Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Jeb has dined out for most of his career on his [unearned] image as the clever Bush brother"

Chris Lehmann writes in the London Review of Books that "Jeb has dined out for most of his career on his image as the clever Bush brother, but as his quasi-campaign heated up and the press started to ask questions about actual policies, he immediately undermined this unearned plaudit by saying he would have followed to the letter George’s catastrophic decision to invade and occupy Iraq. After realising that this was a position now seen as insane even by most Republicans, he tried to retreat from it with a series of flailing clarifications."

Jeb Bush’s own track record is terrible. He was elected as governor of Florida in 1998, touting his ambitious plan to ‘reform’ – i.e. privatise – the state’s underperforming schools. The actual returns of his ‘education miracle’ are equivocal at best: it’s hard to tell how individual schools are performing because the letter-grade system he instituted (from A to F) is recalibrated almost every year in an attempt to improve the figures. The unregulated charter schools are paid for with taxpayers’ money. Florida statutes require the organisations administering the schools to be non-profits, but, Florida being Florida, all that energetic for-profit concerns had to do was set up non-profit shell companies as nominal administrators.

By 2002, according to the St Petersburg Times, three-quarters of all newly established charter schools were managed by for-profit companies. One such edubusiness, the Richard Milburn Academy, has been forced to close seven failing schools across the state since 2006, but is still allowed to operate two campuses in Daytona Beach with $2.8 million in tax subsidies. In all, 30 per cent of the state’s charter schools have gone under; meanwhile, the people in charge of them have often simply gone on to set up new schools under new corporate letterheads.

"Bush’s other accomplishments in office include two curiously complementary policy fiascos:"
[S]igning the nation’s first ever ‘stand your ground’ gun law (the legislation that gave us the Trayvon Martin killing and countless other instances of unpunished citizen bloodletting); and prolonging the life of the severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in a cynical bid to burnish his culture wars résumé.

Also disgraceful was the disenfranchisement of Florida’s black electorate on his watch. Florida election officials, ostensibly looking to prevent felons from casting ballots, worked from lists riddled with errors and mistaken entries, with the result that more than 12,000 qualified black voters were purged from registration rolls during the 2000 election cycle. In addition, majority black and Hispanic districts were plagued with antiquated and malfunctioning polling machines – breeding grounds for the ‘hanging chads’ that made the Florida ballot in 2000 a global byword for gross electoral negligence.

"Bush’s private-sector CV has been no more inspiring."
He co-led a shady Florida company called Bush-El, which marketed water pumps in Nigeria. On one occasion, before his time as governor, a pilot reported seeing Bush and other company managers travelling on a plane to Nigeria with a briefcase full of cash, presumably earmarked for government bribes. Bush denied having been on the plane.

After 2007, when he retired from office, he served on the board of a building materials company called InnoVida, which paid $15,000 a month to Bush’s consultancy firm. InnoVida declared bankruptcy in 2011 and was charged with defrauding investors. Its CEO, Claudio Osorio, had misappropriated investor cash to buy himself a Maserati and a mansion, and is now serving a 12-year sentence in federal prison. Bush has claimed he knew nothing of InnoVida’s wrongdoing.

Bush was also on the board at Swisher Hygiene, a soap-making concern. When the senior brass confessed they had been doctoring financial documents and practising dodgy accounting, the company’s stock valuation plunged by three-quarters. Once more Bush denied any knowledge of what was going on (this claim won’t now be tested in court, since the firm settled a class action brought by its investors without having to acknowledge any wrongdoing).

But all this was as nothing compared to the most glorious moment in Jeb’s board-padding career. In 2007, he was appointed a consultant at Lehman Brothers. Like all major financial players, Lehman was by then up to its eyeballs in mortgage-backed securities. Two months later, the Florida State Board of Administration’s $1.4 billion in toxic mortgage-backed securities, predominantly sold to it by Lehman, started to tank. By the following year, Lehman’s enormous holdings in subprime loans were all but wiped out, and Bush was enlisted to see if he could engineer a fire sale of some of the bank’s empire of debt to the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Nothing came of this last-ditch overture and Lehman went under in the fall of 2008, very nearly taking the financialised infrastructure of global capitalism with it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that Bush was responsible for any of this, but it’s never a good sign when your last shot at market redemption hinges on Jeb Bush’s ability to save the day. In the event, Bush managed to pocket several million in fees from Barclays after it took ownership of the Lehman portfolio’s expiring husk.

"The Candidates(good grief)".