As they say on Broadway, this blog is "dark" until Tues., Jan. 3. Happy Holidays to all.
As they say on Broadway, this blog is "dark" until Tues., Jan. 3. Happy Holidays to all.
Mikey Friedman is a remarkable young man. I had the pleasure of spending time with him and his big, warm family while preparing tonight's story (video link). He was very careful to tell correspondent Michelle Kosinski and me that he wanted his foundation to be the centerpiece of the story. He didn't want the focus to be on him or his life, because the foundation is the most important thing to him now. At 16 years old, he speaks with a wisdom and an eloquence acquired from all he's been through, and he appreciates all the help he gets as he strives to take his project nationwide.
You can contact Mikey through his Web site at www.mikeysway.org or by phone at 1-866-MIKEYS-9. Donations can be sent to:
The Mikey's Way Foundation
35 Wintergreen Drive
Easton, CT 06612
A 16-year-old boy shouldn't have to face cancer, but Mikey did for nearly two years and he's still fighting. That's why so many people are amazed by what he's managed to do for other chronically ill children. It's a lesson all of us can learn from, a teenager who's truly making a difference. We hope you'll join us for NBC Nightly News tonight.
At least that is the graphic "ribbon" that will appear over our piece on the end of the MTA strike here in New York. They have managed to drive a stake in the city's economy during the prime shopping and tourism days before Christmas... it is a story you feel deeply in this city.
Another thing you feel deeply: the ticking clock.
Right now in the various offices (more like hutches in most cases) that line our hallway, wrapping is going on, farewells and good wishes are being exchanged, as many of us get ready to say our goodbyes and leave to spend valuable time with friends and family. It's always a difficult equation making sure the folks who work so hard all year long are able to take time off and see family... while making sure we have the troops to put on the best possible broadcast and cover whatever comes up. It's not unlike public sector jobs, where some combination of seniority and horse-trading usually carries the day. Most workplaces feel decidedly different this time of year, and our office is no exception. I just heard the satellite guys in London joking with the satellite guys in Jersey. You just know it's a special time of year. Satellite guys seldom joke.
Tonight the first block of the broadcast is very much up in the air due to moveable pieces on the political front. I imagine we won't be exactly sure of our story order until much closer to airtime. There has been rare and actual drama in Washington (the Senate finally packed it in at 12:13 a.m.) and as we noted last night: as is too often the case, some of the most crucial legislation is now being held up against the calendar and heated political pressures prior to passage or decline. The President has left town and is at Camp David.
We'll also take a look tonight at the new security regulations at airports. Scissors are back! So are random checks! In short, the TSA is going to remain an entrenched part of our lives as long as we depend on narrow steel tubes to move us from place to place in a hurry.
We'll check in on the folks in the Gulf tonight via a story on FEMA, and we'll look at the churches that plan to CLOSE for Christmas... and their reasons for it.
As we started saying a few days ago... and it bears repeating as often as possible this time of year: we truly hope the holiday spirit is felt by all, and we're feeling very fortunate and thankful for all those viewers and readers of this blog who have been so loyal.
The end of a session of Congress can be a very, very strange time. The combination of stress, strong differences of opinion, massive egos, and a desire to get home for the holidays, can be a combustible mixture. Which makes covering Congress at this time of year enormously entertaining.
Virginia Senator John Warner was reminiscing recently about the time a number of years ago when two "respected Republicans" got into fisticuffs during a tense Christmas Eve session. I did a little research and found out that the gentlemen were none other than Jesse Helms and Alan Simpson. Not clear if any blows were landed, but my guess is not much damage was done.
During the last few days no punches were thrown, as far as we know, but two of the Senate's super-heavyweights did have a wild, arms flailing, verbal brawl on the floor of the Senate.
Alaska Republican Ted Stevens and West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, both in their eighties, are dear friends who share a mutual worship of the Senate. They actually call the Senate -- I'm serious -- the Temple.
But when they disagree it can be as ugly as their friendship is beautiful. When Stevens tried to attach his treasured Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provision to the DOD spending bill this week Byrd had, well, a bird. "I abhor this idea. Shame!" he bellowed. "I love my friend from Alaska... I feel that my blood in my veins is with his blood. But I love the Senate more!"
Those remarks clearly wounded Stevens, as did remarks by other Democrats suggesting that Stevens had been less than honest in how he went about attaching the ANWR drilling provision to the DoD bill. Stevens is well-known for his emotional outbursts -- he angrily threatened to quit the Senate recently if he didn't get his way on some big Alaska pork projects -- and after ANWR was defeated he launched into one of the best tirades I've heard since first coming to the Senate (I've been here off and on since 1982).
"(N)o one's ever questioned my integrity before this year" he said, then lashing out at some of his Democratic critics: "(M)any of you have spoken here and said things that are not true and you know they're not true. As I said, and one Senator said something so bad I asked for an apology. I wouldn't accept his apology now. Mr. president, I'm going to go home and I'm going to think about this and I'm going to try to figure out what to do next... this has been the saddest day of my life. It's a day I don't want to remember and I'm sorry to see it come to an end. Because I am drawing the line now with a lot of people I've worked with before. I really am. I really am, because I can't put in my mind the amount of time, the days I've spent with you working on your problems, and to know you've said about me the things you've said inside the last two months."
Stevens then concluded with this: "I say goodbye to the Senate tonight. Thank you very much."
Reporters looked at each other, stunned. "Is he resigning?" someone asked. We tracked him down later and asked him is he was staying in the Senate. "I don't know" was his reply.
Tonight on NBC Nightly News: Christmas is one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar -- for the faithful, it's a time for prayer. So why on earth are many big churches planning on shutting down for the holiday? It's got a lot of people angry at what they say is the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. Please join us for NBC Nightly News tonight.
We'll lead with local news, at least in this space - the New York City transit strike: the Mayor of New York just said some museums are down 80-percent in attendance, some stores and restaurants off 40-percent and higher. One glance outside this building would show you why: vehicular traffic is banned from many streets, and the pedestrians just aren't there.
One tourist said to our correspondent Dawn Fratangelo, "this is my first New York City crisis!" And to some visitors, this IS a crisis. Both sides are playing hardball, and in the meantime, people are improvising.
While politics here in New York are never uninteresting, the stakes today are higher in Washington...where the President continues to use his seal and podium (and the microphones attached to it) to a great extent -- today's campaign is to save, and not just extend, the Patriot Act. There was a lot of action in the Senate today, and Chip Reid will round it all up for us. Dawn will stay on the New York City Strike story. The head of the Transit Worker's Union is speaking as I write this...he is not among the most popular New Yorkers these days. Andrea Mitchell has a great story for us tonight (competitively I'll omit the subject matter) on what may be the next big issue on the Hill, and Bob Bazell will attempt to gingerly walk us through the minefield that is health care coverage for seniors these days.
And a word about this blog, before the holiday rush is upon us: while vitriol isn't always great around the holidays, and while it is clear President Bush is a polarizing figure among those who choose to use this space as a forum: please know we're thrilled that our work (which we put out on a daily basis and hope is judged as fair in the long or short view of history) is generating such a robust dialogue. To those who write with personal attacks, I'd recommend the remote over the keyboard as a weapon of choice. To those who write with honest disagreements with us or with each other: we're listening, we're reading, and we're working every day to get the balance right. We never forget that its our viewers and readers who make this place go and give our work its validity. Thank you for taking part in the process.
I note that one writer asked about the state of President Ford's health, something I care very much about. The simple answer is: we don't know much. President Ford is a hardy and gracious soul, and I think he happens to be married to a contemporary American hero. Information about the former President's health is hard to come by, for reasons having to do with his own privacy, and as the son of a man the same age, I understand and respect that. I do know he's traveling very little and those around the former President and former First Lady say they're "slowing down." Those of us who admire both of them can wish them only a continuing good quality of life and a wonderful Holiday Season.
We hope you'll join us for our broadcast tonight.
As members of the United States Senate race to complete actions before they escape for what's expected to be a month-long recess, it's hard not to look at the results from a scorecard point of view. So far, it's looking like a tie game. Here's what's happened so far today (in a nutshell):
The Budget (Republicans win)
It took a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Dick Cheney, but the Senate approved at $40-billion package of budget cuts. Democrats say the cuts will hurt programs for the poor, like Medicare and student loans. Before the final vote, Democrats scored a minor victory - a procedural vote that Republicans say won't substantially alter the bill, but will force the House to come back from their Christmas break and make the same technical changes to their version of the bill before it goes to the president.
Republicans contend if the bill isn't finished and signed by President George W. Bush before year's end, that "technicality" will delay money for Katrina relief, doctors who treat the elderly, and the welfare program. It's unclear if the House would come back to make the changes before the New Year. And having the house come back in session doesn't really mean that all 435 members need to back to Washington, D.C. For something like this, it could be done with only a few members for both sides.
Alaska Oil Drilling Provision (Democrats win)
Republicans failed to muster the 60 votes needed to keep the measure on the defense bill. Democrats, who have consistently opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said Republicans were trying to make an end run by putting the measure on the a must-pass defense funding bill which has money for the war.
With the provision off the bill, once again, the House will be needed to come back and strip the provision from of their version of the bill.
Patriot Act (Stalemate)
Democrats gained the support of eight Republicans today in their effort to get a 3-month extension on the Patriot Act, before it expires on December 31st. That means a bipartisan majority of the Senate (at least 52) opposed the newly drawn up reauthorization the president wants congress to pass. Opponents say an extension keeps the law on the books and allows negotiators time to work out differences for a new version. The White House says President Bush won't sign an extension of the act.
With the new Republican support, Democrats are basically framing the debate this way, telling the president to either sign a 3-month extension giving Congress the time to work out the differences, or be held responsible when the Patriot Act expires at the end of the month.
Do the math: 45 drug plans to choose from, each with different premiums, deductibles and co-pays and all covering this, that and the other in different combinations. It all adds up to millions of seniors confused and angry. Is this what Washington had in mind? Will Medicare's new prescription drug plan work out for the best?
Fellow space geeks will recognize those as the first words spoken on the surface of the moon by the second man to set foot on the surface of the moon, Buzz Aldrin. Those two words also nicely describe the scene today around our building in Midtown Manhattan. While I'm not quite sure why it is that a transit strike means the roads are blocked off to vehicular traffic, looking out at 49th street and 5th avenue, I don't see one moving car. All you can hear at this moment is the lone siren of a fire truck in the distance. During lunch hour, I did something that would normally be fatal during the noon hour: I walked down the center of 5th Avenue to go do some Christmas shopping. It's a virtual pedestrian mall. Our foreign news senior producer, M.L. Flynn, reported at our morning editorial meeting that she was struck by a strange sound while walking to work this morning down 5th Avenue. She figured out quickly that the sound was chirping birds. Normally in this city, a bird is a euphemism.
We will likely begin our broadcast with this story, by dint of its sheer scope and the number of Americans impacted by it. We may broaden the story and talk about the shape of things to come for unions (and pensions) in this country.
Also tonight: Intelligent Design...and a court case that comes along during the debate over whether or not its an excuse to inject religion into the classroom. We'll have a look at what constitutes the definition of "spying" these days, and as part of our series on the lessons learned from Katrina tonight, we'll take a look at the re-building debate in Mississippi. And we'll reach into the NBC News archives to see what we were up to the LAST time this city was crippled by a transit strike.
A bus just went by on 49th street. This is getting exciting.
We hope you'll join us for our Tuesday broadcast tonight.
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Judge John Jones III, presiding over the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., ruled today (.PDF link) that teaching intelligent design as science violates the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Judge Jones agreed with plaintiffs that intelligent design is basically religion -- a recasting of "creation science" that was banned from science classrooms by a 1989 Supreme Court decision.
Today's case only prohibits the teaching of intelligent design as science in Dover, Pa., but this is the latest battle in the ongoing war over the teaching of evolution in public high schools that goes back to the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. The School Board of Dover passed a requirement that biology teachers must read a statement saying that there is an alternative to evolution called "intelligent design." A group of parents sued the board, claiming that was an attempt to bring religion into the science classroom. They were backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others. The Board had support from several Christian Evangelical organizations.
The backers of intelligent design say it is a science which finds that some aspects of nature are so complex they are best explained by some kind of unspecified intelligent design. Critics, including the vast majority of scientists, say it is a religiously motivated attempt to undermine science.
In November, the Dover School Board members who mandated the intelligent design statement were voted out of office, prompting televangelist Pat Robertson to tell the citizens of the town: "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city."
Editor's note: Robert will have a full report on the decision and its implications on American culture, on tonight's broadcast.
TEL AVIV -- It's an old saying, but today really is the first day of the rest of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's life. He walked out of a Jerusalem hospital, smiling, joking to reporters, "apparently you missed me?" Suddenly he's a world leader who has survived a health scare. Doctors gave him a clean bill of health, pronouncing him fully recovered from a "mild stroke" that caused Israel to hold its collective breath Sunday night. Aides play the entire episode down as nothing that serious. But this country was stunned, while probably not surprised their 77-year-old leader, 10 years beyond retirement age here, visibly overweight and carrying the considerable weight of this part of the world on his shoulders, faced a medical emergency. It's really a wonder nothing like this has ever happened before.
The fact is, if it has happened before, few here know, certainly not the general public and certainly not Sharon's enemies and rivals. His medical records are private, sealed. And calls to change that in recent years have been dismissed. Now that may change.
While Israel paused, while doctors unclogged the blood clot that stopped on its way from Sharon's heart to his brain, many here probably allowed themselves a few moments to wonder what would become of their country without him. Here, no disrespect intended, we took a look at his obit. Just in case. A summary of his life that's on tape in the library, sitting next to those of other world leaders, entertainers, activists and prominent personalities, now in their later years. A year ago everyone the obituary of Sharon's arch nemesis Yasser Arafat.
Sharon's bio (not an obit since he's still with us) says he has always symbolized Israel's Iron Fist. He's been a fighter from the start. Born on a family farm, first wounded in the war that created Israel, and a military leader often called on by his nation when he the going got tough. (Forgive me Martin Fletcher, resident correspondent here, if I've borrowed a few of your well chosen phrases.) To some extent, Sharon is the classic military man who rose to lead his nation. But when you think back about his journey, it's hard to imagine where he stands now. The right wing hawk has turned so much more pragmatic in what's perhaps the twilight of his life. Others probably would call it wisdom.
That's why Sharon's illness, and how well he recovers, is so crucial to this nation, this region and beyond. He has just formed a new political party, Kadima, or Forward. It's a move to the center, a break with the right, that is profoundly shaking up Israeli politics. Many here say Kadima is a one-man show. Sharon and his new party lead in the polls. If he wins re-election in March, many expect more bold initiatives like his decision to unilaterally disengage from Gaza, forcing thousands of settlers, the community he championed for so many years, to now leave their land to Palestinians. The decision tore his old political party, Likud, apart.
What's next? Many here predict initiatives that could shape Israel, and perhaps its final borders, for generations to come. All of it largely the work and vision of one man who now dominates this country's politics. That's why Israel held its breath Sunday night. Incidentally, that's also why some of Sharon's enemies were celebrating in the streets as rumors spread of his death.
"Intelligent Design"... to some, it's an important idea that should be required in every public school science program... to others, it's an attack on science, and an underhanded way to push religion into the classroom. Find out how a court is sorting out the debate and what the ruling means for America's culture war.
The past 24 hours have given us a great civics lesson in the power of the modern presidency. By declaring last night's 16-minute speech from the Oval Office "an address to the nation," President Bush was given time (prime-time at that, on a big viewing night) on all of the major broadcast networks and at least four major cable networks. Again today, in calling a year-ender press conference, he was afforded the same coverage. In a remarkably short period of time, the administration has shown a new side of the President by all accounts, and shown more candor and contrition than at any other time since the start of the war in Iraq. The President (this president and others who follow) has an extraordinary ability, in this time of ubiquitous, blanket-coverage media, to change the debate and the conversation across the country. That's part of what we're seeing unfold right now. Today's gathering with the media focused on two major points: the tricky issue of domestic surveillance and the debate over renewal of the Patriot Act. Tonight our coverage will reflect both of those fronts: with Kelly O'Donnell at the White House and Andrea Mitchell reporting on the background. Chip Reid will be our closer on the issue, reporting from the Hill on the wrap-up of this legislative session...the accomplishments and the work yet to be done.
We're also watching the scene unfold in Miami... this proved to be a bad day for initial reports from an aircraft accident. At least one cable network, via the anchor on the air and the lettering on the screen, called it a "hydroplane" crash (it's a seaplane) and at least one network zoomed in on face-down dead bodies being towed in the water by rescue divers... apparently thinking they were living people. It was gruesome. The early reporting, as is often the case, was sketchy and ill-informed, and the pictures were way ahead of the facts. MSNBC is now showing what appears to be a cellphone photo of the smoke plume at the initial moment of the crash. The thought of those poor souls still strapped into their seats on board that submerged aircraft is a horror.
Also in the broadcast tonight, our series on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, and the rush to mail and ship this time of year (this is the peak day in that business) along with the other news of this busy Monday.
Apologies again for the crash we suffered on Friday. I know a lot of users were flummoxed when they came to us and saw days-old postings. I also know a lot of people hustled to fix the problem, but we're only as good as our last posting, and so I apologize for not being in the game for a good portion of the day. Onward. We hope you can join us for our Monday night effort.
Today marks the president's 21st press conference. His last was October 4 in the Rose Garden and went approx 55 minutes. According to the White House, the president will make an opening statement on Iraq, the Patriot Act, the economy, accomplishments in 2005 and touch on priorities going forward.
The presser begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. You can watch it live by clicking here. White House Correspondent Kelly O'Donnell reports the story tonight on Nightly News, followed by political analysis from Washington Bureau Chief and "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert.
Now that President Bush has committed to rebuilding the levees, that leaves a tricky, emotional question: can New Orleans really be rebuilt? And who decides which neighborhoods will be left behind? Tonight, we look at how the money is being spent in our continuing series "After the Storm: The Long Road Back."
A very busy Saturday a week before Christmas. There has been a flurry of political activity in Washington this weekend. It is unusual for Congress to work through the weekend... and unusual for the President to deliver his radio address "live" before the TV cameras. But that's what happened today. The hot topics are security and civil liberties. The debate in Congress continues over the Patriot Act. But the other surprise today was the President's announcement in his radio address that he had authorized the National Security Agency TO SPY on Americans and others with links to al-Qaida, calling it a vital too in the war on terror. NBC's Rosiland Jordan will have the latest from the White House and NBC's Chip Reid will bring us reaction from "The Hill."
Also... NBC's Richard Engel will give us a behind-the-scenes view of the voting and the violence on the ground in Iraq, leading up to Thursday's election. We'll have the story of the "Band-Aid Bandit." He's been robbing banks in Florida and continues to eluded police.
And we just received news of the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and self-described muckraker Jack Anderson. He died today at his home in Maryland. Anderson was 83. We'll look back at his life.
That's where we stand this Saturday. We hope to see you tonight.
Editor's note: Our friends at TypePad, who host this blog, have had trouble with their servers today and have been serving content from their last backup, from several days ago. We're told the problem is fixed now and future posts will appear as they are published.
This is kind of like broadcasting during a power outage: it's hard to tell if anyone will read this, since our blog has been down all day. First and foremost: our sincere apologies. We have come to treat the Internet like a public utility... our lives are predicated on computers... until it all crashes down around us.
Tonight's broadcast has a lot to do with domestic surveillance, sure to be the next hot domestic topic. Mr. Lehrer sat down with the President today and shed some new light on this during the interview. We have a number of great stories in the broadcast tonight... among them Mike Taibbi on an extraordinary New Yorker, and Richard Engel on some palpable changes in Iraq, where hopes are high that we truly could be seeing a new era. It would be nice to know that our fighting men and women would face less danger this holiday season.
He's been teaching gym for 20 years, but he's never seen his students. Blind since birth, he's giving kids more than education; he's showing them how to live with no excuses. His bravery has taken him all the way to Italy to run with the Olympic torch. Tonight, we think you'll agree: He is truly "Making a Difference."
Major news on two fronts tonight: It's no surprise that much of our focus is on election day in Iraq, but we will also report on an important step forward for the city of New Orleans.
First Iraq, and good news to report: an election day with minimal violence. Tonight Richard Engel will wrap up the day's events from Baghdad. Much of the focus is on turnout today... election officials say it looks like there was heavy turnout overall with as many as 11 million of Iraq's 15.5 million eligible voters casting ballots. And it appears there was strong turnout in the Sunni areas... a critical boost for any new government after many Sunnis opted to boycott initial elections in January and the October referendum on the constitution. The turnout numbers are still fluid and it will take weeks to count the ballots. But the process is already underway and the most important developments will unfold over the next few weeks. This new government will choose the leaders who will be directing Iraq and defining the country's relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world for the next four years. These are the leaders who will have the most to say about whether U.S. troops stay or go or whether Iraq strengthens its ties to Iran. Also Jim Maceda will have more on reconstruction efforts, where progress is being made and where progress has been stymied. And David Gregory with reaction from President Bush who today called the vote a "major milestone" in establishing democracy in the Middle East.
On a different front... it is big news for the residents of New Orleans. For all the people who have been reluctant to return after Katrina the message today from Mayor Ray Nagin was "Come home to New Orleans." The Bush administration has committed to a $3.1 billion plan to rebuild and strengthen the levee system. But today's news comes amid new reporting on who bears responsibility for the flaws in the levee systems upkeep. We'll have all the details. Brian is off tonight... but will be back in his chair tomorrow. Hope you will tune in.
Following Brian's interview with President Bush, many of you asked whether any of his questions were submitted in advance -- and Brian told you at the end of this blog post that, of course, they were not. That question took me by surprise, probably because of how well I know NBC News policy, which does not allow any interview subject, presidential or otherwise, to receive questions in advance. But it seems the blogosphere has wondered about journalists pre-clearing questions with the White House before, at least as far back as April 2004, when the WashingtonPost.com tried to dispel similar questions about the daily press briefing in this Live Chat. (Look for the second question, from a reader in Rochester, N.Y.)
Are these suspicions evidence of a lack of trust in journalism, government, or both? I don't know, but I hope the truth about the way we work will resolve them, once and for all.
The death today of former Wisconsin Senator Bill Proxmire conjures up distinct memories for those of us who hail from the Badger State.
Two examples come to mind immediately from my early days working in radio and television. I remember working at a radio station in Milwaukee when the phone would ring in the newsroom and it would be Sen. Proxmire. He seemed to be a one-man press operation -- he would say he was in the neighborhood and ask if he could stop by and say, "hi." He would arrive a short time later and we would interview him. The other visual was when he would participate in parades across the state. Proxmire would not be sitting in the backseat of a convertible, but rather would don one of those aprons that read "Sen. Bill Proxmire" on the front. He would always walk the entire route.
Editor's note: Sen. Proxmire was the inspiration behind "The Fleecing of America" franchise on NBC Nightly News. We'll pay tribute on tonight's broadcast.
Today's top story is Election Day in Iraq. So I encourage everyone to spend some time reading the posts of NBC News personnel on assignment in that country. Just click here to enter "Blogging Baghdad: The Untold Story."
On Election Day in Iraq, What's the truth over there? Is there good news you haven't seen yet? A look at the rebuilding progress that's already been made, and the places they say are beginning to prosper. Join us for "The Challenge Ahead" -- an Election Day reality check.