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. 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.

Deadly storm to clear by afternoon

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — More snow was expected in Maine Sunday as a deadly storm that dropped up to 2 feet of snow on the mid-Atlantic and New England clears out, officials said.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers predicted the wet snow that fell throughout the region Saturday could turn into ice early Sunday due to freezing temperatures and cautioned road conditions could be perilous. By Sunday afternoon, though, he said the storm will have passed.

CNN reported at least three people died in the storm, including an 84-year-old man sleeping in a recliner when a snow-weighted tree fell on his home in Temple, Pa. Another person died while driving in Hebron, Conn., a state emergency official said. The third fatality was a man in his 20s killed in Springfield, Mass., who ignored police barricades around downed power lines and touched a metal guard rail that was electrified, city fire department spokesman Dennis Legere said.

With up to 18 inches of snow and 50 mph wind gusts forecast in parts of the northeast, the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York declared emergencies for their states, CNN said.Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said Saturday about 50,000 to 70,000 residents were losing power every hour, but warned power crews would not be dispatched until road conditions improved.

CNN reported in addition to knocking out power to more than 2 million households, the snow storm forced the cancellation of all domestic flights out of New Jersey’s Newark International Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration reported delays of at least 5 hours at New York City airports.

The National Weather Service said parts of New York and New Jersey were hit especially hard, with 15.5 inches of snow accumulating in West Milford, N.J., and 12 inches in Harriman, N.Y.

Cease-fire established in mideast attacks

JERUSALEM, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Egyptian officials established a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza Sunday, putting an end to the weekend violence that left 10 dead.

Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip fired three rockets after the 6 a.m. starting time for the truce, the Israeli military said, but since then no new violence has occurred, Haaretz reported.

About 30 rockets were fired by Islamic Jihad into southern Israel Saturday, hitting the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gan Yavne and around Be’er Sheva, Haaretz said. At least one Israeli died and 17 injuries were reported.

The violence began Wednesday when a long-range Grad rocket struck near the Israeli port of Ashdod. The Israel military retaliated, launching an air strike that killed nine Islamic Jihad militants.

Two smaller Palestinian factions claimed responsibility for the attacks in addition to the Islamic Jihad, which has close ties to Iran. Abu Ahmed, leader of the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad said the group welcomed the truce.

“If the [Israeli] aggression is stopped, we will abide by calm,” he said.

Schools in southern Israel were closed Sunday as a precaution and Gaza residents were encouraged to stay indoors.

Israeli soldier jailed for leaking secrets

TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 30 (UPI) — A female former Israeli soldier was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison in Tel Aviv Sunday for leaking hundreds of classified documents to a newspaper.

The court also imposed a suspended sentence of 18 months on Anat Kamm after she serves her prison time, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Kamm was convicted in February of passing some 2,000 documents to the Haaretz newspaper in 2008 while she was working at the military’s central command.

At least 700 of the documents were classified, Haaretz said.

Since her arrest, Kamm has told media she wanted to expose wrongs she alleges were committed by the military.

She has been in jail for two years, but that wasn’t deducted from her sentence, the reports said.

Her sentence was the result of a plea bargain that reduced the charges from sedition, which would have carried a life sentence, the Post said.

Judging dispute delays Mubarak trial

CAIRO, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s trial for ordering citizens killed was postponed for a month Sunday in Cairo in a dispute about judges, lawyers said.

Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat suspended proceedings until at least Dec. 28 in order for challenges to his fairness be sorted out, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

More than 850 citizens were killed by soldiers and police in protests calling for Mubarak to step down in January and February. Some family members of the victims complained Refaat didn’t allow enough time for prosecution lawyers to question a senior military official, leading him to suspend the trial.

A three-judge appeals panel was formed to rule on the complaint, but they advised the court they couldn’t come to agreement, the report said.

Mubarak was forced from power in February. He, two of his sons and seven former security officials are on trial for ordering the shootings of civilians, as well as corruption.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court: When does religious speech become political speech?

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — With the American political season nearly in full venom, the U.S. Supreme Court is being given the chance to decide when a religious organization wanders off course into the realm of political advocacy, endangering the organization’s tax-exempt status.

Also in the petition bringing that question to the high court: Whether the Internal Revenue Service can avoid a constitutional ruling by refunding taxes back to the non-profit organization while at the same time maintaining the taxes were correctly assessed.

The case involves Catholic Answers Inc. and its founder, Karl Keating, and an uncharacteristically timid IRS. But the organization said the IRS policy involved “affects the speech of hundreds if not thousands of non-profit organizations.”

If the Supreme Court agrees to review the case, it should be of particular interest to abortion rights advocates (code words for “Democrats”), who may feel the heat from powerful Catholic institutions.

Catholic Answers Inc. is a non-profit religious corporation organized under California law, with headquarters in El Cajon near San Diego.

The organization produced a voters’ guide in 2004 advising readers of the Catholic way to vote (without naming specific candidates), and Keating posted two “e-letters” questioning whether Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee and a professed Catholic, should be denied Holy Communion because of his support for abortion rights.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, Catholic Answers said Kerry received communion at an African Methodist Episcopal church in April 2004 and a week later took Holy Communion at a Catholic mass.

“Keating published an e-letter on Catholic Answers’ Web site that discussed the events and why Senator Kerry, a Catholic, should have been rebuked for taking communion from a community that lacked a valid sacrament of [holy] orders [the AME church]. … Keating was also critical of Senator Kerry’s views on abortion,” the petition says, “and suggested that he should be denied holy communion. … Keating published a second e-letter … again discussing Senator Kerry and the Catholic church’s teachings on abortion and the eucharist.”

Enter the IRS.

The agency asked Catholic Answers a number of questions — “73 questions, including 28 discrete subparts” the petition said — then ruled the voters’ guide did not constitute a political expenditure because it didn’t contain “express advocacy,” but Keating’s postings on Kerry and communion did contain express advocacy. The IRS ordered Catholic Answers to cough up excise taxes on the e-letters for 2004 and 2005 — totaling a little more than $100.

As a precaution, even though it was ruled non-political, Catholic Answers moved production of the voters’ guide to a newly created sister organization.

Catholic Answers filed papers protesting the assessment. “Specifically, CA does not believe that the statements contained in the e-letters constitute ‘participation in, or intervention in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,'” the group said in asking for its money back. “Accordingly, CA is entitled to a refund of taxes … because it did not make a ‘political expenditure.'”

On March 27, 2009 — the last day before the six-month wait period expired under federal law — the IRS said it was going to “abate” the excise taxes and credit Catholic Answers’ account, with interest, because the “political intervention … was not willful and flagrant,” the petition says. In other words, the IRS rejected Catholic Answers’ administrative refund claim, reaffirmed the prior finding that the e-letters constituted political expenditures but said it would return the taxes.

“Catholic Answers would like to engage in substantially similar issue advocacy in the future but will not [do] so long as it can have taxes assessed against it, be subject to another grueling investigation and possibly have its tax-exempt status revoked for such speech.

“Because the IRS did not change its position on whether Catholic Answers’ e-letters [were] a political expenditure and gave it an abatement rather than the refund it requested,” the petition told the Supreme Court, “Catholic Answers has no assurance that this scenario will not happen again, and thus is chilled from engaging in substantially similar political speech.”

Catholic Answers went to federal court to bring the IRS to heel, but a judge ruled in part Keating lacked standing to bring suit — couldn’t show an injury; that Catholic Answers’ claims became moot when the IRS abated and returned the excise taxes, and that Catholic Answers could not raise any arguments related to “express advocacy” or the return of funds to Keating because the doctrine of variance barred it.

A federal appeals court panel agreed with the judge, and the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused a rehearing.

The legal doctrine of variance says a taxpayer, when seeking to get back tax from the IRS, must include every conceivable argument in his or her refund claim. If the taxpayer later has to sue for the refund, any arguments that substantially vary from the refund claim will be dismissed by a judge for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Conversely, the IRS is free to raise any new grounds in court, even if it did not raise those grounds in the original notice of deficiency to the taxpayer.

In other words, the doctrine makes the taxpayer the one-legged man in any rear-end kicking contest with the IRS.

But the doctrine isn’t absolute, and a taxpayer may still argue that a variance is minimal.

“The IRS routinely seeks to avoid judicial review of its administrative decisions by giving in without renouncing the policy that gave rise to the dispute with the taxpayer,” CA’s petition says in arguing that the Supreme Court should review. The statute on jurisdiction allows such tactics because a taxpayer cannot file a refund suit until the taxpayer has paid a tax and filed an administrative refund claim. The petition argued the 9th Circuit’s decision insulates the IRS from judicial review even when the taxpayer has followed the refund procedures mandated by Congress.

“In this case, abatement has been used to prevent judicial determination of whether the IRS policy violates the First Amendment rights of groups and individuals and has the effect of chilling future political speech because the determination remains, and will forever remain, unresolved,” the petition says.

It adds: “The underlying legal issue of Catholic Answers’ refund claim involves core political speech and the application of a vague and indeterminable IRS standard to that political speech. Currently, the IRS is able to silence core political speech by trickery.

“Catholic Answers is left in the same position now as when it first spoke on its Web site about the application of religious teachings to a political official,” the petition says. CA engaged in core political speech and was subject “to a grueling IRS investigation,” it said. Then the IRS determined that Catholic Answers’ speech violated the law by engaging in political intervention “under the IRS’s vague and indeterminable ‘facts and circumstances’ test.”

When CA contested the penalty, the IRS “waited until the last possible moment to give Catholic Answers its money back,” but did not change its position on whether the tax should be imposed. And now, because of rulings by the judge and the court of appeals, “Catholic Answers is left without any access to judicial review,” the petition said.

Worse, if CA engages in similar speech in the future it faces a penalty, “only to have the IRS give its money back if Catholic Answers again seeks judicial review. This type of trickery, which leaves the constitutionality of the underlying statute untouchable, affects the speech of hundreds if not thousands of non-profit organizations,” the petition says.

The IRS, of course, will have a significantly different story to tell when it files a response brief to the petition.

One question unlikely to be answered in the case, even if the Supreme Court grants review, is why the IRS picked on Catholic Answers as an enforcement example.

Far more powerful entities appeared to be working within the Catholic church in 2004 for Kerry’s defeat, but did not receive similar IRS attention.

In an Oct. 28, 2004, commentary in the Los Angeles Times, “Amazing Gall: The Catholic Attack on Kerry,” writer Margaret Carlson contends the George W. Bush campaign worked hand in glove with Catholic bishops to attack the Democratic candidate for being a secular Catholic.

Among her examples: Only weeks before the presidential election, the bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling, W.Va., “sent letters to 86,000 Catholics warning that it would be a ‘grave evil’ to vote for someone who condoned legal abortion. Several bishops said if Kerry came to mass, they would deny him communion.”

West Virginia, long a Democratic stronghold, went for Bush by about 100,000 votes.

Obama helps mark Italian heritage month

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — President Obama Saturday night helped Italian-Americans celebrate their heritage and their contributions to the United States.

Following an introduction by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Obama told the crowd at the National Italian American Foundation gala at the Washington Hilton the United States “would not be what it is today without the unique contributions and the uncommon pride of Italian Americans.”

Like immigrants from other countries, the president said, Italians came to America “in search of opportunity.”

“And it wasn’t always easy. Italians weren’t always welcome,” Obama said. “And when we think about today’s immigrants, we have to remind ourselves that those of us who now feel comfortable in our American identity, that that wasn’t always the case in the past.

“Everybody in this room, just about everybody, has an ancestor or lots of ancestors who fit that story of transplanted roots that somehow grew in American soil; of families that struggled and sacrificed so that our families might know something better.

“So that’s what binds us together. That is what has always made our country unique. We’ve always been and we will always be a nation of immigrants from all over the world. And out of many, somehow we’re able to forge ourselves into one people; and this is the place where the highest hopes can be reached, and the deepest and most sincere dreams can be made real.”

Obama noted “these are tough times right now.”

“And for many, the dream that brought so many Italian-Americans to these shores feels like it’s slipping away,” he said..

“But while these times are hard, we have to remind ourselves they’re not as hard as those that earlier generations faced. And the legacy of their courage and their commitment and their determination and their generosity and their willingness to think about the next generation — we have to be just as passionate and just as selfless as they were to keep that dream alive, and make sure our children inherit futures that are big and bright, and that this country is as generous as it’s always been.

And that’s what we have to commit to ourselves tonight.’

Obamas hand out candy to trick-or-treaters

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) — Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night prevented trick-or-treaters from descending on the White House Saturday where President Obama gave out candy.

Despite the inclement weather in the nation’s capital, the president and first lady Michelle Obama dispensed cookies, dried fruit and M&M’s to the bundled-up children whose costumes included Batman, Harry Potter,a football player and a headless man.

“Look at this guy!” the president said. “It’s a headless man — terrible.”

“Let’s give out some candy,” Obama, wearing gray slacks and a black fleece, said. “I know it’s cold here, you guys doing alright? It’s not ideal out here.”

The White House grounds were decorated with pumpkins, gourds, hay bales and fake spider webs, and staff members wore costumes, including a cowboy, a bunny, a red chile pepper and a storm trooper.

The first lady wore an orange-and-black dress under a heavy black coat.

“Oh, she’s freezing,” she said as she briefly wrapped one girl in her coat.

The Obamas’ daughters Malia or Sasha weren’t spotted at the Halloween festivities.

Lim: Russia upbeat on N. Korea nuke talks

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (UPI) — South Korea’s top nuclear envoy says Russia is upbeat about North Korea’s talks with the South and the United States on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Lim Sung-nam’s comments Saturday came after he returned from a three-day visit to Russia.

“Russia is viewing the two rounds of South-North and North-U.S. talks positively,” he told Yonhap News Agency.

Lim visited Russia to help coordinate six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. He was named Seoul’s chief negotiator at disarmament talks last month.

He said he would “further increase joint efforts with Russia to solve North Korean issues on the basis of strategic partnerships.”

Lim, special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, met with his Russian counterpart, Alexei Borodavkin, and other senior officials.

The United States and North Korea ended talks this week in Geneva, Switzerland, on resumption of negotiations on the North’s nuclear disarmament but no breakthrough was reported.

The six-party talks among the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan on the North’s denuclearization have stalled since 2009 when the North walked out. Since then China has been pressing the North to return to the bargaining table.

Israel: 10 militants killed in Gaza

JERUSALEM, Oct. 29 (UPI) — Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip Saturday killed 10 Islamic Jihad members, the military said, and rocket fire into southern Israel killed a civilian.

The Jerusalem Post reported the Israeli military said it struck four targets.

The Post said rockets fired into southern Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip killed Ami Moshe, 56, of Ashkelon, who was on his way home to his family and ran from his vehicle for cover but was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a rocket.

Four others were wounded and numerous buildings, including a school, were heavily damaged in a barrage of 35 projectiles, including Grad rockets and mortar shells, fired into at Ashdod, Ashkelon and other areas.

“This was a miracle, it could have been much worse,” said Eli Bin, director general of Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency service.

The Israeli military said it targeted a terror cell in southern Gaza, a terrorist planning a rocket strike and two rocket-launch sites in northern Gaza.

“Hamas is responsible for what takes place in Gaza,” the army said.

The terror cell had fired an unprovoked Grad rocket into Rehovot last week, Israeli army sources said.

A local TV station reported Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades called the first wave of rockets its “initial response” to the strike on its rocket cell and said “the enemy should expect the worst in the coming hours.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was in Bosnia-Herzegovina Saturday, warned of “serious consequences in the coming days” if the rocket fire is not stopped.

“We are not seeking violence with the Palestinians and we do not want to ‘heat up’ the situation, but we won’t suffer one rocket barrage after another without a response,” Lieberman said.

A spokesman for Robert Serry, the United Nations’ special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said in a statement the attacks “are very worrying.

“It’s vital to deescalate now, without any delay,” the spokesman said. “We strongly appeal for calm and an end to violence and bloodshed.”