Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Voters Obligation

I recently found myself in the company of a local politician who was speaking with a constituent about a local issue. It was obvious that this politician was against what ever they were talking about and so was the constituent. However, the constituent was against it because of the person who was bringing this matter to the voters.

I was very impressed to hear the politician tell him, “You are against this for the wrong reason.” Rather accepting this person’s support on the issue, the politician schooled this fellow why his thinking was unacceptable. It was the issue in question, not the person who brought the issue forward.

This got me thinking about how often the voters are side tracked away from issues, and sidetracked away from what is right or wrong by being presented with issues that have little or nothing to do with the issue being voted on.

Think back to the OJ Simpson trial. The country was sucked up by smugness and theatrics, but what the whole trial came down to was, did the prosecution prove without a reasonable doubt that he was guilty? It was obvious they did not. Spectators felt cheated because the jury followed the instructions of the court and answered that question, the only question they were asked to answer. In the minds of the spectators it became a racial issue and being able to afford justice. It became vengeful and divisive in the eyes of the spectators, but in fact, they jury got it right. The best comment about the situation was that the prosecutors framed a guilty man.

This is the basis for the sad state of politics as well. People are groomed to pick winners, not near winners. Third party candidates are often shunned no matter how good their ideas are. They are called spoilers because they shave some votes from the party their ideology comes closest to representing. They take away votes that would put the more popular candidate over the top often handing the win over to the other party.

Too many people vote for one candidate not so much because they are the better candidate, but because they will prevent others from getting the votes. You will hear them called the lesser of two evils. How often have you heard someone say, “I’d vote for them, but they don’t have a chance.”

Ralph Nader spent days talking about this on his last campaign. People would say that voting for Nader took a vote away form another candidate. Nader was correct. It is still one vote, and had it gone for Nader it would have counted for Nader.

In a few weeks we will be asked to vote on Measure 49 which will rewrite the previously passed Measure 37. The framers of this measure seem to think that government needs to regain some control over land use issues. One side is now stating that if passed you will lose all your land rights. The other side is saying that all land will be gobbled up by greedy developers. In reality neither is true.

There is also Measure 50 which is billed as the tobacco tax. One side says that this tax will provide health care for 100,000 children in Oregon. The other side says that only 60% of this money will be used for that purpose and that it will change the constitution. If the intent is to make smoking unaffordable this tax will collapse upon itself. The issue is in reality if we should tax tobacco users to pay for children’s healthcare and the administration there of. Is this fair?

Finally here in Clatsop County there is measure 4-123. This measure if passed will require Clatsop County to pay a direct salary to the District Attorney based not upon performance measures, but rather upon the pay of circuit judges. This will supersede the present pay scale for District Attorneys making our District Attorney the only one in the state being paid this way and also giving him a higher salary than the Attorney General or the Governor. This is the issue. Do you want this to happen or not? Don’t consider if you like how he is doing his job or even if you don’t like how he does his job. Don’t consider if he gets great press from the Daily Astorian or his involvement in the community. Don’t consider if you like or dislike the County Commissioners. Don’t consider if this measure was brought about by spite.

As a voter you are only being asked, like a juror, if the County should add to the salary of this State employee without this employee having obligations to the County other than what is provided by law.

If you can un-cloud your judgment and vote for the exact interpretation of the issue at hand and if the issues are right or wrong, then you have done your duty as a citizen by casting an honest vote that will work for the betterment of the community.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Herring: The Fallacious Argument

As we look at the raging discussions and flame war over ballot measure 4-123 we see that a quick review of what we learned in high school about debating is desperately needed. Being on the rather lazy side tonight I think a quick visit over to wiki is in order. A cut and paste job should do for a refresher course.

A fallacy is a component of an argument that is demonstrably flawed in its logic or form, thus rendering the argument invalid in whole. In logical arguments, fallacies are either formal or informal. Because the validity of a deductive argument depends on its form, a formal fallacy is a deductive argument that has an invalid form, whereas an informal fallacy is any other invalid mode of reasoning whose flaw is not in the form of the argument.

Beginning with Aristotle, informal fallacies have generally been placed in one of several categories, depending on the source of the fallacy. There are fallacies of relevance, fallacies involving causal reasoning, and fallacies resulting from ambiguities.

In philosophy, a formal fallacy or a logical fallacy is a pattern of reasoning which is always wrong. This is due to a flaw in the structure of the argument which renders the argument invalid. A formal fallacy is contrasted with an informal fallacy, which may have a valid logical form, but be false due to the characteristics of its premises.

Recognizing fallacies in actual arguments may be difficult since arguments are often structured using rhetorical patterns that obscure the logical connections between assertions. Fallacies may also exploit the emotional or intellectual weaknesses of the interlocutor. Having the capability of recognizing logical fallacies in arguments reduces the likelihood of such an occurrence.

Ignoratio elenchi (also known as irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis) is the formal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but doesn't address the issue in question. "Ignoratio elenchi" can be roughly translated by ignorance of refutation, that is, ignorance of what a refutation is; "elenchi" is from the Greek έλεγχος, meaning an argument of disproof or refutation.

This, dear reader, is where we are at with our friend District Attorney Marquis, and his justification for wanting Ballot Measure 4-123 to succeed. District Attorney Marquis rightly claims that a district attorney needs to be independent from petty politics. District Attorney Marquis correctly asserts that a district attorney is not answerable to county commissioners. District Attorney Marquis justifiably evokes that he will never give special treatment to anyone in a position of power. District Attorney Marquis solemnly promises to never allow his state office to be dictated to by anyone and to treat rich or poor, high or low, equitably.

The problem with his argument is that it doesn’t address any current issue. The Board of County Commissioners against whom he is ranting has never attacked his office. District Attorney Marquis has not been asked nor cajoled to give them special favors nor threatened regarding the prosecution of relatives or friends. He hasn’t been verbally assaulted nor publicly chastised for prosecuting a case by any one of the commissioners nor has he been asked nor told to leave any group alone or to stop prosecuting any types of crimes.

District Attorney Marquis has built a fallacious argument so that the public will be diverted from the truth. In order to do this he does have to have the help of powerful friends in the media and in the government, ala Joseph McCarthy. Does he? Who were the first to rush to his defense? His best friend, the media, where he knows how to milk a sensational non-story for all its worth. His next group of friends in legislature. Too bad they weren’t so good that they could have passed his bill through on the state level but since he had scratched their backs quite vigorously they were reminded of their mutual obligation, scratched back and passed the buck.

District Attorney Marquis never proved his first and main argument. His office was never attacked, he was never asked by the Board of County Commissioners to treat them specially, nor was it intimated to let a friend off. Plainly and simply he was asked to do performance based budgeting and he bristled that a bunch of country hicks implied that he owed them something in return for the stipend they paid him.

While the Board of County Commissioners certainly could (and probably did) do that, they didn’t have to waste time looking for information in the other county departments and they shouldn’t have to. The commissioners are paid $800 a month to be administrators not babysitters. When they ask for a specific job to be done either it should be done or they should have the right to hire the person who will do it. The BOCC cannot fire a district attorney, but they do not have to pay for services our county is not receiving. The voters of Clatsop County should not be duped by a red herring argument and should demand proof of any alleged nefarious behavior of the sitting commissioners. Subsequently, they should throw out that argument completely, and look at the measure as it is stated.

The measure calls for a state employee to be compensated by the county’s dollars whenever that state employee’s salary is not the same as another state employee’s. Local duties, services or responsibilities are not tied to the new salary. This pay is solely to make up the difference between what the state says a district attorney is worth and what an individual says a district attorney is worth. That is it. Legally, the measure means nothing more and just as few can remember how Marquis got two members of his staff four years ago, three years from now this Ballot Measure will be a vague memory and few will remember why it is we are stuck paying a state employee a set salary that is higher than his own boss, the Attorney General’s.

Honesty from District Attorney Marquis, in admitting to throwing a red herring to the very voters who will be deciding on this issue, is as rare as, well, as rare as human rabies.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

At What Price Progress?

Having strolled through the once-small-beach-town of Seaside recently, it was observed how overwhelmingly developed the area has become.
The TrendWest WorldMark resort or "over-sized vault-like coffin structure" literally blocks out the sun where once an amusement park used to be enjoyed by the youth of Clatsop County. It appears that every nook and cranny in the town has squeezed out yet another coffee shop, boutique or "faux" antique mall or another condo development. No space is wasted (by developers standards) and nary a green space is to be seen anywhere. Barring those who have made a profit in land sales, longtime Seaside residents must be oblivious to what has gone on around their town over the last 10 years. More believably, perhaps they have all cashed in and left the area. Over a very short period of time it appears that several condo developments have sprung up from nowhere and it may come as no surprise that as a result of the quest for the almighty dollar (or in this case the room tax dollars that go to the city) there exists literally no affordable housing in the Seaside area.
Whats a bit puzzling is that although there seems to be rampant unchecked growth featuring what looks to be thousands of rooms available for a fee, it appears that many new businesses already have their “business for sale” signs out or the precursor, the 50% clearance sale signs. The rooms in most of the edifices to the almighty tourist buck looked mostly vacant and except for the people who were attending a convention of some kind, the town was pretty dead.What was once a ‘small’ funky little beach town of our youth, has now blossomed (or you could say withered) into a summer “tourist-resort-village” with literally no character left intact. The very same atmosphere that evoked ‘vacationing pleasure’ for visitors years ago no longer exists.
This is not an isolated transformation by no means, however. It happens around the country when places become too quaint and desirable for their own good. Just wished it hadn’t happened so ‘close to home’ and hadn't in effect priced people out of their own hometown.