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LORAN Goes Dark; No Private Browsing; Iran Celebrates Revolution

Aired February 8, 2010 - 14:00   ET

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


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Never heard of it being used in the home.

Sanjay did that piece back in July. And we want you to know, by the way, the patient that we were watching is just fine.

That was an authorized use of a very, very powerful drug. Now let's look at the unauthorized darker side. Check out these stats from the CDC.

In 2008, prescription drugs -- I remember seeing this and being fascinated by this statistic -- prescription drugs replaced heroin and cocaine as the leading drugs in fatal overdoses in the United States. Fascinating.

Between 1999 and 2004 -- so, from 1999 to 2004 -- overdose deaths from Vicodin, OxyContin and Demerol, painkillers, increased 142 percent. Now, over that same period, overdose deaths from heroin, for instance, which is where a lot of people would think of overdoses coming from, were down nine percent. So, a massive growth in increase of overdose deaths from prescription drugs alongside a decrease -- increase in deaths from overdose of illicit drugs.

Tonight, but sure to tune into Larry King tonight. Michael Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, will be appearing tonight on Larry King for a live interview. Tune into that, tonight on CNN.

All right. We want to go to Washington now. One of the things that we're doing here at CNN is digging deeply into how your tax dollars are spent on security and how that is affecting the safety of Americans here in the United States.

Let's go to our CNN Security Desk in D.C. Jeanne Meserve is staffing that for us now.

Hello, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ali.

In just about an hour, most of the LORAN navigational system in this country is going to be shut down. Some people are applauding, saying it's going to save the country a lot of money. Other people, though, are a little bit concerned.

Let me show you exactly what we're talking about. LORAN is a ground-based system. If we look at Google Earth, you can see that there are a number of these installations. Twenty-four of them, in fact, around the United States. A lot of them on the coast because they help with mariners' navigation, but some of them are inland.

We can take a closer look, perhaps, at one of them in Indiana, in the middle of the country. This would help with navigation on inland waterways, also help with aviation.

This is what it looks like from the air, but we can also take a look at what it looks like from the ground. We have an exterior shot of this facility. There it is.

Also, you can take a peek inside. And when you look inside, you can see that this probably is not the most up-to-date technology that you've ever seen.

It has been largely replaced at this point by GPS, which is of course a satellite-based system. GPS doesn't just take you to the nearest cup of coffee, it does a lot of other things very critical to the United States. It can help with transportation systems and ATMs and cell phone towers and water plants. The military uses it as well.

There are concerns though that GPS could be vulnerable -- vulnerable for one thing, to cyberattack. And Also, people point out that the Chinese have now demonstrated that they can now shoot down a satellite.

So, some people are saying, well, wait a minute, maybe we should not be taking LORAN down, we ought to keep that as a backup system sort of the way you keep a flashlight in your house just in case the lights went out. But for the moment, it looks like they're losing the debate. And in less than an hour's time now, 19 of those 24 LORAN stations are going to be shut down -- Ali.

VELSHI: Nineteen out of 24. So why are five staying open?

MESERVE: Six -- no, five. You're right. My math is not great.

It's because we have treaties with Mexico and Canada, which also use some of the LORAN system. So, for the time being, those are up and operating. But the current plan calls for them to be shut down, too, phased out by about June. All of this is going to save the federal government a lot of money, about $195 million over five years -- Ali.

VELSHI: All right. We'll be checking in with you a lot, Jeanne, on the Security Desk at CNN, digging deep into security, how your money's spent and how it keeps you safe.

Thanks, Jeanne.

MESERVE: You bet.

VELSHI: All right. The FBI -- this is an interesting one talking about security. This is your own security on the Internet. The FBI wants your Internet service provider to keep logs on some of your Web browsing.

When we come back, we're going to talk about whether that's a national security necessity or whether it's just an invasion into your privacy.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: It's probably a good assumption to say that whatever happens on the Internet stays on the Internet pretty much forever. It's a fact of modern life that some of us sometimes learn the hard way. But even browsing leaves tracks. And if the FBI has its way, investigators will be able to track your browsing over the past two years.

It's a huge idea, legally and technically, blurring the line between national security and civil liberties. And I want to break that down for you with the help of CNN's national security adviser, Fran Townsend, in Washington, and in New York, Internet privacy and security lawyer, Parry Aftab.

Thanks for being here.

And Fran, I know we've been talking about the snow in Washington. I know you trudged through to get to us. It's pretty serious there.

I want to start with you.

Is this a necessary thing for the government to have? And why? Why do they want Internet service providers to keep information on my browsing?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: You know, Ali, I think we should be -- we should give some people some comfort. You know, while the FBI is asking Internet service providers to hold on to this and retain this information, they can't really get it without going through a legal process and sort of making the case that they need that information.

The process is called a national security letter, similar to a subpoena. And they have to be able to say why they have the grounds to need that type of information.

They use it in things like child pornography cases, kidnapping cases. Think of Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter who was doing research on the Internet. Would it have been useful for them to be able to get that information as they put together a case? Sure, it would. And that's the kind of instances where they'll be looking to want to access that sort of information.

VELSHI: All right.

Parry Aftab, sounds like a reasonable argument. What's the problem with it?

PARRY AFTAB, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN INTERNET SECURITY AND PRIVACY: Well, it's a huge problem. The more data that's collected is more data that we have to secure. And on CNN every day we're doing lots of pieces about data that gets out there that we don't want.

Two years of what you're surfing is a huge inconvenience for the Internet service providers. I think that when we're looking at these kinds of things that infringe on privacy but help law enforcement, w e have to weigh, how much will it help, how much will it infringe, and is there a better way to do it? I think in this case, keeping data a little bit longer, mandatory rules, six months at least, and making sure that law enforcement has the tools to target those who are going to certain problematic sites is a better way to handle it.

VELSHI: All right.

So, Fran, it looks like not massive disagreement between the two of you on the fact that there might be some kind to have Internet service providers keep some stuff. So, where, if you are the FBI, are you drawing that line? Because I suppose you could ask for everybody to keep everything. And we're talking about phone companies and cell phone companies.

Why are we thinking two years is a good idea? I know a survey of cybercrime investigators -- and that's not just terrorism, but that could be any kind of crime on the Internet -- ranges from some people thinking a year, or three years, or five years.

What's your thought on how you draw the line?

TOWNSEND: Well, there will be a cost to Internet service providers to retain this data, and that's always part of the argument for, tell us what you really need, as opposed to what you want. And so I expect, Ali, that you'll see up on the Hill pushback on the amount of time because of the storage issues. What do you really need?

I suspect that it will be -- they will wind up requiring the ISPs to retain this data less than two years. I imagine that the ISPs will be able to go to the government and recover some of their costs for the retention. And they'll want to be sure -- legislators will want to be certain that there is legal process and reporting around how often, after such legislation was passed, does the FBI actually utilize and access that data to see how useful this...

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: And I suppose that's -- you know, Parry, for our viewers out here who are thinking about this, what do I have to be worried about? Are they looking at whether I'm buying shoes at Zappos or are they looking at whether I'm trying to make a bomb out of hydrogen peroxide?

What are we looking for here?

AFTAB: Who knows? Once the data's collected, it could be used for a lot of different reasons.

We look to the safeguards of subpoenas and security letters, but once the information's collected, you're never really sure what's happening. And I think that a law in this case is overcall.

We have something called the Socially Safe Seal that announces in April on best practices. You want my seal, you're going to have to retain it for at least six months and make it easier for police to get it. But I think we're shooting way too broad for what we need and we're not recognizing the risk that collecting that amount of data will put our individual consumers in.

VELSHI: Obviously, Fran, since you were heading this kind of stuff up, we've probably become more sophisticated about this. I mean, obviously we've got some distance to go, but do you think we can achieve the national security needs and yet not too broadly, as Parry worries about?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, look, I understand Parry's concern. I mean, after all, the FBI got the authority for national security letters in the Patriot Act, and then we found in an inspector general's report that they hadn't put the safeguards in place that you'd like to think they have in place.

I think the good news is we learn from our mistakes. I expect that we know that the FBI director has said publicly in the wake of that inspector general's report that they do have safeguards in place now, and reporting requirements to Capitol Hill on their use of national security letters. And so, I do believe now that we can feel more confident that they can make that balance.

VELSHI: All right. Good to talk to you both -- Parry Aftab in New York, Internet privacy and security expert, and Fran Townsend, our CNN national security contributor, joining us after trudging through the snow in Washington.

Thank you to both of you.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right.

When we come back, we're going to talk about how NATO, including American troops, are taking the war in Afghanistan directly to the Taliban in one of the biggest joint offensives -- in fact, the biggest joint offensives -- since the beginning of the Afghan War. It's aimed at knocking out militants in southern Afghanistan.

We're going to give you the details about it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. You all knew that we were going to take a look at the Dow, because that's what we do at this time of the day.

It is off about 23 points. We had a big drop in the Dow last week. There's been a lot of concerns about where this economy is headed.

And look at it now, down about 23 points. Fairly stable day on the Dow, but below that key 10,000 mark, and it's been hanging around. The Dow was positive a little while ago, but it's moving around.

All right. We've talked about the new offensive in the Afghan War. In fact, it's the largest offensive since the Afghan War started.

Let's take a look at what's going on.

Troops from the United States -- NATO troops from the United States, Britain and Afghanistan -- are taking part in this offensive, and it's taking part in the southern part of the country, Helmand Province, an area said to be the last major Taliban stronghold. In fact, Marjah, the city that's highlighted there, is the target of it because it's sort of an ungoverned city where there's rampant growth of poppies. That's where farmers are funding themselves. It's got a population of about 100,000 people.

Now, British and Afghan troops are conducting air and group operations to prepare for a full assault, but they're being very, very public about it with the idea that either Taliban troops are going to be scared of them and disappear, or they're going to step up and face them in an open fight. Some of the 30,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan are going to take part in this operation. And officials say that the goal is to push the Taliban out of Marjah so that people can live free of Taliban control.

And we will of course keep you up to date on how that offensive develops.

All right. Checking the headlines right now.

More trouble for Toyota. The Japanese news agency Kyoto says the automaker plans to recall about 300,000 2010 Prius hybrid models because of the brake issues that we've been reporting on. We don't have that confirmed just yet, but the recall is expected to be worldwide. It covers Prius cars that went on sale since last May -- since May of last year through January of this year.

In Haiti, a Haitian attorney representing 10 jailed Americans has resigned. It's not clear who will replace Edwin Koch (ph). The mother of one of the detainees says the group is looking for another lawyer. The 10 Americans were arrested while attempting to take 33 children out of Haiti, and they've been charged with kidnapping.

Well, for all of you who subscribe to Comcast, who are watching us on Comcast cable, get ready for a name change. The nation's biggest cable and Internet provider is dropping the Comcast name from its products. The new name, Xfinity. I suppose that's what it's going to say on your bill.

Comcast will still be the name of the corporation, but when customers get billed for different services, it will be referred to as "Xfinity."

All right. We're keeping a track on the weather, the storm that's coming in.

It's in -- where do we think it is -- Memphis and Little Rock. We saw some pictures of that.

It's heading back up to the Northeast. What you're looking at right now are pictures of the California mudslide.

When we come back, we're going tell you how these storms across the country are related. They actually have something very key to do with each other. It's all about El Nino.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. This week is the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.

Ivan Watson, you will remember, was right here at our Iran Desk, at the International Desk at CNN, back in the summer when the elections were going on. Ivan is now back from Haiti, but he's back on this beat.

This is an important week for Iran. Tell us a bit about what's going on.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Ali.

This is the 31st anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic republic that's coming up this week.

VELSHI: Right, the 1979 revolution.

(CROSSTALK)

WATSON: Absolutely. Big, state-sponsored celebrations coming up.

If you want to understand Iran, you have to understand this revolution, what brought the only theocracy we see in the Middle East. And my colleague, Reza Sayah, put together a wonderful story to explain this very critical history to understand it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Islamic Revolution of 1979 marked the end of Iran's western-backed monarchy under Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and the beginning of an Islamic republic. The revolution was the climax of more than a year of demonstrations against what was seen as the Shah's oppressive regime.

Despite soaring oil profits in the 1970s, Iran was plagued by crippling inflation. The Shah, who liked to show off his lavish lifestyle, was criticized for ignoring the poor and middle class. Iranian's also condemned the Shah for spurning his Islamic traditions in favor of modernization and stronger ties to the West.

The opposition movement was led by the Shah's nemesis, Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini relentlessly denounced the Shah as a corrupt dictator and Washington's puppet. Audiotapes of his fiery speeches circulated throughout Iran.

On February 1, 1979, Khomeini made his triumphant return from exile two weeks after a defeated Shah had left Iran. Ten days later, the military declared itself neutral.

On February 11, the Islamic revolution was official. What made the revolution unstoppable was the assortment of groups and social classes that opposed the shah. Not everyone wanted a theocracy, but Khomeni managed to crush rival revolutionary factions and establish an Islamic republic, a self-described democracy where all decisions had to be approved by him, the supreme leader on clerics who ruled in the name of God. When Imam Khomeni blessed the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, anti-Americanism and chants to death to America became rallying cries for the regime.

Crushing dissents became another trademark of Iran's hard line rulers. According to Amnesty International in 1988, the regime secretly executed up to 5,000 political prisoners. Morality police patrolled the streets of Tehran in a campaign against western-style clothing. The first significant calls for reform came with a election of President Mohamad Hatemi (ph). The cleric won 70 percent of the vote in 1997. He served two terms but his push for a freer, more open society and better relations with the west were largely blocked by Iran's conservative hard liners.

The first major public protest against the regime came in 1999, when students at Tehran University demonstrated against the closing down of several reformist papers. In 2005, newly elected president Mahmoud Ahminedjad escalated tensions with the west. In fiery speeches, the hard line conservative raged against the U.S., Israel, and what he called western imperialism. During his first term, Iran reaped record oil profits and defiantly pressed on with what it called a peaceful nuclear program despite international concern that Iran was after a bomb.

But Ahminedjad's opponents criticized him for mismanaging the economy, failing to curb the high cost of living and isolating Iran from the international community. One of his political opponents was former Prime Minister (INAUDIBLE) Hussian Mousavi (ph). The two faced off in last June's presidential elections. Ahminedjad's landslide victory sparked widespread protests by an opposition movement that still claims the election was rigged. In the ferocious government crackdown that followed, dozens were killed, thousands arrested. But nearly eight months after the disputed vote, the so-called green movement has refused to back down. Remarkably, the calls for social justice, freedom and democracy are often identical to those heard during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: And Ali, despite a huge crackdown by the government, arrest of thousands of opposition members, execution of two people just last week, opposition activists, without question, this is the biggest challenge to the legitimacy of the Iranian government that we've seen in its 31 years. This political chapter is still not --

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is interesting. So 31 years, a government that has shown its will to defeat opposition to what it's doing and yet, that opposition continues. This is going to come to a head this week. This is the 31st anniversary of this revolution. When we come back, we're going to tell you the dangers that lie ahead for the Iranian people and the Iranian regime. Stay right here. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: I'm back here with Ivan Watson. He is very intimately connected to the Iran story. You were obviously covering this last year during the elections. This is a very, very important week. As we said on Thursday, it's the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution. Things have been heating up in Iran since that election. Where are we now? What's the situation on the ground?

WATSON: Right now what you've got is the Iranian government sending out ominous warnings, telling the opposition, we will not tolerate you going out and demonstrating. And the opposition, the green movement it's called have been very effective at infiltrating state movements.

VELSHI: What we think of as green, this is not an environmental movement. That's a color associated with the opposition party.

WATSON: Absolutely and they have been tenacious after eight months despite waves of arrests, despite executions, widespread allegations of torture in the prisons as well. And what we've had very unusual today, a joint statement from the U.S. and the European Union warning that they're worried about the possibility of more repression and violence this coming week. They put out this statement saying that quote, the large scale detentions and mass trials, the threatened execution of protesters, the intimidation of family members of those detained and the continuing denial to its citizens of the right to peaceful expression are contrary to human rights norms.

VELSHI: Does the Iranian government care?

WATSON: Well, it does care and some may argue that the latest news about deciding to go ahead and enrich highly enriched uranium may be a way to try to change the subject right now from its own internal challenges that it's facing. The Iranian supreme leader (INAUDIBLE) he made a statement in front of a lot of uniformed military officers today and he basically called the internal opposition, he said that they have no place in this country. He said that they used human rights and democracy as a ploy to weaken the Iranian state. There is no tolerance for dissent right now in Iran.

VELSHI: And how are we getting this information before I remember during the election, we were getting some information flow and then the Iranian government was really trying to crack down. So we had set up this whole Iran desk so that we could interpret e-mails. We could interpret messages that were being sent to us. We could look at pictures and validate them. How has that changed in the last year? WATSON: The reason I'm talking to you here and not in Iran is because the Iranian government personally has not allowed me in the country in five years, applying for visas. Most, almost all foreign journalists have been forced to leave and are not being allowed back in. The rights organization, Reporters Without Borders, based in Paris, it calls Iran the world's biggest prison for journalists. At least 42 Iranian journalists in prison right now and anybody who speaks out against the government, tries to talk to somebody like us, can very easily be accused of being a CIA agent or working for a foreign government. That is the tactic it's taken to quash dissent.

VELSHI: And your sense is that it's certainly become, it hasn't become any easier since the election last year if you're a dissenter, if you're in the opposition or if you're a journalist. In fact it's going to be harder this week to cover that story than it was then.

WATSON: Absolutely. People are afraid their phones are tapped and the regime has shut down Internet connections as well because that has been a major pipeline of information.

VELSHI: Well, you and the team are going to continue to work. If there's information coming out of there, we'll be able to get it. We will try and verify it and get that to you all this week at our Iran desk here at CNN's international desk. Ivan, thanks very much and good to have you back here in the United States.

I want to tell you about "Black List," "Black List," volume three. You may be familiar with this. This is an HBO documentary, the final volume or the latest edition of it, "Black List" volume three. It debuts tonight on HBO. It's the third installment of a documentary of African-American greats in America their own words. This is a fascinating documentary and I'm going to tell you a bit more about it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: We've got some breaking news right now that I want to tell you about. Let's go right to Los Angeles where we have an update on the Michael Jackson case. Ted Rowlands joins us now from LA. What have you got Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, after six plus months of investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has officially charged Dr. Conrad Murray with one count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Michael Jackson. This was just done within the last few minutes here at the airport courthouse near Los Angeles' LAX airport. This press release said that the district attorney's office came to this charge after the six months of investigation and alleging that Dr. Murray did unlawfully and without malice kill Michael Joseph Jackson in the commission of an unlawful act. The maximum possible sentence in the event of a conviction for Dr. Murray would be four years in state prison.

We are expecting Murray to show up here within the next two hours. He has a scheduled arraignment in this building. As you can see, the media from around the world is here in force. There are also some fans of Michael Jackson on the other side of the courthouse that have gathered as well. We are expecting Dr. Murray to arrive here again, within the next two hours. But the headline here is that after sixth months of investigating the death of Michael Jackson, the Los Angeles district attorney's office has come out with a charge of one count of voluntary manslaughter with a maximum sentence of four years if convicted for Dr. Murray.

VELSHI: All right and tell me again when we expect that Dr. Murray -- is that where he's going to appear?

ROWLANDS: Yeah, he'll be here. He's expected to be here within the next two hours. His scheduled arraignment will take place at 1:30 Pacific time, so less than two hours from now. So we do expect him to show up just prior to that and as you can see, the law enforcement here has a heavy security outside the courthouse on both ends of the courthouse and media from around the world here as well.

VELSHI: Ted, thanks very much. We'll of course stay on that. We'll be there when Dr. Conrad Murray appears to surrender on these charges. Ted Rowlands joining us now from Los Angeles. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to come back and we're going to tell you about "Black List," the third installment tonight on HBO. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Iconic African-Americans including Kareem Abdul Jabar, Sean Colmes, Toni Morrison and Whoopi Goldberg are telling their own stories in their own words. It's an HBO documentary series called "The Black List." What they have to say is tough to hear at times. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS: We have to recognize each other's cultures so we know what pisses each other off. I collect Negrobilia, you know, so I have the (INAUDIBLE) plates and I put them down for people and they go -- I said, because I love this image. This image, I can never forget this image and neither should you. You don't know anyone who looks like that because we (INAUDIBLE) and we say you cannot look at it. People want to know why. We should be able to tell them why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining me now is the series executive producer Payne Brown and producer-director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. They're joining me live from New York. Gents, thanks for being with us. Let me ask you, Timothy, what's the difference when you hear an African-American success story? To our viewers, why would that be different from someone's else's success story?

TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS, CO-CREATOR/DIRECTOR, "THE BLACK LIST": I think what's important about the "Black List" and all the success stories here is that there are so many of them. We've shot 50 people by now. This is the last installment, the latest installment. And I think it's a different struggle. It's a different sense of accomplishment. Race is certainly involved in every case and so, I think it's a respect that white America doesn't have on black America as much as it should.

VELSHI: What do you mean when you say race is certainly involved in every case? Is that true with every one of those stories? I mean could that success story have not happened if that person were black or had not faced something about being black?

GREENFIELD-SANDERS: I don't think you can grow up in America without race being part of your every day life if you're black American. I think that's a given. And I think these are people who have highly achieved, who have had real struggles and have made such amazing lives for themselves and for the people around them.

VELSHI: Payne Brown, let's talk about this. This is the third installment of this. So you've seen a lot of people's stories. Has anybody's road to success surprised you?

PAYNE BROWN, FMR CHRMN, PHILADELPHIA WORKFORCE INVESTMENT BOARD: I don't know if any of them surprised me. What I did find is there's an amazing similarity in all of them. There are some things that about African-American success stories that seem to be common. One is this notion that Chris Rock said it. Whoopi to some degree said it, (INAUDIBLE) Jones said and that's this notion that you have the weight of your race, that you couldn't let your race down, that you had to be better. So, it was this sense of a commonality that when they went out into the world, they represented not only themselves, but their families and ultimately, the race. And I think that theme was surprising to me. It was frankly something that I heard in my household and it was clear to me that I wasn't the only one.

VELSHI: And yet, we see examples, particularly in the education of black men, where it is not better. Listen to this, from Hill Harper on education.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILL HARPER, ACTOR, ACTIVIST: Because my educational background and the fact that people had seen me on TV or in films, I would get invited to speak at all these different schools, colleges, high schools and I would find that there would be a lot of young men who come up and they kind of look over their shoulder because they don't want anyone to see them asking a question. They kind of lean down and say, I think I want to go to college. What can I do? By the end of these signings, I'd have 40 kids standing on the side. I was getting 400 to 800 e-mails a week. One of the high schools, 3500 students and they had two counselors. So, when a young person hears a message, possibility, success, achievement, destiny, belief, it resonates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: I want you to hold on to that for a second. I want to give you some breaking news right now. CNN has confirmed that Congressman John Murtha has died at the age of 77. He died this morning, this afternoon, I'm sorry at 1:18 p.m., Congressman John Murtha has died in Arlington, Virginia. He was the congressman for the 12th district in southwestern Pennsylvania. His family we understand was by his side. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and he has served in the military, which gave him a great deal of authority, particularly in the last few years as he had been critical of the previous administration's involvement and direction in Iraq. He was a former Marine. He did serve in Vietnam. He is a representative for the 12th district in Pennsylvania. That is in southwest Pennsylvania. You may remember that he was challenging the Democratic administration in Congress for leadership and after some negotiation, decided to back down. But John Murtha, a big critic of the previous administration, in Congress since 1974 has died at the age of 77, passed away in Arlington, Virginia with his family by his side. We're going to take a quick break and then we're going to continue our conversation with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Payne Brown about "Black List" Volume three, which is airing tonight on HBO. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Recapping the breaking news, Congressman John Murtha has died at the age of 77. He was first elected in 1974 to the U.S. Congress. He has passed away in Arlington, Virginia and his family was by his side. This was his 19th term in office. He was the chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House committee on appropriations, a military veteran, a Marine, served in Vietnam. He voted for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002, but in November of 2005, and if you think back you will remember this. John Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iran, from Iraq, I'm sorry, saying it is time to bring them home. Let's go to the U.S. Capitol. On the phone is Dana Bash who knows a good deal about this story. Dana, John Murtha, dead at age 77. What's the impact?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a big impact. John Murtha, Jack Murtha as he was known up here on Capitol Hill, was very well- respected by many Democrats. He was somebody who I think incredible, incredible power, especially in his purview and that was somebody who was the chairman of the dispense area of appropriations. So that meant that he was the guy you had to go through to get money for and through the Defense Department and for him personally, he brought a lot of that money back home to his district in Pennsylvania. But he is somebody who has been up here for a very long time. He says that he's been serving since 1974. In fact just last week, he became the longest serving member of Congress from Pennsylvania. He was very, very close with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The two of them were very tight. He said that -- he made an important point. In terms of the impact that he's had in the past decade on public policy, perhaps the biggest impact was back in November of 2005, when he was one of the first Democrats who was known as a hawk to come out against the Iraq war and say that he believed that there should be a timetable for withdrawal. I remember back then I was covering the Bush White House. (INAUDIBLE) with the president. You remember when Jack Murtha did that and the White House knew that he had such a powerful and important voice on the -- on military defense issues that that would change things and it really did Ali.

VELSHI: Now, what was his role -- you said he had a close relationship with Nancy Pelosi but vis-a-vis Democratic leadership, because back then in 2005 and then after the Democrats won the House in 2006, there was talk of Jack Murtha running for a leadership position with the Democrats.

BASH: There was. There was talk of that. I didn't end up happening. He was very, very close with the speaker, complicated relationship with other members of his caucus. In fact, you know, just in terms of the way things work up here, he used to hold court on that floor of the House. In fact, there was a part of the House chamber that became known Ali as the Murtha corner where he would trade gossip and talk to some people who would kind of crowd around him. That happened pretty frequently. So, you know, he's somebody who was very much a force here, very much a powerful force, particularly on the issues that he focused on. It was really, it was last week that it became known he was so sick. We believed because of complications from surgery that he had on his gallbladder.

VELSHI: And we understand that he died at 1:18 this afternoon at a hospital in Virginia. Dana, think back to this. You spent a lot of time in the halls of Congress. It was very unusual in 2005, 2006, when Murtha come out and openly criticized the war in Iraq and said that it's time for troops to come home. It wasn't an unfamiliar refrain for Democrats, but tell me a little bit more about why the White House took this so seriously when it came from Jack Murtha.

BASH: The White House took it seriously because he's somebody who knew Dick Cheney, for example, served with Dick Cheney, was pretty close with Dick Cheney, when Cheney was in the House and was thought of as somebody who was relatively like-minded in terms of the approach of how the United States should deal with threats like Iraq. And the fact that he had initially been supportive and then came out and changed his position and said that the United States needed to start to withdraw troops from Iraq, the fact that he was somebody who considered like-minded and hawkish, that was again, sort of a feeling that that was a turning point for public opinion in Iraq. It wasn't just the left wing of the Democratic Party. It was a more mainstream issue.

VELSHI: That was the key. That was the difference. I'll remind you, 1974, he was first elected. U.S. Representative from the 12th district of Pennsylvania, in the southwestern part of the state. He was in his 19th term. He was the chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House committee on Appropriation and the first Vietnam combat veteran to be elected to Congress, died at the age of 77. Dana, who carries his mantle forward? Is there someone else in the Democratic party who has that authority on military matters?

BASH: There are certainly several members, but he was in his own league in terms of somebody who had that authority and also had the unabashed kind of gall, frankly, it's probably not the right term, the right way to put it, but somebody who was not afraid to bring home the bacon when it came to his district in Pennsylvania and use his very powerful post on the appropriations committee to, for example, build a small airport that didn't get a lot of people in and out of it, but he knew that that would create jobs in his home district of Pennsylvania. He was not afraid to do that and I don't think there are a lot of people in this day and age, who have the seniority and have the maybe political gall to take that on.

VELSHI: Gall may have been the perfect word.

Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, with news of the passing of Congressman John Murtha, known as Jack, of the 12th District in Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania.

That's it for me. This news will continue -- this and the news on Dr. Conrad Murray being charged in the Michael Jackson case continues with "RICK'S LIST."