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10 things you need to know today: December 3, 2013
Obama launches a new Obamacare sales pitch, Biden tries to calm tensions between Japan and China, and more
Despite rising tensions in Asia, Biden shares a moment of levity with the Japanese PM.
Despite rising tensions in Asia, Biden shares a moment of levity with the Japanese PM. (AP PHOTO/POOL)

1. Obama goes on the offensive as HealthCare.gov traffic soars
After two months of bad press, the White House is launching a three-week campaign to tout the benefits of President Obama's health-care law. Obama will kick off the effort with a White House event on Tuesday. The sales pitch came after HealthCare.gov attracted more than 750,000 visitors (close to the goal of 800,000) on the first weekday after upgrades to fix glitches that have plagued the site since its October 1 launch. [CNN, Reuters]
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2. Biden tries to calm tensions between Japan and China
Vice President Joseph Biden began a weeklong trip to Asia on Tuesday with a message supporting Japan in its territorial dispute with China. Biden treaded carefully, urging both countries to settle their differences over Beijing's newly declared defense zone in airspace above disputed islands in the East China Sea. Biden said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" by China's power play, which military planes from Japan and the U.S. have defied. [New York Times]
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3. Derailed NYC train was going 82 mph
The commuter train that derailed in New York City, killing four people over the weekend, was traveling at 82 mph as it went into a curve with a 30 mph speed limit, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. The engineer cut the throttle six seconds before the crash and applied the brakes five seconds beforehand. One NTSB official said that was "very late in the game," but the agency has yet to establish why the crash happened. [CNN]
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4. Cyber Monday breaks online shopping records
More than 131 million Americans were estimated to have shopped online on Cyber Monday, 2 million more than last year and nearly as many as hit retail websites over the entire four-day Thanksgiving weekend. A growing number used mobile devices. By 9 p.m. sales were up 19 percent in New York City over the same period last year. Walmart expected to beat Cyber Monday 2012 — its website's best day ever — and FedEx projected that the day would be the busiest day in its history. [Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg]
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5. Ukrainian government stymied by protests
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is traveling to China on Tuesday despite massive protests destabilizing his government. Demonstrators are blockading central government offices in Kiev over Yanukovich's decision to scrap a free trade deal with Europe under pressure from Russia. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the unrest was preventing the government from functioning. "This has all the signs of a coup d'etat," he said. [Reuters]
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6. U.S. teens slip in international test rankings
American 15-year-olds lost ground against their counterparts around the world in math, reading, and science tests last year, according to 2012 Program International Student Assessment results released Tuesday. U.S. teens posted slightly above-average scores in reading. Their marks were average in science and below the 64-country average in math. U.S. scores didn't drop, but they remained stagnant while others, particularly in Asia, soared. [Washington Post]
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7. Supreme Court deals a blow to tax-free internet purchases
The Supreme Court said Monday it wouldn't hear a challenge, filed by Amazon.com and Overstock.com against an appeals court decision upholding New York's sales-tax law. The decision chipped away at an advantage online retailers have long enjoyed over their tax-paying brick-and-mortar counterparts, and it could reverberate in a dozen states with similar internet sales-tax laws. [USA Today]
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8. Police in Iceland shoot to kill for the first time
Iceland police shot and killed a man for what was believed to be the first time ever on Monday. Officers raiding a house came under fire and shot back, killing a 59-year-old man. Iceland has 30.3 firearms per 100 people, less than a third as many as the ratio in U.S, but still the 15th highest in the world. Nevertheless, there were only four gun-related deaths in Iceland in 2009. [NPR]
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9. Fisherman dies after being bitten by a shark in Hawaii
A shark killed a man who was fishing from a kayak off the Hawaiian island of Maui on Monday. The shark bit the man's foot as it dangled in the water. His fishing partner, who was in another kayak, applied a tourniquet and got a nearby boat to take the victim ashore, but he died after being taken to a hospital. It was Maui's eighth shark attack this year. A German tourist died in August after losing an arm to a shark while snorkeling off Maui. [Associated Press]
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10. Jesse Owens's gold medal to be sold at auction
One of the four gold medals Jesse Owens won at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is going up for sale in a December 7 online auction. The black U.S. athlete's wins in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, the 400-meter relay, and the long jump — in front of Adolf Hitler — undermined the Nazis' myth of Aryan supremacy. His subsequent troubles under segregation, however, spotlighted America's race problems. The medal is expected to fetch $1 million. [Deutsche Welle]

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Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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