Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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The Jeff Greene-Climate Change Connection

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 10:17 AM EDT

It's been a bruising week for Jeff Greene, the billionaire "populist" running for US Senate in Florida. Greene, you'll remember, has quite the backstory: He made millions betting against the housing market before the subprime debacle; Mike Tyson was the best man at Greene's wedding; and his circle of friends and acquaintances has included celebrities like Heidi Fleiss and Lindsay Lohan. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported on what appears to be a classic case of pay-to-play involving Greene and a member of the Democratic National Committee, Jon Ausman of Tallahassee, who endorsed Greene.

Now comes news that the next biggest threat to barrier reefs after global warming is, well, Jeff Greene's three-story, 145-foot yacht Summerwind. The St. Pete Times reports today that, five years ago, Greene's yacht dropped anchor onto one of the planet's most treasured barrier reefs off the coast of Belize. (Greene wasn't aboard at the time.) According to Belize environmental officials, the case remains open, and Greene or Summerwind's captain at the time of the incident face fines of up to $1.9 million if they ever return to that country. If they don't, then there's nothing Belize officials can do.

Greene's campaign denied to the Times that the reef incident ever occurred, even though Belize officials have a two-volume case file containing evidence of the episode. "Jeff Greene doesn't take a penny of special interest money, so career politicians are attacking him with ridiculous stories about something that didn't even happen five years ago on a boat he wasn't even on,'' a campaign spokesman told the Times. "That's our position. That's our quote."

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My Congress Is So Unpopular...

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 10:28 AM EDT

...that even "Big Business"—think Wall Street, corporations, big-box retailers, the payday lenders—is more trusted by the American public than the 111th United States Congress. That's just one punchline for this sad, unfunny joke. Want another? Trying swapping out big business for, say, the criminal justice system. Yes, that broken criminal justice—the one that imprisons 1 in every 100 Americans, that sentences petty marijuana users to life behind bars without parole, that currently imprisons more black men than were enslaved in 1850, that each year eats away the anemic budgets of states like Michigan and California—is more popular than Congress.

At least that's what a new Gallup public confidence poll shows. Right now, the public's confidence in our federal legislative body, Gallup finds, is a meager 11 percent; the president fares somewhat better, with 36 percent of the public's confidence, tied with the US Supreme Court. Only three groups have more than 50 percent of the public's confidence: the police (59), small businesses (66), and the military (76). 

Here are the results from the Gallup poll:

Vilsack Rethinking Sherrod Firing

| Wed Jul. 21, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

The tempest in a tea pot surrounding the firing of Shirley Sherrod, a United States Department of Agriculture official in Georgia, looks set for a new twist today. If you caught so much as a glimpse of the news yesterday, you heard about Sherrod's story: how she was forced to quit by USDA officials, including secretary Tom Vilsack and under-secretary Cheryl Cook, after a video surfaced purportedly showing Sherrod, who is black, talking about how 24 years ago she "withheld help from a white farmer seeking the [USDA's] help in saving his farm." The video showing Sherrod's "racism" went viral, even though, as it turned out, the video had been selectively edited, had taken Sherrod's comments completely out of context, and had flipped Sherrod's remarks on their head. When interviewed by CNN, the white farmers whom Sherrod had supposedly wronged and discriminated against said the opposite: that Sherrod, their "close friend," had helped save their farm. 

Now that the truth has trickled out in this mini-controversy, the USDA is reviewing the rash decision to fire Sherrod. And they should, given the dubious source of the edited video—namely, Andrew Breitbart's conservative Big Journalism website. Our own David Corn probably hits it on the nail:

In other words, the truth doesn't matter. If right-wing demagogues make a stink, we'll crucify the victim. This was a shameful statement.

Let's go back to Cook's remark to Sherrod about Glenn Beck, and flip the script. If a left-wing website had set up a Bush administration official during the Bush-Cheney years, can you see an overheated department functionary saying, "We have to get this person out before it's on Maddow"? (Rachel, excuse the comparison.) Of course not. The Bush-Cheney folks would have battled back. You don't allow ideological enemies -- who want you to fail -- to define the terms. That Beck figured into Vilsack's and Cook's calculations for a nanosecond is a tremendous defeat for the administration -- and an undeserved victory for Beck and his Tea Party followers. It ought to make supporters of the Obama administration sick. The White House, as could be expected, ran from this mess. On Tuesday, a White House official told CNN that it was not involved in forcing Sherrod out.

The NAACP, which at first supported the decision to bounce Sherrod, reversed course on Tuesday, saying, "We have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart," who runs BigGovernment.com. Snookering can be undone -- and it should not be tolerated. The only decent course for Vilsack was to review the case and, if there are no new incriminating facts, offer Sherrod an apology and her job back. If the administration -- in the face of a relentless attack from the right -- doesn't fight for its own, how can voters count on it to fight for them? This is not about Beck-bashing. It's about taking charge and doing the right thing. All that is necessary for the triumph of blogging demagogues is that good people do nothing. Didn't a conservative once say that?

Karl Rove's Harry Reid Lies

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 4:07 PM EDT

There's a new TV attack ad on the airwaves in Nevada ripping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for, well, just about everything he's done in the past two years. The 30-second spot essentially blames Reid for Nevada's nation-leading jobless rate, for bringing to Nevada the second-fewest stimulus dollars of all 50 states, and, of course, for all the usual GOP-tagged crimes and misdemeanors—"bailouts," "deficits," and "Obamacare." The ad was paid for by a group named American Crossroads, a deep-pocketed conservative 527 group backed by Karl Rove.

There's just one problem with the Rove group's Reid attack ad: It's basically one huge distortion. On "Face to Face with Jon Ralston," a TV show focusing on Nevada politics, host Ralston eviscerated the ad: "The factual stretches and gross distortions here are egregious," he said. All in all, Ralston considering the ad so untrue that, when it came time to grade it, he gave it a "D."

Factcheck.org, a non-partisan media watchdog publication, similarly dissected American Crossroads' ad and highlighted on inaccuracy after another. For instance, the claim that Nevada ranks second-to-last in stimulus money received, Factcheck found, is based on a February 23 Las Vegas Review-Journal story published mere days after President Obama signed the stimulus bill. The Review-Journal's calculations about stimulus funds going to different states isn't based on actual payments at all, but rather early projections about where the money might go. ProPublica says Nevada ranks 43rd out of 50 for money received, but judging Reid's job at bringing home stimulus money is more complex than that:

[B]laming Reid for Nevada’s share of the stimulus funding is difficult to do. A lot of the money is driven by formulas, such as additional funds for food stamps and Medicaid. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in the ad, Nevada "extends medical assistance to the smallest proportion of needy people of any state in the country." Other stimulus spending was decided by competitive bidding, such as the Race to the Top education funds.

The ad also says Nevada's unemployment rate is "well over 20 percent." Well, that's just not true at all. The statistics used in the ad come from unnamed experts in a May 21 Review-Journal who had given a rough estimate as to the state's jobless rate including those who're underemployed and no longer looking for work, known as "discouraged workers," Factcheck found. It takes five seconds and two clicks of your mouse to see that the Silver State's jobless rate is 14.2 percent. Now, that's still the highest rate in the US, and it qualifies for a full-blown economic crisis. So why lie in a campaign ad and make it look worse than it is?

All in all, the ad is embarrassing for how severely it distorts reality. But then again, the ad was put out by a group headed by a political operative, Karl Rove, who skewed the truth to sell an entire country an entire country on going to war in Iraq. Should we be at all surprised?

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