tv NBC Nightly News NBC December 15, 2010 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
on our broadcast tonight, deep freeze. a relentless and sizable cold weather system pushing way to the south now, and a lot of records are falling. moment of crisis. a man pulls out a gun at a florida school board meeting and opening fire. tonight, the ordinary folks who did extraordinary things right at that moment. the tax deal breezes through the senate but it's hardly over. also tonight, at americans are saying about where we're headed. numbers from our new poll. "making a difference" for tens of thousands of kids who pour their heart out to santa this time of year. and he's just 26-year-old old. you're about to see his face all over the place. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television
. good evening. for 85 million americans, the temperature did not go above freezing today, and it won't tonight. this nasty and relentless winter weather system now stretches so far to the south, the florida keys set a record for cold today. 15 american cities broke records today, 11 of them in florida. close to 40% of the land mass in the continental u.s. remains snow covered. last night people had to be rescued from their vehicles in the snow. the fact is, it is early yet in the season for quite this much hunkering down and digging out. nbc's john yang has our coverage from the windy city, which itself has taken on new meaning. john, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. the cold has settled in like a bad holiday house guest. it's made itself right at home and shows no signs of leaving any time soon.
a major trucking route into michigan from canada reopened today as crews cleared abandoned cars and trucks stopped by whiteout conditions and buried by drifting snow. stranded travelers resumed their trips, leaving schools and churches where they had found shelter from the storm. >> this was where i was sleeping every night. so it was a home away from home i guess. >> reporter: brandon justin spent 24 hours in his truck, shivering as his vehicle shook with the high winds. >> i ran out of fuel close to midnight. it got so cold, like by 1:00 a.m. it was really cold, it was starting to hurt. >> reporter: in alabama today, icy conditions proved deadly as weather related crashes killed at least three people. in kentucky, crews raced to restore power to nearly 11,000 customers in single digit temperatures. produce farmers in florida are fighting a losing battle against freezing temperatures, even using helicopters to send warm air on wilting crops. >> pretty demoralizing, really.
we've done everything we could do as farmers to try and save the crop. >> reporter: the result, prices have nearly doubled from green beans to strawberries at this atlanta grocery store. meteorologists say the bone-chilling cold in the eastern half of the country is the result of an unusual weather pattern. >> this cold air is stuck in place from the midwest to the northeast and it could be days before we see relief. >> reporter: today, road crews and shoppers in kentucky and tennessee braced for expected ice storms overnight as mother nature extends her icy grip from the great lakes in the north. forecasters are keeping an eye on the possibility the storm could bring heavy snow to the east coast this weekend. brian? >> amazing pictures there. john yang in chicago to start us off. john, thanks. now to a story that started to break late yesterday. it was a perfectly routine school board meeting in a florida community. on the agenda, what parents talk about in schools, head lice and new computers.
then a man rose to speak and nothing about him looked right. he was armed with a can of spray paint and an automatic handgun. but it's what happened next that was an extraordinary reaction by some people at this otherwise ordinary meeting. we should warn you, this videotape will be tough to watch for some, especially for young ones in the room. our report tonight from nbc's park potter in panama city, florida. >> reporter: when an ordinary school board meeting suddenly became terrifying with a gunman threatening to kill -- >> you may leave, you may leave. the women can leave. six men stay. >> reporter: ordinary public officials suddenly became heroes. most dramatic was ginger littleton who attacked the intruder with her purse. >> no, ginger. >> i knew at some point things were going to turn out very badly, and they were going to turn out very badly for people
whom i value and who are of great value to this community. so i wasn't willing to let nature take its course. >> reporter: now littleton and her purse are the talk of the town. >> i don't know about that ginger woman, but i want her in my foxhole. >> reporter: another hailed as a hero is superintendent bill husfeld. when 56-year-old clay duke said he was angry his wife had been fired from teaching, he urged duke to keep him as the lone hostage. >> let them go. i'm the one that did it. they don't sign the papers. i'm the only one that signs it. will you get them go? >> he had that in his eyes. he was going to kill and i just did not want him to kill all of us. >> please don't. >> reporter: soon, though, it all unraveled and duke opened fire. >> please. [ gunfire ] >> i'm going to kill you. >> reporter: and that brought the biggest hero of all. >> i'm telling you, mike saved our lives. >> reporter: mike jones, the school security chief and former cop, he heard shots and burst into the room and wounded duke,
who then took his own life. >> his timing and aim was impeccable. >> reporter: as a result, and hard to believe, no one else was even injured. mark potter, nbc news, panama city, florida. now something a bit less than a profile in courage perhaps, the current debate going on in washington. this is the time of year when lawmakers are anxious to leave on christmas break. the problem is, the laws that need to be passed first. today, the senate did vote overwhelmingly to pass president obama's tax cut package. now it goes on to the house. but the good will sort of fell apart after that. they even ended up arguing over christmas. nbc's kelly o'donnell is on the nbc's kelly o'donnell is on the hill for us tonight. kelly, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. the spirit of the season was here when they got that tax cut compromise through. but then it all kind of fell apart over what else can get done. there's the new s.t.a.r.t.
treaty with russia, required government spending bill, the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, and immigration reform. republicans accuse democrats of ignoring the importance of the christmas break by trying to get too much in for the second year in a row. >> the democrat leadership somehow thinks that by being here christmas week that that's an act of courage, that they're being courageous by having congress here, because we're doing all these important things. >> yes, i did say i thought it was disrespectful of one of the two major christmas holidays of the year. >> so it's offensive to me and millions of working americans across this country for any senator to suggest that working through the holidays is somehow sacreligious or disrespectful. >> you may remember last year that health care reform was passed on christmas eve and majority leader reid says the senate will be work thing weekend. brian? >> kelly o'donnell on the hill for us tonight. and here in new york, nbc's andrea mitchell had an opportunity to speak exclusively with the vice president today at
the u.n. they talked about the race against time on the hill, this fighting over christmas, and andrea, it looks like the vice president came prepared with strong wording today. >> reporter: he was a little upset in that interview in the security council chamber. the vice president got heated when i asked him about republican senator john kyle's comment, which kelly just reported on, that it was disrespectful to vote on the s.t.a.r.t. treaty before christmas. >> do not let -- do not stand in the way of the nation's best interest. let the senate vote. overwhelmingly the american people support the s.t.a.r.t. treaty. overwhelmingly, the united states senate supports the s.t.a.r.t. treaty. it's clearly in our national interest. every former national security adviser, defense secretary, secretary of state on the republican party from george schultz to colin powell thinks it's essential we pass this treaty. get out of the way. there's too much at stake for america's national security.
and don't tell me about christmas. i understand christmas. i've been a senator for a long time. i've been there many years where we go right up to christmas. there's ten days between now and christmas. i hope i don't get in the way of your christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. this is national security at stake. act, act. >> reporter: and right there at the united nations where wikileaks cables say that the u.s. spied on other diplomats, the vice president said he does not think there's been any substantive damage, just embarrassment. brian? >> part of andrea mitchell's powerful conversation with the vice president today. thanks. we wanted to let you know the full interview will air tomorrow on "andrea mitchell reports" on msnbc. that's at 1:00 eastern time. back to that tax deal. turns out the american people like it. that's one of the numbers we're learning in our new poll numbers we're debuting tonight. our chief white house correspondent and political director chuck todd in d.c. with that. chuck, good evening. >> reporter: good evening,
brian. i'm at the big board here. big end of the year poll where we test a lot of things. let's start with the news of the moment and that tax cut deal. as you noted, overwhelming support. 59% support it, including 54% of democrats and 68% of republicans. it's why it did breeze through the senate and will likely get through the house. about that s.t.a.r.t. treaty, vice president biden said it has overwhelming support. he's right. 70% approve of ratifying the s.t.a.r.t. treaty, even though it may not get done. there's still a negative tone in the public. 63% believe we're headed in the wrong track. this has to do with the economy. this is the highest number of the obama presidency. guess what? it's having an effect on the president. his approval rating is 45%, disapproval 48%, a net negative there. believe it or not, a year ago, he was sitting at 47%, 46%, so he's hanging tough. our pollsters say he should be in worse shape.
why isn't he? it has to do with his personal connection with the american public. 58% get him positive rating on personal characteristics. he gets negative ratings on his professional ratings. only 36% believe he has strong professional qualities. what does this mean for 2012? our first look at it. not great when matched up against an unknown republican for the president. he gets 42%, the unknown republican 39%. we'll put a face in that box and suddenly the president looks stronger. against mitt romney, it's obama 47%, romney 40%. against sarah palin, president's lead gets to 55%, 33%, a 22-point lead. this has nothing to do with president obama and everything to do with sarah palin. look at these negative ratings. she's sitting at a 50% negative rating. that is the highest of anybody we've tested this month. and as high as nancy pelosi last
month who was the most unpopular politician we tested last month. >> chuck todd, thanks for that. we've been reporting on the violence all along the u.s. border between arizona and mexico. last night, it claimed the life of a federal officer, a border patrol agent brian terry shot and killed. tonight, four people are in custody, there may be one more person on the run. the homeland security secretary janet napolitano is a former governor of arizona will travel there tomorrow to meet with members of the u.s. border patrol. the federal government today sued bp, along with some other companies, involved in that massive record oil spill in the gulf of mexico this past summer. though these suits do not involve any criminal charges, they do expose the companies to tens of billions of dollars in potential fines, in addition to what they have paid in cleanup cost and could pay in other lawsuits. up next as we continue from new york on a wednesday night,
another year for an annual american tradition. this time, "time" magazine makes a young person, it's person of the year over a lot of more established contenders. later, letters to santa and the elves who are making a difference by making a lot of wishes come true. difference by making a lot of wishes come true. [ laughter ] ♪ [ male announcer ] for tim and richard smucker, giving a gift of their delicious jam always made the holidays just a little bit sweeter. we forgot to put our names on them! richard, i think they'll know who it's from. ♪ thank you, boys. you're welcome. you're welcome. [ male announcer ] happy holidays from our family to yours. i love christmas. affect wheat output in the u.s., the shipping industry in norway, and the rubber industry in south america? at t. rowe price, we understand
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magazine today named mark zuckerberg, the founder of facebook, as its person of the year for 2010. rick stingle is the editor of "time." we invited the editor over tonight to explain this choice. thank you for coming. devil's advocate, we've been remembering here this week a man that was not your nominee, former ambassador richard holbrooke who i think inarguably changed a dangerous world. one of your nominees, mr. assange maybe showed us how dangerous the world is. make the case for a 26-year-old man who made his living in a computer business. >> the impact of facebook this year is almost incalculable. they passed 500 million users, that's wlm almost 1 in 10 people on the planet. it's not just that penetration into our lives but it's changing our sense of privacy, our sense of intimacy, how we relate to each other. when i make these choices and you know because you follow them, i really think how is it
going to look five years from now, not just this year. i think five years from now, julian assange will be a historical footnote. we won't remember that at a time when facebook will continue to penetrate and affect our lives in a very need way. >> he's the second youngest person of the year. the youngest was the first, charles lindbergh. you've named some giants, the hitlers, the fdrs. but to your point, the test of time, he's in a business when the next thing comes along, you're dead. do you think this could possibly be one of those what we were thinking in that moment covers, given that? >> i think he's making an interesting bet, and once upon a time when the internet was young, we thought we could hide our identity. he's saying you want to carrie your identity with you wherever you go. i think that's changing how we use the internet and how we relate to each other. our sense of privacy and intimacy. i think that is almost a world historical shift that he is skating on.
>> rick stingle, the man behind the young man. rick, thank you, as always. when we come back here after a break, wait till you hear what michael vick said today about the one thing he really wants this season. this season. [scraping] [piano keys banging] [scraping] [horns honking] with deposits in your engine, it can feel like something's holding your car back. let me guess, 16. [laughing] yeeah. that's why there's castrol gtx... with our most powerful deposit fighting ingredient ever. castrol gtx exceeds the toughest new industry standard. don't let deposits hold your car back. get castrol gtx. it's more than just oil. it's liquid engineering. ah, this is hey guys. what the eightsorry we're late. milk looks warm. finally got the whole gang together. maple brown sugar, strawberry delight, blueberry muffin. yeah, a little family reunion.
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it's been advertised on this broadcast, it's been parodied by our friends at "snl" and purchased by millions of mostly women in this country. it's in a lot of refrigerators. today, the danon yogurt people have been ordered to stop making deceptive claims about activia yogurt and dan active. danon will stop saying that one daily serving of activia relieves irregularity and dan active prevents people from catching the common cold or flu. it made headlines around the sports world this sunday night when one of the coaches for the new york jets, the man in charge of strength and conditioning, was caught tripping a player on the miami dolphins. now coach sal alosi, who's admitted to it, has been suspended indefinitely after the team discovered it was a larger plan. the jets say alosi ordered five
inactive players on the side lines to form a sort of human wall for the punt return. they did. that's when he stuck out his knee and tripped the miami player. michael vick says he's ready to own a dog again, that it would help in his rehabilitation. the back story is, vick is the philadelphia eagles quarterback who is making a comeback after a gruesome dogfighting and gambling scandal. part of his sentence was a lifetime ban on ever owning a dog. in an interview conducted by our website, here is what vick told nbc. >> i would love to have another dog in the future. you know, i think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process. i miss having a dog right now. i wish i could. my daughters miss having one. that's the hardest thing is telling them we can't have one because of my actions. >> to watch a longer version of
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finally here tonight, this is the time of year that santa's mailbox overflows with letters from boys and girls and their wish lists. santa will tell you it's so important to be good all year every year. sometimes, though, even santa himself needs a little help answering all that mail. tonight, nbc's mike taibbi meets a man who has been "making a difference" for people of all ages who write those letters to santa. >> reporter: kids who write to santa might figure he lives in a place like this, but many of their letters come through here, the main post office branch in manhattan. it's getting close, so the bins are bursting. a separate operation to hand it will crush. this season, some 2 million letters will pass through this room, some addressed to santa
claus north pole, some addressed to operation santa, and some just to pete fontana. many now know pete fontana. he trains the seasonal staff and has been running operation santa for 15 years, and is retiring right after the holiday. it's the letters that keep him focused. this one from an 8-year-old with an out of work dad and cold apartment. >> that's why i need socks, a jacket, pants, boots, pajamas. >> reporter: and one he'll never forget, a request from a boy who lost his mother. >> dear santa, i just want you to give mommy and hug and kiss in heaven. >> reporter: every letter is read and the ones about real need and not just the latest pricey toys, are numbered with personal data ae moved and entered into a computer data file. then the helpers go to work. new walk-ins or repeat helpers like leon and rose marie, choose which dear santa wishes they can fill.
because the stories are familiar -- >> i grew up poor. so i understand what it's like. >> reporter: or because like laura and her friends, they never wanted for anything in life and see operation santa as a way to give back. she used facebook to fill her apartment with gifts. >> it's not about a man in a red suit and white beard, it's about people looking beyond themselves this holiday season. >> reporter: pete sees the gifts pouring in. maybe 200,000 this year, as a kind of magic. >> i really believe there is a force here that's at work, that can't be explained. >> reporter: and since it wouldn't sound quite right to say, yes, virginia, there is a force here that can't be explained, santa will do. still. mike taibbi, nbc news, new york. >> see what i was saying about how much help santa needs this time of year? if you're interested in more information about operation santa, we've put it on our website at nightly.msnbc.com. for now, however, that is our broadcast for this wednesday evening. as always, thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams.
we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com www.vitac.com right now, the problem at a south bay school that has children dealing with chilly conditions. good evening. >> new at 6:00, cold classrooms and cold showers after pe. that's what students in one south bay school face today. a natural gas leak forced the sc t