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Monday, September 24, 2012

On Stump in Ohio, Ryan Criticizes Obama\'s Military and Foreign Policies


LIMA, Ohio â€" Representative Paul D. Ryan took aim at President Obama's military policies on Monday, likening the differing national security philosophies of Mitt Romney and Mr. Obama to those of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, while lambasting a United States Army plan to halt Pentagon funding for several years for the nation's only main battle tank, which employs 800 people at a plant in this northwest Ohio town.

Despite heavy criticism of Mr. Romney's comments this month on the crisis in Libya, it was clear on Monday that the Romney-Ryan campaign believes that with six weeks to go before the election it can still score points off Mr. Obama's handling of turmoil across the Middle East.

â €œI mean, turn on the TV and it reminds me of 1979 in Tehran,” Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney's vice presidential running mate, told a packed rally here. “They're burning our flags in capitals all around the world. They're storming our embassies. We've lost four of our diplomats, and what is the signal that our government is sending to the rest of the world?”

Just as quickly as he alluded to Mr. Carter's biggest foreign policy crisis, Mr. Ryan also asserted that a Romney-Ryan administration would follow a strategy of “peace through strength” â€" an equally plain reference to the national security motto Mr. Reagan favored.

And yet it remains to be seen whether trying to gain ground on foreign policy will continue to be an uphill battle for the Republican ticket. While national security is a portfolio that has often favored the G.O.P. in recent elections, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the Obama administration's assassination program in Pakistan using drone-fired missiles may help explain the president's consistent polling advantage on the issue.

A New York Times/CBS News national poll two weeks ago found that Mr. Obama held a 49 percent to 39 percent lead over Mr. Romney among likely voters who were asked which candidate would do a better job handling foreign policy. The five-day poll was largely conducted before the killing in Libya of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and it is not yet clear whether that crisis â€" or Mr. Romney's reaction â€" has swayed public opinion on the issue in either direction.

In Lima, Mr. Ryan was quick to hone what he maintained was Mr. Obama's national security weakness into a local issue: criticism of the Army's move to cut funding for several years for manufacturing or upgrading tanks at the Lima plant, which is owned by the government and operated by General Dynamics. The Army says it wants to save the money until it restar ts funding in 2017 for upgrading existing tanks.

Ohio politicians in both parties have sought to get the plant more Pentagon funding, arguing that even a temporary suspension would destroy the supply chain that supports the plant and would lead to far higher costs to reopen the program in the future. Supporters hope foreign military sales will keep the plant open in the interim but worry the plant's jobs are in very serious jeopardy without the Pentagon funding.

“We are not going to shut down the only tank factory we have in America over a budget gimmick,” Mr. Ryan told supporters in Lima.

The Obama campaign wasted no time in attacking Mr. Ryan's comments, suggesting that he is a hypocrite whose support for tax cuts skewed to benefit the wealthy would hurt the country's national security.

“Congressman Ryan has repeatedly authored and voted for automatic defense cuts,” an Obama campaign spokesman, Danny Kanner, said in a statement. “But this time, the only thing ensuring that these cuts will become reality is Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan's opposition to asking for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires.”

Mr. Kanner added, “If Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan were serious about keeping middle class taxes low and protecting our nation's security, they'd simply drop their insistence on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”

New York Attorney General Rebuffs Congressional Republicans


Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York on Monday rebuffed demands from Congressional Republicans to refrain from requesting tax returns and other information from tax-exempt groups that have spent heavily on campaign ads.

In a letter to Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Schneiderman asserted the right to request federal tax documents from such groups and subpoena them if necessary. Mr. Hatch and Mr. Camp had written to Mr. Schneiderman last week insisting he route such requests through the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Schneiderman sai d that the two lawmakers had misrepresented federal rules on the matter and that law enforcement officials routinely seek such documents on their own.

“While you correctly identify procedures for obtaining tax returns and tax return information from the I.R.S., those procedures do not prohibit state authorities from requesting such documents or information directly from taxpayers,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “The Internal Revenue Code in no way precludes a nonprofit or business from sharing its own tax returns or tax return information with law enforcement officials voluntarily, in response to a subpoena, or as required by state laws requiring disclosure. Indeed, state and local law enforcement agencies frequently seek such information when investigating criminal activities, including organized crime, narcotics trafficking, financial fraud and money laundering.”

Mr. Schneiderman has been investigating the election spending of ta x-exempt groups and whether they have properly registered with his office when soliciting money in New York, as required by state law. Separately, his office is examining strategies used by private equity managers to reduce their taxes, potentially in violation of federal or state law.

The Caucus Click: The Candidate (and his Bodyguard) Say Hello


Safeguarding Social Security Checks as They Go Electronic


Consumer groups - along with paper-producing interests â€" -are urging the federal government to improve safeguards for Social Security recipients, as the government phases out paper checks for beneficiaries in favor of electronic deposits.

Beginning in March, all Social Security checks will be deposited electronically unless recipients apply for and receive a waiver to keep getting payments via paper checks.

Recipients must receive the payments by direct deposit to a bank account, or to a debit card, including the government's DirectExpress card. The debit cards allow beneficiaries to make retail purchases with the card or withdraw the funds from automatic teller machines. If current recipients don' t choose a deposit option by March 1, they'll automatically be sent a DirectExpress card to avoid any delay in receipt of benefits, the Social Security Administration says.

The move is part of an continuing effort by the federal government to reduce paper and cut costs by going electronic for all sorts of things, including savings bonds, unemployment benefits and Social Security benefit statements. Already, 94 percent of beneficiaries receive payments electronically, according to the Office of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration.

But in testimony before a congressional committee this month, consumer advocates urged the government to make sure that safeguards are in place to prevent fraud, like re-directing recipients' electronic payments, and that the waiver process for recipients who do not want electronic deposits is clear and straightforward.

Beneficiaries aged 92 and older are exempt from the electronic deposit requirement, and others who still want to get paper checks can apply for a waiver. But according to testimony from the National Consumer Law Center, the waiver process is so difficult that few waivers actually have been granted. The group urges the government to liberalize the waiver process, so people who are more comfortable getting paper checks may continue to do so.

While the vast majority of recipients already have voluntarily switched to electronic deposit, “the
population that has resisted doing so to date generally has a good reason,” according to testimony from Margot Freeman Saunders, a lawyer with the consumer law center. They include people who don't have a bank account; those who don't understand or feel comfortable with direct deposit; and people who already have workable and affordable methods of receiving their benefits.

Of the over 72,000 calls received by Treasury between May 1, 2011 and July 30, 2012 regarding a waiver, only ab out 14,000 were even sent a waiver packet with instructions, she said. Then, only 281 notarized responses were received back by Treasury. Those numbers, Ms. Freeman Saunders said, are a “clear illustration” that the need for the waiver far exceeds the number of people actually obtaining one.

Fraud is another concern. The Inspector General of the Social Security Administration said in testimony to Congress this month that it has received more than 19,000 reports about questionable or unauthorized changes to recipients' direct-deposit information, apparently as part of efforts to illegally re-direct monthly payments. “These reports have involved either an unauthorized change to direct deposit information, or a suspected attempt to make such a change,” according to testimony by Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., the inspector general for the SSA.

The Inspector General has recommended Social Security make changes to prevent fraudulent redirection of deposits, like dev eloping an automatic notification system to alert recipients of any changes to their deposit information.

On a less dramatic level, consumer groups caution that debit cards may pose challenges for some senior citizens, who may not be used to using PINs and many not know how to properly safeguard them. The cards also carry fees that seniors may be unaccustomed to paying. Fees under DirectExpress are relatively limited; the card offers one free A.T.M. withdrawal after the funds are deposited, and subsequent withdrawals carry a 90-cent fee. Fees also apply for receiving a monthly paper statement (75 cents) and for transferring funds to a personal bank account ($1.50).

A new advocacy group, Consumers for Paper Options, argues that the move will present a hardship for many elderly check recipients. The group has asked the government to retain paper checks as the default option, with electronic delivery available if requested by recipients.

“We think people oug ht to have a choice for important financial information,” said John Runyan, executive director of Consumers for Paper Options. He said the non-profit is primarily backed by “paper-based communication interests,” like the Envelope Manufacturers Association, the American Forest Paper Association and various paper companies.

Do you or your relatives receive a paper Social Security check? Are you concerned about the move to electronic payments?

Romney Camp Talks of Dialing Down Fund-Raising


When President Obama and Mitt Romney decided to decline public financing for the general election and raise hundreds of millions of dollars on their own, the upside was clear: No spending limits and effectively unlimited resources to spend taking their message to voters.

But with the election only a few weeks away, the downsides are becoming clearer: All that fund-raising takes time, dragging the candidates away from the campaign trail at critical moments.

Mr. Romney's experience, in particular, may hold one big lesson for future candidates in the new age of unlimited spending: Without a robust base of small donors who give over the Internet, raising all that m oney takes a major commitment of the candidate's of time and energy right at the moment when he may need to be out on the trail courting voters instead of money.

Logistically, online fund-raising requires minimal time and effort from the candidate: no schmoozing with big donors at hourlong dinners, no plane detours to Los Angeles and New York. But Mr. Romney's grass-roots fund-raising is not nearly so robust as Mr. Obama's. In order to match Mr. Obama dollar for dollar, as he intends to, Mr. Romney must therefore spend more time than the president at big donor events, at a time when challengers might traditionally spend more time on the road campaigning.

“I'd far rather be spending my time out in the key swing states campaigning, door to door if necessary, in rallies and various meetings,” Mr. Romney said on Sunday night, during a gaggle with reporters. “But fund-raising is a part of politics when your opponent decides not to l ive by the federal spending limits.”

Mr. Romney's aides are seeking to shift to a busier schedule in the field, recognizing that Mr. Romney needs more time on the campaign trail if he is to halt what appears to be slowly building momentum, at least in polls, for Mr. Obama, who has taken a small but worrying lead in some swing states after months in which the race had seemed deadlocked.

In a conversation with reporters on Monday, one of Mr. Romney's chief advisers, Ed Gillespie, hinted that the campaign was hoping to bank enough money in the coming days so that Mr. Romney would no longer need to spend as much time courting donors.

“We're going to reach a point here, hopefully soon, where we'll have the resources we need to carry us through Nov. 6 and we won't need to be doing those finance events,” Mr. Gillespie said. “We'll be able to concentrate on being in target states for longer stretches of time, and we'll be able to focus on doing more politic al events than finance events, and we're all looking forward to that period of time.”

Tax Policy, Briefly, Is a Laughing Matter


As a matter of protocol, the secretary of state usually steers clear of electoral politics. But Hillary Rodham Clinton drew knowing laughs from an audience in New York on Monday when she said a few words - in an international context, mind you - about tax policy.

“One of the issues that I have been preaching about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner, especially from the elites in every country,” she said during a talk at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Given the amount of attention the income-redistribution meme has been receiving in the presidential race, the line was guaranteed to amuse.

“You know, I'm out of American politics,” she went on, drawing more laughter and applause, “but it is a fact that around the world, the elites of every country are making money.

“There are rich people everywhere,” she said. “And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries. They don't invest in public schools, public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.”

In context, it was clear that she was talking about the situation in developing countries, where not only tax inequity but also corruption and other forms of inequality are widely seen as barriers to prosperity.

The Clinton Global Initiative, set up by Bill Clinton in 2005, is a gathering of leaders that aims to address major societal challenges around the world.

Your Hazy Future Is No Excuse for a Lack of Planning


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.

Who do you think you'll be in a year? Five years? Twenty years?

One of the big problems with setting goals, especially financial ones, is that we're really bad at imaging our future selves. Just remember what you imagined you'd be as an adult when you were a kid. I'm guessing there are some gaps between the dream and the reality.

Earlier this year, Alina Tugend outlined some of the science behind this problem in The Times:

…many of us d on't have the incentive to eat healthy or save money or add to our retirement accounts because we think of ourselves in the future as someone different altogether. In fact, a future self can seem to be this annoying other person who wants to prevent you from having fun in the present.

The reality is that when we talk about financial goals we're often talking about long time frames. When we talk about retirement, it could be upward of 20 or 30 years. You can't even imagine yourself at that age, let alone plan for it. That's your parents, not you!

We do the same thing with our children. When my first daughter was born, college was the last thing on my mind. But by the time we had our fourth child, I had a good idea how fast 18 years would go by. When we start talking about our distant future selves, it's easy to rationalize the decision to not do anything.

But there's a problem, as Ms. Tugend explained. When the future arrives:

…we're still the same selves we were last week or last month. We don't want to drink the icky liquid, and we don't necessarily feel we can afford the time to do worthwhile, but time-consuming, deeds.

So what's the solution?

Start by getting really clear on your goals. Yes, nailing down the details may not happen right away, but don't pretend that 18 is a long way off for your first-grader. It's not.

You may feel like you're still 30, but if you just celebrated (or mourned) turning 40, it's time to get real. Our future selves will be here faster than we think. Remember all the stupid stuff you did as a teenager? Don't be the 60-year-old that wants to hit your 30-something self over the head for doing stupid adult stuff, like not getting clear on your financial goals.

I promise you that your future self will be happier the sooner you reconcile today with tomorrow.


New Week, Same Ad Themes: China and Taxes

Ad Watch

Tracking and analyzing campaign advertising.

Both presidential campaigns have new ads out today, but the themes are familiar. The Obama campaign is tying Mitt Romney's tax returns to his “47 percent” comments, while the Republican has put out his second ad that attacks the president's China policies.

As Representative Paul D. Ryan heads to Ohio to begin the G.O.P. ticket's bus tour (Mr. Romney joins him Wednesday), the Obama campaign begins running its new spot in the state. “No Taxes” weaves together a critique of Mr. Romney's comments at a fund-raiser about the 47 percent of Americ ans who pay no income taxes with a call for him to disclose returns from before 2010, noting that the candidate “paid just 14.1 percent in taxes last year” and saying he is holding money offshore.

“Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his,” says the narrator.

The ad also plays a clip from the fund-raiser of Mr. Romney saying,”My job is not to worry about those people.” The narrator responds,”Isn't it the president's job to worry about everyone?”

The Romney camp has maintained that the candidate was speaking as a strategist at that moment, and Mr. Romney has since said his campaign is about “the 100 percent in America.”

Meanwhile, as Mr. Romney tries to steer his campaign back on track after a week marred by secretly recorded video, his new spot amplifies an early attack on President Obama's China policy. In an earlier spot, Mr. Romney called China “cheaters.” This time, the country is “steal ing American ideas and technology,” the announcer says, and Mr. Obama has failed to stand up to China, contributing to continued job losses and stubborn unemployment.

It's unclear to what extent the job losses noted in the ad are directly related to China's actions. “Seven times Obama could have taken action,” the narrator says, a reference to the administration's refusal to label China a currency “manipulator,” which administrations of both parties have also resisted doing. The Obama campaign has taken other actions, however, including a new trade case announced last week in, not surprisingly, Ohio.


Monday Reading: How to Avoid Fee-Fleecing On Trips


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: Disassociate


Today's Times

  • Having a career in Congress used to be worn as a badge of honor, but this year many House candidates are deciding not to mention their service in Washington while campaigning for re-election, Jennifer Steinhauer writes. It is a sign of the dim view that a vast majority of voters have of Congress.
  • Though their Republican governors oppose it, state administrators are working to have insurance exchanges ready before next month's deadline to comply with the new health care law, Abby Goodnough reports.
  • A whisper campaign is bursting into the open through the halls of Congress and beyond: Take Representative Paul D. Ryan out of the passenger seat and let hi m take the lead on fighting President Obama and the Democrats, Trip Gabriel and Jonathan Weisman write.
  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has an old-fashioned style about touching voters at campaign events, which turns out to suit him well in an age in which a photograph of a spontaneous encounter with a voter can spread through social media and deliver the impression that politicians are just like us, Trip Gabriel writes.
  • In separate interviews for the CBS program “60 Minutes,” the two presidential contenders carried out a shadow debate that offered a likely preview of the tone for their first face-to-face debate, John M. Broder reports.

Happenings in Washington

  • Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. President Obama will also tape an appearance on “The View” while in New York and Mrs. Clinton will meet with the presid ents of Pakistan, Libya and Afghanistan.
  • Felipe Calderón, president of Mexico, will be at the Council on Foreign Relations to discuss dealings with the United States.