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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sarah Silverman Talks About Voter ID Ad


In a follow-up to her “Great Schlep” video from the last presidential election, Sarah Silverman decided to take on new voter identification laws that could prevent some people from voting this time around.

The video has  touched a nerve and has been viewed more than 1.4 million times since last Thursday. With plenty of four-letter words and a sense of outrage, Ms. Silverman encourages voters to make sure they have the proper identification to vote in November.

In her first interview since the video was released, Ms. Silverman said she was angry about the Republican-backed laws because everyone should have the right to vote. As for the colorful language, she said, it serves a purpose.

“I think it's important to make it kind of shocking,” said Ms. Silverman, who was in New York this week to perform a stand-up show. “The expletives are fairly gratuitous. But you have to be loud to get people to see what's going on.”

Four years ago, the comedian asked young people to travel to Florida to persuade their Jewish grandparents to vote for Barack  Obama. The “Great Schlep” video got more than 2 million views and inspired some young people to take up the challenge.

In the new video, called “Let My People Vote,” Ms. Silverman explains that social security cards, veteran identification cards and college student identification cards will not be accepted at the polls in some states, but handgun permits can be used in some places as identification.

“It makes perfect sense,” Ms. Silverman deadpans in the video. “Get these kids gun permits. Oh, I feel safer from voter fraud already.”

Democr ats have criticized the new voter identification laws for targeting young people, minority members and the elderly, who may be less likely to have photo identification, but Republicans argue they are important to prevent vote fraud. Many of the laws have been challenged in court, and they are currently being reviewed in several states, including Pennsylvania.

The video has spread quickly on Twitter and Facebook in the past few days. Ms. Silverman posted the link to her 3.3 million followers on Twitter last week and sent out another link Tuesday asking people to register to vote.

The video was paid for by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a “super PAC “that is supporting President Obama. The group is trying to reach young people online to make sure they are registered and enthusiastic about the president's re-election. campaign

Ms. Silverman says there is no question that young people should support Mr. Obama. On the most basic level, she sa id, the president supports a woman's right to abortion, as well as gay marriage. Or in Ms. Silverman's blunt words: “I think that any female, any homosexual and anyone who loves a female or homosexual or has one in their family is crazy to vote for Mitt Romney.”

Eighth Grader Says He Vandalized Congressman\'s Office


Updated, 3:53 p.m. | The vandal who smashed windows at Representative Michael G. Grimm's Staten Island campaign office over the weekend has come forward, the police said.

He is 14 years old and confessed to a counselor at his school, where he is in the eighth grade, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Though the Grimm campaign has said that vandals also broke into a computer in the office and erased “confidential campaign files and polling data” in a “politically motivated crime” that constituted an “assault on democracy,” police computer experts have not found that anything had been erased or tampered with, a law enforcement official said.

And investigators believe that the boy did not even know that the building, on Hylan Boulevard in New Dorp, was a congressman's office until he saw news reports.

On Tuesday, Mr. Grimm told The Staten Island Advance, “While we still do not know what happened to the computers, and are waiting for the N.Y.P.D. computer crimes unit to determine the nature of the tampering, it is possible that a volunteer could have inadvertently compromised the computer and failed to report it.”

The police said the boy was expected to be charged with criminal mischief.

Candidates Address Class Size and Teachers\' Unions at Education Forum


Though education has not been a major focus in the presidential campaign, the charged issue of class size was injected into the race on Tuesday as Mitt Romney said that while governor of Massachusetts, he was able to do more with less during an economic downturn.

He repeated assertions made during the Republican primary campaign that slightly larger classes - a result of cuts in Massachusetts state aid to schools in 2003 and 2004 - were not as important in student learning as the quality of teachers.

President Obama's campaign quickly responded with a video featuring a former Massachusetts school superintendent attacking the cuts and a fifth-grade teacher saying, “Come be in a classroom with fif th graders and tell me class size doesn't matter.''

Education â€" mainly given lip service in the national campaign â€" received detailed attention as Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama wedged in appearances at an education forum on Tuesday around more high-profile speeches in New York City on foreign affairs.

Mr. Romney also attacked teachers' unions for opposing merit pay tied to testing and for supporting Democrats who negotiate contracts with them. He criticized the role of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's former chief of staff, who negotiated with the teachers' union in the recently ended Chicago strike.

“I don't mean to be terribly partisan, but I kind of am,'' Mr. Romney said at the forum, Education Nation, sponsored by NBC News, drawing laughs.

In July, Mr. Romney laid out a detailed agenda for education, including vouchers and restoring private banks to the subsidized college-loan market, but he rarely mentions these on the campaign trail, preferring to speak in generalities. Before an audience of educators and policy mavens, however, he returned to specifics, including his support for A-to-F grades for public schools and for transforming $25 billion in federal aid to schools into a program of vouchers for poor and disabled students.

Mr. Obama, who spoke in a taped interview, accused Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, of teacher-bashing and of favoring deep cuts in government aid to education.

“They talk a good game about reform, but when you actually look at their budgets, they are talking about slashing our investment in education by 20 percent, 25 percent,'' Mr. Obama said.

Behind the debate over class size, school choice and other education issues is a traditional left-right fight over public spending, although these days many Democratic reformers, including the president, have embraced parts of the Republican agenda.

Res earch from the 1980s showed students in early grades in classes of 13 to 17 performed significantly better than students in classes of 22 to 25. Many states passed laws limiting class size.

But since then some economists have argued that an effective teacher has more of an impact on learning. One Democrat who has expressed support for the cost-effectiveness argument is Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama's secretary of education. Mr. Romney praised Mr. Duncan at Education Nation, but he dodged a question about whether he would reappoint him in a Romney administration.

Bipartisan Agreement: Bring Back N.F.L. Officials


Few events transcend politics, especially in a campaign year. The National Football League's lockout of its game officials appears to be one of them.

Following the latest, and perhaps most egregious, disputed call by the replacement officials in the Green Bay-Seattle game Monday night, politicians from both parties are echoing many fans' frustrations and calling for an end to the lockout.

In a personally signed Twitter message from his campaign account, President Obama expressed hope for a quick end to the lockout.

< p>Later, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president watched the game and “thinks there was a real problem with that call.”

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who has made his battle against unions a staple of his tenure, took to Twitter to call for the return of the unionized officials.

Jon Erpenbach, a Democratic state senator from Wisconsin who has clashed in the past with Mr. Walker, agreed with the governor on Twitter.

And former President Bill Clinton, who is enjoying an all-time high in popularity, is using his redi scovered national microphone to express his dismay at the N.F.L.

“The Packers will wake up this morning and just sort of shake their head and say, ‘We should have won by two touchdowns,' ” Mr. Clinton said on Tuesday with MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” The former president continued his criticism in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, arguing that “we need to get the strike over and get more experienced people in there.”

But that doesn't mean some aren't politicizing it.

In a town hall meeting in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Representative Paul D. Ryan, a devoted Green Bay Packers fan, likened the much-maligned officials to Mr. Obama's budget staff.

“I half-think these refs work part time for the Obama administration in the Budget Office,” Mr. Ryan said. “They see the national debt clock staring them in the face, they see a debt crisis and they just ignore and pretend it didn't even happen.”

Later in the speech, he tweaked a well-worn line from his standard stump speech, saying, “Unlike the Seattle Seahawks last night, we want to deserve this victory, we want to earn this victory.”

For those N.F.L. fans hoping for executive intervention from the Sports Fan in Chief, Mr. Obama doesn't appear to have a phone call scheduled to the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell. Last week, in a radio interview with Bill Willis, of WTAM-AM in Cleveland, the president said, “But one thing I got to say, though, is it just me or do we have to get our regular refs back?,” before adding, “I can't get involved in it, but I'm just expressing my point of view as a sports fan.”

TimesCast Politics: A Focus on Foreign Policy in New York Speeches

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Average A.T.M. Surcharge Reaches New High


It's getting more important to consider the size and scope of your bank's network of A.T.M.'s if you use them frequently.

An annual analysis of checking accounts from Bankrate.com finds that the average A.T.M. surcharge - the fee charged by the machine's operator to a noncustomer - rose 4 percent to a new record of $2.50.

This is the eighth consecutive year that the average surcharge has increased. And, for the first time, all of the banks surveyed by Bankrate.com for the report charge noncustomers to use their A.T.M.'s.

The increases are part of an overall attempt by banks to replace fee revenue lost because of new caps on the amount they can charge retailers for debit-card transactions.

The surcharge gets even more expensive when your own bank gets into the act, charging you - its customer - for using a competitor's machine. This fee rose 11 percent, to $1.57.

For a customer encountering both fees, the average total of $4.07 is also a new record. It is up almost 7 percent from last year.

What steps do you take to avoid A.T.M. surcharges? And what's the biggest one you've ever paid?

After Waters Inquiry, House Panel Recommends New Ethics Rules


Saying that public trust is at stake, a special House ethics panel on Tuesday called for new rules to prevent lawmakers and their staffs from violating conflict of interest standards and proposed other new measures designed to keep partisan squabbles from undermining future investigations of such wrongdoing.

The broad set of recommendations, coming only a few months before the House will adopt a new set of rules for the next Congress, were released as the ethics committee finally completed a three-year investigation of Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, an inquiry that itself got caught up in controversy because of such partisan disputes and ambiguous ethics rules.

The unusual st atement issued on Tuesday by the chairman and vice chairman of the special committee appointed to handle the investigation of Ms. Waters concluded that she had not violated House rules in late 2008 when she called Henry M. Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary at the time, to set up a meeting that included executives from a financially troubled bank that her husband owned stock in.

But in the course of the investigation, the special committee determined that the House rules were not sufficient to prevent such conflicts, because even though Ms. Waters apparently refrained from further actions after she realized she had a conflict, her chief of staff continued to work to help the Boston-based bank, OneUnited, which was near collapse.

As a result, the special committee that investigated Ms. Waters recommended on Tuesday that House members should be required to notify their entire staffs if they have concluded that they should recuse themselves from involvement in a matter because of a conflict, as Ms. Waters apparently did not do.

Executives at the company involved should also be notified of the decision, the committee recommended, and the lawmaker's staff should then be informed of the details of the apparent conflict of interest.

Current House rules only ambiguously require that lawmakers refrain from taking action that might bring them direct personal financial benefit, particularly if their action assists an individual company, instead of a broad class of companies.

“The recommendations we have shared will result in greater attention being paid to the issue of conflicts and, thereby, greater trust by all of our constituents,” the committee said in its statement.

The special committee also unanimously voted to informally reprimand Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters's chief of staff, by issuing what is called a letter of reproval, because of Mr. Moore's role in helping OneUnited get federal bailout money by adding special language to legislation then pending in Congress.

“Your actions on behalf of OneUnited Bank's private efforts to obtain assistance and avoid collapse created dramatic appearances of conflict,” the panel said in the letter of reproval.

Because the committee did not find conclusive evidence that Mr. Moore knew that Ms. Waters, who is his grandmother, had a conflict of interest when he took steps to help OneUnited, it decided not to file formal charges against Mr. Moore that would require consideration by the full House.

Ms. Waters told investigators that she had instructed Mr. Moore to stay away from the topic, but there is some confusion over the timing of that directive. The committee suggested that the House revise its conflict rules to include action by a grandchild that might create a conflict - as happened with Mr. Moore - noting that there was currently no explicit prohibition.

The investigation of this case took three years in large part because of a dispute that rocked the ethics committee after the chief counsel accused Republican-appointed staff members of improperly sharing confidential case materials with Republican lawmakers on the committee.

These and other allegations led the ethics panel to conclude that it had operated, at least in the past, in far too partisan a fashion, undermining its own efforts, as disputes between competing staff members in this case threatened to compromise the investigation of Ms. Waters.

In the Waters case, this is what led to the unprecedented appointment of a special outside counsel, a former federal prosecutor named Billy Martin, who took over the investigation, and the decision by the panel's chairman and vice chairman, and other committee members, to recuse themselves from the inquiry and allow new specially appointed members to handle the matter.

The report issued on Tuesday was released with a statement b y Representative Robert Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, and Representative John A. Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, who served as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the special committee.

To prevent such problems in the future, the special committee recommended that future staff members, many of whom are lawyers, should not be hired if they have previously served on a lawmaker's partisan staff, as has traditionally been the case.

“Even if both committee leaders and the individuals themselves believe they could serve on the nonpartisan, professional staff in a fair and unbiased fashion, members or other staff are far more likely to begin to view any disagreement as a partisan issue, leading to suspicion and distrust,” the committee said, which is what took place in the Waters investigation.

The committee also recommended that more formal rules be drafted to direct the performance of its top two staff members, who in the last Congress were s een almost as emissaries of the top Republican and the top Democrat, instead of as impartial legal advisers.

How Many Government Programs Have You Benefited From?


Mitt Romney stirred up a hornet's nest with his comments about the 47 percent of Americans who he thinks are dependent on the government.

It turns out, according to 2008 data from the Cornell Survey Research Institute reported Monday in a Times opinion piece, that 96 percent of Americans have taken part in government benefit programs in one form or another.

Listed below are 21 programs referenced by the researchers. Numbers 1 through 13 are “direct,” meaning that the aid comes directly from the government; the remainder are considered “submerged,” in that they come indirectly, through government tax policies. (For instance, the money you put in your workplace 401(k) plan grows tax-deferred).

  1. Head Start
  2. Social Security Disability
  3. Social Security Retirement and Survivors Benefits
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  5. Medicaid
  6. Medicare
  7. Welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or T.A.N.F.)
  8. G.I. Bill
  9. Veterans' benefits
  10. Pell Grants
  11. Unemployment Insurance
  12. Food Stamps
  13. Government Subsidized Housing
  14. Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  15. Hope and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits
  16. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  17. 529 accounts (qualified tuition programs) or Coverdell education savings account (Education I.R.A.'s)
  18. Earned-income tax credit
  19. Employer subsidized health insurance
  20. Employer subsidized retirement benefits
  21. Federal student loans

In an e-mail, Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, explained a bit more about the two forms of employer benefits (Numbers 19 and 20), saying th ey “are even more submerged than the other policies in that group, because unlike with the others, people take no actual steps to claim the government benefit. As long as one is acquiring those employer-provided benefits, one simply gets the tax benefit - if the employer put the same money in people's paychecks, they would have to owe taxes on it.”

I personally have benefited from student loans, the home mortgage deduction and employer health and retirement benefits, and my children have 529 education savings plans. My dad went to college (proudly) on the G.I. Bill. My upbringing was middle class.

Take a look at the list and let us know: How many of these have you received or relied on? Are you poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or part of the 1 percent?

Romney Urges Attaching Certain Strings to Foreign Aid


Mitt Romney laid out the broad outlines of his plan to foster work opportunities and free enterprise in developing nations on Tuesday morning, suggesting during a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York that he would make foreign aid conditional on progress on these fronts.

Referring to a hypothetical program he called “Prosperity Pacts,” Mr. Romney talked about his desire to use aid initiatives, like the ones President Clinton's group supports, to encourage lasting change in the Middle East and other developing regions.

“Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment and trade and entrepreneurialism in developing nations,” he said. “In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.”

He added: “The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise. Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy - and that is that free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation.”

Mr. Romney's speech at the conference came a few hours before President Obama was to appear at the event, a rare instance of the two men on the same stage, albeit at different times.

Mr. Romney said his aid proposal would focus its efforts on small and medium-size businesses abroad, using micro finance techniques.

Mr. Romney described what he believes are the three objectives of foreign aid - to address humanitarian needs, like treating those suffering from HIV and AIDS abroad; to foster the strategic interests of the United States abroad, be it military, diplomatic or economic; and to create conditions for long-term progress and tangible results in countries that receive the aid.

This third goal - “aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and nations” - he said, would be “a much higher priority in a Romney administration.”

In his address, Mr. Romney also made sure to praise Mr. Clinton, who, at the Democratic National Convention, offered a forceful warning against returning Republicans to the White House. Referring to Mr. Clinton's widely lauded speech, Mr. Romney joked: “If there's one thing we've learned in this election season, by the way, it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good. All I've got to do now is wait a couple of days for that bounce to happen.”

Tuesday Reading: When Surgeons Leave Objects in Your Body


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.