tv NBC Nightly News NBC December 17, 2014 5:30pm-6:01pm PST
we're tracking the storm tonight at 6:00. >> brian williams joins us next. we'll see you soon. >> see you at 6:00. good night, folks. on our broadcast tonight -- making history. the surprise announcement by the president, the u.s., and cuba agree to normalize relations after more than half a century, opening up the floodgates for travel and commerce. tonight, the prisoner swaps, the tearful reunion for an american held there for years, the fallout and the reaction from here to havana. breaking news -- the feds say they know who was behind the sony attack as the studio now cancels its christmas-day movie release after threats of violence. and nightmare flight -- a genuinely terrifying ride, the kind of turbulence that has rarely ever been recorded on video as passengers are heard praying for their lives. "nightly news" begins now.
good evening. four out of five americans alive today have never known a free cuba, and while that didn't change today, a lot of history seemed to fall down at once. it's been over half a century of tension, fear, cold war and frigid relations. the u.s. and cuba are moving to now restore diplomatic relations effective today. that will change a lot between the two countries, separated by 90 miles of ocean and several decades in terms of economic advancement. the day started with the homecoming of an imprisoned american and a prisoner swap, and it then went quickly from there. before we get reaction from cuba to south florida tonight, our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell starts us off from the state department this evening. andrea, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. that half-century change in u.s./cuban relations began with the release of one man from a cuban prison and his dramatic
homecoming. the drama began early this morning when state department contractor alan gross flew home on a government plane with his wife, judy, after five years in a cuban prison, cheering when he entered u.s. air space, accompanied by senator pat leahy and others who negotiated his freedom, getting a call from the president, enjoying popcorn, potato pancakes and a corned beef on rye with mustard. >> i'm incredibly blessed finally to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life. >> reporter: arriving at andrews air force base to a hug from the secretary of state as they watched president obama unveil an historic policy change. >> neither the american nor cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born. >> reporter: simultaneously in havana, president raul castro. >> translator: this decision of president obama is worthy of the
respect and recognition of our people. >> reporter: the u.s. and cuban presidents had talked tuesday for 45 minutes, a first for the two run countries in a half-century. today's carefully orchestrated deal -- three cubans convicted of conspiring to spy on the u.s. were released after 15 years in prison. the u.s. got back a top american spy imprisoned for 20 years in havana. the congressionally mandated u.s. trade embargo against havana remains, but president obama is restoring full diplomatic relations. embassies will open in havana and washington. the u.s. will review and likely remove cuba from the list of terrorist nations, ease travel restrictions, open banking ties, permit the use of debit cards in cuba. cuban-americans can send more money to the island. how did it happen? after decades of tension between fidel castro and washington, 18 months of secret talks, some in canada, a big push from the first latin-american pope. senator pat leahy shuttling
between washington and havana. >> we have frequent flier miles, you see. >> is it great to be back in america? >> great to be back. >> and a new home. >> i'm looking forward to buying a new computer and getting a mobile phone, getting a wristwatch and everything that normal people do. >> reporter: telemundo and msnbc anchor jose diaz-balart said many americans want to see big reforms in cuba. >> the process of calling for free and democratic elections, the release of political prisoners and freedom of the press, of worshipping, of labor unions. >> reporter: the u.s. will now be pressing hard for those reforms, but after in the past suggesting cuban offer of help, after katrina, after the bp oil spill, now leaders of both countries say they are ready to start a new era. brian? >> reporter: andrea mitchell starting us off from the state department tonight. thanks. now to the reaction to all of this in cuba. nbc's mark potter is there for us tonight. mark, good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, brian. here on cuban street, the announcement in washington and havana has been met with great excitement. this is something the cuban people have wanted for years -- better relations with their powerful neighbor to the north, hoping it would dramatically improve their lives. cubans welcome today's news, overjoyed that the three cuban agents held by the u.s. will be coming home. they're national heroes here. but it is much more than that. people watching today's announcement saw a chance for cuba and the united states, bitter enemies for decades, to become friends. "we are very happy," this man says. "we've been waiting many years for this." more than 50 years, in fact. fidel castro swept to power at the height of the cold war, but he's 88 now, last seen publicly in july in failing health. his revolution is showing its age too. and havana, known for its charm and vintage cars, is on life
support, its economy crippled by the long-standing u.s. embargo. people here now hope that will change. "let's see if the embargo can be lifted so our quality of life can improve so we can get more food, more things from other countries," this man said. the potential for u.s. economic investment here is enormous. even cuba's famous cigars, now restricted in the u.s., could see a booming market. if travel restrictions are lifted, millions more american tourists could visit this caribbean island nation so close to the united states. and many cubans and cuban-americans, friends and relatives, could soon be reunited, much freer than now to travel between the two countries. that would be a revolution. and over the years, the cuban people have been through many ups and downs in u.s./cuban relations, and many worry here if these changes will actually occur, but many others believe they are much closer today than they have been for decades. brian? >> our thanks to mark potter in havana for us tonight. mark, thanks.
and to your last point, anyone in their mid 50s and on up remembers what is a looming presence cuba has been in our lives from the cold war era until present day. back in '59, castro overthrew the president, declared a revolutionary socialist state. then president kennedy tried and failed to overthrow castro at the bay of pigs. then the cuban missile crisis. soviet missiles were moved into position, remember, 90 miles from the u.s. many thought nuclear war was inevitable, something we talked about today with the head of the council on foreign relations, richard haass. >> there was no guarantee we were going to survive this. this was the first real nuclear crisis, and there was -- there was a sense when people went off to school, or husbands and wives kissed good-bye in the morning that it was fateful. >> having survived that fateful times in recent years, americans watched the boatlift, 125,000 cubans came to our shores, then witnessed the kind of tawdry
custody battle over a young boy, elian gonzalez. and now, as you just saw, fidel castro, as old and frail, a new generation has come up, not really understanding the point of the revolution or some of the hardship in cuba while a number of u.s. conservatives came out today and blasted this development as appeasement, bargaining away our security. tonight the cuban-american community in miami is weighing in on how history has taken yet another turn. nbc's jacob rascon is there for us tonight. jacob, good evening. >> reporter: brian, good evening. tonight we're at cafe versailles at little havana, where the community of the cuban exile community come for coffee and conversation. tonight the crowd has been growing in numbers and emotion all day. welcome to little havana, the cuban-american capital of the united states, alive as always
with political passion. "this is terrible," the man says. it was an announcement many believe they wouldn't live to hear and some wished they hadn't. >> i think it's a terrible mistake. >> reporter: for cuban-american sebastian parish, the reversal in u.s./cuban relations mean he can finally visit his family. >> of course it will change things, especially for our friends and family in cuba. why can't we do the things we do with china? they can travel, they have mcdonald's, they have american products. why can't cubans have the same things? i don't get it. >> reporter: reaction is split between those old enough to remember cuba's darkest days -- >> when are they going to free cuba from dictatorship? this guy has been intervening in all of it and nobody touch him. why? >> reporter: -- and the younger generation. >> something that's great. it brings attention to this issue that so many of us latins
struggle with on a daily basis, frankly. >> reporter: in colorado today, restaurant owner anna mahuto says today's change is a start. she was born in havana and fled to the u.s. with her parents more than 40 years ago. >> we want the island to be free. we're only 90 miles away from the coast of florida. and our people suffer on a daily basis. they need everything. so i really hope that what's happening now it's the beginning, you know, of really close freedom for my people. >> reporter: and old and young cuban-american or not, there is some common ground here, everyone seeming to be pleased that alan gross is free as now everyone here, the shouting matches are no doubt just getting started. brian? >> jacob rascon in the little havana section of miami for us tonight. jacob, thanks. there is breaking news tonight on this ongoing electronic attack on sony pictures. nbc news has confirmed the feds have determined who is to blame, and they are ready to name north korea as the instigators of
this. the news comes as the studio has pulled out of the christmas day release of the film "the interview," the movie that sparked the threats of violence. nbc's joe friar in our l.a. newsroom tonight with late details. hey, joe. good evening. >> good evening, brian. u.s. officials tell nbc news the hacking attack originated outside north korea, but they believe the individuals behind it were acting on orders from the north koreans. one u.s. government source says we have found linkage to the north korean government. and today in the wake of all this, "the interview's" christmas release was canceled. >> it's not even a real story. >> reporter: after the country's biggest movie chains announced they would not be showing "the interview" next week, sony pictures declared it won't move forward with the film's christmas release, saying, "we respect and under our partners' decision and of course completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers." >> sony decided to pull the
release of the film is really shocking. all of this is entirely unprecedented. >> reporter: earlier today, five major theater chains announced they were holding off on the film. regal, amc, cinemark. cineplex. in a statement, regal cited wavering support of the film "the interview" by sony pictures as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats. >> it stinks for people that actually want to see the film and, like, are looking forward it to. >> hello, north korea! >> reporter: the hackers who infiltrated sony pictures have said they want to stop the release of "the interview," a comedy about a plot to assassinate north korea's leader. in a threat to theaters showing the film, the hackers wrote, "the world will be full of fear. remember the 11th of september 2001." the department of homeland security says there's no credible intelligence to indicate a plot against movie theaters, but the chains didn't want to take the chance. >> you're looking at a loss to sony of upwards of $50 million
in theatrical revenues that they otherwise would have received. >> reporter: today hollywood power player judd apatow tweeted, "i think it's disgraceful that the theaters are not showing the film." and for sony, the company says, "we stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed in this outcome." the wording of sony's announcement leaves open the possibility "the interview" could be released in some form down the road, but, brian, that may hinge on what happens with the ongoing investigation into this cyber attack. >> joe friar in our l.a. newsroom tonight, thanks. we turn now to the horror in pakistan, the country now observing three days of official mourning after one of the worst mass killings in history. the taliban murdered over 140 people in an instant, an overwhelming number of them children. now, as protests erupt against a government that is too often seen powerless to stop extremists, the country is doing
away with its moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism cases. still ahead on this wednesday night, the kind of thing we rarely see recorded -- violent turbulence strikes without warning at 35,000 feet, an agonizing ride as passengers are forced to pray for their lives. and later, bringing back a big part of childhood that's gone missing from so many u.s. classrooms.
passengers casually reach for the seat belt. it was the kind of jolt that threw people and objects through the cabin of a moving jetliner. it then kept on going while screams and prayers broke out among the passengers who thought it might be the end for them. few incidents like it have been captured on video until this. an american airlines flight from seoul to dallas. we get our report tonight from nbc's tom costello. [ screaming ] >> reporter: by all accounts, it was a terrifying midair experience. american airlines flight 280 flying from seoul, south korea, to dallas, suddenly at 34,000 feet, extreme turbulence. it went on for 30 to 45 minutes. fully loaded food carts, laptops and wine bottles went flying. a flight attendant knocked unconscious after hitting the exit sign. a passenger hit on the head with a flying plate. >> you okay? >> reporter: and some passengers began to pray. >> dear lord, i love my family.
>> i haven't seen this. i have flown about 5 million miles, and this was probably the worst i have seen. >> reporter: with the plane a complete mess and passengers injured, the pilot turned back and landed in tokyo. in all, 14 injured, seven taken to area hospitals, including a flight attendant with a broken arm. >> everything that wasn't bolted down or seat-belted flew into the air. >> reporter: today, many of flight 280's passengers arrived in dallas. american airlines says the plane had been routed around a winter storm in the area, but without warning it ran into severe clear-air turbulence. clear-air turbulence is essentially a fast wave-like motion created by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, and air pockets. while modern planes carry advanced weather mapping systems, turbulence can be very difficult to forecast. >> there's no way to predict. you're in clear air. it all looks good. and then suddenly you find you're in moderate or greater turbulence. >> reporter: 30 to 50 people are injured in turbulence each year,
richard c. hottelet has died. the cbs news man was one of the war correspondents dubbed murrow's boys. together they invented broadcast journalism and they will be long remembered. hottelet covered the normandy invasions from a bomber just over utah beach. later in the war, his plane was shot down. he parachuted to safety. he cared about the world and later became dean of the press corps at the united nations. the great richard c. hottelet was 97. some stats about our country tonight. a new report puts the wealth gap -- the gap between the top earners and the rest of the country -- at its widest point in over 30 years. and the economy is a factor in
another stat. law school enrollment is down to its lowest point since 1982, and it's down big, a rough job market being cited as a big part of the cause. decision 2014 just ended today. the last undecided congressional race in our country was decided for the republican martha mcsally, who defeated ron barber by 167 votes in arizona. he was the aide to gabby giffords, who took over the seat after her shooting. this gop pickup in arizona means the largest republican house majority in 83 years. when overtime is over, nhl games get decided by shoot-outs, and pro hockey history was made last night when the shoot-out between the florida panthers and the washington capitals went 20 rounds before the panthers won a 2-1 game. that's 40 shots on goal of harrowing tiebreaker hockey. the old record was merely 15
tonight we go west to find the story of creative young minds, talented kids who deserve help, but for them the school money just isn't there anymore the way it was for so many of us in things like the arts. but there are schools in california going to great lengths to make up for what they're missing. we get the story tonight from nbc's rehema ellis. >> reporter: this is a sound rarely heard in california's public schools, but at clairton elementary in san francisco, you hear tyco drumming a lot. this class on iconic japanese music and culture is a favorite. how does it make you feel? >> powerful. >> tyco builds up my confidence, especially when we have performances. >> reporter: the class is taught by a visiting instructor paid through a grant from a california arts program and private fund-raisers to fill a budget gap in public schools. california spends less per student on art programs than
almost every other state, and in many low-income communities, art programs have been completely phased out because of lack of funds. even here, amidst the stunning vineyards of napa valley, miles from san francisco, schools are also struggling for arts funding. at salvador elementary, the principal raised money for puppetry classes, which have attracted a diverse group of students. >> it just sort of changes how kids connect with their learning, and they are connected. >> reporter: 6-year-old connor confirms this. do you like it here? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: "oh, yeah." back in san francisco, the andrews family rallied to get their daughter, maiya, in clairton for that very reason. >> to have her in a public school to give this exposure is wonderful, wonderful. we're very proud. >> reporter: beating budget shortcomings and giving students a better chance to make the sounds of success. rehema ellis, nbc news, san francisco.
that's our broadcast on an eventful wednesday night. thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams. we, of course, hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. nbc bay area news begins with a microclimate weather alert. >> right now at 6:00 another storm blasting through the already soaked bay area. thanks for joining us, i'm raj mathai. >> i'm jessica aguirre. the third storm the week is drenching areas that have seen more than their share. on the left, menlo park. on the right, fremont. slow, soggy commute home on both sides of the bay. chief meteorologist jeff ranieri is here with a look at what the status of this storm is now. >> the good news for this storm system is it's moving in and out rather quickly compared to the past two storms we've had this week. so that will help with some of our flooding concerns.
but that ground is still saturated so anyone doing any traveling throughout the bay area tonight, please be very careful of these dangerously slick roads. you can see across highway 101, 280, redwood city, palo alto, los altos, heavier pockets of rainfall. now winning to move into cupertino and sunnyvale. heavy rain across san jose. santa clara, we have heavier rainfall moving right through downtown san jose by 66:05. another heavy rainfall expected there. across the tri-valley, pockets of heavier rain on 680 and 580. likely for the next 45 minutes. north bay, the last branch of this storm system, the final edge, is now starting to move in. so hopefully this storm system will begin to move out the next couple of hours. we'll have details in our fourth and final storm of the week in about 15 minutes. our other headline tonight, a sa