Van Jones Praises Conservatives on Criminal Justice Reform: ‘You Are Stealing My Issue!’

Some might see Van Jones as out of place at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The former Obama administration adviser, who currently works as a political commentator for CNN, is a liberal, and CPAC, is well, not.

But that’s not how Jones sees it. “If you’re on Twitter calling me a sellout for working with [President Donald] Trump on criminal justice reform, here’s what I know about you,” Jones said Thursday during a panel discussion with Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which organizes CPAC. “If you’re on Twitter, you’re not in a federal prison because they don’t have Twitter in federal prison. I don’t have to listen to you. I care about the people who are locked up.”

Jones was a high-profile advocate for the FIRST STEP Act, a White House-endorsed bill that served as the first major criminal justice reform legislation to become law in years. As Reason‘s C.J. Ciaramella reports, the act reduces some mandatory minimums and bans the shackling of pregnant female inmates in federal prisons, among other reforms. Jones praised Trump after the bill passed the Senate, saying the president “has got to get the credit.”

Speaking with Reason prior to addressing CPAC, Jones emphasized the need for liberals and conservatives to come together and have civil discussions. “Matt Schlapp and I disagree on so many things. But we respect each other, and we listen to each other,” Jones said. “And we also do agree on criminal justice reform.”

“And I hope Republicans and conservatives will take on board the fact that conservatives have been leading on criminal justice reform in the state level for a long time,” he added. “This is no longer a liberal cause. It’s a bipartisan cause in part led by conservatives.”

During the panel discussion, Jones pointed to efforts by Republican governors in three states to reform their respective criminal justice systems. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant has received praise for reducing the number of incarcerated individuals. In Texas, former governor and current Energy Secretary Ricky Perry helped overhaul the agency in charge of locking up juvenile offenders, in addition to agreeing to new standards for crime labs in order to lower the number of wrongful convictions. Finally, former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal also overhauled his state’s justice system in a manner that decreased the number of black people who were sent to state prisons.

“What you’re seeing now is Republican governors being tough on the dollars, tough on crime, and shrinking prison populations and showing the rest of the country that it can be done,” Jones said. “I now have a conservative movement that, for libertarian reasons, for Christian conservative reasons, and for fiscally conservative reasons, is actually doing a great job on what should be my issue.”

“This is supposed to be my issue! You are stealing my issue!” he added, to the laughter and applause of the crowd. “Take some dadgum credit for being smart. Take some dadgum credit for getting it right.”

Jones’ speech was well-received, aside from one moment where the crowd booed after he suggested that undocumented immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. Nor was he the only criminal justice reform advocate to address CPAC. So, too, did Pat Nolan, director of the ACU Foundation’s Center of Criminal Justice Reform, and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

“It’s an unjust system because it’s exploiting the people who don’t have the money,” Davis told Reason after addressing the conference, pointing to the number of people who are incarcerated without being convicted because they can’t make bail. The fact that this happens “in a country where we’re presumed to be innocent,” Davis explained, is “a crime in itself.”

Davis said he was glad to have the opportunity to address the issue, because talking about it at CPAC “makes people more aware of what’s going on.”

Conference attendees seemed to support the idea of working with those on the other side of the aisle to reform the system. One attendee, Tom Henderson, said he doesn’t “really trust” Jones and “was surprised” when he learned the former Obama adviser would be speaking. But he praised Trump for “getting into the whole mess of incarceration of people…who probably shouldn’t be incarcerated because they’re not really a threat to our country.”

“We’ve got all these people that are locked up right now,” added Tom’s son, Nick, referring to nonviolent offenders, particularly those convicted of cannabis-related crimes. “Getting these people back out, giving them a chance to reengage with their life and catch up to where their life would be if they hadn’t been subject to such an unjust system,” Nick added, “is a good move.”

According to Howard “Cowboy” Wooldridge, a retired Michigan police detective who now runs an advocacy group called Citizens Opposing Prohibition (COP), many young conservatives are now realizing the failure of the War on Drugs. The older crowd, he suggested, is another question, though some of them are coming around as well.

“I think it’s an awesome bipartisan issue that we can all get behind, so I have no problem working across the aisle on stuff we can all agree on,” said Lacey White, who has worked on criminal justice reform in her capacity as policy coordinator for the American Legislative Exchange Council. “And if it saves taxpayer money and it helps people change lives, that’s awesome.”

“I feel like that’s an issue that both parties can come to agreements on, just because our jails and our justice system suck at the moment,” added Donna Molloy, a student as Millersville University, who pointed to the “long sentencings that people get for minimum crimes.”

“That’s an issue we can come together on. And I’m glad that someone from the left is coming here and speaking on the issue,” she added, referring to Jones.

During his panel discussion, meanwhile, Jones summed up why he’s working with conservatives on this issue. “Justice without liberty is totalitarianism,” he said. “Liberty without justice is also a nightmare.”

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Medicare for All Would Actually Be a Government Takeover of Health Care

A decade ago, as the legislation that would become Obamacare was making its way through Congress, Republicans frequently blasted the Democrats’ health plan as a “government takeover of health care.” That phrase, introduced into circulation by GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz, was eventually awarded Politifact’s Lie of the Year.

One could argue about whether the GOP’s attack was the most significant lie of 2010, but it was, at minimum, an exaggeration. Although the Affordable Care Act increased regulation on individual health insurance to the point where it became something resembling a public utility, it left the bulk of the market for private health coverage intact, and even provided subsidies so that people could obtain (heavily regulated) private coverage. Today, an estimated 177 million Americans have private coverage.

The single-payer health care plans now being put forth by Democrats under the label “Medicare for All,” however, would eliminate that coverage. As Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.) said this week when announcing House Democrats’ new Medicare for All bill, the plan would “mean a system where there are no private insurance companies that provide these core comprehensive benefits that will be covered through the government.” Unlike Obamacare, then, Medicare for All can legitimately be described as a government takeover of health care.

Although Jayapal’s plan would allow for the creation of a secondary market for supplementary coverage in addition to the government-run plan and direct cash payments to doctors, the market for the private health coverage that tens of millions of Americans currently have would be eliminated. Employers and insurers would be prohibited by law from providing the same benefits as the the government plan, a prohibition that goes further than some other countries with national health care systems. Private insurance as we know it today would be illegal.

And while the federal government would neither own hospitals nor employ doctors directly, it would be in charge of the vast majority of the nation’s health care financing. That would include setting a “national health budget”—essentially, a federally imposed cap on total health care spending—and divvying up those funds by region. The federal government would also determine the budgets for capital improvements at medical facilities and set up a fee schedule imposing rates paid to doctors in private. In addition, the government would also specify staffing levels for physicians, and determine the preferred ratio of nurses to patients at any given facility.

It’s true that the government already sets rates for Medicare in its current form, and those rates exert a significant influence on the administration of health care throughout the country. But today’s Medicare exists alongside multiple private payers that would be eliminated under single-payer, leaving the government as the sole payer for most services.

So while doctors and hospitals would not technically be state owned under Medicare for All, the federal government would determine how the vast majority of the nation’s health care dollars would be spent, making providers even more reliant on federal funds—and more susceptible to the influence and incentives of federal payment schemes—than they are today. Some practitioners might avoid this by accepting only cash payments, but it’s reasonable to assume most would not. As a consequence, doctors and others in the health industry would become de facto federal employees, with significant staffing and payment decisions made by the federal government, according to formulas set by federal agencies.

Medicare for All, as envisioned by single-payer proponents like Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), would thus bring about an explicit nationalization of health care financing and a tacit nationalization of health care delivery. This is not an incidental byproduct of single-payer health care, but the defining feature: Medicare for All is designed to give politicians and federal bureaucrats dramatically increased control over the nation’s health care system. Republicans were mistaken to dub Obamacare a government takeover, but when it comes to single-payer, the description applies: Putting the federal government in charge is the heart of the plan.

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The Approaching Winter: The Super-Cycle Has Turned

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via The Daily Reckoning,

How would you describe the social mood of the nation and world?

Would anti-Establishment, anti-status quo, and anti-globalization be a good start?

How about choking on fast-rising debt?

Would stagnant growth, stagnant wages be a fair description?

Or how about rising wealth/income inequality?

Wouldn’t rising disunity and political polarization be accurate?

These are all characteristics of the long-wave social-economic cycle that is entering the disintegrative (winter) phase. Souring social mood, loss of purchasing power, stagnating wages, rising inequality, devaluing currencies, rising debt, political polarization and elite disunity are all manifestations of this phase.

There is a template for global instability, one that has been repeated throughout history…

Historian Peter Turchin explores the historical cycles of social disintegration and integration in his new book Ages of Discord.

Turchin finds 25-year cycles that combine into roughly 50-year cycles. These 50-year cycles are part of longer 150 to 200-year cycles that move from cooperation through an age of discord and disintegration to a new era of cooperation.

That we have entered an era of rising instability and uncertainty is self-evident. There will always be areas of instability in any era, but instability and uncertainty are now the norm globally.

Turchin’s model identifies three primary forces in these cycles:

1. An over-supply of labor that suppresses real (inflation-adjusted) wages

2. An overproduction of essentially parasitic Elites

3. A deterioration in central state finances (over-indebtedness, decline in tax revenues, increase in state dependents, fiscal burdens of war, etc.)

These combine to influence the broader social mood, which is characterized in eras of discord by fragmented loyalty to self-serving special interests (disintegration) and in eras of cooperation by a desire and willingness to cooperate and compromise for the good of the entire society (integration).

Rising discord can be quantified in a Political Stress Index. Do we find evidence of Turchin’s disintegrative forces in the present era?

1. Stagnating real wages due to oversupply of labor: check.

2. Overproduction of parasitic Elites: check.

3. Deterioration in central state finances: check.

Is it any wonder that political stress, however you want to measure it, is rising?

Cycles are the result of the interaction of complex dynamics, and so they are not entirely predictable in terms of pinpointing the exact moment of crisis or the outcome of a systemic crisis.

These long cycles parallel the cyclical analysis of David Hackett Fischer, whose masterwork The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History.

In Fischer’s well-documented view, there is a grand cycle of prices and wages which turn on the simple but profound law of supply and demand; all else is detail.

As a people prosper and multiply, the demand for goods like food and energy outstrips supply, causing eras of rising prices.

Long periods of stable prices (supply increases along with demand) beget rising wages and widespread prosperity. Once population and financial demand outstrip supply of food and energy — a situation often triggered by a series of catastrophically poor harvests — then the stability decays into instability as shortages develop and prices spike.

These junctures of great poverty, insecurity and unrest set the stage for wars, revolutions and pandemics.

It is remarkable that the very conditions so troubling us now were also present in the price rises of the 13th, 16th and 18th centuries.

Unfortunately, those cycles did not have Disney endings: the turmoil of the 13th century brought war and a series of plagues which killed 40% of Europe’s population; the 16th century’s era of rising prices tilled fertile ground for war, and the 18th century’s violent revolutions and resultant wars can be traced directly to the unrest caused by spiking prices.

(The very day that prices for bread reached their peak in Paris, an angry mob tore down the Bastille prison, launching the French Revolution.)

After a gloriously long run of stable prices in the 19th century — prices were essentially unchanged in Britain between 1820 and 1900 —the 20th century was one of steadily increasing prices.

Fischer challenges the notion that all inflation is monetary; the supply of money (gold and silver) rose spectacularly in the 19th century but prices barely budged. In a similar fashion, eras of rising prices have seen stable money supplies.

Monetary inflation can lead to hyper-inflation, of course, but there are always mitigating factors in those circumstances. Fischer argues the long wave is not one of hyper-inflation but of supply and demand imbalances undoing the social order.

Americans are inherently suspicious of anything which seems to threaten constraint of the American Dream; thus it is not surprising that cycles of history are largely unknown in the U.S. As Fischer explains:

This collective amnesia is partly the consequence of an attitude widely shared among decision-makers in America, that history is more or less irrelevant to the urgent problems before them.

Fischer notes that he describes not cycles but waves, which are more variable and less predictable. In response to this great rise in prices of essentials, both commoners and governments debased the currency.

In old days, this meant shaving the edges of coins, or debasing new coins with non-precious metals. The debasement was an attempt to increase money to counteract the rise in prices, but it failed (of course). Every few decades, a new undebased coinage was released, and then the cycle of debasement began anew.

Just as insidiously, wages fell:

But as inflation continued in the mid-13th century, money wages began to lag behind. By the late 13th and early 14th centuries real wages were dropping at a rapid rate. This growing gap between returns to labor and capital was typical of price-revolutions in modern history. So also was its social result: a rapid growth of inequality that appeared in the late stages of every long inflation.

And what happened to government expenditures? It’s deja vu all over again — deficits:

Yet another set of cultural responses to inflation created disparities of a different kind: fiscal imbalances between public income and expenditures. Governments fell deep into debt during the middle and later years of the 13th century.

Crime and illegitimacy also rose. Fischer summarizes the end-game of the price-rise wave thusly:

In the late 13th century, the medieval price-revolution entered another stage, marked by growing instability. Prices rose and fell in wild swings of increasing amplitude. Inequality increased at a rapid rate. Public deficits surged ever higher. The economy of Western Europe became dangerously vulnerable to stresses it might have managed more easily in other eras.

And there you have our future, visible in the 13th, 16th and 18th century price-revolution waves which preceded ours.

It is hubris in the extreme to think we have somehow morphed into some new kind of humanity far different from those people who tore down the Bastille in a great frustrated rage at prices for energy and bread they could no longer afford.

It is foolish to blame “speculators” for the rise in food and energy, when the human population has doubled in 40 years and the consumption of energy and food has exploded as a result.

Based on the history painstakingly assembled by Fischer and Turchin we can thus anticipate:

— Ever higher prices for food, energy and water.

— Ever larger government deficits which end in bankruptcy/repudiation of debts/new issue of currency.

— Rising property/violent crime and illegitimacy.

— Rising interest rates (until very recently this was considered “impossible”).

— Rising income inequality in favor of capital over labor.

— Continued debasement of the currency.

— Rising volatility of prices.

— Rising political unrest and turmoil (see “Revolution”).

And there you have our future, visible in the 13th, 16th and 18th century price-revolution waves which preceded ours.

With this list of manifestations in hand, we can practically write the headlines for 2019-2025 in advance.

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Best Year For Stocks Since 1987 Continues As Feb Economic Data Crashes Most In 2 Years

The S&P 500 continues its strongest start to a year since 1987…

Despite the worst monthly drop in US Macro data in two years…

This is also China’s best start to a year since 2000…

As China macro data collapses…

And European stocks soared despite crashing economic data…

The reason is simple… who cares about fundamentals when global money supply (and bank balance sheets) have suddenly reversed course and exploded higher…

Notably, China massively outperformed US and European markets in February…

Summing February up thus…

*  *  *

US equities ended the month weaker… with The S&P down for 3 straight days for the first time since Mid-December… this is also the 4th weak close in a row..

 

US Small Caps outperformed in February…

 

S&P was unable to maintain 2,800 once again…

 

For a little context, February has seen a non-stop short-squeeze…

2019 has seen the biggest short-squeeze since the March 2009 lows…

 

Equity (VIX) and Credit (IGCDX and HYCDX) protection costs collapsed in February along with all sense of risk…

 

The surge in the last two days (among the biggest yield spikes in 2019) pushed yields to the highs of the month (up between 7 and 10bps across the curve)…

This is the 10Y yield’s biggest monthly yield spike since Sept 2018.

And 10Y Yields broke out of their recent descending triangle pattern…

 

The dollar index rose in February (first monthly gain since Oct 2018)…

 

Yuan fell back to almost unchanged on the month after weak macro data overnight…

 

Cryptos ended February in the green thanks to early and mid-month spikes…this is the first monthly rise for Bitcoin since July 2018

 

Copper & Crude surged in Feb, PMs limped lower…

 

Gold continues to hold YTD gains through February – for the 6th year in a row – but overnight strength gave way quickly to weakness which pushed the precious metal red for Feb and ended the 4-month win streak…

 

WTI appears to find $57.50 as notable resistance for now…

 

 

 

 

Finally, as February comes to an end, we wonder, when does reality break back into the market’s perception?

And pop the bear-market-bounce bubble…

#Time’sUp?

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Israeli Troops May Have Committed ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ In Gaza Protests: UN

Investigators from the United Nations said on Thursday that Israeli troops who shot unarmed civilians – including children – may have committed crimes against humanity during the “Great March of Return” protests last year at the border with Gaza. 

According to the New York Times, the UN Human Rights Council formed a commission of inquiry, which reported that Israeli security forces had killed 189 Palestinians while injuring more than 9,000. According to a 25-page report by the commission, Israeli authorities have shown little willingness to hold those responsible to account. 

Of the 189 Palestinians killed, investigators said, 183 were shot with live ammunition, including 35 children, three health workers and two journalists.

It reported 6,106 people wounded by live ammunition, including 940 children, 39 health workers and 39 journalists. In addition, 3,098 people were injured by bullet fragments or other shrapnel, or were struck directly by tear gas canisters or rubber bullets.

The panel found that four Israelis were wounded in the clashes, and none were killed. –New York Times

“The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities,” wrote the panel. “Less lethal alternatives remained available and substantial defenses were in place, rendering the use of lethal force neither necessary nor proportionate, and therefore impermissible.”

In reaching their conclusion, the UN panel reviewed “more than 8,000 documents, including affidavits, medical reports, open source reports, social media content, written submissions, expert legal opinions, video and drone footage, and photographs” from events which took place between March 30 and December 31 of 2018. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry blamed Hamas for co-opting what began as peaceful protests, and criticized the UN report as a biased document “written by three individuals that lack any understanding in security matters.

From the outset, Israel objected to the United Nations inquiry, calling it an example of the Human Rights Council’s bias, and refused to allow the three-person panel to visit Israel or Gaza. Egypt initially agreed to let the investigators into Gaza, but later declined on grounds of security. –New York Times

Hamas exploits the civilians in Gaza as human shields for terrorists,” said the Israeli ministry. “Israel has responded with restrained action taken only in defense of our civilian population.”

A Palestinian man runs to help an injured protester shot by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018. Gaza activists burned tires near the sealed border with Israel on Friday in a seventh weekly protest aimed at shaking off a decade-old blockade of their territory. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas volleys from the other side of the border fence. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The large-scale protests began on January 7 after a 34-year-old Palestinian journalist posted on Facebook “what if 200,000 demonstrators marched peacefully and broke through the fence east of Gaza and entered a few kilometers into the lands that are ours?” 

Within weeks, the march was organized in coordination with several political parties, including “the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were also members (the armed wings of these parties were not represented on the committee).”

Demonstrations were held at several sites every Friday and occasionally other weekdays between March 30 and December 2018. 

Palestinians sought an end to the economic blockade that has been choking off Gaza for more than a decade. They also wanted refugees and their descendants to be allowed to reclaim property in Israel, 70 years after thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

Some demonstrators attempted to storm the fence and to open crossings the Israelis had sealed. Others rolled burning tires toward the fence, pulled away razor wire, released flaming kites or threw rocks at Israeli security forces. But most protesters — including many of the people hit by Israeli gunfire — were hundreds of yards from the fence. –New York Times

Israel maintains that Hamas intended to co-opt the peaceful protests to provoke violent clashes, and repeatedly warned that it would defend their border with force. 

“There can be no justification for killing and injuring journalists, medics and persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them,” said UN panel member Sara Hossain, adding that she was quite alarmed by “the targeting of children and persons with disabilities.”

The panel called on Israel to investigate “every protest-related killing and injury in accordance with international standards,” in order to determine whether crimes against humanity or war crimes had been committed, and recommended that the UN high commissioner for human rights maintain “dossiers on alleged perpetrators, to be provided to national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court,” with international sanctions to follow against the offenders. 

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In Giant Cross Case, Justices Struggle to Clean Up a ‘Dog’s Breakfast’ of Confusing Precedents

Yesterday’s oral arguments in a Supreme Court case involving a giant cross vividly illustrated how hard it is to define “an establishment of religion” once you go beyond the clearly prohibited practice of forcing people to support a government-backed church. Justice Neil Gorsuch twice referred to the highly subjective test described in the 1971 case Lemon v. Kutzman as a “dog’s breakfast.” But the alternatives suggested by the lawyers defending the cross, a state-owned World War I memorial that sits in the middle of a busy highway intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland, do not seem much more promising.

Under the Lemon test, a government-sponsored display violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause if it lacks a secular purpose, if its “principal or primary effect” is to advance or inhibit religion, or if it fosters “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” In 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit concluded that the Bladensburg monument ran afoul of the second and third prongs.

Neal Katyal, representing the state commission that is responsible for the monument, told the justices the test should be “whether or not there’s an independent secular purpose,” which suggests that the first prong of Lemon is the only one that matters. Later he revised that position, saying the real issue is the display’s “objective meaning.”

In divining the meaning of the Bladensburg cross, Katyal argued that four facts make it sufficiently secular to pass constitutional muster: It has been accepted as a war memorial for 93 years; it has an American Legion symbol at its center and the words “Valor, Endurance, Courage, Devotion” on its base; it includes a plaque of dead soldiers’ names but “not a single word of religious content”; and it is “situated in Veterans Memorial Park alongside other war memorials” (although “alongside” is rather misleading, since the cross is isolated from the other monuments, which are across a highway and 200 feet to half a mile away).

These details, in Katyal’s view, distinguish the Bladensburg cross from an Indiana monument that a federal appeals court deemed unconstitutional in 1993: “a huge cross with Jesus Christ nailed in the center of it in a public park.” That cross, which bore the initials INRI, representing the Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” also was presented as a war memorial. But “the Seventh Circuit said that is unconstitutional,” Katyal said, “and we agree.”

The American Legion, which is also defending the Bladensburg memorial, sees things differently. The organization’s lawyer, Michael Carvin, argued that all such monuments are constitutional. He urged the justices to apply the “coercion test” that it used to uphold Christian prayers before town board meetings in the 2014 case Town of Greece v. Galloway. That test, Carvin said, “prohibits tangible interference with religious liberty, as well as proselytizing.”

The justices immediately pointed out the difficulties with that approach. If the Establishment Clause is all about preventing “tangible interference with religious liberty,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered, how is it distinct from the Free Exercise Clause? Gorsuch, meanwhile, suggested that “proselytizing” is just another word for “endorsement,” which is impermissible under Lemon and seems to be what is happening when the government owns and maintains a 40-foot version of Christianity’s central symbol on a highly conspicuous piece of public property.

“I don’t see the daylight between proselytizing and endorsement,” Gorsuch said. “It seems to me that you are taking us right back to the dog’s breakfast you’ve warned us against.” Chief Justice John Roberts agreed. “What you advertise is a pretty concise test,” he said, “but it degenerates pretty quickly into, well, I need to know about this, I need to know about that, and becomes kind of a fact-specific test rather than the crisper one that you propose in your brief.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that the four dissenters in Allegheny County v. ACLU, the 1989 case in which the Court said a nativity scene in a courthouse violated the Establishment Clause, all agreed that “the permanent erection of a large Latin cross on the roof of city hall” would be unconstitutional. “Because it constitutes proselytizing,” Carvin said, “we certainly do agree.” But if the government takes that cross, sticks it on a highway median, and calls it a memorial, it is no longer prohibited proselytizing, according to the American Legion. Katyal agrees that the cross in that context is constitutional—unless there’s a statue of Jesus nailed to it.

Justice Elena Kagan, one of three Jews on the Court, pushed back against the argument that the Latin cross “has taken on a secular meaning associated with sacrifice or death or commemoration,” as Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who also urged the justices to declare the Bladensburg monument constitutional, put it. “It is the foremost symbol of Christianity, isn’t it?” Kagan said. “It invokes the central theological claim of Christianity, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for humanity’s sins and that he rose from the dead. This is why Christians use crosses as a way to memorialize the dead. It is because it connects to that central theological belief.”

But that does not mean every government-hosted memorial featuring a cross has to go, said Monica Miller, the lawyer representing the American Humanist Association and three local residents challenging the monument. The constitutionality of such displays, Miller said, depends on details such as the monument’s purpose, history, location, size, and appearance. “It’s very difficult, and I think that’s why the Court hasn’t come up with that one, you know, singular test, because the cases are complex,” Miller said. “That’s the Establishment Clause.”

Several justices noted that the Court has failed to give judges clear guidance in this area. “If I were…a lower court judge and I get that type of analysis,” Roberts observed, “I’m just going to throw my hands up.”

Kavanaugh noted that the Supreme Court in recent decades has made little use of the Lemon test. “If the test isn’t being used, that would suggest that the test doesn’t work for this context,” he said.

Gorsuch agreed. “It has resulted in a welter of confusion,” he said. “Is it time for the Court to thank Lemon for its services and send it on its way?…I think a majority of this Court, though never at the same time, has advocated for Lemon‘s dismissal….What about all those poor court of appeals judges who are left still with confusion?” I will go out on a limb and predict that they will be no less confused after the Court reaches a decision in this case.

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Stockman Slams “Unhinged Madman” Trump “Waging Four Wars On The Economy”

Authored by Mac Slavo via SHTFplan.com,

A former United States Budget Director has said that president Donald Trump is an “unhinged madman” who is now “conducting four wars on the economy.” David Stockman, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Ronald Reagan, told Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker that there is just no way Trump will ever make America great again.

Stockman, who just published Peak Trump: The Undrainable Swamp And The Fantasy Of MAGA, argued that Trump is waging a trade war, a border war, a political war against the Fed, and a war on the nation’s solvency.

“We have a delusional, unhinged madman in the Oval Office, and anything is possible,” David Stockman said.

“He’s conducting four wars on the American economy, and it’s not going to make it great again.”

The trade war, which Stockman accurately describes as a “war on consumers” seems to have already done untold damage.  Farmers are suffering and our food supply could have been irreversibly changed. “The trade war is a war on consumers,” Stockman said.

“If it goes from 10% — which is already costing $30 billion a year just on Chinese imports — to higher, that is only going to be that much worse.”

As far as the “border war,” Stockman referred to, he believes that the American workforce is shrinking and unskilled and illegal immigrants are necessary workers. Because of shifting demographics, “the domestic labor force is shrinking,” Stockman explained.

“We need immigrant labor. We shouldn’t be having a, you know, silly battle over a wall in a border where there isn’t a crisis.”

Trump’s third war, against the Fed, is the only one that’s actually good. The Federal Reserve is the United States’ central bank and has been the cause and “savior” of every major financial crisis since the Great Depression.  But Stockman is upset that Trump expressed concerns that interest rates would rise, ending the “easy money” era.  Now borrowing money is more expensive and less are tempted to do so.

 “He’s [Trump] conducting a political war on the Fed that finally was getting enough courage up to normalize interest rates,” Stockman explained.

“For crying out loud, 10 years, interest rates have been below the inflation rate, which means zero money market costs. It’s been a boon like never before to speculators. It’s done nothing for Main Street.”

Stockman’s final gripe with Trump is over the national debt. However, it’s important to note that many of those now concerned expressed little to no desire to reign in Obama’s over the top spending. The national debt is of huge concern to many who simply don’t want to see a societal collapse. But with all politicians on all sides unwilling to cut spending to address the problem, it is all but inevitable. 

“He’s conducting a war on the nation’s solvency with a fiscal policy that is more out to lunch than anything I’ve seen since 1970 when I started on Capitol Hill,” Stockman fumed.

The big challenge was that even though the economy has been expanding at a rapid pace, “we’re in the last months… you don’t raise the deficit to $1.2 trillion at the very tippy top of a business cycle and expect anything but bad results,” said Stockman.

Stockman argued that “we’re going to go into the 2020s with a massive retirement wave from the baby boom, a deficit that is beyond belief in size, and a national debt that’s out of control. It will be a nonstop crisis for the entire decade unless we do something big and quick. And I think it’s too late.

H/T [Yahoo Finance]

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/2T7tIYb Tyler Durden

New US Peace Plan Would Remove All Troops From Afghanistan Within 5 Years: NYT

As the American military pulls its troops out of Syria, a process that’s expected to wrap up over the next month, President Trump’s focus will likely shift toward winding down America’s most intractable “forever war”: The ongoing battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. After arriving at an agreement in principle with the Taliban last month, the New York Times on Thursday published a report about next steps, citing a group of anonymous European and US officials, who offered a broad-strokes accounting of a withdrawal plan that’s rapidly gaining support in Washington and Brussels.

The plan, which as become part of the negotiations with the Taliban over a possible power-sharing agreement with the government in Kabul that would bring about an end to the fighting, would involve halving the number of American troops in the country over the coming months – reducing their numbers from roughly 14,000 to 7,000, and shifting the focus of military operations from a “counterinsurgency” framework to focus on “counterterrorism” operations.

NYT

Ultimately, the plan calls for all European and US troops to leave Afghanistan in 5 years, while the US and Europe would continue a measure of financial support for the troubled Afghan military.

Until the withdrawal has been completed, US troops would continue attacks on Al Qaeda and ISIS forces in Afghanistan, including partnering with Afghan commandos for training and raids.

Over the coming five years, European forces would continue their training work with the Afghan military, while US would shift more resources to providing logistical support – some of which could be based outside of Afghanistan – would still be made available.

“The Europeans are perfectly capable of conducting the training mission,” James Stavridis, a retired American admiral and former top NATO commander who is now with the Carlyle Group private equity firm. “It is a smart division of labor to have the United States shift the bulk of its effort toward the special forces mission and having the Europeans do the training mission.”

Mr. Stavridis said the two missions would be coordinated, including American logistical support and military backup for the European troops.

The NYT report followed the beginning of a round of negotiations involving senior officials on both sides.

On Monday, American diplomats met with the Taliban in Qatar in the highest-level negotiations yet, including the attendance of Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the international mission in Afghanistan. The negotiations paused on Wednesday and are set to resume on Saturday.

The two sides have sought to flesh out a framework agreement, decided in principle last month, for the full withdrawal of foreign troops and assurances by the Taliban to prevent terrorist groups that seek to attack the United States from using Afghan territory as a safe haven.

The Afghan government has not been a part of the negotiations because of Taliban reluctance to talk to President Ashraf Ghani or his envoys.

Of course, while President Trump has made ending America’s foreign entanglements a cornerstone of his “America first” rhetoric, the fact that the plan has broad support doesn’t preclude the possibility that Trump could scuttle it.

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/2EDFe4J Tyler Durden

‘The House’ Just Hit A New Low

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog,

Perhaps against better judgment, I just can’t keep silent about the Michael Cohen’s in da House show performed on February 27. I was watching it and increasingly fearing for the future of America. We had all been able to read his prepared statement before he opened the party with it, and therefore we all knew there was nothing there. So why did this thing take place, and why were all the cameras and reporters there? Do we live in split realities these days?

Both before and after the gruelling -for the viewer- session, words like ‘explosive’ and bombshell’ were all over, so I thought I’d watch, since I might have missed something, but no, there was nothing, there wasn’t even a there there. Apparently, US House members are by now immune to being revealed as nutcases frantically phishing for evidence of accusations they formerly made but could never prove.

A phishing expedition with a willing whale in the center who sort of volunteered to be harpooned, and still came up with absolutely nothing but blubber. And then like 4 hours of that. There’s never been a more convincing picture of what US politics and media have become. But they’re all entirely impervious to it. They’re discussing nothing for hours on end with millions watching, and they see it as normal.

Now, I’ve been following the decay of the American press ever since Trump entered politics stage right, and I’ve written a hundred thousand words about it, but it really hit home during the Cohen session. Tellingly, the Republican House members were exclusively focusing on Cohen credibility, since he had been caught lying to Congress before, and the Supreme Court just days ago disbarred him.

But this was not about the man’s credibility, and sure, I felt sorry for him too, it was about the fact that he had nothing at all to say, but Republicans had nothing on that. They instead joined the Dems in questioning him about nothing, pretending it was big and explosive and stuff. If anything has ever resembled the Emperor’s new clothes, it was that charade there yesterday.

If you insist, we can walk through a few of the topics.

A nice example that was not in the prepared statement was that Cohen claimed he had never wanted a White House job, but even the CNN pundits were saying he had wanted one for a long time, and was very insulted when he didn’t get it. Poof! went the last shred of his credibility. Well, not for the House members, they have shorter memories even than CNN talking heads.

Second, the issue of a Trump Tower in Moscow, about which Cohen allegedly lied earlier on, in that the plans were shelved later than he had claimed. But the only thing that really interests the House, because even they understand that wanting to build a hotel in the city is not some criminal thing, is Russiagate, invented out of thin air but still popular stateside.

The one thing related to this that collusion ‘experts’ emphasize time and again, and it came up again in the Cohen thing, is that Trump supposedly planned to gift a penthouse apartment in a potential Trump hotel on Red Square to Vladimir Putin. Conveniently, not a single American appears to have wondered whether Putin would be interested in such a gift.

And I can assure you he wouldn’t. Putin can get -just about- any piece of real estate he wants on Red Square, besides he already has the Kremlin, and he can get anything built there which he might desire. Accepting a free dwelling from a US builder makes no sense. Why should he? Still, this is one of the main items Russiagaters keep coming up with. It makes no sense, and that’s fitting, because neither do they.

Third, pornstar pay-offs. Male politicians worldwide and through the ages have had affairs, and in modern times (re: JFK) there’s been an understanding that the media leave these things alone. On the one hand, it’s proof of virility, something voters like in their candidates, and on the other it shows infidelity, something they don’t. A battle no-one can win, hence the understanding.

In France, this all plays out a bit more openly, though never in the open, but in the US you can break the pact if you want. And since the initial story was that campaign funds had been used to pay Stormy Daniels, there was a potential criminal angle. But we now know that that angle was fake, so no there there either. Trump paid so it (true or not) didn’t become a big campaign story, and that he did so just before an election is irrelevant, because the whole topic is irrelevant. Unless you want to exhume JFK.

Fourth and what pisses me off more than anything, is that Cohen both volunteered, and was coaxed into, talking about Roger Stone’s alleged contacts with Julian Assange. Cohen talked about a conversation between Stone and Trump on July 18-19 2016, in which Stone allegedly said he had talked to Assange who told him WikiLeaks was going to release a big batch of Hillary-related mails.

The DNC convention was July 25-28, the WikiLeaks release July 22. Looks like a slam-dunk collusion story, right? Except that Assange had said 5 weeks earlier, on June 12 2016, that such a batch would be released. So even if Stone had talked to him, there was no news there. Moreover, both Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly denied the conversation ever took place. And of course Assange can’t defend himself against anything anyone says anymore.

And we can keep going: the assertion that the DNC mails were hacked has been refuted many times, and if they were stolen it was by someone inside the DNC. No story, no collusion, no there there. Only hour after tedious hour of Michael Cohen House testimony about nothing at all.

It felt a lot like a new low point in US political history, but you need to be careful with such classifications these days, since competition’s stiff and still picking up. I liked the following lines from an article in the Guardian this morning to appropriately describe the goings-on:

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years.

Here’s the best thing Cohen could do in the entire time wasted on the topic:

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.”

How does that not make you want to scream? No collusion, only “something odd”, and “so many dots”. A thorough analysis out of the mouth of an at least questionable character who worked closely with Trump for a decade. That’s all the US House of Representatives had to show for the show it put on. And that’s a really big problem, but there’s no-one in sight to address, let alone rectify, it.

There are a thousand things wrong with Donald Trump, but even though that would not necessarily disqualify him for the presidency, the Democrats and the mainstream press have opted to go all-in on the Russia collusion theme, which even two years and change of Mueller hasn’t been able to prove.

Whether this will be the winning ticket for the Democrats in a next election is very doubtful, and what the press hope to get other than a few more readers and viewers addicted to scandals is anyone’s guess. But more importantly: why do they do it? Why focus on all the made-up stories instead of going out and finding the real ones?

Even if the Cohen show not constitute a new low, it was certainly scraping the gutter of American political reality, and someone better do something, or entirely new and thus far unimaginable lows will be attained. Not a single national political system can survive on entirely trumped-up accusations for long, let alone that of the globe’s most powerful nation. Does anyone ever wonder what the Dems will do if Trump wins again in 2020? Where can they flee to?

I’ll leave you with a few Twitter voices who also see no there there. Note: the first one is dated July 7 2016, some two weeks before Stone -unverifiably- said he talked to Assange (who always denied it, but it wouldn’t matter even if he had) :




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Knock It Off, Lazy News Outlets. ‘Momo’ Isn’t Telling Kids To Hurt Themselves.

Momo“It’s Sickening” blares a headline at CBS Baltimore’s affiliate about an alleged threat to children who play games online, watch cartoon videos, or use social media.

The headline is accurate that something is sickening here, but it’s the decision to have run this embarrassing, fact-challenged story in the first place. And sadly, CBS Baltimore is hardly the only one.

Here’s the “scoop”: A sinister game called “The Momo Challenge” exists online. It involves a creepy woman’s face popping up when children are watching cartoons on YouTube or playing video games or just messaging each other. Momo orders these children, as part of this game, to do harmful things to themselves, up to and including suicide.

The most important thing to understand about “The Momo Challenge” is that it doesn’t exist. It’s bullshit. It’s nonsense. And it should be obvious to even the most casual user of online technology. Here’s a sentence from that CBS report that should hopefully make clear what a hoax all this is (bold text mine):

Momo uses a picture of a woman with bulging eyes and jet black hair and can target kids through Peppa Pig or Fortnite when parents aren’t around.

So this viral intrusion that can infect not just multiple styles of communication but also completely different and unrelated types of software can also determine whether parents are around? Huge, if true!

Momo must be really skilled, because this scare story has bounced around from media outlet to media outlet, and yet not a single adult has actually seen Momo pop up and offer one of these dangerous challenges. This “report” by Kelsey Kushner chooses the weaselly “Police are warning” route, followed by quotes from adults who find it “sickening” that somebody would target kids this way, concluding with tips on how to protect your kids from the threat of Momo: Monitor your kids constantly! “You have to get in their phones, get in their apps,” one parent says.

And yet there’s not one piece of evidence that any of this happening. There’s a brief clip of a video that shows the image of “Momo,” which is actually a sculpture of a harpy by a Japanese special effects company. I was able to track this nonsense back to a story by U.K. tabloid Daily Star, which features a mom claiming “Momo” told her 5-year-old daughter to cut off her hair. This, apparently, is the most logical explanation to Mom as to why a 5-year-old girl would do something so silly as cut her own hair, something small children have been doing since scissors were invented (if not before).

The Daily Star story does have a video clip of this Momo face with a child’s sing-song voice threatening that Momo is going to kill you. But it’s just completely contextless. The clip doesn’t indicate that this video popped up as some sort of insert into social media viewing or during a cartoon. In the clip, Momo doesn’t even order the viewer to do anything.

Similarly, this mother in Witchita, Kansas, blames Momo for her young son’s outbursts. Again, there’s a brief clip of some Momo threats in some video, but it still does not connect to anything.

Yet there’s not a single sentence even in any of these reports in which anybody questions whether the Momo Challenge is even real. The CBS Baltimore piece claims Momo has been “reportedly linked to suicides in other countries” without any explanation.

Say what you will about Snopes’ ability to accurately fact-check politicians, but they remain a great clearinghouse for takedowns of viral “urban legend” scares. There’s actually little to no evidence that the suicides referenced are actually linked to the Momo Challenge, Snopes explains. In one case in Argentina, police actually suspect it was a relationship with another person that led to a teen’s suicide, not an online challenge.

There was a recent story revealing that some suicide tips had been nastily spliced into child videos on YouTube, and in that case, adults have actually seen the videos and reported them. It’s also obvious that people made these videos and posted them online for kids to find. This is unconnected to the Momo Challenge.

The Momo Challenge coverage is a ghost story disguised as news. It’s presented as though evil hackers are able to put it in front of children when parents aren’t looking. That’s not how any of this works, and it’s just remarkably irresponsible for media outlets to sell a fearful story without an ounce of skepticism.

But I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Just a couple of weeks ago, media outlets across the country “warned” parents about an alleged social media “challenge” telling children to run away from home and hide for 48 hours without telling anybody. This challenge does not exist. It was debunked by Snopes when reports first emerged in 2015. Again, this was all based on an incident in another country (France) that, on further inspection, had nothing to do with any sort of online “challenge.”

So why are media outlets and cops warning parents about a trend that doesn’t actually exist? This story from NBC News (the main media outlet—not some local affiliate) says police departments haven’t actually had any cases, but want to warn folks because they themselves were contacted by the media. This is a great example of media people conjuring fake news.

If you type “48 Hour Challenge” into Google News, you’ll get numerous pieces in this vein. There are plenty of “Momo Challenge” stories, too, but at least in this case, it looks like people are waking up to the obvious fakeness of it.

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