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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Troubled Assets Are Ba-ack...

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 2:40 PM EDT

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.

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Four Reasons to Foil the Fed

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 3:44 PM EDT

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 5:33 PM EDT

"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.

Video: Bailout Madness With Air America, MoJo

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 4:39 PM EDT

Always one to talk bailout madness, Mike Papantonio, co-host of Air America's lively "Ring of Fire" weekly program, invited me back recently (see the first interview here) onto his show. We talked about Mother Jones' coverage of the latest debacle surrounding the government's more than $20 trillion financial rescue—the TARP repayment process and the controversy over the government's warrant firesales.

Watch the interview below.

Music Monday Review: Wilco (The Album)

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

Wilco
Wilco (The Album)
Nonesuch


Any Midwesterners worth their salt know Chicago alt-rockers Wilco. They can pick out the unmistakable voice—by turns gravelly and soothing or resigned and rollicking—of front man Jeff Tweedy (interviewed here), or air-drum the intro to Wilco hit "Heavy Metal Drummer." Tweedy and Co. are finally back with the ingeniously titled Wilco (The Album), their most, well, Midwestern release in a decade.

But in this case, Midwestern isn't necessarily a good thing—as it was with Wilco's early, country-infused A.M. and Summerteeth (reviewed here) releases. Once the final song ends, you're more or less left feeling like you just finished a road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago: It's a modestly enjoyable experience with few highlights, and you don't remember much of it a day or two later. (The Album) has a few standout tracks, but unlike Wilco's haunting 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, there's not much memorable here.

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