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Monday, December 25, 2006

Es-Ka-LAY-Shun

Christopher Hayes writes:


Say it: escalation. More and more that's what the geniuses in Washington have come up with as a way of ending the war in Iraq. Instead of calling it an escalation of the war, they are using the military term of art, "surge." Ok, fine. Surge, escalation, "reset", call it what you will. The fact is that the American people voted in November to end the war in Iraq, and the White House has demonstrated that, kabuki-style consultations to the contrary, it just doesn't care.

Let's take as a given that adding more troops is a horrible idea, both strategically and morally bankrupt. How do the Democrats stop it from happening? Under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in late 2002, the President has fairly wide latitude to prosecute the war. The new Democratic-controlled Congress has two main sticks to wield: oversight hearings and the power of the purse. There's a lot of skittishness on the part of Democrats to use their power of the purse, because Republicans could then spin it as the Democrats "cutting funding for the troops." Spencer Ackerman laid out just such a scenario recently, and I understand where he's coming from. The right was able to construct a myth in the years after the end of the Vietnam war that Democrats ended the war by refusing to fund it after 1974. While this wasn't really true, the funding was cut-off only after Nixon had signed the peace treaty, it created an enduring right-wing bugaboo, one that Republicans now threaten to wield as a cudgel if Democrats attempt to use their power of the purse to end the occupation.

So how about this: Early next year, the president is going have to submit an emergency appropriations bill to continue to fund the war. The Democrats should respond in two ways. First, if by the time the appropriations bill is submitted, the president is still discussing escalating the war, Democrats should come up with a counter offer: they will only approve enough funding for the current troops and not one more. Second, the funding should only be approved for the first 90 days, after which time the administration will have to report comprehensively to Congress on what progress has been made in bringing the war to a conclusion.

It's certainly not an ideal strategy, insofar as it essentially maintains the status quo, but in the in the near term, the first priority for the Democrats has to be to use their newfound ability to stop this war from escalating.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Americans hungry, homeless in 2006

Lisa Lambert writes:

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - More Americans went homeless and hungry in 2006 than the year before and children made up almost a quarter of those in emergency shelters, said a report released on Thursday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"The face of hunger and homelessness right now ... is young children, young families," said the conference's president, Douglas Palmer, the mayor of Trenton, New Jersey.

The survey of 23 cities found civic and government groups received, on average, 7 percent more requests for food aid in 2006 than in 2005, following a 12 percent jump in 2005.

Requests for shelter rose by an average of 9 percent in 2006, with requests from families with children rising by 5 percent. More than half the cities said family members often had to split up to stay in different shelters.

As the numbers who could not buy their own food grew, more than half the cities, including Los Angeles and Boston, said groups spread resources farther by giving less food to individuals or cutting the number of times people could receive help. The group estimated 23 percent of requests for emergency food assistance simply went unmet.

Franklin Cownie, the mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, who worked on the study, said he was troubled that more than a third of the adults asking for food aid were employed.

"If you look at the data, you'll find folks that have jobs that don't have enough money to feed themselves," he told reporters.

People remained homeless for an average of eight months in 2006, the report said. Trenton had the longest span, with those in poverty spending an average of 22 months in cars and shelters or on the street.

The survey relied on census statistics along with data that city officials collected from local agencies.

Calling the report "not so much science as perception," the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which includes state and federal agencies, said in a statement nearly 30 cities were reporting reduced homelessness due to a federal program run in partnership with the Conference of Mayors.

It said the Bush administration was also working to help connect homeless people to government agencies and private aid groups.

In the mayors' report, Cleveland was one of the cities that saw demand for food assistance drop in 2006. Officials said it was still much higher than in 2000, before the city experienced an economic downturn. From 2000 to 2005, the number of people using food stamps, or federal subsidies to cover groceries, increased there by 29 percent.

Food stamps and other public nutrition programs account for 60 percent of the U.S. Agriculture Department's spending. The USDA said almost 11.2 million U.S. households received food stamps in 2005.

Congress is expected to consider changes to the food stamp program as part of broad-ranging agriculture legislation in 2007. (Additional reporting by Charles Abbott)