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Monday, October 15, 2012

Giuliani Criticizes Obama on Handling of Benghazi Attack

On the evening that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she took responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, had harsh words for President Obama's handling of the situation in the Middle East, calling it “a policy of provocative weakness.”

“You look at the disaster in Libya, you look at all the contradictory stories of this administration,” he said. “This is a scandal.”

Mr. Giuliani was heading into a high-dollar fund-raising dinner that Representative Paul D. Ryan held for Mitt Romney at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York when he made his remarks, and it was unclear if he had heard Mrs. Clinton's recent comments on CNN's “OutFront.” In a Monday night interview, the secretary of state said, “I take responsibility” for the events in Libya, adding that so close to Election Day, she wanted to avoid “some k ind of political gotcha.”

Mr. Giuliani did not pull any punches.

“All of their misrepresentation about what happened in Libya is astounding,” he said of the administration. “There's no reason for 10 days of what appeared to be total misrepresentations - it creates a situation were America looks weak, it creates a situation where the American people don't have confidence. And it emboldens our enemies when they see that we're not able to face reality.”

Mr. Giuliani, who also described the president as “a real failure in the Middle East,” said that Mr. Romney would have handled the situation differently. (On the campaign trail, however, Mr. Romney has not explained in any detail how he would have dealt with the attacks, instead calling for further investigation.)

“Under a Romney administration, he will from the very moment of something like this - as a policy I followed on Sept. 11 - tell the truth to the American people,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I would advise anyone in that position, you've got to be truthful from the very, very beginning. You can't participate in all of these cover-ups, all of these misrepresentations. Governor Romney is a leader by nature, and Governor Romney understands that.”

Memo Outlines Format and Rules for Candidate Debates

No props. No “show of hands” questions by the moderator. And by all means, no direct questions from one candidate to another.

Those rules, and many others, for the presidential debates were revealed on Monday when the memorandum of understanding between the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney surfaced for the first time. The lawyerly memos are de rigueur during debate seasons, but the viewing public rarely knows about the restrictions.

This season the agreement between the two campaigns is 21 pages long. Completed on Oct. 3, the day of the first presidential debate, it was published on Monday by Time magazine's The Page amid what the site called “concern” inside both campaigns that the moderator of the second presidential debate, Candy Crowley of CNN, might break the rules. Ms. Crowley, however, never accepted the rules, nor did any of the other moderators selected by the group that holds the debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Ms. Crowley's debate, to be held on Tuesday night on Long Island, has a town hall format, with voters asking questions of the candidates. In interviews Ms. Crowley has indicated that she will follow up on the voter questions and further the conversation between the candidates - in stark contrast to the memo, which states that after each candidate has a chance to answer, “the moderator will invite the candidates to respond to the previous answers,” but “will not rephrase the question or open a new topic.” The memo also says explicitly that the moderator “will not ask follow-up questions.”

The campaigns' concerns about follow-ups were ridiculed by some of Ms. Crowley's fellow journalists on Monday. Appearing on CNN shortly after the memo was leaked, Ms. Crowley cited precedents for follow-up questions: On Tuesday night, voters “will have the questions. And as was the case in the Charlie Gibson town hall meeting and the Tom Brokaw town hall meeting in presidential campaigns past, there is a time after that for follow-up and for furthering the discussion.”

George Farah, an anti-trust lawyer who runs Open Debates, a group that calls the current debate system antidemocratic, said the town hall format had become more constrained by “candidate manipulation” over time. “In 1992, audience members and the moderator could ask anything, and no one knew the questions to be asked. In 1996, follow-up questions were banned,” he said. “In 2004, all questions had to be prescreened by the moderator in advance, in some ways arguably reducing the audience members to props. In 2012, there are new restrictions on what the moderator herself can do â€" no follow-ups, no reinterpretations of questions, nothing really, except keep time and hold the microphone.”

The memos of understanding for the 2000 and 2008 debates have never been made public. The memo this year specifies that the candidates will appear together only at the commission-sponsored debates, not in any other debate-type setting. “This is particularly harmful,” Mr. Farah said, “considering that the new format allows for far fewer issues to be addressed during the debates. If we're going to have fewer questions, then naturally we need more debates.”

Now Democrats Suggest Polling Is Flawed

When polls last month showed President Obama pulling ahead, Republicans set up a noisy chorus that the results were flawed. Democrats dismissed the claims.

Now the shoe is on the other foot and Democrats are finding it pinches their toes.

The Obama campaign's chief pollster called a Gallup/USA Today poll released Monday afternoon “an extreme outlier” because it found Mitt Romney ahead over all in battleground states, primarily because women are evenly divided between Mr. Romney and the president.

The pollster, Joel Benenson, cited 13 other polls of battleground states taken since Oct. 4 that show Mr. Obama leading among women.

Mr. Benenson said the poll, the first swing state survey by Gallup this cycle to measure likely voters, had “deep flaws” in how it identified likely voters. The questions the poll asked to determine likely voters are biased, Mr. Benenson wrote in a memo, because they screen out many who are young, renters, minorities a nd urban dwellers, groups that tend to vote more for Democrats. The Gallup survey showed that among registered voters, Mr. Obama leads among women by 53 to 44 percent in the 12 battleground states polled.

Over all, the poll of 1,023 registered voters and 869 likely voters, which was done for USA Today, showed Mr. Romney leading Mr. Obama by five percentage points among likely voters. The Republican nominee “has growing enthusiasm among women to thank,” according to the paper's analysis.

Mr. Benenson wrote that ahead of the 2010 midterm elections “the distortions in Gallup's likely voter screen were exposed, leaving Gallup's survey 9 points off the mark.''

Polling methodology has flared into a hotly partisan issue as the campaigns wrangle over perceptions of who has more support, with just three weeks till Election Day.

When a parade of polls last month showed Mr. Obama pulling away after the Democratic National Convention, some Republican strate gists argued that the results couldn't be accurate and were skewed. Their voices were amplified by a vociferous online conservative community. A Web site, unskewedpolls.com, “corrected” what it viewed as methodological flaws, purporting to show that Mr. Romney was in fact winning. The argument was largely that the polls with Mr. Obama in the lead did not adjust for respondents' party alignment.

Respected polling experts, including Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center and Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, argued that party affiliation was a red herring, because it was fluid, so most pollsters did not adjust their samples to reflect it as they do fixed characteristics like ethnicity, sex and age.

Ever since polls started showing Mr. Romney closing the gap in the wake of his first debate with Mr. Obama on Oct. 3, Republicans have gotten much quieter in complaining of flawed polls.

Enter the Obama campaign. Mr. Benenson's memo was distributed by Ben LaBolt, the campaign's press secretary.

This time the disagreement over methodology is not about party affiliation but how Gallup arrived at deciding when a registered voter is likely to actually vote. The survey included Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Romney Is Attacked by His Father\'s Longtime Aide

A longtime aide to George W. Romney issued a harshly worded critique of Mitt Romney, accusing him of shifting political positions in “erratic and startling ways” and failing to live up to the distinguished record of his father, the former governor of Michigan.

Walter De Vries, who worked for the senior Mr. Romney throughout the 1960s, wrote that Mitt Romney's bid for the White House was “a far cry from the kind of campaign and conduct, as a public servant, I saw during the seven years I worked in George Romney's campaigns and served him as governor.”

“While it seems that Mitt would say and do anything to close a deal â€" or an election,” he wrote, “George Romney's strength as a politician and public officeholder was his ability and determination to develop and hold consistent policy positions over his life.”

Mr. De Vries's stinging assessment was contained in a nearly 700-word essay that he distributed to a small group of journalists with whom he has spoken over the past year. He said it was an outline for a book that may or may not be published. The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

A registered independent, who said he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, Mr. De Vries has previously expressed reservations about Mr. Romney's political postures in interviews, but never with such sweep.

In a telephone interview, he said he was motivated to write the essay by “an accumulation” of Mr. Romney's actions, like his comment about 47 percent of Americans and his decision to campaign with Donald Trump.

Mr. De Vries said he was annoyed by Mr. Romney's repeated references recently to his father as inspiration and influence on him.

“I just don't see it,” he said. “Where is it? Is it on issues, no? On the way he campaigns? No.”

Mr. De Vries continued, “George would never have been seen with the likes of Sheldon Adelson or Donald Trump.”

(Mr. Adelson, a casino magnate, is a major donor to the “super PACs” that support Mr. Romney.)

Mr. De Vries, who said he wished to the see the Republican Party return to its moderate roots, said he intended to vote for Mr. Obama on Election Day.

WaltDeVries (PDF)

WaltDeVries (Text)

Follow Michael Barbaro on Twitter at @mikiebarb.

McCaskill Spends Heavily to Ward Off Akin Threat

Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat fighting to keep her seat, spent nearly $7 million over a three-month period through the end of September and her campaign had more than $2.1 million in the bank for her race against Representative Todd Akin, according to quarterly disclosure reports her campaign released on Monday.

Ms. McCaskill's feverish fund-raising â€" she raised more than $5.8 million during the quarter â€" presents formidable challenges for Mr. Akin, whose campaign declined to release its quarterly fund-raising totals. While the campaign was required to mail the totals to the Federal Election Commission on Monday, it did not have to make them public. The numbers will become available for all to see once the commission files the reports.

Fund-raising has been a concern for Mr. Akin ever since he made controversial comments about rape and abortion in August. Most of the Republican establishment dropped its support for him and two big donors, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and American Crossroads, said they no would no longer spend the millions of dollars they had planned to on the race.

Ms. McCaskill has been enjoying what appears to be a sizable cash advantage. “We are certainly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and incredibly appreciative for every family that gave 5, 10, 25 dollars, or whatever they can,” Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for Ms. McCaskill, said in an interview.

Since Mr. Akin's comments that victims of  “legitimate rape” had a biological mechanism to fight off pregnancy, his campaign has raised $1 million in online donations, it says. He also has gotten commitments of several hundred thousand dollars from conservative groups. But it remains to be seen whether that money, or his own campaign's fund-raising, will be able to let him keep pace with his opponent.

Through Saturday, independent groups opposing Mr. Akin or su pporting Ms. McCaskill had spent more than $3 million on the race, or more than three times as much as those on the opposite side.

The Senate seat was once seen as one of the Republicans' best bets in its fight to win control of the Senate. Mr. Akin had a lead in the polls coming off his primary victory, but he has since found himself battling from behind.


Warren Among Top Senate Fund-Raisers of All Time

BOSTON - With a haul of $12.1 million in the last quarter, Elizabeth Warren has become one of the five most successful Senate fund-raisers of all time, surpassing the amount Hillary Rodham Clinton raised in her first Senate bid in 2000.

Ms. Warren, a Democrat and first-time candidate, has raised $36.29 million since she began her challenge last year to Senator Scott P. Brown, a Republican. Mr. Brown raised $7.45 million in the last quarter, which ended Sept. 30, bringing his total to $27.35 million.

Combined, their $63.6 million makes the Massachusetts race the most expensive for either the Senate or the House in the 2012 election cycle and the most expensive in Massachusetts history. Much of that money has gone to buy time on television; ads for both campaigns are saturating the local airwaves, while the two are running neck and neck in the polls.

Ms. Warren's aggressive fund-raising operation has bumped Mrs. Clinton ou t of fifth place for the most ever raised by a Senate candidate. Mrs. Clinton raised $30.2 million in 2000, her first campaign after serving as first lady.

But Mrs. Clinton still holds second place on that list, having raised even more ($51.6 million) for her re-election bid in 2006. Jon S. Corzine amassed $63.3 million in his successful 2000 Senate race in New Jersey - the most ever - but almost all of that came from his own wallet. If Mr. Corzine is discounted, Mrs. Clinton, who did not spend any of her own money in her Senate races, is the top Senate fund-raiser for all time.

Back in July, The Times reported that Ms. Warren had already reached No. 15 on the list, prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics, of most successful Senate fund-raisers in history.

No. 3 was Linda E. McMahon in Connecticut, who spent $50.3 million in 2010, but she, too, spent mostly her own money. This year, as she tries again for a Senate seat, she is also supplying cash to herself, but at a much lower level than she did two years ago.

No. 4 on the all-time high list was Rick A. Lazio, the New York Congressman who lost to Mrs. Clinton in 2000 even though he raised more money - $39 million. He has the distinction of having had one of the most successful third-quarter fund-raising periods ever, pulling in $22 million in that three-month period alone, a reflection of the forces lined up against Mrs. Clinton.

This third quarter was the most lucrative quarter for both Ms. Warren and Mr. Brown, although even combined, their totals did not reach Lazio heights.

Ms. Warren started behind Mr. Brown in fund-raising last year because he started with $7 million left over from his 2010 special election.

As they face the final three weeks of the campaign, Mr. Brown has $10.2 million cash on hand. Officials with the Warren campaign said they had roughly the same amount but had already spent about $3 million to pay for televisio n time in the homestretch, leaving them with $7.28 million cash on hand.

No one doubts that both will have the money to get their messages across.

Follow Katharine Q. Seelye on Twitter at @kseelye.

The Caucus Click: A Future Voter Considers Ryan

A child dressed in an elephant costume watched Representative Paul D. Ryan speak at a campaign town hall event on Monday at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis.Max Whittaker for The New York Times A child dressed in an elephant costume watched Representative Paul D. Ryan speak at a campaign town hall event on Monday at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis.

Obamas to Vote Early, Hoping Others Do the Same

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. â€" President Obama and his wife, Michelle, announced on Monday that they would both vote early, and Mrs. Obama was photographed holding an absentee ballot for Illinois that she later dropped in the mail. Mr. Obama followed up her announcement by saying that he would vote early, in person, on Oct. 25, the next time he planned to be in Chicago.

By voting early, the Obamas will deprive the news media of a time-honored Election Day photo opportunity: the president and the first lady at the ballot box. But they are throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign's aggressive push for early voting, an increasingly popular process that the campaign believes favors it over the Romney campaign because of its extensive field operation in several of the states that permit early voting.

In a Twitter message put out by the campaign, Mrs. Obama said, “Hey @BarackObama, I just dropped my absentee ballot in the mail â€" I couldn't wait for Election Day! Lo ve you! â€" mo” Moments later, a post from Mr. Obama appeared: “I'm following @MichelleObama's example and voting early, on October 25.” His was signed “bo,” which the campaign says is an indication that Mr. Obama himself sent it, not his campaign machinery.

Mrs. Obama, a few wags on Twitter pointed out, did not say whom she voted for.

In a statement, the Obama campaign said the first couple were voting early “in order to promote the ease, convenience and importance of voting.” Mrs. Obama said early voting was a way to make sure people's vote got counted, in case they got sick or had to work late on Election Day.

Early voting, however, may also disproportionately benefit the president. In a new online poll by Reuters/Ipsos, Mr. Obama has a lead of 59 percent to 31 percent among people who have already voted. Seven percent of the 6,704 people surveyed said they had cast ballots, and the poll's margin of sampling e rror was plus or minus 10 percentage points.

The Romney campaign dismissed the Reuters poll in a memo from Rich Beeson, its political director, saying that only 5 percent of early voting had been completed, and that the poll had a very small sample size, particularly in swing states. Moreover, Mr. Beeson said, Democratic voters tend to be more likely to vote on Election Day than Republicans, so even if Mr. Obama is leading Mr. Romney now, he is only “cannibalizing his turnout on Nov. 6.”

“Governor Romney's early-voting effort has been, and will continue to be, focused on low-propensity voters, which means his Election Day turnout will not be negatively impacted by the early-vote program,” Mr. Beeson said.

Romney Raises $170 Million to Finance Final Push

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have begun a late push to raise tens of millions of dollars in the closing weeks of the election, cash that will finance a last-minute barrage of advertising that Mr. Romney's aides believe is critical to beating President Obama.

In an e-mail message to top donors and fundraisers on Monday afternoon, Mr. Romney's campaign said that it had raised $170 million in September, nearly as much as the near-record $181 million raised by Mr. Obama, but needed to bring in even more money in October to capitalize on Mr. Romney's surge in swing states like Florida and Ohio.

The announcement kicked off a three-day retreat for donors at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where the campaign is seeking to capitalize on a burst of enthusiasm among formerly jittery donors - who were thrilled by Mr. Romney's strong first debate performance - to recruit new donors and persuade old ones to give the maximum allowed by law. Donors, who will be treat ed to a Debate Watch Party at the Roseland Ballroom featuring comedian Dennis Miller, will also spend part of the retreat working the phones in a miniature call-a-thon intended to wring out as many last-minute dollars as possible.

The task has been made even more urgent by the campaign's difficulty recruiting small donors, which have flooded Mr. Obama's campaign with a steady stream of donations with little investment of the president's time. While Mr. Romney's fundraising has kept roughly in pace with Mr. Obama's in recent months, his dollar totals lean more heavily on large checks to the Republican National Committee, which must pay a premium for political advertising and is only allowed to spend a limited amount on ads coordinated with Mr. Romney's campaign.

That forced Mr. Romney's campaign to restrain its spending during the summer advertising war-and take out a $20 million war-while the president's campaign went up on the air with a barrage of negative ads intended to define Mr. Romney early as a wealthy, out-of-touch venture capitalist. The Romney campaign is eager to strike back now, at a time when they believe that most undecided voters are just starting to tune in.

“We are please to announce that Romney Victory raised $170 million in the month of September,” said Spencer Zwick, the campaign's national finance chairman, in the e-mail. “This is truly an incredible testament to this group's commitment and hard work and represents the largest amount of money we have raised to date in any given month of the campaign.”

“With 22 days until the election, we continue to rely on your support in the final push to victory,” Mr. Zwick added. “These contributions allow us to deliver Governor Romney's message and execute an effective ground game in the important swing states.”

The three-day retreat in New York is a follow-up event to the star-studded “Republicanpalooza” the campaign held in June in Park City, Utah.

The $50,000 entrance fee, which most of the donors long ago raised, gets Mr. Romney's “Founding Partners and Members” and “Stars and Stripes” club members into a dinner Monday night at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, as well as a packed day of panels Tuesday.

Headliners at the Intrepid dinner include Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate; Rudolph W. Guiliani, former mayor of New York City; Reince Preibus, the Republican National Committee chairman; Donald Trump; and Mr. Zwick.

Mr. Ryan is also hosting his own cocktail and photo reception Monday afternoon at the Hilton New York - $1,000 per person and $5,000 for a photo.
The first panel, “Campaign and Strategy Briefing,” will feature Rich Beeson, the campaign's political director; Ed Gillespie and Beth Myers, senior strategists for the campaign; Neil Newhouse, Mr. Romney's pollster; and Mr. Priebus.

The session, â €œIssues Facing America - Jobs,” will include remarks by Carlos Gutierrez, a former secretary of commerce; Harold Hamm, an oil magnate and energy adviser to Mr. Romney; Jimmy John Liautaud, chairman of the Jimmy John's restaurant chain; Scott G. McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; and Charles Schwab, chief executive of the Charles Schwab Corporation. Mr. Zwick will address the final session, “Make The Difference,” in what is likely a final pitch to donors in the end stretch.

Redesigns Create Deals on New-Car Leftovers

Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas,  with a 2013 Ford Fusion.Associated PressMark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas,  with a 2013 Ford Fusion.

Fall is usually a good time to buy a car because it's the end of the model year, but even better deals are available if you're willing to buy a model that is about to be discontinued or redesigned, Edmunds.com advises.

Current-year models of these cars are cheaper because while you be driving a new car, you'll soon be driving one that's visibly outdated. (It's like buying a dress that was in style last year but not necessarily this year, Edmunds suggests). But if you're not a slave to fashion, you can likely buy a nice, new car at a lower price.

Edmunds has created a li st of about a dozen cars that are likely to be discounted and that may also have incentives and rebates to lure buyers. Many such offers are regional, so prices in your area may vary.

One downside is that when carmakers introduce a redesign, the previous year's model tends to depreciate more quickly, which can make selling it more difficult later on. But if you're planning to keep the car for a long time, that's less of a concern.

Some cars are getting full redesigns, while others are getting tweaks. Cars that Edmunds suggests checking out include the Ford Fusion. A fully redesigned and slightly bigger Ford Fusion is arriving for the 2013 model year, which will put pressure on dealers to sell the popular 2012 Fusions.

The 2012 Chevrolet Impala is another possibility. It has been six years since the Impala had a significant update, Edmunds.com notes, and a redesign will arrive with the 2014 model year, which is scheduled to have its debut early in 2013. The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is another candidate, because an all-new version is arriving this fall.

Other models to check out: 2012 Ford Mustang; 2012 GMC Acadia; 2012 Lexus ES 350; 2012 Nissan Altima (check for leasing specials in particular); 2012 Nissan Pathfinder; 2012 Toyota Avalon; 2012 Chevrolet Traverse; 2012 Ford Escape; and 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe.

One more caveat: A redesign doesn't always mean big bargains. The Honda Accord has been redesigned for the 2013 model year, but because the car is so popular, incentives are likely to be modest for the 2012s, Edmunds notes. But it's still worth negotiating.

Are you in the market for a new car? Would you consider a soon-to-be outdated model?

Obama Campaign Feels \'Good\' About State of Race

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. â€" The Obama campaign insisted it remained sanguine about the state of the presidential race, a day before President Obama meets Mitt Romney in Hempstead, N.Y., for a second high-stakes debate.

With polls showing Mr. Obama clinging to a narrow lead in the crucial battleground of Ohio, and early voting well underway in several states, a spokeswomen for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said, “We feel good about where are in the race.” Ms. Psaki said the campaign's early-voting operation was superior to that of Mr. Romney's campaign.

The Obama campaign has been scrambling to halt the shift in momentum in Mr. Romney's favor since the first debate in Denver, which left many Democrats disappointed with the president's performance. Mr. Romney has jumped to a small lead over Mr. Obama in several national polls, as well as in battleground states like Florida, Colorado, and Virginia. But Ms. Psaki said that after two weeks of churn, the state polls w ere reasonably stable.

“It's very, very close,” she said to reporters at Mr. Obama's debate camp in this colonial tourist town. “There are some states where we're up by a few points, there are some states where we're down a few points. It's tightened, which we fully expected would happen.”

The White House and campaign officials were stingy with details about Mr. Obama's preparation, beyond saying that it was dead serious. Ms. Psaki described the president as “calm and energized” and said he had interrupted his preparation only for a brief visit to the local campaign office Sunday, and to walk the leafy grounds at his golf resort here.

“We know the president is his own harshest critic and he knows that Mitt Romney had a better debate,” she said. “But people across the country aren't voting on who is the better salesman-in-chief; they're looking for who is going to better represent them in the White House.”

“That's why he's looking forward to answering questions from the American people tomorrow night,” she added. “Some that will be about the economy, some that will be about many other issues. Of course, we have no control over that.”

How much control they will have over the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, is another matter. Ms. Psaki declined to comment on a report by Mark Halperin of Time Magazine that the Obama and Romney campaigns both protested to the Presidential Debate Commission that Ms. Crowley had indicated she planned to ask follow-up questions at the debate â€" a town-hall format, in which voters are supposed to ask most of the questions.

“Obviously this is a town-hall, which means the questions will be coming for the American people in the audience,” she said. “But if the questions come from other sources, he's happy to address those questions as well.”

Try to Focus on Your Personal Economy

Carl Richards

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.

As many of the social structures we have relied on in the past for retirement seem to disappear or appear vulnerable (company pensions and Social Security to name two), we're becoming increasingly more responsible for our own financial futures. But at the same time we're overwhelmed with information about how to handle our money.

Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips about how to handle money, and never before have so many of us felt out of control. Sorting th ough this noise is more important than ever before, not only for our financial futures but for our mental health.

Think I'm overstating the problem?

In 2011, IDC Digital Universe published a study, “Extracting Value from Chaos.” It found we have 1.8 zettabytes (1.8 billion terabytes) of data floating around. What does that look like?

  • Every person in the United States tweeting 3 tweets per minute for 26,976 years nonstop
  • Every person in the world having over 215 million high-resolution MRI scans per day
  • Over 200 billion high definition movies (each 2 hours in length), which would take one person 47 million years to watch if that person watched for 24 hours a day
  • The amount of information needed to fill 57.5 billion 32 gigabyte Apple iPads.

In 2012, that number is expected to grow to 2.7 zettabytes.

Obviously, it's easy to get distracted. And based on the questions I get, people are really distracted when it comes to money.

  • Should I buy this stock?
  • What do you think the market will do?
  • Will Europe go down in flames?
  • Will the economy ever recover?

But what if instead of asking those questions, we asked just these questions:

  • How much can I save?
  • How is my portfolio allocated?
  • Can I pick up some extra work this month?
  • Can I start a little business on the side?

By asking these questions we switch our focus to things we have at least some control over. We start to focus on our personal economy, instead of the global economy. Our personal economy becomes the filter for all the noise. Things like Europe, the market, and individual stocks drop off our radar. Instead, we focus on information that helps us with the one thing we can control: ourselves.

Obviously with so much noise, it can be incredibly hard to get this focused. But the so oner you figure out the value of this filter, the faster you'll be able to make sense of the noise.

So besides burying your head in the sand, what have you done to filter the noise?


Military Endorsements Hold Greater Benefits for Democrats, Study Finds

As the presidential campaign focuses increasingly on President Obama's performance as commander in chief, a study expected to be released Monday finds that he benefits from endorsements of retired military officers more than Mitt Romney does, particularly with coveted independent voters.

Support for Mr. Obama increased by nine percentage points among independents who were told by surveyors that most members of the military and veterans backed him, compared with those who were not told. Among independents who said they did not follow foreign policy news closely, the president's support increased by 14 percentage points.

By comparison, Mr. Romney did not pick up support with those groups when they were told the military mostly backed him. Republicans historically have enjoyed the public perception of strength on national security, so the three academics who conducted the study concluded that the party's public image is less affected by validation from veterans. Since Democrats traditionally have struggled to win public trust on national security, endorsements matter more.

“In general, Democrats have lower marks and Republicans have had issue ownership,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University professor and one of the study's authors. “The public has internalized the idea that the military tends to lean conservative and Republican. So when you have someone you expect to be endorsing the Republican and you're told, oh no, they support Obama, that's surprising information.”

Mr. Obama has been that rare Democrat who has scored well with the public on national security, according to polls, in part because of the raid he ordered that killed Osama bin Laden and his aggressive prosecution of the war against Al Qaeda through drone strikes in Pakistan. But the recent attack on an American diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the ambassador and three others has provided fodder to critics.

Mr. Romney and other Republicans have seized on the Obama administration's shifting explanations of the attack's origins and its decision not to provide additional security to question the president's leadership. The White House has said its assessments evolved as it learned more, and it has accused Mr. Romney's campaign of politicizing a national tragedy.

Even before the Libya attack, Mr. Obama had sought to bolster his campaign with the support of military veterans. At the Democratic National Convention, Adm. John Nathman, a retired four-star officer, and about 50 other veterans took the stage to embrace the president's re-election effort.

Such endorsements do little to move the overall public, according to the study, by Mr. Feaver, James Golby, an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Kyle Dropp, a doctoral candidate in political science at Stanford University. But they appeared to have outsize influenc e with independents.

The findings are especially important in an era when presidential candidates are less likely to be veterans themselves and therefore are perhaps more in need of military endorsements. This is the first time in 80 years that none of the major-party presidential or vice-presidential nominees have served in uniform.

The increasing role of military endorsements in the modern era can be traced to 1988, when George Bush benefited in the Republican primaries from the backing of Gen. P. X. Kelley, the retired Marine Corps commandant. It became even more significant four years later, when Adm. William J. Crowe, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, backed Bill Clinton, who had avoided the draft during the Vietnam War.

From then on, it has become something of a contest every four years for each candidate to gather the most supporters with uniforms in their closets. Conversely, a group of Swift Boat veterans who organized to undercut John K erry's war record helped doom his 2004 campaign, and a group of former members of the Navy SEALs this year has organized to assail Mr. Obama for what they call his politicizing of the Bin Laden raid and for not doing enough to stop classified security leaks.

The involvement of retired officers, even though no longer in service, has troubled some military leaders and specialists in civilian-military relations, who worry that it risks diluting public faith in the armed forces. Among them is Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who has expressed concern about the anti-Obama SEALs group.

“If someone uses the uniform, whatever uniform, for partisan purposes, I am disappointed, because I think it does erode that bond of trust we have with the American people,” he told Fox News.

Mr. Feaver agreed. “The more you do this, the more you make the military look like a partisan political institution, and that's a good way to undermine confidence in the military,” he said.

Mr. Feaver worked on the National Security Council staff under Mr. Clinton and President George W. Bush, and he currently moderates a blog of former Bush administration officials who are often critical of Mr. Obama. The study was financed in part by Duke's American Grand Strategy program and by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research organization founded by centrist Democrats who later joined Mr. Obama's administration.

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter at @peterbakernyt.

Monday Reading: My Phone Number\'s Other Woman

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.

  • Running in circles with Sears, over a treadmill. (Business)
  • My phone number's other woman. (Sunday Review)
  • A kiddie kegger? (Sunday Styles)
  • Hotel rooms with charm, off the radar. (Travel)
  • Hidden gems of Europe. (Travel)
  • Veterans mortgage loans surge. (Real Estate)
  • Co-op board to buyer: Not at that price. (Real Estate)
  • In Miami, wondering about a high-end bubble. (Real Estate)
  • Amphibious car still waiting to catch a wave. (Automobiles)
  • Scrutiny for home appraisers as market struggles. (Business)
  • Billboards of the road get together in Maine. (Wheels)
  • Why you should use two-step verification online. (Bits)
  • Spring rolls from fall vegetables. (Well)
  • Struggl ing with anorexia on the Web. (Well)
  • Why we should take fewer pictures of our children. (Motherlode)
  • A blogger's care-giving chapter closes. (The New Old Age)
  • A risky lifeline for seniors is costing some their homes. (Business)
  • HPV vaccine doesn't alter sexual behavior, study finds. (Well)
  • Making money from Flickr photos. (Gadgetwise)
  • Seeking privacy in a networked age. (Bits)
  • Can you do much to prevent a stroke? (Well)

Romney Donors Gather in New York for Fund-Raising Retreat

While Mitt Romney is hunkering down with his brain trust, preparing for his second debate against President Obama, Mr. Romney's donors will be living it up at a three-day fall retreat beginning Monday at the Waldorf-Astoria in Midtown Manhattan.

Donors and bundlers - many of whom long ago raised the minimum $50,000 entrance fee - will kick off the festivities on Monday evening, with a gala reception and dinner at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Special guests include Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate; Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City; Reince Preibus, the Republican National Committee chairman; Donald Trump; and Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney's national finance chairman.

The fall retreat is the follow-up event to a June retreat the campaign held in Park City, Utah, albeit with slightly less star power. During the Park City gathering, cheekily called Republican-palooza, the strategist Karl Rove, former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker III, Senator John McCain and Jeb Bush, former Florida governor - as well as a who's who of political luminaries who at the time were vying for the No. 2 slot on the ticket - all descended on the high-altitude getaway.

Though Mr. Romney had considered making an appearance this week in Manhattan, he scrapped the idea at the last minute to focus on preparing for the debate Tuesday night.

Donors will be kept busy on debate day with a trio of panels. The first, “Campaign and Strategy Briefing,” will feature Rich Beeson, the campaign's political director; Ed Gillespie and Beth Myers, senior strategists for the campaign; Neil Newhouse, Mr. Romney's pollster; and Mr. Priebus.

Up next is a session titled “Issues Facing America - Jobs,” which will include remarks by Carlos Gutierrez, a former secretary of commerce; Harold Hamm, an oil magnate and energy adviser to Mr. Romney; Jimmy John L iautaud, chairman of the Jimmy John's restaurant chain; Scott G. McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; and Charles Schwab, chief executive of the Charles Schwab Corporation. Mr. Zwick will address the final session, “Make The Difference,” in what is likely a final pitch to donors in the end stretch.

Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, and his oldest son, Tagg, will also make appearances, speaking at an afternoon luncheon. In recent weeks, Mrs. Romney has begun taking a more vocal and public role in the campaign, stumping for her husband and working to ensure that voters understand the man she knows and loves - an empathetic and caring version of the Mr. Romney sometimes caricatured in the news media.

And on Tuesday night, the party will continue less than a dozen blocks away at the Roseland Ballroom for a debate-watching event, where Dennis Miller, the comedian, also will perform. Mr. Miller previously entertained high-end donors at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles last m onth.

“I want to thank Dennis Miller for not just the humor, but the truth in the humor,” Mr. Romney said at the time. “Much of what he said tonight, much of what he said was very encouraging and uplifting and I appreciated his generous thoughts about Ann and me.” Mrs. Romney also thanked him, calling him “terrific.”

The retreat, however, will not be all play and no work; donors are being asked to set aside an hour of their day to dial-for-dollars, part of an effort to help raise money in the final weeks of the campaign.

Follow Ashley Parker on Twitter at @AshleyRParker.