Sell Team Shares Following $162M Settlement With Madoff Victims’ Trustee

Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz last week sold 12 minority stakes in the troubled franchise worth $240 million, using the proceeds to pay off Major League Baseball and reduce the team’s crippling debt, The Post has learned. With the moves, the team now has breathing room with its lenders and — combined with yesterday’s Picard settlement — appears to have saved the franchise. Read More: NY1

 

Mets owners could actually make money in Madoff settlement

It’s the biggest win for the Mets since 1986 — but a huge letdown for the fans. The team’s stingy owners will remain at the helm after striking a sweetheart settlement with the lawyer tasked with recouping billions from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme — and the deal actually casts them as victims of the fraud. The deal heads off a risky jury trial, where a loss could have cost owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz up to $383 million and control of the franchise. Read More: New York Post

 

Rangers edge Devils, clinch playoff spot in East

Brandon Dubinsky scored shortly after a fight-filled opening faceoff, and the Rangers became the first Eastern Conference team to earn a playoff spot by beating the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Monday night. Three fights broke out at the outset and that seemed to jump-start the Rangers, who had lost two straight and five of seven as their once commanding lead in the East dwindled to almost nothing. Read More: New York Post

 

Trayvon Martin shooting: Feds to investigate killing of unarmed black teen by Florida neighborhood watch captain

The growing national attention – and outcry – over the case of an unarmed black teen in Florida who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch captain has culminated with the federal government’s announcement that it will launch an investigation. The announcement late Monday by the Justice Department followed a day of protests calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, who claims he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in self-defense during a confrontation in a gated community. Read More: Daily News

 

Cops nab burglary suspect — but hunt for ‘Vaseline Bandit’ continues

Police who were already hunting for a burglar who has brazenly pulled off 14 apartment break-ins in Upper Manhattan — using Vaseline to block door peepholes — captured another apartment thief re-handed, casually watching TV, in the middle of a heist tonight. But law enforcement sources said the 20-something perp is not the so-called Vaseline Bandit, who is in his 50s. Read More: New York Post

 

Government may make it easier for airlines to allow passengers to use personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings

The government is taking a tentative step toward making it easier for airlines to allow passengers to use personal electronic devices such as tablets, e-readers and music players during takeoffs and landings. The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it is “exploring ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved” – including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, consumer electronics makers, and flight attendant unions – to discuss whether there are practical ways to test devices to see if they are safe for passengers to use during critical phases of flight. Read More: Daily News

 

Peyton Manning finalizing contract with Broncos

All that’s needed is Peyton Manning’s autograph. After being pursued by teams around the NFL, the QB with four MVP awards is headed to the land of John Elway and Tim Tebow, agreeing to a contract with Denver that could make the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender. It could also send one of the NFL’s most intriguing young players packing. So much for Tebowmania. Manning called Elway on Monday morning and told the Broncos executive that he had chosen Denver over the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers in the wildest free-agent chase of the offseason. Read More: Yahoo Sports

 

3 wounded in Harlem shooting

A gunman shot three men across from a Harlem playground this afternoon, police said. The unknown assailant blasted his victims in front of a deli across from the St. Nicholas Playground on West 129th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue about 2:30 p.m., cops said. A 30-year-old man was wounded in the left hand and leg, a 25-year-old was shot in the left leg, and a 23-year-old was wounded in the butt, authorities said. Read More: New York Post

 

NYPD Ups Security In Wake Of Jewish School Shooting In France

The NYPD yesterday deployed hundreds of cops to synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods citywide after a gunman fatally shot three kids and a rabbi at a Jewish school in France. “Obviously, we’re concerned about what happened in Toulouse,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said of the shooting. Read More: NY1

 

Jail guard shot

An off-duty Rikers correction officer was shot by her boyfriend last night outside a Queens diner, police sources said. The woman was hit in the stomach near the USA Diner on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton at 10:50 p.m., cops said. The shooter fled. It wasn’t immediately clear what sparked the fight. Read More: New York Post

 

‘Gangster’ sought in groom slay

They picked the wrong guy to push around. The Staten Island restaurant worker reportedly thrown to the ground by groom-to-be Anthony Lacertosa and his boozing buddies was purported Albanian gangster Redinel Dervishaj, who then allegedly killed Lacertosa with a butcher knife. Investigators believe Dervishaj, 35, has since fled the city, a law-enforcement source said. Read More: New York Post

 

‘Mad Men’ star Jon Hamm sticks to his guns in calling Kim Kardashian an ‘idiot’

Square-jawed “Mad Men” actor Jon Hamm is sick of your stupid shtick. Channeling his straight-shooting character Don Draper,  Hamm put Kim Kardashian in her place Monday, dissing the curvaceous celebutard yet again. NBC “Today” show host Matt Lauer asked the AMC retro-series actor to clarify the earlier comments he made to Elle UK about Kardashian being a famous-for-being-famous “idiot,” which the reality starlet called “careless.” Read More: Daily News