"The Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools."?Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Christmas Eve sermon, 1967

As a child, my Christmas wish list came right out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue?toys, board games, bikes, action figures, etc. My parents, like so many in their day, belonged to the working-class poor, so while I never lacked for the necessities of life, many of the items on my wish list never came to be. Even so, I was no worse off for it.

I wish the same could be said of those still unfulfilled items on my adult Christmas wish list. Each year, I wish for the same things?an end to war, poverty, hunger, violence and disease?and each year, I find the world relatively unchanged. Millions continue to die every year, casualties of a world that places greater value on war machines and profit margins than human life.

I've seen enough of the world in my 68 years to know that wishing is not enough. We need to be doing. It's not possible to solve all of the world's problems right away. For most people, putting an end to world hunger, poverty, disease and the police state may seem too insurmountable a task to even tackle. But as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there are practical steps each of us can take to hopefully get things moving in the right direction. Here's what I would suggest for a start:

Tone down the partisan rhetoric, the "us" vs. "them" mentality. Politicians frequently perpetuate a "good" versus "evil," "us" versus "them" rhetoric which pits citizen against citizen and allows the politicians to advance their personal, political agendas. Instead of wasting time and resources on political infighting, which gets us nowhere, it's time Americans learned to work together to solve the problems before us. The best place to start is in your own communities, neighbor to neighbor. After all, at the end of the day, it makes no difference what politician you voted for?Republican, Democrat or otherwise?politics will never be the answer. Politicians have mastered the art of creating dissension, but they're all the same. Grassroots activism is the only kind of change you can count on.

Turn off the TV and tune into what's happening in your family, in your community and your world. Read your local newspaper. Attend a school board or city council meeting. Get involved with a nonprofit that works in your community. Whatever you do, reduce your intake of mindless television and entertainment news. The only reality programming worth taking notice of is the one playing in your home and community.

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. Increasingly, people seem to be forgetting their p's and q's?basic manners that were drilled into older generations. I'm talking about simple things like holding a door open for someone, helping someone stranded on the side of the road, and saying "please" and "thank you" to those who do you a service?whether it be to the teenager bagging your groceries or the family member who just passed the potatoes. As author Robert Heinlein observed, "A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot..."

Talk less, listen more. Take less, and give more. If people spent less time dwelling on and attending to their own needs and more time trying to help and understand those around them, many of the problems we currently face could be eliminated.

Stop acting entitled and start being empowered. We have moved into the Age of Entitlement, where more and more people feel entitled to certain benefits without having to work for them. There's nothing wrong with helping those less fortunate, but as my parents taught me, there's a lot to be said for an honest day's work.

Remember that all people are endowed with inalienable rights. I've heard a lot of chatter in recent years in favor of torturing detainees and denying basic rights to non-citizens, but doing so not only goes against everything that the U.S. is supposed to stand for, but it also goes against every principle common to all world religions?forgiveness, charity, nonjudgmentalism, nonviolence, etc. America cannot continue to lambast terrorist groups for their contempt for human life and dignity when our own nation violates these same principles time and again.

Stop being a hater. Increasingly, we as a society have come to reflect the hostility at work in the world at large. This is so even in such a virtual microcrosm as Facebook, where "unfriending" those with whom you might disagree has become commonplace. How can we ever hope to curb the hatred and animosity that have spurred global terrorism over the past few decades if we can't even forgive the human failings of those in our immediate circles?

Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. There's no need to legislate tolerance through hate crime legislation and other politically correct mechanisms of compliance. True tolerance stems from a basic respect for one's fellow man or woman. And it should be taught to children from the time they can understand right from wrong.

Treat women like people, not things. If pop culture and the media are any reflection of how women and girls are viewed today?primarily as sex objects?then one can only wonder what exactly the women's rights movement has been doing in recent years. The use of sex and its impact on young girls is particularly troubling. As professor Henry A. Giroux observed: "Market strategists are increasingly using sexually charged images to sell commodities, often representing the fantasies of an adult version of sexuality. For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing franchise for young people, has earned a reputation for its risqué catalogues filled with promotional ads of scantily clad kids and its over-the-top sexual advice columns for teens and preteens; one catalogue featured an ad for thongs for ten-year-olds with the words 'eye candy' and 'wink wink' written on them. Another clothing store sold underwear geared toward teens with 'Who needs Credit Cards ...?' written across the crotch. Children as young as six years old are being sold lacy underwear, push-up bras and 'date night accessories' for their various doll collections. In 2006, the Tesco department store chain sold a pole dancing kit designed for young girls to unleash the sex kitten inside."

Value your family. The traditional family, such that it is, is already in great disrepair, torn apart by divorce, infidelity, overscheduling, overwork, materialism, and an absence of spirituality. Despite the billions we spend on childcare, toys, clothes, private lessons, etc., a concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives. And now we are beginning to see the blowback from collapsing familial relationships. Indeed, more and more, I hear about young people refusing to talk to their parents, grandparents being denied access to their grandchildren, and older individuals left to molder away in nursing homes. Yet without the family, the true building block of our nation, there can be no freedom.

Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. "Adopt" an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months.

Give peace a chance. So far, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have cost American taxpayers more than $4 trillion, and that doesn't even begin to approach the human cost in lives lost?military and civilian?and families rent asunder. The military industrial complex has a lot to gain financially so long as America continues to wage its wars at home and abroad, but you can be sure that the American people will lose everything unless we find some way to give peace a chance. We can start by bringing all of our men and women in uniform home.

Start your own teaspoon brigade. You don't have to solve all the world's problems single-handedly, nor do you have to solve them overnight. Little by little, you'll get there, but you have to start somewhere. It is up to each of us to do our part to make this a better world for all. As the legendary singer, songwriter and activist Pete Seeger once remarked to me:

I tell everybody a little parable about the "teaspoon brigades." Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it's got a basket one-quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons, and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, "People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in." Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years?who knows?that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, "How did it happen so suddenly?" And we answer, "Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years."

STANARDSVILLE, Va. – The Rutherford Institute has come to the aid of a four-year-old Virginia student who, after allegedly acting up in class, was turned over to police, who handcuffed and shackled the preschooler and transported him to the sheriff's office. While at the sheriff's office, the police forced C.B., the four-year-old, to speak with prison inmates in an apparent attempt to "scare straight" the preschooler. The child was left in handcuffs or shackles for about 20 minutes.

Pointing out that handcuffing and shackling a four-year-old is excessive, unwarranted, and unnecessarily traumatizing, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked that public school officials take steps to assure the child's family and the rest of the community of parents and concerned citizens that what happened to C.B. will not happen again to him or other students of similar age. Specifically, Institute attorneys have asked that protocols be established to guide school personnel and allow them to deal more appropriately with students who are acting up or have become upset, preventing such incidents from escalating to the point where use of law enforcement is considered an option.

The Rutherford Institute's letter to Greene County Public Schools is available at www.rutherford.org.

"That it was a sheriff's deputy and not a public school official who handcuffed and shackled this four-year-old does not detract from the fact that this mother entrusted her son to the care of school officials, trusting them to care for him as she would, with compassion, understanding and patience," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. "That such extreme restraints would even be contemplated in a case such as this points to a failure by those in leadership to provide the proper guidance to school personnel in what forms of restraint and force are appropriate when dealing with students, especially the youngest and most vulnerable."

The incident occurred on October 16, 2014, while four-year-old C.B. was in one of the pre-Kindergarten programs at Nathanael Greene Primary School. According to school officials, C.B. was removed from the classroom after allegedly becoming agitated and throwing several items onto the floor. School personnel then telephoned C.B.'s mother, Tracy Wood, who indicated she would come and get the child. Although school personnel knew C.B.'s mother was en route to NGPS, they called in the school's resource officer, a Greene County deputy sheriff, to confront the preschooler. The sight of the law enforcement officer reportedly only served to agitate C.B. further. Instead of employing positive reinforcement, a bear hug or some other method of control appropriate for children, the officer escalated the situation by treating the 4-year-old as if he were being arrested: handcuffing C.B. and transporting him in a police car to a Greene County Sheriff's office. Upon arriving at NGPS, Ms. Wood was stunned to learn that her son had been transported to the Sheriff's office.

After a frantic trip to the police station, Ms. Wood arrived to find her son traumatized and in leg shackles, like an inmate being transported for a court appearance. To her dismay, Ms. Wood learned that not only had the 4-year-old been handcuffed and shackled for about 20 minutes, but that the police officer had forced C.B. to speak with persons who had been arrested in an apparent attempt to "scare straight" the preschooler. Incredibly, C.B. was held in handcuffs or shackles for about 20 minutes. Rather than recognizing the imprudence of treating a young child like a hardened criminal, school officials and the sheriff's office not only defended their actions but actually suspended C.B. from the pre-K program and instructed his mother to seek "homebound instruction" for him. In coming to C.B.'s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked that school officials rescind the suspension, remove any indication of the incident from C.B.'s records, and implement policies making it clear that handcuffing, shackling and other similar excessive restraint techniques are never appropriate when dealing with children of tender years.

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? In a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Heien v. State of North Carolina that police officers are permitted to violate American citizens' Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a "reasonable" mistake about the law on the part of police. Acting contrary to the venerable principle that "ignorance of the law is no excuse," the Court ruled that evidence obtained by police during a traffic stop that was not legally justified can be used to prosecute the person if police were reasonably mistaken that the person had violated the law. The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court's lone dissenter, warned that the court's ruling "means further eroding the Fourth Amendment's protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down."

The Rutherford Institute's amicus brief in Heien v. North Carolina is available at www.rutherford.org.

"By refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. "This case may have started out with an improper traffic stop, but where it will end?given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption?is not hard to predict. This ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state."

In April 2009, a Surry County (N.C.) law enforcement officer stopped a car traveling on Interstate 77, allegedly because of a brake light which at first failed to illuminate and then flickered on. The officer mistakenly believed that state law prohibited driving a car with one broken brake light. In fact, the state traffic law requires only one working brake light. Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search. Upon the officer finding cocaine in the vehicle, he arrested and charged Heien with trafficking. Prior to his trial, Heien moved to suppress the evidence seized in light of the fact that the officer's pretext for the stop was erroneous and therefore unlawful. Although the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence, the state court of appeals determined that since the police officer had based his initial stop of the car on a mistaken understanding of the law, there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place. On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that even though the officer was wrong in concluding that the inoperable brake light was an offense, because the officer's mistake was a "reasonable" one, the stop of the car did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the evidence resulting from the stop did not need to be suppressed. In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn against allowing government agents to "benefit" from their mistakes of law, deliberate or otherwise, lest it become an incentive for abuse.

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Every regime has its own name for its secret police. Mussolini's OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin's NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror, and depopulation. Hitler's Gestapo went door-to-door ferreting out dissidents and other political "enemies" of the state. And in the U.S., it's the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues, and mosques, is issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans' phone records, is using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or is persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation's secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss' dirty work.

It's a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers. The government's henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

America is in the grip of a highly profitable, highly organized, and highly sophisticated sex-trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.

It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the U.S. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as nine years old. This doesn't include those who entered the "trade" as minors and have since come of age. Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. As one rescue organization estimated, an under-aged prostitute might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.

This is America's dirty little secret.

There's a lot to love about America and its people: their pioneering spirit, their entrepreneurship, their ability to think outside the box, their passion for the arts, etc. Increasingly, however, I find things I don't like about living in a nation that has ceased to be a sanctuary for freedom.

Here's what I don't like about living in America.

I don't like being treated as if my only value to the government is as a source of labor and funds. I don't like being viewed as a consumer and bits of data. I don't like being spied on and treated as if I have no right to privacy, especially in my own home.

I don't like government officials who lobby for my vote only to ignore me once elected. I don't like having representatives unable and unwilling to represent me. I don't like taxation without representation.

"A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty." - James Madison

"Here [in New Mexico], we are moving more toward a national police force. Homeland Security is involved with a lot of little things around town. Somebody in Washington needs to call a timeout." - Dan Klein, retired Albuquerque Police Department sergeant

If the United States is a police state, then the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its national police force, with all the brutality, ineptitude, and corruption such a role implies. In fact, although the DHS's governmental bureaucracy may at times appear to be inept and bungling, it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to building what the Founders feared most - a standing army on American soil.

The third largest federal agency behind the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, the DHS - with its 240,000 full-time workers, $61-billion budget, and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs & Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency - has been aptly dubbed a "runaway train."

"A government which will turn its tanks upon its people, for any reason, is a government with a taste of blood and a thirst for power and must either be smartly rebuked, or blindly obeyed in deadly fear." - John Salter

How many children, old people, and law-abiding citizens have to be injured, terrorized, or killed before we call a halt to the growing rash of police violence that is wracking the country? How many family pets have to be gunned down in cold blood by marauding SWAT teams before we declare such tactics off-limits? And how many communities have to be transformed into military outposts - complete with heavily armed police, military tanks, and "safety" checkpoints - before we draw that line in the sand that says "not in our town"?

The latest incident happened last month in Atlanta, where a SWAT team attempting to execute a no-knock drug warrant in the middle of the night launched a flash-bang grenade into the targeted home, only to have it land in a crib where a 19-month-old baby lay sleeping. The grenade exploded, burning his face, lacerating his chest, and leaving him paralyzed. At the hospital, he was put in a medically induced coma.

If this were the first instance of police overkill - if it were even the fifth - there might be hope of reforming our system of law enforcement. But what happened to this baby, whose life will never be the same, has become par for the course in a society that glorifies violence, turns a blind eye to government wrongdoing, and sanctions any act by law enforcement - no matter how misguided or wrong. As I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this state-sponsored violence is a necessary ingredient in any totalitarian regime to ensure a compliant, cowed, and fearful populace.

Once again, the U.S. government is attempting to police the world when it should be policing its own law-enforcement agencies. We've got a warship cruising the Black Sea, fighter jets patrolling the Baltic skies, and a guided-missile destroyer searching the South China Sea for the downed Malaysia Airlines flight. All the while, back home in the U.S., our constitutional rights are going to hell in a handbasket, with homeowners being threatened with eviction for attempting to live off the grid, old women jailed for feeding crows, and citizens armed with little more than a cell phone arrested for daring to record police activities.

Robin Speronis now finds herself threatened with eviction from her own Florida home for daring to live off the grid, independent of city utilities such as water and electricity. City officials insist the Cape Coral resident's chosen way of life violates the international property-maintenance code and city ordinances. Mary Musselman, also a Florida resident, is being held in jail without bond for "feeding wild animals." The 81-year-old Musselman, on probation after being charged with feeding bears near her home, was arrested after officers discovered her leaving bread out for crows. Meanwhile, Brandy Berning of Florida was forced to spend a night in jail after recording her conversation with an officer who pulled her over for a routine traffic stop.

Welcome to the farce that passes for law and order in America today, where crime is low, militarized police activity is on the rise, and Americans are being penalized for living off the grid, feeding wild animals, holding Bible studies in their backyard, growing vegetables in their front yard, collecting rainwater, and filming the police.

"We live in a small, rural town. Moved here in 1961. I don't remember what year the State Troopers moved a headquarters into our town. Our young people were plagued with tickets for even the smallest offense. Troopers had to get their limits for the month. People make jokes about that, but it has been true. Every kid I knew was getting ticketed for something. But now it is so much worse. I raised my kids to respect police. If they did something wrong and got caught, they deserved it and should take their punishment. But now I have no respect for the police. I feel threatened and fearful of them. They are aggressive and intimidating. They lie and are abusive, and we do not know how to fight them. I am not a minority here, but people are afraid if they speak out they will be targeted. We are just a small town. I just don't care anymore if they do target me. I am afraid they are going to kill someone." - letter from a 60-year-old grandmother

The following incidents are cautionary tales for anyone who still thinks that they can defy police officers without deadly repercussions, even if it's simply to disagree about a speeding ticket, challenge a search warrant, or defend oneself against an unreasonable or unjust charge. The message they send is that "we the people" have very little protection from the standing army that is law enforcement.

For example, Seattle police repeatedly Tasered seven-months-pregnant Malaika Brooks for refusing to sign a speeding ticket. While Brooks bears permanent burn scars on her body from the encounter, police were cleared of any wrongdoing on the grounds that they didn't know that Tasering a pregnant woman was wrong.

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