Very good news today from a place you might least expect it—the mouth of the Yangtze River: third longest river in the world, most economically important waterway in China, home to massive industrial development and the world’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Despite these obstacles, 15 critically endangered Chinese alligators—the most endangered of all crocodilians—hatched at the mouth of the Yangtze. They are the offspring of the first captive-born parents to successfully breed in the wild.

The hatchlings represent 10 years of work by the Wildlife Conservation Society and China's Department of Wildlife Conservation and Management of the State Forestry Administration, among others.

The efforts began after a 1999 survey of the only remaining wild home for Chinese alligators found fewer than 130 animals in a shrinking population.

Subsequently recommendations were made to reintroduce a group of captive-bred animals into the wild. Three alligators bred in China were released in 2003. A dozen more followed from North America, including some from the Bronx Zoo.

By 2008, three of the North American alligators released into the wild in China had successfully hibernated, paired up, and laid eggs... fueling hope the Chinese alligator might outswim extinction longer than the Three Gorges Dam—that killer (in part) of the near-extinct Yangtze river dolphin and destroyer of habitat of the critically endangered Siberian Crane. Short may this dam live.

But, hey, good job alligators and all those who are helping them.

 

Elvis Presley may have been the king, but he wasn't much of a letter writer. In a 1970 missive to Richard Nixon in which he asked to be made a special agent in the budding War on Drugs, his sentences run together with the reckless abandon of a semi-literate speed freak. Plus, he also appears to really like Nixon, a hazy choice at best.

A few choice quotes from Elvis's letter to Nixon:

"The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it American and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out..."
"Sir, I am staying at the Washington Hotel, Room 505-506-507...I am registered under the name Jon Burrow. I will be here for as long as long [sic] as it takes to get the credential of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good..."
"I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men...I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this..."
P.S. "I believe that Sir, were one of the Top Ten Outstanding Men of America also."

See the full Elvis letter here [pdf], or read a transcript here.

Sasha Abramsky, a frequent Mother Jones writer and the author of Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It, went on GRITtv with Laura Flanders Monday to talk about hunger and homelessness in the US. Joining him on a larger panel was Aubretia Edick, the Wal-Mart employee he wrote about here.

Watch the full video here, or a snippet below:

GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV), on cable, public television, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on Twitter.com.

Who says the arcane job of rewriting the laws that govern hard-rock mining isn't of interest to Joe Sixpack? Certainly not Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who in testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, deftly linked the reform of the nation's mining laws to the production of better beer. "Relative to the water that was used for Coors beer," the former Colorado Senator said, "we know that Clear Creek comes off the headwaters. . .where we have thousands of abandoned mines."

Salazar was testifying in support of two senate bills that would end the giveaway of minerals on federal land--a federal law from 1872 still allows companies to extract gold and other minerals royalty-free--and use the money to finance the cleanup of mining sites.  An estimated 500,000 abandoned mines have contaminated the headwaters of 40 percent of the West's streams. Cleaning them up will cost at least $32 billion.

For Salazar, citing Coors' iconic Clear Creek was a tip of the cowboy hat to Republican brewery scion Pete Coors, whom Salazar narrowly defeated in a 2004 Senate race. For decades, the Coors family has been a major donor to conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and John Birch Society and target of environmentalists. On several occasions, the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado, dumped thousands of gallons of beer into Clear Creek, at one point killing up to 50,000 fish (perhaps they at least died happy). But starting in the early 1990s, Coors also began paying more attention to preserving its watershed. It joined forces with state agencies to clean up an abandoned mine along the creek and cap, grade, and replant the site.

The mining reform bill would bankroll those cleanups by requiring new mines to pay into a fund. But Salazar would like to see it go further by creating new incentives for companies such as Coors to clean up mines on their own. In 2006, he sponsored a "Good Samaritan" bill that would have allowed private interests to mop up contaminated sites without fear of being held liable for the pollutants found there. For example, in the 1990s, the State of Colorado and Coors had planned to stanch the flow from a mine tunnel that was leaching ten pounds of heavy metals into Clear Creek each day, but the state killed the project for fear of lawsuits.

Salazar's plea for better beer through mining reform was a big hit with freshman Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who has replaced him on the committee. "Your comments about Coors are particularly relevant to me, since Colorado is the number one producer of beer on a state-to-state basis," he said. "It's an important industry in Colorado and it's important to all of us."

Then the microphone was passed to Senator James Risch (R-ID), who was none too impressed. "Colorado may brew it," he said, "but Idaho grows the barley and the hops."

Conor Friedersdorf has three reasons he doesn't think he'll be able to support any of the progressive healthcare reforms currently on tap.  Here's #2:

It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine another Dick Cheney or Richard Nixon in the White House. Are we really comfortable assuming that the state will never use its role in health care to pressure political opponents, or collect frightening kinds of data, or politicize medical decisions more than is now the case? Isn't there any size and scope of government that progressives deem to be too big on prudential grounds? Why doesn't this put us there?

Points for originality here: I don't think I've ever heard this objection before.  And around here we like new and different.  Still, while I bow to no man in my contempt for either the Trickster or the Dickster, even I can't really see either one of them scheming to deny Ralph Nader a liver transplant or something.  But then again, maybe my imagination isn't active enough.

On the more conventional front, here's reason #3:

I keep seeing the argument that America is the leading health care innovator, and that if our system looks more like what Europe has, there won't be anyone left making strides in research and development. I haven't seen a convincing rebuttal, though there may well be one. Links?

This is actually the only objection to national healthcare that I find sort of interesting.  But here's the problem: the reason it's hard to find a convincing rebuttal is because the argument itself is purely speculative in the first place.  Sure, it's possible that the only thing keeping medical innovation alive is the (approximately) one-fourth of global healthcare spending accounted for by the quasi-private portion of the American market.  But that's all it is: possible.  There's no real empirical argument at work here, and given the current state of the global healthcare market, there probably can't be.  That makes it pretty hard to construct an empirical rebuttal.

So I guess I'd reframe this.  Instead of simply suggesting that innovation will die if America adopts national healthcare, how about breaking that down into three or four very specific arguments about what kind of innovations we're talking about and why they'd be destroyed if the feds funded 80% of American healthcare instead of the current 45%?  Let's hear some details and some proposed mechanisms.  Then maybe we can take a crack at having a discussion about it.

The view from Sarah Palin's porch remains as bizarre as it was when she said she could see Russia from there. Having conquered the limits of space, Palin's eyes now vaniquish time.

"American prosperity," the soon-to-be-former Governor of Alaska writes in today's WaPo, "has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy."

As Palin makes clear further on, the only energy sources that meet her All-American standards are fossil fuels. (Nuclear power is OK, but from an economic POV, it's something of a dinosaur, too.)

Coal. Natural gas. And, of course, the precious crude oil that gave rise to her battle cry, "Drill, baby, drill!"

The energy future Palin sees from her porch is, in fact, the past.

Palin's 20th Century obession with fossil fuels is not unique. On Monday, Wonkette took a swipe at the National Endowment for Democracy for hosting a conference on fostering democracy in oil rich countries. (Still?! Again?!)

According to a piece in today's HuffPo, even Exxon is experimenting with biofuels, investing half a billion dollars in algae-based program. (I think their dabble is doomed to failure, but that's a different post. Or, if you can't wait, check out what Greenbiz had to say on this subject last week.)

A more likely future was presented in a study released yesterday by the University of California: "Electric Vehicles in the United States."

The report forecast that electric vehicles (EVs) will account for up to 86% of all new car sales in the US in just two decades. What's interesting about the study is not its wildly optimistic viewpoint -- it's the business model they say will usher in that future.

Here’s the concept: You pay for the electric vehicle (like the Renault-Nissan Rogue shown above).

The company, Better Place, pays for (and owns) the $11,000 battery. And the network of charging stations. And the switching stations where customers can swap their nearly empty battery for a full one on long trips, at no fee. Under this scenario, you’ll buy the car in the usual way. But all the costs associated with powering the vehicle will come in the form of a pay-per-mile contract.

The concept is familiar to anyone who has a pay-per-minute cell phone contract. The cost to the consumer pencils out at a point well below what gasoline-powered drivers currently pay. The savings increase with the inevitable rise in oil prices.

The UC study found that “separating the purchase of the battery from the car and incorporating its financing into a service contract that pays for the electricity and charging infrastructure radically changes the pricing possibilities for electric vehicles.”

According to the study, other key benefits of adopting EVs at this scale include:

  • A decrease in oil imports of between 18-38%.
  • A reduction of the US trade deficit by a third.
  • A net increase of as many as 350,000 new jobs.
  • Health care saving of between $105-$210 million based on lower levels of airborne pollutants.
  • A 69% decline in CO2 emissions — if the electricity to charge the batteries comes from renewable, clean sources such as solar or wind.

To those who think this will never happen: it's already begun. With the aid of $45 million from the state of Hawaii, Better Place is installing charging stations in key areas on the islands. The company also plans on building a billion dollar charging infrastructure throughout the San Francisco Bay area. And the Japanese company, A123, has announced plans to build a $2 billion plant in Michigan to produce batteries for these cars.

The Sarah Palins of the world don't see any of this, of course. She and her followers are too busy marching backwards into the past and thinking they're gaining ground.

As all progressives know, looking forward is so much more fun.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. He edited The Climate Bill: A Field Guide. For more of his stories, click here.

 

David Corn Talks Torture on NPR

On NPR today, MoJo's David Corn discussed Cheney, wiretapping, and torture.

To listen, click here. And read David's tweets about the segment below:

On NPR Diane Rehm Show (@drshow) I urged listeners to read IGs report on Bush's warrantless wiretapping & promised link http://bit.ly/O1nya about 4 hours ago from web

I'll be doing NPR's Diane Rehm Show (@drshow) in 16 minutes. Subject: torture, assassination, Cheney. You know, the usual.

Even for a legal nerd like myself, Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings have been fairly dull. So our friends at The UpTake took the liberty of spicing up the day's most interesting back-and-forth—between Sotomayor and Utah's Orrin Hatch.

So, there you have it: Sonia Sotomayor is Michelangelo.

Apples to Orgasms

An odd tidbit from our British friends across the pond:

A National Health Service leaflet is advising school pupils that they have a "right" to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in guidance circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers, and is intended to update sex education by telling pupils about the benefits of sexual pleasure. For too long, say its authors, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment.

The document, called Pleasure, has been drawn up by NHS Sheffield, although it is also being circulated outside the city.

Alongside the slogan "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away", it says: "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?"

Very interesting. But could such a sexually enlightened controversial program ever work here in the United States?

The so-called "Tri-Committee" healthcare plan has just been released, and it's so called because it's a joint effort from the House committees on Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.  It looks pretty good at first glance, but honestly, I haven't read through it in any detail yet.  So more on that front later.

For now, though, let's take a look at the PR effort.  Here are the talking points from the "What's In It For You?" handout:

Comments?  I'd spruce up the "national pool" point, since I imagine most people don't really know what that means.  And I'd change "insurance companies" to "insurance company bureaucrats" — or maybe even "greedy, blood-sucking insurance company bureaucrats."  But I suppose that would be a little coarse for members of the United States Congress, no?

Overall, though, pretty good.  An average voter reading this really would come away with the idea that there's something in it for them.  It's a good start.