Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 3, Episode 8 - Episode #3.35 - full transcript

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight.
I'm John Oliver.

Thank you for joining us.
A quick recap of the week.

And we begin with Panama.
A country you think about so little,

you don't realize that's not Panama,
that's the outline of a Scottie dog.

This is Panama.

Panama caught the world's attention
this week in a big way.

We turn to the banking bombshell
causing shock waves around the world,

the so-called Panama papers.

It's one of the biggest
data leaks in history,

11.5 million documents,
blowing the lid

off some of the world's most powerful
people and their offshore billions.

This is absolutely huge, because the
lid on billionaires' offshore accounts

is similar to the lid on a yogurt that's
been in the fridge for three years.

If that lid comes off, stand back;
you're about to see some nasty shit.

"Panama Papers" are documents
from a law firm called Mossack-Fonseca

which specialized
in creating offshore accounts.

This story is going to take months
to unfold,

but it's already
inflicting casualties.

The documents

linked Iceland's prime minister
Sigmundur David Gunnlauggson

to a shell company called Wintris,
which held millions of dollars.

Watch his body language as a reporter
brings it up for the very first time.

What can you tell me
about a company called Wintris ?

It's a company, if I recall correctly,

which is associated with one of the
companies that I was on the board of.

And it was, had an account
which as I, as I mentioned

has been with the tax, on the tax
account since it was established.

Holy shit, that, that is like watching
a slow motion car crash.

Or as they say in Iceland,
a slow motion car crash.

Come on, guys,
they have cars in Iceland.

It's a modern Nordic island nation,
and their English is excellent.

But Iceland has only just recovered
from a huge economic downturn,

so its citizens
were understandably upset.

They've been throwing eggs
and bananas at the parliament.

- They're throwing things...
- Yes.

- Can you believe it ?
- They have not thrown enough.

Eggs and bananas. They're either
angry at the Prime Minister

or encouraging him
to get on a paleo diet.

And yes, I know that there's some
controversy in the paleo community

about whether or not
bananas are paleo,

but if you are infuriated by that joke,
please know: you're a terrible person.

You're just terrible.

And the point is just days
after those protests,

the Prime Minister was replaced
by the fisheries minister,

because it seems in Iceland,
the line of succession goes...

Prime Minister,
the guy in charge of the fish,

the secretary
of licorice flavored schnapps,

a litany of elves
that live in assorted boulders,

and finally anybody in a wool sweater
who's feeling political.

And if you're thinking, c'mon,
how could he leave out Bjork ?

I didn't. She was one of the elves.
Pay attention !

And look: it was not only
the leader of Iceland in trouble.

The presidents of Argentina, Ukraine
and the king of Saudi Arabia,

among others, were directly linked,
while UK Prime Minister David Cameron

was accused of benefiting from
his father's revealed investment fund,

an accusation
that he vigorously denied.

In terms of my own financial affairs,
I own no shares.

I have no shares, no offshore trusts,
no offshore funds, nothing like that.

"I own no shares." If the present
tense there seems a little suspicious,

it might be
because it later turned out,

he had owned shares,
he'd just sold them.

So saying "I own no shares"
is not really the whole story.

It's a bit like A-Rod saying
he has no steroids in his body.

Sure, that's true, now. But it wasn't
always the case, was it ?

And that's kind of the point.
It seems incredible

that in a story featuring
world leaders and possible corruption,

we have not yet heard
the name Vladimir Putin in all this.

Just wait. Because
while he was not directly linked

to any companies in the documents,
that may not mean he's not involved.

Investigators say
these documents are a road map

to how Putin
could have stashed away billions,

the papers point to this cellist,
Sergei Roldugin,

godfather to Putin's daughter.

The papers revealed the identity
of a suspiciously rich cellist,

which raises
immediate red flags for me,

because I always thought the only
way to make millions with a cello

is to use it to dig for gold.

And, and also, if cellists
are really that good at investing,

then someone should get frankly
Yo-Yo Ma to run a stock-tip hotline.

Except, don't worry,
'cause we've already done it.

Hi, I'm Yo-Yo Ma. And you've
reached my investment hotline.

Today I've got one main tip:
buy cellos. Cellos are great.

If you practice on one long enough,
you can make it sound like this.

I love cellos !

He does !
The guy loves cellos !

The law firm involved here has not
yet been charged with any crime.

But it is hard to believe
they didn't see any warning signs

when they incorporated
actual companies

named Goldfinger, Goldeneye,
Moonraker, Spectre and Blofeld.

All famously associated
with James Bond villains.

I can't think of anything
more inherently suspicious than that,

other than perhaps the phrase

"Vladimir Putin's
multimillionaire cellist friend."

For now,
let's move on to Alabama,

a state whose very flag
is the universal sign for:

"No. Absolutely not.
Under no circumstances."

Their governor has been in the news,
due to a sordid scandal.

Alabama governor Robert Bentley
under fire, but refusing to resign

after being accused of an affair with
one of his top aides, Rebekah Mason.

The allegations surfaced

after sexually explicit recordings
of him became public.

When I stand behind you,

and I put my arms around you,
and I put my hands on your breasts,

and I put my hands on you
and just, and pull you close.

I love that too.

He says that like an 8th grader

trying to convince the boys'
locker room he's had sex...

"I stood behind her, I put my hands
on her boobs and we were done."

"Then she yelled 'hooray !
You're the best person at sex !"

"It happened. We did sex, y'all!"

Bentley denies a physical affair, but
there have been moves to impeach him,

including charges that, in the course
of the affair, he used state property.

There's one piece of property that,

according to someone who heard
the tapes, might have been involved.

It's stunning,
it really is when you hear it,

Governor Bentley describing
encounters with Mrs. Mason.

They made the comment
that if we're going to do this again,

we're going to have to move Wanda's
desk farther away from the door,

Wanda being
his executive assistant

whose office is just right
off of the governor's office.

Don't bring Wanda's desk into this.
You know what ?

Wanda is the real victim here,

and if the governor
will not apologize to her, I will.

Wanda. I am sorry you got dragged
into this shit.

You didn't get into public service

to listen to sound of
a 73-year-old man groping a staffer.

So to make it up to you,
we're sending an Edible Arrangements

"I'm berry sorry" fruit box to your
desk tomorrow, wherever it is now.

You enjoy it, Wanda.
You enjoy it.

This impeachment process alone

shows how bad things
currently are in Alabama politics.

The articles of impeachment must be
presented by the Speaker of the House.

Mike Hubbard, who is currently
awaiting trial on 23 felony charges.

The trial would be presided
by the Chief Justice Roy Moore,

who was once removed from office,
for the dumbest possible reason.

Moore was charged with six counts
of ethically violating his office

for refusing to remove a stone
depiction of the Ten Commandments

he had placed
in the Supreme Court's rotunda.

It's true.

The Speaker of the House,
who is facing felony charges,

will present
the Articles of Impeachment

to the governor,
accused of a sex scandal.

The thing will be presided
by the Chief Justice,

who was once removed
from office for ethics violations.

This is either a grave insult
to the state of Alabama,

or the most Alabama
thing that state has ever done.

And now this !

Some fans who have never sat
in a premium location.

Take a look at these fans
at Tuesday's Astros-Yankees game.

They are dressed
as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

John Oliver filled some seats,
selling the tickets for just 25 cents.

A pair of fans in unicorn costumes,
another pair in shark costumes.

Two guys dressed as dinosaurs,

they sat in the front row and they
got on the center field video board.

Dancing sharks here
at Yankee stadium.

And the pitch,
swing and miss, got 'em!

Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo,
some Ninja Turtles.

So there was a contest put on
by HBO's Jon Stewart.

Moving on !

Our main story tonight
concerns credit reports.

The basis for the single most
important 3-digit number in your life,

other than, of course, 311,
the Beatles of rap-rock.

Measuring credit enables businesses
to know who to lend to.

It's critical to our economy.
And it always has been.

Millions of people use credit to buy
things that add up to a better living.

There's a lot of things
I'd like to buy !

How about giving me
a little credit ?

Nobody gives you credit, John.
It's something you have to earn.

To earn credit, first you have
to develop your character.

You have to have capacity
to pay your bills

and third,
you need some capital.

Scoring high on the 3 c's is essential
to earn a good credit rating.

Back then, there was a fourth "c"
determining your access to credit,

namely, what color you were.

It's a little bit weird
that one didn't make the movie.

But you might be surprised

at how many aspects of your
life your credit report can affect.

It's banks deciding
whether to lend you money,

landlords deciding
whether to rent you an apartment,

insurers setting your rates,

and even employers using it
to decide whether or not to hire you.

47 percent of employers do conduct
credit checks on new potential hires.

And it is legal if the employer
gets permission from the applicant.

Nearly half of employers delve
into credit histories when hiring.

You'll find credit checks are required
in all sorts of job listings,

from managing
a Benihana in Cincinnati,

to this one, which reads,
"Who runs those fireworks tents ?"

"It could be you ! Application
with good credit check required."

Which is ridiculous. They don't need
to bring credit into that job.

They just need to ask the question,
"What do you think of fireworks ?"

And then hear the answer,
"Fireworks are fuckin' sick, bro."

"I fuckin' love
lighting those fuckers."

The only 3 digits they need to see are
the ones on that person's two hands.

There are three big
credit-reporting firms:

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

All three aggressively market their
products for uses beyond lending.

Listen to how Experian
convinces employers

that your credit may reflect
your future job performance.

If you manage your credit well,

then you're going to manage
the company's money well.

Is it, though? Because, look at me.
My credit is probably fine,

but I routinely waste HBO's money
on stupid costumes,

pyrotechnic displays,
and checkered dress shirts.

I clearly cannot manage
this company's money well.

Now as for TransUnion, their website
explicitly states that credit reports

"help employers
make decisions quickly and easily"

"when deciding
on potential candidates".

Surprising given this exchange between
a representative from TransUnion

and an Oregon legislator.

What is the evidence
that there's a strong correlation

between accessing
an applicant's credit history

and eventual problems of loss
to the employer or to the clients,

I guess, in that case ?

We don't have any research
to show any statistical correlation

between what's in somebody's
credit report

and their job performance
or their likelihood to commit fraud.

Okay, so they admit there is
no evidence of a correlation.

Which does make sense.
A good credit score

could either mean
you're unlikely to commit fraud,

but it could mean that you're amazing,
and you've never been caught.

Incidentally, not 30 seconds later,
that guy said this...

Given all things equal between
two or three job applicants,

if a person has a high amount of debt
versus somebody who doesn't,

and all things other being equal,
maybe they wanna consider that.

He says: "No proof of a correlation,
but you're free to imagine there is."

I can imagine that eating alphabet
soup will increase my vocabulary.

That does not make it indubitable.
Indubitable !

I knew I ate a lot of letters
yesterday ! Indubitable !

Giving too much credence to credit
reports as a measure of character

may be a big mistake.

Over half the debt on the credit
reports comes from medical expenses.

Seems unfair to judge someone for
that, no one chooses to be sick,

with the exception of Julianne Moore
taking a run at best actress.

Credit reports can contain
a shocking number of errors.

25% of consumers have an error
in one of their credit reports.

The study also found about
one in twenty had errors

that could cause them to pay more
for a car loan or a mortgage.

One in four had an error. And one
in 20 were seriously wrong.

If every
20th frosty that Wendy's sold

turned out to be a cup
of warm goat semen...

We would want some accountability
and fast. At least freeze it !

Those errors can be anything
from including debt you've repaid

to mixing you up
with someone else.

Take what happened to Judy Thomas.
She kept getting turned down for loans

until she looked
at her credit report.

I saw debt from Utah Medical Center,
from a veterinarian clinic in Utah.

I saw collections
for a Judith Kendall.

Judith Kendall ? Not Judy Thomas ?
What's going through your mind ?

What she doing on my credit report ?
Why is her debt on my credit report ?

How can someone called Judy Thomas
be mixed up with Judith Kendall ?

If she's going to be mistaken,
how is it not Leslie Stahl ?

Because that is spooky.
And it actually gets worse.

If an agency matches your name
to a list of suspect criminals,

as they did with Amit Patel, you may
be in for an unpleasant surprise.

After being denied his dream apartment
he asked his landlord why.

As an answer, the landlord
forwarded his credit report.

- What does that say ?
- Terrorist.

Holy shit.

That is terrible,
because he is not a terrorist.

I do hope we have a better
strategy for dealing with terrorists

than flagging their credit reports
and denying their dream apartments.

Not in America !
Being mixed up with a terrorist

is not the worst thing a credit
bureau can do to someone.

Helen McGill was shocked when
she went to buy a travel trailer,

to learn she was dead.

The financial manager said:
"do you have a copy of your card"

"because you keep
coming up deceased ?"

I was like, there's no way.

Three credit bureaus
listed her as deceased.

I even paid at that point,
to get my credit score,

you can't get anything when you're
deceased, you don't even exist.

Just one error on your credit report,
and the world treats you

like a mean girl treats
the high school debate team:

"You're nothing, Amberly.
You don't even exist."

It would be bad enough if this just
involved the three big credit bureaus.

There are now hundreds of companies
providing broader "background checks"

which may bundle credit information
with criminal or driving records.

While some companies
appear to operate responsibly,

others, like general information
services, or GIS,

do things that make you doubt
their judgment.

We found this video, featuring
Snow White coming to them for help.

Now fairytale isn't an industry
that we specialize in

but lucky for you our magic mirror
can find anything worth locating,

if only you were
in the insurance industry.

We created tons of solutions
for those guys.

- Was that a fairy ?
- We're an equal opportunity employer.

Hold up. Was that
a homophobic fairy joke ?

It's hard to accept judgment from a
company that would do that,

let alone deliver it with the
acting skills of a shy third grader.

Agencies can take the problems of
credit reporting, adding a few more.

As we've discussed, a criminal
record does not necessarily mean

you're a bad person
or that you shouldn't be hired.

If you are going to use
a criminal background check

to make decisions, at the very least,
they should be accurate,

and frequently, they are not.

Take Samuel Jackson from Chicago.
No relation to the actor, obviously,

or to the 3 different sex offenders
one company confused him with,

even though one of those
convictions happened

when Jackson was just 3 years old
or, as his lawyer puts it:

The company was aware that
Mr. Jackson is only 30-years-old,

and he couldn't be all three
sex offenders at the same time.

Of course not.
There's only one person

who could be three sex
offenders at the same time,

that is Mr. Neil Patrick Harris.

Not saying he is, but he has
got the performance chops

to make you believe
it is possible,

if he put his mind to it, he could
be the literal triple threat.

He's that good,
he's that good a performer.

These mistakes can cost
people housing and jobs.

No wonder many firms have
wound up facing legal challenges.

Last year, GIS and their affiliate
had to jizz out

$13 million in fines and damages.

They admit no wrongdoing,
they've now lost so much money,

their next video is going to be
a filthy parrot in an old warehouse

"Polly wants a background check."

You are probably thinking:

"I should check my background
and credit reports."

Under a law called
the Fair Credit Reporting Act,

the big credit firms are required
to give you a copy once a year,

and there's an official site
where you can get yours.

But if you do spot an error,
your trouble may just be beginning.

Remember Judy Thomas ? It took her
a long time to get her credit fixed.

It became a six-year battle
with credit agencies,

to try and prove that she was
Judy Thomas, not Judith Kendall.

I also hired a local attorney to try
and straighten it out.

We had everything certified
that this is Judy Thomas.

This is where I live. I've never
gone by the name of Kendall.

I've never even been to Utah, let
alone owing a cable company in Utah.

- What happened ?
- Nothing.

I'm surprised she didn't just go:
"Fuck it. I'm Judith Kendall."

"I'm moving to Utah and I'm getting
a sick pet and a cable package."

"At least then, my life will make
some fucking sense to me."

It is not surprising that
when we crunched the numbers,

the three big
credit bureaus have been the subject

of the most complaints to
the CFPB since the start of last year.

They may say that sometimes, they
receive inaccurate data from creditors

but if that's true, their method for
resolving problems needs to be better.

And in a settlement agreement

they pledged to improve
their dispute resolution process.

Before you get too hopeful,
it's worth noting:

Industry claimed for decades they
are always improving their accuracy.

For 25 years now, the news stories
about them have a similar tone.

A study said 25% of credit reports
had errors to deny you credit.

A staggering number of credit
reports contain mistakes.

A new study says credit reports
have errors costly for consumers.

A survey found nearly one third
of credit reports contained errors.

You don't have to spend long preparing
a broadcast about credit agencies

before you learn one simple truth:
everyone has a horror story.

It's obvious that problems with credit
agencies are a classic story trope.

Like "oldest person dies", or
"scary new teen sex trends."

Coming up: we've all heard
of 'Netflix and chill',

but what does it mean when your teen
is going to 'Hulu and rimjob'?"

It is not as innocent
as it sounds !

There is nothing new
about this problem.

When we were researching
Judy Thomas's story,

we found a news clip about a lawsuit
from 2002 that gave us deja vu.

It was the culmination of a six
year battle for Judy Thomas,

who tried to get Transunion to clear
up mistakes on her credit report.

Another Judy Thomas !

Judy Thomas was not even the only
Judy Thomas this had happened to !

If you or someone you know is
named Judy Thomas: give up.

There is no hope in life
for Judys like you.

Things are even worse
with background check companies.

They are also required to give you
a copy of your report.

There's a massive loophole,
unlike the credit bureaus,

most of them don't keep
files on all consumers,

they search for data
when someone pays them to.

If you're about to apply
for a job or an apartment,

you might think: "I want to be sure
there isn't a problem on my report,"

"so I'll just buy it first myself".

We asked companies if they'd let
us do that, and they all said no.

Meaning, if they confuse you
with a sex offender,

you might not find out until that
job or apartment is all but gone.

You know who you'll have lost it
to, don't you ? Neil Patrick Harris.

You wouldn't think he could take
a certified public accountant job,

but he can
and he does it so well !

And he's so likable while
he does it ! He is so good.

To be fair here,

some companies will sell you
your own report.

So we had some of our staffers
buy their own background checks.

While most of them
came back fine,

five of our staffers' reports included
alias names they'd never heard of.

Charles Wilson
was mistaken for a man

who was indicted
for Medicaid fraud in Florida.

That site did say Charles's listing
was "pending verification".

And it was later removed from his
report. But it was still too late,

because by that time, in a
"Spartacus"-style show of support,

our office had rallied around Charles
and committed Medicaid fraud.

Because we care about him.

Given the stakes here,

you would hope these companies
are being closely monitored.

As this FTC official admits, there is
an alarming amount they don't know.

Is there any kind of national
list of these companies ?


So we don't know how many of
these companies are out there ?

No, that's one of the challenges.

Yeah, no shit
that's one of the challenges.

You can't lose track of how many
background check companies are,

the way that we've all lost track
of the number of Oreo flavors.

"Root beer float" ?
Are you fucking kidding me ?

You are sick, Oreo.
You're all sick.

This whole industry seems
uncomfortably complacent.

Remember that FTC study,

which showed that one in twenty
credit reports had serious errors ?

And industry trade group put out
a press release with the title:

"FTC report confirms
credit reports are accurate",

arguing that it showed "95 percent
of consumers are unaffected."

But when you are holding records
for more than 200 million individuals,

that five percent error rate
affects 10 million people.

They're basically saying:
"Great news !"

We only fucked up a group equivalent
to the population of Sweden !

We're the fucking greatest !

If we could make the industry know
the jeopardy they place people in...

Maybe we can. Because remember
the big three credit companies,

Equifax, Experian, and Transunion ?

We started three terrible companies

with names that are problematically
similar to theirs.

Specifically, Equifacks,
Experianne and TramsOnion.

What do those companies do ?
Great question.

you'll see they take shelter animals
to customers' homes,

where animals lick peanut
butter off people's genitals,

before being
returned to the shelter.

Equifacks is an awful company.
But don't worry, Equifax.

I can't imagine anyone
will mistake them for you.

to whisper passages from
Mein Kampf into babies' ears,

with the permission of neither
the baby nor the parents.

where you can buy
these delicious looking steaks

made from the flesh of dead
orcas who worked at Sea World.

It would clearly be a disaster
for the credit agencies

if they were mistaken
for any of these companies.

But don't worry. I'm sure that won't
happen 95 percent of the time.

Apparently, that's good enough !
That's our show.

Thank you so much for watching,
we'll see you next week. Good night !