Thursday, February 21, 2008

Progress Report

Daniel was in the studio working on a song tonight. The boys were cuddled together at his feet, listening and trading stories.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You Got a Big, Fine Couch...

Props to DC for the best local cable teevee advertising I've ever seen. First Eastern Motors, then John C. Flood, and most recently, this gem:


The Odd Couple

We're dogsitting again. Yes, it's true. Jasper, the 85 lb bulldog, is once again gracing our humble home with his snoring, flatulent presence. He's like part of the family, and he's visited us often since we've had our other young man, Linus, at the home. But this was his first extended visit.

Jasper is largely indifferent to cats. In fact, aside from a short sniff hello, he tends to ignore them altogether. Linus, on the other hand, is still enough of a kitten that we were worried about his reaction. Because Jasper has been here so often, he has to think of the house as an extension of his own territory. He knows the house, and when he comes over he knows right where we keep his toys. (Yes, Jasper has toys that live at our house). As you may imagine, this perturbs the cat. In fact, the first time Linus caught sight of Jasper, he inflated himself to about five times his ordinary appearance and sought higher ground. But within an hour, Linus had established himself as the Alpha, and things have gotten pretty interesting around here.

We clipped Linus' claws very carefully before Jasper's visit, but were nonetheless concerned that the cat might actually hurt the dog. We found, however, that Linus is keeping his claws in when he hits the dog. And unfortunately, Jasper takes it on the chin a few times a day from the cat, quite literally. To be clear, lest people think we're allowing the animals to abuse one another, we're pretty sure Linus is not trying to injure the dog. He's just making a point.
Of course, all the power struggles end when the kids get sleepy, anyway. The very first evening we had Jasper with us, D and I snuggled up on the couch for a movie and, before long, two sleepy animals settled in on top of us like a warm blanket. D lucked out and got Linus. Jasper, however, who sees me as the Mama he never had, parked his rear end on my lap and stayed there until I lost all sensation in both legs. We weren't exactly comfortable, but the boys fell asleep about a foot away from each other.

Our animal expert friends have suggested that we monitor the animals as they get to know one another, but otherwise not to fuss over them too much. So far, it's been working. Their friendship is solidifying. Sort of. Jasper really likes Linus and follows him around like, well, like a dog. Linus, for his part, is highly amused. He tries to hide his affection, but lately we have noticed some secret naptime cuddling. Linus starts with one paw out and gently touches the dog on the back. Once he's sure the dog is sleeping and won't sniff in his face, he will put the other arm there as well, and the two sleep like that, in a strange embrace.
The daytime invites greater caution on both sides. The two will carefully touch noses now, although Jasper holds his breath, as he knows that Linus has mental problems and that one loud snoof is all it takes to send jittery Linus skittering away at top speeds.
One peculiarity we've noticed is that Linus' position as the Alpha has gone so far that if he is in a doorway, the dog will not walk past him. The cat, for his part, just lays there as if he's not doing anything wrong while Jasper whines and barks until one of us comes and moves Linus from his path. This happens even when Linus is sleeping, so we don't think it's an issue of Linus bullying him but rather a deference issue. Whatever the cause, we hope they work this out quickly, because most of these stand-offs occur in the wee hours of the morning.

All in all, the kids seem to having fun together. They're both getting a lot of attention individually, but when we're not actively playing with them, they seem content to pal around together. And we're making constant progress. Jasper has also stopped trying to demolish Linus' toys, and it's been a few days since Linus fired off any paw slaps. Unfortunately, we still haven't been able to fully prevent them from sampling one another's food.

Here are some pictures of the fledgling friendship:
First night:

While Jasper is nuzzling his "dudes," Linus takes opportunity to sniff a paw:

On Another Note

On another note, as many of you know, D and I are getting married! I wanted to make note of this happy occasion earlier, but we've been so excited, and so busy planning, that I haven't had much opportunity to post. Also, I wanted to hold off posting the news on my blog until we were sure our friends and family knew. (It's a modern world, but there are better ways to tell your loved ones you've gotten engaged). D and I are getting married in my hometown of Pittsburgh in late summer, 2008, when Pittsburgh weather is at its finest. Not that the weather matters; I'd marry D barefoot in a blizzard. I'm the luckiest person on the planet. Fortunately for me, he seems to think that title belongs to him.

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!