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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM for December 20, 2000

Aired December 20, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: Welcome to your year-ending NEWSROOM. I'm Rudi Bakhtiar. From gift-giving to bah-humbug, we've got it all covered. But we'll start with a taste of presidential politics.

Transition tops our news agenda. President-elect Bush meets with President Clinton as Mr. Bush prepares to move into the White House.

Attention holiday shoppers: Is this on the top of your gift- giving list? Then check out all of these decorations.

And busy hanging your own decorations? If so, stay tuned to "Worldview" to discover the tradition behind Christmas trees.

Then finally, we'll travel back in time to "Chronicle" the Victorian days of Dickens.

United States President-elect George W. Bush meets with his former rival Vice President Al Gore after an earlier and longer meeting with President Bill Clinton. Despite Bush's busy schedule, he's moving full-speed-ahead with his transition plans and preparing to add names to the cabinet and White House staff.

U.S. President Clinton and his soon-to-be successor are making plans for an orderly transition. Bush and Clinton met for lunch Tuesday at the White House to discuss international policy matters and the transition of power. Mr. Clinton advised Bush to get a good team and do what he thinks is right.

After the meetings, Bush returned to Texas and prepared to name his choices for key jobs in his administration. Bush's trusted adviser Don Evans is poised to be tapped for commerce Secretary. Evans was the lead fund raiser for the Bush presidential bid. He was also chairman of Bush's general election campaign. Sources say Florida County official and Cuba native Mel Martinez is likely to be chosen for housing secretary.

U.S. President-elect George W. Bush new political marriage has gotten off to a rocky start, which may cut his presidential honeymoon a bit short. Bush likely will have to spend much of his first weeks in office patching up differences between political parties.

Bill Schneider has the story.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This year, we have something different: a honeymoon without a wedding. A lot of people think George W. Bush eloped with the voters. Normally, a honeymoon gives a new president a big reservoir of goodwill that he can draw on to move his agenda.

Does Bush have that? Actually, he comes into office with a lot of goodwill: 59 percent have a favorable opinion of the president- elect; 36 percent unfavorable -- almost exactly the same numbers as Bill Clinton had just after he got elected, without a recount, in 1992.

A president's popularity is his political capital, and a honeymoon is when the romance with the voters is at its peak.

They swoon over the president's program.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our proposal is for a 10 percent across-the-board cut every year for three years in the tax rates for all individual income taxpayers, making a total cut in tax rates of 30 percent.


SCHNEIDER: When you're in love, everything seems possible.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Later this spring, after the first lady and the many good people who are helping her all across the country complete their work, I will deliver to Congress a comprehensive plan for health care reform.


SCHNEIDER: Of course, a president can spoil his honeymoon by bringing up unpleasant subjects, like ending the ban on gays in the military...


QUESTION: How quickly will you lift this ban, Mr. President?

CLINTON: I don't have anything else to say about it right now.


SCHNEIDER: ... or by looking at the wrong woman.


QUESTION: Mr. President, how difficult was the Zoe Baird decision? How agonizing was it for you?

CLINTON: I was -- I'm sad about it.


SCHNEIDER: This time, the new president's going to have to woo the voters after he's won them. How? With unifying and conciliatory gestures. A little jewelry wouldn't hurt, like maybe a few important jobs for members of the other party.

Does the public believe Bush and congressional Democrats can put politics aside and work together? Let's get real here. Put politics aside? Come on, these guys are politicians.

Actually, Republicans believe bipartisanship is possible. Remember, they're on their honeymoon. Democrats are skeptical. They want to know how this marriage is going to work.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think the key is, can you get to the middle and get the honest compromises on issues.

SCHNEIDER: Sooner or later in a honeymoon, reality sets in, and the reality is the American people are the ones who married them.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Bipartisanship isn't an option anymore, it is a requirement. The American people have divided responsibility for leadership right down the middle.

SCHNEIDER: There's one other way to build public support: create a sense of urgency. That can substitute for a honeymoon.

BUSH: I think that Vice President-elect Cheney was right in echoing concerns, my concerns, about a possible slowdown. And that's one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about the need to reduce the marginal rates in our tax code.

SCHNEIDER: Message: We'd better stick together, baby, because it's going to get rough out there.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BAKHTIAR: Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, chances are you're doing some holiday gift-giving. And if you're anything like me, you've left all your holiday shopping until the very last minute. It's a daunting task trying to decide what to get for whom. Well, why not consider the gift that literally keeps on giving? We're talking about a gift of securities, like stocks or bonds.

Now Bill Tucker examines the benefits of stocks or mutual funds and tells you how to give them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The gift-giving season has arrived and shopping malls across the country are filled with holiday shoppers looking to drop some dough. But before you hit the malls, perhaps you should hit the markets and give stocks instead of socks this holiday season.

GARY SCHATSKY, FEE-ONLY FINANCIAL PLANNER, OBJECTIVEADVISOR.COM: What you want to do is give the stock to someone in a lower tax bracket than yourself, perhaps a child or even a parent if they're in a lower tax bracket. Then they will be responsible for the tax on the gain but at their lower tax rate.

TUCKER: You can give as much as $10,000 in cash or securities to any one person each year without any estate tax implications. If you're giving a stock or mutual fund to a minor, the benefits increase.

SCHATSKY: Once a stock or a mutual fund's in the name of a minor, they are subject to tax on the earnings. However, the first $700 of unearned income is fully tax-free for someone under age 14, and the next $700 is taxed at the very lowest tax rate.

TUCKER: If you plan to give gifts of securities to a minor, a custodial account under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act or the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act needs to be opened. If the gift is for an adult, you simply need to transfer the title to the recipient's name.

If you want to donate appreciated securities to a charity, you have to transfer the securities directly from your brokerage account to the charity's brokerage account.

SCHATSKY: Not only will you get a tax deduction, but you also won't have to pay tax on the gain. It's a wonderful way to make charitable giving even less expensive.

TUCKER: That's "Your Money," CNN Financial News, New York.


BAKHTIAR: Now, whether you're lighting candles or decorating a Christmas tree, it's hard to get into the holiday spirit without ornaments. And it's easy -- very easy -- to get carried away by all the different choices that pile up in the stores right around this time of the year.

Now, Casey Wian has the lowdown on this booming industry.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Decking the halls with boughs of holly is bigger business than you might think. According to a study by Unity Marketing, Americans are expected to spend a whopping $3.4 billion on Christmas decorations this year.

PHILIP VALDEZ, OWNER, TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR: We have been very busy in our store since Thanksgiving. WIAN: Collectible ornament sales soared last year, jumping 51 percent from the year before to more than a half billion dollars. And despite a slowdown in consumer spending, that number is expected to grow again this holiday season. Experts say it's the baby boomers who are driving this craze. Both affluent and nostalgic, they're grabbing everything from snowmen to angels in record numbers.

CHRISTOPHER RADKO, FOUNDER, STARAD INC.: The ornaments evoke memories of Christmas when we were just growing up, Christmas with our parents and grandparents, you know, the sounds, the smells, the sights of Christmas, the sparkle of Christmas, the hope.

WIAN: Christopher Radko started designing handmade ornaments 15 years ago. Since then, he's created over 7,000 designs ranging in price from $20 to $250. And people are snapping them up. His sales rose 40 percent last year and look to be even stronger this year.

RADKO: This is the best season ever. The stores are reporting great sell-throughs, we're getting lots of reorders. We can hardly keep up with all the orders that are coming in. I have to make a phone call to the North Pole.

WIAN: Some of those orders are from diehard collectors like Jacki Bell. Over the past 25 years, she's amassed over 50,000 ornaments and needs more than 29 trees in order to display them, including an elf tree, snowman tree, animal tree, Garfield tree.

JACKI BELL, ORNAMENT COLLECTOR: My husband likes music and I saw one jukebox ornament and I thought, well, that's a great little ornament. And now we have an entire music tree.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN Financial News, Los Angeles.


BAKHTIAR: In "Worldview," Christmas traditions and trends. We'll head around the globe to scope out gifts galore. We'll go to Great Britain and China to check out fads past and present. And we'll find out what's selling and how to shop on the Internet. From Germany to the U.S., we'll learn how holiday customs have taken shape.

TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: Around the world, Christians are preparing for Christmas, the feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ. There are many customs associated with Christmas: gift-giving and caroling, to name just a few.

Another popular tradition: the Christmas Tree. Around the U.S., tree lightings usher in the holiday season. But there's more to the custom than bright lights and tinsel.

Kathy Nellis gets to the root of the Christmas tree.


KATHY NELLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No matter the shape, size or species, evergreens are ever popular during the holidays.

TYLER SANSOUCI, TREE GROWER: Mostly the Fraser firs and the noble firs are typically what most people want, the more traditional Christmas tree.

NELLIS: You can tell a pine from a fir, a spruce from a cedar, by the color and shape of its needles. There are about 35 million Christmas trees grown and sold in North America every year. But according to the National Christmas Tree Association, for every Christmas tree harvested, two to three seedlings are planted in its place the next spring. The average tree sold is about six or seven feet tall, and it can take seven to 15 years to reach that size.

In the United States, the top tree producers include Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin.

(on camera): The Christmas tree is an American tradition today, but it got its start hundreds of years ago and thousands of miles away. Records date it to 16th century Germany.

(voice-over): Germans and Scandinavians adapted an ancient pagan tradition of worshipping the evergreen as a symbol of life, even immorality, because it did not die in winter like other trees. By the 17th century, the custom had spread across Europe. Early trees were decorated with cookies or fruit; later with ribbons and small shapes cut out of tin.

German settlers brought the custom to the United States. And the 14th president of the U.S., Franklin Pierce, put up the first White House Christmas Tree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it just sort of starts the season; starts the season off right, having the tree and pulling out all of the ornaments that you've collected over the years all over the world and getting them out and getting excited about the season and the memories they create. It just evokes a lot of family, childhood memories, and everybody wants to carry on the tradition.

NELLIS: It's not only the trees that are evergreen.

Kathy Nellis, CNN, Atlanta.


SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: Once the Christmas tree is up and decorated, it's time to think about what goes underneath. If you're fishing for an idea, our next story could help.

Christian Mahne reports on a novelty that's reeling in shoppers. The catch: It's kitsch.


CHRISTIAN MAHNE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): British Prime Minister Tony Blair has one; the queen of England's reported to have entertained dinner guests with one; and one even has pride of place on the city dealing room's wall.

So what's attracting all the attention?

BIG MOUTH BILLY BASS (singing): Don't worry, be happy.

MAHNE: Big Mouth Billy Bass, the singing sensation. The crooning cod from the United States drowning out the opposition as this year's sellout silly toy. Love him or hate him, Billy Bass is fast becoming a big splash in Europe, turning around the fortunes of companies involved with him, such as retail group Premier Direct. Profits there have surged nearly 40 percent and sales are up almost 30 percent, all because of Billy Bass.

Toy stores like Hamleys, which had reported quiet trading, are seeing Billy swimming off the shelves.

PETER NICHOLS, HAMLEYS: Certainly when it first arrived, we were told, this will be a leading toy for you. We all sort of stood there and said, a singing fish is going to be our top seller? Well, we'll have to wait and see. And obviously we were sort of proved very right inasmuch as it took off amazingly well.

MAHNE (on camera): So singing sensation Billy Bass looks set to take Europe and the city by storm this Christmas. But whether its appeal lasts beyond the first set of batteries is a slippery question.

Christian Mahne, CNN Financial News, London.

BILLY BASS (singing): Drop me in the water.


HAYNES: Big Mouth Billy Bass is a fad. Can you think of some others? A fad is a style or item that interests many people for a short time, a passing fashion. Years ago, hoola hoops were a big fad. So were pet rocks and the Rubik's Cube. Ask your parents about other fads that have come and gone. One they might remember is the Cabbage Patch doll.

Cabbage Patch kids were the rage in the 1980s. The dolls were created by Xavier Roberts and each came with a birth certificate. They got their start in the U.S., in northern Georgia, but they soon spread around the world. They were a big item under the Christmas tree, once upon a time, and a big money maker for the company which turned them out.

But what happens when fads fade?

Lian Pek looks at how one company is adjusting.


LIAN PEK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember those round- faced Cabbage Patch Kids of the '80s? Well, the Hong Kong company that once produced 80 percent of those dolls for the global market, prospering and fading away with a passing of the fad, claims it`s perennially on the comeback trail.

IVAN TING, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KADER INDUSTRIAL: We`ve got a little bit complacent after the Cabbage Patch Kids and after all that success. And we just didn`t move with the trend and we became a big kind of dinosaur of a company. So what we`ve been trying to do for the past three, four years is to become a little bit more flexible, rejuvenate the company a little bit more by having a younger kind of management team.

PEK: Armed with young blood in the company and toy-making credits ranging from Barbie to Crash Car Dummies, Kader promises to post a profit this year after four losses over the past six years -- profits that will come as it writes off more of its non-performing investments and sales grow by 15 percent.

One reason why sales are chugging along: a return to low-end train products.

TING: With the high-end collectibles, you do find huge profit margins. But the volumes aren't there to cover our overheads, so what we have to do is kind of have a mix-and-match system where the lower- end products would cover our overheads, and then on top of that we will make our profits with the collectible trains.

PEK: But for a toymaker that got its first big break in the late `70s making "Star War" figurines now sitting like faded trophies in its old Kowloon showroom, the little tracked stock has slumped from its 97 heyday highs.

(on-camera): It may sound like an old toy story that`s running out of steam, some say on a slow train to Profitsville. But Kader insists it`s playtime again and it`s all set to recapture its share of the action.

Lian Pek, CNN Financial News, Hong Kong.


BAKHTIAR: Gifts galore. From gadgets to gizmos, we finish our last-minute shopping with Jen Rogers. But beware. Some of the offerings are more pricey than practical.


JEN ROGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It`s hard to gift wrap, but Hammacher Schlemmer still thinks it`s a perfect gift this holiday season.

SABRINA BALTHAZAR, HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER: This is the personal electric transporter. Operates for pennies per mile. It`s totally electrically charged. You can plug it into a standard household outlet. Six hours later, you can go from 30 to 60 miles on each charge.

ROGERS: If the $13,900 price tag is a bit out of your reach, what about a wrist watch that doubles as a digital camera, or an electric bike, or a robotic lawnmower?

BALTHAZAR: This is a great way, within, you know, 5,000 square feet, in just under three hours, you can sit back in your hammock and have a nice, cool drink.

ROGERS: Another high-tech favorite this season: $750 music player that holds up to 80 hours worth of CDs.

BALTHAZAR: This is a great way to take your entire CD collection anywhere at anytime with you. This little 10-ounce music player is capable of storing up to 100 CDs.

ROGERS (on camera): This holiday season, many are predicting that the gift to get and give will be a DVD player. Here at The Sharper Image, they're betting big on a DVD-VCR combo.

ARMANDO RIOS, THE SHARPER IMAGE: A lot of people have their VHS tapes, which they don`t probably want to throw out. They have a library at home. So you can combine them both. Instead of having a VCR and a DVD player on top of your TV, you can all have it in one.

ROGERS (voice-over): And then for the person who has everything, there`s always the fresh breath tester for $39.95.

RIOS: You breathe in it and you will see a smile with three little hearts. It means I have fresh breath.

ROGERS: It might come in handy if you find yourself under any mistletoe.

That`s "Your Money," Jen Rogers, CNN Financial News, New York.


WALCOTT: We've seen plenty of presents and gift ideas for holiday shoppers, but we move from trends to some timely tips on how to pay for all this stuff.

New technology is at hand and American Express has unveiled a new service to entice you to buy online. Get set for disposable credit card numbers.

Ann Kellan takes us shopping.


ANN KELLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're reluctant to make a purchase online, afraid someone will steal your credit card number, American Express is offering what it says is the solution: a disposable number. Use it one time, make a purchase, and the number disappears.

JIM BUSH, AMERICAN EXPRESS: We continue to hear from our customers that two-thirds of them or more are still uncomfortable with purchasing online.

KELLAN: It's only good at Web sites that accept American Express.

(on camera): Here's how it works: First you need a regular American Express card. You click on "personal payments" at the site, fill out you personal information and get a password. From then on, every time you buy something online, let's say a book at, you have to go back to the private payments page, re-enter your password and get a number, take that back to the commerce site, Amazon, and make the purchase. That number is only good for that purchase.

(voice-over): While this process doesn't make shopping online any easier, e-commerce consultant Ravi Kalakota says it may entice first-time Internet users, people reluctant to give out personal information at various Web sites, even parents who want to limit their children's credit card purchases.

RAVI KALAKOTA, E-COMMERCE CONSULTANT: With this, you can give your kid a one-time-use number, and your -- the balance is protected to some degree because the kid cannot go wild on the Net.

KELLAN: But he says you don't need a disposable number for online shopping to be secure if you deal with a reputable company.

KALAKOTA: You really should not worry because they keep their brand value at a premium. They can't afford to make mistakes.

KELLAN: But credit card companies are looking for any new reason to entice people to shop online. Why? The companies charge online merchants more for transactions than they do traditional brick-and- mortar retailers.

Ann Kellan, CNN, Atlanta.


BAKHTIAR: Charles Dickens was the author of "A Christmas Carol," a story that has won a place in people's hearts around the world. The classic tale of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge was set, like many of Dickens' works, in Victorian London. Many of his stories take aim at things the author didn't like about his world.

With more, here's Richard Blystone.


RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a funny way, Ebenezer Scrooge, at his tightfisted, flint-hearted worst, saved Christmas. In his time, the early 1800s, London was the biggest, richest city in the world. But it lured tens of thousands from the country to a life of squalor and suffering.

"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" Scrooge's response to a gentleman collecting for the poor. Indeed there were. Bustling London's way of dealing with those who couldn't keep up.

As a boy, Charles Dickens knew because his father was in prison working off his debts. And like many children then, Charles, age 12, went to work at a boot polish factory that stood right around here.

No wonder, maybe, that a 160-plus years ago, the Christmas spirit was just flickering. The busy industrial revolution had little patience for a midwinter mixture of Christian and pagan merrymaking. And the singing of Christmas Carols had all but died out years before.

Thus it was when Charles Dickens, ex-legal clerk, newspaper reporter and pop fiction writer, sat down in 1843 to write a Christmas story. He started in mid-October. By the week before Christmas, it was a best seller: "A Christmas Carol." You won't find much about Christ in it, but plenty about good food, good cheer, good will. "A kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time," in Dickens' words, "when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts."

Still, today it gives our image of Christmas an old-fashioned flavor. Here at the annual Dickens Christmas Festival at Rochester outside London, complete with Scrooge...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's all humbug.

BLYSTONE: ... miserly boss of poor Bob Cratchit, until the ghosts changed his life on Christmas Eve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This time Scrooge is happy.

BLYSTONE: Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas future, and the child ghosts called "Ignorance" and "Want."

(on camera): We now call those days "the little ice age." Winters were much colder then and people worried not about global warming but about just plain keeping warm.

(voice-over): Released from Scrooge's counting house on Christmas Eve for his one yearly day off, Bob Cratchit went sliding on the ice before running the couple of miles home to his wife, four rooms and five children in Camden Town.

The happy ending, Scrooge's Christmas transformation from miser to philanthropist, so melted Victorian hearts it was no surprise that, as the years passed, society softened too.

Londoners are different today. Work, attitudes and laws are different. But greed survives in the city of Scrooge. Charles Dickens would still have plenty to write about. There are still those who don't rest merry, and the small ghosts called "Ignorance" and "Want" still attend the feast of Christmas present.

Richard Blystone, CNN, London.


BAKHTIAR: Well, everyone that's it for today and this year. We're off for the holidays until Jan. 3.

All of us here at NEWSROOM wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season. And we look forward to seeing you back with us in the new year. Good bye.



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