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It's not as if the Republican voters out in the red states actually agree with all of their party's policies.  Time and time again, many Democratic positions are supported by people who otherwise rail against Obama.  And I think I have a clue about why they vote like they do, and how to change some minds.

My work brings me into contact with many small business people in rural areas.  I like working with them -- they are straightforward, usually self-taught, honest and capable.  But some of them spend too much time listening to Faux News. They assume that whatever President Obama says is dishonest, and that his positions are wrong.  And they don't trust politicians in general, so the "small government" message resonates --  if you can't trust them, why give them more power?

But it's not a matter of that proverbial left-right scale that the DLC types keep trying to balance. Indeed triangulation backfires with them.  You might be surprised which Democrats, then, play better out there.

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I had some very nice wine with dinner last night.  Nothing fancy, but more enjoyable than a lot of snootier bottles.  It was not expensive wine -- I got it at Wegman's, and it comes with change for a tenner.  Most wine snobs wouldn't touch the stuff, and if they tried to export it to the EU, it would probaby have to be labeled "salad dressing ingredient" or the like.  Even if they kept the picture of the goat on the label. New York State wine gets not respect.

But this bottle, and the winery that made it, has a long story behind it.  It touches upon practically the whole history of American winemaking.  The winery is Bully Hill Vineyards, and they've been making Goat White since their founding over four decades ago.  The goat on the bottle was drawn by winery founder Walter S. Taylor. After he lost a landmark lawsuit that prohibited him from using the name "Taylor" anywhere on his labels, even to sign his artwork, he looked at an animal in his barn and and it inspired his slogan, ''They Have My Name and My Heritage, but They Didn't Get My Goat.''

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Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 08:10 AM PST

Two spammers, Senators Brown

by K S LaVida

A news story today, which hit the front page ofthe Boston Globe, tells how former Senator Scott Brown had his name on a mass mailing that promoted conspiracy-theory quackery. He had apparently rented his mailing list to Newsmax, who in turn promoted anti-vaccine, anti-fluoridation Dr. Russell Blaylock.  Brown, who is considering running for Senate in New Hampshire against Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, was renting out the list to conservative groups to raise money for his PAC.

So former Senator Brown is now officially a spammer.  Not just political spam, but crazy-ass spam that might have more appeal to his donors than to the public at large.  So much for his image as a moderate.

But he's not the only Senator Brown who spams.


How many different Democratic email lists are you on?

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The press has suggested that 2013 was an annus horribilus for President Obama. That might be an exaggeration, but it wasn't a great year.  Politics is almost all negative nowadays.  The Republican Party has essentially no positive issues of its own, but they're put the President on the defensive.  He would be better off if he took the initiative. Obamacare was supposed to be that initiative this year, and it is finally up and running, but the fiasco of the web site rollout has distracted the public's attention, thanks to a "they call this liberal?" press.

So here's an alternative.  It's time that the President stopped worrying about gaining support from the 30% or so of the  public that hates him no matter what.  And it doesn't work to pander to the missing middle that the Villagers think they remember so fondly from the Eisenhower era, even if they weren't born then.  He has to come up with an issue that both galvanizes his base and wins support from a few others who might otherwise not see any reason to support him.  This would ideally be an issue that is more popular among the public than among the politicians.  Think of an issue that's exactly the opposite of "cut social security", one that doesn't even cost public money.  Think wedge issue.  Think liberal wedge issue.  Yes, it's an old tool from the movement conservatives' bag, but it can work for our side too.  Bonus points if it is an issue that some vocal Republicans agree with.

The upcoming State of the Union address is a perfect time for this type of initiative.  People are listening.  The press is paying attention.  Congress is there, and their reactions can be gauged immediately.  So here, below the orange fleur-de-Kos, what he could say that could raise his ratings by ten points and give the Democratic Party more meaning.


Should the President propose legalizing medical cannabis?

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The press and Congress are trying hard to bring down President Obama based on the problems in the early implementation of the PPACA exchanges.  The screwed-up web site was bad enough. But that's getting fixed; even the Republicans realize that.  So instead they're harping on the most ridiculous thing ever, President Obama's statement that "if you like your current insurance, you can keep it".

To be sure, whoever came up with that phrase was blazingly incompetent. It sounds like something Mark Penn might have coined.  It began as a more qualified statement about group plans, not all plans.  But somewhere it got changed to include the individual market, where the Exchanges come in to play.  I suppose the President assumed that literally nobody liked their rotten individual-care plans.  But he forgot that a politically-motivated person can be dragged out to say just how much they love anything, if it hurts Obama!

So now Congress and the President are stumbling all over themselves to preserve individual plans that don't qualify as real insurance under the ACA.  They were supposed to go away, but now these fake insurance policies are getting at least a year's reprieve.  And the actuarial balance of the ACA is in danger, as the "young invincibles" are assumed to be the major customers of the defective plans, and their participation in the Exchanges is assumed to subsidize us older folks.  (I'm not sure if that's actually true or merely conventional wisdom, though.)

But who actually benefits from these potential last-ditch changes?  Follow me below the orange extra-strength Tylenol capsule to see why about 1% of the population is again having too much power over the rest of us.

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As drama goes, it was pretty bad.  As comedy goes, it was pretty bad.  Let's face it, is anyone really surprised about what's happened in Washington over the past  month?  Sure, TV was saturated by coverage of the shutdown, the near-default, and the endless bickering.  But it wasn't a good show.  Sure, we got a few good laugh lines at the end, but they were just too predictable.  It was too much like Thursday night at NBC.

It wasn't Breaking Bad.  It was more like Brooklyn Nine Nine.  Everyone knows about Breaking Bad, one of the greatest dramas ever.  One of the best things about Breaking Bad was that the  story was not predictable.  Sure, you knew from the beginning that Walter White was doomed, but you never knew what would happen along the way, and you enjoyed the surprises. Great script-writing is like that.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is said by critics to be one of the better new network shows this year.  Which is like saying that Peter King is one of the better Republicans in the House -- true in comparison, but I still wouldn't vote for him.  Brooklyn Nine Nine is a cop comedy. I watched one episode and it was plenty. The gimmick, I suppose, is that the show is non-stop one liners.  Hardly any joke takes even five seconds from start to finish. It's like open mike night, nonstop jokes, not much story.  But they're mostly not funny, and they're just awfully predictable. Even a joke needs an element of surprise; you shouldn't be calling them out before they even happen.

The show runner for this year's season of Government Shutdown was Ted "Carnival" Cruz. He's no Vince Gilligan. He craves attention but his antics are all too predictable.  And of course his followers have no improvisational skills either.  Teabaggers can't improvise; they live to obey authority.


As TV goes, this year's Comedy of Congress season rates

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The big lie that the Kochs and others are telling young adults is that the age rating rules in the ACA will lead to subsidies from the young to the somewhat older.  That sounds unfair, given that middle-aged folks are presumed more likely to be prosperous.  But setting that aside, what's the reality of it?

In a diary I posted yesterday, I compared Romneycare rates with Obamacare rates for middle-aged folks like me.  Turns out that the prices don't change much.  Obamacare plans are less generous, with higher out of pocket costs, but cost less; an Obamacare Gold plan is more like a Romneycare Bronze plan with a similar price and coverage.

But what about young'ns who are supposedly cheaper to cover?

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Here in Massachusetts, we've had Romneycare available to us for the past several years.  The state operation that runs it is called the Massachusetts Health Connector.  Obamacare is based on Romneycare, but has a number of differences, including very different definitions of the standard plans.  So today Health Connector 2.0 was rolled out.  The two systems are running side by side, the old one effective until January, the new one selling plans that take effect then.  Thus it's possible to compare the prices under Romneycare with the prices and offerings under Obamacare.

The executive summary is that Romneycare tended to have better plans, with smaller out of pocket risks, but Obamacare has brought more players into the exchange.  So it lowers the cost to getting at least minimal insurance.  And having any insurance is a lot better than having none.

Also bear in mind that Obamacare is not for big groups, only individuals and some small groups.  Most group rates are probably lower than exchange rates.  Romneycare functioned largely as a high-risk pool, with fairly high rates for those who had no place else to go.  So Obamacare may not be the lowest rate you can find, if you can be part of an employer group.

Let's look at some details under the orange fleur-de-Kos.


What does Obamacare do for you?

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About a year and a half ago, one of the biggest criminal raids in the history of New Zealand took place as helicopters, SWAT-type cops, and others raided the compound belonging to Kim Dotcom, owner of MegaUpload, an Internet cloud storage service.  MegaUpload was accused of copyright violation -- its customers often uploaded music and videos to it.  And while Dotcom (a German national whose real name was Kim Schmitz) always cooperated with take-down notices, the copyright lobby in the US couldn't tolerate his Hong Kong-incorporated service. So they got the New Zealand authorities to treat it as a criminal operation, and turned the portly geek into their own imaginary cartel lord, arresting him with maximum force.

Things haven't gone so well for the NZ authorities since then.  Unable to prove their case, Dotcom was released and has reopened Mega, a privacy-centered cloud storage company where everything is encrypted and only the users have the keys.

Now, it turns out that the original charges against him didn't just come from the usual MAFIAA. They had the help of the NSA's PRISM program too.  So much for its being used only for terrorists.

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The public now knows more than it did last year about how the NSA spies on all Americans.  And the revelations keep on coming.  But one of the more recent ones to come out, the one that they have denied most vociferously, has been sort of obvious for years.  They're not just collecting metadata on our phone calls.  They're collecting the actual content of millions of phone calls.  Not all of them -- the telephone network is more decentralized than the Internet -- but on as many as they want.  And they're able to search them for content.  So if your call was monitored and you said "one pepperoni and anchovy pizza, easy on the cheese", they could search for "pepperoni" and "anchovies" and find your call in their massive library.

How do I know this?  Because the pieces came out one by one over time. And one key piece became visible when its developers spun off a venture to commercialize the technology.  And it's now a going business.  That company has changed its name twice, and no longer has the NSA-like product that it started with, but it was a public web service for a while.  Not listening to phone calls, of course, but the next best thing, podcasts.  Because if  you can index and search podcasts, you can index and search stored phone calls.

This isn't trivial technology. Let's review.

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Mon Jun 10, 2013 at 04:05 PM PDT

The worst excuse in the world

by K S LaVida

I've heard this used so many times that I now recognize it for what it is, conceding the argument while practicing self-denial about it.  It's the best excuse to bring up when you have no better case, as it will confuse or distract some people, or result in the subject's being changed.  But it's not a good excuse. At the end of the day, it's the worst one in the world, precisely because it does not even begin to answer the accusation.

It is of course standard issue in I/P debates, especially but not exclusively among Israeli-settlement supporters.  It is standard issue in deciding whether or not to intervene in a questionable conflict.  And it is now coming out in the debate over the NSA's telephone-metadata and Internet (Prism) massive-data collection programs.  And why not?  What better excuse do they have?

But the other side is worse.
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Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 07:13 PM PDT

Are we being wedged?

by K S LaVida

Every day I'm getting emails from President Obama, the Democratic Party leadership, and supporters, asking for my support for gun control.  Sign this petition, call that congressman.  Sure, I sign.  Sure, I support them.  Sure, I'm absolutely disgusted at the way the Banana Republicans and a few fearful rural-state Democrats allowed a filibuster to block even the most trivial reforms.

But reading Daily Kos as often as I do, I'm seeing two White Houses.  One is backing gun control and other social issues to the hilt.  Not always successfully, but they're good at hitting on our emotional hot-button issues.  The other is pushing neoliberal budget that cuts social security, raises the middle class' share of taxation, and protects the banksters.  It's economic Reaganism, which was seen as extremely right-wing thirty years ago but is to the left of the current teabagger-heavy Banana Republican Party.

So are we with the President or are we opposed?

That's a trick question.  Maybe it's all part of a political strategy.  The Bush regime got great results pushing ridiculous social-conservative positions that hurt the economic interests of the peasants who backed them.  They used opposition to gay marriage, and teh gay in general, to rally support.  They pushed  church-state integration, opposition to abortion, and other issues that rang the rank and file's bells, even as they were picking the same people's pockets.

It just looks too familiar.  Is the White House using gun control to deflect Democratic opposition to their economic and justice policies?  Is gun control being used as a wedge issue?


Are we being wedged?

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