Thursday, August 16, 2007

Losing Stature

The General Accountability Office is the office in the Legislative branch of the federal government that conducts investigations, audits, and evaluations of government policies and practices. It's a nonpartisan office headed by the Comptroller General, who is appointed by the President and remains in office for a fifteen-year term.

The current Comptroller General, David M. Walker, has been in office since 1998, and he's issued a lot of reports in the years since then. This past week he published one that is, I think, like no other. From Financial Times:
The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.” Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned

This guy is a big-time CPA, former executive in both private industry and government. He's seen a lot of stuff, this isn't any time to be crying wolf and making political statements.

He's comparing these times to the end of the Roman Empire.

You can read the report HERE.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.

“One of the concerns is obviously we are a great country but we face major sustainability challenges that we are not taking seriously enough,” said Mr Walker, who was appointed during the Clinton administration to the post, which carries a 15-year term.

The fiscal imbalance meant the US was “on a path toward an explosion of debt”.

“With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks,” said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC auditing firm.

Current US policy on education, energy, the environment, immigration and Iraq also was on an “unsustainable path”.

“Our very prosperity is placing greater demands on our physical infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be needed to modernise everything from highways and airports to water and sewage systems. The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a sobering wake-up call.”

In other news... growing up -- remember? -- Americans were the tallest people in the world, on average. It was because we had the best health care, ate the best food, worked the best jobs, lived the best lives.

Here's the Washington Post:
U.S. adults lost their position as the tallest people on Earth to the Dutch, who average about two inches taller than the typical American. In fact, American men now rank ninth and women 15th in average height, having fallen short of many other European nations.

"Americans, who have been the tallest in the world for a very long time, are no longer the tallest," said John Komlos of the University of Munich, who has published a series of papers documenting the trend. "Americans have not kept up with western European populations."

The idea that many Europeans are looking down on Americans has led to a flurry of interest in trying to explain the trend, with debate focusing on whether to blame the lack of universal health care and other holes in the nation's social safety net, particularly for children.

"We conjecture that perhaps the western and northern European welfare states, with their universal socioeconomic safety nets, are able to provide a higher biological standard of living to their children and youth than the more free-market-oriented U.S. economy," Komlos wrote in one of his latest papers, published in June in the journal Social Science Quarterly. America Loses Its Stature as Tallest Country

They even tried analyzing the data with recent immigrants taken out. Turns out, we reached our height in the 1950s and stopped, while Europeans kept growing.
Height is considered a bellwether of a society's well-being. As wealth increases, often so does height. Wealth usually improves nutrition and medical care, enabling people to reach their maximum growth potential and live longer. The key years are early childhood -- with those children receiving the best nutrition and suffering the least illness growing the best.

Komlos and others noted that the contemporary American diet, while plentiful, has become less nutritious in some ways, especially in recent years, which has helped fuel the obesity epidemic, particularly among children. So while Americans are no longer the tallest, they are among the widest.

"The culture of food here is different than other countries," said Richard H. Steckel of Ohio State University. "Children tend to watch more television and snack and eat fast food. When they do this, the fuel they are consuming is not the optimal blend."

The United States also lags far behind other countries in a host of important markers for childhood well-being. Rates of infant mortality, low-birth-weight babies and childhood poverty remain well higher than those in many European countries, and rates of childhood vaccination are much lower.

"American children are not as well taken care of as one would expect, given American incomes," Komlos said.

Oh, and here's another story along those lines:
Officials blame a lack of health care in the US for its latest ranking in life expectancy, which placed the country behind 40 other countries.

The US lagged behind countries like Guam, Jordan, Japan and most European countries. The highest life expectancy is found in a small country in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain called Andorra. Japan was second.

Andorra's life expectancy was 83.5 years while the US has a life expectancy of 77.9 years.

Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said, "Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries."

Forty-five million Americans live without health coverage. Many other counties, who had better life expectancies than the US, have universal health care coverage where everyone is insured. One of these countries is Canada. But McGill University in Montreal epidemiologist Sam Harper said it's more than that... US Life Expectancy Years Behind 40 Counties

One more thing. You ought to read this interview at AlterNet HERE, about how companies produce two sets of products. They make healthy versions of their products for the European market, and toxic versions for the US. Why? Because we let them.
The American industry argues that the more loose system in the United States helps encourage innovation, and to some extent, perhaps at a certain point in our history that might have been true. But, now if you look at it, the imposition of principles to take the most toxic chemicals out of products in Europe, which is happening now as we speak, is giving rise to a huge industry in green chemistry that is being prompted by the industry.

Go read that one -- it's an eye-opener, but this post is already too long and depressing. We need to realize what has happened. The rest of the world, especially Europe, has progressed, they've moved past us. They look out for their people, they take care of each other and they take care of their environment. Meanwhile the USA has committed itself to the philosophy of greed.

When I sat down at the computer today I wanted to write something funny.

We're glad because this sex-ed battle is pretty much behind us, the suers will continue to file papers in court but they've just about exhausted their options, all they're doing now is whining without any substance. School's starting in a few weeks, the kids will sign up for Health class and they'll learn the new material, which is all we ever really wanted.

We see that the neoconservative national experiment has failed and the radical right is in a state of collapse, even the big-bucks religious extremists have to shout to get anybody to listen to their ugliness. The Democrats in Congress don't seem to have quite understood what they were expected to do, but at least there're checks and balances again, to some extent, and it looks like the 2008 candidates are being forced to deal with the message that people want this country turned around, and fast.

We hope to hasten the end of the age of imperialistic gluttony, but these past years have set us up for hard times. The 2004 election made it impossible to say that our leaders were going against the will of the people; now the whole world holds all of us individually accountable for what we've done. Chasing the road-runner of unrestrained greed, we ran off that cliff, and now we're looking down and seeing nothing but air.

I wanted to write something funny, really I did. Maybe next time.


Blogger Priya Lynn said...

And anonymous joe thinks Bush is one of the greatest presidents of all time. He's presided over what may be the beginning of the end for the American empire. I've been thinking for some time now that this war in Iraq would be just that.

August 16, 2007 4:24 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Gibbon (as in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire") argued that Christianity caused the fall of Rome.

August 16, 2007 9:11 PM  

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