Toby Barlow

The Sweetness of the Smoking Gun

For the past six years, I've been worried that, despite the Bush administration's obvious incompetence, we would never be able to really bust them in the old-fashioned gotcha sense. And this culture needs the gotcha, we're addicted to the smoking gun theory. We just can't seem to reason this stuff out.

It's even worse now than it used to be; according to news reports, jurors who have grown accustomed to the action on C.S.I. won't even convict anymore unless there are gobs of physical evidence found at the scene of the crime. They need fingerprints, loose hair, and maybe a half cup of the accused's spit left at the scene of the crime.

On the political scene, it's even worse. We had Nixon and his incredibly stupid taping system. We were spoiled. (Can you imagine how wonderful it was to be a liberal Democrat the day the news broke about the tapes? Can you feel the glee?)

But this administration has a well-known obsession for secrecy -- and why wouldn't you if about a third of your administration was bent on funneling cash to the corporate elite, the other third was focused on subverting the Constitution, and the last third couldn't tie their shoes without bumping their heads -- so despite how obvious their awfulness was, I feared we would just never get them. After all, we hear about the August briefings in which Bush was warned that terrorists were planning to use planes as weapons, but we aren't really there, we don't actually see it, and consequently Bush never truly has to answer for his tragic failure there.

But yesterday …

… yesterday we learned there is video of Bush telling state officials, "We are fully prepared" for Katrina.

This is the same briefing at which a top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees. This is the same briefing at which Michael Brown, then the Federal Emergency Management Agency chief, told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome. In this same briefing Bush asked zero questions. "We are fully prepared."

There he is, on video, for the world to see, the CEO president making empty promises and offering hollow assurances to state officials. Enron's Jeff Skilling couldn't have done it any better.

The administration's response to this comes with its own twisted logic. "I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," Bush spokesman Trent Duffy said, "He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times."

Even if that were true (and the fact that Bush didn't ask a single question during the briefing gives even the most generous juror a sense of doubt about that) then it's actually even a greater indictment of this administration. If he were "completely engaged" in the unfolding tragedy, then he would have had the good sense to maybe skip that birthday party with McCain.

So, if anyone is left with any doubts about Bush and Company, if anyone is wavering out there or maybe thinks that he's being unfairly accused, all I can say is, um, let's go to the tape.

Sunday In the Dark With George

Uncle George! Yay! Uncle George came by again! Man we love that guy! He had a bunch of credit cards, fanned them out in front of our eyes like a winning hand of poker and said we could have anything we wanted. Anything!

Dad came in from the other room, looking a little concerned and pointed out that the credit cards weren't in George's name, they were in our name, but George said, "Hey, hey, come on buddy! Don't worry about it!" And then he bought us an air hockey table, a Play Station 2 set, a bunch of beanbag chairs and some white wall tires. And Dad pointed out that the interest rates on the cards meant we wouldn't be able to pay them off for a really long time. And George said Dad was an Taliban-loving, Saddam-cuddling homosexual loser wimp who was out of touch with the needs of the family. Dad was kind of quiet after that.

Then George took us to the car dealership and we bought a new Hummer and drove around the neighborhood crushing stuff. We asked George some questions about paying for everything and he said not to worry because his dad was really rich. We asked if that meant he was going to pay for the car, the new towels, the dinner set, and the rest all himself so we wouldn't be left with all this enormous debt and, without missing a beat, George suddenly pulled over and stopped the car.

He looked us directly in the eye and said, as solemnly as the most solemn preacher on earth, "Have you ever landed a plane on an aircraft carrier?" And we said, "Wow, you've landed on an aircraft carrier! Wow! You're the greatest!"

Then later when we were in the backyard having a barbecue, Dad was still being quiet. I think George really put him in his place. But we were trying to keep the chit chat going, so we asked about some of George's friends, because lately they had been in trouble with the law. He said, "You know, I wonder what'll happen when I throw this grenade into Mr. Douglas' yard?"

And we were like, "Gee, I dunno, do you have to? I mean, we don't like Mr. Douglas or anything, but that seems a little extreme."

And George said of course he should throw the grenade because Douglas had been threatening to come over and kick our ass. We said, "Really?" And he said, "Oh yeah, he's going to rape your mom and sodomize your dad; of course your Dad'll probably like that, right Dad?" Dad didn't say anything, just nursed his beer.

But we were really kind of bothered by the whole thing, we didn't like what George said Mr. Douglas had said. So we said, yeah, sure, toss the fucking grenade. And so George tossed it and it made a huge explosion. Half the Douglas house caught fire, one of the Douglas kids got third-degree burns, but George said it was okay, he'd fix everything.

Then he went over and bought the house from them. Because of all the damage, he got it pretty cheap. In fact, George always seems to get everything he wants. He's just incredibly lucky. Which is why when it turned out the house was sitting on the second largest oil field in the world nobody was surprised. We could never find anyone to confirm what George had said about old man Douglas, but he was a bad guy anyway, so the way we see it, whether George was telling the truth or not really doesn't matter. Right?

And when the credit card bills showed up and said we owed $112 trillion we thought, wow, before George showed up I think we had like $20 billion in the bank. But now we were in serious hot water. But of course this was much later, and George was long gone. So we blamed Dad.

Toby Barlow is an advertising executive who lives in New York City.

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