James Surowiecki in The New Yorker on bankruptcy American Airlines recently filed for bankruptcy, though it had money to continue paying debts, because bankruptcy offered it strategic advantages. "But when it comes to another set of borrowers the norms are very different ... A good percentage of Americans are in much the same position as American Airlines: they can still pay their debts, but doing so is like setting a pile of money on fire every month," Surowiecki writes. He describes how "strategic default" might actually be the most rational solution for people living in underwater homes, but he notes the psychological and moral barriers that keep many Americans from doing so. Still, he says we face a double standard. There are ways banks could help homeowners walk way from mortgages without significantly hurting their business. "The truth is that banks have been relying on homeowners to do the right thing. It might be time for homeowners to do the smart thing instead."
Juliette Kayyem in The Boston Globe on medical marijuana Where a government places an issue in its bureaucracy reveals the priority they give certain topics. "Medical marjiuana is governed by drug enforcers and prosecutors. This simple fact has created a legal fight over legitimate state attempts to administer this different kind of pain relief." Even decisions on medical studies, she notes are made by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "whose name gives you a sense of its priorities." She describes clashes between states and the federal government, where enforcers bring cases against medical marijuana distributors and growers. Now some states are asking the government to demote marijuana to a Schedule II drug to signal its acceptance of medical marijuana as a safe remedy. "For decades, and despite repeated attempts by scientists and researchers to prod DEA to reconsider its stance, the agency has never budged. Now the governors are asking."
Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske in The New York Times on poverty and education Children from disadvantaged homes on average under-perform compared to their more privileged peers. "But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control," Ladd and Fiske write. They outline research that proves the correlation between income and school performance and explain reasons behind it, like malnutrition. They also detail the many rationales for ignoring this gap when setting policy -- not wanting to lower expectations for poor students and pointing to schools that "beat the odds." But since there isn't much political movement for eradicating poverty, we should look for solutions that acknowledge the difficulties it presents to education, like providing food and healthcare. "Let's agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question."
E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post on Obama's foreign policy This past week, Vladimir Putin blamed Hillary Clinton for pro-democracy protests in his country, Clinton herself made a landmark speech for worldwide gay rights, and did indeed speak out against corruption in Russia's elections. "Something important has happened to President Obama's foreign policy. For some time after he took office, he only rarely spoke out for human rights or used the word 'democracy,'" Dionne writes. He says some of this was motivated by reaction against the Bush era diplomacy, and the Arab Spring may be what's forcing a change. He links it to the idea of "democratic realism," which can be defined as supporting democracy everywhere but only committing real resources to it where it is strategically necessary to our own survival. Dionne says this, not "appeasement" as Republican opponents have suggested, may be the idea motivating Obama's decisions. "[L]et's drop the appeasement nonsense and argue instead about democratic realism, what it means and whether it's the right idea to undergird American policy."
Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View of Sunni-Shiite violence Peace between Sunnis and Shiites has mostly been the result of stable governments, often led by the Sunnis, but the collapse of governments causes sectarian violence to increase. "Radical transition breeds instability; and instability has a nasty habit of generating sectarian violence. Understanding the structure of this violence is the only hope of preventing it." He describes the long history of Sunni Shiite division, and the Shiite holiday of Ashura, which becomes a target for sectarian violence where Shiite minorities have grown more bold in celebrating it. He describes prominent coordinated anti-Shiite attacks and links them all to weakening governments. "Failed states will mean more of the sectarian violence that claimed thousands of lives there. This time, there will be no David Petraeus ex machina to bring it under control."