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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A Lost Decade for America's Housing Market?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 5:36 PM EDT

While the broader economy might be showing signs of improvement, the US housing market remains a disaster. And if a recent Moody's analysis holds true, real estate could remain that way for the next decade or more, and even longer in states devastated by the housing meltdown, like California and Florida. "For many reasons, the rebound will be disproportionately small compared to the decline," Moody's analysts said this week. "It will take more than a decade to completely recover from the 40 percent peak-to-trough decline in national home prices." The hardest-hit states, meanwhile, "will only re-gain their pre-bust peak in the early 2030s."

Ouch. This kind of analysis suggests that America's economic recovery will be a protracted one, looking more like a W than a V. Granted, the Moody's projection looks at us returning to housing-bubble peaks, when in fact the housing market needn't—indeed, shouldn't—return to the overinflated prices that preceded the collapse. Its analysis, nonetheless, goes to show that normalcy in the housing market is a long way off—bad news, given that real estate plays such an integral role in our economic health (if this crisis taught us anything, it taught us that).

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Video: 20,000 Detergent Bottles Under the Sea

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:27 PM EDT

After a month spent studying the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," a vortex of waste twice the size of Texas in the North Pacific Ocean where there's a 36-to-1 ratio of plastic to plankton, the scientists behind Project Kaisei offered tours of their vessel and talked with Mother Jones' Sam Baldwin, Andy Kroll, and Taylor Wiles about finding lawn chairs and laundry baskets floating a thousand miles at sea. Environmental experts also weighed in on how all that junk got out in the Pacific, its impact on marine life, and why "benign by design" is a phrase to know. Watch the video below.

MoJo extra: Check out a slideshow of plastic items that Project Kaisei brought back.

Score One for Predatory Lenders

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the proposed regulatory body that would shield Americans from risky loans, predatory bank fees, and other sneaky financial practices, looks like it's going to die a slow, painful death. Yesterday, lawmakers and Obama administration officials agreed to cut a major provision from the legislation that would create the agency by removing a provision that would have required banks and other financial institutions to start offering "plain vanilla" products to consumers. (A "plain vanilla" mortgage, for instance, would include a fixed interest rate and a stable term of, say, 30 years.) Now, that provision is gone. "There has been a lot of concern that if you invest the government with the ability to decide what’s appropriate here and there, that will lead to less competition and choice," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

This move bodes poorly not just for the future of the CFPA but financial regulation in general. The plain-vanilla provision would have protected consumers from the kinds of deceptive financial products, such as adjustable rate mortgages, that precipitated the current economic mess, as well as predatory products like credit cards loaded with hidden fees. It wouldn't have gotten rid of these financial products, so consumers who wanted them would still have to do their own due diligence. But the plain-vanilla provision could have helped those consumers who aren't financially savvy enough to handle an option ARM or simply don't have the stomach to wade through the fine print of a mortgage contract.

Gutting plain vanilla marks a victory for big business and their allies in Congress, who see it as a major step toward to grounding the CFPA altogether. The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobby, has shown it will stop at nothing to "kill the bill"—and it has the firepower to do just that, having spent $23 million this year on lobbying (almost twice as much as the second-ranked organization). And the CFPA doesn't have a lot of friends among the regulators, either. The FDIC and the Fed don’t want the CFPA because it would encroach on their turf and steal some of their regulatory thunder.

To be sure, we need the CFPA, which would provide crucial consumer protection that the financial meltdown showed to be glaringly absent. But it's the clear the agency, which is backed by Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren, now faces a staggeringly uphill battle. And even if it does make it into law, the agency might be stripped down to the point where it's toothless and useless, if this latest cut is any indication.

MoJo Podcast: Eco-Writer Daniel Goleman

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 7:01 PM EDT

Length: 12:39 minutes (8 MB)

Daniel Goleman is the author of Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. Goleman is a proponent of radical transparency, where consumers can learn detailed environmental information about products while they're in the store. He spoke with Mother Jones' Andy Kroll.

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