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Johnsplaining
October 15, 2018

On Oct. 2, U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished, and Turkey said it has conclusive proof that a Saudi death squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. This "incredibly grim" story is "absolutely horrific, and the Saudis denied it happened — although let us all agree on this: A bone saw in any context is an immediate red flag," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight.

Khashoggi was a "thoughtful and by no means radical critic of the Saudi royal family," Oliver said. "And this is all worrying, because the only reason to kill a journalist in your own consulate with 15 people and a bone saw you flew in that day is because you wanted to send a message, and you were sure you could get away with it." He had a pretty good idea why the Saudis would think they'd face no consequences.

America has a "long and morally compromised history" with Saudi Arabia, and while many "U.S. presidents have, to varying degrees, been willing to pander to Saudi Arabia," turning "a blind eye to a lot of things," Oliver said, President Trump has really embraced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, an overhyped reformer whose every positive achievement has "a much grimmer truth underneath" it. "Trump's intense bromance with MBS is bad news," Oliver said, but it makes sense because the Saudi royal family has "the two qualities he admires most in the world: Having a lot of money, and giving it to him. He basically said as much on the campaign trail."

Trump says Saudi Arabia faces "severe punishment" if it's proven they murdered Khashoggi, but "does anyone really believe that that's something he is honestly committed to?" Oliver asked. In more honest remarks, Trump "openly demonstrated to the entire world, and to Saudi Arabia specifically, that [an] arms deal [is] much more important than [a] butchered journalist." Watch below. Peter Weber

October 1, 2018

Sunday's Last Week Tonight is basically "one long recap of one very long week, and one event in particular," John Oliver said, ruefully: Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Oliver started with Christine Blasey Ford, who testified credibly about what she called Kavanaugh's attempted rape in high school. "That is Fox News calling Ford's testimony a 'disaster for the Republicans' — and not like one of those Puerto Rico disasters," Oliver said. "One they might actually care about." But just when it looked like curtains for Kavanaugh, he hit back, with weirdly placed emotion: "I hate to say it, but I'm starting to think that men might be too emotional for the Supreme Court."

And "when pressed on his drinking, Kavanugh became either dismissive or outright hostile, and it was at those moments that you got a real sense of who this man actually is," Oliver said. His "surly tone" was not that "of a man who hopes to one day have the honor of serving on the Supreme Court but the tone of someone who feels entitled to be on it and, frankly, can't believe that you're being such a dick about this."

Oliver went through Kavanaugh's troubling pattern of "misrepresenting the truth" and his staunch refusal to endorse an independent investigation to clear his name. Even if you think Kavanaugh is innocent or the allegations unprovable, the "judgment and temperament" he showed this week should be disqualifying, Oliver said. We're "all basically calloused to people talking" like "unhinged partisans," he added, "but we are supposed to have at least nine people left in America who do not talk that way."

"This brings me to the most basic question that remains: Why?" Oliver said. "Why this particular a--hole? Why is he the hill that conservatives are willing to die on?" He has some thoughts. There is NSFW language throughout. Watch below. Peter Weber

September 24, 2018

"Facebook has been in the news a lot recently over concerns about everything, from privacy to fake news to Russian trolls, but tonight we're actually going to go in a different direction," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight: Facebook's "behavior overseas." More than half of Facebook's revenue and 80 percent of its users now come from outside the U.S.

Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have aggressively pushed the "utopian" idea that connecting billions of people around the world is an unvarnished good, Oliver noted, but "it's important to remember that when it comes to the internet, a certain number of those people are then going to say 'Jews control sharks who did 9/11!' and you really have to think that through. Unfortunately, thinking things through has never really been Facebook's strong point." In fact, he said, Facebook "has made some hugely consequential mistakes overseas, and that's what tonight's story is about."

Oliver pointed to a few examples but focused mostly on Myanmar, where Facebook is ubiquitous on smartphones — and the company has been very slow in policing its posts for violence-inciting posts against the minority Muslim Rohingya community by military leaders, politicians, and especially a Buddhist monk so hateful he's been called the "Burmese bin Laden." One teacher in Myanmar compared Facebook to a toilet, but Oliver said that's unfair, because "there is a purity and integrity to toilets that Facebook seriously lacks."

Until Facebook fixes this, he said, "it is painfully obvious everyone should be treating everything on their site with extreme skepticism and see Facebook for what it actually is: a fetid swamp of mistruths and outright lies interspersed with the occasional reminder of a dead pet. That's it." While his audience gasped, Oliver played his own version of a Facebook commercial. There is NSFW language throughout, plus mildly disturbing verbal imagery about Care Bears and sex. Watch below. Peter Weber

September 10, 2018

America is starting the final sprint to the 2018 midterm elections, but "six million people are unable to vote because at some point in their life, they committed a felony," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "If any of you are thinking at this point, 'Well, who gives a s--t if convicted felons can't vote?' you frankly wouldn't be alone." But despite what you might think, and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says, the vast majority of felons were convicted of nonviolent offenses like property or drug crimes, Oliver said, "and for those who haver served their sentence but are still unable to vote, this situation is understandably frustrating."

"In most states, people with felony convictions automatically regain their voting rights at some point, but there are a few where they do not," Oliver said, "and the worst state of all concerning this — and, arguably, everything else — is Florida." More than 1.5 million Floridians, including more than 20 percent of black residents, can't vote due to past convictions, Oliver said, and Gov. Rick Scott (R) has enacted an "insane," openly arbitrary process for restoring voting rights.

For example, one member of Scott's rights-restoration panel repeatedly asks felons the same very odd question, Oliver noted. "Do you go to church? Now, if the answer to that question is important, that is f---ed up, and if it's not, why are you constantly asking it? Either you're factoring religious habit into evaluation of whether someone should be able to vote, or you're making a list of people's houses that would be easy to rob on a Sunday morning." Floridians can approve a constitutional amendment in November that automatically restores voting rights to most nonviolent felons, Oliver said, and he made a direct appeal to Florida voters that doubled down on Florida's history of making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The video is often NSFW. Watch below. Peter Weber

August 20, 2018

"Trade is a subject on which our current president considers himself particularly expert," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. The problem is, President Trump "seems genuinely confused" by the basics of trade economics, including tariffs and trade deficits, he said, succinctly explaining both concepts for the edification of viewers and in case a certain president of the United States was hate-watching.

To be fair, trade is "one of the most complicated issues there is, technically, politically, and emotionally," Oliver said, but Trump gets almost everything backwards. "The overwhelming consensus among economists is that trade between countries, generally speaking, can create jobs, lower costs, and be a net benefit to both nations," he said. "Essentially, think of trade like sex: If you're doing it right, it can be good for both partners — though the odds of that happening plummet as soon as Donald Trump gets involved." For example, Trump's tariffs may create 26,280 steel and aluminum jobs, according to one estimate, and eliminate 432,747 U.S. jobs elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Trump is listening to the one economist who agrees with him, Peter Navarro, Oliver said. "We're engaged in an escalating trade war that almost no legitimate economist supports, led by a man who honestly doesn't seem to fully understand the mechanics of what he's doing, getting advice from the human equivalent of an all-caps email from your uncle. And the crazy thing is, the effect of all this is the exact opposite of what Trump says he wants. Because if you want to create jobs, you don't do that by cutting off American companies' markets and suppliers, and if you want to curb the abuses of countries like China, you don't do that by pissing off the leaders of every other nation on Earth." He made a short, over-the-top, Navarro-style film to explain trade to Trump, who probably won't see it. You, however, can watch and learn below. Peter Weber

August 13, 2018

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tackled the phenomenon of "astroturfing," and he kicked it off with a pretty vulgar joke. Then he got down to business: "Astroturfing is the practice of corporations or political groups disguising themselves as spontaneous, authentic popular movements. It's basically fake grassroots — that's why they call it 'astroturfing.'" Some of these campaigns are pretty obvious, he said, playing one example, but "with dark money surging in the wake of decisions like Citizens United, astroturfing techniques are becoming more sophisticated, effective, and dangerous, and they are not going away."

Oliver proposed exploring those techniques "to better spot them in the future," and he started with the nomenclature, specifically the gallingly deceitful names some groups adopt. He used the work of one notorious adman, Richard Berman, as an example. Astroturfing front groups also sometimes hire "expert" witnesses. And in "one of the most infuriating tools of astroturfing," he said, some groups pay protesters to demonstrate on their behalf — and there are companies like Crowds on Demand that offer those services.

Conspiracy theorists now claim Crowds on Demand provides actors in all sorts of real situations, like the Las Vegas shooting, which is "hugely dangerous," Oliver said. "The consequences of this cannot be that everyone assumes that anyone who doesn't agree with them is astroturf. While skepticism is healthy, cynicism — real cynicism — is toxic." And until "we find out a way to force astroturf groups to be more transparent and accountable," our common sense is our best tool, he said. He ended with an anti-astroturfing ad — pay attention to who purportedly sponsored it. (The video is frequently NSFW.) Peter Weber

August 6, 2018

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver shone a little light on an important person in your community who, if you are lucky, you don't think about very often, if ever. "Whenever we talk about criminal justice reform, we tend to just talk about policing, public defenders, judges, and prisons, and skip over a crucial element there: prosecutors, the attorneys who work for the federal, state, and local government and bring cases to trial," he said. "Prosecutors decide whether you get charged and what you get charged with, and therefore heavily influence what kind of sentence you could face."

People tend to overlook the power prosecutors have, so "let's start with a truly incredible fact here: The vast majority of the time, your fate is not decided by a judge or a jury of your peers, because nearly 95 percent of the cases prosecutors decide to bring end up with the defendant pleading guilty," Oliver said. Judges are mostly resigned to this system, "because at least plea bargains keep the system moving," he explained, and prosecutors have a lot of tools to get innocent people to plead guilty.

For the 5 percent who opt for a trial, prosecutors control the case files, sometimes "ambush" the defense with exculpatory evidence right before the trial, or they never hand it over — and when they are caught withholding evidence, Oliver found only one district attorney ever held to account, barely. He gave some egregious examples of misconduct and suggested some legislative fixes, but argued the easiest way to hold prosecutors accountable is to elect reform-minded district attorneys. Which requires a little bit of research. "Most people know as much about their local D.A. as they know about their local Cheesecake Factory manager," he said: "Chances are, you don't know who they are, and if you do, it's probably because something truly terrible has happened." There is NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber

July 30, 2018

John Oliver began Sunday's Last Week Tonight with the latest installment of his look at President Trump's "Stupid Watergate" mess — a scandal "with the potential gravity of Watergate, if the entire White House was on bath salts and Nixon was a raccoon with his head stuck in a jar of peanut butter." And it's not just that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was somehow on the same recent flight as Donald Trump Jr., he said. "There was a series of potentially damaging revelations this week, courtesy of the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen."

"Historically, 'there are tapes' hasn't worked out well for presidents," Oliver said. "It's one of those phrases that is universally foreboding, like 'the virus is airborne' or 'Ronan Farrow is working on an article about you.'" The tape where Trump discusses burying his alleged affair with a Playboy model "could be a problem for multiple reasons," he said, but Cohen's "second bombshell" about Trump knowing beforehand of the meeting his son and campaign chiefs had with Kremlin-linked officials offering election collusion "is potentially huge," if not all that surprising. "Breaking news: The president actually knew about meeting that involved his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign manager discussing dirt about his greatest enemy that took place where he lived and worked in a building which has his f---ing name on it!"

The last development is Mueller reportedly weighing whether Trump's tweets constitute obstruction of justice, a situation Oliver agreed might highlight Trump's accidental genius: "Just think about it — it's innately hard to believe something is a crime when it's done loudly and blatantly right in front of you."

Oliver also had a NSFW message for Facebook, in response to the social network giant's public-image-burnishing promise to return to its friend-sharing roots. And he elaborated his point with his own version of Facebook's ad, which is also NSFW. You can watch it below. Peter Weber

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