You should demand a refund.

The media let you down.

We dispatched small battalions to cover the midterm elections and, by and large, let the candidates avoid the big fat fiscal elephant in rooms across America.

We talked about polls. We talked about strategy. We talked about attack ads. We talked about whether Bush was talking too much about Iraq and depriving the Democrats of the chance to talk about the economy.

We talked about positioning on prescription drugs. We talked about the sniper. We talked about which candidates were being likened, visually or otherwise, to Saddam Hussein.

But with a few exceptions, the press didn't focus much on the huge, yawning budget gaps facing most states and cities, and how a red-ink Congress wouldn't be able to help.

Sure, you could find an occasional Ron Brownstein piece or David Broder column or analysis in the local paper. But did the media sound any kind of sustained alarm about the looming crunch? Or was it considered too boring -- municipal finance, sheesh -- for the airwaves?

Now, suddenly, it's front-page news. Some of the newly elected governors and mayors are having to face the prospect of both raising taxes and slashing services. We're talking serious pain here.

So how did the media snooze their way past an issue that was hidden in plain sight? Did they fall for a conspiracy of silence among the candidates? Why didn't they hold the politicians' feet to the financial fire -- instead of letting them blather on about "tough choices" without spelling out what they would do?

Not an impressive performance by a long stretch.

Now comes the National Governors Association to quantify the fiscal meltdown and it's a cheap and easy front-page story.

We were just up in New York, where Michael Bloomberg's approval rating has plummeted and the Daily News jeered him for a plan -- hiking property taxes and cutting personal income taxes -- that would boost the billionaire's own considerable fortune. But we don't recall a lot of pieces on whether George Pataki (like many other governors) was overspending on his way to an easy reelection.

Here are some of the recent front-pagers, beginning with the New York Times:

"Plunging tax collections and soaring medical costs have created the worst fiscal problems for states since World War II, the National Governors Association said."

D'oh! That would have been a good campaign story, no?

"'Nearly every state is in fiscal crisis,' the governors said in a new report surveying the states. The states' fiscal woes will force governors, many of them newly elected, to propose politically sensitive tax increases or drastic cuts in services."


"Raymond C. Scheppach, executive director of the governors association, said states were increasing tuition at public colleges and universities, cutting Medicaid eligibility and benefits, increasing taxes on individuals and corporations and laying off state employees. 'You will see huge cuts in Medicaid' next year, beyond the cutbacks already enacted, Mr. Scheppach said."

The Los Angeles Times:

"Demands from governors and state lawmakers for a federal financial bailout are growing, as states from California to Florida face potentially sweeping cuts in popular programs amid deepening budget woes.

"Every state but Vermont is required by law to balance its budget, and virtually all of them are now struggling with deficits. 'This is the worst budget crisis states have faced since World War II,' said Raymond Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Assn., which released a state fiscal survey Monday."

"But the states confront a difficult climate in Washington, as the federal government struggles with its own budget deficits -- and both President Bush and the incoming Republican Congress focus on other priorities.

"Over the last several weeks, state officials have pressed Washington for more money to fund homeland security improvements, election reform, education, highway construction and, above all, the joint state-federal Medicaid health-care program for the poor. That program may suffer widespread cuts this year, even as the number of Americans without health insurance is rising."

USA Today:

"The nation's governors said Monday that states face their worst budget problems since World War II and that millions of Americans could face hefty tax increases or sharply reduced government services."

The Washington Post got out in front by a couple of days with this New York dispatch:

"Fun City's gilded ride is over.

"The subway fare is jumping, maybe 33 percent. Property taxes could go up 18 percent. The official unemployment rate noses toward 8 percent; the mayor wants to put tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge; and eight firehouses sit on his chopping block.

"Protestors scream the mayor's name and threaten voter mayhem. But New York City and state face a combined $15 billion deficit, a fiscal crisis of historic proportions, and the horizon holds only dark clouds. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"New York has lots of pinched company. From the rocky coast of Maine to California's Pacific Palisades, cities and states are stumbling through the hangover of the 1990s boom."

As we see in this Philadelphia Inquirer wire story, sometimes it's moronic to think you can hold onto your job:

"Prime Minister Jean Chretien's communications director resigned yesterday over a controversy caused by her private comment last week that President Bush is a moron.

"Francoise Ducros, who initially offered to quit but was kept on by Chretien, is leaving the Canadian prime minister's office after all, according to a statement issued by Chretien's chief of staff.

"In a letter of resignation to Chretien, Ducros wrote: 'It is very apparent to me that the controversy will make it impossible for me to do my job.'"

We were wondering if there might be any connection between these two stories. First, from Slate's Dahlia Lithwick:

"As thought-games go, there is nothing as amusing to a court watcher as trying to imagine what the Rehnquists, Scalias, and O'Connors are plotting, now that the time is as ripe as it will ever be for a Republican retirement and replacement on the Supreme Court. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"For Rehnquist and O'Connor .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. both have signaled, although subtly, that they were each waiting for a Republican administration to resign. Rehnquist -- who is 78 -- famously told Charlie Rose last year that 'traditionally, Republican appointees have tended to retire during Republican administrations.' Now while this comment could portend nothing more than the observation that 'traditionally, Republican appointees tend to wear burgundy loafers' might have, folks in the Supreme Court tea-leaf racket have tended to interpret this as his promise to depart the court when the conditions for replacement with a like-minded conservative were best."

And now this AP dispatch in USA Today:

"Doctors operated yesterday on Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who injured his knee in a fall at his home last week.

"Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Rehnquist was resting comfortably after the surgery to repair a torn tendon. He was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Arberg said she did not know when Rehnquist, 78, would return to the court. She said he would undergo physical therapy."

We wish him a speedy recovery.

The incoming governor of Maryland is in a bit of an ethics flap:

"A federal regulatory agency chastised Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last year over his intervention in a licensing dispute involving a broadcasting firm -- a company owned by a family that this year provided Ehrlich with the use of a luxury helicopter during his successful campaign for Maryland governor," says The Washington Post.

"Until yesterday, Ehrlich (R) failed to report the use of the helicopter at a deeply discounted rate as an in-kind campaign contribution, a requirement under Maryland election law. He acknowledged last week that he had used the charter chopper for eight trips worth $34,300.

"Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick yesterday characterized the omission as an oversight. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Schurick also said Ehrlich's decision to contact the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the Sinclair Broadcast Group last year was in no way connected to the subsequent donation of helicopter time by one of its directors. To suggest otherwise, he said, 'is ridiculous.'"

Nothing but a coincidence, we're sure.

Josh Marshall sees the WSJ stiffing the poor:

"If you needed any evidence that the demise of McCainite Conservative Reformism is a bad thing -- long-term at least -- for the Republican party you need only have looked at the recent Wall Street Journal editorial decrying the fact that the very low-income, those who make well below $20,000 a year, don't pay enough taxes. If you missed it, E.J. Dionne has a good column on the issue.

"The argument the Journal advanced was that by cutting so many low-income earners out of the income tax system altogether you create a whole class of voters who simply can't relate to the anguished lash of taxation the super-rich have to suffer under. As is often the case in these sorts of arguments, the grinding weight of payroll taxes are more or less entirely ignored. More broadly though it's just a sign of how much the conservative movement -- once the home of some exquisitely sharp thinking -- has degraded to the point of being little more than an instrument of politically-organized money."

In the you-can't-win department, the NYT is getting grief over another poll, this time from the American Prospect:

"Certain conservative bloggers are always whining about the New York Times' supposedly biased analyses of public opinion polls. Perhaps there is a bias. But in today's Adam Nagourney article in the Times, the bias seems to be in favor of the GOP. The news that Al Gore has a low approval rating among Democrats is apparently more important than the results showing a limit to the GOP's imagined mandate. But the most important statistic -- the one that every Dem presidential contender should heed -- is President Bush's re-elect rating, which is buried in a 'Complete Results' pop-up window. If Bush were renominated as the Republican candidate in 2004, according to this poll, only 32 percent of respondents would definitely vote for him again. 32 percent?"

The New Republic says defense may not have been the killer issue:

"The most puzzling result from the New York Times/CBS poll is the lack of evidence that national security and foreign policy helped Republicans much in the recent midterm elections. According to the poll, only 3 percent of voters considered foreign policy the most important issue when casting their vote for the House, only 2 percent said 'war' was most important, only 1 percent said defense, and fewer than 1 percent cited 'terrorism in general' or Osama bin Laden in particular.

"Similarly, when asked to name the most important difference in what the two parties stand for, only 2 percent said 'military/defense policy,' and only 1 percent said 'terrorism/national security.' By contrast, 20 percent cited some variation of the economic interests the parties represent ('for the people/not for the people,' 'for the rich/for the poor'); 24 percent cited 'ideology' in general; 14 percent cited something fiscal-policy related ('government spending,' 'taxes'); 11 percent cited domestic policy ('social programs,' 'domestic programs'); and 10 percent cited the economy.

"Needless to say, this doesn't quite square with the conventional view that Democrats were torpedoed by their lack of seriousness on national security issues--a view, we might add, with some evidence to back it up. A post-election Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans believed Democrats weren't firm enough on terrorism, while only 27 percent believed that about Republicans. Even an earlier post-election New York Times/CBS poll showed that Americans trusted Republicans 'to make the right decisions dealing with terrorism' by a 22-point margin.

"How to explain the paradox? For starters, it's worth pointing out that the two sets of numbers aren't necessarily incompatible: The public could have favored Republicans by overwhelming margins on national security issues, but felt that other issues were more important in determining which party to vote for. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Suppose voters thought, more or less correctly, that the president is the one who ultimately determines the country's national security and foreign policy."

Salon's Joe Conason has an alternate explanation for Gore's lousy numbers:

"A reader explained this recurring, baffling phenomenon: 'Americans usually vote for the friendly guy -- Ike vs. the intellectual Stevenson, Truman over Dewey, gush Bush not bore Gore, Reagan over naggin', JFK over Nixon, Carter over Ford. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. It is a bit like those high school class [presidential] elections -- the vote goes to the nice, social type, not the socialist. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. '

"It's hard to argue with that cracker-barrel wisdom -- even if you feel, as I do, that Al Gore took an unprecedented, unfair and outrageous beating from the press and still won the election. According to the Times poll, Gore 'is viewed unfavorably today by a ratio of almost two to one, despite a weeklong bath of favorable publicity that accompanied his national tour promoting two new books about the American family.' Like most in the national press corps, Nagourney and Elder easily ignore the incessant bashing administered to Gore last week on Fox News, talk radio and in the right-wing press that certainly tempered favorable coverage he and Tipper received elsewhere. But those results have to be sobering to him as he contemplates his choices over the holidays. He deserved better last time, but that's no reason to think he'll get it next time."

It's Bill O'Reilly's fault?

Finally, the latest sign that computers now rule our lives, via the Wall Street Journal:

"Basil Iwanyk is not a neo-Nazi. Lukas Karlsson isn't a shadowy stalker. David S. Cohen is not Korean.

"But all of them live with a machine that seems intent on giving them such labels. It's their TiVo, the digital videorecorder that records some programs it just assumes its owner will like, based on shows the viewer has chosen to record. A phone call the machine makes to TiVo, Inc., in San Jose, Calif., once a day provides key information. As these men learned, when TiVo thinks it has you pegged, there's just one way to change its 'mind': outfox it.

"Mr. Iwanyk, 32 years old, first suspected that his TiVo thought he was gay, since it inexplicably kept recording programs with gay themes. A film studio executive in Los Angeles and the self-described 'straightest guy on earth,' he tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other 'guy stuff.'

"'The problem was, I overcompensated,' he says. 'It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich.'"

Our machine, if we had one, might have trouble with a news junkie who likes "Sex and the City."