The timing can’t be coincidental. On Christmas Eve, the spy agency made public heavily-redacted reports that show it may have violated the law or internal policies for more than a decade. Responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NSA released details of improper surveillance activities — spying on American citizens, stalking love interests and allowing unauthorized access to sensitive information, among them. NSA critics will surely pounce on the new reports to push for greater oversight.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They say this one is different. The mayor of Berkeley, Missouri, insists that the case of 18-year-old Antonio Robinson is nothing like the case of Michael Brown, who was killed just two miles away in Ferguson. Robinson pointed but didn’t fire his gun, and the police officer responded with a “commensurate” three shots, according to the mayor and a fuzzy surveillance video. Scuffles quickly broke out after the Tuesday shooting, but Wednesday night saw protesters gather for a peaceful demonstration at the site.
After a turbulent year, Christian leaders are calling for peace. At a late-night mass in the Vatican, Pope Francis called for greater “tenderness” just hours after he phoned displaced Iraqi refugees to wish them a Merry Christmas. Christians in Iraq face an unprecedented threat as ISIS extremists drive ancient communities from their homes. Pilgrims from around the world gathered at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal called on Jews, Muslims and Christians to live together as equals.
They may not be popping bubbly, but workers have some reason to celebrate. Come January 1, the big-box chain will be ushering in raises at 1,434 of its stores, courtesy of minimum wage laws passed in 21 states. Wal-Mart’s average full-time hourly wage is $12.92, although about 6,000 of its 1.3 million employees only earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Bigger paychecks for unskilled workers can only help Wal-Mart escape its Scrooge-like reputation.
Who can you trust with a deadly virus? A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Atlanta accidentally sent live Ebola samples to another lab down the hall where a technician handled them without the protection of a mask. The worker, along with several colleagues, will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. The accident will fuel the CDC’s critics — the agency also mishandled dangerous samples of anthrax and the flu earlier in the year.
XBox and PlayStation networks attacked by hackers. (Bloomberg)
Russian president says government cannot afford vacation for workers. (CNN)
George H.W. Bush kept in hospital on Christmas Day. (USA Today)
Two more NY men arrested for threatening police. (Reuters)
Seth Rogen surprises fans at “The Interview” showing. (USA Today)
ISIS captures Jordanian pilot. (BBC)
Bush Sr. kept in hospital on Christmas Day. (USA Today)
NYPD faces influx of violent messages. (NYT)
Pakistan to try terror suspects in army courts. (Al Jazeera)
NORAD helps children track Santa’s sleigh. (USA Today)
Baby, it’s cold outside, so fire up your smartphone. For decades, the chimneyless have turned to the annual TV broadcast of a log burning in a hearth, a stunt dreamed up by a clever New York station manager in 1966. But the televised embers have entered the Internet age with versions available on Netflix, YouTube and Facebook, along with GIFs and tweets, of course. Yule Log 2.0 invites artists each year to reimagine the holiday crackle. Warm up your sense of irony, if not your home.
“Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” Those were the words of Command Module Pilot James Lovell aboard Apollo 8 on Dec. 25, 1968. Americans had watched in awe as Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders became the first people to orbit the moon. On Christmas Eve, the crew read from the Book of Genesis, retelling the tale of Earth’s creation. On Christmas morning, they anxiously restarted their engine to make the journey home. That’s when Lovell made his immortal announcement.
Critics get free speech too. The Interview can now be seen in a couple of hundred art house theaters and is streaming on Google, YouTube and Xbox. Now, confident of America’s victory over North Korean censorship, viewers can freely pan the “crapbasket buddy film,” with one reviewer even speculating that Sony hacked itself to drum up interest. Aside from its questionable artistic merit, some fear that the patriotic frenzy now surrounding the movie will actually feed North Korean propaganda about the American enemy.
It can be more fraught than the conversation about the birds and the bees. When you must reveal Santa’s real helpers, be sure to do it with compassion and care, experts say. Gently explain St. Nick “in terms of the spirit of giving, generosity, joy, kindness and love,” says one professor of psychology. Most children between 7 and 9 start questioning exactly who’s eating all of those cookies. Just don’t be in rush to rain down on those reindeer lest you destroy fertile imaginations.
Will he ever call it a day? The 17-season vet plans to stick with the Broncos through the 2015 season, assuming they’ll have him. Denver’s Monday night loss to Cincinnati — during which Manning threw four interceptions for the first time since 2010 — has raised questions about the 38-year-old’s longevity, but the Broncos will place more weight on his record-breaking 55 touchdown passes last season and the fact that, with 39, he’s in the lead again this time around.
Cheaper vodka is the solution to any economic crisis, right? Vladimir Putin has called for a cap on the price of his country’s favorite spirit, the cost of which soared when the ruble plummeted. He fears that if vodka prices climb too high Russians will turn to cheap and dangerous bootlegged alternatives. This is especially worrying in a country plagued by alcoholism, where 25 percent of men don’t reach 55. Putin may not care about his people’s rights or prosperity, but he’s apparently very concerned about their livers.