Scott County Board of Supervisors Chair Jim Hancock needs a stern reminder of whom he serves as a supervisor: the public. Clearly he has forgotten, evidenced by his tirade during the February 9 Board of Supervisors Committee of the Whole/budget meeting after Supervisor Diane Holst again proposed recording the county’s meetings. Hancock vehemently objected to recording meetings, this time citing cost as his objection. This is a red herring considering that no cost for recording meetings has been proffered to date.

In fact, the county already has the capacity to record meetings to cassette tapes, and it does so during all its closed sessions. So what stops the supervisors from hitting the record button during any of their other proceedings, considering current technology eliminates any barriers to converting this system to simple MP3 files that can be posted to the county Web site? Hubris and an unacceptable disregard for transparency. It begs the question: What do they have to hide? It should be noted that Holst records most meetings and posts portions of many of them to her Web site for public consumption as part of her ongoing commitment to more-transparent government.

When a locally owned and operated independent newspaper publishes its 900th issue, it’s worth taking note. Remarkable as this 22nd-year milestone might be, given the Quad Cities’ over-saturated media market, what makes the Reader’s longevity truly extraordinary lies with its small staff. Our dedicated team has consistently infused the publication with original ideas, creative story angles, in-depth analysis, exhaustive inventorying of our area’s culture, self-deprecating humor, and mad skills in generating effective client advertising. And the Reader’s availability on the stands is ubiquitous (some say maybe taken for granted) thanks to a distribution force to be reckoned with. As a wordsmith, I can tell you there are none adequate to express the gratitude, admiration, respect, and undying affection we have for our team.

A mainstay for these 900 issues has been to cover topics under-reported in the mainstream media, informing readers about critical issues and perspectives otherwise absent in conventional coverage. Such topics that deserve deep scrutiny in 2016 are many and varied. Here are some to kick off the next 900 issues.

This issue's cover story on the business of medical marijuana brings into focus just how hypocritical and duplicitous state government can be when donning its cloak of benevolence. Many people I know were cheering about Illinois making "pot legal for medicinal purposes," seeing the move as a harbinger of more state-government largesse to come. Re-legalizing self-medicating with a plant that one can grow on one's kitchen windowsill, anywhere in America, is really the auctioning of privilege that politicians and bureaucrats will use to fortify their fiefdoms and power structures.

Below is a very rudimentary primer on Islam concepts and definitions for the average American who does virtually no research - without which most opinions are grossly uninformed - beyond mainstream newspapers and broadcasts.

It is essential to understand that Islam is a beautifully rich and spiritually lofty religion, whose precepts most Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths would gladly embrace because they have far more similarities than differences. Controversies arise from vastly different interpretations of small parts of Islam that take on epic proportions inside the Muslim community (Ummah) as well as the outside world.

At some point, Americans are going to have to square with the resounding failure of our two-party political system by shedding the dysfunctional loyalty most voters have to either a Democrat or Republican affiliation. Why? Because neither party delivers anything resembling representative government any more. We elect politicians whose primary mission is continuity of government at our expense.

The allegiances to the modern American Democrats or Republicans are based on well-crafted illusion, disseminated by corporate media on behalf of the two-party political machine. It is brilliant in its simplicity. As long as voters are polarized, the status quo is guaranteed. What self-respecting Democrat will ever vote for a Republican, and vice versa? Couple this with a stranglehold on the primary system, including nonsensical gerrymandering to protect incumbents, and you have a control grid that is efficient and manageable. (See RCReader.com/y/primary.)

The minute voters decide that the candidates presented for election are unacceptable - and as a result cross party lines, or better yet abandon those lines altogether and choose third-party candidates en masse - things will begin to change in a hurry. Americans do not give enough weight to the desperate desire of politicians to be re-elected.

Reuters released a special report late last year that went largely under the corporate media's radar. Titled "The Echo Chamber," it exposed that at the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), "a handful of lawyers now dominates the docket."

"The Echo Chamber" examined 10,300 petitions before the Supreme Court from 2004 through 2012, triangulating the number of appeals filed, the names of attorneys and their firms, and the percentage of appeals accepted and heard by SCOTUS.

Some high points:

1) Sixty-six of 17,000 lawyers' appeals were at least six times more likely to be heard than all other lawyers' submissions combined in that same period.

2) These 66 lawyers account for less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals with SCOTUS yet were involved in 43 percent of the cases chosen to be heard.

3) Fifty-one of these 66 lawyers represent corporate interests, turning SCOTUS "into an echo chamber - a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed."

4) Twelve top firms had an 18-percent success rate in getting their petitions heard and were involved in a third of the cases before SCOTUS. Of the business-related cases accepted by SCOTUS, these top firms were involved in 60 percent.

5) Out of 8,000 firms doing business at the Supreme Court, 31 firms accounted for 44 percent of all cases heard by SCOTUS.

6) A group of eight lawyers accounted for 20 percent of all arguments made before SCOTUS in the past decade versus 30 attorneys in the decade before, demonstrating the diminishing circle of influence at the high court.

7) Demographically, of the 66 top lawyers, 63 are Caucasian and only eight are female. Thirty-one worked as clerks for SCOTUS; 25 worked in high-level positions for the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, whose attorneys represent the government before SCOTUS; and 14 worked for both, making them "consummate insiders."

After 21 years of publishing, the depth and breadth of civic disengagement continues to befuddle me, confirming that people get the government they deserve. Everyone senses the undercurrent of serious trouble afoot in this country. But no amount of leaderships' disgraceful conduct, criminal enterprise, or wholesale injustice - all of which cause profound suffering for our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community at large - rises to a level that produces meaningful activism. Why is that?

Mostly it is because of denial, lack of imagination, laziness, inertia, and an absurd amount of self-absorption. Ignorance plays a part, but most people are intelligent enough to grasp problems. Instead, they choose to ignore such matters as a means to absolve themselves from responsibility head-in-the-sand style. Clearly, this is not the American way. Or at least it didn't used to be.

No matter how much civic impotence we claim, there is still plenty we can individually affect if we are willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience. Our ancestors, after all, sacrificed their lives.

Halfway through 2015 already, and the stunning lack of oversight for increasing lawlessness remains unchanged - and it's arguably even more rampant. It is hard to fathom how the children of the '60s and '70s - the ones who objected loudly enough to end the Vietnam War, who forced the resignation of a president, and who history will show as the last generation that exceeded the standard of living of their parents - are the primary culprits in this devolution of the rule of law.

We have mostly fossils running the travesty that is government partnering with monster corporations - the industry leaders who control all aspects of infrastructure manufacturing, as well as primary services such as finance, health care, insurance, academia, and media, thereby virtually eliminating meaningful competition in America.

Americans need to admit that capitalism is no longer the economic model here, and hasn't been for decades. Capitalism depends on competition to succeed as an economic model first and foremost. Once government enters the arena with legislation and regulations that favor certain corporations and enterprises over others, capitalism is corrupted and morphs into something else. The better descriptor is fascism, where a small percentage of private-sector interests own, but government controls, most of a nation's resources. Socialism differs only in the ownership, leaving government owning and controlling those resources.

America is fast departing from its founding governing principles as a republic under the rule of law with a free-market capitalistic economic model as its underpinning. Administrative law is the largest contributor to this erosion, providing a massive set of rules and regulations administered by the executive branch at the federal and state levels, with counties mostly responsible for local implementation, to enforce broad legislation that is rarely read by the legislators who approve it. This behemoth of an unaccountable governing apparatus, no longer able to justify itself by any measure as representative of the people, derives its authority under a different primary directive altogether - known as "continuity of government."

And so it begins: Operation 2016 Elections. The corporate media has never been more strategic in its manipulation of information to steer voters to either Democrats or Republicans. After all, the lion's share of the billions raised for campaigns goes to it. In fact, elections are the corporate media's bread and butter. Without the billions flowing to it during campaigns, it would not survive.

Corporate media and the two-party political system are intrinsically intertwined, relying completely on each other's capacities to deliver the maximum level of political division among voters during campaigns. It makes no difference which party the populace supports as long as it is Republican or Democrat. Both achieve this goal with no small amount of brilliance.

Not only has the corporate media achieved political polarization, it has also created a level of ignorance in America that is masterful in its precision. Every socioeconomic issue is framed in a political perspective, delivered to consumers (television, radio, print, Internet) using a conservative/liberal filter. Issues are rarely disseminated based on their merits or lack thereof. Instead, the majority of news is nothing more than informed speculation, giving Americans no real, measurable information upon which to form a meaningful opinion of our own. The result is a blind acceptance of the simpleton opinions of celebrities who could not find a solution in their pockets.

Meanwhile, politicians want us to believe that governance is deeply complex. It really isn't. The once-respected mission of government as an agency tasked with "representation of the people" has morphed into the current "continuity of government" (COG), a mission dedicated exclusively to itself at the expense of the people.

On Tuesday, February 24, at 9 a.m., (previously incorrectly published as 8 a.m.) the annual selection of the Scott County Grand Jury will take place on the second floor of the Scott County Courthouse. This proceeding is open to the public, and the people should avail themselves of the opportunity to participate in one of the most constitutionally protected authorities still available to hold governments accountable.

The power of the grand jury is enormous. Most of us barely know of its existence, let alone embrace its vital relevance. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution (1787) provided for grand juries as a means of checks and balances, ensuring that the people, not government, held the ultimate responsibility for providing justice: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury ... ."

The 1846 Iowa Constitution (Article 2, Section 11) reads: "No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offence, unless on presentment, or indictment by a grand jury, except in cases cognizable by justices of the peace, or arising in the army or navy, or in the militia when in actual service in time of war or public danger" (RCReader.com/y/jury1).

The 1857 Constitution of the State of Iowa (Bill of Rights, Article I, Section 11), asserts that "All offenses less than felony in which the punishment does not exceed a fine of one hundred dollars, or imprisonment for thirty days, shall be tried summarily before a Justice of the Peace, or other officer authorized by law, on information under oath, without indictment, or the intervention of a grand jury, saving to the defendant the right to appeal, and no person shall be held to answer for any higher criminal offense, unless on presentment or indictment by a grand jury, except in cases arising in the army, or navy, or in the militia, when in actual service, in time of war or public danger."

Annually, 12 randomly selected members of the community form the Scott County Grand Jury, seven of whom are active, while five are alternates in case one of the seven cannot perform his or her duties. The grand jury has four primary responsibilities: (1) to provide indictments on criminal activities, whether brought by the county attorney or upon its own investigations; (2) to inspect the condition of all places of confinement in the county; (3) to investigate the circumstances involving prisoners who have not been indicted within the legal period of time (45 days upon incarceration); and (4) to investigate and indict misconduct by public employees, including elected and appointed officials.

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