"If the broad light of day could be let in upon men's actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects." - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting, and disingenuous curtain of political theatre. And what political theatre it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury yet in the end signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theatre can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing, and suspenseful, even for those who know better. Week after week, the script changes - the presidential election, the budget crisis, the fiscal cliff, the Benghazi hearings, the gun-control debate - with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any letup, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle. All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, elaborate stage sets, colored lights, and parading actors.

Gifts have been bought. Presents wrapped. Now all that remains is the giving and receiving. Oh, and the tracking, of course. Little did you know that all the while you were searching out that perfect gift, you were unknowingly leaving a trail for others - namely, the government and its corporate cohorts - to follow.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, the indifference of the general public to the growing surveillance state, the inability of Congress to protect Americans' privacy, and the profit-driven policies of the business sector, the corporate state could write a book about your holiday shopping habits: the Web sites you've visited when trying to decide what to buy, the storefronts you've browsed while wandering the mall, and the purchases you've made.

Even the store mannequins have gotten in on the gig. According to the Washington Post, mannequins in some high-end boutiques are now being outfitted with cameras that utilize facial-recognition technology. A small camera embedded in the eye of an otherwise normal-looking mannequin allows storekeepers to keep track of the age, sex, and race of all their customers. This information is then used to personally tailor the shopping experience to those coming in and out of their stores. As the Washington Post report notes: "A clothier introduced a children's line after the dummy showed that kids made up more than half its mid-afternoon traffic. ... Another store found that a third of visitors using one of its doors after 4 p.m. were Asian, prompting it to place Chinese-speaking staff members by that entrance."

"Christmas?an aspirin for the soul or cold-turkey celebration of the birth and life of Christ? It has to be a measured bit of both, doesn't it?"?Ian Anderson, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

What a year it's been. We've had kids getting micro-chipped in the public schools. Congress, the courts and the White House working in cahoots to erode our privacy rights. The Transportation Security Administration fumbling its way through national security. Hurricane Sandy ravaging the Eastern shore. The police state merging with the surveillance state to keep us tagged, tracked and under control. The military industrial complex lobbying to keep the nation at war and defense contractors in the money. Individuals getting fined and arrested for violating any number of vague and overreaching laws. Homes getting raided and innocent Americans killed by rampaging SWAT teams armed to the hilt.

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 if one is successful in momentarily blocking out the political gloom and doom, it still 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 reclaim the magic of Christmas and enjoy the season. For a start, do something nice for someone else?whether it's a family member, a neighbor or a stranger on the street. Turn off the news and turn on a Christmas movie, one of the oldies but goodies?something full of good will, sweetness and heart. And then, to top it all off, add some Christmas tunes to the mix, whatever fits the bill for you?be it traditional carols, rollicking oldies, or some rocking new tunes. What I love about Christmas music is how the sacred and irreverent meld into an atmosphere of joy and wonder. Listen to them over dinner, in the car, on your iPod. Hum them under your breath as you do your shopping. Belt them out in the shower or while gathered together in a group setting. Before you know it, you'll start feeling like it's Christmastime again.

Out of the hundreds of Christmas albums I've listened to over the years, the following are ten of my favorites, covering a broad range of musical styles, moods and tastes, but each in its own way perfectly capturing the essence of Christmas.

It's Christmas (EMI, 1989): 18 great songs, ranging from John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." The real treats on this album are Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas," Kate Bush's "December Will Be Magic Again" and Aled Jones' "Walking in the Air."

Christmas Guitar (Rounder, 1986): 28 beautifully done traditional Christmas songs by master guitarist John Fahey. Hearing Fahey's guitar strings plucking out "Joy to the World," "Good King Wenceslas," "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," among others, is a sublime experience.

Christmas Is A Special Day (The Right Stuff, 1993): 12 fine songs by Fats Domino, the great Fifties rocker, ranging from "Amazing Grace" to "Jingle Bells." The title song, written by Domino himself, is a real treat. No one has ever played the piano keys like Fats.

Christmas Island (August/Private Music, 1989): "Frosty the Snowman" will never sound the same after you hear Leon Redbone and Dr. John do their duet. Neither will "Christmas Island" or "Toyland" on this collection of 11 traditional and rather offbeat songs.

A Holiday Celebration (Gold Castle, 1988): The classic folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, backed by the New York Choral Society, sing traditional and nontraditional holiday fare on 12 beautifully orchestrated songs. Included are "I Wonder as I Wander," "Children Go Where I Send Thee," and "The Cherry Tree Carol." Also thrown in is Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

The Christmas Album (Columbia, 1992): Neil Diamond sings 14 songs, ranging from "Silent Night" to "Jingle Bell Rock" to "The Christmas Song" to "Come, O Come Emmanuel." Diamond also gives us a great rendition of Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." A delightful album.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1988): 12 traditional Christmas songs by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The pianist extraordinaire and his trio perform "O Tannenbaum," "The Christmas Song" and "Greensleeves." Also included is the Charlie Brown Christmas theme.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Fuel Records, 2003): If you like deep-rooted traditional holiday songs, you'll love this album. The 16 songs range from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to Ian Anderson originals such as "Another Christmas Song" and "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow." With Anderson on flute and vocals, this album has an old world flavor that will have you wanting mince pie and plum pudding.

A Twisted Christmas (Razor Tie, 2006): Twisted Sister, the heavy metal group, knocks the socks off a bevy of traditional and pop Christmas songs. Dee Snider's amazing vocals brings to life "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "Deck the Halls," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," among others?including "Heavy Metal Christmas (The Twelve Days of Christmas)." Great fun and a great band.

Songs for Christmas (Asthmatic Kitty, 2006): In December 2001, independent singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens set out to create a Christmas gift through songs for his friends and family. It eventually grew to a 5-CD box set, which includes Stevens' original take on such standards as "Amazing Grace" and "We Three Kings" and some inventive yuletide creations of his own. A lot of fun.

One more thing. We must never forget that the Christmas holiday is named after the Prince of Peace. So in the midst of the giving and the getting and the making merry, let's not forget to do our part to make this world a better place for everyone. As John Lennon sings in "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)":

And so this is Christmas,
For weak and for strong,
For rich and the poor ones.
The road is so long.
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white,
For yellow and red ones.
Let's stop all the fight.

Merry Christmas, and in the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us everyone."

While it may be months before the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy can be fully resolved, Americans cannot afford to lose sight of the very real and pressing issues that threaten to derail the nation.

What follows is an overview of the major issues that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, despite their respective billion-dollar war chests, have failed to mention during their extensive campaign-trail stumping and televised debates. These are issues that aren't going away anytime soon. Indeed, unless we take a proactive approach to the problems that loom large before us, especially as they relate to America's ongoing transformation into a police state, we may find that they are here to stay.

"You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement was scrutinized." - George Orwell, 1984

Brace yourselves for the next wave in the surveillance state's steady incursions into our lives. It's coming at us with a lethal one-two punch.

To start with, there's the government's integration of facial-recognition software and other biometric markers into its identification data programs. The FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is a $1-billion boondoggle that is aimed at dramatically expanding the government's current ID database from a fingerprint system to a facial-recognition system. NGI will use a variety of biometric data, cross-referenced against the nation's growing network of surveillance cameras, to not only track your every move but create a permanent "recognition" file on you within the government's massive databases.

By the time it's fully operational in 2014, NGI will serve as a vast data storehouse of "iris scans, photos searchable with face-recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos." One component of NGI, the Universal Face Workstation, already contains some 13-million facial images, gleaned from "criminal mug shot photos" taken during the booking process. However, with major search engines having "accumulated face-image databases that in their size dwarf the earth's population," it's only a matter of time before the government taps into the trove of images stored on social-media and photo-sharing Web sites such as Facebook.

"As London prepares to throw the world a $14-billion party, it seems fair to ask the question: What does it get out of the bargain?" asks the Christian Science Monitor in a recent story on the 2012 Summer Olympics. "Salt Lake got to show that its Mormon community was open to the world," observes journalist Mark Sappenfield. "Turin got to show that it was not the Detroit of Europe. China got to give the world a glimpse of the superpower-to-be. And Vancouver got to show the world that Canadians are not, in fact, Americans."

And what is London showing the world? Sappenfield suggests that London is showing off its new ultramodern and efficient infrastructure, but if the security for the 2012 Olympics is anything to go by, it would seem that London is really showing the world how easy it is to make the move to a police state without much opposition from the populace.

"By definition, these are closed-door meetings that are part of long-term relationships between the state's highest officials and for-profit corporations. There is exactly nothing like that for citizens. This is entrenched, institutionalized, specialized access to political power in exchange for very modest contributions." - Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a citizen lobbying and advocacy group

For four days, from July 12 thourgh 15, America's governors - hosted by Virginia's Bob McDonnell - will gather in Williamsburg, Virginia, for the National Governors Association's (NGA) annual summer meeting. While there, the governors and their staffs will be "treated to amusement parks, historical sites, championship golf courses, five-star dining, an al fresco concert, and a rousing fireworks finale," much of it paid for by corporations eager to spend time with the nation's most powerful government chief executives.

Among those footing the bill for the powwow, reports the Associated Press (AP), are "Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Northrop Grumman, the ubiquitous government and defense contractor that holds the largest state contract in Virginia history for a partnership to operate the state's vast centralized information-technology system." While the annual meeting is not open to the public, it is open to members of the NGA's Corporate Fellows Program, whose roster is a who's-who list of corporate America and whose mission is ostensibly to "promote the exchange of information between the private sector and governors and stimulate discussion among the Corporate Fellows on emerging trends and factors affecting both business and government."

We elevate the events of the American Revolution to near-mythic status all too often and forget that the real revolutionaries were people just like you and me. Caught up in the drama of Red Coats marching, muskets exploding, and flags waving in the night, we lose sight of the enduring significance of the Revolution and what makes it relevant to our world today. Those revolutionaries, by and large, were neither agitators nor hotheads. They were not looking for trouble or trying to start a fight. Like many today, they were simply trying to make it from one day to another, a task that was increasingly difficult as Britain's rule became more and more oppressive.

"Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever." - William Howard Taft

When I was in law school, what gave me the impetus to become a civil-liberties attorney was seeing firsthand how much good could be done through the justice system. Those were the years of the Warren Court (1953-1969), when Earl Warren helmed the U.S. Supreme Court as chief justice, alongside such luminaries as William J. Brennan Jr., William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Thurgood Marshall.

The Warren Court handed down rulings that were instrumental in shoring up critical legal safeguards against government abuse and discrimination. Without the Warren Court, there would be no Miranda warnings, no desegregation of the schools, and no civil-rights protections for indigents. Yet more than any single ruling, what Warren and his colleagues did best was embody what the Supreme Court should always be - an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.

That is no longer the case. In recent years, especially under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism, and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been de-prioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests - a trend that has not gone unnoticed by the American people. In fact, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that just 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing, while 75 percent say the justices' decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal or political views.

In a devastating 5-4 ruling that not only condones an overreach of state power but legitimizes what is essentially state-sponsored humiliation and visual rape, the U.S. Supreme Court on April 2 declared that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house can be subjected to a strip search. The severity of the offense is irrelevant - they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense - and police or jail officials don't need to have a reasonable suspicion that an arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband. The five-man majority rationalized their ruling as being necessary for safety, security, and efficiency - the government's overused and all-too-convenient justifications for its steady erosion of our freedoms since 9/11.

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