They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Dispatch from the field. from Los Angeles, Calif., reader AP reports on today's auction of booty belonging to disgraced former lawmaker Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Apparently, deals were had:

Cunningham's loot sold for a total of $92,725 by my count, ranging from a $10,000 rug (real nice) to a $225 folding screen (junk). It seemed to my inexperienced eye that nice antiques were going for well under market value. The hall was crawling with press but all of the bidding was serious except for one goofball in a bad tux with an American flag bowtie who tried to bid with a pingpong paddle with a picture of Stephen Colbert instead of his bidder's number. I think the auctioneer was rather amused.

You heard it here first, folks. It sounds like we may even have scooped the Colbert Report.

See our post yesterday for pictures of the booty.

Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn is turning off the spigot on Gov. Perry's money hose.

Today, there's news from Texas that Strayhorn, who's running as an independent against Perry for governor, has halted the state's contract with a Washington lobbying firm, Cassidy & Associates. There are a number of very interesting facts to note about this.

First off, Strayhorn's discovered that in addition to running contracts through Texas' office in DC (called the Office of State-Federal Relations), which we've known about, in 2004 Perry funneled money straight from the governor's office to Cassidy & Associates - at a rate of over $100,000 a month.

Read More →

Your GOP market update.

Online investors are betting Tom DeLay (R-TX) won't go down on money laundering charges. "The market's at 29 to 30 percent probability that he will be found guilty of consipiring to launder money," Mike Knesevich of online futures trading company Intrade told me.

However, the market for House Republicans is plummeting, in no small part due to ethics scandals that have ensnared DeLay and others.

Read More →

Reader SS points out that Neil Bush's educational software apparently includes lessons on Darwinism, Adaptation and Natural Selection -- even Fossil "Evidence" -- but no similar lesson on intelligent design.

Where's the balance, Neil?

Oh man. The Bush family's on a roll today.

President Bush's uncle just picked up close to $3 million from the sale of a defense contracting company that's currently under federal investigation.

William H.T. Bush -- the family reportedly calls him "Uncle Bucky" -- was a director of the company, Engineered Support Systems, Inc. When the company was bought by DRS Technologies in January, Uncle Bucky raked in $1.7 million in cash and $800,000 in stock, according to the LA Times, which broke the story.

The company has enjoyed several no-bid contracts with the Pentagon for Iraq war support equipment.

The SEC is currently probing questionable stock sales by several major shareholders in the company, including Uncle Bucky. Apparently the Pentagon cut short a major contract with ESSI for generators because they didn't work right; some ESSI executives, including Uncle Bucky, cashed out holdings before alerting other shareholders -- seven months later -- that the deal had gone sour.

Always get your slice of the pie before it's all gone. (Editor's note: Thanks to reader CG for the tip.)

Charity - with strings attached.

Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, but directed it to go toward buying educational software from her son Neil's company, Ignite! Learning, the Houston Chronicle reports today. Ignite! computers "[have] been given to eight area schools that took in substantial numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees."

Ignite!, as you can see here (and you really should), is a computer-based history program that deemphasizes old fashioned book-learning. Or, as Neil explained to the Chronicle last year:

Dyslexic, [Neil] was badly frustrated by traditional school. He has said he saw his son suffer through the same "boring" classes, and he felt a call to do something. So Ignite! designs and promotes software-based curriculum for "hunter/warrior" types -- kids Neil believes are just as smart as the eggheads, but aren't being served by traditional education.

But does it work? Even the Houston school district flak couldn't come up with evidence, today's piece notes: "information about the effectiveness of the program. . . was not readily available Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman." But Barbara Bush is convinced, at least.

Ignite! has spread to a number of Houston schools, due in no small part to who is behind it. In 2004, Neil Bush and his employees beat the bushes for donations to the Houston school district -- and the board unanimously voted to spend the money with Neil's company.

Barb's not the only big-name supporter Neil counts: in 2005, Bush teamed up with Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who was recently accused of attempting to overthrow the government of President Vladimir Putin, to promote his company, according to a British paper.

Update: Read Josh on Ignite's business model.

Newsweek checks in on corruption and fraud hampering Iraq reconstruction, and finds it running high. The special Inspector General for reconstruction has 57 cases of possible fraud he's investigating, with arrests to come, and a harsh report (one more in a series) due in May.

What the piece doesn't touch on is how "the biggest corruption scandal in history" was allowed to fester because ideology trumped practicality. Aid experts and senior foreign service officers, who understand the rebuilding process and how to keep contractors in line, were pushed aside by inexperienced appointees chosen for their ideology.

Newsweek says gingerly, "The conventional wisdom today is that while most CPA officials were enthusiastic and brave, too many were inexperienced and second-rate."

But others aren't so delicate. Robin Raphel was an experienced senior State Department official who worked as an aide for Iraq reconstruction. She spoke candidly for an oral history which was inadvertently made public a few months ago:

Q: This is one of the concerns, that we were sending out so-called "experts" and some really weren't. I hear about a 24 year old guy from the White House sent out to deal with the budget or something like that.

RAPHEL: As I say, ideology was the main criteria.

Read More →

Be Careful, His Bowtie is Really a Camera

In these troubled times, it's good to know the FBI and local police are continuing to ramp up their surveillance of U.S. citizens, especially those engaged in nonviolent protests against Bush administration policy. (Time, CSMonitor)

Read More →

As we mentioned earlier today, Duke Cunningham's ill-gotten gains are going on the auction block tomorrow out in California, but today, the public had the opportunity to peruse the spoils, to get in touch with their government.

TPM reader WP was kind enough to shoot some pictures for us. Photos below the fold...

Read More →

Florida update: Katherine Harris now says she is selling off all her assets and putting those proceeds towards her floundering Senate campaign.

Dems cheer: Make her spend it all! (via PoliticalWire)