Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays

Another year has passed far too quickly. In writing this week's "EC from DC" I looked back at the last few months of newsletters and it struck me how very little good news there was in 2008. There is no doubt as a nation we are charting the roughest seas in several generations.

But, there is hope and light, love and friendship in these times. Often in our nation's darkest hours we have reached deep and stunned the world with our ingenuity, compassion, and wisdom. And so that is our charge in the coming year.

Like you, I am looking forward to spending the holidays with my family. Every year we make the pilgrimage to my father's house in Texas to celebrate our togetherness. In ways, both literally and spiritually, Christmas is about finding our way home.

A few years ago, I shared with you a holiday message from President Truman delivered on Christmas Eve, 1948. He had come home, as he always did, to Bess's house at 219 North Delaware in Independence. I was out that direction last week and you can just imagine what it was like for the President. He mentions the sights and sounds of his street, a street that is virtually unchanged since he lived there. It is easy, even now, what he must have experienced making the turn from what was then 15th Street (now Truman Rd.) onto Delaware.

Bess and Margaret came home to Independence far prior to the President's arrival, neither being that fond of Washington, D.C. The President, however, always remained in Washington until after the staff party and then returned home for Christmas Eve.

So from his easy chair in Bess's front room, he pushed a button that lit the National Christmas Tree on the lawn of the White House and in that time of toil and turmoil delivered a message as appropriate and heartwarming today as it was in 1948.

"My fellow countrymen: I now light the National Community Christmas Tree on the lawn of the White House in Washington.

I have come out here to Independence with my family to celebrate the great home festival. For of all the days of the year Christmas is the family day. Christmas began that way.

The moving event of the first Christmas was the bringing forth of the first born in the stable in Bethlehem. There began in humble surroundings the home life of the Holy Family glorified in song and story and in the hearts of men down through the centuries. The great joys and mysteries of that event have forever sanctified and enriched all home life.

The Christmas tree which we have just lighted in the South Grounds of the White House back in Washington symbolizes the family life of the Nation. There are no ties like family ties. That is why I have made the journey back to Independence to celebrate this Christmas Day among the familiar scenes and associations of my old hometown.

These family ties reach out tonight to embrace the town, the State, the country, all of America-the whole world. The hallowed associations of Christmas draw all hearts toward home. With one accord we receive with joy and reverence the message of the first Christmas: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men".

This country, big as it has grown, has always been a close-knit community. It has had to be strong, too.

We needed the strength of giants and heroic courage to bring nature and the elements under control; to build our towns and that is particularly true here in Independence-and to extend our frontiers. We all know what the covered wagon symbolized.

But with all our strength we have always had a deep feeling of compassion-a human sympathy for the underdog, the oppressed of all lands, for all who bear heavy burdens. That is a part of the American spirit. I

have been thinking of all these things here in my home on North Delaware Street in Independence. I am speaking to you from our family living room. As I came up the street in the gathering dusk, I saw a hundred commonplace things that are hallowed to me on this Christmas Eve----hallowed because of their associations with the sanctuary of home.

I saw the lighted windows in the homes of my neighbors, the gaily decked Christmas trees, and the friendly lawns and gardens. The branches of the trees were bare and stark but somehow they looked familiar and friendly. I looked at all these familiar things-the same things that you all will see tonight as you go toward home.

These are the thoughts-simple, commonplace, everyday thoughts-that we all share tonight.

They are the thoughts that bind us together, one to another. They make up the great American epic---the epic of the home.

Yes, America is a big, friendly community. Maybe that is why we realize that we are a part of the whole world. We have had difficult problems, and that is why we can understand the problems of other peoples.

Our own struggle fostered this feeling of good will. And good will, after all, is the very essence of Christmas: peace and friendship to men of good will.

I want to say once more, with all the emphasis that I can command, that I am working for peace. I shall continue to work for peace. What could be more appropriate than for all of us to dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace on this Holy Night.

As a Nation we have a history of a little more than a century and a half. But the religion which came to the world heralded by the song of the Angels has endured for nineteen centuries. It will continue to endure. It remains today the world's best hope for peace if the world will accept its fundamental teaching that all men are brothers.

"God that made the world and all things therein . . . hath made of one blood all nations of man for to dwell on all the face of the earth." In the spirit of that message from the Acts of the Apostles, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas."

My warmest wishes to you and yours,


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For Obama, Job First

By Emanuel Cleaver II
Published in The Washington Post,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
page A17

The black D.C. cabdriver and I connected immediately when it became clear that he simply couldn't suppress his elation about the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. He told me that he had recently quashed some barbershop Obama-bashing arising from what some saw as Obama's failure to name enough blacks to his Cabinet. "I told these barbershop politicos," the cabbie said, "just wait until after he is sworn in, and then he will be free to do the black thing."

I winced and, rather clumsily, tried to explain that Obama will be the first black president, not the black president first. While it isn't my intention to hold up any critic of the president-elect to censure, I want to remind all those who strongly support the president-elect and wish desperately for him to succeed: If you like the honey, don't kick over the beehive.

Since Obama's historic Nov. 4 victory, there has been much discussion in the media suggesting that he faces a plate filled not only with issues related to the slumping economy and other urgent national challenges but also a hefty portion of the extravagant expectations of African Americans and other minority groups. Some, it seems, would rather put the new president into a pressure cooker instead of a melting pot.

I know something about what Obama faces. In 1991, I was elected Kansas City's first black mayor. I and more than 400 other African American mayors who served during the most diverse period in the political history of America's large cities experienced a similar, and understandable, unreasonableness from brothers and sisters who saw in our election an opportunity at last to get a slice of the American pie. Obama will fall short of fulfilling the considerable hopes and dreams of the minorities who supported him, just as we could not fulfill those of ours.

To be sure, he will do all he can. Just as the black mayors of the '90s appointed able blacks to positions that were previously beyond their reach, championed capital projects in often-ignored and ailing parts of their cities, and included minorities in municipal economic opportunities, President Obama will certainly be attentive to the unique needs of the nation's neglected. Clearly, the goal of the Obama administration will be to destroy, not supervise, any government impulse to favor one group of Americans over others.

But brothers and sisters of hue, we must be candid: Race relations in America are far from sublime. Despite Obama's election, there are still Americans who, like the ole Missouri mule, are awful backward about going forward. It would be absurd not to expect high-profile acts of racism to continue to occur, just as always. Obama 's administration won't have the power to prevent them; no administration could. Yes, such situations will now be addressed by an Obama-appointed attorney general, but they also must continue to be dealt with by civil rights organizations and, frankly, by each of us. The duty of the many cannot become the responsibility of the one, even if the one is a black president.

Obama surely knows that he owes enormous gratitude to the huge numbers of black Americans who toiled in his campaign and came out to the polls to help to elect him. I think every African American supporter of Obama can safely assume that Obama will do everything within his power to create a level playing field for all Americans by ensuring that they have a government that is just and fair.

But it is important to note that Obama will not be the nation's highest-profile civil rights leader. He will be the leader of the free world.

We must keep that in mind. Barack Obama cannot both agitate and legislate from the Oval Office. A horse cannot pull while kicking, and Obama has much pulling on his agenda. He will need to pull the U.S. economy out of the tank, U.S. troops out of Iraq and health-care costs back down to earth.

At this moment, the people of color who love this great nation are a part of something thrilling and exalting. Most of us thought that we would never see a black president in our lifetimes. Our coming together this past November was a beginning; staying together through the tough times ahead will be progress; and working together to build bridges, not walls, will be the sign that we are creating a change all can depend on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Broken Down

Every week it seems I start this email telling you how frustrating the week has been. However frustrating these hearings and negotiations are in Washington, they pale in comparison to the insecurity, fear and anxiety being felt by millions of workers who are either standing in the unemployment line, or looking for a pink slip with every paycheck. So, while we shake our heads and stomp our feet in the Capitol, our Congressional troubles are trivial compared to the peril faced by far too many we serve.

The front page photo in the Kansas City Star is a good reminder of just what is at stake right now. In case you missed it, it features three material supervisors at the GM Fairfax plant watching C-SPAN yesterday, on their lunch break, as the Senate debated the auto rescue package. Three men whose families woke up to the news this morning that the Senate had failed to act on the proposal supported by the President and passed by the House.

The deal in the Senate broke down because some wanted the unions to agree to cut the salaries of the three men on the front page of the Star today and 7,200 of their fellow workers who call our community home.

At a time when the American worker is struggling, lay-offs are announced daily and the government is contemplating another stimulus package to encourage people to spend and boost the economy, cutting wages does not make much sense to me.

I am not saying that the auto rescue package was perfect — far from it. However, I fear that those who have never liked unions and never supported union workers used this dire moment for the auto makers to make a point while playing Russian roulette with the livelihoods of millions of families.

General Motors has testified that without a bridge loan they may not make it the rest of the year. It seems some Members of Congress are willing to see if their projections are correct. I am not. Economists from the left, right and center agree that our economy cannot sustain the damage a failed auto industry would yield.

Proof of the impact on our local economy came today. General Motors announced it would idle the Fairfax plant until February, one of 14 plants closed down. For us, that means 2,640 employees who will not clock in for nearly two months.

Not passing a short-term aid package was reckless and puts 3 million workers and our entire fragile economy at risk.

We are now asking the President to take emergency action to protect the economy. It is within his power and indications are that he understands the gravity of a failing auto industry. The President should direct Secretary Paulson to use the Troubled Assets Relief Program or other means at his disposal to provide short-term funding to the auto industry, so that it can restructure and resurrect itself into the backbone of our nation's industrial base once again.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bad News and the Big 3

Over a half-million jobs — that is how many the economy lost in November. That is the worst one-month drop in over 30 years.

This morning, it was also announced that our nation's unemployment rate is 6.7% — the highest in 15 years. Hundreds of thousands more families will have a very difficult holiday season this year on top of the millions already out of work.

These new numbers come on the heels of a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Treasury Department's implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

The GAO told Congress that the Treasury Department has no way to measure whether taxpayer funds invested in banks are being used in accordance with the purpose of the law - to increase lending. My committee has asked the Treasury repeatedly to track the impact of the taxpayer money. The Treasury has responded that it has no intention of doing so.

The GAO recommended that measures be developed to apply to how individual institutions are using their share of the $250 billion made available to them. In response the Treasury policy is to engage in "further discussions on general metrics for evaluating the overall success of the capital purchase program in addressing the purposes of the EESA."

So in the context of the very bad job losses last month and the refusal of Treasury to monitor the effectiveness of our last large taxpayer rescue package the Big 3 automakers came before our committee today to ask for $34 billion.

Here is what we know:
  1. Without assistance of some sort, one or more of the Big 3 will be gone.
  2. Locally we have 7,200 employees and thousands of auto retirees.
  3. There is no assurance that government investment will save the industry.

Before Thanksgiving the CEOs came to Congress in private planes with a request for $25 billion of taxpayer money but no plan. Today they drove to Washington in hybrids with a plan in-hand and asked for $34 billion. That is some serious inflation.

Ford appears to be in the best shape of the three and may well weather the storm with very little assistance. The other two are in very bad shape and frankly I am not sure what the Congress is going to do at this point. That is the difficult part.

We have their plans, their testimony and their answers to some very difficult questions. The hearing was good and frustrating. It certainly went better than the last hearing, but I feel like we have heard all we are going to hear. It was frustrating, for me, because we really haven't made much progress on what we will do next. We need a plan and we need to vote on the financial mechanics to help the industry.

Our committee will work with the Banking Committee in the Senate as well as leaders of both chambers to craft a bill that can be passed quickly. Waiting helps no one. The longer we wait the fewer cars are bought (no one wants to buy a car from a company that may go under, even if they can get the loan) and the worse the problem gets.