Sunday, December 25, 2011

Last Call

And while Republicans in Congress seem eager to give President Obama a hard time about his trip to Hawaii, let's not forget that lawmakers spend quite a bit of time on the road outside the US as well.  The number one destination?  Israel, of course.

Sometimes, lawmakers travel courtesy of outside interests. These must be fully reported. In August, for instance, freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, Calif., joined other lawmakers in a trip to Israel funded by the American Israel Education Foundation. Denham's week-long trip cost the foundation $20,227, records show.

The foundation, allied with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is one of the most aggressive sponsors of foreign travel. Last August alone, the foundation paid for travel to Israel by 81 members of Congress.

"We must continue our strong friendship with Israel, our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East, and we must take seriously any threats from rogue states in the region as they threaten the future of democracy in the war torn region," Denham states in the Foreign Affairs section of his congressional web site.

Other trips are sponsored by congressional leaders or by individual congressional committees. All told, House and Senate members and their staff spend about $13 million a year on official foreign travel and visit more than 120 countries annually, according to a tally by the Congressional Research Service.

In November, for instance, records show that retiring Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, Calif., spent a week traveling through Panama, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Cardoza, who announced his retirement in October, was one of four Californians on the November trip, led by the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas. He also had joined the Israel trip in April.

In early January, Nunes will join House Speaker John Boehner and five other House Republicans on a leadership-sponsored congressional delegation traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. They'll be talking with foreign officials and others about trade agreements, anti-drug efforts and security issues.

Another form of congressional travel is sponsored directly by a committee. In February, for instance, records show the House Agriculture Committee sponsored Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Calif., on a three-day trip to Austria. The trip cost $4,622.04.

It's interesting. US lawmakers in both parties seem to spend an awful lot of time outside the US. They have plenty of time to do so, considering the House spent less than half the days of 2011 in session, and some of those 160 or so days has sessions that were just minutes long.

Trips paid for by lobbyist groups?  Sure, they have to be reported, but everyone does what does it matter?

Just something to think about next time.

Republicans Re-Gifting Ideas

Ross Douthat drags out the old "We've destroyed the American family unit!" canard again, just in time for the holidays, and digs through the closet of old GOP chestnuts until he finds an idea he likes and re-wraps it for his column today.

Millions of Americans know this all too well, because the darker possibilities the Christmas stories hint at — divorce, abandonment, childhood suffering — are realities they have to live with every day. But that unhappy knowledge isn’t evenly distributed. In 21st-century America, the well-off and well-educated have the best odds of enjoying the domestic stability that the Yuletide stories celebrate, while the very people who most need resilient families — the Cratchits and Baileys, the working poor and the hard-pressed middle class — are less and less likely to have them.

This domestic dissolution plays a role in a host of socioeconomic ills: stagnating blue-collar wages, weakening upward mobility, stalling high school graduation rates, even the increase in juvenile obesity and diabetes. But it isn’t an issue that politicians of either party are particularly comfortable addressing. Liberals worry about seeming paternalistic and judgmental; conservatives recoil from the idea of increasing the government’s role in the most intimate of spheres. Thus America has a crisis of family life, but no family policy to speak of. 

He's wrong on both counts there, because he wouldn't be Ross Douthat otherwise.  Liberals don't worry about being paternalistic and judgmental when it comes to helping Americans who are truly in need, and conservatives have no issues with "the idea of increasing the government’s role in the most intimate of spheres" when it comes to legislating how, if, and when a woman's uterus should be used, and it doesn't get more intimate than that.

What conservatives like Douthat mean by "family policy" is federal legislation blocking abortion and contraception as "against God's plan" and criminalizing as many medical professionals as possible who may provide those services to women.  It's ridiculous and backwater, and yet he completely rejects what nearly every other industrialized country outside the US has.

But there are costs to the European approach. Government-guaranteed leave often gives less financial relief to a mother or father who is already at home full time. And Europe’s overall web of regulations and job protections makes the labor market more rigid and less accommodating to part-time work — which is the kind of work that mothers, especially, tend to want. (A recent survey of American parents found that 58 percent of married women with children preferred part-time to full-time work, compared with 20 percent of husbands.)

A more flexible alternative, championed by the conservative writers Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein, would change the way we tax families, dramatically expanding the child tax credit in order to ease the burden on parents with young children. Their proposal would leave contemporary Baileys and Cratchits with more disposable income and more options without favoring one approach to parenting over another. 

So no, why should we have what Canada has?  It would be bad for business and would mean fewer jobs.  Instead, we should have tax cuts, which solve everything, the same old re-gift that conservatives give every year when this "state of the family" column is written.

Obviously, neither generous parental leave nor an expanded child tax credit is a magic bullet for the problem of family breakdown. But if Democrats were championing the first idea and Republicans were championing the second, we would at least have the beginnings of a healthy conversation about family policy, instead of the conspicuous silence that surrounds the country’s biggest social crisis. And it’s hard to imagine a policy debate that’s better suited to the season.

Actually, Democrats have been trying to expand the child tax credit for years now and recently tried to expand the payroll tax credit in order to give families more of what they earned this year.  Republicans blocked it.  In 2010 President Obama proposed doubling the Child Care Tax Credit as well as increasing funding for child care subsidies for working families.  Republicans blocked it too.  They blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act while they were at it.  Republicans are entirely uninterested in families and taxes, unless it means making them pay more so that we can cut taxes on the rich.

Republicans don't want to have a conversation about family policy, because their entire family policy consists of outlawing abortion and treating women like second class citizens and their needs as financial burdens on the American business owner than men don't generate.  And Ross Douthat is one of the reasons why we can't have that discussion, with his mealy-mouthed "both sides are at fault" nonsense.

All Together Now... Awwww

Reprinted in its entirety, because it is short and sweet and perfect.  Thanks to the Huffington Post for running this one.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A blind dog that was lost and believed to be dead is reunited with his San Antonio family for Christmas, thanks to Craigslist, a teacher and an animal care agency.

The San Antonio Express-News reports Saturday ( that nearly a month after Stevie Oedipus Wonder disappeared, the cairn terrier mix puppy that was born without eyes is home.

Stevie's owner Belinda Gutierrez says she thought she was going to end the year on a sad note.

The dog showed up at the Animal Care Services on Dec. 11. He would have been euthanized, but a high school teacher agreed to care for him over the holiday. Then she found the lost dog notice on Craigslist, and Stevie went home Thursday. He's getting doggy treats, carrots and toys for Christmas.


Abandoned Baby Survives By Pure Luck

In what appears to be a Christmas miracle, a five-hour old baby girl abandoned in a cardboard box on a Philadelphia sidewalk was discovered and rescued after almost being mistaken for trash.

Today, the baby dubbed "Baby Noel" by police and nurses is in stable condition at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, but her identity remains a mystery.

"She's in really good condition. We're very fortunate with the timing, weather and the church finding the baby," Philadelphia Police spokesman Ray Evers told "We had a lot of things that fell into place. If it was any closer, the baby would have been thrown out with the trash. It was scary close."

The child is safe, and that's the important thing. Whether the mother is found matters but is secondary to the child's welfare. She's going to have a long journey ahead, how perfect that St. Christopher is the patron saint of travel.

A Holiday Message From The Obamas

The President's weekly address includes Michele Obama this holiday week.

Have a good Christmas, a good Sunday, a good Solstice, and whatever else you'd like. Light day for us here at ZVTS otherwise.

Merry Christmas, US Troops Back From Iraq

I hope you're enjoying the day with your family and loved ones, we appreciate your service, and most of all we're glad you're home.

Jennifer Rubin, of course, is not.

President Obama missed the boat on tax reform. He put politics above entitlement reform. He worsened already-tense relations with Israel. But the worst error, in large part because it was both avoidable and is not irreversible, was to pull all troops out of Iraq.

I'll just go ahead and remind her that over three-quarters of Americans think Rubin's full of crap and that they back President Obama's decision, 78-21%. The same margin believes there is nothing more we can accomplish by keeping troops in Iraq right now.  Half of us believe our actions in Iraq were not morally justified.  Over half believe the war in Iraq has a negative effect on the country.  Over half believe sending troops to Iraq in the first place was a mistake.

Rubin goes on to say that General Petraeus should resign in protest and that America's reputation has been destroyed forever, and that President Obama could never accept that Bush was right.  It's laughable, because tens of million of Americans wanted us out of Iraq just for President Obama's political optics, and she's acting like we all forgot the fact we "found" those Iraqi WMD the first day we were there.

Rubin really is the worst columnist in America.  What she fails to realize is that the American people long ago made the decision that the Iraq War was over.  We no longer have the consent of the governed in order to prosecute it.  Most importantly, it was President Bush who said that we were leaving Iraq at the end of 2011...and the Iraqi government who made it clear that President Obama had no choice but to honor the agreement when the time came.

Keeping troops in Iraq would have amounted to a second invasion, pure and simple.  The Iraqis threw us outa,d only by honoring that deal...and President Obama making it painfully clear that we would honor the deal...were the security gains in Iraq that we made in the last couple years even possible.  It was possible because they knew Bush would never have honored the deal if he was still in charge at the time, and that the Iraqis knew that Obama, when the time came, would make the right decision.

What moral, international, or democratically-granted authority Rubin thinks we have for keeping an invasion force in Iraq against the will of the Iraqi government, I have no clue.  We had no choice but to leave on several different levels.

The war ended.  Our troops are home.  Deal with it.  And enjoy being home, folks.  You've earned it.
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