Krista Chavez

SpaceX Celebrates Successful Falcon Heavy Launch

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, February 15th, 2018, 10:07 AM PERMALINK

Last week, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy booster for the first time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This achievement puts American industry at the forefront of space exploration, proving that where government stalls, the private sector takes over the job of innovation. And they do it at lower costs, with David Bowie blasting in the background.

At 229.6 feet tall, the Falcon Heavy rocket is quickly becoming the most powerful. It has the liftoff thrust of 5 million pounds and capability for more than 140,000 pounds. Competing with this rocket is NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS), which is being designed to take humans in interplanetary missions. According to CNN, the agency will design new rockets for each new mission. The SLS costs $2.6 billion annually to develop and build the ground launch systems at the Kennedy Space Center. The three year delay of the SLS will add another $7.8 billion to its already costly development. ArsTechnica notes, "That $7.8 billion equates to 86 launches of the reusable Falcon Heavy or 52 of the expendable version."  

In 1969, NASA’s Saturn V rocket brought humans to the moon, and took us back to space throughout the '70s. While the Saturn V was a breakthrough in human engineering, innovation is on the horizon to take us into the 21st Century of space exploration. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is now taking that dream of humanity in space to new heights, at lower costs. When the Saturn V was being produced, it cost $1,160,000,000 (adjusted for 2016 inflation) to launch from the Kennedy Center pads. In comparison, the Falcon Heavy costs $90,000,000 to launch, cutting prices 7.8%.

This means that the U.S. can launch 13 Falcon Heavy rockets for every Saturn V rocket launched.

Additionally, NASA tried to do a review of the SLS at the request of the Trump administration to determine whether astronauts would be able to fly on the rocket’s first mission. However, the report found that it would be too difficult, dangerous, and expensive for NASA to pull off in 2019.

Despite this, NASA announced in 2017 that its goal to launch the first SLS would be December 2019. However, this date could be moved due to possible risks, “While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot noted in a statement.

“When you’re talking about the differences in budgets, it’s phenomenal how less expensive Falcon Heavy is compared to a government rocket like SLS,” owner of consulting firm Astralytical Laura Forczyk disclosed to The Verge in a report. Another competitor, the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV Heavy, was also beat on Tuesday by Falcon Heavy’s low cost and high payload. SpaceX’s product can carry at least twice as much as ULA’s at only one-third of the cost. The Falcon Heavy is advertised for $90 million per launch, but the Delta VI Heavy costs between $300 million and $500 million per flight. This cost reduction is significant and exciting for the purchasing power of space exploration.

All this competition makes a clear point—the private market is better at creating innovation to advance human flourishing than government. The market does it at significantly lower costs with exciting new features and entrepreneurial horizons.

Photo Credit: Kristian Golding, Flickr

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Alabama Takes on Juvenile Justice with ATR

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, 2:45 PM PERMALINK

Yesterday, ATR Policy Specialist Jorge Marin hosted Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R-14) and Representative Jim Hill (R-50) for a lunch briefing on juvenile justice reform in Alabama.

At the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Marin led a discussion with the state legislators about their leadership on the state’s Juvenile Justice Task Force and the importance of H.B. 225, a bill to implement the reforms recommended by the task force.

Sen. Ward believes that juvenile justice must be a core pillar to reform the criminal justice system. “As an advocate for smaller government, I understand that public safety should be a core function of government,” declared Ward. “Tackling JJ is the earliest way to change behavior before it becomes a long term, high cost problem.”

Out-of home placements for youth in the juvenile system costs taxpayers around $162,000 per individual per year. These expenditures should be focused on public policy arrangements that make communities safe and help ensure children do not enter the cycle of incarceration. 

On cost efficiency, Rep. Hill noted how H.B. 225 will reshape Alabama's juvenile justice priorities. The bill would refocus out of home placements to the most serious offenders and shift money from the Department of Youth Services to a more local focus. He also emphasized the importance of improving education for youths in Alabama.

Rep. Hill, who introduced H.B. 225 to codify the recommendation of the task force, is leading on pushing this bill through the state legislature. If enacted, the state of Alabama would save approximately $34 million by 2023 to reinvest into community-based juvenile programming. These types of correctional curriculum are proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Marin questioned Rep. Hill, a former judge, on the deficiencies he personally saw as a judge dealing with juveniles in the justice system. Hill expressed enthusiasm for locally-focused corrections, declaring that “(The) easiest way to deal with Juveniles is in a local environment so you can interact with families and possibly even younger children in same household.”

Crime prevention is one of the core functions of the legal system, and correcting criminal behavior early in life is the best way to prevent future victimization and put youths on a positive path to success and fulfillment.

Public safety and youth success is too important for legislators to ignore. ATR thanks Sen. Ward and Rep. Hill for their leadership and urges Alabama legislators to take the appropriate measures and reform the juvenile justice system.

Photo Credit: Photo Via Jorge Marin

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Ohio Senate Must Act to Protect Citizens’ Property Rights in Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Friday, December 2nd, 2016, 4:24 PM PERMALINK

The state government of Ohio reinforced the power of law enforcement to seize money, cars, and other assets suspected of being connected in any way to a crime through civil asset forfeiture laws. Legislators realized this corruption, and the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill in May (with 72 to 25 votes in favor) to reform the practice in Ohio.

The Columbus Dispatch quoted Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist when discussing the need for asset forfeiture reform:

“In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove a defendant’s guilt. But in forfeiture cases, the property owner is put in a position in which he must prove that he obtained his property lawfully.”

H.B. 347 would limit state law enforcement’s coordination with the federal government unless the seizure is greater in value than $100,000. Doing this closes a loophole allowing local law enforcement to use federal standards when forfeiting assets. The legislation also requires a criminal conviction for the government to seize the property.

The bill would also end civil asset forfeiture for most cases were the property exceeds $25,000 in value.

In current Ohio law, officers can seize property from individuals without any criminal or formal charges. The legislature will use the bill proposed to protect Ohio property owners and reinstate due process for forfeited property.

According to the Institute for Justice, current Ohio forfeiture law has a low bar to forfeit, no conviction required, poor protections for innocent third party property owners, and close to 100% of proceeds from forfeitures streamlining back to law enforcement. IJ’s Policing for Profit report notes that forfeiture proceeds in the state averaged at $8,575,933 per year between 2010 and 2012, and it gives the state a D- for its current laws.

The legislation carries significant support from not only the legislature but Ohioans themselves. A poll from the U.S. Justice Action Network released in September 2015 showed that out of 500 registered Ohioans, 81% believed that asset forfeiture reform was essential for the state’s improvement.

Asset forfeiture is a bipartisan issue, and innocent property owners deserve to receive the due process protections guaranteed to them in the Bill of Rights. Americans for Tax Reform urges the Ohio Senate to stand with the state’s House of Representatives to reform civil asset forfeiture and protect its citizens’ rights. 

Photo Credit: Bob Hall (Flickr)

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Justice for All: Oklahomans Vote to Reform the State’s Criminal Justice System

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, 4:15 PM PERMALINK

On Tuesday night, Oklahoma State Questions 780 and 781 to reform the state’s criminal justice system prevailed against pushback from the state’s district attorneys.

Question 780 reclassified certain property offenses and simple drug possessions as misdemeanor crimes, and Question 781 used money saved by this reclassification to fund rehabilitation programs to help those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment.

“Today, Oklahoma’s voters have spoken loud and clear: it’s time to take a smarter approach to public safety and finally reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system,” said former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, who led the effort to get these measures passed. “Because of the tremendous support we’ve received from Oklahomans everywhere, Oklahoma will take a major step toward reducing our prison population and investing in rehabilitation and treatment services to address the root causes of crime and better invest in public safety. This new approach is good for taxpayers, is good for small businesses, is good for public safety, and is good for families."

Red states have proven that these policies work time after time. Their success has inspired a strong movement in DC to overhaul America’s broken justice system.

Americans for Tax Reform congratulates Steele and Oklahoma for passing these common-sense reforms that will prevent people from entering prison unnecessarily and help taxpayers keep money in their pockets. 

On Tuesday night, Oklahoma State Questions 780 and 781 to reform the state’s criminal justice system prevailed against pushback from the state’s district attorneys.

Question 780 reclassified certain property offenses and simple drug possessions as misdemeanor crimes, and Question 781 used money saved by this reclassification to fund rehabilitation programs to help those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment.

“Today, Oklahoma’s voters have spoken loud and clear: it’s time to take a smarter approach to public safety and finally reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system,” said former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, who led the effort to get these measures passed. “Because of the tremendous support we’ve received from Oklahomans everywhere, Oklahoma will take a major step toward reducing our prison population and investing in rehabilitation and treatment services to address the root causes of crime and better invest in public safety. This new approach is good for taxpayers, is good for small businesses, is good for public safety, and is good for families."

Red states have proven that these policies work time after time. Their success has inspired a strong movement in DC to overhaul America’s broken justice system.

Americans for Tax Reform congratulates Steele and Oklahoma for passing these common-sense reforms that will prevent people from entering prison unnecessarily and help taxpayers keep money in their pockets. 

Photo Credit: Pete Zarria

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Norquist: Pennsylvania House Needs to Pass Asset Forfeiture Reform This Year

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, October 25th, 2016, 5:07 PM PERMALINK

On Friday, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist co-authored an opinion editorial for PennLive with Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Timothy Head and Freedom Works CEO and President Adam Brandon on why Pennsylvania needs civil asset forfeiture reform in 2016.

The article emphasizes PA Senate’s recent vote to pass asset forfeiture reform in its house to “improve property rights across the state.” Now, it is up to the House Judiciary Committee to get the bill through the legislature before this session ends in November.

Civil asset forfeiture, the process where law enforcement officials can seize property from citizens who have not been criminally convicted, has been significantly abused in Pennsylvania. Recently, the state’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws to profit off the seizures. On this issue, the article states:

“The money is very good in the forfeiture business – if you happen to work for the government. So good, in fact, that it becomes easy to lose track of it.

A current case in point involves now-disgraced Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who only recently admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws.

As questions grew louder, the circumstances involving the cash – that had been sitting in boxes in her office for nearly two years – came to light.”

Millions of dollars sat in Kane’s office for two years, and there was no significant mechanism to check this seizure.

In the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report released last November, Pennsylvania received a D- for its poor protections of innocent property owners, low bar for police to seize property, lack of conviction required to take property, and harmful use of profit with 100% of forfeiture proceeds going to law enforcement.

Pennsylvanians deserve to be treated better by law enforcement officials. That is why Americans for Tax Reform supports the current civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state’s House of Representatives that passed the State Senate 43-7.

Please read and share Norquist’s article (found here) on these necessary measures to restore Pennsylvanian property rights before the 2016 legislative session ends. 

Photo Credit: Kevin Saff, Flickr

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Pence Supports National Criminal Justice Reform that “Removes Institutional Bias”

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016, 2:07 PM PERMALINK

On Tuesday night during the Vice Presidential Debate, Republican VP Candidate Mike Pence expressed his support for federal criminal justice reform.

“I would say that we need to adopt criminal justice reform nationally. I had signed criminal justice reform in the state of Indiana senate, and very proud about it,” Pence said. “I worked in Congress on the Second Chance Act. We have got to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that do reflect institutional bias in criminal justice.”

Pence highlighted his own commitment to the initiatives, recognizing his own reforms passed in Indiana. Passed in 2013, the bill reduced sentences for some drug crimes, provided opportunities for drug rehabilitation, kept low-level, nonviolent offenders out of the state’s department of corrections, and provided mental health treatment for those who needed it.

This clear support for initiatives in Congress from Pence reassured criminal justice reform advocates that the reforms proposed have a future in the next administration. Specifically, Executive Director of the US Justice Action Network (US JAN) Holly Harris called Pence’s comments a “bombshell.” She said that Pence’s statement, “Breathes new life into criminal justice reform.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist expressed his support for conservative initiatives in justice reform, stating that “You can be both tough on crime and smart on crime.” He emphasizes the need for these federal reforms, asserting that without them, “You’re wasting money, and you’re hurting neighborhoods and people’s lives for no purpose.”

This past Tuesday, Pence emulated a true conservative leader by reiterating the necessity of conservative criminal justice reforms at the federal level. Americans for Tax Reform is glad to have his support on this necessary issue facing the next leader of the United States. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Pennsylvania SB 869 Supports Citizens’ Fifth Amendment Rights

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, September 28th, 2016, 4:04 PM PERMALINK

Today, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is voting on Senate Bill 869 which, if passed, would increase due process rights for innocent property owners in civil forfeiture cases and preserve the ability for police officers to confiscate illicit profits of actual offenders.

Pennsylvania police collect about $10.9 million on forfeitures alone per year on average. Police also seized over $118 million from property owners between 2000 and 2013.

The proposal, introduced by Senator Folmer (R-48), would increase the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” and simplify asset forfeiture laws in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code to increase transparency for the practice. It also requires reporting on seized assets so community members can track the final location of money received from the sale of confiscated assets.

Americans for Tax Reform sent the Assembly a letter of support yesterday where President Grover Norquist stated:

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our supporters across Pennsylvania, I write today in strong support of Senate Bill 869 that, if passed, would advance the Fifth Amendment rights of your constituents…

Innocent property owners in Pennsylvania have had their entire homes seized based on accusations that their family members sold drugs in the property. Property rights are integral to liberty, they must be better protected.

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

Moreover, these new reforms would simplify the asset forfeiture laws, placing them in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code, which will help enhance transparency and rationalize the practice. SB 869 also requires increased reporting on seized assets, so that legislators in Harrisburg, 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, 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 Pennsylvania law.

I encourage you to extend your support for this important legislation.”

Find a copy of the full letter here.

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz

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Congress Acts Unanimously to Prevent IRS from Looting Innocent Taxpayers

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, September 26th, 2016, 4:53 PM PERMALINK

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass H.R. 5523, the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers-RESPECT Act, to end the Internal Revenue Service’s abuse of asset forfeiture in structuring cases. Americans for Tax Reforms applauds Congress for acting efficiently against these violations.

Specifically, the bill prohibits the IRS from seizing funds from property owners who allegedly committed structuring violations unless the agency can prove that the money was used in criminal activity.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) named the legislation for Andrew Clyde, Jeffery, Richard, and Mitch Hirsch, and Randy Sowers. These American small business owners were wrongfully persecuted by the IRS under the structuring rule.

In May 2016, Roskam held a hearing for Protecting Small Businesses from IRS Abuse, where a bipartisan coalition joined to denounce the IRS and the Justice Department’s actions that seized the property of law-abiding Americans. Facing serious backlash from Congress, the IRS agreed in June 2016 to give some or all of the money back to those who it had seized assets on structuring accusations.

“Structuring” refers to the phenomenon that allows the IRS to seize funds from bank accounts when authorities suspect that account deposits are designed to avoid reporting laws.

About the bill, Roskam noted,

“Today we took a big step toward delivering justice for victims of IRS abuse. It’s clear to everyone involved that the IRS and DOJ abused their authority and took money from people who did nothing wrong. With today’s legislation, we’re making sure they can never do it again. I want to thank the Clyde, Hirsch, Sowers, and Taylor families for their bravery and willingness to share their stories in the hopes of preventing future injustice. I appreciate the support of Ranking Member John Lewis and Congressman Joe Crowley on this bipartisan bill. I’m glad we can finally put this ugly chapter to rest.”

Americans for Tax Reform applauds Congress for taking unanimous action against the blatant violation of taxpayer rights by the IRS. 

Photo Credit: Rob Crawley

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Norquist: We Have Come “Too Far” to Let This Effort Die

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, September 19th, 2016, 4:44 PM PERMALINK

Last week, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson co-authored an opinion article for National Review, stressing the opportunity with which Congress is presented to pass comprehensive, bipartisan criminal justice reform this year.

The 11 bills proposed in this criminal justice reform package offer responsible provisions to increase public safety, protect law enforcement, help crime victims, address issues with re-entry, and decrease the burden of taxpayers on upholding the prison system that is currently costly and ineffective.

They discussed the significance of Congress’s unique bipartisan support for the issue of criminal justice reform, citing sources that show about 70 percent approval for the initiative among both Republicans and Democrats. This figure depicted a win-win on both sides of the aisle in a controversial election year.

“Given all this success, you would say these policies have every chance of becoming law, right?” asked Norquist and Henderson. Unfortunately, they found that the issue is not that simple even though it should be.

Americans for Tax Reform, along with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the US Justice Action Network, called on Congress to step up and pass the single most bipartisan effort sitting on Capitol Hill.

Included in the reforms are important changes to intent standards in criminal law—a major policy priority for conservatives concerned with the overregulation of innocent every-day Americans.

“We have come too far to let a rare bipartisan effort like this die. Our country is ready to turn away from the discredited policies that exploded our prison populations and failed to give us the public safety we deserve. Our justice system should be a part of the solution to crime and its root causes. We can do better than using a one-size-fits-all sentencing regime that lumps nonviolent offenders with violent ones. And when some estimates have re-arrest rates for ex-offenders at 65 percent within three years, we cannot afford to continue the status quo. The reforms on the table would improve outcomes while ensuring that public safety is a top priority.”

Read the full article here, and urge your representatives in Congress to pass bipartisan criminal justice reform in 2016.  

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Stealing Money from Travelers: How the DEA Can Search, Seize, and Profit Without a Warrant

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 10:00 AM PERMALINK

An investigation spanning the past several months by USA Today found that the Drug Enforcement Administration consistently searches through American travel records to seize millions of dollars using civil asset forfeiture.

It claims to be looking for drug traffickers, but the agency rarely uses the information found to actually make arrests. According to the USA Today investigation, DEA agents work with Amtrak agents and officers from nearly every major U.S. airliner to seize millions from people carrying large amounts of money. The units seized more than $209 million from over 5,000 people over the past decade, but the DOJ only took 87 federal cases to court to seize cash from travelers.

Assuming these 87 cases were included in the 5,000 number, only 1.7% of all seizures actually get prosecuted in court for drug trafficking. If the DEA is actually “combatting major criminal activity,” then it would actually be arresting and prosecuting these so-called criminals.

The DEA has also built one of the largest wiretapping operations in U.S. history in the suburbs of Los Angeles according to USA Today’s research. These investigators intercepted over 2 million conversations from around 44,000 people, according to federal court records. This operation once accounted for 1/5 of all U.S. wiretaps. Investigators found that DEA agents used these wiretaps to seize drugs and millions of dollars in cash, and they would tip off other investigators from other agencies. DEA agents then instructed the investigators to conduct their own independent searches (aka. parallel construction).

Riverside County’s District Attorney noted that for every 3 wiretaps last year, 1 arrest was made-one of the lowest rates of any jurisdiction in the nation conducting wiretaps.

When the Justice Department found out about this, it expressed fears that “the surveillance issues are unlikely to withstand legal challenges.”

Even the DOJ warned that this practice could be determined illegal, but the DEA continued to illegally watch, search, and seize from American citizens.

The DEA also became close with Amtrak employees and wasted more taxpayer dollars. More USA Today research found that the administration paid an Amtrak employee more than $850,000 since 1996 to serve as a confidential informant for the agency to identify and combat contraband trafficking. This money did nothing, for the information received was always available to the DEA at no extra cost. Another employee also received money ($9,701) for information again freely available to the DEA. The administration’s Inspector General noted that the project not only violated federal regulations but also “substantially wasted government funds.

The Justice Department, in accordance with the Drug Enforcement Administration, must end its ridiculous crusade against the rights of Americans by stopping its illegal search and seizure practice done in the name of civil asset forfeiture. When the inspector generals and district attorneys warn the agency and it continues this process, the department needs to end its vicious, million-dollar tirade against taxpayers. 

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