Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Native Americans: Another Reason for Republicans to Hate Obama

You can name some of our slave-owning founders as your heroes and be met with praise and agreement, but should you name a Native American legend who killed an American general as your hero, Fox News and Republican pundits will call for your sacrifice to the gods of vain patriotism. Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but what's really blown out of proportion here is the fact that Fox has criticized Obama for naming Sitting Bull as one of his inspirations in a new children's book. Even though one of the other inspiring figures Obama cites is George Washington, this clearly proves that Obama hates America and wants to make us into a socialist country.

What is it about an admiration for Sitting Bull that offends the right wing? His defeat of Custer? His resistance to the expansionist policies of the U.S.? At the risk of sounding like a traitor to some, what exactly is so different about Sitting Bull from, say, the American colonialists of the Revolutionary War? Britain was extending its influence over us and we fought back. We killed plenty of their men. The only real difference I can see is that Native Americans had established lives here long before the U.S. government came to uproot them.

Speaking of government interference, isn't that the rallying cry whipping boy of Republicans now - that the government is too big, gobbling up too much they don't have a right to? It seems to me that Sitting Bull should be an idol of the Tea Party and other anti-government conservatives, not an enemy. But that doesn't appear to be the way they think. Government is good when we're talking about imperialism and military strength, but it's bad when anything else is involved.

It may not just be about chest-beating patriotism though. Remember that the Republican party boasts of such prominent persons as Rush Limbaugh, who has called Native Americans "injuns" on more than one occasion, and Glenn Beck, a Mormon who believes Native Americans are descendants of ancient Hebrew tribes (and their skin was turned red as a punishment from God). According to this news article from Fox, there are apparently plenty of conservatives who still resent losing Custer to those 'redskins'.

There are many valid reasons to dislike Obama, but when his respect for a Native American is one of them, I have to wonder if all the accusations of rampant racism in the Republican party don't have some truth to them. The Democratic party has its flaws and nutjobs too, no doubt, but I don't see this sort of ridiculous paranoia and blind-faith patriotism coming from the liberal side. I don't define myself as Democrat or Republican, but I do have to say, I'd probably rather be known as a "bleeding-heart liberal" than a hateful, war-mongering conservative.

Rest in peace, Sitting Bull.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FDA Introduces New Graphic Labels for Cigarettes

As if the Surgeon General's warning on every pack of cigarettes weren't enough, the FDA has now proposed large graphic labels to alert people to the dangers of smoking. The labels will include comments such as "Smoking can kill you" and "Cigarettes cause cancer", along with cheery visual images like a mother blowing smoke in her baby's face and rotting, diseased gums. As the FDA Commissioner explains, "[s]ome very explicit, almost gruesome pictures may be necessary".

What's next - labels on alcoholic beverages that read "Drinking causes liver failure", along with pictures of a drunk mother backing over her baby in a car? Warnings for butcher knives with lacerated throats or severed heads pictured on them? "This could be you!" Is this the so-called moral high ground that anti-smoking advocates think they have? Scaring people into giving up smoking?

Patrick Reynolds, the executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America, says in the article that "[t]his is going to stop kids from starting to smoke... and it's going to give smokers a strong incentive to quit smoking". I'm not sure I agree. In a generation full of violent and gory video games, these labels probably won't mean shit to kids. Smokers are aware of the risks and they choose to smoke anyway, so pretending that these new measures will give them a "strong incentive to quit" is just plain naive, in my opinion.

But my biggest problem with this announcement is that it's another shining example of our federal government playing the role of moral crusader. Government's job should be preserving personal freedoms, not stripping them away under the guise of protecting 'the greater good' of healthy living. We don't need freedom to make smart choices that are generally considered good, we need freedom to make choices that are controversial and - dare I say - stupid. This is especially important with regard to what we choose to do with our own bodies, which is no one's business but our own.

I'll tell you one thing though: if these offensive labels make it into production, I will be buying and smoking my first pack of cigarettes in over six years. These labels may not be forcing anyone to quit, but through decades of taxation, aggressive campaigning, and labeling, smoking has become the favored whipping boy of all dangerous habits. I would rather take that risk and retain my freedom of choice than avoid the risk and lose that autonomy.