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Up First briefing: U.S. strikes Houthis; Israel defends against genocide charges

The SAVE plan is becoming a key vehicle for President Biden's student loan debt relief efforts. In a Friday press release, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, "The Biden-Harris Administration designed the SAVE Plan to put community college students and other low-balance borrowers on a faster track to debt forgiveness than ever before."
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
The SAVE plan is becoming a key vehicle for President Biden's student loan debt relief efforts. In a Friday press release, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, "The Biden-Harris Administration designed the SAVE Plan to put community college students and other low-balance borrowers on a faster track to debt forgiveness than ever before."

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Today's top stories

The U.S. and U.K. launched air and missile strikes on the Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, Washington and London announced overnight. The strikes follow more than two months of what President Biden calls "reckless attacks" by the Houthis on international commercial cargo ships and U.S. warships in the Red Sea. The strikes were also backed by a number of the U.S. and U.K.'s allies.

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Image taken from the bridge of HMS Diamond, seen here firing Sea Viper missiles in the Red Sea on Oct. 1. The HMS Diamond along with U.S. warships successfully repelled a large attack from the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea.
Sipa USA / UK MOD/Sipa USA via Reuters Conn
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UK MOD/Sipa USA via Reuters Conn
Image taken from the bridge of HMS Diamond, seen here firing Sea Viper missiles in the Red Sea on Oct. 1. The HMS Diamond along with U.S. warships successfully repelled a large attack from the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea.

  • The Houthis have vowed to carry out more attacks and say they are doing this in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, NPR's Greg Myre reports on Up First. Myre says the Red Sea is crucial for shipping between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He calls Biden's efforts to make the Houthis back down without igniting a wider regional conflict "a real gamble."


Israel is defending itself today against a charge of genocidebrought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Yesterday, South Africa argued Israel's military response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,200 people is directed not only at Hamas militants but all Palestinians in Gaza. Israel's air, ground and sea assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 people — most of them women and children — according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

NPR's Rob Schmitz says hundreds of people rallied outside the court yesterday, chanting slogans for both sides. A Jewish teacher who traveled to the court from London tells NPR producer Abu Bakr Bashir that he agrees with South Africa, given the widespread destruction in Gaza.

  • The U.N. estimates that some 700,000 women and girls in Gaza don't have access to basic hygiene products like menstrual pads, toilet paper and running water. The conditions put them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections.
  • The war has had a heavy economic toll on Israel, the most developed economy in the Middle East. Reservists called to the military have left tech companies understaffed, leading to a shrinking economy and labor shortage.


Check out npr.org/mideastupdates for more coverage and analysis of the conflict.

Republican campaigns and the groups supporting them have spent nearly $300 million in ads so far to try and win the presidential nomination, according to data analyzed by NPR and compiled by the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Two-thirds of the money was spent on the first two nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. More than $100 million in Iowa alone, where caucuses will take place next Monday. Super PACs have spent an inordinate amount of money in this election. Unlike campaigns, they can raise unlimited amounts of money.

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Deep dive

The Biden administration announced it will fast-track a loan forgiveness policy previously scheduled for July. The new change will erase the debts of thousands of federal graduate and undergraduate student loan borrowers who initially borrowed less than $21,000. Here's what you need to know about your loans:

  • You must be enrolled in the new income-based repayment plan known as SAVE. 
  • Anyone who borrowed $12,000 or less and has been in repayment for at least 10 years will have their loans erased in February. 
  • The time window for loan forgiveness increases by one year for each additional $1,000 borrowed. 
  • The policy looks at the amount students initially borrowed — not how much they owe now. 

Weekend picks

Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady and Auli'i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.
/ Jojo Whilden
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Jojo Whilden
Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady and Auli'i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

Check out what NPR is watching, reading and listening to:

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Movies: Mean Girls, the new adaptation of the Broadway musical adaptation of the 2004 Lindsay Lohan film, has it all: songs, dance and nasty teenage drama. The Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts discuss whether it holds up to the original.

TV: Tons of new shows debuted this month, from Marvel's Echo to a new season of True Detective. Here's what to watch in January.

Books: Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham's graphic novel Lunar New Year Love Story deftly celebrates true love while acknowledging the dark forces that haunt refugee and immigrant lives in transition.

Music: It's shaping up to be a big year in music. NPR's editors discuss the album releases they're most looking forward to in 2024.

Games: This year, gamers can look forward to Final Fantasy 7 in February and a new Nintendo Switch console to close out the year.

Quiz: This week's quiz is all about winners and losers. Which one will you be?

3 things to know before you go

A Transportation Security Administration worker screens luggage at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Sept. 26, 2017. The TSA says it found a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints last year.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A Transportation Security Administration worker screens luggage at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Sept. 26, 2017. The TSA says it found a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints last year.

  1. The Transportation Security Administration says it found a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints in 2023. Nearly all them were loaded. 
  2. Good Morning America anchor and former NFL player Michael Strahan says his teenage daughter Isabella was recently diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer.
  3. eBay has agreed to pay a $3 million fine to resolve criminal charges that say its former employees waged a harassment campaign on a Massachusetts couple by sending live insects, a funeral wreath and other disturbing deliveries to their home. 

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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