What Is A Swing County?

October 3, 2012

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Every election cycle, we hear about swing states.  The majority of states are already decided long before election day – a heavy majority of voters on one side or the other makes it almost impossible for the opposing candidate to win that state’s electoral votes.  A handful of states can swuing either way, and ultimately determine the presidential election.

This time around, there is a lot of focus on “swing counties” – tightly contested counties within battleground states.  In some cases, the counties have voted for the winners in the vast majority of presidential elections for several decades.  The logic seems to be that focuses a lot of resources on these counties will ensure a candidate’s success in November.

This logic, of course, is utter crap.

Let’s use a sports example (just because I love sports).  Let’s take a person with average golf ability.  Not overly talented, but not an embarrassment, either.  I get this golfer a swing coach and have him practice for hours every day.  At the end of the year, the golfer has improved his score considerably.

Let’s spell out the analogy:


Golf Politics
Golfer Swing county
Swing coach Influx of political ads
Golf score improvement Leans more toward your party


Is everyone still with us?

OK, the golfer used to be average.  That is, representative of a broader sample.  Now that the golfer is considerably better, one of two things can be true:

  1. The population as a whole has improved to match our golfer
  2. The golfer is no longer representative of the broader population

I’d bet that the second case is far more likely.  Want to bet against me?  I don’t blame you.  Why, then, do political strategists think that dumping lots of money into Swing county is going to make Swing State vote for the candidate?  What you’ve really accomplished is throwing off the natural dynamics of the county.  Where it once was evenly balanced and would ride the prevalent tide the state, it’s now in the middle of an active tug-of-war.  The result is that the “swing county” is going to become a worse predictor of the state as a whole – because it’s being exposed to stimuli that the entire state isn’t.  Basically, the control sample is being turned into the experimental sample.

There’s a lot of danger in placing too much emphasis on a small portion of the state.  While the presidential election is winner-take-all at the state level, that’s not the case at the local level.  There are no bonus points for winning a county.  If you win 49 states + DC by one vote each and get beaten by 5 million votes in one state, you’ll win an electoral landslide.  However, if you win 50 counties by one vote each and lose a single county by 500 votes, you lose the state.  Campaigns need to focus their efforts on the states where they can swing the outcome into their favor – not wasting money one states that are in the bag or ones that have no shot at.  But once a campaign is actively trying to win a state, every single vote counts the same.  Firing up an extra one hundred supporters in your stronghold or getting one hundred to crawl out of the woodwork in your opponent’s stomping ground – the votes count equal. 

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Kosmo’s Briefs

February 10, 2012

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English: penulis = writer

Image via Wikipedia

Oh, joy.  Random odds and ends in today’s column 🙂

I’ve finished off  a free freelance jobs in the past couple of weeks.  I have a pretty decent backlog of articles and could keep pretty busy with the freelance work if my schedule allowed for it.  While The Soap Boxers makes a negligible amount of money, it’s nice to have freelance gigs where I get paid.  The cash is nice, but so is the underlying meaning – someone things my writing is good enough to pay me for it.

Johnny Goodman wrote an interesting article and submitted it to me.  You won’t be seeing it on The Soap Boxers, though.  I found a market for the article and brokered the sale for him.  It’s Johnny’s first professional sale, and he’s nearly as happy about it as I am.  I guess technically it makes me a literary agent.

The murder-suicide in Washington state saddened me greatly.  Unfortunately, we’ve had a couple of case of parents killing kids in Iowa City in the last few years.  As a parent, I find it extremely disturbing.  Personally, one of the strangest details about the whole incident is that he emailed family and friends about where his money was and how to get utilities shut off (I’m guessing the gas company is going to shut off gas supply to the raging inferno without being explicitly asked).  So he was able to think through all these insignificant details, but overlooked that whole “killing my kids is very bad” aspect?

Rick Santorum picked up wins in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado.  Mitt Romney finished second in Missouri and Colorado, but third in Minnesota (Ron Paul was second).  Gingrich wasn’t on the ballot in Missouri and failed to hit 15% in the other states.  At the moment, it looks like Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich will all stick around for a while.  Santorum and Gingrich would be better off if one of them dropped out, and it would allow the “anyone but Romney” faction to consolidate behind one candidate instead of fracturing the vote.  I suppose Ron Paul is also taking votes from someone.

Scouts from the Baltimore Orioles have been banned from attending games in South Korea after signing a 17 year old who hadn’t yet begun his senior year of high school.  While Major League Baseball allows teams to sign foreign players (those not subject to the draft) at age 16.  However, the governing body of Korean baseball does not allow players to interact with professional teams until their last year of school (applicable to both high school and college players).

The band Alabama is touring once again, sans longtime drummer Mark Herndon (there was a lawsuit over some royalties).  I’m hoping to see some new music from the guys very soon, but will definitely miss Mark’s drumming.  I’m a huge fan of the group, owning more than 30 of their albums (including some very hard to find stuff).  I’ve been reacquainting myself with a lot of their work lately, and can’t help but enjoy some of the forgotten songs from their albums – such as Pete’s Music City, Pony Express, and Clear Across America Tonight.  None are signature hits for the group, but these songs – and dozens of other – are very enjoyable to listen to.  Hard to believe that some of these songs are 25-30 years old.

The Pony Express has a special place in the history of this country.  Care to guess how long it was in operation?  10 years?  5 years?  Nah – a mere 18 months.

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Time To Reign In Corporations

September 9, 2010

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Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

-Ambrose Bierce

When I hear the phrase “we the people” I think of your average Joe Citizen. I think of people down on their luck in the inner city, struggling to make ends meet. I think of a guy living in Westchester county with an acre of land and a beautifully manicured lawn. I don’t think of Exxon. Or Pfizer. Or Halliburton. Strangely enough, though, the Supreme Court of the United States thinks of those corporations – all corporations, really – in the same category as “we the people.”

Earlier this year in January with the ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the John Roberts led supreme court ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts could not be limited under the First Amendment. This ruling was absolutely unprecedented, but was yet another small step in giving corporations power at the expense of the people. This was an absolutely partisan ruling that struck down the previous bi-partisan McCain-Feingold act that prohibited all corporations from broadcasting “electioneering communications.” In very simple terms the Supreme Court ruled that anyone is essentially “an individual” in terms of campaign donations and political broadcasts. The First Amendment, one of the few things that still separated people from corporations, was now declared by the majority opinion (5-4 almost strictly along party lines) to apply to corporations too.

Since that ruling any group whatsoever can now spend any amount of money on political advertisements that they so wish and do so in a fashion that allows them to obfuscate where the money is coming from. Combine this with the Florida court ruling that says media agencies – even ones specifically devoted toward broadcasting “the news” – are allowed to lie under the first amendment, and you have an environment perfectly set to have corporate shills and puppets running our country.

Not that they don’t already.

One of my favorite authors, William Gibson, often writes about a dystopian future where corporations rule the world by propping up cardboard cutout governments that are technically legal but amount to nothing. In these books no one thinks twice about the fact that these corporations field standing armies, assassinate anyone they deem a threat, and produce products that are known to be harmful to humans simply because they make a profit. We’re not too far from that today. This country was originally set up to be run for the people by the people – a vote by the masses would ensure the brightest would lead this country and have only the best interests in mind for the people. There already are politicians associated with certain high-power corporate entities. Joe Lieberman is widely known for being the senator from Etna, not Connecticut. The Cheney administration seemed to have the best interests of Haliburton and the military-industrial complex in mind rather than those of the country. Now that donation money can flow even more freely you’re going to see a lot more political attack ads against people the corporations don’t want in power and the people they do want in power winning more offices.

What’s one of the biggest ways a corporation gains money and power? At your expense. When Major League Baseball’s Expos were shown to be floundering economically it was decided by a consortium of MLB owners to move the team. They already had the buyer picked out, and through tax breaks, outright grants, and local government donations the Lerner Group effectively purchased the team for no money. Based on the value of the Nationals compared to the Expos it can even be argued that they were paid to take the team. Taxpayers in DC were told a stadium would boost income and revenue for the local economy, they were repeatedly told a popular lie the money would “trickle down.” from the rich to the poor. Yet here we are years later and the income gap between the poor and rich has widened, even more so in Washington DC than other areas.  [Read David Cay Johnston’s book A Free Lunch for more background on the Nationals sale].

In the 1940’s, corporations typically paid around 33% of our government’s tax income. This had failed to 15 percent in the 1990s. On the flip side, the individual tax burden has risen from 44% to over 70% in that same time frame. Corporations feel no remorse, feel no pain, don’t age, don’t worry about the environment, don’t care about the quality of food, and have only one goal: to gain as much money as possible for the few that run it. Corporations are considered people and have all those advantages, yet they don’t have the built-in regulation that most people have: a conscience. A sense of what is right and wrong. How many times can you think of a corporate disaster that cost lives or greatly damaged lives where before any government interaction that corporation jumped to do the right thing and fixed their damage. I honestly can’t think of any. Now how many times can you think of where the reverse happened, where a corporation caused massage damage or death and then dragged their feet doing the right thing and in the end never did make things whole? The Deep Horizon oil spill, the Exxon Valdez, Toyota’s acceleration/brake problem, Union Carbide’s Bopa disaster. In each of those situations I clearly remember more effort and possibly more money going into telling us they were working on fixing the problem than actually fixing the problem.

Think of how scary a world we already live in, in terms of corporate power.

Now think that the vast majority of politicians get the vast majority of their money from corporations with the express intent that the money given is to sway political decisions in corporate favor.

William Gibson, we’re not far from the ethics of Neuromancer while still being pretty far away from the technology that makes that world a wonder. I’d call that a horror book.

What Should We Do About The Federal Budget

August 16, 2010

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What should we do about the federal budget?

Over the last few weeks, there have been several articles about federal spending on this page.  Squeaky had an article about waste and Zarberg wrote about the magnitude of the defense budget among other things.  I wrote responses to both articles, not particularly well written responses.  In this article I will attempt to only address the fiscal issue of the budget and not try to apply a justification aspect.

My basic comment is “STOP SPENDING”.  When I look at what our government has done over the past 50 years, I see the same pattern regardless of the party of the President or the composition of the Congress.  Each year, there seems to be a push to buy the votes of a specific part of the population.  In each effort, we see the budget exceed the income except for a few years in the lat 1990’s (and I would contend that this was actually accounting slight of hand).

Right now, today, we have an enormous deficit.  To remedy this, our government is spending more money.  When you or I are faced with such a short fall, we generally do not think “SPENDING FRENZY”, instead we cut back on the things that would be nice to have, we replan the things we need in the long run and we concentrate on what is most important today.  I will give some personal examples.

I would like to actually go on a vacation.  I want to update my kitchen.  I need to replace the windows and doors in my house.  I need to cut down 4 trees that are too close to my house and are damaging it.  Right now and for the next 8 years, I need to help my kids through college.  Each month, I need to pay for food, mortgage, gasoline, insurance and clothing.  That pretty much sums up my expenses since I have paid off my car.

I could get a second mortgage on the house and pay for the kids’ college.  I could take a third mortgage to pay for the rest.  But what do I do when my car wears out?  I will have spent all of my income and all of my credit.  Instead, the windows and trees will have to wait.  The vacation, along with the kitchen, are not even in the plan.  Right now, today, I am keeping the family housed, clothed and fed while the kids attend college.

Our government, like many people, just gets more credit and more loans.  The latest version of this is the plan to make it easier for small businesses to get loans, not help them get out of debt, mind you, but to get further into debt.

I know we need a military, but really, do we need the G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu grip?  Yes, health care costs are getting high, but do we need to pay for everyone’s prescriptions?  Yes we have several industries that have been mismanaged and are failing, but does our government have to throw money down that drain as well?  And to make matters worse, there is no real way to understand what is actually happening unless you spend hours reading the congressional record and the Wall Street Journal and listening to the BBC, since the rest of the American media has become a headline buffet with lots of calories but no nutritional value.

Here is an example to cover both my rant on spending and the lack of reporting.  Late last week, Fox news reported that 2 democratic Senators held a session and passed a 600 million dollar package to fund border security.  The headline would make you think that there were no rules and the spending was out of control.  A more in depth report was published in the Wall Street Journal describing the unusual event.  It turns out that the Senate had already passed the bill by an overwhelming majority (there are in fact rules but the spending is still out of control), but since it had a funding section, it had to have been passed by the House first.  Since the votes were out of order, to save time and money, two senators returned to Washington D.C. from their recess to clean up the paper work.  It just turned out to be 2 democrats; there was not evil plot after all.

Regardless of how many times it is said and who says it, you cannot spend yourself out of debt.  What our government need to do (and I blame our congress for failing to do this, both parties) is to sort through all of the programs and prioritize.  They have to live within a budget just like everyone else.  Sure each of us will complain when our pet program gets a reduction or is deferred to later years, but there has to be some effort.  This will take time and a lot of negotiating, but that is what we hire our Senators and Representatives to do.  Besides that, we need to stop blaming the President.  He suggests actions through policy statements, but he cannot initiate a singe piece of legislation as President (although this President could have started every one of his programs two years ago when he was in the Senate).

Write your congressman.  Let them know what you want, fear, think.  They want and need to know.  If he or she consistently fails to meet your expectations, then you protest by voting.  If you do not get involved, then only the lobbyists will have their ears.

My basic philosophy is fiscal conservatism.  I believe that if you reduce spending and reduce the amount of money the federal government needs, the economy will grow and the federal government will get more money for the things that are really necessary.  At the very least, only spend what you can afford.  In either case, I get back to my original rant; STOP SPENDING!

Tossing the Political Football Back

January 18, 2010

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On January 14, 2010, Zarberg posted an article that used two examples to show how politicians “put other’s lives on the line so they can get more money.” I could have posted comments, but I would have needed too many. Instead I have opted for a rebuttal, not a refutation.

I also was profoundly affected by the events of 9/11. I was not in New York City at the time, although my sister in law was. She is a doctor and immediately attempted to render aid. She was sent to Columbia Medical Center, so she was never in any direct danger, though none of us knew that at the time. I was at work and watched the second aircraft impact live on TV. I watched what I thought was my employment opportunity exploding as I am an aerospace engineer working in the aircraft field.

Unlike many of the extremists on air and on line, I never wanted to make a glass parking lot anywhere. I quickly realized that the people who had perpetrated this crime were a tumor that had to be surgically removed to save the people around them. So my first contention with Zarberg is that we went into Afghanistan to perform that surgery (still on-going), the Iraq war was almost a year later.

Admittedly, the arguments for going to war with Iraq were suspect, mostly because no one would listen to anyone else. If we look at Colin Powell’s UN speech, there is no talk of Nuclear Weapons being on hand (the only weapon of mass destruction NOT found in Iraq), only the effort to obtain them. The idea that the BUSH administration was deceitful is interesting as most of the evidence came directly from Saddam Hussein through his speeches, declarations and USE. His best defense would have been “yeah I had them but I used them all on the Kurds and Marsh Arabs.” Instead he claimed to have them, was going to use them on any invader and dared the rest of the world to stop him. That is exactly what the US, UK, Poland and 15 other countries did after getting permission from the UN.

With all of that, I still think that the US was wrong in the argument to go to war. We were already at war. The Iraqis had violated every element of the cease fire they had begged for. They had fired upon allied units, killed civilians, blocked UN inspectors from doing their job, violated the no fly zones and been caught diverting money for food to arms.

I wish I could rebut the one trillion dollar price tag, but the costs are all lumped together. These costs include every penny spent in both Iraq and Afghanistan but are routinely associated only with Iraq. Part of that cost would have been incurred regardless as we have ships at sea and troops deployed even when we are not at war. A lot of money has been spent rebuilding both countries not just from war damage but from the ravages of 30 years of dictatorship. The New Jersey and Missouri National Guards have paved more miles of road and built more bridges than exist in New England. The US has built water and power plants (two commodities that Sadam used to control his people) and repaired the other civil structures that were left to languish so that one man could build himself numerous palaces. All of this is included in that price tag.

One of the things that Zarberg did not comment on, is that the US hired “Contractors” to arrest and detain people. Under what laws? These people are exactly what the Hague and Geneva Conventions dating back to 1866 were meant to stop. They are mercenaries, who are a law unto themselves, providing a buffer of responsibility for the hiring nation.

As far as the trend in US politics to be nasty just because the other guy proposed something, I agree with Zarberg completely on his observation but not his conclusion. I do not believe that politicians are out to hurt anyone, even for their own gain. All of the politicians I personally know (from both sides) truly believe that what they are proposing will be good for people. Each of them is, of course, blinded by their own convictions. The problem that most politicians run into is that they fail to recognize unintended consequences. The reason for this is that if they truly studied every possible affect before acting, nothing would ever get done. My biggest complaint about recent political action is that everything has to be a crisis, and every crisis has to be solved by spending a lot of money.

It seems that the most authoritative spokes persons are those people who have plenty of time to be on the 24 hour news stations. This is not news, nor is it authoritative, it is just opinion usually included in yelling matches where neither side listens or hears.

The discussion of Joe Lieberman being for and against expansion of medicare and the implied verdict of him being paid off is hard for me to discuss. I personally like Joe Lieberman. To be aghast that he received campaign donations from insurance companies is like being aghast that a senator from Nebraska received donations for the grain industry or that one from California received donations from internet companies. The biggest industry in Connecticut is insurance. His apparent change of support for the medicare expansion has to be viewed in light of the latest version of the health care reform bills. Most of these bills go way beyond what he supported (expansion down to age 50) to include every person in the US, citizen or not. Joe is a fiscal conservative (which is why I like him) so he does not like the huge price tag for this all encompassing effort. He is a social moderate (another reason I like him), which is why he is supportive of helping those people who are close to medicare age, and are in need of healthcare coverage.

Zarberg’s conclusion that all is bought and paid for by greedy corporations that don’t care about individuals is interesting. It is also self defeating if true. When a corporation truly doesn’t care, their product will have nothing to do with what people want. That product will not be purchased and the company will either have to change its product or go broke. The only benefit corporations get from paying politicians is the promise not to be punished by regulation or taxation. The only product anyone has ever proposed that each of us would have to buy on pain of fine or imprisonment whether you want it or not is up for a vote right now – health care.

Monday Miscellany

August 10, 2009

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Cash for Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers is definitely drawing its fair share of ink, and many people have negative opinions of the program.  I’m not going to defend it in its entirety, because I do believe that the program has flaws, particularly with the low threshold for the $3500 rebates.  However, I will address two comments that seem to pop up a lot.

The first is the comment that this is resulting in perfectly good cars being destroyed – cars that would be a good first car for a teen, or a car for someone who couldn’t afford something nicer.  I get the impression that people think that this is an unintended consequence that was a result of congress not thinking enough about the impacts.  However, this is not the case.  This is exactly what congress intended – to avoid having the useful lives of these cars extended, and getting them off the road.  Whether a 15 mph car is being driven by a 45 year old man, or a 19 year old college student, it’s still a 15 mpg car.  I might be one of the minority who thinks that car with 18 mph or worse combined highway/city mpg is pretty bad.  I’ve never had a car that has come anywhere close to this mileage, and I don’t drive small cars.  Our current cars are in the high 20s.

The second comment I hear is a questioning of the stimulative effect.  In my opinion, Cash for Clunkers is an environmental program with a possible economic impact, not vice versa.  Realistically, there cannot be much direct stimulation as a result of the program.  In the grand scheme of things, three billion dollars is not a huge amount of money.  The best case scenario would be for the program to revive interest in cars, and get people without clunkers to think about buying a car.

Mel Martinez

Senator Mel Martinez of Florida has announced that he will be stepping down before his current term ends.  This puts governor Charlie Crist in an interesting predicament.  Crist had previously announced his intentions to run for Martinez’ seat in 2010 (Martinez had previously announced that he would not seek another term).  As is the case in many states, the governor has the authority to appoint the interim senator.  Crist has said that he will not appoint himself, which gets him into a bit of a pickle.  Whomever is appointed by Crist will be an incumbent for the 2010 primaries.  Incumbents always have a leg up on the opposition.

Crist has a few options.  The first option is to appoint someone who will be a strong representative for the state of Florida – someone who represents that views of the citizens of the state and works hard to achieve results in the Senate.  This candidate could be a tough adversary for Crist in the primary.  Alternately, Crist could appoint a weaker candidate who would be exposed by  a short stint in congress, and would be a sitting duck against Crist in a primary.  The danger with this is that the citizens might not be pleased having sub-standard representation in congress.

I suppose there’s also the third option – that Crist does indeed appoint himself, reneging on his earlier statement.  I’ll give Governor  Crist the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s not dumb enough to try that trick.

It will be interesting to see which direction Crist will lean.  The citizens of Florida would be well served to pay close attention to this process, as it may tell them much about the sort of man Charlie Crist is.

Patrick Kane

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was arrested in Buffalo for robbery, criminal mischief,  and theft of services after an early morning altercation with a cab driver.

The story being told by the cab driver is that Kane and  his cousin paid for a $13.80 cab ride with $15.  The cab driver claimed to only have $1 in change, rather than the $1.20.  The Kanes then allegedly took back the $15 and punched the cab driver in the face.  Police confirmed that the cab driver suffered cuts to the face and broken glasses.

Kane is, of course, innocent until proven guilty.  Perhaps the allegations are unfounded.  If the allegations prove to be true, then Kane suffered a monumental case of bad judgment.  Were he and his cousin owed the 20 cents?  Certainly.  However, this was definitely not the best way to handle the situation.  Noting the cab driver’s cab license and reporting the incident to the proper authorities would have been a better route.  Risking a prison sentence over 20 cents  just doesn’t make sense.

What did you miss over the weekend?

  • Friday featured the first part of the short story Superstar – the tale of a young music sensation.
  • The conclusion of Superstar appeared in the Saturday edition.
  • Tyson Turner pushed Winnipeg front and center on Sunday, selling the city as a tourist destination.

Rules of Engagement

August 5, 2009

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This month I wanted to express my opinion on the investigations of the “war crimes” supposedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. A number of anonymous soldiers have testified to various news sources that during this latest military operation they felt that Israel had conducted itself unethically and attacked civilians as well as destroyed property in a style of “shoot first and ask questions later”.

As background I would like to point out a few things.

  1. All Israelis are required to serve in the army which is significant as you will get a number of people that will never agree with any level of violence as it may not be in their nature to be troops.
  2. The enemy in this scenario is not another army but a terrorist organization that makes use of suicide bombers and human shields making it very difficult to limit civilian casualties but under normal circumstances Israel is well documented to be better at limiting civilian casualties than any other army including the USA.
  3. Israeli politics and culture allows for if not even encourages people to express their opinion so this kind of rhetoric by troops after a conflict is nothing new. In fact, it is welcomed for troops to report war crimes which are then heavily investigated and acted upon.
  4. Finally, if you get 3 Jews in a room you end up with 4 opinions so complaints about any action taken by Israel even by Israelis is expected.

As to the allegations, my opinion is that it is very possible that this last military engagement may have had harsher rules of engagement then normal but this is really do to point 2 above. No organized military in the world is currently well equipped or trained to combat terrorist organizations using the methods that Middle East ones do in an urban setting without casualties. I believe that the Israeli army provides adequate warning to civilians prior to an attack but it has been well documented that the civilians often do not heed the warning or receive threats from the terrorist organizations not to heed them. These civilians are critical to a terrorist organization’s defense (human shields) and offense (media coverage of dead civilians) therefore the terrorist can’t afford these civilians to simply step aside and allow the conflict to occur between the two armed forces.

I will admit that recent failures in some of the Israeli conflicts may have prompted a harsher approach but I think based on the approach that organizations like Hamas take with Israel this is well warranted. In addition, based on the fact that most if not all of the complaints are coming from anonymous soldiers I have to question the validity. In closing I want to leave you with two thoughts.

One, if it was your son or daughter entering an urban setting with potential land mines, suicide bombers and civilian clothed militia, how many questions would you want them to ask before shooting?

Two, has anyone noticed that even some of the Arab leaders had compared the way Israel conducted itself to that of the terrorist groups? While I don’t ever want to see Israel sink to their level it is ironic to me that Israelis bulldoze a few buildings by mistake and they get this kind of negative coverage but Hamas shoots rockets at kindergartens and hospitals and nobody blinks.

In closing, I guess for those reading this that do not have any sons, daughters, cousins or friends serving in the Israeli army it will always be hard to understand why I support them being cautious in a way that may cause an accidental civilian death but keep the troops out of harm’s way. I think there is only so much precaution that is worth the death of an Israeli soldier and for people that really want to see an end to civilian casualties they should attack the heart of the problem – which is the way that terrorists situate themselves among these civilians.

Middle East Politics

July 8, 2009

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1 Comment

 As this is my first article for this wonderful site I will keep the writing general in order to introduce my point of view to all of our readers and open discussion.  Future articles will focus on specific events in the news.  First off, my views are not a commentary on any of the religions that are involved in the conflict in the Middle East as even though I believe the conflict does stem from religious differences it also stems from man’s ultimate love and struggle for power.

In my opinion the crisis in the Middle East has been miss managed for years by virtually any government that has gotten involved as some basic fundamental understanding of the situation is missing.  Perhaps understanding may even be a strong word as these players do understand what is going on but politically and in public they cannot admit to it.  Here in my mind are the basics which drive the conflict.

One, a majority of the conflict is driven by a minority of extremists who have been very effective in using the media to portray their views as a majority view.  Two, it has to be recognized that the minority from the Muslim side that is driving this extremist view has a very simple agenda which is to eliminate Israel from the face of the planet.  This is in their doctrines, it is their mission statement (loosely using that term) and it is the political agenda that gives them power in the region.  Three, the conflict has nothing to do with a few miles of land.

These three points demonstrate why a majority of the efforts to solve the Middle East feuds have failed.  In short, organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas are extremists groups that have legitimized themselves by creating a political agenda whose only mission it to eliminate Israel.  While this mission is masked by cries of freedom for the Palestinians and cries of Israeli oppression the truth is that these organizations need the conflict to continue in order to maintain political importance till they can achieve their mission.  That leads to the root cause of the failures of the past.  All the relevant players have concentrated on appeasement of these extremist organizations in order to sacrifice a little for the greater good of ending the conflict.  But if the conflict were to end in any peaceful scenario then the big losers would be these organizations.  Why?  Well for one they would fail in their mission to destroy Israel and two they would lose political relevance in their countries as the governments would be forced to get back to dealing with financial, educational and health issues within their countries which they do not want to do.

In closing, I believe the issues in the Middle East are not very well understood by most Americans and much of Europe is very anti conflict and therefore has taken on this idea of appeasement is the way to end all conflicts.  In fact, I believe this conflict is best ended with military action and just as the US discovered a while back that you don’t negotiate with terrorists the world has to recognize that this is the same policy you need to have with extremists groups such as Hamas.  Lastly, I think the media has done a huge disservice by miss reporting on the issues and the nature of the conflict and with this actually fueling the conflict.  I realize my views may be a bit extreme for the majority of our readers but I will try and demonstrate their merits in future more specific articles.


Peter Rabbit

McNair, Palin

July 6, 2009

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There were a couple of articles this weekend, including a short story on Friday.  If you have been out of town, make sure to scroll down and catch up on the last few editions of The Soap Boxers.

There were two big stories that broke during the weekend.  They were were the death of former NFL player Steve McNair and Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s announcement that she will resign as governor by the end of the month.


McNair and his girlfriend were found shot to death in his girlfriend’s condo in Nashville.  McNair had been shot multiple times, including once in the head.  His girlfriend had been shot once in the head, and the gun was found near her body.  At the time I am writing this, the police would not speculate on what occurred, but they did say that they were not actively looking at suspects.  From these pieces of information, however, the likely scenario is that McNair’s girlfriend shot him before turning the gun on herself.  Certainly more information will be released in the coming days.

McNair played college football for division 1-AA Alcorn State.  1-AA (now referred to as FCS) is a rung below the “major” college programs of division 1-A (referred to as FBS).  Few 1-AA player ever get the chance to play in the NFL.  McNair was a man among boys in college, however, and proved that he belonged with the big boys.  Despite the fact that he had not played against top level competition in college, McNair was the #3 overall pick in the 1994 draft by the Houston Oilers (who later became the Tennessee Titans).

McNair fought many injuries during his career, but still ended up with more than 30,000 passing yards and 3500 rushing yards.  McNair was a 3 time Pro Bowl player, won an MVP award (shared with Peyton Manning), and got the Titans to within one yard of a Super Bowl title following the 1999 season.  In the process, he tore down many barriers that had been put in the path of African American quarterbacks.


On Friday, Sarah Palin announced that she was stepping down as governor of Alaska, saying that she did not want to be a lame duck, and once again saying that she has been the victim of a double standard regarding her treatment by the press.

Palin, of course, did not face an issue of term limits, so she was the person who labeled herself a lame duck.  The deadline for filing for the next gubernatorial election is nearly a year away, so she could have easily kept her plans close to the vest until then, and avoided lame duck status.

As for Palin saying that she was been treated unfairly by the media, and that a male would not have been treated a harshly – I do not buy this argument.  Certainly the conservative wing of the media attacked Barack Obama on several issues that were of less importance than the ethics complaints surrounding Palin.  When Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, many in the media (and many outside the media, such as myself) were stunned at the choice.  Some felt that the choice of Palin was an attempt to draw female voters who had previously supported Hilary Clinton – a strategy that had little chance of working, considering the major ideological difference between Clinton and Palin.  Palin clearly had some baggage attached to her, and many people felt that this baggage would drag down the ticket.  However you might feel about the issues that surrounded Palin, I think that it is quite logical to suggest that she was indeed a drag on the ticket and was a major reason why McCain performed poorly on election day.

What’s next for Sarah Palin?  Your guess is as good as mine.  She may be finished with politics, or she end up as a presidential candidate in 2012.  The Republican Party probably does not want her on the ticket in 2012.  Although she might have a reasonable chance of winning the Republican nomination, her inability to garner necessary votes from the centrists would make it difficult for her to win the general election.  The fact that she is resigning as governor will likely be used against her by opponents who will portray her as a quitter who quits when the going gets tough.

A possible, albeit strange, strategy?  Palin takes on Republican senator Lisa Markowski in 2010, and then uses Washington D.C. as the base of operations for a 2012 presidential run.  This would be considerably more convenient than using Alaska as her base.  The sheer distance of Alaska from the rest of the country would force her to either miss important events or cause her to be away from her job as governor.

The only problem with this plan?  Murkowski would probably beat her in the primary.

UPDATE: Palin’s attorney is warning the media, indication that legal action will be pursued against reports who say that Palin is stepping down because she is the subject of a federal investigation.  This is the first I had heard about a possible federal investigation – and if Governor Palin’s attorneys are reading this, I am not suggesting that this is why she is stepping down 🙂

FURTHER UPDATE: The FBI confirms that they are NOT investigating Palin.

News, Entertainment, Sports trifecta

May 26, 2009

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GOP infighting

A battle continues within the  Republican party, with Rush Limbaugh lining up on one side and guys like Colin Powell lining up on the other side.  Some feel that this is a necessary battle being fought in order to separate the chaff from those who hold the true Conservative Repblican ideals at heart.  This might be true if you’re simply trying to build the most united party possible.  However, there is a large contingent of unaffilated voters in the middle of the political sprectrum.  It is difficult to win a national election without snagging a large chunk of these voters.  Will the GOP infighting make many of these voters stay away, for fear of jumping onto a rudderless ship?  I’ll admit that I’m biased, as I am a unaffiliated centrist and probably overvalue our importance as a voting block a bit.

Dancing with the Stars

I’m not a big fan of the show, but it was nice to see fellow Iowan Shawn Johnson on the show.  It was even better to see her win.  On the first night of the show, I declared to my wife that Johnson would win, because the balance and footwork she uses in gymnastics would serve her well on the dance floor.  Obviously she still had a lot to learn, but it seemed like she had a leg up on the other competitors.

I was disappointed to see Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak sent packing early, though (and pretty much stopped watching after that show).  Woz is just a cool guy.  Not only is he a technical genius, but he does a lot of good works in the community.  It would have been cool to see him stage an unlikely upset.


Helio Castroneves picked up his second biggest win of the year  by winning Sunday’s Indy 500.  His biggest win of the year, however, was his recent acquittal on tax evasion charges.  Danica Patrick finished third, the best ever finish for a woman.  I think it is just a matter of time before she wins an Indy 500 – unless, of course, she bolts to NASCAR first.

NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte was scheduled for Sunday but was bumped back to Monday because of rain.  The race got started on Monday, but was interrupted several times by rain.  Finally, the NASCAR gods decided to call the race on account of rain.  The win was awarded to David Reutimann, who was in first place at the time the rain began.  Reutimann’s crew chief gambled and decided to forgo a late pit stop when other cars were getting tires and fuel.  The gamble paid off, as Reutimann was  able to hold off the pack until the rains came.  It was Reutimann’s first win in the Nextel series.  I understand the reasons for the decision to call the race, but I still hate to see a race end this way.  Perhaps domed race tracks are in the future.  (Kidding, just kidding.  Maybe.)


Fans were treated to a great pitcher’s duel in Milwaukee on Monday.  Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter took a pefect game into the 7th inning.  He was nearly matched by Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who still had a no hitter alive into the 6th.  The winning – and only – run finally scored as Brewers rookie Casey McGeHee scampered home on a Bill Hall pinch hit in the 10th inning.  The batters combined for 5 hits and 5 walks in 10 innings (along with 18 strikeouts – 10 by Carpenter).  And for those who like quick game, it was completed in a zippy 2 hours and 26 minutes.

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