Jon Stewart Does It Again

There is a reason that The Daily Show is the most watched news program for 18-35 year olds (as well as those of us a tad beyond that demographic!), and it was on full display again Thursday night, as Jon Stewart conducted a scathing, almost full-show length interview with CNBC’s premiere financial analyst, Jim Cramer.

Expressing the outrage and insight that is rarely if ever seen among the “serious” broadcast journalists and news anchors (what does it tell you that a guy running a comedy show is the most trusted newsman in America?), Stewart methodically and emphatically took apart his guest, CNBC, and the whole array of financial analysts who so completely missed the current meltdown – in large part because they were helping to create it by encouraging everyone to buy buy buy!

It was an extreme pleasure to watch, and if you haven’t already you definitely should – just click here. (The interview is in three parts in the center column, or you can watch the entire episode – which is, again, mostly the Cramer interview – with the “Full Episode” button in the right column.)

At the risk of angering the comedy gods, I want to suggest that there were two important elements largely missing from Stewart’s otherwise beautiful tirade.

One, which he did at least mention, is the American populace’s willingness to go along with the whole charade. At the end of his wonderful book about the world of rare wine forgeries, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, author Benjamin Wallace points out that, in all successful cons, the marks and the grifter are essentially collaborators. One sells the illusion that others are desperate to buy.  And so desperate are most Americans to get rich, apparently, that many of us will simply look the other way when reaping outrageously, completely unrealistically high earnings in the stock market or other investments. As Stewart noted, we seem to have forgotten that value comes from actual work, not simply trading money  (or other forms of paper) back and forth.

The second is the role of our government.  And it’s hard not to conclude that our political leaders are, like the supposedly objective financial analysts, actually co-conspirators in the massive financial fraud that has been perpetrated against us.

I’m not just talking about the corporation-loving Republicans, either.  The long road of financial deregulation that has led us to our current crisis arguably started under a Democratic Congress in the 1980’s. Some of the most serious deregulation, such as the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, happened under President Clinton’s watch, and with his approval. (For more than 60 years the Glass-Steagall act had maintained a firewall between commercial banks, where your money resides, and Wall St. investment firms.)  Interestingly enough, neither President Obama nor the Democratic Congress have talked yet about reinstating it, even as they continue to dump billions of dollars into failing banks.

Does anyone remember Enron?  If you watch the film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (and I strongly recommend it), you will find out that some of the very same financial institutions involved in the current shenanigans (Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch) knowingly aided and assisted in Enron’s fraud.  And do you know what the SEC regulators did about it? Gave them a financial slap on the wrist.  And forced the banks to promise  – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this one – that they would reform their behavior so it wouldn’t happen again. Encroyable.

The reason for the light to non-existent punishment?  The government regulators were concerned the banks were “too big,” and that significant punishment might cause unpleasant repercussions in the financial world.  Sound familiar?

For any order to be returned to the financial world – and to prevent this all from happening again a few more years down the road – the regulations need to be reinstated.  And criminal CEOs need to be prosecuted and jailed. But it is hard to imagine this happening in any serious way while members of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, continue to take millions of dollars in contributions from the financial industry. (As did the Obama campaign.) And that – the idea that our representatives in government can safeguard our interests while simultaneously taking money hand over fist from the very folks they are supposed to be watching – may be the greatest self-delusion of all.

Until Jon Stewart gets to that one, though, watch and enjoy as he takes down the world of financial analysts. Click here to watch.

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3 Responses to “Jon Stewart Does It Again”

  1. CJ Says:

    Let’s not forget the SEC didn’t have much they could do since George W. Bush made sure to underfund them and tried to strangle them to death.

  2. satjiwan Says:

    what i find interesting in all this bailout talk and reference to the great depression and the new deal saving us, is the current stimulus packages (and recent past rebates/checks to consumers programs) won’t work well. in the past (great depression era ) putting funds in the hands of the people meant they would spend it on food, housing, clothes (necessities) since they were currently living without them. in the current economy, where basic needs are met for most and the measure of the economy is heavily based on “consumer discretionary spending” and “consumer confidence”, a new chunk of cash in their pockets often goes to debt and savings… since they are worried about their job prospects and think, correctly, that they don’t “NEED” nearly as many of the things they’ve been accustomed to buying. Dave Korten refers to “false wealth” in the financial services and investment industry, creating value out of speculation and paper, not production or actual value added. in the individual realm, i think of it as “false economy” based on purchases of so many things that are unnecessary and easily removed from people’s budgets when financial crunch hits, further stressing an economy based on lots of needless spending.

    Maybe this solution can help: a national shift to a four day work week can be a solution to unemployment. (kind of like many companies, unions, forfeiting bonuses or pay increases or non-profits taking pay cuts as a way to prevent layoffs or furloughs, and the white house senior staff getting pay adjustments.) The economics are not as clear cut as “for every four people working four days per week, you create another job”, but IF there was national healthcare, and a good way to figure out how to share office capacity (i.e. share desks instead of everyone having their own…) and use flexible scheduling/job sharing so overlap would be accommodated, you could make the 4 day week a bit more palatable from an economic standpoint.

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