Trump And The World

Hey World, Look Who's Coming To Dinner

Donald Trump stepping out of Air Force One on April 13
Donald Trump stepping out of Air Force One on April 13
Tamar Vidon

-Analysis-

Donald Trump is not afraid of flying. Since taking office, he's made it a habit to board Air Force One for back-and-forth weekend visits to his Mar-a-Lago Florida golf resort. But today, four months into his presidency, he takes off for his first overseas trip, with six international flights scheduled over eight days and an ambitious program that includes mending fences with the Saudis, restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, meeting Pope Francis and mingling with other world leaders in Brussels and at the G7 in Sicily.

After his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Trump will be flying to Israel. If the flight is direct, that alone could be a historic first. Elliott Abrams, a former senior official in the Bush and Reagan administrations, recalled in a recent podcast of the Council on Foreign Relations how complicated the Middle East can be. "It will be interesting to see when Trump takes off from Saudi Arabia whether he needs to make believe he's flying to Jordan," Abrams said, according to excerpts of the podcast in Israeli daily Haaretz. "And the reason I say that is I've been on flights with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that went from Israel to Saudi Arabia, and we had to almost land at Queen Alia Airport in Amman to make believe that we were, in fact, coming from Amman. I hope and assume that that kind of silliness has been dispensed with."

That will not be the only silliness that needs undoing.

On today's first Saudi stop of the trip, Trump will reportedly try to repair the Islamophobic image he made for himself during last year's presidential campaign, and take part in what is being described in Riyadh as a "historic meeting". His National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Trump's speech would be "an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president's hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world."

It's kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump.

Trump is also expected to announce an arms deal with the Saudis that some are hailing as the largest weapon purchase in history, reaching hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

But surely money can't buy everything. A series of diplomatic incidents over this past week have already cast a shadow on Trump's visit to Israel, and on his aspiration to restart the peace process with the Palestinians: the issue of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (a campaign promise Trump is now putting off and will not announce during this visit); the status of the Western Wall, and not least of all, Trump's leaking of classified information to the Russians that compromised a valuable Israeli intelligence source.

After Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, Trump heads to Europe, where his attitude has been viewed with serious suspicion since Day One of his administration, as the French economic daily Les Echos writes. France's brand new 39-year-old president Emmanuel Macron is reportedly scheduled to have a "lengthy lunch" with Trump in Brussels.

Preparations on the Old Continent include a notable restriction at a NATO dinner that all speakers will be limited to two to four minutes to "avoid taxing President Donald Trump's notoriously short attention span," Foreign Policy magazine writes. "It's kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump," one person who had been briefed on the summit arrangements told the magazine. "It's like they're preparing to deal with a child."

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

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?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

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

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

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

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

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.

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