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Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Jue, 26/03/2015 - 13:27

“AS LONG as I am governor of New Jersey, there won’t be legalised marijuana in this state,” vowed Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, on March 25th. A potential Republican contender in the 2016 presidential race, Mr Christie explained that “every bit of objective data tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs”. Is he right?

The gateway theory seems reasonable enough at first. Most people who take hard drugs start with soft ones. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that among people who have tried illicit drugs, about two-thirds began with marijuana. Hardly anyone jumps straight in at the deep end: less than 1% of drug users reported that their first-ever outing was with heroin or cocaine.

But then, it’s also a fact that most heroin addicts had previously tried chocolate. The trouble is that marijuana is so common—about four out of ten Americans, including the president, admit to having tried it—that any abuser of hard drugs is likely to have encountered it along the way....Continue reading

Flag waiving

Mar, 24/03/2015 - 16:06

AMERICANS love their cars, and they adore personalising them. Trail a Yankee’s sedan and you’ll see family stick-figure decals, bumper stickers and, occasionally, idiosyncratic licence plates. Motorists may compose their own seven-character messages (that’s a “vanity” plate), or they may opt for a “specialty” plate of a design that an organisation has persuaded the state to adopt. On Monday the Supreme Court grappled with whether states have any say in deciding what the parameters of these tags can be.

The question arose in 2009 when the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an association of male descendants of soldiers who fought on the losing side of the civil war, asked the state of Texas to issue a licence plate featuring its logo, which includes a Confederate battle flag. After critics of the design lined up to argue that the Confederate flag connotes racism and violence, the board charged with reviewing applications voted unanimously to reject the Sons’ plate. The board's rules specify...Continue reading

All-you-can-eat politics

Mar, 24/03/2015 - 00:06

CHOPPED up into five-second clips to be replayed on cable news, it will look impressive: close to 10,000 students at Liberty University sat in the college’s basketball stadium to listen to Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, launch his presidential bid this morning. Inside the hall a tuneful Christian rock group and an address from Jerry Falwell junior warmed up the crowd. This was hardly needed: Senator Cruz, with his wife and two cherubic daughters in tow, went down a storm. Dissenting voices were heard only on Yik Yak, an app that lets people sitting near each other share anonymous messages, where some students grumbled that their attendance had been compulsory. The crowd also included some irreverent folks in Stand with Rand T-shirts, in support of another first-term senator who is also likely to run for president.

Senator Cruz is a bundle of paradoxes: a populist with degrees from Princeton and Harvard; a politician suspicious of establishment elites, who also clerked for a Supreme Court judge and whose wife works at Goldman Sachs. He is also a talented speaker and campaigner who plays by his own rules. On arrival in the Senate...Continue reading

Cruz control

Lun, 23/03/2015 - 18:52

TODAY Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, took to a stage in Lynchburg, Virginia to announce he is running for president in 2016. Though plenty of candidates appear to be jockeying for position in the race to win the Republican nomination, Mr Cruz is the first to declare himself an official candidate. This is a fine way to ensure a nice boomlet of media coverage: political journalists who have grown tired of speculating about a Bush-Clinton showdown are now hungrily feeding on Mr Cruz’s grand pronouncements about everything he can't wait to overturn (Obamacare, Common Core, the president’s executive action on immigration, etc). But perhaps it would be best for Mr Cruz to not grow too attached to the limelight. As our data team shows in Continue reading


Vie, 20/03/2015 - 18:27

HOWARD SCHULTZ, the head of Starbucks, thinks the gourmet coffee chain has a responsibility to address America’s vexed race relations. After a series of internal meetings at the company, he decided to launch “Race Together”, a co-venture with USA Today, a newspaper, to “stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America.” “Race is an unorthodox and even uncomfortable topic for an annual meeting,” Mr Schultz conceded at the company’s annual gathering for shareholders on Wednesday. “Where others see costs, risks, excuses and hopelessness, we see and create pathways of opportunity—that is the role and responsibility of a for-profit, public company.”

Though seemingly well-intentioned, the campaign has elicited a backlash. Starbucks baristas,...Continue reading

Want to make me?

Vie, 20/03/2015 - 14:08

ON WEDNESDAY, while Barack Obama was suggesting to an audience in Cleveland that it might be a good idea to make voting mandatory, my wife was being prevented from voting. My wife, a Dutch citizen, is away on a business trip, so for Wednesday's elections to the Netherlands' provincial assemblies she had filled out a proxy voting form. The proxy form states that a voter can designate "another voter" to cast their ballot. Without giving the matter much thought, she indicated that the "other voter" who would cast her ballot would be me.

That, as I discovered at the polling station, was not allowed. I could cast my wife's proxy ballot in the waterschapsverkiezingen, which choose the boards that run the country's dikes and canals, but not in the provincial-assembly elections, because I was not eligible to vote in them myself. The distinction had not occurred to...Continue reading

A looming threat

Jue, 19/03/2015 - 23:32

UNMANNED aircraft, otherwise known as drones, are becoming common. Many are familiar with America’s use of armed drones in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, but drones are increasingly being used by other parts of the government, as well as by companies and individuals. Drones can be far cheaper to operate than anything that requires an on-board pilot, and they are handy for making maps and taking pictures and videos. The FBI uses a small fleet of drones for law-enforcement surveillance. Customs and Border Patrol uses them to monitor the American border with Mexico (though the programme was recently found to be ineffective and expensive). Commercial drones are now regularly used for real-estate photography and to Continue reading

Lean in, push out

Mar, 17/03/2015 - 17:17

KLEINER Perkins Caulfield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious venture-capital firms, had promoted only one woman to the position of senior partner by 2011, nearly 40 years after the firm was founded. This isn’t unusual in the world of venture capital, which has long maintained a reputation for being an old boys’ club. Indeed, these firms tend to be even less diverse than the technology companies they fund. The number of female partners in VC firms has actually decreased from 10% in 1999 to 6% in 2014, according to a recent report from Babson College.

Ellen Pao, a Harvard-trained lawyer with a background in business development, joined Kleiner Perkins in 2005. By 2012 she had seen three of her male peers promoted to senior partner while she was passed over. Ms Pao filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in May 2012, citing multiple complaints: men were promoted before women; men were allowed to serve on multiple boards while women were only allowed to serve on one;...Continue reading


Sáb, 14/03/2015 - 05:33

THE city’s Latino population has grown 13-fold since 1990, making it one of the fastest growing Hispanic cities in America and a harbinger of the country’s changing demography

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A damn punk in Ferguson

Vie, 13/03/2015 - 04:03

EIGHT months after the fatal shooting of a local unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, tensions still simmer in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Last night about 150 demonstrators congregated where they always meet: in front of the police station on South Florissant Avenue. They rallied because of the resignation earlier yesterday of Thomas Jackson, the head of Ferguson police, in the wake of a scathing report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that found that racial bias and petty harassment was rife in his force. Most of the demonstrators applauded Mr Jackson’s departure, but called for more heads to roll.

The demonstrators were just about to pack up at around midnight when gun shots suddenly rang through the air, injuring two policemen who were part of a cordon of officers standing side-by-side to protect the police station. The two policemen were from the neighbouring St Louis county police department, as the Ferguson force had asked for back-up last night. The department was "lucky by God’s grace we didn’t lose...Continue reading

The path of least disruption

Mié, 11/03/2015 - 15:15

HOW will the Supreme Court decide this term’s two biggest cases? One slightly cynical prediction floating around forecasts a split decision: the justices will announce a constitutional right to gay marriage, a huge victory for liberals, while voting to upend the Affordable Care Act, a dream of conservatives. According to some iterations of this hypothesis, the chief justice, John Roberts, will broker such a compromise—and vote accordingly—in order to maintain his image as the even-handed “balls-and-strikes” caller he claimed to be a decade ago in his Senate nomination hearing. By giving both liberals and conservatives something, but not too much, to cheer about, the chief will save the court from charges of an ideological tilt. As Noah Feldman wrote a few months ago at Bloomberg View, the chief seems loth to have “a court associated with his name...come to be seen as the most activist conservative court since the 1920s and...Continue reading

An enigmatic soul

Mié, 11/03/2015 - 03:47

SUNDAY services at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York featured a portrait at the altar of Edward Cardinal Egan, who died on March 5th. After the funeral today his body will be interred in a crypt at the cathedral. The ceremonies in tribute to his life and work have been fairly subdued. This is perhaps apt. Cardinal Egan, who presided over New York’s archdiocese from 2000 to 2009, may have had an imposing presence and a powerful baritone voice, but he kept a low profile. He was rarely in front of a camera. He hardly ever gave interviews. Indeed he was an enigmatic figure for many New Yorkers and a polarising leader among Catholics. He was not universally loved by his flock.

Cardinal Egan arrived in New York in 2000 with an impossible task: to fill the shoes of John Cardinal O’Connor, his beloved predecessor. New York’s cardinals tend to be a charismatic bunch, but Cardinal O’Connor was uniquely powerful. As the unofficial head of the Catholic Church in America, he was courted by presidents. He was not afraid to take on politicians, even well-known Catholics. He threatened to excommunicate Geraldine Ferraro, a vice-presidential...Continue reading

Poor judgment

Mar, 10/03/2015 - 23:30

GOVERNMENT technology is a pain. Anyone who works for the American government—or knows someone who does—knows that sending an official e-mail requires using an authorised device. Logging into Gmail, on the other hand, can be done from anywhere. So Hillary Clinton’s claim that she used a personal e-mail account instead of a government one for the sake of convenience rings true. 

The problem is that Mrs Clinton was no mere government employee, but Secretary of State. And instead of using Gmail, say, she maintained a personal e-mail server in her suburban home in Chappaqua, New York. 

This goes against federal rules that all official e-mails should be stored by government departments. It also means Mrs Clinton can choose which missives she turns over to authorities, which looks suspicious. Complaints of foul play, particularly from Republicans in the House, forced Mrs Clinton to plead her case in a hastily arranged press conference at the United Nations this afternoon. She argued, essentially, that she should be treated like any other minor bureaucrat, and that her secretive personal e-mail account is basically...Continue reading

Still marching

Lun, 09/03/2015 - 19:36

“OUR march is not yet finished,” declared Barack Obama from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7th. The president had come to the small southern town, along with around 20,000 people from across the country, to commemorate the marches in Selma 50 years before, when Martin Luther King junior and other civil-rights luminaries protested for voting rights for black Americans.

The original marches were met with brutal violence from racist police, and ultimately pushed President Lyndon Johnson to send voting-rights legislation to Congress. A half-century later the atmosphere in Selma was more festive, complete with stalls selling souvenirs and smoked pig tails, and participants taking selfies. The president crossed the bridge with John Lewis, who helped lead the original march, and Amelia Boynton, a 103-year-old survivor of its violence. The following day, smiling marchers wore bright T-shirts announcing their churches and hometowns: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Gary, Memphis, Nashville and New York, among others. The only...Continue reading

Setting the record straight

Lun, 09/03/2015 - 15:38

AROUND 150 American citizens and residents have travelled, or attempted to travel, to Syria to fight for the Islamic State (IS). Three more men, residents of Brooklyn, recently joined this list of aspiring (though thwarted) jihadists. The number is quite small—in Europe, by contrast, more than 3,000 people are believed to have joined the ranks of IS fighters—but the allure of jihad among Westerners remains alarming nonetheless. The terrorist organisation uses social media to create what James Comey, director of the FBI, calls a “siren song” for troubled souls. The IS sales pitch, he says, goes like this: “Come to the caliphate, you will live a life of glory, these are the apocalyptic end times, you will find a life of meaning here fighting...Continue reading


Jue, 05/03/2015 - 20:48

ANYONE who has followed the events in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past six months knows that residents and local police don’t see eye to eye. While in Ferguson in November, after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, I heard plenty of stories of petty harassment and racial discrimination at the hands of local police. Even still, the Department of Justice’s report into policing and court practices in Ferguson, released yesterday, makes for shocking reading. The report offers countless cases of prejudicial mistreatment of the suburb’s mostly black and mostly poor residents. Many of the individual incidents are appalling. Taken together, they offer a powerful indictment of Ferguson’s justice system. 

For a sense of the report's findings, it is worth taking a moment to read a couple of these stories in full. Here is one...Continue reading

What Obama gets wrong

Jue, 05/03/2015 - 19:18

THE governor of Louisiana sits down with The Economist's United States editor to discuss standing up to Russia, calling radical Islam the enemy and fixing America's broken immigration system. An edited transcript of the parts of the interview that were not filmed is available below, and this week's paper considers Mr Jindal's (undeclared) pitch for the top job.

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Doomsday scenarios

Jue, 05/03/2015 - 05:46

IN A post last week at the National Review on King v Burwell, the case targeting Obamacare that the justices heard on Wednesday, Jonathan Keim noticed something about the briefs:

[T]he vast majority of the amicus briefs filed in support of the government’s position made roughly the same consequentialist argument: Congress was trying to do good stuff with Obamacare; striking down the subsidies means less good stuff; therefore the Court shouldn’t strike down the subsidies. But that isn’t really legal argument at all; it’s policy. Wrong branch of government, folks.

Mr Keim is right that courts are supposed to interpret the law, not make it (or remake it). And he’s right that the consequences of scuttling billions of dollars of tax subsidies are a major talking point of defenders of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But we need to distinguish two arguments that Mr Keim conflates. One is the...Continue reading


Jue, 05/03/2015 - 00:12

“IT WAS him,” said Judy Clarke, referring to her client Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Unusually in a trial to determine guilt, she readily agreed with federal prosecutors that her client, along with his older brother, placed and detonated home-made bombs near the finishing line of Boston’s annual marathon in April 2013. Three spectators, including an eight-year old boy, were killed in the explosions and more than 260 were badly injured. The brothers also allegedly killed a police officer a few days later. The elder brother Tamerlan died in a police shoot-out four days after the explosions, leaving Mr Tsarnaev to defend himself on his own. In an opening statement that stunned the court room on March 4th, Ms Clarke, a shrewd attorney, declared that there is no denying her client did what he is accused of doing. “It is difficult to grasp, incomprehensible and inexcusable.”

At issue is not whether Mr Tsarnaev, together with his brother, aimed to kill and maim as many people as possible. That much is certain, Ms Clarke conceded. The question, then, is just how culpable Mr Tsarnaev is for his actions. Here Ms Clarke parted ways with the...Continue reading

The best of bad options

Mié, 04/03/2015 - 17:01

THE March 24th deadline for an agreement with Iran may be looming, but the parties to the talks have kept impressively quiet about the details being hammered out this week in Montreux, Switzerland. Despite speculation that a deal is imminent, significant gaps still remain which could yet scupper one.

Iran, unrealistically, is demanding the immediate removal of all sanctions. Barack Obama, America’s president, can suspend most of America’s, but only Congress can remove sanctions that it has legislated. The rapturous applause for the speech Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, gave to Congress on March 3rd suggests that suspension is the best the Iranians can get from America for the foreseeable future. The European Union and the United Nations Security Council could, however, remove their sanctions more permanently.

Iran also wants to be able to continue to develop more advanced centrifuges, which would allow the rapid ramp-up of uranium enrichment (and thus speed the path to a bomb) once the...Continue reading