After taking a week off, Last Week Tonight returned to make television history in a segment detailing the practice of purchasing debt. Before hosting a giveaway that would make Oprah jealous, host John Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight dove right in to discuss Donald Trump's current and past legal woes.
Oliver began by introducing us to a new report indicating that Donald Trump and his various companies have been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits in the past 30 years. To put this into perspective, there are literally not enough episodes of every legal show on the air ever to have one episode devoted to each suit, "meaning Trump's lawsuits exceed the limits of the fucking genre". This is unheard of for a presidential candidate, but when you think about it, sort of seems to make sense when it comes to Trump.
Trump's most recent legal troubles involve a lawsuit regarding Trump University. The man with the tiny hands has recently complained about the judge who is overseeing those cases, accusing Judge Gonzalo Curiel of being a "hater" and saying that he should recuse himself from the case. The reason: Judge Curiel is of Mexican descent. He has made a few decisions that Trump feels are wrong (spoiler: they're actually perfectly reasonable legal decisions, such as ordering disclosure of documents relevant to the case), and has said that Judge Curiel's Mexican heritage makes him unfit. The legal implications of this are, of course, frightening. The man who may indeed become President feels that certain people are unfit to do their jobs merely because of their ethnic background.
Last Week Tonight then began discussing Trump University, and went into detail surrounding the lawsuit it is current facing. The problems begin with the name itself - the school isn't even a university. The issues continue when you look into who the instructors were. Despite Trump's assertion that he would "hand pick" the instructors to help students achieve in the "world of success", many instructors actually had zero experience buying or selling real estate, and some had never even worked in the real estate industry before. A member of Trump's own sales staff called the school "a joke...a facade...it was just selling false hope and lies".
Included in these documents was a "playbook" telling instructors and other members of staff how to sell the programs to students, or, as they called them, "buyers". Some of these tactics involved bending the truth or even outright lying, and others were downright unethical. The Playbook also gave advice on how to deal with prospective buyers who were concerned about the price, telling them to "remind them that Trump is the BEST". Oliver commented that while "you may laugh, this is the same tactic Trump is using to run for President and, apparently, it fucking works".
Oliver also explained the 98% satisfaction rating Trump has been quoting. While the number seems high, suspiciously high, it is likely because those evaluations weren't anonymous and were completed while the students were still hoping to receive benefits from the program. One former student likened it to having a meal at a nice restaurant only to leave and find out that you got food poisoning as a result. The segment ended with Oliver giving some valuable advice to anyone planning on voting for Trump in November, a quote found on the top of the Trump University site from the man with the tiny hands himself:
Take the risk, but before you do, learn what you're getting yourself into.
The show's main segment was on debt, specifically, the way companies are able to buy and sell debt. Every year, billions dollars of debt is purchased by debt buying companies, giving birth to a massive industry most people don't even know exists. The segment proceeded to demonstrate how "almost every step of how this industry is allowed to operate is problematic". Even after a company has written off a debt on its taxes, they can still sell it for whatever price they want to a third party company, who can then sell it to someone else, etc. The information that goes along with this sale isn't always verified, and sometimes only contains the basics, such as the debtor's name, social security number, current address, and the amount of the debt.
In fact, debt buyers can harass consumers, sometimes with frightening tactics, way past debt that has been discharged, may have been paid, or has expired. Expired debt means it has past the statute of limitations; it is so old that you cannot be sued over it, yet these debt buyers will still resort to drastic means to obtain payment. In some cases, debt buyers will use methods that are blatantly illegal in order to intimidate consumers into paying.
Many debt buying companies do operate within the confines of the law, but do so by filing nearly as many lawsuits as Trump has been involved with. In those cases, lawyers review the information and make a determination about whether or not there is enough on which ot base a suit in shockingly little time. One lawyer reviewed a case for less than four seconds before determining that there was enough valid information to file a suit. They rely on the defendants to ignore the letters, and avoid showing up in court. This means that the debt buying company wins the suit by default, and can then proceed to more extreme methods of debt collection such as wage garnishment.
Now, no one is arguing that people who find themselves in debt shouldn't pay. But many people, especially within the United States, find themselves deep in debt because of unanticipated medical emergencies, and simply lack the funds to pay. These people shouldn't become the victims of a vastly under-regulated system, where "any idiot" can form a debt buying company and begin harassing citizens.
To prove the point, Last Week Tonight started its own debt buying company, and purchased nearly 15 million dollars of out of statute medical debt from Texas. This means that Oliver and his staff could now legally begin calling nearly 9,000 Texans and harassing them for money.
This brings us to the moment Last Week Tonight made TV history. Instead of collecting on this debt, they decided to forgive it. The moment Oliver gave the signal and forgave all that debt, it became the single biggest one-time giveaway ever on television (to the best of Last Week Tonight's knowledge). The files were sent to a non-profit that specializes in forgiving medical debt, who forgave every penny.
Donald Trump - a punchline that has quickly turned into a nightmare.
[To Trump] Where exactly are you from? Because you look like you came from a clogged drain at the Wonka factory.
Trump University wasn't even a university, which makes you wonder what the fuck was in Trump steaks.
To be fair, every school has sold some students false hopes and lies, it's just most of the time they call it a Theatre Arts degree.
...nothing good happens in Excel. Most of us go into a cold sweat if we just open it by accident.
Just like on The Walking Dead, zombie debt comes back from the grave, is incredibly hard to deal with, and seems to disproportionally impact minorities.
Last Week Tonight will return next Sunday at 11:00pm on HBO. You can watch the segment on the debt buying industry below.