A quick round up of quick MoJo reads:

Those meddling kids at the State department asked Twitter to postpone the Fail Whale's Tehran cameo; Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief; and this week's adorably endangered animal is the Hawaiian monk seal.

Meanwhile, Blackwater lost a federal-issue fryer (and $55 million), health care reform is feeling a bit faint, and Chastity Bono's sex change = shrug.

And the question of the day: Are there any senators whose Tweets aren't cringeworthy? This guy, not so much.

Stories on health, the environment, and science from our other blogs you might have missed yesterday:

Pay more, get less: Only about 1/5 of charter schools perform better than public schools.

Death and taxes: Musings on the taxes necessary for universal healthcare.

Grassley's tweets: A translation of tweets by 75-year-old senator Chuck Grassley.

Palin's pain: While Palin is complaining, real women are actually being raped in Africa.

Obama's 1st climate report: Press nearly wets itself in excitement.

Those meddling kids at the State department asked Twitter to postpone the Fail Whale's Tehran cameo; Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief; and this week's adorably endangered animal is the Hawaiian monk seal.

Meanwhile, Blackwater lost a federal-issue fryer (and $55 million), health care reform is feeling a bit faint, and Chastity Bono's sex change = shrug.

And the question of the day: Are there any senators whose Tweets aren't cringeworthy? This guy, not so much.

Still Listening

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau report today that Congress is once again becoming concerned that the NSA is intercepting domestic email messages without a warrant:

Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.

....He said he and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. He said Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits — no more than 30 percent of any database search, he recalled being told — and Americans were not explicitly singled out in the searches.

There's also this:

The N.S.A. is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries designed to protect Americans in about 8 to 10 separate court orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to three intelligence officials who spoke anonymously because disclosing such information is illegal. Because each court order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly collected could number in the millions, officials said.

....Overcollection on that scale could lead to a significant number of privacy invasions of American citizens, officials acknowledge, setting off the concerns among lawmakers and on the secret FISA court. “The court was not happy” when it learned of the overcollection, said an administration official involved in the matter.

Rep. Rush Holt (D–NJ), chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel is investigating.  "Some actions are so flagrant that they can't be accidental," he says.

Chart of the Day

Josh Harkinson says the big new climate report released today by the Obama administration is no big deal because it's largely the same as the draft report that was released by the Bush administration last year.  Technically, maybe that's true.  But even though the report won't directly affect either legislation or agency rulemaking, surely it matters that we have an administration that actively and willingly releases a comprehensive report like this rather than one that fumes and delays and denies for four years before finally being forced to make it public with about the same enthusiasm that most of us reserve for getting a root canal?

Besides, even though it's primarily a review of existing literature, it's a pretty good review, covering everything from wildfires to rainfall to hurricanes to the fact that Illinois will look like Texas by 2100 (that's on p. 117).  Having a report this good, this comprehensive, and this authoritative may not save the planet, but it's still a pretty worthwhile data source to have around.

What's more, it's a gold mine of colorful charts!  And you know I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff. So here's your chart of the day: a 15-year history of electrical grid problems caused by increasingly extreme weather.  That's a new one on me, so maybe it's a new for you too.  The full report is here.

UPDATE: I picked this chart sort of randomly just because I'd never seen anything like it before.  Turns out there was a good reason for this: the increase in electrical grid problems is mostly the result of better reporting, not climate change.  Sorry about that.  Details here from Warren Meyer.

UPDATE 2: Evan Mills, who created this chart, emails to respond to Meyer's criticism.  He points out that (1) the caption specifically says this data doesn't demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, (2) the growth in weather-related incidents is not merely an artifact of better data collection, and (3) there was a larger increase in warm weather incidents than cold weather incidents.  However, regardless of whether climate change has caused any of the recent increase in grid disturbances, the data does show what may be in store for us in the future if climate change continues.  More here.

Does the Waxman-Markey energy bill really give away 85% of its emission permits to big polluters?  Dave Roberts says no: most of the permit allocations go to consumers, households, and green energy programs.  Only about 22% of the permits go to big industrials.  That's still about 22% too high, but it's a lot less than most press reports would lead you to believe.  Details here.

My roommate Mike has psoriasis, which, according to WebMD, is "a reddish, scaly rash often located over the surfaces of the elbows, knees, scalp, and around or in the ears, navel, genitals or buttocks." Luckily, his case is mild (it's only on his elbows), and you can't really notice it unless he's playing basketball. But after reading about a new study that links psoriasis to heart disease and other serious health problems, I'm worried about him.

Yesterday, Forbes reported that "people with psoriasis face an increased risk of major cardiovascular disease and death." The research they discuss, which included data from a Veterans Administration medical facility study, compared 3,236 people suffering from the skin disease to 2,500 psoriasis-free individuals and found a 78 percent higher incidence of heart disease, a 70 percent higher incidence of stroke and a 98 percent higher incidence of peripheral arterial disease (blockage of arteries in the legs) in the psoriasis group."

Without trying to sound preachy, I hope that those of you out there with psoriasis take these new findings as a wake-up call to stop partaking in activities that will increase your risk of heart disease or stroke, because you are likely already more genetically predisposed to these problems. Mike and I have decided to boycott red meat for a while and we plan to choose workouts over continuing our Woody Allen marathon.

The release today of the first climate report from Barack Obama's presidency prompted a dizzy reaction in the press. The AP called it "the strongest language on climate change ever to come out of the White House" and the Washington Post pointed out that it called evidence of climate change "unequivocal." Unveiled by Obama's scientific advisor and packaged by a San Francisco-based environmental PR firm, the report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, helped convey the idea that Obama was breaking from the Bush years to tackle climate change head-on. Nevermind that almost nothing of substance in the report is different from a draft that the Bush administration had released last summer.

Take this line from the executive summary, which so impressed the Post: "Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced." Here's what the the Bush administration's draft said: "Global warming is unequivocal and is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases and other pollutants." Not much difference there.

Aside from the natural gap in polish between a rough and final draft, very little seperates the two documents. The Bush version prominently states that the impacts of human-induced climate change "are apparent now throughout the United States," that "climate changes are occurring faster that projected," and that reducing climate change will entail "reducing emissions to limit future warming." It's as if the report had been written by Al Gore.

Of course, Bush didn't want to release this report. The first draft, made public last summer, was published four years late and only after an environmental group successfully sued for its release. Yet that doesn't make Obama's decision to hype the final version any more impressive. It comes at no political cost to him but could be seen as a way to placate environmentalists. Many green groups are on the verge of mutiny or have declared it over the Waxman/Markey climate bill, an unconscionable giveaway to big polluters, in their view, that Obama has called "a historic leap." Those groups won't be impressed by today's news, but some of their supporters will.

Twitter was scheduled to go down for scheduled maintenance today, but it was postponed at the request of the State Department:

Confirmation that the U.S. government had contacted Twitter came as the Obama administration sought to avoid suggestions it was meddling in Iran's internal affairs as the Islamic Republic battled to control deadly street protests over the election result.

....Twitter Inc said in a blog post it delayed a planned upgrade because of its role as an "important communication tool in Iran." The hour-long maintenance was put back to 5 p.m. EDT/2100 GMT, which corresponds to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Iran.

Fascinating.  The original upgrade schedule would have cut service in the middle of the day in Tehran.

Via Sullivan, of course.