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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  December 3, 2013 5:30pm-6:01pm PST

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we'll detail it for more in the 6:00 p.m. show. >> see you at 6:00. good night. >> nightly news is next. vestigators about the deadly commuter train derailment as we hear dramatic calls for help. pensions at risk in one of the biggest bankruptcy cases in american history. the ruling today in detroit that means a lot of americans could lose the money they were counting on to live. deep freeze, the art tonight about record cold hitting a huge part of the country. wild temperature swings from coast to coast. and paying tribute. an enormous outpouring for a young boy who inspired so many. "nightly news" begins now. good evening, the
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investigation into the crash of a commuter train in new york city early sunday morning at a wildly high rate of speed appears to now be focusing on the alertness level of the engineer at the controls. at 82 miles an hour, the train was going way too fast for the turn, more than double the speed limit for those rails. the ntsb says there is no evidence of a mechanical problem thus far. today, the first lawsuits were filed in this derailment that killed four passengers, injured over 60 others. the outcome of this investigation could have fraud impact on public transportation. it is where we begin again tonight with nbc's tom costello at the scene of the wreck. tom, good evening. >> reporter: hi, brian. the executive director for the union tells nbc tonight it looks as if the engineer nodded off at the controls. the engineer has told police he believes he zoned out. blood and alcohol tests are
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back, negative for the entire crew. still waiting on blood tests, meanwhile, the ntsb says the checks of the trains brakes and rail signals were all working properly. it was a massive response to new york's worst train derailment in 20 years. >> we've got a major train wreck. five cars on its side. >> reporter: today as the fire department rees looed recordings of sunday's radio transmissions, engineer william rockefeller was described by his union as distraught. after years of working on the afternoon and evening shifts, he changed shifts two weeks ago with a new start time of 5:00 a.m. moments after the accident, he told a friend he had zoned out. a friend said he was always dedicated to safety. >> i don't know how he's coping with the fact that he may have been responsible for the death of four people and 63 injured. i can't imagine that. because knowing the type of personality he is, that's going to weigh on him for the rest of
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his life. >> reporter: engineer rockefeller was in the second day of a five-day work week, each day nine hours. the question for the ntsb was he fatigued or sleep deprived. >> there's every indication he would have had time to get full restored sleep. >> reporter: data from the recorder box shows 18 minutes after leaving the station the train picked up tremendous speed. by the time it was supposed to slow from 70 down to 30 miles an hour to make a dramatic left turn, the train was moving at 82 miles per hour. at that point, the engine power suddenly dropped to idle and the engineer slammed on the brakes but it was all too late. the train came to rest just inches from the water., but it was all too late. the train came to rest just inches from the water. david rengel who teaches train engineering says there is no steering the commuter train. the sole engineer on board only controls speed and brakes, and the mo not -- monotony can pose
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a risk. >> because of repeating it, going over and over the route, sometimes you can become complacent, and sometimes you could possibly even zone out. >> reporter: but there is no one else in the cab to help an engineer who is in trouble or asleep. there is a dead man's foot switch in that cab, and if you take your foot off of it, it is supposed to essentially put the brakes on the train. we don't know if it was working, that is supposed to work, for example in a medical emergency. the ntsb will go back and look at 72 hours before the crew boarded the train. how much sleep they got, what they were doing. lastly, brian, this train behind me is supposed to be back to normal tomorrow. >> tom costello from the scene of the derailment. tom, thank you for your reporting. and it is both sad and ironic that on the day we learned that the numbers for detroit's automakers were especially strong, on the same day, the city became the largest in u.s. history to officially declare bankruptcy. detroit is unable to pay its $18 billion in debt. that includes billions of
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dollars promised to pay pensions that are now at risk of being cut. and it's a sign of problems in funding retirement benefits to government workers across this country. our report from nbc's john yang. >> reporter: for his 29 years as a toyota city worker, donald smith gets an $888 a month pension which he now fears will be cut. >> all i'm asking is that somebody give me what i earned. i'm not asking for a handout. >> reporter: smith, whose jobs included being an emt, sometimes has to choose between food and medicine. >> if they take a dollar from me, it's going to impact my life. >> reporter: in his ruling today, the first time a court has ruled pensions could be reduced despite a state constitutional ban, federal judge steven rhodes said this once proud and prosperous city cannot pay its debts. it is insolvent, but it also has an opportunity for a fresh start.
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rhodes added that the court would not cut pensions lightly or casually, a point echoed by detroit's emergency manager. >> we're going to try to do this in a measured and thoughtful way, but it has to be done. >> reporter: it's not just aging cities like detroit where pensions are at risk. chicago's credit rating has been downgraded because of a $19 billion pension fund shortfall. it's a problem for states too. according to the pew center, it affects 34 states, the pensions there covering less than 80% of their pensions. today, illinois lawmakers passed a measure to cut costs by raising the retirement age, among other things. analysts say cash strapped cities and states gave workers better pension benefits instead of pay raises. >> money you have to pay 30 years from now seems a lot cheaper than money you have to
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pay today. >> reporter: the retirees in detroit plan to fight the judge's ruling in this once-proud symbol of american history. and there is active winter weather out there tonight, including a powerful storm having a big pact on parts of the u.s. just take the city of little rock. they are preparingor a drop of upwards of 40 degrees, mid-70s into the mid-30s in just 24 hours. weather channel meteorologist mike seidel is up where the professionals live. a cold and windy night in duluth, minnesota, where i'm told it's rocking our satellite truck back and forth in addition to you. mike, good evening. >> reporter: hey, good evening, brian. it has been a wild day out here. lake superior winds gusting over 40 and six to eight foot waves crashing behind me. and just up the road, they've had 22 inches of snow. as you mentioned, a big part of the west, 17 million people being impacted by the storm as i
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got hit by a wave. and look at the snowfall forecast. another foot here. the colorado skiers will get another foot of snow. even plowable snow in denver where temperatures this afternoon fell 26 degrees in two hours. once the snow ends, the bitter cold comes in from the yukon. temperatures thursday as cold as 35 degrees below average in denver. billings topped out at 4. fargo, 2 below zero and windchills as low as 30 below zero. and all this is headed south. we've got winter storm watches tonight from texas to indiana ahead of the forecast of snow, sleet, and ice beginning late thursday and continuing into friday. brian? >> >> duluth, minnesota, where we could just about make out mike seidel in the cold mist coming off the lake. mike, thanks for your reporting. and now we look at the sobering news on education, and just how quickly the rest of the world is passing us by.
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we get details tonight from our chief education correspondent rehema ellis. >> reporter: the test results are in, and for american students the numbers are going in the wrong direction. about half a million students from 65 countries took the pisa exam, international tests of 15-year-olds given every three years. >> while 40 out of the 65 countries that participated in the test improved, the u.s. performance remained fundamentally flat. >> reporter: of 34 industrialized countries, the united states is nowhere near the top of the list. and since 2009, the last time the tests were taken, its ranking has dropped in all three subjects now placing 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading. >> we're running in place as other high-performing countries start to lap us. >> reporter: some of those ranking ahead of the united states are china, canada, germany, poland and latvia, even developing countries like vietnam.
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>> asian countries like korea, like japan, like taiwan, and now like vietnam which are doing extraordinarily well because they make it very clear to their students in high school just exactly how important education is. >> reporter: we saw that firsthand on a recent visit to shanghai. why do you want to study so much? >> because i want to have a better future. and do some contribution to our society. >> reporter: but some argue the low rankings reflect what they call america's emphasis on testing, the diverse population, and others cite poverty as a factor. america has a child poverty rate nearly double that of countries like canada and germany who out-perform the united states. today's results are a sobering reminder that for america, an economic superpower. its young people aren't where they need to be for the future. and experts say these test results will likely intensify
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the debate around education reform in america that includes teacher evaluations and tougher math and reading standards and expanding school choice. the question is will any of the reforms lead to better results when the tests are taken again in 2016? >> i so wish we had had better news to report on this subject, rehema ellis, thank you for being here with us. and the white house trying to put the disastrous rollout of the health care design in the rear-view mirror. at least for them. the president is salesman in chief for a new campaign to praise the law and remind people of its benefits and remind people why it exists in the first place. in the meantime, people still buying insurance have their work cut out for them. our chief white house correspondent chuck todd has our report. >> every day i check to make sure that it's working better. >> reporter: a once bitten, twice shy president obama today repitching health care and the website. >> we've learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it's going to be at all times. >> reporter: but now that the
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site can handle heavy traffic without crashing, the white house felt comfortable launching this new effort to sell the entire law. this continues until december 23rd, the last day to sign up for insurance and be covered on january first. the new website is working well enough that consumer reports magazine which warned readers away from the site in october is now on board, but with caveats. >> if you want to buy insurance that's in effect on january 1st, you have to do it pretty quickly. >> reporter: the magazine offers tips to help get through the site smoothly. have financial information including tax returns in hand. if you created an account in october, scrap it. start a new one. and if you think yao signed up but haven't heard directly from the insurance company in a week, you have to call them yourself. tip number two is what got pam through the plan in florida,
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back in october, pam tried multiple times but gave up. today after creating a third new account, success. >> i was surprised about how easy it was. as i said it only took about ten to 15 minutes for the whole enrollment process. >> reporter: while pam's confident she has insurance since she paid her first premium via credit card, some insurance companies believe they are getting inaccurate or incomplete information from the government about the new enrollees. >> they are concerned that they are not getting the information and that they can get insured by january 1st. >> reporter: so while the website is working better, there was some bad news for the white house today. a new report from the treasury inspector general's office, brian, warns that the irs does not have enough safeguards to prevent folks from scamming the government out of tax subsidies that they really aren't eligible for. so every day, two steps forward, a step back.
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>> that is chuck todd from the white house. chuck, thanks. and a big change in the story on the american veteran held captive in north korea. it now appears it's not what it seemed to be.
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ever since the news first broke that an 85-year-old american, a korean war veteran, in fact, had been pulled off a plane in north korea and detained there, folks have been asking why the north would harass a visiting elderly tourist. well, tonight as merrill newman begins his sixth week in custody, new details are emerging that explain why the north koreans are singling him out and are not letting him return home. our report from our chief foreign correspondent, andrea mitchell. >> reporter: merrill newman, seen in these images broadcast over the state-run tv, was according to friends in his former combat unit, one of the leaders of an elite team
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fighting in the korean war. in fact, when the 85-year-old veteran was pulled off a plane he was planning to go to south korea and reunite with some of his former troops who were waiting for him there. one said i wouldn't go there, north korea would think i was a spy or something. a friend from that unit, allen hedges, told us he believes that is why newman is being held. >> the charges are false, i'll tell you that. i was there with him. we never killed anybody or anything and we never advocated killing. >> reporter: after six weeks, newman was seen signing an alleged apology for his actions during the war, but there is no way of verifying the so-called confession or under what circumstances newman read it. at home in california, his wife leigh worries about his health. >> when you don't know where your husband of 56 years is, you don't know his health, you don't know when he'll be home with us, it's not an easy situation. >> reporter: experts say korea's young leader, kim jong-un, may be trying to gain leverage with
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the u.s., but it's hard to predict. only today he reportedly purged his powerful uncle from leadership and even executed his uncle's two deputies. bill >> he is acting totally different from his father, which was reasonably predictable when it came to these american political prisoners. >> reporter: but now, nobody can say whether this will appeal for his release. andrea mitchell, nbc news, washington. and we're back in a moment with the football fans who made the earth measurably move.
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not to be outdone by the proposed air force, ups is reported to be pursuing its own plans to deliver by drone. presumably brown ones. the report on the website the verge says u.p.s.'s project has
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been underway for some time, but before any of this happens the feds and congress will get the vote where some fear that the skies over the country will become thick with unregulated drone traffic and billy joel has a deal with madison square gardens that would make him a regular part of the deal like the knicks, he says he is tired of traveling and will be kind of an artist in residence. he's big at the garden. 46 shows since 1978. he has two new hits. he's about to turn 65 and says at his age he kind of likes the idea of commuting to work. delta airlines has a lot of explaining to do after passengers on a delta connection were bumped in order to fly the university of florida men's basketball team so they could make a game at uconn. this happened on sunday, one of the busiest travel days of the year. this happened when the team charter broke down, and they promised to help with seats on other flights. back at the game, florida lost to uconn at the buzzer.
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and seattle seahawks fans have ample reason to be proud. not only have they recently been judged to be the loudest of any nfl stadium, during last night's victory over the saints -- and it was a barn burner -- they made the earth shake. seismologists at the nearby university of washington said it was a one to two in terms of magnitude, but the earth did move, nonetheless. of course you can't help but wonder what seismologists would have found had they been measuring for vibrations in auburn over alabama. and when we come back, a hero's salute to a boy who inspired so many in life.
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our final story here tonight is about the huge outpouring for a boy who left an indelible mark on so many lives in and around his hometown in new jersey, especially the men and women he looked up to, the police officers. and who inspired the remarkable
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bravery in the way he lived his life. we get his story tonight from nbc's katy tur. >> reporter: more than 100 police officers from ridgewood this morning. they came to honor michael feeney. known around here as chief feeney. >> you know when you see people like this, they are the best of our family. >> reporter: michael back in june took on the chiefly duties of reviewing the dispatch, signing mountains of forms and making sure pesky sisters are locked up. last week, michael lost his four-year battle with a rare form of bone cancer, and though his short life was plagued with exhausting treatments, those who loved michael said nothing could dampen his spirit. >> michael was able to touch in his short ten years more than most of us ever will in a hundred. >> he loved the giants, yankees,
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and politics. he even got advice from his mayor on his stump speech for class president. tod the day was the best for michael ever. >> none of us know how to live in the moment, maybe we need to look at kids. because he was just living in the moment. >> reporter: to ensure michael would get to celebrate the holiday, neighbors and friends decorated his house weeks ago with lights and ornaments. and though today was most certainly sad, his classmates chose to remember their friend as happy because michael was always happy. >> he was very special and he touched so many people's lives, and everybody loved him. >> reporter: michael is not just survived by his family, but the entire town of ridgewood, new jersey, who will forever know him as their chief. >> i wish you could have known michael. we'd all be laughing. he'd be tells us a joke right now. >> reporter: katy tur,
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ridgewood, new jersey. thank you for joining us, i'm brian williams. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. good evening, thanks for joining us. i'm jessica aguirre. >> i'm raj mathai. we begin with developing weather news. the first big freeze of the season, it is here. on your left, a live look over san jose this evening. temperatures are currently in the 40s. it's expected to dip into the 30s. and on your right, a live look over san rafael, marin county. at least parts of the county expected to get below freezing. tonight, people across the bay area are taking precautions. we begin our coverage with kris sanchez who joins us this evening in mountain view. kris? >> reporter: hi there, raj.
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my fancy $8 thermometer dropped a few degree since we last talked at 5:00. it's the dropping mercury that has a lot of folks scrambling to make sure their gardens make it through the night. >> it's the first frost of the year, so it's kind of a big deal. >> reporter: the nursery manager susan taylor says her nursery sold six cases of frost cover like this and plenty of frost-protecting spray as customers look to protect plants from the burning frost. >> usually we're taking black plastic which isn't usually so good or sheets so we decided we'd do the right thing and buy the breathable covers. so, because i have -- the hibiscus usually gets frozen. >> reporter: terry conley wasn't scrambling, but recent temperatures and blue skies had people putting off the inevitable. >> even me, tonight, i'll be rushing home and covering everything and putting my succulants under the canopy. >> reporter: if you don't have time to protect your p


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