Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • Florida lawmakers vote to expand ‘stand your ground’ law

    Less than a week after a jury failed to convict Michael Dunn of first-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers passed a bill out of committee on Thursday that would expand the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law.

    Dunn, 47, was charged with murdering 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside a convenience store last year. Dunn said he feared for his life after he asked Davis and three other teenagers to turn down the music in their car. He claimed he saw a shotgun in their car and then fired 10 shots, three of which hit and killed Davis. No gun was found in the car.

    A Jacksonville jury deadlocked on Saturday on a first-degree murder charge against Dunn, convicting him for firing shots at the car while it was fleeing the scene but not for Davis’ murder. Dunn could face 75 years in prison on the lesser charges. The state announced this week that it will retry Dunn for murder.

    The verdict — handed down seven months after

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  • NYC mayor fends off angry kids over snow day

    Mayor Bill de Blasio has been on the job for only six weeks, but he has already thoroughly alienated one constituency.

    Luckily for him, they’re not old enough to vote.

    “GO AWAY NO ONE LIKES YOU” and “are u stupid?” were just a few of the angry Twitter messages blasted at the New York City public schools’ official account by the city’s school kids, after de Blasio announced late Wednesday night that schools would not shutter in the face of 14 inches of projected snowfall.

    On Facebook, New York kids and others joined a newly created “Impeach DeBlasio” page, whose description is “RIP Snow days.” The page features images of cars completely covered in snow overlaid with de Blasio’s advice to travel safely.

    Parents are sensing a new-found interest in the city’s politics among their young, who have been granted only one snow

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  • The children of Syria’s bloody civil war: exclusive look

    Five-year-old Sara dreams nearly every night that she is slowly surrounded by snipers who then open fire, shooting her again and again until she finally dies. Her older sister Farah, just 8 years old, can calmly tell the difference between a rocket and a tank shell, based solely on the sound it makes when fired close to her home.

    The sisters — featured in a documentary called “Children of Aleppo” airing on "Frontline" Tuesday evening — live in a rebel-controlled part of the ancient Syrian city that is under near-constant siege from dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime. More than 10,000 children have died in Syria’s bloody civil war, which is stretching into its third year, and another million have been driven from the country as refugees.

    Assad is fighting both moderate rebels who want to set up a democratic society and al-Qaida linked terror groups who have co-opted the revolution from the original rebels. The first segment in the two-part "Frontline" documentary, called "Syria's Second

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  • Top Obama supporters scold president over Guantanamo foot-dragging

    One-time mentors and fundraisers for President Barack Obama admonished him in an open letter on Thursday for his failure to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

    The president promised to shutter the prison in 2008 but has blamed congressionally imposed restrictions and diplomatic hurdles for his failure to do so over five years in office. In the letter, a bipartisan group of Chicago lawyers — many who know Obama personally — argue that the president has all the authority he needs now to transfer prisoners out and has no excuse for inaction.

    Signatories include Chicago civil rights attorney Judson Miner, who gave Obama his first job out of law school, and Steven Cohen, a top bundler who raised more than $650,000 for the president during his two campaigns. Judge Abner Mikva, who offered a young Obama a clerkship and later became his mentor, also signed the letter. Some Republicans also joined, including former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.

    About half of the remaining detainees in

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  • As Afghan war draws down, hope for some Gitmo detainees

    The approaching U.S. deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014 may help free a handful of Guantanamo detainees by the year’s end, with or without President Barack Obama’s blessing.

    There are 17 Afghan detainees left in Guantanamo out of a total prison population of 155. Lawyers for some of these men argue that the legal basis for holding them indefinitely without charge will unravel when the U.S. draws down its troop presence from their country at the end of this year as scheduled. Human rights activists, meanwhile, are making the broader and more controversial argument that the U.S. will no longer be at war, period, at the end of 2014, and thus will be compelled to charge or release every Gitmo inmate.

    The deadline is clearly on Obama’s mind. “...With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” he said in his State of the Union speech last week. The president

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  • Obama not waiting for Congress on clemency for crack offenders

    An unlikely alliance between tea party Republicans and Democrats in the Senate could result in relief for thousands of federal inmates imprisoned under outdated drug sentences that treated crack cocaine dealing as a far greater offense than selling powder cocaine.

    But the long-awaited movement on the issue isn’t sweeping enough — or fast enough — for the Obama administration, which announced its plans to relieve crack offenders through the executive power of clemency the same day the Senate passed its bill out of committee.

    The Senate bill would make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act — which narrowed the legal disparity between crack and powder cocaine — retroactive, as well as lowering the minimum number of years drug offenders are automatically sentenced to. That means thousands of inmates hammered with lengthy sentences for dealing as little as five grams of crack under the old laws could soon qualify for release or for shorter sentences.

    The harsher federal punishments for crack, a drug

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  • ACLU bankrolling gay nuptials in ‘My Big Gay Illegal Wedding’ contest

    Brian Jensen and Jeromy Manke, a same-sex engaged couple in Nevada, are in the running to win a free trip to New York City, $5,000, and help from a wedding planner to fund their spring nuptials in California.

    Who would bankroll their nuptials? An organization that spends far more time defending civil liberties in court than at wedding receptions.

    The American Civil Liberties Union—worried that the public thinks the same-sex marriage battle is “over” after the Supreme Court’s twin decisions expanding gay rights last summer—is paying five same-sex couples who live in states that still outlaw the practice to get married.

    Jensen and Manke are one of dozens of gay couples competing in the usually staid ACLU’s tongue-in-cheek online contest called “My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding.” Same-sex couples that live in the 33 states that ban gay marriage submit their wedding ideas, photos, and love stories, competing against each other for votes to win cash for their weddings. Five of them will be

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  • Obama vows to close Guantanamo in State of the Union

    President Barack Obama mentioned closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay for the first time in a State of the Union speech since he took office.

    "With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” Obama said in his speech Tuesday, which largely focused on economic inequality. “We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world."

    The 12-year-old prison in Cuba, which Obama vowed to close while on the campaign trail in 2008, holds just 155 remaining prisoners, most who have never been charged with a crime. Half of the detainees have been cleared for transfer to other countries, but various political and diplomatic hurdles have left them languishing there. The president vowed to shut it down in his first address to the joint chambers of Congress in 2009,

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  • 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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