Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Student loan debt
September 8, 2014 6:12 AM - Season 1, Episode 16 - Subscribe

This week: A secret of ISIS's success may be their use of social media. Libyans hold a pool party. 60 Minutes anchors prompt echoing responses from interviewees. A long piece of student loan debt, with an emphasis on the excesses of for-profit schools. (16m) And the Russian space sex geckos have died. (6m) A Great Big World is on hand to play them off.
posted by JHarris (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The piece about the State Dept actually releasing a satirical recruitment video was great. That actually, really surprised me. I want to see the whole thing now. Plus Lyndon Johnson talking about needing more room for his huge balls. Now I want to spend hours listening to presidential tapes. That's good stuff.

I'm surprised that he didn't mention the UK model for the student debt piece. It was great that he read bits from the letter that a lawyer for one of for-profits sent the show. Obviously he's taking his cue from Colbert and Stewart on that.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 6:17 PM on September 8, 2014

The Johnson tape was real?!
posted by goethean at 7:26 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Johnson tape was real?!

It's just like a print designer asking you move the logo over an inch to the right within a responsive design.
posted by juiceCake at 7:34 PM on September 8, 2014

News Recap
"In a word: ISIS. In three words: Holy fuck ISIS." They've gotten so much attention that other terrorists are feeling neglected. In response, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced on tape that his group was going to move into India. But even on the issue of ominous taped announcements, ISIS beats him: a very serious man on CNN is presented taking about how boring al-Zawahri's tape is. "When you think about the ISIS social media campaign that they're waging, it's highly effective, it's well-edited, it's exciting, there's music, here you've got a picture of Ayman al-Zawahri just sort of blabbing away for half an hour." Oliver: "Blah blah blah am I right? This guy truly is a mass murderer, he is boring me to death!" The State Department dislikes the effectiveness of ISIS' use of social media so much that they're waging a counter campaign using the biting edge of sarcasm. Oliver: "What the fuck are you doing?! The State Department has genuinely created a sarcastic parody recruitment video for ISIS, that begins with the words 'Run, Do Not Walk, to ISIS Land.' And you are banking a lot on any potential militants understanding that that is sarcasm. 'You know what? I was just about to join ISIS, but then I saw your very clever video!'" Oliver tells us that one has to be careful with this kind of propaganda, because it didn't work when the English tried to do it to Germany in 1936. A fake, sarcastic propaganda video from WWII is shown. "Hey Germany! That Hitler chappie seems like he's got some swell ideas! Here's a thought: why don't you all become Nazis? And while you're at it, Poland's nice his time of year, why don't you just pop over there and take it? That would be a really good idea! Run, don't walk, to the Nazi Land!"

Libya. Three years after Gaddafi, how are things going? Well, the nation's descending into chaos, and Libyan gunmen are shown on film celebrating taking an American compound with a pool party. Oliver suggests we might have stumbled upon a shorthand for future foregin policy failures. "We'd better be careful how we leave Afghanistan or it could turn into a total Libyan pool party over there! And don't get me started on Ukraine, that's a Libyan pool party waiting to happen! On, and one more thing guys, why don't we take that sarcastic ISIS video down, because that thing has the potential to end in the biggest Libyan pool party the world has ever seen!"

And Now: "60 Minutes" Anchors Prompting People To Deliver The Exact Sound Bite They Need
* "You gotta hand it to 'em...." "Yes you do." "He was off and running." "He was off and running."
* "One way of dealing with anxiety..." " to laugh at it." "Is to laugh at it."
* "So it drives the price up." "It drives the price up."
* "You did everything together..." "Everything together."
* "With that cartoon..." "...with that cartoon!"
* "He is sort of the father of hot sauce..." "...he's the father of hot sauce."
* "Does that surprise you?" "It does surprise me."
* "And you're saying we shouldn't." "I think we shouldn't."
* "There's no reason to prepare!" "No reason to prepare."
* "And that's essentially a commercial for GoPro." "That's essentially a commercial for GoPro."
* "All of them banned." "All of them banned." "With the crowd there." "With the crowd right there." "That's quite an image." "Quite an image. Was almost a cakewalk actually." "A cakewalk? To beat the system." "To beat the system." "To cheat." "To cheat."

Main Story: Student Debt
Student debt in the US is now bigger than credit cards and auto loans, and is second only to mortgages. "Student debt is a lot like HPV. If you go to college, you're almost certainly going to get it, and if you do it will follow you for the rest of your life." Legally, student debt is a special kind of debt -- not dischargeable in bankruptcy and collectible in a variety of ways.

And yet student debt as tripled in the past decade. How did this happen? Well, 90% of student debt is subsidized by the Federal Government. "And it started with such good intentions. Here's one of the Federal Student Loan Program's early champions." Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson: "Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty." Oliver: "A higher education system open to all was one of LBJ's top priorities, along with of course creating a Libyan pool party in Vietnam and finding a pair of pants that could contain his gigantic testicles." (That last bit -- not a joke, as vividly revealed in an actual phone conversation between Johnson and the Hagar pants company.)

So, why is student loan debt so high? Well, states slashed education funding, causing colleges to raise tuitions, forcing students to take out ever larger loans. "Why else do you think colleges have so many fucking a-capella groups? They know they sound stupid, they just can't afford instruments anymore!" Some community colleges have also been forced to reduce capacity.

It's good that students have access to Federal funds for education, but here's where we get to one of the biggest drivers of student debt: for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix, DeVry, ITT and Everest. "Most of them are publically traded on Wall Street, and they run commercials like this." Shown: a commercial for ITT in which a man, Eugene Elbert, who went there talks about the school in glowing terms. "There is nothing I would change about my life. [...] Everything is perfect." Oliver: "That's nice. I will say there's something about the phrase everything is perfect that I find inherently suspecious. Because the only other person who says that is Janet in Accounting, and she secretly puts Jim Bean in her coffee cup and repeats 'Keep ye together you can do this Janet!' into the bathroom mirror five times a day."

For-profit schools account for 31% of student loans despite serving just 13% of students, in large part due to the much greater expense of going to one. Oliver: "Wow. Four to six times the cost of a community college. Plus, you don't even get to hang out with a study group of lovable scamps for, let's say, six seasons and a movie." Why do they charge so much? It's not due to the quality of education. Mark DeFusco, Director of University of Phoenix 1994-2002, speaking to Frontline: "If you take a look at for-profit colleges, the analysts will tell you anywhere between 20 and 25 percent of the total revenue of the company is in sales and marketing. About a quarter. In most cases the faculty are in the ten-to-twenty percent range." Oliver: "They spend half the amount on teachers than they do on marketing. Think about that! He's basically saying, 'Hey teachers! We're not saying you don't matter, we're just saying, ads about you matter twice as much. One for you, two for a spot during Wayne Brady, that's about fair.'"

Continuing, "The thing is, from a purely business perspective, that disparity makes some kind of sense." DeFusco: "When I go and buy perfume for my mom, the chemicals in the bottle and the bottle itself amount to about fifty cents. The advertising amounts to five or six bucks." Oliver: "Okay for a start, quit buying perfume for your mom you fucking creep! (sniffs) 'I like the way you smell, Mom!' (sniiiiff) 'You smell gooood!'"
"And secondly, perfume is not education, although I will say both do market themselves aggressively. With perfume, it's spraying it into people's eyes when they walk into a department store, and for for-profit schools, it's actually even worse!" ABC News: "Zarah Crowley was a recruiter at the for-profit Westwood College in 2007." [edit] "Crowley says she quit because she couldn't continue preying on low-income youth, and using something called 'pain points.'" Crowley: "A pain point might be something... they work at McDonalds, they don't want to be like their parents, we turn it on them and say, 'I thought you wanted to do something with your life. Do you want to work at McDonalds for the rest of your life?" Oliver: "Yeah. They are told to hit people's pain points. The only professionals who should be doing that are dominatrices and emo bands! That's it!"

"And this 'pain point' approach appears to be an industry-wide technique! This is an actual slide some ITT Tech recruiters were shown during training." Slide: picture of a dentist looking into a guy's open mouth, with the title "Find out where their PAIN is." Oliver: "That photo is from Marathon Man, where Laurence Oliver famously played a Nazi torturer! And it's maybe not saying much for your business model if your essential logic is, 'Hey guys, this works really well for the Nazis, let's at least give it a go!'"

To answer the question of what education you get at these schools, we return to the matter of the guy in the ITT ad, Eugene Elbert, who graduated with an Associate's Degree in Engineering from ITT's Sylmar, California campus. Oliver: "We checked their public filings, and out of 115 students who enrolled in that program in the class of 2012, three-quarters didn't graduate, and only 13 found work in that field." (Numbers: 115 enrolled, 27 graduated, 13 employed.) "Meaning, everyone else would have genuinely better off studying engineering at Hogwarts, because at least that way they have a fucking owl to show for it!"

Graduates from a Corinthian College nursing program found that, even with a degree, it might be difficult to find work. On job interviews, when asked if they've been in a hospital, had to say no. For psychiatric rotation, they were sent to a Museum of Scientology. Oliver: "Fwhat?! Scientologists do not believe in psychiatry! Their museum is literally called 'Psychiatry: An Industry Of Death!' Going to a Scientology museum for your psychiatric rotation is certifiably insane-- or, evidence of a build-up of thetans in your system."

When LWT asked Corinthian Colleges about this, they responded in an unusual way. Oliver: "Full disclosure. We asked Corinthian about this, and they requested that we point out a few things, such as the fact that those women later sued the school and a financial settlement was reached, and that those women later went on to become registered nurses. And, also, that us not mentioning those facts to you would 'constitute reckless disregard for the truth.' Well, not the kind of reckless disregard for the truth that would lead you to send medical students to a fucking Scientology museum, but, you know, pretty reckless. They also wanted us to take 'clear and extensive note of subsequent events,' and in interest of doing that, you should know that, this summer, after a government investigation of their job placement numbers, Corinthian Colleges have agreed to sell or close every school they operate in the U.S." (Source: New York Times, July 4, 2014) "I presume that's what they wanted us to tell you, job done."

The Federal Government does try to regulate these schools, allowing only a "mere" 90% of their funding to come from federal student loans. But the other 10% can come from veteran loans and benefits, giving them an excuse to chase after former members of the armed services. "For-profit schools took in 1.7 billion dollars in G.I. Bill money in the last reported school year alone." (Source:, July 30, 2014) Daniel Golden of Bloomberg News went to a marine base in North Carolina, where he found that Ashford University had sent a recruiter to the 'Wounded Warrior' barracks, signing up "brain-injured marines who even had difficulty remembering what courses they were taking." Oliver: "Holy shit. I'll say this for for-profit schools, they've just given us a first-class education in the depths of human depravity."

Oliver informs us that there's some further good news and bad news. The good news is that a few years ago, the Obama Administration announced tighter gainful employment standards. (Source: Department of Education, Jule 2, 2011) "The bad news is, everything that happened after that." The school's trade group went on a lobbying binge to protect their niche, and orchestrated a write-in campaign for "ordinary students and educators" asking that the regulations not be tightened.

Oliver: "Let me read one to you! It reads: 'I am a career student at [INSTITUTION] studying [PROGRAM]. [INSTITUTION] is providing me with the education and training necessary to obtain the job I've always wanted as a [CAREER].' Many, many people didn't even bother filling in the blanks!"

"The worst thing is, the campaign worked! The gainful employment rules were weakened and eventually struck down completely. The latest version of the rules are expected by November, and the for-profit school trade group, APSCU, is still lobbying hard against them. If you'd like to let APSCU know how you feel about their industry's behavior, we've actually prepared a form letter for you, that reads: 'To Whom It May Concern: I am [NAME HERE], a human being with [DESCRIBE AT LEAST SOME LEVEL OF SENSE] who is sick of your [SYNONYM FOR BULLSHIT]. Whatever the benefits of for-profit schools, your trade group is protecting some of the worst actors, and [ADDITIONAL INSULTS]. [IDEAS FOR PLACES TO CRAM THIS LETTER ONCE ROLLED UP]. [PROPOSALS FOR HUMAN WASTE PRODUCTS TO BE EATEN]. Thank you for your time. [NAME HERE AGAIN]"

"Feel free to go online, copy this letter, please do not bother to fill it in at all, and send it to APSCU at this address." (That would be "And that might make you feel a little bit better. But, it will only be temporary. Because the student debt problem is far bigger than just for-profit schools. If they all went away, the student debt problem would still be here! Because our leaders have decided that while education is incredibly important, it is not important enough to actually pay for. So, with that in mind, let me speak right now to all current freshmen in college who have student loans. Okay."

"You need to stop watching this show right now! You don't have time for this! Get out there and enjoy the fuck out of your college experience, because you may be paying for it for the rest of your life! I'm serious! Drink beer from a funnel! Kidnap a mascot! Find out if you're gay or not, and even if you are not, have some gay experiences! Do it now, it doesn't count! Become that weird guy on campus who rides a unicycle from class to class! Find out whoever the Winklevoss twins of your school are and steal their idea for a website! And shoot fireworks out of every bodily oriface you can fucking find! Do it now! Please, make sure your college years are the best ones of your life, because thanks to the debt that we are saddling you with, they almost certainly will be. Get out there and do it! Go nuts! Go crazy!"

And Now: Even More "60 Minutes" Anchors Prompting People To Deliver The Exact Sound Bite They Need -- Seriously, They Do This All The Time
* "You don't hear the call." "You don't hear the call." "You don't see the name." "You don't see the name."
* "And that was you." "And that was me."
* "You were chased." "I was chased."
* "It didn't turn out that way." "It didn't turn out that way."
* "Only in America." "Right, only in America."
* "There was a back up plan." (Obama) "There was a back up plan."
* "That was essentially it?" (Romney) "That's essentially it."
* "Old heart, new heart." "Old heart, new heart."
* "You ended up at the national championship." "Yep, I ended up at the national championship."
* "It was a proposal." "It was a proposal."
* "To destroy computers." "To destroy computers." To destroy computers."
* "You can't let go." (Zuckerberg) "You can't let go?" "You can't let go!"
* "Respect." "Respect." "Respect."

The remaining portion is an update on the space sex geckos. They're back on earth, but none of them survived. A Great Big World (apparently a music group that exists) plays a memorial tune while we pay our respects.
posted by JHarris at 1:36 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know it doesn't mean much, but seeing The New Yorker's cartoon editor's face flash by for a second there triggered a wave of nostalgia for gut churning anexity.
posted by The Whelk at 2:23 AM on September 9, 2014

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