Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • A year after Sandy, Red Cross still dogged by criticism


    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A year after Superstorm Sandy tore through New York and New Jersey, displacing tens of thousands of people and racking up billions in property damage, the Red Cross is still facing criticism for its relief efforts.

    Many storm victims and their elected officials slammed the nation’s leading relief agency just after Sandy’s landfall last Oct. 29 for being too slow to get volunteers and supplies out to the hardest-hit areas. Now, nearly 200 Sandy survivors say the Red Cross is denying funds they were promised last year to help them fix their homes.

    The 132-year-old agency had raised $308 million for Sandy relief as of last month, and a spokeswoman says it has spent 90 percent of it so far, most in direct donations to victims and community organizations. While that figure pales in comparison to the more than $60 billion in federal funds approved for Sandy relief, the Red Cross is by far the biggest nongovernment player in relief efforts and is where most people go to

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  • Gay couple uses tribal law to marry in Oklahoma

    A same-sex couple successfully applied for a marriage license in Oklahoma despite the state’s strict rules against gay marriage. The pair used a legal loophole to get the license last Friday under tribal law, which doesn't fall under the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman. They plan to wed Oct. 31.

    Darren Black Bear, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, was able to get a marriage license to wed his partner of nine years, Jason Pickel, because the tribe’s legal system does not specify two people must be of different genders to be wed.

    Rosemary Stephens, the editor in chief of the tribes’ Tribal Tribune, told Yahoo News another gay couple in the tribe wed in December 2012 under the law, but did not make their union public. At least one person in the couple must be an enrolled member of the tribe in order to get a marriage license, however. 

    Stephens said no one in the tribe has raised any objections to the practice of

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  • Many Sandy victims hit with steep flood insurance bills

    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Jean Laurie isn’t taking any more chances.

    Nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy swept through her close-knit neighborhood, destroying 22 houses and killing two of her neighbors, she’s finally getting ready to rebuild the home where she lived for years with her husband and their rescue dog.

    The Lauries got about $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rebuild their waterlogged home. But they decided to knock it down and build a new one, rather than try to repair what looked unfixable.

    Jean Laurie holds a photo of a rendering of what her new home will look like in Staten Island. (Photo by Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

    But that rebuilding comes with a catch. New flood maps drawn up by FEMA, along with reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) enacted in 2012, meant that many residents, including the Lauries, must lift up their homes or face dramatically higher flood insurance rates.

    So the Lauries hoisted their house 13 feet off the ground, so they never have to worry about flooding — or the skyrocketing insurance rates — again.

    Few homes on Staten Island — one of the

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  • Activists chain themselves to ‘deportation bus’ in Tucson, ask Obama to halt all deportations

    More than 20 people were arrested in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday after they chained themselves to buses holding immigration detainees at a federal courthouse.

    Those arrested were among about 100 activists protesting Operation Streamline, a program run by the Department of Homeland Security that prosecutes people suspected of illegally crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico. Activists say they succeeded in delaying the court proceedings for the day, meaning the approximately 70 detainees on the buses the activists chained themselves to were not prosecuted.

    “We delivered a very strong message both to Operation Streamline and also to the president,” said Marisa Franco, an organizer of the protest.

    Protesters frustrated by the lack of progress on immigration reform have sometimes resorted to more drastic tactics, such as Friday's protest and another incident in Tucson earlier this week when activists surrounded Border Patrol agents who were attempting to arrest two men stopped for a

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  • Teachers union launches TV ad blaming GOP for shutdown

    The nation's largest teachers union has made a six-figure TV and online ad buy blaming "tea party Republicans" for the federal government shutdown that's lasted nearly two weeks.

    The National Education Association's ads, which will run in Washington and four states, single out Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Tom Latham of Iowa and Chris Collins of New York. The ads accuse Republicans of playing a political "game" that's resulting in crippling cuts to education, pointing out that tens of thousands of students have been unable to attend Head Start preschool classes because of the shutdown.

    The advertising effort by an outside, left-leaning group is not the first on the issue. The advocacy group Americans United for Change recently announced a six-figure ad buy targeting 10 Republicans. A recent WSJ/NBC News poll found that voters blame Republicans over Democrats for the shutdown by a 20-point margin. The poll also found that only 24 percent of Americans had a

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  • Anti-abortion activists mobilize against Wendy Davis in Texas

    Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis became a national political star by standing up for abortion rights last summer — and conservative Texans in the anti-abortion movement say they won’t let her forget it.

    The 50-year-old Fort Worth lawyer blocked a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a dramatic, 11-hour filibuster at the state Capitol that attracted national attention and the adulation of abortion rights advocates in June. Despite Davis’ pink-sneakered filibuster, the bill eventually passed and was signed into law by outgoing Gov. Rick Perry. (The law shaves off four weeks from the amount of time a woman can legally access an abortion and might result in the closure of a third of Texas' abortion clinics because it requires providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.)

    But when Davis announced her intention to run for governor in her hometown of Haltom City last week, the topic of reproductive rights did not pass her lips. Instead, Davis focused on

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  • 6 things you might not know about Justice Scalia

    The court's conservative firebrand, Antonin Scalia, gave an extensive interview to New York Magazine that reveals a few surprising things about him, from his love of "Seinfeld" to his hatred of social media. Here are six things you may not know about the Ronald Reagan-appointed, originalist justice.

    1. He thinks he has gay friends

    Scalia famously wrote the dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 decision that prohibited states from criminalizing anal sex. Scalia argued that states should be allowed to outlaw a "lifestyle" that they consider to be immoral and skewered the majority opinion that ruled gay people have "the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes … and still retain their dignity as free persons."

    But he told New York Magazine he personally has gay friends and does not hate gay people. "I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does," Scalia said, but added that none of them had told him he or she was gay. "I

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  • Supreme Court to decide whether affirmative action can be left up to state voters

    Just 10 years after the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s use of race in admissions as a necessary step to foster campus diversity, the justices are set to decide whether that state’s voters are allowed to ban affirmative action in admissions entirely.

    The case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, is one of several controversial cases on the docket in the 2013-14 term, which began Monday.

    The justices are also set to decide cases concerning campaign finance, prayer at legislative meetings and abortion rights.

    If the justices decide in Michigan voters’ favor, it could lead to a spate of states banning affirmative action through ballot initiatives and would almost certainly result in declining enrollments of minority students in public colleges around the country.

    In 2006, Michigan voters approved a measure to amend the state Constitution to prohibit the government from “discriminat[ing] against, or grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or

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  • Glitch-ridden Obamacare website going down for maintenance over weekend

    The government website where uninsured people in 36 states are expected to sign up for health insurance is going down during "off-peak" hours this weekend to correct a variety of glitches, the Obama administration announced late Friday afternoon. opened for business Tuesday morning but was plagued by glitches that prevented many users from purchasing insurance. President Barack Obama and his deputies pleaded for patience, saying the site would be improved soon and that its problems stemmed from a large number of visitors flooding the site. The site has logged 8.5 million unique visitors since Tuesday, and the 24/7 call support center fielded 406,000 calls over the same period.

    But the Obama administration won't say how many people actually purchased insurance in the exchange's first week. The Congressional Budget Office estimated 7 million people would sign up on the exchanges during its six-month enrollment period that ends March 31, and millions of them must be young

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