Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Is It My Turn Yet?

NAR wants us all to beg congress for an extension to the first time home-buyer's tax credit. That sounds good to me, but I wanted to punch up the text a little bit. Here's my version of the letter.
Dear ________,
I am writing to express my strong support for Congress to extend the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit through 2010.

Throughout this financial crisis, there has been one consistent, clear, and very American policy: if you did something really stupid in the last decade, whether it involved making non-competitive cars that no one wants or designing financial instruments that would lose most of their value while paying hefty bonuses to bankers, congress will bail you out, and the tax payer will fund it. Should housing be any different?

Reports show that home sales to first-time homebuyers increased by 25% in 2009 and now account for 50% of all sales. In addition, the tax credit is reducing the inventory of foreclosures that are sitting on the market, helping our neighborhoods and communities recover. Like the big banks, us home buyers did some really, really dumb things over the last few years, and this government-provided bail-out is helping us "recover" from our mistakes by making future, similar mistakes cheaper.

While I believe the market has improved, I do not think it has fully corrected itself. In order for that to happen, we will have to reach similar levels of bad lending policies (NINJA anyone?) and delusional optimism that housing prices only go up. While this level of psychotic optimism has been hard to find in today's difficult economy, the best way to assure continued housing activity is to extend and expand the credit and to do that NOW. Nothing says "do whatever you want, we'll pay for your mistakes" quite like a government back-stop on bad investments.

We can't wait until late in the year to see what happens. It might turn out that houses aren't worth as much as we paid for them in 2006.
Now where's the bail-out for grumpy-coffee-drinking-work-at-home-computer-programmers-whose-pets-are-running-around-the-house-like-animals?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bob Vila would not eat meat by-products (but your dog should!)

I went to a talk by a veterinary nutritionist yesterday at Tufts Vet for Obesity Awareness Day. Her talk was really educational. For instance, I learned that the body that regulates pet food nutrition, content, etc. is called AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). They seem to be a lot less stringent than FDA regulating human food. Anybody can make a pet food and put it on the market, regardless of whether it meets your pet’s nutritional needs. Moreover, pet food does NOT have to be tested in feeding trials to go on the market. Why does this matter? Well, our pets generally have only one or two sources of food – whatever we feed them on a daily basis (compared to people, who eat a variety of different foods and obtain different nutrients from each one). Our pets cannot synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids, so it is important that their food provide these.

The label will tell you whether or not it’s been tested. Definitely buy one that has been tested. How will you know? Read the labels. Here is how to interpret:

TESTED wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that…”

NON-TESTED wording (example): This food has been formulated to meet AAFCO standards…”

Key point here: “formulated to meet” = “HAS NOT BEEN TESTED”

When buying a pet food you also need to look for the words “complete and balanced” on the label. That means the food meets all your pet’s nutritional needs.

Wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that XYZ food provides complete and balanced nutrition…”

If the food is appropriate for puppies/kittens, it will say, “provides nutrition for growth of puppies/kittens,” and for adults it will say, “for maintenance of adult dogs/cats.” Foods can be appropriate for both youth and adult stages. But some foods are only for one or the other.

Wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that XYZ food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth of puppies and maintenance of adult dogs…”

The only marketing claim word that means anything on a pet food label is “natural.” So “organic” is just a marketing term. Which is of course the opposite of people food, where “natural” is meaningless and “organic” has to be backed up.

Don’t worry about buying the fanciest food for Fido. More expensive or prettier packaging does not necessarily equal better nutrition. Just make sure the food has undergone AAFCO feeding trials and provides for all your pet’s nutritional needs: “Complete and balanced” – just like FOX News!