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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Obama and Romney to Suspend Ads on 9/11


It is quite likely the only reprieve Americans will get from what is expected to be an especially heavy and sustained barrage of political advertising this fall. But on Sept. 11, President Obama and Mitt Romney have agreed to suspend their campaign commercials.

Their decision follows similar steps taken in 2004 and 2008, when both presidential nominees ceased campaign activities for the day in honor of the lives lost in the 2001 terror attacks.

A group called MyGoodDeed, which pushed to establish Sept. 11 as a national day of remembrance, had called for a pause in campaigning.

Navigating Sept. 11, which falls at the beginning of the presidential campaign's homestretch, has been a tricky maneuver for candidates. In 2008 Mr. Obama and his rival, Senator John McCain, appeared together at the World Trade Center site.

Four years earlier, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry honored the day separate ly, Mr. Kerry at a memorial in Boston and Mr. Bush in a live radio address from the White House.

At Conventions, Strip Clubs Are Eager for Business


The convention organizers say no, no, no. But the gentlemen's clubs of Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., are saying yes, yes, yes.

With thousands of Republican and Democratic delegates and lobbyists set to descend on the host cities of this year's national conventions, strip clubs in each city are doing their best to extend a friendly welcome - even as party officials warn against partaking.

In Tampa, known - apparently apocryphally - as the strip club capital of the nation and where the Republican convention begins Aug. 27, competition for conventioneers is fierce. One club, Skin Tampa, is advertising its proximity to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention will be held.

“Closest club to the R.N.C.!” exclaims a banner on the club's Web site, which also promises “Free transportation and complimentary V.I.P. for R.N.C. Attendees and Press.”

“We've had a couple of people ask and stop b y and take a look at the club,” said the manager, Kristen Hubbell. “We had one guy who said he was bringing a group of about a hundred.”

The Penthouse Club, somewhat farther away, devotes a section of its Web site to the convention, offering “R.N.C. cabanas” for V.I.P. guests and claiming the only multimillion-dollar gentlemen's club and five-star steakhouse in the area. (“Presale disclaimer - All pre-order cabana or V.I.P. areas will receive a $1,000 bottle service credit,” the club warns. “Deposits are no-refundable, all sales are final.”)

Charlotte, where the Democratic convention begins Sept. 4, is less well known for its exotic dancers, but clubs there appear no less prepared. The Uptown Cabaret promises a 10-minute walk from the Time Warner Cable Arena, where the convention is taking place, and offers a handy map on its Web site.

“The Uptown Cabaret is the premiere venue for entertainment during the convention,” the owners promis e. “We are set for a week full of fun featuring the hottest women at any Charlotte nightclub.”

Both political parties have long been aware of the perils of misbehaving in public. And Congressional Republicans have reportedly held sessions warning that even innocent behavior in Tampa could be distorted with just a single cellphone shot.

Getting Rental Car Coverage for Luxury Vehicles


Bucks recently reported on the differences in rental car insurance that consumers get, depending on which credit card they use to pay for the rental. The report noted that for basic coverage, available to cardholders at no charge, the major card networks generally exclude luxury vehicles and that American Express also excludes some popular sport utility vehicles.

Michael Germanovsky, editor in chief at Credit-Land.com, contacted Bucks to say that if you are determined to rent a fancy vehicle, American Express offers “premium” insurance coverage, for about $25 per rental period (not per day, as is generally the case with insurance offered by rental car companies), for periods of as long as 42 days in most markets. The premium version does cover S.U.V.'s,and even luxury vehicles valued at more than $75,000, according to the American Express Web site.

Why rent a luxury car? Sometimes, he said, people on vacation in trend y areas (“Have you ever been to Miami?” he asked), or drivers needing a rental car while their own is being repaired,  want to splurge and drive something special. In those situations, the extra fee can be a good value, he said.

The premium coverage provides other perks as well. For starters, it acts as primary insurance - meaning, it provides coverage ahead of your personal insurance. That is different from most standard credit card coverage, which typically kicks in after your own insurance.

To get the premium coverage, you must enroll your card, according to the Web site. Then you'll pay the extra fee each time you rent using the card, until you terminate your enrollment.

Have you ever rented a luxury car? How did you deal with the insurance?

TimesCast Politics: Romney\'s Strategic Shift

Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Ryan Pushes Working-Class Message in Ohio


NORTH CANTON, Ohio - To welcome Representative Paul D. Ryan to Walsh University, his name and that of his running mate were in lights on the basketball scoreboard: Romney, 11, Ryan, 6.

The numbers stand for Nov. 6, Election Day, but the matchup that supporters of the Republican ticket really anticipate is the one between Mr. Ryan and the incumbent vice-president, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Twice, local politicians who introduced Mr. Ryan at rallies this week drew foot-stomping applause when they told crowds to circle Oct. 11 on their calenders, the date of the only vice-presidential debate, to be held in Danville, Ky.

Mr. Ryan, who usually aims his fire at President Obama, took a jab Thursday at Mr. Biden himself. “It's great to be here in North Canton - or as Joe Biden might say, ‘It's great to be here in Nevada,''' he said.

It was a reference to Mr. Biden's geographical confusion on Tuesday, when he told supporters in southern Virginia, on the North Carolina border, “With you, we can win North Carolina again.''

Republicans are excited about the Biden-versus-Ryan showdown because of Mr. Ryan's rhetorical skills and command of policy.

But the contest is also a deeper one, because both men were chosen as running mates in part for cultural reasons, namely their appeal to white working-class voters: Mr. Biden, the son of blue-collar Scranton, Pa., and Mr. Ryan, of Janesville, Wis., a manufacturing city that has suffered from the kind of plant closings that have afflicted the Rust Belt.

Mr. Ryan seemed to be courting blue-collar voters here in Stark County, south of Akron, a perennial bellwether in presidential elections, when he described the loss of jobs that followed the shutdown of a General Motors plant in his hometown.

“A lot of my high school buddies worked at that G.M. plant,'' he said. He wove the closing and loss of j obs into a critique of Mr. Obama for failing to exploit domestic energy sources and being responsible for rising gas prices.

“I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he'll keep that plant open,” Mr. Ryan said. “One more broken promise. We used to build Tahoes and Suburbans. One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline.''

But the statement was misleading in suggesting that the plant's closing was linked to policies of the Obama administration that affect gas prices.

Although G.M. cited slow sales of S.U.V.'s because of high fuel costs when it closed the plant, the decision was announced in June 2008, months before Mr. Obama was elected. President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in charge of national energy policy at the time.

Mr. Ryan also attacked Mr. Obama on trade policy, criticizing the president for not being tough enough on China, which he accused of blocking access to its markets and manipu lating its currency. “Mitt Romney and I are going to crack down on China cheating,” he said to loud applause in the basketball arena.

Leaving North Canton, Mr. Ryan added another gloss to his blue-collar credentials. Making an impromptu stop at the Original Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren, he said as he entered, “I'm just here to get some dogs.”

To a man with a South Dakota cap, he said, “Good pheasant hunting up there.''

Mr. Ryan took his seat and was served one of the house specials, a hot dog and “fries with sauce.''

A boothmate, a retired local official, told Mr. Ryan: “This is the country club of the west side, I call it. Those two seats right there.” Pointing, he then said, “I was Norm in ‘Cheers' when I was in office. You wanted to meet the representative, you had business, come down and have a seat.''

“No kidding,'' Mr. Ryan replied.

The Obamas\' First Kiss, Immortalized


President Obama has often told the story of how he met his wife, Michelle, in Chicago when they worked at the same law firm. Now, fans of the first couple can visit the spot where they shared their first kiss.

A historical marker was unveiled on Wednesday at the site, outside a shopping center in Chicago. The plaque features a 2007 quote from Mr. Obama from an interview with O, the Oprah Magazine.

“On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate,” the plaque reads.

The granite marker is at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and 53rd Street outside a shopping center in the Hyde Park neighborhood, not far from the Obamas' home. The plaque also features a photo of the couple kissing.

Although the Baskin-Robbins shop has been replaced by a Subway restaurant, there is a different Baskin- Robbins nearby, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The owners of the shopping center said they had been working to create a marker for several years because of interest from the public.

“We took on the project for the community, posterity and the tourists who seem interested in including the spot in their visit to Chicago,” said Jonelle Kearney, a spokeswoman for Mid-America Real Estate.

Whether it is a savvy marketing tool or an adorable tribute, Obama's team probably welcomes attention to the couple's love story as the presidential campaign has grown increasingly negative. In an interview on “The Tonight Show” this week, Mrs. Obama spoke of another kiss, explaining that she was not rebuffing the president when the couple was caught on the “kiss cam” at a recent basketball game.

Several Twitter users, however, were not amused by all this talk of the Obamas kissing. One woman wrote of the new historical mark er: “I think I just threw up a little bit. GAG!”

Romney Says \'I\'ve Paid at Least 13%\' in Taxes in Past Decade


Mitt Romney said on Thursday that he has not paid less than 13 percent of his income in taxes during the past decade, but called the continued focus on his personal tax returns “small-minded” in the face of the nation's problems.

Speaking to reporters during a stop in South Carolina, Mr. Romney said that he had examined the last 10 years of his tax returns.

“Every year, I've paid at least 13 percent,” he said, apparently referring to his effective federal income tax rate.

The statement is the first direct response to attacks by President Obama and his Democratic allies that have questioned whether Mr. Romney had paid little or no taxes in previous years.

In particular, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has alleged - without any proof - that Mr. Romney paid no taxes in some years, presumably by using offshore tax shelters and other legal accounting measures. Mr. Romney had already denounced that as false.

But Mr. Romney has steadfastly refused to release more than the single year of returns that he has already disclosed. He has released the full returns for tax year 2010 and a short summary of the taxes he paid in 2011.

In an interview during his trip abroad last month, Mr. Romney was asked whether he had ever paid a tax rate lower than the 13.9 percent he paid in 2010.

“I haven't calculated that,” Mr. Romney told David Muir of ABC News. “I'm happy to go back and look, but my view is I've paid all the taxes required by law.”

Reporters have pressed Mr. Romney and his campaign since then to follow through on that offer, but had been rebuffed. The campaign has continued to insist that Mr. Romn ey has released the all the tax returns he needs to.

In a television interview on NBC's “Rock Center,” Ann Romney said this week that releasing additional tax returns would simply provide “ammunition” for Democrats to attack them.

“The more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed,” Mrs. Romney said. She added that she and her husband have been “very transparent to what's legally required of us.”

“There's going to be no more tax releases given,” Mrs. Romney said. She added, “Mitt is honest. His integrity is just golden.”

Mr. Romney and his campaign have repeatedly said that he does not want to provide more years of tax returns because Democrats will use the information for unfair attacks on his personal wealth.

Mrs. Romney echoed that sentiment during the interview Wednesday night.

“We pay our taxes,” Mrs. Romney said. “We are absolutely â€" beyond paying our taxes, we also give 10 p ercent of our income to charity, so that you know, we have no issues that way and the only reason we don't disclose any more is, you know, we just become a bigger target.”

In the brief exchange with reporters in South Carolina, Mr. Romney responded to a question about his taxes by expressing disappointment about the continued focus on his own financial situation.

“I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces â€" 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans
in poverty â€" the fascination with taxes I've paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face,” he said.

But Mr. Romney was clearly ready to use the opportunity to talk about the tax rate that he paid and to attack Mr. Reid's allegations.

“Harry Reid's charge is totally false. I'm sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him,” Mr. Romney said. “I don't belie ve it for a minute, by the way. But every year I've paid at least 13 percent and if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent.”

Mr. Romney's comments about taxes came after he fielded several questions about his new running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, and the issue of Medicare.

The presumptive Republican nominee said he is eager to have a Medicare debate with Mr. Obama and the Democrats.

“I think we're the ones that brought up the topic,” Mr. Romney said, standing next to a white board on which he sketched out what he said were the differences between the two candidates on Medicare.

“I want to make sure that people understand what the president has done in welfare, what the president has done on Medicare,” Mr. Romney said.

Writing on the dry-erase board with a black marker, Mr. Romney alleged that the president has cut $716 billion out of the Medicare program, say ing that the cuts were made “not to save it.”

“It's not just that hes cutting $716 billion to make it solvent,” Mr. Romney said. “He cut $716 billion to fund Obamacare.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Marketer of Student Debit Cards Settles Charges of Improper Fees


Higher One, a big marketer of student debit cards, agreed to repay $11 million to 60,000 students to settle allegations that it had charged excessive fees to students who overdrew their accounts, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said.

Higher One contracts with hundreds of colleges to distribute financial aid, which students are encouraged to access using debit cards linked to the company's checking accounts. Many students receive aid that is more than the cost of tuition, and use the excess funds to cover housing, textbooks and other costs.

Higher One had partnered with the Bancorp Bank to issue debit cards, which brought it under the authority of the F.D.I.C. The bank regulator said in a stat ement that it determined that Higher One and the bank violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair and deceptive practices.” The F.D.I.C. said that Higher One and Bancorp Bank charged multiple fees for non-sufficient funds on a single transaction when students overspent their accounts. Higher One also allowed the accounts to remain overdrawn for long periods of time, which allowed fees to accrue, and then withdrew the fees when subsequent deposits of financial aid were made, the F.D.I.C. found.

The settlement require Higher One to change the way it charges fees for non-sufficient funds. It can't, for instance, charge more than three of those fees on any account on a single day, and can't charge more than one such fee within a 21-day period for debits known as “automated clearinghouse transactions.” The company is also required not to engage in “misleading or deceptive” marketing.

A spokeswoman for Hig her One said it had already credited affected account holders, who represented less than 2 percent of its customers, and complied with other requirements of the settlement, which also imposes a $110,000 civil penalty on the company. “We believe the relatively low civil money penalty imposed reflects how seriously we take our commitment to our customers, the degree of the issue, and our level of cooperation with the F.D.I.C.,” the company said in a statement.

The F.D.I.C. also settled with the Bancorp Bank, which will pay $172,000 in penalties. As the issuer of the debit cards, the F.D.I.C. said, the bank was responsible for making sure Higher One operated its accounts in compliance with the law. Bancorp Bank did not respond to requests for comment.

Neither Higher One nor The Bancorp Bank, which has terminated its relationship with Higher One, admitted or denied liability in the settlement.

Higher One has been controversial on some campuses because of th e fees it charges, and because of its marketing to students who sometimes think they have no option but to open a Higher One account in order to receive their student loans,grants and scholarships. (Higher One typically stresses that while using its card is optional, it is the fastest way for students to get their money).

Following the announcement of the F.D.I.C. settlement, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued tips for students on choosing a bank while attending college. The agency advises students that:

- You can't be required to use a specific bank or card. There may be a financial institution that operates on your campus, but you generally can't be required to use a specific account or card to access your student aid. If you have received a federal student loan, your school must provide a paper check or cash option.
- Consider choosing an account before arriving at school. Shop around, and don't feel limited by the banks operating ATM s on or near campus. Some financial institutions don't charge you for using any ATMs, and some will automatically reimburse you for fees charged for using an out-of-network ATM. Many institutions also provide a mobile phone app to remotely deposit paper checks.
- If your school offers it, sign up for direct deposit as soon as possible. If your school offers direct deposit, you may be able to provide the school with your account information in order to access your funds more quickly.

Have you used Higher One or another school-endorsed vendor to obtain your financial aid? What has been your experience?

Thursday Reading: Seizing the Last Days of Summer


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.

Romney Campaign Diversifies Lines of Attack


For most of the last year, Mitt Romney has stuck to one basic message: President Obama has botched the economy.

Top aides have long promised that nothing could divert the campaign from its mission to drive that message home. Early ads assailed the economic plight of the country, focusing on job losses during Mr. Obama's tenure, the unemployment rate and the nation's growing debt.

But in the last several weeks, Mr. Romney's campaign has been diverted - often of its own accord - to a host of other topics. The once singular message has become far more diverse.

Mr. Romney has not abandoned his economic argument entirely. His stump speeches still include a searing critique of the president's inability to turn the economy around. And yet, the television ads made his campaign and his allies no longer feature that argument as the central one - at least for now.

The move suggests a strategic shift by Mr. Romney's advisers to seize on other subjects - welfare, Medicare, religion - that might help fire up conservatives while also trying to appeal to wavering swing voters.

But in the meantime, the campaign risks losing the disciplined message that once appeared to be the hallmark of Mr. Romney's second run for the White House.

Here's a rundown of the messages from Mr. Romney's team during the past several weeks.

- NEGATIVITY Mr. Romney has made a concerted effort to accuse his rivals of conducting what the Republican candidate calls a hate-filled campaign. In a speech in Ohio this week, he told Mr. Obama to “take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”

That theme has been echoed by his new vice-presidential pick, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, as well as his allies at the Republican National Committee and independent groups. It has generated headlines on numerous days in the last two weeks.

Aides say it is a response to attacks by Mr. Obama and his allies, in particular an ad by Priorities USA Action that implied Mr. Romney was responsible for the death of a man's wife, and unsubstantiated comments from Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, about Mr. Romney's taxes.

Democrats call it whining, and insist the Republican has been just as negative. Either way, the argument threatens to drown out everything else.

- PAUL RYAN Announcing a vice-presidential pick was always going to shift the conversation. But Mr. Romney's decision to choose Mr. Ryan instead of one of his other potential running mates ensured a longer, more drawn-out period in which other messages would be drowned out.

And by announcing his pick early - two weeks before the start of the Republican convention - Mr. Romney provides plenty of time for attention to be diverted away from his basic themes.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney have started campaigning separately, but much of the media attention remains focused squarely on Mr. Ryan as reporters examine his background, his policy proposals and his initial foray onto the presidential stage.

- MEDICARE Knowing that Mr. Ryan's proposals on Medicare would be controversial, Mr. Romney's campaign has chosen to go on offense with an ad accusing the president of cutting $716 billion from the health care program for older people.

The new ad, called “Paid in,” defends the “Romney-Ryan plan” for Medicare, saying it protects benefits and strengthens it for “the next generation.”

The ad comes as Mr. Obama's campaign and other Democrats begin an all-out effort to highlight Mr. Ryan's plan to eventually turn Medicare into a voucher program in which senior citizens receive help to purchase private insurance.

Not discussed in the ad? Unemployment, jobs or the deficit.

- WELFARE The other big attack Mr. Romney's campaign has begun in recent weeks has been on the issue of we lfare. Seizing on a recent directive by Mr. Obama's administration, the Romney campaign claims the president has eliminated the work requirement from the federal welfare program.

Mr. Romney has made the charge repeatedly on the stump, grabbing headlines every time. And his campaign has aired ads on the issue, prompting angry denunciations from Mr. Obama's campaign and numerous independent fact checkers who noted, accurately, that Mr. Obama's administration did no such thing.

- FOREIGN POLICY The decision to take a weeklong trip to Europe was perhaps the first indication that Mr. Romney was willing to shift away from his basic economic message. Even if everything on the gone well at each stop, his campaign would have been off-message.

Mr. Romney's trip was consumed in part by gaffes in London and Israel that robbed the campaign of the news coverage it had hoped for. But when he returned, Mr. Romney began running a television ad highlighting his trip to Israe l, criticizing Mr. Obama for having not visited there as president.

He also released another television ad accusing Mr. Obama of “declaring war on religion” by requiring some religious institutions to pay for contraception coverage. The ad highlights Mr. Romney's visit to Poland during the trip abroad.

Neither of the ads talks about America's economic situation.

- ‘YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT' Unlike the other subjects, Mr. Romney's decision to hammer the president on his “build it” comments does fit with the broader economic message. Mr. Romney's campaign argues that Mr. Obama's comments reflect a lack of understanding about small businesses and their impact on the economy.

But the ads are still a departure from the more direct approach that characterized Mr. Romney's campaign for much of the year. Instead, the ads showcase small business owners upset with Mr. Obama's comments.

Those ads, too, drew denunciations from Mr. Obama and his allie s, who said his words were taken out of context.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

The Early Word: Overwhelmed


In Today's Times:

  • Thousands of young illegal immigrants lined up Wednesday for information sessions about applying for deportation deferrals under a new Obama administration policy, overwhelming immigration officials who expected a strong response but were still surprised by the turnout, Julia Preston reports.
  • The selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as Mitt Romney's running mate has shifted the subject in the presidential race from the economy to ideology, trying to appeal to Republicans intent on pushing President Obama out of office, Jeff Zeleny writes.
  • Mr. Obama jumped into the fray over Medicare in Iowa on Wednesday, drawing a distinction between his approach and his opponents' approach to the budget, Helene Cooper reports. Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan hit back in Ohio, telling people their taxes would go toward paying for the president's health care law.
    < li>In a direct attack on one of President Obama's political strengths, a group of former special operations and C.I.A. officers have accused Mr. Obama of recklessly leaking information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and other security matters to gain political advantage. Scott Shane reports on the effort, which the Obama campaign immediately compared to the “Swift Boat” advertisements against Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.
  • Liberal groups are planning to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after a judge declined to block a state law requiring voters to present specific kinds of identification, Ethan Bronner reports.

Washington Happenings:

  • Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will have lunch together Thursday, as well as meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Timothy F. Geithner, the treasury secretary.
  • The Labor Department will release its num bers on weekly jobless claims.
  • The Commerce Department will put out housing data for July.