The Historical Antecedents of Grover Norquist

Earlier this week, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an investigation into Rahm Emanuel's activities at Freddie Mac and suggesting that there was a White House conspiracy led by the Chief of Staff to thwart an investigation into financial accounting improprieties that may include intentional, and thus criminal, earning misstatements during Mr. Emanuel's brief but lucrative tenure on the board of directors of Freddie Mac. The allegations that the White House is blocking the appointment of an Inspector General who would look into the financial mess at both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are serious and in part based on this story in the Chicago Tribune. Nonetheless what has mostly garnered attention, at least so far, is the fact that Jane co-authored the letter with Grover Norquist, the head of anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and a board member of both the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.

The pairing has sparked a flood of commentary on the peculiarity of the alliance but only a trickle on the substantive issues addressed by the joint letter. Chris Good of The Atlantic noted that "Grover Norquist and Jane Hamsher are not often on the same side of anything, beyond both usually being in the Western Hemisphere." Mr. Good quoted the letter in full and notes the seriousness of the allegations but not much more. Bret Baier of Fox News opined that "politics can make for strange bedfellows" and then devoted but a single paragraph to the substance of their charges. More thorough was the New York Times who called them an "odd couple" before adding that "ideological opposites Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist have found common ground in a common enemy" in the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Even so, the nation's paper of record buried the story by Jackie Calmes in its Caucus Blog section with five short paragraphs on the substance of the joint letter with another five short paragraphs on "the strangest odd-couplings since James Carville and Mary Matalin married." The Times finds while Mr. Norquist is a familiar GOP provocateur, "Ms. Hamsher’s role, however, reflects her emergence as a leading cyber-voice for a Democratic left wing increasingly disaffected by what it sees as the sell-out centrist policies of the Obama administration" adding "for that it blames Mr. Emanuel, viewing himi [sic] as a sort of presidential puppet-master."

A number of blogs have also covered the joint letter. The Huffington Post reported the story in a completely straightforward manner with the post receiving over 2,500 comments mostly critical or outrightly hostile of Jane and her efforts. The Daily Kos has had both a front page story by Jed Lewison entitled Sheer Nonsense and at least one diary critical of the alliance. Oliver Willis accused Jane of "jumping the shark" adding that "no progressive should be locking arms" with Grover Norquist. Over at Jack and Jill Politics, they find that "Hamsher has crossed the line."

However, Jane's efforts have found support in the liberal progressive blogosphere including a diary on the Le Grand Orange. Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks finds that "on the substance, Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist are right." Uygur believes that the left has to hold Obama's centrist feet to the fire and that "somebody has to throw some punches and in steps Jane Hamsher with a two by four and she just clocked Rahm Emanuel across the head" because a joint letter with Grover Norquist is bound to "get everybody's attention." Perhaps so but what they are largely talking about is the oddity of the Hamsher-Norquist alliance and not the merits of their charges. An exception is Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism who is supportive of Jane Hamsher's efforts. More importantly, Yves provides the relevant background that speaks to the merits of the joint Hamsher-Norquist letter. Yves, as always, is well worth the read. Her conclusion is particularly noteworthy:

I [sic] addition to his role as White House Chief of Staff, Mr. Emanuel is heavily involved in decisions made by the Treasury Department . The Wall Street Journal reported in May that "Rahm wants it" has become an unofficial mantra in the Department. It is therefore of grave concern that the New York Times reports the Treasury is negotiating to increase their commitment to Fannie and Freddie, in the absence of independent oversight: "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy and resell mortgages, have used $112 billion -- including $15 billion for Fannie in November -- of a total $400 billion pledge from the Treasury. Now, according to people close to the talks, officials are discussing the possibility of increasing that commitment, possibly to $400 billion for each company, by year-end, after which the Treasury would need Congressional approval to extend it. Company and government officials declined to comment."

Still my conscience dictates that I bring up one additional point for as much as Jane Hamsher wants to connect the Freddie Mac dots to Rahm Emanuel it is as important to be informed of the full measure of Mr. Norquist's past associations. While Mr. Norquist is best known for his anti-government, anti-tax crusade as evidenced by his infamous quip: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." What isn't as well-known, or perhaps better put well-remembered, is his support for international terrorism. His support for Angola's UNITA rebels and Mozambique's RENAMO - both of which were allied with South Africa's apartheid regime - is not just morally reprehensible but criminal - Mr. Norquist was neck deep in plots to overthrow at least three legally constituted governments. This is, in my mind, what should disqualify Mr. Norquist from any podium.

From 1981 to 1985, Mr. Norquist was the front-man for Jonas Savambi, the leader of Angola's UNITA, in Washington serving as his unofficial ambassador and was instrumental in securing some $15 to $20 million annually in covert US military aid during the Reagan-Bush years and in tapping millions more from various conservative sources helping to prolong an unnecessary civil war. At least a portion of Mr. Norquist's wealth can be traced to fate of Africans who died in the blood diamond trade. It bears reminding that the Angolan Civil War claimed a half million lives and because these rebel movements made fertile use of land mines, they are still killing and maiming people to this day. Physicians Against Land Mines estimate that 1 in every 334 Angolans has lost an arm or a leg to landmine injury. The number of amputees in Angola is 70,000 - 8,000 of these are children under the age of fifteen. These children's prostheses have to be replaced every six months as they grow out of them. Most victims do not die: land mines are intended to maim, not kill, with the heavier consequences on cost of medical care and morale. Fewer than 7 percent of landmine victims in Angola die immediately, instead land mines beget a nation of amputees. Mr. Norquist's Angolan and Mozambican clients together laid over half of all land mines in Africa, land mines whose victims are 98 percent civilians. This is the legacy of Grover Norquist. It is regrettable that Jane Hamsher is either unaware or has overlooked Mr. Norquist's role in abetting a human tragedy and one that will continue for generations to come for land mines can lay dormant for decades. It is for this reason that I cannot sign the petition, notwithstanding its own merits. If you care to do so, you may do so here. My disagreement here is tactical, not on the merits.

I'll note that if the suggestion of a conspiracy inside the White House to prevent an investigation at Freddie Mac is even remotely true, then it is likely to throw the Obama Administration into disarray. It's clear why Grover Norquist would welcome such a development. Jane Hamsher is certainly within her rights to take a principled stand against Rahm Emanuel but I hope she also is cognizant that the repercussions of such extend far beyond Rahm Emanuel. Furthermore, I am beginning to suspect that dragging Obama leftwards is a quixotic quest though I agree with John Judis who last month noted that "Obama and the Democrats need active, unruly, and independent pressure from the left to combat Republican conservatives, intimidate Democratic fence-sitters, and persuade business that, if it doesn’t back Obama’s reforms, it could face much more radical measures." Active, unruly and independent is Jane Hamsher to a tee.

Knowing and appreciating Jane's fearlessness and tenacity, I suspect that we will learn more on this story especially given the Christmas Eve news dump by the Obama Administration to provide unlimited financial assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The move allows the Treasury Department to exceed the current $400 billion cap on emergency aid without seeking permission from a bailout-weary Congress. The Geithner Treasury Department can continue to run the mortgage companies, which were seized last year, as arms of the government for the rest of President Obama's current term. Coupled with the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to its top 12 executives for 2009, there is bound to be further outrage and a bleeding of support for the Obama Administration. While Jane is calling for Rahm's dismissal, I, among others, have been calling for Tim Geithner to be fired. Rahm serves the President, Geithner should be serving the American people and he is clearly not. At some point one does have to wonder about whether the Administration is evenly remotely aware of the mood of the country.

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An Open Letter to the Good Folks at Firedoglake

To the good folks at Firedoglake,

Like you, I oppose this bill. I think that the Senate healthcare reform bill is a bad bill that enhances corporate power and I believe that when all is said and done any bill that does such should be opposed on principle.

Over the course of this debate, Firedoglake, with Dave, Marcy and Jane leading the way, has been a formidable force in the fight for a comprehensive healthcare package that actually tackles the root of the problem. It should be plain to all that spending 17 percent of GDP on healthcare is unsustainable especially when most other advanced industrial economies spend on average 10 percent of their GDP fully covering their populations while obtaining far better results. The gross inefficiencies in the US healthcare system, I think, are largely due to the near monopoly power that insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry enjoy. It should not be lost that these industries have spent nearly one billion dollars over the past two years to protect, maintain and expand that power. And unfortunately, they have largely succeeded in not just maintaining and extending their hold but in derailing any serious regulatory constraints over their practices. This bill does little to correct the gross inefficiencies inherent in our healthcare system. It may even further entrench them.

The fight against the encroachment of corporate power will, no doubt, go on. That our party has become a gross enabler of such perfidy and gross corruption is not just deeply troubling but disheartening. But I also know that the alternative that is the GOP is far worse. Their free market ideology coupled with their alliance with evangelical Christianity presents grave dangers to the general welfare and liberties of the country. While I, among others, question the wisdom of engaging in campaigns allied with Grover Norquist, that is your prerogative.

I am, however, increasingly troubled by the attacks emanating from Firedoglake particularly this latest round of attacks on those who have been at the forefront of the progressive movement. I am concerned that such tactics are ultimately more harmful than helpful. The recent attack by FDL Action on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an overzealous crusade. It is misguided and frankly incomprehensible. There is no question that his decision has been excruciatingly difficult. To suggest that he has "turned his back on us" and to question his "progressive" credentials is uncalled for. Let us allow that he is following the dictates of his conscience as we follow ours. It is one thing to prod, to engage and to reason with Senator Sanders but quite another to threaten him with the "loss of his seat."

Sign our letter to Bernie Sanders: If you want progressive votes in the future, you better cast one against the current bill now.

There is no reason to threaten a man who has spent a lifetime doing the hard work that is electoral politics and fighting the good fight against incredible odds. Let's recognize that his fight for the nation-wide expansion of Community Health Clinics is perhaps the most important advancement in this otherwise abysmal piece of legislation. I urge you to not to abandon your valiant efforts but rather to moderate the tone as well as to recognize that many important battles on issues vast and sundry remain ahead of us. Senator Sanders, no matter his vote on this measure, remains one of our greatest allies. He has not only fought for his constituents in Vermont but for the rights of all Americans. He should be accorded greater respect and afforded his rights of conscience inalienable.

Respectfully yours,

Charles Lemos
San Francisco, CA

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The mandate is a poison pill

No matter how its worded.

Jon Walker closes this post with a sound idea:

At the very least, remove the individual mandate so it can be held as a bargaining chip by progressives to extract greater reforms between now and 2015, when the mandate would go into effect. Passing the individual mandate now (just so it can sit on the books for years) would be a political and negotiating disaster for Democrats. As it looks now, the next reform battle will be fought on the terms of the insurance companies even more. That is not what I think is a step forward.It's painfully obvious that there are no talking points available to Democrats to attempting to defend the mandate. Its maddening to attempt to figure out why Democrats are intent on imposing a mandate now, enforceable by IRS penalties, that doesn't go into effect for 5 years, only to get clubbed with it for the next three cycles.

A recent national poll done by DFA/PCCC found very the majority of voters opposed to the mandate in its current form by a 56 - 33 margin.

When Jane Hamsher posted about the DFA/PCCC findings as fairly conclusive, Nate Silver objected. He questioned the political negativity of the mandate by stating that the DFA/PCCC question was worded uncharitably toward the mandate, and that a Kaiser poll with charitable wording showed just the opposite of numbers (implying inconclusive findings).

Here's the "uncharitable" wording of the DFA/PCCC poll in question:

Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to buy health insurance -- the so-called mandate -- even if they find insurance too expensive or do not want it? Favor 38 Oppose 51

Here's the "charitable wording in a poll done by Kaiser:

Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with financial help for those who can't afford it? Favor 66 Oppose 31

Well, that's quite a contrast, but there's an important component of the Kasier poll that Silver left out. The next question of the Kaiser poll, asked only to those who said they favor the mandate, was worded:

"What if you heard that this could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want?" Still Favor 21 Now Oppose 73

Support drops dramatically. But something else becomes clear when comparing the wording of the single PCCC/DFA question with the two Kaiser polling questions:

PCCC/DFA question:
"Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to buy health insurance -- the so-called mandate -- even if they find insurance too expensive or do not want it?"

Kaiser questions:
"Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with financial help for those who can't afford it?"

"What if you heard that this could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want?"

All the DFA/PCCC poll question did it seems, is combine the two questions asked by Kaiser. The only difference is that the DFA/PCCC question in the poll includes "the so called mandate" wording. Whatever. If someone wants to argue on behalf of the mandate having a PR headache for Democrats, that fine, but stop with the insinuations that calling it what we have all called it, a mandate, or an individual mandate, involves bias.

And besides, Jane Hamsher's obvious point wasn't that the poll could be no less neutrally worded, but that the political framing of the mandate would be much more toxic than this poll's question, ie., "When it appears in the ads of a Republican challenger who notes that the IRS will act as Aetna’s collection agency, I bet those numbers get dramatically worse."

And that it will. The simple follow-up question on the Kaiser poll turned the favorable numbers above, into a rout of opposition, with 80% opposed and just 18% in favor of the individual mandate to buy insurance.

This is really the point. Who really cares what is the most neutral wording of the poll? Are voters ever going to be presented with a neutral take by either party in ads and message from the candidates? No way now how.

So what we really want, is a further follow-up question that asks the inevitable '10/'12/'14 rightwing framing of the mandate to those 18% still in favor:

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy private insurance is enforced by fines from the IRS acting as a collection agency on behalf of Aetna?'

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy insurance is a bailout/giveaway/gift to private insurance companies?'

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy private insurance is a disproportionately impacts lower-income families?'

And who can imagine what more are available. And yet there was Nate Silver in another recent post titled: "Why Progressives Are Batshit Crazy to Oppose the Senate Bill" where he argued: ... frankly, the individual mandate penalty is not very harsh ...if you adopted the House bill's subsidies for families at under 250% of poverty, and the Senate's (which actually become more generous) for people at greater than 250% of poverty -- perhaps in exchange for a harsher (not weaker!) individual mandate penalty -- you'd have a pretty reasonable compromise.Wow, that turns compromise into suicide-- and he's calling others crazy?

How are proponents of the mandate going to deliver the effective rebuttal to the attack on the mandate? Maybe its the the Kaiser follow-up guilt-question to those who opposed it is the answer (... deny coverage to the sick)? Whatever it is, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Ezra Klein, and a whole Senate of Democrats that just voted for the mandate, could sure use it. And it won't be reality-based either, but instead a response to fear-mongering tactics for the next 5 years.

At the least, Democrats should get rid of the few-hundred dollar fines of the IRS associated with the mandate. If $1.2 Billion was available in the Manager's amendment to get the votes of Nelson and the others, then surely, can't the feeble amount collected by the IRS can be taken off the bill in an effort of toxic clean-up? And assign some sort of trigger to the mandate, that only becomes binding upon actual reform. Without some overhaul of the mandate in HRC, its a poison pill.

Nate Silver's latest claim is that removing the mandate would increase the CBO score, which is taken on by Jon Walker who points out just the opposite, Removing The Individual Mandate Would Reduce The CBO Score.

I doubt the deal changes much. But, it'll be interesting to see further breakdowns of the poll numbers regarding the mandate. I think it will only become more toxic overall, and the bulk of the response will be damage-control and on the defensive (you don't have to pay the IRS fine, OK!). But specifically, I'd like to see some numbers on voters and non-voters, and whether a person who has insurance or not (the ones effected by the mandate) is a voter, and what sort of breakdowns happen (this is one of those issues where libertarian impulses cross all sorts of barriers). That would begin to give the outlook some perspective of political fall-out.

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A Partial Win on the War Supplemental

Thanks in part to the extraordinary talents of Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake who has been leading a spirited campaign against the War Supplemental bill, the odious Lieberman-Graham Amendment has been stripped from the bill. Dubbed the photo suppression amendment, the Amendment was sponsored by Senator Lieberman of Connection and Senator Graham of South Carolina and would have empowered the President and the Pentagon, at their sole discretion, to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." As Glenn Greenwald noted the Lieberman-Graham Amendment had "no purpose other than to expressly allow the President to conceal evidence of war crimes (torture) and to block the Supreme Court from ruling (as two federal courts have already held) that the Freedom of Information Act compels disclosure of those photographs."

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John McCain: Campaign Finance Criminal

Yesterday, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake officially filed an FEC complaint against John McCain for exceeding the spending limit of $54 million that he agreed to when he opted into public financing originally but which he now finds inconvenient.

Christy puts it well:

As Markos of DailyKos pointed out in joining the complaint, "John McCain has officially blown past campaign spending limits mandated by his original acceptance of public campaign funding. While he has signaled his intent to withdraw from such financing, that has been hindered by the fact that he used the promise of public funding to secure a campaign loan." Guess the campaign finance laws only apply when they aren't inconvenient for McCain's ambitions.

Jane has more as she takes the complaint in to the FEC:

Jane filed the complaint on behalf of bloggers and activists everywhere -- have you signed on? Read the full text of the complaint (pdf) HERE and sign your name on to the complaint HERE.

And what do ya know, looks like CNN noticed:

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