Measure J Straw Man

Unpublished; written September 25, 1998
Dear Editor:

Reading Joseph Thompson's letter in the September 18 Free Lance gave me a strange feeling of deja vu. To figure out why, I went back to his letter in the July 29 Free Lance. It contained much of the same material, including references to the VTA ( the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority), "black hole government", "free light rail shuttles", "externalities", and even the same reference to Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. In both pieces he asked "How many welfare-to-work trains are running in the USSR today?" (To be fair, they weren't exactly the same -- in the second column, he replaced USSR with Soviet Union....) And in both columns he ended with a call for COG to create a citizen's advisory committee.

In both letters, Mr. Thompson seemed to be against Measure J. I say "seemed" because it's hard to figure out exactly what he's really talking about. In the letter of September 18, he rambled from Measure J to light rail (something not proposed in Measure J) to a gas tax of $3 per gallon (again, something not proposed in Measure J).

He also confused the issue by tossing out undefined acronyms like VTA (the only one I'm familiar with), MPO, and MTC. Presumably, he's following the "if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with B.S." strategy popularized by those who can't produce a coherent argument against something they dislike.

As Mr. Thompson is allegedly a lawyer, he should be familiar with the logical fallacy of attacking a straw man. He certainly seems to be an expert at using it. (For those who aren't familiar with it, attacking a straw man refers to arguing about something that's irrelevant to the issue.)

Let's attempt to separate the facts from Mr. Thompson's sky-is-falling, Commies-are-coming rhetoric. In doing so, I think we'll convict him beyond a reasonable doubt of assault and battery upon that poor straw man.

As his first shot at the straw man, Mr. Thompson said we should ask Measure J supporters "Why should we tax ourselves to fund insolvent transit services?" There's a simple answer -- Measure J isn't funding transit services, it's a 1/2% sales tax funding road improvements and NOTHING more.

Even Mr. Thompson agrees that funding of road improvements is the province of government when he says "Taxes for road improvement are understandable as a function of government", but then attempts to mislead us by continuing "but taxing home owners and business owners so that nationalized transportation operations can be funded is not."

I challenge Mr. Thompson to point out where Measure J will fund any nationalized (or regionalized) transportation services. I bet that he can't. Another blow to Mr. Straw....

In total, Mr. Thompson mentioned "Measure J proponents" five times in his letter (can't he find a thesaurus?), four of which were questions. The sad thing is that none of the questions were directly relevant to Measure J. The question cited above is one instance, but a more extreme example follows.

Further beating up our straw man, Mr. Thompson also asked, "Do Measure J proponents think that we should abandon the capitalist philosophy and adopt socialism?" Say what?!? Measure J is asking voters to vote on a tax. What could be more democratic than allowing the voters to decide whether to tax themselves? Taxes may not be capitalistic, but if voters approve them, that's democracy at work. And since Mr. Thompson admitted a tax for road improvements is a legitimate government function, I don't see how he can call it socialism.

In another attempt to confuse people about Measure J, he asked "If COG expects the taxpayers to fund transportation, do they also want socialized medicine?" COG may well want to provide some subsidized transit, such as bus service, but that has nothing to do with Measure J. If he doesn't like what COG is doing, that's fine, but why does he keep asking Measure J advocates about irrelevant issues? The straw man is taking a standing eight-count....

While Dick Lusink and I may disagree on the merits of Measure J, he at least supplies us with facts and figures relevant to the issue. He even went so far as to mail me some of those figures (thanks, Dick, I appreciate that).

Oh, sure, Mr. Thompson included some figures in his letter, but they were about county transit, gas taxes, and bullet trains, none of which Measure J is remotely concerned with. Our friendly straw man is down for the count.

If Mr. Thompson opposes Measure J, may I suggest that he actually address what he finds wrong with Measure J? Not with COG, not with the VTA, not with light rail, but with Measure J itself. Straw men everywhere would appreciate it.

UPDATE: On November 3, 1998, Measure J got over 50% of the vote, but did not get the required 2/3 supermajority.

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