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Paul, Leahy, Massie & Scott Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Introduction of the Justice Safety Valve Act

February 4, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 353/H.R. 706) in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Justice Safety Valve Act would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors. ‘Since mandatory sentencing began, America’s prison population has quadrupled, to 2.4 million. America now jails a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country due to mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe. The federal government should get out of the way, and allow local and state judges to do their jobs. We must work hard in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws,’ Sen. Paul said. ‘Over the last several decades politicians have added more and more mandatory minimum sentences to our criminal laws because they make for a good ‘tough on crime’ message. But the truth is they do not make our communities safer and they are breaking the bank. They mean we send too many people to prison for far longer than is needed to keep us safe. Each time we do that we waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and we keep families apart. It is time we stop this irrational approach to sentencing, which is one of the reasons why we have the largest prison population in the world. Something has gone very wrong and our laws must change. This bill offers a simple solution. Get politicians out of the way and let judges judge,’ Sen. Leahy said. ‘The one-size-fits-all approach of federally mandated minimums does not give judges the latitude they need to ensure that punishments fit the crimes. As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences,’ said Rep. Massie. ‘Furthermore, public safety can be compromised because violent offenders are released from our nation’s overcrowded prisons to make room for nonviolent offenders.’ ‘Mandatory minimum sentences have been studied extensively and have been found to distort rational sentencing systems, discriminate against minorities, waste money, and often require a judge to impose sentences that violate common sense,’ stated Rep. Scott. ‘To add insult to injury, studies have shown that mandatory minimum sentences fail to reduce crime. Our bill will give discretion back to federal judges so that …read more


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Sen. Paul Asks Kentucky General Assembly to Pass Expungement Legislation

February 4, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul today said he supports efforts in the Kentucky General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow some nonviolent, low-level felons in the Commonwealth to ask courts to expunge their records. ‘I believe that an individual should have the opportunity for redemption,’ said Sen. Paul. ‘One mistake should not keep someone from being able to seek employment and build a better future. Those who have paid their debt to society should be able to take the steps they need to move forward with their lives.’ A bill has been filed in the General Assembly this year addressing the expungement issue. House Bill 40, filed by State Reps. Daryl Owens (D-Louisville) and Larry Clark (D-Louisville), would expand the scope of expungements to include felonies referred to a grand jury where no indictment ensues, as well as to Class D felonies. Last year, Sen. Paul introduced the bipartisan REDEEM Act with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill allows nonviolent adult ex-offenders to petition a court to seal their criminal record a year after their release from jail.
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Obama’s ‘Mindless Austerity’

February 4, 2015 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

In announcing his $3.999 trillion budget proposal for FY 2016, President Obama said that he was putting an end to “mindless austerity” in federal spending. In response to which, one wants to ask, “What color is the sky on his planet?”

There has been no austerity, mindless or otherwise, during the Obama presidency (or, for that matter, the Bush presidency before that). Consider that federal spending under President Obama has risen from $2.9 trillion in 2008 to $3.65 trillion this year. And, while some 2009 spending, such as TARP, can fairly be blamed on his predecessor, President Obama is clearly responsible for at least $1.6 trillion in increased spending above the levels he inherited. And, now he is asking to increase the annual budget by an additional $3.11 trillion by 2025.

But what about the sequester? the president’s defenders will say. The sequester may or may not have been “mindless,” but it really wasn’t all that “austere.” Discretionary spending has plateaued because of the budget caps and the sequester, but it has not been cut significantly from 2009 levels. Of course, the GAO did report that precisely one government employee lost his job as a result of the sequester. God protect us from such austerity.

Don’t worry — he wants more deficits and more debt, but he also wants higher taxes.”

Perhaps austerity is relative. Certainly compared to the president’s proposed spending spree, recent spending hikes look positively parsimonious. President Obama is calling for a $37 billion increase in domestic discretionary spending and would match that with a $38 billion increase in discretionary defense spending. In total, discretionary appropriations would be $70 billion above sequestration levels after other minor related budget adjustments.

If we break down the president’s budget request, we see that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would receive an 18 percent increase in spending compared to this year. The Departments of Commerce and Labor are in line for 11 percent hikes, while Health and Human Services will get 9 percent, and the Education Department, 5 percent.

The president’s commitment to increased spending is not a one-time thing, either. Over the next ten years, the president’s proposals would lead to spending that’s more than $1 trillion above the CBO baseline. And that baseline already assumes that spending will rise by $2.46 trillion from 2015 to 2025.

Under the president’s proposed budget, federal spending would increase from 20.8 percent …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Tax Code Should Not Redistribute Wealth

February 4, 2015 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron

Jeffrey Miron

President Obama believes the federal tax code should bolster the middle class and make the rich pay their fair share. I have a different view: The tax code should make no attempt to differentiate rich from middle-income taxpayers, nor should it attempt to redistribute wealth to middle-income taxpayers.

The President’s perspective assumes that income inequality results not from differences in talent, effort, risk-taking, or other “deserving” attributes but instead from unfair advantages that particular taxpayers have received.

The unfair advantages of the rich that come from government policies that redistribute wealth upward should be eliminated or modified instead of the tax code.”

While this view is correct, the Obama administration’s policy prescription ignores one crucial detail: Many unfair advantages enjoyed by the rich result from government policies that redistribute wealth upward, and those policies should be eliminated or modified instead of the tax code.

Big banks, for example, earn undeserved profits because they are protected by too-big-to-fail policies along with myriad regulations that limit competition in financial services. Doctors and lawyers, too, make higher incomes than their talents alone would warrant because government licensing restricts entry and competition. Scientists and engineers earn excessive incomes because our misguided restrictions on high-skill immigration (the H1-B visa quota) exclude talented foreigners.

Sugar barons get rich because of government-imposed import quotas. Ethanol producers cash in because the government mandates the use of their product. The military industrial complex profits from government-facilitated sales to authoritarian regimes around the world.

In short, instead of making the tax code more complicated by implementing more redistribution, the president and Congress should stop redistributing wealth altogether. Then we can have a truly simplified tax code.

Jeffrey Miron is the director of economic studies at the Cato Institute and the director of undergraduate studies in the department of economics at Harvard University.

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Source: OP-EDS

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Must American Students Pass Immigrants' Citizenship Test?

February 4, 2015 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

To preserve who we are as Americans, nothing is more important for our students than to know how, as constitutionally protected citizens, they are distinct from people of other countries.

In an attempt to assure this will happen in our schools, The New York Times recently reported that, last month, “Arizona became the first state to pass a law requiring its high school students to pass the citizenship exam, stipulating that they must answer at least 60 of 100 questions correctly to receive a diploma” (“States Move to Make Citizenship Exams a Classroom Aid,” Rick Rojas and Motoko Rich, The New York Times, Jan. 27).

This is the citizenship test “that is given to immigrants who want to become United States citizens.”

Among the questions: “What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?”

Another: “What did Susan B. Anthony do?”

Do you know?

Furthermore, added the Times, “other states may follow suit: North Dakota’s House of Representatives has passed a comparable bill, and its Senate approved it” last week.

“Legislators in Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and seven other states have recently introduced similar initiatives.”

But Arizona educator Darcy White, explained the Times, “has reservations” about teaching students why and how they should become authentic Americans.

Reported the Times: “She already loses several days of instruction time to standardized testing.”

As White told the reporters, “Every teacher will tell you a test is not a measure of what a kid knows.”

In contrast, there are deeper, more lasting ways than tests to engage students in active, lifelong participation in this self-governing republic.

Sixteen-year-old Arizona student Noah Bond told the Times: “I think people are more focused on the test and passing, and not the meaning of it. It boils down to the fact that we need to start teaching to make a change, not just taking a test.”

Here is one of my suggestions on how to involve such students who want to make a change:

Let’s have classes debate the ways that Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as Democrat Barack Obama, deeply violated the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. (These amendments would be clearly explained beforehand.)

After students have learned that these amendments are at the very core of our Constitution, would they — as, say, future members of Congress — be moved to correct this savage damage done to our identity as Americans?

Consider this 1873 statement from Susan B. Anthony:

“I …read more

Source: OP-EDS