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New Plan To Protect Sea Turtle Highways

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

TortueLuth_Leatherback.jpg The IUCN meeting in Barcelona has adopted a resolution urging nations to create marine protected areas along the Pacific leatherback sea turtle's migratory routes. The plan is designed to shield critically endangered leatherbacks from devastating longline and gillnet fisheries. Hopefully it will also save the hammerhead sharks ravaged in those fisheries too.

The resolution is sponsored by the a Costa Rican nonprofit PRETOMA and centers around a "Cocos Ridge Marine Wildlife Corridor." Recent satellite tracking data has shown that Pacific leatherbacks swim from nesting beaches in Costa Rica to the Galápagos via the Cocos Islands. A protected corridor along this route during the migratory seasons could save many of the last leatherbacks.

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Is Getting Race Right All About the Benjamins?

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 6:36 PM EDT

Ireland is welcoming immigrants of all hues and thriving. From Slate:

After centuries of emigration—particularly to Great Britain and the United States—Ireland has attracted thousands of newcomers. While the economy has cooled, foreigners have not, for the most part, headed for the exits: Approximately 10 percent of the country's 4.1 million residents are now foreign-born. The diversity of this group becomes apparent as you stroll around Dublin: Filipino restaurants stand next to Polish grocery stores and African hair-braiding salons. ...

...the government has encouraged businesses to fill low-skill jobs with citizens from the new EU member states. According to 2006 statistics (the most recent available), about 70,000 Poles have successfully landed work in Ireland. The third-largest group of foreigners—after British and Polish—are Africans. There are about 50,000 Africans in Ireland, and many of them arrived as asylum seekers.

One Nigerian immigrant is mayor of an Irish town, and he isn't even a citizen. Imagine that happening here. Unfortunately, immigration isn't going so well in Spain. Also from Slate:

It wasn't so long ago that Spain was considered one of the most immigrant-friendly countries in the world. In 2005, the nation's European neighbors looked askance when the Spanish government instituted an amnesty program that granted residency papers to more than 500,000 foreigners. It was a potential first step to acquiring Spanish citizenship and, by extension, an EU passport. That wasn't the only chance non-EU citizens had to settle in the country through legal channels: The government has also allowed businesses to recruit for so-called hard-to-fill positions—ranging from medical technician to domestic worker—by hiring abroad. Last year, more than 200,000 foreigners arrived in Spain this way. Upon arrival, newcomers both legal and illegal could access Spain's health care system at no cost by registering at the local town hall.

Immigrants can still access the state safety net, but now that the economy has cooled, opportunities to settle in the country legally are becoming scarce. ...

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Spanish government would become more apprehensive about its newfound multiculturalism. The country has undergone a bewildering transformation: In the past decade, the immigrant population spiked to nearly 4 million, or 10 percent of the country's total population of 40 million. That is almost as high as the proportion of foreign-born residents in the United States, where immigrants comprise 12.5 percent of the population. Unlike the United States or European countries like Austria and Germany, Spain has little experience of absorbing outsiders. Traditionally, people left the country rather than settled there.

As usual, it's all about the benjamins; when the economy is strong and unpleasant work needs to be done, immigrants are wooed. When the economy tanks.....

Friday Cat Blogging - 17 October 2008

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 4:19 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....We're in the middle of a mild Santa Ana condition right now, which means it's been pretty warm this week. Despite this, Domino has taken to burrowing under the bedroom quilt for her afternoon snooze. So that's what she's doing on the left. On the right, Inkblot, having finally cottoned to the fact that something is going on underneath the blankets, heads over to check it out. Needless to say, this had potential for considerable merriment, but after taking a brief swipe at Domino's paw, which was sticking out of the blanket, he got sort of addled and headed downstairs for a snack. That's always been the real center of his universe, after all.

Google Goggles, YouTube Snobs, and xkcd, Oh My!

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 4:16 PM EDT

resize.jpgFirst webcomic xkcd tossed off a funny about a virus forcing YouTube commenters to listen to their comments out loud before posting them. (Apparently there are those who believe hearing oneself sound ridiculous will stop one from using asinine words—clearly not true.) Then YouTube actually debuted something similar: Audio Preview, a non-mandatory feature that might make comments more coherent.

Still, there's no guarantee. Annoyed by X number of spelling mistakes, all or no capital letters, or extreme punctuation? Try YouTube Comment Snob, a program that lets you censor the comments you deem idiotic.

If all of that isn't web-nannying for you, check out Google's new drunkmailing prevention feature: Mail Goggles. Requiring you to answer five math questions before you can send an email, the program can be set to watch your back for whatever hour you tend to stumble home. (Its default is Friday and Saturday 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.)

—Brittney Andres

Image from xkcd.com.

LA Times Endorses Obama

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 4:07 PM EDT

LA TIMES ENDORSES OBAMA....I won't try to pretend that the LA Times endorsing a liberal candidate is some kind of harbinger of social upheaval, but still: they haven't endorsed a presidential candidate for over 30 years. This year they're endorsing Obama:

We may one day look back on this presidential campaign in wonder. We may marvel that Obama's critics called him an elitist, as if an Ivy League education were a source of embarrassment, and belittled his eloquence, as if a gift with words were suddenly a defect. In fact, Obama is educated and eloquent, sober and exciting, steady and mature. He represents the nation as it is, and as it aspires to be.

They still like McCain because they think he'll cut taxes more on rich people (seriously, that's what they say), but they also aver that "the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable." Perhaps. Or maybe stress reveals character more than they think. That aside, though, most of the editorial is sharply on point. You can read the rest here.

Maybe Nothing is Wrong With Kansas

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 4:03 PM EDT

CNN reports that Rep. Murtha is apologizing for referring to western Pennsylvania, which he represents, as "a racist area". Of course, this comes on the heels of Obama's comments about the white working class bitterly clinging to racism, guns and religion as the economy worsens. Until recently, this week in fact, my reaction had been a big 'truth hurts. Deal with it'. Now I'm wondering if it's so simple.

In the Oct. 13 New Yorker, George Packer offers a superbly argued defense of this very demographic and tries to shift the paradigm: Counter-intuitive as it seems for poor-to-lower middle class whites to have shifted their loyalty to the GOP and remain aloof to Obama, it is not a symptom of stupidity. It's a legitimate reaction to their belief that the Democrats just haven't done much for them lately. Lately, like since the 70s, when working whites abandoned the party they'd embraced since FDR.

It's the delicious New Yorker, so a quick excerpt just won't do:

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The Fix We're In

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 3:56 PM EDT

THE FIX WE'RE IN....Via Tim Fernholz, Rutgers history professor James Livingston offers his take on the core cause of our current financial meltdown. Naturally I like it, since it confirms many of my existing prejudices about the matter, so maybe you'll like it too:

The Great Depression was the consequence of a massive shift of income shares to profits, away from wages and thus consumption, at the very moment — the 1920s — that expanded production of consumer durables became the crucial condition of economic growth as such. This shift produced a tidal wave of surplus capital that, in the absence of any need for increased investment in productive capacity (net investment declined steadily through the 1920s even as industrial productivity and output increased spectacularly), flowed inevitably into speculative channels, particularly the stock market bubble of the late 20s.

....[Likewise], a shift of income shares away from wages and consumption, toward profits, has characterized the pattern of economic growth and development over the last twenty-five years....The offset to this massive shift of income shares came in the form of increasing transfer payments — government spending on social programs — since the 1960s; these payments were the fastest growing component of labor income (10 percent per annum) from 1959 to 1999. The moment of truth reached in 1929 was accordingly postponed. But then George Bush's tax cuts produced a new tidal wave of surplus capital with no place to go except into real estate, where the boom in lending against assets that kept appreciating allowed the "securitization" of mortgages — that is, the conversion of consumer debt into promising investment vehicles.

....And while consumers were going deeper into debt to service the current account deficit and finance economic growth, corporations were abstaining from investment: "The recent household deficit more than offset the persistent financial surplus in the business sector. For a period of six years — the longest since the second world war — US business invested less than its retained earnings." (FT 8/22/07, p. 13)

....So the Bush tax cuts merely fueled the housing bubble — they did not, and could not, lead to increased productive investment. And that is the consistent lesson to be drawn from fiscal policy that corroborates the larger shift to profits, away from wages and consumption.

I'll leave it to economists to argue over whether Livingston is right in detail. But the confluence of stagnant middle class wages; the resultingly vast pools of idle money looking for places to go; a rising federal deficit and a skyrocketing current account deficit; and then a series of tax cuts to make it all even worse — that's the big-picture core of what's wrong with our economy. It won't get fixed overnight, but the sooner we start the better.

POSTSCRIPT: And on a similar note, how about that capital gains tax cut in 1997, passed just in time to direct even vaster streams of cash into the dotcom bubble? Not such a good idea in retrospect, was it?

UPDATE: See Tyler Cowen here and Daniel Davies here for related thoughts. Though, really, I'm not sure "related" is quite the right word. But beneath the surface there's a sort of family resemblance.

Bailout Watch

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 2:53 PM EDT

BAILOUT WATCH....So how's that bank recapitalization going? Are big banks going to use their $125 billion in federal cash to expand lending and unfreeze the credit markets? The New York Times reports:

"There is no express statutory requirement that says you must make this amount of loans," said John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency. "But the economics work so that it is in their interest to do so."

Mr. Dugan added that he would not examine how the banks used the money, but he said their actions would "be open to the court of public opinion."

Ah, yes, the court of public opinion. The titans of Wall Street are famous for their humble submission to public opinion. That should work out very well indeed.

Or not. Especially if it doesn't matter because they still don't have any money:

Lenders have been pulling back on credit lines for businesses, mortgages, home equity loans and credit card offers, and analysts said that trend was unlikely to be reversed by the government's money.

"I don't think that the market wants to see that capital being put to work to leverage the business up again," Roger Freeman, an analyst at Barclays Capital, which acquired parts of the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers last month, told The Times. "My expectation is it's quarters off, not months off, before you see that capital being put to work."

....In the case of the nine-largest commercial banks — Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Wachovia — profits from early 2004 until the middle of 2007 were a combined $305 billion. But since July 2007, those banks have marked down their valuations on loans and other assets by just over that amount.

In other words, their net profit for the past four years is already negative, and by the time this is all over their net profit for the entire past decade or three will be negative. So keep that government cash coming. $125 billion is only the beginning.

Purging Ohio

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 1:43 PM EDT

PURGING OHIO....A couple of weeks ago the Ohio Republican Party sued the Ohio Secretary of State. Their aim: forcing her to turn over to county officials the raw results of database matching operations for new voter registrations. She had refused because these matching efforts are notoriously unreliable, effectively purging tens of thousands of new registrations because of inaccuracies in the DMV and Social Security databases.

But of course the bulk of new registrations this year are Democratic voters, so the Ohio GOP went to court anyway. Today, in an impressively quick ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against them. I guess Scalia and Thomas must still be feeling guilty over 2000.

UPDATE: Elsewhere, Matt Yglesias makes the case for a national ID card as a way of cutting voter fraud. He doesn't actually say that, mind you, but that's how I choose to intepret his tale of voting woe anyway. And I agree.

Defending the Squiggle

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 1:08 PM EDT

DEFENDING THE SQUIGGLE....Daniel Davies defends the "squiggle," CNN's real-time plot of reactions from their focus group of undecided voters during presidential debates:

My only complaint about the crawler is that CNN removes it from the screen when the debate finishes. I absolutely wish that they continued to show the favourable/unfavourable reactions of the dial-testing focus group to the talking heads on the news afterwards; you'd be able to see the worm plunging every time Wolf Blitzer opened his gob. I suspect a few uncomfortable home truths would arise out of that one.

He's got a few other ideas for on-screen dial testing too. Oddly enough, though, I'm tired of the squiggle. For the first three debates I was fascinated by it even though I knew it was mostly just BS, but in the fourth debate I hardly watched it at all. It wasn't anything deliberate, I just didn't care. Short attention span, I guess.