Archive for December, 2015

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1

In Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is forced to live the same day over and over again until he not only gains some insight into his life but changes his priorities.

Battlefield_Cover_300Similarly, as I illustrate in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we in the emerging American police state find ourselves reliving the same set of circumstances over and over again—egregious surveillance, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, war-mongering, etc.—although with far fewer moments of comic hilarity.

What remains to be seen is whether 2016 will bring more of the same or whether “we the people” will wake up from our somnambulant states. Indeed, when it comes to civil liberties and freedom, 2015 was far from a banner year.

The following is just a sampling of what we can look forward to repeating if we don’t find some way to push back against the menace of an overreaching, aggressive, invasive, militarized surveillance state.

More surveillance. The surveillance state is alive and well and kicking privacy to shreds in America. Whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, will still be listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are now in a state of transition with the police state shifting into high-gear under the auspices of the surveillance state. In such an environment, we are all suspects to be spied on, searched, scanned, frisked, monitored, tracked and treated as if we’re potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other. Even our homes provide little protection against government intrusions. Police agencies, already empowered to crash through your door if they suspect you’re up to no good, now have radars that allow them to “see” through the walls of your home.

More militarized police. Americans will continue to be rendered powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, government agents were not permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And citizens could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant. Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons would be nothing short of suicidal. Moreover, as police forces across the country continue to be transformed into extensions of the military, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield. Having already transformed local police into extensions of the military, now the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation’s police officers into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.

More police shootings of unarmed citizens. Owing in large part to the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, not a week goes by without more reports of hair-raising incidents by police imbued with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a battlefield approach to the communities in which they serve.

More so-called “terrorist” attacks. Despite the government’s endless propaganda about the threat of terrorism and even in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, statistics show that you are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane. You are 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack. You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack. And you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.

More costly wars. The military industrial complex that has advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, is the very entity that will continue to profit the most from America’s expanding military empire. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with more than 3.2 million employees. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When you add in our military efforts in Pakistan, as well as the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt, that cost rises to $4.4 trillion.

More attempts by the government to identify, target and punish so-called domestic “extremists.” In much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, the government’s anti-extremism program will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist. To this end, police will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist before they can become actual threats. This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming. Moreover, under the guise of fighting violent extremism “in all of its forms and manifestations” in cities and communities across the world, the Obama administration has agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program and hire a domestic extremism czar.

More SWAT team raids. More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, kill citizens, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

More erosions of private property. Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

More debt. Currently, the national debt is somewhere in the vicinity of a whopping $18.1 trillion and rising that our government owes to foreign countries, private corporations and its retirement programs. Not only is the U.S. the largest debtor nation in the world, but according to Forbes, “the amount of interest on the national debt is estimated to be accumulating at a rate of over one million dollars per minute.”

More government contractors. Despite all the talk about big and small government, what we have been saddled with is a government that is outsourcing much of its work to high-paid contractors at great expense to the taxpayer and with no competition, little transparency and dubious savings. According to the Washington Post, “By some estimates, there aretwice as many people doing government work under contract than there are government workers.” These open-ended contracts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, “now account for anywhere between one quarter and one half of all federal service contracting.”

More overcriminalization. The government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, have resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school.

More strip searches and the denigration of bodily integrity. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the citizenry from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women alike—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops.

More injustice. Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The courts were established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet the courts increasingly march in lockstep with the police state, while concerned themselves primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal. As a result, Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

More political spectacles. Americans continue to naively buy into the idea that politics matter, as if there really were a difference between the Republicans and Democrats (there’s not). As if Barack Obama proved to be any different from George W. Bush (he has not). As if Hillary Clinton’s values are any different from Donald Trump’s (with both of them, money talks). As if when we elect a president, we’re getting someone who truly represents “we the people” rather than the corporate state (in fact, in the oligarchy that is the American police state, an elite group of wealthy donors is calling the shots). Politics in America is a game, a joke, a hustle, a con, a distraction, a spectacle, a sport, and for many devout Americans, a religion. In other words, it’s a sophisticated ruse aimed at keeping us divided and fighting over two parties whose priorities are exactly the same.

More drones. As corporations and government agencies alike prepare for their part in the coming drone invasion—it is expected that at least 30,000 drones will occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry—it won’t be long before American citizens who will be the target of these devices discover first-hand that drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—come in all shapes and sizes, from nano-sized drones as small as a grain of sand that can do everything from conducting surveillance to detonating explosive charges, to middle-sized copter drones that can deliver pizzas to massive “hunter/killer” Predator warships that unleash firepower from on high.

More dumbed down, locked down public schools. Our schools have become training grounds for compliant citizens. Despite the fact that we spend more than most of the world on education ($115,000 per student), we rank 36th in the world when it comes to math, reading and science, far below most of our Asian counterparts. Even so, we continue to insist on standardized programs such as Common Core, which teach students to be test-takers rather than thinkers. Making matters worse is the heavy police presence in schools, which have become little more than quasi-prisons in which classrooms are locked down and kids as young as age 4 are being handcuffed for “acting up,” subjected to body searches, and suspended for childish behavior.

More ignorance about our rights. Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate. This includes educators and politicians. For example, 27 percent of elected officials cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 54 percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.

More prisons. Our prisons, housing the largest number of inmates in the world and still growing, have become money-making enterprises for private corporations that manage the prisons in exchange for the states agreeing to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline. Little surprise, then, that the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.

More corruption. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

More censorship. First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.” Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms. As a result, we are no longer a nation of constitutional purists for whom the Bill of Rights serves as the ultimate authority. We have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

More fascism. As a Princeton University survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. We are no longer a representative republic. With Big Business and Big Government having fused into a corporate state, the president and his state counterparts—the governors, have become little more than CEOs of the Corporate State, which day by day is assuming more government control over our lives. Never before have average Americans had so little say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives.

More fear. We’re being fed a constant diet of fear, which has resulted in Americans adopting an “us” against “them” mindset that keeps us divided into factions, unable to reach consensus about anything and too distracted to notice the police state closing in on us.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution, put it best: “Take alarm,” he warned, “at the first experiment with liberties.” Anyone with even a casual knowledge about current events knows that the first experiment on our freedoms happened long ago. Worse, we have not heeded the warnings of Madison and those like him who understood that if you give the government an inch, they will take a mile. Unfortunately, the government has not only taken a mile, they have taken mile after mile after mile after mile with seemingly no end in sight for their power grabs.

If you’re in the business of making New Year’s resolutions, why not resolve that 2016 will be the year we break the cycle of tyranny and get back on the road to freedom? No matter what the politicians say about the dire state of our nation, you can rest assured that none of the problems that continue to plague our lives and undermine our freedoms will be resolved by our so-called elected representatives in any credible, helpful way in the new year.

“We the people”—the citizenry, not the politicians—are the only ones who have ever been able to enact effective change, and there is a lot that needs to change.

All of the signs point to something nasty up ahead.

Advertisements

“Two thousand years later … the memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history.” ― Reza Aslan, religious scholar

The Christmas narrative of a baby born in a manger is a familiar one.

The Roman Empire, a police state in its own right, had ordered that a census be conducted. Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary traveled to the little town of Bethlehem so that they could be counted. There being no room for the couple at any of the inns, they stayed in a stable, where Mary gave birth to a baby boy. That boy, Jesus, would grow up to undermine the political and religious establishment of his day and was eventually crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be.

But what if Jesus, the revered preacher, teacher, radical and prophet, had been born 2,000 years later? How would Jesus’ life have been different had he be born and raised in the American police state?

Consider the following if you will.

Had Jesus been born in the year 2015…

Rather than traveling to Bethlehem for a census, Jesus’ parents would have been mailed a 28-page American Community Survey, a mandatory government questionnaire documenting their habits, household inhabitants, work schedule, and even how many toilets were in their home, etc. The penalty for not responding to this invasive survey would have resulted in a fine of $5,000.

Instead of being born in a manger, Jesus might have been born at home. Rather than wise men and shepherds bringing gifts, however, the baby’s parents might have been forced to ward off visits from state social workers intent on prosecuting them for the home birth. One couple in Washington had all three of their children removed after social services objected to the two youngest being birthed in an unassisted home delivery.

Had Jesus been born in a hospital, his blood and DNA would have been taken and entered into a government biobank without his parents’ knowledge or consent. While most states require newborn screening, a growing number are indefinitely holding onto that genetic material long-term for research, analysis and purposes yet to be disclosed.

Then again, had his parents been undocumented immigrants, they and the newborn baby might have been shuffled to aprofit-driven, private detention center for illegals. There’s quite a lot of money to be made from imprisoning immigrants, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill.

Once in school, Jesus would have been drilled in lessons of compliance and obedience to government authorities, all the while learning little about his own rights. And if he dared to challenge school officials, he might have found himself suspended under a school zero tolerance policy that punishes minor infractions (such as doodling or talking in class) as harshly as more serious offenses (such as bringing a weapon to class).

According to scripture, Jesus, at the age of twelve, wandered the temple courts in Jerusalem alone and unsupervised. Today, had Jesus disappeared for a few hours let alone days, his parents would have been handcuffed, arrested and jailed for parental negligence. Parents across the country have been arrested for far less “offenses” such as allowing their children to walk to the park unaccompanied and play in their front yard alone.

Rather than disappearing from the history books from his early teenaged years to adulthood, Jesus’ movements and personal data—including his biometrics—would have been documented, tracked, monitored and filed by governmental agencies and corporations such as Google and Microsoft. Incredibly, 95 percent of school districts share their student records with outside companies contracted to manage the data.

If Jesus were to ever make contact with the likes of John the Baptist, he would have been flagged for surveillance because of his association with a prominent activist, peaceful or otherwise. Since 9/11, the FBI has actively carried out surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations on a broad range of activist groups, from animal rights groups to poverty relief and anti-war organizations.

Rather than being permitted to live as an itinerant preacher, Jesus might have found himself threatened with arrest for daring to live off the grid or sleeping outside. In fact, the number of cities that have resorted to criminalizing homelessness by enacting bans on camping, sleeping in vehicles, loitering and begging in public has doubled in recent years.

Had his travels taken him from community to community, Jesus might have been reported to government officials as “suspicious” under the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” programs. Many states, including New York, are providing individuals with phone apps that allow them to take photos of suspicious activity and report them to their state Intelligence Center, where they are reviewed and forwarded to law-enforcement agencies.

Perceived as a dissident and a potential threat to the government’s power, Jesus might have had government spies planted among his followers in order to monitor his activities, report on his movements, and entrap him into breaking the law.

Jesus’ anti-government views would certainly have resulted in him being labeled a domestic extremist. Law enforcement agencies are being trained to recognize signs of anti-government extremism during interactions with potential extremists who share a “belief in the approaching collapse of government and the economy.”

Assuming Jesus used the internet to spread his radical message of peace and love, he might have found his blog posts infiltrated by government spies attempting to undermine his integrity, discredit him or plant incriminating information online about him. At the very least, he would have had his website hacked and his email monitored.

Had Jesus attempted to feed large crowds of people, he would have been threatened with arrest for violating various ordinances prohibiting the distribution of food without a permit. Florida officials arrested a 90-year-old man for feeding the homeless on a public beach.

Had Jesus spoken publicly about his 40 days in the desert and his conversations with the devil, he might have been labeled mentally ill and detained in a psych ward against his will for a mandatory involuntary psychiatric hold with no access to family or friends. One Virginia man was arrested, strip searched, handcuffed to a table, diagnosed as having “mental health issues,” and locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will apparently because of his slurred speech and unsteady gait.

Without a doubt, had Jesus attempted to overturn tables in a Jewish temple and raged against the materialism of religious institutions, he would have been charged with a hate crime. Currently, 45 states and the federal government have hate crime laws on the books.

Rather than having armed guards capture Jesus in a public place, government officials would have ordered that a SWAT team carry out a raid on Jesus and his followers, complete with flash-bang grenades and military equipment. There are upwards of 80,000 such SWAT team raids carried out every year, many on unsuspecting Americans who have no defense against such government invaders, even when such raids are done in error.

Instead of being detained by Roman guards, Jesus might have been made to “disappear” into a secret government detention center where he would have been interrogated, tortured and subjected to all manner of abuses. Chicago police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people into a secret, off-the-books interrogation warehouse at Homan Square.

Charged with treason and labeled a domestic terrorist, Jesus might have been sentenced to a life-term in a private prison where he would have been forced to provide slave labor for corporations or put to death by way of the electric chair or a lethal mixture of drugs.

Either way, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, whether Jesus had been born in our modern age or his own, he still would have died at the hands of a police state.

What a turbulent year it’s been.

For those of us who have managed to survive 2015 with our lives intact and our freedoms hanging by a thread, it has been a year of crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.

After endless months of being mired in gloom and doom, we now find ourselves just a few weeks away from Christmas, struggling to latch onto that spirit of joy, excitement, innocence, magic and hope we had as children. Even so, it takes a monumental effort to get past the Grinches and Scrooges who can you make you feel like yours is anything but a wonderful life.

And then there’s Christmas itself, which has become embattled in recent years, co-opted by rampant commercialism, straight-jacketed by political correctness, and denuded of so much of its loveliness, holiness and mystery.

Despite all of this humbuggery, however, there are still a few steps you can take to enjoy the season and hopefully make this world a better place in the face of weaponized drones, far-reaching surveillance and a government that with every passing day is coming to resemble authoritarian regimes of old. While it’s not possible to solve all of the world’s problems right away, here are some practical steps each of us can take to recapture the true spirit of Christmas.

Move beyond the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Tune into what’s happening in your family, in your community and your world, and get active. Show compassion to those in need, be kind to those around you, forgive those who have wronged you, and teach your children to do the same. Stop acting entitled and start being empowered. Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. Value your family. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Give peace a chance.

And finally, turn off the news, settle down with your loved ones, and turn on a Christmas movie that reinforces your faith in humanity. Unfortunately, Christmas movies made in the last few years seem to express a cynicism and weariness that have become hallmarks of our materialistic culture. The season for giving has turned into the season for getting. However, there is still magic to be found in some of the classic Christmas movies, along with a few newer ones that are quickly joining their ranks. The following are ten of my favorites to help get you through the season with maximum joy.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). An American classic about a despondent man, George Bailey (James Stewart), who is saved from suicide by an angel working to get his wings. Stewart and Donna Reed are sublime. Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore and Thomas Mitchell are fine in support. This film is a testament to director Frank Capra’s faith in people. Fine performances by James Stewart and Donna Reed.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947). An angel (Cary Grant) comes to earth in answer to a bishop’s (David Niven) prayer for help. The two male leads and Loretta Young help energize this tale of lost visions and longings of the heart. Monty Woolley and Elsa Lanchester are superb in supporting roles. Look for Karolyn Grimes, who plays the bishop’s daughter. She was also Zuzu (of Zuzu’s petals) in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947). By happenchance, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is hired as Santa Claus by Macy’s Department Store in New York City for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Before long, Kringle, who believes himself to be the one and only Santa Claus, has impacted virtually everyone around him. Funny, witty and heartwarming, this film is stocked with some fine performances from Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and young Natalie Wood. Gwenn won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as Saint Nick.

A Christmas Carol (1951). Also known as Scrooge, this is the best film version of the penny-pinching Scrooge’s journey to spiritual enlightenment by way of visits from supernatural visitors. Alastair Sim as Scrooge gives one of the finest film performances never to win an Oscar. Bill Murray’s Scrooged (1988) is a good modern film adaptation of this Charles Dickens tale.

A Christmas Story (1983). Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is a young boy obsessed with one thing and only one thing: how to get a Red Ryder BB-gun for Christmas. Ralphie’s parents are wary, and his mother continually warns him that “you’ll shoot your eye out.” Based on Jean Shepherd’s autobiographical book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, this comedy has some classic scenes—such as a department store Santa who is more demonic than saintly. However, Bob Clark’s adept direction never loses the focus of the story—the yearnings of a child for the magic of Christmas morning. A great cast, which includes Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon and a voice-over narrative by Shepherd himself.

One Magic Christmas (1985). If you grew up in a family where times were tough, this film is for you. A guardian angel (Harry Dean Stanton) comes to earth to help a disillusioned woman (Mary Steenburgen), who hates Christmas. This, of course, poses serious problems for her husband and two children who groove on the yuletide. This tale of redemption and second chances is a delight to watch. And Harry Dean Stanton, even though he plays against type, is excellent as a weird, offbeat angel.

Prancer (1989). This story of an eight-year-old girl (Rebecca Harrell) who believes that an injured reindeer in her barn is actually one of Santa’s reindeer is one of the most down-to-earth Christmas films ever made. It shows how the love of an individual, even if it’s a little girl, can change not only other hearts but the course of historical events. Sam Elliott and Cloris Leachman are fine in supporting roles, but Rebecca Harrell is excellent. Filmed on location in freezing, snowy weather, this film is a treat for those who love Christmas.

Home Alone (1990). Eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left alone at home in a Chicago suburb when his parents, siblings and assorted relatives fly to Paris for Christmas.  Good riddance—or so Kevin thinks until he runs into all kinds of problems, including two burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Written by John Hughes, the story centers on the importance of family relationships.

Elf (2003). Will Ferrell is marvelous as Buddy. As a baby, Buddy snuck into Santa’s bag and wound up at the North Pole, where he was raised as an oversized elf. From there, he begins a journey back to the “real” world to find and establish a relationship with his father. This film has it all—Santa, elves, family problems, humor, emotion and above all else, a large dose of the Christmas spirit. One of the best Christmas movies ever made.

Get Santa (2014). This British film is a rare gem among the paltry holiday films to come out in recent years. Santa, played by Jim Broadbent, has crashed while test-driving a new sleigh and turns to fresh-out-of-prison ex-con Steve and his 9-year-old son Tom to save Christmas. The film has enough heart and Christmas magic to touch the most determined Unbeliever, and then for laughs, tosses in some farting reindeer, a jailbreak, a car chase, and a trip to the North Pole.

As these films illustrate, it is possible to move beyond the self-centered, materialistic, cynical world that imprisons us—a materialistic world that has our young people growing jaded and skeptical—and reclaim the loving, giving, magical spirit of Christmas.

More than a century ago, the editor of The New York Sun addressed this growing cynicism in his response to a letter from 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, whose friends had told her there is no Santa Claus. This was his answer.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus… There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.”—Edward R. Murrow, broadcast journalist

America is in the midst of an epidemic of historic proportions.

The contagion being spread like wildfire is turning communities into battlegrounds and setting Americans one against the other.

Normally mild-mannered individuals caught up in the throes of this disease have been transformed into belligerent zealots, while others inclined to pacifism have taken to stockpiling weapons and practicing defensive drills.

This plague on our nation—one that has been spreading like wildfire—is a potent mix of fear coupled with unhealthy doses of paranoia and intolerance, tragic hallmarks of the post-9/11 America in which we live.

Everywhere you turn, those on both the left- and right-wing are fomenting distrust and division. You can’t escape it.

We’re being fed a constant diet of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of illegal immigrants, fear of people who are too religious, fear of people who are not religious enough, fear of Muslims, fear of extremists, fear of the government, fear of those who fear the government. The list goes on and on.

The strategy is simple yet effective: the best way to control a populace is through fear and discord.

Fear makes people stupid.

Confound them, distract them with mindless news chatter and entertainment, pit them against one another by turning minor disagreements into major skirmishes, and tie them up in knots over matters lacking in national significance.

Most importantly, divide the people into factions, persuade them to see each other as the enemy and keep them screaming at each other so that they drown out all other sounds. In this way, they will never reach consensus about anything and will be too distracted to notice the police state closing in on them until the final crushing curtain falls.

This is how free people enslave themselves and allow tyrants to prevail.

This Machiavellian scheme has so ensnared the nation that few Americans even realize they are being manipulated into adopting an “us” against “them” mindset. Instead, fueled with fear and loathing for phantom opponents, they agree to pour millions of dollars and resources into political elections, militarized police, spy technology and endless wars, hoping for a guarantee of safety that never comes.

All the while, those in power—bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations—move their costly agendas forward, and “we the suckers” get saddled with the tax bills and subjected to pat downs, police raids and round-the-clock surveillance.

Turn on the TV or flip open the newspaper on any given day, and you will find yourself accosted by reports of government corruption, corporate malfeasance, militarized police and marauding SWAT teams.

America has already entered a new phase, one in which children are arrested in schools, military veterans are forcibly detained by government agents because of the content of their Facebook posts, and law-abiding Americans are having their movements tracked, their financial transactions documented and their communications monitored

These threats are not to be underestimated.

Yet even more dangerous than these violations of our basic rights is the language in which they are couched: the language of fear. It is a language spoken effectively by politicians on both sides of the aisle, shouted by media pundits from their cable TV pulpits, marketed by corporations, and codified into bureaucratic laws that do little to make our lives safer or more secure.

Fear, as history shows, is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. Even while President Obama insists that “freedom is more powerful than fear,” the tactics of his administration continue to rely on fear of another terrorist attack in order to further advance the agenda of the military/security industrial complex.

An atmosphere of fear permeates modern America. However, with crime at a 40-year low, is such fear of terrorism rational?

Even in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, statistics show that you are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane. You are 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack. You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack. You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocating in bed than from a terrorist attack. And you are 9 more times likely to choke to death in your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack.

Indeed, those living in the American police state are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. Thus, the government’s endless jabbering about terrorism amounts to little more than propaganda—the propaganda of fear—a tactic used to terrorize, cower and control the population.

So far, these tactics are working.

The 9/11 attacks, the Paris attacks, and now the San Bernardino shooting have succeeded in reducing the American people to what commentator Dan Sanchez refers to as “herd-minded hundreds of millions [who] will stampede to the State for security, bleating to please, please be shorn of their remaining liberties.”

Sanchez continues:

I am not terrified of the terrorists; i.e., I am not, myself, terrorized. Rather, I am terrified of the terrorized; terrified of the bovine masses who are so easily manipulated by terrorists, governments, and the terror-amplifying media into allowing our country to slip toward totalitarianism and total war…

I do not irrationally and disproportionately fear Muslim bomb-wielding jihadists or white, gun-toting nutcases. But I rationally and proportionately fear those who do, and the regimes such terror empowers. History demonstrates that governments are capable of mass murder and enslavement far beyond what rogue militants can muster. Industrial-scale terrorists are the ones who wear ties, chevrons, and badges. But such terrorists are a powerless few without the supine acquiescence of the terrorized many. There is nothing to fear but the fearful themselves…

Stop swallowing the overblown scaremongering of the government and its corporate media cronies. Stop letting them use hysteria over small menaces to drive you into the arms of tyranny, which is the greatest menace of all.

As history makes clear, fear leads to fascistic, totalitarian regimes.

It’s a simple enough formula. National crises, reported terrorist attacks, and sporadic shootings leave us in a constant state of fear. Fear prevents us from thinking. The emotional panic that accompanies fear actually shuts down the prefrontal cortex or the rational thinking part of our brains. In other words, when we are consumed by fear, we stop thinking.

A populace that stops thinking for themselves is a populace that is easily led, easily manipulated and easily controlled.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the following are a few of the necessary ingredients for a fascist state:

  • The government is managed by a powerful leader (even if he or she assumes office by way of the electoral process). This is the fascistic leadership principle (or father figure).
  • The government assumes it is not restrained in its power. This is authoritarianism, which eventually evolves into totalitarianism.
  • The government ostensibly operates under a capitalist system while being undergirded by an immense bureaucracy.
  • The government through its politicians emits powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
  • The government has an obsession with national security while constantly invoking terrifying internal and external enemies.
  • The government establishes a domestic and invasive surveillance system and develops a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the citizenry.
  • The government and its various agencies (federal, state, and local) develop an obsession with crime and punishment. This is overcriminalization.
  • The government becomes increasingly centralized while aligning closely with corporate powers to control all aspects of the country’s social, economic, military, and governmental structures.
  • The government uses militarism as a center point of its economic and taxing structure.
  • The government is increasingly imperialistic in order to maintain the military-industrial corporate forces.

The parallels to modern America are impossible to ignore.

“Every industry is regulated. Every profession is classified and organized,” writes Jeffrey Tucker. “Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a daily prospect.”

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary. In times of “crisis,” expediency is upheld as the central principle—that is, in order to keep us safe and secure, the government must militarize the police, strip us of basic constitutional rights and criminalize virtually every form of behavior.

Not only does fear grease the wheels of the transition to fascism by cultivating fearful, controlled, pacified, cowed citizens, but it also embeds itself in our very DNA so that we pass on our fear and compliance to our offspring.

It’s called epigenetic inheritance, the transmission through DNA of traumatic experiences.

For example, neuroscientists observed how quickly fear can travel through generations of mice DNA. As The Washington Post reports:

In the experiment, researchers taught male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by associating the scent with mild foot shocks. Two weeks later, they bred with females. The resulting pups were raised to adulthood having never been exposed to the smell. Yet when the critters caught a whiff of it for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful. They were even born with more cherry-blossom-detecting neurons in their noses and more brain space devoted to cherry-blossom-smelling.

The conclusion? “A newborn mouse pup, seemingly innocent to the workings of the world, may actually harbor generations’ worth of information passed down by its ancestors.”

Now consider the ramifications of inherited generations of fears and experiences on human beings. As the Post reports, “Studies on humans suggest that children and grandchildren may have felt the epigenetic impact of such traumatic events such as famine, the Holocaust and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

In other words, fear, trauma and compliance can be passed down through the generations.

Fear has been a critical tool in past fascistic regimes, and it now operates in our contemporary world—all of which raises fundamental questions about us as human beings and what we will give up in order to perpetuate the illusions of safety and security.

In the words of psychologist Erich Fromm:

[C]an human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing for freedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love—that is to say, can man forget he is human? Or does human nature have a dynamism which will react to the violation of these basic human needs by attempting to change an inhuman society into a human one?

We are at a critical crossroads in American history, and we have a choice: freedom or fascism.

Let’s hope the American people make the right choice while we still have the freedom to choose.