Friday, November 1, 2013

New faces of health overhaul: Still all smiles

In a photo taken Monday Oct. 28, 2013, in Portsmouth, N.H., Deborah Lielasus poses behind her computer with the national health insurance enrollment website. Not long after she enrolled, the Department of Health and Human Services asked her to appear both in a video describing her experience and in photographs that could replace the stock photo on the insurance enrollment site. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

In a photo taken Monday Oct. 28, 2013, in Portsmouth, N.H., Deborah Lielasus poses behind her computer with the national health insurance enrollment website. Not long after she enrolled, the Department of Health and Human Services asked her to appear both in a video describing her experience and in photographs that could replace the stock photo on the insurance enrollment site. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

(AP) — It didn't take long for the friendly-looking young woman whose face was splashed across to spiral from smiling stock photo to laughingstock. As it scrambles to correct problems with the website, the Obama administration is now asking people who have successfully purchased health insurance to let their pictures be used instead.

Two of them told The Associated Press they found the site easy to navigate, were happy with the plans they purchased and were eager to share their stories in any format, including become the new face of the health care overhaul.

Not long after she enrolled Oct. 3, Deborah Lielasus, of Portsmouth, was contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services and asked to appear both in a video describing her experience and in photographs that could replace the stock photo. She agreed, in part, to set an example for her children.

"I think it's important to show them that you shouldn't hide from being honest and being sincere and talking about something that you believe in," she said. "Although family members have said to me, 'You don't need this, don't do this, because you're just going to get hurt,' I have felt like it is important."

Opponents aren't impressed. "The White House should focus more on fixing their flawed law and less time trying to prove their law isn't broken," said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Since the problem-plagued site launched Oct. 1, the stock photo has become the butt of jokes. The satirical newspaper The Onion posted an altered photo of the cover girl "visibly panicking," and others have dubbed her "Glitch Girl."

The department declined to comment specifically on whether Lielasus' picture will have a place on the home page, on which the stock photo has been replaced by icons representing various enrollment methods. It also declined to comment on the broader marketing campaign, which so far includes posting video of Lielasus and another person on social networks, along with a dozen or so images and quotes praising the health care law.

Since her video was posted, Lielasus has been criticized in news reports, online comments and personal emails for describing as easy to use even though she didn't enroll until three days after the site launched. But she wasn't sitting at her desk for 36 hours straight — she spent about an hour total over those three days — and once on the site, it was easy to navigate, she said.

"I'm not a fool," she said. "I saw that there were issues logging on and staying logged on, but I also saw that the site itself, once they're able to overcome those problems, is going to be a really user-friendly, attractive site that people of all ages and technical abilities are going to be able to manage."

In Orlando, Fla., 22-year-old Daniel McNaughton said his experience was similar. Like Lielasus, McNaughton said it was a Facebook post about his experience with that caught the administration's attention and led to his participation in the online video.

McNaughton, a student at Valencia College, said he will be paying $70 per month for a plan that covers "anything I could possibly need." That's about what he's paying now for a catastrophic plan that covers only three doctor visits per year. McNaughton said he looks forward to not having to guess whether he needs antibiotics for the sinus infections he gets every winter.

"I won't have to ration my doctor's visits," he said. "It gives me good peace of mind."

He told administration officials it was "more than OK" with him if they wanted to use his picture on

"I think it would be a good thing to put my picture or others who've enrolled," he said. "It might make it easier for people to relate to what's going on with the exchange."

Associated PressSource:
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Jennifer Connelly Brings Taller Son Kai, 16, as Date to NYC Event: Picture

Who's the handsome man on Jennifer Connelly's arm? Her 16-year-old son! The 42-year-old actress brought her eldest son, Kai, as her date to the 19th annual Artwalk in New York City on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

PHOTOS: Celebrities and their lookalike kids

The mother and son posed for a photo together, and Connelly looked noticeably shorter than her teenage son -- even in heels. The Dilemma actress looked like a proud mother as she held Kai's arm, and showed off her classy little black dress and short new hairdo. Kai looked handsome in a black suit and tie while giving a big smile to photographers.

PHOTOS: 10 sexiest Jennifers in Hollywood

Kai is Connelly's only child from a previous relationship with photographer David Dugan. The New Yorker is also mom to son Stellan, 10, and daughter Agnes, 2, with husband Paul Bettany, whom she wed in 2003. 

PHOTOS: Celeb moms on the go

In a recent interview with Redbook, the Oscar winner and busy mom of three said she doesn't think about aging too much. "When I do, it's to wonder what we [as a family] want out of life," she shared. "Are we doing the things that we enjoy? I don't want to put happiness off to the future, because you never know what life will bring. As I get older, I have a clearer sense of what's important to me."

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Galaxy Nexus will not get Android 4.4 KitKat

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Android 4.3 is the end of the line for the Samsung-made Nexus

Galaxy Nexus owners, you might want to sit down for this. Your device won't be getting an official update to the newly-announced Android 4.4 KitKat. Quoth the Google support site:

Galaxy Nexus will not be receiving the Android 4.4 update. For more information about Galaxy Nexus, visit the Nexus Help Center.

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McIlroy leads by two after Mickelson woe in Shanghai

Shanghai (AFP) - Rory McIlroy found himself leading a golf tournament for the first time since May as he took control of the World Golf Championships HSBC Champions with a superbly crafted seven-under par round of 65 in Shanghai Thursday.

The 24-year-old was helped by world number three Phil Mickelson blowing up in disastrous fashion on the long eighth hole, the 17th of his round, as the American found the Sheshan Golf Club water twice en route to a quadruple-bogey nine.

Moments earlier McIlroy had carded his eighth birdie of the day on the same hole to move to seven under. Mickelson then bogeyed his last hole, the ninth, to drop five shots in two holes and plummet from outright second to tied 28th in the 78-man field with a 71.

On Wednesday McIlroy had said he was capable of winning the tournament with the way the course was set up.

On Thursday he proved it was no idle boast as his swagger and, more importantly, his short game returned to leave a field containing 40 of the world's top 50 in his wake.

The last time McIlroy had even held a share of the lead was after the first round of the Wells Fargo Open at Quail Hollow on May 2.

He leads by two from Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who carried on his fine form from last week when he won the BMW Masters across the city, by carding a five-under round of 67.

Also on 67 was Jamie Donaldson of Wales.

Back on four-under are the English pair Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. They were joined on that mark by two Americans, Bubba Watson and US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth.

But it was McIlroy's day. The revival he had threatened, with a second place in the Korea Open a fortnight ago and a solid performance -- tee to green at least -- last week at Lake Malaren, at last materialised.

His confidence buoyed by an exhibition match victory over Tiger Woods on Monday in Hainan, McIlroy got off to the best possible start on his opening hole, the 10th.

Having just seen playing partner and US PGA champion Jason Dufner hole his second shot with a sand wedge for an outrageous eagle two, McIlroy almost matched it with a lob wedge of his own -- leaving a tap-in for the first of seven birdies in his opening 11 holes.

His only blemish of a near flawless card -- McIlroy afterwards modestly gave his own ball striking just seven out of 10 -- came at the 11th when the Northern Irishman was plugged after driving into a fairway bunker.

He was forced to advance the ball just 20 yards but still almost saved par with a seven-iron to 15 feet. However, the putt just slipped by.

He got the shot back straightaway at the 225-yard par three 12th when he rolled in a 20-footer for birdie and never looked back.

Birdies followed at 14, 16 and 18 to get to four-under at the turn, and then McIlroy hit what he described as one of his "shots of the day" on the first.

A rare errant drive found deep rough on the right but he struck a nine-iron imperiously from 160 yards to 12 feet and holed the putt.

Another birdie on the long par-five next hole, where he was just short of the green after a driver and a three-iron, took him to six under, until a final birdie at the eighth gave him daylight on the field.

"It was very good," a smiling McIlroy told AFP straight after his round. "And it was needed."

McIlroy this time last year was world and European number one.

He now lies 62nd in the Race to Dubai standings and must record a good finish this week to guarantee being among the top 60 who qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in two weeks' time. McIlroy is defending champion there.

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Peak Halloween: Is The Holiday Over The Hill?

Barbara Helgason/

Barbara Helgason/

Is Halloween — our national October obsession with candy, costumes and decorations — over and done?

Sure, Americans will create landfills full of candy wrappers tonight. A recent USA Today story, citing research from the NPD Group, reports that a majority of preteens and about half of all teens and adults eat candy on Halloween. Everywhere you turn there are spooky sites and scary shops and stupefying superstores. Yards yowl and howl with imposing inflatables. People dress their pets — dogs, cats, gerbils — in costumes.

But perhaps you can feel it. Among the zillion zombies and countless Count Draculas, the naughty adult get-ups and the macabre makeup for kids. We may be reaching a cultural turning point.

The numbers tell part of the story. The National Retail Federation predicts some 158 million Americans will be celebrating the holiday this year, down from 170 million last year. "Total spending on costumes, treats, festivities, and, yes, even pets will reach $6.9 billion," the NRF states, "compared to $8 billion last year."

All of a sudden, there is a surplus of superheroes. A glut of ghouls. And way too many monsters and masks and Halloween movies. Have we reached spookiness saturation? Is the fall fright fest falling? Could Halloween be waning?

Here are 5 other signs that Halloween may be over the hill:

1) People Are Opting Out. Not in large numbers. But in ways that are telltale. More than 5,000 people "like" the I Hate Halloween page on Facebook, many for religious reasons. Young mother and blogger Kayla Danelle and her family won't be celebrating. "Perhaps it's because this is the first year that I have had to explain all the scary witches, ghosts, Grim Reapers, black cats and mummies to my precious little 2 year old boy" that the family sees everywhere they go, she writes. "And then having to comfort him in the middle of the night because he's waking up screaming and shaking in fear because of nightmares about these things that a month ago he knew nothing of." At Ohio University, students are protesting against offensive Halloween costumes. At Millridge Elementary School in Highland Heights, Ohio, there is a Fall Harvest Party today "for those NOT celebrating Halloween".

2) Older People Are Taking Over. Adults have "hijacked" Halloween, writes Ana Veciana-Suarez in a recent Miami Herald story. She points out that nearly two-thirds of adults will celebrate the holiday in some way and Americans will spend nearly $7 billion, according to the NRF. "Men and women, Gen X and baby boomers, red states and blues states, even purple ones, are equally likely to participate in the revelry," she notes." Pets, too. Fourteen percent of us expect to shop for a four-legged costume ... We will fork over more for adult costumes — $1.22 billion — than we will for children's. And here's the really scary part. The top five most popular costumes, or at least the most searched ones, include a twerker (thank you, Miley Cyrus) and a meth dealer (courtesy of AMC's Breaking Bad)."

3) Concerns About Obesity. America "has the highest rates of childhood obesity in history," Jason Kessler writes in Bon Appetit, speaking for many health-conscious people. "Let's stop this insanity — and just say no to Halloween candy." He just may be the canary in a culinary coal mine. And earlier this week a woman called the Morning Playhouse show at Y94 radio station in Fargo, N.D. and told the hosts that she plans to hand notes — in sealed envelopes addressed to parents — to overweight trick-or-treaters encouraging the parents to "ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits."

4) Halloween Can Be Dangerous. Perhaps not so much for people, as Time and other websites have pointed out, but for pets. Quoting claims data from Petplan pet insurance company, CBS News reports that "our furry family members are 25 percent more likely to get sick from eating chocolate during the week of Halloween than any other week throughout the year."

5) It's The No. 1 Holiday. In a recent survey by ooVoo, a social video chat provider with scads of subscribers, Halloween is now the most popular holiday among people 25 and under. With 51 percent of respondents that age preferring Halloween, Christmas came in second with 39 percent, and Valentine's Day third with 7 percent. "The rise in popularity of Halloween among millennials is a clear indicator that they crave casual fun in a world where they feel pressured by other popular family activities," Larry Lieberman, chief marketing officer of ooVoo, said in a statement.

So, you may ask: If Halloween is at the top of the popularity charts, how can one say it may have reached its pinnacle? Well. It has nowhere to go now — but down.

The Protojournalist is an experiment in reporting. Abstract. Concrete. @NPRtpj

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Note this: Samsung tablets rank highest in J.D. Power's owner satisfaction study

Apple's incredibly popular handset, the iPhone, has earned it multiple awards from J.D. Power, but the tablet market may not be playing out the same for the iPad maker. According to a recent study conducted by J.D. Power, which took place between the months of March and August, Samsung tablets are ...

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Iraqi PM: Terror 'found a second chance' in Iraq

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, walks with Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., right, and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, before their meeting. Earlier, the prime minister met with Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, walks with Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., right, and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, before their meeting. Earlier, the prime minister met with Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki listens during a meeting with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, left, talks with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., right, during a luncheon meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, left, is greeted by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., center, and the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, during a luncheon meeting. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Terrorists "found a second chance" to thrive in Iraq, the nation's prime minister said Thursday in asking for new U.S. aid to beat back a bloody insurgency that has been fueled by the neighboring Syrian civil war and the departure of American troops from Iraq two years ago.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a packed auditorium at the U.S. Institute of Peace that he needs additional weapons, help with intelligence and other assistance, and claimed the world has a responsibility to help because terrorism is an international concern.

"If the situation in Iraq is not well treated, it will be disastrous for the whole world," said al-Maliki, whose comments were translated from Arabic. "Terrorism does not know a single religion, or confession, or a single border. They carry their rotten ideas everywhere. They carry bad ideas instead of flowers. Al-Qaida is a dirty wind that wants to spread worldwide."

The new request comes nearly two years after al-Maliki's government refused to let U.S. forces remain in Iraq with legal immunity that the Obama administration insisted was necessary to protect troops. President Barack Obama had campaigned on ending the nearly nine-year war in Iraq and took the opportunity offered by the legal dispute to pull all troops out.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq between the 2003 invasion and the 2011 withdrawal. More than 100,000 Iraqi were killed in that time.

Al-Maliki will meet Friday with Obama in what Baghdad hopes will be a fresh start in a complicated relationship that has been marked both by victories and frustrations for each side.

Within months of the U.S. troops' departure, violence began creeping up in the capital and across the country as Sunni Muslim insurgents lashed out, angered by a widespread belief that Sunnis have been sidelined by the Shiite-led government. The State Department says at least 6,000 Iraqis have been killed in attacks so far this year, and suicide bombers launched 38 strikes in the last month alone.

"So the terrorists found a second chance," al-Maliki said — a turnabout from an insurgency that was mostly silenced by the time the U.S. troops left.

Al-Maliki largely blamed the Syrian civil war for the rise in Iraq's violence, although he acknowledged that homegrown insurgents are to blame for the vast number of car bombs, suicide bombings and drive-by shootings that have roiled Baghdad and the rest of the nation.

The prime minister warned about the consequences of a political power grab by al-Qaida fighters who are aligned with the Sunni rebellion that is seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. But al-Maliki insisted Iraq is remaining neutral in the Syrian unrest, although Baghdad has been accused of allowing Iranian aid to Assad's forces through its country. The Syrian civil war largely breaks down along sectarian lines.

Sectarian tensions also have been rising in Iraq, but al-Maliki vehemently denied they are the cause for the spread of violence and noted that Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all have been killed by insurgent attacks.

"There is no problem between Sunnis and Shiites," al-Maliki said flatly. He added: "Al-Qaida believes they should kill all those who do not think alike."

Al-Maliki said he will ask Obama for new assistance to bolster Iraq's military and fight al-Qaida. That could include speeding up the delivery of U.S. aircraft, missiles, interceptors and other weapons, and improving national intelligence systems. Separately, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. also did not rule out the possibility of asking the U.S. to send military special forces or additional CIA advisers to Iraq to help train and assist counterterror troops.

Shortly after al-Maliki's speech, White House spokesman Jay Carney called continued U.S. aid to Iraq "necessary" and said "denying that assistance would be contrary to our interests."

Obama is expected to raise concerns about Iraq's violence — and ways to reduce it — in his Friday meeting with al-Maliki, Carney said. "And inclusive democratic governance is a key piece of the picture there and always has been," he said.

"What's important to remember, though, is that the violence we're talking about, the attacks we're talking about, are not coming from within the political system," Carney said. 'They're coming from al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Administration officials consider the insurgency, which has rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, a major and increasing threat both to Iraq and the U.S.

Al-Maliki has been accused for years of a heavy-handed leadership that refuses to compromise and, to some, oversteps his authority against political enemies. "I never stepped on the Constitution," he responded Thursday to a question about his government, and defended Iraq's warming relationship with Iran's Shiite clerical regime as necessary for a government looking to work amicably with its neighbors.

He sidestepped a question about whether he will seek another term as prime minister in national elections scheduled for April 2014, calling it a decision best left to the Iraqi people.

Anthony Cordesman, a longtime Iraq scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. must convince al-Maliki to move toward a more inclusive government to stabilize Iraq and the rest of the region.

"We have to be careful to set clear lines, and not arm Maliki against the growing mass of legitimate Sunni opposition and the much smaller mix of violent Sunni Islamist extremists," Cordesman wrote in an analysis released Thursday. "But, we need to try."


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