Ditched Again

In speaking of the unexpected and disastrous downturn of our nation’s economy, analysts admitted earlier this month that they didn’t foresee a “turn any time soon”.

The nation’s retailers have just endured the weakest month of March in 13 years, America’s Research Group announced, and its chairman, Britt Beemer, said, “I don’t think April’s going to be any better”.

But some folks would prefer that U.S. taxpayers be kept in the dark about the severity of today’s weakened economy and how nationwide unemployment portends even darker times in the months and years ahead.

The folks at the Port of Manatee chapter of the International Propeller Club come to mind. They just hosted a conference “on the impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal”, featuring as a key presenter, Rodolfo Sabonge of the Panama Canal Authority. You remember him. He was earlier featured in our Vol. XIV, Art.17 commentary, and unless you’re from a distant planet this man’s agenda is transparent, to say the least.

Those who attended the conference, however, weren’t from a distant planet. They came from more than a dozen Southeast port communities, and they came “to learn how the Panama Canal widening, expected to be completed by 2014, will enhance shipping trade to the region”.

Well, shouldn’t we all just sit back and wait until the canal project is completed in 2014? Who needs these lectures from Senor Sabonge? What business is it of ours in the intervening years? Just what does he have in mind when he appears in this country as a “key presenter”? Or should we ask, just what do our port officials have in mind when they invite him to port gatherings?

It’s all very simple. They intend to stick US with the tab. US … meaning the U.S. taxpayers. That’s sad. We were deeply disappointed to find out that a highly respected consultant delivered a message at the conference and proceeded to spout the party line. In about seven years, he declared, the widened Panama Canal will allow megaships loaded with thousands of TEUs to pass unimpeded to U.S. ports, but those ports won’t be ready for them, he said, “unless drastic changes are made”.

“It is the best of times – cargo is up,” the consultant said, citing a study that showed world container trade growing at about 9 percent annually … but passing over the fact that U.S. ports, on the contrary, are experiencing unanticipated downturns in cargo volumes with even worse times seen ahead.

He insisted, nevertheless, that it will be imperative for ports to prepare for the influx of goods coming primarily from Asia … and through the widened Panama Canal, of course … the widening of the canal being one of the “drastic changes” that must be made (and paid for) by U.S. taxpayers.

“Amen”, whispered Senor Sponge.