10 years ago this very month I read a book that changed my life. Once I’d read Mad Cowboy (written by a cattle rancher who tells about the disgusting ways in which most beef/chicken/pork is actually raised in the US), I gave up eating meat for environmental and personal health reasons. After five years of being strictly vegetarian I added fish back into my diet, thinking it was the healthiest way to diversify my protein intake. Now, with the endless and horrific stories regarding the pollution of the ocean (from human refuse to tsunami debris to radiation) and the environmental impact of overfishing, my two key rationale for eating fish (health and environment) have been obliterated. I’m at a crossroads again just as I was 10 years ago. I’m struggling with whether I try to go completely vegetarian again (highly unlikely given my lifestyle, activity levels, and the amounts of protein I need to consume) or back to eating meat as long as I acquire it at local farmer’s markets with the assurance it’s grass fed, free range, and organic. I know there are still good ranchers out there — my dad raises his cattle free range, grass fed, and is certified organic. It’s just… after 10 years my stomach actually turns at the thought of ingesting meat again. Morality can be extremely inconvenient sometimes. Argh. Any thoughts from my veggie friends who eventually went back to meat? Any thoughts from my pescetarian friends on the moral dilemma surrounding the death of the oceans? Help a fish-eating brother out…
This simple statement is perhaps what separates me in a not so simple way from so many of my left-of-center friends and acquaintances these days. You see, I am first and foremost a Liberal. I have social, moral, and philosophical principals that are quite liberal. I then support economic and political policies that help promote those beliefs. And it so happens that on more occasions than not, political candidates who join the party called “Democrat” share my principals and policies. But not all Democrats do. And not every Democratic politician shares the complete set of liberal principals. As the party called Democrat gets pulled further to the Right, I find myself more often critical of those political figures who stray rightward, especially when their policies and principals clash with my own.
It is because I hold these liberal principals above that of party affiliation that I can criticize a Democrat. I know, I know, heresy! Party Unity! Democrats are better! Etc. Etc. But blind party allegiance, and/or blind allegiance to any single political figure is simplistic in the least and dangerous at the worst.
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe that by and large the Democratic Party, as bought-and-paid-for as it is, is still less evil than the Republican Party. One Party wants to destroy labor unions, eliminate the minimum wage, take away a woman’s right to choose, prevent gays from marrying, cut funding for the poor and elderly, destroy social insurance, and privatize every element of the common good. And the other Party does not. So in very fundamental ways the parties are still very different. However, that does not mean that they are not very much the same in some very troubling ways.
A most notable similarity is the parties’ stance on right to privacy in this Age of Terror. I call it the Age of Terror because the “terrorists” have won. By committing their horrendous acts on September 11th, they fundamentally changed our way of life and, our government, and eroded our ideals by striking fear into the hearts of Americans. Since that day we live in constant fear and are so afraid that the next downed plane will hit our town/building/loved ones that we are all too willing to sacrifice our rights to privacy enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Initiated under Bush and continued and augmented under Obama, the “protective” surveillance state has gone down a path with an undeniable Orwellian destination.
“Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” A false counter-argument. The argument being debated should be: “Why trust the government with this much information and power over their citizenry?” “But Obama is a good guy with good intentions.” While I agree with this assertion, this is also a poor defense of today’s unchecked surveillance state. We should never create a policy or institution because we happen to trust the person currently wielding the power of that policy or institution. Case in point: When Bush first started circumventing FISA to spy on suspected terrorists, Democrats were up in arms because they didn’t trust Dubya (or more likely they didn’t trust Cheyney and Rumsfeld and their neocon cadre). Republicans, however, spoke eloquently about how Bush could be trusted to use this spying power as our great protector to stop the bad guys. Today, the tables have turned. Today Obama has expanded Bush’s unchecked spying by building a massive storage facility that collects, monitors, stores, and analyzes data on ALL Americans (whether suspected of wrongdoing or not). Democrats, for the most part, have fallen into a HopeyChangey trance, parroting the Administration’s claims that Obama needs this information to stop the bad guys. A shocking poll released this week showed that a majority of Democrats polled support these spying actions, while a majority of Republicans polled oppose them. See what happened there? The people who once supported the extreme invasion of privacy and erosion of the Fourth Amendment suddenly stopped supporting it once their trusted protector was no longer the one with that power.
And that’s the most important point. We must create policies and institutions that don’t rely on someone who we trust and believe has good intentions to execute the policy or yield the power of that institution. I ask my fellow Democrats: What if some crazy Right Wing Republican gets elected after Obama? What if he manages to also have both houses of Congress on his side? Let’s be honest, this is not totally impossible (um, G.W. Bush 2001-2006). What if they decide that Liberals or Gays or Mexicans or Unions are up to no good and use the spying power that our guy helped create and augment, to spy on these opponent groups? It’s like the faux-IRS scandal but 100 times worse.
And the thing is, it’s not even hypothetical. This is what Watergate was all about. Nixon took advantage of the unchecked power afforded him. It blew up in his face and we the people, through our elected representatives in Congress, changed the system to prevent that sort of thing from happening ever again. Until, of course, one President and Congress came along and passed the Patriot Act and then proceeded to ignore the safeguards put in place post-Nixon. The downward spiral began. Then in 2007 and 2008 a voice cut through the silence on these abuses promising that if elected he’d put a stop to this unprecedented invasion of privacy, that his administration would be the most transparent ever. He said what he needed to say to get elected and promptly shucked the parts that didn’t work for him once in the big leather seat.
Now the government yields a power unlike any it has ever held before. And neither party is willing to put a stop to the reaches of that power. And that’s because both parties have come to be similar in at least this one important way: their need to gain and maintain power. So while some Republican politicians will go on TV denouncing this power to spy on all citizens, they won’t really mean it. They’re close to having both Houses of Congress and they came close to carrying the Big Stick in 2012 too. And they fully expect they’ll take all three next time around, and that power sure will come in handy then. Of course Democrats don’t want to sacrifice this powerful information tool they’ve created either. Not if their party leader tells them it’s necessary to retain the power they’ve secured.
It’s because I don’t hew to any Party label or blindly swear allegiance to any Party leader that I speak up. It’s because I’m mored by deep philosophical, moral, and social foundations that I stand up against this Democrat as he distances himself from those things I hold dear. The spying policies Obama has promoted and the institution of invasion into personal lives that he has supported are things with which I fundamentally oppose and disagree. Any Liberal, nay, any American, should oppose this slippery slope of privacy invasion in the name of the Fourth Amendment.
I leave you with this:
“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson
I generally like Seth McFarlane but have always known that he all too easily relies on sexism to get a laugh (For examples watch Ted or any episode of Family Guy). I didn’t watch last night’s award show and only heard about the Boob Song while watching CNN at the gym this morning. When I got home and watched the song, I was disgusted. Charlize Theron’s reaction says it all. Utter disgust. What the fuck is wrong with Seth? This really pisses me off.
Pardon the hippy pondering. But I was listening to this song the other day and it got me thinking. I’ve heard the song probably a thousand times in my life and my takeaway has always been: “life is about needing someone to love you and/or finding someone to give your love to.” But as I listend to the song this time, a new interpretation came to mind. It’s not about needing to give or receive love that matters in life. It’s that you have love in your heart that counts. Love for life, love for your family and friends, love for strangers, and love of the experience of each moment. That your heart is filled with love… that is all you need.
Perhaps this says more about me than the song. But I like this interpretation. And for the most part, this is how I felt in that moment and how I’ve been feeling lately. The beauty of life quite regularly fills me with love. And that is all I need.
Side note: The reason I’ve always loved this song is its clever musical structure:
The song is notable for its multiple time-signatures. While the chorus maintains a steady four-in-a-bar (with the exception of the final bar of 2/4), the verse pattern is 4/4,3/4,4/4,3/4,4/4,4/4,4/4,3/4. The prominent cello line draws attention to this departure from pop-single normality.
Something I rarely tell people is that at a summer job during college I witnessed a coworker be shot and murdered with a semi-automatic rifle. I was 20 years old and was only about 20 feet away when I witnessed the whole gruesome ordeal. I won’t get into the specifics except to say that it forever affected my feelings towards guns.
I will also note that I grew up with guns in our house. My dad is an avid hunter and a gun owner. But my whole life I can remember him saying that gun owners have a responsibility to make guns harder to get by crazy people. That a responsible hunter should want stricter regulations, waiting periods, and bans on weapons meant only for man-killing. My great uncle was a marksman in World War II, a rifle enthusiast, and a life long member of the NRA. He renounced his membership when they started becoming paranoid zealots.
All this to say I have strong history that has led to my belief in sensible gun control that includes a ban on assault weapons and large-ammo clips, bans on concealed weapons of any sort, extensive waiting periods and psych evaluations, and strict limits on the number of guns a person should be allowed to own.
Friday’s events have wrecked me. 20 children are dead and I can’t seem to stop crying. I cried at work. I cried when I got home. I cried before bed. I cried at the gym this morning as I was unable to escape my thoughts and being constantly bombarded by the 24-news cycle blaring on all TVs at the gym. I cried again this afternoon watching the stories of teachers who protected their children as the carnage took place around them.
There is a place for crying. But it is not enough. Action must be taken. Last night I signed up for monthly contributions to the Brady Campaign. I have posted extensively on Facebook and engaged with friends who hold slightly different opinions than mine. But more must be done. An easy first step is for any of you reading this who feel the same as I do to contribute to the Brady Campaign. Another step you can take is to write to or call your Representatives and Senators in Congress and demand that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004 be brought to an immediate vote and passed. Those are starting points. We must also pass stricter hand gun laws and increase our mental health services infrastructure, to name only a few more.
Please don’t let this fade. Don’t let us find ourselves shedding more tears every other month ad infinitum. Don’t let more children, YOUR children, be the next to die senselessly at the end of a military grade weapon. Take action. Gun Control Now.