Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 4 - Infrastructure - full transcript

John demonstrates the importance of infrastructure with a special sketch starring Edward Norton, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Steve Buscemi. He also discusses Boris Nemstov.

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Season II, episode 4

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

A quick recap of the week.
And we begin in Russia.

The future home
of 45 million Ukrainians.

On Friday, there was
some terrible news.

A breaking story out of Moscow.

The murder of Russian opposition
leader Boris Nemtsov.

The 55 year old politician
was gunned down

less than 2 days before he was to
lead a rally against President Putin.

That would seem
like a shocking coincidence

if you knew nothing
about Russia.

Nemtsov is the latest
in a long line of Putin's enemies

to find themselves mysteriously
imprisoned or dead.

Nemtsov was asked in an interview
if he was afraid Putin might kill him.

And his answer was:
yes, a little bit.

At the end of that interview,
the journalist said to him:

"I hope common sense will prevail
and Putin will not kill you."

Sounds chilling, but to be fair,
"I hope Putin will not kill you"

is just how Russian people
say goodbye to each other.

Thank you for dinner, Dmitri.
I hope Putin will not kill you.

Thanks !
I hope Putin will not kill you, too.

We won't know who killed Nemtsov
until the investigation is complete.

There's one problem with that.

Tonight, Vladimir Putin says
he will personally take charge

of the investigation
into Nemtsov's death.

Yes, this will be detective Putin's
greatest mystery

since the case of the missing
Crimean peninsula

that I would like
to take back now.

Let's give Putin
the benefit of the doubt.

His investigation made
an early breakthrough

and it turns
out he's not involved.

President Putin condemned the murder,
calling it a contract killing.

He launched an investigation
into the murder

and said it bears
the hallmarks of a contract killing.

I will find whoever is responsible
for this contract killing

and make sure they are paid
whatever it is that I owe them.

So I will do that.
Let's move on to Washington D.C.

There was big news from the FCC.

It is a historic decision
for how Americans surf the net.

The FCC approved
sweeping net neutrality rules.

Yes ! Cable and telecom companies
will not be allowed to create

a two-tiered fast lane
and slow lane on the internet.

All of us will be treated the same
when we upload and share pictures

of a gold and white dress.

It's gold and white.
I will fight every one of you.

When we talked
about this last year,

we likened Tom Wheeler,
the head of the FCC,

to a dingo babysitter,
due to the fact

he once ran the cable
industry's lobbying arm.

Which prompted this response.

I would like to state for
the record that I'm not a dingo.

Yes, you are. You are a dingo.

It's just that in this one instance,
you did not eat the baby.

Good dingo !
Good babysitting, dingo. Keep it up.

Good news. Not because consumers
and entrepreneurs are happy,

but because
internet service providers are sad.

No one reacted more
passive-aggressively than Verizon.

Verizon putting out
this press release,

objecting to what
they call 1930s style rules.

They put out the press release in
Morse code to emphasize their point.

Petty. And by the way,
Verizon, I'll say this for Morse code.

At least it didn't drop out
for no reason

anytime people walked
into their kitchen.

There's a dead zone by the stove,
just wave the machine around a bit !

It appears that some members
in Congress are on Verizon's side.

After FCC's ruling, one of them took
to the house floor to disagree with it.

The Obama majority on the FCC
seized unprecedented control

over the internet under
the guise of net neutrality.

Net neutrality's the notion that the
latest cat video is of equal importance

to a teleconference
consultation for a heart patient.

What if the latest cat video is
a teleconference for a heart patient

with Doctor
Larry Meowberg-Fluffstein ?

Because he's excellent.

You are misunderstanding
what net neutrality is.

Cat videos are part of the point.
Net neutrality is keeping providers

from picking and choosing
whose voices get heard.

Ensuring that the internet remains
a democratic space.

Even if all a message
contains is this.

No !

Yes !
That's freedom.

Finally, a quick word on history.

Or as Ken Burns calls it,

This week brought shocking news
about a fact

everyone was taught
in history class.

The rat has had
a bad wrap over the centuries.

By far, its most deadly offense,
spreading the Black Death

across the world in the 14th century,
killing 75 million people.

Seems that rats have been the victims
of one of history's biggest framings.

First: history's biggest framings
are inside Mariah Carey's living room

and they are around
oil paintings of Mariah Carey.

If rats didn't spread the plague,
who did ?

Scientists in Norway believe it may
have be this: the little gerbil.

Gerbils ?!
Let me get this straight:

the Black Death, the plague which
nearly wiped out human civilization,

may have been caused
by Mr. Nibbles here ?

If rats have been falsely accused,
we need to make amends.

I live in New York,
so I'm reasonably certain

there are at least thirty rats
within five feet of me right now.

So gather 'round, rats.
We've made a video just for you.

Humanity's placed the blame for one
of its greatest calamities

squarely at the feet
of the common rat.

The Black Death, was the result
of bubonic plague spread by rats.

This turns out to be false. With
great humility, we, the human race,

apologize to the rat community
for centuries of demonization.

Apologies, rats.
You deserve better.

Now, as for you,
you devious gerbil bastards.

All this time, we've been
buying wheels for you to run on,

constructing elaborate
gerbilariums for you to inhabit

and making hats for you,
specially made hats.

Which granted, you pulled off.
But that's not the point !

All this time, you whiskered fucks,
you may have been responsible

for casting a grim shadow of death
over human civilization.

We oughta smack you right in
your incredibly cute glassy eyes !

So here's the deal,
play time's over, assholes !

We, the human race, are pissed off.

We're real pissed off
and we demand an apology.

We don't care how you do it.
Write it with scraps of newspaper.

Chew it into a toilet paper roll.
Spell it out in your own shit.

Just get it done, gerbils.
Get. It. Done.

Just to reiterate, sorry to rats.

Moving on. Our main story
tonight is about infrastructure.

It's our roads, bridges, dams,
levees, airports, power grids,

anything that can be destroyed
in an action movie.

Get out of there !

God damn it !

Holy shit ! If an alien species
judged humanity by our movies,

they'd think we were furious
with asphalt all the time.

When our infrastructure is not being
destroyed by robots

and/or saved by Bruce Willis,
we tend to find it a bit boring.

Infrastructure is not a sexy
or glamorous topic.

I'd like to think otherwise,
but infrastructure is not sexy.

Infrastructure's not very sexy.

Infrastructure, like those men we just
heard is important, but not sexy.

Although, that may just be
because Hollywood promotes

unrealistic standards
of infrastructure beauty.

That's not what a real road looks
like ! Real roads have curves !

So most people think
infrastructure is boring.

But is it ? I'd argue that
it's actually pretty fascinating.

In saying that, I have become
the rad youth counselor

trying to convince you that
Jesus was the Taylor Swift of his time.

Revelations is a break-up song
to the Romans, guys.

Who wants another mountain dew ?

Let's talk about infrastructure.
And let's begin with dams.

Dams are amazing !

They're the most powerful device
we have for holding back liquid,

aside from the idea of using
a porta-potty.

I'll wait. I'll just wait forever.
I canot go in there.

America used to love dams.

Grand Coulee Dam, in Washington,
the world's biggest concrete structure.

The Boulder Dam stands today
a modern colossus.

The walls of the new dam tower
like mighty modern pyramids.

Yes and we built those dams
with ingenuity and brawn

and of course,
piles and piles of dead Irish.

They're good workers

and their corpses make
a solid foundation material !

That's an architectural fact.
But these days,

America's once-great dam system
is in a state of serious disrepair.

The average age of the country's
84 000 dams is 52 years

and many have problems that stem
from when they were built.

Yes, much like most Botox recipients
and competitive cloggers,

the average dam is 52 years old
and has something broken inside.

You would think a statistic like that
would terrify people into action.

Many states are paying
no attention to their dam problems.

In 2007, the last year
for which statistics are available,

Texas had just 7 inspectors
responsible for 7 400 dams.

That's over 1 050 dams
per inspector.

The state was only able
to look at 239 dams.

Alabama doesn't have an inspection
agency to monitor its 2 000 dams.

Zero inspectors !
That means that the state of Alabama

has exactly the same number of dam
inspectors as the band Alabama.

We are doing a terrible job of
maintaining all of our infrastructure.

The nation's infrastructure of bridges,
roads and pipelines

is in need of renovation.

They get nothing more than a D+.

A D+ ! America got the same grade
that a 10th grade teacher

gives a nightmare kid so she doesn't
have to deal with him for another year.

No, Landon. We're not calculating
the surface area of our penises.

Just give him a D+
and say he has family troubles.

I cannot even deal
with that shit again.

That D+ grade came from the
American Society of Civil Engineers,

who would benefit from
more infrastructure spending.

It's a bit like having the state
of our nation's tennis balls

assessed by the American
Society of Golden Retrievers.

They're dangerously under-thrown !
This must change.

We've been such good dogs !

But other studies have also found
our infrastructure is lacking.

The world economic forum
ranks America 16th in the world.

We need to be better.

When infrastructure fails,
bad things happen.

Like last year, when a pipe burst
and flooded the campus of UCLA.

A water main break in West Los Angeles
turned the UCLA campus into a river.

Students walked through ankle-deep
water and in some cases,

tried to have fun.

I've been chilling here for 20 minutes
trying to get the best view.

I just came from the gym.
I got kicked out, 'cause of the flood.

It looked insane,
there's so much water.

It's like, I've never
seen so much water,

except for like, lakes, I guess.

When infrastructure is damaged,
it's not just incredibly expensive.

It can be lethal. From the big stuff,
like bridge collapses and dam failures,

to the little stuff, like potholes.

Gone at 53 years old,
Al Lee slammed his bike

into a pothole riding along Grizzly
Peak Boulevard in Oakland.

His wife, Nancy, says a car
then hit him head on.

Roadways need to be paved. That's why
we have infrastructure.

That's why we pay our taxes.

That's horrifying.
But the problem is,

we seem to talk about infrastructure
when something tragic happens.

The scale of this problem is scary,

as the former Secretary
of Transportation points out.

According to the government,
there's 70 000 bridges

that have been deemed
structurally deficient.

It means that there are bridges

that need to be replaced or repaired.

They're dangerous.

I don't want to say they're unsafe,
but they're dangerous.

What ? Hold on.
When we're at a point where

the Secretary of Transportation
is struggling to decide

between using the word unsafe
and the word dangerous,

we might have a problem.

If you want a glimpse into how
close to catastrophe we are,

take this story from Philadelphia.

Two contractors from Pennsylvania
Department of Transportation

stopped to get a sandwich and
parked their cars under this bridge.

Fortunately, they wanted
that sandwich 'cause they saw

one of these piers with an 8 foot
gash in it, about 5 inches wide.

And if they hadn't wanted
a sandwich ?

That bridge would've collapsed.

There might have been a disaster
if those contractors hadn't stop !

Which means...we were fine.
We were always going to be fine.

The scary thing is,
what if the next cracked pillar

is next
to a vegan smoothie stand ?

The bridge is going down and
people are going to die.

It's not just Philadelphia. Look
at Pittsburgh, the city of bridges,

and its solution to one
that was deteriorating.

One of these bridges has a structure
under it to catch falling deck.

They actually built that to catch
any of the falling concrete,

so it wouldn't hit traffic.

They built a bridge under the bridge !
That is a college sophomore approach

to structural engineering:
the trash was overflowing,

so I put it in the microwave.

Problem solved.
I'm a legend.

There are danger bridges everywhere.
In New York, the Tappan Zee Bridge

is so notoriously shaky,
one government official called it

a hold-your-breath bridge.

The only time we should ever
talk about hold your breath bridges

would be if Beau Bridges
were into autoerotic asphyxiation,

and you were trying to remember
which one he was.

Is he the normal Bridges or is he
the 'hold your breath' Bridges ?

The facts about the Tappan Zee Bridge
are frightening enough.

And yet the History Channel
felt the need to produce

a terrifyingly CGI-filled account
of the worst-case scenario.

Some of the Tappan Zee's foundations
are at risk

and this is what could happen
if they eventually gave way.

Okay, one:
that's very frightening.

Why did the director assume

we'd all had such a strong emotional
attachment to the coffee cup ?

A fucking bridge collapsed.

We aren't just
flirting with disaster.

We're rounding third base and
asking if disaster has any condoms.

And the crazy thing is, ask
any politician from either side,

and they'll tell you that
infrastructure is important.

Everyone agrees on this !
At a recent hearing,

business and labor, the US Chamber
of Commerce and the AFL-CIO,

turned out to support
infrastructure spending.

Even they know how rare that is.

If business and labor can come
before you united on this issue

and we are united on this issue,

despite our short disagreements
on a variety of other matters.

That should tell everybody
something and tell it very loudly.

He's right. The last time business
and labor agreed on an issue,

it was the issue of how dead
should Jimmy Hoffa be ?

They both agreed, pretty dead.
Here's how obvious our need is:

just two days ago,
even a total idiot agreed.

We have to rebuild our infrastructure.
Our roads are crumbling.

Everything's crumbling
and we're rebuilding China.

Glossing over whatever he was
talking about rebuilding China,

that piece of candy corn in a wig
made of used medical gauze is right:

we do have
to rebuild our infrastructure.

So with consensus like this,
how are things so bad ?

One of the problems is, just fixing
things is not politically appealing.

'Cause when you build
something new, you get to do this.

There is nothing politicians like more

than using oversized scissors
to cut through ribbons.

But you don't get to cut
a ribbon after routine repairs.

Infrastructure is like Legos.
Building is fun. Destroying is fun.

But a Lego maintenance set would be
the most boring toy in the world.

It comes built and you maintain it,
and if you do it right,

nothing happens
and eventually you die.

Perhaps the best symbol
for our neglected infrastructure

is the US Highway Trust Fund.

It is the single largest source
of infrastructure funding in country.

Guess what's about to happen to it ?

There's a May 31st deadline.

The Highway Trust Fund
goes bankrupt unless Congress acts.

The fund is about
to run out of money.

Unlike most broke
trust fund recipients,

our highway system can't just
get a job at its daddy's law firm.

Really, Declan ?
What case are you working on ?

And does it contain 24 Miller Lites ?
I hate you, Declan.

The fund is nearly insolvent cause
it's funded by the federal gas tax.

There's one hitch with that.

The Highway Trust Fund
gets revenue

from an 18.4 cent
per gallon gas tax.

But the tax has not increased
to keep up with inflation since 1993.

And the fact that it hasn't increased
means that in real terms,

the gas tax has gone down
39 percent since 1993.

Much like Koosh ball sales
or respect for Bill Cosby.

I'd like to think it was more than
that, but sadly, I don't think it is.

You would think
Congress would fix this shortfall,

but we haven't had transportation
legislation for over a decade.

Since 2003, it's barely passed
two partial authorizations

and 23 short-term extensions.

One of which, in July 2005,
was for just two days !

That entire extension lasted half
a Sting orgasm. That's not enough.

Why doesn't Washington raise
the gas tax and fund the fund ?

Because that would be
incredibly unpopular.

Listen to what happened
when C-SPAN had a call-in

and asked people whether
the gas tax should be raised.

I don't know that another
gas tax is gonna help us out.

No, they shouldn't
raise the gas tax.

The last thing we need
is new taxes.

If gas prices go back up,
we'll be stuck with super high prices.

The government
has plenty of money.

What I want to say is, no.

War on coal, war on gasoline,
war on diesel.

I agree with all of the other
previous callers. Hello ?

Okay. That call-in lasted for an hour
and they did not receive

a single call
in favor of the gas tax.

You would think they'd at least
have been pranked

by Mikey and the Badger,
DC's number one morning zoo crew.

I'd just like to say we should
definitely raise the gas tax !

You've been badgered !

In the face of that kind of lack
of public support,

it is hardly surprising that
the White House is not too keen either.

The administration has not put forward
a proposal to increase the gas tax.

It seems raising
the gas tax is unlikely.

Fine, as long as you have another
concrete way to raise that money.

So what is
the White House's plan ?

This administration's put forward
an idea by closing a loophole

that allows corporations to benefit
from stashing their profits overseas.

Okay, raise funds
by closing corporate loopholes.

We all know
that is guaranteed to work.

The only obstacle would be,
I know that this is highly unlikely,

if there were another corporate
loophole somewhere in the tax code.

One other obstacle. When the president
floated this plan by John Boehner,

he swatted it aside, perhaps because
Boehner favors his own plan,

which he's been talking up
for the past two years.

I'm committed
to find a funding source

so that we can begin to repair
America's aging infrastructure.

The hunt has been underway
to find a funding source.

I wish we've found it,
but we haven't.

We've got to find a way to deal with
America's crumbling infrastructure

in a long-term program
that is in fact funded.

Two years and nothing ?
That's an oddly laid back way

to tackle a potentially
catastrophic problem.

If a giant lizard were attacking
our roads and bridges,

you wouldn't spend two years

I'm committed to preventing
lizards destroying our city,

but we need a long-term program
that is, in fact, funded.

I refuse to believe Boehner
does not have some sort of plan.

We emailed his office and asked,
what is Speaker Boehner's proposal

to raise revenue for
the U.S. Highway Trust Fund ?

We didn't hear back. So we emailed
someone else in the office.

Still nothing. So we called
the office. Still nothing.

We sent him this tweet, asking:
Mr. Speaker, how specifically

will you raise revenue for
the U.S. Highway Trust Fund ?

Hashtag happy birthday Justin Bieber,
to make sure that he would see it.

Then, still nothing.
Then we found out that he's on Vine,

because apparently
he's 14 in 2013.

So we sent him this.

How specifically would you raise
revenue for the Highway Trust Fund ?

Is that 6 seconds ?
It feels a lot longer.

Still nothing.
He still didn't get back to us.

The lack of political urgency
in tackling this problem is insane.

You cannot tell me that you
are not interested in this

because every summer, people flock
to see our infrastructure threatened

by terrorists or aliens.

We should care just as much

when it's under threats
from the inevitable passage of time.

No one has made a blockbuster movie
about the importance

of routine maintenance
and repair.

Or they hadn't, until now.

In a world where a few feet
of concrete can mean the difference

between life and death,

where everything you love can be
taken from you in the blink of an eye,

a few brave souls are willing to risk
everything to make nothing happen.

- Hello ?
- It's time.

- Excuse me ?
- For your biennial bridge inspection.

I've got Thursday afternoon,
or Friday anytime before three.

This summer, get ready for:

Brace yourself for 98 heart-pounding
minutes of incremental maintenance.

I'm not showing any cracking,
no delamination,

no spalls on the concrete deck,
but you got mild corrosion.

You're gonna have
to keep an eye on that.

- Thank you, sir.
- Don't get cocky.

The New York Times
calls Infrastructure "necessary"

and "something I never thought
about, but... yeah. Sure."

Jesus, God, Bobby !
Behind you !

This thing is gonna blow !

In fifteen to twenty years,

which is why it's so important
that we caught it early.

In this line of work,
one mistake could be catastrophic.

It's loose, boss.
The bolt is loose.

Then tighten it, goddamn it.

- I don't know which way.
- Okay, listen to me !

Lefty loosey.
Righty tighty.

Talk to me, what's going on ?

It's good.

Rolling Stone says: "nothing happens
and that's probably for the best."

I came here to chew bubblegum
and inspect bridges.

You want to see terrible puns about
engineering you don't understand ?

Looks like somebody needs
to get their ducts in a row.

You want to see monologues on
the structural integrity of girders ?

I'm ordering uniaxial tests of the slab
transverse to the deck corrugations

with reinforcement and tension
tests of the support connections

between the deck
and the girders, bitch.

You want more thrilling routine
maintenance than you can handle ?

They used PVC piping when
they should've used CPVC piping.

God help us.

You want to see: Infrastructure.
Featuring an all-star cast,

plus two-time Academy Award
nominee Edward Norton.

Sorry. Three-time Academy Award
nominee Edward Norton.

And introducing, as the chief,
Steve Buscemi.

I'm the best dam inspector
in the business

and I'm here to inspect this dam.

Coming summer 2015:

If anything exciting happens,
we've done it wrong.

- Sausage sandwich ?
- Of course.

That's our show ! Thank you
for watching. Good night.