Titanic Stupidity

I have been trying to think of some way to understand the idiocy that is currently going on in Washington.  The idea that there is any other political ambition that would justify allowing the United States to act like some Banana Republic and default on its obligations is simply insanity.  Many of the people involved in this process are ideologues, but few of them are actively stupid (I think).  The ones who are actively stupid could be easily out-voted by those who are not if the latter group would just deal with the realities of the situation instead of trying to use it to advance some other political agenda:  the crushing of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care).

Obama Care may be a very bad idea (I don’t think so, but I sure could be wrong).  But even if it is, it is not nearly as bad an idea as running the economy into the ground.  So why, I ask myself, are these people – who have to understand the damage they will do to an already weak economy – willing to play chicken on this issue?  Over the last two days, an answer has come to me from a strange direction and over 100 years ago.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit an amazing new museum  in Belfast, Northern Ireland,  It is dedicated to the tragedy that was the maiden voyage of The Titanic. On April 15,1912, the Titanic set sail from England with 2,224 passengers and crew aboard.  Over 1500 of them died that same day in a totally preventable disaster that was the result of ego, greed, shortsightedness and arrogance.  Does this sound familiar?

The ego was that the designers and builders of this huge ship convinced themselves that they had designed and built a ship that was disaster immune.  It not only had a double hull, which would be hard to penetrate, but it had a large number of water tight compartments with automatic doors which would prevent any penetration of the hull from causing a sudden trip to the bottom.  At the very worst, the ship, if disabled, would remain afloat while the passengers were ferried to other ships which would surely answer a distress call and save everyone.  That was the plan.

Of course, the iceberg that the Titanic struck tore the double hull apart and caused the simultaneous flooding of too many compartments to make the  ship even marginally viable.  In addition, although the Titanic had very good radio equipment, other, older, ships did not – it was before WWI –  and its distress calls fell on deaf ears.

In short, the designers and builders of the Titanic had no realistic grasp of the consequences of their assumptions being wrong or of the ability of their plan to ride out that initial error.  Sound familiar?  Think those who are willing to trash the credit of the country and shut down many of its operations (including large sections of the military) understand what the consequences of their actions are likely to be?  If they do understand the potential consequences and are still willing to string us all up, they are either ignorant, evil, or they do not care what they do to the country so long as they can trash Obama.

The short sightedness of the people who owned the Titanic is pretty hard to believe, as were the government regulations, which were largely the product of input of ship owners trying to cut costs.  The Titanic set sail with less than enough lifeboats to take even half of the passengers off of the ship – forget the crew.  That met the minimum regulations, and it allowed the owner to avoid the expense of the purchasing the lifeboats while using the saved space to take on more passengers, creating more revenue.  They let their greed overcome good sense and cut this incredibly important corner because they could and because, after all, the ship was disaster proof, right?  Why take up valuable space that can be used for more passenger cabins with lifeboats nobody is going to need, ever?  Does that sort of “Everything is going to be all right and there is nothing to lose by doing what best suits us” sound familiar?

The Titanic was opulently decorated.  Great care was given to how it looked and felt while safety and common sense were ignored.

Somehow the attitude of those who are willing to trash the country economically because they believe Obama Care is socialized medicine seems the same kind of mind set.  This is especially true because every time they get asked what they want to offer in its place, they change the subject.  I don’t think they want to return to a day when the old, the young, the sick and infirm were left to their own devices.  At least I hope they aren’t.

But they seem to have been made short sighted by greed.  Not greed for money, greed for power.  They want to hear the roar of an approving crowd, even if that approving crowd is a small percentage of the people they are supposed to represent.  That approval seems almost like an addictive drug to some people (and the people who are playing “Chicken” with our economy are by no means the only ones who have fallen into this crowd romance – there are plenty of other political persuasions who genuflect at the alter approval by a small group).  However, while the others are in a position to hear applause, the people I am talking about are in a position to sink the ship, and seem to be forgetting that we are all on it together.

Finally, there was the arrogance.  The arrogance that caused the captain of the ship to cancel the life boat drill, so that when there was an emergency, people did not know what to do, resulting in panic.  Many of the life boats that were there left with many empty seats.  There was the arrogance which caused the captain to ignore the telegram he had gotten warning that there were a lot of ice bergs in the area.  The Titanic was going about 22 knots when the collision happened, nearly its maximum speed.  Two crewmembers were assigned as lookouts for potential hazards, but they were not supplied binoculars or telescopes.  They saw the iceberg, but it was too late – it takes a while to turn a ship that big.

Well, guess what.  The Titanic was able to turn on a dime compared with what will happen if we  are not able to pay our debts short term.  And that is what a refusal to extend the debt ceiling will cause: an inability to pay our debts short term.  Interest on government bonds, social security, payments to health care providers, money for schools, salaries and support for our troops in the field, the list goes on and on.

The designers and builders of the Titanic were sure they were right, so they ignored commonsense measures to guard against being wrong.  I fear we are watching that kind of ego, greed, shortsightedness and arrogance again.  Except this time we do not have 2224 people on board.

Our passenger list is over 300,000,000.

Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.

Dugan Barr
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967, primarily in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. He can be reached at Barr & Mudford, 1824 Court St., Redding, 243-8008, or dugan@ca-lawyer.com.
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25 Responses

  1. Avatar christian says:


    Great juxtaposition! I'm wondering and thinking about this. How did we as a democracy let this happen?

    Fact, if the house would vote straight up or down on a clear bill, we would have a budget and affordable health care, just as law mandates.

    Fact, most american's want affordable health care but there are a block of american's that think IT DOESN'T GO FAR ENOUGH, as in single payer! If you add those that support it and the the block of people that want to make the bill a single payer, there are MORE supporters than those who don't support it!

    The real question is this. How did we as a nation let our self's get hijacked by a very clear minority of Tea Party wackos that in reality do the bidding of the upper 10 percent, people like the Koch Brothers, who are trying as hard as they can to crash america into the rocks so they can finely strip away what little remains or the philosophy and law enacted after the Great Depression to help the common man and woman, the other 80 percent of us called middle class and the poor working class that actually work very hard every day at increasingly low wages and poor conditions keeping the "Titanic" afloat?

    I wonder how it is that we let the oligarchy put the Titanic thinking and perspective into our thinking so we can fight about arranging the deck chairs while they direct the american political – economic machinery from afar in their safe and warm, well protected mansions and estates, so they can carve out even more of us (than they do today) after the crash? What is the sociological mechanism that lets them do this while we steam full speed ahead?

    Wake up america. Change the fatalistic thinking and change course! Throw the Tea Party overboard in 2014! Enough is enough!

    • Avatar Doug Bennett says:

      The last sentence in your first paragraph shows that you and most others here are starting from a bad assumption: "How did we as a democracy let this happen?"

      We don't have a democracy anymore! Since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision Wall St, Big Banking and multi-billionaires own this country. Both parties are dominated by special interest money, and the people are being starved out by stagnant wages and high unemployment.

      The Tea Party was bankrolled by those same special interests and their candidates won seats at the state and federal level through "dark money" being laundered through the numerous PACs that were created for that purpose. Your local Chamber of Commerce is just one more arm of this "bad money" drowning out voices here a local level.

      Over 90% of the time an election is determined by the amount cash spent by the candidates. A candidate of the people doesn't stand a chance, because we don't have enough money to even buy-in to the game. Look at the costs of the last presidential elections.

      • Avatar christian says:


        In my darkest hour I start thinking that indeed you are right; we don't have a democracy, we have an oligarchy driven corporatocracy. However, I'm not ready to go there yet… it brings visions of late night torch lit gatherings. The masses carrying our pitch forks in protest while being driven back by the likes of the private armies, security forces, with names like Blackwater, Aegis Defense Services and Custer Battles (oh, you mean there are such armies…?) protecting the 2% bourgeoisie (Koch Brothers and friends…) from the 80% proletariat… the rest of US. Yikes, I mean halloween is getting close but…

        I still do believe that if we, the people, did turn off the sickness called TV, did find news from other sources than minority Tea Party economic hostage taking terrorists, Fox News and Rush, and did wait in line for hours to acutely VOTE (listen up 18 to 35 year olds…) in the interest of the commons (the vast majority of US Americans) then democracy, as envisioned by the Constitution, would work! Otherwise, you could be right… and we're done for.

        Doug, please forgive my naivety, but I truly believe that while it may be asleep, democracy is alive and does exist. That is the mind set we need to install after we decide the Titanic mind set is just not working for us. But it's true, all that could just be another hopeful run on sentence…

        Remember, don't morn! Organize and Inform to VOTE! 2014 is here!

  2. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Aww, Dugan it's just brinksmanship, you know. The usual. Politics of the ins and the outs. The debt ceiling is an odd sort of contrivance anyway, as you no doubt know.

    There is a deeper issue, tho, that keeps escaping notice, which is the National Debt, itself. It is enormous and still growing under Obama, as it has under every recent president except Clinton. We really are living beyond our means, as responsible conservative economists have been pointing out for years, and our social programs, along with the military, really could go bankrupt.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, we should look at what Clinton did, and try it again. Maybe we could even afford to extend Medicare to everyone. Obamacare (oddly modeled after Romneycare, from Massachussets) really does promise to be a mess, and Medicare has been working fairly well for quite awhile.

  3. Avatar EasternShastaCounty says:

    Hear, hear! This thinking reminds me that up until October of last year, we were still receiving "Impeach Obama" junk mail. All that effort and money going toward a done, dead deal. Do the geniuses in Washington (and Sacramento) have even two gray cells to rub together? Is there something in the water that causes them to become brain dead as soon as they take office? Perhaps is green eggs and ham.

  4. Avatar cheyenne says:

    The problem with the ACA is one plan doesn't fit all. What works in 38 million California will not work in half a million Wyoming. From what I have seen the Republicans want to hold off implementing the ACA for a year and will continue funding for the budget. This seems resonable to me.

    Maybe the ACA is working in California but it isn't addressing the issues here in Wyoming or even in Colorado according to some of my friends.

    Healthcare is not just around the corner in Wyoming. For example in Laramie is an orthopedic center with nine doctors and four airplanes to serve patients all over Wyoming.

    As far as the budget the country can not keep raising the deficit, sometime we have to stop. When should we do that?

  5. Avatar Ginny says:

    Sure go ahead and blame the Republicans for everything. Who is the one screaming it is the Republican's fault, but I won't negotiate! That is the president and the Democrats.

    If we ran our budget as the government runs theirs, we'd be homeless rather than getting bonuses!

    • Avatar Pamela says:

      You've to be kidding. The republicans have become totally locked in and have refused to negociate on every issue.

      There was a cartoon I saw recently. It is of course an exaggeration; it's a cartoon! But the idea was/is: If Obama said oxygen is good, the republicans would stop breathing. It really is weird.

      It was a republican Think Tank, including Romney, who drew up plans for healthcare revision, not much different from the current Obama "care" healthcare. But because Obama is putting this forth, it's a no go for republicans.

    • Avatar David says:

      The debt ceiling used to be a soapbox but now the GOP is wedging the fire escape doors shut with it while giggling uncontrollably.

  6. Avatar Charles Dethero says:

    That is why the US (that is us) need to get out of debt so we do not have so many obligations. That is why we need to (re)become more self-reliant, family reliant, and faith reliant, and less reliant on the government, so that such chaos just would not occur every time the people in government become so enchanted with themselves. Our system is totally out of control; Obama Care is just going to make our reliance on the government worse. Can you just imagine the nightmares we are going to have in 10 years once the government becomes the main provider for health care. The Great Society has failed; the poor are still poor, probably more so; it is a downward spiral; more government is not the answer.

    • Avatar George Horn says:

      It isn't just about The ACA, the Republicans have a long list of requirements, look them up. They lost an election and are trying to govern by fear.

  7. Avatar •Handouts Don&# says:

    The bottom line is Democrats hurt working people and families.

    • Avatar David says:

      You know, I was wondering what the "bottom line" is, so this is good to know. You're absolutely wrong in your hyperbolic statement, but still good to know.

      And you do know that the ACA is modeled on the 1993 HEART Act, a Heritage Foundation (a conservative "think tank") health insurance proposal they've been pushing since 1989, right? I wonder what it is about the ACA that they hate so much?

  8. Avatar Robb says:

    Great analogy, Dugan. The difference, though, was that the Titanic disaster forced the maritime industry to change. I'm not so sure that will happen here. There's a whole class of politicos that thrive on spin and chaos. None dare call this treason, but don't these actions give aid and comfort to those who wish us ill? Amazing.

  9. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Mr. Barr, that was a great comparison between the shipwreck and our Congress. Yes, I agree with someone who said the Tea Party is disruptive!. Of course one problem we have also is the number of countries we are involved in — because we are trying to save the world, and losing our own battles at home. What can we do besides gripe? Yes, we can vote, but, somehow, it isn't working.

  10. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    Republicans have spent a lot of time talking about the "debt crisis," and the need to "think of the burden on our children". At the same time, they push a repeal crusade that will make the debt worse and add to the burdens of future generations. Tea party Republicans seem unbent and unbowed and are sticking to the tactics of partisan negativity that American voters rejected in the presidential election. In a Country where a half million go bankrupt from medical bills and 30 million remain uninsured, the Affordable Care Act is not only necessary but also it’s the right thing to do. The overall purpose of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is to make health care affordable to all. Republicans do not understand this or just don’t care. They only hate the sound of Obama Care and are scared to death it will be successful and a credit to President Obama's legacy.

    Health reform is not a bill anymore. It is settled law of the land!

  11. Avatar rmv says:

    GOD BLESS AMERICA and all of it's people!

    This is NOT the AMERICA i grew up in.

    Only Time and GOD have the answer!

    Keep God in Your heart!

  12. Avatar EasternShastaCounty says:

    Ross Perot ran for office in 1992. His platform was for afforable health care and national debt reduction. Here it is 20+ years later, Congress hasn't listened, we're mired in debt, and millions rely on emergency rooms for health care.

  13. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    OK, I was wrong. The Republicans really are dumb enough to shut down the government, and maybe crash the economy, for a limited political objective. They are even worse than the Democrats, I think.

    I am done with the 2-party system

    It's sort of like fighting George Foreman- you may get hit from the right, or you may get hit from the left, but it's gonna hurt!

    There are plenty of "third" parties out there. Find one you can live with, and jump.

  14. Avatar Dustin says:

    The two party system is broke and has been broke years. Maybe its time to put someone else in charge that isn't for sale.

  15. Avatar Magnolia Neighborhoo says:

    Yikes! The French have a saying "Cut the pear in half" as it relates to compromise. My government's current shenanigans is crazy. Unfortunately, innocent people are being affected by this ridiculous government shutdown.

  16. Avatar David says:

    "When ideologies become as calcified, as cocooned and as extremist as those galvanizing the GOP, the American system of government cannot work. But I fear this nullification of the last two elections is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the American system of government as we have known it cannot work. It cannot, must not work, in the mindset of these radicals, because they simply do not accept the legitimacy of a President and Congress of the opposing party. The GOP does not regard the president as merely wrong – but as illegitimate. Not misguided – illegitimate. This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment.

    Except this time, of course, we cannot deny that race too is an added factor to the fathomless sense of entitlement felt among the GOP far right. You saw it in birtherism; in the Southern GOP's constant outrageous claims of Obama's alleged treason and alliance with Islamist enemies; in providing zero votes for a stimulus that was the only thing that prevented a global depression of far worse proportions; in the endless race-baiting from Fox News and the talk radio right. And in this racially-charged atmosphere, providing access to private healthcare insurance to the working poor is obviously the point of no return." -Andrew Sullivan

  17. Avatar Bud Wood says:

    Dissolution of empires have happened periodically during the history of people embracing bigger and better (?) ideas of governing each other. What else is new? Relax and enjoy the ride; if you go down with the "ship", just be satisfied that you got a ride on the biggest and best (?).

    Anyway, if you can't depend upon governments for entertainment, for what can you depend upon them?