Hatch Aide To Head ‘supercommittee’ Staff

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) — A U.S. Senate tax lawyer will head the staff of the congressional “supercommittee” tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in budget cuts, leaders said Tuesday.

The appointment of Senate Finance Committee tax lawyer Mark Prater was announced jointly by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who are co-leaders of the bipartisan, bicameral panel, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the finance panel, called Prater “an honest broker who has garnered the respect and admiration from both sides of the aisle,” the newspaper said.

“Mark’s encyclopedic knowledge, intellect and leadership make him a natural fit for this position,” Hatch said.

Hatch, who is up for re-election next year and is not on the 12-member supercommittee, said Prater will return to his staff when the panel winds up its work.

U.N. Action In Syria Days Or Weeks Away

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) — It will likely be some time before members of the U.N. Security Council agree on a formal resolution condemning the violence in Syria, Washington said.

U.N. estimates put the death toll in Syria at more than 2,000, including hundreds allegedly killed at the hands of Syrian security forces during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Most members of the international community have condemned Syrian President Bashar Assad for the bloody crackdown, though, apart from a general statement of disdain from the United Nations and economic sanctions, there’s be no formal action from the U.N. Security Council.

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said in statements to reporters during her regular news briefing a resolution was “a matter of diplomatic priority over the coming days and weeks.”

“It’s obviously not going to be done in the next couple of days,” she said.

Opponents of a resolution say Assad should have time to carry out a series of pledged reforms, though patience is running out as the bloodshed continues.

Meanwhile, The Cable, a blog published by news magazine Foreign Policy, points to a video circulating that depicts Robert Ford, U.S. envoy to Damascus, getting mobbed by pro-Assad supporters in Damascus last week.

Ford was rushed by his security detail to his car after a demonstrator tried to wrap the envoy in a poster depicting the face of the Syrian president.

Health Of Khmer Rouge Officials Reviewed

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Aug. 30 (UPI) — A geriatric specialist told a tribunal in Cambodia one former member of the Khmer Rouge regime was impaired though “Brother No. 2″ was fit for trial.

The U.N.-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is investigating alleged atrocities committed by the ruling Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. An estimated 2 million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975-79.

John Campbell, a geriatric specialist, told the tribunal former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith was “cognitively impaired” and therefore likely unable to get a fair trial. Nuon Chea, dubbed “Brother No. 2″ in the Khmer Rouge regime, however, was cleared of any major cognitive or memory problems.

Nuon was in charge of internal security in Cambodia and was seen as a key supporter of the regime’s campaign of slavery and forced relocations.

Members of the Khmer Rouge regime are on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the 1970s.

Four senior surviving members of the regime are on trial in Phnom Penh.

U.S. Dismisses ‘so-called’ Abkhazia Vote

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) — Georgia is a sovereign state with internationally recognized borders, the U.S. State Department said after a breakaway republic held elections for a president.

Catherine Ashton, the top foreign policy official at the European Union, and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen each issued statements during the weekend in which they dismissed the Abkhazian presidential results.

Aleksandr Ankvab was elected in a weekend vote for president of Abkhazia, which is officially recognized as a nation only by Russia and a handful of other countries.

Georgia has refused to recognize the results. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement to reporters Washington doesn’t recognize the legitimacy or the results of the “so-called” elections in Abkhazia.

Moscow and Tbilisi traded insults Aug. 8, the third anniversary of a Russian military response to Georgia’s invasion of the separatist republic of South Ossetia in 2008. The conflict spilled over to engulf forces from Abkhazia, another separatist region.

Moscow recognized both republics shortly after the conflict and signed agreements in 2010 to build permanent military installations in the breakaway regions.

“We reiterate our support for Georgia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” stressed Nuland. “We urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 cease-fire agreement, including withdrawal of forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance to the territories.”

Clinton Off To Paris To Discuss Libya

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) — With Libyan rebels offering an ultimatum to Gadhafi loyalists, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to review Libya’s future in Paris.

The U.S. State Department announced Clinton was headed to Paris to take part in a top-level meeting for the Contact Group in Libya set for Friday. The meeting follows last week’s summit in Istanbul where Western supporters hailed rebel gains in Tripoli.

“The days and weeks ahead will be critical for the Libyan people, and the United States and its partners will continue to move quickly and decisively to help the Transitional National Council and address the needs of the Libyan people,” the State Department said.

Libyan rebels have taken control over most of Tripoli following six months of fighting. Rebel opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said that, with his forces moving in on Sirte, the home town of Moammar Gadhafi, it was time for the regime to surrender.

“By Saturday, if there are no peaceful indications for implementing this we will decide this manner militarily,” he was quoted by London newspaper The Independent as saying. “We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer.”

Jalil told The Wall Journal in a July interview Gadhafi could remain in the country provided he surrenders power.

Study: Recession Can Hit Children Hard

CHICAGO, Aug. 30 (UPI) — Researchers at the University of Chicago say a recession can have long-lasting effects on children of people who are unemployed.

The researchers say material hardship and stress associated with unemployment can reduce the quality of the home environment and adversely affect children.

“There is growing evidence that parental job loss has adverse consequences on children’s behavior, academic achievement and later employment outcomes, particularly in economically disadvantaged families,” Heather Hill, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration, said in a university release Tuesday.

Studying largely low-income families, Hill said she found that job loss is linked with increasing behavioral problems by children in the classroom by more than 40 percent.

However, parental unemployment can lead to problems for children regardless of the family’s income status, the researchers said.

Parental stress and depression “can lead to less nurturing and harsher parenting,” Hill said.

Millionaire Accused Of Money Laundering

PALM BEACH, Fla., Aug. 30 (UPI) — A Florida millionaire has been accused of laundering money for a family of purported psychics who defrauded desperate customers seeking help, authorities said.

Peter Wolofsky, 84, pleaded not guilty Monday to money laundering in connection with the alleged $40 million scam, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Wolofsky was released after posting two $1 million bonds, the newspaper said.

Wolofsky’s attorney, Samuel Rabin Jr., said his client had no connection with the Fort Lauderdale-based psychics led by family matriarch Rose Marks.

“He had absolutely nothing to do with the gypsies,” Rabin said. “Other than lending them money he had nothing to do with them.”

It was not the first time Wolofsky had been in federal court on money laundering allegations.

In 2008, he was accused of laundering money for a massive drug ring.

He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of failure to report cash payments over $10,000 and was placed on probation for three years.

On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson noted that Wolofsky is still on probation for the 2008 charges.

He could face a 20-year prison sentence on the new charges.

Lawyer Asks For Sanctions In Stripper Suit

DETROIT, Aug. 30 (UPI) — The lawyer for the family of a slain exotic dancer says the city of Detroit should have to pay for allegedly obstructing the investigation into her death.

Attorney Norman Yatooma filed an objection Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, asking for sanctions and a default judgment in the $150 million civil case against former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the city, The Detroit News reported.

U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen this month ruled the city’s attorneys were responsible for hiding or destroying evidence that was ordered to be preserved in a lawsuit filed by relatives of Tamara “Strawberry” Greene, the newspaper said.

Greene was killed in 2003 in a drive-by shooting several months after she was rumored to have danced for Kilpatrick.

Yatooma said a default judgment would send the message that intentional and willful destruction of evidence will not be tolerated.

Hurricane Irene Swept Seabirds Inland

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 30 (UPI) — Hurricane Irene brought a bonus for Philadelphia-area birders with species usually found far out to sea or in the tropics showing up in the city’s suburbs.

In Cape May, N.J., one of the world’s top birding spots even in normal weather, some people hit the beach at daybreak Sunday as wind and high waves still lashed the area, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Vince Elia, a researcher with the New Jersey Audubon Society, said hurricanes are his favorite times because of the birds blown in by storm winds from the tropics and the ocean.

“I always say, it’s the most exciting birding that there is,” he said. “If I’m in Costa Rica, I know the birds I’m expecting to see. The thing with a hurricane is, you just don’t know the next thing that’s going to come around the corner.”

Birders have spotted a number of exotic species closer to the city. One birder used a cellphone to capture a photo of a tropical frigate bird in the parking lot at the Plymouth Meeting Mall, while another spotted a jaeger, normally found 50 miles or more at sea, in a Bucks County park.

Frank Windfielder of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society said at least 10 species of tern were spotted in Philadelphia. There were also many shorebirds that nest in the mid-Atlantic states.

By Monday, most of the unusual birds were gone.

“These birds are pushed inland,” Windfelder said. “Once they find water, they know to head downriver.”

Police Impersonators Made Hurricane Irene Warnings

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) — New York police allege a man posing as a law enforcement official tried to get people to evacuate before Hurricane Irene so houses could later be burglarized.

Authorities said Daniel DiGianni, 46, a former city correction officer, and his girlfriend, Linda Fleshner, 28, were walking along Liberty Avenue on Staten Island between 3 and 4 p.m. Sunday, wearing fake badges around their necks and identifying themselves to residents as “corrections officers.”

Authorities allege they informed residents they were in an evacuation zone and had to leave their homes.

Police said they believe DiGianni and Fleshner had burglary in mind.

“That’s what we feel,” an NYPD source told the Staten Island Advance. “They wanted to know who was evacuating [their homes] and who wasn’t. So they were trying to take a tally of who was and who wasn’t.”

DiGianni’s gold badge read “New York City Authority” and he was carrying handcuffs. Fleshner wore a silver corrections shield that had belonged to DiGianni.

DiGianni was hired as a city correction officer in 1995 but dismissed in 1997 due to unspecified charges against him, corrections department spokeswoman Sharman Stein said.

DiGianni and Fleshner were charged with misdemeanor criminal impersonation.