The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast changing world.
In the Thirtieth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Gunika Vij, Ashika Deb and Shitij Goyal)

Politics

Joe Biden reached deal to let Bernie Sanders keep hundreds of delegates
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has agreed to let former primary rival Bernie Sanders keep hundreds of delegates he would otherwise forfeit by dropping out of the presidential race. This is a deal designed to avoid the bitter feelings that marred the party in 2016 and helped lead to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Under party rules, Sanders should lose lose about a third of the delegates he’s won in primaries and caucuses as the process moves ahead and states select the people who will attend the Democratic National Convention. Read MoreThe rules say those delegates should be Biden supporters, as he is the only candidate still actively seeking the party’s nomination. However, in a memo obtained by The Associated Press, the Biden campaign says it will work with Sanders and state parties to fill those positions with Sanders supporters. The joint memo from the Biden and Sanders campaigns was being sent to state Democratic parties on Thursday. In some ways, the delegate count is a moot point. While Biden has yet to formally win the 1,991 delegates needed to claim the Democratic nomination on the first ballot at the convention, he is the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. All of his rivals — including Sanders — have endorsed him after ending their own campaigns.

Americans overwhelmingly support vote-by-mail push, but Republicans more wary
Two-thirds of Americans support voting by mail as an alternative to voting in person on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll from USA TODAY and Suffolk University. But while Democrats and independent voters overwhelmingly back vote-by-mail, the majority of Republican voters oppose it. The poll found 65% of Americans support vote-by-mail as an alternative, a greater than 2-to-1 margin over the 32% of Americans who oppose the option. Three percent said they were undecided. Read MoreFindings differ dramatically by party. Eighty-four percent of Democratic voters said they support voting by mail and just 14% said they oppose it. Less than half of Republicans polled, 43%, said they support vote-by-mail as an alternative while more than half, 53%, were opposed.Self-identified independent voters said they back vote-by-mail during the pandemic by a 66%-31% margin. The poll, taken April 21-25, was based on responses from 1,000 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The findings come as Democrats, from the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden to former First Lady Michelle Obama, have rallied behind a rapid expansion of vote-by-mail to prepare for COVID-19 still posing health concerns during the November election.

Serbia to hold general election despite pandemic
The voting was originally scheduled for April 26, but was put on hold after a nationwide state of emergency was proclaimed in mid-March due to coronavirus pandemic. Serbia has recorded over 9,500 coronavirus cases and 197 deaths. Later, Serbia’s President has set June 21 as the date of parliamentary election. Read MoreAleksandar Vucic said that “after these difficult times we have to create a democratic atmosphere and select an assembly and government that will serve in the interest of the people.” Mr. Vucic has announced that the emergency measures will be lifted later this week because the rate of coronavirus infections decreased sufficiently in the Balkan country. Most of the democratic opposition parties plan to boycott the vote because Mr. Vucic’s firm control of media and the electoral process. His right-wing Serbian Progressive party is expected to emerge as an overwhelming winner of the vote and continue its eight years of dominance of the Serbian political scene.

Tariff on China for mishandling virus outbreak ‘certainly an option’: Trump
US President Donald Trump reiterated that imposing an additional tariff on China for allegedly mishandling the coronavirus outbreak was “certainly an option”. He said China “mishandled the situation” after the coronavirus outbreak in its Wuhan city, but refrained from giving a definitive answer on retaliatory measures against the Asian giant. “We’re going to see what happens. Read MoreA lot of things are happening with respect to China. We’re not happy, obviously, with what happened. This is a bad situation all over the world, 182 countries. But we’ll be having a lot to say about that,” he said in response to a question. The deadly coronavirus that was first reported in China’s Wuhan city in mid-November has so far killed more than 2,35,000 people globally, including 64,000 Americans, and has infected 3.3 million across the world. In an interview to Buck Sexton of The Buck Sexton Show, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of being non transparent on the issue of coronavirus. “They’ve claimed that they have been transparent, but of course, at least as of a day or two ago, we still didn’t actually have a sample of the virus. We were still working to try to understand what the scope of the risk was,” he said. Pompeo said China claimed it didn’t know where the coronavirus came from, but those inside China, who tried to talk about the virus, were denied access. They were told “don’t talk about that, stop it” and discussions were banned early on, he added. He said it was really important to understand what happened in China during the virus outbreak to make sure something like this does not happen again.

Petrol, diesel under GST unlikely in near future, say BJP, Congress leaders
Indian industry is raising the pitch to bring petrol and diesel under the GST for sure, but BJP and Congress leaders indicated on Wednesday that it is unlikely to be fructified in the near future with states not willing to get on board. Senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said his party held the view that the fuels have to be brought under the ambit of GST but added that now is not the time to do so as state finances are collapsing due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Read MoreSo, this is not the time to discuss or take a decision to bring them under GST”, the former Union Oil Minister told. BJP Spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member G V L Narasimha Rao said the Union Government had on many occasions proposed bringing petroleum and liquor under GST but the states were reluctant contending that they were their major source of revenue and they cannot allow these two items. Industry body ASSOCHAM said on Tuesday sooner petrol and diesel are brought under the GST (Goods and Services Tax), better it would be for the Indian economy. According to ASSOCHAM Secretary General Deepak Sood, governments, both at the Centre and States have been over- dependent on petrol and diesel for revenue. “While this over-dependence needs to be brought down, there is a strong case for a national parity for the prices of the automobile fuel”, Sood said. “Otherwise, the broader objective of a single market under the GST remains unfulfilled”. He said the industry has been seeking a bold stimulus package for providing immediate relief as it was reeling under the 42-day lockdown, due to the Covid-19 crisis. One of the main reasons for the stimulus is to revive the demand by way of tax reductions. “But, on the contrary, if taxes are raised, demand would be further depressed, giving a jolt to the economy”, Sood said. In any case, the crude oil prices have crashed to unprecedented lows, without the pump prices being reduced, against the spirit of the market-driven pricing policy, the ASSOCHAM said.


Society and Culture

National Gallery’s Virtual Experience
The National Gallery of Modern Arts has announced a virtual programme of its exhibitions in order to showcase rare artworks. The programme or initiative will be called ‘NGMA ke Sangrah Se’. The initiative will begin it’s exhibition with its focus on Rabindranath Tagore in memory of his 159th birth anniversary. Read MoreThis will provide a learning opportunity to art lovers, artists and students. This new initiative by the museum allows the museum to connect with a greater audience who might generally be interested or audiences who due to various other circumstances might not be able to visit the museum.

Chennai’s tambaram Railway
Chennai’s Tambaram Railway Station now stars a mural spanning its entrance walls which conveys a salute to all the frontline workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a collage of different scenes forming a story that portray the country’s relentless spirit and courage. The characters of the story are real-life heroes such as doctors fighting the virus. Read MoreThis initiative was undertaken by an MNC, Nalandaway Foundation and city-based artist Varshini Ramakrishnan. The mural is divided into 3 sections- a central wall and two narrow walls. On one end of the mural are masked residents of the country and on the other end are doctors and other frontline workers. The walls of the railway station now stand tall as a testament of the nation’s unity and it’s indomitable spirit.

Cleaner Water Bodies
The COVID-19 pandemic has given not only the country’s but the world’s water bodies some breathing space. The ponds and rivers are not cleaner, plastic free and breathable. The water of the Yamuna River, on the banks of which the national capital is based, is as clear as the sky for the first time in so many years. Read MoreThe residents of Haridwar and Rishikesh, gods own cities, claim that the water of the Ganges is drinkable for the first time in so many years. The rivers we worship don’t smell any more. The lockdown has led to a shut-down of all industries situated on the banks of these water bodies which has led to this improvement, adding to this are the rains which have made the skies clearer and air breathable.

Ooty’s Botanical Garden
The management of the Botanical Garden claims that the garden has never looked more beautiful due to the absence of tourists. Even though this is the prime-time for the public to visit the garden and witness it’s beauty, the garden authorities are making use of  various social media platforms to keep the public in touch with the garden and its happenings. Read MoreThis is the first time there might not be a flower show and the garden is officially closed. There are approximately 25,000 potted plants and the team is extremely disheartened because there is no one to witness the extravagance. The seeds for the plants were sown in November when there is no onslaught of COVID-19.

Science and Technology

GI tag for Kashmir saffron
Known globally as a spice and renowned for its medicinal and cosmetic use, Kashmir saffron has recently been given the geographical indication (GI) tag by the Geographical Indications Registry. It’s grown in some regions of /Kashmir such as Pulwama, Budgam, Kishtwar and Srinagar.  The application for GI tag was filed by the Directorate of Agriculture, Government of Jammu and Kashmir and facilitated by the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology and Saffron Research Station.Read More India is a close competitor of Iran, the largest producer of saffron in the world and by giving it the GI tag it will gain more prominence in the export market. It’s the only saffron in the world that is grown at an altitude of 1600-1800m above mean sea level, which adds to its uniqueness.

Precise timing of black hole dance revealed
The OJ 287 galaxy hosts one of the largest black holes ever found (over 18 billion times the mass of Sun) and another black hole, about 150 million times the Sun’s mass, orbits it. Twice every 12 years, the smaller black hole crashes through the enormous disk of gas surrounding its larger companion, creating a flash of light brighter than even the entire Milky Way galaxy and which reaches earth after 3.5 billion years. Read MoreThe smaller black hole’s orbit is irregular because of which collision occurs at different times during each 12-year orbit. In 2010, scientists created a model that could predict their occurrence to within about one to three weeks. In 2018, a group of scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India published a paper with an even more detailed model they claimed would be able to predict their occurrence to within four hours. After 16 years of operations, the system’s orbit had placed it 254 million kilometres from Earth. From this vantage point, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope could observe the system from July 31 (as predicted) to early September, when OJ 287 would become observable to telescopes on Earth.

NASA space laser missions map 16 years of ice sheet loss
NASA scientists have provided detailed measurements of how the elevation of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets has changed over 16 years. The net loss of ice has been responsible for 14 millimeters of sea level rise between 2003 and 2019. The findings come from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) launched in 2018 to make global elevation measurements. Read MoreIt was found that Greenland’s ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice per year and Antarctica lost an average of 118 gigatons. The 16-year span between ICESat and ICESat-2 certainly proves that the changes we’re seeing in the ice are because of the long-term climate changes. In Antarctica the measurements showed that the ice sheet is getting thicker in parts of the continent’s interior due to increased snowfall but the loss of ice, due to warming from the ocean, in the continent’s margins far outweighs any gains in the interior. This is one of the first times that researchers have used laser altimetry to measure loss of the floating ice shelves around Antarctica simultaneously with loss of the continent’s ice sheet.

Llama blood clue to fight viruses
Llamas have been used to produce a new antibody therapy that has the potential to work against all types of flu, including new pandemics. The animals produce incredibly tiny antibodies in comparison to our own. Human antibodies tend to attack the tips of those proteins, but influenza constantly mutates to evade our immune system. Llama antibodies use their tiny size to wriggle a little bit deeper and attack the parts that flu cannot change. Read MoreA team at the Scripps Institute in California infected llamas with multiple types of flu to provoke an immune response, then scoured llama blood for the most potent antibodies that could attack a wide range of flu strains. They picked four, and then set about building their own synthetic antibody that used elements from each. The study shows the small antibody approach is possible. Researchers still need to answer several questions before they can think about testing the strategy in people such as whether they can produce sufficient amounts of the linked antibodies. The approach could work against other types of viruses, but it probably won’t be ready in time to fight the coronavirus.

Planets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres could harbor life
Lab experiments have shown that microbes can live and grow in hydrogen rich atmospheres. The experiment was conducted on E.coli, which itself produces several gases that already are considered potential bio-signatures. However, just seeking a hydrogen-rich atmosphere isn’t enough; a planet would also need to have the equivalent of the nutrient broth in the bottle for life to thrive — perhaps a liquid water ocean that exchanges chemicals with a rocky surface. Read MoreAstrobiologists plan to search for bio-signatures by looking at starlight filtering through exoplanets’ atmospheres. If life on a rocky planet’s surface emits tell-tale gases, future telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope could detect them. It’s not clear whether rocky planets with pure hydrogen atmospheres exist and based on what’s known about how planets form, pure hydrogen atmospheres should be rare. While the results also confirmed the microbes could also live in helium and nitrogen-dominant atmospheres, these atmospheres would be thinner and therefore harder to detect around other planets.

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