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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Obama Speaks of Libya Attack at Rally in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS â€" President Obama began what was supposed to be a boisterous campaign rally here Wednesday before his most ardent group of supporters with a somber remembrance of the four Americans who were killed at the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday.

Mr. Obama was met with deafening cheers and whistles when he took the lectern, meeting a crowd that was primed to give him the rally that was planned, with chants of “Four more years'' stopping him before he could begin his address.

He had to speak above shouts of “I love you'' to say, “We lost four Americans last night.” And with the crowd finally hushed, he asked to send “heartfelt prayers to their loved ones.''

< p>“We want to send a message all around the world,'' Mr. Obama said. “No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.”

Mr. Obama reiterated his intention to punish those responsible, saying, “We will be relentless in our pursuit of those who attacked us yesterday.”

Before the address, Mr. Obama's aides traveling with him here told reporters that his remarks on the tragedy would not be a “typical contrasting speech,'' and as he spoke he left aside his earlier comments, made to CBS News, that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, had a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.”

And then he went into his new, postconvention stump speech, saying “After all we've been through, does anybody actually believe rolling back regulations on Wall Street is actually going to help struggling small-business people he re in Las Vegas?” To cheers, he added, “We are not going back, we are going forward â€" we are going forward, Nevada â€" and that's why I'm running for a second term.''

With new chants of “Four more years,'' the rally reverted fully to form.

Mr. Obama risked political blow-back for moving forward with his rally here on what had become a day of national mourning, noting the first time an American ambassador had been killed in the line of duty in three decades.

But his aides noted that his vital security apparatus and personnel move with him when he takes flight on Air Force One, and Mr. Obama had determined that appearing here would not distract him from closely monitoring developments in Libya.

Unspoken was the importance Mr. Obama's campaign has placed on seeking to press any advantage he can from the modest lift he received in some polls after his convention last week. While Nevada has a relatively small number of Electoral College delegates, it and others of similar size will become vital to Mr. Romney's chances if, for instance, he cannot win in Ohio.

Mr. Romney won the primaries here in 2012 and 2008 and has an especially strong following among the large population of Mormons who live in Nevada. Mr. Obama, however, has been helped along here by his committed supporters in the black and Latino communities, both of which were heavily represented in the crowd of an estimated 8,000 people at Wednesday's rally.

And most polls here have shown Mr. Obama holding an edge in the state, although in many cases within the polls' margins of error.

While Mr. Obama was the obvious star attraction at the cavernous Cashman Center near downtown, the event seemed to be more about getting the attendees registered before the October deadline â€" after which they will have 10 days to do so in person only - and to the polls when early voting starts two weeks later.

Before Mr. Obama spoke to the enthusiastic c rowd he held a video teleconference with his volunteers across the country.

Clinton Sticks to Domestic Issues While Campaigning for Obama


ORLANDO, Fla. - On a rare day when both parties were focused on foreign affairs after the explosion of anti-American tumult in North Africa, former President Bill Clinton stuck to domestic issues of the economy and middle-class struggles on Wednesday as he continued his roadshow to re-elect President Obama.

“I plead with you,” Mr. Clinton told an estimated 2,000 people who packed a hotel ballroom in this presidential battleground state, “get out there and talk to people â€" for shared prosperity over trickle down, for ‘we're all in this together' over ‘you're on your own,' for cooperation over conflict and for arithmetic over illusion.”

As applause and cheers built, Mr. Clinton added , “You need to re-elect President Barack Obama to do the job.”

Hundreds of people were in line more than four hours before Mr. Clinton took the stage in the early evening, and ultimately Obama campaign aides got the hotel to open the room's wall dividers to create more space.

While several attendees said they had come to see a repeat of Mr. Clinton's entertaining performance last week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., he gave a more meandering pep talk that was heavier with talk of his own philosophy and record as president and now as head of his own global foundation than it was with testimonials for Mr. Obama

And to the surprise of some reporters following Mr. Clinton's postconvention stumping, he said nothing about the violence in Egypt and Libya, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that killed the American ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya. The viole nce provoked a crisis for the Obama administration, including Mr. Clinton's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and roiled the presidential contest as Mitt Romney quickly attacked the administration for its reaction and was criticized in turn for recklessly playing politics, including by some Republicans.

Instead, much as he had on Tuesday in Miami before 2,300 people, Mr. Clinton defended and promoted Mr. Obama's health care law, his initiatives to make college more affordable and his response to the economic crisis that Mr. Obama inherited in 2009 despite what Mr. Clinton characterized as constant obstructions from Republicans.

“Richard Nixon's too liberal for these people,” Mr. Clinton said to laughter and applause.

For those who had not heard his Charlotte address, Mr. Clinton said he wanted to repeat one message about the recession and continuing economic problems “because the whole election could come down to this.”

“It is my opinion,” he said, “that no president, not Barack Obama, not Bill Clinton, not anybody who served before us, nobody who ever had this job could have repaired that much damage to this economy in just three years.”

And citing the importance of Medicare to the many retirees in Florida, Mr. Clinton also took issue with Republicans' claims that Mr. Obama had cut benefits to people in the private Medicare Advantage program to pay for the health care law.

A record number of insurance companies and beneficiaries are now participating in the program and the cost of premiums is down, Mr. Clinton said. “So if the president was trying to wreck Medicare Advantage, he did a poor job of it because it's in the best shape it's ever been in.”

He assailed Mr. Romney's proposal for $5 trillion in additional income-tax cuts over the coming decade, saying, “I was always taught that when you're in a hole, the first rule is to quit digging.”

To offset th e cost of their tax cuts, Mr. Clinton said Republicans would cut tax breaks benefiting the middle class and spending for education and Medicaid. “Or they can do what they used to do,” he said, which is to cut taxes “and then forget about cutting spending and let the debt balloon.”

The Obama campaign is still working with Mr. Clinton to schedule additional campaign appearances and at least one more fund-raiser. One campaign official said the former president could be sent anywhere and appeal to both Democrats and independents. The campaign has also spent heavily to run an advertisement featuring Mr. Clinton in a number of battleground states.

Democrats Apologize for Image of Russian Ships at Convention


On full display in all the pageantry of the Democratic National Convention as veterans gathered onstage last week was an odd backdrop: an image of the Russian naval fleet. And for this, convention planners have now apologized.

The image at the convention on its closing night was noticed by a reader of The Navy Times, who realized that the image projected on the screens in the background certainly did not look like the ships on which he â€" or his predecessors - had served.

Naval experts consulted by The Navy Times concluded that the image was a composite of mostly Soviet-era ships from the Black Sea Fleet, which towered above the retired admiral John B. Nathman as he delivered a tribute to vetera ns.

“Due to vendor error, incorrect images appeared briefly on screen behind 51 veterans during the convention and the D.N.C.C. apologizes for this mistake,” said an official with the Democratic National Convention Committee. The official continued that the “error should not distract from the words” of those who spoke about President Obama's record on veterans issues, noting that Mitt Romney did not mention service members in his speech.

Mr. Romney does, however, frequently mention Russia, calling it a “geopolitical adversary” of the United States.

Ryan Says Obama Leaks Led to Doctor\'s Sentence


ASHWAUBENON, Wis. - Representative Paul D. Ryan accused the White House on Wednesday of leaking information that led to a 33-year prison sentence for a Pakistani doctor who helped American intelligence locate Osama bin Laden.

Dr. Shakil Afridi was found guilty of treason in May by a tribal court following his arrest after the raid by Navy SEALs last year that killed Bin Laden. American officials, who said Dr. Afridi used the cover of a vaccination clinic to seek DNA samples from the Bin Laden family in Abbottabad, have insisted that Pakistani officials leaked his identity, not Americans. Nonetheless, Mr. Ryan laid the responsibility on the Obama administration.

“Let me be careful in my words but be really clear,'' Mr. Ryan said here in response to an audience question about Dr. Afridi during a town-hall-style event. “These leaks on national security coming from the White House undermine the men and women who put risks on their lives for us.''

Mitt Romney and other Republicans have accused the White House of leaking classified details about the Bin Laden raid to exploit it politically. Critics have called those accusations an attempt to diminish Mr. Obama's greatest foreign policy triumph.

“I suppose it could have served some short-term political gain, could have told some nice story,'' Mr. Ryan said. “But let's ask this question: If you're a doctor in Pakistan and the American government asks you to help in the future, what do you think you're going to do? How are we going to get people to help us in the war on terror if this is how we treat our allies in the war on terror?''

Mr. Ryan's response received a stan ding ovation and the longest applause of his hourlong appearance.

The British newspaper The Guardian broke the news of Dr. Afridi's help for the C.I.A. in July 2011, two months after Bin Laden was killed, with an article written from Pakistan. Its sources appear to have been largely, if not exclusively, Pakistani officials.

American officials did subsequently confirm some details about the operation, but some of them said specifically that they were speaking about the doctor's role to correct misinformation and make clear that he had not acted against Pakistani interests.

The Obama administration has prosecuted six cases of leaks of classified information to the news media, more than under all previous presidents combined. Nonetheless, conservatives continue to suggest that the leaks are intended to burnish the administration and that they endanger allies.

Scott Shane contributed reporting to this post from Washington.

Elizabeth Warren Softens Her Image in New Ad


Elizabeth Warren's campaign released a new television commercial on Wednesday, just as some of her supporters have expressed unhappiness with her ad campaign.

The new ad partially addresses concerns that top Massachusetts Democrats, including former Gov. Michael Dukakis, have raised. The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that her campaign is under pressure to change the ads to soften her image and focus more on Senator Scott P. Brown, her Republican opponent.

The concerns are that her ads have been too generic and not grounded enough in Massachusetts, and that the issues she raises in them, like the gross domestic product of China, have not been relevant to voters' lives. There have also bee n worries that Ms. Warren comes across as a scold when she speaks directly into the camera, while Mr. Brown's ads show him driving around in his truck, appearing folksy and down-to-earth.

Ms. Warren has been critical of Mr. Brown for what she views as his tendency to avoid the issues.

But in this newest ad, she is shown in a decidedly softer light. She does not speak into the camera and she does not discuss issues. Instead, ordinary people testify on her behalf that she is fighting for those who find “the system rigged against them.” As they speak, soft music rises and the screen fills with images of a smiling Ms. Warren greeting voters, hugging them, listening to them and holding their hands.

The ad could have been shot anywhere, until you hear the distinct Boston accents of the people speaking on her behalf.

“Elizabeth Warren is on the people's side,” says one woman.

“I think she's someone who will actually stick up for the middle cl ass,” says a man.

The ad does not mention Mr. Brown. So far, both candidates have kept their ads positive and upbeat, and in that sense, this one is no different.

Follow Katharine Q. Seelye on Twitter at @kseelye.

Despite Libyan Crisis, Obama Campaign Plans to Stay on Schedule


LAS VEGAS â€" President Obama may be consumed with an international crisis, but the campaign goes on as planned, at least at this point. The president is still scheduled to start a Western campaign swing Wednesday night, with a rally here in Las Vegas and another in Colorado on Thursday.

Mr. Obama's aides indicated that he would have reconsidered his trip had the violence in Libya and Egypt spilled into a second day in a major way. But with any follow-up protests remaining relatively modest, the president will monitor events from Air Force One as he makes his way here, aides said.

Mr. Obama and his team have learned from experience that the political costs of campaigning amid crises can be minimal . It was almost exactly four years ago when Senator John McCain suspended his campaign at the height of the financial crisis to help shape the bank bailout, and called upon then-Senator Obama to join him by postponing their first debate.

Mr. Obama declined, saying he could have input from the road, but “it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once.'' And Congressional Democrats accused Mr. McCain of engaging in a political stunt that threatened to disrupt their negotiations. The debate went on as planned.

Leaving the White House in the aftermath of a crisis may be still less politically risky in this case, given that Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, injected the crisis into campaign terms by immediately criticizing the administration's handling of it. Mr. Obama has yet to directly respond to him.

His next opportunity to do so will come when he speaks here at around 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Even as Mr. Obama' s campaign was processing the developments in Benghazi, Libya, it was also moving ahead early Wednesday with the release of a new advertisement attacking Mr. Romney on taxes. Running here in Nevada, in Iowa, in Virginia and in Ohio, the ad accuses Mr. Romney of having a secret plan that would slash taxes for millionaires and raise them for the middle class.

The Romney campaign says that he has no such plans to do so and that studies that have come to similar conclusions have been based on flawed assumptions on specifics Mr. Romney has yet to give, as Annie Lowrey and David Kocieniewski of the The Times reported this week.

Farmers Rally Near Capitol, Urging Passage of Stalled Agriculture Bill


A few hundred farmers gathered near the United States Capitol on Wednesday to press for the passage of the stalled farm bill, and they were greeted by an unusually bipartisan slate of lawmakers who are also agitating for action.

“American wants us to work together to get it done for rural America,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to the cheers of scores of farmers. Ms. Stabenow's enthusiasm was equaled by a Republican senator, Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chided members of his own party in the House for refusing to bring their own committee's farm bill to the floor. “Don't sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen !” Mr. Moran implored.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill, and the House Agriculture Committee came up with a similar bill, with deeper cuts to farm and nutrition programs.

But House leaders declined to take up their own committee's measure, citing a lack of votes, nor did they bring the Senate version to the floor, perhaps fearing passage largely with Democrats and Republicans from states that have large farm communities.

Just before recess in August, the House pressed through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.

Should the current law expire at the end of the month without action - something Democrats say they prefer over the one-year extension for which some Republicans are now clamoring - the Farm Bill would revert to the 1949 version of the law.

Conservatives in both chambers dislike the farm bill generally, and would like to see it cut back much further than House or Senate committee members propose.

Many Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs in the House bill, and some also dislike the Senate bill, which cuts less deeply in its changes to the nutrition programs.

“Agriculture has always been bipartisan,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But the extreme element of the House doesn't believe,” in a farm bill at all, she said. While some Democrats “don't want reforms,” she added, “The anti-reformers are hiding behind the extreme elements.”

Just outside the Capitol on Wednesday, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation held a modest rally to press for the approval of a bill. “They should just get it done,” said Lynn Belitz, a farmer from Nebraska who attended.

Some Democra ts are now trying to pressure House leadership to allow a vote through something called a “discharge petition” which, if signed by 218 members would force a floor vote.

“I'll sign it as soon as it's available,” said Representative Kristi Noem, a freshman Republican from South Dakota. When it was pointed out to her that this would likely greatly upset her party's leaders, she replied: “I take my orders from my district.”

Book Suggests Roots of Romney\'s Sentiments on Crisis


To understand why Mitt Romney was so quick to condemn President Obama for “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks” in Libya, some clues can be found in Mr. Romney's 325-page political manifesto, “No Apology,” whose very title encapsulates his approach to such moments.

In the book, published almost three years ago, Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, repeatedly returns to the same conclusion: President Obama is overly sensitive to the grievances of America's enemies, especially in the Muslim world.

For Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama's very first overseas trip represented a moment of treachery, because the new president expressed reservations about American conduct abroad under President Geo rge W. Bush. Mr. Romney called it “Obama's American Apology Tour,” even though the president at no time apologized for America. (The title of Mr. Romney's book is a play on that idea.)

“Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined,” Mr. Romney wrote. “It is his way of signaling to foreign countries and foreign leaders that their dislike for America is something he understands and that is, at least in part, understandable. There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them.”

This argument underpins an even more expansive theory, promoted by several of Mr. Romney's foreign policy advisers, that has guided his thinking: that under Mr. Obama, America has sought to build relationships with countries (like Iran and Russia) that pose a threat to the United State s, while forsaking trusted allies (Israel and Poland).

Mr. Romney addressed this in “No Apology,” writing that “if President Obama has won the praise of America's enemies, he has too often turned his back on America's allies.” A case in point, Mr. Romney writes, was Mr. Obama's decision to “shelve President Bush's plan to build a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to “reset” our relations with Russia.

It is unknown, at the moment, whether Mr. Romney understood the full scale of the violence against American diplomats and staff members in Libya when he issued his statement Tuesday night calling Mr. Obama's reaction “a disgrace,” a critique that has led to accusations by Democrats that he was politicizing an unfolding crisis overseas with American lives at stake.

But what is clear is that the sentiment and thinking behind Mr. Romney's statement has deep and strong roots.

An Update on a Student Debt Case


In an article about what happens to people who try to get a judge to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy court, I told the story of Doug Wallace, a blind man in Ohio in the middle of his own case. He's trying to prove that paying his debt would cause an “undue hardship,” according to the governing legal standard. To do so, he needs to prove, among other things, that there is a “certainty of hopelessness” that he will be unable to pay his debt during the term of the loans.

Last week, he had his latest hearing in front of C. Kathryn Preston, the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing his case. She set Jan. 28, 2013, as the date for a new mini-trial to discuss medical issues that have arisen (in cluding a hernia and problems with his fingers) in the last two years. He'll also have to discuss whether he has made any effort to find work or attempted to get any additional assessment of whether he's employable.

The Early Word: Defense

  • Today's Times
    • Mitt Romney delivered a speech to members of the National Guard in Nevada on Tuesday, trying to move the discussion of his military and foreign policy credentials beyond the critiques of his convention speech and toward the threat of automatic cuts to the Pentagon budget, Ashley Parker reports.
    • For the first time since the inception of public campaign financing, the presidential candidates of both the Republican and Democratic Parties are declining the funds and betting that they can raise far more money on their own, Nicholas Confessore and Ashley Parker found. The result: wooing fund-raisers cuts into the time for wooing voters.
    • Former President Bill Clinton continued his Obama surrogacy tour in Miami on Tuesday, lavishing special attention on two issues with appeal in a state with many students and older voters: education loans and health care, Mark Landler writes.
    • Though Moody's Investor Service warned that it would downgrade the federal government's debt if there was no solution to the “fiscal cliff,” Congressional leaders are refusing to make any quick deals toward resolving the looming disaster, Jonathan Weisman reports. If no agreement is reached by year's end, economists say the impasse will surely send the nation back into recession.

    Around the Web

    • Remember when the General Services Administration held an $823,000 Las Vegas conference featuring a mind-reader, a clown and artisanal cheese plates? The House does. Lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday that caps federal agency spending on conferences and limits the number of people who can attend, The Hill reports.
    • Candidates have started casting their mothers for starring roles in their campaign ads, Politico reports.

    Happenings in Washington

    • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, will have a reception for Jewish community leaders at the Naval Observatory.
    • Congressional leaders will give Arnold Palmer the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to the game of golf.

  • Obama Condemns Attack That Kills Ambassador to Libya


    An attack that killed the American ambassador to Libya on Tuesday night has brought foreign policy to the forefront of the presidential race, puncturing the solemn unity seen on the campaign trail one day earlier as both candidates observed the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    In a statement released Wednesday morning, President Obama called the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador, and three other Americans “outrageous.” The attack apparently began as a reaction by an angry mob to a YouTube video denouncing Islam's founding prophet.

    “While the United States rejects efforts to d enigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” Mr. Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

    The news of the ambassador's death emerged on Wednesday after violence spilled over the American Consulate in Benghazi and demonstrators stormed the American Embassy in Cairo. The responses issued by the rival presidential campaigns demonstrate the difficulty candidates face while dealing with the continued volatility of the Middle East, especially after Arab Spring toppled governments across the region.

    Mr. Obama said that he has “directed my administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.”

    In his statement, Mr. Obama added a personal testimonial to Mr. Stevens.

    “Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States,” he said. “Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya's transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice.”

    On Tuesday night, as more information about protests in Cairo and the deaths in Libya was released, Mr. Romney's campaign called the Obama administration's response to them “disgraceful.”

    “I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American Consulate worker in Benghazi,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

    Mr. Romney was making an apparent reference to a statement released by the American E mbassy in Cairo condemning the trailer for the video, made by an Israeli-American. The statement, which rejects “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” was released before the protests started in an effort to cool tensions.

    Mr. Romney's statement, sent to reporters late Tuesday evening, was originally meant to be embargoed until midnight, but the campaign lifted the prohibition just before 10:30 p.m.
    The Obama campaign responded by condemning Mr. Romney's timing.

    “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” said Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, early Wednesday morning.

    The campaigns' exchanges took place before it was known that Mr. Stevens was among the dead.

    On Wednesday Mr. Romney continued to take aim at the Obama administration's handling of unfolding developments in the Mideast, accusing the administration of a “severe miscalculation” and calling its handling of the matter “akin to an apology.” He also defended his own actions after coming under fire from Democrats for politicizing the issue.

    Many Republicans Join Democrats in Denouncing Attack in Libya


    After an initial burst of criticism, most Republicans in Washington - even some of President Obama's fiercest critics - joined Democrats in denouncing the violent attacks on American Embassies in Egypt and Libya while refraining from criticizing the Obama administration's response.

    A parade of Senate Republicans came to the chamber floor Wednesday or issued statements projecting unity after a mob killed J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, and three others in Benghazi, Libya, Tuesday night.

    “Yesterday we commemorated the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, and today we are reminded that brave Americans serve us every day at the risk of their own lives. We honor the Americ ans we lost in Libya, and we will stand united in our response,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the chamber's Republican leader. “Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America's presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists.”

    Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina said: “I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the violent, destructive, and cowardly attacks on United States Embassies and personnel in Libya and Egypt. These actions, which cost the lives of American personnel serving our nation abroad including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were not protests; they were attacks. I call on the governments of Libya and Egypt to live up to their responsibilities as host countries, to condemn these attacks, and do all in their power to bring those responsible to justice.”

    Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire said, “This violent attack and the events in Cairo serve as a grim reminder that the U.S. and our allies must remain vigilant as we seek to promote the cause of liberty against the forces of violence and extremism.”

    As those statements came out, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, stood by his criticism that a statement from the American Embassy in Cairo condemning the intolerance of an anti-Muslim Internet video was tantamount to “an apology for American values.”

    Romney Criticizes Obama on Handling of Embassy Attacks


    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mitt Romney on Wednesday took aim at the Obama administration's handling of unfolding developments in the Mideast, including the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, accusing the administration of a “severe miscalculation” and calling its handling of the matter “akin to an apology.” He also defended his own actions after coming under fire from Democrats for politicizing the issue.

    The crisis emerged as a test of Mr. Romney's handling of a fast-breaking international crisis. Mr. Romney had pledged not to criticize President Obama on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but by Tuesday evening, his campaign had reversed course, releasing early a statement that had been embargoed until midnight that criticized the president's handling of violence at the American Embassies in Egypt and Libya.

    “I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Mr. Romney said in a statement that went out just before 10:30 p.m. “It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

    Mr. Romney's comments were referring to a statement released by the American Embassy in Cairo that condemned an American-made Web film denouncing Islam - the catalyst for the protests and violence in Cairo. However, the embassy's statement was released in an effort to head off the violence, not after the attacks, as Mr. Romney's statement implied. (Though the embassy staff in Cairo later said on Twit ter that their original statement “still stands” - a Tweet they then tried to delete - the Obama administration disavowed the embassy's statement).

    Mr. Romney's statement, which also came out before news that J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, had been killed in the attacks, quickly came under fire from Democrats, who accused him of politicizing the violence in the Middle East at a particularly delicate time.

    “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, in an e-mail statement.

    The crisis comes as Mr. Romney has been on the defensive on the foreign policy front, as his campaign has been struggling to respond to criticism from Democrats and even some on the right for failing to mention, during his address at his party's na tional convention in Tampa, Fla., the war in Afghanistan or to thank American troops abroad.

    On Wednesday, Mr. Romney canceled a campaign event so he could address the crisis.

    “I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation,” Mr. Romney said at the Wednesday morning press conference. “An apology for America's values is never the right course.”

    Asked if politics should come to a halt in the wake of the deaths of four Americans, Mr. Romney replied: “We have a campaign for presidency of the United States and are speaking about the different courses we would each take with regards to the challenges that the world faces.”

    Answers to Your Questions About Student Loans, Part One


    This week, two New York Times reporters and Geoffry Walsh, an expert on student debt and bankruptcy at the National Consumer Law Center, are answering questions about ways to avoid default, pay off student loans or try to expunge student loans through bankruptcy court. The first set of answers is below.

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

    List government work programs that will pay off student debt in return for service.

    There is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, under which qualified employees can have the remaining balances of their loans forgiven after 10 years of on-time payments.

    According to Department of Education, any full-time government job qualifies, whether it's federal, state or local, and so do full-time jobs for nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501 (c)(3) of the federal tax code.

    Furthermore, some other private nonprofits may qualify if they provide certain public services, like emergency management, military service, public safety, law enforcement, public health services, public education, public library services, school library and other school-based services, public interest law, early childhood education, public service of individuals with disabilities and the elderly. Labor unions and partisan political groups do not qualify.

    Religious organizations don't quality either, which rabbinical students and seminarians d on't like.

    What loans are eligible for forgiveness?

    Only loans you received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program are eligible for public service loan forgiveness. Loans you received under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program (in which the government guarantees loans made by banks and which was ended in 2010), the Perkins Loan Program or any other student loan program are not eligible for the forgiveness program.

    If you have FFEL and/or Perkins loans, you may consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan to take advantage of public service forgiveness. However, only payments you make on the new consolidated loan will count toward the 120-month payment requirement for the forgiveness program. Payments made on your FFEL or Perkins loans, even if they were made under a qualifying repayment plan, do not count as qualifying public service loan forgiveness payments.

    What about some a dvice for those who are drowning in tens of thousands of dollars in PRIVATE student loans which you can't put on the income-based repayment or public service loan forgiveness program? Oh wait…there is none! They are basically pay-or-default loans, and as of 2005, Congress stripped away bankruptcy rights on these loans. These loans will literally crawl into the grave with you! Something needs to be done NOW to allow one to combine these loans with federal loans to qualify for income based repayment or restore bankruptcy rights so people can be given a second chance to live their lives!

    You are right that borrowers with private student loans have fewer options than those with federally guaranteed student loans. There are some efforts in Congress to change the law so that it won't be so difficult to expunge private student loans in bankruptcy, but there is no guarantee that they will succeed. In the meantime, your best bet is to call your private loan servicer and try t o work out an affordable payment plan.

    A Sallie Mae spokeswoman adds the following: “While private student loans do not guarantee repayment entitlements available on some federal loans, we work with our customers one-on-one if they experience financial difficulty. As appropriate, we customize assistance using a variety of tools â€" in some circumstances that means modified loan terms, lower interest rates, good-faith catch up programs or temporary suspension of the requirement to make payments. Since 2009, we have modified $1.1 billion in private education loans with interest rate reductions or extended repayment terms.”

    I will be completing a graduate program next year with approximately $70,000 in debt (all on government student loans, not private ones). I plan to get in the IBR plan as soon as possible to prevent default. This sounds like a better deal, since it will keep my payments manageable for 25 years, and if I don't have a high paying job to make la rge payments, the rest of the balance is forgiven at that time. My two questions are, does carrying a large balance, even if on IBR, over that time period negatively affect my credit score? Will that make it difficult or impossible to be approved for a car or home loan in the future if I have a large balance on IBR but am current on all payments?

    We turned to credit industry veteran John Ulzheimer for help with this one. Here's his reply:

    “Carrying a large amount of student loans has a surprisingly benign impact to your credit scores. The reason: they're installment loans rather than revolving accounts. Installment debt, when paid on time, has almost no impact to your credit scores. Installment loans (autos, mortgages and student loans, for example) are less indicative of elevated credit risk, thus the small impact. That's another reason you should always pay off credit card debt faster than you pay off installment debt.”

    Mr. Ulzheimer adds that the imp act of any student loan balance on, say, a home loan application will depend on your income. Mortgage lenders want to know how much other debt you'll be paying off besides their home loan, and then they'll compare it to your income to decide how much they're willing to lend you.

    Wednesday Reading: Study Finds Acupuncture Provides True Pain Relief


    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.

    Employers Use Carrots and Sticks to Promote Worker Health


    Employers are using financial carrots and sticks to get workers to adopt healthy lifestyles, in an effort to improve well-being and lower health costs, a new report on employer health benefits finds.

    Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of firms offering health benefits offer at least one wellness program to employees, like nutrition classes or programs that help people lose weight or stop smoking, according to the 2012 Employer Health Benefits report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

    About a tenth offer some sort of financial incentive for participation, like smaller premium contributions, smaller deductibles, higher health-savings account contributions, gift cards, merchandise or even cash.

    More than a third of large firms (those with more than 200 employees) reported asking employees to complete risk health assessments. Those assessments include questions about the worker's medical history, health status and lifestyle. And of those firms, nearly two-thirds dangle financial incentives for them to do so, the study found.

    Eleven percent of firms that use health assessments said that workers with identified risk factors must complete a wellness program or face financial penalties, like higher insurance premiums, and 9 percent reward or penalize employees based on whether they meet “biometric” measures, like certain cholesterol levels or a target body-mass index.

    The findings were reported as part of an annual review of employer health benefits, which found that overall family health insurance premiums rose 4 percent in 2012, a relatively modest increase.

    The report is based o n a survey of more than 2,000 human resources professionals at randomly selected firms, and was conducted for the foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust in January through May of 2012.

    What incentives or penalties does your employer offer promote healthy behavior? Do you think they're effective?

    Suggested Retirement Savings Goals, by Age


    For those of you wondering if you're saving enough money for retirement, here are some new savings guidelines to ponder.

    Fidelity Investments has recommended that most workers should strive to save at least eight times their final salary before they retire to adequately prepare for retirement. (Saving that amount puts you on track to replace 85 percent of your salary, Fidelity says.)

    Now, the investment firm is suggesting earlier milestones to help you get to that eight times goal by the time you're 67.

    Namely, Fidelity suggests workers should aim to save about one times their salary at age 35, three times at age 45 and five times at age 55.

    So if you're 45 a nd you're making $50,000 a year, you should have put away $150,000.

    “We believe these savings targets offer a rule of thumb to help employees get engaged in retirement planning by making it simpler and more achievable, but we recognize many individuals may need more than eight times their ending salary in retirement based on their lifestyle,” James M. MacDonald, president of workplace investing at Fidelity, said in a news release.

    The company's savings guideline is based on an employee in a workplace retirement plan, like a 401(k), beginning at age 25, working and saving continuously until age 67 and living until age 92. The goal would include savings in all retirement accounts, like 401(k)'s and I.R.A.'s, as well as other savings.

    The calculation includes several assumptions, like a lifetime average annual portfolio growth rate of 5.5 percent and income growth of 1.5 percent a year over inflation with no breaks in employment.

    So, all of you out t here who are 35, 45 and 55(ish), are you anywhere near those targets? How did you do it?