Let's Give Congress Our Marching Orders

Will the U.S. once more sacrifice economic justice at home for war
abroad? Dr. King used to say that the bombs dropped over Vietnam
exploded in America's cities. The war on poverty was lost in those

And now? The war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year. Vice
President Joe Biden told "This Week" that our policy is "going to work,"
but "all of this is just beginning. And we knew it was going to be a
tough slog," so "it's much too premature to make a judgment" about how
we are faring.

Just the beginning after eight years? We are spending $100 billion a
year on Afghanistan, with U.S. casualties rising, and with no noticeable
progress on the ground. The government that we support is noted for its
corruption and ineffectiveness. Our military is trying to do
nation-building in a country whose warring tribes unite only to expel

The drones releasing bombs over Afghanistan are falling on our cities
here at home. More than 20 million workers are unemployed or
underemployed. States and localities are facing another round of severe
cuts, with some 300,000 teachers and educational workers about to face
layoffs. Unemployment of young African-American men without college
nears 40 percent.

We desperately need Congress to act -- to extend unemployment
benefits, to forestall debilitating cuts in schools, teachers, Medicaid
and basic services, to finance the rebuilding of America in everything
from bridges to fast trains to a smart electric grid that will make us
more competitive and put people to work.

But war drains our Treasury, takes the lives of our citizens and
requires the attention of our leaders. Now our politics is turning
perverse. Conservatives rail against deficits and block action on jobs
in the Senate. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell says that we
don't have to offset tax cuts for the wealthy with spending cuts, but
leads his party's filibuster against extending unemployment benefits
unless they are "paid for." The supplemental for Afghanistan passes; the
supplemental to keep teachers working is blocked.

Across the country, there is a growing divide between the elites in
Washington and the American people. In a poll for Politico by the firm
Penn Schoen Berland, the divide was apparent. Only 27 percent of people
outside the Beltway think the country is headed in the right direction;
among 227 Washington elites polled, 49 percent think it is on the right
track compared with 45 percent who think it's going the wrong way.

This disconnect between Washington and the American people is
dangerous. Ironically, most out of touch are the Republican
conservatives who may well benefit politically from the economic
distress. The vast majority have obstructed everything Obama has tried
to do. They made the recovery plan weaker and larded it with tax cuts
for the upper middle class. They are prepared to increase the deficit to
fight the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and to sustain tax cuts for the
wealthy, while they impede even basic steps to put people to work.

America is coming once more to a crossroads. We need to rebuild our
strength from the inside out. In the short term, we need to put people
to work. We need to regain our position on the cutting edge of science
and technology. We have to begin making things in America once more.

This will take focus, finances and management. And each of these will
be starved so long as our soldiers are mired in wars across the other
side of the world. That is why it is time for citizens of conscience to
come together and challenge the elite consensus before it is too late.
On Aug. 28, the UAW and Rainbow PUSH Coalition and dozens of other
groups will convene demonstrations in Detroit and elsewhere to call for
action on jobs. On Oct. 2, the one nation coalition led by the NAACP, La
Raza and the AFL-CIO will convene a march on Washington with the focus
on jobs and justice. This is the beginning of what must be a "tough
slog" to put America on the right course.

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