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.

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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!

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.

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Best Art: Hillary's Prayer and More Design Picks

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 11:10 AM EST

After you check out our Photo Editor's Favorites of 2008, check out the Society of Publication Designers' favorite art. The 43rd Publication Design Annual hit the mailboxes of art directors across the country this week, and sure enough, MoJo was amply represented. The SPD runs arguably the most prestigious juried competition for visual journalism in the world. Created by design firm Weapons of Choice, the book is a tour de force of design about design, not to mention eye candy to art junkies everywhere.

Mother Jones is represented by three Merit Award winners. Here's what they loved:

"The Hidden Half", a moving photo essay on women in contemporary Afghanistan by Lana Šlezi?.

Steve Brodner illustrates the Office of Special Counsel head Scott Bloch's ignoring of the whistleblowers his organization was supposed to protect in art for "Don't Whistle While You Work."

Andy Friedman imagines Hillary at the Last Supper, sitting at Jesus' right hand, in "Hillary's Prayer."

Mother Jones was also honored in the SPD's Spots competition:

iBreath, Your New Year's Eve Drinking Buddy?

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 10:36 AM EST

The newly released iBreath, an alcohol breathalyzer accessory that attaches to your iPod and iPhone, is the newest addition to the list of Apple-friendly alcohol apps and devices (you know, Drunk-Dial and Taxi Magic?) and I think it's pretty brilliant. The iBreath, created by David Steele Enterprises Inc., sells for $79. It claims it can measure your alcohol content within two seconds and within .01 percent accuracy—and it even doubles as an FM transmitter. (The marriage of personal science with FM transmission capability seems a little odd, but what the hell.) What's next: an iSugar glucose meter? Maybe an iClean personal STD test?

Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has come out against the iBreath, telling the Los Angeles Times that kids will just use it for drinking games and no one should drive with any alcohol in their system no matter what, and we should all just take public transportation. If you are falling down drunk, obviously calling a cab is the only thing you should be doing. But this device could be useful for those who have two glasses of wine at dinner, or two cocktails at the bar, and might not realize that even if they don't feel tipsy, it's not too hard to surpass .08 percent blood-alcohol content. And until public transportation in many cities is more widely available after last call, and kids start thinking that Monopoly is more fun than drinking (i.e., never), iBreath fills an intereresting gap.

—Kathleen Flynn

Year's Best Culture Interviews

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 9:09 AM EST

From John Cusack banter to Joss Whedon podcasts, MoJo talked with some fascinating culture-makers this year. Below, six of our favorite culture interviews of 2008.

Obama Defuses a Racial Bomb Ignited by Bobby Rush

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 8:20 PM EST

It was supposed to be just another absurd day in the absurd life of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Then Bobby Rush showed up.

Blagojevich held a mid-afternoon press conference Tuesday to name former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General Roland Burris to Illinois' vacant Senate seat, an act that stood in defiance of both the stated wishes of every Democratic senator in Washington and Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to refuse any Blagojevich appointee entrance into the Senate. The appointment, which the Secretary of State of Illinois stated he would not certify, would likely create weeks of legal wrangling and prolong the sideshow atmosphere surrounding Blago. So far, so bizarre, so good.

Then Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois' 1st district stepped to the mic in support of Burris, who is black, and said, "I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." Lynch. That's crazy even by Blago standards.

Let's have no doubt: In a different world and at a different time, Burris would have legitimate claim to the seat. The first black man to win a major statewide office in Illinois, he served three terms as comptroller (beginning in 1979) and one as attorney general (beginning in 1991). In his era, he was popular throughout the state. He managed to serve for 16 years without scandal, which may be a record in Illinois. But despite his accomplishments, Burris cannot hope to untangle himself from the web of scandals woven by Blagojevich. And even if those scandals were not so all-consuming, few prominent politicians in Illinois would stand up for Burris: half want the seat he has been appointed to fill, and the other half would rather endorse someone who will be a future power player, someone who could repay the favor down the line. Few would see the sense in supporting a man who, though a distinguished public servant, is in his seventies and hasn't held public office in over a decade.