The Bush administration is being urged to abandon the idea of allowing the Internal Revenue Service to enter the tax preparation business.
The IRS is a grossly mismanaged agency, having proven time and again that it cannot guarantee accuracy, privacy, security or cost savings when it comes to electronic filing," says Leslie K. Paige, vice president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. "This move would give the federal government new opportunities to snoop into private lives and will be a guaranteed government waste disaster."
And unlike H&R Block, could the IRS actually be trusted to advise tax filers about how to maximize their deductions?
"Permitting the IRS to be both tax collector and tax preparer is a clear conflict of interest and invites all sorts of mischief and abuses," agrees Paige. "Private accounting and tax preparation firms confidentially advise taxpayers how to legally reduce their tax burdens. Contrarily, it is in the IRS' best interest to maximize tax returns."
MEET YOUR CONGRESSMAN
Shortly before President Bush launched into his State of the Union address last week, numerous congressmen took to the House floor to sing praises and introduce a resolution in honor of Rex David "Dave" Thomas, founder of the Wendy's hamburger chain who died Jan. 8.
One lawmaker after another - Reps. Dave Weldon of Florida, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, Patrick J. Tiberi of Ohio, Connie A. Morella of Maryland, Phil Crane of Illinois, E. Clay Shaw of Florida and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey to name several - not only praised Thomas for creating square burgers, but also for energetically championing an issue close to his heart:
Thomas himself was adopted, and in 1990 former President George Bush was so impressed with his Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption that he appointed Thomas spokesperson for a new federal initiative, Adoption Works for Everyone.
With that visibility, coupled with his prominent role as spokesperson for Wendy's, everybody in the country knew and loved "Dave" before long.
"He came to Indianapolis one time, and we were sitting, having dinner," recalled Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. "And two ladies came over from my congressional district. They came over to talk to Dave Thomas, and he said, 'Do you know your congressman?'
"They said no, and he introduced my constituents to me."
PULLING A CLINTON
Wordsmiths are coming out of the woodwork after reading about Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's invention of the unflattering verb "to Enron."
Reader James Terpening got things rolling by proposing "to Daschle," meaning to softly feign support for your opponent while working to obstruct and undermine his plans. Example: "I'm going to Daschle the president's budget."
Michael Ricke created a few additional expressions - verbs, adjectives and adverbs for the English language - that he hopes stick. For example: "A lame performance following a brilliant one is 'a Gephardted' performance.
"Enron executives, meanwhile, are shredding documents, refusing to cooperate with Congress, mincing words, pocketing big bucks in a failed, illegal scheme while expressing sorrow for the losers who followed them - in effect they are pulling 'a Clinton.'
"And of course an incompetent someone who charges in blindly without moral purpose to sycophantically support a boss who despises him or her could be said to be 'Renoed.'
"A person repeatedly and blatantly wronged by his or her spouse who accepts career support as the financial payoff has been 'Hillaried.'
"And finally, those who would take money out of the economy, grow the government and dependency, and pursue policies to slow growth during a recession all for personal political gain could be called - no wait, there's already a word - 'Democrat.'"
PASS THE JERKY
In the midst of last week's Senate debate on stimulating the economy, a usually mild-mannered and distinguished Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., stepped up to the lectern and declared: "And the squeal of the pig will float on the air, from the tummy of the grizzly bear."
Say what? And what does this have to do with giving the nation a much-needed shot in the arm?
Nothing, it turns out.
Hollings, in fact, had lost a bet to fellow Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, and therefore was commanded to recite the bizarre Montana jargon, whatever it means, in the Senate chamber.
"He said, 'Egads!'" Baucus recalls. "Is this what I have to read on the floor?"
Former President Bill Clinton, never one to shy from a controversial issue or reaping a financial reward in pursuing it, will reportedly be paid $300,000 to address a conference in Sydney, Australia, later this month on the unification of Taiwan with mainland China.
And wouldn't you know, the Feb. 20-23 conference - promoted by pro-unification forces in Taiwan and elsewhere - will be held at the very same time President Bush is to visit Beijing, where he'll be seeking to promote Sino-American cooperation, even with the controversial issue of Taiwan in the background.
For China, bringing Taiwan under mainland rule is the cardinal issue of its foreign policy and the source of repeated disputes with the United States. Under President Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan has repeatedly rejected pressure by Beijing to accept the principle that there is only one China.
According to the China Times in Taipei, the money for Clinton's speaking engagement is being paid by William Chhiu, an Australian Chinese businessman who has dealings with Beijing as well as the United States.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is as strong as ever, despite the recent revelation that she suffered a minor stroke last year while celebrating her golden wedding anniversary with husband Dennis on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
"I sat down with her for an hour and a half (last Thursday), what was to have been a very brief meeting about the Reagan Library, and she was as bright, articulate and had as strong of a presence as ever - in her words 'fighting fit!'" says Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the board of trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation.
In fact, Ryan tells this column, the 76-year-old Thatcher awoke at 2 a.m. last Wednesday to watch President Bush's State of the Union address live.
"She's a huge fan of Mr. Bush's," Ryan says, "and provided me a detailed review of his speech."
One of the greatest challenges facing the Bush administration is to prepare the nation for the next attack, which could arrive from space. Cyberspace.
"Our enemies are already targeting our networks," says Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. "We now live in a world where a terrorist can do as much damage with a keyboard and a modem as with a gun or a bomb."
Cyber-terrorists know that, with the push of a button, emergency services - police, fire and ambulances - can be paralyzed, power for entire cities shut down for extended periods, telephone lines disrupted, and water supplies poisoned.
Most Americans caught up in the aftermath of Sept. 11 don't even realize that only a few days later a Pakistani group hacked into two of the U.S. government's Web services, including one at the Defense Department, declaring a "cyber-jihad" against the United States.
A subsequent series of attacks, dubbed "Moonlight Maze," were directed at the Pentagon, Energy Department and NASA, resulting in the theft of vast quantities of technical defense research.