Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Anannya Parekh
A looming Red Sea crisis in the Middle East
The context: Houthi rebels in Yemen have been targeting ships headed to Israeli ports in the region—claiming they’re standing up for Gaza. But worried about being caught in the crossfire, four of the world’s five biggest shipping and oil companies have stopped sending their ships through the Red Sea.
This is one of the world’s most important trade routes: It sees 12% of global trade—including 30% of global container traffic. All that traffic now has to be routed around Africa—in order to reach Europe. Number to remember: Shippers have already diverted about $35 billion in cargo from the Red Sea. CNN has lots more background on the Houthis—and their aims.
What happened now: The US has announced a multinational force—made up of Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Seychelles and the United Kingdom—that will maintain security along the route. This will bring them in direct conflict with the Houthis—who are seen as championing Gaza (albeit for reasons that suit Iran). And that is not a good look:
Reading between the lines, it’s a very difficult situation for some of these Middle Eastern countries. You have Saudi Arabia, which is very close, it seems, to signing a deal with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. You have Egypt, which doesn’t want to be seen as going against the Houthis’ message on Gaza — which is for Israel to stop the war on the enclave.
That’s a big risk to take—as it could widen the war into a regional conflict. FYI: shipping companies have not shown any enthusiasm for the security force—or announced they’re going back to biz as usual. FYI: This security initiative has the cheesiest name possible: Operation Prosperity Guardian! BBC News has loads more on the impact on global trade and oil prices.
Donald Trump disqualified from presidential race
A Colorado Supreme Court ruled that he cannot hold office as president—because he was involved in the Capitol Hill riots:
The 4-3 decision in the Colorado Supreme Court found that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment—which disqualifies from office those who engage in insurrection against the Constitution after taking an oath to support it—applies to Mr. Trump, making him ineligible to be listed on the state’s presidential primary ballot.
Of course, Trump lawyers will take it to the US Supreme Court. (New York Times)
As for Biden: His numbers continue to tank. A new survey shows Americans narrowly prefer Trump to him—and only 37% approve of the job he’s doing. And he’s losing young voters:
Voters between 18 and 29 years old, traditionally a heavily Democratic demographic, jump out. Nearly three quarters of them disapprove of the way Mr Biden is handling the conflict in Gaza. And among registered voters, they say they would vote for Mr. Trump by 49% to 43% — in July, those young voters backed Mr Biden by ten percentage points.
A key ruling on the Gyanvapi mosque
The context: The mosque is located inside the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex. It has become a legal lightning rod. This year, Hindu petitioners claim that a ‘shivling’ has been uncovered on its premises—thanks to a lower court-ordered survey. The masjid committee tried to block the survey—by moving the Supreme Court—but to no avail. We did a two part series on the Gyanvapi Mosque last year. Part One looked at the history of the mosque—and Part Two explained the Places of Worship Act.
What happened now: The Waqf Board and the masjid committee separately filed to block a 1991 petition that demanded the removal of the mosque from the site—and the transfer of the land to the Hindu community. This was filed at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The Allahabad High Court has now dismissed all five petitions making the same argument—that the 1991 lawsuit simply can’t be maintained as per settled law.
Why this matters: The Babri Masjid ruling of the Supreme Court firmly shut the door on more Ram Janmabhoomi-type demands. The Places of Worship Act—passed in 1991—clearly states:
An Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
This was the law cited by the Muslim petitioners in the case of Gyanvapi. By rejecting their argument, the High Court has now reopened that can of worms—paving the way for many Babri Masjids. The court said:
A place of worship cannot have a dual religious character at the same time, one of temple or of a mosque, which are adverse to each other. Either the place is a temple or a mosque.
And this “religious character” can only be determined in a trial—“based on documentary and oral evidence, on a case-to-case basis.” (Indian Express)
Hundred-plus killed in China earthquake
Around 11:59 pm on Monday, north-western China was struck by a deadly 6.2 magnitude quake. As of now, 127 people have been killed—and 700 injured. More than 5,000 buildings have been damaged. Complicating rescue efforts: the sub-zero conditions: "It is too cold to bear... it's -15C [here]”—and most will not survive in that weather. (BBC News)
Google’s $700 million payout
The context: Google has been repeatedly sued for antitrust behaviour—and is finally paying the price for it. In 2021, the attorneys general from 36 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit—which was later joined by all the states. This was folded into the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in 2020 on similar grounds. The company also lost a jury trial in a case filed by Epic Games—which alleged Google used its app store to undercut rivals—and reward allies. This Big Story has lots more on the allegations against Google—and how they affect you.
What happened now: Google finally announced the terms of the settlement it reached with the US and state governments in September. It will pay $700 million—of which $630 million will be put into a fund to be divided among an estimated 102 million eligible users in the US. Also this:
As part of the terms, Google says it will simplify the process for users to “sideload” apps — or to download them to their phones directly from a developer’s website instead of going through the Google Play store. The company also agreed to give all app developers the option to allow users to pay through a third-party system instead of Google’s payment system.
Moving on to Apple: The company has withdrawn the latest version of its watch from the US market—just in time for Christmas. The reason: Federal authorities have slapped an import ban on the devices because of a patent infringement. Apple is accused of stealing a sensor that measures blood oxygen saturation from a medical tech company called Masimo. (Bloomberg News, paywall, CNET)
Moving on to X: The EU has launched an investigation into its practices—to see if X is breaking its laws on disinformation and hate speech. Why this is notable: This is the first key test of the new Digital Services Act—and a loss could potentially cost Elon Musk 6% of the company’s global income. (Reuters)
Crazy IPL auction numbers
The teams bid wildly for their top picks as the auction opened. The two biggest prizes were Australian. Pat Cummins was grabbed by Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 205 million (20.50 crores)—beating out Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was the highest ever bid for an IPL player—until Mitchell Starc was sold soon after for the even sweeter price of Rs 247.5 million (24.75 crores). He was bought by the Kolkata Knight Riders. The foreign player left on the shelf: star batter Steve Smith.
What about the Indians? The astronomical bids on foreign players raised questions about what the likes of Rohit and Virat receive:
[W]ith franchises not keen on releasing star Indian players, they are retained ahead of big auctions for a certain sum. On paper, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant get Rs 160 million (16 crore) while the likes of Jasprit Bumrah (Rs 120 million), Suryakumar Yadav (Rs 80 million), Mohammed Siraj (Rs 70 million). Although some of the franchises do make up by paying them extra (one of the open secrets), and add additional packages, it is still lesser than what overseas players fetch through auctions.
Two things to see
One: Madonna made a startling announcement on stage in Brooklyn. She revealed that she had to be put in an “induced coma” for 48 hours—when she was hospitalised earlier this summer. You can see a clip taken by a fan below. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Two: That volcano in Iceland has finally erupted after months of mini-quakes that were literally breaking the town of Grindavik. Roads cracked, buildings were destroyed—and 4,000 residents had to be evacuated mid-November. Now the waiting is over, and the sight is something else. (Reuters)
Splainer is hiring!
We are hiring for an important editorial position—Assistant News Editor—to join the brilliantly talented splainer team. The job includes daily editorial responsibilities but unlike the average newsroom gig, this is a lot more than the standard writing/editing job. If you‘re looking for a boiler-plate newsroom desk job, we are likely not the right fit for you.
What we’re looking for: Our team includes former lawyers, social justice activists, new college grads—and yes, journalists. Below is a must-have checklist:
- Impeccable writing, editing and researching skills.
- 0-1 years of experience.
- A passion to learn how to build something new and unique—and get a front seat view of how a media startup works.
- Familiarity with Canva.
A knowledge of and love for splainer is a huge plus—since we’re not the usual news product. Above all, we’re looking for a person who shows initiative, commitment and, above all, curiosity.
Please note there is a six-month probation period. We pay industry-standard salaries and offer ESOP incentives after a year. We are location-agnostic and an equal opportunity employer. And we pride ourselves on a warm, friendly work culture. Please send your resumes and cover letter—telling us why you want this job—to firstname.lastname@example.org.