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Spike in Gas Prices; Separation of Mosque and State; Gov. Scott Walker's Reaction to Letter from Democrats; Gas Prices Still Rising; Many Muslims Object To House Hearing about Radicalization; Kilauea Spew Lava; The Catholic Church Facing New Sex Abuse Lawsuit; Air Strike Today Killing Five; Last WWII Vet Dies

Aired March 7, 2011 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: What a great story. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Ali Velshi. Hey, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Suzanne. Good to see you. Have a great afternoon. (INAUDIBLE.)

It's been a bad couple of weeks, by the way, to be a car owner and the next couple may not be any better. The average nationwide price of a self serve regular gas a gallon, $3.50. It's risen at a breakneck pace, almost 34 cents in two weeks. That's according to AAA. The fastest, highest increase since right after Hurricane Katrina.

Now, if this rate of increase keeps up, I'm not saying it will, we will set a new record for gas inside of a month. The highest average gas price to date, $4.11 in July of 2008. Remember, averages are made from extremes which means $3.51 as a national average, looks pretty good to folks in San Diego -- look at that, $3.87; Houston's $3.36; Billings, Montana, by the way, a relative deal at $3.15 a gallon.

Now, you cannot talk about gas without talking about oil. So, I have hauled out my barrel for "Two at the Top." This is an old oil barrel. Today, this much west Texas intermediate crude, which is what we use, is selling for more than $100 a barrel. I've a chart for that, too. Just this past month during which the price of the same oil barrel has shot up more than 19 percent, check that out.

Now, there's no particular magic to understanding oil prices. They go up for two reasons: demand and speculation. The entire world produces about 84 million barrels of oil per day. And guess what? We use all of it.

Here in the United States, 5 percent of the world's population lives here. We use 25 percent of the world's daily production of oil every single day. 10 percent of all the oil consumed in the world in a single day is used in the United States just for driving.

Now, right now, the United States imports more oil than it produces. Now, where does it come from? Check this out, this is something you may want to know. These five countries highlighted in yellow is where most of our oil comes from: Canada -- the lion (ph) share of Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela. Those companies make up almost three quarters of U.S. oil imports. See Libya on that map? No.

The Libyan turmoil may be spooking the market, that's the speculation that I mentioned but it is not putting a dent in global oil production. Demand-wise, virtually nothing you or I do will have much of an effect on the price of gas. In fact, demand for oil and gasoline in the United States have been pretty stagnant for the past few years. We are driving fewer miles and those miles that we do drive are generally driven in more fuel-efficient vehicles.

We are reducing demand, but China and India and other developing countries, take a look at that. That's where the demand is coming from. Their increase in demand is more than offsetting what we're not using. The real problem for so many of us here in the United States is the way in which we live.

Take a look at this. Does this look familiar to you? This is anywhere, USA. While the rest of the world has spent the last couple of decades urbanizing, living closer to where they work and developing better mass transit, the United States remains a nation devoted to suburban sprawl where it is typical to live 20 or more miles from work, where you get more home for the money than if you live closer to work.

I've long argued that the best offset to increasing oil prices is to invest in oil or companies that make money off of oil, but for many Americans still struggling to get out from under the recession's affects, investing right now is not an option. So, if you can't invest and you cannot move and you drive every day to go to work, truth is you have a problem. You know that, you didn't need me to tell you that.

Is it going to get better? My guess is until we are fully committed to developing alternatives to energy that's derived from crude oil, it's not really. But that's not stopping people from looking, and when oil and gas prices spike, people look to the strategic petroleum reserve, the nation's emergency stockpile of 727 million barrels of oil. My colleague, Christine Romans, will join me with that at quarter past the hour.

OK, another topic, now. For "Sound Effect", I want to turn to a hearing this week on Capitol Hill on the radicalization of American Muslims.

The new chairman of the house homeland security committee says he wants to learn how certain U.S. citizens are drawn or recruited into terrorism. But many American Muslims feel New York Congressman Peter King is unfairly scrutinizing them. King was a guest on CNN's state of the union as was the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, Keith Ellison of Minnesota -- listen to them both.


REP. PETER KING (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: The old woman (ph) majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans but at this stage in our history, there is an effort to radicalize elements within the Muslim community, and I've said when going after the mafia, looking to the Italian community, the Westies, the Irish community, and the old time (ph) the Russian mob, they go into the Russian community and Brighton Beach and Coney (ph) Island.

And right now, there is an effort and this isn't just me saying this, Eric Holder said he stays awake at night worrying about the numbers of young Muslim men who are being radicalized.



REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Let me be clear. I think that it does make sense to talk with people in the Muslim community about how we can meet the challenge of public security. I do think so. I think it makes sense to talk about Internet, confronting ideology of people like Anwar Al Awlaki. I think where he's trying to exploit and misuse Islam, we should counter him with what Islam really does say. And, so, I do think that that -- there is a place for that. I just think it doesn't make sense to narrow in on a discrete innocent (ph) group that's been the target of a certain amount of discrimination.


VELSHI: Now, the hearing's set for Thursday. You'll see top to bottom coverage, right here on CNN. I also want to draw your attention to a "CNN in America" special, "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door." Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the building of a mosque in the heart of the bible belt. Her special report airs Sunday, March 27th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

On to other stories now, starting with the Libyan civil war. Pro-government troops appear to have taken over Bin jawad, which was hotly contested over the weekend.

Medical sources tell CNN that at least five people were killed there, yesterday. An air strike today targeted the main road into Ras Lanuf, on the eastern side of the country, an oil town that remains in the control of the opposition. In fact, many of the pipes -- the pipelines in Libya, lead to Ras Lanuf where they're shipped out. Opposition forces responded with anti-aircraft fire. Witnesses tell CNN that opposition forces also remain in control of Misurata. You're seeing it here.




VELSHI: A doctor says at least 42 people were killed there on Sunday. A supreme court ruling announced today will give a Texas death row inmate another chance to prove his innocence. In a six to three decision, the court ruled that DNA evidence must be considered before Hank Skinner is put to death. The evidence was not considered when Skinner was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and two sons. He came within 45 minutes of being executed before the court agreed to hear his case.

The catholic church is facing a new sex abuse lawsuit. Lawyers say they'll sue the archdiocese of Philadelphia and several of its leaders for an alleged cover-up of sex crimes against children, the plaintiff is unidentified. There's no comment on the suit from the archdiocese. Last month, a grand jury in Philadelphia charged four priests with molesting boys or concealing the attacks. Philadelphia's district attorney is urging any victim of priest abuse to come forward to his office.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is spewing lava, again, putting on a spectacular show -- check this out. Scientists say the floor of the volcano dropped 377 feet on Saturday, opening a fissure that ended up shooting lava 80 feet into the air. The area has been closed to visitors. Kilauea has been in a constant state of eruption since 1983, but lava flows, like this one that you're looking at, only happen once every few years.

Well, he was a last of America's doughboys. Frank Buckles died on February 27th at the age of 110, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I.

Now, his daughter wants his body to lie in honor in the rotunda of the capitol building in Washington as a tribute to all the veterans of the first world war, and she's backed by politicians in his home state of West Virginia, but the request appears to have been rejected. Instead, he'll likely receive an honors burial at Arlington National Cemetery. I want to hear from you on this, should Frank Buckles, America's last World War I veteran, lie in honor in the U.S. capitol as a symbolic tribute to all the vets of that war? You can comment on my blog,, or my Facebook or Twitter pages, which you see here.

Well, the big criticism against these Congressional hearings on Muslim extremism is that they unfairly single out one religious group. We'll do a "Just The Facts" breakdown on Muslims in America, what you need to know -- coming up next.

And stick around, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will hold a press conference from Madison at 1:30 Eastern, about 20 minutes from now, to address the ongoing budget crisis there.


VELSHI: With all the focus on Muslims in America this week on Capitol Hill, we thought we'd help you understand who these folks are. Muslims in America, let mess give you a sense of the numbers. Now, we're going to get a substantially better idea about Muslims in America after the 2010 census data is all in, but according to new -- or at least recent information of the Pew (ph) state department surveys, Muslims make up more than -- how about (ph) less than 1 percent of the total population in the United States, but let me tell you a little bit about who they are. Muslims in America, about two thirds of them, 65 percent are foreign born, about 35 percent are born here in the United States.

Let me show you a little bit more about them -- Muslims in America, where they live. These are some of the concentrations that we see where they're living. About 18 percent of America's Muslims live in the western United States, about 22 percent in the Midwest, including a fairly large population in Detroit, in Chicago and areas like that, about 29 percent of Muslims in America are in the northeast, and about 32 percent are in the south. That's how the Muslim population in America breaks down.

Anyway, we'll be having a whole more on Muslims in America coming up in the next little while. I'll be talking to a Muslim scholar and doctor who's testifying at those hearings that are in contention this week -- Peter King's hearings about the radicalization of Muslims in America -- that's coming up in about 10 minutes.

All right, let's talk about two worlds, two truths. Does freedom of religion mean freedom from suspicion? CNN's Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the bible belt. "Unwelcome: the Muslims next door," that debuts Saturday, March 27th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Well, it's only been done twice but next, a popular idea for driving down gas price. We'll tell you why it doesn't make sense.


VELSHI: All right, we're talking a lot about oil and gas prices. You are because you're paying so much more. Christine Romans joins me from New York with an important discussion. There's a debate going on about tapping into the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve. Seven hundred and twenty-seven million barrels of oil sitting around in four sites on the Gulf of Mexico. Should we do it or should we not? Here's Christine to tell us a little bit about it.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST, CNN'S "YOUR BOTTOM LINE": Well, first I think it's unlikely. And here's why. We've only done it a couple of times. Once in the first Gulf War and once during Hurricane Katrina. We've done some exchanges out of it, allowing people to take oil out but then having to put the oil back at the end. That's happened after Hurricane Ike and Gustav, Ali.

But also, remember, if they were to tap the strategic petroleum reserve, it's unclear what the oil market would do on that fact. It might cause actually some great uncertainty and unhappiness in the markets, right, if they thought that the administration was so concerned about oils and shortages, in fact, that they were pulling oil out of here. Now, what is -- those 727 million barrels, as you know, Ali, the whole idea of this is it's an emergency reserve just in case there are supply shutdowns and supply stoppages.

VELSHI: Right, which we don't have. Which is not what's happening.

ROMANS: We don't have.


ROMANS: We do not have that. Libya has got a million barrels a day off the market, according to the oil industry, people who have been watching that. And Saudi Arabia and OPEC say that they're going to keep, you know, pumping oil to make up for it.

You make a very good point when you -- when you do your breakdown about this, Ali. That every little drop of oil that comes out of the ground, we're using somewhere in the world and, you know, a quarter of that we're using here in this country. So there's important conversations about conservation, about dependence on foreign oil, on all of these sorts of things there.

But the strategic petroleum reserve, just talking about it, I think, might be a gam (ph) but to try to put oil prices down a little bit. To try to, you know, tap the break on oil prices a bit. But would it, you know, would it really work and would they really do it? That's what's not so clear, Ali.

VELSHI: I mean it is -- it's important to get to the bottom of this. That the -- we don't have a whole lot of oil shortage affected by Libya. The bottom line is that very little oil comes out of Libya in the first place and virtually none is stopped and that's not really -- it's not a supply problem that's affecting the price of oil, it's a psychological problem, like it often is.

ROMANS: It is. And it's also a global demand issue, as well. I mean you already had very brisk global demand altogether. Now, one thing -- one thing that's very clear is there are some who are concerned that until you're pretty sure that this unrest and the demonstrations in the Middle East are over, that you're still going to have these nervousness. I mean analysts are looking at every single country there and reading the Twitter feeds and the tea leaves, Ali, to try to figure out, could there be demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, in Abu Dhabi, in Qatar, in all of these other places that are important natural gas and oil producing areas.

So, you know, we're not saying there are no risks out there in the region. There certainly are. But in terms of oil being off the market. Now what else could the administration do? They could roll back a gas tax. You know there's an 18-cent federal gas tax and different states have even more higher taxes. They could do that. Try -- talked about it in 2008. It didn't happen. They could do maybe price controls. Did that in the '70s, but that really didn't hold down. Plus, Ali, you've got this other debate in the country right now about getting the government out of your life and then you start to hear people talking about, well, can't they do anything about my gas prices. So it's kind of conflicting ideologies there on that.

Bottom line is, according to Deutsche Bank, an analyst there, Ali, you won't see $4 oil -- $4 gas, rather, until you see oil at $125. Right now you've got oil about $105, $106.

VELSHI: All right. Well, we are -- if the trend continues, we're headed there soon. We'll keep on top of it. Christine, good to see you, as always. Thank you, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Yes, you, too.

VELSHI: Be sure to check in to Christine's show, "Your Bottom Line," Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern and "Your Money" Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern and Sundays at 3:00.

Just a few minutes from now we are expecting a news conference in Wisconsin. The governor and state leaders there are supposed to talk more about Wisconsin's proposed budget cuts that have triggered angry protests throughout the state. That is set to start at 1:30 Eastern. We'll bring you more when it happens.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi says the African Union will send a fact finding committee to investigate reports that he is killing his own people. In an interview with French TV, Gadhafi says the investigation will show that claims are, quote, "one hundred percent lies," end quote, as the country's civil war rages on. Gadhafi blames al Qaeda for Libya's unrest.

The Supreme Court here in the United States has rejected those challenging the birth origin of President Obama. Today, the court struck down an appeal from the so-called Birther Movement to examine if President Obama was actually born in the United States. If the questioning had been allowed, the Birthers could have disputed Obama's eligibility to be president according to the Constitution.

And President Obama held his first meeting with Australia's new prime minister, Julia Gillard. The two discussed the country's shared interests, including Afghanistan and a pull-out of NATO troops this summer. Gillard stopped by to see Obama during her five day trip in the United States.

Well, a devout Muslim, he's on the witness list for those Capitol Hill hearings on radical Islam and he's got a lot to say about it. We'll get a personal preview from Dr. Zuhdi Jasser next.


VELSHI: The extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and the community's response, the official name of the controversial House hearings that are getting underway on Thursday. One of the people scheduled to testify before Congressman Peter King and the Homeland Security Committee is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. He is the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He joins me now from Phoenix.

Dr. Jasser, thanks for being with us. What is the American Islamic Forum for Democracy meant to do?


It's basically an organization that we formed as a think tank in an activist group to talk about the fact that the only solution to terrorism, which is a symptom, is actually reform and the separation of mosque and state. And basically we find any opportunity to advocate for that reform, giving Muslim youth and Muslim young adults the sense of identity with America. And that once that identification is made, it's the only solution to radicalization.

VELSHI: All right, is that the problem with those Muslims who may be the problem in America? And let's not -- I think we can both accept that Peter King may be being a little bit broad about where he thinks the problem comes from, but clearly of those Muslims who are a threat to the safety of Americans and the United States, is that the issue that they don't separate mosque and state?

JASSER: It really is. I feel it is. And that they look upon western society -- remember, violence is that final step and so far the dialogue in government and media has just been too myopic. We're not fixing the problem. As Prime Minister Cameron said a few weeks ago is that, not only do we need to treat the violent -- the violent radicals that are in the pool, we need to drain the ideology from the pool that they're swimming in. That ideology is political Islam. The sense of an Islamic state. That you have to have Sharia and government and a supremacist idea that societies that have an establishment clause under God but not under Islam are inferior and thus not their own.

VELSHI: Why, then, because we've had Muslims in America for a long time. Why is this now a bigger deal? Why have Muslims started, according to Representative Peter King, started to get radicalized?

JASSER: That's a great question. I think it's because as you get a critical mass and as you see some of these ideas, whether it's the Jihadi cool on the Internet, the cyber Jihad, you see some ideas that are transmitted during the Iraq-Afghanistan war that America is killing Muslims against Islam. You see groups that claim to speak for American Muslims really all about saying, don't talk to the FBI. They're against you. Only talk to them with an attorney. They're suing the FBI on monitoring issues. And the narrative, the bandwidth is being filled more and more with victomology (ph), circling the wagons, rather than fixing and repairing our own reform and modernization. And I think that creates radicalization.

VELSHI: Now, Peter King said something about the leadership. He said most American Muslim are good Americans but their leadership has to change. It's a remarkably, remarkably naive statement from him to talk about the leadership of a religion. Islam, like Christianity or Judaism, doesn't have some sort of leadership for all Muslims. JASSER: Well, that's exactly right, Ali. But the thing is, is, when we say leadership, we're basically saying, well, the people that happen to be speaking for Muslims. But yet the ones that are the majority that are the --

VELSHI: But that's not necessarily leadership, right?

JASSER: Like every other America --

VELSHI: Osama bin Laden claims to be speaking for Muslims and most Muslims would say Osama bin Laden doesn't speak for me.

JASSER: Well, exactly. So the Muslims that separate mosque and state are not going to identify with Islamic group that happen to have Washington addresses. So they're not going to have microphones. They're going to be embedded into our rotary clubs, our medical associations, our bar associations. They don't have a voice yet. So we, as a country, in order to deradicalize or counter radicalize, need to give new platforms for secular, liberal, Muslim organizations. As Prime Minister Cameron said, a muscular (ph) liberalism to wake up Muslims to say, you know what, let's not let the brotherhood-type groups that have been speaking for our community to continue to do so, but let other new, indigenous, organic Muslim groups that believe in the constitution's true establishment clause and believe in the duty to reform to start to lead, also, and also get a voice.

VELSHI: Real quick question, quick answer from you. One percent of America might be Muslim. Two and a half million Muslims or something like that in the United States. What percentage of those Muslims do you think are radicalized?

JASSER: If radical means violence, it's a very, very small percent. Three to four percent. If radicalization comes from political Islam or Islamism, I'd say it's probably 20, 30, 40 percent. And we need to study that more.

VELSHI: Wow. All right, good to talk to you. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate it and we look forward to listening to your testimony on Capitol Hill.

JASSER: Thank you.

VELSHI: Dr. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, joining me from Phoenix.

And, by the way, if you want to follow this topic more, two worlds, two troops, does freedom of religion mean freedom from suspicion. CNN's Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt here in the United States. "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" debuts Sunday, March 27th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Well, the U.S. defense secretary gets a little choked up today in Afghanistan. We'll see why after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VELSHI: Let's go right to Madison. That is Governor Scott Walker talking about letter he got from Democrat senators.


GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: -- why this letter is so ridiculous. And I think it's important because for the last several weeks both Senator Fitzgerald and my administration have been reaching out to reasonable senators, many of whom are very interested and willing to come back to the state of Wisconsin. And time and time again the person standing in the way of making that possible is Senator Mark Miller.

Senator Fitzgerald's going to talk about how a week ago he went to Kenosha, to meet with several senators who were interested in coming back. He can fill you in on his discussions there. But that was one of the many times in the past couple of weeks, in which instead of holding press conferences and negotiating or appear to negotiate in the public, what Senator Miller and others have done, we've actually been trying to get the job done and have been reaching out to those senators who are interested in joining us back here in the state's capitol to conduct the business of the people of this state.

After that meeting, later in the week we thought, OK, let's raise the stakes, so on Wednesday I authorized members of my administration to travel to Kenosha to meet again with some of those same state senators who are interested in coming back, who have a sincere interest in coming back, and who are reasonable about their approach in terms of coming back.

That night, they invited and he accepted -- they invited Senator Miller in hopes that after day of day of day of thinking they were close to coming back, only to find Senator Miller standing in the way of that progress, having him there might be helpful.

So they met at the McDonald's in Kenosha, in fact Senator Miller actually had hot cocoa along the way with some of the other folks there. They had a good and lengthy decision one in which created the framework for what we thought would be a pathway home.

In fact, my staff was so optimistic about that they literally called me at about quarter of midnight, woke me up on Wednesday night to talk through exactly what had been discussed at that meeting and to tell me they were optimistic that we were on our way towards coming home Thursday or Friday with those state senators. So, we had progress. We thought we had the framework of a pathway home for those 14 Senate Democrats.

But again, Senator Miller stood in the way. And Senator Fitzgerald, I know's got some comments on that, as well. But it really leads you to question of who's in charge. When you literally have a meeting where reasonable senators feel like they've got an agreement with our administration, one in which we've kept both the Senate and the assembly Republican leadership in the loop on in terms of what we were doing and progress we were making , just as Senator Fitzgerald had earlier in the week kept the three of us informed of what was going on. Each and every step it appears any time there's some reasonable senator seeking to make and take action, again, again the barrier tends to be Senator Miller.

Even as late as this weekend, yesterday, I authorized two members of my administration to travel to South Beloit, to go across the state line to do exactly what Senator Miller's asking for in this letter to be done in the future, we did yesterday. We actually did this. Again, we didn't put out a press release because we're serious about getting this done on behalf of the people of the state. People talk about negotiate. We've been doing it for days. The problem is we have a handful of senators who are interested in doing this but we have Senator Miller who time and time again allows his caucus to stand in the way of the progress coming forward.

And now, I think the public has finally seen in the past 24 hours firsthand the frustration that we have felt for days in the sense that they were misled by the statements that Senator Miller made last night to a national media outlet saying that the Senate would come back and now today he's reversing course on that. I think it's indicative of the fact that now Senator Miller is misleading the public just like he misled us and just like apparently he seems to be misleading many members of his own caucus.

For us to move forward, we need to have reasonable and responsible elected officials stand up and decide it is time to set aside those who would stand in the way and instead figure out a reasonable pathway home, a pathway we have offered multiple times in the last couple of weeks and we're willing to continuing to offer. I even had a discussion personally with one of those reasonable senators I called this morning, myself, on the way back from the tourism conference I spoke at earlier today.

We have a path. We have a way home for at least some of those state senators so we can get a vote on this measure and more importantly we can move this state forward to get back to jobs, the economy and our goal of creating 250,000 jobs over the next four years here in the state of Wisconsin.

That's where we can work together on. That's where we've had success and working with many of the same Senate Democrats who joined with the Republicans here in the legislature to set a clear agenda that shows that we can get Wisconsin working again. But we've got to have leaders who are willing to stand up and stand in the way of those who are trying to block this from happening.

And that's why this letter is just absolutely ridiculous because time and time again we have met. The very person who wrote this letter to myself and Senator Fitzgerald -- Mark Miller -- is the person standing in the way of that progress and we need to have a change so that we can move this state forward.

Before we take some questions I'm going to ask Senator Fitzgerald and then Speaker Fitzgerald to say a few words, as well. Senator.

No, we'll take questions in a moment after we each talk. SCOTT FITZGERALD (R), WISCONSIN SEN. MAJORITY LEADER: I've been in the building 16 years as a legislator and been involved in many, many negotiations over the years. But I must say that one of the things you certainly have to establish before you negotiate is make sure you negotiating with somebody that can actually deliver. And I think that's part of the frustration right now.

When I drove to Kenosha and met with Senator Cullen and Senator Jauch, we actually started on the Budget Repair Bill and we discussed each item there. Some of them just working through what did this mean, how does it work, how would it work? And Senator Cullen took out the yellow legal pad and started to take notes.

At the end of that two-hour meeting I asked them to forward those ideas to Director Lang at the Fiscal Bureau and they did that. And there was a list of items that was created that evening that I reviewed the next day.

It was then at that point that I brought the governor's office in on that list and quickly figured out that I needed to continue to talk to them. At no time did Senator Miller become part of those discussions. But what I really thought what I was doing is negotiating with those two senators to come back on their own and they actually said we will come back on our own --


VELSHI: All right. This is a live press conference coming to us from the state of Wisconsin. This is a Republican senator talking about a letter received by the Democratic leader to the governor talking about the terms under which they would consider coming back. They want to restart the discussion.

Obviously you heard tough words from the governor about the Democratic senators who have left the state. We are trying to get hold of Democratic senator to give us their side of the story and meantime I believe we have got -- who've we got there?

Ed Lavandera is standing by at the state house in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ed, what does this latest development mean?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. It's really kind of giving you a sense of just how much of a stalemate both sides are at here. We've been trying to reach Mark Miller, the Democratic senator, who you heard the governor there talking quite a bit about. He's the one that sent the letter this morning. We've been trying to reach him throughout the morning as to where things stand.

In the meantime, we have been able to speak with three other Democratic senators and there had been some talk that the senators would perhaps considering come back here to Madison, Wisconsin, some point this week. But the three senators I've been able to speak with this morning say that that is not going to happen. They're prepared to stay away longer.

The negotiations, they say, broke down late last week and there really hasn't been any substantial communication since then. That's what the Democrats are saying. You heard it a little bit differently there from the Republican governor who detailed some meetings that they had.

Really, this is a -- the situation, Ali, where both sides trying to get a couple of defectors to get numbers on their sides. The Republicans need one Democrat to essentially defect to their side so that they could bring all of this to a vote here in Madison. The Democrats for the meanwhile say, look, they think that there are three Republican senators that didn't really like this bill to begin with and they're hoping to pick off three of those.

Whether or not any of that can happen here this week is really difficult to say at this point, Ali, but that's kind of stalemate we are at right now.

VELSHI: All right, Ed, we'll stay on top of this to see whether there are any developments. And, of course, if you hear from one of the Democrats or we do, we'll bring that response to our viewers.

Ed Lavandera at the state house in Madison, Wisconsin.

Fierce new fighting on all fronts in Libya's civil war and the U.S. and NATO consider military options in response. A live report from Tripoli is just ahead.


VELSHI: Heavy fighting us underway in the civil war in Libya. Both troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and rebel forces claim to control strategic cities. Now, in Washington, the White House says that sending ground troops to Libya continues to be an option but it's not the top of the list at this point.

Now, let me show you a series of maps to help you understand the situation on the ground right now. The first map shows you the Libyan capital of Tripoli, which is still controlled by Gadhafi forces to the east. And the key port and the key port of the oil city of Benghazi, which is over here, it is controlled by rebel troops.

Now, let me show you the next idea so you can these green ones are controlled by Gadhafi, red controlled by rebel troops.

The next one, Ras Lanuf. Now, this is interesting. Look at all these blue lines. These are all oil pipelines. Rebels say that they control Ras Lanuf, but it's been under fire from government ground and air forces.

Let me show you another map now and that shows you Bin Jawad. Reports now indicate that this coastal town is under government control after fierce fighting today and over the weekend.

And let me show you this one here, Misrata. You've heard of about this. This is just east of Tripoli. Misrata is the scene of heavy fighting and has been the scene of heavy fighting over the weekend. Witnesses say rebel forces were able to repel a government assault on the city yesterday.

And finally, I'm going to show you one more. Zawiya, which is just a little bit west of Tripoli. The battle here has gone back and forth for several days. We are unable to confirm who controls the town of Zawiya right now.

Joining us now, though, is CNN's Nic Robertson, I believe he's in Tripoli. Trying to keep track of this. Nic, What do you have on the situation in Zawiya? What do we know about it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, government officials won't take us to Zawiya. They've been telling us since Friday the government's taken control, they have killed what they deem as terrorist leaders.

We managed to get within a mile of the center of Zawiya, where we met several thousand rebels over a week ago. There is heavy gunfire going on there. It is still not a city under government control. We could hear heavy antiaircraft gunfire. We could hear the thud of artillery rounds and we could also small arms fire and see the movement of army vehicles. Saw about 150 fresh army recruits heading into that area.

The problem the rebels have in the site of the city, they can't get out to resupply (INAUDIBLE) from ammunition dumps, so they have limited ammunition. If they break out of the city, there's nowhere to break out to. They can't break out and join up with rebel forces, so they're surrounded. But they've been doing a four-day battle just, what the government says, 100 or so rebels. Yet the (AUDIO GAP) can't defeat them. And it's still rushing in more reinforcements, which gives you and idea the army is not as crack as perhaps its leaders hope it might be.

VELSHI: Right. Also means it could draw out now that it appears to be a full-out civil war. Very interesting to hear U.S. and other Western forces discussing the military options, including -- including while they say not high on the list -- the idea of troops going into another country to deal with the civil war.

Nic, we'll stay on top of this with you. Stay safe. Thanks for joining us. Nic Robertson, our chief international correspondent. joining us from Tripoli, Libya.

All right. Some of us already have bodies like finely tuned machines. But the rest of you might catch up with 20 years with the cyborgs come. The future of man in today's very interesting "Big I," right after this.


VELSHI: OK. Today's "Big I" is somewhat controversial. It all centers around the future of humanity. Our guests today predict in about 20 years, people will become more like cyborgs, which is a combination of man and machine in order to compete in this ever- changing world. But that's only the beginning. Take a look at this clip.


UINIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go back 500 years, not much happened in a century. Now a lot happens in six months. Technology feeds on itself and gets faster and faster. It's going to contain you (ph). In 40 years, it's going to be moving so fast, the pace of change is going to be so astonishingly quick that you won't be able to follow it unless you enhance your own intelligence by merging with the intelligent technology we've created.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations and governments and societies will be created and destroyed on the back of the technology this book describes.


VELSHI: That was a taste of the documentary "Transcendent Man," which was directed by Barry Ptolemy, who joins me now. Also with us is Ray Kurzweil, who's book, "The Singularity Is Near," inspired the film, and he's heavily featured in it.

Thanks for joining us, both of you. And in fact, Ray, you were featured on the cover -- in this "Time" magazine from last week with your article. It says "2045, the year man becomes immortal." And it talks about you in here.

Now, let me just ask you, singularity. Your book is about singularity, not an expression most of us know. One description of it - let me just show our viewers what it can be. I don't know if this is you said this or someone else did. "A future period in which technological change will be so rapid and its impact so profound that every aspect of human life will be irreversibly transformed.

RAY KURZWEIL, INVENTOR, AUTHOR AND FUTURIST: Yes. I did say that. I mean, this is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer I used as a student. It will happen again in the next 25 years.

VELSHI: Right.

KURZWEIL: It's 100,000 times smaller. 25 years this will be the size of a blood cell. The software is also getting smarter. Look at Watson that can understand human language.

VELSHI: Right. That was the one competing in Jeopardy.

KURZWEIL: Exactly. Does pretty good with the subtleties of language. Google cars are driving without human drivers, 140,000 --

VELSHI: But this is the part -- all of that I get, but this thing here that shows some kind of connectivity going into the human brain. You're actually talking about somehow the human brain -- KURZWEIL: Right. There won't be a connector. These devices will be the size of blood cells that go through our bodies and brains, keep us healthy from inside by augmenting our immune system. Go inside the brain, put our brains on the Internet, give us access to cloud computing inside our brains.

We're going to merge with this technology. I mean, that's why we create this. This makes me smarter, and we'll be putting the technologies inside of us.

VELSHI: I agree with you. I've got three devices around me, but there's something being around me as opposed to part of me.

Barry, it's not an easy topic and it's a controversial topic. And Ray's opinions, although he's very smart and widely lauded, are controversial. Tell me about this movie.

BARRY PTOLEMY, DIRECTOR, "TRANSCENDENT MAN": Well, I mean, Ray's ideas are the most profound I believe that we've ever had to grapple with in all of human history. I think it's important to document them at this time when these exponential changes are coming at us faster and faster. That's why we made the movie.

VELSHI: All right. Ray, let's just talk about what you think is going to happen. Firs of all, you're described, when we read about you, as a futurist, as an inventor. You've gotten some things right in the past. That's why a lot of people say, if Ray says so, it's going to happen. Tell me how I cope with this, because there's something about 2029 that is important in your writings.

KURZWEIL: It sounds like nothing happens and then suddenly everything happens. Things are happening already. Three years ago, people didn't use social networks. Now it's overflowing governments. We get used to these changes very quickly.

Ultimately we'll reprogram our own biology, which is an information process. We have these computer software process called genes, which are out of date. We need to update them. Our ability to do that is getting more and more powerful. It grows exponentially. And the key point is our intuition about the future is not exponential. It's linear. It makes a very profound difference.

VELSHI: Barry, this idea that we'll have to augment our intelligence with computers - you're on the outside of this. How do you see this? I mean, in my view is, why can't we just control or shout down or draw back the computers a little bit?

PTOLEMY: Well --

VELSHI: And I say computers, but I mean technology really.

PTOLEMY: Well, you mentioned you have three devices in front of you. So, as they become more powerful, if we don't become a part of them, they will become so powerful that they would live their own lives. We need to merge with our machines. We've always used them to extend our reach ever since the beginning of time. I think we need to continue to do that. That's why Ray's philosophy of allowing them to come into our bodies makes so much sense.

KURZWEIL: Egypt shut down the internet. They had to turn it back on because their whole economy came to a standstill.

VELSHI: It's scary, but it's worth reading about and it's worth watching the movie. Because it's hard to understand where this is going. But boy, you really are on top of this. Controversial, brilliant figure. Ray Kurzweil, thanks very much for being here. Thanks for making the movie, Barry Ptolemy.

You can find out more about Ray Kurzweil and Barry Ptolemy and the documentary "Transcendent Man." Go to my Web site, I'll be right back with more news in just a moment.


VELSHI: It is time now for a CNN Political Update. Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, is at the politics desk in Washington. Hello, Dana. What do you have for us?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ali. Very interesting news, at least, that we're going to get about an hour from now. That is John Ensign, he is the Republican senator from Nevada, he is going to say whether he'll run for reelection. He's up this year. He says he'll have a press conference announcing his future political plans.

Now, why this is interesting is for a number of reasons. But I think, first and foremost, is people might remember the name John Ensign because he got into whole lot of trouble last year -- maybe two years ago at this point, because he was having an affair with a staffer. And actually in order to allegedly try to help cover it up, tried to get work for the staffer's husband. They actually happen to be good friends of him and his wife.

So, it certainly was an untoward story, but also left him in some hot water apparently with the FBI, who then said they were not investigating him anymore, but he is still under investigation here at the U.S. Capitol by the Senate Ethics Committee. So, we should know in about an hour what he's going to do because he already is in a very tough state, was already going to have a tough reelection ahead of him. So, that's one we'll be watching.

Second item on the ticker is an issue that's been take taking up all the oxygen here on Capitol Hill, Ali, and that is the battle over funding, government spending. And the question of whether or not this looming deadline, once again, of whether or not the government is going to shut down, March 18th, what will happen.

Now, what we know is go on here, of course, is that Republicans want to slice about $61 billion in spending. Democrats want to cut about $6 billion, a big gulf between the two. There will be votes on both of those plans tomorrow in the Senate. And the hope among leaders and both parties, frankly, Ali, is if those two measures fail, which we do expect that to happen, that they are going to be able to tell their rank and file, who are really pushing both sides to stand firm, you know what? We're going to have to compromise.

And I should note that leaders of both parties are saying, Ali, that they don't want a government shutdown to happen. But the question is, can the two sides come together in the next -- what are we, almost -- less than two weeks away from that deadline.

VELSHI: That's right, March 19th, two Fridays from now.

Dana will be on top of it.

Thanks very much for that, Dana Bash.

BASH: Thank you.

VELSHI: And we've got another political update for you about one hour from now.