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Archive for November, 2010

Why Congress Reminds Me of The Wizard of Oz

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Now that Thanksgiving and Turkey day are over, we begin the Lame Duck session in Congress on November 29. I don’t know why it’s called the Lame Duck session. We don’t need our Congress to act lame or like idiots, quacking like a duck.  I understand it’s considered a period when little will be done, due to the change in party leadership in 2011.  The Lame Duck session, in actuality, began before Thanksgiving when Congress refused to pass a bill to extend emergency unemployment benefits beyond November 30.   States provide unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. Historically, Congress has provided for additional weeks of benefits during high recession periods. Congress had given an additional 73 weeks of unemployment benefits due to the present dire unemployment statistics. It affects several million persons. 

You don’t have to be unemployed to understand the need for the extension of unemployment benefits bill. But with so many millionaires in Congress, perhaps having a little empathy would be helpful.  Half of Congress or 261 members are millionaires according to a recent study by the Center for Responsive Studies. Here’s where the Wizard of Oz would be helpful.  Aside from Dorothy and Toto, the other characters in the Wizard of Oz were the scare crow, lion and tin man.  The scare crow needed a brain; the lion needed courage and the tin man needed a heart. Those are the same 3 characteristics that are missing from Congress today. I don’t know if a wizard will help Congress find these traits. 

Congress bailed out Wall Street, banks, Chrysler, General Motors, Fannie Mae and other failing corporate entities.  Why won’t Congress bail out the unemployed now? Republicans want to continue tax credits for the rich and those making over $250,000 yet refuse to vote in favor of extending unemployment emergency benefits to those who need it the most.  Where is the justice in this thinking?

Unemployment affects blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, gays, straight, women and men. No one is exempt from being unemployed.  It only takes your boss or employer to tap you on the shoulder and hand you a pink slip saying “you’re fired”.  It affects  a whooping 30.4% in El Centro, CA, 9 other California areas with over 15% unemployment, 11% in Michigan, small towns in Iowa and the formerly rich technology suburbs of California. With overall unemployment hovering at 9.6 % and with unemployment among African Americans over 16%, what further information does Congress need to pass the emergency unemployment extension?  Many people are just trying to keep a roof over their head and food on their table.  More people are going hungry today than ever before.  Food kitchens are over flowing with persons needing help.  It was a no brainer to extend the emergency unemployment deadline.  

So, my hope for Congress is a brain, a heart and courage to do the right thing by all Americans.

Debbie Hines, Esq. is a legal/political commentator. She also blogs for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate degree from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Every day is a day of Thanksgiving.  Take the time to especially reflect and give thanks on Thanksgiving.  I attended a documentary screening during Thanksgiving week ,  produced by BET International, on Extra-Ordinary Life (XOL). Extra-Ordinary Life is a Washington, DC based charitable organization that nurtures and enriches the lives of teenage girls living in foster care environments. It also brings attention to children in foster care in DC and throughout the United States.  The documentary focused on 8 teenagers living in foster care who traveled to South Africa for a life changing experience in the summer of 2010.  There  are over 423,000 children living in foster care throughout the United States.  Generally, if children in the foster care system are not adopted as a baby, many remain in foster care their entire lives until they reach adulthood.  Some never experience a “forever home” through no fault of their own.  The documentary showed the eight teenage girls as they journeyed to various parts of South Africa.  They visited a shanty town where they saw orphan children living in unimaginable poverty by our standards with very few possessions.  Yet, they noticed a thankfulness in the orphan children’s attitude, despite their outward poverty.  It caused them to reflect and place in perspective their own living situation.

As I watched the documentary, it reminded me that being thankful is not about what you don’t have. It’s about being thankful for what we do have. It’s about being thankful whether our family connections are together, missing or broken. It’s about being thankful whether our possessions are few or many. 

May everyone be thankful on this Thanksgiving.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Debbie Hines, Esq. is a political and legal commentator who contributes to the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Are the Democrats Insane for Wanting to Keep the Same Leadership?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

By all accounts, the Democrats are looking to lead the Democratic Party with the same leadership as before the midterm elections.  A meeting has not taken place yet. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  If that is true, then why is the Democratic Party looking to place its leadership in exactly the same hands with the same people as before the “shellacking” and loss of 60 plus seats in the House?  With no apparent opposition, Rep. Nancy Pelosi  (D.CA) will presumably become House minority leader.  Rep. Steny Hoyer (D. MD)   is now on path to become the second in command after a deal was struck. Then Rep, James Clyburn will presumably resume a new post and become third in command.  I heard some Democrats are touting experience as the reason for wanting to stay the course with the same trio of leadership as before the Republican romp.  Yes, there’s something to be said for experience during these troubling times.  But, we have a truly able President who served as a junior senator before running for President of the United States.  So, this argument seems incongruous with the top of the party leadership in President Obama.

With 2 years to go before the next election, why wouldn’t the Democrats, at least consider replacing either Rep. Pelosi, Rep. Clyburn or Rep. Hoyer with someone younger with fresh progressive and newer ideas.   All three leaders are at least 70.  While I am not advocating age discrimination against anyone, it would have been better, at least, to include one younger, progressive member of congress among the top 3 leadership positions.  There are younger Democratic progressives that should have been included among one of the top 3 leadership roles.  One is Rep. Xavier Becerra (D.CA).  He will likely remain in a leadership role but not in the top 3.  Speaking of progressives, one thing the election showed is that the voters overwhelmingly rejected Blue Dogs. So why do Democrats want to put Blue Dog Steny Hoyer in a second in command leadership role?  I can’t figure that one out. 

If the midterm elections taught the Democrats anything, it should have taught that change is needed.  New ways of doing things, new ideas and new leadership is in order.  While I don’t believe the Republican hype that voters rejected the Obama administration’s policies. I also don’t believe the Democrats hype that they just failed to get the message out.  It’s more like a combination of the two. And the only way to really “get it” is with some younger, progressive leaders in the top 3 positions.

Debbie Hines, Esq. is a legal and political commentator and contributor to the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Game Changing Moment for President Obama

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Politics is a team sport played much like football.   Right now after the midterm election, President Obama is at half time going into the locker room to re-assess what worked, what didn’t work and what went wrong.  As in team sports, there are good players and players who play poorly.  There are teams that have all the good players and still lose because their game plan is not well executed.  The converse is also true. There are teams that win whose players are not as good as the losing team.  They play better. The answers are not always easy whether in football or politics.  No one knows for sure what the 2010 election results mean.  Republicans assert it means a complete repudiation of the Obama administration’s policies.  Obama says he didn’t do a good job of explaining his policies but believes his policies are sound. But, what do Americans believe?

It’s a lot more complicated than either Republicans or Obama think.  And the answer as to what voters want is not a universal or simple answer. I suspect the reasoning, behind the voters’ choices, lies somewhere between what Democrats and Republicans think.  Yet, the election was a game changing moment for President Obama.  Great leaders, coaches and players are defined by how they handle game changing moments. This will be President Obama’s moment to shine and lead even in more adversity than he already had.  Here are 5 things President Obama must do to rise to the moment at this turning point.

First, he must shake up his staff, starting with his communications staff. Under President Obama, substantial legislation  passed from the Affordable Health Care Act, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Student Aid increasing Pell grants, unemployment benefits extension, Small Business Act, bailing out Chrysler and General Motors and adding 3 million more jobs to name a few.  Yet, the Administration never explained what these bills meant to the American people.  So, it’s like a coach calling the plays and no one understands the call or how to execute the play.  Republicans and some Democrats question the cost of the legislation. And then at the President’s press conference following the election, he explains for the first time, at least that I heard, that he never intended to make government grow by the billions and to become so intrusive. He made clear it was a response to an emergency and not his agenda.  His communications team never made that case to the American people. I grade the communications staff with a C- minus and I graded on a curve.

Second, Obama needs to revamp his economic team. Numbers don’t lie.  With 9.6% unemployment generally and 16.7% unemployment in the African American community, all the billions in money spent is not working.  No, the car is not out of the ditch. It’s still in the ditch.  Yes, as President Obama now acknowledges, it’s stuck in neutral.  When people are in survival mode and trying to keep food on their table and a roof over their head, little else is important.  Fixing the broken economy trumps everything for people trying to survive, including health care reform. The economic team has not been able to move the mountain. Let’s fire some of them and hire others.

Third, Obama needs to open up lines of communications beyond those he already engages.  President Obama spoke about the White House causes a bubble effect. I think many on his staff are also stuck in that same bubble.  Connecting and seeking advice with people outside his inner circle and staff will be the best thing he can do right now. He needs to re-connect with his team, progressives, African Americans, Latinos, youth, women and all those who brought him to the dance in 2008.  And he needs to continue engaging with them to 2012.

Fourth, he needs to convey to the American people that he gets their pain and is working hard on it.  Being calm and collected conveys the impression of being distant.  People feeling pain want to know that their leader understands their pain.  That’s what Velma Hart was seeking when she asked about the dismal economy at a town hall meeting: Is this our new reality?  She wanted to feel that President Obama felt her pain.

Fifth, he needs to empower voters to assist in the process and not just sit on the sidelines as spectators. Everyone needs to help with the process.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Debbie Hines Speaks on the Michael Eric Dyson Show on Election

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on the Michael Eric Dyson show on November 1, 2010 to discuss the effect of Black women as the swing vote in the midterm election.  In 15 states and 20 races, African American women could decide the results. Many races will have results with 2000 votes or less.  There is an upswing in enthusiasm among minority women.  African American women made up a large percentage of first time voters in the 2008 election.  Reaching these women to come out and vote again is one key to the success of the Democratic party.

Listen here  to the interview and share your comments and thoughts.  Don’t forget to vote. Your vote counts.  Pundits and polls don’t determine election results. Votes do.

Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator based in Washington, DC. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.  She is a native of Balimore, MD.