- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Smuggler’s faulty maneuver turned would-be rescue into worst Mediterranean shipwreck in memory

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) - Rescue seemed so close at hand.

A ship with experience plucking migrants from unseaworthy smuggler’s boats had arrived soon after the distress call went out. But then the fishing trawler’s navigator made a maneuver that would seal the fate of the 850 people crammed inside: Instead of easing up alongside the merchant ship, he rammed it.

Relief gave way to panic. Terrified migrants rushed to one side, the trawler seized and capsized. What might have been another rescue in a period of unprecedented migrant crossings instead turned into a horrifying statistic: The deadliest shipwreck ever in the Mediterranean Sea.

The accounts of survivors who arrived early Tuesday in this Sicilian port 48 hours after the disaster offered new details of the tragedy. The traumatized witnesses corroborated a death toll of at least 800, making the capsizing “the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have ever recorded,” the U.N. refugee agency said.

Just 28 migrants, all men and boys in their teens, survived. And despite the enormous toll, only 24 bodies were recovered - frequently the case when ships sink on the high seas, especially when most passengers are locked below deck, as was the case Saturday night.

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AP Exclusive: Bush prepares to remake the traditional campaign by tapping super PAC

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The traditional presidential campaign may be getting a dramatic makeover in Jeb Bush’s bid for the White House as he prepares to turn some of a campaign’s central functions over to a separate political organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money.

The concept, in development for months as the former Florida governor has raised tens of millions of dollars for his Right to Rise super PAC, would endow that organization not just with advertising on Bush’s behalf, but with many of the duties typically conducted by a campaign.

Should Bush move ahead as his team intends, it is possible that for the first time a super PAC created to support a single candidate would spend more than the candidate’s campaign itself - at least through the primaries. Some of Bush’s donors believe that to be more than likely.

Architects of the plan believe the super PAC’s ability to raise unlimited amounts of money legally outweighs its primary disadvantage, that it cannot legally coordinate its actions with Bush or his would-be campaign staff.

“Nothing like this has been done before,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes limits on campaign finance donations. “It will take a high level of discipline to do it.”

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. MIGRANT DEATHS IN MEDITERRANEAN COULD TOP 30,000 THIS YEAR

That toll would be nearly 10 times the 2014 total of 3,279, itself a record, the International Organization for Migration notes.

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Saudi-led coalition says ‘Decisive Storm’ campaign against Yemen rebels over, new phase begins

NAJRAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia declared an end on Tuesday to its nearly monthlong “Decisive Storm” air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and announced the start of a more limited military campaign aimed at preventing the rebels from operating.

Speaking at a news conference in Riyadh, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said the campaign of heavy airstrikes would be scaled down, but did not confirm whether they would stop altogether.

“There might be less frequency and the scope of the actions might be less, but there will be military action,” Asiri said.

He said the goals of the coalition’s new phase, called “Renewal of Hope,” are to prevent Houthi rebels from “targeting civilians or changing realities on the ground.”

The U.S.-backed campaign by Saudi Arabia, which was launched March 26, was aimed at crushing the Houthis and allied military units loyal to former autocratic Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had taken over the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. The kingdom says the aim is also to restore to power President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee Yemen to Saudi Arabia last month.

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Obama’s attorney general nominee heads for confirmation vote after Senate logjam broken

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama’s long-stalled nominee for attorney general, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, is on her way to a confirmation vote after senators extricated themselves Tuesday from a partisan dispute over abortion that had stood in her way.

An agreement announced by Senate leaders allowed both Republicans and Democrats to save face on a once-uncontroversial bill to help sex-trafficking victims that had turned into a litmus test on abortion.

Although that issue was not connected to Lynch, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had been holding off her nomination vote until the trafficking issue was resolved.

The long delay since Lynch was nominated last fall has provoked increasingly agitated protests from Democrats and Obama, who last week called the situation “embarrassing,” even though Democrats had controlled the Senate for part of that time and had failed to bring her up for a vote.

Lynch, who would become the nation’s first black female attorney general, replacing Eric Holder, is now the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She has been waiting 164 days for a vote, far longer than most other recent attorney general nominees.

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DEA chief retiring amid mounting pressure on Capitol Hill to resign in wake of agent scandal

WASHINGTON (AP) - The embattled head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday that she plans to retire after three decades with the agency, an announcement that came amid mounting pressure for her resignation from members of Congress who questioned her handling of misconduct allegations against agents.

Michele Leonhart, a career drug agent who has led the agency since 2007 and was the second woman to hold the job, had been widely criticized for her response to a scathing government watchdog report detailing allegations that agents attended sex parties with prostitutes in a foreign country.

After Leonhart appeared last week before the House Oversight Committee to respond to an inspector general’s allegations that the agents had received lenient punishments, most lawmakers on the panel announced that they had lost confidence in her. She also was criticized as being “woefully unable to change” the agency’s culture.

The no-confidence statement was signed by 13 House Democrats and nine Republicans, including its chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and the committee’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Chaffetz went a step further, calling for Leonhart to resign or be fired. On Tuesday, the two lawmakers said they welcomed Leonhart’s departure, calling it appropriate and an opportunity for new leadership.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated earlier Tuesday that the Obama administration had “concerns about the material that was presented in the (inspector general) report that raised legitimate and serious questions about the conduct of some DEA officers.” He said Obama “maintains a very high standard for anybody who serves in his administration, particularly when it comes to law enforcement officials.”

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‘Unrepentant and unchanged’: Jury in Boston Marathon trial sees photo of a defiant Tsarnaev

BOSTON (AP) - First, the jury was shown large, vibrant pictures of the four people killed in the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Then prosecutors pulled out the photo they saved for last: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev giving the finger to the security camera in his jail cell.

“This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged,” federal prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini told the jury that will decide whether the 21-year-old former college student should be executed.

The penalty phase in the Boston Marathon bomber’s trial opened in dramatic fashion Tuesday, with prosecutors portraying Tsarnaev as a coldblooded killer and “America’s worst nightmare.”

The government then began trying to drive home the horror of the attack by calling to the stand witnesses who lost legs or loved ones in the April 15, 2013, bombing.

“I remember hearing just bloodcurdling screams. I just remember looking around, just seeing blood everywhere, sort of like debris falling from the sky,” said Celeste Corcoran, who made her way to the stand on two artificial limbs.

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After internal debate, Obama again opts against calling 1915 Armenian killings ‘genocide’

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to fulfill a campaign promise and use the politically fraught term on the 100th anniversary of the killings this week. Officials decided against it after opposition from some at the State Department and the Pentagon.

After more than a week of internal debate, top administration officials discussed the final decision with Armenian-American leaders Tuesday before making it public. The White House said the officials pledged that the U.S. would use Friday’s centennial anniversary “to urge a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts.” That language echoed the administration’s five previous statements on the anniversary, as well as those of previous administrations. But it did not use the word “genocide,” as many had hoped.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama did describe the killings of Armenians as “genocide” and said the U.S. government had a responsibility to recognize it as such. As a candidate in January 2008, Obama had pledged to recognize the genocide and at least one of his campaign surrogates, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, recorded a nearly five-minute video at the time imploring Armenian-Americans to vote for Obama precisely because he would keep his word on the issue.

But, Obama has never used that description since taking office, mainly out of deference to Turkey, a key U.S. partner and NATO ally, which is fiercely opposed to the “genocide” label.

Tuesday’s announcement, accompanied by word that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will attend a ceremony in Armenia on Friday to mark the anniversary, was made shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington.

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Pope accepts resignation of US bishop convicted of failing to report suspected abuser

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Pope Francis accepted the resignation Tuesday of a U.S. bishop who was convicted of failing to report a suspected child abuser, answering calls by victims to take action against bishops who cover up for pedophile priests.

Bishop Robert Finn, who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph in Missouri for nearly 10 years, resigned under canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office. But his resignation did not provide a specific reason.

Finn, 62, is 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75.

In 2012, Finn was found guilty of one misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years of probation, making him the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of not taking action in response to abuse allegations.

Prosecutors say the diocese did not notify police until six months after concerns were raised in 2011 about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computers were found to contain hundreds of lewd photos of young girls.

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Blue Bell says it’s still trying to pinpoint cause of listeria after recalling all products

HOUSTON (AP) - A massive recall has brought more attention and put more pressure on a century-old Texas ice cream company that has been searching to discover how its products became linked to a deadly string of listeria cases.

Blue Bell Creameries said Tuesday, a day after recalling all its products, that it is getting closer to pinpointing the cause of the contamination. Amid those efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that the number of illnesses linked to the company’s products has increased to 10.

“As each day passes, we are getting closer and closer to figuring out how this listeria was introduced into our facilities. … It’s a matter of doing the work and not making excuses,” said Blue Bell spokesman Joe Robertson. He said consumers “are our No. 1 concern.”

The company said a team of microbiologists it hired is working with federal officials at its four facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama to identify the cause of the listeria. Blue Bell is also expanding its cleaning and sanitization system, beefing up its employee training, expanding its swabbing system by 800 percent to include more surfaces and is sending daily samples to a microbiology laboratory for testing.

Blue Bell, which has been in business for 108 years, also said that under a new policy, it will test all products produced at its facilities before sending them out to retailers.

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