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NEWSROOM for June 11, 2001

Aired June 11, 2001 - 04:30   ET


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

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: And welcome to a brand new week of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Shelley Walcott. Glad you're with us.

Here's a look at what's coming up.

First, "In the News," death and destruction as floodwaters rage through Southern Texas. Next, in "Environment Desk," why the cost of converting sunlight and wind into fuel could be sky-high. Then in "Worldview," a closer look at a dying African culture in the United States. And in "Chronicle," a girl who commutes between countries to go to school.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Allison devastated Eastern Texas and Southern and Western Louisiana this weekend. At least 17 people were killed, thousands are left homeless or without power and telephone service.

What was left of the one-time tropical storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain on the region this weekend. Numerous streets and highways across the region remain underwater. Thousands of families are in shelters following widespread evacuations in parts of both states. Houston's mayor estimates the city's damage to be in the range of about $1 billion. Twenty-eight eastern and southeastern Texas counties have been declared disaster areas by the state and federal governments. In Louisiana, emergency declarations have been issued for 20 parishes.

While most of the confirmed deaths are in Texas, the bad weather is blamed for at least one death in Louisiana. Experts say the death toll may rise once the water recedes. The National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard have been leading rescue operations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing disaster assistance.

More cars on the road and longer trips may be the results this summer following a tapering off of rising gasoline prices. A nationwide survey shows gas prices actually dipped a little more than 3 cents per gallon over the past three weeks. Now, nationwide, sell- serve regular gas averages $1.69 a gallon. But motorists in Charleston, South Carolina found self-serve regular at $1.45, but motorists traveling near San Francisco found self-serve regular at $2.02. Brian Palmer has this insight into why the drop at the beginning of this summer's season of travel.


BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans may soon be getting a temporary reprieve from high gas prices. Refineries are humming along at peak capacity, imports are up, so analysts predict that slightly lower prices will follow.

But that's still no reason to jump for joy, because just as gas prices dip, they may rise again. In a nation built around wide roads and big cars, Americans grumble about the high price of gas, but they keep paying it and driving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just have to pay it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We use the car like we always use it.

PALMER: Jeff and Amy Sachs say they can't avoid driving because their Massachusetts town of 2,000 doesn't have public transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not much we can do. We have to drive to get where we're going.

PETER BEUTEL, ENERGY ANALYST: Gasoline is right up there with food as something we are going to spend our money on. We'll cut out dozens of other activities before we will actually stop driving.

PALMER: In fact, more Americans may be hitting the road in spite of high gas prices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd rather do what I want to do, and I don't, I guess I just buy the gas.

CATHY KEEFE, TRAVEL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA: Most people say that they still are going to travel. Some 80 percent of Americans plan on taking at least one trip this summer, and actually about 20 percent say they're going to travel more this year than they traveled last year.

PALMER: Some travelers are making adjustments.

MANTILL WILLIAMS, AAA: People are altering their travel somewhat. They may be shortening their distances or they may be eating out less when they are vacationing, but high gas prices alone historically do not stop people from traveling, particularly leisure- type travel.

PALMER: But these are short-term measures. Analysts say the United States can take bolder steps to protect against future price swings. Some say the government should permit oil drilling on federally protected land. Many petroleum experts say more refineries are the answer.

Environmentalists say alternative fuels and serious conservation efforts would be a better way to decrease America's reliance on petroleum and to keep gas prices under control. Many agree that some combination of several of these steps would help, along with a coherent energy policy that lasts longer than one White House administration.

Brian Palmer, CNN, New York.


WALCOTT: Recent spikes in gas prices had many drivers rethinking their vehicle of choice. A number of people have considered replacing gas guzzling SUVs with economy sized vehicles.

But, as Gary Tuchman tells us, there's new technology in the works that should keep those larger sized vehicle rolling off the production line.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good thing I stopped at the bank.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High gas prices are fueling resentment, and drivers are fighting back by increasing purchases of vehicles with good gas mileage. But the same thing happened during gas crises in 1973 and '79, and when they were all over, gas guzzlers came back in force.

THAD MALESH, J.D. POWER AND ASSOCIATES: The difference is, this time around, compared to back in 1979 and '80 when we had this, we have greater choices. We have real technology that will develop much higher mileage than what we had back then.

TUCHMAN: In other words, you'll still be able to buy your SUVs, but they'll get better mileage and keep the air cleaner, thanks to hybrid technology.

BILL DOOLITTLE, DAIMLERCHRYSLER: This is a potential 2005 model year or 2004 late calendar year build vehicle.

TUCHMAN: This Dodge Ram will be powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor that recharges as it runs. Ford and General Motors have also embraced hybrid technology for SUV and truck sales by 2004.

Two smaller vehicles out on the roads already use hybrid technology, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. The new technology raises the price of the vehicles, but the automakers say they're pleased with sales.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a car that you can get 55 miles per gallon with.

TUCHMAN: And this is all just the beginning.

(on camera): So what's the fuel economy of this vehicle right now? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one has been simulated at 72 miles per gallon combined city and highway.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This is DaimlerChrysler's ESX-3. It's a prototype. With its hybrid technology and space-age aerodynamics, engineers are trying to get it to 80 miles per gallon.

(on camera): The ESX-3 has a range of about 430 miles, which is fairly typical of any car. But it has a gas tank that's very atypical. It only takes six gallons of fuel to fill up this tank.

(voice-over): As promising is hybrid technology is, it's seen by many as an interim step. Already under development, hydrogen power by fuel cells.

PROF. PATRICK DESSERT, OAKLAND UNIVERSITY: Fuel cell technology are basically trying to create a power pack of material that would be turned to electrical energy.

TUCHMAN: The price of gasoline may continue to rise, but demand for gasoline will not, if this new technology ultimately proves successful.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Detroit.


WALCOTT: Well with all of the talk of the energy crunch in the United States, many wonder why in times of such high demand and concern for the environment we haven't become more dependent on renewable energy sources.

Our environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski takes a look at what's available and bottom line, how much it would cost for you to use it.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The wind, the sun, ready sources of clean power. For decades, especially during energy crunches, they've been touted as the fuels of the future.


JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the end of this century I want our nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the sun.


PAWELSKI: Well, here we are, and only about 2 percent of the nation's electricity comes from solar and wind power. Cost is the main obstacle. Sunlight and wind are free for the taking, but converting them to electricity has proven more expensive than burning coal, gas or oil. Analysts say that may be changing.

HAL HARVEY, THE ENERGY FOUNDATION: We've had sort of a technological miracle with renewable energy in the last decade. Prices are now down to less than an eighth of what they were just 12 years ago.

JIM OWEN, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE: Our industry, a lot of our members are very bullish on renewable power. People are interested in this, and a lot of our companies are eager to get out and develop this technology and harness it.

PAWELSKI: In some parts of the country wind farms are now the cheapest way to add new power generation, and wind power is the fastest growing source of energy in the U.S.

HARVEY: We're also the Saudi Arabia of wind. There's more wind in the Dakotas and in Minnesota than we need to power most of the country.

PAWELSKI: Solar power is emerging as more of a niche power source for individual buildings and homes.

OWEN: We're finding that solar energy -- power from the sun really may make more sense in local settings rather than as something that can be delivered to the grid.

PAWELSKI: America's most successful renewable energy source, hydropower, is increasingly under attack. Dams generate 8 to 10 percent of the country's electricity, but they are blamed for driving salmon and other fish species to the brink of extinction, and analysts do not expect hydropower to grow.

(on camera): A study by researchers at five national laboratories says renewables like wind and solar could provide 10 percent of the country's electricity by the year 2020 if power companies and politicians make renewable energy a priority.

Natalie Pawelski, CNN, Atlanta.


ANNOUNCER: Teachers, make the most of CNN NEWSROOM with our free daily classroom guide to the program. There you'll find a rundown of each day's show so you choose just the program segment that fits your lesson plan. Plus, there are discussion questions and activities and the guide highlights key people, places and news terms. Each day find hot links to other online resources and previews of upcoming "Desk" segments.

It's all at this Web address where you can also sign up to have the guide automatically e-mailed directly to you each day. It's easy. It's free. It's your curriculum connection to the news. After all, the news never stops and neither does learning.

WALCOTT: Culture takes top billing in "Worldview" today. We'll check out customs that blend history and heritage, learn about the art of puppetry in Thailand and take to a sled as we race with a team of dogs. Plus, a peak into a southern coastal community that has its roots in Africa.

Although the trade of black slaves from Africa across the Atlantic seems a distant chapter in American history, the culture it spawned lives on. Along coastal Georgia and South Carolina, you can still find communities that are home to a unique language and way of life. The terms Gullah and Geechee describe both a language and culture that developed in the slave communities of isolated island plantations. The culture flourished, even after slavery officially ended, because until the 1950s, the only way to get to the islands was by boat. Today, progress and change are threatening to silence a once vibrant piece of the past.

Alphonso Van Marsh has more.



ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These Christian worshipers are part of a dying African culture in the United States. They are known as the Gullah and Geechee people.

Reverend George Bryant is one of their leaders.

REV. GEORGE BRYANT, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: The Gullah and the Geechee people are one of God's hidden secrets to the world.


VAN MARSH: Their ancestors were west Africans brought against their will to the seacoast islands of now U.S. state's Georgia and South Carolina. They were forced to grow rice and cotton on colonial plantations where the subtropical climate and fertile land were similar to their African homelands. The Gullah-Geechee lived in relative isolation on the seacoast for more than 300 years.

(on camera): More than 100,000 documented Africans were brought into seaports up and down the Atlantic coast. They were sold into slavery.

(voice-over): Today, community leaders estimate the Gullah- Geechee population at a little over half a million people. The Gullah-Geechee retain their own culture and African traditions like weaving sweetgrass baskets, strong religious beliefs and spiritual storytelling.

BRYANT: Of all the blacks in America -- all the African- Americans living in America right now, the only ones that still have its originality, who still have its culture, who still has its language is the Gullahs and the Geechees.

VAN MARSH: But that language and way of life is threatened by modern times and the exodus of a younger generation for America's big cities, so threatened that the U.S. National Park Service is investigating how to preserve Gullah-Geechee culture. The Penn Center, once dedicated to educating former slaves, lobbied for the study.

EMORY CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR, PENN CENTER: In an ideal world we plan to gain a respect for diversity, difference between us. And as we say in Gullah, between the been-here's and the come-here's.

VAN MARSH: And what does that mean?

CAMPBELL: Those who -- those who have been here and those who are coming.

VAN MARSH: It's what's coming to places like South Carolina's Hilton Head Island that threatens the Gullah-Geechee culture most: development, fast food, high-priced tourist resorts and retirement communities -- changes that are raising local tax rates and squeezing out landowning Gullah-Geechee.

BRYANT: Time doesn't stop for nobody, but a lot of the changes that we are doing, I wonder sometimes if it's for improvement or if it's really to our downfall.

VAN MARSH: Where Gullah-Geechee once fished with traditional nets, tourists stay on beach properties bolstering developers net worth. Where poor Gullah-Geechee once worked rice fields, rich retirees work on their game. What has survived is a perceived positive notion of plantation life. Plantation is actually spun as a business and vacation marketing theme to a mostly white audience.

CAMPBELL: The nostalgia of plantation was something that was where you had real comfort and less stress in your life. And I think that's why the term plantation is used much to our -- much to our disdain. We don't like that term.

VAN MARSH: The Penn Center isn't averse to tourists, its museum caters to educating the public on Gullah-Geechee culture. It's also part of a coalition of political activists teaching Gullah-Geechee to play a greater role in local development plans and politics.

Politics may not be enough to maintain this religious and unique African culture. Reverend Bryant says the Gullah-Geechee survived slavery, the U.S. civil rights era and other turbulent times. He's praying that a community once taken from its African homeland won't lose its roots once again.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN.


TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: Well, now that many of us are heading into the heat of summer, let's cool off a little with a look back at winter. Sled dog racing is a sport made famous by the Iditarod Race across Alaska -- more than 2,000 miles from Anchorage all the way to Nome. But mushing, as it's also called, is also a popular form of recreation and transportation throughout the American West -- states such as Wyoming, for example. Operating a sled dog team is harder than it looks -- both the musher and his animals are highly trained and must work in cooperation, otherwise, they'd end up going nowhere.

Stephanie Oswald found that out as she tried out the sport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.


MICHAEL DOWDA, DOGSLEDDER: Today, we are in Shoshone National Forest. It's in Wind River Range. We are at the base of Lava Mountain running the Continental Divide Trail.

Let's go boys. Looking good, huh?

STEPHANIE OSWALD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, what's an average day for them? How many mile?

DOWDA: Oh, on a half-day trip, it's about 10 miles. A full-day trip would be anywhere from 15 to 30 miles. We are making a gee turn. Gee is right, haw is left.

We use commands of like "on by!..."

OSWALD (on camera): On by! if we just go on by.

DOWDA: ... to pass another team -- we want to go on by that team. Gee trail -- gee trail. Good job hanging on.

OSWALD (voice-over): Wow.

DOWDA: It's all right. Good job.

Being able to have good equilibrium and balance is very, very helpful. If you didn't have it, of course, we'd leave you in the bag.

OSWALD (on camera): Thanks a lot. OK. But I'm doing all right?

DOWDA: Yeah.

OSWALD: I've got my feet in the right position?

DOWDA: Of course, you have a right foot forward and a left foot back depending on which side of the sled you're on or using the brake.

On by! On by! Haw, haw, haw, haw.

OSWALD: OK. The dog didn't get the message about the change of plans.


Now the is right up here -- so.


(CROSSTALK) DOWDA: We lost her.

OSWALD (on camera): Not enough brake on that one. Learning how to use the brake is really important. So the No. 1 rule is not to let go -- don't let go.

DOWDA: All right, guys.

OSWALD (voice-over): Here we go. I think I'm ready for the Iditarod now.

DOWDA: On by!, man. Let's go.

OSWALD: OK. On by, Dansie (ph)!

DOWDA: Nice.


WALCOTT: On to the Asian nation of Thailand known as Siam until 1939. It's an agricultural country and rice is the chief crop. Thailand is also one of the top silk manufacturers and tourism is another important industry. Today, we look at an artistic heritage that delights tourists. It's the Thai Shadow Puppet Theater.

In Thailand, the traditional Puppet Theater is struggling to survive. It's believed the ancient art made its way to Thailand from the Indonesian island of Java in the late 19th century. Early puppet masters performed for kings and the art form gains a royal seal of approval. Puppet shows took to the road as artists put on traveling shows throughout the country.

The puppets are handcrafted. A picture is etched on buffalo skin or ox hide, carved and painted. The puppets go on a bamboo handle. Puppet masters move and control the fanciful creations.

But they're worried their art may be a dying one. They say today's young Thais are more interested in Western entertainment. Still, the Thai shadow puppets have a long tradition and a loyal audience and the performances continue to attract tourists at village street fairs.

From passing tests to picking a college, high school students face challenges every single day. But what if the challenge was simply getting to school. Well, for many students, getting an education means a long drive and, believe it or not, a daily stop at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Maria Hinojosa has the story of these international commuters.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All-American girl Consuelo Monarrez, not ready for high school without that perfect teenage look, a quick breakfast, just the right shoes, of course some money from mom, and it's out the door. Graduation is just days away, but her classrooms are miles away, an entire country away, because while this American teen goes to school in Texas, she lives in Mexico. Consuelo can do this because she is an American citizen.

Although her mom is not.

CONSUELO MONARREZ, STUDENT: If I would have stayed in Mexico, I imagine myself as my mom is right now. I'm not saying it's wrong. But, I'm just saying I can do way better than her. She just put me in this life and she gave me the choice to cross it or stay.

HINOJOSA: Several students at this high school cross the border just to go to school. This 18-year-old is a citizen of Mexico, who overstayed his visa for all four years of high school. School officials don't ask for immigration papers. Just hard work and evidence they live in the district.

RALPH ORNELAS, PRINCIPAL, YSLETA HIGH SCHOOL: If kids come to this school and they are good and they try hard and they learn, then they are welcome to Yselta High School. My job is not to see if they are here legally or not. My job is to educate.

HINOJOSA: But closing the border to Mexican students is a priority for some El Paso taxpayers.

CALLER: You have got kids going to schools because they've got somebody's address.

HINOJOSA: Who are anxious to vent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not our responsibility to educate children who don't live in this country.

HINOJOSA: But government authorities say chasing down undocumented high school students...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bowie High School? Are you an American citizen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not a high priority when we can educate kids from an adjoining nation, in El Paso. Let's say these kids are going to grow up and be entrepreneurs and be educators, and it's going to support both the U.S. community and the Mexican community.

MONARREZ: My two lives, I just love them. Because right here, I get to experience things that I don't experience over there in Mexico.

HINOJOSA: And she gets an American diploma from a school full of border-crossers, flushed with scholarships to top colleges.

No. 7 in her class, a scholarship from ROTC, a Mexican- American girl will now go on to college in Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations!

MONARREZ: Thank you.

HINOJOSA: Maria Hinojosa, CNN, El Paso.


WALCOTT: On to politics now, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords' recent switch from Republican to Independent has sparked talk about other likely party jumpers. Among them, Arizona Senator John McCain.

CNN's national correspondent Bruce Morton examines how a switch would boost McCain's chances of winning a higher office.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, the Senate is now solidly Democratic, 50 to 49 with one independent, Jeffords of Vermont, voting with the Dems. But that has done nothing to quite speculation about a second possible defector, John McCain of Arizona.

The theory is, he, too, would become an independent and would run for president as one in 2004. Is this likely?

Well, when he was first organizing his 2000 run, McCain always said that would be his only chance at the White House. He was 63, a good age. In four years, he'd be 67. Thus, 71 at the end of the first term, and that was dicier.

He said that before he knew how much fun he'd have in campaign 2000, of course. But even after that, his standards answer was that lightning doesn't strike twice, that the circumstances of 2000 wouldn't repeat themselves.

Some conservatives during that campaign tried to label McCain as some sort of a liberal. He must be, they argued, reporters like him. That was silly, of course. Reporters liked McCain because he talked to us.

We knew his voting record. Pretty standard conservative: anti abortion, pro-defense, fiscal conservative. Unorthodox on a few issues: campaign finance reform, for instance, patients bill of rights.

But the Senate has passed a campaign finance bill. And with Tom Daschle now majority leader, the patients' bill of rights will get a hearing soon.

So what might make him run?


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That's what this is really all about.


MORTON: Some men seem driven to be president. Richard Nixon, for one. And Bill Clinton certainly dreamed of it all his life, but he may have wanted to be Elvis, too.

McCain -- and this is subjective, of course. Nobody can be certain about another person's intentions. McCain never seemed that drive to me. I remember going to interview him once at his Arizona home, which is, to put it mildly, a fine place.

"You can see," he said, while I looked admiringly around, "why running for reelection doesn't always seem like the most attractive option going," or words to that effect.

If he did run, he might be formidable. Over and over in 2000, he talked about getting young people to commit to something larger than themselves. Young people do that but in private charities, public service; not, since the cynicism bred by Watergate and Vietnam, in politics.

McCain tapped some of that latent idealism, that desire for a cause, in 2000.


MCCAIN: ... the school of your choice.


MORTON: He just might do it again in 2004.

I'm Bruce Morton.


WALCOTT: And that wraps up today's show. We'll see you right back here tomorrow.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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