Thursday, March 02, 2006

Not Very Confidential Video

So right on the heels of Mardi Gras we now learn that our Glorious Leader in fact was warned about Katrina after all. It's all caught on what media accounts refer to as a "confidential" government video. Which to me is the only shocking part about this latest news. Keeping a video record of how decisions are made doesn't really seem like the Bush way. I suspect that the one and only lesson George will come away with from all this is to never keep any records of this kind, or if it's unavoidable, classify them as Top Secret and stash them away in the equivalent of the vast government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And track down whoever leaked the current videos and have 'em tortured, of course. That goes without saying.

Right now they're spinning it that the public shouldn't read anything whatsoever into the few videos that have come out, since they aren't representative of the Katrina decisionmaking process as a whole. And of course they're also refusing to release any more videos so that the public can see the "real" picture they're telling us exists. No, your job as a patriotic American is to ignore the evidence, and have faith that the Glorious Leader can do no wrong. Otherwise the terrorists win.

Really, I'm not kidding. For example, in this blog hosted by the Chicago Tribune, the poster argues the videos have just made Bush's political troubles over Katrina that much worse. Which is not exactly going out on a limb these days. The interesting part is the user comments, where a poster calling himself Bruce froths at the mouth about all the "leftists" out there bashing our president. See, what it all really boils down to is the subtle distinction between "breaching" and "overtopping" a levee. Displaced New Orleans residents may see this as splitting hairs, but we're told that in reality it's absolutely crucial. If you use one of the two words when talking to the president, and then the other thing happens, well, clearly he wasn't warned, had absolutely no reason to believe anything bad would happen, and is therefore blameless as always. See, it all depends on what the definition of "is" is, or something. It never ceases to amaze me how the first post always goes to a wingnut, and the wingnuts always have the party-line talking points memorized. (Another example: USA Today survey of the blogosphere reaction. First post: wingnut.) Sometimes I wonder if there's a big bunker full of these people somewhere deep beneath the beltway, where a legion of party hacks is paid to surf the net all day, hunting for even the mildest criticism of the government, and responding with cookie-cutter screeching tirades. It would explain a lot, although "Bruce" claims to be a teacher of some kind, and says he'd give an 'F' to any student who made an argument similar to the one the blogger presents. Which doesn't surprise me a lot either. It seems to have become a core conservative tenet these days that if you have any power at all, no matter how small and petty it is, you have a solemn obligation to shamelessly abuse that power in the name of politics (or religion, which is basically the same thing anymore).

Anyway, now I can't help but wonder whether there's a videotape lying around somewhere that shows GWB and friends deciding to lie to the world about WMDs, or to assume everything will go smoothly in postwar Iraq. That would be fascinating to watch. Alas, someone's probably erasing those tapes even as I write this.

Which sort of brings us to the other political tempest of the day, the Dubai ports deal. The administration, and its media cheering section, would like us to know that only bigoted, isolationist xenophobes could possibly be against the deal. Fancy that, Bush trying to shame us into supporting his latest bungle with what is essentially a political correctness argument. Wonders just never cease. Here's a good rebuttal to that argument, good because it doesn't couch its opposition to the deal in terms of pure political opportunism. To a lot of liberally-minded people, it seems safer or more PC somehow to flat out say they're opposing the deal strictly out of a cynical quest for partisan advantage, rather than admit the whole thing gives them the willies. Which is a sad comment on what politics are like in this country anymore, but there you go. I'd like to suggest that being "xenophobic", as the pundits put it, is nothing to apologize for, so long as there's a real rational basis for it. Don't get me wrong, I'll happily award George points for being idealistic, and suggesting that the UAE ought to be treated the same way as the UK. The world would be a fantastic place if that was possible. But sadly, it isn't, at least not right now.

One of the pro-deal arguments that really irks me is that if the deal doesn't go through, we risk alienating friendly governments. And the last thing we'd ever want to do is anger a supposed ally. Which is not an argument we heard Bush making in the runup to the Iraq war, certainly. And yes, we do count the UAE as an "ally", at least on paper, but our problem in the Gulf has never been a shortage of friendly, corrupt, medieval despots. People at my end of the political spectrum have been arguing for decades that we shouldn't be supporting these people. In recent years Bush has been arguing in favor of "democracy" in the region, which would be great if I though he really meant it. But then, the indications are that the general public in the UAE (and surrounding Gulf states) doesn't like us very much.

We can argue til we're out of breath about whether tolerance should extend to societies that oppress women and routinely behead people for being gay, or criticizing the government, or even practicing "sorcery", whatever that is. I tend to think tolerance is a two-way street. When a country teaches its schoolchildren they have a duty to go slaughter the infidels, a group that presumably includes me, it tends to reduce the level of goodwill I'm willing to show them in return. That's just human nature, PC or not. I don't cut a lot of slack for creepy religious fundies here at home, and I really can't bring myself to be all that much more forgiving of them abroad, regardless of the particular religion they're going all fundamental about.

Dubai, in recent years, has struck me as an especially horrifying place, an utterly artificial, futuristic dystopia straight out of a bad SF novel. The emirate's leaders have positioned the place as a sort of Disneyland for billionaires, with world-class golf courses, ultra-luxurious hotels, fabulous shopping, and a complete absence of basic freedoms of any kind, basically Singapore with burqas, with the added attraction of a meek, nearly invisible and poorly-paid noncitizen underclass to perform all the actual labor. Metropolis, anyone? The WTO's met here on occasion, since they've gotten sick of all those protesters they tend to attract. No problem, just hold the meetings somewhere where protesting isn't allowed. Problem solved.

There's another argument you see sometimes, saying that if we don't approve the deal, we're meddling in the free market, which is Bad. Whether that's actually Bad is an argument for another time, but let me just point out that the company in question is a state-owned enterprise in Dubai. They're about as free-market as, say, Amtrak. I'm not saying this is a good or bad thing, necessarily, just that the free market argument is deeply bogus.

But in the end, the argument Bush & Co. always come back to is that we should support the deal just because he says so. He says it's been reviewed thoroughly, although he won't say exactly how, and that should be good enough for us all. Even though the entire process happened without his direct involvement. I guess the argument is that the Glorious Leader is infallible even when he's out of the loop, in which case the junior staffers who made the call were just being infallible on his behalf. In general, all government employees are infallible, and have been so since January 2001, insofar as they're carrying out the Leader's whims and desires.

On the bright side, this is an election year. Yay!

Tags: mardi gras new orleans katrina bush video iraq wmd dubai uae wto

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