Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Doonesbury has been running some funny strips on Sarah Palin lately, and the strip's site has a related poll asking readers to say whether they think they're qualified to be President. The variation in response by age is interesting, though I don't know if it marks a shift in attitudes based on the era of one's birth or simply the gloomy realism that comes with getting older.

I may say more on this when I have time and brain to think more clearly about it, but for now, I just want to say that I'm depressed how childish the American electorate seems to be (to have become?). All of these people who dislike Barack Obama for being "elitist," all of these people who look at George Bush (grandson of a Senator, son of a President, graduate of Andover, Yale, and Harvard) and John "Many Houses" McCain.

Sure, some of this "elitist" talk is just code talk for "uppity Negro"--and that's depressing in its own way--but some of it is sincere. It seems to be based on the idea that Obama doesn't have Americans' interests at heart because (unlike Bush) he talks like he has the education that he has. And probably it goes beyond education--I think that people don't like that Obama talks like he's smarter than us, more thoughtful than us.

You know what? Odds are that he IS smarter and more thoughtful than us. And he flippin' should be. The Presidency requires somebody of extraordinary abilities. A President can have an ordinary background--that's better, probably--but he or she needs to outstrip the rest of us in some pretty substantial ways if the country's going to thrive. Or survive.

And I'm fine with that. Abraham Lincoln was nobody's elitist, but he was smarter and more thoughtful than almost all Americans alive at the time (and now). You know that story about his teaching himself to read on the back of a coal shovel? That shows not just that he came from humble origins but also that he was quicker to learn and more disciplined about learning than almost all of us. How many of your high school buddies would have worked that hard? How many of them did work that hard? Did you? (I didn't.) And can you imagine George Bush learning to read under similarly difficult conditions? He barely managed at some of the richest schools in America.

If Lincoln were alive today and from Compton, he would probably have taught himself Spanish and Chinese in elementary school and learned UNIX on the middle school computer. And, if he had a little luck, he would have gotten a scholarship to the same schools that George Bush went to as a C-student legacy case. And he might talk and act much like Obama does now.

Am I saying Obama is a Lincoln for our times? No. He hasn't been tested yet in a way that would let him prove or disprove that claim. I am saying that I'm afraid that a Lincoln in our times might be like a caveman Shakespeare: somebody whose gifts are unvalued or actively despised by the people whose lives they could improve.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

A Thought on the Bailout

According to the Times: "To help struggling homeowners, the plan requires the government to try renegotiating the bad mortgages it acquires with the aim of lowering borrowers' monthly payments so they can keep their homes."

Try? The government will try?

Let's be clearer about this. It's the government. The government could have long ago directed all lenders to renegotiate terms with struggling borrowers and the government would not have had to take over the loans to do so. Regulating credit is the government's job.

Now, the government has taken over the loans. It could forgive all of the debt if it wanted. That wouldn't be smart, but it can certainly succeed in renegotiating terms on most of this debt. It is, in effect, the lender now and if your lender wants to reduce fees and interest rates or forgive penalties, the lender can. The government has to do everything possible not to foreclose on its own taxpayers.

Try is not good enough. The government must bee expected to vigorously pursue this part of the plan.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fascinating Obama Tidbit

I just got curious and searched the Dow Jones Factiva database for the earliest reference to Barack Obama that I could find. First was from Chicago, a local account of Barack's community organizing efforts in 1985. It was a brief mention and they gave him a brief quote but already you got the sense that a reporter had decided that Barack, under 25 at the time, was worth taking seriously.

Then we go to 1990 when he became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. First mentions were brief and put the Harvard Law Review into context for the rest of us -- it is a place where law students practice theories and where the more established legal mines debate them.

Then came an LA Times feature on Obama. Was the first major one, best I can tell. It ran march 12, 1990. I was going to turn 15 on March 16th 1990. Race was a huge issue at the time. We had Clarence Thomas and the LA Riots on the way.

Obama got a package that they didn't open for awhile because, the reporter noted without the need for attribution or expansion, that "shortly after the elections, a package turned up at the law review office with no return address. Obama said he hesitated to open it because of the spree of recent mail bombings targeted at civil rights activists nationwide. When the package was finally opened, inside were two packages of dim sum, with no explanation. Some students made light of the media invasion, posting a memo titled 'The Barack Obama Story, a Made for TV Movie, Starring Blair Underwood as Barack Obama.'"


Here's Obama's quote about it:

"For every one of me, there are thousands of young black kids with the same energies, enthusiasm and talent that I have who have not gotten the opportunity because of crime, drugs and poverty," he said. "I think my election does symbolize progress but I don't want people to forget that there is still a lot of work to be done."

I'm posting this, in part, because Obama needs the youth vote and I am no longer a youth. But when Obama took over the Harvard Law Review I was in high school and we were debating about things like affirmative action. It was passionate stuff. And I was, I admit, on the wrong side. I hated affirmative action. I suspected my own opportunities in life were being given away unfairly and I was a jerk about it. But, we had it out back then and it wasn't so long ago. Then Clarence Thomas happened and then the LA Riots happened. That all made the debates harsher. For me, it's when I started to think things through a little more. But it also hardened a lot of opinions, including my own. Heck, as we see today, back then we were dealing with a rotten economy that certainly contributed to things like the LA Riots.

Okay, this is a meandering post but... I looked up some old Barack stuff and found him speaking at a time where I had just become politically aware. He was so engaged in the issues of the time and he still is. Good to know.

Got to say, my initial reaction was that his quote about drugs keeping people down is milquetoast, but... heck, he is. I think he's at least an authentic milquetoast and not somebody who, like George W. Bush, has done his best to suppress his past.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wait, Why Am I in Debt at All?

Today the President said we have to give $700 billion to Wall Street because if we don't we won't be able to get loans for cars, college and housing.


Why in the Hell do people who work every day need loans to by simple things like cars, education and housing?

Seriously, the real failure here doesn't have anything to do with any capital markets, the failure is that our government allowed an economy to develop where the totally reasonable wishes of everyday workers have been priced to the point where those workers have to go into debt to get them.

Personal transportation, education, housing. Those all strike me as reasonable desires that any person might have. If they perform labor in the service of others on a daily babsis, seems to me like those three things should be givens.

The crisis right now is not a credit crisis, it's a compensation crisis. People who work day in and day out simply shouldn't have to borrow in order to meet basic needs. The problem is that managers and executives take too much and that they pay too little to the people who make the profits.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

The True Face of Hubris

Goldmand Sachs and Morgan Stanley were, until recently, too good to take your deposits. They didn't need your checking account. They only wanted to deal with members of the "investor class" and that meant people with enough money left over every two weeks that they could buy stocks in taxable accounts.

But now... they suddenly want your deposits.

Don't do it, unless they pay a huge amount of interest, something north of 7%. They only want your money so that they can put it on their balance sheet as an asset. They want to seem innocent about it since your deposits are insured by tyhe government but make no mistake -- they want your money so they can shore up against all of the idiotic mortgages and consumer debt that they bought and packaged for resale but couldn't resell.

Just remember what these banks did. Every time you had to buy something on credit because you didn't have the cash, they registered your debt, packaged it with other debt and tried to sell it to a hedge fund. Now that nobody's buying, they want you to deposit money with them in order to... yep... back the very debt that you owe them and that they're trying to sell.

I have a better idea. You own my debt, Goldman Sachs? Then sell it to me. At market price. Which is 20 cents on the dollar at most.

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Obama was wrong about the surge?

One thing that's really annoying me about the coverage of the presidential election is the notion that Obama was wrong when he said, last year, that the surge of new troops into Iraq was "doomed to failure." Because there has been a reduction in violence in Iraq, some pundits have concluded the the surge worked.

But it really was the failure that Obama predicted. 1,000 more US troops died since the surge began. Were their lives really worth a "reduction in violence" given that we could have pulled our troops out long before Bush decided to send more of them into his war of choice? We've also spent billions more. Given what we have to pay now to bail out Wall Street, were the billions we spent to fund the surge in Iraq really worth the "reduction in violence?"

Here's where the rubber really meets the road: if the Surge was a success and Obama was wrong, then why in the Hell are we still in Iraq? The fact of our continued occupation is proof enough that the surge failed. The point was to end the war and bring our troops home. Didn't happen. Surge failed. Deal with it.

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Yeah, well, fuck you too, interwebs.

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And Now I'm Disabled by Incredulity

I have a friend who's convinced that American Spartacists (the vulgar Marxists who show up at every vaguely lefist event and tell you that Castro and Chavez love vigorous debate, liberty, and puppies) are all CIA operatives designed to make the left look like a bunch of buffoons. And I thought at first that Sarah Palin's nomination was proof that Rahm Immanuel had activated a sleeper agent in McCain's inner circle (who knew that résumés are now supposed to begin with a "Disqualifications" section?)

And this? Well, this just seems like a scheme rigged by small-government conservatives (remember them?) to embarrass government, unions, and anybody who's ever said anything nice about them.

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Bail Out Wall Street? What's In It For Me?

So George Bush and Hank Paulson's Wall Street bailout plan is going to cost every American household between $2,000 and $5,000. Maybe the apocalypse is upon us and it must be done, but the American people deserve a return on this invesment. Indeed, congress needs to make sure that this is an investment, not a bailout.

The US government should get large equity stakes in all Wall Street firms that come begging for aid. The government should then use its position as a shareholder to pass resolutions that force these banks to act in the interests of the American people. The citizens of the United States, as shareholders, can demand fully green operations, investments in alternative energy and can demand that these banks no longer advise on job destroying mergers and that they refuse to underwrite debt offerings made by America's enemies.

Let's not bail out Wall Street. Let's take it over.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Still Working the Taint

Well, my friends, I'm delighted to report that the party of law and order rides again and that a new deputy has joined the posse.

Loyal reader Sarah P. of Wasilla, Alaska has been joined by her husband Todd in her brave effort to defend her constitutional right not to answer questions if she doesn't like the official investigator asking them.

Or, in this case, their constitutional right to ignore an Alaska state senate subpoena.

Well, you go, Todd and Sarah! And you tell that mean ol' Alaska Republican senate president that she's a super-big jerk for sending all those subpoenas that everybody's ignoring.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Healthcare Solved!

I'm told that the American people now own 80% of the world's largest insurance company. If that's the case, then 37 million no longer lack health insurance, right? Seems as if the owners of AIG should demand cheap and comprehensive healthcare from our new company.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Amateur Legal Advice for Corrupt Politicians

So occasionally in this space I like to offer amateur legal advice.

Today's Tip: Working the Taint
My friends, you don't have to answer prosecutors' or police officers' questions if you think the people asking them might not be on your side. This is called the "tainted investigation" theory, and is based in landmark cases Hubris v. Juris (1943) and Self v. System (1973), which established that any bastard who would dare to question you doesn't deserve a goddamn answer other than "go screw, bucko."

Thanks to loyal reader Sarah P. from Wasilla, Alaska for reminding us of the tainted investigation immunity. Sarah, do be sure to keep us updated on how you're doing with your invocation of the TI immunity.


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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just a Reminder

As Lehmann topples and Fannie & Freddie go under government supervision, let's remember that Maverick Reformer (TM) John McCain knows a thing or two about bad banking decisions and expensive bailouts.

Specifically, he knows that if you put $360k into a a buddy's strip mall, if you make and fail to disclose $13k in trips to your buddy's houses (some in the Bahamas), and if he raises $112k for your campaign war chest, you should go out of your way to make sure that he gets "a fair hearing" from bank regulators looking into his corrupt and collapsing Savings and Loan.

A Senate ethics committee later exonerated McCain of impropriety and gross negligence but did say that he'd shown poor judgment. (McCain's the guy who says that what separates him from Obama is his judgment, remember. I guess he was complimenting Obama when he said that.)

It's been twenty years since then McCain became one of the Keating Five. And since then, having learned his lesson from getting caught up in a massive and expensive exercise in banking fraud, corruption, and financial mismanagement, he has gone on to display his Maverick Reforming zeal by, uh, letting the same thing happen again without a peep from the Senate floor?


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Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Don't WANT the Truth!

I'm a little concerned that Obama is running his campaign too much against the odious Palin (whose light will soon burn out on its own) and also too much on the notion that John McCain is a liar. Yes, John McCain is a liar. He accused Obama of sexism for his "lipstick on a pig," comment when we all know that usage of "lipstick on a pig," easily outdates Sarah Palin's use of the word lipstick to mean "I'm a nobody in make-up."

Obama, an intellectual who holds the notion of truth in high regard has recently been spending his time refuting the lies of McCain and Palin. "You can't just make stuff up," said Obama.

No, you can't. Not at the Harvard Law Review. Not in a nonfiction writing class (and if you try to make stuff up in a fiction class you'll probably face a professor demanding even MORE truth) and not in testimony before a court. No, in those cases, you can't just make stuff up.

In life, you can. In life, you do. "Hello, future employer! Of COURSE I know HTML! I know the other letters too!"

We lie. We exagerate. We don't really judge others for doing so, unless they really burn us. We don't condemn lying. We condemn some lies.

Barack Obama believes in the truth, I think. I'm sure it's a nuanced, well thought out truth. But he believes in one. Few others do. I'd venture that most people don't believe in the truth but that they think they do. I'd also venture that every time Obama calls McCain a liar, a lot of people think, "Yeah, he's lying, or at least stretching, but Obama is probably lying to and what are you going to do in an election." Or, more succintly, "Sure, but politicians lie."

We are not going to win the presidency by running against the opposition's running mate. We're also not going to beat their nominee by calling their nominee a liar, even though he is one. Seems like we've been on the defensive lately and that isn't going to work. "They are lying," is not the phrase that will bring us home. Let's get back to "Change We Can Believe In." Because... the way I see it, there's no way you can look at the decrepit dirty old man and the woman he dressed up as his naughty librarian and conclude that they can bring us anywhere.*

*except of course maybe, "Off. At the senior center outside Phoenix, AZ."

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Oddly Inspiring Thoughts for the Day

Yes, irony, I'm blogging about doing. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Some thoughts from Jean-Paul Sartre's Existentialism and Humanism, which I'm finding more interesting the less I think "is this more or less brilliant than the other ideas in class" and the more I think "huh, wonder if this makes sense":
That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does...

There's no such thing as a cowardly constitution.... the coward is defined on the basis of the acts he performs. People feel, in a vague sort of way, that this coward we're talking about is guilty of being a coward, and the thought frightens them. What people would like is that a coward or hero be born that way.

If one calls every attitude of unbelief despair, then the word is not being used in its original sense. Existentialism isn't so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn't exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would that would change nothing [because] we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue... In this sense existentialism is optimistic, a doctrine of action, and it is plain dishonesty for Christians to make no distinction between their own despair and ours and then to call us despairing."

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Monday, September 08, 2008

All Right, That's Enough

So grinnin' John McCain and his chicken bull running mate are now LEADING in the polls.

I, along with much of America, was initially shocked to discover that all it took to get the GOP base fired up was a good-looking goofball with minimal executive experience, a hostility to books, and an authoritarian streak wider than Larry Craig's stace.

Then I remembered the 2000 election.

We need to take this seriously. These two could be your future presidents.


I'm pretty lazy, I admit. But I'm not deluded enough to think that blogging makes much if any impact. There are far more practical things to be done. So I'd like to encourage people to post to the comments sections ideas about practical steps one can take to help register new voters, how to make calls to get voters to polls, etc. Information (phone numbers, URLs, etc.) about such practical ideas are also much appreciated.

If nothing else, it'll help me figure out how to spend my time and money between now and election day.


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Sunday, September 07, 2008

John McCain is So Old.

How old is he?

John McCain is so old that if he hasn't been elected president already, there's obviously something wrong with him.


More About Sarah the Coward

Check out the line-up for today's Sunday talk shows. Obama, McCain and Biden are all willing to subject themselves to direct public interviews. But not Sarah Palin. Because she either knows she's unqualified or is a big blowhard coward.

Guest lineup for the Sunday TV news shows:

ABC's "This Week" — Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.


CBS' "Face the Nation" — Republican presidential nominee John McCain.


NBC's "Meet the Press" — Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.


CNN's "Late Edition" — Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs; McCain economic adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer.

"Fox News Sunday" _ Obama chief strategist David Axelrod and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fiscal Responsibility

John McCain says that what he likes most about Sarah Palin is that she put a private jet that the previous governor had purchased on auction at eBay and that she sold it "for a profit."

But the truth is, yes, she p[ut it up for sale on eBay but like many an eBay merchant has learned, putting a product on the site doesn't mean somebody will buy it, especially at the price you're asking.

Palin sold a jet that copst $2.7 million to an Alaskan business man for $2.1 million.

So is it really so admirable to lose $600,000 on your own petulant hissy fit at the governor before you?

Finally, is the media going to just allow McCain to claim, unchallenged, that Palin "sold the plain on eBay for a profit?" Does the truth matter or is it another case of "It's Okay if You're a Republican?"

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Friday, September 05, 2008

The Toothless Barracuda?

So Sarah Palin is supposedly tough. But she won't subject herself to direct questions from the press. No, she's only available to interviewers like Oprah -- people who won't or can't challenge her.

Until Palin sits down for real interviews with real journalists, people should stop marveling at how "tough" she is. Anyone can stand on a stage making false claims about John McCain being a maverick. Let's see if this nobody who thinks she can be president can actually hold her own in a real, public discussion about foreign policy. Or domestic policy. Tough people aren't afraid of a little conversation.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

And THIS Should Be a Scandal

So, in addition to apparently being more about loyalty than competence or legality (sound familiar?), Mayor Sarah Palin was an aspiring censor.

From CNN/Time:
Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
Yeah, I'm guilty too (see below), but doesn't the fact that someone potentially second in line for the Presidency wants to ban books for naughty language and Unchristian sentiment sound more important than a pregnant teenager? Not to mention that her MO seems to be trying to fire everybody who doesn't support her crackpot authoritarianism?

My guess about some of the inappropriate language? I think it involves words like "tolerance, intellectual inquiry, dissent, skepticism, freethinking, investigative reporting, moderation, atheism, Islam, New York, and polyglot."

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Like Juno, Only Under Surveillance

As Mike's comments suggest, he and I noticed this comment in a post below:
I just don't know where to indicate my confusion about the absence of Palin-related inappropriate commentary on this blog. I mean, where else does one go for mean-spirited political snark about Alaskan rednecks with pregnant teenagers? I suppose I can understand leaving the softballs for lesser observers, but still.
Since our Google metrics indicate that Emily constitutes 33.3% of our regular readership and 59% of replies that I didn't make, Mike has already sprung into action.

I guess I've been reluctant to touch on the issue because, well, somebody's teenage kid got knocked up and is keeping the baby. Mostly, that's none of my business. I guess it might be legit political news if one were to find out that Sarah Palin is pressuring her daughter Bristol to carry the baby to term and to get married because it would hurt Palin politically for Bristol to have an abortion and/or conceive out of wedlock. But there's no evidence of that out there.

I guess I have the same thing to say about this that I have to say about most conservative sex scandals: it may tell you something about the accuracy of your beliefs and the efficacy of your social policies if you and/or your close family can't practice what you preach no matter how sincerely you try or how loudly you yell.

If, as a man, you find that the faith-based homosexuality cure just won't remove those pesky cocks from your mouth no matter how many times you renounce Satan and his veiny snares, then it's probably time to consider the possibility that human sexuality is more complicated and difficult than your legislation acknowledges. Maybe you have to consider that if you didn't spend much of your public life trying to stigmatize gayness, you might not have to seize your only moments of gayness through glory holes.

And if, as an advocate of abstinence-only education, you find that your strategy doesn't work even on your own child--the kid you most closely supervise and mentor--you may have to ask yourself whether it's good enough. Or whether it might even be more a cause of teen pregnancy than a cure for it.

Heck, the entire Republican party might ask itself this: Is it just bad luck that the party of family values has on its ticket a divorced man whose second wife refuses to acknowledge the existence of her half-sister and an abstinence-only advocate whose teenage daughter didn't get the message? And that the nominees of the party of butt-love and dental dams has families that better exemplify the family values message? Or--just a thought here--is there something pernicious about the right's need for the Ward & June fantasy that actually encourages people to scorn and dismiss more stable, successful domestic arrangements that aren't desperate, doomed imitations of chez Cleaver?

Past that, I dunno, I feel bad that Bristol and her hubby-to-be have gotten dragged out in front of everybody. I mean, this is worse than being sixteen and having your parents walk in on you masturbating. It's more like that happening, and then having your parents shoved out of the way by Anderson Cooper and his camera crew.

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Why the Sarah Palin Scandal isn't like the typical Republican Sex Scandal...

...unlike the typical Republican sex scandal, it involves consenting adults.

Oh wait... no it doesn't.

We love you, Emily!

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Writing Innapropriate Commentary About Underage Sexpots...

...is easier than an Alaskan teenager.

We love you Emily.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Good News is Bad News (LA Style)

Found this story on the front page of today's LA Times metro section:
Summer slayings in L.A. fewest since '67 summer of love
By Joel Rubin | 2:00 PM PDT
LAPD Chief William J. Bratton says there were 84 slayings in the city from June through August. He adds that all categories of violent and property crimes are down from last year.
Bringing up the summer of love is a little weird, but that weirdness pales in comparison with the implication that it's good news that there's was only about a murder a day in my new home town over the summer. Not that Chicago was any better, but I had the same sense of wonderment there every time I was supposed to be delighted that the death rate had dropped from the spectacularly awful to the merely unacceptable.

Yes, people in Baghdad would love to have LA's murder rate. But then people in Baghdad would love to have a lot of things that don't involve explosions in public places. We should probably set our standards higher (here and there, really).

A few interesting/depressing facts, many of them from the very good website that the Times maintains for homicides in LA County. In the county (pop. 10m, which includes a lot more than the city), there have been 485 murders so far this year. A whopping 85% of those killed have been men (most of those apparently between the usual ages of 15 and 40). Here's a breakdown of the homicides by race (comparing the actual percentages to the percentages one would expect if homicides were independent of race).

Asians account for 5.1% of total homicides, 38.3% the amount one would expect.

Whites account for 8%, 29.2% the expected amount.

Blacks account for 30.1%, 313.5% the expected amount.

Latinos account for 56% of homicides, 118.3% of the expected amount.

Note: A likely thing skewing this is age. LA County's Latino population is generally substantially younger than the other groups, especially non-Hispanic whites. Since homicide victims (and killers) tend to fall in that 15-40 age group, it's a meaningful point. If anybody has current demographic information, please let me know.

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