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Priorities

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I love the way science work and the way scientists think because the logic really helps me to unlock my own thoughts. On my drive to school this morning, I was listening to an old episode of the StarTalk podcast, which is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s science show. He was having a discussion with a couple of members of the The Planetary Society as to why we should continue to fund the space program, and was really challenging them to really justify it, considering the current political and economic climate. And they did it. The analogy was brought up that as a parent, even when you are working to buy food, clothes, and shelter for your child, you don’t put books at a lower priority. You do them all at once, at an equal priority. It is an interesting thought.

I often write on my blog about how we need to be wary of the size of government and about how I really seem to align well with the libertarian ideal. I really do believe in the ideals of being a libertarian, for the more power we give to government to do charitable things, the more power we also grant them to do less charitable or malicious things. When we are looking at setting or changing a government policy, we need to remember that it is people running the government. The same people running those evil corporations also run the government. They are flawed human beings like anyone else.  However, there is a difference between an ideal or philosophy and reality. Government can’t always be made perpetually smaller.

The other parts of making a priority list are the “how” and the “why” parts. If we can’t figure out why we are doing something, it probably isn’t a very high priority. If we don’t know how we are going to do something, perhaps it needs to be broken down further so that the parts can be prioritized. An easy example of that would be health care. It needed to be changed. But to change health care all at once is a little like saying you want to move the Empire State Building a block over. It is possible, but it isn’t very practical and there are probably better solutions that can be done in smaller increments.

So when I disagree with government funding things like a welfare program, more money for education, health care, or any other of these things that we are asking of modern government, it isn’t that I necessarily think that government should stop doing them. It isn’t that I even necessarily think that government should make them a lower priority than some other government service (even if I mention the word priority).

My thought for today actually ends up being a fairly liberal one (I know – you are shocked). We need to fund these things of a modern society – health care, welfare, education, etc., and do so with equal priority. All I ask is we do so with thought and restraint instead of the way we are doing it now which is with no thought (for political gain) and no restraint (we can pay for it later). We can’t spend more, drastically cut, or make dramatic changes without more thought and consideration as to the consequences of those actions.

I remember when I first started in banking, a guy used to come see me at the bank once a week and talk politics. He told me the biggest problem with today’s politicians is they don’t follow this simple rule: if you have an idea, and ask 10 average people about it and they tell you it is pretty stupid, it is probably pretty stupid. Most of the ideas I’m hearing from Saint Paul, Washington D.C., and the campaign trail would fit that criteria pretty well.

An Interesting Dilemma In Morality

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I will warn you up front. This post will probably twist your brain. You may want to grab a beer before you read this one. In fact, this post is more out there to try to see if I can better express it in writing than I can in thinking. I’d really like your feedback. I’d really like you to think about it. Let’s see if this changes anyone’s mind.

I have posted a few blogs now about why the government needs to be careful about taxing more (even the rich), about how we have the power to tax the rich with our consumer power and how even the arguments for taxing the rich are riddled with logical fallacies. Before I show another interesting thought on taxation, let me throw out this one fact that came to light recently. This Tax Foundation data which comes right from the IRS but is presented neatly is amazing. It shows that in 2008, almost 140 million tax returns were filed. If you just divide the number of returns up evenly and look at the top 1% or the top 1.4 million returns, the bottom return of the 1% had an AGI of $380,354. Certainly a nice amount of money. What is interesting to me is if we took every dollar (AGI) that the top 1% made in 2008), it still wouldn’t be enough to balance the federal budget this year. Every. Single. Dollar. Yikes.

What I want to look at today is the application of morals in our laws. I have had a few discussions on this where the argument is made that morals are the basis of our laws. I would argue that in reality, it is our laws that protect our personal freedoms and personal property that happen to coincide with our morals. Perhaps the lines are simply more blurry. A simple example might be a law against physical harm. Someone who assaults you or someone who kills another is charged with a crime for inflicting personal harm against your or the deceased’s body (property). Most would agree it is morally wrong to inflict that kind of harm against another, but the basis for the law is a property harm. Same with theft. It might be morally wrong, but it is a law because it is a violation of the rights to my property.

Let’s take a clear example of a moral law applied as governmental law that I feel is wrong. I have blogged in the past about gay marriage and how there are many reasons, one of which is protection of contract law, as to why gay marriage should be legal. I think most readers of my blog are going to be in agreement with me that gay people should be able to get married, or at the very least don’t really care. The bottom line is it is two adult people who are consenting to a specific arrangement that by law has special benefits only allowed with one person at a time (right now in MN statute as one man and one woman). The argument from the Republican side is that government has an interest in heterosexual marriage for the health of the state (nation) through procreation. The law doesn’t and I don’t think would be Constitutional if it required procreation, so even if that were true the law couldn’t require that as part of the contract.

Some would argue that being gay is a choice. I don’t really care. Even if it is a choice, the science says it is not a disease (the APA removed it in 1973) so it is a choice a person is free to make. Note: I am not offering my opinion that it is a choice for people to be gay. I am simply saying that choice or not, it is irrelevant in how homosexuals are treated by the law. An adult watching pornography to excess may be harmful to their own health, that is a choice that person can make. I can choose to have a 3rd or 4th beer which many experts would say is harmful, but should the government make it illegal for me to do so? Mormons abstain from all alcohol, but we do not impose their morals on the entire country (and when we did it fail miserably). My point is even the moral choice argument is not a reason to ban something because some morals simply do not violate another’s personal rights or property.

The more compelling or interesting moral argument I want to make is in government taxation and spending. Starting with taxation, the interesting arguments I often hear when making a case to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations is the “ability to pay,” “paying their fair share” and “keeping massive profits.” Let’s start with a very basic premise, is it wrong to make money? The question may seem like a straw man question, but it is not because there would be a few people who would probably say we should all make exactly the same amount. OK, so once we’ve eliminated that for the most of us, I ask the next question. Is it wrong to make lots of money? How much is too much money? If you answered there is no amount too much, then shouldn’t the rich pay the same rate as the rest?

However, if you answered that some people do make too much and should contribute more than the rest of us, I want you to think about what kind of judgement that is. Isn’t that a moral judgment? Isn’t the very idea of judging somebody to be too rich or so rich that they should be giving to the poor a concept of morals.  That is the internal debate I have whenever the idea comes up about setting a separate rate for those making incomes much higher than me or any of my friends. Who gets to decide what is “rich?” Are we not making a moral judgement? By making that moral judgment from the left (since taxing the rich is a liberal concept), are we any better than those conservatives making a moral judgment on homosexuality?

I do realize that for most homosexual people, it is not a choice (I can’t say all simply because I don’t think the science would even say that). So certainly there are differences in the gay marriage issue and the taxation issue. We have to have some taxation in order to provide police, courts, the military, etc. We can’t have “some” gay marriage. Taxes always have to exist as a part of government and they have to adjust as the government faces national security threats, national disasters, etc. A gay person shouldn’t be denied a free consensual choice just because some find it morally objectionable.

One other thing to consider that makes me very sad about the vote on this gay marriage amendment that also applies to the “tax the rich concept.” The reason we have a democratic republic and not a direct democracy is to filter the majority. We don’t want 51% to be able to rule 49% of the people. It is sad that Minnesota’s Constitution could possibly change if 50.01% of people make it so. Hopefully next session the DFL will be able to pass another amendment proposal that would require a 3/5 vote in both chambers to have an amendment appear on the ballot. It would help to filter contentious issues. At the same time, this filter is also meant to protect those at the top from the majority. When government taxes us, they are taking our money by force (go to jail if you don’t pay). So when we tell the rich they need to pay even more than we do, we in essence are saying we paid you for your product, but now we are taking back that money by force through mob/majority rule. Is that moral? Note: See my previous posts or IRS data. Top 1% of income earners (make over $400,000/year) pay 40% of income taxes and top 5% (make over $250,000/year) pay over 60% of income taxes.

The other part of the concept of taxes hard to reconcile with the gay marriage debate is a whole host of taxation issues that comes with being a married couple. People who are married get special tax treatment (very special tax treatment). If one spouse dies, the other spouse is able to take over all of the property without having to pay the estate tax. We know there are people that find gay marriage morally objectionable. I would imagine there are a few people that find heterosexual marriage to be offensive as well. Should we go by their moral judgment and eliminate the spousal exemption of the estate tax, so the remaining spouse might have to sell the house to cover the 35% the US Treasury wants? The very concept of special tax treatment for married couples, gay or straight, could bring up moral objections from some of our citizens.

The very concept and intent of the income tax when the amendment was passed was to tax only the very top portions of income (in fact only about 4% of the population was intended to pay it at all). But since 1913, we have changed the income tax code to be such a mess of special interests that it has gone from a few percent of income over $1 million to over 20,000 pages of a mess not even the best tax attorneys can understand. Corporations like GE took huge tax credits because they built the windmills. (they still paid taxes, but no where near the 35% corporate tax rate. See #4 here). People like Governor Dayton or Warren Buffet take advantage of income tax free states and set up trusts to avoid taxes, and further avoid taxes by taking income as long-term capital gains which is taxed at a much lower 20% rate.

So yes, large corporations and the very rich often do pay a lower rate than many of us in the middle class. They also pay many more dollars than each year than we ever will in our lifetime. If we feel that they should be paying more on par as the same rate as the rest of us, then it is time to adjust the tax code and put some stability in the rates. It is not the fault of the corporations or the rich person for wanting to keep more of their money. They do it legally. It is the politicians that gave them the key to do it. A simpler tax code with lower overall rates would go much farther in fixing the “fairness” issue than changing the rates every couple of years would ever do.

On the other side of government, we can all agree that there is some waste in the spending. We can all agree to disagree where government should spend the money that it does take in. This is another reason why we need to be careful in how much money we give to government. Whenever government asks for more money by raising the tax rates, it usually means a program is going to be expanded or a new program is going to bee added. I again point you to this video of Penn Jillette I have mentioned before in this blog where he makes a great logical case as to why we need to be careful of the size of government because eventually government will spend money on something we object to. The more we allow government to clash with our own morals, the more we then allow them to impose their own morals on us as well.

So that was alot of information Eric, what are you saying?

Two people in a consensual relationship that choose to get married do so because there is a list of benefits that come with the civil contract as defined by statute. These benefits are a list of standard things you might do with a person you intended on living with for a long time anyway, and are some of the things that people have come to expect from the various religious marriages celebrated for many centuries. By state standards, that’s what marriage is: a standard contract between two people. We don’t allow gay marriage (or polygamy for that matter) based on a mostly moral objection based in a religious belief. There is also an economic objection because of the economic advantage gained by married couples, but the moral objection is by far the largest objection.

When someone gets rich (Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Sam Walton), they do it by creating a product or service at a price or service we feel is fair or adequate. It is a private transaction between two people where they exchange their product for our money. When we choose to tax them because of the income disparity, we are making a similar moral judgment that income inequality is unfair. We also make a further moral judgment that if we take more from the rich, they won’t notice it in their lifestyle as much as if it is taken from the middle class making it OK. The only economic argument I have heard made is that we need to equalize income or it stifles overall economic growth. Money has no value unless it is put somewhere.

I do find statistic such as in this article from salon.com  showing corporations with massive amounts of cash and large profits yet we don’t see many of them hiring. We can all shake our fists at those companies, but then when we stop at a Bank of America or Wells Fargo ATM on our way to Dairy Queen (Berkshire Hathaway) and make a quick stop at Walmart for milk and bread and maybe some GE CFL light bulbs, we put more cash in those very corporations hands we claim to despise. I would argue to tax them more after voluntarily paying for their product is actually immoral because we are taking money back from them by force we gave them of our own free will.

The differences in the two issues are that in the gay marriage issue, there is no real defined benefit in keeping them from being able to be married. There are some flawed studies from group that are already biased to support the conservative position of opposition, but there is no real negative outcome in allowing a gay couple to marry. In taxing the rich more, we do get to provide more programs to help those in need, build better bridges, provide better education. If we don’t tax the rich more, we are then not passing our moral judgment through the government. As you can see it is a much trickier balance.

Please realize this post is more about getting you to think about your own morality when discussing political issues. We will never get away from morals in the law and in politics since they do intersect often with personal property and personal rights. It is immoral to most people to steal from someone else, but you are also taking their property. It might be immoral to some to drink or do drugs, but when someone drives while intoxicated they put other’s lives and property in danger. We bust some people for drugs, others we choose to ignore their personal use joint. Is that moral or even fair?

My premise is we will continue to discuss and adjust things that will be a necessary part of government such as taxes, spending and the criminal code. When we discuss and decide these issues, we need to be aware of our moral bias and try to acknowledge it and be as fair as possible in balancing morals with rights for every individual. Society has decided government has some role in helping those unable to provide for themselves, and we will continue to discuss the role of government versus the family in those situations.

Logical Fallacies in Politics

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I am still seeing two issues come across the news and social media quite a bit in regards to Minnesota politics. One is the lack of a budget (vetoed by Gov. Dayton)/upcoming special session/tax rates. The other is the gay marriage amendment. My idea here today is to show how rampant the use of logical fallacies in defending each side, and to give a lesson on common logical fallacies so we can all spot them and make more informed decisions.

One of my favorite podcasts is The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Their website carries a great explanation on what is a logical fallacy:

All arguments have the same basic structure: A therefore B. They begin with one or more premises (A), which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument is based. They then apply a logical principle (therefore) to arrive at a conclusion (B). An example of a logical principle is that of equivalence. For example, if you begin with the premises that A=B and B=C, you can apply the logical principle of equivalence to conclude that A=C. A logical fallacy is a false or incorrect logical principle. An argument that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid. It is important to note that if the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid, which means that if the premises are all true then the conclusion must also be true. Valid logic applied to one or more false premises, however, leads to an invalid argument. Also, if an argument is not valid the conclusion may, by chance, still be true.

Most of us will be guilty of using logical fallacies often. I am guilty of it myself, but for most of us it is done by accident. It takes reflection and discussion to uncover the fallacies and form a more sound, logical argument. Politicians are guilty of using logical fallacies purposely to advance their personal or party views.

Here is an egregious logic fallacy committed by AFSCME. The key statement here is this:

The Republican majorities are choosing to protect the richest 2 percent. They’re making sure these households – making $300,000 or more – don’t have to do their share to fix the state’s budget problems.

This claim falls under a few different categories. The first would be a False Dilemma. AFSCME’s assumption here is the only way to solve the state’s budget problems is to raise taxes on the rich. I haven’t looked at the budget in detail, but my understanding is the budget vetoed by Gov. Dayton was roughly a 6% increase in spending (with no tax increases). According to the BLS, inflation from 2010 was under 3%. If inflation stays at the same pace, then the 6% increase in dollars is a true increase in spending as well since the extra dollars should be able to buy more even when considering inflation. So is the state’s budget truly dire when we can increase spending without a tax increase? Yes, I know this could be construed as it’s own logical fallacy since government is only one sector of the economy and it is possible inflation in those sectors is much higher. The counter-argument to that is to then ask why is inflation higher in those sectors since the government is so heavily invested in those certain sectors of the economy, it could be partially due to their own doing.

The second fallacy of AFSCME’s statement is an example of an Appeal to Emotion, more specifically an Appeal to Spite. Saying the GOP is “protecting” the rich is a way of inciting an emotional class warfare. These people have way more than most people, and that “isn’t fair.” You could even say this is an Ad Hominem attack, saying the GOP’s position is wrong simply because they are protecting those people which most people hate.

Finally, AFSCME uses an Appeal to Belief that the rich don’t pay a fair share of taxes. Statistics on the federal level are readily available and reported. The top 1% of income earners pay 40% of federal income taxes and the top 5% of income earners pay 60% of federal income tax. The democrats want to tax the top 2% of Minnesota incomes on the premise that they don’t pay enough. Think of an analogous situation: If 100 people are in a bar and in total ring up a $5000 bar tab. 1 person in the bar pays $2000, 4 more people pay another $1000, leaving the rest of the people in the bar to pay just over $21, even though the average bar bill was $50. Did the first 5 people pay their fair share? Let’s say they each drove away in a Bentley, would you then feel cheated by how much of the bar bill they paid? Maybe you could make a moral argument that they should pay more, but claiming they didn’t even pay a fair share is simply a bad conclusion.

In the gay marriage amendment debate, I have heard 2 arguments for passing a gay marriage ban. The first one is the idea that being homosexual is biologically unnatural because it doesn’t lead to procreation and that it would be like saying “sand is food.” Human psychology and physiology is much more complex than simple procreation. While it is true that humans are animals and sex is mostly about procreation, Wikipedia has a great summary showing examples in other animals where sex is more than just a mechanism for procreation. To get very basic, it is unnatural for human males to be with only one partner in marriage. In many large mammal species, the biggest and strongest males get to breed with several females to best ensure the survival of the species. Another example where we go “against biology” is when men shave their face or women shave their legs. Biology intended that hair to be for warmth and protection. Should we ban shaving too because it is “biologically unnatural?”

Yes, that last question is a Straw Man argument, but I was employing it in this case as an exaggeration to prove a point that the “sand is food” argument is also the same type of argument. Homosexuality isn’t a biological “wrong” and cannot be explained that way. There are layers of biology, psychology, and other reasons beyond a simple “yes or no” explanation. So the “sand is food” argument doesn’t prove anything.

The other argument used is the past history of voting on this issue in the U.S. I haven’t looked at each vote and what was specifically addressed, but the claim is 34 votes banning gay marriage have taken place and all have had the outcome of supporting a ban. This is wrong based on both the Appeal to Popularity fallacy, as well as the Appeal to Common Practice fallacy. This is easy to explain. I am sure everyone remembers a parent saying to you, “If friend A and B jump off a bridge, are you going to as well?” Just because something is popular or has always been done doesn’t automatically make the position or action correct.

Both major parties are horrible at explaining their logic and presenting evidence for their positions on issues. Most usually want to ignore past data to support an idealistic position that is popular. For example, raising taxes on the rich sounds like a great idea in theory, but it never comes out in practice because we ignore the fact people will adjust their behavior to derive maximum benefit for the amount of work they do. It is human nature. If we taxed every dollar above $1 million at 95%, do you think many people are going to work much past that $1 million mark? Stated another way, if I make $1 million for working 6 months out of the year and make $2 million if I work 12 months, but I keep $500,000 if I work 6 months and keep $550,000 to work 12 months, how many months do you think I am going to work?

My example above doesn’t mean a tax increase isn’t warranted in this budget cycle. Maybe it does need to be part of the solution. But to say tax increases on the rich are always justified is wrong. It is also wrong to assume raising taxes will raise the revenue needed to solve the budget concerns.

If the GOP gets its budget passed in Minnesota, it does look like some people are going to lose their access to the social programs they rely on. That could affect them negatively in the short-term. However, we can’t simply look at the first layer of the consequences in a government policy and make our political decisions based on those outcomes. Taxing the rich gains us money in the short-term, but what if that change prompts a corporation to relocate? What if the rich work less or change their investments and the revenue doesn’t pan out to the projected amounts? What if a person dies due to lack of coverage?

As callous as it sounds, we do have to look at the cost/benefit in these decisions. People die more often because of the 70 MPH speed limit on the interstates in Minnesota than they would if the speed limit were 40 MPH. The higher speed limit saves everyone time (and time is money), thus costing less to transport goods, giving us more time for production, etc. We have chosen to set the speed limit at a reasonable human cost in balance with our own financial interest. Most insurance policies have a co-pay to prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor. Maybe someone skips going to the doctor because they think they just have a mild flu (rather than pay the $20) and end up dying when their infection quickly worsens. (Yes, this is more anecdotal because it is harder to quantify scientifically, but I thought it made some sense to discuss here).

Hopefully you are still reading and didn’t get too bored with some basic insights on logic. My point is to stress the importance of analyzing your political positions carefully, especially if you are perfectly aligned with the ideals of a particular political party. Be especially wary if your party or candidate uses an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque attack, where the attack is simply based on the fact the opponent changed their mind. Use your mind, think logically, discuss with a measured reason, and don’t be afraid to change your mind.

The importance of language and logic in political debate.

May 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Normally when I get fired up about some political topic, it is because of some news story on an issue or some misunderstanding of an issue I see people having in their conversations. However, tonight what has me thinking is the importance of language or word choice. I am in no way claiming I am a spectacular writer or a master of the English language. My issue is when people have time to think about their choice of language and do not choose to correct it, or when someone wants to attack another based on their choice of language without giving them time to correct it.

Note: There are those that have said I tend to be one-sided. While it is true I have a tendency to support Republican policy when it comes to taxes and economic policy, I don’t consider myself Republican. Tonight, I am going to try to show some language concerns from both sides along with a little bit of logic mixed in to address the policies themselves.

Here’s a tweet from a liberal blogger:

Where is the shared sacrifice? Other than all the poor, kids, elderly, mentally & vets get to sacrifice so richest 5% don’t

What bothered me about this tweet was the word sacrifice. To say the groups mentioned in tweet are sacrificing something is wrong. You can’t sacrifice something that is not yours. If you are receiving government aid, and the government sends you less, that is not a sacrifice on your part. A sacrifice would involve voluntarily giving up something which belongs to you. The other side of this is the idea that taxing the rich is somehow a sacrifice. The government takes money through the power of force. If you don’t pay your taxes, they can take your wages or put you in prison. Taxation is not sacrifice. Keep in mind the top 5% of income earners pay 60% of all taxes on the federal level. The bottom 50% of income earners pay no federal taxes.

We could encourage the rich to “pay more” by giving them a reason to do so. Right now because of the AMT, high income people do not get to write off all of their donations to non-profit organization. If we could write a smart tax policy (so they can’t donate to their own charity for example), we could get high income people to give more to those in need, and we cut out the government “middle-man.” That’s a win-win in my opinion.

I think the government should be the one looking at sacrifice. We are spending billions of dollars on rail projects that have yet to prove any decrease in congestion. We bailed out corporations instead of letting them fail and allowing those jobs, products, and services to go to other more successful and efficient companies. The government needs to sacrifice its unlimited spending for political gain and instead find ways to better use the money we give them. Cutting veterans’ benefits over light rail? Energy tax credits over education? We need to stop pleasing everyone and instead get the government doing the most vital things. Let’s make a list of priorities and stick to it. You can’t tax everyone 100%, so let’s agree we pay enough and instead focus on the important thing.

A more controversial topic is the one of the gay marriage amendment proposed in Minnesota. Conservatives say they are ensuring they “defend marriage.” As several liberal blogs have pointed out, many of these legislators are themselves divorced. If marriage is so sacred and in need of protection, then perhaps they should have spent more time making a good decision on getting married and they should have also worked harder to defend their own marriage.

Republicans have failed on a couple of areas of logic here. First is the political play they are making to play to their voter base as some conservative political analysts have said. I for one, along with groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans or the or the Gay Patriot Blog, understand that true conservatism means we stay out of people’s lives, bedrooms, pockets, and everything else. Government isn’t there to rule over us, they are there to make sure our rights are protected.

There is also a case to be made that this is a religious intrusion into our personal lives. If you really look at the way marriage is treated in law, it is a standard contract as dictated by law that is between two individuals. A person can only be in one contract at any time, and the way to terminate the contract is also done in a certain set manner. We allow religious figures to execute the contract as well as certain government officials. The only case that conservatives can make on this issue is a religious objection.

When our Constitution was passed, many of these individual rights were somewhat assumed within the common law procedures already in place. The argument against the Bill of Rights was that the Constitution was meant to enumerate powers to the federal government, with all other powers and rights being delegated to state governments or to individuals. Others felt that individual rights needed enumeration to ensure the most vital ones would never be encroached by any government within the United States. The preamble to the Bill of Rights states:

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

The very first issue raised in the first amendment is religion:

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

So, if a religion feels that gay marriage is OK, is it not in violation of the “free exercise” clause? The counter-argument is one of polygamy. Some religions support polygamy, so should we allow that free practice as well? Here’s where it gets tricky. The government is set up for monogamous marriages only. If you want to be married to multiple people within your religion, that is not the government’s business. However, if you want your marriage contract to be legally recognized by the state, you need to pick which partner with which you will execute that contract. The rest of your partners will be without that contractual protection. It might not fit all religious beliefs, but by allowing any two people to be in a marriage contract it is applying the law equally. That is the essence of the Constitution – fairness.

The other logic this issue fails is the level of importance. Certainly there are people on both sides that are very passionate about this issue. But as we see above, we have a crisis of spending. In Minnesota, we are bound by our Constitution to have a balanced budget so we are not in as much danger. But at the federal level (bold for emphasis) – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone pay out more than the entire federal government take in starting this year. We have much more pressing issues on finding a way to take care of our elderly, our military veterans, our roads and bridges, and other vital government functions to be worried about gay marriage. It just doesn’t belong on our radar at this point when these other issues haven’t been addressed.

Language and logic seem to be lost on the political parties when it comes to the issues. I am at a loss as to how to get the political system changed so we can have real conversation instead of gaming and misusing the language for political gain. I am unsure how to get my representatives to understand logic. I’m also unsure how to get the political extremists to do the same. Until we get back to a certain level of honesty, respect, and logic, I only see a continued regression of our government.

Sports Stadiums and Logic

This tweet from the account @BleacherView came across my Twitter feed this morning:

MN has lost 2 sports teams due to inadequate facilities: Lakers & North Stars. Paid more for new teams later.

I am always trying to improve my skills in the use of logic, and I find using analogies is a great way to help people visualize a certain subject and to also a way for people to better understand my point of view.  Today’s analogy will be televisions.

Let’s say you own a television.  You buy it in 1967.  It works great up until 1993 when it needs some repair.  You really don’t have the money to fix it, so you give the TV away to someone who puts a bunch of money getting it working.  Now, a few years later you find yourself really missing TV.  Well, you go buy a new one.  Likely, it would cost a little more than what repairing your old one did, but you didn’t have the money to fix it at the time.  The new 2000 model TV also cost much more than the 1967 TV because of simple inflation.

Here’s the other question to ask in this analogy: Is television a necessity?  Television is  primarily an entertainment vehicle.  Now granted, there are some economic considerations, such as the jobs created to design, manufacture, and distribute the TVs, along with the on going benefit you provide your local cable company.  However, not everyone has a TV and those people do fine.  And again, I would argue that television is not necessary for a fulfilling life. I don’t think the government has money for the 2000 model right now anyway.

Hopefully you followed my analogy in regards to sports teams.  When it comes to government funding, I just can’t find any justification for the government to fund a sports stadium.  Professional sports is primarily an entertainment vehicle.  Should the government really be funding entertainment?  Why not fund movie theaters?  Why didn’t the government step in and bail out Blockbuster or Borders Books?  Are those not venues of entertainment where thousands of people’s jobs are affected?

The arguments for a stadium are usually the economic benefits.  Is there really a large economic benefit from a stadium?  Let me ask it another way.  If the Vikings/Twins/Wild/Timberwolves didn’t exist, would you not find some other form of entertainment?  I would guess you would still go out to dinner.  maybe you would go see your local high school or college sports team.  Those teams would benefit because the admission could be put back into the education system.  You might read more books or rent more movies.  You might go to more plays.  The idea here is that people like ways to relax and getaway.  You don’t need a sports team to convince you of that.  A stadium simply concentrates that money into a smaller area.  Likely you wouldn’t travel to a central location if the stadium wasn’t there – which is also a benefit by saving infrastructure cost and maintenance to the government.

The other consideration is how pro sports works.  The Vikings are threatening to move to Los Angeles.  Could LA really support all 30 NFL franchises.  Or 15 each in New York and LA?  Obviously, no.  The markets need to be spread out to maximize ticket sales, TV revenue, and merchandise revenue.  I guess if a team can’t make it in a market, they need to find a market where they can make it.  If a league can’t survive without government support, then perhaps the players need to get paid less so the league can be profitable.  If the current players can’t survive on $5 million per year instead of $10 million per year, well then find another job because I am willing to be quarterback for the Vikings for a nice cool $500,000.  I bet I can find a few others willing to play for alot less, and now the Vikings will have $100 million+ per year free to finance a stadium.  OK, I understand the last sentence is a stretch and who would go to the stadium when the best athletes aren’t playing.  On the other hand, that also means the stadium could be much smaller and it would cost even less.

I do understand stadiums are a much larger project, and the government would have some limited involvement with infrastructure planning.  The government would also have some role in perhaps helping to secure property and maybe even offer some property tax breaks.  I say this only because I would say it is hard to value a stadium.  When our homes are valued for property taxes, it reflects what we could sell our home for on the market.  A stadium isn’t exactly easy to sell, so I think offering some concessions on property taxes could be considered while planning for a new building.  We do already offer teams government help, such as anti-trust exemptions.

We all like TVs and we all pretty much have one.  But should the government pay for our TVs?  I wold hope you would all answer no.  We shouldn’t be forcing our friends and neighbors to pay for entertainment they might not use.  By taking the cost of stadiums off of the teams and the leagues asking for government assistance, we artificially increase their profits, allowing them to pay their players more and benefit the owners of the teams.  As much as I like watching sports, sports will survive without government help.  Elite athletes will play for less money if they have to, because they will still make far more than most of us ever will see in our lifetime.  I hope the Vikings stay, but I am not willing to have my taxes diverted from roads, education, etc. just to have a football team play 8 times a year.

Let me leave you with this last thought as we all near property tax payment time.  The Vikings want $500 million from the state in assistance.  I couldn’t find numbers on how many homes there are in Minnesota, but there is just over 5 million people.  If there is 1 million homes in Minnesota, that $500 million dollars could instead reduce all of our property tax bills by $500.  That’s alot of money to me.  I really don’t feel the Vikings have delivered $500 worth of entertainment to my house.  I have been at a few games, and have been very entertained, but I also paid for the ticket.  That’s exactly who should pay for it.

I’ll buy my own TV.