Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 1, Episode 14 - Payday Loans - full transcript

John discusses payday loans and Russia's import embargo on U.S. chicken and soybean.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome, welcome, welcome to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver. Thank you for being with us.

Just time for a quick recap of the week.

On Friday, you may have felt a whiff of nostalgia in the air,

and I'm not talking about Ninja Turtles.

I'm talking about this.

Good morning. The U.S. military is back in Iraq.

CHRISTI PAUL: Take a look at these images from
the U.S. military.

SA18 fighter jets closing in on an ISIS artillery unit

and then here it comes,
that massive explosion.

Yes, America is
bombing Iraq yet again,

and the world is experiencing
a little dj boom.

This time, though,
it is strictly

for humanitarian reasons,

to prevent the genocide
of the Yazidi people.

And when he announced
the airstrikes,

the President was anxious
to make two things clear:

one--how this was
the right thing to do;

and two--how little
he wanted to do it.

I know that many of you
are rightly concerned

about any American
military action in Iraq,

even limited strikes like these.

I understand that.

American combat troops will not
be returning to fight in Iraq.

I've got to say, the President sounds
a lot like a girl

who is trying to reassure her friends that she's
not getting back together

with the ex-boyfriend
that they all hate.

"Look, guys, look, guys, I'm just getting a drink
with Iraq, OK?

"He's having a really
tough time right now.

"I will not be returning back to his place,
although--you know what?

"Text me at 10:00 tonight and remind me that he was
a nightmare.

Remind me of that.
That's good for me to hear."

In fact, there was
really only one theme

that most people took away
from the speech.

A very reluctant
President Obama gave the order

for airstrikes
in Iraq last night.

President Obama has been
reluctant, to say the least.

He was reluctant to get in
and take action here.

CHUCK TODD: He seemed
very reluctant to do this,

extremely reluctant.

Oh, yes, reluctance.

It's always been the best tone
for leaders to use

when inspiring troops
before battle.

Who can forget Henry V's
immortal words?

"Once more into the breach,
dear friends,

"unfortunately because,
uh, obviously

"everyone would prefer
not to go into the breach.

"No, even by breach standards,
this breach is ghastly.

"Look, look, we all hate breaches, but we're
going into this one.

"We don't have to like it, we just have to get
this shit over with.

"Who's with me?
Charge! Charge!

Charge, I say! Charge, I say!"

Turning now, though, to
an even more lawless territory

than Iraq--the Internet.

There was news this week
that may affect

a huge number
of people on Earth.

A report this morning
claims a Russian gang

is holding a massive list
of stolen online records.

WOMAN: According to a Milwaukee
company called Hold Security,

the thieves stole 1.2 billion
usernames and passwords.

OK, OK, that is
clearly worrying,

but on the bright side,
that is also

the least threatening
Russian gang ever.

"Give us what we want,

"or Dmitri here will poke
your ex-girlfriend on Fassbook.

He will do it."

The truly terrifying part
of this story

is not just the scale
of this theft,

it's what the solution
might have to be.

MAN: Assume that every password that you've got
is no longer safe,

and you should go through
and change them all.

CHARLIE ROSE: Just to underline that,
everybody should go

and change their passwords.

Yeah, I get that.

I get that I should
definitely change my password.

The problem is,
I'm not gonna do that...

because that sounds hard,
even though it isn't.

At the very least, it might involve me
having to remember answers

to security questions
from 12 years ago.

"What was my pet's name in 2002?

"Was it Kelly Barkson
or Hootie the Goldfish?

"Yeah. Oh, you know what?
It was Christina Aguilizard,

but I'm still not doing it.
I'm still not doing it."

Look, I get no one wants
to do this, so to help you,

we've actually come up
with a list of replacement words

that nobody, not even
a Russian gang,

will be able to guess.

Perfect passwords,
such as AlanAldaNewBatman.

No one is guessing that.
It's the perfect password.

That sequence of words has
never been inside anyone's head,

although now, to be honest, I
think he would be a good Batman.

I think it's a different way
to go with the character.

So instead, you might want to go with something like

That's rock-solid.
It makes no sense.

It even feels weird
saying it out loud.

Here's a bunch more passwords running along the bottom
of your screen right now.

Help yourself to any of these.
None of them make sense.

There's lobsterbrownie,


just words that don't
belong together.

The point is you're covered.

But finally, turning
to the crisis in Gaza,

earlier this week,
everyone placed their hope

in the announcement of
a 72-hour cease-fire.

Good news?
The cease-fire held.

Bad news?
Then this happened.

The 3-day cease-fire between
Israel and Hamas is history.

The Israeli military says
rockets were fired into Israel

before the cease-fire
even ended.

Look, is it too much to ask
that the cease-fire in Gaza

last a little longer
than fucking Bonnaroo?

As of taping right now,

another cease-fire
has apparently begun.

We can all only hope
that it holds.

The problem is that even when leaders over there
start to sound hopeful,

the things they're hopeful about
are depressingly unambitious.

There are opportunities now to

be able to fashion
a new reality,

one more conducive to
the end of violence,

to the establishment
of calm, sustainable peace,

or at least
a sustainable quiet.

What? Did you see that?

He wished for peace and then
immediately bargained himself

back to "a sustainable quiet,"
which basically sounds

like a librarian walking around
the region shushing everyone.

"Shh! No rockets!
Shh! Shh!"

And if that weren't enough
to dispel any illusions

of imminent peace in the region,
there was also this.

WOMAN: A new app.
It's called "Bomb Gaza."

It allows users
to kill civilians

from the skies on your phone.

It's a game.

That's what I always thought
the problem with Gaza was--

no one had turned it
into a game yet.

It just wasn't fun until now.

Incredibly, there are games out there representing
both sides of this conflict.

On Rocket Pride, you can
fire rockets at Israel,

and on Gaza Assault Code Red,

you can pilot a drone and fire
on Palestinian towns.

Just think about that.

Someone could have been playing these games on
their commute to work,

while real rockets were being fired, going,
"Oh, shit, I missed my stop.

This is the worst thing that's
happened to anyone today!"

To be honest, war has always
been popular in video games.

The nuances
of diplomacy, however,

they've never held quite
the same appeal.

That is, until now.

ANNOUNCER: You've fought
terrorists in "Call of Duty"

and alien hordes
in "Gears of War."

Well, now get ready for
the opposite of that.

MAN: OK, first up on the agenda,
Paragraph 3, Subsection 4--

"Retention of Previously
Agreed-Upon Language."

ANNOUNCER: "World of Peacecraft."

Critics are already calling it
"Uncomfortably boring"

and "Off-puttingly complicated."

"World of Peacecraft" features all the heart-pounding

of trilateral talks in a variety of
international settings,

from Russian conference rooms
to Pakistani conference rooms

to Israeli conference rooms

and back to Russian
conference rooms.

Are you ready
for non-stop sitting,

incessant talking,
and incremental progress,

all while trying to escape
the creeping sense

that your presence may be doing
more harm than good?

IGN says,
"Jesus, this is bleak,"

and "Official XBOX Magazine" raves, "I honestly would
prefer war to this."

Madeleine Albright says, "Yeah, that's pretty much
what it's like."

"World of Peacecraft"...

Moving on, moving on.

For our main story tonight,

we're going to look at one of America's most
resilient industries--

payday loans.

One in 20 households have
taken one out at some point.

It's a $9 billion industry,

and payday loan outlets
are all over the place.

MAN: There are more
payday loan stores

in America than Starbucks

and McDonald's.

More than Starbucks
or McDonald's.


I didn't know there was more of anything in the U.S.
than McDonald's,

including people
and grains of sand.

And the payday loan industry
has only been around

for just over 20 years.

Even Ebola looks at
that growth rate and thinks,

"That's impressive.
You guys spread fast."

And it's not just the number
of companies, it's the variety.

You've got Fastcash,
Cashcentral, Speedy Cash,

Quik Cash with the word
"quick" spelled wrong,

and Kwik Kash, with both "quick"
and "cash" spelled wrong,

'cause what could be more
reassuring than a business

that can't correctly spell
either their product

or the speed at which they're
getting it to you?

There are so many different options that there are even
services to help match you

to a lender, and you cannot
have avoided these ads.

Hi. Montel here.
I'm Montel Williams.

Hi, I'm Montel Williams
for Money Mutual.

Get up to a thousand dollars in your checking account
by tomorrow.

That car repair bill? Paid.

The medical emergency? Handled.

Extra cash
until payday? Done.


Thanks, Montel.
Quick question, though.

How the hell are you
a financial spokesman?

"Hey, hey, everyone, isn't that
the guy who did that episode

"on how it's hard to be
the less pretty conjoined twin?

Everybody be quiet. This guy might have some pretty sound
financial advice."

When something is this popular
and this prevalent,

you owe it to yourself to find out exactly what
it is, much in the way :

that I finally gave in and read
all 4 "Twilight" books.

I'm on Team Bella,
by the way.

Team Bella. She doesn't need
a man to define her.

Team Bella, OK?
I'm on Team Bella.


That's not the point. The point is, what is
a payday loan?

What is a payday loan?

A payday loan is a quick way to
get the cash you need to cover

an unexpected expense, like
a car repair or doctor bill.

It's called a payday loan
because the loan balance

is typically due
on your next payday.

Oh, that does makes sense.

I thought it was a loan that you repaid
in PayDay candy bars.

Your way's better.
Your way is better than mine.

Clearly, this lady is
psychotically friendly

and also seems to have
an appealing product,

so how much might a company
charge for this sort of service?

Often it's 300 or 400 percentage
points on an annual basis.

Average annual rates
of 570%.

Some of those rates legally
are as high as 1,900% a year.


Even the most demanding,
abusive football coaches

only ask for 110.

"Hit him in the mouth, Billy!
Hit him in the mouth!"

Now, to be fair,

payday loan companies will say
these are short-term loans,

so an annual percentage rate
doesn't apply, which is true

if you pay them off immediately,

but many customers don't.

One study showed that 3/4
of the industry's volume

was generated by borrowers
who have to re-borrow

before their next pay period.

Basically, payday loans are the
Lay's potato chips of finance.

You can't have just one,
and they're terrible for you.

And it's when you start
missing payments

that you're susceptible not just to frightening
levels of interest,

but also to fees that you
may not have been aware of.

I was, like, I'd say
maybe $6,000, like, deep.

You know, every payday,
I was here.

Every time I got paid, I would pay it off and I
would get another one.

An endless cycle, a dead end.

I would advise anybody not to.

MAN: I'd borrow 250,
I thought I would pay 325.

I actually paid $700,

but it would have been $1,100

had I not gone to the bank
and put a stop to this.


It is not often that
a metaphorical slippery slope

cost as much as
an actual ski vacation.

Payday loan companies
present themselves as a way

for you to get back
onto your feet.

They don't want you
to get trapped in debt.

In fact, they'll help you
if you fall behind.

Remember the friendly
ACE Cash lady from before?

What happens if you can't
pay back your loan?

Sometimes people have
a hard time paying us back,

and we'll be there to work
with you if that should happen.

Yeah, no shit you'll
be there for them.

Your business model depends on it

because an actual ACE Cash
training manual for employees

featured a diagram which starts

with a customer applying

for an ACE loan,

moves through them spending

the money on that loan,

being unable to pay it back,

and then being forced to apply

for an ACE loan again.

You'll notice that has
a certain roundness to it.

It's basically a recycling
symbol for human misery.

It's the circle of debt

And it screws us all

Now, obviously we must not generalize
about this shitty industry.

Some companies hold themselves
to a higher standard.

In fact, the Community Financial
Services Association of America

insists that their
members are different

from the shadier elements
of the industry.

They even brag about it

in one of the most boring
videos on the Internet.

In our industry,
I mean, let's be honest.

There are some
companies out there

that don't even
follow the law,

let alone follow
a standard

of best practices like
our member companies do.

"Oh, those other
companies are awful.

"Our member companies are
pillars of the community.

"Did you know that one of them gave a kidney to a little girl
in a hospital?

"She was in there for tonsillitis, but now
she has 3 kidneys.

We're good companies."

So let's take a look at their wonderful members
and their best practices.

First there's Advance America,

one of the biggest companies
in the industry,

whose co-founder defends
his business like this.

The consumer demand

for the product is overwhelming

and speaks for itself.

OK, that's fair, although it's
also worth pointing out

that the customer demand
for heroin is also overwhelming,

and that doesn't mean it's a product you'd
necessarily recommend

to your friends
to get them out of a jam.

Advance America is a company

whose best practices
somehow include

agreeing to an $18.75 million
settlement in North Carolina

after they were accused of
illegally high interest rates.

But they're just one

of the two largest companies
in the business.

The other company is
Cash America.

OK, so how do they practice
their best practices?

MAN: Cash America was ordered to pay $19 million in refunds
and fines late last year

for illegally overcharging service members and for
destroying documents.

Say what you like about that.

Illegally overcharging
service members

is a ballsy business practice.

They must have been the ones driving around
with those bumper stickers

that say, "Extort Our Troops."

But settlements like those are
actually something of a rarity,

and that brings us to why
the payday loan industry

is seemingly unstoppable.

They are incredibly good
at avoiding regulation.

Just look at
one example in Texas.

They actually tried to rein in the payday loan industry there
a few years ago,

but they faced opposition from
one particular state legislator.

Members, I just cannot see why
this legislation

could possibly be necessary

unless it is
the big institutions

trying to squeeze
the little guys.

And the "little guys"
in his analogy

are payday loan companies,

although I've got to say, if you spell "little guys" with
a dollar sign instead of an "s,"

you've got yourself a pretty good name for
a store right there.

That man is Texas State
Representative Gary Elkins,

and his proud defense
of the little guy

is about to get
a little muddier.

WOMAN: But isn't it true
that you have 12 very successful

payday and title loan locations
across this state?

Let me answer
that question for him.

It is true. It is true.

He does, and they include an outpost of the wonderfully
named Power Finance Texas.

"Can I interest y'all
in some power finance?"

But I apologize.

I interrupted.

WOMAN: Isn't it true... ELKINS: But we don't need
this regulation.

WOMAN: that you stand to add
to your personal wealth

considerably by killing
these bills?

You know what? That--
that is not about the bill.

WOMAN: Mr. Elkins, do you know the meaning of the term
"conflict of interest"?

"Oh, it's--do I know it?

Why, Madam, I am the physical embodiment of that term
at this very moment."

Now, you might be thinking
that that woman,

Vicki Truitt, is awesome.

You know, fearlessly calling out
how the payday loan industry

influences politicians, which is why it's going
to be so hard to tell you

that just 17 days
after leaving office,

she signed on as a lobbyist
for ACE Cash Express--

you know, the circle people.

Now, thankfully, Texas also has
a finance commission

which oversees
the payday loan industry.

Guess who runs that.

William J. White is
vice president of Cash America

and was also appointed
by the governor

as chairman of the state's finance commission,

which oversees
payday loan outfits.

That's right.

The chairman of the commission

that oversees
the payday loan industry

is also, at the same time,
a vice president

of one of the biggest payday
loan companies in the country.

I call dingo.
I call dingo on that man.

I call dingo on him!
I call dingo!

Dingo, dingo, dingo!

So let's just quickly
break all of that down.

If you are hoping to protect Texans from the
payday loan industry,

you would need to approach a commission overseen
by the vice president

of a payday loan company
and then introduce a bill

into the state legislature, where the owner
of 12 payday loan stores

will debate the merits of
the payday loan industry

with one of the payday loan industry's future
fucking lobbyists.

Apparently even cluster fucks
are bigger in Texas.

But the truly chilling skill
payday loan companies have

is not how they prevent
legislation from getting passed.

It's how they react
when it gets through.

For instance, when Illinois passed an act which applied
to loans of up to 120 days,

companies simply began offering loans with terms
of 121 days instead,

which is like betting a dollar
on "The Price Is Right."

You're technically allowed
to do it, but, you know,

fuck you!

Now, it gets worse.

When Arizona outlawed
payday loans,

many companies shifted
to selling title loans instead,

which are basically the same, except they also get
to take your car.

For regulators,

it's like playing
legislative Whack-a-Mole.

Just when you think you've
squashed them down,

somewhere up they pop up
somewhere else,

wearing a completely
different outfit.

And the most amazing example

of all of this
took place in Ohio.

In 2008, they somehow capped
payday loan rates at 28%.

Any company licensed as a short-term lender had
to abide by that.

But, where one mole falls,

another mole shall rise.

And as of last year,

there were no businesses in Ohio
licensed to short-term lenders.

There was, however,
a sudden increase of companies

registering as mortgage lenders,

offering people short-term
mortgages of around $300.

Watch now

as the lawyer for
a company called Cashland

explains this to a judge.

JUDGE: So Cashland
would not be subject, then,

to the Short-Term Loan Act

because it's not registered
as a short-term lender?

MAN: Exactly, Your Honor.

The Short-Term Loan Act by
the legislative enactment says

it applies only to those who register under
the Short-Term Loan Act.

Why even bother calling
yourselves mortgage lenders?

Why not just call yourselves
Peanut Butter Octopus Companies?

Yeah. You can't regulate
peanut butter octopi.

They don't technically exist.

And in the rare case

where states succeed in imposing
stringent regulations,

some payday loan companies have
one final trick up their sleeve.

Now, some payday lenders
have found a loophole

by partnering with
Indian tribes.

That gives payday lenders
the cover of sovereign immunity

to avoid state regulations.

That's right.

Some payday lenders are
currently dressing themselves up

as Native Americans.

I thought only Johnny Depp
was allowed to do that.

How does that even work?

MAN: This payday lender,
Cash Fairy, has teamed up

with the Fort Belknap
Indian tribe in Montana,

and as you can see,
they are charging

online interest rates
in the 700% range.

SECOND MAN: If you can become
affiliated with a tribe

and be able to avert local
and state laws, in my opinion,

apparently loan-sharking is
still legal in this country.

It's true, although
let's be fair.

No loan shark would ever go by
the name Cash Fairy.

"Hey, hey, you better get me
that money by midnight,

"or you're gonna get a visit
from the Cash Fairy.

The Cash Fairy."

Here's the problem.

Payday loan companies
are almost impossible

to effectively regulate,
and they are not going anywhere.

A Pew survey found that
a majority of borrowers said

payday loans take advantage of
them, but a majority also said

they provide relief, and that is
why they are so dangerous.

People sometimes need them,
but you have to be

absolutely sure there are
no better options.

Apparently 41% of those surveyed
who'd taken out payday loans

ended up having to borrow
from family or pawn possessions

or other things that they could
have done in the first place,

just to pay off
that payday loan.

And yet, payday loans
superficially do look easier.

All these commercials,
they're enticing

and they're also everywhere.

The least we can do is
launch a counter-campaign

with a celebrity spokesperson
of our own to remind people

to make sure they explore all
their better options first.

Hi, I'm Sarah Silverman.

If you're considering
taking out a payday loan,

I'd like to tell you about
a great alternative.

It's called Anything Else.

The way it works is, instead
of taking out a payday loan,

you literally do
anything else.

Sell your sperm.
Sell some blood.

Throw yourself in front
of a rich guy's car.

He'll throw money at the problem
just to make that shit go away.

Are you an old person
and need money?

Take things. You're old.

No one's gonna stop you.
You're not gonna go to jail.

Go to the grocery store
right now, fill up a cart

with everything you need,
and walk the fuck outta there.

You know what? People will
pay you to pee on them.

That's true. Doodies, too.
Doodies are more, like double.

I know this for a fact.

It doesn't matter, but it's something that you have to do
every day anyway, right?

By not doing it, you are literally flushing money
down the toilet.

It's irresponsible.
There's money inside of you.

It's like Dorothy having the power to go home
the whole time.

The point is, no decision
in your life will be worse

than dealing with these
payday loan motherfuckers.

They're motherfuckers.

They're fuckers of mothers.

So if you're thinking
about getting a payday loan,

just simply pick up the phone,

then put it down again
and do literally anything else.

Do it now.

Finally tonight,
finally tonight, Russia.

Ever since their
annexation of Crimea,

sanctions between Russia and
America have been escalating,

and this week, they took
tensions to a brand-new level.

WOMAN: First, the foreign minister
tweeted pictures

of President Putin
holding a cheetah

and President Obama
holding a poodle,

and then there is this--
a laser light show in Moscow

showing President Obama
eating a banana

and also wishing him
happy birthday.


To be honest, if you
told me 50 years ago

that Russia would one day attack
the United States with lasers,

this would not have been
what I was expecting.

Also, also,

to be honest, that was not the work of
the Russian government.

It was a bunch of Russian students, presumably from
their racist A.V. Club.

This, however, was
the Russian government.

Putin has banned food imports
to Russia, for one year,

including fruit and
vegetables from Europe,

beef and pork from Australia, and soybeans and chicken
from the U.S.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!

Putin doesn't want
our soybeans and chicken?

Slow your roll, Russia, 'cause
let's get one thing clear here.

You break up with
our chicken and soybeans,

the relationship is over, OK?

Our chickens and
soybeans are single.

They're free to roam,
which they're gonna want to.

Some of them have been kept in appalling conditions, but
that's not the point here.

That's not the point.

The point is, they are free
to get right up

in the mouth
of whoever they want to.

I'm warning you, Russia,
I'll put U.S. chicken

on Tinder right now.

There it is.
This is real.

Check Tinder right now.
It's actually there.

Some pervert with
a chicken fetish

just hit the fucking jackpot.

As for soybeans,
they're already on Grindr.

That's right.
Soybeans are gay.

Soybeans are gay. How is that
a surprise to people?

But I'm not
just gonna tell you

what you're giving up
with these sanctions, Russia.

I'm gonna show you.
Come on out here, chicken.

Come on out.

And don't look away, Russia,

because look who is single

and ready to mingle.

Oh, yeah.

Work that pole
like a rotisserie,

you dirty bird.

Look, don't touch,

You don't want this,

The party fowl
is on the prowl.

And--uh-oh, uh-oh!

For you vegetarians
out there,

we've got a little treat
out here on the main stage.

Edamame, oh, my.

Russia, you just gave up a utility bean.

Oh, yeah.
Look at him.

This bean is so hot,
he's steaming himself.

Drop the sanctions, Russia.
Drop the sanctions.

That's it for
our show this week.

Our thanks
to Sarah Silverman,

plus the proud American chicken
and soybean.

We'll see you next week.

Payday loan mofos.

Payday loan...

pussy lickers.

What about the pay--um,

instead of payday loan

payday loan cunts?

Suck a dick. Suck a dick.

Suck a dick.

That was genius.