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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.