Friday, February 8, 2013

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'This is it': Mammoth winter storm lashes Northeast

As traffic snarled and officials issued warnings for residents to stay home, the coastal areas prepared for a major storm surge. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

Updated at 9 p.m. ET: A powerful winter storm swept into New England Friday, with gusting winds and heavy snow causing power failures for hundreds of thousands of people, dozens of accidents and fuel shortages at gas stations.

By 9 p.m. ET, 13 inches of snow had fallen on East Setauket on New York's Long Island and 12 inches at Woonsocket, R.I., reported. In Massachusetts, gusts over 50 mph were reported in Boston and over 60 mph on Nantucket Island. Winds up to 75 mph were possible in Provincetown, forecasters said.

The winter storm gathered strength as two weather systems — a so-called clipper pattern sweeping across the Midwest and a band of rain from the South — converged over the Northeast early Friday. By late Friday, the storm had arrived in earnest and was expected to pummel New England through Saturday and last as long as Sunday farther north.

Governors of New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island declared a state of emergency.

More than 800 National Guard soldiers and airmen were activated in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York to provide roadway support, emergency transportation and back-up for first responders, the Department of Defense said Friday evening, while governors in the region warned people to get home and be prepared to be socked in without power.

Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights on Friday, Boston closed its subway, Amtrak suspended some service, and cities across the Northeast prepared to deploy an armada of snowplows and salt-spreading trucks.

Hundreds of thousands were without power, including 190,000 customers in Massachusetts, 120,000 in Rhode Island and 34,000 in Connecticut, and more power failures were expected overnight.

For people in the blizzard’s path, forecasters and authorities had a clear message: Stay home.

Governors in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts announced restrictions on driving.

In the most sweeping ban, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered all non-essential vehicles off the roads by 4 p.m. and said people should brace to be snowed in for two days. He said the storm was "profoundly different" from others the state has endured in recent years.

Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut banned car traffic on limited-access highways starting at 4 p.m. State police reported nearly 100 minor accidents across the state by Friday afternoon.

"If you don't currently have a reason to be on the road, if you're not an emergency personnel that's required to report to work somewhere, stay home," Malloy said at a state armory news conference. "This is it. Things are starting to accumulate."

A 19-car pileup on Interstate 295 in Falmouth, Maine, was blamed on the storm. Police said there were minor injuries.

Forecasters said they expected Massachusetts to get the most snowfall, with an accumulation of up to 3 feet in some spots. The worst snowfall on record in Boston was a 27.5-inch blast a decade ago.

The Weather Channel said snow was falling at 2-3 inches in coastal Massachusetts on Friday evening. It forecast as much as 2 feet of snow in Hartford, Conn., and as much as 15 inches in New York.

Coastal residents were warned that the winds could top 70 mph. Those living on north- and east-facing shorelines from Boston south to Cape Cod Bay were told to prepare for tides 2 to 4 feet above normal.

Flooding and beach erosion were dangers, particularly from Boston northward.

Sandy survivors: It's like a repeat 'nightmare'

"I'm really nervous," Kathy Niznansky, a 65-year-old teacher in coastal Fairfield, Conn. told The Associated Press. Nizmansky is still recovering from flooding from Superstorm Sandy which arrived on her birthday and knocked her out of her house near the beach for two months. "Now I'm really worried about this tide tonight. I just don't want any more flooding."

Elsewhere, Rhode Island police asked people for loaner snowmobiles, and out-of-state utility crews headed for Connecticut to help.

LaGuardia was virtually empty Friday evening as 4,700 flights were canceled nationwide. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

Airline cancellations piled up all morning. Almost 3,000 flights were scrapped for Friday and more than 1,000 more for Saturday, according to At the major airports in New York and New England, most major airlines said they would shut down completely Friday afternoon.

Schools were closed in Boston and for most of New England on Friday. Patrick ordered non-essential state workers to stay home Friday and encouraged private employers to do the same. In New York, the transit agency added more than 20 afternoon trains on its Metro-North commuter line from Grand Central Terminal to get people out of the city before the worst hit.

The Metro-North would suspend service at 10 p.m. ET, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. And the Long Island Rail Road shut down service east of Speonk about 9 p.m.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned people to stay in and to use public transportation if they had to go out, although even that carried the possibility of disruptions. The city had 250,000 tons of salt at the ready for the roads.

He encouraged New Yorkers to stay in and cook a meal or read a good book.

"This is a very serious storm, and we should treat it that way," said Tom Prendergast, president of the agency that runs New York subways and buses.

The weather service warned that the combination of heavy snow and high winds would limit visibility and cause whiteout conditions at times.

"Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented," the weather service said in an advisory issued for the Boston area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Thirty five years after the infamous blizzard of 1978 wreaked havoc on Beantown, Boston is once again the predicted epicenter of what some forecasters say will be an epic snow storm. WHDH's Victoria Warren reports.

'Betrayed': Male rape victims slam Oscar-nominated filmmakers over focus on women

Natalie Cass / WireImage via Getty Images file
Michael Matthews, left, and director Kirby Dick attend "The Invisible War" premiere after party at Innovation Gallery last month in Park City, Utah. Matthews has blasted the filmmaker for abandoning male victims.

Two male rape survivors who appear in "The Invisible War," an Oscar-nominated documentary about military sexual assaults, are criticizing the movie's brief focus on male victims as an ironic snub — and, in a fiery diatribe, one of the film's characters says the director "should be ashamed and embarrassed."
"We're being abandoned by (director) Kirby Dick. The guys feel betrayed," said Michael Matthews, a 20-year Air Force veteran who, in the movie, tells of his 1974 gang rape by three other airmen. The publicity campaign hawking the film — and its Academy Award candidacy — includes a website that shows the faces of six female victims of military sexual assault, and no male survivors of that crime, as well as formal screenings to which only female victims have been asked to attend, Matthews said.
"What the (bleep) is that about? They don't list any of the men on the website. He's making millions of dollars but he's not bringing any of the men to any these appearances all over the country like he's bringing the women," Matthews told NBC News. "I appreciate them putting us in the movie but, now, the men are not being represented at all. He has turned his back on us. And the movie, some of it, is hurting us."
Navy veteran Brian Lewis — who was raped by a male, senior non-commissioned officer in 2000 and then discharged from the Navy shortly after reporting the attack — said he and Matthews are disturbed that the film's fleeting attention on male victims, both on screen and in promotional tactics, symbolizes the way male sex-assault survivors have been marginalized by society and by some lawmakers investigating the issue of rapes within the armed forces. Lewis has a 10-second soundbite in the documentary.
"'The Invisible War' runs for just under two hours (99 minutes) and men received probably a lot less than five minutes. How frustrating would that be?" asked Lewis, 33, who serves on the board of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for service members who have been sexually assaulted by fellow troops.
"You can't really address the problem of military sexual trauma until you include the 56 percent of the victims — the men — and they are being ignored right now," Lewis said.
Dick told NBC News he empathizes with both men, and agrees that male rape victims are being "kept in the shadows" by their country, and said Matthews — who had the harshest words for the director — "has been phenomenal in terms of what he contributed to the film, and in terms of his continuing to push the issue forward both for women and especially for men.

"When people come forward to talk about this, there's not just a pain in that moment but there are nightmares afterward for most of these survivors. It's a very painful thing and they talk about it again and again and again. That, really, is true courage. We owe these men a great deal of gratitude for coming forward. These are the true whistle-blowers," Dick said. "I accept the fact that there are certain frustrations. But that is nothing in comparison to what Michael has accomplished and is accomplishing. And if it takes a little emotion to get that out, I'm 100 percent behind it."
Dick acknowledged that he and the movie's female producer purposely devoted the bulk of the screen time to the stories of military women who have been assaulted by men. (He added that the perception he or the producers are earning millions of dollars is "simply not the case.")
"In terms of making the film, we felt the entry point in this discussion was more women being assaulted because we felt it was a discussion that people would start to have," Dick said. "Our essential goal here is to have the military continue to change its policy (on investigating rape reports and disciplining predators) so that all men and women are protected in the military ... We felt that once the country started putting pressure on the military to make these changes, if and when the military does make changes, those will apply to men just as they will women. So we kind of felt women would get the discussion going and push the military to make the change for everyone."
'Nobody wants to talk about it'According to Nate Galbreath, senior executive adviser to the U.S. Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), a 2010 survey found that 4.4 percent of active-duty women and 0.9 percent of active-duty men "indicated that they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the year prior to being surveyed."
That math equates to about 19,000 sex-offense victims per year inside the armed forces, including about 10,000 men and 9,000 women.
"There's a lot of disappointment in the male survivor community that this keeps being talked about as a 'women's issue,' and it's not," said Susan Burke, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who is spearheading a series of nationwide lawsuits meant to reform the manner in which the military prosecutes rape and sexual assault. She represents male and female military-rape victims.
"From interviewing hundreds of rape and sexual assault survivors, both male and female, there's a persistent pattern by the military in essentially even refusing to accept the allegation, where the chain of command basically says, 'We are not going to even report this.' And that is much more prevalent with the male victims," Burke said. "What I've seen time and time again: a male who comes forward to report rape and sexual assault is accused of being a homosexual."
But according to Dr. Loree Sutton, a psychiatrist and retired Army brigadier general, rapes are not about sex but are instead fueled by aggression and domination. The crime is almost an animalistic demonstration that the predator "owns" the prey. Many male-on-male rapes in the military are group attacks. Some involve drugging the victims.
"It's not about gay sex. Typically the predators are heterosexual men who have this need to assert power, control and dominance," Sutton said. "It's similar to the dynamics of what happens with incest — those family bonds, the trust, the loyalty. I mean, in the military, loyalty becomes this huge factor and that is so difficult for men and women to sort out."
She believes that many male victims never report sex assaults committed against them by other male service members often because "in society, people just don't know how to relate to them," and the confusion such survivors face among family or friends — after they eventually open up about their rapes — "can re-open very deep wounds," Sutton said. "It's almost unspeakable."
Matthews, 58, kept the attack against him secret for nearly 30 years before he finally told his wife in 2001. Today, living in New Mexico, has launched an idea for a movie — now in post-production editing — that examines only men's stories of military rape and how those assaults changed those men forever. The title: "Justice Denied."
"These men feel ostracized in our society. Nobody wants to talk about the truth — that most of the rapes in the military (victimize) men. Nobody wants to talk about it," Matthews said.
"How long can they be ignored?"

After 29 years, 'person of interest' named in kidnapping of Kevin Collins

By Lori Preuitt and Lisa Fernandez,

Published at 5:09 a.m. ET: One of the best-known child kidnapping cases in the country is back in the news.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr held a news conference Wednesday to announce they now have a "person of interest" in the 1984 disappearance of 10-year-old Kevin Collins. He was last seen walking home from a basketball game and has not been since. His face was one of the earliest to be put on the back of milk cartons across the country in the search for missing children.

"This case is a case that haunts the San Francisco Police Department," Suhr said.

Suhr identified the man as Dan Therrien, who lived in a home just a couple of blocks from where Kevin was last seen in 1984, near the corner of Masonic Avenue and Page Street in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Therrien died in 2008.

Complicating matters, Therrien went by at least five aliases. Police said he used the name Wayne Jackson at the time of Kevin's disappearance.

San Francisco Police
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr held a news conference Wednesday to announce a "person of interest" -- Dan Therrien, shown in 1982 -- in the 1984 kidnapping of 10-year-old Kevin Collins.

Police stopped short of calling him a suspect, and instead said he was a "person of interest." Suhr also asked for the public's help in coming up with any information that might be relevant to the case.

At the conference, police said that detectives realize this is a long shot, but they're just hoping someone will remember him.

Investigators looking at the case recently realized Therrien had a lengthy criminal past in both California and Canada, including a felony for a lewd act on a child. They didn't know that at the time because he had used other names. Police said that in 1981 he had served six months in jail after pleading guilty to a felony charge of a lewd act on a child. The victim was 7 years old.

The Canadian case was also previously unknown: He was arrested in 1973 on suspicion of kidnapping and sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys.

In the Canadian case Therrien -- whom police also identified Wednesday as Wayne Jackson -- went on the lam and was never arrested. Police didn't release where it happened in Canada or any other details.

Therrien was eyed by police at the time of Kevin's kidnapping, according to sources, and he had consented to a search at the time. But he was never formally arrested or named a suspect in Kevin's disappearance.

Kevin's story captured national attention. He was last seen was on his way home from a basketball practice at St. Agnes School in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. He was talking to a man with blond hair and a large black dog, waiting for a bus at the corner of Oak Street and Masonic Avenue. Normally his older brother would have been with him, but that day his brother was home sick.

Police said Therrien matched the general description of that man and had a black dog at the time.

Last month, San Francisco police searched the home where Therrien lived in 1984 and removed several bones that were located under concrete in the garage. But those bones turned out to be from a small animal.

Cold-case investigators said last week that they realized recently that cadaver dogs were never used when the home was searched in the 1980s.

On Tuesday night, the the lead cold-case investigator visited the home of Kevin's mother. Investigators spent a couple of hours with the boy's family and left without comment. They said they showed the family photos of Therrien at the time Kevin went missing to see if they family might have known him.

Kevin Collins would have been 39 years old on Jan. 24.

"What we're looking for now is anybody that saw this guy in 1984, anybody that talked to this guy back in 1984, anybody that talked to somebody that talked to this guy back in 1984," Suhr said. "We would love to find the whereabouts of that little boy."

Anyone with information on this matter can contact the SFPD Major Crimes Unit at (415) 553-1145. Information can be given anonymously at (415) 575-4444.

Raymond William Stewart – DOB: 1947
Kelley Lee Dawson – DOB: 1947
Wayne Jackson (name he gave police in 1984) – DOB: 1954
Kelley Sean Stewart – DOB: 1949
Dan Leonard Therrien (name he died under) – DOB: 1956

Chris Rock, Jim Carrey, Bruce Willis take fresh aim in gun control debate

Published at 4:40 p.m. ET: Chris Rock, Tony Bennett, Adam Scott and Amanda Peet joined survivors of gun violence to support President Barack Obama's call for new gun-control laws at a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images
Tony Bennett spoke during a press conference by Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Wednesday in Washington, DC, as representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Chris Rock, Rev Timothy A. Boggs (right) and Amanda Peet look on.

"I am just here to support the President of the United States," Rock said. "The President of the United States is ... our boss. ... The president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country, and when your dad says something, you listen! And when you don't, it usually bites you in the ass later on."
The event was led Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of more 800 mayors from across the country who are working together to to help law enforcement target illegal firearms. The event was part of the group's campaign Demand a Plan, which presses elected officials for action to protect citizens' right to safety and security.
Singer Tony Bennett and Adam Scott of "Parks and Recreation" both referenced the Newton, Conn., tragedy when they spoke at the event aimed to urge Congress to take action.
"I still haven't gotten over Connecticut," the 86-year-old crooner said. "I'd like the assault weapons to go to war, not on our own country, and I'd like assault weapons eliminated."
Actor Scott said that as a father, he was "horrified and frightened" by what happened at Newtown. "Along with thousands of other Americans that day, I felt helpless," he said. "These shootings are rapidly becoming part of our culture, something you almost anticipate hearing about when you turn on your television or your computer. But this one, it was clear to me ... that if we as a people don't act after Sandy Hook, then what's next? ... We're asking Congress to follow the president's lead and act responsibly."
On Saturday, Jim Carrey shared his thoughts on the issue via Twitter. "Any1 who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting," he wrote. After Fox News criticized the actor, he wrote Tuesday, "Yes, i agree with the ppl who argue that cars can be as deadly as guns but a car is a lot harder to get through the door of a classroom."

But not all celebrities share the pro gun-control view.
Bruce Willis, who reprises his role as John McClane in the upcoming "A Good Day to Die Hard" (aka "Die Hard 5"), said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that he opposes new legislation that might step on Second Amendment rights.
"I think that you can't start to pick apart anything out of the Bill of Rights without thinking that it's all going to become undone," he told the AP. "If you take one out or change one law, then why wouldn't they take all your rights away from you?"
Related content:

'Nasty internal fight' or 'strategic pause': Boy Scouts supporters weigh delay on gays

Darrell Byers / Reuters
A crowd of Scouts, parents and supporters gather during a prayer vigil at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 6, 2013.

Since the Boy Scouts of America announced last week that it may end its ban on gay Scouts and leaders, NBC News has received hundreds of emails from Scoutmasters, parents, Scouts and various church representatives sounding off on the issue. Some rejected lifting the exclusion of gays, others welcomed it and yet others called for more time to deliberate on the matter.
When the BSA said Wednesday that it would take more time to decide the issue, holding a vote on it in May, NBC received more email, as passionate as always, on one of America's most popular private youth organizations. A selection of the reader responses is included below:
“I am grateful that the Boy Scouts Executive Board had decided to take time to more carefully consider the future of the BSA and to facilitate a discussion with the National Council in May. I am still greatly concerned that an unyielding outside group is determined to force their views not only on BSA National but to bully their opinions over my and many other BSA chartering organizations 1st Amendment rights. The single minded agenda to have Scouting conform to their view or destroy it even when churches like mine have been very active in building, supporting and sustaining Scouting for 100 years is more than frustrating and feels more like I’m being persecuted for my beliefs. It is my hope that peace will be restored and that a different ‘Scouting’ organization can be organized so the Scouting program I have been part of for 14 years and has contributed so much good to this country can continue.”
-- Tristam Harrington, 50, Okemos, Mich. He is involved in Scouting through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Courtesy of Nate Harrington
Tristam Harrington and his son, Nate, when he received his Life Scout rank in 2009.

“In the Scout Oath, every Scout promises to act with integrity -- that's what it means to be ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts of America has a similar obligation to stay true to itself and its mission to help boys become honorable men. Although I think the compromise they suggested is a reasonable one, I don't begrudge BSA National taking extra time to make sure they are doing the right thing for Scouting.”
-- Karen Harrington, 54, wife of Tristam. Their son is an Eagle Scout

“Calming words from our council exec notwithstanding, this is already starting to look like a good old bare knuckles bar room brawl. In their attempt to appear reasonable, and attempt to dodge the bullet, our national executive board didn't realize they had opened Pandora's box.  To put it mildly, this will put a serious strain on the institution. At worst, it will tear it so badly it may be the end of it … People think Boy Scouting, at only 2.7 million Scouts, somehow will continue to hold the mantle of our nation's boy-led, character building, outdoor loving, you name it, youth organization. At some point, the need for same will simply overtake the current institution, as a new one grows and ends up totally eclipsing them. Heaven help BSA if it validates the current policy in May. That'll be the end of 'Boy Scouts', at least until their new competitor drives them into bankruptcy and then quite possibly assumes the name again … They could have avoided this nasty internal fight, already taking place all the way down to the unit level, simply by making a principled stand for the future of Scouting.  Alas, their courage escaped them.”
-- Steve Gates, Taos, N.M., Scoutmaster Troop 98

Jim Grace Photography
Steve Gates, Scoutmaster of Troop 98 in Taos, N.M., rowing a cataraft on a Scout trip.

“The strategic pause just announced by the National Committee is absolutely the right thing to do. Many of us volunteers were caught off guard by the sudden announcement of a vote on an issue this important to the core organization. Something of this significant a change calls for careful reflection and a thorough discussion with the membership and the chartering organizations … If the scouts were to lift the ban and incorporate this change, it should be done because it is the right thing to do.  The core lesson we teach the youth in the Scouting program is that there is a creator, that the creator put us on the planet for a purpose, and that there is a moral compass that we should utilize to govern our lives.  That moral compass is more important than money or peer pressure.  I would strongly suggest that that moral compass should be applied to this forth-coming discussion and decision. If we make any changes to the core values of Scouting because of head-count pressure or corporate donors, than we are making this change for the wrong reasons. And we will have invalidated the message I have been espousing for ten years … We need to allow everyone the opportunity to participate.”
 -- Terry Burke, 54, Collinsville, Ill., Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 1048

I for one am excited and happy that the gay issue with BSA has been tabled, and the scouts are safe once again, for now. I do not nor will I accept a gay leader to lead and mentor my son, anywhere. Young boys minds are very impressionable. I'm not saying that gays would touch my son physically, but could effect him mentally. The family unit is being trodden down and torn apart … I say no, a Big no. Our scout (11 yrs old) will be receiving his Arrow of Light very soon, and leaving Cub Scouts in a few weeks to go into Boy Scouts. If gays are let in, he will NOT be continuing on in his Scouting, which is sad indeed. I'm sorry about the gays missing out on Scouting, but they knew what the standards where when they joined, Morally straight! This will destroy Scouting if it is allowed, soon they will want to make lots of changes, like taking God out too. Gay is gay and straight is straight. Enough is enough.
-- Linda Bergener, 60, Havelock, N.C., parent of a Scout

My wife and I discussed this last night and we are both in continued disbelief that a decision on sanctioning discrimination ‘would require more discussion for all in Scouting.’ With that said, he (8-year-old son) is going to finish out the school year (in the Boy Scouts) and then we will reassess. I don’t think either of us feel particularly good about it or the organization as a whole, but having the discussion with our son in light of inaction on the part of the Scouts is a bit more abstract than if there had been a decision to point to. It feels like a cop-out and we are both very conflicted, but we aren’t going to do anything at this time.”
-- Zach Conen, Radnor, Penn. His son is in Wolf Den Pack 19. He has been considering removing his son over the ban.

“I earned my Eagle Scout award when I was 13 years old, though I was not openly gay at the time. I was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which you know is one of the largest religious supporters of BSA. … I am in full support of the change to allow gay members into the Boy Scouts of America, and I am quite disappointed that it is taking BSA and the LDS Church this long to realize their foolish policies. Whether they like it or not, BSA is full of gays though they may not be 'out', so their fears of boys being attracted to other boys and leaders to leaders etc., doesn't make much sense seeing that it is happening already.”
-- Tristan Schulthies, 22, student at Southern Virginia University

“The last line in the Boy Scout Oath says that Scouts will do their best to keep themselves morally straight.  The left-leaning liberals in this world are tearing at the very moral fibers that have held this country together for nearly 250 years. Our elected leaders of late have bowed to those liberal pressures, allowing same-sex marriages and equal benefits for gays and lesbians. Morally, it’s not right and not what God intended for us. I applaud the Boy Scouts for resisting the pressure to allow gays into the program up until now.  I hope, not only for the future of the Boy Scouts, but for the future of this country, that the ban is upheld. It’s time that someone shows some backbone and agrees with that last line of the Scout Oath, to keep the organization morally straight. Otherwise, they need to drop that part out of the Scout Oath since they will no longer be supporting a morally straight organization. That’s when I, as well as many other volunteer leaders, will also drop out.”
-- Stuart Lewis, 61, Knoxville, Tenn., Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 15 in the Toqua District

“I write to you today to discuss my feelings on the National Council's decision to postpone their vote. In a word I am, devastated. The attention that is being brought to this organization, of which I've spent the last 16 years of my life in, is in no way beneficial to the youth involved. I have been a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, a Troop leader, and a camp counselor. Yet in all of that time the subject of sexual orientation has never come up. The sexual orientation of a child, or of an adult doesn't impact their ability to teach knots, or their desire to learn outdoor skills. I am ashamed to be associated with this organization. As a child in the program my leaders taught me acceptance and tolerance, The Scout law says friendly, not homophobic or hateful. I saw other Scouts who I went to school with leading double lives. They'd be with their boyfriends at school and then at Scouts that night, telling stories of their dates that weekend but being careful to make sure all the ‘he's’ came out as ‘she's’. I have gay friends and gay co-workers who I'm embarrassed to be around. It's awful to think that because I wanted to go camping as a child, I must bear title of homophobe. I believe that the National Council is on the wrong side of history. This discussion will be looked back at the same way we look at the pictures taken outside of the University of Alabama in 1963, or of those showing segregated water fountains.”
-- Andrew Coleman, 22, Eagle Scout, Fitchburg, Mass.

If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's decision on the membership policy, you can email the reporter at We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.

Boy Scouts on edge as they await decision on gays
After years of heartache, gay Scouts and supporters react warily over proposal to lift ban
'Gravely distressed': Religion looms large over Boy Scouts decision on gays 
'BATTLESTATIONS!': Call-in war waged over Boy Scouts' ban on gays

Families suffer amid Tibetan flames of deceit

Updated: 2013-02-05 07:46
By Li Huizi, Jiang Weichao and Zhang Chunxiao in Gannan, Gansu ( China Daily)
Hezuo Monastery in Gannan, a Geluk monastery founded in 1673, is home to 147 monks. Photos by Li Xiaojun / for China Daily

Families suffer amid Tibetan flames of deceit

Myths and falsehoods help lure people to fatal act, report Li Huizi, Jiang Weichao and Zhang Chunxiao in Gannan, Gansu.

As his black cat leaned toward him, Chirarab sat on a bed with his legs crossed, wondering why his son chose to end his life in a premeditated self-immolation.

"He was so foolish. I did not educate my son well," said the 63-year-old Tibetan veterinarian.

His son, 31-year-old Tsekho, did not get along well with his wife before his death. He wanted to start a business and make money and asked his father for start-up funds. However, Chirarab refused and scolded him, as he was worried his alcoholic son would squander the money on excessive gambling and drinking.

After hearing that self-immolation could make him a "hero", Tsekho told his friends, "I would rather burn myself than live like this".

He set himself on fire beside a bridge in his village on Nov 29, 2012. Two of his friends fed the fire by pouring gasoline onto a woolen blanket and throwing the blanket to Tsekho. Another two villagers sent photos of his self-immolation overseas, along with his detailed personal information.

Some foreign media later branded Tsekho a "Tibetan martyr" protesting the growing influence of Han Chinese on the Tibetan plateau. They also used his story as an excuse to attract international attention to the so-called Tibet issue and the ultimate pursuit of "Tibetan independence," a campaign spearheaded by the Tibetan government-in-exile, with the Dalai Lama as its spiritual leader.

Villagers carried Tsekho's corpse to his parents' home and gave Chirarab the grievous news of the death of his only son.

Copycat suicides

Chirarab lives in Luchu county, Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, in northwest China's Gansu province, located on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Gannan borders Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai and Sichuan provinces.

Copycat self-immolations spread in the border area of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces last year, mostly involving young people under the age of 30.

Self-immolations in Ganan and the Tibetan independence activists outside China
This video has English subtitles, it has  9 stories with articles for each in english

Sangdegye, 18, lay in a bed in the burns department of Gansu Provincial Hospital in the provincial capital of Lanzhou after having his leg amputated below the knee last year.

The young man from Gannan's Xiahe county recalled buying three liters of gasoline and a handful of painkillers at a village store on Dec 2, 2012.

He drove a borrowed motorcycle toward the nearby Bora Temple. Dressed in his Tibetan robe, he doused himself in gasoline. After the fire took hold, he ran to the temple. But he forgot to take the painkillers he had bought, and in his immense pain, he took off his fiery clothes and caught the attention of nearby police.

Police investigations show that Sangdegye was introverted and believed in the Dalai Lama clique saying that self-immolations were a sacrifice for the great Tibetan undertaking. One of his friends set himself alight and died on May 27, 2012, a move that shocked Sangdegye.

Sangdegye used to watch Voice of America Tibetan-language programs, and said he adored the self-immolators VOA reported on, because they were like "heroes".

"I was startled when I learned that my son set himself ablaze. Although such things have happened recently, I never thought that it could fall on my family," said Tsering Tokyi, Sangdegye's father.

Sangdegye's mother, Wandetso, rested her head on her knees when she spoke about her son. She quietly recited Buddhist sutras and rubbed her prayer beads, but later the sutras gave way to sobs.

"We don't know how to move on," said Namgyal, Sangdegye's grandfather.

A Tibetan official with the Gannan prefecture government said the Dalai Lama clique often chooses Tibetans facing financial pressures who have received little formal education, young people or those caught in family feuds as the targets to incite self-immolations. Instigators have sometimes told potential self-immolators that the Dalai Lama will "pray for you after your death".

Tibetan Buddhism's traditional belief in the afterlife also plays a role in self-immolations. The monk, who fled Tibet for India after a failed uprising in 1959, once said those who commit self-immolation in this life will be reborn in the afterlife.

"It is sheer destruction of humanity," said the Tibetan official who asked not to be named. "Why did you goad 17 or 18-year-olds to self-immolate? Why didn't you self-immolate?"

Loss of life

Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture boasts 121 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, the most renowned being Labrang Monastery, one of the six great temples of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Hezuo Monastery, a Geluk monastery founded in 1673, has 147 monks.

On the morning of Jan 12 (Dec 1 in the Chinese lunar calendar) a phalanx of more than 40 monks from Hezuo Monastery were rehearsing a religious dance for a grand Buddhist ceremony scheduled for the 14th day of the lunar January (Feb 23.) Their chanting broke the morning silence.

It was a Saturday. Children in the neighborhood came in twos and threes to play in the monastery. At the sight of the sutra hall, they went in and knelt down to worship.

Believers - Tibetans and Han people alike - circled the white tower erected near the monastery, chanting prayers. Their bicycles and scooters were parked nearby.

There were no traces of the fire that cost a Tibetan woman her life about six months earlier.

On Aug 7, 2012, Trakhutso, 26, enveloped in flames, rolled on the hillside northwest of the white tower, murmuring, "Let me die. Let me die."

The fire was put out by another Tibetan woman, who had been circling the tower.

Soon after, a monk from Hezuo Monastery named Chophel arrived at the site. He took pictures of Trakhutso and with the help of some other monks, carried her to the office of the monastery's management committee.

He neither called the police nor sent the injured, but still living, woman to the hospital, thus delaying Trakhutso's treatment.

According to Chophel's police confession, he used his mobile phone to transmit four pictures of the self-immolator, her name and those of her parents and "her statements about the return of the Dalai Lama and the freedom of Tibetans" to people abroad.

The four pictures were exactly what some foreign media used in their reports of the incident.

Chophel has since been arrested on suspicion of intentional homicide.

Police found that Trakhutso, who had a problem with her left leg, had sour relations with her husband and his family. More often than not, she was subjected to blame and bullying from her mother-in-law.

During Spring Festival in 2012, Trakhutso's sister-in-law praised self-immolators in a conversation, saying, "How awesome! What they did was for the return of the Dalai Lama and the undertaking of the Tibetans!"

Four days before Trakhutso ignited herself, she had a physical examination, in which she was diagnosed with a common gynecological disease. It was then that the idea of giving up her life took hold.

Trakhutso went back to her parents' home on Aug 6. She heard her father say, "Self-immolators, even if they die, are so lucky to have the Dalai Lama to atone for their sins with scripture chanting."

Trakhutso got carried away by these statements.

"The belief that people who burn themselves to death will have their souls released from purgatory and attain bliss in the afterlife is never part of the Buddhist creed," explained 62-year-old Sodzamtsang Rinpoche from Hezuo Monastery.

"Self-immolation is not a heroic act, but a stupid one that misinterprets Buddhist doctrine."

But Sangye Gyatso, a 26-year-old resident of Duohe village, Nawu township in the city of Hezuo, the seat of the prefectural government of Gannan, saw it differently.

After Trakhutso died, Sangye Gyatso told his friends over drinks, "[The city of] Hezuo has risen to fame because of a woman. For Duohuo [village], it will be because of me."

According to his confession to police, he and several friends used their cell phones to spread pictures of a burning Trakhutso. He was also a regular viewer of the VOA's Tibetan-language programming.

Police have confirmed that Sangye Gyatso installed a satellite receiver in his house and used to watch VOA Tibetan-language programs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Broadcasts about "Tibetan independence" and self-immolations had a great impact on him and his friends.

On Oct 6, 2012, Sangye Gyatso died in the fire he lit himself.

Police investigations show that Sangye Gyatso was handled in accordance with the law in 2007 for repeated acts of theft, which were carried out with the help of others. He had been without a job for a long time.

Khyi Gyatso, 33, a village friend of Sangye Gyatso's, had been a monk at the local Duohe Monastery before leaving China through illegal means to become a monk in an Indian monastery in 2000.

As a key member of the "Tibetan Youth Congress," Khyi Gyatso introduced Sangye Gyatso to ideas about "Tibetan independence" during his stay in China in 2011.

After returning to India in September 2011, Khyi Gyatso continued to contact Sangye Gyatso by phone and e-mail, urging him "contribute to the cause of Tibetans and improve his status and that of his family" by following the pattern of the "heroic deed" of self-immolation.

In January 2012, Khyi Gyatso and Gonpo Konchoghu, another member of the "Tibetan Youth Congress" as well as a former monk at Duohe Monastery, held a meeting in India with around 30 monks from Gansu's Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, who were in India at the time for a so-called "religious session" held by the Dalai Lama clique. The monks included 41-year-old Kalzang Gyatso and 32-year-old Gonpo Je.

The meeting was about planning the self-immolations of Tibetans in China.

In April 2012, Gonpo Konchoghu illegally entered China and urged Sangye Gyatso to self-immolate, promising to send his picture overseas afterwards and to request that the Dalai Lama arrange a religious session for him in India.

On Oct 6, 2012, Sangye Gyatso phoned three people, including Gonpo Je, about the time and place of his self-immolation.

After Sangye Gyatso set himself on fire, Tashi Gyatso and Gonpo Je, among others who were all there waiting, took photos of the self-immolation process and quickly sent them overseas.

That afternoon, Khyi Gyatso, who was then overseas, released the "news" about the self-immolation. Shortly afterward, the Dalai Lama clique launched a high-profile "propaganda" campaign on the well-orchestrated incident, claiming there was a "humanitarian crisis" in China and calling for the international community to interfere.

Gansu police have apprehended seven principal suspects, including Kalzang Gyatso, Gonpo Je and Tashi Gyatso.

Chinese police have also requested that police in relevant countries help investigate Gonpo Konchoghu via channels for international police cooperation.

But these efforts have failed to stop the flames of self-immolations from spreading further and claiming more lives.

On Oct 23, 2012, Togye Rinchen, a 58-year-old Tibetan villager, set himself on fire near a shopping center in Gannan's Xiahe county. Those who incited the self-immolation also provided pictures to the VOA.

On Jan 31, six ethnic Tibetans were sentenced to three to 12 years in prison for their roles in Togye Rinchen's self-immolation by the Xiahe County People's Court.

Located more than 70 km from the city of Hezuo, the prefectural capital, Xiahe is considered the prefecture's religious center.

After spotting the incident, police officers put out the fire, with Togye Rinchen still showing signs of life.

As police officers worked to rescue the self-immolator, some monks and people in the crowd attempted to carry him into the monastery. They attacked and injured the officers, hampering their rescue efforts.

"When I saw the self-immolator's left hand still moving, I grabbed an extinguisher and soaked quilt and tried to save him," Liu Yaguo, a police officer from the county's public security bureau, recalls. "But a crowd was already gathering. A woman tried to stop me by lashing me with a belt and a tall man beckoned more people over."


Urigtsang, a young Living Buddha from Hezuo Monastery, says self-immolations go against Buddhist doctrine and Chinese law.

Monks should focus their attention on practising Buddhism and cherishing life, and then they will have a good afterlife, he explained, adding that according to Buddhist scriptures, if someone ends his or her life by self-immolating, their soul cannot be reincarnated.

"Self-immolations are individual behavior and have nothing to do with monasteries and the general public," Urigtsang said.

After being instigated by others, some monks have deliberately hindered efforts to save self-immolators, which is also their personal choice, he added.

According to the 1994 UN declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the public, a group of persons or particular communities for political purposes are not justifiable under any circumstances, no matter the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.

From his hospital bed, Sangdegye said he was too young to tell right from wrong and tended to act on impulse.

"I really regret it," he said, adding that he wants to get artificial limbs in the future so he will be able to walk.

After his failed self-immolation on Dec 2, he was sent to a hospital and was diagnosed as "critically ill", as there were burns across a large part of his body as well as in his respiratory system. After four major surgeries, his organ functions gradually returned to normal.

"At first, I thought I was a hero, but now, I am an idiot," he wrote in his notebook, next to a picture of a sunflower.

Doctors and nurses accompany him around the clock, and when the nurses change his dressings, he always thanks them, said Deng Jinju, China's top burns care expert who supervises Sangdegye's medical treatment. Gansu Provincial Hospital covered his medical fees.

"I feel sad when I see him, as he is at the tender age of 18," Deng said.

Namgyal, Sangdegye's grandfather, hopes that other families will not have to deal with such a tragedy.
(China Daily 02/05/2013 page6)

Chinese documentary alleges US broadcaster incites Tibetan self-immolations

Published at 12:40 a.m. ET:

BEIJING – A controversial new documentary released by Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, is alleging that the American government’s official broadcaster, Voice of America, is encouraging Tibetans to set themselves on fire.
The story comes as China braces itself for the 100th Tibetan self-immolation since 2009.
The 25-minute documentary, roughly translated as, “Outside Tibetan Separatist Cliques and the Southern Gansu self-immolations,” ran on the CCTV show, “Focus Today” and showed a Tibetan man in a hospital bed who allegedly attempted to self-immolate.
Seemingly prompted to explain why he had attempted to light himself on fire, the man says, “I did it after watching VOA, I saw the photographs of self-immolators being commemorated. They were treated like heroes.”
The documentary coincides with a story printed earlier this week in the English language government newspaper, China Daily, which also suggested that the American government broadcaster was influencing Tibetans’ decision to set themselves alight.
Citing the example of one 18-year old Tibetan named Sangdegye, who attempted to self-immolate last December, the China Daily noted that he “adored the self-immolators VOA reported on,” citing them as “heroes.”
In addition to accusing VOA of inciting Tibetans to self-immolate, the CCTV piece also sensationally accuses the company of employing secret codes to send messages to people inside Tibet.
VOA Director David Ensor categorically denies the accusations.
In a press release issued by Voice of America on Wednesday after the Chinese stories came out, Ensor called the documentary’s accusations “totally false” and called the self-immolations a sign of distress in Tibet.
“We do report these tragic stories,” Ensor said from VOA’s headquarters in Washington D.C., “We do not encourage these self-immolations. That is wrong.”
Regarding allegations that the American broadcaster was transmitting secret coded messages to Tibetans, Ensor said, “That is one of the more amazing parts of the CCTV report.  That suggestion is totally absurd.”
Calls by NBC News to the VOA office in Beijing were referred back to their U.S. headquarters. VOA is asking that CCTV and the China Daily both retract their reports.
Voice of America has been broadcasting internationally since 1942 and serves as the American government’s official means of communicating with foreign populations.  Generating approximately 1,500 hours of content each week in 43 languages, the network has sometimes run afoul of foreign governments.

Simmering tensions in Tibet

Over the years, Tibet has become an increasingly sensitive topic for China’s ruling Communist Party. Dramatic protests by hundreds of Tibetan monks in 2008 in the provincial capital, Lhasa, and ethnic Tibetan areas around China forced Beijing to crackdown on what they call “separatist activities” incited by a “Dalai Lama clique.”
Since then, a heavy military presence has installed itself in Tibetan towns and temples and foreign travel to the restive region has been curtailed. Foreign journalists have been unable to travel to Tibet except by invitation by the Foreign Ministry.
A mass migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibetan areas for economic opportunities has many Tibet-watchers accusing China of eroding Tibetan culture and placing their economic benefits over those of poorer ethnic Tibetans.
Visits to Tibetan regions outside of Tibet – forbidden now without permission from the government – by foreign media have shown similar rising tensions among ethnic Tibetans.
The phenomenon of Tibetans self-immolating has been extensively covered by foreign press here in China, but is largely ignored by domestic media. A high-profile court case last week though made big news in local press as a Tibetan monk and his nephew were found guilty of “intentional suicide” and sentenced to a suspended death sentence with two year reprieve and 10-years in prison respectively.
The pair was accused of inciting eight Tibetans to self-immolate, three of whom later died.

Florida judge approves birth certificate listing three parents


MIAMI - A Florida judge has approved the adoption of a 22-month-old baby girl that will list three people as parents on her birth certificate -- a married lesbian couple and a gay man.

The decision ends a two-year paternity fight between the couple and a friend of the women who donated his sperm to father the child but later sought a larger role in the girl's life.

The ruling means the child's birth certificate will include a biological father and both women as parents in an unusual arrangement approved recently by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge.

The women, Maria Italiano, 43, and Cher Filippazzo, 38, had made several unsuccessful attempts to become parents using fertility clinics.

They then turned to Italiano's hair dresser, Massimiliano Gerina, and asked if he would provide his sperm for artificial insemination.

"When push came to shove, they figured he would understand the situation," said Kenneth Kaplan, an attorney for the women.

"The mistake they made, however, was there should have been a written document spelling out what his rights and responsibilities were going to be."

According to Filippazzo, the three reached a verbal agreement before Italiano became pregnant. Filipazzo said the agreement meant she would adopt the baby and the two women, a longtime couple, would raise the child together.

But shortly before the baby was born, Gerina decided he wanted to be considered a parent and not a sperm donor. The women disagreed. Under Florida law, sperm donors have no legal rights to children.

Gerina hired a lawyer, setting off nearly two years of legal wrangling.

Under the judge's decision, the two women will have sole parental rights, although Gerina will be allowed to visit the child. He will not be expected to provide child support.

"We're trying to do the right thing for Emma," Filippazzo said. "We want Emma to have it all, and we believe by doing it this way, including him in a birthday or Thanksgiving, it'll be a nice addition for her."

"We believe the best interest for Emma is for him to have a role in her life, but not as a parent," she said. "The role is this is mommy's good friend who helped your moms have you because they wanted you so badly."

'Stay off the roads': East Coast residents warned to stay home as winter storm approaches

A. Pawlowski , NBC News – 58 min.

As a menacing and powerful blizzard takes aim at the East Coast, airlines have canceled thousands of flights and some cities are bluntly telling their residents: Don't travel if you don't have to.

“I want to stress that the best thing everyone can do Friday and Saturday is to stay home. Stay off the roads, stay safe,"said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Preps underway for potentially devastating storm

2/7/2013: Snow and hurricane-force winds are slated to hit the Northeast this weekend. Residents in the tri-state area are scrambling to get ready after last year’s unusually dry and mild winter. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

The National Weather Service is advising Bostonians not to travel after noon on Friday, his office pointed out.

Nervous fliers monitored the weather and scrambled to change plans as airlines pre-emptively canceled nearly 1,800 flights in New York and Boston alone, according to

“This is going to be a monster storm,” warned TODAY meteorologist Al Roker. He expected up to a foot of snow to fall in New York City over the weekend, and more than two feet in Boston.

AAA urged travelers to be aware of the hazards of winter driving and to keep up with the changing weather conditions.

"As the storm develops, if conditions are poor and you can avoid traveling on the roadways, do," said AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter.

"We will be keeping an eye on the storm and helping any of our travelers out there."

Snowstorm could dump more than 24 inches in Boston

2/7/2013: The snow is expected to pick up early Friday afternoon and by Saturday at 8 a.m. blizzard conditions will be in full force along several major cities in the Northeast, from New York City to Portland. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore r...

The system has already affected Chicago’s O’Hare International, where snow and ice delayed arriving flights by more than two hours at one point on Thursday afternoon. More than 80 flights scheduled to depart from the airport were canceled, according to

Airlines and airports in the storm’s path were bracing for its impact.

“We’re monitoring the weather system closely and will adjust our operations accordingly,” said Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for JetBlue Airways.

Like most carriers, the airline is giving travelers the chance to reschedule their flights without paying any change and cancellation fees. (For a full list, scroll down to the bottom of the article.)

Delta Air Lines urged its passengers to take advantage of the waivers.

“Delta is closely monitoring conditions along the storm's forecast path and encourages customers to consider moving up, postponing or re-routing their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight delays,” the carrier said in a statement.

Southwest Airlines warned its passengers that flights could be “delayed, diverted, or canceled.”

Meanwhile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced it is deploying extra personnel and taking all possible measures to handle any wintry conditions that may develop at JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International.

The agency noted that its “winter weather arsenal” includes more than 200 pieces of snow and ice equipment at the airports, including “melters that can liquefy up to 500 tons of snow an hour” and plows that can clear snow at 40 mph.

Port Authority staff will work around-the-clock in 12-hour shifts during the most severe storms, officials said.

If you are scheduled to fly in the next couple of days, here is a list of airlines offering fee waivers due to the storm:
  • American Airlines passengers traveling to, through or from Boston, New York, Montreal and more than 10 other airports can change their plans for free.
  • Delta Air Lines’ policy covers more than two dozen airports.
  • JetBlue Airways will waive change and cancel fees and fare differences for travel to and from a dozen airports.
  • Southwest Airlines passengers traveling to, through or from Boston, Newark, and several other cities are eligible to reschedule their flights for free.
  • United Airlines' policy covers more than 30 airports.
  • US Airways has also relaxed its change-fee policies.

Source: Michelle Obama to attend funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who was gunned down in Chicago
Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a student at King College Prep, was killed at a Chicago park near a school.

Published 1:55 p.m. ET: First Lady Michelle Obama will attend the funeral of a 15-year-old girl gunned down last week in Chicago, a White House source said.
The first lady will travel to Chicago on Saturday and attend the funeral for Hadiya Pendleton at Calahan Funeral Home, according to the source. She will attend along with Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Hadiya was killed last Tuesday at Kenwood Park on the city's South Side days after she performed at some of President Barack Obama's recent inauguration festivities. She was shot to death blocks from her school and about a mile from the president's Chicago home.

The reward leading to her killer stands at $40,000.
A petition was started asking that Obama attend the funeral. Unconfirmed reports earlier this week said Michelle Obama had considered attending.

The Pendleton family's pastor confirmed the president called Hadiya's parents to offer his sympathies. "We thank him for that, and if he does come, that's fine," Pastor Courtney Maxwell said. "If he doesn't, we know he sends his love."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also will attend the funeral, set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, at 5141 S. State St. A visitation for the teen will be held Friday at Calahan Funeral Home, at 7030 S. Halsted St., from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Funeral arrangements set for Hadiya Pendleton, teen shot in Chicago

Hadiya Pendleton's family: 'Just a matter of time' before killer is caught

Blizzard alert: Northeast snowstorm could be among the worst of all time

Snow and hurricane-force winds are slated to hit the Northeast this weekend. Residents in the tri-state area are scrambling to get ready after last year's unusually dry and mild winter. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

Updated at 4:16 p.m. ET: A crippling and potentially historic winter storm barreled toward the Northeast on Thursday, threatening tens of millions of people with 2 feet of snow. Boston canceled school and braced for one of its worst blizzards of all time.

Airlines encouraged fliers to change their plans and get out of the way. There were already delays of more than two hours at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, where tangles can snarl air traffic across the country, and hundreds of flights were canceled.

The culprits were a so-called clipper system moving through the Upper Midwest and a low-pressure system headed for the waters off New England. When they converge, probably late Friday, they are expected to sock the region with its heaviest snow in at least two years, and perhaps much longer.

“When this hits, it’s going to come down very hard,” said Tom Niziol, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. “This is something we haven’t seen in a while, particularly in New England.”

The National Weather Service put the New York City area and Long Island under a blizzard warning and said those areas could get more than a foot of snow. Earlier in the day, the weather service warned that travel in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island could become nearly impossible.

Forecasts called for as much as 9 inches of snow across central Michigan, a foot and a half in the Hudson Valley region of New York, and 2 feet or more across coastal New England. Possible hurricane-force winds off Massachusetts and Rhode Island also made flooding a threat.

In Boston, the storm had the potential to take out century-old records. The city’s biggest snowstorms since 1892 were a 27.5-inch blast in February 2003 and a 27.1-inch dumping exactly 35 years ago, in 1978. Mayor Thomas Menino closed city schools for Friday and pleaded for common sense.

Millions of Americans brace for a massive storm that threatens to pummel the Northeast and dump more than 2 feet of snow on parts of New England. 

TODAY's Al Roker shows which areas of the North and Northeast will be hit by snow, wind gusts and coastal flooding.

“Stay off the streets of our city,” he said. “Basically, stay home.”

Light to moderate snow is expected to spread through the Great Lakes on Thursday and could reach as far east as parts of New England and New York City by Thursday night, according to forecasters for The Weather Channel.

Snow should begin Friday in Boston and Hartford, Conn., and grow heavy at times during the day in New York, New England and parts of Pennsylvania, the forecasters said.

The most intense part of the storm was expected to hit Friday night and Saturday, with as much as 3 inches of snow falling per hour in coastal New England, including Boston, Hartford and Portland, Maine.

By Saturday evening, snow should taper off in Boston and the storm is forecast to pull off the coast of Maine by Sunday morning, The Weather Channel said.

RELATED: Detailed storm timeline from The Weather Channel

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was readying plows and said crews would work extended shifts.

“It’s been a quiet winter, but we knew that February could be a tough one,” said the city’s sanitation commissioner, John Doherty.

For at least some people there, the storm was a chance to profit.

“Shoveling, cleaning cars, anything you need me to do,” Isaac Morales told NBC affiliate WHDH in Boston. “I already have rock salt. I already have shovels. I’ve got extra bodies. I’ve got everything so I’m all set.”

But for survivors of Hurricane Sandy, including thousands of people still displaced and many more with disrupted lives, it was more serious. A much smaller snowstorm followed Sandy in late October.

“People were just miserable, unhappy, and it started to get cold,” Annie Petraro of Long Island told NBC New York. “Things just weren’t good. And now it’s freezing, it’s gonna snow.”

The Long Island Power Authority, which was strongly criticized for a slow response to the hurricane, said that it was planning for this one and making sure it had enough people working and enough supplies.

More than 130 flights into and out of O’Hare were canceled Thursday, and more than 70 were already canceled for Friday, according to More than 400 flights into and out of Newark Liberty International Airport were canceled for Friday, as were 100 for Boston Logan.

American, Delta, United and other major airlines said they would waive their fees to change flights, which can run to $150, for people going through major airports in the Northeast, including Logan in Boston and LaGuardia and Kennedy in New York.

Amtrak canceled some runs of its Downeaster train line, which runs from Brunswick, Maine, south to Boston.

RELATED: Travelers brace for ‘monster storm’

Ski resorts were excited by the prospect of a major snowstorm.

“It is perfect timing because it will just remind everybody that it is winter, it’s real, and get out and enjoy it,” Tom Meyers, marketing director for Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Massachusetts, told The Associated Press.

Boston Mayor Menino declares a snow emergency, urging people to stay home and canceling school.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is closing in for a close encounter – and a swift kick

On Feb. 15 a giant asteroid will be visible as it passes very close to Earth, and there are also predictions of a large solar storm. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

It may sound unsettling to hear that a potential killer known as asteroid 2012 DA14 will be coming closer to Earth than telecommunication satellites on Feb. 15, but don't panic: Earth's gravitational field will give it such a kick that we'll never have to worry about it again.

"It has been getting closer to Earth for quite a while," Donald Yeomans, the head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters on Thursday during a preview for the close encounter. "This is the closest predicted [flyby] for this object both in the past and in the future."

NASA's calculations show that Earth's gravity will perturb the 150-foot-wide (45-meter-wide) asteroid's orbital period, which had been getting close to Earth's own one-year orbit. "Earth is going to put this one in an orbit that is considerably safer than the orbit it has been in," Yeomans said.

That makes 2012 DA14 nothing more than one of the universe's most vivid reminders that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery. The rocky asteroid's orbit is so well-known that Yeomans can say it will pass by Earth at a minimum distance of 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers), plus or minus 100 miles. That's in the "sweet spot" between GPS satellite orbits (6,000 to 12,000 miles) and geosynchronous telecom satellites (22,000 miles), Yeomans said.

He said that there's an "extremely remote" chance that 2012 DA14 could hit a satellite on its way in or out of Earth's neighborhood, and that satellite operators were being given orbital tracking data as a precaution. But William Ailor, an expert on orbital debris at The Aerospace Corp., told NBC News that the chance is hardly worth worrying about.

"The fact is, we don't have collisions very often, even among the satellites that are there all the time," Ailor said. "Space is very active, but there's a lot of it above us."
NASA video previews the Feb. 15 close encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14, which will bring a 150-foot-wide space rock within the orbit of Earth's telecommunication satellites.

Yeomans said the prime viewing for 2012 DA14 will be available from eastern Europe, Asia and Australia, where it will be dark during the time of closest approach at 2:24 p.m. ET Feb. 15. But even at its brightest, the asteroid will still be too dim to see with the naked eye. You'd need a binoculars or a small telescope to spot it, and you'd have to know exactly where to look from your locale. During the close approach, the asteroid will be moving across a patch of sky nearly twice as wide as the full moon every minute. "That's very fast," Yeomans said.
If you're lucky enough to catch sight of the asteroid, don't expect to see any detail. "What you would see through a small telescope would be something that looked just like a star, a small point of light," said Timothy Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Yeomans said the asteroid will be passing by at the speed of 17,500 mph (7.8 kilometers per second). "That's roughly eight times the velocity of a bullet from a high-speed rifle," he said.

Scientists aren't even sure exactly what 2012 DA14 is made of, although they suspect it's a rocky L-type asteroid. To get better information about its size and composition, experts plan to use radio telescopes at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and at Goldstone, Calif., as well as other astronomical assets.

NASA's Donald Yeomans answers the most commonly asked questions about the Feb. 15 close encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14.

12 DA14 was discovered less than a year ago by a Spanish team at the La Sagra Astronomical Observatory, and initially stirred up a wave of doomsday worries. Fortunately, NASA quickly analyzed the observations and ruled out any chance of a collision.

Experts estimate that 150-foot-wide asteroids zoom as close to Earth as 2012 DA14 will every 40 years or so, and actually hit Earth every 1,200 years.

If the asteroid were on a collision course, Feb. 15 would have been a very bad day: A rocky asteroid that big would explode into pieces on the way down, releasing as much energy as a 2.5-megaton atomic blast. Such a scenario took place in 1908 when a space rock blew up over the forests of Siberia, knocking down millions of trees over an 820-square-mile area, Yeomans said. That's not as big of a catastrophe as, say, the impact of a 6-mile-wide asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago — but if Siberia's "Tunguska Event" had occurred over a city, that city would have been wiped out.

Earth may have lucked out this time, but Yeomans noted that "there are lots of asteroids we are watching where we haven't yet ruled out an Earth impact." In 2011, NASA estimated that more than 90 percent of the near-Earth objects wider than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) have been identified and put on the tracking list. However, only about a third of the objects between a kilometer and 100 meters (330 feet) are being tracked. And NASA has detected only a small proportion of the estimated 1 million asteroids that are smaller than 100 meters but still capable of doing significant damage — asteroids like 2011 DA14.

"It's an effort that will take another decade or two," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program.More about asteroids: