tv PBS News Hour PBS January 19, 2011 7:00pm-8:00pm EST
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> brown: good evening. i'm jeffrey brown. president obama and chinese leader hu vowed to seek common ground today, while acknowledging their nations are competitors on the world stage. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the "newshour" tonight, we wrap up today's summit and assess the challenges ahead for the two superpowers. >> brown: then, betty ann bowser reports on the move to repeal the healthcare law and david chalian explains the politics-at-play in today's vote. >> ifill: paul solman explores automaker g.m.'s bet on the new electric car, the chevy volt. >> emotionally it's very important for the industry; it's important for the city; it's made here in hamtramck and it really marks the leadership in technology again from the
detroit automakers. >> brown: and ray suarez examines what the merger of media giants comcast and nbc universal means for consumers. that's all ahead on tonight's "newshour." major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> for three hours a week, i'm a coach, but when i was diagnosed with prostate cancer, i needed a coach. our doctor was great, but with so many tough decisions, i felt lost. united healthcare offered a specially trained r.n., who helped us weigh and understand all our options. for me, cancer was as scary as a fastball is to some of these kids, but my coach had hit that pitch before. >> turning data into useful answers. we're 78,000 people looking out for 70 million americans. that's health in numbers. united healthcare.
>> and by the bill and melinda gates foundation. dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy productive life. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
>> brown: "we will cooperate." and: "we will compete." that's how president obama characterized relations as the state visit of the president of china formally began today in washington. one-on-one talks were sandwiched between a ceremonial greeting this morning, and a state dinner tonight. pomp and circumstance officially welcomed president hu jintao to the white house. it was his first trip to the u.s. since 2006, and it followed a time of tensions over everything from climate change to taiwan. from the outset, president obama talked up cooperation. >> we have an enormous stake in each other's success. in an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations, including our own, will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together. >> brown: but the president also used his opening remarks to raise china's human rights record.
>> history shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all peoples are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being. >> brown: in turn, president hu responded with a call for mutual respect. >> ( translated ): we live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. china and the united states should respect each other's choice of development path and each other's core interests. we should deepen mutual understanding through communication, increase mutual trust through dialogue and expand common ground through exchanges. >> brown: the leaders then had a private exchange on a range of matters behind closed doors in the oval office. hu called it a candid, constructive atmosphere.
then, the public talk continued at a joint news conference in the east room of the white house. >> what's needed, i believe, is a spirit of cooperation that is also friendly competition. >> brown: the exchange on human rights continued as well. >> we have some core views, as americans, about the universality of certain rights-- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly-- that we think are very important and that transcend cultures. i have been very candid with president hu about these issues. >> brown: hu did not respond initially, amid some confusion with the translations. but later, hu said this: >> ( translated ): china we do believe that we also need to take into account the different national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights.
in this context, china still faces many challenges in economic and social development. and a lot still needs to be done in china in terms of human rights. >> brown: the two presidents also addressed several other issues that have added to tensions between the two nations faced other contentious issues from u.s. concerns that china undervalues its currency for trade advantage to china's role in reining in north korea's nuclear program. and beijing's growing assertiveness in asia, especially in the south china sea. >> i absolutely believe that china's peaceful rise is good for the world and it's good for america. we welcome china's rise. we just want to make sure that that rise is done... that that rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules and, you know, enhances security and
peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict either in the region or around the world. >> ( translated ): china-u.s. cooperation has great significance for our two countries and to the world. the two sides should firmly adhere to the right direction of our relationship, respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests, promote the long term sound and steady growth of china-u.s. relations and make even greater contributions to maintaining and promoting world peace and development. >> brown: there were also talks with american and chinese business leaders. and, u.s. officials announced an array of new agreements for china to buy $45 billion in u.s. exports, including 200 boeing jetliners. >> stop the killings in tibet!
>> brown: meanwhile, just outside the white house grounds, demonstrators protested over human rights and china's control of tibet. this evening, president hu will be honored with an opulent state dinner-- the first for a chinese leader in more than 13 years. some views now on today's meeting and the state of play between the two countries: susan shirk was deputy assistant secretary of state for china policy in the clinton administration. she's now director of the university of california's institute on global conflict and cooperation. minxin pei is professor of government and director of international and strategic studies at claremont mckenna college. and david shambaugh is director of the china policy program at george washington university. he just returned from a 14-month research sabbatical in china. susan shirk, i'll start with you first. what if anything jumps out at you about today's meeting? >> well, the two presidents definitely tried to accentuate the positive from the u.s. side
i think we're pretty satisfied with the joint statement and what the chinese said about north korea. for the first time they did express concern about the uranium enrichment program in north korea. they agreed that north/south dialogue should occur basically before the six-party talks and that concrete steps need to be taken on denuclearization. i think that's probably the part of the joint statement that the u.s. side was the most satisfied with. on the other hand, when it comes to this high-level military dialogue that secretary gates was pressing for last week in beijing and they said "well, let's think about it" we saw that president hu might be coming with that and he was still unwilling to commit to that. brown brown minxin pei, is this important for these specific issues or is it about trying to reset a larger problem between
these two countries? >> i think it's both. this meeting did reset the tone of the relationship for the last year the relationship has been on a downward spiral as and this meeting has put a stop to that. i also want to add three additional divisions about the joint joint statement. i think on the china side for the first time as i recall it positively affirms america's role in east asia as a pacific... asian-pacific nation that contributes to regional security and prosperity. this is a very important statement. and also the statement says that china's new leader, the leader in waiting, the vice president, will be visiting the u.s. and that's going to be an important visit by itself. and lastly, china promises that it will not link so-called its information policy with government procurement and that addresses an american concern. >> brown: david sham but a, you
were shaking your head about the first point he was saying. >> well, the statement has reference to the united states' role in maintaining peace, stability, and security in east asia. that's welcome. but minxin is not quite right. the chinese have said that before including during the clinton administration. they don't say it often because it's code word for the american alliance system and military presence system in asia in which they are highly ambivalent about at best. >> brown: you wrote an op-ed piece in which you referred to "a cumulative crisis brewing in the relationship over the past year." what's behind that and how serious is it? >> well, the crisis has been cumulative. it started with president obama's statement to china in november, 2009, and almost as soon as he got on the airplane to leave things started to unravel and go wrong, as minxin has just noted. there hasn't been any single cause. it's been a multiple cause through the economic domain, the strategic domain, human rightss,
politics, and global diplomacy. so that's why i called it a cumulative crisis. it's not like crises we've had in the u.s./china relationship before. the dell braid bombing or the e.p.-3 incident or tiananmen, but it's as serious, i think, perhaps more serious over the last year. >> brown: well help people... how does the u.s. and should the u.s. look at china today? we hear president obama referring to china's recognize. but we also hear people talking about aner secure china. how do you see it? >> well, you know, china did recover first from the global financial crisis and because of that, many news stories say china's more assertive now because it's got this new confidence. but actually internally there's a tremendous insecurity that its leaders feel because they see domestic threats everywhere. they're very worried that a communist party cannot continue to rule this very dynamic and
open market economy. so they react, sometimes they're hyperresponsive to public opinion, as in the case of anti-foreign nationalism. and they now... there's a public demand for a tougher rhetorical stance toward the united states, toward china's neighbors. and i think that's what this new assertiveness is in part all about. >> brown: minxin pei, what would you add to that? how should we look at china today? >> well, i essentially agree with susan's assessment. china really behaves like somebody with a split personality. it is growing, it's getting stronger but at the same time it's beset with all kinds of domestic problems and challenges and, above all, the chinese communist party's power is not secure. does not have a full legitimacy
base and that worries the leadership most of all. >> brown: i mentioned, david shambaugh, you went there for 14 months. what did you take away from that? >> what susan and minxin just said, the insecurity of the party. i went over there having written a book about the chinese communist party saying they were secure and moving ahead with reforms but those reforms stalled over the last year and a half to two years and they are acting as has been described. a very insecure way on many fronts. the bravado we see from them overseas is the kind of contradiction there but many psychologists will tell you an insecure person sometimes overcompensates and that's what i think we're seeing externally and internally. >> brown: but when you flip it, do important people in china look at the u.s. as in decline? as us getting weaker and does that explain some of the more belligerent behavior that some people see? >> well, some people in china do just as many people in america,
do and in other countries, too. if you look at those pew surveys that came out recently you'll see that there's a massive misperception that china is already the most powerful economy in the world and this the u.s. is on decline. now, i don't think president hu believes that and i don't believe... think that a lot of the leaders in china believe that. but some of the folks in the military and the security apparatus, the propaganda apparatus, they probably do believe that and think that the time has come for china to flex its muscles. >> brown: and minxin pei, what now? you have people in the obama administration that seem to acknowledge that two years ago when they came in they were a little too accommodating. what should the posture be... oh we've just lost minxin pei. we hope the get him back. david, let me come to you on that. what should the posture be for the american government now? >> i think they set a better tone today in the summit and even in the week leading up to the summit.
the speeches that secretaries clinton, locke, gates and geithner gave over the last week you have to look at this cumulatively over the last week, not just the events in the white house today. it's a more realistic tone than was set at the last summit in beijing. there the expectations... the american expectations were too high and they were dashed almost immediately. but today i get a greater sobriety and president obama's use of the word "competition" for example. we have a competitive and a cooperative relationship. that's a bit more realistic, i think, and that will send signals to the chinese side, send signals to the american public and the international media in a way to report the relationship. >> brown: i think minxin pei you're back with us. the question was what should the american posture be now? you heard president obama for example going out of his way early on today to bring up the human rights issues. >> i think the policy at the moment is the right policy because it strikes the right
balance. on the one hand you want to give the chinese leader respect. it's called a state visit and state dinner but at the same time you want to show american principles and interests and defend them vigorously. at the moment, i think it is absolutely the realist and right policy. >> brown: and it's also worth noting president hu jintao, this is his farewell visit, right? >> it is because he's a lame duck, two years before the transition that's going to occur at the next party congress in 2012. >> brown: so what do we need to know about what's behind him in terms of chinese politics or chinese power. >> well, you know, china is not ruled by hu jintao. china is ruled by this collective group of nine men in the standing committee of the communist party politburo. shi jin ping has been chosen to
be the successor but it's a system that's first among equals and actually this weak collective rule we think-- david and i were speaking before we came on-- is really responsible for a lot of the problems we've been seeing because we've got weak collective leadership, poor coordination and a lot of these bureaucratic interests are going off on their own, like the military, the security apparatus or the propaganda apparatus. >> brown: so briefly, you expect this period to continue? this kind of up and down? >> i'd argue hu jintao has been a lame duck ever since he came into office. he has never actually con stoll dated his power and extended it over the security apparatus, over the military, over these large state-owned enterprises so we're going now into the transition to his successor. this is a period when these bureaucratic interests are going to assert themselves even more. his successor is rather untested it's going to be probably two years before he begins to consolidate his position so we
as americans and the rest of the world need to realize the fluidity domestically that we're dealing with here. >> brown: david shambauh, susan shirk and minxin pei, thank you very much. >> ifill: still to come on the "newshour": the house votes to repeal the health care law; the car detroit is counting on and the nbc-comcast merger. but first, with the other news of the day. here's kwame holman. >> holman: former democratic vice presidential nominee joe lieberman is leaving the u.s. senate. he announced today in stamford, connecticut that he will not run for a fifth term, in 2012. lieberman won as an independent five years ago, after losing in the democratic primary and he faced another primary challenge next year. today, he said it's time to move on. >> at end of this term is will have served 24 years in u.s. senate. by my count i've run at least 15 full-fledged campaigns. that's just in connecticut. not counting national campaigns.
so for me it is time for another season and purpose under heaven. >> holman: lieberman was al gore's democratic running mate in 2000-- the first jewish candidate on a major party's presidential ticket. but in 2008, he endorsed republican john mccain for president. in tunisia, there were more anti-government demonstrations, but this time they were mostly peaceful. protesters demanded allies of ousted president ben ali give up power. they chanted and sang nationalist songs, amid a heavy police presence. meanwhile, the new government began releasing political prisoners. it also moved to track down assets of ben ali and his family. the u.n. security council voted today to send another 2,000 peacekeepers to ivory coast bringing the total to 12,000. the u.n. has been at odds with president laurent gbagbo since he apparently lost re-election in november, but refused to step down. u.n. officials estimate more
than 200 people have died in post-election violence. at least 13 civilians were killed in afghanistan today, when their motorized rickshaw hit a roadside bomb. it happened in paktika province in the east near the border with pakistan. separately, president hamid karzai delayed opening parliament by a month. that gives a tribunal more time to investigate alleged election fraud. karzai has been accused of using the probe to undermine the vote results. suicides among u.s. soldiers in the army national guard and reserve doubled last year. but among active duty soldiers, suicides dropped, after five years of increases. the army's vice chief of staff general peter chiarelli said today the military is working to lessen the stigma attached to mental health issues. >> i really believe we are leading an effort to destigmatize soldiers, family members, da civilians seeking help when they have these behavioral health issues.
they are injuries that must be taken care of. >> holman: chiarelli said the army still is working to improve training and health care, and to educate soldiers on the abuse of prescription drugs. in u.s. economic news, home building stayed near record lows last year and starts on new construction fell in december. that news did little to help wall street. instead, stocks fell as major financial and technology companies reported drops in earnings. the dow jones industrial average lost 12 points to close at 11,825. the nasdaq fell 40 points to close at 2,725. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to gwen. >> ifill: republicans fulfilled a campaign promise today when the house voted 254 to 189 to repeal president obama's health care reform law. the bill stands little chance of becoming law, but that did nothing to tamp down the debate.
"newshour" correspondent betty ann bowser has our story. >> h.r.-2, a bill to repeal the job-killing health care law. >> reporter: that quick announcement the house launched into hours of debate on health care repeal with republicans staunchly in favor. >> i rise today to support h.r.- 2, the repeal of obamacare! >> obamacare created what we all despise and know won't work-- more government bureaucracy at taxpayer expense. >> reporter: and most democrats just as firmly opposed. >> i strongly oppose this effort to repeal the healthcare bill. >> i rise to speak out in emphatic opposition to the h.r.- 2. >> we're repealing these benefits that help millions of americans, and we are replacing them with nothing. >> reporter: the repeal drive has been building since president obama signed health care reform into law, last march. republicans have argued it's unconstitutional to make most americans buy insurance or face a fine. they built on that argument today, with their new majority. congressman mike pence of
indiana used the mandate to make a broader indictment of the law. >> when you order every american to buy health insurance, whether they want it or need it or not, that's a government takeover of health care. when you order almost every when you pass legislation that makes it all run with hundreds of billions of dollars in higher taxes, mandates, bureaucracies, and even public funding of abortion against the wills of the overwhelming majority of the american people, that a government takeover of health care. and the american people know it. >> reporter: florida congressman cliff stearns and his colleagues also charged the health reform law will hurt economic growth. >> these employer-mandates that are in the health care bill are terrible! and it's estimated... it's estimated it'll wipe out 1.6 million jobs over just five years. >> reporter: democrats and some non-partisan groups have disputed that number. on another front, republicans argued today the law will do nothing to control spiraling health care costs. but democrats maintained the bill lowers the cost of healthcare and insures an
additional 30 million americans. congressman george miller of california. >> we've seen health insurance premiums jump dramatically over the cost of living, over the last decade. and over the last decade, we've that's not a comfort. what is a comfort is the freedom to know that never again will you have to contest the arbitrary rulings of an insurance company about your preexisting condition, about the coverage of your child's health care. that's the certainty this legislation presents. >> reporter: another california democrat lois capps pointed to other benefits that have already taken effect. >> across the country, parents now know that their children can be insured after graduation from high school or college. seniors in the dreaded donut hole now have received help for prescription drugs, and now can have a free physical each year. people who are sick can no longer be dropped from their plans, lifetime and annual coverage limits, the fine print that can thrust a family into bankruptcy. these are gone. >> reporter: amid the debate, the secretary of health and human services kathleen sebelius
met with house democrats, and warned americans with pre- existing conditions will never get coverage, if the law is repealed. >> people talk about repeal as political theater or symbolism. it isn't symbolic to the 149 million americans with health conditions who now are locked out or priced out of the market. and it sure isn't symbolic to >> reporter: on the senate side, democratic majority leader harry reid reaffirmed today he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote. but house majority leader eric cantor dared reid to hold to that position in the face of public pressure. >> leader reid continues to say that he is not going to bring this up for a vote in the senate. the american people deserve a full hearing. they deserve to see this legislation go to the senate for full vote.
>> reporter: following repeal, the house will vote tomorrow on a republican resolution that orders four committees to draw up an alternative health care plan. >> ifill: for more on today's action on capitol hill, we turn to "newshour" political editor david chalian. not 254 as i said leading in. but that aside, tell us about the answer to eric cantor's question. why won't the senate take this up now? >> senate democrats don't want to have this conversation because mitch mcconnell as soon as the house passed the repeal bill tonight, gwen, mitch mcconnell said "we must vote on this" and you saw the political pressure going out to all the potentially vulnerable democratic senators running for reelection this next sake. hey, join the republicans, we need a vote on this, the american people won't a vote on this. you can sense the republicans want to pressure harry reid as much as possible to give them a vote even though they know it won't pass. they, too, want to fulfill the
campaign promise. >> ifill: if it's true that the republicans really did expect the senate not to take it up or the president to sign it but the president to veto it why have this debate? what was the reasoning? >> well, john boehner made it very clear. the speaker of the house went to the floor of the house today during the debate and said "this was a campaign promise. we made a pledge to the american people and this is what they voted for." in talking to republicans on capitol hill today, you got a sense they didn't feel that they were going to be able to move forward with their new governing majority in the house of representatives if they did not check this box as a campaign promise fulfilled to their base, to their voters that sent them here. if they could not show that they were going to take a key platform and move forward with it even if it's not going into law, even if it's not going anywhere, just fill that request of their voters. they felt they weren't going to move on to other topics. >> ifill: in the end, the democrats didn't mind that much having a chance to make a first impression a second time. >> yeah, that was just... those were chuck schumer's words. although i'm skeptical about
whether or not the democrats really can make that second impression. you've seen sort of muddied poll numbers everywhere across the board. abc news/"washington post" poll out this week showed more americans think it will cut jobs than add jobs. they think it will harm the economy more than help the economy. and yet even though the republicans seem to have won the public relations battle there, only 37% of americans say they want it all or a piece of it repealed. so you're getting a very confusing message in those pole polls and this is because the law hasn't really taken hold yet. it's not until 2014 we see all those millions of people get insurance. >> ifill: isn't it also confusing because it's hard to know what's view? whether it's a job-killing bill or a job-creating bill. you have republicans and democrats just toe to toe arguing the exact opposite thing. >> there's no doubt about that. and the fact that there's no sort of arbitor right now that works to both sides' advantages, right? they each get to make these points and until the american people actually feel the real-world impact on their lives
about what this bill does and does not do both sides get to make these claims and have some outside analysis where they point to and say "look at this study." and you will not get to the facts until the american people are experiencing the benefits in their daily lives. >> ifill: was the white house a little bit nervous about the fact of this debate happening? keeping this fight alive? >> i don't think they were terribly nervous because they knew it would come up and go away rather quickly. and they do like the timing of it. the president is going to be able to pivot away next week with the state of the union but they relished the opportunity as you were saying before to just launch a full on assault on the republican attempt to repeal. they were more sort of organized in their messaging back on this than i think they were during the actual hunt for the vote getting the bill passed. >> ifill: today there were e-mails, why the mayors support it, why governors support it. they were pushing back, all coming from the white house. >> exactly. >> couric: they were counting noses in the house trying to figure out who's going do what
(the senate they're also counting noses for a different reason. we have retirements and today joe lieberman. >> the independent democrat from connecticut. what a fascinating political career he has had. he even said today in his remarks in connecticut, he said "i don't fit comfortably into these partisan boxes." and that's for sure. off guy here who within the last eight-year span was on the national ticket as the vice presidential candidate, sought the democratic presidential nomination himself in 2004, endorsed john mccain in 2007, and got a major speaking slot at the republican convention in 2008. that's not a normal political career and he sort of... >> ifill: and was facing a tough race in 2012. >> and it's because of that he was a man without a political base, so his prospects for reelection were really dim up in connecticut. he said that's not why he was stepping down. he never shies away from a fight. i'm sure that's true to some degree but what is totally clear is he was going to have a real fight on his hands. >> ifill: as you look at the list of people who could retire, which party looks like it's in the greatest per still in >> democrats, i think, have a
little more to worry about here in terms of retirement but also just because the people that may not retire but are seeking reelection are doing so in tough states: montana, missouri, virginia. north dakota where kent conrad retired yesterday. we're going to see very tough senate elections, whether open seats or even the incumbent senators because remember these democrats that are now up in 2012, they won on that big democratic wave in '06. they're not necessarily going to have this that kind of wave. >> ifill: david chalian, always fun. thank you. >> thank you. >> brown: now, g.m.'s big gamble on electric cars. "newshour" economics correspondent paul solman went to detroit to take a look. it's part of his ongoing reporting on "making sense of financial news." >> reporter: one of the world's premier car events held every january in detroit: the north american international auto show. >> and the 2011 north american car of the year is the chevrolet volt. ( applause )
>> reporter: car of the year; hope of the decade. g.m.'s electric idea for resuscitating the company, reviving desolate detroit. g.m. vice chairman thomas stephens: >> yes, it was a moonshot, but we landed it. >> reporter: and according to g.m., the chevy volt has company. >> please welcome u.s. marketing v.p. john schwegman! ( applause ) >> oh, what a difference a year makes. sales were up in 2010 by 52%. buick is the fastest growing brand in the u.s. that's why were proud to introduce the all new 2012 buick verano. >> reporter: according to g.m., buick is booming; even cadillac said to be smoking the competition these days, with a regular gas-powered lineup. which would be a good thing for us, since you and i, as taxpayers, still own a third of general motors.
that's after the company helped pay off part of its bailout loan with a successful public stock offering last november. but buick and cadillac are small players in the g.m. lineup; 70% of the business is chevy. and the company is pinning its hopes for the future on the chevy volt. g.m. president mark reuss: >> emotionally, it's very important for the industry; it's important for the city; it's made here in hamtramck and it really marks the leadership in technology again from the detroit automakers. >> reporter: the newly crowned champ on the road, so quiet pedestrians need a sound alert. and the volt may even need to add noise to meet government mandates. engineer micky bly: >> just like you have ring tones. people are even talking about have car tones. >> reporter: or you could just have something like, "hey, it's an electric car coming, you all should watch out!" >> or actually an engine running
>> reporter: oh no, an engine running. you'd have a simulated engine running? >> that's one of the thoughts. >> reporter: wow, this thing goes fast. >> we designed this car to be fun and spirited as well as efficient. it's a choice the driver gets to make. we actually have a little gauge there on the right-hand side. >> reporter: this kind of bouncing ball here? >> yeah. if it's twirling in the middle of that grid you're driving the most efficient possible. if you were to accelerate a little too fast, you'll see it goes up as you're being inefficient. >> reporter: drive with maximum efficiency, and the volt's battery will take you 50 miles, after which a gas engine kicks in. the battery takes eight to ten hours to charge on household current, half that on 240 volts, costs about a buck and a half worth of electricity. 50 miles for $1.50. at today's gas price, that's roughly 100 miles a gallon. the volts get priority parking at detroit hamtramck, the factory where they're made. one in every five cars on the line here is a volt, long thought within the company to be
g.m.'s secret formula for turning steel into gold. >> for a long time i wasn't even allowed to say volt. >> reporter: plant manager teri quigley: >> reporter: we didn't formally announce that the volt was going to be built here in detroit hamtramck until december 7, 2009. so i had to refer to it as my favorite four-letter word. >> reporter: better than b.u.s.t. though, which pretty much described this factory back in the dog days of 2009, when it looked like g.m. needed a miracle. >> we had 19 down weeks. the worst thing you can do to an assembly line and the workforce is to not have them build cars. there were about three people in the plant. myself, a personnel director, my manufacturing director and my shop chairman and that was it in this 3.6 million square foot manufacturing facility, doing nothing. >> reporter: now there are more than a thousand folks working here, with a production goal of 25,000 volts this year. but the editor-in-chief of truthaboutcars.com, which gets
two million page views a month, speaks for many in saying: the volt is just too expensive for most of us. >> right now, at $40,000 per car and at $3 per gallon gas there's absolutely not a market to support that. >> reporter: now, the government will give a $7,500 tax credit to consumers who buy a volt, but that doesn't help g.m.'s bottom line and right now, volts don't make money for the company. >> they cost about $40,000 to build and they cost about $40,000 to buy. >> reporter: niedermeyer says gm could copy toyota's prius strategy: price at a loss to begin with and build volume so the unit cost eventually comes way down. they stuck to their guns, that vehicle wormed its way into the heart of america when gas prices came up, and now it is their current best-selling car in america and it's extremely profitable for them. >> reporter: but will g.m. cut price to build volume? when we talked to mark reuss, it didn't seem like it. >> we are in the first
generation of the technology so as time goes on you're going to see costs taken out of that. we don't want to do anything that takes us off focus of developing that car perfect for our customers. >> reporter: and that means you need enough revenue to keep doing it. >> yeah. >> reporter: g.m. has to raise revenues, and has had to cut costs to the bone, including the cost of labor. at the plant that turns out the chevy sonic, the only subcompact made in america, 40% of the workers were forced to take a pay-cut of $14 an hour, based on seniority. that's down to what the so- called second tier new workers make. >> i can only imagine what happens to morale and quality at a plant where workers are forced into a second tier of wages, to take a 50% pay cut. >> reporter: bryan moore, who works at the volt plant, at $27 an hour, agrees that a pay cut would be tough to swallow. >> i'm pretty sure there's a lot of people who are resentful because their whole, their whole way of life has to change completely. >> reporter: but mark reuss disagrees. >> we have seen no tension and
the reason why i say that is because last thursday, i was in there with a microphone and a handheld camera interviewing all of our employees as to how it's going because, you know, the tooling systems are coming online and in fact yesterday we made our first car there. >> reporter: and what about the people who wonder why any auto workers should still make $27 an hour? how many applicants did you have at $14 an hour? >> i don't know. but we had a lot. >> reporter: plenty. >> yeah. >> reporter: so you could fill that plant with people at $14 an hour. so why don't you? >> we have to be competitive but every worker in this company went through a tremendous amount of financial and mental sacrifices when we went through bankruptcy. a lot of people don't like to hear this, but manufacturing and the basis for making things in this country provides a huge basis for the middle class. i want people to be able to send their kids to college. >> reporter: and look, says legendary auto executive bob lutz, now retired from g.m., labor costs are now low enough that they've ceased to be a competitive factor.
>> right now, only about 11% of the cost of a car is labor. in fact, with the low dollar, if you look at it in the international context, the united states believe it or not, is one of the least expensive industrial countries in which to build automobiles. we should be exporting a lot more. we are now a highly competitive source. >> reporter: lutz, a major investor in a company making electric motorcycles in michigan, is betting on detroit's renaissance. as are neighboring exhibitors at the auto show, here to demonstrate their vision of the future. jason forcier, runs a-123, an m.i.t.-spinoff battery maker. >> i think what's going on right now is the revitalization of michigan. we're diversifying the economy from the auto industry to the next generation technology for the auto industry but for other industries as well. >> reporter: why are you here as opposed to boston?
>> there is no richer talent pool from an engineering perspective around automotive than right here in the state of michigan. and it was a unique time because many of them were unemployed. >> reporter: moreover, the company starts workers at closer to the second tier $14 an hour than the u.a.w. wages of the past. >> wages have come down and that's what's made michigan attractive frankly, is that it's not $30 an hour plus full benefits and pension for life. >> reporter: john thomas runs a firm that retrofits vehicles to run electric. >> we're in auburn hills, michigan. we leased a 200,000 square foot assembly facility near the chrysler tech center and the palace. >> reporter: and what's the advantage of being here? >> all of the resources for automotives are absolutely here. >> reporter: so then, last question for the skeptic: are electric vehicles going to save general motors and save detroit? >> no, is the short answer. the projections are, at their most optimistic, it's something like 10% of the market by 2020.
>> but on the other hand 10% of the global market would be between 6.5 million to seven million units. >> reporter: suggesting electric vehicles, not even counting lutz's motorcycle, could conceivably go a long way toward revitalizing g.m. and the city it made. >> ifill: and to another business story-- the impact of that major merger between nbc and comcast. ray suarez has the story. >> suarez: it's a media marriage that's not quite like any other to date-- a merger of the country's biggest cable and internet provider with one of the largest and best-known entertainment companies. there's been much concern about the concentration of power that would result from pairing comcast with nbc universal. but yesterday, the federal communications commission in a four to one vote blessed comcast's $30 billion purchase. that approval came with some conditions, though, to try to prevent comcast from stifling
competition on the web from smaller players. we explore the impact of the deal with jessica vascellaro, media reporter for the "wall street journal." jessica, why would comcast-- already a big media company that its own right along with being a cable and internet provider-- want a big complicated conglomerate like nbc? >> well, ray-- and thanks for having me on-- it's a little bit of a hedge. so comcast is the u.s.'s largest cable operator, also sells internet connections and broadband, but that business is maturing. people have television service. by some measures the number of people who are subscribing to pay t.v. service is even falling. so it's an older business, it faces new competition from internet rivals. for comcast, nbc is a lot of new content. it's some new businesses that
are making a lot of money but it's also the opportunity to differentiate their pay t.v. service to fend off competitors. >> suarez: it's been about a quarter of a century since g.e. bought nbc. why was g.e. once such a dominant network... why was nbc which was once such a dominant network ripe for being purchased by somebody else? >> well, nbc is quite a large business. nbc universal. and it's has parts of the company that are doing very well like the cable networks. the broadcast network is not doing very well. you know, it's fourth in prime time, it's lost a lot of its luster. this is not necessarily a big part of the bottom line at nbc, but it's a big part of the image of nbc. and i think financially this was a smart transaction from both comcast's side and g.e.'s side. so i think for g.e. it was time and it made a lot of financial sense. >> during the runup to the
f.c.c. approval critics of the merger expressed concern about a deliverer of content like comcast buying a producer of content like nbc. were those concerns answered by the f.c.c. and are they being answered by the justice department in its deliberations? >> well, both regulators came out with a lot of conditions that critics of the deal say do mark a step towards addressing those concerns about probably the most important ones broadly are that comcast can't withhold nbc programing from competitors. so it can't prevent direct t.v. from offering nbc content to its subscrapers. at the same time this exends to the online video landscape. so in many instances it couldn't prevent netflix or some of these emerging providers from carrying their content if they also had
similar deals with other media companies so that was a big concern going into it on many people's minds and the f.c.c. and the d.o.j. have laid out some pretty clear ground rules on that. >> but don't these conditions sunset. won't comcast/nbc eventually be able to withhold content from hulu, let's say, the computer desktop instead of television provider of popular entertainment shows? >> well, not for the next seven years. so most of... not all the conditions are seven years but many of them and the online video condition you mentioned are for seven years. and seven years is a long time in the media world and particularly, i think, in the digital world. but, of course, it's something that competitors are going to keep an eye on. there's a mechanism the f.c.c. tse has provided for someone to sort of arbitrate and go to them say "i don't think comcast is being fair on the price they're charging know carry nbc content." and i think we can expect to hear people... to watch people
pay close attention to this issue. >> suarez:, okay, so you've mentioned the fast-growing video online industry and its concerns but there was some goodies in there, too, weren't there? for local newscasters, for spanish language broadcasters, for people who want to make sure there's a steady stream of children's programming, right? >> there are and comcast agreed to a lot of these conditions voluntarily and sort of raised some of them. they're agreeing to carrying a certain amount of local content, diverse content, kids content basically addressing concerns they're not going to take their service and squeeze it into the most profitable... reserve it for the most profitable types of content. that they're looking out for the public interest, too. >> suarez: some of the same immediate ja giants that expressed concerns about this merger have been snapping each other up for years. during this approval period did they testify and brief against
the merger or did they want to be free to do the same thing when their time comes? >> it was very funny to watch. a lot of different media companies sort of play different moves at different times. you saw some... one that jumped to mind, bloomberg, who has a business network that competes with cnbc which nbc owns. so they were pretty vocal and pushing on conditions that would really require comcast to keep their network in the same sort of part of the channel grid so people wouldn't... would be able to find it. so they were actually one of... to be pretty vocal on that. towards the end we saw some media companies, disney and newscorp, time warner talk to the f.c.c. about some of the online video conditions. they had some concerns that it was maybe too early to start laying down some ground rules around who has to strike a deal with whom in the online video world. but i'd say for the large part
media companies are pretty quiet throughout what amounts to about a year of deliberations and as you point out it comes at a time when they're really looking deep at their own business, they're casting about for partners, we're going to help them make this digital transition so everyone's strategy is sort of up in the air right now. >> suarez: jessica vascellaro joins us from new york. thanks a lot. >> thank you. >> brown: finally tonight: producing the building blocks of the future. "new york times" technology reporter david pogue has teamed up with "nova" for a new series that will look at innovative technologies and materials. in tonight's premiere, he focuses on making stuff stronger. here's an excerpt. >> spider silk has been shown to have more tensile strength than steel and kevlar. it can stretch to 140% of it length without breaking and remains flexible even in in
extreme cold. it's also so lightweight that a mere pound of the stuff could form a single strand long you have no stretch around the equator. but could we ever harvest enough to put it to use? i paid a visit to the american museum of natural history in new york where i met nicholas godly. >> this is it. >> this is the big one. >> reporter: he enlisted the help of more than a million spiders to help make this breathtaking piece of fabric. >> it's the largest known textile of spider sill income the world. >> to truly appreciate this remarkable material you have to feel it. the main piece is so valuable it's off limits, even to its creator. but nicholas has brought a smaller sample. it feels really, really, really soft. like animal wool or something. >> i imagine you to break off this piece. >> i'm going break before it
does. okay, it does not break. it's like pulling a strand of steel. wow. it's beautiful and it's super strong. could we ever put spider silling to practical use? >> it's very difficult, obviously, to do this on a commercial scale and it took a million sixty three thousand spiders roughly to make. >> reporter: geez. >> it takes about 20 minutes for each spider and they produce about 400 yards of thread. >> reporter: each thread was pulled by hand from a spider's spinarette. it took three years to weave this eleven foot long masterpiece. it rarity is a testament to the sheer difficulty of harvesting this material. but that may soon change thanks to this guy. >> so here's where we keep our spiders. we have special little cages for them in this room. >> reporter: spider central, huh?
whoa! not funny! not funny! you're >> you're now an official spider-man affiliate. (laughs) >> reporter: this is randy lewis, a biologist at the university of wyoming who who's stuck on spider silk. wow. >> this is a golden or weaver. just tuck your hand and get behind her. >> reporter: why is she making web right now? >> because she wants to make sure if she falls she's catching herself. >> reporter: so she's constantly sending out that drag line? >> wherever they move they leave that drag line behind. that's where it got its name. >> reporter: randy has been fascinated by the amazing properties of drag line silk for two two years. he knows all too well the difficulty of extracting silk from spieders so he thought of a way of mass producing the stuff in hopes of revolutionizing the world of strong materials. wyoming is ranch country, so when randy began to consider how to solve the problem, his thoughts turned to livestock.
he figured maybe he could combine a little old-fashioned animal husbandry with the emerging science of genetic engineering. now, thanks to randy, these goats have just a little bit of spider in them. ... these goats have just a little bit of spider in them. the transjenic, that's the word for whater? >> right, they have another gene in their chromosomes. >> reporter: genes are sections of d.n.a. that contain the encoded instructions for making protein. scientists identify the two genes in spider d.n.a. that make silk. they copied one of the jens and spliced it into the d.n.a. of goats so that they would make spider silk protein in their milk. >> brown: spoiler alert: the scientists eventually turned the protein into strands of silk that are stronger than steel. you can see it all happen on nova's program "making stuff
stronger" tonight on most pbs stations. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day: president obama and chinese president hu jintao talked of cooperation and competition, as they met at the white house. hu acknowledged a lot still needs to be done to improve human rights in china. and the u.s. house voted 245 to 189 to repeal the health care reform law. the bill is given little chance in the senate. and to kwame holman for what's on the "newshour" online. kwame? >> holman: david pogue talks about his method of explaining the complicated world of materials science. that interview is on "the rundown" blog. watch all of president obama's press conference with chinese president hu. and read insights from betty ann and others about today's house debate on repealing the health reform law. all that and more is on our web site: newshour.pbs.org. gwen? >> brown: and that's the "newshour" for tonight. on thursday, margaret warner continues her reporting from south korea on heightened tensions with the north. i'm jeffrey brown.
>> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. thank you and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> for three hours a week, i'm a >> i mean, where would we be without small businesses? >> we need small businesses. >> they're the ones that help drive growth. >> like electricians, mechanics, carpenters. >> they strengthen our communities. >> every year, chevron spends billions with small businesses. that goes right to the heart of local communities, providing jobs, keeping people at work. they depend on us. >> the economy depends on them. >> and we depend on them. and the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and
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