PARIS — "Previously on President Trump …" We have gotten used to following the news from the White House as we would a prime-time television drama. This week's plot includes the long-awaited boot for Big Rex. Did he know it was coming? Who said what to whom, and when? What does it mean for Vlad? For Xi? And Kim??
The current Foggy Bottom plot line follows last week's installment of metal tariffs for our allies, with Trump boasting that trade wars are "good and easy to win." That was followed by chief economic advisor Gary Cohn resigning, just hours after the president said that "everybody" wanted to work with him at the White House. And, for an end-of-the-week cliffhanger, there was the surprise announcement of historic talks with North Korea, a country Trump had threatened a few months ago with "fire and fury." Oh, and don't forget Stormy Daniels, whose breakout performance could turn her into a recurring character.
None of this should surprise us, of course, coming from a president who is also a former reality television star and who reportedly told his top aides that they should "think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals."
As for the rest of the world, where Netflix series are the vehicle of choice for spreading American culture, the search for show business metaphors is on. "During his election campaign, Trump coined the image of Washington as a "swamp," a picture that looks less like reality and more like the scripts written in Hollywood — probably because the candidate knew Washington mainly through such works of fiction," Adrian Daub wrote last year in the German weekly Die Zeit. "Could it be that the all-pervading cynicism conveyed on such shows as House of Cards has contributed to Donald Trump overtaking fiction?"
None of this should surprise us coming from a president who is also a former reality television star.
Columnist Jean-Pierre Robin of the French daily Le Figaro landed upon a more dated analogy, after Trump announced the heavy steel and aluminum tariffs last week. Robin likened Trump's America to the 1965 movie La Vieille Dame indigne (The Shameless Old Lady), based on a story by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. In it, an aging woman, having raised her kids, proceeds to spend all her money and do whatever she damn well pleases.
There have been other, more colorful attempts to draw comparisons to this new peak in presidential theatrics, particularly in light of developments in Italy, which has its own national drama playing. There, an inconclusive election last week saw the return of Silvio Berlusconi, a former prime minister whose biography (and behavior) may be more similar to Trump's than any other global leader.
Yet the hotspot where the stakes right now are highest is North Korea, after last week's surprise announcement of an unprecedented meeting planned between Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un. It was only few months ago that Kim pulled out his own evocative image of Trump, calling him a "dotard" — an obscure word used by the likes of Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps that was something he found in translation.
If the search for hope and meaning in the Trumpian world feels futile, you may want to follow the lead of Erik Hagerman, a 53-year-old from Ohio who decided to shut out all news from his life since Trump was elected. "It's not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation," he told The New York Times. "It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust."
For the rest of us, the only option is to keep watching, closely or loosely, as Trump prepares for the next episode. Reality is not (just) a show.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.