Blog Posts by Jason Sickles, Yahoo

  • 'Worst ice storm' in years wallops Texas, much of the Midwest

    DALLAS — Tens of thousands of people remained without power here late Friday after a massive winter storm blanketed North Texas in a thick coat of freezing rain and sleet.

    Police pleaded with motorists to stay off frozen freeways. Ice on power lines forced public transportation officials to suspend the region’s light rail service.

    Dallas’ woes are part of a severe cold snap stretching more than a 1,000 miles from the southern Plains to New England.

    “This will be the worst ice storm for the United States since January 2009 and will affect many of the same areas as that storm,” said Jesse Ferrell, weather expert and storm chaser for AccuWeather.com.

    The National Weather Service issued ice and winter storm advisories for more than a dozen states. Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee — where thousands are also without power — have already declared states of emergency. Treacherous driving conditions were blamed for several deaths across the country, according to The Associated Press.

    Government

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  • Dallas confronts darkest day with first official memorial of JFK assassination

    DALLAS — This city didn’t murder President John F. Kennedy — a madman with a mail-order rifle did.

    But for years Dallas has dealt with the stigma that the thirty-fifth president of the United States was gunned down here.

    On Friday, 50 years to the day after the president was killed, the city of Dallas held its first official observation of the anniversary. The ceremony, which was years in the making, was orchestrated at the infamous site where the shots rang out. But organizers went out of their way to make sure the program commemorated Kennedy’s legacy, not the crime that took his life.

    “We stand in awe of a dreamer who challenged us - literally - to reach for the moon, though he himself would not live to see us achieve that goal,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told an estimated 5,000 people gathered in a cold and rainy Dealey Plaza on Friday. “We give thanks for his life and service. We offer our condolences to his family - to his daughter, Caroline, especially - on this difficult day.”

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  • Afghan War ally Janis Shinwari finally finds safety in America

    Afghan War ally Janis Shinwari’s well-publicized effort to find refuge in America came to a successful conclusion late Tuesday when the translator and his family walked off a plane in Washington, D.C.

    “We are so happy,” Shinwari told Yahoo News on Wednesday. “We made it. No more fear. No more threat. No more Taliban.”

    Shinwari, who served as an interpreter for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan for nearly seven years, says he had become a top target of insurgents, who considered him a traitor and made it known that they wanted to behead him.

    Threats against his life were “increasing day by day,” said Shinwari, a 35-year-old married father of two young children.

    The Shinwaris applied to come to the U.S. more than two years ago under a special immigration visa (SIV) program for people who helped American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the request had been riddled with red tape.

    Three months ago, former Army Capt. Matt Zeller, an intelligence officer who says Shinwari saved his life

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  • As hero finally gets Medal of Honor, some question the delay

    At a stately White House ceremony on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will extol former Army Capt. William Swenson's courage and award him the country's highest military decoration.

    But beyond the pageantry is a convoluted tale not told in the official Army narrative detailing Swenson’s heroics when he and his troops were ambushed in Afghanistan more than four years ago.

    Even as Swenson receives his Medal of Honor, a Pentagon investigation is unfolding into why the former Army officer’s award nomination once vanished. It has been alleged that military brass may have derailed the approval process because Swenson pointed blame at superiors in the aftermath of the costly battle.

    “It’s crazy,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who pushed for the investigation. “The last thing you should have is a politicized Medal of Honor process.”

    Being candid about the battle put Swenson’s nomination in the cross hairs, Hunter said.

    “He came out and was honest about what happened,” Hunter told Yahoo

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  • Photographer describes viral image from Capitol car chase

    A tweet from New York Times photographer Doug Mills shows a photo of an unidentified man apparently looking at his phone while police respond to a threat at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.


    With sirens blaring and people scrambling for safety all around him, an unidentified man in a suit and tie seems to be buried in his BlackBerry as he strolls by a Capitol Hill Police officer taking position with an assault rifle.

    “That’s D.C., right? People are so wrapped up in that little device in their hands that nothing else matters,” said Doug Mills, a New York Times photographer who captured the surreal moment during Thursday’s lockdown at the U.S. Capitol.

    Mills took the photo from a third-floor window of the Senate building where doors were being locked because a dramatic car chase and shooting were unfolding on the streets outside.

    “There were guys running all around with their guns,” Mills told Yahoo News.

    So was the man using his phone to tweet, text or perhaps call family to say he’s OK? Mills, who believes the man is a political staffer, admits he doesn’t know for sure. But he says the man couldn’t have been totally unaware.

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  • Shutdown puts WIC food program for vulnerable mothers at risk

    A WIC-only store in Dallas provides healthy foods for mothers and their young children. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo)


    DALLAS — In a shopping center parking lot 1,300 miles from Washington’s bureaucracy and bickering, teen mom Karina Luciano loaded a watermelon and baby formula into her car.

    Luciano didn’t realize the federal assistance program that just purchased the food items for her children, Aimee, 2, and Jaiden, 11 months, is now in jeopardy because of the government shutdown.

    “Oh my god, I think I’m going to cry,” Luciano said upon learning the news. “This is really bad.”

    Nearly 9 million low-income mothers and children receive benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Congress’ inability to pass a funding bill forced the USDA, which oversees the $7 billion program, to shutter support for WIC’s clinical services, food and administrative costs.

    “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available,” read a message on the WIC page of USDA.gov.

    The defunding, which doesn't affect USDA programs for school lunches and food

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  • U.S. does about-face on Afghan War ally's visa status

    The Shinwari family were granted visas only to be told they were being put on hold two weeks later. (Courtesy Janis Shinwari)

    Is the Taliban trying to sabotage Afghan War ally Janis Shinwari’s escape to the United States?

    Earlier this month, Shinwari, who served as an interpreter for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan for nearly seven years, learned the State Department had finally granted him and his family visas after a two-year application process and background check.

    But 14 days later the Shinwaris’ request to seek refuge in the U.S. was put on hold again. As of Tuesday, the visa status of Shinwari, his wife and their two young children remained in “administrative review.”

    “From time to time, after a visa has been issued, new information will become available indicating that a person who has been issued a visa may not in fact be eligible for that visa,” a State Department official wrote in an email to Matt Zeller, a former Army captain who has been aggressively lobbying for Shinwari’s clearance.

    “Because the issuance of a visa is also a national security decision, consular officers examine every case

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  • Army aide threatened by Taliban finally gets US visa

    Army veteran Matt Zeller and his Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari in 2008 (Courtesy of Matt Zeller)
    [Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET]

    U.S. war ally Janis Shinwari is coming to America.

    Last week Yahoo News detailed the plight of the Afghan interpreter, who says he has become the target of Taliban death threats while waiting for the State Department to decide on his request to seek refuge in the United States.

    Shinwari applied to move to the United States two years ago under a special immigration program for people who helped American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the request has been mired in red tape.

    On Monday, Yahoo News learned he finally got his answer.

    “I don't think I've ever heard him that happy,” Matt Zeller, a U.S. war vet, wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “Janis is so overjoyed he's already started selling off household goods and making plans to hide out for the last month.”

    The 35-year-old Afghan native was Zeller’s interpreter in 2008. Zeller, a former Army intelligence officer, has been aggressively lobbying for Shinwari’s visa. The pair celebrated by phone in an

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  • Afghan aide targeted by the Taliban fears US may leave him behind

    Janis Shinwari with U.S. and Afghan forces at a police command post. (Courtesy of Matt Zeller)

    The message recently scrawled on the hood of Janis Shinwari’s pickup was yet another reminder the Taliban wants him dead.

    “They wrote the ‘Judgment Day is coming,’” Shinwari told Yahoo News by phone from Kabul.

    Since 2006, Shinwari has worked as an interpreter for U.S. troops, assisting American soldiers fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Insurgents consider Shinwari a traitor and routinely warn his family that they plan to behead him.

    “Each second, each minute, each hour I feel that I am not safe,” says Shinwari, a 35-year-old married father of two young children.

    With the U.S. steadily withdrawing from his homeland, Shinwari knows he needs out too. But despite applying to move to the U.S. two years ago under a special immigration program for people who helped American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Shinwari is still waiting for an answer.

    “They won’t tell us why it takes so long,” he says.

    Shinwari is one of thousands of interpreters and military aides bogged down in the visa

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  • College athletes' honesty caught on security camera

    Steroid scandals, murder charges and accusations of autograph peddling. Now how about a good news story from the world of sports?

    Four football players from William Paterson University went shopping at a general store in Wayne, N.J., on Sunday afternoon. After spending several minutes trying to locate the store clerk, two of the players who needed sunglasses and batteries were captured on store security cameras leaving money at the register.

    Buddy’s Small Lots store manager, Marci Lederman, was taken by their honesty.

    “They picked up a few items, and they left cash on the counter and waved to the cameras,” Lederman told Yahoo News. “Who does that?”

    Thomas James, Kell’E Gallimore, Jelani Bruce and Anthony Biondi do that.

    The NCAA Division-III Pioneers haven’t had a winning season in nearly 20 years, but life’s rewards are sometimes sweeter than those earned on a football field.

    “It doesn’t surprise me that they did what they did,” said Jerry Flora, the Pioneers’ head coach. “That’s the

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