The third Republican debate: The myth of “big government”


By Patrick Martin
30 October 2015

Media commentary and analysis of the third Republican presidential debate, held Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado, has focused mainly on the horse-race aspects of the contest for the Republican nomination: which candidates “won” and which “lost,” which candidate expected to pick up big money support (Marco Rubio, from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson), which candidates may be soon forced out of the race (Rand Paul, Chris Christie).

The performance of the candidates at the debate was assessed based on who had the most insults and one-liners against various rivals, or directed at the panel of moderators from CNBC, who served as doormats and whipping boys (and girls) both during and after the two-hour televised spectacle.

There has been precious little discussion of what was actually said by the candidates about the nominal subject of the debate, US economic policy, or what this reveals about the nature of the Republican Party and of social conditions and class relations in the United States.

If one were to summarize the outlook of the candidates—and they all expressed nearly identical right-wing viewpoints—it would run something like the following. Ordinary Americans are facing terrible economic conditions, spreading poverty, low wages, even social devastation. This is not due to the profit system, in which all the increases in wealth and income of the past three decades has been monopolized by a tiny financial elite. It is entirely due to something called “big government,” sometimes referred to simply as “government” or “Washington.” Once “big government” is dismantled, the American economy will bloom like a garden and everyone will live happily ever after.

A few citations demonstrate this fairy-tale theme:

Dr. Ben Carson, the new frontrunner in national polls after taking over Donald Trump’s position, perhaps the most politically ignorant person on the stage in Colorado, although he had stiff competition: “It’s so important, this election, because we’re talking about America for the people versus America for the government.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, speaking about the crisis of college student debt, now higher than credit card debt: “We don’t need the federal government to be involved in this, because when they do, we create a $1.2 trillion debt.” How the federal government helped “create” this debt, when it is the result of huge increases in tuition and fees charged by private and state colleges (and decades of low wages), he did not explain. He nonetheless continued, with typical Bush syntax, “It’s always a solution of the left to create more government from the federal government. It is broke, it is not working.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky: “Liberty thrives when government is small. I want a government so small I can barely see it. I want a government so small that the individual has a chance to thrive and prosper. I think, though, government is too big now.”

Similar sentiments were sounded by the “undercard,” the four Republicans who debated separately and earlier on CNBC because they failed to reach three percent in published polls.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose state is bankrupt and has never recovered from the combined blows of Hurricane Katrina and the oil price collapse: “I’m the only one that’s reduced the size of government. Let’s shrink the government economy. Let’s grow the American economy.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum: “I’m the one in the—on this stage and, frankly, on both stages that has actually gone to Washington, said we would shrink government, said we would shake things up and actually delivered for the conservative cause, everything from welfare reform, which was the largest, most significant accomplishment in the last 25 years for conservatism.”

Some of the candidates doubled down on the denunciations of “big government” by claiming that big corporations were allied with “big government” in a conspiracy against ordinary Americans. Thus Senator Ted Cruz: “The truth of the matter is, big government benefits the wealthy, it benefits the lobbyists, it benefits the giant corporations. And the people who are getting hammered are small businesses, it’s single moms, it’s Hispanics.”

Cruz is telling a fraction of the truth, albeit in highly distorted form, while lying about his own attitude to this alliance of the capitalist state and big business. His own campaign is largely financed by one wealthy investor, hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, and Cruz has a record of shamelessly sucking up to every multi-millionaire and billionaire in sight. He seeks to disguise this with populist demagogy that takes advantage of the right-wing record of the Obama administration to advocate even more right-wing policies.

Carly Fiorina followed the same tack, declaring, “Big government favors the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected, and crushes the small and the powerless.” Once she got started on this line of argument, it proved impossible for the CNBC moderators to divert her and slow down her diatribe.

“The more the government gets engaged in the economy, the slower the economy becomes,” she declared. “There is no constitutional role for the federal government in setting up—retirement plans. There is no constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages.”

It was noteworthy that not one of the other nine Republican candidates on the stage with Fiorina disputed her remarkable assertion that both Social Security and minimum wage laws are unconstitutional. Nor did any of her media questioners challenge this claim.

She went to declare that the alliance of “big government” and big business constituted “socialism,” and that the United States was well on its way there. “You see, folks, this is how socialism starts. Government causes a problem, and then government steps in to solve the problem.”

Fiorina’s presentation was particularly bizarre since her claim to credibility as a candidate consists in her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, one of the 50 largest corporations in America, and a huge government contractor (particularly of the National Security Agency) making her the personification of the alliance of big business and “big government” which she was stridently condemning.

What do the Republican candidates actually mean by their demonization of “big government”? It is notable that none of them condemns or proposes to shrink the single largest part of the federal government, the gigantic military-intelligence apparatus that constitutes the biggest threat both to the democratic rights of the American people and the physical survival of the human race.

Consider the distribution of federal employment in 2010, well into the third year of the Obama administration. There were just over three million people employed by the federal government. Of these, 391,800 worked in departments largely concerned with domestic social services: Agriculture, Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, Transportation. But some 2,980,400 worked in departments related to military, intelligence and domestic repression (CIA, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs).

The latter figure balloons still further, to 5,580,400 working for the federal agencies concerned with repression and war, when one adds the 1.5 million Pentagon and intelligence agency contractors, and 1.1 military reservists, available for mobilization either for war or national emergency. That does not include members of the National Guard or state and local police forces.

The Obama administration, like its predecessors for the previous six decades, since the United States became the dominant imperialist power, presides over a state machine whose main function is spying and mass murder. The social programs run by the federal government are only a veneer applied to conceal the essentially repressive nature of the capitalist state.

When the Republicans demonize “big government,” they are targeting solely the 12 percent of federal workers who enforce health, safety and pollution regulations, administer federal social programs like Social Security and Medicare, or assist and subsidize largely state and local public services like education and transportation.

In other words, their focus is not on the federal agencies that threaten the democratic rights of the American people, or spy on, attack and kill the citizens of other countries, but the federal agencies that restrict in any way, however slightly, the operations of the giant corporations and banks. While employing somewhat different rhetoric, the current administration has pursued the same aim laid out by the Republican candidates by privatizing public education, undermining regulations on corporations and attacking social programs.

Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview and the crisis of US policy in Syria


By Barry Grey
13 October 2015

In an extraordinary interview Sunday evening on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program, President Barack Obama sought to defend his policy in Syria against a mounting chorus of detractors within the foreign policy and military/intelligence establishment who are demanding an even more massive and reckless military escalation than that which he has authorized.

Under aggressive, bordering on belligerent, questioning from “60 Minutes” moderator Steve Kroft, Obama was unable to present a coherent explanation of either the purpose of the war in Syria or the reasons for the fiasco thus far of Washington’s four-year drive to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The interview was broadcast a week after Russia launched a military intervention to prop up the Assad regime against the US-backed Islamist militias. These militias form the backbone of the so-called “rebels” carrying out the war for regime-change on the ground.

Conducted at the White House on October 6, the interview was aired just two days after Obama announced that he was ending the Pentagon’s disastrous yearlong attempt to recruit and train a “moderate” force to fight both Assad and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), and was instead increasing US arms and air support for existing “rebel” militias. What Obama did not say was that these forces are dominated by Al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which the US State Department lists as a foreign terrorist organization.

Obama’s announcement, far from a military retreat, marked an escalation of the American intervention in Syria, one that threatens to trigger a direct conflict with Russia, the possessor of the world’s second biggest nuclear arsenal after the US.

These steps, however, are deemed woefully inadequate within broad sections of the state and political establishment, including layers of the Democratic Party. What the “60 Minutes” interview revealed is the disarray and crisis of US policy and the existence of bitter divisions within the ruling elite. Powerful factions are pushing for the deployment of thousands of US troops to take out Assad, regardless the risks of war with Russia and the possibility of a Third World War.

One expression of the depths of the political crisis over Washington’s debacle in Syria and the broader Middle East was the inquisitorial posture adopted by Kroft. He repeatedly interrupted Obama and bluntly listed the failures of his policy.

Within the first minute of the interview, Kroft declared, “I mean, if you look at the situation and you’re looking for progress, it’s not easy to find. You could make the argument that the only thing that’s changed is the death toll, which has continued to escalate, and the number of refugees fleeing Syria into Europe.”

When Obama attempted to answer a question, he interjected, “I mean, what’s going on right now is not working. I mean, they [ISIS] are still occupying big chunks of Iraq. They’re still occupying a good chunk of Syria. Who’s going to get rid of them?”

On the Pentagon’s failed program to create a “moderate” anti-ISIS and anti-Assad militia, Croft said, “You have been talking about the moderate opposition in Syria. It seems very hard to identify… You got a half a billion dollars from Congress to train and equip 5,000, and at the end, according to the commander of CENTCOM, you got 50 people, most of whom are dead or deserted. He said four or five left?”

In response, Obama made the astonishing admission that he did not believe in the program from the beginning. The following exchange took place:

Obama: “Steve, this is why I’ve been skeptical from the get go about the notion that we were going to effectively create this proxy army inside of Syria. My goal has been to try to test the proposition, can we be able to train and equip a moderate opposition that’s willing to fight ISIL? And what we’ve learned is that as long as Assad remains in power, it is very difficult to get those folks to focus their attention on ISIL.”

Kroft: “If you were skeptical of the program to find and identify, train and equip moderate Syrians, why did you go through the program?”

Obama: “Well, because part of what we have to do here, Steve, is to try different things…”

Aside from the virtual acknowledgment that his policy lacked any coherence, Obama’s attempt at an explanation for the failure of the Pentagon plan amounted to an admission that his administration’s claims of the existence of a “moderate” anti-Assad military force were fraudulent. The only significant forces fighting to overthrow Assad are and always have been Islamist elements linked to Al Qaeda.

Kroft was careful not to press this point because it shatters the pretense that the bloody wars waged by Washington and its regional allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen—which have taken well over a million lives and destroyed entire societies—were carried out to fight terrorism.

On Russia’s intervention in Syria, Kroft was no less adversarial. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Kroft: “Mr. Putin seems to be challenging [American] leadership.”

Obama: “In what way?”

Kroft: “Well, he’s moved troops into Syria, for one. He’s got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II, bombing the people that we are supporting…

“He’s challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He’s challenging your leadership…

“There is a perception in the Middle East among our adversaries, certainly and even among some of our allies that the United States is in retreat, that we pulled our troops out of Iraq and ISIS has moved in and taken over much of that territory. The situation in Afghanistan is very precarious and the Taliban is on the march again. And ISIS controls a large part of Syria.”

Obama’s response to this accurate description of the present situation in the Middle East was both highly revealing and ominous. After a half-hearted attempt to argue for a political settlement to transition Assad out of power—this supposedly being the only basis for defeating ISIS—he focused on the alternative being advanced within the ruling class to his reluctance to deploy large number of US troops.

Obama: “I guarantee you that there are factions inside of the Middle East, and I guess factions inside the Republican Party, who think that we should send endless numbers of troops into the Middle East, that the only measure of strength is sending back several hundred thousands troops, that we are going to impose a peace, police the region, and—that the fact that we might have more deaths of US troops, thousands of troops killed, thousands of troops injured, spending another trillion dollars, they would have no problem with that. There are people who would like to see us do that…

“And if, in fact, the only measure is for us to send another 100,000 or 200,000 troops into Syria or back into Iraq, or perhaps into Libya, or perhaps into Yemen, and our goal somehow is that we are now going to be, not just the police, but the governors of the region, that would be a bad strategy, Steve.”

These words should be taken as a warning by working people and youth in the US and internationally. Here Obama blurted out what is being intensively discussed and planned in the offices of the CIA, the Pentagon and various corporate boardrooms.

These plans for greater conquest and empire cannot be carried out by the forces available in a volunteer army, especially when American imperialism is preparing for even greater wars against rivals such as Russia, China and, eventually, potential challengers to US supremacy such as Germany and Japan. They require the reintroduction of the draft, to dragoon untold thousands of youth to serve as cannon fodder in the American ruling class’s manic pursuit of global domination.

These words describe a policy of all-out war that, opposed for the present by Obama on the basis of tactical considerations, is nevertheless the inevitable and logical outcome of the entire foreign policy of US imperialism, particularly since the dissolution of the Soviet Union nearly 25 years ago.

From the first Gulf War launched in 1991 by George H.W. Bush under the banner of America’s “New World Order,” to the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the wars for regime-change in Libya and Syria and the latest war in Yemen, American imperialism has single-mindedly pursued a policy of world hegemony, seeking to utilize its military superiority to offset its economic decline.

This policy has produced one disaster after another, the Syrian debacle joining the creation of a regime in Iraq that aligns itself with Russia and Iran and the installation of a hated and despised puppet government in Afghanistan that cannot survive without the permanent presence of thousands of US troops.

American imperialism will not, however, accept its eclipse by one or another rival power. The crisis of US policy in Syria and the broader Middle East makes all the more urgent the building of a new antiwar movement based on the working class united internationally in the struggle against capitalism.

Chris Hedges: How Black Lives Matter is Part of a Larger Historic Rebellion

“What we seem to be moving toward in the United States is a kind of de facto apartheid.”

On the second episode of his new teleSUR show Days of Revolt, former New York Times reporter-turned-polemicist Christopher Hedges sat down with long time New Jersey civil rights activist Lawrence Hamm to discuss the current state of African-American rebellion and how it fits into the larger historical continuum. The conversation is very illumnating, and like much of Hedges’ writing attempts to show the intersection between poverty and race.

“Half of the prison population is African-American.” Hamm pointed out. “There’s no father for the children, no husband for the wife, and on and on and on. And it has a rippling effect that just never ceases to stop. Poor black folk live in a daily state of crisis. Daily life is one crisis after another.”

The theme of on-going crisis is reflected in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a broad-based effort defined by urgency and a resistance to typical political structures. For Hamm, the situation is a matter of real democracy vs. race-based illegitimate government — marked by bourgeois white liberals and a “bought off” black middle class working to keep poor blacks poor.

“What we seem to be moving toward in the United States is a kind of de facto apartheid”. Hamm said. “The United States is beginning to look and will look more and more like South Africa. You will have a white minority, very small minority controlling most of the wealth, and everybody else, including white lower class and elements of the white working class, on the outside.”

Watch the interview below:

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

Noam Chomsky: How America’s Way of Thinking About the World Naturally Produces Human Catastrophes

The scholar talks about the seemingly innocuous elements of our socialization that promote one-world view over another.

Tavis: Noam Chomsky is, of course, internationally recognized as one of the world’s most critically engaged public intellectuals. The MIT professor of linguistics has long been an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and the ideological role of the mainstream media.

He joins us now from MIT to talk about the seemingly innocuous elements of our socialization that promote one-world view over another. Before we start our conversation, a clip from “The West Wing” that I think will set this conversation up quite nicely.

Tavis: Professor Chomsky, good to have you on this program. Thank you for your time, sir.

NoamChomsky: Glad to be with you.

Tavis: I think that clip, again, sets up our conversation nicely. Let me just jump right in. Why all these years later is the west better than the east, the north better than the south, Europe better than Africa? These notions continue to persist. Tell me why.

Chomsky: There’s a generalization. We are better than they, whoever we are. So if you look through the whole history of China, one of the most ancient, most developed, civilizations which, in fact, was one of the centers of the world economy as late as the 18th century, China was better than everyone else.

It’s unfortunately a natural way of thinking, very ugly and destructive one, but it’s true. We are the west, the north, Europe and its offshoots, not Africa. So, of course, we’re better than them.

Tavis: When you say it’s a natural way of thinking, unpack that for me. What do you mean by a natural way of thinking?

Chomsky: It’s not unusual for people to think that our group, whatever it is, has special traits that make it better than others. So, for example, I happen to be Jewish. If you look at the Jewish tradition, the leading rabbis and so on, many of them held the position that Jews are a special race above ordinary mankind.

China had similar views. The north and the west had the same views and, of course, it’s enhanced by the imperialist history which ended up with Europe and its offshoots conquering and controlling most of the world.

Actually, this world view about, you know, the north somehow being on top and the south being on the bottom goes way back to the origins of what’s called western civilization.

So, for example, it was believed in classical times that nobody could live south of the equator because their heads would be pointed downward. I think even St. Augustine held that view, if I remember correctly.

And it carries over up to the present when Henry Kissinger says, “Nothing important ever came from the south.” He’s essentially expressing a modern version of the same racist conception.

Tavis: Since you mentioned Henry Kissinger, I was just about to ask, so I will now, Professor Chomsky, how our socialization–or as you might put it–how this natural way of thinking ultimately impacts and affects our foreign policy. If we think that we are better than everybody else, how does that impact and affect our foreign policy?

Chomsky: Oh, very definitely. You see it very clearly if you study internal documents, you know, declassified documents discussing how leaders plan things among themselves.

So go back to, say, 1945 when the U.S. pretty much took over domination of the world. It was incredibly powerful without any counterpart in history, half the world’s wealth, incomparable security, military powers.

So, of course, it planned detailed plans as to how to run the world. Now a lot of it was laid out by the State Department policy planning staff. It’s head was George Kennan, one of the highly respected diplomats, one of the framers of the modern world.

And he and his staff parceled out different areas of the world and described what they called their function within the U.S.-dominated system. So, for example, the function of southeast Asia was to provide resources and raw materials for the industrial countries of Europe and the United States and so on.

When he got to Africa, he said, well, we’re not that much interested in Africa, so we will hand Africa over to Europe for them to exploit–his word–for them to exploit for their reconstruction. If you look at the history of relations between Europe and Africa, some slightly different conception might come to mind, but it never entered the thought of the planners.

So the idea that Europe should exploit Africa for Europe’s reconstruction passed without comment. This is just deeply imbedded in the consciousness of what’s sometimes called white supremacy which is an extraordinary doctrine.

Comparative scholarly studies, George Frederickson, for example, one of the main scholars who dealt with it, concludes that in the United States, white supremacy was even more extreme than in apartheid South Africa. It’s a very powerful concept here. It’s buttressed by imperial domination.

The more powerful you are, the more you dominate others, the more you create justifications for that in ideology and education and media and so on. If you’ve got your boot on someone else’s neck, it’s typical to provide a justification for it. We’re doing it because we’re right, they deserve it, we’re better and so on.

Tavis: I want to come back to how we change that thinking before our conversation ends. Let me go back one more time, though, to your Kissinger reference when Henry Kissinger said that, “Nothing good ever came out of the south”.

If the earth is a sphere–think about this–if the earth is a sphere and we’re constantly in motion, what is to be gained by drawing consistently certain countries on the top half and other countries on the bottom half? What is to be gained by that?

Chomsky: What’s to be gained by that is a graphic representation of the fact that we are more important and better than them. We’re the north, they’re the south. We dominate because of our essential superiority of character, qualities, righteousness and so on.

It’s a graphic manifestation of the we are better than them conception that, as I said, is unfortunately pretty natural and is greatly enhanced by when it’s associated with power. So when you actually dominate others, that enhances the natural we are better than them conceptions.

Tavis: Speaking of conceptions, it seems that every other day now someone else is announcing that he or she is running for president. And I suspect, between now and November 2016, we will hear the term “American exceptionalism” over and over and over again.

By any other definition or espoused any other way, is this notion again that we’ve been talking about tonight that the USA is all that and then some, what do you say to the American people about how we challenge our own thinking, how we reexamine our assumptions, how we expand our inventory of ideas, as it were, about this notion that we hold onto so dearly?

Chomsky: Well, the best way to do it is to look carefully at the facts that are easily available to us. So take the phrase, “American exceptionalism”, which is supposed to express our unique superiority to other countries, the unique benevolence of our intention with regard to others. You get this across the spectrum.

So a recent issue of the New York review of books, the kind of ideological journal of the left liberal intelligentsia, has an article by the former head of the Carnegie Institute for Peace saying that it’s just obvious beyond discussion that the United States is unique. Other countries work for their own interests. We work for the interests of mankind.

That’s American exceptionalism. There are two problems with it. For one thing, it’s flatly false. As soon as you look at the record, you see nothing like that is true.

The second problem is it’s not uniquely American. Take other great powers in their day in the sun, they had the same doctrine. England was British exceptionalism. France was France’s civilizing mission. Anywhere you look, you find the same thing.

We happen to be the world dominant power for a long time, certainly since the Second World War economically, even before that. Sure, American exceptionalism is our version of the same disgraceful conception of history that’s concocted by the powerful. And how do you combat it? With the facts.

Tavis: Easily said, not easily done. Always pleased to be in conversation with this brilliant thinker, Noam Chomsky, challenging us tonight to reconsider our world view. Professor Chomsky, thanks for your time. Never enough time with you, but I’m honored to have had you on this program tonight, sir.

Chomsky: Thank you.

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

USA’s ‘Mr. Robot’ Is the Anti-Capitalist TV Show We’ve Been Waiting For


A deep, visceral hatred of modern-day capitalism is what fuels the show.

The USA Network is not exactly synonymous with prestige drama. This is a channel currently airing the third season of Graceland, a show about undercover FBI, ICE and DEA agents who all live together in a fricking house. (Imagine that pitch meeting: “Guys, what if we remade Melrose Place, only populated it with characters from J. Edgar Hoover’s id?”) How delightfully incongruous, then, that USA is now the home of Mr. Robot, the best new TV show of the summer, and the most explicitly anti-capitalist work of mainstream pop culture since Snowpiercer.

Mr.Robot is narrated by Elliot (Rami Malek), who addresses the viewer as “friend,” one he believes he has made up to cope with his loneliness. As that suggests, Elliot may be suffering from mental illness, although the extent of it is unclear—one of the ongoing mysteries teased along throughout the season.

What is clear is that Elliot is a paranoid, rabidly asocial computer savant who is self-medicating on morphine. A network technician by day, Elliot is a “hacker vigilante” by night, anonymously tipping off police to online child pornography rings and gangbangers bragging about murders in code on Twitter. His daytime employer is a cybersecurity subcontractor helping the massive conglomerate E Corp.—which Elliot always calls Evil Corp.—fend off an increasingly intense series of cyber attacks. (In a nice touch, series creator Sam Esmail straight-up jacks the old Enron logo for E Corp., reasoning in one interview, “it’s not like they’re going to sue us for it.”) Because of his connection to E Corp., Elliot finds himself recruited by the mysterious “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater) to join the hacker collective society, which wants to take down the company.

Mr. Robot has become a critical darling, and it’s easy to see why. For starters, it’s built around the performance of Malek, which is phenomenal, an unusual combination of intelligence, deadpan affect and charisma. It’s also one of the better-looking shows on television, with a visual aesthetic that alternates shots of perfect symmetry with ones framed from slightly off or tilted angles, creating an unnerving beauty. (This was especially the case for the first and fourth episodes, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and Nisha Gantara, respectively.) And the writing is generally excellent: witty dialogue that’s rarely cloying, genuinely surprising plot twists, and realistic characterization. There’s also a pretty great musical score by Mac Quayle, borrowing heavily from the playbook of rattling snare taps and spooky synths that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have employed in David Fincher’s most recent films.

But what truly makes the show different—which most critics have either ignored or glossed over—is what provides both its animating spirit and its primary narrative engine: a deep, visceral hatred of modern-day capitalism.

That loathing is front and center in the series’ opening scene, in which Elliot confronts the child pornographer in person. At first, the man thinks Elliot is trying to blackmail him and angrily refuses to pay a cent. But as Elliot reveals his M.O. of turning cybercriminals over to the police, the pornographer grows desperate and pleads with Elliot, promising to pay any amount. But Elliot dashes his hopes, telling him seconds before the police burst in, “I don’t give a shit about money.”

We learn, however, that this indifference is feigned; in fact, he hates money.

“Sometimes I dream about saving the world, saving everyone from the invisible hand,” Elliot tells his “friend” during one monologue, over a montage of a coworker making his monthly minimum school-loan payment and waiters scrambling for tips. “The one that brands us with an employee badge. The one that forces us to work for them. The one that controls us every day without us knowing it. But I can’t stop it.”

He can’t, that is, until Mr. Robot comes into his life, tempting him to take down E Corp., which “happens to own 70 percent of the global credit industry.” If they manage to destroy the company’s servers, Mr. Robot promises, “every record of every credit card, loan and mortgage would be wiped clean …[creating] the single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history.”

On one hand, the idea that 70 percent of the global credit industry would be consolidated into one company is as absurd as anything concocted by the minds that gifted us with Graceland. On the other, however, if television shows act as a reflection of our fantasies, are there many better ones than a society-wide debt jubilee? And that plays a large part in what makes the show so gripping, particularly in comparison to other shows: at the level of our desires, the stakes have rarely been higher.

Indeed, Mr. Robot succeeds by taking the premise of a pulse-pounding action film like The Matrix—one group’s struggle against the dehumanization and alienation of late capitalism—and then removing all the metaphorical dressing (evil sentient robots, virtual reality) and making the damn thing literal. Turning the subtext into the text itself has some drawbacks; the pleasures of subtlety are mostly absent from Mr. Robot. (At one point, a villainous corporate executive literally pays cash to a homeless man for the license to beat the shit out of him.) But by placing class warfare front and center, Mr. Robot makes socialism a vibrant force again in popular culture, its aims urgent and compelling.

It remains to be seen, however, if Elliot is right and viewers are “friends” to the idea of an epic redistribution of wealth, or if he’s crazy to think so.

The Fake Courage of Caitlyn Jenner

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Well, penises come and penises go, but bad taste is timeless, I guess.  While she revels in her expensive new state-of-the-art breasts, the Marie Antoinette of transgenders has done us all a favor by revealing just how shallow, venal and corrupt her kind of “courage” really is, and how gullible the media figures who celebrate her.

First came the long, breathless wait to see what Bruce Jenner would look like when he was miraculously transformed into a woman named Caitlyn.  When the moment finally arrived, the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis produced a breathtaking vision–which looked exactly like Bruce Jenner, with fake breasts, in a dress.

This was, as Tom Brady might say, slightly deflating.  But for TV and social media it was a virtual second coming.  Athletes who dared to criticize ESPN for honoring the rich and privileged Jenner over more deserving candidates were hounded and mocked as transphobic haters.

And then Jenner finally opened her surgically-enhanced lips, and what came oozing out was the politics of identity in its purest form.

First, he told Diane Sawyer, his new BFF, that he didn’t like Obamaexcept for one single thing–and guess what that might be!–“He was the first to say ‘transgender,’ I give him credit for that, but I’m not a big fan, I’m more on the conservative side. ”

This seemed to completely astonish Sawyer–but it’s hard to see why, after countless Republican politicians have been outed as cross-dressers; Jenner is building on a long and rich tradition there, and it’s fun to imagine her trading fashion and make-up tips with J. Edgar Hoover.

But Jenner knocking Obama was pretty thin stuff, and very few people–outside of his immediate family, and MSNBC–care to defend Obama anymore, so there was a tiny hubbub about it, and it fizzled quickly.

Then came the bizarre coronation on ESPN, with the stage-managed standing ovations.  No “haters” allowed!  The king is dead, long live the queen!  Of course, Queen Cait could barely deliver her scripted words of inspiration–she didn’t seem to have  read them beforehand–but social media was deeply moved.

And, in the ultimate proof that she’s on the right side of history, Caitlin got her own reality show.  But no sooner had her show begun than she wobbled off-script for a moment, and our newborn Cinderella proved to be more of an old-fashioned Wicked Witch.  When one of her girlfriends talked about the importance of caring for homeless people, Jenner said, with an adorable toss of her bangs: “Don’t they make more by not working–wih social progams–than they do with an entry level job?”

The other transgender women on the show–who have lived actual lives–were horrified.  When they tried to explain it to her, Jenner finally revealed her true self, the one that even Diane Sawyer failed to uncover:  “Oh, you dont want people to get  totally dependent on it.  Thats when they get in trouble–‘why should I work?  I got a few bucks! I got my room paid for!”

Let’s de-construct that little beauty for a moment.  As soon as Jenner starts her feeble attempt to role-play a poor person,  she junks normal grammar–becuz poor folks iz stupid, lol!–“I got a few bucks.”  Then she faults these dumb slobs–you know, these combat veterans and mentally ill and sexually-abused women, men and children–not just for their damn laziness, but for their total lack of imagination, too–for them, a room and a few bucks (for crack, no doubt) is enough. They aren’t even ambitious enough to crave a two-room apartment, much less an L.A. mansion paid for with sex-tape money!

And girlfriend, don’t even get me started on their clothes!  Pee-yew!

Here, Jenner finds herself in bed with Earl Butz, the Republican member of Gerald Ford’s cabinet, who disgraced himself with a similar quote.  Though it seems too good to be true, this is actually how it happened.  In 1976, Butz found himself on an airplane with Pat Boone–in some ways the Kardashian of his day, because he, like Kim, became famous by exploiting black sexuality.  Boone, himself a high-level right-wing ideologue, asked Butz why there weren’t more black Republicans, and Butz replied (I quote accurately, if reluctantly): “Pat, the only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.”

Poor Earl Butz is as dead as vaudeville now, but if he were alive, he’d happily join Lindsey Graham in welcoming Caitlyn Jenner to the Republican party and praising her “courage.”  And that’s the core of the problem: across the ultra-narrow spectrum of American media/politics, it’s become way too easy to be “courageous” on LGBT issues.  It doesn’t cost anything. Every day and every night, MSNBC “bravely” champions gay rights, and they recently hired the first openly gay news-anchor.  Excellent!  Now when can we expect to get the first poor news-anchor?  The first Native American news-anchor?  The first ex-convict?  We all know the answer: as soon as there exists a wealthy and powerful group of the homeless, or of American Indians, or of ex-cons, who contribute millions of dollars to the Democrats and Republicans, like the gay rights groups do…and not a day before.

It’s the same old game, and you pay to play.

So in the end Jenner’s “courage” boils down to this: I will fiercely defend the right of obscenely wealthy cultural parasites to have surgeons in Beverly Hills build new breasts for us, and to then have those store-bought breasts draped in the silks of Parisian coutouriers.

Well, it’s a program, I guess, and you see some of Caitlyn’s right-on sisters shopping in Beverly Hills every day.

But if I want to see true courage in action, I’ll step outside and watch a homeless woman try to catch an hour’s sleep in an alley off Santa Monica Boulevard.

John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence.. He can be reached at: