Laura and Marvin Horne are raisin farmers. Early one morning in 2002, a truck appeared at their business, and the drivers demanded a whopping 47 percent of their raisin crop. The truck was sent by the federal government, and those demanding the Hornes' raisin crop claimed to be operating under a "marketing order" first put in place in 1937 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's effort to shore up agricultural prices. Amazingly, this antiquated scheme lasted for more than 65 years - well past the agricultural crisis of the Great Depression.

By 2002, the Hornes had endured enough of these raisin grabs. They refused to turn over nearly half of their crop. The federal government assessed a fine of $480,000 for the missing raisins and another $200,000 in civil penalties against the Hornes. The Hornes fought the government through the courts and finally landed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nebraska's legislature recently made headlines when it ended the state's death penalty. Many found it odd that a conservatives-dominated legislature would support ending capital punishment, since conservative politicians have traditionally supported the death penalty. However, an increasing number of conservatives are realizing that the death penalty is inconsistent with both fiscal and social conservatism. These conservatives are joining with libertarians and liberals in a growing anti-death-penalty coalition.

It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty. New Hampshire recently spent more than $4 million prosecuting just two death penalty cases, while Jasper County in Texas raised property taxes by 7 percent to pay for one death-penalty case! A Duke University study found that replacing North Carolina's death penalty would save taxpayers approximately $22 million in just two years.

Death-penalty cases are expensive because sentencing someone to death requires two trials. The first trial determines the accused person's guilt, while the second trial determines if the convicted individual "deserves" the death penalty. A death sentence is typically followed by years of appeals, and sometimes the entire case is retried.

Despite all the time and money spent to ensure that no one is wrongly executed, the system is hardly foolproof. Since 1973, one out of every 10 individuals sentenced to death has been released from death row because of evidence discovered after conviction.

Every four years, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) puts on a series of campaign commercials disguised as presidential and vice-presidential debates.

The CPD is, in theory, a not-for-profit organization "established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners."

But the CPD is really just a scam the Republican and Democratic parties use to funnel illegally large "in kind" campaign donations, in the form of tens of millions of dollars' worth of free media exposure, exclusively to their own candidates.

A real nonpartisan, not-for-profit debate organization would use objective criteria for deciding which candidates may participate in debates. The CPD continuously refines its criteria with an eye toward ensuring that no third party or independent candidates qualifies for a microphone at a CPD "debate."

"A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy." - Writers Against Mass Surveillance

The good news: Americans have a right to freely express themselves on the Internet, including making threatening - even violent - statements on Facebook, provided that they don't intend to actually inflict harm.

The Supreme Court's June 1 ruling in Elonis V. United States threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular rap lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page. It's a ruling that has First Amendment implications for where the government can draw the line when it comes to provocative and controversial speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.

That same day, Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the legal justification allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to carry out warrant-less surveillance on Americans, officially expired. Over the course of nearly a decade, if not more, the NSA had covertly spied on millions of Americans, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than using a telephone, and stored their records in government databases. For those who have been fighting the uphill battle against the NSA's domestic-spying program, it was a small but symbolic victory.

The bad news: Congress' legislative "fix," intended to mollify critics of the NSA, will ensure that the agency is not in any way hindered in its ability to keep spying on Americans' communications.

The USA FREEDOM Act could do more damage than good by creating a false impression that Congress has taken steps to prevent the government from spying on the telephone calls of citizens, while in fact ensuring the NSA's ability to continue invading the privacy and security of Americans.

For instance, the USA FREEDOM Act not only reauthorizes Section 215 of the Patriot Act for a period of time, but it also delegates to telecommunications companies the responsibility of carrying out phone surveillance on American citizens.

And now for the downright ugly news: Nothing is going to change.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It's a shell game intended to keep us focused on and distracted by all of the politically expedient things that are being said - about militarized police, surveillance, and government corruption - while the government continues to frogmarch us down the road toward outright tyranny.

Unarmed citizens are still getting shot by militarized police trained to view them as the enemy and treated as if we have no rights. Despite President Obama's warning that the nation needs to do some "soul searching" about issues such as race, poverty, and the strained relationship between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve, police killings and racial tensions are at an all-time high. Just recently, in Texas, a white police officer was suspended after video footage showed him "manhandling, arresting, and drawing his gun on a group of black children outside a pool party."

Americans' private communications and data are still being sucked up by government spy agencies. The USA Freedom Act was just a placebo intended to make us feel better without bringing about any real change. As Bill Blunden, a cybersecurity researcher and surveillance critic, points out, "The theater we've just witnessed allows decision-makers to boast to their constituents about reforming mass surveillance while spies understand that what's actually transpired is hardly major change."

When Davenport Community Schools Superintendent Art Tate announced in March that he planned to violate state law by spending more money per pupil than the state allowed, it highlighted the strangeness of Iowa's rarely questioned status quo: There's no mechanism for school districts to consistently exceed the base-funding level.

It's not quite as simple as saying that Davenport's school district can't spend more than $6,366 per student this year. But in the name of funding equality across Iowa, the state is unusually restrictive - meaning that even if citizens in a community would support higher taxes for educational operations, there's no way to make that happen.

At heart, Iowa's system takes the admirable goal of adequate education funding and turns it into a straitjacket.

For most of our history, lawyers have thought of themselves as the unofficial fourth "arm" of the government. This view is more understandable from lawyers' past role as "trial advocates" than from the present relationship between the bench and bar, which reduces the significance lawyers have in the administration of justice.

Under the law in effect in most colonies at the time our Constitution was written, lawyers were advocates who had the right to argue the merits of their clients' cases directly to a jury. Juries, not judges, had the right to decide most cases as they saw fit both with regard to the facts and the law. As the Supreme Court noted in 1943's Galloway V. United States: "In 1789, juries occupied the principal place in the administration of justice. They were frequently in both criminal and civil cases the arbiters not only of fact but of law."

The king's denial of the right to a trial by jury was one of the reasons justifying separation from England in the Declaration of Independence.

Many believed the right to a jury trial was not adequately guaranteed in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution. Anti-federalists urged rejection of the Constitution unless it was amended to include a Bill of Rights, which secured the right to trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases. Patrick Henry, a lawyer and well-known patriot at that time, argued: "Trial by jury is the best appendage of freedom. ... No appeal can now be made as to fact in common-law suits. The unanimous verdict of impartial men cannot be reversed." This result was not because the jury would always be right, but because the result came from impartial members of the community.

"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It's not good at much else." - Author Tom Clancy

The American people remain eager to be persuaded that a new president in the White House can solve the problems that plague us. Yet no matter who wins this next presidential election, you can rest assured that the new boss will be the same as the old boss, and we - the permanent underclass in America - will continue to be forced to march in lockstep with the police state in all matters, public and private.

Indeed, it really doesn't matter what you call them - the 1 percent, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex - so long as you understand that no matter which party occupies the White House in 2017, the unelected bureaucracy that actually calls the shots will continue to do so.

Consider the following a much-needed reality check, an antidote, if you will, against an overdose of over-hyped campaign announcements, lofty electoral promises, and meaningless patriotic sentiments that land us right back in the same prison cell.

Fact: For the first time in history, a majority of members of Congress are millionaires, and U.S. representatives and senator are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. According to a scientific study by Princeton researchers, the United States of America is not the democracy that it purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy."

Fact: "Today, 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, and armored vehicles," reports Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the treasury. "Some have tanks."

Fact: Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000-plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. According to law professor John Baker, "There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration."

Presidential candidates work hard to convince ordinary Americans that they're just like us. Regular folks. Put their pants on one leg at a time, you betcha.

But nobody clears the airspace for me when I fly into a city.

Nor, I bet, do federal agents cordon off several blocks around venues in which you're scheduled to speak, restricting people who don't like you to "free-speech zones" for the duration of your visit.

And if either of us puts the pedal to the metal and flies down Interstate 89 at more than 90 miles per hour to keep appointments in Keene, Claremont, and Concord, New Hampshire, we'll be lucky if we get off with stern lectures and expensive tickets.

Hillary Clinton gets a Secret Service escort. The police don't even consider pulling her over for a ticket. They're there to make sure all us regular people - you know, the ones she's just like - keep ourselves out of her way.

Supporters of a national constitutional convention, as provided for in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, have gained the support of 27 state legislatures for the idea. They need 34.

Republicans and Democrats are at war both with each other and within their own parties over the proposal. Some Republicans want such a convention for the purpose of getting a balanced-budget amendment.

Some Democrats also want a convention for the purpose of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and regulating political-campaign spending.

Some members of both parties fear that a convention might get out of hand, producing unforeseen results. History says these Cassandras are correct.

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