Diddling While America Burns


This must have been how the peasants felt, watching Nero fiddle a merry tune while Rome burned.

Gasoline approaches $5 a gallon, runs on our banks are just barely averted, the war on terror drags on and on and what are we obsessed with? A magazine cover, now that the New Yorker‘s suddenly embraced satiric ones, and Bernie Mac’s barely funny jokes at an Obama fundraiser. Imagine…a comedian making luke warm fun of the probable next Prez’s marital woes. Heavens!

Do our problems seem so insoluble that we don’t know what else to tackle but inanities like this? The only good that can come of this puerility is the fodder it provides for those of us who teach journalism (students, see: what not to do). It’s twaddle like this that makes good journalism so much more precious. Wanna feed your brain instead of swaddle it in crap, wanna encourage journalists to produce more of it? Here are three items not to miss.

First, check out this bloggingheads.tv discussion between Michelle Goldberg and Rebecca Traister, two of my favorite young, outside-the-box feminist journalists. They expand my thinking and piss me off in all the best ways.

Then read this article in this week’s New Yorker, instead of just about its cover. It’s an utterly fascinating, very detailed history and analysis of a young Obama making the journey from idealistic neophyte to squinty-eyed professional politician.

I’m somewhat afraid of him now, even as I realize that only after such a process could anyone, let alone someone like Obama, be a stone’s throw from the Oval. If you want to really understand the man who may well be our next president, a president in some of the most perilous times we’ve ever faced, don’t miss articles like this one.

You can’t read, or listen to, these while you’re driving, and you might just have to miss that TMZ video of some stupid celeb buying cheez doodles, but it’s well worth it.

If you really want to do your job as a thinking adult and voter, read this Nation piece by Kai Wright. She, too, did something that I just love to hate: She’s forcing me to admit that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I wrote this about the mortgage debacle.

The subprime crisis isn’t simple. It isn’t about wanna be Donald Trumps buying McMansions. Rather, it wasn’t just about that. I had plenty of working class relatives, as early as the 80s, making fools of themselves and losing their homes refinancing at terms they refused to understand and spending the money on trips to Bermuda, shoes and big screen TVs. But now it’s clear that there was a clear pattern of deception, hard sell, and outright fraud in these loans. And that they were specifically targeted at poor, elderly blacks, and black neighborhoods.

You have to read all the way to the end for the proof I found most staggering, but the fact remains that blacks depend, to a far greater extent than others on their home equity as the basis of what scant wealth we hold as a community, and there was a concerted, ruthless effort made to defraud us; check out the parts, near the end, about how the Yellow Page-sized mortgage documents were forged to show retirees who were actually pulling in $2000 a month as fixed income being shown to have monthly incomes of nearly $5000.

Grandma and Grandpa Washington didn’t prepare those documents, IndyMac did—then sent ruthless MBAs to their ghetto homes to pressure them into signing. Entire black communities have been decimated, our future generations bereft of any low-dollar amount inheritance ever in the offing (1 in 4 whites receive a bequest while only 1 in 10 blacks do. Even then, blacks get only half as much).

I have more reading to do on all these issues, but wading through the mega pixels of brain-killing nonsense we readers seem to prefer has me more determined than ever to do so.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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