Total Pageviews

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Warren Says She Should Not Have Repeated \'Save Capitalism\' Comments


SOMERVILLE, Mass. â€"  Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she had made a mistake in repeating comments from supporters who she says tell her she would “save capitalism.”

“I passed along a comment that was over the top, and it was silly for me to do so,” Ms. Warren, the Democratic candidate for the Senate, told reporters at a construction site here during a campaign stop.

She told  The National Journal in an article published Sunday: “Every now and again, I meet with someone who's been very successful on Wall Street who says: ‘I want to support your campaign because I believe you will save capitalism. I believe in capitalism, and I understand there have to be rules. And they have to be consistently enforced.' That is what I think is at stake in this election. ”

The anti-Warren Boston Herald said Tuesday that the comment had conservatives “rolling in the aisles.”

The comment sprang from an effort by Ms. Warren to defend her view that people who succeed in business do not do so by themselves but because of the government â€" a view that she first expressed last year and that received renewed attention earlier this month when President Obama repeated it and his campaign subsequently walked it back.

Ms. Warren's Republican opponent, Senator Scott P. Brown, and others have been ridiculing her for her stance and calling her anti-business. She visited the  construction site here on Tuesday to begin a series of campaign stops that she calls her “rebuild now” tour, in which she is emphasizing the importance of government investment in infrastructure like roads, bridges and communications systems.

In addition to retracting the comment about saving capitalism, she appeared to be more inclusive toward entrepreneurs as equal partners with government in building businesses rather than as unable to succeed without publ ic investments in infrastructure.

“All of those things are the things we invest in so that when someone comes along with a great business idea,” she said, “when someone's ready to do the work to build a business, when someone is ready to put it all out there and take those risks, the magic can happen.”

Her plan would pay for more government spending on infrastructure in part by ending certain tax breaks for corporations and ending government spending on oil and gas research and development.

The Brown campaign said that Ms. Warren was  “doubling down” on her anti-business views and that her plan was too costly. Ms. Warren said that Mr. Brown was “just plain wrong” and that he did not want to invest in the future.

While talking with reporters, Ms. Warren also said she was excited about her role at the Democratic National Convention, when she will speak in prime time, just before former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Obama is to accept the nomination the following night.

She said she was nervous but saw it as “a great opportunity to talk with 150 million people about how America's working families are getting hammered and how we turn that around.”

Ms. Warren and Mr. Brown are running neck and neck in the polls.


Follow Katharine Q. Seelye on Twitter at @kseelye.

The Agenda: Your Responses on the State of the Middle Class


The next major step in our story on the plight of the American economy - part of The Times's Agenda series - is to examine the causes. As I noted in the initial post, median family income in this country is lower today than 12 years ago, a stretch unlike any other since the 1930s.

On the most basic level, the causes are a slowdown in economic growth and an increase in income inequality: the pie is growing more slowly, and a large share of the gains is going to a small portion of the population. But that statement is as much an accounting statement as anything else. It doesn't explain the forces driving the changes.

More than 700 comments have been posted on that post, and many of these addressed underlying causes. Below, we are excerpting a selection of those comments, because we assume that most readers did not have time to read hundreds of them.

I am also using the responses to help me write a survey I'm send ing to a range of economists asking them to discuss what they see as the most important causes. Some may rank causes or put them in different buckets of importance. Others may use the survey as inspiration to write a few paragraphs laying out their views.

In coming days and weeks, we'll be posting the survey itself and then the economists' responses. Other Times writers will also be posting items on these issues. And we welcome continued reader feedback at every step.

Here is a sampling of those reader comments:

“Most of the income gains seen in my lifetime have been created by families going on afterburners - sending the other adult out to work. Now, we are seeing families going backwards, but that may be a good thing. But we will need to learn to get by on less, especially if competition by foreign workers accelerates.” â€" jstewart58

“Interesting that this appears on the same page as the article about Caterpillar. Is it really necessary for them to freeze wages when they are making record profits? You can bet that the upper echelon of company officers will not have frozen wages. There are many hard issues that contribute to the problem, global wage competition, automation, poor education, but these are exacerbated by actions taken by companies like Caterpillar.” â€" Oh Please

“Population growth in the USA as well as in Europe has slowed considerably. One of the options is to liberalize immigration, which will attract talented people as well as wealthy people from other countries. This will result in economic growth by the new immigrants spending money by opening new businesses and improving employment prospects for locals.” â€" VGM

“I have a theory the middle class aren't making more because the Government is taking more. Publish that chart and prove me wrong.” â€" Richard

“People working in manufacturing industries that lacked strong unions were always poorly compensated. It's just that now there are very few industries that are unionized and the pressure to compensate employees has declined across the board.” â€" Ross Williams

“Shouldn't you use an income number that captures the value of benefits received by Households? With health care costs increasing at a much faster rate than inflation, health care (and health insurance), is eating up wage/income gains … Employees need to understand that money spent on them - whether wages or benefits - is fungible from the standpoint of the employer. Ignoring these in-kind benefits overstates the share of income that goes to the top and understates the amount that goes to everyone else.” â€" Joel Pond

“Since WWII, the idea that one is solely responsible for their own success has widely taken root and the generations since have increasingly failed to acknowledge that success is the product of both individual initiative/hard work AND opportunity. The first generation that had the privilege of combining hard work with unprecedented levels of opportunity was the baby boomers and, speaking very generally, they seemed to forget the opportunity component as they rose through the professional ranks of business and government. This explains policies that reward the haves while eroding the opportunity (education, health care, higher minimum wages, pensions) that allows have-nots to use their individual initiative to pull themselves out of the lower classes.” â€" Dan

“I would like to know what happened in the Clinton years (and before) that led to the rise in income as well as the surplus at the federal level in those years, and why that is, or isn't, possible now.”â€" mennenster

“The uncomfortable truth is that America's economy has progressed beyond blue collar jobs and is now a service economy. Our biggest export is knowledge (in the form of technology, patents, business, etc), and is no longer ‘stuff.' So it is slightly misguided to blame manufacturing companies that don't pay workers higher wages, because these companies are no longer in industries where their workers can demand a premium.”â€" Austin

“Tax cuts for the rich have turbocharged inequality, beginning with Reagan and culminating with Bush II. To afford these tax cuts, we've cut everything else that helps the middle class, especially really great public schools.”â€" Carol

TimesCast: Romney\'s Overseas Trip


Ashley Parker discusses the final leg of Mitt Romney's trip to Europe and Israel, Erik Olsen on the youngest “super-pac,” Shaila Deway on single women voters, and Jim Roberts with Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed on what happens if Twitter goes down.

Tentative Agreement Reached in Congress, Avoiding Government Shutdown


House and Senate leaders reached a tentative agreement om Tuesday that would pay for federal government operations through next March, averting the prospect of a messy government shutdown just before the November elections.

The emerging deal is a sharp contrast to previous occasions when House Republicans used the approach of a spending deadline to insist on deep spending cuts in exchange for their votes, once avoiding a shutdown by a matter of hours. But with the Oct. 1 deadline for enacting spending bills for 2012 coming so close to the election, Republicans leaders were eager to avoid a government crisis that they could be blamed for by voters at the polls.

Under the agreement that takes the spending fight off the table before the presidential and Congressional elections, lawmakers have agreed to continue the current rate of spending into early next year despite a call by some conservative Republicans for a lo wer rate. By pushing the spending into next year, the House and Senate would also eliminate it as a bargaining chip in post-election negotiations over what to do about expiring tax cuts.

While even some of the most Republicans wanted to avoid a big fight before the election, not all of them are expected to support the bill, which will come before the House and Senate after a five week recess that begins Friday.

“That is a good idea not to have that kind of discussion,” said Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, about the shutdown talk. But he added that he still would likely not support the measure.

Ohio Congressman Is Latest Moderate to Head for the Exits


With a blast at the toxic partisanship in Washington, Representative Steven C. LaTourette, Republican of Ohio, announced his retirement Tuesday, ending a nine-term career in the House marked by bipartisanship and a pro-labor voting record.

“The time has come not only for good politics but good policy,” he said at a news conference in his Northeast Ohio district. “The atmosphere today no longer encourages the finding of common ground.”

With his announcement, Mr. LaTourette joined a parade of moderate members from both parties heading for the exits, either because of retirements or defeat at the hands of more partisan office seekers.

Senators Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, a longtime Democrat-turned-independent, will leave next year of their own accord. Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, was defeated for re-election by a less compromising candida te, the Indiana state treasurer, Richard Mourdock.

In recent years, Mr. LaTourette had become increasingly outspoken in his disappointment over the confrontational tone of his party. Last month, he was one of two Republicans who declined to vote Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, calling it an unnecessarily provocative act. In March, rather than side with his party on the sweeping budget plan of Representative Paul D. Ryan, he pushed the plan of President Obama's bipartisan deficit reduction commission, known as Bowles-Simpson. It received just 38 votes from 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats.

On Tuesday, he said “it breaks my heart” that Congress was unable to pass a long-term transportation and infrastructure bill, settling for a two-year measure after Republicans split over the future of the federal government's role in such programs.

“For a long time, words like ‘compromise' have been lik e dirty words,” Mr. LaTourette, 58, told reporters Tuesday. “I always believed that the art of being a legislator is finding common ground.”

“I will tell you that Washington and public life is not the same as it was when I started a quarter century ago,” he added.

His district is roughly 49 percent Democratic, with a strong organized-labor presence. But it was not immediately clear his retirement would prompt an unanticipated Ohio House fight. The timing of his announcement will give Democrats little time to find a challenger for a seat that has been in Republican hands for at least 18 years.

It\'s Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday Season


As July winds down, parents in some parts of the country (school starts in mid-August in our neck of the woods) are starting to think about back-to-school shopping.

Many states are holding “tax holidays,” during which they drop state sales-tax collections on back-to-school goods like clothes, shoes, school supplies and even computers. (Some communities still collect local sales taxes, though.) The CCH Group, a tax and accounting firm, has compiled a list of more than a dozen states offering back-to-school tax holidays and some examples of what items are exempt.

Arkansas, where I live, is holding such a holiday on the weekend of August 4-5. The state sales tax is 6 percent (some states' rates are as high as 7 percent, CCH notes), and city and county add-ons push it to more than 9 percent in my community. So a sales holiday can make a difference to those on a tight budget. During the Arkansas “holiday,” clothing und er $100, clothing accessories or equipment under $50, school supplies and art supplies are all exempt from the tax. An itemized list of items is posted on the state's Web site.

Connecticut's holiday, on Aug. 19-25, exempts clothing and footwear costing less than $300 per item. (Accessories, or athletic or protective clothing, aren't included.) North Carolina's event, meanwhile, on Aug. 3-5, exempts computers of $3,500 and under.

New York doesn't hold tax holidays, per se. But this year, it raised the ceiling - to $110, up from $55 - on the state sales tax exemption for items of clothing and footwear.

CCH suggests checking the Web site of your state's revenue department for dates and details.

Does your state hold a tax holiday? Do you coordinate your back-to-school shopping to take advantage of it?

Romney Lauds Poland as an Economic Model


WARSAW - Mitt Romney delivered a lyrical speech here in Warsaw on Tuesday afternoon, lauding Poland as a model for other nations in the throes of economic uncertainty.

Comparing current day Poland to the Poland of the 1980s served, Mr. Romney explained, as an example of a country successfully facing down political tyranny. Mr. Romney said that, “today, as some wonder about the way forward out of economic recession and fiscal crisis, the answer once again is to ‘Look to Poland.' ”

Poland's economy expanded by 4.3 percent last year, far outpacing many of its counterparts in European Union, and after the United States and Afghanistan, the country has committed the third highest number of troops to the war in Afghanistan.

“In a turbulent world, Poland stands as an example and a defender of freedom,” Mr. Romney said. “I, and my fellow Americans, are inspired by the path of fre edom tread by the people of Poland.”

Though Mr. Romney frequently makes Europe a foil of his domestic stump speech, warning voters that they do not want to head down a path to becoming a “social welfare state,” Mr. Romney praised Poland as an example of a nation on the rise.

“The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland's economy,” Mr. Romney said. “A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage.”

Poland was the third stop of Mr. Romney's seven-day foreign trip, in which his campaign took to pains to visit countries for which Mr. Romney could express strong support. He started in the United Kingdom, extolling the “special relationship” between the two countries, moved onto Israel, where he expressed his belief that the country has a right to defend itself against the threat of a nuclear Iran, and finished up Tuesday in Poland.

“I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America,” Mr. Romney said. “Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future.”

Mr. Romney also used his speech in Poland to pay his respect to Pope John Paul II, a likely appeal to Catholic voters back in the United States.

San Antonio Mayor to Give Keynote Speech at Democratic Convention


Julián Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, will deliver the keynote speech at his party's national convention in September, reprising the role that vaulted Barack Obama to national prominence eight years ago.

Mr. Castro will become the first Hispanic American chosen for the high-profile speaking slot at a time when President Obama is counting on Latinos to help him win a second term in the White House.

The selection was announced by Mr. Castro himself in a video posted by convention organizers and reported on first by Univision.

“I know I've got some big shoes to fill,” Mr. Castro says in the three-minute video. “We've come so far over the past three and a half years under Obama's leadership. And I know he's not done yet. We got a lot more work to do.”

A co-chairman of Mr. Obama's re-election campaign, Mr. Castro is a rising star in the Democratic Party who, at 37, has already been elec ted and re-elected to the top job in San Antonio.

Mr. Castro's Mexican-American background will provide Mr. Obama and the Democrats an opportunity to highlight what they see as a stark contrast with the policies of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party when it comes to Latino issues.

And the speech could serve as a national introduction for Mr. Castro as he pursues a political career outside of Texas.

In the video released Tuesday morning, Mr. Castro previewed the kind of personal story that he will draw upon during his remarks at the convention in Charlotte, N.C. Recalling Mr. Obama's 2004, keynote speech, Mr. Castro said he would be honored to do the same.

“I remember watching his speech in 2004 and being inspired,” Mr. Castro said. “When Obama talked about the audacity of hope, I thought back to my mother saying if you didn't like the way things were, you could dare to change them. I thought, my mother would like this guy.”

Mr. Castro' s home state of Texas is not a political battleground in the presidential campaign and will almost certainly be firmly in Mr. Romney's column in the fall.

But the two candidates are waging fierce fights in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia - states where the increasing numbers of Latino voters make them an important voting block.

Democrats have said for years that they believe the tough Republican position on illegal immigration will make it more difficult for national politicians like Mr. Romney to earn Latino votes. Picking Mr. Castro for the prominent speaking post is one way of highlighting that issue for voters in those swing states.

Mr. Romney has argued that the nation's economic distress is affecting Latinos even more deeply than other Americans, and that many of them will turn toward Republicans after concluding that Mr. Obama's policies have not worked.

In the video, Mr. Castro argues that Mr. Obama faced a deep economic crisis and has begun to turn things around for all Americans.

“He brought the economy back from the brink, rescued the auto industry while Mitt Romney argued that we should let Detroit go bankrupt, and he created 4.4 million private sector jobs,” Mr. Castro said.

Before Candidates Debate, Their Lawyers Do


In just about two months, President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in the first of three nationally televised debates, each of which will shape the final days of the presidential campaign.

But Robert F. Bauer and Benjamin L. Ginsberg have to face off first.

The two veteran lawyers are the chief negotiators for the campaigns. Mr. Bauer represents Mr. Obama; Mr. Ginsberg is the Romney lawyer. They have already begun the delicate, closed-door discussions about how the two candidates will debate each other.

Last Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates made clear its preferences: one town hall-style debate and two sit-down conversations, the first on domestic policy and the other on foreign policy.

That will serve as the framework for the high-stakes events. Without making any final commitments, both campaigns have indicated they plan to participate. But the details are left to be hammered out by M r. Bauer and Mr. Ginsberg, both of whom have done this plenty of times before.

They will negotiate over how the candidates are presented during the debate. In 2008, the commission recommended two seated debates and one town hall-style format. Lawyers for Senator John McCain of Arizona and Mr. Obama agreed to do only one of the three debates seated at a table.

The lawyers will also clash privately over questions like what rules should govern the use of the debate footage. Some campaigns prefer that debate snippets be banned from campaign ads. Others are more willing to have good debate moments broadcast widely.

Commission members have generally gone along with what the candidates agree to, as long as the basic structure of the group's proposals are kept intact. Commission officials said last week that there is no reason to think that won't happen again this year.

But as they engage each other privately over the next severa l weeks, the campaign lawyers will be looking to the strengths and weaknesses of their candidates as the seek to gain an advantage.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have never faced each other before. But both are experienced on the debate stage. Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses that each man brings:


The president's strengths in debates were on display throughout the primaries and general election in 2008. He is often eloquent under pressure, answering complex questions without stumbling or seeming nervous.

In debates against Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama often seemed confident of his mastery of the subjects thrown at him. Now, after three and a half years in the White House, Mr. Obama is likely to be even more sure of himself.

But Mr. Obama has some weaknesses, too. Chief among them: he tends to be long-winded, getting bogged down in a kind of professorial explanation when his advisers would rather he could fit his answer on a bumper sticker.

(In one infamous answer at a health care town hall meeting in 2010, Mr. Obama was asked whether it was wise to add more taxes in his health care bill. His answer took 2,500 words and 17 long, rambling minutes.)

Mr. Obama is not immune to the kind of gaffes that present opportunities to his rivals. His remark at a news conference that the “private sector is doing fine” and his remarks at a campaign event that small business owners “didn't build that” are prime examples.

And Mr. Obama has had testy moments in debates. When Hillary Clinton was asked in a debate whether she was likable, Mr. Obama offered “You're likable enough, Hillary, no doubt about it.”

Finally, while Mr. Romney has slogged through a long primary debate season, Mr. Obama has not faced off this way in four years.


Mr. Romney has proved himself to be aggressive, knowledgeable and well briefed during the many Republican primary de bates he participated in during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Especially during the more recent campaign, Mr. Romney often found himself the target of attacks from Republican rivals who were eager to slow down his march to the party's nomination. He was often cool under the pressure of those attacks.

When Newt Gingrich attacked Mr. Romney's immigration policies, at a CNN debate in Florida, Mr. Romney was ready, calling the Mr. Gingrich's radio ads “inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.” And when Mr. Gingrich accused Mr. Romney of making money off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Mr. Romney quickly pointed out that Mr. Gingrich owned stock in the mortgage firms.

But Mr. Romney can also get rattled during debates, as he did when Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, recalled stories about Mr. Romney's hiring of illegal workers to maintain his yard. Red-faced and flustered, Mr. Romney struggled to maintain his composure, putting his hand on Mr. Perry's sh oulder in an attempt to get him to stop talking.

And like Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney has made his share of gaffes during debates. In an exchange with Mr. Perry about health care, Mr. Romney awkwardly offered to bet him $10,000. And his answer to a question of whether he would release his tax returns still echoes: “Maybe,” he quipped.

He is also known to be somewhat less comfortable and occasionally awkward in unscripted moments, which are especially likely in town hall-style debates.

Still, Mr. Romney has received some unexpected praise when it comes to his debating skills.

In an interview in June, Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Mr. Obama, offered what was perhaps a bit of pregame spin, calling Mr. Romney a “seriously underrated debater” and adding the Republican candidate always understood what he had to do in the debates.

“When it was to go out and finish Rick Perry, he did it. When it was to hold the lead in New Hampshire, he did it,” Mr. Messina said. “And he is a great debater. Someone who used to work with him said to me, and I think it's right, he was the guy that you took in at the end to seal the deal, because he knew how to do it.”

Tuesday Reading: Devices to Save Children in Hot Vehicles Are Questioned


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

The Early Word: Fighting Words


Today's Times

  • Mitt Romney's overseas trip was designed to show his dexterity on foreign policy. But once again Tuesday, he found himself under fire, Ashley Parker and Richard A. Oppel Jr. report. Mr. Romney's comments about the disparity in the economic success of Israelis and Palestinians drew a pointed rebuke from the Palestinian leadership.
  • The new health care law requires insurers to give out annual rebates if less than 80 percent of the premium dollars they collect go toward medical care, Abby Goodnough reports. The payout, totaling $1.1 billion this year, has softened some Americans who initially opposed the new law.
  • A runoff vote on Tuesday for the Republican Senate nomination in Texas has jolted the party establishment there and around the country, with a Tea Party conservative gaining considerable momentum against the candidate chosen by the traditional Republican establishme nt, Erik Eckholm reports.
  • Democrats have taken the first step toward amending their official party platform to include same-sex marriage, Jeremy W. Peters and Michael D. Shear report.
  • As the fight over extending tax cuts migrates from the corridors of Congress to the campaign trail, the prospects for compromise appear to be receding, Jonathan Weisman reports.

Around the Web

  • Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, and Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, have introduced legislation that would regulate and limit the online sale of ammunition, The Hill reports.
  • Mr. Romney will soon be on a Hallmark greeting card, The Hill reports.

Happenings in Washington

  • Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, will join Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and several other lawmakers to announce new women's health coverage that will be available under th e Affordable Care Act.
  • A group of black pastors will kick off a nationwide campaign opposing President Obama's support for gay marriage at the National Press Club.
  • There will be a screening of “The Campaign,” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, at the Newseum.

Obama Campaign Releases iPhone App for Canvassing


It's been the science-fiction dream of political operatives for years: an army of volunteers, connected to the Internet as they walk from door to door, looking up names on a device and entering their responses electronically.

President Obama's campaign appears ready to make it a reality with the release of a new iPhone app that will replace the ubiquitous clipboard for Democratic canvassers.

The app, which is available on Tuesday, will allow supporters of Mr. Obama's to download a list of names in their neighborhood from the campaign's central database. No longer will they have to stop by the local campaign headquarters to get started.

And once they knock on a door, the response - positive, negative, on-the-fence - can be wirelessly slung back to the campaign's computer system instantly.

The campaign is betting that the technology will vastly expand the number of supporters who will beat the pavement for Mr. Obama in the final 100 days before the election in November.

“Our focus remains on helping make grass-roots organizing as easy and accessible as possible for the volunteers and supporters that are the heart and soul of this campaign,” said Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama. “That's why we designed our new app to help break down the distinction between online and offline organizing.”

Mr. Obama is not the first candidate to have an iPhone app or to use technology to improve the collection of information on supporters. Both political parties have put enormous resources into developing online portals that can collect information, process donations and help organize volunteers.

But prior efforts have not gone as far as the application Mr. Obama's campaign is releasing on Tuesday.

An iPhone and iPad app released by Mr. Obama's campaign several months ago provided information about nea rby local events and served as a resource for information about Mr. Obama's positions. Like the new app, the old version heavily promoted social media as a way of distributing Mr. Obama's message.

Mitt Romney's campaign released an iPhone app at the end of May. But it serves largely as a photo-sharing tool that allows users to add pro-Romney phrases - like “I'm a mom for Mitt” - to a picture before posting it to Twitter or sharing it on Facebook.

Neither Mr. Obama's first app nor the one by Mr. Romney provides users access to canvassing lists.

Those lists typically contain the names of voters that the Obama campaign believes are supporters who might need a reminder to go to the polls, or potential supporters who are on the fence and could be convinced to vote for the president.

“Hey [NAME], my name is [YOUR NAME] and I'm a volunteer with Obama for America,” the script in the phone directs the volunteers to say. “How are you today? [ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION]”

The app allows the volunteer to designate a person as one of seven categories, from “Strong Obama” to “Strong Republican” or “Not Voting.”

Volunteers can add notes and e-mail addresses. When they click a button, the app says the finished information will be sent to “VoteBuilder,” the Obama campaign's central database of supporters.

In the old days, volunteers would pick up paper lists at a local office, returning them to the office at the end of the day. Other volunteers would enter the information collected into a computer. Now, that process will be largely automated.

For those who don't want to canvass, the app will also provide direct links to voter registration drives, local area phone banks, and - of course - the ability to quickly donate to the campaign.

A spokesman for the campaign said a version of the application for the Android operating system should be available within a matter of days. The iPhone ap p can be downloaded from iTunes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Republican Leaders in Tricky Spot on Farm Bill and Drought Aid


The House speaker, John A. Boehner, and other Republican leaders have found themselves caught in a squeeze between their party's most ardent conservatives and drought-ridden farmers, with just days left before a monthlong August recess.

The Senate has already passed a major overhaul of the nation's farm programs, but a parallel effort in the House has been stymied, in large part by conservatives who have pressed for deep cuts to the expanded food stamp program. Without movement, a bipartisan drought relief package has had no vehicle to get out of Congress on.

Last week, House Republican leaders indicated they would back a one-year extension of existing farm programs, crop insurance and subsidies, with a drought package attached. But on Monday, it became clear that will be no easy task this week.

In the morning, the American Farmland Trust, an environmentally minded agriculture group, came out against the plan.

“Our goal remains clear: pass a fair and comprehensive five-year farm bill this year,” said Jon Scholl, the group's president. “We will vigorously oppose an extension of the current act that does not appropriately set the stage for final action on a new, comprehensive, multiyear farm bill to be enacted yet this year. We also oppose the disproportionate cuts to conservation programs as a means of funding disaster assistance.”

That gave cover to Democrats, who had already said they do not want to give Republicans help dealing with their right flank.

Then the American Farm Bureau Federation, a far larger group with strong presence in Republican states and districts, piled on.

“A one-year extension offers our farm and ranch families nothing in the way of long-term policy certainty,” said the group's president, Bob Stallman. “Farmers and ranchers always face decisions that carry very serious financial ramificati ons, such as planting a crop, buying land or building a herd, and we need clear and confident signals from our lawmakers.”

On Monday afternoon, the Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative small-government political action committee, hit from the other side.

“House Republican leadership should promise fiscal conservatives that they will not use a short-term extension as a vehicle to get to conference on a massive new farm bill,” said the group's president, Chris Chocola. “Last month, leadership pulled a similar trick with the highway bill. Republicans should be fighting to cut spending and limit government, not compromising with Democrats to spend billions of dollars on farm subsidies and food stamps.”

\'Super PAC\' Backs Santa Impersonator for Michigan House Seat


The “Brat PAC” wants Santa and his reindeer in the House.

Liberty for All, a new “super PAC” financed almost entirely by one college student's inheritance from his grandfather, has jumped into the race for Michigan's 11th District. The House race opened after the surprise resignation of Representative Thaddeus McCotter.

The group's choice to take the seat? Kerry Bentivolio, a libertarian-leaning reindeer farmer and Santa impersonator.

Liberty for All was founded by the unlikely pairing of John Ramsey, a 21-year-old from Nacogdoches, Tex., and Preston Bates, a Kentucky political operative. The two met when they were campaigning for Ron Paul and decided to martial Mr. Ramsey's money behind candidates who will carry Mr. Paul's libertarian flame. In its June 30 disclosure to the Federal Election Commission, the super PAC reported that it had raised $1.9 million, the vast majority coming from Mr. Ramsey's p ocket.

In May, after Thomas H. Massie, Liberty for All's handpicked candidate in a Kentucky Republican primary, cruised to victory, the news media began calling the group, the Brat PAC, and the nickname has stuck.

Michigan's 11th District was on no one's radar screen until Mr. McCotter's campaign inexplicably failed to deliver enough authentic signatures to get on the ballot for his sixth term. The only Republican left on the ticket was Mr. Bentivolio.

The Democrats saw a fat target in the Santa impersonator. But local Republican leaders stepped in, interviewed potential candidates, and backed Nancy Cassis, a former Michigan state senator for a write-in campaign. The Brat PAC smelled a rat.

“Members of the state party establishment met behind closed doors to pick a candidate they could count on to toe the moderate line: Nancy Cassis. That's when Liberty For All stepped in to support the real conservative, and the grass roots choice,” the group announced on its Web site.

Since July 23, Liberty for All has spent nearly $123,000 on Mr. Bentivolio's behalf, the bulk of it going to automated phone calls, phone banking and direct mail ahead of the Aug. 7 primary.

Democrats Move to Include Gay Marriage in Party Platform


Democrats moved to make same-sex marriage a part of their party platform at their convention in September, placing language that would declare a right for gays and lesbians to marry on track for approval by the party's leadership.

Party officials met over the weekend in Minneapolis and approved the first step in the platform-amending process. In two weeks, the entire platform committee will vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled in Detroit. Then, if approved, it would move on to convention delegates in Charlotte for final approval in September.

According to Democrats who were briefed on the vote in Minneapolis, there was no objection when the issue came up.

The platform language approved over the weekend also included a condemnation of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.

The Democratic Party's move comes more than two months after President Obama personally backed the rights of same-sex couples to wed, making their action decidedly less controversial than it could have been had the party been in conflict with its leader.

Gay rights supporters praised the vote. “Like Americans from all walks of life, the Democratic Party has recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to have their relationships respected as equal under the law,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.  “I believe that one day very soon the platforms of both major parties will include similar language on this issue.

Boehner Pushes for Conference Panel on Domestic Violence Measure


After a months-long stalemate over a bill to protect women from crimes of domestic violence, Speaker John A. Boehner on Monday named eight House negotiators to serve on a nonexistent conference committee, one that would be charged with bridging the divide between House Republicans and the Senate.

In April, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and it urged the House to move on the legislation.

The House subsequently passed its own measure, which omitted provisions of the Senate bill that would allow Indian tribal courts to try certain non-Indians in some cases of domestic violence on reservations, expand the number of temporary visas for illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic violence and extend the protections of that act to gay men and lesbians.

The House has since declined to take up the Senate bill, noting that it raises money to pay for some of the provisions not in cluded in the House measure. (Under the Constitution, bills that raise revenue must originate in the House.)

Senate Democrats have accused House Republicans of endangering women by refusing to take up the Senate measure.

A formal conference committee cannot be convened until the House and the Senate vote to convene it. Mr. Boehner is essentially jumping the gun by naming members to the hypothetical conference to pressure the Senate to move forward.

In a statement Mr. Boehner said: “Completing work on legislation to renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act is critical in our efforts to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. The law has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers, and I'm announcing our negotiators today in the hopes that we can begin to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills. The House is ready and willing to begin those discussions, and I would urge Senate Democrats to come to the table so this critical legislation can be sent to the president for his signature as soon as possible.”

These are the House members assigned to the committee, all of them Republicans: Sandy Adams of Florida; Mary Bono Mack of California; Trey Gowdy of South Carolina; Nan Hayworth of New York; Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; Shelley Moore Capito of West Virgina; F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin; and Lamar Smith of Texas, who is head of the House Judiciary Committee.

Another Reason Why Women May Be Paid Less Than Men


The fact that women continue to earn less than men has been well documented. And while part of that pay gap can be explained away, there is still a significant piece that cannot.

But new research suggests that the wage gap may potentially be attributed, at least in some part, to the way women are perceived in the workplace: When a managers know they can blame the company's financial woes for their pay decisions, they are likely to give women smaller raises than their male counterparts. And that's because women may be seen as being more readily appeased by such excuses than men.

The findings, which came from an experiment conducted with 184 male and female managers with real-world experience who participated in a simulation, found that managers who worked about 13.5 years, which was the average for managers participating in the study, gave male employees 71 percent of money available f or raises while they only allocated 29 percent of the funds to female employees. The results were even more pronounced among more experienced managers. (The study, “Engendering Inequity? How Social Accounts Create versus Merely Explain Unfavorable Pay Outcomes for Women,” was recently published in the journal Organization Science.)

“Whenever research reveals disparities between men's and women's pay, there is a common retort: The gap must be due to unobserved differences in men's and women's willingness or skill in negotiating pay,” said Maura Belliveau, the study's author, an associate professor at LIU Post's College of Management. “Although some gender differences in negotiation exist, this study reveals a major disadvantage women incur that precedes any negotiation.”

The study's participants acted as managers and had to determine an employee's raise. The managers were told that raise funds were limited because of financial difficulties that were no t yet public. The only factor that differed among the employees was their gender; everything else â€" including their job, level of performance and amount of money available for raises â€" was identical.

When managers could not explain their decision, they gave equal raises to men and women. But when managers could provide an explanation, they paid women less than men - but they also paid these women less than women in another situation where they could not provide them with an explanation for the raise amount. Raises given to men, meanwhile, were the same regardless of whether they could provide a reason or not. The results were consistent for both male and female managers.

By giving 71 percent of available raise money to men, Professor Belliveau pointed out that “managers ensured that men did not need to negotiate to obtain a good raise.

“In contrast, managers' raise decisions put women who performed at the same level as men in a position where they w ould not only need to negotiate to obtain a reasonable raise, but they would have to do so from the starting point of a lowball amount,” she added. “That's an extremely challenging task, even for a skilled negotiator.”

Professor Belliveau also studied why women were given smaller raises when managers had a ready excuse to fall back on. And she said that since women are stereotyped as people who are more focused on “process,” the managers assumed women would feel that they were treated fairly when given an explanation. “Having the opportunity to explain enables managers to think of themselves as treating women fairly from a process perspective,” she said. “So, paradoxically, managers who give women less pay can think that they are treating women well.”

But research shows that managers' perceptions about women aren't rooted in reality. Past research shows that both men and women value fair treatment equally, she said. But the current study found t hat managers' ideas about women's values “loom larger than the objective reality, she added.

Data did not show that managers thought women would be more likely to believe the excuse, be more reasonable about pay constrains, or be less concerned about the size of their raises.

All of this obviously puts women in a tough position, which is why Professor Belliveau said that “managers and human resource professionals need to closely monitor pay data in their organizations to ensure that the burden of low raises is not disproportionately placed on women.”

This is especially important now, she said, since many employers can easily use the current economy as an excuse for tightening the company's purse strings.

A Trip to Poland, With an Eye on Swing States


Mitt Romney's arrival in Poland on Monday provides an opportunity for the Republican candidate to embrace the ideals and values of one of America's closest allies in front of a global audience.

His campaign hopes they are watching in the Rust Belt.

Mr. Romney arrived in Gdansk for the start of two days of talks with Polish leaders, to be capped off by remarks from Warsaw on Tuesday. Aides have signaled that he will focus on the relationship between the two countries and strategic concerns about Russia.

But at home - where votes count - the trip's imagery may be more important than the specifics of Mr. Romney's policy pronouncements.

Polish voters make up large chunks of the electorate in several swing states that Mr. Romney must win if he wants to capture the White House in November. His campaign is clearly hoping that the high-profile visit this week will help woo those vot ers.

The two states with the largest number of Polish-Americans are out of reach for Mr. Romney: New York and Illinois, which together have close to two million Polish-Americans, will be firmly in the Democratic column in November. (The single biggest Polish-American population center? Chicago - President Obama's home town.)

But millions of Polish-Americans call Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin home. And those are three key states for Mr. Romney.

In some small towns in those three states, as many as half or more of the residents say they have Polish ancestry. Mr. Romney is hoping that a visit to Poland - and a warm embrace by Lech Walesa, the former Polish president - will help him capture a higher percentage of those voters.

Mr. Walesa, who has had a chilly relationship with Mr. Obama, effectively endorsed Mr. Romney during their meeting on Monday.

“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course , but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” Mr. Walesa said to Mr. Romney during a photo-op after private discussions. “Governor Romney, get your success - be successful!”

Mr. Romney is also hoping to capitalize on anger among some Poles toward Mr. Obama. In 2009, as part of his “reset” in relations with Russia, the president decided against a missile defense system based partly in Poland. And in May of this year, Mr. Obama offended some Poles and Polish-Americans by referring to “Polish death camps” instead of “Nazi death camps” during a ceremony at the White House.

Winning the Polish vote may not be that easy for Mr. Romney, however.

Polish-Americans do not vote in a block. A survey by the Piast Institute, which studies Polish-American affairs, found that 36 percent of Polish-Americans identified as Democrats. Thirty-three percent said they were independents. And just 26 percent said they were Republicans.

In a demographic sur vey in 2008 by the institute, 52 percent of Polish-Americans voted for Mr. Obama, while just 42 percent voted for Senator John McCain of Arizona.

However, the institute also noted that 44 percent of Polish-Americans say they are conservative. “It is not unreasonable to conclude that many Polish-American Democrats tend to be in the more conservative wing of the party,” the group said.

Can Mr. Romney tap into some of those voters to win the Polish-American vote in November? And if he does, will it help him win some of those battleground states?

In the latest polls, Mr. Obama has been leading Mr. Romney in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. To win there, Mr. Romney will have to do more than just win over a few more Polish-Americans.

On the other hand, Mr. Romney's team knows that the contests in those states could easily narrow as election day nears, especially if the economy continues to struggle over the next several months.

In that case, every vote will count - something that Mr. Romney will no doubt be thinking of as he delivers his remarks in Warsaw on Tuesday.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

One Key to Happiness: Let Go of Some Long-Term Goals


Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at BAM Advisor Services. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

We've all heard how important it is to set and track goals.

We're encouraged to write them down, tape them to the mirror and review them daily. It's now common to hear people refer to their “bucket lists.” But after setting all those goals, we're often faced with a hard truth: we will not have enough money to reach all our goals.

Not now. Not ever.

It can feel incredibly painful to discover that you spent years expecting to do certain things but ended up being limited by a lack of money. I often refer to this feeling of disappointment as the gap between our expectations and our reality.

For some, this disappointment comes when we real ize that the retirement we planned is no longer an option. Years of working and saving just didn't turn out the way we'd hoped. So it's no surprise that if we spent a decade or two attached to a certain outcome, even delaying life because we're so focused on that outcome, we're really disappointed when it doesn't happen.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with someone about her bucket list. With tears in her eyes, she told me she finally realized that she might not ever have the money to do some of the things on her list.

Yet this same person appeared to live a life that many would consider a dream. She participated in her community and enjoyed meaningful work. Life wasn't bad in any measurable way. But while that's easy to say, it was clear from our conversation that the pain of her unmet expectations was very real.

The question is what do we do about it? Can we avoid it?

I suggest something radical. I believe it's time we let go of outcome-based goal setting and instead focus on the process of living the lives we want right now. Letting go of outcome-based goals can bring us freedom. We can start by:

1. Letting go of expectations.

Just in case life hasn't already shown you otherwise, the world doesn't necessarily owe you anything. Goals are great, and they can help us focus our efforts toward doing and being better. But you need to focus on having them remain goals and not turning them into expectations.

2. Letting go of outcomes.

Focusing on the process is a far better way to set goals. When I wrote my book, I hoped that in some small way it would help people make decisions about money that were more aligned with what is really important to them. My goal wasn't to write a New York Times best-seller but instead to help people. Even starting out with the right intent, I sometimes forgot that goal and instead focused on a specific outcome out of my control. And no surprise, it led to anxiety and often disap pointment.

3. Letting go of worry.

I know how hard it is to stop worrying about money. After all, there are so many money things to worry about. What if it all goes away? What if I can't afford to send my kids to college? It's a hard habit to break, but it doesn't do us any good. Can you think of one single thing that got better because you worried about it? Obviously it's different from sitting down and crafting an action plan to solve a problem. All worrying does is create an uncomfortable rut.

4. Letting go of measuring.

We're competitive. We like to compare ourselves to other people. We love to race to see if we're good enough to win. As I wrote earlier this year, we're all striving for happiness. But we don't have units of happy we can measure. I think in some instances we've substituted measuring money for happiness even though few people have set the explicit goal of having more money than the next person.

5. Letting go of mindless tracki ng.

A bit different from measuring or comparing yourself against others is letting go of tracking every penny in and out. For some people, there's a belief that spending should be painful. And I'm all for tracking your spending habits to learn about yourself and your relationship with money. After doing it for eight years, however, my wife asked me what good it does to know down to the penny how much we spend on gas in a month. In this case you don't want to confuse the process with the goal. The goal isn't to track every penny but to know where your money goes.

Goals can be a great things. We just need to do a better job making sure they don't turn into expectations that leave us disappointed and unhappy.

Romney Comments on Palestinians Draw Criticism


JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney found himself on the defensive yet again on his overseas trip, this time after offending Palestinian leaders with comments he made at a breakfast fund-raiser here on Monday.

Speaking to roughly four dozen donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Romney suggested that cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the reason the Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians. He also vastly understated the income disparities between the two groups.

In his speech, Mr. Romney mentioned two books that had influenced his thinking about nations - “Guns, Germs and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, and “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes. Mr. Diamond's book, Mr. Romney said, argues that the physical characteristics of the land account for the success of the people living there, while Mr. Landes's book, he continued, argues that c ulture is the defining factor.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

“As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he said.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney's remarks “racist.”

“It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Mr. Erekat said. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”

Mr. Romney understated the difference between per capita incomes by a wide margin the difference, suggesting that Israelis earn about twice what Palestinians make.

In fact, according to an estimate by the Central Intelligence Agency, in 2009 Israel had a per capita GDP of roughly $29,800, while in 2008 - the last year the C.I.A. has numbers on their website for the Palestinians - the per capita G.D.P. of the West Bank and Gaza was $2,900.

Though Mr. Romney came to Israel to offer his support for the country, delivering a speech Sunday night in Jerusalem in which he offered a strong defense of Israel's right to protect itself against the threat of a nuclear Iran, Mr. Romney also met Sunday with the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, Salam Fayyad. In public, the two men made small talk about the London Olympics.

After Mr. Romney's remarks drew criticism, hi s campaign said that the Associated Press had “grossly mischaracterized” the remarks by not providing the full context. For instance, the campaign said, after mentioning the per capita G.D.P. of Israel and Palestine, Mr. Romney also said: “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

The comments Monday are the second time that Mr. Romney has unwittingly offended a group of people in a part of the world he was visiting. When he arrived in London on the first stop of his trip, Mr. Romney set off a media firestorm when he seemed to cast question on the city's preparedness for the Olympic Games.

Monday Reading: Refinancing More Than Once


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Speaking in Jerusalem, Romney Delivers Defense of Israel


JERUSALEM -Speaking before a crowd full of donors and supporters here on the holiday of Tisha B'av, Mitt Romney asserted his belief that Israel should be able to protect itself against the threat of a nuclear Iran.

“We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you,” he said, speaking as the sun set on Jerusalem's Old City.

Though Mr. Romney laid out no detail policy plans, the strongest portion of his speech dealt with the challenges he believes the United States and Israel face in preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities.

“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran's leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Mr. Romney said. “We should stand with all who would join our effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran - and that includes Iranian dissidents. Don't erase from your memory the scenes from three years ago, when that regime brought to death its own people as they rose up.”

He added that preventing Iran from gaining such nuclear capabilities “must be our highest national security priority.”

In his remarks, Mr. Romney's appeared to step back from comments a senor aide made prior to the speech.

Earlier in the day, Dan Senor, a senior Romney foreign policy adviser who helped orchestrate Mr. Romney's visit here, told reporters that Mr. Romney would express - several times - that it was “unacceptable” for Iran to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons and his view that Israel does have the right to take action against Iran.

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Mr. Senor said.

A short time later however, the Romney campaign issued a statement that seemed to slightly soften its statement.

“Governor Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so,” Mr. Senor said in an e-mail statement released by the campaign. “In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Governor Romney recognizes Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it.”

Then, in an interview on CBS' “Face the Nation,” Mr. Romney said: “I'll use my own words and that is I respect the right of Israel to defend itself and we stand with Israel.”

“We're two nations that come together in peace and that want to see Iran being dissuaded from its nuclear folly,” he said.

“Because I'm on foreign soil,” Mr. Romney said, “I don't want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself from the foreign policy of our nation, but we respect the right of a nation to defend itsel f.”

Cheney Says Sarah Palin Was Not Ready to Be Vice President


video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Sarah Palin was not ready to be his successor and that picking her was “a mistake” that Mitt Romney should seek to avoid with his choice.

Speaking to Jonathan Karl of ABC News in his first interview since undergoing heart transplant surgery in March, Mr. Cheney said that considerations other than an a bility to serve as vice president were clearly present in Senator John McCain's choice of Ms. Palin.

Mr. Karl asked whether a presidential candidate should consider how well a vice presidential nominee might appeal in a particular state or to a demographic group.

“Those are important issues, but they should never be allowed to override that first proposition. That was one of the problems McCain had,” Mr. Cheney said.

“I like Governor Palin. I've met her. I know her,” Mr. Cheney said, calling Ms. Palin an “attractive candidate” in 2008. “But based on her background, she had only been governor for, what, two years? I don't think she passed that test of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.”

Mr. Cheney has been an outspoken critic of President Obama, but was silenced by health troubles in the past year. He received a heart transplant in March and has been recovering at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mr. Karl interviewed him there. The full interview will be shown Monday on ABC news programs.

In the brief excerpt shown on Sunday, Mr. Cheney did not criticize Mr. Obama. But Mr. Karl hinted that the former vice president does not hold back in the rest of the interview.

“No question: Cheney is back. He feels much better,” Mr. Karl said on ABC's “This Week” program. “He says he hasn't felt this good for years. And he is certainly not holding back. You'll hear what he said about Obama - some of his harshest criticism yet tomorrow.”

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

The Agenda: In Interview, Romney Brings Arab Spring into Presidential Race


Mitt Romney on Saturday explicitly sought for the first time to turn the Arab Spring into an issue in the United States presidential race. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper to set up his visit to Israel this weekend, Mr. Romney made several provocative statements distinguishing himself from President Obama.

The Agenda

Middle East stability and security, post-Arab Spring.

Mr. Romney discussed the Arab Spring revolts as a problem rather than progress. He asserted against some evidence that the Obama administration had abandoned an agenda of pushing for democratic reform pursued by George W. Bush, and he characterized even the most moderate and Western-friendly Islamists â€" those in the political parties leading legislatures in Tunisia and Morocco â€" as political opponents. The last runs counter to the Obama administration's strategy, endorsed by some Republicans in Congress, of building alliances with moderate Islamists where possible.

- Read the Full Interview '

Romney Visits Western Wall


JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, made an unscheduled stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City Sunday afternoon, and both placed a prayer in one of the wall's many cracks.

Mr. Romney arrived at the Western Wall on Tisha B'av - a solemn holiday commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples of Jerusalem - but Mr. Romney's security detail and name recognition rendered the scene at the Western Wall a bit more scene-y than usual. Barricades were set up to block off the front area, and women stood on chairs to peer over at Mr. Romney from their segregated section to the right. Some in the crowd shouted out greetings more typical of campaign rallies than the Western Wall - “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel!” and “Beat Obama, governor!”

Mr. Romney was also accompanied to the wall by Rabbi Schmuel Rabinowitz, the chief rabbi of the wall, as well as a coterie of aides and donors - Spencer Zwick, his national finance chairman; J. Philip Rosen, a partner in the New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges who owns a home here and gives frequently to Republican candidates; L.E. Simmons, the founder of a private equity firm with a focus on oil; Bob White, the chairman of Mr. Romney's campaign, as well as a close friend; Lanhee Chen, Mr. Romney's foreign policy adviser; and Rick Gorka, a traveling spokesman for the campaign.

A small crowd applauded when Mr. and Mrs. Romney exited their motorcade, before proceeding to separate portions of the wall, which is partitioned off by gender. Mr. Romney was immediately mobbed, but he shook hands and greeted the crowd - “Very nice to meet you, good to see you,” Mr. Romney said, as onlookers snapped pictures - while trying to remain solemn.

Mr. Romney, wearing a black yarmulke, was then handed a piece of paper, on which he wrote a note to insert i nto the wall, as is traditional. He approached the Wall, bowed his head, and placed his right hand on the Wall. After several moments, he reached up and stuck his folder note into a crack on the wall.

Rabbi Rabinowitz gave a Mr. Romney a book, “Touching the Stone of Our Heritage,” and Mr. Romney passed it to his body man, Garrett Jackson.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Romney walked up to a portion of the wall that had also been blocked off, inserted her note, and paused for several minutes, her right hand against the brick. She then slowly turned and began walking back to the motorcade, still accompanied by a local guide who briefed her on the Wall's history. Though several well-wishers shouted out compliments about her husband - “We are pulling for Mitt! We want Mitt! We need a real leader!” - Mrs. Romney simply smiled and nodded. When a pool reporter asked her what her prayer had said, she again smiled - and ignored the question.

Mr. and Mrs. Romney eventually returned to their motorcade, returning to the King David Hotel, where they're staying. But before he left, two women peering over at the spectacle below tried to puzzle out the meaning of Mr. Romney's visit.

“He must love Jewish if he come here,” offered the first woman, but her friend had an alternate theory.

“It's political,” she said.

Romney to Back Israel\'s Right to Strike Iran, Aide Says


JERUSALEM - In a speech here Sunday evening, Mitt Romney plans to assert that he respects Israel's right to take pre-emptive action against Iran to prevent the country from developing nuclear capabilities that could be used for a bomb.

In a briefing with reporters before the speech, Dan Senor, a senior Romney foreign policy advisor who helped orchestrate Mr. Romney's stop here, said that Mr. Romney would express - several times - his belief that it is “unacceptable” for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, including his view that Israel reserves the right to take action against Iran.

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Mr. Senor said.

Previewing Mr. Romney's remarks, Mr. Senor explained: “It is not enough just to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program. The capability, even if that capabi lity is short of weaponization, is a pathway to weaponization, and the capability gives Iran the power it needs to wreak havoc in the region and around the world.”

At the annual Herzliya Conference in 2007, Mr. Romney took a strong stance against Iran, arguing that the country's nuclear capabilities must, can, and will be stopped. But the message coming out of Mr. Romney's campaign in advance of his speech represents a ratcheting up of his previous position on Iran.

In excerpts released by his campaign, Mr. Romney plans to stress the importance of protecting Israel's right to defend itself against Iran.

“But today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability,” Mr. Romney's prepared remarks say. “Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sunday Breakfast Menu, July 29


With 100 days until Election Day, both presidential campaigns will be represented on the Sunday talk shows.

On ABC's “This Week,” Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, and Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, will weigh in on the week's events, including Mitt Romney's diplomatic misstep of questioning London's preparedness for the Olympics.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, will talk about the candidates' foreign policy plans on CNN's “State of the Union” as Mr. Romney embarks on the next leg of his international tour, to Israel.

“Fox News Sunday” features an exclusive interview with Justice Antonin Scalia, who will talk about his new book and share his thoughts on some of the Supreme Court's major decisions and his own judicial philosophy.

Justice Scalia's former colleague on the bench, Sandra Day O'Connor, will appear on CBS's “Face the Nation” to share her own thoughts about the state of the court. And less than a week after Monday's announcement of the N.C.A.A.'s sanctions against Penn State, CBS will also talk to Rodney Erickson, the university's president, about the aftermath of the child sexual abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.

Also on CBS: Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, will discuss the presidential race.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, is the guest on Bloomberg's “Political Capital” this week.

On C-Span's “Newsmakers,” Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, will talk about the tax choices facing Congress, as well as the economy.

Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, will appear on Univision's “Al Punto,” where he will share his thoughts on the presidential race, immigration and relations with Latin America.

NBC's “Meet the Press” is off for two weeks because of the coverage of the Olympics. TV One's “Washington Watch” is on hiatus until the fall.

Camp Diagnosed With Early-Stage Cancer


Representative Dave Camp, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, disclosed Saturday that he had early-stage blood cancer but that he intended to undergo treatment while continuing his work in the House.

As the top House tax writer, Mr. Camp, 59, Republican of Michigan, is playing a central role in the deliberations over the deficit and the Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of December.

In a statement, he said he had a “very early, highly treatable and curable type” of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, known as large B-cell lymphoma that will require him to have chemotherapy every three weeks for several months.

“In between treatments I will continue my work,” wrote Mr. Camp, who said he intends to remain as chairman of the tax-writing committee. “Thankfully, my health is otherwise excellent and my doctors and I expect a full recovery and cure. My family and I appreciate the s upport, good wishes and understanding we have received.”

The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued his own statement on Saturday, expressing confidence that Mr. Camp, his friend and colleague, will recover. “He'll whip this with characteristic strength and grace,” Mr. Boehner said. “He is as tough and determined as they come.”

Large B-cell lymphoma is considered the most common type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that resides in the immune system and is most common in men in their 60s, according to a recent publication by the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which said the condition could be cured in more than half of the patients diagnosed.

Mr. Camp, a lawyer and former House staffer, helped lead Republican efforts in the House to repeal the health care law, and he has been among the top House fund-raisers, in part because of his critical position in helping set national tax policy.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, M r. Camp said that he hoped to negotiate a bipartisan settlement for changes in the tax code that would not result in an increase in revenues or shifts in the burden among different income groups, a plan that conflicts with the stated objectives of House Democrats.

A Fund-Raiser Behind Closed Doors


JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney's high-dollar breakfast with donors at the King David Hotel here Monday morning will be closed to the media, his campaign decided Saturday, a change from the norm for the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.

The trip to Israel holds opportunity and peril for Mr. Romney, and his campaign aides have spent weeks preparing the former Massachusetts governor for the fine diplomatic line he must walk while abroad. His relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which dates back to their days as young consultants in Boston, is already being scrutinized for signs of warmth or cooling, and everything said - and unsaid - will be carefully parsed.

The fund-raiser may be especially delicate for Mr. Romney because of the attendance of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who has pledged to spend some $100 million this election to help defeat President Obama, as well as e lect Republicans. Though Mr. Adelson first supported Newt Gingrich during the early nominating contests because of his strong support for Israel, he has since thrown his support behind Mr. Romney. Mr. Adelson and his wife recently gave $5 million to a pro-Romney “super PAC.” He flew over to Jerusalem for the weekend to attend the event.

Mr. Romney seems to be taking pains to keep the fund-raiser under wraps. Typically, a small pool of reporters is allowed into fund-raisers held in public locations, in order to provide a written report on Mr. Romney's remarks. Though there have been a few occasions when the campaign has tried to limit access - citing an especially small venue or the fact that Mr. Romney was not giving formal remarks - this is the first time that a public fund-raiser has been closed without any explanation.

Mr. Romney's high-dollar event in London on Thursday, held at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park, was open to a press pool.

It rema ins unclear why Mr. Romney wants his remarks to donors in Israel to remain off the record. But earlier in the campaign, Mr. Romney was caught offering a slightly different message behind closed doors than was intended for public consumption. At a private fund-raiser in Florida, Mr. Romney talked about reducing the Department of Education and possibly eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development - hardly standard campaign fare.

“Closed press, closed press, closed press,” a Romney spokesman Rick Gorka said when asked for a comment or explanation.

The Weekend Word: Exposed


Today's Times

  • Despite warnings of a potentially crippling cyberattack, a group of lawmakers led by Senator John McCain has successfully weakened bipartisan legislation that the White House said was crucial to protecting computer systems responsible for much of the nation's critical infrastructure, Michael S. Schmidt reports. The changes have raised new questions about the legislation's effectiveness, but Mr. McCain says that forcing industries to comply with “government red tape” is not the answer to fighting threats.
  • Complications with Mitt Romney's weekend schedule in Israel are examples of the challenges politicians face whenever American and Israeli politics intersect, Jodi Rudoren and Ashley Parker report. The trip is a critical opportunity to show statesmanship and to highlight Mr. Romney's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, but the timing has turned out to be both auspicious and fraught.
  • Throughout the election cycle, Mitt Romney's team has tried to build a low-risk campaign, resulting in an operation that is often scrambling to catch up rather than making its own news and controlling the narrative, Ashley Parker writes.
  • Though revenues have fallen, federal spending has been reduced as well, leading to a projected deficit of $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2012 rather than $1.3 trillion, Jackie Calmes reports. While such reductions would have been heralded as significant not many years ago, in the post-recession era the amounts are widely seen as woefully insufficient for addressing the country's budgetary imbalance.
    • President Obama used his weekly address to discuss a proposed extension on middle-class tax cuts, saying that “everyone in Washington says they agree on this.” The Senate has passed legislation already, but he says that Republicans in the House are holding the tax cuts hostage un til there is an extension for wealthy Americans as well. “You see, Republicans in Congress and their nominee for president believe that the best way to create prosperity in America is to let it trickle down from the top,” he said. “They're wrong. And I know they're wrong because we already tried it that way for most of the last decade. It didn't work.”

    Happenings in Washington

    • Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting Democratic delegate in Congress, will celebrate National Dance Day on the Mall with personalities from the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
    • Spy artifacts from the Cold War will be on display at the Fairfax County Army Navy Club.

    Mayo Clinic Says Jesse Jackson Jr. Is There for Depression


    CHICAGO â€" Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who has been absent from Congress since early June, is receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for depression and gastrointestinal issues, a statement issued by the clinic said on Friday night.

    The statement offered few details about Mr. Jackson's ailment, but said that he had arrived at the clinic, based in Rochester, Minn., and was to receive “extensive inpatient evaluation.” The statement, which the clinic said it was distributing on behalf of Mr. Jackson, added: “Further information will be released as Congressman Jackson's evaluation proceeds.”

    For weeks, questions have swirled over Mr. Jackson's circumstances after he dropped out of sight without explanation. As the weeks went on, his office issued three brief statements, which seemed to raise as many questions as they answered.

    It was uncertain why the clinic released the information on Fr iday night, and a spokeswoman for the clinic said she could offer no additional details.

    Before the statement was issued, though, The Chicago Sun-Times reported on its Web site that Mr. Jackson had been flown this week by private airplane to Minnesota after being treated in Tucson, Ariz.

    Mr. Jackson, 47 and once seen as a rising star likely to become a United States senator or the mayor of Chicago, is facing re-election in November. The clinic's statement on Friday offered no sense of when Mr. Jackson may return to Washington.

    Friday, July 27, 2012

    How You Use Coverdell Accounts (or Why You Don\'t)


    In this weekend's Your Money column, I took a look at Coverdell education savings accounts, which offer a tax break to people who save money and then use the proceeds for education. The quirk with Coverdells is that people get the break when using the money to pay for tuition at private or religious elementary and secondary schools, though they can use it for college expenses as well. The more well-known 529 college savings plans offer no such tax benefit for people paying primary or secondary school tuition.

    No one seems to track how people are using Coverdells, but I'd like to take an unscientific poll here. If you've used the accounts, how have you used them? What tax savings, if any, have you achieved? And if you've considered Coverdells for kindergarten through 12th grade tuition savings and then rejected the idea, why did you do so?

    A Retirement Choice With No Right Answer


    Many workers still have pension plans, though that number will dwindle as companies increasingly seek to reduce their pension obligations. And some companies may well follow the lead of General Motors, which offered its retirees a choice between a lump sum payout and continuing to receive a monthly check from an annuity.

    Paul Sullivan, in his Wealth Matters column this week, said that his first reaction would be to take the lump sum. But the answer for the retirees may not be that simple, since they worry about managing such a big lump sum well enough to last their lifetimes. Yet, if they die at a relatively young age, they may have given up the chance to leave a large amount of money to their heirs.

    Paul spoke to experts in retirement and behavioral economics who offered a middle ground: using a portion of the lump sum to buy an annuity and leaving the rest in reserve for unexpected costs.

    Of course, these days, anyone with a pension at all is considered among the lucky ones. Are you among them? If so, what would you choose if your company followed G.M.'s lead, and why? Or, if you are a G.M. retiree, what did you do?

    Cantor Declines to Criticize Bachmann Over Abedin Charges


    Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, broke with other prominent Republicans and declined on Friday to criticize Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and other House Republicans who have accused a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Ms. Bachmann and four other lawmakers last month sent a letter to the State Department charging that Huma Abedin, a deputy chief of staff in the State Department and a long-time aide to Ms. Clinton, may be a part of a group of Muslims with ties to terrorist organizations alleged to have infiltrated the federal government. Ms. Abedin is the wife of former Representative Anthony Weiner of New York.

    Last week, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, made the unusual step of taking the Senate floor to condemn the accusation as “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant.”

    Mr. McCain was soon followed by House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who called the unproved allegations “pretty dangerous.”

    In an interview Friday morning on CBS' “This Morning“, one that focused largely on Mr. Cantor's opinions about Mitt Romney and the presidential campaign, the majority leader was asked by host Charlie Rose about his views and religious tolerances. Mr. Rose brought up Ms. Bachmann's accusations, asking Mr. Cantor if they were “out of line.” Mr. Cantor said he believed “her concern was about the security of the country.”

    Many Congressional Republicans have been vocal in their criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and possible homegrown terrorist groups in the United States, but few have been eager to link themselves to Ms. Bachmann's accusations.

    An Ocean Away, but Still Shadowed by His Competition


    Mitt Romney is traveling overseas on his big foreign trip. And President Obama is with him every step of the way.

    With Mr. Romney flitting from Britain to Israel to Poland in the coming days, the Obama camp has made sure to showcase the president doing, well, presidential things related to all three countries.

    Mr. Obama said on Friday that he was releasing an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, to help the country expand production of a short-range rocket defense system. The president also signed a bill in the Oval Office expanding military and civilian cooperation with Israel.

    The bill underscores America's “unshakable commitment to Israel,” Mr. Obama said.

    Coincidence? Of course not, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said.

    “I wish it were the case that we could direct Congress and have it do what we wanted on our schedule all the time,† Mr. Carney told dubious reporters at a White House briefing. “The bill the president signed today was passed by Congress, bipartisan majorities, and sent to the White House, I believe, a week ago. And the president has been on the road, and today was the day to sign it.”

    O.K., but what about the announcement on Thursday that Mr. Obama felt the “utmost confidence” in Britain's preparedness for the Olympics - an announcement that came just a few hours after Mr. Romney's gaffe in London in which he said there had been “disconcerting” signs of unpreparedness?

    Or Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's trip to Israel on Sunday? Or the Obama campaign's decision to broadcast an advertisement on Friday night during the opening ceremony of the Olympics, which will be attended by Mr. Romney? Or the announcement that John O. Brennan, a senior adviser, briefed Mr. Obama on security at the Olympics?

    So skeptical!

    “Whatever country the Olympics were in, this president would have been briefed on security,” Mr. Carney said. “This is a major event, international event, with thousands of Americans present, hundreds of American athletes present, and it's the kind of thing that he would, as a matter of routine preparation, be briefed on, just as he is the Super Bowl and other issues and other major events where there is an American security interest.”

    Dick Cheney Sits for ABC News Interview


    Dick Cheney, who has been slowly re-entering political life since undergoing heart transplant surgery in March, will sit down today for his first network television interview this year.

    Jonathan Karl of ABC News will conduct the interview from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the former vice president has a home. Portions of the interview will air first on Sunday on ABC's public affairs program “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” And ABC will use other segments from their exclusive sit-down with Mr. Cheney on Monday during their three major news broadcasts, “Good Morning America,” “World News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline.”

    Why Mr. Cheney agreed to talk now and what he might have to say is unclear. ABC News has had a standing request to interview him for some time, and learned about a week ago that the former vice president would make himself available.

    Mr. Cheney has had a tense relationship with the news media, particularly during the final years of the Bush administration. It's not often that he grants major network television interviews. And when he does, he has often chosen to speak through his network of choice, Fox News. (Though he did sit down for an hourlong discussion televised on CSPAN a few weeks after his heart transplant.)

    Mr. Cheney has granted interviews to Mr. Karl of ABC News before, speaking to him after the killing of Osama bin Laden last year and once in 2010.

    He has surfaced intermittently this year, weighing in with his feelings about the Obama presidency (“an unmitigated disaster” as he called it at a gathering of Wyoming Republicans in April. And two weeks ago he held a $30,000-per-plate fundraiser


    The Agenda: For the United States, Arab Spring Raises Question of Values Versus Interests


    CAIRO - Barack Obama came here as a new president in 2009 to proclaim “a new beginning” in American relations with the Muslim world, grounded in support for the dream of Arab democracy and “governments that reflect the will of the people.”

    The Agenda

    Middle East stability and security post Arab Spring.

    He could not have guessed that the demand for Arab democracy would instead become one of his presidency's greatest foreign policy challenges, forcing whoever wins the November election to confront tough trade offs between American values and interests.

    The popular uprisings that have swept the region since Mr. Obama's speech in Cairo have upended an authoritarian order that was largely congenial to the United States. While they may have brought Arab nations closer than ever to fulfilling of the pr omise of self-determination that has echoed through the speeches of American presidents since Woodrow Wilson at the end of the First World War, they have also imperiled crucial American allies, empowered antagonistic Islamists, and unleashed sectarian animosities that threaten to drag the whole region toward chaos.

    Before the uprisings, a rough balance of power held in check enemies like Iran. Israel and other allies were increasingly secure within their borders. Even Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, once the “mad dog of the Middle East,” in President Ronald Reagan's words, was eager for closer ties with the United States, and American diplomats sent high-level emissaries to the Syrian capital, Damascus, in the hope of sweet-talking President Bashar al-Assad at least a few steps away from Tehran and closer to Washington.

    Despite the strains caused by the invasion of Iraq and its bloody aftermath, American influence was arguably at an apex in the capitals of the Ar ab world if not the hearts and minds of the its people.

    There was one deadly drawback. Washington's support for Arab autocracies drew the fire of militants who despaired of toppling their own monarchs and strongmen. That was the genesis of Al Qaeda. But those same Arab strongmen - including Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, and President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia - were eager to lend their spies and jails to the American fight against terrorism.

    For the occupant of the White House, the upheaval has produced at least three pressing dilemmas.

    The first is the rising power of Islamists. Democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia have brought to power Islamist parties historically opposed to United States policies in the region, from Washington's support for Israel to the American invasion of Iraq. At the same time, the toppling of the old secular strongmen has opened up a new debate among Islamists over ju st what Islamic governance should mean, including how to balance respect for individual freedom against traditional religious values. How can American policy makers assess the intents and agenda of the new Islamist leaders? Can the United States build productive alliances with these former foes? In Egypt, should the United States back the elected Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood in their struggle to pry power from the hands of military leaders? The generals were once Washington's best friends in Egypt but now threaten to curtail the transition to democracy?

    The second challenge is the threat the insurgents pose to other undemocratic allies. Here the clearest case is in the tiny, oil-rich Kingdom of Bahrain. It is the home to the American fifth fleet and provides a vital base in the Persian Gulf. But its Sunni Muslim monarchs have used brutal force to crush a largely peaceful democracy movement backed by a Shiite Muslim majority.

    Can or should the United States push the king to yield power? Would that risk the rise of Shiite Muslim parties backed by Shiite Muslim Iran? Would it alienate other important allies like the monarchs of Saudi Arabia or Jordan? And if the American president continues to stand by the King of Bahrain - as the Obama administration has - can America still hold itself up as a champion of democratic values in the rest of the region?

    The third challenge is the eruption of sectarian animosities long suppressed by the old autocrats. The most explosive case here is Syria. The uprising against Mr. Assad is also a battle between Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and his own minority Alawite Muslim sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam whose members dominate the Syrian military. Many of the Alawites fear annihilation at the hands of the Sunni insurgents seeking revenge for decades of repression by Mr. Assad and his father, former President Hafez al Assad. Others in the region fear the Syrian conflict could become a regi onal proxy war pitting Shiite Iran on one side against Sunni Muslim Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states on the other. Sparks from the Syrian fighting have already shown the potential to reignite sectarian violence in neighboring Lebanon, around the border town of Tripoli.

    Should the United States lend its support to the rebels challenging Mr. Assad, as Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, have urged? How well does the United States know the rebels it might aid? And can Western policy makers prevent or contain a descent into sectarian violence, a grander and more catastrophic return of the kind of strife that engulfed neighboring Lebanon in a decade of civil war?

    The situation is evolving by the day and often in unpredictable ways. It often seems distant from the domestic economic issues dominating the presidential campaign. But as Mr. Obama has learned since his speech in Cairo three years ago, events, welco me or not, have a way of imposing themselves on the White House.

    Over the course of the campaign we will try to present arguments from Washington and the Middle East about how the White House might seek to advance American values and interests after “the new beginning” of the Arab spring. And we will re-examine the challenge over the next few months with each turn of events in the region. We are inviting experts and readers to weigh in and raise questions as we explore the issues, as part of a series we're calling the Agenda.

    Friday Reading: Ride-Sharing Services Extend Their Reach


    A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

    The Early Word: Partisan McCain


    In Today's Times:

    • The independent maverick and the far-right leaning phases of Senator John McCain's career seem to have given way to a new version: the enthusiastic partisan warrior. Jennifer Steinhauer takes a look at Mr. McCain's efforts to get active again, preaching his party's agenda to reporters and voters, after his disappointing presidential defeat in 2008.
    • Mitt Romney added damage control to his London itinerary after suggesting that the city might not be ready for the Olympics and questioning whether residents would turn out for the Games, Ashley Parker reports. But he was unable to head off a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron or to avoid making headlines in the British press.
    • Mr. Romney found support among financiers at high-cost fund-raising events in London Thursday, earning their enthusiasm with his connections to the industry and promises of tax cuts - though his visit with the financial community amid a rate-rigging scandal has risky timing, Ashley Parker and Landon Thomas Jr. report.
    • Rejecting more than a decade of rulings, a federal court recently found that major pharmaceutical companies cannot pay to keep lower-priced generic drugs off the market, a decision that could set up a confrontation before the Supreme Court resulting in changes in drug and health care costs, Ed Wyatt reports.

    Washington Happenings:

    • President Obama will sign the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act on Friday before he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. are scheduled to meet with Ryan C. Crocker, who is stepping down this summer as ambassador to Afghanistan, and then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Later, Mr. Obama will attend campaign events in Washington and McLean, Va.
    • The Commerce Department announces the second quarter gross domestic product.