Edward Snowden, currently on the run and accused of being a spy, did more than reveal how much snooping our government does on its own citizens. For me, he provided a smack upside the head and a wakeup call to something I’ve believed for a long time but, being a bit lazy and self-absorbed, had dispatched to a dusty, unexercised corner of my brain.
Consider this: With Congress’ approval rating at historic lows, with Republicans rejecting out of hand every proposal put forth by Democratic President Barack Obama, with a Democrat-controlled Senate unable to pass meaningful legislation because of archaic filibuster rules used by Republicans, with both major political parties staking out rigid positions on opposite sides of every issue, what is the one thing on which Republicans and Democrats suddenly agree? That Edward Snowden is a traitor.
That is the Edward Snowden who blew the whistle on the most sweeping, secret domestic spying operation ever conducted by an American government on its people. It is an invasion of privacy condoned -- and now vigorously defended -- by both political parties as necessary for the security of the people being spied upon. Yes, the politicians also read George Orwell. But they’ve been caught with their “bad-is-good” pants down and have demonstrated that, when their power is in jeopardy, they can find true harmony. All together now: Snowden is a traitor.
The threat to the power brokers, of course, is that a lot of Americans will awaken from their self-absorbed delusion that their elected representatives are actually trying to do something positive for their constituents, as opposed to the reality they are doing whatever is necessary to maintain their membership in the power elite. That’s the 1 percent who reap the fruits of the manufactured dysfunction.
Look at it this way: Democrats talk about jobs, immigration, education, the minimum wage, etc. Republicans talk about abortion, guns, rape, gay marriage, etc. The parties bicker and banter and do next to nothing about any of those issues. Dysfunction. Or so it seems.
But they also ignore issues that would actually fix much of the apparent dysfunction -- campaign finance reform and revising the filibuster rules, for two.
It’s planned dysfunction. You keep your talking points; we’ll keep ours. We’ll all get re-elected anyway or, if not, move on to even more-lucrative lobbying jobs, book tours, top corporate positions or TV punditry. Rigged.
And it’s not just Congress. Having plunged the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, American banks and investment firms (which used to be separate entities) are now reaping the profits of their plundering of other people’s wealth, thanks to a government bailout and the failure of the political powers that be -- who reap substantial campaign contributions from these financial institutions -- to send any of the bankers to jail.
In the sequel to “Wall Street,” arch-villain Gordon Gekko says he was convicted of a “victimless crime,” as if no lives are negatively affected when companies go under because of shady, immoral behavior by financial companies.
At least Gekko went to prison for his misdeeds. But then, that was in the movies and even his creator, Oliver Stone, tries to find some redeeming traits in his main character in the sequel. Meanwhile, in real life, no one can make any money today putting money in banks and, as Gekko also points out in the sequel, the task of investing money in the stock markets, where profits may be made, has been made so complex, only “about 75 people in the world understand it.”
That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Most of us need to trust the very people who have proven to be untrustworthy with our money to make investments.
There are other dots to connect, but for now I’ll limit it to major corporations that move top executives to influential government positions and back again, getting laws written to their liking (often by their own former employees), usually without a whimper from members of Congress. Think Monsanto and Halliburton.
Corporations pour tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns hoping to elect candidates who will then return the favor by promoting legislation that will improve corporate profits or opposing proposals placing restrictions on corporate power. The latter would include the public’s right to sue and to obtain information on corporate practices. This is serving the private, not the public, good. It’s part of the system.
Now, this rigging did not occur in a vacuum. There had to be at least an implicit acknowledgement from the rest of us that what the people to whom we had entrusted power and position was doing was right and proper for all of us. That may have simply come in the form of apathy or blissful ignorance. Don’t bother to vote. Don’t try to understand the issues. Hey, life is already too busy and complicated without such things.
But not for those whose motivation is accumulating more wealth and power. For them, an important part of the rigged system is making it seem so complicated and out of our control that it is impossible to change. That’s not necessarily true. There are people, even politicians, who recognize that things have been rigged for a powerful elite and who speak out regularly about it. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim Moran are three of the most outspoken. They need allies and support, vocal and financial.
So do the Internet activists campaigning for campaign finance reform and greater transparency in government and Wall Street. These are not obscure issues that don’t impact us. Indeed, they are crucial to ending the grip of the 1 percent on our national wealth and positions of power.
There are some simple steps that can be taken by individuals, groups, towns to begin to reclaim some control over our lives. Registering to vote and actually voting is a start. Getting informed on the issues that matter and working to raise awareness (think the Occupy movement and social media) is another. The movement to sustainability and buying locally grown food, as opposed to that offered by corporate growers, are not just “feel-good” green ideas. Like using alternative energy, they challenge the influence of large corporations (and they don’t come more influential than oil companies) and give people some control over their lives. People have even started turning their lawns into vegetable gardens. Seattle is planning the nation’s first public food garden. Take a walk, pick an apple. Eat it.
Some of this may sound simplistic and even ineffectual in the face of such entrenched power and wealth, but all revolutions have to start somehow. And make no mistake, nothing less than an all-out revolution will serve to unrig the system and dislodge those who thrive within it. Some noise must be made. The alternative is to do what many of us have been doing for a long time -- complain that “they’re all crooked, so what’s the use?”
Some people are comparing Edward Snowden to Paul Revere. I won’t go that far yet. There’s too much information still unknown (and yes, the mainstream media stands suspect as being part of the system). But I’m not ready to call Snowden a traitor either, not when Republicans and Democrats somehow manage to agree that he is. That smells too much like the fix is in.