- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014
Winter-weary Americans plead: Get me out of here

CHICAGO (AP) - Shannon Frauenholtz has had it with winter. Barely able to stomach the television news with its images of snowbound cars, she heads to the tanning salon, closes her eyes and imagines she’s back in Mexico, where she’s already vacationed once this winter.

She’s toyed with the idea of joining her mother in Hawaii or just driving to an indoor water park, figuring that while the palm trees might be plastic and the “beach” smells of chlorine, at least it’s warm.

“I don’t need a vacation. I don’t need the relaxation,” she said. “I just need the heat.”

All over the Midwest and the East Coast, travel agents are being inundated with a simple request: Get me out of here. And travelers fortunate enough to have escaped are begging hotels to let them stay a little longer.

Because they know how miserable people are, warm-weather destinations in California, Arizona and Florida have stepped up their enticements. Trains and billboards in Chicago have been plastered with ads showing beaches and pool scenes. In Philadelphia, one promoter put fiberglass mannequins dressed in flip flops, tank tops and shorts atop taxis with their arms outstretched - a whimsical inducement to “fly” south.

Reminding Americans that there are places where nose hairs don’t freeze is an annual tradition. But those in the business of luring visitors to warmer climates say it’s rarely been easier than this season, when “polar vortex” has entered the everyday vocabulary and “Chi-beria” has become popular enough to emblazon on T-shirts.

“This year we wanted to have a little more fun with it,” said Susannah Costello, of Visit Florida, the state’s official marketing organization, which came up with the mannequin idea.


New parasite kills Wisconsin zoo’s star orangutan

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A young orangutan who was a star attraction at the Milwaukee County Zoo was killed by an oddly behaving, previously unknown type of tapeworm, a team of Wisconsin scientists announced Thursday.

The 5-year-old orangutan named Mahal died mysteriously in December 2012. Zoo personnel speculated at the time that he may have had pneumonia.

But DNA tests done by a team of scientists at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory determined Mahal was struck by tapeworm larvae that spread throughout his body in an unusual fashion. By the time he showed symptoms, it was too late to save him, lead researcher Tony Goldberg said.

“Mahal’s death was a tragedy in the community of Milwaukee,” Goldberg said. “He was a symbol of hope.”

The orangutan was less than a year old when he was flown to Milwaukee to live with a surrogate mother because his biological mother at a zoo in Colorado had rejected him. He gained fame as the subject of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series, and zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Diliberti-Shea described him as a favorite among visitors. It is not unusual for zoo births and young animals to boost attendance.

Scientists believe the tapeworm that killed Mahal is native to North America but previously unknown. Goldberg, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described its sudden appearance as worrisome.

“People are apes, and orangutans are fairly close relatives to us … so any new infectious disease that affects primates is a concern,” he said.


Wisconsin GOP moves gun bills but ignores checks

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republicans moved ahead with narrow bills to streamline gun seizures in domestic abuse cases Thursday. Minority Democrats, though, demanded the GOP go bigger and impose universal background checks.

The Senate’s public safety committee unanimously approved a measure that would create a formal legal process for confiscating guns from people subject to domestic restraining orders with no discussion.

The panel also unanimously approved a proposal that would require judges preparing to return weapons as restraining orders expire to ask the state Justice Department to determine if anything else in the person’s record prohibits them from possessing a gun. The only comment on that bill came from committee Chairman Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, the measure’s chief Senate sponsor. He said the proposal would help the flow of information.

The committee votes clear the way for votes in the full Senate. The Assembly has already passed both measures by overwhelming margins; Senate approval would send the bills on to Gov. Scott Walker.

As the committee was meeting, Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, and a number of other Democrats held a news conference, demanding Republicans take action on Harris’ bill that would require background checks for all gun buyers. Current law requires checks only for purchases from federally licensed dealers; buyers who go through unlicensed dealers online, in private transactions or at gun shows don’t have to undergo background checks.

Harris’ bill and an identical Assembly companion measure have languished in Petrowski’s public safety committee and the Assembly criminal justice committee since they were introduced last April. The Democrats hauled into the news conference more than a dozen cardboard boxes that they said contained 16,500 signatures from Wisconsin residents who support universal background checks.

The two domestic abuse bills don’t go nearly far enough, Harris said in a telephone interview. Abusers could simply walk down to the local gun show and get a new weapon without any kind of check.


John Doe prosecutor asks court to overturn ruling

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A prosecutor has asked a state appeals court to overturn a ruling in a secret John Doe investigation that’s reportedly focused on fundraising by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and other conservative groups.

Gregory A. Peterson, an Eau Claire County judge, decided in January to quash subpoenas and order the return of property to the probe’s targets. The Wall Street Journal reported the judge ruled some of the subpoenas don’t show any probable cause that the targets committed any violations of campaign finance laws. His actual ruling remains under seal.

The 4th District Court of Appeals released an order Thursday indicating Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor heading the investigation, has asked the court to overturn Peterson’s decision. It offered no other details.



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