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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gadhafi's Son Vows to Crush Rebels; Clinton to Meet Libyan Rebels; U.S. Intel Chief Under Fire; Muslim Representative: "This is Scapegoating"; First In Depth Intel on No-Fly Zone; First In-Depth Intel on No-Fly Zone; 'Strategy Session'; Business Booming in Midst of Recession

Aired March 10, 2011 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, the Gadhafi regime vows to crush rebel forces even if U.S. and Western powers intervene. And a top U.S. official is warning that the Libya strongman now seems likely to win the civil war.

Also, the first Muslim elected to Congress is moved to tears at a hearing he calls the very heart of scapegoating. This hour, what did the investigation of radical American Muslims really accomplish?

And new protests and chaos in the Wisconsin Capitol. Republicans find a way to pus pushily limits on union bargaining power. Now both sides are accusing the other of dirty tricks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, it looks as though Libyan rebels are suffering a major new setback, apparently losing control of the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf. The Gadhafi regime announcing that it has "cleansed" the city of armed gangs connected to Al Qaeda -- their words. Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, says government forces are preparing full scale military action to crush the rebellion and he suggests there's nothing the United States and its allies can do to stop them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAIF GADHAFI, MOAMMAR GADHAFI'S SON (through translator): And we're not afraid of the America fleet, NATO, France. You people, this is our country. We live here, we die here. We will never, ever surrender to those terrorists. Libyan nation is so united now. We are so strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get an up to the minute check on the situation in Libya.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us live from Tripoli right now. Is there any way that reporters who are based in Tripoli -- and I know under severe restrictions from the Libyan regime -- can actually get out to Zawiya or Ras Lanuf and see for themselves what's going on -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One team did get out to Zawiya today, but they ran a (INAUDIBLE). And I think every time you -- you try to go out there, it's potluck. They managed to get through today and were able to get into the center of the city and see the army back in control in the center, where the rebels had been clearing up tanks -- the burned out tanks. The trees in the squares -- Martyrs Square, where the rebels have been gathered before, most of those had been pretty much destroying in the fighting, such was its intensity.

But every time journalists try and head down that road to Zawiya, they risk arrest. Twenty-four arrested just two days ago. Three of those journalists ended up in jail here and they suffered beatings and mock executions. So it's a risk.

But one team did get through today, Wolf, yes.

BLITZER: So then, really, the Libyan government of Gadhafi, when -- when a reporter or camera crew, they -- they go someplace that they're not authorized to go, they not only could be reprimanded, but they -- they could be severely beaten, arrested, even tortured, if you will?

Is that what I'm hearing you say?

ROBERTSON: Not every time, but it's possible. That's what happened to a group of BBC journalists just a couple of days ago. They're back in the U.K. now. That's what happened to them. A journalist from "The Guardian" newspaper in Britain -- and with a brilliant journalist, they've been missing since Sunday. They apparently are due to be released or are being released right around about midday. They were held for some time.

Not that -- it's not the same scenario that happens to every journalist that gets picked up here. But it's not just the journalists, Wolf. It's the drivers who drive them -- even the taxi drivers. They risk probably far worse than the journalists being taken into long-term detention, beatings that can affect not only them, but their families, as well. So there's an even bigger risk for the drivers there, saying we must get this story out of what's happening in Zawiya and other places when they decide to take you there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These are courageous journalists, indeed.

All right, Nic.

We're going to check back with you.

Thank you. Libyan opposition forces haven't gotten the no-fly zone they've been pleading for, but they are getting some diplomatic support from the United States and other Western nations.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Moammar Gadhafi's forces hitting the rebels hard, Libya's former ambassador, now speaking for those who want Gadhafi gone, arrives at the State Department to beg Hillary Clinton to step up the response.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to stop Gadhafi and his family from killing our people.

DOUGHERTY: But Clinton says it's not so easy.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's very challenging. And I think we ought to be -- we ought to be -- have our eyes open as we look at what is, you know, being bandied about and what is possible in order to make good decisions.

DOUGHERTY: Clinton ordered Libya to shut its embassy in Washington, but stopped short of severing diplomatic relations with the country.

And NATO keeps planning options.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We do not look for intervention in Libya. And we will need a clear legal basis for any action.

DOUGHERTY: But the world is slowly closing ranks on Gadhafi. The French president formally recognizes Libyan opposition. The British foreign secretary talks with the opposition's special envoy. Russia's president bans Russian arm sales to Libya.

Meanwhile, on Libyan state TV, an audiotape right out of a spy novel -- the voice of nine American ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, talking to the opposition's military chief, General Omar Hariri.

GENE CRETZ, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA: What equipment or other support do you need?

DOUGHERTY: A U.S. official confirmed the authenticity of the call, but would not comment on the query about weapons.

Hillary Clinton is speaking to the opposition, too.

CLINTON: We are reaching out to the opposition inside and outside of Libya. I will be meeting with some of those figures, both here in the United States and when I travel next week, to discuss what more the United States and others can do.

DOUGHERTY: But Moammar Gadhafi and his spokesman's son show no sign of caving into pressure.

GADHAFI: The Libyan people, they will never, ever welcome the NATO. We will never, ever welcome the Americans here. Libya is not a piece of cake. We aren't Mickey Mouse.

DOUGHERTY: And the director of National Intelligence issues a grim assessment.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I mean this is a kind of stalemate back and forth. But I think over the long -- longer term, that the regime will prevail.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty reporting for us from the State Department.

We've got a lot more on what Clapper -- General Clapper, head of the national -- the director of National Intelligence, had to say.

This note, though. I have been invited to travel with Secretary Clinton on her overseas trip next week. I'll be reporting on her critical talks about the Libyan crisis, first in Paris, France, as well as her visit to the epicenter of a lot of this Mideast unrest. We're going to Cairo and then Tunis. I'll be anchoring THE SITUATION ROOM from France and then the Middle East. We'll be doing some in- depth reporting. I'll also have an interview with the secretary of State herself.

Please be sure to join us all next week. I'll be reporting from France, Egypt and Tunisia.

Now, new U.S. calls for the director of National Intelligence to simply go away. James Clapper had a lot to say to senators today, including his blunt assessment about Gadhafi's staying power. And now his critics are pouncing. They're saying they are more concerned than ever about his handling of his job.

Listen to this exchange today between Clapper and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: In your estimation, which is the greatest threat we have in the world against the United States of America, whether it be a buildup of their army or their defenses or their economic threat they pose or a combination of both?

CLAPPER: Are you speaking of a nation state, sir?

MANCHIN: Yes --

CLAPPER: Or a country?

MANCHIN: Yes, a country. CLAPPER: A country. Well, from strictly -- well, certainly, the Russians have a, you know, still have a very formal nuclear arsenal, even with -- which does pose, you know, potentially a -- a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that.

Certainly, China is growing in its military capabilities. It has a full array of whether conventional or strategic forces that -- that -- that they are building. So they, too, pose, partially, from a capability standpoint, a threat to us, as -- a mortal threat.

The issue, though, is -- which, you know, we always have trouble gauging, is -- is intent versus -- versus the capability.

Having said all that, my greatest concern, though, does not lie with a nation state posing a threat to us, as much as it is in the area of terrorism, as I indicated in my -- my opening statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

He's causing a bit of a stir, I should say, with some of his answers today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, he really did, Wolf. He tried to explain that what he's talking about in terms of Russia and China is their capabilities. But, of course, the question is intentions.

Does anybody in the intelligence community really think that Russia or China plans to attack -- has the intention to attack the United States?

The chairman of the committee, Karl Levin of Michigan, Democrat, one of the most exquisite political questioners on Capitol Hill, tried to help General Clapper bail himself out.

Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS: You didn't mention North -- Iran or North Korea, which would have been the first two countries that I would have thought of in response to that question. I -- I was really taken aback almost by your answer. I thought it was a very -- kind of a very clear question.

CLAPPER: I think I -- as I interpret the question, it is, you know, which country is po -- or countries -- would represent a mortal threat to the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So look, I mean General Clapper served for more than 40 years. He is one of the top intelligence analysts in this country. But a lot of people in town are going to tell you he needs a little political fine tuning. When you're testifying, as you know better than anybody, Wolf, on Capitol Hill, you've got to have your political radar, your political antenna up and running.

And Clapper has a little trouble with that. This is the third time now. Of course, he got in a little bit of a kerfuffle when he didn't know about some London terrorism arrests; another dust-up when he suggested the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular organization; and now this.

Some calls for him to step down, still support on Capitol Hill, still support by the White House. But he's -- he is causing himself a lot of anxiety.

BLITZER: Yes. Lindsey Graham, the powerful Republican from South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services, he says three strikes and you're out. He flatly says Clapper must resign, must do so. He did get a statement of support, Clapper, from the Obama administration.

But we'll see if that lasts very long.

STARR: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara.

Thanks very much.

We've seen these situations unfold in Washington many times over the years.

STARR: Indeed.

BLITZER: Fear and even tears at a Congressional hearing today focusing in on radical Muslims and their link to there is some. Stand by for some of the emotional testimony.

And a final showdown in Wisconsin's long simmering budget stand- off. The state assembly just passed a bill to limit union workers' bargaining rights. We're going to see the anger. We'll talk about the fallout.

Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is eyeing rising gas prices all across the country.

He's here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: In case you hadn't noticed, it may soon be cheaper to buy whiskey than gasoline.

This morning, the national average price for a gallon of petrol stood at $3.53, which is a rather whopping increase of 39 cents over the last three weeks alone -- numbers courtesy of the Energy Department.

It's not going to get any better any time soon, either. The government predicts the average family -- this is stunning -- the average family will spend $700 more for gasoline in 2011 than it did in 2010 -- a 28 percent increase year-over-year.

And that's no small chunk of change when you consider the median household income in this country is about $49,000 a year.

So high will it go?

Well, according to a new Gallup poll, 37 percent of Americans think gas prices will hit between $3.75 and $4 a gallon in their area. More than a quarter of Americans think gas prices will go north of $5 a gallon, while only 8 percent think Americans will see gasoline at less than $3.75.

Before we collectively hyperventilate over these numbers -- and they are kind of painful -- consider this. In Europe, most people pay the equivalent of $7.50 to $8 a gallon for gas. In Greece, gasoline costs $8.45 a gallon.

The cheapest gas -- OPEC nations -- Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Egypt, because it's heavily subsidized by the governments there.

Here's the question -- how are these rising gas prices affecting your way of life?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

It's going to cost a lot to fly you all around the world next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, well, you know, fortunately, I'm traveling with the secretary of State.

CAFFERTY: No, I understand.

BLITZER: She's got a big jet. But we pay --

CAFFERTY: It's just the --

BLITZER: We pay for CAFFERTY: -- price of jet fuels, you know.

BLITZER: -- our seats, obviously --

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And so (INAUDIBLE) is going to go up but --

CAFFERTY: Yes. And the taxpayers have to pay that freight, right?

BLITZER: Not for -- no. CNN will pay for me.

CAFFERTY: No, but I mean the airplane -- the -- BLITZER: Yes, that's the taxpayers --

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Paying for her, of course.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. But, you know --

CAFFERTY: That's a --

BLITZER: But, you know, we're --

CAFFERTY: CNN is paying for you.

BLITZER: The taxpayer is not paying for me.

CAFFERTY: OK. Good.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

Raw emotion in Congress today during a long anticipated hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans. It ended the same way it started -- with the committee chairman defending the investigation and with critics calling it a witch-hunt.

Let's bring in homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

It was certainly lively there today -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It was -- and emotional. Wolf, the 9/11 attacks are the backdrop for every discussion of terrorism. But today, they were pushed front and center.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: (voice-over): After planes hit the World Trade Center, a 23-year-old paramedic went to help. Mohammed Salman Hamdani He died that day.

The first Muslim member of Congress, voice quavering, offered Hamdani's story as a cautionary tale.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: But you see, it has already been tainted, this hearing. MESERVE: Some Democrats scolded committee chairman, Peter King, for even holding this hearing, saying it demonized an entire religion and would promote radicalization.

JACKSON LEE: This hearing today is playing into Al Qaeda right now around the world.

MESERVE: But King was defiant, saying the issue of Muslim radicalization had to be addressed to prevent future terror attacks.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness.

MESERVE: Melvin Bledsoe's son, a Muslim convert, was radicalized and shot up a Little Rock military recruiting center, killing a soldier. The father said the problem of radicalization was an elephant in the room that had to be addressed no matter who was offended.

MELVIN BLEDSOE, FATHER OF CONVICTED TERRORIST: We're worried about stepping on their toes and they are talking about stamping us out. I'm wondering where -- why don't the people pull their blinders off?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MESERVE: Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles County talked about the importance and success of building cooperation and trust with the Muslim community. But another witness recounted how, after how he went to the FBI to report young men going to Somalia to fight for the terror group, al-Shabab, he was threatened by leaders of a Minneapolis mosque.

In the end, King characterized the hearings as informative and educational, a success.

But Democrats called it an exercise in scapegoating and stereotyping -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jeanne.

Jeanne working that story.

We'll have more on it coming up later.

And CNN, by the way, is digging deeper on questions of religious freedom and freedom from suspicion in the post-9/11 world. Soledad O'Brien is preparing a special on the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque right in the heart of the Bible Belt. "Unwelcome the Muslims Next Door" -- that will air on Sunday, March 27th, right here on CNN.

Wisconsin's GOP-led Senate has just managed to push through a controversial plan to limit the power of state worker unions. And now anger is growing on both sides of the battle.

And how would you feel if you saw your home simply floating away in a river?

Ouch. We're going to tell you the story behind this dramatic video from rain-soaked Southern Ohio.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: AOL is announcing its cutting about 900 jobs.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What do you have -- Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, the announcement of the cuts came today from company president, Tim Armstrong. Two hundred of the jobs being eliminated are in the United States, with the rest in India. The move comes in the wake of the company's $315 million purchase of the Huffington Post. Speaking at a media conference in New York, Armstrong said he regrets the cuts, but said that the company is healthier today than it was just a few years ago.

Officials in Toronto, Canada are rejecting a plan to install television screens that could display advertising in schools. The district school board is refusing to approve the screens for up to 70 schools. Under the proposal, the screens would have dis -- would have displayed a variety of educational programming and other information, as well as up to two hours per day of advertisements.

And the Dalai Lama says he is stepping down as political head of the Tibetan exile movement. In a statement released today, he proposes transferring power to a democratically elected leader. He says that although he's being urged to stay on, his plan will, quote, "benefit Tibetans in the long run." The movement's parliament in exile will reportedly meet in India next week to decide whether to approve this proposal.

And check out this video from rain-soaked Southern Ohio. You see it there -- a two story home Washington away by a rising river. The owner says he did everything he could to protect his home from a flood, including putting it on steel stilts. He says he now plans to rebuild a little further away from the river. And look at that house just topple over.

BLITZER: I hope they've got all their possessions -- their important possessions -- out of there before it moved. That is really, really sad.

SYLVESTER: Yes. It shows you the force of the mighty river.

BLITZER: Yes. Mother Nature like this.

Thank you.

All right, U.S. officials are getting new information how a no- fly zone over Libya might actually play out. Stand for a new assessment on how long it might take, how much it might cost and whether it would work.

And will have a report on the rebels' fight against Gadhafi's forces in Eastern Libya, their new losses and their vow to fight to the death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Libya's leader is vowing to crush -- crush anti- government rebels.

How far will he go?

Brian Todd will have an depth look at what could happen if Gadhafi's forces succeed in putting down the revolt.

Also, a new drone aircraft the size of a tiny bird that could even fly through the window of a terrorist safe house. We're going to tell you all about it and show you the pictures.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Libyan forces showing off weapons captured from rebels in video that aired on state TV today. Pro-Gadhafi troops making new gains, including apparently seizing control of the important oil city of Ras Lanuf. It's only adding pressure for the United States and its allies to impose a no-fly zone.

Let's bring back our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who is looking at the story for us.

New intelligence, new warnings and new threats against Libya.

STARR: Well, you know, Wolf, today for the first time, we saw the top U.S. intelligence official, General Clapper, who we just talked about, offer the first public intelligence assessment on Moammar Gadhafi and the fighting in Libya. But it might have been candor that the White House and the Pentagon weren't ready for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: (voice-over): As Moammar Gadhafi stepped up his attacks to drive rebels from the oil port town of Ras Lanuf, the top U.S. intelligence officer warned the Libyan leader isn't going to stop.

CLAPPER: We believe that Gadhafi is in this for the long haul. I don't think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving.

STARR: Libyan opposition commanders say a massacre is underway. Some are begging for a no-fly zone. Clapper suggested the biggest threat, however, is not from Gadhafi's fighters jets.

CLAPPER: They're somewhat though akin to the gang that can't shoot straight since they're doing this visually, and have not caused very many casualties, although some physical damage.

STARR: But Gadhafi has plenty of firepower to make a no-fly zone operation dangerous.

CLAPPER: Libyan air defense structure on the ground, radars and surface-to-air missiles, is quite substantial. In fact, it's the second largest in the Mideast after Egypt.

STARR: The U.S. intelligence assessment is 30 major surface-to- air missile sites, a radar complex to protect the coastline, and large numbers of hard-to-target mobile surface-to-air missiles Gadhafi can quickly move around. It could take weeks for a no-fly zone operation to shut it all down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Depending on the number of targets involved which we estimate could range somewhere between 250 to 500 targets --

STARR: Harrison's new analysis calculates a no-fly zone over the whole country could cost up to $300 million a week. A limited no-fly zone just over populated areas, up to $100 million. And just firing missiles from ships standing off shore in the Mediterranean, $25 million a week.

At a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Belgium, still cautious words from Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the face of the ongoing fighting on the ground.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We all agreed that NATO will only act if there is demonstrable need, a sound legal basis, and strong regional support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, Wolf, Defense Secretary Gates still very cautious. NATO is now planning its next steps, still looking at a no-fly zone, planning but not doing it yet, and sending more ships closer to the Libyan shoreline to be ready for humanitarian relief or, Wolf, whatever does come next.

BLITZER: I don't know what Clapper is saying when he says that Libya has got the second largest air defense system in the Middle East after Egypt. He used the word the "Middle East."

Israel, I'm sure, has a much more robust air defense system. I'm sure Iran does. Syria, I'm sure, does. Saudi Arabia, I'm sure, has a better air defense. He might have been referring to North Africa, but certainly not the Middle East. He's got to be precise when he utters these words.

STARR: I think you're right. He is most likely talking about North Africa. There are a lot of countries, as you know, in that region with some very modern capabilities. Libya's is largely Soviet- provided and largely out of date, though, still, they have a lot of surface-to-air missiles that would be worrisome in a no-fly zone.

BLITZER: I think they should issue a correction and say he meant North Africa, if that's what he meant. Maybe he's got better information than I do, but I suspect on this issue he misspoke. He's under a lot of pressure.

Thank you.

The Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate says he's received death threats. The showdown over the state budget and union workers rights coming to a head right now.

And President Obama takes on bullies and reveals why he was teased as a kid.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Washington today, the first couple hosted the first- ever White House conference on preventing bullying in schools.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

So what happened?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.

Well, President Obama says a key goal of the conference is to dispel the idea that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage. He also says there were times growing up when he was picked on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As adults, we all remember what it is like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the schoolyard. And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune. I didn't emerge unscathed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: A public service announcement released this year says that more than six million schoolchildren were bullied just over a six-month period last year.

And we are just getting word that Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will attend the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour in Florida next month. Giffords' husband is astronaut Mark Kelly, who will be piloting the mission. A spokesperson for Giffords confirms that she will be there, but is providing no further details.

Doctors treating Giffords will be holding a news conference tomorrow morning to detail her progress. She was shot in the head in Tucson in January. And Wolf, our very own Wolf Blitzer, you're going to be heading off here in just a little bit to receive a very special honor this evening. And well, since you're not going to talk about it, I will.

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation will honor Wolf with this year's Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award for broadcast journalists who have worked on behalf of press freedom.

And Wolf, you're going to be joining an impressive list of past winners, including David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. So, I will be there at the dinner with you, and I'm looking forward to it.

Congratulations.

BLITZER: And you look lovely. It's a black-tie dinner.

SYLVESTER: It is.

BLITZER: I've been working on my little speech. It will be a lot of fun. I'm really honored to get this award.

SYLVESTER: So we should have some clips that we can share with our viewers tomorrow then.

BLITZER: And you promised you'll laugh at all my jokes.

SYLVESTER: I will. I will. Well, you're a very funny guy.

BLITZER: Very funny.

SYLVESTER: That's what everybody needs to know.

He's a really funny guy, everyone.

BLITZER: I've got a few jokes. No dancing. Thank you.

SYLVESTER: Maybe a little bit.

BLITZER: So how far will the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi go to crush the rebellion against him? We're taking a closer look at what the aftermath could look like for the rebels if they don't win.

And BBC journalists survive a harrowing ordeal at the hands of the Libyan military. We're going to tell you the shocking story of what they experienced, what they saw in their own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fresh anger and arrests in Wisconsin. After weeks of paralyzing protests, a bill limiting the collective bargaining rights of public workers now heading to the governor to be signed into law. A revised version of the measure was approved by the state assembly just a little while ago after a brief lockdown of the Capitol. The long political stalemate was broken last night in a surprise move by Republicans that unleashed shouts and taunts by protesters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: You lie! You lie! You lie to Wisconsin!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republicans changed the controversial bill so they could push it through the state Senate without Democrats, who had fled to Illinois to prevent a vote. We're told those Democrats are coming back to Wisconsin now, as Republican Governor Scott Walker prepares to sign the bill.

Today he rejected Democrats' charges that he's playing dirty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: The dirty trick is what those 14 have played for the past three weeks. I mean, the fact of the matter is we live in a democracy. And to participate in a democracy, you have got to be in the arena.

And the arena is not in Rockford. It's not in Freeport. It's not in Chicago. It's in Madison, Wisconsin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss this in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN contributors, Roland Martin and Alex Castellanos. He's a Republican strategist as well.

Roland, doesn't the governor have a point that these people are elected to serve in the legislature and shouldn't necessarily run away to a neighboring state to avoid doing their responsibilities?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You use any tactic when it comes to public policy. Now, very interesting. When I listen to any Republican or Democrat complain about this, when you look at the cloture rules in the U.S. Senate, how they prevent nominees from getting up-and-down votes as well, we call this politics.

And so Republicans can complain about what they're doing, but trust me, if the shoot was on the other foot, I guarantee you, 14 Republicans would have fled the state to prevent the very same thing from happening. That's what happens in politics.

BLITZER: Because if they're not there, you can't have a quorum, you can't have a vote. So they can have a vote on what the Republicans decided to do this time, namely a non-budgetary aspect. But obviously weakening the collective bargaining for state workers.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It does, and you don't use any tactics. One out of every 13 workers in that state is unemployed. And Republicans, I think, have found their voice. Their message is real clear. This state can't get back to work until these Democratic legislators get back to work. And I think the Democrats are beginning to pay a price for this. BLITZER: But his popularity numbers are going down, down, down. The governor I'm talking about.

CASTELLANOS: The governor is actually suffering, and so are Republicans. We're taking on some water on this one, there's no doubt, especially with Independents and women.

Women are seeing the Republicans as unwilling to compromise and intransigent. But I don't think they're taking on as much water as the Democrats, who are becoming the party of government unions.

And Roland is right, this is a political battle. This is the party now of government unions, and they're negotiating -- they're holding taxpayers hostage in that state.

MARTIN: Actually, that's not what I said.

CASTELLANOS: You said politics, this is politics. And I'm agreeing with you.

MARTIN: No, no, no. One second.

The move of these Democratic senators, that is an issue in terms of, how do you play politics?

BLITZER: The move to Illinois you mean.

MARTIN: To Illinois. But the broader issue is here, and that is, how do you affect the families as well? When you look at the national polling, Bloomberg poll, 64-32; NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, 77-19 of Americans supporting the right for collective bargaining rights. And so --

CASTELLANOS: But that's how you worded it.

MARTIN: No, one second.

CASTELLANOS: That's how you worded it.

MARTIN: Well, look, you're good at the polling stuff, not me.

But the Republicans also have to confront the reality that I think about that line from "The Color Purple," Oh, my God. The dead have arisen."

You have awakened, if you will, Democrats, who, frankly, have been lagging for the past 18 months when it comes to enthusiasm. This, I think, is going to expand Wisconsin, to many other states as well.

BLITZER: But polls do show, you have got to admit, Alex --

MARTIN: Huge numbers.

BLITZER: -- that Americans, by and large, believe in the right for workers to assemble and negotiate their deals. CASTELLANOS: And they do, but they don't believe that a government union should become a political party and threaten politicians with their political power, which is what's happening in Wisconsin.

They want their value based on their power over politicians, not on their value to taxpayers. And that's a mistake I think for Democrats, which is why you're seeing Barack Obama stay far away.

BLITZER: So you're saying these union workers don't have freedom of speech to assemble and to lobby and do whatever they want?

CASTELLANOS: You have all the freedom you want, but you pay a price if you become a political party and threaten politicians. If you don't do what we want, we'll defeat you.

They can't have it both ways.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Excuse me. I'm almost finished, and then you can go.

You can't be a government employee and also be the government's boss. You can't threaten the political leaders and say do what we want. Either they're the employee or the boss, and they can't be both.

MARTIN: When you make the whole point about lobbying --

CASTELLANOS: That's right. Federal workers aren't unionized.

MARTIN: Hold on. Isn't that what we hear from Tea Party folks? Aren't we seeing industries -- folks who own businesses, the whole Citizen United ruling, where people say we should be able to contribute? The fact of the matter is those rights --

CASTELLANOS: It's government workers.

MARTIN: -- those workers, they have the same right to demand representation of political figures, regardless of party.

BLITZER: Quickly, because I want to move on.

CASTELLANOS: Federal workers? There's no constitutional right to have a guaranteed union contract. That doesn't -- the federal workers don't have it.

MARTIN: The state.

CASTELLANOS: The Constitution of the United States does not guarantee --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: For 70 years, state workers, local government workers, they had the right for collective bargaining.

CASTELLANOS: Anybody can bargain collectively in this country. That's fine.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, who is the columnist for "The Washington Post," writes this -- and let me read it to you -- "Democrats in the state Senate" -- we're talking about Wisconsin -- "define the political argument on their own terms and they're winning it," he says. "They have shown that the only way to win arguments is to take risks on behalf of what you believe."

Are Washington Democrats prepared to learn this lesson? Answer?

MARTIN: No, it is a strong comment. And that is, how do you define principle?

And when you look on the Republican side, when you saw the whole deal with the tax issue prior to the new year, they made it perfectly clear to the president, we are not going to compromise on this. Democrats in Washington should get some gumption, some fight to say, wow, it's amazing what happens when you stand on principle.

BLITZER: On that issue, the president blinked, you're saying.

MARTIN: Absolutely. And again -- and so Republicans have shown when they make it clear, this is where we stand, Democrats buckle. Democrats in Wisconsin, they are winning this, and it will have national ramifications.

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What are the national ramifications for what happened in Wisconsin?

CASTELLANOS: The last I checked, the Democrats there lost. And President Obama is not taking E.J.'s advice. He's staying pretty far away from this.

Look, the Chinese are telling this administration to be more capitalist. The French are tougher on foreign policy. This president can't afford to move less. He can't afford to be -- the Democrats can't afford to be the party of growing unions instead of growing America's economy. They're losing in this debate.

MARTIN: This is an argument where you're seeing children who are saying, wait a minute, these are taxpayers, these are workers, these are people who have the same rights. The polling is clear.

Now, it's amazing when I heard Republicans say, wait a minute -- one second, Alex. When you hear Republicans say that the polling numbers are with them on health care, these numbers are very clear, 77-19, 64-32. Those are strong numbers in support of collective bargaining rights.

BLITZER: Go ahead. CASTELLANOS: The average teacher makes $100,000 a year in Wisconsin. They don't contribute anything to their health care, and taxpayers do not have the right --

MARTIN: Alex, they've --

CASTELLANOS: Excuse me. My turn now.

Taxpayers don't have the right unions have, which is last in, first out. Teachers, for example, you have to keep a bad old teacher, you can't keep a good young one.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying -- but very quickly, what I hear you saying, what a lot of Republicans are saying, it's OK to take away some benefits from teachers, but it's not OK to take away some of the tax breaks for the rich?

CASTELLANOS: No, no, no. It's OK to grow the American economy. And at a time when we're all hurting, everybody has to pitched in. You can't threaten politicians if --

MARTIN: Wolf, the fact is the unions there conceded the point about health care. So that's already off the table. This is about collective bargaining rights.

And Alex, you know it.

BLITZER: All right.

MARTIN: They conceded that point.

CASTELLANOS: You can't threaten taxpayers. You've got to share in the pain.

BLITZER: Roland and Alex, they disagree on this.

MARTIN: Of course.

BLITZER: And I think our viewers appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks.

Emotions running high on Capitol Hill during a controversial hearing today on American-Muslims and radicalization. But what's the real threat?

I'll talk to CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen, about whether the U.S. should focus more on large-scale 9/11 type of attacks or more on isolated incidents.

And the next generation of remotely-controlled aircraft, a drone that's so small, it's the size of a bird and can actually fly through a window.

Here's a question. What else is it capable of doing?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN's Tom Foreman is out on the road tracking down industries that are prospering despite these tough economic times. He's in Oklahoma to tell us about a school benefiting from the high demand for airplane technicians.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president was once again doing this week what he's done many times since taking office, emphasizing the idea that education may be the surest key to reviving the economy, getting more people into the workplace with specific skills that can build up industries and make the economy more vibrant.

Well, he might want to make a stop in Tulsa, where one place is proving just how far that idea can go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Oklahoma's aviation industry is massive, a cornerstone of the state's economy. And even in the backwash of the recession, the Spartan College of Aeronautics, where Jeremy Gibson is president, is booming.

JEREMY GIBSON, PRESIDENT, SPARTAN COLLEGE OF AERONAUTICS & TECHNOLOGY: Our enrollment has grown in our technical school programs almost 110 percent in the last four years as a result of the need for technicians in our industry.

FOREMAN: The promise of a two-year education for, on average, $35,000, draws students from all 50 states and dozens of countries, including Lawrance Mayo, who could have gone to a traditional university but wanted immediate marketable skills.

LAWRANCE MAYO, STUDENT: Yes. I'm good with books. I can do the books. I can read the books. That's a really simple part. But I've also got to learn it hands-on.

FOREMAN: That hands-on training and growing demand for technicians, especially to refurbish an aging air fleet, has more than two dozen companies calling every week looking for new talent.

(on camera): It sounds like you guys are always hiring.

RYAN GOERTZEN, AAR AIRCRAFT SERVICES: We are. So we've got anywhere between 10, 20, and sometimes upwards of 30 people we're hiring almost on a weekly basis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: It's worth noting that many of the skills these young people are learning, Wolf, will also transfer over into many of the green technologies that the president believes are so important to getting the economy back on track -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Tom. Thank you. Jack Cafferty is asking, how are rising gas prices affecting your way of life?

And Libyan rebels retreat in a critical oil city after being bombarded by Gadhafi's bombs. We're going to the battlefield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's back. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How are rising gas prices affecting your way of life? The government estimates the average family will spend $700 more in 2011 for gasoline than you did last year.

Here's some of the letters we got.

John in Pennsylvania says not, "Not much yet, but luckily I don't have to travel very far. I do have a fuel-efficient vehicle. That helps. Too many people drive mammoth trucks for no reason. These vehicles cause more wear and tear on the roads, so a tax on heavy, large vehicles may be appropriate to encourage people to wise up."

Louis in La Salle, Illinois, "Living in a rural area, as I do, there is no public transportation. And being as I live on fixed income, I stay home more. I travel out of need, not pleasure."

Bo (ph) writes, "I'm retired, hardly go anywhere, but it sure is hurting the working class. I think if the American people would band together, no one turned a wheel for one day, you would see gas prices fall like a rock. If it didn't work this week, do it again next week."

Don in Wisconsin, "We live on a budget, and so it has an impact, but we were also smart. We bought a Prius back in 2008, the last time gas prices went way up. I love that car."

Rick in California writes, "The banks get bailouts, the oil companies raise prices when somebody in the Middle East sneezes. I run out, I get a loan, I buy a fuel-efficient vehicle. The banks and the oil companies win again."

Roman writes from Pennsylvania, "Good thing it's Lent, Jack. Don't have to buy any meat for 40 days."

"On a more serious note, it's expensive to do business. I'm thinking about putting a new engine in my truck maybe to run on natural gas or propane."

And Andy writes from Massachusetts, "I've stopped driving. I hitched a horse to my buckboard. If it's good enough for the Amish, then it's good enough for me. But my hay bill has gone way up."

If you want to read more on this, silly and serious, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.