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 Greatest Sportswriter Who Ever Lived

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 1:44 PM EST

Lester "Red" Rodney, arguably one of the most influential sportswriters in the profession's history, who used his sports page in the communist Daily Worker newspaper to campaign against baseball's color line, to cover Negro League stars like Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, and to pioneer a brand of sports journalism with a conscience, passed away this week. He was 98.
Dave Zirin, who's written extensively about Rodney in his must-read book What's My Name, Fool? and elsewhere, remembers Rodney in a wonderful homage over at Huffington Post today, parts of which I've included here. As Zirin writes, one of the reasons Rodney was never included in the pantheon of sportswriters came down to the masthead on his paper:

If you have never heard of Lester Rodney, there is a very simple reason why: the newspaper he worked at from 1936-1958 was the Daily Worker, the party press of the U.S. Communist Party. Lester used his paper to launch the first campaign to end the color line in Major League Baseball. I spoke to Lester about this in 2004 and he said to me, "It's amazing. You go back and you read the great newspapers in the thirties, you'll find no editorials saying, 'What's going on here? This is America, land of the free and people with the wrong pigmentation of skin can't play baseball?' Nothing like that. No challenges to the league, to the commissioner, no talking about Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, who were obviously of superstar caliber. So it was this tremendous vacuum waiting."

The man who stepped into that vacuum, Jackie Robinson, would go on to become a lightning rod for the intersection of race issues and sports. Robinson fascinated Rodney, and the writer always felt drawn toward the fiery, intelligent, sublimely talented first baseman:

As Lester fought to end the Color Ban, he also never stopped highlighting and covering the Negro League teams, giving them press at a time when they invisible men outside of the African American press. But it was Jackie Robinson who captured Lester's imagination. Armed with a press pass to the Ebbets Field locker room, he saw up close the way Robinson was told to "just shut up and play" despite the constant harassment during his inaugural 1947 campaign. "Jackie was suppressing his very being, his personality," said Lester. "He was a fiercely intelligent man. He knew his role and he accepted it. And the black players who followed him knew what he meant too." ...
 
Lester would still become emotional when he recalls Jackie Robinson and his impact. "There are very few people of whom you can say with certainty that they made this a somewhat better country. Without doubt you can say that about Jackie Robinson. His legacy was not, 'Hooray, we did it,' but 'Buddy, there's still unfinished work out there' He was a continuing militant, and that's why the Dodgers never considered this brilliant baseball man as a manager or coach. It's because he was outspoken and unafraid. That's the kind of person he was. In fact, the first time he was asked to play at an old-timers' game at Yankee Stadium, he said "I must sorrowfully refuse until I see more progress being made off the playing field on the coaching lines and in the managerial departments." He made people uncomfortable. In fact it was that very quality which made him something special. He always made you feel that 'Buddy, there's still unfinished work out there.'"

Sadly, there aren't many sportswriters out there today—Zirin an obvious exception—who cover not just balls and strikes but the political and economic and social undercurrents of the sporting world. Nevertheless, Rodney showed how influential and powerful a sportswriter with a keen eye, a conscience, and a few column inches can be. For further reading on Rodney, I recommend Irwin Silber's Press Box Red.

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UN to Reform Climate Negotiations

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 8:01 AM EST

Only a few days after the Copenhagen climate conference ended, the UN announced plans to overhaul its climate negotiations process. That's because if the recent climate talks illustrated anything, it's the extent to which the current treaty framework—an unwieldy process in which consensus among the 192 participating countries is near impossible—no longer serves its intended purpose of guiding nations toward meaningful, rigorous emissions reductions. "We will consider how to streamline the negotiations process," said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Monday. "We will also look at how to encompass the full context of climate change and development in the negotiations, both substantively and institutionally." 

The world has changed considerably—economically, ecologically, socially, etc., etc.—since the existing UN treaty process was set into motion after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit where countries drafted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international treaty that each subsequent Conference of the Parties, or COP, attempted to build on and improve. (Copenhagen was the 15th conference, hence the COP15 moniker.) But whereas the original UNFCCC treaty got away with carving the world into overly simplistic categories—essentially, a) industrialized countries, b) developed countries, and c) developing countries—the world has evolved considerably since then; across a country like India, where "development" is the decades-old rallying cry, you'll find economies and societies industrialized, developed, and developing, all within one nation's borders. Rigid categories like the UN's, then, hardly capture the complexities of today's global economy.

The plight of smaller, poorer countries is another matter crying out for change. Some, like the Group of 77, a bloc of impoverished countries, slammed the Copenhagen negotiations that they felt were dominated by wealthier nations. Tuvalu, a tiny, low-lying cluster of islands that could be an early climate-change casualty, was so fed up with the big nations' bullying that one of its negotiators jammed up the talks and introduced a tougher, legally binding treaty of his own. A few other smaller countries kicked up a ruckus as well—but in the end, it was a short, vague agreement hatched by the world's biggest countries that emerged from the arduous negotiations.

Perhaps, then, the best thing to come out of Copenhagen was clear evidence that the UN's treaty process is outdated and needs fixing. Any new negotiations framework should better balance the needs of the developing world against the developed, and streamline the process so that, like Kyoto before Copenhagen, the fate of a far-reaching, crucial, monumental treaty—that is, if we ever get one—isn't decided in the waning hours by a few world powers. 

Obama's Banking Buddies

| Mon Dec. 21, 2009 8:00 AM EST

For all the furor over Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story on Obama's economic team, you couldn't argue with the basic thesis put forward: At the very least, Obama has surrounded himself with powerful Wall Street-centric thinkers and bankers and leaders who dictate his Wall Street-friendly economic agenda. Instead of using the financial meltdown to implement radical and necessary changes, Taibbi writes, "What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place." In May, Simon Johnson described this very revolving door between Washington and Wall Street in a more articulate and less, well, Taibbian piece for The Atlantic; Johnson called Wall Street's takeover "the Quiet Coup."

In our hard-hitting Wall Street package in the new January/February issue of Mother Jones, I put some names on that image of the Washington-Wall Street revolving door. As you'll see, these aren't all midlevel, pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Some of the Wall Street alums now in Obama's upper ranks include:

  • Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's deputy and his chief of staff;
  • Obama's own chief of staff and chief economic adviser;
  • the head of TARP;
  • and the managing executive of the SEC's enforcement division.

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Check out the list of names here, and be sure to check out all of our financial stories as they come out.

Midwestern Pastoral

| Fri Dec. 18, 2009 4:05 PM EST

What is the Midwest? Where does it start and where does it end? Who lives there? Despite having lived in the Midwest most of my 23 years—albeit in Michigan, which can get away with the "Mid-" but scarcely the "-west"—I've struggled to answer those basic questions about a place I thought I knew quite well. I've asked fellow Midwesterners, but they offer little clarity: The Midwest starts, traveling westward, in Ohio and ends in Kansas, they say, or picks up in West Virginia (Appalachian country to me) and ends in Utah (Utah?!). That the Midwest is manufacturing country, where people make and build things the rest of the US needs (though nowadays that could define China as well). That in the Midwest, and in Kansas in particular, one friend told me, people spoke the clearest, truest form of American english, a claim I've yet to fully understand but nonetheless made me feel proud of where I came from.

For a much more eloquent depiction of my beloved Midwest, I defer to photographer Lara Shipley, based in Missouri. Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, over at The Atlantic, features a series of her photos on the Midwest, and as a completely unbiased Midwesterner, I highly recommend them to all. They remind of Robert Frank's The Americans, but set entirely in the American Midwest. The photos posted, with a mini-essay by Conor Friedersdorf,  are especially evocative of the region's economic decay, as manufacturing jobs have been wiped out and unemployment far exceeds the national average in parts of states like Michigan and Ohio. (For another great photo essay on the Midwest, be sure to check out Mother Jones' "End of the Line," a great photo essay by photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier and writer Charlie LeDuff from our Sept/Oct 2009 issue.)

Shipley's Midwest photos are quiet and eclectic, gritty and darkly funny. They're more than worth ten minutes of your time.

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