2008 - %3, December

Happy New Year!

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 9:00 PM EST

HAPPY NEW YEAR!....As you can see, Inkblot is gazing confidently in the direction of 2009. Or something. You sort of have to use your imagination here.

(I gotta tell you, it's hell getting these cats to do something visually interesting on holiday occasions. If it's not dinner, they're not interested. Maybe I need a parakeet or something.)

In any case, Happy New Year from both humans and felines here at Chez Drum. It's just about 6 pm here on the west coast, guests are starting to arrive, dinner will be on the table in a little bit, and it's time for me to write my final blog post of 2008. So here's hoping that 2009 turns out to be better than any of us expect. Huzzah!

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Alberto Gonzales Is Going to Write an Awfully Short Tell-All

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 1:40 PM EST

AlbertoGonzalesClap.jpg Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, head clown for some of the Bush Administration's wackiest episodes, will write a tell-all book about his experiences at the Department of Justice. I find this curious. After all, Gonzales is the guy who went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the U.S. Attorneys scandal and managed to utter the words "I don't recall" 64 times in five hours. (Relevant Daily Show clip here.) Considering his all-encompassing amnesia about his work, what's he going to put in the memoir?

My guess? The book will be three pages.

Page one: Table of Contents.
Page two: "Everything was awesome. I did nothing wrong, certainly nothing I should go to jail for, haha!"
Page three: About the Author.

Something Bush Got Right on Healthcare?

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 1:23 PM EST

Looks like my list of the things Bush got right left something out. From the New York Times:

Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas.
For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases....
With the health centers now serving more than 16 million patients at 7,354 sites, the expansion has been the largest since the program's origins in President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty, federal officials said.... The centers now serve one of every three people who live in poverty and one of every eight without insurance.

But there's more work to be done. An August study found that 43 percent of the country's medically underserved areas lack a health center site and the National Association of Community Health Centers and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimated last year that 56 million people are "medically disenfranchised" because they cannot reach adequate primary care. There's hope that Obama will expand the centers' reach when in office. His healthcare point man, Tom Daschle, referred to them as a "godsend" in a recent book, and Michelle Obama worked with community health centers when vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Just another factor in the amazingly complex quest to get every American healthcare, one that President Bush deserves a degree of credit for.

My Blogosphere Whines For 2009

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:59 PM EST

MY BLOGOSPHERE WHINES FOR 2009....Today is New Year's Eve, so here are my top ten whiny, blog-related pet peeves. They are in no particular order:

  1. Blogs without comment sections. Or, blogs with comment sections that require you to go through some kind of painful registration process just to leave a one-sentence note.
  2. Bloggers who don't put their email addresses somewhere on the blog. I don't mind looking around for it a bit (keeps the mind sharp, you know), but put it somewhere, OK?
  3. Blogs that provide only partial RSS feeds. See also point #5, which actually bugs me a lot more.
  4. Bloggers who are too damn lazy to check their links after they post something. Come on, people.
  5. "Teaser" blogs that put only the first paragraph or two on the main page and force you to click "continue" if you want to read the whole thing. This is both annoying and pointless. It only takes a second or two to scroll past a blog post you don't want to read, after all. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Felix Salmon.)
  6. People who say "blog" when they really mean "blog post."
  7. Blogs with lousy (or nonexistent) search capability. Mine, for example.
  8. Top ten lists that are plainly larded with filler because the listmaker couldn't actually think of ten things to write about.
  9. Bloggers who can't count.

I fully expect these problems to be completely resolved starting tomorrow — or, at the very least, on January 20th. If they aren't, a blue ribbon commission will be appointed to deal with them. You have been warned.

Stop Getting Your News from TV!

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:51 PM EST

I want to add a thought about Kevin's chart of the day, which shows that more people now get their news from the internet than from newspapers, an unsurprisingly but still foreboding development.

The chart also shows that people still get most of their news from TV. Internet and newspapers lag far behind. This is at the root of so many of the complaints Americans have about the news media. The worst and most common sins of the media are committed by TV news: substituting confrontational debates for substantive discussions; treating serious subjects too briefly or not at all; spending too much time on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and missing blond women in Aruba or wherever. I recognized that newspapers and especially blogs and internet outlets have serious problems. But if you want long-form journalism that takes a single subject and works it over for 10,000 words (something that will take 45 minutes to read and really teach you something in the process), you've got to turn to magazines and their websites. (Try here, here, or here to begin.) And if you want breaking news that brings horrible things like warrantless wiretapping or black sites into the open, you've got to turn to newspapers and their websites. So next time someone tells you they're fed up with the media, take away his or her TV remote and hand him or her a copy of The New Yorker. I'd bet Wolf Blitzer, in his heart of hearts, would recommend the same thing.

Fun With Rebates

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:46 PM EST

FUN WITH REBATES....Felix Salmon thinks the Obama economic team is showing its behavioral economics roots. Why? Because their proposed tax rebate will come a little bit at a time by reducing tax withholding in paychecks:

The point of a stimulus package, of course, is to boost spending. And hiding a tax rebate in slightly higher take-home paychecks seems like a good way of doing that: even people who save a certain amount of money every month still tend to spend the rest.

I guess that's true. Send me a $1,000 check, and there's a good chance I'll use it to pay down my credit card. Reduce my withholding by $20 a week for 50 weeks, though, and I'll probably just blow it on beer and fritos. And that's consumption, my friends!

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Crystal Ball Hell

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:29 PM EST

CRYSTAL BALL HELL....Tom Petruno surveys the year's "most infamous pronouncements" as the economy melted down around our ears. It probably could have been a longer piece, but his editors wouldn't let him take over the entire business section for the day.

Bobby Rush, Not Done Yet

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:27 PM EST

Obama's intervention in the Roland Burris situation has assured that any further demagoguing Bobby Rush does on Burris' behalf will only serve to make him look more ridiculous. And it appears Rush is up to the job. Here he is on TV this morning comparing Burris' exclusion from the Senate to the Little Rock Nine:

"You know, the recent history of our nation has shown us that sometimes there could be individuals and there could be situations where schoolchildren -- where you have officials standing in the doorway of schoolchildren," Rush said. "You know, I'm talking about all of us back in 1957 in Little Rock, Ark. I'm talking about George Wallace, Bull Connor and I'm sure that the U.S. Senate don't want to see themselves placed in the same position."

Okay, listen. No one will object if an African-American wins a special election for that seat. No one will object if the power to appoint falls to the lieutenant governor and he selects an African-American. Roland Burris' troubles have nothing to do with the fact that the is African-American. Surely Bobby Rush can understand this. And yet, he is likening Harry Reid (and by extension, everyone who is opposed to seating Burris, including Barack Obama!) to some of the most odious figures in civil rights history. Surely this isn't the smartest way to go about getting what he desires.

Update: Nice, Ta-Nehisi Coates chimes in:

Welcome to California

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:23 PM EST

WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA....I see in my morning paper that California cities are engaging in ever more sleight of hand to fund local improvements. Here's a typical arrangement, concocted by John Kim, an advisor with a Los Angeles investment bank. Be sure to read closely:

Oxnard is one of Kim's clients. In 2007, the city wanted to issue bonds to finance part of its $150-million street repaving project, using its share of state gas tax revenue to repay the debt. But the state Constitution says local governments can't issue debt against that revenue.

That's where Kim came in. His plan: The Oxnard City Council would sell the streets to the Oxnard Finance Authority, which consists of the council and mayor. The Finance Authority would issue bonds to raise money for the improvements and repay the bondholders by selling the streets back to the city.

Where would the city get the money to buy the streets? From its gas tax revenue.

So: the left hand isn't allowed to issue a bond, so it sells the streets to its right hand. The right hand issues a bond, then pays off the bond by selling the streets back to its left hand. Everyone's happy!

Needless to say, this costs more than just issuing a standard bond in the first place, but California cities do it because they know voters won't approve a normal bond issue. Welcome to fantasyland, aka the Golden State, in which voters over the years have convinced themselves that it's possible to have lots of services, great roads, and wonderful schools without paying taxes. And to make it even worse, the taxes we've cut back most heavily on (property taxes and vehicle license fees) are the ones that are the steadiest sources of revenue in varying economic climates — unlike things like capital gains taxes and income taxes, which are highly sensitive to economic conditions. As a result, state revenues bounce around wildly when the economy goes up and down, and every few years we find ourselves in yet another crisis, each one worse than before.

This year's, of course, is the mother of all crises, and we're just about out of smoke and mirrors. 2009 promises to be a very, very un-fun year here.

Chart of the Day - 12.31.2008

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 11:42 AM EST

CHART OF THE DAY....The latest Pew poll shows that this year, for the first time, more people say they get "most" of their national and international news from the internet than from newspapers. Obviously this is slightly misleading, since internet largely means newspaper web sites, but it's still sort of a bellwether statistic.

My question: what happened this year? For the past three years the number of people who got their news mostly from the internet stayed (surprisingly) pretty level at a little over 20%. Then, suddenly, this year, it skyrocketed to 40%. Is this solely because of the presidential election, which became an internet phenomenon? Maybe, although the election came in at a weak #4 in the top news stories of 2008, so that doesn't seem like enough to account for it. In any case, the bulk of the switch appears to been among the young:

For young people [] the internet now rivals television as a main source of national and international news. Nearly six-in-ten Americans younger than 30 (59%) say they get most of their national and international news online; an identical percentage cites television. In September 2007, twice as many young people said they relied mostly on television for news than mentioned the internet (68% vs. 34%).

The percentage of people younger than 30 citing television as a main news source has declined from 68% in September 2007 to 59% currently.

So among young people, TV has gone from a 68-34 winner in 2007 to a 59-59 tie in 2008. That's a huge change in only 12 months.