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Oliver Stone Defends Hugo Chavez; Obama's Reelection is Official; U.S. Could Face Another Downgrade; Wind-Energy Tax Credit Extended; Suing Sperm Donors for Child Support; Low Mississippi River Slows Work.

Aired January 04, 2013 - 13:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Hugo Chavez is fighting a severe respiratory infection after having cancer surgery in Cuba. The Venezuelan president has been a polarizing figure to say the least since he took office in 1999. One of his key defenders is Academy Award-winning director, Oliver Stone. Stone made a controversial documentary in 2010 that portrayed Chavez in such a positive light that "Time" called it a love story.

Here's some scenes.


HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA: The coup against Chavez had one motive: oil. First, Chavez, oil. Second: Saddam, Iraq. The behind the coup in Venezuela and the invasion of Iraq is the same.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time, the poor or treated like human beings.

And perhaps this is one of the things that keeps us going, the optimism, faith and hope, and the concrete evidence that we can change the course of history.

CHAVEZ: It's possible, Oliver.


MALVEAUX: I just spoke with Stone in the last hour and asked him what he thinks it will mean to Venezuela if President Chavez is unable to take the oath of office.


OLIVER STONE, DIRECTOR: The standard of living went up. Not all. There's a very vocal minority against him, but they never won the elections. In fact, I think Chavez won 13 of 14 elections.

(CROSSTALK) STONE: So, you know, I think he's going to be mourned as a national figure who changed Venezuela forever. You have no idea how bad it was before him. The per capita dropped for 40 years straight. He represents hope and change, the things that Obama stood for in our country in 2008.


MALVEAUX: I also talked to him about his latest "Showtime" documentary series, called "The Untold History of the United States," and it aims to give viewers a peek into lessons they didn't learn in school. The project has received its share of criticism from the likes of "The New York Times." So I asked him why he decided to spend the last five years working on this project.


STONE: One has to wake up in life. I feel like I grew up very privileged in New York in a Republican family, conservative. I went to Vietnam, as you know, and I felt like my life in the last 30 years has become less and less hypnotized and I wasn't sleep-walking. And the more I learned, the more I wanted to share with my audience in feature films. And as I went on and made more histories on -- or let's say historical dramas really, I decided, look, before I go I got to get something down that I feel is the what happened in my lifetime, from 1946 on, which is when -- a year after the atomic bomb was dropped. In fact, my life begins with the atomic bomb, in a sense, because that is the founding myth of this national security state we live in.


MALVEAUX: You can catch the 10-part documentary series, "The Untold History of the United States" on "Showtime."

The fiscal cliff might be history but the likelihood of another downgrade could be in our future. What it means potentially for the economy as well.


MALVEAUX: It is officially Election Day. That means, just moments ago, the Electoral College re-elected President Barack Obama to be president of the United States. The results were announced just a little while ago. This is the joint session of Congress. Let's listen in.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the President of the United States, as delivered to the President of the Senate is as follows: The whole number of the electorates appointed to vote is 538 of which a majority is 270. Barack Obama, of the state of Illinois, has received for President of the United States 332 votes. Mitt Romney, the state of Massachusetts, has received 206 votes. The state of the vote for Vice President of the United States is delivered to the President of the Senate is as follows: The whole number of electorates is 538, and the majority of which is 270. Joseph Biden, of the state of Delaware, has received for Vice President of the United States 332 votes. Paul Ryan, of the state of Wisconsin, has received 206 votes.

This announcement of the state of the vote by the President of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and Vice President of the United States, each for the term beginning on the 20th day of January, 2013, and shall be entered, together with a list of votes, in the journal of the Senate and the House of Representatives.


MALVEAUX: It is official. The president has been re-elected. And, of course, the inauguration will take place January 21st, the public ceremony, and a private ceremony taking place the day before. We'll be there for the inauguration. That is, again, January 20th and the 21st.

Now that the country has temporarily avoided the fiscal cliff, what is next? We expect, of course, a vigorous debate over the debt ceiling. By late February and early March, they have to decide whether or not to raise the ceiling or risk economic chaos. The automatic spending cuts that were put off this week will hit March 1st. The deal Congress approved only delayed them, so it didn't really solve the problem. Funding for the government runs out on March 27th unless a new revenue bill is passed.

With all that is coming up, we want to bring in Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange to talk about how people are reacting to the news.

We know there's a higher payroll tax everybody got hit with here, but there were some breaks for a lot of families. So how does it balance out?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Here's some of the positive that came out of all that political posturing. The fiscal cliff deal did include some savings for families and, in some cases, it could amount it to thousands of dollars. These are mostly for low-income families. The first one out of this is it preserved the child tax credit. That's about a $1,000 credit per child. It also preserved the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This is for people going to college. This gives a $2500 credit. This deal also keeps in place the earned-income tax credit. And this one varies and it's based on how much you make. But it is said to have kept millions of people out of poverty. Now, those three credits were extended for five years, and there's still one more. That's the Child Dependent Care Tax Credit. It was made permanent. It means a family can deduct up to $6,000 of child care expenses. The potential for savings here is just huge. Of course, you have to remember the savings that you have will be slightly offset by the increase in the payroll tax that you just mentioned -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: And, Alison, we know the debt ceiling debate will happen just weeks away here. There's a real possibility that, you know, the government and that the country could be downgraded, the credit rating, down the road here. What are the potential consequences if that happens?

KOSIK: We don't know if we'll be downgraded. But if we are, it's a question what the consequences are. In theory, a downgrade means that the government is less creditworthy. What should happen is it should push up borrowing rates. But that didn't happen last year when Standard & Poor's downgraded the rating. We don't know if that will happen in this case.

The bigger impact though -- you may want to see the bigger impact on the stock market, because when the U.S. was downgraded last year, the Dow fell 600 points in one day.

And then you look at this. At this point, Moody's and Fitch still have the U.S. rating at AAA, which is as high as it goes, but all three agencies have negative outlooks at this point. They warn of a possible downgrade if lawmakers can't peacefully negotiate the next debt ceiling debate -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right, Alison, thank you. Appreciate it.

Another tax credit that was buried in the fiscal cliff deal is for companies developing wind energy projects. Well, could this help pick up the slowing green-energy market? We're going to ask former green jobs adviser to President Obama, Van Jones.


MALVEAUX: We've been picking apart the fiscal cliff deal so you know what's in it. One of the big winners often overlooked in this deal is the renewable energy industry. It's actually got a one-year tax credit extension.

We're going to explain what all this is about with Van Jones. He's the former green jobs adviser to President Obama and a CNN contributor.

Van, always good to see you here.

And one of the things you've been pushing and highlighting here is this wind power industry.


MALVEAUX: How does it benefit from this fiscal cliff deal?

JONES: Well, first of all, it's just good to talk about some good news. I mean, I'm here in Washington, D.C. People are depressed. It's like coming to a funeral.

(LAUGHTER) Like nothing is good in America.

MALVEAUX: Oh, Really? It's that bad?

JONES: It's bad. Listen, we did do some good things. And one of them is we got a bipartisan deal to keep our wind industry alive. There are 70,000 Americans that woke up this morning and went to work in the wind industry and they get to keep going on work. That's a good thing. That's a good thing in America.

MALVEAUX: Talk about the jobs. What does this mean exactly? What kinds of jobs are these, and how long do they last? This is an extension that's kind of short, yes?

JONES: You know, we really shouldn't be doing it year to year. We should do it in five-year chunks, but at least we move forward.

China has already just cannibalized our solar industry because we didn't defend it, but we stepped up and defended the wind industry. What that means is people -- when you think about a wind turbine, you think it's like a windmill. No it's not. 8,000 finely machined parts. That's a car. You can put auto workers back to work to build wind turbines. As much steel as 20 cars, you put steel workers back to work. So these are good jobs. They're union wage jobs. They're in concentrated places like Ohio. People should be very excited about this. 70,000 wind workers. There's only about 80,000 coal miners in America. So almost have parity between the wind he workers and coal workers, but we almost lost all those jobs. Those jobs are still here. People should stop being depressed like nothing good happened in the fiscal cliff. Some good stuff did come out.

MALVEAUX: You didn't get everything you wanted, Van. What are some of the things you're still looking for?

JONES: Obviously, when you look at the situation we're in right now, I think we have to grow out way out of this economy. We can't cut our way out and we can't tax our way out. You have to grow your way out.

The wind industry is growing. It can grow more. We need more infrastructure investment and need to be willing to spend money on smart stuff. We didn't do enough of that. Instead, we're acting as if the only thing we can do is either destroy Medicare or tax rich people. Let's invest in critical industries like we did with wind to keep moving guard.

MALVEAUX: Besides wind, are there other areas that we can deal with when it comes to the climate and the environment that will help us create jobs and, at the same time, not hurt businesses very concerned, as you know, when they talk about pollution and the kinds of wastes that they have, and job-cutting as opposed to job creating.

JONES: One thing we've not done a good job on, we need to start to transition away from dirty coal to cleaner sources, but we have not done a good enough job of making sure that the coal miners who are working right now, who are America's heroes, who are risking their lives every day, keep the lights on for me and you, to make sure they have a good path way to new jobs, and we protect them and respect them. Both sides have to come together. We need a shared pathway forward. These new congress people coming, Tulsey Gabber (ph), Julian Castro (ph), they have good ideas. They're not depressed. Let them do some leading now. Give them the microphone and let them do leading. The folks up here coming out of this fiscal cliff battle, people are beat down. You need to take these good, positive ideas forward now.

MALVEAUX: Hopefully, everyone is not beat down, and we'll get real work done out of Washington.

Thank you, Van. Good to see you as always.

JONES: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: He helped a same-sex couple conceive a child, but three years later, he's asked to do more. Why Kansas is demanding child support.


MALVEAUX: An unusual case out of Kansas involving parent responsibilities for sperm donors. After answering an ad on Craig'sList, William Marotta donated sperm to a lesbian couple. But now the state is telling him he has to pay child support because he didn't donate through a doctor. And this is despite agreements by all parties involved in the birth that Marotta had no financial responsibility after his donation.


WILLIAM MAROTTA, SPERM DONOR SUED FOR CHILD SUPPORT: I donated genetic material and that was it for me. I'm not being held to be a parent. I'm not raising the child. I wasn't expected to be paying for child support.


MALVEAUX: So, Elizabeth Cohen, explain this for us. Why it is that the state of Kansas is now weighing in on this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The state of Kansas says he is legally the father and he should pay child support. Their thinking is he is the dad. Now, if he had gone through a doctor and there was documentation that he was the sperm donor that would be a different story. States want people to go through doctors to be screened and also they want to make sure that you really are a donor. He says he is a donor. For all we know, he might have been this woman's lover.

MALVEAUX: If all three parties agree, could they recognize a written agreement, some sort of legal documentation, or does it have to be done through the medical community?

COHEN: So the biological mom, her ex girlfriend with whom she is co parenting, and William Marotta say he is donating. He is not really the father, but that is the law. The law is, unless you go through a doctor, you are the father. I suppose they could try to take this to court and show them documents because there were various legal documents signed. But that could take years for that to happen. The law is very clear on this. If you didn't go through a doctor, and you just handed over your sperm, you are the dad.

MALVEAUX: The potential fallout here, I would imagine people would think twice before donating sperm.

COHEN: Right. I was surprised. We called a reproductive rights lawyer and said, how often does this kind of thing happen that someone hands over their sperm without going to a doctor. She said, you would be surprised. I get a lot of phone calls about this. The reason, to a large extent, is money. In order to go through a doctor and do insemination through a doctor, it is $3,000 approximately each time, and it often doesn't work the first time so you are often spending $16,000. Whereas, if you do a little "do it yourself" at home, you are not paying anything. You're working outside the law in a way. And these are the repercussions.

MALVEAUX: Does he have any recourse? Or not really because he is the biological father?

COHEN: He is the biological father. I suppose his lawyer could do what you were saying, which is go to the court and say they signed the documents. The biological mom says he is the father but he is not the parent. He should have no obligations. I don't want his money. They could try that but the Kansas law is clear on this.

MALVEAUX: Are either of the women asking for the child support?


MALVEAUX: They're not initiating it?


COHEN: They are in full support of William Marotta. They are in support of him?

MALVEAUX: They don't want his money?

COHEN: No. It's the state that wants money. Because states, in general, say, before we cough up state money to support a child, mom and dad have to support the kid. In this case, they say he is the dad.

MALVEAUX: Fascinating.

COHEN: So a couple of reasons why you don't DIY, "do it yourself," insemination. Here is one. They might come after you years later for money. Also, when you just take sperm from somebody, you don't know about sexually transmitted diseases. You don't know genetic diseases the guy has. There is a reason you're supposed to go through the doctor. And I know it's expensive.

MALVEAUX: DIY, I like that expression.


MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Elizabeth. Appreciate it as always.

Historic drought, excessive heat, low water levels causing a traffic jam in the Mississippi River. How this could force 20,000 people out of work.


MALVEAUX: Water levels along parts of the Mississippi River are near historic lows and it is affecting the boat traffic as well as commerce.

Our Ted Rowlands is looking at the problem as well as some possible solutions.


LARRY ROWE, TUGBOAT PILOT: Right there where that buoy is, by that empty fleet.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Larry Rowe is pointing to one of the new danger spots along the Mississippi River. A buoy marks an area where a barge recently hit a rock.

The river here is so low cargo loads have been cut so barges don't hit the bottom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are under 60 percent capacity in just the low- water conditions we're facing right now, and it continues to fall off.

ROWLANDS (on camera): You get a sense of how low the Mississippi River is here in St. Louis just underneath the arch. Decades ago, this Army Corps of Engineers installed this gauge, which shows the depth of the river. You see the number two. That's two feet. Normally, all of this area would be completely under water. The gauge extends all the way to that sign that says negative 3.4 feet and falling. That's what the "F" stands for. That is where we are now. They expect the river to continue to fall.

MARK FUCHS, HYDROLOGIST: We think it could get down to minus-five foot and that is a foot and a half below where it is at now.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): South of St. Louis, in Thebes, Illinois, is where the levels are the most dangerous for navigation. A six-mile stretch has been closed during the day while crews clear rocks from the channel.

Besides clearing debris from the river, water from a lake in Illinois is being drained into the Mississippi. That should add about an inch to the river.

There is also a push for water from the Missouri River, something that has never been done, but some think should be given the extreme conditions.

GEORGE FOSTER, OWNER, JB MARINE SERVICE: It is very serious. It could stop commerce especially if we don't get relief out of the Missouri River.

ROWLANDS: George Foster has been working on the river since 1954. He thinks water from the Missouri is essential.

FOSTER: We're not asking for all the water. We are asking for a little of it.

ROWLANDS: According to experts, just 1.2 percent of the reserve water from the Missouri would ensure that commerce on the Mississippi could keep flowing through the winter.

MIKE W. PETERSEN, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: The Missouri River is not an option, because if you look at why that system is there, it is there because they need that water. That is people's water supply. It is meant to hold water in case of a severe drought lasting as long as perhaps the Dust Bowl lasted, about 12 years. We can't play with water that may be somebody's drinking water.

ROWLANDS: The other solution would be significant precipitation, but long-range forecasts show it is unlikely that Mother Nature alone will fix this problem.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, along the Mississippi River.


MALVEAUX: CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Ashley Banfield.