Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cuban Thugs And U.S. Cuba Embargo Policy

In 1933 Fulgencio Batista became the de facto ruler of Cuba in 1933 and governed, with some interruptions, until overthrown in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. In such a long reign he may have done some good, but he was noted for executing political opponents without trial. He forged an alliance with U.S. organized crime groups and allowed them to build casinos and hotels in Cuba.

When Batista was overthrown and exiled most of his most prominent supporters fled to the United States, where they mostly settled in Miami. As with any sufficiently large group of people, probably many had good qualities. They were united in a hatred of Castro's new regime in Cuba.

I am not a fan of Fidel Castro. He did a good job overthrowing Batista, but his Leninist brand of communism is repulsive. People of many political tendencies united to get rid of Batista, but in the end non-communists were deprived of any say in the government.

The Democratic Party had close ties to organized crime during this era (the 1950's) and that may have given Jack Kennedy (JFK) the edge needed to win the U.S. election for President in 1960. While there were many reasons for the U.S.'s attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961 (Bay of Pigs Invasion), recovering casinos for Meyer Lansky and friends was part of the agenda. President Kennedy's failure to use U.S. military might to recover Cuba probably led to his assassination.

Even though the U.S. traded with communist leader the USSR and with all sorts of dictatorships, in 1962 an embargo was declared against Cuba that is still in place today. Today Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that the U.S. does not trade with.

If you want to know why, you have to look beyond the Fidel is Evil hypothesis. I don't like Fidel, but he hardly qualifies as a truly evil dictator. Many nations we trade with have killed far more political opponents than Fidel has. Saudi Arabia's government is much more oppressive, just to give one example.

One reason we don't trade with Cuba is that except for some old mafia casinos the island does not have anything we badly need. Its main product is sugar. Sugar growers in the U.S. are politically powerful; the embargo is just fine with them.

The real reason the embargo stays in force is that Florida is now a swing state, a state that could vote either Republican or Democrat in a Presidential election. In 1960 there were no Republicans to speak of in Florida, but in 1952 Eisenhower had won the state. Richard Nixon won Florida in 1968 and it has been in play ever since, most notably in 2000 when disputed electoral results had to be decided in the Supreme Court.

Remember those thugs of Batista that moved to Miami? They made pretty good citizens, working hard and running honest businesses. But they formed a voting block that is crucial to winning a Florida Presidential election. True, many of them are in their graves or quite old now, but the living will be a force at the ballot box for at least another decade.

Meanwhile, the rights of all other Americans are being trampled on. They always tell us we live in a free country, but we are not free to visit Cuba. In effect there is a Capitalist Curtain between southern Florida and socialist Cuba. I guess the powers that be are afraid so many of us might defect to the soviet paradise that capitalism would collapse in the U.S.

The Democratic Party is at least as responsible for this mess as the Republican Party. When you only allow a two-party dictatorship, as in the United States, you are going to end up with all sorts of messes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Defend Iran

Iran has been painted as an evil country in the U.S. Currently George W. Bush is doing the painting, supported by the Republican chorus. But I suspect when Hillary Clinton is in the White House she will be itchy-fingered to prove that war crimes are not gender-related. Americans have been taught to hate Iran since the Shah was overthrown in 1979. Democrat Presidents starting with Carter have been just as anti-Iranian as Bush is now. Since the fall of the communist block, Iran has been a favorite target for American hatred.

Judging on a more neutral basis, Iran has higher ethical standards than the United States and deserves to be defended by global citizens.

The Shahanshah (king of kings) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a puppet of the United States and U.S. oil comanies. He ran a one-party state, which he terrorized with a police organization, SAVAK.

The Iranian revolution was a more complicated affair than is now generally remembered. I lived in Washington D.C. when this was happening, and clashes there between pro-Shah and anti-Shah demonstrators were common. Apparently Jimmy Carter was worried about the lack of democracy and human rights of U.S. allies including Iran, and as a result pressured the Shah to release some political prisoners and allow some freedom of speech. Jimmy Carter fell from power largely because the Shah fell from power and the revolutionaries seized the U.S. Embassy.

The question of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy is a difficult one. There are really good reasons for making embassies and their officials immune to punishment. On the other hand when a nation like the U.S., with a long history of crimes against humanity and war crimes, has used an embassy to support a criminal like the Shah, it is understandable that victims would demand justice and forget the rule of tolerating embassies. In the end the hostages were released.

I think it can be argued that the U.S., and in particular U.S.-based oil corporations, owes the Iranian people reparations for the period of the Shah's rule. However, I am going to fast-forward to the present situation.

First of all, it is clear that the Iranian government had nothing to do with the attacks on the U.S. in 2001. The Iranian government might like to lead the entire Islamic world, including Sunni's, but in fact the radical Sunni's hope to overthrow all Shiite power.

I know of no instance in recent history in which Iran has invaded another country. Unlike the U.S., which invaded countries willy-nilly whenever a President thinks his cronies will benefit. In fact Iran was invaded by Iraq in the 1980's largely at the behest of the United States (Jimmy Carter was still President when the war began, but Ronald Reagan was a more open backer of Iraq).

The U.S. actually launched military (naval and air force) attacks on Iran, notably in Operation Praying Mantis starting April 18, 1988. The U.S. also shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988, which was a war crime against civilians of the same order of magnitude of the 911 attacks.

Today the U.S. government and oil corporations want us to forget the past and worry about Iran's support for Palestinians and Iraqis and about the potential of Iran getting nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

I am against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. But the U.S., my nation, is the only country that has ever actually used nuclear weapons; the Democratic Party is the only political party on earth that has actually used nuclear weapons. I think the U.S. should disarm. But while we are waiting for that, we cannot expect nations that are threatened by the U.S. to not take measures for their own self defense.

U.S. and Israeli threats against Iran simply give the current Iranian ruling class a rational for not allowing Iran to develop into a modern nation with full freedom of religion and other modern conveniences.

As to democracy, I note the Iranians allow elections. In the U.S. elections are pretty well rigged by corruption; you almost never see an incumbent politician at the national level defeated in an election. The U.S. ought to work harder at making this nation better rather than meddling in other nations.

Get all U.S. troops out of the mideast. Conserve oil. It is simple, but it isn't profitable to our rulers.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chiang Kai-Shek and Andrew Jackson

I have not added to this blog this week until now. I have been busy, my mind is racing, and I have a lot to write about that is going to take up considerable blog space in the future. I know most of my small but loyal band of fans like my ability to connect dots, and are wondering how I am going to connect Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of Nationalist China in the 20th century, with Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and President of the United States in the early 19th century. But first a bit about my life.

This was a week of meetings for me, most of them business meetings in which corporations told their investors how they did in the third quarter of 2007. Most of them did fine; the economy is okay as long as you aren't poor and did not make the mistake in loaning mortgage money to people who can't repay it.

I attended three public interest meetings. The first was a forum of local school board candidates in the Point Arena, California school district. I'm not running after being on the school board for eight years, so mainly I was happy to see that some people even wanted this unpaid job. But the answers to the questions were mostly evasive happy talk. A guy named Jim DeWilder gave some good answers. He has actually been paying attention to the way the schools are governed.

The actual school board meeting this week was pretty exciting for me. Even though we have shown pretty phenomenal improvements in the schools these last six years, there is a group of people who have spent the last year in attack mode against us. It is a long story so I will narrow it to last night's appearance of a lynch mob. This happens from time to time, usually when someone has to be not-rehired. In this case we were pretty far off in our budget for 2006-2007, and Thursday was when we would go over that situation. The thing is, we really did not do anything wrong except we were not conservative enough about our revenues and expenses. Then we had 3 teachers who were very ill and out a lot, pushing up our budget for substitute teachers way beyond the typical unanticipated expenses. In fact we are in no danger of bankruptcy, we just have to tighten our belts a bit more this year and when we prepare next years budget. We managed to explain all this to the public. By the end of it everyone was calm and several people expressed happiness at how we handled the situation.

But Chiang and Jackson. General Chiang and General Jackson. I just happen to be reading two different books for different reasons at more or less the same time. Because I am getting ready to write the China chapter of my U.S. War Against Asia, one book I am reading is Hollington K. Tong's Chiang Kai-Shek. Mr. Tong is a big fan of the Generalisimo. Similarly Marquis James is a big fan of the Hero of New Orleans, as shown in his The Life of Andrew Jackson. When I am likely to be critical of a historic person I like to read someone who has a positive take on their subject; I can provide my own criticism. I am reading up on the Hero to get a better understanding of why so many American voters support such an evil party, which I believe all goes back to Jackson.

Andrew Jackson distinguished himself in the fine arts of genocide and stealing native American Indian lands. He was a gambler who owned and fought dogs and chickens, but as he got wealthier mainly gambled on horses. Eventually he was elected President of the United States and founded the Democratic Party. He was not only a slave owner, but he actively traded slaves for profit. He combined the old-style English predatory trading and lawyering mindset with the Wild West land lust and contempt for weaker humans.

Andrew Jackson was beloved by most (white anyway) Americans of his time and is held in high regard today by most Americans, descendants of former black slaves included.

Chiang Kai-Shek, when you don't know the facts, starts at the opposite end of American opinion. When I was a child in the 1960's he was the ruler of Taiwan and pretended to be the ruler of China. Americans hated the communists who ruled China and of course their leader Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung when I was growing up). Yet we did not like Chiang Kai-Shek because he had lost China to the Communists. When I was exposed to Marxist-Leninist propaganda I learned that Chiang was an American puppet. We don't like it when our puppets lose.

While Chiang was not the founder of the Nationalist Party of China, more properly the Kuomintang, he was its leader for far longer than Andrew Jackson led the Democrats. He was a national hero, like Andrew Jackson, because of his ability to win battles. In fact, all evidence is that he was a far better general than Jackson was.

In reading Chiang's biography I keep making mental notes, "puppet," or "not a puppet." No doubt the Chinese nationalists wanted to modernize their nation. They wanted to emulate the powerful nations of Russia, Germany, France, Japan, Great Britain and the United States. But they started from a difficult position, a position of weakness. The powerful nations were the predators and China was the prey.

Some puppets are willing extensions of the will of their masters. I don't see the Generalisimo that way. But he must have looked that way to many Chinese. His wife was educated in the United States and Chiang converted to Christianity under her influence. But Chiang Kai-Shek's driving passion was to unite China under a single, centralized government. Which was Mao's passion too; they just differed as to who would run that government and how it would be run. In World War II and afterwards Chiang became dependent on the U.S. This was a mistake, because the U.S. was just looking after its own interests and was far more interested in occupying Japan and restoring the economy of Europe than in aiding the Chinese once the Japanese were defeated.

Early in Chiang's career his main problem was subduing various war lords. The communists were a problem, but not his main problem. Then came the invasion by the Japanese. Maoist propaganda holds that Chiang refused to fight the Japanese. Nationalist propaganda is that the Reds only fought the Japanese when they could seize supplies. It looks to me like both sides fought the Japanese, with ebbs and flows in enthusiasm. However, the big battles had to be fought by the nationalists. They lost millions of men and so did the Japanese. Which brings up an important aside.

One you get past the "US defeated the Nazi's in World War II" theory, and realize that the Russians defeated the Nazis and the U.S. only stormed in at the last minute to grab France and most of Germany for the capitalist cause, you feel enlightened and relax. But the same thing happened with the Japanese, if to some lesser degree. The Chinese nationalists lost far more men fighting the Japanese in World War II than the U.S. did. This was part of Roosevelt's strategy to let foreigners die to weaken the enemies, then be strong enough to grab the spoils. If the A-bomb had not worked Roosevelt's plan was to have the Russians invade Manchuria, where the best equipped and trained Japanese armies were stationed. This back fired: Russia invaded Manchuria mostly after the Japanese surrendered. Russia grabbed a lot of industrial equipment and gave the Japanese arms to the Chinese communists, which enabled them to graduate from guerrilla warfare to conventional warfare in their civil war.

So the moment the Japanese surrendered the Chinese Nationalists found themselves in a civil war with the Communists. The great Chiang Kai-Shek lost the civil war and retired in disgrace to Taiwan (taking the gold bullion with him. For the good of the nation).

Andrew Jackson did not live long enough to see the Civil War. If he had, the North might have lost. But here is the difference between the Kuomintang and the Democratic Party. When the Democratic Party lost the Civil War, the Republican Party did not make it illegal. Wise men knew that two parties were needed in the U.S., to trade places in times of public discontent. At first the Democratic Party had trouble winning elections after the Civil War, but fixed that by denying the former slaves the right to vote. Eventually even on a national level Democrats started winning, with Grove Cleveland becoming the first post-civil-war Democratic President.

While neither man scores very high by my standard of ethics or political leadership, I think Chiang was a better (in the ethical sense) man than Andrew Jackson. Of course Chiang Kai-Shek was born over a century after Andrew Jackson, and times had changed. Probably Chiang's worst mistake was setting up an authoritarian regime in Taiwan after he lost the civil war in China. If he had immediately allowed free elections with multiple political parties, he would have looked like what he had claimed to be in China: a genuine democrat. But he was a general first-and-foremost. He preferred to command and be obeyed. So did Andrew Jackson.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Somalia and Failed Nation States

A phrase we hear often lately is "failed nation-state." The term is used for Iraq, and now it is an apt term to describe Somalia. But I question the universal value of nation-states. Why can't some people be organized on some other basis?

According to this week's Economist article "Somalia: Breaking into even smaller bits?", in addition to the U.S./Ethiopian/U.N. imposed chaos in southern Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu, now Somaliland and Puntland are splintering as well. The "governments" of the two areas fought a small batlle over the town of Los Anod.

One problem in Somalia and much of Africa is that today's nations have artificial borders that were created when European powers carved up the continent into colonial territories. Most of these nations have multiple tribal groups within them. In many cases a tribal group will find itself half on one side of a border and half on the other side. This is also true of Iraq, where, for instance, the Kurds form a natural nation that occupies only a fraction of Iraq but also includes sections of Iran and Turkey.

In the past empires typically consisted of multiple tribes or nations. Often nations, for instance Germany, were broken down into multiple states. There is a pragmatic belief that if a national grouping, defined by language and culture, is incorporated into a single state, the result tend towards peace, stability, and harmony. Such nation-states are rare in their pure form, since most contain one or more minorities.

Somalia was never a nation state. It corresponds roughly to the Horn of Africa. There were ancient civilizations there as old as any on earth. But for the most part Somalia in the past consisted of city-states and smaller tribal regions (See Portuguese Catholics Destroyed East African Islamic Societies in 1500's). Even in the colonial era Somalia was not a single colony, the British have grabbed some and Italy having grabbed the rest.

So why try to unite this vast area with not-particularly related tribal groups? For the convenience of the U.S. war on "terror?" To keep it from having multiple seats at the U.N.?

Switzerland is a good example of a state that is not a nation is the classic sense. At least four languages are spoken there. It works as a state because the inhabitants have something else in common: living in the Alps and valuing freedom and prosperity over meddling in other people's affairs.

The problem in Somalia is in local "big men" not being content to be local. Everyone wants to be king, or at least President. It is true that grouped together, united in a nation, it might be easier to resist outside preditors. But that is just a choice of preditors.

The recent government like substance known as the Islamic Justice Courts had found a way for the people of varying clans to get along with each other. By stripping the warlords of their power and turning power over to a popular court system they briefly allowed for peace, freedom to travel without robbery, and renewed economic activity. That freaked out the CIA, which got the Ethiopians and U.N. and various thugs to reimpose chaos.

All the foreign troops in Somalia are war criminals, and all of the leaders who sent them there are war criminals.

But think beyond that. If there is peace, if there is trade between areas, and if there is some system of justice, do we really need a nation state? Do the people benefit from any state based on elevating a minority to power over a majority?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing

So Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Good for her. Apparently she is only the 11th woman to win the prize.

Her two most impressive books are THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK and The Four-Gated City. Now the pundits are calling The Golden Notebook a feminist breakthrough, but I did not see it that way when I read it in the mid-1970's. It was published in 1962 and only sold a few thousand copies at first. It is largely a meditation on being cast adrift in an alienating world. Which is exactly where I was when I read it as a young man. It is a bohemian work only in that its narrator rejects the conventional wisdom about life. It is about having mental breakdowns, but also about the healing process of giving up illusions about the world.

The Four-Gated City (The Children of Violence, Book 5) is my personal favorite. It was published in 1969, when Dorris had become a major literary figure. I'm not sure how it would read to me now, 30 years after I first read it, but at the time it was a revelation. My memory is that it is a story of a woman's search for meaning while living in London. I think it was heavily influenced by Sufi traditions, but it is not overtly promoting mysticism. Rather it is an examination of everything by someone who had a great deal of worldly experience.

Ms. Lessing wrote some earlier books about her experiences in Africa, where being a part of the white supremicist class gave her the willies, and so she became a communist. By the time I got around to trying to read one from this series (I don't even remember which one, but it may have been A Ripple From the Storm) I was already far too familiar with leftist committee meetings. I might have been fascinated by such a book when I was seventeen, but by the time I tried to read it I found it tiresome and could not finish it.

Cheating by looking at the Doris Lessing Wikipedia page, I am reminded I read Briefing for a Descent into Hell, which was a compelling, scary book. It it had been published as Horror she would possibly be considered a master of the phychological horror story. I think mystical and in particularly Sufi ideas are even stronger in Descent.

As to her later works, I have not read them yet. They include some I mean to read, like The Good Terrorist and the Canopus in Argos science-fiction novel series.

I can't say Ms. Lessing has much appeal as a stylist , but she is competent and certainly prolific. The number of titles she has published is astounding. That is a problem with having some success as a writer: after that you spend the days of your life writing, rather than doing the much more interesting things that a less privileged person has to do to earn a living.

Looking through the list of people who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I am shocked at how few of them I have read, and how many I have not heard of. I suppose I focussed on American writers. I have read most of what the big four American nobelists (William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, and Ernest Hemingway) and a couple of books by Pearl Buck. But I have not read much that is non-American.

So here is to Doris, who defied expectations by living long enough to get the Nobel Prize. Now she will be as immortal as a mortal can get: she will be remembered and read as long as school teachers must assign novels to students.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Big Trees Revisited

Last night I watched The Big Trees starring Kirk Douglas. The movie was set in 1900, but I felt I was in a time warp back to the late 1980's.

In The Big Trees we quickly learn that the Kirk Douglas character, Jim Fallon, is not an honest businessman. He does not pay his timber workers; he cons the investors who advance him money. With any number of people about to gun him down in Wisconsin, he decides it is time to go cut down trees in California. He has learned that a new law is stripping some settlers of their land and allowing anyone to buy 40 acre sections for a $150 filing fee.

He transports his unpaid timber workers to California where each will get 40 acres of old growth coastal redwood trees to log for him. The land is being taken from a Quaker colony that has kept most of these huge and ancient trees. There is a beautiful heroine, of course, Alicia (Eve Miller).

The plot gets complicated because a local timber baron is also seeking to get the land and cut the trees. There are excuses for fights and double-crosses, plus, of course, a Hollywood ending that certainly did not occur in reality.

Keep in mind that this movie was made in 1952 with Felix Feist directing. Of course there were already environmentalists and parks and such. John Muir had worked to save the redwoods. John Steinbeck has written of there being two kinds of Californians, the ones who revered redwoods and the kind that cut them down. But Alicia actually sets fire to the local court house in order to slow down the granting of land - and is treated like a hero. Don't try this tactic today - the FBI will label you and everyone you know as a terrorist.

In the late 1980's and 1990's this whole situation replayed, but with a guy known as Charles Hurwitz. Briefly, former investors and customers had accused him of using fraud to build his fortune, but his lawyers always kept him one or two steps ahead of the lynch mobs [For the full story see my article Charles Hurwitz's Money].

Mr. Hurwitz bought a company called Pacific Lumber, which had been slowly liquidating the redwoods, ancient and re-grown, on it vast land holding. Charlie sped up the rate of cutting and targeted old growth groves. Earth First!, which was made up mainly of people local to Humboldt and Mendocino County, organized people to stop the slaughter. Eventually some redwoods got protection, notably the Headwaters Grove, but for the most part every tree worth cutting in Mendocino and Humboldt was cut. Then, with insufficient trees, the mills (most of them) were closed down. Oh sure, the trees will grow back. You can get a pretty decent sized redwood in 60 years under optimal conditions. At 400 years the trees take on old-growth characteristics.

So today most big redwoods are on small private holdings or in parks. It's a shame reality did not have a Hollywood ending.

The Big Trees is a triple blast from three pasts (1900, 1952, and 1989) and well worth seeing.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Democracy or Republic: Ron Paul's Liberty is Your Death

To my surprise an essay I wrote back in 2002, America: Republic or Democracy, has become pretty popular on the net. It comes up high at Google search, given you type in republic, democracy, and America for search terms. About 750 people looked at it in September, which is trivial by Paris Hilton standards but not bad for a political essay at an obscure Web site.

I noted another essay on the same topic, A Republic, Not a Democracy, by Republican Party presidential candidate Ron Paul, which was written back in 2000. Ron Paul comes out squarely against democracy. That in itself should be ugly enough to stop a presidential campaign in its tracks. But there are a few things I agree with Ron Paul on. He's a serious guy. Instead of dismissing his argument, I am going to dissect it. If you are squeamish now is a good time to click over to something funny at YouTube.

Ron Paul claims "Our Founders instituted a republican system to protect individual rights and property rights from tyranny." He defends the Republican system as being on the same order as the Bill of Rights. He claims the individual rights of minorities are endangered by majority rule or democracy.

But only a fool would swallow such reasoning. What a Republic always establishes is the rule of the few over the many. It does not protect everyone's individual rights: it protects the rights of the ruling minority. The Liberty of the minority becomes the subjugation of the majority. The only thing Ron Paul and I agree upon, within this topic, is that the federal government, under the Constitution, was designed that way.

The minority of 1789 given power by the U.S. Constitution were mainly descendants of European aristocrats, though some were from merchant families or had made it in the U.S. despite humbler ancestry. Who were they establishing power over? Women, for sure. Native American Indians. Slaves from Africa. White slaves (indentured servants). And, in fact, most white men, because most white men did not have enough property to qualify to vote.

Liberty is an ugly thing when it is the liberty to own slaves, to prevent women from owning property, to grab Indian lands protected by treaties, and to crush poorer white men under your boot with laws and a swarm of lawyers.

How many slaves did Patrick Henry own when he said, "Give me liberty or give me death?" Over forty.

Ron Paul is the sort of spineless pawn of the rich (I think he is rich himself) whose job as a politician is to shift all costs to the working citizens and all profits to the investor and managerial class. His freedom is your slavery.

I'll take democracy any day. I believe the rights of individuals and minority groups are important. But I don't see where that obligates me to assign to the rich the right to write laws that make them even richer and make the bulk of us poorer.

If one of Patrick Henry's slaves, or George Washington's slaves, or Thomas Jefferson's slaves had said, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death," it would ring through the centuries with a sweeter sound.

Ron Paul's advocacy against democracy is advocacy for bad government. It advocates special privileges for the rich that are denied the rest of us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Polar Bears, Wheat Futures, and Nuclear Reactors

What could Polar Bears, Wheat Futures, and Nuclear Reactors have in common?

There are millions of things in the world that can be measured (quantified, in science speak). At any given time roughly half of all measured things will be headed lower and half headed higher. Sometimes when two sets of numbers are headed in the same direction there is a causal link. One thing influences the other, or both are influenced by a third cause.

So, as many an oil company executive has observed, if indeed global temperatures are rising and so is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that in itself does not prove that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global warming. Of course oil-industry types and anti-environmentalists often will not even admit that global temperatures are rising.

This summer the ice in the arctic melted on an unprecedented scale. Reports are that a number of scientists who were reserving judgement on global warming threw in the towel and are finally agreeing that we are not just seeing some normal fluctuations in climate. Global warming is real and its root cause is carbon dioxide emmissions from burning fossil fuels.

Polar bears, of course, are a large species of mammal that is seeing a dramatic impact from global warming. The melting ice means starving and drowning polar bears.

Wheat has become very expensive. Here the causes are more complex, but go back to global warming. The consequences are dire, as well. Already the increased price of wheat means that budgets, from family budgets to humanitarian aid budgets, can't buy as much wheat flour. Calory counts are heading lower, and where famine is already a problem some carefully constructed statistics would probably show that the mortality rate for humans is climbing.

Wheat production has fallen for two reasons. One is widespread drought in key wheat producing areas, including in the U.S. and Australia. Droughts come and go, but most climate scientists believe that global warming is making them worse. The other factor is ethanol (which is the same subtance found in alcoholic beverages). Rather than raising the mileage per gallon requirements of automobiles, the Federal Government in its wisdom has decided to subsidize ethanol production as a substitute for gasoline. Corn (maize) is used to make ethanol in the U.S. That new use competes with corn for fattening animals, and making corn bread, popcorn, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. The value of corn sold by farmers has zoomed upward. So farmers started planting more corn and less wheat. The demand for wheat did not decrease, so the price of wheat has climbed as well. Wheat futures are the buying and selling of wheat in advance of its physical availability; they tell us where prices are heading. Up.

Next year, reacting to higher prices, farmers might plant less corn and more wheat. But the amount of viable agricultural land is limited; both cannot go up at the same time.

Which brings us to nuclear reactors. These formerly discredited (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island) machines can produce energy without significantly contributing to global warming. Does that mean they are a good idea?

Suppose nuclear power meets all new demand for energy, and even picks up some of the slack from carbon-based fuels as oil production continues to decline. Suppose the problems of disposing of radioactive waste and protecting the plants from terrorists (and more likely and dangerous: incompetent engineers, builders, and operators) were solved. What would that get us?

Very little. With unlimited power and ever-intensifying agricultural efforts we would just do one more lap of the Malthusian spiral. A larger human population would mean more ecological destruction. More polution. And more people just a few calories a day from starvation. It would buy the earth's ancient life-culture a few decades at most.

I see only two viable paths. One is cutting way back. Cutting back on the number of children people have, so that in a generation or two the earth's biped population falls substantially. Cutting back on energy consumption in rich nations. Cutting back on jet-enabled tourism. Cutting back on automobiles. Cutting back on air-conditioning.

The other is moving energy-intensive processes off-planet. Put the nuclear reactors on the moon, make the toasters and flat-screen TV's and Priuses there, then slip them down the gravity well to earth for distribution.

Best of all, do both. Even with much production moved off-planet, I don't think this earth can support more than about 1 billion humans over the long run.