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During almost any discussion of legislation in Congress, the national debt will reliably be introduced into the debate. This topic is unavoidable when allocating federal funds for any reason, but especially during budget proceedings. Usually, Republicans voice their concerns over excessive national spending and the effect that it would have on the federal deficit. But what exactly is the national debt and should we be concerned about it?

Essentially, the federal deficit is the amount of debt the United States has — or the amount of money it owes to other entities. These include U.S. federal agencies, state and local governments, foreign governments, and investors. The total national debt as of February 2018 totals to over $20 trillion. Needless to say, this is the highest amount of debt the country has ever had.

Why is the federal deficit so large? The simplest explanation is that the government has spent many years and decades spending more money that it collects in revenue from taxes. But the federal government is very large and has many, many working parts. Contrary to popular belief, China does not own most of the national debt. That title actually belongs to the Social Security Trust Fund — where your retirement checks come from. In fact, about 30 percent of the national debt is owed to 230 federal agencies. Or the United States owes this money to itself. This situation is a result of shifting money around to different parts of the government through the purchase and sale of U.S. Treasury bonds.

The federal deficit matters because of its potential impact on the economy. With higher debt burdens, economic growth slows. This is a side effect of governmental actions typically taken to deal with the deficit. As interest rises, the government is likely to raise taxes or increase inflation to handle it. Both have a negative impact on investors' willingness to invest. A higher inflation rate will often result in a higher interest rate, which discourages borrowing. Additionally, high levels of public debt cause concerns over whether the debt could actually be repaid in the future. However, the United States has so far been reliable in paying its bills. In fact, part of the reason America is the country with the highest foreign debt is because U.S. Treasury bonds are seen as the safest investment safest investment. But running up the debt even more puts the country more at risk for not making good on its promises.

An increasing national debt seems to be bad for the national economy, yet fiscal policies do not seem to be changing to resolve the situation. The new tax law implemented in 2018 cuts taxes across the board, but most steeply for businesses and wealthier individuals. Lowering the tax base will further contribute to the national deficit as there will be less money to make interest payments. The pattern continues with the 2018 fiscal year budget proposal from President Trump, which totals to about $4.4 trillion. The proposed programs and spending would add almost $10 billion to the deficit this year and $7 trillion over the next 10 years. This budget size is about the same as the total 2017 fiscal year budget under Obama, but it is an unusual proposal coming from a Republican president. Conservatives have long worked to maintain an image as the party of fiscal responsibility. Increasing the deficit with a big budget like this one does not fit that image.

So, should you be concerned about the national debt? Over the long-term, everyone should be concerned. Slower growth will affect every aspect of the economy. A booming economy encourages investment, which then creates economic opportunities. Lowered incentive from investors can spell trouble. Slower growth can also lead to wage stagnation and fewer jobs being created. To keep the unemployment figure low, America will need more economic growth as more young people enter the workforce.

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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.