Blow, Nocera and Collins

Mr. Blow has a question:  “Is Romney Unraveling?”  He asks:  How did Mitt Romney come so, so close? With the finish line in sight, the tea leaves don’t look so good for him.  From your lips to God’s ear, Mr. Blow, but I just watched a commercial on my TV with someone dressed as a doctor telling us that Obamacare will destroy the American health care system.  We apparently have to vote for Money Boo Boo to prevent our children from dying like rats in the street, or something.  Let no lie go unsaid…  Mr. Nocera, in “The Mayor’s Barrier,” says here are some ideas for New York to think about after Hurricane Sandy, especially if the city wants to better protect itself.  Ms. Collins has “The Last Election List:”  there’s so little time and so much to do before the Big Day!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Time is running out for Mitt Romney.

According to the latest polls, the most likely outcome of Tuesday’s election is that Romney will lose. If he does, it will likely be a bitter pill to swallow. He would have come so close only to have fate and circumstances step in at the final hour and give President Obama a boost.

How is Romney losing it? Let us count the ways:

1) The economy continues to improve. The argument for electing Romney hinges on a sour economy and his experience as a businessman with the expertise to turn it around. But, on measure after measure, the economy seems to be getting better.

A Commerce Department report released last month found that housing starts jumped 15 percent in September — the largest surge in four years.

The unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent in September and the October jobs report released on Friday was stronger than expected.

Furthermore, according to a Gallup report also released Friday:

“The U.S. Payroll to Population employment rate (P2P), as measured by Gallup, was 45.7 percent for the month of October, up from 45.1 percent in September, and reflecting the highest percentage of Americans with good jobs since Gallup began daily tracking of U.S. employment in 2010.”

Romney needed gloom and doom on the economy, but Obama got some rays of sunlight.

2) Romney’s momentum is maxing out. There was a moment after the first debate when it appeared as if he might have a legitimate shot at winning. He surged in the polls. His forlorn followers found their faith. There was hope for their candidate. Momentum begot momentum. But it peaked a couple of weeks ago, and evidence amassed that the momentum has evaporated.

Even so, the Romney campaign seemed to believe it could stick with the momentum meme even after that momentum had stalled because it had been effective at rallying the troops.

As The Times’s Nate Silver wrote Friday about arguments touting Romney’s chances in the election:

“A third argument is that Mr. Romney has the momentum in the polls: whether or not he would win an election today, the argument goes, he is on a favorable trajectory that will allow him to win on Tuesday. This may be the worst of the arguments, in my view. It is contradicted by the evidence, simply put.”

Silver averaged the national polls of likely voters in his database and found that “there is not much evidence of ‘momentum’ toward Mr. Romney. Instead, the case that the polls have moved slightly toward Mr. Obama is stronger.”

That’s right, it is the Obama campaign that has the rightful claim to having momentum.

3) Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane devastated the Northeast, which also happens to be the media center of the country. This diverted people’s attention from the rancor of the campaign trail, and they saw Obama being presidential in his response to the storm.

They also saw bipartisanship. Obama was embraced by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was the Republican National Convention keynote speaker. He won an endorsement from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, an independent.

For his part, Romney transformed an Ohio rally into a “storm relief event.”

4) Truth and lies. Evidence continues to emerge that Romney is one of the most dishonest, duplicitous candidates to ever seek the presidency.

He criticized Obama for telling then-President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with sensitive issues between the two countries after he won re-election. Romney said this was particularly troubling given that Russia “is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.

However, according to a report on Friday in The New York Times, Romney’s son Matt recently traveled to Russia and delivered a message to President Vladimir Putin:

“Mr. Romney told a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to Mr. Putin that despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president, according to a person informed about the conversation.”

It sounds as though he was signaling that Mitt would do exactly what he had castigated Obama for: operate with “more flexibility” after the election.

This is the kind of hypocrisy that just makes you shake your head in disbelief.

According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, Americans expect Obama to be re-elected by 54 percent to 34 percent. Among those believing that Obama will win were most independents and almost a fifth of Republicans.

I cast my lot with those folks unless there is a seismic shift in the next few days.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

One of my enduring childhood memories is going with my mother to the lobby of The Providence Journal, where she had once worked, to see the high water mark of the fearsome 1938 hurricane. It was the worst storm that had ever been recorded in New England, with winds of 115 miles per hour and a storm surge 16 feet high. Parts of Providence were 8 feet under water. Nearly 400 Rhode Islanders died.

Less than 20 years later, Hurricane Carol hit Providence dead-on. With a storm surge of more than 14 feet, it caused 68 deaths; the damage was estimated at $500 million. At which point, Rhode Island had had enough. In 1960, the state issued $15 million worth of bonds to pay the Army Corps of Engineers to build the country’s first storm barrier, aimed specifically at protecting its capital city.

The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier, a complicated array of dikes, gates, barriers and pumps, completed in 1966, has kept hurricanes at bay ever since. That includes Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on parts of the Rhode Island coastline, but barely dented Providence.

Sandy, of course, didn’t let New York City off so easily. Then again, New York didn’t put up much resistance. Lower Manhattan, completely unprotected, was overwhelmed by Sandy’s 14-foot storm surge. The Rockaways and Staten Island were hit even harder.

That fewer than 50 New Yorkers died in the storm is a testament to what New York has become very good at: evacuating. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed the city’s Office of Emergency Management to develop a worst-case scenario evacuation plan; it has been the game plan ever since. As Sandy approached, the city told residents of the most flood-prone areas to leave, and readied its first responders. Incredibly, a large coastal neighborhood called Breezy Point in Queens burned to the ground with no one being seriously hurt. Most of them had left.

What New York is not so good at is preventing big storms from exacting an enormous toll on infrastructure, buildings and businesses. In the case of Sandy, the damage to New York City is estimated to be as much as $17 billion. Cities like London, Amsterdam — and, yes, Providence — have built systems to minimize the damage even Category 3 storms can cause. But not New York.

Part of the reason is that the cost of any such system would run into the billions of dollars. But another reason is that many environmentalists are firmly opposed to a big public-works project, fearing that it would give people a false sense of security about the problems posed by climate change. They prefer taking smaller steps, like raising the height of subway grates to keep water out of the subway tunnels. Bloomberg has embraced this approach.

In 2008, for instance, Bloomberg convened a panel of experts to examine the ways climate change could affect the city. The panel’s report, issued in 2010, documented the undeniable fact that the rivers and bays around New York were rising, and that changes in the atmosphere were likely to make storms both more frequent and more dangerous.

Yet Malcolm Bowman, who leads the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University, told me that when he joined the panel, he was pointedly told that barriers were not going to get much emphasis. Another former member of the panel, Klaus Jacob, a scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times, in a prescient article published just six weeks before Sandy hit, that the city’s unwillingness to be more aggressive was akin to “Russian roulette.” Jacob believes that the city needs to build unbreachable gates to subways, tunnels and infrastructure to prevent water from rushing in. Despite the expense, he says that such a system would save billions by preventing storm damage.

In the aftermath of Sandy, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has openly called for rethinking the way New York deals with storms. So far, however, Bloomberg has resisted. “The fact that we are close to the water shouldn’t be a surprise to everybody,” he sniffed on Thursday.

Barriers may not be the answer. But, clearly, the kind of small steps advocated by the city are almost laughably insufficient. What could be a more pressing short-term threat than horrific storms that can bring the city to its knees? And how can you say you are tackling climate change if you are not willing to face that threat squarely?

Bloomberg is clearly proud of his role as a leader in the climate-change arena; that was the basis for his endorsement of President Obama. But, in the weeks and months to come, we are going to find out what that really means.

As they say, actions speak louder than words.

Last but not least, here’s Ms. Collins:

O.K., people, we’ve got an election coming. Tuesday’s the day! So little time, so much to do before we go to the polls. Perhaps we should make a list:

1) Complain about the Electoral College.

If you live in places like New York or California or Texas, feel free to spend some time in a dark corner, contemplating the way you’re taken for granted. So what if you’ve got a strong political majority for one party. You’re still Americans! But your state has already been colored red or blue on all the Election Central maps. Nobody wants to take your political temperature. Nobody cares what your waitress moms are thinking.

For months now, we’ve been listening to people from Ohio moan about how many political ads they’re seeing on TV. Ohio, some of us have never gotten a single ad! How many celebrities do you think have parachuted into Rhode Island to do fund-raising for Barack Obama? How many network camera crews are on their way to take the pulse of Alabama? You’re beginning to sound like people who complain about how tough it is to manage three vacation homes.

2) Consider the bright side of the Electoral College.

If your state has no swing-like characteristics, there’s no danger that you’ll be humiliated before the global media when it screws up the vote count. New Yorkers, every time you get sullen about the fact that your state doesn’t matter, try to imagine what would happen if the entire future of the presidency depended on getting absolutely precise numbers out of Brooklyn.

3) Worst tweet of the election season:

“Because of the hurricane, I am extending my 5 million dollar offer for President Obama’s favorite charity until 12PM on Thursday.”

— Donald Trump

4) Stop obsessively checking the polls.

This has been going on way too long. Stop torturing yourself! Whatever Colorado is going to do, it’ll do it on Tuesday. Clean the basement. Read a novel. Consider purchasing a new pet. If it’s an Irish setter, you can name it Seamus.

5) Forget about the fact that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.

If he loses, nobody will care. If he wins, we’ll have so many other things to worry about.

6) Find a Senate race to follow.

You are probably going to spend Tuesday night glued to a computer or television that is repeatedly announcing it’s too soon to tell who got elected president. The time will go much faster if you’re diverted by the Senate returns. Since there are only about a dozen races in which there is any conceivable contest, it’s really not all that hard to become an expert. (“I believe Heidi Heitkamp has an excellent chance of beating expectations in North Dakota, which by the way is the only state with no voter registration.”)

My personal favorite is Connecticut, in which we finally get to find out whether a person whose only prior experience is that she helped to build a professional wrestling empire can get elected to the U.S. Senate if she spends $100 million of her own money. But pick for yourself.

7) Learn the identity of your state legislators.

The chances are 50 to 1 that they’re going to be re-elected without breaking a sweat. But the fact that you know their names will impress your friends even more than that thing about the North Dakota Senate race.

8) Just go ahead and vote.

If we lived in a democracy full of heroic candidates in evenly matched battles, there’d be no challenge to being an energized voter. Everybody would do it! As it is, one of our greatest civic virtues is the willingness to soldier on and participate in elections even when the contests are foregone conclusions or vaguely ridiculous.

Every day on my way to work for the last few months I’ve walked past the Victory for Obama Campaign Center on Broadway and 103rd Street in Manhattan. This is a neighborhood in which every single race on the ballot is hopelessly lopsided. Actually, most of them are uncontested. The state has already been painted blue. The congressman who has been in office for 20 years is being challenged by a person with no campaign funds and whose slogan is “Michael is familiar with politics … but he is not political.”

Yet the place has been full of enthusiastic people selling buttons, handing out literature and staffing the phones. This is what makes America great. True, the people on the phones were calling voters in Ohio. But still. You do what you can.


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