Mort Report is a labor of love by old-style correspondents with lifetimes on the road and young ones with fresh eyes. Our philosophy is simple: we report at first hand with analysis based on non-alternative fact, not opinion. If we get something wrong, we fix it.
NAPLES, Italy - You can still get to Sesame Street from here and just about everywhere else in spite of Donald Trump’s attempt to wall it off. So as Big Bird might have it, this dispatch about countless global crises is brought to you by the letter “I.”
Put aside 25 other letters in the alphabet and consider only what is happening behind that single capitalized vowel.
Iran, Iraq and Israel are at risk of accidental Armageddon. India’s demagogic Hindu nationalist leader plays chicken with Pakistan. Indonesia faces climate calamities and Islamist zealotry. Iceland, warming fast, may soon be Rockland. Ireland now has a border to protect.
And here in the heart of an Atlantic Alliance that just commemorated victory over Nazis and Fascists 75 years ago, easy-going Italy is making a sharp right turn. Matteo Salvini, vice premier, is gaining popularity fast by blaming Italian woes on migrants and liberals.
This is no time for America to obsess about itself. Yet the pronoun, “I,” and its inseparable partner, “me,” define thinking today in the White House, the Senate and among much of an apathetic electorate. A cohesive worldview has sunk into whatever.
I often liken Trump to Mussolini, but even many Italians who fear a return to fascism say that is unfair to Il Duce. He was no fool, they argue. When he put Italy first it was more than an excuse to bilk the poor and fatten up the rich. Nonetheless, he ended up hanged by his heels.
Viewed from Europe, Trump seems more like a Charlie Chaplin caricature of Hitler, a puffed-up martinet enraptured with himself. But unlike Hollywood’s Little Dictator, Trump has the means to trigger unstoppable conflicts and thwart global efforts to keep Earth habitable.
It is too early to worry much about Italy, with its entrenched family values and uncanny ability to get through just about anything as long as the coffee and grappa hold out. Those I-states in the Middle East are the real threat.
SHANGA, Kenya – This dispatch got delayed; I was in no rush. Shanga (as in Shanghai) hasn’t been breaking news for 500 years. Today it is vital context as an American president plays dunces and dragons with China, which sees time in millennia, not four-year mandates.
Whatever Donald Trump might gain in trade talks, his public posturing spurs the ancient Middle Kingdom to ramp up its manifest destiny with economic, diplomatic and military expansion that began after the 2006 recession exposed weaknesses in Western dominance.
Plunder in a paradisiacal Swahili enclave on the Indian Ocean, which includes the ruins of Shanga and the fabled time-warp port of Lamu, is a telling example of China’s global quest for raw materials, food supplies and geopolitical clout.
Coral-block ruins still stand in the jungle here, built by shipwrecked Chinese sailors in the 1400s, well before Columbus happened upon America. The stranded seamen fathered children whose DNA can still be found in their progeny.
Back then, Admiral Zheng He ruled the waves with a fleet of 28,000 men in 300 ships, some 400 feet long. A giraffe he brought from the Swahili Coast intrigued the emperor. But China turned inward, leaving European powers to colonize Africa. Shanga faded away.
Today, the Chinese are back, bankrolling a $2.3 billion coal-fired power plant project on the mainland. Two Kenyan moguls cooked it up with help from a top politician whose rake-off is expected to fund a presidential run. This is an open secret, but reporters can’t nail down a paper trail.
Experts condemn the scheme. Kenya produces excess power, and all consumers pay a levy to subsidize unused capacity. The government is committed to developing alternative energy. The project would import coal and have to spend heavily on long-distance power lines.
Corruption is rife in Kenya; it has nearly as many white elephants as grey ones. But money aside, toxic smoke would foul the air and discharge would poison fish. Mangroves vital to ecological balance would be cut. And laidback Lamu, a U.N. World Heritage Site, would be lost.