In the USA...
10/30/2012 10:31 AM
Hurricane Sandy Strikes: New York's Night of Fear and Chaos
By Marc Pitzke in New York
Hurricane Sandy has turned New York and surrounding cities into a disaster zone. Manhattan is without power and large parts of the island are flooded. Transformer stations have exploded, cars are floating down Wall Street, and at least 16 people have been killed.
The chaos comes in bursts. First the water. Then the wind and flying trees. Then more water, drifting cars, flooded subway tunnels. Collapsing building facades. And then, at 8:30 p.m. local time, there's a fiery explosion on the East Side -- and half of Manhattan is suddenly plunged into darkness.
The lights go out in almost all buildings south of 39th Street, in skyscrapers and apartment blocks. Only the Empire State Building, the headquarters of Goldman Sachs and a few buildings in Battery Park City continue to gleam weakly. Apart from that, the famous skyline is just a shadowy outline against the storm-ravaged sky.
Even the torch of the Statue of Liberty, the eternal light of the city and the entire nation, went out half an hour before, behind the dense fog.
It is a strange, dramatic image, well visible from the far shore in Brooklyn and symbolic of this storm night of the century. At around 8 p.m., hurricane Sandy had rammed the US coast some 125 miles (200 kilomters) away, flooding the gambling paradise of Atlantic City. Then it hit the 8-million metropolis of New York with full force.
"You need to stay where you are," Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has long since ditched his jacket and tie, warns New Yorkers late on Monday night.
Large Parts of the Financial District Under Water
At first everything still looks relatively harmless. Manhattan holds its breath: stores, theaters, offices and stock markets are shut, the subway, local and long-distance public transport have been stopped, all tunnels and eventually all bridges closed. The island has cut itself off from the rest of the world, as if to say: "Come on Sandy, we can handle you."
On Monday afternoon, many people where still walking around the city, filming themselves being buffeted by the strong winds and watching the tide rise along the shores. Members of a tour group from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo took photos of each other on deserted Lexington Avenue. A woman from California standing near them called out: "Oh please, take a picture of me too!"
But the fun soon stopped and Sandy turned deadly serious. A crane on the construction site of a luxury skyscraper on West 57th Street suddenly snapped in half and bent over like a straw. For hours, the arm weighing tons dangled close to a 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the street just across from Carnegie Hall.
Later, the flood walls in Lower Manhattan give way. Soon large parts of the financial district are under water, cars seem to swim across Wall Street. TV reports measure a water level of 14 feet in Battery Park and rising, eclipsing the previous record set by hurricane "Donna" in 1960 by three feet.
Emergency Services Swamped
Almost the entire façade of a house in Chelsea collapses. The front of the old, four-storey brick building on Eighth Avenue, which has a fast-food restaurant in its ground floor, simply vanishes in a wet cloud of dust, leaving behind open apartments. It looks like a giant doll's house.
The first deaths are reported. A 29-year-old man in Queens is killed when a tree crashes into his house. Another man, also in Queens, is killed by an electric shock. By Tuesday morning, at least 16 are reported dead as a result of the hurricane in the United States and Canada. New York's 911 emergency services are so overstretched that calls go unanswered. Some 10,000 calls go in every half hour -- that's 10 times the usual number received in a day.
Suddenly bad news comes flooding in from all over the city. East Village is under water. Floods in Peter Cooper Village. 22nd and 27th Street: "Completely flooded." It's the same in Hell's Kitchen, Tribeca, the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, the banks at Brooklyn, then the airports Kennedy and La Guardia. The lobby of the Daily News newspaper's editorial office is flooded with more than three feet of water. TV channels broadcast footage without commentary showing the flooded Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a main traffic route between Manhattan and Brooklyn. At least seven subway tunnels are under water, especially the ones under the East River. Metropolitan Transport Authority Chairman Joseph Lhoto releases a statement saying MTA has "never faced a disaster as devastating" and says there is "no firm timeline" for when New York City's public transportation system will be up and running again.
Manhattan seems to be sinking.
The water comes -- the power goes out. First the ConEd power company switches off electricity supplies as a precaution. Then the transformer stations cut out. At the East River the big station at the end of 14th Street explodes in a tremendous white flash of fire.
A Disaster and its Heroes
A half-million people in Manhattan alone are without power. The last time that happened here was in August 2003 when a major blackout occurred that paralyzed most of the northeast United States. Flashes of light in the night sky appeared to be caused by explosions in transformer stations.
But the night also had its unexpected stars. They included fire fighters who rescued hundreds from flooding apartments and from rain-drenched rooftops. Then there were the volunteers who helped to evacuate the close to 200 people at the NYU Languone Medical Center, with patients having to get carried down the stairs in the dark. Then there was Mayor Bloomberg's sign-language interpreter, Lydia Calas, whose gestures helped countless people.
The havoc wreaked by Sandy has extended far beyond New York. The disaster has struck large swaths of the East Coast, from Virginia, stretching up through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey to Connecticut. Power outages are being reported in 11 states and more than 5.2 million people have been hit. "This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes," Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, "Sandy" swept part of the beach boardwalk, a protected national landmark, out to sea. All along the coast, idyllic sites have been transformed into disaster zones overnight, including Long Branch, Sea Bright and Ocean City.
Washington has so far escaped the hurricane unscathed, but faces dangerous flood waters on the Potomac River. The natural disaster has coincided with the final stages of the US presidential election, and both President Barack Obama and his challenger, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, cancelled all campaign events on Tuesday in order to address the disaster unfolding along the East Coast. Romney's team also called on supporters in the hurricane's path to remove yard signs backing the candidate. "In high winds they can be dangerous, and cause damage to homes and property," the official Romney campaign site wrote.
At Newark Airport in New Jersey, a major hub for trans-Atlantic travel, the canopy in front of the Hilton Hotel collapsed. "There was a giant lightning strike and a boom," a German guest of the hotel reported. Around 60 German passengers who had been aboard the German cruise ship Aida Luna and had just returned from a voyage to the Bahamas and Bermuda are staying in the hotel. Power had gone out in the hotel on Monday afternoon, and management distributed glow sticks to guests.
October 30, 2012
Northeast Awakes to Huge Damage in Storm’s Path; Millions Without Power
By JAMES BARRON and J. DAVID GOODMAN
As Hurricane Sandy churned inland as a downgraded storm, residents up and down the battered mid-Atlantic region woke on Tuesday to lingering waters, darkened homes and the daunting task of cleaning up from once-in-a-generation storm surges and their devastating effects.
Power remained out for roughly six million people, including a large swath of Manhattan. Early risers stepped out into debris-littered streets that remained mostly deserted as dawn shed light on the extent of the damage. Bridges remained closed, and seven subway tunnels under the East River were flooded. Other mass transit service, including commuter rails, was also still suspended.
A wind-tossed construction crane atop one of the tallest buildings in New York City still dangled 80 stories over West 57th Street, across the street from Carnegie Hall, after coming loose during the storm.
The storm was the most destructive in the 108-year history of New York’s subway system, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in an early morning statement.
“We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery,” he said, but did not provide a timetable for restoring transit service to a paralyzed city.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called the damage to his state “incalculable” and said the Jersey Shore had been “devastated.” As he spoke on a series of morning talk shows on Tuesday, rescue teams were rushing to the aid of those stranded in Atlantic City and in areas of Bergen County where he said tidal waters had overwhelmed a protective natural berm.
At least 11 deaths — including 7 in the New York region — were tied to the storm, which toppled trees and sparked fires in several areas, state authorities said. Falling limbs became deadly bludgeons in three of the New York deaths and two in Morris County, N.J., where The Associated Press reported a man and a woman were killed when a tree fell on their car Monday evening.
The storm made landfall at 8 p.m. on Monday. Reclassified as a post-tropical cyclone, it weakened as it passed west across southern Pennsylvania, though it still packed maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to turn north and head for Canada late on Tuesday.
The storm had picked up speed as it roared over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, grinding life to a halt for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations that turned shorefront neighborhoods into ghost towns.
Hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the center of the storm; tropical-storm-force winds spread out 485 miles from the center. Forecasters said tropical-storm-force winds could stretch all the way north to Canada and all the way west to the Great Lakes. Heavy snow was expected in some states.
Businesses and schools were closed, roads were closed, and more than 13,000 airline flights were canceled. Even the Erie Canal was shut down.
Subways were shut down from Boston to Washington, as were Amtrak and the commuter rail lines. Flights were canceled at airports across the East Coast, including the three major airports in the New York City area.
In Breezy Point on the Rockaways in Queens, nearly 200 firefighters were still battling a blaze on Tuesday morning that destroyed at least 50 tightly-packed homes in the beach community. A Fire Department spokesman said the area was “probably the most flooded part of the city, so there are all sorts of complications.”
The surging water also caused extensive complications at NYU Langone Medical Center when a backup power system failed on Monday night, forcing the evacuation of patients to other facilities. Backup power also failed at Coney Island Hospital in southern Brooklyn, though critical patients had been evacuated in advance of the storm.
Fatalities in Several States
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths in the state were caused by the storm. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem, in Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police. The storm was tied to another three deaths in Maryland, two in Connecticut and one in West Virginia, state authorities said.
The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor. Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”
As the storm struck the city, waves topped the sea wall in the financial district in Manhattan, sending cars floating down streets. West Street, along the western edge of Lower Manhattan, looked like a river. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel flooded “from end to end,” the transportation authority said, hours after Mr. Cuomo had ordered it closed to traffic. Officials said water also seeped into seven subway tunnels under the East River.
“In 108 years, our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now,” Mr. Lhota, the transit authority chairman, said.
A replica of the H.M.S. Bounty, a tall ship built for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando and used in the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, sank off the North Carolina coast. The Coast Guard said the 180-foot three-masted ship went down near the Outer Banks after being battered by 18-foot-high seas and thrashed by 40 m.p.h. winds. The body of one crew member, Claudene Christian, 42, was recovered. Another crew member remained missing.
Delaware banned cars and trucks from state roadways other than “essential personnel.”
“The most important thing right now is for people to use common sense,” Gov. Jack A. Markell said. “We didn’t want people out on the road going to work and not being able to get home again.”
Extensive Power Failures
By early Monday evening, the storm had knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes, stores and office buildings. Consolidated Edison said that as of 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, 634,000 customers in New York City and Westchester were without power. Con Edison, fearing damage to its electrical equipment, shut down power pre-emptively in sections of Lower Manhattan on Monday evening, and then, at 8:30 p.m., an unplanned failure, probably caused by flooding in substations, knocked out power to most of Manhattan below Midtown, about 250,000 customers. Later, an explosion at a Con Ed substation on East 14th Street knocked out power to another 250,000 customers.
In New Jersey, more than two million customers were without power as of 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and in Connecticut the total reached nearly 500,000 customers.
President Obama declared a federal disaster area on Tuesday in New York City, Long Island and eight counties in New Jersey.
Forecasters attributed the power of the storm to a convergence of weather systems. As the hurricane swirled north in the Atlantic and then pivoted toward land, a wintry storm was heading toward it from the west, and cold air was blowing south from the Arctic. The hurricane left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean before it began crawling toward the Northeast.
“The days ahead are going to be very difficult,” Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland said.
Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said potentially damaging winds would continue on Tuesday from Illinois to the Carolinas — and as far north as Maine — as the storm barreled toward the eastern Great Lakes.
The storm headed toward land with weather that was episodic: a strong gust of wind one minute, then mist. More wind. Thin sheets of rain dancing down the street. Then, for a moment, nothing. The sky lightened. Then another blast of rain. Then more wind.
In some places, caravans of power-company trucks traveled largely empty roads; Public Service Electric and Gas said that 600 line workers and 526 tree workers had arrived from across the country, but could not start the repairs and cleanup until the wind had subsided, perhaps not until Wednesday.
They will see a landscape that, in many places, was remade by the storm. In Montauk, at the end of Long Island, a 50-seat restaurant broke in half. Half of the building floated away and broke into pieces on the beach.
The 110-foot-tall lighthouse at Montauk Point — the oldest in the state, opened in 1796 — shuddered in the storm despite walls that are six feet thick at the base. The lighthouse keeper, Marge Winski, said she had never felt anything like that in 26 years on the job.
“I went up in the tower and it was vibrating, it was shaking,” Ms. Winski said. “I got out of it real quick. I’ve been here through hurricanes, and nor’easters, but nothing this bad.”
October 29, 2012
Early Voters, and a Hurricane, Change the Rhythm of the Campaign
By MICHAEL COOPER and JEFF ZELENY
With more than one in three votes likely to be cast before Election Day this year, Republicans are stepping up their efforts to chip away at what has been a Democratic advantage in early voting in vital battlegrounds like Ohio and North Carolina.
In Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are at the center of the presidential race, more than a million votes have already been cast, highlighting a change in the political rhythm that has led Republicans to begin to embrace the belief long held by Democrats that early voting can be used to increase turnout, not just to shift votes from one day to another.
“We’re doing well right now, so early voting makes a difference,” Mitt Romney told supporters Monday in Avon Lake, Ohio, reminding the crowd that early votes count the same as those cast on Election Day. “It helps us. It’s, you know, a little extra boost when we need it, so thank you for doing it.”
When President Obama flew home to Chicago last week to cast his ballot, he became one of the millions of Americans who have already voted — a flood of early votes that is reshaping how both campaigns operate.
The early vote gave Mr. Obama his margin of victory in several important states four years ago, and Democrats are trying to maintain that advantage this year by banking as many early votes as they can. But Republicans are trying to dampen any early Democratic edge by making a bigger organizational push than they did in the last election. Hurricane Sandy has introduced more uncertainty into the mix: it forced some early voting sites in North Carolina and Virginia to close on Monday, and the storm could curtail early voting hours in other crucial states.
The every-day-is-Election-Day effects of early voting have transformed modern campaigning, from the Bruce Springsteen concerts the Obama campaign organized this month to mobilize supporters to the polls, to the less glamorous databases that the campaigns keep to track potential early voters as their get-out-the-vote operations have stretched into weeks instead of one frantic day.
Nearly 15 million people have voted so far, according to Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University who keeps tabs on early voting. He said that the pace of early voting this year suggested that 35 percent or more of all votes could be cast before Election Day, surpassing the previous record in 2008, when 30 percent voted early. “Both registered Democrats and registered Republicans are voting at clips that are outpacing their 2008 levels,” he said.
Both parties have been spinning cherry-picked statistics to paint their early-vote operations as a success. While the true measure of their success will not be known until all the ballots are cast and counted, a look at who has voted early so far and where they live does give some meaningful indications of how the early vote is going in some of the swing states where the election will be decided.
Democrats appear to have an advantage with early voting in several of them. Iowa Democrats had cast nearly 59,000 more early votes than Iowa Republicans through the end of last week. A state law there allows campaigns to petition election officials to open temporary voting locations, which have popped up in Mexican restaurants, evangelical churches and libraries. When Mr. Obama visited Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the day after his second debate, a voting site was set up just across campus, with giant chalk-drawn arrows on sidewalks to guide students to cast their ballots. That day 433 people voted, according to Tim Box, the deputy commissioner of elections in Linn County there.
More early votes have been recorded this year in Nevada than were four years ago, and more than 35,000 more early votes have been cast by Nevada Democrats than by Republicans, giving Democrats a 46 percent to 36 percent lead in ballots cast in person by early voters.
But in some states, there are indications that Republicans are narrowing their early vote deficits. In North Carolina, about half of the 1.5 million votes received so far were cast by Democrats, giving them an advantage of nearly 20 percentage points above Republicans. It is a wide margin, but the question is whether it will be wide enough: Mr. Obama won the early vote in North Carolina by an even wider margin four years ago, Professor McDonald noted.
And it was that wide margin that helped Mr. Obama win the state — the early vote propelled him to victory even though he received fewer votes than Senator John McCain on Election Day.
Republicans have an edge in early votes in Colorado, where they have cast nearly 20,000 more than Democrats. Since Republicans in many states are more likely to wait until Election Day, the party’s mission in many places is simply to whittle away at the Democratic advantage in early voting — so that Democrats will have a smaller cushion of votes going into Election Day.
Some Republicans argue that the Democrats are effectively cannibalizing their Election Day turnout, saying that many of their early voters appear to be frequent voters who would vote anyway. “Republicans have been focused on increasing turnout among those Romney supporters who are less likely to vote and banking those votes during the early vote period,” a blog post on the Republican National Committee’s Web site said.
Several states controlled by Republicans cut back early voting hours this year. After officials in Ohio announced plans to eliminate early voting in the days before the election, with an exception for members of the military, the Obama campaign sued. They prevailed in the case, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Republican officials in Florida scaled back their early voting hours this year, too, eliminating voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when many black churches conducted “souls to the polls” voting drives.
Some 1.9 million Floridians have already voted. More than half a million people there have gone to the polls since the state began in-person early voting over the weekend, and Democrats cast more than 78,000 more votes than Republicans, according to statistics provided by the state. The first weekend of in-person voting erased the 61,000 vote edge that Republicans had run up with absentee ballots, most of which were mailed in. But in Florida more than 300,000 early and absentee votes were cast by independent voters — whose votes could prove decisive.
In Ohio, party affiliation is difficult to gauge, because the state does not register voters by party; the only indication of party affiliation is which primary they last voted in. The state’s decision to send absentee ballot request forms to all voters this year for the first time led to an increase in requests from rural, traditionally Republican counties, said Professor McDonald, but also in urban counties. In Cuyahoga County, the Democratic stronghold around Cleveland, more early votes have been tallied so far this year than there were four years ago.
Bill Dorsey, 68, a retired teacher in Ohio, cast his ballot for Mr. Obama last week in Franklin County, on the north side of Columbus, in a former Kohl’s department store that closed last year. “If I drop dead before Election Day,” said Mr. Dorsey, “my vote still counts.”
G.O.P. Turns Fire on Obama Pillar, the Auto Bailout
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
By JIM RUTENBERG and JEREMY W. PETERS
Published: October 29, 2012
TOLEDO, Ohio — The ad from Mitt Romney showed up on televisions here early Saturday morning without the usual public announcement that both campaigns typically use to herald their latest commercials: Chrysler, a bailout recipient, is going to begin producing Jeeps in China, an announcer says, leaving the misleading impression that the move would come at the expense of jobs here.
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And so began the latest, and perhaps most important, attempt by Mitt Romney to wrest Ohio into his column. His effort to do so is now intently focused, at times including statements that stretch or ignore the facts, on knocking down what is perhaps the most important component of President Obama’s appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest: the success of the president’s 2009 auto bailout.
Mr. Obama’s relatively strong standing in most polls in Ohio so far has been attributed by members of both parties to the recovery of the auto industry, which has helped the economy here outperform the national economy. At the same time, the industry’s performance and the president’s claim to credit for it appear to have helped Mr. Obama among the white working-class voters Mr. Romney needs.
With the race under most expected circumstances coming down to Ohio, and Ohio potentially coming down to perceptions of how the candidates view the auto industry, Mr. Romney has spent the last few days aggressively trying to undercut Mr. Obama’s auto bailout narrative.
In the past few days his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, has accused Mr. Obama of allowing the bailout to bypass nonunion workers at Delphi, a big auto parts maker with operations in Ohio; Mr. Romney has characterized Mr. Obama’s bailout plan as based on his approach; and Mr. Romney incorrectly told a rally in Defiance, Ohio, late last week outright that Jeep was considering moving its production to China. (Jeep is discussing increasing production in China for sales within China; it is not moving jobs out of Ohio or the United States, or building cars in China for export to the United States.)
It is a high-risk strategy: Jeep’s corporate parent, Chrysler, had already released a scathing statement calling suggestions that Jeep was moving American jobs to China “fantasies” and “extravagant”; news media outlets here and nationally have called the Romney campaign’s statements — initially based on a poorly worded quotation from Chrysler in a news article that was misinterpreted by blogs — misleading.
Mr. Obama’s campaign, seeking to maintain what it sees as its advantage in Ohio, responded on Monday by releasing a commercial calling Mr. Romney’s ad false and reiterating that Mr. Romney had opposed the bailout on the terms supported by Mr. Obama. And on Sunday it dispatched the investment banker who helped develop the bailout, Steven Rattner, here to discuss Jeep’s plans and the auto rescue with local news organizations.
Democrats are hoping that Mr. Romney’s latest move will draw a backlash in a city so dependent on Jeep, which has announced plans to add 1,100 jobs to an assembly plant here that is currently being refitted for the next iteration of what is now called the Jeep Liberty.
Bruce Baumhower, the president of the United Auto Workers local that oversees the major Jeep plant here, said Mr. Romney’s initial comments on moving production to China drew a rash of calls from members concerned about their jobs. When he informed them Chrysler was, in fact, is expanding its Jeep operation here, he said in an interview, “The response has been, ‘That’s pretty pitiful.’ ”
The fight over the auto bailout shows the enduring power of the issue but also its complexities in a campaign that is about both the strength of the economy and the size and role of government.
The auto bailout was one of the first major moves of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and gave Mr. Romney an early chance in opposing it to prove his conservative credentials.
Mr. Romney has portrayed himself as an automobile maven. As he frequently says in his stump speeches, his father was credited with keeping American Motors in business during the 1950s and early 1960s. (The company, it happens, owned Jeep from 1970 to 1987.)
Just as the incoming Obama administration was beginning to contemplate a bailout, Mr. Romney wrote an Op-Ed article in the The New York Times — given the title by the newspaper “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’’ In the piece Mr. Romney wrote that in the event of a bailout, “You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.”
The plan the administration settled on first helped Fiat buy Chrysler and then put both Chrysler and General Motors into managed bankruptcies as part of a program that brought total government assistance for Detroit to almost $80 billion between the Obama and Bush administrations. Coming as the Tea Party was beginning to form, it seemed like risky politics for Democrats being accused of taking big government to an extreme.
At the third and last debate last week in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Romney emphasized his position that “these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees.”
Mr. Romney has stepped up his offense on the issue since.
So it was that he told those at the exuberant rally on Thursday in Defiance, “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
Mr. Romney was apparently referring to a Bloomberg News article that said Jeep would return to manufacturing in China that had been misinterpreted by several conservative blogs to mean Jeep was shifting its production to China; the company made clear in a statement that Chrysler was only resuming production in China for Chinese consumers, which it had done for years before halting in 2009 before its sale to Fiat.
Mr. Romney’s ad treads carefully, with an announcer saying Mr. Obama “sold Jeep to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China” and the screen flashing, “Plans to return Jeep output to China.”
Calling it “blatant attempt to create a false impression,” former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, demanded Mr. Romney take it down on Monday. Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, disputed that the ad is misleading.
“Right now every Jeep built is built in America by an American and sold to the world,” he said. “Now instead of adding jobs in Toledo, they will be making Jeeps in China by the Chinese and selling them in China.”
Jeep began a joint manufacturing venture in China in 1984 and today makes some vehicles in Egypt and Venezuela. While it does produce cars for Chinese export here now, it has discussed returning some production to China since last year.
October 29, 2012
Farmers Find Path Out of Hardship in Corn Mazes
By KIM SEVERSON
MILTON, Tenn. — Over the course of a month, Stan Vaught’s two sons will make more money letting people walk through a maze carved from 10 acres of corn than he will raising cattle and soybeans on the other 190 acres of his family’s farmland.
All across the country, small farmers have figured out the same formula. The hundreds of corn mazes that rise up each autumn can be more lucrative than agriculture itself.
“For a lot of people who have these farms with a few hundred acres, it’s an opportunity to make a living and not have to get rid of the farm or not be able to keep it up,” said Mr. Vaught, whose land on a former Civil War battle site in central Tennessee has been in his family for seven generations.
Corn mazes have gotten so popular in the past decade that those who engage in the craft hold annual conventions. Mazes are tricked out with zip lines, live zombie scarecrows and corn cannons, which can shoot an ear of corn across a field. People buy tickets online or pay on hand-held devices, sometimes handing over $20 or more to enjoy a range of countrified entertainment.
It is a perfect pursuit for a culture enjoying a local food diet in a high-tech era.
“Corn mazes are similar to the cultural connections farmers markets and C.S.A.’s are creating between two worlds,” said Kendall Thu, an anthropology professor at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill., and editor of the journal Culture & Agriculture. C.S.A.’s are community-supported agriculture programs in which customers buy produce from farmers in advance.
Unlike farmers markets, which have a certain upscale appeal in urban markets, corn mazes are especially popular among the suburban masses longing for a country experience many have only heard about.
The Vaught boys, Jackson, 19, and Chandler, 16, who started building mazes in Milton eight years ago as a way to make some extra money, took in more than $8,000 on a recent Saturday, they said. They usually create a patriotic pattern. This year, the maze is laid out to depict busts of President Obama and Mitt Romney.
The presidential candidates are popular designs at other mazes, too.
“They just crack up when you say you can go through the maze and walk around in their heads and see what’s going on,” said Earl Robinson, who rented six acres next to his garden center in New Carlisle, Ohio, to make a Romney-Obama maze. The enterprise helps him keep his employees on the payroll during the slow season.
People like corn mazes because they like to work puzzles, certainly. And for many, it has become as much a Halloween tradition as carving a pumpkin.
But there is also an unspoken draw to the country that makes thousands of people hand over $8 to wander the Vaught maze, said Jackson Vaught, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He is studying politics and economics on a merit scholarship and comes home for the weekends to work the maze.
His friends at college are enthralled that his family actually lives on a farm.
“I have not met another person at school who has grown up on a farm,” said Mr. Vaught, who got called “corn maze boy” in high school.
Chandler Vaught often runs the hayrides that are part of their maze experience. He laughs when he pulls the tractor past the family cows and people make him stop so they can take pictures.
“It’s like they are seeing animals at the zoo,” he said.
The king of the American corn maze industry is Brett Herbst, who runs an elaborate maze in Lehi, Utah. But he makes most of his money helping other people build corn mazes.
He designed and helped cut more than 266 corn mazes this year — a record for him. He’s put mazes on fields in Poland, Canada and England, but they seem to be a most American phenomenon, he said.
His first was on some rented land in Utah in 1996, when he was fresh out of agricultural business school and no idea how to make a living. He read about one in Pennsylvania while he was flipping through a farming magazine.
Mr. Herbst and his business partners grew the corn to its full size, then hacked out a path with a Weedwacker equipped with a saw blade. It was stupid, hot work.
They wised up. Now, computer-generated patterns are staked out when the corn is small enough to mow or till under. Or, as is the case in Milton, doused with a chemical that kills the corn, creating paths smooth enough for a baby stroller.
Farmers pay Mr. Herbst $3,000 to $6,000 for the service.
For large-scale farmers who grow crops on thousands of acres of agricultural land, corn mazes are not much more than something to joke about. What has come to be called agritainment remains a niche market.
But for the people whose families hold 400 or 500 acres of farmland, mazes are an important piece of an economic formula that might include pick-your-own berry patches in the summer, Christmas trees in the winter and home landscaping plants in the spring.
Kathleen Liang, an economics professor at the University of Vermont, recently asked 3,898 farms in six New England states whether they had some form of agritourism as part of their business model. From 2007 to 2011, there was a 65 percent increase.
But it is a trend not without drawbacks. Dealing with tourists can take time away from actual farming, while their cars can tear up the land.
And even just a simple maze is not enough anymore.
“The golden age of corn mazes as a stand-alone attraction peaked three or four years ago,” said Mr. Herbst, whose own corn maze complex includes an elaborate children’s playground, a live pumpkin princess and pig races. The maze itself also depicts the presidential candidates.
“Most of the guys who had stand-alones are out of business now,” he said. “You can only ride a single wave for so long. You’ve got to constantly mix it up.”
And you have got to gauge complexity, too. Something too simple bores people. Something too challenging scares people away.
“People don’t want to be in a corn maze for two hours,” Mr. Herbst said.
But attention spans vary. People in more rural areas who are comfortable spending time in the country prefer a maze that takes about an hour and 15 minutes to complete, he said.
“In a place close to New York City,” he said, “probably 20 minutes is plenty for most people.”
Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Atlanta.