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Monday, September 10, 2012

Ryan Says He Stands With Emanuel on Chicago Teachers\' Strike


There may be no stranger bedfellows than Representative Paul D. Ryan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, the former White House chief of staff, but on Monday Mr. Ryan declared his support of Mr. Emanuel in the Chicago teachers' strike.

“We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel,'' Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Emanuel and the teachers' union are at loggerheads primarily over a new evaluation system tied to student test scores and whether laid-off teachers should have priority to fill future job openings.

Education has been only a side issue in the presidential race, partly because many reforms pushed by the Obama administrati on are ideas that Republicans long championed. The teacher evaluation system at the heart of the Chicago strike was introduced through President Obama's Race to the Top initiative.

Mr. Ryan's praise of Mr. Emanuel was double-edged: he sought to put Mr. Obama on the spot and declare whose side he is on. The White House tried to remain neutral in its statements today. “We hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago's students,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said on Monday.

“This does not have to divide the two parties,'' Mr. Ryan said at a fund-raising event in Portland, Ore., according to a pool report. “And so we were going to ask, where does President Obama stand? Does he stand with his former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with the children and the parents, or does he stand with the union?''

Mitt Romney also issued a statement condemnin g the Chicago Teachers Union and accusing the Obama administration of being beholden to unions at the expense of children.

Although teachers' unions are traditionally strong supporters of Democrats, the Obama administration has strained that relationship at times. Arne Duncan, the education secretary, used to run the Chicago schools and clashed with the union.

Mr. Romney often speaks generally of putting “kids and their parents first” and “the teachers' union behind.'' Mr. Ryan, who has not spoken out about K-12 education issues since he joined the Republican ticket, echoed that idea.

“In a Romney-Ryan administration we will not be ambiguous, we will stand with education reform, we will champion bipartisan education reforms,'' Mr. Ryan said.

In Mr. Romney's major public school initiative to date, he proposed a voucherlike system to replace $25 billion in federal education aid now distributed to school systems for disabled and economically disa dvantaged students. Mr. Romney argued that it would give parents more choice of schools and that schools would compete, raising standards.

The proposal, which reverses a decades-long trend to give the federal government a central role in assuring equality of access to public education, goes further than any previous initiative with bipartisan support.

Romney Suggests \'Forewarned\' as Obama Slogan


MANSFIELD, Ohio - Fresh off a day of church and debate preparation, Mitt Romney returned to the trail Monday in Ohio, debuting new material against President Obama, who is enjoying a post-convention bump in the polls.

“‘Forward' is his campaign slogan,” Mr. Romney told a cheering crowd in a warehouse here. “I think ‘Forewarned' is a better term.”

He added, “We're forewarned, and that's why we're not going to re-elect this man.”

Turning to military spending, Mr. Romney said that the president had not yet specified what cuts he would make to the military.

“It seems we found one secret relating to national security that he's willing to keep, ” he said. “There's another secret he's willing to keep related to national security, and that's the flexibility he's willing to give Russia after the election, and that's not flexibility he's going to have.”

Mr. Romney also reprised a new portion of his stump speech that he had rolled out Saturday in Virginia, in which he uses lines from the Pledge of Allegiance to attack Mr. Obama and offer an alternate vision for the country.

“That pledge says that we are a nation under God,” Mr. Romney said. “When and if I become president of the United States, I will not take God out of my heart. I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.”

He was referring to a kerfuffle the Democrats had at their convention last week in Charlotte, N.C., when they had to scramble to put back a reference to “God” in their party platform.

Mr. Romney sought to cast the election as a choice between two diffe rent visions for the country, warning that the president's path would lead to military spending cuts, higher taxes and increased regulation on small businesses, as well as cuts to Medicare.

“That's the path he's put us on,” Mr. Romney said. “He wants to fundamentally transform America. I don't want America to become something new. I want America to become something better.”

Politics and the Pizza Man


On Sunday, Scott Van Duzer became the Obama campaign's favorite Republican bench-pressing pizza-parlor owner when he lifted President Obama off the floor during a surprise hug in his Florida restaurant. The image made the front pages of newspapers around the country and immediately whizzed around the Internet.

But on Monday, Mr. Van Duzer found that fame can be a complicated proposition. The Yelp profile page for his pizza place, which had only two reviews before Monday (“Love the Pizza, wings, subs and the best strombolie [sic] in town”) was suddenly inundated with hundreds of reviews, making it perhaps the most politically charged pizza review board around.

“Politics aside. I hate this pla ce is gonna get any kind of publicity. The pizza is terrible and greasy. NOTHING like NY,” wrote Smith K. of Knoxville, Tenn.

But others quickly came to the defense of Mr. Van Duzer and his pizza. “All in all, I recommend the ham and pineapple pizza to any pizza eater earning less than $500,000 per year who likes tax cuts, less war, an end to torture, and dead terrorist kingpins,” wrote Dennis J. of Milton, Ontario.

By the end of the day, sentiment was running overwhelmingly in favor of Mr. Van Duzer's pizza and his politics, with many nevertheless saying the two should never mix. “Pizza is Pizza and one should be judged on how good the crust is and not your political stance,” wrote Rob S. of San Francisco.

Polls: Slight Post-Convention Bounce for Obama


A new poll from CNN/ORC shows some positive movement for President Obama in the days immediately after the Democratic National Convention that ended last Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., but the presidential race is still close.

Before the convention, Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney were tied at 48 percent of support among likely voters in CNN's survey. But in polling conducted Friday through Sunday, after the convention was over, Mr. Obama's support rose to 52 percent and Mr. Romney's landed at 46 percent, a difference that is still within the poll's margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points on each candidate.

These are some of the first poll results to emerge in the days after the Democratic convention to show some improvement for Mr. Obama's re-election bid. While these numbers are likely to be part of the spin cycle in the next few days, whether the bounce turns out to be sustainable or ephemeral remains to be seen.

These early poll results would suggest that the Democrats achieved a better outcome from their convention than the Republicans. After the G.O.P. gathering in Tampa, Fla., from Aug. 27 to Aug. 30, about 36 percent of voters said the convention made them more likely to vote for Mr. Romney. After the Charlotte convention, 46 percent said what they saw or read about the Democratic convention would make them more likely to vote for Mr. Obama.

The Democrats' convention also produced a lift in the Gallup Daily tracking poll for Mr. Obama's approval, pushing his job approval rating to 50 percent through this past weekend, up from a 45 percent approval rating for the three days before the speeches a nd festivities began in Charlotte. Gallup first measured Mr. Obama's approval rating rise during the convention, the first time since June that his approval rating has risen above the important halfway mark.

According to historical analysis by Gallup, incumbent presidents with approval ratings above 50 percent in the final Gallup poll before Election Day won their re-election bids with solid margins, going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But below the 50 percent mark, the results become mixed: President George W. Bush narrowly won re-election with a 48 percent approval mark, while  President Gerald R. Ford lost by 2 percentage points with a 45 percent approval rating at the time of the election. Jimmy Carter and the first President George Bush both failed to hold onto the Oval Office, and had pre-election approval ratings under 40 percent.

The CNN/ORC poll interviewed 875 registered voters by telephone from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9, including 709 likely voters. Th e margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The Gallup Daily tracking survey is based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,500 national adults, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Caucus Click: Testing the Field


No, Nicki Minaj Did Not Endorse Mitt Romney


Lest there be any lingering confusion: sometimes performers say things in the context of their work that they do not mean literally â€" political endorsements included.

Following a convention week in which Mitt Romney learned that celebrity testimonials were not all they are cracked up to be â€" just ask Clint Eastwood and his chair â€" the Republican presidential nominee received an unexpected shout-out from the hip-hop musician Nicki Minaj.

In a guest appearance on the track “Mercy,” from the Lil Wayne mixtape “Dedication 4,” Ms. Minaj, an artist known for her garishly imaginative outfits and a range of cartoonish voices to rival Mel Blanc's, rapped, “I'm a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney.” She then completed the verse by rhyming it with a vulgar line about “lazy” people who were wreaking havoc on the economy.

While nothing about Ms. Minaj's music is as simple as it may seem, some listeners took “Mercy” (which started appearing online around Sept. 3) at face value. Music Web sites like rapdose.com reported on the lyric with headlines that read “Nicki Minaj Endorses Mitt Romney,” while the gossip blog Gawker hedged its bets, asking readers, “Did Nicki Minaj Really Endorse Mitt Romney?”

However, there were clues in the song that Ms. Minaj was not describing a factual set of circumstances. For example, in the very next line of the song, she raps: “Out in Miami I be chillin' with a zombie.”

There would also seem to be a general rule that applies to pop songs and other works of performance, under which artists are allowed to adopt fictional personae in the service of evoking an audience's emotions. (To date, there is no evidence that Johnny Cash ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.)

President Obama appeared to suggest as much in an interview with the Orlando, Fla., radio station Power 95.3. Asked whether he thought Ms. Minaj's lyric was an authentic endorsement of his rival, Mr. Obama said: “I'm not sure that's actually what happened. I think she had a song on there, that â€" a little rap that said that. But she likes to play different characters.”

Ms. Minaj gave credence to the president's interpretation of the song on Monday, writing in a post on her Twitter account: “Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do…”

Spending Your Money to Make Someone Else Happy


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.

In the early 1990s, I went to Philadelphia on a Mormon mission and lived in a tough section of the city. One day I received a letter from a friend. In it was $100 and instructions to spend it doing something nice for someone else. No spending the money on myself.

It was the holiday season, and I figured it would be fun to provide a great dinner for a family we had recently met who was clearly going to go without. We bought a turkey, stuffing, all the fixings, a p ie and small gifts. I still remember leaving the box of food on the doorstep, knocking a few times and running.

We watched from a hiding place as someone came to the door, looked at the food, looked around, gathered it all up and went inside. I have no idea what the reaction was after that. We never saw that family again, but I do know that the experience ranks among the best I had during that time in my life.

I find it interesting that spending that money on someone else made me far happier than it would have if I had spent it on myself. Part of that feeling might come from the fact that the money was a gift and came with specific instructions on how to spend it.

But there's another part to consider. In a fascinating paradox, the more we try to find happiness and the more we devote our resources, time, talents, energy and money to making ourselves happy, the less it seems to work. Something weird happens when we use our money t o make someone else happy though: we get happier. This seems to be true of charitable giving in general, as well as for gifts to family and friends.

Turns out that there is research to support this idea. In a paper by Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson that was originally published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, they shared the results of a 2008 experiment:

Researchers approached individuals on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, handed them a $5 or $20 bill, and then randomly assigned them to spend the money on themselves or on others by the end of the day.  When participants were contacted that evening, individuals who had been assigned to spend their windfall on others were happier than those who had been assigned to spend the money on themselves.

So if happiness is the goal, we get a two-for-one deal when we spend our money on other people. We're happier, and the people we spend it on are hap pier too. And then there's the story Gretchen Rubin shared in The Huffington Post as part of her encouragement to pursue nonrandom acts of kindness:

… a friend told me a wonderful story about a nonrandom act of kindness she'd performed. On April 15 a few years ago, she was standing in a post office crowded with people who needed to mail their tax returns. There was a huge line in front of the one machine that dispensed stamps.

When my friend's turn finally came, instead of buying the minimum number of stamps, she bought $20 worth. Then she went along the line of people behind her, handing each person as many stamps as needed, until she ran out.

The people who got the free stamps were ecstatic â€" and even the people who didn't get the free stamps were ecstatic, because the long, slow line got so much shorter so quickly. Everyone was surprised, excited and laughing.

Imagine if someone walked up to you today and handed you $10 0. How would you use that money to make someone else happy? For close to 20 years my experience has stuck with me. I have a strong suspicion that if you try it, it will stick with you too.


Ask About Navigating Student Debt


Struggling to pay your student loans? Have a question about how to navigate the debt trap?

You aren't alone. There are more than 37 million borrowers with outstanding student loans, and nearly one in six is in default. Millions more are behind on their payments but not yet in default.

Two New York Times reporters and Geoffry Walsh, an expert on student debt and bankruptcy at the National Consumer Law Center, are available to answer questions about ways to avoid default, pay off student loans or try to expunge student loans through bankruptcy court.

The reporters, Ron Lieber and Andrew Martin, wrote recent articles about the difficulties of paying back student loans as part of The New Yo rk Times's series Degrees of Debt, which examines the implications of soaring college costs and the indebtedness of students and their families.

Mr. Lieber described how extraordinarily difficult it is for borrowers to expunge their student loans in bankruptcy court. As told through the story of a legally blind man in Ohio named Doug Wallace Jr., a borrower needs to convince a judge that his or her economic prospects are beyond hope.

“Do I think I'm hopeless?” Mr. Wallace said. “Well, yeah, I mean, by looking at it you would think I am hopeless. “

Mr. Martin detailed how the debt collection industry is cashing in on the rising number of borrowers who default on their student loans. Last year, for instance, the Department of Education paid more than $1.4 billion to private collection agencies and other groups to collect defaulted student loans.

“While the Department of Education debt collection contract has been one of the most highly sought- after contracts within the ARM industry for years, I believe it is now THE most sought-after contract within this industry, centered within the most sought-after market - student loans,” Mark Russell, a mergers and acquisitions specialist, wrote in InsideArm.com, an online publication for the debt collection industry, in October.

Romney Criticizes Teachers\' Union and Obama


Mitt Romney issued a statement Monday criticizing the teachers' union in Chicago for going on strike, and faulted President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for their words in support of labor, suggesting that the president has already taken sides in the fight.

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city's public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education. Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest exa mples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation's largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president's commitment to you.' I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.”

Romney Pollster Calls Post-Convention Poll Results a \'Sugar High\'


Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney's pollster, had a message for voters on Monday morning: “Don't get too worked up about the latest polling.”

In a memo released by the campaign, Mr. Newhouse acknowledged that President Obama had emerged with more of a post-convention bump in some polls after two weeks of back-to-back party conventions, but dismissed it as “a sugar high.”

“While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly,” he wrote. “The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race.”

The mere existence of the memo seemed to place Team Romney on the defensive, forced to publicly assert that it is still in a position to win on Election Day. But the Romney campaign used the memo to underscore what has been its existing rationale for his candidacy - the struggling economy, which has not improved as quickly as Mr. Obama and most voters had hoped.

“The key numbers in this election are the 43 straight months of 8 percent or higher unemployment, the 23 million Americans struggling to find work, and the 47 million Americans who are on food stamps,” Mr. Newhouse wrote, citing the disappointing jobs report that came out on Friday. “Americans are not better off than we were four years ago, and that is why President Obama has struggled in this race.”

In the memo, the campaign also pointed to the expanding map of swing states, as well as its post-convention cash advantage, as reasons why it expects to win in November.

Why Medicare Cards Still Show Social Security Numbers


Images of a woman waving her Medicare card on television at the Democratic convention last week in Charlotte, N.C., prompted the folks at Credit.com and others to ask: Why do Medicare cards still have Social Security numbers on them anyway, when access to the numbers can post a risk of identity theft?

The answer is that the federal government has been dragging its heels for years on making a change, because, according to various reports from the agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it would be both expensive and complex technologically to re-issue cards with new identification numbers.

According to testimony from a C.M.S. official before Congress in August, “transitioning to a new identifier would be a task of enormous complexity and cost and one that, undertaken without sufficient planning, would present great risks to continued access to health care for Medicare beneficiaries.”

About 48 million Americans carry Medicare cards that use their Social Security number as part of their health-claim number.

In a report issued in 2006, C.M.S. said it would cost $300 million to remove SSNs from Medicare cards. Then, in an updated report last November, it said it would cost at least $803 million, and possibly as much as $845 million, depending on the option chosen. Much of the cost, the agency said, was for upgrading computer systems not only at the federal level, but also at the state level, for coordination with Medicaid systems.

But the Government Accountability Office said in its testimony to Congress in August that the methods and assumptions that C.M.S. used to develop its costs estimates “raise questions a bout their reliability.”

“Lack of action on this key initiative leaves Medicare beneficiaries exposed to the possibility of identity theft,” the G.A.O. said. It recommended that C.M.S. select an approach to modify or remove the numbers from Medicare cards and develop an “accurate, well-documented cost estimate.”

According to the G.A.O., C.M.S. agreed with its recommendations and will conduct a new estimate with improved methodology. That's likely to take some time. So don't expect Medicare cards free of the numbers anytime soon.

Meantime, the AARP and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse suggest making a photocopy of your Medicare card, cutting it to wallet size and cutting out the last four digits of your Social Security numbers. Carry the photocopy in your wallet instead of the actual card. (You'll still need your original card the first time you visit a provider, because they'll likely want a photocopy of it).

Do you have a Medicare card? How do you safeguard it?

Biden and the Bikers


The photo of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. above was taken by an Associated Press photographer in Ohio. Is it not, as one might reasonably assume, an edited image to go with an Onion article.

It's not clear whether Mr. Biden is getting closer to his fictional beer-swilling, chest-baring, bar fight-starting alter-ego dreamed up by the satirical newspaper, or whether images of the real man that seem to reinforce his Joe Everyman character are just getting more popular.

But there are two ways in which the man second in line for the presidency will probably never resemble the Onion's version. First, Mr. Biden does not drink, so the chances of him bouncing a check at the liquor store are pretty sl im. Second, as he told Car and Driver last year, he would not drive the Trans Am the Onion envisioned him washing shirtless in his driveway. (But just the Trans Am part is unrealistic, he said: “I have been in my bathing suit in my driveway and not only washed my Goodwood-green 1967 Corvette but also simonized it.”)

Monday Reading: Space Tourism Is Here!


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: Trillion


Today's Times

- The question of whether Mitt Romney's tax plan would help or hurt the middle class has dominated the presidential campaign, a conflict that has focused sharper attention on what many experts agree is one of the tax code's biggest problems: an array of tax breaks totaling more than $1 trillion a year, Annie Lowrey and David Kocieniewski report.

- Big-money advertising may not be the only swaying factor in the November elections, as it could also hinge on last-minute legal battles over voting procedures â€" particularly in key battleground states, Ethan Bronner reports. Any truly tight race will most likely generate post-election litigation that could delay the final result.

- Mitt Romney strayed from his usually harsh, partisan critiques of President Obama on Sunday, offering praise for some of his policies, Michael Barbaro writes. It appeared to be part of a direct appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who are likely to decide the race.

- As Congress returns to business after a five-week recess and their parties' conventions, lawmakers appear to be focusing their attention on bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking, Jennifer Steinhauer reports.

- While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan are lobbing more personal barbs against each other on the campaign trail, supporters from both parties are eager for their Oct. 11 debate, Trip Gabriel reports.

Happenings in Washington

- Michael B. Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, will talk about U.S.-Israeli relations at the B'nai B'rith International Policy Conference.

- The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will hol d its second annual “Muslims for Life” blood drive at the Capitol, with the goal of collecting 11,000 bags of blood to honor the victims of Sept. 11.