Lee Camp Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Lee Camp: Harnessing Humor to Unveil America’s Ugliest Truths

The political comedian wants to dismantle systems of oppression with a molotov cocktail filled with facts and some good old fashioned laughter.
Lee Camp. (Illustration by Mr. Fish)

Karl Marx once wrote that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” To Robert Scheer’s mind, the quote is the perfect introduction to his latest “Scheer Intelligence” guest, the comedian and host of “Redacted Tonight” Lee Camp. In the midst of a global pandemic where it’s getting harder and harder to find reasons to laugh, Scheer notes how the comedian is able to describe current events with a powerful combination of outrage and humor in his latest book, “Bullet Points and Punch Lines.” 

Camp’s book provides the “insight of comedy,” says Scheer, on a wide array of topics ranging from the persecution of Julian Assange to Wall Street’s obscene looting of the American people. On the surface, these topics may not seem funny, but it speaks to Camp’s comedic abilities that he’s able to inform his readers and viewers while also tickling their funny bones, a talent which reminds the “Scheer Intelligence” host of another important Marx: Groucho. 

“One line [in your book] that just will live with me forever is when you compared Lloyd Blankfein to hepatitis C,” Scheer tells Camp, before asking him to describe the former chairman of Goldman Sachs in his own words. 

“Well, I mean, he’s just Wall Street personified, or the worst of Wall Street personified,” says Camp. “And when everything was collapsing down around our country in 2007 and 2008, he went in and just demanded as much money as he could possibly get. He didn’t care about how many people were kicked out of their homes, he didn’t care how many people’s lives were destroyed. 

“What I was talking about when I compared him to an infectious disease,” explains Camp, “is this leaked analyst memo from the top of Goldman Sachs–back two years ago, but it’s incredibly important right now–basically telling the investors not to invest in cures for diseases, because there’s not enough money in it. Because you cure a disease, and then it’s over. […] And now we’re maybe seeing some of the impact of that, as this pandemic rages through the country. So the fact that Goldman Sachs is in a profitable partnership with infectious disease, I think tells us a lot about how the system works.” 

And because Wall Street infects everything, it’s impossible to talk about Big Banks without talking about American politics, especially in recent years. In Camp’s view, Wall Street profiteers like Blankfein, as well as their buddies in the Democratic Party were so hellbent in keeping Bernie Sanders out of office that they essentially invited–and are re-inviting–fascism into the White House in the shape of Donald Trump. 

The polling shows that Bernie Sanders would have had a great shot at beating Donald Trump–a far better shot than someone like Joe Biden, with all of his history and problems and senility, and so much going wrong for him,” says Camp. “But in fact, [bankers and establishment Democrats] were really concerned with beating Bernie Sanders because he represents a threat to Wall Street. He represents a threat to unfettered profit motive. And Donald Trump does not represent a threat to that, and neither does Joe Biden.” 

Another topic the “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” author is well-versed in is Pentagon corruption, a subject he explored at length in a widely-read piece titled, “The Pentagon Can’t Account for $21 Trillion (That’s Not a Typo).” Camp tells Scheer about the inspiration for the piece, which partly came from a video clip that “astounded” the comedian when he came across it.  

“Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, had come forward and said he was going to root out the waste in the Pentagon,” explains Camp. “And then towards the end of his reign as defense secretary, he had a press conference where he said, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find out where the money’s going or what’s happening.’ He literally stood in front of America and said, ‘We are spending trillions of dollars and we don’t know where it’s going.’ Then you have these public OIG reports that economists looked at and found trillions of dollars of unaccounted-for adjustments.” 

Camp goes on to tell the incredible, little-known story of U.S taxpayer dollars sent to the Mideast during the so-called War on Terror, evidently without oversight. 

“[Pentagon officials] flew I believe it was $13 billion of printed cash, pallets of saran-wrapped dollar bills, to Iraq right after the invasion, in order to help fund the ‘recovery’ or ‘reconstruction’ or whatever they were calling it. And the money just went missing,” says the “Redacted Tonight” host. “I talked to a soldier whose job was to guard as they were unloading these pallets of cash. And they had no idea what it was for or where it was going, and ultimately it all just vanished, because guess what? You deliver pallets of cash into a war zone, and it disappears.” 

Listen to the full conversation between Camp and Scheer as the two discuss more of the comedian’s role models, which include “Catch 22” author Joseph Heller and the late, great Lenny Bruce, as well as heroes like WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning. 

You can also read the transcript of this episode below the credits. 

Credits: 

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Introduction:

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where–I know it sounds like an egomaniac’s title, given to me by the station a long time ago–but where the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this sense, intelligence does not define it. We got, as far as I’m concerned, the closest thing to Lenny Bruce out there in comedian, commentator, pundit, philosopher, book writer–and his new book is called Bullet Points and Punch Lines. It’s coming out now, you can order it. It’s up there, it’s got a great introduction by Chris Hedges, and one by Jimmy Dore. And I don’t want to categorize–and also, I’ve been accused of going on much too long in these introductions. 

LC: [Laughs]

RS: So I’m going to begin with just asking you one question. Because you know, you’ve been red-baited; your show runs on RT; you’ve had the courage to criticize the Democrats as well as the Republicans. I’ve seen your routine, it’s incredible. I’ve published you at Truthdig, and we’ve gotten a great response to it. But I just want to ask you one loaded question. 

LC: Yes. 

RS: When I ask you whether you are influenced by Marxist thought, is it Groucho or is it Karl? 

LC: [Laughs] I like that. I’d like to say a little from Column A, little from Column B. You know, I try not to be too heavily influenced by anyone, but I’ve certainly educated myself in a lot of different areas. And, yeah, both Marxes [Laughs] have been certainly influential.

RS: Let me bring it back to Lenny Bruce, because I actually knew Lenny Bruce; I was selling books at City Lights Books back then, when he was in his last days–

LC: Really? 

RS: –in San Francisco. And you know, he was reading endlessly from court documents. And I know from my own teaching, very few people remember Lenny Bruce. But I thought he was one of the great, not just comic geniuses, but he was, you know, his understanding of what is screwed up about America was just so on target. And when I hear you, I think about that.

But you know what, reading your new book–and I didn’t plan to hype this book. But one thing I do discipline myself to do in these interviews is actually read a book or watch a documentary, you know, so I can learn something. And this book, Bullet Points and Punch Lines–let me give the blurb right now. I think it’s brilliant. But what was pleasantly surprising–

LC: Thank you. 

RS: –because usually when comedians are brilliant, they usually become boring. That’s what happened to Lenny Bruce. I would listen to him hour after hour, in empty nightclubs. And you know, and I was gettin’ it, but it was also not the least bit entertaining, funny, or anything else, you know. And then I ended up being the only customer one night, when Herb Caen had walked out the night before and said, “Don’t go, it’s a big drag.” He was our great columnist. 

LC: [Laughs] Wow.

RS: So I stayed with Lenny pretty much to the end. But I do want to say, your book is hysterical. 

LC: Thank you.

RS: Now, I know we published some of this in Truthdig, and it’s been printed elsewhere, but reading it as a book–and truth be told, I finished it about a half hour ago. [Laughter] I usually stay up the whole night reading, and I finally got your PDF version of it. 

LC: Thank you.

RS: And yeah, but it’s not a question of thanking, it’s a question of the role of humor. And that’s why I brought up Karl Marx and Groucho. Because the fact is–I hate to say this, because I’ll get a lot of hate mail–you’re better than Marx. Karl Marx. Actually, you’re better than either Marx. [Laughter] And it’s kind of a marriage. Because it’s Swiftian, is what the book is, and it’s probably a hell of a–I think it’s a hell of a lot better book than you think it is. You think you probably recycled a bunch of articles and old comedy things and everything, and somehow you got a book. But actually reading it carefully, and enjoying it–that’s a good word when you’re talking to a comedian, enjoying it–it’s funny. And it’s funny in a way that a guy like me who writes, you know, so-called serious scholarly whatever, or at least pretends to, doesn’t capture the– doesn’t have the insight of comedy. 

LC: Mm-hmm. 

RS: And one line that just will live with me forever is when you compared Lloyd Blankfein to hepatitis C. 

LC: [Laughs] 

RS: Do you remember that?

LC: I do. 

RS: But first of all, we should tell people who Lloyd Blankfein is. He’s the Dr. No of everything that’s wrong financially in America. He was head of Goldman Sachs, which gave us Robert Rubin to be first treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, followed by the great Lawrence Summers. You know, I use “great” in the most sarcastic sense. And, you know, Goldman Sachs was at the center of the whole thing. And your capturing this guy is absolutely–you know, tell us about Lloyd Blankfein, first of all. Why don’t we begin with Dr. No?

LC: Well, he–I mean, he’s just Wall Street personified, or the worst of Wall Street personified, is Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs. And when everything was collapsing down around our country in 2007 and 2008, he went in and just demanded as much money as he could, you know, possibly get. He didn’t care about how many people were kicked out of their homes, he didn’t care how many people’s lives were destroyed. That was his, you know, personality; that is what he does; that is what his job is. That’s why he got to the top of Goldman Sachs. And he plays that role perfectly. 

And what I was talking about when I compared him to an infectious disease is this, you know, leaked analyst memo from the top of Goldman Sachs–back two years ago, but it’s incredibly important right now–basically telling the investors not to invest in cures for diseases, because there’s not enough money in it. Because you cure a disease, and then it’s over. You want to invest in treatment, so that you can keep getting money, you can keep profiting. And so they told their, you know, the highest and the biggest investors, and the richest people in the world, don’t invest in cures; invest in treatments if you want to make money from medicine. And now we’re maybe seeing some of the impact of that, as this pandemic rages through the country. So yeah, Lloyd Blankfein is definitely–I mean, the fact that Goldman Sachs is in a profitable partnership with infectious disease, I think tells us a lot about how the system works. Absolutely.

RS: OK, but let’s go further with–maybe we’ll make the whole show about Lloyd Blankfein [Laughter], although there’s so much more in your book. But really Lloyd Blankfein is–first of all, tell us about his relation to Hillary Clinton. And why Julian Assange is in jail right now. Why is Julian Assange, the guy who informed the Washington Post and all sorts of–the Guardian, all sorts of publications with information about U.S. war crimes. He published it, so he is like the New York Times or the Washington Post when they publish classified information that reveals criminal behavior. But he is being tortured in a London prison because Donald Trump wants to drag him to the United States, which–he’s not even an American, responsible under our classification laws. But Lloyd Blankfein is the guy, right, who brought Hillary Clinton to Goldman Sachs and paid her, what, $650,000 for three speeches.

LC: Yeah, big funders of Hillary Clinton. And you know, when you’re paying someone that much money for an hour speech or an hour of Q&A, it’s clearly not about the Q&A. It’s not about the speech. The truth is, it’s–

RS: It’s a fucking bribe!

LC: –it’s a bribe, exactly. 

RS: I can use that word. You use it all the time. 

LC: Exactly. [Laughs]

RS: It’s a fucking bribe. Yeah. Go ahead.

LC: Yeah, exactly. And we found that out from, you know, leaked emails and leaked communications that were put out by WikiLeaks. None of them were proven to be false. None of them were doctored. None of them were frauds. And WikiLeaks has published 100% truthful information. And they’re not just “like” New York Times and Washington Post; Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, Guardian–they all used that information initially for their own reporting. And then they turned on him, because they realized the writing was on the wall, and that they were going to get in trouble if they, you know–they were going to get in trouble with the ruling elite if they continued this. So they turned on Julian Assange and made him the sacrifice to the corporate-state gods. And it’s amazing to watch those shills in the mainstream media, those hacks, turn on someone who has had more influence of revealing our reality, how our government works, than just about any other human being, as a single person, in decades.

RS: So let’s–I’m glad we’re starting with Dr. No. If people don’t have a picture, go look up on the internet, you’ll see he fits the caricature. But it’s really interesting, because the explanation of Hillary Clinton’s defeat was to blame people like Lee Camp; I guess to blame Truthdig, the publication that I was editing, and others; we did not rally around Hillary Clinton uncritically enough, you know. And somehow that’s how she lost. Not that she was tone deaf about the suffering in America, not that she obviously had been connected with a guy named Bill Clinton who gave us the great banking meltdown with his ending Glass-Steagall, and all the other undermining of Franklin Roosevelt’s sensible rules about controlling Wall Street. 

In her speeches–and very few people have bothered to read those speeches–she tells these people, with Lloyd Blankfein sitting right next to her–he’s giving her, what, hundreds of thousands of dollars every half hour or something, right? Sit here another half hour, I’ll give you another hundred, two hundred thousand dollars to talk to our people. She actually tells him–this is something I’ve almost never seen reported. She says, you’ve got to come with me–she doesn’t put them down. She doesn’t raise questions with them: what did you guys do when you got us to deregulate banking, how are you going to make amends? And for people who don’t know the intricacies of this, Goldman Sachs wasn’t a commercial bank. They were one of the people that Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin said, oh, they know what they’re doing because they’re handling their own money. No, they weren’t. And when Goldman Sachs ran into trouble during the Great Recession, they were allowed to reclassify themselves as a commercial bank and be available for government funding. 

LC: Right. 

RS: OK, total hypocrisy, you know–oh, leave us alone, we know what we’re doing, and it’s our money. But we get into huge trouble and destroy the American economy, bail us out with taxpayer money, because it turns out we didn’t know what we’re doing, but we’re too big to fail, so we deserve that support. And here she was, sitting with them–and I beg people to go look up these speeches. And what she said was not one word of criticism to these bankers, with Lloyd Blankfein sitting right next to her. She said, “Well, I need to bring you with me to Washington”–this is the prelude to getting all the funding from Wall Street. “I need to bring you folks, you smart folks, with me to Washington to fix this stuff. Because you know a lot more about it than I do.” That was–

LC: She also said “I have far more in common with you than the average people.” [Laughs]

RS: Yeah. So now–and then let’s fast-forward to this just last election. There was Lloyd Blankfein, who said if the choice is Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump, he implied or suggested he would vote for Trump. He certainly would have a hard time voting for Bernie Sanders. So this cuts to the chase that I do want to talk to you about, the lesser-evil drug that we’re supposed to all imbibe.

LC: Yeah.

RS: You know, and yes, maybe at the end of the day you hold your nose, as Noam Chomsky says, and maybe you vote for a lesser evil; we’re all human, we all fall for it. I’ve voted for war criminals all my life on that basis. 

LC: [Laughs]

RS: You know, but the fact of the matter is, right, here was Lloyd Blankfein saying he would reject Bernie Sanders, or would certainly question, and he would prefer Trump. Yet he’s, you know, Lloyd Blankfein’s the big example of enlightened Wall Street.

LC: I think it’s very clear that not just Wall Street, but the Democratic Party–which many of these, you know, Wall Street titans claimed to be Democrats–they were far more afraid of Bernie Sanders than of Donald Trump getting reelected. The polling shows that Bernie Sanders would have had a great shot at beating Donald Trump–a far better shot than someone like Joe Biden, with all of his history and problems and senility, and so much going wrong for him–Bernie Sanders would have had a much better shot if they were just about beating Donald Trump. But in fact, they were really about beating Bernie Sanders. Because he represents a threat to Wall Street. He represents a threat to just, you know, unfettered profit motive. And Donald Trump does not represent a threat to that, and neither does Joe Biden. 

So in a lot of ways–and it was very similar in the U.K., we saw a very similar thing with Jeremy Corbyn. He represented a far greater threat than Boris Johnson did to the traditional old Labour Party, the Tony Blair Labour Party. And they, you know, we just saw the leaked emails and text messages just came out a few weeks ago showing that half the Labour Party, or maybe more, the higher-ups, were working against Jeremy Corbyn. They wanted him to lose, because he represented a threat to unfettered capitalism far greater than losing to Boris Johnson. And it’s the same true with Trump and Joe Biden. The Democratic establishment would rather lose to Donald Trump, and have Wall Street go unfettered, and have the military-industrial complex go unfettered, than they would have Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket.

RS: You know, I want to stick with Julian Assange here, in connection to what you just said. And I made a vow to myself, as I turned 84– [Laughs]

LC: Wow.

RS: I don’t know how much longer I got, and this goddamn virus seems to–

LC: You’re certainly with it mentally, thank goodness. 

RS: Oh, thank you. No more ageism here or bullshit, I’m sharper than ever. But the fact of the matter is, this virus is a heat-seeking missile aimed at people my age. And so I made a vow to myself that–I’ve failed thousands of times in my life to do what I should have done, and gone as far as I should. But I–I will defend Julian Assange till my last breath. Because I mean, for me, this is now the gold standard. I’m old enough to have been a witness, actually, for Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers trial, only it was abruptly broken off when it turned out that Nixon had offered the judge the job of being head of the FBI. Which, actually, I thought was a perfect fit, you know; the hangman’s judge, and make him head of the FBI. 

But you know, but I go back that far. And Julian Assange–I mean, first of all, Daniel Ellsberg faced, I don’t know, 120 years in jail. Everybody forgets that now; he’s the nice whistleblower, he’s a great man, one of the greatest Americans ever. But I really feel the abandonment of Julian Assange even by–well, “even by”–groups like PEN, and writer’s groups and everything else, the silence or the rare mention of him. And this is a guy the UN has said is being tortured. The UN rapporteur on torture has said Julian Assange is being tortured–in England, Democratic England–right now, you know. Not even Socialist England anymore, which it was supposedly under Blair, but capitalist, Democratic England, being tortured right now. 

And what was Julian Assange’s crime? As far as I can figure out, and I think I’ve read every document on this damn thing, it was, one, outing Hillary Clinton’s speeches to bankers, which you would think is great journalism. You know, if she goes to labor unions and tells them, “I’m going to carry water for you and betray everybody else,” that’s a news story. But in the middle, you know, after we’re dealing with a banking crisis, and you go there and you tell them you’re going to carry water for them, obviously that’s just good, great journalism. He should have gotten a Pulitzer for that. In fact, newspapers did get a Pulitzer for material that they got from Julian Assange. But the fact of the matter is, he’s been abandoned. He’s a non-person. So his first crime, he reveals what Hillary said. His second crime is he reveals what you just talked about: the Democratic Party; Podesta, the great guy who defended the banking deregulation and everything else. He leaked the fact that the DNC was out to destroy Bernie. 

Now, why wasn’t that a legitimate news story? Why isn’t that great journalism? That he tells us this party–which is supposed to be serving all Democrats in a fair, open primary–actually is favoring Hillary Clinton and out to get Bernie. I mean, it’s amazing that that is sort of not even discussed. Those are the two crimes of Julian Assange. It certainly wasn’t revealing that Reuters correspondents were shot by American helicopter pilots. It certainly wasn’t, you know, the early stuff he did–no. It was when he went after, not after Saddam Hussein or the people supposedly overthrowing Saddam Hussein, but when he went after the Democratic establishment. That’s when he became the non-person, and it’s fair to lock him up forever. And you know, the same thing the Trump people were saying about Hillary, only with Julian Assange; they did, they locked him up. And he now, in the middle of this virus, is sitting there and can’t even see his lawyers. 

LC: Yeah, he revealed–he and WikiLeaks revealed how incredibly rigged the primary system is. And it really turned whatever remainder of the establishment and establishment media was even mildly supporting him, that was the end for them. And some people want to think that WikiLeaks only revealed stuff about the United States, they were anti-Hillary or anti-the United States. But in fact, they revealed stuff about countries around the world. They’re just pro-transparency. And if you compare the WikiLeaks record of reporting facts to the world versus CNN’s record, or Fox News or MSNBC, it’s ridiculous. WikiLeaks has never published something incorrect. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times have retractions all the time. They have things that are incorrect all the time. So it really is just insane that he is still rotting away in this prison.

And a lot of people don’t realize how dire things have gotten for him. His health is definitely fading. He’s in a place where coronavirus is running crazy. I’ve talked a little with his partner Stella Morris, who came forward recently and revealed she has mothered two children with him while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy. And she has just decided recently to become basically a public figure and speak out for him, and she has written very eloquently about how much he’s been tortured and how terrible things are for him. And you know, she just wants him to come home to his children. And it’s just disgusting to see a journalist be treated this way. I mean, the idea that he should be indicted for some sort of espionage when all he did was report on the war crimes of the American empire, and report on the rigging of our elections–it, I mean really, everybody should be repulsed. And I can’t believe that the mainstream media can’t even bring themselves to stand up for a fellow journalist–and can’t realize the precedent this would set. If you have a foreign journalist who did not operate in the United States, is not an American citizen, being sent to America to be imprisoned for life for reporting, what kind of precedent does that set to every journalist around the world?

RS: Yeah, and the fact of the matter is, as opposed to Daniel Ellsberg, who worked in the government, who had signed oaths of classification–which, he’s the first one to tell you that. His case was, in that respect, far weaker. Julian Assange is a publisher! He’s like Kay Graham at the Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers, you know. Or the New York Times publisher publishing the first part of the Pentagon Papers, until the court stopped it. 

So, but let me talk about another incredible hero, Bradley Chelsea Manning. And that’s another part of the story that is left out, another person that has been tortured–absolutely, use that word. And that, again, is–now the UN rapporteur has defended that very eloquently. But why is she reimprisoned? Because she won’t rat out Julian Assange in ways that allow them to at least put him away forever, but really try to kill him while he’s in jail, one way or another, psychologically or what have you. That’s what the UN rapporteur said: this is psychological torture, destruction of a person. And by the way, let me apologize to people listening to this. I have managed to take away Lee Camp’s great contribution to American culture, which is his humor.

LC: [Laughs]

RS: And I apologize–

LC: Well, you–you got me riled up and angry, so– [Laughs]

RS: Yeah, but what’s great about your book–and I do want to plug this bloody book, Bullet Points and Punch Lines. You will not be disappointed. And it is–it’s fun to read. It’s hysterical. It’s hysterical, OK? And I admire that you can make this stuff, in the Swiftian way, brilliant and funny. Unfortunately, that’s not yet appearing in our discussion. You know, so I–

LC: No, no– [Laughs]

RS: –no, no, I have screwed–I have screwed it up, but I– 

LC: No, you haven’t screwed anything up, I just, I can definitely get serious. But yeah, I mean, the reason I include humor in the book is, is–

RS: You don’t just include it. Come on, that’s bullshit. You go for really brilliant humor, laugh lines. It’s–I forget what you said, Jared Kushner, you know–I mean, you describe somebody as boring that forces me to laugh out loud. You know, really, I’m not just plugging this. I hate to say it, I really enjoyed it. 

LC: Thank you.

RS: It’s very rare that I stay up all night reading a book, and I’m laughing all the time, I’m smiling. And it’s not just because I agree with it. I mean, it does what I can’t do, what I’m not able to do right now. I lose the laugh lines. I don’t know what they are. 

LC: [Laughs]

RS: So, but let me bring it back to–I’m going to have trouble with a laugh line for Chelsea Bradley Manning. Again, one of the great figures of American history. Really unbelievable! You know, here’s a lowly corporal in the army, sees war crimes–wow, they’re killing children! They’re shooting people and they’re laughing about it! These are Nazis! What is going on here? This is my–I’m wearing the uniform, I’m witnessing war crimes, I’m going to tell people about it. You know, because that’s what we’re called; we’re a democracy, we have all this freedom and everything. And finally Obama, you know, oh great, in the last minutes, cuts Chelsea Manning out of jail. But then the grand jury comes in. Why? Because they wanted to turn against Julian Assange. And she–again, incredible, heroic, having experienced jail, having been driven close to suicide in jail–she says, I’m going back. I’m not squealing. 

LC: Yeah, a lot of people still don’t even understand what happened, why she was reimprisoned. But it was a grand jury that she refused to cooperate with, because they already had her entire story. She’d given hours and hours and hours of testimony of everything that happened, and at no point indicted Julian Assange. She said he did not force her to do anything, he didn’t recommend she do anything. All he did was help her disguise her name, which is standard procedure for a journalist to tell someone, you know, here’s how you can communicate with me off the record, that kind of thing. And so she never turned on him, never said he’d–but they really wanted that. So they locked her up for a year after she’d already been released. And she still never caved to any of it, which I find truly incredible. Because honestly, if someone wanted the nuclear codes out of me, all they’d have to do is keep my morning cup of coffee from me and I would snap instantly. So the fact that she was able to do this endless torture of prison time–and you know, now she’s finally out again and free, but they could grab her up again at any time and say, oh, we’ve got another grand jury. And if you don’t cooperate, we’re locking you up.

RS: You know, I’ve been before a couple of grand juries–ha, federal. One involved the one in San Francisco trying to nail the Black Panthers, and one was in New York when I was editing Ramparts magazine. And what everybody forgets is how rigged a grand jury is. I mean, you don’t even have–you got to go out in the hallway to talk to your lawyer. And it’s really a scary process, and they control all the cards. And they’re basically trying to build a case for the prosecutor to get you with, you know, whatever you’re going to say. And the idea–you know, we have so few whistleblowers. You know, the fact of the matter is, I don’t–I think you would hold out, and not just do it for a cup of coffee. 

LC: [Laughs] 

RS: But you know, tens of years in jail–oh, yeah, OK. The fact of the matter is, most people in every country in the world sell out. Whatever the country is called, whatever its protections. We have, what, six, seven, eight whistleblowers to our war crimes? Are you kidding me? You know, for every one you could–and they all have a really hard time of it. You know, are forced to cop some plea so they spend a year or two, three in jail. Like John Kiriakou, who revealed the torture program. And yet because they’re threatening him with, you know, the end of your life in jail, they destroy these people, they take away their pension, their ability to make a living. You could go–you know, Drake; Binney, who they didn’t even bring charges to, but they dragged him out of a shower at gunpoint. You could go down the list. I know I’m leaving out really good people, but we have so few.

And you have to ask yourself the question, for all the bullshit, you know, the Bill Mahers and the Rachel Maddows, and all these people who show their courage and everything, not one of them–forget about their being a whistleblower. Not one of them seems to understand what a sacrifice these whistleblowers make, what courage. 

Let me just change the subject a little bit. You know, the intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate–we’re in the middle of a plague now. I’m sitting here trapped in my place, I haven’t been out for two months now. It seems like two months, it’s one week shy. And I’m talking to Lee Camp. And I guess you get around; you got a backyard or something? I don’t know.

LC: Ah, no, I have a tiny apartment, but I do go in once every two weeks to create more episodes of Redacted Tonight. So I am out a little bit.

RS: Yeah, I’m going to talk to you about Redacted Tonight, you commie bastard. 

LC: [Laughs]

RS: We’ll get to that in a minute, I got some tough ones here for you. But I was thinking, because I watched–you know, people I live with, they seem to like Bill Maher. So I’ve watched him, and he’s in his backyard or something out there. And he’s all full of–you know, he’s another comedian, I guess, at one point, you know. And he’s just full of self-righteousness about everything. And I was thinking, you know, where is the critique of the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees? Everybody’s dumping on Trump, which is such a big, fat, easy–and getting back to my original quote about Marx that I was going to use, so let me bring it up now. It was Karl Marx, not Groucho Marx, who said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and then as farce. And that’s what was going to be my proper introduction to Lee Camp.

RS: … We just did a half-hour interview on part one that wasn’t the least bit funny; it was kind of depressing, actually–

LC: [Laughs]

RS: –if insightful. We’ll try to jazz it up a little bit in part two. And I do want to, in part two–I didn’t give a proper introduction yet. Lee Camp does–let me begin with the controversial things. He’s a great stand-up comedian, I’ve seen him, and he’s done a lot of writing. When I was editing–I guess I’m still the editor, technically, of Truthdig, even though we’re on hiatus and in legal hell. But we published him, he’s great. Hundreds of thousands of people love to read him, so he’s obviously a big star and brilliant in every way. 

And I actually began the first part with a reference to which Marx does he like. And that sounds like a silly little question, but it’s an important question, because there is a reason for humor. There was something brilliant about Groucho Marx, and the Marx Brothers. 

LC: Yeah.

RS: And there’s an insight from humor that you don’t get from even great philosophical thinkers like Karl Marx. And I asked you which Marx comes to mind, and you said both. Which, ehhh, that wasn’t the answer I’m looking for. 

LC: [Laughs] You wanted a stronger answer? 

RS: I thought you’d give a full-throated defense of Groucho. Because, frankly–I wonder, let me ask you a question–

LC: Well, I got to be honest–I got to be honest, Lenny Bruce was more of an influence than Groucho Marx. 

RS: Well, that’s–oh, Lenny Bruce is my man, OK. And we could–but I doubt if Lenny Bruce ever read a line of Marx, OK.

LC: [Laughs]

RS: And I doubt if Lee Camp really read–did you ever read Das Kapital? It’s boring as shit, it’s–

LC: Yeah, only quotes, I haven’t really trudged through it.

RS: Let me tell you my Marx story. The most popular thing Marx ever wrote was the Communist Manifesto, right? And it’s a real short little pamphlet, OK. It was meant for working people to have in the back pocket of their–they didn’t have jeans then or whatever–and to pull out and so forth. It’s a polemic, a short polemic, the Communist Manifesto, OK. You would think that’s the one thing that Marx wrote that people who call themselves Communists, or Marxists, would have read. So there I was, Gorbachev was in power in the old Soviet Union. And I reviewed his book on perestroika; I was working for the L.A. Times, but I was in Moscow, and I was also doing a stint at Moscow News, writing for a Russian audience. 

LC: Really? 

RS: And I was the first person in Russia to review Gorbachev’s book on perestroika, from Moscow News. And so I quoted from the Communist Manifesto. People who listen to this show have heard me say this before, but so what? I’m not getting paid for this anyway. And, ah–

LC: [Laughs] That means they get repeat stories.

RS: Yeah. But it makes a point. And so I quoted from the Communist Manifesto, in which Marx basically was saying, you know, this Communist revolution I’m talking about is supposed to come after capitalism. It doesn’t come in place of capitalism, and it certainly doesn’t come in a primitive agrarian country like China or Russia, right. He was anticipating people trying to do this in the wrong place; it’s supposed to be after you have an abundance of wealth and surplus and, you know, and all of that.

And so he pays tribute in the Communist Manifesto to capitalism, and then talks about its contradictions. He gives credit to capitalism for ending the idiocy of rural life–meaning feudalism–ending the idiocy of rural life, and building these great cities. But then it gives rise to a multinational, corporate, capitalist world in which all of the efficiencies of capitalism that Adam Smith and [David] Ricardo and everybody talked about are gone. And you’re left with this overwhelming power of bureaucracy and so forth that is cartel capitalism, and the monolithic power of big business controlling government. And that’s what he’s basically warning about. 

So I quote, thinking it’s pretty safe in a Communist society [Laughs], in one of its papers–a good paper, Moscow News, but it was good only because it was basically for tourists, in about 15 languages–that you could quote the Communist Manifesto. And Igor Yakovlev, the very brave editor of that publication, cut out my reference to Marx. So I said, Igor, how could you possibly be editing out Marx? You know, I know it’s a commie country, but you know, quoting Marx? And he says, Marx didn’t say that. And I said, what are you talking about? Show me your copy of the Communist Manifesto

Well, Igor Yakovlev didn’t have a copy of the Communist Manifesto. Like most people in the old Soviet Union, he’d stopped reading Marx. You know, that was sort of the state religion, like in China today. But you don’t actually read the stuff. I haven’t found any of my Chinese students from China who come to USC, where I teach, and I quote Marx to them, they look at me like I’ve lost my marbles. You know, they’re trying to learn how to create apps for the internet or something. I don’t mean to denigrate them, they’re very smart, good people, but you get my drift. 

And so I had to run around Moscow, and I’m fucking cold running around Moscow, to find a copy in either French or German or English, or something I could read; my Russian was not too good. And you know, [so] that I could prove to him. I finally found a French version, run back, I say–see! Here is where it’s said. So he puts it back in. You know, he was willing to quote Marx. And he was a great guy, by the way; I’m not putting him down. 

But the fact of the matter is, when Marx looked at the use of his own material, and what would happen, you know, he famously at one point said “I’m not a Marxist.” And one quote that I began the last one with, and then we forgot all about it–or maybe I didn’t even use it, I don’t know–Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. And that’s where Lee Camp, you, come in. 

LC: Mm-hmm. 

RS: You are the expert of analyzing the farce. So, you know, Trump is not a Hitler. He is a jingoist. He is a neofascist, often, in his rhetoric. He baits the vulnerable: immigrants, you know, marginalized people, undocumented, what have you. He plays all of the tricks of the neofascists, and so forth. But yes, he’s farcical. That doesn’t mean that people who are farcical cannot be lethal. He can be lethal. But it’s an important distinction. He doesn’t have the aura of tragedy; he has the aura of farce. It doesn’t make him less lethal. So far, he is less lethal. So I want to ask you, as sort of an expert on farce, is this your entrée into the political discussion?

LC: Is what my entrée?

RS: Another deadly boring question. And people will email me and say, boy, you made Lee Camp boring–

LC: [Laughs]

RS: What I mean is, humor is not benign. And what you are able to do–because I’ve caught your act, and I’ve now read you in this book, which I’m trying to hype; I’m probably doing it more harm than good–

LC: [Laughs] Not at all.

RS: Bullet Points and Punch Lines. It’s a new book out, and I really, I can’t speak highly enough of it. And you say, and in fact the subtitle is The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy. Well, that’s–that’s legitimate. The frustrating thing is that that is actually a warranted subtitle: The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy. It is a tragicomedy. It is. 

LC: Yeah.

RS: And you, in fact, are the perfect person–and your book is, as far as I’m concerned, the best–you know, I’m going out on a limb here [Laughs]. But I actually read it, so I know what limb I’m climbing on. It is actually profound. I don’t want to curse it by saying it’s profound, but it is. 

LC: Thank you. 

RS: Because you capture language. You understand–you know, this was of course Chomsky’s great contribution as a linguist. But you, for the man on the street, capture language–what it’s about. So take us there. You know, what would you say–because I’ve babbled on now for a whole show, and now I’m going to ruin another one. Why don’t you take over this half-hour and take us through this book. But before you–yeah, OK. Before you do that, however–nah, go ahead. I’m not going to interrupt you. Do it.

LC: Well, in terms of it being, you know, the reality now being farce, I think you’re absolutely right. I think that we’ve turned reality–it’s like reality has lapped satire. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to even keep up with the idiocy, the corruption. 

You know, a book that was very, that had a lot of impact on me, and [was] inspirational, was Catch-22, Joseph Heller. And of course many people don’t put that in the genre of humor, really, or you know, comedy, but it very much is. And now we have created the reality that is mocked in Catch-22. I mean, we literally fund the opposition in our wars. We fund the enemy. We give the Taliban millions of dollars in order to allow our trucks through–this has been documented in Afghanistan–to allow our trucks through the mountain passes so that we can fight the Taliban. And you hear that, and I mean, it suddenly occurs to you: no wonder we’re–the largest military in the world, the U.S. military–is having trouble defeating a scrappy group of guys in flip-flops and torn clothes. It’s because they have us on their side. Like, we are helping fund and prop them up. I mean, it is straight out of Catch-22

And we have become a farce of an empire. And Donald Trump represents that in the physical version. I mean, he is–in a way, he is the empire with all of the facade ripped off it. The disguises have been taken off, the fake mustache removed, and you see the ugly face, the bright orange, discolored face, you know, dressed in a $1,000 suit and talking about how he’s humble and how smart he is, and how he’s the greatest genius that has ever lived. I mean, it–he really does represent the entire farce that the U.S. empire has become. And I think you couldn’t have said it better. 

And you know, I really do try and pick that apart in the book. And like you said, so much of it is language: the way our military uses language, the way our empire uses language. The way this is called a bailout, right now, that we’re seeing trillions of dollars largely going to the richest people in the country. As if they needed to be bailed out–as if with massive inequality, and with three people in the country owning 50% of the wealth–as if the richest among us need to be bailed out. No, this is not a bailout. This is a robbery. And David Dayen, writing for American Prospect, said it’s a robbery in real time, that we’re seeing one of the largest robberies in American history. Maybe in history, period. 

And so it really is the language that is used, you know, in the military. The CIA’s own documents show that 90–they say 90-some percent of drones hit, quote unquote, “secondary targets.” Well, what is a secondary target, if you really break down the language? It’s not a target at all. That means innocent civilians, “secondary target.” A secondary target is not a target. And so again, you have this language used to manipulate people. 

When we started bombing Syria, I started counting the number of times they talked about our–on, you know, MSNBC, CNN–they talked about our advanced weaponry being used. How advanced our weaponry is. But bombing innocent civilians is not advanced at all. It’s–it’s barbaric. It’s, you know, animalistic, it’s the lowest form of life, to bomb innocent civilians and call it, you know, success, or call it winning or call it victory. So the word “advanced” is not advanced at all. It’d be like seeing two players playing pool, and all of a sudden one of them takes a pool cue and breaks it over the other guy’s back, and you call that an advanced move. No, it’s a barbaric move. So, yeah, I think terminology and linguistics is incredibly important in manufacturing the consent of the American citizens.

RS: You know, can you just keep going? Because you’re doing a much better job than when I interrupt.

LC: [Laughs] You know, I know you don’t intend to be funny, but you’re very funny when you want to be. [Laughter]

RS: Well, it’s the reality. Look, humor is hard. It’s goddamn hard, you know. But let me–and particularly when you’re talking about important stuff, you know. And I want to just take a couple of your big hits. One was your exposure of the corruption in the Pentagon, the–is it 21, 22, 23 trillion–

LC: $21 trillion, yeah. 

RS: $21 trillion unaccountable for over a 20-year period. And what you are great at–and I’m not flattering you, but I do teach, and I try to get through to 19-, 20-year-olds. And you just stop in your tracks and say, wait a minute, what is a trillion? What is a trillion, what is a billion? You know, and you have all these images–some of them are off-color–

LC: [Laughs]

RS: –but to try to capture our inability to think about things. And one reason I am doing this is I went to hear a show you did in L.A. And I wrote a book on the military budget, The Pornography of Power, I don’t know, about 10 years ago or longer. And I don’t know if you remember, but I said hey, hi, I’m your editor at Truthdig, hello. But uh, are you going to be here for a few minutes? I want to go get you a book. Because I had a copy of my old book in my trunk, which is where most of them still are; they didn’t sell very well, and I carry them around in case I find somebody who might actually look at it. And you had talked about the waste, and you had written about it, so I’m not saying I gave you this idea; you had it. But I went out to my car, and you probably never looked at the book, but I gave it to you. And I pointed out, my book began with a scene of a guy in government saying–and he’s talking at a building in Washington. Well, I’ll give it away, it turns out to be the Pentagon. And he says, the Cold War is over. Cold War is over, and we don’t really have a sophisticated enemy anywhere–anywhere. And he says–that was fixed next day, but–

LC: [Laughs] That was, quote unquote unquote, fixed. 

RS: Yeah. That was–we don’t have an enemy. He said, but we have a big enemy. The enemy is not far, and it’s not the Russians, it’s not the Chinese, it’s not even terrorism. Because they don’t have really sophisticated armaments, there’s a limit to what they can do. He said the big enemy is in this building–the building was the Pentagon. And the guy saying that was Donald Rumsfeld, then under the first President Bush the secretary of defense. And he was warning, and he said without a Cold War, we have to cut back immediately, 30%, 40%. And really how do we justify, if we’re going after terrorists, aircraft carriers to go fight in the desert or something. You know, we can’t make sense of it. And this is the big enemy. And before you ever said it in your article, he talked about the waste in that building. The enormous waste. He didn’t–you know, he preceded–[Rumsfeld] preceded Lee Camp. Let the record show you stole this idea from Rumsfeld.

LC: [Laughs] Well, as I well know–and I did read much of your book, and I loved it–you and a few others, although maybe not as well as you, but have written about the massive waste at the Pentagon. And it truly is incredible. 

Robert Gates–I was kind of astounded when I found this clip, because I didn’t know it existed before. But Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, had come forward and said he was going to out the waste in the Pentagon. And then towards the end of his reign as defense secretary, he had a press conference where he said, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find out where the money’s going or what’s happening. He literally stood in front of America and said, I couldn’t even find out how many people were in certain departments. I would ask, how many people do you have here? And they’d say, we don’t know. I mean, he just came forward and told America we are spending trillions of dollars and we don’t know where it’s going. And it was just amazing to see these are not lefty people. These are not radical leftists. These are–this is the former defense secretary, I believe a Republican, saying he has no idea where the money’s going. And so then you have these, you know, public OIG reports that if you just look at them, economists can look at them and find trillions of dollars of unaccounted-for adjustments. 

And one of the things I mentioned in that article, in both Truthdig and in the book, is that people can’t understand how much a trillion dollars is. It’s–you try and tell someone what a trillion dollars is, or even a billion dollars, and it’s like asking them to hug a memory. It just–you can’t do it. It’s just, it’s like, you know, trying to grab a puff of smoke, it’s so hard to conceptualize. If you make $40,000 a year, how long would it take you to make a trillion dollars? It would take you 25 million years. So for $21 trillion, it would take you 525 million years to earn that much money. It’s a completely nonsensical amount of money, and yet so much of it has gone missing. And much of it has gone missing, like, in physical dollars–not even just on computers, although most of it’s on computer screens. But they flew $13 billion–this was covered in the Guardian, although it’s one of those stories that, you know, it’s a blip for a day and disappears–

RS: It’s in your new book, though–

LC: Yeah, they–they flew–

RS: –just for that story, let me do a little hyping here. They don’t have to take notes now. Bullet Points and Punch Lines. This is one of the great–of many, there’s at least 20 really good stories in this book. But listen to this one. 

LC: Yeah, they flew, I believe it was $13 billion of printed cash, pallets of saran-wrapped dollar bills, to Iraq when they were–you know, right after the invasion, in order to help fund the, quote unquote, “recovery” or “reconstruction” or whatever they were calling it. And the money just went missing. There’s photos–I talked to a soldier who his job was to guard as they were, you know, unloading these pallets of cash. But they weren’t told why or what was happening, and so they were just seeing saran-wrapped pallets of money being taken away. And they had no idea what it was for or where it was going, and ultimately it all just vanished, because guess what? You deliver pallets of cash into a war zone, and it disappears. 

And that’s just, you know, one example. They also “found,” quote unquote, 39 Black Hawk helicopters they didn’t know were on the–they weren’t on the books anywhere. They just found them. And that’s–you know, that’s a billion dollars or something of Black Hawk helicopters just sitting around. They’ve found buildings the DoD doesn’t even know that they own. It’s truly unbelievable. People can’t even make their–you know, our ape brains can’t even grasp it.

RS: Well, the important point here is not just the waste, which is enormous, because more than half of the discretionary budget–that means the money that we actually have some control over, because it’s not dedicated to things like veteran’s benefits that you have to pay, and other things–but discretionary money, the things that Congress can argue about, goes to this thing called the military budget. And the military budget, as Lee Camp describes in his book, is absurd, because there’s no accountability. 

But the reason there’s no accountability–let me advance an idea here that I actually got originally from John McCain, who believe it or not challenged some of the Defense Department’s spending, particularly towards Boeing. He hated Boeing, and he was great at exposing Boeing’s, what I would consider to be theft of money; they probably would disagree. So let me just say, it’s in the eye of the beholder, but certainly John McCain was very strong on that. The problem–and this gets back to the Rumsfeld quote about the great enemy no longer existing in terms of the global politics. You have these guys running around in the desert with very primitive, you know, IEDs and everything. And so what is your justification for a big military budget? None. You can’t–if terrorists are the great enemy–that’s why we’re going to build up China now as a big enemy. We tried to build Russia up as a big enemy, even though they–both of those countries refuse, really, to fight on those terms. They want to become capitalists and fight us over markets, particularly the Chinese. But you can’t justify a military budget that’s equal to that of just about every other country in the world combined, with a legitimate enemy. This is the problem Orwell raises in 1984: you have to invent an enemy, and you have to invent an enemy that the American public will believe. 

So when Donald Rumsfeld–the next day, after he gives that speech at the Pentagon, we have 9/11. And oh, suddenly the clouds part. Suddenly the sun is out. Why? We have an enemy, and the enemy has taken down these buildings. Now, of course, that was not sophisticated new weaponry; an aircraft carrier wouldn’t help very much. If you had listened to your own FBI agents, and you were over at the CIA, maybe you would have figured it out in advance; we can go into all that. But suddenly, for the hawks, for the military budget people of both parties, that became the excuse. But it makes no sense in terms of paraphernalia, because what are you going to do to fight these guys in the desert who are running around in jeeps and pickup trucks? You know, how are you going to justify stealth bombers and so forth that cost more than the GNP of some of these Arab countries? So you have to come up with hysteria. And that really is what this whole thing has been an exercise in. 

But I want to–your book is not just about such contradictions. Your book is really quite moving about the human costs. Not just the human cost, by the way; I would say in general, animal cost. I think you’re a compelling writer. Boy, I’ll tell you, I’m not going to–you know, I’ve given up pretty much everything except fish, but I’ll have to give that up now after reading your book. And you really have a very powerful discussion of climate change, and the consequences and how we got there, of the costs of our exploitation and the evil of how we kill animals. There’s a lot in the book to read. But in terms of war and peace, where we now treat it as a video game, we don’t have a draft–oh yeah, you see–that’s what Chelsea Manning, Bradley Manning exposed. This video game–oh yeah, we got another one of them, happens to be a five-year-old child, and so forth. In your book, you bring it to life. Or death, you bring it to death, I’m sorry.

LC: [Laughs]

RS: And you say, we are a rogue nation, with a rogue military, and we murder people every 12 minutes. And it is greeted with silence by our much-heralded free media and press and democracy. It is greeted with silence. I think, actually, your evocation of the cost of war–now, in real time, both to the American people and obviously to the millions who get killed in these wars over the last, you know, Cold War period and now–is very powerful, and something you never hear about on MSNBC. You have a phrase, actually, when you talked about what Wolf Blitzer and these people did, you said they’re circling the water in the toilet. Can you give me that image? It’s really quite–

LC: Yeah, I think–I know part of it is–I know George Carlin talked about circling, the toilet bowl circling. But maybe what I added is that, you know, we’re the toilet bowl circling, and it’s spinning up as it gets closer to the end, speeding up as it gets closer to the end. And it seems like things are speeding up. But yeah, that was an homage to the great Carlin.

RS: Yeah, but it’s also an homage to anybody who gives a damn about human suffering. That it’s not a video game. We are killing people. These drone attacks, which you properly attribute to Barack Obama as well as to Donald Trump–

LC: Yeah. 26,000 drone bombs dropped in Obama’s final year in office.

RS: Yeah. So–and that doesn’t bother anybody, you know, these wars, or Hillary Clinton creating refugees in the millions. Or going to get Gaddafi in Libya–oh, we came, we saw, and he’s dead. Yeah, with a bayonet shoved up his ass, you know. You know, oh, that’s the lesson for the world? That’s what we do? You know, we sodomize people after we throw them out, and particularly after they’ve already turned, and they’re actually on our side?

But you know, leaving that aside, I want to hit a couple of other points in your book. Because the book goes, ranges the whole thing, but one thing I found really effective–the book is Bullet Points and Punch Lines: The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy. Let’s take the tragicomedy of the stock market, something you have been able–I have interviewed very sharp people, Nomi Prins and Ellen Brown and others on the financial meltdown. In fact, those are the podcasts that will precede and follow yours. So people can, if they want a very sober and very thoughtful and brilliant analysis, those are two people to go to. But what you manage to do is–you have a great bullshit detector. [Laughter] You really do. And I love your description of what really goes on with the markets. And first of all, that the market is a playground for the superrich; it has very little to do with the well-being of ordinary Americans, it’s a rip-off zone. And you talk about the pretend expertise of the market, and you offer that example where there was Orlando the cat, who was better at picking stocks than these so-called experts and people who write about it.

LC: Yeah, the argument that Wall Street is not a Ponzi scheme or is not, you know, not just blatant gambling, is that well, if that were true then, you know, experts could predict it. Because it’s, you know, it just takes the right amount of skill and everything. But they’ve done studies on this, and one of them that was well publicized was the one you’re talking about, where they took a financial analyst and then a college student, I think, and then Orlando the cat. And they had them each compete to try and figure out who picked the best stocks. And Orlando picked his stocks by throwing a cat onto a grid, and wherever it landed on the grid–

RS: A mouse, a mouse.

LC: Sorry, a mouse, yeah. Throwing a toy mouse onto a grid, and wherever it landed was the stock that it picked. And Orlando the cat won the competition. Meaning being a financial analyst is equivalent–like, a cat could do a better job. Because this is–it is just straight-up gambling. And I talked, I got a lot of my information from this great former financial employee, actually, Tan Liu, who wrote a book called The Ponzi Factor. And basically it comes down to the fact that 80% of stocks are owned by the 10% of the most wealthy people in the world, or the 10% wealthiest. And it is the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme. It used to be, when we first came up with the idea of the stock market, it was you invest in a company, you give them a little of your money, and you get a little of the profits, whenever they’d come around. But that almost doesn’t exist anymore, because dividends are rare, and they’re rarely paid out, and they’re not much. So really, you can write that off as not much of the process. 

Most of the process, most of what goes on in the stock market, is people buying stocks–which by definition are worthless pieces of paper unless you resell them for a higher amount. And if you convince someone else that that stock is now worth more, then you can make money. So it’s not that you can’t make money, but people make money with Ponzi schemes, too. But the problem is, if everybody pulls out of the market, if people don’t keep buying in, then it collapses. Which, again, definition of the Ponzi scheme. So really, Wall Street fits the SEC’s own definition of a Ponzi scheme.

RS: Yeah, and I think people–and we’re going to wrap up this segment. But people should understand, we accept the notion of expertise in replies to Wall Street–and they’re in the New York Times, you have Sorkin’s column on dealmaking and all that, and Lloyd Blankfein, and all these people seem to know what they’re doing. And I’ll admit they know what they’re doing when it comes to lining their own pockets, but that’s like saying that the accountants for the Mafia know what they’re doing. 

LC: [Laughs] Exactly.

RS: You know, I mean, loan sharking and all that, all these schemes, were absolutely brilliant. They knew what they were doing. And you kind of have a phrase for it in your book, which I liked. You say the slogan should be–because we always dignify this as if it’s economic science and it’s a mathematical model. And you say, “America: cannibalizing each other for profits since 1776!” [Laughter] You know, I should go into the PR business, I could promote this book, Bullet Points and Punch Lines

So what you’re really saying–it’s interesting, and I’m going to just end this segment with Lawrence Summers, the alternative to–or not the alternative, the creature of Lloyd Blankfein. And Lawrence Summers is a guy–I don’t want to push my own books, but I did write a book on the banking meltdown. Ah, and damn, I can’t find it here, or I would quote The Great American Stickup. And Lawrence Summers, the reason I’m bringing him up, he was the secretary of the treasury who replaced Robert Rubin when Robert Rubin first pushed through the reversal of all the New Deal legislation, and gave us the banking deregulation that allowed all these lousy mortgages and credit default swaps, and the Financial Services Modernization Act and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, and all the swindles and the liar loans and everything. And it was Lawrence Summers who came in, and when Robert Rubin went off to go work at Citigroup, that he’d made legal–he’d made their merger legal. So he went to work for them, of course got $10 million a year or something. But Lawrence Summers gets the job. And Lawrence Summers, who goes on later to be a big advisor to Obama and part of his administration, is the main guy testifying in favor of wrecking the whole New Deal. 

And you just read that testimony, and what is his main argument? These guys on Wall Street know what they are doing. If you try to regulate them, you will spook the markets. These new instruments–collateralized debt obligations, and then the phony credit default swaps that’s supposed to back them up with AIG that didn’t have insurance money to back them up, and so forth. All this phony stuff–he says, don’t challenge this–as Brooksley Born, this great person in the Clinton administration who got fired, pushed out, kept pushing for doing; a very competent lawyer expert on this, but they demonized Brooksley Born. Should be another well-known hero, but is not, of American life. And Lawrence Summers just testified, these people know what they’re doing. If you start regulating them, you’re going to spook the market, and it’s all going to collapse. OK? Now–and we have to do this to compete with the Europeans and everything else. And he just baldly says, these things are wonderfully constructed, but you have to be expert on the mathematics. Remember, he’s the guy that told us women can’t be mathematicians.

LC: Well, you know, it’s like asking a bank robber to analyze how his bank robbery’s going. He’s going to go, well, it’s going great. Don’t spook it. [Laughs]

RS: Yeah, don’t spook it, but it’s so complicated and everything. And what your book does–and I’ll end this segment with that–it demystifies it. It says these people are scoundrels, they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth, they’re snake-oil salesmen, they’re conning you. And anybody who actually looks at it will see that. The fact of the matter is, the author you mentioned, others–they don’t get their books reviewed. They don’t get brought on the business talk shows. They’re not heard from. 

So we’re left–we’re left with the Lee Camps, the modern Lenny Bruce. We’re left with Lenny Bruce, aka Lee Camp, to come and tell us it’s all a big hoax, a big fraud, a big Ponzi scheme, a Mafia rip-off. And the guys who were supposed to be on our side, in this case the Democrats, they turned to these very people. And what is Joe Biden doing right now? Right now, as I speak, he’s consulting with the same Lawrence Summers who went and worked for the D.E. Shaw hedge fund after he was in the Clinton administration, got between five and six million bucks from them, was advising Wall Street, was head of Harvard. There’s a lot of stuff about how their money was misinvested, and we can go into that, and so forth. But he ends up being, lo and behold–they’re always reborn. Even without invoking the almighty, they’re somehow– 

LC: I know, they keep failing upwards.

RS: Yeah. And so here’s Lawrence Summers, who then fails upwards in the Obama administration, because they don’t bail out homeowners, there’s no foreclosure relief. Even Trump looks good compared to Obama, because Obama only bailed out the banks that did nothing for people. And they lost so much, black people in America according to the Federal Reserve lost upwards of 70% of their wealth. College-graduated black people–

LC: Wow.

RS: –everything. Brown people lost 60% of their wealth. That’s greater under the Democrats, because nothing was done to keep people in their homes, and then the swindlers came in and bought those homes and made it off rentals, you know. But nonetheless, that was Lawrence Summers there. Now Joe Biden is supposed to be consulting with Lawrence Summers. How did he do it again? And remember, Hillary Clinton was the one who wanted to bring Lloyd Blankfein back, and his buddies to Washington to help us set it straight had she defeated, had [she] won the last election. 

So in the third segment, we’re going to talk about where we are now, and what can be done about it with this election coming up in the middle of a pandemic. And that’s it for the second installment of Scheer Intelligence with Lee Camp, author of Bullet Points and Punch Lines. Christopher Ho at KCRW FM, NPR, is the person who produces these shows on their end. Natasha Hakimi Zapata is the editor and writes the introduction. And Joshua Scheer is the guy who runs the whole business and is the main producer for Scheer Intelligence. See you next edition with part three of Lee Camp and another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

%d bloggers like this: