Floods: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Floods: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Floods. They are clearly
catastrophic, traumatic events, although they have also
been responsible for one of the most
memorable clips in the history
of broadcast news. Good morning. Well, obviously we’re getting
a nice break from the rain, but not the flooding. -This is essentially now…
– (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) …a part of the Passaic River
in this neighborhood. That’s it. Fuck James Cameron
and fuckTitanic,because that is now officially the greatest boat disaster
ever captured on film. It’s over. Now, floods were
everywhere this summer. Think of them as the “Despacito”
of natural disasters. Persistent, ubiquitous, and absolutely no fault
of the Puerto Rican government. And floods are
always threatening. Ninety percent of all
natural disasters in the U.S. involve a flood. Which is, I assume,
the reason that FEMA’s website once referred to flooding as “America’s number-one
natural hazard, exclamation mark.” Which is a pretty weird
tone to take when describing
something horrible. It’s like saying, “Boils:
America’s number-one staph infection!” Or “Parks: America’s number-one
place to die unnoticed!” And floods are only going
to get worse due to climate change. And I know that there are people
who will dispute that, and we just don’t
have time tonight to litigate whether
extreme-weather events are exacerbated
by climate change. So for now, let’s just say… (DRAMATIC MALE VOICE OVER) -Yeah.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) They just definitely are.
I mean… -Sure, sure…
-(AUDIENCE CHEERING) …it is– It is
a complicated issue, and we may not have
definitive proof until the late 1980s. But– But, while floods
are often referred to as “natural disasters,” the truth is the damage they do
is often to some extent within our control. Because we have made
certain decisions that put and keep
people and property in the path of flooding. And that is what
this story is about. And before we go any further, let’s acknowledge
that people live near water for all sorts of reasons. For some, it’s where
their families have lived for generations, or a necessity
for the work that they do. And for others, it’s a luxury. And living next to the water
is undoubtedly attractive, despite the risks,
like flooding, or stepping on pointy seashells, or mistakenly giving
a Tostito to a seagull without realizing that
that means you will now spend
the rest of your life haunted by a Tostito-addicted seagull. The point is,
whatever the reason -to live by the water…
-many do– Oh, for fuck’s sake! You’ve got to be kidding!
I don’t have any Tostitos! I’ve been telling you that
for six years! Look, no Tostitos! No Tostitos! Get out of here. Get out of here,
you flying beach rat. -(AUDIENCE APPLAUDS)
-Sorry. The point is, the dangers
of waterfront living are real. But many people, like this man, who lives on the water
in Tampa Bay, feel the benefits outweigh
the risks. REPORTER:Mark knows
that life here is tenuous.
But he doesn’t dwell on it.Every morning when I walk out
to get the paper, I see dolphins frolicking
in the bayou, and Roseate spoonbillswalking around the edge
of the bayou, so…
it tends to make you forget
about all those sorts of things.
Sure, I can imagine
that seeing a Roseate spoonbill would take your mind off things, because you’re spending
your whole day trying to figure out
how a flamingo could have gotten its
stupid bird face stuck into a panini press. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-I’m just saying, even people who like birds
don’t like this bird. The Audubon society, an organization
whose entire purpose is to champion birds,
says they are, quote, “Gorgeous at a distance
and bizarre up close.” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Which is like the
American Kennel Club saying, “We celebrate all dogs and honor
them as man’s best friend, but the Dandy Dinmont
has a trash personality, and looks like a scotty
fucked Phil Spector. And look, look… If you are literally overlooking
a bayou like that guy you are probably aware
that flooding is a risk. But not every flood-prone area
is directly along the coast, and sometimes aggressive
development can exacerbate
the risk of flooding, even considerably inland. Just look at Houston, which was recently rocked
by Harvey. REPORTER 2:The metro area’s
development has exploded.
One study found the Houston areahas added 25 percent
more pavement over 15 years,
replacing soil-rich wetlands
that could absorb water
with concrete-covered suburbia.Exactly, and that made Harvey’s
damage significantly worse. Concrete isn’t good
at absorbing water. That is why people don’t
dry off at the beach by rolling around
in the parking lot. But it’s not just global warming
or unchecked growth that have put more people
in risky, flood-prone areas. It’s also the fact that it’s frequently only possible
for people to take that risk because they have
flood insurance. Just look atBuying the Beach.It’s aHouse Hunterstype show for people who want to live
near the water. And one episode featured two brothers
named Mitch and Danielarguing over a particular
beach house
which led to this exchange…What do you think
about the island house, Mitch? MITCH:
Well, I think there was a lot
of good and a lot of bad on it.
Right off those steps into
the beach, can’t be beat.
DANIEL:We are really close
to the water.
That’s just another thing
that’s got me concerned.
Well, that’s what
insurance is for. “That’s what insurance is for.” That may be
the most reckless statement ever said on a boat. And I’m very much including, “I can definitely
make this shot work.” And, “Hey! Let’s feed
these gulls some Tostitos.” -(SEAGULL SQUAWKING)
-I don’t have any! All I did was said the word.
Get out of here! No Tostitos! No Tostitos! But Mitch– No Tostitos! But– But Mitch…
Mitch isn’t wrong. That if they bought that house,
they could get flood insurance and surprisingly cheaply. And it’s worth taking some time
to understand why that is the case, because unlike other forms
of homeowner’s insurance, flood protection is actually
underwritten by the government, through the NFIP, or National
Flood Insurance Program. It started nearly 50 years ago,
after historic floods wiped out many people’s
homes in the 1960s, and the government
back then realized that there was
a real problem. Insurance companies
wouldn’t cover floods at an affordable cost,
because it was too risky, so because of that,
the government was spending way too much
on disaster relief, so they stepped in,
and created the NFIP, which offered significantly
discounted insurance to encourage people to buy it,
and that sounds great, but crucially, the aim
at the time was not that people would be staying
in at-risk homes permanently, as the program’s current
administrator explains. They presumed
that if we told people they were at risk,
they would move. They presumed that
over the life of the program, those discounts wouldn’t need
to be continued, and they presumed they wouldn’t
need to be continued because once people knew
they had the risk, they would move out. That has not proven true. No, but of course it hasn’t,
because that’s not how -people work.
-(AUDIENCE CHUCKLING) We will gladly accept huge risks
to our personal safety for the sake of a discount,
that was the entire premise behind the McDonald’s
dollar menu. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) A– and that is just one
of the many flaws with how this well-intentioned
program was designed, because everything about it
from who participates to where the money goes, to the incentives it creates,
needs fixing. And let’s start with the fact
that eligibility for the program is determined
through flood plain maps. You are required
to buy flood insurance if you have
a federally-backed mortgage and FEMA’s maps show
that you live in a risky area. Unfortunately, the mandate
has been poorly enforced, meaning that lots of people
don’t buy insurance who should. And the maps themselves
can be both out of date and wildly inaccurate. In fact,
just days before Harvey struck, a study of Houston
area flood maps was published and
the results were alarming. REPORTER 3:
Over the course of a decade,
researchers at Rice University
and Texas A&M Galveston
studied one section
of southeast Harris County.
They found FEMA’s
flood plain maps
missed about 75 percent
of the damages from the storms–
Seventy-five percent.
At that point, you might as well predict floods by having
blindfolded six-year-olds pin little cardboard puddles
onto city maps at birthday parties. But even if all the maps
were perfect, there would be another flaw
with the NFIP, which is how it’s administered. You see, typically
the government doesn’t directly insure you. Instead, it pays
private insurance companies a fee for every policy
they sell. But not just that. The federal government
is then responsible for covering any losses, which is a pretty
fucking sweet deal for those companies. They take none of the risk,
and yet they get all the rewards, but it gets
even worse, because they also get paid
for each claim they handle. And whenFrontline
crunched some of the numbers, and presented them
to a former head of the program, they found something shocking. REPORTER 4:There was one
number that really jumped out.
With all the claims
in the wake of Sandy,
the profits were more than
$400 million.
Because they’re handling
a lot of claims that year and they get– make a lot of
money when they handle claims. When a big storm hits then,
they make more money. Yeah, at the very time
you need them to make less money if anything, because– because
of– the burden is gonna be borne
by the taxpayers, they make a killing. That’s true. For insurance companies,
the bigger the disaster, the more they stand to profit. And that is a business model
not usually seen outside
of Nicholas Cage’s career. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) (STAMMERS) And while
the insurance industry may dispute exactly
how much profit they make, the fact remains that
the government and the taxpayer are definitely the ones
eating the losses, which is one of the reasons why even before
these latest hurricanes, the program was
$25 billion in debt, and there are not enough
Roseate spoonbills in the world to take your mind off that,
and just to be clear, there are exactly enough
Roseate spoonbills in the world. I– I’m just saying, do we all really need
more of this? (BIRDS WHINE) “Hey kids, come see! The dirty pink dinosaur
is noisily devouring its young!” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) And look,
there is a good argument to make that helping people stay
in their homes after a disaster is what government is for. But remember, a big chunk
of that money is just going
to the insurance companies and another shockingly big chunk
of that money goes to very few homes. For instance,
along the Gulf Coast in Florida, just one percent
of properties covered by the NFIP have accounted
for a quarter of flood claims. These are called… (STAMMERS) …so-called
“Repetitive-loss properties.” Now, they are homes
that can flood over and over and over again, getting payments
each and every time. And some of them
are costing us a fortune. REPORTER 5:Just recently, an
article in
The Washington Posthighlighted a home
in Pointe Coupee Parish
that has flooded 40 times.While the house is valued
at just $56,000,
the NFIP has doled out
nearly $430,000
to cover flood claims.-So, that is just stupid.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Because if nothing else,
if your house floods 40 times, Mother Nature is sending you
a pretty clear message, and that message is,
“Hey, would you mind leaving? Some weird fish
would like to fuck in here now.” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) And some parts of the country have particularly
extreme examples of this. Now, you remember
Mitch and Daniel? The pastel deathtrap
that they were looking at is on a place
called Dauphin Island, where over the past two decades,
homeowners have paid just $9.3 million in premiums
into the NFIP, but they’ve received
$72.2 million in payments for their damaged homes. It is so bad that the island
got written up byBloombergunder the headline,
“Love of Coastal Living is Draining
U.S. Disaster Funds.” And at first glance,
we thought, “Hold on. Isn’t that
the exact same eyesore on stilts that Mitch
and Daniel almost bought?” Well, the good news is,
it’s actually not. The bad news is, it’s literally the house
next door and it was also featured
on a different episode ofBuying the Beach.WOMAN:It’s right
in the water.
It wasn’t close to the beach,
it was in the ocean.
The waves are just…
right here. (EXHALES) It’s literally
in the ocean.This is insane.-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-Yeah, it is insane,
but what’s even crazier is at the end of the episode, -they decided to buy the house!
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) But even if you were able
to overlook the repetitive loss properties,
which you shouldn’t, there is another issue,
and that is that nearly one out of every five homes
covered under the NFIP is a second home. And because the program
isn’t means tested, the benefits frequently go
to some wealthy individual’s vacation homes. One such property belonged
to John Stossel, a Fox News personality, and partially hydrogenated
-And– and I’ll let Stossel, who really answers the question
“What if Freddie Mercury had quit singing to become
an assistant floor manager -at Men’s Warehouse?” I’ll–
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) I’ll let him tell you
all about it, ’cause even he knew
it was ridiculous. JOHN STOSSEL:Years ago,
I built this beach house.
That’s younger me, there.The house was on the edge
of the Atlantic Ocean,
a risky place to build,
but I built anyway.
‘Cause a federal program
guaranteed my investment.
Eventually, a storm swept away
my first floor,
but I didn’t lose a penny.Thanks. I never invited
you there,
but you paid
for my new first floor.
Okay, so now Stossel is clearly
just baiting people, because under
no circumstances does anyone want to be funding
the reconstruction of the world’s smuggest man’s
rickety sea prison. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-And there is lots to be confused about there,
not– not least of which, that photo of Stossel
posing shirtless in skin-tight white swim trunks
from hundreds of feet away. -Who took that photo?
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) It can’t be another human
who wanted it. So, here’s my guess. I think that he put a camera
on a long delay timer, then sprinted
for a full 45 seconds back to the deck of his house, whispering
“hurry, hurry, hurry!” to himself the entire time,
and got in position just in time for that photo
to happen. That is the only scientifically
possible explanation. We debated this
the entire fucking week and it’s the only scenario
that we could all agree on. -(AUDIENCE CHEERING)
-And look– look. Here’s the– here’s the thing. If… If you choose to build
something in a risky place like John Stossel’s
salt-battered, -bottom’s-only beach mistake,
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) you should absolutely
be allowed to do that, but you shouldn’t expect
the government to repeatedly help you rebuild
when things inevitably go wrong. However, the vast majority,
the vast majority here of NFIP beneficiaries
are not wealthy, or second homeowners. They often really need this
program and cannot afford for it to go under. And, for those stuck in
repetitive loss properties, it is easy for anyone to just
say, “They should move, they should just move.” But, it’s much more
difficult than that as this Kentucky woman, whose home has flooded
repeatedly, will tell you. We couldn’t sell our house. Who would want to buy a house
that’s had this many repetitive floods in it? Who would want to buy a house? We have neighbors that have had
their houses up for sale for two and three years and haven’t even had anyone
come and view the house. We need a buy out from FEMA
or from whoever it is that is responsible for this. Right, and her decision to try
and leave that home could not have
been easy because you don’t want to throw out
the baby with the floodwater. But, at a certain point,
the responsible thing to do is to get a better,
more water-resistant baby. Which is, incidentally,
also the title of Britain’s best-selling book on teaching
children to swim. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Now, unfortunately, our buy-out
programs are hugely underfunded
and prohibitively slow. It can take years for buy-outs
to get approved, by which point, homeowner’s have
probably had to rebuild their house at the
government’s expense and it may have
already flooded again. So, essentially,
a government program that was supposed to help people
in flooded homes is sometimes trapping them
inside them indefinitely. And trapping people in
structurally-unsound homes isn’t what
the government is for, it’s what buying
the beach is for. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) No, there just has to be
a better way here, and there are some key
things that we can do to improve this program. We can do things like
means-test it and eventually get rid
of discounts for second homes and gradually increase
the insurance rates on some properties so that they
reflect actual risk. Unfortunately, the last time
that Congress tried a major reform of the NFIP with the Biggert-Waters Act
of 2012, the result was that many
people’s rates skyrocketed overnight and politicians were
so spooked by angry constituents they significantly scaled back
many of the reforms. And, I’m not saying that this
will ever be politically easy. Because even if you do properly
fund and streamline a buy-out scheme, there are
still going to be cases where people just want
to stay put. Right here in New York,
there is a low-line community called “Broad Channel,”
where the streets can flood twice a month. Its residents fought against
those rate increases a few years ago and many of them
have no interest in leaving. No, the neighborhood’s
too great then. Listen, my whole house got
destroyed by Sandy and I– you know,
I redid my whole house. I– You know, people were like,
“You’re crazy, you should move.” I said, “Absolutely not.” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) But, you’re standing
in water right now. Maybe the people telling
you to move were saying, “At the very least, can you move
up five inches to dry land?” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) But the hard truth here is
even expensive interventions are likely to only buy that
community a little more time and people in Broad Channel
will eventually be leaving, whether it’s by moving truck
or by boat because environmental conditions
are going to get worse. Heavy downpours have increased
in the last 50 years and sea levels have been
climbing steadily and I’m not saying that that is
because of climate change even though… (DRAMATIC MALE VOICE OVER) It just is. It just–
It just is. Precisely. The NFIP is actually due for
re-authorization this December and I would argue that it is
time to take another shot at serious thoughtful reform
because without it we have an unstable,
unsustainable program that is indirectly harming
some of the people that it was designed
to help and… (STAMMERING) I do– I don’t
have any– -I’ve told you the last time–
-John, John, John! Relax! I’m not here for Tostitos. -Really?
-Yeah. Hold on. You– You–
You can talk? Of course. Seagulls can talk. We just choose to listen
most of the time. -♪ (PIANO PLAYS SOFTLY) ♪
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Oh, well, that’s–
That’s actually very nice. And, I heard what you were
saying about flooding -and you are right.
-Mm-hmm. I’ve seen it. I’m a seagull. -Yeah.
-Some people in high-risk areas will need to move and we should give ’em the help
that they can do that with. -Right. Okay.
-Because… While leavin’ your home is hard,
being forced out when it’s uninhabitable is
ten times harder. -Right.
-And, after all, your home isn’t just
walls and a roof, it’s where the people
you love are. Aw! Seagull, I gotta say that
was absolutely beautiful. Yeah, not bad
for a “flying beach rat.” -Aw, no, no, no, no, no, don’t–
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Don’t talk like that about
yourself. No, don’t, don’t. It’s okay. I know it’s true.
You know it’s true. Everybody watchin’
knows it’s true. Hey, I eat French fries
out of the garbage. Yeah, you’re right.
You make a good point. You’re absolutely disgusting. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-But– But you know what? I am truly sorry for misjudging
your motives in coming here. That’s okay, Johnny.
Uh, just one more thing… Sure. Anything. You have any Tostitos? Fuck you!
No! I do not have any Tostitos! They’re all gone.
Get the fuck outta here.-Get outta here!


  1. I actually like Stossel most of the time, he really shows how various government programs can be abused.

    Generally the people who need the assistance least (or not at all) are best positioned to take advantage of it via unintended loopholes.

    I still remember that episode where he got a free golf cart from the government, it was hilarious and depressing lol

  2. The Us Is So Fuc*. And its the Conglomerates who have too many LOOPHOLES . Which makes them MONEY ?Not YOU little Guys Who Pay Pay for the Insurance costs? Way to go US Capitalism at its best

  3. Shame on you John Stonsell. I had faith in you. You are now just a squib . I will never watch you again. .

  4. Actually… Libraries are the number one place to die unnoticed… Because many people have died in libraries and people thought they were reading or sleeping.

  5. Well..hou'sabout saying that floods ONLY HAPPEN WHERE THE TREES ARE CUT DOWN AND THE SOIL ISN'T EVEN MUD ANYMORE..? Don't you have to tell the people that climate change is not only about caws farting..?(cause there seems to be a miss-understanding there somewhere..)if you make soil dry and barren…floods Will happen (Google-to see why and how..)the oil Industry cuts off and even KILLES and barries the researchers of clean-working engines and powerplants..the"sheeple!open your eyes! " seems MORE AND MORE TRUTHFUL THEN WHAT WE ARE TOLD FROM COMMERCIAL &/OR GOVERNMENT LEGISLATORS..lobiing is a a practice now..so..look for the word 'democracy ' and find the difference..(trying is not an option..just 'spot the one guy..maby.. and EVEN then..what of it..?)I get tried of the hypocrisy that taint or love – those they need…solution..?find that you're Needed?..go on strike! Find to be used? Talk about it! and not on the "he's my sister I'm his cousin.." show..I'd bet you're gonna get less out of that..!

  6. I'm disappointed that the theory for Stossel's picture wasn't that he bribed a Tostito's-addicted seagull into taking it.

  7. Kudos to the intern or whoever sat under John's desk the entire show with a seagull puppet.
    Truly doing god's work lmao!

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