While Ben Cohen's and Jerry Greenfield's goal of getting Iowa voters to pick a candidate in the upcoming caucus that will pledge to shift money from the Pentagon's discretionary budget towards domestic initiatives appears, at first glance, to be a noble effort towards ending unnecessary spending on defense programs that are no longer useful, one has to question how serious Cohen and Greenfield are about making these cuts a reality. (See "Guns and Butter: Can the Ben & Jerry's Founders Change Federal Spending Priorities?", River Cities' Reader issue #655.)

Rude PunchAt first glance, you wouldn't guess that the guys in Rude Punch are ambassadors for reggae rock in the Quad Cities. Often sporting T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps, the three band members look like typical white, early-20s college kids.

The trio - singer/guitarist Brady Jager, bassist Robb Laake, and drummer Adam Tucker - has been working this fall on its debut album and is gearing up for shows in Iowa City and in the Quad Cities over the next two months. And while the young band is at stylistic odds with most of its peers in this area, it is hell-bent on bringing its brand of Jamaican-flavored jingles to the masses.

Ametra Carrol spent the better part of a decade addicted to crack cocaine, and it almost killed her. After completing a detox and rehab program, she found herself unable to stay clean when she returned to her old neighborhood - and the friends with whom she got high.

"Its true what they say: You need to stay away from people, places, and things [associated with addiction] until you get strong enough," said Carrol, now a community activist.

That lesson has pushed Carrol to work with Rock Island leaders to develop the Douglas Park Place recovery home, designed to help Quad Cities-area mothers and their families overcome the challenges she once faced with substance abuse.

Project Vote Smart has given voters in Iowa and Illinois a new tool to scrutinize their state legislators. The State Key Votes Program is a new addition to Project Vote Smart's Web site that will provide the voting records of each member of the state legislature in all 50 states on key issues.

Modeled after Project Vote Smart's compendium of congressional voting records, the State Key Vote Program will allow citizens to monitor their state representatives on issues selected by Project Vote Smart researchers, who reviewed local newspapers, state legislative journals, and initiatives proposed by citizen groups and special-interest groups.

Project Vote Smart should be a godsend for citizens who want to learn more about candidates running for office. The nonpartisan national organization collects information on races from the White House to the statehouse, and surveys each candidate with detailed questions on important issues.

But for voters in Illinois and Iowa, Project Vote Smart is not nearly as useful as it could be because response rates from candidates continue to decline.