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NEWSROOM for May 24, 2001

Aired May 24, 2001 - 04:30   ET


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

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: It's Thursday, May 24, and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Welcome. I'm Shelley Walcott.

Here's what's coming up.

The possibility of a political party switch tops today's show. Get the details in our top story. Then, we'll check out a feathered fossil find in "Science Desk." Look out, we're lathering up in "Worldview." Watch this guy get a bath. And finally, we "Chronicle" one woman's journey of self-discovery.

A major decision by Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords causes a political uproar in Washington. Jeffords says he plans to leave the Republican Party. Democratic sources say Jeffords will become an Independent. A party switch means a big gain for Democrats who would take control of the Senate and the legislative agenda.

Jonathan Karl has more on the big announcement and what it means for the Senate, the president and the nation.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Jim Jeffords attracted a full contingent of political paparazzi, but as the cameras flashed Vermont's Republican was mum about whether he'd stay a Republican.

After first saying he'd announce his intentions shortly, Jeffords put off his announcement for a day, saying he'd make it in Vermont Thursday, because -- quote -- "I want to go home to my people."

Several Senate sources in both parties say Jeffords has told his staff and many of his Senate colleagues that his decision will be to leave the Republican Party to become an independent who votes with the Democrats, putting the Democratic Party in control of the Senate. But Jeffords' decision to delay came after a long list of Republicans, led by conservatives John Warner and Pete Domenici, and moderates Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe, personally appealed to him to give them time to change his mind. Republicans are in the words of one GOP aide willing to do "whatever it takes" to convince Jeffords to stay. But sources close to Jeffords say his mind is made up, a possibility that excites Democrats.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: This is historic. Secondly, it obviously makes Tom Daschle the majority leader, makes Democrats chairmen of committees, if it happens, and gives us the opportunity to set the agenda. And overall, I hope it brings President Bush and the administration closer to the center to negotiate with us and create a bipartisan government.

KARL: Democrat John Edwards said of the expected change in the Senate's leadership, quote, "The president will have to deal with us. He's had to deal with us a little up until now, but he'll have to deal with us a whole lot more."

Senator Thad Cochran summed up the Republican view of Jeffords' expected defection, saying -- quote -- "It seems incomprehensible. There's no way to explain it or justify it. It just doesn't make sense."

(on camera): Shortly before he left Washington to head for Vermont, Senator Jeffords said he told his Republican colleagues that he would -- quote -- "think about things" before making his announcement. But asked if he could still change his mind, Senator Jeffords said, "I don't think so."

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.


WALCOTT: Senator Jim Jeffords is known for taking positions that win points in Vermont and ruffle feathers in Washington. A shift in the Senate could hurt President Bush's agenda and that upsets many lobbyists, especially those representing businesses.

Tim O'Brien reports on the potential impact of a shift in the Senate's balance of power.


TIM O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Jeffords vote as an independent on most matters wouldn't be any different than it was as a Republican. But simply with his defection, the Republicans would lose their majority in the Senate, and with that, all committee chairmanships, which would go to the new Democratic majority.

GREG VALLIERE, CHARLES SCHWAB WASHINGTON RESEARCH GROUP: Clearly, there is a shift that business probably won't like, the return to prominence of several committee chairmen -- Ted Kennedy, Fritz Hollings, Robert Byrd -- people who have an agenda that business might not like. But I think the House will stay very conservative and the Bush administration is still quite pro-business.

BILL MILLER, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The power that committee chairmen is mainly in scheduling and in focusing on the themes and pieces of legislation that they want.

O'BRIEN: The ability of committee chairmen to move forward projects they like and shelve those they don't could change the complexion of the legislation the Senate turns out.

PAUL ANDERSON, AMERICAN COUNCIL OF LIFE INSURERS: I think the Jeffords switch is significant for everybody who is in Washington lobbying the government, that represents business.

O'BRIEN: But Anderson says President Bush might be forced to better accommodate a Senate controlled by Democrats, and that may even alleviate some gridlock.

For the GOP to lose control of the Senate, though, could be a setback for the president's energy program, which many Democrats don't like. Many business issues, like pension reform, which has bipartisan support, should still go forward.

Health care, a top priority of Democrats, could get a boost.

(on camera): Tim O'Brien, CNN Financial News, Washington.


WALCOTT: Who doesn't love dinosaurs, the movie "Jurassic Park" the brontosaurus, the deadly T-rex? Even though they're all long extinct, to many scientists their bones are teaming with life. When researchers find fossils or the bones of a prehistoric reptile, that tells us what the animal weighed, what it ate and it makes major news.

It was no exceptions when experts in China found the remains of what they're calling a 130-million-year-old dinosaur or is it a bird or maybe a dinosaur with feathers?

We'll let CNN science reporter Ann Kellan try to clear up some of the confusion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

ANN KELLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dinosaur with feathers? That's what scientists who've studied it say it is, a 130 million-year-old fossil found by some farmers in northeastern China. It was embedded in a rock.

MARK NORELL, AMER. MUSEUM OF NATURAL HIST.: They pulled this thing out and I just couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, because it was just so special. It's just a wonderful fossil.

KELLAN: This is not the first feathered dinosaur found, but it's one of the most complete, preserved in a spread-eagle pose that lets paleontologists like Mark Norell get a good look at its anatomy. The dinosaur, called a dromaeosaur, and lived during the era portrayed in the movie "Jurassic Park." But unlike these dinosaurs, Norell says what's unique is this dromaeosaur was covered with feathers. This is probably what it looked like.

NORELL: You can see all along, the top of the head, as well as the shoulders, all along the back of the arms, right here, there's small filaments that are preserved. And if you look at these closely, you can see, especially the ones on the back of the arm, have all the characteristics that feathers have.

And if you look at the entire skeleton, over its entire body, you can see that these feathers are distributed not just on the head, and not just on the arms, but completely covered the entire body.

KELLAN: Some scientists theorize this dinosaur didn't fly like pterodactyls, but used its feathers to keep warm.

NORELL: The feathers that we see in this animal give us additional evidence that dromaeosaurs are the closest relative to modern birds among the nonbird dinosaurs.

KELLAN: Some scientists disagree. They're not convinced the tiny lines are feathers. They say it could be anything from algae to strands of hair. And some say this may not be a dinosaur at all, but a flightless bird who walked the Earth with the dinosaurs.

Believers and skeptics will all get a chance to inspect this rare find for the next year, while it's on loan from China at New York's American Museum Of Natural History.

Ann Kellan, CNN, Atlanta.


WALCOTT: You heard about dinosaurs in our "Science Desk" earlier. More large animals are coming up in "Worldview." We'll also look at Asian technology and culture with a twist as we travel to Vietnam and Thailand. But first, a stop at some zoos in the United States.

Here's a pop quiz, what's the largest living land mammal in the world? Want a hint? It comes from Asia or Africa and you've probably seen it in a circus or in a zoo. Of course, it's an elephant, a highly intelligent animal. Elephants live in herds and eat foliage. For years they were over hunted for their tusks which are made of ivory.

Now, ivory of a very different kind is providing comfort to elephants. Sound confusing? Jeanne Moos explains it all in our next report.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We never thought much about bathing elephants. Not until we heard that the elephants at the Phoenix Zoo were switching to Dial. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DIAL AD)

ANNOUNCER: Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?


MOOS: Since when does "everybody" include elephants?

Indu (ph) and two other elephants had been bathing with a livestock soap. But the keepers weren't happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just didn't rinse well. It took us forever to rinse it out.

MOOS: So a manager suggested they try what she had successfully used in her previous job at the New Orleans Zoo: Dial Liquid. The company donated four cases of the stuff, enough to keep three elephants lathered up for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's not real harsh on their skin.

MOOS: Who knew elephants had sensitive skin -- sensitive enough to feel a fly. They get bathed every single day at the Phoenix Zoo. But back east in the Bronx...

MOOS: What soap do the Bronx elephants use?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We use Ivory Liquid.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mild enough for a baby's skin


MOOS: Even a baby elephant's. Zoo-goers were expecting something more exotic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably some kind of special aloe gel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we use dish washing liquid or is it Ivory Liquid?

MOOS: It's the dish washing liquid, diluted, of course.


MOOS (on camera): They actually use Ivory. Ivory soap, I swear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been using it for years.

MOOS (voice-over): Elephants are the only zoo animals that get bathed regularly, much as they bathe in the wild, minus the soap. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Twice the active deodorant ingredient.


MOOS: Perspiration isn't exactly a problem for elephants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They can sweat around their toes.

MOOS: Speaking of toes -- elephants also get pedicures. You can't just toss an elephant in the tub. The elephant must be trained to take orders while handlers scrub.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You'll have that younger look, that Ivory look.


MOOS: Actually, the Ivory look in elephants tends to involve tusks. Like kids, elephants like to get dirty. If you want the bath to go smoothly, bring treats rather than a rubber duckie.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS (singing): Aren't you glad you use Dial?


MOOS: She's just glad to be dialing for room service.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


WALCOTT: We change countries and continents next, our interlude takes us to Vietnam, a Socialist Republic on the eastern side of the Indo-Chinese peninsula. The current Vietnamese nation emerged in July of 1976 after a long period of warfare between North and South Vietnam. Today, national traditions merge with modern day global influence. In the larger cities, young people often enjoy modern Vietnamese music in coffee houses or dancing to Western music. But some musicians are marching to the beat of a different drummer. Their platform: the pub.

Ralitsa Vassileva introduces us to a special band, one with Vietnamese heritage, an upbeat tempo and even the luck of the Irish.


RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nicknames can be deceiving in this Irish pub. Not only is Paddy Vietnamese, he's never even been to Ireland. Paddy sings Irish ballads in a band at Sheridan Irish House, a pub in Vietnam's commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City.

PADDY, MUSICIAN: When I heard some music like Irish music, like pop Irish music, I really love -- somewhere, I really don't understand. But the melody, let me think, you know, the play more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

VASSILEVA: It took a lot of work for the band to learn how to play traditional European instruments. One of the hardest things for Dinh Thu Ha was getting used to the fast rhythm.

DINH THU HA, MUSICIAN (through translator): Yes, I've been practicing all the time at home because the Irish music tempo is very fast. If you don't practice much, your fingers can't move quickly enough to play.

VASSILEVA: Having an owner of Scottish-Irish descent who sings and plays with the band doesn't hurt either. Michael Forsyth explains how it all came together.

MICHAEL FORSYTH, PUB OWNER: Perhaps you get it -- they had a lot of books of music. We have a lot of CDs here so they were able to listen to the CDs and capture the idea. And then when they read the music, they understand exactly how to translate the sheet music into reality.

VASSILEVA: One of the pub's regulars has watched them polish their repertoire.

MICHAEL POSTALS, CUSTOMER: I'd seen Michael, over the period of one year, take them from really zero to being heroes. We've seen the beat upstairs slowly progress quicker and quicker. There's a lot of talent there and it is -- it's enjoyed.

VASSILEVA: The band and even the cooks may be Vietnamese, but the customers are mostly expatriates. Few Vietnamese can afford the Guinness at $5 a can on an average income of a dollar a day.

Ralitsa Vassileva, CNN.


TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: We move a little west of Vietnam to Thailand. Thailand's economy is among the fastest growing in Asia. It depends heavily on revenue from tourism and exports of things like rice.

Indicative of Thailand's growing economy is the growth of its business over the Internet. But the aggressive use of the Internet has been a long time coming to Asian countries like Thailand. Political and economic upheaval in Southeast Asia, in particular, has deprived many Asian countries of Internet related development. It's a problem that has been identified in places like Thailand, so the country is taking steps to bridge the digital divide.

Andrew Stevens reports.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): School is out in Bangkok and virtually any student who wants to get connected head here, to an Internet cafe.

Cafe may be overstating the fact. The only java served here is a programming language. But it hasn't stopped hundreds of these establishments from springing up across the city, usually close to Bangkok's key universities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now I have no computer at home so I have to go to Internet cafe.

STEVENS: Students make up 80 percent of Thailand's Internet community. About 1.5 million, or less than 2 percent of Thais, are connected to the Net, putting it near the bottom of the pile for Internet penetration in Asia, well behind Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Thailand missed the Asian tech boom of the mid-1990s, and economic problems have made it difficult to catch up.

PAIRASH TRAJCHAYAPONG, NAT. SCIENCE/TECH. DEV. AGENCY: We try go back, you know, we treat telecom as expensive investment, long, long time ago. We did not try to do our own research development in the country.

STEVENS: But in the past two years, Thailand has been trying to speed up development of the Internet. A key target is liberalizing the telecommunications industry. The aim is to attract overseas investment to help pay for the costs of rewiring Thailand's often chaotic telecom system and spreading the advantages of the e-economy outside the nation's capital.

MATEI MIHALCA, MERRILL LYNCH: There is interest from international companies in Thailand. So I think if you are asking whether there is validation of the Thai Internet and software telecommunications market from international parties, I think clearly there is.

STEVENS: It's not just infrastructure either. Other plans include setting up incubation centers for fledgling high-tech companies and attracting overseas firms to set up in the kingdom. On offer so far, just one single software park in Bangkok, but work has just begun on a science park on the outskirts of the city, with an even more ambitious plan in the pipeline, turning the island tourist Mecca of Phuket in the south of the country into a cyber-hub.

But analysts say perhaps the best news for Thailand's telecom industry is the election of new Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the founder of the country's biggest telecom group. Mr. Thaksin has already named himself as chairman of the National IT Committee. As for a potential conflict of interest between the prime minister and the IT industry, observers say it's unlikely.

PAIRASH: In our day the Thai people are very well aware of what's happening in this country and the new constitution allow a lot of people to have voice in running the country. So I think people will be observing.

STEVENS: But even with heavyweight political support, it's going to be a slow process.

(on camera): It's estimated the number of Internet users in Thailand will quadruple over the next three years, but that still means fewer than one in 20 will be using the Net and that's a very low number for a government trying to create a wide economy.

Andrew Stevens, CNN Financial News, Bangkok.


WALCOTT: For the past couple of days in "Chronicle," we've been profiling people whose lives have been affected by war. Monday is Memorial Day, a time set aside to remember war veterans and victims.

Today, we profile a woman named Kim-Chi Tyler. She's a filmmaker and a producer right here at CNN. But as fascinating as her current life sounds, it pales in comparison to the story of her past life in Vietnam.


(voice-over): To many around the world it was the conflict that seemed to last forever: Vietnam. The country's war with France lasted almost 10 years, the war with the Americans another 20. But for one Vietnamese family, the battles never really ended.

KIM-CHI TYLER, FILMMAKER: See, like, how it edits? See all the clips? See that?

WALCOTT: It is the deep scars of the Vietnam War that inspired American filmmaker Kim-Chi Tyler to return to her native Vietnam in search of the painful truth behind events that changed the course of her life.

TYLER: War is a horrible thing. It's a horrible, horrible thing for relationships, families.

WALCOTT: Tyler's documentary "Chac" was named after her late mother. Chac means strong in Vietnamese, an appropriate name, Tyler says, for a woman whose inner strength became a central theme in the film.

TYLER: The memories I have of my mother are not conventional. In fact, I barely knew her. She was pensive and quiet. She never said she loved me, yet somehow, I always knew she did.

WALCOTT: "Chac" is a story about the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese family. Tyler decided to make the film after the death of her mother and American stepfather. She says after they died, she became desperate for information about her mother. Tyler says her film was long overdue.

TYLER: So after the Vietnam War ended, there were a lot of films about the war, a lot of films about Americans -- you know, soldier's point of view of the war. And I rarely saw a Vietnamese family being portrayed how this war that shouldn't have been there affected this one family -- this one very simple family in a very, you know, small village.

WALCOTT: For Tyler, the making of "Chac" was a labor of love. The project took her back to the place of her birth, a remote village in the heart of the Mekong Delta. Tyler and her assistant had to adjust to months filming in one of the most rural parts of Vietnam. But the physical challenges paled in comparison to the mental hurdles she faced trying to get her proud Vietnamese relatives to speak openly about the past.

Family members eventually started to open up, allowing Tyler to finally start to untangle some complicated family roots. She was born in 1966 to parents in an arranged marriage -- the results of a deal made between two families during the Vietnamese War with the French. Tyler's maternal grandmother lost her husband and was left alone to raise seven children in poverty.

TYLER: So what she had to do was she had to give away one of her daughters to a wealthier family in exchange for land. That would be my mother. And she did not love my father at all, but the marriage became -- you know they have kids. It was during the times where women cannot choose their husbands.

WALCOTT: Tyler says at one point her mother fled the village after being repeatedly beaten by Tyler's father. She eventually returned, but soon after that, the Vietnam War broke out and it became her father's turn to run.

TYLER: So then the Americans came and then the French War became the war against the Americans. And my father was a rice farmer. He did not want to choose sides. He wanted to stay alive. So he was away from the family as well, but instead of fighting, he was just hiding from the war. So that left my mother alone to raise me and my brother. We were very, very young. I don't -- I think I was like one or two.

WALCOTT: With no husband around and two children to raise, Chac left her children behind and headed to the big city.

TYLER: You know so she went to the city. She went to Saigon. She had to do whatever she can to survive so she became a prostitute.

WALCOTT: Tyler says her mother returned to the small village twice after leaving it -- both times to reclaim her children. While living in Saigon with her children, Tyler's mother met and married an American, Earl Tyler. The family was separated briefly after the fall of Saigon when all Americans had to quickly evacuate the country. Chac Tyler managed to bribe her way out of Vietnam and she and her children had to live in a makeshift refugee camp in Guam until her husband found them and sponsored them into the United States.

Tyler says her mother's ingenuity was a product of a woman who developed survival instincts over the course of a difficult life. TYLER: Well, I guess credit to her for being strong. But I also -- you know I was -- as a child when you grew up in a country and when you know there was a war, you sort of -- you sort of just grow up by yourself and be incredibly aware of what's going on.

WALCOTT: Five years after they officially became Americans, tragedy struck the family again. Chac was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was just 41 years old when she died, leaving her children in the care of their stepfather. With her mother gone, Tyler's life in Vietnam remained a distant memory, but that all changed when her stepfather died.

TYLER: Well, it wasn't important to -- for me to meet my biological father until my stepfather died. He -- you know he died in 1995 and my whole world just crumbled.

WALCOTT: After the deaths of the only parents she had ever known, Tyler became very depressed and increasingly haunted by memories of her former home. But she says making her film has been a tremendous healing process during which she found redemption for her extended Vietnamese family -- a family that had been victimized by circumstances beyond their control.

TYLER: The war changed a lot of lives, you know, and it changed my family completely. It began with my grandfather and then it went to my father and then my mother and then me, you know, it just changed. There's just this one family whose lives were completely changed because of the war -- you know a very long war that should never have been that long.

WALCOTT: Tyler has maintained a close relationship with her Vietnamese relatives and maintains ties to her community by teaching English to new immigrants in the Bronx. But, she says, the legacy of her war torn past will forever be a part of her life.

TYLER: Every time I cross the Mekong River I see your face. It was 20 years ago when you left the village where houses are made of leaves and in your arms you must have held me tightly. Together we crossed the river that changed our lives forever.


WALCOTT: That was a really good award-winning film.

And that wraps up today's edition of NEWSROOM. We'll see you right back here tomorrow.


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