Archives: Seasons 1-5

Supreme Court Decision Major Setback for Big Billboard Companies

In a major setback for some billboard companies, the California Supreme Court has unanimously declined to review an L.A. court ruling that could force the city to revoke permits for video billboards and to have them removed.

Interactive Data: DROP Pension Payouts to Police and Fire Employees Exceed $1 Billion

Two years ago, SoCal Connected looked into a little-known city program -- passed by the voters over a decade ago -- that allows for some veteran city police and firefighters to "retire" and come back to work with their regular pay, while the city pays into their pensions in an interest-accruing account. The Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, is also referred to as a city-sanctioned "double dip" by some. Our latest update reveals not much has been done to address those concerns.

And while the maximum individual payout in our 2011 story was around $900,000, the newly-released data in the chart below show one police chief and one fire chief cashed out at over $1 million each, and that's in addition to receiving their regular salaries. The total combined payout for all DROP participants that were reported to SoCal Connected exceeds $1 billion.

As our story points out, the main candidates in the upcoming mayoral election have been hesitant to discuss, let alone touch, this municipal sacred cow, lest it upset the police and firefighters' unions who support their campaigns.

Some argue the DROP program here and similar ones in other states have actually saved municipal governments on pension costs. We offer the following table of DROP participants for Los Angeles -- with names redacted by the city -- in the interest of openness and discussion.




Billboard Company Threatens City With $100 Million Lawsuit Over Digital Signs

In a move to protect its 84 digital signs scattered throughout Los Angeles, Clear Channel Outdoor sent a letter yesterday threatening a $100-million legal claim against the city.

The letter was sent just before a special working group convened Saturday at City Hall to come up with suggestions on a new citywide sign program.

SoCal Connected obtained the 11-page letter, which was sent to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Council President Herb Wesson. Clear Channel Outdoor's executive vice president and general counsel Sara Lee Keller stated in the letter that the company has already submitted required forms for monetary damages, a motion that Keller says is "clear notice of Clear Channel Outdoor's potential claims against the city," which "substantially" exceed $100 million.

Keller states "digital signs are valuable property," and the letter makes it clear the company will fight to keep them.

"The City is at a crucial juncture; it can trigger costly litigation that exposes taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars, or it can avoid the courtroom and resolve the legal status of digital signs in a way that reaps fiscal and aesthetic benefits for the City," Keller writes, adding that "Clear Channel Outdoor will be forced to protect its rights in court" if the city doesn't negotiate with the company.

Jim Cullinan, a spokesperson for Clear Channel Outdoor, told SoCal Connected, "We hope to resolve this situation without litigation, but as required by the city, we also filed notice with the City that we will pursue a damages claim in the event the City chooses not to resolve this situation."

Clear Channel's letter and claims arrived at Los Angeles City Hall just two months after a California Court of Appeals decision that struck down the city's 2008 settlement agreement between Clear Channel, CBS and Regency Outdoor. That agreement allowed three companies to convert traditional billboards to digital boards. A competitor, Summit Media, sued the city, claiming the settlement was illegal, in part, because it gave exemptions to the city's sign laws to just three companies. In December, the Court of Appeals agreed with Summit Media and invalidated the 2008 settlement agreement, which could force all of the digital billboards to be taken down. If that happens, Clear Channel suggests its loss of revenue could easily exceed $100 million. The company has now asked the California Supreme Court to review the case and a decision is expected soon.

In the event the California Supreme Court denies Clear Channel's review, the company says it has already asked the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department to figure out how Clear Channel's existing digital permits are legal under other parts of the city's municipal code. The company states in its letter to the mayor that it is "willing to negotiate relocation agreements with the City that would expressly validate these signs and their permits," which would include "sign take-down and public benefit concepts." Clear Channel also says it wants the option to relocate its signs to other parts of the city and has already filed permits to move two signs in West L.A.

"It's a beyond-belief tactic. It is just trying to frighten the city into what they want," said Dennis Hathaway, founder of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, which has long worked against the proliferation of digital signs in Los Angeles. "I think that the fact that it is coming the day before the visiting group that Clear Channel is a part of -- the timing is very bothersome."

Hathaway is part of a 32-person working group that met Saturday at City Hall. The working group will address if the signs should stay or go, if the city
should have a revenue sharing plan, and if it should require community benefits in exchange for digital signs. Joining community members were members of Clear Channel, other billboard companies, and their lobbyists.

Hathaway said Clear Channel Outdoor's letter "poisons" the work of the group. "Unless the working group comes up with what they want, they are going to sue the city. So what's the point?" he said.

The working group is supposed to present its report to the city's Planning and Land Use Management Committee in March.

Mayor Villaraigosa said he had no comment about Clear Channel's action because he hasn't had a chance to review it.

Ads promoting Clear Channel Outdoor 's digital billboards as public safety tools have been flooding the airwaves recently, and the campaign to portray the electronic signs as a benefit to residents and businesses continues in Keller's l1-page letter. It states Clear Channel Outdoor has devoted free advertising space on its digital boards to the manhunt for former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner and several nonprofits like United Way and The Leukemia Society, among others.

READ THE LETTER BELOW:

Charred Remains of Fugitive Ex-Cop Christopher Dorner Identified

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Charred remains found in the aftermath of a deadly gunbattle and fire at a Big Bear cabin were positively identified Thursday as those of a fugitive ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer accused of killing two people in Irvine, a Riverside police officer and a San Bernardino County sheriff's detective.

Officials in San Bernardino County said they used dental records to identify the remains of 33-year-old Christopher Jordan Dorner.

Dorner died at the end of a fierce gunfight Tuesday afternoon that led to a standoff at a Seven Oaks cabin in Big Bear. Sheriff's deputies eventually fired tear gas canisters into the cabin and a fire erupted, burning the structure to the ground. Charred remains were found inside later that night, but it took investigators until Thursday to positively identify them as Dorner.

At 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies received a report of a man matching Dorner's description stealing a car from a cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear.

The cabin's owners, 66-year-old Jim and 56-year-old Karen Reynolds, said they arrived around noon Tuesday to clean it for a pending rental and were surprised to find someone matching Dorner's description inside.

Telling the couple he wouldn't harm them and was just trying to clear his name, the man used plastic zip ties to bind their hands and legs and put towels in their mouths and pillowcases over their heads before forcing them into a back bedroom, the couple said.

He told the couple he had been in the cabin since as early as Friday and had watched them from inside as they did yard work outside before he fled to sleep elsewhere, they said.

After Dorner left, the couple managed to free themselves and call authorities.

Their stolen vehicle was spotted along Highway 38 by state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers who began chasing the suspect. During the chase, he crashed, abandoned the vehicle and carjacked a man's silver pickup truck.

The suspect opened fire during the pursuit, striking the officers' vehicle, according to Fish and Wildlife Lt. Patrick Foy. The officers, who returned fire, were not injured, he said.

Officials say Dorner then engaged law enforcement officers in a wild gunbattle while holed up in the cabin on Seven Oaks Road just off Highway 38. During the exchange of gunfire, San Bernardino County sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay, 35, was killed, and Deputy Alex Collins was wounded. Collins was expected to make a full recovery.

During the standoff, police used a heavily armored vehicle to tear down walls of the cabin, then fired tear gas canisters inside shortly after 4 p.m. By about 4:20 p.m., the cabin was engulfed in flames. Several reports indicated that a single gunshot was heard emanating from the cabin before it burned down. As the fire raged, the sound of exploding ammunition could be heard from inside.

The manhunt for Dorner had been focused in the Big Bear area since last Thursday when his pickup truck -- apparently disabled by a broken axle -- was discovered burning on a forest road. Ironically, the Reynolds' cabin where Dorner was apparently hiding overlooked the Sheriff's Department command post that was established to coordinate the search.

Authorities say Dorner's killing spree began on Feb. 3, when the former Navy Reserve lieutenant allegedly gunned down the daughter and future son-in- law of an ex-police captain who represented him at a hearing that resulted in his dismissal from the LAPD.

The bodies of 28-year-old Cal State Fullerton assistant women's basketball coach Monica Quan and her fiance, 27-year-old USC public safety Officer Keith Lawrence, were found in Lawrence's car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium building.

The next day, Dorner allegedly posted a 6,000-word manifesto online, vowing to kill named LAPD officers and their families. About 50 Los Angeles police officers and their families were being protected during the manhunt, authorities said.

Last Thursday, Dorner was allegedly involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police guarding an officer's home in Corona, leaving one officer with a graze wound to the head, police said. About 20 minutes later, he allegedly fired on a pair of Riverside police officers stopped at a red light, killing Officer Michael Crain, 34, and wounding the other, who was expected to recover.

Crain, an 11-year department veteran and ex-Marine, is survived by his wife, Regina, and two children, Ian, 10, and Kaitlyn, 4. He was buried Wednesday at Riverside National Cemetery after a memorial service at Grove Community Church. Among the thousands of people paying their final respects were Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, military veterans and thousands of police officers from around the state and country.

Meanwhile, questions continued to linger about whether anyone -- such as the Reynolds couple or Big Bear carjacking victim Rick Heltebrake -- would be able to collect a $1 million reward that had been offered during the Dorner manhunt.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced the reward fund Sunday, and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued a statement saying they hoped the reward would be paid out, but the issue was still being reviewed by the various agencies and jurisdictions that contributed.

"Now that the search for Christopher Dorner appears to have concluded, we are addressing the issue of the $1 million reward," the statement read. "More than 20 jurisdictions and entities are involved in this reward, so all of them will be coming together to collectively determine whether any individual or individuals qualify for it. Our personal hope is that the reward will be distributed, but we must follow the rules and respect for the procedures of each entity."

Full Text of the Republican Response to the State of the Union

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) delivered the official Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. He is pictured here during a news conference on a comprehensive immigration reform framework Jan. 28, 2013 | Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Below is the full text of Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery and published by the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Good evening. I'm Marco Rubio. I'm blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate. Let me begin by congratulating President Obama on the start of his second term. Tonight, I have the honor of responding to his State of the Union address on behalf of my fellow Republicans. And I am especially honored to be addressing our brave men and women serving in the armed forces and in diplomatic posts around the world. You may be thousands of miles away, but you are always in our prayers.

The State of the Union address is always a reminder of how unique America is. For much of human history, most people were trapped in stagnant societies, where a tiny minority always stayed on top, and no one else even had a chance.

But America is exceptional because we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious, and that everyone everywhere has a God-given right to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

Like most Americans, for me this ideal is personal. My parents immigrated here in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one. They made it to the middle class, my dad working as a bartender and my mother as a cashier and a maid. I didn't inherit any money from them. But I inherited something far better - the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams.

This opportunity - to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life - it isn't bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs.

Presidents in both parties - from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan - have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.

But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn't tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.

This idea - that our problems were caused by a government that was too small - it's just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

And the idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers - that's an old idea that's failed every time it's been tried.

More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back.

More government isn't going to create more opportunities. It's going to limit them.

And more government isn't going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It's going to create uncertainty.

Because more government breeds complicated rules and laws that a small business can't afford to follow.

Because more government raises taxes on employers who then pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs.

And because many government programs that claim to help the middle class, often end up hurting them instead.

For example, Obamacare was supposed to help middle class Americans afford health insurance. But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with. And because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these businesses aren't hiring. Not only that; they're being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers.

Now does this mean there's no role for government? Of course not. It plays a crucial part in keeping us safe, enforcing rules, and providing some security against the risks of modern life. But government's role is wisely limited by the Constitution. And it can't play its essential role when it ignores those limits.

There are valid reasons to be concerned about the President's plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the President's agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.

When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can't control the weather - he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.

When we suggest we strengthen our safety net programs by giving states more flexibility to manage them - he accuses us of wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves.

And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts - cuts that were his idea in the first place.

But his favorite attack of all is that those who don't agree with him - they only care about rich people.

Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires. They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They're immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.

The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs.

And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security.

So Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.

Hard-working middle class Americans who don't need us to come up with a plan to grow the government. They want a plan to grow the middle class.

Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class. Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012.

But if we can get the economy to grow at just 4 percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion dollars over the next decade.

Tax increases can't do this. Raising taxes won't create private sector jobs. And there's no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That's why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy.

One of the best ways to encourage growth is through our energy industry. Of course solar and wind energy should be a part of our energy portfolio. But God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas. Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called "clean energy" companies like Solyndra, let's open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration. And let's reform our energy regulations so that they're reasonable and based on common sense. If we can grow our energy industry, it will make us energy independent, it will create middle class jobs and it will help bring manufacturing back from places like China.

Simplifying our tax code will also help the middle class, because it will make it easier for small businesses to hire and grow.

And we agree with the President that we should lower our corporate tax rate, which is one of the highest in the world, so that companies will start bringing their money and their jobs back here from overseas.

We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world's best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.

Helping the middle class grow will also require an education system that gives people the skills today's jobs entail and the knowledge that tomorrow's world will require.

We need to incentivize local school districts to offer more advanced placement courses and more vocational and career training.

We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice.

And because tuition costs have grown so fast, we need to change the way we pay for higher education.

I believe in federal financial aid. I couldn't have gone to college without it. But it's not just about spending more money on these programs; it's also about strengthening and modernizing them.

A 21st century workforce should not be forced to accept 20th century education solutions. Today's students aren't only 18 year olds. They're returning veterans. They're single parents who decide to get the education they need to earn a decent wage. And they're workers who have lost jobs that are never coming back and need to be retrained.

We need student aid that does not discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on - like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience.

When I finished school, I owed over 100,000 dollars in student loans, a debt I paid off just a few months ago. Today, many graduates face massive student debt. We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they're taking out.

All these measures are key to helping the economy grow. But we won't be able to sustain a vibrant middle class unless we solve our debt problem.

Every dollar our government borrows is money that isn't being invested to create jobs. And the uncertainty created by the debt is one reason why many businesses aren't hiring.

The President loves to blame the debt on President Bush. But President Obama created more debt in four years than his predecessor did in eight.

The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced budget amendment.

The biggest obstacles to balancing the budget are programs where spending is already locked in. One of these programs, Medicare, is especially important to me. It provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity. And it pays for the care my mother receives now.

I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.

Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today's retirees. Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the President going to offer his plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it.

Of course, we face other challenges as well. We were all heart broken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.

On foreign policy, America continues to be indispensable to the goal of global liberty, prosperity and safeguarding human rights. The world is a better place when America is the strongest nation on earth. But we can't remain powerful if we don't have an economy that can afford it.

In the short time I've been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight.

The choice isn't just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs.

We don't have to raise taxes to avoid the President's devastating cuts to our military. Republicans have passed a plan that replaces these cuts with responsible spending reforms.

In order to balance our budget, the choice doesn't have to be either higher taxes or dramatic benefit cuts for those in need. Instead we should grow our economy so that we create new taxpayers, not new taxes, and so our government can afford to help those who truly cannot help themselves.

And the truth is every problem can't be solved by government. Many are caused by the moral breakdown in our society. And the answers to those challenges lie primarily in our families and our faiths, not our politicians.

Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America. I pray we can come together to solve our problems, because the choices before us could not be more important.

If we can get our economy healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever.

And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation responsible for America's decline.

At a time when one showdown after another ends in short-term deals that do little or nothing about our real problems, some are starting to believe that our government leaders just can't or won't make the right choices anymore.

But our strength has never come from the White House or the Capitol. It's always come from our people. A people united by the American idea that, if you have a dream and you are willing to work hard, nothing should be impossible.

Americans have always celebrated and been inspired by those who succeed. But it's the dreams of those who are still trying to make it that sets our nation apart.

Tonight, all across this land, parents will hold their newborn children in their arms for the first time. For many of these parents, life has not gone the way they had planned.

Maybe they were born into circumstances they've found difficult to escape. Maybe they've made some mistakes along the way. Maybe they're young mothers, all alone, the father of their child long gone.

But tonight, when they look into the eyes of their child for the first time, their lives will change forever. Because in those eyes, they will see what my parents saw in me, and what your parents saw in you. They will see all the hopes and dreams they once had for themselves.

This dream - of a better life for their children - it's the hope of parents everywhere. Politicians here and throughout the world have long promised that more government can make those dreams come true.

But we Americans have always known better. From our earliest days, we embraced economic liberty instead. And because we did, America remains one of the few places on earth where dreams like these even have a chance.

Each time our nation has faced great challenges, what has kept us together was our shared hope for a better life.

Now, let that hope bring us together again. To solve the challenges of our time and write the next chapter in the amazing story of the greatest nation man has ever known.

Thank you for listening. May God bless all of you. May God bless our President. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

###

Officers Wounded in Police Shootout, Possibly with Manhunt Suspect

IRVINE (CNS) - A fired Los Angeles police officer wanted in connection with the slayings of two people in Irvine and a Riverside police officer allegedly exchanged gunfire today with law enforcement authorities in Big Bear, wounding two deputies, after apparently tying up two people and stealing their pickup truck.

The condition of the wounded deputies was not immediately known, a sheriff's official told KCAL9.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said deputies received a report at 12:20 p.m. that a person matching Christopher Jordan Dorner's description stole a truck from a home in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear.

A state Fish and Wildlife official told KCAL9 that wardens spotted Dorner in a vehicle along Highway 38 near 7 Oaks Road and tried to pull him over, but he refused to stop and opened fire on the wardens.

He then bailed out of the vehicle and ran away on foot, prompting a massive police pursuit and gun battle, the official said.

Police shut down major roads in and out of the Big Bear area.

Riverside County sheriff's officials said in a broadcast advisory that a man believed to be Dorner was involved in a home-invasion robbery at the home on Club View Drive and two people were tied up inside the house. The suspect fled in the couple's 2008 white Dodge pickup with a back hitch, according the Riverside County sheriff's broadcast.

On Feb. 3, Dorner allegedly gunned down the daughter and future son-in-law of the ex-police captain who represented him at a hearing that resulted in his dismissal from the LAPD. The bodies of 28-year-old college basketball coach Monica Quan and her fiance, 27-year-old USC public safety officer Keith Lawrence, were found in his car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium building.

The next day, Dorner allegedly posted a 6,000-word manifesto on Facebook, vowing to kill named LAPD officers and their families. About 50 Los Angeles police officers and their families are being protected, authorities said.

On Thursday, Dorner was allegedly involved in the shootout with Los Angeles police guarding an officer's home in Corona, leaving an LAPD officer with a graze wound to the head, police said. About 20 minutes later, he allegedly fired on the pair of Riverside police officers stopped at a red light, killing Crain, 34, and wounding the other. The wounded officer was expected to recover.

Crain, an 11-year department veteran, was a former Marine. He is survived by his wife, Regina, and two children, Ian, 10, and Kaitlyn, 4. Crain left "an unforgettable impression" on everyone he met, Riverside police Lt. Guy Toussaint said. His funeral is set for Wednesday.

Full Text of President Obama's State of the Union Speech

Photo Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Ed. Note: Video from our complete broadcast of the speech and analysis will be available by noon Wednesday.

President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Tuesday in his first State of the Union address since being re-elected to a second term. The text, as prepared for delivery, follows.

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.
 
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.
 
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.

###

Two Police Officers Wounded, One Killed as Massive Manhunt Continues

Police shooting suspect Christopher Dorner met with then-Chief William Bratton personally prior to military deployment in 2006. He was the first officer to do so under a new LAPD program. | Credit: LAPD (August 2006 Beat newsletter)

Two officers were wounded and one killed in two separate shootings early this morning, both of which police suspect involved the ex-LAPD officer who is the target of a massive manhunt.

Police had launched a massive search for Christopher Jordan Dorner, who reportedly wrote an 1,100-word manifesto threatening "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" against all uniformed Los Angeles police officers after he was fired from the department.

Dorner is also suspected of murdering a high school coach and her fiance in Irvine. Monica Quan was the daughter of retired police captain Randy Quan, who was directly involved in the review proceedings that led to Dorner's removal from the force, according to the L.A. Times.

The first officer-involved shooting occurred in Corona at 1:24 a.m., according to LAPD Officer Rudy Lopez.

Officers were participating in the hunt for Dorner, when they were flagged down by a witness who claimed to have seen him. The two officers soon spotted a blue Nissan Titan matching descriptions of Dorner's vehicle and began to follow. After exiting the freeway, Dorner reportedly stopped, got out of his truck, and fired upon the officers with a "shouldered" weapon, according to Lopez. One officer was grazed by a bullet, the other uninjured.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise has that interview in the YouTube video below.

In Riverside some time later, two officers were stopped at an intersection for a red light when they were reportedly ambushed by a shooter. One officer was killed, another injured, according to Riverside Police Lt. Guy Toussaint.

Toussaint related the details in a press conference captured here by the Press-Enterprise:

Toussaint said there was a "strong likelihood" that Dorner was involved, but said the investigation is continuing.

One reporter asked "Do you consider yourselves under attack?"

"Based on the circumstances of the shooting, yes I do," he said.

UPDATE: L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned LAUSD Not To Hire Former Priest

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UPDATE from Karen Foshay, 2:30 p.m.:
L.A. Archdiocese spokesperson Tod Tamberg tells "Socal Connected" the diocese has sent notices to the LAUSD regarding people accused of misconduct who either have current or former ties to LAUSD, and have offered to share information over the phone. We have not received follow up to those letters."

Tamberg couldn't say how many letters have been sent and but did say they the letters involved persons the diocese believed would be of interest to LAUSD.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese tells "SoCal Connected" it was made aware, in 2001, that defrocked priest, Joseph Pina had applied for a job with the Los Angeles Unified School district after resigning in disgrace from the church in 1998. Recently released church documents reveal Pina began having sexual relations with a 16 year-old girl while he was still an active clergyman. The documents detail his admission that he became attracted to the young girl after seeing her dressed as Snow White when she was in the eighth grade.

Over the weekend the LAUSD told "SoCal Connected," in an email, they did not have information of any communication between the Church and the school district. But this morning, Tod Tamberg, Director of Media Relations for the LA Archdiocese wrote in an email to "SoCal Connected" they had communicated with the LAUSD regarding Pina. "The Archdiocese received an employment questionnaire from the LAUSD in August 2001 regarding Joseph Pina. In response to the question: 'Should the Los Angeles Unified School District consider anything else regarding this candidate's employment suitability?' the Archdiocese checked the box, 'yes,' adding that we would 'not recommend him for a position in the schools.' In response to the next question on the form, 'Would you hire this person again?' the Archdiocese checked the box 'no.'"

Tamberg goes on to write "there is no indication in our files of any further contact from LAUSD regarding Mr. Pina once the form was returned to the LAUSD."

According to Waldman Pina began working at the district in January 2002, after clearing a Department of Justice fingerprint and background check. The former priest was hired as a Community Outreach Organizer, who coordinated and attended dozens of community events throughout the city. LAUSD says he is no longer employed with the district.

Pina resigned from the Church after being admitted to at least two in-patient treatments centers for engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct. There were also a other allegations of "boundary issues" with Pina and other minors.

LAUSD Employment Questionnaire Regarding Joseph Pina

Disgraced Former Catholic Priest Involved in Sexual Misconduct Went to Work at LAUSD

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Additional reporting by Karen Foshay, Lata Pandya, and Miguel Contreras.

[Update - Monday, February 4, 1:41 p.m.: L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned LAUSD Not To Hire Former Priest]

Joseph D. Pina was a Catholic priest for 26 years in Southern California until he left the church after repeated admissions of a sexual relationship with a minor. "Socal Connected" has learned Pina later went to work at Los Angeles Unified School District.

According to recently released church documents, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was aware as early as 2009 that Pina was working for LAUSD, despite his extensive record of sexual misconduct as a Catholic Priest. It's unclear if church leaders informed the district of Pina's past.

Pina, whose last assignment was at St. Emydius Church in Lynwood, Calif., resigned from the priesthood in March 1998. A review of the LAUSD website shows Pina has worked as a community organizer for the school district as early as February 2002.

In an email to "SoCal Connected," LAUSD's director of communications, Thomas Waldman, confirmed former priest Joseph Pina is "the same Joseph Pina" who has been working at the district. Waldman did not have employment dates or Pina's current employment status. As a community organizer at LAUSD, he organized and attended dozens of community outreach events throughout the city.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday for a new occupational center in Bell, an event Pina reportedly organized for the district, one man told "SoCal Connected" that he worked with Pina and that Pina served "as community rep for this project." When asked if he was aware Pina was a former priest involved in a sexual misconduct case with a minor, the man, who declined to give his name, said he didn't know the personal life of Joe "at all" and then said he had no further comment.

Tiffany Mansour, who was helping community organizers at the Bell event, reviewed a photo "Socal Connected" showed her and recognized Pina as an LAUSD employee who has worked with her mother for a number of years. She recalled Pina used to be a priest but said she was shocked to learn that he has been involved in a sexual abuse case.

It is not known whether LAUSD knew anything of Pina's background when he was hired. In Waldman's email to "SoCal Connected," he said he had "no information of any conversation between the Church and LAUSD regarding Mr. Pina's past in the priesthood." Calls to the church's public information officer were not returned at press time. "SoCal Connected" also made numerous attempts to locate Pina, but neighbors told us he didn't come home Friday night, and they had not seen him. Pina did not return our phone call.

The once-confidential church documents reveal Pina sought treatment on several occasions for sexual misconduct. A psychological evaluation dated Oct. 8, 1993, and written to Monsignor Timothy Dyer said Pina "remains a serious risk for acting out." The document goes on to say, "Over the years he's perfected his method, and his behavior suggests that single Hispanic female mothers and possibly minors are at risk for becoming victimized." The evaluation's author concludes with a recommendation, "I would advise the Archdiocese to take appropriate measures and precautions to insure that he is not in a setting where he can victimize others." The archdiocese sent him to at least two in-house treatment centers and a halfway house for sexual offenders, but also returned him to several parishes, until Pina resigned in 1998.

The documents additionally revealed the church stood behind Pina and offered words of support and comfort, support that came from the man at the very top: then Archdiocese Roger Mahony. "Dear Joe," wrote Mahony in June 1990, "I just want to renew in writing my esteem, affection and prayers for you during these days of some trial." Mahony ends the letter by writing "you continue to have my prayers, my support and my friendship."

The Pina files raise serious questions about the extent of the church's systematic cover-up, and whether any steps were taken to inform LAUSD of the former priest's troubled background while he was working for the nation's second largest school district.

In his resignation letter to the parishioners of St. Emydius dated March 14, 1998, he wrote "the time has come for me to seek more serious help for my personal issues. For some time now I thought that I was working on my recovery issues diligently and honestly. However, I was not."

Watch more on this story on "SoCal Connected" on Monday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on KCET.

Update, Monday, February 4: L.A. Archdiocese Says It Warned LAUSD Not To Hire Former Priest

(Photo Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

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