Tour de France (a nearly Trump-free Dispatch – and No Bicycles)

BEAUNE, France - Tête de noeud, meaning dickhead, describes a lot of French labor leaders and bosses. Now they're playing chicken over train service. But the strawberries are ripe, and spring lambs are fat on clover, so I drove backroads from Provence to Paris, stopping at any excuse to investigate life in a socialist gulag run by silk-tie capitalists.

Any wine snob will recognize this dateline. The Hospices de Beaune auction each year offers velvety Burgundy vintages, redder than the Wyoming voters who can afford them. And their origin says much about France.

A nobleman named Nicolas Rolin built the splendid Hôtel-Dieu, with its colorful tiled roof, as a hospital for poor people and war veterans. He gave vineyards to the church to pay for free medical care. That was 50 years before Columbus happened upon America.

I've lived in France way too long for any illusions. It is often infuriating. No one anywhere is more galling than a prime French connard. A butthead. Yet there is also the opposite extreme. Beware of any sentence beginning, “France is…” Yet some basics apply.

Fraternité is iffy, and Liberté is getting stressed a bit. Egalité, however, is anchored in stone. Small-s socialism means you can be vastly rich, but you don't brag about it. Safety nets – human rights, not charity – keep people from starving or dying from lack of care.

That extends to politics. Short campaigns have strict rules and evenly shared TV time. Nicolas Sarkozy, who lived high in the Elysées, could be jailed for 10 years if convicted of taking funds from Muammar Qaddafi (who he later helped depose). Corruption is hardly unknown in France, but here you can get punished for it.

And that’s why unions, maddening as they are, are crucial. They keep big business and state from tipping a delicate balance.


Photo © Alison Harris.

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Breaking News: Wizard of Id Finally Fractures Camel's Back

PARIS - I was just finishing an upbeat Trump-free report on a May Day drive through deepest France when an AP item from Washington stunned me to silence. The President of the United States, thinking with his thumbs, tweeted this:

“The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

And this at a time when trustworthy news organizations face mounting pressure from greedy management, political connivance, fragmentation, and background babble from every direction.

Nothing, I believe, is more dangerous than Donald Trump's insidious yet relentless campaign to strike America blind. His hardcore cheers him on, no matter what, and a broad sector of others, confused or indifferent, enable him by inaction.

Newspapers document lies and flip-flops. The New Yorker and others probe sordid dealings. Television, sometimes even Fox, shines light on loony behavior. Yet those rally T-shirts are still around: “Tree. Rope. Journalists. Some assembly required.”


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About the Mort Report

PARIS – A safety tip: Avoid catchall slurs about journalists near a reporter holding a sharp object. We’re a little touchy, having lost 1,000 colleagues in 15 years. Many of them, like ten just killed in Afghanistan, were dedicated to a calling that barely kept their kids in shoes.

Lots of “journalists” besmirch the name, but others don’t. As Earth faces endgame, despots muscle aside democrats, and amassed wealth is bent on keeping the meek from inheriting much of anything, this is no time for ignorance.

Webster calls news “a report of recent events.” That takes in, say, the doings of Kanye West, which interest a lot of people. But our children’s survival depends on a sharper definition: news is about events, recent but also in the past, around which the world turns.

This Mort Report, half Zapata and half Quixote, attempts to shovel aside bullshit down to what matters. Neither a blog nor a newsletter, it is fresh reporting with analysis based on trusted sources. It aims to fit fragments of “breaking news” together into wider framework.

For five decades I’ve watched global coverage evolve from small bands of correspondents spending half the night pecking out dispatches on antediluvian telexes to today’s free-for-all multimedia mob scenes around dramatic stories. In technical terms, jug fucks.


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Extra! French Poodle Bites Puffed-Up Yank in the Ass

WILD OLIVES, France – Just back from America, I lit up the TV to hear a presidential president, in complete English sentences free of personal pronouns, tell Congress how the United States was destroying a world that badly needs its leadership.

Emmanuel Macron hit all the right notes, hammering away at every tenet of Donald Trump’s twisted us-first jingoism. He played French poodle for two days, lavishing faux-adulation and kissing cheeks. Then, when it mattered, he bit his host in the ass.

A tweet from Madelaine Albright caught the irony: “It has been too long since a President delivered a speech in Washington about the need to defend democracy and support international cooperation.”

Macron banged away at his central theme, linking the Iran deal, Syria, trade, desperate people on the move, and all the rest.

“Isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism” prevent common answers to global threats, he said. Without updated alliances the vital institutions America built -- the U.N. and NATO -- could collapse. Authoritarians would quickly fill the vacuum.

“Your role was decisive in creating and safeguarding the free world,” he added, “The United States…invented this multilateralism. You are the one who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.”

Macron’s zinger – “There is no Planet B” – brought all but partisan diehards to their feet…


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A Note to the Most Dangerous Man on Earth

Dear B.H.,

I know you’re no deplorable. You were kind when I visited Idaho in the ‘80s and saw the fruits of your successful life. You’ve taken pains to explain to me why you support Donald Trump. So I say this with all respect: You are the most dangerous man on earth.

Not actually, which is why I use the initials of a hapless character in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”: Benito Hoover. Uncork some Snake River Valley red, gaze upon your splendid ranch, and consider this note meant as news analysis, not insult.

You told me Trump wasn’t perfect, “just 100 times better than Hillary,” and sent me a link to a loony website that posited “the brain might be wired differently for liberals and conservatives to explain how they look at things so differently.”

Conservative and liberal? Two one-word labels for 320 million Americans? You’re smarter than that. A lot of honest reporters risk their lives out in a complex world so that voters like you can make nuanced, informed judgments based on hard reality.


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