Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Antiwar Protester's Civil Disobedience Equated with Terrorism

Yesterday's NY Times reports on the first sentence handed down for one of the St. Patrick's Day Four anti-Iraq protestors:
"You have obvious contempt for the laws of the U.S., and it bothers me," the judge, Thomas McAvoy of United States District Court, told the protester, Daniel J. Burns.

Oh how I wish there were more judges like McAvoy who'd get tough with people who show contempt for federal law! Like a certain occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Sadly, this case doesn't seem to be about breaking the law, it's about vilifying the opposition.

The first time Daniel Burns was tried, in state court, the trial ended in a hung jury. That didn't stop US Attorney Miro Lovric, who prosecuted him for trespassing, damaging government property and conspiracy. As it turns out, he was cleared of conspiracy charges but still sentenced to 6 months. OK, I believe that for this kind of protest, you should anticipate the possibility of having to do some time. I'm not arguing that. But some of the statements by the judge and prosecutor strike me as bordering on the absurd. Like this, from Lovric:

Mr. Lovric, an assistant United States attorney, argued that the defendants were on a "slippery slope" to committing violent acts like the Oklahoma City bombing.

Excuse me? A group of Catholics protesting an illegal war by engaging in an act of civil disobedience wherein they poured their own blood on the floor is equivalent to an act of terrorism that resulted in the death of hundreds? That's like saying agreeing with Michael Moore will set you on a slippery slope toward enlisting with Al Qaeda.
And then there's this one, also from Lovic:
...the prosecutor said that Mr. Burns was among a group of people who recently traveled illegally to Cuba to protest outside the United States military base at Guantanamo Bay. "His attitude is very arrogant," Mr. Lovric said. "He knows best and what's good for the country."

If I'm not mistaken, this case had nothing to do with travel to Gitmo. And if arrogance and acting illegally because you know what's good for the country are criminal offenses... well, let's just say I wonder if the DC US Attorney's taking notes.
Finally, there's this by McAvoy:

In sentencing him, Judge McAvoy said that he did not believe Mr. Burns was a "bad person," but that he could not understand how someone who thought the country had broken laws could break laws in protest.

Really. I mean, who ever heard of anything like "civil disobedience?" I'm sure they never covered that in law school or anything.
I believe the sentence and these comments by the judge and prosecutor are examples of attempts to vilify a principled opposition, and keep the public ignorant of the democratic history of civil disobedience by equating any criticism of our government with terrorism.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Renegade IRS to Tax Researcher: Drop Dead

As mentioned in my previous post on this subject, the IRS has been violating a nearly 30-year old court order to release information under FOIA. Well what does it matter if a University researcher doesn't get a little data? A lot, according to David Cay Johnston in an article in today's New York Times:

Much of what the public knows about the efficiency, effectiveness and evenhandedness of the revenue service and other big federal agencies is based on the figures that Professor Long collects and posts.

The article goes on to describe how the IRS pleads ignorance but still plans to break the law in defiance of all three branches of government.

The senior national spokesman for the tax agency, Frank Keith, wrote to Professor Long in June 2004 that he had lawyers examine her assertion that the agency was required to provide the data. After extensive research, Mr. Keith wrote, the lawyers concluded that no court order existed and that "accordingly, the I.R.S. is not in violation of any standing injunctions."

Professor Long responded by sending Mr. Keith a copy of the order. Mr. Keith said no one now at the agency was aware of it.

"We thought we were providing this information voluntarily," he said.

OK they didn't know. Makes them look a little foolish, but let's allow that mistakes happen. Now that they know, they'll fix it, right?

The agency has no plans to release the information, Mr. Keith said Friday. He argued that Professor Long's latest requests went far beyond the order, covering costly detailed information that could inadvertently allow the identification of specific taxpayers.

Professor Long said that was false. "There is no change in what we have asked for, and they know it," she said.

Got that? First they didn't know there was a court order. Now that they know, they've decided that, in spite of a U.S. Federal Court Order and a 29 year history of providing this information, it just costs too much. And of course, there's no indication that the President has given them license to stonewall and violate the law. After all,

President Bush signed an executive order last month "to ensure appropriate agency disclosure of information." In a meeting with newspaper editors last April, the president said, "The presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as much as possible about the government decision making."

So to recap: we have a Federal Agency knowingly violating a law passed by Congress, defying a court order issued by the Federal Judiciary and operating in defiance of a signed Executive Order.

If our system of checks and balances continues to degrade, then I believe this kind of out of control behavior by our government is likely to become more and more common. If we ever find out about it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Above the law: Bush's IRS defies court order

It's not just at the top; disregard for the law runs rampant at all levels of this Administration.

Violating a court order that has stood for nearly 30 years, the Internal Revenue Service since mid-2004 has knowingly stopped providing detailed statistics about how the agency enforces the nation's tax laws.

A motion just filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington attempts to compel the IRS to comply with its 1976 order.

The legal challenge was brought by Susan B. Long, a Syracuse University professor of Management Information and Decision Sciences who has been studying the IRS since she was getting her Ph.D at the University of Washington in the early 1970s. A widely recognized expert on US government data, Long also is the co-director of TRAC, which for more than ten years has published a series of reports on the performance of the IRS.

Go to to see the press advisory, the motion and the original court order.

TRAC's most recent motion is separate from its still-pending April 14 lawsuit filed against the IRS in the District of Columbia. In that action, TRAC charged the agency with illegally withholding selected information about its operations, claiming without substantiation that some of the requested material would compromise homeland security.

TRAC also has FOIA suits pending in court against the Office of Personnel Management and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. In addition, TRAC has initiated administrative FOIA requests against several agencies in the DHS and the separate Justice Department divisions handling civil and environmental matters.