Viewpoint: A Titanic voyage for Ship of State?

“Thou too, sail on, O Ship of state! Sail on, O Union, strong and great! Humanity with all its fears, with all the hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on thy fate!”

—Henry W. Longfellow

They thought it was invincible, the biggest, fastest, most unsinkable ocean liner afloat. Yet 92 years ago on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and plunged 3.5 miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Does the Titanic stand as a symbol for our Ship of State? Are we on a collision course for disaster?

The Bush administration and its media lapdogs continue to tell us that things are improving in Iraq, that we’re making real progress toward democracy there, and at home our economy is looking up, and jobs are being created. Everything is coming up roses, they say.

Carl Worden is a financial consultant involved in nearly every aspect of economic and financial dealings. “I must tell you,” he said, “that I have a terrible feeling of foreboding regarding the future of American prosperity. The threat is imminent, and much closer than most Americans can possibly foresee.”

Worden went on to state: “My associates from every corner of America have consistently confided to me that the primary driving force in the American economy right now is people refinancing their homes at low interest rates, and withdrawing the equity to make purchases like cars and appliances, and to pay off credit card debt.”

This all sounds fine, but inflation is beginning to inch up. Comstock Partners, a mutual fund management company, says: “Combined with increased long bond yields and the perception of an earlier Fed tightening, rising prices mean that the Fed’s game of stimulation is over. The rise in long bond rates will also kill the mortgage refinancing game while the federal budget is already so deeply in deficit that no further stimulation is possible from this quarter as well.”

Aboard the Titanic that spring day, Capt. Edward Smith ignored repeated warnings of danger ahead. In our day, we are learning that this government did not heed numerous alerts that terrorists were planning to do us harm, and we experienced Sept. 11.

Those of you conversant with the crash of 1929 know that people were buying stock on credit, which became immediately due and payable when the stock lost its value. Thousands lost their homes and ended up on the streets and at soup kitchens.

In many areas of the country, there are flurries of home sales. These are purchases on speculation. The buyers expect to make big bucks by reselling the houses a few months after purchase. Worden warns that when the music stops, the buying frenzy ends and the prices drop, you don’t want to be caught with an over-priced house. “All it will take,” Worden said, “is a Federal Reserve announcement of an interest rate increase, and I see that coming very soon.”

In addition, we are seeing a record number of foreclosures and bankruptcies while the real estate folks are trying mightily to present a picture of a booming market. On top of all this, fuel prices are climbing, pushing up the price of everything else because of transportation costs.

Back in 1929, people were betting that stock prices would keep on rising. Today they are betting their home equity will continue to climb. The former trend did not continue, and neither will this one.

On the night of April 14, 1912, the transport ship Masaba reported “heavy pack ice and a great number of large icebergs, also field ice.” Capt. Smith took no action and continued plowing onward at 20 knots.

Commander Bush paid no heed to those who warned of impending attacks, nor did he do anything except run when 9/11 happened. When informed of the attacks, he continued to pretend he was reading a story about a pet goat, despite the fact he was holding the book upside down.

He and Vice President Dick Cheney were blindly obsessive about Iraq and its oil. He turned a deaf ear to those who told him an invasion of Iraq would prove disastrous.

As Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward has recently exposed, Cheney’s disregard of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s views led to the notification of the Saudi Arabian ambassador of the impeding Iraqi War before our own chief diplomat was aware.

Obviously, the historically close links between the Bush family and the Saudis were more important than the links between the State Department and the White House. Bush’s priorities in this regard are also shown by his approval to let the bin Ladin family fly out of the U.S. the day after the 9/11 attacks, before they could be questioned about the greatest attack on the American mainland in history. By the way, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and supposedly they were under the direction of Osama bin Laden. Was the attack on Iraq for this nation’s protection or for the protection of Saudi Arabia, Israel and oil? Whatever the case may be, the whole world knows the WMD pretext was exactly that, a ruse, whether we face that reality or not through all the frantic spins of the White House.

Now, as more and more Americans come home in body bags and Iraq is on the brink of exploding into civil war, Bush declares he was right about Iraq all along and can’t think of any mistakes he made either before or after the invasion.

The nation sails unfriendly seas, with our military overextended around the world. Anti-Americanism is rampant everywhere, even in countries that were, before the Bush administration, our allies. Much of this is due to Bush’s policy of pre-emption, violating international law and our country’s traditional foreign policy.

Now, Bush has amplified these violations and resulting tension by condoning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and discarding the negotiation tool of the Palestinian Right of Return. Any question of America’s balanced approach in the stormy seas of the Mideast has been thrown overboard. He has thrown gasoline on the seas of the Arab nations. He has capsized our Arab-Israeli policy that has been our lifeboat there for decades. The silence of the American media’s icy seas on the issue is chilling. The chill comes directly from the animosity toward the press from the White House, and the media’s swallowing of that salt water.

Every day, the revelations of the 9/11 Commission stir up turbulence over the turbulence of American credibility and many of the whitecaps smack of whitewash. The supposed captain cannot even testify on his own without his admiral.

Yet, this skipper tells us not to worry, everything is going to turn out all right. “Trust me,” he says. But many are not so trusting or so certain. “Those government assurances are all a big, fat lie,” Worden said. “It’s all a big, fat lie, and I have a terrible sense of foreboding of what is to come, because this economy is not built with underpinnings that can withstand even the slightest breeze.”

Late on that April night in 1912, the lookout frantically clanged his warning bell and called out “Iceberg right ahead.!” Capt. Smith awoke from his inattentive state and quickly ordered the engines reversed, but it was too late; the massive ice was but 500 yards ahead and closing fast.

Today, Americans in the aggregate are spending 120 percent of their income. We have record levels of debt and a furious rate of borrowing. Savings are almost nil. The Federal Reserve is printing more fiat money, that is, money backed by nothing, which adds to inflation.

Have Commander Bush and Admiral Cheney heard the message: “Iceberg dead ahead!”? Will they continue to rearrange the deck chairs and tell the orchestra to play louder? Or will they change course and allow those with more information, greater mental abilities and our people’s safety at heart to take the helm? Can the Ship of State reach safe harbor?

Sources: Carl Worden, Comstock Partners, Inc., and National Public Radio.

Copy Editor Susan Johnson and Editor & Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this editorial.

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