Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Okay, let's just call this a review of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight.  Specifically, a review of the most heroic actions I have ever seen a talk show host perform.  If you're wondering what I am talking about, on Sunday night's show (two days ago) he was doing a piece about debt.  I've been watching Mr. Oliver's show for years, and have mentioned him in my blog in the past.  Normally, what happens on Mr. Oliver's show, is he explores some piece of news that seems absolutely ludicrous when you really think about it, and then we all have a good laugh.  Typically, this does a lot of good, as it showcases the lunacy underpinning the thing he's exposing, and then it goes away, never to be seen again.  Mr. Oliver's been trying to do this to Donald Trump for months, but so far, has failed to make Trump go away.  I wish Mr. Oliver more success in that regard in the future, but for now, let's review Sunday night's show.

John Oliver mentioned how easy it is to obtain records of old debts that people owe, in order to hound them to pay up, even if they have already paid their debts or there's no hope of doing so.  To demonstrate how easy it was, Mr. Oliver started a company called CARP, specifically to purchase a bunch of people's old debts.  It cost him $60,000 to do so, purchasing almost $15 million in hospital debt from 9000 different people.  Then, because Mr. Oliver has better things to do with his time than call people up and demand they pay him money, he forgave these people's hospital bills.  A clearer picture of the process can be found here:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/06/06/john_oliver_did_not_really_give_away_15_million_on_his_show.html?utm_source=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link

However, as explanatory as this article is, by someone named Jordan Wiessman, supposedly Slate's senior business and economics correspondent, I beg to differ with his conclusions.  Let me elaborate.

The headline of the article is "Sorry, but John Oliver Did Not Just Give Away $15 Million," and the final conclusion of his article is that John Oliver did not give away more than Oprah in her $8 million dollar car giveaway.  In a way, that's technically true, because it only cost John Oliver $60,000 to purchase the debt in the first place.  But is it entirely accurate?  Let's look at it a bit more closely, just like John Oliver might do, shall we?

Oprah's giveaway (and I admittedly did not see her do this, because I am not a fan of Oprah, not because I have anything against her, but merely because she's never been in a monster movie...  and no, John Oliver hasn't either, but he's often on HBO just before the Game of Thrones re-show on Sunday nights, so, close enough?) involved Oprah giving away cars to, I assume, everyone in her studio audience.  So that's, what?  A few hundred people, tops?  And the cars were worth, what, 20 to 25 grand apiece?  Somehow, it added up to 8 million dollars, according to the Slate article link I posted above.  Now, while giving someone a car is nice, and allows them to get around (if they didn't already own one, which was unlikely), it also adds some payments onto their lives.  As anyone who owns a car knows, you almost always need insurance on it (those monthly costs add up) and it takes gas to get anywhere (gas is cheaper now than it was then, I think).  So, by my calculations, that's about $25 grand per person, minus insurance costs and gas money for the life of the car, because I know Oprah's not chipping in for those things.  Let's just assume repairs on the cars aren't needed at any point, for the sake of argument, because that would only add to the downside, and complicate the math.

Now, let's take John Oliver's giveaway.  He spent $60,000 (of his own, or HBO's money, either way), and gained $14.9 million in debt.  Right there, that sounds like a good deal, so John Oliver certainly seems more business-savvy than Oprah.  Now, technically, there wasn't really anything else he could do with that debt, other than sell it to someone else and continue the cycle, or try and collect on it.  Instead, he forgave the debt.  For 9,000 random people.  Unless Oprah was taping her talk show in a sports stadium, I doubt she managed to fit 9,000 people in there.  So, technically, John helped more people.  A LOT more.  Now, as for the money, here's where things get a bit tricky, and Slate gets it all wrong.

Let's stop for a moment and think about what would have happened if John HADN'T forgiven the debts.  Let's say CARP was a real collection company, and they spent years trying to reclaim those debts that they had purchased, trying to get a profit out of the $60,000 grand they had spent.  That's how many people, spending all day on the phone, calling up those 9,000 people?  Over and over again?  The cost of paying those people alone would be way up there, and the company would lose much more the 60 grand just paying the wages of the collections agents they employ.  Then, like the Slate article says, the debt was all "out-of'statute" meaning that nobody could legally sue over it.  However, like the article states, the companies that would buy out-of-statute debt in the first place, are usually the lowest of the low, the ones who would take all of these people to court, just to sue them anyway, despite how it's illegal to do so in the first place.  According to the Slate article, this DOES happen.  Now, keep in mind I have no personal experience with any of this, so I'm just going by what Mr. Weissman and Mr. Oliver have reported, but a company that would buy these types of out-of-statute debts would probably also have no problems about issuing 9000 lawsuits to get their money back.  And, as the Slate article clearly states, if you are sued about an old debt, you should ABSOLUTELY go to court to fight it, because the greedy debt holders are assuming you won't show.  If you don't show up to court, the judge has no option but to award the suit to the plaintiff, or in this case, the assholes who just bought the rights to try and collect on your old debts.  At that point, you have to pay your debt by Judge's Order, which is a LOT more legally binding than just some guy calling you on the phone and going "Hey, pay up."

So, let's just say for a moment, that you are a rare mix of both of these groups.  You're driving to your court case to repudiate your old $80,000 in hospital debt (like the man featured on Mr. Oliver's segment), in the car that Oprah bought you.  Sure, you got your car for free, but now you have to deal with gas money, court costs, missing out on work, and that's not even counting the pay of the judges, stenographers, and bailiffs who have to show up to hear your court case.  You're missing out on probably a full day of work, running the risk of damaging your Oprah-bought car in a random accident, so you can get the money-hungry debt sharks off your back, the ones that have been calling you up night and day and threatening to have your daughter's dog arrested and eaten while you're away at work.  Your daughter's terrified, your marriage is in shambles, your job is on the line, and you're not sleeping well because these collection agencies know no limits to their greediness.  Plus you have to spend what little money you've earned, driving yourself to your dead-end job in the car that Oprah bought you, to pay for your lawyer, because you DON'T know that these companies can't sue you for old debts beyond a certain date.

Honestly, whose gift are you going to appreciate more, right at that moment?  The fact that Oprah bought you that car, or the fact that John Oliver cancelled your $80,000 hospital debt, saved your marriage, let your daughter keep her beloved family pet, and gave you the peace of mind to sleep at night, so you could drive yourself to your dead-end job in the gas-guzzling car that Oprah bought you?  As Cousin Eddie would say, John Oliver's gift is "the gift that keeps on giving."

A new car is nice for a while, but getting a debt collections company off your back is a miracle.  How much is it worth, in the long run?  Certainly much more than the $60,000 John Oliver spent.  Most likely, much more than the $14.9 million that John Oliver forgave, in the long run.  And when you think about it, how much is it worth to you, not to have to end up in an extended legal battle with a bunch of lawyered-up greedy debt collectors?  "Priceless," as the old Visa commercials used to say (at least, I think it was Visa).  Now, multiply that feeling by 9,000  individuals, who no longer have to deal with a debt collector driving them batshit crazy.  Honestly, shouldn't Mr. Jordan Weissman, Slate's Senior Business and Economic Correspondent, know the effects of these things, about its effect on business, and the economy?  So, did John Oliver REALLY not give away $14.9 million, Mr. Jordan Weissman?  I'd say, he gave away a whole lot MORE than that, and if that doesn't give him the right to say "Fuck you, Oprah!  Fuck You!" then I'm not sure what would.

In my mind, it makes John Oliver the greatest talk show host of ALL TIME, because he's the first one who's ever done more for his viewers than mostly just talk.  If, what he does is a talk show, that is (news show?  I have no idea, as I said, I don't do this for a living).  Let me be the first to say it.  JOHN OLIVER FOR PRESIDENT!  No, don't even bother arguing, you know he'd do a much better job than any of the people we have running now.  Maybe he's not a natural-born US citizen, and so what?  The government has basically repealed every single one of our rights in the Bill of Rights.  Let's just repeal that whole statute about the president having to be a natural born citizen, and let John Oliver run for president.  Fuck it.  If the government, who is supposedly working for us, can chop off all the parts of the Constitution that it doesn't like, then we, the American people, can repeal some other aspects of the Constitution that we find bothersome, and suit it to our needs, too.  Repeal the part about not allowing a non-natural-born US citizen to run for president, and say it with me.  JOHN OLIVER FOR PRESIDENT!  JOHN OLIVER FOR PRESIDENT!

Yes, I know, I hate politics, but it's mostly because I hate politicians, who lie to us to get us to vote for them, and then do whatever the lobbyists working for the big-name companies want them to do anyway, once they get into office.  Just irks me, sometimes.  I should probably just stick to watching horror movies.  It's what I'm good at, and it keeps me calmer.  Til next time.

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