TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • SCOTUS: Gay marriage – Kennedy key?
  • Baltimore: Protesters defy curfew
  • Obama: “Do some soul-searching”
  • Japan’s Abe’s addresses Congress: Mention of WWII?
  • SCOTUS today: Lethal injection drug
  • Nepal quake: Help / desperation
  • Pentagon: Iran has seized cargo ship
  • Fed today: Interest rate hike plans?
  • Press freedom: Deteriorating
SCOTUS: Gay Marriage – Kennedy Key?

• Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote could decide the same-sex marriage issue for the nation, seemed torn Tuesday during historic arguments at the Supreme Court. “It’s very difficult for the court to say ‘We know better” after barely a decade of experience with gay marriage in the U.S., Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples (AP, TRNS, NYT, WSJ, TRNS, me)

• The arguments lasted 2 1/2 hours and were over whether the Constitution gives gay couples the right to marry. Those couples can do so now in 36 states and DC, and the court is weighing whether gay and lesbian unions should be allowed in all 50 states

• “Same-sex couples say, of course, ‘We understand the nobility and the sacredness of marriage. We know we can’t procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled,'” Kennedy said in an exchange with lawyer John Bursch, who was defending the state marriage bans

• In the court’s last look at gay marriage in 2013, the justices struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law. Federal courts with few exceptions have relied on Kennedy’s opinion in that case to invalidate gay marriage bans in state after state. The court divided 5-4 in that case, with the liberals joining Kennedy in the majority

• Tuesday, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor both said marriage was a fundamental right and a state would need a truly compelling reason to deny it to a class of people. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said heterosexual couples would retain the same marriage benefits they currently have, whether or not same-sex couples also could marry


“If Sue Loves Joe and Tom Loves Joe…”

• Bursch argued repeatedly that states could prohibit same-sex unions because marriage always has been about biological bonds between parents and their children. Justice Elena Kagan said some people “find it hard to see how permitting same-sex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children.”

• Chief Justice John Roberts said to Bonauto, “You’re seeking to change what the institution

[of marriage] is.” He also said people would be more accepting of change achieved through the democratic process, rather than imposed by courts. Only 11 states have granted marriage rights to gay couples through the ballot or the legislature

• Yet the chief justice also questioned the states’ argument. “If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?” he asked

• Justice Samuel Alito suggested that basing marriage on lasting bonds and emotional commitment – instead of providing stable homes for children – might open the right to marry to siblings who live together or even groups of four people. “What would be the logic of denying them the same right?” he asked (don’t think he mentioned Grumpy Cat)

• Justice Antonin Scalia had various concerns about same-sex marriage, including “who should get to decide the point,” embracing the states’ argument. Justice Clarence Thomas asked no questions. The session was interrupted once by a protester who yelled that supporters of gay marriage “will burn in hell.” He was removed by security


• Slideshow: Supreme Court weighs same-sex marriage (TRNS) (awesome stuff)


Recognize Gay Marriages From Elsewhere?

• In the last part of the session, devoted to whether states have to recognize gay marriages from elsewhere, both Kennedy and Roberts directed skeptical questions to a lawyer for gay couples, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier. Why should one state “have to yield” in recognizing a marriage from another state? Kennedy asked

• And Roberts suggested that states’ rights would be undermined if residents of states that forbid same-sex unions could get married elsewhere, then return home and demand recognition. “One state would basically set the policy for the entire nation,” he said

• Meanwhile, outside the courthouse: “Homo sex is a sin,” read one sign. A man shouted into a microphone that gays violate the laws of God, while a group of same-sex advocates tried to drown him out by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

• The cases come from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, four of the 14 remaining states that allow only heterosexual marriage. Those four had marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in November, the only federal appeals court that has ruled in favor of the states since the Supreme Court 2013 ruling. Decision expected: late June


• The Nigerian military says it has rescued 200 girls and 93 women from an area where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram is active. However, it said the girls abducted from a school in Chibok in 2014 were not among them (BBC)


Baltimore: Protesters Defy Curfew

• A line of police behind riot shields hurled tear gas canisters and fired pepper balls at as many as 200 protesters Tuesday night to enforce a citywide curfew, imposed after the worst outbreak of rioting in Baltimore since after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 (AP, WaPo, TRNS, me)

• Demonstrators threw bottles at police and picked up the canisters and hurled them back at officers. But the crowd rapidly dispersed and was down to just a few dozen people within minutes. The clash came after a day of high tension but relative peace in Baltimore

• The racially charged violence on Monday was set off by the case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of spinal cord injuries under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. Gov Larry Hogan (R-MD) said 2,000 National Guardsmen and 1,000 law officers would be in place overnight

• Baltimore was under a 10 pm – 5 am curfew. All public schools were closed. The Baltimore Orioles postponed Tuesday night’s game at Camden Yards and – in what may be a first in baseball’s 145-year history – announced that today’s game will be closed to the public

• At the WH, President Obama called the deaths of several black men around the country at the hands of the police “a slow-rolling crisis.” But he added that there was “no excuse” for the violence in Baltimore, and said the rioters should be treated as criminals

• At least two people were shot in separate incidents in Ferguson MO on late Tuesday and early today as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in support of protesters in Baltimore (CNN)


Baltimore: Pride / Soul-Searching / Finger-Pointing

• The rioting brought out a sense of civic pride and responsibility in many Baltimore residents, with hundreds of volunteers turning out to sweep the streets of glass and other debris with brooms and trash bags donated by hardware stores

• The violence set off soul-searching among community leaders and others, with some suggesting the unrest was about more than race or the police dept – it was about high unemployment, high crime, poor housing, broken-down schools and lack of opportunity in Baltimore’s inner-city neighborhoods

• Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who is black, said police didn’t move in faster because those involved in the early stages were just “kids” – teens who had just been let out of school. “Do you want people using force on 14- 15- and 16-year-old kids that are out there?” he asked “We had to take that into account while we were out there.”

• Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake waited hours to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, and the governor hinted she should have come to him earlier. “We were trying to get in touch with the mayor for quite some time. She finally made that call, and we immediately took action,” Hogan said. Rawlings-Blake said officials initially thought they had the unrest under control

• Gray was arrested 12 April after running away at the sight of police, authorities said. He was held down, handcuffed and loaded into a police van. Leg cuffs were put on him when he became “irate” inside. He died a week later. Authorities said they’re still investigating how and when he suffered the spinal injury. Six officers have been suspended with pay


• Vid: Angry mother (of the year) repeatedly hits teenage son upside the head when she catches him participating in Baltimore riots. Not a fan of hitting children, unless they’re about to put their hands on the hotplate. This was in extremis and she was right. “He’s my only son. I don’t want him to become another Freddie Gray,” the mom told CBS News (me, WMAR)

Obama: “Do Some Soul-Searching”

• Speaking at a WH presser, Obama said: “We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-Americans, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions. It comes up, it seems like, once a week now.” “This has been a slow-rolling crisis. This is not new. And we shouldn’t pretend it’s new.” (AP, WSJ, Hill, CNN, TRNS, me)

• Obama showed no sympathy for rioters, saying those who broke the law should be treated as criminals. He said they distracted from days of peaceful protests focused on legitimate concerns “over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr Gray and that accountability needs to exist.”

• “There’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday,” Obama said. “It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement, they’re stealing.”

• Obama criticized a society that doesn’t do enough to uplift poor minority communities. He said the solution to deep-seeded problems that spur violence include early education, criminal justice reform and job training. “I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities,” Obama said

• He said America shouldn’t just pay attention to these communities “when a CVS burns” or when “a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.” (yet America likely will, for now at least)

• Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday. He will release a short statement and hold a campaign kickoff event in subsequent weeks. He will be the second Democratic candidate to announce, after Hillary Clinton (VPR, Reuters, TRNS)


Japan’s Abe Addresses Congress: Mention of WWII?

• PM Shinzo Abe will make a historic speech to Congress today, where experts expect he’ll address the future of the U.S.-Japanese relationship and focus largely on security cooperation. But some hope Abe will look backwards to acknowledge Japan’s World War II record (WSJ, me)

• Korean-American groups and U.S. veterans organizations, as well as other human rights and women’s advocates, have pressed for a more direct apology for Japan’s WWII use of “comfort women,” or those forced to be prostitutes in Japanese military brothels, as well as its (appalling) treatment of prisoners of war

• In his over two years in office, Abe and his govt have taken steps to tone down negative portrayals of Japan’s wartime activities, including trying to revise history textbooks to temper depictions of its treatment of “comfort women.” These steps have drummed up anger in the region and abroad, and they take on added significance this year, WWII’s 70th anniversary

• Some WWII veteran groups hope Abe will address prisoner questions during his visit. Two groups wrote separate letters to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week asking him to encourage Abe to acknowledge prisoner of war suffering during WWII by pledging to fund projects and research to acknowledge Japan’s record

• Several lawmakers spoke on the floor last week to urge Abe to apologize for imperial Japanese military’s wrongdoings, including Rep Steve Israel (D-NY). But not all lawmakers agreed. “I don’t really think the joint address is … the venue for that,” said Rep Diana DeGette (D0CO), who co-chairs the Congressional Japan Study Group


• Rep Mike Honda (D-CA), a Japanese-American who has long accused the Japanese govt of failing to own up to atrocities committed during WWII, will bring a Korean “comfort woman” to Abe’s speech today (Hill)


SCOTUS Today: Lethal Injection Drug

• The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments today on whether a drug that’s used first in Oklahoma’s lethal injection mix should be banned in a case that comes as a shortage of execution chemicals has sent some states scrambling for alternatives (Reuters, NYT, me)

• The main question in the case brought by three death row inmates that will be heard today is whether the use of the sedative midazolam violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The case doesn’t address the constitutionality of the death penalty in general

• Opponents say midazolam isn’t approved for use in painful surgeries and shouldn’t be used in the death chamber because it cannot maintain a coma-like unconsciousness, potentially leaving inmates in intense pain from lethal injection drugs that halt breathing and stop the heart. The drug has been used in executions in OK, FL, OH and AZ

• Oklahoma’s lawyers said in court papers the case was a “full-throated attack” on the state’s ability to implement death sentences. Executions in Oklahoma came under greater scrutiny after the flawed injection a year ago of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, who received midazolam and regained consciousness and moaned and writhed after the IV line was improperly placed

• Citing ethical reasons, drug-makers, mostly from Europe, began about four years ago banning sales of drugs for use in executions. States turned to secret sources including little regulated compounding pharmacies for their drugs – and passed laws to conceal the identity of drug suppliers

• Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced the arrest of 93 suspects with ties to ISIS who it says were planning multi-pronged attacks on the U.S. Embassy, security forces and residential compounds where foreigners live (AP)


Nepal: Help / Desperation

• Help has begun to reach remote regions of Nepal affected by Saturday’s earthquake, but many remain in desperate need of food and water. As aid efforts continue in the Kathmandu Valley, the UN says the response is broadening to include areas such as Dhading and Gorkha (BBC, TRNS, me)

• The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit near the capital Kathmandu is known to have claimed more than 5,000 lives. Nepal has declared three days of mourning for the victims. The UN estimates more than eight million people in 39 districts have been affected by the quake. More than 10,000 people have been injured

• Officials have acknowledged that they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and that delivering relief to far-flung villages has been challenging. There are accounts of hungry, desperate villagers in one of the hardest hit districts of Gorkha rushing towards relief helicopters begging to be airlifted

• Many people are desperate to board buses and leave Kathmandu. Anger and frustration have been mounting, with many Nepalis sleeping out in the open under makeshift tents for a fourth night. The UN reported that international search and rescue teams have so far been able to save 14 people from rubble

• Tuesday, a Nepali-French team pulled a 28-year-old man, Rishi Khanal, from a collapsed apartment block in Kathmandu after he had spent about 80 hours trapped in a room with three dead bodies. Aftershocks, landslides, severe damage from the quake and creaking infrastructure have complicated rescue efforts


• Treasury’s IG for tax admin has found roughly 6,400 emails either to or from Lois Lerner from between 2004 and 2013 that it didn’t think the IRS had turned over to lawmakers, congressional committees said. The IRS said last year that Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, leaving it unable to reproduce an untold number of her emails over the prior two years (Hill)


Pentagon: Iran Has Seized Cargo Ship

• Iranian forces boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf Tuesday after patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters, the Pentagon said. U.S. planes and a destroyer were monitoring the situation after the vessel, the MV Maersk Tigris, made a distress call in the Straits of Hormuz (Reuters, Politico, Hill, TRNS, me)

• Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted an unidentified source who said it was a civil matter with no military or political dimensions. But the Pentagon described it as an apparent provocation. The incident came as the U.S. and five other global powers aim to secure a final nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June

• Pentagon spox Col. Steve Warren said it’s a “complex legal question” whether the cargo vessel was in any violation of Iranian territorial waters. “This part of the Strait of Hormuz is apparently Iranian territorial waters. It’s within 12 miles of the Iranian coast. However, because it’s recognized as an international shipping lane, something called ‘innocent passage’ is applied.”

• Warren said the Pentagon was looking into whether the U.S. military – since it contributes to the defense of the Marshall Islands – is obligated to intervene on behalf of the ship. Asked whether it was “inappropriate” for the Iranians to fire a shot at the ship, Warren said, “It is inappropriate.” (as in wtf)

• Iran’s seizure of the vessel follows a maritime standoff between an Iranian cargo convoy that the U.S. was concerned was carrying arms apparently bound for Yemen and a group of American warships in the Arabian sea. After several tense days at sea, the Iranian convoy sailed east, in international waters, off the coast of Oman, according to defense officials


Fed Today: Interest Rate Hike Plans?

• For 6 1/2 years, the Federal Reserve has held its key interest rate near zero. Today, the Fed could clarify its plans about when it will start raising the rate after ending its latest policy meeting. Analysts caution, though, against expecting any specific guidance on the Fed’s timetable for a rate hike (here we go again) (AP, me)

• After its March meeting, the Fed opened the door to a rate increase this year by no longer saying it would be “patient” in starting to raise its benchmark rate. Yet at a presser later, chair Janet Yellen stressed that while the Fed had removed “patient” to describe its approach to raising rates, it still hadn’t decided when to start raising them

• She said any decision would depend mainly on what the latest economic data showed. Employers added just 126,000 workers last month, the fewest since Dec 2013, breaking a 12-month streak of gains above 200,000. A sharp drop in oil and gas prices hasn’t helped boost consumer spending – instead there have been layoffs by oil industry states and investment cutbacks

• As a result, economists have been downgrading their growth estimates for the Jan-March quarter to below 1%. But the biggest drag on the economy has been a sustained rise in the dollar’s value, which has hurt American manufacturers by making their goods costlier overseas. This week comes the govt’s first estimate of growth for the first quarter

• “I don’t think the Fed will have the necessary ingredients in place for a rate hike in June, but I expect economic growth and job gains to accelerate during the summer and that will lay the basis for a rate hike at the September meeting,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics

List: The 181 Clinton Foundation donors who lobbied the State Dept while Hillary Clinton was SecState (Vox)


Press Freedom: Deteriorating

• In its annual report released today, Freedom House says global press freedom declined last year to its lowest point in more than 10 years. Only one in seven people live in countries where coverage of political news is strong, journalists’ safety is guaranteed and state meddling in media affairs is minor, Freedom House said (AP, NYT, me)

• The worst offenders on the Freedom House list were: Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Ranked best: Norway, Sweden and Belgium. The U.S. was ranked 34th on the list of 199 countries and territories assessed (so a bit lame then)

• Freedom House says one main factor driving the overall decline was newly passed restrictive laws against the media. The report cited laws in Russia and Mexico that place new controls on blogs. Physical violence and intimidation of journalists continued to be a problem, especially in places such as Syria and Nigeria

• Govts used “security or anti-terrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices,” said the report’s project manager, Jennifer Dunham. “Militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests.” (hmm – sounds familiar)

• Freedom House ranks countries as free, partly free or not free. Despite the recent diplomatic opening between the U.S. and Cuba, and the release of dozens of political prisoners late last year, the report notes that journalists remained behind bars in Cuba in 2014 and official censorship remained pervasive, leaving Cuba as one of the 10 worst offenders on the list

• Vid: World’s Worst Person of the Week? Horrid man gets removed from a kindergarten concert for shouting across the audience: “English only, USA!” when a Spanish interpreter begins talking. Kindergartners and parents alike cheer. Watch little girl in pink dress clapping – at right of screen (Salon, me)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Ellen Ratner, Shane Farnan, Luke Vargas, James Cullum, Nicholas Salazar, Midori Nishida, Mary Jarvis and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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