New year, new symbol?  Dubai’s new tower fits. The $1.5 billion building unveiled in downtown Dubai Monday is the world’s new tallest tower. More than half a mile high, more than two Empire State buildings tall, the Dubai tower boasts 169 stories, the world’s highest swimming pool,  the world’s highest place of worship, and the world’s tallest mountain of denial.

History repeats. Like the Empire State building before it, the Dubai tower was built in a global depression when cheap labor was plentiful, as were the dreams of the ambitious and affluent.
The engineering marvel was constructed in the desert heat by low paid immigrant workers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, paid  5-20 dollar a day. (It’s a state secret how many lost their lives in the process.)  While the state-owned construction operation suppressed worker demands and banned unions,  it catered to consumer fantasy with equal extravagance. The tower features 144 apartments and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani, the Italian designer. In what’s been dubbed the “super-scraper,” the super-affluent can live and vacation without leaving the brand, or the building.

On Monday, Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed and his Chicago-based architects hailed their building as a symbol of future good and all things great. There’s just one glitch. According to the Sunday Times, that future involves melting the equivalent of 28 million pounds of ice a day for air conditioning, and the consumption of billions of gallons of desalinated water in  a city-state that already has the world’s highest per-capita carbon footprint.

The climate actually changes as you ride the elevator. It’s way, way hotter at the bottom.  The engineers are doing everything in their power to counter physics and so far so good. But rising heat of a far less metaphorical sense already struck in the form of economics.

In last minute switch at its inauguration Monday night, the  Burj Dubai (“Dubai Tower”) was renamed the Burj Khalifa. It was a rather ignominious concession to reality. Sheikh Khalifa, the head of Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s oil rich neighbor, has repeatedly saved Dubai from financial collapse during the construction of the tower most recently, just three weeks back when devastating defaults beckoned.

It’s hardly a win for the hot people at the bottom, but it’s a big hit for Dubai’s super-competitive and like-to-be-cool leaders. Theirs is a tower of debt.  How perfect. Welcome to the decade.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders, author, and host of RadioNation on Air America Radio, has built a reputation for courageous investigative journalism coupled with compassion and a sense of humor. In writing her last book, Blue Grit, she traveled the country reporting on grassroots success stories and broadcast live to over 150 radio stations from community centers in places including Helena, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. In her television appearances (Lou Dobbs, Larry King Live,) on radio and in her many books (including Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species) and articles (The Nation and others,) Flanders calls for a new politics of fairness, equality and citizen action. Articulating the human dimension of American communities in trouble, her programs have become destinations for those seeking the skills and the will to make a difference. Flanders is a regular contributor to the Nation Magazine and CNN. Before joining Air America, where she was part of the original lineup, and hosted “The Laura Flanders Show” for three years, Flanders was the founding host of the award-winning “Your Call” weekday mornings on public radio, KALW in the Bay Area and CounterSpin, the radio show of the mediawatch group, FAIR.