Secrecy Corrupts

Last week, I warned that the White House's argument for suppressing (and perhaps classifying) photos of detainee abuse—that the photos would make the US look bad and inflame anti-American sentiment, thereby endangering US troops—was infinitely extendible. I wondered what would happen the next time information emerged that embarassed the US and might inflame opinion against Americans. Would Obama suppress that, too? It turns out that the answer may be yes. McClatchy reports:

Pentagon wavers on release of report on Afghan attack

WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials are debating whether to ignore an earlier promise and squelch the release of an investigation into a U.S. airstrike last month, out of fear that its findings would further enrage the Afghan public, Pentagon officials told McClatchy Monday.

The military promised to release the report shortly after the May 4 air attack, which killed dozens of Afghans, and the Pentagon reiterated that last week. U.S. officials also said they'd release a video that military officials said shows Taliban fighters attacking Afghan and U.S. forces and then running into a building. Shortly afterward, a U.S. aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed the building.

However, a senior defense official told McClatchy Monday: "The decision (about what to release) is now in limbo."

Pentagon leaders are divided about whether releasing the report would reflect a renewed push for openness and transparency about civilian casualties or whether it would only fan Afghan outrage and become a Taliban recruiting tool just as Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this is an exact repeat of the detainee photo argument. Once you start suppressing information that makes the US look bad, it's easy to do it again. And again. The slippery slope of government secrecy is real. And President Obama is sliding down it.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, June 16

Hello, and happy Tuesday. Here's what's new in health, environment, and science:

Healthcare mythology day: In critiquing Obama's plans for more healthcare spending, conservatives revive two favorite chestnuts of anti-nationalization rhetoric. Meanwhile, Obama trots out his own old wives' tale, suggesting that restricting medical malpractice lawsuits could help reduce healthcare costs.

Geek out on futuristic climate solutions: Should we tether kitelike wind turbines into the jetstream to harvest its massive wind power? Maybe. Block out the sun to keep earth from heating up? Probably not.

Salacious wildlife news: An environmental group says Obama's nominee for head of the US Fish & Wildlife Service whored out panther habitat to sprawl-mongering developers. 

And one last question: Did you celebrate Meatless Monday?

Today's photo is from Iraq.Spc. Kristopher Doktor, of Peoria, Ill., a Soldier in Company A, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, scans his sector of fire through the sights on his M240 Bravo machine gun, on top of Combat Outpost Texas, in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

The cute, endangered animal for this week is the state mammal of Hawaii, the Hawaiian Monk Seal. According to forbidding signs posted on Hawaiian beaches, the monk seal is "one of the most endangered species in the world," with only 1,400 individuals. The Hawaiian Monk Seal lives in the quiet Northwestern islands of Hawaii like Kawa'i whose golden beaches and jungled peaks appear in movies from South Pacific to Jurassic Park. If you do happen to see a monk seal, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking they're dead since the animals always seem to be lying comatose on the sand while warm Hawaiian waves crash over their rotund bodies. Approaching the be-whiskered beasts is a federal crime, and a health risk: because these seals evolved without human contact, they have little fear of people and will bite. Hard.

When not lazing under a tropical sun, monk seals eat fish, squid, and even lobster when they can get it, reaching up to 600 lbs in weight and 7 feet in length. Continuing commercial development, disease, fishing nets, and global warming are current threats to the seal population, especially to new mothers who do not eat and lose hundreds of pounds while nursing their young for six months. As human development continues, Hawaiian Monk Seals are being seen on the more inhabited islands of Hawaii: the Center for Biological Diversity,  Ocean Conservancy, and (as of last week) NOAA are proposing the federal government expand the protected seal habitat to include the main islands, but no word yet on when, or if, the government will revise the seals' protected range. 

To learn more about the Hawaiian Monk Seal and see a gallery of pictures, you can visit the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program's website here.

 

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

TweetWatch: The Many Moods of Chuck Grassley

Only since the recent rise in popularity of our favorite 140-character messaging service do we actually get to see what some of our most influential leaders are thinking as the thoughts pop into their heads. Inside the head of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, these thoughts are brutal, banal, and generally make us glad that he doesn't control America's nuclear football. Below, five of our favorite Grassley tweets:


The Tweet: Ran 3miles w 5 delegate of the30th annual DsM Partnership at 515am. Barb had oatmeal for all.

The Analysis: I'm glad that a 75-year-old-man can still run 3 miles, but do I really give a crap that your wife knows how to make OATMEAL? Is this something to brag about?

The Tweet: My carbon footprint is abt 25per cent of Al Gore. I'm greener than Al Gore. Is that enuf?

The Analysis: Really, his carbon footprint is greener than a person? Strunk and White are rolling over in their grammarian graves.

The Tweet: Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us"time to deliver" on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.

The Analysis: FoxNews looked into this Tweet most carefully and Grassley stood by it 100%. I wouldn't exactly call Obama's trip abroad -- where he marked the 65th anniversary of D-Day and visited the sites of other World War II atrocities -- a sightseeing journey. And for the record, George W. Bush spent 487 days at his ranch in Texas during his presidency...

The Tweet: My office softball team beat my Chr Baucus softball team last nite.

The Analysis: This is the guy who criticized Obama for sightseeing in Paris? Get your lazy staff back to work!

The Tweet: Met with new crop of sumer intrns today 1st of 2 6 week sessions I offer in DC office If ur interested in being an intrn ck my website.

The Analysis: I could think of few people who would be more fun to work for than a man who Tweets with as much mindless vigor as Chuck Grassley.

 

[h/t to my buddy Jim Newell and others at Wonkette for first drawing attention to this Mad Tweeter's lack of style.]

Chastity Bono's Sex Change=Shrug

Chastity Bono is having a sex-change. America's reaction? Whatevs.

When Bono was outed by a tab nearly 20 years ago, she called the experience "terrifying"— and mom Cher famously "flipped out."

Yet the reactions to Chastity's evolution into Chaz have veered from supportive (Cher, Hollywood Gossip, Mexican singer Thalia) to ho-hum (even Fox News couldn't muster a negative response).

This on the heels of American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert announcing his (admittedly not-at-all-surprising) homosexuality to a collective yawn.

America obviously has a long way to go when it comes to LGBT acceptance (I'm talking to you, Prop 8). But it seems Chastity/Chaz isn't the only one undergoing change.

The Fiery Judge

Does Sonia Sotomayor have a temperament problem?  Ann Friedman directs us to an NPR piece by Nina Totenberg today:

Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.

"And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman," Calabresi says. "It was sexism in its most obvious form."

And what if such criticism came from a woman lawyer? Well, says Calabresi, women can be just as sexist as men in their expectations of how a woman judge should act.

NPR played a couple of snippets of Sotomayor in its piece so listeners could judge for themselves.  Ann did: "Listening to the clips, Sotomayor sounds an awful lot like John Roberts — who did not face any concerns about his 'fiery temperament' during his confirmation hearings. Totenberg exposes this talking point for what it is: straight-up sexism, with some racism mixed in for good measure."

Corn on "Hardball": Panetta vs. Cheney

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, CIA chief Leon Panetta says of Dick Cheney:

I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue. It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.

Cheney today struck back, saying, "I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted."

Just Another Meatless Monday

 Just in case you needed yet another reason to go veggie, Sir Paul McCartney is lending his jowly, loveable face to Meatless Monday, a campaign to get everybody to give up meat, on Mondays. If you're still reeling from PETA's Sea Kittens campaign, rest easy—this one is about people, not animals. Tofu-pushers at The Monday Campain and Johns Hopkins' School of Public Health say that reducing America's meat consumption by just 15% would combat obesity (and its related ailments) and shrink our carbon footprint. All we have to do is skip the Mini Sirloin Burgers.

Right. As an apolitical vegetarian, I was skeptical. Then I read some of The Monday's statistics (you can follow the footnotes at the bottom of the page). Did you know, for example, that 16 oz of red meat (about 1.5 Big Macs) requires 2,000 gallons of water to raise? Maybe it ought to be a meatless Monday after all. 

 

Geoengineering's Day in the Sun?

This weekend, the Washington Post reported on a simple step Americans can take to mitigate the effects of climate change: painting our roofs white.

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu explained that white paint "changes the reflectivity...of the Earth, so the sunlight comes in, it's reflected back into space," pointing out that roof painting is "something very simple that we can do immediately." He's right. Small-scale bright, green ideas like painting our roofs white and keeping our tires inflated are not only easy, they're also pretty cheap. 

Matt Yglesias also supports the white-roof strategy, but worries that it could lead to more obstructive tactics like blocking out the sun and changing the structure of clouds which "could have extremely dangerous unintended consequences and pose all sorts of problems."

Yikes. I'm not convinced that roof painting is a slippery slope toward geoengineering. But Yglesias is right that these ideas have been gaining traction. John Holdren, one of President Obama's top science advisors, told the AP in April that we might consider sending pollution particles into the atmosphere to deflect the sun's rays before they reach earth. Even though this method could have dangerous side effects, Holdren said, "we might get desperate enough to want to use it." And the US responded to a 2007 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with a statement saying that "modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy" to battle climate change. 

Hasn't anyone else seen The Simpsons? Anyone?