Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 3, Episode 9 - Lead - full transcript

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

Thank you so much for joining us.
Time for a quick recap of the week.

And we begin in Russia.
The real Borscht belt.

Russia this week held a beloved
annual tradition.

Vladimir Putin is hosting
his annual call in show right now.

More than 2 million questions:
from Syria to the Russian economy.

Yes, Vladimir Putin took questions
for nearly four hours on TV.

And we can all think of a few
questions we'd like to ask him,

like "have you ever blinked ?"

and "do you consider yourself
more of a Miranda or a Charlotte ?"

But the actual questions
and answers were truly amazing,

such as when he was asked who
he would save from drowning first,

the president of Turkey
or the president of Ukraine.

If someone is determined to drown,
you can't save them.

I think we can take
from that response

that Vladimir Putin
would be the world's worst lifeguard:

"You have chosen to drown, my friend.
For you, there is nothing I can do".

Putin also answered questions
submitted by children,

like this one
from an 11-year-old girl.

What 3 wishes would you make

if you were to catch
a wish delivering magic goldfish ?

The magic goldfish question.
That should be easy.

For your 3 wishes
you pick ice cream forever,

and then unlimited wishes.

But, but Putin
went a very different way.

Okay, three wishes.
I have to think.

You know, basically,
we shouldn't really rely on...


Even during the soviet period,
we had this song:

"Nobody will help us,"

"either a king nor a hero,
we have to do everything ourselves".

Two things there:
first, we all had that song.

It's called the collected works
of Bruce Springsteen.

And second: this is the most amazing
TV show ever.

They should put this
on much more often.

I would watch Vladimir Putin
crushing children's dreams every week.

This week on
"Putin Says The Darndest Things":

Putin tells a child his grandfather

isn't watching from above
but is rather rotting in the ground.

But for now
let's move on to the UK.

Where 2 000 years of civilization
led to this face.

Last week,
we discussed the fact...

It's hurtful
when you clap at that.

We discussed the fact that
David Cameron was revealed

to have a family connection
to an offshore company

in the Panama Papers.

He faced questions in parliament,
and one member, Dennis Skinner,

brought up a conversation
that they'd had years ago.

And he closed with an explosive
piece of name-calling.

I didn't receive
a proper answer then,

maybe dodgy Dave
will answer it now !

Shit ! "Dodgy Dave !"
Cameron just got burned,

or as we say in England, boiled
for too long and served anyway.

Now, that comment set off
a spectacular chain of events.

The commons speaker,
John Bercow,

tried to calm everything down
in a quintessentially English manner.



I must ask the honorable gentleman...
Order !

I don't require any assistance
from some "junior minister !"

Absurd proposition !

That is the absolute height
of Englishness:

yelling at everyone to be orderly

and then condescendingly
mocking their status.

He then demanded
that skinner rephrase his remarks.

I can't reasonably ask the prime
minister to answer the question.

He has to withdraw that word
and think of another.

Sorry ?

I think he knows the word
beginning with "d" and ending in "y"

that he inappropriately used.

Now if I were Skinner, I would
have spent the rest of the session

just guessing words that started
with a "d" and ended with a "y".

"Is it dinghy ? No ?
Dignity ? No ? Deadly ! No ?".

"Dilly dally ? Hold on. Get me
a dictionary. Is it dictionary ?"

But Skinner refused,
which led to this amazing moment.

I order the honorable member
to withdraw from the house,

for the remainder
of this day's sitting.

He's used to this.

And that, ladies and gentleman
is English politics in a nutshell.

An 84-year-old man
just got sent from the room

like a naughty child who just called
his sister a "shithead" at dinner.

I'm so proud.

And finally this week: Turkey.
A country, a bird,

and the meanest thing
you could call someone in 1956.

Turkey's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
caused a big stir in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel
has accepted a request to prosecute

a comedian who mocked the Turkish
president on German television.

Erdogan had said
he wanted to take legal action

because this comedian
read a poem on air

that made very strong remarks
against Erdogan.

He's wants to lock someone up
over a poem ?

Why doesn't he do what the rest of us
do about poetry: listen to it politely,

because it's how Sarah
has chosen to cope with the divorce.

If you are wondering how an insulting
poem can be against the law,

it turns out, Erdogan may have dug up
a 19th-century German law stating,

"anyone who is guilty of an insult
to a sovereign or regent of a state"

"shall be punished
by imprisonment".

And for the record:
let me just say,

I'm very glad America
does not have a similar law,

or I would be in
a maximum-security prison.

And I would not thrive there.

But Angela Merkel
is in a bit of a bind here,

because clearly,
this is a free-speech issue.

But the problem is,
Erdogan is critical to Europe's plan

for processing
migrants and refugees.

And it seems he has
an incredibly thin skin.

For Recep Tayyip Erdogan
satire is no laughing matter.

Since he became president in 2014

almost 2 000 cases have opened
for insulting the president.

It's true: nearly 2 000 legal cases
have been opened since he took office.

That's more than three a day.

And some of these cases
have been unbelievably petty.

In October,
a physician lost his job

and now faces a two-year prison
sentence for sharing a meme

suggesting Erdogan's facial
expressions resemble Gollum's.

Which, by the way, they just do !

That's not a criticism, it's not even
a joke, it's just a biological fact !

Last April, a journalist received
a suspended prison sentence

simply for "liking" a Facebook
post that insulted Erdogan.

And "liking" something on Facebook
should never be a crime !

Unless maybe you "like"
a co-workers beach photo at 3-am.

That is the one exception
because that is creepy.

And look:
Erdogan is the one at fault here.

He makes it way too easy
to make fun of him.

For example, in 2014, he gave
an interview in which he said this !

You can see that what Israel
does to Palestine, to Gaza right now,

has surpassed
what Hitler did to them.

Holy shit !
That is very offensive to Israel,

and honestly:
it's a little offensive to Hitler.

Who has to be thinking:
"Are you fucking kidding me ?"

"What do I have to do ?"

And that same year, he caused
a bit of a stir with this remark...

You cannot bring women
and men into equal positions.

That is against nature.

That statement is bad enough,

but he said it at an international
conference for women.

The only way that could have been
any worse is if he'd then said,

"but that's enough of me,"

"please welcome Grammy winning
recording artist Chris Brown !"

"You're welcome, ladies !
Chris Brown !"

And when Erdogan tried
to smooth things over after that,

it didn't go so great.

Erdogan did try to offer
a compliment of sorts,

he says he used to kiss his mother's
feet because they smelled of paradise.

Even at an international
foot fetishist convention

"my mom's feet smell like paradise",
is going to get you some weird looks.

Erdogan is clearly
not a pleasant individual,

which is why it's so hard
to be sympathetic when you see

this footage of him having
his balls stomped on by a horse.

We've shown you that footage before,
and we'll probably show you it again.

Because the point is, Erdogan, if you
are so anxious not to be mocked,

try not suppressing speech
in your country and others,

and generally acting in ways

that make everyone want to see you
get kicked in the balls.

And now, this !

What in God's name is still happening
at WCBS 2 news at 11 ?

High heel self defense,
tonight at 11.

- Inside a dog's mind, tonight at 11.
- Ghost rest stops, tonight at 11.

Freeze yourself fabulous,
tonight at 11.

- Big bucks in bags.
- Younger eyes.

- Text walking.
- The digital breakup.

- Digital amnesia.
- Digital anxiety.

- Digital dentistry.
- Dry drowning.

- Water overdose.
- What's in the water ?

- What's in your wine ?
- What's in the box ?

- Keyless danger.
- Dog danger.

- Danger underground ?
- The she shed.

- The man flu.
- Dudeoir.

- Patch me pretty.
- Summer sadness.

- Spiked spices.
- Sick of food.

Are beards bad ?
Tonight at 11.

Moving on.
Our main topic tonight is lead.

The most dangerous thing
in Led Zeppelin's name,

and I will remind you:
the other thing was "Zeppelin".

Now, we've heard a lot
about lead over the last year,

due to the horrific events
in Flint, Michigan.

Flint's tap water was laced
with dangerous levels of lead.

The state knew about it
and did nothing.

There are 200 children under 6
in Flint with elevated blood levels.

9 000 children have been exposed.

Flint has become a city
whose very name evokes disaster,

like Benghazi or Waco
or Smurf Village.

Never forget.
Never forget what happened there.

Never forget !

Flint was a perfect storm
of incompetence from start to finish.

And the crisis began when the city
switched water sources,

a decision
which was commemorated thusly.

3... 2... 1...

Here's to Flint !

It's weird to see people make a toast
as they essentially drink poison.

You'd expect to hear something like,
"I'll see you all in hell !"

or "The mother ship is coming
and soon we will all ascend !"

That water source corroded the pipes,
leached lead into the drinking water.

And with all the bureaucratic
clusterfuckery involved,

politicians in Washington
were lining up to be vocally outraged.

We've got children
that have been harmed

and yet we're sitting here
equivocating over words

that may or may not
establish blame.

The safety
and well being of our citizens

is not a republican or a democrat
or an independent issue.

It's a human issue.

We're not some third world country
where 100 000 people

who get poisoned
for long periods of time.

There is one poison that thousands
of Americans should consume

and that is
Mountain Dew Code Red.

The most delicious way
of contracting red poisoning !

That is horrific !

We all care about lead in Flint now,
which is great.

the problem is not just in Flint.

A USA Today Network report
found lead contamination

in almost 2 000 additional water
systems spanning all 50 states.

And we can't act like it's not there,
the way we all pretend

that the public swimming pool
is not three percent child urine.

And that's generous, by the way.
And if you're thinking,

"We should rip out
every lead pipe in the country,"

it's not quite as easy as that.

There are an estimated 7,3 million
lead service lines around the country,

and we don't even know
where many of them are.

And if we did a partial solution,
that could increase lead in water.

But perhaps more importantly,
even if we did replace all lead pipes

that still wouldn't come close
to stopping lead poisoning,

as one lead activist
reassuringly puts it.

Kids are not going to get poisoned
from a water fountain,

they're gonna get poisoned
from paint in their homes.

I like how that starts off
sounding reassuring,

but ends
up even more terrifying.

It's like saying: "That boa
constrictor isn't going to bite you."

"It's going to crush you
to death with its body,"

"and then swallow you whole
because that's what it does."

But she is right. The biggest threat
of lead poisoning to children

does not come from water, it comes
from ingesting lead paint dust.

There are an estimated 2,1 million
homes all around the country

that contain both a lead dust hazard,
and a child under six.

CDC estimates over 500 000 children
have elevated blood lead levels.

And that's terrible !

Lead is almost as much of a scourge
in young children's homes

as Frozen merchandise.

Why do you need three Olafs
and a singing Elsa, McKenzie ?

Let "Let it Go" go.

And if you're thinking
at this point,

"How big a deal
is a little lead dust, anyway ?"...

It's a big fucking deal.

How potent is lead ?

A child can be poisoned
by 10 milligrams of pure lead.

To give you an idea
of what a small amount that is,

this spoonful
contains about 4 000 milligrams.

We know ingesting
small amounts of lead dust

can lead to brain damage
and even death.

Maybe don't say "death" in that
jolly tone over the photo of a baby.

It is true that there is
no safe level of lead.

It's so dangerous, you shouldn't let
a little bit of it inside you,

much like heroin,
or Jeremy Piven.

Even low-level exposure
can lead to irreversible damage

like lower IQs, anti-social
behavior and reduced attention span.

The dangers are so severe
that 20 years ago,

Sesame Street produced a video
to teach kids how to deal with lead.

Let's go everybody !
From the top.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Stay away from peeling paint.

Enough ! I've had it !

Who do you people think
you are, anyway ? The lead police ?

We are the lead police...

It's a close call,
but as Police songs go,

the possibility of being poisoned
by lead is still less terrifying

than Every Breath You Take.

Every breath I take,
you'll be watching me ?

That's a crime. You're stalking me,
Gordon. You're a stalker.

That video was made 20 years ago.
It's enough to make you wonder,

if lead paint is so dangerous,
why is there still so much of it

in houses where kids live ?

Good question. Many countries banned
the use of lead paint in the 1920s.

So we knew it was dangerous.
But instead of joining them,

America decided to put
lead basically everywhere.

And humble lead plays its part
in preserving and protecting buildings

in the form of white lead for wooden
structures and red lead for steel.

Humble lead ? It's a naturally
occurring element,

not Meryl Streep's
Oscar speech.

If we are assigning
personality traits to metals,

why stop with humble lead ?

How about passionate zinc,
free-spirited copper,

and extremely racist tin ?

And it wasn't just
newsreels promoting lead.

The lead industry reassured us
it was safe, releasing things

like this coloring book inviting you
to the "Dutch Boy's lead party"

which sounds like the worst sex
club in all of Amsterdam.

Even when the government
got serious about banning lead,

the lead industry did not go down
without a ridiculous fight.

Here is the head of a lead
industry trade group,

pushing back against
evidence that lead was dangerous.

If you look
at a total national profile,

we have never been healthier,
we have never lived longer.

Must be something
that we're doing right.

What ? He's basically saying:

"it can't be bad,
I turned out fine !"

The number-one argument made
by people who did not turn out fine.

It's like when
your uncle says:

"I had my first beer at ten
and I turned out okay."

But did you, Uncle Stu ?
Did you though ?

Your dinner last night
was 23 croutons dipped in frosting.

And that is not "turned out fine"
behavior. Make a change, Uncle.

There was plenty of hard evidence
showing that childhood lead exposure

was harmful, due to a study
by Dr. Herbert Needleman.

In the late 1970s
Dr. Needleman studied the baby teeth

of healthy schoolchildren
in two Boston suburbs.

When we looked at the data,

we found that children who
had high lead in their teeth,

but who had never been identified
as having any problems with lead,

had lower IQ scores, poorer language
function and poorer attention.

That's right: it's time you knew,
children: there is no tooth fairy.

Your baby teeth were all taken
away by Dr. Herbert Needleman.

The fairy thing
we knew would creep you out.

You should be thanking that man.
Because thanks to studies like his,

America started regulating and
removing lead from our environment,

resulting in a graph of child blood
lead levels that looks like this.

Lead paint was banned here

and leaded gasoline was phased
out all through here.

So getting rid of lead in paint and
gas was a major public health victory.

You know that 18-year-old intern
in your office who thinks he's smart ?

He probably is, because he was born
after America's lead epidemic.

You got lucky, Sawyer.
Now go get my coffee.

Even though we cut back on the
amount of new lead into the world,

we were still left with all the lead
in our pipes and on our walls.

We agreed it was a problem, the
cost of getting rid of it was high.

In 2000, the estimated cost for
testing for, and then removing lead

from old housing stock
was $16.6 billion per year,

every year,
for the next decade.

Which is the sort of figure

that turns the government into
parents with a sick family dog:

I know we said we'd do
anything to make this better.

But we got an estimate from the vet,

Do you know that in doggie heaven,
every meal is hotdogs ?

Don't you think Bandit would
like to go live there ? I do.

Nobody expected the government
to pick up that full tab.

That same report
even ran an estimate

of what it would cost if the
government used "interim controls"

like sealing lead paint in,
or periodic cleanings

and only did that in homes
of families with low incomes.

And that cost came out
to just $230 million per year.

Which sounded lower
and therefore better.

Unfortunately and amazingly
we have never funded it at that level.

The main program to abate
lead paint in housing,

HUD's lead hazard
control program,

has never been appropriated
funding above $176 million.

It's been steadily
going down since 2003,

and this year, we've allocated
just $110 million.

A little more than Americans spent
to go see Ride Along 2.

A movie which, incidentally,
the New York Post described as:

"as funny as lead poisoning."

It's amazing !

That reduction is not because we were
done removing lead from housing.

There are still millions of homes
with lead paint hazards in them.

HUD were only able to fund
half the applications

for lead abatement
grants they received last year.

Many Americans still live
in homes with lead in them.

It is often the groups least able
to do anything about it.

When people in the lower
socioeconomic levels

go into older housing,
less well taken care of housing,

where there may be absentee

As a result, are more liable
to have lead paint

that has not been
taken off the walls.

Of course.
If you are in that situation,

you probably can't shop
around for a new apartment.

Most people with lead problems
are stuck in homes they can't leave,

trying to avoid danger,
which may sound familiar

because it's the plot of every
horror movie ever made.

While lead abatement is expensive,
it's cost effective.

Studies show a correlation between
lead levels and a fall in crime.

When you combine it with lower medical
bills, and greater economic activity,

one study found that each dollar
spent on lead paint hazard control

would bring back at least
17 dollars in societal benefits.

Which is great,
although the cost savings

do rank a distant third on my list
of reasons to not poison children.

Number one and two still being:

it's poison
and they're fucking children.

You would think that congress
would do more to fight lead poisoning.

How angry they were about those
kids who got poisoned in Flint !

We've got children
that have been harmed.

It's a human issue, it's an American
issue that affects Americans' lives.

We're not some third world country
where you get 100 000 people

who get poisoned !

They seemed so concerned !

Which is what,
which is what makes it...

That's what makes it so
frustrating that last year,

all of those men voted for a bill
that would have reduced

the already-low funding for HUD lead
abatement programs by $35 million,

amounting to a 32 percent cut.

If you cut funding like that,
more children might get poisoned !

Now, the good news is,
those cuts didn't go through.

The bad news is
the funding stayed flat.

The other two primary agencies
that work on lead-related issues

have had funding problems
in recent years, as well.

Which makes no sense,
because I thought poisoned children

were something we were all
justifiably outraged by.

This problem was obvious
enough twenty years ago

for Sesame Street
to address it.

Since we still have this problem,
it's clearly time to address it again.

- Hi, Elmo ! Hi, Rosita !
- Hi, Mr. Oliver !

It has been two decades

since Sesame Street
taught kids how to avoid lead dust.

You two do not look
like you've aged a day !

Thank you, Mr. Oliver !
I moisturize !

Very nice !

You know Mr. Oliver,
Elmo has been hitting the gym.

I can see, you're ripped.
You both look great.

I'm here to say, a lot of places
still contain lead paint.

- What can we do about that ?
- That's a good question.

We need to care more than
we currently do,

so that we spend
enough money on containing it.

- Elmo has money in his piggy bank.
- That's nice.

How much have you got in there,
Elmo ? How much is it ?

- One dollar and seventy-six cents.
- Okay, that's a start.

Elmo did it !
Elmo saved the day !

No, Elmo,
you didn't actually do it.

We're gonna need a lot more,
of that money.

Probably hundreds of millions
of dollars every year.

-Ay mama !
-Yeah. That's a lot.

- A hundred million is a big number.
- Sure.

Let's count to a hundred million:
one, two, three, four, five...

We do not have time for that.
The problem here is,

people are worried that lead
is too expensive a problem to fix.

- That's ridiculous !
- Oscar. How ya doing ?

How ya doing, Oscar ?

How can anyone say
it's too expensive ?

According to a study
in environmental health perspectives,

every dollar we spend
on lead paint hazard control

produces returns
of at least 17 to 1 !

An astonishing
level of economic insight

coming from someone
who lives in a trashcan.

This can is rent-controlled.
I've had it since the '60s.

I know it's cost-effective,
people aren't willing to do it.

I guess it just seems too hard.

Just because something's hard,
doesn't mean you shouldn't try !

- Should we sing a song about it ?
- Do we have to ?

Lead's a really big problem,
seems like it's everywhere,

we can do more to fix it,
but first we all have to care.

Things do tend to get done, if you
just decide you want to do them.

Can you think of another
example where that's true ?

- I can !
- You go.

I wanted to tie my shoes,
I could never do it right,

then I decided to practice it,
and now they're all knotted tight.

They are ! You did it !

You have to have an
interest in the outcome,

and you'd be amazed
at what you can do.

Oscar, you take a verse !

Yes my trashcan is messy,
people stop and they stare.

I suppose I could clean it up,
the problem is: I don't care.

That is unsurprisingly negative !
That's actually a fair representation

of our institutional problems,
so there you go.

- I helped you prove your point ?
- Yes, Oscar, you actually did !

Lead is still all around us,
our pipes, our walls and our air,

we should do to more to contain it,
but first we all have to care.

Yes, first, we all have to care.

That's our show, thank you
so much watching,

see you next week,
goodnight !

Thank you so much, guys !
Thank you, Rosita !