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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 05/11/2012

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) It's an ill wind that blows no good, goes an old sailor's saying. Meaning: some profit even from ill fortune.

Hurricane Sandy (a silly name for a monster storm that killed at least 62 people and caused 20 billion damage) ravaged coastal New Jersey and inflicted huge water and wind damage on parts of New York City.

New York is struggling to restore power systems, its subway, and airports. Landfill areas in lower Manhattan were swamped.

There is traffic chaos and wide scale transportation misery in a city so maddeningly congested its former traffic commissioner, Samuel Schwartz, was known as 'Gridlock Sam'. As a native New York, I'm proud of the way my city rode out the storm and didn't succumb to media induced-panic.

However, much the big wind blew ill for New York and neighbour New Jersey, it blew fair for the politicians of those states and, most of all, President Barack Obama " just days before this week's neck-a-neck presidential election.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina inflicted biblical destruction of New Orleans and on the then bumbling president, George W. Bush. The storm showed him up as a posturing, incompetent dummy; it also badly damaged the Republican Party. Once a hero to many Americans, Bush has become a non-person in this election, shunned by Republicans who pretend he never existed.

Every politician worth his salt took notice of this lesson and made sure they would appear to be on top of any and all natural disasters. In the case of Sandy, Obama, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg formed a managerial troika that brought them much praise. By contrast, Sandy blew ill for Governor Mitt Romney. His campaign was pretty much off TV for three days while Obama hogged center stage.

In another blow, Romney had to eat his campaign vow to shut down the Federal emergency management agency, FEMA. Unlike the New Orleans fiasco, FEMA is responding rapidly and effectively to Sandy's damage, leaving Romney with much explaining to do to voters clamouring for FEMA help.

At some point in the future, voters may begin asking why the world's richest nation can afford to spend 2 trillion waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan (never mind Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, North Africa, and Pakistan), while it can't build proper storm defenses for its coastal cities?

After leaving the ravaged New Jersey coast and New York City, a much-weakened Hurricane Sandy headed up into Pennsylvania and Ohio, both key battleground states in the coming election.

In recent weeks, Romney has moved up in the polls. They show him within a whisker of Obama. Equally important, Republicans in Congressional races across the nation appear to be leading Democrats in many cases, suggesting that the House could remain in Republican hands.

This might allow Republicans to block attempts by Democrats to raise taxes and cut military spending. Romney has wisely moved to the political center. Gone, at least for now, are his warlike drum beating, blood brotherhood with Israel's fire-eating Bibi Netanyahu, threats to criminalise abortion, and pandering to America's guns and gasoline-loving blue collar voters. A kinder, gentler Romney has emerged who scares off less female voters than the old macho Mormon version.

In fact, Romney and Obama have emerged as political twins, as each has moved to the center. Comics have been having a field day comparing the platitudes of the two " who at times seem to share the same scriptwriter. Increasing numbers of critics are complaining that the US has become a de facto one party state.

Which makes the current US presidential race eerily resemble China's political structure and upcoming once-in-a-decade party congress: an all-powerful political party with two competing factions, both obedient to the same principles. Heretics advocating real change, like China's Maoist-leaning Bo Xilai, and America's Ron Paul, are sidelined and ignored by the state or special interest-dominated media.

Americans fed up with both presidential candidates and their look-alike parties are left with little choice except to write the name of their preferred candidate for president onto the ballot or vote for some totally obscure candidates. Many think the nation needs a political Hurricane Sandy to shake things up.


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