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August 22, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson



Law professor Bruce Mann’s 2002 book on the early history of American debt, Republic of Debtors, explained how early Americans redefined bankruptcy to excuse defaulting on commercial debt as a result of the volatility of market forces, while retaining the old idea that defaulting on personal debt was a moral failing. Their argument was that commercial debtors could not avoid economic risk because they engaged in market activity, while farmers, tradesmen—ordinary people—should order their affairs so that they did not take on debt they could not repay.

Mann pointed out that this new understanding was “an oddly narrow understanding of economic risk, excluding as it did the hazards and chance that could rain economic ruin on farmers, tradesmen, and other nonmerchants. Moreover, it treated noncommercial debt as somehow avoidable and hence nonpayment” as a moral failing. 

The difference between the willingness of right-wing lawmakers to afford debt relief to business owners—often including themselves—through the Paycheck Protection Program and their staunch opposition to the Biden administration’s student loan relief programs suggest that a perceived difference between commercial debt and personal debt in the United States is alive and well.

Rising costs of college and cuts to government support for education mean that more than 45 million people across the country owe more than $1.6 trillion in federal loans, an amount equal to the size of the Australian economy. That debt absorbs money people at the lower end of the economic scale would otherwise invest in homes, consumer goods, and so on, and the Biden administration has made it a priority to relieve some of that debt.

When she was the California attorney general, Vice President Kamala Harris took on predatory for-profit colleges and won $1 billion for defrauded veterans and students, and when he ran for office, Biden promised to forgive federal student debt for those earning less than $125,000.

Since the Supreme Court on June 30, 2023, rejected the administration’s plan to forgive more than $400 billion in student debt borrowed through government programs, the administration has turned to other approaches.

In April it began to fix the administrative errors that had kept borrowers from receiving relief through income-driven repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program under which they borrowed the money. Those plans were always intended to offer a way to eliminate student debt, but the Government Accountability Office in 2022 found that poor record keeping meant that that promise had not been honored. On July 14 the administration announced that fixes to those programs would relieve more than 800,000 borrowers of more than $39 billion in student debt. 

At the time, Biden did not mince words. “Republican lawmakers—who had no problem with the government forgiving millions of dollars of their own business loans—have tried everything they can to stop me from providing relief to hardworking Americans. Some are even objecting to the actions we announced today, which follows through on relief borrowers were promised, but never given, even when they had been making payments for decades. The hypocrisy is stunning, and the disregard for working and middle-class families is outrageous.”

Since then, the administration has provided relief to others caught in the system as well, including relief of $45.7 billion for 662,000 public service workers, $10.5 billion for 491,000 borrowers with a total and permanent disability, and $22 billion for nearly 1.3 million borrowers who were cheated by their schools, saw their schools close, or are covered by a related court settlement.

Today the administration released the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, a new repayment plan to bring order and relief to federal student borrowers. It is an income-driven repayment plan that is based on a borrower’s income and family size rather than their loan balance, prevents the balance from growing because of unpaid interest, and forgives the remaining balance after a number of years. “The benefits of the SAVE plan will be particularly critical for low- and middle-income borrowers, community college students, and borrowers who work in public service,” the White House said.  

Relieving student debt helps those at the lower end of the economy, which will boost economic growth, but there is also a political payoff in these efforts for the administration. As Democratic strategist and pollster Celinda Lake and documentary filmmaker Mac Heller pointed out in the Washington Post in July, in the eight years between the 2016 and 2024 elections, 32 million Americans have become eligible to vote. In the same eight years, as many as 20 million older voters have died. 

Lake and Heller note that younger Americans are focused on issues, rather than individuals, and skew progressive (prompting some Republicans to talk about raising the voting age to 25). Fulfilling a campaign promise that overwhelmingly benefits those under 50—parents as well as students—is good politics, blending in with the members of Gen Z (the generation born between the mid to late 1990s and early 2010s) forming political PACs of their own and running for office.  

A new legal filing from prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s office will likely be less good politics for Republicans. Prosecutors today explained to Florida-based U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon why they had continued to investigate the case of the national security documents Trump took, refused to return, and then hid at the Trump Organization’s property at Mar-a-Lago even after they filed indictments against Trump and his aide Walt Nauta.

Prosecutors said that a key witness in that case had retracted false testimony after replacing his Trump-funded lawyer with a public defender. That new testimony implicated Trump and another aide in the attempt to cover up Trump’s retention of the documents, and that new testimony was behind the superseding indictments released in that case in late July.  

Prosecutors say that witness is expected to testify against Trump and his aides. 

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called this “a very significant development. Trump already faced overwhelming evidence in the Mar-a-Lago case. But this flipper may change the calculus for Trump’s co-defendants. They are much younger than Trump, and they face the prospect of years in prison if convicted.”

If politics is rocky these days, everyday life is less so thanks to the vote of 86% of the members of the Teamsters union today to approve their new 5-year contract with UPS, heading off what would have been a bruising strike.  


Bruce H. Mann, Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 208.



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Iran Comes Out of the Shadows Bari Weiss




Iranians celebrate Iran’s attack against Israel in downtown Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the past 24 hours, the war that has raged in the Middle East since October 7 took on a new dimension.

In a historic first, Iran directly attacked Israel from its own territory—launching more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel.

As Free Press columnist Matti Friedman writes today from Jerusalem: “Like a flash going off in a dark room, the attack has finally given the world something valuable: a glimpse of the real war in the Middle East.”

Tehran’s strike on Israel—who thankfully had defensive help from the U.S., Britain, France, Jordan, and reportedly Saudi Arabia—should make clear, for those still in doubt, that this war is not about Gaza, or even about Israel and a single Iranian proxy in Hamas. It is about Iran.

“The importance of last night’s barrage was that for the first time, the full Iranian alliance gave us a practical demonstration of its scope, orchestration, and intentions,” Matti writes. “If you’d been watching from space, you probably could have seen the lines of this new Middle East etched in orange and red across the map of the region.”


Some Americans understand that clearly—and aren’t condemning it, but cheering it on. Our Olivia Reingold found herself at a conference of anti-war activists in Chicago on Saturday. Activists were taught how to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Farsi. Watch:

And, when news of the attack broke, the crowd cheered and burst into chants of “Hands off Iran.” 


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April 13, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson





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Michael Oren: How Did the War Begin? With Iran’s Appeasers in Washington Michael Oren




Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As Iranian provocations have mounted, the Biden administration has refrained from holding Tehran accountable. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Historians writing years from now about the Middle East conflagration of 2024 will undoubtedly ask, “When did it all begin?” Some will point to the Bush administration which, demoralized by its inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejected Israel’s entreaties to take out Iran’s then-inchoate nuclear program in 2008.

Others might cite Israel’s willingness to play by the mullahs’ rules, retaliating against their Hezbollah and Hamas proxies rather than against Iran itself, enabling it to emerge from each round of fighting utterly unscathed. 

But the bulk of the blame, fair historians will likely agree, will have to fall on the policies of those in Washington who sought to appease Iran at almost any price and ignore its serial aggressions.

Those policies began in the week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. In one of the forty-fourth president’s first acts of foreign diplomacy, Obama sent an offer of reconciliation to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That June, in his historic Cairo speech, Obama became the first president to refer to Tehran’s regime as the Islamic Republic of Iran—legitimizing the oppressive theocracy—and stood aside while that republic’s thugs beat and shot hundreds of Iranian citizens protesting for their freedom.

Over the next four years, the White House ignored a relentless spate of Iranian aggressions—attacks against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf; backing for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dedicated to America’s destruction; and barely disguised efforts to undermine pro-Western Middle Eastern governments.

At the same time, Iran supported Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter—often with poison gas—of his own countrymen. Obama had declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons as “a red line” that would have “enormous consequences” on America’s involvement in the war. It didn’t.

In Washington, the administration overlooked an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors (including me) and ended a federal investigation of a billion-dollar Hezbollah drug and arms trafficking ring in the United States. Most egregiously, Iran constructed secret underground nuclear facilities and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system that threatened the entire Middle East and much of Europe.

Why would any White House, even one devoted to rebuilding America’s relationship with the Islamic world, seek rapprochement with such a regime? 

At the time, there were multiple reasons. First, there was the desire of the United States, tired of Middle Eastern wars and no longer dependent on Arab oil, to withdraw from the region and focus on the Far East. Next, there was the belief that the U.S. had traditionally relied on its Sunni and Israeli allies only to discover that Sunnis perpetrated 9/11 and Israelis defied American policy in the West Bank. The Iranians, stronger, modern, and open to the West—so many American policymakers concluded—offered a better alternative if only their leadership were assuaged. Lastly, and ultimately most decisively, was the Iranian nuclear program, a burgeoning strategic threat that the White House refused to interdict by military means.

The nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran—euphemistically called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—had three major objectives: to block Iran’s path to the bomb, ensure that Iran became what Obama called “a responsible regional power,” and, failing that, to kick the “nuclear can” down the road. The first two goals proved illusory. 

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei adjusts his eyeglasses after casting his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than block Iran’s path to the bomb, the agreement solidly paved it by allowing Iran to retain most of its nuclear infrastructure and to continue producing ever more advanced centrifuges capable of reducing Iran’s breakout time to mere weeks. The deal put no meaningful restrictions on Iran’s missile delivery systems or its clandestine weapons programs. And even then, the largely cosmetic limitations were set to expire in less than a decade. Well before that time, though, Iran harnessed the deal’s financial and strategic rewards to expand its sphere of influence across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. So much for the responsible regional power.

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, reinstated punishing sanctions on Iran, and retaliated for Iranian attacks against Americans, indicating a different approach to the issue, but that policy proved short-lived. A centerpiece of Joe Biden’s 2019 presidential campaign was his pledge to restore America’s adherence to the JCPOA. No sooner had the Democrats regained the White House than the Iranians began to violate the agreement on a massive scale, gradually achieving military nuclear threshold capacity.

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Obama’s singular foreign policy achievement.

As the Iranian centrifuges spun, the Biden administration entered into intense negotiations to renew the JCPOA. The talks were headed by Robert Malley, who was evicted from the Obama campaign in 2008 for meeting with Hamas. Under Biden, Malley became America’s special envoy to Iran, but he was recently ousted for mishandling sensitive information. Though the initiative to reinstate the deal eventually failed, the U.S. still provided Iran with at least $10 billion in funds that had been frozen, and reportedly much more than that in quiet sanction relief. 

Meanwhile, the Iranian provocations mounted. An ally of Russia, Iran provided thousands of offensive drones and long-range missiles used to kill America’s allies in Ukraine. Since the start of the war against Hamas, Iranian proxies have launched more than 170 attacks against U.S. military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, and all but blocked international shipping through the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait. 

Still, the U.S. refrained from retaliating against Iran directly, or even holding it publicly responsible. When, in January, three American soldiers were killed by a drone strike by an Iranian-backed militia, the U.S. struck back at the militia and not at the country—or even the factory—that produced the bomb. 

Then, on Sunday, a historic first: Tehran directly attacked Israel from its territory with hundreds of drones and missiles.

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran to repeatedly assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one. 

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. Press reports about President Biden’s refusal to support an Israeli counterattack against Iran indicate, sadly, that nothing substantial in the U.S. position has changed. He has reportedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see the coordinated response to the attack as a “win.”

The Iranians, though, will not see things that way. Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity. If Israel follows Biden’s advice it will send one message to the ayatollahs: “You can launch another 350 missiles and drones at Israel or try to kill Israelis by other means. Either way, the United States won’t stop you.” 

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

The story of America can end only one of two ways: either it stands up boldly against Iran and joins Israel in deterring it, or Iran emerges from this conflict once again unpunished, undiminished, and ready to inflict yet more devastating damage.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset member, and deputy minister for diplomacy in the Israeli prime minister’s office, is the author of the Substack publication Clarity.

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