"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well, That Was Dumb

That didn't take long.

President Obama has been trying to obtain bipartisan support and cover for his agenda, so what does he decide to do before his first weekend in office? Bully the Republicans into doing things his way or else.

First, he told the Republicans meeting with him to listen to him, not Rush Limbaugh. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Sure, that's a great idea: call out a man with 15 hours a week with a microphone. It's also telling Republicans that they have to do things his way if they want to accomplish anything. And how will that work?

"In an exchange with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about the proposal, the president shot back: 'I won,' according to aides briefed on the meeting.

'I will trump you on that.'"

So apparently bipartisanship means doing things President Obama's way and, if they don't like it, too bad because he won the election. And he says this the first week before he's fully gauged his actual strength in the back-and-forth institional struggle between the legislative and executive branches? And he puts it in such crass, bald terms that make it to the public AND tick off the most prominent megaphone on the other side? I thought this man was supposed to be smart.

Here's what he's just given his opponents the green light to do: to walk around for the next six weeks with this confused/regretful pose saying things like, "banks are failing, and we're solving it by spending millions of dollars on contraceptives and grass for the Mall and after-school snacks? We're afraid we don't understand, and we don't know how to explain that to the American people. Maybe you can?" Since he's already signaled that he doesn't need them to pass what he wants--he won, after all--they can position themselves NOW to consistently point out the flaws and abuses in the bill--not in an attempt to get what they want (because they've already been told how that works) but for purely political purposes to knock some of the shine off the president. A party-line vote on his first major action won't look quite so hopey and changey.

Given the Republicans' recent political instincts, there's no guarantee that they'll follow this path. But it's a dumb move on President Obama's part to try to set the rules of the game like this so fast. Now the Republicans can play a different game if they decline the be the fig leap he clearly wants them to be.

There's a new sheriff in town, and he just shot himself in the foot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Thought Experiment for Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. Since I'm 33 years old, today always has a certain significance to me; knowing that it was legal for my mother to end me if she had chosen gives the issue a certain resonance. (Thank heavens my mom knew better.) Even though it's been well over thirty years since the decision, the issue of abortion remains powerful. A piece by the late Father Richard John Newhaus examines the pro-life movement in the context of following the '60s model of citizen participation--the nuts and bolts, if you will--while Ed Whelan reprises his earlier testimony about the pressure-cooker impact the Roe v. Wade decision had on participatory democracy and how it short-circuited the mechanisms that allow for general consensus on legal issues. Both very interesting reads.

In a slightly different vein, consider this thought experiment. Imagine yourself to be a resident of Tennessee in 1857. Your uncle Henry from southern Mississippi dies. He leaves you some property. Part of that property includes Jim, a slave. There are taxes on the property and someone to run it. If you keep Jim as a slave, the property becomes profitable. If you grant him his freedom, the property is unprofitable and will cause you to lower your standard of living to account for it.

Your neighbor Louis also has an uncle in Alabama who dies and leaves him property. That property includes John, a slave. Likewise, there are taxes on the property and someone to run it. The same profit/loss calculation applies to Louis.

Now, John and Jim: are they people, or are they property? In order for you and Louis to have a legitimate choice, the law must support that they are both property. You can choose to free Jim and change him from property to person, just as Louis can choose to keep John as property. But the law must establish that they are property first, and the person who chooses to free his slave must do so deliberately through determined action.

Thus, John and Jim, who are otherwise similar, have the basic question of their humanness decided by another party who, indeed, has a vested interest in the answer. You choose property, Louis chooses person, and the law supports both decisions. That seem right to you?

Let's now engage in another thought experiment. You are pregnant, living in New York. You're two months along. You're married with no other children, and you and your husband get by okay, but having a child is going to be a real financial burden on the both of you. There is, as it happens, a Planned Parenthood clinic three blocks down around the corner. You've been to your doctor, and he tells you the fetus is progressing normally; you're young, and no complications with the pregnancy are expected.

You get a call from your twin sister Susan. Lo and behold, she too is eight weeks pregnant. Her husband and she are also currently childless and financially comfortable as-is, but having a baby changes everything, as they say. Her doctor also tells her that the fetus is progressing normally, and she's just as healthy as you are. She tells you that if it's a boy, they'll name him Edward; it it's a girl, she'll be Caroline. She lives six blocks from you; guess what's right in the middle?

That being in your womb and the being in hers: are they people, or are they property? In order for you and Susan to have a legitimate choice, the law must support that they are both property. You can choose to carry the fetus to term and give birth, changing her from property to person, just as Susan can change her mind, consider Edward/Caroline to belong to her body, and dispose of it. But the law must establish that they are property first. However, unlike the previous case, the person who decides that the property is a person just has to leave nature to take its course; the person who considers it property has to take deliberate action to carry out that decision.

Thus, the two fetuses in you and your twin sister, who are otherwise similar, have the basic question of their humanness decided by another party who, indeed, has a vested interest in the answer. You choose property, Susan chooses person, and the law supports both decisions. That seem right to you?

(I've had this in mind for a while, but a nod goes to Alfonzo Rachel who also expressed this sentiment the other day. Check it about 6:30-7:00 into the video)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All the Plastic People

Some of the excesses of yesterday coupled with this piece by Dirk Benedict called to mind a poem I had written several years back about celebrities who tried to stump for causes. I've always liked it, so in the spirit of Breitbart's pledge, I'll post it once again.

All The Plastic People

All the plastic people
Are strutting on parade.
Now they smile, now they chant,
Now they pitch their flags and
Proudly pin their ribbons.

All the plastic people
Pour their people slogans
Into their plastic ears
And sit back and revel
In the tinny echoes.

All the plastic people
Are droll and mock on cue.
Behind their words they say
The same thing, “Look at me!”
“Look at me! Look at me!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell, Mr. President

Lost in the midst of all the gushing about "the first black president" (which isn't the proof of "moving beyond race" that people think it is) is the departure of a good and decent man. A popular leadership phrase is, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit" (attributed to many in different formulations, including Reagan.) President Bush, it seems to me, really has lived by that credo, much to the admiration and frustration of his supporters.

I recall the final days of President Clinton, desperate to accomplish something so that he wouldn't go down in history as an also-ran who got impeached. I recall the classless way he exited the role. This president, though, knows he has accomplished much. He looks to me like he's just trying to stay strong enough to hand the baton to the next runner. He doesn't have to finish the race; he just has to keep us in a position to win. I admire the man and am grateful that he has been president these last eight years.

I do not trust Barack Obama, but I do not wish him ill at this point. For better or worse, in a couple of hours, he's The Guy. I think he's making mistakes by allowing the expectations to grow so high (using Lincoln's Bible, for instance.) It may very well that today will be the high point in his presidency; symbolism has a short shelf life. I do expect that though he enters the job looking 35, he'll exit it looking 65; it's the loneliest, hardest job in the world, and no one else can do it for him, no matter what the celebrities say.

But as everyone else is looking Forward for Hope and Change, I prefer to give grateful thanks to a man who has run the race and fought the good fight. Godspeed, Mr. President.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jenga Economics

At NRO and other places, some conservatives have been wondering how to effectively fight back against the seemingly inexorable tide of borrow/spend demand-side economics about to come our way. John Hood began with a call for simple explanations, and some responded.

But I think we need a simpler way to open the conversation. During the 80's supply-side economics was belittled and derided as, variously, "voodoo economics", "Reaganomics", and (most famously), "trickle-down economics". Well, in face of a Keynesian economic tsunami, let's call it what it is: Jenga Economics.

You all know Jenga, right? That's the game where you start with a pretty stable tower and start building it taller and taller by removing pieces from the structure and putting them on top. Each person gets a turn, making it ever more risky as the game progresses, until someone makes a move that causes the whole thing to collapse. The thrill of the game comes from two impulses: the relief of pulling off a particularly tricky move without collapsing the tower, and the evil glee that comes from making it impossible for the next guy to do the same thing.

Seems to me that's a perfect metaphor for what's going on in Washington. You can track the first moves way back, from ACORN to Clinton to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. You can point out the bailout crisis that sank McCain's campaign, the TARP bill that didn't stabilize the industry entirely, and the latest rush to spend more money we don't have. Floating trillion-dollar plus deficits and stimulus packages are just the pushing and tugging on various pieces to see if they'll come out without making it all fall down on your watch--which, if you're a politician, is all that matters, because if the other guy knocks the tower down, then you win.

The problem, of course, is that this ain't a damn game played for the pleasure and power of politicians. The tower is the collective livelihoods of the American people (and, frankly, the world, given our economic interconnectivity these days.) Our debates shouldn't be over which block to pull out or whose turn it is. The conversation should be about either changing the rules (that is, taking blocks from the top and putting them back in the structure) or start building a new, stable tower with the blocks we take from the old one. (There's a new set of labels for you: instead of demand-side/supply-side, it's Jenga Economics v. Lego Economics.)

Think about the similarities:
  • This notion that since we've borrowed so much that we need to borrow more to keep the economy moving is just bizarre. It's taking the most stable blocks from the structure and putting them on top to make sure the tower keeps getting taller. Gotta keep getting bigger, you know. Jenga.

  • The whole premise of "too big to fail" is that if you take me away, the system breaks down. Funny, though, how we have to then take another piece away (usually cash or borrowed cash) and put it on top of the tower. That means that your piece is now even more critical since the tower is more unstable...but the next time around, there are fewer pieces to put on top, which means that your turn is coming. Jenga.

  • I've got Throw'N'Go Jenga. It's got dice that mostly specify which pieces you're supposed to pull out. The trickiest option, though, is "Reverse". That changes the order of game play which means that you may be forced to spring the exquisite trap you just set. Politicians who are devising economic strategies that are designed in part to make their political opponents look bad are playing "Reverse" with the dice instead of concentrating on the structure they're trying to build. Jenga.

So for all those folks who want a simple way to get people to rethink this bold economic approach that threatens to swamp us, here's a start to get some traction. Because let's face it: whether it's Social Security, tax policy, deficit spending, entitlements, or pork barrel spending, it basically boils down to years of politicians playing Jenga with the economy. Whether or not we can stop it, isn't it about time we called it what it is?