Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The True Potential Of Genetic Engineering

(Ben, This is for you!)
LAZARO CARDENAS, Mexico (AP) -- Soldiers trying to seize control of one Mexico's top drug-producing regions found the countryside teeming with a new hybrid marijuana plant that can be cultivated year-round and cannot be killed with pesticides.


"These plants have been genetically improved," he told a handful of journalists allowed to accompany soldiers on a daylong raid of some 70 marijuana fields. "Before we could cut the plant and destroy it, but this plant will come back to life unless it's taken out by the roots..."
The technology to add novel genes to plants is fairly well established, and it's not terribly expensive or difficult to set up a lab that can do so. Which raises some interesting questions about the future of the "war on drugs." If the genes for psychoactive drugs were to be transferred from the original plant species to other common plants, it would be nearly impossible to control the production of those drugs.

This would not only increase drug availability, it also would tend to undercut the drug rings that are dependent on tightly controlling drug production and transport in order to make their money. Another interesting implication is that the option for governments to legalize (and tax) drugs like marijuana may be closing. If virtually any plant in your yard could produce THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, you're probably not going to be as willing to go out and pay for it.

I should qualify this by saying that it takes several genes to make THC, and I suspect most other plant-based psychoactive drugs are similarly genetically complex. So it won't be trivial to transfer them to other plants. But it can and will be done eventually, and we would be foolish not to plan for that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First '08 Presidential Straw Poll of Wisconsin Progressives!

OK, this isn't exactly scientific, but it certainly is interesting. I'm one of the leaders of Democracy for Wisconsin, and we just conducted two straw polls on potential '08 Democratic Presidential candidates. One poll was taken at our last monthly meeting in Madison, and the other was an online poll for members of our Yahoo discussion group. Here are the results:

Tom Vilsack1123.7%
Bill Richardson0000%
Barack Obama841222.2%
John Kerry0000%
Mike Gravel0000%
Al Gore9132240.7%
John Edwards671324.1%
Christopher Dodd0000%
Hillary Clinton0000%
Wesley Clark0111.9%
Joe Biden0223.7%
Evan Bayh1011.9%
Write In (Barbara Boxer)1011.9%

I suspected that Gore would do well in our poll based on a very surprising (to me anyway) DailyKos straw poll from a couple of weeks ago where Gore just completely blew away the competition. When Gore wasn't included there was essentially a three way tie between Obama, Edwards, and Clark. (You may have to vote in the DailyKos polls to see the results). Clark did poorly in our poll, but Obama and Edwards were pretty close.

Democracy for Wisconsin grew out of the volunteer base of Howard Dean's presidential run, so that will give you an idea of our general political leanings, although the group has broadened considerably since '04. We're pretty representative of the progressive left, and our Yahoo group has members from all over the state, although Madison is overrepresented as you would expect.

The Iraq Trap

Politics, like chess, is a game where skillful maneuvering often determines the difference between success and failure. I believe that President Bush is setting a deadly trap for Democrats with his push for more troops in Iraq, and that Senator Reid is one of the few Dems who has recognized the danger and is responding appropriately.

The key to understanding the trap is to recognize that although Democrats can cut off funding for additional troops, Bush can still send them to Iraq anyway. As Commander-in-Chief he doesn't need Democratic permission to do so, nor does he need extra appropriations to get them there, only to supply and equip them once they arrive.

By simply sending more troops to Iraq, despite the objections of Democrats, Bush can change the entire debate from the wisdom of the war itself to the question of who does and doesn't support our troops. The American public may not support the war, but they will not stand for anything that's seen as hurting our troops. Bush can drive a wedge between Democrats in Congress, who will have no choice but to bow to his demands for extra war spending to prevent the inevitable shortages of supplies and equipment, and the antiwar left which will be furious at the Democratic Party for voting to enlarge the war.

In this sort of situation Bush wins no matter what we do. Not only does he get exactly what he wants in terms of the war, he also splits the Democratic Party right down the middle in the process. The only practical way out of this trap is to support Bush's call for more troops, but to make such support conditional on a hard deadline to withdraw from Iraq. A poison pill of sorts. That way Democrats can appeal to both the public's desire to support the troops, and to get the hell out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

Harry Reid appears to have spotted this trap and recognized what we must do to avoid it. He says that he'd go along with an increase in troops if it's part of a program to get out of Iraq "by this time next year." But Reid's position is opposed by many other Democrats, and he's being savaged by much of the progressive and antiwar left.

If we fight this battle on Bush's terms then he will win, no matter what we do. And if Republicans successfully portray Dems as failing to support our troops, or as being responsible for "losing" Iraq, then the political damage to the left will likely last for decades, as it did after Vietnam.

I'm an antiwar activist, and I don't want this war to continue for another second. But this is a lot bigger than the war in Iraq, and the outcome may well determine who will control American foreign policy for a generation. We must succeed, and supporting Reid's position, no matter how distasteful, is the only practical way to do so.

(I wrote this as a post on DailyKos. It's a condensed and focussed version of a previous post here on my blog.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

This is What Democracy Looks Like! (In Iraq)

Sorry I've been on a bit of an Iraq war kick lately. I was on the streets protesting this war before it started in '03, and I've been involved in many antiwar efforts since.

Anyway, this graph from a recent GAO report shows the monthly number of attacks by insurgents in Iraq from the start of the war up until last August. Even a Republican (well, most of them anyway) could tell that this is not exactly indicative of a successful war effort.

(Click on image to get a larger version)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Victory In Iraq"

Lots happening on the "Victory in Iraq" front. Fred Barnes has an article in the Weekly Standard claiming that Bush has decided to throw out the Iraq Study Group Report and instead use a plan (pdf) drawn up by the American Enterprise Institute that calls for drastically increased troop levels in Iraq for the foreseeable future, as well as massive reconstruction aid. Here's the AEI summary of their plan:
    • We must change our focus from training Iraqi soldiers to securing the Iraqi population and containing the rising violence. Securing the population has never been the primary mission of the U.S. military effort in Iraq, and now it must become the first priority.
    • We must send more American combat forces into Iraq and especially into Baghdad to support this operation. A surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments [an additional 30,000 combat troops] to support clear-and-hold operations starting in the Spring of 2007 is necessary, possible, and will be sufficient.
    • These forces, partnered with Iraqi units, will clear critical Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shi’a neighborhoods, primarily on the west side of the city.
    • After the neighborhoods have been cleared, U.S. soldiers and marines, again partnered with Iraqis, will remain behind to maintain security.
    • As security is established, reconstruction aid will help to reestablish normal life and, working through Iraqi officials, will strengthen Iraqi local government
The costs? Again, from the AEI summary:
    • The ground forces must accept longer tours for several years. National Guard units will have to accept increased deployments during this period.
    • Equipment shortages must be overcome by transferring equipment from non-deploying active duty, National Guard, and reserve units to those about to deploy. Military industry must be mobilized to provide replacement equipment sets urgently.
    • The president must request a dramatic increase in reconstruction aid for Iraq. Responsibility and accountability for reconstruction must be assigned to established agencies. The president must insist upon the completion of reconstruction projects. The president should also request a dramatic increase in CERP funds.
    • The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end strength. This increase is vital to sustaining the morale of the combat forces by ensuring that relief is on the way. The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this age.
Although not mentioned in the summary, the body of the report admits that American casualties will be much higher, at least in the short to medium term. As is usual for the right they never mention Iraqi casualties, military or civilian, as a cost.

And here's the money quote:
Victory in Iraq is still possible at an acceptable level of effort. We must adopt a new approach to the war and implement it quickly and decisively... Failure in Iraq today will require far greater sacrifices tomorrow in far more desperate circumstances. Committing to victory now will demonstrate America's strength to our friends and enemies around the world.
This would have been a credible and realistic plan three years ago. But Iraq is a disaster, and we no longer have the ability to send 30,000 extra combat troops to Iraq indefinitely. Nor do we have the equipment to supply and support them, and robbing what little is left from the Guard and Reserve isn't going to be enough.

Not that these problems are likely to stop Bush is he's made up his mind. The question is, what do we do about it. Democrats could cut off money for the deployment, but Bush would likely use our troops as pawns by sending them to Iraq anyway, and then blaming Democrats for the inevitable shortages of supplies and equipment. The American public may not support the war, but they will not stand for anything that's seen as hurting our troops. If Republicans successfully portray Dems as not supporting our troops, or having "lost" Iraq, then we're going to be in a much worse position in the long run. The political winners in this fight are going to determine the direction of American foreign policy for a generation.

It looks to me like Harry Reid has already spotted this trap and figured out how to avoid it. He says that he'd go along with an increase in troops if it's part of a program to get out of Iraq "by this time next year." Sort of telling Bush that we'll give him a blank check for one more year, but this is the last chance and if it doesn't work (and it won't) we're taking our ball and going home.

It's unfortunate that this war has to be prolonged another second, but in a constitutional pissing match Bush will win unless we play smart and tough. We can't afford to lose.

It's the American Way...

According to NPR, The Golden State Fence Company, which built parts of the border fence between San Diego and Mexico that keeps illegal aliens our of our country, was just fined five million bucks ... for hiring illegal aliens!

If you've followed this issue you know that prosecution of businesses for hiring illegals is extraordinarily rare. We keep rounding up Mexicans and throwing them back across the border like so much human garbage, but we never touch the fine upstanding American businessmen who are busy making money off all that cheap illegal labor. Seems kind of ass-backwards.

I've always believed that the only practical way to reduce illegal immigration, if that's what you really want to do, is to go after employers. Throw a few thousand rich white guys in jail and that would end the problem practically overnight. Not that our political system, controlled by many of those same rich white guys, would ever have the balls to do so.