Slatest PM: New York Train Was Speeding When It Derailed
Two Black Boxes Recovered: Associated Press: "Two data recorders retrieved from the commuter train that veered off a sharply curved track by a river's edge, killing four people, may shed light on key factors including the train's speed and how brakes were applied, a National Transportation Safety Board member said Monday as the agency sought to ask the engineer and conductor what went wrong. The NTSB was downloading data from a recorder previously found in the rear locomotive in the Metro-North Railroad train that derailed Sunday in New York. A second recorder was found in the front car of the train and has been sent to Washington for analysis, NTSB board member Earl Weener said."
Late-Breaking: @NTSB: "Preliminary info from event recorders shows train was traveling at approx 82 mph as it entered the 30 mph curve."
Governor Blames High Speed: New York Times: "As investigators continued to search for clues as to why a Metro-North Railroad passenger train flew off the tracks, killing four people and injuring dozens more, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday morning that it appeared that the train was traveling too fast as it hit a curve in the tracks. 'I think it is going to be speed-related,' Mr. Cuomo said on the 'Today' show. 'It was a tricky turn on the system, but it is a turn that has been there for decades.' ...The train’s engineer, identified as William Rockefeller, was injured and has yet to be formally interviewed by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, according to government officials. Mr. Rockefeller, who was released from the hospital late Sunday, was expected to be interviewed on Monday afternoon."
Icelandic Police May Have Shot and Killed Someone for the First Time Ever
Police in Iceland this morning shot and killed a 59-year-old man who they say had fired a shotgun at police officers who were attempting to enter his apartment building. It's a sad story to be sure, but why is it garnering international headlines? Mostly because, by all accounts, it's believed to be the first time Icelandic police have ever shot and killed someone.
The BBC has the broad outlines of the fatal shooting: Police responded this morning to reports of a man firing his shotgun inside his Reykjavik home. After he continued shooting as authorities attempted to contact him, officers fired tear gas into his apartment and then proceeded to enter the apartment building, at which point the man allegedly opened fire again, injuring two members of the special forces in the process (one was struck in the face, the other in the hand). Police then responded with deadly force.
According to Icelandic police chief Haraldur Johannessen, the fatal police shooting is "without precedent," and local media outlets likewise report that it appears to be the first such incident that anyone can remember in the nation's history. It's unclear, however, with that history dates back only to Icelandic independence in 1944 or, more unlikely, further back toward when the land was settled in the late 9th century. Regardless, we're talking about at least several generations here.
Supreme Court Won't Hear Amazon's State Sales Tax Appeal
It's not as sexy as the somewhat dubious promise of drones one day dropping off your online orders on your doorstep, but today's news from the Supreme Court may have a more immediate impact on Amazon's bottom line. The Associated Press:
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider throwing out New York state's taxes on Internet purchases on websites like Amazon.com, a move that could change the way Internet commerce works. The high court refused without comment to hear appeals from Amazon.com LLC and Overstock.com Inc., in their fights against a state law that forces them to remit sales tax the same way in-state businesses do.
Web retailers generally have not had to charge sales taxes in states where they lack a store or some other physical presence. But New York and other states say that a retailer has a physical presence when it uses affiliates—people and businesses that refer customers to the retailer's website and collect a commission on sales. These affiliates range from one-person blogs promoting the latest gadgets to companies that run coupon and deal sites.
The issue of whether online retailers can offer what largely amounts to tax-free shopping for many Americans is, in the words of the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, "one of the most important in modern retailing." In addition to New York, around 20 or so other states have similar laws on the books and, with the high court's refusal to hear the the appeal, many of those states who aren't currenlty collecting taxes from online orders will no doubt move to do so in the near future. By at least one estimate, states lost more than $23 billion last year by not collecting sales tax on purchases made on websites and via more traditional mail-order catalogs.
Elsewhere in Slate: Amazon Prime Drone Delivery? It’s Hot Air.
A British Olympic-Medal Winner Calmly Comes Out
That's Tom Daley, a popular British Olympic diver who won bronze at the 2012 London games. "In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great," the 19-year-old Rio hopeful says in the clip he posted online this morning. "That someone is a guy."
Daley's largely an unknown on this side of the Atlantic where the vast majority of us can't name a single member of the U.S. Olympic diving team let alone anyone competing under a foreign flag. But Daley's star burns quite a bitter brighter over in Great Britain, partly because he delivered a bronze for the home country in 2012 and partly because Britain simply has fewer international athletes to divide its attention among. (When I was living there during the 2000 games, I distinctly remember live coverage of Team GB's badminton mixed doubles squad's unlikely run to the bronze medal.)
I don't know enough about the current state of the British sporting world to weigh in on whether Daley deserves to be called a sporting "star," as many of today's write-ups are billing him. But he was already famous enough to be the focus of tabloid speculation about his sexuality and, according to the Telegraph, he's now earned the temporary title of the "most prominent British sportsman ever to come out." His decision to come out as bisexual ("I still fancy girls," he notes) is all the more noteworthy given the current focus on Winter Games-hosting Russia and the government's less-than-welcoming attitude toward gay athletes.
"In an ideal world I wouldn't be doing this video—because it shouldn't matter," Daley says in the video, before explaining that he felt it necessary to set the record straight after he says the Daily Mirror misquoted him as claiming that he is "not gay."
The End of New York Magazine As a Weekly
Beginning in March, New York magazine will abandon its weekly format in favor of a bi-weekly one that will cut the number of annual print issues by nearly a third moving forward. "The magazine will move from publishing 42 issues to 29 annually (in calendar year 2014, there will be 30 issues, as the change takes effect with the issue dated March 3–10), on a biweekly basis, with three additional special issues covering a single subject from top to bottom," the magazine announced this morning. (Those three single-subject issues, for those wondering, will be an annual gift guide, a food-and-drink issue, and ranking of the best doctors, according to the New York Times.)
The magazine is doing its best to spin the news as a positive, noting that while there will be fewer print issues on news stands and in mailboxes moving forward, each issue will come with about "20 percent more content per issue." Perhaps more noteworthy for readers of the popular (and generally awesome) magazine: The company will reinvest at least some of the savings in the portion of its editorial product with a financial future: its digital properties, including NYmag.com, Vulture.com, The Cut and Grub Street. (The company is also promising "a new blog devoted to the latest science on human behavior.") For more on the change, check out David Carr's take in the New York Times.
Thai Protesters Vow to Press On With “People’s Coup” as Three Killed
About 30,000 protesters took to the streets in Bangkok, launching a “people’s coup” on Thailand’s government Sunday. The group of protesters managed to take over a state broadcaster and forced the prime minister to flee a police compound, reports Reuters. But protesters, who had declared Sunday would be their “V-Day,” failed to fulfill their goal of taking over the prime minister’s office. “There was a reality check, though, when they reached the impressive concrete and razor-wire barricades put up by the police across all roads leading to the PM's building. There was no way through,” reports the BBC’s Jonathan Head.
The leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, unexpectedly met Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Sunday after a day of clashes but told her the protesters would not compromise in demanding her resignation, reports the Associated Press. He gave her a two-day ultimatum to leave government and “return power to the people,” without specifying what would happen after the two days were up. The country’s central bank has warned the unrest is hurting Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, notes Bloomberg.
At least three people were killed, and 103 injured, since the clashes began a week ago. Sunday was the first time the police used force, which has led to fear that more bloodshed and instability could be imminent.
The protesters “are pursuing the quixotic goal of ridding the country of the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon and former prime minister whose political party has captured the allegiance of voters in the countryside, winning every election since 2001,” notes the New York Times. Instead of democratic rule, the protesters, who are mostly made up of middle class Bangkok residents, are seeking “an ill-defined people’s council made up of representatives from many professions.” Pro-Thaksin demonstration in 2010 left more than 90 dead.
New York Commuter Train Derails, Killing Four and Injuring 63
A Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx early Sunday morning killing at least four people and injuring 63, 11 of whom are in critical condition while six are in serious condition, reports Reuters. Five of the seven cars went off the tracks and two flipped onto their side, “coming dangerously close to the Harlem River,” reports WABC-TV. The southbound diesel train that left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 a.m. and was scheduled to reach Grand Central Terminal at 7:43 a.m. slid off the tracks around 100 yards from the Metro North’s Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx.
The first derailed car came to a stop mere inches from the river but officials emphasized none of the cars entered the Hudson or Harlem rivers that are alongside the tracks. The black box will give an indication of how fast the train was going, but one witness told WABC-TV it appeared to be going “a lot faster” than usual as it approached the curve in which the train is supposed to slow down before entering the station, reports the Associated Press.
This marks the second major derailment in less than one year for Metro-North, which describes itself as the busiest commuter rail line in the country, notes the Wall Street Journal. In May, dozens were injured when a train derailed near Bridgeport, Conn. and was slammed by another train. Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, who represents the area and was at the scene of the accident said Sunday’s derailment was “certainly the worst one on this line,” reports the New York Times.
White House Claims Victory in HealthCare.gov Repairs Deadline (But Lots of Challenges Remain)
The Obama administration is claiming victory. The White House said Sunday morning that it had managed to meet its self-imposed deadline to dramtically improve the online federal insurance exchange that is at the backbone of Obamacare. “While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” a Health and Human Services report released Sunday said.
Even as the White House celebrated that it met a deadline President Obama had imposed to have the most significant problems resolved, the administration also had to acknowledge the website was poorly rolled out and was teeming with software bugs, notes the Associated Press. The five-week “tech surge” involved more than 400 bug fixes and software improvements.
"The bottom line—HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st," chief White House troubleshooter Jeff Zients told reporters. But even as Zients insisted the administration has hit its goal of making the site work smoothly for most users, he acknowledged more work is needed, reports Politico.
The administration says more than 50,000 people can log on to the website at once, meaning that more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage daily. That is a vast improvement for a website that was once crippled by as few as 500 users, according to the New York Times. The site will also be online more than 90 percent of the time, not including scheduled maintenance downtime, and the rate of error messages has declined from 6 percent to less than 1 percent, according to the White House. In addition, the wait time for the site’s pages to load has dropped from eight seconds to less than one second.
Yet it’s unclear whether the administration’s claims are truly accurate. Officials have left themselves some wiggle room at least by refusing to declare that all of the website’s bugs have been eliminated. Contractors on Saturday night largely agreed the software and hardware upgrades improved the website’s performance, but cautioned it won’t be clear whether it can actually handle 50,000 simultaneous users until more people log in and try to buy insurance, reports the Wall Street Journal. Regardless, the website still faces technical problems in verifying identities of users and transmitting enrollment data to insurers.
There will be lots of scrutiny on the site, which serves consumers in 36 states that don’t have a state-specific marketplace, in the coming weeks, highlights Reuters. Consumers who want insurance on January 1 must sign up by December 23 and Republican lawmakers are surely ready to pounce on any continuing trouble with the site to argue against the Affordable Care Act.
For those looking for a detailed, blow-by-blow account of how we got here, the New York Times publishes a 5,161-word piece that looks at the White House’s “frantic effort aimed at rescuing not only the insurance portal and Mr. Obama’s credibility, but also the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve big, complex social problems.”
Fast and Furious star Paul Walker Dies in Car Crash
Paul Walker has died. The 40-year-old actor best known for his starring role in the Fast and Furious franchise died in what appears to have been a fiery single-car crash in Southern California on Saturday, according to TMZ, which was the first to report the news. Variety confirmed the actor’s death with “a source close to the actor” and the news was later confirmed in Walker’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Walker “was a passenger in a friend's car, in which both lost their lives,” according to the statement posted in the actor’s Facebook page. TMZ reports that the actor was in a Porsche with someone else when the unidentified driver apparently lost control of the car and crashed into “a post or a tree,” at which point the car “burst into flames.” The Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s department confirmed in a statement to Us Weekly that two people died in a single-car accident Saturday afternoon and that the vehicle was engulfed in flames when officials arrived.
Walker, was in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, for a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide. Walker was filming the seventh film in the Fast and the Furious Franchise, recently tweeting out a picture to fans:
Walker was in all but one of the Fast and the Furious movies and is also known for his role in Varsity Blues, Pleasantville, Flags of Our Fathers, and Takers. He got his start acting as teenager in a number of TV series, including Who’s the Boss and Charles in Charge, according to his IMDb profile. Walker was “a highly sought-after leading man in action and indie dramas,” according to Variety, which points out that he is in several features now awaiting release, including Brick Mansions, Vehicle 19, and Hours.
Thanksgiving Openings Eat Into Black Friday Sales
There was lots of anecdotal evidence Friday that suggested malls may have been a little bit emptier the day after Thanksgiving than normal. And now we have numbers to back that up. Foot traffic on the biggest shopping day of the year was down an astounding 11 percent from 2012. And shoppers across the country spent $9.47 billion on Black Friday, a 13.2 percent plunge from last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But combined spending on Thanksgiving and Black Friday rose 2.3 percent to $12.3 billion, marking the weakest gains in holiday spending since 2009, highlights Bloomberg.
Despite the online protests and cries that retailers were ruining Thanksgiving by eschewing tradition and opening on Thursday, it seems people like the idea of shopping right before, after, or even perhaps instead of, eating turkey with the family. “The data reflects that Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas was one of two days a year that most stores were closed, is becoming an important day for major retailers,” points out the Associated Press.
Yet the hope that the Thursday openings would lead to stronger sales overall was apparently dashed. As many had predicted, it just spread out shoppers more. “The Thursday store openings did well,” said Bill Martin, founder of the research firm ShopperTrak, according to the New York Times. “But a lot of it was at the expense of Black Friday.”
The continuing increase of online purchases may have also helped motivate some shoppers to stay at home rather than brave the crowds. Online sales rose 20 percent on Thanksgiving and 19 percent on Black Friday, according to IBM data quoted by Bloomberg. Adobe Systems has even more optimistic data, saying online sales soared 39 percent Friday and 18 percent on Thanksgiving, according to Reuters. The amount of mobile traffic is also seen as particularly significant, accounting for 40 percent of all online traffic on Friday.
“That’s pretty staggering,” Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce tells the New York Times. “You hear a lot about the year of mobile, and this is probably the fifth annual year of mobile. But 40 percent of all traffic feels like a tipping point.”