Universal Health Care

As you may remember, we in the U.S. just had an extremely contentious debate about health care and health insurance. During this debate, I forwarded a few key articles and commented on a few key threads, but I never really wrote an entire article of my own explaining my perspectives on health care.

Now that the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” and the “Health Care and Education Reconciliation” bills have passed, many people think that the issue over and done with. These bills, however, are not what many people think they are, and certainly not a good solution to the problems at hand. Therefore, I still feel an urge to speak out in favor of universal health care.

Why do I support universal health care? There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that I want to be sure that everyone has access to health care, regardless of their income level. The long answer is — well, long.

I believe that humans have rights. How rights relate to non-humans is a topic for another article. In the meantime, let me say that I believe that humans have natural rights based on their innate qualities as humans. I also believe that humans have legal rights based on their natural rights as interpreted by the social contract of their community. In other words, legal rights are (on a good day) a community’s best effort to identify our natural rights as humans and articulate these rights into a set of laws.

Some of these rights derive from our nature as individualistic creatures. For example, our innate capacity for self-awareness, observation, and decision-making supports our right to freedom of choice. We are born to be free, and any action that cuts against that freedom is an affront to our very nature as humans.

Other rights derive from our nature as social creatures. For example, when humans are born, we are virtually helpless, unable to care for ourselves or make our way in the world. As social creatures, we take care of our own young, and we often take care of the young of other members of our community. Leaving a helpless child to starve, or to be killed, or to die of exposure, runs contrary to our basic humanity and is an affront to our very nature as humans.

Of course, there is plenty of variation in behavior in the natural world, and some animals behave in far more brutal ways than others. But this social dimension to human behavior is a strong and clear tendency in our evolutionary heritage. We can look to this tendency when considering who we are and what aspects of ourselves we focus on while forming our social contract with one another.

Universal health care is a human right that derives from our nature as social creatures. Adults who are fully capable of caring for themselves shouldn’t expect to rely on the aid of other community members in the way that a child does. Such behavior demonstrates a lack of responsibility that will lead to displeasure and shunning in even the most social of communities. But when someone has difficulty meeting their most basic needs, members of their community often help them. And if someone is sick or hurt, and the community has some way of helping them, they do so. This is because social creatures empathize with one another and consider what they would like members of the community to do for them if they were in a similar situation.

People who oppose universal health care often believe in individual rights, but not social rights. Or, they believe that when individual rights and social rights are in conflict, individual rights must prevail.

But this is a false dichotomy. This is “zero sum” thinking which assumes that in order for me to win, someone else must lose. When we realize that humans are inherently social creatures, however, we can get past this zero sum thinking.

Individual freedom and social cooperation can go hand in hand. In order for this to happen, though, a majority of people in a given community need to recognize that humans have both individualistic and social tendencies, and that the best way for us to live together in a community is to formulate a social contract that nourishes both tendencies simultaneously, thus allowing individuals to live together in a community of free cooperation.

How does this translate into health care?

Health care addresses our most basic survival needs. If we’re sick, or injured, or otherwise not well, we have limited ability to ensure our continued survival. Depending on the severity of the situation, we may go through a prolonged period of inability to work, severe suffering, or even death.

If someone is able to secure their own health care, then more power to them. But if not, then they have a right as members of our community to ask for our assistance, and we have a responsibility to assist them.

Even in today’s rather insane times, most people agree with this basic idea that members of a community choose to cooperate toward common goals and help each other in times of need. The only question is when and where to draw the line in terms of what constitutes a common goal and what qualifies as a time of need.

Maybe we need to fund grade school education, but not high school education. Maybe we need to fund high school, but not college. Maybe we need to fund fire departments and police departments, but not health departments.

This type of debate is completely understandable. People can, in good conscience, have different opinions on this topic. People can also exercise their free will and choose to form social contracts that deny our social nature entirely and reject social service programs such as universal health care that address some of our most basic survival needs.

Yes, we can choose to reject universal health care. However, I would argue that this choice bring us out of harmony with key aspects of what it means to be fully human. Perhaps more importantly to some people, though, this choice leads to undesirable consequences for all members of the community.

Some choices lead to more desirable communities, and some lead to less desirable ones. If we choose not to create systems of free cooperation that empower us to share our medical expenses and ensure universal coverage, then the consequence of that choice is that a certain percentage of us will always be suffering and dying from preventable illnesses.

Do you want to live in that kind of community? Do you want to live in a community where your neighbor, or your relative, or your friend, will be sick, or suffering, or dying, because they are unable to pay for health care? Even if you believe that you will always be wealthy enough to pay for your own health care, and wealthy enough to help any friends or relatives or neighbors with their health care, consider the effect on your community and society.

The newly passed health insurance legislation doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of establishing universal access to health care, it mandates almost universal purchasing of private health insurance. Instead of giving our health care money directly to health care providers, we are forced to funnel it through corporate middle-men who skim a high percentage off of the top. And people who are too low-income to buy private health insurance will be given subsidies to help them do so. In other words, instead of spending your tax dollars on health care, they will instead be given to health insurance corporations, which in turn will spend part on health care and part on pure profit.

Why are we accepting this? Why are giving billions upon billions of our tax dollars to the very corporations that willfully subverted the democratic process by destroying all efforts to establish a universal health care system?

I believe that we’re letting it happen because most of us don’t grasp what exactly has happened, and most of the rest don’t think we have the power to fight back against this corporate tampering with our democracy.

But I disagree. We do have the power to fight back. It may take days, weeks, months, years, even decades. But we, the people, have the power to break free of the propaganda and economic stranglehold of the insurance companies and other large corporations. And we have the power to recognize that people who want to live in a better society will choose to support essential social services like universal health care. And once we have recognized this, we the people have the power to make it happen.

I know that a lot of us are feeling “debate fatigue” over this issue given the extensive health insurance debate that just took place in this country. But now, as the plan is implemented step by step, we need to be there step by step to call for a more sane plan that ensures universal health care.

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VILLAIN WATCH: 05 May 2010

A catastrophic oil leak caused by corporate negligence and greed is spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean each day. Journalists around the world are being thrown in jail, and even tortured, simply for reporting the news. A career corporate criminal has caused the deaths of 29 workers in one of his mines — and he might get away with it.

The situation is grim, but there’s always something we can do about it.

Be a hero! Make BP pay for the consequences of their man-made ecological catastrophe! Demand that imprisoned journalists be set free! Demand that Massey Energy fire the man whose neglect and abuses made the Upper Big Branch mine explosion possible!


BP Causes Catastrophic Oil Spill
[Oil Spill Update]
[BP History and Commentary]

An oil rig operated by British Petroleum (BP) exploded and sank, causing what may be the worst ecological catastrophe in U.S. history. BP’s reckless pursuit of profit before and during the crisis lead to a disaster that will affect the health of the ocean and regional economies for decades.


Seize BP

If an individual had caused this disaster, they would go to jail and have their assets seized to pay damages for what they’d done. We should freeze BP’s assets and place those funds in trust to begin providing immediate relief to the working people throughout the Gulf states whose jobs, communities, homes and businesses are being harmed or destroyed by the criminally negligent actions of the CEO, Board of Directors and senior management of BP.


Journalists Under Attack

In many countries, freedom of the press is not guaranteed. Journalists may be harassed, arrested, tortured, or killed simply for reporting the news or providing commentary that is not favorable to powerful governmental or corporate institutions.


World Free Press Day

Amnesty International works to protect journalists from harassment and death threats, free them from arbitrary detention and guarantee them their right to freedom of expression. Take action now on behalf of journalists around the world!


Massey Mine Kills 29

Massey Energy, a company with a notorious safety record and anti-union practices, is under criminal investigation for the deaths of 29 workers in an explosion at their Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. [Workers Remembered; Coal Miners’ Slaughter; Massey’s Checkered Past; Letter Calls For Investigation; Union Busting Equals Death]


Fire Don Blankenship

Massey Energy Corporation CEO Don Blankenship is out of control. Since 2005, the Upper Big Branch Mine has been cited with more than 1,342 safety violations. The company has become a leader in the highly destructive practice of mountaintop-removal mining, sometimes in violation of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. And, in violation of federal labor laws, Massey’s miners have allegedly been threatened with being fired if they join a union.

It’s Blakenship who should be fired. His greedy and reckless behavior led to the worst U.S. mining disaster in decades, killing 29 miners. Blankenship must be held accountable.


Support Mine Safety

Congressman Nick Rahall, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and leading proponent of mine safety, recently said, “this mining catastrophe shows us that there is still much more that must be done to protect those who enter the mines each day working to support their families.” Please sign the letter of support to Congressman Rahall for his stance on miner safety.

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DONATION: The Women’s Center and Food Works

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I decided last year that I would donate approximately 10% of my income to local charitable causes and community organizations. Therefore, I am donating 10% of my recent income tax refund to two local groups: The Women’s Center and Food Works.

The Women’s Center

The Women’s Center provides many helpful services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They have a 24-hour crisis hotline (618-529-2324); emergency shelter; food, supplies, and transportation; individual and group support and counseling; information, referrals, and education; legal, medical, and personal advocacy. Basically, if you are a survivor of domestic abuse and/or sexual assault, they will find a way to help you with what you need.

Unfortunately, our state budget crisis has had a negative impact on the Women’s Center. Part of their funding comes from the State of Illinois, and the State of Illinois has dropped the ball. I don’t know all of the latest details, but I read in the Nightlife a few weeks ago that they are still in serious trouble due to the state budget crisis. They’ve done all they can to keep key services in operation, but if the budget shortfalls keep coming, they will be out of luck — and so will the people they serve.

The people at the Women’s Center work very hard to provide support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They are on the front lines, dealing with heart-rending situations on a daily basis and providing support for survivors that often no one else is providing. Now, it’s time for us as a community to show support for them in return.

Food Works

Food Works was formed to draw attention to local food, local farmers, and issues of social and environmental health. Their mission is “Local, sustainable food systems development for Southern Illinois.”

They, too, have been the subject of budget shortfalls due to the state budget crisis.

Developing local and sustainable food systems has always been an important ecological issue, but now a growing number of people are realizing that it is also a health, social justice, and national security issue.

If low-income people don’t have access to local, fresh, ecologically grown food in their communities, then how can they remain healthy? And if virtually all of our food in Southern Illinois comes from distance sources, then what happens in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis?

These are questions that not enough people are asking. But the people at Food Works are asking these questions, and they’re looking for solutions to the current shortcomings of our food systems in Southern Illinois.

Your Support

I know it’s tempting in tough times to give less money to community and charity groups. I’m very low-income right now, and a part of me was tempted to just run out and spend my entire tax refund on silly frivolous things like extra food and paying off my credit card. But when the economy is rough, community groups are affected too, and it takes an extra effort on our part to ensure that they can keep going. And I have vowed that as long as I have income, the community groups I believe in will have income too.

I love Southern Illinois. In spite of the shaky economy, the hot and humid summers, the random inland hurricanes, and the many other quirks that sometimes make life here challenging, I love this place. I love my friends; I love all of the different groups and events in Carbondale and surrounding cities; I love the Shawnee Forest and other natural areas throughout this region. I love living here, and I believe that if we all come together and support awesome community groups like the ones listed on my Causes page, Southern Illinois will not only survive, but thrive and prosper.

I urge you to do what you can to support local community groups. Maybe this means donating money; maybe this means volunteering time; maybe this just means showing up at community events and telling people how much you appreciate the good work they’re doing. Maybe it even involves getting creative and proactive and organizing some sort of music event, or art show, or organization that doesn’t even exist yet. Whatever you feel is the best way for you personally to get involved is up to you. All I ask is that you resist the urge to be complacent, to be apathetic, to assume that someone else is going to take care of the problem and make sure these groups continue existing.

You are that someone. You have the power to make a difference for the better in your community. It won’t always be easy, but together, we can make it happen.

Hopefully I’ll see you out in the community. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and thanks for any support that you can send to these and other community groups. Your generosity and passion for the community groups you believe in is what makes Southern Illinois a place worth calling home.

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No One Is Illegal

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I don’t usually talk about immigration, or write about immigration, or even think about immigration. But since so many people have been discussing it lately, and since people I respect have spoken out on the wrong side of the issue, I thought I’d share my two cents.

I’d like to start this discussion by sharing a quote from “The New Colossus,” a poem that is inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Lady Liberty herself attests, this is the attitude toward immigration that characterizes a free society.

I believe in freedom of movement, including (but not limited to) freedom of immigration and emigration. In other words, I believe that anyone who wants to travel into (or out of) the United States of America should be allowed to do so, and anyone who wants to move here permanently (or move away permanently) should also be allowed to do so.

In my mind, the above paragraph is so simple and straightforward that even a small child should understand that this is what it means to live in a free society. However, millions of Americans seem to disagree with this perspective, including some very intelligent and well-spoken individuals who have unfortunately bought into the anti-immigration rhetoric. Therefore, I would like to present counter-arguments to some of the most common arguments against freedom of movement.

First of all, I reject all openly racist arguments against freedom of movement. If you think that “white people” are superior to “non-whites,” and that we need to secure our borders so that the “colored people” don’t come in, then I have little hope of holding an intellectual discussion with you. Either remove yourself from the gene pool or come back to me when you’ve spent some time with a therapist and are ready to have a meaningful political discussion.

Now, to address some of the more sane (but still incorrect) arguments against freedom of movement.

Some people oppose “illegal immigrants” because these immigrants have broken the law. Yes, it’s true; people who have entered the country illegally have broken immigration laws. And I can understand why you’re upset about someone breaking a law. But the bigger question is this: why does that law exist in the first place?

In a free society, the question is not only whether or not a law has been broken, but also whether or not a law is just. In this case, the law is unjust. If a law is unjust, rather than arresting the people who break it, we should change the law.

Did you know that there is a limit on how many people are allowed to immigrate legally into the U.S.? I was shocked when I learned this fact a few years ago. We used to have specific immigration quotas based on nation of origin, but now we have broader quotas based on Eastern versus Western hemisphere.

Why do we have these quotas? The chief arguments I’ve heard in favor of these quotas are economics and cultural stability. If we let in more people, they will take “our” jobs, and they will flood “our” nation with languages, religions, and cultures that are foreign to us.

I can understand people’s economic fears, especially in the midst of a recession. I’m near the bottom of the economic ladder right now, and I don’t suspect a flood of immigrants will improve my prospects for more gainful employment. And I can understand people’s cultural fears, especially if they’ve grown up in a fairly uniform cultural setting in a small town or suburb. All that they know about people from other nations is stereotypes, and stereotypes fail to capture the rich cross-pollination of cultures that can occur in a diverse and inclusive society.

But should we really be acting on the basis of fear? Or should we be acting on the basis of our commitment to freedom and democracy?

If you want to have people pass through some sort of security screening as they enter or leave the country, that’s fine. I can see a point to that as long as it’s done as respectfully and non-intrusively as possible. Different countries have different laws, and different capacities to enforce their laws, so I can see why we would want to be sure that no known criminals or terrorists enter the country. I can even see a point to adopting a slower and more rigorous screening process for travel to and from nations like Iraq and Afghanistan where we are currently engaged in armed conflict.

But some of you want to limit the number of Mexicans (or Asians, or Indians, or Africans, or others) coming into the country simply because you’re afraid that they’ll take your jobs and flood your communities with their language and culture.

To this, I say: seriously? You’re seriously willing to throw away our cherished principles of freedom simply because you’re afraid that “foreigners” will take your job, or speak strange languages around you, or bring ideas into your community that weren’t there before?

If that’s how little you cherish freedom, then you may want to consider moving to a country that shares your narrow-minded views. Good luck with that, though, since their immigration policies will be stricter than ours.

This debate worries me, perhaps even more so than the health care debate or the climate change debate. It worries me because it says something profoundly disturbing about our nation’s understanding of freedom, and our level of commitment to freedom. People in this country like to speak loudly about freedom, but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, far too many of them balk at the opportunity.

In a truly free society, it wouldn’t even occur to us to establish these quotas on the number of people who can enter and leave our nation. We would be committed to the principle that our choice to move freely from one public place to another is an innate human right inalienable by any law or government. Even the most congenial of border security screenings would be conducted with the heaviest of hearts because we would know in our hearts that people who have committed no crime should be free to come and go as they please. There would be great debate about the very concept of border checkpoints, and whether or not they were acceptable at all in a free society, even for the sake of security.

Instead, we have a new law in Arizona stating that people who look “suspicious” can be stopped and asked for their “papers.” We have bizarre, manic, grandiose proposals to build thousands of miles of security fencing along our southern border. We have protracted debates about immigration — not about the absurdity and inhumanity of our immigration quotas, but about what we can do to enforce them more stringently and punish offenders more thoroughly.

This is madness! Simply madness.

The only aspect of this whole debate that keeps me sane is that there are fortunately at least some people who also recognize the importance of freedom of movement as one of the basic foundations of a free society. There are many people who have condemned the recent Arizona ruling. There are also many “sanctuary cities” that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to inquire about or arrest so-called “illegal immigrants.” But the people who favor draconian immigration policies are speaking loudly, and spending heavily, and pushing to sway otherwise decent Americans into supporting their anti-immigrant, anti-American, anti-freedom cause.

This issue has been simmering for a long time, and the recent Arizona legislation has turned up the heat. If you disagree with what I’ve said here, I’m willing to explain the points I’ve made and listen to any counter-points you’d like to offer. But if you agree with me, I urge you to speak up on the issue and take action on the issue. Otherwise, people around you may assume that the loud and rowdy anti-immigration crowd are the only people who have anything to say on the issue.

They’re not the only ones who have a voice. We have a voice, and our voice cries out the name of Freedom. In the name of Freedom for one and all, I would like to draw this entry to a close by once again sharing these famous words from the heart of Lady Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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