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Helicopter Shot Down Near Baghdad; Sanctuary Laws; Street Smarts

Aired April 21, 2005 - 08:59   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. There's a developing story in Iraq today, on a day when violence is surging. A helicopter shot down near Baghdad. It follows another car bombing and evidence of a possible massacre.
And trying to find out what happened after a sudden fire kills six, five of them little boys.

And in the Michael Jackson trial, word now the next star witness could be a movie star. Big plans for the defense today ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

HEMMER: Hello again, everybody. Nine o'clock here in New York. Good to have you along with us today. I'm Bill Hemmer. Soledad is out today.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello, filling in.

HEMMER: Also this morning, we're talking about the incredibly high cost of going to college. You all know about the skyrocketing tuition costs. So where are the bargains today? An editor from the "Princeton Review" is with us, looking at the schools that give you the most for your money. So we'll get to that.

COSTELLO: Also, comedian and TV host Dennis Miller will be here. And he's sure to have a few choice words on the new pope...

HEMMER: Oh, yes.

COSTELLO: ... Tom DeLay, maybe even "Monday Night Football."

HEMMER: And the list goes on and on.

Back to Jack, too.

What's on your mind?


What should Congress be doing about the economy and the problem? They are many. And according to a "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, almost half of the people in this country think the economy is getting worse. Congress, in the meantime, spends its time worrying about things like Tom DeLay's ethics and Terri Schiavo. Only two pieces of economy-related legislation passed so far this year. So what should they be doing?

HEMMER: And one more topic for Dennis Miller, too. Thank you, Jack.

COSTELLO: Let's check the headlines now with Valerie Morris.

Good morning.

VALERIE MORRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning once again. Good morning, everyone.

"Now in the News," President Bush is set to speak this hour in Washington. The president heads from the White House to the Grand Hyatt Hotel just around the corner. And there he will make remarks on strengthening Social Security. He will make those remarks before a group of insurance agents.

Meantime, House representatives clashing with some environmentalists. Lawmakers are expected to vote today on a major energy bill, one that allows drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. Environmental groups are planning to voice their concerns on Capitol Hill this hour.

Authorities in Arkansas now say five children are among the six people killed in a mobile home fire. It happened in Humphrey, Arkansas. It's a little town about 40 miles southeast of Little Rock. Police there say the dead include five little boys from three families. And they range in age from 8 months to 4 years.


RACHEL WHITESIDE, VICTIMS' MOTHER: If there's any young parents out there, love every minute, every second with your child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tell them every time you get a chance, "I love you."

WHITESIDE: Every day you love them, because in seconds they're gone just like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last words my oldest son said to me was, "I love you more, daddy."

WHITESIDE: "I love you more, daddy. I love you more."


MORRIS: No word yet on what sparked that blaze. Investigators are now sifting through the debris. They're looking for clues.

Zacarias Moussaoui is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to his part in the September 11 terror attacks. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Moussaoui is mentally competent to enter such a plea. And if he goes through with it, Moussaoui will become the first person to stand trial in a U.S. courtroom in connection with the attacks.

And in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI is settling in. The pope officially opening the doors of his new apartment.

And just a short time ago, the pope reconfirmed top officials in the Vatican government. And among them, the Italian cardinal, the one who served as secretary of state under Pope John Paul II.

The new pope also has a new e-mail address. It is where the public can message him directly. Get out your pens. Here it is. The address is benedictxvi -- that's all one word -- OK?

COSTELLO: I'm going to e-mail him right now.


MORRIS: I tell you.

HEMMER: Picking up where the old guy left off, too.

MORRIS: Nearer to god. It's a good connection.

HEMMER: He looks pretty good in the white vestments, too, don't you think? Wearing the vestments well.

MORRIS: Yes. He's settling in. And I think people are settling in to maybe give him a chance, even though there was so much controversy about is he an arch conservative or not. We'll see.

HEMMER: Thank, you Valerie.


HEMMER: First from Iraq now, a story we're watching all morning long. U.S. military sources say nine are dead after the crash of a helicopter there. A commercial helicopter, we're told.

Also, Iraqi officials are saying that 50 bodies found in the Tigris River may have been Shiite hostages.

To Baghdad and CNN's Ryan Chilcote.

Let's start with that helicopter. What do we know about that chopper, Ryan?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, what we know at this point is that was a commercial helicopter. It went down with somewhere between Baghdad and Tikrit.

It belonged to the U.S. company SkyLink. And U.S. officials are saying that they believe it was shot down. Now -- killing all nine individuals on board.

Now, we know that of those nine individuals on board, three were crew members from Bulgaria. We do not know the nationalities of the six passengers -- Bill.

HEMMER: There has been a string of violence in the past 24 hours, Ryan. What else is happening that we can report now?

CHILCOTE: There's an unbelievable number of acts of violence, and even bodies found in two different locations just south of Baghdad. Iraqi officials saying that they found over the last two weeks the bodies of 57 Iraqi men, women and children.

Basically, these bodies have been floating down the Tigris River and collecting at a portable dam there. That's where Iraqi police tell CNN they've been collecting them at a rate of about three to four a day, trying to identify these bodies. In some cases they've succeed in doing that.

And when they have not been able to do that, they photograph them and then bury them. And they're hoping that the relatives of these people will come forward. But they do not know at the hands of whom these people passed away, whether this was acts of violence from terrorists or insurgents, or whether this is just criminal groups killing these people.

And in the northwest of the country, Bill, the -- 20 Iraqi police telling CNN that 20 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead there. These soldiers were on leave, they were in civilian dress. They were on a highway when they were abducted by insurgents. They were brought to a soccer stadium, and that's where their bodies were found lined up against the blood-stained wall.

And finally, here in Baghdad, violence overnight. There was an attempted assassination of the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi. He escaped that assassination attempt; however, his guard -- several of his guards did not, according to his spokesman.

And this morning more violence, this time on the road out to the airport. A bomb went off, killing at least two people. Iraqi police say they saw a convoy of three SUVs going by as the blast went off. And as you know, Bill, SUVs are frequently used here by western contractor to move around Baghdad -- Bill.

HEMMER: All that in only 24 hours. Ryan Chilcote in Baghdad -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about some nasty weather in the Midwest. People in Kansas checking out the damage this morning after a severe hailstorm swept through the central part of that state. I want to bring in Chad here.

Is this normal for April?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it really is, Carol.


HEMMER: I'll tell you, being in Oklahoma City two days ago, that weather changes so dramatically, so fast. MYERS: Wow, yes. It does.

HEMMER: And the wind just comes out of the south and just keeps on blowing, too.


HEMMER: Chad, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HEMMER: From Connecticut, landmark legislation now. The state is the first in the U.S. to legalize civil unions through legislation rather than a court order.

The governor, Jodi Rell, signed the bill on Wednesday. It becomes law the first of October. Gay couples still will not receive a marriage license, but Governor Rell says it does give them many of the same rights and privileges of marriage.


GOV. JODI RELL (R), CONNECTICUT: I have said all along that I believe in no discrimination of any kind. And I think that this bill accomplishes that, while at the same time preserving the traditional language that a marriage is between a man and a woman.


HEMMER: Supporters also say that legislation is historic because it was voluntarily passed rather than one through a court battle, such as the laws in Vermont and the state of Massachusetts -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about immigration laws now and how confusing they are, how confounding. Why are some illegals allowed to stay in this country and some not? Shouldn't they all be deported after what happened on 9/11? Well, thanks so so-called sanctuary laws, it's not always black and white.


COSTELLO (voice-over): A week and a half ago, Ming Kung Chen was where he wanted to be, in America and safely under the radar. But now his secret is out, and he's landed in the middle of a battle that's much bigger than just him.

JOHN C. LIU, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: People now know his status and his picture is plastered everywhere.

COSTELLO: His status: he's illegal. His bubble burst in the unluckiest of ways; he got stuck in an elevator for three-and-a-half days. Too afraid, some say, to push the emergency button, fearing it would bring police. Finally, he did hit the button and help came.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to thank everyone spend time look for him in the past four days. COSTELLO (on camera): Everyone agrees Chen's ordeal was horrible, but it also calls into question the country's confusing immigration laws. There are those who believe Chen should be kicked out of the country, especially now since immigration officials know he's illegal.

HEATHER MACDONALD, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: I think he should be deported. He's here illegally. He took his chances.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Heather MacDonald, who studies immigration issues with the Manhattan Institute, just testified before Congress on what's keeping Chen here, so-called sanctuary laws.

New York has one. It's called Executive Order 41. It forbids New York City agencies, including the police, from asking people their immigration status and sharing that information with federal agencies, including Homeland Security.

The order, signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, took effect nearly two years after 9/11, an attack carried out by terrorists, some of whom were in this country illegally.

New York City Councilman John Liu says the order is designed to make undocumented immigrants feel comfortable approaching police. He says it's unfair to compare Chen to the 9/11 hijackers.

(on camera): What makes them different from Ming? We don't know what his background is.

LIU: What makes them similar to Ming?

MACDONALD: You have to start enforcing the immigration laws and send the message that once you're inside the country you can't expect to be home free.

COSTELLO (voice-over): For now, Chen remains in hiding. He lost his delivery job. And as for whether he'll be deported, Homeland Security is undecided. In its words, he doesn't seem to be a threat.


COSTELLO: So what will happen now? Probably nothing. Chen says if he can find someone who will hire an undocumented worker he'll stay. But he needs a job, he has two children. He's been in this country two years. But now he's scared.

HEMMER: But -- and your story points out he's in hiding.

COSTELLO: Yes. He's scared that he will be deported even though he probably won't be.

HEMMER: What is the law? If he broke a law, what would happen then? Because he didn't break a law. He was a guy who got stranded.

COSTELLO: No, he just got trapped in an elevator. It was just like a freak accident. But if he had committed a crime, then they could ask his immigration status. And that information would be turned over to federal agencies. But only if he committed a crime here in New York City.

HEMMER: You've been in New York how long, about a year living here?


HEMMER: Do you find that there's incentive to go ahead and pursue these illegal immigrants or not?

COSTELLO: No, the city depends on them. These are people who deliver your food, who drive taxis. They're part of the culture here in New York City. And there's a big political base here that puts pressure on the proper people to make sure such sanctuary laws continue to exist.

HEMMER: In the meantime, our elevator guy is hiding.

COSTELLO: Oh, I know. It's just easy to feel sorry for him.

HEMMER: Thank you, Carol.

In a moment here, Oprah Winfrey calls them the role models of the world. Thanks to a very special pact, three guys from Jersey succeed in life beyond their wildest imaginations. Their incredible rags to riches story is next.

COSTELLO: Also, which university gives students the biggest bang for the buck? We've got the "Princeton Review's" list of America's best value colleges.

HEMMER: Also, Dennis Miller live in the studio this hour. From the new pope to Michael Jackson and much, much more, he has plenty to rant about. And he will. That's ahead this hour after this.


COSTELLO: There are promises and then there are promises. You're about to meet three friends who escaped the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey, in the 1980s by swearing to see one another through high school, college and then medical school.

Their story became a best-seller. It's being revamped now for young readers, titled, "We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success."

And the three doctors, Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt joins us now.

Welcome to all of you.




COSTELLO: What a story. It is not often that three people can remain friends for longer than one or two years. But you guys, you came up with this pact. Tell us a little bit about the pact itself and how it helped all of you achieve your dreams.

DAVIS: Well, I mean, the pact itself is just the basis of our friendship. The fact that we came together and bonded with one another and just went after our dreams was the fact that we just -- you know, we wanted to make more of your lives. And we did it as a team.

COSTELLO: So two of you met in the seventh grade, and then the other one hopped on later?


COSTELLO: Rameck -- Rameck, when did you hop on and why?

HUNT: Well, I met them later. They started in seventh grade. I actually met them when I entered the school in ninth grade. And then I met them and we had a lot of similarities, and so we kind of clicked.

And, you know, not only was it just like we liked to have fun together, but we also liked to do our work. So we were kind of in the middle. Those are guys that -- I mean, these were guys that, you know, that did the same kinds of things that I did, so it kind of worked.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask you about this, you know, and growing up on the mean streets. Because oftentimes education, being smart, getting good grades, isn't the popular thing to do. The other stuff is, the other stuff is rewarded. And you're made fun of for doing well in school.

How did you get past that?

JENKINS: Again, mostly all of the principles go back to our friendship. And that allowed us to be strong in those instances of peer pressure, where we encountered folks who thought that excelling was just not cool.

And when I would talk to Dr. Davis and Dr. Hunt about my grades, for once I found some folks who weren't laughing at me. And they were supportive. And we would collaborate to try to make sure that all of us attain that "A" as well. So it was neat supporting that work that we created.

COSTELLO: And I would think you'd want to pass that message along to young people, which is why you wrote this book, "We Beat the Street."

JENKINS: Absolutely. COSTELLO: So how do you tell young people that it's OK to excel, that it's -- to give them hope to get out of a rally bad environment?

HUNT: I think -- I think that's exactly what it is, to give them hope, to let them know that it can be done. And I think that's why it's important that, you know, we get this book out to as many people as we can, because we want to let them know that we've been through a let of things that they've been through, but we still were able to make it, and that they can, too.

And so we want to serve as those role models to show them that, you know, we've been in, you know, a lot of different situations, and we were able to overcome, with, you know perseverance, with our friendship, you know, but also knowing that we could do it and we had a goal in mind. And we went towards that goal.

COSTELLO: Well, you know what? When you tell young people your story and they look at you now, you're an adult, you look successful. Oftentimes they don't quite really believe you.

So how do you get through to them? Tell parents how to get through to their kids.

DAVIS: Right. I mean, the main thing we tell them is that we instill hope, you know. We tell them we believe in them. And once they realize that, like, we believe in them, and they see us as doctors, it's that concrete image that they can see themselves transcending into and becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

COSTELLO: But don't most of them want to be rappers and basketball stars because that's the glamorous life?

DAVIS: That's right. And that's what we have to do to education. We have to make education that glamour. We have to give it that style, so then our kids will start to see the magnification of it and start to walk towards that.

COSTELLO: That's a tall order, isn't it, making education glamorous?

JENKINS: But to be honest, it's the reality of the situation. Ninety-five percent of us as Americans are going to have to improve our quality of life using education.

So we just try to level with them and be realistic, because there's a fraction of us that are going to be able to make it in sports and entertainment. So we weigh the odds and help them understand the gamble.

And we took our gamble on education. And it's a more -- you know, your odds are in your favor in that regard. So we like to just talk to them and be realistic with them.

COSTELLO: Isn't it frustrating that the people in the forefront that are, you know, kind of telling their life story to our children are the Sean P. Diddy Combs, not guys like you, guys who are successful. I mean, he's successful, too, don't get me wrong. But he's in a whole a different realm because he has come up in the entertainment world, which -- which is really hard to do for anyone.

But you're really more realistic, you're more grounded. But kids never really hear those stories. How do you get it to the forefront?

HUNT: And that's what's important. And I think it's important for them to know that what George and Sam were saying that, you know, this is just as cool. And I think it's -- for us, it's important to let them know that we can relate to them.

We listen to the same music that they listen to. We -- we're in their culture. And so that's why our kids gravitate to us, because they see us as them. And we want to do it now while we're still young so we can get out there.

DAVIS: And that's why we put out that project, "We Beat the Streets, " so we can put out a form that they can use as a blueprint and they can see it. And it's one thing to talk about it, but to see real life people, once again, it just really put that touch to it.

And next year we can have the four astronauts, you know, the three lawyers, the five writers, you name it, so that kids can finally start to see that face to education.

COSTELLO: Thanks to all of you, Dr. Sampson Davis, Dr. George Jenkins, and Dr. Rameck Hunt. Thanks to all of you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

JENKINS: Thank you.

HUNT: Thank you.

COSTELLO: We appreciate it.

Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Carol. Thanks. Really nice story, too.

So an elephant walks into a restaurant. Honest. A startling trunk show ahead here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: If you didn't see this late yesterday in South Korea, elephants gone wild, charging into a restaurant in Seoul. Their first stop was the kitchen, apparently. Hungry elephants, they were. A waitress says she hid in a closet.

Six elephants broke free from a nearby amusement park. All of them recaptured. Police blame the incident on what they call careless zookeepers.

Look at them right there, huh?

COSTELLO: That was one careless zookeeper. Oh, my god, the elephants are free!

HEMMER: In fact, there was a camera inside that restaurant just waiting for them, too. That's from Seoul, Korea.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

HEMMER: How are you doing?

CAFFERTY: I'm doing good.

HEMMER: All right.

CAFFERTY: Inflation, interest rates are rising. Stock prices plunging, gas prices soaring and deficits out of control.

"The Washington Post" reports that all this going on while Congress remains preoccupied with the death of Terri Schiavo, the ethics of Tom DeLay and the fate of the Senate filibuster.

The only economic bill signed into law this year, restrictions on class action lawsuits and the rewrite of the bankruptcy laws. According to the latest "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, 48 percent of Americans think this economy of ours is getting worse.

So the question this morning is where should Congress -- what should Congress be doing about the economy?

Albert in Pennsylvania, "Congress should pass national health insurance. That would raise my income by $1,200 a month. I could then spend or invest that money."

Bill in Illinois, "Until there's a change in the makeup of Congress, I don't think much can or will be done about the economy. So far, everything Congress has done has been against the common voter, such as taking away individual rights and helping every special interest group that's willing to open their pocket books to those who are running the show."

Jim in Pennsylvania, "Congress wants us talking about Terri Schiavo and gay marriage. At least then we aren't talking about the real issues in America."

And Jerry in Texas writes, "Clean house in Washington and instead of flowers start planting beans, corn and potatoes in your back yard as a back-up plan."

He's not optimistic.


COSTELLO: A depressing view of the world.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

HEMMER: Thanks, Jack. COSTELLO: One of our guests might have a thing or two to say about Jack's "Question of the Day." Comedian Dennis Miller joins us live with his take on the latest headlines. That's just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: It is almost 9:30 here in New York. Good morning, everybody. I'm Bill Hemmer.

COSTELLO: I'm Carol Costello, in for Soledad this morning.

HEMMER: Get you the opening bell in a moment here. But first, big news in Michael Jackson's trial.

CNN learning that actor Macaulay Culkin is planning to testify on behalf of Jackson. Could he hold the key to keeping him out of prison? We'll have a look at that out of California in a moment.

COSTELLO: Also coming up, where can you go to get a good deal on a college education at this time of the year when college plans are finalized? We're going to talk to the editor of the "Princeton Review" about some of the real bargains out there.

HEMMER: There are some?

COSTELLO: Well, if a bargain is $39,000 a year.


COSTELLO: But he's going to tell us why that's such a bargain.

HEMMER: I got you.



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