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May 9, 2017

Leaked audiotapes reveal that Italian authorities delayed responding to a capsized refugee boat's pleas for help, resulting in the drowning of 268 Syrians, including 60 children, The Washington Post reports.

The 2013 shipwreck has long been considered one of the most tragic examples of the dangerous crossing migrants attempt in order to reach Europe. The ship had at least 480 passengers on board when it left northwestern Libya for the Italian island of Lampedusa, but it capsized 61 nautical miles south of its goal. Italian and Maltese ships were able to save some of the passengers, but the majority of the refugees drowned before responders reached the boat.

On Monday, the Italian magazine L'Espresso published tapes showing that Italian authorities had known the refugee ship was in trouble hours beforehand but refused to respond, The Washington Post reports:

... [At] 12:39 p.m., passenger Mohanned Jammo, a doctor who survived the shipwreck and who had a smartphone with him, calls the headquarters of the Italian coast guard in Rome asking for help. "The boat is going down" and "water is coming into it," he says. A woman can be heard asking for his position, which he gives.

At 1:17 p.m., Jammo calls again, asking if the coast guard has sent anyone. He is answered by a man who tells him to call Malta instead. "You are near Malta," the man claims. In truth, the ship was 61 nautical miles from Lampedusa — but 118 nautical miles from Malta.

In a third conversation, at 1:48 p.m., Jammo again calls the coast guard, saying he called Maltese authorities and was told he is closer to Lampedusa. "Lampedusa is Italy?" he asks. "We are dying, please." [The Washington Post]

In another conversation from 4:44 p.m., an Italian coast guard officer tells the Maltese Navy that a nearby Italian ship would not respond to the refugee boat's distress calls because Italy would then be "in charge of transfer to the nearest coast." While Malta was willing to respond, its closest ship was 70 nautical miles away while Italy's closest ship was just 20 nautical miles away.

After sending a surveillance plane to check on the capsized boat, Malta again called the Italians, this time at 5:07 p.m., to encourage an urgent response as their own navy ship could not reach the Syrians in time. Only then did the Italians finally respond.

Read the full report at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

May 25, 2019

People love a good mystery, and President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, provided the public with an Italian restaurant-themed enigma that remains unsolved.

Giuliani told his Twitter followers late on Friday night to check out a Yelp review for a restaurant called Mama Lisa. There was just one problem — the former mayor of New York forgot to include a link, leaving everyone in the dark.

Giuliani didn't seem to notice his mistake, however, sending an unrelated tweet shortly after. But the fact that it slipped Giuliani's mind doesn't mean others missed it. This is the internet, after all, which means several people hopped right on it, relishing the opportunity to try out some of their best political humor.

It remains to be seen which review, exactly, Giuliani was referring to, but — for what it's worth — customers generally seem to agree with him about the high quality of Mama Lisa's food and service. Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

Maine became the fourth state — joining California, Mississippi, and West Virginia — to end most non-medical exemptions for mandatory childhood vaccines, The Hill reports.

The state's governor, Janet Mills (D), signed the bill, which eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions and will go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns. Now, only doctors and pediatric primary care givers can determine if there is need for a medical exemption.

Maine reportedly has one of the highest rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions in the country. Last year, The Hill writes, the kindergarten vaccination opt-out rate was 5.6 percent, more than three times the national average. But with a confirmed case of measles in the state, it appears Maine's government was not taking any chances. "It has become clear that we must act to ensure the health of our communities," state Rep. Ryan Tipping (D) said.

Still, there are opponents to the new bill, who emphasize religious freedom. "We are pushing religious people out of our great state," state Sen. Lisa Keim (R) said earlier this month. "And we will be closing the door on religious people who may consider making Maine their home. We are fooling ourselves if we don't believe an exodus would come about." Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

Intelligence officials are concerned about the new authority Attorney General William Barr holds concerning classified information, The Washington Post reports.

On Thursday, by way of executive order, President Trump granted Barr the power to reveal government secrets during the attorney general's review of what the White House calls "surveillance activities during the 2016 election." Trump has long maintained that the U.S. government was spying on his campaign in an attempt to undermine the election process.

It is reportedly unprecedented for an official who does not head an intelligence agency to have the ability to disclose such information, which has some people worried that Barr could selectively declassify information, distorting the roles of the FBI and CIA during their investigations into 2016 Russian election interference. Others are concerned that Barr could compromise sources "deep inside the Russian government."

The Post reports that Trump's decision stems from his greater sense of trust in Barr than in Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. "This is a complete slap in the face to the director of national intelligence," James Baker, the former FBI general counsel, said. Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director, described the situation as "another destruction of norms that weakens our intelligence community." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

President Trump has tapped Ken Cuccinelli as the new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While Cuccinelli's hiring was reported as early as Tuesday, it remained unclear what exactly Cuccinelli's role in the Department of Homeland Security would be. He'll replace the agency's current director, L. Francis Cissna, whom The Washington Post describes as having "deep expertise" when it comes to immigration law, but was forced out following criticism from Trump senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

Cuccinelli is considered an immigration hardliner and is known for his "combative" television appearances and enthusiastic support for Trump's immigration proposals. He has, however, drawn ire from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly vowed to block Cuccinelli from getting confirmed for any position. McConnell reportedly blames Cuccinelli for promoting insurgent candidates running against sitting Republicans during the 2014 midterm elections. Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

Some of the momentum gathered by states seeking to implement more restrictive abortion measures in recent weeks was halted when a federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction, blocking a Mississippi law that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

Attorneys for the state's only abortion clinic said the law would effectively make all abortions illegal because most women are not yet aware of their pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat is first discovered. The bill makes an exception when the mother's health is at risk. The law, which is one in a series of Republican-sponsored abortion bills across the United States, was scheduled to take effect in July.

The judge, Carlton Reeves, wrote that a woman's free choice "outweighs any interest the state might have in banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat." Reeves also blocked a 2018 Mississippi law that would have banned abortion at 15 weeks. The state is still appealing that decision. Reeves added that the fact Mississippi lawmakers passed another ban after the first was struck down "smacks of defiance to this court." Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

As anticipated, President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in response to rising tensions between the United States and Iran, allowing him to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, all despite congressional objections.

Congress had blocked the sale of offensive weaponry to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months as a result of those countries' air campaigns in Yemen and other human rights abuses. But Trump used a loophole to circumvent Congress and go ahead with the sale.

The emergency declaration was met with bipartisan disapproval. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said there is no new emergency reason to supply Saudi Arabia with arms and "doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis" in Yemen. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) called the decision "unfortunate" and said he would have preferred the Trump administration "utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sales were necessary to deter Iran, but that the decision to side step Congress was a "one-time event." Tim O'Donnell

May 25, 2019

A federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction on Friday temporarily blocking the government from constructing a wall in two sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border using funds diverted from the Defense Department, throwing a wrinkle into President Trump's national emergency declaration.

Construction was set to begin on Saturday, but the order — which applies specifically to two areas along the border near Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, where a total of 51 miles of fencing was set to be built — will put that on hold. The construction of additional segments, announced too late for Friday's decision, will reportedly be taken up in June.

The judge, Haywood S. Gilliam, wrote that Congress' "absolute" control over federal funding is an "essential" feature of the United States government and that Trump's emergency declaration would "pose serious problems under the Constitution's separation of powers principles." The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision a "win for our system of checks and balances." Gilliam's ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Tim O'Donnell

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