Thursday Edition



Sanctions are becoming a much bigger part of how the U.S. asserts its influence abroad. (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg reporter Saleha Mohsin: “Seemingly every lawmaker now basically has a sanctions package in their back pocket that they want to unveil against whoever it might be. Economic sanctions have become so important to the U.S. government that in 2022, right after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Joe Biden talked about them at the very beginning of his State of the Union address.”

Source: Bloomberg

In 2017 and 2018, the Trump administration imposed over 900 Iran-related sanctions, leading Iran’s economy to shrink by 5% each year. The U.S. has hit Russia with 3,500 sanctions since the start of the Ukraine war.

Here’s a map showing active U.S. sanctions as of July 2019:

Measuring the effectiveness of sanctions is notoriously tricky, and the evidence is mixed. 

  • A 2015 study found United Nations sanctions cut a country's growth by 2.3–3.5% for a decade, while unilateral U.S. sanctions have a smaller effect, reducing growth by 0.5–0.9% over seven years.

  • A 2009 survey found sanctions achieve their desired goals only 34% of the time.

  • According to some estimates Russia’s economy shrank by only 1.2% in 2022 and actually grew in 2023.

Sanctions are often framed as a a peaceful alternative to war, but they can have devastating impacts. In the wake of sanctions on Iran, nearly 57 million Iranians lived below the poverty line. A 1995 study found as many as 576,000 Iraqi children died as a result of economic sanctions during the Gulf War.


Democrats are building up a sizeable campaign cash advantage over Republicans, which may give them an edge when it comes to boosting President Biden’s 2024 election chances. (CNN)

The latest FEC data shows Biden and the Democratic National Committee have stockpiled a good deal more cash than Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee.

  • Biden’s campaign: $56 million

  • Trump’s campaign: $30.5 million

  • DNC: $24.1 million

  • RNC: $8.7 million

There are other signs of trouble for Trump. The former president's cash reserves have decreased from $33 million at the end of 2023, while Biden’s increased from $46 million. Trump and the RNC having a combined $39.2 million on hand is a stark contrast to the over $200 million they had at this point in 2020.

The number of people donating to Trump has declined compared to 2019. Biden donors have nearly doubled over the same time period.

Digital strategist Deisy Verdinez on why candidates need campaign cash: “Money has become the lifeblood of American political campaigns. It buys TV ads, hires staff in key states, facilitates travel and secures crucial data to reach targeted voting blocs.”


Americans are choosing Second Amendment rights over gun control, according to a survey conducted after a shooting last week at a Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl victory parade. (Morning Consult)

Chart: Morning Consult

A new Morning Consult poll found 47% of voters prioritize the right to own guns over limiting firearm ownership (44%). It’s the first shift in favor of gun rights over gun control since March 2021.

This cuts against two trends. Since 2015, a majority of Americans have favored stricter gun laws, per Gallup polling. Also, support for gun control usually spikes following high-profile shootings.

One in four people who go through higher education programs end up earning less than the typical high school graduate. (ABC News)

A new HEA Group analysis of Education Department data found 25% of higher ed attendees make under $32,000 (the median annual income for high school graduates) after a decade. The median income of graduates at 8% of higher ed institutions is less than $22,000 a year. That qualifies them for some public assistance programs.

That being said, most college graduates still earn more than high school graduates, highlighting a long-term wage premium for degree holders. A June 2023 study found the wage premium increases the older you get, jumping from from 27% at age 25 to 60% at age 55. A college degree can out-earn a high school diploma by over a million dollars by the time you hit retirement age.

Americans are growing increasingly skeptical of the value of colleges and universities. Only 42% of Americans now see a four-year degree as worth the cost, down from 53% a decade ago. Confidence in higher education has dropped to 36%, compared to 57% in 2015, per Gallup.

For the first time ever, scientists have established that male and female brains work differently. (The Telegraph)

According to a new Stanford University study, brain “hotspot” activity can be used to differentiate between men and women. The differences show up in various areas of the brain, such as the default mode network (which governs self-identity), the limbic system (emotion and memory) and striatum (habit formation). The study used AI to analyze 1,500 MRI scans, successfully identifying the sex of the brain in over 90% of cases.

Researchers hope the findings can help us understand why certain sexes are predisposed to psychiatric and neurological conditions. For instance, women are far more likely than men to become clinically depressed. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia and more prone toward alcoholism.

The study also has implications for the ongoing debate over whether sex differences are rooted in biology or culture.

  • Dr Gina Rippon, a cognitive neuroimaging professor who has argued society is responsible for differences in the brain: “The key issue is whether these differences are a product of sex-specific, biological influences, or of brain-changing gendered experiences. Or both. Are we really looking at sex differences? Or gender differences?”

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