Researched by: Rachel John, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
A new splainer series on YouTube!!
We have launched exclusive video explainers on YouTube, hosted by our editor Lakshmi Chaudhry.
Our second video explores the history of electoral financing in the country, and the introduction of electoral bonds in 2017 which are used to make donations to political parties. Everything about them is astonishing—especially the fact that voters have no right to know who gave how much money to which party.
Check it out below. Stay tuned for more such explainers on the big fat election coming soon, and be sure to hit the notification button.
PS: This is also a great way to share splainer with your friends and family—especially anyone who is kinda text-averse :)
Iran strikes Iraq and Pakistan
In a worrying development, Iran launched airstrikes against its neighbours Iraq and Pakistan. In Iraq, the missiles hit targets in the autonomous Kurdistan region in the northern region of the country where “an Israeli espionage centre” was allegedly located, according to Tehran. Kurdish leaders denied this claim and noted that one of the missiles hit a house killing four civilians. This sparked an unusual dispute between the two allies with Baghdad recalling its ambassador in protest.
Less than a day later, it launched strikes in Pakistan—reportedly in the Balochistan region—allegedly targeting a Sunni militant group. However, according to Islamabad, the missiles killed two children and injured three other girls. It called the attack “illegal” and said: “This violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences.”
Why this is worrying: The Middle East is already in a precarious situation with the ongoing war in Gaza—and these acts could fuel further tensions:
Iran’s actions came amid widespread fears that the devastating war in Gaza could become a broader and deadlier regional conflict. Already, it has set off a low-level conflict between Iranian proxy forces and the United States and other Western powers.
Speaking of Gaza: France and Qatar brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas for the delivery of medicines to Israeli hostages and additional aid to Palestinians in Gaza. This is the first agreement between the two sides after the week-long truce in November. Associated Press has more.
Bad news for CPR
The context: The Centre for Policy Research is one of India’s eminent think-tanks—which has earned the ire of the government by publishing reports it doesn’t like. In February last year, the government suspended the organisation’s Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) licence that it needed to receive foreign donor funds—which constituted 75% of its grants. According to the law, the ministry has to decide on cancelling or restoring the FCRA licence within a year of suspension.
What happened now: The Home ministry has now cancelled the licence for CPR, alleging that the think tank violated FCRA rules. One of the reasons given: “The institute published reports on ‘current affairs programmes,’ which is a violation of the Act.” The institute has denied the allegations and and noted that it had been working within the law’s framework:
The cancellation of our FCRA is distressing, for it is a cancellation that is disproportionate and without adequate opportunity to be heard. We will weigh our options to seek justice. We remain committed to our core goals and remain steadfast in our belief that this matter will be resolved in line with constitutional values and guarantees.
Donald Trump’s big Iowa win
The context: Election season officially kicks off in the US with the Iowa caucus. Democrats and the Republicans choose their candidates through either caucuses or primaries. While most states hold primaries, some traditional Republican bastions like Iowa hold caucuses to elect their delegates:
Iowa caucuses are in-person meetings among voters of each party in Iowa. They are similar to primaries, except they are run by parties instead of the state. Public speeches are delivered on behalf of the candidates to rally support. Registered Republicans cast their vote through a secret paper ballot. No postal ballot is allowed. The votes are then tallied and winners are announced in a matter of few hours.
What happened now: Former US President Donald Trump won the caucus by a record margin—all but cementing his position as the frontrunner of the GOP nomination. He took 51% of the vote—followed by Ron DeSantis at a distant second with 21% votes and Nikki Haley with 19%. Indian-American Vivek Ramaswamy came fourth—and suspended his campaign, endorsing Trump.
Why this matters: Trump voters are clearly remaining loyal to him despite the numerous criminal indictments. According to a Reuters report, 65% Republican voters in Iowa believe that he is fit to be president even if he is convicted while 66% believe that the 2020 elections were rigged.
Boeing’s plans for damage control
The context: A part of an Alaskan Airlines plane, a Boeing 737 Max, blew out mid-flight on January 5, leaving a massive hole in the hull. It resuscitated old fears about Boeing’s 737 Max model—which was implicated in two horrific airline crashes back in 2018/2019. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in the US and ordered a safety inspection. (More details in this Big Story). The investigations revealed that both United Airlines and Alaska found “loose bolts”, which are used to secure so-called ‘door plugs’—panels that are placed where an emergency exit door would otherwise be in a bigger jet.
What happened now: Boeing said that they will increase quality inspections of its 737 Max aircraft and will deploy an independent party to assess its production practices. It will also send a team over to its door plug supplier Spirit AeroSystems to check and approve the products before they are sent to Boeing's production facilities in Washington state.
In addition to the door plug inspections, Boeing teams will conduct checks at 50 other points in Spirit's production process, [Boeing commercial airplanes President and CEO Stan] Deal said. Meanwhile, both Boeing and Spirit will open their 737 production facilities to airline customers for carriers to provide their own inspections.
Point to note: The new inspections are separate from the FAA's ongoing investigation plans to increase oversight of MAX production. Once the FAA approves of the final process, inspections are expected to take several days which would result in the cancellation of several more flights. (Reuters)
Sumit Nagal makes history at Australian Open
Here’s a special moment for Indian tennis! Sumit Nagal became only the second Indian to beat a seeded singles player at a Grand Slam tournament. The 26-year-old player beat 27th seed Alexander Bublik at the Australian Open on Tuesday in straight sets—and advanced to the second round in the tournament. Before Nagal, Ramesh Krishnan was the only Indian to beat a seeded player back in 1989.
Nagal’s win is made even more special because just a few months earlier, he publicly spoke about the lack of support to make ends meet and continue his training. Back in September, Nagal was quoted as having only $962 left in his bank account. With this first round win, Nagal will earn $118,790. Indian Express has more on the player. Watch the winning moment below.
Apple watches to get a redesign
The context: In 2020, Apple was sued by medical watchmaker Masimo over a patent dispute. The lawsuit accused Apple of stealing trade secrets related to technology for reading blood-oxygen levels that infringed upon Masimo patents. Apple used this feature on two of its models—Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. Last year, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in favour of Masimo and Apple pulled its watches from the physical and online stores before the ban went into effect by the end of December. But Apple filed an appeal and got a temporary pause on the ban, allowing the sale of its watches.
What happened now: US Customs has determined that Apple can bypass the ban on Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices should they redesign the watches by removing the feature. Apple has not publicly disclosed the redesign but Masimo considers this a win—saying: “Apple's claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability.” According to Bloomberg News, Apple has already shipped the modified watches to the market but sales have not begun. (Reuters)
Speaking of Apple: For the first time since 2010, Apple topped Samsung to make the most smartphone sales globally. Apple sold nearly 235 million units in 2023—an increase of 3.7% from the previous year. Meanwhile, Samsung sold 13.6% less phones last year with 227 million units. (Quartz)
NASA’s quiet supersonic jet
NASA and Lockheed Martin recently unveiled a quiet supersonic aircraft called X-59—which is expected to fly at 1.4X the speed of sound but without the deafening sounds that accompany sonic jets. This is part of the space agency’s Quesst mission—which is aimed at urging regulators to reconsider the ban on commercial supersonic flights—which were banned because of the loud, explosion-like bang that they create.
But the X-59 is different:
“It will be significantly quieter than Concorde or any other supersonic aircraft that exist today,” Craig Nickol, senior adviser at NASA Headquarters, told CNN in 2022. “It’s extremely long and thin: It’s almost 100 feet long (30.5 meters), but has a wingspan of only about 29 feet. The nose is a distinguishing feature on this aircraft: it’s about a third of the length.”
Its sleek structure prevents its shockwaves from compressing and reaching the ground—which makes it reportedly quieter than a clap of a hand, a nail struck by a hammer and a bounce of a basketball. You can watch the trailer of the jet below. (CNN)
A discovery that defies the Universe’s limits
There is a fundamental assumption in cosmology—known as the cosmological principle—which states that at a grand scale, the universe is homogeneous and looks identical in every direction:
Think of looking at a vast, still ocean at a distance: there's just water in every direction. From that understanding, nothing larger than 1.2 billion light years across should exist because, among other reasons, the Universe isn't old enough for them to form.
However, astronomers have discovered a cosmic ring-like megastructure that defies this principle about 9 billion light years away from the Earth—which in theory should not exist. Known as the ‘Big Ring’, this structure is mind-bogglingly large, measuring 1.3 billion light years—equivalent to 15 full moons in the night sky. It is part of a recent set of discoveries of unexpectedly large structures such as the Giant Arc, which is right next to the Big Ring.
Why this matters: “These oddities keep getting swept under the rug, but the more we find, we’re going to have to come face-to-face with the fact that maybe our standard model needs rethinking. As a minimum it’s incomplete. As a maximum we need a completely new theorem of cosmology.” (The Guardian)
And the Emmy goes to…
After a four-month delay due to the writers and actors strike, the Emmy awards finally took place on Monday. ‘Succession’ and ‘The Bear’ were big winners of the night and took home six trophies each. ‘Succession’ won Best Drama Series while actors Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook also went home with shiny trophies. ‘The Bear’ bagged the Best Comedy Series award along with acting awards for Jeremy Allen-White, Ayo Edebiiri and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Hollywood Reporter has the complete list of winners while Vanity Fair has the best looks from the red carpet.
The best speech: Niecy Nash reminded everyone that you are your best champion!
We also really loved Edebiri’s shout-out to her immigrant parents!
Our fave rivalry: Pedro Pascal continued his ‘rivalry’ with Kieran Culkin at the Emmys, and it was hilarious!
Pascal also brought his trans sister Lux to the event—which made us love him even more.
Making history: Quinta Brunson won the best actress award for the comedy series ‘Abbott Elementary’, and is the first Black woman to win in the category in over 40 years. The only other Black woman to win was Isabel Sanford who won the award for ‘The Jeffersons’ in 1981. Watch her tearful speech below.
Also winning big: Elton John won his first Emmy for the livestream of his final performance in North America titled ‘Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium’. With this, John has become an Egot—an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner. Unfortunately, he could not attend the ceremony.
A not-so-good record: ‘Better Call Saul’, the incredibly popular prequel to ‘Breaking Bad’, set the record for the most Emmy losses ever. Often considered the “most snubbed series of all time”, the drama series was nominated a whopping 53 times in its six-season run without a single win.
Three things to see
One: On Sunday morning, Delhi witnessed one of its worst seasons of fog which resulted in cascading flight delays. Social media is rife with videos showing nightmarish experiences of flight passengers—like this one where IndiGo passengers were seen eating their dinner on the tarmac of the Mumbai airport. They were travelling from Goa to Delhi which was already delayed by 12 hours and then were diverted to Mumbai where they were kept at a remote bay instead of a Contact Stand.
Why is this concerning: The passengers were deprived of basic facilities like restrooms and refreshments at the terminal. The government has issued “a show-cause notice” to the airlines and Mumbai airport, asking them to explain how this happened. You can watch the video below. (Hindustan Times)
Two: Archeologists have discovered a cluster of lost cities in the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador dating back 2500 years. The discovery was made thanks to laser-sensor technology that revealed “a dense network of settlements and connecting roadways, tucked into the forested foothills of the Andes.”
Why this matters: It gives scientists insight into how ancient Amazonians lived:
The settlements were occupied by the Upano people between about 500 BC and AD 300 to 600 — a period roughly contemporaneous with the Roman empire in Europe, the researchers found. Residential and ceremonial buildings erected on more than 6,000 earthen mounds were surrounded by agricultural fields with drainage canals. The largest roads were 33 feet (10 meters) wide and stretched for 6-12 miles (10-20km).
Three: Usher fans, rejoice! The RnB singer will be headlining the 2024 Super Bowl Halftime Show—slated for February 11. While this is his second appearance at the NFL’s championship game, it will be his first headline performance, which will also celebrate his 30 years in the music industry. Watch this star-studded upbeat teaser—featuring LeBron James, J Balvín, and Jung Kook from BTS—set to his hit song ‘Yeah!’. (USA Today)