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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The $25 Billion Foreclosure Settlement: Breakthrough or Raw Deal?

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 5:06 PM EST

On Thursday, after months of closed-door negotiations, plenty of hand wringing, and too many leaks to the media to count, 49 state attorneys general, the Justice Department, and five mega-banks announced they'd reached a legal settlement over fraud in the mortgage servicing and foreclosure processes.

The settlement is worth an estimated $25 billion, according to the Justice Department. The banks involved—Ally Financial, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase—agreed to reduce principal home loan debt for a million homeowners while paying $2,000 to 750,000 more households that had lost their home to foreclosure. Crucially, the settlement doesn't entirely absolve banks of alleged wrongdoing, leaving the door open for AGs like New York's Eric Schneiderman to proceed with foreclosure fraud lawsuits of their own. Depending on whom you ask, the terms of settlement are a key breakthrough, a first step toward righting the foreclosure abuses of the past decade, or a total sham.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the deal "an important victory for homeowners and communities devastated by the housing crisis." Michael Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, said in a statement that the deal "will help build a stronger housing market while keeping more people in their homes. But while a significant step toward fixing the foreclosure crisis, this settlement was never intended or able to provide a comprehensive remedy. Much more work is required."

Some experts and observers, however, were plainly dismissive of the deal. Yves Smith, who runs the blog Naked Capitalism, rattled off 12 reasons why "you should hate" the foreclosure settlement, including the deal's overall price tag, the paltry $2,000 payout for homeowners, and her belief that the deal papers over deeper problems with property titles and the foreclosure process itself. "As we've said before," she wrote, "this settlement is yet another raw demonstration of who wields power in America, and it isn't you and me."

Then again, the AGs' foreclosure settlement was never going to fully address the myriad problems with the foreclosure process. Consider MERS, the industry-backed electronic mortgage registry that greased the foreclosure pipeline and enabled many of the dubious practices that led to the housing crisis. MERS has been in use since 1995; it's an entrenched part of the housing market. It will take much more than a nationwide settlement to tackle the many problems MERS has wrought.

There's also the problem of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their role in the foreclosure crisis. As myself and others have reported, the two government housing giants spawned foreclosure mills, the assembly-line-like law firms that skirted the law as they kicked people out of their homes. They also reportedly squashed a plan to write down the debt of homeowners who owed more than their houses were worth. There's no remedying the foreclosure crisis without reforming Fannie and Freddie.

The settlement, in other words, is far from a cure-all. Best-case scenario, consumer advocates say, the deal is just the beginning of a reckoning for the fraud and abuse that ran rampant. "Today’s announcement of the mortgage foreclosure settlement represents a step toward righting the wrongs committed by the banks," said Phil Angelides, the chair of the now-defunct Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, "but there are still miles to go. "

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What Do the Coen Brothers, Jan Brewer, and Huggies Have in Common?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:47 PM EST

Forget The French Connection, Bullitt, or The Italian Job. The best chase scene in modern cinema—bring it on, boo boys—appears in Joel and Ethan Coen's bizarre, pitch-perfect 1987 classic, "Raising Arizona." (It also features the best chase scene one-liner. Mustachioed truck driver to Nicholas Cage with the cops hot on his trail: "Son, you got a pantie on yer head.") Behold:

Why the clip? One of the nation's largest labor unions has drawn on the Coen brothers oeuvre as it wages the latest battle over workers' rights in America.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and state GOP lawmakers have taken a cue from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by taking aim at the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Except Arizona's assault on workers' rights is more extreme than Wisconsin's. The bills introduced in the state senate there would eliminate all collective bargaining for public employees at the state, city, and county levels.

To fight back, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees launched "Razing Arizona." The new campaign rips Brewer and calls Arizona's anti-union legislation "the latest orchestrated attack from extreme right-wing lawmakers, think tanks, and their corporate cronies who are hell-bent on wiping out what’s left of the middle class." AFSCME also released an ad bashing Brewer in the style of VH1's Pop-Up Video:

The Brewer video has been viewed 2,100 times on YouTube. The Razing Arizona campaign has a thousand "likes" and counting on Facebook. And with the Arizona anti-union legislation still wending its way through the legislature, you can plenty more union counterattacks, film-inspired or no, are on their way.

Obama to Bankrollers: Go Supe Up My Super-PAC

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 11:28 AM EST
Barack Obama.

President Obama has never liked super-PACs, the new breed of political outfit spawned in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He'd probably wipe them off the map with a penstroke if he could. Yet on Monday night, Obama squared up to the reality that his re-election bid will need the heavy artillery of a super-PAC, if only to better fight the shadowy conservative groups lining up behind Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee.

Obama, the New York Times reports, has indicated to donors that he wants them to give to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Priorities has struggled since its launch last year, raking in just $4.4 million in 2011. By contrast, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future raised $30.2 million in 2011, and Rove's American Crossroads raised $18.4 million.

Here's more from the Times:

Aides said the president had signed off on a plan to dispatch cabinet officials, senior advisers at the White House and top campaign staff members to deliver speeches on behalf of Mr. Obama at fund-raising events for Priorities USA Action, the leading Democratic “super PAC,” whose fund-raising has been dwarfed by Republican groups. The new policy was presented to the campaign’s National Finance Committee in a call Monday evening and announced in an e-mail to supporters.

"We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back," Jim Messina, the manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said in an interview. "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can't be unilaterally disarmed."

Neither the president, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., nor their wives will attend fund-raising events or solicit donations for the Democratic group. A handful of officials from the administration and the campaign will appear on behalf of Mr. Obama, aides said, but will not directly ask for money.

Left- and right-wing groups bashed Obama for this decision. But there's some crucial context needed here. For starters, this clearly isn't a call Obama made lightly. In his 2010 State of the Union, he blasted the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that helped usher in super-PACs, saying it would "open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections." And more recently, an Obama campaign staffer said the president was "flat-out opposed" to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super-PAC.

What's more, Obama and Congressional Democrats support reforms to eviscerate super-PACs and limit the ability of corporations and unions to spend general treasury money on elections. Those reforms included the DISCLOSE Act, a piece of legislation intended to counteract the effects of Citizens United which was killed by Senate Republicans in 2010. And as Obama campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out, the president continues to back not only new legislation casting more light on money in politics, but also a constitutional amendment to boost regulation of all that money sloshing around our elections.

Obama's no fan of super-PACs. But he and his lieutenants aren't going to "unilaterally disarm," as Messina and plenty other Democrats like to say. They're going to fight fire with fire.

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