The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare or whatever they happen to be calling it today is in the news again. One thing after another, complaint after complaint, how can something so simple turn into such a mess? The website is functional by all reports but the site is unreliable and intermittent. Everybody from the top down wants to apologize but there’s no changing the fact that for all the money spent, the system should have been better. With that said, we all know it’s a mess but a year from now this’ll be old news so let’s move on.
I’m a champion of affordable health care—not necessarily the Affordable Care Act—but affordable health care in general. I’ve said it before and so have a million other people: why do we have such a screwed up health care system in America? It doesn’t make any sense; it really is so simple that it makes you want to grab the politicians and shake them until they get it. Dozens of other countries have figured out how to deliver excellent health care to their citizens without descending into Communism, middle-class misery or death panels; let’s be realistic here for a moment. Ironically people in those countries often have far more choices in their health care than any American Citizen could ever dream of. Critics talk about the restrictions in Obamacare but gloss over the reality of what we have now. The best plan in America, the gold plated executive level option, still dictates that we can only go to certain doctors who work with certain insurance companies in certain areas. The health coverage in other countries is usually nationwide and virtually every doctor and hospital participates because it’s in their financial interests to do so. In America, the doctor often has no choice but to treat someone within the boundaries of what their particular insurance plan will cover. The insurance companies have entire buildings full of people who assess cases and dictate what’s covered and what’s not. Everybody has heard the horror stories, or seen on TV the cancer patient who couldn’t get a particular drug or treatment because the insurance company denied coverage. At least that person had some coverage; up until the Affordable Care Act, tens of millions of Americans did not even have that!
Let’s think back for a minute, in the days before the Affordable Care Act, there was almost universal agreement in America that the health care system was broken beyond repair. For years, nobody wanted to touch it for fear of upsetting the Conservatives but finally, someone had the nerve to push through the negativity and put something in place. Instead of a simple system like in other countries, our elected representatives chose to give us this circus. It might be broken but we have to give them a chance to fix it because unless we want to emigrate then we have to live with it and hope that it’s just a little bit better than what it replaces. I don’t think it can be much worse.
E-cigs: The Truth Behind the Hype
I’ve been reading a lot about e-cigs lately and see them being pushed as the latest way to stop smoking. Governments around the world are putting on their thinking caps and trying to figure out how to regulate the devices in a classic case of the law trailing the technology. For those who don’t know, e-cigs (or ecig) are the electronic version of the Marlboro. They work by heating up and mixing liquid nicotine with other chemicals that the user then inhales or Vapes. The people selling them like to suggest that the vapor is nothing more harmless than nicotine and water but, as you can imagine, there are a bunch of other chemicals in the mix.
Now it’s entirely possible that e-cigarettes are completely benign and cause no more harm than stubbing a toe; the user is breathing something into their lungs so I’m not sure if that’s the case but people always like to hope. I don’t think it helps the case for safety when e-cigarettes are being made by the same Big Tobacco companies that lied to us for so long.
Health effects aside, what does confuse me is the argument for their continued sale without any type of regulation. All I see lately is people making comments on blogs and at the end of news articles, defending e-cigs as though they’re the greatest thing in the world. The argument usually ends with the provocative question: Would you rather I still be smoking?
How do you respond to something like that? Of course not, smoking causes cancer and destroys more lives than we probably realize so naturally, just about anything is better than that. Here’s the confusing part for me though: You’re still smoking. To think that you’re not is a little bit of the old denial at play and kind of like an alcoholic putting down the whiskey and reaching for a beer; less harmful perhaps but the addiction is still there. Whether it’s admitted to or not, there’s still a physical addiction to a tobacco product (nicotine) and a psychological addiction in the form of a fake cigarette. Just like a real cigarette when you stop using them, there is the feeling of missing out on something and that is what will keep you hooked.
My concern is that this product is being peddled, especially to teenagers, who see them as a safe alternative to cigarettes because that is the message being sent by the advertising and the adults who use them. As someone who smoked for a long time, my other concern is that people are deluding themselves into thinking that they’ve stopped smoking when they haven’t and that creates a situation where it simply drags out the misery. Unless you stop altogether, there’s no easy way out and that’s the plain truth. This is the same product from the same companies repackaged for a new generation. Don’t let them fool you.
GOP: Sorry You Don’t Like Obamacare but is There a Better Solution?
So, let me understand this. No healthcare is better than some healthcare, nothing is better than something? Is that what the GOP is trying to sell us on?
I agree with the Republicans that think that Obamacare is an ill-conceived and poorly implemented plan that’s probably a real mess waiting to happen. For the average American worker though, the current system is broken beyond repair so though this may not be the answer, what is the solution then? A few more decades of the nothing they have now?
You see, here’s the kicker for me: there are tens of millions of decent hard working people trapped in crappy jobs that put food on the table for their families but offer no insurance or if they do, it’s some glorified discount scheme that allows them to say “we offer benefits.” In big cities, there are choices if you want to change jobs. In rural areas and high unemployment urban areas, all that exists are the service type jobs with no insurance. When you’re in that situation as millions are, the alternative to this scheme is what they have now: absolutely nothing… and you know what the old saying is, ANYTHING is better than nothing!
I think it’s too easy to be negative about this because it doesn’t solve anything. There are people right now, sitting around their table after working all day, literally making a decision as to whether they buy groceries or pay to take a sick family member to an urgent care facility. I’m not sure that’s right in a country like America, do you?
Giving an E-reader Will Ignite a Passion For Reading
It was my step-daughter’s 16th birthday recently and tucked in with some other things, we bought her a Nook e-reader. She’d been looking at mine for a while and we thought it might be an idea but then this was a girl who seemed to have a short attention span with books. She clearly wanted to read, not so much the classics that get assigned by her teacher for summer reading, but the young adult fiction like Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries. A few pages would get read, then the book would get lost or left at home or a bookmark would fall out. The intentions were good but somehow the reading just didn’t get done. Things have changed so much now. Giving her the e-reader was a great decision. It goes with her everywhere and she’s able to read her books on her terms.
The gift of reading is something that every parent should give their child; specifically, the gift of reading for pleasure. Enjoying a book is not is not something that always comes naturally because we live in a world of endless distractions and everybody has a different attention span. Literacy levels also differ and can vary greatly from child to child even if they are educational peers. For so many reasons, next time you need to find a gift for your child, consider a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or a Nook.
They both have built in dictionaries that can expand the child’s vocabulary because no longer do they have to read past a word that they don’t understand. The other factor to bear in mind is that unlike a tablet, a dedicated reading device is free from the distractions of Facebook and other social media. A book can be enjoyed in the way it was meant to be. The bonus to you is that future gift giving just became so much easier because a book store gift card will delight them. Your money will be well spent because in so many ways, books are such good value!
Why are We Going to War?
The Syrian subject is drowning out every other news story in recent days so let me put a question to you: What is really going on? No conspiracy theories please, no Illuminati or secret societies, it’s a straight question. I don’t have the answers; the whole darn thing has got me baffled.
McCain I understand; loves his picture in the paper, always the loudest voice on the block calling for dropping a bomb on something. He’s a politician and politicians are always working the next election, pre-emptively kissing the babies. He’s never going to sit in the big chair so, as an also-ran, he can either fade into obscurity or talk big and hope that people think he’s still important. McCain, I understand.
Obama is different, there’s no political capital here, and the guy’s fighting everybody on this except McCain. I’m sure he’ll get whatever he needs from congress and the missiles will fly but what an interesting situation. With the exception of the usual players, the international community is not demanding action and in fact it seems quite reluctant. Syria is not saying please come and bomb us, even the rag-tag and splintered opposition groups don’t seem all that keen on the idea unless it guarantees them rid of the present government.
As for domestically, I might be wrong, but every person that I’ve spoken to and every poll that I’ve seen is against American military action in Syria. Seriously, go to Google News right now, pick any news site at random, read their article on Syria and then read the comments. In Iraq, Afghanistan, even Iran and North Korea, there was some level of polarization, some difference of opinion. Here it seems, as I said, most people are on the same page. So once again the question: What’s really going on?
No offense to Mr. Obama but I don’t believe that he really cares too much about the people in Syria and my evidence for that is that over a hundred thousand people are already dead including a lot of children and yet he only started crying last week. As I said in a previous article, bullets or gas, death is death, the level of grief should not be any different.
If we don’t have any type of mandate for this action either from the American people or from the international community then why is the administration working overtime trying to create one? There’s always an agenda, some sort of intrigue or motive, it wouldn’t be Washington otherwise. Whatever it is, in this case it’s buried deep. Something hidden is pushing this along.
Should We Intervene in Syria?
If you wait to read this until a few days after publishing, there’s a very good chance that President Obama has authorized military intervention in Syria and that some form of action has been taken. Is Assad guilty as charged? Probably, possibly but we will never really know. The people pointing the finger have very little credibility. Opposition groups on the ground (and there are several), have their own agenda and when that agenda has stakes as high as they are in Syria, then everything is called into question. If Assad wins, they will probably be rounded up and quietly executed either for punishment or to prevent a repeat of this uprising. For Assad, a loss will not mean a quiet retirement in the country any more than it did for Saddam or Gaddafi. When you’re playing for your life, the stakes don’t get much higher.
As for Washington: Americans and the world would love to believe them but the track record suggests that it probably wouldn’t be wise. Yes, that was Bush and this is Obama but it doesn’t matter. The generals and the CIA people and who doctored it up before are still sitting behind the same desks. As history now shows, presenting dubious reports that made something concrete out of unsubstantiated claims from the Iraqi opposition didn’t seem to offend their professional scruples in the past so why would it now? Bush and Cheney took the heat but although they probably made it very obvious what spin they wanted for public consumption, the intelligence services still prepared those reports and delivered them knowing full well that they were inaccurate. If these people feel that their job description basically boils down to appeasing the government of the day then how can anything they say be trusted? Bottom line is that in the absence of solid, independently verifiable evidence, anything said by the administration has a question mark over it.
Does that mean then that Syria shouldn’t be hit to “teach them a lesson?” Probably not and let me explain why. Firstly, any time in the past when we have been promised surgical strikes by the military, innocent people somehow end up getting hurt. Secondly, Assad has had plenty of warning and will take whatever losses he ends up with on the chin. Lastly, and this will sound terrible at first read, what has really be done to deserve it?
Let me take a few paragraphs to clarify that statement because, believe me, I’m certainly not defending Assad in any of this. My point is we talk about red lines being crossed and how atrocious it is that chemical weapons were used. John Kerry told us how he wept for the children but hang on, this mess has been going on for two years and over one hundred thousand people have been killed, why does he only weep now? Why does it matter what the cause of death; bullets, bombs or chemicals? I’m sure it doesn’t matter to those who’ve lost their loved ones. A mother who loses her child when an American cruise missile hits a building and traps her child in the rubble will grieve as much as if that child were poisoned.
America has chemical weapons too, and Israel, Britain and so many others. The only reason they are kept is because someone, somewhere can see a time when they might be used. Imagine a future, just hypothetically for a moment. Texas has followed through with its threat and seceded from the United States. In solidarity, three other southern states have joined the movement and now radical elements within the Federal Government are calling for action to stem the tide; the very future of America is at stake. One thing leads to the next and pockets of violence break out as the people begin to take sides. Within a few years, America is in the midst of a civil war and the overthrow of the government is imminent. At that point, with their backs against the wall and growing popular support for the rebel movement, would the government turn its weapons on its own people?
It’s a hypothetical question for the US but a very real one in Syria right now. Both sides are fighting for survival and all bets are off. If we go in, then it has to be for the right reason and there has to be a substantial payoff in the form of stopping the bloodshed. Realistically, unless we’re ready for another full-fledged invasion, boots on the ground as President Obama would put it, and then we need to back off and stop the saber rattling. Red line or any line, it doesn’t matter what method is used, people are still dying and it needs to stop.
If America wants to be a world leader then we need to act like one and do the right thing. The right thing is not threatening to inflict more violence on the Syrian people nor is it allowing the rhetoric from countries like Russia to be something that is ignored. This is a time for leadership from our government, to recognize that the allies of Syria are not just being belligerent but that they have a stake in the outcome in Syria just as we do in other countries. Sit down at the table, find some common ground and let them see that it’s in their interests to bring this conflict to an early end. Syria does not need to become this generation’s version of the Cuban missile crisis and we do not need more blood spilled. President Obama, we need a Kennedy more that we need a Bush right now and so do the people of Syria.
Are UFOs Real?
Area 51 in Nevada officially exists. That was the headline this week: The Government has finally acknowledged the existence of the infamous UFO site near Groom Lake, Nevada. Well, let me clarify that a little, they didn’t actually mention any UFOs because as far as the United States Government is concerned, they are not real. The reason for that position they say is that pretty much all of the sightings have been discredited. As for the base itself, after sixty years of silence and stony faced denial that Area 51 was a secret Military and CIA base, they now say that it is. The motive for the denial apparently, was that the base was originally home to the U-2 spy plane and therefore it couldn’t be publicly acknowledged because the U-2 is still is service today. I’m sure that will come as a surprise to most people given how old the aircraft is but it turns out that the United States Air Force has several types of aircraft over fifty years old that are still flying. The U-2 was a famous plane in its Cold War heyday, primarily because one was shot down during a flight over the old Soviet Union and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was put on trial for espionage. He spent three years in prison before being traded back to the US in a prisoner swap. It was an embarrassing time for the Eisenhower administration by all accounts so one can see why they were not in any rush to declassify the site.
If the planes are still flying, then I can also see how that could be a reason why successive governments have been reluctant to discuss it publicly. With that said though, it seems amazing to me that it’s taken this long to officially recognize something that has been the subject of so many books, movies and documentaries over the past few decades. I mean, how do you deny something that has had so much publicity? If you’ve ever watched one of those cable documentaries that speak in convincing tones about the strange things that happen in Area 51, then you have probably seen the people who spend their vacations camped out in lawn chairs, watching the place with binoculars and telescope and waiting to see a flying saucer. The two things that seem to fascinate people the most: secrets and conspiracy, coming together out there in the desert. Stir it up a little with a few selected facts, throw in some mysterious lights in the sky and you have a recipe for great television. That’s why I find it astonishing that this is only happening now. As I said, it’s not like the place has been a secret in a very long time.
For the reasons above, when I saw the headline, I skimmed the article then moved onto news of more importance. As the day went on, something fired in my imagination and I found myself drifting back to the story. I thought about all the UFO stories over the years and the people who swear that they have seen “something.” President Jimmy Carter once famously said that he had seen something in the sky that he couldn’t explain. Police officers, military personnel, pilots and people with various types of training in observation, could they all be mistaken or untruthful? The question intrigued me and I started to analyze it with a logical mind. I narrowed it down: do UFO’s exist? And if they do, does that also mean that aliens exist?
It’s the first time that I’ve really given the subject much thought, at least in depth. Like probably every generation since man lived in a cave, I’ve looked up at the night sky and occasionally, barely even consciously wondered if we are alone. A few episodes of Star Trek have made me think and one or two good science fiction books but for the most part, the existence of extraterrestrial beings is not something that has ever dominated my thoughts. Today though, I sat down to give the subject some further thought and here’s what I came up with:
Firstly, conspiracies do happen, they happen all the time. People in government agencies, in private enterprise, in the Military and in the highest ranks of Presidential administrations have been known to conspire to protect something of common interest or that might possibly be harmful to their careers. History is full of examples and there are probably conspiracies taking place right now that will be tomorrows breaking news. Does that mean that there was or is some kind of conspiracy around alleged UFO sites like Area 51 or Roswell, New Mexico? Of course not, but it is possible because they do happen.
I then asked myself what does the recent announcement really mean. Does it explain anything? Not really. The Cold War history of the base and a spy plane still in service, does explain the reason for some of the secrecy but it doesn’t explain how pilots and other credible people have claimed to have seen things in the sky that are not a plane. I did some research before writing this article; the U-2’s fly at a high altitude to avoid radar and have some landing characteristics that distinguish it from something like a commercial airliner but it is still a plane and behaves in the sky like a plane. It doesn’t look like a saucer or a cigar, it doesn’t zigzag at what observers with flight training claim to be impossible angles and then disappear; it flies like a plane, just higher. Yes, plenty of people have probably seen a U-2 in the sky around Nevada and because of how far away it was or the way the light caught it that day or a dozen other reasons that only a scientist could explain, thought they saw something entirely different. It does explain a lot that’s for sure, but apart from the fact that planes flew out of there, just like they do out of any military base or airport, does it really explain anything? Perhaps a little, just a little, but I don’t think all.
Lastly, what about the bigger questions: The ultimate questions of do aliens exist and if so, have they visited us. I think they do and I think they have.
Logically, I believe this to be true and here’s why. Astronomers and Cosmologists look out into the universe with their powerful telescopes and tell us that there are billions of planets out there just in our galaxy alone. Beyond our galactic borders, there are many more galaxies each also containing billions and billions of planets. It is—it has to be—the height of arrogance to believe that we are the only living beings in the entire universe.
In recent years, here on our own planet, we have found life in the strangest and most hostile of places like the boiling hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Life has been discovered in other places never once thought possible, extreme environments with things like high levels of sulfur or calcium carbonate, acidic water, or extremely alkaline. Our own species and so many others around us have survived on this planet despite numerous setbacks over the course of millions of years. If we’ve learned anything about the nature of life from our own backyard then it is this: Life is easy, it forms in such a wide variety, in such a huge diversity of environments that one can only assume that perhaps those beginnings are not as complicated as we originally thought.
The other thing that we have learned is that life is persistent. Once it forms, a life form hangs on and tries every possible genetic strategy until it adapts to its environment and begins to thrive. Survival is not enough, it must flourish or it becomes extinct. It stands to reason that if life is that way here then it would also be elsewhere. That may conflict with our notion of being special but if the chemical building blocks are the same throughout the universe and our studies of space tell us that they are, then why would the result not be too if given a similar environment and period of time?
If that’s the case, if life has developed in other parts of the universe then it stands to reason that some of that life may be also be intelligent just as we are. There may be animals and insects and trees but there may also be that one species that has adapted and flourished on their planet to a point where they have developed technology. If that has happened then it becomes possible that that species has ventured into space just as we have. If there are others like them, like us, that are beginning to leave our planets and explore space, then it is possible, entirely possible, that once, just once, at some point in our history, we were on somebody’s flight path.
And that is where logic took me. It doesn’t matter you see, it really doesn’t matter if a million UFO sightings are discredited. That’s the mistake in our collective thinking. Whether it’s the result of some grand conspiracy to cover up something in Area 51, or whether it’s just simply human nature and wanting to feel special, it really doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter. Why? Because out of those millions of sightings, all those kooks and crackpots and the fake YouTube clips, only one has to be real. Just one, be it today or fifty years ago. If there is that one single case with a question mark, at any point in history, the case that can’t be discredited by any means, then the case is proven. To quote the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. …only one has to be real.
The Voice of the People
We live in a world of predatory and sometimes dangerous business practices not just on Wall Street but in our own back yard of Main Street, USA. Small business is the backbone of America the politicians say as they continue to dole out billions in corporate welfare and then slip it quietly into the pockets of multinational corporations.
As an experiment, mentally take a drive through your own city or town. There’s a Wal-Mart, a McDonalds, a Home Depot and probably a mall. Big corporate chains and multi-store franchises, all filled with people earning minimum wage who spend their days (to put it bluntly) doing little else but making millionaires more money. Mom and Pop are no more but yet we still cling to the mythology of small town America even when our own eyes tell us a different story to the one we see on TV. Sure, there are still a few small businesses struggling to survive but not in any major industry like grocery or hardware. A small convenience store perhaps, a hairdresser or the little diner down the road but do you really think that they are in any way beneficiaries of the latest stimulus package or a senators pork barreling?
Big corporations have lobbyists and spend millions to make sure that the politicians and government agencies cater to them, very often at the expense of the small business person who, especially in rural areas, is their direct competition. They (the politicians) do this because they are either misguided or just downright crooked. Our system has deteriorated to the point where there is no one, no one to lobby on behalf of the American people. We have nobody in our corner; big companies are nothing more than modern day pirates roaming the globe in search of plunder and they think nothing of manipulating a Senator or Congressman for their own goals. They might have offices here and spend money on ads that tell us all about their grand American pedigree but the reality is that they have no loyalty to America or any other country. The profits they make sit in off-shore tax havens and outside of the minimum wages they pay, leave nothing here from the money we pay them. Not only do they financially contribute nothing to society, they have the audacity to put their hands out for the tax dollars of others. Their interests are clearly not compatible with those of the American people and yet our leaders have the representatives of these companies deeply involved in writing government policy for agencies like the FDA, EPA and the Department of Energy. Policies that favor corporate profit over things like food safety are not good public policy and deserve to be questioned.
It’s not just the corporations who have influence over our government and the things that affect us; it is all the other elements that want a similar relationship. Defense contractors who need endless war to sustain their business, the government security agencies who want unlimited powers of surveillance and the private companies who despite their public protests of outrage, secretly seek to encourage this surveillance because within this cozy partnership, they see the potential for profit.
Americans who make a point of accessing news sources other than Fox or CNN, are disturbed and shocked by the way the Government has been hijacked and the Constitution perverted. Brave people like Assange and Snowden, who try to enlighten us, are quickly labeled as messengers without any real message and then pushed off the front page in favor of the latest celebrity scandal. Big media publishes what it’s in their interests to publish and nothing more.
Although it’s slipping away from us fast, we still live in a democracy and if enough people stand up and say “we don’t want this” then we can stop it from happening. To do that, we must be informed and to be informed, we need a media that is not afraid to speak the truth. The media needs not only to inform us, it also needs to be our voice, the voice of the people, so that we can be heard as we express our opinions.
Because the mainstream media outlets are so conservative in what they publish, the only voice left to the American people, the only real voice, is through social media and blogs like Pull Up A Stump. I believe that because it has an audience, this blog should do more than just reprint funny stories or promote commercial products; it should be a lifter of rocks. By lifting the rocks and exposing the creatures underneath that would do us harm, we take from them what they need to survive in their predatory world: Darkness. This blog shines a light on those in the shadows. That I believe, is a good thing.
Why do I write?
The honest answer is that I just don’t know.
Back in the days of Darlinghurst Road, I knew a man who was a recovering alcoholic. I once asked him if he had ever figured out what made him drink. After a few seconds of thought, he replied: “That’s a good question. You know, I never drank because I had to, I drank because I couldn’t not drink.” He went on to explain that having alcohol in his system had become something that his body had accepted to be its normal state and when it wasn’t present, the alarms bells would go off in the form of withdrawals.
In many ways, I feel the same. I don’t write because I feel compelled, I write because I can’t not write. It’s something my mind sees as a natural form of expression and it comes as easily as a casual conversation. Norman Mailer said that being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day. That sums it up for me: plumbers fix pipes, sales people sell and writers write. I am a writer—enjoy my work.