by Charles Lemos, Fri Dec 25, 2009 at 10:48:39 PM EST
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. Hamshers 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 doesnt back Obamas 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.