AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 6:03 AM

Updated Monday, Jan 6 at 6:03 AM

Dangerously cold subzero temperatures push into Midwest, Northeast as part of 'polar vortex'

CHICAGO (AP) — A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended Monday into much of the U.S., pummeling parts of the country with a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.

For a big chunk of the Midwest, the subzero temperatures were moving in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous. Officials closed schools in cities including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee and warned residents to stay indoors and avoid the frigid cold altogether.

The forecast is extreme: 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills — what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop into the minus 50s and 60s.

"It's just a dangerous cold," said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri.

It hasn't been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.

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Gone with the wind chill: Icy gusts spread winter pain across US, make frigid temps unbearable

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It's not the heat, it's the humidity, goes the old saying. For the tens of millions of Americans currently trapped in the deep freeze: It's not the cold, it's the wind.

Air temperatures plunging into the negative teens, twenties and even thirties Sunday into Monday are bad enough. But add wind speeds of even a few miles per hour, and what's already deeply unpleasant becomes downright dangerous.

"It's not so much the absolute cold, though that's certainly not pleasant either," said Mark Seeley, a climatologist for the University of Minnesota. "But what the wind does when it starts blowing it around is force the cold air onto whatever it touches. Whether it's human skin or a car engine, the wind pushes away the warmth being generated and replaces it with cold."

Thus the popular term "wind chill," which a couple of Polar explorers originated in 1945 to differentiate between the actual temperature, and the temperature that it feels like thanks to the wind. For instance: In International Falls, Minn., along the Canadian border, it was forecast to reach an air temperature of 30 below zero early Monday. But wind gusts will make it feel more like negative 60.

"Fighting a fire on a night like that, a lot of our guys would rather do recon in the burning structure than man the hoses," said Jim Hultman, a veteran firefighter in International Falls, frequently one of the coldest spots in the nation. "I'm not kidding. Because at least you're warm."

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Congress returns to work with leftover business, politically driven legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Back to work on Monday, Congress faces a hefty list of unfinished business and a politically driven agenda in an election year that will determine control of the House and Senate.

President Barack Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and a three-month extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed are first up in Senate, with votes scheduled Monday night. The rare burst of bipartisanship last month produced a budget agreement, but lawmakers were unable to agree on extending federal benefits for an estimated 1.3 million Americans.

The payments stopped on Dec. 28 and Democrats, led by Obama, are pushing hard to revive them. The issue is vital to the party's core voters who are crucial in low-turnout, midterm elections, and Democrats left no doubt that they will use any Republican opposition as a political cudgel.

"Dealing with declining middle-class incomes and not enough job growth will be the No. 1 issue," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "And if on the first day of the new session, the Republican Party says they won't even support unemployment benefit extension, the original round was started by George Bush when unemployment was 5.6 percent, they're going to show themselves so far out of the mainstream, it's going to hurt them in the election."

Republicans hinted they might go along with extending benefits if Democrats come up with cuts elsewhere or make other concessions.

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As demand for senior services grows, caregiving workforce fills ranks with other seniors

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Paul Gregoline lies in bed, awaiting the helper who will get him up, bathed and groomed. He is 92 years old, has Alzheimer's disease and needs a hand with nearly every task the day brings. When the aide arrives, though, he doesn't look so different from the client himself — bald and bespectacled.

"Just a couple of old geezers," jokes Warren Manchess, the 74-year-old caregiver.

As demand for senior services provided by nurses' aides, home health aides and other such workers grows with the aging of baby boomers, so are those professions' employment of other seniors. The new face of America's network of caregivers is increasingly wrinkled.

Among the overall population of direct-care workers, 29 percent are projected to be 55 or older by 2018, up from 22 percent a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, or PHI, a New York-based nonprofit advocating for workers caring for the country's elderly and disabled. In some segments of the workforce, including personal and home care aides, those 55 and older are the largest single age demographic.

"I think people are surprised that this workforce is as old as it is," said Abby Marquand, a researcher at PHI. "There's often people who have chronic disease themselves who have to muster up the energy to perform these really physically taxing caregiving needs."

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Bulgarians celebrate Epiphany by diving after wooden crucifixes in icy water

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Thousands of young men are plunging into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes cast by priests in an old ritual marking the feast of Epiphany.

By tradition, a crucifix is cast into the waters of a lake or river, and it is believed that the person who retrieves it will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy through the year.

The celebration of Epiphany, or the Apparition of Christ, as Bulgarians call it, began on Monday in Sofia with a water blessing ceremony.

The head of Bulgaria's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Neofit, said a prayer for the prosperity of the people and blessed the colors of representative army units — a tradition abandoned in 1946 and re-established in 1992.

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Girl declared brain dead moved from Calif. hospital; destination not disclosed

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Acting with a court order, the family of a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy has had her taken from a California hospital to be cared for elsewhere, the family's attorney says.

Jahi McMath was moved by a critical care team while attached to a ventilator but without a feeding tube, Christopher Dolan told The Associated Press.

She left from Children's Hospital of Oakland in a private ambulance shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday, Dolan said. Her destination was not immediately disclosed.

"It was a very tense situation," said Dolan. "Everybody played by the rules."

David Durand, the hospital's Chief of Pediatrics, said the girl was released to the coroner. The coroner then released her into the custody of her mother, Nailah Winkfield, as per court order, Durand said in an email.

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NJ works to curb sex trafficking before Super Bowl; lawmaker calls problem in state 'huge'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey law enforcement agents are intensifying efforts to combat sex trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl.

Officials are training legions of law enforcement personnel, hospitality workers, high school students and airport employees to watch for signs of it before the Feb. 2 football game, when hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on New Jersey.

Authorities believe New Jersey's sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers.

They say victims of sex trafficking may feel they have little control, look frightened and exhibit signs of physical abuse.

The nonprofit Polaris Project says a nationwide human trafficking tip line received about 20,000 calls last year, but many cases go unreported.

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Plane goes off Aspen runway and bursts into flames, killing 1 man and injuring 2 others

DENVER (AP) — A private jet went off the side of a runway in Aspen, flipped over and burst into flames, killing one man and injuring two others, Colorado authorities say.

Officials said the flight to the wealthy mountain resort city originated in Mexico and all three aboard were Mexican pilots, two were flying and one was a passenger.

Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, identified the man who died as co-pilot Sergio Carranza Brabata. He did not know where in Mexico the 54-year-old Brabata lived.

Burchetta said the plane went off the right side of the runway Sunday afternoon, flipped over and burst into flames.

"The injuries were traumatic in nature, but they were not thermal," he said. "So the fire never reached inside the cabin as far as we can tell."

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Published reports: Liz Cheney to abandon her troubled effort to seek Senate seat from Wyoming

WASHINGTON (AP) — Published reports citing anonymous GOP insiders say Liz Cheney plans to quit the Republican Wyoming Senate primary and abandon her effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi.

The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney moved her family from Virginia to Wyoming to run for the seat. Her effort to replace Enzi, a Senate veteran, angered and upset many Republicans and her campaign faced a number of problems.

In November, Cheney said she opposed gay marriage, sparking a public feud with her sister, Mary, who is a lesbian and married.

Cheney will reportedly cite family reasons when she announces her withdrawal from the contest.

The development was reported by CNN, The New York Times and Politico.

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South Korea's president calls for reunions of families separated by Korean War

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's president on Monday called for resuming reunions of families separated by war, expressing hopes that the humanitarian program would improve strained ties between the rival Koreas.

The call came amid lingering tensions on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang's fiery rhetoric and threats of nuclear wars last spring. The two Koreas had planned to hold family reunions in September for the first time in three years but Pyongyang cancelled them at the last minute.

President Park Geun-hye told a televised news conference that she wants the reunions to take place on the occasion of the Lunar New Year's Day later this month to "heal wounded hearts."

She said she hopes the two Koreas would find a new momentum for better ties with the reunions, adding that her government plans to expand inter-Korean civilian exchanges and approve the shipment of more humanitarian assistance to the North.

Later Monday, South Korea sent a message proposing talks on Friday to discuss the reunions, according to Park's Unification Ministry.

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