Quote of the Day

From Robert Kagan, allegedly the "smart" neocon, on Barack Obama's oft-stated desire to engage with Iran diplomatically:

It would be surprising if Obama departed from this realist strategy now, and he hasn't. His extremely guarded response to the outburst of popular anger at the regime has been widely misinterpreted as reflecting concern that too overt an American embrace of the opposition will hurt it, or that he wants to avoid American "moralizing." (Obama himself claimed yesterday that he didn't want the United States to appear to be "meddling.")

But Obama's calculations are quite different. Whatever his personal sympathies may be, if he is intent on sticking to his original strategy, then he can have no interest in helping the opposition. His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis.

What a douchebag.  These guys really have no shame at all.

Way to Go, ProPublica and TPM

Five prominent news organizations announced today that they will team up to create DocumentCloud, a database of primary source documents easily searchable to readers. ProPublica and Talking Points Memo, both online news organizations that specialize in investigative reporting, joined the New York Times as founding members. It's nice to see that quality online investigative journalism is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.

This follows Saturday's announcement that the Associated Press will begin syndicating investigative reporting from four sources, including ProPublica, to its 1,500 member newspapers in July. Is this a sign of the rising prominence of online investigative journalism, or the final death knell of print newspaper reporting?

Tehran's War on Satellite Dishes

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student at the University of Manchester, has been in contact with friends and relatives in Tehran during the past few tumultuous days. He reports that the security forces in Tehran have been focusing on a particular target: satellite dishes.

From an email he has sent to scholars and associates:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which sued the Bush White House over millions of missing White House emails, has released a treasure trove of documents relating to the loss of the emails. We're just beginning to go through them, but CREW says the headline item is that the documents seem to confirm that emails subpoenaed by Patrick Fitzgerald regarding the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identiy were among those missing from Dick Cheney's office.

Update: You can find the documents here.

Update 2: I just spoke to Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel. She says these documents, are just the beginning, and CREW both wants and expects to receive more from the Obama White House. This set of documents was originally provided to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) by the Bush administration when Waxman began investigating the missing White House emails case, so they just represent what the Bush administration was willing to release (albeit to a Congressman, not the public) about its own failings. Obviously there's much more—Weisman says this is only a "very small percentage" of the material CREW needs to understand exactly how the White House could lose several million emails.

Weisman says that these new documents do little to allay her concern about the timing of certain gaps in the email archives of the Office of the Vice President (OVP). "I find it incredible that then-WH counsel Alberto Gonzales gets a call from DOJ saying they're opening this investigation and everything has to be preserved, and then the days immediately following that [call] there are OVP emails missing," she says. Maybe Gonzales forgot that he was supposed to make sure everything was preserved?

Video: Mob Rejects Letterman Apology

An angry mob convened outside the "Late Show" studio Tuesday to demand that CBS "fire David Letterman." In addition to missing a more significant protest about the rape of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Palin defenders once again resorted to hate speech to take down a Palin foe. They called Letterman's son, who was born out of wedlock, a "bastard," his wife a "slut" and Letterman himself a "child abuser" and "a verbal pedophile." And this was after Letterman apologized for his joke about Sarah Palin's daughter, saying it was "beyond flawed" and could not be defended.

See the Video:

Over the Rainbow? Redesigning the Gay Flag

In honor of Gay Pride Month, the folks at WNYC's Studio 360 have suggested that the gay flag needs a makeover. For some reason, they think the rainbow flag, originally designed in 1978, has outlived its ability to turn heads and corrupt the youth of America. So far, the contest's Flickr page has just a handful of entries, like this one, which makes up for its Microsoftastic design with a clever appeal to the universal love of bacon.

 

 

If you've got design skills, you have until June 26th to rebrand gay identity. Extra points if you use the Photoshop clone tool. And, please, nobody tell Shepard Fairey about this.

 

 

 

 

 

Cash for Clunkers Passes

The much-debated war spending bill made it through the House last night. Altogether, the bill asked for $106 billion, including the orginal $75.5 billion that Bush requested for 2009. The bill included a little side project that might help solve one of Obama's biggest problems: how to save the car industry and the environment, simultaneously.

The "Cash for Clunkers" program sponsored by Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) intends to hand out $4,500 vouchers to people who bought cars that got 10 more miles-per-gallon than their old ones. Vouchers for $3,500 will go to consumers who made a 4 mpg improvement. Experts estimate that the program could create up to $1.5 million in car sales per year, but it's unclear how much it will do for the environment. "Light truck" owners will only be required to make a 5 mpg change to earn a voucher, even if their new car is a 16 mpg Hummer by GM. Cash for Clunkers is a good idea in theory, but we're not going to get anywhere if the government rewards people driving unapologetic gas-guzzlers for becoming only slightly more responsible.

Some Republicans opposed the program because it appears to be another handout to the failing auto industry, while Democrats such as Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) say it doesn't go far enough. Sound familiar?

Revive Chestnuts, Fight Climate Change?

American chestnut trees had always thrived in forests, towns, and farmland in the eastern US—until the early part of the last century, when a chestnut blight, thought to have come from the far east, all but obliterated the species.

But the tree still looms large in the American imagination, and for good reason: It's beautiful, towering and leafy. It also grows quickly, and its durable wood makes good floors, tables, and fences. For years, groups like American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation have been working to revive the American chestnut. Now, it looks like a research team at Purdue University might have done it by creating a hybrid:

New efforts to hybridize remaining American chestnuts with blight-resistant Chinese chestnuts have resulted in a species that is about 94 percent American chestnut with the protection found in the Chinese species. Jacobs said those new trees could be ready to plant in the next decade, either in existing forests or former agricultural fields that are being returned to forested land.

Beyond the obvious ecological and aesthetic benefits of the new chestnut, researchers point out that the tree could also help mitigate the effects of global warming by removing carbon from the atmosphere. All trees do that of course, but the American chestnut would be particularly good at it, since it grows big quickly, explained a researcher:

"Each tree has about the same percentage of its biomass made up of carbon, but the fact that the American chestnut grows faster and larger means it stores more carbon in a shorter amount of time," Jacobs said.

No word yet on how the hybrid's chestnuts taste roasted, you know, over an open fire...

 

Hunters Overhunt Lions and Cougars

Sport hunters in the US and Africa are depleting lion and cougar populations. Why? Because wildlife managers respond to demands to control predators they believe threaten livestock and humans—rather than respond to demands to conserve the big cats.

The new study in PLoS ONE looked at lions and cougars killed by hunters over the past 15 to 25 years in Africa and the western US. The data suggest that management agencies routinely adjust quotas to control rather than conserve the big cats in areas where humans or livestock are believed threatened.

The reason sport hunting takes a significant toll on large felines is because replacement males routinely kill their predecessors' cubs, forcing female lions into estrus to improve their own mating opportunities.

The researchers confirmed this effect by comparing the impact of hunting on lions, cougars, leopards, and black bear populations. Male black bears don't routinely kill cubs of other males.

The results show that lion and cougar populations have suffered the greatest decline in places that sport hunting has been most intense in the last 25 years. Leopards are not as badly affected as lions and cougars, perhaps because they benefit from reduced numbers of lions. Black bears, by contrast, appear to be thriving despite thousands of bears killed by hunters.

The study results point to the need for new approaches to protect humans and livestock and to manage sport hunting without endangering vulnerable species. One possibility would be to restrict sport hunting to older males whose offspring have matured.

Or—radical thought—no hunting at all.

Combine this study with another recent investigation in PNAS showing that, in stark contrast with most predators, humans now exploit high proportions of prey populations and target large reproductive-aged adults. As a result, species hunted and fished by humans show particularly rapid and dramatic changes in phenotype (what an organism looks like as a consequence of the interaction of genetics and environment).

Average phenotypic changes in 40 human-harvested species were found to be much more rapid than changes in natural systems—outpacing them by more than 300 percent.

In fact species hunted or fished by humans now show some of the most abrupt trait changes ever observed in wild populations—rewriting the book on how fast phenotypes are capable of changing. The authors conclude that these changes (typically in the size of the animals and age of adulthood) can and do imperil populations, industries, and ecosystems.

Keep in mind we can't conserve ecosystems without their big predators, something I wrote about in GONE.
 

Torture Reports Update

Torture opponents are hoping to see two reports—one by the CIA's inspector general, and one by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility—sometime soon. On Wednesday, there was good news and bad news for those calling for transparency on torture. The bad news, via the Washington Post, is that the CIA is (shocker!) opposing the release of the full IG report. Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project, issued a response to that story Wednesday afternoon:

It's not surprising that the CIA is fighting for the suppression of documents that would provide further evidence that its torture program was both ineffective and illegal. Over the last few weeks, the agency has also suppressed cables relating to illegal interrogation methods and transcripts in which prisoners explain the torture that was inflicted upon them in the CIA's secret prisons. President Obama should not allow the CIA to determine whether evidence of its own unlawful conduct should be made available to the public. The president has rightly recognized the importance of restoring the rule of law at home and the moral authority of the United States abroad, but neither of those things will be possible as long as the CIA is permitted to conceal evidence of its crimes. The public has a right to know what took place in the CIA's secret prisons, and on whose authority.

The good news is that the Justice Department's OPR report is on its way out, perhaps without too many redactions. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate judiciary committee today that his "hope" is "to share as much of that report as I can with members of Congress and the public," and he "wouldn’t want to put an incomplete report in the public." He promised to release the report within "a matter of weeks."