Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Number of the day: 8

Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi airport is rated #8 in the world in terms of passenger experience. Number one is Doha, followed by Tokyo and Athens. The worst airport in the world: London Gatwick airport. No Indian airport made it to that list of infamy. We would have nominated Goa.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The brewing global oil crisis in the Middle East

The confrontation between the United States and Iran over the broken nuclear deal is now reaching boiling point. The latest development could have serious ramifications for the rest of the world, including India.


Background, please: The US and Iran are enmeshed in an escalating confrontation over a nuclear deal cut by the Obama White House back in 2015 (See our explainer here). According to that deal, the US and other major European nations eased their economic sanctions on Iran, which in turn agreed to dismantle its nuclear program. However, the Trump White House unilaterally walked out of that deal in 2018. And last week, Iran announced it will no longer honour its key nuclear commitments under the deal. Then it all got a whole lot uglier…


Uglier how? Last month, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz—which is absolutely critical to the supply of global oil. The US then sent military warships to the region, claiming there are “clear indications” that Iran plans to threaten maritime traffic (read: oil tankers)—a claim which Teheran rubbished. Now—with perfectly bad timing—four oil tankers were sabotaged yesterday in UAE waters, creating fears of a disruption in global oil supplies.


What happened to these tankers? Four commercial ships were targeted at the Fujairah port, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. Two were Saudi, one Norwegian, and the last belonged to the UAE. There were no casualties or major oil spills. And Iran has been quick to condemn the sabotage. It also has not been blamed by either UAE or Saudi Arabia. But the crisis is far from over.


What’s the big worry? An escalating US-Iran confrontation near the Strait of Hormuz poses a serious threat to global oil supplies. The strait is a 21-mile passage connecting the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman. It touches Iran on one side and Oman on the other, and is considered the “world’s most important oil chokepoint”—i.e. anything that shuts down the passage will block 17-18 million barrels per day of crude oil. That is 90% of Saudi Arabia’s output, and 40% of the global crude oil trade. That’s why oil prices spiked the moment the news of the tankers broke.


What does this mean for India, i.e. me? The worst scenario: higher petrol prices, and here’s why. After walking out of the nuclear deal, the US gave India and other countries a waiver that allowed them to continue buying oil from Iran. Last month, it cancelled the waiver, and India lost access to Iran which supplied 10.9% of our oil. New Delhi toed Washington’s line in return for greater support of its efforts to combat terrorism and Pakistan (See: our explainer on Masood Azhar). However, India is now forced to buy more of its oil from the United States at a far higher price. The loss of Iran oil was supposed to be offset by increased output from other Gulf countries. That plan will be in jeopardy if these sabotage attacks become more frequent, or lead to a more direct US-Iran confrontation.


So what’s next? Both the US and Iran show no signs of softening. Iranian President Rouhani told his nation to prepare for severe economic hardship, declaring, “Surrendering is not compatible with our culture and religion, and people do not accept it.” The US foreign policy hawks, meanwhile, are hoping that hardship will lead to regime change in Iran. As for India, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in town to meet with Sushma Swaraj. But it isn’t clear what will come of those talks. In recent months, New Delhi has shown little inclination to buck Trump’s foreign policy demands.


Learn more: BBC has more on the tankers that were sabotaged. Reuters looks at their impact on global oil prices. Fortune has a must-read on the Strait of Hormuz and its critical role. The New York Times explains why Iran won’t be surrendering to US pressure any time soon. Indian Express has more on the Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to India, and what New Delhi ceded to the US in return for Azhar. Also: Broadsheet’s explainers on the broken nuclear deal and Masood Azhar.


In related ‘Trump-at-war’ news: The China-US trade war just hit high gear. On Friday, Trump hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. He claimed that Beijing had reneged on commitments made during previous trade negotiations. Trump then sternly warned China not to retaliate. China retaliated: it announced import tariffs ranging from 5-25% on 5,140 U.S. products worth around $60 billion. The US tariffs will indeed hurt the Chinese economy in the long run. But the immediate impact will be felt by US companies that import Chinese goods (and actually have to pay the duties), and the American consumer who will face sticker shock at the checkout counter. The not-so-silver lining: the equally destabilising trade war could, however, keep global oil prices down.

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making plans to retire in Vietnam

Julian Assange may be extradited for sexual assault: Sweden has reopened its investigation into a rape allegation against the Wikipedia founder. It was put on hold as it was impossible to prosecute the case as long as Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Now that he is out, the Swedes want him back home to face questioning. The hitch: The Americans want Assange extradited as well—creating a dilemma for the UK government. (The Guardian)


Bangladeshis may be richer than Indians by 2030: According to Standard Chartered bank, seven economies will grow at the rate of 7% through the 2020s. Among others, the list is dominated by Asian nations like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar—with the notable exception of China. Even more notable: By 2030, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP is projected to be $5,700, surpassing India’s per capita GDP of $5,400. In 2018, In 2018, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP was $1,600 compared to India’s $1,900. Then again, Vietnam is expected to be way ahead of both at $10,400. (Dhaka Tribune)


Kamal Hassan names first terrorist in India: The actor-turned-neta declared at an election rally in Tamil Nadu: “Good Indians desire for equality and want the three colours in the tricolour to remain intact. I am a good Indian, will proudly proclaim that… I am not saying this because this is a Muslim-dominated area, but I am saying this before a statue of Gandhi. Free India's first terrorist was a Hindu, his name is Nathuram Godse. There it starts.” Now the BJP has asked the Election Commission to impose a five-day campaign ban on him for “polarising” voters. (Quint)


Food prices will go up: thanks to a harsher-than-expected summer which also arrived early. Drought conditions in southern and western India have created shortages. It will push up prices of all food commodities, ranging from maize to milk. While this may be bad news for consumers, some experts say an uptick is a “healthy and necessary correction” to help farmers who have been struggling to recover costs. (Indian Express)


The Muslims of Gurgaon: In the midst of “luxury-housing developments, a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer and office towers that house companies such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Facebook,” the threat of violence is now everpresent. Belligerent local Hindutva groups are shutting down meat stalls, Friday prayers and more—looking for an excuse to threaten or assault. “Sometimes I think, ‘Why do I fear to go out in my own country?’” asks one resident. Why indeed? (Washington Post)


The Modi interview that won’t die: The latest bit of embarrassing footage shows that the PM was given the questions in advance—so much in advance that the answers were typed up and printed out. It’s a whole new twist on the leaked exam paper scandal. Also: here’s Quint on why it would be impossible for Modi to have access to either a digital camera or email back in 1987.


Dear California, meet electricity cuts: Indians are used to losing power for hours on end come summer. This year, it may be far worse for Californians. The state’s biggest utilities company plans to cut power on high-wind days to avoid the risk of catastrophic wildfires. But these blackouts may last not for hours, but potentially for days, even a week. The silver lining: Interest in solar power options has shot up. (Bloomberg)


Before and after Fani: These wrenching ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos tell you everything you need to know about Odisha’s long road to recovery. (News18)


Student of the Year 2 is awful: But this scathing, funny take on its misogyny is not. (Huffington Post)


Just Google it on your smart-bag: Louis Vuitton’s ‘Canvas of the Future’ handbag features a flexible screen display that may have browser capability. According to LV, the plan is to make the handbag an extension of the smartphone… because why? Really, why? We sense a Google Glass in the making. (The Verge)


To cheer you up this am: Here is Mo Salah’s adorable daughter scoring her own goal after daddy’s team, Manchester City, won the Premier title. Also: this story about an English maid in 1817 who conned an English town into thinking she was an exotic princess made us laugh: “She gave fencing demonstrations, using a blade stained at the tip with vegetable poison. She even, quite scandalously, swam naked in a lake. Each night before she went to sleep, she would pray to her god, whom she called Allah-Tallah, often from the top of a tree.”

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Know Your Disease' Edition

Most of the health-related news in the media revolve around a few pet topics: cancer, diabetes, nutrition, allergies etc. The result: we remain woefully ignorant of other equally common and important health conditions.

The mystery that is Lupus

Most of us don’t really understand autoimmune diseases. Lupus is an excellent example—all of us have heard of it, but few of us know anything about it. Is it genetic? Triggered by lifestyle or our environment? Well, since women are in far greater risk than men of contracting this often painful disease, maybe it’s time to find out.

Watch: What Exactly Is Lupus? | Seeker

Sex, Love etc 2

Beware the zombie chickenpox virus

A lot of Indians got chickenpox as kids. As diseases go, it wasn’t even considered all that serious—lots of itchy discomfort, lots of lacto-calamine, scars that eventually faded, and we were done! Umm, not quite. That virus is still in your body, and it can suddenly spring back to life in the form of a far more painful disease.

Read: Chickenpox is a lifelong herpes virus that comes with a serious side effect | NBC News

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