The Biggest Challenge We Face

As we approach the ten-year commemoration of that dark July day in London, and as we reflect on recent attacks in Europe, Africa and the United States, I find myself thinking about the biggest challenge we now face.

Ten years ago, as the country reeled from one of the most horrendous terrorist attacks on our soil, we were reminded of the dreadful events of 9/11 in New York. Terrorism, whilst an act that no right-minded person could condone or understand, was something the world was growing accustomed to, and we were used to hearing about various networks of cells that had been broken up, or attacks that had been prevented by the excellent and dangerous work undertaken by our security services.

Only a couple of weeks after 7/7 we saw radicalism rear its ugly head again in the form of the failed attacks on the 21st July, followed by the abhorrent 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot. These were concerted coherent plans on the part of British citizens to blow up, kill, and maim hundreds if not thousands of innocent Britons going about their daily lives.

Since then, we have seen an emerging and evolving threat to our shores – a challenge of a different kind. This threat is more insidious than the terrorist attacks of the early-to-mid 2000s, in that it doesn’t revolve around particular groups or cells or networks. Instead, the threat is coming from home-grown lone-wolf terrorists, acting independently or with a small number of accomplices.

The term is not a new one. Indeed, it has been used since the mid-1990s when it applied to radicalised white supremacists like Tom Metzger, who advocated individuals acting alone to attack the government or other targets in daily anonymous acts. We see this today, in the unconscionable shooting of nine African American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. A lone-wolf, with his bitter demons of racism and hatred that had consumed him, took it upon himself to commit murder most heinous.

Closer to home the whole country was horrified by the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby by two radicalised fundamentalists and, more recently, we felt pangs of sorrow and despair over the senseless killings of more than 30 Britons on that beach in Tunisia. Yet again, because of the hatred felt by a tiny minority, families have been torn apart and lives destroyed in that one instant.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right, however, when he says we must be vigorous in our approach. This is not, and must not become, a war between East and West, between Christianity and Islam. That is exactly what the depraved monsters who are engaged in jihad with terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq want to happen. We must be firm. We will only prevent more young Britons from joining these poisonous death cults by promoting British values of peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom for all. We can do this. We must do this.

Ten Reasons To Vote Conservative

At the start of March, the Prime Minister outlined ten reasons why you should vote Conservative on Thursday May 7th. Before you step into the polling booth, take a moment to look through the Conservative Party’s positive plan for the next five years. We need to build on the work we’ve already done since 2010, and only a Conservative majority can protect the recovery and finish the job we started.

(via David Cameron’s Facebook)

A LONG-TERM ECONOMIC PLAN THAT IS WORKING:

Cons - Businesses

The British economy has been transformed.

Out of the ashes of the Great Recession, last year we were the fastest-growing major economy in the developed world. More than 1.8 million extra people are in work. The deficit has been cut in half. This didn’t happen by accident.

It’s because we’ve got a long-term economic plan – and for the sake of your job, your family and your future, we’ve got to stick to that plan.

1,000 JOBS A DAY:

Cons - LTEP

Since the Conservatives have been in Government, 1,000 new jobs have been created every single day. We’ve created more jobs than the rest of the EU put together. So if you want Britain to keep on as the job-creating factory of Europe, then keep Conservatives in government.

CUTTING YOUR TAXES:

Cons - Tax Cut

Because we’ve lifted the income tax allowance to £10,000, chances are you’ve had a tax cut – like 26 million other people in our country. Why have we done this?

Because you worked hard for that money – and Conservatives think you should keep more of it.

So we’ve made a big commitment: Next time we’ll raise the tax-free threshold even higher – to £12,500. People working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will pay no income tax at all. Labour and the Lib Dems threaten to raise your taxes, we will cut them.

GIVING YOUNG PEOPLE A DECENT START:

Cons - Apprenticeships

So far we’ve got a million more children learning in good or outstanding schools – and by investing £7 billion next time, we will create many more brilliant school places.

On top of that, we will fund three million more apprenticeships, so that instead of heading for a life on the dole, our young people are learning a trade and getting on in life.

MAKING BENEFITS MORE FAIR:

Cons - Benefits

Our welfare system was a soft touch for too long. It sent out the terrible message that it was better to stay idle than to work.

So we brought in a benefit cap – and next time we would reduce that cap to £23,000 per household. Why? Because many hard-working taxpayers in our country earn less than that.

This is about real fairness between who puts in and who takes out. The age of something for nothing is over.

DIGNITY AND SECURITY IN OLD AGE:

Cons - Pensioners

For years pensioners were treated poorly. The people who fought the Nazis and built our country were fobbed off with pitiful 75p increases in their pension. It was a disgrace – and we’ve turned it around.

The State Pension is up by £950 a year. Benefits including free bus passes and winter fuel allowance have been kept.

Next time we’d keep the pension rising by earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest. We’d keep those free benefits – and keep ensuring dignity and security for the older generation.

MORE HOMES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE:

Cons - Family

We’ve pulled out the stops to get more people on the housing ladder. Help To Buy has got 77,000 so far into a home of their own.

Next time we’d build Starter Homes across our country – especially for first-time buyers under 40.

Tens of thousands more people will have the brilliant feeling of standing in their own home, keys in hand, knowing “this is mine”.

PROTECTING THE NHS:

Cons - NHS

It is one of the best things about being British: Whoever you are, however much money you’ve got in the bank, you can get help if you are sick.

That’s why we have protected the NHS budget, employed 9,500 more doctors, 7,500 more nurses, started a Cancer Drugs Fund and boosted dementia care and research. Next time we would make sure – once again – that healthcare spending goes up.

CONTROLLING EU MIGRATION AND HOLDING AN EU REFERENDUM:

Cons - Europe

I will go to Brussels with a clear plan: No more benefits for EU jobseekers; if you haven’t got a job after six months, you must leave; no in-work benefits or social housing unless you’ve been here for four years.

Then, in 2017, a Conservative Government would put our future in Europe to the British people in a referendum. In or out – you decide.

BACKING OUR BRAVE TROOPS:

Cons - Trident

In an age of Islamist extremism and threats from across the world, it is vital that Britain’s forces have the best kit.

That’s why Conservatives plan to invest at least £160 billion in new hardware over the next decade, including seven new Astute-class submarines, the Joint Strike Fighter, and two vast aircraft carriers to patrol the seas and keep us safe.

We’ve taken money from fines imposed on the banks into veterans’ charities, and made the Military Covenant the law of the land. We’ve always backed our troops – and we’ll keep it up.


Ten reasons to vote Conservative, and to stop a Labour government propped up by the SNP from ruining the country.

Vote Conservative

#ProtectTheRecovery

Hillary’s Social Strategy

A little over thirty months ago, I wrote a three-part article looking at social media as the ‘51st State‘ in US elections, and the importance it would play in the then-looming 2012 US presidential election.

Save Big BirdI won’t reiterate the entire article here, but suffice to say Obama had a much more targeted social engagement strategy with his grass-roots than Romney did, and this was a huge plank in both his 2008 and more so in his 2012 election victories. Do read the article if you have a moment, it even talks about Big Bird.

As we now enter the 2016 US presidential election cycle proper, with Hillary Clinton having thrown her hat into the ring, I looked at how Hillary Clinton’s influence is playing out across one particular social media platform: Twitter.

Hillary TBD...Hillary had teased us since setting up her Twitter profile, outlining all of her achievements to date in her biography and tantalising us with the inclusion of the TBD… at the end, so it was appropriate that she officially launched her campaign via this network, and innovative to tweet her announcement in both English and Spanish.

Hillary Announces

Using Twitter Counter, I’ve generated a chart showing Hillary’s tweets per day plotted against her total followers over the last three months (I’m not paying for the package!). It shows a continued and steady increase in followers, and very few tweets per day or week, up until around mid-April when something approaching a geological boundary-level event occurs and there is a significant increase in Hillary’s followers, and subsequent tweet activity.

Hillary Clinton Twitter over 3 months

Looking more closely at the period April 11th to April 15th, you can see that her followers increased by some 20,000 on the Saturday as people the world over awaited her announcement. On the day itself, Sunday 12th, a staggering 155,000 new followers started watching the future POTUS, with another 47,000 the day after.

Hillary Clinton Twitter announcement

Hillary Clinton Twitter daily average

One thing is certain: Twitter, and other social media, will once again play a critical role in this election, and this may well be a battleground that Mrs Clinton has already won.

Hillary’s High Stakes In 2020

You can't tell me these two never inhaled.

You can’t tell me these two never inhaled.

If you haven’t read part one, click here.

At this point, the neo-conservatives normally jump up and ask about the impact on children, and the millions of impressionable young folks that legalisation of cannabis would impress upon.

Unfortunately, this is an argument that has largely been lost, thanks in part to the campaign started under Nancy Reagan in 1982 to ‘just say no‘, which had the rather otherworldly feeling of being told off by a combination of kindly school matron and Commissioner Anabell Brumford from The Naked Gun franchise. The message didn’t resonate back then, and Nancy was widely parodied by those on the liberal left and amongst younger people in particular. It still doesn’t resonate now. A recent Buzzfeed article entitled ‘34 Questions Twentysomethings Have For Teens‘ asked the question of whether the ‘the general consensus that smoking is cool or gross‘? A lot of the answers were quick to condemn tobacco, but then were between mildly ambivalent to wildly enthusiastic about weed, with only a few lonesome dissenters. Many said smoking weed was “cool” or “something everyone did”, or others commented that they did not smoke weed themselves but knew friends who did.

34 Questions Twentysomethings Have For Teens

This is deeply worrying for people on both sides of the wider legalisation of cannabis issue: although alcohol is legal with age-restrictions, there are very few who would be keen to see 13 year-olds thinking getting drunk was ‘cool’. Doing a quick search on Buzzfeed under the tags ‘weed‘ and ‘marijuana‘ throws up a host of news stories and articles that glorify and celebrate smoking cannabis, with little else.

Celebrating Cannabis

There is some good news though.

Studies have shown that alcohol consumption and tobacco usage amongst teenagers in the UK are both declining trends, largely thanks to the tight regulation of usage, sale and possession, and the vast amounts of public & private money spent on health and awareness campaigns. The same efforts could be made on public health campaigns and awareness of cannabis as is expended over tobacco and alcohol.

C

Weed Arrests

Like in the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 in America, cannabis usage is never going to disappear, and criminalisation will only continue to funnel money from the taxpayer to the underworld whilst tying up public money, police and judicial time and filling the prisons with (mostly) black Americans in an endless war on drugs.

In 2010, 52 per cent of all drug arrests in the States were for marijuana, with seven million people arrested for possession that decade. Nationally, blacks are about four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession – although this rate varies wildly at a state-level.

Source: ACLU

Source: ACLU

Wars on nouns very rarely achieve anything: is the world any safer after George Bush’s Coalition of the Willing launched its ‘war on terror’? [note: that is not a comment on the wider, and vital, fight against extremism and those who seek to attack us at home or abroad]. Is it not a more progressive solution – for libertarians on the liberal and conservative side who don’t want the government regulating their bodies – to legalise, tax, set restrictions, and educate?

The expectation is that several more states will more towards legalisation in the next two years. Massachusetts has an initiative to end cannabis prohibition and regulate weed in the same fashion as alcohol; California is moving towards full legalisation in 2016; there are similar trends in Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and, surprisingly, Missouri. California represents one of the world’s largest economies all on its own, and if cannabis is legalised, it will have a dramatic effect across the country. It is also expected that yet more states will further extend their permissive cannabis laws between the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. If, as expected, Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and the White House in 2016 and, if the Democrats can win back either the Senate or the House or both in-between, then the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2020 (Hillary!) would be in a strong position to run on a platform of ending the war on drugs (on cannabis).

Heck, she might even win back a majority of the youth GOP vote… and that would be a fundamental shift in US politics the likes of which have not been seen since Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

Tax, Tax, Pass | Legalisation Is Coming

As folks the world over celebrate 4/20, let’s take a look at the changes to cannabis legislation and public perception across the US. States have been changing their approach to weed rapidly in recent years:

  • four states have legalised marijuana completely (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington);
  • ten states have legalised medicinal sales and decriminalised possession (California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont);
  • Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Ohio have also decriminalised possession;
  • Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New Mexico have legalised medicinal usage and sales only.
State and territorial laws about cannabis in the United States (via en.wikipedia.org)

State and territorial laws about cannabis in the United States
(via en.wikipedia.org)

A total of 28 states plus D.C. have liberalised their cannabis laws, meaning the balance has definitely swung against the remaining 22 states. It’s no real surprise that most of these states that moved toward legalisation are on the east and west coasts, whilst the more conservative hold-outs are in traditional “flyover territory”. At a national level, a growing proportion of the public now support legalisation – 53 per cent of Americans would support weed being made legal, compared with just 12 per cent when the question was asked back in 1969. Many public figures have now openly admitted the have smoked weed in the past (Sarah Palin, Martha Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, George W Bush (and every subsequent president), and many more influential people including politicians, Supreme Court justices, entertainers and, entrepreneurs. Others have said that they still do smoke pot, including Whoopi Goldberg, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, Willie Nelson, Bill Maher, Seth Rogen, and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. Even more have said to be “evolving” their position on the issue in favour of legalisation, a list that includes Elizabeth Warren, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Rick Perry..! Probably the first and last time Perry’s name will appear on such an august list.

Interestingly, there is some agreement between the political factions on the question of legalisation, although there is still a gulf between the two. 63 per cent of all Democrats support legalisation, compared to 39 per cent of Republicans and 58 per cent of independents. There is, however, a clear generational divide as overwhelmingly 70 per cent of young people aged 18-29 think weed should be legal, whilst only 32 per cent of those aged 65 and over agree. Six-in-ten (63 per cent) of GOP Millennials say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while Democrats overall are more enthusiastic supporters, with three-in-four (77 per cent) of Democratic Millennials favouring legal marijuana use. Across every generational divide, Democrats show higher support than Republicans on this issue. As these young generations replace those above them, and still further acceptance emerges in the generations that come after, the trend is surely one-way and irreversible. So the question is, will this next decade be the final death-knell for this new prohibition? Globally, we spend in excess of $100 billion on the war on drugs, a war that has been waged for over fifty years with limited to no success. Now, this is not an advocation for a full liberalisation of the drug law in the US (nor anywhere else!), but a simple recognition that the medical evidence that cannabis is any more harmful that tobacco or alcohol is not there, and its medical benefits are proven. Even the US government, which maintains cannabis as a Schedule I item on the Controlled Substances Act (defined to mean that cannabis has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States), has taken out patents on cannabis products. Take US Patent 6630507 titled ‘Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants‘ which was taken out by the Department of Health and Human Services, stating that cannabis is useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. What is clear however is that the market in the US for cannabis is between $35 and $45 billion, and assuming comparable taxes to tobacco of 40-50% (excise and sales tax), a $40 billion weed market would yield $16-20 billion in taxes.

Continued in Part Two, where we look at the social impact of cannabis and whether the war on drugs is really working with young people. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

[Part Two – Hillary’s High Stakes In 2020]