Was Murtha good for Johnstown?

I'm sad to see that John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman and defense spending cardinal, has died after a long and productive life in government.

Whatever your views on Murtha -- and as  someone who grew up in southwest Pennsylvania, I certainly have my own opinions -- this is very bad news for Johnstown, the main town in the district he represented for nearly 36 years. Because if there's one thing Murtha did, it was bring home the bacon. Millions of dollars of it.

There was the John P. Murtha Neuroscience and Pain Institute, the John P. Murtha Regional Cancer Center, the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, and of course the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security, to name but a few of the places, not to mention a number of defense contractors, kept afloat thanks to the congressman's mastery of the earmark system.The loss of a patron in Washington will be devastating.

Maybe, though, Johnstown will ultimately be better off without Murtha's largesse. The town was crushed by the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, and never really recovered. Murtha's projects, along with some telemarketing and retail business, were about the only source of employment the town of 24,000 had to offer. Yet household income is about half the national average, and the area school system is abysmal. Now, Johnstown will have to attract industry on the region's own merits, rather than relying on its powerful friend on Capitol Hill. It's going to be painful for a while, but I hope this hard-luck town will emerge stronger for it.



Mexico is not descending into chaos

The frequent stories of grusome beheadings and seemingly rand mass-murders coming out of Mexico's drug war can make the country sound like its on the brink of anarchy. But as Alexandra Olson points out, by regional and historical standards, the country's violence is not unusually high:

Mexico's homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies.

By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil's was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.

Mexico City's rate was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.

Of course, all of that is cold comfort to residents of Ciudad Juarez, which had a mind-boggling homicide rate of "173 per 100,000 in the city of 1.3 million, or more than 2,500 murders last year."

Mexico's relative national stability combined with what can only be described as out of control carnage in the drug war zone, supports Jorge Castaneda's argument that Mexico should be looked at not as a state under seige, but as a country increasingly embroiled in a military quagmire inside its own borders.

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images