In brief | Nation & World, February 13, 2014


About 1M sign up for health plans as a dozen states meet deadlines

WASHINGTON — Most states are still lagging when it comes to sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law, but an Associated Press analysis of numbers reported Wednesday finds a dozen getting ahead of the game.

Huge disparities are emerging in how well states are living up to federal enrollment targets, and that will help determine if the White House reaches its unofficial goal of having 7 million signed up by the end of March, six weeks away.

Connecticut is the nation’s over-achiever, signing up more than twice the number of residents it had been projected to enroll by the end of January. Massachusetts, which pioneered the approach Obama took in his law, is at the bottom of the list having met only 5 percent of its target.

Six Republican-led states — Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin — are on pace or better.

The administration said Wednesday about 1 million people signed up for private insurance under the health law in January, extending a turnaround from early days when a dysfunctional website frustrated consumers. There were fewer enrollments than in December, but a drop-off had been expected.

Sid Caesar, whose sketches lit up 1950s television with zany humor, dies at age 91

LOS ANGELES — Sid Caesar, the TV comedy pioneer whose rubber-faced expressions and mimicry built on the work of his dazzling team of writers that included Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Family spokesman Eddy Friedfeld said Caesar, who also played Coach Calhoun in the 1978 movie “Grease,” died at his home in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness.

“He had not been well for a while. He was getting weak,” said Friedfeld, who lives in New York and last spoke to Caesar about 10 days ago.

Friedfeld, a friend of Caesar’s who wrote the 2003 biography “Caesar’s Hour,” learned of his death in an early morning call from Caesar’s daughter, Karen.

In his two most important shows, “Your Show of Shows,” 1950-54, and “Caesar’s Hour,” 1954-57, Caesar displayed remarkable skill in pantomime, satire, mimicry, dialect and sketch comedy. And he gathered a stable of young writers who went on to worldwide fame in their own right — including Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart and Allen.

In besieged Syrian city, kids begged for food, women picked grass to eat, survivor recounts

BEIRUT — Weeping children begged for food and women picked grass to eat as hunger gripped rebel-held neighborhoods of the Syrian city of Homs during a nearly two-year military blockade, according to a rare first-hand account by a man evacuated during a truce this week.

It was ultimately that hunger that caused Abu Jalal Tilawi to flee, along with around 1,300 others, mostly women, children and elderly allowed out during the truce.

“They couldn’t dislodge us with the missiles they rained down on us,” the 64-year-old Tilawi said of besieging government forces. “The hunger defeated us. The hunger, the hunger, the hunger. I left the city where I was born, where my father was born, where my ancestors were born. I was weeping while I was walking.”

Tilawi’s account spotlights the suffering experienced by an estimated 250,000 civilians living in more than 40 areas across Syria that have been blockaded for months. Most of the sieges are by government forces, aiming to wear down resistance, but rebels have also adopted the tactic in some areas.

Western powers at the U.N. Security Council are trying to push for more sanctions against Syria to punish the government of President Bashar Assad for the blockades, though Russia has vowed to veto a resolution.

By wire sources