Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Number One?

America by the numbers

by Michael Ventura (February 23 2005)

No concept lies more firmly embedded in our national character than the notion that the USA is "Number One", "the greatest". Our broadcast media are, in essence, continuous advertisements for the brand name "America Is Number One". Any office seeker saying otherwise would be committing political suicide. In fact, anyone saying otherwise will be labeled "un-American". We're an "empire", ain't we? Sure we are. An empire without a manufacturing base. An empire that must borrow $2 billion a day from its competitors in order to function. Yet the delusion is ineradicable. We're Number One. Well ... this is the country you really live in:

* The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (the New York Times, December 12 2004).

* The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (New York Times, December 12 2004).

* Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, January 7 2005).

* "The International Adult Literacy Survey ... found that Americans with less than nine years of education 'score worse than virtually all of the other countries'" (Jeremy Rifkin's superbly documented book The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, page 78).

* Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training (New York Times, December 12 2004). No wonder they relocate elsewhere!

* "The European Union leads the US in ... the number of science and engineering graduates; public research and development (R&D) expenditures; and new capital raised" (The European Dream, page 70).

* "Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990s as the largest producer of scientific literature" (The European Dream, page 70).

* Nevertheless, Congress cut funds to the National Science Foundation. The agency will issue 1,000 fewer research grants this year (New York Times, December 21 2004).

* Foreign applications to US grad schools declined 28 percent last year. Foreign student enrollment on all levels fell for the first time in three decades, but increased greatly in Europe and China. Last year Chinese grad-school graduates in the US dropped 56 percent, Indians 51 percent, South Koreans 28 percent (New York Times, December 21 2004). We're not the place to be anymore.

* The World Health Organization "ranked the countries of the world in terms of overall health performance, and the US [was] ... 37th". In the fairness of health care, we're 54th. "The irony is that the United States spends more per capita for health care than any other nation in the world" (The European Dream, pages 79-80). Pay more, get lots, lots less.

* "The US and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" (The European Dream, page 80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.

* Lack of health insurance coverage causes 18,000 unnecessary American deaths a year. [That's six times the number of people killed on 9/11.] (New York Times, January 12 2005.)

* "US childhood poverty now ranks 22nd, or second to last, among the developed nations. Only Mexico scores lower" (The European Dream, page 81). Been to Mexico lately? Does it look "developed" to you? Yet it's the only "developed" country to score lower in childhood poverty.

* Twelve million American families - more than ten percent of all US households - "continue to struggle, and not always successfully, to feed themselves". Families that "had members who actually went hungry at some point last year" numbered 3.9 million (New York Times, November 22 2004).

* The United States is 41st in the world in infant mortality. Cuba scores higher (New York Times, January 12 2005).

* Women are seventy percent more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe (New York Times, January 12 2005).

* The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, December 14 2004).

* "Of the twenty most developed countries in the world, the US was dead last in the growth rate of total compensation to its workforce in the 1980s ... In the 1990s, the US average compensation growth rate grew only slightly, at an annual rate of about 0.1 percent" (The European Dream, page 39). Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.

* "Sixty-one of the 140 biggest companies on the Global Fortune 500 rankings are European, while only fifty are US companies" (The European Dream, page 66). "In a recent survey of the world's fifty best companies, conducted by Global Finance, all but one were European" (The European Dream, page 69).

* "Fourteen of the twenty largest commercial banks in the world today are European ... In the chemical industry, the European company BASF is the world's leader, and three of the top six players are European. In engineering and construction, three of the top five companies are European ... The two others are Japanese. Not a single American engineering and construction company is included among the world's top nine competitors. In food and consumer products, Nestle and Unilever, two European giants, rank first and second, respectively, in the world. In the food and drugstore retail trade, two European companies ... are first and second, and European companies make up five of the top ten. Only four US companies are on the list" (The European Dream, page 68).

* The United States has lost 1.3 million jobs to China in the last decade (CNN, January 12 2005).

* US employers eliminated one million jobs in 2004 (The Week, January 14 2005).

* Three million six hundred thousand Americans ran out of unemployment insurance last year; 1.8 million - one in five - unemployed workers are jobless for more than six months (New York Times, January 9 2005).

* Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea hold forty percent of our government debt. (That's why we talk nice to them.) "By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom" (New York Times, December 4 2004). Read that twice. We owe our housing boom to China, because they want us to keep buying all that stuff they manufacture.

* Sometime in the next ten years Brazil will probably pass the US as the world's largest agricultural producer. Brazil is now the world's largest exporter of chickens, orange juice, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Last year, Brazil passed the US as the world's largest beef producer. (Hear that, you poor deluded cowboys?) As a result, while we bear record trade deficits, Brazil boasts a $30 billion trade surplus (New York Times, December 12 2004).

* As of last June, the US imported more food than it exported (New York Times, December 12 2004).

* Bush: 62,027,582 votes. Kerry: 59,026,003 votes. Number of eligible voters who didn't show up: 79,279,000 (New York Times, December 26 2004). That's more than a third. Way more. If more than a third of Iraqis don't show for their election, no country in the world will think that election legitimate.

* One-third of all US children are born out of wedlock. One-half of all US children will live in a one-parent house (CNN, December 10 2004).

* "Americans are now spending more money on gambling than on movies, videos, DVDs, music, and books combined" (The European Dream, page 28).

* "Nearly one out of four Americans [believe] that using violence to get what they want is acceptable" (The European Dream, page 32).

* Forty-three percent of Americans think torture is sometimes justified, according to a PEW Poll (Associated Press, August 19 2004).

* "Nearly 900,000 children were abused or neglected in 2002, the last year for which such data are available" (USA Today, December 21 2004).

* "The International Association of Chiefs of Police said that cuts by the [Bush] administration in federal aid to local police agencies have left the nation more vulnerable than ever" (USA Today, November 17 2004).

Number One? In most important categories we're not even in the Top Ten anymore. Not even close.

The USA is "Number One" in nothing but weaponry, consumer spending, debt, and delusion.


Reprinted from the Austin Chronicle.

City Pages is the Online News and Arts Weekly of the Twin Cities

Bill Totten


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