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Takeaways From California’s Democratic Presidential Debate, Science Playing Catch-Up To Pot Culture, And Film Critics Discuss ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’

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What happened at the sixth Democratic debate Thursday — we break it down. Plus, recreational weed is legal in California but the research into the risks and benefits of marijuana is still lagging behind, hampered partly by strict prohibition in the past. And, the Skywalker saga comes to an end. Our film critics are here with a spoiler-free review of “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”

Speaker 1: 00:00 The last democratic debate of 2019 was held last night at Loyola Marymount university in Los Angeles. The debate was a coproduction of the PBS news hour and Politico, it was the smallest field so far with just seven candidates taking the stage. A wide range of subjects were covered and there were some fireworks. Joining us now to talk about it is senior politics and government editors, Scott Schafer of KQBD in San Francisco. Scott, welcome. Thank you. What are your main takeaways from last night's debate? Well, I think, you know, all these candidates have upped their game since uh, the beginning of this very long election season. I think they all had relatively strong performances. Uh, having just seven candidates, relatively small number I think was beneficial to all of them. They each got more time to discuss their points of view and I think the viewers and the listeners got a, a better chance to maybe flesh out some of the differences between the candidates.

Speaker 1: 00:55 I mean, a lot of the attention clearly was on all of the criticism that was directed at Pete Buddha judge the mayor of South bend, Indiana. Both by a Senator Elizabeth Warren and AB Klobuchar in particular. Uh, on the other hand, I think he was quite well-prepared. Uh, and I think we, you know, what, what Democrats are struggling with before and after this debate is who can beat Donald Trump. And I, I'm not sure that, uh, things are any more clear, uh, today than they were yesterday on that point. You know, I think all the candidates last night made a pretty good case. Um, especially, uh, you know, the top tier, the top four or five candidates. And I would have to say that Amy Klobuchar really used her time well last night and, uh, I wouldn't be surprised to see her move up in the polls in Iowa after that performance.

Speaker 1: 01:39 I wanted to ask you about her because you know, after every debate, CNN talks to the same group of Iowa voters. A few of them are still undecided, but a majority now support Senator Amy Klobuchar. Um, what did you think of her overall performance last night? Well, you know, she's had very strong performances all along. I think because she got more time. She had almost as much time last night as a, the leading candidates, uh, about 20 minutes. Um, and she was also able to redirect the conversation a couple of times. Uh, she interrupted this sort of a argument between Warren and Buddha judge over fundraising in a way that put the spotlight back on her. You know, she makes a very compelling case for being someone who has won several times, uh, in the state of Minnesota, which is a somewhat purple state, doing much better than other Democrats running statewide in Minnesota.

Speaker 1: 02:27 So that speaks to the electability issue and she's also made a strong case for her experience and what she's done in the Senate, you know, in contrast, say with Pete Buddha judge who is competing in that same sort of middle lane, um, for more moderate voters, pragmatic voters may be, uh, that, uh, yeah, she knows how to work with Republicans, but she also knows how to win Republican votes. Uh, and so I think she really helped herself last night you mentioned the fireworks over fundraising between Senator Elizabeth Warren and mayor Pete booty judge. What or who did you think came out on top in that exchange? You know, it's a political road shock test. I mean, I don't think that either one of them necessarily persuaded anybody on that issue. I don't think they won or lost voters either. One of them I think, uh, you know, I think people would've been, Buddha judge was clearly ready for that attack.

Speaker 1: 03:17 He was able to sort of pivot and say, Hey look, I'm the only one up here who is in a millionaire or a billionaire. And also point to her, uh, you know, maybe a bit of hypocrisy taking money from her, us Senate races and shifting it over to the presidential campaign. And that was money raised from big donors as well. But I think it was kind of a wash. I mean, I do think campaign funding and financing is not necessarily an issue that is the top one, two or three issues for most voters. So I'm not sure it really mattered. I think it did show the ability of both of them to, you know, both take a punch, land a punch and make their point clearly. And I think, you know, in that sense they both did well after what were widely viewed as spotty performances in previous debates.

Speaker 1: 04:01 Joe Biden seemed to be on his game last night. Um, how do you think he did? Yeah, I think he was a, it was very cogent. I mean, somebody described, uh, Joe Biden previous to last night as watching sort of a single propeller airplane land in a storm. And you never quite know how it's gonna, how it's going to come down. And I think last night he was more focused. His answers were more concise and clear. Uh, his points were I think a little more, um, had a little more edge to them. He interrupted appropriately, I thought last night, uh, to make his point, he kind of shooed away Bernie Sanders. So I, I think he showed more energy, more focus. And uh, I think he, uh, he also laid back at times. I mean, he was not the focus of anybody's attacks really. Uh, and I think that benefited him. So I think for those who were maybe nervous as to whether or not he's up for the task of taking on Donald Trump in November of 2020, uh, you know, I think maybe he reassured some of those voters, Andrew Yang chastised Democrats for obsessing over the impeachment of president Trump.

Speaker 1: 05:03 How was that received? I think he's right. Uh, you know, all the candidates will say that, uh, impeachment almost never comes up on the, uh, on the campaign trail. Uh, it's something that the, you know, it's obviously an important issue, but it's not one, it's not one of those kitchen table issues. You know, the country is divided right down the middle, 48, 48 or so, 50, 50, basically on impeachment. Uh, it's not going to be a vote getter. Uh, and so I think he's right. And we know Bernie Sanders will be making a stop here in San Diego tonight. 6:00 PM at Sandia CGIAR high school for an immigration rally. How did you think he did last night? He did. Well, uh, you know, Bernie Sanders is a little, is easy to underestimate. He has a very strong base of support among younger voters, Latino voters also, he does quite well with, uh, and they're very, very die hard supporters.

Speaker 1: 05:54 He's very well organized in California. He's got a of ground operations and offices throughout the state. He's been here many times, and of course he's quite well known from 2016. So I do think, although he's not a fresh face this time around, he is somebody who has a, a very solid chance, uh, certainly of, of winning the California primary, uh, whether he'll go on to take the nomination is another, another question. Altogether. I've been speaking with Scott Shaffer, our senior politics and government editor at KCU, E D Scott, thanks so much for joining us. You're welcome.

Speaker 2: 06:31 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 More people are buying marijuana. Since California legalized its retail sale two years ago, KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina chop mommy says the scientific research to show consumers the risks and benefits of marijuana use is just starting to accelerate. Her story is today's installment of our week long series, high hopes California's pod experiment, bass heavy music thumps through West Hollywood cafe. I'm Thursday night, we'll smoke, fills the air, not from cigarettes. Those are banned inside California restaurants. These vapors are from marijuana because this is the original cannabis cafe, the nation's first eatery where customers can order marijuana products with their meals. Tonight, Ricardo Baca is sitting on an Island overlooking the patio. He's a renowned, independent marijuana journalists.

Speaker 2: 00:49 You look around, this is pretty normal. There's people of all ages, all walks of life. It's a pretty Shishi neighborhood.

Speaker 1: 00:57 California legalized retail sale of recreational marijuana two years ago. The original cannabis cafe opened in October.

Speaker 2: 01:04 I think what this tells us about where we are is that culturally cannabis has finally arrived in the mainstream,

Speaker 1: 01:11 but humans have been using marijuana since ancient times to treat health problems like insomnia, anxiety, and pain. Well, we know it can feel good to consume marijuana. There's still not enough science to really know what it does to the human body and brain. That's 50 years after THC was discovered. The molecule and marijuana that gets us high,

Speaker 2: 01:30 that showed up signal a wave of an international research. American drug policy prevented research from happening. In most parts of the world,

Speaker 1: 01:40 the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule. One elicit drug the same category. Heroin is in the label means there's literal federal funding for research into the health benefits of marijuana, but over the last two decades, States like California have stepped up to fill that research gap.

Speaker 3: 01:58 We did some of the early studies that showed actually that constituents of marijuana were helpful in controlling certain kinds of chronic hypersensitivity pain that are not well controlled by things like aspirin or Advil.

Speaker 1: 02:12 Igor grant is the director of UC San Diego center for medicinal cannabis research. The center began a few years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Some funding is federal, but the majority is state money and private donations. Researchers have already completed seven cannabis clinical trials with humans and more underway. Some of the other work that we're doing

Speaker 3: 02:32 engaged in moving forward are could Canab a dialogue, which is a non psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, a be useful in conditions like autism. Would it be helpful in managing the early symptoms of psychosis?

Speaker 1: 02:48 The new research is focused on endocannabinoids. These are natural molecules in the human body that sends signals different cells regulating processes like pain and appetite, and it turns out certain compounds in marijuana work just like those endocannabinoids. But grant says that schedule one federal classification still limits research.

Speaker 3: 03:10 People are often saying, well, California has legalized marijuana. You know, why can't we go to one of the dispensary's, buy a bunch of whatever it is and do a clinical study? It's absolutely illegal at the federal level.

Speaker 1: 03:24 Grant says there still a lot of questions like could marijuana products damage the liver if they're mixed with other substances? It's not just scientists that want to find out there's a growing appetite among consumers to get [inaudible]

Speaker 4: 03:35 some answers. So this is going to be your full indicus screen right here. It's going to be Chris Simpson is a bud tender at dispensary urban leaf in mission Valley. It's going to be a very nice in the code for when you are trying to help with sleep.

Speaker 1: 03:49 During my hour long conversation with Simpson, about two dozen customers shuffled into the dispensary.

Speaker 4: 03:54 A lot of customers would call us and see, what can I take for Parkinson's? What can I take for restless leg syndrome?

Speaker 1: 04:01 Simpson says he's done his research on marijuana and it makes him happy to help customers with their medical needs, but he doesn't like being seen as a doctor. It is a lot of

Speaker 4: 04:10 pressure on a public standpoint that we as a whole is what's helping these customers on a daily basis and we're not licensed like your medical doctors are.

Speaker 1: 04:20 Simpson says he hopes scientific research can accelerate because he sees the demand not only for recreational, but medical marijuana every day, and he doesn't want his customer's health depending on trial and error. Shalina Celani K PBS news.

Speaker 1: 00:03 The final chapter in the Skywalker saga is finally in theaters star Wars. The rise of Skywalker brings more than four decades of cinematic storytelling to an end. And we are convening mid day movies, film critics to give a spoiler free reaction. Once again, we have KPBS film critics and cinema junkie podcast host Beth haka, Mondo and movie Wallaces Yazdi Pathar Villa to share their views. Welcome to you both. Thank you. Thank you. Beth. You have been a fan of the star Wars film since the beginning, so, and you know, so that we don't give anything away. We will play a little bit of that famous John Williams score. Take a listen.

Speaker 2: 00:47 [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 00:47 Beth, how do you feel when you hear that music and what does that mean to see star Wars come to an end? Well, it's a lot, so there's not just a lot riding on this film, but I feel like I have a lot invested in it because I saw it when it first came out. I was 17 years old. I remember that music and the ship flying over your head and it became such an important part of my life and it was part of the reason I wanted to go into filmmaking and into film studies. So there's a lot, a lot of hope and expectation and trepidation going into this last film. So I just want to say you can breathe a sigh of relief cause I feel that this final film holds it pretty well. And as I, I had to say in my review, JJ Abrams does not pull a jar jar on us. Ah, yesterday you saw the first film, a new hope in India. What was that like?

Speaker 1: 01:42 I recall it very clearly. I saw it at the Sterling theater, which is this theater theater theater in, in Mumbai, in India. And I distinctly remember that after that famous opening scroll, you know, wisdom by a VC, the underbelly of this impossibly large space vessel, just like Beth mentioned, in retrospect, you'd go back and see it and it's only about five seconds, but it was so indelible watching this big thing go overhead that it's seared in my brain. It was awesome. So, so with no spoilers, what can you say about the rise of Skywalker?

Speaker 3: 02:15 You know, I loved Ryan Johnson's last jet. I for reminding us that you can be anyone to become a hero or a heroine in a story. And that was kind of the key thing about the films moving forward that I didn't want to see changed. And so without giving anything away, I can say I was satisfied by the end of this film with how that went. And I was happy with the film. I loved a lot of it. I felt like it did a lot of fan service, some of it great. Some of it that felt kind of calculated. But the one thing about this film is I didn't feel kind of like the excitement about star Wars that I feel every time I watch empire strikes back or even with the more recent rogue one you guys do. What'd you think?

Speaker 1: 02:56 I love the movie as well. I think it's difficult a movie to be everything for everybody. And I think that's the level of difficulty that JJ Abrams had. And I think the difference between Ryan Johnson's version and a JJ Abrams version, you know, speaks to the creative process itself. Like do you try to be different and we're off the mainstream or do you stick to the tried and true what people expect. And I think Ryan Johnson did that and JJ Abrams is now tasked to kind of course correct and bring everything back. I thought the film is very crisp. Even though it runs two and a half hours long, it's, it moves along very quickly and it was just very satisfying. You know, I came away feeling okay all as well.

Speaker 3: 03:37 Okay. So, so do you guys feel Abrams plated safe? Yeah, I think you kind of played it safe. I mean he kind of wanted to keep everything on track. I mean in a certain way this film is almost just like force awakens. They stick to a tried and true kind of formula. And you know, with a franchise like this, maybe you don't need to break like really new ground. But I want to feel some sort of sense of excitement from the filmmaker that there's something about this story that really gets to him. So I think he played it safe. But on the other hand he also got some genuine emotion in it. And it's nice to have some characters returning that we expect and also don't expect. And to me it, it does wrap it up in a nice way. I mean, you feel kind of good about the whole franchise and you know, like I said, the main thing with this is I, I just felt relief that they hadn't screwed anything up and I'm going to see it again on Friday so I can watch it with less tension and maybe appreciate it more seeing it a second time.

Speaker 3: 04:38 What'd you think?

Speaker 1: 04:39 Yeah, I think, uh, even even when this trilogy was first set up, the Ray Finn Paul, you know, dynamic as an archetype of the Luke Han and Leia grouping. So they were kind of re retreading a very safe path. I liked that. Uh, the second movie kind of weird away from that a little bit. And in this one, I think it's just bringing all the characters together. It's kind of allowing everybody to breathe and kind of reach the finish line together. So I, I found some sort of like elegant dignity to it, you know, just, just bring it to the finish line and let everybody be, who are they, who they were meant to be.

Speaker 3: 05:16 You know, the rise of Skywalker brings the original set of trilogies George Lucas had imagined to an [inaudible]. But is this the end of star Wars really well? Anything that has the potential to make money is never going to go away. And the hopeful thing about that is right now Disney is streaming a TV show called the Mandalorian. The first three episodes and the most recent one have been great. They're kind of a spaghetti Western take on star Wars and they're really fun. I want to thank film critics, Beth, Armando and yawns Pathar for joining us. And if you want to hear our critics rank the star Wars films or suggest what to check out on Christmas day, been listening to the mid day movies podcast available on

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.