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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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.

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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.

Meteorologists Take Geoengineering Seriously

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 6:02 PM EDT

Geoengineering received a big boost this week. The American Meteorological Society released a major statement Monday on the topic, making these recommendations:

1. Enhanced research on the scientific and technological potential for geoengineering the climate system, including research on intended and unintended environmental responses.
2. Coordinated study of historical, ethical, legal, and social implications of geoengineering that integrates international, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational issues and perspectives and includes lessons from past efforts to modify weather and climate.
3. Development and analysis of policy options to promote transparency and international cooperation in exploring geoengineering options along with restrictions on reckless efforts to manipulate the climate system.

The AMS is a respected scientific body here in the US, and a statement of this kind certainly gives credence to the possibility of a major, well-funded, possibly federal geoengineering research program. It also comes on the heels of a National Academy of Sciences workshop in which leading experts debated the merits of such a research program.

Some geoengineering critics (and there are plenty of them) say investment in this kind of research will only distract from mitigation efforts. I disagree, and now, so does AMS. And I think the Society responds well to that argument with this point:

Geoengineering will not substitute for either aggressive mitigation or proactive adaptation, but it could contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy to slow climate change and alleviate some of its negative impacts. The potential to help society cope with climate change and the risks of adverse consequences imply a need for adequate research, appropriate regulation, and transparent deliberation.

'Recovery' You Can't Believe In

| Thu Jul. 16, 2009 5:36 PM EDT

If there was any doubt before today who the federal government's $13 trillion bailout was truly meant to benefit—homeowners and small businesses or megabanks like Goldman Sachs  and JPMorgan Chase—a pair of telling, yet depressingly familiar, headlines should put that to rest.

Reuters reports:

Foreclosures at Record High in First Half 2009 Despite Aid

New York - U.S. home foreclosure activity galloped to a record in the first half of the year, overwhelming broad efforts to remedy failing loans while job losses escalated.

Foreclosure filings jumped to a record 1.9 million on more than 1.5 million properties in the first six months of the year, RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

The number of properties drawing filings, which include notices of default and auctions, jumped 9.0 percent from the second half of 2008 and almost 15 percent from the first half of last year.

"Despite everybody's best efforts to date we're not really making any headway against the problem," Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac in Irvine, California, said in an interview.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported this today as well:

JPMorgan Earnings Soar as It Finds Profit in Slump

Even as it weathers the worst economic downturn in decades, JPMorgan Chase on Thursday announced a $2.7 billion second-quarter profit from stellar trading and investment banking results.

The strong showing may put to rest some worries that the bank was allowed to pay back its $25 billion taxpayer investment too early, after it passed the Treasury Department’s stress test in May. But its quick resurgence in earnings, along with Goldman Sachs’s announcement of a $3.4 billion quarterly profit on Tuesday, is bound to raise fresh concerns about soaring pay levels and growing influence in Washington.
 

Toss in Goldman Sachs' announcement on Tuesday that it had recorded its richest quarterly profit in the bank's 140-year-history and that it has so far earmarked $11.4 billion in compensation this year (NYT headline: "With Big Profit, Goldman Sees Big Payday Ahead"), and the writing is on the wall. Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner called these absurdly large profit announcements an "important sign of recovery." For the financial behemoths in whose pockets he so neatly fits, recovery it sure is. But for the 1.9 million homeowners who filed for foreclosure in the first half of this year and the small businesses teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, "recovery" couldn't be farther from the truth.

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