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Nuclear Threat Rising in Japan?; More Budget Battles Looming

Aired April 11, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news from Japan. Good evening, everyone.

For weeks, we have been pointing out how Japanese nuclear officials have been downplaying the danger of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, giving vague statements, contradictory estimates.

Well, tonight, there's late word that nuclear safety officials are considering raising the threat level at the damaged plant to seven. That is the highest level. We're expecting word on that at any minute.

For perspective now, Chernobyl was a level seven accident. Three Mile Island was a five. Until now, that's what the crisis at this plant was rated, a level five. Japanese officials today also announced they are expanding the evacuation zone around the crippled plant, residents of five additional towns and cities now being urged to leave their homes.

In a moment, we will talk with our reporter in Japan and two nuclear experts.

But, first, I want to show you some remarkable new video of the tsunami that triggered the nuclear crisis exactly one month ago. Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The earthquake must have happened around 3:00 p.m.

The sea is getting rough. Can you see that? It's coming over the embankment. The second wave is coming. So powerful. The cars are getting washed away. The seawater is coming. The seawater is coming. So fast! The water is getting closer so fast. So fast! So powerful!


COOPER: Literally running for their lives from the approaching water. The tsunami knocked out the nuclear plant's cooling system. Since then, it's been a race to prevent a nuclear meltdown.

TEPCO, the plant's owner, now says it has no idea when it will be able to restore normal cooling for the reactors and spent fuel pools. And in the last 24 hours, two more powerful aftershocks have shaken Japan. A 6.6 tremor knocked out power across Tokyo, forced workers at the damaged plant to evacuate. At least one person was killed in a landslide.

Hours later, a 6.4 quake struck, killing at least six people. Around the same time came word that a fire had broken out at the plant's number four reactor. TEPCO says that fire has been put out. Also today, for the first time, TEPCO's president visited Fukushima Prefecture. He was hospitalized, you may remember, in late March, allegedly for fatigue and stress.

Today, he apologized to the residents of Fukushima and local officials and said he regretted that the apology came so late.

CNN's Kyung Lah joins me from Japan, also Michael Friedlander, a former senior nuclear power plant operator, and CNN contributor and international security analyst Jim Walsh at MIT.

So, Michael, today Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency is considering raising the threat level to seven. How significant is that?

MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, FORMER NUCLEAR PLANT OPERATOR: Well, Anderson, there's a couple of different contexts to put it in.

Probably the most relevant is, is that the basis for the upgrade is having gone back and looked back at what happened a few weeks ago. It's certainly not relevant to anything that's going on right now. But the authorities have looked back at some of the radioactive release rates that were going on in the early days of the accident, and their calculation of those release rates are what caused them to go back and reconsider it.

COOPER: So, basically, though, it means -- if they raised it to seven it means looking back that what happened was far worse than they were saying at the time or that they knew at the time.

FRIEDLANDER: Well, you know, again, Anderson, again, to put it in a bit of context, the rating that we apply to these things is sort of separate and different from what goes on to combat the casualty in the moment.

You know, again, at the time, we have to look back and see, what were the capabilities, what did they know, what kind of instrumentation did they have and things like that? And so it's easy in hindsight to go back and be critical.

But I do think that it underscores one of the elements that we have been talking about on this show for almost three weeks now, and that is given the level of radiation that we found around the countryside, it's absolutely essential that it be monitored much more closely than it has been.

COOPER: Jim, what do you make of this? There have been a number now of strong earthquakes just in the past few days, including one that just happened a couple hours ago. How big a concern is that on top of all of this?

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, I agree with Michael. This is more looking back than looking forward.

And it's saying there's more radiation released than they had originally calculated. And I think that does -- I think there is a little bit of blame here that they were slow to get out into the field. I know there was a lot going down. But it took them a while to get measurements. It took them a while for IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to get into the field and to supplement those readings.

And now -- and I think the extension of the evacuation zone and this finding looking back saying that there was more radiation released than maybe we had anticipated, my guess is, those two things are linked. Going forward, Anderson, you know, I think of that NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission memo that was leaked. It was a memo from late March that expressed concern about aftershocks because these plants have already been stressed. They have gone through the earthquakes. They're filled with water. You know, and there may be damage to some, more severe in some units than in others. So yes, I think aftershocks are going to continue to be a concern.

COOPER: And, Michael, now they're expanding the evacuation zone, but they're not doing it based on sort of radius, which is the way we would think. They're doing it based on where they have gotten higher radiation readings and different towns and areas told to evacuate because of those radiation readings. That seems like an odd way to do it, isn't it?

FRIEDLANDER: Yes, you know what, Anderson? And again, it's uncomfortable for me to be put in the position of defending people that I have been quite critical of over the last several weeks.

I totally get that they're trying to thread the eye of the needle, so to speak, in terms of not inconveniencing anyone unnecessarily. But I do think that this is a very short-sighted approach for handling this.

I mean, the situation is, is that there's a lot of radioactivity around the countryside. We don't even know where it's all at. And certainly going back and recovering those areas through a massive decontamination effort would be much more effective and much more in the public's interest by just evacuating the whole zone than trying to do it on a piecemeal basis.

COOPER: Yes, I would rather err, if I'm living in that zone, I would rather err on the side of being inconvenienced than risk the radiation risk.


COOPER: Kyung, you interviewed a journalist who was actually able to get inside the evacuation zone, deserted, just a couple of miles from the plant. I want to get a look at that video.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): People left so quickly in the wake of the disaster, this dog was left behind, chained, now starving. You can see its ribs. Ogawa (ph) fed his lunch to the dog.

But what Ogawa (ph) can't forget, this sign, once a proud symbol of the town, that reads, "Nuclear energy, our hometown's future."

"It's ironic," he says." The nuclear power plant was supposed to open the door to the future. Instead, it closed that door."

Everywhere they went, radiation levels easily exceeded the legal limit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought (INAUDIBLE). After that, I'm -- before that, I don't feel anything.

LAH (on camera): And it's scary, because you can't feel anything. You can't see it.

(voice-over): Across the evacuation zone, Toyota (ph) photographed other empty towns, bodies that have yet to be found or buried. Time, frozen like another nuclear disaster zone Toyota (ph) had just returned from, Chernobyl, on its 25th anniversary.

(on camera): You think Fukushima will be --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this moment.

LAH: -- like Chernobyl. Does it make you sad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Please stop.


COOPER: You also talked, Kyung, to residents of the area who watched the video. How did they react?

LAH: Well, the residents asked to us please bring them this video because they hadn't been home for a month, they really wanted to see what their town looked like.

And, Anderson, you have been here in Japan. You know how Japanese people are. They don't express anger. The very first thing they said, that sign we just saw in the piece, that was a lie. They are extraordinarily angry. They are furious. And they place the blame squarely at the front door of TEPCO. They believe that over the last 40 years, TEPCO was selling them a bill of goods, that TEPCO said there would never be a nuclear disaster, we're a good corporate citizen, we're going to protect you. And what it's led to is this disaster. They have no idea if they will ever go home. They have no jobs. They have no cars and no homes. So these people a month later are extraordinarily upset.

COOPER: Jim, now U.S. officials had said, remember, during the first week of this thing when we were over there, saying, look, for American citizens, they would want all American citizens to evacuate more than 50 miles from the plant. Now we're hearing they're kind of doing piecemeal evacuations or asking for piecemeal evacuations of other towns in a wider area. Do you agree that the way they're going about those evacuations, that it's sort of odd?

WALSH: Well, I think, in retrospect, obviously I think you have to say that U.S. officials got it right. And Michael addressed this earlier. I think it's better to evacuate people out to a zone rather than doing it a little bit at a time in phases.

Now, at the end of the day, as long as they do leave I think their radiation exposure will be moderate. But the psychological toll, the uncertainty that that creates, these people are going to wonder why they weren't moved earlier. Have they been exposed to something now? I think it would have been cleaner and more efficient and a stronger public response had they just, you know, moved to a 50- mile limit right off the top and then given themselves some margin of error.

Now, having to go back, again, it gets to an issue that you and I have talked about repeatedly during this, Anderson. It's the issue of credibility, because once you lose that credibility, it's hard to get it back. Will they have credibility with other areas nearby going forward? I think that's going to be a big question.

COOPER: Jim Walsh, Michael Friedlander, Kyung Lah, thank you very much for the reporting. I appreciate it. We're going to continue monitoring this for any late developments tonight to see about raising that level. Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to be tweeting some tonight during commercial breaks.

Up next who's playing politics in the showdown over extending America's credit limit? Is it President Obama? The White House did some major explaining today. Or is it Republican lawmakers? We will tell what they are up to as well, no taking sides, just "Keeping Them Honest."

And later when will Eman al-Obeidy be allowed to leave Tripoli and go home to her family? One of Gadhafi's sons said he would help her, but her ordeal is not over yet. You will hear from her tonight.


COOPER: And you're looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill, where tonight House lawmakers are holding a rare late-night session to start finalizing the budget deal to keep the government running.

On Wednesday, President Obama's going to speak at George Washington University about the deficit long term and short term, raising the nation's debt ceiling, which is the limit on how much money the government can borrow. Congress has never said no to raising the debt ceiling. Never. Not raising the debt ceiling would mean defaulting on nearly $10 trillion of government paper already in public hands being held by investors here and around the world. Both sides compare that to Armageddon, the last thing you would want to play politics over. But tonight, "Keeping Them Honest," both sides are either doing just that, playing politics, or having played politics with it in the past are trying now to explain it away. Let's start with President Obama. Here's White House spokesman Jay Carney this afternoon.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We cannot play chicken with the economy in this way. It's just too darn risky. It is not appropriate.


COOPER: Too risky, not appropriate. Yet here's Senator Obama on March 16, 2006, explaining why he was voting against raising the debt ceiling then.

"Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices," he said, "today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better," he said. "I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."

So that's 180 degrees opposite from his position now. And here's how his spokesman Robert Gibbs explained when the question first came up back in January.


ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president used it to make a point about needing to get serious about fiscal discipline.


COOPER: Well, the outcome, he explained, was certain back then. The bill was going to pass back then. And then Senator Obama's vote wouldn't have made a difference one way or another. You can say he was simply making a point, or you could say he was playing politics back then, wanting to look like he was taking a stand, knowing full well he could do it and still have the debt ceiling raised. Robert Gibbs certainly didn't think Senator Obama was playing politics and said no one else should either.


GIBBS: So I think it is up to and it's important for Congress, because we know not to play politics with this, not to play games, to find a way to raise that debt limit, understanding that we have to, as I mentioned to Matt, we're going to have to take some serious steps to get our fiscal house in order.


COOPER: Well, today Mr. Obama's current spokesman was more straightforward about the president's shift.


CARNEY: The president, as David Plouffe said yesterday, regrets that vote and thinks it was a mistake. He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that even when you are protesting an administration's policies you can play around with.


COOPER: So Senator Obama then and President Obama now. But he's not the only one saying one thing now and doing something else when the tables were turned. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The president's asked us to raise the debt ceiling. And Senate Republicans and House Republicans, and I hope many Democrats as well are going to say, Mr. President, in order to raise the debt ceiling we need to do something significant about the debt.


COOPER: But when Senator McConnell faced what was then an unprecedented explosion of debt during the Bush administration he voted to raise the debt ceiling without complaint. And when he and other Republicans talk about doing something significant about the debt, they're talking about attaching spending cuts to what would otherwise be a simple up-or-down vote on just the debt ceiling. You might call that playing hardball.

Some conservatives also want to add policy riders to the bill on controversial items like family planning, same as they did on the emergency spending bill being discussed tonight. You can also call that playing politics. We will have a political panel to discuss this shortly, but first the latest on what's happening tonight and the debt showdown ahead.

Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill with some late new information on what's being cut in the budget framework being legislated tonight. Also, Ed Henry at the White House and senior political analyst David Gergen.

So, Dana, House lawmakers holding this late-night session tonight. Are they still haggling over what to cut?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That haggling should be over very soon, Anderson, but they were still haggling over the details all weekend long. Aides were working during the day, at night, and all day today to really finalize the deal that they cut late on Friday night and put pen to paper and actually put it into legislative language. The reason they're in so late tonight is because they need to file that, make it available for every member of Congress to see by midnight tonight in order to get to their goal of actually voting in the House on Wednesday.

Why is that? Because Republicans, when they came into power, promised to have legislation online for three days. It's a little close to three days because we're talking about almost midnight on Monday night. But they say technically this will allow them to keep their promise, let people read it for three days.

COOPER: And again, we're talking about the budget for the rest of this year, 2011.

BASH: Exactly.

COOPER: What are we learning so far about what they have agreed to cut?

BASH: They have been holding the details very close to the vest. We do have some information that we have gotten from a source familiar with what they're doing. First of all, the EPA, $1.5 billion in cuts, that's actually about half, it's a lot, but about half of what Republicans initially put in their bill that they passed in February. Food safety and inspection services, $10 million in cuts. Again it's a good chunk but a lot less than what House Republicans had passed.

And AmeriCorps, this is something that House Republicans put on the chopping block to completely eliminate. That is now back in business, if you will. And one other thing that I think that you will appreciate, Anderson. You know, we talked a lot about those so-called policy riders. Get this. There is a provision in there put by Democrats that would make the endangered -- take the gray wolves, I should say, off the endangered species list.

This, of course, has nothing to do with spending. So why is it in there? Well, a Democratic source admitted to me it's a political gift to Montana Senator Jon Tester. He is up for reelection next year. And this would effectively allow people in his state to shoot these gray wolves. They are a very, very big problem for livestock in his state. So this is a big political issue for him back home.

COOPER: Right. A lot of ranchers don't like the fact that the wolves have been on the endangered species list because they're killing their livestock.

BASH: Exactly.

COOPER: Environmentalists have a different viewpoint on it.

David, is the fight over the debt ceiling that we're going to be seeing now and going to really be starting up this week, it's going to make the budget battle from last week look like child's play, no?


As David Walker would say, what we were doing last week was paying the bar bills on the Titanic. Now in the coming weeks we're going to fight over the Titanic itself. And I do think that this is likely to be a huge battle. What's going on right now, Anderson, is, I have to tell you, it was sort of the politics you would expect of each side this early.

They're both posturing. They're both jockeying for position trying to get the public to understand. This is one of the few moments that if you're the out party and you want to shake up the status quo as the Republicans do, this is one of the few opportunities you have to do that in the legislative year. So, of course, they're going push it to the hilt. Whereas the Democrats are going to try to scare the hell out of the country, saying if they shut down the government over the debt ceiling or they don't allow this debt ceiling to increase, you know, it's going to be catastrophic.

So I think it's sort of a natural politics. The real issue is are they going to be adults and mature and actually trying to come to grips with the program? We will not know that. Let's hear the president's speech, let's see what the gang of six does and then we will have a lot better sense of that.

COOPER: Ed Henry, do we know what the president is going to say on Wednesday?


COOPER: Because all along, what a lot of folks were saying, what David Gergen, for instance, on this program was pointing out last week is he sort of tried to kind of rise or be seen as rising above the fray. Is that his strategy moving forward?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That really seems to still be the way they're going at it because if you listen closely to what White House aides are saying is they're saying on Wednesday the president will lay out his approach. They're not saying a specific detailed plan. And I think when you talk about, you know, the debt ceiling the more embarrassing part than the president flip- flopping perhaps is the fact that back then when he cast that vote it was about $8 trillion, the debt ceiling.

Now it's around $14 trillion. So it's more embarrassing for both parties, to David's point about the Titanic. And that's why both sides are going to have to come together and do something here. And I think what's interesting is this president is facing a situation where Wednesday he's going to have a lot of liberals in his party who do not want to see any more spending cuts. He's going to see a lot of conservative Republicans who don't want him talking about tax increases.

His chance here, the opportunity is to say look, I'm going to rise above that, as you suggested. You know, some in my party don't want more cuts, the folks on the right don't want any tax increases. You know what, folks? We need a little bit of both. And a lot of people in Washington don't want to admit that but maybe this is an opportunity for the president to rise to the occasion. So far he hasn't spoken out a lot on deficit reduction. He's been criticized for that. This is a huge challenge, but a huge opportunity on Wednesday as well.

COOPER: And, Dana, in terms of the timeline on this, when does it have to be voted on, and where is the jockeying right now, as David was talking about?

BASH: On the debt ceiling? Well, the treasury secretary says May 16 is the day that he believes that the United States will reach that level. You talk to some people up here on Capitol Hill and they say, well, they believe that there might be a little more wiggle room that the government has.

But, look, there's not a lot of time left. I think, in the month of May, we're going to see the vote going on, but what's interesting is that Republicans certainly have been using the levers that they think they got from this spending fight late last week to push for some other things to go along with this. They're saying that they simply will not allow the debt ceiling to go forward without either spending cuts or some entitlement reforms or maybe even a balanced budget amendment, but Republicans haven't decided amongst themselves exactly what they're going to push for along with that debt ceiling vote, Anderson.

COOPER: Dana Bash, appreciate it. Ed Henry as well. David Gergen, stick around, we're going to talk to you right after the break as well.

Up next, we want to bring in Democrat Cornell Belcher into the organization as well as Tea Party organizer Dana Loesch. Get their takes on this as well, as well as David Gergen.

And later, Eman's ordeal. She's been through so much at the hands of the Gadhafi regime. Now she's being told she will be allowed to leave Tripoli. But that hasn't happened yet, and she says her life is still very much in danger. We will talk to her and we will have the latest developments from the battleground in Libya.


COOPER: Well, we're talking in depth tonight about the next big showdown between the White House and Republicans in Congress. President Obama expected to lay out his budget-cutting approach on Wednesday this week.

There's a Republican outline already on the table with major spending cuts and changes eliminating Medicare, replacing it with government vouchers to buy private health insurance. But before any of that is decided there is the debt ceiling vote.

Back now with David Gergen, and joining us CNN contributor and Democratic pollster who worked for the Obama campaign and will again in 2012 Cornell Belcher. Also Dana Loesch, CNN contributor, Tea Party organizer, and editor of

So, Cornell, President Obama had hoped for what they call a clean bill on this debt ceiling, a bill without riders that the Republicans would put in. He's not going to get that.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think he's going to get it. And it's going to be another battle. But again, I think the more sort of the way the Tea Partiers are really dominating the conversation on the Republican side, and sort of their extreme agenda where we see, you know, everything from wanting to do away with the EPA to wanting to do away with health care for women under Planned Parenthood, I mean, all these riders and all these sort of extreme sort of social issues, you know, mingling with the fiscal issues hasn't been a winner. I think the president in this battle actually came out looking like even more like the adult in the room willing to compromise. And I think he will again on the issues of the debt ceiling.

COOPER: But, Dana, you obviously see it very differently. Why have these riders? Why not have a clean up and down vote?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I wish we, I wish we could just all get on the same page and not have and not increase the debt ceiling. But I think when we have to -- when we have to discuss about reducing spending, we have to start cutting somewhere, and I don't know why Planned Parenthood is always used as an excuse because that's not the only outlet that women have, low-income women, to go and get health services.

There's the women's health program that's already in Medicare that's subsidized by the government. So we already have that kind of taken care of. But I do think that it's going to be a huge battle and I don't think that it comes to social issues. I think, bottom line, and this is what the grassroots movement has only ever wanted, is to see some fiscal restraint. I hope that we can get both parties agreeing on this.

COOPER: Do you oppose raising the debt ceiling?

LOESCH: Completely. Absolutely, I do. I look at precedent.


COOPER: Even though economists say, look -- economists would say look, it would be catastrophic, apocalyptic, you say what, that's fear mongering?

LOESCH: Actually, I do. Some economists have said that that -- that it would be apocalyptic. But others have not so much. I look at precedents. We have raised the debt ceiling 74 times since 1962. And in 10 of those incidents occurred in just the last decade.

Now, every single one of those times that we have raised the debt ceiling, we have never taken the initiative to actually reduce our spending. It just is an excuse to keep spending more and more and to continue to add to our deficit. And I don't see how doing it again would be any different.

I'm all -- I'm completely opposed to it, because I think there's a number of ways that we can -- a number of methods that we can employ in order to bail ourselves out and take financial accountability besides that.

COOPER: David? BELCHER: Really quickly -- but really quickly, here's the problem. And I'm sorry, David. Really quickly, here's the problem. OK. You've got to deal with $100 billion in either cuts or tax increases if you -- if you don't raise the debt ceiling. This is something -- I mean, this is real here.

So OK, so you're going to cut -- you're going to make $100 billion in cuts in you don't raise the debt ceiling? That's nonsensical.

COOPER: David?

LOESCH: Well no, I...

COOPER: Well, let David...

GERGEN: If I could just say a word. I just want to come out on the debt ceiling itself. The debt ceiling is what -- under the debt ceiling you borrow money. They have to raise the debt ceiling in order to borrow money. If we run deficits, the government will have to borrow more money. And therefore, you have to raise the debt ceiling.

Under Paul Ryan's plan, this bold proposal -- I disagree with it, but I concede that it's very bold -- under the Paul Ryan plan, the government does not balance its books. It continues to have to borrow money until 2040. Of course we have to raise the debt ceiling.

The question is what Republicans can extract as a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Everybody agrees you've got to raise it. The question is sort of under what conditions? What are the conditions under which we go forward?

LOESCH: Right.

GERGEN: Do we, in fact, try to really have dramatic cuts in spending or increases in taxes? Or do we just go on willy-nilly and let the debt pile up. which would be extremely dangerous for the country?

BELCHER: But David, the Tea Party...

LOESCH: I want to make a quick point about Paul Ryan's plan as well.

BELCHER: The Tea Party argue that...

COOPER: I'm sorry. Cornell, then Dana...

BELCHER: Real quick and I'll give you-- I'll give you...

LOESCH: I want to make a quick point about that. I want to point out, please. I want to...

COOPER: You're both talking. No one's going to listen. Dana go and then Cornell. LOESCH: I want to make a quick point about Paul Ryan's plan. I'm actually not in 100 percent agreement of it for some of the reasons that David mentioned. Plus, I think it's a huge gamble, because in order to have a balanced budget in 26 years, all of the variables have to stay exactly the same. The economic variables, everything. And I think it's really, really risky.

But I look at it like this. I think Tim Pawlenty had a really good idea when he was talking about using April and June revenues to pay off America's creditors and then, in the meantime, slash spending.

The only way that we're going to be able to not raise the debt ceiling is to make massive, massive cuts in spending. I completely agree with that. And we're not going to be able to raise revenue by having public sector capital grabs. It has to come from the private sector. That has to come from making permanent tax cuts.

COOPER: Cornell?

LOESCH: That's how we have to do it.

COOPER: Cornell?

BELCHER: Well, I just don't think it's practical. If you're talking about sort of the level of cuts that you have to make in order for us not to raise the debt ceiling, you're talking about destroying our economic future. You're talking about taking the economy and putting it into a nose dive again. You cannot cut over $100 billion away from the federal deficit all at one time and not have economic catastrophe. You just can't.

COOPER: David, Cornell was saying he feels that President Obama kind of came out a victor from last week by being above the fray. Do you agree with that?

GERGEN: No. I don't think anybody won that, Anderson. The public CNN poll does approve of what was done. They give a little more credit to the Democrats and to President Obama than they give to president -- than they give to Republicans.

But if you look at President Obama's approval rating, it actually went down slightly in this poll. So I think this came out sort of to be a wash. I think everybody -- I think everybody was -- I didn't meet anybody -- everybody I met was relieved that they reached an agreement. I didn't meet anybody who was really applauding wildly.

COOPER: Dana, who do you think came out ahead, if anybody, from last week?

LOESCH: Oh, man. I know the right is really, really split on the deals that have been made by Boehner, and I'm a little disappointed. I understand that, all in all, there was only -- you could only cut from 260-some-odd billion on the table, and they ended up with give or take like 40-something billion.

But I think, ultimately, the Tea Party came out to be a little victorious because now we have the president and his administration talking about make cuts to entitlement. And that's really, really huge, especially considering where we were in this discussion just a couple of years ago.

COOPER: David, I sort of see you shaking your head.

GERGEN: Well, I'll let Cornell go. I just disagree with some of that. Look, I think Boehner came out as well as the Tea Party, he brought discipline to his party. There was never $240 billion on the table. The most Republicans were asking for. Back during the elections was $100 billion cuts. Then they lowered it to 60, and they got 38 on the 60.

It seems like a pretty good deal for -- you know, if you're a minority party in Washington. But even so, I don't -- I think we ought to move forward, not backward about -- on these deficit questions.

LOESCH: Right. And...

BELCHER: I will...

LOESCH: I'd like to correct one...

BELCHER: I also...

LOESCH: Sorry, go ahead.

COOPER: I was just going to say I'm talking about after you pass three CRs ands then after you took the 850 billion in defense off of the table, in all, in order to -- the piece of the pie, there was 260 something that could have been cut that they chose to cut from. And they ended up with the figure that they did. That was the point.

COOPER: Cornell, I'm going to give you the final thought.

BELCHER: Really quick here, I think I do have to take my hat off to Speaker Boehner because I think he did sort of -- he did have the tiger by the tail here and it was interesting that Michele Bachmann who I think of as sort of the Tea Party leader in Congress walked out on the Republican conference when this deal was cut.

However, I will say that I think the president does come out looking better on this. I mean, the margin between Dems' approval on this deal and the Republicans' approval on this deal is ten points. I think the president and Democrats come out a little bit better in this.

COOPER: Cornell Belcher, Dana Loesch, appreciate it. David Gergen, as well.

Coming up, the breaking news. The late and frankly chilling word we've been expecting from Japanese nuclear officials. Details on that next.

Also, Eman al-Obeidy, the woman who says she was kidnapped and gang-raped by Gadhafi forces more than two weeks ago. Speaking out tonight about how she's doing. She told me today she's afraid to go outside, that her only hope is getting her out of Tripoli. We'll tell you the role one of Gadhafi's sons may be playing in that.

Still ahead, also some pictures of President Obama led to wild conspiracy theories about what's going on with the side of his head, if you can believe it. It makes tonight's "RidicuList."


COOPER: Well, as expected, as we reported at the top of the program, we've just gotten word that Japanese officials have raised the nuclear threat level in the Fukushima disaster from a 5 to a level 7. That's the highest level. Until tonight the only 7 ever was Chernobyl. Perhaps the only good news here is that the rating is retrospective, backward-looking, reflecting the disaster's initial severity. It's also a provisional assessment done by Japanese nuclear regulators and is subject to review by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Now the latest from Libya. The opposition has rejected a proposal to end the fighting, because they say they won't agree to anything short of a plan to remove Muammar Gadhafi from power. That proposal came from the African Union. And Gadhafi had apparently agreed to it in principle. But opposition leaders say the plan doesn't give any solution to the violence against the Libyan people.

In a moment we're going to talk to David Kirkpatrick of the "New York Times," who has a really revealing look at the bizarre alternate reality that the Gadhafi regime has been trying to show reporters in Tripoli.

But first an update on a woman trapped in Tripoli right now, Eman al-Obeidy. This is, of course, how we first met her. Eman al-Obeidy burst into a Tripoli hotel filled with journalists, screaming that she'd been raped by Gadhafi's soldiers. She was dragged off.

Since then we've spoken to her several times, heard her speaking through tears about her ordeal: the kidnap, the rape, the torture. This weekend we talked to Eman as she told us one of Colonel Gadhafi's sons, Saadi Gadhafi, told her that she's going to be allowed to leave Tripoli and go back to her family in the east. We contacted Saadi's office, and they confirmed to us that they've agreed to help Eman leave Tripoli. It all sounded like great news for her. After all, she's been repeatedly harassed by Libyan state TV and on the streets of Tripoli.

But so far Eman has not left Tripoli. I talked to her earlier today. She's terrified to go outside, terrified also that the world will forget her. I spoke with her earlier.


COOPER: You spoke to Saadi Gadhafi. What did he say about the possibility of leaving Tripoli and going back to your home?


GRAPHIC: No, no, he said he is aware of the situation but he did not give me a time or details.

COOPER: Did he tell you if he's spoken to his father or his brother Saif about your case?


GRAPHIC: The last time I met him during your interview he said he had spoken to them before but today he told me he would talk to them anew but they were busy with African delegation and the Libyan negotiations.

COOPER: Do you think that they're going to let you leave? Are you hopeful?


GRAPHIC: This is my hope in God, and I mean with the efforts of the media and with pressure they may agree.

COOPER: What is it like for you going outside where you're staying? Do you still feel unsafe?


GRAPHIC: I have told you before the types of incidents I am exposed to when I leave my home, and I have not left my home for more than a day with the exception of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I did not go out. I have not left my home for two days because I am always exposed to harassment and the second thing is when I go to pursue my case the public prosecutors avoid and they refuse to meet me and tell me they are not there.

COOPER: I knew you went to the courthouse on Saturday, and it's a great risk for you to even go outside and to go there. When you got there, what happened?


GRAPHIC: I went to the criminal court to follow-up on the kidnap case and the deputy prosecutor told me that they cannot do anything for me. I have completed all the legal procedures and the police will not detain the people I've accused. They're not thinking about me.

COOPER: Have you learned anything more about -- about your attackers, about the men who kidnapped you?


GRAPHIC: No, I have not learned anything. But two days ago when I went out, I saw one of the men who kidnapped me. I saw him riding in his car and driving around the city. He wasn't scared, meaning he knows he will not be detained. When I saw him I cannot tell you how I felt. There was pain and fear because he was circling and he has not been detained, meaning he could confront me at any moment and kill me.

COOPER: You told one of our producers that one of them was a relative of an official. Is that true?


GRAPHIC: Yes. Yes, of course this is true. They are in a war so they need all the members of the family to be united. They would not like the family to break and split on them.

COOPER: We'll continue to follow this. Please stay safe. Thank you.


GRAPHIC: Please don't forget me. Please remain in touch with me, because my hope relies a lot on you.

COOPER: We will not -- we will not forget. We will continue to check in on you and do all we can.


COOPER: Her fear that people will forget her. Eman's story is one of the few that have pierced the veil of Gadhafi's regime. A story they haven't been able to fully manipulate.

In a fascinating piece for the "New York Times," David Kirkpatrick today talks about the lengths that Gadhafi's government is going to as it tries to control what information gets out. Kirkpatrick says with the events and tours that are staged for journalists the government lies but doesn't even try to be very convincing or consistent, as we've been pointing out. David Kirkpatrick joins us from Cairo.

David, after spending weeks and weeks in Libya, I can only imagine it must feel like you've escaped from living in some sort of alternate reality.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK, "NEW YORK TIMES": It feels pretty different being home. It's true. It's -- you know, it's certainly not as hard for us as it is for, frankly, a lot of Libyans. All my colleagues on the eastern side who are just trapped in a pretty nice hotel in Tripoli. But it does feel a lot more free in Cairo.

COOPER: You say that, quote, "The most honest trait of the Gadhafi regime might be its lack of pretense to credibility or legitimacy." Explain that.

KIRKPATRICK: Well, covering the Gadhafi government from inside their operation -- they had the hotel full of their media handlers and staff and they really wouldn't let us out -- we would see night after night that they would have a press conference, and they would say things which, by the next day would clearly be demonstrably false.

You know, for example, "Oh, the city, we've taken it over. No longer in rebel hands. There's just a few pockets of violence." Every night we would hear pockets of violence, a few pockets of violence. We're mopping it up. And then the next day, of course, they wouldn't have taken it over. It was still in rebel hands, and there weren't pockets of violence. There was open street fighting.

And this would go on again and again and again and again. And you'd wonder why are they doing this?

Or they'd -- or they'd take us out to a funeral, a couple times. A few times they would take us to events that purported to be funerals for civilian casualties, but it wouldn't really add up. It wouldn't be the -- the number of coffins wouldn't match with the number of holes in the ground. Coffins would come and then they would go. And a huge crowd of young men waving green flags would show up, but they weren't sad or grieving. They were just kind of angry and chanting for Gadhafi.

And I don't think anyone really expected us to believe that these crowds of young men were grieving for these families. I can only imagine that it was more just to show us that they still could produce huge crowds of men waving green flags.

COOPER: But why...

KIRKPATRICK: It was more about power...

COOPER: Why say stuff that is clearly not true and will be proved, you know, not true within a few hours? I mean, do you think it's just that, like, one part of the government, the regime, you know, doesn't know what the other part is doing, or you know, the handlers have their job to do, and they're not responsible for, you know, following up on whether or not it's true? They're just -- I mean, does one hand not know what the other is doing? Or does one hand just not care what the other is doing?

KIRKPATRICK: Well, the truth is I don't really know the difference between those two things. But you are absolutely right that there are a lot of different voices. It was obvious that there were many different people making input into the strategy and contention between them.

And that's one of the things about the Gadhafi government. Most of the decision-making is kind of behind the scenes, people -- on important matters people really around the Gadhafi family.

So there's not a real defined hierarchy of decision makers. You don't exactly know who precisely is in charge. So a lot of those -- there's a lot of opportunity for sort of contentiousness in the way decisions are made, not only in the way we're handled but the whole government.

COOPER: It's a great article -- it's a great article in the "New York Times" today. I urge people to read it.

David Kirkpatrick, it's been great talking to you from Tripoli. I really appreciate you taking the extra time to do that on top of your, you know, incredible workload for the "Times." Thank you very much. And I hope you get a well-deserved rest.


COOPER: Up next, the latest from the Ivory Coast, where there's finally some good news after weeks of clashes that left hundreds of people dead.

And "The RidicuList" is back tonight, and man, we've got something that's, well, just ridiculous. The new Obama conspiracy theory. It's not about the whole birth certificate thing. Donald Trump might want to pay attention to this one. It might give him something new to talk about. We'll tell you what it is, ahead.


COOPER: Let's check in now with some other stories we're following. Randi Kaye is with us with the "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Ivory Coast president Allesane Ouattara is calling for calm after the arrest of strongman Laurent Gbagbo. He's also vowing to bring his rival to justice. Gbagbo's refusal to step down after losing an election last year plunged the West African nation into civil war. He surrendered today after French troops stormed his compound.

In Belarus, state media are reporting at least 11 people were killed and more than 100 were injured after an explosion struck a subway station in the capital, Minsk.

Back in this country, a guilty plea from the man accused of trying to help bomb Washington-area subway stations last year. Farooque Ahmed got 23 years in prison.

Oil giant BP will pay $30 million to seven counties in Florida's Panhandle over the next three years. The grant is aimed at helping the region's tourism industry recover from last year's Gulf oil spill.

And the lawsuit made famous in the movie "The Social Network" may finally be over. An appeals court today affirmed a lower ruling that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss cannot back out of a settlement deal they signed back in 2008 over the creation of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins alleged Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the social networking site. Then later they charged Facebook misrepresented its stock value in the settlement.

An ugly battle, Anderson, but it looks like it is finally over.

COOPER: Yes. All right. Randi, thanks very much.

Tonight the return of the "RidicuList." We haven't been doing it now for a couple of months. Yay.

Tonight we're adding a charming little group of conspiracy theorists that we have dubbed the presidential scar-gazers. I put "scar" in quotes. There are people out there, especially in that newfangled think tank that is the blogosphere, who have suddenly become very, very interested in President Obama's hair. Or rather what's in between his hair follicles.

You see, pictures like these are making the round. We put a little circle over that so you can look at it. Are make the rounds and inspiring a bunch of carefully considered opinions about whether that is a scar or a new scar on President Obama's head.

I'm talking really restrained, well-thought-out theories here like did the president have brain surgery and not tell anyone? Or how is that -- and if he did, how has that affected his thinking? Is that why he needs a teleprompter, people have asked online. Is this why he doesn't want anyone to see his birth certificate, people have asked.

Don't you just love online political discourse? Makes you rethink the whole high-speed Internet access, doesn't it?

Now, I have some personal experience with this type of Internet chatter about hair. In this case my hair. See, I'm told a number of folks online believe that I have a toupee, and they point to pictures like this. All right. Sort of looks like maybe I have a rectangular bald spot above one ear. And look at this one. It does kind of look like -- well, you can't really see it in that. It does kind of look like I'm wearing a toupee there and that I'm in danger of smiling it right off my face. Actually, I think we reversed the photos. We got them wrong.

Anyway, I'm here to tell the truth: there is no toupee, although I can do this with my hair. What you see are lines I get because I won't pay more than 16 bucks for a haircut. I have an excellent barber named Isaac, but when my hair grows out, it grows out weirdly. What can I say?

As for President Obama maybe it's bad angles, weird lighting, PhotoShop. Those things lie had this minute. Come on, you can go online and find pictures of Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, the chupacabra. You may find a potato chip that looks like Jesus. Here's the photographic proof that Dick Cheney as a robot. All of which are just as convincing as the cries of Obama has a scar, and it really, really means something.

You know, people like the scar gazers have always been around. Once upon a time we nodded politely at them when they cornered us in the checkout line at the grocery store, changed seats on the subway to escape them, carefully avoid them at family reunions.

But now their chorus of crazy is louder than ever, and like- minded strangers have a place to gather and cheer each other on. Thank you, Internet.

"The Daily Mail" actually called the White House to ask about these scar rumors. A spokesman for the White House said they were not willing to comment and that the claims were -- and I'm quoting here -- ridiculous. You took the words right out of my mouth.

Serious stuff at the top of the hour. The rise in threat levels. Japan crippled nuclear plant. Details ahead.