WASHINGTON — President Trump arrived in Jerusalem this week with a most curious bit of information for Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
"We just got back from the Middle East," Trump announced. "We just got back from Saudi Arabia."
At this, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, put his forehead in his palm.
Did Trump not know Israel is in the Middle East? Did he not know he was in Israel? There was little time to contemplate this mystery, because Trump was moving on to generate more puzzlement at his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
Americans by now have become accustomed to perpetual chaos. Now lucky friends and allies are seeing the Trump tornado firsthand.
The two men had wrapped up a news conference and reporters were shouting questions when Trump volunteered a confession. "Just so you understand," he announced, "I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it during that conversation. They are all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel."
Thus did Trump apparently confirm that Israel was the unnamed ally that had provided sensitive intelligence to the United States that Trump then handed over to Russia. U.S. officials were concerned that if the ally were identified, Russia might try to disrupt the source.
Mark Twain wrote "The Innocents Abroad" in 1869 while traveling through the Holy Land and Europe. This week, Trump wrote his own chapter as he bumbled his way through Saudi Arabia and Israel before heading for Rome. Americans by now have become accustomed to perpetual chaos. Now lucky friends and allies are seeing the Trump tornado firsthand.
After Monday night's attack at a concert in Manchester, England, Trump reacted with outrage and sorrow for those "murdered by evil losers in life." But then he made this aside: "I won't call them monsters because they would like that term. . . . I will call them from now on losers because that's what's they are. They're losers."
Thus did the president apply the same label to murderous terrorists that he had previously bestowed on Rosie O'Donnell, Cher, Rihanna, Mark Cuban, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Maher, Ana Navarro, Chuck Todd, the attorney general of New York, an astrologer in Cleveland, Gwyneth Paltrow, Howard Stern, Jeb Bush, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Karl Rove, Megyn Kelly, the Huffington Post and the New York Daily News — among many others.
Beyond that, did Trump run a focus group to find out terrorists prefer being called "monsters' to "losers'? And does he suppose that taunting them as losers will be an effective counterterrorism strategy? If so, he might form an "L" on his forehead with thumb and forefinger when he invokes terrorist losers.
Presumably Trump didn't think it through. Likewise, he didn't mean to offend his hosts in Saudi Arabia by referring to "Islamic terror" rather than "Islamist terror." He was "exhausted," an aide explained. Perhaps fatigue also made him turn Saudi Arabia's King Salman into "King Solomon" — he was off by 3,000 years — and expand the Strait of Hormuz into the "Straits of Hormuz." Less clear is what made him leave a cheerful message in the guestbook at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem: "so amazing and will never forget!"
Trump, who once scolded President Barack Obama for bowing before a Saudi ruler, executed a similar stoop in Saudi Arabia. Trump, who once criticized Michelle Obama for failing to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia, gave a speech there while his bareheaded wife and daughter listened. (Melania Trump struck another blow for women when her husband, ungallantly walking ahead of her on the Tel Aviv tarmac, reached back for her hand; she flicked his away.)
Here he is Thursday pushing his way to the front in Brussels
America First™ — Trump moves aside a NATO leader to make his way to the front of the packpic.twitter.com/zIwkFU9zBI
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 25, 2017
Trump does best when he sticks to the script others have written for him, as he did in his well-received speech in Saudi Arabia. It's when he ad-libs that he gets in trouble, as when he proclaimed recently that peace is "maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years." Diplomats of the past 70 years must have been losers.
Problem is, Trump has trouble sticking to the script. The White House distributed Trump's prepared remarks for his meeting with Rivlin, making it possible to identify his ad-libs, a clutter of asides and superlatives. "Amazing." "Very holy." "And that's number one for me." "There's no question about that."
Had the president's predecessors employed such filler, these immortal words from the Gettysburg Address might be etched in marble on the Potomac:
"Four score and seven years ago — that's a long time ago, very long — our fathers, who spoke about this at great length, did what perhaps has virtually never been done before: brought forth on this continent, a new nation, a very great new nation — there's no question about that — conceived in liberty — and that is so important! — and dedicated to the amazing proposition — and they felt very strongly about this, I can tell you — that all men are created equal. Number one for me."
The world, hopefully, will not long remember the gaffes Trump made over there. But it can enjoy a good chuckle.
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.