1. Steve Spurrier and Mack Brown gave polar opposite press conferences Thursday
2. New musical boosts demand for real von Trapps' vacation lodge
By Lisa Rathke/AP
This undated file photo provided by the Trapp Family Lodge shows cross-country skiers outside the lodge in Stowe, Vt. AP Photo/Trapp Family Lodge, File
STOWE, Vt. - In the week since NBC aired a revival of "The Sound of Music," the real von Trapp and the vacation lodge it runs in Vermont are in high demand.
And yes, the family was watching as Carrie Underwood, in a widely watched and panned performance, took over the role of Maria von Trapp, made famous on Broadway by Mary Martin and on film by Julie Andrews.
In a blog post, Francoise von Trapp, daughter of Maria von Trapp's stepson Rupert, questioned the casting.
"For everyone who thought the whole thing was wonderful and that NBC did a spectacular job, I say maybe your expectations weren't high to begin with," she wrote, noting she doesn't speak for the family or lodge. "If they hoped to have created a new holiday classic, I think they missed their mark."
Kristina von Trapp Frame, granddaughter of the real Maria von Trapp, and her brother Sam von Trapp, executive vice president of the Trapp Family Lodge, were more diplomatic, calling Underwood a beautiful singer.
"It is relevant and interesting to a new group of people, and that's the important thing," von Trapp Frame said Thursday. "The original movie is an inspiration to many people, and if it continues that inspiration, that is only a good thing."
The family isn't denying the musical is helping business, even if most callers are merely curious. And there could be another bump after NBC's encore broadcast on Saturday.show more
3. Syria: US and UK suspend aid after Islamist fighters seize weapons stores
By Ian Black/The Guardian
a Shiite fighter clashes with members of the Sunni-dominated Free Syrian Army rebel in the town of Hatita, in the countryside near Damascus, Syria. Jaber al-Helo/AP
The US and Britain have suspended all non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels after Islamist fighters seized control of headquarters and stores belonging to western-backed opposition forces.
The sudden decision highlights the hazards of backing rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad at a time when extremist groups are in the ascendant.
The US embassy in Ankara said on Wednesday it had suspended "all non-lethal assistance" into northern Syria after members of the newly formed Islamic Front took over premises belonging to the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, which is aligned to the anti-Assad opposition National Coalition.
Louay Meqdad, a spokesman for the FSA, urged "our friends" to reconsider the decision. Washington and London have supplied communications equipment, vehicles, body armour, medical supplies, cash and food to rebels fighting under the authority of the FSA. Arms are generally paid for and supplied by the Gulf states.
The Islamic Front, which comprises six rebel brigades, seized warehouses reportedly containing dozens of anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tank rockets at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border last weekend. The group is backed by Saudi Arabia.
a UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are currently investigating events that took place over the weekend. While that investigation is under way, we will not be making any deliveries of equipment to the SMC. We intend to resume support as soon as we and the SMC are satisfied the conditions on the ground allow the SMC to take safe delivery of equipment provided."show more
4. Will your health plan application be processed by Dec. 23?
By Charles Ornstein/ProPublica
David McNew/Getty Images
When HealthCare.gov and some state-run insurance marketplaces ran into trouble with their Web sites in October and November, they urged consumers to submit paper applications.
Now, it's time to process all that paper. And with the deadline to enroll in health plans less than two weeks away, there's growing concern that some of these applications won't be processed in time.M
The Associated Press reported last week that federal officials are now advising navigators - groups paid to assist consumers with enrollment - not to use paper applications anymore, if they can help it.
"We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper," said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance.
After a conference call earlier this week with federal health officials, Illinois health officials sent a memo Thursday to their roughly 1,600 navigators saying there is no way to complete enrollment through a paper application. The memo, which Claffey said was based on guidance from federal officials, said paper applications should be used only if other means aren't available.
Federal health officials also discussed the issue during a conference call Wednesday with navigators and certified counselors in several states.
"They've said do not use paper applications because they won't be able to process them anywhere near in time," said John Foley, attorney and certified counselor for Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, who was on the call.
According to an enrollment report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 83 percent of the 1.8 million applications completed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30 were filled out online; the rest were on paper. The online figure was higher, 91 percent, in the 14 states running their own health exchanges, compared to 80 percent for HealthCare.gov, which processes enrollments for the other 36 states.
But even outside the federal exchange, paper is proving to be a problem.
Covered California in recent days disclosed that it had a backlog of 25,000 paper applications that had to be processed before the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. According to an AP report:
The applications came from individuals, insurance agents and health exchange agents who were unable to access the online portal in the first few days after the exchange opened on Oct. 1, said Roy Kennedy, a spokesman for Covered California, the agency that runs the health exchange. He said the agency has been working to process the applications since then.
"We've added additional staff and redirected existing staff to input all the paper applications, so we believe that everyone who properly filled out the application, they will have health insurance on Jan. 1," Kennedy said.show more