Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin

In early 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took the stage at the United Nations “to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” Powell justified the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq on the claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime continued to produce and stockpile chemical and biological weapons in violation of UN resolutions. He dazzled his audience with audio recordings and surveillance photographs that he claimed constituted evidence of Iraq’s perfidy.

Two years later, Powell called the presentation a “blot” on his record, admitting that he had deceived the UN. The “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t exist. All the Saddam-era chemical weapons recovered in Iraq since 2003 are of pre-1991 manufacture with no evidence linking them to the regime since the 1991 war.

How long can we expect to wait for the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center to admit that its report “GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity” – pre- hyped as providing “evidence” of Russian government interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – is a reprise of Powell’s UN speech?

Exelon's nuclear plant in Cordova

On December 1, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that will extend the life of the Quad Cities nuclear-power plant at Cordova, Illinois, for another 10 years. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the measure into law on December 7. At stake are 800 jobs on-site and thousands of ancillary jobs wholly dependent on plant workers. An article by Thomas Geyer published in the Quad-City Times on June 2, 2016, reported that the annual payroll at the Cordova plant is some $75 million, and its yearly Rock Island County property-tax bill amounts to nearly $8 million. Thus, the short-term preservation of jobs and revenue trumped common sense.

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms is regarded as one of the greatest composers in history. I never tire of his sonatas for violin or cello, and his piano works are pure magic. I go through whole periods of listening and marveling at his capacity for melodic development. I can’t read enough biographies. Beyond his incurable love for Clara Schumann – I’m convinced his over-the-top adoration of her acted like a narcotic that fired up his creativity to generate such astonishing melodies – one strange fact stands out to me.

This is not the time to drop our guards, even for a moment.

Every four years, the United States elects a new president. And every four years, the outcome makes some Americans so unhappy that talk of secession – never completely absent from our ongoing political discussion – gets a big bump in the “trending topics” lists. 2016 seems to be shaping up as secession’s best year since 1860.

Somebody should familiarize Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley with Aesop’s Fable “The Farmer & the Viper,” which famously ends with a snake biting a man who showed it kindness: “Did you not know that a serpent in the bosom, a mouse in a bag, and fire in a barn give their hosts an ill reward?” In other words, you knew I was a snake.

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror.

Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler

Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler wants telephone companies to make robocall-blocking technology available to their customers. And he wants them to do so “at no charge.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

“Our carceral state banishes American citizens to a gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens. ... When the doors finally close and one finds oneself facing banishment to the carceral state – the years, the walls, the rules, the guards, the inmates – reactions vary. Some experience an intense sickening feeling. Others, a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide. A deep shame. A rage directed toward guards and other inmates. Utter disbelief. The incarcerated attempt to hold on to family and old social ties through phone calls and visitations. At first, friends and family do their best to keep up. But phone calls to prison are expensive, and many prisons are located far from one’s hometown. ... As the visits and phone calls diminish, the incarcerated begins to adjust to the fact that he or she is, indeed, a prisoner. New social ties are cultivated. New rules must be understood.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

In a carceral state – a.k.a. a prison state or a police state – there is no Fourth Amendment to protect you from the overreaches, abuses, searches, and probing eyes of government overlords.

Muhammad Ali in 1966. Photo from the Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau.

As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them nonthreatening, antiseptic, and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect, or marred by imperfection.

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