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Johnsplaining
April 22, 2019

John Oliver's main story on Sunday's Last Week Tonight focused on — what else? — Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which he framed as the latest and maybe last chapter of his "Stupid Watergate" series — "basically Watergate, but if Nixon had been kicked in the head by a billy goat, and also if that billy goat had been the White House chief of staff."

Once people actually read the 448-page redacted report released Thursday, "it became clear that there was a lot in it," Oliver said. "And some of the details in this report were incredible." The one he lingered on, with artistic license, was Trump reportedly saying Mueller's appointment marked "the end of my presidency, I'm f---ed" — except Oliver, of course, did not censor the F-word. Since "we clearly can't cover everything in the report tonight," he said, "I'd like to concentrate on two key factors that may have saved the president here": Incompetence and disobedience.

"When it comes to conspiracy, Trump's saving grace may have been that despite Russians wanting to help," his campaign and family displayed "often cartoonish levels of disorganization and incompetence," plus "ignorance of basic legal concepts," Oliver said. He said the report's findings that so many of the people in Trump's orbit just ignored his orders to potentially obstruct justice is "both reassuring and also terrifying," though worryingly, "lots of those people are gone now, and the newer figures seem very much on the same page as the president," notably Attorney General William Barr.

Barr's preemptive spin now "seems laughably and willfully misleading," Oliver said. "It's like Barr summarized the Twilight novels as: 'A girl in Florida goes to third base with a wookie.'" The parts of Mueller's report we can read may feel like a letdown, he said, but its imparted knowledge "can inform Congress going forward and, crucially, voters a year and a half from now." The clip is full of NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber

April 15, 2019

The opioid epidemic "is very much ongoing" but "we've learned a lot more about many of the companies involved" since Last Week Tonight last covered the issue in October 2016, John Oliver said Sunday night. The first chapter of the opioid crisis turns out to be "a story of how major companies acted wildly irresponsibly, skirted any meaningful consequences, and for the most part, avoided public scrutiny," he said. "For companies involved in the opioid crisis, fines just became the cost of doing business, and throughout this crisis it has been difficult to find any real accountability for the people involved."

Oliver briefly highlighted the drug distributors, but his main example of lack of accountability was "Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer behind OxyContin," he said. Purdue is owned by members of the Sackler family, collectively worth about $13 billion.

Oliver focused on Richard Sackler, the near-invisible heir who was company president when OxyContin went viral. "This invisibility feels deliberate, and whether it is or not, it has definitely been convenient for Richard Sackler, because it's honestly hard to tell the story of his time at Purdue without any video," Oliver said. "To help you get the emotional impact of Richard Sackler's actual words, we got an actor to play him."

Four actors, it turned out, starting with Michael Keaton (because "when you're casting for a shadowy heir to a vast fortune who doesn't like to be in the limelight, you go Batman") plus including Bryan Cranston, Richard Kind, and Michael K. Williams. The Sacklers and Purdue deny causing the opioid crisis and say Sackler's comments were taken out of context, Oliver said dutifully. To add context, he had the actors read parts of Richard Sackler's emails and a newly leaked deposition, both on the show and at SacklerGallery.com. Oliver pitched it as an incentive for the Sacklers to release video of Richard Sackler. (There is NSFW language throughout the video.) Peter Weber

April 8, 2019

"There are many misconceptions about mobile, or 'manufactured,' homes," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. For example, "it can be genuinely hard to tell the difference between manufactured homes and conventional homes," and about 20 million people in the U.S. live in what has been "one of America's last affordable housing options," kind of.

Recently, private equity firms and other large investors are jumping in, he added. "So the homes of some of the poorest people in America are getting snapped up by some of the richest people in America, and luckily, there have been no problems whatsoever — except I'm obviously kidding, it's going terribly."

"The rise of big-money investors in mobile homes has led to a corresponding spike in rents, fees," and other costs, Oliver said. High-interest financing by leading manufactured-home seller Clayton Homes, controlled by Warren Buffett but advertised by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, is one reason mobile homes are a great investment for big investors, and a lousy one for buyers, Oliver said, but it's not the only reason.

About a third of mobile home dwellers own their house but not the land it sits on, and the large investors snapping up mobile home parks tend to jack up rents or tear down the parks. In fact, 80 percent of mobile homes never move, Oliver said, "and this lack of mobility for tenants is actually part of the attraction for big investors," some of whom are openly "cynical and predatory" about their motives — Oliver singled out one man.

One solution is for residents of mobile home parks to band together and buy their own park, and some nonprofits facilitate this process. But everyone needs to know the potentially "financially catastrophic" risk of buying a mobile home on land you don't own, Oliver said. He helped out by making an ad, starring The Good Place's Janet (D'Arcy Carden) as an unsatisfied customer. There is NSFW language sprinkled throughout. Peter Weber

April 1, 2019

John Oliver didn't have too much to say about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election meddling and possible malfeasance by President Trump's campaign, mostly because almost nobody has seen that report. "We only know what Trump's own attorney general thinks we need to know," he said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, and William Barr is a suspect source. Despite the ostentatious victory lap by Trump's supporters and Fox News friends, however, there's plenty of bad news even in Barr's four-page summary.

Mueller's "report did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump's campaign, which is undeniably good news for the president," Oliver said. But "Trump was not completely exonerated. In fact, the report literally says it 'does not exonerate him.' The only way Mueller could have been clearer on that point is if he put hand-clap emojis between every word." Ordinarily, such news "might prompt headlines like 'President May Have Obstructed Justice,'" he said, but news organizations, like Trump's supporters, took "one piece of good news and rounded it up to two."

"Even if the investigation didn't conclude that Trump conspired with the Russians, that doesn't mean the whole thing was a waste of time," Oliver said. "Just for a moment, try and imagine that it all came out at once, and there was a single headline that said: 'Russia Confirmed to Have Interfered in Election, and President's Campaign Manager, Lawyer, Multiple Advisers Convicted of Crimes, and Trump and His Team Lied About Business With Russia, Contact With Russians, and Trump May Have Committed Campaign Finance Violations to Cover Up Affair With Adult Film Star Shortly After His Wife Gave Birth, and Which He Also Attempted to Continue But Ended Up Sitting Next to the Adult Film Star in a Hotel Room and Watching Shark Week.' Because all of that happened. And we know it one way or another as a result of Mueller's investigation." Watch below. Peter Weber

April 1, 2019

John Oliver dedicated the bulk of Sunday's Last Week Tonight to "professional wrestling, literally the only good excuse to wear a onesie — and that's right, babies, you're not pulling it off." Specifically, Oliver focused on "the undisputed corporate champion of wrestling, the WWE," and its "incredibly powerful" chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, who "eliminated or absorbed" regional wrestling competitors throughout the 1980s and '90s to essentially form a wrestling monopoly.

Look, "I like wrestling," Oliver said. "It's objectively entertaining," and the WWE has "delivered numerous ludicrous and genuinely incredible moments," some of which he played. That's why WWE's WrestleMania is the No. 6 most valuable sports brand, just below the World Cup and four slots above the World Series, he said. But the wrestlers themselves die early at a "shockingly high" rate, and many fans "legitimately hate" McMahon "because while the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he's treated them terribly," and he has "shielded himself from responsibility for his wrestlers' welfare" to a "shocking" degree, mostly by ludicrously labeling them "independent contractors."

"When you take all of this together — with wrestlers working as independent contractors in a monopolized industry largely free form meaningful oversight and able to be fired at any time — you wind up with an environment with huge potential for unsafe conduct," Oliver said. Wrestling fans "really care about these wrestlers," even "long after the WWE has abandoned them," but fans shouldn't have to crowdfund their health care and funeral costs.

"Even the NFL, for all its massive faults, now offers players health reimbursement accounts and have established a legacy fund for older players who may be dealing with health issues," Oliver said. "And when you've lost the moral high ground to the f--king NFL, you are morally subterranean." He offered a plan for how the WWE's influential fans might force a change at next week's live WrestleMania, laid out in a familiar format. (There is NSFW language.) Watch below. Peter Weber

March 18, 2019

"Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to pile on to a public shaming," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "In fact, it's now one of America's favorite pastimes," and "you've probably participated" in this "golden age of internet shaming," he said. "And you may be expecting me to say that all public shaming is bad, but I don't actually think that. When it's well-directed, a lot of good can come out of it."

Oliver held up Fox News host Tucker Carlson as "a good example of an internet pile-on being merited: He's a public figure, he made his comments publicly, they are appalling, and he's standing by them. But clearly it's not always that simple. Because when misdirected, internet pile-ons can completely destroy people's lives," and "often it is not a public figure who's on the receiving end of it."

Oliver and his writers think a lot "about who we make fun of, why we're doing it, and how," he said. For example, it's fine to pile on the parents who allegedly paid serious money to cheat their kids into college, but "it gets more complicated" with their kids. "When millions of people all feel the need to weigh in, and do it potentially for years, the punishment can be vastly disproportionate to the offense," he said. "And perhaps the best example of this is Monica Lewinsky."

To imagine Lewinsky's experience, "think of the dumbest thing you did when you were young — not the dumbest thing you go caught doing," Oliver said. "Now imagine hearing about that every single day for decades on end." Public shaming is complicated, he said, "but Monica Lewinsky might actually be the perfect person to remind all of us what the consequences can be to a misdirected flood of public anger." So he sat down and asked her, and you watch their interview below. (Some of the clip has NSFW language.) Peter Weber

March 11, 2019

"Everybody is annoyed by robocalls — hatred of them might be the only thing that everyone in America agrees on now," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "And if you've been feeling like you've been getting more of them recently, you're actually right." Robocalls increased by 57 percent in 2018, to nearly 50 billion in the U.S., according to the Federal Communications Commission. "Sixty percent of all complaints to the FCC are about robocalls, so they're definitely aware of the problem," he added.

Most of Oliver's show was about "why robocalls are on the rise, and what can be done about them," and the "why" has to do with cheap technology, cheaper phone calls, and lax regulation, including a feckless National Do Not Call Registry and "something called 'spoofing,'" which allows robocallers to pretend to be calling from your areas, or even from your contact list.

"Experts advise you not to engage with robocalls at all — don't pick up, and don't talk if you do answer," Oliver said. Still, "it should not entirely be up to us to deal with this bulls--t. The FCC has the authority to police robocalls, and a few years back, they actually put some guardrails in place with a set of rules designed to limit them." The rules were successfully blocked by a trade group, and robocalls skyrocketed.

There are still things the FCC could do, but "unfortunately, their current chair is this guy, Ajit Pai," who "opposed those rules that we mentioned earlier and was extremely happy when they were overturned," Oliver said. Now, experts are really worried that Pai will "bow to pressure from groups like telemarketers and banks, and draft a new, narrower definition of what constitutes auto-dialing," essentially limiting what would count as a robocall. "If only there was a way to get the FCC's attention on this issue," he said. Of course he had one, and you can admire its brutal simplicity below. Peter Weber

March 4, 2019

"Jobs were a major theme in Donald Trump's presidential campaign — along with, of course, walls, taco bowls, allegations of sexual assault, and admissions of sexual assault," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "But Trump's primary focus as candidate and president has been on jobs — specifically, who was stealing them." He ran though a list of potential job-stealing countries that Trump might be mispronouncing, in sometimes NSFW ways, and Russia. "And look, some manufacturing jobs are gone because they went overseas, but Trump is completely ignoring another major factor behind job losses: automation," Oliver said. "Its impact has been massive."

"You wouldn't know it from how Trump talks, but our manufacturing sector now produces twice as much as it did in 1984, but we produce it with one-third fewer workers," Oliver said. "Many of those jobs aren't being stolen, they are disappearing because machines are now doing them. And thanks to advances in AI and robotics, there are concerns that this sort of job loss could accelerate."

But "while people often talk about automation in apocalyptic terms," it's complicated, Oliver said. For example, machines "have had hugely beneficial effects — they've made goods cheaper and jobs easier and sometimes safer," and automation sometimes transforms jobs instead of eliminating them, like ATMs and bank tellers. Still, for employers, "the big selling point for automation is that it increases productivity and it maximizes profits," he said. and it isn't going away.

"So the big question here is how do you harness what is good about automation while minimizing the damage to those hurt by it?" Oliver said. "Well, the best thing would be if America were in the hands of someone nimble and forward-thinking." He pointed to Trump's Carrier debacle and shook his head. Oliver had some ideas for helping workers displaced by robots but said we also need to prepare "the next generation for the possibility that they may need to be more flexible in their career plans." Watch Oliver try to explain that to adorable kids below. Peter Weber

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