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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Public Schools: Bush Era Revisited?

| Tue Aug. 18, 2009 11:45 AM PDT

On Monday, as bruising battles over health care, financial regulation, and climate change dominate the news cycle, the Obama administration's ambitious—yet often troubling—public education agenda made a rare A1 appearance in the New York Times. The story concerned the Department of Education's "Race to the Top Fund," a multi-billion-dollar initiative that doles out stimulus funds to encourage innovation, boost student and teacher performance, and close acheivement gaps among different student populations. At first glance, the initiative—usually a second-fiddle subject to sexier topics—seems a laudable, sorely needed program.

Yet just how the Education Department and its secretary, long-time Obama buddy Arne Duncan, plan to use those billions raises some serious questions about their vision for U.S. public schools. Indeed, the Obama administration's education-related announcements to date, which emphasize test-focused and charter-heavy reforms, is painfully reminiscent of the Bush administration's top-down, data-driven approach to education reform. It is exactly what a good many educators and administrators did not want to see from Duncan and Co.

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Climate Cop-out at Copenhagen?

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 2:00 PM PDT

Foreign Affairs journal has a piece in its upcoming September/October issue on the crucial Copenhagen climate-treaty negotiations in early December. The story's thrust: Keep your expectations very, very low.

Here's part of the journal's summary of the to-be-released story, penned by Michael A. Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of CFR's Program on Energy Security and Climate Change:

"Government officials and activists should fundamentally rethink their strategy and expectations" for the December climate conference in Copenhagen, argues Michael A. Levi, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. According to Levi, the odds of signing a comprehensive treaty in December are "vanishingly small." With this in mind, rather than aim for a broad global treaty, negotiators should reinforce existing national policies and seek "international cooperation focused on specific opportunities to cut emissions" in rich nations and the developing world. Levi urges officials to view the conference as a chance to build efforts to cut emissions from the ground up, and try to "reinforce developed countries’ emissions cuts and link developing countries’ actions ... to objectives in other areas—such as economic growth, security, and air quality—that leaders of those countries already care about."

Oy. If this summary is representative of Levi's entire story, it's about as bleak a prediction of what purpose Copenhagen will serve as you'll find from a respected organization like CFR and from someone with Levi's presumed stature. Fair to say, plenty others, myself included, disagree with Levi's argument—which, from this summary, doesn't advocate much that would change the status quo. Even if a "comprehensive treaty" isn't completed in December, that doesn't rule out some kind of treaty framework—a far better option than Levi's call to "build efforts to cut emissions from the ground up, and try to 'reinforce developed countries’ emissions cuts and link developing countries' actions ... to objectives in other areas—such as economic growth, security, and air quality—that leaders of those countries already care about.'"

Troubled Assets Are Ba-ack...

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 11:40 AM PDT

Remember, for that brief period of time, when the Treasury Department's $700 billion "Troubled Asset Relief Program" was meant to buy up banks' actual troubled assets? You know, those groups of toxic mortgages packaged into securities, or even whole toxic mortgages themselves? (Toxic, that is, because it's doubtful these loans will ever be paid back in full or at all.) Removing those toxic assets, we were told, would bolster banks' balance sheets and free them up to lend more to businesses and consumers and get the economy back on its feet. Yet not long after, the Treasury Dept., led by then-Secretary Hank Paulson, Jr., decided instead to use TARP money to invest directly in crippled institutions. Evidently Paulson hoped this cash infusion would pad their capital reserves, let banks write down losses from these assets, and help them resume lending even with toxic assets still on their books.

The question that has since lingered over the TARP, then, has been this: What happened to those toxic assets? And how are the banks and the government dealing with them now? That's what the Congressional Oversight Panel, one of the leading watchdogs led by Harvard Law Prof. Elizabeth Warren, set out to answer with its August report, released yesterday—along with how financial institutions intend to deal with these assets left on their books going forward.

Four Reasons to Foil the Fed

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 12:44 PM PDT

Like oil and water, the Federal Reserve and transparency do not mix. Or, as the incisive Bill Greider, author of Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, wrote in a recent cover story for The Nation: "The Federal Reserve is the black hole of our democracy—the crucial contradiction that keeps the people and their representatives from having any voice in these most important public policies." Who can forget former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's almost mystic proclamations about the US economy and monetary policy? Or the virtues of financial deregulation, supposed wisdom that the Beltway elite took as if from the mouth of an oracle? (Wisdom, that is, that even Greenspan later conceded was largely mistaken.) And, of course, nearly all of the Fed's role in the ongoing panoptic financial bailout has been shrouded in secrecy, with the Fed refusing audits of its books and media outlets like Bloomberg News forced to sue the public-private hybrid institution for information.

So why, then, does the Obama administration want to give the Fed more power under its financial regulatory reform proposals? A good many experts—journalists and economists, among them—think this is a terrible idea. Having pored over some of these commentaries and analyses, here are four reasons why the Fed's power grab should be foiled:

Cramdown: Resurrected?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 2:33 PM PDT

"Cramdown"—the process of modifying mortgage terms in bankruptcy court to make them more affordable—could yet see the light of the day. The Senate, which earlier this year killed a proposal that used cramdowns to prevent foreclosures, is revisiting the topic. Members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee held a hearing last month on the subject, and others in Congress seem poised to reintroduce cramdown as a means of rescuing ailing homeowners who can't keep up with their mortgage payments.

Cramdown's resurrection is largely owed to the utter failure of the Obama administration's existing homeowner relief efforts—namely, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). A $75 billion initiative run by Treasury, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, HAMP offers incentives to mortgage servicers (the sometimes ill-reputed companies who deal with customers, handle payments, etc., but don't own the loan) to lower payments, decrease interest rates, reduce owed principal, and extend the life of the mortgage. A good idea, in theory.

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