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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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UPI's Peter Roff on Congressional Access to Tax Returns: What Really Happened

UPI has a wire story today by Peter Roff providing additional details on the Congressional access to tax returns story. An excerpt:

What actually happened, said one source with knowledge of the back story, is that the amendment was an effort to give appropriators and staff with oversight of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service the ability to make on-site visits to check out how the money they approve each year for the agency is being spent. The problem with making that kind of visit to an IRS facility is that one could potentially encounter one -- a few, dozens, stacks, truckloads -- of tax returns that, to understate things a bit, the federal government takes great pains to protect from public scrutiny and prying eyes.

There are folks over at the House Ways and Means Committee, which has administrative oversight of the IRS as well as the U.S. tax system, who can go visit these sites because of an existing provision in U.S. law -- a provision that Appropriations Committee staff working with the IRS were trying to get for themselves. And that's where it all comes apart.

The committee staff, according to the source, left it to the IRS to draft the language and then inserted the amendment into the bill without too much consideration and without the knowledge of U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., the chairman of the IRS-overseeing Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Transportation and Independent Agencies.

What the bureaucrats who drafted the measure forgot to do was include language extending to the Appropriations Committee types the same kind of exceptionally tough privacy safeguards -- including rigid consequences like possible jail time for those who do not respect the privacy protections -- under which the Ways and Committee folks have to operate...
The provision, as has been well-reported, is being struck from the bill in any case. But one can't help but wish that some of the details in this story and the similar AP wire story running today -- which could have been ascertained by making a few phone calls -- had been learned before some politicians in both parties went before microphones and claimed that something far more sinister was afoot.


Congressional Access to Tax Returns Story Updated

The AP, via the Guardian, has a story shedding light on why there was a provision in a recently-approved appropriations bill allowing additional Congressional access to IRS tax returns.

The entire matter, if this report is accurate, looks to be far more benign than one might have thought, given the hullabaloo surrounding it two weeks ago.


Meaningful Gifts

Peggy at What If? describes some truly meaningful gifts.


Putin's Error in Ukraine

Business Week asks: Was meddling in Ukraine's election Putin's biggest blunder?

An excerpt:

Is Russian President Vladimir V. Putin losing his touch? Once admired for his steely efficiency, Putin suddenly doesn't seem to be able to get anything right. He has managed to alienate Russian Big Business and many foreign investors by destroying oil company Yukos. September's terrorist attack on Beslan left him looking weak and ineffective and exposed the disorderly state of Russia's security forces. His bureaucratic reforms have led to administrative chaos, while cuts in the social benefit system have sparked Russia's biggest public protests in years. But when future historians come to write the history of Putin's presidency, they may well conclude that his biggest mistake was his disastrous policy in Ukraine, where he has just suffered a failure of epic proportions.

Putin clearly imagined he was promoting the obvious winner when he interfered so heavily in Ukraine's presidential election in favor of Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate backed by outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Yet the millions of protestors on the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, and the collapse of the government's authority have made it impossible for the Nov. 21 election result -- which had Yanukovych winning by 49.46% to 46.61% -- to stand. If there is a fair reelection, the candidate demonized by Russia, pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, will almost certainly win, just as he would have won the Nov. 21 runoff but for massive ballot-stuffing, documented in detail by international observers. There's a risk that pro-Yanukovych regions in eastern Ukraine will refuse to accept Yushchenko as President, in which case Ukraine could split apart.

Either alternative will represent a massive blow to Putin... A divided Ukraine would lead to instability in a region where Russia has important economic interests -- 80% of the gas Russia exports to Europe goes through Ukraine -- and would be a permanent point of tension between Russia and the West. If the country remains united, as now seems likely, Putin's goal of linking Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus in a new economic union dominated by Russia looks like a pipe dream. A Yushchenko government is not likely to be great friends with Russia after Putin's blatant interference in the election. And if Kuchma and Yanukovych figure out a way to retain power, a deeply unpopular regime in Kiev would hardly be a stable partner for Russia...

Putin would have been wise to hedge his bets in Ukraine, not least because Yushchenko was always the favorite to win a fair election. Instead, the Russian President made the election in Ukraine a personal priority, pulling out all the stops to secure a Yanukovych victory. Russian advisers and election funds flooded Ukraine, Russian state TV, which is widely received in Ukraine, unleashed a wave of pro-Yanukovych propaganda, and Putin himself appeared on Ukrainian TV to endorse Yanukovych. All these efforts failed to win over proudly independent Ukrainian voters. "Russian political advisers and spin doctors simply don't understand the situation in Ukraine," says Kost Bondarenko, an independent political consultant in Kiev.

The irony is that Russia could quite easily have lived with a Yushchenko victory....

The damage to Russia's interests goes well beyond Ukraine. Putin's interference further alienates opinion in the West, which is increasingly inclined to see the Russian President as a throwback to an earlier, scarier era. Despite its present anti-Western rhetoric, Russia obviously can't afford a new Cold War. As the terrorist attack on Beslan in September showed, Russia's security is already in a perilous state, which is why Russia needs all the cooperation from the West it can get...
Read it all here.


Michelle Malkin: Denver Bans Christmas Carols at Christmas Unmentionable Holiday Parade

Michelle Malkin is asking her blog's readers to send a lump of coal to the mayor of Denver.

Issue at hand: A ban on the singing of Christmas carols.


A Conversation in Lieu of Prose

This is a very cute blogging format.

(The post makes a good point, too.)


Beldar Fisks Noonan on Rather

Beldar fisks Noonan on Rather.

Worth a read.


Photo of the Year Nominee

Ed Haislmaier writes to tell us about a photo he saw online:

While I don't recall you ever posting pictures on your blog (as many other bloggers do), I was particularly struck by the composition and symbolism of this photo, which appears in today's Washington Post.

Bush seems to echo the cheerful optimism and determination of his illustrious predecessors in yet another time of great trial and conflict, while the backdrop seems to unveil the ghostly presence of Roosevelt and Churchill beaming in approval at their successor.

I would say this is immediately a leading contender for any 'best news photo of the year' contest.

I agree. There is another thing I like about it, too. The photo is evocative of photos taken of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin together at Yalta. Yet, in this one, Stalin has been replaced by a leader whose legacy will be the opposite of Stalin's. We are making progress.

If you haven't, please click on the link. It is quite a photo. I'd post it here but I don't want to violate copyright laws, and it would probably take a while to obtain formal permission to publish it.

Addendum: I purchased the permission to reprint the photo, nice and legal. Here it is:


Child Murder in Seattle and Elsewhere

Michelle Malkin posts the horrifying story of an evil blot in Seattle who murdered his two daughters, and his relatives who wrote him a nice sweet obituary (I'm not being sarcastic -- they really did) containing a photo of the victims playing with their killer.

I won't try to recap what Michelle wrote, please see it for yourself. It is a really harsh post but it should be.

After you read Michelle, check out this job ad: "If you are interested in joining a dynamic team of highly capable professionals in the fields of energy analysis and software development, please send us your resume. We are a small company, with a great group of individuals, working and living in the exciting Seattle metropolitan area." It apparently was posted by the guy Michelle writes about, Stephen Byrne, the one who killed his two young daughters, Kelsey (11) and Hayley (9).

Evil hid behind the banal.

Treating child-killers with respect sickens me. I posted about a similar story in July 2003. It was a case of an anti-Bush "poet" (I use the term loosely, any comparison to someone whose work even a Bush-hater would like to read is purely coincidental) who on July 16, 2003 murdered her two-year-old son, Jehan Vazirani Komunyakaa, reportedly in part because no one appreciated her drivel and in part because her relationship with the guy she had been sleeping with (the dead boy's out-of-state father) wasn't working out. The Washington Post's coverage of the murder included such vomit as a quote from Jim Grimsley of Emory University saying of the toddler-killer: "This is a terrible loss for all of us at Emory, as well as the world of poetry" and a friend of the murderer, Denise King-Miller, saying the toddler-killer "was such a beautiful spirit. It's just a loss to the world." (It is tragic that particular loss didn't occur as a solitary event.)

There is only one way to deal with the memory of people who kill their children, and that is with as much derision, spite and vitriol as one can manage to produce. Maybe then at least one person who is thinking about aping one of these zeros will be deterred out of their own sheer selfish desire not to have their memory mocked.

(Please don't send me any e-mails defending any of these people who kill their children. That happened after I posted Did He Have a Dimple When He Smiled? last year about the Washington Post's coverage of the death of little Jehan Vazirani Komunyakaa. [Yes, really, I got e-mail complaining that I was too harsh on the killer.] The Post, by the way, redeemed itself somewhat. I had complained that the Post's initial story about the murder-suicide told us all about the killer mother, but nothing about the little boy. A later piece in the Post by Paula Span painted a much fuller picture of little Jehan, a little boy who loved music and apparently was quite wonderful.)

Little Jehan would have been four this month.


Canadian Friends in Freedom

Tom Harris sent over this letter he and his wife had published in the Ottawa Citizen today:

On behalf of many of the ordinary residents of the nation's capital, we would like to welcome President George W. Bush to Canada.

Many of us admire the way he has stood up to international terrorism and, while we may not agree with his actions on every front, we would like to reassure him that many, many Canadians are strongly supportive of the enduring alliance between our nations and feel nothing but goodwill towards his country and its fine citizens.

As my wife and I proclaimed in a sign we held up when President Ronald Reagan visited Ottawa in the 1980s, our two nations are indeed "Friends in freedom."

Sadly, because of the hundreds of protesters who are being bused to Ottawa from universities in Toronto and other locations to "unwelcome Bush" in "two days of mass protest and creative resistance" (to quote organizers), the media focus will undoubtedly be on the problems caused by an unrepresentative but very vocal few. Groups such as the Communist Party of Canada (who have booked their own bus to travel from Toronto to Ottawa to protest the visit) do not represent us or anyone we know.

Unfortunately, most ordinary Ottawa residents simply cannot afford the time away from their busy lives at work or at home to come out and demonstrate our support for the United States.

Mr. Bush should be assured that he has an enormous well of popular support in the silent majority of hardworking citizens in Canada and throughout the world.

Tom Harris and Laurie Lemoine

It is important for us to remember that America has friends like this in Canada and all over the world -- there even are some in France. Unfortuantely, one sometimes gets the impression that almost everyone living abroad hates us. This is not so. Only the stupid ones do. (Just kidding with that last sentence. Mostly.)


Espresso Sarcasm: Parental Guidance Suggested

Norman at Espresso Sarcasm is posting a series on parenting advice.

Definitely lives up to the blog's name -- although telling kids that chicken nuggets are made from the Easter Bunny so they'll be willing to eat something else seems inspired. What did children eat before chicken nuggets were invented?


Animal Rights Activist Wants to Live Like a Pig

An animal rights activist in Australia says he wants to live like a pig:

An animal rights activist is seeking a piggery owner who will let him live in a pig stall in an attempt to bring attention to piggery conditions.

Ralph Hahnheuser, from Animal Liberation of South Australia, has challenged commercial piggeries to put him in a sow stall for three weeks...

Mr. Hahnheuser hoped living in a pen would draw attention to the plight of pigs but said it could have serious repercussions on his health and he could be hospitalised during the stunt.

"This is not something that should be done willy-nilly," he said...

Mr Hahnheuser is currently facing contamination of goods charges after he allegedly fed ham to a shipment of sheep bound for halal-conscious Muslim markets.

Almost 2,000 sheep had to be slaughtered and a shipment of 73,000 animals to Kuwait was delayed for two weeks following the discovery of ham in a sheep feedlot at Portland, in Victoria's south-west, last November.
Hahnheuser, the Melbourne Herald Sun article says, "was having difficulty finding a piggery that would agree to his challenge."

That's no surprise. Maybe he should consider building one of his own.


Wacky Names for Kids

Inspired by Julia Roberts, the Washington Post lists some truly wacky names celebrities have given their children, and then asks: "Isn't it hard enough being the child of a celebrity without having to endure additional commentary about one's unusual name? Hi, everyone, my name is... Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily?"


Putin's Russia: An Air of Politburo

Yukos Oil surrenders, as its top executives flee Russia.

This story explains:

Eight months into President Vladimir Putin's second term, momentum for economic reform in Russia has all but halted as vested Kremlin interests fight for control of the nation's resources and purse strings, economists and analysts say.

"What's happening in Russia at the moment is an asset grab across the board," said UBS Brunswick economist Al Breach...

The reform of state-controlled Gazprom, now "dead in the water" according to the World Bank, as well as steps to rein in monopolies, are key to Russia's long-delayed entry to the World Trade Organisation...

"These guys ... don't believe in a free market. They don't believe in liberties..."

Alfa Bank analyst Chris Weafer said part of the government's strategy for growth is to take a chunk of available cash flows from the natural resource industries.

He said this would eventually hurt Russia's economic boom, which has seen annual growth rates in excess of eight per cent in the early months of 2004.

"Why bother with privatisation when the state can enjoy the benefits of ownership... We were all being naive, expecting reforms," Weafer said. "Now there is an air of Politburo to the place."
Read the entire story here.

Or, if you are in a hurry, you can just read my thirty-word version of the Yukos saga: Yukos Oil was Russia's top blue-chip company. Then its CEO became known as a possible political rival to Putin. So Putin used the power of the state to crush it.


Christmas Sales

I just want to go on the record on this, the projected busiest shopping day of the year, with a prediction that, sometime in January, retailers will pronounce sales during the Christmas 2004 shopping season "disappointing."

It seems to happen every year, and get headlines every time.



If I were Captain Ed, I would have dug deeper into my pocket.

(Just kidding.)


Fighting Words - Oh, Never Mind, It's Just Not Worth It

As Sean once said about a screed by an American leftist, sometimes these left-wing communiques just fisk themselves:

I have sensational news for everybody who thinks that the general European Anti-Bush "movement" is simply created by biased media, and that Bush is a misunderstood intellectual.

We do not hate Bush because of that. We dislike him because of the politics he advocates.

Bush is not a "strong leader." A strong leader is a man who knows what he is dealing with, who is able to consider every aspect and many viewpoints on a case before making big decisions.

No one can seriously accuse Bush for being that. Bush is a mediocrily gifted man without much knowledge of politics or the world in general, nor has he much interest therein. He does never think twice before doing what his advisers tell him.

His war on terror has not and will not make the world a safer place, because its efforts are directed at the wrong places (Iraq instead of Saudi-Arabia).

Bush has scorned many international agreements in a minute - Kyoto, Hand weapons, ABM-treaty, landmines, international court tribunal and alternative energy.

We disagree with his attitude towards homosexuals, abortion and capital punishment, and we have his belief that he is in contact with God in as much derision as the like belief of Osama Bin Laden - yes, in that aspect they have indeed much in common.

No positive press could help these facts - we simply do not like his politics, and that's it.

And we can actually read American news - contrary to 99% of the U.S Americans, we Europeans actually speak more than one language.

And no, we can't allow ourselves to be indifferent of which president the U.S.A elects - your policies have profound consequences for us as well. We will ultimately pay a great deal of the price that will soon need to be paid for Bush's disastrous economic policy with the huge budget deficits.

Bush is the president, that's right - we have to live with him, but we do not have to like him - and we never will - we simply have too little in common.

That's the hard facts - Americans, DEAL with it, then we will try to live with George Bush.

Christoffer B. Harder from Denmark

P.S. Please don't call me anti-American because of this - I come from Denmark, one of the few European countries whose government still supports Bush's war in Iraq (though most people did not or were very skeptical). I really do think that even a U.S.A led by Bush is to prefer as sole superpower from which it could be else - China, France or Russia, who knows.

We still think that Europe and the USA have indeed much in common. But I also do think that my above view is absolutely fair, balanced and based on facts, viewpoints and opinions from many sides.
I have no doubt this gentleman believes himself to be "fair and balanced," and I do credit him with the grudging compliments to the U.S. he did make (we're better than Russia, China or France). But it seems pretty clear that he does not understand us very well.


Arctic Warming -- Or Not

Wondering if there is anything to the latest bit of Chicken Little global warming alarmism, to wit, the "news" that the Arctic is melting?

Sean at Everything I Know Is Wrong tackles it for you.


The White Ann Coulter and Her Clone

I find it interesting that the journalist from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot who called Michelle Malkin an "Asian Ann Coulter" used those words. Why didn't he just refer to Michelle as "another Ann Coulter"?

After all, if Michelle Malkin is an "Asian Ann Coulter" (see David Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin), shouldn't the Virginian-Pilot refer to the original Ann Coulter as "the White Ann Coulter"?

(Frankly, though, anyone who confuses Ann Coulter with Michelle Malkin hasn't been paying attention. Maybe to some leftists, all right-of-center women who speak plainly seem alike, except for racial differences, of course. We wouldn't want to judge people by the content of their character. That so 1963.)

Addendum: Dean's Journal has an interesting take on this.


Squaring the Boston Globe: A Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving message was written by Harry Forbes at the Squaring the Boston Globe blog.

As I read it, my mind's ear (if there is such a thing) began to hear it in Ronald Reagan's voice. It is that Reaganesque.