What are you afraid of?  Many of us feel over-taxed and under-protected by our government so first we should learn the real threats to our country before deciding where to invest in increased safety.

If safety means not dying then we should also know the causes of death in America.  Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics from 2014 show the vast majority of deaths in America were caused by some medical condition. Most of us manage to avoid being killed accidentally or by someone with malice aforethought and inevitably die from medical conditions, many of those the inescapable result of getting old. The price of birth is death. We don’t need to spend much here. Eat right and exercise—it’s hard to even imagine the money saved by reducing heart disease and obesity-related disease.  What are you afraid of?

Halfway down the CDC list appears the first non-medical cause of death—accidental death. Drug overdoses have now eclipsed traffic deaths as number one cause of accidental deaths.  I wish I knew where an increase in funding would help to reduce drug use. If we were able to resist using our phones for any reason while driving that would cost nothing and save plenty of lives, and the same drugs that cause overdose deaths contribute to traffic deaths.  What are you afraid of?

Coming in at tenth as cause of death in America is suicide. This looks like a problem better served by compassion than cash. How does a nation so rich with opportunity seem so bleak and hopeless to more than 40,000 of us each year? It sounds naïve even to me but it seems like we could do better just by listening to each other.  You can’t know someone’s desperation without giving them that time.  What are we afraid of?

Because reduction in the rate of all these deaths would require us to change our behaviors or lifestyles we find it easier to focus on outside threats.

We could build a wall along the Mexican border. The intent here is probably more financial security than protection from terrorist violence.  That wall would be more symbolic than functional—subject to tunneling, scaling, flying over and boating around. The most frequently mentioned cost estimate is about $14 billion. That $14 billion might save more lives if spent on careful control of opioid drugs, or discouraging inattentive driving.  What are you afraid of?

Or we could concentrate our efforts on banning refugees from entering our country.  On the CDC list for cause of death in America there is no entry for acts of terror by refugees. The Cato Institute reports that since establishment of the Refugee Act of 1980 no American has been killed in a terrorist act by a refugee that has been through the long and thorough “vetting” required to get a visa.  Zero.

It is more than faintly ironic that our President tweets in apocalyptic terms the dangers of “People pouring in. Bad!” and instructs Homeland Security to “VERY CAREFULLY” check refugees already vetted, interviewed, finger-printed, DNA-checked, and finally granted a visa in a rigorous process that can go two years.  This from a president who has never held a public office and still refuses to release his tax records. Not much vetting for a man assuming the most powerful position on the planet.  What are you afraid of?

(Don Vowell gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)