Johnsplaining
May 10, 2021

John Oliver spent most of Sunday's Last Week Tonight talking about Black hair. "And look, I realize I'm not the ideal person to talk about Black hair," he said, showing a ] cautionary tale of what can happen "when a white guy on TV starts confidently talking about Black hair, even with the best of intentions." On the whole, Oliver said, "white people don't really understand a lot about Black hair," and "that lack of understanding, and lack of interest in understanding, can have real consequences, from the personal to the professional."

"Black hair and hairstyles are frequently yet another pretext for discrimination," Oliver said. "So tonight, let's talk about it, and let's start by understanding why Black hair is so important." He had a short cultural history lesson and primer on hair-straightening techniques. "By the 1960s and '70s, though, the embrace of Black hair's natural texture and culturally significant styles had become a radical act of self-acceptance and political power," Oliver said. "But despite the natural hair movement, white people's discomfort and ignorance around Black hair has very much remained."

Because stores frequently keep Black hair products in locked cabinets, "it is already hard enough to get products to do your hair at home, but finding a qualified stylist can be even harder," Oliver said. And when Bo Derek or Miley Cyrus appropriate Black hairstyles for fun, it "isn't just infuriating, it can directly make it harder for Black people to fight discrimination concerning their hair," because "for decades, courts have found that hairstyles, even though they are deeply tied to racial identity, are not covered" by anti-discrimination laws.

"And look, if you're not a Black person, it's probably easy to hear these stories and think, 'Well, it's just hair,'" Oliver said. "But the thing is, it's not, it's not at all. Black people aren't getting hired or are getting fired, Black people are being teased, taunted, and removed from school, all because of their hair." CROWN Acts, passed already in several states, can make a real difference, he explained. "And while social stigma and unrealistic beauty standards aren't going to go away overnight, there are a few things that white viewers in particular might want to keep in mind going forward." Oliver outsourced this message to Uzo Aduba, Craig Robinson, and Leslie Jones. There is NSFW language, mostly from Jones. Watch below. Peter Weber

May 3, 2021

The COVID-19 vaccines are "the end result of the world's greatest scientists working around the clock to save countless lives, immortalized in a card we'll all definitely lose in a month," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. The terrifying outbreak in India is another reminder that this pandemic isn't over, "and obviously the world should be doing everything it can to help India right now, but our best way out of this mess long-term is clearly vaccines."

The good news for America is there's a lot of vaccine available and more than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose, Oliver said. The bad news is it takes at least 70 percent vaccination to reach herd immunity and "a worrying amount of people are holding off on getting the free COVID vaccine," even though "these vaccines could save not just your life but the lives of people around you." He explained to a fictional Baltimore resident named Mike why he should ignore Joe Rogan and go get vaccinated, now. "Tonight let's talk about the COVID vaccines," he said: "Why people are hesitant, what their worries are, and how they might be reassured."

No group is "uniformly vaccine-hesitant," but one reason some conservatives are is "scrunched-face fear baboon" Tucker Carlson and his ilk, Oliver said. "And the problem is when people like Tucker raise questions without bothering to answer them, there is a lot of misinformation out there for people to then stumble on," put out by anti-vaccine groups eager to convince people that no one has answers. He spent the rest of the piece clearing up some of the biggest vaccine myths and misinformation.

"The key thing to remember is that no side effect of the vaccine is worse than the alternative, COVID, a disease that has killed over 500,000 people in the U.S. alone while, once again, to date the vaccine has been proven to kill exactly zero," Oliver said. "It is more than natural to have questions, but there are reassuring answers out there." The truth is, he said, "I'm not going to being able to convince the people in your life who are hesitant. The person with the best chance of doing that is you." Don't show those people this video or "dismiss or judge them for having doubts," Oliver said, just take what you've learned and "try as hard as you can." Peter Weber

April 19, 2021

Bankruptcy, especially as portrayed by bankruptcy lawyers, promises "a fresh start from your debts," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. Between 800,000 and 1.5 million Americans file for bankruptcy each year, "and many worry that once the current pandemic assistance stops, more and more people will need the type of help" bankruptcy offers. The process gives people a chance to dig out from under a mountain of debt, but it does hit your credit score, and it carries a "completely misguided" social stigma, he said.

"Bankruptcy is not solely caused by bad decisions, it's often caused by bad luck — unavoidable challenges like job loss, divorce, surprise medical bills, or perhaps even, you know, a once-in-a-century global pandemic," Oliver said. But absurdly, "a lot of people can't afford to go bankrupt," quite literally.

"Our modern bankruptcy code was enacted in 1978 — interestingly, around the same time that the credit card industry began to enjoy a period of steady deregulation," Oliver said. That "worked out very well for them, because they marketed themselves aggressively, and during this time, consumer debt began to sharply rise. And what the industry clearly wanted was people stuck in a lucrative cycle of minimum payments, late fees, and interest hikes. What they didn't want spoiling that was people cutting the cycle short through bankruptcy."

The credit card industry lobbied Congress aggressively, and a 2005 law made it harder and more expensive to file for personal bankruptcy, Oliver said. He explained the two kinds of personal bankruptcy, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, and noted that many lawyers steer clients to the more expensive option, Chapter 13 — especially if their clients are black. "Even bankruptcy discriminates against Black people," Oliver sighed. He illuminated why people might have to file for bankruptcy twice — not, as Suze Orman suggests, "recklessness" or "moral failing" — and blamed "much of what is wrong with our current bankruptcy system" on the 2005 overhaul.

If you paid attention to the 2020 Democratic primaries, you already know President Biden was a big backer of the 2005 law and clashed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over it — and if you weren't paying attention. Oliver offered a recap. Warren now has an overhaul bill that Biden broadly supports, but it is unlikely to pass if 10 Republicans need to sign on to thwart a filibuster, he said. Oliver closed with a NSFW animated summation of his argument that also pillories mandatory credit counseling. Watch below. Peter Weber

April 12, 2021

"Nursing homes, and long-term care in general, are something that we tend to try to avoid thinking about, but the truth is, whether due to old age or disability, many of us do — or will — require help with daily living," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "For the rich, there are plenty of options," but "the vast majority of people receive long-term care at home," not retirement palaces with $200 Versace plates.

About 80 percent of home care is provided by unpaid caregivers, typically family members trying to keep their loved ones out of institutional care. But "taking care of someone at home can be an incredibly complicated full-time job that is almost always unpaid," Oliver said. "In fact, in terms of lost wages, the labor of family caregivers totals about $67 billion annually," or roughly the GDP of Bulgaria.

There are more than 2 million people in long-term care facilities, though, and that 0.63 percent of the U.S. population accounts for about 33 percent of COVID-19 deaths, Oliver noted. "The truth is, COVID just exposed what we've basically known for years: that the way the elderly and disabled are treated in far too many of these facilities is with, at best, indifference, and at worst abuse and neglect. So tonight let's talk about long-term care: how the industry is structured, how that structure creates bad incentives, and what we can do going forward."

There are different issues depending on whether you are underserved on Medicaid or inappropriately over-treated on Medicare — for the short period Medicare covers nursing home care, at least, Oliver said. But partly because of the myriad problems at both kinds of facilities, 90 percent of people 65 and older want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, something Medicaid generally doesn't cover. There are bills to fix that, and President Biden's infrastructure plan would help a lot, he said, "but we do need to do something, and it all starts with showing we give a sh-t about what happens to the elderly and people with disabilities in this country. Because right now, evidence points to the fact that we absolutely don't, and all the other problems are stemming from that." There is some off-color language, disturbing tales, and one Andrew Cuomo joke. Peter Weber

April 5, 2021

"Our main story tonight concerns the national debt, the world's most boring $28 trillion" but somehow still "a complete obsession in this country," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "The truth is, our national debt is undeniably big, and between the trillions in coronavirus stimulus bills and the infrastructure plans [President] Biden unveiled just this week, it's poised to get even bigger." His focus Sunday night was how the national debt works, "how valid concerns about it are, and how we should think about it moving forward."

Importantly, "going into debt can actually be a good investment for the country," Oliver said. "Essentially, as economists will tell you, the key question is: Are you spending money on the right things?" Republicans "seem outraged" that the debt is growing, but only when Democrats are president — as some readily admit, he demonstrated. "But even if you put all of that bad-faith hypocrisy aside, we are still left with the key question: How much debt is too much? And the interesting answer to that is, nobody really knows."

The persistent low interest rates amid record high borrowing last year, among other things, "has made many economists start changing the way that they think about debt, thinking that — very basically — so long as our economy grows at a rate greater than the interest that we're paying on our debt, we can come out ahead," Oliver said. "There is a good-faith debate to be had about how to handle our national debt over the long term. But right now, most economists actually agree that with interest rates at historic lows, the question shouldn't really be 'How much debt are we taking on?' as much as: What is the value of what we are getting for it in return?"

"Look, no one credible is saying that deficits don't matter or that we should borrow as if the sky is the limit," Oliver said. "What they are saying is the debate shouldn't be about whether debt is good or bad, it should be about whether the investments that we are making are worth it or not. And if you are still worried about debt because you've been told that you are burdening your children and children's children's future, well I actually have some good news for you" — and a PSA from children that, like the rest of Oliver's explainer, has some NSFW language. Peter Weber

March 22, 2021

"Plastic really is ubiquitous," but "for almost as long as plastics have been around, there's been the question of what to do with them after they're used," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. This is an urgent, growing question, too. "Half of all plastics ever made have been produced since 2005," he said, and "a lot less plastic winds up getting recycled than you might think" — less than 9 percent in the U.S.

"The fact is, a huge amount of the plastic surrounding us isn't recycled because it's not really recyclable, and that means that it ends up in landfills, or burned, or in the ocean, where it breaks down into microplastics, gets eaten by fish, and can end up inside us," Oliver said. "A recent study even estimated that an average person globally could be ingesting about a credit card's worth of plastic into their system every week. Which kind of explains Capital One's new slogan: 'What's in your stomach?'"

Oliver ran through the history of platics and plastics waste, but he focused on "how the plastics industry has managed to convince us all that it's our fault." Even the recyling movement is "often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products," he said. "And honestly, it wasn't all that difficult for them to convince us that all their waste is recyclable, because we so badly want to believe it." The recycling industry calls this "wishcycling."

This is a complicated problem, exacerbated by China's 2018 decision to stop taking most of the world's platic recycling waste, Oliver said. "On a personal level, I know this can feel demoralizing, because it can seem that recycling is pointless. But it's important to know that it's not. We should absolutely keep recycling paper, cardboard, and aluminum — and even recycling plastic, while it may be 90 percent more pointless than you assumed, can still have modest environmental benefits," if you recycle only the kinds your local municipality accepts. But "our personal behavior is not the main culprit here, despite what the plastics industry has spent decades and millions of dollars trying to convince us," he said. "The real 'behavior change' has to come from plastics manufacturers themselves." There is a lot of NSFW language before Oliver gets to his proposed solution. Watch below. Peter Weber

March 15, 2021

"Our main story tonight concerns, I'm sorry to say, Tucker Carlson," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "This week — as he now seems to every week — Tucker set off a bit of a firestorm," this time around women serving in the military. "This comment sparked an all-too-familiar cycle of condemnation, defensiveness, and hype," he said, "and look, I would like nothing more than to not play into his wildly offensive schtick," but Carlson already gets lots of attention — from, for example, more than 3 million Fox News viewers on an average night, even young people.

And if Carlson's expanding role at Fox "wasn't enough, Tucker's also being floated as a potential future presidential candidate, which would be seriously alarming, because of all the things that Tucker is — a conspiracy theorist, a misogynist, Islamophobe, a troll — one of the most dangerous is that he is the most prominent vessel in America for white supremacist talking points," Oliver said. "Tucker — conveniently for him — doesn't fit neatly into a lot of people's perception of white supremacist," but "given that Tucker has the admiration of white supremacists and the ears of millions of your relatives, coworkers, and elected officials, we thought tonight it would be worth talking about him: where he came from, what his tactics are, and why what he represents is so dangerous."

Carlson frequently, ingenuously asks what white supremacy or white nationalism even means, but when you look at his long public record of commentary, Oliver said, it's essentially the sum of his message: "He is scared of a country that looks nothing like the one he grew up in, because diversity isn't our strength; immigrants make our country poorer, dirtier, and more divided; and any attempt to change that culture is an attack on Western Civilization." And Carlson is so dangerous, he said, because his "well-laundered version" of white supremacy reaches millions of people who wouldn't be receptive to the unlaundered version.

You can watch Oliver call Carlson a "performatively outraged wedge salad," a "relentlessly indignant picket fence," and a "walking yacht club scrunching his face up for an hour every night," usually "making the befuddled face of a 13th century farmer learning about bitcoin." But be aware there is also NSFW language.

The Daily Show recently had a broader, lighter, more safe-for-work recap of Carlson's career and messaging, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

March 8, 2021

"Unemployment can be a traumatic event for anyone, even puppets," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, getting in digs at AT&T and Elmo but offering nothing but respect to Elmo's mother. "But even for the non-puppet population, unemployment is an especially pertinent topic right now. It's been almost exactly a year since the pandemic hit and tens of millions of people lost their jobs — many of whom filed for unemployment insurance, or unemployment," a system that dates back to the 1930s.

"Economists generally agree that unemployment insurance is actually one of the most effective policies for recovering from a recession," as well as a vital social safety net, "but despite that, over the years our system has badly broken down, something that became painfully clear this time last year, when it was overwhelmed by new claims," Oliver said. There are actually 53 unemployment systems — every state has its own, as do Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — and they offer wildly different benefits to strikingly small numbers of unemployed workers. "Black workers are more likely to be unemployed but less likely to get unemployment benefits, and inequity was baked into the system from the very beginning," Oliver said. "It seems in the U.S. you can point to anything, ask 'How is that racist?' and get a specific historical answer." He offered some examples.

"So, how did our system get this sh-tty, and whose fault is it?" Oliver asked. "Is it Elmo's? The answer is not definitely no yet. But the truth is, a lot of the system's shortcomings were the result of deliberate choices," often fueled by "simmering contempt to a callous disregard" toward the unemployed. "And if you want to see how all of this — poor technology, deep benefit cuts, and absurd eligibility requirements — can come together to break a vial social program, look no further than Florida, America's vestigial tail," he said.

Oliver suggested some stopgap fixes and larger reforms — mostly federalization of benefits. "And to not make big changes after the flaws of this system have been so brutally exposed over the last year would be unforgivable," he said. "Because if we don't fix it, we have absolutely nobody to blame but ourselves — and possibly Elmo. I'm not sure exactly how, but the whole thing does somehow still seem like his fault." There is NSFW language sprinkled throughout. Peter Weber

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