Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Number of the day: 144

The Supreme Court today will hear 144 petitions that have been filed with regard to the Citizenship Amendment Act. Most of these challenge the constitutionality of the new law. Others want the Court to declare it to be constitutional. Some have sought a stay on its implementation until its legal status is determined. The primary basis for these challenges: the law violates the fundamental right against religious discrimination.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The impeachment of Donald Trump

Wednesday marked the first day of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump. We explain what the eff is going on so you can make sense of the blaring headlines that are inevitable over the coming week.

First, the I-word explained: The US Constitution allows Congress to remove a sitting president on charges of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Impeachment is just another word for a trial—except this one is conducted in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. It is overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Senators act as the jury. Seven members of the House act as “impeachment managers”—i.e. the prosecutors, while Trump’s lawyers act as his defense team.

The charges: The House framed and approved two articles of impeachment—i.e. two primary charges against Trump:

  • One, he abused his powers as president to help himself get reelected this November. Specifically, he pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden—son of former VP Joe Biden who is the Democratic frontrunner in the presidential race. It all started with one phone call—which we explain here.

  • Two, he is charged with the obstruction of Congress—specifically, its investigation into the above charge. Trump has repeatedly refused to turn over requested documents, and blocked his aides from testifying in front of Congress. Point to note: The US Congress has the legal authority of oversight over the executive branch—i.e. the president’s administration—and the right to investigate his public conduct.

The rules: While the Constitution lays out the broad process of impeachment, the specific rules of the trial are framed by the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer. And those restrictions have become a heated point of contention. The first day was all about defining the rules.

The battle over the rules: Republican leader Mitch McConnell initially put forward two rules that made the Dems very, very angry. 

  • One, he proposed that the Senate should first vote on whether or not to admit the evidence gathered by the House investigation into Trump. Sneaky since Republicans hold the majority in the Senate.

  • Two, he limited each side’s arguments to 24 hours, spread over two days. That’s not a whole lot of time for the House to present its case.

  • Democratic leader Schumer angrily responded: “Senator McConnell is saying he doesn’t want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn’t want to hear any new evidence… It’s a cover-up, and the American people will see it for exactly what it is.”

The new rules: On the very first day, McConnell reversed himself. He agreed to automatically enter evidence collected by the House into the trial record. And while the two sides still only have 24 hours to present their case, those 24 hours will be spread over three days—not two. Why this matters: The impeachment managers now have time during the day to make their case—when Americans are wide awake.

Coming up: More jhagda over the rules. Democrats want to call witnesses. For example, Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton who says he is willing to testify. More critically, they want to admit new evidence that surfaced after they wrapped the House inquiry. For example, the Dems introduced three amendments seeking access to documents from the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon—and all of them were shot down. But they are unlikely to give up. 

The wildcard: to watch for are a group of four Republican Senators who have indicated a greater willingness to keep an open mind on Trump. One is retiring, two are moderate women Senators who face re-election, and the last is Mitt Romney (former presidential nominee who often criticises Trump). Why this matters: Republicans hold a slim 53-47 majority. If these four Senators break ranks, Democrats will have the majority they need. 

The bottomline: While scraping up a simple majority will allow Democrats to present a stronger case, they need a two-thirds majority (67 votes) to actually convict the President. So… there’s that.

Learn more: If you want more details on Trump’s impeachment:

  • BBC News has the best explainer with lots more background.

  • New York Magazine has a lot more on the actual impeachment process.

  • Politico details the brief presented by Trump’s legal team which indicates their line of defence. Also: Trump’s latest response issued from the Davos summit.

  • Newsweek explains how four Republican Senators can determine the course and length of Trump’s trial. 

  • The source of the latest evidence to damn Trump is Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born associate of Trump’s lawyer, Rudi Giuliani. The Guardian explains who he is and why he matters.

  • Associated Press has the draconian rules Senators have to follow. Example: "All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment."

  • Broadsheet laid out details of the one phone call between Trump and Zelensky that set the impeachment ball rolling—and the one testimony that made his impeachment inevitable.
  • Want something on the light side? Here’s The Daily Show’s take on day one.
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making plans to camp outside an H&M store

Your viral outbreak update is here: and it includes the following:

  • As new cases begin to mount, the news is sending shockwaves through the country's stock market. The once rapidly rising Chinese and Hong Kong stocks fell due to worries over consumer spending. The viral scare is expected to put a serious dent in lunar new year celebrations—which is peak season for shopping.

  • Point to note: The lunar new year period is also when hundreds of millions of people travel—in what is dubbed “the largest annual human migration on Earth.” And that’s not good news in the midst of a potential epidemic. CNN has the most details.

  • The number of reported cases thus far is 300, six people have died and the disease has spread to 5 countries, including the US.

  • The World Health Organisation is convening an urgent meeting of experts today to assess whether this constitutes an international emergency.

  • Missed our explainer on the new coronavirus outbreak? Read it here.

The latest deal on facial-recognition: The European Union plans to impose a temporary ban on facial-recognition technology—just until they can figure its downside. 

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai is totally in their corner: “Facial recognition is fraught with risks. I think it is important that dominant regulation tackles it sooner rather than later.” 

  • Not as convinced: Microsoft President Brad Smith who said, “[Y]ou don’t ban it if you actually believe there is a reasonable alternative that will enable us to, say, address this problem with a scalpel instead of a meat cleaver.” 

  • The reason for Pichai’s enlightened position? As the Financial Times notes: “The advertising giant [Google] has, however, been under intense scrutiny over its handling of users’ data. In Ireland, Google has been accused of secretly feeding personal data to advertisers, while its online advertising exchange is being investigated by the Irish data protection authority.” In other words: Google doesn’t need to scan your face. It already knows exactly who you hate-emailed, where you went today for lunch, the STD you frantically looked up, and likely your last bowel movement.

  • In OTOH but related news: Imagine if someone who saw you at a bar took a photo of you. Then they uploaded that image on to a search engine and found every photo of you online—and all the information associated with them. That’s what Russia’s most used search engine Yandex does.

Zomato swallows up UberEats: Its parent company sold the flailing food delivery service in a $350 million all-stock deal that gives Uber 9.99% stake in Zomato. The sweetest bit for Zomato: It now has a market share of 52% compared to Swiggy’s 43%. Point to note: This is an India-only deal, and Uber Eats will continue its operations in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. (Quartz)

H&M aur Sabyasachi ki jodi: The company announced plans to collaborate with Bollywood’s favourite designer. According to the press release, the limited collection will mix “modern and traditional silhouettes with a nod towards athleisure and glamping”—and showcase Indian textiles and prints. And it will be available not just in India, but in H&M stores around the world. Will it be cheaper than Sabyasachi’s high-priced wares? Yes. Will it sell out before you even realise that it’s hit the stores? Yes. Get a glimpse of the prints in Sabyasachi’s Insta post. (Quartz)

You’re about as unhealthy as your belt size: In recent years, medical experts have insisted that belly fat—not overall weight—is a strong predictor of a heart attack or a stroke. Well, we now have more evidence. A new study says that having a big tummy (on even a skinny body) can lead to multiple strokes and heart attacks. Here’s how bad it is for your health: “The study found that belly fat was associated with heart attacks and stroke independent of other risk factors like smoking, diabetes, hypertension, body mass index and prevention treatments.” Translation: Stop obsessively weighing yourself or worrying about the size of your thighs. It’s your cute little pot belly that’s gonna kill you. (CNN)

One cell to kill them all: T-cell therapies are the most effective and innovative treatments for cancer. This involves removing immune cells, modifying them—and then returning them to the patient's blood to seek and destroy cancer cells. Here’s the catch: most T-cells can find and destroy only  limited kinds of cancer cells. But scientists may have discovered the ‘Terminator’ of all T-cells. This one contains a special molecule that allows it to kill most kinds of cancer cells—lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical—while ignoring healthy cells. Scientists are very excited about this “great step forward.” (The Independent)

Rajasthan crops have a locust problem: The state is suffering the worst locust attack in six decades—and the insects are destroying crops spread over 3.60 lakh hectares. The consequences of a biblical-sized infestation: “These locusts suck out juices out of the roots of the crops that they attack, leaving them dead and of no use. They can destroy entire farmlands of crops within half an hour.” Already cash-strapped farmers are in even greater distress: “Had taken a loan of Rs 9,00,000 in my mother Amarjeet Kaur's name but now that the crop has been destroyed, I have no idea how the debt will be paid off.” Nope, the government isn’t helping whatsoever. But hey, the Congress CM came out to inspect the damage. India Today has the story. Times of India has a good explainer.

A bounty of trailers: Three upcoming movies and series want your attention:

  • Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film ‘Shikara’ recreates the massacre that forced 400,000 Kashmiri pandits out of the Valley in 1990. Here’s the trailer and a moving clip of the Pandit refugees who were asked to recreate their experience for the film.

  • Ayushmann Khurrana has another movie release coming up—‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’—a gay love story set in small-town India. And the trailer looks awesome! Bonus read: A first-person essay on why this movie is a huge win for Indian gay men.

  • Netflix has recruited Karan Johar to dish out dating advice for young unsuspecting (and seriously star-struck) Indians. We have no comment. Watch the trailer here.

News that makes you go wtf: includes the following:

  • Eight Indian tourists in Nepal—including four children—died of suffocation in their sleep in a hotel room. The likely reason: a gas heater.

  • Mullets are coming back in fashion. We have no words.

  • We all know how hard it is to rent in this country as a Muslim. Even so, these WhatsApp screenshots are seriously WTF. 

  • Indian Railways-run restaurants have jacked up their price—and kicked out most of the Kerala dishes on their menu. And replaced them with the likes of samosa and kachori. People are cranky. 

  • “KFC has apologised for an ad in Australia that shows two young boys staring with their mouths agape as a woman adjusts her breasts.” Also: atrocious ad here.

  • A ball girl handed a banana to a French tennis player during an Australian Open match. He asked her to peel it for him. The umpire stepped in to tell the entitled toddler what’s what. Watch the clip here.

  • Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh swam in a river under the Antarctic ice sheet—made possible by global warming. The photo is both stunning and sad. 

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Is there anything more awesome than these little kids playing air guitar in their imaginary band? We think not. 

  • This lovely story of an Australian woman who opened her home to 50 lil baby flying-foxes orphaned by the bushfires. Yes, there are photos.

  • In that same spirit, watch this rescued baby koala play with a stuffed teddy. The best kind of bear-on-bear action lol! 

  • Cerberus as a puppy, guarding the gates of heck’ Honestly, we can’t describe this any better. 

  • This funny story about a komodo dragon that destroyed the BBC crew’s cameras by trying to have, er, sex with it. 

  • These viral photos of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt looking very loving at the backstage of the SAG awards. 
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Everything we don't know about human desire

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The high price of ambition

American Gen Z and Millennial “men and women say that the most desirable relationship is a traditional marriage, where the husband works full-time and the wife’s career comes second or not at all.” In Sweden, couples are far more likely to divorce when the women far out-succeeds the man. This is a must read on women, ambition and marriage.

Read: When a Promotion Leads to Divorce | The Atlantic

Sex, Love etc 2

Forget ghosting, have you Paxmanned anyone yet?

We had lots of fun reading this lol list of the latest dating terms—which only confirm what all of us already know: dating is hell. 

Read: The bizarre 2020 dating terms You need to know | Daily Mail

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