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

  • Baltimore: Latest
  • Iran bill: “Poison pill” amendments
  • SCOTUS: Inmates’ lethal injections
  • Bernie Sanders: Running for president 2016
  • Nepal quake: Frustration grows
  • Officials couldn’t spot gyrocopter over DC
  • GOP budget: Crucial vote looms
  • Abe addresses Congress: Vague
  • Fed: Nope, not raising rate – yet
  • House GOP: ban bogus birthright babies
  • Hostile military takeover in Texas??
Baltimore: Latest

• Freddie Gray was “intentionally trying to injure himself” while in a Baltimore police transport van, another prisoner in the van with Gray said. The second prisoner, separated from Gray by a partition, told investigators he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the van (how did he know it was intentional?) (WaPo, AP, HuffPo, TRNS, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• Gray, 25, suffered a severed spine and died a week later. The DoJ has launched an investigation into the incident. Jason Downs, an attorney for Gray’s family, said, “We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord.”

• Thousands of people hit the streets of Baltimore and several other cities, from Boston and New York to Indianapolis and Washington DC, on Wednesday to protest the death of Gray and to demand reforms to police procedures. There were some arrests, including 16 in Baltimore and at least 60 in New York

• After meeting with faith leaders and a lawyer for the Gray family, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said officials were working hard to make the investigation into Gray’s death transparent and keep the community informed. Police have said they’ll turn over findings from their investigation to the state’s attorney on Friday – tamping down expectations

• In a speech Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said police militarization needs to stop, black incarceration is a major problem in America and police everywhere should wear body cameras. In one of the weirdest spectacles in major-league history, the Baltimore Orioles game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards on Wednesday was closed to the public for safety reasons
• Tweet from Chris Rock: “Blamed for #BaltimoreUprising: Obama Bad Parenting Liberals Baltimore Mayor Thugs Not blamed for uprising: Cops who killed Freddie Gray” / Listen: Calm returns to Baltimore (TRNS)
Iran Bill: “Poison Pill” Amendments

• Senators voted 45-54 Wednesday to block a GOP amendment from Sen John Barrasso (R-WY) to a bill requiring an Iran nuclear deal to be reviewed by Congress. The amendment would have required President Obama to certify as part of a diplomatic deal that Iran hasn’t carried out or directly supported an act of terror against the U.S. or a U.S. citizen (Hill, Bloomberg, me)

• The Senate also rejected 57-39 an effort by Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI) that would require any nuclear deal to be considered an international treaty, which would have forced any accord to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate’s 100 members

• Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) is refusing to back away from his amendment to force Iran to recognize Israel, one of seven controversial amendments he has. He sparred on the floor with an angry Sen Ben Cardin (D-MD) Wed. Later, a group of GOP senators huddled with Rubio, including a stone-faced Sen Bob Corker (R-TN) (fly on wall)

• In a set of blustery remarks at NYU Wednesday, Iranian FM Javad Zarif said within a few days of a deal, the UN Security Council would pass a resolution lifting all sanctions and requiring Obama to stop enforcing all U.S. sanctions immediately. “However he does it, that’s his problem.” The U.S. would have to endorse this resolution “whether Senator Cotton likes it or not.”

• Zarif also said that if the next American president tries to change or withdraw from the agreement: “The American president is bound by international law, whether they like it or not. And international law requires the U.S. live up to any agreement this govt enters into. You know that, maybe Senator Cotton doesn’t.”
• A clearly goaded Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) fell for the bait and responded furiously on Twitter, offering to meet Zarif in DC anytime to debate “Iran’s record of tyranny, treachery and terror.” He suggested Zarif would decline because “in your 20s, you hid in U.S. during Iran-Iraq war while peasants & kids were marched to die.” (Cotton = silly man)
SCOTUS: Inmates’ Lethal Injections

• Lawyers for three condemned Oklahoma prisoners argued that the sedative midazolam, which was involved in three prolonged and apparently painful executions last year, couldn’t reliably produce a state of deep unconsciousness before other, severely painful drugs were injected, causing unconstitutional pain and suffering (NYT, AP, TRNS, me)

• “Let’s be honest about what’s going on here,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito said. “Executions can be carried out painlessly.” He added, “Is it appropriate for the judiciary to countenance what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death penalty?” The prisoners are asking that lower court rulings permitting the use of the drug in executions be overturned

• “Suppose that we said we’re going to burn you at the stake, but before we do, we’re going to use an anesthetic of completely unknown properties and unknown effects,” said liberal Justice Elena Kagan, who likened the effect of injecting potassium chloride, a heart-stopping agent used in lethal injections, to “being burned alive from inside.”

• But Justice Antonin Scalia said that the barbiturates traditionally used, and proven to be reliable, weren’t available “because the abolitionists have rendered it impossible.” Chief Justice John Roberts said that in this situation, where each plaintiff is clearly guilty of a capital offense, “you put us in a position of arguing that he can’t be executed.”

• Interactive map: Cumulative number of executions state by state (fascinating) since 1976 – 1,407 (Pew Research Center, Vox)

• Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often the swing vote, spoke little but appeared to share some of the skepticism of the conservatives. The justices could also decide to send the case, Glossop v. Gross, back to the district court to re-examine the medical questions

• Oklahoma and several other states have turned to midazolam as the initial agent in lethal injections because manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. have refused to sell them the barbiturates that were traditionally used to render prisoners unconscious

• But midazolam was implicated in three prolonged executions last year in which prisoners appeared to suffer. In April, Clayton Lockett regained consciousness during the procedure and writhed and moaned after the IV line was improperly placed

• Many legal experts hope that the court will provide clearer guidelines for lethal injection methods as many states, because of the drug scarcity, try new combinations and purchase drugs from secret sources, including lightly regulated compounding pharmacies

• The Supreme Court Wednesday upheld Florida’s ban on the personal solicitation of campaign donations by candidates for judicial office. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberals, writing: “A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor – and without having personally asked anyone for money.” (Politico, Hill)

Bernie Sanders: Running for President 2016

• Promising to fight what he deems “obscene levels” of income disparity and a campaign finance system that’s a “real disgrace,” Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 73, said Wednesday he will run for president as a Democrat. He plans to formally join the race today. He enters the race as a robust liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton (AP, me)

• “People should not underestimate me,” Sanders said. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates.”

• “This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans. … You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.” The son of an immigrant from Poland who sold paint for a living in Brooklyn, Sanders has for decades championed working-class Americans

• Sanders boldly predicted Wednesday that his message would appeal to both fellow independents and Republicans. He touched on his past opposition to free-trade agreements, his support for heavier regulation of Wall Street and the nation’s banking industry and his vote against the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a preview of his campaign

• Sanders starts his campaign as an undisputed underdog against Clinton. “I respect her and I like her,” he said. “I voted against the war in Iraq,” he said.”Sec Clinton voted for it when she was in the Senate.” Sanders will make money and politics a central theme of his campaign
Nepal Quake: Frustration Grows

• Frustration is growing in parts of rural Nepal over the pace of relief efforts, with some badly-affected villages yet to receive any assistance. Survivors in some areas said that they were angry that neither food nor medicine has reached them. The UN has appealed for $415 million over the next three months (BBC, Reuters, al Jazeera, me)

• Officials say Saturday’s quake killed more than 5,500 people, and injured at least 11,000. Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy has been found alive in a damaged building in Kathmandu and pulled from the rubble

• The UN says more than eight million people have been affected by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake and some 70,000 homes have been destroyed. The govt says it’s been overwhelmed by the disaster. In several villages north-east of the capital, there’s been no help from the govt or aid agencies even though supplies could easily be brought in, a BBC reporter says

• Some villages were devastated by the quake. And in the village of Sangachowk, angry villagers blocked the main road with tires and stopped trucks of rice and other aid headed for other areas. There are long lines for food and water around Kathmandu

• Riot police faced an angry crowd in Kathmandu. Buses to take people from Kathmandu to their homes in rural areas are crammed to capacity. Thousands were waiting for buses to take them to rural areas. Witnesses said a truck carrying drinking water was forced off the road and protesters climbed on top of it, throwing the bottles into the crowd
Officials Couldn’t Spot Gyrocopter Over DC

• A small gyrocopter that flew through miles of the nation’s most restricted airspace before landing at the U.S. Capitol was “indistinguishable” on radar from non-aircraft such as a flock of birds, a kite or a balloon (bloody big one?), FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday. It appeared as an “irregular symbol” on radar (AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• Navy Adm William Gortney, commander of NORAD, said Wednesday, when asked directly if the copter could have been shot down, said no, contradicting testimony from Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine. “We did not have a detection,” Gortney told the committee. (witnesses being tossed under fleets of buses) Reps of seven agencies attended Wednesday’s hearing

• Dine testified earlier that Capitol police saw the copter “seconds before it landed” on the Capitol lawn and could have shot it down but chose not to do so, in part because of the potential danger to tourists and other bystanders. Dine called his officers’ actions “heroic” and said police “quickly approached the individual and arrested him” as soon as the copter landed

&&&

• Committee chair Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said after the hearing, “It took them two weeks to get their story straight, but it’s still in conflict.” With so many agencies sharing responsibility, “Who’s going to take the shot if need be?” Capitol police notified senators but not House members (!) of lockdown, the House Sergeant at Arms said – a lapse he vowed not to be repeated (oh I dunno)

• Dine said police were contacted just before 1 pm EDT by an employee of the Tampa Bay Times, who said a local man was flying a gyrocopter to the Capitol as a form of protest. No time or date info was provided regarding the flight, Dine said

• The newspaper employee later IDd the man as Douglas Hughes and said Hughes had told the paper he had permission from the Secret Service and Capitol Police, Dine said. No such permission was granted by either agency, according to Dine and Secret Service chief Joseph Clancy, who also testified (want to hear from the Tampa reporter)

GOP Budget: Crucial Vote Looms

• Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a joint House-Senate budget that aims to torpedo Obamacare while balancing the federal books within 10 years. The release of the blueprint sets up a vote in the House on Friday, with the Senate expected to follow next week. GOP leaders can only afford 27 defections from their ranks if Democrats unanimously oppose it (Hill, TRNS, me)

• The new budget, bowing to the Senate, would only give reconciliation instructions to three House committees – signaling the focus of reconciliation will be Obamacare. Legislation passed under reconciliation can’t be filibustered in the Senate. The initial House budget gave 13 House committees reconciliation instructions

• Senate Republicans also balked at House language giving seniors the option of enrolling in private insurance under Medicare. They feared the idea, championed by Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI), would hurt them ahead of an election cycle in which they’re defending 24 seats (it would)

• The budget contains no tax hikes and would cut more than $5 trillion in spending over the next decade. It retains a ceiling on spending set up by a separate 2011 budget law that the WH has argued should be ignored, but it would boost military spending through an infusion of cash to the Pentagon’s war fund

• House and Senate negotiators reached a final deal after Sen Bob Corker (R-TN) dropped a hold on the agreement. He had criticized “gimmicks” that deal with changes in mandatory spending programs. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the GOP budget plan would “ransack America’s future.”
• House Republicans Wednesday night abruptly pulled their first spending bill of the year off the floor after it became clear that a bipartisan amendment to strike part of a multibillion-dollar Pentagon budget increase might actually pass. They’ll vote today at the earliest (Politico)

 

Abe Addresses Congress: Vague

• Japanese PM Shinzo Abe faced a Congress divided by President Obama’s drive to obtain fast-track negotiating authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other nations on the Pacific Rim. Lawmakers in both parties have questioned Abe’s ability to open Japan’s agriculture and auto markets to American products – big question remaining (NYT, TRNS, me)

• And beyond promises, Abe didn’t offer concrete concessions. “Japan’s agriculture is at a crossroads,” he said, in the first address by a Japanese PM to a joint session. “In order for it to survive, it has to change now.” “The TPP goes far beyond just economic benefits. It is also about our security. Long-term, its strategic value is awesome.”

• Most Democrats remain resolutely opposed to granting their own president the ability to negotiate trade agreements that Congress couldn’t amend. Rep Steve Scalise (R-LA), the GOP vote counter in the House, suggested Wednesday that the House wouldn’t be able to pass the authority on Republican votes alone

• Abe was vague when referencing Japan’s forced enslavement of South Korean women in WWII. “History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone,” he said, recounting a Wed visit to the WWII memorial. “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous PMs in this regard.”

• After the speech, Rep Mike Honda (D-CA), who had invited a Korean “comfort woman” to the speech, said in a release: “He refused to explicitly mention the “comfort women” nor their sexual enslavement. Today’s refusal to squarely face history is an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women from the Asia-Pacific who suffered during WWII. This is unacceptable.”
Fed: Nope, Not Raising Rate – Yet

• Federal Reserve officials attributed the economy’s sharp first-quarter slowdown to transitory factors, in effect signaling an increase in short-term interest rates remains on the table for months ahead although the timing has become more uncertain. The chances of a rate increase by midyear have diminished (WSJ, me)

• The Fed’s two-day policy meeting concluded Wednesday a few hours after the Commerce Dept reported the U.S. economy grew at a 0.2% annual rate in the first quarter. It was the worst performance in a year, pocked with evidence of a slowing trade sector and anemic business investment. Also annual consumer price inflation slowed in the first quarter

• For now, the Fed isn’t signaling any shift in its policy stance. It repeated it would keep its benchmark short-term interest rate, the federal funds rate, near zero. The statement said, as it did in March, that the Fed would raise rates when officials became reasonably confident that inflation is moving towards the Fed’s 2% objective and as long as the job market continues to improve

• The statement also said officials saw the risks to the outlook were balanced. Many officials believe that conditions are ripe for consumer spending to pick up in the months ahead, in part because employment, incomes and confidence have risen and falling gasoline prices have boosted household purchasing power. Nobody dissented at the meeting

 

House GOP: Ban Bogus Birthright Babies

• A House Judiciary subcommittee took up the question of abolishing birthright citizenship Wednesday afternoon, prompted by legislation sponsored by (yup) Rep Steve King (R-IA) and 22 other lawmakers that, after nearly 150 years, would end automatic citizenship, i.e. ban “anchor babies” and “birth tourism” under guise of protecting 14th Amendment (WaPo, me)

• Judiciary Committee Republicans brought in three witnesses (a Democratic witness was opposed) and could only muster up a bizarre witness: an octogenarian professor from University of Texas named Lino Graglia. He said in 1997 that Latinos and blacks are “not academically competitive with whites” and come from a “culture that seems not to encourage achievement.”

• He said at the time: “I don’t know that it’s good for whites to be with the lower classes.” (not sure it’s good to be with him) Then in 2012 he said that black and Hispanic children are less “academically competent” than white children, and attributed the gap to the “deleterious experience” of being raised by single mothers
“Pickaninny” = “Non-Germane”

• This is the same Lino Graglia whose nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s fell apart amid allegations that he had urged Austin residents to defy a court-ordered busing plan and had used the racist word “pickaninny” in the classroom

• Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) mentioned Graglia’s “pickaninny” comment and his position on busing. After Lofgren’s time expired, Graglia blurted out: “Your bringing up … this alleged statement of ‘pickaninny’ is in the nature of slur. I don’t know why you’re bringing up these insulting things that have nothing to do with” his testimony

• Then, Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) read aloud some of Graglia’s other comments about minorities. “It seems some underhanded move is being made here,” the prof protested, saying he “never made a comment that implied the inferiority of any group.” (not underhanded, out in the open. and his comments didn’t imply – flat out stated inferiority)

• Gutierrez asked that Graglia’s past statements be entered into the record. But Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) complained that the line of inquiry was “a non-germane subject for this hearing.” (right, because racism doesn’t play into this at all…)

 

Hostile Military Takeover in Texas??

• Gov Greg Abbott (R-TX) Tuesday asked the State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise dubbed “Jade Helm 15” amid internet-fueled suspicions (flat panic) that the war simulation involving about 1,200 special forces is really a hostile military takeover (AP, WashTimes, RawStory, Austin-American Statesman, me)

• Wednesday, WH spox Josh Earnest said the participants wouldn’t be incognito, but would be wearing armbands. As for the governor, “I have no idea what he’s thinking. Then: “I might have an idea of what he’s thinking, but I’m not going to…” to laughter of many reporters at the WH

• At a special meeting Monday of the Bastrop County TX commissioners, Army Lt Col Mark Lastoria tried (failed spectacularly) to assure fired-up residents that the training op will be routine. “The terrain is very challenging and it’s going to make our soldiers sweat, and sweating in peacetime is what we want because it’s going to reduce the bleeding in wartime.”

• But: “It’s the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany,” Bob Wells told Austin-American Statesman. “You get the people used to the troops on the streets, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police. They’re gathering intelligence. That’s what they’re doing. And they’re moving logistics in place for martial law. That’s my feeling.” (uh huh)

• Lastoria tried to assure the crowd that no intel would be gathered, no property would be confiscated and no psy-ops would be conducted. Lastoria assured participants that the UN wasn’t involved in the ops, but the crowd jeered when he told them he wasn’t familiar with Agenda 21 (well, he would say that if he’s part of it…) – another conspiracy theory

• Map: Your state’s cliche online dating profile – the most distinctive word in profiles compiled by Match.com – by state – it’s great – and kind of weird (Mashable, me)

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______________________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald, James Cullum, Loree Lewis, Midori Nishida and Mary Jarvis contributed to this report

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