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The Situation Room

President: Reach Out to the Taliban; Taliban's Weapon of Choice; Japan to Pay for Afghan Cops; Richard Gere on Tibet; Hillary Clinton Gets Personal

Aired March 09, 2009 - 17:00   ET



And To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Obama signals a new approach against a key enemy in the war on terror -- moves successful, at least so far, in Iraq. But It may be a lot tougher to pull it off in Afghanistan.

China's latest crackdown a half a century after a failed revolt -- should America take a hands-off at a time of financial crisis?

I'll ask the actor and human rights activist, Richard Gere. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Hillary Clinton gets personal about life, love and America's image overseas.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A new strategy against America's enemies -- it worked, at least so far, in Iraq. U.S. forces managed to weaken Al Qaeda by cultivating more moderate insurgents. And now, President Obama wants to try something very similar in Afghanistan. But he admits it won't be easy.

Let's go back to CNN's Zain Verjee.

She's been working this story for us -- explain, Zain, what's going on.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, will reaching out help or hurt the U.S.?


VERJEE (voice-over): The Obama administration may talk to an enemy -- the Taliban in Afghanistan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to recast our policies.

VERJEE: U.S. military officials say the Taliban is getting stronger and bolder. President Obama told "The New York Times" he's looking at options like reaching out to moderate Taliban fighters, not those with Al Qaeda links. Mr. Obama says the U.S. was successful in Iraq talking to Sunni militants.

OBAMA: If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

VERJEE: The president has beefed up U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. But beefing up diplomacy there could be tougher.

GARY BERNSTEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Afghanistan is clearly not Iraq. The problem in Afghanistan is that you might be able to split individuals, but you're not going to be able to split entire groups. Plus, in Afghanistan, we're fighting five or six different groups -- the Taliban, the Hakani network, Isbe es-Lame (ph), Gulbaddin, al Qaeda and others.

VERJEE: The rugged area along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border is key.

OBAMA: As long as you've got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can control or reach in effective ways, you know, we're going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border.


VERJEE: CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen, says that doing deals with the Taliban could destabilize Afghanistan even more. He says that the Afghan government is weak and in no position to negotiate with the Taliban.

According to Bergen, as well, Wolf, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has said in the past before that he's just not interested in deals. He adds, too, that the Taliban think already that they're wining in Afghanistan. So they may just want to keep going. And his last point is, Wolf, is that most of the Taliban are closer to Al Qaeda today than ever before and that's not the elements that this administration is going to reach out to.

BLITZER: It doesn't bode well at all.

All right, thanks, Zain, very much.

While the Obama administration may turn to steal a page from the Iraq strategy book, Afghanistan's insurgents are apparently doing the same thing with very deadly results.

CNN's international security correspondent, Paula Newton, has more from Kabul -- Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, as troops leave Iraq, what they're finding in Afghanistan seems so familiar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That round could be rigged or that magazine could be rigged, which it is. It is attached to this grenade. Now, he told you how much time you have for this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One to two seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One to two seconds.

NEWTON: It's an improvised explosive device, or IED. And the grim monotony of finding them and trying to dodge them has gone from Iraq to the battlefields of Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look underneath.

You checked it out, right?

Then you do what?

NEWTON: They know the drill here. But the 452 Brigade Combat Team from Alaska, with many veterans of Iraq, is getting a refresher course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's your TC 6, right here.

NEWTON: The fact is these soldiers are now less likely to fight the enemy face-to-face. The Taliban's terminator or weapon of choice now, says the U.S. military, is the IED. Responsible for three quarters of all casualties, IED attacks have tripled so far this year over last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a fact of modern warfare. This is the type of asymmetric attack that our opponents will use against us. And we have to be prepared to deal with that. And this is a fight that is worth fighting.

NEWTON: But IEDs of all types kill more Afghan civilians and soldiers. Watch this four by four truck navigate the barriers. Now notice the schoolchildren on the right coming home from their last day of school. Fourteen never made it home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody looked in this direction. You're not going to pay attention to this, this is a pink cord.

NEWTON: So here, as in Iraq, they're on the hunt for that crude but effective weapon of war they know all too well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Let's go.


NEWTON: Wolf, military commanders here say they have new techniques of reconnaissance. They have new equipment to try and make sure they can protect the soldiers and, in some cases, civilians, from those IEDs -- Wolf. BLITZER: Paula Newton, thanks very much.

Paula is in Kabul.

Japan, by the way, says it will now pick up the tab for 80,000 Afghan police officials. The salaries will be paid for six months at a cost of about $124 million. Two Japanese envoys made the announcement after meeting today with the U.S. special representative, Richard Holbrook. Japan has pledged some $2 billion in aid for Afghanistan.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty.

He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, some Republicans are calling President Barack Obama's reversal on embryonic stem cell research a distraction from the economic slump.

Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, says the economy is: "job number one. Let's focus on what needs to be done."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told "The Washington Post" the president's move is an ideological sideshow that's taking the focus off the worsening economy. Gingrich says that it's dangerous to pick a wide series of fights.

But the White House says that funding embryonic stem cell research is part of the administration's plan to jolt the economy and scientific and technological advances furthering the overall goals of creating jobs.

It was also a campaign promise that President Obama made. And he seems to be on the road to fulfilling a lot of those.

He signed the executive order today repealing a Bush-era policy that limited tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research. A lot of people are hoping that science will eventually help to find cures for everything from Parkinson's Disease to diabetes, cancer and spinal cord injuries.

Also, President Obama's move is part of a larger effort to try to separate science and politics -- a line that a lot of people think was blurred rather badly under President Bush.

In addition to calling the move a distraction, other Republicans, like House Minority Leader John Boehner, says the president has rolled back important protections for innocent life and further divides the country.

Much like the economic stimulus package, the stem cell debate is a way for Republicans to try to shore up their conservative base. However, with approval ratings for the GOP at their lowest ever, lots of luck.

Here's the question: Some Republicans say President Obama's stem cell reversal is a distraction from the economy. Are they right?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog.

And in the related matter, Wolf, my column on tomorrow will be a look at what I see as the Republican Party's march toward irrelevance.

BLITZER: Really?


BLITZER: You want to give us a little preview?

CAFFERTY: Well, no.



We'll read it tomorrow then we'll talk.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: And the book is coming out when, March...

CAFFERTY: March 23rd.

BLITZER: All right. Get ready.

CAFFERTY: In fact, that's the day I'll...

BLITZER: We'll talk about it (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: ...I'll be on "LARRY KING" that night talking about "It's Now or Never."

BLITZER: Good. You'll be on THE SITUATION ROOM that day, too, right?


BLITZER: All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Because I have no options.

BLITZER: Good. And we're happy about that.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest recently that the U.S. should overlook Chinese human rights abuses because of the economic meltdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD GERE, ACTOR: I think she probably, I'm guessing, misspoke in the moment. And I can't imagine that she would think that human rights is ever going to be on the back burner.


BLITZER: The actor and human rights activist, Richard Gere -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton opens up about falling in love, taking long walks and foreign policy.

And CNN's Richard Quest gets a hair-raising lesson on what to do in case of an emergency aboard an airliner.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The actor and activist, Richard Gere, was on Capitol Hill today, meeting with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. That comes as China crack downs in Tibet and neighboring regions for the 50th anniversary of the uprising of Chinese rule. That anniversary tomorrow.

Police are on the rooftops right now. They're out in the streets. Tourists and journalists have been told to leave. Internet connections have been unplugged.

And joining us now, the actor and human rights activist, Richard Gere.

Richard, thanks for coming in.

GERE: Hey, Wolf.

How are you doing?

BLITZER: Nice to see you again.

Always good to have you here.

Why should Americans care about what happens in Tibet?

GERE: I could go into this so many different angles. I think as we're seeing right now, this is a very small world we live in. And with the kind of crisis that we're seeing globally right now, I think we have to reevaluate what our place is in the world, what does it mean to be an American, what was the revolutionary experiment that we were supposed to be about?

BLITZER: So from your perspective, this is all about human rights?

GERE: No. No. It's all holistic to me.

It's about how can we live together?

How can we be honest, truthful, care about each other?

How can we have a world system where we take care of each other -- the rich take care of the poor, the powerful take care of the weak?

How do we concern ourselves with the situation in Darfur, in China, in Tibet, in Burma, in any place that these horrendous things are happening where there are authoritarian governments who do not take care of their people, who bilk the people, who rape the people.

And what is our place in the world as Americans...

BLITZER: Because there is...

GERE: the United States of America, to assert ourselves?

BLITZER: Because there is confusion right now, given the -- not only the...

GERE: Do you have confusion?

BLITZER: I and I think a lot of people...

GERE: Do you personally have confusion, Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of people are confused right now because of the global economic crisis here at home.

GERE: Yes.

BLITZER: China's role in all of this. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, she was just there meeting with the Chinese leader. And some were suggesting she is more interested right now in global security and the financial security and the role that China plays in buying U.S. financial T-Bills and all of that...

GERE: Hillary Clinton...

BLITZER: opposed to...

GERE: Hillary Clinton...

BLITZER: As opposed to what's happening in Tibet.

SIEGELMAN: Well, you look to Hillary Clinton's history. This is a woman who's always been in the forefront of human rights. I think she probably, I'm guessing, misspoke in the moment. And I can't imagine that she would think human rights is ever going to be on the back burner.

BLITZER: Let me read precisely what -- what she said. She said: "Our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." GERE: Let's assume she said more than that, because she's more complicated than that.

For me, these are all the same issue.

If you want to make it about human rights, that's perfectly valid. From my point of view, human rights are very important. To an American, human rights are desperately important. And you have to say the words.

BLITZER: Because when we spoke...

GERE: You have to say the words.

BLITZER: When we spoke a year ago, you were here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GERE: Yes.

BLITZER: You remember. You were very upbeat in talking about president -- then candidate Obama, then candidate Hillary Clinton.

Have you be disappointed since January 20th, the inauguration?

GERE: No. I haven't had a chance. He's only been here a moment.

I think -- my sense is that our president is really trying to see this as a moment of reorientation.

And how do you orchestrate that with our minds and emotions the way they are right now?

Everyone is terrified, everyone -- from the richest to the poorest. Everyone is anxious and feeling a sense of loss right now. And loss in terms of rudder, direction.

I have no doubt that this president sees this as an opportunity to recalibrate who we are as a country and possibly as a planet.

And how do we really create society -- a larger society, a global society, a universal society, where we take care of each other?

And as I said, look, my focus is on Tibet. These are my brothers and sisters. But the same could be said for Darfur. It could be said for Burma. So it could be for any situation on this planet. Still, it is -- it is unfair. It's -- it's violent, stupid. It's something out of the animal kingdom.

BLITZER: A year from now -- now it's 50 years since the failed uprising against the Chinese in Tibet.

GERE: Yes.

BLITZER: Chinese rule...

GERE: Well, we have to set that up a little bit so... BLITZER: All right. Well, when we meet a year from now, do you think it's going to be any different?

Or is it going to just be more of the same, because it's been going on for 50 years?

GERE: I think we're going to see change based on pragmatism. And I think that's one reason -- were just having a meeting before this with the environmental community on global warming. And they were very worried about dealing with China. I said look, China has the same issues we do. I can't imagine they are so foolish that they are not thinking 10 years, 20 years ahead for themselves, at the same time they're balancing out well we want it now.

You can't do that anymore on this planet. And I think there are enlightened people in China. They -- they don't have a structure to speak out. You know, I gave you a document that you're going to read later. And this was -- this was a document by 100 -- this is it right here. Charter 8. This is 100 Chinese intellectuals, artists and common people who have spoken out and signed a document about what the Chinese experience could and should be in terms of freedom of expression.

BLITZER: So you're optimistic down the road?

GERE: Yes. I think this is a hard time. But I think through a hard time, we can have -- if we have leaders, the kind of leaders that we want everywhere, it can be an honest self-examination and we can come out of this incredibly richer internally in terms of the complicity to love and care for each other -- compassion, wisdom. These are elements that can come out of this as we reevaluate why we got here -- the incredible greed and stupidity that led us here.

BLITZER: Richard Gere, thanks for coming.

GERE: That's all?

BLITZER: That's it.



BLITZER: We tried to get reaction from the Chinese embassy here in Washington.

Our calls and our e-mail have not yet been returned.

On the protests, though, a Chinese official says -- and I'm quoting now -- "We will firmly crack down on criminal activities in Tibet's border area that pose a threat to China's sovereignty and government."

A number of banks have failed this year, as you know. Others right now on the brink of failing -- why some key Republicans are saying failure may not necessarily be such a bad thing. And the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, answering some very personal questions.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: When was the last time I fell in love. And it was so long ago, with my husband, I'm trying to remember.



BLITZER: Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Zain, what do you have?

VERJEE: Wolf, more devastating news for investors. The Dow and the S&P are now down at new 12-year lows. The Dow fell almost 80 points today, to close at 6547. The S&P lost almost 7 points, or 1 percent of its value.

A harsh sentence for a 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia. Today, a Saudi court sentenced her to 40 lashes and four months in jail. The crime was mingling with two young men who aren't close relatives. The woman is Syrian, but she was married to a Saudi. A lawyer tells the Associated Press that he'll appeal.

And, Wolf, it's believed to be the only painting of William Shakespeare created during his lifetime. Take a look at this. Scholars in Great Britain unveiled a portrait today -- this. It was painted around 1610, when the playwright and poet would have been about 46. The portrait was in an Irish home and was identified for centuries, Wolf. The painting is going to be on display for a few months at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford Upon Avon in England beginning on April the 23rd -- Wolf, shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

BLITZER: I love it when you quote Shakespeare like that, Zain.


BLITZER: Have you got any more?

VERJEE: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May and summer's lease hath all too short a date. Some time, too hot the eye of heaven shines and often -- do you want me to go on?

BLITZER: No, no, no, no.



BLITZER: That's an excellent education you had in Kenya, Zain. VERJEE: Yes.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

VERJEE: Thanks.

BLITZER: I see that education coming forward.

Hillary Clinton gets personal talking about life, love and a smarter way to project American power abroad.

And where does the secretary of State open up?

On a talk show in Turkey.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in many ways, Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail. But this time, she's trying to win over parts of the world where America's image has taken a beating. The Clinton charm offensive has gone global.


CLINTON: When was the last time I fell in love. And it was so long ago with my husband, I'm trying to remember.

ACOSTA (voice-over): When the secretary of State landed on Turkey's talk show version of "The View," it wasn't Barbara Walters or Joy Behar asking the questions, but the subject matter sounded familiar: "So, Madam Secretary, tell us about your life with the former president."

CLINTON: We go to the movies. We talk and play games together -- card games and board games. We go for long walks. I try to do that every chance I can with my husband.

ACOSTA: When the conversation turned to how much sugar she puts in her coffee -- not too little, not too much.

CLINTON: You know, somebody said that I -- I'm always trying to find the middle, which is probably true because I think that, you know, it's exciting to be on both ends, but life is mostly lived in the middle and trying to get along with people.

ACOSTA: She revealed her foreign policy philosophy -- smart power, which may taste a little sweeter around the world than The Bush Doctrine. She sent diplomatic envoys to Syria to work on Middle East peace and dangled the idea of inviting Iran to an upcoming summit on Afghanistan.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think that Secretary Clinton and the rest of the foreign policy team, I think they've gotten off to an excellent start. They're making important strategic moves.

ACOSTA: Sometimes that strategy means getting personal.

CLINTON: I like -- you know, I like sitting in sidewalk cafes or in coffee shops and watching people. And, you know, that's impossible for me now.


ACOSTA: But so far, the world is only seeing the softer side of smart power. Secretary Clinton has yet to show the grit Americans saw during the campaign. But she will get that chance when the nation is tested by its first foreign crisis under her watch -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

No sympathy for the plight of struggling banks -- why some key Republicans are saying what they're saying about the biggest banks -- if they're dead, they ought to be buried.

And President Obama says you shouldn't stuff money in your mattress.

But what does her want you to do in these very tough times?

And the former basketball star, Charles Barkley, serves time in a prison. Prisoners there are forced to wear pink underwear. Why Barkley may have gotten off easily. We'll explain and you'll hear from him, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, federal coffers reopened for embryonic stem cell research -- President Obama today signed an executive order reversing a Bush era policy and releasing public funds for the controversial science.

The Pentagon is angered and puzzled by a confrontation with Chinese ships on the high seas, as Chinese vessels harassed a U.S. surveillance ship, with Chinese crew members, at one point, stripping to their underwear.

It's all there -- all this coming up in our next hour.

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

Seventeen banks have failed in the United States this year and some of the nation's biggest banks are on the brink. Some key Republicans are saying, let them fail. Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's got more on this story for us -- Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This weekend, two high profile Republicans said some of these banks are lost causes, even those mega banks. I just finished speaking with Senator Richard Shelby who said he thinks Citigroup, an enormous financial institution, may be a raffle.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Somewhere inside this building, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has sorted through how, whether and which financial institutions should get federal help. $250 billion was set aside to stabilize big banks in big trouble. That's in addition to the $350 billion already spent by the Bush administration. There's an additional 25 billion for Citigroup and 20 billion for Bank of America. Stable banks lend money, which as the president noted to the "New York Times," is the point.

OBAMA: Our commitment is to make sure that any actions we take to maintain stability in the system, begin to loosen up credit and lending once again so that businesses and consumers can borrow.

CROWLEY: The choices for the administration include giving financial institutions short term loans with interest, purchasing more bank stocks or as Geithner has outlined, a public-private effort to buy up bad assets. Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the finance committee, told ABC there should be a fourth option.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Close them down. Get them out of business. If they're dead, they ought to be buried. We bury the small banks. We've got to bury some big ones.

CROWLEY: And ditto Senator John McCain on Fox.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Unfortunately the shareholders and others will take a beating, but to just keep them alive and keep pouring billions and billions of taxpayers' dollars into them when they clearly are not, they're situation is not improving.

CROWLEY: Administration officials pushed back against the notion that bank bailouts will be a bottomless pit and the president told "The Times" an awful lot of banks are in decent shape. He made it clear failed banks are unacceptable.

OBAMA: No, no, no. What we'll have to do is we'll probably have to take more significant action to deal with those institutions.

CROWLEY: Administration aides say financial institutions like Citibank and Bank of America are simply too big to fail. Said one aide, it would send shock waves through the entire system.


CROWLEY: I asked Senator Shelby about the notion of allowing banks to fail would send shockwaves and he said the current situation is already sending shock waves in particular through Wall Street. He called some of these places, zombie banks, the walking dead. Wolf?

BLITZER: That's very, very depressing to hear that kind of talk. All right. Thanks very much, Candy.

Let's discuss what's going on a little more. Joining us now is Hillary Rosen our CNN Democratic strategist and Tucker Eskew, he's a former strategist for the McCain/Palin campaign. Thanks very much for coming. The talk from Shelby, who is the ranking member, the leading Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, called Citibank something like a zombie bank. What was that say to you?

TUCKER ESKEW, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: People are worried. They are deeply worried and I think part of this is a reflection that there's no plan on the table to do the next phase. They've got a line item on the budget for $750 billion and no details. In the absence of that, Republicans are asking tough questions. I think it's responsible to do that. I think more responsibility would come if you saw a serious plan that matched these institutions with private capital so we can send a stronger signal.

BLITZER: I think they understand that inside the White House, the treasury department, Tim Geithner, they're all smart guys. It was a blunder to come out with a strategy that didn't have meat and potatoes in it.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: When Secretary Geithner did talk about his plan, they were still formulating in a large case and came out the next week with what they thought was a critical program for individual Americans, so that plan has been put into place. When it comes to the banks, I think it's really reckless for Republican senators to say, let's just let all the banks fail. We saw what happened after some large financial institutions did fail in the fall.

BLITZER: Lehman Brothers. A lot of people say Henry Paulson and the Bush administration when they allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse, that sent such a message of fear out there that that propelled this downward spiral that we're seeing.

ESKEW: I think people look at different points of time and there's a lot of shared accountability. Accountability is a key word here and without a plan, I think there's a very serious gap that needs to be filled and this administration has failed to fill it. I think they will. I hope they will. Conservatives and even moderates want to see something that achieves a responsible goal. We don't know how many other banks are out there.

ROSEN: That I think is the key thing. There have been a lot of bank failures that have gone on and the FDIC has worked it out for depositors. Here we've got a bank by bank situation.

BLITZER: The president of the United States is now gives out a little more financial advice. He did so in an interview with "The New York Times" that was published yesterday. Listen to this. They put the audio on their website.


OBAMA: I don't think people should do is suddenly stuff money in their mattresses and pull back completely from spending. I don't think that people should be fearful about our future.

(END AUDIO CLIP) BLITZER: Tucker, this on the heels of what he said last week when he suggested this may be a time to find bargains in the stock market.

ESKEW: I think it's a real mistake for any White House to shape themselves up to be shock picker in chief. I don't think this president wants that, I don't think the country wants it. I talked to one international economist today who is worried. He says these capital markets are starting to lose confidence. I think comments like that are only halfhearted and only half effective.

BLITZER: When he said I don't think what people should do, stuff money in their mattresses -- is that an appropriate comment for the president to make at a sensitive moment like this?

ROSEN: I think what he's saying and was well understood, clearly, people should be saving. People should be cautious about their spending if their jobs are at risk. What the president was saying is that people need to have hope. We don't want you to panic. We don't want you to abandon the financial institutions today. As a depositor, you're protected. They've taken steps to make sure they're protected.

BLITZER: It's a tough challenge he faces. He's got to be brutally honest and if he gets too depressed, that's sends a horrible message out there so it's a delicate tightrope he has to walk.

ROSEN: People want him to succeed and taking his words and twisting them.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Charles Barkley is out of jail after a long weekend behind bars. He's as plain spoken though about current events as ever. Stand by. You'll hear from him in his own words.

And a new voice is raised in the celebrity abuse case of Chris Brown and the singer Rihanna. Oprah weighs in on what she thinks Rihanna should do.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Charles Barkley is now out of jail. He was released this morning from the famous prison in Arizona, where he was doing time for drunken driving. His three-day term was anything but conventional. Let's go to out to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's got more on the story -- Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Sir Charles as Barkley is known, did have to sleep in a tent like every other prisoner down at tent city, but like you mentioned his stay wasn't exactly like everyone else's. In fact, he started it with a press conference.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Heads turn at the county jail when former basketball star Charles Barkley arrives at tent city to serve a three day sentence. His host, the county sheriff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks Chuck, for facing the music. It's not that bad.


ROWLANDS: Barkley given his own tent and poses for pictures in a track suit and gold chain, not putting on the prison stripes and pink underwear most do.

BARKLEY: I know people like to see humility, I can do that, but I'm on work release program, so I don't have to do that.

ROWLANDS: Barkley pleaded guilty to driving under the influence on New Year's Eve telling police he was in a hurry to meet a woman for the sexual encounter.

BARKLEY: It's 100 percent screw up on my part. I'm here, I'm going to do my time and get this behind me. Drinking and driving is a very serious thing to be careful about that before you get behind the wheel.

ROWLANDS: Before starting work release, he spent his time mostly signing autographs and reading.

BARKLEY: You get a lot of free time. Never realize how much time is in a day when you've got nothing to do.

ROWLANDS: He also had words of encouragement for the president.

BARKLEY: President Obama's a good friend of mine and I just like to think about him and I know Rush Limbaugh and a lot of -- are giving him a hard time. They've already ruined the country and he's trying to save the country.

ROWLANDS: At the sheriff's request, the 45 year old Barkley also spoke to some young inmates about personal responsibility.

BARKLEY: I want to really thank the inmates. They've been really cool and I wanted them to know something that this doesn't define them. They made a mistake and have to go forward.


ROWLANDS: Barkley was released today as part of the work release program, does not have to return tonight and is pretty much done with his stay. He also had to attend an alcohol rehabilitation program and he has to outfit his cars with a device which would prevent him from driving under the influence. Barkley took a six-week leave of absence as a commentator for TNT on basketball. He is back at that. TNT and CNN of course are both part of Turner Broadcasting. Wolf? BLITZER: All right. Ted, thanks very much. We wish Charles Barkley only the best. Hope he makes a speedy, speedy recovery out of this current mess.

Let's get to the case of celebrity couple Chris Brown and the singer Rihanna. Oprah Winfrey now expressing some very strong opinions. Questions are being raised about who started that infamous fight. Let's go to our entertainment correspondent, Kareen Wynters -- Kareen?

KAREEN WYNTERS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: This case has hit a nerve with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who used her daytime talk show to sound off on the criminal charges filed against R&B artist Chris Brown following an incident involving his girlfriend singer Rihanna.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Love doesn't hurt and if a man hits you once, he will hit you again.


WINFREY: He will hit you again. I don't care what his plea is.

WYNTERS (voice-over): Nineteen-year-old Chris Brown, known for hits like this, has yet to enter a plea. Brown is charged with two felony accounts, accused of beating Rihanna following a pre-Grammy party in February. This leaked photo that appeared on the celebrity website, TMZ, shows Rihanna's bloody and battered face. Brown has publicly apologized for what happened and some say he's now engaged in damage control.

HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TMZ: We know that the defense is using this to try and plea bargain this case and get a misdemeanor with no jail time.

DARREN KAVINOKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Chris Brown wants a misdemeanor with no jail time. Of course people in hell want a little sip of ice water, too. Whether he's going to get that -- things are looking for optimistic than they have. It's raining more than ever

WYNTERS: The couple has reportedly reconciled. There was a report in the Chicago Sun Times of a joint book deal, talk shows, even a $10 million payout if he abuses her again. Brown's attorney says it's just not true.


WYNTERS: Brown's next court date is April 6th -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Kareen, thank you, Kareen Wynters out in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, a hair raising lesson on how to survive an airliner crash landing. Richard Quest takes us behind the scenes showing us what the air crews have learned. An unarmed U.S. Navy vessel in a very tense confrontation at sea with Chinese ships in play. U.S. sailors managed to defend themselves. We'll have that and more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: Some Republicans say that President Obama's stem cell reversal is a distraction from the economy. Are they right?

James in Chuckey, Tennessee: "The stem cell reversal is a distraction only for people who believe that religious fundamentalists should be allowed to block scientific research and medical care. It's time to tell our homegrown Taliban that they are no longer relevant."

Dane writes: "I guess the Republicans know a thing or two about distractions. Weren't they the ones that gave us proposed constitutional amendments on gay marriage and flag burning when the rest of the country was focusing on the Iraq war going down the toilet?"

Mike in Glenmore, Pennsylvania: "I don't think the president's causing a distraction from our economic woes by simply spending a few seconds signing a document to clear the way for scientific research. Rather, it's the Republicans who are trying to use the stem cell story to distract from the fact that their party has no economic solutions and has become a party of extreme right wing whiners."

David in Virginia writes: "Anything which is not focused like a laser beam on the economy and banking system is a distraction as far as I am concerned. Pretty much everything else can and should wait."

Lisa in Ohio: "I wonder if Newt Gingrich would be calling this an ideological sideshow if his child or grandchild was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury? If any of the Republican critics lived my life for a week, they may think differently. This can be a priority along with the economy. There are people and families who are desperate for a cure from many debilitating conditions and they too deserve a chance for hope."

Chuck writes in Warren, Ohio: "Look at the stocks of research companies today, up 40 percent. The Republicans would rather we just die off so we won't keep voting them out of office."

And Jack writes from Nice, California: "Jack, anything said by what's left of the Republican Party is a distraction from reality."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at which is real and look for yours among hundreds of others.

BLITZER: It's very real indeed. All right Jack, thank you. A new era for stem cell research. President Obama today opened the federal conference for the restricted science.

And what to do if you're in the passenger seat of a plane in trouble. CNN's Richard Quest gets a crash course.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: When a U.S. Airways plane went down in the Hudson River, the pilot ordered the passengers to brace. Everyone survived. If that had happened to you, do you know how frightening this could be? One of the worst parts of an aircraft emergency for passengers is the awful sense of helplessness. British Airways now offers a course to help frequent flyers prepare for any event. CNN's Richard Quest got what they call a crash course. Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if there's one thing the U.S. Airways miracle on the Hudson proved, it is that you can survive a plane crash. That is if you know what to do.


QUEST (voice-over): After an introduction in the classroom, this is where the course really begins, in a simulator, embarking on what feels like any other flight. We know something's about to happen. We're all eyes and ears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the captain. This is an emergency. Brace. Brace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brace! Brace! Brace! Brace!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an emergency. Evacuate. Evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come this way. Come this way. Come this way. Go forward. Go forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go that way. Go that way. Go that way. Go that way. Go that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forward cabin checked.

QUEST: By continually shouting "brace," the crew ensure we stay in the safest position until the plane finally stops. After our simulated emergency landing, we're back on board for a debrief. The top three points that everyone believed were most useful, learning the correct brace position. Making sure your seat belt is not twisted. And that the oxygen masks will only come down when pressure is lost, not in a fire. The course doesn't just go through the important basics. It's a hands-on experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First and foremost, remember this is purely for training. You would never do this inside an aircraft. You would only inflate this outside the aircraft. But could you read out the instruction on that?

QUEST: Jerk to inflate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jerk to inflate.

QUEST: We learned how to open the emergency exits correctly. It is heavy. So now we are prepared as best we can, but there may come a time when it's time to leave the plane through the door and down the slide. We're wearing overalls for this exercise to prevent friction burns on the way down. We receive a briefing at the bottom of the slide. Here, we have the luxury of taking our time. We get an idea of what it's like before we actually jump. There are strict rules about how the slide must deploy. Winds up to 28 miles an hour, in just six seconds, whatever the temperature.


QUEST: So passengers the world over like you and me will now all be taking much more interest in that safety briefing and maybe even reading the safety card in the seat back pocket in front -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good advice indeed, Richard. Thank you.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Obama offers new hope and new money toward making medical miracles. This hour, his new rules on embryonic stem cell research and the moral questions he's facing.

Plus, confrontation at sea between the U.S. and China. Chinese sailors get bold and aggressive to block and taunt a U.S. Navy ship.