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Getting Hotter `Round the World; A Boot Camp for Six-Years-Olds in China; Imagining a World Where Everyone Is An Arab

Aired August 9, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN HOST: Good evening, and welcome to the program. I'm Ali Velshi, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Well, the big news here in the United States yesterday was that this July was the hottest ever recorded. So tonight, let's take a look at the rest of the world.

This map comes from scientists at NOAA, America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now look at all the red dots. Those are all the places where it's getting hotter. The bigger the red dot, the higher the temperature.

And of course global climate change doesn't just mean hotter. It means we should see all kinds of extreme weather events -- and we are, from floods to droughts to brush fires to melting glaciers.

So you have to ask the question, is this what global climate change looks like? NOAA says, yes, it is. Climate scientists now report, for the first time, evidence of a clear link between these weather events and the phenomenon known as manmade climate change.

And it's likely that at least some of this summer's extreme weather, from the droughts in the middle of America to the flooding in China, will be linked to manmade climate change as well.

Under normal circumstances, look at this. We would expect to see about the same number of record hot days and record cool days.

That's what you'd see on the left. But the hot days this year outnumber the cold days 90 to 10. In other words, if the planet were a casino, humans would get kicked off the craps table. And we're going to take a closer look at climate change. But first, here's what's coming up later in the program.


VELSHI (voice-over): A boot camp for 6-year olds, where China's future Olympians are born. Is the price of gold too high?

And imagine a world where everyone is an Arab. An artist has fun with the famous and the powerful, but his message of tolerance is deadly serious.


VELSHI: We'll get to all that in a bit, but first, Chad Myers, CNN's worldwide expert on severe weather, and he is having an extremely busy summer.

Welcome to the show, my good friend. Tell us what you think is going on here.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we've got a couple things going on, Ali. We have a big dip in the jet stream in places in the world where it's cooler than normal, and a big rise in the jet stream, a big push to the north in the Northern Hemisphere over North America. That has caused literally catastrophic crop damage across parts of the U.S.

Temperatures have gone up this year. We are now up to our averaging in June and July 77.6 degrees and the average. That number down at the bottom is actually average, 74.3. The old record in 1936 on my graphic right here, which is actually correct, is 77.4. That's the correct number. We are now warmer.

We are warmer than we were back in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. So that's what happens. Remember it didn't rain in Dust Bowl in the United States in the `30s. So there was no moisture on the ground. When there's no moisture on the ground, you don't get clouds. When you don't get clouds, you don't get rain.

So the hot and the dry go together all the time. The cool and the wet also go together. In the tropics, it doesn't get to 100 degrees. You've never seen temperatures in Venezuela at 100 degrees because as soon as it gets to 80, it rains.

VELSHI: Right, and cools it down.

MYERS: -- tropical. Yes, and it -- but the humidity is 100 percent, but you don't get temperatures 110, 118. We had a temperature in Death Valley in the U.S. out in California. It was 126 degrees.

VELSHI: Right, Death Valley is usually going to be one of the hotter places going, but that kind of number's unusual. This is affecting crops. It's according -- affecting the price of food. Obviously, the price of corn goes up around the world, the price of rice goes up, so that increases the chance of famine. So there's a lot of wide-ranging effects of this kind of weather.

MYERS: Certainly is. It's all about what we call the drought here in the U.S. And it was a flash drought. Think about a flash flood. We use that term in the U.S. for a flood that comes up very, very quickly.

This drought also came up very quickly. The spring was perfect. Planting season was perfect. All of a sudden, when the crops decided to get growing, it stopped raining everywhere. And the drought, all those red areas, all those yellow areas across the middle part of the country -- and Ali, that's what we call the bread basket of America, that's the place that grows the crops.

Here's what we have right now. Fifty percent of the U.S. corn crop, a lot of it gets exported. I mean, this goes all over the world to feed people all over the world. Fifty percent is poor to very poor. Poor to very poor means you're losing yield. You might lose 50 percent of the yield. So a field that could get 150 bushels an acre may only get 60 or 70.

That is catastrophic to the amount of corn, the amount of wheat, the amount of beans. Now remember, there's another thing going on here, America planted a lot of corn because we make ethanol from corn. Go down to Brazil, they make ethanol from sugar cane. We make it from corn. Our corn prices were very high because of that.

Farmers decided to plant corn in places they probably should have planted a lesser water-needing plant, like a soybean. So we put all of this land into crops, (inaudible) corn. Corn requires water. It didn't rain. We had a --


VELSHI: So you say 50 percent poor to very poor. Normally that would be about 11 percent. It maybe would get up to 15 percent. So we're several times as bad as we normally would be. I'm on my way to Asia tomorrow.

And all I'm hearing about in Asia is weather reports of endless rain, flooding, flash flooding. We're watching the Olympics. We're watching tennis and we've got people with umbrellas on. So one side, you're telling me about all this drought and the world's getting hotter and warmer, and yet we're seeing rain, endless rain in other parts of the world.

MYERS: It is the wettest June, July, even April, putting it all together, in the U.K. ever. They've never seen this much rain. They canceled concerts. The -- during the Queen's Jubilee, the Prince got pneumonia, it was so cold and rainy outside.

And so all of us -- here are pictures of Wimbledon, rain. It's hard to play outside on a grass court when it's raining all the time. They have had a mess there in the U.K. At least it has slowed down a little bit for the Olympics.

We really haven't had big sloshing rains. They had -- some places had 5" and 10" of rainfall in just one day. Seventy-five reports of flooding, reports of warnings across parts of the U.K. in one day, just unheard of rainfall. And I understand it's the wet season, but not double what you should have.


VELSHI: So what's the correlation here --

MYERS: -- since 19 --

VELSHI: What's the correlation between the fact that America's hot and dry and other parts of the world are overly wet? And yet we're still saying this has got to do with climate change?

MYERS: We don't know. I'm going to tell you that very honestly. We don't have enough years of data, enough years of satellite, enough years of understanding La Nina/El Nino, which is the Pacific Ocean phenomenon, where the Pacific Ocean is warm across South America or is the Pacific Ocean warm near Australia and into Indonesia? It depends on which way the wind blows.

And if the wind blows toward Indonesia, that top layer of water, Ali, that warmest layer of water gets pushed to Indonesia. And that makes a warm pool of water over there. If you get the other way, the wind blowing toward the Americas, that warm pool of water -- this takes a long time.

It isn't like overnight. This takes months and months and months to develop. But when you switch from one to the other, and the winds kind of go slack, you do get these just random changes that are well --

VELSHI: And we see --

MYERS: -- way outside the parameters.

VELSHI: -- we've seen a bunch of typhoons in Asia. We've also now just had a new update on the number of hurricanes. That's expected to be higher. That's got something to do with the temperature of the water.

MYERS: It certainly does. It also has to do -- we had a Florence -- we had a very impressive Hurricane Florence, or it was going to be Hurricane Florence, in the Atlantic Ocean, a giant dust storm blew off Africa and literally killed that potential big hurricane.

And so it literally went away because the dust got in the way of the hurricane, covered it up. And it -- hurricanes don't like wind, either. They want to be all by themselves with no wind.

But this year, we're still going to get, I think, we'll get all the way up maybe even toward M or N for names, names predicting somewhere between two and three storms above 110 mph. That's 160 or so kilometers per hour. Those are big storms.

VELSHI: Answer me this, then. In your world of meteorologists and weather experts and the people you talk to, is there a difference -- if we have now -- if there are more and more people, including NOAA, making the link between manmade activity and climate change, does that change anything in the way we look at it?

Now I'm talking about behavior and government regulation. I'm saying does that shed new light for you on what might be happening?

MYERS: It sheds new light, Ali, because long time ago, 20 years ago, I owned a couple of farms in that bread basket of America. And I knew what to plant. And I knew what was going to happen, because I had an irrigated farm. We took water from the ground. We pumped it to our corn. Our corn made 170 bushels per acre, just a lot -- an awful lot of corn.

You can't get that now if you're going to plant it in dry land and plant it in the wrong places. If we have more years like this, this is going to look an awful lot like the `30s, where America literally didn't have any crops growing whatsoever.

VELSHI: And then you have people --

MYERS: -- done some things to mitigate that, but not enough.

VELSHI: By then, you get people who get up and they have to move -- that corn we were just showing on TV, it looks like it was attacked by insects. That's not true. That is shriveled corn because every time it can't get the water it needs, a kernel pops and dries up and that's what you see when corn can't get the water it needs.

Chad, always my pleasure to be with you, my friend. Chad Myers in our weather center in Atlanta.

MYERS: Good to be with you, Ali.

VELSHI: And while global warming remains a political hot potato, we can all agree on one thing. The Olympics brings out the best in people and their countries, right? Well, before you answer, think about this. Stay with us for a walk on the dark side of sports.

But first, take a look at this picture. That is an aerial view of Coney Island in Brooklyn. It's a little crowded, as you can see, but it's one way New Yorkers are trying to beat the heat in the hottest year on record. I'll be right back.



VELSHI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Ali Velshi, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. And now we turn our attention to the Olympics. One of the big stories of this Olympics has been the Chinese medal dominance. Their quest to win gold so far has been highly successful. China now leads the world with a total of 36 gold medals. But behind all the glory is a whole lot of pain.

Look at this video. It illustrates how Chinese athletes are trained. These are children, plucked from their homes, taken away from their parents at ages as young as 6. They are sent to state-run athletic camps, where training -- not education, training -- is the number one priority. Some Chinese athletes train so hard they rarely see their families.

Listen to this. When the parents of weight lifter Lin King Feng (ph) watched his weightlifting event on television, they say they didn't even recognize him. Not surprising, since they hadn't seen him in over six years. The pressure to win can be so intense that even earning a silver medal may be cause for disgrace.

Another Chinese weight lifter appeared on television after placing second and tearfully apologized for, quote, "shaming the motherland." With me now is David Zirin. He's a sports editor for "The Nation" magazine, who's written extensively about the Olympics.

David, this is -- we've heard stories for years about nations which want to really have these great medal counts, for whatever political or other reason they've got. This seems even more extreme than we've seen. What are your thoughts?

DAVID ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, "THE NATION": Well, this has been the Chinese system for roughly two decades. That's since the 1984 Olympics, where they really made their emergence in Los Angeles. But we -- I think what we have to understand is that there is a reformation movement as well going on in China. It's not just us having this discussion right now.

This discussion is happening inside of China, where people are asking this question, is the price too high? And that's a very welcome discussion. And I want to make the case that I think that's a discussion worth having on this side of the globe as well. When we look at the sacrifices that U.S. athletes make during the process of trying to make it to the Olympic Games.

VELSHI: And in fact, in one case in China, where a newspaper shamed a participate in a particular sport for coming in last, there was an outcry on the Internet and the newspaper had to soften their position. But do you -- can you really look at this video, can you really compare this type of thing to what happens in the United States?

ZIRIN: Well, that's the thing. It's a different kind of comparison, because in China, what you have is a very merciless state bureaucracy that controls Olympic training from a very young age. In the United States, our athletes are left to the wolves. There are no government subsidies whatsoever that go to training Olympic athletes.

And so the number one thing that has to be navigated in the U.S. is not a bureaucracy like in China. The number one thing is poverty. The U.S.A. Track and Field put out a report that said that half of the top 10 athletes in every single U.S.A. track and field event live on less than $15,000 a year. And think about some of the athletes that we've celebrated through these Olympic Games, like Ryan Lochte, whose parents -- they're foreclosing on his parents' home.

Lolo Jones, who is homeschooled; Gabby Douglass, who was pulled away from her family at age 14 to be homeschooled -- you talked about education -- and lived with a family that she did not know. This isn't about creating equivalences or (inaudible) equivalences.

It's about trying to make this point that if we're going to talk about humanity and training of young children, that begins at home. And I don't think we should ascribe narratives that are heroic when people like the Lochte, Douglass and Jones family have to go through so much hardship, because there are so many --

VELSHI: The difference --

ZIRIN: -- hundreds of people who never make it.

VELSHI: Sure. The difference -- you're absolutely right. The difference, however, is that in America, these are choices that are made by families and individuals, probably not by the kid necessarily.

And I think that's the same in China. But in China, there's something different because it's state-sponsored. Is there something different where there's more pressure on you to literally -- what it seems like they're doing is giving up their kids to the state to train them in the hope that these kids will become medalists at the Olympics one day.

ZIRIN: Yes. No, you're absolutely right. I just think in the U.S., that process is privatized, where instead of giving up your kid to a state system, you are giving up your child to a training center, in the case of gymnastics. And sometimes the results can be as horrific as anything you would find anywhere on the globe.

I mean, the U.S.A., swimming right now is dealing with the results of a three-decade sexual abuse scandal that's finally came to light in 2010. And one of the things that they said is you're right about parental choice, but sometimes parents don't make very good choices.

And one of the things that they ascribed as one of the key reasons why it took 30 years for this to come to light, one of the main things in their investigation was parents who turned a blind eye to their own children being sexually abused because they want them to go --


VELSHI: Because they wanted the medal. And these are parents --

ZIRIN: Exactly.

VELSHI: -- and the equivalent in China -- and in East Germany and all sorts of places in the past has been parents who turn a blind eye to their kids' treatment or the fact that they don't see them for years on end because they want the pride of the medal.

What's the cultural problem here and there with that? I mean, we love the Olympics. We want to watch. We take pride in countries getting medals. It is one of the biggest deals around. How do you deal with that? How do you soften that blow? How do you tell the kid it's OK not to get a gold?

ZIRIN: That's what we need to do. And it's -- you have to look at it as an international reformation project. I think what we're dealing with, frankly, is a Cold War hangover, because you saw, during the Cold War, how medal counts, both east and west, led to things like in East Germany, a state-run doping (ph) operation which destroyed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of young athletes.

And you saw similar issues with drugs and steroids here in the United States as well, because there became this narrative that whatever country does better in the medal count wins this kind of proxy war in the larger Cold War --

VELSHI: Right. And isn't that still the case, Dave --

ZIRIN: -- between East and West.

VELSHI: Isn't that still the case?

ZIRIN: That's what we're dealing with.

VELSHI: America's in this place where we're wondering whether we're still the, you know, the world's greatest power, so at least we can win a lot of gold medals, and China is the next great power in the world, so it gets to win a lot of medals. I mean, isn't -- aren't we doing the same thing as we did in the Cold War, but for different reasons?

ZIRIN: Yes, I mean, I heard someone on CNN describe the situation between the U.S. and China as economic mutually assured destruction as opposed to the nuclear variety during the Cold War. And I think that creates its own kind of rivalry, which can be just as serious, just as bloodthirsty and leaves just as many broken bodies at the end of the day.

VELSHI: What happens if you do it the right way? What if you don't abuse your children in order to make them medal winners? Do you just end up being a country that doesn't win a lot of gold medals?

ZIRIN: Maybe you don't win as many medals, but maybe one thing that you can do is actually expand the athletic opportunities. Look, we have a serious problem in the United States with youth obesity and youth diabetes. It's very real.

And the idea being able to expand training -- it doesn't have to be state-run bureaucracy or leaving athletes to the wolves. I think there has to be room for at least discussion of some sort of subsidy so people can train --

VELSHI: So you're talking about --

ZIRIN: (Inaudible) --

VELSHI: You're talking about a middle ground between what America does, which is nothing, and leaves it to parents who might be a little bit obsessive, or kids who want to do this, or China, where the state does everything and puts great pressure on you to win, that somewhere in the middle there might be a state-sponsored athleticism that is varied and maybe not focused on gold medals, but focused on everybody being fit?

ZIRIN: Something, on fitness, on health. And but you know what's the thing about that is, is that if you expand it, you also expand the pool of people who might be the next Gabby Douglass.

I don't even see these things as being counterposed, because if you think about it, we're only mining a very small percentage of our talent in the United States because of people who actually have access to the kind of training that Olympic variety athletes have.

VELSHI: You have a comparison here to U.S. football. In fact, you've just written something, where you've said that you almost think this focus on China and what it doesn't do well borders on racist, because we have similar problems. And you bring football up.

ZIRIN: Yes, I mean, I bring up football because we do have a very serious problem in this country with youth football, because you can get down to 7 years old and 8 years old in the United States and have tackle football leagues.

And yet we have evidence right now that says that as young as 7 or 8, you can begin to develop what's called traumatic encephalopathy, which is like a precursor to dementia and to the whole concussion issue that they're dealing with in the NFL.

Well, the latest science shows that it's not about just getting those really hard NFL hits that you see in highlight reels, but it's something that just happens through the representative hits of youth football at a very, very young age. And yet that's not really slowing parents down from having their kids play youth football.

And I'm not in any way, shape or form arguing for prohibiting youth football or anything like that. But to me, it is a sign that says that we need some sort of regulation or codification so, at the very least, parents are exposed to knowing all of the risk factors that involve with getting kids involved in certain kinds of sports at a young age.

VELSHI: OK. So you think we need a little bit more regulation on the U.S. side so that parents don't get to abuse their kids and put their kids into abusive athletic situations. But when you see that video of these Chinese gymnasts -- and gymnastics is a standout in terms of the abuse on your body and whether or not it's right, particularly for young girls, to be involved in this kind of training.

Does this seem normal or acceptable to you, when you look at this video, is this something the state should not be involved in doing?

ZIRIN: Yes, it -- I mean, first of all, you said something very important, though, just like youth gymnastics contains a variety of stress positions and movements which, I think, look horrific to the naked eye, especially with a small child, but it's almost like asking for a safer cigarette. I mean, that is the nature of gymnastics.

Should the state be involved in it? I'm not comfortable with that. The state regulation, the taking kids away from their families.

My main point, as you said, is there has to be a way to have some kind of middle ground so we can expand athletic opportunity without leaving people to having bake sales as being like what's going to make the difference in whether or not they're able to make it to the Olympics.

VELSHI: Is there anybody you have a sense of -- is there a country that you think does it right? And I guess it would be hard to tell, because they probably wouldn't be at the top of anybody's medal counts, but where we still value the idea that the Olympics is something that amateur athletes participate in, not professionals?

Hard to call somebody not professional when they're training from the age of 6 years old and there's nothing else that they do except that, a country that really promotes that level of national athleticism for international competition?

ZIRIN: Well, it's interesting. This is a bit ironic to cite this country, but Australia does a very interesting job of mixing public and private partnerships for the purposes of developing athletes. I say it's ironic because Australia is actually having its worst Olympics in generations.

And the state -- the Australian state had just announced a few days ago that they're actually empowering a commission to study why Australia has done so badly in these Olympic Games, which sounds like they're ratcheting up the --


VELSHI: Yes, and you're saying hold on --

ZIRIN: -- (inaudible) lessons.

VELSHI: Yes, you (inaudible) problem.

ZIRIN: Yes, I'm saying go for it. You know, it's -- you have one bad Olympics. Don't change the fact that you're actually developing human beings through the training process and not developing people who do end up, on both sides of the globe, in many cases, broken.

I mean, people should read Dominique Mocianu's (ph) book about training under the Corrolis (ph) here in the United States. It is not pretty, and it's someone with a daughter, it's shocking to me that people would expose their child to that kind of (inaudible).

VELSHI: And even in China, you're seeing a lot of these medalists, former medalists who are homeless. They're living on the street. They -- you know, it doesn't seem to work out that well for a whole lot of people, even if you do it their way.

Dave, great to talk to you. Thanks very much for being with us, Dave Zirin.

ZIRIN: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. Even though the world of sports doesn't always live up to its lofty ideals, many people still look there for their role models. Others look to world leaders and even movie stars. But what if we saw the famous and the powerful looking like this? An Arab artist, who makes us laugh and think with some pictures that you're going to want to see.



VELSHI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Ali Velshi, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Finally, tonight, imagine a world where everyone is an Arab. That's a plea for tolerance from an artist who wants us to see each other as brothers and sisters under the skin.

Yes, take a look at that. That's President Obama and former President George W. Bush, worlds apart politically, but dressed in the same duds.

Pop culture figures like Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton have something in common besides celebrity in this artist's rendition. And John Travolta isn't just a movie star and Scientologist. He's an Arab like everyone else.

The Bahraini artist behind these images is Mohammed Kanu (ph). He's the one standing next to Darth Vader. Now he's having fun here, but his message is serious, quote, "Tolerance is important, an important aspect of our faith as Arabs and Muslims." He says, "Contemporary human difficulties are common problems for all of humanity. That is what brings us together."

That's it for the program. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from New York.