Friday, September 30, 2011

NATO presses Pakistan on ‘terrorist’ safe havens

NATO’s chief piled pressure on Pakistan on Friday to step up the fight against “terrorists” enjoying safe havens in the border region with Afghanistan.

Amid growing US pressure for Pakistan to take action against Al-Qaeda-linked extremists, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a “positive engagement” from Islamabad to ensure stability in Afghanistan.

“We encourage the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government to do its utmost to fight extremism and terrorism in the border region,” Rasmussen said at a defence forum hosted by the European Policy Centre think tank. “It is really a security problem for our troops in Afghanistan that terrorists have safe havens, and that’s a fact, in Pakistan,” he said.

“We have to deal with that and it’s in our mutual interest to deal with that.” “That’s a reason why we have conveyed that clear message to Pakistan authorities.” The Pakistani government and opposition leaders on Thursday closed ranks against increasing US pressure for action against the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, refusing to be pressured into doing more in the war on terror.

Bank of America faces outrage over debit card charge

The Washington Post

Bank of America got pummeled by investors and its customers Friday, a day after announcing that it would charge many debit card users a $5 monthly fee when they shop.

The troubled bank, already besieged by multibillion-dollar lawsuits and massive financial losses, saw its stock fall more than 2 percent in late-morning trading. The shares have plunged almost 44 percent for the quarter, the worst-performing in the Dow Jones industrial average by far. For the year, the stock is down 56 percent.Now the bank faces a public relations backlash.

The debit card change has sparked fury on the Web and cable news channels. Consumers complained on message boards and in social media, vowing to take their business elsewhere.

Fox Business Network’s Gerri Willis went as far as to cut up her debit card on the air Thursday evening. “Right here, right now, I’m going to show Bank of America what I think of their fees,” she said before using a pair of scissors.

“That $5 fee may not seem like a lot, but it’s the principle of the thing — more and more coming out of my pocket,” she said.

Bank of America has said it decided to impose the fee after legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) reduced the amount of money banks get when consumers swipe their debit cards in stores.

“Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers,” Durbin said in a statement Thursday. “It’s overt, unfair, and I hope their customers have the final say.”

Bank of America, the largest bank in the country by deposits, is facing lawsuits stemming from shoddy mortgage practices during the housing boom. Last month, it announced it would shed 30,000 jobs and reshuffle its corporate leadership.

To shore up confidence in the company, the bank has repeatedly insisted that it does not need to raise capital and has sold off several valuable properties. It also took a $5 billion investment from Warren Buffett in August.

The bank will begin charging the fee next year for the bank’s basic checking accounts. It will apply only to debit card purchases and not to ATM withdrawals, online bill payments or mobile phone transfers, the company said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dengue cases rise to 173

The Health Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa confirmed 173 dengue patients out of 377 suspected cases with six deaths in the province.

The Directorate General Health Services said in a report eight suspected cases were reported on Wednesday with three confirmed positive. One patient was admitted to a hospital while seven were patients discharged after necessary treatment.

‘Revolutionary programmes for poverty alleviation’

Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ameer Haidar Khan Hoti has said that establishment of IT Parks and Call centers in the province is part of Government’s special initiatives aiming at provision of employment opportunities and promotion of economic activities. He said that ensuring spirited implementation on these initiatives is earnestly required. He was chairing the 1st meeting of IT Board at his office.

Participants of the meeting were Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftekhar hussain, Chief Secretary Ghulam Dastageer, ACS Atta Ullah Khan, Secretary Finance Sahibzada Saeed, Director IT Bilal Jabar, and Deputy Director Zia Ullah Khan, MD Pak Software Export Board Islamabad, DG Pak T&A, DG COMSAT and other concerned authorities. Secretary Science and Technology Muhammad Hamayun Khan presented detailed briefing on establishment of IT Parks in Peshawar and Abbotabad, establishment of IT Board and its administrative setup, and budget during the meeting. The chief minister said that the elected government has initiated such revolutionary programs for alleviation of poverty and unemployment in the province that are matchless and fully backed by the people, added, these included Bacha Khan Khpal Rozgar Scheme, Poverty Alleviation Program, Hunarmand Rozgar Scheme and free technical training to students in different disciplines.

He said that the main objective of establishment of IT Parks and Call centers is to facilitate Software Companies and Call Centers to establish their business in the province, added, the program will cost Rs. 200 million annually during 5 years. He said that this effort of the government will boost information technology and software industry along with training to thousand unemployed youth and employment opportunities.

Secretary Science and Technology Muhammad Hamayun Khan said that establishment of IT Parks in Peshawar and Abbotabad has been approved and thanked the chief minister for issuing orders for transfer of 22 kanal land in Abbotabad to Science and Technology Department.

He said that establishment of IT Parks in Peshawar and Abbotabad will be realized simultaneously.

The chief minister expressed satisfaction over progress made so far and directed for steps for realizing the programme.

Nation's leaders do not want to hear the truth: Talal Bugti

Jamhoori Watan Party chief Nawab Talal Bugti said Friday he was not invited to the All Parties Conference (APC) because the country's leaders did not want to hear the truth, Geo News reported.

Speaking during a news conference in Quetta, Talal Bugti said the purpose of the APC was to earn dollars. He added that the country was facing internal and external challenges, Balochistan was burning and people were tired of losing their loved ones.

Talal Bugti said the killers of Nawab Akbar Bugti and other Baloch leaders were roaming freely and despite court orders they were not being prosecuted.

A simmering down


The seemingly precarious dance at the edge of the precipice between Pakistan and the US looks as though it is toning down in intensity. Various statements are being issued from different quarters on how the tensions have simmered down and how both sides are actively “engaged” to decrease the irritants. US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has said that the Pak-US relationship is an important one and that the US will not end it. These are comforting words indeed but one must not take complete solace in them as there are still calls coming in from the US for tough action. Support is growing at an unsettling rate in rhe US Congress for military action in Pakistan beyond the drone strikes if the country does not get serious about combating terrorism, particularly the Haqqani network. The US’s highest military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, is standing by his statement that the Haqqani network is the “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), a blunt statement that Washington seems to be backing irrespective of the calls for diffusing tensions.

It is evident that, while the Americans believe that the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has ties to the Haqqani group, it is making efforts not to allow a complete breakdown in relations. That is why there are, at times, conflicting statements — both soft and harsh in nature. The Americans are convinced of our double-faced policies and have wisened up to how they have been ‘played’ for a number of years. While the White House may consider Mullen’s statement harsh and particularly blunt, it also realises that distancing itself from Mullen will not serve the US’s interests. The bottom line? The US will make efforts to remain on friendly — or cordial — relations with us but will keep on demanding tougher action against the Haqqani network, their most dreaded enemy because of its attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the All Parties Conference (APC) was held yesterday. The Prime Minister has asked the country’s 180 million people to stand united to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country. And who exactly are we standing united against one may ask. The Americans who, until now, were our allies and biggest financiers? Are we really staging an entire conference with all political parties of the country on board to tell the big, bad Americans that we will not take a stand against the militants? The same militants that have been wreaking havoc against our own people in our own country? This does not sound like responsible political decision-making. Instead, it sounds like an agenda set by the very establishment the US is accusing. The APC is meant to come up with key political solutions, not toe lines or priorities set by any other body or establishment.

It was clear, even before it began, that the APC is nothing more than a political-cum-media circus aimed at telling the US who is boss. We all know who decides policy when it comes to foreign and security matters.. The shrill defiance being touted by the political leadership is synonymous with the defiance being shown by the military.

Although it is unlikely that there will be a mega showdown with US boots on the ground in Pakistan, we should not take the accusations lightly. The drone attacks could definitely intensify and aid could be cut substantially. The terrorists, whether of the Haqqani ilk or other, are no friends of anyone. It is better to have a friendly ally and benefactor than an unruly and untrustworthy ‘friend’ for ‘strategic’ purposes. *

4 million children at risk of hunger, disease in Sindh

At least four million children are at risk of hunger and disease in Sindh as funding fatigue from rich nations continues to fuel the desperation faced by families, a recent report of Save the Children warned.

Pledges to help aid agencies meet the massive needs of displaced communities has been sluggish with only 3 percent of the $357 million UN appeal received so far.

It said that up to eight million people have been affected by the flooding again this year after torrential rains caused riverbanks to burst and overflow in late August.

Some villages were drowned by rainfall in just one day, forcing people to flee to roadside, railway tracks, schools and higher ground in search of shelter.

Save the Children started delivering food rations to 5,000 families in the Sanghar district where a total of 900,000 people have been affected by flooding, according to local authorities. It said that children and families are drinking from floodwater contaminated with sewage.

The aid agency has launched a $30 million flood response appeal for lower Sindh. Save the Children aims to provide support to 1 million people, including 600,000 children in four of the worst hit districts: Badin, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Tando Allahyar.

Save the Children has been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years and is already supporting nearly seven million people in the country.

Save the Children has delivered 9,900 litres of clean water to three relief camps and a hospital from the water point in Badin. Save the Children in partnership with WFP has distributed 1,075 metric tonnes of food to over 88,000 people in Badin and Mirpurkhas, including wheat flour, pulses, rice, vegetable oil, salt, high-energy biscuits, wheat-soya blend and ready-to-use supplementary food for infants.

Over 2,300 families in Badin and Mirpur Khas districts have received emergency family packages including plastic sheeting, basic household goods and soap. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that nearly three quarters of Sindh crops have been damaged, while two thirds of food stocks have also been hit.

One year after the country experienced its worst-ever floods, affecting 21 million people. Crops of grain, cotton, sugarcane, fruit and vegetables have been submerged, clocking up nearly $2 billion in farming losses, private news channel reported. Sindh agriculture ministry said the financial cost of crop losses so far was estimated at $1.87 billion.

Cotton faces losses of $998 million, income from chilli crops will be down $427 million and both rice and sugarcane will lose an estimated $135 million, said Agha Jan Akhtar, the ministry secretary.

“Besides that, we have lost $180 million through the destruction of tomato, onion, banana and other vegetable crops,” he said.

The floods will certainly affect the trade and may cause a loss of at least $3 billion to the Pakistani exchequer,” an economist said.

Will Greece ever get back on track?

'Egypt not to return to Mubarak era'

Egypt's military rulers have re-imposed the country's emergency law since anti-Israeli protesters stormed the embassy of the Tel Aviv regime in Cairo earlier this month.

Egypt's political parties continue organizing nationwide protests, calling for the abolishment of the country's decades-old emergency law.

The following is the transcript of Press TV's interview with Khaled Elshami, the political editor of Al-Quds online on the matter.

Press TV: What exactly does this mean? We are talking about laws that Egyptian people thought should have been buried with former dictator Hosni Mubarak, but now they are going to go on until June next year and the scope of them is being extended.

Elshami: Yes, that is true. People expected all that to be ended before the elections as promised by the military council. It is a setback, but does not mean that we are going back to the days of Mubarak. Egypt has changed and will never go back to the days of Mubarak.

Emergency law simply means that the police have the right to imprison any individual for virtually no reason for any period of time without even putting them on trial.

Press TV: These laws date back to 1981 and the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat. How have they been used over the years and have we seen a decrease in their use since February this year when Mubarak was deposed or indeed an increase? Because I read that over 12,000 civilians have come before military court since he was deposed.

Elshami: The emergency law has been used by Mubarak to prolong his role and his stay in power. It was never used to serve the security of the people in Egypt. Since the revolution, security has been deteriorating and the government has been unable to implement normal laws, leave alone the emergency law. This is like posing the question whether it is durable to enforce new emergency law, which is like the full version of the law, if the government is still unable to enforce the regular laws.

Press TV: I was wondering whether or not in the absence of the rule of law, in the absence of ordinary everyday political representation, Egypt should look to postpone the elections that are forthcoming, because some people say we do need the state of emergency; we cannot have a democratic election during the period of the state of emergency. So, something has to give.

Elshami: I agree that we cannot really have fair and free elections under the emergency law. We have tried this under Mubarak for 30 years. The Military Council has promised to abolish the emergency law before the elections.

Press TV: But the elections are supposed to be held before the end of the year.

Elshami: This is the promise we had from the Military Council. Up to this minute, we have not heard the declaration was the timetable of the elections. Everybody in Egypt is now waiting for this and if it does not happen it is going to be a big problem and we will have massive demonstrations asking for the elections so that the Military Council keep its promise.

As far as security [is concerned], I think in the days of Mubarak the emergency law failed to oppress the opposition. Now we fear that the real motive behind imposing this full version of the emergency law is not a direct response to the attack on the Israeli embassy or even to the attacks on the Interior Ministry which happened on the same night.

People fear that the real motive is to oppress the political opposition to the ruling Military Council and fear that the government wanted more tools to be able to oppress these sit-ins and demonstrations every Friday people go on strikes, but it has been tried in the days of Mubarak and it has failed.

Press TV: You have been to Egypt in a couple of occasions since the fall of Mubarak in February. What have you seen and does the situation worry you?

Elshami: It does not worry me. I should say that Egypt does have institutions. We have a political heritage. We have a long history of political establishments and the practice. Egypt had its first parliament in 1866. So, we do have this. We have the history; we have the experience. But circumstances are very difficult at the moment as it is in any transitional period.

Press TV: What did you see in Cairo for example?

Elshami: I spent time in Tahrir Square as well and there was no police force or army. This was purposely designed to avoid any frictions or any confrontation between the demonstrators and the police especially after over 800 people were killed during the demonstrations. They decided to stay out and I think this is the right decision for now, but definitely the police has to start coming back to fulfill its duties and maintain security.

I think generally people are happy that the revolution has succeeded, because this is a major change in Egypt. But [they are] also a bit disappointed that they have not got everything that they hoped for, particularly on the economic side. People are still suffering and the government seems to have failed in addressing their demand.

There is a government but the question is how much power it has, because it seems that it is the Military Council who calls the shots and other have to obey it.

Press TV: Let us look at the relationship between the Military Council and the people. Because when you have lived under the yoke of dictatorship for over 30 years, you get used to it and you get used to not questioning. Then you look at the other countries and say they have their freedoms, what about us? Then you go through this revolution and you think everything is going to change, but it does not and many of the same people are still in place. So, what is the relationship between the people who now call the shots in Egypt and the ordinary people who bled? We talk about 800 victims. What did they die for?

Elshami: You have mixed kind of opinions there. The military establishment in Egypt historically has enjoyed huge respect from the people in Egypt for its patriotic history not only in defending Egypt but the whole Arab and Muslim world. So, we really differentiate between two things. One is the army, which is hugely respected and the other thing is the Military Council who is now acting like a president.

Press TV: What kind of people own the Military Council?

Elshami: There are 19 people in the council. They are the heads of different branches of the armed forces. So, people respect the army, but many would disagree politically with the Military Council that is acting politically now as a president. So, there is a difference ...

We have a statement by a military source, saying we have to stay until June; we are going to cancel it as we promised as soon as we can, because they do realize that this is very unpopular in Egypt. So, the question is not whether we should have election or not, it is about what kind of election we should have. Do we have enough guarantees for a free and fair election?

This is something that needs to be worked on. I think there are some decisions that make us worried. For example, the Military Council has refused any foreign observers to involved in the voting process and this makes us wonder why.

Press TV: Are Egyptians free today?

Elshami: Of course Egypt is free after Mubarak and the people will never be the same like before. It is not only about Egypt. I think the whole Arab world will never be the same again.

Palestinians:'We have eight Security Council votes'
The Palestinians have secured eight Security Council yes votes for their UN membership bid, just one short of the nine they need, their foreign minister said.

On Thursday Riyad al-Malki said Nigeria and Gabon had also promised they would vote in favour of the Palestinian bid for full state membership at the UN, possibly giving them a ninth and a tenth vote.
Mr Malki told reporters in Ramallah that the Palestinians have assurances of "yes" votes from Lebanon, Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, in addition to the new confirmations from Nigeria and Gabon.
"We are working on Bosnia, Colombia and Portugal," he added, saying he was scheduled to visit Bosnia shortly. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will make stops in Colombia, Portugal, Honduras and the Dominican Republic in October.
Mr Abbas will also deliver an address in Strasbourg on October 6, Mr Malki said.
The Palestinians need to secure at least nine Security Council votes in favour of their membership bid for it to be approved and advanced to the General Assembly.Even with the requisite nine votes, the United States has pledged to use its veto to block the request, but the Palestinians hope they can at least claim a diplomatic victory by securing a majority in the Security Council.
Mr Abbas submitted the bid on Friday, shortly before he delivered a historic address to the General Assembly, urging their support for the request.
After closed-door debate on Monday, the Security Council on Wednesday referred the request to a committee set to meet on Friday.
The bid has attracted criticism from Washington and divided the membership of the European Union, raising the prospect that the Security Council might seek to delay a vote altogether to avoid embarrassing its members.
But Mr Malki said the Palestinians would not accept any delay "for political reasons."
US and EU representatives sought to head off the bid before it was submitted to the United Nations, trying to put together a proposal for new peace talks that would convince the Palestinians to drop their request.
Instead, they announced their new proposal shortly after the request was submitted, calling for talks to resume within a month with the goal of achieving a deal before the end of 2012.
Negotiations have been on hold for just over a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they began over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.
The Palestinians say they will not hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for their future state, but Israel says negotiations should restart without preconditions, and declined to renew a 10-month partial settlement freeze that expired shortly after the talks began last year.
Both sides have responded cautiously to the Quartet proposal, with the Israelis saying they are studying the offer and the Palestinians emphasising that they will not hold talks without a settlement freeze.

Washington condemns assault on envoy in Syria; Clinton says the attack ‘unjustified’
The Obama administration blamed the Syrian government for an attack on the top U.S. envoy to Syria, saying it was part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack as “wholly unjustified.”

Clinton demanded that the Syrian government fulfill its international obligations to protect all foreign diplomats and diplomatic properties after an angry mob pelted U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and several aides with tomatoes and eggs as they visited a prominent opposition figure.

Neither Ford nor his aides were injured but several armored embassy vehicles were badly damaged before Syrian security forces arrived and were able to escort them to safety.

Administration officials said they had lodged formal protests with Syrian authorities over the incident but there were no plans to recall Ambassador Ford from Damascus.

They also said Ford would continue to meet opposition figures and press the government to end its brutal six-month crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators. The crackdown led President Barack Obama and some European leaders to demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.

“It is not an isolated incident, it is part of a pattern that we’ve seen,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

He added that it was “part of an ongoing campaign to intimidate our diplomats as they were undertaking their normal activities and duties. Intimidation by pro-government mobs is just not civilized behavior. It’s an inexcusable assault that reflects intolerance on the part of the regime and its supporters.”

Toner said the assault reflected “the same kind of intolerance that we see that stirs the regime to use arrests, beatings and tortures and killings against those whose crime is only exercising their universal rights to gather peacefully and express their opinions.”

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the attack was “unwarranted and unjustifiable.” He praised Ford for bearing witness to the “brutality of the Assad regime” and putting “himself at great personal risk to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Ford and his colleagues had left the embassy to visit opposition leader Hassan Abdul-Azim, who heads the outlawed Arab Socialist Democratic Union party. Trying to keep a low profile, they parked about a block away and walked to the office where they were confronted by the crowd, according to Toner.

Abdul-Azim said Ford was inside his office when the Assad supporters tried to force their way in, breaking some door locks. Office staff prevented them from rushing in, but the ambassador was trapped inside for about three hours by the hostile pro-government protesters outside. Ford called the U.S. embassy for help and alerted Syrian authorities to the situation. But Syrian security forces did not show up for more than an hour.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. Embassy informed the ministry that Ford was confronted by protesters when he visited Abdul-Azim. The statement added that the ministry immediately contacted security authorities, who “took all measures needed to protect the ambassador and his team and secured their return to their work in accordance with Syria's international commitments.”

Ford has angered the Syrian regime in past months by visiting a couple of the protest centers outside of Damascus in a show of solidarity with the anti-government uprising. The latest incident could further raise tensions between Washington and Damascus, which has accused the United States of helping incite violence in Syria. In August, Obama demanded Assad resign, saying he had lost his legitimacy as a ruler.

The attack on Ford came five days after government supporters threw eggs and stones at France’s ambassador as he left a meeting in Damascus with a Greek Orthodox patriarch. Ambassador Eric Chevallier was unharmed.

Tension between the West and Syria – Iran’s closest Arab ally - have been rising for months.

Washington and the European Union have imposed sanctions on some Syrian officials, including Assad, because of Assad’s crackdown that has left some 2,700 people dead, according to the United Nations.

A trip in July by Ford and the French ambassador to the central city of Hama to express support for protesters drew swift condemnation from the Syrian government, which said the unauthorized visits were proof that Washington was inciting violence in the Arab nation. Authorities then warned both ambassadors not to travel outside the capital without permission.

A month later, the Obama administration brushed off a complaint by Syrian authorities that Ford violated their travel rules by leaving Damascus without permission. The Syrian foreign ministry registered concern over Ford's trip in August from Damascus to the southern village of Jassem, where he met opposition activists.

Bahrain medical staff sentenced over protests

Labaki: the rising star of Lebanese cinema

Flush with the triumph of her latest film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Lebanese director Nadine Labaki

is the toast of the town as she sits in a Beirut cafe giving interview after interview.
The movie “Where Do We Go Now?”, about a group of women determined to prevent the men in their village from getting involved in a religious war, won best picture at the festival’s People’s Choice Award, seen as a bellwether for Oscar success.

Previous winners of the award including “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” went on to win Oscars at the Academy Awards, and should Labaki’s film follow in their footsteps it would be a first for Lebanon.

“With success comes a sense of responsibility as you take on the role of spokesperson for your country,” said the 37-year-old, clearly still overwhelmed by her film’s achievement.

“When I am told ‘you make us proud’ or ‘you are the pride of our country’ I get teary-eyed,” she added. “At the same time, I don’t want to disappoint, and I certainly don’t want to misrepresent the reality in my country.”

Her first feature film “Caramel,” about the lives of five Lebanese women working in a Beirut beauty salon, also won critical acclaim in 2007 and thrust Labaki, who stars in both her movies, into the international limelight.

She wrote the script of “Where Do We Go Now?” in 2008 while pregnant with her first child and as Lebanon stood on the brink of sectarian warfare.

“In a matter of hours, people who had lived next to each other for years became enemies,” she said, referring to the conflict in May 2008 that pitted mainly Sunnis against Shiites in Beirut.

Born on the eve of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war (1975-1990), Labaki says she quickly became interested in film to escape boredom.

“I lived between four walls as a little girl, with my days consisting of running down to the shelter,” she recalled. “So television offered an escape from all this.”

After earning a degree in media at Beirut’s Saint Joseph University she began producing music videos, including for such stars as Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, and got her first major breakthrough with “Caramel.”

“I learned the trade in Lebanon on my own, where there are no famous directors to speak of, no reference,” Labaki said.

“I don’t know if I’m good at what I do but the fact that my movies were well received at the Cannes Film Festival and in Toronto gives me reassurance.”

Labaki baulks at critics who say that her movies are tailored for Western audiences, given her portrayal of Arab women as daring and set in a burlesque environment that mocks Lebanese society.

“I don’t follow recipes, I just follow my instinct,” she said, also brushing aside criticism that her message is too direct or even naive.

“I want my movies to be direct,” she insisted. “I am sick of seeing women in mourning in my country, women who see their children die, stuffed into the boot of a car or killed in a bus bomb.”

She said movie-making has become a sort of therapy for her, and she is keen on continuing to examine themes common to the region where she lives.

“I want to explore the fear of the ‘other’ and show this constant search for a better world,” she said.

New U.S. Military Chief Differs With Mullen Over National Security Threat Posed by Debt

It's too early to know how much change

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey will foster in his role as the top U.S. military officer, but it's certain that pressures to cut the defense budget -- and what that implies for the military and for American foreign policy -- will be a dominant issue from Day One of his tenure.

Even before taking over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military office in the U.S., Dempsey made one thing clear. He differs with his predecessor on one of the most important issues of the day: the threat posed to national security by a growing national debt.

Dempsey was being sworn in Friday as successor to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who is retiring. At his Senate confirmation hearing in July, Dempsey was asked whether he agrees with Mullen's oft-repeated assertion that the debt crisis is the single biggest threat to American national security.

"I don't agree exactly with that," Dempsey said.

In his view, developed in the course of a 37-year career that includes two tours of command in Iraq and one in Saudi Arabia, American global power and influence are derived from three strengths: military, diplomatic and economic.

"You can't pick or choose," he said; none of the three is paramount.

So while he sees the debt problem as highly important, Dempsey believes the United States cannot be successful in managing its national security and international affairs without asserting influence through a combination of a powerful military, an effective diplomatic corps and a sound economy.

His will be among the key voices in recommending how to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the defense budget over the coming decade.

By law, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs serves as the senior military adviser to the president, the president's National Security Council and the secretary of defense. But the chairman is not directly in the chain of command that extends from the president to the secretary of defense to commanders in the field. He is the public face of the U.S. military and weighs in on major policy decisions but is not actually in charge of any troops.

Dempsey is the first Army general to hold the job since Hugh Shelton retired in 2001.

One of the legacies of Mullen's four years as chairman was his less-than-successful effort to persuade Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, to do more to contain and disable violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network that use Pakistan as a haven.

In the final week of his tenure, Mullen made his biggest headline by telling a Senate committee that the Haqqanis are a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence service and by asserting that Pakistani intelligence supported and facilitated a string of Haqqani attacks on Americans in Afghanistan. His statement infuriated the Pakistan government and arguably set back, at least temporarily, an already frayed U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

Dempsey's views on Pakistan's importance to success in Afghanistan appear similar to Mullen's, although he has been less specific about the role of the Haqqanis. In his July testimony, he said it has never been clear to him why the Pakistani government goes after some extremist groups but not others. He said that as Joint Chiefs chairman he would work with the Pakistanis to improve border security.

Like many who rise to the highest ranks of the U.S. military, Dempsey is not known for his public outspokenness. He took over as Army chief of staff in April. Before that he commanded the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, and he previously served for several months as acting commander of U.S. Central Command with responsibility for all U.S. military operations and relations in the greater Middle East.

He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1974.

Dempsey's swearing-in completes the transition of President Barack Obama's senior national security team, which included Leon Panetta taking over for Robert Gates as defense secretary on July 1, followed by Marine Gen. John Allen's arrival in Kabul as the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. David Petraeus' retirement from the Army to become CIA director and Gen. Raymond Odierno replacing Dempsey as Army chief of staff.

Mullen, who served two two-year terms as Joint Chiefs chairman, is retiring. He has served 43 years in uniform.

In his confirmation hearing testimony in July, Dempsey was not explicitly comparing and contrasting his views with those of Mullen. But in addition to stating a different view on the issue of debt and national security, he echoed Mullen on the matter of defending against cyber threats.

Mullen said several times in his final days in office that cyber attacks are one of just two threats to the continued existence of the nation. The other, he said, is Russian nuclear weapons, and he said that threat is well contained by arms control agreements, including the New START treaty of 2010.

And like Mullen, Dempsey acknowledged that he is not particularly well versed on the subject of cyber warfare.

"I'll confess at the start that my thinking on this is nascent, at best," Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He added that he had been advised that cyber war was likely to be one of several issues that define his tenure. He did not mention what he expects will be the other defining issues, but almost certainly they include winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and reorienting U.S. forces for the post-war period.

President Obama's Third Annual Back to School Speech

Obama Backed by 63% of Investors for Buffett Rule to Cut Deficit

Global investors overwhelmingly support President Barack Obama’s proposed tax increase for those earning annual incomes of $1 million or more in an effort to reduce the deficit.

By a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent, respondents in a Bloomberg Global Poll approved of the president’s proposal, known as the “Buffett rule” in a nod to Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., who has said it is wrong that he pays a smaller share of his income in taxes than does his secretary.

Obama said Sept. 19 that making sure that the wealthy pay at least the same tax rate as the middle class was “just the right thing to do.” House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of practicing “class warfare,” saying any new tax would hurt job creation and Buffett’s situation was not typical.

The call for the rich to pay more, however, found backing among financial professionals in the quarterly Global Poll of 1,031 investors, analysts and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers. “Higher tax payments could help to avoid or delay potential social disturbances and in addition create some kind of a general solidarity,” says Henry Littig, chief executive officer of Henry Littig Global Investments AG in Cologne, Germany, a poll respondent.

In the U.S., support for the idea was lower, with more than half opposing it, although four in 10 supported it. “The U.S. does not have a tax rate problem -- we have a spending and entitlement problem,” said poll respondent Jay Wright, managing director of Samco Capital Markets in San Antonio, Texas. “And if we do not address it quickly we are going to be Greece.”

Strong Support

Support for the millionaire’s tax was highest in Europe, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans a 3 percent surcharge on incomes above 500,000 euros ($680,000.) European poll respondents backed Obama 78 percent to 17 percent; Bloomberg customers in Asia supported the president’s idea 69 percent to 21 percent.

“Increasing taxes on millionaires may not harm the economy, but it will not help it either,” said Don Lindsey, chief investment officer at George Washington University, who participated in the survey. “What we need is a complete overhaul of the tax system.”

In a New York Times op-ed last month, Buffett wrote that his federal income tax bill was $6.94 million, or 17.4 percent of his taxable income -- a lower rate than any of the other 20 employees in his Omaha, Nebraska, office.

‘Send in a Check’

Buffett has repeatedly said that his secretary pays a higher share of her income in taxes than he does, prompting Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to gibe: “If he’s feeling guilty about it, I think he should send in a check.”

Some participants in the Bloomberg poll agreed. “Buffett is being very deceptive,” said Michael Prisby, corporate investment officer at Citizens Financial Bank in Munster, Indiana. “He may be taxed at a capital gains rate of 15 percent, but that doesn’t mean all high earners are.”

On average, taxpayers with annual incomes of more than $1 million last year paid a 29 percent tax rate, compared with 15.1 percent for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center in Washington.

Some high-income individuals, like Buffett, do pay a lower average tax rate because much of their income is derived from capital gains rather than wages. In 2009, the most recent Internal Revenue Service data shows that 1,470 individuals with at least $1 million in annual income paid no income tax.

‘Disproportionate Rewards’

The debate over a “Buffett rule” tax caps an era in which have gone to those at the top of the nation’s income distribution. Between 1993 and 2008, the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of total income gains, according to a 2010 paper by economist Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley.

“The Buffett rule does not apply to all rich people or the average rich person, but it does apply to some rich people,” said Roberton Williams, an analyst at the Tax Policy Center.

The administration has said it has no plans to submit a detailed millionaires’ tax proposal to Congress. For now, that means the main significance of the Buffett rule is political not financial.

The proposed tax is the rhetorical centerpiece of White House jockeying in the run-up to the deliberations of a congressional “supercommittee” seeking $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23.

Earlier this week, Douglas Edwards, who described himself as “unemployed by choice” after retiring as an early employee from Google, urged the president to “please raise my taxes” at a town hall in Mountain View, California.

Far From Rich

Lionel Mellul, co-founder of Momentum Trading Partners in New York, said he endorsed the idea of the rich paying more, while taking issue with the $1 million threshold. A New Yorker with a $1 million annual income is “far from really being rich,” he said.

In follow-up interviews, many respondents called for a stem-to-stern overhaul of the tax code.

“Until the administration completely overhauls the personal and corporate tax code to both drive growth and incentivize the efficient transfer of capital and risk, the wealthy people will just have their tax lawyers find more loopholes to lower their taxes,” said Jonathan Sadowsky, chief investment officer at Vaca Creek Asset Management in San Francisco.

The quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm, on Sept. 26. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

--Editors: Gail DeGeorge, Christopher Wellisz

Michelle Obama's secret shopping

US First Lady Michelle Obama

went shopping at down market chain store Target incognito and and no one recognised her except the cashier, CNN reported.

She shopped on Thursday at in Virginia with no noticeable entourage - although Secret Service agents were discreetly shadowing her.

She wore a Nike baseball cap and sunglasses and blended in with the other shoppers as she pushed her trolly around the store. The first lady and an assistant browsed the aisles for about 40 minutes, according to CBS News.

'People did not approach her, she was very incognito,' Maria Panagopulof told CNN.

'We didn't realise truly what was happening until she had almost left. The cashier recognised her, but she was very unassuming.'

Panagopulof said the store was not warned to expect Obama.

'We did not have advance notice; it was as big a surprise to us as it was to everyone else,' she said.

Obama's experience at the store wasn't entirely like that of the average Target shopper.

An Associated Press photographer snapped a photo of her at the checkout area.

Since the first lady's every move is not tracked by reporters, it's unclear if the White House tipped off the photographer so he could be at the right spot at the right time, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Obama's office simply said the photographer 'caught her' at the store.

'It is not uncommon for the First Lady to slip out to run an errand, eat at a local restaurant or otherwise enjoy the city outside the White House gates,' Kristina Schake, communications director for the First Lady, told CBS News.

In May, Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that she missed going shopping.

'I think one of the greatest sacrifices for people like us - who like being with people - is that it's the bubble,' Obama said.

'We talked about it. I can't go to Target and walk around. I guess I could but it would mess up everyone else's shopping experience.'

Michelle Obama's secret shopping

Bank of America to charge $5 monthly debit card fee

Get ready for a new wave of bank fees.

Bank of America will begin charging a $5 monthly fee at the beginning of next year for customers who make debit card purchases.

Whether you use your card for one purchase a month or 20, you will pay $5 per month starting in 2012. It doesn't matter if you select "debit" or "credit" at the point of sale.
If you don't use your card at all, you won't be assessed a fee, and you can still use ATMs as much as you want without getting hit with the new charge. Plus, customers with certain premium accounts will be exempt from the charge.Other banks have been flirting with the idea of introducing a fee for debit card usage, but Bank of America is one of the first major institutions to announce that it will make this a reality for active debit card customers.
The move coincides with the implementation of new rules limiting the revenue banks will be able to get from merchants. Beginning this weekend, a cap on the fees banks can charge retailers every time customers swipe their debit cards will take effect.While banks used to charge an average fee of 44 cents, now the maximum fee is only 21 cents. This is expected to cost the banking industry billions of dollars. The Federal Reserve introduced the cap this summer, despite protests from many financial institutions.
"The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent regulations," said Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess, adding that customers will be notified of the change at least 30 days before it takes effect.Last month, Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) said it will test a $3 monthly fee in Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington beginning Oct. 14 for customers who use their debit card for purchases.
At the end of last year, JPMorgan Chase announced a similar test, in which it charged customers in northern Wisconsin a $3 fee for using their debit cards. A Chase spokesman said last month that the tests were still underway.
America's most loyal bank customers
But Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the swipe-fee cap in an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, said the cap simply evens out the playing field for retailers because the fees Visa and MasterCard had set for banks "grossly exceed the cost of processing a debit card transaction by some 400%."
"After years of raking in excess profits off an unfair and anti-competitive interchange system, Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers," Durbin said in a statement Thursday. "It's overt, unfair and I hope their customers have the final say."