November 14, 2013
By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans blocked another of President Barack Obama’s picks for one of the nation’s top courts on Tuesday, the latest skirmish in a nominations battle that has intensified partisan tensions in the chamber.
The vote derailed Obama’s selection of Georgetown University law professor Cornelia Pillard to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The roll call was 56-41 in favor of ending GOP procedural delays that have blocked Pillard from winning confirmation — four short of the 60 votes Democrats needed.
The D.C. circuit court is considered one of the nation’s most powerful because it rules on administration orders and regulations and because some of its judges ultimately become Supreme Court justices. The D.C. circuit’s eight current judges are divided evenly between Democratic and Republican nominees.
Democrats used Tuesday’s vote to assail Republicans for opposing female nominees to the D.C. circuit. Republicans have blocked votes on two other Obama nominees to the same court this year, attorneys Patricia Millett and Caitlin Halligan.
“Women are grossly underrepresented on our federal courts. So what kind of message are Senate Republicans sending by refusing to even allow a vote on three of the most qualified female attorneys in this country,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Judiciary panel, called such arguments “offensive,” adding that Democrats’ “last line of defense is to accuse Republicans of opposing nominees based upon gender or race.”
Tuesday’s vote prompted Democrats to threaten anew to unilaterally rewrite Senate rules to make it harder for the chamber’s minority party to block nominations. Democrats could do that by curbing a minority’s ability to require 60 votes to end procedural delays called filibusters.
“Republicans are inching closer and closer to that line. I’d hope they’ll turn back,” said No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
It is unclear that Democrats have enough votes to force such changes. Some senior lawmakers have long warned that it would boomerang against them should the GOP recapture the Senate majority and the White House.
In a sign of shifting attitudes, Leahy — a senator for nearly four decades — said he now backs a rules change because blocking judges for political reasons “destroys the integrity of the federal judiciary.”
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the only two Republicans to vote “yes” on Pillard. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was the only Democrat to vote “no,” allowing him to stage the vote again.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Pillard vote “a political exercise designed to distract the American people from the mess that is Obamacare,” a reference to major enrollment problems with the 2010 health care law. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans were making “cynical arguments in an effort to maintain an ideological edge” among judges on the D.C. circuit.
Republicans have accused Obama of trying to tilt the court's balance in his direction to protect the fate of his administration’s policies. They say the D.C. circuit has a lighter caseload than other districts, and have proposed legislation eliminating one of its vacant judgeships and moving the two others to busier circuits.
Democrats say the GOP objections are purely political and that Republicans did not object to filling D.C. circuit vacancies when George W. Bush was president. They cite other statistics to argue that the D.C. circuit’s workload has changed little in recent years.
Pillard worked twice in the administration of President Bill Clinton — at the solicitor general's office, which handles Supreme Court cases, and later in the Justice Department. She’d previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court.
Another Obama nominee for the D.C. circuit, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, is expected to be considered by the Senate in coming days and seems likely to be blocked.
November 14, 2013
By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
While President Barack Obama announced recently that passage of comprehensive immigration reform is a legislative priority, it’s unclear when and whether a bill will pass.
Groups and individuals who support the measure have marched, invited arrest and exerted enormous pressure on Obama to act on his promise.
The Senate – aided by the bipartisan Gang of Eight – produced a 1,100-page bill earlier this year but the measure is bottled up in the House of Representatives.
“The House is where the center of power lies in the Republican Party,” said Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker at the Oct. 31 forum held at the Georgetown Law School in Northwest. “… There was a time when they were coming to a cooperative relationship with the Democrats but that slowly ground to a halt … there is slow, bubbling opposition beneath the surface. [The Gang of Eight agreement] was the product of deals which don’t look so great close up. Grassroots, populist opposition grew.”
The Migration Policy Institute hosted the 10th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, where Lizza and other panelists said there is no consensus on passage of the bill. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said immigration reform is doable adding that there’s the very real possibility the House would produce its version of the measure.
“It ought to be done because it’s in the best interest of the country,” said Barbour, keynote speaker for the morning session. “If we don’t do it, it will get worse and worse. It would be worse to do nothing because what we’ve got has been an abject failure.”
“There is a group of Republicans and labor union Democrats who argue that they don’t want undocumented immigrants to be rewarded for breaking the law. Some Republicans take issue with the Farm Bureau, business, and the high-tech communities of California and Texas.”
Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, seems like an unlikely champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but what he saw after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in August 2005 convinced him of the need for immigration reform.
“I was governor during Katrina and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 64,000 units of housing were made uninhabitable,” he said. “We lost half of the housing stock in three counties and 40,000 homes not on the coast were also made totally uninhabitable.”
Barbour said 231 people died, 30 percent of them who didn’t live near the coast.
“We had a storm surge of 38 feet, the highest on record. It left utter obliteration and looked like the hand of God had wiped places away. In many cases, there was nothing left but a slab. And the guy who would build houses also had his house blown away. In a pretty short period of time we had an enormous influx of Spanish-speaking labor who numbered in the thousands.”
“They worked, lived in dreadful conditions. They worked well before dawn to after dark to try to help our people get back into some place they could live. Absolutely, I tell you it wouldn’t have happened without Spanish labor. It would not have happened.”
November 07, 2013
By Edward Rice, III and Princess Manasseh
LAWT Contributing Writers
It was an average citizen, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama who organized a Veterans Day for his city on Nov 11, 1947 to honor all of America’s Veterans for their loyal service. Later U.S. Representative Edward H. Rees of Kansas proposed legislation changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who have served in America’s Armed Forces.
While many of us will take the opportunity to stay out late Sunday night and sleep in Monday, very few will understand the reasons why and the sacrifices that accompany this federal holiday.
“Men and women who serve do so for many reasons but few pause to share the depth of those experiences,” explained Los Angeles resident and Air Force Veteran, Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth. “Having a day set aside where someone acknowledges the sacrifice made by so many who may not even know why they made the choice they made, is an honor that goes beyond words or the waving of a flag.”
One was a seventeen year old wanting to strike out on his own, another was an aspiring nurse who saw the Marines as her ticket to success, still a third was a young man drafted against his will. Here are the stories of veterans shedding some light on the scope of military life, and telling what Veteran’s Day means to them.
“I had always been told I would go to college and I expected I would be successful in life, but no one in my family had gone to college, nor had anyone (in recent memory) served in the military,” said Bridgeforth was recruited in the late eighties by an African American Sergeant who looked professional and confident in the teenagers eyes. “When Staff-Sergeant Thomas McCray presented the Air Force as a viable option and I responded affirmatively, I was really saying ‘Yes’ to being like him,” Bridgeforth recalls.
Robert Miller’s story is rather different. A teenager in the late sixty’s Miller was drafted into the Army during a time of political unrest.
“I went in during a time when they were trying to draft a lot of Black people to Vietnam,” Miller recalls. “People were refusing to draft, they were running away to Canada and other places, it wasn’t a time in America for Black people,” recalled Miller. “It was a militant time, the panther party was going on, there were the hippies up the north, free love all that kind of stuff. JFK had not long been assassinated, it was one of those times in history when it wasn’t popular to go to the military. When you came back people called you baby killers…all kind of stuff was going on.”
Miller served in the US Army from 1966 to 1968. During that same two-year period, Viola Williams served in the Marine Corps, having gone in by choice in pursuit of success.
“During the time that I was in the military it seemed you could be successful if you wanted to, if you had a goal. For women, maybe if you wanted to travel, or maybe wanted to meet your husband, those were options. But for me it was an opportunity to get into something that was my calling. I really didn’t know where it was going to lead me but I felt that no matter where it sent me, it was going to be a positive experience,” Williams remembered.
“I could’ve gotten lost in that environment and the culture, a very male dominated culture. Thankfully I was able to stay focused, it was a great experience that lead me to where I am today.”
Today Williams is a Nurse at the VA Hospital where she sees veterans on a daily basis, many whose military experiences turned out harder than hers.
“Yes I see a lot of homeless men and women veterans, I would say I see more homeless Black veterans than Whites,” shared Williams. “We [the VA Hospital] have programs in place and ones that we’re developing to help homeless veterans transition back into society,” explained Williams. “One of my goals is to develop a network and support group through social media, that informs veterans of the resources available to them. I see so many resources underutilized it hurts my heart.”
Deonte P. Allen Sr. served 12 years in the U.S. Army achieving the rank of Sargent. Going in as a seventeen-year-old Allen chose the military because he wanted to be able to provide for himself.
Joining the military years after Miller, Allen served in active duty during a different war and at a very different time politically.
“One of the best ‘thank you’s’ I’ve ever received from a civilian was while I was in Kabul, Afghanistan. A young boy walked up to me to thank me for protecting him and his family. The only thing the news covered was the few that did not want us there. In reality so many of them appreciate America for helping their country.”
Allen who was deployed to war environments on six different occasions says maturing is the biggest change he underwent in the military,
“I had a care-free attitude when I joined, but I soon realized that I needed to grow up mentally. Realizing that men and women to my left and right depended on me, I knew I had to mature quickly.”
“Veteran’s Day is important to me because our country takes a day to celebrate the men and women that have given a part of their life to serve this great country,” explained Allen. “Being in the military is not for everybody, and the few that decide to join and serve deserve a day to be recognized.”
It’s no secret that since slaves first arrived in America there has not been a war fought by this country that African Americans did not participate in. To this day the proud history established by African Americans in the military such as the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airman continues with our current men and women.
November 07, 2013
By SETH BORENSTEIN
Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot and not too cold for life.
Astronomers using NASA data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone.
The study was published November 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
For perspective, that’s more Earth-like planets than there are people on Earth.
As for what it says about the odds that there is life somewhere out there, it means “just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, that's 8.8 billion throws of the biological dice,” said study co-author Geoff Marcy, a longtime planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.
The next step, scientists say, is to look for atmospheres on these planets with powerful space telescopes that have yet to be launched. That would yield further clues to whether any of these planets do, in fact, harbor life.
The findings also raise a blaring question, Marcy said: If we aren’t alone, why is “there a deafening silence in our Milky Way galaxy from advanced civilizations?”
In the Milky Way, about 1 in 5 stars that are like our sun in size, color and age have planets that are roughly Earth’s size and are in the habitable zone where life-crucial water can be liquid, according to intricate calculations based on four years of observations from NASA’s now-crippled Kepler telescope.
If people on Earth could only travel in deep space, “you’d probably see a lot of traffic jams,” Bill Borucki, NASA’s chief Kepler scientist, joked.
The Kepler telescope peered at 42,000 stars, examining just a tiny slice of our galaxy to see how many planets like Earth are out there. Scientists then extrapolated that figure to the rest of the galaxy, which has hundreds of billions of stars.
For the first time, scientists calculated — not estimated — what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.
Kepler scientist Natalie Batalha said there is still more data to pore over before this can be considered a final figure.
There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our sun, Marcy said. One of his co-authors put the number of sun-like stars closer to 50 billion, meaning there would be at least 11 billion planets like ours.
Based on the 1-in-5 estimate, the closest Earth-size planet that is in the habitable temperature zone and circles a sun-like star is probably within 70 trillion miles of Earth, Marcy said.
And the 8.8 billion Earth-size planets figure is only a start. That’s because scientists were looking only at sun-like stars, which are not the most common stars.
An earlier study found that 15 percent of the more common red dwarf stars have Earth-size planets that are close-in enough to be in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone.
Put those together and that's probably 40 billion right-size, right-place planets, Marcy said.
And that’s just our galaxy. There are billions of other galaxies.
Scientists at a recent Kepler science conference said they have found 833 new candidate planets with the space telescope, bringing the total of planets they've spotted to 3,538, but most aren't candidates for life.
Kepler has identified only 10 planets that are about Earth’s size circling sun-like stars and are in the habitable zone, including one called Kepler 69-c.
Because there are probably hundreds of planets missed for every one found, the study did intricate extrapolations to come up with the 22 percent figure — a calculation that outside scientists say is fair.
“Everything they’ve done looks legitimate,” said MIT astronomer Sara Seager.
November 07, 2013
By KATHY MATHESON and
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The nation's top law enforcement officer got a glimpse of the challenges facing ex-offenders attempting to rebuild their lives on Tuesday as he attended an unusual court session and then met with several of them afterward.
Attorney General Eric Holder watched as more than a dozen men on supervised release updated a federal judge on their jobs and personal situations, discussing problems from needing more hours at work to the cost of cataract surgery for the family dog.
The proceeding before District Judge Felipe Restrepo in Philadelphia is part of an innovative re-entry initiative designed to give former inmates the support they need to stay out of jail.
“I’ve got to say, this is really heartwarming to see what you all are doing with your lives,” Holder told the participants afterward in open court. “What we’ve seen here today gives me a great deal of hope.”
Holder wants to find solutions to the country’s overburdened jails and high recidivism rates. The nation spent $80 billion on prisons in 2010, and yet federal facilities are still overflowing at 40 percent above capacity, Holder said.
As part of the “Smart On Crime” program that he launched in August, Holder is arguing for scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes and expanding a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders
His visit to Philadelphia was the first of three to promote pioneering crime-prevention initiatives; he’ll visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
Federal court officials in Philadelphia began the Supervision to Aid Re-entry, or STAR, program seven years ago. It aims to cut the city’s violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
The former inmates meet as a group with a judge every two weeks. In between, they might be working or taking mandated vocational training or parenting classes. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year.
Graduates say each class of 15 to 20 people ends up being a pretty tight-knit group.
“It gave me another family,” said Robert Warner, 46, of Philadelphia. Warner, who served 10 years on drug and gun charges, is now a manager at a suburban fast-food restaurant.
Officials estimate the Philadelphia program has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs, based on fewer revocations of supervised release. Nationally, the revocation rate for offenders not in that type of program is 47 percent; the revocation rate of STAR participants is about 20 percent, officials said.
While Philadelphia’s effort deals with high-risk offenders, the initiative in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney’s office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars.
On Tuesday in Philadelphia, the judge used a friendly, informal tone as he spoke to each man, congratulating them on new jobs, offering encouragement on setbacks, and gently penalizing one for missing an appointment with his probation officer.
For their part, the men shared problems involving driver’s licenses and housing, but one also showed off a new community college ID card and another brought photos of his art projects — which Holder admired. Many then talked with support staff outside the courtroom to address their issues.
Holder later met privately with Warner and several other graduates of the program, including a chef about to work in Paris and a soon-to-be college graduate.
“We don’t spend nearly enough money on these kinds of programs,” Holder said. “You all are the best salesmen for these kinds of efforts.”
Warner said afterward that he began hiring former inmates to help out the judge and probation officers who worked with his class. He said he still talks frequently with people he met in the program, and tries to be a role model for them.
“It makes me feel like a better man,” Warner said. “This program, it works. It really works.”