Back in 2006, a team of scientists from Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Panama published a landmark report in the prestigious journal Science on the state of the oceans. The researchers highlighted what they called an "ongoing erosion of diversity" in sea life that, if left unchecked, would lead to the "collapse of all taxa currently being fished by the mid-21st century."

Stripped of scientese, what the report described was the real possibility of the ocean as a vast, fetid gray zone, not quite dead but no longer able to provide a significant amount of food to humanity. And not in some unimaginably distant future, but rather in just four short decades, around the time when your aughts-era infant will reach middle age.

When the report dropped, it grabbed attention in the eco-foodie world like a great white shark sunning its dorsal fin in the shallows off a crowded beach. I was just beginning to write about food politics at the time, and the Science study jolted me from my land-locked fixations and opened the ocean as a rich and urgent topic.

Here it is, the last transit of Venus in our lifetimes (assuming we don't figure out how to download ourselves into cyberspace sometime soon, that is):

Ah, just kidding. I photoshopped that little black dot in. But if I had been able to get a picture of the transit, it would have looked something like that. Probably.

Actually, I'm not sure why I didn't see anything. I didn't have any special filters, so I had to wait until sunset to get a picture. Still, Venus should have been near the edge of the disk but not gone by then, and it's big enough that it should have shown up even with my little camera. But no. There was nothing there. I'm not sure why. But it was a very clear day, so maybe the sun was still too bright for my camera's sensors and Venus just got washed out. Nonetheless, according to the LA Times, if I'd been able to see anything, Venus would have been about where I put it.

Check back here for exit polls, live results, and dispatches from Tom Barrett's election night headquarters. Follow our man in Milwaukee, @AndrewKroll, for the latest from the Badger State.

9:40 p.m. Central time: Gov. Scott Walker is the projected winner of Tuesday's historic gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin. News outlets called the race for Walker less than an hour after polls closed. Walker led his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 58 percent to 41 percent with half of precincts reported across the state. Read more here.

8:32 p.m. Central time: To the ire of Democrats and labor officials, the role scandal-plagued Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus will play in tonight's election operations remains in doubt. The Journal Sentinel reports:

While Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and his chief of staff insisted Tuesday that County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus was not the one in charge of election duties for the recall election, she appeared to be at the helm.

Nickolaus refused to respond to questions in her office, turning her back and closing her office door while a reporter waited at a service counter. Her deputy, Kelly Yaeger, didn't respond, either.

Nickolaus was observed passing out election supplies to local clerks leading up to Tuesday's election, and she's the one who fielded questions Tuesday from the field, said Gina Kozlik, Waukesha's deputy clerk-treasurer.

Shawn Lundie, Vrakas' chief of staff, said he was confident procedures put in place with Yaeger would ensure smooth reporting of votes Tuesday night. He also said Yaeger, while fully competent, was free to ask Nickolaus to assist her.

Vrakas, for his part, added that Nickolaus "agreed to step aside and hand off her duties to Kelly (Yaeger), and that has occurred."

8:20 p.m. Central time: More exit poll details trickling in:

7:48 p.m. Central time: Several voting precincts in the Milwaukee area have reported running low or out of ballots for Tuesday's recall elections, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Poll workers at Phyllis Wheatley School, 2442 N. 20th St., reported having only 10 paper ballots shortly after 6 p.m. with many people waiting in line. The polling place had already run low on ballots earlier in the day and election officials dropped off more.

As of 6 p.m., 548 ballots were cast at Phyllis Wheatley School, more than twice as many as in previous elections, said Lois Sneed, chief elections inspector.



Registration forms for residents signing up to vote also ran low or were gone at several wards in Milwaukee. Janet Veum, communications coordinator for Wisconsin Jobs Now, said registration forms ran out at Wards 141 and 142 at 2450 N. 6th St. Ballots and registration forms ran out at 53rd St. School, and ballots were running low at the Center St. Library.

Poll workers at Wards 108 and 109 at Ben Franklin School, 2308 W. Nash St., and Wards 110 and 111 at Children's Outing Association, 2320 W. Burleigh St., also reported running out of registration forms for new voters.

7:25 p.m. Central time: Wisconsinites who turned out to vote in Tuesday's recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four GOP state senators were split almost evenly by party identification, according to CNN exit polls. Thirty-five percent said they were Democrats and 33 percent identified themselves as Republicans. Thirty-two percent described themselves as independents.

Nine out of ten voters, exit polls found, said they'd made up their minds about how to vote in the recall elections prior to May. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker's opponent, won the recall's Democratic primary on May 8. Just seven percent of voters said they decided how to vote in the recalls on Election Day.

I'm catching up on stuff that I missed while I was on vacation, and today I read the big New York Times piece on Barack Obama's terrorist "kill list." I'll have more on that later — I'm still digesting it at the moment — but in the meantime one sentence of the story caught my attention for an entirely unrelated reason:

When the administration floated a plan to transfer from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia two Uighurs, members of a largely Muslim ethnic minority from China who are considered no threat to the United States, Virginia Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf denounced the idea. The administration backed down.

That show of weakness doomed the effort to close Guantánamo, the same administration official said. “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy,” he said. “That’s not what happened. It’s like a boxing match where a cut opens over a guy’s eye.”

Like thousands of other people, I just finished reading the fourth volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson and it made me even more impatient with people who are constantly complaining about Barack Obama's wimpiness compared to LBJ. The second half of Caro's book is about the first few months of Johnson's presidency, and legislatively it's primarily about how he won passage of two big bills: a major tax cut and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So let's go down the list of things LBJ did:

  • Category 1 might be called straight-up corruption: threatening to sic the FBI on someone, or holding up FDIC approval for a bank merger. I think we can all agree that even if these levers of power were still open to Obama, we wouldn't want him to use them.
  • Category 2 is legal but toughminded political bullying: threatening to close a military base in someone's district, or telling NASA to direct spending to someone's pet program. For better or worse, though, this kind of leverage is simply far less open to presidents today than it was 60 years ago.
  • Category 3 is personal relationships with senators, which Johnson had plenty of. But there's no way for Obama to invent that kind of thing. He could schmooze more than he does, but he just doesn't have multi-decade father-son relationships with the old bulls of the Senate and there's no way he can invent them out of whole cloth. What's more, Caro's book makes it clear that, in the end, those relationships were of minor importance anyway.
  • Category 4 is ordinary horse-trading. To get the tax bill passed, for example, LBJ had to agree to Harry Byrd's demand that the federal budget be kept under $100 billion. (His close relationship with Byrd did exactly nothing to soften Byrd on this point.) Obama can do this kind of thing too, of course, and he has. If anything, in fact, the big liberal complaint about Obama is that he does too much of it.
  • Category 5 is coaxing/cajoling/flattering Republicans. Obama has tried this plenty, though, and has even succeeded a bit. It was two or three Republican votes that ended up passing the stimulus bill, the financial reform bill, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Ditto for most of the pieces of the lame duck session at the end of 2010. But I don't think anyone will disagree much if I say that this avenue is basically closed off. Modern Republicans are just not willing to compromise these days, and nothing Barack Obama does or says will change this. He simply doesn't have any leverage over them.
  • Category 6 is an intimate knowledge of Senate procedure. However, it's not clear how much this really helped Johnson, nor is it clear that Obama has ever suffered from its lack. I don't think there are any secret levers of procedural power in the Senate that he could have used but hasn't.

None of this is to say that Obama has used every bit of clout he has, or that a little more hard-nosed bargaining might not have done him some good here and there. Nor is to deny that LBJ had a natural instinct for finding pressure points he could exploit. But for the most part, the tools that LBJ used just flatly aren't available to Obama. And of the ones that are, he's used them.

So can we stop hearing about how much more Obama could have gotten done if only he'd been more willing to really use the power of the presidency, like LBJ did? There's no more than the tiniest grain of truth to it. Washington DC is a far different place today than it was in 1964, and Obama has to deal with his Washington, not LBJ's.

 2004 Transit of Venus de:Benutzer:Klingon via Wikimedia Commons2004 Transit of Venus: de:Benutzer:Klingon via Wikimedia Commons

The transit of Venus begins today, June 5. The next one is not for 105 years, in 2117. You can check where and when today's transit will be visible in the map below. Plus a live webcast of the transit at NASA tv.

There's a nifty citizen science effort underway via Astronomers Without Borders if you care to download the free app and contribute the data from your own sighting. Here's what they say about the history of the event:

Only six Venus transits have occurred since the invention of the telescope in the early 17th century. There were no observers of the first one in 1631 that we know of, and only two who we know saw the transit in 1639. In the 18th century, Sir Edmond Halley described a method for measuring the distance from the Earth to the Sun through observations of Venus transits from widely separated sites. The same had been attempted with transits of Mercury but Venus transits allow for much more precise measurements.Halley's publication led to expeditions sent around the world by many nations to view the pair of Venus transits later in the 17th century. The same took place with the 19th century pair of Venus transits. No Venus transits occurred in the 20th century. While 20th century methods eventually supplanted the Venus transit method in measuring distances in the solar system, the history of the event is an important link to our past. 

Fred Espenak, NASAFred Espenak, NASA

 As for what scientists are looking to learn from the 2012 transit, LiveScience notes a few interesting research questions, including:

  • Those bizarre blue stripes in Venus' upper clouds called "blue absorbers" or "UV absorbers" that absorb nearly half the total solar energy hitting the planet, keeping it superhot with surface temperatures greater than 860° F (460° C). What are they made of? Maybe elemental sulfur?
  • What's making the Venusian lightning, since we don't think there's any rainfall there?
  • What's behind Venus' super-rotating atmosphere driven by storms circling the planet at speeds greater than 220 mph (360 kph), 60 times faster than the planet itself rotates.
  • Most of all, what happened to Venus' oceans, were they destroyed by a runaway greenhouse effect? If so, how long did it take?


Venus in true color: NASA/Ricardo NunesVenus in true color: NASA/Ricardo Nunes


The video below summarizes our modern understanding of the transit, including a brief history of its science and what we hope to learn today.


 ScienceCasts: The 2012 Transit of Venus from Science@NASA on Vimeo.


The next video recreates a high-tech presentation of the transit from 1769. The tools have changed but not the fascination.


Artificial Transit of Venus Model from Transit of Venus on Vimeo.


Voting in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recall election is underway, but it's far from the only recall election happening this year. There are 17 recalls in four states scheduled for Tuesday alone. According to Joshua Spivak, an expert on recalls in American politics, 2012 is on pace to surpass last year's all-time record of 151 recall elections

For the first half of 2012, Spivak's recall count is at 103 in 17 states. That includes recalls that have taken place, been scheduled, or have prompted the official facing recall to resign. Here's more from Spivak:

Of the 103 recalls, they breakdown like this:

  • 32 recalls resulted in a vote for removal. They took place in 17 different states
  • 14 recalls resulted in a resignation in the face of removal
  • 1 recall failed to get on the ballot, but the official resigned anyway
  • 1 recall saw the official die in office
  • 27 recalls resulted in the targeted official won the recall election
  • 30 are scheduled to take place between today and August
  • 6 instances, most notable El Paso, Texas, a judge rejected the recall.
  • 6 other instances, the targeted officials are either still fighting the recall in court or refusing to schedule one as a member of the city council.
  • 52 attempted recalls (at least) that failed to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.
  • 115 (at least) open and unresolved recall petitions circulating now (I may be off on this—in some of these, the recall might have been abandoned).

The recalls are against all types of officials, Six mayors have been removed, five have survived, and another four are facing a recall vote.

The reasons for the recall span the spectrum. Some of the more noteworthy ones including opposing another member's appointment of his girlfriend to the village council, trashing a hotel room, and one launched by the wife of a losing candidate. In one ongoing recall attempt, we have the official facing charges of rape, pimping, pandering and maybe attempted murder (don't worry, that was just a school board member). Last year, we had a school board member facing a recall who was caught sexting with a 14 year old. That was not the reason for the recall (it came out during the campaign).

Among other nuggets are that the mayors of both Troy, Montana, and Troy, Michigan, are facing recalls (the mayor from Montana lost). And while it may be time to stop all of your weeping and swallow your pride, the mayor of Tombstone, Arizona, was recalled. And yes, he was replaced by the owner of Johnny Ringo's bar, who will now be your huckleberry.

In summary, we should be ahead of last year's pace. The big caveat, outside of the fact that I may be missing a number of recalls both this year and last, is that this is a presidential election year, not an off year election. I think it is possible that there may be less recalls on Election Day than last year (there were 30 on the first two Tuesday's in November). Perhaps people will be more focused on the presidential race, and will ignore recalling local officials. Of course, the opposite could occur. We will see in November.

Spivak also has a great primer on Wisconsin's six June 5 recall elections of Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. (Read my profile of Fitzgerald's grassroots-powered challenger, Lori Compas.) Spivak's Wisconsin primer is necessary reading before results from around the state start to flood in.

Regular readers know that one of my pet peeves is the notion that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day. And that's water and only water. Coffee, tea and Diet Coke don't count.

It's nonsense. There was never any science behind this in the first place, and the food you eat contains much of the water you need to stay healthy in the first place. Basically, if you're thirsty, drink something. That's pretty much it. Today, Spero Tsindos of La Trobe University joins the fight in an editorial in the June issue of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health:

Mr Tsindos believes that encouraging people to drink more water is driven by vested interests, rather than a need for better health. "Thirty years ago you didn't see a plastic water bottle anywhere, now they appear as fashion accessories."....He also discusses the role of water in our constant quest for weight loss. "Drinking large amounts of water does not alone cause weight loss. A low-calorie diet is also required."

"Research has also revealed that water in food eaten has a greater benefit in weight reduction than avoiding foods altogether. We should be telling people that beverages like tea and coffee contribute to a person's fluid needs and despite their caffeine content, do not lead to dehydration."

Good luck, Spero! The 2-liter myth never seems to die no matter how many people go after it, though. But I think Mother Jones readers are too smart to fall for it. If you like bottled water, fine. But you don't need it. Tap water is fine. Juice is fine. Coffee is fine. Colas are fine. And you only need them when you're thirsty. There's no need — or benefit — to guzzling vast quantities of water just to meet some arbitrary quota. More details here if you don't believe me.

UPDATE: A med student tweets a response:

You wouldn't believe how many people come to the doctor's office complaining of "headaches" that are nearly always dehydration....Part of it is that I live in Arizona, but the point being: the 2-liter myth is very useful in counseling those patients to drink more.

Up above, I said, "If you're thirsty, drink something." But there's actually a second part to this advice: "Don't be an idiot." That's sort of the unvoiced second part to all advice, though, isn't it? In this case, it basically means that if it's 90 degrees in the shade and you're working in the garden or touring a city or something like that, drink plenty of water. When I was schlepping around Rome last week, I was careful to drink plenty of water even when I wasn't feeling especially thirsty.

But now we get into a philosophical debate. Cynics will argue that, like it or not, there are plenty of idiots in the world. And if the 2-liter myth helps them out, why not spread it around? I won't pretend that I have a gigantic problem with that, but I do think you still need to be careful. These myths have downsides too, especially when a steady stream of people hear them from practicing physicians and think of them as medical facts. So while it might make clinic life a little harder, I'd still recommend telling the truth instead. At the very least, don't present the 2-liter myth as a firm rule. Just suggest it as a rough guideline on hot days for patients who apparently have a problem with their sense of thirst.

The Pew Research Center has released the latest version of its American Values Survey, and the headline result is that although the values gap hasn't changed much by age or gender or race or anything else, it has continued to increase by political affiliation. The differences between Democrats and Republicans remained steady throughout the late 80s and 90s, but since 2000 have gone up from 11 percentage points to 18 percentage points. And the gap is continuing to grow.

The most dramatic change is in environmental views. Take a look at the chart on the right. Back in 1987, there was hardly any daylight between Democrats and Republicans. Everyone agreed we needed strict environmental regs. But Republican support for environmental regulations dropped during the early 90s, and then, after ticking back up a bit, cratered completely during the Bush and Obama adminstrations, plummeting from 79% to 47% over the past decade. Some of this is probably due to the GOP's general move toward the right during that time, but I'd guess that it's mostly a response to global warming. Until 2003, the environment was a roughly bipartisan cause, but since then it's become overwhelmingly identified with climate change, which in turn has become a violently political issue. We'd need more detailed polling to confirm what Pew seems to show here, but what it seems to suggest is that the partisan war over climate change has poisoned Republican support for environmental regulations more generally.

In related news, Pew has put up an interactive database that allows you to scroll through the questions they've been asking since 1987 and view the trends by age, gender, party, etc. There's some interesting stuff there. For example, take a look at the question below, sorted by generation. Over the years, most of us have retained roughly the same view of whether the government is wasteful and inefficient. The postwar ("Silent") and Boomer generations hover around 65% and Gen X hovers around 55% — with very little change as members of those generations get older. But Millennials are different. In 2003 they were pretty optimistic about government-run programs, with only about 30% saying they were wasteful. Today, though, nearly 50% think that. In the course of only a decade, they've become far, far more cynical about government programs.

Why? Is this related to the Iraq War? To the Bush/Rove administration more generally? To the stimulus bill? (The numbers went way up between 2009 and 2011.) Or were they just unnaturally optimistic during their 20s and are now catching up to everyone else? Any guesses?

There are more empty seats on the federal bench now than when President Barack Obama took office, according to a Congressional Research Service report, skewing federal courts to the right and leaving some jurisdictions with overwhelming caseloads.

From same-sex marriage to health care to immigration, the past few years have shown just how important the federal judiciary can be in shaping how Americans live their lives. Yet the study, first posted by Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, shows what liberal legal advocacy groups have been saying for a while: The Obama administration is lagging behind its recent predecessors when it comes to judicial confirmations. The report notes that Obama is the only one of the last three presidents to have more district and circuit court vacancies today than when he first entered the White House. 

Here's a chart from the report:

The chart makes it clear that, as my colleague Nick Baumann reported last year, this isn't simply a matter of Republican obstruction, although that is an important factor. Even if that ceased tomorrow, the Obama administration has offered so few judicial nominations that most of the vacancies still wouldn't be filled. Recess appointments aren't a solution, because without Senate approval lifetime judicial appointments become short term ones.  Should Obama lose the 2012 election, the number of vacancies would set up a President Mitt Romney with the opportunity to pack the federal bench with Republican nominees. 

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) fires one of its MK 45 lightweight 5-inch guns during a gunnery exercise. Cape St. George and Carrier Strike Group 9 are deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher S. Johnson.