Harnessing Humor to Unveil America’s Ugliest Truths

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Comedian, 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 million 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. 

Credits

Host:
Robert Scheer

Producer:
Joshua Scheer

Introduction: Natasha Hakimi Zapata