On Biases

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Over the past few years in the USA, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear cries and screams of “fake news” in a variety of ways. Although that phrase is primary associated to a shameful bloviator, it’s merely a substitute for another term that has been around not only my entire life of 66+ years, but long before. After all, it’s entomological roots are in the 16th century – and that word is bias.

During today’s tribalism, hyper-partisanship, and strong outward expressions of opinions, the biased person watching a biased news broadcast, reading a biased article/book, or listening to a biased radio pundit does not negate bias – but rather enhances it.

Often grounded in assumptions based on one’s culture, parents, peers, education, religion, geography, and personal experiences, biases are that filter leading one to predetermined outcomes. Biases are the neme, slant, lean, and tendency leading one to change what one observes into what they want. That is, the biased person makes the information fit for themselves. Biases unquestionably lead to misinformation and misconceptions; plus stronger biases enhance prejudice and bigotry.

Misconceptions are incorrect ideas grounded in a personal belief system serving as the foundation of incorrect knowledge. Misconceptions get in the way of learning by blocking new information. In order to justify their position, the learner will do whatever is necessary to fight against accepting the new information.

Here’s a simple example. All human blood is red, but the shade varies depending on the amount of oxygen present. Blood rich in oxygen is bright red, but blood low in oxygen is very dark red. In short, there is no blue blood.

A person believing the existence of blue blood will do whatever necessary to keep their belief. They point to the blue veins below the skin – drawings in textbooks showing showing red and blue blood vessels. They explain the skin turns blue after one dies because blood is not moving and getting oxygen. They believe in the immediacy (faster than eyes can detect) of blood changing from blue to red when bleeding from a cut vein. Years ago, an eighth grade classmate of mine even brought paper tissues (with blue food coloring) to class showing she had a nosebleed the night before. She went out of her way to argue her bias with the teacher.

Now expand this simple idea into more complex topics as evolution, vaccines, climate change – let alone complicated issues as health care, foreign policy, and the economy. The more complex the topic, a basic understanding requires more information than obtained from the first click on a single Google search. Now cloud the issue/topic with politically-driven partisan ideas that people blindly accept through a party-driven mantra.

Fighting bias challenges what one believes, so overcoming biases requires a conscious effort and can be personally humbling – even for those thinking they are unbiased. No matter how simple or complex the topic or issue, and no matter the age of the person involved, not only does everyone have misconceptions, only that person (the one holding the misconception) can remove that misconception and replace it with new information. In order to replace the misinformation, that person must either accept the new information from a person they recognize as knowledgeable or they must experience a learning event that alters their view.

Besides preventing learning and becoming knowledgeable and informed, misconceptions can humiliate a person. After all, nobody likes being wrong. Some bring it upon themselves by boasting incorrectly about a topic as if they know. After all, it’s the speed and conviction of the statement that validates the statement. Speak with confidence so others think you know.

On the other hand, misconceptions about a person can humiliate them – but in a different way because they are fightly personal misconceptions about their character, knowledge, and/or abilities. I keep thinking about a manager who told me that what others think of me is more important than who I actually am.

I’ve stated this before and here it comes again – The news media is biased by its very nature.

1) Media people are human, therefore have a filter (whether personal, corporate, or both).

2) Secondly, reports reduce the news event to an abstract. For instance, the media may reduce a one-hour speech into a 90-second report. This condensation is a natural bias; plus, generalizations are naturally less accurate and are not the complete story. Generalizations lead one away from the truth and generalizing generalizations can lead to falsehoods – therefore, misconceptions.

3) Thirdly, the selection of the soundbyte is an natural bias, as are the follow-up questions – but the media must do these actions. That’s part of reporting.

The listener’s bias also plays into the situation. Whether informed or not, the one holding deep convictions about a topic is not only biased against those with an opposing view, they are also vulnerable to getting sucked into generalizations based on misinformation and overgeneralizations that lacks details.

However, if the listener does not agree with the selected edits, abstract report, or the question asked does not mean the reporter or news organization was blatantly biased to favor a point of view – but it could.

On the listener’s side is the fact that if they work traditional morning-afternoon hours, they have limited opportunity to view national evening news by a major network. After that point in time, the 24/7 news channels offer shows featuring and promoting a particular point of view – for instance, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and others. However, television isn’t the only news source.

Technology has made more information is available to everyone than ever before. Unfortunately, that also means more misinformation is available today more than any other time in history.

Social media complicates and exacerbates personal bias by increasing misinformation, justifying false claims/conclusion, and promoting conspiracy theories. Social media, biased reporting, and talk show echo chambers disengage citizens from the truth while promoting a political agenda.

There is no question that bias plays an important role in the news – and there is plenty of blame to go around. People also carry their share of the blame – actually, in my opinion, people may be the greater problem. People must take responsibility for themselves to challenge and verify the information they receive. However, instead of being proactive citizens, too many people favor reinforcing their bias over being accurately informed.

Valuing factual information is an important aspect of being human – as is the ability to learn – as is the ability to communicate. Too bad there isn’t an anti-bias vaccine. Then again, self-imposed biases would prevent someone from taking that vaccine.

 

PS: This classic scene fits.

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On an Electoral Reflection

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This idea has festered in my mind long enough, so it’s time to get these thoughts of this true independent’s chest.

For about 5 weeks following the November 2016 election, a good thing happened. We heard a lot about the Electoral College – a system we learned about in school – a system we hear about every 4 years – a system many people know little about – let alone Federalist Paper No. 68 (and I say that with confidence).

Election 2016 was interesting in many ways. It was not only the third time in US history the candidate who won the presidency lost the popular vote, but 2016 marked the highest vote differential of the three (0.8%, 0.5%, 2.8%). What if Mr. Trump won the popular vote by 2.8% but Mrs. Clinton won the Electoral College? Surely the messages would be predictably reversed.

Since the election, we heard some voices declaring that it’s time to amend the Constitution to disband the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote. The losers were the complainers while the winners boosted about the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

Framing the US Constitution was not a meeting of wise men stroking their beards while contemplating decisions for a document to serve as the foundation of a new country. Discussions were fierce. Egos were bruised. Not every person got their way but, in the end, a collective wisdom prevailed – a wisdom guided by those seeking what would serve the common good for all and for a nation.

Although small states and slave states had issues with the popular vote, the Founding Fathers were skeptical about the voters especially if the popular vote yielded an unwise decision. So, the Founding Fathers wanted a system to act as a check-and-balance on the voters. After all, the Constitution provided of system of checks and balances within the government. The Electoral College was a way to do so other than using state legislatures or the House of Representatives.

In Federalist Paper No. 68, Alexander Hamilton explained the Electoral College was to, “ensure that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The best analogy I heard was the Electoral College being akin to a judge reviewing a jury’s decision (which they can do).

Was 2016 the time Alexander Hamilton had in mind? Maybe.

Is the Electoral College’s role as a check-and-balance against the people’s vote necessary in the 21st Century? Absolutely, so I unquestionably stand with the wisdom of the Founding Fathers supporting the existence of the Electoral College.

The Founding Fathers envisioned the Electoral College to be composed of people “selected by their fellow citizens from the general masses, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

The Founding Fathers also envisioned the members of the Electoral College to do the right thing. To be of independent mind in the face of adversity. To represent a nation, and then fulfill their Constitutional responsibility by doing what is right for the nation.

If it’s not the voters, not the Constitution, not the concept of the Electoral College, is there a problem? If so, where?

The problem obviously lies is the implementation because the Constitution left the selection process to the states, which would be state legislatures that are elected by the people. Although practical on paper, the adopted methods by the states are not the way to implement the desires stated Federalist Paper No. 68. States developed processes based on the political parties – therefore the political parties hijacked the check and balance to have a system that favors them.

Who picks the electors? The political parties.

Who do the political parties select? Loyalists, local party leaders, local officials, donors,etc.

If each party in a state has electors, who has the final vote? In most states, the party of the presidential candidate who won the popular vote in that state become the electors.

Can electors change their mind, thus go against the state’s result? In some states, yes – but in most states, No! Electors who do not follow their prescribed vote may face fines, legal charges, dismissal, and/or replacement.

Are these electors the ones “most likely to possess the information and requisite for such a complicated investigation” and “free from any sinister bias”?

Absolutely not! The electors are party hacks put in place by the party hooligans to follow the party’s self interest – NOT for the people and NOT for a nation as the Federalist Paper clearly explains. The electors are present for the party under the ruse of acting for the nation. The Electoral College is not even remotely close to what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the nation and its people.

The parties are interested in themselves. The parties are interested in adopting their preferences upon the people. The parties only see the world through a biased lens with the settings they prefer. In other words, the parties are not the unbiased, high-minded people who will look out after the best interest of a nation if and when the people make a mistake!

In the farewell address of this nation’s first president, George Washington was correct.

[Political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington
Saturday, September 17, 1796

Abolition of the Electoral College is not the answer. Giving power the popular vote is not the answer. Reforming the Electoral College process is the answer, but there is a problem because that requires those with power would have to relinquish the power – and we know that’s not going to happen.

On the High Court Truth … and Nothing but the Truth

Non-US readers, please excuse me because I’m tired of reading and hearing the repeated crap, it’s time to tackle many of the partisan hacks.

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on 13 February 2016 created an opening on the US Supreme Court. About a month later (16 March), President Obama nominated Merrick Garland as Justice Scalia’s successor. Two months since the nomination, the US Senate and its Judicial Committee have done nothing to advance the process, plus presidential candidates have made the vacancy a campaign issue. It’s time to destroy the cover.

1) Republicans proclaim the “Biden Rule” as their key rationale – a term they developed based on a speech Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden made in 1992 (which was a presidential election year. TRUE, but the rest of the story…

  • a) As chair of the Judicial Committee, Biden did deliver a speech on 25 June 1992, a time between the conclusion of the last primary and the first party convention … whereas at the time of Scalia’s death, 1 caucus and 1 primary had been completed – therefore, many primaries and caucuses lie ahead.
  • b) At the time of Biden’s speech, there were no vacancies on the high court and no upcoming resignations … plus, no vacancies occurred during the election phase or during the lame-duck time between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
  • c) Biden stated that IF a vacancy would occur, he wouldn’t hold a hearing during the conventions and the contentious campaign, so President GHW Bush should delay a nomination until after the election and confirmation process would take proceed after the Senate reconvenes following the election (during the “lame duck” session).

2) Current Republican language of “Let the people decide” suggests the nomination should be left up to the next president and the next Senate – and the Biden Rule is the common rationale. WRONG.

  • a) Letting the next president decide was not the motive and never a suggestion by Mr. Biden.
  • b) The Constitution (Article 2) acts as the will of the people by granting explicit powers to the president to nominate and to the Senate for advise and consent.
  • c) The people had already decided by electing President Obama in 2012.

3) President Obama (when a senator) helped filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito in 2006. WRONG.

  • a) Although Sen. Obama favored a filibuster, such a vote within the Democratic caucus didn’t occur because there weren’t enough votes for the filibuster.
  • b) In other words, the filibuster of Justice Alito never occurred.

4) On 27 July 2007, 19 months before the end of President GW Bush’s term (in a speech to a legal organization), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “We should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, except in extraordinary circumstances.” TRUE, but the rest of the story…

  • a) Sen. Schumer’s view is a partisan view that is very similar to the Republican position today.
  • b) I disagree with Sen. Schumer then, an in my opinion, he was wrong. Besides, two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • c) Sen. Schumer’s statement did not block any further nominations.

5) Republicans support the delay because they claim a nomination by President Obama would “shift in the Court”. TRUE, but the rest of the story…

  • a) The same people complaining about a possible shift in the court today were favoring a shift in the court in 2006 when conservative nominee Samuel Alito was replacing a moderate swing vote (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor).
  • b) For the record, Justice Alito’s process from nomination to confirmation took 3 months.
  • c) This is another example of partisans favoring a court to impose their view upon society instead of favoring a court for all Americans.

6) Sen. McConnell (R-KY and Senate Majority Leader) reasoned that Republicans are justified in delaying the nomination because Americans (in 2010) voted to give Republicans control of the Senate. True, but the rest of the story…

  • a) One third of the Senate seats (selected by voters in 33 states) determined the outcome – not all Americans.
  • b) The Constitution clearly states the role of a duly elected president, which starts from the moment he/she takes office until the time a successor is inaugurated. In this case, all Americans duly elected President Obama in 2012 and inaugurated him January 2013 in order to serve until Inauguration Day 2017.

7) Republicans use phrases as “We owe it to him (Scalia).” Let’s examine the statement …

  • a) Interesting, Justice Scalia proudly proclaimed his judicial philosophy to base ruling on the Constitution’s original intent.
  • b) Based on the Constitution’s text, it difficult to believe that Justice Scalia’s originalist view would approve that blatant partisan action is Constitutionally justified.
    Justice Scalia would also refer to the Federalist Papers, especially #10 written by James Madison (Founding Father and key architect of the Constitution) – where Madison counters the “mortal disease” effects of partisan factions.

8) Some Republicans state the delay is following “tradition” or “bipartisan practice” regarding vacancies during an election. Others proclaim President Obama is breaking practice by nominating a justice during an election year. WRONG.

  • a) Note: Supreme Court vacancies during a presidential election year are rare.
  • b) Presidents Hoover (1932), President Roosevelt (1940), and President Eisenhower (1956) nominated justices during election years who were confirmed.
  • c) President Reagan nominated of current justice Anthony Kennedy on 30 November 1987, whom the Senate confirmed the 1st week of February (days before the New Hampshire Primary).

9) NOTE: The Pew Research Center reported that of the 10 longest vacancies on the Supreme Court, 9 of 10 were in the 1800s – of which 6 occurred between 1842-1874 (time preceding and following the Civil War). The lone exception being Judge Henry Blackman on June 9, 1970. Since then, the average duration of vacancies has been 55 days.

10) NOTE: Let us not forget that within hours of Justice Scalia’s sudden, and before proclaiming any of the above reasons, and instead of praising Justice Scalia’s tenure, both Senate Majority Leader McConnell and current Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) issued strong statements about delaying the confirmation process.

11) NOTE: Possibly the only point Republicans did get right is that the on Constitution states the Senate involvement and duty, but does not provide a time-frame or how their decision-making process should proceed. Besides, Section 5 does provide the Senate the power “to determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”

My Final Thoughts
Hyper-partisanship purposely delivers a message of partisan constituents who probably get their news from a new organization that reports the message listeners want to hear. This repeating sound of partisan drivel resembles an echo chamber – that is repeating sounds where competing views are disallowed or (at best) under-representative. This information serves as the Kool Aid of choice so the partisans repeat what they perceive as resounding joy while actually displaying a profound ignorance.

Although a discussion of the question regarding a Supreme Court opening in an election year may be a worthy discussion, answers to pertinent questions are debatable, but the partisans will take the stances that are most beneficial to them at the time. However, Republicans do not have a corner on that market.

In this case, the Senate has an “advise and consent” role on behalf of the American people. Because of deliberate actions by Republicans, the Senate is miserably failing in its duties, and the reason is simple – acting for the benefit of party over doing their duty for the people.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 194

On Politics
After allowing several major airlines mergers, the Justice Department is balking at the merger between American Airlines and US Airways. What a crock, well, unless they tend to order the others to breakup.

A good article about why Americans hate Congress.

Now this stat from a recent poll emphasizes partisanship: 29% of Louisiana Republicans polled blame President Obama on the Federal government’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina (2005). 28% blame President Bush, and 44% are not sure who to blame. (For foreign readers, President Obama was elected in Nov 2008.)

A friend of ours said he wishes President Obama would come out against eating yellow snow so he can hear FOX News defend eating yellow snow.

On This Week’s Headlines from The Onion

  • Washington’s Hobby Lobby Lobbies to Strengthen Hobbies
  • San Andreas fault feels terrible about what could happen
  • Riotous chanting Iowa State Fair Crowed Gathers for Annual Deep-Frying of Virgin (I love the accompanying pic)
  • Researchers Discover Female Frogs Prefer Mate Who Knows Way Around the Cloaca
  • Elmore Leonard, Modern Prose Master, Noted for His Terse Prose Style and for Writing about Things Perfectly and Succinctly with a Remarkable Economy of Words, Unfortunately and Sadly Expired this Gloomy Tuesday at the Age of 87 Years Old

Interesting Reads
The autobiography of George Orwell (a book review)
Alex’s post about the annual eclipse of Venus
About Mussolini (a book review)
Brief history of lobotomies
Microbakeries
Global divide about homosexuality
The Onion’s Point-Counterpoint about bellyrubs

On Potpourri
Security detaining David Miranda was big news from the UK this week. I suspect he intentionally routed his plans through London with hopes this would happen.

This week’s post about hot sauces received interesting reactions. For anyone interested, here are two sites selling many of these hot sauces: chiliworld.com and hotsauce.com.

Last week I posted about an Ohio school district’s take on evolution and creationism in the science classroom. Thanks to Tim, here’s a collect of essays from the New York Times around a question: Should Creationism Be Controversial? The comments are interesting as they are filled with both hope and ignorance.

American football season is about to start. As a physical sport, it has received much criticism in recent years. Here’s an interesting article from the opposite perspective.

Our first handbell choir rehearsal was earlier this week. Interestingly, we received news that we get to be the first to play a new piece. Yep, we’ll play a world premier by a big-named composer in handbell music!

Sorry, no Saturday Morning Cartoon post this weekend because of a prep-time shortage.

It’s on to the weekend. In the spirit of El Guapo adventurism, here’s a longboard coasting down a small hill. Enjoy the ride, and in the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

On Election Night 2012

It’s Election Night in America. I wrote this post several days ago with this night in mind so, at the time I publish this, the elections results are young and without a declared winner in the race for president.

While one party likes to walk around with the pocket Constitutions, all members of Congress swear to uphold it. The U.S. Constitution is an interesting document, but to me, the following are the three most important words: We the people.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People elect members to Congress to represent We the People in order to pass laws, control the budget, and exercise authorities granted by the Constitution.

We the People elect members to represent all people, which means not just the ones who voted for the elected; not an ideology; not a political party; not a religion, not a financial donor, not a special interest – but yes, to represent We the People.

We the People elect members to serve all people regardless of their faith, thus the elected are not to serve their religious preference. After all, the Constitution is quite clear regarding religion. Let the elected not forget that the Constitution lacks words as God, Creation, Christian, Jesus, and Lord (which only appears in the Signatory section).

Although Christian principles may have influenced the Founding Fathers, the Constitution does not declare the U.S. as a Christian nation. If the elected represent Christianity, what about the nonChristians? If the elected represents Christianity, which denomination will you represent? Then, what about the other Christians?

We the People are from all faiths and no faiths, therefore, our representatives should avoid submitting proposals on behalf of Christianity because what the church considers best for itself may not be in the best interest of We the People.

Representing We the People requires avoidance of firm ideology or a party each of these diverts attention from the needs of We the People. Adherence to a party or ideology silences We the People, and blocks the path to meaningful solutions.

Representing We the People requires conviction to represent the needs of the people who did not vote for the elected. After all, they too are We the People.

Representing We the People requires patience, the ability to listen, to desire to find the common good for all, to watch-out for and respond to human need that is beyond one’s self interests, party, or ideology.

Representing We the People requires discussing among yourselves to share ideas and concerns in order to work toward a solution for the common good – an idea that may be found in one side, the other, a compromise, or outside the grounds established by ideology, party, religion, self-interest, or special interest.

We the People need effective government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, to provide a common defense, to promote general welfare, and to secure liberty for all of We the People. Especially during this time, we need our elected officials to make difficult decisions – the ones that test their gut against their party, their ideology, their religion, their self-interest, their donors, and special interests.

Along with a president, on this day we elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 33 members (approximately one-third) of the Senate. Their task seems simple, but I also know they will represent religion, a party, an ideology, self-interests, special interests, and donors over We the People – therefore, let me be the first to say the following about the newly elected, ‘Starting in 2014, throw the bums out. All of them! Clean house!” After all, We the People deserve better.

On Necessary Dialogue

As a nation, the United States faces its share of problems. Now is a time needing meaningful solutions; however, finding meaning solutions requires meaningful dialogue between individuals who come to the table with ideas, a willingness to listen, the desire to find a solution, and as few sacred cows as possible (preferably none).

On the other hand, we live in a society that loves “it’s all about me at all cost” attitude of reality shows. After all, I’ve often wondered if reality television is mimicking society or does society mimic reality television.

We also live in a society with commentators who promote their position with a flamethrower in order to scorch the other side rather than educating their point of view. We live in a society whose politicians and supporters who find it difficult to have meaningful discussion beyond taglines and rhetoric.

For example, not long ago I asked a guy about his retirement system, which he explained. It was interesting, thus I used his example to explain an idea of a new Social Security system. Not long after I mentioned “Social Security”, he and another guy immediately blurted out some meaningless and possibly inaccurate tagline that had nothing to do with the conversion.
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I fired back – “This is a meaningful issue that needs good conversation. I tried to foster a discussion, and I got meaningless, unrelated political horseshit – and you wonder why we can’t solve important problem.” Needless to say, the conversation was over!

On Clarifying the Line

I admittedly get caught up in the rhetoric coming from the mouths in Congress, so I keep reminding myself that some it is simply the political gamesmanship. I recall Senator Orin Hatch telling the story of the late Senator Ted Kennedy (and his close friend) coming to him after a rousing Senate floor speech and asking, “How did I do?”

Although the Tea Party folks, Jimmy Hoffa (on Labor Day), and other partisans spew their side through red-meat diatribes, I continue to maintain that elected officials should be above the fray. There is a fine line between playing politics and being obnoxious and unnecessary or even worse – disrespectful. It wasn’t long after President Obama took office that Republican Senator Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated (and repeated several times since) that he would do everything he could to limit President Obama to one-term. No, not gamesmanship. No, not disrespectful – but yes, obnoxious and unnecessary.

For examples of disrespectful we can look to elected officials as Rep Joe Walsh (R-IL) for calling President Obama an idiot; or to Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC) for his “you lie” outburst during the State of the Union; or to Rep Paul Broun (R-GA) calling President Obama a socialist. Yes, I called out Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA) for her go-to-hell comment, and I am sure anyone can find disrespectful comments made about President Bush by an elected Democrat.

Meanwhile, I did not have any problem with Vice President Biden’s comment at an organized labor event on Labor Day in Cincinnati when he said, “You (union members) are the only folks keeping the barbarians at the gate.”

Nor did I have issue with this response by local Rep Steve Chabot (R-OH), “The Vice President was here in Cincinnati Monday to address the AFL-CIO at their annual Labor Day Picnic. His contribution to civility was referring to Republicans as barbarians at the gate. Now I’m not sure if the Vice President was comparing us poor conservatives to Huns, Mongols, Visigoths, Vandals, or which specific barbarians, but I’m quite sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment.”

I continue to believe that elected leaders should be above the fray, thus disrespectful comments have no place at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. While disagreements and gaming are part of their culture and process, the infusion of reality-show-in-your-face mentality is not an example of patriotism, but simply one example of our lost national sensibility and vanishing sense of humanity. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Avenue will continue to do their thing while also wondering why people have so little confidence in the economy.