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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.

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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)

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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...

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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)

I frankly find this unbelievable.

Monday, we reported that John McCain's new senior aide Terry Nelson had a checkered past - he was involved with Tom DeLay and his co-defendants in their effort to get around Texas campaign finance laws and tied to the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal.

Yesterday, as part of his tour out West, McCain visited talk radio host John Carlson in Seattle. And one intrepid caller (a TPMmuckraker reader?) used the opportunity to get McCain on the record. You can listen to the audio of the call here, for which we have the blog TalkCheck to thank.

CALLER: Thanks, I had a question for the senator. For a reformer, I'm kind of curious why he would hire a guy like Terry Nelson as a senior advisor.

Here's a guy who was actually in the indictment of DeLay on his money laundering charges. When he was at the RNC, he agreed to take the corporate contributions from DeLay's PAC and then recycle them back into the Republican congressional races.

And he was also, this guy Nelson was also the supervisor of James Tobin, who was the guy convicted last year for helping jam the Democratic get-out-the-vote lines in New England a couple years ago.

So I'm curious why would you hire someone with such a shady background?

MCCAIN: None of those charges are true.

CALLER: You don't believe what was actually written in the indictment from Texas?

MCCAIN: No.

CARLSON: All right.

[nervous laughter]

MCCAIN: I will check it out. But I've never heard of such a thing. I know that he was a grassroots organizer for President Bush year 2000 and 2004, and had a very important job in the Bush campaign as late as 2004, but the other charges I will go and look and see if any of them are true, but I've never heard of them before.


You might be skeptical that McCain was actually ignorant of Nelson's past, but when I spoke to Carlson's producer Dave Carson, he said that McCain seemed "surprised" by the call and that afterwards he "started asking his handlers" what all this was about. So that might be true.

I'm not sure what would be worse - if McCain actually was ignorant or just pretending. In either case, it would be yet another page out of the Bush playbook.

Back in January, the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee vowed to thoroughly review all of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R-CA) dealings in their committee. Since then we've heard bupkus. What's the deal?

I called the committee's spokesman, Jamal Ware, who assured me the "thorough and far-reaching" review was moving along. But the details he provided weren't so assuring.

The probe is essentially a one-man show featuring Nick Stern, a senior aide on loan from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' investigative subcommittee. Stern is slowly plowing through documents and interviewing members and their staff about Cunningham's indelicacies.

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Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), paid his wife on commission for campaign fundraising, a highly unusual arrangement that means that the Sweeneys benefitted personally from every contribution. Ethics experts we spoke to earlier this week about Doolittle's wife said that they'd never heard of a similar arrangement. Well, we found one. And it might explain why the Justice Department recently examined Sweeney's financial records.

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Noting Ralph Reed's poor showing in the polls down in Georgia, Josh wonders how many political careers are floundering because of Jack Abramoff. So let's count heads.

He counts Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, and Ralph Reed. But really it ought to be mentioned that Ney and Reed are still alive and kicking. Ney doesn't seem to have a serious challenger, either from the Republicans or Democrats. If it wasn't almost certain that he'll be indicted before November, I wouldn't be surprised if he won that race. And Reed still stands a good chance of taking the Republican primary for Lt. Governor. Burns is the only one who seems in immediate danger, but even he's in a dead heat.

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Just a reminder of what's at stake today down in Texas. DeLay and his co-defendants, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, are awaiting decisions from the Court of Appeals. If things go well for them, the decisions could lead to all charges being dropped against DeLay. If things go poorly, DeLay will find himself facing a conspiracy charge in addition to the money laundering charge. So it's a big day. We'll have word to you as soon as we hear what's happened.

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