Superhero Festival

A few weeks ago, I started talking with people about the possibility of organizing a Superhero Festival (SuperFest?) here in Carbondale, IL this summer. Right now, my whole schedule is a big question mark because I’m waiting to hear back about a full-time job I recently applied for. If I get the job, I’ll be short on time, but not money. If I don’t get the job, I’ll be short on money, but not time. Either way, I’ve decided to start organizing this Superhero Festival ASAP. Therefore, I’d like to know your thoughts on a few of the details, including any ways you’d like to be involved.

Here’s what I have so far:

(1) Purpose. I’m organizing this for a few reasons. First of all, it’ll be fun to have a big superhero-themed event here in Carbondale. Second, I’d like to use it as an opportunity to promote and fundraise for local community groups mentioned on my Causes page. Third, depending on my financial situation at the end of July, I’d like to do fundraising for my trip to Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes happening in Portland, Oregon in September.

(2) Date. Tentatively, I’d like to go for July 31. This gives over a month of prep time while still holding it before SIUC closes for intersession.

(3) Location. This is still up in the air. Current suggestions include Town Square Pavilion; the Civic Center; Gaia House Interfaith Center; Turley Park; and one of the ballrooms in the SIUC Student Center.

(4) Activities. Current suggestions: superhero costume contest; info tables for local community groups; kid’s activities (games, drawing pictures of themselves as superheroes, learning about community involvement, etc.); a talk about what Real Life Superheroes are and how to make community involvement fun; live music; speakers during music intermission about ways to get involved in the community; and a raffle and other fundraising efforts for local community groups.

So, what do you think? I’m particularly interested in any suggestions you have about the above four points, or any help you’d like to offer in organizing the day’s events.

If you’d like to get involved, please comment on the Note on my Facebook profile or contact me directly. Together, we can make this a fun, informative, and empowering Superhero Festival!

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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!

NEWS

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.

ACTION

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.

NEWS

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.

ACTION

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!

NEWS

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]

ACTION

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.

ACTION

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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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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