Saturday, November 24, 2012

'What Thanksgiving is all about': Breezy Point teen raises $80K, lifting spirits in devastated hometown

John Makely / NBC News
Standing in front of what remains of his aunt's house, Matt Petronis takes in the burned section of Breezy Point, N.Y., where more than 100 homes were destroyed by fire at the height of Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. It was his first day back in his hometown from college since the storm.

By Bob Sullivan

Matthew Petronis sat in his dorm room on Oct. 29, watching TV in horror as "my childhood burned down."

Petronis had spent the past three summers working as a lifeguard on Breezy Point beach, and had spent the first 19 years of his life learning how to walk, read, swim and throw a baseball in the idyllic Queens, N.Y., neighborhood. A sophomore at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., he thought he was a safe distance from Sandy's unforgiving storm surge. But as the first reports of a devastating fire on Breezy Point began to circulate, fear gripped him. His schools, his friends, almost everything he knew was there. He'd celebrated all 18 of his Thanksgiving Days with family there.

As the night wore on, it became apparent that the combination of wind, water and fire had dealt Breezy Point a potentially mortal blow. He felt helpless in his dorm room -- but not for long.

A star pitcher at Xaverian High School near Breezy Point, Petronis is now a promising southpaw on the Catholic University pitching staff. So he knows a little about working his way out of trouble.

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In a neighborhood hard-hit by Sandy, even people who are storm victims themselves find ways to bring Thanksgiving to others. NBC's Kate Snow reports.

Only a few hours after the near destruction of his community, Petronis set up the first fundraiser to help the neighborhood get off the mat. Before people routed by Sandy could even begin to assess the damage, he had embraced the new form of crowd-sourced charity and set up an online-donation tool at Within hours, he'd raised a few thousand dollars. He topped $10,000 a couple of days later.

Offers started pouring in, not just money. Accountants and lawyers offered to help him set up nonprofit status,which was granted by the IRS this week. Others offered to come to Breezy Point and help with reconstruction. Architects, carpenters, construction workers and good-hearted volunteers from across the country have offered to come for a week or two to Queens and help anyway they can. Petronis is managing both the money and the volunteers.

"People are running marathons to raise money for us, having free concerts for us. It's just crazy," Petronis said this week. In a way, the teenager has been the most personal link between Breezy Point, the most local of neighborhoods, and the outside world, full of folks desperate to help resurrect this treasured place. 
John Makely / NBC News
Matt Petronis waits for the bank to open in Breezy Point to set up the account for the donations he has received to help rebuild Breezy Point on Wednesday.

By Thanksgiving morning, nearly 1,400 donors had driven the fund above $78,000, all generated by a few creative clicks on a keyboard. Unlike other Sandy recovery funds, the money Petronis is collecting will go directly toward rebuilding Breezy Point.

In some ways, Petronis is lucky. His family – his parents, two brothers and two cousins they took in who recently lost their parents – has been squeezed into a studio basement apartment in Brooklyn for three weeks, looking for a more permanent place to live. Petronis' dorm room seems like a luxury accommodation in contrast. Naturally, he feels guilty about that -- but his life is hardly easy at the moment. He's juggling classes, mandatory study hall for baseball, keeping up with his family's rebuilding issues and managing the donations and volunteers.

"In other words, he's using business management major skills in a pretty useful way," said Catholic University baseball Coach Ross Natoli. "He's a free spirit, yet a caring kid. He has that New York can-do attitude. He's a terrific teammate."

In fact, the entire Petronis family knows something about being team players, Natoli said. Not only do they attend many games -- both home and away -- but Petronis' father, without being asked, started buying lunch for the players during long doubleheaders last year. Doubleheaders at smaller colleges tend to be long, inglorious affairs, often lasting 5 hours or more.

"When you play a sport in college you try to emphasize importance of what it really means to care about teammates and have their back," Ross said. "Matt is one of those guys. What he's done has not surprised me."

Petronis' fund did so well because he set it up quickly, taking advantage of all the publicity that Breezy Point received in the immediate aftermath of the storm. It's now the main gift-giving tool for outsiders who want to help Breezy Point. The money will be given to the Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund, to be administered by a seven-member board of directors.

"He did all this on his own, it's as simple as that," said Steven Greenburg, who will chair the disaster relief fund. "What he's done is magnificent, and a perfect example of what we do here in Breezy Point. It's just nice to see young people step up like this."

The money will be doled out to people who apply for it using anonymous forms, Greenburg said.

John Makely / NBC News
Matt Petronis gets a hug from Anne-Marie Willis at the Catholic Club, which has been turned into a distrubution center for donated supplies. Petronis celebrated his Catholic confirmation in the building.

"We have to do it that way, because everyone knows everyone on Breezy Point," he said.

For Petronis, the fight is personal.

"The place where I grew up during my childhood is almost gone, but that is not the case for the children that are growing up now," he wrote on the page. "They deserve to enjoy the same little piece of paradise I enjoyed when I was younger, so this is not just only for Breezy. It’s for the younger generation as well that I want to have the same childhood, but better."

The last few weeks of the fall semester -- the crush between Thanksgiving and Christmas, tend to be the busiest time in a student's calendar. But despite the papers and exams staring him down, Petronis went home Thanksgiving week to help with the cleanup. It was the first time he'd seen the destruction of his family’s Beach Road house in person.

"You just stare at in disbelief. I have so many emotions going through my mind," he said. "But there are so many positive things going on, and I really just want to help out, so I’m going to stay positive."

Petronis, who appeared in three games last year as a Catholic University freshman, had a disappointing end to his fall baseball season, pitching in a 2-1 loss to the Naval Academy. But one gets a sense there are a lot of wins in his future.

Already, Thanksgiving week has brought good things to his family. On Wednesday, Petronis was helping move furniture into a new apartment the family had just scored in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, not too far from Breezy Point. There, they'll be able to find a little more normalcy while they plan to rebuild their home and their lives. But the new apartment isn't nearly big enough for a family gathering so, for the first time, they'll be eating turkey dinner outside New York City – at an uncle's home on Long Island.

"It's going to be weird, switching it up is odd. But we will be around family, and that's what Thanksgiving is about," he said. And he vows Sandy will be just a bump in the road, that holidays will come to Breezy Point again.

To give to the Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund, visit Petronis' WePay website at:


Or send a check to:

Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund/C/O The Law Office of Lee and Kane
2175 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11234

Other places you can donate for Sandy relief, or offer help:

Florida woman Edwarda O'Bara dies after 42 years in coma

Love comes in all shapes, sizes, love does no harm, love is forever, even beyond death. 

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Miami Herald file
Kaye O'Barra kisses her daughter Edwarda on her birthday March 20, 2005. Kaye O'Bara took care of Edwarda until her own death in 2008.

By Kari Huus, NBC News

A woman who lived in a coma for 42 years, meticulously cared for by her family, died Wednesday in her home in Miami Gardens, Fla., the Miami Herald reported.
Edwarda O’Bara was a 16-year-old high school student in 1970 when she became sick from her diabetes medication and slipped into a diabetic coma.

According to the Herald, just before she lost consciousness, Edwarda asked her mother, Kaye O’Bara, to never leave her side, and her family never did.

Edwarda’s father, Joe O’Bara, and Kaye took care of their daughter — reading to her, playing her music, making sure she was turned every two hours, bathed, given insulin and given nourishment through a feeding tube — until their deaths in 1976 and 2008, respectively. After that, Edwarda’s sister Colleen O’Bara took over.

Miami Herald File
Kaye O'Bara talks with her daughter, Edwarda, in March, 1998. At that point, Edwarda had been in a coma for 29 years. Edwarda died Wednesday, outliving her mother by four years.

 The family’s story inspired the 2001 book, "A Promise Is A Promise: An Almost Unbelievable Story of a Mother’s Unconditional Love and What It Can Teach Us" and a song called "My Blessed Child," and it prompted people from around the world to travel to her Florida home.

"She taught me so much, and I’m talking about now, after she was in the coma," Colleen O’Bara told the Herald. "She taught me so much about unconditional love that I couldn’t say I had it before. She taught me about patience that I didn’t have before."

In an announcement of Edwarda's death posted Thursday on a website dedicated to her, Colleen O'Bara wrote: "Yesterday while taking care of Edwarda I noticed her looking directly at me and gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen. She then closed her eyes and joined my Mom in Heaven."

Edwarda O’Bara was 59. A memorial is scheduled for Tuesday.

Cooking a Thanksgiving feast in Breezy Point
John Makely / NBC News
Thanksgiving on Breezy Point: Terri Dodge and her fiancee Steve Peterson drove from Portland, Maine to Breezy Point, NY on Wednesday to cook Thanksgiving dinner for up to 30 people.

By John Makely, NBC News

In the weeks since Superstorm Sandy sent a wall of water through Breezy Point and more than 100 homes burned to the ground, the battered neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., has seen a flurry of activity with relief workers, volunteers and utility crews creating traffic jams on the one road into town.

Thanksgiving Day in Breezy Point started with a few residents still cleaning up and dozens of crews working on the natural gas lines, but little else happening -- except over by the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department where Terri Dodge and her fiancee Steve Peterson were in high gear cooking dinner in the parking lot.

John Makely / NBC News
Steve Peterson adjusts the heat under a deep fryer as a large turkey cooks.

Dodge and Peterson, who were recently engaged, drove from Portland, Maine, to Breezy Point on Wednesday and slept in their rented van next to the canned vegetables and coolers in the fire department's parking lot.

Thursday morning they started cooking for a guest list that kept getting longer. "First it was seven people, then we added 17 and now we're up over 30," Terri said as she carved one of eight turkeys. 

John Makely / NBC News
A deep-fried turkey is placed in a cooler to keep it warm until dinner is served.
John Makely / NBC News
Terri Dodge served up Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beens, yams, stuffing, gravy and a canned pork item grilled with maple syrup dubbed "Hurricane Ham"

Improvisation and outdoor cooking is not new for Terri and Steve. The couple run "A Lobster Affair" catering company in Portland, but cooking next to a flooded car in the middle of a town recently devastated by Sandy has offered some challenges. "We had to use bottle water to cook the potatoes - that was fun." The biggest challenge? "We need more side dishes, " she said as she mashed a pot full of steaming potatoes.

John Makely / NBC News
About 60 volunteers, police and firefighters enjoy a Thanksgiving meal prepared by Teri Dodge and her fiancé Steve Peterson at the Point Breeze Fire Department in Breezy Point, New York, Nov. 22.
John Makely / NBC News
Teri Dodge shows off the company patch she was given from Firefighter Sebastian Danese as she receives a round of applause for cooking Thanksgiving dinner at the Point Breeze Fire Department, Breezy Point, New York, Nov. 22.

Nearby, Mathew Bruno and Ryan Pascuzzi of the Westchester Fire Academy handed out turkey sandwiches to whoever was hungry.

John Makely / NBC News
Ryan Pascuzzi, left, a cadet with the New Rochelle Fire Department, hands out turkey sandwiches to Finbar Devine, center, Tim O'Malley and Tom Ball on 216th Street in Breezy Point.

"You've got to do your part" Pascuzzi said. "We're going to be devoting our lives to helping other people, we might as well start with a tragedy down here."

"This is my community," Bruno added. "I've been down here every weekend doing what I can, pumping out people's basements. It makes your day when someone gives you a hotdog, a hamburger or a sandwich while you're working trying to do your part. I've been on that side of working and doing the construction and now it's time for me to come down here and do what I can."

John Makely / NBC News
John Dalton, left, and his nephew Al Dalton salvage items from a neighbor's house before the home is razed. The second floor furniture was moved to Dalton's house at the owner's request.

Elsewhere in Breezy Point, John Dalton was salvaging bedroom furniture for a neighbor whose house will be razed. "I'm thankful that no one got killed in this area," Dalton said.

Older vets to post-9/11 vets: 'We had it harder.' Did they?

Brennan Linsley, AP
World War II combat veteran Ben Kauffman, 86, carries an American flag as he listens to a speaker during a Veterans Day ceremony in Loveland, Colo., on Nov. 11. Cultural fault lines clearly run between the generations that saw action in different conflicts or that wore the uniform in different eras, including peacetime.

By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor

The war stories from his grandfather, though sparse in detail, blended one moment of explosive drama with a vague reference of death — all wrapped around a description of how old-school military men used to handle both experiences.

David Weidman, who spent two tours in Afghanistan with the Air Force, recalls his late grandfather, a veteran of World War II and Korea, telling him that he survived having his body and his Jeep blown through a wall. He did not reveal to Weidman where that attack happened. He also gave his grandson some advice: “You don’t want to be in a foxhole talking to a guy one minute and then you turn around and he’s dead. You just don’t want to experience that.”
“He said he just dealt with it all. It’s that same mentality: ‘I did what I had to do. I got myself better then I went back to work.’ Other than that, he never spoke about the wars at all. That tells me he never did deal with it,” added Weidman, 32.

Cultural fault lines clearly run between generations of veterans who saw action in different conflicts or who wore the uniform in different eras, including peacetime. The refrain echoed by some older veterans to some younger ex-service members: “We had it so much harder than today’s military.”

It is, quite likely, a tradition that hearkens back to the Civil War or possibly the Revolutionary War, according to some ex-service members. But many post-9/11 veterans who have chatted with older veterans revealed the sentiment they've often heard carry the same note: “We just came home, put our heads down and got to work — without any whining."

Image: Members of the Army march up 5th Avenue during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11

Buried, not so subtly, in that message is that the current crop is a tad less tough and lot more needy. Some of that cultural gap may have to do with how aging veterans were taught not to talk about combat stress whereas today's military members are constantly urged to open up about any symptoms of anxiety they're feeling. It's a battle of Macho circa 1945 or 1970 versus Macho 2012.

This age-old cultural chasm between military generations has been further fueled in recent years as the modern American armed services welcomed far more women into its ranks (about 15 percent are female), and as the federal government repealed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which barred openly gay people from serving their country, modern veterans say.

“Human nature is that we all resist change, especially as we get older. The cultural changes, especially within the military, are hard to swallow by some people my age,” said Craig Roberts, who served as a carrier-based Naval pilot, flying missions over Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.

“I’m in my 60s now. And (some veterans my age) just take a blanket view of the military as softer now, that it is a less-difficult experience to live through. I don’t think that’s true at all,” Roberts said. “In combat, it doesn’t matter what gender is next to you, the experience is the same.

But the generational disconnect among veterans also impacted Roberts and tens of thousands of his fellow service members after they returned from an unpopular war in the early 1970s.

Click here for more military-related coverage from NBC News.

“We of the Vietnam era experienced some of that when we joined veterans services organizations — or attempted to join — and many felt rejected by the older fellas there from Korea and World War II,” Roberts said. “Because there was a resentment — they perceived that they had seen more severe combat than we were in. There may be some truth to that.

“So I think it may be a generational thing. As one gets older, one views one’s past life — the hardships and, sometimes, the triumphs — as being greater.”

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Heroes of long-ago wars find new homes with families across the country through a program that keeps the veterans out of nursing homes or hospitals.

While heading an organization that represents more than 200,000 veterans of from Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul Rieckhoff said he’s become well aware of what he calls “a little bit of a sibling rivalry” between generations of veterans.

“We all generally stick together (as veterans) but some of it is just more deeply ingrained,” said Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. In Iraq, he served as an infantry platoon leader, leading 38 men on more than 1,000 mounted and dismounted combat patrols.

“This is also just the military: Everybody thinks everybody else had it harder than every generation that came after them. You go to Fort Bragg and they'll tell you how much harder basic training was (years ago). That’s always there,” Rieckhoff said. “I think there’s also some some level of fear and apprehension just around the evolution of our culture. It’s happening in the military, too."

That this version of the American military is the first to include so many women “is hard for some people to accept,” Rieckhoff added. “And now that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has been repealed, that too is hard for some people to accept.”

While some young-old divides certainly exist within pockets of the veteran community, Rieckoff said “a tremendous sense of unity also descends generations." As evidence, he cited the fact that that the chairman of IAVA’s board (Edward Vick) is a Vietnam veteran and that, before Thanksgiving, Rieckhoff received a letter of support from former Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II veteran.

“I think most veterans, no matter what era, including my era — Vietnam — are not resentful, whatsoever, of the treatment given to today’s veterans,” Roberts added. “In fact, we celebrate this. We applaud it. This is what is due to them. Their combat experience and ours, while it is apples and oranges in some ways, was still — all — combat experience. The stresses of combat are the same, no matter what the venue is, no matter what the era is.”

Why Hezbollah is sitting on 40,000 rockets and missiles and sitting out the Gaza conflict

A flurry of violence hit Gaza Tuesday as Israel bombed a Gaza bank and targeted the homes of militants. Hamas responded with more than 100 rockets. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

By Robert Windrem, NBC News senior investigative producer

Mohammed Zaatari / AP file
Hezbollah supporters fix the party's flag on top of their rockets near the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanon, in this July 2007 photo.


For a week, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a war in and around Gaza, one in which thousands of rockets and bombs have been expended, scores have died, and tens of thousands have been forced to take cover. But to the north in Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Islamic militia that rained destruction on Israel in a 2006 war, held its fire. Why?
The consensus among U.S. government analysts and academic experts is that Hezbollah, which has controlled the Lebanese government for more than four years, believes discretion is the better part of valor. As it has in the past, as in Israel's Cast Lead Operation against Hamas at the end of 2008, Hezbollah decided against creating a diversion that would have helped its like-minded but only sometime ally.

Roger Cressey, NBC News analyst and former deputy counterterrorism director for the National Security Council, notes that Hezbollah is now essentially the government in Lebanon and has different responsibilities, different agendas. "There has never been a correlation between events in Gaza and Hezbollah's strategic decision-making," says Cressey.

That doesn't mean Hezbollah wants to make peace with Israel, just that it's biding its time, and more importantly that, in the words of more than one analyst, "it has no dog in this fight."

"Hezbollah is now the party in control of the Lebanese government," Dr. Robert Danin, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, told journalists in a conference call Tuesday. "That has a way of moderating one's behavior. If they attacked Israel, they know they would be taking the state of Lebanon to war."

Danin said Israel has made the distinction known to Hezbollah.

So Hezbollah is working off its own timetable, say analysts. The group has several equities it must be concerned about: Its political position in Lebanon, where as noted it is part of the governing party; the stability of one of its biggest protectors, the Assad regime in Damascus; and uncertainty over the political future in Iran, which has been its main protector and weapons supplier.

US seeks ‘durable outcome’ in Gaza truce talks, Clinton says in Israel

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attempting to bring about a ceasefire, or to prevent Israel from invading Gaza while convincing Egypt's president to pressure Hamas to stop firing rockets. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

"Hezbollah's focus is elsewhere," added Danin. "Its relationship with Iran, its relationship with the Assad regime ... Hezbollah is in a very vulnerable position. Without Syria, it would lose its lifeline to Iran."

If a Sunni government emerges in Syria, it would make Hezbollah's control of Lebanon even more complicated, even tenuous. "It is ironic that with instability in Jordan and trouble in Gaza, Israel's border with Lebanon is its most stable," Danin said.

In short, say analysts, the bar is set high for Hezbollah to get directly involved in the Gazan conflict ... with one exception: Hezbollah might move if it felt its arsenal of more than 40,000 rockets and missiles was threatened.

Both Israel and Hezbollah have to know that the success of the Iron Dome anti-rocket and missile system could, in the long term, dilute the value of that stockpile and could make Israel more confident in pursuing the Lebanese group.

Violence continues in Israel and Gaza amid hopes of cease-fire

That is unlikely happen for a while. Danin explained that Iron Dome, which has been so successful in knocking down Hamas rockets, is not designed to take out the long-range rockets and missiles in the Hezbollah arsenal. However, Israel does have a follow-on system, known as Magic Wand, based on the same basic technology, which could be effective against Hezbollah's rockets and missiles. Problem is that it won't be ready until 2015.

"Iron Dome would not have the same kind of effectiveness against Hezbollah's arsenal," added Danin. But that arsenal were used against Israel, "Hezbollah knows it would pay a high price."

Americans tied to Israel caught in the chaos of Gaza conflict

What about unleashing the Islamic Jihad Organization rather than rockets and missiles? "No reason to unleash the IJO in support of events in Gaza," said Cressey. It wouldn't be very effective and "they know they will pay a significant price."

There are other reasons for Hezbollah not to take such risky action, say both Danin and Cressey. As Cressey points out, Hamas is Palestinian, while Hezbollah is Lebanese. So their missions are different, even if their animosity toward Israel is the same.

Bottom line on Hezbollah for Cressey: “They will only take only action if it's in their organization's strategic interest, and events in Gaza do not apply."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has undertaken the difficult task of helping to shepherd a possible ceasefire. Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, meanwhile, is playing a key role as an intermediary with Hamas, a group labeled by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.
Mexico's president wants to change country's name to the one 'we sing'

Alexandre Meneghini / AP

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon delivers a speech during a ceremony in Mexico City, urging the country to change its name from "Estados Unidos Mexicanos" to just Mexico.

By The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's president is making one last attempt to get the "United States" out of Mexico — at least as far as the country's name is concerned.

The name "United Mexican States," or "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," was adopted in 1824 after independence from Spain in imitation of Mexico's democratic northern neighbor, but it is rarely used except on official documents, money and other government material.

Men and boys shoot heroin in a "picadero," or shooting gallery, in Ciudad Juarez on the banks of the Rio Grande, just across from the United States. Thousands of picaderos, some serving as many as 100 customers a day, are said to exist in Juarez alone. Drug use and addiction among Mexicans has exploded recently, with the number of known addicts almost doubling to 307,000 in six years. Most experts assume these numbers dramatically undercount the problem.

Still, President Felipe Calderon called a news conference Thursday to announce that he wants to make the name simply "Mexico." His country doesn't need to copy anyone, he said.

Calderon first proposed the name change as a congressman in 2003 but the bill did not make it to a vote. The new constitutional reform he proposed would have to be approved by both houses of Congress and a majority of Mexico's 31 state legislatures.

The death toll is spiraling throughout Mexico as a war between the country's government and the drug cartels intensifies.

However, Calderon leaves office on Dec. 1, raising the question of whether his proposal is a largely symbolic gesture. His proposal was widely mocked on Twitter as a ridiculous parting shot from a lame-duck president.

Calderon said that while the name change "doesn't have the urgency of other reforms," it should be seen as a relevant issue. "Mexico doesn't need a name that emulates another country and that no one uses on a daily basis," he said.

Inside the car where Marisela Granados de Molinar was killed on Dec. 3 alongside her boss, Jesus Martin Huerta Hiedra, a deputy prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez.

Despite constant bloodshed, Mexico is ignored during White House race

The United States looms larger than perhaps any other country in the Mexican cultural imagination: Mexicans follow U.S. sports teams, watch U.S. television shows and buy U.S.-made products. For many, however, there is also resentment of a larger and more powerful northern neighbor that's often seen as ignoring or looking down its nose at Mexico.

The casket of David Miranda Ramirez, 36, is carried by fellow police at his funeral on Nov. 13, 2008. An estimated 50 of Ciudad Juarez’s police officers were killed in 2008 in incidents blamed on drug gangs. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public. While some police have been killed, others are being lured into cooperating with the cartels. Theses gangs have “enormous economic power, and behind that, enormous power to corrupt and intimidate,” says Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora.

Calderon has tried to keep Mexico's international image, and its vital tourism industry, from being tarred by the waves of violence set off by his six-year, militarized offensive against drug cartels. At least 47,500 people have died in cartel-related violence during his term in office, although the number is believed to be far higher, since his administration stopped releasing an official count last year.

Slain Mexican Zetas kingpin deserted army, led deadly drug gang

A poll released this week by the Vianovo consulting firm said that half of all Americans view Mexico unfavorably and more than 70 percent believe it's unsafe to travel south of the border. The poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of four percentage points.

"It's time for Mexicans to return to the beauty and simplicity of the name of our country, Mexico," Calderon said. "A name that we chant, that we sing, that makes us happy, that we identify with, that fills us with pride."

Neighbors and family of slain Alberto Rodriquez, 28, watch and cry as the authorities descend on the crime scene. Rodriguez was killed in his car outside his house while his family watched.


Mexico's deadly drug wars border U.S.
Feb. 20: Mexico's army steps up its battle with drug traffickers along the Texas border, catching one journalist in the crossfire.
Amid the ruins, Gazans say pity the living, not the dead

Mohammed Saber / EPA
A man stands in the rubble of a destroyed house belonging to the Dallo family after it was hit by an Isareli air strike in the north of Gaza City on Sunday. The airstrike killed at least 10 members of the same family, including four children.

By Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News

GAZA CITY -- Thousands of Palestinians filled Gaza City’s main square on Thursday to celebrate their "victory" in the latest round of violence with Israel, even as rescue workers were still sifting through the rubble of a home in the neighborhood of El Nasr on the city's outskirts.

Earlier in the week, rescue workers frantically combed through the three-story house, which was reduced to rubble by an Israeli airstrike that killed 12 people -- ten from a single family that included four children. Israel claimed it was home to a high-ranking commander with Hamas’ military wing.

The incident -- or, as Palestinians here describe it, "the Dallo massacre," in reference to the family that lived there -- has become one of the defining moments of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Israel, Hamas claim victory amid Gaza cease-fire

After eight days of fighting -- 1,500 Israeli airstrikes and 1,500 Palestinian rockets fired, according to Israel Defense Forces -- both sides emerged claiming to be victorious: Palestinian factions for "resisting" and "withstanding" the might of the world’s fourth largest military; Israel for dealing Hamas a blow while minimizing the casualties of Hamas rockets on Israel.

Shops and stores are reopening and a semblance of normalcy is returning to Gaza's streets after a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is put into effect. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Gaza.

But in the small farming community of Attatra, there were no winners.

Walid, 42, and has family were at home on Tuesday night when the Israeli military began dropping leaflets on their farm. Even before the leaflets hit the ground, Walid knew it what they were -- a warning sign. The Israeli military ordered them and their neighbors to evacuate their area immediately.

In 2008, Walid was sitting at home when the same leaflets fell on his house. Back then, he did not heed the warning. Instead he and his family remained on their farm. During that Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Walid’s brother was killed, Walid’s home was destroyed and their farm, the source of their livelihood, razed.

Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images
Members of the al-Attar family, displaced during the eight-day conflict with Israel, return to their home in the Atatra area in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday.

His is one of a thousand similar stories. This time around, he knew what a ground invasion would mean for his family. So he didn’t chance it. Once he saw the leaflets fall he packed his children and wife in the back of a car, grabbed whatever blankets, sheets and clothes they could, and headed to his sister's house where along with 40 other extended family members they took shelter until a ceasefire went into effect on Wednesday evening.

Israel's Iron Dome shield cost up to $30 million

There are no early warning systems, no bunkers or shelters to find a moment of refuge in the chaos of war for the people of Gaza. There is no Israeli-style Iron Dome system to protect them, just "Naseeb" – the Arabic word for destiny.

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As the shops opened up and storekeepers surveyed the damage, families began setting up mourning tents to welcome condolences for those who died.

Near NBC News' hotel, a mourning tent was set up for 44-year-old Mohammed Saeed Al Qaddada. He was a member of Fatah, Hamas’ political rival that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the American-backed Palestinian Authority, belongs to.

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Former Ambassador to the U.N. Stuart Holliday explains the ongoing delicate diplomacy keeping the conflict between Israel and Hamas from escalating.

He was killed by an airstrike on his car while he was with fighters ferrying weapons and rockets, according to family. He was not loyal to Hamas, but felt compelled to join their ranks when Israel began another attack on Gaza.

At the Red Crescent ambulance dispatch center in Tel el Hawa, first responders worked nonstop for eight days. It’s not uncommon for the men and women here to spend days at a time away from their homes and families.

Israel declares mission accomplished, Hamas claims victory

On the day our crew spent a few hours with them they were dispatched multiple times, all to rescue or treat casualties from Israel’s attacks -- including a young child suffering from shock after a wall in the family home collapsed.

The plight of the first responders pales in comparison to the doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital. Poorly equipped, understaffed and inadequately trained, doctors and nurses worked endlessly to treat -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- the flow of patients. By the end of the fighting, the death toll stood at 162 people killed, according to hospital officials.

The painful reality of Gaza is that even after the fighting, the return to "normal" is far from it.

Blockaded since 2006 and under siege since 2007, Gaza has become a tough place to live. The U.N. predicts it will be uninhabitable by 2020. Stifled, underdeveloped and destitute, Gaza is a place where residents wait for their "Naseeb" to change.

Bernat Armangue / AP
Emergency workers help a woman after she was injured during an Israel strike on a sports field next to her house in Gaza City on Monday.

At a small auto mechanic shop a young technician named Wissam was covered in the grime of grease, car oil and dirt. His shop had reopened for the first time in days. He was not expecting any patrons on Thursday but for him it was important to get back to normal.

"Don’t feel sorry for those who died in this war, they are martyrs and will go to heaven," he said. "Feel sorry for those us who will have to stay here trapped in Gaza."

Back at the Dallo house, the workers sifting through the rubble made a gruesome discovery. Days after the attack and hours after they had begun once again to clear the rubble, they found the body of seven-year-old Ranin and the body of 35-year-old Mohammed el Dallo -- raising the death toll to 164.

Polls offer little guidance for politicians tackling ‘fiscal cliff’

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Scott Clement, Published: November 22

Politicians tasked with negotiating a deal next month to avoid the “fiscal cliff” can be thankful that their talks are taking place immediately after a clarifying national election that laid out exactly how the public wants Washington to deal with debt and deficits.

Or not.

In one of the most enduring features of Washington’s two years of gridlock over fiscal issues, a flood of pre- and post-election polling shows little change in the public’s divided — and at times conflicted — attitudes about what should be done to avert the $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts set to start taking effect in January.

The surveys form a confusing backdrop that makes deal-making difficult and allows partisans on both sides to claim support for their positions.

In general, many surveys show that people think the government is too big. But they often oppose cuts to the programs that will be the largest drivers of the debt in future years.

They say they want politicians to balance the budget — but also want more done to create jobs, which might involve new spending.

“Everybody has this view that we want you to rescue us from the fiscal cliff. But when you propose specific items, they say, ‘We didn’t think you meant that,’ ” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette(R-Ohio), who hopes to vote for a big deficit-reduction deal that includes both spending cuts and tax hikes before retiring from Congress in January.

On one thing, public opinion seems pretty clear: People favor asking the wealthy to pay more in taxes, a major position staked out by President Obama and his Democratic allies.

That finding has been borne out in survey after survey and in the national exit poll taken on Election Day, which showed that 60 percent of voters favored raising taxes. Forty-seven percent of them said taxes should go up for those making at least $250,000 a year. Another 13 percent said everyone should pay more.

That finding was true across population groups: 65 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 supported raising taxes either on everyone or on the wealthy. So did 54 percent of those over age 65.

“The idea that you can do this and not raise any more revenue, that was set aside by the election. That’s a breakthrough,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, which favors a mixture of spending cuts and increased revenue to bring down the debt.

That shift helps explain a softening of the longtime Republican opposition to new tax dollars as part of a deal.

But beyond the tax issue, and the public has been far less clear on what, if anything, should happen to deal with deficits.

A poll conducted in August by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, for instance, found that 37 percent of Americans said the federal budget deficit was one of the top two economic issues that worried them the most.

But they were evenly split — 48 to 48 percent — on whether it was more important right now for the government to spend money to create jobs or for the government to avoid a big increase in the federal deficit.

Since the election, a flood of polling released by interest groups shows public support for differing approaches toward the deficit.

On Tuesday, Fix the Debt, a new bipartisan campaign led by business leaders and former policymakers, released a poll taken just before the election in which 72 percent of likely voters said the deficit and federal debt would be extremely or very important in deciding their vote. More than 90 percent of likely voters agreed that a bipartisan agreement, with “everything on the table,” was needed to address the problem.

But three major unions put out a survey that appeared to show exactly the opposite: People would prefer that politicians focus on job creation over cutting deficits, and they oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, education, and police and fire protection to address deficits.

“The American people are not stupid, and we think they spoke loudly and clearly,” insisted Chuck Loveless, federal government director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The differences in those polls could stem from asking the questions differently. But they will drive the public campaigns used to pressure lawmakers in the coming weeks.

Fix the Debt has posted ads in bus shelters, online and in print to urge a big deal on debt. The union coalition, which also includes the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association, announced Tuesday they will air a mix of radio and television ads this weekend in six states to oppose entitlement cuts.

Bixby and others who want a debt-cutting deal in Washington insist that what the polls really show is that people think it should be up to the lawmakers they’ve elected to come up with a fair, long-term solution.

“They’re not policy wonks. They just want politicians to make it better,” he said.

In Florida this week, tuna boat captain Carl Roby, 56, prepared to head out to sea and leave lawmakers behind to debate the fiscal cliff.

The debt, he said, troubles him. “If I owed more than I made, they’d kick me out of my house and take everything away from me,” he said.

But he said he has no good solution. That, he said, is what lawmakers are elected to figure out.

“You get a lot of smart people together and they come up with something they all agree on, it’s probably a good idea, right?” Roby said.

Love among the ruins: Sandy decimates community, but wedding goes on

John Makely / NBC News
James Keane, a volunteer with the Rockaway Point F.D and a full-time dispatcher for the FDNY, and his fiancee Kristen Diffendale on Sunday in Breezy Point.

By Miranda Leitsinger, NBC News

BREEZY POINT, N.Y. -- The wedding had been two years in the making: The church was booked, the custom fuchsia and blue Converse sneakers for the bridesmaids were ordered, and the firehouse was secured as a staging ground for the groomsmen.

But then Super-storm Sandy struck, flooding the firehouse, forcing the church to turn into a command center, and scattering the guests and the newlyweds-to-be, as well as the custom Converse, less than a month before the big day: Friday, Nov. 23.

Now, with much of their Breezy Point community in ruins, Kristen Diffendale, 29, and James Keane, 28, are turning their wedding into a celebration of what the storm couldn't take away.

“All of our family and friends are from Breezy Point and from Rockaway (another hard-hit community nearby) so we figured this is, it’s not only a night for us, it’s a night for all of our friends and family to get to some sort of normalcy, to feel like everything’s alright, to be away from this for a day,” she said. “We want to give that to our friends, just a night of just absolute back to normal.”

As Sandy swept through the seaside community of Breezy Point on Oct. 29, Diffendale hunkered down at the home she shares with her future in-laws and her three-year-old daughter, Madison Shea. Keane, her fiancé and Madison’s dad, was in Brooklyn working as a dispatcher for the New York City Fire Department.

'What Thanksgiving is all about': Breezy Point teen lifts spirits in devastated hometown

“It was pretty scary … I was a little worried when the water came up. We just, we didn't know where it was coming from and we figured out it was the ocean that was coming towards us,” she said. “And then we saw the fire, we saw the glow … and then I started to get really nervous because it wasn't stopping.”

'I thought everybody was gone'

Keane lost cellphone contact with his family around 7 p.m. that night. He got permission to leave his job and raced to a firehouse close to his home. But due to the flooding, no fire trucks were being allowed into the area in southern Queens where Breezy Point is located.

When that order lifted, and he was finally able to get on a truck speeding to the area, he spotted the fires lighting up the night sky.

John Makely / NBC News
James Keane and his fiancee, Kristen Diffendale, hope their wedding will provide respite for their guests.

“I didn’t know what was happening down here. I thought it was gone down here,” he said this week, standing amid volunteers and victims near the relief center in their once idyllic community.

“He thought I left him,” Diffendale said, looking into his eyes, breaking from the couple’s otherwise jovial banter.

“I thought everybody was gone,” Keane said.

Hundreds of people affected by Sandy wait in line for distributions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Red Cross and other aid organizations on Nov. 17 in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. FEMA says it is extending, by a month, a program providing temporary housing to New Yorkers displaced by Superstorm Sandy.

Their home took in several feet of water in the basement and there was damage to the roof, but the dwelling did not burn. The family, however, spent a frightful night riding out the storm, with Diffendale clutching her grandmother's rosary and in tears. 

Once Keane, a volunteer firefighter at the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department, learned his family was all right, he joined the effort to battle the blaze.

Diffendale and Keane are among the lucky ones in Breezy Point, where Sandy’s hurricane-force winds sparked a six-alarm blaze that burned more than 100 homes to the ground. It is believed that the rest of the 2,100 homes in this close-knit community were also damaged, many because of flooding.

PhotoBlog: Cooking a Thanksgiving feast in Breezy Point

The couple was unsure about keeping their post-Thanksgiving wedding date in the aftermath of the disaster. Like many of their friends and neighbors, they have been busy with the relief effort: he, cleaning and gutting flooded basements, and she, hauling supplies to victims.

“For a while, people were asking, ‘What about the wedding?’” said Diffendale, who works in special education. “But we were, like, ‘We’re worrying about what’s going on right now.' … We put ourselves last for a couple of weeks.”

But as the date approached, and more people asked them not to postpone their impending nuptials, the couple decided the community needed a party.

“We’ve been planning this wedding for two years and we had to re-plan it in two weeks,” Keane said.

Rosemary McDermott and her husband Anthony Minor react as they open a safe containing a family genealogy they were able to salvage from the basement of her mother's home in the Breezy Point section of Queens, N.Y., on Nov. 15, 2012. A fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the oceanfront community during Superstorm Sandy. At left are Todd Griffin and Kevin Striegle, volunteers with Adventures in Missions, who helped find the safe beneath the debris.

'People need a break from this'
The change in plans entailed: moving their wedding to a hall in Long Island and getting permission from leaders at Saint Frances de Sales Parish to still have their marriage recognized by the church; booking rooms at a local hotel for Keane and the groomsmen because the firehouse was out of commission; and arranging for buses to transport many of the 300 guests to the wedding, since so many were forced to relocate.

Diffendale said they weren’t “stressing the little stuff anymore,” and her only near-Bridezilla moment came while tracking down the special-made sneakers, which have the wedding date inscribed on them. The mail delivery was interrupted by the storm and because the shoes were in different packages, they ended up in different locations. Diffendale was told the shoes would be delivered Nov. 28, after the wedding, but a shipping agent helped her locate them.

“People need a break from this,” Keane said of the weeks-long cleanup and repair in chilly temperatures. “They need a break from doing this every day.”

The wedding has taken on new meaning for the couple, too.

“Absolutely,” Diffendale said. “We thought each other were dead.”

“You thought you had, I don’t know, nothing," Keane said. "I didn’t even know there was even a neighborhood here anymore ... when I came down."

Despite the disaster that befell their community, they don’t expect a sullen affair.

“We’re an Irish neighborhood so we know how to have a good time,” Diffendale said, laughing. “It’s going to be a very good time.”


Ferocious Hurricane Sandy exposes Fire Island shipwreck
A wrecked schooner long buried on Fire Island — a barrier island off of Long Island, N.Y. — now lays fully exposed following Hurricane Sandy's attack on the beach

Egyptian protesters, police clash as Morsi defends wide new powers

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Fresh from winning praise for brokering the Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi sets Egyptian politics ablaze by granting himself sweeping new powers. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.
By NBC News staff and wire reports

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET: Opposition protesters clashed with police in several Egyptian cities Friday after new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi awarded himself sweeping new powers.

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of anti-regime protests that ousted longtime U.S.-backed leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

"The people want to bring down the regime," shouted protesters, echoing a chant used in the anti-Mubarak uprising. "Get out, Morsi," they chanted.''

State TV also said Morsi opponents set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia.

Clashes also erupted between police and opposition protesters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the southern city of Assiut and in Giza, the sister city of the capital. In Alexandria, Morsi opponents hurled stones at Brotherhood supporters outside a mosque and stormed a nearby office of the group.

However, Muslim Brotherhood backers gathered in front of the presidential palace in northern Cairo to support Morsi -- illustrating a widening gulf over Egypt’s future.

Tarek Fawzy / AP
Protesters opposed to President Mohammed Morsi break into the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Alexandria, Egypt, on Friday.

Wide powers
Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel, Morsi on Thursday ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.

Other changes give Morsi power to take security measures to protect his position, which rights groups say are like new emergency laws.

Bel Trew - بل ترو@Beltrew
Protesters have burned a CSF (police truck) tear gas very heavy now, #Egypt #Tahrir
23 Nov 12

Morsi belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood until he ran for the presidency and still depends on the group for political support.

On Friday, Morsi confirmed that he will move forward on his plans because he insisted they were for the good of the country.

"I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt,'' Morsi told the crowd outside the presidential palace, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and the rotation of power.

"Opposition in Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be real and strong,'' he said in response to his critics.

Morsi also said Friday that his government would pay $5,000 to the families of those who died in the protests to oust Mubarak and $3,333 to those who were injured.

joseph dana@ibnezra
Tahrir square is flooding with protesters. Street battles on at least two streets. #egypt

23 Nov 12

'New pharaoh'
The changes, announced late Thursday, prompted outrage among secularists and liberals.

Critics accuse Egypt president of trying to become 'new pharaoh' with decree

Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent pro-democracy figure and former head of the U.N.'s nuclear agency, accused Morsi of declaring himself a "new pharaoh."

Mohamed ElBaradei

Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that cld have dire consequences
22 Nov 12

"Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," ElBaradei said on Twitter. "A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."

"Morsi a 'temporary' dictator','' was the headline in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

By ousting military chiefs, Egypt's Morsi shows he's a force to be reckoned with

The U.S. State Department signaled its concern Friday over Morsi’s declarations.

"One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "The current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt's international commitments."

Nuland called for calm and for all parties in Egypt to resolve differences through "democratic dialogue."

Meanwhile, the United Nations expressed serious concerns Friday about human rights and stability in Egypt.

Tarek  Fawzy / AP
Protesters hurl stones during clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in Alexandria, Egypt, on Friday.

"We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt," Rupert Colville, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay's spokesman, told a news briefing at the United Nations in Geneva. "We also fear this could lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days, starting today in fact."

Morsi's decree is also bound to worry Western allies, particularly the United States, a generous benefactor to Egypt's army.

NBC News' Charlene Gubash, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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