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  • September 2, 2014
    Thousands of Tennesseans to Enter Lamar Alexander's "Medical Ghetto"

    As Dylan Scott recently summed it up at TPM, "The GOP's all-out war on Obamacare is in a death spiral." That development should come as no surprise. All along, Republicans opposed the Affordable Care Act not because they believed it would fail, but because they feared it would succeed. And with enrollments exceeding forecasts, health care costs and premiums stable, millions of satisfied newly insured Americans, profitable insurers looking to expand their offerings in the exchanges, and hospitals strong in the states which accepted Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, GOP holdouts including Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wyoming and Tennessee are in the process of extending Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

    Tennessee's may be the most telling--and ironic--case of them all. After all, the failure of its TennCare system highlighted the inability of any one state to provide universal health care on its own. With rural hospitals closing, roughly 300,000 people caught in the "coverage gap" and hundreds certain to needlessly die each year, Tennessee has apparently decided to follow in Arkansas' footsteps and belatedly expand Medicaid.

    Facing a reelection battle against Democrat Gordon Ball, long-time Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said the call on Medicaid expansion was Governor Bill Haslam's to make. But in 2009, Alexander had a different opinion. Then, the one-time White House hopeful repeatedly mocked Medicaid as a "medical ghetto." As ThinkProgress documented, Lamar had a not-so-subtle message about which Americans he expected to gain coverage:

    - "We've heard eloquent statements about how moving 15 million low-income Americans into a program called Medicaid, which is a medical ghetto, is not health care reform."

    - "The governor of Tennessee, who is a Democratic governor, has estimated that the cost to our state of this bill -- of moving 15 million Americans into this medical ghetto -- is about $800 million over five years."

    - "Or arrogant in its dumping of 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us, or any of our families, would ever want to be a part of for our health care."

    But that was then and this is now. And now, Tennessee is badly lagging its neighbors Kentucky and Arkansas, where the expansion of Medicaid has led to the sharpest declines in the uninsured rate in the nation. (Tennessee is now considering an approach similar to the Arkansas "private option" in which Medicaid dollars are used to purchase private insurance plans.) Making matters worse, hospitals in Brownsville and other communities face closure because Tennessee Republicans rejected the federally-funded expansion of Medicaid which was designed to replace over time the "disproportionate share hospital" (DSH) payments Washington has been providing to pay for the care on the uninsured. By April, the situation was so dire that Senator Alexander and his Republican colleague Bob Corker begged the Obama administration for $80 million in extra DSH funding to help keep the state's hospitals afloat. As Alexander complained:

    "These dollars help Tennessee's hospitals provide care for Tennesseans who need help the most. There's no reason in the world why Tennessee should be the only state without this kind of payment."

    Actually, there's no mystery why Tennessee is "the only state without this kind of payment." As Corker's own press release explained:

    When TennCare was created through a waiver in 1994, the state agreed to eliminate the Medicaid DSH payment, believing the majority of the uninsured and uninsurable would be covered through the new TennCare. Unfortunately, costs began to escalate quickly and continue to grow, and by 2005, the TennCare coverage experiment ended.

    And thanks to the unified opposition of Tennessee Republicans including Corker, Alexander and Governor Haslam, the Volunteer State refused to volunteer for the Medicaid expansion that would have covered up to 300,000 of their constituents and in so doing help prevent the crisis hospitals and clinics there now face. Making the case for one-year hospital bailout from the feds, Lamar Alexander promised:

    "I'll continue to work with Senator Corker on a permanent solution."

    Of course, the permanent solution is the same now as when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Tennessee just needs to expand Medicaid. Then, hundreds of thousands of it residents will enter the ranks of the insured and not, as Lamar Alexander used to cynically warn, a "medical ghetto."

    Perrspective 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    September 1, 2014
    President Bush Declared Iraq a "Catastrophic Success" Ten Years Ago

    The disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq wasn't just an American war of choice. As much as anything else, it was a war of talking points. Designed, as President Bush once explained, to "catapult the propaganda," the tried and untrue sound bites about "the smoking gun that could come in the form of mushroom cloud," about Saddam seeking uranium in Africa, about being "greeted as liberators," about an insurgency in its "last throes" in 2005, about the "ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime" and so much more converted the Bush administration into a weapon of mass deception.

    But it was ten years ago this weekend that George W. Bush vomited forth one of the more reprehensible defenses of his debacle in Iraq. Nineteen months after launching the invasion, 17 months after announcing "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" and 14 after declaring "bring 'em on" to the growing ranks of insurgents, President Bush offered this lone lament in an August 29, 2004 interview with Time magazine:

    "Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."

    Fight another day, indeed. Eleven years after George W. Bush opened the Pandora's Box of sectarian conflict in Iraq and 10 after he proclaimed it a "catastrophic success," the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has emerged with a vengeance. And ISIS owes its stunning battlefield victories to a deadly alliance of Al Qaeda fighters Bush admitted he attracted to Iraq, Sunni tribesmen alienated by his man in Baghdad Nouri al-Maliki and, is turns out, some of Saddam's former officers who "should have surrendered or been done in."

    As the New York Times has been reporting for months, the Islamic State has been bolstered by the experience and tenacity of Saddam's officers and Ba'athist cadres, many of whom were imprisoned by either the U.S. or the Shiite-controlled government in Baghdad. "The involvement of the Baathists helps explain why just a few thousand Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters, many of them fresh off the battlefields of Syria," the Times detailed in June, "have been able to capture so much territory so quickly."

    Many of the former regime loyalists, including intelligence officers and Republican Guard soldiers -- commonly referred to as the "deep state" in the Arab world -- belong to a group called the Men of the Army of the Naqshbandia Order, often referred to as J.R.T.N., the initials of its Arabic name. The group announced its establishment in 2007, not long after the execution of Mr. Hussein, and its putative leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was one of Mr. Hussein's most trusted deputies and the highest-ranking figure of the old regime who avoided capture by the Americans.

    As it turns out, many Iraqi Sunnis who were captured by the United States nevertheless have provided both the foot soldiers and leaders for ISIS. The self-proclaimed emir of the Islamic State caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was held in the notorious U.S. prison at Camp Bucca from February 2004 until his release in December 2004. Bolstering their ranks were several hundred fighters freed in 2012 and 2013 from Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons in a series of daring raids by ISIS. And as the Times' Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt explained this week, "handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago."

    He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein's long-disbanded army.

    They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group's military council.

    The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

    And how is it these "former regime elements" came to develop years of expertise fighting American troops? Well, they had a lot of help from President Bush and his head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.

    No one person might have done more to spur Sunni disenchantment and violence than Viceroy Bremer. As his own letters show, just three weeks after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, Bremer indeed told Bush that he planned to disband Saddam's military and that the President casually--and unquestioningly--went along for the ride.

    The letters provided by Bremer revealed that President Bush nonchalantly blessed the May 2003 plan to dissolve the Iraqi military. Bremer released both his May 22, 2003 letter detailing his plans and progress on de-Baathification and the disbanding of Saddam's army, as well as President Bush's May 23rd response.

    In his May 22 letter, Bremer informed Bush that:

    "We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished...I will parallel this step [de-Baathification] with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business."

    In his shockingly brief May 23 reply, Bush seemingly OK's Bremer's fateful step to dissolve the Iraqi military:

    "Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence. You also have the backing of our Administration that knows our work will take time."

    That decision came as a shock to most American military leaders, including retired General Jay Garner, the first American administrator in Iraq. Along with the de-Baathification policy and privatization of the economy, the dissolution of Saddam's army is almost universally viewed as the spark that turned the post-war tinderbox of Iraq into a conflagration. In his definitive account of the U.S. occupation, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, Rajiv Chandrasekaran details the arrogance of Bremer's CPA and its troika of disastrous decisions that made 2003 "the lost year in Iraq." In the devastating 2007 documentary No End in Sight, former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage describes the collective shock, "I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out of work [Iraqi] soldiers." That same fall, the former British army chief General Sir Mike Jackson declared the policy "very short-sighted," concluding "We should have kept the Iraqi security services in being and put them under the command of the coalition."

    So much for President Bush's tall tale to Dead Certain biographer Robert Draper, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."

    That's not all that didn't happen. The gains of the Sunni Awakening which began in 2006 were largely lost as Bush's handpicked Shiite strongman in Baghdad turned his back on national unity and instead turned to sectarian consolidation of power. The result is that many of the Sunni tribal sheiks and the thousands of fighters who loyalty they commanded switched from battling foreign Al Qaeda terrorists to making their 2014 conquests possible.

    As Zach Beauchamp rightly noted in Vox, "Without the American invasion, al-Qaeda in Iraq never would have been so strong, and ISIS never would have grown out of it." President Bush couldn't agree more. After all, in his December 2008 interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News he acknowledged that it was the American presence that drew Al Qaeda fighters to Iraq, and not the reverse:

    BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -

    RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

    BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

    And the defeat of Al Qaeda in the western provinces of Iraq would not have been possible without the Sunni Awakening in which the United States purchased the allegiance of tribal sheiks and armed 90,000 of their fighters. But those "Sons of Iraq" of Iraq would only stay bought if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite majority integrated them into the nation's security forces.

    But accommodating the Sunni groups was precisely what Maliki--George W. Bush's man in Baghdad--refused to do. As Dexter Filkins explained earlier this year:

    In the two and a half years since the Americans' departure, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. Maliki's march to authoritarian rule has fueled the reemergence of the Sunni insurgency directly. With nowhere else to go, Iraq's Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

    As many warned at the time, the decision of Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha and other Sunni tribal leaders in August 2006 to turn on the Al Qaeda forces led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and partner with the U.S. in arming the Sons of Iraq came with a big asterisk attached. As the Washington Post noted in 2008:

    But experts stress the moves by Sunni sheikhs was less an embrace of U.S. objectives and more a repudiation of al-Qaeda in Iraq's actions...

    "The Americans think they have purchased Sunni loyalty," Nir Rosen, a fellow at New York University Center on Law and Security, told Congress in April 2008. "But in fact it is the Sunnis who have bought the Americans" by buying time to challenge the Shiite government.

    By late 2007, there were already worries that the Sunnis wouldn't stay bought. Shiite politicians and CIA analysts warned that "when the U.S. leaves, what we'll have are two armies" and "there is a danger here that we are going to have armed all three sides: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite and now the Sunni militias." And that risk would be elevated if the Shiite-controlled government led by Prime Minister Al-Maliki refused to accommodate Sunni interests in running the army and the country. And, as the New York Times warned as the last American troops were leaving Iraq in December 2011, that fear was being realized:

    The Shiite-dominated central government has arrested prominent Sunnis on accusations that they are secret members of the long-disbanded Baath Party, which has alienated Sunni elites. Meanwhile, a Sunni revolt a few hundred miles to the north of here against the Shiite-aligned government in neighboring Syria is gathering force.

    Last month, government police officers wounded two guards and detained two others in a raid on the home of a Sunni, Sheik Albo Baz, in Salahuddin Province, prompting a protest by several thousand Sunnis in Samarra, a city divided by sect.

    This followed the roundup by police officers of 600 suspected Baath Party sympathizers in October; they were accused of planning a coup.

    Now, Maliki is gone. But even with a new government in Baghdad, President Obama is learning that the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. The U.S. and Iran finding themselves on the same side in backing Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi's efforts to roll back ISIS gains in the north and west of Iraq. Having routed the supposed moderates of the Free Syrian Army, ISIS is now expanding its challenge to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. With friends like that, the United States doesn't need enemies. Even as the U.S. began air surveillance of Syria in advance of possible strikes against ISIS forces there, Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes had to explain:

    "It is not the case that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Joining forces with Assad would essentially permanently alienate the Sunni population in both Syria and Iraq, who are necessary to dislodging ISIL."

    That, in a nutshell, is a mess. To put it another way, President Bush's legacy of "taking the lid off" of the pot of simmering sectarian tensions has been a disaster, a calamity, a fiasco and, yes, a catastrophe. But 10 years after Bush first announced it, his war in Iraq certainly has not been a success.

    Perrspective 8:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    August 29, 2014
    President Romney Would Have Asked the Tough Questions on Ferguson

    Over the past couple of weeks, two media storylines have been developing on parallel. President Obama, conventional wisdom regurgitators assure us, has failed to deliver on his vision of a "post-racial" America. They are stunned--stunned!--that the President branded by his foes as a Kenyan-born Muslim might have lamentably concluded that his presence in Ferguson, Missouri would only make things worse. Meanwhile, Obama's conservative critics tout a buyer's remorse among voters that makes Mitt Romney well-positioned to win in 2016.

    Imagine, then, President Romney's handling of the outrage in Ferguson. No doubt, the man who claimed he "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King, Jr., supposedly wept with joy when his Church finally allowed black clergy in 1978 and mistook Donna Brazile for Gwen Ifill would have posed the tough questions no one else was even thinking of asking:

    "Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?"

    When he wasn't harping on President Obama's "extraordinary errors" which are "more severe than even I would have predicted," Would-Have-Been President Romney weighed in on the killing of Michael Brown and the heavy-handed police response in Ferguson:

    "I think that the federal government needed to communicate that this is a high priority and provide confidence to the people in the community that this was not going to be swept under the rug."

    Of course, what Romney really needed to be swept under the rug was his own record on civil rights, race relations and immigration. For example, In July 2012, Mitt voiced his support for the GOP's nationwide minority vote suppression efforts, proclaiming "I like Voter ID laws." That August, the AP reported "Romney pushes on with discredited welfare attacks" which with good reason "could open Romney up to criticism that he is injecting race into the campaign." That same month, Romney joined his endorser, fundraiser and wife's birthday bash host Donald Trump in pandering to the GOP's birther base. As he put it at an event in Michigan:

    "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."

    With statements like that, it's no wonder Mitt Romney "expected" to get boos when he went to address the NAACP in July 2012. (Many have argued he wanted to get those boos, precisely because his real audience wasn't the African-American attendees in the room but the white Republicans watching on Fox News at home.) "I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families," Mitt told the assembled activists, "you would vote for me for president." (If they looked not to his heart but his record in Massachusetts, they would have learned that Governor Mitt Romney moved immediately--and unilaterally--to shutter the state's affirmative action office.) But unable to muster examples of his own commitment to civil rights, Romney the Younger nevertheless used his father's instead.

    Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney. It wasn't just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn't just that he helped create Michigan's first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit - though he did those things, too. More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God. I'm grateful to him for so many things, and above all for the knowledge of God, whose ways are not always our ways, but whose justice is certain and whose mercy endures forever.

    George Romney was a strong ally to the civil right movement; his son Mitt not so much. That may be why 93 percent of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2012. And probably why there's not a whole lot of buyer's remorse there, either.

    Perrspective 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    August 28, 2014
    Burger King and the Romney Perversion

    The merger of Miami-based Burger King and Tim Horton's of Canada is adding fuel to the raging debate about the so-called "tax inversion." While Jordan Weissman questions Burger King's denial that the decision to base the new fast food giant in Canada was motivated by a desire to lower its corporate tax bill, Megan McArdle and David Harsanyi argue BK's royal decree is just common sense.

    But lost in the debate about the degree to which Burger King will screw American taxpayers is the inescapable fact that it already has. Thanks to another a different gaming of the tax code that can rightly be called the "Romney perversion," Burger King's private equity owners already redirected millions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury to line their own pockets. And among those who padded their own bank accounts at taxpayer expense was Mitt Romney himself.

    In 2010, Burger King was purchased by Brazilian private equity giant 3G for $3.3 billion. But as Joe Nocera documented in the New York Times two years ago, BK was only changing hands. Eight years earlier, the struggling company began its first spell as a cash cow for rich investors:

    Enter -- ta-da! -- private equity. In 2002, Goldman Sachs, along with two private equity firms, TGP and ... hmmm ... Bain Capital, teamed up to buy Burger King. This is exactly the kind of situation private equity firms like to trumpet: taking over a downtrodden company and nursing it back to health. And to get them their due, Burger King's new owners did some good, stabilizing both the company and the franchisees, many of whom were in worse shape than Burger King itself.

    But the private equity investors also cut themselves an incredibly sweet deal. Their $1.5 billion purchase price included only $210 million of their own money; the rest was borrowed. They immediately began taking out tens of millions of dollars in fees. Four years later, they took Burger King public. But, first, they rewarded themselves with a $448 million dividend. In all, according to The Wall Street Journal, "the firms received $511 million in dividend, fees, expense reimbursements and interest" -- while still retaining a 76 percent stake.

    Despite having left Bain Capital in 2002, Mitt Romney continued to reap a windfall from the golden parachute he negotiated prior to his departure. But as I documented two years ago ("How We Built Bain Capital"), Romney's stratospheric earnings as a leveraged-buyout pioneer would not have been possible without his uncle. Uncle Sam, that is. Your United States tax code doesn't merely allow the "carried interest exemption" that enables the likes of Mitt Romney to pay a lower rate than many middle class families. Without the public subsidy that is the corporate debt interest deduction, there might not be a Bain Capital--or a private equity industry as we know it--at all.

    In 2012, Matt Taibbi explained how federal tax law made it possible for Mitt Romney to become a $250 million man:

    Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn't exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole - a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. "Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be," says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. "So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own."

    And much more debt than many of the takeover targets of the LBO kings could afford. But by insisting these companies immediately begin paying them dividends and management fees, private equity parasites like Mitt Romney realized they could win big even when the firms they acquired failed.

    The Economist explained how the perverse incentives work:

    From 2004 to 2011 private-equity firms piled more debt onto their companies so they could take out $188 billion in dividends to pay themselves. The deals got bigger and bigger. The largest ever, in 2007, was the $44 billion purchase of TXU, an electricity company. The market worries the company will go under.

    But though the private-equity people may have walked off with the loot, America's tax code was partly to blame, because it encourages this behaviour. The tax deductibility of interest payments on debt gives private-equity executives an incentive to pile extra debt onto the companies they buy, thereby risking the health of these firms for the sake of a tax benefit and the prospect of higher returns.

    "In the majority of these deals," Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission explained, "the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn't work without it." And that interest," Turner said, "just sucks the profit out of the company." As Taibbi rightly noted, "You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level."

    "Traditionally," Josh Kosman noted in 2009, "cash-rich public companies have paid dividends to lure and reward investors." But private equity firms, he explained, stand this process on its head. "Fourteen of the largest American private equity firms had more than 40 percent of the North American companies they bought from 2002 until September 2006 pay them dividends," Kosman pointed out, adding, "In thirty-two of the eighty-three case, 38 percent, they took money out in the first year." And the innovator behind the business model?

    Mitt Romney was a pioneer of this strategy. His private equity firm, Bain Capital, was the first large PE firm to make a serious portion of its money not from selling its companies or listing them on the stock exchange, but rather by collecting distributions and dividends, which in this context is the exact opposite of reinvesting in a company. Bain Capital is notorious for failing to plow profits back into its businesses.

    So much for candidate Mitt Romney's 2007 claim, "Don't forget that when companies earn profit, that money is supposed to be reinvested in growth."

    During his tenure as CEO from 1984 to 1999, Bain invested in 40 companies in the U.S. While seven later went bankrupt, in June the New York Times reported that "In some instances, hundreds of employees lost their jobs. In most of those cases, however, records and interviews suggest that Bain and its executives still found a way to make money." That mirrors a January 2012 analysis by the Wall Street Journal, which revealed:

    Bain produced stellar returns for its investors--yet the bulk of these came from just a small number of its investments. Ten deals produced more than 70% of the dollar gains.

    Some of those companies, too, later ran into trouble. Of the 10 businesses on which Bain investors scored their biggest gains, four later landed in bankruptcy court.

    Put another way, Mitt Romney's investing was almost risk-free. He won when his portfolio companies won and often when they lost. Thanks in large part to the dangerous incentives unleashed by the U.S. tax code. With the policy choices of our elected United States government, Mitt Romney simply would not have gotten nearly as rich as he did at Bain Capital. As Matt Taibbi put it, "the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code."

    In other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. "I don't know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code," says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, "but he wouldn't be fabulously wealthy."

    But it wasn't just Mitt Romney who got rich courtesy of the Whopper. So did his Mormon Church. As ABC News detailed during the 2012 campaign, "the private equity giant once run by the GOP presidential frontrunner carved his church a slice of several of its most lucrative business deals, securities records show, providing it with millions of dollars worth of stock in some of Bain Capital's most well-known holdings." Among those well-known holdings that enriched his Church while lowering his tax bill:

    Records from the Securities and Exchange Commission show that the Mormon Church has reaped more than $13 million over the last 15 years by selling shares in companies that Bain Capital invested in, including Burger King Holdings and Domino's.

    As we fast forward to his week's marriage of Tim Horton and Burger King, many Americans are beginning to tally the loss to Uncle Sam's coffers from this latest tax inversion. But thanks to the Romney perversion, billions of dollars in damage have already been done.

    Perrspective 2:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    August 26, 2014
    ISIS? George W. Bush Built That

    If you're looking for a handy guide to the blame game over the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Vox has a helpful primer to "how the US, its allies, and its enemies all made ISIS possible." Zach Beauchamp's list of the guilty--the United States, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his sectarian Shiite allies, Iraq's Sunni, Iran, Bashar al-Assad and the Gulf States--is a long one. But in an article in which the name George W. Bush doesn't appear at all, Vox significantly downplays the essential role the 43rd President played in bring Al Qaeda to Iraq. And we know this because President Bush himself told us so.

    Vox's Beauchamp began his summary of American paternity for ISIS this way:

    The most obvious way in which the US bears responsibility for ISIS's rise is the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The United States invaded Iraq, accidentally sparked a sectarian civil war, and generally created the conditions for what was then al-Qaeda in Iraq to flourish. Without the American invasion, al-Qaeda in Iraq never would have been so strong, and ISIS never would have grown out of it.

    President Bush couldn't agree more. After all, in his December 2008 interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News he acknowledged that it was the American presence that drew Al Qaeda fighters to Iraq, and not the reverse:

    BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -

    RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

    BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

    And the defeat of Al Qaeda in the western provinces of Iraq would not have been possible with the Sunni Awakening in which the United States purchases the allegiance of tribal sheiks and armed 90,000 of their fighters. But those "Sons of Iraq" of Iraq would only stay bought if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite majority integrated them into the nation's security forces. But accommodating the Sunni groups was precisely was Maliki--George W. Bush's man in Baghdad--refused to do. As Dexter Filkins explained earlier this year:

    In the two and a half years since the Americans' departure, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. Maliki's march to authoritarian rule has fueled the reemergence of the Sunni insurgency directly. With nowhere else to go, Iraq's Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

    In 2006, the committed Shiite sectarian Nouri al-Maliki was President Bush's hand-picked choice for the premiership. But by the summer of 2007, Robert Draper reported, Bush, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were all worrying that Maliki would undo the gains of the surge made possible by General David Petraeus' Sunni Awakening:

    It suddenly seemed that the efforts of the surge might be for naught. And so, shortly after returning from Iraq, McCain and Graham visited President Bush at the White House. According to three individuals with knowledge of the July 11 conversation, the pair advised Bush to cut all ties with al-Maliki unless he showed immediate signs of engagement. Such a move on Bush's part would be tantamount to encouraging a coup against Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister, but McCain and Graham saw the situation as a desperate one. We've got a military strategy that's working, they told the president. And it's being undercut by an Iraqi government that's dysfunctional.

    Bush was sympathetic. He'd been giving al-Maliki pep talks for more than six months now, with little to show for the effort. But, he told the two senators, "Who's going to replace him?"

    We don't have a good answer for that, they replied. But unless al-Maliki changes, we can't get there.

    As it turned out, Maliki didn't change. The idea of a pluralistic Iraqi government, dependent as it was on the Shiite majority's inclusion of the Sunni minority previously represented by Saddam Hussein, soon began to fade. As I worried in November 2007 ("Bush's M.C. Escher Strategy for Iraq"), Shiite wariness and Sunni distrust threatened to undermine any hope for a peaceful, nonsectarian future:

    More and more, President Bush's strategy in Iraq resembles an M.C. Escher illustration. Like the hands drawing each other or the elegant depiction of stairways that cannot possibly meet, the military progress of the U.S. surge is producing an image of a future Iraq that, while glorious to behold, can never be built. The very American alliances with Sunni tribal leaders that are reducing sectarian violence and the threat from Al Qaeda also threaten to undermine the Shiite majority government in Baghdad. And the "enduring" U.S. presence announced by President Bush this week may serve only to protect the Maliki government from its domestic enemies, not its friend and American foe Iran. If anything, the surge may be making the prospect of Iraqi national reconciliation even more remote.

    Seven years later, Maliki is gone and many of the fighters once led Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq have reorganized--and metastasized--into the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under the self-proclaimed emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As Vox rightly explains, there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the rise of ISIS. But as the Obama administration continues to mount air strikes and build alliances to destroy the Islamic State, there should be little doubt that his predecessor played a vital role in inadvertently creating it in the first place. Or to put it in a way that Republicans will understand: ISIS? George W. Bush helped build it.

    Perrspective 3:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

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