December 31, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
12/31/2021 | 56m 43s | Video has closed captioning.
December 31, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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12/31/2021 | 56m 43s | Video has closed captioning.
December 31, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
Judy Woodruff is away.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: COVID surge.
New cases soar, breaking pandemic records across the U.S., as countries around the globe celebrate New Year's Eve.
Then: Colorado's wildfires.
Fueled by hurricane-force winds, the blaze leaves thousands homeless and could be the most destructive in the state's history.
Also, legendary actress and beloved comedian Betty White has died, just weeks shy of her 100th birthday.
And it's Friday.
David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart reflect on the year in politics and democracy in America.
All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
(BREAK) AMNA NAWAZ: Well, the U.S. has set a new daily record for COVID cases, topping 580,000 new cases yesterday, and shattering Wednesday's total of 488,000.
For the first time in the pandemic, America recorded more than two million cases within just one week.
The nation is now averaging more than 300,000 new cases a day.
All of this comes as new data suggests those highly-sought-after rapid antigen tests may not be as effective as hoped in detecting the Omicron variant.
Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo is a physician and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
She joins us now.
Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
Thanks for making the time.
People are seeing these headlines.
I want to get right to what is at the top of everyone's minds.
They want to know what to make of them, especially ahead of potential New Year's Eve gatherings.
What would you say to them?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO, University of California, San Francisco: Right.
Well, we are headed into a really challenging January.
And this is just the beginning of the rise in cases.
The good news is that, if we look at how other countries have dealt with an Omicron surge, it looks like a surge that lasts about four to six weeks.
But the key here is that how high this crest of this wave rises, how broad this wave is, how much damage happens over the next month, that's entirely in our hands.
And it means we have to make good choices starting tonight.
AMNA NAWAZ: What does that mean for tonight for people who are vaccinated, who have a test in hand?
How should people determine whether or not they go ahead with celebrations tonight?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Right.
I think even vaccinated and boosted, I would be avoiding crowds tonight.
If you look at the positivity rates in our major cities, if you look at the positivity rates in all of our states, they're really high right now.
And it suggests that one in 20, one in 10, one in four people in a large crowd is going to be infected.
And with breakthrough cases happening, it's something that I would avoid.
The other thing I would say, if you're vaccinated and boosted and are spending time mostly with vaccinated, boosted people -- that's the best - - is the mask.
And high-quality masks, the N95, the KN95s, are going to be the best, probably something we haven't emphasized as much as we could.
If you have to wear the surgical mask, having something on that's tighter fitting, a surgical mask, plus a cloth mask over top, can offer some additional layer of protection.
But, really, if you can at all alter your plans to be with a smaller crowd that's mostly vaccinated and boosted, that's the best.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, masking is key to all of this, and so is testing.
And there's been some new information this week from the FDA I want to get your take on.
They said early data suggests that those rapid antigen test, those at-home test so many people are clamoring for do detect the Omicron variant, but may have reduced sensitivity.
So, Doctor, what did that mean?
Do they work or do they not?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Right.
I think the key here is that we need to see data whenever there is a new variant.
And, luckily, the FDA and the NIH are giving us - - doing the studies to help us to understand these tests.
My understanding of the data that we have right now is that, in fact, this test does work.
And it is a useful tool.
It detects the Omicron variant.
The variant is altered in a way that the test still is really -- can find that virus.
What it can't do, though, is tell you with 100 percent certainty that, when you get a negative test, you're not actually infectious.
So the way I think about it is that, if you have a positive test, if you see that line come up positive, even if it's a faint line, you have COVID, you should act like you have COVID, you should not second-guess this test.
If you don't have that positive line, it might mean that you're negative, but it might mean that this test is not as good as being with high certainty that you are negative for COVID.
And that's where we have to -- that's where we have to be a little more cautious.
But what I worry about is that the message should not be these tests are not useful.
They're absolutely useful if people act on a positive test and avoid contact with others.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, Doctor, in about the minute we have left, I have to ask you.
I think it's fair to say a lot of us thought this year would be the year we put the pandemic behind us.
And it was not.
So, how will our approach, how should our approach to COVID change as we go into yet another pandemic year?
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Right.
We are going to be living with this virus.
But I think living with this virus means neither shutting down and being anxious and fearful all the time, nor throwing caution to the wind and just acting as if nothing matters.
I think the pandemic has taught us that our own actions matter.
We have to assess our own risk, but our own actions also matter for others.
And we have to both individually and collectively make decisions that are going to keep ourselves and those around us healthy.
We need to -- these are going to evolve over time.
And I think what the pandemic is teaching us is, we're going to have to understand those lessons that were true at the start of the pandemic, even more true now, but doubling down on understanding how to keep ourselves and others safe, as we learn to live side by side with this virus.
AMNA NAWAZ: Here's hoping everyone's doing what they can to keep themselves and everyone around them safe.
That is Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo from the University of California, San Francisco.
Thank you so much for being with us.
And happy new year to you.
DR. KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Thanks.
Happy new year.
AMNA NAWAZ: In the day's other news: The world is once again ringing in the new year under the cloud of the pandemic.
Some celebrations were scaled back, while others were undeterred.
In North Korea, thousands watched fireworks along the river in Pyongyang.
London's Big Ben was set to chime at midnight for the first time after three years of renovations.
And, in Australia, fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney, in spite of the country recording its highest daily case numbers.
DIANE MEAD, Melbourne Resident: We have never, ever been here before.
We have never done it.
And we just thought, we will take the risk and just see how it is.
We have got masks.
We're triple-vaxxed, and we're just going to wing it.
AMNA NAWAZ: Back in the U.S., New York City prepared to hold its celebrations in Times Square, but only 15,000 revelers will be allowed to watch the ball drop.
And they must also show proof of vaccination.
More than 500 homes in Colorado have likely been destroyed after wildfires blazed through Boulder County.
The flames first ignited yesterday outside Denver and have since forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate.
So far, no one has died, but at least seven people were injured.
The governor declared a state of emergency.
We will have more on this after the news summary.
In a separate development, the Colorado governor has also shortened a truck driver's prison sentence for causing a deadly highway pileup, after his original 110-year sentence drew public outrage.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos will now serve 10 years in prison.
The governor called the 2019 crash a -- quote -- "tragic, but unintentional act."
The World Food Program has suspended its operations across Sudan's North Darfur province, following attacks on all three of its warehouses in the area.
Hundreds of armed looters stole more than 5,000 metric tons of food there this week.
The halt in aid will impact around two million people in need of food.
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was released from prison today after being pardoned by her successor.
The former president had served nearly five years of her 20-year prison sentence for bribery and other crimes.
She'd been hospitalized due to health problems for the last month.
The current president said Park's pardon is meant to promote national unity.
The number of journalists killed on the job this past year was one of the lowest death tolls in 30 years.
The International Federation of Journalists said 45 reporters and media workers died while working in 2021.
That is down from 65 deaths the previous year; 33 members of the media were murdered in targeted attacks this year.
The most dangerous country for journalists was Afghanistan.
On Wall Street, stocks edged lower on this final trading day of the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 60 points to close at 36338.
The Nasdaq fell 96 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 12.
And two passings to note tonight.
Legendary actress and beloved comedian Betty White died overnight at her home in Los Angeles just weeks shy of her 100th birthday.
White's trailblazing career in television spanned more than 60 years.
She was best known for her roles on the hit sitcoms "The Golden Girls" and "The Mary Tyler Moore" show.
We will look back on her career later in the program.
And Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Sam Jones died last night in Florida.
Known for his sharp shooting, Jones won 10 NBA titles during his 12-year basketball career, rather.
He was also a member of the NBA's first starting lineup to include five Black players.
Sam Jones was 88 years old.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart look back at 2021; how Mozart is helping an Italian winemaker's harvest; and recalling some of this year's most iconic images; plus much more.
As we reported, tens of thousands of people in Colorado were forced to evacuate quickly yesterday.
Wind-fueled fires swept swiftly through suburban neighborhoods outside of Denver, causing significant property damage.
As Stephanie Sy reports, residents there remain on edge, as some areas are still too dangerous to access.
STEPHANIE SY: Whole neighborhoods in Boulder County, Colorado, this morning are in smoldering ruin.
The winds eventually died down overnight, and, today, snow is providing some relief, but dangers remain.
JOE PELLE, Boulder County, Colorado, Sheriff: I know residents want to get back to their homes as soon as possible to assess damage.
In many of those neighborhoods that are currently blocked off, it's still too dangerous to return.
We saw still-active fire in many places this morning, and we saw downed power lines.
We saw a lot of risk that is -- we're still trying to mitigate.
STEPHANIE SY: The fast-moving grass fires, accelerated by hurricane-force winds gusting up to 105 miles per hour, destroyed hundreds of homes.
A dry winter also helped fuel the Marshall Fire.
At least one first responder and several others are injured.
but it could have been much worse, said Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
JARED POLIS (D-CO): So far, it looks like the two major hospitals in the areas were spared.
Looks like schools were spared.
And we might have our very own New Year's miracle on our hands if it holds up that there was no loss of life.
STEPHANIE SY: Polis declared a state of emergency yesterday, and said President Biden has approved an expedited disaster declaration.
The towns of Louisville and Superior appear to have suffered the most.
Located about 20 miles northwest of Denver, some 34,000 residents there were ordered to evacuate ahead of the fires.
One of them was Brent Parrish.
He returned to Louisville this morning to find his home still standing.
BRENT PARRISH, Resident of Louisville, Colorado: We were completely overwhelmed with relief, with the fact that we have a place -- that we don't have to rebuild, and then just really sad for the neighborhood, because, I mean, yes, it's devastating.
STEPHANIE SY: He says he's figuring out next steps.
BRENT PARRISH: My biggest concern right now is my kids and their safety, and whether it's really safe to be here or not, whether there's smoke damage that they're inhaling, whether there's chemicals that they're inhaling from a fire, when the water is going to be safe to drink.
I haven't even looked at our fridge, but I'm sure all our food is bad, so we have got to find some food.
STEPHANIE SY: A widely shared video inside a Chuck E. Cheese showed how quickly the fire spread in Superior on Thursday.
Parents wrangled their kids and dashed for the exits, panic rising.
The winds were so strong, they had to force open the doors.
Fire investigators are focused on downed power lines near the fire's start as they try to uncover the origins of the blaze, now considered the most destructive in Colorado's history.
From above, the extent of the damage is clear.
So many families will have to rebuild in the new year what was lost in the old.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.
AMNA NAWAZ: Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August, the U.S. has evacuated more than 75,000 Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome.
Roughly 23,000 evacuees remain on six military bases across the country, but more than 50,000 have already been placed into local communities.
After a tumultuous journey, these refugees are now tasked with starting over and rebuilding their lives in a new country.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, who leads refugee resettlement efforts with the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services.
Krish, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.
We should point out to everyone watching anyone who arrives here has already been vetted before they come to the United States.
They're housed on these U.S. military bases across the country, and then your organization steps in.
So, just tell me a little bit about the role that your group plays, and what you do when you first come into contact with these arriving Afghans.
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH, President and CEO, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: Sure.
So, LIRS one of the nine resettlement agencies that work with the State Department.
We are there from beginning to end, meaning we pick these individuals up from the airport.
We find them affordable housing that they move into.
With the help of volunteers, we will actually even furnish that housing with some modest furniture, stock the refrigerator with culturally familiar foods.
We will help enroll their kids in public schools, try to connect them to community-based resources, basically be there during those first few days to meet their basic necessities.
But, in the immediate term, it's also making sure that we can find them a job.
So many of them come eager to start contributing, and so we try to help with a range of services.
AMNA NAWAZ: Krish, how big of an operation is this, in terms of people and resources?
We're talking about tens of thousands of people who just left under emergency evacuation and are arriving here with basically nothing but the clothes on their back.
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: It is a truly historic effort.
I think that the last time we saw this scale of an operation was when we resettled 130,000 Vietnamese in about the span of a year.
Here, we have about 70,000 released from military bases and coming into communities across the country.
I think what contributes to the historic part of this effort is that the resettlement infrastructure is coming off of four years where it was decimated.
We had more than 100 offices across the network that were closed, shuttered.
And so we are rebuilding at a time when tens of thousands are coming and need our help.
And so case managers are serving the number that they would have served in a year in a week.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, Krish, everyone saw those haunting images during the evacuation, right, people handing babies over the airport wall, people clinging to plane as they took off.
Tell us a little bit more about the people who did make it.
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: Yes, so, thankfully, the military operation evacuated both a number of families, as well as quite a number of unaccompanied children.
So, these are families who served alongside the military.
They worked at the U.S. Embassy.
They may have served at a development NGO in Afghanistan.
In terms of the children, we're talking about 1,200 children who came.
The vast majority do have a parent or guardian here in the U.S. who will serve as a sponsor.
But there are a couple hundred children who are still in our care and custody.
And so they will face the legal limbo, because they are not coming in as unaccompanied refugee minors.
So they have to go into the asylum program.
The complexity here is that they have experienced more trauma than I have ever seen with unaccompanied children, the trauma of leaving Afghanistan, the trauma of what was a treacherous and uncertain journey, and then the trauma of not knowing whether they will actually get legal relief.
And so, that instability, it just makes their healing process delayed.
AMNA NAWAZ: Like any newly arriving population, there's always some element here in America that greets them with hostility.
This is sort of the history of this country.
And this group is no exception.
We have seen a number of people on the far right talking about terrorism and saying, America is full, there's no room for refugees.
How worried are you about threats to these Afghan families?
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: The truth is, they are fleeing terrorism.
They are fleeing risks, threats that were directly made to them and their families.
And so we are still seeing people who are fearmongering.
But, by and large, we have seen so many political leaders even who said, we want to help.
We want to help.
This is who we are as a nation.
It's not just the right thing to do, but of course, the smart thing to do, so many employers who are saying now is the time to welcome these Afghans, because we are desperately in need of the talent that they represent.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently visited one of your facilities here in Virginia.
He is among those who said that the U.S. will continue to have a commitment to Afghans who were left behind.
We know thousands who worked with the U.S.-led effort there over 20 years.
What do you think that the U.S. owes to those Afghans?
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: We know that, conservatively, there are at least 200,000, more likely a quarter-of-a-million, who are still in harm's way.
What we have stressed to Secretary Blinken and the rest of the government is, that though our military presence has ended, our mission has not.
And we have got to make sure that, whether it is protecting those at-risk Afghans, protecting women and girls, we're trying to make sure that we continue to have a strong presence in Afghanistan.
AMNA NAWAZ: That is Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services.
Thank you so much for being with us.
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: Thanks for having me.
AMNA NAWAZ: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.
That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.
Gentlemen, good to see you.
Let's have a pretty big discussion here on this final conversation in 2021.
I want to talk more broadly about the state of democracy.
I know we have talked about it over the last year, but there's really no bigger story, I think, in 2021 and maybe no bigger question going into 2022.
So, David, I will start with you, because, as you know, our year began with an attack on the U.S. Capitol, the largest attack in over 200 years.
And when you look at the numbers today of where Americans are, a September poll found 30 percent of Americans still believe that 2020 election was stolen, the reason that we know folks turnout on January 6 in the first place.
Our own October poll found nearly 40 percent of Americans don't trust that elections are fair.
David, we're talking about foundational parts of our democracy.
So, when you look at those numbers, how worried are you?
DAVID BROOKS: I'm moderately worried.
I mean, what I see there is disillusionment, distrust and cynicism.
We have a great electoral system.
We just ran a major election in the middle of a pandemic, and we did it with record turnout, almost no fraud, in fact, for all effects, zero fraud, and we got a result.
And so the -- we have more people active and voting than ever before.
We have some problems, which we can talk about later, in counting the votes, in making sure the counting is secure.
But the actual casting of votes, it's a pretty proud American institution.
We should be a little more proud of the things that we have done well.
And so, when I see those votes, I see some partisans, Republicans, who think it was stolen because they're Trumpy Republicans, but also a sad sense of distrust and pervasive cynicism that actually wears down systems that are actually not failing.
And that cynicism can be corrosive to a country.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, what do you see when you look at those numbers?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, I will answer your original question about how worried am I about our democracy, and I'm very worried.
I hear what David is saying about the participation that we saw in the last election, the millions of Americans who turned out to the polls, but we can't ignore the fact that, as a result of the big lie, we have poll numbers like that that you just showed.
But we also had state legislatures around the country pass restrictive voting laws that not only prevent people from being able to register to vote, but also go the extra length of turning what used to be independent state boards of elections into partisan -- partisan bodies, where the state legislature can get involved if the state legislature doesn't like the electoral result or the vote cast by the people.
So, the fact that we have that that's happening around the country is what gives me pause.
And the last thing I will say on this is that it wouldn't -- what makes it even worse is that one of the two major parties in -- political parties in this country is aiding and abetting that effort to undermine the foundation of our democracy.
AMNA NAWAZ: David, what about that?
I mean, the big lie, the idea of the election was stolen, that is still pushed by arguably the most influential person in the Republican Party.
And that is Donald Trump.
And it is not forcefully denounced by many leaders.
So, in a two-party system, if one party is messaging things that undermine those foundational parts of democracy, can the system hold?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, so it's an open question.
If you had gone back to Republicans in 2015 and told them what Republicans would be doing in 2021, they would be shocked.
And so this is a party that has slid down the toilet.
I don't know how else to say it.
(LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: And so that is a real problem.
My alarm is -- I cut Jonathan's alarm in half just on this voting rights issue.
The Republicans are trying to restrict voting.
Given the history of our country, that reeks.
That just reeks.
Some of the things they're going to do, like voter I.D.
laws, are phenomenally popular.
Eighty percent of Americans support them.
But then the crucial thing to be said about the restrictions on the voting is that voting restrictions don't restrict voting.
This has been studied.
And we have talked about this in the show in the past.
Over and over again, by academics, they find, when states tighten voting restrictions, voter turnout is the same.
When they loosen voting restrictions, turnout is the same.
And so I'm less alarmed by that than the second thing that Jonathan said, which is the state legislatures taking over after the votes are counted.
And for that to be really problematic, it would have to happen in a purple state.
There would have to be a Republican state legislature powerful enough to basically politicize the system in the sort of state Joe Biden would carry.
If they do that, then we have a real problem in our democracy.
AMNA NAWAZ: David, just to put a finer point on that, for anyone not tracking over the last year, there have been massive efforts to restrict voting at the state level across the country in 2021, right, more than we have seen in modern history.
And when you look at the numbers, according to the Brennan Center, between January 1 and December 7, there are at least 19 states that passed 34 laws restricting access to voting.
Heading into the next year, into 2022, 13 states will be considering bills that restrict voting access.
At the same time, we also know 25 states enacted new voter protections in 2021.
So, Jonathan, I will ask you about -- that's at the state level.
But, at the federal level, if the government cannot or does not codify voting access, what do you worry may happen?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: This goes back to my original question -- my original answer, and that is I fear for our democracy.
We saw with Shelby v. Holder sort of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
And almost immediately after the Supreme Court decision was handed down, states, particularly Southern states, moved very quickly to institute voter restrictions.
And so if the federal government, if Congress cannot find its way to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or the Freedom to Vote Act, I think, is the last iteration of the other voting rights bill -- and I have been a longtime advocate of, do away with the filibuster in order for this -- those pieces of legislation to get through Congress, and deal with the consequences later, because if the right to vote is undermine, if the right to vote is diminished in a way that allows for a party to overturn the will of the people, then any of those consequences that could come from doing away with the filibuster will pale in comparison.
That's how -- that's how dire I think the situation is.
And call me alarmist, but I'd rather be alarmist than complacent.
AMNA NAWAZ: David, what would you say to that?
I know you said we haven't seen them have the impact those voter restriction laws intended to in the past, but do we wait for them to have an impact or should protections go into place now?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is -- states change their voter rules all the time.
And so we have studied this.
And, as reporters, we just have to study -- report the evidence.
And the evidence from study after study after study is that voter restrictions don't restrict voting.
And so that doesn't mean we say what is happening is fine.
It just means we mitigate some of our alarm.
Now, the -- again, this is where I join Jonathan in the alarm.
And that's what's happened after votes.
And, to me, there's a reform of the Electoral Count Act, which was put in, I don't know, over a century ago to make sure that, after the votes are cast, they're counted properly, the vice president has a proper role, the state legislatures don't overstep their authority.
And if there's one thing we learned from January 6 is, we have got some severe holes in the way we count votes.
And that's where our efforts should be.
And there's some -- even some little glimmers of light that there's a bipartisan majority in Washington for reforming the Electoral Count Act.
And that would be an important first step.
AMNA NAWAZ: I'm sure, I know, we will continue to cover all of these issues into the new year as well.
But while I have you on this last day of 2021, David, I have to ask, when you look ahead to the new year, where are you watching?
What are you following?
Are you carrying hope into this next year?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, maybe blissful optimism.
(LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: And so, in May of 2020, I was looking forward to a summer of joy.
And that didn't happen.
And I was shocked to learn today that more Americans died of COVID in 2021 than in 2020.
So, 2021 was a rough year.
But I'm looking forward to a summer where we have, as -- it's not going away, but where we learn to live and breathe again, where we learn to go to concerts again, where we have big meetings, and we don't have to be vaguely paranoid as we're hanging around each other in bars.
And so that's just what I'm looking for.
It's a simple hedonistic wish.
But I'm going with hedonism in 2022.
(LAUGHTER) AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, what about you?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, I'm not going to go that far.
(LAUGHTER) JONATHAN CAPEHART: But I do share David's response, because my response was also, I am looking forward to -- I'm hopeful about the pandemic.
I'm hopeful in this regard, that we will learn how to live with this pandemic in ways that allow us to be with each other again, to do all the things that David said, even if you want to be hedonistic about it.
But at least we won't be living in a defensive crouch, afraid, afraid to go out of our homes, afraid to be with our friends and family, afraid to be with other people, for fear of catching this deadly virus.
So that's what makes me hopeful.
AMNA NAWAZ: David, as you look into the new year too, I should ask as well big political things that you want to watch, setting aside your own personal social plans.
DAVID BROOKS: My personal hedonism while I'm in the hot tub?
(LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I worry about abroad.
We have had an easy time in foreign policy over the last few years, and we have been blessed by not having major international disasters.
I worry about Russia and Ukraine quite a lot.
I worry about that China's a lot less stable than it seems, or that China gets into a conflict with Taiwan or somebody else in the Pacific.
I worry about the Middle East.
Somehow, I just have the gut sense that the sweet ride for the most part that we have had internationally, we're pushing our luck, Amna.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan, what about you?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: I'm paying attention to the January 6 Select Committee.
I think that, all through December, they have been ramping up with the subpoenas, with the invitations to voluntarily testify to sitting members of Congress.
Next year, we're going to see public hearings, televised hearings.
We could very well see subpoenas of sitting members of Congress, and watching those sitting members of Congress defy subpoenas.
And so the January 6 Select Committee is on - - is going down uncharted territory.
But it is territory that needs to be forged.
They are looking into an attack, not only on Congress, but on our democracy and its investigation and its findings.
The investigation needs to go forward.
The findings need to be made public.
And the people who are found culpable need to be held accountable.
AMNA NAWAZ: I'm certain we're going to hear a lot more on all of those topics from both of you.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing you both in person in the new year.
So, here's hoping that happens very soon.
Until then, please stay safe.
Thank you so much.
Happy new year to both of you.
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Happy new year.
DAVID BROOKS: Happy new year to you.
AMNA NAWAZ: Well, the Italian region of Tuscany is renowned for its world-class wine, from the vine to the vat, making it a time-honored practice in which little has changed over the centuries.
But, as Christopher Livesay explains, there's one small vineyard challenging tradition, and bringing its wine to life with the sound of music.
This story was produced prior to the pandemic, and Livesay is now a correspondent for CBS.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: In the rolling hills of Montalcino, Tuscany, a harmonious combination of temperate climate and fertile soil has long helped create some of the finest wines in the world.
But at this vineyard, the Paradiso di Frassina, there's another peculiar ingredient.
For seven days a week and 24 hours a day, these Sangiovese grapes are fed a steady diet of Mozart.
The man behind this unorthodox approach is owner Carlo Cignozzi, a former musician.
CARLO CIGNOZZI, Owner, Paradiso di Frassina (through translator): I knew that music provides energy to the human soul.
People need it to thrive.
Plants are the same.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But could Mozart's Divertimento in D really produce a bacchanalia?
Cignozzi says the vines closest to the speakers produce the juiciest grapes and the greenest leaves.
He doesn't have to use much fertilizer or any pesticides.
Mozart, he says, drives away the pests.
CARLO CIGNOZZI (through translator): Crickets mate on the vine.
That's why they make that sound, it's their mating call.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Tell me about this.
Why does the music scare away the crickets?
CARLO CIGNOZZI (through translator): Because the cricket sings a serenade: I'm here, my love.I'm coming.
But if Mozart music is playing, the female can't hear it.
So they leave, and go somewhere more quiet, to my neighbors' vineyards instead.
The same thing happens with birds and wild boars that would otherwise eat my grapes.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Mozart wine, sounds like a nice idea, but is it a gimmick?
Well, now some researchers say there may be some veritas in that eccentric viticulture.
Scientists at the CREA Research Laboratory in Tuscany are trying to verify some of those claims.
PAOLO STORCHI, Director, CREA Research Laboratory (through translator): Prior research shows that there is a positive impact on plant growth, as well as insects, when certain sound waves act as a deterrent for pests.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: He also speculates that Mozart music mimics the frequencies of running water, which might explain why the grapevines stretch and grow towards the speakers.
Now Storchi and his team are trying to verify yet another potential benefit.
ALICE CIOFINI, Researcher, CREA Research Laboratory: Yes, now I'm going to cut a leaf.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: To see if music prevents the growth of fungus.
So, you're looking for the right wavelength that is going to keep this plant from getting an infection?
ALICE CIOFINI: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: People have long considered plants to be lower life-forms than humans.
It was Aristotle who said that plants are on the edge between living and nonliving.
And in the Old Testament, Noah made room on the Ark for the animals, not the plants.
But, today, there's a movement in science to recognize plants as sensitive and even sentient creatures.
STEFANO MANCUSO, University of Florence: Because plants are not just able to live.
They are able to sense.
They are much more sophisticated in sensing than animals.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Stefano Mancuso, from the University of Florence, seen here giving a TED Talk, is one more scientist studying Cignozzi's musical vineyard in depth.
STEFANO MANCUSO: And they are also able to show and to exhibit such a wonderful and complex behavior that can be described just with the term of intelligence.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Of course, there are skeptics.
Does anyone ever call you crazy?
CARLO CIGNOZZI (through translator): Sure.
The Italians are the worst.
It's like hitting a wall.
They tell me: "Carlo, don't mess with wine."
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But among the believers, Cignozzi also counts Bose, the high-end speaker producer.
The company has sponsored his 120-speaker sound system, stretching 25 acres, and even inside his cellar, where resident wine master Federico Ricci speculates the musical vibrations help with the fermentation process inside these barrels of prized Brunello, much in the way that swirling wine in the glass can unlock its most subtle flavors.
FEDERICO RICCI, Wine Master, Paradiso di Frassina (through translator): It's certainly very different.
It has different chemical characteristics.
It has many more polyphenols inside.
Polyphenols give color to wine,as well as all those antioxidants that give it body.
So this definitely makes a better wine.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: But does the music have to be Mozart?
Scientists say it could be anything, from the Rolling Stones to Barry White.
But Cignozzi disagrees.
He can't get enough of Mozart.
CARLO CIGNOZZI (through translator): I have tried a variety, like Gregorian chants.
But, for me, Mozart is the composer of nature.
It's the most geometric, the most profound, the most cheerful, yet the most mysterious.
Such is Mozart.
Such is my wine as well.
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Christopher Livesay in Montalcino, Tuscany.
AMNA NAWAZ: As we reported earlier in the program, TV legend Betty White has died at 99.
Her career spanned more than 60 years, and included a whole host of unforgettable roles.
NPR TV critic Eric Deggans joins me now to talk about White's legacy and her role in making sitcoms appointment viewing.
Eric, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
Always good to see you.
Betty White did it all, right?
She did talk shows and sitcoms and movies and hosting.
It's not fair to ask this question, because you can't cover six decades in one answer, but what stands out to you over that decades-long career?
ERIC DEGGANS, National Public Radio: Well, a few things stand out to me.
Number one, she was someone who did -- she was old-school showbiz, in the sense that she did everything.
And she did everything and made it look effortless.
So, when she was starring in radio, when she was a queen on game shows, she was a great panelist on game shows,and then she transitioned to sitcoms, and she even produced her own talk show.
NBC asked her to co-host "The Today Show" many, many years ago.
She didn't want to move to New York, so Barbara Walters got that job.
(LAUGHTER) ERIC DEGGANS: I mean, she did so many things.
And then, later in her life, she transitioned to doing commercials and sort of being this saucy grandma kind of character.
So, she did so many things well.
And then, in her private life, she was also an advocate for -- against animal cruelty and for animal rights, and someone who always seemed to be on the right side of issues.
Even when she was starting her TV career, and she was hosting the show, and she had a Black performer on the show, and Southern states pressured her, Southern TV stations pressured her to drop that Black performer, she refused to do so, and, in fact, gave him more screen time.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, Eric, I, like millions of others, came to love her as Rose on "The Golden Girls," but do you have a favorite Betty White role?
ERIC DEGGANS: My favorite role of hers was as Betty White later in her career.
She developed this ability to poke fun at what people expected her to be because of her age, but she was still very sharp, very relevant, willing to poke fun at what people expected of her as an octogenarian.
And I thought that was -- I really loved that part of her career.
I loved seeing her host "Saturday Night Live" in her late 80s, after a public campaign from people on Facebook to push the show into having her as a guest host.
And so I really -- she does a great Snickers commercial for the Super Bowl.
I really enjoyed that part of her life, even though she did, of course, many, many great things before that.
AMNA NAWAZ: Eric, entertainment is such an age-conscious industry, especially for women, and Betty White really embraced her age.
In fact, I want to share with you one thing she told the AP in a recent interview.
She said: "Don't try to be young.
Just open your mind.
Stay interested in stuff.
There are so many things I won't live long enough to find out about, but I'm still curious about them."
I wonder what you think it was about Betty White that helped her to find generation after generation of new fans.
ERIC DEGGANS: What I think was great about Betty White is that she was smart and talented, and I think she also understood how to find the funny in whatever she was doing whenever she was doing it.
So, when she was on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," she was playing a character who was sweet on the surface, but, when you got to know her off-camera, was very cynical and aggressive.
And then, when she was on "Golden Girls," she played a character that was more naive and open-hearted.
And then, when she was on "Hot in Cleveland," she played a character that was kind of like the saucy grandma, who had this secret life of raising all kinds of heck that you never thought that she would be involved in.
And she always found a way to make those things funny and evolve with the times and figure out how to present herself in a way that would be really entertaining to people, and that they would also find really appealing.
And that is something that's not easy to do, especially over a 60-year career.
It's just amazing how much she achieved.
AMNA NAWAZ: That is NPR's Eric Deggans helping us remember the life and legacy of Betty White.
Eric, thank you so much for your time.
ERIC DEGGANS: Thank you for having me.
AMNA NAWAZ: At Boston's Museum of Fine Arts these days, you can find a patchwork of American stories assembled one quilt at a time.
Jared Bowen of GBH Boston has our look as part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
JARED BOWEN: Of the nation's art forms, it's among the most deeply embed, quilts, not that we or even some of the most acclaimed quilters have always recognized that.
MICHAEL C. THORPE, Artist: Looking around the house, we always had quilts, either maybe on the couch or on the wall, which is crazy to me, because I never looked at them as like art objects.
JARED BOWEN: But after leaving a career as a college basketball player behind, and realizing another career in photojournalism was not for him, a year-and-a-half ago, artist Michael C. Thorpe began quilting, something he'd always watched his mother, Susan Richards, do.
MICHAEL C. THORPE: She got a quilting machine.
And I started playing around with it, and then started to understand that I could use that as, like, painting.
And that's when it just exploded, because she showed me everything, and then I just I took it from there.
JARED BOWEN: And it's landed him here, in the Museum of fine Arts, as one of the artists featured in the exhibition Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories.
Thorpe's quilts are normally colorful and joyous, but he made this piece the day after George Floyd's murder.
MICHAEL C. THORPE: Basically, I kept coming back to, like, what do people think of Black men?
And a lot of this came from putting the burden on the audience, you know, because everyone was talking about Black people are always burdened with telling people about the situation, living through the situation.
And I was just like, I want to relieve myself of that and give it to the audience.
JENNIFER SWOPE, Curator, Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories: I think, if we can agree on anything, it's the story of our nation is a complicated one, and we're living that now.
JARED BOWEN: Jennifer Swope curated this show and traces how the history of America has been woven together in quilts spanning centuries.
JENNIFER SWOPE: There's always the incredible story of the American quilting bee, where early suffragists came together and plotted to expand the franchise of voting or to promote the ideas of abolitionism.
And that's deeply baked into the idea of the American quilt.
JARED BOWEN: Quilts told the story of cotton and corduroy landscapes, of rural family life, and of trauma.
JENNIFER SWOPE: We have Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi's work Strange Fruit II, which is about the song popularized by Billie Holiday, which is graphically gut-wrenching.
It shows lynched bodies on a tree.
It shows Ku Klux Klan figures.
And that will give people pause, and rightly so.
JARED BOWEN: But artist Bisa Butler's quilt is halting for its shimmering portraits of Atlanta's Morris Brown College baseball team from 1899.
How masterful is this piece?
It's so layered.
It's layered in theme.
It's layered in practice.
JENNIFER SWOPE: I think layered is the perfect word to use.
What I think she really wants people to do is to look carefully at each of these figures and recognize their individual humanity.And she does that really by creating these portraits in color and cloth.
JARED BOWEN: Here, we also find one gallery transformed into a virtual temple.
It features the only known surviving quilts by Harriet Powers side by side for the first time.
JENNIFER SWOPE: She's an icon.
What she was able to achieve is astounding.
JARED BOWEN: A former enslaved woman, Powers is considered the mother of African American quilting.
She renders life lessons in this pictorial quilt from the late 1890s.
But it was her Bible quilt, sewn a decade earlier, that made Powers a sensation, after it was exhibited in an Atlanta fair visited by nearly a million people, including then-President Grover Cleveland.
JENNIFER SWOPE: These were the offspring of her brain, as she described them.
And they were precious to her.
And she brought such deep thinking.
Like, her whole cosmology is part of those works of art.
There's nothing unplanned, not deliberate about these two pieces.
JARED BOWEN: As a strong tradition of quilting bees reminds us, quilts are commonly communal efforts.
Gee's Bend is an Alabama community that's taken on nearly mythical proportions for a quilting tradition that has passed from generation to generation since the 19th century.
JENNIFER SWOPE: Aesthetically, the quilts of Gee's Bend are incredibly special.
People have described the quilt as the product of what we might think of as a school of art, in a sense that it was a tight community.
JARED BOWEN: Community prevails in these works, even for artists like Thorpe, who work independently.
MICHAEL C. THORPE: It takes a village to make anything.
And, literally, every piece of fabric get made come from my aunt's quilt shop, may come from just like a local fabric store, but it takes all these people.
Everybody's contributing to it.
It feels there's like a community behind me, because I couldn't do it without my mom, without my family, without all these people that make these amazing fabrics that I use.
JARED BOWEN: Allowing for stitches that, in time, render the fabric of a nation.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jared Bowen in Boston.
AMNA NAWAZ: Finally tonight, we wanted to take a look back at some of the images that have defined this incredible year and hear from the photojournalists who captured them.
MARIO TAMA, Getty Images: My name is Mario Tama.
I'm a staff photographer with Getty Images.
This year, I covered COVID impacts in Southern California, Louisiana, and Brazil.
MARCUS YAM, The Los Angeles Times: My name is Marcus Yam.
I'm a foreign correspondent and photojournalist for The Los Angeles Times.
I was in Kabul during the fall of Afghanistan.
Little did I know I would see the swift change of power.
JUSTIN SULLIVAN, Getty Images: My name is Justin Sullivan.
I'm a staff photographer with Getty images.
I'm based in San Francisco.
This year was a busy year for me.
I covered a lot of stories that revolved around the drought that's happening in the Western United States and also a lot of wildfires.
LEAH MILLIS, Thomson Reuters: My name is Leah Millis.
I am a senior photographer for Thomson Reuters.
I cover politics, breaking news, feature stories, other things around the world.
ASHLEY GILBERTSON, VII Photo Agency: So, my name is Ashley Gilbertson.
I'm a photojournalist.
I live in New York City, and I'm with the photo agency called VII.
And I do a lot of work as a freelancer for The New York Times.
And they said, do you want to go to Washington tomorrow?
Because there's going to be this Stop the Steal rally, and we're looking for some pictures of impassioned Trump supporters and whatever else happens.
And as I got to the lawn on the Capitol, behind the Capitol, I could see that there was a group of Trump rioters now, and they were pushing and smashing a door and windows at one of the rear entrances.
So I ran straight towards that.
They got in, and I was one of the first 20 people into the place, and I followed this crowd as they moved through the corridors.
And some of them put their hands up.
And there was shouting.
And so I move in front to see what's going on.
And I see that there's a police officer standing there, and he's shouting at them.
I didn't know that he was protecting and trying to lead them somewhere else.
I didn't know that there was -- he was going to take them away from the chamber, where there were still senators inside.
That police officer, who we now know is Eugene Goodman, to me, was the sole act of real courage that I saw.
LEAH MILLIS: The one photo that I caught a flashbang in is a very imperfect image.
Part of the exposure is kind of blown out.
But I think the photo really resonates with people because it kind of captures the shock of what was going on.
I remember looking around and just being in complete disbelief or shock.
I could have never imagined a scene like that.
MARCUS YAM: Photographic coverage of what went on in Afghanistan was so important, because the world saw quickly how tragic things became.
In the 24 hours leading up to the Americans leaving, I -- there are these key moments that I remember.
I remember there was gunfire rattling in the air out throughout the night.
And it was like the Taliban had won the Super Bowl.
It felt so surreal being inside that airport as they took over.
And I thought, this is a new chapter in Afghanistan's history.
And I remember thinking to myself, I will -- I will look back at this day and remember this for the rest of my life.
JUSTIN SULLIVAN: Covering the wildfires in California is definitely eye-opening, and it has evolved so much over the 20 years that I have been covering them.
They're much bigger now.
They're much more unpredictable, dangerous.
We have had wildfires in California this year that almost burned a million acres, which is a first.
And it's devastating.
And to see towns go up in flames, people's homes go up in flames, livelihood, farms, it's heartbreaking.
And it's like -- I mean, this story about drought and wildfire, it affects everyone in California.
Whether you like it or not, you're going to get -- you're going to get impacted by smoke.
You're going to get impacted by the fire itself.
You're going to be impacted when the water runs out.
It affects everyone.
MARIO TAMA: I think the role of photojournalists during the pandemic and during other mass casualty events and natural disasters is to document the human side of these crises.
And, for me, it was really important to document the reality that was happening in the hospitals and the really unfortunate, tragic reality of the cemeteries and the mortuaries.
And I remember walking through one of the hospital corridors, and -- in one of the COVID wards, and one of the nurses said to me: "The world needs to see this.
Thank you for being here."
And I kept those words in the back of my head.
AMNA NAWAZ: And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight and for 2021.
I'm Amna Nawaz.
For all of us here at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you for joining us.
Have a safe and happy new year.
And we will see you very soon in 2022.