Let this be your last occasion to think about 2008, now that the first real work week in 2009 is beginning.
Hello and goodbye
Commentary: Out with the old and in with the new
By Shawn Langlois, MarketWatch
Last update: 10:21 a.m. EST Jan. 1, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- There really isn't much to miss about the past year, except maybe our savings, our homes, our jobs and our faith in the financial system.
And cynics would say there isn't all that much to look forward to in the coming months, either. More tales of corruption, more lies from those in the halls of power and still more evidence that the United States is the Roman Empire of the new millennium.
But while there's plenty to bemoan, there's also reason to celebrate, isn't there? Sure, there are more clouds on the horizon for 2009, but it can't be that bad, can it?
So, in the spirit of cleansing, closure and new beginnings, MarketWatch bids farewell to some of the people, events and plot lines that made noise, perhaps for the last time, in 2008 and greets the fresh faces and stories that, for better or worse, promise to shape the new year.
The political spotlight
Goodbye, Sarah Palin! Poking fun at President Bush's malapropisms over the past eight years has grown somewhat tired. Luckily, this Wasilla pageant queen burst onto the scene and made political satire fun again. Who can resist sunrises over Russia, blood-gurgling turkeys and bikinied chicks with rifles? The global stage will miss Palin, at least until 2012 rolls around.
Hello, Rod Blagojevich! The scandal-plagued Illinois governor was caught apparently plotting to sell President-elect Obama's "[bleep]ing" seat in the "mother[bleep]ing" Senate to the highest bidder. If not for an exhaustive investigation by members of Obama's team that came to the shocking conclusion that other members of Obama's team had "behaved appropriately" in their dealings with Blagojevich, this mess might have become yet another P.R. nightmare.
Goodbye, Big Three! One day, we'll look back fondly at this once-proud American industry. Not so much because of design classics like the Hummer or the Aztec, of course, but because of the grand theater of its collapse. We'll miss those private-jet flights to Capitol Hill and the congressional skewering of those steering the automotive ship aground. So will C-Span, which probably hadn't seen ratings like that since Monica Lewinsky.
If the American public had really wanted to help the Big Three auto manufacturers, wouldn't we have been buying their cars and trucks?
Hello, U.S. National Auto Corp.! Bush punted the auto fiasco over to the Obama administration, with the likelihood of still more pleas for aid on tap from GM, Chrysler and Ford, as the crisis deepens. By the time all's said and done, taxpayers will probably be the proud owners of the biggest investment lemon ever foisted upon the American public. If we had wanted to help them, though, we would have bought their cars and trucks.
Goodbye, Lehman Brothers! The timing couldn't have been worse for these guys. Just days before Bear Stearns shook loose an avalanche of White House bailouts for Wall Street, Lehman got to demonstrate the gravity of the crisis by being the first of the financial lemmings to head off the cliff -- without benefit of a parachute.
Hello, Bank of Joe's Fish Market! It started with legitimate banks. Then it moved on to General Electric. Most recently, to GM's sputtering lending unit. Now, everybody who has ever lent a dime to anyone wants full recognition as a bonafide bank holding company so they can grab their slice of the Treasury's $700 billion bailout pie.
Goodbye, gay marriage! The religious right may hold less sway in the White House these days, but its minions apparently still wield plenty of power in the real world, if voter approval of California's Proposition 8 is any indication. Yes, cling to those guns and Bible, folks. And make damn sure Jim and Bob don't trifle with the sanctity of the traditional American family or jeopardize this country's divorce rate.
Hello, Rick Warren! This guy is billed as one of those moderate religious types, except for the part about comparing gay marriage to sleeping with your underage sister. Warren's Medieval stance on nuptials aside, does an invocation even belong at the White House? What about voodoo dolls? Maybe Tom Cruise should audit the wayward souls of the administration.
The scourge of Wall Street
Goodbye, Eliot Spitzer! A tragic, salacious flaw cut short a promising political career and tarnished a legacy built on fighting corruption at a time when Wall Street sorely needed a sharp blow to the gut. Now, the former New York governor -- a hero to many and Client 9 to at least one -- will drift into relative obscurity as nothing more than a footnote and a punch line.
Hello, Bernie Madoff! Spitzer may have worked up an impressive hit list over his career as a crusader, but somehow Madoff proceeded unchecked for three decades. During his outrageous $50 billion heist, he won the confidence and picked the allegedly pockets of such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, whose fleeced Wunderkinder Foundation was made to look like a real Dummkopf.
Oil's roller coaster
Goodbye, polar ice cap! Seems like just yesterday crude was pushing $150 a barrel and the U.S. had ramped up rhetoric about curbing its addiction to foreign oil. But please, will somebody think of the Middle East? Thankfully, America's drivers are back feasting at the trough on $1.70-a-gallon gasoline, and that sheik can build another ski resort in Dubai.
Hello (again), SUVs! Small cars like the Mini and the Yaris are still all the rage, but the death of the so-called sport utility vehicle appears to have been greatly, or at least a tiny bit, exaggerated. Sales, relative to the broader industry, are on the rise now that gas prices are heading back to where they were when the Ford Explorer exploded on to the scene.
Swimming with the stars
Goodbye, Michael Phelps! The Summer Olympics was the feel-good story of a mostly feel-bad kind of year. And the eight-time gold medalist stole the Beijing show. But no matter how amazing the feat, swimming as a marquee sporting event will wade back to once-every-four-years status where it belongs, no matter what Phelps does to increase its popularity.
Hello, Phelps Toothpaste, Phelps Charcoal Briquettes and Phelps Sanitary Napkins! It was hard not to cheer for the guy when he was in the water, but it won't be long before we wish we could say goodbye to the multimillion-dollar Michael Phelps brand. And to his dear mother.
Bean there, done that
Goodbye, favorite Starbucks around the corner! The Seattle caffeine peddler has finally reached a saturation point at a time when consumers have less to spend on costly lattes. With some 600 underperforming stores set to be closed, bean fiends must now grapple with the prospect of walking an extra half-block for their fix.
Hello, $1 cup of "premium" coffee! With the Hamburglar now offering a decent cup of brew at a relative bargain price, Starbucks may have to consider the unthinkable and risk sullying its brand by taking its lofty prices down a notch. The brain trust in Seattle, in fact, tested the $1-a-cup concept in Starbucks' hometown early in 2008, and, while that didn't stick, look for more creative marketing strokes in 2009 as the coffee wars escalate.
Ditching the rabbit ears
Goodbye, analog! More importantly, goodbye to all those annoying reminders on the 10 o'clock news that the days of analog TV are coming to end. Why do we care so much? Do people really still wrestle with tin foil and clothes hangers to watch "Murder She Wrote"?
Hello, digital! For those annoyed by the switch, take solace in the fact that the end of analog frees up valuable airspace for high-speed Internet access and other key wireless services that connect police, firefighters and other emergency workers. Oh, and best of all, it means more money for Brian Roberts, Glenn Britt, John Malone and their fellow cable and satellite moguls.
Shawn Langlois is a reporter for MarketWatch, and the editor of its community message boards.