We’re Number One Baby, And Don’t You Forget it!
Americans have always taken pride in breaking records – the longest bridge, the tallest building, a record harvest – and now we’re at it again as records fall at a feverish pace.
Take the trade deficits. Under Bush’s leadership, the U.S. sets record trade deficits almost quarterly and we’re on track to have another record-breaking year. The trade gap, which set a new quarterly record of $195 billion in June, is on pace to top $780 billion for the year. This is a sharp increase over last year’s record $617 billion, which represented a 24 percent increase over the previous year.
This is only one of the many records to topple under Bush and, while the records aren’t all official – they aren’t tracked by Guinness World Records – many of them reveal the colossal effect Bush is having on the country.
Record trade deficits push the U.S. to borrow a record $2.1 billion each day to keep our economy afloat. After setting a record for the longest job slump since the depression in his first term, Bush is now presiding over a decline in labor participation, which fell to its lowest level since 1988. Over 500,000 people, 20 percent higher than a year ago, have simply given up looking for a job.
Since its founding, America produced a national debt of $5.7 trillion, but since Bush took office the debt is expected to almost double, to $10.8 trillion in 2010. The national debt, which used to be an issue for the GOP, is now 70 percent as large as the total U.S. economy.
Although it has recovered a bit, since the beginning of Bush’s second term the dollar slid to a record low when it fell 24 percent against the euro, 14 percent against the Japanese yen, and 21 percent against the Canadian dollar. After 9/11, Bush told Americans to go shopping, encouraging free spending and sending savings rates to a 35-year low.
Thanks to low interest rates under Bush, average American homeowners pulled out record amounts of cash from their homes and, in 2004, owed $766 billion in home equity loans – twice that of 1998. Consumer debt set a record of $2.1 trillion in 2004 and personal bankruptcies set an all-time record in 2003 – one out of every 73 households, despite record low interest rates – before Congress decided to make it more difficult for individuals to file for bankruptcy.
While not a record when adjusted for inflation, oil prices are setting new highs. In August, oil reached $66 a barrel, setting five consecutive records in one week, and some analysts claim it’s headed to “the $90 range.” That’s 50 percent higher than a year ago and almost triple what it was three years ago.
These high prices lead to record profits. Under Bush, the profits of oil conglomerates set a record $100 billion worldwide in 2004, and are expected to increase this year. Since he took office, oil profits increased 34 percent or $34 billion. Oil giants ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and ConocoPhillips, major GOP contributors, broke not only their all-time records, but also set record profits for any U.S. industry.
Pharmaceutical conglomerates that are major contributors to the GOP also claimed higher profits. During the recession of 2002, the largest ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 reported combined profits of $35.9 billion-more than the profits of all of the other 490 businesses combined. In 2003, Bush signed a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, which will give these major contributors to Bush’s election a record $139 billion in profits over eight years when it begins in 2006. In addition, a new tax break will allow American drug conglomerates to return foreign profits of $75 billion to the U.S. at a 5.25 percent tax rate, compared to the standard 35 percent rate. No wonder pharmaceuticals predict increased profits.
Banking conglomerates are also setting record profits under Bush. Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, the nation’s first-, second-, and fourth-largest banks produced record profits, while the third-largest, J. P. Morgan, bought Bank One for $58 billion and increased its income by 304 percent. Worldwide, the top 1000 banks made profits of $417 billion in 2004, a 65 percent increase over the previous high set in 2000. Banks worldwide are having another record year in 2005, increasing profits and reaching what The Financial Times calls an “unthinkable” return of 19.86 percent, double the 1999 rate. In the latest quarter, profits for the top 49 U.S. banks rose 7 percent while the fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-largest raised their profits an average of almost 18 percent.
Under Bush’s “business friendly” administration, U.S. corporate profits accounted for 11 percent of GNP in the first quarter of 2005, the highest in four decades. It’s surprising how American voters support an agenda to make conglomerates even wealthier while the incomes of average Americans stopped growing over the past four years and Congress continues to pass major tax-cutting bills every year. Tax cuts that are supposed to provide more jobs in fact benefit only the super rich.
Consider that the wealthiest 20 percent of households increased their share of income from 44 percent in 1973 to 50 percent in 2002 and that the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent now has the highest share of the nation’s income since the 1920s. They increased their share of income 27 percent since 1983, adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, the average wage of $525.84 a week is at the lowest level since October 2001 and housing prices are at their highest level in history – another Bush first.
The Bush Administration set many records for hiding government information from the public by pushing government secrecy to historic highs. Under Bush’s newly extended power to classify documents, some 125 government documents were classified secret every minute in 2002, setting a record of 15.6 million classified documents, double the number in 2001. In the past year, the number of secret documents increased 25 percent. Making documents available to the public slowed from 204 million pages in 1997 to 28 million pages in 2004, while the cost for such secrecy soared to a record $7.2 billion in 2004.
Bush also achieved new records in foreign relations as Europeans declare him the most despised U.S. president in history. After gaining the sympathy of the world after the attack of September 11, 2001, Bush’s invasion of Iraq turned world opinion against the U.S. One Islamic educator said, “It took Israel 55 years to create the hatred and enmity with the Arab world. But it took Bush one year.” Now the public in formerly friendly countries such as Morocco and Jordan register confidence in the U.S. in single digits, while support in Saudi Arabia has fallen from 66 percent in 2000 to below 10 percent today.
In June, the French gave America the lowest rating in 17 years, with only 31 percent of the French having “sympathy” for Americans and only 39 percent seeing America and France as “partners,” down from 68 percent in September, 2002. Bush certainly isn’t enhancing the world’s opinion of America -in August, he bypassed the Senate to install John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. – the first such “backdoor” appointment since the U.N. was formed in 1945. Nor did Bush help relations with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in July, when his secretary of state refused to attend a summit meeting for the first time in 20 years.
In the war on drugs, Bush set several records. The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has been a boon to drug dealers there who earned a record $2.2 billion in 2004, and are expected to set a new record profit of $7 billion in 2005. With the U.S. occupation, opium poppies are now grown in all 34 Afghan provinces, up from 18 in 1999. Under Bush, poppy cultivation increased from 150,000 acres in 2003 to a record 510,000 acres in 2004. These record drug harvests will invariably find their way into the U.S. for consumption in communities here.
In the largest reorganization of the drug trade since the Columbian cartels were established in the 1980s, Mexico now dominates the $400 billion-a-year business. In June, the DEA found that 92 percent of the cocaine sold in the U.S. in 2004 came from Mexico, up from 77 percent in 2003 – a result of the U.S. military involvement in Columbia, which isn’t going well but is overlooked by the media.
Bush, alone, may not be responsible for record spending in the last election, the most expensive in history at $3.9 billion. But is he responsible for nearly half of all lawmakers who retire from the Senate and House – 52 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats – becoming lobbyists? Did the 1,300 registered lobbyists who gave him more than $1.8 million over six years, the 52 lobbyists who raised more than $6 million for Bush’s reelection, or the 100 former lobbyists whom Bush appointed to regulate business set new records or are they merely a reflection of money playing a larger role in politics?
At the beginning of Bush’s second term, he spent a record setting $40 million on inaugural events, the bulk paid for by his largest campaign contributors. After criticizing Clinton for allowing contributors to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom, Bush began charging couples $250,000 to lunch with the president. Isn’t this a record lunch tab?
Once upon a time, Americans took pride in breaking records, but are these the records we want to be breaking?