Defense spending and tax increases: what we need to do to balance the budget

moneyIn case you’ve missed it, the United States is going broke. The current national debt is at 22 trillion dollars, with a national deficit of nearly 1 trillion dollars. With our overall revenue at just under 3.5 trillion dollars a year, it would take us 7 years with the government spending ZERO dollars to just break even.

The bad news, the GOP, who historically has declared themselves the “fiscally conservative party”, has reneged on their promises and shown their true colors over their last two years in office. They have shown that they are anything but fiscally conservative, ballooning the deficit, which was down to 500 billion dollars during the last year of the Obama presidency.

Still with the debt so high what must we do to begin to claw our way out? We need to do the same thing every family does when they realize they are spending too much, decrease spending (budget cuts), increase revenue (taxes), or in this case both.

When you look at the budget, the biggest discretionary spending cost in the United States by far is defense spending (i.e the military). In 2018, the military had a budget of just under 700 billion dollars. That is by far the most any country spends in the world, even when compared to that countries GDP.

What the United States needs to do is start relying on it’s allies more when it comes to national defense and pushing its global interests. Currently the United States GDP is roughly equal to all its NATO allies combined, however, when it comes to defense spending the United States is accountable for close to 72 percent of all NATO defense spending. That means while we are currently spending 700 billion dollars a year, we should be spending only 480 billion dollars a year.  

The United States cannot afford to do this. We need to reign in our defense spending and force our allies to pay their fair share, if not they will gladly let us run our country into bankruptcy as they enjoy the benefits of our free defense services. The only way that they will ever start to pay their share is if we stop covering for them. We need to cut our defense spending, and then the next time Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, or a multitude of other bad actors misbehave, look to NATO to respond.  

Second, we need to increase taxes. It’s the only way to even come close to balancing the budget. While every politician in Washington knows this, the GOP was willing to mortgage the future of the country for a short-term political gain when they passed a massive tax cut in 2017. To make matters worse those tax cuts disproportionately benefited corporations and the super-rich, the same groups that are being taxed at historically low rates, when our country has a larger national debt than ever.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent tax on income over 10 million dollars a year, would bring in an additional 72 billion dollars annually (7% of our national deficit, or 14% if we reverted back to Obama era spending) and that’s just by returning the top marginal tax rate to a figure that it was always at before the 1980’s. There are ways to get our spending in check without catastrophic consequences if we selectively target our tax rates like most European countries do, but we need to do it now before it’s too late.

This country needs to elect politicians that are truly fiscally conservative, those that recognize defense spending needs to come down and taxes need to go up. Something that those in red refuse to admit.

Medicare for all and Tricare

single payer
Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman

Medicare-for-all is shaping up to be a major focus for Democrats looking to replace President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Still when Kamala Harris came out in favor of eliminating private insurance companies – a staple in most single payer systems, Democrats recoiled.

That begs the question do Democrats really know what they are pushing for when they are demanding a single payer system? The closest resemblance to a single payer system in the United States is Tricare, the health insurance military members are given (For those that want to be technical, Tricare Prime).

And as such I think that it’s the perfect way to evaluate how a single payer system would work in the United States. Yes, I understand the funding will be different, but most Americans DO realize that going to a single payer system would result in an increase in taxes – and by how much is still up for a bit of debate, although countries in Europe provide a good estimate for this.

Now as a military member I had Tricare for several years, so I know a few things about how it works from a user’s perspective.

The cost to the user has to be the biggest advantage in a single payer system – now I understand that we will all be “paying” for it in a national single payer system through taxes, but the difference is it doesn’t matter if you get cancer, you won’t get a bill. It’s stress free, you no longer have to worry about if your health or a freak accident is going to bankrupt you. You don’t have to worry about copays or deductibles, you just know your covered.

My kids have a variety of (small) medical issues, their therapies never cost me a dime on Tricare. When I talked to their doctors about what they needed I never had to ask about the cost, instead I got to ask about what the best treatment options were without having to worry about if I could afford it.

Furthermore, with Tricare preexisting conditions don’t matter. Now to get on Tricare as a military member preexisting conditions are a thing, they won’t let you join the military if you have a multitude of different health concerns, thus excluding you from Tricare. However, for spouses or kids, it doesn’t matter what they have – as soon as they marry the service member everything is 100% covered. With a single payer system, you don’t have to marry a military member to get this kind of full coverage if you have a preexisting condition. Simply by being an American you would have healthcare.

Still the biggest drawback on a single payer system is your ability to choose your doctor. In Tricare you are assigned a primary care doctor who handles all your day to day care and refers you out to other specialists if you need them. While that works great if you have a good primary care doctor, if he isn’t any good it can lead to a lot of headaches. While you can change your primary care doctor it can be a pain.

In a civilian single payer system there would have to be a system to address who you can see, if not everyone is going to want to see the top doctor every time their nose runs. I think a system where you have a choice between 3 primary care doctors – think a family health doctor, that can refer you out to specialists is the way to go. Of course, being limited on who you can see is a definite drawback of the system.

With this information and my personal experience on Tricare I am a strong activist for a single payer system. It is insane that in the United States there are people that lose every dime in their savings account or go into massive debt because they fall and break their arm. It’s even crazier that there are people with cancer that can’t get treatment because they can’t afford it. They are sentenced to die because they can’t afford the care that could save their life. People deserve better, and in America we have the option to give them better, it’s beyond time we did so.

 

The Shutdown is Over: Now we need to make sure it NEVER happens again

government_shutdown_sign_(10174816623)What this government shutdown has shown just about every American and politician, is that shutdowns like this cannot happen. Government workers cannot go without paychecks for weeks on end because of political games. And in a sense, we were lucky, this was a PARTIAL government shutdown, and the effects were still profound.

Do you really think that the politicians would have handled the situation any differently if it was a full shutdown? Don’t count me as someone with any confidence that they would have.

With that being said, there is a lesson to be learned here, and a solution to be implemented. The lesson learned? We can’t let this happen again.

What’s the solution? If the federal government cannot get a budget passed on time, then the country should automatically be funded by a continuing resolution until a budget gets passed. To ensure that the CR is not the new permanent budget, it should be reduced by 5 percent every month, with government employees’ salaries the LAST thing to be affected.

This is a bipartisan solution to a problem that has become increasingly worse in recent years. Obama did it in 2013 to get the Affordable Care Act pushed through and now Trump is trying to do it to get his wall built. Holding government employees’ hostage to get what you want is not how you govern.  

A new budget needs to get passed in the next three weeks, and a provision to ensure that a shutdown like just happened never happens again NEEDS to be in it. It’s what the American people deserve.

Doing what’s right: Removing the statute of limitations for sexual assault

pope_francis_malacanang_7Several states are finally starting to do the right thing when it comes to prosecuting sexual predators that target children and the groups that enable them. Currently the laws vary state by state, but many states place a statute of limitations on when the crime can be prosecuted. This is insane.

For adults that have been sexually assaulted it can take years for them to come to terms with their abuse. For children that have been abused, it sometimes takes decades for them to process it. But when they finally come to terms with

Several states are finally starting to do the right thing when it comes to prosecuting sexual predators that target children and the groups that enable them. Currently the laws vary state by state, but many states place a statute of limitations on when the crime can be prosecuted. This is insane.

For adults that have been sexually assaulted it can take years for them to come to terms with their abuse. For children that have been abused, it sometimes takes decades for them to process it. But when they finally come to terms with what happened, and go to seek justice, the states tell them its too late.

The common-sense solution is to remove all the statute of limitations for these cases, but only a handful of states have done this. The reason, as it seems to be with almost everything, is money.

The Catholic Church, insurance companies, and the Boy Scouts of America are some of the major players lobbying against these bills. They worry that an increase in cases will lead to them going bankrupt. And parts of these groups very well might.

But here’s the problem, these groups are notorious for covering up abuses when they happen. And instead of being held liable they want to be exempted from the consequences of their actions. To make matters worse, the people that they want to pass the burden to is the people they let down in the first place.

If these groups are going to learn from their mistakes and do everything they can to prevent these abuses from happening in the future, then they need to be held accountable for what they allowed in the past. If not, they have shown, and continue to show, that they aren’t willing to do what is necessary to stop future abuses. Its time to tell them enough is enough.

what happened, and go to seek justice, the states tell them its too late.

The common-sense solution is to remove all the statute of limitations for these cases, but only a handful of states have done this. The reason, as it seems to be with almost everything, is money.

The Catholic Church, insurance companies, and the Boy Scouts of America are some of the major players lobbying against these bills. They worry that an increase in cases will lead to them going bankrupt. And parts of these groups very well might.

But here’s the problem, these groups are notorious for covering up abuses when they happen. And instead of being held liable they want to be exempted from the consequences of their actions. To make matters worse, the people that they want to pass the burden to is the people they let down in the first place.

If these groups are going to learn from their mistakes and do everything they can to prevent these abuses from happening in the future, then they need to be held accountable for what they allowed in the past. If not, they have shown, and continue to show, that they aren’t willing to do what is necessary to stop future abuses. Its time to tell them enough is enough.

It’s NOT about a wall

Obama hands over presidency to Trump at 58th Presidential Inauguration

This shutdown has never been about a wall. The whole debacle between President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cemented that fact. Cancelling the speakers travel plans and cancelling the State of the Union are the actions of immature politicians using their powers to stroke their own egos.

And that’s all this has ever been about, egos between powerful politicians. As the left celebrates their “win” because Trump agreed to postpone the State of the Union, 800,000 people are going unpaid. SNAP is close to running out of funds for the first time since the program was made permanent.

These realities are something that both parties have lost sight of. Each side is worried about “winning” but has lost sight of the fact that nobody wins in a shutdown. What’s even worse is playing overt political games with each other while those that you are hurting are watching.

I don’t know which party will end up “caving” in the end, and I don’t think it matters. It won’t change my opinion of either party, and I doubt that it will change the minds of any of either parties’ supporters.

When this shutdown ends, neither party will have gained the respect of the American people. In fact, both parties will have lost what little respect that they had remaining. These kinds of behaviors are what got Trump elected in the first place, so he could “drain the swamp”.

He seems to have missed his mark, and instead has become a part of the quagmire that his supporters loathed so much.

Why does everyone care about Nathan Phillips?

world_newspapersWhen I first heard of the encounter between Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips, I was heavily inclined to NOT weigh in on the situation. First off, no matter what happened, it was a localized event with no impact on anything. It doesn’t matter who you believe, or who was even right, because it means nothing to the American political system, or to you in any sort of way. It’s a problem for the individuals involved to figure out, and that’s about it.

Yet the story went crazy, in large part because of social media. A video was taken with a cell phone, it went viral, so news agencies picked it up and ran with it. It’s a problem that news agencies haven’t quite figured out how to handle yet.

As a news agency, when are presented with a video, that has no context or substance, and you choose to highlight it as a legitimate news story simply because people are watching it, you are bound to run into problems. Of course, if you ignore the video, you are bound to become irrelevant.

So, what should they do? They should present the video as news and allow viewers to make their own decisions on it. The last thing they should be doing is pushing a narrative, and yet that’s exactly what almost every news agency did.

And while I completely disagree with President Donald Trump’s assessment that the media is “the enemy of the people”, it’s mishandled situations like this that give him and his supporters a ton of ammunition.

Mainstream media companies need to do a better job at presenting stories like this in an unbiased manner until all the facts come in. Even then they need to simply present the facts to the public and let them make up their minds about the situations.

That kind of journalism that is essential in a democratic nation. Journalism isn’t the “enemy of the people”, it’s the only thing that keeps society working. However, when it’s handled so horribly wrong it hurts democracy by hurting the image of the media.

Trump’s comments are just a symptom of the problem at hand, and until you fix the root of the problem, you can expect the symptoms to get worse.

Donald Trump: This is how you can end the shutdown

capitolFor someone who champions himself as knowing “the art of the deal”, and being an expert dealmaker, President Donald Trump seems to be clueless on how to end this shutdown. His recent proposal to Democrats only goes to show how incapable he is of understanding how to compromise.

His offer of 3 years amnesty for DREAMERS in exchange for his border wall funding is laughable. Why would Democrats agree to a temporary solution for DREAMERS while agreeing to put up a permanent wall?

If Trump was serious about reopening the government, he would have offered PERMENANT protection for DREAMERS, preferably by legalizing them. But instead Trump hopes that Democrats will end up caving to his plan, so he can try and use DREAMERS as political leverage down the road to get what he wants again. The problem is, Democrats will never agree to that, and in the meantime 800,000 government workers will continue to go unpaid.

The solution to end this shutdown is simple. It gives both sides something that they want while giving up something both sides hate. In exchange for Trump’s wall funding Democrats should get the legalization of all DREAMERS.

He can’t argue that this will just encourage more immigrants to flood the border to get to America, because as he has so proudly touted, his wall will “prevent that”. Additionally, there will instantly be 800,000 less illegal immigrants in the United States, curing part of that problem as well.

It’s a common-sense solution that neither side will really like, but that they can take back to their respective bases as “wins”. But in the end the real winner is the 800,000 American people that can go back to work, and to a lesser extent, the American people.

Limiting Trumps Power: Something both parties agree on.

natoRepublicans are once again working to limit President Donald Trump’s power when it comes to international affairs, proof that they don’t trust his judgement when it comes to working with our allies. This time Senate Republicans, being led by Senator Lindsey Graham, are working to pass legislation to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO as he has threatened to do.

Previously, Republicans’ and Democrats’ passed legislation preventing Trump from withdrawing troops from South Korea. These actions go to show how unhinged Congress has come to view Trump. They don’t trust him to be able to make basic decisions that are clearly in the best interest of the country.

If Trump were to withdraw from NATO, the number one beneficiary would be Russia, at the expense of all of Europe. If Trump were to withdraw troops from South Korea, the number one beneficiary would be North Korea, at the expense of the South.

These are common sense things, and the fact that Congress doesn’t trust Trump to see that is telling. It either means that Republicans and Democrats alike think Trump is an idiot, or that he doesn’t have the best interests of the United States as his foremost interest.

One thing is for sure though, Republicans are finally starting to stand up to Trump, at least for the most common-sense things, and that can only be a good thing. The powers of the executive branch have run amuck in recent years, and it’s taken a clearly unhinged president to finally get the legislative branch to reign him in.  

Donald Trump’s absurd cost sharing proposal with South Korea: What does he expect to gain?

camp humphreysThe United States/South Korea alliance is one that has been crucial to stabilize Eastern Asia since the Korean War. With North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, China’s development of military technology, and a resurging Russia, that alliance is more important than ever for both South Korea and the United States.

With that in mind it becomes even more perplexing that both sides have been unable to come to a new deal on the cost sharing measures for U.S. troops that are stationed there. Under the previous deal, South Korea covered roughly half of all the costs associated with the United States military in South Korea, which rang up to roughly 850 million dollars a year.

Additionally, South Korea almost completely funded the expansion to Camp Humphreys, a 11-billion-dollar endeavor. But, for President Donald Trump that’s still not enough. He has called for a 150 percent increase in the amount of funding provided by South Korea, and he wants to have the contract renegotiated every year, instead of every five years like has been done previously.

If President Trump expects to get any where near that much of an increase in defense funding by South Korea, he has lost his mind. When the contract was renegotiated last time, the United States secured an increase of 5.8 percent by South Korea, and 4 percent cap on the inflation rate. Something along those lines is what can be expected this time around and is what is reasonable for South Korea to cover.

What makes this situation more perplexing is the fact that other U.S. allies, like Germany, pay far less of the share then Korea does. Germany pays only 18 percent of the overall cost associated with the United States military being in their country,

So what gives? Many experts think that Donald Trump is trying to gain leverage to use during potential second summit with North Korea, where he can use the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea as a bargaining chip. Just about every expert agrees, this would be a terrible idea.

Congress has taken notice too, that’s why as a part of the defense policy bill for the year it was specified that there will always be a minimum of 22,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea for this fiscal years budget.

Still the question remains, is President Trump looking to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea in exchange for concessions from the North. And as long as it remains a question, it hurts the alliance between the United States and South Korea, and gives our adversaries in the region and edge that they don’t need.

 

Purdue Pharma and the Opioid Drug Crisis

opioidBefore Purdue Pharma released OxyContin in the 1990’s, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, and a member of the family that owns Purdue Pharma had these prophetic words to say “The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white”.

If Mr. Sackler knew then what he knew now he might not have been so proud of that fact. 72,000 people died from opioid overdoes’ in 2017, and Mr. Sackler’s comments point to one of the root causes. Yes, it’s true that pharmaceutical companies recklessly pushed prescription painkiller’s like OxyContin for years despite knowing the risks. And yes, the companies deserve to take a large portion of the blame.

But simply blaming them for the opioid epidemic missies another key factor that needs to be addressed for this problem to be solved.

Doctors still need to be held accountable for prescribing opioid painkillers to patients at an alarming rate. Opioid pain killers need to be prescribed as a last resort to manage pain, but right now they are among the first things doctors recommend. Additionally, with all the negative research available doctors need to be held accountable for not properly sharing those risks to their patients.

Furthermore, doctors need to be held responsible for not ensuring that their patients are being properly weaned off their medication. Too many times patients are prescribed opioids, only to become addicted and then have their prescription taken away. It’s then that these individuals turn to illegal drugs like heroin to get their fix.

So yes, it’s a good thing that these drug companies are being taken to court for their nefarious practices that got these drugs on the market to begin with. But by assigning blame to them we must be careful to ensure that we don’t get complacent. We still need to address how opioids are getting prescribed today, or this drug epidemic isn’t going to get any better.