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George Curry

The Jury is out on Obama’s Fight to Confirm Judges

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(NNPA) The next major showdown in Washington may not be over how best to reduce the deficit or involve another Obama cabinet appointment. Look for sparks to fly over the president’s constitutional prerogative to nominee federal judges and the Senate’s responsibility to either confirm or reject those nominees.

The latest manifestation of this is President Obama’s decision to fill three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a frequent stepping stone to the Supreme Court. The president said he is merely fulfilling his constitutional responsibility as president, but Republicans are accusing him of “packing the court.”

Clearly, the courts are anything but packed. In fact, more than 10 percent of all judgeships are unfilled. There are 87 vacancies, up from the 55 when Obama first took office.

To fully appreciate the significance of this standoff, it is important to remember that in their effort to radically shift the nation to the right over the past two decades, Republicans have gone all out to control the federal judiciary by placing young, arch conservatives on the bench.

According to a March 5 report by the Alliance for Justice titled, “The State of the Judiciary: Judicial Selection At the Beginning of President Obama’s Second Term,” Republican appointees still control the federal judiciary.

However, the study found, “Since the end of the Bush Administration, the percentage of Republican-appointed circuit judges dropped from 61.3% to 51.2%, and the percentage of Republican-appointed district court judges dropped from 58.6% to 53.6%.”

Political affiliation isn’t the only thing that is changing.

“President Obama’s nominees have been the most diverse in terms of race and gender in American history,” according to the report. “Forty-one percent of his appointees have been women and 36% have been people of color, a far higher percentage than any of his predecessors.”

Bill Clinton had the second-best record, with 29 percent of his appointees women and 24 percent people of color.

Obama’s record would have been even more impressive had he made nominations at the same pace of his immediate predecessors.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on May 2, titled, “President Obama’s First Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan.”

It noted, “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).”

There is plenty of blame to go around for such a slow confirmation pace, beginning with Obama.

“… Of the 81 circuit or district court vacancies that existed at the end of President Obama’s first term, 50 (or 61.7%) were vacancies for which, as of January 19, 2013, the President had not selected a nominee,” the CRS study found.

And even when Obama did submit names, the study found, his confirmation rate was lower than most of his immediate predecessors.

“Among the first five Presidents during their first terms… President G.H.W. Bush had the greatest number of circuit court nominees confirmed, 42. President Reagan had the greatest percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during his first term (86.8%). In contrast, President Obama had the second-lowest percentage of circuit court nominees confirmed (71.4%) and is tied with President Clinton for having the lowest number of circuit nominees confirmed, 30.”

There was a similar pattern with district court nominees, with Obama having the second-lowest number and percentage confirmed.

Although Obama has done an impressive job appointing nominees who reflect racial and gender diversity, he has not done as well with professional diversity, according to the report by the Alliance for Justice. While Obama has appointed 99 ex-prosecutors, he has nominated only 33 former public defenders and 16 former academics.

Á professionally diverse judiciary better reflects the range of legal and societal experiences that judges bring to the bench,” the report observed. “A judiciary heavily slanted toward former corporate attorneys and prosecutors lack the perspective of lawyers who have represented clients in criminal defense, consumer and environmental protection, personal injury, and other public interest fields.”

Unlike Republicans, Obama has tended to nominate older candidates to the bench, averaging 51.3 years old. That’s typically 2-5 years older than Republican appointees. And that could come back to haunt Democrats in the future.

“Because federal judicial appointments are for life, Republican presidents have repeatedly nominated people under 50 to circuit court seats, and in fact have placed a premium on selecting

Young nominees,” the Alliance for Justice study stated. “As for district court seats, President Reagan nominated over 30 people under 40 years old to the district court bench, while President Obama has nominated only 5.

“Since young district court appointees are often prime candidates for subsequent elevation to the circuit courts, both President Obama and future Democratic presidents may have relatively few of these potential nominees to consider going forward.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Cavemen Keep Sexism Alive

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(NNPA) Women serve in almost every high-powered job in the United States: CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Senators, university presidents, race car drivers and even astronauts. Yet, there are some male bozos who think women should be treated as inferior beings.

Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson is the latest man to come out of his cave.

After the publication of a Pew study that found that women are the primary or sole source of income in 40 percent of all American households that have minor children, Lou Dobbs had the poor judgment to assemble an all-male panel May 29 for “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to discuss the report.

LOU DOBBS: Erick, your thoughts on this study and what it portends?

ERICKSON: Lou, I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But this is — liberals who defend this and say it’s not a bad thing are very anti-science.

When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complementary relationships in nuclear families, and it’s tearing us apart.

And what I find interesting in the survey is that three-quarters of the people surveyed recognize that having moms as the primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriage, and reality shows us that’s the truth.

After pushback from a lot of women, many of them conservative, Erickson tried to clean up his remarks the next day on his radio show, but only made matters worse.

It is a fact that children in a two parent, heterosexual household tend to have a more stable upbringing and a better chance of success than those of single parents or gay parents. This is a fact. This is not to insult gay parents. This is not to insult single parents. It’s just a fact. And the, of the subset of children who are raised in a two-parent, nuclear, heterosexual household, children where the father is the one who is the leader of the family, or the breadwinner of the family, however you want to say it, tend to out-perform those where the mother is the primary provider of the family outside of the home. Those are the facts. All I have done is pointed them out.

… And I understand that some women believe they can have it all, and that’s the crux of the problem. I have to tell you, as a man, where women are told that men have so many more advantages in society, we can’t have it all. Women, you can’t have it all either. Life is a series of compromises and choices.

“America Live” anchor Megyn Kelly challenged her Fox News colleague.

KELLY: So I’ll start with you, Erick. What makes you dominant and me submissive, and who died and made you scientist-in-chief?

ERIKSON: …This isn’t healthy for society when we think that roles of gender are completely — can be interchangeable. No one’s saying women can’t be or shouldn’t be a breadwinner or even the primary breadwinner. It’s just that when we forced ourselves to this point in society where they have to be, that’s not a good, healthy thing for society.

Other women Fox contributors also weighed in.

“I’m sincerely confused as to why you used behavior of animals to suggest that women shld stay at home,” Fox political analyst Krisen Powers tweeted.

Katie Pavlich wrote on her Twitter account, “Not offended by idea of a strong male leading the household, offended he implied women aren’t capable of doing so.”

MediaMatters, the press watchdog group, noted, “What the study highlighted, and what Erickson and his fellow Fox News commentators ignored, is the persistent class divide among mothers. According to the data, married mothers who earned more than their husbands were ‘disproportionally white and college educated.’ The single mothers, on the other hand, were ‘more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.’ They also made significantly less: single mothers in the study had a median income of $23,000, about a quarter of the median income of couples with a female primary earner. If those single mothers were never married, their median income dropped to $17,400, hovering near the poverty threshold.

“Furthermore, though more women may be ‘breadwinners,’ women still earn significantly less than men. The report showed that 75 percent of husbands still make more than their wives. In fact, women’s wages decreased in 2012, causing the gender-wage gap to widen with women earning only 80.9 percent of what men earned, or about $163 dollars less per week.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Take a Recess from Closing Public Schools

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(NNPA) Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has announced plans to close at least 50 schools as a cost-cutting measure. But before any other urban school system follows suit, it should take an extended recess and reflect on what has happened in the past that makes this such a foolish idea.

We can start by looking at what has happened in Chicago. A volunteer group called CREATE –Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education – has produced a briefing paper on past school closings that provides some interesting insight.

First, there is the issue of trust. Based on its past performance, there is no reason to trust the Chicago Board of Education’s financial projections. The board approved a budget with a $245 million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. But instead of a deficit, the board ended up with a $328 million surplus.

There was a similar pattern for the 2011-2012 school year. The board budgeted for a $214 million deficit. Instead, it had a surplus of $328 million. In each year, the board missed its target by $500 million.

And what about the students who had to enroll in new schools and students who had to receive them? Bad news on both counts.

“A 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) found that 82% of the students from 18 elementary schools closed in Chicago moved from one underperforming school to another underperforming school, including schools already on probation,” said CREATE. “In a follow up 2012 report, the CCSR determined that 94% of students from closed Chicago schools did not go to ‘academically strong’ new schools.”

It cited another study that found “students who transitioned into new schools following closure scored lower on tests one year after closure; they were at an increased risk of dropping out, as well as an increased risk of not graduating.”

The researcher stated, “School closings will also negatively affect the achievements for students in the receiving schools… For one thing, closings often lead to increased class sizes and overcrowding in receiving schools. As a result, the pace of instruction is slower and the test scores for both mobile students and non-mobile students tend to be lower in schools with high student mobility rates.”

When the Chicago School Board announced its previous closings, it figured it would sell, lease or repurpose half of the schools. However, a Pew study found that of the buildings closed between 2005 and 2012, only 17 schools were either sold, leased or repurposed. Another 24 closed properties remain on the market.

Surprisingly, of the 77 public schools closed in the past decade, 80 percent now house other schools.

Everyone realizes that with a dwindling school-aged population, not as many schools will be needed in the future. And across the country, we have seen how former schools have been converted to community health centers, churches, community centers and other useful facilities.

But if they are simply becoming schools again, what’s the point in closing them in the first place?

Chicago is not the only major city that has overpromised and under delivered in public education.

Administrators in Washington, D.C. boasted about how much money they would save by closing a group of schools.

Pointing to a report by the Office of the D.C. Auditor, CREATE noted, “The audit determined that instead of saving the district $30 million, as claimed by former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the closures actually cost the city $40 million after factoring in the expense of demolishing buildings, removing furnishings, and transporting students.

“Further, the district lost another $5 million in federal and state grants as students left the system, many to charter schools being built in tandem with the closings.”

With all the lip service paid to public education by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, he has not been willing to put his money where his mouth is. Instead of investing in a school system still reeling from a teachers’ strike last fall, he has announced plans for the city to fund a new 12,000-seat basketball arena for DePaul University – a private school.

Under the plan, the facility will be built with $125 million in public funds, including about $55 million in tax-increment financing and $70 million in hotel and transportation taxes. The facility will be built near McCormick Place.

“Our biggest concern is killing the neighborhood with a venue that sits vacant for most of its useful life and, the only time it is used, it’ll be largely for an alcohol-focused sporting venue that will bring unwanted rowdiness, security and parking issues,” Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are 18 DePaul home games. Let’s add in other convention events. Add Rush Arena football. You could add and add and add and you’re still going to end up with a massive facility that will sit vacant for most of its useful life and not add any value economically.” Or, educationally.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Obama's Troubles Aren't Comparable to 'Watergate'

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(NNPA) The Obama administration deserves to be richly criticized for surreptitiously obtaining the telephone records of reporters for the Associated Press, especially for bypassing court proceedings that would have allowed executives of the news organizations an opportunity to at least argue against releasing the documents.

It was also wrong to single out conservative organizations for special IRS scrutiny. In case you haven’t noticed, the names of practically all Black professional organizations begin with the word “National.” That’s because most organizations bearing the name “American” – such as the American Bar Association and the American Dental Association – are professional groups that once barred Blacks from membership. That’s why we had to start our “National” organizations. If it’s okay to target conservative groups today, there is nothing to prevent a future president or IRS commissioner from targeting organizations with the word “National” in their name.

Still, the actions of some Obama administration officials should not be compared to Watergate, as was the case on last Sunday’s talk shows.

To refresh your recollection, as many of the Watergate witnesses would say, Watergate is a reference to a series of scandals that began with the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. and ended with President Richard M. Nixon resigning on August 9, 1974 rather than face certain impeachment.

The five men arrested in connection with the Watergate burglary were linked to Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President. It was later revealed that Nixon had recorded many conversations in the Oval Office that showed that he had knowledge about what his Press Secretary Ron Ziegler labeled “a third-rate burglary” and had attempted to cover-up his involvement. Nixon’s fought to keep the tapes private, but the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that he had to turn them over to government investigators.

Nixon resigned in disgrace and 43 people, including his top White House aides, were sent to prison. Nixon’s successor, Gerald R. Ford, pardoned Nixon, the only U.S. president to resign from office.

Unlike Nixon, President Obama said – and there’s been no evidence presented to contradict him – that he didn’t know about the IRS impropriety until after it had been disclosed in a report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general.

Obama said, “I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog’s report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS.”

Instead of noting the distinction between Nixon’s role in Watergate and Obama’s non-role in the latest scandals, CBS’ Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer told Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffe on Sunday, “You know, I don’t want to compare this in any way to Watergate. I do not think this is Watergate by any stretch…but I have to tell you that is exactly the approach that the Nixon administration took. They said, ‘These are all second-rate things, we don’t have time for this, we have to devote our time to the people’s business.’ You’re taking exactly the same line that they did.”

Schieffer, who covered Watergate for CBS, should know better. And so should Peggy Noonan, a former White House speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Peggy Noonan defended her May 17 Wall Street Journal column in which she claimed that we “are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.” When host David Gregory pressed her, Noonan said, “This IRS thing is something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.”

But the Boston Globe noted last Friday, “As startling as the reports have been in recent days – from the IRS targeting of conservative groups to the Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press – one Nixonian element so far is missing: There has been no evidence that Obama himself ordered or knew about the actions.”

John Dean, White House counsel during the Nixon administration, told the newspaper, “I find the comparison – that whoever is making the analysis is challenged in their understanding of history.” He said, “There are no comparisons. They’re not comparable with any of the burgeoning scandals.”

The Globe observed, “And Dean is in a position to know. Nearly 41 years ago, Dean was with Nixon in the Oval Office on a Friday afternoon when the president wondered aloud about utilizing the powers of the IRS to target his political opponents.”

Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, told Politico: “In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying ‘Use the IRS to get back on our enemies.’ We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution – we have no evidence of any such thing.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Cleveland's Charles Ramsey: Hood or Hero?

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(NNPA) When some of us saw the first video of Charles Ramsey, the colorful Black dishwasher in Cleveland who is being celebrated as a hero for rescuing three White women captives from horrid conditions in a Cleveland house, we had a flashback to Antoine Dodson, who became a flamboyant Internet sensation after saving his sister from a would-be rapist in their Huntsville, Ala. housing apartment, and Sweet Brown, who barely escaped a fire in her Oklahoma City complex.

But more than any other famous “hilarious Black neighbor” Internet sensation, the coverage of Ramsey – and his criminal past – raises serious questions about how we treat a hero with a troubled past and, yes, how Blacks and Whites look at the same event through different prisms of race.

First, as they say in TV news, let’s go to the videotape.

“I’ve been here a year,” Ramsey said in an interview with WEWS, a local television station. Referring to Ariel Castro, the suspect arrested for holding the women against their will, Ramsey said, “You see where I’m coming from? I barbeque with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music…

“He just comes out in his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkers with his cars and motorcycles, goes back in the house. So he’s somebody you look, then look away. He’s not doing anything but the average stuff. You see what I’m saying? There’s nothing exciting about him. Well, until today.”

Ramsey explained that Castro “got some big testicles to pull this off, bro.”

He added, “I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty White girl ran into a Black man’s arms. Something wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

There was plenty wrong, as Ramsey learned when he put down his McDonald’s Big Mac and answered a call for help from Amanda Berry, who had been last seen in 2002 on the eve of her 17th birthday. The two other women were Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, who had been missing since 2004 at the age of 14, and Michelle Knight, who disappeared in 2002 at the age of 21.

While being hailed as a hero, Ramsey was the object of both racism and ridicule.

Though we’re reluctant to publicly admit it, some African-Americans cringed at the sight of Ramsey. His hair, curled in the back like Al Sharpton’s do and as slick as Chuck Berry’s, is interspersed with what we once called post office hair – each nap has its own route. This is one of the few cases where a person’s mug shot looks better than his real life photo.

To put this in context, think back to when Black civil rights protesters dressed up in their Sunday’s best, knowing they were going to get physically assaulted by police and White supremacists. Then, as now, image matters. Especially when one of us appears on TV. Still, there are plenty of people in our community who look like Ramsey and their speech and appearance make them no less valuable than the best dressed and most articulate among us.

Some have suggested than many Whites take delight in seeing Blacks caricatured in the image of Charles Ramsey and Antoine Dodson.

“Perhaps it’s time for the world’s meme artists to stop assuming that any black dude getting interviewed on local news about a crime he helped to foil can be reduced to some catch-phrase or in-joke,” Miles Klee wrote on Blackbookmag.com. “It’s just baffling that we’re trying to find a way to laugh about what is, in itself, a harrowing turn of events.”

Most of us knew, or at least suspected deep down, that something about Ramsey’s past would surface, causing further embarrassment.

The Smoking Gun website disclosed on May 8 that Ramsey “is a convicted felon whose rap sheet includes three separate domestic violence convictions that resulted in prison terms.”

Blacks instantly asked: Why is something that happened a decade ago – and had nothing to do with Ramsey’s heroism – relevant today? Cleveland’s WEWS-TV, facing a backlash from viewers, apologized for reporting on Ramsey’s criminal past.

“While the story was factually sound, the timing of it and publication of such information was not in good taste, and we regret it,” the station said on its Facebook page.

Normally, I would agree that Ramsey’s criminal past, certainly in this situation, should be irrelevant. But there’s nothing normal about this case. Unfortunately, Ramsey invited the scrutiny when he said he suspected domestic violence because he “was raised to help women in distress.”

In view of that assertion, Ramsey’s domestic violence convictions – hardly a record of helping women in distress – became fair game and should have been reported by the news media. But the reporting should not end there. Ramsey’s ex-wife, since remarried, said Ramsey eventually apologized for battering her and they now interact on “an okay basis.”

In addition, she posted two earlier photos of Ramsey on her Facebook page. She told the Smoking Gun, “For my daughter’s sake I show he didn’t always look hood.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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