VOICES | A Titanic survivor can tell you if we’re in a recession


A 96-year-old woman in southwestern England has confirmed a joyless truth about the spreading economic swamp that has evaded regiments of financial analysts and Wall Street apologists for months.

The truth is that the swamp is deeper than you may think.

Milvina Dean is the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic. She was two months old when the great ship went down in the North Atlantic in 1912. This week the Agence France Presse revealed that Milvina Dean is auctioning off all of her mementoes of that grievous day.

She is not doing it to write closure to an event that defined her lifetime.

The last survivor of the Titanic is selling her keepsakes to pay for her nursing home costs.

They keep going up while stocks go down, banks go broke, the lines of the jobless lengthen, governments look longingly across the oceans to find new patsies for their debt, while fiscal eggheads and me-first brokers quarrel about whether all of this constitutes a recession.

The country of Iceland is now officially bankrupt after years of living high and thriving on tourists enthralled by the spectacles of fire and ice in their thermal fields.

In Ireland they are drinking morbid toasts to years of prosperity that the world applauded, years that have flown almost as suddenly as they arrived.

It’s global and there are villains enough to go around. At the head of the list is the American housing bust and the predatory mortgage loan bundling that created instant millionaires and kept the stock market flying to dazzling new heights. All this time factories were shutting down. And because of their increased productivity, working hours shrunk for those lucky enough to escape the outsourcing schemes that brought new riches to unregulated financial swashbucklers who were insulated against taxes by the government of George Bush.

In the meantime the real taxpayers shelled out billions for two wars, including billions never accounted for, billions that went into the hands of friendly contractors, and billions in taxes that will be dumped on the heads of children who are now being told by some wingnuts that it is not patriotic to pay taxes.

Many of these children are now attending inferior schools and will never be able to compete for the best jobs because there isn’t enough money to pay for their public education. Nor was there enough money to lift the some 40 million Americans living below the poverty line and the millions without medical coverage.

We are now in an election in which one candidate offers the hope of looking seriously at the economic wounds this country has absorbed, and bringing some level of ethics into the self-serving manipulations of the financial industry. He offers the hope that the qualities of fairness, trust and good will that have lifted this country to its finest hours can be restored somehow in these fractured times.

The other candidate is a man of merit who is campaigning angrily and desperately and who would almost certainly drag into his administration–or be afflicted by–most of the same forces that have brought the country to the turmoil it is in today.

The decision by the American public doesn’t seem that difficult.