The Entitlement Lie.

For many years, Republicans have been determined to privatize Medicare and Social Security or get rid of the programs altogether. So whenever Republicans talk about federal spending, they usually show a chart that looks something like this:

Notice that the two largest slices of the budget represent Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or what is often called “mandatory” federal spending. Thus, the chart would seem to indicate that most of the tax revenue goes toward healthcare and retirement for the elderly and the poor. Is it any wonder, then, that so many young people believe that the federal government is being “bankrupted” by payments to senior citizens?

However, most of the costs for Medicare and Social Security are not part of the general budget.

Medicare and Social Security are, in fact, insurance programs similar to your auto, health and household insurance policies. And, like your other insurance policies, the premiums for Medicare and Social Security are collected each year of your working career so the benefits will be there when you need them. The premiums are deducted from our paychecks – you know, the ones that are labeled FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and Medicare. As a result, Medicare and Social Security are “entitlements” only in the sense that once you have paid the premiums, you are entitled to the benefits in much the same way you’re entitled to benefit from claims against your Allstate, GEICO, Progressive or State Farm policies.

Since the programs pay for themselves, their budgets should be kept entirely separate from the general budget. To more accurately reflect reality, the federal spending chart should look like this:

This chart represents the spending controlled by Congress and paid for through taxation. As you can see, in this chart, the majority of that spending is for our military ($824.6 billion, up more than 13 percent since Republicans have taken the reins of government) and veteran’s benefits ($78.9 billion). When Congress spends more on these items than it collects in taxes, it results in deficit-spending. The shortfalls result in borrowing from other sources – from other countries and from the Medicare and Social Security trust funds.

Despite their claims to the contrary, Republicans have been particularly good at deficit spending. Reagan nearly doubled the federal debt, increasing it by $1.9 trillion. George W. Bush increased the debt by $5.8 trillion. He also left his successor with two wars and the Great Recession resulting in more than $8.5 trillion of additional borrowing. And, in his first two years in office, Donald J. Trump has already doubled the deficit, increasing the debt by more than $1.2 trillion. And the 10-year cost of the Trump tax cuts will add an estimated $2.3 trillion more to the federal debt.

In order to reduce the debt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants to balance the federal budget by cutting payments to “entitlements,” aka Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

Say what????!!!!

That would be akin to embezzling money from your employer to pay for your own spending excesses. The Social Security and Medicare trust funds are not Congress’s money!

None of this is to say that Medicare and Social Security don’t have their own problems. If changes are not made, it’s expected that Medicare will exhaust its reserves by 2028. Likewise, it’s expected that Social Security will not be able to meet its full obligations after 2034. But that does not mean that there will be no money left for the programs’ beneficiaries. It simply means that the payouts will be less.

And both programs could meet their obligations with a few tweaks.

Like all insurance programs, they should be governed by actuarial tables. When the costs go up, so should the premiums. Unfortunately, Congress has put limits on the amount of money the programs can charge for premiums. For example, FICA deductions only apply to the first $128,400 of an individual’s income. Social Security could be fixed by simply removing the cap. It’s that simple.

Similarly, Medicare’s impending problems could be solved by increasing the payroll deductions, by negotiating for better prices with pharmaceutical companies, or, better yet, we could improve outcomes while saving our government and our citizens trillions of dollars by moving toward universal health care.

And, here’s a radical idea: Maybe we could find additional money for these programs in the general budget by holding government contractors accountable. For example, the F-35 fighter jet program was $163 billion over budget as of 2014. A figure that continues to climb faster than the plane.

Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

Should Americans Be Afraid Of Socialist Democrats?

Republicans are trying to frighten voters away from politicians who refer to themselves as Socialist Democrats, stating that these are people who want to give you “free stuff” with other people’s money. There is a small kernel of truth to that. But that has been the case for Americans since the very beginnings of our country.

In fact, the preamble of our Constitution can be interpreted as a statement of socialism: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Moreover, history tells us that the Founders called for the Constitutional Convention in order to form a central government that could raise taxes to pay for the nation’s defense and to pay off the debts accumulated during the Revolutionary War. Clearly, the Founders were seeking ways to pay for the common good of all our citizens. That is a form of socialism.

Still not convinced? Then what do you make of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he described our nation as “Of the people, by the people and for the people.” There has never been a more powerful description of a socialist democracy!

Of course, democratic socialism can take many shapes. As Wikipedia states, “There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.” Today, most successful democracies, like the US, balance socialism and capitalism.

For example, our defense budget is derived from taxes, making our military a product of socialism. So, too, is the budget for FEMA, TSA and the other arms of the Homeland Security Department. Our public schools and, for the most part, our infrastructure – roads, seaports, airports and dams – are the products of socialism. Even our power grid and communications systems are a combination of private and public investment. Rural electric lines and many rural telephone lines were built as socialist projects by rural (socialist) cooperatives. Our public libraries, city halls, courthouses, sports venues and parks are paid for, or subsidized, by members of our communities.

In fact, most all of the things our city, county, state and federal governments do are supported by taxes, which amount to a form of socialism. Our space exploration and all of its discoveries, many of which benefited private corporations, were funded by our citizens. Similarly, many other scientific breakthroughs were the result of public investment. When our large corporations receive government incentives and subsidies, such as tax-increment financing and research grants, they are recipients of socialism. That is also true when those corporations pay such meager salaries that their employees have to rely on government programs in order to live. And it was certainly the case after the economic crash of 2008 when banks and auto manufacturers were bailed out by the federal government.

Even property and medical insurance are examples of socialism because those who don’t have insurance claims help pay for those who do. In fact, our Social Security and Medicare programs are a form of insurance. And don’t forget that all churches and church property are exempt from taxes, which means they are also subsidized through socialism.

Truth is, socialism doesn’t inhibit our freedom. Much to the contrary, it’s liberating. It is because of the things created by socialist policies that Americans have had the ability to learn, to light their homes, to travel as desired, to build businesses, to rebuild following natural disasters, and to create without fear of failing. Indeed, it is because our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to create a form of government that allowed people to live independently while sharing the burdens of defense, education, and infrastructure that our nation became great.

And, of course, we’re not alone. Most advanced nations in the world are socialist democracies. Many of them offering more “free stuff” than our Socialist Democrats propose, such as universal healthcare, low-cost or no-cost college educations, low-cost or no-cost daycare, state-controlled pensions and more. Taxes in those countries may be higher than ours. But they consistently outrank us with regard to longevity, infant mortality and, just as important, happiness.

Any attempts to discredit Democratic Socialists and to further privatize such things as education, infrastructure, health care and retirement will only serve to weaken us and make our future bleak.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating This July 4th.

In the US, the 4th of July is recognized as Independence Day – a day to celebrate our independence from the British empire. A hard-won independence that required the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors to defeat the most powerful military forces on earth. Indeed, a least eight of my ancestors fought for the Continental Army, one suffering through a devastating winter at Valley Forge. As a result, Independence Day has been an important holiday for my family for generations. And though I have long been bothered by the extreme militarization of our nation and the accompanying politicization of patriotism – an unprincipled “our country right or wrong” kind of patriotism – I have proudly celebrated the holiday along with everyone else.

But this year is different. This year, I fear that our independence is in danger as never before.

We have reached a point where the founding principles of our nation are being compromised by a winner-takes-all, pay-to-play political party that ignores the majority of its constituents to serve the interests of a few. A political party that has turned our democratic republic into an oligarchy. A party that is now led by an unethical and immoral bully who gained office with the help of our nation’s most dangerous rival and support from evangelical “Christians” – religious zealots who have sold their souls to the man based on the belief that controlling women’s bodies to “save” fetuses is more important than preserving our nation’s core values.

Our first president, George Washington, was guided by 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. But if the man who now occupies the White House has a guide, it’s likely to be titled The Art of the Insult. Indeed, he takes a perverse pride in putting down others in order to feed his all-too-fragile ego.

So I cannot, in good conscience, stuff my cheeks with hot dogs and watch the “bombs bursting in air” when I know that our government has greeted refugees fleeing violence, repression and abject poverty – conditions every bit as severe as those that brought our ancestors to these shores – by arresting them and even wrenching their children from their arms.

I cannot celebrate a nation that takes pride in feeding our bloated defense department with hundreds of billions of dollars while, at the same time, denying food stamps and medical care to the poor.

I cannot proudly wave the flag when our Congress and state legislatures are constructing new barriers to deny minorities their right to vote.

I cannot sing the Star-Spangled Banner knowing that it was written by a racist and that those who are not white or heterosexual are still treated as second-class citizens.

I cannot celebrate when our government refuses to lift a finger to stop gun violence and the mass shootings of school children.

I cannot celebrate freedom when so many of our citizens have none – imprisoned for victimless, non-violent crimes.

I cannot celebrate when the president continues to call the independent press – one of our most precious institutions – the “enemy of the people.”

I cannot celebrate when the president describes his political opponents as un-American and calls for them to be locked up.

I cannot celebrate when the president attacks long-time allies while embracing enemies and brutal dictators.

I cannot celebrate after watching Trump appoint a group of corrupt and unqualified sycophants to government agencies with the express purpose to undermine and damage the agencies they control.

I cannot celebrate a nation governed by people who view the environment as a mere supermarket of resources with no concern for the impact of their extraction on our ecosystem.

I cannot celebrate knowing that our narcissistic president is filling his bank accounts with taxpayers’ hard-earned money in defiance of the Constitution’s emoluments clause; that he refuses to release his tax returns; that he refuses to divest himself of his businesses; and that the Trump name appeared in the Panama Papers (a list of those using off-shore tax havens) 3,540 times!

I cannot celebrate independence knowing that the man was placed in office with the help of Russia; knowing that at least 11 members of his presidential campaign had suspicious contacts with Russians; knowing that Russian oligarchs have invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings; knowing that the NRA spent more than $30 million on behalf of Trump’s campaign after accepting donations from 23 Russians; knowing that Trump is willing to take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our own intelligence agencies.

And I cannot sleep knowing that the actions of a man who is, quite likely, illegally occupying the world’s most powerful office cannot be overturned even if, as I suspect, he will be impeached and removed from that office.

So call me un-American if you want. But the America I celebrate is almost completely at odds with that of the president and his followers. I believe in an America that embraces the words on our 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.” I believe in an America that cherishes equality, fairness and opportunity for all.

Until we become that nation again; until we value human rights over the rights of corporations; until we take more pride in our treatment of the poor than in our latest military technology; until the Oval Office occupant and his administration have been sent packing; until we, once again, strive to live up to the hopes of our Founding Fathers, I’ll sit out the 4th of July celebration. I will be flying the flag. But I will be flying it upside down. Because our nation is most certainly in distress.

For Many, This Administration Will Be Fatal.

Much has been written about the Trump effect – Trump’s impact on civility, ethics and morality. Certainly, the impact has been serious. It has led to rifts among friends and families. It has led to more conflicts based on race and religion. And it has led to a diminished respect for our democratic institutions, including traditional news media, the FBI, the CIA and our judicial system.

In addition, Trump’s disregard for the truth, his extramarital affairs with porn stars and the numerous credible accusations of sexual assault victims have set a horrific example for children.

But the administration is having a much more onerous impact on our nation and, indeed, the entire world.

For example, the Trump administration recently ousted the head of global health security and cut the agency’s budget the same week it was announced that there is a new Ebola outbreak in Africa. As a result, it is now unclear who in the administration will be charged with reacting to an international pandemic. But that’s only a potential disaster in the making. Millions of lives have already been put at risk by The Donald and his troupe of ideological and unqualified sycophants. By pandering to racists and neo-Nazis, Trump unleashed a flurry of attacks on minorities.

Trump’s decision to block refugees, deport undocumented immigrants, and undermine DACA represents a mass murder in slow motion. Within 3 weeks of his deportation, a high school dreamer from Iowa who was brought to the US at age 3 died as a result of gang violence in Mexico – likely due to misidentification. (He and a friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time.) And that young man is but a single example of the administration’s turning a cold shoulder to women and children seeking refuge in the US from violence – violence often caused by US policies! Further, it has been revealed that the administration is ripping families apart and taking children as young as 18 months away from mothers and fathers who are seeking refuge. The impact on those young lives will be devastating and lasting.

In Puerto Rico, the Trump administration made the Bush-era response to Hurricane Katrina look like a model of efficiency. According to a recent Harvard study, more than 4,600 Puerto Ricans have died as a result of Trump ineptitude. That’s more than twice as many Americans who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina!

The piece-by-piece dismantling of the Affordable Care Act will result in millions losing access to health care and thousands of preventable deaths. The administration has threatened to cut CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which now provides health care funding for 9 million children and pregnant women. Similarly, it has plans to make deep cuts in Medicaid which provides health care to disabled, elderly and poor Americans. And the Medicare program for seniors is also in the administration’s crosshairs.

Not satisfied with those draconian cuts, Trump and the GOP have plans to cut benefits to Social Security recipients. And they have plans to cut $150 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which could leave millions hungry.

To be clear, all of these cuts are planned to help pay for the administration’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

In addition, there will be thousands of deaths caused by the continued indifference of Trump and the GOP toward gun violence. Already this year there have been more than 100 mass shootings in the US and hundreds of deaths. And the year is only half over.

And when you consider the consequences of Trump’s foreign policies, things look even more bleak!

By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the administration ignited a powder keg in Gaza and the Middle East. Ensuing protests along the Palestinian/Israeli border resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and aid workers. And, by announcing its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the administration has released Iran to restart its efforts to create nuclear weapons and has encouraged Iran to increase its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East.

If the agreement with North Korea fails, as it is likely to, Trump will almost certainly return to his game of brinksmanship with a nuclear nation (brinksmanship and bullying are the only forms of negotiation Trump knows). A potential war on the Korean peninsula would result in millions of deaths of Koreans and Americans. It could also cause China and Russia to enter into war with the US.

Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling in the elections of western countries, including the US, and his burgeoning trade war with allies weakens NATO and long-time alliances, destabilizes the West, and makes it easier for Putin to invade countries beyond the Ukraine.

Finally, there is the devastating impact of the administration on the environment. By pursuing oil drilling in sensitive areas preserved for wildlife and by failing to protect endangered species, the administration threatens the entire ecosystem. And by withdrawing US support for the Paris climate agreement, the US is now the only nation in the world that is not part of the agreement to curb carbon emissions. If the world’s climate scientists are correct – and, so far, their estimates of destruction have proven to be conservative – Trump’s decision puts millions of future lives at risk.

So, instead of snickering at the latest revelations of Trump’s philandering; instead of being outraged at his insensitive and immature statements on Twitter; instead of decrying the coarseness of his language and his repugnant treatment of the press; consider the real damage his administration is doing. And VOTE!

The Constitutional Crisis That Is Donald Trump.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election has created a crisis the Founders never could have imagined – a greedy, narcissistic con man holding the highest office in the land supported by a sympathetic Congress that likely, too, was elected with the help and interference of a foreign enemy.

The Founding Fathers did put into place a system that provided for the removal of a president from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which certainly would apply to a man who conspired with an enemy to attain office, defied the Constitution’s emolument clause to enrich himself and his family, and appointed Cabinet members with the sole purpose of deconstructing the agencies they head – all the while ignoring every established norm of presidential behavior.

What the Founders failed to anticipate was a Congress simultaneously controlled by a party that is equally corrupt – a Congress comprised of members who, themselves, may have been elected with the help of the same foreign enemy and foreign money illegally funneled through the NRA. As a result, the Constitution has no provision for nullifying the results of elections illegally decided by external forces; no way to erase widespread electoral mistakes.

So what happens if (more likely, when) Special Counsel Mueller proves that the president, his campaign, and numerous members of his staff conspired with Russia in order to steal the election? What then? Certainly, the president could be impeached if Republicans finally agree to place country above party. Certainly, those involved could be charged with crimes and brought to trial. But what about the members of the president’s party in Congress who also benefited from the conspiracy? Can they, too, be removed? And what of the many decisions that have been made since January 20, 2017?

If the president was, indeed, put into office as the result of a conspiracy, will his many appointments to the judiciary be allowed to stand? These are appointments that could impact judicial decisions for generations.

If Republicans were found to have gained control of Congress as the result of unconstitutional gerrymandering, voter suppression, illegal campaign contributions, and foreign interference, will the bills they passed without input from the opposition party be allowed to stand? What of the deficit-ballooning corporate tax cuts? What of the changes to the Affordable Care Act? What of the stolen seat on the Supreme Court?

And what of the decisions made by the president’s appointees? What of the deregulation of the nation’s greatest polluters? What of the damage done to our public school system? What of the money squandered on private jets and $31,000 dining sets?

Worst of all, what of the damage done internationally – to our trade agreements, to our strategic defense pacts, to our standing with allies?

If the decisions made by illegally and unconstitutionally elected officials are allowed to stand, what’s to prevent it from happening again? What’s to prevent unscrupulous individuals from a party – either party – from scamming the system to win and, in doing so, ensure that it can ideologically remake America in its image for decades to come?

We need a constitutional amendment to nullify election results – all of the results – if it can be unequivocally proven that an election was stolen.

America’s Legal Drug Cartel.

A couple of newspaper stories recently caught my attention. The Arizona Republic reported that, in 2016, Mojave County had more opioid prescriptions than people – 127.5 prescriptions for every 100 residents. In another story, The Arizona Republic reported that four Mojave County doctors prescribed 6 million opioid pills in a single year!

Yet another newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, reported that, over a two-year period, out-of-state drug companies shipped 9 million hydrocodone pills to one pharmacy in Mingo County, West Virginia – a county with a population of about 33,000 people. The newspaper also found that, over a six-year period, drug wholesalers shipped 780 million painkillers to West Virginia pharmacies – more than 400 for every man, woman and child in the state. Further, a congressional committee discovered that, over a decade, out-of-state drug companies shipped 20.8 million prescription painkillers to a West Virginia town with a population of just 2,900 people.

That may explain why the top four counties in the US for prescription opioid drug overdose deaths are all in West Virginia. Yet the problem isn’t limited to West Virginia and Arizona.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “In 2016, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39.0 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and (Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000). Significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2015 to 2016 were seen in the Northeast, Midwest and South Census Regions. States with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates included Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”

According to the CDC, “Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999, and sales of these prescription drugs have quadrupled. From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids.” Overdoses from prescription opioids killed more than 50,000 Americans in 2015 – more than car accidents.

To put that into perspective, Americans seem more fearful of seeing a loved one murdered than of seeing a loved one die from opioid overdose. Yet there were only 15,000 homicides in the US in 2015 – a third as many died from violence as from opioids. And remember the Ebola panic of 2014? Only two Americans actually died of the disease.

A more interesting comparison is to the crack cocaine crisis of the late 1980s. At its height, there were 7,000 deaths a year in the US (14 percent as many as we see from prescription opioids today). In response, we rounded up the dealers and users resulting in dramatic increases of incarceration, particularly among black Americans. But the opioid epidemic mostly involves white people. And the prescription opioid cartel involves doctors, pharmacists, drug wholesalers and large pharmaceutical corporations. So there has been little response from law enforcement.

Only when the prescriptions are stolen or the abusers have turned to illegal drugs, has law enforcement taken action. And, in reality, law enforcement is not the answer. The decades-long War on Drugs has failed. In part, that’s because of our society’s attitude toward drug abusers: that they’re losers incapable of dealing with reality; that they deserve to be punished.

In reality, punishment, fear and loathing are never the answers for drug abuse. Instead, we should be treating abusers as victims. We should be offering them help and non-addictive alternatives to opioid painkillers. We should be offering physicians better education in treating pain. And we should be regulating the distribution of prescription painkillers.

Instead, the Trump Department of Justice has threatened a new crackdown on marijuana, one of the few substances known to offer pain relief without addiction. And despite the fact that the number of known deaths from overdoses of weed is zero!

The Real State Of Our Union.

Last night, Donald Trump basked in the light of his predecessor, taking credit for declining unemployment, a rising stock market and low African-American unemployment…all things that began under President Obama and have continued as a result of their own momentum combined with improved economies throughout the world.

So what is the real state of our union under Trump?

Since Trump took office, we have seen unparalleled corruption in the executive branch. We’ve seen the president and his cabinet squander hundreds of millions of dollars on trips and vacations using private jets. We’ve seen a growth in the influence of corporate lobbyists, which culminated in a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that was pushed through Congress with such haste most representatives and senators had no time to read it. And, of course, the Congressional Budget Office had no time to fully score its impact.

We’ve seen America’s international standing and its “soft power” precipitously decline. We’ve seen the GOP try to take away access to health care from millions of Americans. We’ve seen consumer and environmental protections diminished. We’ve seen GOP attempts to destroy the world’s greatest public education system and replace it with private schools that prioritize religion and myths over science and facts.

We’ve seen and heard an astounding number of lies emanating from the White House. We’ve seen an unprecedented attack on the free press, accusing the news media of being “enemies of the state.” We’ve seen multiple attacks on free elections by the GOP and Russia. We’ve seen the proliferation of guns continue unabated resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans each year. We’ve seen White House-led attacks on women; on gays; on transgender citizens; on Muslims; on immigrants; on refugees; on the impoverished; on diplomatic norms; on decency itself.

We’ve seen threats of nuclear war tweeted from the White House bed while the “president” consumes Fox News and cheeseburgers. We’ve seen the administration open public lands…even national monuments and parks…to extraction industries with little regard to the long-term environmental impact. We’ve heard Trump’s racist comments about “shithole” countries. We’ve seen Trump ignore the plight of tens of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico trying to survive without electricity and clean water. And we’ve seen the administration take giant steps backward on the environment and technology by raising tariffs on solar panels and encouraging more mining of coal.

At the same time, Trump and the GOP have ignored many of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the planet. Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the Paris accords designed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. There is no plan to deal with the inevitable rising sea levels; no plan to offset the coming tsunami of workplace layoffs created by robotics and artificial intelligence; no plan to modernize our transportation systems.

The state of our union is that we are now living in an oligarchy where the 1 percent control our politics, our government and an astonishing amount of wealth. Indeed, Oxfam stated that the world’s 100 richest people (many of them living in the US) gain enough money each year to end the world’s extreme poverty several times over. Instead, many of these greedy bastards spend their money on lobbyists and political campaign contributions in order to elect a compliant Congress that will help them further increase their power and wealth!

The state of our union is that we have the world’s most inefficient health care system that costs many times more than those of other advanced nations yet leaves millions without access to medical care. The state of our union is that there is little control of the cost or the amount of pharmaceuticals available…where the opioid prescriptions in some counties and states exceed their populations. But we have made a non-addictive alternative – marijuana – illegal. The state of our union is that we have incarcerated a higher percentage of our population than any other nation on Earth. The state of our union is such that the Department of Defense cannot account for trillions in spending that, by some accounts, equals our entire federal debt. Yet we continue to increase its budget.

The state of our union is that, under GOP control, our democracy is crumbling as fast as our infrastructure.

Where Has All The Money Gone?

In 2015, Michigan State economics professor, Mark Skidmore became curious when he heard former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Catherine Austin Fitts mention that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion in spending. So he asked Fitts and a team of his graduate students to help him confirm that number. After poring over public documents, the team discovered that the original number was inaccurate.

Instead of $6.5 trillion in unsupported spending, the team found that the actual number is $21 trillion – a sum equivalent to our entire national debt!

Even if that number is flawed (and there’s no reason to believe that it is), there is plenty of evidence to show that the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned about has severely damaged our nation’s economic health. For example, it is estimated that our misadventures in the Vietnam civil war cost us $1.3 trillion in 2017 dollars. The cost of care for Vietnam vets has cost us at least $1 trillion to date. And neither of those figures include the billions of dollars wasted on supplies fraudulently sold through the black market in Vietnam.

It is estimated that the Reagan-era tax cuts and military build-up contributed $3 trillion to our national debt. The Bush tax cuts contributed an additional $10 trillion to the debt. The cost of our war in Afghanistan – now our longest-running war – is $2.4 trillion and counting. The cost of care for Afghan war vets is $1 trillion. Our invasion of Iraq cost yet another $2.6 trillion. And the cost of care for Iraq war vets is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

In addition, the US has spent more than $61 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq. Another $8 billion of US funds is missing in Iraq. $45 billion is missing in Afghanistan. And, claiming that the cost of transportation is too great to bring military equipment home, the Pentagon ordered it buried in the sands of Kuwait.

The Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has already cost more than $450 billion and is expected to top out at more than $1.5 trillion. Yet it has failed almost every test. In the words of two military analysts, “It can’t turn, can’t climb and can’t run.” And in another blatant display of waste, Congress authorized spending hundreds of millions of dollars for Abrams tanks that the Army doesn’t even want.

How has the Trump administration and Congress responded to all of this spending? They increased the Pentagon budget by another $700 billion! Then they passed a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that is expected to add yet another $1-2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade!

Of course, the GOP has a plan to pay for all this spending. As articulated by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, they plan to cut spending through “entitlement reform.” In other words, the GOP plans to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and Social Security.

Maybe – just maybe – there’s another way. Imagine if, instead of spending our money on unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the rich, we spent that money for good. Imagine if we spent it on health care for our citizens; on education; on rebuilding our infrastructure; on scientific achievements; on lifting people out of poverty; on eradicating disease. We could do all of that and more with just the money the Pentagon wastes.

Author William Blum put our current military budget in context when he said, “Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It’s equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.”

And that doesn’t even include the trillions of dollars in Pentagon spending that are missing or unaccounted for.

RIP, USA.

It’s not entirely hyperbolic to say that the latest GOP tax scam could be the final nail in the coffin of the American dream. If the bill is signed into law, it will show that the oligarchs and the con artists are in full control. And our democratic republic may never recover.

Remember when Republicans were outraged when President Obama signed a stimulus bill to dig us out of the Great Recession created by free market GOP policies? Remember the wave of Tea Party candidates in 2010 who were elected based on promises to cut the burgeoning national debt?

Well, when the GOP took control of the Senate, the House and White House at the beginning of this year, they had an opportunity to cut the debt – now $20 trillion and climbing. After all, the economy is now at what most economists consider full-employment. The increased tax revenue from all of those employed individuals, combined with careful budget cuts, could have been used to reduce deficits.

But, now that the GOP is in control, deficits and debt no longer seem to matter.

Almost immediately after assuming control, Republicans actually increased spending by adding $700 billion to the Pentagon budget despite the fact that an audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General could not account for $6.5 trillion in military spending!

Then, after the House passed a so-called tax “reform” bill, the GOP-controlled Senate used a parliamentary trick to pass a gigantic tax cut for corporations and billionaires – a move that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. More precisely, the GOP plans to take $1.5 trillion from ordinary working families and give it to billionaires and large corporations!

So, despite the fact that the nation is still buckling under the deficits and debt created by the last GOP-fueled recession, the GOP plans to push through a highly unpopular tax bill (a recent poll shows that 59 percent of Americans oppose the bill) based on the widely debunked theory of trickle-down economics. It’s a bill that will affect virtually all of us – most of us negatively. And it’s likely to lead to an economic meltdown even worse than the Great Recession.

Of course, the bill’s very wealthy benefactors have little reason to worry. After all, if the tax scam does lead to an economic crash, they are unlikely to be affected. They seldom ever are. For billionaires, most economic downturns represent years-long Black Fridays in which everything is on sale – yet another opportunity to buy low and eventually sell high. And, by the time the national debt becomes a real problem, they can simply relocate and steal from the citizens of another country.

On the other end of the economic spectrum, ordinary working Americans have been promised a much smaller tax cut. Even that will disappear after a few years. But the cuts for billionaires and large corporations will be permanent.

It’s fitting that the Senate bill was passed at 2 a.m. Like thieves in the night, the GOP raided the homes of working people taking portions of their incomes, their access to affordable health care, even their access to public lands.