PBS NewsHour full episode, Dec. 28, 2022

PBS NewsHour full episode, Dec. 28, 2022

Show Video

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: after the storm. The Buffalo, New York, region digs out of many feet of snow, as the death toll steadily rises and more flights are canceled. Then: a recurring crisis.

The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, again declares an emergency after cold weather damages the city's beleaguered water system. And out of the shadows. A movement by nonprofits, politicians, and the workers themselves aims to decriminalize the sex trade in Thailand. AUCHANAPORN PILASATA, Transgender Sex Worker: I want work equality, human equality, gender equality. Everyone is, like, a human.

Human rights. JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: The great blizzard of 2022 is passing into the history books, but its legacy lingers on the ground and in the air. Southwest Airlines scrubbed another 2,500 flights today, and the number of deaths nationwide from snow and freezing temperatures topped 60, with more than half of those in Western New York state. John Yang begins our coverage. JOHN YANG: Across Buffalo, mounds of plowed snow are rising.

And, after days of frigid cold, so are temperatures and the potential for more problems. Officials warn that the thaw could lead to the discovery of more dead, as snowbound homes become accessible. So they have sent National Guard troops door to door. And city and county officials have begun to call each other out. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz: MARK POLONCARZ, Erie County, New York, Executive: The mayor is not going to be happy to hear about it, but storm after storm after storm after storm, the city, unfortunately, is the last one to be opened.

And that shouldn't be the case. It's embarrassing, to tell the truth. JOHN YANG: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown: BYRON BROWN, Mayor of Buffalo, New York: And as tough and as strong as the county executive could be in a news briefing, he did not say any of this to me on the phone or face to face.

JOHN YANG: Across the country, stranded air travelers spent another long, frustrating day, especially on Southwest Airlines. PAUL SHELBY, Southwest Passenger: I think the worst part was, when they canceled our flight, they didn't give us our luggage, so these clothes have been on us for four days. JOHN YANG: The airline again canceled more than 60 percent of its flights, far more than any other carrier. Last night, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Judy Woodruff that the airline can't blame all its problems on the storm. PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. Secretary of Transportation: Right now, I would say meltdown is the only word I can use to describe what is happening across Southwest Airlines' operations.

JOHN YANG: Today, the head of the Southwest pilots union called for major changes. CAPT. CASEY MURRAY, President, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association: They're using processes and I.T. from the 1990s, when we were an airline less than a quarter of the size. BOB JORDAN, CEO, Southwest Airlines: I'm truly sorry. JOHN YANG: In a video statement, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan acknowledged his company's failings. BOB JORDAN: The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99 percent of the time, but, clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances.

JOHN YANG: In Buffalo, officials say long days of recovery and mourning lie ahead. The body of 26-year-old Congolese refugee Abdul Sharifu was found in a snowdrift. He'd been dubbed 9/11 for his willingness to help those in need. MARK POLONCARZ: Abdul Sharifu went out to get food and provisions for his pregnant wife was about to give birth, and didn't make it back home. JOHN YANG: And even as the thaw sets in, thousands of people still need help getting food, medicine and transportation.

Buffalo's death toll from this storm is already the city's highest ever from a weather event, surpassing the Blizzard of 1977. Don Paul is a long time Buffalo meteorologist, a respected voice in the city, who's covered the city's weather for nearly four decades. Don Paul, we think of Buffalo as a city that can handle snow like this, handle snowstorms like this. Yet we have this staggering death toll.

And I think people all across the country are asking one question: How could this happen in a city like Buffalo? DON PAUL, Buffalo Meteorologist: Well, I don't think anyone has the answer right now, because the Blizzard of '77, which was a ground blizzard -- that was almost entirely windblown snow -- was not well-forecast. It wasn't a total surprise, but people were unprepared. This storm had days of advanced warning, not just from someone like me, but certainly from the National Weather Service. And we assumed fewer people would try to venture out into it. And Buffalo is known for being able to handle snow.

But there's a certain mythology there, John. The city has fewer plows per capita than a city that gets less snow, like where I grew up in the New York area. And the New York Sanitation Department, per capita, has far more plows.

And then you have so many abandoned cars where these plows here, as in other cities, simply cannot get down the street. But, apparently, one of the biggest problems has been so many people wandered out and got into their cars, as well as pedestrians, who faced the worst possible result in just the most brutal conditions I have personally experienced in my rather long life. I have never seen anything quite like it. And as bad as it was here at my house, it was worse in Buffalo. JOHN YANG: We have seen extreme weather events get more extreme in recent years. Do you see any connection with climate change in this storm? DON PAUL: Probably.

It's not quite conclusive. But there's growing evidence that the Arctic, which is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, by warming up has caused the polar jet stream episodically to weaken. A strong polar vortex keeps most of the polar air bottled up over the polar region. But when that polar jet weakens, it can allow episodic stretching of the polar vortex far to the south, generally east of the Rockies.

And this can happen in the midst of an otherwise milder-than-average winter. And it sounds counterintuitive, especially to nonscientist denialists, but we can see some of the most extreme winter weather events for short periods. And, as you may have heard by now, we're going to -- most of the eastern two-thirds of the country are going to go back to well-above-average temperatures over the next three or four days into next week. And a lot of the snow will melt, but it's not going to erase the tragedy. JOHN YANG: Given that -- I mean, so this has been described as a once-in-a-generation storm.

But, given what you just said, is it -- couldn't we be seeing these more frequently? DON PAUL: We could. There's some disagreement. There's not total agreement in the scientific community between physicists and climate scientists and meteorologists. But some researchers, such as Dr. Judah Cohen in the Boston area, has done some really in-depth

research. And he believes these episodes not only will be happening more often, but they already have been happening more often than prior to the accelerated warming. So we're seeing these winter events.

But we have also seen some tropical events that appear to be related to the change in the jet stream. And that appears to be, but, again, not conclusively, tied to arctic warming. In my estimation, we are seeing these episodes more often. But I'm not a researcher, so I rely on -- I stand on their shoulders when I say that. JOHN YANG: You told our producer Mike Fritz earlier today that you were concerned about what this storm mean for Buffalo moving forward.

What did you mean by that? DON PAUL: I'm afraid that this disaster, besides the horrific human toll, is going to take a toll on Buffalo's image and a place for potential industries to come here and locate, when, in fact, Buffalo does not suffer risk of megadroughts, wildfires, massive flooding, and the other events that are definitely tied to a warming climate. We have more refuge in our -- and, of course, our water supply is virtually inexhaustible from Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. We are a climate impact refuge. But this setback, in addition to the tragedy, I'm afraid it's going to hurt Buffalo's economic well-being.

It's not going to be quickly forgotten. JOHN YANG: Buffalo meteorologist Don Paul, thank you very much. Our thoughts are with everybody up there in the Buffalo region. DON PAUL: Thank you, John. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared that his country's refusal to give in to Russia has inspired the West and the world. He spoke in his annual end-of-year address to the Ukrainian Parliament.

Lawmakers repeatedly stood and applauded as Zelenskyy urged them to stay united. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, Ukrainian President (through translator): Ukraine became one of the global leaders. Our national colors are an international symbol of courage and invincibility. In any country, when they see blue and yellow, they know that it's about freedom, about the people who did not surrender, who united the world and who will win.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Russia insisted again that any peace plan in Ukraine recognize Moscow's illegal annexation of four regions. The Kremlin said that Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia are now parts of Russia, even though most of the world disagrees. North Korea says that its leader, Kim Jong-un, means to keep building up his military in the new year. State media report that Kim addressed high-ranking officials of the ruling Workers' Party on Tuesday.

His plans reportedly include adding multi-warhead missiles and a spy satellite. In Israel, the incoming far right government has announced that expanding Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank will be a top priority. Guidelines released today call for legalizing unauthorized outposts and even annexing the West Bank. The new government takes office tomorrow. There is word that retired Pope Benedict's health has taken a turn for the worse.

He's 95 years old and has been increasingly frail. The Vatican said this morning that his condition has worsened. During a weekly general audience, Pope Francis urged the Roman Catholic faithful to remember his predecessor. POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through translator): I'd like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Emeritus Pope Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church. Let us remember him.

He is very sick. Let us ask the lord to comfort him and sustain him in this testimony of love to the church to the very end. JUDY WOODRUFF: Benedict retired in 2013, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. The United States will join other countries in imposing new COVID testing for all passengers -- or, rather, travelers from China as of January 5.

Today's CDC announcement applies to anyone at least 2 years old. It comes as China has dropped its restrictive COVID policies and as infections there have exploded. Prosecutors in New York state launched an investigation today into Republican congressman-elect George Santos for lying about his heritage, his education, and work record. The Republican district attorney on Long Island said that, if investigators find that a crime has been committed, she will prosecute. The New York state attorney general is also looking into the matter. Another leader of the plot to kidnap Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been sentenced.

Barry Croft Jr. got more than 19 years in federal prison at a hearing today in Grand Rapids. The other plot leader, Adam Fox, was sentenced yesterday to 16 years. And on Wall Street, falling oil prices and tech shares helped to push major stock indexes down by 1 percent or more.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 365 points to close at 32875. The Nasdaq gave up 140 points. The S&P 500 slipped 46. Still to come on the "NewsHour": we will look at the first two years of the Biden presidency; how various states are reshaping their marijuana laws; activists push to memorialize the site of the largest slave auction in American history; plus much more.

Jackson, Mississippi, is dealing with a water crisis once again. This time, residents and businesses are under a boil advisory because of a loss of pressure that began on Christmas Eve. Lisa Desjardins has the latest.

LISA DESJARDINS: This is the third water crisis in two years after a system breakdown in 2021 and a treatment plant failure last August. Each time, residents were left without water for weeks. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said the city is making progress, but this was again caused by systemic issues. CHOKWE LUMUMBA (D), Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi: When the temperatures drop as low as they do, when we need -- when we have the issues in our hundreds of miles of pipe that we have, then there's no way in that span of time to deal with that.

LISA DESJARDINS: The problems are so bad, the Department of Justice has stepped in and, as part of an agreement with the city, appointed expert Ted Henifin as a new interim manager to help fix the problems there. And Ted Henifin joins me now. First, we know a lot of this is weather-related, but help us. What's the situation now on the ground? And what does it mean for residents? TED HENIFIN, Interim Manager, Jackson, Mississippi, Water System: So, it's always terrible not to have water, and wake up Christmas morning and a significant number of the folks in Jackson did not have enough pressure to get water into their house.

We have been working the last couple of days to remedy that. Today, I'd like to report that majority have enough pressure to actually get water in their homes. We still have a boil water notice, which is a precautionary notice to tell people that do get water to boil it before they drink it, just so that we can make sure that it's safe.

We will do some more testing probably later in the week. We're shooting for Friday. We would like to be able to get those results and get that boil water notice lifted some time before the weekend kicks in.

So, early Saturday, maybe, at the latest is what we're shooting for. LISA DESJARDINS: Now, you have called Jackson a sort of canary in the coal mine of water crisis. And I wonder, when you look at these decades of problems, where do you see the issues here? What led to this? Was this a failure of government, a failure of resources? TED HENIFIN: I think everyone could take a pit of the blame if you look back. And I have been really focused on looking forward. That's what the Department of Justice and the stipulated order really has me focused on is moving forward.

I think it's not that atypical. And I do think it's a canary -- a bit of a canary in the coal mine. The lack of investment across the United States in underground infrastructure has -- is notoriously low. And the stuff under the ground that people can't see in general is just a hard place to put a lot of money. And it's not a really great political love time to go out and cut the ribbon on a pipe no one can see in the ground. So it's always been a challenge.

It continues to be a challenge. I think Jackson's just got a lot of issues wrapped around that. LISA DESJARDINS: Now, the federal government has allocated some $700 million to try and help there in Jackson. Some of that's going to replace pipes entirely, others going to other parts of the system. This is a city that hasn't even mapped, doesn't even really know where all of its valves are right now.

Is that money going to be a Band-Aid? Or do you think this could really rewrite the future for this city? TED HENIFIN: I do think it's going to rewrite the water future. I think we will be -- with that appropriate application those funds, the right projects, I think we can put issues like this in the rearview mirror. That doesn't mean a deep freeze.

Jackson is in the South. And I truly believe climate change is showing up in very different ways. And, across the south, they have had several these sort of once-in-a-lifetime deep freezes over the last five, 10 years.

And there's almost no way to protect all of the infrastructure in these Southern cities from that kind of deep freeze. So, everything we put in new and replace, we will be thinking in terms of, this needs to be more protected and resilient to freezing weather. But I think that's going to continue to be a problem across the South in cities. But Jackson -- I really think this investment applied wisely will rewrite the history for water in Jackson going forward. LISA DESJARDINS: Briefly, in our last 30 seconds, this has really tried the patience of residents there in Jackson.

How would you say their outlook is now, amid all the difficulties they're still facing? TED HENIFIN: They have been amazingly stoic through this. As I started, I was appointed at the end of November. I have had a couple of public meetings, very optimistic and encouraging to help me make whatever progress I can. I'm a little concerned now, three months -- I'm less than a month, and we have a major disaster around pipes and water. And so, hopefully, they will continue to give me a break and understand this took a long time to get here.

It's going to take a little while to get out of it. But I am committed to try to make a big difference in this first year. LISA DESJARDINS: Ted Henifin, interim director overseeing water fixes in the city of Jackson, Mississippi, thank you.

TED HENIFIN: Thank you, Lisa. JUDY WOODRUFF: As 2022 comes to an end, and President Biden reaches the halfway point of his first term in office, an average 43 percent of Americans tell pollsters they approve of the job he's doing, this as the president prepares to face a new reality next week, a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Laura Barron-Lopez is here to walk through this White House's challenges and accomplishments so far and to look ahead to 2023.

Laura, hello. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Hello. JUDY WOODRUFF: You do cover the White House. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: I do. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're familiar with a lot of this. So let's start by looking back.

First two years, what is it generally seen were the accomplishments of this White House? And this is with Democratic control in the Congress. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: This was. These first two years was full Democratic control. And a number of the big-ticket items were voted along party lines, so just Democrats passing those for Biden.

That includes, of course, the big COVID response funding at the beginning of his presidency and then, more recently this year, the Inflation Reduction Act, which was that big Democratic wish list bill that had climate change, action, prescription drug reform, as well as, of course, Affordable Care Act subsidies. But some of the things that Biden, President Biden loves to talk about the most himself are the bipartisan bills that he's been able to pass. He promised that he was going to be able to do that when he was running for the presidency.

And so he has actually quite a long list of bipartisan legislation that he's enacted. And this is not an exhaustive list, but it includes investment in semiconductor manufacturing -- that's the big China competitiveness bill -- expansion of health care for veterans that were exposed to burn pits, the big bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed with a number of -- like, big negotiations that went on for a long time, gun safety, protections for same-sex marriage, Ukraine aid, and averted a rail strike. So all of these things were big bipartisan bills, and something that the president has really tried to champion and say, look, a lot of people doubted that I could work with Republicans, and yet he did during his first two years. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now we know what happened in the midterms is, the Democrats lost their majority in the House, narrow, but they lost it, and yet President Biden sounding positive about the way things are going and sounding positive about what he's going to do, whether he's going to run again. You're talking to people inside the White House. What are they saying? LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: People inside the White House are very confident.

Of course, they have this big pep in their step after the midterms. And they really do feel as though, even though they are entering this new arena with a divided Congress, that there could be more pressure on Republicans than on the administration. They're going to focus heavily on talking about what they got done and implementing a lot of those big bills we just went over. I was talking to a number of Democratic lawmakers today, including Senate Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii. And he told me that he really thinks Biden's success comes down to the fact that he allowed Congress to work by itself and to really just work amongst each other, and that President Biden didn't try to overstep, didn't try to strong-arm them too much, and really gave them room to negotiate. And they -- Senator Schatz said that may be an older legislative tactic that clearly comes from President Biden's years in the Senate, but that they think that it works.

And I was also talking to a White House ally today. And they said that, inside the White House, what they look at is that President Biden has been able to pass a lot of big-ticket items, bipartisan items, within his first two years, and that has been a key to success for presidents that have been reelected. JUDY WOODRUFF: So now that they are about to face this Republican majority in the House, what is the White House doing to prepare, to get ready? LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: So, there are going to be a lot of investigations when House Republicans take control.

And they have talked about investigations into Hunter Biden. They have talked about investigations into Cabinet members, a number of Cabinet members. And Representative James Comer, who is prepared to take over a key committee, the Oversight Committee in the House, had this to say about investigations: REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): In the 118th. Congress, this committee will evaluate the status of Joe Biden's relationship with his family's foreign partners and whether he is a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence.

I want to be clear. This is an investigation of Joe Biden. And that's where the committee will focus in this next Congress. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: In addition to investigations into the president himself, there's talk of investigations into Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of the Homeland Security Department, as well as a number of other Cabinet officials. And the White House has been preparing by designating an entire team, hiring more legal counsel, hiring a specific communications team to handle this. They also expect to add to that team even more next year.

And they also have tried to help federal agencies prepare, telling them that they need to beef up on staff in preparation for all of this oversight that is to come. And they in the future are also saying that they think that they're going to be able to draw more contrasts with -- than they had in the past, because, again, this was full Democratic control. Now it's going to be a split Congress... JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: ... and that, as Republicans -- now that they're in control of the House,

can't just be an opposition party. They are going to feel -- the White House thinks that they can draw more contrasts with House Republicans. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Laura, you talk to a lot of people.

What is the sense of whether or not, given the changing majority in the Congress, of whether this president is going to be able to get any significant legislation passed for his next two years? LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: So, first up, what I heard from a lot of the people that I talked to today was that whether or not they're going to be able to do anything about immigration. And what we know right now is that the Title 42 deportation policy that was started under Trump in response to the pandemic, which allows for the immediate deportation of migrants trying to seek asylum in the U.S., that that is going to be held in place into the new year, and then the Supreme Court is going to rule on that. The White House, in response to that, this week called on Congress, called on House Republicans to work with them to try to pass some comprehensive immigration reform.

And so the Democrats that I spoke to today think that that could be a possibility. Of course, it's a bit of a long shot. But there's that. There's also potential more legislation to address competitiveness with China, whether it's in the labor market or manufacturing.

And, again, the White House ally that I spoke to today said that, if you look at -- they're looking at right now the number, the handful of Republicans, about six that voted for the infrastructure bill and about 12 that voted for the CHIPS bill, the semiconductor bill, the House Republicans that are remaining in the House, that those could be people that they could potentially work with in the new Congress. JUDY WOODRUFF: Really, really interesting. Laura Barron-Lopez, you're going to be watching it all. Thanks very much. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In one of the world's most well-known sex tourism destinations, sex workers, nonprofit organizations and politicians are part of a growing movement to decriminalize the industry. From Thailand, "NewsHour" special correspondent Neha Wadekar has this report. NEHA WADEKAR: Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Pattaya City in Thailand to enjoy its white sands, gentle waves, and water sports. But, at night, the city transforms from a family-friendly beach paradise into a red light haven, tourists looking for an X-rated good time, massage parlors, go-go bars, brothels, the infamous Red Light District. Although sex is everywhere, sex work is still illegal, and sex workers lack the basic rights and protections enjoyed by employees in other industries. A local support group called Service Workers IN Group, or SWING, seeks to fill that gap, offering services to male, female, and transgender sex workers.

SWING's Pattaya City manager, Bobby, explains why his organization has been so vital for sex workers, especially during COVID. SUPACHAI SUKTHONGSA, Service Workers IN Group (through translator): When COVID started, there were no tourists, which meant no customers. The sex workers could not earn any income because bars were closed. It was hard for them, no money, no place to work. Some of them had to go back home to the countryside and wait until Pattaya got some tourists back. It's not just about money, but also the effects on health.

Some of sex workers had stress symptoms and anxiety attacks around how to survive here. It was a hard time. NEHA WADEKAR: Before COVID, Bobby estimates that SWING Pattaya supported around 15,000 sex workers. Since the pandemic, that number has dropped to just 4,000. During the pandemic, Thailand closed its borders.

Bars, clubs, and massage parlors took a two-year hit, shuttered until July of this year. To make it worse, sex workers did not qualify for government health care benefits or financial support because the industry is illegal. Thirty-eight-year-old Nuchada Tasee is volunteering at SWING. She usually offers her clients special massages, a normal massage, plus sexual benefits.

Tasee used to work in a factory, until a friend told her how much more money she could make as a special masseuse. With two young sons and an aging mother depending on her, Tasee needed the money. NUCHADA TASEE, Special Masseuse (through translator): I don't like this work that much, but I earn so much more money than working in the factory.

This work comes with high risks, especially diseases. Condoms break or get lost. Sometimes, a customer takes it off. I don't like it, but I can still handle it. With these kinds of incidents, I need to take HIV prevention medicine, which is quite expensive. NEHA WADEKAR: Sex workers like Tasee face higher-than-average risks of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

SWING provides them with critical health care services. The outreach program sets up a mobile testing truck. It parks in different parts of the city and offers consultations and hospital referrals, as well as free testing for HIV and syphilis. A few hours later, another SWING truck sets up in the middle of the Red Light District.

Anna, a 37-year-old transgender sex worker, helps SWING hand out the pre-prepared food bags. The line behind the truck grows quickly. And in just 15 minutes, the volunteers hand out hundreds of bags of food and rice.

It's a lifeline for sex workers, who are often not able to afford even basic goods. Later, it's time for Anna to go to work. She invites us back to her apartment to chat as she gets ready.

As a 15-year-old boy, Anna worked a low-paying factory job. After she transitioned, she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a cabaret dancer. She traveled to the Red Light District, saw sex work everywhere, and began doing it herself to earn a living. AUCHANAPORN PILASATA, Transgender Sex Worker: Because around the world call Thailand, Thailand is factory of sex worker. You know, when you go to Thailand and you not see sex worker, same as you go to KFC and you never see fried chicken. NEHA WADEKAR: After years working in the Red Light District, Anna knows all about the risks and challenges of sex work.

AUCHANAPORN PILASATA: Sometimes, customers steal my money. Sometimes, I get some violence. When I go to police station, they mustn't help me. And they not help me because my job, because what I work, because I work illegal work here in Thailand. NEHA WADEKAR: Anna is one of the people fighting to legalize sex work.

To her, a sex worker is much the same as a gig worker or a construction worker, and deserves the same rights and protections. AUCHANAPORN PILASATA: If have a good economy, nobody want to come in the sex worker life. I want sex work become to, like, legal work. I want work equality, human equality, gender equality. Everyone is, like, a human. Human rights.

NEHA WADEKAR: Pattaya isn't the only city known for sex work. It's also rampant in Thailand's capital, Bangkok. Sex work became illegal in Bangkok only in 1960, and advocates believe legalizing it again would give sex workers access to government benefits, legitimacy, and protection against social stigma.

We're here in Patpong, the heart of Bangkok's Red Light District. Sex is everywhere here, but its still illegal, which is why politicians, activists, and sex workers are fighting so hard to decriminalize the practice. Here at the Thai Parliament, politicians are drafting legislation for a vision of legalized sex work based on similar laws passed in countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat of the Move Forward Party is one of the politicians fighting for this in the halls of power.

His bill regulates the registration, health care and welfare of sex workers. It also outlines how the industry will be taxed and where it can be advertised. TUNYAWAJ KAMOLWONGWAT, Thai Parliament Member: It has to away from the children, the place for advertise. NEHA WADEKAR: Kamolwongwat's next step is to get the bill through committee.

It's no small feat in a country with conservative politicians, religious leaders, and citizens opposed to the idea. One of Thailand's most vocal opponents is Sanphasit Koompraphant. he's the chairperson of the Thailand Anti-Trafficking Alliance.

While Koompraphant believes sex work should be decriminalized, he doesn't support legalization, because he thinks it will encourage prostitution and embolden sex traffickers. SANPHASIT KOOMPRAPHANT, Thailand Anti-Trafficking Alliance (through translator): The sex worker business does not create wealth. It's consumption with nothing in return. The expenses paid out in health care and welfare for people in this industry are high. The ones who benefit most from legalization are the customers.

It's sexual exploitation. AUCHANAPORN PILASATA: Everyone can work what they want to work, because my body, my choice. I can do what I want. And I not disturb anyone, and I not make anyone get hurt from my work. NEHA WADEKAR: Anna meets up with her friends in the Red Light District. Many of them are sex workers who migrated illegally from neighboring countries like Cambodia or Laos.

They have even fewer protections than Thai sex workers. If abused by a client, or harassed by the police, they have nowhere to turn. The battle to decriminalize or even legalize sex work continues. For Anna and so many other sex workers, legalization will make their work in the streets safer and easier, helping them earn they money they so desperately need to improve their lives. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Neha Wadekar in Bangkok, Thailand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The push for legalizing marijuana at the state level gained more momentum in 2022. This fall, for example, Missouri approved legalization for recreational use, making it the 21st state to do so. To get a sense of the changing picture across the country, I spoke recently with our communities correspondents about this, Gabrielle Hays in Missouri, Adam Kemp in Ohio, and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang in Michigan. I started by asking Gabby about the key elements of the new law in Missouri. GABRIELLE HAYS: Well, it is important to know that, back in November, this amendment passed with 53 percent of people voting yes.

Now, it establishes a lot of things. First and foremost, we know that it establishes a lottery process, where that will sort of be the mechanism for people being able to be awarded licenses. We know that those who already have medical marijuana licenses will kind of get first dibs for being able to sell as early as next year. The amendment also establishes a 6 percent tax. And so the state has already estimated that they believe or expect to see as much as $40 million being generated annually from this amendment going into effect. Now, what that money what that money is going to be used for varies, right? There are several things, but one thing of note that a lot of people have been talking about is the process of expungement.

The amendment allows for people with certain nonviolent marijuana offenses to have their records expunged and to petition for release. And so those are some of the key things, everything from taxes to what the money will be used for and what is in the legislation. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling us different reactions around the state. Tell us how state and local leaders are weighing in on this. GABRIELLE HAYS: Yes, Judy, we have had some mixed reactions across the state, right? So, there are a lot of people who have come out for the amendment, a lot of people who supported it, including Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas, who said he would vote yes for it.

But then, on the other side of the state, in St. Louis, we have Mayor Tishaura Jones, who is for legalization, but brought up the point of equity and wanting it to be an equitable process. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let's turn now to Adam Kemp in Oklahoma. And, Adam, we know Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana four years ago, in 2018. Tell us a little bit about the impact that's had and where things go from here in Oklahoma.

ADAM KEMP: Yes, Oklahoma's experienced a bit of a green rush in the years since medical marijuana was legalized. More than 7,000 grow operations have popped up here in the state and 2,600 dispensaries, which is more than California and Colorado have combined. That's due in large part to the very low start-up costs that it takes to obtain your marijuana business license here in Oklahoma. That's only about $2,500 here in the state, compared to neighboring state of Arkansas, just, for example, that it's $100,000 to start that. So, all that said, Oklahoma is, in March, going to have a statewide question about whether to legalize recreational marijuana. And, right now, it's just business is booming here in Oklahoma for marijuana.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I follow Oklahoma politics. I was born in the state. And I know -- we know it has been fairly conservative politically. Has there been pushback to the law from Governor Stitt or from the state lawmakers, ADAM KEMP: Governor Stitt actually inherited the passage of medical marijuana. He became governor as it was passed.

And so he's spoken a lot about the need to kind of fine-tune the system and everything. And he has said that he will -- he himself, personally, opposes recreational marijuana and will personally vote against it. But this is a state question. And so, if it passes, it will become the law of the land.

The rest of the state is -- seems to be very on board with recreational marijuana. It's polling right now very, very well. It's ahead of the no vote at the moment. And it's also -- probably, the best show of its popularity here in the state,more than 10 percent of all Oklahomans already have a medicinal marijuana license. JUDY WOODRUFF: It's so interesting about what's happened there.

And I want to turn to Michigan now and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. So, Frances, we know Michigan approved, what, medical marijuana in 2008, recreational marijuana 10 years later in 2018. How has that been going? FRANCES KAI-HWA WANG: Well, Michigan is now the fourth largest marijuana market in the country, after California, Washington and Colorado. In the first 11 months of 2022, Michigan has already had $2.1 billion in medical and adult use recreational marijuana sales. Economists at Michigan State University estimate that, once the industry is fully set up and mature, cannabis will be a $3 billion industry, bringing in $500 million in state taxes per year, creating about 24,000 jobs up and down the supply chain, and having a total economic impact of $7.85 billion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Frances, you were telling us the industry, the cannabis industry, facing some challenges going forward. FRANCES KAI-HWA WANG: Yes. Although marijuana is legal at the state level, because it remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance and is illegal at the federal level, many big banks and financial institutions are unwilling to risk working with cannabis businesses. So, legal cannabis businesses have to find local banks and credit unions willing to work with them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Really interesting, so much more going on than I think most of us certainly realize around the country. So good to have these reports from the three of you, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Adam Kemp, and Gabby Hays. Thank you all. Activists in Savannah, Georgia, are fighting to shine a spotlight on a little known, but very painful moment in American history. Special correspondent Benedict Moran reports for our arts and culture series, Canvas. BENEDICT MORAN: Three miles from the center of Savannah sits this nondescript plot of land.

Thousands of cars drive by it without notice every day, but these trees mask a dark history. It was near here, more than 150 years ago, that the largest single auction of enslaved people in the history of the United States was held. The sale was advertised in newspapers across the country.

And, over the course of two days in 1859, more than 400 children, women, and men were sold to the highest bidder to settle the gambling debts of a wealthy plantation owner. According to news articles of the time, rain fell as though the heavens were crying. the event became known as the Weeping Time.

Until recently, the tragedy was forgotten, unknown even to those who lived close by. Larry Gordon is the pastor of the Solomon Temple Church of God in Christ, which is located just down the street. He says, for most of his life, he had never heard of the infamous auction. PASTOR LARRY GORDON, President, The Weeping Time Coalition: In 2006, we found out that this is the area where they sold the most slaves in United States history. I grew up in this area, two blocks down, and I played in this area.

And it blew my mind. BENEDICT MORAN: Today, he leads a coalition of neighbors which hopes to create a memorial here, so people across the nation may learn about this painful past. PASTOR LARRY GORDON: I was trying to preserve this area and give those Weeping Time slaves a voice.

BENEDICT MORAN: But the city of Savannah has other plans. Last year, the City Council authorized the construction of a homeless shelter here. It commissioned an archaeological study, which concluded this isn't precisely where the auction happened.

City officials say, if a memorial is to be built, it should be done in the exact location where the auction actually took place. They say that's here, behind the gates of a privately held plywood factory. Reverend Leonard Small works with Pastor Gordon, bringing the campaign to social media. They sued the city to block the construction of the homeless shelter.

He says, the entire area is sacred. REV. LEONARD SMALL, Vice President, The Weeping Time Coalition: This land is the land that they're saying had nothing to do with the Weeping Time sale.

This area was the entrance for the elite. This area is associated with intimately the Weeping Time sale. BENEDICT MORAN: Behind the clash over the Weeping Time memorial is a bigger debate unfolding across the country, what should be remembered and commemorated in public spaces. Before the Civil War, Savannah become one of the wealthiest cities in America, largely because of cotton, which was grown and picked by enslaved people. But walk the streets of the city today, or take a ride in its famous trolley tours, and you will see few memorials to that past.

That's why many want to put the site of the Weeping Time slave auction on the map. KWESI DEGRAFT-HANSON, Geographer: The largest slave sale is important not just because of the numbers, but is because it is something that allows us to see the intensity of what was going on. BENEDICT MORAN: Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson is a geographer who helped discover the location of the Weeping Time auction site.

He says, the Weeping Time is part of a hidden, silent, and sometimes erased landscape of slavery in the south. KWESI DEGRAFT-HANSON: Many people don't realize, if we drive the streets of Savannah, Georgia, those streets were carved out of pine groves by enslaved people. We are all benefiting from their labor, and they deserve our honor. BENEDICT MORAN: That means telling the full story of Savannah's past.

PATT GUNN, Underground Tours of Savannah: This tour is about truth-telling, reconciliation, healing, and repair. BENEDICT MORAN: Patt Gunn runs Underground Tours, which she says tries to give tourists the full truth about Savannah's history. On a recent morning in October, Gunn guided a group of tourists on a walking tour of the city. PATT GUNN: As we take this to a block walk, you will find zero markers on slavery, no markers by the city of Savannah, like it never happened. BENEDICT MORAN: The group visited caverns under Bay Street, where Gunn says enslaved Africans were likely kept before being sold, and a square where many banks profited from slavery. PATT GUNN: They create eight banks in the square.

And those eight banks, transferred by assignment, are still existing. BENEDICT MORAN: The 2015 shooting of churchgoers in neighboring South Carolina unleashed a national movement to learn more about systemic racism and an effort to remove many public symbols of the Confederacy. Patt Gunn leads a movement to change the name of one of the city's 22 historic squares, which, since 1851, was named after John C. Calhoun. He was a and a fierce defender of slavery, who also advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. During a heated public comment session, Savannah residents came out in support of the name change.

WOMAN: I cannot imagine how anyone would want to continue to honor Calhoun in our city. MAN: It should be just that simple. It is just time to do this.

BENEDICT MORAN: Others defended Calhoun, calling for the city to keep the name. MAN: Trying to change it, to me, is an insult to my heritage, my family's heritage, and the city's heritage. BENEDICT MORAN: Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says, renaming the Calhoun Square and memorializing the Weeping Time is not an attempt to rewrite history.

It's rather an effort to expand it, to be more inclusive of Savannah's past. VAN JOHNSON (D), Mayor of Savannah, Georgia: Ultimately, our goal is to make sure Savannah's entire story is told. Some people are very concerned about old monuments. I want to create new movements. BENEDICT MORAN: Johnson says a memorial to the Weeping Time slave auction should be built, just not on the site where the homeless shelter will be. VAN JOHNSON: My goal will be, is to continually try to seek out a way to allow for some public access to this private space to construct a significant memorial to what happened in Savannah on those days.

BENEDICT MORAN: Memorial proponents want a place where descendants of those who were sold can come to remember. Only the first names of the victims of the sale were recorded. George, Sue, and their children, George Jr. and Harry, sold for $620 each. Not even infants were spared. Hannah was just 3 months old when she was sold. REV.

LEONARD SMALL: It is important that we, the American family, save this site, so that there can be a place of reflection, contemplation, and consecration. It is unconscionable to me that, in 2022, in a city that is majority African American, we would have to fight to save this site. BENEDICT MORAN: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Benedict Moran in Savannah, Georgia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there's been one new development to this report. Since this story was filed, the Savannah City Council voted unanimously to remove the name of Calhoun Square. The Savannah mayor said that the city will now begin searching for a new name for the unnamed square, asking citizens to weigh in with their ideas. Franziska Trautmann is the founder and CEO of Glass Half Full, a recycling company that converts glass into sand for coastal restoration projects and disaster relief. Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on what she calls glassroots recycling. FRANZISKA TRAUTMANN, Founder and CEO, Glass Half Full: When you throw something away, where is away? This is something that we often like to ask people at Glass Half Full, because I think, as a society, we have really lost touch with understanding where our waste is going.

Do you know if it's actually being recycled? And, if so, what is it being turned into? And where does it go after that? I grew up in a sort of rural part of Louisiana. It's called Carencro. It's a very small town.

And we still don't have curbside recycling where I grew up. Moving to New Orleans, I sort of thought things might be a little bit better, since it's a bigger city, they have a bit more resources. But that was not the case. Turning the frustration that we had into action ultimately happened over a bottle of wine one night that we knew would end up in the landfill. And the more we thought about how our waste and our actions were contributing to this issue, the more fired up we got about making a change and making something happen, because we no longer wanted to be a part of the problem.

We wanted to be a part of the solution. Glass Half Full started in the spring of 2020, while my co-founder and I were still seniors at Tulane University. Because of my chemical engineering background, I did know that glass came from sand.

And so I knew that there must be a way to turn glass back into sand, which there is. Sand is a resource that could be utilized in this city. We use it for disaster relief, coastal restoration, construction, landscaping, flooring.

And now, instead of glass going to the landfill, we're able to turn it into a usable product that benefits our community. And we now recycle over 100,000 pounds of glass every single month. The main way we were able to start is just by starting small.

And then we learned along the way. And we grew step by step from that small backyard into now a 40,000-square-foot facility. So, once we collect the glass and it reaches our facility, we will put it into what we like to call Glass Mountain. And, from there, we will pick it up with a front-end loader that can load our pulverizing machine.

And we're left with a pretty clean sand product that we can then sift into different sizes. Each size has a different utilization. And so, like, the finest sand is really good for sandbags. The core sand is what we're using for coastal restoration and protection projects.

If we just keep sending trash to the landfill, where it's never going to decompose, it's never going to do any good, that's getting us nowhere, whereas, if we're able to turn all of that waste into a resource that can then fight our coastal erosion issues and protect our coasts, which is eroding at an alarming rate, then it feels like a no-brainer. My name is Franziska Trautmann, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on glassroots recycling. JUDY WOODRUFF: And a reminder of what one person with a passion can get done. And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief. On the "NewsHour" online right now: Oklahoma has tried to reduce its high prison incarceration rate, but people leaving prison say they face daunting barriers in fulfilling their second chances. You can learn more on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.

2022-12-31 15:49

Show Video

Other news