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The April 8 attack on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama took place in waters off the East African coast, about 380 miles east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. It is the latest by the Somali pirates, who have been in the national spotlight on and off over the last year. In late January, French marines received a distress call from The African Ruby alerting them to the presence of pirates in the Gulf of Aden, near Yemen. The marines intercepted the pirates' skiffs and arrested those on board (pictured here).

Newscom/Sipa

One of the suspected Somali pirates that was handed over by the French navy to Somali authorities is seen at the port of Bossaso, Somalia, on January 29.

Newscom/PTS

The MV Faina - pictured here off the coast of Somalia on September 29, 2008 - is a Belize-flagged cargo ship carrying Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on September 28.

U.S. Navy

In April 2008, Somali pirates hijacked a luxury yacht with a crew 30-men strong. The French military launched a daring helicopter raid to release the hostages and seized six of the pirates. Here, crew members of the Ponant yacht make their way to boarding the Jean Bart navy frigate on April 11, 2008.

ECPAD/Sergent Dupont Sebastien/Abaca Press

French marines arrest a Somali pirate. The French naval presence in the area is part of an EU operation named "Atlanta," aimed at protecting merchant ships in the area from the mounting threat of pirates. According to the International Maritime Bureau, attacks increased by nearly 200% last year.

Newscom/Sipa

A U.S. Navy helicopter keeps watch on suspected pirates as the visit, board, search and seizure team prepares to apprehend them February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

French soldiers arresting presumed Somali pirates in the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast. Eight pirates were apprehended while trying to hijack the Panamanian cargo vessel S. Venus.

Newscom/Sipa

A British journalist joins the HMS Northumberland in the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy operation. The frigate led an EU naval force hunting Somali pirates.

Newscom/Zuma

Suspected pirates surrender on February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

A sailor of the Ukrainian Faina ship captured by Somali pirates is welcomed home by relatives at the Kiev International Airport on February 13, 2009. Ukrainian sailors from a hijacked cargo ship arrived in Kiev after more than four months in the hands of Somali pirates.

Newscom/Zuma

Crewmembers from Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship Motor Vessel Polaris climb aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf on February 11, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden, to identify suspected pirates.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

Seven suspected Somali pirates were handed over to the Kenyan authorities in the port city of Mombasa by the German navy on Wednesday, April 8, after being arrested on Sunday for attempting to hijack a German tanker.

Newscom/Sipa

U.S. Sailors aboard the USS Vella Gulf conduct bridge operations on February 11, 2009. Suspected pirates were apprehended by the ship's visit, board, search and seizure team in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy/Jason R. Zalasky

Richard Phillips, Captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk, was taken hostage by pirates on April 8. The missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, pictured, was patrolling in the region and headed to the lifeboat to attempt to extract him. As of early afternoon on April 9, Captain Phillips is still captive.

U.S. Navy/Paul Farley

Credit rating agencies are coming under fire from Congress again -- but this time it's for being too pessimistic. After Moody's issued an unprecedented across-the-board negative credit outlook on all American cities and towns yesterday, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank issued his own negative assessment of Moody's, and scheduled a hearing to investigate:

I am troubled by the action of Moody's Investors Service to issue a negative outlook across the board on America's municipalities, which could raise the interest rates on cities and towns making it more expensive to borrow funds for infrastructure improvements.
On the face of it, this seems like a perverse round of messenger shooting. But last March, as cities and towns across the country started getting flooded with demands for huge payouts rooted in arcane details of "swap" contracts they'd inked with banks that managed their bond offerings, Frank discovered something truly perverse: the public sector was being scammed on multiple fronts by the investment banks underwriting their bond offerings -- and the profits directly fed the disastrous trade of risky mortgage-linked credit default swaps that hastened the financial meltdown.

The scheme started at the credit ratings agencies, which keep two sets of standards for grading corporate and municipal bonds -- and municipalities are held to a much higher standard, as Frank explained in a hearing using Moody's own data:
I will be giving out this chart, sectoral breakdown of Moody's rated issuers and defaulters, 1970 to 2000, general obligation bonds, there it is. Number of issuers 14,775. Number of defaults, 0.

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Earlier this week, Judge Emmet Sullivan formally dropped the charges against former Alaska senator Ted Stevens, thanks to prosecutorial misconduct. And Sullivan also announced that he's appointed a special prosecutor of his own to investigate contempt charges against the six Justice Department lawyers whose string of missteps -- the most serious of which involved withholding key evidence -- doomed the case. That misconduct is also the subject of an internal DOJ probe.

Since then, there's been a tangle of competing claims from all sides. We've seen some critics of the Bush administration suggesting that Justice intentionally sabotaged the prosecution, in order to let Stevens, a Republican, off the hook. Meanwhile, some of the more paranoid figures on the right are arguing that the entire prosecution was an (ultimately successful) effort by liberal DOJ bureaucrats to use bogus charges to create a cloud of suspicion around Stevens and thereby win another Senate seat for Democrats.

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They just can't help themselves! In a live Q&A session today, a reader asked Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane a question that's been on our minds for days now. "I keep hearing the term 'budget cuts,' but the defense budget isn't being cut at all," the reader writes. "Money is being redirected to other defense priorities, but the overall budget is increasing by 4%.... So why is it that certain pols are allowed to spout this inane lie with impunity."

Kane didn't respond to that question, but he did explain that Gates is trying to spend money more wisely...albeit amid a four percent budget cut that's not actually happening.

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Here's what we know about the politics of the Pentagon budget proposal so far.

  1. Very few politicians have spoken up in support of it.
  2. Many of the people speaking out against it are portraying it inaccurately as a "soft-on-defense" spending cut.
  3. This meme has found a fairly strong foothold in the media, which has
  4. Given me quite a bit of work to do this week.


But what do experts (those people who make the defense budget and other Pentagon arcana their stock and trade) have to say?

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Earlier today, my colleague Eric Kleefeld flagged an RNC fundraising letter, written by our old friend Michael Steele, in which he floats the possibility that Barack Obama, in concert with ACORN, will try to rig the 2010 Census in order to rob Republicans of electoral votes and Congressional seats in 2012. Eric dispatched with that...thinking...very nicely, but now ACORN has weighed in for itself. "I am disappointed in Mr. Steele's repetition of lies and distortions about our work for crass fundraising purposes." Full response is below the fold.

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As you probably know, the new popular meme from the right is that President Obama is a polarizing figure, dividing the country against itself. The latest example is Karl Rove's latest column in the Wall Street Journal, "The President Has Become a Divisive Figure," and Nancy Pfotenhauer pushed it this morning on MSNBC.

The number depends on recent polls -- Rove mentions the Pew Poll specifically -- showing an enormous gap between the very high number of Democrats who approve of President Obama and the very low number of Republicans who approve.

As Greg Sargent points out, Pew's own polling director doesn't think this is the right interpretation of the numbers. And another theory has made the rounds, too, that this is because the ranks of Republicans are shrinking, leaving a much more conservative base.

I spoke to Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup's managing editor for the poll, for some perspective on this in light of their own survey with a similar result. Jones' bottom line take on it is that Obama's policies -- which are very Democratic, in a Dem-dominated Congress -- is contributing to the polarization, but at the same time there are long-run trends in partisanship at work here, which are playing a significant role.

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Freshman Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) has told the Orlando Sentinel just how he felt about the negative reaction he experienced to a bill he introduced: A bill to require presidential candidates to submit birth certificates to the federal government.

"I expected there would be some civil debate about it, but it wasn't civil," Posey said. "Just a bunch of name-calling and personal denigration ... There is no reason to say that I'm the illegitimate grandson of an alligator."

When he first introduced his bill -- which to date has not picked up even one cosponsor -- Posey said it was about dispelling from the get-go in future campaigns the sort of rumors that were spread about President Obama, and was not aimed at denigrating the president. However, the Sentinel does point out that while Posey now says he has "no reason to question" Obama's citizenship, he did tell them at the beginning of this controversy that he wouldn't "swear on a stack of Bibles whether he is or isn't" an American.

It's been pretty obvious for a while that Democrats will continue running against George W. Bush for years to come, in both presidential and Congressional races. But how about doing it for a state Senate seat?

The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that the state Democrats are running a radio ad against former Congressman Jeb Bradley, who lost re-election in a big upset in 2006 and then lost a comeback bid in 2008, and is now running in a special election for state Senator. "Haven't we had enough of George W. Bush and Jeb Bradley?" the announcer says. "On April 21, say 'no' to Jeb Bradley and the mess he and Bush made."

State GOP chairman John H. Sununu, a former governor and ex-White House Chief of Staff under George H.W. Bush, declared that it was "amazing that the Democrats again, in a race for a state Senate seat in New Hampshire, are pulling out the George Bush boogie man to run a campaign on."

A few more data points are coming in from NY-20 -- not nearly enough to give us a definite answer as to who won this thing, but definitely something to chew over. So far, the answer for Democratic candidate Scott Murphy is a definite maybe.

On the one hand, the machine recanvass is now completed in the state's official numbers, with Scott Murphy having lost some more votes and Jim Tedisco gaining. That's right -- it looks like Tedisco actually won the machine count on Election Night by 68 votes, not Murphy and his original 65-vote margin, but it took us this long to find out.

On the other hand, early hints coming in are that the absentees look quite nice for Murphy -- enough that he could very well win the race, after the nearly 7,000 absentees are counted. Some further numbers and analysis, after the jump.

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