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.
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.
LOS ANGELES - During the Passover crush at Elat Market down on Pico, cashiers in yarmulkes rang up matzohs and Manischewitz with signature grumpiness. Yiddish-speaking shoppers pawed over Hebrew labels. For the stockers and sweepers, the Muzak was Mexican.
The Golden State comes in colors, and brown is a prevailing hue. Nearly 40 percent of its inhabitants are Latino, almost as many as “non-Hispanic white.” The rest range from Bantu black to exotic shades of pale. Part melting pot, part mixing bowl, California thrives on diversity.
Californians fight to protect hard-won victories from Donald Trump's corporate giveaways, such as emission controls, clean coastlines and pristine wilderness. And more, they demand sanctuary status for fellow humans escaping hunger or violence at home.
Smart politicians keep Trumpian Republicans on the defensive, from hardnosed prosecutors like Kamala Harris and Adam Schiff to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of an increasingly mad House, who lost her studied cool when William Barr whitewashed the Mueller Report.
“The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to Congress,” Pelosi said last week. “That's a crime.” She blamed a corrupt triumvirate — Trump, Mitch McConnell, Barr — for answering only to moneyed special interests, imperiling the nation.
Then she dropped a neutron bomb in a New York Times interview. Unless a landslide sweeps away Trump in 2020, he could declare voter fraud and simply stay put for months in the Oval office with legal flimflam. Who would evict him? He commands U.S. armed forces.
California's population of 39.6 million makes up 12 percent of America. Its $3-trillion economy ranks it fifth in the world, behind only the United States, China, Japan and Germany. If the state can't talk some sense into a backsliding mother country, why not Calexit?