Danil Zelenkov

A Bigger Navy with No Money?

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Friday, August 28th, 2015, 11:14 AM PERMALINK

As the race for the White House heats up, the overcrowded GOP field seems to be coming together on one issue: building a bigger navy. Defense hawks in the Republican Party like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all propose that the current 273 ship U.S. Navy will be expanded if any one of them is elected president.  Candidates should consider ways to pay for an expanding navy with low-hanging reforms. 

Richard Danzig – a former Navy secretary in the Clinton administration – has made his stance clear in terms of a Navy enlargement that “more is better than less”. In addition, the public advocacy group for the Navy has voiced concerns that the Navy is at a “breaking point”, facing overdue maintenance as well as overworked sailors.

Adding a Carrier Strike Group is a costly endeavor worth over $25 billion in total.

  • Gerald Ford Class carrier: $13 billion
  • 2 Ticonderoga Class Aegis cruisers: $2 billion
  • 3 Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyers: $ 5 billion
  • 2 Virginia Class submarines: $5.6 billion

 

This does not account for operational costs, the price of manning the aircraft carrier or the cost of an air wing that is added to the carrier.

If the Republican field insists on this expansion, they must make sure that any future additions to the fleet adhere to the budget caps. If we want a larger Navy, it needs to be paid for somehow.

The Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees Act (REDUCE Act) – HR 340 – would save the Pentagon $82.5 billion over five years. The savings would result from a reduction in the Pentagon civilian workforce which has grown 15% while total active military declined by 4%. This is inconsistent with historic trends where a reduction in active military personnel results in a proportional civilian employee reduction. 

The REDUCE Act would also cut the civilian workforce 15% by 2022. Currently, it stands at 770,000, a too inflated of a figure in times of financial restraint and exploding federal debt.

Hence, the funds freed up from the reduction could be spent on the Navy enlargement programs that some of the Republican presidential hopefuls wish to implement.

This bill has wide conservative support; the Heritage Foundation has highlighted the bloated civilian workforce as an easy target for waste cutting. Their study indicated the much needed civilian workforce cuts that the REDUCE Act would implement.

Enacting common-sense reforms such as the REDUCE Act would allow the Navy to expand its fleet by 3 carrier groups: 24 of the deadliest ships ever put to sea. Regardless of the need to add ships to America’s docks, lawmakers can and should bring the Pentagon back to its workforce-norm and spend those resources on American security.

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“This is State government, sir”: Michigan gets one step closer to Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Danil Zelenkov on Thursday, August 20th, 2015, 2:00 PM PERMALINK

Yesterday, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated bold legislative initiative by unexpectedly voting a slew of civil asset forfeiture reform bills out of committee.

The committee heard testimonies from national advocacy organizations on both sides of the aisle as well as law enforcement. Although there was some token opposition from state law enforcement, seven of the eight bills passed the committee unanimously.

At the hearing, US Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris explained the convoluted history of asset forfeiture in America,

Centuries ago, civil asset forfeiture was actually used as a means to seize assets from pirates.  In the 1980s, asset forfeiture was expanded to seize assets from international drug kingpins.  But now, law enforcement is using civil asset forfeiture to seize cars and cash from average citizens who are never even charged with crimes.  And here in Michigan, far too many innocent property owners have found themselves entangled in a flawed process…We are a long way from pirates and kingpins.

Jorge Marin, Criminal Justice Specialist at Americans for Tax Reform, also congratulated the Michigan Association of Police Organizations for their endorsement of the proposals,

Fortunately, this is a uniting issue. The Michigan Association of Police Organizations understands full well that bad laws reflect poorly on the vast majority of police officers; men and women who genuinely want to protect their communities and have done so with distinction.  The Package of laws under consideration would strengthen the reporting requirements for forfeitures. This would be a massive step in the right direction.

He further explained the importance of protecting the due process of law and how civil asset forfeiture laws infringe upon that,

You may be wondering what taxes have to do with civil asset forfeiture. Simply put, tax reform is simply a means to an end: the end being the protection and expansion of individual freedom. For this reason we have flagged asset forfeiture as an egregious threat to due process and legislative accountability of the nation’s crucial police force and their budgets.

Yesterday ATR released an official endorsement of Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture legislation.

After being asked about what the federal government was doing with respects to asset forfeiture by an ill-fated prosecutor, Committee Chairman Rick Jones shot back “this is state government, sir,” demonstrating how the states are leading on this issue despite what the federal government is doing.

Americans for Tax Reform is supportive of the Senate Judiciary Committee decision to move forward with this legislation. We urge state legislators across the country to take Michigan's lead.

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Massachusetts Obamacare Exchange Facing Legal Investigation

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Thursday, August 20th, 2015, 1:36 PM PERMALINK

Massachusetts Health Connector – the state’s failed Obamacare exchange – is faced with yet another challenge, this time a legal one. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is demanding the state exchange open its books in order to find out how the State government wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in a failed revamp of their healthcare exchange. Although Massachusetts was the home of the Obamacare blueprint “RomneyCare”, the federal regulations imposed on the state broke an already working system and displaced thousands of Medicaid recipients.

Massachusetts was one of about 15 states that received $4.5 billion in funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to fund the construction of its own healthcare marketplace. The transformation was cheered on by then Democratic Governor Deval Patrick (D-Mass.), and close to $224 million was spent to upgrade the system.

But things did not go to plan. The exchange failed to work on day one.

While residents of the state were unable to get healthcare, the response from state officials was nonchalant. 41 days after the failed launch of the website Governor Patrick was asked about possible concerns with the exchange. His response was “No, none at all.” To this day, he continues to downplay the disastrous rollout by stating that people should be realistic and that “change is messy”.

Not only did this debacle prevent individuals in the state from signing up for Obamacare, the failed exchange displaced 325,000 residents who were then placed on a ‘transitional’ Medicaid program regardless of eligibility requirements. In all, the disaster resulted in $1 billion in further costs. Underlying the chaos in the exchange, it was later discovered that 6,000 residents were simultaneously receiving both Medicaid and state exchange benefits.

The skyrocketing costs and repeated malfunctions aside, the most disturbing aspect of the Massachusetts fiasco is the intentional concealment of the failures by the Commonwealth Connector Authority (CCA), the organization tasked with oversight of the transition.

Before the initial launch of the state exchange, testing proved a 90% failure rate. Despite this, the untested website was launched with the expectation that “Users Do Testing” where users through their experience with the exchange would “recognize how bad [it] was.” One whistleblower described the whole launch as like a kid who does something wrong and is waiting to be caught. Even worse, those who attempted to raise concerns were silenced on purpose. As one of the whistle blowers points out: “We were always told to be quiet, it doesn’t matter, don’t say anything”.

It is clear that Massachusetts officials repeatedly and deliberately concealed failures of the website construction and its ability to function properly. They tried to hide the shortcomings by coercing state workers to “approve poor quality work and covered up the project’s abysmal progress in a presentation to federal officials”.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has issued a subpoena to uncover the Obamacare incompetence which is plaguing this state. Taxpayers have a right to know how a supposedly simple transition from Romneycare to Obamacare managed to spend a quarter of a billion dollars and resulted in $1 billion worth of costs for Massachusetts residents.  

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ATR urges Michigan lawmakers to reform civil asset forfeiture laws

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Wednesday, August 19th, 2015, 11:00 AM PERMALINK

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, sent a letter to the Michigan Senate Judiciary members in support of the civil asset forfeiture reform package composed of House bills 4500, 4503, 4504, 4506, 4507, and 4508. This criminal justice reform package is a step in the right direction. It would safeguard the Fifth Amendment rights of Michigan citizens while preserving the ability of police officers to confiscate property involved in illegal and illicit activities. The text of the letter is as follows:

 

Dear Senator Jones

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our supporters across Michigan. I write today in strong support of a legislative package pending in the Michigan legislature that, if passed, would safeguard the Fifth Amendment rights of your constituents. While the reform package—encompassing House bills 4500, 4503, 4504, 4506, 4507, and 4508,--does not solve the problem of civil asset forfeiture in its entirety, it does, represent a giant leap forward in ensuring innocent civilians are protected. Furthermore, these reforms preserve the ability of police officers to confiscate profits of legitimate offenders.

On average, Michigan police collect a staggering $18.6 million per year on forfeitures alone; creating a tempting draw to use this questionable practice aggressively. Last year alone police seized over $24 million. Unfortunately, civil asset forfeiture can prove to be a powerful incentive for some over-zealous officers.

In one particularly egregious incident, Michigan mom Ginnifer Hency saw police come into her home and seize everything from her husband’s tools to her children’s Christmas presents. Her crime? Six ounces of marijuana—which she was legally allowed to possess thanks to her medical marijuana license. The case was so farcical on its face that a St. Clair County judge dismissed it. Unfortunately the prosecutor then sought to take her property in civil court.

To help curb these abuses, the new law would increase the standard of proof from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing.” Though a conviction should be required of any asset forfeiture, this shift of the burden of proof balances the onus in against the state in a positive way.

Moreover, these new reforms would improve reporting standards and transparency, which will help prevent civil asset forfeiture abuse. By requiring reporting on seized assets, legislators in Lansing, and their constituents, can keep better track of the funding police agencies get from the sale of confiscated assets.

Police forces need the trust of their communities to do their jobs effectively. Civil asset forfeiture, as the authority exists in Michigan, erodes that trust and antagonizes innocent civilians. These reforms help to restore trust in local and state police by reassuring constituents that their civil liberties are paramount in Michigan law.

I implore your colleagues to extend their own support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org.

 

Regards,                                                                                             

Grover G. Norquist                                                                        

President                                                                                           

Americans for Tax Reform

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The F-35 is a 'Big government' disaster in its worst form

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Monday, August 17th, 2015, 3:18 PM PERMALINK

Fiscal hawks are fighting to reform costly government spending programs and trim a bloated bureaucracy and the F-35 program is becoming an exorbitant Pentagon failure.  The most expensive military program in history is getting a free pass from otherwise fiscally responsible lawmakers.

The F-35 fighter jet program looks increasingly like a failure, and many politicians in Washington D.C. don’t want to admit it. The extravagant military program is hitting one obstacle after another in its development; from failing to meet testing benchmarks to ballooning costs. A report by Stars and Stripes reveals that although it is supposed to replace the F-15, F-16, and F-18, and the A-10 Warthog, the F-35 does not appear up to the task.

In its latest testing, the supposed zenith of military aviation was outmaneuvered by the very F-16 it is supposed to replace. The simulated dogfight resulted in numerous disappointing encounters with the older jet--the Lightning’s lack of energy maneuverability – a qualitative engineering method used to calculate an aircraft’s capabilities - being the most important shortcoming. The report goes on to state that “Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement.”

Not only does it prove inferior to older U.S. air crafts, but the F-35 is also under-performing in face-offs against foreign style jets, Russian or Chinese. It is noted in a report by military.com that “the 5th generation jet [F-35], will be outmaneuvered in dogfights with current Russian and Chinese jets as well as the U.S. aircraft it is slated to replace.” Such disappointing results point to a compromised national defense.

Construction costs stand at $400 billion at the moment, almost twice the initial estimate. In a time of budgetary restraints and cutting back, the federal government insists on sinking $1.45 trillion over the next 50 years on a plane that is proving itself to be a lemon. Considering the estimate was only at $1 trillion in 2011, the $450 billion increase in required funds indicates that the $1.45 trillion will likely increase further.

The U.S. atomic bomb Manhattan Project cost $26 billion in its entirety measured in today’s dollars. To put it in perspective, the F-35 program costs grew by “approximately one Manhattan Project every three weeks between 2011 and 2012.”

A Stars & Stripes report indicates that if the F-35 program continues this course, it “may needlessly gamble away a sizable margin of American air power at great expense and unnecessary risk to American lives.”

If conservative fiscal hawks and defense hawks want to regain their credibility of handling the nation’s finance, while securing for the national defense, they need to address government waste on all fronts, including Pentagon and the military.

Americans for Tax Reform supports a strong national defense and a strong military, but that should not allow careless waste of U.S. tax payer money.

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California Should Beat Back Asset Forfeiture

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015, 3:04 PM PERMALINK

California is on the verge of fixing abusive civil asset forfeiture laws in the state. Yesterday, California Assembly Committee passed Senate Bill 443 unanimously (7-0) after passing the State Senate (38-1). The new bill has the potential to improve California’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which currently have a D in the Institute for Justice’s Scorecard, and a C+ in Freedomworks’s.

SB 443 will place much needed restrictions on law enforcement. Right now, law enforcement agencies need ‘clear and convincing evidence’ in order to seize property. The bill will alter that by requiring a criminal conviction for forfeiture to take place. The San Diego Union Tribune explains that the new law would impose “a steeper burden of proof so that agencies are less apt to view law-abiding citizens as cash cows”.

In addition, the bill provides forfeiture victims the right to a fair hearing to reclaim their lost property. If exonerated, victims will be entitled to attorneys’ fees and litigation costs compensation.

This legislation addresses the “equitable sharing program” that local law enforcement agencies can use to circumvent state laws. SB 443 will prevent federal-state collusion and will bar transfers of seized property to the federal government. This particular provision of the bill takes away the ‘profit incentive’ that current civil asset forfeiture laws provide for law enforcement agencies. State officials can still claim 80% of the proceeds when they hand them over to the federal government. In 2012 alone, federal, state and local law enforcement snatched approximately $4.2 billion in seized assets. The main opponent of SB 443, the California Association of Police Chiefs complained that the bill would “significantly reduce distribution amounts to local law enforcement.” It is clear that this police profiteering must be stopped.

Russ Caswell was one victim of the draconian civil asset forfeiture laws in the state. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in conjunction with local police seized his family-owned motel because of a handful of drug-related arrests of some motel guests. Although, Mr. Caswell had always cooperated with the authorities and was unaware of the illegal activity, local police still seized his hotel. Mr. Caswell was never convicted of a crime, but the $2 million property was too irresistible to be left alone.

Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance) and Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) have taken on the crucial job of leading the charge for reforming civil asset forfeiture. The bill’s proponents feel that it is essential to uphold “a core American principle of justice that you can’t have your life, liberty or property taken away from you without due process of law.”

Americans for Tax Reform is urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign SB 443 into law and elevate California’s civil asset forfeiture laws on par with other states leading reforms such as New Mexico and Montana.

 

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Americans for Tax Reform Supports Tax Relief for Innocent Convicts

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Friday, July 17th, 2015, 11:11 AM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) issued a letter of support for a new bill introduced by Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas), HR 3086. The bill would prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from collecting taxes on the financial reimbursement to wrongfully incarcerated individuals when they leave prison. HR 3086 would end the tax on compensation and provide fair taxation and legal justice.

Since 2000, 263 people have been found innocent using new DNA techniques. Though they were already made to pay a price regardless of their innocence, they are made to pay an additional price on the reparations they receive to the same government that locked them away by mistake.

Moreover, the proposed reforms bolster the credibility of our justice system. If wrongful convictions can be expected to happen, then subsequent recompense should also be expected. The nation does itself no favors by this tax penalty in the court of public opinion.

ATR urges legislators in the House and the Senate as well as grassroots activists to support this common-sense reform. Innocent people released from prison already paid a heavy price. Taxing them is no proper way to say “We’re sorry”. 

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Oklahoma Senator Criticized for Defending People's Rights

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Danil Zelenkov on Friday, July 10th, 2015, 3:00 PM PERMALINK

In Oklahoma, one state senator has taken it upon himself to tackle a controversial practice. Senator Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) is waging war on his state’s broken civil asset forfeiture laws. In Oklahoma—which currently has a D in the Institute for Justice’s scorecard—authorities can take and keep a person’s property based on a suspicion of wrongdoing.

One critic was quick to attack the Senator. “This is without a doubt the single worst, most damning, most asinine  and devastating bill I have ever seen for this State and local law enforcement,” fumed Randall Edwards, Canadian County Sheriff, in an email to the press.

Edwards went on to say, “I don't know why they or anyone else in their right mind would think the state would been titled to my agencies proceeds from [civil asset forfeiture].

Loveless can expect a fight over his proposed legislation.

The new bill – SB 838 – would require law enforcement to file a conviction before any assets are forfeited to authorities. It would also elevate the burden of proof from ‘preponderance of evidence’ to ‘clear and convincing’ so as to shift the burden away from the innocent citizen. Once assets are seized, a trial by jury is guaranteed to resolve the case. SB 838 also takes away part of the profit incentive for law enforcement by requiring all assets to be attributed to the General Revenue Fund.

The goal is to prevent the abuse of asset forfeiture laws in the state, and contrary to what Sheriff Edwards may say, there is abuse. Take the case of Desert Snow—a private intelligence network based in Oklahoma that aids local police in seizing drugs and cash during roadside stops. In 2013, employees of Desert snow were hired as interdiction units with the power to seize assets by local authorities. These individuals were allowed to keep some of the proceeds from the assets they seized.

After a District Court found that dozens of asset forfeiture cases were based on these private interdiction units he threw out the cases and threatened Davis with jail if he carried on.

However, that is not the worst of Desert Snow or its sister organization, Black Asphalt. The Washington Post reports that “Agencies with police known to be participating in the Black Asphalt intelligence network have seen a 32 percent jump in seizures beginning in 2005,” a drastic jump for a process which is only challenged one sixth of the time.

Sen. Loveless’ bill is only one of the many efforts to curb these excesses.

States like Iowa and Kansas have outlawed the use of Black Asphalt information and a Nebraska prosecutor warned that the company’s methods infringe upon civil liberties. Oklahoma defense attorney Adam Banner described Black Asphalt’s activities as a ‘free-for-all cash grab’.

With all due respect to Sheriff Edwards, all too often “your agency’s profits” (excuse the correction) come at the cost of due process. Who in their right mind would tolerate such an asinine regime?

 

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Norquist: “The criminal justice system does a great deal of damage”

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Monday, June 29th, 2015, 10:38 AM PERMALINK

Grover Norquist made an appearance on MSNBC’s Politics Nation to discuss the state of our nation’s criminal justice system. In the exchange, Norquist noted that in its current form, “the criminal justice system does a great deal of damage.” Recently-launched groups like the Coalition for Public Safety have started a new campaign to rein in the excesses of our justice system. The Coalition—which includes Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime—will tackle wasteful and counterproductive practices found at all levels of government. Watch Norquist’s full interview bellow:

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Georgia: Almost At The Finish Line

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Monday, June 15th, 2015, 9:49 AM PERMALINK

In Georgia’s Peach Pundit, ATR’s Jorge Marin and Freedom Works’ Jason Pye discuss the benefits and shortfalls of the new civil asset forfeiture laws passed by the State Assembly. This is some of what he indicates:

The new “smart on crime” approach undertaken by Gov. Deal has been a resounding success. The number of inmates has fallen and crime and repeat offender rates have dipped. The reforms have been good for taxpayers. In 2014, the Georgia Justice Reform Council estimated savings of $264 million over five years.

Civil asset forfeiture laws, although successful in battling drug crimes, provide an overzealous law enforcement which seeks to profit from seized property as much as it can.

The seizing state or local law enforcement agency can keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds, creating a perverse profit motive to use this tool to, essentially, take property without the due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. This profit motive also serves as a distraction for law enforcement by encouraging them to be revenue collectors.

Certainly, the battle is far from over. This is just one of many future steps that need to be taken in order to fully restore property rights as underlined by the Fifth Amendment.

Georgia can and should go further by enacting stronger protections for innocent property owners and removing the perverse profit motive often behind seizures. These simple steps will not only restore due process in Georgia, but also promote public safety in its communities by allowing law enforcement and prosecutors to focus on the vitally important task of ensuring public safety against violent criminals.

To read the full article click here

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