The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

The shrinking of the U.S. State Department and the sidelining of its diplomatic corps, the backbone of American foreign policy, were major themes during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first year at Foggy Bottom.


The State Department’s civilian workforce fell more than 6% between September 2016 and September 2017, which includes the first eight months of the Trump administration. The number of employees in administrative and legal positions fell 5.4%.

Within the foreign affairs occupation series, the number of employees fell 11.9%, from 2,580 in December 2016 to 2,273 in September 2017, according to Government Executive. Foreign affairs employees were more than 40% of the 836 civilian workers who left between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.

Highly experienced members of the State Department have been a disproportionate percentage of those departures. Between December 2016 and September 2017, 16.2% of employees with 25 or more years of experience left. The number of employees in the foreign-affairs occupation series with at least 25 years of experienced shrunk 13.1% over the same period.

The department’s foreign service ranks, which includes diplomats and support staff, fell 1.2% in Tillerson’s first year, but the number of foreign service officers — those responsible for political, diplomatic, and economic relations — fell by about 2%, with 166 leaving.

Tillerson — whose planned reorganization the State Department has been criticized by legislators — kept a hiring freeze in place for most of his first year on the job. He eased it at the end of December for eligible family members and announced the expansion of the Expanded Professional Associates Program, which provided bureaus with greater placement flexibility.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with U.S. Air Force Col. Corwin Pauly, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 2, 2017. Tillerson stopped at Travis before heading to Sydney, Australia to attend the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations forum. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

But the trickle of new employees entering the State Department doesn’t compensate for the steady flow of departures, according to former diplomats.

Amb. Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said in December 2017 that the Foreign Service’s “leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed.” When Obama left office, the State Department had five career ambassadors, but with the departure of Tom Shannon, a 34-year State Department veteran, earlier this month, just one remains.

“You’re throwing out the people at the top, so you’re losing expertise,” Ron Neumann, a retired 37-year State Department veteran, told Government Executive this month. “If you don’t bring in people at the bottom … you’re setting up a long-term problem.”

“Other countries are represented by people who have a deep background in the issue,” Neumann said, “and you’re like the high-school kid trying to pretend you’re in college.”

The atrophying of the State Department comes as China beefs up its own diplomatic corps, overhauling its Foreign Ministry to empower its diplomats, according to Bloomberg.

Chinese President Xi Jinping got the revamp underway in January 2017.

A reform committee led by Xi called on the Foreign Ministry to “forge a politically resolute, professionally exquisite, strictly disciplined foreign affairs corps,” and in October 2017, Xi appointed China’s top diplomat to the country’s powerful Politburo, making him the first former Foreign Ministry official in 20 years to reach that level.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Photo from Moscow Kremlin)

The reforms will give Chinese ambassadors more control over their portfolios and strengthen the country’s diplomats as they manage multiple trade deals, supervise infrastructure projects, and oversee numerous foreign loans — all of which are elements of Xi’s efforts to exercise more clout abroad and become a more prominent player in international affairs.

“I can imagine these changes would be really good for the morale for the Chinese diplomats at the foreign ministry at a time when the morale of the diplomats in the U.S. foreign service is at an all-time low,” Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told Bloomberg.

Budget plans recently announced by the White House are likely to do little to improve the mood among those remaining at the State Department.

The budget would expand funding for the military but impose an $8.8 billion reduction for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the current and next fiscal years — the biggest reduction since the 1990s.

Also Read: This is SecState’s plan to welcome Taliban into Afghan government

Lawmakers have a few weeks to find additional sources of funding, but the proposed cuts have already drawn rebukes from current and former members of the military, among others.

More than 1,200 veterans representing every branch of the military sent a letter to House and Senate leaders on February 12, saying that “strategic investments in the State Department and USAID will be essential if we are to solidify our hard-fought gains and prevent other bad actors from filling the void” around the world.

That letter came one day after 151 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals sent a letter to House and Senate leaders opposing cuts to the international affairs budget, to which the Trump administration proposed an almost 30% budget cut in 2017.

“We call on you to ensure our nation also has the civilian resources necessary to protect our national security, compete against our adversaries, and create opportunities around the world,” the letter says. “We must not undercut our nation’s ability to lead around the world in such turbulent times.”
Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

It’s Labor Day weekend!


Some of you military types will be by the pool, some of you will be skating or shamming on duty, and at least one of you will be explaining to someone on Facebook that Labor Day isn’t about veterans or the military.

Let the best memes of the week help you stave off any labor (for at least a few more minutes) and give you some tips for celebrating the holiday.

1. Don’t forget to include your pets.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

2. Remember: you can get arrested for a DUI while driving a boat.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
The Coast Guard will ruin your Yacht Party.

3. Guys, be yourself when talking to the ladies.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
You know it’s true because it’s the first thing he said to her.

4. Be prepared if the ladies reject your advances.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Check out: 6 urban legends about Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

5. Just in case, pack your rain gear.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

6. Be sure to pick up some fun for the kids.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

7. Get your paperwork done early. (h/t Air Force Memes Humor)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
You know the MPF will close for a training day the Friday before Labor Day. You just know it.

8. Word gets around when you’re having a party. You may have to dodge people. (h/t Pop Smoke)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Now Read: It’s not the Beretta M9 that sucks, it’s the ammo

9. Every veteran has that one veteran friend.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
How did she even see him?

10. Be sure you listen and heed your safety brief.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

11. Let loose, and relax a little. Maybe grow a little facial hair.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

12. Take in a movie. (h/t Pop Smoke)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
That’s the same year this movie was released.

Now: The 13 biggest military movie bombs in Hollywood history

13. And don’t forget Grandpa.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

MIGHTY TRENDING

The raid on Camp Bastion was a bloody first for some Marine aviators

On Sept. 14, 2012, 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters disguised in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion, a large Marine Corps and British forces base and Afghan National Army training complex. Camp Bastion could accommodate some 30,000 people, so when the Taliban split into three teams to wreak havoc on the base’s interior, things could have gone very badly for the Marines.

The infiltrators made it all the way to the flight line, where their coordinated, complex attack began by targeting the Marines’ Harrier aircraft. It would be the single biggest loss of American airpower since the Vietnam War. It would also be the first time that the maintainers and pilots of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) operated as riflemen since World War II.


The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
A video released later showed the attackers dressed for the assault.

 

The fighting began at 10pm local time with one Taliban team engaging the flight line personnel, another targeting the refueling area, and a third focusing on destroying aircraft using explosives and RPGs. It was an aircraft explosion that signaled the start of the attack.

Within minutes, six Harriers were burning on the tarmac, the Marine helicopter area was surrounded by fires, and the cryogenics and fuel pit areas were on fire as small arms crackled and tracers lit up the night sky. The Taliban brought everything from hand grenades to heavy machine guns and caught the Marines completely off guard.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s memorial.

 

Marines scrambled to protective barriers as RPGs exploded around the flight line. They initially believed it was an attack of opportunity from outside the base — a random, lucky hit from rockets or mortars. But after ten explosions, one every ten seconds, it was clear that this was more than a few lucky shots. The Troops in Contact alarm began to sound. They called in the British quick reaction force, but they were on the other side of the base and the Marines would have to hold their own until they arrived.

The Marines quickly moved to don their flak jackets and retrieve their rifles. The Taliban weren’t going to stop at the aircraft. They fired RPGs at the building that housed Marine workstations while another hit a building that contained the medical section. An anti-personnel RPG killed the commander of VMA-211, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, before he could organize a defense. Shrapnel from one of the RPGs lodged in his neck as he was leading a crew full of mechanics and maintainers out into the night as a rifle unit.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

By this time, every Marine was operating as a rifleman. Weapons and ammo were doled out to anyone without one and Marines began taking up their fields of fire. The air wing was a total, confusing mess as the fuel bladders blew up, temporarily turning the night into day.

A Huey aircraft commander and two enlisted Marines were the ones who brought the weapons to the flight line area. They went to check on the entry control point and began to take fire from the cryogenics area. A Huey crew chief manned an M240 to suppress the enemy fire.

At the same time, Marines were struggling to get remaining aircraft in the air to provide close-air support. All they could muster was two Hueys and a Cobra, but the Marines managed to get them ready to fly in the midst of the confusing, intense attack. Thick smoke, burning ordnance, and enemy fire loomed as flight line Marines took up defensive positions to cover the helicopters’ takeoff.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
One of the Harrier jets destroyed in the raid.

 

When the helicopters were airborne, things changed quickly on the ground. They told the JTAC to concentrate fire toward the enemy position in the cryogenics facility. When the southern wall of that building lit up with tracers, the AH-1 Cobra helicopter peppered the building with 20mm rounds and UH-1V Venom Hueys tore through it with 300 .50-cal rounds while a gunner on the ground hit it with 600 rounds from a GAU-17.

After the aerial hit, the British quick reaction force arrived and cleared out the infiltrating Taliban in the cryogenics facility with 40mm grenade launchers. That left four Taliban hiding in the T-walls near the flight line. As Marines on the ground attempted to converge on the remaining Taliban attackers, guns from the helicopters eliminated the last of the threat.

When the smoke cleared, two Marines, Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, had been killed. Allied wounded numbered 17, six Harriers were completely destroyed, and another two were damaged, along with an Air Force C-130E. Three fuel bladders and a few sunshade hangars were also destroyed. All but one of the attacking Taliban fighters were killed in action. The attack caused some 0 million in damages.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, left, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant were forced to retire just one year after the raid.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

The story doesn’t end there. The Marine Corps wanted to know how 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters were able to get onto the base in the first place. It turned out the commander of Bastion, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, reduced the number of Marines patrolling the base of 30,000 from 325 to 100 just one month before the attack, leaving the base guarded by troops from Tonga. He and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant were forced to retire in the days following the incident. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, said the two failed to accurately assess the strength and capabilities of the enemy in the area and failed to protect their troops.

Sturdevant was the Marine aviation commander of the base and was blamed for inadequate force protection measures on the flight line area that night. The two Marines who went to check the entry control point found it unmanned before they started taking fire from the cryogenics facility. Meanwhile, the British review of the attack found that only 11 of 24 guard towers were manned that night. Both generals retired with fully pay and benefits.

Later, it would be revealed that the attackers spent months posing as poppy farmers, probing the base defenses and testing reactions from perimeter guards. They were able to map out the base, its defenses, its fuel farms, and the airfield. They were even trying to target Prince Harry, who was stationed on the base at that time.

Intel

Here’s how explosives experts destroy IEDs in Afghanistan

The battle against explosives and stemming civilian casualties in Afghanistan remains a top priority for U.S. forces there.


“For more than 40 years, Afghanistan has been bombed, shelled and mined,” according to the Alun Hill video below. “Old Soviet mines and shells still litter the countryside.”

Insurgents use these dangerous relics, innocuous household items and other explosive materials smuggled in from Pakistan to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which they use against American forces. Explosives that are undetonated can remain dormant for years before being uncovered by unsuspecting civilians. Most of the casualties now in Afghanistan come from these items, said Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) Manager Hukum Khan Rasooly.

Watch how these dangerous weapons are made and destroyed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo7XsFwOaCY

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army’s unconventional big-city recruiting strategy is paying off, officials say

The Army was on track to meet or exceed its recruiting goals again this year, with help from an unexpected boost of enlistments in the traditionally difficult northeast region, Army officials said Wednesday.

“The whole East Coast, from Richmond north, is really taking off,” Army Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of Army Recruiting Command, said at a Pentagon roundtable with defense reporters.


He didn’t have specific numbers at the ready, but said Army recruiters had met 100% of their goals in New York City and Boston, where recruiting has normally lagged behind the South and Southwest.

Muth and Dr. Eugene “Casey” Wardynski, assistant Army secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, also said that the surging economy, with unemployment at 3.6%, was not having the usual effect of discouraging enlistments.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

“We want to be great in a great economy,” Wardynski said. “We’re in a position to do great when America is doing great.”

Muth said the Army fell short of its goal in fiscal 2018, when about 70,000 were recruited, compared to the goal of 76,000. Last year, the Army met its goal of 68,000 new recruits. And so far this year, the service is pacing 2,026 recruitments ahead of the same period last year, Muth said.

The plan was to have the end strength of the Army at 485,000 by the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30, Wardynski said. With recruitments currently going well, the Army already has plans for a late entry pool for recruitments in excess of 485,000, he said.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Both Wardynski and Muth attributed the improving recruiting numbers to a new marketing campaign called “What’s Your Warrior,” begun last November to highlight opportunities in the Army for today’s youth.

They also emphasized a switch to focus more on 22 major cities for recruiting, and a targeting of so-called “Generation Z,” those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.

Under Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, chief of Army Enterprise Marketing, the Army marketing team moved from its headquarters near the Pentagon to Chicago last fall to get closer to private-sector expertise. That includes DDB Chicago, which has a billion contract as Army’s full-service ad agency until 2028.

Fink said the effort to connect with Generation Z through such innovations as virtual recruiting stations and more creative uses of Instagram and YouTube were already paying off. In December, the Army logged 4.6 million visits to GoArmy.com, Fink said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

It rains on the sun – this is how

For five months in mid 2017, Emily Mason did the same thing every day. Arriving to her office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, she sat at her desk, opened up her computer, and stared at images of the Sun — all day, every day. “I probably looked through three or five years’ worth of data,” Mason estimated. Then, in October 2017, she stopped. She realized she had been looking at the wrong thing all along.

Mason, a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun’s outer atmosphere back to its surface. But she expected to find it in helmet streamers, the million-mile tall magnetic loops — named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet — that can be seen protruding from the Sun during a solar eclipse. Computer simulations predicted the coronal rain could be found there. Observations of the solar wind, the gas escaping from the Sun and out into space, hinted that the rain might be happening. And if she could just find it, the underlying rain-making physics would have major implications for the 70-year-old mystery of why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface. But after nearly half a year of searching, Mason just couldn’t find it. “It was a lot of looking,” Mason said, “for something that never ultimately happened.”


The problem, it turned out, wasn’t what she was looking for, but where. In a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Mason and her coauthors describe the first observations of coronal rain in a smaller, previously overlooked kind of magnetic loop on the Sun. After a long, winding search in the wrong direction, the findings forge a new link between the anomalous heating of the corona and the source of the slow solar wind — two of the biggest mysteries facing solar science today.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Mason searched for coronal rain in helmet streamers like the one that appears on the left side of this image, taken during the 1994 eclipse as viewed from South America. A smaller pseudostreamer appears on the western limb (right side of image). Named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet, helmet streamers extend far into the Sun’s faint corona and are most readily seen when the light from the Sun’s bright surface is occluded.

(© 1994 Úpice observatory and Vojtech Rušin, © 2007 Miloslav Druckmüller)

How it rains on the Sun

Observed through the high-resolution telescopes mounted on NASA’s SDO spacecraft, the Sun – a hot ball of plasma, teeming with magnetic field lines traced by giant, fiery loops — seems to have few physical similarities with Earth. But our home planet provides a few useful guides in parsing the Sun’s chaotic tumult: among them, rain.

On Earth, rain is just one part of the larger water cycle, an endless tug-of-war between the push of heat and pull of gravity. It begins when liquid water, pooled on the planet’s surface in oceans, lakes, or streams, is heated by the Sun. Some of it evaporates and rises into the atmosphere, where it cools and condenses into clouds. Eventually, those clouds become heavy enough that gravity’s pull becomes irresistible and the water falls back to Earth as rain, before the process starts anew.

On the Sun, Mason said, coronal rain works similarly, “but instead of 60-degree water you’re dealing with a million-degree plasma.” Plasma, an electrically-charged gas, doesn’t pool like water, but instead traces the magnetic loops that emerge from the Sun’s surface like a rollercoaster on tracks. At the loop’s foot points, where it attaches to the Sun’s surface, the plasma is superheated from a few thousand to over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. It then expands up the loop and gathers at its peak, far from the heat source. As the plasma cools, it condenses and gravity lures it down the loop’s legs as coronal rain.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Coronal rain, like that shown in this movie from NASA’s SDO in 2012, is sometimes observed after solar eruptions, when the intense heating associated with a solar flare abruptly cuts off after the eruption and the remaining plasma cools and falls back to the solar surface. Mason was searching for coronal rain not associated with eruptions, but instead caused by a cyclical process of heating and cooling similar to the water cycle on Earth.

(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, Lead Animator)

Mason was looking for coronal rain in helmet streamers, but her motivation for looking there had more to do with this underlying heating and cooling cycle than the rain itself. Since at least the mid-1990s, scientists have known that helmet streamers are one source of the slow solar wind, a comparatively slow, dense stream of gas that escapes the Sun separately from its fast-moving counterpart. But measurements of the slow solar wind gas revealed that it had once been heated to an extreme degree before cooling and escaping the Sun. The cyclical process of heating and cooling behind coronal rain, if it was happening inside the helmet streamers, would be one piece of the puzzle.

The other reason connects to the coronal heating problem — the mystery of how and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere is some 300 times hotter than its surface. Strikingly, simulations have shown that coronal rain only forms when heat is applied to the very bottom of the loop. “If a loop has coronal rain on it, that means that the bottom 10% of it, or less, is where coronal heating is happening,” said Mason. Raining loops provide a measuring rod, a cutoff point to determine where the corona gets heated. Starting their search in the largest loops they could find — giant helmet streamers — seemed like a modest goal, and one that would maximize their chances of success.

She had the best data for the job: Images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, a spacecraft that has photographed the Sun every twelve seconds since its launch in 2010. But nearly half a year into the search, Mason still hadn’t observed a single drop of rain in a helmet streamer. She had, however, noticed a slew of tiny magnetic structures, ones she wasn’t familiar with. “They were really bright and they kept drawing my eye,” said Mason. “When I finally took a look at them, sure enough they had tens of hours of rain at a time.”

At first, Mason was so focused on her helmet streamer quest that she made nothing of the observations. “She came to group meeting and said, ‘I never found it — I see it all the time in these other structures, but they’re not helmet streamers,'” said Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at Goddard, and a coauthor of the paper. “And I said, ‘Wait…hold on. Where do you see it? I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that before!'”

A measuring rod for heating

These structures differed from helmet streamers in several ways. But the most striking thing about them was their size.

“These loops were much smaller than what we were looking for,” said Spiro Antiochos, who is also a solar physicist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper. “So that tells you that the heating of the corona is much more localized than we were thinking.”

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Mason’s article analyzed three observations of Raining Null-Point Topologies, or RNTPs, a previously overlooked magnetic structure shown here in two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light. The coronal rain observed in these comparatively small magnetic loops suggests that the corona may be heated within a far more restricted region than previously expected.

(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Emily Mason)

While the findings don’t say exactly how the corona is heated, “they do push down the floor of where coronal heating could happen,” said Mason. She had found raining loops that were some 30,000 miles high, a mere two percent the height of some of the helmet streamers she was originally looking for. And the rain condenses the region where the key coronal heating can be happening. “We still don’t know exactly what’s heating the corona, but we know it has to happen in this layer,” said Mason.

A new source for the slow solar wind

But one part of the observations didn’t jibe with previous theories. According to the current understanding, coronal rain only forms on closed loops, where the plasma can gather and cool without any means of escape. But as Mason sifted through the data, she found cases where rain was forming on open magnetic field lines. Anchored to the Sun at only one end, the other end of these open field lines fed out into space, and plasma there could escape into the solar wind. To explain the anomaly, Mason and the team developed an alternative explanation — one that connected rain on these tiny magnetic structures to the origins of the slow solar wind.

In the new explanation, the raining plasma begins its journey on a closed loop, but switches — through a process known as magnetic reconnection — to an open one. The phenomenon happens frequently on the Sun, when a closed loop bumps into an open field line and the system rewires itself. Suddenly, the superheated plasma on the closed loop finds itself on an open field line, like a train that has switched tracks. Some of that plasma will rapidly expand, cool down, and fall back to the Sun as coronal rain. But other parts of it will escape – forming, they suspect, one part of the slow solar wind.

Mason is currently working on a computer simulation of the new explanation, but she also hopes that soon-to-come observational evidence may confirm it. Now that Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is traveling closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it, it can fly through bursts of slow solar wind that can be traced back to the Sun — potentially, to one of Mason’s coronal rain events. After observing coronal rain on an open field line, the outgoing plasma, escaping to the solar wind, would normally be lost to posterity. But no longer. “Potentially we can make that connection with Parker Solar Probe and say, that was it,” said Viall.

Digging through the data

As for finding coronal rain in helmet streamers? The search continues. The simulations are clear: the rain should be there. “Maybe it’s so small you can’t see it?” said Antiochos. “We really don’t know.”

But then again, if Mason had found what she was looking for she might not have made the discovery — or have spent all that time learning the ins and outs of solar data.

“It sounds like a slog, but honestly it’s my favorite thing,” said Mason. “I mean that’s why we built something that takes that many images of the Sun: So we can look at them and figure it out.”

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Did TurboTax use ‘military discount’ to mislead troops into paying to file their taxes?

In patriotism-drenched promotions, press releases and tweets, TurboTax promotes special deals for military service members, promising to help them file their taxes online for free or at a discount.

Yet some service members who’ve filed by going to the TurboTax Military landing page told ProPublica they were charged as much as $150 — even though, under a deal with the government, service members making under $66,000 are supposed to be able to file on TurboTax for free.

Liz Zimmerman is a mother of two teenage daughters and a toddler who lives with her husband, a Navy chief petty officer, in Bettendorf, Iowa, just across the river from the Rock Island military facility. When Zimmerman went to do her taxes this year, she Googled “tax preparation military free” and, she recalled in an interview, TurboTax was the first link that popped up, promising “free military taxes.” She clicked and came to the site emblazoned with miniature American flags.


But when Zimmerman got to the end of the process, TurboTax charged her , even though the family makes under the ,000 income threshold to file for free. “I’ve got a kid in braces and I’ve got a kid in preschool; is half a week’s worth of groceries,” she said. “Who needs date night this month? At least I filed my taxes.”

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

(Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Micah Merrill)

In the commercial version of TurboTax that includes the “military discount,” customers are charged based on the tax forms they file. The Zimmermans used a form to claim a retirement savings credit that TurboTax required a paid upgrade to file. If they’d started from the TurboTax Free File landing page instead of the military page, they would have been able to file for free.

Like many other tax prep companies, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, participates in the Free File program with the IRS, under which the industry offers most Americans free tax filing. In return, the IRS agrees not to create its own free filing system that would compete with the companies. But few of those who are eligible use the program, in part because the companies aggressively market paid versions, often misleading customers. We’ve documented how Intuit had deliberately made its Free File version difficult to find, including by hiding it from search engines.

In a statement, Intuit spokesman Rick Heineman said, “Intuit has long supported active-military and veterans, both in filing their taxes and in their communities, overseas, and in the Intuit workplace.” He added: “Intuit is proud to support active military, including the millions of men and women in uniform who have filed their tax returns completely free using TurboTax.”

To find TurboTax’s Free File landing page, service members typically have to go through the IRS website. TurboTax Military, by contrast, is promoted on the company’s home page and elsewhere. Starting through the Military landing page directs many users to paid products even when they are eligible to get the same service for no cost using the Free File edition.

An Intuit press release this year announced “TurboTax Offers Free Filing for Military E1- E5” — but refers users to TurboTax Military and does not mention the actual Free File option. (E1-E5 refers to military pay grades.) It was promoted on the company’s Twitter feed with a smiling picture of a woman wearing fatigues outside her suburban home. Google searches for “TurboTax military,” “TurboTax for soldiers” and “TurboTax for troops” all produce top results sending users to the TurboTax Military page.

That site offers a “military discount.” Some service members can use it to file for free, depending on their pay grade and tax situation. Others are informed — only after inputting their tax data — that they will have to pay.

In one instance, Petty Officer Laurell, a hospital corpsman in the Navy who didn’t want his full name used, was charged even though he makes under ,000. TurboTax charged Laurell this year and 0 last year, his receipts show.

“I am upset and troubled that TurboTax would intentionally mislead members of the military,” said Laurell, who has been in the service for a decade.

Using receipts, tax returns and other documentation, we verified the accounts from four service members who were charged by TurboTax even though they were eligible to use Free File. They include an Army second lieutenant, a Navy hospital corpsman and a Navy yeoman.

The New York regulator investigating TurboTax is also examining the military issue, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Active-duty members of the military get greater access to Free File products than other taxpayers. All Americans who make under ,000 can use products offered by one of 12 participating companies in the program. But each company then imposes additional, sometimes confusing eligibility requirements based on income, age and location.

Those additional requirements are not imposed on service members for most of the Free File products.

TurboTax’s Free File edition, for example, is available to active-duty military and reservists who make under ,000 in adjusted gross income compared with a threshold of ,000 for everyone else.

It’s unclear how many service members were charged by TurboTax, even though they could have filed for free. The company declined to respond to questions about this.

Jennifer Davis, government relations deputy director of the National Military Family Association, said the group is concerned by ProPublica’s findings about Americans being charged for tax services that should be free. “As an organization dedicated to improving the well-being of military families, we are concerned that many military families have fallen prey to these fraudulent actions as well,” she said. Davis pointed out that service members have a range of other free tax filing options, including in-person help on many bases and an online option through the Defense Department called MilTax.

We tested TurboTax Military and TurboTax Free File using the tax information of a Virginia-based Navy sailor and his graphic designer wife with a household income of ,000.

The filing experiences had just one major difference: TurboTax Military tried to upgrade us or convince us to pay for side products six times. We declined those extras each time. Finally, the program told us we had to pay 9.98 to finish filing.

And that “military discount”? All of .

In the Free File version, by contrast, we were able to file completely free.

Here’s what happened when we landed on TurboTax Military:

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

The software took us through filing our taxes in the standard question-answer format used across all TurboTax products. We entered the sailor’s employer and income information.

Then TurboTax told us we were going to save some money because of our service.

“Congrats! You qualify for our Enlisted military discount.”

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

We were then repeatedly offered other paid products.

TurboTax recommended we purchase “+PLUS,” which promises “24/7 tax return access” and other services for .99.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

We were offered “TurboTaxLive” — access to advice from a CPA — for 4.99.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

We were also offered “MAX,” which includes audit defense and identity loss insurance for .99 (a good deal, the company suggests, because the products represent a “5.00 value”).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

We rejected all of these offers. We finished filing the sailor’s military income and added his wife’s 1099 income of ,000 and her modest business expenses.

When we were done entering their information, the software broke some bad news: We would need to upgrade to TurboTax Self-Employed for 4.99 (minus thanks to the military discount).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

On top of that, we were charged .99 to file Virginia state taxes, bringing our total to 9.98.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

When we started on TurboTax Free File instead of TurboTax Military and entered the same information, the filing experience was virtually identical, with two major differences: We weren’t pitched side products such as audit defense and the final price was .

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

While the sailor’s family was eligible for Free File, TurboTax Military never directed us to the product, even after we entered a family income of less than ,000.

On May 10, the New York Department of Financial Services sent a request for documents to USAA, the insurance company that caters to service members, according to a person familiar with the investigation. USAA promotes TurboTax Military, and DFS, which regulates insurance companies, sought records related to any deals with Intuit and other tax prep firms. Two other insurance companies, Progressive and AAA, also received requests for records from DFS. Spokespeople for the three companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

TurboTax first launched the Military Edition in 2012. “TurboTax has a long history of supporting the military and many of our employees have served our country,” the then-head of TurboTax said in the company’s press release.

It has apparently been a lucrative business. On an earnings call six months later, Intuit’s then-CEO Brad Smith boasted “we saw double-digit growth this season from the military and digital native customer segments.”

“Given our scale and our data capabilities,” he said, “we plan to extend this advantage to even more taxpayers next season.” Smith is now executive chairman of Intuit’s board.

Last week, a class action was filed against Intuit by a law firm representing a Marine, Laura Nichols, who was charged by TurboTax even though she was eligible to file for free, according to the complaint. The suit cites ProPublica’s previous reporting on the issue. The company declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @propublica on Twitter.

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of Jul. 15

It’s the weekly memes call! Hit us up on Facebook if you want to send in your funny military memes.


1. Just wait until pilots start uploading screen captures of them capturing Pokemon at altitude (via Air Force amn/nco/snco).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
The best Charizards are at 20,000 feet.

2. “How do you keep a private busy for hours? Read below.”

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

SEE ALSO: Afghanistan commanders says new rules allow U.S. troops to go on the offensive

3. It’s a little hard to roll armor sleeves, but we’ll figure it out (via Military Memes).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Just don’t let the material bunch up around your elbows. It might throw off your famous marksmanship.

4. Yeah, that’s about right (via Ranger Up Military and MMA Apparel)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Cluster munitions: For when you have a lot of f-cks to give.

5. “Ummm… I submitted that travel voucher.”

(via Maintainer Humor)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

6. I can no longer see these rhyming pairs without hearing Taylor Swift singing them (via Military Memes).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

7. The Army is easy as long as you’re always prepared (via Pop Smoke).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
I mean, setting an alarm would’ve been even easier, but whatever.

8. “I was the valedictorian.”

(via Devil Dog Nation)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

9. Not sure the guys in the first photo actually look any cooler than the ones in the second (via Air Force Nation).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
But at least they’re healthier. Those bottom airmen have jaundice or something.

10. One foot in each camp:

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Maybe only the sailor’s left side has been promoted.

11. “We’re going to keep rehearsing this all day? Super-awesome-sweet.”

(via Pop Smoke)

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

12. Just wait till he crushes the cans on his head (via Grunt Nation).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Meanwhile, sergeant major just wants to know where the Marine’s cover is.

13. Pretty sure most recruiters will let you hunt Pokemon in the station if you take the practice ASVAB first (via Do you even Marine, bro?).

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
They’re catching you while you catch Mewtwo.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and WWII naval hero died at 99

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was known around the world as the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The two had been married since 1947. On April 9, 2021, at the age of 99, Prince Philip passed away.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Philip’s Royal Navy photo (Royal Navy)

Philip was born in Greece into the Mountbatten family. He was both a Prince of both Greece and Denmark. However, following the Greco-Turkish War, Philip’s family was forced to abdicate the throne and was exiled from the country when he was a baby.

Philip was educated in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In early 1939, he completed a term as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth before he repatriated to Greece for the summer. However, at the behest of Greece’s King George II, he returned to Britain in September and resumed Royal Navy training. The next year, Philip graduated from Dartmouth as the top cadet in his class. He was appointed a midshipman and served aboard ships protecting the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Indian Ocean. Following the invasion of Greece in October 1940, Philip transferred to the battleship HMS Valiant in the Mediterranean Fleet to protect his home country.

Following further schooling at Portsmouth, Philip was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in early 1941. He returned to the Mediterranean Fleet where he fought in numerous engagements including the the Battle of Crete and the Battle of Cape Matapan. Following the latter, Philip was mentioned in dispatches for his conspicuous service. During this time, he was also awarded the Greek War Cross.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
The Duke of Edinburgh is piped aboard the HMS Magpie in the early 1950s (Royal Navy)

In July 1942, Philip was promoted to lieutenant and participated in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During the invasion, Philip saved his ship from enemy bombers during a night attack with his quick thinking. As the planes approached, Philip concocted the idea to launch a raft with smoke floats as a distraction. The plan worked and HMS Wallace was able to slip away unnoticed. In October, Philip became the ship’s first lieutenant. At the age of 21, he was one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy.

In 1944, Philip transferred again to the Pacific Fleet where he served with the 27th Destroyer Flotilla. While serving aboard HMS Whelp, Philip participated in the Okinawa campaign. The British naval forces neutralized Japanese airfields on surrounding islands in support of the invasion. He also helped rescue down Royal Navy aviators Sub-Lieutenant Roy Halliday and Gunner Norman Richardson when their Grumman TBF Avenger went down over the ocean. Halliday went on to become Director-General Intelliegence in Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff from 1981-1984.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Prince Philip during a surprise visit to Iraq in 2006 (U.S. DoD)

Philip was again part of history when HMS Whelp became the first allied ship to enter Sagami Bay on August 27, 1945, following V-J Day. The ship led the way for the battleships HMS Duke of York, USS Iowa, and USS Missouri. Philip was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal Japanese surrender on September 2. Two weeks later, HMS Whelp arrived in Hong Kong to accept the surrender of Japanese forces there as well. After the war, Philip served as an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur, the Petty Officers’ School in Corsham Wiltshire.

Philip met the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1939. The Royal Family toured Dartmouth and Philip was asked to escort the King’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth fell in love with Philip and the two began exchanging letters. In the summer of 1946, Philip asked King George VI for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. The King agreed on the condition that the engagement be announced the following year after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday. The engagement was publicly announced in July 1947 and the two were wed on November 20 that same year. Their marriage is the longest of any British monarch. Philip left active naval service at the rank of commander when Elizabeth became queen in 1952.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Prince Philip is the longest-service Consort of the British Monarch (Royal Family)

With Philip’s passing, Buckingham Palace has announced the start of Operation Forth Bridge, the plan for the prince’s funeral. Although his death has made headlines around the world, Philip was insistent that his passing be met with minimal “fuss.” The plans, which had been previously drawn up, have since been modified to adhere to the country’s COVID mitigation policies. Philip would have turned 100 in June.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
(Royal Family)
Articles

Wounded veterans helped amputee victims of the Boston Marathon bombing

The Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013 killed three and wounded 264 others. The attack was committed by two American brothers of Chechen descent who set off a couple of pressure cooker explosives they learned to make from an English language al-Qaeda magazine. One of the brothers died after the other brother ran him over with a stolen SUV following a shootout with law enforcement. The other brother is in prison, awaiting execution.


At least 14 of the the bombing victims required amputations. Anyone who undergoes amputations of limbs for any reason will go through the five psychological stages of grief, but 20-22 percent of all amputees will experience some form of post-traumatic stress, according to studies from the National Institute of Health. For the civilian victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, their stress is coupled by the two explosions, just 12 seconds apart, that killed three, injured scores more, and took one or more of their limbs.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

The aforementioned studies show the ability to cope with an amputation be affected by pain, level of disability, the look of the amputated limb and associated prosthetics, and the presence of social supports. The 14 amputee survivors of the bombing received a ready network of support from wounded warriors, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who lost limbs during their service. Within days of the attack, injured veterans arrived in Boston to meet the survivors.

“We felt as amputees compelled to get out here,” said Captain Cameron West, a Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan. “It won’t define them as a person … soon all of them will be able to do everything they could before the terror attack.”

“Military combat veterans are not the only victims of PTSD,”  said Dr. Philip Leveque, a pharmacology researcher, WWII veteran, and author of “General Patton’s Dogface Soldier of WWII.” “Civilians in a horrific event like those in Boston will not only be victims of these events but may be mistreated by their physicians with morphine-like drugs, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs, which can cause adverse side effects, including suicide.”

Chris Claude is a 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Pennsylvania. He met with marathon amputees and  told the Associated Press it was his chance to provide the kind of support he got after the amputation of his right leg following a 2005 bomb blast in Iraq. B.J. Ganem, a Marine who lost his left leg in Afghanistan, said all he saw was resilience. The two groups came together again later in 2013, at the New England Patriots home opener. They were honored on the field together before the game.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

“I like the idea of the amputees coming out on the field together,” Claude said. “It’s another way for people in the crowd to see the human spirit can’t be broken.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Saudis are about the change the game in the Middle East

In the first week of February 2018, insiders in the Israeli aviation industry told Haaretz that Saudi Arabia reportedly granted approval to Air India to fly direct from Delhi to Tel Aviv using its airspace.


Reuters confirmed that Air India said it is planning direct flights to Israel, and sought permission from Saudi Arabia to fly over its territory, which would significantly reduce flight times by more than two hours.

Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority denied reports that it already granted Air India’s request.

However, there was no indication that it would not consider the request in the future.

If the air route is confirmed, it would mark the first time Saudi Arabia would allow commercial flights to fly to Israel using its airspace and would mark a significant shift in strategic policy that has shaped the region for decades.

Also read: The reason why Saudi Arabia is buying so many Blackhawks

Currently, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has instated a ban on flights traveling to Israel from using its airspace for more than 70 years.

But news of Saudi Arabia potentially easing its airspace regulations may add concrete evidence to reports of the country’s warming ties to Israel.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have shared goals

Several reports have surfaced showing covert cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, who currently maintain no diplomatic ties.

One key issue the two have reportedly bonded over is curbing common-enemy Iran’s continued expansion in the Middle East.

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. (Photo from Moscow Kremlin.)

Iran has openly threatened to annihilate Israel many times over the serious decades-long conflict between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s conflict dates back to a centuries-old divide between Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority in the Saudi Kingdom, and Shiites who govern Iran. The two officially severed ties in 2016, after Iranian protesters set fires in the Saudi Embassy compound in Tehran.

While the two countries have been coy about reports of exchanging intelligence, Israel has been upfront about its “covert” contacts with Saudi officials amid common concerns over Iran.

Related: Saudi Arabia is paying $15 billion for this advanced anti-missile system

Representatives from the two countries shared the stage at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015 and discussed their common interest in opposing Iran. Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, admitted that they’ve been quietly conducting diplomacy on Iranian issues since 2014.

In 2017, a leaked diplomatic cable confirmed longtime rumors of Israel and Saudi cooperation. In the cable, Israel instructed its overseas embassies to encourage support for Saudi Arabia in its battle against Iranian-proxy Hezbollah.

Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera that Iran remains a major threat to many countries across the Middle East.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. left a vacuum in the region which was filled by the Russians in Syria and by the Iranians and their proxies in other parts of the Middle East,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Israel is perceived as the most reliable potential ally. Therefore the Saudis understand pretty well that it is a good time to be good friends with Israel,” he said in the interview.

The Crown Prince is ushering in a new era

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Saudi’s young Crown Prince is also seen as a key piece to understanding the timing of Israel and Saudi Arabia renewed relations.

The ambitious Mohammed Bin Salman has been spearheading a reform of Saudi’s domestic and foreign policy, which includes reevaluating its regional alliances, and aggressively opposing Iranian influence, according to Al-Arabiya.

The Crown Prince is also shaping Saudi’s cultural ethos. In November 2017, Salman made waves by purging anti-American and anti-Jewish clerics, making a strong indication that Saudi Arabia is seeking rapprochement with its Jewish neighbor and U.S.-ally Israel.

More: This is where Saudi princes do prison time

And by December 2017, Israel invited the Crown Prince to visit the country to discuss regional peace, and described the nation as the “leader of the Arab world.”

Experts say the Salman’s rise to power and widespread calls for reforms have allowed for a modern partnership with Israel to grow.

Associate professor with the Gulf Studies Program department at Qatar University Mahjoob Zweiri told Al Jazeera: “The political changes in Saudi Arabia and the desire to consolidate power is the main reason why these relations with Israel were opened.”

Articles

The 9 worst scams targeting military veterans

Numerous scams often target military members due to their consistent paychecks and many troops being young and financially inexperienced. From predatory lending to online scams, it’s important for service members to learn how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. Here are 9 scams every military service member needs to be aware of.


1. Social Media Scams (Card Popping)
The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Fake accounts are being created on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, where scammers often impersonate military personnel. They will then friend military troops and begin building a relationship through direct messaging. Eventually they will claim they can make you quick money by depositing money in to your account and in exchange you just send them a fee. They will ask for personal banking information such as your username, password, bank card number, and pin. Once the information is exchanged they deposit fraudulent checks and withdraw the cash, leaving you without money and possibly liable for the losses.

2. Rental Housing Scams

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Scammers will post fake rental properties on classified websites in areas around military bases and communities targeting troops. Service members moving in to the area will be offered fake military discounts and be asked for a security deposit by wiring money to the landlord.

3. Military Loans

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

Military car and personal loans that require no credit check, have instant approval, upfront fees, or promise guarantees are highly likely to have hidden fees and terms that take advantage of service members, leaving them with crippling debt.

4. Veterans’ Benefits Buyout Scam

Military veterans hard pressed for cash may be lured into this buyout plan offering a cash payment in exchange for their future disability pension payments and benefits. However, these payouts are only about 30 to 40 percent of what their value is and structured in ways harmful to veterans’ finances.

5. Car Purchase Scams

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Photo: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jennifer Brofer

Using websites that offer classified ads, scammers will create car ads targeting military members. They will pretend they are a service member who is being deployed or moving because they are being stationed somewhere else and need to get rid of their car quickly. They will ask for wire transfers or up front fees and will offer fake claims such as free shipping or discounts.

6. Employment Scams

Veterans and active duty members searching for jobs may come across employers who offer special consideration for their military service. Be wary of employers asking for personal information such as bank account numbers or that want to conduct a credit or background check. Some are scams that use your personal information to steal your identity and/or expose you to fraud.

7. Jury Duty Scam

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage
Photo: Marine Corps Sgt. Rebekka Heite

Military members will be targeted by callers who claim they work with the court system and tell the service member has a warrant out for their arrest due to not showing up for jury duty. Fearing they can get in trouble by their command, the caller says it can be taken care of by providing personal information such as a social security or credit card number.

8. Veterans Affairs Scam

Military veterans are being targeted by phone scammers who call claiming they work for Veterans Affairs and say they need to update their information with the VA. The VA never calls and asks for your private information by phone.

9. Military Life Insurance Scams

Hard sales tactics are used by agents who target military members. They will make false and inflated claims about life insurance policy benefits which are expensive and most likely unnecessary.

Learn how to protect yourself!

The State Department is withering and China is taking advantage

To help military members and their families the Better Business Bureau has created a BBB Military Line to educate service members on how to protect themselves. Be sure to follow their Facebook page to keep up to date on all current scams and ways to protect yourselves.

(Note: The BBB has put out a warning about scammers trying to take advantage of the military and veteran community during Memorial Day weekend. Read how you can protect yourself.)

SEE ALSO: Army Captain saves 3 lives while wearing ‘Captain America’ t-shirt

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian military’s cathedral consecrated without mosaic featuring Putin

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has consecrated the main cathedral dedicated to the armed forces, built to mark Victory Day in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Religious leaders, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, his deputies, guests, and hundreds of uniformed soldiers attended the ceremony on June 14 at the newly constructed Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, located some 60 kilometers outside of Moscow.

The church was originally due to be opened on May 9 as part of a grand celebration to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. But the opening was postponed due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.


The massive cathedral, one of the largest in the world, sparked controversy earlier this year when leaked photos showed a partially completed mosaic featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Shoigu, General Valery Gerasimov, and several other Russian officials.

The plan to display the mosaic was later canceled following criticism and after the Kremlin leader reportedly expressed opposition to the idea.

“This is an unprecedented event for the soldiers and for all of the the citizens in the whole country,” Gerasimov, the current chief of the General Staff of the armed forces, said ahead of the event.

The construction of the church cost 6 billion rubles (about million), according to media reports.

The church was supposed to be paid for entirely through donations, but according to Russian reports almost 3 billion rubles (about million) came from the Kremlin budget.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information