A short course in learning the language of transition is soon to be offered in the Quad Cities, and it's one to attend if you're encountering changes in your life. Present or past, all can be reviewed with careful guidance. Listening is a powerful source of learning, growing spiritually, and sustaining relationships, whether with spouses, family members, friends, or associates. Specifically, listening to another's life stories, composed of a vast array of experiences and emotions contributing mightily to our individual self-images and well-being. Our stories are often the means by which we convey our identities to each other, a process of self-revelation.

The Reverend Canon Marlin Whitmer, a retired hospital chaplain, believes profound healing comes while listening to stories. He discovered this over 40 years of experience, listening to patients at St. Luke's Hospital after establishing The Befrienders in 1966. His program began with three people from Trinity Cathedral who were members of the Auxiliary of St. Luke's Hospital. They were to provide patients with in-hospital visits from non-medical volunteers whose sole purpose was to listen to the patients. The following year and thereafter Befrienders were trained to continue these visits. This legacy continues today at both Genesis and Trinity hospitals and has been recognized as a contributor to improving quality of life in the Quad Cities.

The most rudimentary research on the U.S. government's illegal mass surveillance of Americans will reveal that this unconstitutional practice has been ongoing since at least J. Edgar Hoover's days. History openly details the chilling effect his secret file-keeping had on the politicians of that time, not to mention the control he exerted as a result. Don't believe for a minute that such activities stopped when he passed. In fact, collection of sensitive, private information on all Americans - including politicians, bureaucrats, military personnel, and public-sector employees across the spectrum of government - has ballooned beyond even his comprehension.

Last issue's Reader cover story "The War on Whistleblowers" provided a small list of whistleblowers who have made enormous contributions to our open society. Missing from that list were Gregory Hicks, Christopher Pyle, and James Bamford.

Gregory Hicks was the exemplary deputy chief of missions at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American Marines were murdered. He testified that the Africom military-response team under General Carter Ham was told to stand down, allowing four Americans to needlessly die. He has suffered reprisals and demotion for telling the truth to Congress. Meanwhile, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who recently admitted lying to Congress when he previously denied that his agency was spying on Americans, has experienced zero consequences for his crime.

Christopher Pyle was the U.S. Army Captain who, in the 1970s, exposed the military's spying campaign, COINTELPRO - a program to infiltrate and report on the legal activities of groups and individuals protesting the Vietnam War.

Without whistleblowers - employees within government and big business, at all levels, who risk their livelihoods and sometimes lives - the American public (and world) would have no knowledge about many of the most outrageous, dangerous, and covert activities perpetrated upon society. This includes everything from fabricating false pretenses for going to war to war crimes (including torture) against prisoners and innocent civilians to lethal environmental abuses to fraudulent financial schemes that have devastated millions of families' life savings. In the past, the exposure of these egregious acts has often (but not always) brought reform, exposed criminality resulting in prosecutions, and perhaps most importantly saved countless lives. Sadly, in today's political environment, it is the whistleblowers who are being penalized for telling Americans the truth.

But for the threat of whistleblowers, ill-intended politicians and bureaucrats and their crony-capitalist private-sector brethren would operate in an oversight vacuum - free to abuse their power and engage in criminal activity at will. The contributions that whistleblowers make to an open and free society cannot be overstated.

How many more thousands of lives would have been lost if it were not for Daniel Ellsberg's infamous Pentagon Papers that exposed the Department of Defense's lies and manipulation that propped up the Vietnam War (MostDangerousMan.org)? How much more abuse would citizens suffer at the hands of corrupt police departments if it were not for Frank Serpico testifying about the rampant corruption inside the New York police department? These are, or should be, just two of the household names in the whistleblower pantheon.

It's become a fascination to observe what I refer to as the American "lemming effect." So far, government overreach - no matter how egregious, harmful, dangerous, or in some cases lethal - has elicited no discernible impact on the average American's willingness to act for change.

I wonder if most Americans believe there is some sort of undefined limit or invisible line that government will eventually reach that will magically trigger a halt to all the political and financial corruption that is prevailing in our nation.

In the past decade alone, the abuse of power has reached an all-new high because we the people have been civically and politically idle. Our silence and immobility are our consent, delighting politicians, bureaucrats, and corporate executives beyond measure.

Emboldened by the American people's collective inertia, legislators, regulators, and the courts are continually creating laws and rules that exempt themselves from the same laws that bind the rest of us, providing ultimate protection from prosecution for their criminal conduct.

I'm beginning to have a modicum of hope for perpetually misinformed Americans. The turning point occurred when, after the attacks on the three World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush's administration was exposed for its deceptions. Namely that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and the purported masterminds behind the attack (al-Qaeda) had no ties to, or presence in (prior to the U.S. invasion), Iraq.

Americans' trust in our own government suffered irreparable damage once we learned that the so-called evidence that led us into the undeclared war against the Iraqi government forces (which the U.S. previously armed and funded) was manufactured, and part of long legacy of deceptions that have greased the wheels of war since America's founding.

Try not to blindly accept the emerging "official story" behind the Boston Marathon bombing, and instead view it though a prism of healthy skepticism. Question the corporate media cartel's versions of events. Something is clearly amiss, so it's time to keep an open mind and pay attention.

The first thing that should raise an eyebrow is the homogeneous messaging across the media cartel's broadcasting networks, news publications, and talk radio. At a minimum, it illustrates the collusion of information - reading from the same script - that exists within the corporate media, regardless of political bias.

Second, the prior notification that Boston police would be conducting a controlled-explosion drill during the marathon is glaringly absent in the corporate media's coverage. The Boston Globe tweeted specifics about the planned drill, actually naming Boylston Street in its alert mere hours before the bombs exploded at the intersection of Boylston and Exeter streets (RCReader.com/y/globetweet).

It is glaringly obvious that the tragedy surrounding the Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, shootings is being grossly objectified to achieve a political agenda of disarming Americans.

I am no lover of weapons. In fact, I abhor any violence, including the disgraceful warfare the United States is currently engaged in. I despise the weakness that characterizes our lack of civic will in the 21st Century to hold our governments accountable for perpetuating both warfare and welfare upon the people.

We are truly a pack of sheep when it comes to preserving our legacy as a republic governed by the rule of law. Let's be crystal clear, folks: America was not founded as a democracy. America was founded as a republic. There is a huge difference that needs clarification - again.

The media cartels, currently the public-relations arm of politicians (and their bureaucracies) and the corporate elite, lend their full cooperation in censoring ideas that inform political debate in America. Why? Because an informed populace is an anathema to the two-party system so critical to the current political power base. This self-perpetuating system enriches the global elite through strategic and privileged partnerships that confiscate and consolidate the world's wealth and resources.

There can be no question that America is now in an era of authoritarianism, and we, as a people, are on the brink of facing extreme tyranny in our lifetimes. (And your locally elected officials and officers stand idly by forsaking their oaths of office, under the pretense of violating your rights in the name of security and arrogantly determining that they are providing you a quality of life you deserve. But I digress ... .)

From the militant police state to the invasion of your privacy to the violation of your personal liberties, we have published articles for nearly 20 years documenting our circumstances that resemble what many have referred to as a slowly boiling frog: It does not know it's being cooked until it's too late.

Last week, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) delivered his farewell speech on the House floor, putting a bookend on his 23-year career as arguably the most fervent, principled, and consistent defender of the Bill of Rights. Below are the text (from his House Web page) and video of Dr. Paul's speech, well worth noting for reminding us that the original intent of America's founding documents was to govern the government, not govern the people.

Pensions are among the most important investments American workers and employers make. We work for years so that when the time comes, we can retire with enough income to live comfortably, enjoy the much-deserved leisure time, and engage in activities of our own choosing.

This week's cover story examines Iowa's and Illinois' pensions, which, when coupled with health-care benefits, are in grave danger of insolvency, threatening to potentially bankrupt Illinois. This is due to the unsustainable "defined-benefit" pension plan that promises each employee a percentage of his or her annual income, regardless of the amount of contributions made by the employee, or on the employee's behalf by the employer (the state's taxpayers), over his/her years of service.

A fascinating and foolproof strategy for political speechifying is to make mostly sweeping statements that are vague enough that listeners are forced to subconsciously fill in the blanks for themselves. Take this sweeping-but-vague statement: "We need to create good-paying jobs to bring this country back to its former greatness." To be truly meaningful for listeners, this statement needs more specific definitions of terms, such as an actual wage range in place of "good-paying." However, instead of providing specific details, politicians purposely allow each listener to mentally substitute his/her own version of "good-paying" with satisfactory wage ranges of their own.

What is meant by "former greatness" in the above statement? It doesn't matter because listeners will specify the meaning internally. Each of us will automatically plug in our own definitions, while simultaneously giving the politicians the credit for delivering speeches we can relate to, yet avoiding any accountability for their details.

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