Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mighty Morphin' Power Preznit

This fabulous piece of artwork was generated by my friend Doug Shaw. Click on the picture to see it change back and forth:

Friday, April 21, 2006

How We're Winning the War on Terror (on Paper)

A recent Knight-Ridder report on the "increase" in terrorism attacks suggests that the scary numbers (over 10,000 in 2005) are partly due to changes in the way terrorist attacks are counted. This is consistent with the way the numbers have been inflated to make domestic prosecution of the war on terror look better. Consider this table, which I generated from TRAC data based on what the US Department of Justice refers to as Internal Security/Terrorism cases:

The first line looks great... terrorism convictions are up over 1300% since 2001! (Note: these data are for fiscal years, which end in September of each year, so fiscal year 2001 ended 9/31/2001, which makes the years 2002-2005 a good way to gauge the post-9/11 response.) But the closer you look, the less attractive these numbers appear.

Even though we've had a lot more terrorism-related convictions since 9/11, the percentage of those convicted who get jail time has gone down, from 83 percent in 2001 to 72 percent in 2005. There was a steep decline in the first years after 9/11, and the conviction rate has increased since then but still not to the level it was in 2001.

But I think the really telling numbers are found in the sentences. The average sentence in 2005 was 32 months, over 25% shorter than it was in 2001. Moreover, the median sentence has dropped from 21 months to essentially zero! A median means half got more, half got less... so over half the terrorism convictions after 9/11 resulted in basically no prison time.

This offers more evidence that the offenses for which convictions were attained since 9/11 are actually far more minor than what been considered terrorism pre-9/11.

A less-recent but more complete and still-relevant analysis of post-9/11 terrorism enforcement can be found in this TRAC Terrorism Report.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Federal Judge Slaps IRS With Its Own Deadline

An earlier post told how the IRS was being taken to court to get it to comply with a 30 year old order to provide data to a tax researcher. On Monday, the judge in the case ruled that the IRS must provide all the data requested.
SEATTLE, WA - A federal court has ruled in favor of a widely recognized researcher seeking detailed statistics from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about how the agency enforces the nation's tax laws. Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the IRS to turn over statistical data to Susan B. Long, a professor at Syracuse University and co-director of the non-profit research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

This is clearly good news for anyone who wants more (any) transparency in government. But if you read on, it gets even better...
Pechman ordered production of the requested reports within 14 days, placing the IRS under the same compliance deadline (April 17) that the rest of the nation faces for tax returns. The court also ruled that Long is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees for enforcing the order.

In what seems like a punitive move, it has to turn over the data under the very same deadline the rest of us face each year. Not only that, but the IRS must also pay the legal fees in the case. This is far from automatic in a FOIA case; the court considers 4 criteria when asked to award legal fees:
(1) the public benefit from disclosure, (2) any commercial benefit to the plaintiff resulting from the disclosure, (3) the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the disclosed records, and (4) whether the government?s withholding of the records had a reasonable basis in law.

The court found in favor of Ms. Long in all four criteria.

This small case is should be a very big deal across the political spectrum. One of the lawyers in the case, Scott Nelson of Public Citizen, put it well when he said:
"The court's decision not only vindicates the public's right to information, but also serves as a powerful reminder to agencies that the courts can hold them accountable and that they act at their peril if they disregard court orders."