- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

Fair is fair

A warning from the Internal Revenue Service saying the agency only plans to accept seven in 10 phone calls this year gave one leading anti-tax advocate a hopeful idea.

“If the IRS will only answer 71 percent of taxpayers calls, fair is fair, and we should only have to pay 71 percent of the taxes they demand,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, quipped to The Washington Times.

On Wednesday, the IRS said in its annual report to Congress that the agency is overwhelmed because more people are phoning the IRS with increasingly complex questions than in years past. As a result the IRS has lowered its target rate of answering calls to only 71 percent for fiscal 2010, down from 83 percent in fiscal year 2007.

“In other words, the IRS has set its priorities so that nearly three out of every 10 calls seeking to reach an IRS telephone assister will not get through, and callers who do receive assistance will first have to wait on hold for an average of nearly 12 minutes,” the report said.

Although a goal of 71 percent may not seem high enough to tax filers, it’s a better rate of answering calls than the IRS achieved last year.

During fiscal 2009 tax season, the IRS reported answering only 64 percent of calls with wait times averaging 8 1/2 minutes. And that’s worse than the rate in 1998, when Congress passed legislation to improve IRS services for taxpayers. In 1998, the rate of service was 69 percent.

Back to fight

A Pentagon spokesman said the number of prisoners who are released from the detention facility for terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who return to engage in terrorist activity is expected to increase.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell was questioned about a classified report about the rates of recidivism among detainees that will soon be declassified.

Although he could not give raw numbers, Mr. Morrell cited two previous reports released last year about detainees who return to battle and said he didn’t expect that rate to decrease.

“We’ve done two reports that we’ve released publicly,” he told reporters Wednesday. “One showed 11 percent. Another showed 14 percent. I don’t think that trend has reversed itself.” The report showing 11 percent of detainees return to fight was from April 2009. The other report, showing the increase to 14 percent, was issued in May.

Mr. Morrell said the Pentagon was working to declassify the new report and give it to the press “as soon as possible.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was also asked about the report, and although he said he hasn’t seen it, assured the press in his daily briefing “we are committed to closing Guantanamo.”

Mr. Morrell also noted in his press conference that most detainees are not returning to engage in terrorism. “Although I’ve said this trend has not reversed itself and even, you know, 14 percent is concerning clearly, based upon that percentage, the vast majority of those who have been transferred have not returned to battle,” he said.

“That said, even one is a problem, and so we are taking extraordinary measures to try to mitigate the risk with transferring those detainees,” Mr. Morrell added.

Terror sweat shirts

Sweat shirts created by a group of Arab-American students graduating in 2011 resembling the Sept. 11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers have caused angst in a Michigan community.

Juniors at Dearborn’s Edsel Ford High School have been reprimanded for making and wearing black sweat shirts that show the number 11 as two tall buildings and a thunderbird, the school’s mascot, flying close by. The words “you can’t bring us down” are written above the buildings and the bird.

School officials took the sweat shirts from the students and wrote an e-mail to parents and community groups that said, “The whole design gave prominence to the 9/11 tragedy, and of course, was very upsetting to staff and students.”

Besides containing the nation’s heaviest concentration of Arabs and Arab-Americans, Dearborn is a suburb of Detroit, the city where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is charged with attempting to destroy a U.S.-bound aircraft on Christmas Day.

The school held a meeting to talk about the incident Tuesday evening. The Detroit Free Press reported roughly 300 people attended.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at [email protected]

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