Archive for November, 2012

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The Secessionist Petitions Are a Terrible Reaction

While I have my own opinions on the legality of the secession of states from the union–and I happen to agree with Mr. Jefferson on this subject–I have to question the usefulness of the exercise; unless these folks are merely releasing the frustrations of the political loss and the vexing nature of their political opposition, this particular bid has very little merit in my eyes…so far.

What I suspect is that they see a government of limitless power in one that is run by Democrats; they see their rights reduced by onerous regulation; they see a government that gains additional power under a tenuous connection to taxation; and they see a future that does not include their point of view. I could not agree more with a number of these suppositions, but do I see a need for secession? If they think the political and economic situation is bad now, then they will recoil in disgust at the results of their attempted revolt.

No, I say we live together and we die together as a union of sovereign states. Not merely bound by documents, but by more important connections: community and family. We cannot base rash decisions on political connections that are easily severed. Political movements and philosophies are cyclical, but one thing is true that we cannot ignore: society is always marching forward, and to suggest otherwise is to disregard history.

Whether that forward movement is ultimately beneficial, however, is another matter.

Update 11/15/2012 Just a few things to note here on the legality of something like secession. Eugene Volokh addresses this whole concept quite nicely in a post at The Volokh Conspiracy, but this point in particular touches on what my thinking on secession was:

3. Is It Legally Possible for States to Secede? Of course, if the rest of the nation sufficiently agrees to this. It’s possible, given the originalist argument in Texas v. White, that Congress and the President can’t accomplish this through the normal federal lawmaking process (plus the consent of the seceding state), though I suspect that ultimately the constitutional question will be seen as a political decision for Congress and the President to make. But even if the Constitution is against this, it can be amended. If 2/3 of Congress, 3/4 of the states, and the seceding state agree to secession, secession will happen, and American legal institutions would view it as entirely legal (and, in my view, correctly so).

Seems right to me, but I’m no economist.

Straw Men Arguments Know No Bounds

We’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives: we get into a debate with a friend or foe and instead of discussing the merits of each others positions, we go on attacking arguments that were never made and are likely ridiculous on their face.

Thus, in a terribly illustrated way, the straw man is born. It is, in the immortal words of Wikipedia, one’s ability “to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.“1 Zing, you lose.

Too often these misrepresentations of legitimate views get turned into the official narrative of these views, and the result is a misinformed, often angry, group of people. In that vein, there are several Republican ‘positions’ that are dredged up in this fashion in order to frame their opposition as a morally and intellectually superior group.

Attack of the straw man! What in the hell is he carrying? That’s right, a position that no one holds!

Republicans hate helping poor people! I can’t tell you how often I hear this particular trope brought forth, mostly along the lines of, “why don’t they want to help people? If they’re all Christians, don’t they realize that Jesus was a socialist?” No, no they don’t realize that particular position. But let’s break this down a bit.

The false position that is being attacked is that Republicans hate socialism and government so much that they must hate helping people in general–which is at odds with the teachings of Jesus. So what if Jesus was particularly interested in helping people? Jesus wasn’t particularly interested in helping through government programs. Similarly, Republicans are opposed to the government’s involvement, as a coercive institution, in charitable works. That’s the position.

You can certainly take issue with that, because from the perspective of larger society the argument can be made whether or not government is the most efficient way to distribute help. Not a position I hold, but there it is.

Republicans hate women! According to some folks, the religious right’s preoccupation with their own moral standard implies that their goal is to eliminate the rights of women. This is of course, not quite right. The position itself is one that is nuanced, but is mostly that they do not want women to have the right to an abortion, and some factions want to reduce access to birth control. That’s not really an all out assault on women’s rights, but it is a naive position.

Republicans only want to give tax handouts to the super rich! There are two things at work here that are particularly troubling compared to the previous two positions. The first is the notion that a tax cut, or tax break, is some kind of handout. I discussed this topic a couple of days ago, but the bottom line is that notion is flawed. The second misconception is that the rich are the only targets of these cuts, when in fact the idea is that when capital is freed up it can be spent on investment instead of tax bills. Investment often means new employees or cheaper products.

My list is not exhaustive, even if it felt like it was, but elections often hinge on those positions. But you know what the real kicker is? I’m probably guilty of the thing I’m discussing. Zing! You got trolled!

  1. Straw Man. Wikipedia. Accessed 11/9/2012.>.

Michigan Election Results 2012

Something I used to do every year on a former project site of mine was to rehash the results of recent elections in the state of Michigan that were at least tangentially related to me. It doesn’t extend to the national level, except for the Presidential race, because this is simply about results in Michigan. This always allowed me to reflect on what took place, what the numbers were like, what parties gained and lost, and what regions mattered most. I’m not going to opine much in this post, because that is counter to what this is meant to accomplish. On with the numbers.

President (National, 270 needed)

Barack Obama (D)
50% / 303 Electoral Votes
Mitt Romney ®
48% / 206 Electoral Votes

President (16 electoral votes from Michigan)

Barack Obama (D)
Mitt Romney ®


Debbie Stabenow (D)
Pete Hoekstra ®
Scotty Boman (L)
Harley Mikkelson (G)
Richard Matkin (UST)

House District 6

Mike O’Brien (D)
Fred Upton ®

Proposal 1 — Uphold Emergency Manager Law


Proposal 2 — Collective Bargaining Rights


Proposal 3 — 25 by 25 Renewable Energy Proposal


Proposal 4 — Home Health Care Worker Changes


Proposal 5 — Limits on Tax Increases


Proposal 6 — Voter Approval for International Bridges



The above numbers reflect ~90% of the total votes counted in the state and are subject to adjustments–I just might not make them. At first glance, the results of the Presidential election in Michigan aren’t particularly surprising to me. This is a state that often votes for Democrats on the national stage, but in local races votes Republican. This has a lot more to do with population distribution than anything else, as Democrats are concentrated in major metropolitan areas, and those areas happen to contain most of the population.

The first thing that shocked me were the results of the proposals. I thought that proposal 1 was going to pass last night, but that number crept into no territory later on in the evening. The fact that they were all pretty soundly rejected is promising, particularly because these were all constitutional amendments. Perhaps people don’t take that as lightly as I thought they would.

The second thing that shocked me was how close the race was between Upton and O’Brien. I fully expected Upton to run away with that one.

Numbers, maps, et cetera taken from CNN 2012 Election Center.

On Tax Cuts And Revenue

Governments must raise revenues to finance vital functions; we all know this and have very little choice in the matter as those decisions were made many generations ago (i.e. social contract theory). Life’s lottery has placed me squarely in the United States; it is a Land of Opportunity™, where economics and government are oft discussed and poorly understood. Because of this lack of understanding, the average citizen supposes our government does more than it can reasonably or legally be expected to accomplish.

I’m really discussing a particular affiliation here, and that affiliation is…all of them. Made you look.

Nevertheless, people of no particular political affiliation will discuss for hours the notion that tax cuts are expenditures to be paid for rather than a decrease in revenues. It’s all on the backs of the poor, dammit! Does this honestly make any sense to folks? Politicians sure take advantage of this notion.

It is because of this framing, that when we talk about tax cuts, it becomes very easy for those opposed to these cuts to paint them as something that has to be paid for—or more sinisterly, as some kind of cash grab for a favored class. It is as if it is the government handing over money, rather than the government simply not collecting it.

We can think of taxes as a form of government revenue, or sales, in the business sense. Reducing the price of one product does not mean that business is simply handing over cash to its customers—even if they run sales claiming as much. But that move can do a couple of things for that business. If the reduced price doesn’t affect the number of units sold, then you will see a reduction in sales. However, and this is the most likely scenario, that reduction in price is most likely going to increase the demand for that product and increase sales. A tax reduction can also work this way, depending on the category of tax. It can encourage investors to move money into the economy, and increase government revenue.

This all seems rather counterintuitive, but think about this: no decision is isolated. Everything has an effect on something else, and all decisions encourage or discourage other actors from making specific decisions. What do you think?

NASA Photo of the Day.