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Obama Delivers Vision for the Middle Class


President Barack Obama delivered an ambitious State of the Union speech Tuesday that began with a sweeping plan to "reignite" the American middle class and culminated with a rousing call for new restrictions on gun ownership.

His agenda faces stiff opposition from his Republican opponents in Congress. But the president, trying to sustain the momentum from his re-election victory and an unabashedly progressive inauguration address, threw the gantlet at their feet.

Appearing before a joint session of Congress, Obama started with a challenge to enact a series of tax reforms, spending cuts and job-building government investments that he said wouldn't raise the federal deficit.

“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next," Obama said. "Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another."

Obama's economic proposals included:

  • Cutting Medicare subsidies to drug companies
  • Raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 and linking it to increases in the cost of living
  • Creating a federal program to fix deteriorating bridges, ports, pipelines and schools
  • Making "high-quality" pre-school available to all children
  • Rewarding schools that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math
  • Withholding federal aid to colleges that don't keep tuition costs down

"Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Obama said. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth. "

The speech, Obama's fifth State of the Union, was watched by millions of people, though television networks were focused in the hours before and after the address on developments in a manhunt in southern California for a fired LAPD officer suspected of revenge slayings.   

Obama's speech marked his next significant step in pursuing his second term agenda -- and outlining what he hopes to be his political legacy.

As in the case of all modern-era second-term presidents, Obama has relatively little time to spend his political capital toward something broad and meaningful. So he put together a speech that could be seen as a sequel to his remarks last month at his second inauguration, when he aimed big with a call for stricter gun control, the right for gays to marry, a better response to climate change, and expanded rights for immigrants.

But Obama, still struggling to meet the lofty expectations of his 2008 election, spent most of his speech on the fitful economic recovery, framing his arguments by appealing to the American ideal of equal opportunity for all.

"A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs -- that must be the North Star that guides our efforts," Obama said.

"Every day," he continued, "we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"

He started with a list of examples he said proved America's progress: the return of troops from war, the creation of six million new jobs, an uptick in the purchases of domestic automobiles, a decline in the purchase of foreign oil, a "healing" housing market and a "rebounding" stock market.

“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger," Obama said.

But that progress, he said, was tempered by the reality that "millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded."

He added: "It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class."


Obama described his plan as "a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share."

It will begin, he said, with reforming Medicare by cutting subsidies to drug companies and higher payments from wealthy senior citizens.

At the same time, Obama said, the tax code needs to be reformed, to eliminate tax loopholes and deductions "for the well-off and well-connected."

Virtually all of his economic proposals face a tough fight with Republicans in Congress. Republicans have already reluctantly agreed to increase tax rates on the wealthiest Americans in exchange for extending Bush-era tax rates for everyone else. But they will likely push back on Obama's latest plan. They say the president isn't serious enough about cutting spending.

In that context, Obama's speech could be viewed as a prelude to their upcoming battle over the budget as more than a trillion dollars in automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect next month. The impact, Obama said, would be devastating.

"We can't just cut our way to prosperity," he said.

Obama appealed to both parties to seek compromise.

"I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform will not be easy," the president said. "The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans."

Obama saved his most emotional appeal until the near-end of his address, when he said that the December massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., had changed the debate over gun control. Obama and his allies in Congress have proposed bills that would ban certain types of weapons, or expand background checks. He challenged Congress to consider them all.

“If you want to vote no, that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

He invoked the case of Hadiya Pendleton, the 14-year-old Chicago girl shot and killed days after performing at Obama's Jan. 21 inauguration. Her parents attended the speech.

"They deserve a vote," Obama said.

"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," he added, referring to the former Congresswoman debilitated by a January 2011 assassination attempt.

He continued: "The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence -- they deserve a simple vote."

Obama pushed for other things that he hopes will establish his legacy long after he leaves office four years from now. He urged Congress to pass legislation that would allow many immigrants in the country illegally to become citizens. He proposed new research into dealing with climate change.

Obama announced that 34,000 troops would leave Afghanistan in the next year, reducing the total U.S. military presence there by half, on course for a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.

And he promised to seek treaties to reduce the number of nuclear weapons around the world. That message included a repudiation of North Korea's test this week of a nuclear device. 

The State of the Union was followed by a rebuttal from Republican freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising GOP star who could run for president in 2016. He accused Obama of hurting the middle class with tax increases and deficit spending.

"I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy," Rubio said.


Obama is scheduled spend the next few days on the road, talking elements of his speech in campaign-style stops in North Carolina, Georgia and Chicago.

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Photo Credit: AP

DUI Suspect's Wife Arrives Drunk at Police Station: Cops


Hamden police charged a mother and father with drunk driving just hours apart from each other.

According to police, April Cassidy Velez, 32, drove to Hamden Police Headquarters Saturday to bail out her husband after his DUI arrest earlier that day. Cassidy Velez appeared intoxicated and was arrested, police said.

Officers found April Velez's pickup truck parked in a snow bank in an area of the parking lot marked "Police Vehicles Only." They found an empty wine bottle and empty beer cans in the truck as well as a full six-pack of beer resting in the snow in the bed of the pickup, police said.

April Velez's husband, Edwin Velez III, 33, was charged with drunk driving around 5:30 p.m. Saturday after police located his car crashed into a snow bank on Pine Rock Avenue. The car was empty with the engine running. Officers located Velez at his Pine Rock Avenue home a short distance away and arrested him after he failed a field sobriety test, police said.

Edwin Velez, who had his wife and 5-year-old daughter in the car with him at the time of the crash, was nearly three times the legal limit.

Edwin Velez is charged with driving while intoxicated and risk of injury to a minor. April Velez is charged with driving while intoxicated. Both were released and scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22.

Photo Credit: Hamden Police

Obama Highlights Hadiya Pendleton In SOTU


President Barack Obama on Tuesday highlighted the recent shooting death of Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton in his call for "commonsense reform" to the nation's gun laws.

"In the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun," Obama said during his fifth State of the Union address.

"One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house," he said.

Pendleton's parents, Nate and Cleo, were seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama to witness the address.

Obama has made gun reform one of the main priorities of his second term, and his comments of Pendleton's death weren't the first time he mentioned Chicago in a major speech. As he announced last month a package of executive actions and proposals aimed at reducing gun violence, Obama nodded to the city's murder rate while pointing to several recent massacres, including the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"The most fundamental set of rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago, are too frequent a basis to tolerate," he said.

Obama also included his hometown in a list of tragedies while reacting to the Newtown shootings.

"As a country we have been through this too many times," Obama said. "Whether it's an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children."

The president gave his State of the Union address just one day after charges were filed against two reputed gang members in Pendleton's murder. A judge on Tuesday ordered them held without bond.

Pregnant Woman Pulled on Sled During Blizzard


Neighbors in Naugatuck joined forces to help a woman in labor during Sunday, after the blizzard had dumped three feet of snow on their street.

Lauri Wood, a mother of four, went into labor with her fifth child Sunday morning.  The family car was buried under snow and roads out of their neighborhood were impassable.

Lauri's husband, James Wood, along with a group of neighbors,created a makeshift sled out of a car luggage carrier to help pull Lauri through the snow for hundreds of yards.

"I was in the bathroom crying. I said I'm not getting in this. This is insane, this is ridiculous," Lauri Wood said.  "He was like 'we have to go.'"

So James put his wife in the sled and with the help of several neighbors, began pulling her through the snow.

"I'm trying to hold onto the sides and I'm slipping all over the place as they're trying to take the corner, I'm trying to go with them. I'm contracting, it was either cry or a laugh," Lauri said.

It took five men to pull Wood more than a thousand feet to a plowed street.  

“If you walked it today, it’s not that much, but with all that snow, pulling a pregnant woman… it’s not as easy as it seems,” said James Wood.

The Woods then jumped in a car and made it to the hospital just in time.  Their son, Jimmy, was born an hour later.

Marco Rubio's Water Grab Preserved in GIFs


It started out fine.

Marco Rubio, looking well-kempt in a suit and blue tie, steadily delivered the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address.

He insisted that a strong middle class was driven by a "vibrant free economy" and not by Washington.

He touched on Obama's Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare was supposed to help middle class Americans afford health insurance..."). He touched on immigration (..."we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."). He made it through education, student loans, Medicare and the economy. But then it appeared he got thirsty.

"The choice isn't just between big government or big business," Rubio began.

Suddenly, he lurched forward to grab a drink of water, took an audible gulp, returned the small Poland Spring bottle to a table and continued with his speech.

"What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs," he said.

The gesture baffled commentators, from social media personalities to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

Many went on to create GIFs, create a @thirstyrubio Twitter account and tweet their wittiest responses to the reach that would be forever preserved in slow-motion graphics.

Photo Credit: NBCNews.com

Businesses Hurt by Blizzard


The blizzard hurt businesses across the State of Connecticut.  Many had to close for several days, and on Tuesday night, many were still blocked by the snow.
Giant snow banks in West Hartford had become more than just an inconvenience. "Our on street parking has been virtually non existent," said Jose Rene Martinez.  He owns J. Rene Coffee Roasters and depends on that parking along the street for his customers. 

The snow covered up every single spot. "It was such a downpour, everyones been struggling with where to put the excess snow,' Martinez added.  He said customers weren't coming in as a result. "It’s been an adjustment," Martinez said.
Business started to pick up across town at Bridgewater Chocolate on Lasalle Road now that street parking opened up. "It has been crazy we were closed Friday to Sunday," said manager Sarah Hill.  She said the place was swamped on Tuesday, and it almost made up for thousands of dollars in lost sales. "It's been like Christmas time it’s been insane," she added.
In New Britain workers at Weber’s Nursery Inc. made up for lost time. "We are backed up."  Vases came in today that came in last Friday," said owner Dorine Carroll. On Tuesday night she scrambled to make dozens of Valentine's day arrangements.  She couldn't get here for days because of the snow. "Very busy…swamped," Carroll explained. 

Her next challenge would be delivering the gifts on snow packed streets.  She worried some might not make it. "We’re calling to ask them has your road been plowed," she said.  Like many others, she needed the snow to melt soon. "The weather definitely needs to cooperate," Carroll said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

New Haven Tows Cars for Blizzard Clean Up


Anita Knapp's car was jutting onto Whalley Avenue Tuesday night. She needed to move it otherwise she'd get towed away.

"I'm not on the street. This is my car. I'm here trying to give medications to people," said Knapp, who is a visiting nurse and didn't know about the city's tag and tow operation. "Whatever, I will pull forward if they pull their van forward. That's the best I can do. I need to finish giving medications in this house."

Whalley Avenue is one of the roads tow trucks went on Tuesday, getting cars off of it and other main arteries to make sure plows can get down them. The towing will happen until 6am Wednesday morning.

Knapp was one of the lucky ones who came out in time. A car in Fair Haven wasn't so lucky. The ticket will cost the driver $100 and the tow $88.

Many cars fell victim to the city's emergency tag and tow operation. The city's goal is to clear all main roads like Grand and Whalley Avenues of snow. These streets are also labeled emergency snow routes.

"We recognize it’s not a pleasant task to do but considering that we have mounds of snow here behind me in order to bring passageway…we have no other choice," said Jim Travers, Director of Transportation and Traffic for New Haven.

Police and city officials came over loud speakers warning residents of the impending tow program. They also did reverse 9-1-1 calls and even alerted local aldermen.

"My car was stuck since Friday in Hamden and now I gotta move my car again because they wanna move the snow," said Dana Scruggs who didn't know about the towing until NBC Connecticut told him. If I would’ve come out and my car would’ve been gone and I would’ve been pissed. Really pissed!!"

Anita Knapp finally moved her car across the street because she had to come back to finish her medications.

"It has been absolute misery trying to get through Hamden and small streets in New Haven," Knapp said.

The City of New Haven is telling drivers still parking on the streets to move their cars to a New Haven school parking lot. Starting Wednesday the city wants cars parked on even sides of the street so they can continue to clear the snow.

Photo Credit: AP

Full Transcript: Obama's State of the Union Address


Below is the full transcript of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, delivered to the nation on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union - to improve it is the task of us all."

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

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But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs - but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs - but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget - decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

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Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion - mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars' worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They'd devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That's why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as "the sequester," are a really bad idea.

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms - otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won't grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents - understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that's the approach I offer tonight.

On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I'm proposing go even further. We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We'll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn't be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital - they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don't violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn't make promises we cannot keep - but we must keep the promises we've already made.

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can't pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That's what tax reform can deliver. That's what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won't be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let's set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I'll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns. So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar - with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before - and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year - so let's drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That's why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long. I'm also issuing a new goal for America: let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America - a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina - has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Tonight, I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let's start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That's holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there's a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today's rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What's holding us back? Let's streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance.

Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top - a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math - the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It's a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new "College Scorecard" that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made - putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship - a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let's get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

But we can't stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day's work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we've put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That's wrong. That's why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here's an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let's also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it's virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let's offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who've got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let's put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We'll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We'll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we'll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood - because what makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one.

Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity - broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class - that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged - from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don't need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we're doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don't end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands - because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That's why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today's world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union - because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon - when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, "There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that."

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can - and will - insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk - our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I'm Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families - gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans - investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans - no matter where they live or what their party - are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That's why, tonight, I'm announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I'm asking two long-time experts in the field, who've recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I've said tonight matters little if we don't come together to protect our most precious resource - our children.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans - Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment - have come together around commonsense reform - like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I've outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring - they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read "I Voted."

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside - even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, "That's just the way we're made."

That's just the way we're made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens. It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we're made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Black Ice This Morning, Flurries Tonight


Use caution on the roads on Wednesday morning because black ice has created some slick spots.

There have been no major incidents, but crews responded to a rollover crash on Route 72 in New Britain this morning.

Light snow or flurries are in the forecast for tonight.

Expect a dusting to 1-to-2 inches of snow overnight, especially across the shoreline.

The dusting comes as the state continues to dig out from the 2-to-3 feet of snow that fell during the blizzard and several schools are either closed or opening late.

More than 150 school closings and delays are posted this morning.  You can check them here.

Photo Credit: Connecticut Department of Transportation

Snow, Ice Complicate Fire Response in Hampton


Firefighters battled a house fire at 86 East Old Route 6 in Hampton on Wednesday morning and snow and ice from the weekend blizzard made that fight difficult.

Smoke alarms alerted the family of the fire. They were able to make it out safely and called 911 around 12:30 a.m.

The fire in the 3,000 square-foot home reignited several times over the morning and firefighters from more than six departments spent more than six hours putting it out. 

Snow mounds and icy roads made it difficult for firefighters to get water on the fire.

Tankers had to bring water from a pond about two miles away, but that took time.

“We’re on a small back road and we have a tanker shuttle that we can only go in one direction because the limited sides of the road from the snow accumulation, so a very difficult and very difficult to get to the drafting point where we would get water from just because of the snow,” Hampton Fire Chief Richard Schank said.

One firefighter was injured when he slipped on some black ice and broke his ankle.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but firefighters believe it started in the basement, where there is a wood-burning stove.

Photo Credit: Steve Miller, NBC Connecticut

Insurer Ends Coverage for Dog Bites by Pit Bulls


America’s infatuation with canines has led to a breathtaking rise in the number of dog bites – and in the amount of money that insurance companies pay to compensate the bitten.

In California, one major insurer is growling back.

Farmers Group, Inc., has notified policyholders that bites by pit bulls, Rottweilers and wolf hybrids will no longer be covered by homeowners insurance in the state.

The move has drawn criticism from pit bull rescue groups and trainers.

"It is offensive," said Candy Clemente, who trains pit bulls for the Animal Planet show "Pit Boss." They are condemning these breeds indiscriminately without giving the home owners a chance to prove their dogs are not vicious."

But insurers say that bites from pit bulls and the other breeds have gone up dramatically in recent years - along with the cost of settling damage claims.

“We reviewed our liability claim history and we determined that three breeds accounted for more than 25 percent of dog bite claims,” said spokeswoman Erin Freeman. “In addition, these three breeds caused more harm when they attacked than any other breed.”

The move by Farmers, which will go into effect for California homeowners as their policies come up for renewal, is one of several efforts nationwide by insurance companies to limit an ever-increasing level of liability for dog bites.

Across the U.S., insurance companies paid out $480 million to people who were attacked by dogs in 2011 – a 50 percent rise in just eight years, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute. In California that year, insurers paid more than $20 million to settle just 527 claims.

Interactive Map: Dogbite Claims

Just last week, a 91-year-old Desert Hot Springs, Calif., woman died after she was attacked by her two pit bulls. In San Diego on Monday, a woman and her daughter were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in another attack, after their two dogs attacked a 75-year-old woman who later died.

Emako Mendoza stepped outside her home to get a newspaper in June of 2011 when she was mauled by the two dogs. She suffered a heart attack and her left arm and leg had to be amputated. Mendoza died six months later.

To deal with the skyrocketing claims and attendant expense, insurers have adopted a number of new measures, the insurance institute said. Some, like Farmers, are asking customers to sign waivers acknowledging that bites will not be covered under certain circumstances.

Others are charging people extra for breeds like pit bulls, or refusing to cover dog bites altogether.

Still more insurers use what they call the “one-bite rule,” saying they’ll cover an attack the first time it happens – not if the animal bites someone else at another time.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, do not allow insurers to cancel or refuse coverage to owners of specific breeds.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Carjack Victim: "Dorner Came Out of the Trees"


Rick Heltebrake was near Highway 38 in the Big Bear area when he came face-to-face with Christopher Dorner -- the subject of a Southern California manhunt after a series of slayings linked to a revenge plot -- armed with a gun and "dressed for action."

Timeline: Revenge-Plot Slayings | Read: Full Manifesto | Map: LAPD Manhunt

Heltebrake became a carjack victim in the final hours of a widespread and nearly week-long manhunt for Dorner, the former LAPD officer who police said shot and killed three people before a deadly shootout with deputies Tuesday afternoon in Big Bear. The shootout began after Heltebrake's stolen pickup was found in the Angelus Oaks area (map) of the mountain resort community.

Heltebrake, who runs a Boy Scout Camp in the area, recognized Dorner when he saw him on a road near camp property, about a mile from Highway 38.

"Christopher Dorner came out of the trees," said Heltebrake.

A crashed vehicle, possibly also stolen by Dorner, was behind him in the snow, Heltebrake said. Dorner pointed a gun at Heltebrake and demanded his vehicle, he said.

Heltebrake, 61, told NBC4 Dorner said, "I don't want to hurt you" and told him to get his dogs from the vehicle.

"I stopped my truck, put it in park, raised my hands, and he said, 'I don't want to hurt you; just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog,' which is what I did," Heltebrake said. "He was very calm. I stayed calm."

Dorner was "dressed for action" in military fatigues and appeared to be wearing a protective vest, Heltebrake said.

Just seconds later, Heltebrake said he heard gunfire. He hid behind a tree and called deputies, Heltebrake said.

Later Tuesday, investigators found charred remains in a nearby cabin that burned after a shootout involving Dorner and deputies. A San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy was killed in the exchange.

Forensics tests will determine whether the charred remains are those of Dorner.

Photo Credit: TODAY Show

3 Hurt in Hit-and-Run in Southington


Three women were hurt in what police are calling a hit-and-run in Southington on Tuesday night.

Southington Police responded to the 800 block of Queen Street, in the area of the Outback Steakhouse, just before 10:30 p.m. and found three females along the shoulder of the northbound lane. 

Police said the victims were walking south in the northbound lane of the road when a vehicle struck them and fled the scene.

One of the pedestrians, Yan qiao "Joanne" Chen, 23, of Southington, was critically injured. 

Huai “Emily” Liu and Yang “Rita” Hong, both 23-year-old and of Southington, suffered serious, but not life-threatening injuries.

Two injured people were transported to Hartford Hospital and the third was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital.

Police said the evading vehicle might have been an SUV, possibly white or red, and was last seen traveling north on Queen Street.

Anyone with any information about the crash is asked to call Officer Timothy Wilk at (860) 621-0101, (860) 378-1600 x2352 or send an e-mail twilk@southingtonpolice.org.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Charred Human Remains Found in Rubble of Burned-Out Cabin


Charred human remains were found Tuesday night in the debris of a burned-out cabin in the Big Bear area, where law enforcement officials were involved in a shootout with a man believed to be a fired LAPD officer wanted for at least three shooting deaths, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

"Identification will be attempted through forensic means," the sheriff's department said in a statement released at 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Hours before the announcement, leading law enforcement agencies and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa denied reports that the charred body of Christopher Dorner was discovered in the rubble.

NBC4 reported the discovery based on a report from NBC News, citing a source inside the Los Angeles mayor's office. Villaraigosa told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that, contrary to reports, officials have not found the body and that the cabin was still too hot to enter as of 8 p.m.

Officials at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department also refuted reports that Dorner's body had been found inside the burned-out cabin.

"We believe (the suspect) is still inside that cabin that caught fire … (but) no one has been inside the cabin," said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

"We believe that the person that barricaded himself inside the cabin and engaged in gunfire with our deputies and other law enforcement officers is still inside there even though the building burned."

Homicide investigators are on scene, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

During an 8 p.m. news conference, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said that the LAPD will continue protecting law enforcement officers and their families that were named as possible targets in an 11,400-word manifesto apparently written by Dorner.

"Until we have confirmation, A, that a body was located and, B, that that body belongs to Christopher Dorner, the Los Angeles Police Department is gonna continue on with its high-profile protection detail of our officers," Smith said.

He added that it could take days or weeks to positively identify any body that may be recovered from the charred rubble.

The manhunt for Dorner turned into a fatal gunfight earlier in the day involving deputies and a standoff that burned a cabin in which authorities said they believe Dorner was barricaded.

One San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy was killed and another was wounded in a shootout before the standoff, according San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon.

At about 4:15 p.m., aerial video showed a structure on fire at the standoff location, Seven Oaks Mountain Cabins in the unincorporated community of Angelus Oaks (map).

The man in the cabin never emerged Tuesday afternoon after authorities shot tear gas into the structure and ordered him to surrender, an anonymous law enforcement official told NBC4.

Several walls of the cabin were knocked down with an armored vehicle, then authorities heard a single gunshot from inside, the source said.

The cabin was engulfed in flames shortly thereafter, but it's not clear how the fire started.

"It's my understanding that since the fire started, there has been no gunfire," Bachman said at an early evening news conference.

She said authorities have had no communication with the person in the cabin.

Timeline: Revenge-Plot Slayings | Read: Full Manifesto | Map: LAPD Manhunt

The cabins are about 5 miles southwest -- as the crow flies, over a mountain range -- from the town of Big Bear, where Dorner's burned-out vehicle was discovered Thursday after he allegedly shot and killed a Riverside police officer.

On Tuesday, deputies initially responded to a stolen vehicle report at 12:22 p.m. in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. A man matching Dorner's description stole a white 2005 RAM pickup, according to the report.

Rick Heltebrake, 61, told NBC4 that a man resembling Dorner approached him with a rifle and demanded the pickup. Heltebrake said the man assured him "I don't want to hurt you," and ordered him to take his dog and get out of the truck.

The man believed to be Dorner allegedly held a woman and her daughter, both housekeepers, hostage at a Big Bear cabin near a command center that was set up to coordinate the multi-agency search, according to sources inside the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The pair was interviewed by investigators and released.

The gunfight with the man believed to be Dorner began after a California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden noticed a driver matching the fugitive's description driving on Highway 38 at about 12:45 p.m. near Glass Road.

The warden attempted to pursue the driver but the chase was hindered by narrow roads, said Lt. Patrick Foy, with CDFW.

The warden then called for backup and three additional CDFW wardens in two separate trucks began pursuing the driver, Foy said, adding that all responding officers are part of a six-warden unit assigned to the manhunt.

Foy said the man was driving a purple Nissan -- which he may have commandeered from the two women hostages -- when he was first spotted by the CDFW warden. The driver crashed the Nissan before allegedly carjacking a white pickup truck, Foy said.

The driver opened fire on the truck carrying two CDFW wardens, Foy said. The pair, whose vehicle was shot numerous times, was not injured. But one of the wardens was close enough to the shooter to note that he looked like Dorner, Foy said.

He said that one of the CDFW wardens exited the truck and fired some 15 rounds at the suspect's vehicle, though it was not clear if the driver had been struck by the gunfire. The driver then fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin, authorities said.

Responding deputies encountered the gunman, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said.

"A brief exchange of gunfire occurred between the suspect and our deputies," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.

The two deputies were transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where one was declared dead.

Dorner was believed to have an arsenal of weapons that includes a semi-automatic rifle.

Highways 38 and 330 were closed for several hours in the Big Bear area. Officers in protective gear were checking vehicles at a Highway 38 roadblock south of Big Bear.

SWAT units and armored vehicles were seen traveling up the mountain road.

The Bear Valley Unified School District placed several campuses on lockdown.

The search for Dorner has focused on the San Bernardino Mountain resort community of Big Bear since Thursday, when his burned-out pickup was discovered south of Big Bear Lake. About 30 law enforcement personnel remained in Big Bear Tuesday morning.

Dorner's Nissan Titan pickup was found about seven hours after he allegedly opened fire on officers in Riverside County. The search for Dorner, fired from the LAPD in 2008, has included Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties and the San Diego area.

Teams on the ground and in the air searched the Big Bear area after Thursday's discovery of Dorner's burning pickup, but authorities said there had been no reported sightings of Dorner.

On Tuesday, investigators asked residents in the cities of Big Bear Lake, Moonridge, Sugarloaf, 7 Oaks Community (Converse Flats), Bluff Lake, Jenks Lake and Angelus Oaks who have surveillance cameras at their residences to review the video, starting on midnight Feb. 7.

Dorner was identified Feb. 6 as a suspect in the shooting deaths of a couple, including the daughter of a former LAPD captain, in Irvine. He was charged with murder Monday in the Feb. 7 shooting death of Riverside Officer Michael Crain.

More than 1,000 tips have been received since the LAPD announced a $1 million reward in the case. 

After Rampage, Grief for Survivors


As the last embers of the inferno that engulfed a cabin held by Christopher Dorner died down on Wednesday, police attention shifted to the cleanup – tying up loose ends of their investigations, making sure the body inside really was that of the fugitive ex-cop, and closing the cases on the killing spree that ended four lives.

But for Southern Californians touched by Dorner’s rampage, the agony of the past week and a half will continue.

Timeline: Revenge-Plot Slayings | Read: Full Manifesto | Map: LAPD Manhunt

Randal Quan, who worked hard as a police captain and then as a lawyer defending his colleagues when their jobs were in jeopardy, must live without his daughter.

Monica Quan had grown up beautifully, becoming an assistant basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton and becoming engaged to a young man who may have followed her father’s footsteps into a law enforcement career.

The Lawrence family was proud of Keith, Monica’s fiancé, who worked as a safety officer at USC and dreamed of a career among the ranks of those who protect and serve.

Two young children will grow up without their father, Riverside police officer Michael Crain, gunned down by Dorner while sitting in his patrol car at a traffic light. Crain’s partner, whom police have not yet named, was injured, and continues to fight for his life at a local hospital.

Crain’s wife, Regina, will have the company of hundreds of her lost husband’s colleagues at a funeral service planned for Wednesday, but she will still have to face a future without him. The scars left on her children, still unknown, will surely haunt all three of their lives.

The family of a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy killed during Dorner’s last stand will also experience these ripples of grief. The deputy, who was not identified as of Wednesday morning, died after coming to help two state Fish and Wildlife wardens who had spotted the fugitive on the winding, snowy roads around Big Bear Lake on Tuesday.

Other victims will also require healing: a mother and daughter who may have happened upon Dorner’s hiding spot when they came in to clean it will not soon forget that a killer tied them up and stole their car; a second San Bernardino County deputy still fighting for life at Loma Linda Medical Center.

Rick Heltebrake, who operates a boy scout camp in the mountains, will not soon forget the big man who pointed a gun at him and stole his pickup truck for a last stand.

"Christopher Dorner came out of the trees," Heltebrake said. Seconds later, Heltebrake said, he heard gunfire.

Those who love these survivors will try to help.

But in time the attention will die down, much like the embers from Dorner’s last hellfire on the mountain.

They will be left with their trauma and their grief.

Photo Credit: cui.edu/AP

Silver Alert for Missing Naugatuck Woman Canceled


Police have canceled a Silver Alert for a Naugatuck woman reported missing on Wednesday morning.

Ophelia Vanasse, 79, has been found.

Police said she has Alzheimer's disease and drove away from her Naugatuck home in green flannel pajama bottoms, a bright green t-shirt and a white wool hat, according to police.

Police said Vanesse was found in Plainville.


Photo Credit: Naugatuck Police

Riverside Officer Remembered as "Ideal Policeman"


The widow of a slain Riverside officer said life with her husband "seemed like a dream" when she shared memories of the man colleagues described at a memorial service Wednesday as a patient family man and the "ideal policeman."

Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz, military veterans, law enforcement officials and family members attended the memorial service Wednesday morning for Officer Michael Crain at Grove Community Church in Riverside. The 34-year-old father of two -- who was also a Marine and 11-year veteran of the Riverside Police Department -- was killed Thursday morning when he and a trainee officer were waiting at a stoplight in Riverside.

The Feb. 7 slaying is one of four connected to a former LAPD officer's revenge plot that targeted law enforcement officials and their families.

Speakers included Regina Crain, the officer's widow. She read the couple's wedding vows and shared memories of the family's weekend traditions.

"It just seemed like a dream," Regina Crain said of her husband. "I'm going to miss our weekends. Every Sunday morning I made breakfast. He loved his hashed browns in the morning. He wanted his bacon and eggs, but the hashed browns were most important.

"That's what I'm going to miss, things like that. That was our family bonding time. Family was just so important to him."

He attended ballet classes with his daughter and although Crain "never played a day of baseball in his life," he pledged to coach his son's youth team, Regina Crain said.

"He said, 'I'll figure it out,'" she said. "He made sure he could coach Ian's team."

She said she did not realize how many people were touched by her husband's life until the outpouring of support after his death.

Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz spoke directly to Crain's daughter and son.

"I know as you get older these stories about your dad will have greater meaning to you," said Diaz. "Mike was the ideal policeman."

Crain's military training prepared him for his leadership role in the Riverside Police Department, Diaz said. He was a patrol officer, firearms instructor, SWAT officer and helicopter observer.

"Because he was as good as he was, we made him a field training officer," Diaz said. "I think that we hoped that he could clone himself a few times over."

Ceremonies began with a procession from Acheson & Graham mortuary. The police escort passed under ladders extended from two fire department trucks near the entrance to the church.

Officer Brian Smith, who worked with Crain, was part of the procession. Smith, a field training supervisor, said Crain worked well with his colleagues.

"We worked graveyard (shift) together when he was a new cop," Smith said. "He's a patient man and hard worker.

"The emotions range from numbness to anger to fear that it happens to another one. The most tragic part is that way it happened -- two officers stopped at a red light, and they had no opportunity to defend themselves."

Law enforcement officials and other mourners followed a pipe band into the church. An overflow seating area was set up outside the church in front of a large monitor that displayed the service.

About 8,000 people attended the service, according to Riverside police.

Crain was born in Anaheim, the first of three children. He grew up in the Riverside area and graduated from Redlands High School in 1996.

Crain attended Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa before enlisting in the Marine Corps. He served two tours in Kuwait as a rifleman in the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 3rd Battalion 1st Marines and was promoted to sergeant.

"Mike was courageous," said brother Jason Crain. "My challenge to all of you, if you accept it, be like Mike. Show that we have honor and courage, and that we can make the sacrifices when an act of valor calls."

He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with 1 star, a Certificate of Commendation, and the Rifle Marksmanship Badge.

Crain then joined the Riverside Police Department, becoming a sworn officer in August 2001.

Retired detective Steve Pounds, Crain's training officer, recalled the first time he met the "tall, lanky" young man who added a "Sir" to the end of his answers to Pounds' questions. They met in the spring of 2001 when Pounds was asked to take an officer applicant on a ride-along.

"There was just something about him that screamed, 'Marine,'" Pounds said.

Crain (pictured, right) is survived by wife Regina, son Ian, 10, and daughter Kaitlyn, 4.

A fund was established for the officer's family. The money will go to Crain's children in the form of a trust fund.

"Mike was an amazing man," said Riverside Capt. John Wallace. "Mike continually gave of himself to others as a mentor, a training officer a backyard mechanic and a coach.

"Mike now takes on a new role, part of that elite group that have given that ultimate sacrifice."

Crain's death came two years after the shooting death of Riverside Officer Ryan Bonaminio, a 27-year-old Iraq War Army veteran.

Bonaminio was beaten and shot in Nov. 7, 2010 after encountering Green during a traffic stop. Bonaminio, a 27-year-old Iraq War Army veteran, was attempting to arrest Green after the subject fled the scene of a hit-and-run on Market Street.

A man convicted in the slaying of Bonaminio -- a shooting that occurred after the officer fell during a foot pursuit in a park -- was sentenced in June 2012 to death.

Crain's killing is among those connected to former ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, who was involved in a shootout that ended with a cabin fire Tuesday in the Big Bear area. Forensics experts will determine whether charred remains in the cabin are those of Dorner.

Man Threatens Plow Drivers in Middletown


Middletown police have charged a 56-year-old local man accused of grabbing a loaded double-barrel shotgun and threatening snow removal workers when he saw a plow moving snow toward his property on Friday, during the blizzard.

An employee of Country Club Landscape contact police around 4 p.m. on Friday to report that a man, later identified as James Bankowski, threatened him and his co-workers as they were clearing the parking lot of a condominium complex across from his George Street residence.

The plow worker said they were pushing a small pile of snow from Knoll Crest Condos, on George Street, across the street, when the city plow came by.

That was when Bankowski started yelling from his front porch, according to police,

Thinking the man was calling to them, one of the snow removal workers walked over and saw Bankowski had was waving a gun, The Middletown man raised it over his head and said, “Tell that guy to put the snow on his property or I’m going to blow him up,” a witness told police.
The man said “OK” and left.

When police called Bankowski, he admitted to the confrontation, according to police.

He said he was watching the snow fall when he noticed a plow pushing snow onto his property, according to the arraignment report.

This upset him, so Bankowski grabbed his double-barrel shotgun, went outside, followed the men and swore at them, according to the police report.

“I never intended to shoot anyone, just wanted to scare them enough to get my point across,” he told police, according to the arraignment report.

Bankowski was brought to Middletown police headquarters and charged with reckless endangerment, threatening and breach of peace.

He is being held on $50,000 bond and is due in court on Feb. 22.

Dental Chemical Spill Prompts Evacuation of Health Center


Community Health Center of New Britain on Washington Street in New Britain was evacuated as a precaution after a chemical spill in an exam room just before 10:30 a.m. 

The chemical, formocresol, is a commonly used in dentistry, officials said.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responded to ensure the spill is cleaned properly.

Everyone will be allowed back into the building once the spill is cleaned.

No one reported feeling ill.

Photo Credit: Todd Piro, NBC Connecticut

Towing Continues as New Haven Clears Streets


Over the next two days, crews in the City of New Haven will focus on clearing streets from curb to curb and removing the massive piles of plowed snow from city streets.

Nighttime tow and plow operations will cover the area of the city east of the Boulevard and west of the Quinnipiac River, (shaded green in the map below) an older section of the city that tends to have more narrow streets and limited off-street parking options.

City officials are asking all residents to park on the even side of the street overnight for the next two nights.

Daytime operations will clear the areas west of the Boulevard and the areas east of the Quinnipiac River, (unshaded on the map) which has wider streets and many off-street parking options. If residents remove their cars from the street, city officials do not anticipate having to tow in these areas.

Tow and plow operation for cars that are parked on the odd side of the street.

Residents of all streets east of the Boulevard and west of the Quinnipiac River are to park on the even side of the street on Wednesday and Thursday nights on Wednesday from 6 p.m. to Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and on Thursday, from 6 p.m. to Friday at 6 a.m.

Cars that are parked on the odd side of the streets listed above will be subject to tagging and towing.

Areas of the city not listed above will be cleared during the day on Thursday and Friday.

Since these areas have many off-street parking options, city officials are asking residents to park in their driveway.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/Amanda Raus
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