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President Obama has publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first U.S. president to do so. In an interview with ABC News, Obama said his stance had partially evolved through the indirect influence of his daughters.
President Obama: “Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them. And frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective.”
Obama chose to address the issue days after Vice President Joe Biden declared his support for same-sex marriage, which had set off new calls for Obama to clarify his stance. Despite offering his personal endorsement, Obama said he still believes same-sex marriage is an issue of “states’ rights” — to be decided by states, not by the federal government. Just this week, voters in North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, while in Colorado, Republicans blocked a same-sex civil unions bill in the state House, prompting Gov. John Hickenlooper to convene a special session beginning on Friday.
Dozens of people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a pair of bombings in the Syrian capital of Damascus. One of the blasts struck near the headquarters of Syria’s intelligence services. It was one of the deadliest attacks to hit the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the 14 months since an anti-government uprising began.
At least five people have been killed in an apparent U.S. missile attack in the south of Yemen. Yemeni officials said the victims were militants in the al-Qaeda stronghold of Jaar. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has confirmed it is sending military trainers and special operations forces back to Yemen to work with Yemen’s military. Earlier this week, it was revealed the CIA thwarted a bomb plot originating in Yemen with the help of a Saudi informant acting as a double agent.
The Obama administration is hosting Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in Washington just as the Bahraini regime is vowing a harsher crackdown on anti-government protesters. Appearing with al-Khalifa at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to directly mention the repression of protests, referring only to Bahrain’s “internal issues.”
Hillary Clinton: “Bahrain is a valued ally of the United States. We partner on many important issues of mutual concern to each of our nations and to the regional and global concerns, as well. I’m looking forward to a chance to talk over with His Royal Highness a number of the issues both internally and externally that Bahrain is dealing with and have some better understanding of the ongoing efforts that the government of Bahrain is undertaking. So, again, Your Royal Highness, welcome to the United States.”
Clinton’s comments come one day after the Bahraini government vowed to escalate its crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. Speaking to Reuters, a Bahraini government spokesman said, “We are looking into the perpetrators and people who use print, broadcast and social media to encourage illegal protest and violence around the country. If applying the law means tougher action, then so be it.” The warning came days after the arrest of the prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. In a statement, Amnesty International declared Rajab a “prisoner of conscience” and called for his immediate release. Another prominent activist, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, has been on a hunger strike for three months protesting his life imprisonment. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Greece’s main leftist party has dropped its effort to form a coalition government after failing to convince rival parties to oppose austerity measures demanded by international lenders. Alexis Tsipras of the Coalition of the Radical Left had launched the coalition effort after a strong showing in weekend elections. But on Wednesday, Tsipras said no agreement is possible with politicians who agree to the bailout terms.
Alexis Tsipras: “In life, there is no such thing as a little bit pregnant, just as there is no such thing as a little bit of bailout agreement. Either they’re wrong policies, just like the bailout, which we will continue in larger or smaller doses, and it will lead us toward catastrophe, or we will demand another solution, beyond these mistaken, catastrophic policies.”
Greece’s Socialist party, which supports the austerity package, will now attempt to form a coalition. If no party can pull it off, another round of elections could be held next month.
The European Union has delayed a major loan to Greece pending the outcome of the coalition-government talks. The E.U. says it will proceed with a $5.4 billion loan today, but will delay the disbursement of over $1.2 billion until Monday. In Brussels, E.U. Commission President José Manuel Barroso said Greece faces a cutoff of aid and other penalties if the austerity deal isn’t met.
José Manuel Barroso: “There is an agreement between Greece and the euro area, all the euro area member states and European institutions. Greece has to respect this agreement, as the other countries have to respect this agreement. It’s a question of credibility not only for Greece, but for the euro area as a whole. And this is very important to understand, that if this agreement is not respected, it will be very negative for Greece.”
Hundreds of people marched in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday for a rally outside the annual shareholders’ meeting of the financial giant Bank of America. Demonstrators from a number of groups gathered to protest Bank of America’s support for the coal industry, as well as its record on foreclosures. Todd Zimmer of the Rainforest Action Network said Bank of America’s funding of the coal industry has harmed cities like Charlotte.
Todd Zimmer: “I’m here because the price that we pay for Bank of America’s profit from coal funding is too high. So, in this community, one in four Charlotte kids will develop respiratory disease or asthma as a result of Bank of America’s coal funding. And not only that, but Bank of America’s funding for coal is putting the entire future of our planet at risk, because it drives runaway climate change. We should not have to bear these burdens and face these perils so that Bank of America can make a profit.”
The Justice Department has confirmed plans to sue Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for civil rights violations including the racial profiling of Hispanics. A DOJ probe late last year accused Arpaio of targeting Hispanic residents, illegally detaining them and then denying them basic rights behind bars. Settlement talks between Arpaio and federal officials broke down last month over Arpaio’s resistance to allowing an independent monitor of his department. On Wednesday, the DOJ said it had provided Arpaio with a “notice of intent to file civil action.” Arpaio says he will fight the suit.
The parents of a U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan for nearly three years have revealed their son has been the subject of talks for a prisoner swap with the Taliban. Twenty-six-year-old Bowe Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since going missing in June 2009. His parents now say the United States had come close to reaching a deal to free five Guantánamo Bay prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl’s release, but that the talks ultimately stalled. The Bergdahl family says they are now speaking out publicly to help pressure the White House to win their son’s return.
A new analysis of the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop and frisk” program shows police have overwhelmingly targeted young black and Latino men. The New York Civil Liberties Union found about 87 percent of people who were stopped by police last year were black or Latino. While young black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 make up less than 5 percent of the city’s population, they constituted nearly 42 percent of stops last year. The NYCLU also found the program was largely ineffective at recovering illegal firearms. Of those frisked by police, less than 2 percent were found to have a weapon. Nine out of 10 people stopped were neither arrested nor ticketed. The report analyzed electronic data initially concealed by the NYPD, but ultimately released under orders from the State Supreme Court. The “stop and frisk” program has drawn widespread protests for targeting young people of color.
Vermont is poised to become the first U.S. state to ban the natural gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The Vermont legislature has sent a measure imposing the ban to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is expected to sign it into law.
New climate data shows the period from May 2011 to April 2012 was the warmest ever recorded in the United States. The average temperature over the 12-month stretch was nearly three degrees Fahrenheit above last century’s average. In recent months, the United States has seen several notable signs of climate change, including the warmest March on record.