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Dear Federal Reserve: *Now* is the time to raise interest rates? RLY?? SRSLY?!?

by New Deal democrat

Dear Federal Reserve: *Now* is the time to raise interest rates? RLY?? SRSLY?!?

I am at a complete loss as to why the Federal Reserve might think that now is the moment to begin raising  interest rates.  I cannot see a scintilla of hard evidence in support, and potent evidence against.

The theory is that the Federal Reserve must start to “normalize” interest rates in order to stave off inflationary pressures, particularly inflationary pressures from wages.

Here is the last 65 years of consumer inflation YoY:

In that entire time, the only occasions on which there was less inflationary pressure than there is now is immediately after the 1950, 1952, and Great Recessions.

The situation is even more compelling when we look at the rolling 3 month average of consumer prices:

(h/t Doug Short for preparing this graph)

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The Book of Joshua: an Operations Manual for parts of the Israeli Right

I tend to stay away from I-P (Israeli-Palestinian) issues for a lot of reasons. First and foremost because it doesn’t pay, for example I got temporally banned (Bo-Jo’d) from Daily Kos for just stepping on that turf. And mostly life is too short and there are plenty of other targets.

And if that is true for you then I suggest not going under the fold at all. Because my conclusion is that there is no possible conclusion, there is no possible reason based solution to the I-P problem or parallel problems such as Daesh. Because reasons. But don’t go there.

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Dear Greg Sargent: YOU may not know what Scalia and Alito were up to yesterday. But I do.*

The chief justice said almost nothing.

Supreme Court Appears Sharply Split in Case on Health Law, Adam Liptak, New York Times

Okay, so how well did my predictions from three days ago hold up at the argument yesterday* in King v. Burwell?

Well, I got the outcome right, but not the particulars of how it will occur.  By saying almost nothing, Roberts said everything you need to know: The ACA will remain undisturbed.  He will join with the four Dem justices in an opinion that simply invokes standard statutory-interpretation methods that the Court employs when, say, it’s the Tea Party whose interests that long-established mechanism serves. In, y’know, garbage statutes. There’s no way—seriously; there really is no way—that Roberts would sit through 80 minutes of argument, in this of all cases, almost completely silently, if he intended to vote to interpret the four-word phrase at issue as the statute’s challengers ask.

Roberts will leave Kennedy to his federalism obsession—his bizarre the-Civil-War-and-the-Reconstruction-amendments-are-figments-of-the-political-left’s-imagination claims. (Roberts shares this view, but only as a means to specific Conservative Legal Movement ends, such as nullifying the Voting Rights Acts.)  Sure, the majority opinion will invoke the fancy the-federal-government-can’t-coerce-the-states-not-even-by-subterfuge federalism ground tailored specially for Kennedy.  But it will do so only to undermine the challengers’ belated switch argument: that Congress intended that the subsidies be available only in states that had set up and run their own websites, and that the purpose of the provision in the ACA that provided that the federal government would set up and run websites for individual state healthcare markets in states that do not set up and run their own was to mislead the states about the effect of a failure by the state to set up and operate its own website. (Congress knows better than to try that kind of thing and think it could get away with it! Unless, of course, it knew it wouldn’t get away with it.)  Originally, the challengers had argued that the four-word phrase at issue was an inadvertent error.

Congress’s clever ruse was predictably effective, since, as Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Breyer noted, the federally run websites would have no products available and no customers, so the state legislators who bought the head fake weren’t really all that gullible in not catching on.

Then again, as Dahlia Lithwick reported, Scalia commented to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: “How can the federal government establish a state exchange. That is gobbledygook.”  Which surely it is, since although each state has its own separate insurance market under the ACA, available only to residents of the respective state, the ones set up and run by the federal government were intended to have no actual insurance policies available, or customers to buy policies even if one or two policies should happen to pop up on one of those non-state exchanges.  And Scalia—no fool, he—does now recognize that that could undermine the challenger’s Plan B argument that Congress gamed this all out and decided to lull the states into a false sense that they could default to the federal government the setup and operation of the exchanges, with no ill effects.  Pun intended.  So Scalia needed a Plan B to save Plan B as something he could assert in his dissent.

But Scalia’s pointing this out wasn’t really the main gist of what he was up to yesterday. What he really was up to was having his cake and eating it too. He apparently waited until it was becoming clear that Roberts and Kennedy would do the heavy lifting for him and Thomas and Alito, and then largely reverted to his November 2014 garbage-statutes position—that is, to his pre-January 21, pre-Fair Housing Act case argument comments about how the Court normally interprets complex, multi-section federal statutes that intend to establish a coherent policy.

Well, inadvertent garbage, or instead advertent garbage; whatever. Either scenario works in this silly save-us-from-ourselves-please-while-we-protest-too-much kabuki act.  Just as Sens. Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, and John Barrasso indicated in a Washington Post op-ed published last Sunday that was unabashedly directed to Roberts, Kennedy and Scalia.

Specifically, this trio opened its message with:

Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.

Oh, okay. Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions that for the last year are providing them with healthcare, by enabling them to continue to have the healthcare insurance that is harming them.  In other words: Please, Supreme Court, save our party’s election chances in 2016, just as we quietly asked you a couple of months back, Antonin Scalia, to do.  But since it takes only one of you to do this for us, the rest of you don’t have to participate.  One sacrificial lamb is all that’s necessary.  The rest of you, write a dissent along the lines of … well, I’ll let Greg Sargent explain:

At oral arguments before the Supreme Court yesterday, two of the conservative justices — Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia — both floated versions of the idea that, if the Court does strike down Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states, it might not be that big a deal, because surely lawmakers would then fix the problem and avert disruptions for millions.

This had more significance than it first appeared.

Here are the key quotes. After Solicitor General Donald Verrilli claimed that a Court decision against the law would cut off subsidies “immediately,” producing “very significant, very adverse effects” for “millions of people,” Alito suggested that the Court could side with the challengers but delay the ruling “until the end of this tax year.”

That would mean people would not abruptly lose their subsidies; the suggestion was that if the Court did this, the disruptions might not be immediate, and perhaps somehow contingency plans could come together to soften the blow for those millions of people. Verrilli suggested the Court might have this authority, but disputed whether doing this would actually make much of a difference in practice, because many of the states would be unable to set up exchanges — keeping the subsidies flowing — by the end of the year.

Whereupon this happened:

JUSTICE SCALIA: What about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue. I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the — you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, this Congress, Your Honor, I — I –


That was indeed a richly comic moment! But it was also very significant. The conservative Justices implicitly suggested that the consequences of ruling with the challengers — which Scalia himself termed “disastrous,” though there may have been a hint of sarcasm there — are in fact weighing on the Court, and they themselves floated the idea that a legislative fix might mitigate those consequences.

Sargent goes on to say:

I don’t pretend to know for certain what motivated the conservative justices to say this stuff. But here’s a guess: The idea that a legislative solution might soften the disruptions could make it easier for Anthony Kennedy (who appeared torn over federalism concerns, particularly in light of the punishment that might be inflicted on states) and/or John Roberts (who seemed at least open to the idea that Chevron deference should be accorded to the government) to rule with the challengers.

Okay, well, unlike Sargent, I do pretend to know for certain what motivated the conservative justices to say this stuff.  Or at least what motivated Scalia.  He just enjoys cake.  It’s his favorite dessert.  Despite all those calories.  Especially when he has the cake and eats it too.

Kennedy will join the majority’s ruling only in its bottom line: the ACA survives in its current interpretation.  He’ll write a concurring opinion explaining that this is a necessary outcome, in order to avoid so offending the sovereign dignity of 36 states that, in self-defense, they would enter into a military treaty with Russia and attack Washington using an allied force comprised of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the states’ national guard units.  Which itself would violate the Constitution’s design because it obviously would have the effect of coercing the states into increasing their own military budgets significantly.

But Kennedy’s concurrence will be a sideshow.

Laughter.  Applause.  Curtain.


*Typo-corrected to reflect the day that the post was posted (Thursday), rather than the day when I began writing it, which was Wednesday, the day of the argument. The post also has been edited slightly (and typo-corrected elsewhere) for clarity.

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The Individual Mandate: Has the Obama Administration Silently Repealed the Rule that Virtually Everyone Must Have Health Insurance?

Maggie Mahar has been featured at Angry Bear Blog and has written for Angry Bear Blog from time to time. This article has been taken from her blog, Health Beat.

Obamacare’s critics continue to argue that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will self-destruct. Now, some claim the mandate that uninsured Americans must purchase coverage– or pay a stiff fine— is so “riddled with new loopholes and exemptions” it ceased to exist.

14 New Waivers

When the ACA passed Congress in 2010, it offered a handful of basic exemptions to the mandate of everyone must be insured. For example, if the only comprehensive coverage available would cost more than 8% of a household’s income, the fine would be waived. Individuals who were in jail, or belonged to a recognized religious group that objects to all insurance, including Medicare and Social Security, they to could be excused.

But then, late in 2013, the administration quietly added some 14 new ways the uninsured could dodge the fine.. “’This latest reconstruction’ of the ACA received zero media coverage,’ a Wall Street Journal editorial declared, ‘and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) didn’t think the details were worth discussing in a conference call, press materials or fact sheet.'”

Yet if the new waivers went largely unnoticed, reform’s opponents claim that the swelling list of escape clauses will have a huge impact. By 2016, they say, almost 90% of the nation’s 30 million uninsured will be able to ignore the mandateof buying insurance – without paying the piper. So much for universal coverage.

Just last week Bloomberg reported of; some Republicans referring to the new list of loopholes as a “stealth repeal” of the individual mandate. To her credit, Bloomberg’s Caroline Chen points out the contradiction in the GOP’s arguments. The same critics who, in the past, argued that the mandate represented “unwarranted government coercion” now criticize it for being too “wimpy.” Can they really have it both ways?

“Hardship Exemptions”

The new waivers were designed to help those who are facing hard times. Some exemptions will suspend penalties for 3 months – others for a year.

Perhaps the most important waiver bails out low-income Americans who have the bad luck to live in a state refusing to expand Medicaid. Originally, the ACA stipulated states must extend Medicaid to adults earning less than 138% of FPL ($27,310 for a family of three), with the Federal government paying the lion’s share of the extra cost. At the same time, the ACA set out to help low and middle-income families earning more than 138% of the FPL by providing government subsidies designed to help them purchase insurance in their state exchanges.

But then, two years after the PPACA passed Congress, the Supreme Court blind-sided the reform’s architecture by ruling states could opt out of expanding the federal/state. program. No surprise, politicians in Red states saw this as an opportunity to undermine Obamacare.

Today, twenty-two states still are refusing to open the Medicaid umbrella to cover some of their poorest citizens. As a result and in many cases, only parents earning less than 50% of the FPL ($9,893 for a family of three) qualify for Medicaid for Medicaid and childless adults remain uninsured in almost all of these states. (When Medicaid passed Congress in 1965 legislators decided that only “the worthy poor” should be covered. People who did not have children were not considered “worthy”.)

Now, roughly4 million low income adults who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid in their states and too little to qualify for government subsidies in the Exchanges have been left out in the cold. As a result, the administration has waved the penalty for this group for at least a year.

By 2016, the situation is likely to change. Politicians who have refused to take the federal aid letting them expand Medicaid are facing tremendous political pressure. Hospitals, in particular, cannot afford to continue to care for uninsured patients without being reimbursed. States like Texas and Florida are leaving millions of federal dollars on the table. They may be the very last to cover their poorest citizens; but over the next year or two, Red States will no doubt cave to the pressure.

Bankruptcy, Domestic Violence, Fires and Floods

Other hardship exemptions cover a wide range of financial catastrophes. For example, you may be excused from the fine if:

– You were evicted in the past 6 months or are facing eviction or foreclosure;
– You received a shut-off notice from a utility company;
– You recently experienced domestic violence;
– You recently experienced the death of a close family member;
– You are homeless;
– You experienced a fire, flood, or other natural or human-caused disaster that caused substantial damage to your property;
– You filed for bankruptcy in the last 6 months;
– You had medical expenses you couldn’t pay in the last 24 months that resulted in substantial debt;
– You experienced unexpected increases in necessary expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled, or aging family member;
– You expect to claim a child as a tax dependent who’s been denied coverage in Medicaid and CHIP, and another person is required by court order to
give medical support to the child. In this case, you don’t have the pay the penalty for the child;
– As a result of an eligibility appeals decision, you’re eligible for enrollment in a qualified health plan (QHP) through the Marketplace, lower
costs on your monthly premiums, or cost-sharing reductions for a time period when you weren’t enrolled in a QHP through the Marketplace; Your individual insurance was cancelled because it did not meet the ACA’s standards, and you believe other Marketplace plans are unaffordable;
– You experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance.

The last and very broad escape clause prompted Robert Laszewski, a master spinner of Obamacare myths, to ask:“Is there really an individual mandate?”

Laszewski is not alone in this belief. When the administration announced the new exemptions, The Wall Street Journal’s editors joined the chorus of critics, complaining that originally the ACA reserved waivers for “the truly down and out.” But now, the WSJ argued, Washington was tacking on exemptions that would excuse virtually anyone. The Journal quoted Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum. A long-time foe of reform, Douglas quipped; “the rules have become so lax, it seems if your pajamas do not fit well, you do not need health insurance.”

But in fact, the mandate still has teeth. Indeed the CBO estimates that the IRS will collect some $4 billion from those who choose to go it alone in 2016, subtracting the fines from taxpayer refunds. (If you are not due a refund in a particular year, the tax collectors will deduct the penalty from your refund in future years.)

Who Will Be Paying Billions in Fines?

Does this meant that the IRS will be dunning poor and middle-class families who just haven’t heard about the bill—or don’t understand it? By and large, no. The CBO reports two-thirds of those fines will be paidby upper middle class and upper class Americans who object to the PPACA for political reasons.

Most could afford insurance, but bring home too much to qualify for subsides, and as a matter of principle, are rejecting Obamacare. The notion of “shared responsibility” does not move them. They would rather pay a fine than jump into an insurance pool with their fellow citizens. They believe that they are responsible only for themselves and their families.

What Reform’s Opponents Do Understand – the ACA Cannot Survive Without the Individual Mandate

The mandate is as the WSJ has acknowledged; out “at the core of reform.” Without the mandate, its deadlines and penalties, many Americans would simply wait until they became sick and then sign up for coverage. When they recover, they might well stop paying their premiums, and drop the insurance.

If that happened, people who need surgery, chemotherapy, or expensive medications soon would outnumber the healthier and younger folks in the insurance pool. Premiums would spiral for everyone. The system simply cannot afford “free riders” — defined as “people who receive the benefits of “a public good” (like universal coverage) “without contributing to paying the costs.”

In 2014, most people had not yet heard of the 14 new hardship exemptions that were added in December of 2013. This might explain why, last year, the penalties were without a question . . . effective, especially for young people,” Erin Hemlin, health care campaign director for “Young Invincibles,” a group that reaches out to young adults, recently told Politico/Pro.

Hemlin reports on a survey published last May showing that 40 percent of respondents indicated they would not have gotten insurance without the individual mandate. For adults ages 18 to 29, it was even more important, with 42 percent saying they signed up to avoid the fine.

What no one knows is what will happen over the next two years. By 2016, many more Americans will have heard about the waivers. But given the size of the subsidies and the growing number of Americans who have tried Obamcare and like it; I doubt that many will ask for a free pass.

How Many of the Uninsured Will Even Try To Get A Waiver?

What Laszewsi, Holtz-Eakin, the WSJ, and a gang of other Obamcare critics ignore is applying for a waiver is not as simple as it might sound. First, almost all hardship exemptions require documentation to prove that you qualify.

Secondly, while in some cases, you can apply for exemptions when filing your taxes, most require you to fill out a separate three – page form providing extensive information about everyone in your household.

Meanwhile, just applying, providing the documents, and filling out the applications is no guarantee that your fine will be cancelled. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Finally, if you do succeed in being approved, you will receive a certification number in the mail—and then must fill out and file a newly drafted tax form.

Taking all of this into account, how many people will take the time and trouble to apply for a reprieve that, in most cases, will let them skirt the penalty for just three months?

The critics also forget that hard times are likely to make people more risk-adverse, not less. Imagine that you are a battered single mother. Recently, you divorce and your husband’s employer no longer covers you. Would this seem like a good time to drop coverage? What if your home was hit by a hurricane — would you be inclined to ditch your family’s health insurance?

This helps to explain why, as of October 2014, TurboTax estimated that less than 5 percent of those who would qualify for exemptions had applied.

Keep in mind that those who have lost their jobs, or have fallen victim to some other form of financial disaster, may well discover that they now are eligible for Medicaid. Others are likely to qualify for generous government subsidies that will help cover their premiums. Last year, nearly 9 out of 10 people who purchased insurance in state marketplaces qualified for tax credits that cut the average premium by 76 percent—to just $82 per month. Almost half of those who received subsidies wound up paying $50 or less.)

My point is that the majority of the uninsured would be better off if they didn’t try to escape the mandate, and instead applied for government help that would make insurance either free, or very cheap.

Waivers Don’t Just Cancel Fines, They Open the Door to New Coverage

The best hardship exemptions do more than erase the fine. Some let the uninsured apply for coverage in their state exchange after the open enrollment period ends on February 15, while others let those who are down on their luck purchase insurance that doesn’t meet Obamacare’s strict rules for “minimum essential coverage.”

For example, if a natural disaster kept you from enrolling on time, you can sign up after the February deadline. If you received a letter from your insurer telling you that your old coverage was cancelled because of the ACA, this year you can meet the mandate by buying a low premium catastrophic insurance which will offer free preventive care as well as coverage for worst-case scenarios.

In the end, what many Americans don’t understand is that ACA penalties are not aimed at punishing those who opt out of Obamacare. As CEO Kevin Counihan recently told The Hill: “Our goal is not to get income [from penalties] or to make this difficult for folks. Our goal, fundamentally is to get people insured.”

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Why Liberals Keep Losing

James Carville was certainly right: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

And under Democrats (compared to Republicans), the economy kicks ass:

Screen shot 2015-02-23 at 8.41.56 AM

This is GDP growth, but that kick-assness is blatant in any economic measure you look at, from job growth to stock-market returns to household income to government deficits. And it’s true over any lengthy period (say, 30+ years) over the last century. I could post fifty graphics here that tell exactly the same story. (Here’s a favorite: even the rich get richer under Democrats.)

But now ask yourself: how many Americans know that Democrats make them richer? (Lots richer.) One in ten? Maybe? Now ask yourself why liberals keep losing.

The Republicans have successfully branded themselves as “the party of growth,” and Democrats have just let them do it, for decades — even though it’s completely contrary to reality.

Democrats have the strongest possible political argument sitting in their rhetorical holsters, but for whatever reasons, they just won’t draw.

There is one and only one story that Democrats need to be telling, and they need to follow the Republican political playbook: repeat it endlessly, for years on end.

We will make you richer. We’ve been doing it for decades, and we’ll keep doing it.

“Equality” is important (especially because it does make people richer). But really: Americans just change the channel.

“Opportunity” is important. But it’s just a proxy for, a chance of, getting richer.

“Getting the rich” (truly progressive taxes, a more-level playing field, reining in finance) is necessary and important. But Americans get only visceral satisfaction from that message — it doesn’t speak to personal, direct, material benefit that they’re going to experience.

Americans want to hear how Democrats are going to make them more prosperous. Full stop.

And Democrats have a loud-and-clear story on that subject. They just need to 1) tell that story constantly, repetitively, ad nauseum, like the Republicans do, and 2) put aside other stories (like, identity politics) that dilute, confuse, and distract from that story.

Start with that lede — “we make America prosperous” — and a whole litany of talking points emerges. And they’re the very talking points that have driven Republicans’ (otherwise inexplicable) political success over the last thirty years.

But there’s one key advantage for Democrats: In their mouths…the story is true.

Democrats could be stealing Republicans’ best Frank Luntz/Grover Norquist talking points and riding them all the way to the ballot box. Here’s a sampling to start with:

Wisdom of the Crowds. Democrats’ widespread government spending — education, health care, infrastructure, social support — puts money (hence power) in the hands of individuals, instead of delivering concentrated streams to big entities like defense and business. Those individuals’ free choices on where to spend the money allocate resources where they’re needed — to truly productive industries that deliver goods people actually want.

Preventing Government “Capture.” Money that goes to millions of individuals is much less subject to “capture” by powerful players, so it is much less likely to be used to then “capture” government via political donations, sweetheart deals, and crony capitalism.

Labor Market Flexibility. When people feel confident that they and their families won’t end up on the streets — they know that their children will have health care, a good education, and a decent safety net if the worst happens — they feel free to move to a different job that better fits their talents — better allocating labor resources. “Labor market flexibility” often suggests the freedom (of employers) to hire and fire, but the freedom of hundreds of millions of employees is far more profound, economically.

Freedom to Innovate. Individuals who are standing on that social springboard that Democratic policies provide — who have that platform beneath them — can do more than just shift jobs. They have the freedom to strike out on their own and develop innovative, entrepreneurial ventures that drive long-term growth and prosperity (and personal freedom and satisfaction) — without worrying that their children will suffer if the risk goes wrong.

Give ten, twenty, or thirty million more Americans a place to stand, and they’ll move the world.

Profitable Investments in Long-Term Growth. From education to infrastructure to scientific research, Democratic priorities deliver money to projects that the free market doesn’t support on its own, and that have been demonstrated to pay off many times over in widespread public prosperity.

Power to the Producers. The dispersal of income and wealth under Democratic policies provides the widespread demand (read: sales) that producers need to succeed, to expand, and to take risks on innovative new endeavors. Rather than assuming that government knows best and giving money directly to businesses, Democratic policies trust the markets to direct that money to the most productive producers.

Fiscal Prudence. True conservatives pay their bills. From the 35 years of declining debt after World War II (until…Reagan) to the years of budget surpluses and declining debt under Bill Clinton, Democratic policies demonstrate which party deserves the name “fiscal conservatives.”

Labor and Trade Efficiencies. The social support programs that Democrats champion — if they truly provide an adequate level of support — give policy makers much more freedom to put in place what are otherwise draconian, but efficient, trade and labor policies. If everyone is guaranteed a decent wage by an excellent program like the Earned Income Tax Credit, we have less need for the admittedly mixed blessings of unions and protectionism.

Take the graph from the top of this post and put it on billboards all over America. It’s time for Americans to understand who makes them richer.

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.

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Dear AB Readers: Please start a whispering campaign that I am Jewish.

Former Missouri Sen. John Danforth sharply criticized the state’s current political discourse during his eulogy for state auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich on Tuesday.

“Words do hurt. Words can kill. That has been proven right here in our home state,” the Republican told an audience packed with the state’s top political figures, including Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Schweich died after an apparent suicide in his suburban St. Louis home last Thursday. Danforth said in his speech that he had spoken with Schweich two days before and that Schweich was “upset about” a radio commercial and a “whispering campaign” that he was Jewish.

John Danforth decries ‘anti-Semitic whispers’ in Tom Schweich eulogy, Nick Gass, Politico, today

This is a seriously weird political story, folks.  I read a lengthy background article about it on Friday, hours after the news of Schweich’s suicide broke, and it already was clear that this was no garden variety political story.  But, a whispering campaign that the guy was … Jewish?  In 2015?  In this country? In supposedly mainstream politics?  Seriously?

Okay, so anyway … please start that whispering campaign about me.  I myself am about to start one about Robert Waldmann.  I know it will upset him deeply, though, so just don’t tell him I’m the rumormonger, okay?

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