Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • Exclusive: Democratic senators file amicus brief in Hobby Lobby birth control case

    In a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, 19 Democratic senators are siding with the Obama administration against evangelical Christian businessmen who argue that paying for their employees’ birth control, a requirement under Obamacare, violates their company’s religious freedom.

    The senators—five of them women—argue in their “friend of the court” brief that the owners of the Oklahoma-based crafts store chain Hobby Lobby are not exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate simply because some forms of birth control offend their religious beliefs.

    Hobby Lobby’s owners, David Green and his family, are suing the federal government over the mandate, which says large employers’ insurance plans must offer birth control without co-pays or else face steep fines.

    A lower court upheld the Greens’ case, ruling that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the Greens from having to adjust their insurance plans to cover contraception for their 13,000

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  • Guantanamo prisoners use yoga to battle feelings of hopelessness

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Exactly five years after President Barack Obama signed an executive order shutting down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, 155 men are still detained there, most without charge.

    The prison’s staff is constantly battling the possibility that inmates — depressed over their lengthy and indefinite detention — may commit suicide, which would further inflame the diplomatic problems Gitmo has already created. In an interview with journalists earlier this month, psychologists who care for the inmates said they treat the detainees’ feelings of hopelessness with yoga, talk therapy, medication and other tactics.

    “Things like guided imagery exercises, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises,” said a clinical psychologist who wished to be referred to as “Dr. Chicago” to protect her anonymity. (The military does not allow most Gitmo employees to be named or photographed for security reasons.) “We have handouts for poses and stretches for yoga,” she added.

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  • What will happen to the remaining Guantanamo detainees?

    In order for President Barack Obama to fulfill his aging campaign promise of shutting down the 12-year-old prison at Guantanamo Bay, he must charge, release or move the remaining 155 men there.

    The Guantanamo Review Task Force, made up of representatives from the Defense Department, Justice Department and four other U.S. agencies, decided in 2010 that about half of the remaining detainees should be transferred to their home countries or other host countries to be resettled. The group decided 36 of the terror suspects, including accused 9-11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, should be prosecuted. Finally, the task force believes 46 of the detainees are too dangerous to release, but does not have enough evidence to charge them. Even if the prison is shut down, the government would want to move these 46 men to another detention facility and keep them there indefinitely. (A special parole board created by the president will review the indefinitely detained cases periodically to see if any

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  • Seven words you won’t hear in Guantanamo

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba--Last week, I went on a media tour of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where the U.S. military is holding 155 men who were deemed “enemy combatants” in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates by the Bush administration.

    Most of the remaining prisoners at Gitmo have never been charged with a crime and nearly 80 of them have been cleared for transfer to other countries by the Obama administration. Others the government believes are too dangerous to release, but it does not have enough admissible evidence to charge them. Various diplomatic, legal and political hurdles have left these men languishing, thwarting President Obama’s aging campaign promise to close the Cuban prison down.

    In the meantime, the military allows journalists to tour parts of the controversial detention facility and its tropical surroundings in small groups chaperoned by cheerful public affairs officials. They stress that the prisoners are treated humanely as they await the end of their

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  • Why isn’t the media allowed to talk to Guantanamo detainees?

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba It’s been 12 years this week since the first terror suspects arrived at what was then a makeshift, open-air military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Since then, thousands of journalists have been allowed to visit the Cuban base and ask why the government is still holding most of these men without charges and to see what their detention conditions are like.

    Most, if not all of these reporters, have asked the military if they could speak to a prisoner. They’ve all been denied. In 12 years, no reporter has ever been allowed to interview a prisoner at Gitmo, as the prison is often called, though some detainees have spoken to the media after they were released.

    On a Guantanamo media tour last week with two other journalists, I took a shot and asked for an interview with a prisoner. The answer was an emphatic no. The military cited the Geneva Conventions to explain why. Article 13 of the third convention, adopted in 1949, says prisoners of war must be protected from

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  • Deportations dropped 10 percent last year

    The Obama administration deported 10 percent fewer people last fiscal year than the year before, arguing that immigration agents were focused on removing undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

    Nearly 370,000 people were deported in the year that ended this September, compared with 409,849 the year before, according to official numbers released Thursday.

    In total, 1,833,228 people have been deported since Obama took office in 2009, prompting immigration reform advocates to label him “deporter in chief.” The president is on pace to deport significantly more immigrants than his predecessor, even as he pushes for a stymied immigration reform bill that would offer citizenship to millions.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says 59 percent of those who were deported last year had been previously convicted of a crime, including traffic offenses. Most of the people who were deported who did not have a criminal record were apprehended on the border.

    “ICE focused interior enforcement

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  • Deportations on track to drop to a 6-year low

    The Obama administration likely deported the fewest people in six years last fiscal year, according to new Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.

    The downward deportation trend is a sharp reversal for the administration, which has consistently increased removals to record-breaking levels each year, far outpacing deportation levels under President George W. Bush.

    According to ICE data first reported in Bloomberg Businessweek and confirmed by Yahoo News, 343,020 people were deported between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 7, 2013. If deportations continued at the same pace until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, that would mark a six-year low for removals. During the fiscal year ending in 2012, the administration removed 409,900 people.

    The low deportation figures come at a time when President Barack Obama is facing pressure from some in his party and immigration activists to issue an executive order halting deportations for immigrants who have not committed felonies until immigration

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  • Post Newtown, elementary schools reject the traditional lockdown

    In the wake of last year’s fatal shooting of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many schools are no longer relying solely on the traditional “lockdown” response to an armed intruder and are teaching students and teachers to fight back.

    In the past, most teachers were told to lock classroom doors and hide their students if a gunman entered the school. But over the summer, the federal Department of Education endorsed a more aggressive approach, encouraging teachers to evacuate their kids from the building, barricade doors, and even “incapacitate the shooter,” if possible.

    Now, school districts are implementing drills — alongside fire, tornado and other safety drills — to practice this new response. Children as young as 6 are told over the loudspeaker that a “bad guy” with a gun is in the school, and then they practice what they would do if that really happened.

    Some schools have opted for uber-realistic “active shooter” drills that have angered some parents

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  • Fast food strikes hit NYC: ‘We should get more respect’

    NEW YORK--Thousands of workers walked off fast food and retail jobs in more than 100 cities Thursday, protesting what they call poverty wages that do not allow them to support themselves or their families.

    Reynetta Bennett, a 23-year-old Wendy’s employee, joined a rally of dozens of union members and workers in downtown Brooklyn Thursday. The protesters gathered outside the Wendy’s sliding doors, which were locked, chanting that they wanted to be paid $15 an hour.

    “I just think we should get more respect,” Bennett, who makes $8.15 an hour after seven years at her job, told Yahoo News. “We should get paid a decent wage.”

    Fast food jobs are no longer just for teenagers looking to get a little bit of job experience and pocket change after school. Nearly 70 percent of fast food workers are the primary bread-winners for their families, according to a study from the University of Illinois that was funded by a group pushing for higher wages for the workers. About a quarter of workers are

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  • Would raising teacher pay boost America's low test scores?

    America’s lackluster performance on international math, reading and science tests released Tuesday has rekindled the debate over the status and pay of U.S. teachers.

    American 15 year-olds again had mediocre scores on the tests, which are administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development every three years and compare global problem solving and other education skills. Students in Shanghai, Japan, Korea and Singapore scored the highest on all three tests, followed closely by Switzerland and the Netherlands.

    Despite spending more per pupil than most countries, American students were ranked in the middle of the pack, and scored 26th in the world on the math test, close to Hungary, Russia and the Slovak Republic.

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned Tuesday that the scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, showed “stagnation” in the U.S. education system.

    The OECD report, did, however highlight one possible solution: paying teachers better to

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