Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
out of hibernation
Clip Dragon Palin
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The coming bailout...
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
You Got a Big, Fine Couch...
The Odd Couple
While Jasper is nuzzling his "dudes," Linus takes opportunity to sniff a paw:
On Another Note
They say that Keynesianism is Dead, but...
I try to keep my politics out of my blog. Most of you know I'm a lobbyist, so my proximity to the meat-grinding process that is policymaking discredits me with half the population--including my father, who takes great joy in sending me jokes and insults aimed at politicians. This same proximity, however, affords me a bird's eye view of why political decisions are made and the unshakeable grip that campaign donations have on policy.
That said, policymakers and politicians are playing by the only set of rules available right now. It's a broken system, yes; but we're all complicit. Many lawmakers take office, earnestly vowing to resist special interest politics. I may be naive, but I believe a good many of them mean it. Yet, these promises are usually broken by the time the next election takes place.
Why? Because we don't support politicians who resist. It takes money to get elected, and until we truly start to limit corporate contributions and PAC giving, set aside a public election fund and mandate its use, and in the interim, give more on a personal level, there is no other path to reelection. And with respect to personal giving, I mean on a scale that counts.
Naturally, this is not universally applicable. Some people simply have no disposable income to spend on political contributions. I'm talking to the rest of you. If you think spending $100 dollars on dinner or drinks a few times a month is more important than donating a thousand dollars every year to a candidate who is trying to buck the system, then you are the problem. If you abhor special interest politics, put your money where your mouth is and donate to candidates bucking the system, even when they are not your own representative.
But I digress. I didn't make a rare appearance tonight on my own dying blog for a rant against campaigns and elections, but I did come to rant about money. Or, more precisely, monetary policy.
I've been sick, so this is the first opportunity I've had to comment on the $165 billion economic stimulus package the President signed into law last week. The package will be sending checks to taxpayers this summer, with most of us getting $300, $600 or $1,200.
Most of you know I'm mildly liberal. Left liberal on social issues, moderate on fiscal issues. Taking someone's fiscal temperature, however, is usually only possible when done in relative terms. Like even the most die-hard conservatives, I don't believe all spending is bad spending, as long as the spending matches my priorities. I don't consider money spent to shore up our education, welfare, health-care, public safety, transportation, or other socially important programs to be government "waste." So most people wouldn't call me fiscally conservative at all. Some people might dare to call me a "tax and spend liberal." Which is probably closer to the truth.
The difference between me and most traditional fiscal conservatives, however, is that my spending priorities include many American domestic spending programs while conservatives simply favor spending that eventually benefits their own bottom lines. Spend on defense, spend on corporate welfare, spend on tax breaks, spend on policies and programs that bolster the hefty business interests that are coincidentally bulking up their own investment portfolios. I have news for those of you "true fiscal conservatives" who think tax breaks are "conservative." Guess what, it's the same as spending when the deficit is 70 percent of the nation's GDP. (Nope, not the worst it's ever been, but don't say it's not bad.)
But here's some news for you fiscal thinkers, and it's not exactly new. Fiscal policy in general isn't the steadying hand that rights the ship. In the long term, economic health can only be accomplished through fiscal responsibility. In the short term, the kind of fiscal tinkering that includes economic stimulus package is usually worthless.
I keep hearing this 1 percent figure. Well, guess what? 1 percent of this nation's budget is over 150 billion dollars. For you conservatives: shouldn't that be too expensive for you? And for you liberals: remember when you (rightfully) campaigned against the proposed 1 percent budget cut? What do you think this is? This latest economic stimulus package is nothing more than a tax cut in disguise. And proponents hold that reducing marginal tax rates and creating economic incentives, tax cuts (or economic stimuli) will facilitate the flow of resources into production, push products into the market, and boost economic growth, overall. Maybe. But more likely, maybe not.
What galls me is that any liberal would vote for this package. Don't you fools know how to recognize supply side economics? And these supply-siders are still trying to fool us with that tired old argument, which holds that tax cuts, in whatever form, will eventually pay for themselves by boosting the economy and increasing total revenue. I understand the allure of this theory. In truth, it's no better than a pyramid scheme aimed at creating the intangible notion of instant wealth. On paper, the trick looks like it will work and there may be a few anecdotal cases for success. On a long term and broader scale, however, it's nothing but a costly illusion.
I'm no economist, that's for sure. (If I was, I guess I wouldn't consider 5 bucks a day on coffee a "sound financial investment.") But I've followed policy for a long time, and I believe there are three main ways to influence the economy. All three exist on macroeconomic levels, and two are long-term plans. The first is to maintain steady and faithful fiscal responsible. The second is to invest in government programs that provide options for education and growth in the long term. Only the third path can carry short-term effects, and this involves careful adjustments to monetary policy (management of interest rates, mainly), not fiscal policy (economic stimulus, tax cuts).
But the supply-siders are back. Not only are they worsening the deficit now, they'll do more long-term damage than good, both by lowering the amount of revenue available to support current infrastructure needs and the critical domestic spending necessary to run this country.
Keynesianism has been largely discredited. Not many people believe that interest rates and spending should be tweaked in an attempt to "fine-tune" the economy. And I agree. In order to stave off this coming recession, I believe interest rates would need to fall to near zero. And although that would help a lot of people, I can't help but think of the long-term. Private debt is extremely high and we can't continue to sustain this.
In fact, when I do think of monetary policy, I find myself reminded of sailing. My own, that is. My sailing buddies will point out that I'm oversimplifying, but to me, sailing requires both big, smooth moments (tacking and gibing) as well as constant small movements to make sure you're capturing enough wind to carry you forward. I'm a novice sailor, so when the wind is dying down, especially, I tend to overcompensate. As a result, I leave an "S" curve wake trailing behind that suggests the uneven hand of a novice at the tiller.
Needless to say, an experienced sailor knows how to finesse the tiller. So, then, can the Fed. But in terms of short-term tinkering, modest interest rate adjustments is as far as we should go. Economic stimuli are almost always a bad idea. Often, by the time the new law goes into effect, the damage is done (perhaps that's why these rebate checks will be coming this summer, even though the income they're attached to is 2008's). Not only do stimulus packages need to be rapidly enacted to have any considerable impact, they also have to be huge ($156 billion huge?). Spending like that usually invites much larger problems. Again, the difference between tax cuts and spending is irrelevant, at least in theory. Instead of deficit spending economic stimulus package, we are better off encouraging responsible budgeting practices and allowing the Fed to adjust interest rates. And as I mentioned, we should be careful, even with that.
Not to be Dave Barry, and tidily bring it all back to my opening paragraph -- think about who supported this package. Republicans. And Democrats. Supply-siders and hardcore Keynesianists. Why? Because they're afraid to lose an election. It almost invites me to extend this debate into an argument for longer terms for members of the House of Representatives, but I think that's enough wonky stuf for one evening, even if I do want to scare away any remaining readers with boring policy talk!
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Is the Sunday Source now written by children? (and if so, where are their parents?)
Clever and well-written, if a bit light, it was the first section I reached for when the Sunday inserts came; just as the Post intended. Four years later, however, I am deeply disappointed with the section. The writing has become pat and the articles are one-dimensional and singularly insipid. Sunday Source: what happened to you?
Yesterday's issue, for instance, just oozes with mediocrity.
Take Ian Landau's piece about a group of expired frat dudes who offer glib advice in the unlikely event that anyone else might be interested in their quixotic attempt to stave off maturity with a rock club whose members, instead of just going to shows when they feel like it, devote one boozy evening each week to a mandatory and organized outing to whatever band is providing current fodder for the rock blogosphere's feeding frenzy.
Does the Sunday source really need to insult my intelligence with two pages of drivel on a subject like this? Worse, do we really need the feature box, where the idiots featured in Laundau's story share advice on forming one's own rock club -- including tips for handling the wife or girlfriend? To paraphrase these guys: should one's girlfriend or wife object to music night (with its requisite weekly drinking, where hubby returns home after 1 AM to his sleeping wife and kids) then a reconsideration of the relationship might be in order. Never mind if she wants to go see some shows herself or go along, this is a "no girls allowed!" club.
If that weren't offensive enough, Landau goes on to quote the wives, who he describes as "patting their husbands on the head" as they depart for shows while relishing their own "me-time" pursuits, which apparently include "running to target," "quilting," "reading a book or magazine" and those elusive evenings where they even get control of the remote.
Are you KIDDING me, Sunday Source? Is this unmitigated cow dung supposed to pass for journalism? No! This isn't journalism. This reads like a parody, but sadly, it's not.
Lest my vocal discontent be misconstrued as the grumblings of an aging misanthrope, (okay, okay, that's exactly what they are) I would point out that, although I'm now on the older end of its spectrum, I am still the target audience for this section. As a thirty- something trying to balance the concomitant pull of work and family with the desire to keep at least one foot in the "scene," the Post thinks I should eat this up. And if that's true...if you're writing this for me, please stop! Seriously, it's terrible.
If not for me, or someone like me, then for whom are you writing? Sixteen people with no taste and low standards, if the grammar is any indication.
Aside from its inane content, the Sunday Source has become poorly-written. And sure, maybe this is a trend. I've heard before that newspaper journalists are told to write at the fourth-grade reading level in order to keep pace with the general decline in U.S. literacy where readers might otherwise stumble on complex sentences and words like obviate or culminate, which are routinely edited out of copy deemed "too advanced" for the average reader.
Yet, surely a difference must exist between this intentional pandering to the lesser intellectual and the product of writers who just can't do any better.
When the Sunday Source debuted, it seemed well-written, topical, and casual. Most importantly, it had a young voice. Now, it's written by "journalists" who come off as young, alright. In fact, they write like a batch of self-congratulatory interns who perceive their readers as people they need to impress, not enlighten.
Take Suzanne Damato's article this week on fashion do's and don'ts. I know, I know, it's a Q and A, so maybe she's entitled to this type of talk:
"The best rule I know is to figure out what works on you -- with your frame, lifestyle and budget -- rather than blindly following someone else's notions about style. (Yes, even mine.) "
It's possible that Damato meant her parenthetical insertion to be self-deprecating or ironic rather than arrogant, although I'm not sure, considering the fact that she referred to herself at least eight times in half as many paragraphs. Either way, her writing isn't concise enough to aptly convey irony or humor.
What's more, I found her erratic punctuation to be more interesting than her subject matter. After reading the copy, I'm not sure what she finds trendier: the double-collar featured on her model or the overuse of dashes, colons and parentheses. (Too many parentheses usually signifies badly structured text or stream-of-conscious writing, but who am "I" to judge?)
Speaking of me, turnabout is fair play. I use parentheses like mad and I tend to talk about myself pretty frequently on these here pages. But this is a blog. By nature, it is stream-of-conscious blather.
Unfortunately, Damato is writing for a newspaper, not a blog. And its hard to sniff out her credentials when her voice is so distracting. Her fashion chops might be laudable, but she gets in the way of her own ideas. Her articles don't seem to be about fashion so much as they seem to be about what she thinks about fashion. And I'm not sure who cares.
Unfortunately, most Sunday Source writers seem to be without discernible journalistic voice. Instead they come off as a bunch of kids with megaphones shouting "Hey, look at me, no hands!" There's a way to put oneself into copy without coming off as self-congratulatory, if the story demands a first person account. Likewise, one can adopt a casual voice without resorting to platitudes. Clearly, they need guidance. And that's the point of my gripe. This little rant isn't so much a blind criticism of these young writers, whose feelings would be surely hurt if they ever came across this criticism. (I'm sorry!). It's actually aimed at the problem of editorial direction, or, in this case, the lack thereof.
Are these writers choosing their own stories without guidance? Are these writers inherently bad journalists? I doubt it. My guess is that, in its quest for a young, fresh readership, the Post has made caricatures of its writers by offering them free reign without the requisite experience.
Perhaps the best question of all is who are the editors? Debra Leithauser took over for Sandy Fernandez back in 2005 in what FishbowlDC describes as a shake-up. It seems to me the decline in content and readability has been marked and fairly recent, but maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention.
Whatever its current ailments, I hope the Sunday Source gets itself together again soon, because I just can't read it in current form anymore. The paper can do better, and maybe the writers can, too.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Mammal and I have been having a hard time trying to figure out the Holidays -- should we go to my hometown of Pittsburgh, or his hometown of Baton Rouge? Ultimately, we've decided to spend Christmas with his family and we'll have a belated celebration with mine the following week, alternating years and Christmas locales until we decide on a different strategy. (Which had better not be next year, or my parents will kill me!)
As for Thanksgiving, we ended up deciding by not deciding, something we're both a bit notorious for doing. I had a series of unfortunately-timed Board meetings here in Washington the week and was delivering my snow-bird Gram to Florida the week after that so it made sense for me to stay put. We put off making a final decision, however, until it grew too late for me to go anywhere, and it grew increasingly expensive for Daniel to travel South. So instead of learning our lesson and commisserating over a Thanksgiving as orphans, we celebrated our procrastination with a little feast of our own. We had so much fun I wonder if I'll EVER go home for Thanksgiving again.
Black Friday, Pink Chaise
Monday, December 10, 2007
It's beginning to look a lot like CHRISTMAS!!!!
Linus in the Afternoon
When the ears turn sideways, hit the deck.
A look at those sharp teefs in action
A still shot of those teefs.