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 Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Video: 20,000 Detergent Bottles Under the Sea

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:27 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.

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Score One for Predatory Lenders

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 6:00 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 6:01 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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The F-22 Fights On

| Mon Sep. 14, 2009 12:36 PM EDT

You've got to hand it to defense contractor Lockheed Martin and its F-22 Raptor fighter jet: The much maligned, headline-grabbing plane will not go away.

The latest news on the F-22 beat is that the Senate is trying to sidestep a decade-old law to allow Lockheed to develop and export a version of the F-22 to be sold outside the US. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to insert language in its 2010 defense spending bill allowing the DOD to "conduct or participate in studies, research, design and other activities to define and develop an export version of the F-22A." Earlier last week, the same committee agreed to end F-22 production for domestic use at 187 planes after a protracted battle between the Obama administration and lawmakers in Congress on whether to extend the production run of F-22s or not. Lockheed also lobbied hard for continuing F-22 production by citing the number of jobs the plane created nationwide.

The provision, however, will face opposition in the House Appropriations Committee. The committee’s chair, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), authored the ban on exporting F-22s in 1998 for security reasons. According to Congress Daily, countries like Japan, Australia, and Israel are likely buyers for the export version of the F-22, which would not feature secret, US-specific technologies. While the Senate Appropriations Committee vote on exporting F-22s doesn’t outright repeal the ban, the full Senate will consider the idea when it reviews the entire defense spending bill this month. The F-22, it seems, just will not go quietly into the night.

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