5 Incredible Times John Oliver Deservedly Put America In Its Place
If there's one thing John Oliver is great at, it's calling out the United States on its bullshit. But Oliver doesn't harp on America in a mean, condescending way. Instead, he just points out the obvious, and he does it with puns, hilarity, and his fabulous British accent. During this season of Last Week Tonight, Oliver has made penis jokes, he has registered his own church, and he brilliantly lampooned the U.S. for its uniquely horrible maternity leave policies. There have been many times that John Oliver put America in its place on Last Week Tonight.
Mashable called him "American's social justice warrior," because he can do in 15 minutes what activists have been trying to do for decades. That is, he can draw attention to the sad injustices and hypocritical inequalities happening all across the U.S., and he can actually make people care about them. Oliver's stories have called more attention to the lack of oversight for megachurches and evangelists who label themselves as tax-free church entities in the U.S., and one of the episodes forced the Miss America organization to hire an outside consulting firm to investigate just how much scholarship money it actually gives women each year. Here are five times Oliver put America in its place for hypocrisy, exaggeration, or just straight-up lies.
No Paid Family Leave For Our Mothers
Oliver called America out on both its gender inequality and hypocrisy on Mother's Day this May. He said that if the U.S. cared about its mothers as much as it has claimed to, then it wouldn't be the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't offer any federal policy that gives mothers paid time off after having given birth, according to Vox. The only moms in the U.S. who have paid maternity leave policies are those who work at a company with 50 or more employees, have worked at the company for more than a year, and are full-time, salaried employees, according to Oliver's video:
And what that means is that 40 percent of workers are not covered by the federal law, so if a worker with no paid leave goes into labor at work, she better hope it's on her lunch hour and that her co-workers don't mind if the break room gets a bit messy.
In the segment, Oliver played heartbreaking clips of mothers who were forced to return to work just days after giving birth. Even paternity leave, Oliver showed, carries immense stigma. Because, you know, wanting to spend time with your newborn child is totally lame. Oliver shut down the U.S. for its sad hypocrisy on Mother's Day:
You can't have it both ways. You can't go on and on about how much you love mothers and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them. ... Mothers — we owe everything to them. They gave birth to us, they nurtured us, they made us who we are. And this Mother's Day we have just one thing to say to all the mothers out there: Get the fuck back to work.
Televangelism & Megachurches Make Huge, Tax-Exempt Profits
In an episode that has been viewed on YouTube more than 6 million times, Oliver laid out just how megachurches and televangelists build their empires. He said most televangelists rely on an ideology called the "prosperity gospel," which tells followers that "wealth is a sign of God's favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you," according to Oliver's segment. But, unfortunately, this "seed faith" preys on vulnerable people.
Bonnie Parker donated money to a televangelist because she believed that the more she donated, the more likely she would be to have her cancer healed. Oliver said that not only is this kind of preaching totally legal, but it's entirely tax-exempt under the IRS, which doesn't define what a church is. And Oliver said not taxing churches or evangelists means they get to reap a number of benefits that seem a bit ludicrous given what they are preaching. Gloria and Kenneth Copeland, for example, live in a $6.3 million house completely tax-exempt because it qualifies as a "parsonage."
At the end of the episode, Oliver proved just how easy it is to register a church in the U.S. and claim this tax-free status by registering his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Oliver's Last Week Tonight studio qualifies as a "house of worship," and he can collect donations in the name of the church.
The episode refreshed calls for the IRS to start auditing megachurches. The IRS suspended all auditing for churches from 2009 to 2013 and only conducted three audits from 2013 to 2014, according to CBS.
LGBT Discrimination Is Still Rampant After The SCOTUS Marriage Ruling
After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this summer, Oliver said Americans were patting themselves on the back for making moves toward equality. But he said our celebration is still way too premature, because in 31 states gay people are still at risk of being fired, evicted, or refused service because of their sexual orientation, according to the Oliver's segment on the issue:
The only possible reason you should be fired from your job after your wedding is if your theme were stolen office supplies.
Oliver said that civil rights is an issue that should not be left up to the States. He said that right now, Arkansas, for example, has an anti anti-discrimination ordinance that "prevents any city or country from extending civil rights protections to gay people," according to Rolling Stone. He said that civil rights are not special protections, and thus are something that states don't seem to be able to handle on their own:
This is not about special rights. We're not creating Lesbians Only sections on airplanes or putting up signs at Six Flags saying, "You Must Be This Gay to Go on This Ride."
Mandatory Minimums Are Like Penises
In one of his greatest one-liners ever, Oliver explained just why mandatory minimum prison sentences — which say that certain crimes warrant a minimum sentence, regardless of the circumstances of the crime — don't make any sense at all:
Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime. Prison sentences are a lot like penises — if they're used correctly, even a short one can do the trick... is a rumor I have heard.
He also told heartbreaking stories, like that of Weldon Angelos, a nonviolent, first-time offender. When Angelos was 24, he sold small amounts of marijuana and happened to have a gun in his possession, Oliver said. As a result, he received a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence with no parole. Given the sentences for crimes such as hijacking an airplane and raping a child, Olive said that Angelos' sentence is horrifying:
So, wait, if my math is right here, this low-level pot dealer received the exact same sentence as would an airplane-hijacking, child-raping terrorist — a person so evil I legitimately don't know if one has ever existed.
Stadiums That Use Tax-Payer Money Are Exploitative
Oliver received widespread acclaim for his segment on tax-subsidized sports stadiums, 51 of which have cost American taxpayers $12 billion from 2000 to 2010, according to Yahoo! Sports. Many teams get taxpayer funds for stadiums by claiming that they don't have the money to build the stadium themselves, according to Oliver's segment. For example, Oliver said the Miami Marlins got almost $500 million "by pleading poverty," even though leaked documents later showed that they made $50 million over two years:
Municipal bonds are a way for the city to take out a loan, which they then later repay with interest — although, through new or existing taxes. They're supposed to be for things like roads or schools — public goods that private industry would not pay for. But they've been routinely misused to finance stadiums for decades, and often, cities do it because teams claim they can't afford to build stadiums themselves.
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