Apart from our having voted in a lying-scheming-secretive executive administration that so criminally mismanages both our domestic and foreign policies, that plus a go-along-no-oversight-deregulation-inclined legislative branch of government that facilitated our current economic downturn, financial mess, and continued presence in Iraq, what else should we be proud of? Let's do a reality check. Let's look at some facts.
A good case can be made for our being in the upper tier or leading the world on a per capita or absolute basis in many areas of human endeavor. Let’s look first at the domestic side of our American accomplishments. While not fully inclusive and in no particular order, these, below, spring pretty quickly to mind. You might very well want to add some categories of your own.
Energy Consumption: With about 6 percent of the world's population we consume about 25 percent of the world's energy. While we love our energy we excel in neither energy efficiency nor renewable energy.
Carbon Emissions: Our annual carbon dioxide emission is about 6 billion metric tons, about 22 percent of the world carbon dioxide emission. It’s been a long hard fight to get our leaders to even acknowledge the potential for global warming let alone seeking to do anything about it.
Trash for Disposal: We produced about 251 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2006; almost 5 pounds per person per day. While modestly improving, we are not the recycle example for the world. We are the throw away kings.
Motor Vehicles: There are more than 250 million registered motor vehicles in the U.S., about 1.2 per licensed driver. And, of course, we like them to be big. We drive about 3 trillion miles per year almost 10,000 miles per man, woman and child. With the current high price gas crisis, reduction in annual miles driven may reach 150 billion miles, about 5%, but we will continue to drive further in bigger vehicles than anywhere else in the world. Overall our public transportation system is simply appalling and, having pandered to the auto and oil special interests, Congress has insisted we continue with the poorest fuel efficiency in the world. The U.S. uses more gasoline than the next 20 countries combined.
Televisions: While China has about twice as many TVs as we do, about 400 billion to 200 million in round numbers, they are also more than 4 times our population. We, along with the UK, view TV 28 hours per week, tops in the world. The difference is that we waste more time watching crap than do they. PBS is no BBC.
Video Games: I have not been able to locate any data, but I will wager any reader out there that we are right at the top in terms of the number and that we waste more time playing them than anyone else.
Entertainment Available: Again sans data it appears that American citizens number one objective is “to be entertained.” In at least 20 percent of the world's population it is “to have something to eat.” Our corporate media delights in maintaining, if not furthering, our dumbed-down condition.
Health Care Cost: With a 2 plus trillion dollar annual cost, about 17 percent of our GDP, annual costs are approaching 7,500 dollars per person, the highest in the world. Yet, in infant mortality we rank 40th in the world just above South Korea and just below Croatia. We rank just a bit worse in longevity, 42nd , down from 11th 20 years ago. In-hospital deaths due to medical error stand at 200 thousand per year, the 6th leading cause of death in America. We spend a lot of money for very poor comparative performance.
Number of People Without Health Insurance: Variously reported in the range of 44 to 48 million about 47 million seems to be the current consensus. This translates to 22 thousand unnecessary deaths per year and inordinate use of Emergency Room facilities and personnel with attendant high cost. Too little reported is the 38 million that are underinsured. Polls indicate that the majority of physicians, nurses, and the public favor a single payer universal health plan for all Americans while Congress rejects the public will and kowtows to the insurance-HMO-PPO-pharmaceutical special interests.
Bankruptcies Due to Medical Bills: Studies completed in 2005 indicate about one half of the 1.5 million predominantly middle class annual bankruptcies which, including the filers' dependents, impact more than 2 million people, were due to inability to pay medical bills. It is probably not without coincidence that, bowing to financial institution pressures, Congress passed legislature in 2006 setting in place a new bankruptcy law making bankruptcy more difficult. Nice bunch of folks our congressional representatives. We are the only country in the industrialized world where “medical bankruptcy” occurs.
Upside Down Mortgages: Thanks to Congresses deregulation and lack of oversight of the few remaining regulators, coupled with the arrogant greed of the financial industry, the housing bubble burst. If you bought your house anytime in the last two-three years, there is at least a 20 percent overall probability that you have negative equity in your home. In a couple of worst case examples the probability runs from 47 to 72 percent (Port St. Lucie, FL and Merced, CA) according to zillow.com, an online real estate service. Isn’t that a fine kettle of fish.
Home Mortgage Foreclosures: Again with thanks to Congress and its cohorts in the financial industry that gave us the sub-prime lending scam, the Center for American Progress estimates that 2.2 million families may lose their homes and up to $164 billion in accumulated wealth to foreclosure. There were 1.2 million foreclosure filings in 2006 up 42 percent from 2005. A lot of life wreckage in this mess.
Prison Population: Earlier this year 2.3 million adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails; 1 out of every 99 adults, another world record. Individual states alone are spending an average 1 billion dollars per year each on their holding their prisoners captive. Since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget increased 2,000 percent. It’s a big business holding non-violent offenders in prison and more of it is being privatized each year.
Drug Use: On the legal side, world wide pharmaceutical sales are more than 650 billion dollars with the U.S. accounting for almost one half, about 300 billion. With Congress protecting the selling prices through mandated non-negotiated pricing for Medicare and the industry’s unwillingness to sell in America at the same lower prices they do in foreign countries, you know we are being screwed big time. On the illegal side, as of mid-August, drugsense.org reports this years cost of the War on Drugs to be 32 billion dollars; that on a war that was lost a long time ago.