eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Election 2016: Other Trumps, “Beautiful” Bernie, Bricks For The Wall

Trump supporter in Fayetteville, NC on March 9
Trump supporter in Fayetteville, NC on March 9

From Latin America to Europe, the Middle East and beyond, newspapers around the world have expressed a growing mix of dismay and contempt as Donald Trump continues to rack up victories in the Republican party presidential primaries. But as the American billionaire moves closer to the nomination, international journalists are widening their analysis to note that this implausible political personage is not alone on the world stage. "Should we really laugh about the Republican debates when they build up their hate for Islam, without thinking about Le Pen, Orban and others?" Sophie Thresher writes for French daily Libération, referring to far-right French National Front Leader Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, both openly hostile to Muslims.

"Trump promised to erect a wall to stop migrants from entering the United States," Thresher continues. "But is there anything to laugh about and to lecture the Americans on when Europe is also letting insurmountable barriers be erected against migrants and refugees fleeing war, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, the cold and death? Is British Prime Minister David Cameron any different from the Republican candidates when the former has washed his hands of the situation in Calais and the latter refuse to welcome refugees from Iraq and Syria?"

Danish daily Politiken asks rhetorically whether a Trump-like candidate could successfully emerge in Denmark, noting that one already did. Political scientist Martin Larsen writes that this Scandinavian Trump was named Mogens Glistrup, a controversial Danish politician, lawyer, tax protestor and parliament member (1973â€"1983 and 1987â€"1990) who founded the right-wing Progress Party. Glistrup too was outrageous, openly viewing tax cheats as "freedom fighters" and bragging on national television that he himself paid no income taxes.

"Perhaps most importantly, Glistrup, like Trump, was a political outsider," Larsen writes. "Secondly, Glistrup, like Trump, was saying things that were not only politically incorrect, but that seemed absolutely insane given the political culture that dominated in the ’70s." Glistrup, for example, had suggested the abolition of the social security system to be replaced with oatmeal machines in the streets.

Such global commentary about the U.S. presidential election has been ample. Ahead of the March 15 make-or-break contests for GOP candidates Marcio Rubio and John Kasich in Ohio, Florida and other states, Worldcrunch continues its regular curation of presidential campaign coverage, from all languages and corners of the world:

Perhaps the foreign politician who Trump most closely resembles is former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an over-the-top conservative billionaire who first ran for office after a long career as a real estate and media magnate. In Les Echos, French political scientist and columnist Dominique Moïsi characterizes Trump as "a Made-in-USA Berlusconi."

But in an interview with Italian daily Il Giornale, which is incidentally run by Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, Italian political scientist Alessandro Campi cites a very different (but no less colorful) Italian figure from Italy with similarities to the Republican frontrunner: Beppe Grillo.

Grillo, 67, is the longtime and wildly popular comedian who broke into politics a few years ago with a loudly entertaining message shared across the Internet that largely defies left-right models. Campi, a professor at the University of Perugia, says that both Grillo and Trump were able to "build a populist coalition that feeds off the anger directed at politics as a result of the economic crisis, while exploiting the opportunity that the web provides to mobilize the masses."

Devils wearing Dockers

What’s extraordinary about Trump’s supporters is their utter ordinariness, C.J. Werleman writes for Egypt’s Al-Ahram weekly. Having attended the candidate’s Nevada caucus victory speech, Werleman recalls expecting "the crowd to resemble a covert Ku Klux Klan rally." Instead, it was like "every white-majority suburban street in America."

But Werleman says the fact that the audience was essentially a bunch of white guys clad in Dockers â€" the sort that can be found any night of the week at a sports bar wearing their mobile phones on their belts â€" is precisely what’s so terrifying.

"If support for Trump’s racist and xenophobic appeals came mostly from easily identifiable racists and xenophobes, then it would be easy to marginalize and dismiss Trump supporters. The fact that his support cuts across all layers of ordinary America is what makes the rising likelihood of a Trump presidency both a real and horrifying prospect â€" and especially so for Muslim-Americans."

Normalizing absurdity, bigotry and insanity is what "gave us the genocides of Nazi Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda," Werleman writes. "Trump supporters are no more or less normal than the bureaucrats and passive citizenry that allowed such atrocities to take place, and they remind us that we should worry less about extremists and more about the ordinary."


In recession-hit Brazil, the prospect of a Trump presidency is causing not just general social anxiety but also more specific economic fears. Folha de S. Paulo columnist Clóvis Rossi describes the billionaire’s pledge to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports "a declaration of economic war" that would "derail an already wavering economic recovery." It would be particularly brutal for the Latin American country because it trades heavily with both the United States and China and relies on the Asian behemoth as a customer of its raw materials.

Further "disaster will occur if Trump fulfills his promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.," Rossi writes, explaining that Trump is "sowing the seeds of a Ku Klux Klan frame of mind" that will affect "Latinos in general," including the 100,000 Brazilians living on American soil.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Mario Luis Fuentes, writing in Mexico’s daily Excelsior, characterizes Trump as a "sociopath," cautioning that the world’s most powerful country has become "a dangerous threat during a crisis of inequality, poverty and environmental degradation."

Hope left

For all the breathless bewilderment and gloomy outlook of global opinion writers, some see cause for, if not celebration, at least some optimism. Describing the campaign of Democrat Bernie Sanders as "beautiful," Laurent Joffrin writes for French daily Libération that the leftist Vermont senator’s suprising challenge against Hillary Clinton is refocusing a huge bloc of voters on social issues.

"After more than 30 years of economic growth that reserved the benefits for a small group of millionaires (or rather, billionaires), the Americans are discovering the extent of the inequalities that their successive leaders have allowed to develop," Joffrin writes. "For the first time in a long time, they are coming around to the idea of considering the advantages of a European-style minimum wage in the country of free enterprise and a minimal welfare state."

Time to buy brick stocks?

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Ker reports that Australian business interests are already thinking ahead to a potential Trump presidency, calculating what the economic upshot would be.

Given that Trump has vowed to build a wall along the border with Mexico, Australian Foundation Investment Company executive Mark Freeman told shareholders Wednesday, "One of the stocks we might have to look at is Boral, because they manufacture bricks in the U.S. and they will need a lot of bricks to build that wall."

As Ker notes, Freeman was joking, "but then again, most people thought Mr. Trump was joking too when he flagged plans to run for president."

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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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