Mort Report Extra: Our Lady in Pain

TUCSON, Arizona - I'm an ocean and a continent away, in a sunny place with cactus blooms beginning to color a hopeful new spring, and I can barely see my keyboard. Like everyone who has felt the power and glory of Nôtre-Dame de Paris, I am eviscerated with grief.

We have no reliable facts yet on what and why. But we already know what it means. The world has lost a vital underpinning, for eight centuries a symbol of humanity's best urges on a planet hardly short of the other kind.

Much of the damage will be repaired. Perhaps Quasimodo the hunchback is still up there in one of those stone towers where Victor Hugo imagined him. But this is not about a building. Even if the cause was a tragic accident, this is a sign of terrifying times.

I happened to catch the first CNN newsflash. As all reporters do, I ran through possibilities. It is Holy Week now in a world smoldering with religious hatreds and political opportunists in Washington fanning the embers. Could it be evil-inspired arson?

Chances are the fault lies with construction crews at work among tinder-dry timbers. Yet instant reaction across anti-social media shows the extremes across today's boobosphere, which allows anyone to weigh in with blame and condemnation.

Donald Trump quickly made it about him, tweeting that the French should use aircraft to douse the flames, as if French authorities who have preserved their splendid 2,000-year-old city remarkably well need any uninformed kibitzing.

The Securité Civile in Paris offered a more useful tweet: “The release of water by aircraft could, in fact, cause the collapse of the entire structure.”

During 52 years in Paris, I've developed a deep respect for its firemen. When flames once flared in my Ile-Saint-Louis apartment, wailing sirens were at the door almost before I put down the phone. Now I live on the Seine and see Nôtre-Dame from the bow of my boat. The river brigade responds at blinding speed, but its water cannons could not reach flames high atop an imposing cathedral set back on a broad esplanade.

Firetrucks were delayed by traffic, in near-paralysis at rush hour because the mayor has shut down main thoroughfares, narrowed lanes and changed one-way streets in a campaign to make way for pedestrians and bikes.

Those are details. What matters now is Our Lady in pain.


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On Mort Report and the Endgame of Thrones

TUCSON, Arizona - A Facebook remark by a Bosnian photographer I knew in Sarajevo bit like a scorpion: “I don't think it is OK that Mort Rosenblum retired Journalism and get himself to political activism.”

“Not retired from reporting,” I replied, “just saying things as I see them.” But I got his point. We worked for Associated Press back when fair and balanced was no laugh line. Objectivity was far less of a moving target.

We old-crocodile reporters haven't changed that much, but capital-letter “Journalism” has. At a time when authoritarians and big money divvy up a planet threatened by endgame, this ought to trouble us all.

These days, anyone with an internet link can be a journalist, regardless of motives or grasp of facts. Schools that taught ethics and tenets focus on how to deliver a message rather than getting it right.

America's attention has turned inward. Smart kids learn little about the real world. A senior in my international reporting class spent weeks focusing on Iraqi refugees and then told me Iraq's capital is Bangkok.

Excellent reporting in the “mainstream” and countless tributaries competes with hyped horseshit. Network news fixates on domestic trivia, barely scratching the surface of what matters to our very survival.

I spent 39 years on seven continents for AP. I spent two as editor of the International Herald Tribune when it was the gold standard for global news. Now it's time to step back to fit mosaic pieces into a big picture.

Mort Report is non-prophet. It claims no omniscience, sticking to facts and objective analysis. It is also a non-profit, with help from readers who care about their world. Click here if you'd like to join in.

My inspiration is I.F. Stone's Weekly, at its peak in in the 1960s, a blend of Izzy Stone's own reporting put into broad context. Christiane Amanpour's definition for new journalism is apt: Truthful but not neutral.

I'm now in Arizona where I teach two months each year. The border I've known since I was a kid is news as Donald Trump whips up fantasized fears that isolate Americans and force countless others to suffer.

Soon I'll be back in the wider world, which so many Americans ignore. Domestic issues won't matter when Earth is unlivable. People who hate us have already closed off much of the map for safe travel.

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About Those Benjamins and the Survival of Israel

TUCSON, Arizona - Donald Trump's daft assertion - “Democrats hate Jews” - not only reflects an Israel policy that fans smoldering anti-Semitism across the world but also threatens the very survival of a hard-won Jewish homeland in a region armed for Armageddon.

“Democrats have become an anti-Israel party,” Sarah Sanders told reporters recently. Then, sticking by that absurdity under harsh questioning, she added: “They've become an anti-Jewish party.”

Judaism is a faith and a heritage. Zionism is politics. They can overlap, or not. No one speaks for an ancient religion defined by perpetual argument. And if Jews did have a pope, he or she would hardly be Bibi Netanyahu, much less Sheldon Adelson, Trump's Israel-First funder.

Since 1967, I have reported off and on from Israel, nearly every Muslim country and European slums where Islamist zealots whip up hatreds. Today, I see Trump's embrace of hardcore Zionists feed growing hostility that risks conflict no one's God can stop.

Tom Friedman had it right in a New York Times column evoking an existential danger from Congress and AIPAC, the formidable lobbying group: “It's the threat that America will love Israel to death.”

If a two-state option remains open, negotiation is possible. “But once that's gone,” he wrote, “all hell will break loose in the Jewish world…It would rip apart every synagogue, Jewish Federation and Jewish institution in America.”

That's in the United States. Imagine the impact across the Middle East, beginning with the West Bank and Gaza with no Palestinian Authority to balance extremists.


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On Partisan Pit Bulls, Poodles and Trusty Watchdogs

TUCSON, Arizona – A local headline last week meant little to winter visitors here to see blazing wildflower color: “Corps Gives Rosemont Mine Final Permit for Construction.” Against a national backdrop, it was a calamitous sign of the times.

America’s watchdog reporters bark louder than ever when public trust is betrayed. Yet unless citizens react, ignoring partisan poodles and pit bulls who mislead them, newshounds might as well be coyotes howling futilely at the moon.

We all know the big picture. Too many people tune out “the media,” confused and overwhelmed. Donald Trump creates an alternate reality by default, burrowing into a White House from which he will be exceedingly hard to evict.

But a close look at the projected Rosemont copper mine shows how we are losing forever natural wealth and cultural heritage as a polarized nation fixates in closed loops on moronic Twitter babble and extraneous political circus. 

Over the past decade, federal and county agencies did what government regulators do: Specialists weighed facts and made decisions. They denied permits over water supply, air quality, impact on wildlife and wetlands, among others.

Trump’s approach is closer to Louis XIV’s: L’Etat, c’est moi. His minions had denials changed to approvals despite years of reporting in Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, at the national level, and in an investigative website – Rosemont Mine Truth – that provides data and documents for anyone who troubles to notice.

The “Corps” in that Star headline is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has repeatedly refused a Clean Water Act permit. But the decision was moved up the chain of command until it was approved.

As a result, Hudbay Minerals of Toronto is to dig a vast open-pit mine. Environmental scientists say the $1.9 billion project would cripple Tucson’s water supply and destroy priceless splendor on national forest land sacred to Indians.


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A Coup Attempt, Plain and Simple; It Could Succeed

TUCSON, Arizona – Donald Trump’s Wall is illusory, but the writing on it seems clear enough. He is plotting a coup d’etat, gambling that divided Democrats, media sycophants, big money and people who don’t vote will enable his cult to make him a modern-day Mussolini.

Trump might watch next year’s elections play out as a disgraced has-been on the sidelines, perhaps behind bars, as Elizabeth Warren predicts. But that is a wishful long shot. If he is re-elected, America will find itself tested to a degree that is hard to imagine.

I’ve covered countless putsches since the 1960s. Military takeovers are swift, often bloody. Subverting democracy takes a lot longer. Either way, they require three essentials: fear of external threat; a rewarded ruling class that undercuts institutions; bullshit that buries truth.

Trump himself sketched out his scenario in singsong mockery when he elbowed aside Congress to confront his bogus border emergency. Legal challenges will work their way up past uncompromised judges to a Supreme Court that Mitch McConnell has allowed him to pack.

 Robert Mueller has already nailed six Americans close to Trump, along with 26 Russians. Andrew McCabe says Rod Rosenstein worried enough that the president might be Vladimir Putin’s stooge to suggest on two occasions that he wear a wire into the Oval Office.

That alone would oblige a real president to clear himself of suspicion and determine whether America’s fiercest foe was perverting its elections. Trump condemns “a ridiculous partisan investigation” and repeatedly tweets “NO COLLUSION!” as if it were only about him.


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