Igor Sikorsky and Angular Momentum

Igor SikorskyPhilosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on this day in 1803. I tend to accept a lot of his thinking, but his religious thought (understandably) is stuck in the early 18th century. Of course, that thinking is still far in advance of most religious people today. (Does that sound snarky? I don’t exactly mean it that way. I do however find religion fascinating and most believers devoid of any interesting thought at all. Religion is probably the worse subject for that. In economics, people might be constrained 90% by dogma. With religion it is often 100%.)

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was born in 1878. He is most known for the movies he made with Shirley Temple. He was a capable dancer, but there’s nothing especially compelling about it. Of course, I’m not a huge dance fan. The bigger issue is that in the Temple films, he plays such “inoffensive” black characters. I understand that he was a trailblazer and important to race relations. But it’s still hard to watch. He seems to have been a good guy.

What I find most interesting about him is Jerry Jeff Walker’s song “Mr. Bojangles.” It appears that it was based upon a true story. But the dancer he described was not Bill Robinson. It couldn’t have been him since Robinson had died in 1949, when Walker was 7 years old. It is just that Robinson (like Robert Johnson) was so popular that people made entire careers out of impersonating him. So the song tells the story of one of these men, probably at the end of a downhill slide. Here is my favorite version of it by David Bromberg:

The other half of Burt Bacharach, Hal David was born in 1921. The great novelist Robert Ludlum was born in 1927. Poet and short story writer Raymond Carver was born in 1938. Actor Dixie Carter was born in 1939.

Producer Irwin Winkler is 82 today. Actor Ian McKellen is 74. Director and the soul of Miss Piggy, Frank Oz is 69. Vagina monologist Eve Ensler is 60. Comedian Mike Myers is 50. And that picked upon actor Jamie Kennedy is 43.

The day, however, belongs to Igor Sikorsky who was born on this day back in 1889. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not invent the helicopter. He did however, pretty much invent what we think of as a helicopter today. It’s a wild idea. Having one big rotor on top, should make the the bottom of the craft just spin the other way. But Sikorsky’s design the main rotor with a back rotor that is almost perpendicular to it that managed to equalize the angular momentum. Really, if I hadn’t grown up with helicopters and flown in them a few times, I wouldn’t even believe such a thing was possible. The modern helicopter is a work of engineering genius. Of course, Sikorsky did a lot more than that. Go read about him if you are interested.

Happy birthday Igor Sikorsky!

Go Nuclear Harry Reid!

Richard CordrayHarry Reid really needs to go nuclear. Mike Konczal has an excellent article over at Wonk Blog about what is going on with the nomination of Richard Cordray to head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Just look at that face! How could anyone say no to him? Well, as Konczal explained, it isn’t about him. The Republicans don’t want anyone to head the CFPB. They don’t like the new bureau and they are going to hold their breath until they get their way. Or the political equivalent to it.

This is effectively nullification. And this is brand new. Well, Obama new. The Senate is using its right to “advise and consent” on nominations to strike down laws it simply doesn’t like. This is a very bad situation. Last February, 43 Republican Senators signed a letter saying they would not approve anyone to head the CFPB unless three of their demands were met. Does that sound like anyone to you? “We will kill all the hostages unless our demands are met!”

So what are their demands? First, they want the CFPB to be run by a bipartisan committee to effectively hobble it. Second, they want to be able to budget the CFPB year by year so that whenever they have the power, they can effectively destroy it. And third, they want a “safety-and-soundness check for the prudential regulators.” As Konczal noted:

It’s not clear why this is important to Republicans. A cynical reading would be that since profit-making is one way to achieve the safety and soundness of banks that the CFPB regulates, anything that might get in the way of banks ripping off their customers would hurt safety and soundness. And, indeed, big fines and settlements for illegal practices do, in theory, mean more capital that they’ll have to raise, or lower earnings for shareholders.

Get that? It would basically say as long as banks are making money the government has no reason to punish them.

This is all reminding me of the Republican reaction to every other issue where they had no real leverage. Remember during the Obamacare negotiations, the Republicans would have no part of it. It was all or nothing. (In as much as the Democrats ever offer nothing!) And they got nothing. So after it passed they’ve tried to destroy it. First in the courts and now in the implementation. Here it’s the same thing. The Republicans lost their battle against the CFPB. And now they want a do over. As Konczal concluded:

Republicans had a chance to contribute to the Dodd-Frank law; chances are they could have gotten major changes for just a few Republican votes. Instead they went all-in, hoping to prevent a more liberal bill from passing at all. They failed, and then they failed to set up 2013 as a year in which repealing Dodd-Frank would be possible. The nomination process is meant to vet candidates, not give losing parties a second bite at an apple they rejected the first time. Here’s hoping Reid can make sure it stays that way.

Indeed. For this reason and so many more, Harry Reid needs to go nuclear.

Bernie Sanders on Labor Markets

Bernie Sanders

Dylan Matthews just posted a great, short interview with Bernie Sanders. It is about the Gang of Eight immigration bill that most everyone is so excited about. Sanders is not and it looks like he will vote against it. What really struck me was that his position is almost identical to mine: we need to normalize the 11 million undocumented residents but the rest of the bill is mostly bad.

Primarily, his concern is on the issue of employment. He is rightly highly skeptical that firms can’t find American workers. He said, “Again, if there’s such a crisis, why haven’t wages gone up?” That’s the critical question. The conservative response is usually, “Those jobs aren’t worth that much.” The idea here is that companies would go out of business if they had to pay enough for American workers. That is a decidedly non-conservative argument these conservatives are making. Basically, the logic is: the government should provide low wage workers to inefficient businesses. It’s madness.

Sanders is really focused on technology jobs. He noted that in the last 11 years, wages have risen only 4.5%. What’s more, he noted a clear mathematical problem with the push for more H1-B visas, “I find it hard to understand that, when nine million people in this country have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, only about three million have jobs in these areas.” Part of the answer is that high tech firms tend to be picky, and highly resistant to hiring older workers. (By “older” they mean over 30 years old.) But the larger issue is just that there is a market for about 3 million tech workers and the industry is just lying about the availability of workers in order to keep wages down.

Unfortunately, Sanders hedges a bit. He also blasts the H2-B visa increases that will provide for even more seasonal workers. That’s all good. But he says many times that there are companies who just can’t find workers. He even provides a full tilt apologia for his home industry:

There are areas when you do need foreign labor. Here in Vermont, while I wish it were the case that kids would go into dairy, they do not.

Look, I understand: the man is still a politician and he has to take care of his constituency. But as Mitt Romney said, “Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” I’m sure that if the Vermont dairy industry paid better, more Americans would take the jobs. I’m sure that Sanders understands this, of course. But he doesn’t need the Vermont Dairy Industry Association raising millions of dollars to campaign against him.

The whole spectacle of Bernie Sanders making these arguments ought to cause belly laughs from the nation. Supposed hardcore capitalists like Paul Ryan don’t understand the basic economics of the system they publicly worship. Meanwhile, socialist Bernie Sanders understands exactly how the economy works—the labor market anyway. And maybe there’s a reason for that. As I discussed last night, most conservatives are very confused about how market economies work. Maybe understanding capitalism has a tendency to moderate one’s views.

Reformish Republicans Want Party Invites

Bruce BartlettApparently there is a push going on to highlight “reasonable” conservative writers. Yesterday, I wrote about Jonathan Chait’s article on Josh Barro. And earlier this month, Ryan Cooper wrote an article, Reformish Conservatives. That’s a good term: reformish. In general, there are no reformers; there are conservatives who occasionally criticize their movement. And then there is Bruce Bartlett.

Before I get to the controversy, let me discuss Bartlett. He is the only one of the supposed reformers who actively does battle with the conservative movement. He was a conservative economist. He still is a conservative economist. Both the parties have moved to the right such that Bartlett now fits solidly in the Democratic Party. That’s an indictment of the parties, not of Bartlett. I don’t consider myself a political radical. It is only in our screwed up system with its Overton window so small shifted far to the right that I appear a radical. Similarly, Bartlett is a conservative.

Cooper’s article lists a number of these supposed reform conservatives. And it includes some people who are insightful: Joss Barro, David Frum, Ramesh Ponnuru. But even they are mostly apologists for the Republican Party. And the rest? David Brooks, Reihan Salam, Avik Roy, Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat. They are entirely apologists. All they do is put a friendly face on conservatism. They’re the guys who tell you in a soothing tone that they really care about the poor and that is why the estate tax must be abolished.

Thankfully, there has been some push back. Paul Krugman said pretty much what I do, “But what the ‘reformish’ conservatives Ryan Cooper lists do, in almost all cases, is either (a) to follow the party line on these issues or (b) to hint at some flexibility—and thereby cultivate an image of being open-minded—as long as the issues don’t get close to an actual policy decision, but to always find a way to support the Republican position whenever it actually matters.” This is the problem with the narrative, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me.” The Republican Party has largely been post-fact for 30 years. I can understand taking a while to figure that out—Bruce Bartlett did. But even ten years ago it was too clear that the Republicans had fallen down the rabbit hole. Anyone still supporting them must at base be more interested in party loyalty than facts and policy.

Mike Konczal went even further. He listed the six tenets of the conservative movement. They are really just three: reduce taxes on the rich, cut spending on the poor, ignore (or worse) the environment. (If you think that’s a strawman, check out the article because he goes into more depth.) And then he listed the “reform” positions: the Fed isn’t all bad; EITC is good; minor financial reform wouldn’t be a bad idea; and crony capitalism is bad. These are at best snipping around the edges. As Konczal wrote, this is “more gestural than substantive.” And indeed it is! The original point of Cooper’s article was that the Republican Party just wants to change its messaging but not its policies. Well, in general, that’s all the “reformers” want to do too.

Konczal also noted that all the reformers work in the abstract. They don’t call for specific policies. He mentioned calling for the Republicans to stop blocking allowing a head to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Of course, none of them do that. At best, these reformers want to maintain their credibility in the Republican Party. But I think it is worse than that. They want to stay in the Republican Party but they want to signal to their friends that they aren’t one of those kinds of Republicans. So they want Republican policy, but they don’t want to be embarrassed at Washington parties.

Citizen Koch

Citizen KochPBS is censoring Citzen Koch, a documentary about Citizens United, money in politics, and the billionaire Koch brothers. You may remember back in November, I wrote an article about an Independent Lens documentary Park Avenue. Apparently, the film made a lot of rich people very angry, including at least one of the Koch brothers. There’s even a delicious quote in Jane Mayer’s article, A Word from Our Sponsors, “They went on for twenty minutes, warning that such hateful attitudes could lead many wealthy New Yorkers to move to Florida, where the taxes are lower, and arguing that neighbors of theirs who spent millions of dollars on parties helped waiters and caterers.” How ungrateful we are not to worship the rich for their consumption!

Well, Citizen Koch was supposed to be part of the Independent Lens series too. But after Park Avenue got all the rich people upset, things changed. In particular, WNET and WGBH, the big New Jersey and Boston PBS affiliates, have Koch brothers on their boards. ITVS, the company that produces the Independent Lens series suddenly became very concerned. They wanted the title of the film changed. And they wanted the film to limit the inclusion of the Koch brothers. And they wanted more negative coverage of the Democrats put in. One of the ITVS executives put it frankly, “We live in a world where we have to be aware that people with power have power.”

Eventually, ITVS backed out of the deal. The filmmakers think this is due to pressure from PBS. I suspect that the people at ITVS are just assuming pressure from PBS. They don’t want another controversial film to damage their relationship with the network. Regardless of which is the case, it is certainly true that PBS would have had a problem with this film and it would have hurt the relationship. The filmmakers said, “It’s the very thing our film is about—public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors.” Hopefully the film will eventually get a wide release and embarrass both PBS and ITVS. The “public” in PBS has been a joke for a very long time.

The trailer looks really good: