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The common threat of secrecy

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An interesting few weeks, if watching the meltdown of the Air Force Academy, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the Colorado state government, and the Colorado Springs Police Department can be so characterized.

Let's review. After years of whispered insinuations that the Academy was at best indifferent to claims of sexual abuse by female cadets, the cover-up finally unraveled.

Scores of women have complained to Academy authorities about incidents of sexual abuse ranging from inappropriate touching to gang rape; the Academy not only failed to prosecute most of the alleged offenders, but also sought to impugn the characters/motives of the women who had the temerity to complain.

And now the USOC. While the Springs-based committee has always been perceived as a messy, disorganized and tumultuous environment, most local observers saw that as a consequence of the multiple sports constituencies fighting for funding, recognition or respect. Few of us imagined that scores of its senior employees apparently saw it as a money trough -- an endless source of plane tickets, free office space, real-estate commission kickbacks, inflated salaries and freebies galore.

It appears that, thanks to a profligate and top-heavy administrative structure, a disproportionate percentage of the monies raised to support our Olympic athletes went to a bunch of middle-aged suits.

And the Colorado state government? As legislators found out in a joint session last week, the chickens have finally come home to roost. Yup, all those pious Republicans who've been throwing gasoline on anti-tax activist Doug Bruce's fire for so many years are finally getting their butts singed. Thanks to the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, the Dougster's 1991 tax-limiting amendment to the state Constitution, we're a day late and a billion dollars short. And, there's not a damn thing they can do about it!

Nope, as we've pointed out before, absent simultaneous voter passage of about a dozen complicated constitutional amendments, we're screwed. But wotthehell, since we can't even put 'em on the ballot until November of 2004, maybe something will come along.

Why, maybe Qwest'll go back to $100 a share, and maybe Worldcom'll start hiring again, and maybe tax revenues'll skyrocket, and ... But wait a minute! Thanks to TABOR, even if tax revenues rebound dramatically, the state can't keep 'em.

And what about our own Colorado Springs Police Department? Let's see -- millions of folks demonstrate around the globe, and, despite a few minor incidents, most police forces encounter no problems, except right here in River City.

In Colorado Springs, panicked by a handful of mildly unruly demonstrators, the boys in blue break out the tear gas, even though, by most accounts, the miscreants had mostly split.

But even though the folks subjected to chemical attack were, for the most part, uninvolved in illegal behavior, the cops are unapologetic -- and so are their bosses, our elected City Council.

As a Denver Post letter writer remarked last weekend, maybe it's time for regime change in Colorado Springs; after all, didn't President Bush say something about strongly opposing governments that gas their own citizens?

It seems to me that there's a common thread in all of these stories. In every case, we're looking at closed systems; groups of powerful men (and, I suppose, a few women as well) who are effectively immune from outside intervention or criticism.

Consider the Air Force Academy, which is effectively accountable to no one outside of the military chain of command. It's literally an armed camp, where civilians of any stripe are less than welcome.

The USOC, too, has long wrapped itself in the Olympic rings, and stonewalled anyone who had the nerve to criticize either the opacity of its financial reporting or the extravagance of its staff.

And as for the Colorado state government, 30 years of Republican-controlled legislatures has created a system that is both incomprehensible and inaccessible to the average citizen.

And our cops? Well, you have only to listen to the timid and/or sycophantic remarks of our Council members to realize that our elected officials are scared shitless of being seen as unfriendly to the police.

Lesson? It's simple. Public institutions that manage to insulate themselves from the greater public become increasingly dysfunctional. Institutions like the four above don't need supporters -- they need opponents.

Opponents who are powerful, tough-minded and demanding. Colorado Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell are doing their job by holding the Academy and USOC accountable -- thanks, guys!

But it's up to us to deal with our own cops and state pols. Any volunteers?

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