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Monday, October 1, 2012

Brown and Warren Clash in Spirited Massachusetts Senate Debate


LOWELL, Mass. - Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott P. Brown clashed Monday night in a spirited debate held, appropriately enough, in a massive hockey arena here with 5,000 people in the audience cheering them on as if they were gladiators jousting in a pit.

Both scored points and both made blunders. Ms. Warren's most embarrassing moment may have been when she named Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana as a Republican in Washington with whom she could work; unfortunately for her, Mr. Lugar was defeated in his primary in May and will not be returning to the Senate next year.

Mr. Brown's blunder - at least to viewers in deep blue Massachusetts - was identifying Justice Antonin Scalia, the archconserv ative, as his “model” Supreme Court justice, drawing boos from the audience and a pleased-as-punch smile from Ms. Warren.

After naming Justice Scalia, Mr. Brown then tossed out the names of several other justices, including that of Sonia Sotomayor, which seemed such an obvious pander to women and Hispanics that it drew laughter. The moderator, David Gregory, who is the host of NBC's “Meet the Press,” wondered how Mr. Brown could pick two people at the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

“That's the beauty of being an independent,” Mr. Brown, who is actually a Republican, grinned. “I don't need to pick one.”

That independence was his theme of the night _ as it has been throughout this neck-and-neck Senate race in Massachusetts - and Mr. Brown drove it home at every turn through the hour-long squabble-fest.

In his attempt to appeal to independent voters, whom he will need if he hopes to win, Mr. Brown repeated over and over that he was a bipartisan and independent voice in Washington, even suggesting that he had not decided whether he would support Senator Mitch McConnell, his party's leader, when the new Senate convenes next year.

He got a chance to demonstrate his bipartisanship when he was asked if Senator John Kerry, the state's senior senator and a Democrat who recently endorsed Ms. Warren, would make a good Secretary of State (his name has been floated as a replacement for Hillary Clinton, who plans to step down at the end of President Obama's term).

“Yeah, I do,” Mr. Brown said with seeming sincerity. He said he had told Mr. Kerry this and commended him for his knowledge of foreign affairs.

Ms. Warren likewise drove her message as she sought to fire up her base of Democratic voters, hitting two main points. She emphasized constantly that Mr. Brown was the champion of “millionaires and billionaires” and she sought to link him repeatedly to the Republicans.

He may c all himself bipartisan, she said, but when he talks to donors around the country, “he says they should contribute to his campaign because if he's re-elected, that increases the odds that the Republicans will control the Senate and that he can block President Obama's agenda.”

At one point, a look of slight panic seemed to come over her face when Mr. Gregory asked her why Massachusetts had never elected a woman to the Senate or as governor. One reason that some political consultants have put forth over the years is that voters here can be sexist, which would obviously not be a smart answer in a televised debate. Ms. Warren answered simply that she did not know. Mr. Gregory seemed a bit surprised not to get more of a rise out of her and asked if this bothered her. A few tense seconds of silence ticked by until she hit on an answer: “Right now I'm trying to do something about that,” she said, bringing cheers from her supporters.

The debate took place at the T songas Center at the University of Massachusetts campus here. About 5,000 people were inside the huge arena, while more than 13,000 people sought tickets but were turned away. It was sponsored by the university and the Boston Herald.

Mr. Brown was criticized after the last debate for seeming to go after Ms. Warren with a sledgehammer. This time, he was still pointed in his criticism of her but left the sledgehammer at home. He gave her genuine compliments when the candidates were asked if there was anything about the other that they admired.

Mr. Brown said Ms. Warren was a very hard-working, accomplished professor and was qualified for the job. He added that he had talked to friends whose children she had taught in law school and “they say she's wonderful.” After a pause, he added with a grin: “I'll do everything in my power to make sure she'll continue to be in that position.”

At another point, however, as they talked over each other, he demanded t o be heard, saying, “I'm not a student in your classroom.”

(Ms. Warren complimented him on his family and said she agreed with his vote to end “Don't Ask Don't Tell,” which prevented gays and lesbians in the military from serving openly.)

The candidates also trod over familiar ground. Mr. Gregory opened the debate with questions about Ms. Warren's claims to being a Native American, which has become the signature issue of this race. In fact, during a brief break in the broadcast, both candidates ran commercials on that very subject.

Ms. Warren avoided a direct answer to Mr. Gregory's question of whether she considered herself a minority, saying, finally, “I consider myself as having a Native American background.” As for regrets about how she had handled the issue over the course of the campaign, she said she wished she had answered questions about it more quickly; she had let them fester for weeks this spring, worrying fellow Democrats that she h ad stumbled badly out of the gate.

Mr. Brown also did not respond directly when asked if he thought Ms. Warren was a liar, though he has said she misled voters. But he made clear why he has made such a big issue of her checking a box calling herself a minority when he accused her of “taking something that is really meant for somebody who has been truly disadvantaged by years of discrimination.” The not-so-coded reference to affirmative action programs could appeal to certain voters who feel they have unfairly lost out on jobs or in school to minorities because of such programs.

Ms. Warren was better prepared this time on questions about her legal representation of corporate clients than she was in the first debate, when she barely defended herself. This time, she said she was representing legal principles to protect the rights of workers.

On immigration, a subject that almost never comes up on the campaign trail, the two expressed strong differences of opinion. Ms. Warren said she supported the Dream Act while Mr. Brown opposed it, calling it “a form of backdoor amnesty.”

They also disagreed on the war in Afghanistan, which also almost never comes up. Ms. Warren said she wanted to bring the troops home ahead of President Obama's timetable, while Mr. Brown said he supported it.

The last question was about whether the Red Sox, who had a miserable season, should keep Bobby Valentine, their manager. Ms. Warren, obviously conscious of wanting to appear better informed than Martha Coakley, the Democrat who lost to Mr. Brown in 2010, looked pained and said she was “still in wounded mode on that one.” Pressed, she said she would give Mr. Valentine another year.

Mr. Brown, who often wears a Red Sox jacket, avoided answering. “There's a lot of problems and they need to work it out themselves,” he said.

At a Romney Home, the View From the Curb


In a new Web video, one of the nation's most politically active unions â€" the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees â€" takes a slap at Mitt Romney and his “47 percent remarks” by showing a sanitation worker whose route, it says, includes Mr. Romney's oceanfront home in La Jolla, Calif.

The sanitation worker, Richard Hayes, is interviewed and says: “We're kind of like the invisible people. He doesn't realize, you know, the service we provide.”

Mr. Hayes then says he lifts 15 to 16 tons of garbage a day. “When I'm 55, 60 years old, I know my body's going to be breaking down,” he says. “Mitt Romney doesn't care about that.”

The  video then shows  quote from Mr. Romney's 47 percent remarks in big letters: “And so my job is not to worry about these people.”

In recent days, the Romney campaign has shown an ad in which Mr. Romney, repeatedly using the word “compa ssionate,” vows to go to bat for America's middle class, saying he will accomplish more for working Americans â€" will do more to create jobs and reduce unemployment â€" than President Obama has in his nearly four years in office.

Mr. Romney has said that his “47 percent” comments were “inelegant” and that his campaign is “about the 100 percent of America.”

The union's “Meet Richard Hayes” video is one of several that Afscme is running that juxtapose interviews of workers in and around the La Jolla-San Diego area with Mr. Romney's dismissive remarks about the 47 percent.

Lee Saunders, president of the union, has said it will spend close to $100 million in this year's campaign, with most going to Democrats.

In releasing the Web videos, Mr. Saunders said in a statement: “Mitt Romney says his job is not to care about nearly half of America. Whatever your political stripe, no one should be so disregarding, dismissive, and disrespectful of half of the country. So we wanted to put a face on the hard working men and woman who Mitt relies on for public services.”

Woody Johnson Says Presidential Politics Trumps Jets\' Fate


Jets owner Woody Johnson, who also happens to be the New York campaign chairman for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, appeared on Bloomberg's “Market Makers” show and was asked by the host whether his Jets were a higher priority vs. the presidential election.

Johnson, in a statement likely to irk Jets fans unhappy with the team's 2-2 start, said: “Well, I think so you always have to put country first, so I think it's very, very important, not only for us but for particularly our kids and grandkids, that this election come off with Mitt Romney and Ryan as president and vice president.”

Johnson expounded on other topics, including whether backup quarterback Tim Tebow should replace struggling starter Mark Sanchez. He was more evasive on that topic, saying, “It's a question that's going to be asked more frequently if this progresses. This is unacceptable playing. We failed in all three areas: offense, defense, s pecial teams. We let our fans down.”

In that statement, Johnson stepped back from throwing more fuel on a debate he has played a role in fanning in the past. While at the Republican National Convention, Johnson said in an interview with CNBC that, “I think you can never have too much Tebow,” despite Sanchez being acknowledged as the starter and the team trying to keep a quarterback controversy from breaking out with every Sanchez incompletion.

He also admitted earlier in training camp that he was surprised by the amount of coverage Tebow had gotten, which signaled he had not paid a bit of attention to the Tebow overload that overtook Denver last year.

A Tool to Help Save Interest on Credit Card Debt


We all know it's best not to carry a balance on your credit card. But let's say you encountered some unexpected expenses and ran up some debt. Web site CardHub.com has introduced some new calculators to help you decide the best option for paying down existing-or expected-credit card debt.

The “credit card payoff calculator” lets you enter the amount of debt you aim to pay off; the card's regular interest rate along with any introductory rate that applies; and the length of time over which you would like to pay off the debt. The calculator then tells you how much you'll need to pay each month to reach your goal and how much you'll pay in interest.

For instance, say you have $6,700 you'd like to pay off over two years, on a card with a 12.95 percent regular interest rate and an introductory rate of zero percent for six months. The calculator says you'll need to pay $301 a month to pay off the debt, and you'll pay $520 i n interest. But if you up the monthly payment to $346, you'll pay off the debt in 21 months and save $121 in interest, the tool explains.

The tool also suggests other credit cards that might have more favorable terms than the one you're currently using. Using the same example above, the site suggests other cards from banks including Chase, Citi,and BB&T that would save you money in interest. You can apply for the cards - all of which go only to borrowers with good to excellent credit - online. (CardHub earns a fee if an application initiated on the site is approved, said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub's chief executive.)

Mr. Papadimitriou notes that if you expect to apply for significant credit in the near future-say, for a mortgage-you might not want to apply for a new credit card just to save on interest. That's because recent credti activity can hurt your credit score. But otherwise, it might make sense to seek the best deal you can get and pay off your debt in the most cost-effective way, he advises.

The tool also works if you know you're going to incur some debt and want to evaluate the best way to pay it off. Two other versions of the tool let you compare different credit cards, and another takes into account any balance-transfer fees you might pay.

Would you apply for a new card with better terms to pay down a balance?

A Simple Place to Start: Your Net Worth


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.

The world is a crazy place. We hear reports that say the economy is getting better. Next month, we hear that things don't look so good. It feels like a tug-of-war, and we're caught in the middle. Looking around, you may feel like the only thing you have any hope of controlling is your financial situation. So you want to make some changes and put a framework around your financial future.

But there's so much information! Credit card statements, mortgage payments, ins urance renewals, student loan bills and every other piece of financial data about your life can be overwhelming. It's incredibly easy to throw up your hands and say, “I don't know where to start.”

The best place to start is with your current reality. Seems obvious, right? But if it's so obvious, then why haven't we done it?

  1. It can be painful. The reason you're looking to change things is because something isn't working. That something may be incredibly personal, like how you talk about money with your spouse. So we avoid our current reality and tell ourselves things will get better tomorrow.
  2. There are a million other things to do. We're all busy. Thinking about what's right and wrong with your current reality probably doesn't make anyone's Top Ten list.

But if you find yourself in a situation where you're ready to make a change, the best place to start is at the beginning by creating a personal balance she et. Your goal is to discover where you stand financially right now.

You don't need a fancy spreadsheet or even a computer for this exercise. Just grab a blank piece of paper and a pen. Then draw a line down the middle.

On the left side, list all your assets in detail. Bank accounts, equity in your home (that is not meant to be a joke), investment portfolio. For every asset, list it and its value.

On the right side, list all your liabilities. Credit card debt, mortgage, school loans. Again, get specific and list the actual amounts of each liability.

If you don't know, call your bank, credit card company or your adviser. In this exercise, guessing isn't allowed, so ask the questions and get the real numbers on paper.

Then, add up all your assets and subtract all your liabilities. You now have your net worth.

What does it look like? If you're not happy with the number you see, you have two choices that will probably involve some hard work:

  1. Increase your assets
  2. Decrease your liabilities

If you're wondering why I suggest starting with something so simple, it's because I keep crossing paths with people who don't know how their assets compare to their liabilities. And the reality is that if you don't know where you stand today, then how will you ever figure out where you want to be tomorrow?

So the next time you think you don't know where to start, ask the question, “What does my current reality look like?” Once you know where you stand, then you can make an honest assessment of your options and what comes next.


Candidates Head Into Debate Week on the Attack


The presidential campaigns and their allies began the week with aggressive attacks on the candidates' records ahead of the first presidential debate on Wednesday.

The Republican National Committee unveiled a new Web site called failedpromise.com, which it billed as a “comprehensive guide to candidate Obama's debate promises.”

Among the assertions: that President Obama failed to keep the promises he made during the 2008 debates on spending, changing Washington, college costs, energy, foreign policy, health care, housing and taxes.

“These were not vague promises,” the Web site says of Mr. Obama. “He outlined a number of actions and policy positions he would take, and he vowed specific, tangible results. Despite his lofty rhetoric, the president has not met the very standards he set for himself. And America's still waiting for hope and change.”

Mr. Obama's campaign announced that Massachusetts l awmakers and former officials from the state will travel to key battleground states ahead of the debate to attack Mitt Romney's record as governor of the state.

“They are in a unique position to tell voters across the country about Romney's record of failed leadership and failed policies in Massachusetts, which included slashing funding for education and job training while raising taxes and fees on middle class families and small businesses,” said Adam Fetcher, the deputy press secretary for Mr. Obama's campaign.

The campaign said the officials will travel to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin ahead of the presidential debate.

Mr. Obama's allies in labor are adding to the effort by sending out new fliers to their supporters in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio that slam Mr. Romney's comments about the “47 percent” of people who are dependent on government.

One such flier from workersvoice.org, a group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, says: “Mitt Romney's true feelings about working families have become much more clear in recent days. Can America afford a president who would say things like this?”

The flier goes on to list quotes from Mr. Romney that the labor group says show that he is “just not one of us.”

The efforts by both sides are designed in part to fill the vacuum created by the candidates' debate preparations ahead of the face-off in Denver on Wednesday. Mr. Obama is in Henderson, Nev., preparing with his debate team. Mr. Romney's only event on Monday is a nighttime rally in Denver.

Both sides are hoping to lay the groundwork for an aggressive debate as national polls show a tight race. Polls in key swing states continue to show Mr. Obama with a significant lead.

The campaigns also start the week after an intense push to raise money ahead of Sunday night's deadline for September donations.

In a late-night e-mail on Sunday to his supporters, Mr. Obama made a final appeal for contributions, saying that by Monday “we'll know if we have the resources to finish this the right way.”

Mr. Romney made a similar plea for donations, saying in an e-mail that “we have just 37 days left until November 6. Every single day has to count.”

Monday Reading: The Beauty of Frugal Rome


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: Inevitable


Today's Times

  • More than 160 million Americans will probably see their tax bills jump after Jan. 1, regardless of who wins the election, Annie Lowrey reports. A tax break that the White House rallied for last winter now finds little support in Washington as Congress struggles with budget deficits.
  • As President Obama continues to prepare for the debate against Mitt Romney on Wednesday, his aides have been left to battle criticism about the White House's handling of the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, Mark Landler writes.
  • Though history shows that candidates have different ways to score in presidential debates and change voters' minds, only twice have the face-offs appeared to shift the election's outcome, John Harwood writes.
  • Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic Senate candidate in conservative North Dakota, has given the state its first competitive election since 1986 and p robably its nastiest in modern history, Jonathan Weisman reports. She is so well liked, even the National Republican Senatorial Committee conceded that Ms. Heitkamp is making real headway.
  • One survivor of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. is trying to get the presidential candidates to address the touchy issue of guns and gun violence ahead of the November election, Erica Goode reports. Though both candidates once backed gun control measures, any discussion of how to prevent gun violence has been noticeably absent in the presidential campaign.
  • The ABC show “Dancing With the Stars” draws a constituency that both Democrats and Republicans covet, with nearly every major player in the presidential campaign advertising during the commercials, Jeremy W. Peters reports.

Happenings in Washington

  • The Supreme Court will begin its 2012-2013 term.
  • For the anniversary of the Occupy Movement, protester s in Washington will begin a week of events in Freedom Plaza.
  • Former Tuskegee airmen will host a discussion at the Ford's Theater.