Curious news from the Arab press by way of Andy Worthington and bmaz over at emptywheel: multiple Arabic-language sources and Algeria's English-language Ennahar Online are reporting that Ibn Shaikh al-Libi, who the Bush administration once cited as the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, has died in a Libyan prison. There's been no independent confirmation of this news yet. If true, it's an interesting coda to the story of one of the first Al Qaeda members to be captured and tortured by the United States—and the person who provided one of the key pieces of "evidence" tying Saddam Hussein to Osama Bin Laden.

Al-Libi—whose real name was Ali Abdl Aziz al-Fakhiri—was picked up in Afghanistan on or around December 18, 2001. After that, it was the same story you've heard many times: the FBI tried traditional methods of interrogation and found some success, but the CIA wasn't satisfied, and took control of the prisoner. One of the most disappointing things to those pushing for war with Iraq had to be that al-Libi hadn't said anything tying Saddam to Al Qaeda. That would change.

Al-Libi was sent to Egypt, where he was subjected to torture, including, as David Corn and Michael Isikoff reported in their book Hubris, a mock burial. Suddenly, al-Libi was singing a different tune. He told interrogators that Bin Laden had sent two Al Qaeda members to Iraq for training in weapons of mass destruction.

Does Alaska's first dude hold a grudge against Mother Jones for doing some tough reporting on his wife, Sarah Palin? Attending Tammy Haddad's White House Correspondents' Dinner pre-party on Saturday, our Washington bureau chief, David Corn, thought he might be in for an earful (maybe even a fistful) when John Coale, husband of Fox's Greta Van Susteren, told him that Todd Palin wanted to meet him.

"Please don't hit me," Corn joked as he shook hands with the champion snowmobiler and all around bad-ass-looking guy. Palin laughed, and, steering clear of politics, they went on to have a pleasant discussion about having 8-year-old daughters and about commercial fishing. (Palin is gearing up for salmon season in Bristol Bay. This morning I asked Corn what the heck he knows about fishing, commercial or otherwise. He responded, "I know the difference between a gill net and a slip net, don't you?" Umm, no.)

The sight of Corn and Palin engrossed in conversation was sufficiently unusual that it warranted mentions in not one, but two papers.

You wouldn't know it from the pictures of scrawny, hungry-looking men chasing after mammoth commercial ships in faded-white speedboats with outboard motors, but Somali pirates operate what experts believe to be a sophisticated international network, complete with its own intelligence apparatus and PR flacks. Piracy is a multi-million dollar business, after all, taking in an estimated $150 million in 2008 alone, and is the only growth industry in Somalia, offering starved fisherman a taste of the good life. It's doubtful, however, that so many pirates would driving around Somalia's dusty roads in luxury cars without their coterie of undercover operatives in some of the world's busiest commercial ports.

That they have eyes and ears in key locations is not a new revelation, but a European military intelligence report, obtained by the Spanish radio station Cadena SER, lays bare the current thinking on the network's structure and function. Pirate "consultants" based in London, says the report, coordinate intelligence on ships bound for the Suez Canal by satellite phone, allowing the pirates to strategize individual hijackings long before ships enter the attack zone.

Last Thursday, the American Conservative's James Pinkerton and our own David Corn had another one of their frequent diavlogues. Among the topics discussed: Afghanistan, Pakistan, the missing torture memo, and, of course, the new Star Trek movie, which opened this weekend to rave reviews:

If you thought Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg couldn't top this, you were wrong. Check out their 'ode' to Mother's Day. I watched it Saturday and hit rewind four times, snorting Diet Coke through my nose each time. I only stopped because my stomach hurt so bad. Today? Five times and counting. It's so, so wicked.

If you're feeling less subversive, check out Jimmy Kimmel's take on honoring Mom. It's weirdly sweet and mildly genre-bending. A keeper.

My Mother's Day? Well, my son's birthday is always the day before, so until they're older, Mother's Day doesn't really exist. Thankfully, their school did an incredibly sweet assembly where we were all given roses and escorted by our munchkins to the gym. Then, the kids did the most snot-inducing songs ever. One of them was to the tune of "My Baloney Has a First Name," but still. It killed. When my son's 2nd grade class (he turned 8 on Saturday) did this song, you could barely hear them braying off key while everyone wept and blew their noses. Not me of course. Didn't affect me at all. Sniff. At least not until he stopped singing to just stare at me like I was the most wonderful creature on the planet. Then, he ran to me before the song was even over, took my face in his hands and said: "Now do you know how much I love you?"

Stupid Mother's Day.

From Bill Schneider, CNN election guru and former senior fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute:

"The Republicans aren't a party, they're a cult."

Well, today's GOP does seem to check most of the boxes in the International Cultic Studies Association's "Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups."  Except for this one: "The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members."  That doesn't seem to be much of a priority for them these days.


Last week the British government published a list of people banned from entering the country.  The list included radio shock jock Michael Savage, thus guaranteeing it wide publicity and considerable condemnation.  But wait!  We ban people too.  We just don't make our list public. Graham Bowley reports:

To make the Coordinated Terrorist Watchlist, which has been maintained since 2003, you have to be “reasonably” suspected of “involvement in terrorist activity,” according to Chad Kolton, spokesman for the F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Center in northern Virginia. It can be fund-raising or recruiting, “but it’s a fairly high standard,” he said, and so probably does not include simply speaking about terrorism.

"Probably"?  Why does this not reassure me?

If newspapers go away as a way of holding politicians accountable, can blogs replace them?  Andrew Sullivan says yes:

A good blog, with a tenacious blogger, on a difficult subject, can keep at a subject with intensity newspapers are hard-pressed to match. And as long as there are meta-blogs or aggregators or edited blogs that can highlight niche blogging on important, less-read subjects, these issues can be brought to the fore. Ideally, blogs and newspapers form a helpful nexus. But both can and will evolve to save the old civic function of the press.

I don't disagree with this.  Still, even as recently as the 2008 campaign, it was striking how little impact most net-based feeding frenzies had until they were picked up by someone in the mainstream press.  So far, at least, it's still the MSM that mostly provides legitimacy to stories and forces public officials to react to negative publicity.  I wonder how long that will continue to be true?

Just for the hell of it, here's a composite version of the two charts I posted the other day from the stress test report. Basically, for each of the 19 big banks that were tested, it shows estimates of both projected losses under adverse economic conditions as well as the ability to absorb those losses without eating into capital. For example, on the far left, American Express has big expected losses, but also has the capacity to absorb them all via earnings. So, since their capital structure is OK right now, that means it will stay OK and they don't need to raise money.

Next door, however, is Bank of America. They have big projected losses and only a limited ability to absorb them via earnings. That means their losses will eat into their capital. What's more, their capital structure isn't so hot even now. That's why Treasury is requiring them to raise a huge tranche of new money.

Anyway, as you can see, hardly anybody is in really good shape. Even the banks that have adequate capital and income to see them through the recession are still expected to take sizeable losses. And yet, bank stocks are up, up, up. Go figure. If I didn't listen to Paul Krugman so much maybe I would have bought 10,000 shares of BAC a couple of months ago and made a killing. Thanks a lot, Paul.

The residents of the Carteret Islands have finally lost their long battle with global warming.  Sea levels have been rising for decades, crops no longer grow, and they're now left with no choice but to get out.  Dan Box reports:

The evacuation of the Carteret Islands have begun. This morning I stood on black volcanic sand, pressed up right against the jungle, and watched a small white boat powered by a single outboard engine run in against the shore. On board were five men from the Islands, the fathers of five families, who have come to finish building houses and gardens already begun in a cleared patch of jungle at Tinputz, on the east coast of Bougainville. When these homes are ready the five will return to the Carterets, to fetch their wives and children back. Life, they hope, will be better for them here. On the Carterets, king tides have washed away their crops and rising sea levels poisoned those that remain with salt. The people have been forced to move.

This is likely to become an increasingly common story over the upcoming decades, and while there are probably multiple causes, it's likely that global warming is one of the big ones.  We may be the ones causing most of the warming, but we're not the ones who will pay the biggest price.