Can’t shake your student debt? Thank Joe Biden's votes.

There are many reasons the student debt crisis is what it is, a few of them can be traced back to good ol' Uncle Joe.

Can’t shake your student debt? Thank Joe Biden's votes.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
  • Student loan debt in the United States is at crisis levels, as more than a trillion dollars is currently held.
  • Part of the reason the amount is so high is because student loans can't be easily shaken off through bankruptcy proceedings.
  • This is, at least partly, the fault of a certain Delaware Senator who later served as our coolest Vice President.

Student loan debt in the United States is at crisis levels — about $1.5 trillion worth of the stuff is weighing down the economy and now constitutes the second-largest source of debt in the country, just behind mortgage debt. These facts make it no wonder why several of the leading candidates for president this time around have given attention to the issue.

The current leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, has yet to release a major plan, though. This is curious, as his record suggests that at least some of this crisis is the result of his own voting record.

Say it ain’t so Uncle Joe! 

Joe Biden's career in the senate has included one too many detours into making student loan debt harder to get rid of than can be ignored.

In 1978 he co-wrote a bill that introduced the first limit on how students could use bankruptcy law to reduce their debt burden. The bill was widely seen as unnecessary by consumer advocate groups; it passed anyway. It's restrictions, most notably the imposition of a minimum length of time students had to wait between getting out of college and declaring bankruptcy on their student loans, were slowly extended to other loans; such as those for vocational schools.

In 1990 he helped author the Crime Control Act, which is famous for stepping up sentencing guidelines, included an entirely unrelated clause that further lengthened the time students had to wait before they could declare bankruptcy on their student loans.

Then came 1997, when a panel appointed by President Clinton reported that these limitations were still pointless and advised that Congress should reverse all of them. Instead, Congress, with Uncle Joe publicly expressing his support, went the other way. In 1998 they introduced an "undue hardship" clause to federal student loan bankruptcy proceedings; making it even more difficult to declare bankruptcy on student debt even if you waited long enough to be able to do it.

To top all of this off, he supported adding the undue hardship clause to private student loans in 2005 which earned him the ire of a young Harvard professor named Elizabeth Warren.

All of these bills make student loans harder to get rid of than other kinds of debt. Some of Biden's votes might have been motivated by his being the senator from Delaware, the land where all the credit cards and provide lenders are from. The businesses in his state stood to make a fair amount of money as a result of these bills, even if the people there were still just as debt-ridden as the rest of us, if not more so.

Now, the Biden campaign has declared its support for streamlining the process for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and made vague claims in favor of "16 years of free public education." Both of these are policies that enjoy some political support and would, if enacted, make some difference to millions of Americans with or soon to have student loan debt.

However, given that these declarations are vague, tepid, and comparatively minor, these past votes must be seen as at least partially indicative of what direction a Biden administration would take in handling the student loan debt crisis.

It's still early though; he may well release a plan next week that outdoes anything else on the table. Take all of this with a healthy grain of salt — but remember that too much salt is bad for you.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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