Well, since you asked:
1. Yes, I sense a little jealousy. But hey, I'm jealous of lots of people who have it better or easier than me! My main consolation is that I'm grateful for all I've learned, and proud of doing things the proper way and not skimping on knowledge. It tends to some in handy, this knowledge thing...........
2. I don't think the bar can really drop below a certain level. Hey, we all have to pass the NCLEX to be nurses, and I think any program that was truly inferior would have horrible NCLEX pass rates, and maybe lose their accredation. I'm ignorant of what kind of licensure exam there is for paramedics, but I'm guessing it's along the lines on the NCLEX. So no matter how fast your program is, you need the same knowledge base to become licensed.
I've had the pleasure of working with bare-minimum educated nurses who were fantastic, and BSN prepared nurses who were certified idiots and truly scary out on the floor. Not many of my jobs have cared where I went to school or how long it took me. They ask about my license, and my work history.
You sound like you have a great background to become a great ER nurse. Good luck.