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In the Arena

Washington, D.C. Mayor Arrested; The Next Budget Battle; Aftershocks in Japan; Burqa Ban Goes into Effect in France Today

Aired April 11, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program.

Breaking news tonight. You thought it was over. Guess again. How hot is the budget fight in this country? So hot that tonight the mayor of Washington, D.C. has been arrested at a budget protest along with much of his city council.

Mayor Vincent Gray and his colleagues were arrested in front of the Dirksen Senate Office building charged with unlawful assembly. The group of city leaders was blocking traffic in both directions.

Why was Gray so mad? Because he was not even told by Senate leaders or by the president about crucial riders in the final bill that directly affect his city. The final agreement included a ban on funds for abortion services in Washington and a return to a school voucher system.

No big surprise, he was ticked off.

A little more Washington dysfunction over the budget and our political leaders are already strapped in for the next battle. What is it this time? A debate over raising the limit on how much money the U.S. government can borrow.

Right now America's debt ceiling is $14.29 trillion. The debt ceiling is much the same thing as a credit card limit. What happens when you go over your limit, no one will want to lend you anymore money. The same thing could happen to your government in a matter of weeks.

Republicans want to use the debt ceiling limit as a bargaining chip to get more spending cuts. Holding this up could be a genuine catastrophe. No joke, the sky could actually fall.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is covering all the latest developments both inside and outside the Capitol.

Dana, what is going on with the mayor? Mayors don't get arrested every day even in Washington. What happened here?


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this case it was good old-fashioned civil disobedience, Eliot. He did it on purpose. And you laid it out. The reason is because he is -- in your words -- ticked off that the Congress is about to pass a bill as part of this larger deal that will allow -- actually will ban the D.C. government from using its own funds -- not federal funds -- local D.C. funds from helping low-income women to get abortions.

This is something that has been certainly controversial but look, I mean the bottom line is that if all of this horse trading late Friday night and really all week last week, abortion was a big issue that Republicans, conservatives, were pushing. And they were talking about cutting off money for Planned Parenthood. A whole host of things.

This was the point, the Democrats, decided that they were going to give Republicans something on. And social conservatives around the country are very happy that this is something that they have.

The D.C. government is upset because they believe that this is -- not really fair to them. That they should have more rights and this is an example of how Democrats even more broadly beyond the D.C. government are not happy with some of the things that their Democratic leadership at the White House decided to deal on.

SPITZER: You know, Dana, it's an amazing concession on the part of the White House. No surprise they didn't tell us about it over the weekend. Also no surprise that Washington, D.C., let's remember, they don't get a vote in Congress.

BASH: Exactly.

SPITZER: They are -- you know, this is if ever there was a case of no taxation without representation, I think we said that 200 some- odd years ago when we got rid of the Brits rule on this. Then they secede, I don't know what's going to happen if Washington, D.C. secedes. All right. That will be next week's crisis.

But, Dana, let's talk about the deficit for a moment, raising the debt ceiling. People -- last week was kind of a skirmish compared to the magnitude of the crisis we'll be facing. I think May 15th or 16th is the date we're going to hit that limit. How are the sides positioning themselves right now?

BASH: Oh, boy, I mean the fact of the matter that this did look like, really, kiddie stuff to what we saw last week and it really tied the city in knots and -- Capitol knots compared to what we're going to see.

You're right. I think May 15th or 16th is the date that the U.S. Treasury secretary said that the U.S. is going to hit its limits.

And this is always -- Eliot, you know this, always a very tough fight for -- vote, I should say, for politicians to take to say, you know what, we're up against our debt limit and we want to raise it so that we don't default, but also it sends a signal, they believe, to the American people that we just can't pay our bills and they're spending too much in Washington. Even President Obama, when he was senator, he voted against that. Republicans are saying and they have really said this, Eliot, since the day that they took the majority in the House, that they're not going to allow this debt ceiling to be raised unless they get some concessions. Meaning either some spending cuts, more spending cuts which are going to be pretty hard to find based on what we saw last week, maybe a balanced budget amendment or some entitlement reform.

Now I can tell you that Republicans on both sides of the Capitol are still talking about what exactly they want their bargaining chip to be. They haven't decided amongst themselves yet but whatever it is they feel pretty empowered after the fact that they actually did pretty well in this fight with Democrats over spending cuts.

They got a lot more -- they gave a lot -- the Democrats gave a lot more, I should say, than the Republicans did in that fight.

SPITZER: Look, Dana, I think there's no question about it. The Republicans feel they won this debate. I'm not sure if the polls reflect that yet. But Republicans feel, and they in fact did when they look at it, they won this negotiation with the White House. No surprise the White House has lost every negotiation for two years now.

But both sides here -- and this is what dangers both sides -- feel that they have a lot of leverage going into this debate. The Democrats are saying there is no way the Republicans are crazy enough to blow up the credit of the United States government. Something that has been sacrosanct for 200 plus years.

On the other hand, the Republicans are saying the White House knows they've got to give us something big in order to get us to vote on something as enormous as this, and so this could be the collision where two trains are coming at each other on the same track without either side really being willing to give the major points.

And let's not forget we are borrowing every 40 cents of every dollar. So raise it a necessity, raising that limit is a necessity but how we get there is going to be awfully difficult and it's going to be a fight down there.

BASH: Absolutely. And the one thing I will say though, is, just like last week and the fight over whether or not the government would shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner was saying privately and publicly that he knew that that was a very, very bad thing politically and also bad for the country, bad for the economy, both in this country and globally.

He knows the same thing is true. And he has said so publicly about doing something that will really hurt the chances of the debt ceiling -- of the United States defaulting, effectively. He knows that, he has said that. And so, yes, he is fighting for what he can. Yes, he believes that he has some leverage right now. But at the end of the day, both he and the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell know that they're -- that this is playing with fire.

SPITZER: All right. It's going to be fun to watch this one or maybe not so much fun.

Dana, thanks so much for that report.

The debt ceiling Dana was just talking about is the nation's moment of truth. That's what former Senator Alan Simpson calls it and he has predicted this fight will be a bloodbath. He is the wise man of Washington, and I spoke with him just moments ago.


SPITZER: Senator, thanks so much for coming back on the show.

FMR. SENATOR ALAN SIMPSON, CO-CHAIR, PRESIDENT DEFICIT COMMISSION: You bet. I enjoyed it the last time and I'm sure I will.

SPITZER: I hope so. You know, look, let me ask you this. Let me go backwards to last Thursday/Friday when we were all teetering, is government going to shutdown?

Did you watch that as sort of -- look, you've been at the center of all of this, and did you say, it's going to work it out because there's too much political risk or did your sort of heart start pounding saying this is outrageous, as an ordinary taxpayer I'm troubled by the dysfunction, by the selfishness that we're seeing here?

SIMPSON: Well, you would laugh if it were funny but it's not funny.


SIMPSON: Because they're talking about billions when they should be talking about trillions. But nobody knows what a trillion is.


SIMPSON: And they just sit there like -- blinking like a frog in a hailstorm when you mention a trillion but here is one, when a guy said when you blew a million a day since the birth of Christ, you wouldn't be at a trillion yet.

SPITZER: OK, I just got to follow up on something, frog in a hailstorm?

SIMPSON: A frog in a hailstorm.

SPITZER: Explain this one to me.

SIMPSON: Blinking like a frog in a hailstorm. Can't you see a frog sitting there?

SPITZER: No, I've never seen a frog out in a hailstorm. You're completely -- and you know I've been out in bad weather.

SIMPSON: Well, you know, but they just blink, you know? And if you're puzzled, you stand around. Watch guys who are on television who lie a lot and they're blinking like a frog in a hailstorm.

SPITZER: You're making me self-conscious. I used to say deer in the headlights but -- is the same thing as deer in the headlights?

SIMPSON: No, no, it's more confusing. It's like - well, I won't use -- no, if my wife heard, she'd stop me. No, it's just a confusion. Total confusion.

SPITZER: OK. Now I'm getting it.

SIMPSON: Blink --

SPITZER: Finally on Wednesday we're going to hear from the president who has basically been absent in this whole deficit debate. What do you want to hear from him this Wednesday in this big speech to the nation to know that he's for real when it comes to confronting the deficit?

Is this the magic moment? Has the president called you and said, Senator, you did the hard work, I'm going to finally embrace you -- this sort of structural concept of your report and make this the centerpiece of my thinking?

SIMPSON: Well, I think you might be aware that we'll be there. So I don't think he would invite us there before or after his remarks if he were going to just put us up there as cardboard figures and say, thanks for your work and I didn't take any of it on.

SPITZER: Well, you've never been a cardboard figure. There's no question about that.

SIMPSON: You're going to see -- you're going to see movement. He wasn't going to do anything. If he had back then he'd been savaged by the Republicans. Republicans weren't anything to do anything. They would have been savaged by the White House.

Solely this is a great cone of reality coming together, squeezed like a Venturian nozzle where they're going to have to get in the room in the dark and somebody is going to say, we won't tell anybody that you made the suggestion which can get us on the path to sustainable, just sustainable or stabilizing the debt. You don't have to go crazy. Just stabilize it.

SPITZER: Let's talk politics for a second. The Republicans got to have a presidential nominee next year and I don't -- you know, if you've been doing everything that is right and good for the public without being partisan, and -- you know that's what the public applauds.

But to be partisan for a minute, is there a Republican candidate out there who is talking common sense on the deficit right now?

SIMPSON: Yes. I think that they're going to have to. When the president gets in and Ryan is in, you don't -- you may not like what Ryan is doing but let me tell you, Ryan has got guts enough to put in a plan. If these people want to just sit around and whine and bitch about this plan or Schakowsky's plan -- I didn't like her plan but she had the courage to put one in -- this is what it's all about. We call it the Boucher (ph) rule name after Javier Bucher. If you don't like what we're doing, put in a plan.

I can only tell you if they stay away from the social issues, if somebody is saying return to the base or if somebody is telling you they're going to do this or that or abortion is a hideous thing, who in the hell is for abortion? I don't see anybody with a sign, but for god's sake it's a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don't think that men legislators should even talk about it or even vote on it.

And then you've got homophobes in our party -- good god, we're all god's children, we're all human beings. If they're going to play that ancient ritual we ain't got a prayer, it doesn't matter who they put up.

SPITZER: Well, it sounds to me like you're pretty close to being an Obama supporter. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth.


SIMPSON: No, no. No, I mean --

SPITZER: I'm to the trying to cause trouble for you but that's -- I mean, look, I agree with everything that you just said. I'm not a Republican. I'm not one to obviously tell the Republican Party what to do but the social issues are not going to be a road back to victory. The public cares about dollars and cents right now. Mitch Daniels is pretty close to what you're talking about in terms of --

SIMPSON: He's a wonderful guy. I knew him when he was here. Mitt Romney is another person that I like. I've met them all. Haley Barbour is just as great of a good guy. Pawlenty, I've met him. I know Newt.

You know, but at some point, if they're just going to toady and pander people aren't going to put them. And I'll tell you, there's another thing. People who aren't going to vote to do something about this disastrous fiscal system I think are more at peril than they were when they used to go home and bring home the bacon for their little fans.

SPITZER: Look, I could not agree with you more. Let me just quibble with you about one more thing. I think you're right. Paul Ryan deserves a lot of respect. He did some things that are very hard politically in that report and my hat goes off to him for that.

Where I disagree with him other than the individual substance, the phrase, shared sacrifice. Two-thirds of his burdens fall on the poor. Not enough on those who are wealthier, and I think that if we're going to redefine our social contract and get the public unified behind this common purpose, we've all got to share the burdens in some way and I don't think his report went far enough in that respect. Maybe this can be compromised down but I hope that's where we end up.

SIMPSON: No. I think Erskine and I both responded to his report, and said we saw it a more balanced approach than we saw there.

SPITZER: Yes. One more reason why we're all such huge fans, Alan Simpson.

SIMPSON: Well --

SPITZER: And Erskine Bowles.

SIMPSON: I have irritated everyone in the U.S. If there are any pockets left you call me and I will get them furious --

SPITZER: We'll do that next time, sir.


SPITZER: Thanks so much for being with us.

SIMPSON: You bet. Thank you for what you do.

SPITZER: Well, we try.

SIMPSON: You bet.


SPITZER: Next, in Japan, the ground keeps shaking. That damaged reactor keeps leaking and the evacuation zone keeps getting bigger. Now there are signs the country's famous stoicism is developing cracks.


SPITZER: Breaking news tonight in Japan, another fire at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and we have just gotten word just this moment that the nuclear accident severity level has been raised to the maximum to a seven.

Just for a comparison, that's what Chernobyl was. This cannot be anything good. We're not exactly sure what it means, but we'll stay on it for more details.

Meanwhile, this is the one month anniversary of the terrible earthquake there and it was marked by several frightening aftershocks. Today's biggest measured 6.6. Take a look at this Tokyo office at the moment it struck.

That earthquake tremor temporarily cut off power to 200,000 residents at Fukushima and to the pumps sending coolant water into the damaged nuclear reactors.

Joining us now is former nuclear power plant operator Michael Friedlander from Hong Kong.

Welcome, Michael.


SPITZER: So, let me ask you, I've just got to ask, what would trigger right now they're raising the severity level to seven, which is what Chernobyl was? I mean, this projects all sorts of bad images in my mind.

FRIEDLANDER: Sure. I've been following this issue quite closely this morning. As you can imagine it's (INAUDIBLE) as well. But the reason and the basis behind it was they've now gone back and they've done a reassessment. A reassessment that actually taking place in the power plants in the early days of the accident during the first week or so.

Remember we saw those dramatic explosions on the secondary containment and the steam releases that were going on. And as the consequences of having reanalyzed those in terms of the total amount of radioactivity that has been released, that was what caused the upgrade in the rating system. It has nothing to do with anything that's going on today.

SPITZER: That's interesting. So this is really a reflection of how dangerous things were several weeks ago rather than the fact that there's another -- at least reports right now that another fire has broken out at reactor four. But what it confirms is that all the dire analyses that some were discounting a couple of weeks ago that things were really, really bad back then were true?

FRIEDLANDER: There is no doubt that the station blackout in one nuclear power plant is bad much less four.

SPITZER: And so what do we now know? Look back over the course of this month, sort of recap it for us. You're the real pro who understands the technical stuff. Tell us how bad were those meltdowns, and what lessons have we learned, if any, about our risks going forward at U.S. plants that have a similar design.

FRIEDLANDER: Right. So you know, again, as the days and weeks go on we will learn more and more information and we'll have an opportunity to follow up on it, but there's a few things that are just very apparent to us today.

First and foremost is that in the moment that you say that something can't happen that's when something will happen and I think in terms of the emergency preparedness, again, the normal and the national standard is you assume a disaster in one power plant and that's what the emergency (INAUDIBLE) I think the earthquake and the tsunami and it affected four power plants in a quite dramatic fashion.

So I think that the whole emergency planning and the emergency exercise is something that absolutely needs to be taken I think serious lesson out of that. The second situation is, again, we've seen this unfolding in the decision making and in some of the actions that have been taken, reset for the nuclear technology.

Some of the decisions that we've seen being taken by the authorities in Japan, for example, from the moment that they lost some of the equipment to the time that they actually restored seawater injection, we don't know all the decisions, we don't know why that was all made but that was clearly the single event that caused the reactors themselves, the cord to fail, and that just can't happen.

That's fundamental nuclear power 101 and things like that should never happen and we need to understand that and whatever lessons learned need to be incorporated into that. We saw that (INAUDIBLE) at Three Mile Island. We saw that again in Chernobyl. And here we are 25 years later, learning the same lesson over and over again.

I think that there was a domain lesson that we need to follow up on. In terms of the reactors themselves that were damaged, again people throw around this term fuel melt a little bit casually. We absolutely have confidence that the clouding around the fuel has failed.

We don't know if it is perforation, if it's been broken, certainly some of it has oxidized and left. But when people throw around the term fuel melt, people get sort of this apocalyptic scenario where there are pools of molten fuel laying on the bottom of the reactor vessel. And we can categorically say that that is not the case.

There are potentially some pellets laying around that have potentially fused together because they got hot but every indication is that we have, it is that, indeed, the fuel got hot but it in fact did not melt.

So that was a good thing. I think some the new designs that are intended to be a bit more robust relative to operator error and a little bit more robust in terms of their heat and passive design and things like that are absolutely some of the directions that we need to go should we decide that nuclear is going to keep playing a key role in our future.

SPITZER: You know, what you're describing actually sounds as though it is not as apocalyptic as I had imagined when I heard that they had raised the threat level to seven which is Chernobyl level, so why would they equate the two now even in terms of the threat level? Because you hear that they're raising this to the Chernobyl threat level and you know that the loss of life of Chernobyl was huge.

I mean that was a scale of disaster that has been rivaled few times in terms of energy anywhere in the world so why would they now go that length. Even with the increased radiation leak it would still seem to be significantly different from Chernobyl unless I'm misunderstanding where things are.

FRIEDLANDER: Again, I think that the difference, for example, if we were to put this on a scale between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the difference here is that, of course, Three Mile Island we had one reactor, now we've got four. And as some commentators have mentioned, don't forget we have the cores the (INAUDIBLE) that the slight of the scale from a Three Mile Island scale up to the a Chernobyl scale has much more to do with the scale that we're talking about here of four reactors.

SPITZER: Got it.

FRIEDLANDER: You know nobody should -- nobody should dismiss at all for anywhere near a moment. We had three nuclear power reactors whose core failed and during a containment venting we discharged high levels of radioactivity across the countryside in northern Japan and out over the ocean, over the Northern Pacific.

We certainly don't want to sweep that under the rug. But I think, though, in terms of the relative scale, again, I think we're bound on either end by both the Three Mile Island scenario as well as the Chernobyl.

And you know we're sort of -- we're sort of parsing it a bit finely here but I don't think we actually have the level of detail to parse it like that time.

SPITZER: All right, Michael Friedlander, thank you. And we'll keep coming back to you as we get more news if any about that fire in reactor four.

All right, when we come back, lifting the veil in France. New law barring Muslim women from covering their faces in public is now in effect. Does it oppress Muslim women or liberate them? We'll deal with that subject.


SPITZER: Debates over integrating devout Muslims into society are not unique to the United States. Effective today it is illegal to wear a burqa in France or a niqab like this. A Muslim veil that reveals only the eyes.

The new law drew protest and confusion on the streets of Paris. Two women stepping out in their niqabs and drawing the crowd were arrested for staging an unauthorized protest.

The French government has called the veils, and I quote, "a new form of enslavement," and, quote, "not acceptable on its soil."

Many Muslims are enraged but not all. I am joined by Hebah Ahmed, a writer for the blog, Muslim Matters, who's against the ban. She's in Albuquerque. And Mona Eltahawy, a columnist on Arab and Muslim issues who wants to see the ban extended everywhere. She's joining me from Washington.

Welcome to you both.


SPITZER: Let me begin by -- if I might, by quoting the President Sarkozy of France in his justification for the law. It's kind of a remarkable statement. He says, and I quote -- this is the president of France. "The burqa is not a religious symbol. It's a sign of enslavement of debaseness. I want to say this solemnly. The burqa will not be welcomed on the territory of the French republic. We cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind a mask, deprived of all social life of their identity."

So, Mona, let me start with you. You want to extend this ban across the world. Do you agree with President Sarkozy that merely because somebody wants to dress like this, they choose to dress like this, they shouldn't be permitted to do so?

MONA ELTAHAWY, COLUMNIST ON MUSLIM ISSUES: You know, Eliot, I detest Nicolas Sarkozy. I consider him right wing and racist but I also detest the niqab and I detest the face veil. And I say this as a Muslim woman.

I think that it represents an ideology that does not believe in Muslim women's rights to do anything but choose to cover her face. And I find that -- I believe that the niqab dangerously equates piety with the disappearance of women and so I support banning it everywhere because I don't -- it's not in the Koran, it's not an obligation for a Muslim woman to cover her face, and my talk with you now with you seeing my face is going to be very different than if I were sitting here with my face covered.

I believe that the human face is central to communication.

SPITZER: OK, Mona, the only thing I would observe and I want to give Hebah a chance to jump in of course but I heard you used single personal pronoun I many times. I have no doubt you believe that, but why should your belief ban other people from wearing what they want to wear. That's what I don't get.

Hebah, explain to me why you think the ban is a bad idea.

AHMED: I think that it's a bad idea because I think it's yet another example of men telling women how to dress, how to live their life. It's another way to try to control women. And to take it to a government level and to try to legislate the way that a woman dresses is not just wrong and against human rights, but it really violates the whole basis that the democracy in democratic countries are based.

This is a free choice. This is something that I choose to wear. I disagree that it's some right-wing ideology. It is something that is permitted in Islam. I have a masters degree in mechanical engineering and I'm free to do whatever I want, and this is choice that want to make. And just because somebody doesn't accept my interpretation of Islam or personally like it doesn't mean that we can use laws to violate people's freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

SPITZER: Hebah, let me just ask you this. When you go to the airport, you understand they're going to be obligations, they're going to have to check you for security like they check all the rest. When you get a driver's license, they take a picture with or without your veil on? AHMED: Absolutely. I want everyone to know that as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim in America, I am just as concerned about safety and security as everybody else. And I have no problem whatsoever accommodating any security issues that come about. When I enter a bank, when I go to the airport, when I go to the DMV, I show my face and actually in Islam we are required to show our identity when we're in a court system giving testimony. This is absolutely something that is essential for the security and identification of people, but it doesn't mean that I should be banned completely from what I choose to do.

SPITZER: OK, Mona, let me jump in here. There are lots of type of dress that I look at and I don't like them. I think they're degrading. I think they're oppressive. You know, a lots of things that I see teenagers wearing that, you know, I'm now viewed as old- fashioned by my kids perhaps. I don't go around saying we should pass a law banning it. Isn't that fundamentally violative (ph) of the First Amendment? What possible reason can there be legally to say to somebody you can't dress the way you want to dress.

MONA ELTAHAWY, COLUMNIST ON MUSLIM ISSUES: Actually, Eliot, the government does tell people how they can and can't dress all the time. You cannot walk outside naked. There are many states here in the U.S. where three or more people cannot be together in public wearing a face mask. So the government actually does legislate over our wardrobe, but everybody conveniently forgets that.

I would like to ask Hebah, you know, once I'm done talking, if she works. Because we've been on media shows together where we've been on opposite ends of this argument and I know from what she said before that once she started covering her face, she stopped working. So my argument is -- and this is not just about "I." I understand the point that you were making earlier, Eliot. Feminist groups, many women's rights group have made the point that what the niqab goes in a society, especially for Muslim women is that it creates a spectrum where that is the pinnacle of piety and that is the good Muslim woman and so, of course, it has -- it affects me.

In France, where this ban is going in effect, Muslim women's rights group there support it because they find that Muslim women who live in the French housing projects have been put under tremendous pressure by the Muslim right wing to give into the niqab, and when they speak out they are told it's basically become these political pawns.

SPITZER: But, Mona --

ELTAHAWY: That's why I said I oppose Sarkozy but I oppose this on women because what choice do women have besides covering their face. This ideology doesn't recognize Muslim women's rights.

SPITZER: Mona, I just have to push you on one thing here. There are certain prohibitions on the way people dress, or you mentioned nudity that don't dress that are in fact imposed upon us by law but none of them that I'm aware relates to a specific religion and says if you are a devout member of a religion you cannot dress in a way that you are obligated to to practice your religion, your choice of faith. Can you think of any example like that? Because I can think of a thousand other laws if this were upheld that suddenly we would limit all sorts of things that people do for their religious beliefs because we don't agree with it. Wouldn't that be a very dangerous thing to do?

ELTAHAWY: See, this is I think where these right-wing interpretations of religion get a free pass because everybody says well, it's my religious obligation, it's my religious right do this. Let's look really at what we're talking about here. We're talking about the disappearance of women justified in the name of them becoming closer to God. So the closer you want to become to God, the more -- the less of you, the more you disappear.

SPITZER: But, Mona --

AHMED: I don't feel that I have disappeared at all.

SPITZER: One at a time.

AHMED: I totally disagree.

SPITZER: Guys, one at a time. Hebah, jump in. Tell us, does anybody forced you to do this? Is this something you're doing with your own free will?

AHMED: Nobody has -- nobody has forced me do this and I really have to disagree with the statistics that Mona is trying to put forth because studies have shown that there are only 2,000 women in France that wear the niqab. The majority of them are converts who converted to Islam and are voluntarily choosing to do it. This is my choice. Nobody can force me to take it off. I would not take it off even if you paid me to do it. And the fact of the matter is that there's never -- I have never met a single Muslim woman in all of my travels around the world that is being forced to wear it. She -- I understand Mona does not like it and does not want to wear it personally. But she keeps talking about her own feelings about it and she wants to use the law to support it. If she wants diversity and Islamic belief, then she has to accept my version just like she wants me to accept hers.

SPITZER: Mona, let me ask you this question. Do you have any evidence to support your statement that women are forced to wear this? And let me ask you this. If women are being forced to do something they don't want to do, there is recourse other than banning this entire motive dress that has chosen as we just heard from Hebah by people who do choose to wear it of their own free will.

ELTAHAWY: Well, you know, I lived in Saudi Arabia. I have a sense that she's traveled the world and she's never met a woman who has been forced to wear it. I lived in Saudi Arabia where millions of women are forced to cover their face. But now that the argument will be, well, that's in Saudi Arabia not in France. What choice does a woman have when she's told she will burn in hell if she doesn't cover every inch of her body? What kind of a choice is that? So, of course, she's going to convert to this ideology. AHMED: I've never heard that. I've never heard anybody say that.

ELTAHAWY: But the women who convert to this ideology who are then told that this is how to be a good Muslim woman, to be close to God, to avoid hellfire, is there really a choice in that? And I believe when you have a law like this, you know, I told you I detest Sarkozy. I consider him racist, but I will not sacrifice Muslim women's rights in order to uphold the Muslim right wing which I believe is misogynist. With a law like that, a woman can tell her husband or any male relative who is forcing her to dress like this, the law says I don't have to dress like this.

SPITZER: Mona -- Mona, let's not deal with Saudi Arabia, different customs, different laws. We have the First Amendment.

AHMED: Thank you.

SPITZER: I was talking about France. I was talking about France.

SPITZER: Mona, wait, hold on one second. In the United States, we have the First Amendment that gives people the right to practice religion as they wish. Do you not think that a law in the United States that would ban this form of dress would violate the First Amendment, permission to practice religion as each individual sees fit?

ELTAHAWY: Well, this comes back to religion again. Everything is allowed, just because someone says it's their religious belief. You know, what I think --

SPITZER: No, no, no, Mona -- I'm going to jump in. Hold on one second. It's banned or permitted until there is some compelling state interest on the other side, but it's got to be an overwhelming interest. What is the overwhelming interest that would justify us in banning a type of dress that people choose as a result of their religion?

ELTAHAWY: Well, all the reasons I just gave you but I will repeat. I believe that this is genuinely harmful to Muslim women because it creates this pinnacle of piety in which a Muslim woman is told, this is the closest that you can get to God and she's disappeared. I'm no longer here. You don't even know who I am. The face is central to communication.


ELTAHAWY: And not just that, it objectifies women.

SPITZER: Mona, Mona.

ELTAHAWY: The pinnacle of objectification.

SPITZER: Look, I agree with much of what you're saying but not as the matter of law. You know, you get the last word. You haven't gotten a fair time in this one. Give it the best 15 seconds you've got.

AHMED: Thank you. Basically, I want people to know that when I choose to cover this way it's because I am fighting against a systematic oppression against women in which women's bodies are being sexualized and objectified. This is a different perspective and a different form of empowerment in which I think when I'm in public, my sexuality is in my control and people have to deal with my brain and who I really am and not judge me by my body. And if we want to really talk about the oppressive situation of women, let's talk about all the eating disorders, all of the plastic surgery, all of the unhealthy diets that are being done, all in the name of having the perfect body. To me, this is liberating and this is empowering. Mona keeps saying I believe, I believe, I believe, well, we don't make laws based on what Mona believes or what anybody believes.

SPITZER: All right. Guys, well --

AHMED: It's based on whether or not --

SPITZER: This is clearly not an issue we're going to resolve in the will resolve in the next 10 seconds. I want to thank you both. Hebah Ahmed and Mona Eltahawy, clearly a passionate and important debate.

AHMED: Thank you.

SPITZER: When we come back, E.D. Hill will be here. E.D., what do you have tonight?

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in Libya, negotiations are under way and we're now finding out that Moammar Gadhafi is hiding weapons systems in people's Houses, even in mosques. So, what do we do now? We'll talk to Fran Townsend to find out.

SPITZER: All right, thank you. Stay right there.


HILL: Death and destruction and no end in sight. In Libya, both sides have dug in. Rebels today rejected a peace plan put forward by the African Union.

Meanwhile, new protests ripped through Yemen and Egypt. Fran Townsend joins us now. She knows the region, the players as well as anybody. She is a member of the CIA External Advisory Committee and last May, Fran visited high-ranking Libyan officials at the invitation of the Libyan government and joins us now.

It's good to you have here. Because you know, it's a hard area to understand and all of the players. We've got the African Union come in and to me they sound legitimate. They go in. They say to Moammar Gadhafi, OK, we've got this idea for mediating the peace and Gadhafi goes, I'm on. Peace plan, fine. You know, we're going to cease hostilities and the opposition says, forget it. Is there anybody in the region, the African Union included, that has the legitimacy of all sides to go in there and actually mediate a piece. FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATL. SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Look, it shouldn't be a reflection on the African Union which is a credible organization in and of itself, just not in this circumstance.

HILL: Why?

TOWNSEND: Well, because let's remember, you know, Gadhafi has been reported to have hired mercenaries from other African countries to come in and kill Libyans, kill Libyan opposition. And so the opposition does not want to have to negotiate or work from any plan that comes from the African Union. If you want somebody who's going to negotiate a plan, it's got to be somebody who's got credibility with both sides, and that's not the African Union right now.

HILL: Didn't Gadhafi also give the African Union a lot of money?

TOWNSEND: Well, that's right.

There's a longstanding relationship there and the African Union plan, E.D., suggests that this thing that Gadhafi has accepted suggests that the rebels ought to then negotiate after the cease-fire with Gadhafi. To me, that's like asking a rape victim to negotiate with the rapist. It just -- you wonder, it should be no surprise to anybody that the rebels oppose this plan.

HILL: You know, we heard today, the NATO commander came out, the NATO commander, the contingent there, and he says, Gadhafi is hiding his weapons systems in people's houses and in mosques and near civilian locations. And I'm going, you've got to be dumber than a box of rocks to figure he's not going to do that. Of course, he's going to do that.


HILL: As Americans, though, are we at the point -- or is our government at the point where we can say, here's the reality of how war works in that region of the world and we're ready to fight it with that acknowledgement, that in mind. That if we are going to go and bomb weapons systems, most likely they're going to be hidden near people, near places of worship in homes.

TOWNSEND: Well, there should be no doubt if the American people are surprised by this, they shouldn't have been. After so many years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan where we saw the Taliban, where we saw Al Qaeda in Iraq use civilian homes to hide weapons, to hide component pieces of bombing, IEDs that were going to be used against our soldiers. And yes, that's what happens. They're fighting an asymmetric battle. They don't fight by the rules that we fight by. We wouldn't do that as the American military.

HILL: So are we willing to do that now? Because we have chosen, chosen, to go into this fight.

TOWNSEND: Well, that's right. I mean, I think that tells -- I think what the tactics being used against us tell you a lot about why President Obama chose to have NATO in the front of this, not wanting to have us in the front of it. This was inevitable. We were going to get dragged to this place and I think that says a lot about why President Obama didn't want the U.S. military in front of the fight.

HILL: I'm not sure we should had been there to start with, but it brings up something very interesting that many people may not have realized happened. Now one of the justifications we used for going in there was the Arab League asked us. The Arab League went to the U.N. and said, we authorize, we want, we're requesting this no-fly zone over Libya. And then President Obama said, well, if the Arab League is requesting this, I mean, that's legitimate on the ground there. So we're going to go in.

Now the Arab league has used those same exact reasons and said because of this, we also want a no-fly zone over Gaza. Now this is putting us in a pickle because it's using exactly what we said was legitimizing our actions in Libya, and that those actions are now saying, do the same in Gaza. What do we do?

TOWNSEND: It's a pretty slick move by the Arab League. I have to admit very clever. But to be fair now, there was also a U.N. resolution, the Arab League asked and you had a leader slaughtering its own people. And so you had a combination of all three factors. Not all three factors actually exist in Gaza, and I expect --

HILL: It's humanitarian flat-out they exist.

TOWNSEND: Well, I expect you're going to hear the administration. I don't know. I've not talked to anybody, but I expect you're going to hear the administration make every point they can make to draw a difference -- a distinction between Gaza and Libya.

HILL: So that's what to expect from the days ahead. Fran Townsend, thank you very much.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

Don't go away. We'll be right back.


SPITZER: As we mentioned at the top of the program, the next major battle on Capitol Hill is the fight over raising the debt ceiling. I can't wait to hear what David Stockman has to say about it. He was President Reagan's first budget director. He joins me now. He is always provocative and has seen every angle of this debate.

All right, David. In your perspective, from your vantage point, what are the minimum thresholds that need to be met before you if you are in Congress would vote to raise the debt ceiling?

DAVID STOCKMAN, PRESIDENT REAGAN'S BUDGET DIRECTOR: Well, I -- before I answer that, I'll have to say, I'm not optimistic about this. I think we're heading for a thundering conflagration. The parties are so far apart. They are so unrealistic about how serious and here and now this problem is. And I want to mention that to start. The wolf is really at the door. They have the illusion this is a middle-term problem.


STOCKMAN: We get started on it. Maybe by 2:15 we get something done. Ryan had a plan the other day to balance the budget by 240.


STOCKMAN: What's he talking about? We are issuing $6 billion of debt every day and suddenly the field has changed in terms of who's buying that. Japan was buying a lot. They're out of business because of this tragedy. They're turning inward.

China was buying a lot. They just had a trade deficit for the first time in five or six years. They'll be buying much less debt. The fed was buying a huge amount in QE2. They're done in June. And then today, one of the biggest bond funds, the biggest hedge fund in the world announced that they're short, the treasury bond. In other words, they're selling the bond. They're not buying it. So I think we're in -- you know, facing this serious crisis within weeks and months.

SPITZER: Let me stop you.


SPITZER: Not to disagree which I often do with you.


SPITZER: But I want so that everybody understands, what you're saying is if nobody is willing to buy the debt, you can't sell it.


SPITZER: And then their interest rates will go up. The higher interest rates will pull other buyers into the markets here saying we may be hitting that crystallization where the market is saying forget it, we won't buy the debt and then it all collapses?

STOCKMAN: Yes, we're at a point where the bond will start falling as people sell it. The smart money sells it.


STOCKMAN: And as the traditional buyers aren't there, interest rates will go up. Then the crisis will crystallize. But I think the Congress --

SPITZER: Doesn't that then put pressure on everybody to get some sort of agreement?

STOCKMAN: I think it does but they're not there yet. They have been drifting so long, dream walking so long that you saw what happened last week. That $38 billion, that was really a lot of smoke and mirrors. It will save $10 billion if we're lucky in cash dollars which is two days worth of borrowing. So what do we need to do? We have to raise revenue and yet we have the president saying, I'm only going to raise it on the top two percent.

SPITZER: Well --


SPITZER: Stop one second.


SPITZER: Let's see what he says Wednesday. You and I agree, without revenue this simply ain't going to work. I said that in an article on today.


SPITZER: Bowles-Simpson said it. Every rational person is saying revenue is a necessary component. How much? What percentage of the total gap should be revenue? Is it a quarter, a third half?

STOCKMAN: You know, I would say 50/50. OK. But here's the problem. With the Ryan plan comes in and over the next five years in the here and now where it really matters, he is proposing to keep taxes at 17.3 percent of GDP on average. We haven't been there since the 1930s.

SPITZER: Put Ryan aside, it's smoking mirrors. We agree on that.


SPITZER: It's gobbledygook.


SPITZER: Fifty percent on revenue, entitlements. Let's just move quickly.

STOCKMAN: OK. The second is we have to do Medicare and social security. We have to means test it for the upper income.

SPITZER: Means test it. Most people don't know what that means.


SPITZER: If you're rich, you're losing it. You're not going to get it.

STOCKMAN: You're going to have a reduction based on how much outside income and pension income and assets you have. We have 55 million people.

SPITZER: OK, stop one second because I want to make an important point.


SPITZER: What you're saying now is hugely important from my perspective. We're on opposite ends of the political spectrum but I love this because you're doing something that's fair.


SPITZER: Paul Ryan didn't do this.


SPITZER: He pushed it all on the back of the porch.

STOCKMAN: Yes, you can't put it.

SPITZER: You're saying if you're rich pay your price?

STOCKMAN: That's right. And then we have to have a major change in our defense program. We really have a cold war relic in this $800 billion defense budget. It was geared to an industrial enemy. We've had no industrial enemies for 20 years. We've been fired as the policemen of the world. We need to cut $100 billion, at minimum from this budget and yet the president has provided no leadership and he controls the Pentagon.

SPITZER: Stop $100 billion per year?


SPITZER: OK. So you're talking there $100 billion per year. Fifty percent of this comes out of revenue. You're going to means test Medicare.


SPITZER: You're sounding like a Democrat, David, what happened?

STOCKMAN: No. I think it's just a balanced program, OK?

SPITZER: I bet you're sounding like a Democrat.

STOCKMAN: Because I would only like to see revenue where Ronald Reagan left it. What he left off is revenue was 19.3 percent of GDP. He didn't say to the American people, well, you know, my crowning achievement is I raised your taxes. No, he said I lowered them and 19.3 percent would work and the Republicans are far below that today.

SPITZER: OK. Part of the plan, both Simpson proposed and others as well is to simplify the tax code, eliminate a lot of the loopholes and then you could get lower marginal rates. Do you buy that as a proposition?

STOCKMAN: No, I don't think we need -- we can do that now because you're going to spend massive amounts of political capital taking on a trillion dollars worth of loopholes and tax expenditures, all of K Street, all of the assembled lobbyists of America. And to get the tax rate lower, I don't think that's the priority right now. The priority is solvency. The priority is funding our debt.

SPITZER: So how would you then -- in 45 seconds, how would you change the tax code to get the revenue we need?

STOCKMAN: We need new tax sources. And one, I would put a transaction tax on Wall Street. We have massive churning of stocks and derivatives and bonds and everything else. We simply need to have a swipe fee, just like they put on credit cards every time one of these trades occurs every 10 milliseconds.


STOCKMAN: That's the first thing. Second, sooner or later we're going to need a consumption tax. And third, we're going to have let the Bush tax cuts expire. If you put those three things together, you can get the $200 billion to $300 billion of revenue we need. Match that with the spending cuts, the entitlement reforms and the defense rollback, and you begin to put together a rational plan.

SPITZER: All right. Unbelievable, a voice of reason logic. I'm not sure that you -- hard to believe you worked for President Reagan. I disagreed so much of what he did back then.

David, you are spot on, in my view. Don't let the consumption tax everything else. You're exactly right. David, thank you so much for being here.


SPITZER: All right. We'll be right back.


SPITZER: "PIERS MORGAN" starts right now.