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Obama’s former Education secretary is calling on Biden to cancel student debt



John King.

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It was only after John King left office as Education secretary under then-President Barack Obama that he finished off paying his own student loans.

“I have spent a lot of my adult life paying it down,” said King, who studied government at Harvard and law at Yale. He wouldn’t reveal how much he owed, but, he said, “It was quite a bit, many tens of thousands of dollars.”

King, 47, who’s currently running for governor of Maryland as a Democrat, has now become one of the many people calling on President Joe Biden to cancel student debt through executive action. “We have an opportunity in this moment to lift this burden for people, and I think really help accelerate our economic recovery from Covid,” King said.

He also had warnings about what will happen if Biden doesn’t act. A spokesperson for the White House says the administration continues to consider the options for loan forgiveness.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Annie Nova: What was it about your time as Education secretary that makes you now support student loan forgiveness?

JK: During the Obama administration, we were very focused on addressing the burden on students who’d been taken advantage of by predatory, for-profit colleges. We also put in place income-based repayment programs. Looking back, those plans weren’t enough. And in this moment, given the Covid crisis and the economic crisis that came along with the pandemic, we have an opportunity to make this a New Deal moment, where we cancel debt for all.

AN: Do you believe President Biden has the ability to forgive student debt on his own, without Congress?

JK: Yes. We were able to put in place in the Obama administration a process for debt cancellation. And the vast majority of lawyers who’ve looked at this question believe there is the executive authority for broad forgiveness.

AN: Have you had any conversations with the current Education secretary, Miguel Cardona, about debt cancellation?

JK: I have talked with him. This decision will come down to the president.

AN: More than 40 million Americans carry student debt. The average burden is more than $30,000. A quarter of borrowers are behind on their payments. How did we get here?

JK: This student debt crisis is the product of a 40-year policy mistake. The purchasing power of the Pell Grant has been allowed to diminish. In 1980, Pell Grants accounted for nearly 80% of the cost of a public higher education degree; now it’s less than a third. As a country, we’ve shifted from seeing higher education as a public good to putting a large share of the burden on students and families.

AN: If student loans get canceled, how do you avoid the debt from just spiraling out of control again?

JK: Solving the problem going forward requires doing the things that are necessary to make public higher education available to all students without debt. And that is achievable. It really comes down to this idea that debt-free college is a public good, and just as we think about K-12 education as serving the public interest, the health of our economy and the health of our democracy, so, too, should we think about higher education.

AN: What do you think will happen if Biden doesn’t forgive student debt?

JK: There would be tremendous disillusionment from key constituents who are crucial for the health of the Democratic Party.

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Virgin Atlantic ceases Hong Kong operations, cites Russian airspace closure



Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

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British airline Virgin Atlantic announced Wednesday it was permanently ceasing operations in Hong Kong due to issues related to the closure of Russian airspace.

The decision marks the end of the carrier’s London Heathrow to Hong Kong flight route and the closure of its Hong Kong office. It also ends the airline’s 30-year presence in the Asian financial hub.

Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that the closure of Russian airspace following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in late February was one of several “complexities” contributing to the decision.

It said that on the basis of the airspace remaining closed, Heathrow to London flight times would be around one hour longer than in 2019, while Hong Kong to Heathrow flights would be 1 hour 50 minutes longer.

It added that the 2019 termination of Virgin Australia’s Hong Kong to Melbourne and Hong Kong to Sydney services had already reduced the airline’s presence in the city-state.

“After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

“Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned, which have already been paused since December 2021,” it added.

Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

The airline was previously due to resume Hong Kong services from March 2023. However, with Wednesday’s announcement, it said it would be able to increase services in other key markets from next summer.

Around 46 Virgin Atlantic jobs, including those of office staff and cabin crew, are set to be impacted by the decision, according to Bloomberg.

The airline said it would offer refunds or vouchers for alternate Virgin Atlantic services to the “limited number” of customers due to travel from March next year.

Virgin’s exit from Hong Kong is the first by a major airline since American Airlines left the city in late 2021.

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German minister criticizes U.S. over ‘astronomical’ natural gas prices



A photo of a natural gas flare burning near an oil pump jack at the New Harmony Oil Field in the U.S. on June 19, 2022.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Germany’s economy minister accused the U.S. and other “friendly” gas supplier states of astronomical prices for their supplies, suggesting they were profiting from the fallout of the war in Ukraine.

“Some countries, including friendly ones, sometimes achieve astronomical prices [for their gas]. Of course, that brings with it problems that we have to talk about,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told regional German paper NOZ in an interview published Wednesday which was translated by NBC News. He called for more solidarity from the U.S. when it comes to assisting its energy-pressed allies in Europe.

“The United States contacted us when oil prices shot up, and the national oil reserves in Europe were tapped as a result. I think such solidarity would also be good for curbing gas prices,” he said.

CNBC contacted the White House for a response to the comments and is awaiting a reply.

Habeck, the co-leader of Germany’s Green Party, which is a part of Berlin’s coalition government led by center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said the EU should also do more to address the region’s gas crisis, with countries scrambling for alternative supplies which has pressured prices even more, that was brought about by the war in Ukraine and deteriorating relations with Russia.

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Moscow’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom has cut supplies to the bloc drastically over the last few months, largely due to international sanctions and a desire to punish Europe — the EU used to import around 45% of its gas supplies from Russia but is seeking to halt all imports — for supporting Kyiv.

Habeck said the EU “should pool its market power and orchestrate smart and synchronized purchasing behavior by the EU states so that individual EU countries do not outbid each other and drive up world market prices.” 

European market power is “enormous,” it just has to be used, he noted, according to the German news outlet.

Europe is facing a hard winter with gas shortages predicted across the region. Countries like Germany have been largely dependent on Russian gas supplies for decades with massive energy infrastructure, such as the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, designed to bring gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

While the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline was never even launched, with Germany refusing to certify the pipeline following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Nord Stream 1 has become a pawn in souring relations between Moscow and Brussels.

Over the summer, gas supplies via the pipeline stopped and started seemingly at Moscow’s whim, although it invariably cited the need for maintenance and sanctions as a reason for halting supplies. But then supplies came to a halt in September.

More recently, Russia and Europe’s energy ties have literally been damaged with the Nord Stream pipelines suffering leaks last month in suspicious circumstances.

Russia denied it had sabotaged the pipelines, with reported underwater explosions damaging the pipes in several places, sending natural gas spewing from the Baltic Sea. The damage prompted an international outcry with the EU vowing a “robust” response to attacks on its energy infrastructure.

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