regblog series on James Q Wilson

RegBlog, a blog dedicated to regulatory news and analysis (and a favorite of bureaphiles everywhere), has a two-week series of guest blogs honoring the legacy of James Q Wilson. The series continues through July 19th, so be sure to check in. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from the past week (after the jump):

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843,000 gallons

Two years ago, while many Americans were preoccupied with a man-made hole spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, another “smaller” but still pretty massive spill was dumping oil in Michigan. Was I the only one who basically missed the 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil gushing into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River? If not, news accounts are here and here. Continue reading

faulty forensics, continued

A follow-up on last week’s post about the reliability of forensic crime scene evidence, today the Washington Post reports DOJ and the FBI are undertaking a broad review of forensic evidence. The Post reports:

The undertaking is the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI. It will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available, people familiar with the process said.

The Post story also includes short videos profiling innocent men – Kirk Odom and Santae Tribble – who together spent half a century in prison wrongfully convicted based on faulty crime scene evidence.

cab wars

Want to learn about corruption and venality in Washington politics? Jump in the back of a DC cab. Until a few years ago, the first thing you might have noticed was the indecipherable “zone” system  map – rather than distance or time, riders were charged based on the number of zones traveled. Even after years in DC, the complex algorithm drivers used to translate zones into dollars was a complete mystery me. I stepped out of lots of cabs puzzled and a little suspicious.

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the justice department’s new watchdog

Morning Edition’s sympathetic profile of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz this morning is the type of story IG advocates envision. The battle between House Republicans  and Attorney General Eric Holder over access to documents related to the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal look bad, the story begins:

But one man has already been sifting through secret emails about the operation known as Fast and Furious. He’s Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s new watchdog.

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the real csi

How reliable is the forensic evidence collected and analyzed by crime scene investigators? Forensic science is an essential part of the criminal justice system and a staple of American TV culture. It’s easy to see the appeal. Clever investigators whose expert eye and powerful techniques for collecting and analyzing data compel powerful inferences about right and wrong. But PBS Frontline’s “The Real CSI” offers a very different picture. Continue reading

holder’s house defectors

Last week’s unprecedented House floor vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt looks first of all like escalating institutional conflict at the confluence of divided government and partisan polarization. My research on congressional investigations with David Parker, like our “Divided We Quarrel” (2009) –  offers this sort of reading. But the 21 Democrats who defected, 21 voting to hold Holder civil and 17 voting to hold Holder in criminal contempt highlights a different story about the power of interest groups like the National Rifle Association in Congress. Slate’s Explainer asks, “Why is the NRA so Powerful?”

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I mentioned the other day that charges of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder followed a familiar storyline – episodes during the Reagan and Clinton years were resolved without a vote on the House floor. In a depressing sign of the times, however, yesterday the House of Representatives added a new chapter to the recent history of partisan institutional conflict. Attorney General Holder became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. At the same time, this article in Fortune set of a lot of rethinking about the facts in the underlying case. In a perfect twist, Representative Issa’s principled stand on the House floor weren’t even the day’s top news, having been overshadowed by the announcement only a short distance away of the Supreme Court’s health care decision.