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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Worst $75 Billion Investment Ever?

| Tue Dec. 8, 2009 2:49 PM EST

At this point, it's hard to understate how much of a bust the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program has been. As I've written before, the centerpiece of that initiative is the Home Affordable Modification Program, a $75 billion effort to work with lenders, servicers, and homeowners in order to lower home mortgage payments; when the program was rolled out in March, the administration projected it could help 3 to 4 million struggling homeowners.

Fast forward ten months to yesterday’s testimony by bailout chief Herb Allison. HAMP, Allison told the House financial services committee, has helped "thousands of borrowers" receive permanent changes to their mortgages. That's it? Predicting this response, Allison went on to say, "Although we know that not every borrower will qualify for a permanent modification, we are disappointed in the permanent modification results thus far. We all need to do better at converting borrowers to permanent modifications."

If you recall, the Congressional Oversight Panel, led by Elizabeth Warren, reported (PDF) this fall that as of September 1 the number of permanent modifications was a meager 1,711. For a program with $75 billion at its disposal. Bearing in mind the COP's findings, if the total permanent modifications—i.e., real, sustainable help for homeowners—is still in the thousands as of Allison's testimony yesterday, then maybe it's time to state the obvious: This program is a failure. The administration should cut its losses, ditch HAMP, and find a better use for billions of taxpayer dollars in solving our still-roiling housing nightmare, where foreclosures remain at record levels and experts see the pain continuing well into 2010.

A senior director for Amherst Securities Group who testified alongside Allison yesterday said as much, insisting that HAMP won't help a majority of the homeowners it was intended for. The director, Laurie Goodman, insisted that HAMP was "destined to fail," adding, "If policies continue to kick the can down the road—working with a modification problem that does not address negative equity—delinquencies will continue to spiral with no end in sight."

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Music Monday: Coltrane and Marsalis Have Nothing on These Guys

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 7:30 AM EST

Here's an experiment: Ask someone of my generation (I'm 23) to name a few jazz artists they like. If they're not fans, ask them to name any jazz artist at all—good or bad, older or more recent, doesn't matter the instrument. Expect to hear responses like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, possibly Wynton Marsalis, maybe Louis Armstrong or Thelonious Monk, and—well, that's about it.

Mention the names Art Farmer or Jimmy Smith or Art Blakey, or any of the other stars on the latest installment in the Jazz Icons DVD series, and you'll cue up shrugs and blank stares. But rather than bemoan the fact, let's instead stress the importance of the latest Jazz Icons set—fourth in this series—which preserves a collection of timeless, masterful 1960s concerts featuring some of the best damn playing (on drums, piano, hollow-body guitar, flugelhorn, you name it) audiences had ever heard.

Long Live the Pranksters!

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:01 AM EST

The US Chamber of Commerce, the massive business organization that's taken a shellacking in the media lately for its climate-change stance (among other things), apparently can't take a joke. Last month, prompted in part by Mother Jones' coverage of the Chamber's shenanigans, the Yes Men held a phony press conference purporting to be the Chamber and announcing the group's about-face on climate matters; now, the Yes Men-turned-PR-flacks said, the Chamber would be eagerly supporting climate legislation on Capitol Hill. The real Chamber, however, was far from pleased—so much that they're suing the Yes Men for the stunt.

While the ensuing legal action may be novel, the spectacle of political prankery has a rich history. From Joey Skaggs' infamous New York "Cathouse for Dogs" to the phony pundit Martin Eisenstadt of the 2008 election, there's no shortage of memorable pranks in this country, as Dave Gilson describes in his new story "Jumping the Snark" in Mother Jones' November/December print issue. But more importantly, Gilson asks, are these kinds of clever hoaxes a dying art?

Gone are the days of Skaggs and cultural icon Abbie Hoffman; now we have the CollegeHumor "prank war" and Bruno and Borat—funny, but lacking the weight of the hoaxes of yore. Pranks, Gilson writes, "have morphed from an outlet for political and artistic outsiders into another form of popular amusement," where everyone can try to be a prankster and the better organized gags are used to peddle Taco Bell.

Which isn't to say the prank is dead; it's just evolving, Gilson says. "Just as Sacha Baron Cohen's first three personas have gotten stale and the Yes Men are searching for a new gig," he writes, "so will the current crop of predictable pranksters be pushed aside by a new batch of jokers who've concluded that it’s better to light a stink bomb than curse the darkness."

Find Mother Jones' ongoing coverage of the Chamber of Commerce here.

Read about how climate activist prankster Tim DeChristopher put one over on the Bureau of Land Management here.

Sen. David Vitter (R-Formaldehyde)

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 7:59 AM EST

In May, President Obama nominated a renowned scientist known as the "father of green chemistry" to head the EPA's Office of Research and Development. For an administration that supports ambitious climate change legislation and stresses the importance of sustainability, the nomination of Paul Anastas, director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering and a former White House environment director, was very much in keeping with its broader agenda. Anastas' nomination was unanimously approved in committee in July, and his confirmation seemed all but assured. Yet six months later Anastas still isn't confirmed. Standing in his way is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whose block on Anastas' nomination raises questions about Vitter's close ties to the formaldehyde industry.

Today, the future of the formaldehyde industry is very much in jeopardy. A few years back, the International Agency for Research on Cancer definitively announced that the chemical, used in building materials and household products, causes cancer in humans. The EPA, which has studied formaldehyde's risks for more than a decade, doesn't go quite so far, saying it's a "probable human carcinogen." But that could soon change. The EPA has recently signaled that it plans to definitively assess formaldehyde's health effects. "This is not the time for more delay," an EPA spokeswoman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in September. As the agency's research director, Anastas would surely have a role in this assessment. Given that one of Anastas' specialties is researching "the design of safer chemicals and chemical processes to replace hazardous substances," the formaldehyde industry is predictably concerned about his nomination.

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