Political MoJo

No Money Left Behind: Education Entrepreneur Cashes in on Bush Family Ties

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 1:12 PM EST
Jeb Bush with Randy Best.

In this week's New Yorker, Alec MacGillis discusses Jeb Bush's approach to education reform, the realm in which Bush, as Florida's governor, had sought to make his biggest mark. In 1995, his efforts to improve the state's public schools catalyzed his political career and, later, fueled competition with his brother George, who as president rolled out the No Child Left Behind Act:

Jeb Bush made it known that he thought his own approach superior, because it sought to grade schools on improvements in individual students' scores, rather than just on schools' performance in a given year. "There were lots of conversations about the work in Texas and how Florida had improved on that," [school superintendent Jim] Warford said. According to education officials, Jeb's team had little respect for Rod Paige, the former Houston schools superintendent whom George W. Bush had named Secretary of Education. "It was a little prickly in Florida," Sandy Kress, who worked on the implementation of No Child Left Behind, said. "It was 'We're going to do it our way and can do it better.'"

Their sibling rivalry notwithstanding, the Bush bros have common ties to one particularly controversial educational entrepreneur. Starting in the late 1990s, Randy Best, whom I profiled at the end of George W. Bush's second term, used his connections to the president to transform a virtually unknown for-profit education company, Voyager, into a "selling juggernaut" (in his words) that he unloaded in 2005 for $360 million.

Randy Best Steve Brodner

The key to Voyager's success was the way it it used revolving doors in Bush's Education Department to game the procurement process. Its dealings prompted a scathing DOE inspector general's report in 2006 and a harshly worded Senate report the following year. "Many programs, including Voyager, were probably adopted on the basis of relationships, rather than effectiveness data," G. Reid Lyon, who co-wrote the No Child Left Behind Act and later consulted for Best, told me in 2008. "I thought all this money would be great; it would get into schools. But money makes barracudas out of people. It's an amazing thing."

The controversy surrounding Voyager didn't dissuade Best from starting another education company. Founded in 2005, Academic Partnerships persuades colleges to outsource to the firm their degree programs in subjects such as business and education, which it puts online in exchange for a hefty chunk of the profits. Nor did Voyager dissuade Jeb Bush from partnering with Best. Here's MacGillis:

Best needed someone to lend credibility to the company. Florida had spent heavily on Voyager during Jeb Bush's governorship, and, in 2005, when Bush was still in office, Best spoke with him about going into the education business. By 2011, Bush had joined Academic Partnerships as an investor and an adviser, and he became the company's highest-profile champion. Best told the Washington Post that Bush's annual salary was sixty thousand dollars, but he did not disclose the terms of Bush's investment stake. For the first time, Bush was making money in an educational enterprise.

Last month, after announcing his intent to run for president, Bush resigned from Academic Partnerships and several other business affiliations. Yet if Bush's family history is any guide, Randy Best 2.0 is just getting started.

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Mississippi Wouldn't Allow This Teacher to Show Kids How to Use a Condom. His Simple Solution Is Brilliant.

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 8:54 PM EST

In Mississippi, where education laws require "stressing" abstinence, teachers are prohibited from "any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied." Nonetheless, 76 percent of Mississippi teenagers report having sex before the end of high school, and a third of babies in the state are born to teenage mothers. One teacher came up with a creative solution for imparting some wisdom to students about condoms—watch it below. (And read our full report on draconian sex-ed laws here.)

Terrifying Video Shows Black Man "With His Hands Raised" Shot To Death By New Jersey Cop

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 11:44 AM EST

A newly released dashcam recording shows a New Jersey police officer fatally shooting a black man whose hands were raised in the air.

The fatal encounter stems from a routine traffic stop on December 30, in which Bridgeton officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley pulled over a vehicle for running through a stop sign. 

While questioning the two men, Leroy Tutt and Jerame Reid, the video shows Days suddenly shouting to his partner, "We've got a gun in his glove compartment!"

"Show me your fucking hands," Days, who appears to recognize Reid as he his heard calling him by his first name, warns. "He's reaching for something!"  

As the situation intensifies, Reid can be heard telling the officers, "I'm not reaching for nothing. I ain't got no reason to reach for nothing." He then tells Days, "I'm getting out and getting on the ground."

Reid gets up and exits the car with his hands raised. Then the two officers fire at least six shots, killing Reid.

"The video speaks for itself that at no point was Jerame Reid a threat and he possessed no weapon on his person," Walter Hudson of the civil rights group National Awareness Alliance said Wednesday.

According to records, Reid was in prison for 13 years for shooting at a state trooper when he was a teenager. 

On Tuesday, the Bridgeton Police Department expressed its disappointment over the video's release "out of respect for the family." An investigation into the fatal shooting is being conducted. 

The recording comes amid reports the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown will be cleared of federal civil rights charges. The August shooting sparked massive protests around the country with the chant, "Hands up, don't shoot" serving as a symbolic call for justice in Brown's death. 

 

Watch Molly Redden on the GOP Women Protesting the 20-Week Abortion Ban

Thu Jan. 22, 2015 12:12 AM EST

Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden appeared on MSNBC's Last Word Wednesday night to discuss why Republican women are revolting against the 20-week abortion ban.

Federal Prosecutors Set to Clear Ferguson Cop Who Shot Michael Brown

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 4:49 PM EST

The Department of Justice is reportedly preparing to clear Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown last August, of civil rights charges. According to the New York Times, which broke the news Wednesday afternoon, federal prosecutors are in the process of finalizing a legal memo recommending no charges be made against Wilson. The Times notes, however, a final decision has yet to be officially announced. 

A broader federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department continues. 

The report follows November's decision by a grand jury declining to indict the officer in Brown's death. Brown was 18-years-old and unarmed at the time of the shooting. From the Times:

Three law enforcement officials discussed the details of the federal investigation on condition of anonymity because the report was incomplete and Mr. Holder and his top civil rights prosecutor, Vanita Gupta, had not formally made a decision. Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Brown's family, said he did not want to comment on the investigation until the Justice Department made an official announcement. "We've heard speculation on cases before that didn't turn out to be true," Mr. Crump said. "It's too much to put the family through to respond to every rumor." Mr. Crump said that at the end of last year that the Justice Department had told him that it was still investigating.

The lawyer for Mr. Wilson did not return calls for comment.

The shooting prompted massive demonstrations across the country with protestors demanding charges be brought against Wilson. 

This is a developing story.

Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thinks Citizens United Is the Supreme Court's Worst Ruling

Wed Jan. 21, 2015 4:45 PM EST

This story originally appeared at BillMoyers.com.

In an interview with the New Republic, 81-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the current Court's worst ruling — and the one she would most like to overrule—was Citizens United.

That decision is the one responsible, in large part, for making this midterm election a record breaker in terms of outside spending. And that's before the really heavy spending comes into play, in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision struck down the limits on how much money corporations and unions can spend in federal elections. Ginsburg, who dissented in the case, explains here why Citizens United is top of her list and tackles the two runners-up.

I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be. So that's number one on my list. Number two would be the part of the health care decision that concerns the commerce clause. Since 1937, the Court has allowed Congress a very free hand in enacting social and economic legislation. I thought that the attempt of the Court to intrude on Congress's domain in that area had stopped by the end of the 1930s. Of course health care involves commerce. Perhaps number three would be Shelby County, involving essentially the destruction of the Voting Rights Act. That act had a voluminous legislative history. The bill extending the Voting Rights Act was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, Republicans and Democrats, everyone was on board. The Court's interference with that decision of the political branches seemed to me out of order. The Court should have respected the legislative judgment. Legislators know much more about elections than the Court does. And the same was true of Citizens United. I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.

In her wide-ranging interview, she goes on to discuss her concerns for women's reproductive rights, why she's not going to step down, despite some calls from the left for her to do so, her scathing dissent on the Hobby Lobby ruling and life as "Notorious R.B.G."

Read the full interview at The New Republic.

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Watch the Video of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Right Here

| Tue Jan. 20, 2015 8:36 PM EST

The early news was that President Obama is going to announce a small tax increase that will mostly affect the very wealthy. Kevin Drum thinks this sort of thing will play well and Obama's approval rating surge is likely to continue. Meanwhile, after we pointed out some of the problems with the Spanish-language version of the GOP's rebuttal to the State of the Union being a literal translation of Iowa Senator and English-only advocate Joni Ernst's planned remarks, the party is now saying that Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) will give his own, unique Spanish speech. So that happened. Here's everything you should probably know about Joni Ernst.

And, on cue, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is already making an ass of himself.

Stick around after the speech for David Corn's wrap-up article. They're usually really good.

You can find the full text of the speech here.

This Is an Early Contender for the Worst #SOTU Tweet of the Night

| Tue Jan. 20, 2015 7:43 PM EST

If you are one of those people who enjoys watching congressmen and women make fools of themselves—and you are—then things like the State of the Union are precious delicacies to be savored. The stately class dolls themselves in hashtags and tweets their "smart takes" and insightful "jokes" out into the world so they can inevitably get pulled over by the information superhighway police for being despicable, stupid, and possibly racist.

The SOTU isn't for a few more hours but we've already got an early contender for the night's worst tweet from a sitting member of Congress. Quoth Rep. Steve King (R-Pleasantville):

"A deportable"!

 

GOP's Big Spanish SOTU Response Will Be a Translation of English-Only Advocate Joni Ernst's Speech

| Tue Jan. 20, 2015 11:33 AM EST

Each year, the opposition party taps a member to deliver a response to the president's State of the Union address. For Tuesday night's speech—President Barack Obama's sixth—Republicans have awarded this duty to Iowa freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, who rose to prominence last spring when she released a campaign ad about castrating a pig.

The GOP has also announced it will be offering a Spanish-language rebuttal, which will be delivered tonight by freshman Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a young conservative from a diverse Miami congressional district. But there's a wrinkle. According to a press release from the House Republicans, Curbelo will not be sharing his own thoughts and words with the public. Instead, he will only be reading a Spanish translation of Ernst's speech.

Curbelo's office confirmed that he will not be delivering his own remarks.

By the way, Ernst has endorsed English as a national language and once sued Iowa's secretary of state for offering voting forms in languages other than English. Her office did not respond to requests for comment.

Curbelo has broken with his own party on immigration to support a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Ernst has repeatedly expressed opposition to "amnesty."

Update: Following the publication of this article, House Republicans changed their tune. Read more here.

The Muslim Hero Who Saved Lives at a Paris Kosher Market Is Being Awarded French Citizenship

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 12:05 PM EST

Lassana Bathily, the Muslim man from Mali who saved the lives of several customers during last week's hostage situation at a kosher supermarket in Paris, will be awarded French citizenship for his heroic efforts. 

The news comes as many, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have expressed their gratitude to Bathily for his bravery. Nearly 300,000 people signed a petition calling for his citizenship. 

On Friday, Bathily, who works as an assistant at the market, risked his own life by ushering a group of customers downstairs and hiding them in the market's walk-in freezer. Needing to inform police of the situation, he managed to exit through the basement. Once out, however, police ordered him to lie down, in fear Bathily was working with the gunman inside. After he was able to convince authorities he was not working with the gunman, Bathily provided the necessary details and key to the market's metal blinds, both of which helped rescue the fifteen people hiding in the freezer. 

"Yes, I aided Jews,” Bathily said in an interview. "We’re brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians, or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat. We need to help each other to get out of this crisis."

Bathily has reportedly lived in France since 2006.  

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Bathily won the Legion d'Honneur.