Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reminders of the day

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The transcript of that Trump call

Yes, we’re still talking about this. The reason: The White House released an official memorandum that captured the key parts of his conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky—hoping it will put Trump in the clear. It appears to have had the opposite effect.

The impeachment tamasha recap: is as follows (Detailed version in yesterday’s explainer):

  • Trump made a phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky back in July. 

  • A whistleblower—who was present during the call—filed a complaint claiming that Trump had made some kind of “promise.”

  • The House Judiciary Committee demanded a report of the complaint. The national intelligence chief refused to turn it over. 

  • US media then reported damning details of the complaint—which in turn led the House Democrats to announce an impeachment inquiry.

Remind me about the complaint: According to news reports, Trump pressed Zelensky eight times to investigate Joe Biden’s son. And he made some kind of “promise” to Zelensky in return—likely to do with $400 million in US aid. Also: Trump personally ordered his staff to freeze that aid just days before he made the call—presumably for leverage.

Ok, what happened now: The White House released a sort-of transcript of the call. More accurately, it is a compilation of “the notes and recollections” of officials who were present during the call. 

What’s in it? The most significant bits are as follows:

  • Trump clearly asks for “a favour”—actually, two favours. 

  • One, he wants Zelensky to investigate a company linked to the hacking of the Democratic party email server during the 2016 elections. The reason, as Vox explains: Trump would love proof that “it was actually Ukraine that hacked the Democrats—and then tried to frame Trump and Russia for it.”

  • Two, he clearly asks Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son: “The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”

  • Also important to note, Trump says, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to·the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.” We explain why below.

So this is pretty damning, right?  Yes, and for these reasons. 

  • The context: Trump freezes aid to Ukraine which desperately needs it to fend off Russia. He opens the call underlining how much Zelensky needs that aid—and then he moves in to ask for the “favour.”

  • The ask: A US president is insisting that a foreign leader investigate his primary political rival. As of now, Biden is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. 

  • The players: The call is peppered with repeated references to Rudy Guiliani's previous conversations with Ukrainian officials. That’s right, the president’s personal lawyer was using the authority of the United States to investigate Biden. Worse: US Attorney General William Barr is also namechecked as an active participant in—again—a politically-motivated investigation.

  • The history: Trump made this call just one day after independent counsel Bob Mueller testified in Congress about his three-year investigation into Russian meddling in the US elections. He made clear that the Russians were indeed guilty and refused to exonerate Trump (but didn’t indict him either). So Trump had just dodged a big bullet.

So what’s next? Key Congress leaders have finally had a look at the whistleblower’s complaint. House Judiciary Committee chairman Adam Schiff called “the allegations deeply disturbing and very credible.” So the impeachment inquiry is likely to gather pace. Schiff also claims that the whistleblower is likely to testify in front of his committee.

One last question, why did Trump release the transcript?! Lol! After the release, Trump told reporters: “The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call, other than a lot of people said I never knew you could so nice." (watch him here) This is a president who is used to insisting up is down and black is white—and has gotten away with it. No doubt, he thinks he can do it this time as well. 

The bottomline: Where Vox insists that the transcript shows “the president’s behavior... is deeply inappropriate and corrupt,” here is what Axios had to say: “There is no explicit Trump promise to Ukraine in exchange for dirt or investigations in the phone call memo released today, but it's easy to read it and understand why a whistleblower would have been concerned by the conversation.” Expect a lot of hair-splitting in coming days over the word ‘explicit’. 

Learn more: Vox has the best breakdown of the transcript. Or read it for yourself in the New York Times. ABC News reports on the convoluted Ukraine politics in play here— and has quotes from Zelensky’s adviser confirming that he was under pressure. Broadsheet did a full-length explainer which includes details on the impeachment process.

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feeling really bad for Labradoodles

An ocean-sized disaster in the making: A landmark UN report paints a frightening picture of the effects of global warming on the world’s oceans. They've been heating up nonstop since 1970 and have absorbed 90 percent of the planet's excess heat and 20-30% of the excess carbon. The result: the waters have become warmer, more acidic and less oxygen-rich—which in turn is killing marine life at an unprecedented rate. Also of concern: melting glaciers from the polar regions to the Himalayas which will fuel rising sea levels, catastrophic flooding and dwindling water supplies. Most important point: we only have until 2030 to arrest this disaster. (CNN)

Swami Chinmayanand’s accuser is arrested: A law student in UP accused the BJP leader and former Union cabinet minister of repeatedly sexually assaulting her over the course of a year. However, she—and three of her male associates—have in turn been accused of trying to extort money from Chinmayanand. Yesterday, in a shocking turn of events, the UP police literally dragged her out of her house and placed her under arrest. Meanwhile, the BJP has distanced itself from Swami-ji, who has been arrested on the milder charge of “sexual intercourse by a person in authority”—and is currently hanging out at a hospital not jail. Related read: Quartz on BJP’s ‘rape problem’. (Indian Express)

Trump ❤️the Indian media: After cozying up with Imran Khan, the Donald was back for a bout of renewed diplomatic canoodling with PM Modi. At their joint press conference—where Trump reeled off terms of endearment such as ‘Elvis’ and ‘Father of the nation’—he also expressed his deep admiration for our journalists: “You have great reporters, I wish I had reporters like this.… where do you find these reporters?” (cut ahead to the 4:15 mark). The admirable reporter turned out to be an India Today anchor. And the channel was sooooo excited, they made a promo just to let everyone know about it. Then they deleted it. We have no comment.

No, water isn’t the best way to hydrate: A new study finds that a glass of milk is far more effective than H2O in helping your body retain fluids. Surprising fact: measured over a four hour period, even Coke or orange juice is more hydrating than still water. But here’s the catch: once these sugary drinks hit your intestines, they actually “pull” water out of your body. A bit of good news: a cup or two of coffee are pretty effective as long as you add milk. (CNN)

The mirage of India’s maternity leave laws: They guarantee paid maternity leave for working women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks—which is the third highest in the world. But according to a new report, only 1% of working women benefit from it. The reason: an out-of-touch elite which lobbies for laws inspired by the West. (Quartz)

Demi Moore’s two exes: had two very different reactions to her tell-all memoir and interviews. Ashton Kutcher was super-duper unhappy but in a kinda passive-aggressive way. OTOH, Jon Cryer (of ‘Two and a Half Men’ fame) was just plain lovely.

The unhappy creator of the Labradoodle: Folks can’t get enough of the breed that promises an adorable Lab with the intelligence of a Poodle and minus the sneeze-inducing fur. But the breed’s creator now calls it a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’: “I find that the biggest majority are either crazy or have a hereditary problem… I do see some damn nice labradoodles but they’re few and far between.” As we always say, the best kind of hybrid is a good old-fashioned streetie. (New York Post)

A new theory of obesity: claims that the current obesity epidemic isn’t caused by too many carbs or fatty foods or sugars. The real culprit: ultra-processed foods that play havoc with the signals sent by our gut to our brains. (Scientific American

Comedian Hasan Minhaj couldn’t say ‘Howdy Modi’: He was among the Indian Americans who were highlighted on jumbo screens at the event in Houston. But here’s the really funny bit: Minhaj, however, was barred from entering the event. Watch him explain what happened. 

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • A new bar opening right on top of a glacier in the Arctic Circle. Yes, you can enjoy a guilt-free Puffin Collins cocktail and support puffins. 

  • Or you can be self-ironic and volunteer for Airbnb’s “Antarctic Sabbatical” and study the effects of microplastic pollution on the other end of the earth. 

  • The ten strangest things that US airport authorities have confiscated—including a bag of eels and a bottle of cognac with dead seahorses. 

  • Baba Ramdev as the guest of honour at Symbiosis University. It is every bit as strange as you would expect it to be.

  • This weird and lovely video of an octopus changing colours as it dreams. 

  • The elephant in a room—literally. We are totally impressed by its door-exiting skills.

  • This fabulous ad explaining how a German company outsmarted the 19% luxury tax on tampons. 

  • This amaaazing photo of Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the aftermath of her four-Emmy win. True confession: this is our secret #lifegoal—except for the Emmy statues which are whatevs.  

  • The winners of the 2019 Environmental Photographer of the Year award. The overall winner: SL Shanth Kumar's picture of a 40-year-old fisherman struggling in Mumbai's flooded streets.  
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Instagram Disease’ Edition

Social media has its toxic downside—and it always imposes a far greater toll on women. For example, Twitter bullying. So it isn’t surprising that it is women who are most affected by Instagram’s dark side. 


Too much wellness Insta is a bad thing

We live in weird times. Human beings are struggling with hunger, malnutrition and obesity, on one hand. OTOH, Instagram is fuelling the rise of orthorexia thanks to its shiny, happy influencers. No, it isn’t about losing weight or poor body image. As one expert describes this disorder: “It’s more a psychological compulsion and an inability to deviate. They just physically can’t eat something like a pizza or cake.”

Read: Cult of wellness Instagram stars are fuelling a 'clean' eating disorder | Daily Mail

Sex, Love etc 2

Would you like the ‘Kylie Jenner package’?

No, you won’t have to go under the knife for it. All you need is a beauty specialist who can give you a “fast, cheap, dermal-filler-enabled look.” This is a fascinating look at how one family of Instagram influencers—accompanied by changes in plastic surgery—has changed how a generation of women quite literally look. 

Read: The Unstoppable Rise of the ‘Instagram Face’ | Vice 

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