Lee Camp Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Bonus Episode: Lee Camp on Why Bashing Donald Trump All the Time Just Isn’t Funny

The comedian has no problem throwing a few punches at the U.S. president, but he’s more interested in the jokes most political comedians aren’t delivering.
Lee Camp. (Illustration by Mr. Fish)

Listen to the first part of this conversation here.

After “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer and “Redacted Tonight” host Lee Camp talked at length about his latest book, “Bullet Points and Punchlines,” the two talk about Camp’s sense of humor in a bonus segment. One man in particular, Scheer notes, comes up in the comedian’s jokes and essays more than almost any other. 

“I call [Jeff Bezos] America’s best sociopath,” says Camp, with a comedic flair that allows him to speak truth to power with a side of laughter, “because I think in order to do what he’s done, you kind of have to be a sociopath. To get to the top of an industry, and then purchase and destroy any competitors. 

“Bezos has shown again and again that he does not care for his workers,” the comedian continues. “Bezos’s brilliant idea, the thing that made him as big as he is, was realizing that a company like Amazon can’t make the trucks drive faster on the highway, because of speed limits. So where’s he going to become the fastest deliverer of products? Well, it’s by forcing human beings to go faster. It’s by forcing human beings to work until the breaking point. That’s what made him the richest man in the world now.” 

The Amazon billionaire is hardly the only public figure in Camp’s crosshairs. In the first part of the episode, the comedian compared a former Goldman Sachs chairman to syphilis. But there is one man that the “Redacted Tonight” doesn’t see the point in harping on about, and that’s America’s latest president. 

“[The Democratic and Republican parties] are two corporate parties that agree on 80 to 90% of the structural issues–probably more like 90%–of the structural issues of this country,” Camp posits. “They largely agree on Wall Street. They largely agree on allowing the environmental destruction that is now, you know, destroying our world. And even if the Democrats may, you know, pay lip service here and there to caring about climate change, or caring about the environment, if they aren’t going to do anything about it, it doesn’t actually mean anything, what they’re saying. 

“On top of that I feel like, although I will insult Trump here and there for being a buffoon and being a narcissistic, you know, megalomaniacal man-child,” the comedian continues, “I don’t feel that I need to really hit away at that all the time. [Because] I don’t feel that people need to be told what a moron Donald Trump is. I do feel that even the people that watch my show, even the people–even my family, even the people I talk to as friends–they do need to hear about how corporations, corporate America, has taken over, has captured our political systems. That has not sunken in in the way that ‘Oh, Trump’s a dummy’ has sunk in.” 

Camp adds that he feels similarly about Fox News. He has no problem throwing a few punches at the cable news channel, but ultimately, he doesn’t see the point in repeating the same lines many other political comedians have built their careers on. Camp would rather talk about what the Bill Mahers of the world conveniently leave out of their jokes. The “Redacted Tonight” host wants to focus on the people he calls “the titans of dickery,” in other words, the CEOs, politicians and others who hold disproportionate amounts of wealth and power in American society. Listen to the rest of the bonus conversation between Camp and Scheer as they tackle questions about inequality and effective activism, as well as the 2020 general election, in the media player above. You can also read the transcript of this episode below the credits. 

Credits: 

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Introduction:

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

RS: OK. Hi, this is Robert Scheer with the third edition of my Scheer Intelligence issue with Lee Camp, author of Bullet Points and Punch Lines, billed as The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy–put the emphasis on tragic “tragicomedy,” and I think they’ve got an accurate point to promote this book. And let me just say, in the first two parts we explored a lot of stuff: the financial crisis, drone warfare, I’m not going to go through the whole list. If you haven’t heard parts one and two, go check it out. 

But now we’re going to cut to the chase, where I expose Lee Camp as a secret commie agent, and the justification for a new cold war with Russia–that didn’t work out so well, maybe China; whoever, we got to find someone. And let me introduce old George Orwell, because 1984–these two great books, I bring them up all the time in the show, I bring it up in my classes. And one is, of course, Brave New World–1931, I think I got the date right. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley. And it’s really about soma, the drug, and amusing us to death, and a sexual buffet plate for the world, and distraction and manipulation–the soft sell, which after the Golden Age and the great crash, early 1930s, seemed to make sense. 

And then after the war, in our experience with overtly evil totalitarian governments, you had Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949. And the specter was really of what we are flirting with now throughout the world: the surveillance state, this thing that keeps us in check by knowing everything about us. That’s the title of my last book about the surveillance state, They Know Everything About You. I got to get a plug in every once in a while. And the use of surveillance technology and everything else to manipulate and control populations and their elections and everything else. And 1984 is, of course, based on the need for an enemy, because it’s in the name of stopping an enemy that you invoke all of these intrusions into individual freedom. And we’ve seen that with the Patriot Act, we’ve seen that with the surveillance state, and we see it throughout the world. 

And one of the–in this very depressing world of the pandemic, we actually have an enemy, as described by Donald Trump as “the invisible enemy,” sometimes the Chinese enemy, the virus–the virus is now conflated with China. And I don’t think Donald Trump is quite clear whether the new enemy–we need an enemy, or you can’t justify big military budgets and coercion and win elections on the basis of fear, which is what both parties are about. You have to have an enemy. 

And today, in this last segment of this edition of Scheer Intelligence with Lee Camp, I want to talk about the creation and uses of an enemy. And Lee Camp got into the crossfire here because he dares to do a show for RT, Russia Today. As does Chris Hedges, probably–won’t say “probably,” the journalist I most admire operating now, at least in the United States. I can’t speak for every journalist in the world. But red-baiting has become the norm. And we had, of course, the explanation for Hillary’s defeat, not the tone-deafness of the Democrats or their corruption with Wall Street. So they defeated the progressive populist, Bernie Sanders, last time and this time. And they left the right-wing populist, with a neofascist rhetoric of immigrant-baiting and everything else, Donald Trump, in a position to destroy–well, a lot of American politics. 

So you had–you never got a choice between progressive populism and right-wing populism. You had the same old, same old of the Democratic Party moving closer to Wall Street than it ever was, with Hillary Clinton and her speeches to Wall Street, and their funding and cozy relationship, and denigrating of Bernie Sanders, finally, as a democratic socialist–which, by the way, defines most of Western Europe and most advanced societies in the world, and even could accurately define a lot of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt was about. Nonetheless, red-baiting came in even for Bernie Sanders. 

But the most vicious thing of all is to blame the problems of Democratic Party defeat on the Russians–the Russians. Now, everybody forgets that the Russians are no longer run by Communists. Actually, Vladimir Putin defeats the Communists in every election, and was hand-picked, really, by the U.S. to be the replacement for Yeltsin. That’s pretty well documented. He was a reformer, he embraced the Russian Orthodox Church, and he’s a Russian nationalist. But nonetheless, Russiagate became the big standard. And people like yourself and Hedges, who dared to go outside that box, were ridiculed. And in one of your chapters–maybe you could find it, although I seem to know your book as well as you–let me get this, if I can–

LC: Which one, the New York Times?

RS: Well, when you say you really don’t know how you got into this, you don’t know anything about Russia, you know America. It’s a paragraph that I thought was quite compelling. But I’m blowing it. Why don’t you just tell us about the Mueller Report, red-baiting, Russiagate–

LC: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I, as with all of us that do a show for RT America–where I’ve been, you know, trashed as whatever, a Russian or a useful idiot or whatever, even before the Mueller Report. But you know, this tactic, as you well know, Bob, is very old. It’s gone on for decades. I mean, Martin Luther King was called a Communist sympathizer. This is not a new tactic, and it’s just continuing the Cold War. And despite the fact that I am an American living in America, working in America, writing about American news, none of that seems to matter. You know, the fact that I grew up in Washington, D.C. and, you know, lived in New York City for 12 years and now I’m back in D.C. to do this TV show–people still want to act like you’re somehow Russian. 

And yet I’ve been very clear that, like, I write my own show, unlike most comedians on television doing news; they write some of their stuff, but they don’t write all their stuff. I write all of my material, I research all of my material. I have never been censored at RT America. I’ve never been told what to say, told what not to say. And yet none of that matters, because I am calling out corporate America. I’m calling out Wall Street. I am against war and against the military-industrial complex. And for doing those things I am defined as, you know, some sort of Trotskyite with a large furry hat on that has a hammer and sickle. 

And that’s what the New York Times tried to do to me. I included my response to their propaganda in the book, actually. And NPR as well; Weekend Edition with Scott Simon did a similar attack piece where they, you know, take things out of context and just include ad hominem attacks. And it really is disgusting. But it goes to show that our media has been captured by the corporate state, and therefore anyone who’s outside of what’s acceptable, outside of the Overton window that’s on your mainstream media, you are the enemy. You are the enemy as much as someone from a foreign country is. And we’ve seen that with the other hosts at RT America. Chris Hedges, who basically was, you know, left the New York Times after calling out the Iraq War as completely illegitimate, and for doing that he couldn’t–he could no longer fit at the New York Times. Jesse Ventura had a large deal with MSNBC to basically be the face of their network before the Iraq War, and when they found out he was against the Iraq War, they basically said to him, how much do we have to pay you just to get out of your contract? They paid him, you know, upwards of $10 million or something just to go away, just to not be on their airwaves. 

Because MSNBC–along with the others, of course; Fox News, et cetera–are pro-war at the end of the day. They don’t want an anti-war voice on their network. Phil Donahue, we know, was forced out; Ed Schultz was forced out for supporting Bernie Sanders. It’s just, you can just keep going down the list. Melissa Harris-Perry, after she was forced out from MSNBC, did an interview on Democracy Now! saying she was censored all the time. She couldn’t even cover Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show because the outfits were Black Panther-inspired, and that was too edgy for MSNBC. So, just massive censorship at these other networks. And instead, apparently I’m the one who’s, you know, considered censored or told what to say, which is completely false. 

And I think in terms of Russiagate, they needed this cold war. They needed, the Democratic establishment needed to give some reason, false or otherwise, that they lost to one of the most horrific candidates this country’s seen. And they chose the Russians as the reason. You’ll recall that for one week after Hillary Clinton lost, they did not pick the Russians as the reason she lost. They said the FBI, Comey, had made her lose. But they realized very quickly that going against the, you know, the deep state, FBI, CIA as their bad guy, as their enemy, as their foil, was not a good plan for the Democratic establishment. So a week later, they changed and said, never mind, Comey is a national hero, and in fact it was the Russians that did it. 

And you know, many great journalists–Max Blumenthal, Aaron Maté, Ben Norton, were calling out–Chris Hedges, of course–were calling out how flimsy and empty the Mueller Report was going to be, I mean the investigation was going to be. They were indicting Russian clickbait farmers that had done nothing. And ultimately, we saw that we were proven completely right, that the Mueller Report could not prove any collusion between Trump and Russia. And that, in fact, although it just happened a couple of weeks ago–I mean basically, they used coronavirus for cover–a few weeks ago, Mueller and the current Justice Department dropped the indictments against that clickbait farm, because they couldn’t actually prove that it was government-run by Putin. So it’s just all fallen apart, horrifically.

RS: Well, yeah, but of course there’s–the idea that there should be logic, you know, or fact to a smear campaign is asking too much. But it’s very interesting. I just want to make a general comment about the compromises one makes in journalism. You know, I worked for a long time at the Los Angeles Times, one way or another, for 29 years. And back in 1931, my mother–and undocumented, I might add, because she got arrested in labor union strikes and so forth; I was worried about the INS, the Immigration [and Naturalization] Service. But my mother picketed–she came out to L.A., way before I was born, and was picketing the L.A. Times because they were so historically anti-union. They busted unions, they call the cops to beat people over the head. They were a reactionary paper; they gave us, ah, Richard Nixon–you can go down the list. 

Nonetheless, when I was offered a job there, I said how much freedom do I have? They said, you have a lot. And I had a great run for 29 years, until the Chicago Tribune bought it. But I never said I had to defend the whole capitalist institution of the Times Mirror Corporation, which owned radio stations, television, and so forth. And on occasion, very rare, on occasion when I was asked to go on–I did Good Morning America for two years at ABC–I never doubted that I was not in sync with the ownership. And [MSNBC], after all, was owned by a big sponsor of the banking meltdown, GE, which had GE Capital, a big defense contractor, then owned by a bigger company actually fighting against net neutrality. 

There are all these contradictions. I wrote for Playboy for many years, I interviewed Jimmy Carter for Playboy. I had a lot of contradictions with Playboy; a lot of their objectification and sexism offend me. But I always thought as a journalist, it’s like putting a poster up in the subway. You know, you’re trying to reach people, and somebody lets you put your poster up there, you put it up, you know.

LC: Right.

RS: And I’ve given interviews for Voice of America. And a good friend of mine, Geoff Cowan, was head of Voice of America, and his father had been one of the first heads. I never put him down for working for Voice of America, because he tried to make it as good as he could. And so, obviously, the contradictions in journalism, whether you’re in a capitalist, social democratic, or any other society, you’re going to try to get your word out there. 

The hypocrisy here is that these people have stoked a new cold war against reds that are not reds. Not that the old Cold War was justified. But the fact of the matter is, they are stoking a cold war against cartel capitalists, people who want to be just like us, and they forget, they deny history. And so the idea–and now they’re doing it with China. And Trump, boy, Trump sees that as a great opening. You know, you blasted me for being pro-Putin–oh, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to make a new war with China. We might even have a real standoff with China before the next election. That will be his card. Because you need, as Orwell pointed out, an enemy–to cover your own duplicity, your own corruption. 

And so Trump is beating very hard on the China card. And the Democrats are not challenging him on it–they’re endorsing it. They’re saying he didn’t beat hard enough, OK. And you have this–talk about fake science, trying to blame this whole epidemic on Chinese communism, because you can’t compete with Chinese communism turned capitalist. That’s really where we are. It is a Lenny Bruce moment, since you evoked him at the beginning of this debate. And what it involves is understanding the depth of the deception, the chicanery, of the American elite of both parties. They are totally cynical, totally corrupt, and totally indifferent to the needs of ordinary Americans.

LC: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I don’t think they can even relate to the average day-to-day of an American. I don’t even–I was thinking with Donald Trump, and with many of them, I don’t even know when they would see or talk to an average American. Because Donald Trump, he may do his campaign rallies, but he doesn’t actually go and speak to someone, you know, substantially. So, it–he has no idea how–he hasn’t lived like an average human being, ever. So he has no idea what an average life is. The one time I saw him actually interacting with average human beings was in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, where he went down there for a press opportunity and threw toilet paper, paper towels out to people. These are people who’ve had their lives destroyed by a hurricane, and he’s throwing rolls of paper towels. You know, they’re screaming, oh, my baby’s up in a tree–and he’s throwing them paper towels. They say my–we don’t have electricity, and my grandmother needs dialysis–here’s some paper towels! It’s just, again, it’s farce.

RS: Well, take it a step further, though. How do you feel about electoral politics, our current choices? You know, once again, we’re going to be terrorized by the notion that if we don’t rally around whoever the Democrats come up–and, you know, I’m not talking about voting for the lesser evil if you’re in a state where it matters, and so forth and so on. They’re going to say, if you’re not enthusiastically for the Democratic candidate–and willing, by the way, to give them a blank check. You know, not write–not be a journalist. That, to my mind, is the main pressure–or even not be a comedian. To put it in–I think you’re both a journalist and, you know, a comedian in the best sense. But what they’re really going to pressure someone like you to do is do it one-sided. Do, basically, what Bill Maher is doing. You know, yeah, occasionally show your independence, but in the main–in the main, anything that you can do to weaken Trump, that’s your obligation. Anything you do to strengthen Biden–unless that changes between the time we record this and the time it’s played. I don’t know, he seems to have a good Teflon shield. We’ll see. I mean, they gave Clinton a pass on his personal misbehavior. We’ll see what happens here. 

But nonetheless, the real issue will be, does one stop being a writer, a comedian, a thinker, an independent person, and speak truth to power of both parties? Or does one become a hack? And if I look at–a lot of publications out there, they have gone down the road of being hacks. They were going to sing the song for the people on the Democratic side who can come up with big money and make you solvent and so forth. And they’re going to just take all of their venom and hostility and visit it upon Donald Trump. And to my mind, that does not serve truth, justice, or anything else. 

And I just want to ask you a personal question. It must get rough going before an audience that wants to hear just a Trump-bashing. I know, I have this every morning at breakfast with my own family. They don’t want to hear me play devil’s advocate, not for a second. You know, not for a second. I’ve gone through almost four years now where–now, my students, they welcome it. You know, because they say, well, you know, my uncle makes that argument. I’ve heard that before. I’ve heard that, let’s examine it. But in the main, people don’t want to examine anything. You know, so take it. What do you make of–

LC: Yeah, no, that is true that so many people–I mean, we’ve been told our whole lives that you have these two teams, the good and the bad, and you’ve got to pick which one you believe is the good and which one’s the bad, and it all comes down to these two teams. When in fact, you know, what I spend a lot of my show Redacted Tonight talking about, and what I cover in the book, is that these are two corporate parties that agree on 80 to 90% of the structural issues–probably more like 90%–of the structural issues of this country. They largely agree on Wall Street. They largely agree on allowing the environmental destruction that is now, you know, destroying our world. And even if the Democrats may, you know, pay lip service here and there to caring about climate change, or caring about the environment, if they aren’t going to do anything about it, it doesn’t actually mean anything, what they’re saying. So, you know, Obama has said some nice things about the environment here and there. He also bragged in various speeches about laying more oil pipeline than any president ever had–enough pipeline to go around the Earth three times. 

So the idea that this is somehow night and day is a false dichotomy. And to me, that is the most important thing. On top of that I feel like, although I will insult Trump here and there for being a buffoon and being a narcissistic, you know, megalomaniacal man-child, I don’t feel that that needs–that I need to really hit away at that all the time. Because I feel like most people get that. I mean, yes, there’s a certain percentage of Trump America that adore him. I don’t think they’re watching my show. I don’t know them. And so I don’t feel that people need to be told what a moron Donald Trump is. I do feel that even the people that watch my show, even the people–even my family, even the people I talk to as friends–they do need to hear about how corporations, corporate America, has taken over, has captured our political systems. That has not sunken in in the way that “Oh, Trump’s a dummy” has sunk in. So I feel like, when I feel like there’s something everyone knows–like I spend more time, probably, tearing apart something CNN or MSNBC has said, than I spend tearing apart something Fox News has said. Simply because to me, everyone knows Fox News is a false reality. Like, most people that I come in contact with get it, that it’s complete crap, you know. So to me it’s like yelling “Nuh-uh, you’re wrong” at a two-year-old. You know that you don’t need to spend that much time lecturing other people about how the two-year-old is an idiot. So to me, that’s–criticizing Fox News, criticizing Donald Trump–to me, it’s kind of a given. 

I feel what needs to be really, you know, analyzed and discussed and really dissected is this corporate capture of the system as a whole. Is this corporate capture of our criminal justice system as well. They own the courts. That’s how, if somebody were to pee in your backyard and take a picture in your backyard, they could be arrested. In some states it’s a sex crime. And yet our corporations can piss in our water supply all day every day and never get arrested for it. If they’re, quote unquote, “caught,” they might pay a fine, but they’re not going to be put in jail for it. They’re not–they view it as the price of doing business, to piss in our water supply. So they’ve captured our criminal justice system, they’ve captured our regulators, and they’ve captured our media. And to me, that’s the story, writ large. That’s the story.

RS: So let’s end on an optimistic note [Laughter] after that. And I don’t mean to make light of the tragedy that we’re going through right now, this pandemic. And you know, for those who blame it all on Trump, it’s like blaming it all on the Chinese, or blaming it all on the Icelanders or something; it really misses the point of human vulnerability. And I would point out, I just read in the New York Times this morning, or it was a couple of days ago, that the mayor and governor of New York were very slow to react–

LC: Yep. De Blasio, yeah. 

RS: Well, and Cuomo. No hero of the moment, but they were way behind California. And you know, the same period of “we have great hospitals and we’ll deal with it,” and so forth. And as a thinker, as somebody who has to reach audiences–which after all, you have to really get up there on a stage and amuse people as well as, hopefully, educate and entertain and everything at the same time–I would like to examine this moment. We have about six, seven minutes left. Because we’re going through an experience that we didn’t expect to ever have. It brings together a lot of issues: how do we protect Mother Earth, how do we avoid unnecessary violence, how do we avoid jingoism and blaming the other, how do we conserve our resources, how do we take care of the least among us. We know that poorer people and people of color are hurting a lot more in our country and internationally. 

And yet there’s an invitation here for a radical re-examination of who we are and what we are. And the analogy I use–and then you take it as far as you want–I use the cruise ship. And on a cruise ship you could have the fanciest suite, you could have the whole floor of the 13 floors, and the fact is, once you’re out to sea, you’re as vulnerable as some third galley cook who might have picked something up in the slum he left before he got on the ship, and it won’t protect you in the fanciest suite. And that is the lesson of this pandemic, that we are all on the same cruise ship, whether we’re working as a galley slave or we’re in the most privileged position. 

And that–right now, it seems to me if we’re having a debate in the Democratic primary or in the presidential election, and somebody attacks Bernie Sanders, if he were still around, for Medicare for All, it would seem ludicrous. It would seem everybody in America, even Donald Trump, has accepted–yes, we want to test everybody. Free of charge, if they don’t have the money. Yes, we want to take care of their illness, free of charge if they don’t have the money. And you know, no prepay or anything. And it seems to me for the first time, certainly in my lifetime, which is much longer than yours, our common vulnerability, our common–I know this is getting awful serious and sentimental, and we can sing Kumbaya. But there’s a harsh reality to this that even, dare I say it, my Libertarian friends would have to recognize. We can’t be indifferent to that homeless person, to anyone else. Because the virus–the virus is not indifferent.

LC: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a great point. And I think that this pandemic has shown so many things about our society that were, you know, they were sitting there underneath the whole time. It’s kind of like sewage running underneath the city; we can act like it’s not there, but when it floods the city, all of a sudden you notice all of our shit that was flowing underneath us. And that’s, I think, what this has exposed, a lot of those issues. Inequality is one of them. Another one is for-profit health care. The fact that so many people are afraid to even go to the hospital–I mean, these numbers of dying from coronavirus are not even counting many people that are dying at home, because they get sick and they’re afraid to go to the hospital, because they understand the costs that are involved. They’re afraid they’re going to go deeply into debt because they went to a hospital. And so people die at home, and they’re not tested after they die. So therefore these numbers of dead are not even calculating the actual cost. 

And you know, the for-profit health care goes even deeper. Cuomo was talking about how they couldn’t get testing in, enough tests in New York. And he said, well, the problem is that about 30 companies make these tests. And there are certain tests, and you have to have the same company’s tests, machine, reagents, and swabs, or else the system doesn’t work. So if something’s donated or given to them, like a certain number of tests, if they don’t have the machines that go with that corporate entity’s tests, it doesn’t work. And the reason that is like that, the reason these corporations do that, is because they don’t want you to be able to use someone else’s test with their machine. It’s a profit-based system. They want to make sure you have to buy their test, their machine, their reagents, their swabs. And so this has created massive problems because of profit–because the profit motive is ahead of health. 

And another seriously important issue this has revealed is–what is an essential worker? All of a sudden, we’re told that essential workers are the ones that must show up–and who are they? Oh, they’re the cashiers. They’re the people stocking the shelves. They’re the truck drivers, they’re the janitors, they’re the garbage men. Those are the essential workers in our society getting paid almost nothing. It is not the boardrooms, it is not the corporate CEOs; they are non-essential. If they don’t show up for a week, nothing will change. If your garbage man doesn’t show up for a week, or if the stock boy doesn’t show up for a week, all of a sudden people notice instantly, within a day, that the system is breaking apart. These plant workers at these, you know, meat plants are supposedly being, you know, commanded by Donald Trump to go back to work. But through all this, we’re realizing that that’s who essential workers are, and those essential workers are standing up together. Right now you’re seeing strikes around the country, you’re seeing a new form of solidarity between workers. And to me that is another positive that is coming out of this incredibly dark time, is that workers are realizing their worth. And if that happens, the, you know, corporate overlords–as I like to call them, the titans of dickery–they get afraid, they get upset, and they get worried. And so worker solidarity and worker strength is hopefully something that comes out of this dark time.

RS: OK, so this is going to be the last riff of this three-part series. I really thank you for doing this. But now I want the performer [Laughter] and I want to relate it to your book. I’ll remind people again, the book is called Bullet Points and Punch Lines: The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy. I want you–a guy who shows up in your book more than probably anyone else is Jeff Bezos. And this will be a test now for you of the spontaneity of your routine, of your comedy. Because Jeff Bezos is a really fascinating figure. Despite criticisms of him, he’s kind of a hero. There are people who own Amazon stock that say, wow, this is wonderful. He has gotten super wealthy; you know, sort of a caricature of moneybags, of capitalism. He is the main beneficiary of this tragedy, Amazon. Yes, and he’s hiring people and so forth. But actually, Amazon stock has gone up dramatically, because it’s basically the only game in town. And you know, so we forget all the bookstores that went out of business, we forget everything. And really, Amazon–which also develops the cloud for the intelligence community, is competing with Microsoft to do that. Amazon, you know, web services is doing very well; It’s actually a major, the major profit center, and so forth. So why don’t you–somebody from the audience, me–what are we to make of Jeff Bezos?

LC: [Laughs] Well, some people may call him a hero. I call him America’s best sociopath. Because I think in order to do what he’s done, you kind of have to be a sociopath. To get to the top of an industry, and then purchase and destroy any competitors. I mean, Amazon has bought out many competitors–I think Diapers.com was one of the big ones–and then they basically let them die on the vine. So they take out anyone who might offer another choice. And that both means that they can dominate the market, it means they can set prices; it really does kind of force people to use them, making them even bigger. And so their goal is not to have a lovely, functioning society; their goal is, at Amazon, is to own as much as possible and destroy anything that could even slightly push them out of business. If–you know, they’ve pushed most bookstores out of business, but if a small bookstore were a threat to them, they would buy it and destroy it. The problem is, you know, most indie stores are so small that they aren’t really worried about it, so they’re not bothering with it. 

Bezos has shown again and again that he does not care for his workers. He doesn’t care about their health and safety. I mean, in the middle of this virus, again, the essential workers were the ones who had to go in to Whole Foods [or], you know, into the warehouse, and often didn’t have the best protective gear. And they’re told, “You must be at work or you will be fired.” Meanwhile the managers, apparently, at many of these places, were told, “Don’t come in because we don’t want you to get sick.” So the managers, their safety is OK, but the actual lower-level workers, who cares if they get sick and die? I mean, at Amazon factories in the past, you’ve had people collapse in the warehouses and die from being told to run at such a pace. I mean, they wear diapers and don’t go to the bathroom because they’re afraid they’ll be fired if they slow down as they run around these warehouses. 

Bezos’s brilliant idea, the thing that made him as big as he is, was realizing that a company like Amazon can’t make the trucks drive faster on the highway, because of speed limits. So where’s he going to become the fastest deliverer of products? Well, it’s by forcing human beings to go faster. It’s by forcing human beings to work until the breaking point. And so that was his genius revelation. That’s what made him the richest man in the world now. And his wealth could feed–the UN estimates you could feed the entire world, end poverty in the world, for $30 billion a year. He could end poverty worldwide for multiple years, and still have so many billions left over, he couldn’t ever spend it all. But he would never do that, because he’s a sociopath, and that’s how he got where he is.

RS: So, that’s a judgment [Laughs] —

LC: [Laughs] Yeah, slightly.

RS: But one at least has to concede that in this time of crisis, Amazon has proven effective. I don’t want to get into a whole big debate about it, but I’m not going to be a hypocrite here. I get Amazon deliveries, and at least they do show up. And so at least he could make the claim that during this time, it was a safety gap. What bothers me even more–so the question then becomes, take it away from Bezos–nonetheless, that should be regulated. You have a monopoly. Even Adam Smith–not even, particularly Adam Smith–didn’t want anybody to control the invisible hand of the market. 

So to take it away from Bezos and put it back–and let me end with an examination of the lesser evil. Because I doubt if there are very many people listening to this who need to be told how dangerous the second term of Donald Trump would be. But let’s talk about the lesser evil, because it’s easy to–I shouldn’t say easy. But you know, we all know that even Lloyd Blankfein, Jeff Bezos, all of them–you know, Jeffrey Immelt, all of them–are basically acting true to form of rapacious monopoly capitalists. That’s what they’re doing, that’s in their blood, and that’s what got them to where they are. The saving grace of our system is supposed to be public control, public restraint, regulation, OK. And where I seem to find my biggest argument is they–and this is a good point on which to end, and there’s no easy answer. But the conventional, realistic, liberal argument is, “Our side is the lesser evil because we will get into fewer wars, we will restrain voracious capitalism, we will care about minorities, we will care about equality,” and so forth. 

And I think sometimes that’s a very seductive argument. It’s what we always go along with. But if we look back on, let’s say, the post-Cold War period, that really doesn’t track. It was Richard Nixon, for instance, who effectively started the end of the Cold War–as criminal as his behavior was in Vietnam. Who actually had the nerve to negotiate with China, which you know, Donald Trump negotiated with North Korea and so forth. He hasn’t actually gotten us into a real war yet, big war. It is the Democrats who get a pass from the public about their treatment of working people and minorities, when in fact under Barack Obama there was more pain for working people after the housing meltdown and the failure to keep them in their homes and help them. And that Donald Trump actually, in terms of higher income, unemployment payment of $600 and so forth, you can give the Democrats credit. But it’s confusing, because Donald Trump is actually being critically examined by the very media that would give a Democrat a blank check, certainly during times of stress. Is there not something worrisome about the ease with which we accept the lesser-evil rationalization for going along with what is still evil?

LC: Yeah, I absolutely think so. And I think the way they’ve criticized Trump is very–and the media that you mentioned is very telling. They criticize him harshly for not being belligerent enough. You know, some of the greatest criticism was when he wanted to create peace with North Korea, or when he wanted to have diplomacy with Russia. And then when they praise him–which is rare, but when they praise him, it’s often been due to some horrible bombing campaign or something. It’s been, you know, when he bombed Syria; it’s been other times where he’s, you know, turned against North Korea or turned against various places around the world. That’s when they celebrate him, is you know–when he started bombing Syria, you have MSNBC anchors like Brian Williams saying, you know, this is the day he became presidential, this is–this is wonderful to see. It truly is amazing to see how our media will cover him. 

And I think you’re absolutely right, people shouldn’t fall for the lesser of two evils. I mean, that has gotten us to the point where we are now seeing our environment collapse around us. We’ve lost 50% of all wildlife over the past 40 years. The UN, or the OPCC, is saying that we have 10 years until the point of no return. So–meaning our extinction will be guaranteed. So how long can you keep voting for the lesser of two evils, basically to take us off a cliff in 10 years? It’s, to me it’s, you know, madness. And I’m not saying that in the presidential election that can be solved. You know, we’ve seen this thing rigged against Bernie Sanders in a variety of ways, and there’s not going to be an option, likely, on the presidential ballot–at least not, you know, easily, readily available–that allows for something other than those two choices. 

But I think people need to realize that the greatest change will probably come outside of the presidential race. It’ll be people standing up in their communities and creating change that way, rather than just voting. Voting should be something we all do. I think we should–you should do it, you should vote in such numbers that you’re able to swamp what’s stolen. I recently covered on Redacted Tonight that Greg Palast has revealed that 18 million Americans have been purged over the past few years by the Republicans. So you have to vote in such numbers that you can beat what’s stolen in that way, as well. 

However, voting in these, you know, federal elections is–it creates very little change, if you look at the numbers. And so I think you should do it, but I think it should not be the extent of our activism in the community. If we really want change, it has to come from the ground up, rather than just trying to get another corporate candidate in the White House.

RS: Well, that’s quite a charge for people to do, because they’re going to be panicked, in an election–that’s what elections sort of specialize in.

LC: Yeah.

RS: And I want to end this by just quoting somebody who was around when Lenny Bruce was performing, the great Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It’s kind of my slogan: “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”

LC: [Laughs]

RS: And I want to thank Lee Camp, the author of a new book, Bullet Points and Punch Lines, for giving us a lot of his time here for a three-part segment. And his book is subtitled, The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy. It is just out. And true confession, I ordered it from Amazon, which we have criticized–

LC: Ha! Well, I will tell you that if people want to not get it at Amazon, they can go to LeeCampBook.com. That’ll take them straight to the indie publisher, PM Press. So LeeCampBook.com.

RS: And I want to say I tried that, but because I was in urgent need of it, I’m not going to deny that I ordered it. And you know, so that’s the contradiction. As Leonard Cohen said, there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets through. And so however you get the book, it’s worth reading. It has light. And I want to thank Christopher Ho at KCRW, the engineer who will post this, and thank KCRW for carrying these podcasts. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who edits them and writes the great introductions. And of course Joshua Scheer, who runs Scheer Intelligence, is our producer and CEO and overall in charge. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

One comment

  1. Great interview, thanks!

    “And what it involves is understanding the depth of the deception, the chicanery, of the American elite of both parties. They are totally cynical, totally corrupt, and totally indifferent to the needs of ordinary Americans.”

    Speaking of “they”, I don’t want to get anybody assassinated here, but I thought the most courageous article and title published at Truthdig was Chris Hedges’ “Israel’s Stranglehold on American Politics”
    https://www.truthdig.com/articles/israels-stranglehold-on-american-politics/

    And speaking of Amazon, here’s a little tip to avoid Amazon in on-line shopping. After entering your search keywords, add “-amazon”.
    e.g. keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 -amazon

    This subtracts all results containing the word “amazon”. I found a little stereo cable that cost $11 from Amazon cost $3 from a cable supplier. So now I never use Amazon.

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