Some breaking news for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Instead of worrying about Vladimir Putin's "broad powers," she should read the headlines of her own nation's newspapers, be concerned about those "broad powers" her boss has borrowed instead. Condi told reporters, at a news conference yesterday, "In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development." (AP) A big, heartfelt amen to that.
And, during that same exchange with members of the press, Rice also observed " I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma." If nothing else, this administration appears to have mastered the fine art of projection. Feel free to substitute the words "White House" for Kremlin, and "Congress" for Duma, and you'll see, a perfect fit!
Condi's concerns for a tamper-free Russian presidential election, in the coming months, is also ironic inasmuch as her close colleague, and our last attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, was forced to step down due to lingering questions as to whether he lied, in sworn testimony, about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys many of whom reportedly refused to play ball and prosecute voter fraud cases as part of a white collar effort to steal yet another U.S. election.
So, in light of her concern for what she calls "creeping authoritarianism," I thought it might be worthwhile to compile a laundry list of things, closer to her own backyard, that the secretary of state ought to worry about:
1) For openers, how is it that fully six months before terrorists bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the government met with head honchos of telecommunications companies like Qwest Communications and attempted to elicit their cooperation in intercepting, and recording the private telephone conversations of "tens of millions of Americans" in defiance of the Telecommunications Act? (WaPo)
2) How is it that the National Security Agency later claimed that bypassing FISA, and ordering warrantless electronic monitoring of ordinary U.S. citizens, had anything to do with 9/11 when the infrastructure for this illicit program was being put in place months before before 9/ll?
3) Why is it that the government "withdrew" a contract worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" when a former head of Qwest Communications, Joseph P. Nacchio, refused to submit to pressure, and join the chorus of telecommunications companies, like A T & T, who cooperated with the NSA's program to data mine personal records? Is there a link between Nacchio's stepping forward, talking now, refusing to be redacted, and the current charges of insider trading being levelled against him? (NSA) This is more like the relatiatory measures we most often associate with organized crime, not government. Moreover, where were the attorney general, secretary of state,and the Justice Department when the head of a major telecommunications company expressed his own worries about the legality of a program to secretly spy on millions of Americans. Could they all have been out to lunch at the time? If so, when are they due to come back?
4) Yes, indeed, as Rice rightly asserts "everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary" -- not just the Russian judiciary; the American judiciary, too! When is the last time you can recall an attorney general not merely stepping down, but hiring a defense attorney? How convenient, too, that the lawyer Mr. Gonzales recently retained to represent him was deputy attorney general under his good friend, and the president's father, George H.W. Bush. What an incestuous lot!
Putting incest aside, for a moment, and looking at how quickly Congress rolls over for this unitary executive whose broad powers guaranteed passage, and finalization, of the USA Patriot Act, and virtually guarantee passage of "Protect America Act" legislation which radically revises FISA, and legalizes warrantless surveillance of Americans, many of whom seem to be more preoccupied with whether Britney Spears is wearing underwear or not.
Yes, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore, especially when every major Internet provider has been asked to turn over Web habits of its customers with promises of immunity from future prosecution. We're not in Kansas anymore when the same Supreme Court that handed this president his White House, back in 2000, has been neutralized, and made to tow the line like every other branch of government.
And, finally, while she's in worrying mode, it seems only right that Condi look into why it is that "innocent people have been killed" (NYT) in Iraq by Blackwater guards. When our so-called allies, the Kurds, themselves say that convoys were not being fired on when they shot Iraqi citizens in the back while they were running from their cars.
Given that Blackwater was reportedly founded by a mega-wealthy evangelical Christian, who'd have thought that they'd serve as an auxiliary volunteer bunch of thugs whose numbers aren't factored into the numbers of those openly killing Iraqi "insurgents" for their own soil Can it be that, not only are the numbers of Iraqis sacrificed at the altar of the almighty buck manipulated, but, factoring in the role of Blackwater and other military contractors in adding to the carnage, that Rice and the Bush administration underestimate the number of forces in Iraq by about 50%? If you hold a gun, and aim it at "the enemy," what are you if not a soldier?
But, what Condi needs to worry about most is how military mercenaries can be engaged in shootings that can only be called entropic criminal events, as well as how it is that her buddy, the president, has managed to get away with unprecedented, and unparalleled wartime privatization. George W. Bush has done, with private military contractors in Iraq, what he was unable to accomplish with social security. He has, in essence, made a business out of putting world stability in peril in the name of maximizing corporate profit.
So, while she's in the neighborhood of human rights, and busy lambasting Russia's president for torture, and dubious interrogation tactics in Chechnya, Condoleezza Rice might want to revisit Guantanamo Bay, clandestine holding cells, as well as take a long, hard look at "extraordinary rendition."
What would be really extraordinary is if the secretary of state can explain how a country that claims to hold the moral high ground has all but shredded the Magna Carta, and may well be remembered as much for Abu Ghraib as the Statue of Liberty.