IT was a year of miraculous events. President Bush invited Al Gore to the Oval Office for a friendly chat about global warming. France elected a president who likes and admires Americans. Eliot Spitzer discovered the virtue of humility. In mid-rant, Hugo Chávez was finally told to shut up. The cute little Canadian dollar — the “loonie” — became worth more than a greenback.
People rooted for Kevin Federline to get the kids. After electing 43 consecutive white male presidents, Americans seriously considered a woman, a black man and an Italian-American from New York on his third marriage.
Amid such strange occurrences, one could be excused for missing news of more subtle — but lasting — importance. Here are a few developments you haven’t heard the last of:
HOW DRY WE ARE One of the consequences of global warming for the United States, climatologists warn, will be prolonged droughts. This summer, more than 40 percent of the country found itself in the grip of “extreme or moderate” drought. In the Southwest, seven years of rainless skies and warmer temperatures left the Rockies without much snow pack, and created alarming bathtub rings around the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs.
In the Southeast, a drought of a severity not seen in more than a century destroyed crops and turned rivers and lakes to dust in several states; Atlanta’s primary source of drinking water, Lake Lanier, fell to a record low, setting off a water war between Florida and Alabama. Things got so bad that Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia staged a prayer ceremony. “God, we need you,” he beseeched the heavens. “We do believe in miracles.” The heavens have yet to respond.
NOT-SO-BENIGN NEGLECT After a 40-year-old highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed on Aug. 1, dropping 50 cars and trucks into the abyss and killing 13 people, the public was surprised to learn that engineers had given 74,000 other bridges in the United States the same rating as the fallen span: “structurally deficient.” Engineers and state officials clamored for repairs to these aging bridges, but estimates of the total cost were as high as $188 billion. Representative Jim Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, proposed a temporary five-cent gas tax to pay for the repairs, but his legislative colleagues argued that Congress and the states simply had to spend existing highway funds more wisely, instead of wasting them on earmarks for pet projects. Instead, Congress allocated $1 billion to inspect and repair deficient bridges, about $13,500 per bridge.
In the same bill that established the bridge fund, Congress voted to spend $7.4 billion on such earmarks as a National First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio; a project to improve “rural domestic preparedness” in Kentucky; and a high-speed ferry to the remote Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Alaska.
GAY PRAIRIE Culture warriors may be fighting over gay marriage, but acceptance of gays and lesbians is growing even in the most conservative states. The gay population of Nebraska jumped 71 percent from 2000 to 2005, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau statistics. In Kansas, the number of people who said they were gay rose 68 percent. In Iowa, the increase was 58 percent.
It’s not that more people are gay, or that there’s been a huge migration of gays from San Francisco and New York to the Farm Belt, demographers say. Gay people are simply “coming out” in places where they once hid or fled.
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