Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 07/21/10

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    If you haven’t thrown out your copies of The Washington Post this week yet, don’t.

    If ever there was a reason for newspapers to survive their economic tsunami, Monday’s edition was it.

    On Monday, The Post began a three-day series on “the top-secret world” our national government has built up since Sept. 11, 2001. It says this network “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

    Your humble Notebook has dipped and dabbed into this subject frequently, bemoaning the “securicrat” suffocating of our freedom of movement, especially here in the nation’s capital.

    We’ve always focused on the kaleidoscope of public and private security officers, federal and local police, and concrete and metal barriers that have made the capital of the free world a fortress instead of a beacon of freedom.

    The Post, we’re glad to see, has dug deep into government spending on security nationwide, at all levels, asking what it’s doing to America and what it’s costing. Even without having seen the whole series, we don’t hesitate to recommend that you read it.

    As The Post editors said in an explanatory box accompanying the series, the paper took the unusual step of vetting much of this groundbreaking information with security officials themselves, but the editors said they changed very little.

    “Our objective,” the editors wrote, “is to provide as much information as possible, so readers can gain a real, granular understanding of the scale and breath of the top-secret world we are describing.”

    The principal Post authors are Dana Priest and William M. Arkin. Dozens of other writers and editors helped shape this series.

    Securing the nation is the highest duty of our national government. There’s no reasonable dispute of that.

    But The Post has opened a new level of conversation about what we’re doing, what we’re spending and what we’re losing within the fabric of our free nation.

    In his farewell address in 1961, then-President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Eisenhower believed that the military-industrial complex tended to promote policies that might not be in the country’s best interest … and he feared that its growing influence, if left unchecked, could undermine American democracy.”

    Benjamin Franklin has been credited with cautioning, even at the founding of our country, that those who would give up liberty for security deserved neither.

    Read The Post series. Check out its special online site devoted to this topic, www.topsecretamerica.com. And prepare for those who will say that such journalism endangers our country by exposing security secrets or providing a guide to those who would do us harm. Don’t fall for that. Be glad in America for this type of journalism.

    • Kwame, Part 2.

    There’s more from The Washington Post.

    Staff writer Mike DeBonis followed up our exclusive NBC4 report on the serious debt problems of at-large Council member Kwame Brown, who’s running for council chairman.

    Your Notebook had reported that three credit card companies were suing Brown for $50,000 in unpaid debts. DeBonis delved into Brown's entire credit mess and estimated his total debt at $700,000. He said Brown was engaged in out-of-control luxury spending, not just caring for a growing family as he first said.

    That includes refinancing his home. According to The Post, Brown and his wife Marcia bought their Hillcrest home for $313,000 in 2002, refinancing once in 2004 and then again in 2006, borrowing $598,000 against the property. Brown also took out a $92,000 home equity line of credit. A real estate appraisal recently valued the home at no more than $420,000, The Post said, far below the mortgage debt.

    The DeBonis report showed that Brown bought expensive Mercedes cars, a Lincoln Navigator and a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck. He bought a boat for $50,000 at a distress sale, hoping to sell it later for a profit closer to its $73,000 market price. Instead, recent offers have been below his purchase price.

    Well, some would point out that many people have faced credit problems during the nation’s economic crunch. And that’s true. But others charge that those who want to lead have to lead by example, not just words.

    • Two for D.C.

    Well, a U.S. House committee has finally gotten around to approving a proposal to place two District of Columbia statues in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, which houses representatives of the history and contribution of every state to the nation.

    Our statues would be of Pierre L’Enfant and Frederick Douglass.

    The full House is expected to pass the authorizing bill this summer, but there’s no indication from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that this modest legislation will be championed in the U.S. Senate.

    Will the District of Columbia be thwarted again? First, our voting rights bill died from political maneuvering and a lack of unity. Will the statues face the same fate?

    “This is a real window of opportunity,” said WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin, who has pushed for the District’s inclusion with the rest of America. “Real people live here,” he said, adding that the city shouldn’t settle for just “a valiant try.”