The Un-Patriot Act and a Shattered Prism

Sitting in the truck earlier today, my son asked me what exactly the Patriot Act was. As I struggled to answer, I eventually just told him that children should be seen and not heard.

Of course, based on the news about PRISM earlier this month, I felt like asking if the NSA would just text him the answer.

Actually, I was able to answer in part. “The Patriot Act,” I said, “is the total assault on our civil liberties in the interest of protecting us from terrorist attacks. It’s why you can’t carry toothpaste on a plane, why we decided to abandon moral principle and waterboard suspects, and why the FBI can spy on you anytime they want. Basically, it’s our government’s attempt to completely gut the 4th Amendment.”

But that’s just my inner libertarian speaking and it isn’t entirely fair.

I’ll willingly admit that, like most of our Senators and Representatives, I haven’t actually read the entire Patriot Act so I shouldn’t speak as if I’m an expert. (But, heck, that doesn’t stop my Senator from speaking about anything so why should it stop me?) I will also willingly admit that we have not had a major terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 since 2001.

But only if all the supporters of vast government intrusion in our daily lives will admit that we have no actual evidence any other terrorist attacks would have occurred even without the Patriot Act. In other words, as smarty-pants academics sometimes point out, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

According to various sources, aspects of the Patriot Act (and PRISM) have thwarted 50 (or 100 or even thousands!) of attacks. But, and please excuse my skepticism, the sources for such successes are the very people who benefit the most from reminding us we must fear the terrorists. And, as someone who has read enough George Orwell to have a healthy distrust of large government agencies, I have my doubts that any government has the capability of organizing and effectively using all this information they gather. This is the same group, after all, that gave money to around 900,000 people after Hurricane Katrina who had given false names and social security numbers. Hell, all you have to do is google “government inefficiency” and see your tax dollars at work.

But what bothers me the most about the Patriot Act and programs like PRISM is the almost complete shift away from the goals and intent of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Both documents hold a special place in their hearts for the individual in the face of government (or communal) intrusion. While is is true that “privacy” never actually appears in either document, clearly the intent of the 4th Amendment’s unreasonable search and seizure language is designed to trumpet my right to be secure from the government’s right to see my stuff. Without “Oath or affirmation” and without probable cause, the government must keep their grubby paws off me and mine.

That includes my words, emails, snail mail, and anything I want to google-up on a daily basis.

The writing of the Constitution coincides with the rise of the Enlightenment, an era we might argue ushers in a truly anthropocentric world view. In less fancy terms, we are witnessing a developing middle class in industrial societies and an increased distrust of kings, queens, and rulers “ordained” by gods or primogeniture. Democracy emerges not as a way to increase the size of government but as a way to distinguish between communal needs versus personal responsibilities. The goal of the founders, it seems to me, was balancing those needs that should be shared and those that should be up to the individual.

The Patriot Act, I told my son, was created as a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that all of a sudden seemed to supersede our individual abilities. All of a sudden, we had these crazy people (yes, I’ll be insensitive and call people who fly planes into buildings crazy) attacking innocent people and we felt helpless.

Since life isn’t like Red Dawn or a Bruce Willis movie where one lone man can thwart a nut-job and his merry men, we all wanted our government, as a unified entity with vast shared resources, to protect and serve. Even though it pains me to write this, the goals and intent of the Act were noble and well-intentioned.

But like most knee-jerk legislation, we crafted a new law (and a new way of living) based on the exception not the rule and in doing so we have sacrificed large sections of our individual freedom in the name of potential safety and security.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to see a vast government conspiracy where the President (Bush or Obama), the NSA, or the CIA stifles free speech by imprisoning people willy-nilly. (Except, perhaps, at Guantanamo Bay?) I’m not someone, like the crazy guy on Facebook who uses Patrick Henry as his avatar, who believes we are on the verge of a totalitarian state. In fact, those critics of the government who resort to such hyperbole tend to do as much harm as good to intelligent discussions about important issues.

But I am someone who worries that we are slowly but surely re-crafting American identity and reshaping the balance between the individual and the communal without having serious, intelligent, well-informed discussions at any level. We have moved from a nation of persons innocent until proven guilty to a nation under perpetual suspicion until proven innocent.

The balancing act between privacy and personal security is certainly not an easy one. I have to get on a plane tomorrow and fly to Orlando. I am happy knowing that my biggest fear is that the person next to me has a cold, body odor, or a screaming baby. But I also recognize the human right, dare I say the human responsibility, to be left alone and, most importantly, trusted by its government until she does something to warrant suspicion and I recognize that right comes with inherent dangers to my personal safety.

And there, I told my son, is the problem with the Patriot Act and PRISM. Both Acts attack, fundamentally, our human right to be left alone and free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness without the specter of community judgement lurking over our shoulder. They might provide us with safety but they cost us the linchpin of our  national identity.

That, it seems to me, is un-Patriotic and essentially un-American.

If Only We Had Known This Sooner

The other day, someone told my wife we should write a parenting book.

Yeah. Sure. Instead of “Parenting for Dummies,” we could call it “Parenting by Dummies: Everything We’ve Learned in Hindsight But Refuse to Try by Having Another Child.”

I guess having two children who don’t eat people for fun (yet), haven’t been arrested (so far), and can write their names in cursive qualifies us as model parents?

Either way, the statement did get me to thinking about any wisdom someone like me might pass along to perspective parents other than the only child easy to raise is one that’s not your own. Trust me–we all know how other people should raise their kids.

I might also tell new parents that you should always love your kids, but it’s okay if you don’t like them all the time. Especially at 3 am when they are crying, vomiting, or just getting home hours past curfew. (Or at any given moment between the ages of 13-16.)

One of our problems, I suspect, might be that we’ve never actually read a parenting book. I’m pretty sure we had a copy of What to Expect When You Are Expecting. To be fair, I have nothing negative to say about the book, but I’ll also admit that I also have no recollection of the book.

While I will admit that the prospect of raising a human and being responsible for his long-term mental health was pretty daunting, I always told my wife we should just follow our instincts and trust that millions of years of evolution qualified us to be parents. Of course, for all I know she’s been secretly reading parenting books for the last 18 years learning how to counteract my “instincts.”

Either way, I have been toying with an Introduction to this mythical book we have no real business writing.

Dear Parents:

Your life has changed. You are now responsible for a human being. The good news is that feeding and changing diapers is the easiest and least messy parts of the job.   The bad news is that the feeding and changing are the least messy parts of the job. While you will get plenty of advice from other parents, friends, radio talk show hosts, and random strangers who write blogs regarding your child’s academic success, we encourage you to read to your children every night (starting tonight), teach them to do fractions as soon as possible, and avoid thinking that proficiency on a smartphone is a sign of intelligence.

As you think about your child at 18, these are the five most important things you need to remember and teach your children in order to create a healthy, happy child. Please also remember that this book makes no promises and offers absolutely no guarantees that anything we say will work and we reserve the right to choose 5 more things by the end of chapter 1.

1. Remember Occam’s Razor.  Try to solve all problems, conundrums, and difficulties by focusing on the simplest possible explanation first. The simple answer might not be right, but the most complicated one probably isn’t correct either. Your child will get a fever. That doesn’t mean he has meningitis or polio or some other incurable disease. It’s probably a cold. Start there. At some point, your precious child will also miss out on a valentines day card or a birthday party announcement. This is not a sign of a grand conspiracy or social leprosy.

2. Make sure you can look at yourself in the mirror everyday. You have to be the kind of person you want your kids to look up to. If you are cheating on your taxes, stealing fruit from the store, talking bad about people all the time, and parking in the handicap spot without a reason, that’s what your kids are going to do. I can promise you that they do not understand the fine nuances of your ethical system.

3. Life is a marathon not a sprint. Your child might not be potty trained at the same time as little Sally across the street, but let me assure you that she will learn how to use the toilet. The same goes for spelling, reading, writing, speaking, hitting a baseball, and making friends. Life is not a checklist of events to cross off at specific times.

4. Keep your pants up and your lips to yourself. Admittedly, this one is more for the kids than anyone else, but you parents might keep it in mind also. If you are all stressed about this new child, better think long and hard if you want another. (Don’t think about it being long and hard, though. That might be what got you into the mess to begin with.)  In an era that seems amazingly oversexualized, it’s important to remind ourselves and our children that sometimes a hug is all we need and all we should expect. (By the way, shout out to Miss Fanny P for her Sex After Childbirth posts. That’s funny stuff.)

5. The most important thing you can remember and pass along to your child: She’s a free agent in this world. So is he. So are you. Life is full of choices from the simple (breastfeeding or formula?) to the complex (cream or sugar?). Maybe I have those backwards? Either way, each individual makes choices. Those choices have consequences. Some of those consequences are positive and some are negative. Don’t want to clean your room? Fine, but the consequence is . . . Want to eat your brussel sprouts, the consequence is . . .  (Bad example. No one wants to eat brussel sprouts.) We get to choose how we act, how we behave, and how we handle life around us.

All of us made a choice as well. We choose to accept the responsibility for this human being. Some of us did so on purpose and some of us had it thrust upon us (pun intended), but here we are.

Or rather here you are. Let us know if any of this advice works. Unfortunately for our kids, we didn’t think of all the good stuff until they were moving out but that’s okay. That just means we can help them raise their kids when the time comes.

Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie. Or Grill.

I’m not really a big fan of Father’s Day. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but I think we can all admit the whole concept seems a bit like an after thought.

Mother’s Day, created in the Civil War era as a means to help national reconciliation by creating friendship clubs of Union and Confederate mothers, became an official holiday in the early 1900s. Ann Jarvis, daughter of the founder of the Mothers’ Friendship Clubs, pushed, poked, and prodded until Woodrow Wilson in 1914 established the second Sunday of May as our day officially to, by federal law, support and love our mothers. And buy them gifts. Not that I’m implying Wilson was in any way influenced by merchants salivating over the commercial opportunities.

I’m sure Wilson just wanted to show his mother some love. With flowers. It’s worth noting that Jarvis, ironically, was single and childess her entire life, eventually repudiated Mothers Day as too commercial. Maybe she just felt bad for missing out on the 10 gallon bottle of perfume.

Fathers’ Day doesn’t get official federal recognized as a holiday until the 1972 Presidential campaign, probably about the same time grills, ties with hula girls, and personalized shaving kits became readily available. While one might argue that Fathers Day gives us a chance to honor both parents, the reality is that Fathers Day really seems like an opportunity for Sears to create a second Christmas for dads while kicking off the summer buying season. He opened the Chinese market just in time for cheap ties to flood American homes.

Mothers carry us around for 9 months with swollen feet, raging hormones, unpredictable appetites and then pass that big bowling ball you call a head through a hole barely larger than post-it note. They deserve something more than stretch marks.

Dad simply had a good night and was probably back on the couch before the next inning started. Sure, he had to make food runs at midnight to Taco Bell and provide all that “moral” support for 9 months, but when his belly gets bigger that’s too many Cheetos and cold beers. He got his gift 9 months ago.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t honor our fathers, but we need to re-think our approach to gifting. After all, without kids, dad loses those tax deductions, access to little league sports, opportunities for dance recitals, and an excuse to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants.

So, this Fathers’ Day, instead of buying a gift (probably using his money) or drawing a picture he has to tax his brain to recognize, all you kids out there should just remind him how much joy you’ve brought good old dad. Take him on a trip down memory lane by talking about random events, experiences, and even those things that are only funny 10 years later. (No one really appreciates a stopped up toilet or broken window for at least 5 years.)

He wants to remember helping you ride a bike, throwing a ball, sitting at a tea party. (If he ever dressed up, pull out the photo. No Intagram, though! It is his special day.) Pull out the photos of your first camping trip, your last vacation, or the time he taught you to swim.

After all, those memories are worth more than that tie you keep thinking about buying. You can get him that for Christmas.

Hustle Beats Talent Unless Talent Hustles

One of the things I love about Washington Nationals outfielder  Bryce Harper is his hustle. Like Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Craig Biggio, and other great ball players from the past, Harper plays the game at 100 miles an hour, recognizing that his talent and the privilege of wearing a big league uniform carries certain responsibilities.

I’m not a professional coach and I don’t even play one on t.v. but I have coached various baseball teams and given private lessons off and on for about 10 years. When I talk to kids about the game at the beginning of the season, Harper is exactly the kind of player I talk about not, I tell them, because he’s talented with gifts most of us dream about, but because he recognizes that hustle beats talent unless talent hustles.

The goal, I tell the kids I coach, is to play the game to the best of your ability. But, and I try hard to avoid looking at that one kid who can’t (as my dad used to say) hit his butt with both hands, some of us aren’t very good. We can get better if we work hard, but that takes practice and time. And more practice. And more time. For some of you, I do look at them now, you won’t get better until next year. Or the year after. And some of you might want to start practicing the trumpet. Or the oboe. Or your writing. Or walking and chewing gum at the same time. (I don’t really say that last one but it’s tempting.)

But the one thing that doesn’t take time or practice is hustle. Every kid, every coach, every person can work hard on every pitch and we can always give 100%. You might strike out or make an error but I will never get mad if you are trying as hard as you can.

But you have to remember that you play like you practice. Life isn’t filled with important at bats and crucial pitches every day but the people who succeed are the ones who prepare and practice for that moment when things matter the most.  They put themselves in a position to succeed.

This, I say in my wisest voice, is a lesson you can take with you anywhere. You might not be a math whiz or have a facility with language, but nothing stops you from working hard and getting better. You might not ever be Einstein of Joan Didion, but you can avoid being Lloyd Christmas or Frank Drebin (they completely miss the references of course).

We have been lucky in our house that both our sons have taken this speech to heart. It’s possible, of course, that their primary goal is to simply avoid hearing me drone on and on and they realize hustling beats dad’s lecture but who cares, right? As a parent, I don’t usually care why they do something right, I’m just happy to take credit for it.

It’s also true that I stopped coaching my son about two years ago. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still there with the free advice and (despite what he might think) I still know more about baseball than him, but I also recognize that part of growing as an athlete is learning how to be coachable.

Good athletes, I tell him, have to be confident enough to know they will succeed but humble enough to listen to coaches teach them how to play.

Teenagers, though (or at least my teenage sons), find it hard to be humble enough to listen to dad. So I’ve pawned him off on someone else.

Either way, our boys have a great work ethic (unless it involves household chores) and I’ve never had to remind them to work hard in practice.

I also know, from my years working with 8-16 year old baseball players that most of the kids stopped listening to my opening practice speech sometime after I said Bryce and before I finished Harper.

But kids do learn by doing.

I finish my beginning of the year speech about practice by telling the kids that we will work on skills and we will practice hard. We will hustle and do everything we do with intensity because (if they have been listening) doing so in practice ensures they will do so in a game.

If we don’t, we will run or do work on our core. But I assure them, whatever we do won’t be very much fun. (I do hold out the carrot, also. Working hard might earn a wiffle ball game or hitting water balloons one practice.)

And I’m a man of my word. The first time someone stops hustling in practice, everything stops and the lesson begins. We might not get better but my players always get in shape.

And now that I have their attention, I remind them that no matter how good they might be, someone out there is better. And working hard. Because he knows that hustle beats talent unless talent hustles.

The Best Teachers in the World, According to John E. Chubb (A Review)

chubbcover

Click on the link.

One of the great things about working at a university is easy access to books. By training and desire, I’m inclined toward contemporary novels. I’ll read the occasional dead writer, but there’s something about knowing the writer I’m reading is sitting in a room somewhere struggling to turn a phrase. Like sticking your toe in the Pacific and knowing you are connected to someone in Japan, reading someone alive creates one of those unspoken bonds that seem both inexplicable and unbreakable.

Periodically, though, I’ll pick up other kinds of books that look interesting. (I’m a big fan of judging books by their covers.) A while back, I read through Michael Hess’ Cage-Busting Leadership. Hess reminds us that leadership is more than simply managing. Leaders break out of the cages bureaucracies create and accomplish great things.

More recently, I’ve been reading John E. Chubb’s The Best Teachers in the World: Why we don’t have them and how we could. I’ll admit I picked the book up initially because there is this cool graphic of an apple that looks like a globe but I’m interested in how America can improve our educational system. As Chubb points out, America spends as much on public education as most developed countries, but we have the least to show for it.

On the one hand, and Chubb readily admits this, we are also one of the only industrialized nations that tries to educate everyone. Far too often, critics of education fail to recognize or admit that external factors play a major role on student achievement. Essentially, 10 year olds don’t learn math if they are hungry or dealing with emotional stress.

But Chubb also points to examples of schools that overcome these external pressures and produce high achieving students despite the emotional and physical issues facing them. The core idea of Chubb’s argument is relatively simple (and, it seems, obvious): good schools are mostly a combination of good principals and good teachers.

Duh.

I’m not downplaying Chubb’s argument. He does an excellent job, like Hess before him, of reminding us that teaching is complex and difficult, but running a school that educates kids isn’t rocket science. If we want the best teachers in the world, Chubb tells us, we need to ensure the best and brightest students become teachers and we need to let the school leaders reward those stars (and fire the duds). Chubb gives us a variety of stunning statistics, but the most impressive among them is the relatively low average SAT scores for college students who go into teaching.

Thirty years ago our teachers were smarter than the students who graduated. Not so much anymore. Too many teachers, Chubb tells us, would not meet the target SAT scores we’ve set for our high schoolers.

It’s a little bit like the blind leading the blind. No offense to the blind.

Chubb also reiterates for us that good schools are run by good principals who have the power and ability to truly run their schools. Too many principals are hamstrung by school boards, state regulations, parents, and teacher groups, effectively forcing them into defensive management roles. The live through the day simply putting out fires without ever having the power to get rid of the arsonist.

But what makes Chubb’s book so interesting is his discussion of teacher education programs. There are, Chubb tells us, around 3.2 million public school teachers in America. These teachers, on average, not the best and brightest. Certainly, a major part of the problem is compensation. Teachers “once earned over 80 percent of the wages of other college graduates, today teachers earn about 65 percent.” Worse yet, at the rate with which we churn through teachers (some estimates tell us 50% of all new teachers quit within 5 years), 20% of all new bachelor’s degrees will need to be in teacher education.

So, we need 1/5 of all graduates to choose a low wage, high stress job.

You don’t need a fully developed frontal lobe to know that’s a bad idea.

While I think Chubb puts a little too much faith in the use of technology to help solve our problems (he estimates we could reduce our teacher workforce by around 17 %), he argues nicely that we can leverage some technology, especially in skills based instruction, to free up our teachers for better (and more useful) interaction with small groups.

But the most important thing Chubb points out is that we simply must change the way we certify and train teachers.

We must create schools and colleges of Education that emphasize the intellectual complexity of teaching not by focusing on educational theory but by re-emphasizing the importance of content mastery.

In other words, if you are going to teach math, you should have a math degree. He points to Peabody College at Vanderbilt as the prime example of a program that is rigorous and successful. The basics are pretty simple: students start in the classroom their freshman year of college and they must double major. The classes are rigorous, demanding, and intellectually stimulating, classes that tend to attract the brightest kids.

In essence, Chubb shows us that teaching is not for below average students.

Yet, we are consistently filling classrooms with such graduates.

And wondering why our students under-perform.

Clearly, education is a complicated and difficult task but the solutions are often far simpler than we imagine. Like any other profession, if we higher the best people, hold them accountable for specific, realistic goals, and reward them, we get better performance. Chubb, like Hess in his book, shows us a path.

The rest of us simply need to start walking down that trial. We need to push universities to revise teacher education programs and pressure politicians to let them. Schools need to focus on hiring strong principals and getting out their way.

Most importantly, though, we need to all begin creating a climate where teaching is a profession that we respect and reward.

If the Shoes Fit, You Should Try On Another Pair

walkmileshoesAfter extensive and careful research, I have concluded that I’m right.

About everything.

Not that I really needed the 17 websites, 1 news channel, 3 politicians, 938 Facebook likes, and 4 twitter feeds but they certainly make it easier to confirm what I already know. And I have references now.

It goes without saying, of course, that my references are better than yours.

I realize that you might have a different opinion, but I should point out that your sources are biased and your rhetoric politicized. I’m fair and balanced. You, on the other hand, are prejudiced and askew. Perhaps even unhinged.

At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Except too many of us keep sticking to our story and forgetting the wide-array of opinions and information that exists. Worse yet, we are becoming increasingly prone to confirmation bias, and we use our easy access to information as a way to surround ourselves with like-minded voices. The internet and cable television allows us to never be wrong again. But if none of us are ever wrong, how can anyone ever be right?

As I’ve noted in other posts, the irony of our information age is that we seem to understand less and less because we can exist day to day in filtered bubbles of our own creation.

We have managed, somehow in our 24 hour news cycle, to turn truth into a contact sport. I’m waiting for the reality tv show that pits news anchors in a death match. Winner gets to cherry pick the facts for us all. Sean Hannity vs. Keith Olbermann at 11:00: A report on the IRS investigation follows (as soon as they clean the arena). Meghan Kelly and Rachel Maddow inside the ring in a no-holds barred match. Winner gets to tell us if the IRS scandal was presidential over-reach or a mistake by local agents.

But the problem extends beyond just the information we process and the ability to homogenize data. A willingness to work across differences is, often, predicated on an ability to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Empathy, for those who aren’t up to date on Psychology 101, involves understanding someone else because you have been there. Such a thing differs from sympathy, the ability to acknowledge someone’s hardship and offer solace, in that empathy requires a shared experience.

We don’t have an information problem in America; we have an empathy problem.

We have, it seems, lost our ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and imagine the world from any other perspective. Perhaps we all just fear germs and potential athlete’s foot, but I suspect our biggest issue is the false sense of certainty we are able to create in our lives.

In other words, with so much information at our fingertips, we have lost the ability not to know something. We have traded the mysteries of unknowing with web browsing and instantaneous information.

“I don’t know” is not really an acceptable phrase anymore.

But not knowing, or at least not being able to fact check on demand, forces us to listen to other people and consider their point of view. We can argue larger ideas and philosophical points without getting bogged down in data or dates. Perhaps, as Rep. Jim McDermott reminds us, the IRS scandal isn’t about who was investigated and is really about what kinds of speech the government will subsidize with tax breaks?

Not knowing forces us to think more deeply about issues and make connections with past experiences and anecdotal evidence. We must rely on our experience and the experiences of others. We open our minds to hear precisely because we realize no one else knows either. There is a collective sense that we are developing a narrative of the event or the moment. We are, proverbially, all in it together.

And then we might do the difficult work of slogging through articles or making our way to the library, accidentally reading something without knowing whether the author agrees or disagrees with us. We listen to the radio and hear the various reports and ideas without knowing author’s bias.

Don’t get me wrong. Facts matter and I want us to pay attention to facts and data.I tell my students they should decide what they think they think and then do the necessary research to find all the reasons they are wrong. Too many of us spend all day research all the reasons we aren’t wrong.

But, I also wish we could impose some sort of delay switch on commentary about any given event. It might work like that 5 second delay on television, except it would be a two week delay. The news could report the IRS office in Cincinnati investigated various Tea Party groups, but Bill O’ Reilly can’t comment for 14 days. (And that crazy guy on Facebook has to wait 21 days no matter what happens.)

Let the rest of us talk first. Let us absorb the information before you tell us what to think.

But don’t worry, I’ll eventually show you the error of your ways.

 

We Can’t Participate Any Less

We’re #1 at being last!

Peggy Fikac reports that Texas is 51st in voter participation rates. As my dad used to say, “If you are going to do a job, do it right.” And Texans are doing, or not doing as the case may be, it right.

Note that I’m no fan of required voting or most get out the vote campaigns. As I blogged around the election last November, people ignorant of candidates (or just ignorant in general) shouldn’t head to the polls. A vote cast in stupidity, as far as I’m concerned, is worse than not voting.

Our status as the worst voting state (or District since D.C. beat us also) is either a sign that we have a bunch of ignorant voters who agree with me or we have a populace increasingly apathetic about our democratic process in Texas.

Since I know how many people read my blog every day, I think we can all admit apathy reigns.

I’m not surprised in the least, by the way, that voter participation is low in our state. The truth is that I’m surprised voter participation is so high in other states.

After all, we know from Nate Silver that political partisanship is worse than ever. Silver writes, “In this environment, members of Congress have little need to build coalitions across voters with different sets of political preferences or values. Few members of Congress today are truly liberal on social issues but conservative on fiscal issues or vice versa.” Increasingly, Silver notes, redistricting and gerrymandering have created landslides in voting districts.

In other words, the system is rigged. Every vote counts, but we have created a system where we know how the votes will count before they are cast.

But redistricting isn’t the only reason people are avoiding the polls. Perhaps, we might argue, voters are increasingly disgusted with political attitudes.

John Cornyn wants to stop a bi-partisan immigration bill by requiring the border is 100% secure. Republican House members have voted to repeal Obama’s health care initiative 36 times, knowing full well the vote is meaningless. Rep. Darrell Issa has made it his mission to attack the IRS on a daily basis.

1. Immigration is a major issue for Americans. Most of us want a balanced approach that privileges the value of being American while recognizing the benefits of inclusion and diversity. Almost every American family is in some way shape or form only 2 or 3 generations separated from immigrant status. In other words, we know we became a great country because of immigrants and we simply want some consistent, enforceable law that welcomes hard workers without draining resources.

We are also smart enough to know you can’t secure the border 100% and Cornyn’s move is political grandstanding designed precisely to stop progress.

2. Note to Republicans–If the private sector was going to solve the health care issue, they would have done so already. American’s have watched their premiums and deductibles rise faster than everything but college tuition for the last 10 years. I think, even in our ignorance, we know that completely deregulating medical costs and insurance is a bit like putting the fox in the hen house and hoping he doesn’t eat all the chickens.

3. Beating up on the IRS is about like yelling at brussel sprouts for tasting bad. Americans don’t trust the IRS already. We fully expect they are corrupt because they keep taking our money every year using laws no one understands written by the very people attacking them today. I imagine the IRS feels a bit like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. “That ditch is Boss Kean’s ditch. And I told him that dirt in it’s your dirt. What’s your dirt doin’ in his ditch?” After he removes the dirt, you will remember, the guards ask why he took all the dirt from Boss Kean’s ditch.

“Why are you taking everyone’s money, Mr. IRS man” our congressmen ask? “Hey, IRS man, how come we don’t have any money?” Here, let me help you revise that law.

You say they investigated the Tea Party before granting them tax free status as a non-profit agency who is supposed to only engage in limited political activity? Isn’t the Tea Party the one where they dress up in really old clothes and hold political rallies?

But these issues are just from this week and they are a small sample of the circus taking place in our governmental institutions across the country. Feel free to add your own examples.

Increasingly, politicians are only held accountable for their behavior if they tweet naked pictures to interns or have an extra-marital affair.

And voters know it.

We also know that it has become increasingly difficult to understand fact from fiction. Certainly, there is the proverbial confirmation bias as we seek out only that information that confirms what we already believe. The irony of this great information age in which we live is that we are becoming increasingly isolated, intolerant, and ignorant of other points of view.

Obama’s health care initiative is going to cost more money if you are a Republican. Or it will save money if you are a Democrat.

The reality is that no one actually knows. Just like we don’t know, really, the full impact of immigration reform. Or tax reform. Or closing Guantanamo Bay. Or any number of other things.

But as we become less certain, our politicians act more dogmatic. Rep. Issa is convinced President Obama ordered the Cincinnati office to investigate the Tea Party group filing for tax free status and he will by God prove it. Regardless of the facts. Because he knows.

And we shake our heads.

And stay home on election day. And maybe that’s the vote more politicians should pay attention to.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Dish

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)