Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Anti-Government Militias Flourishing; New Law Changes Nature of Student Loans; Scientologists Deny Allegations of Violence

Aired March 30, 2010 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's do this. Let's get you to New York City. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with the man. There he is, Ali Velshi. Doctor.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Not the same without being right there with you, Tony, but you have a great afternoon.

HARRIS: We miss you. Thank you, sir.

VELSHI: Thank you, my friend. I miss you, too.

I'm Ali Velshi. I'm going to be with you for the next two hours today and every day. I'm going to take every important topic we cover and break it down for you. I'm going to try and give you a level of detail that will help you make important decisions about your security, your money, your health and your education.

Lots to talk about this afternoon. Let's get started. Here's what I've got on the rundown.

We're going to take a close look at antigovernment groups and militias. You don't think they're in your state or your community, think again. We'll show you some eye-opening numbers. They are everywhere, and they are growing so fast it's hard to keep up with them.

Plus, you might have seen live on CNN President Obama signing some major college education reforms into law. They make paying for college easier, along with paying off college debt.

Here's my question: why should you keep scrimping and scrounging to save for college if you can get an affordable loan that's easy to pay off instead? We are going to explore this dilemma.

We're also going to look deeper into some questions: why are we here, how are we here? And I'm not talking about today on the news. I'm talking about life. We're entering a new frontier of physics, going all of the way back to the Big Bang. Bill Nye the Science Guy is back. He's going to tell you about matter, anti-matter and why it all matters.

But first, gripes about government are more than an American tradition; they're a birthright. Redress of grievances is at the very top of the Bill of Rights. But nine people now in custody, in federal custody in Michigan. These eight arrested over the weekend, plus another man arrested last night, aren't in trouble for circulating petitions. Allegedly, they plotted to kill police officers in hopes of sparking all-out war against Washington.

They're part of a so-called Christian militia group called Hutaree, which openly trained for an end-times showdown with the, quote, "new world order," end quote. Not just the feds, apparently, but the U.N., the European Union, as well. You're watching a video that they put on YouTube.

The charges include attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and seditious conspiracy. Quoting from the indictment, "The Hut-uh- ree -- the Hut-ARE-ee did knowingly conspire, confederate and agree with each other to levy war against the United States." That's from the indictment.

I have to point out two important facts. This group's Web site and videos may speak for themselves, but criminal charges have to be proven, and they haven't been proven yet.

Secondly, the Hutaree aren't alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of extremist groups and militias, and its latest findings might scare you a lot.

In 2008 the SPLC counted 149 groups that fall in the so-called patriot category. They basically view the federal government as the enemy of liberty-loving Americans.

In 2009, the numbers soared to 512. Not all of those groups are violent by any means or harbor any criminal intent.

But take a look at the patriot militia count. This is a subset of the larger group. In 2008 there were 42 known militias. Look at last year: 127. Every state in the union has several patriot groups or chapters. Michigan has the most, followed by Texas, California, Ohio, and Indiana.

All right. This is an interesting topic. You may not have been thinking that this was a big deal, but it is. I want to bring in Amy Cooter. She's working toward a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Michigan, and that has meant two years of research into the Michigan militia and similar groups. She joins me now from Ann Harbor.

Amy, this is not news to you, but it is news to a number of Americans, the degree and the scope and the scale of these anti- government groups and how many of them are willing to take up arms to do what? What is the aim? What did you learn? What do these people want to achieve?

AMY COOTER, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PH.D. CANDIDATE: You know, the vast majority of this movement aren't so antagonistic toward the government that they're ready to start a fight. I think what we've seen with this group that's been in the news these last few days is sort of the extreme of this movement.

Most of the militia movements see their involvement as more of a political protest than anything. They do practice. They do target practice and general training with firearms. But for the most part, they're not particularly afraid of the government and aren't worried about them banging down their door and coming after their individual rights.

VELSHI: So in this fight that may happen between them and the government, where do the rest of us fall? Is this a fight? Do they imagine it to be a war? Or is it a "we're armed, and don't -- don't interfere in our lives"?

COOTER: You know, for the most part, like I said, most of these groups don't see this war as coming. For those that do, I think that they see themselves as a last line of defense for their communities. They don't see the average, everyday citizen as being on the side of the federal government or as being a target of their activity, for the most part.

VELSHI: Amy, stay right there. I want to talk about how these people we recruit, who's joining them and whether or not there are people who might be our neighbors. Stand by.

Amy Cooter is with us from Ann Harbor, Michigan. She's a doctoral candidate. She's studying -- she's doing -- she's studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. We're going to talk about these groups that may or may not be a threat to you. She'll tell us whether those extremist groups are, in fact, a threat. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: In the case of this group, it was all cast in terms of the coming of the anti-Christ, which the group seemed to associate very closely, in fact, with the United Nations. So it's really quite similar to other militias' ideology but with a very particular biblical kind of twist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: We're rejoined by Amy Cooter. She's a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan.

Amy, you have spent time with -- have you spent time with the Hutaree or other groups?

COOTER: Mostly with other groups, since the Hutaree is this fringe element that isn't representative of the overall movement.

VELSHI: All right. So the people you've spent time with, I would almost say you've been embedded with them; you've spent sort of really good time with them, a lot of time with them. How would you describe them? Would they -- would they strike us as sort of everyday, normal Americans with concerns about too much government, or is there something more? Do they have more of an edge to them? COOTER: I think that most people would be surprised at how normal they are. Some of them have government jobs. In my interviews with them, most of them are actually slightly more educated than the average U.S. citizen.

The overall movement, they're not particularly religious. Most of them are married, have kids. And you wouldn't know they were militia members if you encountered them in the grocery store, unless they happen to have their militia T-shirt on.

VELSHI: And what -- so what drives them? What's their big concern here? Is it too much government or is it something more than that?

COOTER: You know, a lot of these militia members are a little concerned about big government. They feel that the Constitution isn't being followed to the letter of the law. They usually don't see it as a living document.

And for a lot of them, their militia involvement is kind of a political statement, as well as a way for them to continue military service in this patriot sentiment that a lot of them share.

VELSHI: Are they attracting sort of fringe folks who like weapons and might be sort of hoping that there's some kind of battle? Are they -- is there an element in there like the Hutaree that may be sort of not what you're describing?

COOTER: To be honest, that's pretty rare. If those people show up to the meetings of the main group, they're usually either asked to leave, if they're very forward about their ideology, or they quickly figure out that this group isn't going to offer them the opportunity to do that, and they fall out. They may find another group like Hutaree, but those groups are fairly rare.

VELSHI: What -- so what, then, is the motivator? If you feel like the Constitution is not being followed, that there is too much government, what is the motivation to join one of these militias? What are you going to get out of it? What's the takeaway for them?

COOTER: Well, as I mentioned, a lot of it is sort of this protest activity. They feel like they're not especially represented in the Tea Party system, and this is their way of saying, "Hey, we want to hold onto our guns. Don't infringe upon our Second Amendment rights."

And I think you have to be -- pay attention to the camaraderie element, too. In any social group people will band together...

VELSHI: Sure.

COOTER: ... with people who are like-minded. And a lot of the media folks who have been out to the trainings recently say, "Well, these guys look like grown-up Boy Scouts," and they're really surprised at the image they convey. VELSHI: But did you encounter anything that was like the Hutaree -- the Hutaree groups that were that much further off sort of the mainstream?

COOTER: It's pretty rare. Including the Hutaree here, there are one or two groups that look a little bit like that, yes.

VELSHI: OK. Interesting. Amy, great conversation. Thanks very much for joining us. Amy Cooter is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan.

All right. When we come back, there have been some major, major changes to the way you pay and get loans for college. So why should you still save for college? That is a question that a lot of people are asking, literally. Why should I pay for college -- why should I save for college now that the president has signed legislation to make student loans not only more affordable but forgivable over time? Christine Romans is with me here. We're going to tackle this, right ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: What's tonight going to be a good night for, because -- because of the news that the president has signed some bill that has to do with student loans and has completely changed the way we should think about saving for college and paying for college.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the biggest change to student loan and how you -- how you pay for college in our lifetimes. And look, it's a 45-year-old public-private partnership to how to get federal student loans has been..

VELSHI: Sure. The government backs private enterprises that -- that make loans to students.

ROMANS: It subsidizes them. And critics and a lot of Democrats say pays them a lot of money to make these loans. Now, the government taking the loans away from the banks, their subsidies away from the banks, and they're going to put it directly into your student loans.

This is what it's going to look like. For students, your new choices -- students who enroll in 2014 or later, once you graduate from school on your federal student loans, your payment every month on those loans will be limited to 10 percent of your income. So if you don't make very much money, you're not going to have to pay a whole bunch of money. It's going to forgive your remaining debt after 20 years. If you can't get this paid off after 20 years, they're going to forgive that debt.

VELSHI: For everybody. So if I've got 20 years worth of payments, and I have made my payments for 20 years, and then there's a balance at the end of that -- poof, gone.

ROMANS: That's right. And after ten years if you're in public service. So nurses, also teachers and some other public service. So that kind of addresses an issue... VELSHI: Great way to get people into public service.

ROMANS: Here's the problem. We pay people for very important jobs and careers less than they could get in a lot of other places.

VELSHI: Sure.

ROMANS: So this would sort of address that, as well.

VELSHI: Teachers and nurses and people like that.

ROMANS: We need half a million more nurses over the next ten years. So...

VELSHI: If you income a nurse you'll get -- you'll get a payoff to your education faster than...

ROMANS: If you use a federal student -- like, Stafford loans.

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: These are the federal student loans.

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: And again, this is what Republicans call, Ali, a government takeover of the student loan business.

VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: Mitch McConnell, I got an e-mail from...

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: ... from them this morning saying, "Look, this is the government running the banks. The insurance companies, car companies, health care, now student loans." Not everybody wants that.

VELSHI: Yes, but if you're the recipient, this sounds like a better deal. Sounds like the government running a student-loan business.

I mean, why would I save, why would I struggle to save for my kid's college education right now...

ROMANS: Exactly.

VELSHI: ... if I know that they can get a loan that will be big enough to get them through school, and then pay off for 20 years, and then get the rest forgiven. So they won't have it over their head for the rest of their career.

ROMANS: There's this cardinal rule in personal financing. You pay for your own retirement first. And a lot of people, it's interesting. A lot of people say, "Oh, no, I've got to get my kid through college." VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: "I'm going to save and scrimp, and every penny is going to go to college."

You know, personal finance, we just talked to Suze Orman on the show a couple weeks ago, who said, "No, no, no, no. You save your retirement first. Let your kid gets loans to college."

VELSHI: You can't get loans to retirement. You get a loan for school.

ROMANS: So now, look, if you've got millions of people who need loans to go to college, then this is going to make it easier for them to go to college.

And I want to quickly say about the Pell grants, the president says over the next ten years, there are going to be 820,000 more Pell grants. Pell grants are these need-based loans, as you know. Right now there are, I think, $5,500 is what you get. They're going to be by 2017, 59 -- $79,975.

VELSHI: They're going to move up. The amount that you can borrow is going to move up...

ROMANS: Right, right.

VELSHI: ... we think, with the cost of living, inflation.

ROMANS: And the president says he wants us to have the highest proportion of people graduating from college in the world.

VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: I mean, that's what he would like to see. If we're going to have the workforce of the future, he says, we've got to have the education of the future. We've got to make it affordable.

Which brings me to the number I've been giving all day.

VELSHI: "Romans' Numeral."

ROMANS: "Romans Numeral," $22,375. Look, if you go to a private school, this is the median student debt. This is...

VELSHI: Half of everybody who graduates has a bigger debt, and half have a smaller debt.

ROMANS: That's a lot of money. I mean, $22,000. So think, if you're going to be a social worker. Think, if you're going to be a teacher. Think, if you're going to -- you know, any kind of specialty. I mean, we've looked at these numbers, liberal arts majors in particular. I mean, you're looking at years and years of paying very big -- a very big proportion of your paycheck to -- so again. This is a complete overhaul of the federal student loan.

And we've been talking so much about health care.

VELSHI: This is a big one.

ROMANS: But how you go to college, pay for college, and how long that college debt stays with you has all been changed.

VELSHI: And by the way, that FAFSA form is going to change. For all of you who fill out that FAFSA form. I never know what FAFSA...

ROMANS: FAFSA stands for -- Oh, please, I have a FAFSA.

VELSHI: Yes. But that big form you fill out to get student aid is actually changing, too.

So amazing to see you and be able to touch you, be near you.

ROMANS: I know. We're going to do more on the weekend.

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: We're going to specifically answer a lot of this on "YOUR $$$$$" this weekend, too. So...

VELSHI: How beautifully you teed that up for me.

If you want to watch Christine and me on "YOUR $$$$$," she's my co-anchor. You can watch us at Saturday at 1 p.m. and at Sunday at 3 p.m. We promise not to look nearly as serious.

ROMANS: Why aren't we smiling?

VELSHI: Look at that.

ROMANS: That's -- that's...

VELSHI: We look like we're going to take you out at the kneecap.

ROMANS: That's the financial -- that's "I lost 25 percent of my 401(k)." That's what that look says.

VELSHI: It's a different world. Change the pictures. It's a different world. Things are getting better. In fact, Friday we're getting this jobs number. And we are hoping -- we are hoping it's going to show a turnaround.

All right. Let me show you what some of the top stories are that we're working on for you here at CNN.

President Obama, Christina's just told us, has signed off on the health-care fixes bill capping off nearly a full year of fierce partisan debate. Among other things, the reconciliation package expands health insurance subsidies for lower and middle-income families. Also we've been talking about that. It makes getting and paying off college student loans substantially easier.

In Massachusetts, prosecutors say a 15-year-old student was bullied to death by classmates. And now they've charged nine teenagers in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince. Police say the girl hanged herself in January after enduring months of bullying. Indictments against the suspects range from civil rights violations to criminal harassment.

Russian police say these are the two women suspected of blowing themselves up in Moscow's subway system yesterday, killing at least 39 people. Investigators are still reportedly hunting for three suspect -- suspected accomplices. They believe Chechen rebels are behind the attacks, although no one has claimed responsibility.

All right. Thousands of pages of health-care legislation, months of headaches and heartaches on Capitol Hill and around the nation. Now it is the law. Do we even know what's in it? We've dug up some surprises for you. We'll tell you about them on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Just a few hours ago President Obama put pen to paper on the last piece of the health-care puzzle, which also overhauls the student-loan system. Here's what he told the crowd at a Northern Virginia community college.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From the moment I was sworn into office I've spoken about the urgent need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy and for our future. Two pillars of that foundation are health care and education.

This week we can rightly say the foundation on which America's future will be built is stronger than it was one year ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: OK. Here's what the fixes bill does. It expands insurance subsidies for lower- and middle-income families while watering down a tax on expensive Cadillac insurance plans.

It makes it easier for students to get loans by cutting the banks out as middle men. And it makes those loans easier to pay off.

But it also bumps the total cost of the overhaul up to $940 billion. That's a lot of money for a lot of legislation.

The original reform bill is over 1,000 -- 2,000 pages. We've uncovered a few surprises while combing through the fine print: little-noticed provisions that could have an impact on your family.

Now, let's start with the less flex in your flexible spending account. Elizabeth Cohen told us about this last week. Starting next year, you'll need a doctor's note if you want to tap your account for over-the-counter medicines like aspirin and vitamins. Come 213 -- 2013, the government is capping the amount you can put into the tax- sheltered account at 2,500 bucks. Used to be $5,000. Next up, lessons about the birds and the bees could take a controversial turn. Federal funding has been restored for abstinence- only sex-ed programs. Now, researchers squabble about the effectiveness of the strategy, but the overhaul sets aside $250 million over the next five years for states to sponsor the programs.

And bosses will be required to give nursing moms the time and place to pump at work. Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt.

And even your tax paperwork will look a little different next year. The W-2 that you get from work will tally up the cost of employer-provided health care. That's not a big deal right now, but it will be for some people in 2018, when the patients with the so- called Cadillac or high-end plans will actually start paying a tax on that benefit.

OK. So we'll keep digging into that for you. Just ahead, hear what scientology leaders have to say about shocking allegations by former insiders, allegations that the church's top man encouraged a climate of physical violence within the church, allegations the church strongly denies. You're going to hear from both sides so you can decide who's telling the truth.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: More now on the investigation into the Church of Scientology. A series of stories in the "St. Petersburg Times" sparked the investigation that took months to complete.

Now, not only does scientology deny all the allegations, they say the people making them are liars who are out to destroy the church. The most senior leaders of the church made their objections clear for months but would not sit down to talk about them, at least with -- not without preconditions until now.

We want to be very clear on this. This is not a story about the philosophy of the church or the beliefs of its members. This is a story about alleged abuse within a religious organization and what those who have made the allegations say has happened to them.

Here's CNN's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTY RATHBUN, FORMER MEMBER, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY: In late '03, there was a beating every day. And if it wasn't him doing it, it was from him inciting others to do it to others.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In front of other people?

RATHBUN: Front of other people.

Go long, baby.

COOPER (voice-over): Morty Rathbun is the highest-ranking former member of the Church of Scientology ever to speak out against its leader, David Miscavige.

RATHBUN: I was basically Mr. Fix It for scientology for a number of -- well, a couple of decades, frankly. I mean, I was -- wherever there was a fire, I was out there to put it out, whether it be, you know, counseling a VIP member or whether it be, you know, handling the P.R. from some suicide of a member or whether it be a lawsuit or whatever.

COOPER (voice-over): Rathbun joined the church at the age of 19, devoting 27 years to Scientology. Before he left five years ago, he was a member of the Sea Organization, the international management team that runs the church. They sometimes wear naval-style uniforms. They're given room and board and earn just $50 a week.

Rathbun became the Inspector General, working for and reporting directly to David Miscavige. While Rathbun was there, he says Miscavige routinely assaulted church members.

RATHBUN: He treats his -- his subordinates, in all of international management, like slaves in a slave camp and literally -- and beats them down.

COOPER (on camera): The idea of the leader of the church physically beating other members of the church seems to be completely against Scientology doctrine and what they're supposedly all about.

RATHBUN: You're right. They're absolutely diametrically opposed to the type of violence and beat downs this guy engages in and has created a culture of at the upper levels of Scientology.

COOPER (voice-over): According to Rathbun, much of the violence occurred here, behind the guarded walls of the church's international headquarters, a 500-acre base near Riverside, California, where the Sea Organization managers work and live in communal housing.

Sea Organization members sign a pledge to work for the church for 1 billion years, a contract for this lifetime and many others they believe are still to come.

Rathbun says Sea Organization members believe the commitment is part of their eternal salvation. He says most rank-and-file Scientologists have no idea what really goes on here.

RATHBUN: The only people who know about it are people on that base, and the only ones of those who know about it are in international management, actually, probably a couple of 300 probably know, because they've seen one or more incidents. But those are the only people that know.

COOPER: Rathbun says this man, Mike Rinder, who is chief spokesman for the church, bore the brunt of the alleged abuse.

RATHBUN: One night in 1997, towards Christmastime, I get called down to Miscavige's room. Miscavige kicks the screen door out of his bedroom and comes running out in a terrycloth robe and just starts beating on Mike Rinder. I mean, savagely beating on him, across the face, in the stomach.

You know, Mike bends over, Miscavige grabs him around the neck. There's a little tree by his room, swings him around, scrapes his face against the tree, down into the mud, and starts kicking the guy. Rinder's bleeding from the mouth, because his face got scraped right across that tree. There's not a word said, Anderson. He never said a word to Rinder.

COOPER: Rathbun says in 2000, he saw David Miscavige attack Mike Rinder, again in a conference room.

RATHBUN: Miscavige came in, pinned Rinder up under the table in his chair, and was whacking him upside the head and grabbing him around the neck, choked him, and twisted him around and threw him to the ground by his neck. He had marks on his neck for weeks.

COOPER: Mike Rinder left the church in 2007. We tracked him down, and though he refused to appear on camera, he told us he was physically assaulted some 50 times by Miscavige and verified Rathbun's accounts.

Church officials and their attorneys say both former Sea Organization members are liars.

DAVIS: First of all, the allegations are absolutely untrue. There was nothing of the sort, as they're describing, by Mr. Miscavige.

COOPER (on camera): David Miscavige has never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: Never, never, never. Absolutely not.

COOPER (voice-over): That's Tommy Davis, a scientologist for 20 years. He replaced Mike Rinder as chief spokesman for the church when, after 38 years as a church member, Rinder quit.

(on camera) Marty Rathbun says it happened. Mike Rinder says it happened. You say?

DAVIS: They're lying. It's absolutely not true. I mean, it's ridiculous.

COOPER (voice-over): David Miscavige has declined to speak for himself, but in the months we've spent preparing these reports, Church of Scientology officials have provided us with affidavits, declarations, and dozens of e-mails and letters. They come from ex- spouses and current leaders of the church who worked for decades with the accusers and also with David Miscavige. They both defend and praise Miscavige, and they assert emphatically David Miscavige never abused anyone. They say that Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun did.

DAVIS: It was part of what led to Marty Rathbun's removal, because that is the kind of behavior that actually he was involved in, and it led to his ultimate complete removal from any position whatsoever in the church. COOPER (on camera): So you're saying that David Miscavige learned that Marty Rathbun had been hitting people, a bunch of people...

DAVIS: That's right.

COOPER: ... physically assaulting people, and that's why he was let go?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was one of the reasons.

DAVIS: It was one of the reasons.

COOPER: And for the record, did you ever punch anybody?

RATHBUN: Yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Marty Rathbun admits he assaulted church employees but insists that was what David Miscavige wanted him to do.

RATHBUN: Listen, I was -- had a lot of pressure put on me, because I was the inspector general, which was the position directly below him on the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy, for years and years. And he used to rag on me all the time and constantly tell me to get physical with people. And berate me because I wasn't showing my loyalty by, you know, smacking them into line type of thing.

And I've got to tell you, I've admitted to -- to doing a few of those, but not like he did.

COOPER: In their affidavit, the former Sea Organization coworkers and ex-spouses dispute Rinder and Rathbun's claims. The ex- spouses say they never saw any physical evidence of abuse, and they say their husbands never said a word.

But it turns out Rathbun and Rinder are not the only ones saying there was a culture of violence created by David Miscavige.

TOM DEVOCHT, FORMER SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: The next thing I knew, I'm being smacked in the face and knocked down, in front of all these people. This is the pope, you know, knocking me down to the ground.

JEFF HAWKINS, FORMER SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: David Miscavige was the one leading this whole physical violence kick. And it was him who was beating people up.

COOPER: Tomorrow, their story and the church's response.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Going back to last August, we've asked many times the Church of Scientology chairman of the board David Miscavige to appear on air for this series. His spokesman Tommy Davis has declined for Miscavige, but our invitation remains open.

OK. You can see more of this story online at AC360.com. Also, make sure to watch more of this series tonight on AC360 at 10 p.m. Easter.

Now, switching gears for a second. Health care reform is now the law of the land, and the lawmakers have to face the voters. Our Gloria Borger comes on to give us a readon on where the midterm elections might be headed now that health care is done. There she is standing by. We'll be with her in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. Months of fiery debate over the health care overhaul has landed a lot of Democrats in a precarious position with their constituents this election season. Many analysts say a vote in favor of the bill could translate to political death in the midterm elections. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll out this hour shows that if the elections were held today, 49 percent of registered voters would go red, vote Republican, compared to 45 percent, who say they would vote Democrat.

Let's bring in senior political analyst Gloria Borger live from D.C. Gloria -- I mean, the polling as I've been looking at it, and I'm certainly no expert at this, seems to just been generally better for everybody now that health care is behind them. Health care seems to be biting everybody almost equally. Whether where do you think this stands?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think people do -- each party does get an advantage in some way from it, particularly the Democrats who were not doing so well and, again, they're losing to Republicans in that generic ballot you just showed.

But here's what we need to measure as we go towards the midterm elections. You need to measure enthusiasm because those are the voters who actually turn out in midterm elections.

Let's take a look at a poll we did where we asked Republicans and Democrats whether they were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this year. And look at this, Ali. You can see Republicans, 55 percent, Democrats, 36 percent. So, you know, they've got a 19-point edge, the Republicans do, on enthusiasm.

Now, Republicans have gone up since January. Democrats have also gone up since January. Maybe everybody is just happy health care reform is over. But it is not great news for the Democratic party that Republicans are so enthusiastic. And this midterm election coming up is going to be a national election because we have been dealing with big national issues.

VELSHI: Yep.

BORGER: And so Republicans are going to have a very easy time nationalizing this election into a referendum on the economy and health care and Barack Obama.

VELSHI: We have a poll as well that talks about how Democratic leaders in Congress are handling their jobs. This one's interesting to me. Now, 42 percent say they approve of how they're handling their job. Last week, it was 33 percent. Prior to health care passing seems to have been a low point for how people thought Congress was doing its job.

BORGER: Right. Yes, you know, nothing succeeds like success, right, Ali? They get something done. They show that they can be a governing majority. Even if you disagree with them, particularly the liberal base, the Democratic party who wanted to see more. This helps Democrats because it looks like they have broken the gridlock, if you will, even though it was a partisan vote. They actually accomplished something.

So, the Democrats are heartened by this because they can go home to the voters and say we did what we promised you we were going to do. This is not to say it's going to be easy, but it doesn't hurt them to get something done. Really doesn't.

VELSHI: Tell me about this, Gloria. The president -- depending on different reports and articles that we've seen, really seems to have put his presidency or the success or effectiveness, potency of his presidency on the line here with health care. Now that he's got it, does it help him now start to build up, or is he really wounded from the hits he took during the passage of health care?

BORGER: You know what, it really does help him. It may -- I can tell you from talking to folks in the White House, they're feeling a little bit more optimistic about what kind of an agenda they can pursue.

But I'll tell you something else, Ali. They are really looking towards those jobs numbers on Friday, okay? If those jobs numbers are good, and you know this better than I do, it's going to be so important to this White House because they then can take a turn and say, look, we have been focusing on the economy. We have been focusing on jobs. We are starting to bring back jobs. And then perhaps they can broaden their agenda again to try and get something done on energy and climate change.

If those numbers are bad, Ali, then the White House will start focusing like a laser, as Bill Clinton used to say, on jobs.

VELSHI: You're right about that. In fact, you brought this up before. That if we weren't in a bad jobs situation, none of this would be much of a problem. On Friday, we're getting the big jobs report, the monthly one for March. And many people are expecting this to be the big change. They're expecting to see lots of jobs having been created --

BORGER: Right.

VELSHI: You're right, that will be all they will be talking about on Friday if that turns out to be the case.

BORGER: Right. Ali, I have to ask you. The census, all the employees for the census, that plays into that, too, then, right?

VELSHI: Absolutely does.

BORGER: Is it real or is it not real?

VELSHI: All right. We'll be looking at that. Gloria, great to see you. Thank you for being here.

BORGER: Sure. Good to see you!

VELSHI: Gloria Borger is our senior political analyst.

It's been a long time since I aced particle physics! I kind of remember something about protons. I don't really ever remember having a conversation about large Hadron (ph) semicollider. Big news on a Big Bang experiment today. Look at it. We're going to tell you what it's all about. Could change your life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Well, it's hard to even comprehend a concept like the Big Bang. Imagine trying to recreate it here on earth without all of us getting blown up. It's pretty mind blowing.

Pretty much that's what's going on as we speak in something called the large Hadron Collider. It's a particle accelerator, as you can obviously tell from the diagram, right? It's a 17-mile loop about 300 feet below ground near the French-Swiss border. Any of you who are Dan Brown fans will have read about this in "Angels and Demons." I have no idea whether the way he described this is the way it goes.

Since November, super -strong magnets have been pulling two beams of protons in opposite directions super-fast around the 17-mile ring and today, bam, we've got a collision. I find this the graphic, this graphic, might actually be more helpful.

Let's take a look at this. However, I am going to need some science types to help me out with the what thes and whys, including why are we doing this, what does this mean? So, in L.A., we have Bill Nye the Science Guy, and here in New York, Nicole Dyer of "Popular Science" magazine who explained light bending to me last week.

I'm very pleased that you two are here to make sense of this. Becaseu I think having read about this bill that this is particularly important. This is a big deal. Can you tell me whether I'm right, is this even important? Should we even continue this conversation?

BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY: Well, yes, we should continue this conversation. We may unlock the next secret of the universe and change the lives of every human on earth for the rest of time. Is that a big deal? Would that be a big deal to you?

VELSHI: All right. That qualifies. Bill, we're going to continue the conversation. I love it.

Nicole, they are trying to basically recreate the Big Bang. Is that an over-simplification or is that accurate?

NICOLE DYER, SENIOR EDITOR, "POPULAR SCIENCE": That is basically it. I mean, here's the problem with the cosmos. We can't see it. Ninety-five percent is invisible. And scientists refer to that as dark matter. That's a problem. We want to understand how the universe works and this machine, the LHC, is going to help us do that.

VELSHI: This the best opening to an interview question I've ever heard. She starts with "here's the problem with the cosmos."

OK, Bill, so we run this thing through. They run this experiment. Something happens. What are we meant to be learning from this? Because this is a massive expensive center. This is taking place at CERN, by the way, which is a French acronym which stands for the European organization for Nuclear Research. It's world's leading lab for particle physics headquartered in Geneva. What could we possibly learn from this that is going to be important to us?

NYE: Well, the first of all, let me say we don't know what we're going to learn. That's why we're trying it. The idea is that these particles, you made reference to protons when you opened this interview --

VELSHI: Yes.

NYE: And these particles, protons, neutrons, the other hadrons, which is Greek for big or bulky, these particles, of course, are fantastically small and they might mot even be particles. That's just how we think of them.

But they interact. And these interactions create the energy that powers all the stars, like our sun. And the spectacular thing you get when you have a nuclear or hydrogen bomb.

So, what causes these particles to exchange energy? What causes these particles to exist? And did they at one time exist in another form where half of them were antiparticles and half of them were what we think of as positive particles and it's all changed? And this gets back to the Big Bang.

And the idea is the only way to find out what's inside these things, as far as we can figure so far, is to try to knock them open. If you want to know what's inside an egg, you crack it. So, we're trying to get these things to smash apart. And the deal is we're about three times the energy in this particle accelerator in Switzerland and France that we've ever had before. And so this magnetic field that you need to hold it all this is about a million billion times stronger than the earth's magnetic field.

VELSHI: Wow. NYE: So in order to create that kind of magnetism, you nead a lot of electricity, you need a huge facility. This thing is 25 kilometers, it's 17 miles across.

VELSHI: yes.

NYE: It's a huge thing. And everybody around the world is working on this, because we're trying to unlock the next secret of the universe.

VELSHI: All right. Hold on right there. We're going to take a break.

When we come back, I want to talk about the safety of this, whether it's dangerous to have three times the force that we have -- stay with us. Stay with us. Nicole Dyer and Bill Nye are joining us for the rest of this conversation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. This is what you're looking at. You're looking at a 17-mile tunnel under the Swiss/French border. This is the large hadron collider, and the hadrons have collided, I suppose, today. I don't even want to be try particularly smart about this. I've got two smart people on with me to talk about it, Bill Nye the Science Guy joining us from Los Angeles; Nicole Dyer, the senior editor of "Popular Science" magazine is in New York.

Nicole, there are things going on, and I really do think that this is fascinating and that people will have to read up a little on, to fully understand it, because we can't do justice to it in this conversation. But it does seem like there's a lot of energy going on, there's a lot of energy, more Bill described, than we typically encounter here on earth being used to conduct this experiment. This is safe?

DYER: It does sound scary. But here's the thing --

VELSHI: yes.

DYER: -- Mother Nature actually -- mother nature has her own particle accelerator, and it's actually supernovas or exploding stars are kicking out protons all the time with far more energy than the LHC could muster. These are bombarding against the earth, and we're still here, so I think it's safe to say these experiments are safe, yes.

VELSHI: And, Bill, when might be expect to see some sort of result from this? You said -- I mean, it's happening today, but this is sort of an ongoing thing, it's been going on for a long time. Is this kind of like a lottery, we're going to get some kind of result, or is it just advancing our studies in this?

NYE: I can't hear, sorry.

VELSHI: Oh, all right, Bill can't hear me. I'm going to try -- Nicole, do you know the answer to that? NYE: Oh, there you go. Now I hear you. Now I hear you.

VELSHI: Oh, you got me, Bill? Bill -- is there some sort of result that comes out of this, or does this sort of advance our studies into protons and neutrons and hadrons?

NYE: Well, protons and neutrons and what holds them together, that's the big question. You know, the way we model it now is that these particles are made of smaller particles we call quarks - I'm not joking you -- they exchange gluons, the glue that hold the particles together. And our models, our mathematical way to describe these things right now, involves the exchange of particles.

But there's a lot of particles, and we give them all kinds of kooky names, and their interactions are very subtle. That is to say, they take enormous energies to get them to break apart, and then it takes very, very sophisticated detectors to find out what happened. And so what you have to do is, a lot of mathematical analysis. You have to do a lot of computer analysis or the reaction or the particles that are generated when you smash particles.

But, the thing is, what are we going to learn? What are we going to discover? It may be that if we discover what holds these particles together, what makes them do what they do, we will be able to harness enormous amounts of energy. We'll be able to -- to influence the construction of materials, special types of molecules, in ways --

VELSHI: Yes.

NYE: -- that literally you can't imagine. And so this sort of experiment is basic research --

VELSHI: Yes.

NYE: -- looking for basic truths. It's exciting.

VELSHI: Very interesting. Very interesting. Exciting, I'm learning about gluons and hadrons, and my head is kind of spinning.

NYE: And don't forget laptrons. Barions.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Bill, good to see you. Nicole, always a pleasure to see you. Thank you both for coming on next. Next we'll talk about clingons.

Actually, what we'll do next is catch up with a young soldier as he marches on the next step of his career. It's the latest in an ongoing story done by my good friend, Jason Carroll. You are not going to want to miss it. Jason's with me. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)