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Wildfires Scorching Amazon at Record Rate; Expectations Low for This Year's G-7 Meeting in France; Washington Urges South Korea, Japan to End Dispute; Hong Kong British Embassy Worker Arrested; Rescued Migrants Test E.U. Immigration Policies; Ty Herndon Offers New Take on 1995 Hit Song. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 23, 2019 - 00:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The planet's lungs are burning. An unprecedented fire emergency sweeping across the Amazon. And Brazil's president, a.k.a. Captain Chainsaw, and his pro-development, pro-deforestation policies are being blamed.

[00:00:28] When Donald and Boris went to France. Donald Trump was an alone, isolated figure at last year's G-7. Maybe not this time. The U.S. president might have a friend at this year's gathering, but the British prime minister will be left walking a diplomatic tightrope with no safety net.

Plus, music that makes a difference. Correcting the record 25 years on. Ty Herndon's mega country hit from the '90s was based on a lie. But now, he's living his truth.

Hello. Welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause, and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

It is a fact that since taking office in January, Brazil's president has followed his pro-development agenda, scrapping regulations and gutting government agencies charged with protecting the Amazon. At the same time, giving ranchers and farmers a nod and a wink to clear the forests, and often, that is by the use of fire.

It is another fact that this year alone, the Amazon has seen more than 70,000 fires, compared with last year's entire total of 40,000. What is not a fact or based in any evidence by its own admission is this claim by the president as to the cause.


JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (through translator): The NGOs lost money, the money that came from Norway and Germany to here. They're unemployed. What do they need to do, try to overthrow me?


VAUSE: These wildfires could have lasting effects on the entire world. The Amazon is often called the planet's lungs, not only producing 20 percent of the oxygen on this planet. But also absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. The Amazon also helps regulate the world's climate. Thick black smoke from the wildfires could be seen the skies over South Paulo, nearly 3,000 kilometers away.

Shasta Darlington is there with the very latest.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fires are ravaging the Amazon at an alarming pace. Satellite images show plumes of smoke spreading across Brazil and, according to the National Institute for Space Research, there have been more than 72,000 fires in Brazil so far this year, many of them in the Amazon, many of them started by loggers and ranchers. And this is more than an 80 percent increase over last year.

In fact, the destruction has really been felt all the way over here in Sao Paulo, some 2,700 kilometers away from the Amazon when, earlier this week, the city was plunged into darkness at 3 p.m., and it looked and felt like nighttime. And researchers said it was a combination of the low-lying crowds clouds of a cold front mixing with that smoke coming in from the burning Amazon. That sparked a whole campaign on social media, called #PrayforAmazonus.

And a war of words with environmentalists blaming the government, President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly said that the Amazon needs to develop -- to be developed and has also defunded many of the agencies tasked with cracking down on illegal activity there.

Ironically, when he was asked about the spike in fires, he blamed the NGOs themselves without citing any evidence, saying maybe they were starting the fires to make him look bad.

Well, what's clear is not -- is that not enough is being done to stop them.

Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo.


VAUSE: Let's over now to Derek Van Dam, our meteorologist, for a look at the situation in the Amazon right now at this moment.

Derek, what are we looking at? How bad, how widespread is this?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're starting to see more and more evidence, John, of a planned, plotted deportation attack on the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. This is by large companies who are taking advantage of the dry season. They know that they can clear land quicker by scorching it than by using heavy machinery in that thick area, that thick jungle, that thick rainforest that inhabits much of South America.

You can see these perfectly plotted areas of land on this satellite imagery and some of the burning that is ongoing across this area. And if you need more evidence of this almost abnormal burning procedure that's taking place, the clearing of the land, just take a look at this close-up satellite image. You don't see fires with burning at right angles. That just does not happen in the natural world.

So what we're seeing here, again, are these planned, coordinated deforestation attacks on the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and it's having major ramifications on the world, as you can imagine. We know that the Amazon rainforest produces 20 percent of the world's oxygen. But it also has a significant impact on the carbon dioxide, that it takes it in. It actually absorbs it. It's known as a carbon sink. There is, in fact, 127 cubic tons of carbon dioxide stored within the Amazon, and if we were to deforest the entire Amazon, we would literally release the equivalent of 140 years of human-induced carbon admissions. So not something we want to be in the business of doing, right, John?

VAUSE: What are we looking at in terms of, I mean, just you know, when we look at normally with a fire? I mean, it's a massive fire. But what's the forecast here? Is it likely to be any resistance in the weather? Are we looking at rain or any kind of humidity on the way?

VAN DAM: Well, unfortunately, we believe that the potential exists for these fires to get worse before they get better, because we know these large companies are taking advantage of the drought. I mentioned that at the beginning of this hit.

This is a look at the climatological rainfall patterns. You can see July, August, September that is the driest time of the year for this portion of Brazil, where the Amazon is located. And we know that there aren't many thunderstorms this time of year to help quench the fires. Fortunately, again it could be worse before it gets better.

VAUSE: That is not the news we want. Thank you, Derek.


VAUSE: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, wants the fire crisis in the Amazon added to this weekend's agenda at the G-7 summit. He tweeted, "Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest -- the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet's oxygen -- is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G-7 summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days!"

Brazil's president, though, dismissed all this, saying he regrets "that President Macron seeks to instrumentalize an internal issue of Brazil and other Amazonian countries for personal political gains." He says, "The sensationalist tone with which the French president refers to the Amazon (appealing even to fake photos)" -- whatever that was -- "does nothing to solve the problem."

One of those attending the upcoming G-7 has a lot on his plate right now. That's the British prime minister, Boris Johnson. He's been on the continent for the last couple of days, taking the temperature of leaders there on possibly renegotiating the Brexit withdrawal agreement, especially the thorny issue of the Irish backstop. But the message he is receiving: Do not get your hopes up.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): Now, I am going to be very clear. In the coming months, we will not find a withdrawal agreement that will be far from what we have now. If, in the framework of what has been negotiated by Michel Barnier, some things can be adapted and fit with our two objectives that I just mentioned, which is stability in Ireland and integrity of the single market, we have to find them in the coming months.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I understand your desire to protect the integrity of the single market. Of course, we understand that, but we think that there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the U.K. to exit from the E.U., whole and entire and perfect.


VAUSE: The G-7 leaders begin arriving Saturday in a seaside resort in the south of France, but expectations for agreement at this year's two-day summit are so low there won't even be a final communique.

Here's CNN's Jim Bittermann.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Biarritz, France, is supposed to look like this time of year. The laid-back, seaside community on France's southwest Atlantic coast is a favorite for summering tourists.

But this is what it will look like this weekend. More than 13,000 police and gendarmes will encircle the city with layers of security that extend all the way to the Spanish border 20 miles away.

When the summit begins on Saturday, the sunbathers will be chased off the beaches, hotels and restaurants empty and, in some cases, closed. All to protect the top world leaders who will gather here at the hotel The Pallais, a luxurious resort built by Napoleon III for his young wife, Eugenie.

Security to protect the G-7's principles, as well as a dozen or so other other international delegations from anti-G-7 protesters, who set up campsites not far away. France's infamous Yellow Vest movement, as well as anti-globalists of every stripe regard the G-7 as a club of the rich, which ignores the social and environmental concerns of the poor. Even though France put some of those issues on the G-7 agenda.

AURELIE TROUVE, ALTERNATIVES G-7: They decide policies just in the interests of the very rich people and of the capitals, the finance, big finance. And we denounce that. And we want -- we want to show that these exist big social movements against these policies and also that we have alternatives to -- to the system. BITTERMANN: Because the G-7 leaders require so much protection and

the anti-G-7 protests could turn violent, local merchants wonder if it's all worth it: virtually closing down a region that depends on tourism for 20 percent of its economic activity.

[00:10:03] AURORE PRALIN, REGIONAL MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION (through translator): It's during high season, our high season. It's the best months of the year, and we're not consulted. No one asked our opinion.

BITTERMANN: What makes it all the more aggravating for some is the likelihood that this G-7 will accomplish little more than the last one in Canada, when the U.S. refused to sign the final communique.

Host President Macron told reporters this week that they're so little agreement among the leaders, he'll avoid a similar disastrous outcome by not even drafting a final communique, something rarely heard of in diplomatic exchanges like the one here this weekend. Leaving some to question whether it's even worth the trouble having a G-7 meeting at all.

FRANCOIS HEISBOURG, FOUNDATION FOR STRATEGIC RESEARCH: To quote Winston Churchill, jaw-jaw is better than war-war. But you know, we should never forget that.

The G-7 meeting in Canada last year was dreadful, but it was not useless. It actually forced the non-American players to come to terms with the extraordinary different nature of the new American administration at the time.

BITTERMANN: That America administration has not changed, and observers here say that, in the lead up to this summit, expectations are even lower than they were in Canada last year.

Given the fact that there is political discord and disarray among the G-7 members, as well as about everywhere you look around the globe, even small agreements here will certainly be regarded as victories.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Biarritz, France.


VAUSE: CNN European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas is with us once again from Berlin. Good to see you, Dominic.


VAUSE: OK, so ahead of this G-7, it's a great strategy. Let's not have a disagreement like we did last year. Let's just scrap the communique altogether.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, he told a private briefing of reporter, "No one reads the communique. Let's be honest. And in recent times, you read the communiques only to detect disagreements. I know the points of disagreement with the U.S. if we draft an agreement about the Paris Accord, President Trump won't agree. It's pointless."

The expectations here are so low, if they would make it through the main banquet without spitting in each other's food, it will be considered a success.

So take Macron's point one step further. The entire gathering, it seems, is pointless. Dominic.

THOMAS: John, I'm sorry.


THOMAS: I thought you were going to a clip there. No, absolutely. I mean, look, the whole point of the G-7 summits, going all the way back to 1975, is to try and bring what are called, you know, like-minded leaders together to be able to move the global, political agenda along here.

And what we're seeing here -- and this really goes back to the G-7 in Canada, where Donald Trump essentially refused to endorse the final communiques -- rather than push for greater consultation and so on, if to avoid doing that.

And in fact, we see here how the G-7 has changed so dramatically. This organization that was so eager to defend the global and liberal democratic order now has, sitting at the table, Donald Trump; with him Boris Johnson from the U.K. And let's not forget that the Italian prime minister has just resigned under pressure from his coalition party from the far right.

So the very makeup of this organization has changed dramatically just in the last ten years, and it's making it increasingly, obviously, complicated for them to agree on just around any of these global issues.

VAUSE: And as you mentioned, this will be Boris Johnson's sort of first appearance at the G-7 as the British prime minister. Brexit is not in the official agenda, but of course, it will be discussed on the sidelines.

And basically, you know, he wants something from everyone here. He wants, you know, from the Europeans a better Brexit deal. From everybody else, especially the U.S., he's looking for free trade deals. And the U.S. president sees a friend in Boris Johnson. I think it was on Thursday or Wednesday the president tweeted out, "Great discussion with Prime Minister Boris Johnson today. We talked about Brexit and how we can rapidly on a U.S.-U.K. free trade deal. I look forward to meeting with Boris this weekend at G-7 in France!"

Here's the thing. How will Boris Johnson be able to keep Donald Trump on his side, locked into a trade deal, while at the same time, not alienating European leaders on issues where the U.K. is much closer to Europe than it is to the U.S., like on Iran and climate change? It seems the U.S. president is looking at Johnson as a friend and ally here. THOMAS: Yes. I mean, this is -- you can guarantee that he'll be on Twitter stirring things up. You know, already arriving in Europe as a whole range of controversy with over a whole series of European issues.

But I think, you know, the funniest way I've heard this characterized is that Boris Johnson is actually going to end up at the summit sandwiched between two Donalds.

On the one hand Donald Trump, president of the United States, is going to be supporting and has been supporting Brexit. And on the other, Donald Tusk, the president of the E.U. Council, will be there representing the European Union.

And so Boris Johnson has been on this sort of European tour, visiting Germany, visiting France to try and get support for the withdrawal agreement changes, the backstop and so on. And yet, on the other hand, it's going to be buoyed up by Trump.

[00:15:07] And I think that really, what we end up here is both sides are under pressure. Donald Trump comes off as the willing partner to the U.K. that's open to doing trade, and the European Union looks bad.

But at the end of the day, all that this is about for Boris Johnson is demonstrating back home to his party, to the Brexiteers and to the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage, that he is the one person who can deliver Brexit over what has become the single defining issue of British politics today. And it's all about optics there for him.

VAUSE: Here's the thing, though. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson may be of like mind. You know, they may be on very friendly terms, but Donald Trump is not going to give the Brits a good free trade deal without a heavy price.

THOMAS: Yes. I mean, that's absolutely -- and that's what the opposition has been fasting on. The debate has shifted, particularly in the Labour Party, not so much around remain or leave but avoiding a no deal, and avoiding, of course, this idea that the U.K. becomes, essentially, the 51st state.

That Donald Trump -- and we can see this. It's a pattern. Every unilateral decision by -- you know, bilateral agreement that he's trying to strike has not been favorable to the person sitting on the other side. And for Boris Johnson to somehow expect that things will be different with Donald Trump as, of course, nothing but delusional there.

And you know, we've seen that sort of unbridled optimism from BoJo, as he's called, despite being repeatedly rejected across the continent. Listen to this.


MACRON (through translator): It is solely for the U.K. to decide its destiny, to decide about the way it will leave the European Union and the basis of the future relationship. We are actively preparing for all the possibilities, including that of an exit without an agreement on October 31. It's not the choice of the E.U., but it is our joint responsibility.


VAUSE: For those watching at home, that was not Boris Johnson. That was the French president, Emmanuel Macron, striking a very different tone.

But despite that, Johnson has said repeatedly he wants a deal. "We can get a deal. We can get a deal long before October 31." You know, enthusiasm and optimism and energy are all very good qualities, but they are not a replacement for a plan and a policy.

THOMAS: Well, that's it. And a real reality check that, since he took over from Theresa May, absolutely nothing has changed. The Parliament is unambiguously opposed to a no deal. The opposition has increasingly galvanized around challenging Boris Johnson these issues.

And the fact remains there, which is really so complicated about this, is that as Boris Johnson keeps talking about the fact it's a wishful thinking, a magical thinking that somehow Brexit is going to happen. It hasn't yet, and there's no evidence that anything has shifted along those lines.

And Boris Johnson and his Brexiteers could have had a Brexit by now if they'd gone along with the withdrawal agreements, signed with the European Union and proposed by Prime Minister May.

But the fact remains that those Brexiteers want no alignment whatsoever with the European Union. And that, therefore means that the Irish backstop, that the insurance policy that will protect the Good Friday agreement and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains on the table. And there's no way out of that, unless the U.K. maintains close alignment with the European union.

So for Boris Johnson, nothing has changed in this dynamic, and I think that actually now that he's at the helm, he's beginning to realize that this Brexit issue, which he is behind, is not that easy to solve.

VAUSE: Yes. Dominic, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: We will take a short break. When we come back, South Korea and Japan have decided to stop sharing intelligence just as North Korea ramps up its missile test. Details on that in a moment.

Also ahead, Hong Kong bracing for a new round of protests, but the organizers say this time will be different.


[00:20:07] VAUSE: Well, South Korea has ended a key intelligence- sharing agreement with Japan. This all started as a diplomatic and trade dispute between the two nations, Japan restricting exports of materials used to make computer chips, South Korea promising to retaliate.

That retaliation has now come in the form of restricting military cooperation. Here's the reason Seoul gave for the move that has Washington concerned.


KIM YOU-GEUN, SOUTH KOREAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DEPUTY DIRECTOR (through translator): Japan created a grave change and an environment for bilateral security cooperation. Under this situation, we have determined that it would not serve our national interests to maintain an agreement we signed with the aim of exchanging military information, which is sensitive to security.


VAUSE: Japan calls Seoul's latest move extremely regrettable in the South Korean ambassador had a complaint. The U.S. has pushed for that intelligence sharing deal in the first place, making it easier to share data on North Korea, as well as monitoring China.

The U.S. secretary of state is urging Japan and South Korea, essentially, to find a solution.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're disappointed to see the decision that the South Koreans made about that information sharing, the agreement. We're urging each of the two countries to continue to engage, to continue to have dialogue.

There is no doubt that the shared interests of Japan and South Korea are important, and they're important to the United States of America. And we hope each of those two countries can -- can begin to put that relationship back in exactly the right place.


VAUSE: Well, all this comes as North Korea's missile activity is picking up. Some fear the end of this deal may be of benefit to Washington's rivals in the region.

CNN's David Culver joins us now live from Seoul in South Korea.

There is a suggestion out there by some that this breakdown in relations between Japan and South Korea is a direct result of a lack of engagement by the United States; in particular, by the U.S. president. In the past, you know, the United States would be in there, making sure that, you know, dispute between these two allies wouldn't reach this sort of level. That has not happened this time.

DAVID CULVER, CNN: Yes, that is an argument that's surfacing here, as well, that perhaps South Korea is using this as a provocation, so to speak, to get the international community involved and particularly, as you point out, John, to get the U.S. involved.

In fact, I was just speaking a short time ago on the phone with the former Army general who was the commander who oversaw the 650,000 combined U.S.-South Korean troops here in the peninsula up until November of last year. So he's dealt with this for a good while. He calls this potential breakdown of Jisomia detrimental.

And he calls it the potential breakdown, John, because in his mind there's still hope here. He says there's 90 days going forward that he believes perhaps Japan and South Korea could potentially come to an agreement. If they don't, I asked him, what does this look like? What did it look like prior to coming into place?

He said it was extremely inefficient. You had commanders in Japan who would see something data-wise that was perhaps relevant to South Korea, perhaps even threatening to South Korean. And they would have to go to the United States and relay it to them. The United States would then have to go back to Japan and say, "OK, thanks for this information. Can we relay it to South Korea?"

So you had this middleman position for the U.S., which was incredibly inefficient. And as the former general calls it, detrimental. He says this is a dangerous place to me.

Meantime, John, today we are also hearing from Japan on this. Their prime minister, Shinzo Abe, speaking before heading out to the G-7 summit. Take a listen to what he has to say about this.


SHINZO ABE, PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (through translator): Unfortunately, South Korea has been continuing its response that damages the trust between our two countries, such as going against the 1965 basic treaty.


CULVER: John, he's referencing there that 1965 treaty, which they feel -- the Japanese, that is -- settled the matter of forced labor during the occupation and the earlier part of the 20th Century. Of course, last year, a supreme court here in South Korea, their ruling was that those were forced into labor, have the right to sue Japanese companies and, therefore, get compensation.

So a lot of back and forth that's rooted in this cultural divide that seems to be growing at this point, John.

VAUSE: Yes, and one of the reasons for all of this is a lack of leadership in that region by the U.S. administration, at least according to a lot of critics.

David, good to have you with us. Thank you.

Protesters in Hong Kong are calling for new pro-democracy rallies, but this time was a twist. In the coming hours, demonstrators will form a human chain across the territory. They're calling it the Hong Kong Way, a reference to the Baltic Way, protests 30 years ago when activists in the Baltic states joined hands to demand independence.

It's just one of several demonstrations to take place in Hong Kong this coming Friday.

[00:25:00] We have new developments now on the controversial arrest of a Hong Kong man who works at the British consulate. A Chinese newspaper reports Simon Cheng was detained by Shenzhen police for, quote, "solicitation of prostitution."

But his family and friends fear he was arrested possibly for his support of the protesters. His girlfriend believes it happened at an immigration checkpoint at a Hong Kong train station.

As Kristie Lu Stout reports, that station's checkpoint has been seen as an example of China's growing influence.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been hailed as a vision for the future. The West Kowloon Station is a gigantic $10 billion glass and concrete structure that houses a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and mainland China.

(voice-over): The Hong Kong government considers this an economic game changer. It helps the city's economy by bringing in more visitors, while linking Hong Kong to Macau and cities across southern China. But this glittering development is deeply controversial. That's because the station has an area where all passengers going to the mainland are prescreened by Chinese immigration.

(on camera): Yes, it's a setup similar to those seen in the U.K. and Canada, where officials from France and the United States prescreen passengers for the sake of efficiency. But those officials only have the power to approve or deny entry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Departing passengers will need to comply with mainland laws.

STOUT: It's more complicated here. In part of the West Kowloon Station, mainland Chinese laws apply. That means Chinese authorities can make arrests inside the terminal or even transfer people to the mainland.

Critics fear this could foothold allow Chinese police to go after government critics in the city.

LAM CHEUK-TING, HONG KONG LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL MEMBER: It will erode the highly autonomy of Hong Kong against the one country/two systems principle.

STOUT: Defenders say the joint checkpoint makes for a smoother immigration process to facilitate the journey from Hong Kong to over 40 destinations in China.

(on camera): And that's why mainland Chinese police are stationed here in the commercial heart of Hong Kong, Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


VAUSE: Still to come here, well, the fate of hundreds of migrants stuck on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean remains uncertain. Their plight helped bring down the Italian government is still threatening public governments across Europe.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause. Thanks for staying with us. An update now on our top news this hour.

Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has hinted that ranchers might be responsible for the fires raging across the Amazon, but he also continues to blame international non-government organizations, who he says are determined to overthrow this government.

Environmentalists has said some of the fire are set by loggers and ranchers, emboldened by their pro-business president.

[00:30:05] Italy's president is giving political leaders until Tuesday to form a new government. Otherwise, the country might just hold its second election in just over a year.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned this week after far-right leader Matteo Salvini pulled out of the ruling coalition.

Immigration is one of the main issues that sunk that alliance, and the fate of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean still hangs in the balance. Simon Cullen reports.


SIMON Cullen, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For nearly two weeks, these migrants have been languishing on board the Ocean Viking.

JAY BERGER, PROJECT COORDINATOR, MSF: Each day, the conditions are deteriorating amongst the people we have on board.

Cullen: The 356 migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean by two French charities off the coast of Libya, plucked to safety from their rubber dinghies. Almost a third are children, many of them traveling without a parent or guardian.

But there's nowhere for them to go. The two closest countries, Italy and Malta, are both refusing permission for the rescue ship to dock.

BERGER: We implore the E.U. to find its humanity and stop this disgrace and find us a place of safety as soon as possible.

Cullen: Another rescue ship, the Open Arms, was allowed to disembark at the island of Lampedusa earlier this week, but only after the Italian courts intervened to overrule the government. (on camera): The cycle of migrant rescues, followed by a political

standoff, is becoming all too familiar in Europe, as the continent continues to struggle to come up with a unified position on how to deal with those arriving by boat.

(voice-over): And the reality is there's little the E.U. can do right now, beyond urging member states to cooperate on migrant rescues.

NATASHA BERTAUD, SPOKESWOMAN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The commission would welcome the same spirit of solidarity which has been shown by member states in the Open Arms case for the migrants on board of the Ocean Viking vessel.

CULLEN: The French president acknowledges something needs to change.

MACRON (through translator): We need to find a European solution to deal with this impasse. Solidarity is lacking in Europe. Unacceptable decisions have again been taken by some, and the handling of the recent cases remains deeply unsatisfying.

Unsatisfying, too, for those caught in the middle, waiting and hoping to begin a new life in Europe.

Simon Cullen, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Still to come, a new spin on a 1990s country music mega-hit. Ty Herndon joins us next to explain why it mattered to him to remake "What Mattered Most."



VAUSE: That's Ty Herndon 1995 mega-country hit "What Mattered Most." The debut single from, at the time, an almost unknown singer was a chart-topping sensation.

As it turns out, though, this ballad about love lost and a late epiphany, as well as all the success that came with it, was essentially based on a lie. Almost a quarter of a century later, and Herndon is setting the record straight, releasing a new version. Try and spot the difference.


VAUSE: There is nothing quite like the power of a pronoun, and by changing "she" to "he," Herndon is not only writing a wrong but clearly revealing much about who is and who he was 24 years ago.

The man himself, Ty Herndon, now is with us.

So welcome. Thanks for coming in. Did you recognize that young guy there? That young fellow singing that song?

TY HERNDON, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: There is such a -- 25 years of -- of love --


HERNDON: -- for that -- for that young man from the beginning to now, but he loves himself so much more now.

I was just sitting here thinking, though, looking at that, since it's been a minute since I've seen the new version.


HERNDON: And I know so many kids have seen that now, because I go out and speak to so many kids around the -- around the world. And it's amazing to hear them talk to me now.

VAUSE: That was 33-year-old Ty Herndon. And I think what a lot of people don't realize about this song is just how big it was at the time, what a huge success it was.

HERNDON: It was huge.

VAUSE: It was huge. Here's a part of a report from "The Dallas Morning News," April 1995. "His first single, 'What Mattered Most,' continues to explode all over the radio and the national country charts. In its first week, the song received 133 adds, meaning 133 radio stations across the nation played the tune out of the box. His debut album, also titled 'What Mattered Most,' hit stores Tuesday with advance orders of a whopping 200,000 copies."

And for the most part at that time, everyone was seeing this as a love song in the traditional sense.


VAUSE: Everyone, that is, except for you.


VAUSE: And presumably, your -- your partner of, what, at that time 14 years.


VAUSE: The relationship. What did he think of the new version? Have you been in touch with the person who, you know, was sort of the focus of the song?

HERNDON: He just said, "Congratulations, man. Congratulations on your 100 percent authenticity and being able to tell your story the way you've always wanted to tell it. Congratulations on the minds and hearts you're going to change."

VAUSE: How did you justify it?

HERNDON: There was no way I could. I just -- I knew that I was going to be out there singing to millions of people, and this was an amazing song.


HERNDON: So we fight for amazing songs. We do it today. And the song writer of the song, it was tailor-made for me. And it's such a beautiful production of it, and I was excited to have it. And you know, I've been in this business a long time. I won Texas Entertainer of the Year, which finally got me to Nashville. And they gave me that song. I was so happy to get it.

VAUSE: Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay candidate for president. He gave a very emotional speech earlier this year, sort of addressed the issues, you know, of being gay and coming out, and he took it head on.


VAUSE: And he said a couple of really, you know, pertinent or very sort of moving things during the speech. I want you to listen to part of that speech. Here he is.

HERNDON: Absolutely.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you had offered me a pill to make me straight, I would have swallowed it before you had time to give me a sip of water. It is a hard thing to think about now.

It's hard to face the truth that there were times in my life when, if you had shown me exactly what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a knife.


VAUSE: I see you nodding along. So how -- can you obviously relate -- you can obviously relate to that, especially as a much younger man?

HERNDON: It's hard to see that and talk about it, because I feel the same way. You know, there were times I definitely did not want to live. You know, I wanted the same knife. I wanted to cut it out. I would have taken -- I said this. It's interesting that I saw this when it was on. I said, "Oh, my gosh. We wanted the same pill."


HERNDON: I wouldn't have hesitated to take it.

But my journey today, that was not my story. This is my story. And the fact that I get to be out there and sing to millions of people and create music and do what I need to do, and to know that that 11-year- old kid sitting out there at home, watching TV and watching YouTube, who wants to come to Nashville and be an entertainer, sees my face and knows that you can do this, and you're not alone.


VAUSE: Times have definitely very much changed now from 1995.


VAUSE: You came out in 2014.


[00:40:02] VAUSE: And once you've come out, you never stop coming out. And you have to keep coming out over and over and over again. Right?

HERNDON: It's very true.

VAUSE: But you've made this conscious decision since going public that you will support teenage gay kids and their parents and their families.

HERNDON: Yes, even younger.

VAUSE: You sort of want to give them sort of the structure and the environment of sort of the safety environment --


VAUSE: -- and the support that I guess you don't have.

HERNDON: Exactly. If I would have had the community that -- that these kids are putting together today, kids are coming out at young as 10 years old. And some of them know exactly who they are, and others are confused. But to put a community together of these kids that are going through the same thing.

I just did a whole brand-new video with a group of kids in Nashville called the Rainbow Squad.

VAUSE: Right.

HERNDON: And they've amazing. And just to watch them, how happy they are and just with this community. They get together every two weeks from all around Nashville. And I wanted to -- to show the world what a -- just what a happy kid looks like.


HERNDON: Having Nashville change so much. Oh, my gosh. The community is so wonderful. It's filled with all kinds of folks from all four walks of life. And we're really feeling the pressure to grow. And I'm happy to be one of those people pushing that. And we have a lot of us that are in Nashville, from Shelly Rann (ph), Shane McAnally, so many -- so many wonderful people that are -- that are out and pushing.

VAUSE: You have a new album coming out on Friday.


VAUSE: Got it covered. There's a lot going on. It has the new updated version of "What Mattered."

HERNDON: "What Mattered," yes.

VAUSE: And there's also another track there in particular which I want to reference. It's "So Small."


VAUSE: Originally a Carrie Underwood.


VAUSE: Here's a clip.


VAUSE: Lots of kids, lots of rainbow flags. Who's this guy at the end? What's going on here?

HERNDON: Now you've made me cry. Congratulations.

VAUSE: Thank you very much. We got there.

HERNDON: We've got the tears rolling, you guys. Oh, my gosh. You know, that -- Thank you, Carrie, for writing and recording such an awesome song.

But I had that -- to make a long story short, I had gotten back to Nashville and was just kind of milling around, trying to do music. And I just made the decision there wasn't a place for me anymore.

And I'd actually signed up for a very expensive real-estate class.

VAUSE: And you were going to be a real-estate agent?

HERNDON: I was going to be a real-estate agent. I'm sitting there in my truck, you know, on a Saturday morning. And I heard this song for the first time. I'm a firm believer that songs are put out there in the universe for people to hear exactly at the right time in their life. And I live by that rule.

And so of course, it happened to me.


HERNDON: And it was just -- I'd not heard anything like this on the radio in a long time. It was spiritual; it was powerful, and it was life-changing for me. I didn't take the class. I turned around, and I got my butt busy getting back in the music business.

And I wanted to do music like that, music that mattered, music that changed hearts and minds and music that just hit people in the face. So that's what I've been trying to do. Hope I did it on this new record.


VAUSE: Thank you for sharing your story.

HERNDON: Absolutely.

VAUSE: It's been a great story to hear. Thank you for coming in.

HERNDON: Thank you.

VAUSE: And also thank you to you and Erik Halbig for recording the new version of "What Mattered" -- "Mattered Most."


VAUSE: And we're going to play some of that right now as we head into a short break. WORLD SPORT is next. I'm John Vause. This is CNN.

HERNDON (singing): ("WHAT MATTERED MOST", 2019 version)


[00:45:43] (WORLD SPORT)