You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

American Scene

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2012

PENNSYLVANIA

Official says bankruptcy possible for state capital

HARRISBURG — The state official in charge of figuring out how to fix an enormous financial shortfall in Pennsylvania's capital city said in a proposed recovery plan released Monday that "significant and difficult" steps lie ahead, and that Harrisburg may end up seeking bankruptcy protection.

Receiver David Unkovic, appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett in November, said he hoped various "stakeholders" would pitch in; if not, he may file for bankruptcy after July 1.

In many respects, his 12-page outline reflects a work in progress, as Mr. Unkovic said he still needs to figure out the value of assets the city can sell or lease, and lawyers are digging into a forensic audit regarding an expensive trash incinerator renovation that has left the city on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

"If civil actions are filed, the timing and likelihood of any recoveries are impossible to predict," he wrote. "Therefore, it is not possible at this time to assume any level of proceeds for purposes of addressing the structural deficit of the city."

He recommended the legislature examine the use of interest-rate swaps by the state's municipalities and authorities.

CALIFORNIA

Ruling expected Tuesday on same-sex marriage ban

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court plans to announce whether it thinks California's same-sex marriage ban violates the civil rights of gays and lesbians, and whether the trial judge who struck down the voter-approved measure should have revealed he was in a long-term relationship with another man.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a three-judge panel was ready to publish its long-awaited opinions Tuesday on the ban and on the possible conflict-of-interest by former Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled that Proposition 8 did not pass constitutional muster.

Judge Walker presided over the first trial in federal court to examine whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married.

Even if the 9th Circuit panel agrees with him and overturns the ban approved by voters in November 2008, same-sex marriages are unlikely to resume in California any time soon. Supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 have said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose in the intermediate court.

Some legal observers believe the written heads-up the court gave Monday indicates it concluded there is no reason why Judge Walker should have disclosed his relationship status while he had the case.

The panel heard arguments on the ban's civil rights implications more than a year ago, but it delayed a decision while it sought guidance from the California Supreme Court on whether Proposition 8's sponsors had legal authority to challenge Judge Walker's ruling after the governor and state attorney general decided not to appeal it.

TEXAS

Judge says he can't block state sonogram requirement

AUSTIN — A federal judge will not attempt to block a Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram before having an abortion.

District Judge Sam Sparks previously ruled parts of the law unconstitutional, but a federal appeals court overturned his decision last month. Judge Sparks said Monday that he has to follow the higher court's order and it wants the law in place.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights says it will continue to pursue appeals to block the law requiring doctors to show women images of their sonograms, to play fetal heartbeats aloud and describe the features of a fetus at least 24 hours before an abortion.

The law has exceptions in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity and for women who travel great distances to a doctor.

ILLINOIS

Cabbie pleads guilty in terrorism case

CHICAGO — A Pakistani-born Chicago taxi driver pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda as part of a plea deal hammered out recently with prosecutors.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and with his ankles shackled, Raja Lahrasib Khan told a judge Monday that he was pleading guilty to one of two counts of attempting to provide material support.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped the other count against Khan.

Khan, 58, was accused in 2010 of taking steps to send cash to Pakistan-based terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri.

A conviction on just one count of providing material support carries a maximum 15-year sentence. The plea deal recommends a sentence of five to eight years.

No sentencing date has been set.

WASHINGTON

Report: Large donations to charities on the rise

SEATTLE — Money donated by the nation's most charitable people is starting to catch up with prerecession giving, thanks in part to some very large bequests from a few donors.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports Monday in its annual report of the nation's most generous people that the top 50 donors made pledges in 2011 to give a total of $10.4 billion.

The donors gave a total of $3.3 billion in 2010, the smallest total since the Chronicle began tracking the biggest donors in 2000. A decade ago, the top 50 givers gave $12.5 billion.

Two people are conspicuously absent from the top 50 list this year: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. That's because the Chronicle doesn't include payments on gifts promised in past years in its spreadsheet of top givers. Both Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett made large payments on past pledges in 2011.

It took gifts totaling at least $26 million to make the list this year. People on the list gave a median of $61 million in 2011, compared to $39.6 million in 2010. Twenty-nine of the top 50 gave $50 million or more.

Nineteen made big gifts to colleges, including 10 multimillion-dollar gifts to universities that were not the donors' alma maters.

Ten of the top 50 made the list because of bequests after their death. The Chronicle notes that 379 of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans did not report making any big charitable gifts.

MISSOURI

Teen describes killing of girl as 'ahmazing,' 'pretty enjoyable'

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri teenager who admitted stabbing, strangling and slitting the throat of a young neighbor girl wrote in her journal on the night of the killing that it was an "ahmazing" and "pretty enjoyable" experience, then headed off to church with a laugh.

The words written by Alyssa Bustamante were read aloud in court Monday as part of a sentencing hearing to determine whether she should get life in prison or something less for the October 2009 murder of her neighbor, 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten, in a small town west of Jefferson City.

Bustamante, 18, sat silently, occasionally glancing at those testifying about her, often looking down or to the side, as law enforcement officers, attorneys and forensics experts read aloud her innermost thoughts that she had recorded as a 15-year-old high school sophomore.

The most poignant part of Monday's testimony came when a handwriting expert described how he was able to see through the blue ink that Bustamante had used in an attempt to cover up her original journal entry on the night of Elizabeth's murder. He then read the entry aloud in court:

"I just f------ killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they're dead. I don't know how to feel atm. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the "ohmygawd I can't do this" feeling, it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now ... lol."

The journal entry was presented to the judge not long after Elizabeth's mother and other relatives pleaded with Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce to impose the maximum sentence. Bustamante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action last month and faces at most a sentence of life in prison with a chance for parole. The least she could get is 10 years.

OHIO

Sale puts 'M*A*S*H' hot dog diner in new hands

TOLEDO — A hot dog eatery made famous on the TV series "M*A*S*H" has been sold after a yearlong family feud over ownership.

Representatives of a private restaurant group in Toledo said Monday they have finalized their $5.5 million purchase of the Tony Packo's chain, whose future had been in doubt since a bank foreclosed on its loans and a court-appointed third party was put in charge.

The new owners said they plan to keep some members of the Packo family on board, including the founder's grandson, who is facing charges of stealing from the business.

Actor Jamie Farr, a Toledo native, made Tony Packo's famous in the 1970s when he portrayed a homesick U.S. soldier in the Korean War who longed for the eatery's hot dogs.

"If you're ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo's got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs," Jamie Farr's character, Cpl. Max Klinger, said on an episode in 1976.

Packo's was mentioned in six of the 250 episodes of "M*A*S*H" and continues to draw tourists even though the show ended its run three decades ago.

Bob Bennett, the owner of 26 Burger Kings in the Toledo area, won the bidding for the chain last fall. The sale fell through before being revived last month.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.