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Reality Bites

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Just before the 2004 election, the Bush White House swaggeringly (that's Texans walking and talking) pronounced that the media were bits of an outmoded "reality-based" culture, whereas the Administration, as the new imperialists, were simply making their own reality. A year after Katrina, this proposition is looking as shaky as the Administration's approval ratings.

The American auto industry conceded today that all of the planning, model design, marketing, and investing it has done over the past two decades will have to be junked, because gasoline is going to remain at $3 or $4 a gallon for the foreseeable future. This recognition means that, in addition to doing enormous damage to the stability of our climate, to America's trade balance, and to our national security with their outmoded and inefficient SUVs, Detroit has also essentially wiped out its own shareholders. As Chrysler's CEO, Thomas LaSorda, said, plaintively, "We are looking at it as if it's going to be much higher, rather than hoping it comes down... Hopefully we can fight back." Hopefully?

And reality is slapping the genetically modified food industry upside the head, too. For years the Sierra Club, biologists, and government analysts have warned that the rules regulating genetically modified crops were too weak, that the idea that these varieties could be as controlled in the field as they can in the laboratory was reckless in the extreme, and that genetic contamination was the almost certain outcome. Now, genetically modified rice, produced by Bayer CropScience, has contaminated America's rice crop, in spite of the fact that it has never been approved for human consumption! In response, Japan suspended imports of long-grained rice from the U.S. a week ago, and the European Union followed suit Wednesday. Yesterday, rice farmers in California, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas sued for loss of the export opportunities for the $1.81 billion rice crop. Note that these farmers all hail from states (or, in the case of California, counties) that went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2004. Once again, the President's recklessness, his belief that common sense and prudence are for sissies, has hurt his own supporters most.

And then there's the hard reality of New Orleans, a year after the storm. Again, more evidence that reality does matter, that it's not smart to destroy the wetlands that protect your city from storms, that it's not smart to staff FEMA with political cronies, that it's not smart to allow people to rebuild their homes in harm's way, and that it's not smart to allow government to atrophy to the point that it can't protect us. But the President, while he seems to understand that he should do something about the aftermath of Katrina, since he's now gone back thirteen times, still seems utterly gormless about the real issues. He didn't notice that the infamous comment he made from his airplane as he flew over the Gulf Coast after the storm, "It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground," could still be made today, one year later. Instead he commented, "For a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing." Well, his approval ratings are, that's true.

Yesterday, Bush made another one of his pathetic efforts to connect with the plight of ordinary people, this time using as his "common man" Mississippi Senator Trent Lott. Bush's metaphor for what happened suggests that he really does think that under normal circumstances, the privileged inhabit a different universe than the rest of us. "It's hard to describe the devastation down here," he said. "It was massive in its destruction, and it spared nobody. U.S. Sen. Trent Lott had a fantastic house overlooking the bay. I know because I sat in it with he and his wife. And now it's completely obliterated. There's nothing...." Well, yes.


This Is What the Scientists Told Us Global Warming Would Be Like

Meanwhile another bed-rock of the Republican Party, the Great Plains, is suffering through the worst drought since the Dust Bowl. Farmers are being forced to use their withered sunflower crops as cattle fodder, not oil seed; to sell their herds; and to plough under their crops. Governor Michael Rounds of South Dakota is urging his constituents to pray for rain.

And This Is What We Can Do About It

When the Governor of Colorado declined to create a state Commission to look at how to solve the problem of global warming, a bipartisan group of Colorado leaders announced its intention of developing their own panel, modeled after similar advisory councils in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico. While the other three Western states saw their councils created by Governors, this panel is being created by a coalition of mayors, non-profits, and business leaders concerned about the dangers posed by warming.