Woe is Me – America Sucks (as usual)

KameraDSM of the Daily Kos is just depressed when he (or she) considers our prowess in the Olympics and a bunch of statistics he (or she) ran across when looking for negative info on the US:

As we continue to celebrate the Olympics with profound pride and patriotism, I wanted to share some disheartening rankings that reflect our country’s stark decline relative to the rest of the world. I list these fully knowing this community’s cognizance of such issues, but sometimes numbers yield a haunting, and thus effective, reminder. For anyone truly proud to be American, these numbers should anger, motivate, and prompt action.

32nd – World rank of U.S. infant mortality rate.

First – CEO to Worker pay ratio (531:1) (Second place is Brazil at 57:1)

9th – Adult Literacy Scale (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

12th – student reading ability (Source: OECD)

37th – U.S. rank on the Healthcare Quality Index (World Health Organization)

17th – Rank of U.S. on women’s rights (World Economic Forum Report)

29th – Life Expectancy

48th – U.S. rank on Journalistic Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders)

13th – U.S. rank on quality of life survey (Economist Magazine)

45th – Environmental Stability Index (Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy)

21st – Aid to poor nations of the world (as percentage of gross national income)

*** These stats are re-presented from Vincent Bugliosi’s excellent new book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

We are the wealthiest nation in the world and widely indoctrinated to consider ourselves the “greatest” nation. Of course, if we were to measure our greatness by military might and financial wealth, we’d be No. 1 – no doubt. But what makes a nation truly “great” is its leadership and devotion to social/moral issues. Take seriously the numbers above, and you’ll have a hard time finding the tenacity to say we’re the “greatest.” (To be honest, one should be wary of any person, government or institution that self-proclaims “greatness”)

Have to love the name of the book which is the source of the info, don’t you?

As with any statistical analysis, you have to look at details.

Let’s take foreign aid for instance.

I found a 2005 story (pdf) on that from the LA Times which addresses precisely the claim made by our friend at the Daily Kos, but using a per capita standard.

And the result?

The United States has significantly increased its foreign aid to poor countries but still ranks 12th among the 21 richest nations in its overall performance in helping the world’s poor, according to a widely watched annual report.

According to that report, per capita the US gives $.15 through the government and about $.06 privately per day.

The United States spent $18.7 billion in foreign aid in 2003, more than any other nation.

The number one nation, Denmark, gives $.89 per person day.

Sounds like a huge difference until you do the math. Denmark has a population of a medium sized metro area in the US (5,475,791) which means, given the report’s number, it doles out exactly $1,778,810,706.35 per year in foreign aid.

So tell me – does 18.7 billion buy more food, build more schools and help more nations than does 1.7 billion?

Unless my schooling was as bad as some people claim it was, I’d say it is significantly more than Denmark’s contribution. But that’s the problem when you try to make comparisons like this. The total amount of money is what makes a difference, not the per capita level. While it’s nice that Denmark has that per capita level of aid, their total contribution obviously doesn’t do what ours can do.

I’ve covered infant mortality before, and while the problem is a little different, it again is a false comparison when you get into the details.

And that’s what you have to watch in “America sucks” laments like KameraDSM’s. The old saw of lies, damn lies and statistics was never more true than here.

Like so many at Daily Kos, I’ve been inspired by the world’s athletes at the Summer Games. A simple thought came to me while watching the U.S. runners and gymnasts last night: If the U.S. can be No. 1 in overall medal count for the Beijing Games, there’s no reason we can’t be the greatest at overcoming our culture’s immense moral shortcomings. If we can be patriotic about the 100m butterfly, we can again be patriotic about things other than war and money like, perhaps, helping the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

“Immense moral shortcomings” – my goodness. How does this person manage to continue to live here? Of course he (or she) makes no examination at all of the details of the stats he (or she) throws around. It’s enough that they look bad for the US and allows him (or her) to engage in a round of self-righteous moral indignation related to our assumed greed, selfishness and moral decline. It obviously fills a need.

So I’ll leave him (or her) to cry in his (or her) beer (or wine) while I continue to enjoy the Olympics. I see the games as a perfect representative of the greatness of our country. While we may not be perfect, no set of manipulated stats can hide the fact that we are and we remain the greatest nation on earth – and our immigration stats (you know, those “huddled masses”) prove it. Despite repeated statistical attempts to prove we’re not worthy, immigrants continue to flood the country and declare it the most amazing place on earth.

And if you don’t quite understand that point, look at the US men’s gymnastic team as the perfect example – 2nd generation Chinese, 2nd generation Indian, 2nd generation Russian among the rest of the team. Their parents saw the potential living in the US presented and their children realized it.

Yup, the Olympics make the point very well. Too bad our friend can’t sit back and just enjoy the fact that he (or she) lives in the greatest nation on earth.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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