Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Columbus Day, Civil Forfeiture
October 7, 2014 6:30 AM - Season 1, Episode 20 - Subscribe

This week: Hong Kong protests China's increasingly intrusive control. A roundup of silly candidates for Brazil's upcoming mandatory election. Norway drops out of the running for the 2022 Winter Olympics due to excessive IOC demands, leaving China and Kazakhstan as the sole remaining candidates. How Is This Still A Thing: Columbus Day. Main story: police abuse of civil forfeiture (16m MeFi). Special guest: Jeff Goldblum. Jell Goldblum outtake clips (1m).
posted by JHarris (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
this civil forfeiture stuff is crazy. I've been hearing for 20 years about how cops in florida would pull over cars with out-of-state plates, and basically ransack them for "drug money."

I really do wonder how bad it could get before something happens. Hm, I wonder if there's any research into the historical rise and fall of police corruption.
posted by rebent at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I sometimes feel like I have developed a very intense constantly growing phobia of the police. The more I read about how much power they have to ruin an individual's life, the more I become anxious about being pulled over for just trying to live my life. I know not all police are this way but more and more it seems that the bad outweigh the good. It's troubling.
posted by Fizz at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm extremely pleased to see civil forfeiture given national attention- it's basically tailor-made to be abused and everybody involved in it needs to be stripped of their jobs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

The cf stuff was dynamite. Oliver is perfect for the weekly format the gives him and the writers so much time to load up the barrels.

Bill Maher should be ashamed he does so little with the same resources.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm always hesitant to comment in these threads because I just dissolve into a big pile of adoration for John Oliver and that's neither interesting nor coherent, but this episode was just so great!

I'm a fairly politically aware hyperliberal person and I still had no idea the extent to which civil forfeiture is happening until I saw this. There was a criticism in the thread on the Blue about Oliver using news bits from other shows and "claiming credit" for breaking those stories somehow, but that really misses the point. He doesn't take credit for those stories, he amplifies them. Hardly anyone would have seen all that kick-ass local journalism without Oliver giving it a national stage - god knows they weren't going to run it on NBC News tomorrow (with BriWi doing the jerkoff motion just out of frame, of course). He showcased some great reporters doing some great work and tied everything together so that everyone can see this isn't just a local isolated phenomenon that happens occasionally with bad cops, this is a nationwide trend and an increasingly significant supplement to law enforcement funding. I especially loved the footage of the Missouri cop testifying about civil forfeiture - his facial expressions are gold, like as he's talking he's suddenly realizing "huh, I never really thought about it before, but now that I'm saying this out loud it actually sounds pretty fucked up!"

The Law & Order sketch was absolutely brilliant, too - wonderfully subversive and very illustrative of the complex web of lies we tell ourselves about law enforcement in our society; fun enough to avoid seeming didactic or angry, but quite pointed about the absurdity of this policy. It almost felt like a Mr. Show sketch, which is high praise indeed (Bob would be the one screaming at the pallets of clacker balls, I can tell you that right now).

I'm struggling with a way to say this that doesn't sound terrible, but I found it interesting how he generally focused on white people having their shit stolen even though I imagine CF is most often perpetrated against minorities just because of general racist policing trends. At first that put me off a little - what about racism, surely we should be talking about racism - but after thinking about it for a couple days, I think it was actually smart because it keeps white liberals from pigeonholing this as Yet Another Problem with Racist Cops That I Don't Have To Worry About Because Of My Privilege, or worse, dismissing it with some just-world victim-blaming bullshit. It is certainly a problem with racist cops, of course, but it goes beyond that, and it's not like this behavior would be OK if it were applied in a race-blind fashion or anything. I'm very critical of the "it's only important if it happens to white people" attitude this caters to, but I think presenting it as something that happens to all kinds of people was fairly savvy.

Focusing on the absurdity of bringing suit against inanimate items also kept it from feeling like a big didactic downer or political flash point and instead framed things so that no reasonable person could really agree with those policies. John Oliver is just so deft with his humor, it continues to amaze me. Mockery is an extremely powerful weapon and I love the way they use it on this show. It's a very welcome evolution on the standard ultraliberal dark humor (I always think of my eternal favorite Get Your War On) where the funny thing is how horrible those people are all being. With Oliver, it's usually funny how stupid or absurd they're being, which is an important distinction and I think usually makes for more effective persuasion. It's not that he doesn't touch on the morality of the thing, because the show clearly has a moral drive to it, but it's usually presented as "this is incredibly stupid and absurd, and also very wrong" instead of "this is the wrongest thing that ever happened ever and just look at these terrible, terrible assholes." He also focuses more squarely on the perpetrators of whatever he's decrying instead of just dancing around the media coverage or the semi-deranged true believer supporters, like the Daily Show sometimes does.

In conclusion, John Oliver is wonderful, his show is wonderful, and this episode was wonderful.
But I admit it, I miss Andy Zaltzman and the pun runs...
posted by dialetheia at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

I first heard about this about a month ago on the CBC, but this made civil forfeiture seem even more ridiculous.
posted by cardboard at 3:31 PM on October 7, 2014

I would be pleased to find transcripts of these segments, with links to the supporting primary sources, kind of like Wikipedia does. HBO, get on this!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:36 AM on October 8, 2014

Are you saying that to make me feel guilty? Sigh....
posted by JHarris at 7:12 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recall back in the 90s the Texas Observer did an incredible long-form piece on large-scale civil forfeitures in the state. I had an inkling that it was still happening, but the lower profile of The War on Drugs had pushed it into the background in favor of other outrageous injustices.

John Oliver is a damn treasure.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:34 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

To tide us over until the next episode:
How Is This Still A Thing: Ayn Rand
Web exclusive: Pumpkins Spice
Still not enough? Well--

(rings doorbell)

Hello sir! Are you aware that John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman have a wonderful plan for your life? It's called The Bugle, it's a comedy current events podcast, and it returned recently from hiatus. There's two episodes since the return, 273 and 274, and if you like those there's 272 more where they came from, so you have a lot of catching up to do.
posted by JHarris at 4:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Hello sir or madam, did not intend to be exclusionary in my goofy little premise.)
posted by JHarris at 4:45 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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