So bad is the tragedy caused by torrential rains and flooding in Venezuela that officials are unable to even tally it accurately. Estimates are that somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people have died and tens of thousands more are homeless and in dire straits . . .

It's hard to talk about Venezuela without mentioning the wave of political change that has been taking place there under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, and his rewrite of the country's constitution.Times like this, of course, are times to put aside politics. But they are not times to put aside government, and how well and how swiftly the Chavez government responds to the multiple crises within the crisis will be critical.

Also, how much of the international aid gets to the people who actually need it, and how efficiently, is always the true test of good government.


Prepare to say goodbye to smog.

The Clinton administration's plan to impose tougher pollution standards on sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans is years overdue. We welcome it - and so do advocates for cleaner air.

The new regulation, to be phased in over 10 years, is almost identical to proposals first announced in May by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Administrator Carol Browner made the credible argument that federal emissions rules that cover cars and heavy trucks also should apply to light trucks: those ever-popular and ubiquitous SUVs and minivans.

Air quality has noticeably improved since the federal government began regulating emissions from cars and trucks in 1968 and 1974, respectively.

The fuel shortages and higher gasoline prices that followed the oil embargo also increased demand for smaller, more efficient vehicles . . .

Browner estimates the regulation will add about $100 to the cost of a new car, about $200 to the price of an SUV, and about 2 cents a gallon on gas.

Compared with the benefits of cleaner air, the cost of cleaner cars and cleaner fuels is insignificant.