The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Vietnam War was an unnecessary lie that resulted in the deaths of over 58,000 young, mostly lower-income and working class Americans (and lest we forget, approximately 3.8 million Vietnamese). We know this because of Daniel Ellsberg (former military analyst/RAND Corporation employee, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the NYT), Alaskan senator Mike Gravel (former U.S. senator, entered the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record and gave them to Beacon Press) and Robert West (former president of Beacon Press, published the Pentagon Papers).

Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange show us that there are still people of character out there—and we need more like them. People whose conscience and principles are too strong to allow them to look the other way and perpetuate the unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral acts perpetrated in the name of “national security” or “U.S. interests”—crimes committed in the name of every U.S. citizen.

I am far more pessimistic, however, that there are any more Mike Gravels or Robert Wests out there. The U.S. congress has been bought and paid for by corporate interests, and publishers, or more broadly, the four or five massive corporations that own/control nearly all the media in the United States, are only interested in keeping people distracted and stupid with trivial nonsense, absurd spectacle and corporate propaganda/misinformation.

The Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, when I was still in diapers. How different a country this is 40 years later. Look at how those who brought the Pentagon Papers to light have been treated: they weren’t arrested, and are now celebrated as courageous individuals who did the right and necessary thing for the American people. Compare that with how the U.S. government has dealt with Snowden and Manning today. Consider that President Obama has charged more people under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined. This is sending a clear message to the press and all government employees and subcontractors: Keep your mouth shut or pay the price.

Is there anyone in congress willing to make a stand today? To say no to the pay-offs, kickbacks and free shit they get in exchange for selling out their constituencies to the corporate and private big money interests who paid for their campaigns and got them elected? Will any of them risk their careers or their freedom to take up a cause that doesn’t involve serving their own self-interests? I’m not holding my breath.

Outside of independent journalists, there is no one left to tell us the truth in a time when everything is a lie. Without a free and independent press, there is no democracy in the United States. The corporate media is clearly not on our side. By framing the Snowden leaks as a debate over whether he is a hero or traitor, they completely ignore the content of what was disclosed and the implications it has for all of us. It’s a bait-and-switch technique that is a common tool of the corporate media.

The fact that private corporations are doing the spying, with no oversight nor accountability, should worry everyone. And I’m not just talking about Booze Allen. Who can trust Google or Apple or Microsoft or Verizon now? In addition to collating our usage data to create consumer profiles they then sell to third-party marketers, we now have incontrovertible evidence that they provide all our metadata to the government. They have also created “back doors” in their purportedly secure digital environments allowing easy and total access to all users by government intelligence agencies and their subcontractors.

We are paying these companies our hard-earned money for products and services that facilitate our ever deeper slide into a total surveillance state. Every freedom, civil liberty and vestige of privacy we surrender in the name of the endless global “war on terror” will never, ever be restored. Already, the power over us may be too great.