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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Dodd Bill = GOP Wall St. Bill?

| Fri Mar. 12, 2010 10:34 AM PST

Mike Konczal makes an intriguing—and troubling—point about how much Sen. Chris Dodd's potential financial reform bill could end up resembling the House GOP's little known financial bill from last year. Case in point: a new consumer protection agency.

The House GOP's bill envisioned a watered-down Office of Consumer Protection placed within a new consolidated regulator called the Financial Institutions Regulator. The OCP would have to jump through a number of hoops to pass new consumer-related rules, would create a new consumer protection hotline, and would report to Congress on consumer-related issues. And in a sign of the OCP's insignificance, its leader would be handpicked by the heads of existing regulators, like John Dugan of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Sheila Bair of the FDIC. The likenesses between the GOP's consumer plan and Dodd's—which would put a regulator within the Fed or Treasury—are striking, Mike says:

Someone in the basement of a more senior regulator, who will need the permission of the banking regulators to do anything, and whose actions will entirely be subject to their review. Actually I’m not sure if the Senate bill will be this strong—nobody has mentioned having a dedicated hotline in the Senate bill.

Now, to be fair, Dodd says he's going to push hard for an "independent" consumer agency—one that might be housed in the Fed or Treasury but would have a presidentially appointed leader, independent budget, and rulewriting and enforcement power. If that's the case, then that's a significant difference between Dodd and the House GOP.

Mike adds that the bankruptcy code changes suggested by the GOP sound an awful lot like those leaked out of the Senate's talks, as does the (lack of) derivatives reforms. Ultimately, we have to wait until Monday to see how much Dodd's bill looks like the House GOP's. But if, come next week, it does, we're in for a war if and when the Senate and House, who passed a relatively tough bill in December, try to merge their two financial reform bills later this year.

The Foreclosure Shadow Market Grows

| Fri Mar. 12, 2010 9:26 AM PST

It's called the housing industry's "shadow market": those houses where the owner has defaulted on their mortgage but is in mortgage limbo because foreclosure proceedings have yet to begin. Right now, that shadow market looms large. More homeowners are falling behind on their payments but banks, lenders, and servicers are so backlogged and buried in paperwork that essentially they can't foreclose on people fast enough. As the Washington Post points out today, 5 to 7 million are eligible for foreclosure but haven't been taken back by lenders yet. The takeaway here? Despite what you've heard to the contrary, new waves of foreclosures are on the horizon, and the housing industry's quagmire—yes, it's still a quagmire—has a long way to go before getting back to even keel.

Clearing out that shadowy backlog, economists say, could take almost three years. So, on the ground, what you're left with is millions of homeowners living for free in their homes—they're not paying their mortgage because they lost their job or had their hours scaled way back, but they're not being foreclosed on, either. Soon to join that army of homeowners are the record-setting 11 million more people who are "underwater," i.e., they owe more than their home is worth. These people are at risk of falling behind on their payments, too. And if they default, that shadow market will only grow, prolonging the housing mess.

From a economic standpoint, as Dean Baker says, the Post's article is kind of a no-brainer. Think basic economics: The housing bubble inflated demand for building new houses, all those house-in-a-box subdivisions started popping up, then when the market collapsed what's left is a huge oversupply of houses. At this point, home prices are still dropping, and one factor pushing those prices down is new bursts of foreclosures. It also means that talks of the housing market "turning the corner" are most likely unfounded. In reality, the light at the tunnel's end is a long way off.

NPR's New Pet: A Toxic Asset

| Fri Mar. 12, 2010 8:07 AM PST

You've got to hand it to the reporters over at NPR's Planet Money—they're always cooking up clever new ways to report on the big business and economic issues of the day. For their latest feature, two Planet Money reporters sought to better explain what a "toxic asset" was, one of the jargony words you hear bandied about but never simply defined. (I'd try to lay it out for you here, but their cuddly, toxic-asset, Where-the-Wild-Things-Are creature is unbeatable.) So those reporters put together $1,000 between themselves and bought a toxic asset. Their plan is to track the health of their asset over time as a way of describing what a toxic asset actually is. Their opening video is below:

 

Chamber PR Helping its Foes?

| Thu Mar. 11, 2010 3:08 PM PST

The US Chamber of Commerce, a huge, controversial player in the battle to reform Wall Street and beef up consumer protection, launched its latest attack on financial reform efforts today, criticizing a proposed small tax on financial transactions. The tax would take something like 0.1 percent or 0.25 percent of financial transactions such as stock trades, and could use those funds to offset the cost of, say, health care reform or to lower the federal deficit. One liberal policy center said the tax could raise $100 to $150 billion a year.

Today, as part of its PR push, the Chamber released a study (PDF) claiming the tax would damage US markets and hurt Main Street by reducing investments and retirement savings. "This proposal would starve cash-strapped companies and cripple our efficient, transparent, and liquid markets," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. "The good news is that a majority of Americans agree that it’s a bad idea." (Mind you, that "majority of Americans" claim is based on poll of 800 people; everyone can agree that 0.000002 percent of Americans speak for all of us, right?)

Asked about the Chamber's latest PR move, Dean Baker, an economist at the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research who favors the tax, actually thanked the Chamber for releasing the study and making the conclusions it did. For instance, one of the report's biggest conclusions is that the new tax would raise trading costs to what they were in the 1980s—something that Baker says is far from a bad thing. He also said the poll accompanying the report (PDF) actually shows there's a fair amount of public support for the tax. 31 percent of respondents said they thought the tax was necessary because of the damage big financial institutions did to the economy—and that's with polling language clearly intended to sway people against the tax. Tweak the questions a bit, and you might've seen majority support for the tax. "I'm kind of happy," Baker says. "They're doing our work for us. And we didn't have to pay anything."

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