On the Frontline: Real News Battles Fake Power

BAYEUX, France - An email from Florida landed in this noble Normandy town with less impact than a Nazi shell, yet it was an eerie reminder of how hubris and folly filled so many graves on the beaches nearby. The menace today is America über alles.

Last week, I assembled hard data for a Mort Report Extra on dangers posed by Donald Trump and his enablers. One response, dismissing fact as “liberal-leftist rant,” made plain what the world is up against — and why Bayeux is again on the frontline.

“We can agree to disagree,” the email said, “and you can live in whatever fantasy world you think is best. IF YOU don't like it here, then move to Finland, or the socialist utopia of your dreams.” Sure. We'll leave America to greedheads, useful idiots and flat-out morons like him.

I'd have junked that note, like so many similar ones we all see, but for the reason I'm here. As every year for the past 25, journalists from around the world gathered at the weekend for the Bayeux-Calvados War Correspondents Awards. We honored our own, mourned our fallen, and during long, lubricated, music-blasting nights we avoided shop talk about workaday mayhem.

Some of the gang are fresh out of the box, with new skills and high energy. Others have been at it for half a century. Patrick Chauvel, son of a grand French photographer, just covered his 44th war alongside his 18-year-old son, Antoine, in Iraq.

They are a disparate bunch, but one hard fact defines them. Men and women who wade into risk, spending miserable months staying close to their story, do not lie about what they see.


Photo: Mahmud Hams, AFP, Prix Bayeux-Calvados

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Mort Report Extra: The Ghost of Common Sense

“Common sense will tell us, that the power which hath endeavoured to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.” Thomas Paine

This is an urgent plea to everyone I can reach. Please pass it on to every American you know before November. Non-voters make up our largest bloc. Others are undecided, and sentient Republicans are wavering. No election in history, anywhere, has been more crucial. 

 We saw last week how deeply hypocrisy and prostitution now permeate our government. Smart young people offer promise, but if we do not vote now, it will be too late for them.  An apathetic, ill-informed electorate will have squandered democracy by default.

If the Mort Report is new to you, I’m a correspondent who has covered world news for 50 years on seven continents for editors who demand strict objectivity. Like all real reporters, I am obsessed with getting facts straight and basing analyses on observation, not opinion.

Until 2016, I’d have cut off a left toe before presuming to tell people how to vote. But I’ve watched Donald Trump for decades, and I know a heartless would-be despot when I see one. During his campaign, it was clear he would attempt a coup d’etat. With a corrupted Republican Party and enough blind cultist followers to sway an election, he threatens not only our democracy but also the survival of our planet.  Please keep reading; this is not hyperbole.


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On Africa’s Elephants, Black and White

NAIROBI, Kenya - This dispatch was meant to be about saving the noble elephant. But after a hard look at Africa today, with an eye on the narrow worldview of ignoble pachyderms in America, the focus shifted to jackals and hyenas.

Consider Kenya, a once and future hope as a model for an enlightened dark continent. It throbs with potential. Young people with fresh ideas join an old guard in transforming it beyond recognition. Yet despite its outspoken courts and critics, it is shot through with corruption.

Those endangered black elephants are, in fact, making a comeback. Asian appetites for ivory are waning. Young Kenyans are taught to protect their wildlife heritage. The problem is white elephants, giant dubious schemes with ample opportunity for skimming off the top.

Plunder is old news in Africa. Since winds of change brought independence in the 1960s, uncounted billions in public funds have vanished into private pockets. Now, however, plunder is organized and obvious, an entrenched component of global geopolitics.

Kenya is hardly the worst case, but it illustrates clearly new winner-eat-all directions across sub-Saharan Africa.

Washington, thinking small, is slashing vital development aid in favor of private deals that enrich U.S. companies. That enables China, thinking big, to recolonize Africa, securing vast repositories of raw materials, minerals, oil and arable land vital to its manifest destiny.

Western aid to Africa requires transparency and protection of human rights. China simply pays the price of admission, adding off-the-books incentives. At a summit in Beijing, Xi Jinping just pledged another $16 billion to Africa in grants and loans that put recipients in his debt.

Previous U.S. administrations helped journalists track hijacked aid, and the State Department weighed in if authorities got tough with them. Donald Trump changed that. His signature phrase, fake news, is a godsend to any government eager to muzzle its press.

"I'm following so many scandals I can't keep track of them," a skilled Kenyan investigative reporter told me. "You can't follow the money when it's cash stuffed in briefcases or if it disappears in mysterious shell companies and foreign bank accounts."


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Not Tocqueville After All These Years

CALABASH, North Carolina – It was no surprise that a roomful of adults turned to a 9-year-old to demystify the computerized kitchen range at our rented beach house near here. But it was flat-out eerie that she also could have corrected our Chinese grammar had we known any to correct.

At our first meeting, she froze me rigid with a patronizing sneer; I got her name wrong. Later, she warmed up with a friendly kid smile when I disgraced myself playing cacophonic harmonica backup to my nephew Jon’s guitar mastery. After that, we were buddies.

Little S., in a fancy school for smart kids, fits a pattern I’ve noticed in trying to make sense of the generational shifts I see in serial snapshots, like time-frame photography, when I come from abroad to teach journalism students and to probe into a foreign society I once knew well.

Lots of young people sparkle with brilliance, self-assured and curious about a world they’ll have to un-fuckup. They are, however, the exception. The United States has come a long way from its raw-boned frontier days when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his hoary tome, Democracy in America.

In 1835, the iconic French sociologist noted “a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom."

Today, he would find many of those weak wanting to suppress the weaker, believing that raises their own level. And that reduces them to preferring inequality in servitude to a wealthy few, which squanders their freedoms and imperils democratic institutions.


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On Sheep, Wolves and Unfriendly Skies

NEW YORK – I think I’ve figured out the American penchant for bombing the crap out of airfields in so many places around the world. It’s just our innate generosity. We want to bring them to the level of La Guardia.

This began as another traveler’s tale of spending 48 woeful hours on what should have been a 90-minute American Airlines hop to the Carolina beaches. But then I stepped back to consider causes and implications. It’s time, as Seth Meyers would say, for a closer look.

Like Abe Lincoln said, you can’t fool all the people all the time. But in a fleeced, flocked-up nation of sheep, you only have to fool enough of the people enough of the time. And as Ben Franklin warned Americans at the outset: “Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.”

Big business understands this, and so do lawmakers who depend on corporate largesse for their jobs. The Democrats have picked an apt campaign slogan for 2018, harking back to those crucial three words in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: for the people.

First, the basic facts.


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