Thursday, November 21, 2019

Video of the day

Watch this amazing clip of a woman risking her life to rescue a badly burnt koala from a raging bushfire in Australia. It is truly heart-warming, but also a sad reminder of who pays the greatest price for the disasters unleashed by climate change.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The testimony that damned Donald Trump

US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland delivered a series of bombshells in his congressional testimony—making it all but inevitable that the US President will be impeached.

A very brief recap: The House of Representatives is conducting public hearings to answer the following question: Did President Trump ask Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate his Democratic party rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter—and threaten to stop or delay US aid in order to pressure him? (We have lots more background in our explainer here)

The quid pro quo: Sondland’s testimony confirmed that Trump kept refusing to talk or meet with Zelensky unless he agreed to announce an investigation of the Bidens: "I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes." Watch the damning clip.

The lawyer: Sondland made clear that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudi Guiliani, was driving the United States’ Ukraine policy—on behalf of the president: “Secretary [of Energy] Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”

Also this: “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations… Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the President.”

The Biden investigation: More damningly, Trump didn’t care if Zelensky actually investigated the Bidens—he just had to announce the investigation: “I never heard… anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed. The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.” Translation: the purpose was plainly political—to damage Biden’s presidential campaign.

The open secret: Sondland made it clear that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other key members of the administration were “in the loop. It was no secret.” In fact, they were all cc-ed on Sondland’s email which read: “I Talked to Zelensky just now… He is prepared to receive Potus’ call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’.”

Trump’s response: While Sondland was testifying in Congress, Trump held an impromptu presser/tamasha on the White House lawns. And he cited only one teeny part of Sondland’s testimony about a phone call with Trump: “It was a very short abrupt conversation… He [Trump] just said, ‘I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo.’”


Trump’s creative interpretation: “They have to end it now. There was no quid pro quo. The president did absolutely nothing wrong.” Watch Trump’s bizarre-as-usual performance (jump ahead to the starred bit on the video). Also see: his insanely large and strange notes, written in all caps and in a black marker.

So what happens now? The evidence collected from these hearings will be turned over to the Judiciary committee—which then will decide whether or not to recommend Trump’s impeachment. The House will vote on that recommendation. If it passes, the president is impeached—which is the equivalent of being formally charged, and the 'trial' will then be conducted in the Senate. Thanks to Sondland’s testimony—and the fact that the Democrats control the House—that outcome may now be a no-brainer. 

The bottomline: Sondland threw the president under the bus, but it may not move the political needle. The Republicans in Congress continue to support Trump, and will likely stand by him on a vote to impeach. The future and only remaining line of defence: it is perfectly legal to use the office of the president to bully a foreign president to investigate whoever the hell he wants.


Learn more: Al Jazeera has a detailed report. This BBC analysis explains why Sondland’s testimony is highly damaging. The New York Times has more on Trump’s response. The Atlantic delves deeper into the two most important sentences that Sondland uttered. Yahoo News reports on rumours that Pompeo may resign. The Bulwark points to a potential loophole in Sondland’s statement that offers Republican wiggle room. Watch the key moments here. This Broadsheet explainer has all the details on the impeachment process and the Biden investigation. This explainer delves into the phone call with Zelensky that sparked the inquiry.

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junking that Marie Kondo book coz it no longer brings you joy

An account of Chinese torture: In the midst of the Hong Kong protests, Simon Cheng, an employee at the UK consulate in Hong Kong, was arrested in August. He was beaten, chained to a board, hands and feet apart in an X shape, and deprived of sleep for hours. The reason: The police wanted him to ‘confess’ to inciting protesters on behalf of the UK government. (Wall Street Journal)

Maharashtra and Haryana are in big trouble: Remember the big consumer expenditure survey that the government has junked claiming it has “data quality issues?” (If not, read our explainer here) The numbers on rural spending reveal that two states—Maharashtra and Haryana—witnessed the biggest fall in consumer spending, which dived by 18% between 2011-12 and 2017-18. Point to note: the survey numbers were to be released in June, but were held back. Both Haryana and Maharashtra held state elections last month. (Business Standard

Pollution is hazardous to your hair: According to preliminary findings of a Korean lab, “When the cells on the human scalp were exposed to common air pollutants created from burning fossil fuels, the proteins in the cells that are responsible for hair growth and hair retention were significantly reduced.” And dirtier the air, the more hair you are likely to lose. (Fast Company)

Putting humans into suspended animation: In a groundbreaking trial, doctors put at least one patient into suspended animation: “The process involves rapidly cooling the brain to less than 10C by replacing the patient’s blood with ice-cold saline solution.” This rapid cooling reduces brain activity to a near standstill and slows the body’s biological processes. The aim is to buy time—up to an hour—to save shooting or stabbing victims, and arrest brain damage. We don’t know whether the trial worked as yet. (The Guardian)

Tinder gets festive in India: Tinder’s new 'Festival Mode' makes it convenient for you to hook up at events. Just add a badge for a festival you plan to attend—say, the NH7 Weekender in Pune—and screen your potential roadtrip flings in advance. (Nextbigwhat)

When Katy and Dua came to Mumbai: The two headlining divas made their India debut at the One Plus music festival. Rolling Stone has all the details. Also check out on-stage photos of Katy Perry and Dua Lipa.

‘Botox facials’ are a thing: The treatment presses very tiny microneedles into the outer layers of your skin, and into your pores. But unlike injections, the aim isn’t to erase wrinkles but to “airbrush” your skin—kinda like an IRL version of Facetuning. But, but, but nobody knows exactly how or why it works, or its potential long-term effects. So we advise sticking to your fave Insta filter instead. (The Zoe Report)

Tottenham Spurs have a new manager: The beloved Mauricio Pochettino has been summarily sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho, the ex-Man U coach everyone loves to loathe. The average Spurs fan’s playlist is yo-yoing wildly between ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Thank You, Next’. Also: everyone else has one more reason to hate the Spurs. (Daily Mail)

Brad Pitt may have a new girlfriend: Rumours about Brad Pitt’s love life are heating up. The reason: he’s been seen traipsing around town with 'Arrested Development' star Alia Shawkat on more than one occasion. (Buzzfeed)

How effed up is Hollywood? Behold: A studio head once suggested that Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman—the legendary African American activist who campaigned against slavery. And this happened next: “When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, ‘It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.'” (Entertainment Weekly)

Chaayos wants to know your face: The tea store chain recently introduced facial recognition as a replacement for the old trusty OTP password. Let the camera scan your face to pay the bill or repeat an order. But what if you don’t think the convenience of personalised chai is worth trading your privacy? Too bad coz Chaayos doesn’t give you a choice. And that’s very creepy. (Medianama has the story and a clip of how it works)

The life-changing magic of cluttering up: The queen of tidying up Marie Kondo made a fortune out of guilting us over our junk. But now she wants us to go out and buy more of it at her new store named—what else?—KonMari. How about a $145 ‘Cement Live Edge Bowl’ to spark your joy? Or a $75 tuning fork that you will never use? (The Hustle

Your daily quota of sunshine: includes the following:

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Mindful Tourism’ Edition

Holidays these days come served with a hefty side of ecological guilt. Our best impulses—to marvel at nature or a different culture—often help destroy what gives us great joy. Here are two pieces that help us make travel plans that do less harm.

A compassionate guide to wildlife tourism 

The greatest irony of wildlife tourism is that it often destroys the habitats of the animals we claim to treasure. We can, however, choose a sustainable way to interact with Mother Nature and her many wonders. This way, we use our holiday spending to boost conservation—and take a stance against animal cruelty.

Read: Five ways to be a responsible wildlife tourist | The Conversation

Sex, Love etc 2

Taking the less travelled path

Every year, tourists swarm into the same well-known destinations—with a handful of ‘hot’ spots thrown in. The result: overwhelmed infrastructure, ecological damage and irate locals. The solution: undertourism. That means travelling to lesser known places or during less popular times of the year. In the essays below, the New York Times has an in-depth piece on undertourism, while National Geographic lists five ‘undertouristed’ destinations for your next holiday.

Read: Cooler, Farther and Less Crowded: The Rise of Undertourism | The New York Times 

Read: Undertourism: These destinations want your attention | National Geographic

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