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updated 3/21/2011 12:26:09 PM ET 2011-03-21T16:26:09

Guests: Richard Engel, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Anne Thompson, Howard Fineman, Ed Walker, Mark Thompson, David Albright, Michael Friedlander, Johanna Neumann, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  To the shores of Tripoli.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: War on Gadhafi.  That‘s what Western nations say they want to see from Libya‘s Moammar Gadhafi, whose government announced an immediate ceasefire shortly after the U.N. voted to strike against his forces.  There‘s no indication yet that the so-called ceasefire is anything more than a delaying tactic designed to keep the West out while Gadhafi‘s forces wipe out rebels.

That said, the rebels were cheering and firing celebration shots in the air on hearing that the U.N. is coming.  We‘ll get a report from NBC‘s Richard Engel, who‘s heading into the area.

Plus, what country‘s going to take charge?  What role will the U.S.  play?  And did the U.N. vote come too late to stop Gadhafi?  Will Gadhafi fight to the death, or will he accept some kind of a deal?  We‘ll try to answer those questions as we prepare to fight in a third Muslim country.

Also, Japanese authorities have raised the assessment of their nuclear disaster to a 5, that Three Mile Island level on a 7-point scale.  And they now more or less admit they‘re overwhelmed.  Wow.  They are employing a “throw against the wall and see what sticks” approach, and the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission meanwhile says it could takes weeks to get this thing under control.

And score one for the unions in Wisconsin.  A judge has temporarily blocked that new law shrinking collective bargaining rights in that state.  Wow!  Democrats hope this is the first of many obstacles to that law they hate.  Republicans say it‘s just a speed bump.  Well, we‘ll check it out.

And “Let Me Finish” with Libya.  We know how we‘re getting in, but do we have any idea how we‘re going to get out? 

We start with the growing crisis in Libya.

NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is joining us from Cairo.  Thank you, Richard.  Give us a sense of what‘s happening as the U.N. begins to take action.  What is the condition of the rebel force, especially in Benghazi?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The rebel force is very weak in Benghazi and across the country.  What happened was, the rebels advanced very quickly.  They took Benghazi almost by surprise.  And then as they were riding this wave of enthusiasm, they decided to leave their stronghold, Benghazi.  They went out to places like Ishevia (ph).  They went out toward Sert. 

The entered the open desert, and as they overextended their supply lines, they got chopped back by Gadhafi‘s forces.  They have now once again consolidated in Benghazi, and they‘re hoping with air cover, with this no-fly zone, that they can regain momentum and topple Gadhafi‘s regime.

MATTHEWS:  Why were they shooting shots of celebration in the air when they heard of the U.N. vote?

ENGEL:  Well, they think that this U.N. vote levels the playing field right now, that Gadhafi‘s forces won‘t be able to come in and carry out a massacre.  There were people in Benghazi, and there have been every night, who are terrified that this tonight is going to be the night that there will be some sort of chemical attack, that there‘ll be a massive artillery attack, an air raid, and that the international community would simply sit back and watch and tolerate it.  Now the international community, including the United States and Europe, are saying that it is not acceptable and that if there is a massacre or an incident like that, that there would be an immediate military response.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you to give me your assessment, Richard, of what it means to say the United States has unique capabilities.  This is what the president said a few hours ago.  Let‘s listen to what he said.  I think this is something to really try to figure out right now.  Here he is, the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question, Richard.  “Unique capabilities” sounds like we‘ve got the air power.  Is that what he means?

ENGEL:  It‘s not just air power.  The U.S.—what does the U.S. have uniquely?  And it‘s not our charm and ability to make apple pie.  There are some unique capacities that the U.S. has—intelligence, satellites.  It has aircraft carriers, which would be very important for any kind of no-fly zone.  It has satellite cover.  So there are some enablers, and the fact that he used the word “enabler” is also very strategic.  The U.S. can provide the platform for a sustained air cover over Libya that the European countries simply do not have.  It‘s not just the fighter jets.  It‘s all of the support mechanisms.  The U.S. has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined.

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be one of those operations where it has the U.N. insignia or the U.N. cover for the mission, but it‘s essentially led by the U.S.?  Is that where we‘re headed at this point again?

ENGEL:  What I think we could be headed for is a very long operation, where you have the rebels in the east, in Benghazi, Gadhafi in Tripoli and in the west to a degree, and the international community, with the U.S.  involved, trying to level the playing field.  And if you level the playing field in a country where the two sides are separated by 600, 700 miles of open desert, you could have a situation where the U.S. is preventing massacres but allowing a low-level civil war to take place that could go on for years.

So this involvement could not be—might not be quick, it might be a very, very long, sustained operation more like we saw in the Balkans.

MATTHEWS:  What happens if Gadhafi is smart and he observes the U.N.  rule, which is basically, Don‘t go after civilians, and simply says, All right I‘m going to allow all civilians who want to leave Benghazi to leave.  I‘m going to let you leave.  I‘m going to have a sanitary corridor where they‘re allowed to leave with total safety, and by the way, other countries like the Chinese and everybody who‘s coming in there, they can all watch that.  I‘m going to be completely proper here.  But I‘m going after the rebels.

What stops him from doing just that, I‘m going after my rebels in my country?  (INAUDIBLE) any sanction or any mandate to stop that.

ENGEL:  Well, I think you were on the phone with Gadhafi‘s strategists because that is exactly what his strategy is going to be.  Just a few minutes ago, as I was preparing for this shot, this live shot, the deputy foreign minister of Libya was on television saying that he wants international monitors to come in.

They are urgently calling for people from around the world to come not only to Tripoli but across Libya to see what is actually happening on the ground, and that if there is an armed conflict, that the Libyan government has the right defend itself, that if it is attacked and there are combatants, and this is not just a democratic movement of students, the rebels do have weapons—they‘re not very advanced weapons, but they do have weapons—and under any kind of international charter, a government does have the right to defend itself.

So that strategy of perhaps opening a humanitarian corridor but certainly calling for international observers to say, Hey, we‘re not just killing civilians, we are fighting armed militants, and the world is open see that.  That is going to be—that‘s what Libya‘s next step is and a step that it is already calling for.

MATTHEWS:  The Libyan deputy foreign ministers put out a word, quote, “crimes against humanity have been committed by the rebels.”  Is he trying to get the world opinion to modify itself and to give him some leeway to go after the rebels?

ENGEL:  He certainly is.  He was talking about how the rebels have been desecrating the bodies of people that they have been capturing.  The rebels have been taking prisoners.  I‘ve seen prisoners from Gadhafi‘s forces that have been captured by the rebels.  And he‘s trying to get the world to see that Gadhafi is not just crushing a bunch of unarmed student protesters, like has been the case in Egypt, like was the case in Yemen today, he‘s trying to show that this is an armed insurrection, and any country in the world has the right to defend against an armed insurrection.  There is civil war that happened in the United States.  When the North didn‘t want the South to break away, the U.S. fought to keep the union.  And that is what Gadhafi is trying to convince the world that it is doing, fighting a legitimate civil war.

MATTHEWS:  Can you detect a conflict within our administration between the secretaries of state and defense?  Just a few days ago, it seems, the secretary of defense laid out the rule, We should not get into a war in the Middle East again.  We‘ve been—it would be—you would have to be out of your mind.  You would have to have your head examined to do it.  And here we are, basically leading, it looks like, a U.N. effort to go into another Arab country, perhaps not on the ground, but we‘re going in by air with everything we‘ve got, it looks like.

My question.  Is there a conflict in doctrine here between Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, and Bob Gates?

ENGEL:  I really am not privy to the conversations that they‘ve been having among themselves, but there does seem to be clear contradiction in if you don‘t want to get involved in a war and then declaring yourselves to be involved in an international no-fly zone.

There seems to be also a conflict of morality.  The U.S. doesn‘t want to just sit back idly by and allow a massacre to happen.  The U.S. has experience with Gadhafi.  The U.S. knows what the regime in Libya is capable of doing without international action and without specifically U.S.  action.  The president said tonight that there is every reason to believe that without international action, or at least the threat of action, that Gadhafi would carry out atrocities against his people.

That is certainly what the people of Benghazi do believe, and I think the U.S. and the president felt this moral obligation to at least use the threat of force and probably back it up if those atrocities take place, but not to launch a ground war to go in and remove Gadhafi themselves.

That‘s why I think this could be a very protracted conflict, with the U.S. providing this kind of balancing act to keep the two sides fighting a fair conflict.  And a fair conflict in Libya, where you have the rebels in Benghazi and Gadhafi in Tripoli and the armed forces somewhat neutralized, or at least put on the shelf, could take a very long time.

ENGEL:  OK, thank you, Rich.  Great reporting, as always.  Richard Engel in Cairo tonight.

Up next: What will this U.N. resolution against Libya mean for us?  Are we going to take the lead in Libya?  Are we fighting yet another war in a third Muslim country?  How much of this is going to be an American war?  That‘s a big question as we go into the weekend.  We‘re going to try to answer it in the next few minutes.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing.  The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.  And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The conflict in Libya is sending gas prices skyward, and along with the crisis in Japan, Americans are increasingly pessimistic about our economy.  A new CNBC poll has just 37 percent, more than a third now, say the economy will get worse in the next year.  Boy, that is bad news.  That‘s a 16-point rise from the bad news estimate since December and 5 points from the poll‘s all-time high in 2008.  And we‘re are really in a bad, pessimistic mood right now.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously, the United States is very pleased with yesterday‘s vote.  It sent a strong message that needs to be heeded, the efforts by the international community to come together to make clear to Colonel Gadhafi that he cannot continue his violence against his own people, he cannot continue to attack those who started out by peacefully demonstrating for changes that are within the right of any human being.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it.  That‘s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was her, Secretary of State Clinton, today.  And that‘s the question now, what‘s next?

Ed Walker‘s a former deputy representative to the United Nations and former ambassador to Israel, Egypt and the UAE, the United Arab Emirates.  We‘re also joined by “Time” magazine‘s national security reporter, Mark Thompson.

Let me ask you, Mr. Ambassador—I read two things going on at the same time.  One, the United States, through our president, reading a very particular U.N. resolution.  We‘re going in with a no-fly zone and some other efforts to protect civilians.  Then I also hear the secretary of state there with a very firm voice saying, We‘re going after Gadhafi.  We‘re going after Gadhafi.  The president also allows that.

Are we going in to enforce a U.N. resolution to protect civilians, or are we going in to topple Gadhafi piece by piece?

ED WALKER, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT:  Well, maybe she feels that he will not pay attention to the resolution and—

MATTHEWS:  Does the president have the same anticipation, so he can hit him harder?

WALKER:  I would expect so.

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, what we‘re doing is starting on base one, first base, heading for a home run.  We want to go all around the bases.

WALKER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll start with this resolution.  But here‘s my question.  If Gadhafi‘s as smart as he might be, he‘s saying, I‘ll observe the resolution, I‘ll not go after civilians, I‘ll let them leave Benghazi.  You can‘t go at me beyond the resolution.  You‘ll be hamstrung.  I‘ll survive.  What happens if he does that?

WALKER:  Gadhafi can‘t—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s smart.

WALKER:  He can‘t survive if he does—if he acts a way (ph) like that.  He‘s got to still maintain that image of being all-powerful.  Otherwise, he loses.  He‘s got a whole group of people that are ready to come after him if he—he‘s made a lot of enemies.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

WALKER:  So I don‘t think he can afford to look weak or to back down in the face of international pressure.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s more of Secretary Clinton today on the ceasefire. 

Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, we‘ve seen press reports of a ceasefire by the Libyan government.  This is a fluid and dynamic situation.  We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words.  We would have to see action on the ground.  And that is not yet at all clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the look of Hillary Clinton, commander-in-chief.  Didn‘t you get a sense there that she was president, for just a couple minutes there?

MARK THOMPSON, “TIME”:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not knocking it.  Didn‘t she look strong?

THOMPSON:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  She looks like she knows what she‘s doing.  She doesn‘t want to have Gadhafi there five more minutes.  The president is operating in a balancing act, which doesn‘t have as much stir (ph) to it.  She seems to know what she‘s doing—I‘m getting rid of Gadhafi.  She‘s much more hawkish, at least a couple notches, right?

THOMPSON:  Well, she made clear today she didn‘t know where this was going to end up.  The president on March 3rd said he must go.  The president did not say that today.  And—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s already said it.  Why say it again?

THOMPSON:  Well, with the backing of the United Nations, you‘d like to have the clout behind them.  If you had—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- says that, he‘s acting as if he‘s ignoring the very limited nature of the U.N. resolution.

THOMPSON:  They don‘t even have Egypt or Saudi Arabia, Chris, on their side in this effort.  They don‘t have the U.S. Congress behind them.  The military people I‘m talking to are very leery—

MATTHEWS:  I thought the Egyptians—

THOMPSON:  -- of this mission.

MATTHEWS:  -- are arming the rebels.

THOMPSON:  They are, but that‘s different than doing this no-fly zone.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s my question.  In the Arab world, which you gentlemen know and you‘ve covered and you‘ve represented us over there, are the young people, the people in their 20s and 30s, sitting in the cafes in Damascus and Cairo—are they rooting for us to go in there and whack this guy, or are they going to end up rooting for their fellow Arab against the West?

WALKER:  No, they‘re rooting for us right now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why?  Explain.

WALKER:  Why?  First of all, it‘s a different generation.  They‘re not the generation of their fathers.  Gadhafi represents the generation of their fathers and of the 50-year-old—I mean, the 70-year-old leaders of the Arab world.  They want new change.  They want a new generation coming in to take over.

MATTHEWS:  Even if it means the West toppling their guys.

WALKER:  Yes.  But you know, the—even the Arab League has come out in favor of—

MATTHEWS:  But I don‘t see any—look, I‘ll play devil‘s advocate

because I am a devil, the fact of the matter is.  What are we doing—do

we see demonstrations in the streets over there?  Do we see people

screaming for the United States to come in?  I don‘t see anybody up there -

I don‘t see the Arab street revolting and saying, We must have the West come in.

THOMPSON:  Well, the Arab—

MATTHEWS:  They seem to hate it when we do it.

THOMPSON:  The Arab street—I mean, come on!  We‘ve got trouble going on right now Yemen.  We‘ve got trouble going on right now in Bahrain.  We‘re not getting involved there, interestingly enough, because they are our allies.  But plainly, as the ambassador says, this is not a nationalist thing, it‘s a generational thing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Mark, where do you think U.S. policy is taking us in the next couple weeks—

THOMPSON:  I think—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- combining Hillary and the president?

THOMPSON:  We‘re on the edge of a slippery slope.  Someone in the Pentagon told me they are not concerned that the president has tunnel vision, but that he has funnel vision.  We‘re being sucked in.  And we‘re not quite sure where it‘s going to end up.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is what I think.  Who said this?  Who is this smart person? 

THOMPSON:  Well, I—I can‘t—I can‘t tell you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

And what do you think, Mr. Ambassador? 

WALKER:  Yes, I think—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we‘re being sucked in to a funnel vision?  Are we going in more and more into this quicksand of the Middle East again, into more and more of a role in a war? 

WALKER:  Well, if Hillary has her way, yes, because she‘s not going to put up with a repeat or a replay of Rwanda, which is—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re one of those.  You believe this is Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton afraid of another Rwanda genocide?

WALKER:  Yes, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We will get back to that in a moment, because that‘s a pregnant thought.

Here‘s more from President Obama today.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It is not an action that we will pursue alone.  Indeed, our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.

We are coordinating closely with them.  And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was very sanitary Mr. Ambassador.  He‘s talking like a member of the United Nations observing the resolution.  Here‘s my question.  Are we more dramatic in what we intend to do?

You say no more Rwandas, no more genocides.

WALKER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Secretary of State Clinton is leading the fight here; she‘s loaded for bear.  She‘s in common moral strength with her husband.  They believe this was a big mistake not going in somewhere.  You say we‘re going in because of her and that view?  

WALKER:  If there‘s a massacre of citizens of Benghazi, the president will never live it down. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  You‘re with them?  Do you buy that?

THOMPSON:  No, I think that‘s right.  I mean, I think that‘s right. 

And That‘s part of the problem the president finds himself in. 

The resolution is number 1973, ironic.  As you well know, that‘s the year of the War Powers Resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know that, but I now remember. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  There you go.  And we‘re going in without any congressional support. 

MATTHEWS:  I noted that today.

THOMPSON:  So, for example, if a U.S. pilot were shot down or if civilians were be massacred in Benghazi, the president would be in deep, deep quicksand. 

MATTHEWS:  But no more pilots shot down and no more Rwandas. 

Thank you, sir.  Thank you, guys, for covering all the bases here, Ed Walker and Mark Thompson.

Up next: from the crisis in Libya to the crisis Japan.  We‘re going to switch back to that big story.  U.S. officials now say the nuclear crisis in Japan is worse than Three Mile Island.  That‘s official now.  It‘s a category five.  We will get to the latest on the effort to avert an all-out meltdown, which would be a seven.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Japan has raised its rating of that nuclear disaster over there from a

well, to a level five on a seven-point scale.  And a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from this country said today that the crisis now even surpasses Three Mile Island.  Well, and that‘s a standard.  There it is on that score there on that grid. 

Time is running out as emergency workers feverishly race to prevent a full-blown meltdown and a nuclear chain reaction.  There‘s a phrase for you.

And more on the desperate situation at Japan‘s nuclear complex—let‘s turn to Michael Friedlander, who is a nuclear engineer and a former nuclear power plant operation, also David Albright, who is a former nuclear weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. 

Well, Michael, let‘s go to this whole question.  What does it mean to go to five? 

MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, FORMER NUCLEAR PLANT OPERATOR:  Well, probably the more relevant point is, is, what does it mean to be similar to Three Mile Island?

I mean, the real bottom line here is, is we have a situation where the nuclear complex has been compromised as a result of a station blackout.  The reactors have a very limited core cooling for some period of time and have released some form of their nuclear radioactivity.  And the—the issue that makes this similar to Three Mile Island is the style of the reactor. 

The thing that makes it more complex is the fact that do not have—we don‘t have one reactor that‘s affected here; we have four, plus a very large spent fuel pool. 

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s your worry—what‘s your worry now that it‘s reached five?  Does that mean it‘s going to probably keep heading upwards in terms of horror? 

FRIEDLANDER:  Well, Chris, the—the real core issue, no pun intended, to get out of this is getting power restored to the facility.

And I just saw some reports there this morning that TEPCO has been able to run in some power lines from a neighboring electric utility.  And getting power restored to those facilities is absolutely crucial to getting us out of the woods here. 

MATTHEWS:  Does that means the pumps will work?

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDLANDER: -- stabilized.  And once we get power restored, things will recover quite quickly. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you confident that the power restored would mean the pumps activated? 

FRIEDLANDER:  Well, remember, the safety systems that are in the power

plants are designed to withstand the seismic event.  So, I‘m quite hopeful

and—and they have redundant multiple safety systems within each facility. 

So, I‘m relatively confident that once they get power restored and they start recovering the systems in a very systematic fashion, that they should be able to cobble together a series of pieces of equipment that will enable them to get out of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to David. 

Let me ask you about the question where this out—are we looking at basically years and years of dead zone in Japan around these facilities, no matter where it goes from now, that there‘s just be areas of that country you can‘t really safely live in or work in?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL

SECURITY:  Hopefully not.

I mean, most of the radiation went out to sea.  And there‘s been some significant releases.  And you can see it in some of the readings that are inland.  But most of the time, the radiation was going out to sea. 

The site itself is going to be—is probably going to have to be carefully monitored.  Some of the reactors may have to be entombed, rather than ever used -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And that means surrounded by lots of concrete? 

ALBRIGHT:  Concrete, yes.

But the area, it‘s really—there isn‘t a lot of information on the amount of cesium, radioactive cesium in the environment.  And that will be one of the indicators on how much land is actually contaminated. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Translate this into people‘s normal worries when they

the reason people are watching these programs about this and all over our country right now on every network is because they think it‘s an object lesson in the use of nuclear weapon—nuclear technology.  And, also, they worry that even the events in Japan will somehow have an influence on the people there and also on the people here. 

ALBRIGHT:  Well, radiation causes dread.  And people are worried about getting cancer or other illnesses. 

MATTHEWS:  Should they be?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, they should be, but not in this case in the United States.  I think the risk is going to be very low. 

MATTHEWS:  How about over there? 

ALBRIGHT:  Well, over there, it‘s a different story. 

They didn‘t evacuate as many people as the U.S. recommended.  The dose rates, I have been looking at them for a couple days.  I think the United States made the right—right decision—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Fifty miles?

(CROSSTALK)

ALBRIGHT:  Fifty.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And that 19 wasn‘t good enough?

(CROSSTALK)

ALBRIGHT: -- should be careful, definitely be careful with this. 

And one of the reasons you‘re also careful is, the people will be assured, they will have higher assurance that they are not going to face a risk later. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re getting word right now, Michael, that the Japanese government is—has gotten to the point now of overcoming its pride and its sense of self-reliance, for which the Japanese are famous, in asking for help from the outside. 

What was that about?  Just looking at this coldly, was there a failure on their part to see what they couldn‘t do and what they needed help to do? 

FRIEDLANDER:  Well, Chris, I think one thing, the Japanese certainly don‘t need me to apologize for them.  But we have got to remember that, outside of the nuclear complex itself, they were dealing with a catastrophe of biblical proportions.  And this catastrophe would have overwhelmed virtually any organization in the world, I believe. 

And I—certainly, there‘s no doubt, though, that I think, on a going-forward basis, we have to recognize that, in a catastrophe like this, everybody globally should—should rise to their needs.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FRIEDLANDER:  And, certainly, they should have asked for help earlier. 

There‘s no doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  The—you mean the tsunami was so overwhelming, is what you‘re saying, that they have seen they couldn‘t handle it?

FRIEDLANDER:  The seismic event, the disaster.  For—in some cases, we know that they were literally moved using bulldozers to clear roads in order to bring in emergency crews to the nuclear facility. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Gentlemen, thank you for coming on.  Have a good weekend. 

ALBRIGHT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And I keep thinking about this.  We will need you next week.

Thank you, Michael Friedlander.

And, thank you, David Albright—Albright—I‘m sorry. 

And a program note:  Tonight at 10:00 Eastern—rather, 11:00 Eastern

tonight, at 11:00 Eastern, a special edition “Caught in Camera”—

“Caught on Camera,” the disaster in Japan. 

Coming up:  Has the crisis in Japan ended the nuclear energy industry in this country as we know it? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

We had a solid rally to close out a week that was rocked by global uncertainty, the Dow Jones industrial surging 84 points, still ending below 12000, as you can see there.  The S&P 500 added five.  The Nasdaq tacked on seven.  All the major indices are lower for the week, though, due to concerns about Japan, the Middle East, the U.S. economy, and also resurfacing worries about whether or not Europe can pay back its debts. 

But banks helped turn things around here in the U.S., after the Federal Reserve noted significant improvement when it comes to stress testing.  And that unleashed a flood of dividend hikes and stock buybacks by the major banks. 

Oil prices eased slightly in the middle of the day on news of a cease-fire in Libya.  But U.S. crude is still trading above $100 a barrel. 

Japanese stocks rebounded after G7 nations said they would step in to restrain a soaring yen.  And IBM advanced despite reports that the SEC is charging it with bribing government officials in South Korea and China. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Here at home, nuclear power is also an important part of our energy future, along with renewable sources like wind, solar, natural gas and clean coal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama made clear that, despite the Japanese disaster, nuclear power would still be part of our energy mix.  But he added that the U.S. would use this disaster to redouble safety efforts here. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies.

But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So what does Japan‘s nuclear disaster mean for the future of nuclear power here in the U.S.? 

Anne Thompson is NBC News chief environmental affairs correspondent.  And Johanna Neumann is safe—safe energy advocate for U.S. Public Interest Group the—the U.S. Public Interest Group and opposes nuclear power. 

Thank you both for joining us. 

Anne, gives us a sense now of—we have 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, nuclear power plants.  How safe are they?

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: 

Well, that‘s what the government is going to try and find out. 

I can give you just one little factoid, Chris.  There -- 93 of those plants only have backup battery capability for four hours.  Eleven of those plants have backup battery capability for eight hours. 

Eight hours is what Japan required, and it was not nearly enough, as we have seen, because, first of all, the diesel generators that were supposed to power those cooling systems were wiped out by the tsunami.  And then they went to the battery packs.  But the battery packs only lasted eight hours.  And now we have this horrible situation on our hands. 

And I think that, much like the BP situation, what you‘re going to see here is a review of safety precautions, and probably stricter standards for the nuclear power plants to live up to make sure that they are indeed as safe as they claim. 

MATTHEWS:  Johanna, your view on this subject.  What do we do, as Americans, faced with our, well, gluttony for energy?  Nobody in the world uses as much energy as we do.  We have diesel, we have nuclear to fire our generators.  What do we use if we get rid of nuclear? 

JOHANNA NEUMANN, PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP:  That‘s a great question. 

You know, Chris, I think the situation in Japan really does underscore that nuclear power is inherently dangerous and that it‘s impossible to make a nuclear reactor failsafe.  So, as we move forward, we have to ask ourselves whether we‘re willing to have what‘s happening in Japan happen here in the United States. 

And if the answer to that question is no, then we have to reject nuclear power and transition to safer alternatives. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, people get on airplanes all the time, knowing that there‘s a chance a plane will crash, because it‘s a way to get somewhere to somewhere else rather quickly, and to go over land would take most of your life to do it, Johanna. 

So, it comes down the question, again, of efficiency and options.  What are the options to nuclear weapon—to nuclear—well, there‘s a mistake—to nuclear energy?  What‘s—what‘s an option?  And I understand exactly what you‘re saying.  And we are all in the same fishbowl now.  We see the dangers.  We agree on that. 

But if we all see the same thing, we are going to have to make a choice.  And the choice will have to be somewhat democratic.  Are the American people willing to give up the energy demands they are making now in the short term until we find something better than nuclear? 

NEUMANN:  I think America definitely has the ingenuity and the innovation and the talent to transition to a safe energy future.

And then, the energy—the safe energy resources are at our fingertips.  We just need to tap them.  For example, by improving efficiency over the next 20 years or so, we could free up as much electricity as is generated at 100 nuclear power plants in this country.

And then just look at the vast safe energy resources that exist in this country.  We have offshore wind potential off the coast of Virginia.  There‘s enough wind that blows across the Great Plains to power the entire United States.  And the sun is constantly shining on vast portions of Arizona—

MATTHEWS:  Do we have the base load capacity to do that?  Can we load up that capacity?  Can we get the wind and hold it?

NEUMANN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s our problem, isn‘t it?

Let me go back to—I understand your advocacy and I fully appreciate it.

Let me go to Ann.  Looking at this thing objectively, is there any way to see us—see an alternative down in the near term to nuclear in this country?

THOMPSON:  There‘s no immediate alternative, Chris, and especially if we‘re going to transition to a clean energy economy.  Look, we do have great wind resources and we have great solar resources, but the problem is they are not what‘s called base load or on-demand energy sources.  You don‘t have access to them 24 hours a day, and they—and we still haven‘t figured out a way to build batteries big enough to store that energy.  So, that‘s one problem.

Clean coal doesn‘t exist today.  Coal is not a clean technology as it exists today.  They are working on something that‘s called carbon capture and storage.  There‘s a pilot plant over in Germany that is doing that, but in the U.S., it doesn‘t exist.

And nuclear power makes up about 20 percent of our energy needs.  And unless we‘re either willing to go on an energy diet, or willing to burn more coal or do something else, nuclear is still going to be part of our energy equation.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Johanna.  What do you think of President Obama in terms of his policy on nuclear?

I notice that—having followed the Democrats all these years, until very recently, they were very anti-nuclear.  And then it seems like with so much with energy, the recognition of depending on Middle East oil or whatever in that, the dirtiness of coal, they‘ve sort of come back to it and said, OK, I guess it‘s the least of all the terrors right now.  Now, we see it is the terror, the worst of all terror, perhaps.

But what do you think of the president‘s position?

NEUMANN:  Well, the president has ordered a comprehensive safety assessment at the 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States.  That is certainly a prudent first step.

But right now, nuclear is an industry in the United States that has benefitted from 40 years of government welfare.  Right now, there are $36 billion in taxpayer subsidies going to the nuclear industry.  We would like to see that redirected to truly safe sources of energy like energy efficiency and wind and solar.

And the other point, Chris, is that Wall Street won‘t touch nuclear power with a 10-foot pole, whereas you have venture capital firms and entities like Google making real investments in clean sources energy.

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line, you can‘t insure it.  That‘s right, isn‘t it? 

You can‘t insure nuclear.  Nobody (INAUDIBLE).

That‘s right, Anne.  The bottom line is if nuclear were safe, you could get an insurance policy on it.  You get it.

THOMPSON:  That‘s exactly right.  Well—and that‘s why—that‘s why the Obama administration has stepped up and last year issued an $8 billion loan guarantee for the building of two new nuclear reactors in Waynesboro, Georgia, for that very reason.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMPSON:  But I can also tell you that I know a solar panel manufacturer who can‘t get financing either in this country and he used to buy his solar panels in this country.  He now buys them in China because he can get financing from China.  So, it‘s very—in the alternative energy world, it‘s very difficult to get financing.

MATTHEWS:  I think the bottom line is we‘re going to be spending a lot more effort in solar and wind over the next 20 or 30 years.  We‘re going to really go that direction.  We‘re going to see if we can find a way to store it and have a capacity.

Thanks so much for educating us because it‘s clearly one of the few

times where people are going to pay attention to this is after the horror -

certainly the potential of worse horror coming.

Thank you so much, Anne Thompson, over in London.  Thank you, Johanna Neumann.

Up next: a judge in Wisconsin has temporarily blocked that big new law out there that the Republican governor got through and the legislature got through basically shrinking collective bargaining rights for public employees to practically nothing.  Is this the beginning of the end of this new Republican law or is just a bump in the road?

Republicans are saying it‘s a bump in the road.  I think the Democrats are more hopeful it‘s the death knell of this thing.  We‘ll see.  It‘s all about what they did right.   That 24-hour rule, did they obey or disobey it?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just when you thought Sarah Palin wasn‘t running for president, off she goes on a world tour.  Her first stop will be India where she will share her vision of America and a speech tomorrow in New Delhi.  I can‘t wait for that one.

And then on Monday, she‘ll be in Israel where she‘ll meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the Likud Party.

When she returns stateside next week, she‘ll hold a town hall meeting in Florida to tell us all that she‘s learned.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was dealt a setback today when a judge issued a temporary restraining order that stops his anti-union law from taking effect.  The union issue has become a rallying point for the basis of both political parties.

How will the judge‘s ruling affect the politics of big labor?

Well, that‘s a phrase I haven‘t heard for a while.  Big labor—it‘s very bolstering.

Anyway, Howard Fineman is senior political editor of “Huffington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.  And Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.”

Howard, you first.  Is this—it seems like it‘s a judge, that‘s a circuit court judge says, you know, you didn‘t obey the rules.  These committees, before they vote in or bring up a thing to the floor like this, shrinking of collective bargaining rights for public employees, has to have a 24 waiting period.  A little sunshine law there, it wasn‘t observed.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It wasn‘t observed.  It‘s

just a temporary restraining order.  It remains to be seen what the court -

this court and other courts might do.

But the longer this thing is at the center of debate in Wisconsin, the more likely it is to become, I thinks a big issue in the national campaign now and in 2012.

MATTHEWS:  Define the issue.  How big an issue will it be?

FINEMAN:  OK.  The issue is two ways.  The Republicans want to define it as greed—as that these greedy public employees, Karl Rove‘s group has a new ad out now talking about that.  The Democrats want to define—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch the ad.  Let‘s watch the ad.  When you bring these up, you‘re cuing them.

Here‘s part of the ad on Karl Rove‘s Crossroads GPS group.  It‘s airing nationally with $750,000 buy—not on this network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Why did a Democrat congressman say—

REP. MIKE CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  We‘ve got to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.

NARRATOR:  Why are Democrats shutting down state capitals?  To protect the system that pays unionized government workers 42 percent more than nonunionized workers—a system that collects hundreds of millions in mandatory dues to back liberals who support government unions.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They walked doors for me.  They made phone calls for me.  They turned out the vote for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Who is that ad aimed at?

FINEMAN:  That ad is aimed at swing voters in red states.

MATTHEWS:  Who don‘t like big union—

FINEMAN:  Big union representation to begin with, who might be right to work states that don‘t have collective bargaining laws and aimed at swing voters who are worried about government spending, and who want to blame somebody, and they‘d rather blame the unions than themselves.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What‘s going on?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY:  Well, it puts real swing voters at a risk.  I mean, Republicans presumably will win red states.  But when you talk about purple states, states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where this—is the epicenter of this particular debate, it puts an awful lot of independent voters.

We know from polling on both of those states that a majority of voters support collective bargaining rights for public employees although they might want to curtail some of the costs for these pension plans.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the latest polling on the governor out there, here‘s the good test.  If the governor‘s election of Scott Walker were held now in Wisconsin today, Governor Scott Walker would lose to his Democratic opponent last November by seven points.   In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich would lose to his opponent by 15 points.  He‘d lose to Strickland, the guy he‘d beat.

These are both done by PPP, a Democratic poll, which some pollsters say aren‘t quite as accurate.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Here‘s the thing, I—

MATTHEWS:  I love to say that—we show a poll and say, it‘s not as accurate.

FINEMAN:  States I‘m talking about are states like Virginia and North Carolina, which Obama won—President Obama as a candidate won last time.  This ad is aimed at swing voters in those states, state like Colorado and so forth.

Now, the thing about the states Susan is talking about, like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and Illinois, they have higher percentages of unionized employees and government jobs are key to those economies.  In cities like my hometown of Pittsburgh, or in Cincinnati or in Cleveland or in St. Louis or in Detroit—government jobs, whether it‘s health care jobs or government worker jobs or teachers jobs are the only jobs that there are in a lot of these places.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

FINEMAN:  So, people have a different attitude.  They‘re not going to attack the public employees because public jobs are, you know, hope for everybody in those places.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Pittsburgh, there‘s so much education and—

FINEMAN:  Education, health care, and government workers as well.

MATTHEWS:  This question, I think the key voters in every election, the suburbanites, who—a lot left the cities, they‘re not organized workers.  What is their attitude?  The unorganized middle class person in the inner suburb that decides all the election—we used to call them “Sears Roebuck suburbs,” regular people.  Do they like unions?

PAGE:  Not always.  I think often they don‘t like unions.  But do they like teachers and firefighters and police officers?  Yes, they like those.

These are voters we know are very concerned about spending, the debt, the deficit.  But they‘re nervous, I think, about the idea that these Republican governors in these big Midwestern states are going too far.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  You know, a lot of them voted for Barack Obama and think he went too far in one direction.  These Republican governors are at risk of doing the same thing.

MATTHEWS:  I think it has to do with rights, too.  My question, the American people gradually give rights to women to vote in 1921, the African-Americans in 1867 or whatever, ‘65.  But then they don‘t want to take it back.  Once they get it, they sort of hold, right?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And that‘s—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you have a right to strike.

FINEMAN:  That‘s a question of collective bargaining.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  Where the people freely associate the bargain with their employer.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  That took a generation or two to establish in the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  But, yes, if the Democrats can frame it as they‘re trying to do in Wisconsin, I think with some success, as an attack on a basic American right to collective bargaining, which most Americans believe in if they don‘t belong to a union, I think the Democrats win.

PAGE:  But we know from Ronald Reagan‘s fight with the air traffic controllers, said this can work for Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  But that was a—that was a wildcat strike by public employees who were complaining not about pay, but about work conditions.  They didn‘t like their jobs.

PAGE:  But people do think—I think a lot of people do see public workers in a slightly different category than private sector workers.

MATTHEWS:  Like them less?

PAGE:  Well, I think there‘s a feeling that they‘re—they don‘t want

that there‘s—that the collective bargaining rights‘ argument is slightly different for public sector workers.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I agree.

Thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Susan Page.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with some thoughts—big questions rather about our pending action, military action in Libya.  Let‘s be careful here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this third war front in the Islamic world.

How we are again with our president explaining why we are beginning military hostilities, not how they‘re going to end.

The definition here is of a no-fly zone aimed at protecting civilians. 

That‘s the sanitary language—very United Nations, very dainty.

Then there‘s the reality behind the words.  They need to be fully understood now before the escalation startles.

Why?  Because if we‘re taking steps now that we assume will lead to further steps by Gadhafi, then further steps by us in response, let‘s decided on where we‘re headed with this now, figure out on whose authority both here and in the region we‘re headed that way.

Do we escalate this conflict on the base of what Gadhafi refuses to do?  Do we increase the firepower against them and the means of delivering it depending on his continued hostility against the rebels?  Are we counting on this to continue on our own desired course of getting him gone?  Are we anticipating that Gadhafi will act in a way that allows us to take the U.N. mandate and take it all the way to reaching our goal of getting rid of a despot we don‘t like?

We have to wonder here about a number of questions.  Why does the United States, why does Europe assume a certain right over the Middle East?  Would we be doing this during this weekend in South America?  In sub-Sahara, Africa?  In Asia?  Where but in the Middle East we‘d be presuming - - would we be presuming to challenge a despot for his conduct against his own people?

Is it the people of the Middle East who give us this special dispensation to enforce our will on the region?  Has there been a demonstration to this effect, a mass uprising in the Arab street demanding that we step in, that we act to overthrow Gadhafi, one of their own?

So, is it the people we care about?  Or is it the Mideast?  And with what special constitutional authority does the president act here, with what authority from the people of the region or the people of our own country?

These are good questions to ask.  Why are we not hearing them asked?

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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