So here we are, welcoming 2015, on the heels of another biennial national, state, and county election season. And whether one considers government spending at the national, state, or local level, we have an ever-increasing lack of fiscal sobriety. This is due mostly to a dangerously inactive populace, and it will not leave this country unscathed. Sadly, these are tired words of mine.

With few exceptions, Americans re-elected bad actors and maintained the status quo in Congress and in state and county governments. This is mostly thanks to a brilliant two-party political system that so expertly marginalizes third-party alternatives. State ballot-access laws, corrupt courts, little to no scrutiny of election equipment and technology, and big special-interest money prevent third-party or independent candidates from gaining significant ground.

And independent or third-party candidates' ability to gain valuable mainstream-media exposure has only declined over the decades of media-ownership concentration. In 2009, Mother Jones published a graph showing 25 years of media mergers "from GE to NBC and Google to YouTube" resulting in only eight major holding companies that control the vast majority of what is today called news, plus the entertainment and print and digital publishing platforms that generate the content that dominates American media ownership (RCReader.com/y/motherjones). Columbia Journalism Review publishes a useful online directory of "what major media companies own" (CJR.org/resources), and that list has 72 companies. This is roughly one controlling company for every 4 million Americans. When one is trying to control the messaging about the benefits of the two-party system, the lion's share of campaign funds raised during elections goes to these relatively few media outlets. It is the bread and butter of corporate media, gladly disseminating the gamut of propaganda necessary to maintain the control grid.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ann HochhausenOn November 9, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Davenport hosted a most compelling presentation by retired Lieutenant Colonel Ann Hochhausen - Colonel Ho as she is affectionately called. This 27-year veteran in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps shared her experiences and perspective as chief nurse of the 28th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Tikrit, Iraq, during 2003 and 2004.

Colonel Ho's one-year odyssey included serving as one of two chief nurses, in split operations, in large canvas-tent hospitals resourced and manned for 200 beds. This all took place in a hostile desert where they performed more than 1,000 surgeries over just the first four months. The 28th CSH provided care for more than 21,000 coalition military personnel and Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war in the course of its one-year deployment. With her specialty skills in obstetrics and gynecology, Colonel Ho was a rarity in that theater, and she was awarded the Bronze Star for her care of pregnant Iraqi women and their unborn children.

Most Americans cannot fathom the harsh and brutal environment in which the 28th CSH provided compassionate and expert medical care for U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians and combatants alike. Our notions of war have been glorified and sanitized to prevent triggering the American people's collective outrage for such impossible conditions and horrific results.

Colonel Ho's perspective is critical in conveying the feelings and realities that our military personnel deal with - not just during service, but for the rest of their lives.

This midterm election provides voters in Iowa with two unprecedented opportunities to empower critical accountability at both the local and statewide levels.

First, five years ago a concerned citizen, Diane Holst, began attending Scott County Board of Supervisors meetings because she wanted to better understand where her tax dollars were being spent. The more she attended, the more she realized that not all is what it seems relative to county business. Typically the lone attendee from the community, she witnessed processes that were vague and confusing. So she decided to research the agenda items and familiarize herself before making inquiries. It soon became obvious that most of the business is conducted by staff behind the scenes, away from public scrutiny or input, with very little oversight by supervisors beyond showing up during board meetings and approving what is put in front of them.

Jonathan Narcisse

If you're an independent candidate for governor in Iowa, you know you're getting traction when your message earns the support of county chairs from both major parties across the state. Your campaign must be striking powerful chords when you get endorsements from both conservative talk-radio hosts and liberal-activist leaders alike.

Jonathan Narcisse is running for governor again. (I have volunteered for and contributed to his campaign.) And if he garners at least 2 percent of Iowa's vote, the Iowa Party will have official party status, which means automatic ballot access for all partisan elections for the next four years. The potency of this political weapon cannot be overstated.

Narcisse points out that partisan politics is the tail that wags the dog in Iowa, keeping voters distracted on presidential and national politics rather than focusing on how citizens' tax dollars are extracted and spent in their hometowns, school districts, and counties - right where they live.

(This was never more evident than when, at the Scott County Republican Party board election, the central committee was told repeatedly by the leadership: "We don't deal with issues here; we're here to get good Republicans elected.")

"The Occupy and Tea Party movements championed their causes through the Democrat and Republican parties, but after they helped get someone elected, they had no mechanism to hold them accountable," says Narcisse. "The Iowa Party is not ideologically driven; it is an accountability party." If Narcisse succeeds, the Iowa Party could be the "None of the Above" party that changes Iowa politics forever.

The next generation of top-down central planning for a federal K-12 education curriculum, Common Core, is now in full swing in Iowa and Illinois public and private school systems. Despite the rhetoric that claims otherwise, the Common Core standards are not (1) internationally benchmarked, (2) based upon scientific research that is documented and peer-reviewed, (3) created by the nation's governors, state school officials, and legislatures with full transparency, or (4) owned by American taxpayers.

The Common Core curriculum is entirely experimental, with no evidence or history of efficacy whatsoever. Nearly all the supporting data for Common Core comes from reports written by its sponsors - the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO) - and lacks any true objectivity. This is of particular note considering that all the K-12 education models previously used in American education not only adhered to best practices supported by decades of proven scientific research but also underwent continual refinement based upon the latest scientific revelations in learning processes. In other words, it evolved under great scrutiny.

The three primary authors are David Coleman, Susan Pimental, and Jason Zimba, founders of Student Achievement Partners. None of these authors has a background in any of the academic disciplines they wrote standards for. In a speech before the Learning Institute in 2011, Coleman admitted: "We were a collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards" (RCReader.com/y/core1). He likened their collaboration to a group at a bar with a napkin.

The result is that Common Core is turning nearly every classroom in America into one gigantic experiment. The teachers themselves are unprepared to teach the new Common Core curriculum and must undergo extensive retraining at enormous taxpayer expense. Because Common Core is being implemented in 45 states, an entire generation is in jeopardy if the system proves the failure many predict it will be. For a well-rounded critique based on scholastic studies (versus pure rhetoric claiming rigorous standards) that informs the debate about the deficiencies abundant in Common Core, read Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-Less Decision Making by Christopher H. Tienken (RCReader.com/y/core2).

On Monday, July 7, before the jury was brought in for his trial, Benton Mackenzie collapsed in the courtroom and was taken to Trinity Medical Center in Bettendorf. On Tuesday, however, the Long Grove, Iowa, resident accused of manufacturing marijuana had reportedly been released from the hospital and testified in his own defense.

For those new to this matter before the Seventh Judicial Court District in Scott County - presided over by Judge Henry Latham (appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in March 2013) - Benton and his wife Loretta were arrested a year ago and charged with growing marijuana, while their son Cody was arrested and charged with possession of less than a gram of marijuana because ... well, just because.

Benton stated, in media reports last year, that he was growing marijuana for the singular purpose of extracting the cannabidiol oil contained in the marijuana plant to treat his angiosarcoma cancer, purportedly in a terminal phase. According to Benton, nothing else but the cannabidiol oil relieves the extreme suffering he is experiencing from horrific lesions that manifest on his posterior. Unfortunately, cannabidiol is extremely expensive. It can be purchased on Amazon.com, among many places, for medicinal purposes because it does not contain THC, and therefore it is not illegal in the U.S. For most people, however, the cost is prohibitive, especially as an ongoing treatment.

So painful and prolific are his symptoms that he was released from the Scott County jail days after his initial incarceration, allegedly because the county did not want the responsibility for or expense of his health care, nor was the facility equipped to handle his extreme case.

The office of County Attorney Mike Walton, however, has aggressively expended tax dollars in prosecuting this invalid, his family, and his friends, but only if Benton is not allowed the common-law defense of growing marijuana for medical purposes. The prosecution submitted a motion in limine that was approved by Judge Latham to disallow any mention of his production or use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Chuck After nearly six decades on the planet, I find that the friendships of our youth are the most enduring. The timeless quality that defines so many friendships that found their genesis in Bettendorf includes not just the persons, but often the whole family. This truth is best personified in Chuck High - "Big C" - who passed on April 6 at the age of 63, leaving the world a whole lot duller.

So let the memories flow, and make room because there a ton of them, all mostly wonderful and full of love, laughter, fierce loyalty, and that forever-ness that will keep Chuck alive and vibrant in our hearts and minds going forward.

Every blue moon the stars align to produce a candidate for public office who is the real deal. Taxpayers are fortunate enough to have just such a candidate for the Scott County Board of Supervisors in Diane Holst.

I have marveled at Diane's tenacity in staying engaged as a concerned citizen. Over the past four years, she has attended more than 100 meetings where Scott County business has been discussed, heard, and voted on. (Some meetings were held in private for more than four years before she proved that the state's open-meetings law was being violated.) She is eminently qualified to serve on the Board of Supervisors.

The Iowa primaries are Tuesday, June 3. Voter turnout for midterm elections is dismally low, but the turnout for midterm primaries is even worse. Consequently, incumbents are all but guaranteed advancement to the general election. To add an additional layer of protection for incumbents' re-election, Iowa primaries are closed - meaning that only people registered to vote as Democrats and Republicans can participate in their respective party's primary.

Check out the listings of the candidates who will be on the ballots on June 3 for Republicans (RCReader.com/y/2014R) and Democrats (RCReader.com/y/2014D). Note that out of 25 seats up for election on the Democratic ticket, only two are contested in the primary. If you don't live inside state Senate District 45 (where Mark Riley is challenging incumbent Joe Seng) or in state Representative District 97 (where Carol Bohel and Jay Saxon are running to fill an empty seat), there are no races on the Democratic primary ballot in which casting a vote matters. And there is no candidate for county treasurer or District 94 state representative on the Democratic primary ballot.

As I write this, hundreds of Americans are gathered in Clark County, Nevada, in support of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in his fight to save his family's ranch from an aggressive takeover by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the Department of the Interior.

The mainstream media's shocking lack of coverage of this story provides all the evidence Americans need to unambiguously indict it for the propaganda machine it has become. Massive resources are provided for weeks of endless speculation on a missing plane originating in Malaysia, but practically no coverage of well over 200 federal agents surrounding the Bundy ranch - fully armed and including trained snipers - high-tech surveillance, and a declared no-fly zone over this area of Nevada.

Any coverage by the corporate media has been glaringly slanted in favor of the government's position in this takeover, claiming that Bundy owes $1 million in grazing fees for his cattle that graze on federal land. The cattle of Bundy's family have been grazing on this same land since the 1800s.

What the media isn't mentioning is that Bundy's cattle grazing on a small section of nearly 600,000 acres of barren desert land was never an issue until the early 1990s. Coincidentally, that is when Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) initiated a study to designate huge swaths of land in a six-state area for solar-energy development to accommodate a Chinese corporation that wants to build at least one solar plant that includes Bundy's property.

Instead, the media mentions a highly questionable threatened tortoise that purportedly faces extinction due to trampling by Bundy's cattle. Noticeably absent from reports is the BLM's own extermination of large numbers of the very same tortoise it claims to be trying to protect.

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