Hackers threaten Mexican drug cartel

VERACRUZ, Mexico, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Anonymous threatens to expose a Mexican drug cartel’s associates if it doesn’t free one of the international Internet hacking group’s members, a video shows.

The unidentified Anonymous member allegedly was kidnapped by the Zetas during a street protest in the Mexican state of Veracruz, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.

“You made a huge mistake by taking one of us. Release him,” a masked man says in a video allegedly posted online on behalf of Anonymous. “We cannot defend ourselves with a weapon … but we can do this with their cars, homes, bars, brothels and everything else in their possession.

“It won’t be difficult; we all know who they are and where they are located.

The video claims Anonymous will publish the identities and addresses of the violent drug-trafficking syndicate’s associates, including corrupt police, and disclose the syndicate’s businesses, the newspaper said.

“It is a gutsy move,” said Mike Vigil, a retired head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “By publishing the names, they identify them to rivals, and trust me, they will go after them.”

Teen found in noose at scare park

ST. LOUIS, Oct. 30 (UPI) — A teenage girl working at a horror-themed amusement park in Jefferson County, Mo., was critically injured when she got hung up in a noose, authorities said.

An employee at the Creepyworld “scream park” found the 17-year-old girl, who works as an actress to scare guests at the park, Thursday night, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Police say the girl, whose name had not been released, somehow got stuck in a noose being used as a prop. She was unconscious when they arrived and she was rushed to an area hospital.

“It’s a situation that’s under investigation,” said Larry Kirchner, president of the park’s operator, Halloween Productions Inc. “The only thing we’re concerned about is our actor.”

The girl was in critical condition in the hospital as of Friday night.

Creepyworld is a small park designed to look like a town hit by some sort of disaster. A massive troupe of actors scare and surprise guests who tour the park.

Police said they hadn’t had any other problems at Creepyworld, but Halloween Productions, which has designed and built about 200 haunted houses worldwide, has had a number of lawsuits filed against it in recent years, including allegations that fumes and fake fog at a haunted house in St. Louis called The Darkness caused the death a 15-year-old girl in November 2010, the newspaper said.

Treasure in U.S. aid to Iraq said stolen

BAGHDAD, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq during the war were stolen by Iraqi officials, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says.

“Hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars … [were] stolen by senior Iraqi officials for their own personal gain,” Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr. told CNBC Saturday.

While Bowen said he was satisfied most of the money made it to the entities meant to get it, he said he still had questions about what happened to some of the money left over when the Coalition Provisional Authority was disbanded.

“Two hundred and 17 million [dollars] was in the basement of the Republican palace in cash,” Bowen said. “That last tranche is what we continue to be concerned about.”

Bowen said he would investigate the status of as much as $12 billion in assets shipped to Baghdad between 2003 and 2004.

The United States should take some basic financial lessons from its experience in Iraq, he said.

“Pouring cash — hundreds of millions in dollars of cash — across a war zone is a foolish thing to do,” he said.

“And it will bring out the lesser parts of certain people and lead them to criminal conduct. I’ve had to go and pursue them, investigate their wrongdoing and ensure their prosecution.”

Canadian imam allegedly beaten, arrested

MEDINA, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 30 (UPI) — A Canadian imam was arrested in Saudi Arabia after he was allegedly attacked by a mob and beaten during the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, witnesses said.

The attack early Sunday was reportedly sparked when religious police approached an international group of pilgrims that included the imam, Usama al-Atar of Edmonton, Alberta, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Witnesses said a single member of the religious police approached al-Atar, offered to shake his hand then called to a group of men at a taxi stand who rushed al-Atar and kicked and beat him.

More police arrived, escorted al-Atar to a car and drove away, witnesses said.

It’s reported al-Atar has been charged with assault, but Saudi police have not confirmed that, the CBC reported.

The annual hajj pilgrimage is a pillar of the Islamic faith and draws millions of participants to Saudi Arabia.

Christian university rejects homosexuality

ROME, Ga., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Shorter University in Rome, Ga., is requiring its staff of more than 200 to sign a statement rejecting homosexuality.

Don Dowless, president of the Christian university, said staff members who do not sign the “Personal Lifestyle Statement,” which also requires staff members to reject premarital sex and adultery, may lose their jobs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“I think that anybody who adheres to a lifestyle that is outside of what the biblical mandate is and of what the board has passed, including the president, would not be allowed to continue here,” Dowless said.

By signing the statement, employees are agreeing to reject “all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but no limited to premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality,” the statement says.

“Anything outside that is not biblical, we do not accept,” Dowless said. “We have a right to hire only Christians.”

Students, however, are not being asked to sign the policy. One student, who asked to not be identified, said the university is judging others, which is contrary to what the Bible teaches.

The Personal Lifestyle Statement was one of several policies approved by the university’s board Oct. 21 and presented to the campus Oct. 26. The other policies include “Policy for Christian Education,” “Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning” and a “Statement of Faith.”

China policeman charged in fatal crash

ZHENGZHOU, China, Oct. 30 (UPI) — A police commander in rural China has been arrested after being involved in a traffic accident that killed five people this weekend, authorities said.

Wang Yinpeng was behind the wheel of a van that hit two street lights in Zhengzhou, a town in the Henan province county of Runan, causing the heavy poles to crash down on passengers waiting at a bus stop.

Three other people were injured in the mishap, which China’s Xinhua news agency sparked a surge of outrage on social media sites.

County officials told Xinhua that Wang was suspected of driving drunk and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Obama aide: GOP stuck on taxes for rich

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — One of President Obama’s top political generals says the economy remained in the doldrums because the Republicans won’t budge on upper-income tax rates.

Senior White House adviser David Plouffe said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the administration and the White House had proven their willingness to discuss further spending cuts, but accused the GOP of being obsessed with blocking nominal increased in taxes paid by the wealthy.

“If the Republican Party will say, ‘You know what, because the Democratic Party is willing to do a lot more spending cuts, we are willing to ask the wealthiest to do a little bit more, through tax reform, then we could go a long way to solving this problem,” said Plouffe, who was Obama’s campaign manager in 2008.

Plouffe opined that the president was in good shape heading into 2012 with a list of achievements including the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the demise of Osama bin Laden and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Plouffe also contended that the Republican jobs strategy was considered unworkable by independent economists. “The only plan right now in front of the American people, in front of Congress, that would create jobs in the short-term is the president’s,” he said.

Cain says he is more than an anti-Romney

WASHINGTON, Calif., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain says he has more to offer U.S. voters than not being Mitt Romney.

Cain holds the lead in two recent polls and says he has been connecting with voters because of his ideas and not merely because he is a fallback choice for conservatives who have not yet warmed up to Romney.

“I don’t think that’s the driving force,” Cain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation. “The reaction in terms of how people have responded to my speeches — talking about specific solutions relative to the economy, specific things that I would do differently as it relates to this president and this administration — they are genuinely enthused about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it.”

Cain said he had been cultivating political support for several months before he officially launched his campaign. “I have actually been connecting with people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida for over a year, even before I made the decision to run,” Cain said. “My message is connecting and and people are connecting with me and the specific solutions I’m putting on the table.”

Cain conceded he still had work to do explaining the theory of his “9-9-9″ tax plan, and that his new ad in which an aide smokes a cigarette doesn’t mean he is promoting tobacco use. “It is not a cool thing to do, and that’s not what it was trying to say,” Cain said.

JetBlue passengers stranded for 7 hours

HARTFORD, Conn., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Passengers on a JetBlue flight said they were stranded on a plane for seven hours Saturday after low visibility caused a diverted landing in Connecticut.

Flight 504 left Fort Lauderdale, Fla,m about 10 a.m. and was expected to land at Newark (N.J.) Liberty International Airport, but zero visibility prevented that from happening. The plane landed at Bradley International Airport in Hartford at around 1:30 p.m., but passengers weren’t allowed to disembark until about 9 p.m., Tribune newspapers reported.

“It’s been a long day,” said Andrew Carter, a sports reporter who was traveling to cover the Miami Dolphins game against the New York Giants. “There’s been no real explanation as to why we’ve been sitting here for seven hours.”

“We ran out of water,” he told Tribune from a cellphone on board the plane. “The bathrooms are all clogged up and disgusting. The power would go off every 45 minutes or so for five minutes or so, and that would freak people out. … I’ve heard about these kind of stories.”

Officials for Bradley International Airport declined to comment and JetBlue representatives could not be reached Saturday.

Bill Gates calls foreign aid effective

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Microsoft mogul Bill Gates says increasing aid to the Third World is a worthwhile project that Americans will support despite the tough economy.

Gate said Sunday that targeted aid from the developed world has paid off in the battle against overall poverty and helped slow the spread of dread diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Gates said he and President Obama had a solid case to make for increased aid at next week’s G20 Summit in France. “If we really look at how the world has improved in the past few decades, it’s very impressive in how we reduced poverty, reduced malnutrition, reduced the under 5 death rate,” Gates said. “And we need to take lessons, the generosity, the innovation, and carry that forward despite the fact that we have this economic crisis.”

Gates shrugged off the idea that the United States was degenerating into “class warfare” between the wealthy and working class. “I just can’t imagine these millionaires and billionaires going down and barricading the streets because they’re going to have to pay 4 or 5 percent more in taxes,” he said. “There certainly is a case to be made that taxes should be more progressive and that’s being debated by various people.”

Jackson: Ethics probe a distraction

KANKAKEE, Ill., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said he hopes to be “vindicated” in the House ethics probe into his alleged attempts at trying to secure a vacant Senate seat.

The seat in question was left open by President Obama when he took presidential office in 2008 and prosecutors allege Jackson had spoken to two associates about making an offer to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the position.

Jackson, at a Kankakee County NAACP annual dinner Saturday, told the Chicago Tribune he never had any interaction with Blagojevich’s brother and head of campaign fundraising, Robert Blagojevich.

“I don’t know him. I never had a conversation with him and by definition, I never asked anybody to talk to him,” Jackson told the Tribune of Robert Blagojevich after appearing at the Kankakee County NAACP’s annual dinner. “I didn’t even know he existed until the trial. I don’t know him. I never met him.”

Jackson called the House Committee on Ethics probe a distraction in his campaign for the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District.

“I believe in the American system of justice. The process is continuing and in the end I believe I will be vindicated,” Jackson told the NAACP audience.

Perry: Not worried about debates

AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 30 (UPI) — GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry says despite not being “the best debater in the world,” he’s not worried about going up against President Obama on stage.

“Well, I’m not worried a bit that I’ll be able to stand on the stage with Barack Obama and draw a very bright line, a real contrast between an individual who’s lost 2.5 million jobs for this country, someone who is signaling to our opponents when we’re going to pull out of a particular war zone, an individual who has taken an experiment with the American economy and turned it into absolute Frankenstein experience,” the Texas said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think I will stand on the stage and draw a clear contrast with Barack Obama.”

Perry said he thinks the Republican 18 debates scheduled throughout the campaign season is way too many and he plans to skip some, though he confirmed signing up for the next five debates.

“I readily admit I’m not the best debater in the world. With as many debate as we got coming up, I may end up being a pretty good debater before it’s all been said and done,” he said.

Perry said his record as the governor of Texas should speak to the kind of success he will have a president.

“If you want to know how somebody is going to perform in the future, take a look at their past. And as governor of the state of Texas, we created more jobs in the state than any other state in the country. And I think that’s what Americans are really interested in,” he said. “We got a great debater, a smooth politician in the White House right now. That’s not working out very good for America.”

Halloween spending up despite economy

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Despite the struggling economy, consumers are spending more on costumes and candy for Halloween this year, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.

“People love, in an economy like this one, to just get out, let loose, have a little bit of fun,” the vice president and spokesman for the organization, Ellen Davis, said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “For example, in 2008, when everything was in the tank, Halloween spending rose. This year, Halloween spending is up again, and part of that is because people are just looking for an opportunity to have a little bit of fun.”

Davis said unlike Christmas, Halloween is a “no-strings-attached holiday,” meaning people don’t have to buy gifts or travel to celebrate if they don’t want to. The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend about $20 for costumes and candy and $15 to $16 on decorations per family.

For the most part, she said, the retail success of Halloween doesn’t indicate a boost in sales come Christmastime.

“… Halloween is relatively isolated. Not only is it isolated in terms of trends because it almost is recession-proof, but it’s also isolated in the types of merchandise. Halloween is really about costumes, candy and decorations; and Christmas, as we know, is so much more than that,” Davis said.

China’s ‘one-child policy’ to stay

BEIJING, Oct. 30 (UPI) — China will adhere to its “one-child policy,” as officials said it kept the world population from reaching 7 billion for an additional five years.

The United Nations estimates the world’s population will reach 7 billion Monday, but that day would have occurred five years sooner had it not been for the 400 million people not born because of the Chinese policy, demographer Zhai Zhenwu said.

“The population of China would have hit 1.7 billion had it not been for the family planning policy, and it would have created more difficulties for society,” Li Bin, director of the State Population and Family Planning Commission, told Xinhua News Agency Sunday.

The most populous nation in the world, China still battles issues of gender imbalance and an aging population. In 2010, for every 100 girls born, 118 boys were born and 13.26 percent of the population is 60 years old or more, a ratio that’s supposed to hit about 33 percent by 2050, Xinhua reported.

Since implementation of the “one-child policy” in the 1970s, the country’s average education term and life expectancy have increased and maternal and infant mortality rates are among the lowest in developing countries.

Colorado to test school taxes vs. jobs

DENVER, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Supporters of a tax increase for education in Colorado say this week’s vote will provide a solid clue as to the nation’s views on taxes and the economy.

Proposition 103 is the only measure on the Nov. 1 ballot and specifies increases of less than 1 percent in both sales and income-tax rates that would restore them to pre-1999 levels.

“We’re the only state that’s asking voters if they’re willing to step up and support a tax increase, in this case to support our education system,” said Democratic State Sen. Rollie Heath. “It will be very telling to the rest of the country about how people are feeling.”

Backers of Proposition 103 say the plan to bump up income and sales taxes in order to provide nearly $3 billion for public education over five years is needed to offset recent huge cuts made to balance the state budget.

But Republicans and the business community have come out flatly against the measure on the grounds any and all tax increases would torpedo the state economy. “The unemployment crisis is the wrong time for statewide income tax and sales tax increases,” Republican leaders warned in a recent letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Stateline.org said Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has stayed out of the debate. Polls show the voters basically split over the measure.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree there a flaws in Colorado’s budget system that need to be addressed as well; however analysts say the needed changes would require a great deal of time and highly political debate. “The problem is that those kind of structural changes require lot of conversations, and a lot of people to get to a consensus,” said Carol Hedges, director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute.

Woman killed at her 70th birthday party

LUND, Sweden, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Police in southern Sweden have arrested a 40-year-old man and charged him with fatally stabbing his mother at her 70th birthday party.

Police spokesman Per Lidehall told the Sydsvenskan newspaper in Lund the unidentified man is charged with attacking his mother in front of family and friends at a house party Saturday afternoon.

The woman died later in the hospital, the report said.

Lidehall said there was no apparent motive for the attack and that people at the party were still being questioned Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Aftonbladet newspaper reported the son had been in the process of psychiatric evaluation with the possibility of being committed before the attack.

U.S. eyes Persian Gulf buildup

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — A boost in the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf could come as the last troops are withdrawn from Iraq, officials said.

U.S. military officials as well as officials of countries in the region have shown concern that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq could cause instability in the area. In light of an increasing threat from Iran, the Obama administration is seeking to reinforce military ties with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, The New York Times reported.

Central Command officers expect to position combat forces in Kuwait, incorporating successful deployment plans from previous years, although no specifics have been discussed, the Times said. The size of the combat force is still under negotiation, but officials predict smaller deployments.

“We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, told the newspaper. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

The United States is also considering deploying more naval warships to international waters in the area, officials said.

Dozens arrested in Occupy protests

PORTLAND, Ore., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Dozens were arrested Saturday and early Sunday as police clashed with Occupy protesters throughout the United States, officials said.

Eleven people in Portland were arrested and charged with second-degree trespassing and interfering with a police officer for refusing to leave Jamison Square park after it closed at midnight, The (Portland) Oregonian reported Sunday.

Denver police arrested 20 protesters amid clashes that turned violent in the city’s Civic Center. Two people face felony charges after police said they knocked an officer off his motorcycle Saturday, The Denver Post reported Sunday. Police fired pepper spray and pepper balls into the crowd as they pushed marchers off the out-of-bounds state Capitol steps.

Meanwhile, the state American Civil Liberties Union says a newly imposed 10 p.m. curfew in Nashville violates protesters’ First Amendment rights, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced the curfew Thursday for the city’s Legislative Plaza and since then about 50 people have been arrested.

“This is sort of a basic, core right to protest,” said Hedy Weinberg, state director for the ACLU. “The state cannot change the rules in the middle of the game, which is what’s happening, and the state knows that they cannot change the policy and selectively apply it.”

Assad defends status quo in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said the political violence in his nation has declined since he limited his army to “only fighting terrorists.”

“If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen,” Assad said of the bloody military crackdown against demonstrators in the summer. “Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That’s why the fighting is becoming much less.”

In his first interview with Western media since this year’s uprising began, Bashar told Britain’s The Sunday Telegraph that effective strategy was in place that put the Syrian police out front. “We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaida,” he said.

The Telegraph said the violence in Syria was far from over. Opposition groups claimed 40 civilians were killed by government artillery this weekend in Homs while another 17 soldiers reportedly died in a clash with a band of army deserters in the city.

But Assad defended the seemingly slow pace of government reforms and warned outside governments that Syria’s collapse could Balkanize the strategically important region and allow further gains by radical Islamists. “Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?” he asked.

“Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region,” Assad warned. “If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region.”

Flooding still plagues Bangkok

BANGKOK, Oct. 30 (UPI) — More than 381 people are dead and about 10,800 have been evacuated as flood waters still inundate Thailand’s capital, officials said.

Unusually heavy rains began in July and flooding covered northern regions. The water has been flowing southward through 27 of the country’s 77 provinces to the capital region, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

Flooding is expected to persist for about four more weeks, the Bangkok Post reported Sunday.

Floodwaters flowing into Bangkok are not as bad as expected, though the overall water mass is still substantial, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Sunday.

The flooding situation in Bangkok should improve soon as relief efforts to drain the excess water is under way, the Post said. Officials are keeping an eye on the tides as drainage of the water to the sea would speed up the process.

Anond Snidvongs, director of the Geoinformatics and Space Technology Development Agency, said about 70 percent of the northern runoff reaching the capital could be drained, meaning waters would rise an average of 2 inches per day, the Post reported.

Pheu Thai Member of Parliament Uthen Chartpinyo suggested opening west-facing sluice gates in the city to allow runoff into an underground drainage tunnel.

Bhutto murder trial delayed a fourth time

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Oct. 30 (UPI) — The indictment hearings for seven men accused of assassinating former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were postponed for a fourth time Sunday.

In Rawalpindi, Judge Shahid Rafique put the hearings off until Nov. 5 because the lawyer for one of the defendants wasn’t able to attend, Dawn News reported.

The court heard the lawyer had prior engagements with the national bar association and couldn’t represent his client.

Prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali lodged a protest, alleging stalling tactics, the newspaper said.

“Due to the delaying tactics, (Bhutto’s) assassination case still remains undecided,” he said.

Bhutto served two non-consecutive terms as prime minister as leader of the leftist PPP party.

She spent nine years living in self-exile in Dubai amid allegations of corruption before returning to Pakistan in October 2007 under an amnesty.

Two months later after a campaign rally, she stood up in her limousine to wave through the sunroof and was hit with a flurry of bullets as bombs went off around the vehicle.

China coal mine blast kills 29

HENGYANG, China, Oct. 30 (UPI) — An explosion in a coal mine in southeastern China killed 29 workers, officials of the Hunan provincial government said Sunday.

State labor officials said 35 miners were working Saturday night when the fiery blast shook the tunnels, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

More than 40 rescuers responded and managed to extricate six workers from underground, the report said. All of them required hospitalization for burn treatment and breathing problems.

Coal mines commonly accumulate natural gas, and officials said that was the likely cause for the blast at the state-owned Xialiuchong Coal Mine.

The facility has 160 employees, but is closed while labor officials investigate, the report said.

Kansas grain elevator explosion kills 3

ATCHISON, Kan., Oct. 30 (UPI) — Rescue crews Sunday combed the rubble of a grain elevator in Atchison, Kansas, that exploded and killed at least three workers, city officials said.

The blast at the Bartlett Grain Co. facility happened Saturday night around 7 p.m. as workers were loading grain into rail tankers, The Kansas City (Mo.) Star reported.

Initial reports from the company and fire officials suggested the explosion and fire were caused by grain dust suspended in the air that can become volatile given the right temperature, humidity and a spark of origin.

It wasn’t clear how many people were working at the time, but at least three were killed, the newspaper said.

Two men were airlifted to the University of Kansas Hospital’s burn unit in critical condition, but it wasn’t clear Sunday if they were among the three fatalities.

The Atchison Globe said at least three employees were treated for injuries at the scene but not sent to hospitals.

Fire crews from several communities requested heavy excavation equipment late Saturday to help look for survivors or victims.

The blast was so strong, residents as far as 3 miles away reported their homes shook, the Star said.