Roman Catholic leaders from Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga to Pope Francis himself have made news this year in their criticisms of supposed free-market economies, likening them to a form of idolatry that exploits and denies access to the poor. Because Catholic social teachings emphasize stewardship and aid to the less fortunate, clergymen such as Maradiaga have taken aim at perceived "structural causes for poverty."

It is in identifying these causes that the cardinal's fulminations against free markets become problematic. While he can hardly be blamed for supposing that something in relations between rich and poor is amiss, it is his faith in the positive interventions of the state that is the "deception." Ironically, the "free market" that Maradiaga so sincerely denounces is itself a product of deep and sustained state coercion on a scale not often recognized for what it is. We must therefore distinguish between two ways of employing the phrase "free market," lest we fall into the trap that caught Maradiaga - the trap of opposing libertarianism in principle without actually understanding the economic system it prescribes.

"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.

"It's a future where you don't forget anything. ... In this new future, you're never lost. ... We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time. ... Your car will drive itself; it's a bug that cars were invented before computers. ... You're never lonely. ... You're never bored. ... You're never out of ideas. ... We can suggest where you go next, who to meet, what to read. ... What's interesting about this future is that it's for the average person, not just the elites." - Google CEO Eric Schmidt on his vision of the future

Time to buckle up your seatbelts, folks. You're in for a bumpy ride.

We're hurtling down a one-way road toward the Police State at mind-boggling speeds, the terrain is getting more treacherous by the minute, and we've passed all the exit ramps. From this point forward, there is no turning back, and the signpost ahead reads "Danger."

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we're about to enter a Twilight Zone of sorts, one marked by drones, smart phones, GPS devices, smart TVs, social media, smart meters, surveillance cameras, facial-recognition software, online banking, license-plate readers, and driver-less cars - all part of the interconnected technological spider web that is life in the American police state, and every new gadget pulls us that much deeper into the sticky snare.

In this Brave New World awaiting us, there will be no communication not spied upon, no movement untracked, no thought unheard. In other words, there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

We're on the losing end of a technological revolution that has already taken hostage our computers, our phones, our finances, our entertainment, our shopping, and our appliances, and now it's focused its sights on our cars. As if the government wasn't already able to track our movements on the nation's highways and byways by way of satellites, GPS devices, and real-time traffic cameras, government officials are now pushing to require that all new vehicles come installed with black-box recorders and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, ostensibly to help prevent crashes.

Pete Seeger at the Clearwater Festival 2007. Photo by Anthony Pepitone.

"My job is to show folks there's a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet." - Pete Seeger

"The world will be saved by people fighting for their homes. Homes will be saved by people who fight for the world." - Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the activist/singer/songwriter who tried to change the world with every note he uttered, died January 27 at age 94, and we are all the poorer for it.

A longtime friend whose letters I treasured for their hand-drawn embellishments and whose words of encouragement urged me to keep on fighting, Seeger belonged to a dying breed of Americans who cared more about making a difference using whatever resources were available to them than luxuriating in creature comforts and basking in the glow of their greatness.

Long before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan, there was Pete Seeger, a lone ranger fighting injustice with little more than a five-string banjo in hand and a gift for putting words to music. Unarguably one of the most important musical influences of the 20th Century, Seeger helped to lay the foundation for American protest music, singing out about the plight of everyday working folks and urging listeners to political and social activism.

It wouldn't be a week in America without another slew of children being punished for childish behavior under the regime of zero tolerance that plagues our nation's schools. Here are some of the latest incidents.

In Pennsylvania, a 10-year-old boy was suspended for shooting an imaginary "arrow" at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination. Johnny Jones, a fifth-grader at South Eastern Middle School, was suspended for a day and threatened with expulsion under the school's weapons policy after playfully using his hands to draw the bowstrings on a pretend "bow" and "shoot" an arrow at a classmate who had held his folder like a gun and "shot" at Johnny. Principal John Horton characterized Johnny's transgression as "making a threat" to another student using a "replica or representation of a firearm" through the use of an imaginary bow and arrow.

If you want to understand the U.S.-Iran controversy, know this: It is not about nuclear weapons.

You're thinking: Of course it's about nuclear weapons. Everyone says so.

Well, not everyone does. But it isn't a numbers game. As William O. Beeman points out in the Huffington Post:

"There is a strange irony in President Obama's announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term 'nuclear weapon' multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.

"The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear-weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.

"Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is 'not a danger' to Israel."

Way back when, Democrats such as George McGovern opposed wars of choice. And Democrats such as Frank Church exposed the CIA. It later led to an executive order - by President Ronald Reagan, of all people - that banned political assassinations.

A Democratic Congress held impeachment hearings against U.S. President Richard Nixon - partly because he tapped the phones of a few hundred Americans and, in so doing, violated their privacy rights. Back then, millions of liberals marched against the Vietnam War without blinking. It didn't matter a bit that the president at the time was a Democrat.

But look what's going on now.

As I write, we have a so-called liberal president in the White House. Yet he and his Democratic congressional allies aren't fighting the good fight. They're committing the worst crimes of anyone.

Pages