Thursday, August 29, 2019

Good news of the day

The government is readying to make good on its promise to scrap all single-use plastics by 2022. Starting October 2—i.e. Gandhi Jayanti—India will ban plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. According to an official source, “The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage and import of such items.” Yes!!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Boris Johnson shutting down the Parliament

The UK PM detonated the equivalent of a political nuke yesterday. He announced a plan to suspend Parliament. His aim: to push through Britain’s exit from the European Union. We will now do our valiant best to explain this latest Brexit disaster.


First, a timeline: Here’s a quick overview of the Brexit saga:

  • The referendum: In a 2016 referendum, the British public voted to exit the European Union by a narrow margin of 52–48 percent.

  • The deal: UK PM Theresa May spent two years negotiating a Brexit deal—which her own party hates because of something called the Irish backstop.

  • The Irish backstop: As per the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement, there cannot be a hard border between Ireland (a sovereign country) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Therefore, May’s deal keeps Northern Ireland within the EU customs framework and regulations even after Brexit happens. It is meant to be a temporary arrangement (backstop) until the UK negotiates a separate free trade deal with the EU.

  • The failed votes: Brexiteers see the Irish backstop as a symbol of continued EU ‘tyranny’. The Remainers don’t want any kind of Brexit at all. The deal—which must be approved by Parliament and was put to vote three times—failed to gain a majority. 

  • The new EU deadline: to get the deal approved in Parliament is October 31. Failing that, Britain will exit without a deal in place—i.e. ‘no-deal Brexit’ which would be an economic catastrophe at least in the short run. (The pound has already nosedived at the news of the suspension.)

  • Exit, May: Tired of the constant abuse and failure, she finally stepped down in July, and was replaced by Boris Johnson.


Remind me about Johnson: He started his career as an MP in 2011 and served as London’s mayor for two terms. Boris is a strident Brexiteer who has promised to take Britain out of the EU—with or without a deal. He is most often compared to Donald Trump and shares his shaky relationship with the truth. (Read our detailed BoJo explainer here)


Ok, now tell me what happened: In the UK, it is the Queen who suspends each session of Parliament—which the Brits call prorogation. But it is just a formality and done on the request of the government. Yesterday, the Queen approved Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament no earlier than Monday, September 9 and no later than Thursday, September 12. And it will remain suspended until October 14—when a new parliamentary session will begin.


Er, what does that do? It ensures that the MPs have very little time to stop Johnson from pushing through a no-deal Brexit—though he fervently denies any such intention. British MPs are currently on their summer break and are due to return on September 3. So that gives them anywhere between a week to nine days before this session ends. And by the time they come back, they have only two weeks until the EU deadline of October 31. 


So what’s next? Johnson’s action has sparked great outrage and has been described as “illegal and unconstitutional”—even by members of his own party. But what can they do to stop him? 


Get rid of no-deal Brexit: MPs can quickly pass legislation that blocks Johnson from opting for a no-deal Brexit. Or his critics can challenge the constitutionality of his actions in the courts—and a couple of such lawsuits are already in the works. The latter may not work as there is no evidence that Johnson violated parliamentary procedure.


Get rid of Johnson: MPs can come together to pass a vote of no-confidence against Johnson next week. This isn’t impossible as Johnson has a working majority of one vote.  If this happens, then the Labour party has two weeks to cobble together a ‘national unity’ government. This is doable—but has happened only once before in British history! And it may be doomed if Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn refuses to step aside and nominate another Labour leader (he’s not very popular with the others). 


Johnson’s options: If the bid to form a unity government fails, then Johnson gets to come back in two weeks and call for elections. If Parliament blocks him from a no-deal Brexit, he has more choices:

  • Try and renegotiate the deal with the EU—which has flatly refused to do so. 

  • Use it to bully Brexiteers in his party into voting for the existing deal—i.e. it’s either this or no Brexit.

  • Again, call for a snap election which takes six weeks. So we could be looking at a mid-October Election Day—just weeks before the EU deadline.

The bottomline: Boris Johnson was chosen as Theresa May’s replacement by 66% of the 160,000 members of the Tory party. Just saying...

Learn more: BBC has the best overview of the latest events. The Atlantic has the most comprehensive take on the possible outcomes of Johnson’s latest move. The Guardian looks at cross-party plans to thwart Johnson. On the impact of a no-deal Brexit: Economist briefly charts the consequences for the British economy; The Balance offers a broader analysis—plus excellent charts—of how Brexit will play out for everyone, including the EU and the US. Broadsheet did a lengthy explainer on Brexit back in December.

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scrambling to buy tickets to that Katy Perry concert

Your Kashmir update is here: and it includes the following:

  • The Supreme Court heard a batch of ten petitions and made the following decisions. It ordered a five-judge bench to hear all pleas related to Section 370 and the lockdown. It will start proceedings in early October. It gave CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury permission to go to Kashmir and check on his detained colleague—but he is not to go anywhere else. It also gave a young lawyer permission to check on his elderly parents—and report back to the Supreme Court. (The Hindu)

  • This Indian Express column went viral yesterday. It tells the story of the reporter’s pregnant sister who lost her baby—which could have been prevented by a single phone call. It also tells a bigger story of the toll extracted by the communication lockdown.

  • Also a must-read from Indian Express: frustrated and demoralised leaders are being held at a Srinagar hotel. The price of release: they have to sign a bond which promises “they won’t carry out any political activity, not speak against the government move, and in a way, stay indoors. I was told nobody has agreed to sign it.”

  • In related news: Governor Satya Pal Malik held a press conference where he declared: it is better for Kashmiri leaders’ political reputations to stay in detention; the internet is more useful to terrorists than the aam aadmi. At the same event, J&K police chief confirmed that security forces have been rounding up young children and teenagers. (The Telegraph)

  • In Mumbai Mirror, a surgeon offers an eloquent tribute to his former colleague at Jaslok hospital: Omar Salim, the urologist who was taken into custody for speaking to reporters.


Foreign Direct Investment reforms are here: And they are very good news for single brands like Apple, Uniqlo and Ikea. They no longer have to first open a brick-and-mortar store in order to sell online, and rules about locally sourcing their products have been eased. Also: foreign firms can invest 100% in contract manufacturing firms in India—which is definitely good news for Make in India. The government has also fully relaxed foreign investment rules for coal mining—which may not be good news for the environment. (Mint


A young woman, a politician and a rape allegation: A law student in UP recorded a Facebook video accusing BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand of sexual assault—and threatening her life. She then went missing. Chinmayanand is a former cabinet minister, three-time MP and the president of the young woman’s college. Point to note: In 2011, a disciple at his ashram accused him of abduction and rape. The case was later dropped by CM Yogi Adityanath who is his khaas dost. Chinmayanand has been charged with abduction in order to murder and criminal intimidation. Muddying the waters: the UP police now claim that they have tracked her down in Delhi in the company of a man who tried to extort money from the Swami. (Huffington Post)


The rupee is falling: and is expected to hit Rs 72.5 to a dollar by the end of the year. The reasons: a weak domestic economy, pull out by foreign investors, and China... always China! (NDTV


Salman Rushdie’s novel gets a walloping: in the New York Times. Here’s a sampling from its review of the newly released ‘Quichotte’: “He is the author of nearly 20 books—six published in the last 11 years alone, but of diminishing quality. The novels are imaginative as ever, but they are also increasingly wobbly, bloated and mannered. He is a writer in free fall.” Ouch! (New York Times)


Three mistakes of Modi haters: Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor got into trouble for saying it is a mistake to demonise the opposition. Yogendra Yadav thinks they are onto something. And here is why. (The Print)


India, the hot new market for opioid manufacturers: The over-prescription of—and the resultant addiction to—opioids has long been framed as a very American problem. And a number of pharmaceutical companies have been sued in the United States, and some like Johnson & Johnson have been losing in the courts. But they have now found a new and lucrative market in Indians who are junking the traditional ‘grin and bear it’ attitude toward pain. This is a long but cautionary read that is definitely worth your time. (The Guardian) 


How the Indian police view Muslims: is not very reassuring. A new survey of police personnel and their families offers some gloomy insights. For example: 50% of those surveyed believe that Muslims are “naturally prone” to committing crimes. Also: 35% think it is natural for a mob to punish the “culprit” in cases of cow slaughter. (Indian Express)


Your high-quality mob flick fix is here: Thanks to Netflix, director Martin Scorcese has brought the old mafia gang back together again. His upcoming movie ‘The Irishman’ has all the golden faves: Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci etc. And here’s the really good news: after just a few weeks in the theatre, it will be on our Netflix ‘watch next’ queue. So no need to get out of your pjs for this one. (Variety)


Things that will make you never want to fly again: include this riveting account of how an Air Canada flight nearly crashed in San Francisco. In related news: Here’s a video clip that will make you never want to paraglide again 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • A kiss-kiss edition of Indian politics. Watch a young man dropping one on Rahul’s cheek. Plus: A rare shot of Modi air-kissing Angela Merkel. 

  • The brilliant news that there is now a global trade ban on the sale of baby elephants. 

  • The happy news that Katy Perry is coming to Mumbai to headline the first-ever One Plus festival on November 16.

  • Ten of Earth's most alien and stunning landscapes

  • Robert Pattinson’s flowing blonde locks which is melting the internet. 

  • Nissan’s hilariously smart golf ball engineered for total dummies like us... and five-year-olds.

  • What to do when your other half farts in bed—as demonstrated by an annoyed cat and a clueless dog. 

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Smarter Diet' edition

We get so much diet advice and yet we all are left feeling a bit clueless. Here are two pieces that help clear some of that fog.

Is shuddh desi ghee really a superfood? 

With high-fat diets like keto and paleo in vogue, ghee has emerged as the cool “ayurvedic superfood” touted by dubious lifestyle stories and no less dubious movie stars. But hard science is a bit more ambivalent about its benefits.

Read: Is Ghee Healthy? Here's What the Science Says | TIME

Sex, Love etc 2

Why is intermittent fasting so hard?!!

Let’s face it: not having anything except coffee or tea for 16 hours is a b***h. No wonder, so many who jump on the intermittent fasting bandwagon often fall right off. Well, here’s a great guide to fasting that is smart, simple and rooted in reality (i.e. human frailty).

Read: The Easier Way to Do Intermittent Fasting | Elemental


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