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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Democratic Senator in Critical Condition; Search Continues For Missing Climbers in Oregon
Aired December 14, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And hi, everybody. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
There's important news coming into us all the time. And, tonight, we are choosing these top stories for a more in-depth look.
The "Top Story" in politics: Democratic control of the sudden -- Senate, that is -- suddenly in doubt. A Democratic senator is in critical condition tonight, after brain surgery. Will Republicans regain their political edge?
The "Top Story" in the "Security Watch": a new FBI terror warning -- the blind sheik, behind the first World Trade Center attack, in poor health. How will extremists react if he dies in prison?
And, then, on to the "Top Story" in survival -- this is an amazing one. A new sign of life? Searchers hear a signal from the cell phone of one of the missing climbers on Oregon's Mount Hood, as violent weather continues to pound the mountaintops there.
We begin with our "Top Story" in politics tonight: the critical hours after South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson's emergency surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. Johnson was the victim of an attack that kills thousands of Americans every year because of an inherited condition they may not even know they have.
Tonight, many are wondering whether Senator Johnson will ever be able to go back to work in the Senate.
For more on his recovery, let's go to medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.
And, for starters, Elizabeth, why don't you explain to us what happened to the senator?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened was that he suffered from an AVM. That's an arteriovenous malformation. That happens in the brain. As you mentioned, it happens to many people. His bled, which is not usually what happens.
But let's take a look. An arterio -- an AVM is a tangle of arteries and veins that can be there usually since birth. Sometimes, though, they bleed. It's never completely clear why some people have bleeds and other people don't. He is said to be in critically ill, but stable condition. His wife says that he actually responded to her voice after surgery, and reached out for her hand. Now, his bleed happened to happen in the area of the brain that controls speech. And you can hear it when he spoke to reporters yesterday on a -- on the radio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. TIM JOHNSON, (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: The money was -- was -- was proposed to be provided a year ago. Second, you know, it -- it -- just is -- is frustrating that -- and -- and -- and -- and...
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COHEN: These bleeds can have various effects. You could hear it in his speech. If it was in another part of his brain, it might have affected his physical functioning -- Paula.
ZAHN: So, Elizabeth, what are doctors saying about his prognosis and the possibility that he could ever go back to work?
COHEN: Studies actually show that most people do well after having one of these bleeds.
Let's take a look at the statistics that have shown up from big studies. What they find is that two-thirds of people who have bleeds from these AVMs, that two-thirds of them, two out of three patients, recover completely. One out of three patients die or suffer permanent neurological damage.
Now, a couple of notes here -- one, when we say recover completely, that doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't even happen in a matter of days. It happens in a matter of weeks or months. There's often physical therapy to get the person back up to where they used to be.
Now, why do some people recover well, while others don't? The main -- one of the -- there are many reason for that, but one of the many factors that -- that -- that factors in here in age. And the senator, at 59, is actually relatively young.
Another factor is, what was his health beforehand? His office says that he was in very, very good cardiovascular health beforehand, and that one of the reasons is that he suffered prostate years ago -- they caught it very early -- and his wife is a two-time cancer survivor, and that both of them got checked out very, very frequently. Their health was checked out. They went to the doctor as often as they should have, and that his wife always saw to it that he did that -- Paula.
ZAHN: Well, a lot of people rooting for him tonight.
Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for the update.
So, what does this all mean politically and for the control of the Senate?
Congressional correspondent Dana Bash has the very latest on that.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After spending most of the night at the hospital with his colleague, the incoming Senate majority leader tried to sound optimistic.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY-LEADER DESIGNATE: We're all praying for a full recovery. We're confident that will be the case.
BASH: The Capitol physician announced, surgery to remove blood from Senator Tim Johnson's brain was successful.
And, by the afternoon, former Senator Tom Daschle emerged from the hospital voicing confidence his friend would be able to return to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see him?
TOM DASCHLE (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It looks encouraging, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way he's going to give up his seat, I guess?
DASCHLE: No need to.
BASH: But there is still no information about the South Dakota Democrats' prognosis, so no relief from the uncertainty gripping the Capitol as to whether Senate Democrats will be able to hold onto the narrow majority they won in November.
The what-ifs are unavoidable. If Johnson's Democratic seat were to become vacant, South Dakota's governor, a Republican, would pick a replacement to serve out his term. If the GOP governor picked a fellow Republican, the Democrats would lose their 51-49 majority. The Senate would become evenly split, 50/50.
Since the vice president casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, Republicans would then be in control.
The Senate's Democratic leader dismissed any talk his party could lose power.
REID: There isn't a thing that's changed. The Republicans selected their committees yesterday. We have completed ours. The -- I have a very busy succeed today, going ahead and getting ready for the next year.
BASH: The fact is, the only way a governor can replace a sitting senator is if he dies or if he resigns.
JAMES THURBER, CENTER FOR CONGRESSIONAL AND PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES DIRECTOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Senators can serve indefinitely, even though they're gravely ill. We have had lots of examples of that. There's no way to legally remove them, unless they're convicted of high crimes and treason. BASH: In 1969, another South Dakota senator, Karl Mundt, suffered a stroke and refused to resign. He ended up serving four years without casting a vote.
The incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, had surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1988 and did not come to work for seven months.
BASH: Now, as for Republicans, they won't even touch the idea of taking control of the Senate because of Senator Johnson's illness. In fact, they won't even discuss it in private.
Paula, one GOP senator told us today, any discussion of replacing Johnson right now is -- quote -- "ghoulish" -- Paula.
ZAHN: Congressional correspondent Dana Bash, thanks.
Let's bring in our "Top Story" panel to talk about this now, Republican political consultant Reverend Joe Watkins, liberal Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, and Niger Innis, Republican strategist and spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.
Glad to have you all back together again.
ZAHN: All right, we heard what Dana just said, Rachel, that many of these people privately don't even want to talk about the ramifications of either the senator resigning or dying. But you have got to believe there are a lot of conversations going on right now that we're not privy to.
RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That's exactly right.
I mean, on my radio show tonight on Air America, I said, this is what I know about the medical situation; this is what we know about the political implications, and I don't even want to talk about them.
It does feel a little ghoulish to go into this, but the balance of the Senate potentially could be at hand here. I don't think we should take it as a given that -- that Governor Rounds, if called upon to replace Senator Johnson, would definitely pick a Republican.
ZAHN: All right.
MADDOW: That's the assumption, but is it?
REVEREND JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well -- well -- well -- well...
ZAHN: But let's look at the history.
It is -- it is not so much of an assumption, because we know, in the past, when he had to replace a state senator... MADDOW: Yes.
ZAHN: ... who was a Democrat, he, in fact, replaced him with a Republican.
ZAHN: Would that be betraying the voters of Tim...
WATKINS: Well, you got to say...
ZAHN: ... of Senator Johnson's...
WATKINS: I have just got to say that Republicans, this is not the way that we want to control the Senate.
I mean, I think every Republican senator, the president, the first lady, everybody in power, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they're all praying right now for Senator Johnson, and for his family, hoping for a speedy recovery for him. And -- and that -- that's what I'm doing, as well.
I -- I -- this is not the way for the Senate to change hands, clearly.
MADDOW: You know...
ZAHN: It is -- it is not the way for the Senate to change hands...
NIGER INNIS, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, THE CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: It's not.
ZAHN: ... everybody says, but...
ZAHN: But, clearly, people are making calculations, and they're having to do some jockeying for -- for position now, though...
INNIS: I -- I think...
ZAHN: ... just in the eventuality he doesn't recover.
INNIS: I think those that would say that they are not making calculations are probably lying on the Democratic side and the Republican side. And I agree with Joe completely, and with Rachel, that our hearts go out, and we're praying for his recovery, Senator Johnson's recovery.
But it -- the fact, as this goes on and on, I don't know that he is going to have the leeway that Senator Biden had. He was out for several months, I think eight months.
INNIS: You know?
So, I don't know that he is going to have that leniency. As we know, South Dakota is a very red state. It's a very Republican state. And there could be a lot of pressure locally, back at home, if he's not coming into the Senate, if he's not voting consistently.
MADDOW: I -- I can't believe that.
ZAHN: Wait. Hold on a second.
WATKINS: Well, the rules -- no, the rules -- the rules say...
ZAHN: Wait. Hold on.
WATKINS: ... that -- that you can't -- that he can stay indefinitely.
MADDOW: You can stay...
WATKINS: I mean, so, that's what the Senate rules say.
MADDOW: And there's...
WATKINS: So, from that standpoint, it...
WATKINS: That -- that can't change.
ZAHN: Yes. But, at some point in time, there will be some...
MADDOW: Well, there's...
ZAHN: ... pressure brought to bear.
MADDOW: There's even South Dakota history on this, in which a member of the Senate from South Dakota had a stroke, was gravely ill, didn't go back to work for more than two years.
Saying that there's something special about South Dakota that means that he can't invoke the rule of holding on to his seat until he resigns, I think, is a little ghoulish and weird.
WATKINS: No, no, no.
MADDOW: It's not going to happen.
MADDOW: The last time the voters of South Dakota got to decide whether they wanted a Democratic or Republican senator for this seat was in '02, when Senator Johnson was elected, when he last stood before the voters.
The governor of that state is going to have to basically give the voters of South Dakota a one-finger salute, and say: I don't care what you think. I'm going to do what I want for my party.
MADDOW: I'm not sure that we should assume Governor Rounds would do that.
INNIS: The question is not so much going to be on the governor.
The pressure -- and again, we're talking over several months. And, of course, the priority here is for his recovery, and Senator Johnson's full recovery. His family may decide that they don't want him to be on the sidelines. They would prefer that he spend time at home and fully recover.
But the pressure actually is going to be on the senators, I think, from -- from home, because I think people are going to say: We want a vote in the United States. We want to be represented by somebody...
INNIS: ... if not Senator Johnson, someone else.
ZAHN: So, in light of all the sensitivity surrounding it, how...
ZAHN: ... how do Republican and Democratic senators tiptoe around this now in the -- in the weeks and perhaps months to come?
INNIS: They're going to leave it alone for a while, yes.
WATKINS: Well, I think -- exactly right.
INNIS: They're going to leave it alone for a while.
ZAHN: They just don't touch it?
MADDOW: They have a lot of backroom conversations and no front- room conversations about it.
ZAHN: All right. Thank you.
I want you to stay right there, because we have got a lot more to come.
Next, our "Top Story" on the "Security Watch": The mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack gets sick in prison, and the FBI sends out a warning about what could happen if he dies.
And, then, a little bit later on, our "Top Story" in survival: Imagine being stranded in this kind of weather for four days, 90-mile- an-hour winds, the snow that just won't keep coming down. We will have the very latest on what may be a new sign of life from at least one of the three lost climbers on Oregon's Mount Hood.
ZAHN: We move on now to tonight's "Top Story" in the "Security Watch": a medical crisis for a powerful Muslim cleric convicted for inspiring the 1993 World Trade Center attack. It is triggering an FBI warning of possible attacks against the U.S.
Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve now joins us with some of the details.
Jeanne, what have you learned?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned for life for his part in a plot to -- in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the 1990s, is in ill health.
And that has prompted a warning from the FBI. The sheik, who was spiritual adviser to many Islamic extremists and who has close ties with al Qaeda, has, in the past, instructed his followers to stage revenge attacks on the U.S. when he dies.
The FBI says the sheik was hospitalized earlier this month for bleeding caused by a tear in his esophagus. And a tumor was then discovered on his liver. Rahman is now out of the hospital, in stable condition, according to prison officials.
And law enforcement says, at this time, there's no intelligence to suggest any attacks are being planned in connection with the sheik.
Meanwhile, another man once investigated for suspicion of terrorism has shocked law enforcement by fleeing the country. Remarkably, government officials are the ones who gave him the means to do so. And where he chose to go, one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
MESERVE (voice-over): MTV meets jihad, in a strange stew of rap, reggae, Western news footage and Islamic extremism.
MESERVE: This video, urging violence against the U.S., and others showing violence and demonstrating how to build a bomb, were, the government alleges, regular fair at a barbershop once located here in Seattle, Washington.
In court documents, prosecutors say conversations inside featured open support for jihad and talk of acquiring weapons.
The owner was Ruben Shumpert, an American, an ex-convert, and a convert to Islam.
(on camera): Do you think this guy posed a real threat?
DAVID GOMEZ, ASSISTANT SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE OF COUNTERTERRORISM, FBI: I do. I certainly do believe that he posed a threat to the security of the United States. These are some of the weapons that were involved in this case.
MESERVE (voice-over): After a sprawling two-year, multi-agency investigation, Shumpert and more than a dozen of his associates were arrested. Shumpert was charged with possessing one gun and passing counterfeit money.
But there was no terror-related charges against Shumpert or any of the others.
BILL REDKEY, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: I think the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do. And it nipped this one in the bud, before it could become more dangerous, and more imminently dangerous, to the rest of us.
MESERVE: But that's speculative.
REDKEY: It is. But that's the game we play these days. MESERVE (voice-over): Shumpert was released from jail to await sentencing. Then, just days before he was due back in court, a shocker.
GOMEZ: One of the case agents received a telephone call. Shumpert indicated that he was out of the country, and wasn't going to show up.
MESERVE: Shumpert said he was in Somalia. And authorities believe that's where he remains, well beyond their reach.
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Somalia, a chaotic and dangerous place, seething with anti-American and jihadist rhetoric. The State Department advises Americans to stay away.
Why Shumpert went there is a matter of debate. How he went is a story in itself.
MESERVE (on camera): Did he have a U.S. passport?
MESERVE: Was he supposed to have a U.S. passport?
MESERVE (voice-over): Surrendering his passport was a precondition for Shumpert's release from jail, but no one ever forced him to give it up.
Officials say it was up to Shumpert, an ex-convict, Shumpert, a man prosecutors felt was a flight risk, Shumpert, a person law enforcement judged to be a threat to the country and its citizens, to voluntarily hand his passport in. He never did.
The U.S. attorney admits it was a mistake, but says Shumpert could have crossed the nearby border to Canada and traveled without it.
(on camera): Shumpert's mother refused to talk on camera, because she's afraid she will be harassed, or even harmed. But she's adamant her son is not a terrorist.
(voice-over): She compares Shumpert's barbershop to the movie "Barbershop," where there was freewheeling discussion on many topics, including religion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BARBERSHOP")
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, ACTOR: You can talk about whoever and whatever whenever you want to in the barbershop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Two former customers agree.
JONATHAN SMITH, BARBERSHOP PATRON: He was a well-respected person in the community. And I'm not even Muslim. You know what I'm saying?
MESERVE (on camera): He was no terrorist, as far as you're concerned?
SMITH: No terrorist, to me.
SHAWN WILLIAMS, BARBERSHOP PATRON: I never seen nothing dealing with any destruction or anything with terror, nor anything that -- that, you know, says -- that is harmful for humanity.
MESERVE: In a letter to the court, Shumpert said he did play anti-American videos, but to educate Muslims to reject jihad. He had, he wrote, "joined the fight against this evil ideology."
Though terrorism charges were never filed, government court document were replete with references to jihad. Shumpert's lawyer speculates, that is why his client fled.
JIM VONASCH, ATTORNEY FOR RUBEN SHUMPERT: I think that he became upset by the fact that the government's memorandum mentioned these connections to terrorism. And he felt that that was unfair.
MESERVE: But the government says Shumpert has now shown his colors by his actions, fleeing to Somalia, and by his words.
In a second phone call from Africa, Shumpert allegedly told an FBI agent that he and his Muslim associates would "destroy everything the United States stood for."
ZAHN: So, the government acknowledged to you, Jeanne, that they made a mistake here in allowing Shumpert to keep his passport, which, you know, I think any of us hearing it for the first time are absolutely outraged by.
Who is to blame for that?
MESERVE: Well, everybody agrees that, first and foremost, it was up to Shumpert to surrender it.
However, prosecutors say that pretrial services at the district court should have followed up with him. Pretrial services, on the other hand, says: No, we did it by the book.
They are, however, reviewing things, just to make sure. In the meantime, Shumpert, of course, is in Somalia.
ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve, thank you -- fascinating story.
When we come back, we're going to have more reaction to our specials this week on hidden racism in America. We're going to take you back to that East Texas town of Vidor, where many people are very angry over the portrayal of their community.
Also, our "Top Story" in survival tonight: Is there a sign of life from three climbers stranded on Oregon's Mount Hood for four days now? How can they survive brutal weather like this that is expected to continue through Saturday?
ZAHN: We have more reaction for you tonight from our specials this week, "Skin-Deep: Racism in America."
One of our stories focused on the East Texas town of Vidor, once known as a sundown town, where blacks were once warned they were not welcome at night.
Well, that was decades ago. And we sent our Keith Oppenheim to see if things have changed in Vidor. But, on Tuesday, because of what was claimed to be a technical glitch, on one in Vidor saw the piece. Everybody in the rest of the country did. So, last night, we ran it again.
And, after seeing our report, we got a lot of e-mail.
Jonathan Pickering (ph) of Vidor wrote: "There are clearly racist people in any town. The majority of citizens in Vidor, Texas, would be happy to have an African-American or person of any other race to be their neighbor."
But there was this from Richard in nearby Port Arthur, Texas: "There is still racism in Vidor. I have been threatened the two times I stopped through there. And, one time, I was so scared, I didn't get out of my car."
Let's get more reaction from Vidor now.
Keith Oppenheim joins me live.
Keith, what else did you hear today?
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction to the story, Paula, was very intense. To be sure, there are white and African-Americans who live in this area, and saw our coverage, and thought it was fair.
But there seems to be more who felt that the story was an attack on Vidor's reputation and focused on things that happened long ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not racists.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): I got an earful from Joanne (ph) Foster and her brother Bill as we sat in a Vidor cafe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to move here and live our lives, because you're reporting on something you know absolutely nothing about.
OPPENHEIM: Our story on Vidor, Texas, depicted a place with very few African-American residents, a place that, in the '50s and '60s, was known as sundown town, where African-Americans were warned not to be caught after dark.
The piece also looked at Vidor's past reputation as a haven for the Ku Klux Klan. Some said, those days are long gone.
BILL FOSTER, RESIDENT OF VIDOR, TEXAS: You know, when the Klan came in, the citizens literally chased them out. There -- there is no Klan in Vidor.
OPPENHEIM: And our story included perceptions currently held by some blacks that Vidor is unwelcoming.
Bill Foster (ph) said, media stories like ours perpetuate a myth.
FOSTER: So, you have people who have never been to Vidor, but they are scared of Vidor, because of ancient stories from years ago that are no longer applicable to this town.
OPPENHEIM: What got some residents particularly mad was an interview in our story with a Vidor resident who said she wanted separation from blacks.
PEGGY FRUGE, RESIDENT OF VIDOR, TEXAS: But, as far as mingling and eating with them and all that kind of stuff, I mean, that's where I draw the line.
BEAMON MINTON, ORANGE COUNTY, TEXAS, COMMISSIONER: That lady was not the typical Vidorian. I don't know how many other people you interviewed, but that was played up. That was a very negative approach to Vidor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me, I thought it was pretty reasonable.
OPPENHEIM: Brenda Hamm (ph) says, she has lived in Vidor for six years, and agreed with my reporting. She and other residents, both black and white, said our story was an accurate portrayal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I don't see what you all did was wrong.
OPPENHEIM: Henry Lowe lives near Vidor, in Orange, Texas.
HENRY LOWE, RESIDENT OF ORANGE COUNTY, TEXAS: Vidor may feel like it -- it -- it was picked on, but its past gave a legitimate reason to come back and see if things have changed.
ZAHN: And, last night, Keith, we had the mayor of Vidor on. And he tried to describe how much he thinks the town has changed over the last 20, 30 years. And he told me that he did not think the Klan was active at all in the area. What are you being told by residents you have talked with?
OPPENHEIM: Well, residents in the area, Paula, a few say that they believe that the Klan still exists in Vidor and other towns nearby.
But more people told us that they feel that the Klan has targeted Vidor over the years, that, when there have been the rallies that have taken place in Vidor, the few that did take place, they believe that the marchers who came were not necessarily from Vidor, but came from other parts of Texas or from other parts of the U.S., and came here to stir up trouble.
ZAHN: Keith Oppenheim, thanks so much.
Coming up next, our focus stays on racism in America. We have talked a lot about white-on-black racism, but what about the other way around?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AUTUM ASHANTE, POET: "Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan, and Darwin."
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What did you mean by that?
ASHANTE: Because they robbed, raped and murdered our people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: The story of an 8-year-old poet accused of being a racist.
And, then, a little bit later on; Could you survive four days stranded 7,000 feet up, with 130-mile-an-hour winds? The latest on the desperate search tonight for the three lost climbers on Oregon's Mount Hood.
ZAHN: This week, we've been talking a lot about racism in America. And you're about to see how a simple poem set off a firestorm of controversy, a poem by an eight-year-old schoolgirl. That's right, eight-years-old. She calls herself a mighty black woman. Well she certainly set off a mighty big storm in a story we first aired earlier this year. Jason Carroll reports on a young poet who some people have called racist.
AUTUM ASHANTE, POET: I am misunderstood by many.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Most girls her age are still learning to read and write. But seven-year-old Autum Ashante is recording her spoken word poetry CD.
A. ASHANTE: I am the mighty black woman. CARROLL: She has already performed at the Apollo Theater.
A. ASHANTE: I said do not pollute (ph) our God (INAUDIBLE).
CARROLL: And on black entertainment television's Hurricane Katrina relief telethon. Critics have called her a child prodigy, praising her socially conscience poems. But some say that this little girl is spewing racism, with her poetry.
A. ASHANTE: I mean, I'm not a racist and I'm very young to be a racist, wouldn't you say?
CARROLL: But students at Peekskill Middle School and High School in New York were offended by her poem titled "White Nationalism Put You In Bondage." The offense, Autum referring to Christopher Columbus, Charles Darwin and Captain Henry Morgan as vampires in her poem.
A. ASHANTE: Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan and Darwin.
CARROLL: What did you mean by that, because I'd like to know in terms of referring to them as vampires?
A. ASHANTE: Because they robbed, raped and murdered our people.
CARROLL: Autum's attempt at raising black awareness did not end with just a poem. It began when she told all the black students in the multi-cultural audience to stand while she read the "Black Child's Pledge," which was originally created by a member of the Black Panthers. She told all the white students that it wasn't for them. That they should sit down.
ALICIA PUCCI, PEEKSKILL H.S. STUDENT: It was a little shocking at first. A seven-year-old telling us to sit down.
CARROLL: The school's superintendent sent apologies after students and parents complained. Autum has been the subject of editorials and radio talk shows. Many of Autum's critics believe her father is behind her words.
BATIN ASHANTE, AUTUM'S FATHER: Put your answer there.
CARROLL: Autum, who is home-schooled, says she wrote the poem after being inspired by a documentary.
If a white student stood up and said that this is for white students only ...
B. ASHANTE: If it was under the circumstance. If it was under the same circumstance.
CARROLL: Let me finish the question. Let me finish the question.
Her father, Batin, just off camera, interrupted several times. B. ASHANTE: And I'm a soccer parent. We just do poetry theater.
CARROLL: Her father says he teaches his daughter, but does not tell her what to write.
What do you teach Autum about tolerance?
B. ASHANTE: We -- tolerance is -- tolerance. We are here with no power in America. We are tolerance.
CARROLL: Even people without power, though, can be intolerant.
B. ASHANTE: We're not intolerant of who? I don't want you to take this story here and try to turn this thing into that she's being taught here at home because that's not what we about here. We are spiritual beings.
CARROLL: Despite the controversy, Autum is, at times, a typical eight-year-old girl.
A. ASHANTE: Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Girls go to college to get more knowledge. Hey, girls.
CARROLL: Except when it comes to defending her poem on white nationalism.
A. ASHANTE: I'm going to continue saying that poem mostly until I die. But here I stand.
CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Peekskill, New York.
ZAHN: So is what you just listened to poetry, spirituality, racism, all three? We turn to our top story panel once more, Republican consultant Reverend Joe Watkins, liberal Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, Republican strategist and Congress of Racial Equality Spokesman Niger Innis.
Welcome back. How do you think the average white person would react to what Autum is saying there. Is it racist, Rachel?
MADDOW: Well, I mean, I don't know if we'd call it racist. I think she's an eight-year-old poet, and that's kind of impressive on its own front. If we look at the idea that white racism has a mirror in black racism, and in order to find it, we have to go to an eight- year-old girl who is a poet, I have a sense that we're not really talking about equal and opposite actions on both sides, you know what I mean?
ZAHN: But a lot of folks in our audience would say you don't have to equate it to an eight-year-old, because there are a lot of examples of racism directed from blacks to whites, and this is just an example of what they perceive as a racist kid.
MADDOW: What she's doing is ostentatiously and directly and deliberately confrontational. She's trying to make people uncomfortable about race. She's does that as a poet, she's eight- years-old.
WATKINS: I think this kind of behavior is learned. I mean, she hasn't had enough life experiences at the age of eight age to really be able to talk about all the stuff that she's talking about. She's a very bright girl obviously, very articulate, very creative girl. But this is dad.
ZAHN: Do you think she's learned not to like white people a whole lot? Is that what you heard?
WATKINS: Well, I think so. Not to not like white people, but I think that her line of thinking comes from her father.
ZAHN: All right. Let's go on to some e-mails from last night, that I want you all to touch upon. This one came from Jennifer in New York City. "Why do the media always bring up the KKK when discussing racism? What about showing Nation of Islam meetings or the Black Panthers? Blacks are just as racist as whites."
Can you equate the Black Panthers to the KKK? Can you equate the Nation of Islam to the KKK?
INNIS: I think those comparisons are dangerous. But I think there's no question if Autum Ashante's name was Autum Duke, instead of Autum Ashante and she said to all the black kids in the audience, we want you all to sit down while I give you a poem on how you're black ancestors in Africa sold you to white slave traders, I think we would have no question that it was racism.
I actually think this poor little girl Autum is a victim of child abuse by her father. I agree with Joe. She's a victim of child abuse. She's a cute, very bright, articulate young little girl. But quite frankly, she's more of a danger in this radical sheik that been around, this extreme radical sheik that has kind of been around, this extreme radical sheik that has been around in the black community since the '60s is actually more oppressive to blacks in this sense.
We have made a lot of progress in this country in terms of race relations. So much so that you've got you got people from all around the world, all different colors, including blacks that are desperately trying to get in to maximize that new opportunity. And she is putting blacks in a position, not she, her father, through her. Admiring them in the past, admiring them and essentially always seeing ourselves as victims. The glass half empty as opposed to half full.
ZAHN: Let's move on to another e-mail. This one from Kathleen in Smyrna, Georgia. "I watched both nights about your special. I found it to be extremely interesting. I do however feel that focusing more than one night on racism however, further justifies for blacks to feel that the world is against them."
There are a lot of people that feel that way. That this racism thing is hyped and promotes a culture of victimhood. WATKINS: Well you know, what I said last night I still believe in my heart, which is to say that we do have problems in this country, there's no doubt. This is the greatest country in the world, but we have problems. here.
ZAHN: But address that specifically, promoting victimhood. I mean, even Bill Cosby ticked a lot of people off in the black community.
WATKINS: I love what Bill Cosby is doing. I love what Bill Cosby -- I think Bill Cosby has got it right. The whole idea is to understand our history, to know the history of America, to know its warts as well as the wonderful things that have happened here. And to not make the same mistakes going forward. And then to move forward, this is the 21st century. We have an opportunity to continue to bring forth the change by the way we treat other people.
ZAHN: Is there too much a culture of victim hood?
MADDOW: No. In talking about the fact there is racism does not create racism. It is not the same thing. It's acknowledging something that is here. And if we pretend that it's not here by not talking about, then something happens like the response to Hurricane Katrina or the killing of Sean Bell, or something happens that everybody acknowledges is absolutely inflected by the history of racism and race relations in the country and we have to talk about.
ZAHN: Sean Bell is the case of the young man who was killed in New York by police officers. And there was no indication...
WATKINS: ... Some of whom were black.
MADDOW: Wait wait wait. You cannot say that the response to the killing of Sean Bell is not inflected by race in America. There was not an uprising in Queens where all of Queens marched about it. It was a response in the black community in New York to that shooting because of the history of police relations with the black community. That's real.
INNIS: I think when we talk about race in the country, we look at it through the microscope and we look at it through these one, isolated incidents, and we blow a lot out of proportion. I think it's important for us really look at the macro picture in terms of race relations and look at where we are today versus where we've come. I just came away from seeing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Hello, that wouldn't have existed in 1956.
ZAHN: All right, well we're going to continue to look a lot at this issue in the days to come. Reverend Joe Watkins, Rachel Maddow, Niger Innis, thank you all. Appreciate it.
Just ahead, our top legal story tonight. What does the Bush administration have against blind people? The battle at federal court over changing the nation's currency so blind people can tell a hundred from a single. And we'll go live to Oregon, where the desperate hunt goes on for three climbers who have been missing for four days on Mt. Hood. Can they survive weather worse than this?
ZAHN: Our top legal story tonight. How do you count what you can't even see? Well, the Bush administration is fighting hard against a court ruling to make it easier for the blind to tell the difference between a $1 bill, $100 bill and everything in between.
According to the government, the problem is, changing all those bills could cost the rest of us hundreds of millions of dollars. Here's Deborah Feyerick.
MARC GROSSMAN, LEGALLY BLIND: Pay here or pay down there?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine handing over a $20 bill and having no idea if you're getting back the right change.
GROSSMAN: This is a five? And this is a 10? OK, great. Thank you very much.
FEYERICK: This is what Marc Grossman goes through every time he pays in cash.
Like more than a million Americans, Grossman is legally blind. And every cash transaction is a risk. Grossman says he heard stories of visually impaired people being ripped off by dishonest sales people.
Remember this scene from the movie "Ray?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, 10, 15, 20.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, would you like to start counting that again?
FEYERICK: Grossman doesn't think it's happened to him, but he says he doesn't know for sure.
GROSSMAN: We need to have some way to identify money so that we can live independent lives without having to rely on sighted assistance.
FEYERICK: It certainly made sense to one federal judge, who recently ordered the U.S. Treasury to show blind people the money -- possibly by changing the size of each bill or adding texture to reflect the dollar amount, the same way blind people identify coins.
GROSSMAN: Now, if I hand you this coin...
FEYERICK (on camera): This is smooth, so I know that this is a nickel.
(voice-over): But this week, Treasury officials appealed the ruling, arguing it would cost upwards of $300 million to make the changes, and that it would force the revamping of things like ATMs and vending machines.
(on camera): This travel exchange in Times Square handles currency from all different countries, and there are about 180 that print their own paper money.
Take a look. This is the pound. This is the peso, and here you've got the euro. All different sizes to reflect the different denominations. Only U.S. currency is the same size for each dollar amount.
JEFFREY LOVITKY, ATTORNEY, AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND: Blind people in the United States have simply been deprived.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Jeffrey Lovitky represents the American Council of the Blind, the organization that brought the lawsuit and has been trying for more than three decades to change U.S. currency sizes.
LOVITKY: People with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. I think that's all that is being asked for in this case.
FEYERICK: Lovitky says it is incomprehensible that the Treasury Department won't help blind people, especially since it plans to make bill changes anyway every seven to nine years to stop counterfeiters.
As for Marc Grossman?
GROSSMAN: What are these two? These are singles?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're dollar bills.
FEYERICK: He's figured out a system of folding his bills to know what he spends.
GROSSMAN: And this is 10?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
GROSSMAN: Excellent. Thank you very much.
FEYERICK: But when it comes to the change, he relies on blind faith.
ZAHN: So, Deborah, where does this fight go next? And how far will the American Council of the Blind take this?
FEYERICK: They're going to try to take it all the way. It's been three decades since they've been asking for dollar bills to be changed. The Treasury is appealing, but still, on January 5th, they've got to come and basically figure out what they are going to do to change the size and shape of money.
ZAHN: I've got to tell you, you are my heroine tonight. We made her sprint a half-mile and sent her to the wrong studio. The reason she's out of breath is that she literally got here two seconds before we could have -- so this story is a very important for all of us to have seen.
Thanks for doing that, sprint for us tonight. Deborah Feyerick. Next time, we'll tell you where we're going to be.
Speaking of money, time now for a quick biz break. A Santa Claus rally on Wall Street sends stocks soaring. The Dow closed at a new record high, only a fraction away from gaining 100 points. The Nasdaq picked up 21 points, and the S&P jumped up 12 points to a six-year high.
Big investment banks reporting big earnings. Bear Sterns reports a 38 percent spike in fourth-quarter products. Lehman Brothers came through with a 22 percent jump in fourth-quarter profits.
Discount chain Costco also scored big, with a 10 percent increase in profits this quarter over a year ago and a 4 percent increase in same-store sales.
Coming up next, a top story in survival, the urgent search for three lost mountain climbers. Brutal winter weather is setting in tonight on Oregon's Mt. Hood. Can these hikers survive? And is a brief cell phone signal the key to finding them?
ZAHN: Tonight's top survival stories going on right now in one of the most treacherous places for anyone to be during winter. Rescue crews on Oregon's Mt. Hood are making almost a superhuman effort to locate three climbers missing since Sunday.
Tonight, a major storm is sweeping the mountain with snow and freezing rain. But now, there's an intriguing reason to believe that at least one of the men may still be alive.
Dan Simon has been covering the story.
He joins us from Park Dale Oregon.
And I assume the sign is the cell phone contact that was made. Help us better understand what the rescuers think this might mean.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Paula.
Well, today there was a lot of talk about cell phones and pings. And today authorities told us that on Tuesday morning, the cell phone of one of the missing climbers, Kelly James, emitted one these pings. And from the family's point of view, that is a very positive sign. They believe that he's actually turning on and turning off the cell phone, that he has the presence of mine to do that.
But keep in mind, authorities say they really can't tell that. But, you know, from the family's point of view, they're trying to look at this in the most positive light.
The main story today though, Paula, is the weather. The wind is over 100 miles an hour. The elements are so punishing, so unrelenting, that crews simply could not do anything today. They were basically hunkered down at their base camp and are waiting for this weather to clear, Paula.
ZAHN: And realistically, when might that be?
SIMON: They're talking this weekend, hopefully. And in terms of where these climbers are, we know that Kelly James called his family on Sunday, said he was holed up in a snow cave. And the family still believes he is there and that he's still alive.
As far as these other two climbers, we know that Kelly James said that those two had gone to look for help. But at this point, rescuers have no idea where those two other climbers might be, Paula.
ZAHN: And do we have any idea at all what these climbers may have been carrying with them? How much water, they might have had, how much food? I know they were all pretty experienced outdoorsmen.
SIMON: Very experienced climbers. And as a matter of fact, I asked that same question today at the press conference. And they honestly said they have no idea.
We do know that this was intended to be a very short outing, meaning they planned to reach the summit in only one day and descend the next day. So we know that they could not have had all of that much with them, given the fact they wanted to do this so quickly. But in terms of how much food and water, we really don't know, Paula.
ZAHN: Well, it has been amazing to watch the rescue effort from here, Dan. I know you had the opportunity to talk with a lot of those workers. But to know even that -- even the rescuers now are sort of stranded, in some respects, at 6,000 feet because the weather is holding them in and slowing them down.
SIMON: Yes, everyone just hoping that the weather clears this Saturday. You know, these rescuers are frustrated. You know, they're trained to do these kind of searches. And for them to just sit and just wait is frustrating for them and frustrating for everybody, Paula.
ZAHN: We hope they get a break early in the weekend.
Dan Simon, thanks so much.
And we are going to shift gears right now and find out what happens when someone who's made their name in front of the camera decides it's time for a second act offscreen.
Ali Velshi has tonight's "Life After Work".
PHOEBE CATES, ACTRESS: Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Far from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", or facing down gremlins, Phoebe Cates is playing a very different role these days.
CATES: I really wanted to work again. And so, acting was not going to be the choice for me. The hours are too long, the travel s to much, and I just felt like I've kind of done it.
VELSHI: Cates quit acting 12 years ago to stay at home with her two kids and her husband, actor Kevin Kline.
But last year she came out of retirement to open a store in New York, called Blue Tree.
CATES: Blue Tree is department boutique. And that's really what it is. It's a two-story store that offers little departments for everything, from home to kids, toys, gifts, clothing.
VELSHI: Blue Tree is Cates' idea of a neighborhood store.
CATES: Little vintage bronze dinosaurs, stress balls from Japan.
VELSHI: And she's every bit the hands-on boss, from managing her staff...
CATES: Jot down things when you can, especially if you know it was, like, your sale..
VELSHI: ... to meeting with vendors.
CATES: That's a good question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm...
VELSHI: Phoebe Cates is basically your typical small business owner.
CATES: I think the thing I learned the most was that I underestimated my own ability to run the actual business side of it, because I actually like it. I'm surprised. But I like it.
VELSHI: And after being open a year, Cates says her customers are liking it too. She expects to turn her first profit at the end of the holiday season. She looks happy, but does she ever miss acting?
CATES: I did do a reading, just as a favor, to hear a screenplay aloud and really didn't enjoy it. I just kept thinking, like, I've got to get back to my customers. So, yes, I guess the answer is, no. I don't really miss it.
VELSHI: Ali Velshi, CNN.
ZAHN: She sounded very nice.
Coming up at the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE". Larry takes on the new report on the death of Princess Diana. Did the U.S. really bug her phone the night she died? Larry's guests include former royal insiders.
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight.
Thanks so much for joining us.
We will be back, same time, same place tomorrow night as we wrap up the week. We hope you join us then.
Thanks again for joining us tonight.
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