tv NBC Nightly News NBC December 17, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
dry weather. if you're skier or snowboarder you're hoping. >> for sure. >> thank you very much. thank you for watching us. nbc bay area news at 5. nbs nightly news is next. we'll be back at 6:00. see you then. super saturday. even deeper discounts and extended hours. retailers go all out hoping today will save their season. let's make a deal. what congress did about your taxes in a rare saturday session. life or death decisions. why juries are turning away from handing out the ultimate punishment. learning to heal. how the dogs of war are readjusting to life back home from the battlefield. and making a difference. this time it's the kids handing out the gifts, bringing joy this this time it's the kids handing out the gifts, bringing joy this holiday season. captions paid for by nbc-universal television
good evening. there was black friday, cyber monday and now, on this final full weekend of the holiday shopping season, what stores are calling super saturday. what amounts to a last-ditch attempt by nervous retailers to stave off a blue christmas. you may recall this shopping season got off to a pretty healthy start. americans seemed to be in a buying mood. good news for stores and the economy. but, since then, business has slowed. and tonight many retailers are going to great lengths to get folks buying again, starting with some pretty big bargains. nbc's michelle franzen is among the shoppers here in new york tonight. michelle? >> reporter: lester, shoppers here in herald square are still out in force thanks to extended hours. although black friday set records a few weeks ago, sales since then have fallen off. that's why today was so important.
in new york today, dina mccloud felt the rush and the crush of holiday shopping. >> every store is crowded. there are lines like almost out the stores. >> reporter: all on the hunt for deals. >> we're really trying to be very strategic, get things we know folks will love but get them at bargain prices if we can. >> reporter: and on this super saturday, shoppers around the country were not disappointed. >> the sales are 40% to 50% off and most of the stores we've gone into today. >> i just bought a really great sweater for $15. >> reporter: super saturday with its deep discounts is usually the last saturday before christmas. this year, that would fall on christmas eve so many national chains and stores slashed prices a weekend early, analysts say, because they can't afford to wait. >> 40% of holiday season sales between december 15th to the 25th, the most important day may be this saturday, december 17th, in determining a very successful holiday season or just a good holiday season. >> reporter: retailers hoping to draw in customers who have been waiting before spending. >> it's christmas so you do what you need to do.
i shop with coupons to save money. so if there's a store that i know has a sale, that's where we go. >> reporter: and today stores were fighting for that business. target offering a $10 gift card with every $75 purchase until noon. j.c. penney slashing up to 70% off clothing, jewelry and electronics. and sears not only offering discounts but staying open until midnight through next week. >> this is the last hoorah so retailers are treading water. they're trying to get us in the stores and spending money any way they can. >> reporter: roughly 40% of shoppers say they've already wrapped up their gift buying, which means the majority of us still have a long way to go for shopping in this next week. lester? >> michelle franzen. thanks, michelle. now to washington and a contentious fight involving your taxes. and, like a lot of battles involving money in congress lately, this one came down to the last minute. our capitol hill correspondent kelly o'donnell joins us now with the latest.
kelly, good evening. >> reporter: good evening be, lester. well, the senate passed a short-term extension today of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. this prolonged fight has been over how to cover the costs without adding to the deficit. so they worked a saturday, hoping to get things done before the holidays, but they actually set up another fight for just two months from now. nearly out of time. >> the ayes are 67, the nays 32. >> reporter: washington delivered on promises today, but the result showed the scars of gridlock. complaints about wasted money in the 1200-page, $1 trillion spending bill that funds the government for the year. >> this system is broken! >> reporter: john mccain says too many projects were not given scrutiny under the rush deadline. >> $12.7 million for a cultural artifacts repository. that's in the name of defense. >> reporter: turning to the fight over payroll taxes and unemployment benefits, a deal to
extend the tax cut and benefits for one year failed. the senate could only agree on a two-month extension. that means, instead of the average worker saving $1,000, it's down to $166 for now. the president is pleased taxes won't go up but expects more. >> it would be inexcusable for congress not to further extend this middle class tax cut for the rest of the year. it should be a formality, and hopefully it's done with as little drama as possible when they get back in january. >> reporter: one issue had republicans high-fiving. they insisted the keystone oil pipeline project that environmentalists oppose but supporters including unions like because of jobs be added to this bill. even after the president threatened a veto earlier this month. >> any effort to try to tie keystone to the payroll tax cut i will reject. >> reporter: but democrats and republicans backed a requirement that the president must decide
within 60 days if the pipeline will be built and not wait until after the november elections. >> since most of us have not heard a good reason from the white house as to why they would block it, i'm very hopeful that the president in the course of this 60 days will do the right thing for the country and get this crucial project under way. >> reporter: senators settled on the smaller package because they could only agree on how to cover enough for that, $33 billion. and that includes a higher fee for homeowners who are buying or refinancing with mortgage giants fannie and freddie. so that's something that will affect people personally. and, lester, this isn't quite over yet because the house still has to deal with it. and some house republicans are not liking this short term solution. to presidential politics now. today'ses developments in congress sure to have some reverberations on the campaign trail as the gop contenders make a final pump for votes just over two weeks from the iowa caucuses.
more now on that from nbc's mike viqueira. >> reporter: with approval of congress at a new low, today conservative rivals hit front-runner newt gingrich on his record as speaker. >> newt was the originator of earmarks back in the '90s. i mean, if there was a granddaddy of earmarks he would be it. >> reporter: today gingrich appeared in virginia at a book signing with wife callista, still trying to stay positive even as a barrage of ads debate confrontations and voter mail take aim. campaign aides say it's the right course. >> this electorate wants to hear solutions. they don't want to hear traditional campaign where you have attack after attack and negative charges. >> reporter: with the first votes cast in just two weeks -- >> all i want for christmas is to win the iowa caucus. >> reporter: -- gop candidates are out in force this weekend. a day after she endorsed the mitt romney campaign was south carolina governor and tea party favorite nikki haley.
in a campaign all about the economy, romney seized on the issue that has roiled washington this week, insisting president obama approve the keystone oil pipeline. >> we need the oil. we need the gas. america and north america are energy rich. he's treating us like we're energy poor. >> reporter: gingrich still leads polls in iowa and other key states, but experts say if he falters romney could emerge stronger than ever. >> i think romney was really able to sort of field-test his opposition research, his rapid response organization, something that might serve him in good stead. so, at the end of the day, newt gingrich's surge might be a good thing for mitt romney. >> reporter: and, lester, newt gingrich is certainly no stranger to controversy. and he has more controversial comments tonight about what he calls liberal activists, judges, telling reporters on a conference call that some judges should be subpoenaed to testify before congress to explain their rulings, sometimes for whole courts to be abolished in some
circumstances, even suggesting that presidents can ignore judiciary rulings they don't like. >> mike, thanks. a program note, house speaker john boehner and gop presidential candidate michele bachmann will be among david gregory's guests tomorrow on "meet the press." overseas now to egypt where once again today violent clashes have erupted in and around cairo's tahrir square exactly one year since the start of the arab spring that has drastically reshaped the middle east. nbc's ayman mohyeldin joins us. eye ayman, good evening. >> reporter: lester, good evening. the military government broke up protestors calling on it to step down and hand over power to a civilian government. the prime minister for his part came out and defended the military's actions saying they acted with self-restraint against the demonstrators. but new footage has emerged showing some very disturbing scenes of the military opening fire on the protesters and aggressively beating the
demonstrators, all in an attempt to prevent them from controlling tahrir square. now, this comes as health officials put the death toll of two days of fighting at ten, more than 400 wounded. all of it highlighting the tension that exists between pro-revolutionary groups and the military who says it will not hand over power to civilian governments until the middle of 2012. back to you, lester. >> ayman, thanks very much. elsewhere in the middle east the war in iraq is officially over, but there are still u.s. troops in the country preparing to make the long journey home. it begins with a layover in the place where it all began for our troops nine years ago. and our chief foreign correspondent richard engle is there. >> carter? lieutenant cove? >> reporter: a last roll call before going home. >> it's definitely a great thing. i can't wait to go home. >> thinking about seeing my wife again. going back spending some time with the family. >> reporter: the u.s. military command closed in baghdad, but troops are still leaving iraq,
crossing the border and coming here to kuwait. kuwait is iraq's official out processing center, where the war is packed up and shipped home. >> we're all looking forward to getting home. but six months, a year from now, everybody's going look back on it, wow, we were the last people there. >> reporter: the iraq war was launched from here in kuwait nearly nine years ago. now everything seems in reverse. the troops are leaving from where they once prepared to fight a dictator. the war is ending where it began. tanks are being washed instead of prepped for battle. kuwait's lot 58 is now being described as the world's biggest parking lot. it's packed with $8 billion worth of vehicles. >> it's coming all here. it's getting put on the property book and making sure we can account for all the equipment. >> reporter: for the troops, the procedures are relatively simple but can seem slow and boring. most of the troops spend about five days in kuwait, turning in gear, filling out paperwork,
packing and loading until finally a preflight inspection, x-raying weapons in a scene that might terrify the tsa. then, as they pass a sign that reads "freedom," the troops move to a holding pen called lockdown. with home so close and a war at their backs, kuwait can feel like the worst five-day layover. they play cards and games, but the flights do eventually come. >> happy to go home. >> reporter: and after a war that tested and at times tore the nation, the army is going home. richard engle, nbc news, kuwait. one more note from overseas. tonight the death toll is mounting in the philippines where hundreds of people have been killed in flash floods, many of them overcome by raging floodwaters as they slept. a tropical storm tore through homes in two coastal cities. the water cascading down from the mountains after 12 hours of torrential rain. here at home, a rare sight this mild december. some real snowfall in cleveland
today, some areas receiving 3 to 4 inches. parts of new england are expecting light snow later tonight. it's been an unseasonably warm fall across most of the country, just four days now from the official start of winter. when "nbc nightly news" continues, the ultimate punishment. why juries are increasingly resisting the death penalty. and later, making a difference. learning to give back early in life.
surprising statistic. 2011 is ending with the lowest number of death sentences handed out by juries since capital punishment was reinstated in the u.s. 35 years ago. opponents of the death penalty say americans are turning away from it, worried that the justice system sometimes gets it wrong. we get the story tonight from our justice correspondent pete williams. >> reporter: an emotional scene outside an arkansas courthouse as three men walk to freedom after 18 years in prison, one of them on death row, all of them wrongly convicted of murder. a similar scene in illinois, ronald kitchen released after spending 21 years in prison, 13 on death row. >> it really hasn't hit me yet. it's like surreal. >> reporter: as these scenes are repeated, say opponents of the death penalty, with dna evidence often making the difference, jurors have become less willing to impose the ultimate punishment. this year brought 78 death sentences nationwide, the smallest number since 1976. >> it was indicative of a concern among the public, among
the jurors, that the death penalty can't be trusted, that you might make a mistake and find out information five, ten years from now that would make you think twice. >> reporter: this year also saw fewer executions, 43 in all down from a high of of 98 12 years ago. even in texas which often has the most in the country, just 13 executions this year, about half of last year's total. illinois this year took the death penalty off the books entirely. in oregon, governor john kitzhaber barred executions as long as he's in office, calling them morally wrong. >> i refuse to be part of a compromised neck roll system any longer. three more states, california, connecticut and maryland, may consider repealing capital punishment next year. and a recent gallup poll shows that, while 61% of americans say they favor the death penalty, that's the least support since
1970s. even so, 34 states retain the death penalty. supporters say it's imposed less often not because jurors think it's unfair but because a sentence of life without parole doesn't invite decades of legal appeals. another factor, they say, violent crime is down. >> it's not that society no longer supports the death penalty. it's the fact that there are just fewer murders in the united states by almost 50%. and that's good news. >> reporter: whatever the reasons, the numbers show that while the death penalty in america remains an option, its heyday is in the past. pete williams, nbc news, washington. when we come back here tonight, the dogs of war. home from the battlefield and learning to heal.
we all agree the hands-down winner for cutest pictures of the day has to be these two giant pandas at a park in china thoroughly enjoying a snow day, complete with somersaults and snow cones, in between plenty of rest and relaxation, of course. had to share those pictures with you. and while we've reported extensively on the u.s. troops serving in iraq and afghanistan, we haven't heard as much about some vital assistants accompanying them on those dangerous missions. we're talking about hundreds of dogs that have faithfully served and have witnessed the horrors of war just like the troops. we get their story tonight from nbc's kerry sanders. >> reporter: they're the dogs of war come home. like buck, a 4-year-old chocolate lab, who spent his deployments in afghanistan sniffing for roadside bombs and survived. >> there is no real technology
out there that can do what a dog can do. >> now we'll take him into radiology. >> reporter: and if they're wounded, they're medevaced to the walter reed of canine hospitals at lackland air force base in texas. like the troops they're assigned to patrol with, the dogs get top-notch medical care when they're wounded, like little scarlet here. but increasingly, doctors say they're finding dogs returning from war have something else. ptsd, post-traumatic stress disorder. >> this is strictly a problem that we're associating with combat environments right now and prolonged deployments. >> reporter: dr. walter berghart routinely gets videos from handlers in iraq and afghanistan who want to know why their dogs are no longer performing as trained. in one video the dog cowers when he sees uniformed iraqi soldiers. in another, a dog trained to sit after sniffing a bomb instead tucks his tail between his legs and runs away. >> if the dog misses one of these explosives, that could have really bad consequences not
only for the dog but for the individuals the dog's working with. >> reporter: which brings us back to buck, u.s. marine corps, retired. >> see, he's backing up there. >> exactly. >> is that from something that happened in afghanistan? >> i suspect that something happened to him in terms of bombs. >> reporter: larry and lynette sargent adopted buck when doctors could not treat his canine ptsd. >> you can't help but love him when you look at him. >> he's just afraid. >> reporter: the family says, unlike most labs, buck doesn't like to be around people. the best medicine, just like that for humans. understanding, love, patience, and sometimes these dogs are even prescribed puppy prozac. >> five months ago he barely would let me lead him on a leash. >> and so the idea that five months later we're sitting here this close, there's a foreign object, this camera, so close to him -- >> is incredible. >> reporter: the dogs of war, just like some returning troops,
making special deliveries to those in need. here's nbc's kevin tibbles. ♪ rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose ♪ >> reporter: christmas can often be a lonely time of year, especially for the elderly or disabled who have very little money or family. >> buying a christmas present is out of the question because of their fixed income and the way the economy is and things like that. >> reporter: in racine, wisconsin, that's where the younger generation steps in, brightening up the holiday with their music, their gifts and smiles. all part of a program called "be a santa to a senior". trees are set up in local shops and decorated with ornaments containing requests from the needy. volunteers then buy the gifts, donate them, and they're all wrapped up, often by youngsters, for a very special delivery. school kids and grownups then swoop in to deck the halls of local retirement communities with laughter and song. >> how does it look?
>> it looks perfect on you. >> reporter: each resident gets a present. >> i'm so happy. very happy. thank you so much for everything. >> a scarf, yeah! >> reporter: locally the program will distribute 700 gifts this year. nationwide, 1.5 million packages have been presented since 2004. leaving the master gift giver himself very impressed. >> all you hear is the bad stuff about the kids. right now you can see that there's so much good in this country. >> to see them happy, it's awesome. >> what does christmas mean to you? >> to be nice to people and give them presents. >> i think it's marvelous that they care enough to come here. >> what's the meaning of christmas? >> to make somebody else happy. >> and that makes you happy inside, too? >> yes. >> reporter: and each visit comes gift-wrapped in song. ♪ we wish you a merry christmas ♪ >> reporter: kevin tibbles, nbc news, racine, wisconsin.
>> that's "nbc nightly news" for this saturday. i'm lester holt reporting from new york. i'll see you tomorrow morning on "today" then right back here tomorrow night. "today" then right back here tomorrow night. good night, everyone. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com good evening. thank you very much for being with us tonight. i'm garvin thomas in for diane. a four-alarm fire in alameda