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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Will U.S. Back Bogus Afghan Elections?

| Wed Aug. 19, 2009 2:16 PM PDT

The fact that tomorrow's presidential election in Afghanistan will be mired in corruption, fraud, and backroom dealing is all but certain, writes The Nation's Ann Jones, author of Kabul In Winter and an incisive voice on all things Afghan. The more pressing question, she says, is this: Will the U.S., in the name of demonstrating Afghanistan's "progress" toward democracy, validate the election and deem it "credible"?

If it does (and it very likely might), tomorrow will be a sad day for democracy. According to Jones, here are just a few of the reaosns why progress will be the last thing this election represents: 

Stacking the Deck: All the members of the so-called Independent Election Commission were appointed by President Karzai, and they've never disguised their allegiance to him. So the initial vetting process for candidates eliminated some promising challengers and spared old cronies, including the war criminals the process was meant to screen out.

Backroom Deals: One after another, potential and declared candidates have bowed out to back Karzai. Word leaks out about which ministries they've been promised. Karzai buys the support of local leaders running for provincial offices, using (illegally) all the perks of office, from airplanes to free airtime on national TV, to help his friends and himself. One of his deals brought him Hazara support in exchange for the notorious Shia Personal Status Law, enforcing a wife's sexual servitude in violation of the Afghan Constitution.

Voter Fraud: In May in Ghazni, $200 would buy 200 blank registration cards, but lots of people, including minors, already had plenty. Men were able to get a bunch by handing in a list of women for whom they will vote by proxy. Since no central registry exists, verification is impossible. A recent report places the number of voter registration cards distributed (not including fakes) at 17 million, almost twice the estimated number of eligible voters in the country.

Juan Cole points out that 33 polling stations in Ghazni province won't be open tomorrow because of poor security, and that the Taliban are confiscating voting cards house by house. And, of course, there are those letters and warnings from the Taliban. The ones that say they'll attack and even kill anyone who votes.

Election gaming might even extend to the Americans. Reports have emerged in the run-up to the election that the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, might be brokering a backroom deal to install Ashraf Ghani, the more Westernized presidential candidate who's currently running in third, as an executive in the Karzai administration if Ghani agrees to drop out and back Karzai in the election. Time has likely run out for that deal, however.

Moving Past Public Options and Health Care Co-ops

| Wed Aug. 19, 2009 9:29 AM PDT

Now that the public option in health care reform seems to be nearing its demise, non-profit co-ops are all the rage, with every damn media outlet in the Union scrambling to pick apart the latest player in the health-care debate. Just as the public option's merits have been debated and fought over ad nauseum, so, too, will this latest twist in the health care battle, an idea largely connected to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the (unfortunately) influential Gang of Six.

But this entire debate, lest we forget, has centered on mainly one aspect of overhauling health care to make it more affordable and expand access to the uninsured. Granted, you wouldn't know that by how much the admittedly sexier insurance side of the discussion—how we get care—dominates the news cycle; but arguably an even more important part of health care reform has been grossly underreported so far—what kind of care we receive. By that I mean the doctors we see (primary care or sub-specialists), the quality and types of care provided (proactive or reactive care; preventing versus doing), the health care systems that administer our care. And if you don't yet believe this subject needs far more attention than it's getting, read what Dr. Eric Larson, MD, MPH, and the executive director of Group Health, one of the leading co-ops in the nation, recently wrote to me. [after the jump.]

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.

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.'"

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