Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • Holder promises ‘nationwide’ investigation into IRS targeting

    Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department investigation into IRS employees singling out conservative nonprofits for extra scrutiny will be a broad, nationwide one based in Washington.

    "This is something that we will base in Washington, and that way we can have a better impact nationwide," Holder said in response to tough questioning from lawmakers at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon.

    Holder said he launched an investigation last Friday into why the IRS subjected conservative groups to more review when they applied for tax-exempt status. The IRS inspector general's report said that a group of low-level staffers in an Ohio office were responsible, and a top IRS official has apologized on their behalf.

    Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., asked Holder at the hearing whether an "apology" from the IRS protected them from criminal prosecution. Holder answered, "No."

    The DOJ investigation will go beyond Ohio and look into any allegations of targeting elsewhere, Holder said. He noted it's possible civil rights laws have been violated. "We will take a dispassionate view of this," Holder said. "This will not be about parties ... anyone who has broken the law will be held accountable."

    At the hearing, Holder faced pointed questions from both sides of the aisle over the twin scandals that have dogged the Obama administration this week: the IRS revelations and the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors. In his prepared statement at the hearing, Holder mentioned neither topic, instead focusing on the Justice Department's commitment to civil rights, immigration reform and the reversal of sequester cuts.

    During the hearing, Holder also said he realized there's been "criticism" of the department's decision to subpoena records for the private and work phones of more than 20 AP reporters and editors without notifying them first. But he added that he was unable to say why the investigation's scope was so large or why it was kept secret from the AP because he had recused himself from the matter along with the rest of the national security division. Deputy Attorney General James Cole signed the subpoena, he said.

    "I am not involved in the case," Holder said.

    Holder said he didn't believe there is any documentation of his recusal, and acknowledged that it would be better practice to document all of his recusals in writing.

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  • Senators reject biometric tracking in immigration reform

    A traveler uses a biometric scanner at the George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in 2008. (Dave Einsel/Getty Image)

    A bipartisan group of senators voted against adding a biometric system to the sweeping immigration reform bill that would ensure people on tourist, student and other temporary visas leave the country when they are supposed to. The failed amendment was one of the most controversial additions to the bill considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee at Tuesday's hearing.

    Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, backed the amendment that would have required the government to use fingerprints and other biometric data to track visitors when they leave the country at airports and other ports of exit. Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, argued the system would be too expensive to implement. It was voted down 6-12, with two Republicans joining the 10 Democrats in opposing it. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who helped draft the original bill, said he opposed the amendment because the government hasn't shown "the will or the desire" to implement the system, and he doubted including it in the bill would change that.

    Despite some conservative opposition to the immigration bill, attempts to significantly alter the bill have failed in the committee mark-up process so far.

    The current immigration reform bill seeks to legalize most of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country and prevent future illegal immigration though an employment verification system and more border security measures. About 40 percent of the unauthorized immigrants currently in the country entered legally and then overstayed their visas, which Sessions argued raises national security concerns.

    After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress passed a bill mandating that the government institute a biometric tracking system for people on temporary, nonimmigrant visas such as for tourism. Twelve years later, the system still hasn't been implemented due to cost and other complications.

    The Department of Homeland Security estimated it would cost up to $6.4 billion to implement a biometric tracking system in the nation's airports, according to a report in USA Today. It's unclear how much it would cost to install similar technology in the country's land ports, where nearly 80 percent of people enter the United States.

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  • Minnesota to legalize gay marriage

    Minnesota senators approved a gay marriage bill on Monday, meaning the Midwestern state will soon be the 12th in the union to allow same-sex couples to wed.

    Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.

    Just last week, Delaware lawmakers voted to allow gay marriage in the state. In April, Rhode Island also passed a same-sex marriage law. Gay rights advocates point to California, Illinois, Oregon and New Jersey as the next states that might join the wave of gay marriage legalization.

    More than 35 states ban same-sex marriage either through laws or voter-passed amendments to their constitutions. Public opinion has rapidly shifted on the issue, with a slight majority of Americans now saying they support it in polls.

    Correction: An earlier version of this article referenced a fabricated story about Rep. Michele Bachmann.

  • Kermit Gosnell guilty of murder in 3 infants’ deaths

    Kermit Gosnell, shown in an undated photo released by the Philadelphia district attorney's office.A jury has found abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell guilty of three counts of first-degree murder after deliberating for 10 days on the case.

    Prosecutors are expected to now seek the death penalty for Gosnell.

    The 72-year-old was charged with killing four premature babies by severing their spinal cords after they were born alive in his Philadelphia clinic. He was acquitted of one of those charges and convicted in three. Gosnell was also found guilty in the accidental death of a patient who died after receiving an abortion and a lethal mix of sedatives and painkillers at his clinic.

    Gosnell's lawyers argued during the trial that no babies were born alive in the clinic.

    A 2010 federal investigation described the West Philadelphia clinic as a filthy "house of horrors" that primarily served low-income women seeking late-term abortions. The nearly 300-page grand jury report said remains of fetuses were stored in freezers and that instruments used in abortions were contaminated with sexually

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  • Notre Dame professor tackles ‘myth’ of Christian martyrdom

    A stained glass window of Saint Perpetua, an early Christian martyr, in the church of Notre Dame. (Gaetan Poix)Candida Moss, a professor of early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and a practicing Catholic, wants to shatter what she calls the “myth” of martyrdom in the Christian faith.

    Sunday school tales of early Christians being rounded up at their secret catacomb meetings and thrown to the lions by evil Romans are mere fairy tales, Moss writes in a new book. In fact, in the first 250 years of Christianity, Romans mostly regarded the religion's practitioners as meddlesome members of a superstitious cult.

    The government actively persecuted Christians for only about 10 years, Moss suggests, and even then intermittently. And, she says, many of the best known early stories of brave Christian martyrs were entirely fabricated.

    The controversial thesis, laid out in "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom," has earned her a lot of hate mail and a few sidelong looks from fellow faculty members. But Moss maintains that the Roman Catholic Church and historians have known for centuries that most early Christian martyr stories were exaggerated or invented.

    A small group of priest scholars in the 17th century began sifting through the myths, discrediting not only embellished stories about saints (including that St. George slew a dragon) but also tossing out popular stories about early Christian martyrs.

    Historians, including Moss, say only a handful of martyrdom stories from the first 300 years of Christianity—which includes the reign of the cruel, Christian-loathing Nero—are verifiable. (Saint Perpetua of Carthage, pictured in the stained glass window above, is one of the six famous early Christian martyrs Moss believes was actually killed for her faith.)

    Moss contends that when Christians were executed, it was often not because of their religious beliefs but because they wouldn't follow Roman rules. Many laws that led to early Christians’ execution were not specifically targeted at them—such as a law requiring all Roman citizens to engage in a public sacrifice to the gods—but their refusal to observe those laws and other mores of Roman society led to their deaths.

    Moss calls early Christians “rude, subversive and disrespectful,” noting that they refused to swear oaths, join the military or participate in any other part of Roman society.

    Moss can at times seem clinical when attempting to distinguish between true and systematic persecution of Christians for their faith and intermittent violence against them for refusing to conform.

    "If persecution is to be defined as hostility toward a group because of its religious beliefs, then surely it is important that the Romans intended to target Christians,” she writes. “Otherwise this is prosecution, not persecution."

    With true government persecution, victims have no room to negotiate when trying to convince the government to stop targeting them, Moss said. But when the government’s laws inadvertently lead to the persecution of Christians, there remains room for dialogue and debate over changing those laws.

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  • At NYC May Day rally, calls for a more liberal immigration reform bill

    Protesters criticize the current immigration reform bill on May 1 in New York City. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

    One might imagine that activists at the pro-immigrant, pro-labor May Day rally in New York City would be happy about the bipartisan immigration reform bill currently in the Senate. But signs and activists at Wednesday's rally called the current draft bill an "unjust" plan that would leave out too many immigrants in its legalization scheme and focus too much on increased enforcement at the border.

    One popular sign at the rally featured the face of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., behind barbed wire. The words: "No to Schumer and the Gang of 8," in Spanish—referring to the eight senators who hashed out the plan.

    Some activists said the immigration compromise—which would trade stricter enforcement of current laws for a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants—is unjust and unacceptable.

    The rally was part of 85 May Day demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and other cities pushing for immigration reform and labor rights. They drew thousands of protesters, according to organizers.

    "I speak for most immigrants when I say the gang of 8 is doing a bill that will give us almost nothing," said Carlos Canales, a community organizer from Freehold, N.J. "It's going to end up to be an elitist immigration reform."

    Canales said he's organizing a hunger strike in front of Schumer's New York office in the coming weeks to urge him to change the bill to address criticisms from the left. Canales objects to the requirement that immigrants who want to be legalized must prove they've been employed since December of 2011 to qualify. He said many unauthorized immigrants will have trouble proving employment because they work in more transitory jobs that don't keep records.

    A Schumer spokesman, Max Young, said the bill has drawn "wide support among prominent Latino and pro-immigration organizations." And an organizer of the May Day rallies, Ben Monterroso, stressed before the rally that "there's so many good things in the bill," even if activists have some concerns.

    "Sen. Schumer is working with the length and breadth of the Hispanic community to pass an immigration bill that accelerates family reunification and that sets a path to citizenship that gets all eligible 11 million people out of the shadows and into legal status as quickly as possible," said Young.

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  • Poll: Tsarnaev should be tried in nonmilitary court

    A makeshift memorial near the finish line of the Boston Marathon (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

    Nearly 75 percent of Americans want Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, to be tried in a nonmilitary federal court, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds.

    Seventy percent said they believe Tsarnaev should be put to death if found guilty.

    Past polls have shown that Americans are generally more supportive of trying terrorism suspects in military rather than civilian courts. The pollsters aren't sure why the Tsarnaev case isn't aligning with that trend.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others have called for Tsarnaev to be treated as an "enemy combatant" and held indefinitely without a lawyer, but that would almost certainly be illegal since no one has connected the 19-year-old to a larger terror network. Tsarnaev is also a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil, which would complicate any efforts to try him in the military system.

    Authorities questioned Tsarnaev for 16 hours before reading him his Miranda rights. He has now been assigned attorneys, and has reportedly

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  • Zimmerman says no to ‘stand your ground’; case going straight to trial

    George Zimmerman (R) arrives in Seminole Circuit Court with his attorney, Mark O'Mara, on April 30. (Joe Burbank, Pool/Getty)

    George Zimmerman has waived his right to a pretrial hearing over whether he should be acquitted of murder charges under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

    Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who's charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, said Tuesday in court that he did not want the preliminary hearing, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

    The surprising move by Zimmerman's legal team means the controversial case will go straight to trial in early June.

    Zimmerman had the right under Florida's 7-year-old "stand your ground" law to argue to the judge in a special hearing without a jury that he's immune from both civil and criminal prosecution. The law, versions of which are on the books in 20 states, says people who have a reasonable belief their lives are in danger in a public place can harm an attacker without first attempting to retreat.

    The 29-year-old says he acted in self defense when Martin attacked him on Feb. 26, 2012. Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled Martin, pursuing him around the neighborhood, and then confronting and killing him with his gun.

    Jose Baez, an Orlando area defense attorney who worked on the Casey Anthony trial, said he thinks the decision to pass up the immunity hearing means Zimmerman's attorneys are going for an "all or nothing" defense and don't want to show their hand too early.

    "The defense doesn't want to give the prosecution a preview of its defense should they lose on the 'stand your ground' hearing when it comes trial time," theorized Baez. "Obviously, a prosecutor would be much better prepared after he's had his shot to cross examine Mr. Zimmerman. He can only get better at it the more he does it."

    But the choice to forgo the hearing means that even if Zimmerman is acquitted of charges in trial, he can still face civil prosecution. Martin's parents have already won a civil settlement in excess of $1 million from Zimmerman's homeowners' association.

    Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said he may still argue that his client deserves

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  • Anti-abortion movement seeks new laws with Gosnell trial

    Anti-abortion protesters at January's March for Life in Washington. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

    Anti-abortion activists are harnessing the outrage generated over the trial of a Philadelphia abortion doctor to pressure lawmakers to pass more restrictive abortion laws.

    The activists say the trial of 72-year-old Kermit Gosnell, which concludes Monday as attorneys on both sides make their closing arguments, shows that late-term abortions are inhumane and unsafe and should be banned.

    Gosnell is charged with murder in the deaths of four babies who were born alive after abortion procedures (he is alleged to have cut their spinal cords) and in the death of a woman who died of a drug overdose he allegedly administered.

    Gosnell faces other charges, including violating Pennsylvania's law against performing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy; violating a state law requiring a 24-hour waiting period for patients before obtaining an abortion; and of endangering child welfare by employing a 15-year-old in the clinic, which investigators labeled a "house of horrors."

    Abortion foes say Gosnell's crimes are representative of larger abuses in late-term abortion clinics, while abortion rights advocates say he is a criminal outlier who would not have been stopped by more regulations.

    One player in the anti-abortion movement, the Susan B. Anthony List, is lobbying for a bill to ban all abortions performed in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The group has generated thousands of letters to lawmakers in support of the "D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," which was introduced by Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks. The group is also hoping to convince lawmakers to introduce a national version of the bill.

    "What is the difference between killing a baby minutes before delivery compared to moments after? Only the barest of legal nuances," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement tying the proposed D.C. law to Gosnell's alleged crimes. “It is an outrage that in the shadow of the Capitol, children can legally have their lives ended through methods equally brutal to those employed by Gosnell."

    The proposed 20-week ban is part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation that is attempting to directly challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which said the government cannot ban abortions that take place before a fetus can survive outside the womb. (The point of viability is considered to be at about 24 weeks, though that point is debated.)

    This year, 10 states have passed or are poised to pass legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health issues. Arkansas and North Dakota went even further, recently banning abortions that occur when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

    On Friday, President Barack Obama criticized some of those laws in a speech to Planned Parenthood.

    “A woman may not even know that she’s pregnant at six weeks,” he said of the North Dakota law.

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  • More than 1,000 suits against NuvaRing may go to trial this fall

    A NuvaRing contraceptive. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty)Rachel Lietzke Payne started using NuvaRing in 2008, when she was a 20-year-old college student. The contraceptive device appealed to her because it was easy to use. Birth control pills have to be taken every day, but NuvaRing, which came onto the market in 2001, is inserted into the vagina and removed each month—and is just as effective at preventing pregnancy.

    One Monday in October of 2010, more than a year after she first began using the vaginal ring, Payne met her father for a standing lunch date at Buffalo Wild Wings in Casselberry, north of where they lived in Orlando. When she and her dad walked out of the restaurant, Payne suddenly fell ill and spat up quarter-size chunks of blood onto the cement.

    Payne was rushed to the hospital, where she spent 10 days being pumped with anticoagulants to thin her blood. She was diagnosed as having developed a blood clot in her lung, a condition that could have been fatal. “It took them a while to figure out that it was blood clots, because I was 22 at the time,” said Payne, who is now a married 25-year-old aspiring air traffic controller with a toddler son. She was also a nonsmoker and fit, and she had no family history of blood clots, all potential risk factors.

    But the doctors landed on what they believed might have caused the clotting: the NuvaRing.

    Payne is now one of more than 1,000 women suing Merck & Co.—the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the birth control—in a federal district court in Missouri. They allege that the company’s device caused them to suffer blood clots—in a few cases, fatal ones—the risks of which they say they were inadequately warned about.

    The suits are the latest in a pricey legal backlash over a variety of hormonal contraceptives that have come to the market in the past 10 years. Thousands of women sued over the Ortho Evra patch, citing studies that showed a higher blood clot risk compared to traditional birth control pills, costing Ortho McNeil, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, millions of dollars. And as of 2012, more than 10,000 suits had been filed against Bayer, the makers of Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills, which has set aside more than $1.5 billion to settle claims.

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