As the grandfather of three young ones, ages 5 to 9, I get to see my fair share of kid movies: plenty of hijinks, lots of bathroom humor, and an endless stream of slapstick gags. Yet even among the worst of the lot, there's something to be learned, some message being conveyed, or some aspect of our reality being reflected in celluloid.
So it was that I found myself sitting through The Angry Birds Movie on a recent Sunday afternoon, doling out popcorn, candy and drinks and trying to make sense of a 90-minute movie based on a cell phone video game that has been downloaded more than 3 billion times.
The storyline is simple enough: an island nation of well-meaning, feel-good, flightless birds gets seduced by a charismatic green pig and his cohort who comes bearing food, wine and entertainment spectacles (the Roman equivalent of bread circuses). Ignoring the warnings of one solitary, suspicious "angry" bird that the pigs are up to no good, the clueless birds eventually discover that the pigs have stolen their most precious possessions: their eggs, the future of their entire society. It takes the "angry bird" to motivate the normally unflappable Bird Nation to get outraged enough to do something about the violation of their trust by the pigs and the theft of their personal property.
While one would be hard-pressed to call The Angry Birds Movie overly insightful, it is, as The Atlantic concludes, a "feather-light metaphor for our times" The film functions, effectively, as a fairy tale: It uses its status as fantasy to impart lessons about reality."
It turns out that we're no different from the wine-guzzling, food-noshing, party-loving Bird Nation. We too are easily fooled by charismatic politicians bearing gifts. And we too are easily distracted as those same politicians and their cohorts rob us blind.
Case in point: while presidential candidates continue to distract us with spectacular feats of chest-thumping, browbeating and demagoguery, the police state continues its steady march onward.
All of the revelations of government wrongdoing, spying and corruption disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Nothing has improved or changed for the better.
There has been no real reform, no significant attempts at greater transparency, no accountability, no scaling back of the government's warrantless, illegal domestic surveillance programs, and no recognition by Congress or the courts that the Fourth Amendment provides citizens with any protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.
In fact, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we've been subject to even more obfuscation, even more lies, even more sleight-of-hand maneuvers by government agencies determined to keep doing what they're doing without any restrictions on their nefarious activities, and even more attempts by government agencies to listen in our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, monitor our movements, and generally imprison us within an electronic concentration camp.
It's no coincidence that almost exactly three years after Snowden began his steady campaign to leak documents about the government's illegal surveillance program, Congress is preparing to adopt legislation containing a secret provision that would expand the FBI's powers to secretly read Americans' emails without a court order.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The government is planning to push through secret legislation that would magnify its ability to secretly spy on us without a warrant.
After three years of lying to us about the real nature of the government's spying program, feigning ignorance, dissembling, and playing at enacting real reforms, it turns out that what the government really wants is more power, more control and more surveillance.
A secret provision tacked onto the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act will actually make it easier for the government to spy on Americans' emails as well as their phone calls.
If enacted, this law would build upon the Patriot Act's authorization of National Security Letters (NSL) which allows the FBI to secretly demand--without prior approval from a judge and under a gag order that carries the penalty of a prison sentence--that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands to the person being investigated or even indicate that they have been subjected to an NSL.