Splainer
Thursday, January 14 2021

That social channel you are talking about, if it is going to operate in Uganda, it should be used equitably by everybody who has to use it… We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad.

That’s Uganda president Yoweri Museveni who has blocked Facebook from operating in his country ahead of a bitterly fought election. But before you start to cheer his anti-Zuck chutzpah, know this: Museveni made the move days after FB removed fake pages linked to his government. Also: It is a ploy to muzzle the opposition to his increasingly dictatorial government. In this crazy world, the bad guy changes from one geographic location to another.

Big Story

The second impeachment of Donald Trump

The TLDR: Trump has become the only US president to be impeached twice in the nation’s 332-year history. And he may become the first president to be convicted, as well. But only if a decisive number of Republicans break ranks in the Senate. We explain what happened, why and what is likely to happen next.

 

Some basic background

The process: The US Constitution allows Congress to remove a sitting president on charges of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The President is impeached by the House—which basically indicts him on specific ‘articles’, i.e. charges. And the trial 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 will act as “impeachment managers”—i.e. the prosecutors, while Trump’s lawyers will act as his defense team.

 

In January last year, the House approved two articles of impeachment. 

 

  • Trump 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 president elect Joe Biden who was the Democratic frontrunner in the presidential race.
  • He was also charged with the obstruction of Congress—specifically, its investigation into the above abuse of power.

 

The impeachment vote

The charges: This time around the House voted to approve a single article of impeachment. The charge: Inciting a violent insurrection against the United States government.

 

The vote: 

  • The resolution was approved 232 to 197—with ten Republicans breaking ranks to vote with the unanimous Democrats. 
  • The most prominent among them: Liz Cheney, daughter of former Veep Dick Cheney—and who is the #3 Republican in the House. 
  • And she didn’t pull any punches, saying: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” 
  • Even the top House Republican—who voted against the impeachment—admitted that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack, but argued an impeachment “would further divide this nation.”

 

Up next: The Senate trial

The timing: Democrats would ideally like the Senate to start the trial asap—but current Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has refused to play ball, and will not call the Senators back to Washington. The earliest the proceedings can kick off is January 19—one day before Joe Biden is sworn in. 

 

Point to note: So Trump will be tried after he leaves office—which is unprecedented for a president, as well. Legal scholars are split over whether the Constitution allows the Senate to try an ex-President. And Trump may challenge the trial, and take this all the way to the Supreme Court. So stay tuned for that drama.

 

A new Senate: Trump will also be tried by a Senate that is controlled by the Democrats. Thanks to two runoff races in Georgia held this month, the chamber is split 50-50 between the two parties—with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaker vote. This means the Dems will make the rules about what evidence to admit, and which witnesses to call—unlike the last time around.

 

The winning total: To convict Trump, Democrats will need a two-thirds majority—i.e. their 50 votes plus 17 Republican allies. That is a big ask given that even some Democratic senators are not convinced that impeachment is a great idea. For example, Joe Manchin who said: “I think this is so ill-advised for Joe Biden to be coming in, trying to heal the country, trying to be the president of all the people when we are going to be so divided and fighting again.”

 

Also unenthusiastic: Joe Biden himself! According to his close aides, he “doesn’t see the practical need to introduce articles of impeachment so close to Trump’s departure”—and would rather spend his ‘honeymoon period’ focusing on his two big priorities: the pandemic and the economy. And his team is more worried about the prospect of a Senate too busy to approve his cabinet appointees or pass their bills.  

 

So why do it? If a president is indeed convicted, then there are two possible consequences laid out in the Constitution. One: He is kicked out of office which is moot in this case. Two: He can be banned from running for office ever again—which only needs a simple majority of 51-50. And that is a significant outcome given Trump has already made noises about running for president in 2024.

 

The Republican dilemma

The case against Trump: The Ukranian impeachment involved behind-the-doors conversations and confidential documents. But this time around, the key evidence is in plain view. As this New York Times op-ed notes:

 

“This is not a complex case factually. Audio of Mr. Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, is in the public record. So are the president’s videotaped words inciting his supporters to march on the Capitol. The violence that followed was on television for all to see.”

 

And the law is pretty clear that challenging a lawful election using violent means constitutes treason. But like all facts, these are open to wide interpretation—especially when the political stakes are high.

 

The temptation: For the past four years, the Republican leadership have been slaves to Trump’s every whim. The reason: He controls the party’s base, and therefore their political fortunes. The temptation of being rid of him once and for all—by banning a 2024 run—is considerable. Senate’s #1 Republican Mitch McConnell is reportedly pleased with the decision to impeach Trump—and is keeping an “open mind” on which way he will vote. More importantly: He will not use his position to ‘whip’ the Republicans in line to vote against the Dems. 

 

Point to note: Unqualified support of Trump is also hitting their wallet—with the GOP’s biggest donors pulling contributions to all Republicans who voted to challenge the election results. It is unclear how these companies will view their impeachment vote, but the financial pressure is tremendous.

 

The fear: Yes, Republicans are worried that their Trump-loving constituents will punish them for breaking with their leader. But they are also fearful for their own lives. One Democratic House representative said his colleagues are “paralysed with fear”—while the senior correspondent of Politico tweeted

 

“Numerous House Rs have received death threats in the past week, and I know for a fact several members *want* to impeach but fear casting that vote could get them or their families murdered. Not spinning or covering for anyone. Just stating the chilling reality.”

 

That fear led a number of House Republicans to vote to challenge the election results—right after the riots—even though they personally knew it was wrong.

 

In sum: As the Washington Post points out, most Republicans have avoided defending Trump, and have stayed quiet—buying time to figure out the direction of the political wind.  

 

Point to note: The latest polls show that Americans are almost evenly split over the impeachment—but clear majorities blame Trump for the riots, which is the essence of the charge against him. 

 

The bottomline: Even if Trump is convicted and banned from political office, it doesn’t change the reality that America is a bitterly divided nation. As House member Ro Khanna puts it

 

“How do we find any common ground with the 40% of people who still believe the president?... You can kick him off of Twitter. You can impeach him. You can hold him to account. But that's not going to break through [to] a huge population … who believe the reality that Trump has created.”

 

Reading List

  • The Hill has a good overview of the impeachment vote. 
  • Washington Post has the four big takeaways and an insider report on the view of the Biden camp.
  • Vox has the most comprehensive take on what’s likely to happen next, and why Republicans are afraid of their own voters.
  • New York Times has the latest polls, and an excellent op-ed—penned together by a leading Republican and Democrat—laying out the case for conviction. 
  • Also see: Axios on why Republicans want to be rid of Trump, and New York Times exclusive on what Mitch McConnell’s thinking right now.

 

In other Trump-related news

  • Investigators are looking at evidence that the siege on the Capitol building was not a spontaneous riot but a planned attack. Also: rightwing extremists have moved to Telegram to make their plans for Inauguration Day.
  • Trump put out a video message asking his supporters to remain peacefuland condemning those who attacked Congress.
  • YouTube has temporarily suspended Trump's channel and removed his video for violating its policy against inciting violence.
  • Former and current members of law enforcement agencies and the military seem to have participated in last week's chaos in Washington. The US Capitol Police has already suspended "several" of its own and will investigate at least 10 officers for their action. The extent of the rot is still unknown.
  • Adding to the ongoing horror: A manatee with “Trump” scraped onto its back was found in Floridawhere it is a protected species. The good news: the poor sea cow appears to be fine since the words were carved not into its skinbut in the algae that covers it. See clip here.

 

Sanity Break #1

Mahima Dayal aka Bawari Basanti is a wonderful Indie musician who was trained in Hindustani classical singing, but has grown to create a sound that is uniquely her own. Her throaty, gorgeous voice doesn’t hurt either. We adore the lively, tongue-in-cheek ‘Khabar Mein Raho’. But if you are in the mood for something achingly beautiful, we recommend ‘Underwater’. More on Dayal and her career here.

Headlines that matter

The great pandemic: A quick update

  • From January 26, all travelers to the US must be armed with proof of a negative Covid test—citizens included.
  • The Chinese vaccine Sinovac only has 50.4% efficacy—contrary to previously inflated claims. Just last week, Brazilian researchers who conducted trials in Brazil claimed 78% efficacy.
  • Australia’s leading experts have called on the government to halt its planned rollout of the Oxford vaccine. The reason: It may not be sufficient to ensure herd immunity since it has only a 62% rate of efficacy. Some of them say: “We need it to be over 70% effective—preferably over 80%—to prevent significant transmission still continuing in the community”.
  • The developers of the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech have scored another medical coup. They’ve developed a vaccine that may cure multiple sclerosis (MS). Yup, they are still in stage 1 of the trials, and have only mice data. But it looks very promising, and uses the same mRNA technology as the Covid vaccine.
  • There’s also good news on the Moderna front: It offers immunity for at least one year.
  • Doctors are running trials to test if the popular antidepressant fluvoxamine might prevent a more severe case of Covid.
  • A good related read: Vox on what happens when you and/or the people around you start to get vaccinated. Do things change? Yes, but not all at once.
  • The pandemic hasn’t ended but traffic congestion in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, and Pune has crawled back to the good old days. Mint has more on a new report.
  • Bruce Willis was asked to leave a Los Angeles store after he refused to wear a mask. See charming photo below:

 

A big court ruling for interfaith couples

The law: Interfaith couples who get married under the Special Marriage Act have to publish a public notice—which calls for objections to the impending nuptials. This is unlike those who get married as per personal laws of a religion—where the wedding rites are performed by a religious priest etc. 

 

The case: A couple—a Hindu man and a Muslim woman—challenged the law in the Allahabad High Court. They argued that the public notice constituted an “invasion of privacy and brings interference in their free choice with regard to their marriage.” 

 

The ruling: The Court agreed saying that the provision invades “the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy, including within its sphere freedom to choose for marriage without interference from state and non-state actors, of the persons concerned.”

 

The outcome: Couples can now decide whether or not they want to publish such a notice. Why this matters: interfaith marriages have become a flashpoint in places like Uttar Pradesh—where the conversion law is often deployed to block lawful marriages and arrest Muslim men. The Hindu has more on the ruling.

 

New marriage age for women? Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan has unveiled a tentative plan to raise the marriage age for women from 18 to 21 in the name of gender empowerment. He also proposed this: “[A] new system will be put in place, under which any woman moving out of her house for her work will register herself at the local police station, and she will be tracked for her safety.” In case you think this is a pipedream, the PM has already endorsed a task force that has been appointed to look into its merits—and he endorsed the idea in his August 15 speech. 


Feminism In India offers five very good reasons why raising the age of marriage will strip women of their independence. This older Hindu op-ed dissects the flawed argument that links marriage age to better maternal health and nutrition.

 

Hottest products in the world

The biggest companies showcase their newest and coolest products at the annual Consumer Electronics Show—which was virtual this year. Here are some of our fave reveals:

 

A flying car: General Motors announced its entry into the air taxi biz with a flying Cadillac:

 

The smartest face mask: from Razer is called Project Hazel. It is a reusable N95 respirator that has active ventilation, auto-sterilization and voice projection. Also: internal LED lights to make your mouth visible.

 

The smartest robot: Samsung’s Bot Handy can fill a dishwasher or pour you a glass of wine.

 

The coolest lipstick: L’Oreal’s Perso module can mix lipstick shades together to create a custom colour of your choice—and it works kinda like this:

 

Amazon Prime follows Netflix’s cue

In a global first, the streaming platform is rolling out a mobile-only subscription service in India—exactly like Netflix. It will start at Rs 89 per month compared to Netflix’s Rs 199. But it’s only available to Airtel subscribers as part of a prepaid mobile plan for now. One caveat: You can only watch it on one device and not in HD. (Mint)


In related news: Amazon has also launched ‘Amazon Academy’ to train students for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), which determines who gets into the country’s top engineering schools across India. Also, surprisingly: It’s free for now. CNBC has more details.

 

Speaking of big tech: Remember the big news about Tesla setting up shop in Bangalore? Splainer subscriber Ajit Matthew wrote in to offer an inside scoop:

 

“I share the same space where Tesla is registered. They have only one seat and no one is present. It is only an address in a co-working space. Meanwhile the floor manager is having a tough time fending off bank salesmen and other vendors, trying to make a fast buck!”

 

😂 😂 😂 ! A related good read: New Statesman on why the frenzied rush to invest in Tesla is a bit like hitting the tables at the casino.

 

French wine returns from space

The SpaceX capsule will bring a case of Bordeaux back to Earth when it splashes down on Wednesday—after a year at the International Space Station. The reason for the outer space sojourn: to see how well agricultural products like grapes hold up in harsh conditions—which will be essential if we plan to hang out in places like the Moon or Mars. Also: if they have to endure severe conditions of climate change. The bottles will be uncorked at the end of February for a tasting by some of France’s top connoisseurs. We all must suffer for the sake of humanity…  (The Guardian)

 

Huawei’s bizarre employee policy

Employees of the Chinese tech giant Huawei who work in Europe have very odd lines that they cannot cross. For example: They can be fired if they apply for citizenship or marry a local person. If they do so, they will be summoned back to China “as soon as possible” or be deemed to have “breached their employment contract” and ordered to resign. Huawei, OTOH, insists the policy is “no longer valid.” Why this is telling: Huawei is concerned about its employees’ loyalty even as it has lost billions of dollars in government contracts—in the US, UK and India—because it is seen as an agent for the Chinese government. (The Telegraph UK, sign in required)

 

Coffee is good for men

Researchers examined data from 16 different studies from 1989 to 2019 and came to an inescapable conclusion: “Higher coffee consumption is significantly associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.” To sum up:

 

“The team from the Shengjing Hospital of China Medical University found that men who drink several cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer compared to those with the ‘lowest’ consumption levels. Each additional daily cup was associated with a reduction in risk of 1%, the findings indicate.”

 

Of course, each additional cup may also put you at risk of being sucker-punched by your life partner or work spouse—which can be no less life-threatening. BBC Science Focus has more.

 

Climate change is producing wimpy sharks

New research shows that warming oceans are having an unexpected effect: baby sharks are born earlier than desirable. The reason: They hatch earlier in higher temperatures, which in turn makes them weaker. This in turn makes them less efficient hunters—and less able to do their job in an ecosystem. The Guardian explains.

 

The recipe for a child’s success

A dream team of 23 global researchers have found the one thing that can predict a child’s future: Self control. Apparently, folks that can say no to that bit of chocolate as kids develop into healthier adults who age slower—as in “their bodies are biologically younger and show fewer signs of brain aging than those of their middle-aged peers.” The good news: You can improve your results if you conquer impulse control at an older age. (Fast Company

 

Mills & Boon goes ex-royal

A sort-of member of the royal family, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York—former wife of the disgraced Prince Andrew—has signed a deal to write a piece of romantic fiction. ‘Her Heart for a Compass’ is apparently a fictional account of the life of her great-great-aunt and is being described as an “immersive historical saga.” What caught our eye: Sarah’s claim that she “drew on many parallels from my life” for the historical tale. Ooh, is there a character who has sex with trafficked underage girls? Now, we’re interested. Also: why is M&B offering a book deal for apologists for suspected pederasts—when even the Queen wants nothing to do with her son? (The Guardian)

Sanity Break #2

This is an eight-minute clip of an incredible dance off at a party hosted by the Jazz Roots Festival in Paris in 2015. If you don’t have the patience to watch the entire thing, we suggest you skip ahead to the 3:30 mark for the really good bits.

I recommend

Editor’s note

Himani is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert and offers baby sleep counselling to parents with gentle, scientific, baby-led advice. She is Co-Founder of the Facebook support group Gentle Baby Sleep India and a Leader of the La Leche League. Her first book, a bestselling and critically acclaimed novel titled ‘Life is Perfect’, was published in 2009.

Adjusting to a new normal means changes in every dimension of one’s life. And I’m not talking about Covid here. I’m talking about parenthood. A baby gives birth to a parent and a completely new existence. You’re living and breathing parenthood. Reading what experts have to say about this moment in our lives, gives us context and information to make decisions. It demystifies our new experiences and aids us to do the best we can for these new humans who depend on us completely. These are must reads that I would recommend to every parent:


Before and immediately after birth:


After 6 months: My Child Won't Eat by Carlos Gonzalez


Toddlerhood and beyond:

 

Note: This is NOT sponsored content. We use this section to spotlight the recommendations of people we trust and admire.

Feel good place
One: Birds, Mother Nature’s great artists! (h/t subscriber Sowmya Swaminathan)

Two: Sloth bears + balloon = comedy hour.

 
Three: Baby bear on a golf course also = comedy hour.


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