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tv   PBS News Hour Weekend  PBS  December 17, 2017 5:30pm-6:01pm PST

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captioning sponsored by wnet >> sreenivasan: on this edition for sunday, december 17: the republican tax bill is on track for passage and the president's signature this week and in our signature segment, part two in our series about unregulated chemicals in drinking water. next on pbs newshour weekend. >> "pbs newshour weekend" is made possible by: bernard and irene schwartz. the cheryl and philip milstein family. sue and edgar wachenheim, iii. dr. p. roy vagelos and diana t. vagelos. the j.p.b. foundation. the anderson family fund. rosalind p. walter, in memory of abby m. o'neill. barbara hope zuckerberg. corporate funding is provided by mutual of america--
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designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and by: >> babbel. a language app that teaches real-life conversations in a new language, like spanish, french, german, italian, and more. babbel's 10-15 minute lessons are available as an app, or online. more information on babbel.com. >> additional support has been provided by: and by the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. from the tisch wnet studios at lincoln center in new york, hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: good evening and thank you for joining us. republicans in congress are hoping to pass their $1.5 trillion tax reform bill this tuesday, sending it to president donald trump's desk before the holiday recess. some critics of the bill's final version, released this past friday, say it fails to deliver
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on key campaign promises the president made last year, such as reducing the number of tax brackets and not adding to the federal deficit. the white house's legislative affairs director, marc short, defended the bill this morning, saying it achieved the president's main goal. >> for an average single mom earning $40,000 a year with two children, she's gets a $1,400 tax benefit. for the average family of four earning $70,000 a year, they get a $2,000 tax benefit. he delivered on his promise to focus on middle income families, as well as to provide corporate tax relief. >> sreenivasan: but democratic senator chris van hollen of maryland said that the bill was a betrayal of the president's message of economic populism. >> millionaires will get an average annual tax break $35,000 a year and the big winners are those corporations. and i think many people haven't focused on the fact that 35% of the shareholders of those corporations are actually foreign stockholders who in the year 2019 are going to get a $31 billion tax break. it doesn't sound like america
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first to me, it doesn't sound like the middle class first. >> sreenivasan: president trump's transition team has accused special counsel robert mueller of illegally obtaining thousands of private emails in the investigation of possible collusion between the trump campaign and russia. in a seven-page letter to key senate and house committee leaders, a lawyer for trump's transition team accused staffers at the general services administration of breaking the law. the attorney claims that the gsa handed over "emails, laptops, cell phones and other material"" to the special counsel. those items allegedly contained information protected by attorney-client privilege. a spokesperson for mueller sai"" when we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process." maryland senator chris van hollen defended the integrity of mueller's investigation, saying this is just part of a concerted effort from the white house to undermine the investigation. >> i really hope our republican colleagues will not join in subverting that process in trying to end this investigation. the question is what are they
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afraid of? what is the white house afraid of? let's let them finish the job and get the facts. >> sreenivasan: some democrats have expressed concern the president may be looking for an excuse to fire mueller. but texas senator john cornyn, said he believes there are no such plans. >> i read that the president's own lawyer says that's not going to happen. i think that would be a mistake myself. >> sreenivasan: the trump administration has reportedly tried to prohibit the u.s. centers for disease control and prevention from using seven words or phrases in next year's budget documents. this was first reported by the "washington post." the terms are "fetus,"" transgender," "vulnerable,"" entitlement," "diversity,"" evidence-based" and "science- based." senior officials at the c.d.c. informed a group of the agency's policy analysts about the ban on thursday. in some cases, the analysts were given replacement phrases to use instead. the "new york times" reports that some c.d.c. officials suggested the move was meant to secure republican's approval of the budget by eliminating select words and phrases.
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a spokesperson for the department of health and human services, which oversees the c.d.c., called the assertion that the department has "banned words" a "complete mischaracterization." if a deal isn't struck by midnight this saturday, the federal government will shut down. but that's not the only item on lawmakers to do list before the holiday recess. less talked about is the renewal of a law known as the fisa amendments act. it allows for the surveillance of foreigners outside of the united states. and while there is generally bipartisan support for the law on national security grounds, some on both sides of the aisle are calling for changes. among the concerns: american citizens will be spied upon without a warrant. byron tau of the "wall street journal" has been following the story and he joins me now from washington, d.c. let's talk about as much of the issues. what are the sticking points here? >> the sticking point is there's a big group of reformers on capitol hill that crosses party lines that want privacy concerns for americans who might
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incidentally get caught up in this spying, whether they are communicating overseas or their communications get accidentally lumped into big baskets of data that internet companies give to the nsa. a lot want to require a warrant for the nsa or any other government agency to listen or look at these communications. >> sreenivasan: this is something that rand paul and ron wyden can agree on from different sides of the spectrum. >> that's right. there are conservative republicans and liberal democrats that are pushing to big changes to this including a warrant requirement and there are bipartisan coalitions that are pushing for more mod erase. the -- moderatecy. ,. >> sreenivasan: what happens if this doesn't get passed by january 1? >> that is a good question. the fisa court which is a special court that oversees all
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these major surveillance programs so they wouldn't have to shut them down immediately. but the key surveillance law that underpins a lot of the electronic spying that the united states does. it has to be reed at -- remid at some point next year, eventually these programs would have to wind down. >> sreenivasan: given that everyone is talking about taxes the first few days of this week and imminent government shutdown, how likely is it that law americas agree to this? >> the fisa law there is no clear path forward for lawmakers to do this. there are a lot on both sides of the aisle who are against putting the renewal in the spending bill, there's only a few days left before they are expected to recess for christmas. i don't know if anyone on capitol hill knows where this is going. >> byron tau of the wall street
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jowrnl, thank you for joining us. >> thanks for having me. >> sreenivasan: tonight the second part in our series on drinking water, and the challenge of making sure that what comes out of our taps is safe to drink. yesterday, we reported on a chemical that has been looked at by regulators for years and yet remains almost completely unregulated. tonight, we travel to north carolina where residents near a chemical plant on the cape fear river have been dealing with the discovery of an unregulated chemical known as genx. while little is known about the health effects of genx, the discovery has alarmed local residents and reveals gaps in how we approach the regulation of drinking water. so this well tested at what? >> this well tested at 236. >> sreenivasan: in a rural pocket of fayetteville, north carolina, mike watters has three drinking water wells on his five-acre property, but in the past three months, he has stopped using the water altogether. when did you figure out that your water is not safe? >> 6 september of this year. we had no clue. we've been drinking the water,
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feeding it to our dogs, our parrots. we knew something was odd, but 6 september chemours came in. they had a letter and said, "we want to test your wells. do you give us permission?" >> sreenivasan: a spinoff of the chemical giant dupont, chemours has a chemical plant just more than a mile away, watters, has lived here since 2012 with his wife and son. he's a veteran, former special forces, and works at nearby fort bragg. he had no inkling that his water might be contaminated until the company tested his well and told him it had an unsafe level of an unregulated chemical known as genx. watters paid $800 to have his own analysis done, which showed genx at 236 parts per trillion, well above the state's health goal of 140. the company has told him the water is okay for non-drinking uses." don't use your well water for drinking, cooking, but it is suitable for bathing washing dishes doing laundry." you're just not taking that risk? >> nope.
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they're telling me it's safe to go ahead and stick in my eyes. i think they're insane. >> sreenivasan: watters now uses only bottled water provided by chemours. and he's not alone: residents of 115 homes within a few miles of the plant have been told their water is not safe to consume. can't you just boil it off? >> no, you cannot boil this. most filtration systems will not remove it. >> sreenivasan: genx is one of the newest in a group of man- made compounds known as fluorochemicals. they're used in the manufacturing process of your non-stick pans and your waterproof jackets. genx is a replacement and closely related to another fluorochemical, p.f.o.a., that was used for decades before being phased out due to health concerns. genx has been manufactured commercially here in north carolina since 2009, but under a state wastewater permit, it's been discharged as a manufacturing byproduct for decades. this is the cape fear river near fayetteville. about a quarter million people
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downstream rely on it for their drinking water. a facility near here has been dumping genx into the river since 1980. and not until this year, did residents learn about it. in 2013, a team of researchers began testing for genx along the cape fear river, both upstream from the chemours plant, and as far as 80 miles downstream near a water treatment plant in wilmington. >> what we had found was a genx level of over 600 nanograms per liter in the drinking water. >> sreenivasan: detlef knappe, a professor of environmental engineering at north carolina state, was part of the team who found genx in downstream samples. in november 2016, he co-authored a paper with his findings, and shared the results with water authorities and state officials. but it wasn't until this june that a front page story in the "wilmington star-news" caused a public uproar. >> they are obligated to let us know what's going into the water. they failed to do that. >> sreenivasan: michael regan is
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the head of the north carolina department of environmental quality, or d.e.q. the agency regulates the permitting process that allows chemours to discharge wastewater. >> we immediately began to monitor and study sort of where the discharge was coming from and the potential impacts. >> sreenivasan: the d.e.q. confronted the company in june, and chemours agreed to stop discharging genx into the cape fear river. the company said at the time in a press release that it" believes that emissions from its fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water." in july, north carolina developed that health goal for genx of 140 parts per trillion and since then state tests show genx has generally been below that mark. while there's very limited data on the health effects of the chemical, based on existing animal studies, the state says anything above that level could lead to "increased risk of adverse health effects." but a goal isn't the same as a law-- it's unenforceable. and in fact, genx remains unregulated.
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one of about 85,000 such chemicals registered in the united states that are not tested for in drinking water. >> with the development of more and more new chemicals. it's really difficult for the public to just rely on the regulators to assure that the drinking water stays safe. >> sreenivasan: are chemicals assumed innocent until proven guilty? >> that seems to be the mode of operation here. i think that's part of the problem. we should really assume that a chemical may be harmful until it is proven otherwise. >> sreenivasan: the cape fear public utility authority's sweeney treatment plant is about 80 miles downstream of the chemours plant. the newly upgraded facility treats drinking water from the river for about 200,000 residents in the wilmington area, according to jim flechtner, who runs the water
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system. but it does not filter out genx. >> it wasn't necessarily designed to filter some of these compounds out because they're not regulated at the national and state level. when you design a plant, you design it to meet those standards. and unfortunately these compounds are in the river and they're not regulated. and sweeney cannot filter them. so we're in a very difficult position. >> sreenivasan: the water utility was criticized for not acting sooner after genx was found in the drinking water, but it has since started two pilot projects to test new treatment options for genx and similar chemicals. and in october, the utility filed a lawsuit against chemours and dupont, alleging that the companies "deliberately evaded accountability for, and scrutiny of, their releases of toxic fluoropollutants," including genx. chemours declined newshour weekend's request for an interview. like wilmington's water utility, north carolina has sued chemours and dupont for failing to adequately disclose what it was dumping in its wastewater. secretary regan, who was appointed in january by
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democratic governor roy cooper, says that d.e.q. is in need of more resources in order to hold industry accountable. since 2013, 70 positions in water quality at the d.e.q. have been eliminated. >> this agency has been cut significantly over the past few years. so we have made a request to our legislature for specific resources that would help us be competitive in this area. we would like to have more permit writers, evaluators, scientists and even technological equipment that would keep us competitive so that we could keep pace with these emerging chemical compounds. >> sreenivasan: meanwhile, residents downstream from the chemours plant are grappling with the news that genx and other fluorochemicals are in their drinking water. victoria carey lives near wilmington, north carolina, downriver from chemours. in june, she tested her water heater and found genx and other fluorinated chemicals. >> there was 857 parts per trillion of genx in the liquid
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portion of the sampling. so we're already way over, way over the 140 parts per trillion. >> sreenivasan: carey and her husband, paul, refuse to drink the water, and are suing chemours and dupont. they have lived in the area for 15 years and believe that the chemicals in the water have caused a thyroid issue for them both. >> i believe strongly that it's from the water because it's unusual. why would a husband and wife both have the same type of thyroid disorder? i mean it just doesn't make sense. you know it's something it had to triggered it. >> sreenivasan: there isn't a lot known about the health effects of genx. and researchers in north carolina have started the first human health study. but, p.f.o.a., which genx replaced, and is chemically similar to, has been widely studied. in a series of health studies over the last decade, involving 70,000 people living near a west virginia dupont plant, researchers found a probable link between p.f.o.a. and six illnesses: ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension,
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high cholesterol, kidney and testicular cancer, and thyroid disease. earlier this year, dupont and chemours paid $670 million to settle a lawsuit related to the releasing of p.f.o.a. in west virginia. and the e.p.a. has set a health advisory level for p.f.o.a. and a related chemical. but like north carolina's goal for genx, it's unenforceable. >> this is zeus. >> sreenivasan: but less than a mile-and-a-half away from the plant, mike watters continues to worry. last year, one of his macaws died, and now, one of his dogs has fatty tumors. were they drinking the water? >> they were drinking the water. some of the tumors-- they've gone down a little bit. but you'll see he has a hard time getting up and down. >> sreenivasan: two months ago there was another scare for downstream residents: a spill at the chemours plant caused levels of genx to spike to almost five times the state's health goal of 140 parts per trillion. the company didn't report the spill and in response the state
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moved to completely suspend the company's discharge permit. that isn't the kind of government intervention that usually appeals to self- described conservatives like mike watters. so what is the role of government in these kinds of situations? >> well, hold the polluters responsible. >> sreenivasan: you sound a bit like an environmentalist. >> you know i'm not. i never would have called myself an environmentalist at all. your perspective changes when it comes to water when you can't drink your water. that's hard. read about a native american tribe's struggle for access to water in california. visit pbs.org/newshour. >> sreenivasan: another remarkable week in the political universe: a once-unimaginable upset in a senate race in alabama, the likelihood of the most significant tax bill in decades, and possible signs that the investigation of russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election may be reaching a crisis point. joining me from san diego to
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help make sense of it all is newshour weekend special correspondent jeff greenfield. jeff, we saw lots of columns from the left saying this is the beginning of a wave that this could be the moment that they've been waiting for in 2018, looking back at the election that happened in alabama, too soon? >> well, it's often too soon, you know, political reporters are olympic competitors in the long jump but it is true, presidents' parties almost always lose seats in the mid term. a president with lower approval ratings magnifies it, and president trump is historic low. first, moore was uniquely vulnerable and was outspint massively. that's not going to happen to many reebts in 2018. democrats say we only need two seats to get majority and nevada and arizona look possible. they have to defend ten senates senate seats in states trump
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one, five that are deeply red states. the democrats are concerned that there are five seats they should have won in 2010, 2012, but lost because they nominated fringe candidates. and if steve bannon is still in seat, that's bad news for them. >> sreenivasan: you noted before that there's contrast here between an unpopular president and actually what's hatching not just in congress but through government. >> as yogi berra probably didn't say it's deja vu all over again. the presidential just lost a seat in the senate that he campaigned for, all time low in the polls so is the congress. yet they're at the verge of passing the most significant tax change in decades. that's because the commitment of the republicans to the tax cut as kind of article 1 of their canon is so strong and their
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need to pass something is so strong that evenly though every analysis says you know this tax bill doesn't make any sense. republicans in congress says we are going by our core beliefs. so he continues, he and the republicans continual to do massive changes despite what would seem to be very heavy political winds blowing at them in terms of unpopularity. >> sreenivasan: the russian investigation, in the past couple of weeks really, we've seen almost a concerted effort in the trump supporters and trump administration trying to push back against this. this could be scuttled by the end of the year. today john cornyn said there are no such plans. but it is a different phase we're entering. >> i think it is a good cop bad cop strategy. trump white house white house says no no, we have no plans to fire robert mueller, we are cooperating. but you have this drum beat from
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the fox news people, that are accelerating, not saying that the fbi is corrupt or they are trying a coup but they found text from some fbi investigators that showed hospital stilt to trump, and they are pointing to that that the entire investigation is corrupt. but once again they are trying to lay down a predicate that whatever mueller comes up with can't be trusted. >> sreenivasan: finally jeff, you're hearing this from san diego, not your usually santa barbara perch, i'm assuming it is something to do with the fires. >> yes, it is surreal to wake up in this beautiful community and find yourself covered with ash and finding yourself unable to breathe very well. it has been quite a shock. and i continue mean to make this public policy but with climate change we're being told, this might be the new normal.
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>> sreenivasan: jeff greenfield joining us from san diego, thank you. >> this is pbs newshour weekend, sunday. >> sreenivasan: strong winds in southern california are continuing to fan the flames of the wildfire along the state's southern coast. while the winds are expected to ease today near santa barbara, gusts of up to 55 miles per hour hit ventura and los angeles counties, according to the national weather service. 8,500 firefighters are battling southern california's "thomas fire" that has dstroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatens 18,000 more. united states senator cory booker of new jersey is under increased security after he and his family received a death threat. u.s. capitol police alerted authorities in newark to the danger and newark mayor ras baraka said in a statement yesterday that law enforcement is guarding booker's residence as a precaution. the nature of the threat has not been made public. russian president vladimir putin thanked president trump during a phone call today for the c.i.a.'s assistance in foiling a terror attack in st. petersburg.
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a series of bombings were planned for yesterday and included the kazan cathedral and other crowded sites. it was the second phone call in less than a week between the two leaders. president putin also said that russian law enforcement would share any intelligence information they obtain about terror threats. in april a suicide bombing in the st. petersburg subway killed 16 and wounded more than 50. turkish president recep tayyip erdogan said today that his country plans to open an embassy in east jerusalem. >> ( translated ): the day is close when officially, with god's permission, we will open our embassy there. >> sreenivasan: erdogan's announcement comes just days after he led calls at a summit of muslim leaders for all nations to recognize jerusalem as the capital of palestine. meanwhile, thousands of protesters marched in turkey's capital ankara today to protest president trump's plan to move the united states' embassy to jerusalem. the turkish embassy move would likely be denied by israel which controls all of jerusalem.
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and late word tonight that senator john mccain will miss this week's vote on the republican tax plan. mccain will return to arizona after recovering from be are cancer treatment in washington. , president trump said, mccain will be back in we need his vote. that's it for newshour weekend, i'm hari that's all for this edition of pbs newshour weekend. i'm hari sreenivasan. have a good night. captioning sponsored by wnet captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org >> pbs newshour weekend is made possible by: bernard and irene schwartz. the cheryl and philip milstein family. sue and edgar wachenheim, iii. dr. p. roy vagelos and diana t. vagelos. the j.p.b. foundation. the anderson family fund. rosalind p. walter, in memory
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of abby m. o'neill. barbara hope zuckerberg. corporate funding is provided by mutual of america-- designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and by: >> babbel. a language app that teaches real-life conversations in a new language, like spanish, french, german, italian, and more. babbel's 10-15 minute lessons are available as an app, or online. more information on babbel.com. additional support has been provided by: and by the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪
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do you get tired of people asking you what it feels like to be a woman ceo? it's a question that gets asked probably more than it should. your children treat you with more respect? come on, they're kids. yeah. my son very aptly reminded me last mother's day that your most important job is mom. the government put some money into general motors. did the government get its money back? i will tell you at general motors we will be forever grateful for what the government did. your board of directors let you go in a driverless car? if it's-- [audience laughing] if it's from general motors, i think yeah. woman: would you fix your tie, please? well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but okay. let's leave it this way. woman: and, david-- all right. [♪] david: i don't consider myself a journalist. nobody else would consider myself a journalist.

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