Are Wikileaks and Anonymous Hackers All There Is Left We Can Rely on, with Trust in Business and Government at Rock Bottom?
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It may not be appropriate to say in polite company, but there's no doubt that some Americans who hold a deep respect for the rule of law also find themselves cheering the information-age ronin who appear capable of waging war against the mightiest states and the most powerful corporations with impunity – the WikiLeakers and shadowy hackers that make up groups like Anonymous.
They may not approve of all of their actions – indeed, they may find some to be deeply misguided – but for those who aren't instinctively deferential to authority, their ability to bring powerful giants to heel is as compelling as the mythical Robin Hood's battle with a haughty medieval aristocracy.
Consider the environment in which these anti-heroic nerds operate. The United States jails more of its citizens than any other country on the planet, often for offenses as minor as possessing some marijuana. In six states, courts are now throwing people in jail for failing to make scheduled debt payments. An Illinois man was recently sentenced to 75 years for recording cops he alleged were harrassing him. Just last week, a Tennessee woman was threatened with arrest for the “crime” of allowing her 10-year-old child to bike a mile to school; police said she'd be charged with child neglect if she didn't send the kid to school on the bus.
There's very little accountability, however, for the large and increasingly powerful institutions with which we interact every day. It's become extremely hard for individuals to escape from beneath a pile of debt in bankruptcy court, but for corporations moral hazard abounds. Nobody has gone to prison for the widespread fraud Wall Street committed in building a house of cards out of a pile of mortgage-backed securities. In fact, a settlement is being worked out that will let banks off the hook for their scandalous robo-signing fraud with a slap on the wrist, even as they continue to fabricate foreclosure documents. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court made it almost impossible for people ripped off by big corporations to file class-action suits. Nobody at a high level was punished for torturing terror suspects, or for spying on American citizens in apparent violation of the law.
As these increasingly unaccountable institutions – both private and public – have grown larger, we human beings have come to feel ever smaller. We have no means of resisting the myriad small insults that we suffer day in and day out dealing with corporations and negotiating government agencies. We tolerate the rudeness of customer service reps and endless hours navigating phone trees. We try to ignore the rise of the surveillance state even as it has come to surround us. Nobody really knows how to get off the no-fly list once one is suspected by the powers-that-be of being “trouble.”
More and more, our democracy feels like a Potemkin Village in which we make a grand show of participating in billion-dollar, ad-driven elections only to see our government captured by elites working behind the scenes. The corruption – the legal kind – is so pervasive that most of us simply turn a blind eye to it, helpless to push back. Sure, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum, including a majority of rank-and-file Republicans, would like to see the deficit tamed by raising taxes on the rich – people who have seen their burdens decline dramatically over the past 30 years. But tough luck – it's the donor class that holds sway over our representatives and fuming about it only earns one charges of “class warfare.”